Hatred Bound; Love Learned

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Draco honestly didn’t know why he’d gone back to Hogwarts to finish his NEWTs, except that no one seemed to expect him to. He was actually expected to go to Azkaban and rot, but that wasn’t happening – a fact Draco was quite grateful for, actually. No, he had been forced to take the Mark and he had been coerced into letting the Death Eaters into Hogwarts and he had only tortured people under extreme duress. Those were the words his legal representation had used. Forced, coerced, extreme duress…he sounded pathetic and weak. And everyone thought that he was. So when he was cleared of all charges, they all expected him to hightail it back to Wiltshire and hide himself away in the Manor for the rest of his life. Or at least for the next ten years.

Instead, he had packed his things (received by owl-order, since he wasn’t brave enough to go to Diagon Alley just yet) and, desperately clutching the hawthorne wand Harry Potter had returned to him after his trial, he had Flooed to Hogwarts. The newly-appointed Headmistress McGonagall had decided it was altogether safer if the returning Slytherins from their year (which had been dubbed the first – and last – class of Eighth Years) didn’t ride the train. He hadn’t been quite sure what McGonagall thought they were going to do to her precious students, but he hadn’t argued. He had just been happy he was being allowed to return.

It hadn’t occurred to him at the time that McGonagall was concerned for the safety of the Slytherins, rather than the other students. Now, a mere month into the school year, it had. In fact, he was absolutely certain of it. Oh, not all of the Slytherin Eighth Years were in danger; that was true. Tracey Davis was doing just fine and so was Daphne Greengrass. Pansy and Millicent weren’t fairing nearly as well, though Millicent was intimidating enough to keep most students at bay. But his poor, fragile Pansy wasn’t that lucky. And she had tried to turn Harry Potter over to the Dark Lord. A stupid move, there was no denying it, but she’d been afraid. It hadn’t been personal. Of course, the students didn’t see it that way. Draco and Blaise Zabini were the only two males to return for the year, since Crabbe was dead and Goyle was in Azkaban and Theodore Nott had decided transferring to Durmstrang was wiser than returning to Hogwarts. Blaise wasn’t being targeted, but then, he hadn’t let Death Eaters into the school. Or had the Dark Lord living in his house. Or been branded with the Dark Mark. But Draco had.

So he and Pansy were bearing the brunt of the students’ anger. They seemed to feel that since they couldn’t pay back the Carrows for the pain they’d suffered the previous year, or the Death Eaters for the family and friends they lost during those dark days, they would pay it all back to the closest substitute they could find. Fortunately for Draco, all of that time spent trying to sneak Death Eaters into the school without Potter following him and discovering what he was about meant he was good at going around unseen. Just as unfortunately, Pansy wasn’t so lucky. She had been caught alone several times, and the damage done had gotten progressively worse with each attack.

And now, Draco was sitting beside her bed in the hospital wing. Her beautiful, dark hair was singed and uneven; it hung nearly to her chin in some places (where it was somehow untouched by the magical fire that had been used as a torture device), and was sticking up in spikey little tufts in others. Her left eye was swollen shut, her lip had been split, and bruising across her high cheekbones was proof that her nose had broken. Her right arm was cradled close to her chest; Draco had a feeling it was broken as well. Her robes were shredded (as was a fair portion of her skin, though thankfully the cuts were shallow) and she was crying softly.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.” Draco told her, tenderly brushing his fingers across her cheek. She flinched, despite how light his touch had been. “I swear I won’t leave your side again, Pan. I swear I’ll keep you safe, alright?”

“No.” Pansy sobbed, shaking her head desperately. “No, you won’t. You can’t. No one can, don’t you see that, Draco?” She stopped speaking, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed, for several moments. When she finally got control back, she looked at him miserably and explained: “I’m going home, Draco. I can’t do this anymore. What’s the use in pretending? I’m not learning anything, anyway. I’m either hiding or in the hospital wing.”

“You can’t just give up!” Draco told her, feeling desperate. He wasn’t sure he had the strength to stay here alone; he didn’t think he was brave enough to do that. “You…you’ve just got to keep trying! We’ll stick together better. I…I’ll buy you an invisibility cloak! I’ll Disillusion you between classes! Hell, during classes, if you want! I’ll keep you safe this time. I will.”

“Draco, they broke my wand.” Pansy stressed the last three words as though Draco were simple-minded. “Not to mention breaking my nose and my arm. They hit me with a Cutting Charm. They burned off my hair. I can’t stay here. I can’t. I’m sorry.” She looked away as though ashamed and Draco knew she probably was; ashamed of trying to turn Potter over and ashamed she’d been hurt and ashamed she wasn’t strong enough to stay with him. “Just…leave me alone, Draco. Please.”

Draco swallowed hard, but nodded. “Alright.” He stood, leaned in to brush his lips over Pansy’s forehead, and told her softly. “As soon as they get the pictures for evidence, Madam Pomfrey will heal you right up; you’ll be good as new, Pan. Just…don’t decide anything tonight. If you…” He swallowed hard, but forced the words out anyway. “If you still want to leave in the morning, I’ll help you pack.”

Pansy simply stared at her lap and nodded, refusing to meet Draco’s eyes. With a sigh, Draco left the Infirmary. He knew Pansy was right; Hogwarts wasn’t safe for her. She’d be better off at home, where no one could hurt her anymore. He was halfway to the Slytherin Common Room when he stopped in his tracks, a thought making his chest tighten with dread. Because of her crime against the great Harry Potter, Pansy had been the primary focus of most of the students. Especially when combined with Draco’s own elusiveness. Now, though…if Pansy left…

Draco was screwed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” The taunting voice echoed eerily down the gloomy hallway of unused classrooms. Rubble still littered this portion of the school; since it wasn’t used, clean-up and repair efforts over the summer had been focused elsewhere in order to make the school livable by September 1st. “We know you’re here somewhere and we will find you! You should have just left with your little girlfriend, Malfoy!”

Draco squeezed his eyes shut and pressed himself harder into the wall at his back. The alcove he was in was shadowed, but shallow. If the students hunting him gave the room he’d ducked into more than a cursory glance – or if they lit the torches on the walls rather than sufficing with a simple Lumos or two – he would be seen. He held his breath as the door squeaked open, opening his eyes because he couldn’t bring himself to not watch. A tiny, mousey little boy in Gryffindor robes stepped into the room and murmured a soft ‘Lumos’ before looking around. Draco was still struggling to place the boy (who wasn’t one of the usual ones who had hunted him so frequently during the two weeks since Pansy had fled the school in fear of her life) when the boy’s wand light spilled over him. He went utterly still, locking silver eyes to brown and knowing he’d be in the Infirmary shortly.

“Dennis!” Came the voice that had taunted Draco from the hallway; the voice of Zacharias Smith. The fact that the cowardly Hufflepuff bastard had fled from the Battle of Hogwarts had been conveniently forgotten as he led the charge against the ‘Death Eater scum’ that was invading the school. “What the hell is taking you so long, Creevey? We’ve got more rooms to search!”

The boy, Draco realized quite suddenly, was one of the students who’d been a part of Potter’s little band of renegades from that DA club in their Fifth Year. His brother had died in the Battle of Hogwarts less than six months earlier. He glanced at the door, then back to Draco. Then he bit his lip and called out. “He’s not in here, Zach, sorry! I, um…I got my robes stuck on a piece of rubble, that’s all. You lot go on; I’m going to go get changed. I tore the robes and all, plus it’s filthy in here and…”

“Whatever.” Came the annoyed reply from the hallway. There were footsteps as the group moved on, still searching for Draco. The blonde in question was staring at the Gryffindor in front of him, confused and grateful and terrified all at once.

“Why?” He finally whispered, wondering what could have inspired this slip of a boy to spare him. “I didn’t expect…I mean, I don’t understand…”

“Because I’m a good person.” Dennis snapped, glaring at Draco. “It doesn’t mean I like you, Malfoy. And it doesn’t mean I want you here. It just means…” He stopped for a second, then continued in a softer tone. “I don’t think my brother would have approved of me hurting you. So…yeah. But this is a one-time deal, Malfoy. I suggest you do the smart thing and leave, like Parkinson did.”

Before Draco could say anything else, Dennis had made a small cut in his robes with his wand and torn them further (in case anyone from the hunting group spotted him) and then slipped out of the room. Sinking down onto the dusty, rubble-strewn floor, Draco pulled his knees up to his chest, rested his head against his knees, and sobbed. He had thought his days of crying at school were a thing of the past, but apparently not. He didn’t know how long he could keep doing this. He didn’t know how much more he could take.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Three days before Halloween, Draco knew he was a dead man walking. The headline for the Daily Prophet had just signed and sealed his death certificate, guaranteed. ‘Lucius Malfoy Pardoned for War Crimes!’ it screamed in huge block letters. The fact that he’d been pardoned in exchange for all of the help he’d given hunting down rogue Death Eaters over the summer didn’t matter; very few (if any) of the students would read past the headline. All that mattered was that his entire family had come out of the war without having to go to prison. Never mind that his mother had saved Potter’s life by lying to the Dark Lord, or that Lucius hadn’t even been in possession of a wand for the last nine months of the war. Those things were superficial; unimportant. What mattered was the slowly-fading ink that marred Draco’s left forearm and the fact that he was free.

He stood, deciding he had no choice, and walked straight up to the Head Table, still clutching the paper in one hand; his wand was clenched tightly in the other. “Headmistress.” He inclined his head politely to McGonagall. “I need to speak to my parents and wondered if I might impose upon you for the use of your Floo, at your earliest convenience.”

Minerva dropped her eyes to her own copy of the Prophet, then looked at Draco and asked seriously. “Are you planning to pack your things, Mr. Malfoy?” Her heart went out to this boy, who was so full of potential but who had been given so few choices.

“Not if I can figure something better out.” He replied, his face as solemn as hers. “But I’m afraid I need to acknowledge the…well, the possibility that I may have no choice.”

“I’m afraid you often haven’t had a choice, Mr. Malfoy.” Minerva said, sharing the thought she’d had only a moment earlier. “But I will do everything I can to ensure you have one this time. Come. We’ll make that Floo-call together.”

Draco had never been more grateful to anyone in his life, including the moment Potter had pulled him from the Fiendfyre. McGonagall was willing to help him. With the Headmistress on his side, he might just stand a chance of making it through the school year alive. “Thank you.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Harry Potter wasn’t sure what had made him come back to Hogwarts. He had joked, of course, that it was Hermione’s nagging that they should all finish their NEWTs, even though he had an offer to become an Auror without them. In truth, he supposed he just hadn’t felt ready to leave Hogwarts behind. The school had been his first real home; the first place he’d ever felt like he truly belonged. To leave without the closure his final year should have offered…he hadn’t been able to do it. So he’d come back.

It wasn’t what he’d been expecting. The “Eighth Year” classes were structured differently from their other years. Every Eighth Year took their classes together. For instance, all Eighth Year students going for a NEWT in Charms took Charms on Tuesdays at 3pm and Fridays at 9am. And though the Eighth Years were technically still members of their own Houses, they had a common room of their own, their own bathrooms, and rooms that were meant for two people each, rather than full dorms. They had extra privileges – such as being allowed to go into Hogsmeade whenever they liked and having complete access to the Restricted Section in the library – but their work-load was intense.

Things were changing, very quickly. Harry’s roommate was Seamus, because Ron was sharing with Hermione. Another thing they were allowed as “Eighth Year” students: more leniency in terms of what was considered “appropriate” behavior. Harry was thrilled that his best friends had finally realized how completely perfect they were for each other, but he was frustrated with the way his own relationship was going. Or rather, with the way his relationship wasn’t going. He loved Ginny – very, very much – but things just seemed…stuck. Like they weren’t moving forward from where they’d been at the end of his Sixth Year, despite how much the whole world had changed since then. Things were just…the same. Which seemed incongruous with the rest of Harry’s life and unnerved him.

Harry was actually brooding over the seemingly stalled state of his relationship (and attempting to pinpoint a cause of some sort) while sitting in the Eighth Year Common Room on Saturday, October 31st, when Hermione came over to him, looking concerned. “Professor McGonagall wants to see us.” She told him, waving a piece of parchment. “I’ve got everyone else outside. Come on.”

So Harry rose and followed her, surprised at the group McGonagall wanted to see. In addition to himself and Hermione, there was Ron, Ginny, Neville, and Luna. It didn’t escape Harry’s notice that the six of them were the precise group that had been labeled ‘The Icons of Light’ by Rita Skeeter after the fall of Voldemort. He wondered if perhaps there was some sort of interview or photo-shoot or public appearance she wanted them to make. Back in May, they had done several things to aid in the rebuilding of Hogwarts and to raise money for the many causes that sprung up in the wake of the war. He hoped it wasn’t something like that. Harry hated being forced into the spotlight. That was why he’d tolerated the designation of the six of them as ‘The Icons of Light’; he was able to shift some of the attention to his friends that way.

Ginny and Neville were talking softly about possible reasons for this meeting. Ron and Luna both seemed unconcerned, but Hermione looked really nervous. “Relax.” Harry told her gently, bumping her lightly with his shoulder. “It’s not like we’ve done anything wrong. I’m sure it’s nothing bad.”

“I suppose.” Hermione replied, twisting her fingers nervously together. “I just…I feel like something really big is about to happen. I don’t know why.”

Then, before they could discuss things further, they were at the gargoyle and Hermione was giving the password. They rode the spiral staircase to the top and knocked before entering. Harry was the last one into the Headmistress’s office. He froze in shock, the door closing behind him with a soft snick. They weren’t the only ones in the office. Minerva was sitting behind her desk, looking very elegant in a set of emerald-green robes with a matching hat perched on her salt-and-pepper hair. Directly across from her was Draco Malfoy. Sitting nearby on a small loveseat were Draco’s parents. Lucius Malfoy was looking tired, but well enough, considering. Narcissa looked lovely, but anxious. Draco, however, looked quite ill. His skin had a greyish cast to it, dark shadows made his eyes look sunken, and his face was gaunt. He actually looked much the way he had at the end of their Sixth Year, when he hadn’t been eating or sleeping properly because of his “mission” for the Dark Lord.

“Well, sit down, then.” McGonagall told them all briskly. They did, carefully perching on various chairs and sofas that were scattered through the office. Once everyone was sitting, the Headmistress said. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve asked you here. It is your status as the Icons of Light that made me decide to ask this favor of you, rather than anyone else.”

Harry and the others exchanged looks, then Hermione asked. “What favor, Headmistress? Why are the Malfoys here? Is…is everything alright?”

“No, I’m afraid everything is not alright, Miss Granger.” Minerva’s slightly accented voice was thickened with a mixture of sadness and anger. “I am hoping that you students are unaware of what has been going on in the school. I should hate to think that any of you would allow such atrocities to continue without doing something about it.”

And Harry knew, quite suddenly, that this was about the way students had been acting towards Malfoy since school started; about the fact that Parkinson had fled the school and now everyone was literally hunting Malfoy. And Harry tried very carefully to keep his expression blank, but he could tell from the angry look McGonagall sent him that he’d failed. And he felt guilty, because he was aware of what had been happening. And he hadn’t tried to stop it. But why should he have? Malfoy had tormented everyone else for years. So what if he got a little back now?

Feeling defensive, Harry bit out angrily. “I don’t see how a little schoolyard bullying requires any of us to do a favor for anyone.”

Hermione’s eyes widened and she blurted out. “Is that what this is about, Headmistress? I’ve told several students to stop being so mean, you know. I’ve told them that the war is over and we need to just let the past be the past. But, well…you know how hard it is for some of them, considering. It’s just harmless teasing and such anyway, so I don’t see why it’s such a big deal, but…”

“Harmless?” Lucius’s cold, aristocratic drawl cut through the room and drew everyone’s attention, stopping Hermione in her tracks. “I fail to see how beating someone unconscious is harmless.”

“Who…” Ginny started to speak, then stopped, looking down at her feet, unsure she actually wanted the answer.

“Miss Parkinson was beaten quite badly after being mentally and physically tortured and having her wand snapped.” McGonagall said solemnly. “She chose to leave the school and give up on her NEWTs rather than continue to face such things. Draco, however, wishes to stay.”

“So you want us to do what?” Ron demanded, glaring at Draco from across the room. “Play bodyguard to ferret-face? No way.”

McGonagall’s lips compressed into a thin, disapproving line. “No, Mr. Weasley, I do not expect you to act as bodyguards. I am asking that one of you – I do not care which one – step up and do the right thing. I am asking that one of you enter into a Protective Bond with Draco so that he may finish his schooling here without fear for his own safety.”

“A Protective Bond?” Hermione was looking confused now, which didn’t happen often. “Which Bond were you considering, Headmistress?”

The Headmistress sighed. “Well, we’ve discussed several, Miss Granger. It would depend, of course, on the preference of whichever one of you agreed to Bond with Draco.”

Hermione looked over at Draco – and her heart ached because of how tired and fragile he looked – but she said very firmly. “I can’t do it. I’m sorry.” She glanced at McGonagall, then locked eyes with Draco, the fingers of her right hand brushing almost absently over her left forearm where everyone present knew the word ‘Mudblood’ was etched into her skin. “I don’t think Malfoy should have to be afraid; it isn’t right and I know that. But I can’t…I just can’t…”

“I understand.” Draco’s voice was soft and soothing and very at-odds with the Malfoy all of them had known for so long. He looked at Hermione with understanding and compassion. “I wouldn’t expect you to do this, Granger. Not considering…well…everything.” He looked down at his feet and added. “I don’t expect any of you to do this. But the Headmistress insisted we ask.”

“I’m sorry, Draco.” Luna’s voice was just as light and airy as usual, but she seemed to have drawn into herself somehow, speaking in a far-more subdued manner than usual and without her usual flair for the insane and outrageous. “I don’t hold what happened against you. You know that. But I don’t think being around you all the time is something I could do. Not right now.”

Draco merely nodded. McGonagall sighed softly. “Well, since Miss Granger and Miss Lovegood have formally refused, what about the rest of you?”

“No.” Ginny’s voice was frigid and actually startled Harry. Ginny wasn’t known for being cold to anyone and Harry hadn’t realized she held a personal grudge against Draco Malfoy. But her icy stare was directed at Lucius and her next words explained everything. “And you will need to live with the knowledge, Mr. Malfoy, that if not for your crimes against me, I would have gladly stepped up and helped your son.”

Lucius merely glared back, but did not defend himself. Ginny turned to look at the Headmistress and added stiffly. “I won’t do it. I won’t do a single thing to help Lucius Malfoy, even in an indirect way. Not ever, Headmistress. And I’m not in the slightest bit sorry.”

Ron snorted softly and said. “Well I’m not doing it.” He shot an irritated look at Malfoy and snapped. “I think you ought to just do what Parkinson did and leave. That’d solve the whole mess quite neatly, wouldn’t it?”

“I will not run away.” Draco snapped back, glaring heatedly at Ron. “I intend to finish my NEWTs , Weasley, one way or another. Even if it kills me.”

“We should be so lucky.” Ron muttered, ignoring the glare he received from Minerva. “Stay, then, if you’re going to be stubborn. But don’t expect any help from me.”

Draco let out a small, self-deprecating laugh. “Believe me, Weasley, you’re the last person I’d expect help from.” Then he turned to look at Minerva and added quietly. “I told you this was a waste of time. We need to look at other possible solutions.”

“And we will, Draco.” Minerva’s voice was soothing and gentle. The steel she was known for slipped back into her voice as she turned to glare at her students. “Now four of you have managed to disappoint me, to varying degrees, based on your reasons for refusing. Mr. Longbottom, Mr. Potter…what about the two of you?”

Neville shook his head. “There’s just too much bad blood between Malfoy and me.” He explained, shooting Draco a cautious look. “I don’t think I can do it. I’m sorry.”

And now Minerva looked defeated, though she turned to look at Harry, awaiting his answer anyway. And Harry considered it for all of fifteen seconds before he refused. “Not going to happen. Malfoy and I would kill each other inside of two days.”

Draco snorted and rolled his eyes. “Really, Potter. It astonishes me how little control you have over your own temper. I certainly wouldn’t try to kill my protector.”

“Oh, because you’ve got such a good grip on your temper!” Harry scoffed, turning a look of disgust on the Slytherin teen. “You broke my nose while I was under a Body-Bind curse!”

Draco smirked, looking amused. “You were eavesdropping on a private conversation, Potter. That’s hardly exemplary behavior. I was merely attempting to instill some manners in you.”

“You tried to Cruciate me when we were sixteen!” Harry snarled, feeling his blood heat as it always did when he was faced with the icy smugness of Draco Malfoy.

Draco crossed his arms over his chest and drawled smoothly. “Yes, I did. And as I recall, you proceeded to nearly kill me. Point in fact, I would have died if not for Snape’s intervention.”

Harry flushed darkly. “I didn’t know the spell did that!” He protested. “I was just trying to protect myself from you!”

Draco nodded very slowly. “Yes, Potter, I know. My point was that you allowed your temper to best you and cast without thinking. I, however, knew precisely what I was doing when I began to cast an Unforgivable at you. Therein lies the difference. You cannot control your temper.”

Harry huffed in annoyance and said. “Fine. I can’t control my temper. All the more reason for me to say no, then. I’d kill you for sure.”

“No, Mr. Potter, you will not.” Narcissa’s cultured voice drew everyone’s attention. “You will Bond with Draco and you will keep him safe for as long as it is necessary for you to do so.”

Harry stared at her as though she’d grown another head, then asked curiously. “And why on earth would I do that, Mrs. Malfoy? I’ve done enough good deeds for ten lifetimes. I don’t see the need to do any more, especially this particular one.”

Aes alienum vita ostendam!” Narcissa flicked her wand and suddenly a gossamer thread of green light connected her to Harry. Narcissa’s full lips curved into a self-satisfied smiled and she said. “You will do as I ask because you owe me a life-debt, Harry. One you have acknowledged publicly. I am calling it in. You will enter into the Prisoner Bond with Draco, and I will nullify your life-debt.”

“Sorry, but no.” And suddenly Harry felt like he was choking and Ginny was screaming and Hermione was clutching at his hands and Ron was being held back by Neville while Draco cringed into his chair.

As Harry clawed at his throat, where he could feel that thin green thread tightening, Hermione gripped his chin tightly and forced him to meet her eyes, saying desperately. “Harry, you can’t refuse to fill a life-debt or you die. Your life belongs to Narcissa Malfoy until you repay her and she releases you. If she offers you a way out and you don’t take it, the magic will kill you. You have to do this.”

Harry nodded frantically, desperate for air, and the choking feeling eased. As he gasped for breath, Narcissa spoke very calmly. “I would not do this if I saw another way, Mr. Potter. But you and your friends have left me no choice. You will keep my son safe.”

“Fine.” Harry snarled, feeling irrationally angry at this small – but decidedly fierce – woman, who was merely trying to protect her child. “What do I have to do?”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Prisoner Bond – the Protective Bond Narcissa had chosen when calling in the life-debt – was actually fairly simple to cast. A clasping of hands, a golden cord wound around their joined hands and wrists, and two simple words – vinculum captus – followed by a light tap with the Bonder’s wand. Their Bonder had been McGonagall and she’d finished the spell in a matter of minutes. It had all happened so quickly that Harry hadn’t had much time to adjust before it was all over and done with.

The way the spell worked was nearly as simple as the casting had been. It bound Draco’s magic and Harry’s magic together, but in a very superficial way. If Draco needed extra magic, he could ‘borrow’ some of Harry’s and vise-versa, but Draco’s magic was limited in a way it hadn’t been before. He could no longer cast spells on other people. And Harry’s magic was restricted as well, but in a different way. If he cast defensive magic, it automatically tapped into Draco’s magic and shielded or defended the other teen as well. Harry’s offensive spells would also automatically target anyone attacking Draco before they targeted anyone attacking himself.

The Bond had been created for captives a couple thousand years earlier. It would ensure your captive couldn’t attack you (or anyone else) with magic; that was why Draco could no longer cast spells on other people. But it also ensured that you would take good care of the person you’d imprisoned. They couldn’t be out of your sight without causing them extreme discomfort and your magic would defend them as much as it defended you. You were forced to protect the person bound to you no matter what. And if your captive was injured, so were you.

It was actually a fascinating Bond, if you weren’t stuck in the middle of it. The person who was the Protector had almost absolute power over the other person. They were the one in control. The Captive member trusted, completely, that their Protector would keep them safe. That they would not be harmed in any way. In fact, the Protector was the only one capable of hurting the Captive without ending up injured themselves. But Harry knew if he harmed a single hair on Draco’s head, he’d be breaking the conditions of the life-debt and the magic of it would kill him. And the Bond would only break when the Bond decided that Draco no longer required Harry’s protection. When that happened, the life-debt would be broken as well. Harry couldn’t wait.

In the meantime, the Bond hadn’t been as awful as Harry had expected. Draco had switched rooms with Seamus, so the Irish boy was rooming with Blaise Zabini while Draco roomed with Harry. Their classes were simple enough, with Harry sitting in on the two classes Draco was aiming for getting a NEWT in that he wasn’t taking himself (Ancient Runes and Herbology) while Draco did the same for him (Charms). It made things easier that, as Eighth Years, they already shared the classes they were both taking.

Harry’s primary concerns had ended up not being an issue in the week since they’d been Bonded. He had worried about meals, since they weren’t really sure what the actual distance-limit was on their Bond. It seemed to vary based on location and how many people were around. In the Great Hall, it was shortened to almost nothing. But Draco hadn’t protested at all when Harry sat at the Gryffindor table. Instead, he had wedged himself in beside Harry, so close he was practically on Harry’s lap, and eaten in silence, without meeting anyone’s gaze. He had done the same for every meal, without a single comment, insult, or protest. Hermione had kindly taken to sitting on Draco’s other side when it became clear that the majority of their House refused to go near the blonde.

Harry had also worried about Quidditch practice. Though Draco had not rejoined the Slytherin House team, Harry had rejoined Gryffindor’s team. He’d expected the blonde to kick up a fuss over how much time Harry spent on the field. Instead, the Slytherin had simply gathered up his homework and various books and settled onto the grass between the stands. He sat on a blanket, carefully encased in a Warming Charm, and studied or did homework or read while Harry and the other Gryffindors practiced and, again, he did this without comment, insult, or protest. Harry had wondered, several times, if Draco had been rendered mute somewhere between when the Bond was cast and when they’d left the Headmistress’s office shortly after. It seemed as though Draco rarely spoke.

When Harry had insisted on going to spend time in the Gryffindor Common Room, Draco had brought a book and curled up in the chair closest to the sofa where Harry sat with Ginny. He’d read for several hours. Then he’d fallen asleep, still curled in the chair, with the book balanced precariously on the arm of the chair near his head. When it had fallen to the thickly carpeted floor with a soft whump, Draco hadn’t even stirred. Harry had been a little surprised at the Slytherin for falling asleep in the lion’s den, considering how many of the Gryffindors were still out for his blood. But then he’d remembered that he was bound by magic to protect the blonde. So of course Draco could fall asleep; he was under the protection of Harry Potter. He was safe no matter where he was.

In the Eighth Year Common Room was the only place he’d seen Draco speak at all, and then only to Blaise. He would sit as far from Harry as the spell would comfortably allow, resting his head on Zabini’s shoulder and looking sulky, talking in quiet murmurs to the other boy. Zabini, for his part, seemed to mostly nod and pet Draco’s hair soothingly. Harry wondered if Draco spent the whole time complaining about being stuck with him. He thought that was probably the case and told himself he didn’t care.

On the Saturday following Halloween – November 7th – Harry was sulking on his bed in their room. Draco was obviously on his own bed, but he wasn’t sulking. In fact, he seemed perfectly content. Harry was sulking because they’d been denied access to Hogsmeade, even though it was actually a Hogsmeade weekend and everyone would be going. Including Ginny, who had offered to stay behind with Harry when she’d heard he couldn’t go. But Harry had sent her along, telling her to spend some time with her friends and not worry about him; he’d be just fine. So she’d gone and Harry had to wonder at how quickly she’d agreed to go without him. He’d expected a little more protesting; a little more arguing. But then, he’d already realized that things with Ginny were seldom what he expected. He just wasn’t sure what to do about that fact.

And now – while he was brooding over not being allowed to go to Hogsmeade because it wasn’t safe for Draco Malfoy – probably wasn’t the best time to analyze his relationship with Ginny. Draco’s voice suddenly interrupted his thoughts. “What’s it like, with the Weasley girl?”

Harry turned his head to stare at Draco in confusion. He was lying on his back, sideways across his bed, while the blonde was sitting cross-legged on his comforter, looking pensive. “What the fuck are you talking about, Malfoy?” Of all the things for Malfoy to finally say, that had made no sense.

Draco made a strange sound in his throat, closed his eyes with a frown, and explained. “I mean, Potter, what’s it like with the Weasley girl?” When Harry didn’t reply, Draco opened silver-grey eyes and pinned Harry with an intense look. “Seriously, Potter. She’s quite fierce normally. Is she the same in bed?”

Harry’s cheeks flushed and he glared at Draco. “That’s none of your business, Malfoy! Why are you even asking me that?”

“Curiosity, I suppose.” Draco replied with a careless shrug. “I’ve never done more than kissing. And that was with Pansy, who’s something like a sister to me. So I don’t really know what it’s like to be with someone I’m attracted to. So I thought I would ask.”

“And you decided I was the person to ask, because…” Harry trailed off, since he didn’t know how to finish that sentence.

“Because all Blaise does is brag about his own prowess – which I’m fairly certain is greatly exaggerated – and I didn’t know who else to ask.” Draco’s tone was matter-of-fact, but his fair cheeks were tinged a soft pink so Harry thought he was probably embarrassed. “Never mind then, Potter. Forget I asked.”

And Harry felt guilty all of a sudden. The Gryffindor boys’ dorm had often been filled with bawdy jokes and ribald banter and blatant innuendos. Clearly the Slytherin boys’ dorm hadn’t been. And Draco had been very accommodating since they’d been Bound. Draco hadn’t made a single rude comment to anyone, even if they said something rude to him first. He had been quiet and withdrawn, in fact. And now the blonde was trying to start a friendly conversation – asking about something highly personal, true, but not in a rude or obnoxious way – and Harry was shutting him down. Which really wasn’t fair, considering Draco didn’t exactly have a lot of friends these days.

So Harry sighed, threw one arm up across his eyes, and said stiffly. “If you ever repeat a word of this within hearing range of Ron, I’ll kill you, consequences be damned.” He warned.

Draco snickered softly. “I swear not to tell Weasley anything about how good or bad his baby sister is in bed.” He said in an amused tone. “So, dish. She’s totally in command, right? I can just picture her being incredibly domineering.”

Harry moved his arm and half sat up to stare at Draco in shock. “Er, no, actually. She’s very…soft. She lets me take charge.” He frowned at Draco. “Why would you think she was in charge?”

Draco quirked an eyebrow. “You’re kidding, right, Potter?” When Harry just stared at him blankly, Draco let out a disbelieving bark of laughter. “Sweet Merlin, Potter, that’s insane! She’s a fiery little redhead and she’s one of the most competitive girls I’ve ever seen. She’s strong and stubborn and defiant. Everyone knows that! How is it possible she just lays there and lets you lead?”

“I didn’t say she just laid there!” Harry protested, unable to stop the laugh that was bubbling up in his throat. Without thinking, he threw a pillow at Draco, hitting the blonde in the face. “Don’t be such a prat, Malfoy. She’s just a girl. Of course I’m the one in charge.”

Draco laughed again, another short burst of derision. “What’s her being the girl got to do with anything, Potter? She’s the more experienced one, unless you were just being incredibly discreet. So it makes more sense for her to lead.”

Harry rolled onto his stomach, folding his arms in front of him and lowering his head so his chin rested on them. He frowned at Draco. “What do you mean, she’s more experienced?”

Draco shrugged, getting up and moving across the room so he was sitting on Harry’s bed with him. He rested his back against Harry’s headboard and pillows, stretching his legs out until he was nearly kicking Harry in the side. “Well, she dated that Thomas boy from Gryffindor before she dated you, right? And that Ravenclaw boy, Corner. And possibly others, too. I only remember Thomas because you glared at him whenever you weren’t staring at me in Sixth Year. And Corner’s hard to forget, since he was constantly pawing at her in public and most of us Slytherins were hoping her brothers would decide to attack the boy as a team.”

“I didn’t stare at you in Sixth Year.” Harry protested, shifting onto his side so he was facing Draco and curling his body slightly so his stomach wasn’t quite so close to the Slytherin’s feet. “I was…you know…spying on you.” Draco quirked an eyebrow incredulously and Harry grinned. “Yeah, okay, I stared a little bit.”

Draco smiled back, then said carefully. “Harry.” When the Gryffindor simply stared at him, he smiled wider and continued. “You didn’t address the issue of your girlfriend being more experienced than you are, Harry.”

“Oh, right.” Harry considered it for a moment, then shrugged. “I just don’t see what her past boyfriends have to do with who’s in charge.”

“Well, I mean, she’s the one who’s the better kisser and stuff.” Draco tried to explain his reasoning. “I mean, she’d have to be with all that practice, right?” Then, as though realizing what he said might be offensive, he added hastily. “I’m sure she’s taught you to kiss just fine by now, though.”

“Taught…taught me?” Harry was staring at Draco in horror. Ginny hadn’t taught him anything! When they snogged they just…snogged! It wasn’t a lesson or anything! What the hell was Malfoy even talking about?

Draco’s eyes widened. “You mean she hasn’t? Oh. Well…maybe you’re just a naturally good kisser. Or maybe she doesn’t know how to tell you that you’re bad at it. I mean, she’s been in love with you for forever so it can’t be easy to say, ‘Harry, you suck at snogging.’ ”

Harry was now stuck on this idea. Was he a bad kisser? Ginny had never said he was. But then, she’d never said he wasn’t so how was he supposed to know? This was so unfair. He’d never thought about this before. “How am I supposed to know if I’m good at it or not?” He demanded. He poked the bottom of Draco’s foot, smiling when the boy squirmed and whined about being ticklish. “Seriously, Malfoy. I don’t want to be pants at kissing!”

Draco chuckled, pulling his knees up and drawing his legs close to his chest so he could wrap his arms around them. “Well, I guess you ask. I mean, not your girlfriend, obviously, since you don’t want to know if she thinks you’re a bad kisser. You just want to know in general so you can get better at it if it turns out you are pants at it.”

“But she’s the only one I’ve snogged!” Harry exclaimed, exasperated. “I mean, I kissed Cho, sort of, but that wasn’t…I mean, she was crying and it just…well, it doesn’t really count.” He finished a bit lamely, then pushed on with determination. “So it’s really just been Ginny. I mean, who do I ask, then?” Then he sat up and asked Draco suspiciously. “Did you ask Parkinson if you were a good kisser?”

“Sweet Salazar, of course I didn’t!” Draco burst out laughing, burying his face in his knees until he managed to calm down. “Merlin, Harry, I wouldn’t ask Pansy that! Our parents were expecting us to get married before the whole war happened. It would have been awkward. Just like now, if I decide to go for that Greengrass girl my parents are pushing me towards, I wouldn’t ask her if I was bad at it.”

“Oh.” Harry frowned while thinking about this, then nodded slowly. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. You don’t want to ask the person you really want to be with. That matters too much. So wait…” Harry raised an eyebrow at Draco. “Daphne Greengrass? She’s really pretty. I’ve always liked blondes. I mean…you know, besides Ginny. I like red hair too, I guess. But I’ve always noticed blondes.”

Draco blinked slowly, then grinned. “Is that why you stared at me so much in Sixth Year?” He laughed when Harry smacked his leg and couldn’t stop grinning. “Sorry; couldn’t resist. And no, not Daphne. Her little sister, Astoria. She’s got dark hair. Which is fine with me, I suppose. I don’t really have a preference.”

“Oh. Little sister? How much younger is she?” Harry asked curiously. He realized suddenly that he didn’t know very much about Draco Malfoy, considering how long they’d been antagonizing each other. It was a little disconcerting.

“She’s a year behind your girlfriend, so two years behind us.” Draco told him with a shrug. “I haven’t actually decided if I’m going to try dating her yet. With everything that’s been going on this year, it just didn’t seem like a good time, you know?”

“Yeah, that makes sense, I guess.” Harry flopped onto his back, staring up at the canopy over his head. “So, if you wanted to know if you were a good kisser, who would you ask? Being a Slytherin and all, surely you’d have some sort of plan…”

Draco chuckled, nodding. “Of course. Well, I suppose I could ask Pansy now since I don’t intend to marry her anymore, but she hasn’t kissed me in ages so she might not be a good judge. I suppose…I suppose I’d ask Blaise.”

Harry’s head snapped around so fast his neck hurt. “You’ve kissed Blaise Zabini?” He demanded, absolutely fascinated by this new knowledge. “Why? Are you gay?”

“Merlin, Harry, you’re so…narrow-minded.” Draco grumbled, shifting around so he was sitting Indian-style on the bed, his elbows braced on his knees as he leaned towards Harry. “And I didn’t say I’d already kissed him. I said, if I wanted to know if I was a good kisser or not, I’d kiss Blaise and ask him to tell me because he’s my best friend and I know he wouldn’t lie. Or tell anyone if I was pants at it. It doesn’t mean I’m gay. It means I trust Blaise.”

Harry frowned. “Well, I sure as hell wouldn’t kiss Ron just to find out if I was bad at it or not!” He protested; the very thought was disturbing. “I mean, ew! Just…no.”

Draco snorted, rubbing his hands over his face. “Well of course you wouldn’t kiss Weasley. He’s like a brother to you. Blaise and I are more…I don’t know how to explain it to you. It’s just not that same sort of bond you’ve got with Weasley, that’s all. Plus, Blaise is hot. Weasley’s…ginger. And freckly. And…ugh.”

Harry looked at Draco incredulously. “I thought you said you weren’t gay! Why are you rating guys if you’re not gay?”

“I’m not rating guys!” Draco snapped angrily, feeling defensive all of a sudden. “I’m just saying that Blaise is more my type then Weasley! And I’m not gay, I’m just not…I mean, I would…” Draco scrambled for the right words and finally settled on. “I don’t discriminate, that’s all. If someone is attractive, then they’re attractive. Why does it matter what gender they are?”

Harry opened and shut his mouth several times without saying anything, then he sighed and acknowledged. “I don’t know how to respond to that, but I guess it makes sense in a way. So you’d really kiss Zabini just to find out if you were good at it?”

“Why not?” Draco asked, tipping his head to the side as he studied Harry. “I mean, it’s the sort of thing one really ought to know about themselves, right? And it wouldn’t matter much if Blaise thought I was a pants kisser. And then I’d know I needed to practice.”

Harry considered this for a few minutes, then said. “Yeah, I guess. I don’t think I’m pants at it, though, because…well, because I think I’d know, right? I mean, I’d be able to tell from how Ginny reacts when we’re snogging.”

Draco shrugged. “I suppose. If you’re willing to risk it…”

“Shut up, Malfoy.” And because Harry’s tone was weary and slightly aggravated, Draco decided not to push things. He went back to his own bed and began reading, leaving Harry to his own thoughts. It wasn’t his business anyway.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Harry and Draco spoke more and more frequently after that day. It was only when they were alone in their dorm, and it often ended in one or the other of them getting frustrated and them both falling silent to avoid a fight, but it was progress. And though Draco called Harry by his first name, Harry still called the Slytherin ‘Malfoy’ instead of Draco. Draco didn’t know why, when it seemed like they were almost becoming friends, but he didn’t question it. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know the answer.

And so several weeks passed without much of interest happening. A few people attempted to attack Draco but not much damage was done. One such attack did result in both of them having broken arms, since Draco’s injuries spread to Harry, but that was the worst of it. And once the students realized that Harry really was protecting Draco, the attacks seemed to taper off. The Bond didn’t break, however, which Draco assumed was because the other students would still happily kill him if Harry’s protection were withdrawn.

The last Saturday in November, Draco was curled up in the Gryffindor Common Room, reading, when he felt the sharp panic that signaled that Harry was out of range. He looked up, nervous, and spotted Hermione sitting nearby. “Granger!” He hissed, trying not to draw anyone else’s attention. When she didn’t respond, he hissed a little louder. “Granger!”

Hermione’s head came around and she looked surprised. “Oh, um…yes, Malfoy?” She asked, clearly trying to be polite.

“Where did Harry go?” He asked quietly, leaning closer to her and keeping his voice low. “All I know is that he’s not in the room anymore, but I didn’t see him leave.”

“Oh.” Hermione blushed faintly and Draco had a feeling he knew what was coming. “He, er…he slipped upstairs with Ginny for a bit. Don’t worry, no one will bother you. Harry’s made it clear that you’re under his protection and the Gryffindors will respect that.”

“Oh.” Draco supposed he couldn’t really blame Harry for sneaking away for a little while. It had been a month since they were Bonded, after all, which meant a month without alone-time with the little Weasley girl. Of course he missed his girlfriend. He gave Hermione a small smile. “Alright then. I suppose I can deal with the separation for a little while.”

“What does it feel like?” Hermione asked, clearly slipping into researcher-mode as she set her book aside and leaned towards him. Draco found it oddly endearing to see how intense she became when something intrigued her, which alarmed him slightly. “I mean, when you’re away from Harry?”

“Horrible.” He admitted; he didn’t see the harm in being honest with Granger. She wasn’t the sort to use it against him. “It’s like…like I’m being hunted and I know it. I want to just run until I’m close to him again, because I know that’s the only way I’ll be safe.” Draco closed his eyes, struggling to find words to put to the way he was feeling. “It’s like the fear and panic is always there, waiting just under the surface for Harry to move too far away. Then it rises in an instant and drags me under. It’s not as awful if I’m someplace secure, with no one else around me, but someplace like here, where there’s others around…it’s nearly unbearable.” He opened his eyes and Hermione could see the sheer terror in them. “I don’t know how long I can handle it, but I’ve lived with fear before. I can manage for a little while, I’m sure.”

Hermione nodded, looking very sad but without pity. “Yes, I’m sure you’re quite adept at living with fear, Malfoy.” Her tone was very gentle and she gave him a slight smile. “And anyway, I’m sure Harry won’t be too long.” She giggled and rolled her eyes, adding. “Teenage boys seldom are. No offense.”

Draco’s cheeks went pink, but he smirked. “As a teenage boy, it’s hard to take offense at something that is, most-unfortunately, quite true.” He hesitated for a moment, then added. “Thank you, Granger.” And he was doubly grateful when she didn’t ask what he was thanking her for, but simply smiled and nodded before turning back to her book.

Only about five minutes later, Harry came storming down the stairs. He looked furious and miserable at the same time and, with only the briefest glance at Draco to ensure the boy had seen him, he continued on out of Gryffindor Tower. Draco hastily closed his book and tore after Harry, not liking the prospect of being left behind when he didn’t even know where Harry was heading. But Harry was waiting right outside the portrait; he stomped off the instant Draco climbed out. The Slytherin followed along behind him, wondering what had set off the dark-haired teen but not sure he should ask. He realized quickly that they were heading back towards the Eighth year Common Room and dorms and simply hugged his book closer to his chest, deciding he’d ask when they were alone.

As it turned out, Draco didn’t need to ask. He followed Harry through their Common Room and up the stairs to their dorm. As soon as Draco stepped inside and shut the door behind him, Harry started to scream. “I can’t believe this! She’s…I mean, she…and I just…” He whirled on Draco, glaring. “Dammit, Malfoy, it’s all your fault, you know! All that talk that day about being good at snogging! I couldn’t concentrate and I blame you!”

Draco did his best to stop the laughter bubbling up inside him, but he couldn’t do anything to prevent his lips from curling upwards. “Harry, you’re taking this way too seriously. One bad snogging session doesn’t mean anything. Except that you need to relax, of course.” He rolled his eyes and took a single step away from the door, adding. “You just need to snog someone, ask them if you’re bad at it, and then move on, or you’re never going to stop worrying.”

Harry didn’t stop to consider the consequences. But then, he rarely did. He just barreled into the slightly-smaller boy, slamming him into the door he’d just begun to move away from. Draco’s grey eyes widened, his lips parting in surprise, and Harry muttered. “Just be honest, okay?”

And then he pressed his lips to Draco’s, fueled by all of his anger and frustration and fear. Harry’s tongue darted out, flickering lightly over soft pink lips and straight white teeth before stroking firmly along the other boy’s tongue. And Draco melted, his whole body going soft. He wound his arms around Harry’s neck and arched into the taller teen. He let his tongue move slightly against Harry’s, whimpering softly when Harry pulled back to nibble on his lower lip. When Harry sealed their mouths together again, Draco sucked almost desperately on Harry’s tongue; the Gryffindor tasted like chocolate and raspberry and he wanted to just climb inside him and stay there.

And then Harry pulled away, ignoring Draco’s mewl of protest. He unwound the blonde’s arms from around his neck and backed up several steps, panting hard. Draco whined again, slumping back against the door and feeling dazed and a little dizzy. Then he realized Harry was staring at him with a very strange look on his face and he straightened up, clearing his throat. “That was…” He debated for a split second about lying, but knew he couldn’t betray Harry’s trust that way. So he said, quite honestly. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, Harry. Ginny is quite lucky.”

Then, before Harry could say or do anything else, he slipped onto his bed, closed the curtains, and hit them with every locking and privacy charm he could think of. He might as well have been encased in concrete; no one would be disturbing him. Then, he curled himself around his pillow and cried.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Harry stood outside Draco’s curtains on Sunday morning. He wasn’t quite sure why the boy had hidden after their kiss. Harry had thought it was a very nice kiss and he’d thought – based on the way Draco had whimpered and leaned against the door – that the blonde had enjoyed it as well. He wondered if perhaps Draco was angry that Harry had kissed him without permission. He really hoped that wasn’t the case. He and Draco had been getting on quite well lately and he really didn’t want to return to their days of fighting, or even to their previous arrangement of polite silence. But he wasn’t sure what to do or how to fix whatever seemed to have broken between them.

So instead of trying, he just called out. “Malfoy? I, er…well, I don’t even know if you can hear me since I don’t know what spells you put up, but…well, I need to go and try to fix things with Ginny. From last night, I mean. So…so yeah. You should probably stay here in the room until I get back. I won’t be too long, but I don’t want to risk you getting attacked. I’ll, er…” Harry floundered for a moment, trying to think of something to make up for dashing off and leaving Draco essentially stranded, and finally said lamely. “I’ll send Zabini up, yeah?”

There was no reply that Harry could hear but, behind the spelled curtains, Draco was screaming. Because, in fact, the blonde could hear Harry and he wasn’t happy with what the other boy was saying. In fact, he was cursing Harry quite colorfully for rushing off to the redheaded girl when he’d set Draco’s world spinning with a single kiss; it wasn’t fair! So instead of taking down the privacy charms, Draco stayed safely behind his curtains and let out all of his anger and frustration and hurt. Harry, for his part, stood outside the bespelled fortress of Draco’s bed for several minutes, waiting and hoping for a response. None came.

So, with a heavy sigh, he touched his fingers to velvet that felt like fabric-wrapped stone, and murmured softly. “I’ll be back soon.” Then he turned and left.

Inside his little bubble, Draco’s eyes filled with tears as he heard Harry leave without having made any real effort to get to Draco and talk to him. “You really wanted to talk to me, didn’t you? Practically broke down the curtains!” The disbelieving sarcasm in his voice was intense. He stared at the curtains for a moment before rolling onto his stomach to bury his face in his mattress.

He pounded his fists into the pillow that was just above his head and kicked his bare feet over and over into the mattress, needing desperately to let out some of the pain that was ripping at him. He felt like a small child having a tantrum, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. There was no one around to see him like this anyway, so what did it matter? He sat up and whipped the pillow against the curtains. It hit with a whump and slid down them to land on the bed; the curtains didn’t even flutter. Draco couldn’t believe how quickly Harry had dismissed him – and their kiss – from his mind.

Draco heard the door to the room open and his heart leapt, hoping against hope for a moment – just a moment – that it was Harry returning. He heard footsteps, then slumped when he heard Blaise’s voice saying, “Draconis.”

It was the password Draco had built into his curtains-to-stone spell; Blaise and Pansy were the only ones who knew it. The curtains softened and Blaise parted them. Draco looked up at him, wearing nothing but his boxers – his clothing from the night before was bunched up messily at the foot of the bed – and sitting amidst tangled sheets, looking miserable. His face was wet with tears and was a blotchy red color. His eyes were dark and red-rimmed. Faint purple bruising under his eyes betrayed how little sleep he’d gotten the night before and his whole body was trembling faintly.

“Oh, luv…” Blaise climbed onto the bed and pulled Draco onto his lap the way someone would do with a small child who’d had a nightmare. “What happened, luv? Tell me everything.”

“He kissed me.” Draco sobbed, curling into Blaise’s embrace and giving into the tears. “He kissed me, Blaise, and then ran off to that…that…that little redheaded she-Weasel!”

Blaise considered this for a few moments, making soft shushing noises and soothingly petting Draco’s hair and back. Then, very slowly, he spoke. “Draco…do you want Potter?” Draco nodded against his chest and Blaise sighed. “Well then, take him.”

Draco pulled back slightly to look at Blaise as though he was insane. “Are you even listening to yourself, Blaise?” Draco demanded harshly. “I just told you! He ran off to his girlfriend!”

“So?” Blaise quirked an eyebrow. “Really, luv. Everyone knows you’re as pretty as any girl. Prettier than most of them, in fact. And you’re capable of being quite charming when you want. Potter won’t be able to resist you. He did kiss you, after all.”

“Only because he was worried he was pants at kissing.” Draco spat out angrily. “I was nothing more than a convenient test subject!”

Blaise chuckled softly, squeezing Draco’s waist gently. “Yes, well…you’ve used your own fair number of people as test subjects, haven’t you, luv?” And Draco’s lips quirked up slightly at that because it was certainly true. “And you’re one of the best kissers I’ve ever met. Is that why he chose you? Because of your vast experience?”

Draco snickered, his cheeks going pink. But not from embarrassment; he was literally pink with amusement. “Actually, Harry thinks I’ve only ever kissed Pansy. I was trying to get him to talk to me, so I may have…fibbed a little.”

Blaise couldn’t help it; he roared with laughter. “Oh, that’s rich, luv. Fibbed, did you? Just what had you fibbing about kisses anyway?”

“Oh; well.” Draco shrugged, dissembled slightly. “I was trying to get Harry to talk to me, because Salazar knows I’m about to go barmy from being silent all the time. And since I’m always with Harry, it made sense to try to talk to him.” Draco explained, shaking his head slightly. “And anyway, I asked a simple question and he got all prudish and Gryffindor on me, so I told a small lie about how Pansy’s the only one I’ve ever kissed to put him at ease.”

“Poor Potter; he won’t know what hit him if you snog him proper! Did he at least buy it?” Blaise grinned at Draco when he nodded, his golden cat-eyes dancing, and queried. “How many people have you actually kissed then?”

Draco shrugged carelessly, letting his head rest easily on his best friend’s shoulder. “Don’t know, really. I never bothered to keep track. Been a bit, though. Not since…well, not since I took the Mark. Had other things on my mind by that point.”

“Wait, so Potter really thinks you’ve only kissed Pansy?” He paused, then added. “Well, and him now, obviously.”

“Yes,” Draco’s lips curved upwards just the slightest bit. “I also told him that I’ve never done anything beyond kissing.”

“Well, that part’s true, anyway, unless something happened that I’ve not been informed of.” Blaise pointed out, letting Draco go as the blonde slid to sideways on the bed. “And if you have done something and haven’t told me, I’m lodging a formal complaint as your best friend.”

“No, nothing’s happened.” The blonde assured him, shaking his head and still smiling. Then he sighed and the smile slipped away as though it had never been. “But how am I supposed to get him to kiss me again so I can do it proper?”

“Well, he kissed you to see if he was good at it, right? I mean, that’s what you said.” Draco nodded and Blaise asked. “Did he give you feedback as well? I mean, did you ask his opinion on your kissing or was it a one-sided sort of thing?”

And the wicked smile that curved Draco’s sensual mouth was all the answer Blaise needed. Potter didn’t stand a chance.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Harry returned to their room two hours after he’d left, he was surprised to find that Blaise wasn’t there, because he’d seen the other Slytherin head up and had expected to find the two boys hanging out together. Instead, Draco was reading, sprawled across Harry’s bed. He looked up when the Gryffindor entered and managed a nervous smile. “Harry. Hi. How did it go with your girlfriend?”

“Hmmm?” Harry blinked, then shook his head to clear it. Something about seeing Draco lounging on his bed was making it hard to concentrate properly. “Oh, right. Ginny. It…it went okay. She’s been sort of distant lately. I don’t really know why. She just laughs it off when I ask and says I’m imagining things.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” But despite his sympathetic tone of voice, inwardly Draco was cheering. If all was not well in paradise, it would be even easier to tempt Harry into being with him instead.

And he’d realized, during his interminable night of tears, that he really wanted Harry. Not just because he was a marvelous kisser or because he was protecting Draco, but simply because he was Harry. Harry, who was amazing at Quidditch but didn’t want to go pro because he didn’t want to ‘take the fun out of something I love so much’ as he’d put it. Harry, who was brave and strong and powerful, but admitted to being terrified of small, dark spaces. Harry, who was the epitome of everything good and pure and Light, but who had confessed a deep-rooted fear of turning Dark. Harry, who was everything a Gryffindor ought to be, but who had told Draco one day that the Hat had nearly placed him in Slytherin. Harry, who was everything people thought and nothing like Draco had imagined and a million things more besides. Harry, who was imperfect and thick-headed and stubborn, but incredibly sweet and adorable. He was everything Draco hadn’t known he desired and the Slytherin was determined to have him, no matter what.

Harry just shrugged and flopped down onto the bed beside Draco, looking sullen. He turned brooding eyes on Draco and said in an annoyed voice. “I just don’t understand. We were so happy, Malfoy. We used to laugh together all the time and she just…she glowed when she was with me. And now…I mean, we still laugh and she still smiles and snuggles with me, but it’s not the same. Or rather, it is the same.”

Draco bit his lip, not sure what to say to that, or how to segue into what he wanted to talk about. So he just nodded for the moment and Harry kept talking. “What I mean is that…well, it seems like the same at a glance. We do the same things we did before and at first I thought that was great because I missed it while I was away and I missed her, but I guess I always thought that if I came back…if I lived, I mean…well, I thought things would change. We’d be moving forward. Not…not stuck in some schoolyard romance with hand-holding and giggles and soft smiles. I thought it would be like…like need. Like we needed each other, after everything we’d been through. Like we couldn’t breathe without each other…like …”

Harry’s voice had gone funny and his eyes had sort of unfocused. He was sitting on the bed, just a few small feet separating them, looking at the Slytherin but also looking through him. He continued, haltingly, his voice still slightly off. “Like a day not seeing each other…it wouldn’t be right. Like…if we weren’t touching…things would fall apart….or…or if we didn’t kiss…right then, that instant…the whole world would stop. Like we’d…like we’d just die without another touch…or…or we’d…we’d just shatter if the other one wasn’t there. I just thought…I thought it’d feel like…like…”

And suddenly Harry had moved and Draco was flat on his back with the brunette above him. Harry was straddling him and the Gryffindor’s weight was pressing down on his stomach and his hands were on either side of Draco’s head and then their lips were sealed together and Draco knew exactly what Harry was talking about. He moaned and parted his lips, this time not a startled receiver, but an active participant. He sucked on Harry’s tongue even as his fingers slid into Harry’s hair, tangling and gripping and forcing the other teen’s mouth closer to his. Draco breathed sharply through his nose while he pushed his tongue past Harry’s so he could explore the Gryffindor’s mouth.

Chocolate and raspberry again, and he wondered for a moment what Harry was so prone to eating that made him taste like that, before all he cared about was tracing and memorizing the line of Harry’s teeth and the taste of the inside his cheeks and the faint ridges on the roof of his mouth. He licked at Harry’s teeth and tongue and lips like he would die if he didn’t; like this was all he needed in the world; like he couldn’t ever get enough. He sucked on Harry’s lower lip, then bit down hard enough to drag a quiet whimper from Harry before sliding his tongue back into that mouth.

Harry, for his part, felt dizzy and a bit overwhelmed. As he’d spoken, he’d realized something. It had always been Draco Malfoy. From the very first day, it had been the blonde Slytherin who consumed his thoughts and drew his attention in a way no one else could. It had been Draco he followed around and screamed at and couldn’t stay away from. It had been Draco who had always been able to needle a reaction from him with a single look or gesture or phrase. It was Draco whom he knew in ways he’d never known anyone else – he knew Draco’s scent and the cadence of his laugh and the sound of his footsteps. Harry would know Draco in a crowd of a thousand people, even if he were blindfolded.

He felt Draco’s fingers in his hair and tasted the blonde – vanilla and coffee and something that was purely Draco – and felt that slim body under him…and he knew. This…this was what he had wanted. What he’d needed. What he’d been hoping to find when the war finally ended. To know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was absolutely essential to someone else.

And now he knew; he was. Neither he nor Draco could properly exist without the other. They orbited each other; drawn together or pushed away, depending on their moods, like magnets. When one moved, the other did as well. When one spoke, so did the other. When one pushed, the other pushed back – not so much a give and take, but an almost simultaneous fulfilling of each other’s needs. They had always been intense; it was just in a different way now.

So when Harry shifted his weight slightly, his body shifting above Draco’s, and he felt the firm press of Draco’s cock against his ass through their clothing, he didn’t question it or panic or wonder if this was right. He just sat up, pulling his mouth away from Draco’s, and rocked his hips. Draco’s head dropped back, baring his neck, and he arched his hips upwards into Harry’s rocking motions, moaning. Harry licked his lips, just studying the blonde’s face for a moment; Draco was beyond beautiful. Overwhelmed with desire, he fisted his hands in Draco’s tee-shirt and hauled the slightly-smaller teen upwards so they were sitting, face-to-face and chest-to-chest, with Harry on Draco’s lap, and kissed him again. Draco wound his arms around Harry’s waist and kissed back desperately.

Then Harry was pulling back and tugging his jumper over his head and Draco was panting, the sound of his harsh breathing filling his ears while his whole world narrowed to the sight of Harry Potter stripping. Harry’s tee-shirt followed the jumper onto the floor, then Harry scrambled backwards on the bed, kicking off his trainers and tugging off his socks. Draco discarded his own tee-shirt while watching Harry shuck his jeans. The Gryffindor didn’t stop there either and Draco’s breath caught in his throat as garish red-and-gold checkered boxers were tossed to the floor.

Harry laid back against the pillows, his tanned and toned body on glorious display, completely unabashed in his nudity. Harry’s cock rested against his flat stomach, hard and flushed red, foreskin pulled back to reveal the slick, shiny head. His green eyes were hot and intense behind his glasses as he stared up at Draco. Draco didn’t hesitate; his trousers and pants were shoved down and kicked to the floor in mere seconds. Then he was on top of Harry, their earlier positions reversed as he straddled Harry’s lap, relishing the feel of skin-on-skin as he carefully removed Harry’s glasses and tucked them under the pillows where they’d be safe. Then Draco pressed himself closer to Harry and rocked his hips the way Harry had earlier, kissing his protector feverishly.

Harry moaned softly into Draco’s mouth as their bodies pressed heatedly together. ‘The best part about all of this,’ Draco thought as his head fell back and Harry’s tongue moved wetly over his collarbone. ‘Is that there aren’t any questions or answers or declarations. We don’t need them. We just know…’

And then he stopped thinking altogether because Harry had rolled them over so he was flat on his back again, with Harry above him. But this time, Harry was between his legs and then there was the soft murmur of a spell and slick fingers were pressing inside of him and Draco was clawing at Harry’s back and the sheets and his own hair because nothing, nothing, nothing, had ever felt like this before. And Harry’s tongue and lips and teeth were on his skin again – his ear, his throat, his shoulder – and those fingers kept moving and pushing and stretching him and he felt like a god and a slave at the same time. This was what he had been made for: to complete Harry; to have Harry complete him.

Harry was consumed with need. It had never been like this with Ginny. He dragged his tongue over Draco’s shoulder, tasting sweat and soap and skin, then let his teeth mark the flesh he’d tasted. It wasn’t gentle or considerate or careful, and the way Draco’s body jerked beneath him and tightened around his fingers said that Draco didn’t mind. This was hot and fast and brutal; this was skin and sweat and teeth and nails and pressure. This was necessary; not like food or water or sleep, which were needs of a gentler sort, but like air. A greedy, grasping, desperate sort of need. A clawing, pleading, demanding sort of need. The sort of need that burned through everything else, leaving nothing but ash in its wake. And Harry wanted to burn.

So he pulled his fingers out of Draco’s body, ignoring the whimpering protest the other teen made, and slicked his own cock with the remnants of oil on his hand. Then there was more pushing and more kissing and Draco’s nails were digging into the tender skin between Harry’s shoulder blades and his thighs were gripping Harry’s hips and the tight, slick heat surrounding Harry’s cock was Draco and they both shuddered and gasped as Harry slid fully inside. And then Harry’s face was buried in Draco’s throat and he was panting, hot bursts of air against sweat-and-saliva-dampened skin, as he clamped down on the urge to move, to thrust, to claim; as he struggled to give the Slytherin a few moments to adjust.

And Draco’s nails weren’t in his skin anymore, because those aristocratic fingers were tracing light, almost absentminded, patterns on Harry’s back and those thighs weren’t tight around his hips, but had spread wide and were trembling faintly. And the tight, clinging heat of Draco’s body around his cock was relaxing slightly.

Draco took several deep, calming breaths as his body adjusted to the too-full feeling of Harry’s cock inside him. He traced his fingers over the sweat-slicked skin of Harry’s back, then drew up his knees – which had sprawled wide as he instinctively tried to open himself as much as possible for Harry – until his long, slender legs were wrapped around Harry’s waist. He let his hands slide up into damp hair, where it wrapped around his fingers, and tipped his head back slightly to bare his throat further. He felt Harry nuzzle the skin just behind his ear and moaned, a soft and breathless sort of sound.

“Harry…” He murmured, feeling warmth uncurl in his chest as he realized that he’d just given Harry Potter his virginity. He tightened his legs slightly around Harry’s waist and pressed closer, saying. “You can move now, Harry…”

He felt Harry’s lips move against his skin, then a gentle press of teeth, and he knew Harry was smiling into his neck. “Can I really, Draco?” Harry’s voice was low and husky. He lifted his head and smiled down at Draco, who thrilled at finally hearing his first name from those lips. “Would you like it if I moved? Is that what you want?”

And Draco couldn’t stop the smirk that curved his lips, or the hint of mocking in his voice as he replied. “I believe that is the general idea, Harry, though I’ve never done it before.”

Harry buried his face in Draco’s neck, his shoulders shaking with laughter, then pressed soft kisses to the skin of Draco’s jaw. “Yeah, that’s the general idea.” He whispered against the pale skin. “Let’s see about specifics now, yeah?”

As Harry withdrew almost completely, then slid slowly back in, Draco made a soft whining sound and said breathlessly. “Yes, let’s.”

It didn’t take long for Harry to find a rhythm that worked for them both. Draco let him know quite clearly what he liked with moans and whimpers and whispered words of encouragement. He dug his heels into the small of Harry’s back and dug his nails into Harry’s shoulders again. He arched and writhed and begged. And when Harry shifted his weight and changed his angle and brushed something inside of Draco that sent a shock of pleasure ripping through him, the Slytherin actually screamed.

Harry kept kissing Draco; he couldn’t seem to stop. But he didn’t want to smother the delightful sounds Draco was making, so instead he scattered kisses over Draco’s shoulders and neck and jaw. He brushed his lips softly over Draco’s cheeks and the bridge of his nose and his eyelids. And when Draco screamed, tightening around him, sticky warmth splashing between them and coating their stomachs, Harry pressed their lips together again and tumbled over the edge as well.

Afterwards, he lay on top of Draco, shuddering in the aftermath of the most intense orgasm he’d ever had, and wondered how he’d lived without this. Draco’s legs dropped away from Harry’s waist as his softening cock slipped from the Slytherin’s body. Their legs tangled together and Harry rolled slightly to the side, shifting down and resting his head on Draco’s chest. The blonde’s left arm came up around Harry’s waist, while his right hand stroked tenderly through Harry’s damp, sweaty hair.

Harry had just started to doze off when Draco spoke. “I need you, Harry.” The admission was whisper-soft, but fervent.

Harry smiled and blinked open sleepy eyes, pushing himself halfway up to stare into Draco’s eyes. “I need you, too.” He assured the Slytherin. He brushed the tip of his nose against Draco’s and added. “I always have.”

Just as Harry laid his head back down on Draco’s chest, the blonde spoke up again. “What about…I mean, what are you going to tell…her?” Draco hated the slightly plaintive note to his voice, but he forced himself to say the words anyway; he had to know.

Harry sat up again, looking at Draco with horror dawning on his face. “Oh fuck…” He breathed, starting to look vaguely ill. “Oh fuck, no…Ron’s going to kill me!”

Draco’s face went blank, his eyes going a flat grey. “It’s fine.” He said, his voice devoid of any emotion. “I understand. It was just a one-time thing, then. I won’t tell anyone.” He started to roll over, away from Harry, intending to get off Harry’s bed and seal himself in his own again.

“Oh fuck…no! Draco, no!” Harry scrambled after the blonde, grabbing his arm and hauling him back onto the bed and into his arms. “No, I just meant…I sort of just cheated on his sister. Not exactly the sort of thing he’ll be real understanding about, you know? So…yeah. He’s bound to be pissed off.”

“Oh.” Draco’s voice was small and his cheeks were tinged pink with embarrassment. “So you’re not going to run back to her, then? You’re not going to pick her?”

Harry’s hands came up to cup Draco’s face, leaning in until they were nose-to-nose. “I chose you the moment I kissed you today, Draco. I just need to tell Ginny, that’s all.” He tipped his head slightly, pressing their lips together, then added. “And everyone else, of course. I hope you don’t mind headlines and photographers.”

And Draco laughed, because Harry sounded so bitter. He kissed Harry lightly and promised. “I’ll deal with the press. Malfoys are raised for that sort of thing. I can handle positive press easily. It was all that Death Eater-Dark Lord crap that had me cringing.”

And Harry knew that as long as he had Draco at his side, he could face anything. Even hordes of reporters and cameras. And the Weasleys. He hoped.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Harry and Draco spent the rest of Sunday hiding in their room, planning what to tell people; especially Ginny. Harry had Kreacher bring them food when they got hungry and Kreacher briefly fainted with joy at the sight of Master Harry and ‘the son of Mistress Narcissa, the beautiful Master Draco’ wearing nothing but boxers (or, in Draco’s case, a sheet) and snuggled together on Harry’s bed. Late on Sunday night, Harry had Kreacher bring a letter to Ginny, asking her to come to his room before breakfast on Monday morning.

The problem with this plan was that Draco hadn’t read over Harry’s letter to the Weasley chit (wanting to respect the Gryffindor boy’s privacy) and so he didn’t realize that Harry hadn’t specified a time. So at seven in the morning (the boys had set an alarm for 7:30, with the intention of being at breakfast around 8AM, since their first class wasn’t until 9AM) Ginny rapped softly on the door to her boyfriend’s room. When there was only a sleepy murmur of a reply, too mumbled for her to properly make out, she pushed the door open and crept in. She tiptoed over to Harry’s bed, since she knew which one was his, ignoring the other bed to the point that she didn’t realize it was unoccupied.

She carefully tugged the curtains back and smiled down at the lump of covers; Harry had pulled the blanket up over his head. She tugged it down slightly, whispering softly. “Wake up, sleepyhead…” She froze when she saw icy blonde hair, her fingers releasing the blanket as she jerked back in surprise.

The blanket fell so it half-covered the teen’s face, but Ginny would have recognized Draco anywhere. She pressed a hand to her heart and let out a breathless, stuttering laugh; she’d apparently been wrong about which bed was Harry’s, though how she’d managed that she wasn’t sure. She was just stepping back from the bed when the pile of blankets moved, baring more of Draco: slender arms, a graceful neck, a pale chest…and a strong, tanned arm around his narrow waist. The shifting blankets had also revealed the person that tanned arm was attached to. Harry’s dark head – resting on the same pillow as Draco’s – was a stark contrast to Draco’s platinum hair and pale skin.

As Ginny watched, one hand still pressed to her heart, her mind raced. She didn’t understand what was happening. She couldn’t think of any scenario in which this made sense. Or rather, she could think of only one and it wasn’t one she believed was possible. Her Harry couldn’t possibly be sleeping with Draco Malfoy, of all people. She bit her lip as Harry tightened his grip on Draco’s waist and pulled the Slytherin more snugly against his chest. Draco made a soft, sleepy sound in the back of his throat and curled his body slightly, baring the back of his neck. Harry chuckled, a deep and sleepy sort of noise, and moved forward to kiss that soft skin. His eyes weren’t open and for a brief moment she wondered if Harry even knew who he was holding.

Then, as his tongue came out to lick at the nape of Draco’s neck, Harry purred. “Wake up, Draco. Ginny will probably be here soon and we should be dressed. This will be hard enough without…” Well, he definitely knew who he was licking, anyway, Ginny realized as Harry trailed off.

“Without us being naked?” Draco mumbled around a yawn. Ginny felt her heart tighten and a sad smile flitted across her face as the blonde added sleepily. “Mmmm…but I dun’ wanna move. M’comfy.”

Harry chuckled again, still nuzzling the back of Draco’s neck, and said. “I know, but we have to.” Another tender kiss to sensitive skin, and then he yawned and asked. “Where are my glasses anyway?”

“Under the pillow.” Draco replied, stretching and finally opening his eyes. His froze, arms still above his head, and stared at Ginny. He swallowed hard and said. “Um…Harry? Problem…”

Harry, who had rolled over so his back was to Draco (and Ginny) and was fumbling blindly under the pillows, came out with his glasses and settled them on his face before turning over. “What do you mean, prob…?” Harry stopped mid-word as he spotted Ginny.

For a brief moment, Ginny wondered if Harry would apologize and beg her forgiveness. Then the guilt and apology crept into his eyes and she knew. She knew, with every fiber of her being, that Harry would apologize. That was the sort of person he was after all. But he wasn’t going to beg her to forgive him, nor would he try to win back her trust. Because he had already chosen. And he’d not chosen her. She bit her lip, feeling tears prickling the back of her eyes, and let her gaze flick between the two men as they slowly sat up. The blanket and sheets pooled at their waists, revealing the truth Draco had sleepily joked about; they were both naked.

Harry was looking at her, that look still on his face, clearly waiting for her reaction before he said anything. Draco was staring down at his hands, though he kept glancing over at Harry from under his eyelashes, worry clear on his face. Did he not know what Harry had chosen, then? Ginny thought maybe he didn’t, except their sleepy conversation seemed to say he did. Why, then, was Draco looking so concerned? Then Draco reached out a hand and carefully linked his fingers with Harry’s, giving the Gryffindor’s hand a gentle squeeze. He smiled slightly at Harry when Harry glanced at him and squeezed again.

And that was when it hit her. Draco wasn’t worried about whom Harry was going to choose; he already knew, just as she did. No, Draco was worried about Harry. It was strange to see, considering their history, but it was there, just as plain as day. Draco Malfoy was concerned about Harry Potter’s feelings. And as she took in the concern in Draco’s eyes and the soft, loving look Harry was giving him in return, she felt everything in her ache. There had been a time – at the end of Harry’s sixth year, and perhaps just a little that summer before he’d gone away with her brother and Hermione – when Harry had looked at her that way. Like he needed her in order to breathe; like he needed her in order to exist.

And she knew suddenly that the distance Harry had felt between them hadn’t been in his head; it had been in his heart. Somehow, the place that had once been hers no longer was. Somehow, this pale, pointed, haughty boy had taken it over. She didn’t think it was Draco’s fault; she had obviously been gone from Harry’s heart for some time. That look had been missing since the end of the war, actually, if she really thought about it. Perhaps he had let her go – removed her from that special place – when he had walked to his own death. Perhaps he hadn’t been able to face that unless he cut her out of his heart and so, when he’d returned, that special place – which earned a person the sort of look Harry was currently giving Draco – had been empty. And for whatever reason, she hadn’t been able to fill it up again, leaving Harry empty and hollow and unhappy.

And she’d known he wasn’t happy – of course she had – because Molly Weasley hadn’t raised an idiot. She knew Harry hadn’t been okay lately, but she’d blamed the war. She’d thought, with time and love and patience, he would start to get better. And she still thought that was true. It just wasn’t her love and patience that were doing it. It wasn’t her at all. Not now. Because somehow, despite everything horrible that Harry had been through and everything horrible that Draco had seen and done and been a part of, it was the Slytherin who had filled in that empty place inside of Harry. Or perhaps, she decided, tilting her head and watching as Harry absently stroked his fingers over the faint remnants of the Dark Mark on Draco’s arm, even though his eyes were trained on her…perhaps it was because of everything the two of them had been through. Perhaps it was because of the horrors they had both seen that Draco had been able to settle into a place no longer suited to someone as bright and untainted as Ginny.

Ginny took a trembling breath, accepting the pain lancing through her as something she was going to just have to live with. She let her lips curve into a smile even as the tears began to fall and said gently. “I’m glad you found someone who makes you happy, Harry. And I’m sorry it couldn’t be me.”

Harry bit his lip, then blurted out. “It’s not…Ginny, I didn’t mean to…I mean, I should have told you first, not after, and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I swear, I didn’t…”

“Hush.” Her voice was still gentle, but there was enough firmness to halt Harry’s rambling. Brushing away the tears on her cheeks, she told him. “I love you, Harry. I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember. And I want what’s best for you; what makes you happiest. If that’s Malfoy, then okay. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt, or that I won’t need time to be angry and sad and possibly hate you both a bit. But I can say that I will always love you and I won’t stand in your way. Ever.”

Then she locked her eyes with Draco and said firmly. “If you hurt him, Malfoy, you won’t live long enough to regret it. He’s better than you deserve; he’s better than anyone deserves. And I swear if you don’t cherish him, I’ll kill you. Slowly and painfully.”

And Draco’s entire face was open and honest, his eyes intense, as he replied. “You wouldn’t need to kill me, Ginny.” It was the first time he’d called her by her given name, but he thought the situation merited the change. “I’d kill myself before I hurt Harry.”

And when Draco glanced over at Harry again, the look on his face changed to one of need. And she knew exactly why Harry had chosen this boy over her. She had always loved Harry, but she had never needed him. Not the way Draco clearly did; the way Harry had once needed her; the way Harry now needed Draco. She had never looked at him as though she would disappear without him. Not even die; no, it was more intense than that. Draco looked as though he would simply fade into non-being without Harry to anchor him. As though he would simply cease to exist if Harry weren’t there. And she felt the ache in her heart ease a little because she knew Harry deserved to be needed that way.

And while Harry and Draco shared a smile, Ginny turned and walked out of the room. They’d notice she was gone eventually, but it wouldn’t matter. They didn’t need her there. They just needed each other.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Harry held Draco’s hair back from his face while he leaned over the toilet on Christmas morning. It was getting long enough to irritate the blonde (he’d been grumbling about wanting to cut it), but wasn’t yet long enough to tie back in a ponytail. Hermione was outside the bathroom door, as was Blaise; they were both loudly voicing their concerns. Ron would be in the Common Room, grumbling about missing breakfast because of Draco, of course, as well as delaying the opening of presents. Blaise insisted breakfast came before presents, much to Ron’s annoyance and frustration. Though his friends had stood by him (Hermione insisting that, after everything, they had learned to trust his judgment), Ron often grumbled about ‘Malfoy’s spoiled arse’ being too high-maintenance for a guy because Draco took forever to get ready in the mornings. Draco took the whinging quite well. He sneered and taunted back, but with a gleam of amusement and a level of humor that had been absent in their younger years.

Draco was, in fact, one of the most delightful people Harry had ever been around, when he wasn’t fearing for his life. After Draco had given their first interview – during which Harry had sat, wrapped protectively around the Slytherin, and said practically nothing – the students had finally stopped clamoring for Draco’s blood. Apparently being the official boyfriend of Harry Potter meant Draco was virtually untouchable. The Bond was no longer needed but, for some strange reason, it hadn’t broken yet. Harry wasn’t worried about it much, since he didn’t want Draco out of his sight anyway. And Draco had come into his own, lining up interviews and photo-shoots and answering mail. He seemed to flourish in the spotlight that Harry had always hated.

Harry had learned, however, that though he hated being in the spotlight himself, he loved watching Draco shine. The vivacious Slytherin had somehow managed to win over most of the Wizarding World, despite his rather dark past. His delicate but aristocratic looks combined with a charming, amusing, bubbly personality worked well to enchant people. While photos snapped of Harry had always shown him as shy, blushing, and trying to duck out of the frame, when Draco was with him that wasn’t the case. Instead, the newspapers printed pictures of him smiling, laughing, and looking very much in love.

Harry’s favorite had been taken the day they’d all gone Christmas shopping in Diagon Alley the week earlier. Pansy had agreed to meet them there and they’d eventually convinced her to come back to Hogwarts. The picture was of Pansy and Hermione giggling off to the side while Harry was dragged through a bakery’s doorway by Draco. In the doorway hung a sprig of mistletoe and Draco had grinned as he dragged Harry under it, then kissed him softly before letting him go, laughing as Harry scrambled back into the street, blushing. When the Daily Prophet had printed the picture under the headline ‘Draco Malfoy Spreads Christmas Cheer in Diagon Alley’ , Harry had written and demanded a full-sized color print of the photo, which he’d had framed.

Pansy was being tutored at her home through the holidays and would return to the school after New Years to finish her NEWTs. Draco had arranged an interview during which he talked about how much his ‘best and oldest friend’ meant to him and how happy he was to have her returning. With the way the public adored Draco, no one would dare harm Pansy now.

Draco’s personal favorite photo had been taken in a Muggle pub a week after he and Harry had gotten together. The pub was in London and a group of Seventh and Eighth Years had planned a trip to go and sing karaoke. When Draco had heard, he’d insisted they tag along. Dressed in skin-tight black vinyl pants (borrowed from Blaise) and a tight, shiny silver shirt (borrowed from Ginny, who had become fond of Draco very quickly, once she’d realized how completely in love with Harry the Slytherin was), Draco had gotten up on stage and sung. A total of five times. And the crowd had eaten it up. Someone had gotten a picture of Draco – looking sexy and dangerous – while he was singing on the little stage; Harry was standing just off to the side of the stage – barely in the frame – watching with complete adoration. When Witch Weekly had printed it – along with a glowing article, saying how lucky Harry Potter was to have found such an energetic and outgoing young man – Draco had immediately had it framed. The two pictures now sat side-by-side on one of the nightstands in their room.

Harry had never been happier than he was now that he had Draco. Even when the Slytherin was being snide and superior, which happened quite often, he never failed to make Harry laugh. And now Harry felt horrible for the boy, who was on his knees, hunched over the toilet, his whole body shuddering as he heaved again. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything left in his stomach. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be stopping the heaving. When Draco finally stopped gagging, he collapsed backwards into Harry’s arms. As Harry held the sweaty, shaking boy and made soft, soothing noises, Hermione’s voice came through the door again.

“Harry, maybe we ought to take him to Madam Pomfrey.” Blaise made some small sound of agreement and Harry looked down at Draco.

Draco’s face was even paler than normal, with a greenish-cast to his skin. His skin was also slicked with sweat, making his hair cling damply to his forehead and cheeks. His grey eyes had a glassy look to them and his skin felt hot. “She’s right.” He told Draco, tenderly touching Draco’s cheek. “We need to take you to the Infirmary.”

It took Blaise and Harry to support Draco’s weight between them; the blonde was a little unstable on his feet and got dizzy if he moved too fast. Ron and Hermione were told to go down to breakfast and eat before joining them. Hopefully by then they’d know what was wrong with Draco. So twenty minutes after Draco stopped throwing up, he was lying on a bed in the hospital wing, with Blaise sitting next to him while Harry paced agitatedly back and forth. Poppy bustled in, smiling.

“Hello, Harry, dear. Mr. Zabini.” She greeted them before turning her smile on Draco. “Draco. What seems to be the problem then?”

“Spent the morning throwing up.” Draco explained, rubbing his hand carefully over his stomach in an attempt to stop the rolling sensation he was feeling. “Still feel nauseated, too. Also, I feel sort of dizzy if I move too quickly.”

Poppy nodded, flicking her wand and setting a quill to record results on Draco’s chart while she cast diagnostic spells. She kept glancing over at the chart while she cast, her eyebrows climbing higher and higher with each spell. Finally, after several long minutes of casting, she broke into a delighted grin. She cast a final spell, watched the results as they were written into Draco’s chart, then turned to beam at the teenagers.

“Well, I must say this is delightful news!” She gushed, adding. “And it explains a few things the staff has been wondering about. Harry, perhaps you ought to sit down.”

Harry perched nervously on the edge of Draco’s bed, twitching in agitation. “What is it?” He demanded, his shoulders tense. “You said it’s good news…is Draco alright then?”

Draco slipped his hand into Harry’s, twining their fingers together and giving a light squeeze. “What does it explain, Madam Pomfrey?” Draco’s voice was soft and smooth; a startling contrast to Harry’s loud, anxious voice.

“Well, it explains why the Prisoner Bond hasn’t broken yet.” Poppy explained, plucking Draco’s chart and the quill out of the air to scribble some manual notes. “And it explains why Harry’s class results have been a little less impressive the last week or so. Actually, he’ll probably need to put off his NEWTs for a few months. You both will, in fact. Your practical classwork is also going to get steadily worse over the next six months, at which point you’ll both be unable to cast anything at all for a little while.”

Draco’s eyes were the size of saucers and Harry was looking very confused. “I don’t understand. What are you talking about?” Harry asked.

“Draco has been siphoning magic from you, Harry, through the Bond.” Poppy explained. “It should break in about eight months or so, assuming everything goes as expected. And he’ll be siphoning more and more magic each month, so your spell-casting ability will deteriorate over that time.”

“Surely you aren’t saying…” Blaise couldn’t even finish his question; he looked like someone had smacked him in the head with something. Then he turned to Draco with a grin and added teasingly. “You’re going to get fat!”

“Bite me, Blaise.” Draco sneered back, flatting the hand he’d been rubbing his stomach with against his abs, which were quite flat and toned. “I am not going to get fat. Pregnancy is different.”

“Pregnant?” Harry whipped his head around to gape at Draco. He hadn’t followed Poppy’s explanation at all and was struggling to catch up now that it had been spelled out. “What do you mean, pregnant? How is that possible?”

Pomfrey looked up from Draco’s chart to give him a smile as she answered. “It’s not overly common, without the aid of potions and special spells anyway, but it does happen. It requires a lot of magic, though, so if the Bond wasn’t in place, the odds are Draco wouldn’t have conceived. It’s only the addition of your magic, Harry, that’s allowing it. It’s quite extraordinary, really.”

Harry made a small, strange sound, then he let out a short, staccato series of laughs. He turned to Draco, cupped the blonde’s face in his hands, and kissed him fiercely. When he pulled back he said forcefully. “I love you.”

And Draco grinned because, though they both knew how the other felt, they’d never said it before. And not wanting to let such a declaration go unanswered, Draco said softly. “I love you, too.”

And Harry knew everything was going to be just fine.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Epilogue:

August 6th 1999

Harry sat in a rocking chair beside the large bed he shared with Draco at Malfoy Manor. They were fixing up Grimmauld Place to live in, but it hadn’t been fit for a pregnant person when school had ended. Nor was it fit for the few-hours-old child cradled carefully in Harry’s arms. So they were staying with Narcissa and Lucius for a few months while the house was being finished. The child – a beautiful little girl with white-blonde tufts of hair and eyes that Draco insisted looked green (though Harry thought they were a funny blue-grey that Hermione had said all babies had) – was sleeping. Draco was as well. Not that Harry blamed him.

Harry rocked slowly, just staring at the perfect daughter Draco had given him. As Poppy had predicted, the moment the Healer had removed their child from Draco’s body (a process for which Harry had been barred from the room, which he was equal parts grateful and annoyed about), the Prisoner Bond had broken. It was no longer needed, since Draco no longer needed access to Harry’s magic. Their NEWTs were scheduled for the end of September; they’d wanted time to practice the spells they’d learned in theory during their final months of school before sitting for the exams.

“Harry?” Draco’s soft voice drew his attention to the bed, where Draco was now sitting. “Is she asleep still?”

Harry nodded, still rocking slowly. “Yeah. I just wanted to hold her for a bit.” He smiled at his lover, then glanced down at the baby and added. “She just doesn’t seem real yet, you know?”

“Not really.” Draco admitted, with a soft smile. “But then, she’s been moving around inside of me for months, so I suppose it’s different.” He hesitated for a moment, then said. “I know we’ve been bouncing names around for a while, but I thought…I mean, I was hoping…”

“What?” Harry asked as he stood and carefully laid his daughter on her back in the bassinet. “Did you have a name you really wanted? You seemed sort of…ambivalent before.”

Draco laughed softly, even though Harry had placed a one-way Silencing Charm over the bassinet. “I see you’ve been spending time with Hermione again. Ambivalent?”

Harry crawled onto the bed and tugged Draco into his arms, nuzzling the Slytherin’s slender neck. “Yeah, well…I like sounding smart every now and then. So, the name, then?”

“Ah, well…” Draco bit his lip, peering up at Harry from under his bangs. “I was thinking…if you didn’t mind, that is…could we call her Lyra?”

Harry smiled, his eyes going soft, and leaned in to place a soft kiss on Draco’s lips. “Lyra.” He murmured, rubbing the tip of his nose against Draco’s as he often did. “Lyra Anne Malfoy. I love it.”

“No.” Draco shook his head, his cheeks turning pink. “Lyra Anne Potter.”

Harry stopped breathing for several moments as he realized what Draco was offering him. Once upon a time, the Malfoy name had meant everything to Draco. Now, his lover was telling him that he meant everything to Draco. He yanked Draco into his arms, kissing him heatedly, then pulled back and said breathlessly. “Marry me.”

Draco’s eyes widened, then went dark and desperate. “Of course.” He breathed, before pushing forward to seal their mouths together again. When he pulled back, they were both panting. Draco murmured. “I’ve been waiting ages for you to ask me, Harry. Took you long enough.”

Harry smiled at him and said softly. “Yes, well…I’m a little bit slow sometimes, you know.”

“Yes, I do know.” Draco admitted, grinning back. He kissed Harry again, murmuring softly against the Gryffindor’s lips. “But I’d have waited a lot longer for you if I had to.”

Harry’s head tipped to the side quizzically and, in a rare moment of insecurity, he asked. “Would you really? How long?”

And Draco’s words were intense and sincere as he said. “I’d have waited forever for you if I had to, Harry Potter. You’re the reason I exist. How could I not?”

And as Harry kissed Draco again, he knew the same was true for him. Draco was the reason he existed; Draco, and now Lyra. They were his family; his life’s purpose; his whole world. And this…this was his very own ‘Happily Ever After’. Didn’t every hero get one, after all? And Harry intended to enjoy every minute of his. Always.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A Little Something Extra

A/N: I added this piece after finishing the fic for a very simple reason. I did not get to see a lot of Ron during all of this and I began to wonder, while rereading this to check for continuity issues, what his opinion was on all of this. He’s a very opinionated character, after all. And I realized that we really don’t get his view on anything, which is odd and disappointed me slightly. So, as I began to wonder more and more about his viewpoint, I decided I would slip into his head for a bit and figure out his thoughts on everything that happened. And this is what Ron had to say:

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It’s not that we don’t love Harry. We do. Absolutely. But it’s like…it’s like he’s our brother. And what Hermione and I have is different from that; separate. And I know we should have made more time for him after the war; I do. But I guess I figured he’d use the time I spent with Hermione to spend some time with Ginny, you know? And for a little while, he did. Sort of. I guess. How could I have been so blind?

I mean, we all knew things weren’t quite right with him. But he’d died and come back, you know? That would mess with anyone’s head, wouldn’t it? I know it would mess with mine. So we tried to give him some space and time to sort everything out for himself. I guess we just figured he’d need to find his own balance, now that the war is over. It’s not like he was the only one struggling, either. Lots of us lost people and lots of us were feeling sort of lost and confused. And if it was taking Harry longer to sort himself out then most people, well…he’d had more to deal with, right?

When everything happened with Malfoy…with Narcissa Malfoy forcing Harry to Bond with Malfoy, I mean…well, I guess my first thought was ‘Thank Merlin it’s not me.’ And I know that’s horrible, but I couldn’t help it! And I guess I figured that that’s just Harry’s lot. He saves people, even if he doesn’t want to and even if he doesn’t like them. He always has. He’s the hero, you know? I knew he wasn’t happy about being stuck with Malfoy, mind you. We all knew. But it’s Harry and he always finds a way to deal with stuff, so I guess we weren’t too worried.

I resented Malfoy for being around, though. For just always being around. It didn’t matter if he didn’t talk or sneer or do anything; he was just there. Drawing Harry’s attention, like always. I’ve always hated how Malfoy can draw Harry’s attention away from everything and everyone else. And he doesn’t even have to try, the little prick. He just has to exist and Harry notices him; no effort needed.

Don’t get me wrong. As much as I resented Malfoy, I hadn’t been a member of the groups that were hunting him. That kind of hatred? That takes way too much energy. Way too much time. Way too much effort. Mum always said that that sort of hatred consumes you; it gnaws away at your soul, eating away at everything you are and everything you love, until there’s nothing left but that hate. That’s not what I feel for Malfoy. He’s just annoying, is all. Really, really, really annoying.

So I did my best to ignore the little ferret in our midst, because it wasn’t fair to pick a fight with him when Harry would get caught in the middle. I wouldn’t ever do that to Harry; not after everything we’d been through. And I guess I was so busy ignoring Malfoy that I didn’t notice when Harry started softening towards him, or when he stopped spending all of his time with Ginny. Which is weird, because you’d think I’d notice that, wouldn’t you? Being Harry’s best friend and all, I mean. But I didn’t. In my defense, I don’t think Hermione noticed either.

So when Ginny told us she and Harry were through, Hermione and I were totally stunned. I mean, I knew she and Harry had been having some problems lately, but I hadn’t realized they were so serious. I guess I’d just assumed they’d work it out and get married and Harry would be my brother for real one day. I guess I just assumed a lot of things. Ginny was upset, of course, but she was really calm, too. I think I’d have been angrier if she’d been more of a wreck, you know? Cause she’s my baby sister and all. But she was so calm and she just kept saying things like, ‘It’s for the best.’ and ‘I can’t give him what he needs and I know that.’

And when Harry told us he was with Malfoy, I thought…well, I guess I thought it wouldn’t last. I mean, I thought it was a passing thing. Like a fling or a phase or something. Some sort of teenage rebellion or that Post-Traumatized-whatever-thing Hermione was always going on about. It’s easy to be supportive when you think it’s going to go away on its own. And Hermione kept saying how proud she was of me for being so mature, which made it even easier to act supportive. But I just kept waiting for it to end.

I thought for sure the photographers and reporters would end it. But the Prophet ran exactly what Malfoy told it to and the photo spread in Witch Weekly showed Harry looking relaxed and happy. Harry didn’t seem to mind the spotlight as long as he was sharing it with Malfoy. And I did try really hard to be supportive, even if I couldn’t help making the occasional dig at Malfoy for being more high-maintenance then most girls are.

And then Christmas happened and Harry told us Draco was pregnant. Pregnant. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. Because it’s one thing to know your best friend is shagging ferret-face, but it’s another thing entirely to find out he’s knocked the ferret up. And of course Malfoy was borrowing Harry’s magic to make it happen and it would delay their NEWTs. So Harry wasn’t going to be entering Auror Training with me, like we’d planned. We were supposed to do it together.

And there was Malfoy, screwing the whole thing up for us. Just like always. And the bigger Malfoy got, the more Harry started talking about wanting to stay home with the baby for a while. They didn’t need the money, after all; Harry could wait to work for a few years. And all I could think was how…how it wasn’t fair. Harry chose me on the train back in first year. He chose me, not Malfoy. But somehow, Malfoy was the one he was drawn to. Malfoy was the one he needed. Malfoy was the one taking him away from me, after all that time and after everything we’d been through. And it wasn’t fair.

And for a little while there, I admit it…I hated Malfoy the way I’d always sworn I wouldn’t hate anyone. It was all-consuming. I hated Malfoy and I hated the baby growing inside of him. I told myself that Malfoy had stolen Harry from Ginny. That Malfoy had stolen Harry from me. That he and this baby were going to take my best friend forever. Harry was meant to be a part of my family; that was the plan. Best friends, brothers, Auror partners…that was the whole plan. That was what we’d agreed on. And then Malfoy had stepped into the picture and ruined everything. And I hated him for it.

But I kept smiling and I stayed supportive because if Malfoy was going to take Harry from me, then I was going to do everything I could to fight back and stick around. So I couldn’t get angry and storm off. And the more I watched them – Harry and Malfoy, with his growing belly – the harder it was to stay angry. I watched as Harry’s whole face lit up when the baby kicked his hands from inside Malfoy and I saw the desperate, needy sort of love on Malfoy’s face whenever he looked at Harry. And I wondered if I’d ever seen anyone look at anyone else that way before.

And I had, once. Remus Lupin had looked at Tonks that way; like he was afraid she was going to disappear. Like he was afraid she was suddenly going to come to her senses and realize she was better off without him and just leave. And I guess that’s when I started to realize that Malfoy wasn’t deliberately stealing Harry away. He just needed Harry more than I did, and Harry knew that. Just like Harry had known Hermione and I needed each other after the war and didn’t interfere with our time together. It’s a hard thing to realize you’ve been wrong; it’s harder to let go of that hatred.

I didn’t really know how to let it go, so I started looking around again, hoping for a solution. And I noticed that George was really lost. And since Harry wasn’t going into the Aurors right away, I didn’t feel so bad about ducking out of training as well. I decided to help George with his store for a bit. I could be an Auror later; George needed me. And I’d spent years with him and Fred; I knew how their minds worked. And maybe I’m not the perfect match for George’s sense of humor like Fred was, but I’m close enough that the store doesn’t suffer. And it seems to be easier on George this way. Mum thanks me a lot, too, so I guess she’s okay with me not being an Auror right now. I know Hermione approves, too.

And once Lyra was born…well, then Harry said he was marrying Malfoy and I guess that was just the end of it, you know? I can’t really hate my best friend’s husband and daughter. But the first time I held Lyra, a few days after she was born, all I could see was Malfoy stamped across her pretty little face. And it was weird, because I knew she was Harry’s, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. And I just held this little blonde baby girl, bouncing her the way I’d seen Mum bounce babies before and the way Andromeda bounced little Teddy, and I thought about the fact that I was holding Malfoy’s kid and it just seemed so surreal; like I was in a dream.

And then Harry spoke softly and said. “She looks just like Draco, doesn’t she? She’s so beautiful. I never realized how much I’d love her until the first time I held her. She’s just so perfect.”

And I thought, well, yes, she does look just like Malfoy. And I glanced over at Malfoy just as he spoke. “I think she looks like you, Harry.” And I scoffed slightly, because that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard in my life. The baby in my arms was every inch a Malfoy. But Draco continued. “She’s going to have your eyes, Harry. Trust me.”

And I looked back down at the baby and the almond-shaped blue-grey eyes she had that Hermione insisted would change colors as she got older. And I realized that Malfoy was right; those were definitely going to be Harry’s eyes. If I stared hard enough, I could almost see the green. And I wondered how someone as vain and arrogant as Malfoy could look at this child, who was so much like him, and see only Harry’s eyes. And that’s when I realized it; I mean really realized it. Malfoy was in love with Harry. I mean really, really in love with him. It was the only explanation.

And my hatred melted away, right then. It was just gone. Evaporated, like mist in the sun. And I smiled across the room and said quietly. “I think you’re right, Draco. She’s going to have Harry’s eyes.”

And it was the first time I’d ever called Malfoy ‘Draco’ but I knew it wouldn’t be the last. He was Harry’s other half. And he’d given Harry a daughter. And they were getting married. It’s crazy, of course, but I’m adjusting. It’s like I said before; I love Harry. He’s my brother, in every way but blood, and I’d do just about anything for him. Even get along with Malfoy.

I mean Draco.

Sorry; old habits die hard.

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