Draco Malfoy Harry Potter
Action Romance
Multiple Eras
Published: 05/29/2003
Updated: 07/18/2003
Words: 95,194
Chapters: 14
Hits: 106,924

Thicker than Blood


Story Summary:
It is Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts, and Voldemort has returned to full power. The Death Eaters lay siege to the castle, trapping everyone inside. Draco is injured, Harry gets roped into saving his life, Crabbe shows unexpected resourcefulness, Dumbledore gets his way (as usual), and life is complicated for Harry. But then, life is always complicated for Harry, and adolescence only makes it worse.

Chapter 05


Chapter 5: The Second Breach

The two boys had achieved something like an armed truce. For more than twelve hours, they had not mentioned the subject of Draco's parents or anything else that might spark conflict between them. What little talking they did was strictly neutral - idle chatter and half-hearted sparring matches that neither of them could take seriously by now - but most of their time was spent ignoring each other. They were both too tired and preoccupied to waste their energy with fighting.

Draco lay quietly in his bed, one hand over his eyes, barely moving except for the rise and fall of his chest. Harry was reading Quidditch Through the Ages for the umpteenth time. He knew the book so well that he did not actually have to read the words, and so he found it hard to concentrate. His mind kept drifting toward the boy in the other bed.

For all Malfoy's outward calm, Harry could feel the pain and illness eating at him like acid in his blood. It made his own stomach clench with distress, and the constant drag of the summoning charm was like an iron hook in his chest, pulling him remorselessly toward an unseen evil. If it felt so bad to him, how much worse was it for Malfoy? Harry told himself that he didn't want to know, but as the silent minutes ticked by, he found himself unable to let go of the thought.

Almost without knowing it, he began to drift closer to the link. Since yesterday's moment of temptation, Harry had studiously avoided any emotional contact with Draco, merely letting his power flow through the link without any direction or attention. But the pain and urgency bleeding through to him were growing steadily worse, and with nothing to distract him, Harry found that he could not ignore them. He knew he had the power to help, and he could not stop himself.

It was true that Draco was still alive, but his injuries were maddeningly slow to heal - some of them refused to heal at all - and the spells clinging to the summoning charm refused to be broken or banished. All the power Harry poured into him was used to keep him alive and to block the summons as best he could. None of it seemed to actually repair the damage done in the attack. What good did a healing link do, if it couldn't heal? Harry asked himself.

He was not even aware of the moment in which he crossed the barrier. He was firmly inside his own head, arguing with himself, and then he was in two places at once. It was a strange and frightening feeling, but not at all what he had expected from his first accidental, chaotic venture through the link. He felt no urge to withdraw, no disgust, no panic, only an overwhelming sense of urgency and pain. Pain everywhere.

He could not find a single part of Draco that didn't hurt. The summoning charm was the worst of it, like a band of molten steel around his wrist, burning up his arm and into his chest, the heat of it pulsing with his heartbeat and hammering in his skull. The pounding pain and heat seemed to form words in his mind, calling to him, ordering him to answer. Harry could not quite hear the words, but he could feel the immense strain they put on Malfoy, as his body and mind tried to obey the summons while his will held them in check. It occurred to Harry, for the first time, that only his determination to hold onto both dignity and sanity kept Malfoy from going screaming mad under the onslaught of the charm. No one, Harry thought, except maybe that unforgivable bastard Lucius Malfoy, should have to live with that kind of pain.

Hiding his face behind his book, Harry screwed his eyes shut and pictured the charm in his mind, glowing red-hot and sinister in the darkness behind his eyelids. He could see the talons it had sunk in Draco's flesh, see the twisted, ugly threads of power radiating from it, stitched into the very fabric of his mind over time. And tangled in among those threads, trapped by the pull of the charm, were the Dark spells. There was no way to banish the spells while the charm stayed active, but Harry could at least ease the pain of them, for a time. Summoning the power he needed from his own reserves, he spread it like a balm over Draco's mind, numbing the heat of the charm and insulating him from the clinging cold of the spells.

The sudden easing of pressure and pain within Draco almost made Harry gasp aloud. His eyes flew open, and he turned to look at the other boy. As he watched, Draco turned onto his side and curled up in the closest thing to relaxation that Harry had seen him achieve. His eyes were open, but the hard, glazed look had left them, and they now seemed merely tired. Achingly tired.

Harry quickly lifted his book to cover his face again, a smile of triumph curling his lips. Once again, he pretended to read, but more than half his attention was now fixed on Malfoy, and on the tiny part of him that was still joined to the other boy, lodged between him and the source of pain and madness within him.

It really does work, Harry marveled, just like Professor Dumbledore said. I can do this. I can help Malfoy. And won't he be furious when he finds out! He almost giggled but managed to swallow it in time.

* * *

Hermione hurried down the long, low-ceilinged corridor, holding her wand in one hand and searching the shadows intently for signs of movement. She was close to the main staircase that led up from the dungeons to the castle's entry hall, and therefore close to the inner wards. So close, in fact, that she could feel them in the bones of her head. It was a vibration below the range of hearing but strong enough to set her body humming like a tuning fork.

She did not like the feeling, nor did she like knowing how close she was to the safe boundaries laid out by Dumbledore. The sunlight streaming down the stairs and spilling through the archway at the bottom didn't help any. She ought to have been cheered by it, after all these days of nothing but torches and candlelight, but instead she found it unsettling. In her essentially Muggle mind, an open door was a hazard, and the sunlit stairs could only mean that the huge oaken doors at the top were open. She knew, rationally, that it was the wards that protected them, not the doors, but her instincts didn't believe it, and she was anxious to get back into the safety of dank stone walls.

Halting at the first door she came to, she tapped it lightly with her wand and muttered, "Alohomora." It opened with a groan of rusty hinges, and Hermione conjured a ball of wandfire to light the room beyond. Nothing but shelf after shelf of musty blankets and bed curtains. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of dust, old wool and rat droppings, then pulled the door shut again.

"Crookshanks, you miserable cat, where are you?" she asked no one in particular.

Crookshanks was her reason for being out of the main dungeon and roaming these passages. He had been spotted by several people in the last two days, including Harry and Professor Dumbledore, and now he was accused of eating two mice and a toad that had been rescued from the upper castle at great peril to their owners. Hermione was in danger of some serious retribution, if she didn't find and muzzle her cat. Hufflepuffs weren't generally mean, but they could come up with some truly unpleasant threats when pushed beyond the limits of their patience, and Hermione didn't really want the entire House out for her blood.

She unlocked another door and pushed her way into the room. This one was larger and more cluttered than the last, with ample places for a resourceful cat to hide. It also looked incredibly dirty, but that would not daunt Crookshanks, so Hermione would have to put up with it. She had just made herself a nice lamp out of a dented brass bowl and an extra-large ball of blue light, when a sudden, eerie chill crept over her.

With a gasp, she whirled to face the door, her lamp clutched to her chest in shaking hands. There was no one there, but the chill intensified, running like icy sweat over her skin. She set the lamp on a handy crate and tightened her grip on her wand. Then she crept to the open door. As she stuck her head into the passage, she felt the cold flow over her again, more thickly still. There was something horribly familiar about it, but she couldn't place it.

A movement in the heavy shadows to her left made her start, then she saw that it was Crookshanks. The cat was running toward the stairs, his belly low to the ground and his bottle-brush tail sticking out stiffly behind him. He did not even glance in Hermione's direction as he passed.

"Crookshanks, no!"

His head snapped around, and he sidled against the far wall, his fur standing up like bristles all over his back. Hermione stepped toward him, and he hissed a furious warning. Then he took off running toward the stairs again.

"No!" She bolted from the storeroom, momentarily forgetting the chill of evil in the air and her fear of what waited on the other side of the wards, and lunged after Crookshanks. He was nearly at the foot of the stairs when she threw herself forward in a flat dive and caught him. They both landed hard on the stone floor, and Crookshanks let out a piercing yowl, fighting like a demon in her arms. "Hold still! Hold still, you rotter!"

Suddenly, Crookshanks froze. Hermione froze with him, appalled by the sounds that flowed down the stairs to her on a current of icy air. She lifted her head and stared up at the open doors. The sunlight was gone, smothered in clinging shadow, and through the dim opening above her came distant shouts, screams and the crackle of flames.

Gathering the rigid cat in her arms, Hermione pushed herself to her knees and scrambled frantically away from the stairs. Her breath sobbed in her throat and her heart labored in her chest, pounding horridly against her ribcage. Fear such as she had felt only once or twice before in her life closed about her in a stinking, rotten fist and began to squeeze the life out of her.

Dementors, she thought, as the peculiar darkness began to cloud her vision. The Dementors are here.

She had no idea how long she sat there, clutching Crookshanks and waiting for the Dementors to find her. It may have been hours, or it may have been only minutes before warmth and life began to flow through her numb body again. The light from the open doors above was still dim and shrouded, but the air was marginally warmer. The clutch of terror on her eased, and Crookshanks relaxed into a purring, furry donut on her lap. Hermione collapsed back against the wall, breathing in great, shuddering gasps.

The sound of hurrying feet on the stairs brought Crookshanks up in a flash. He bounded from Hermione's thigh and landed silently on the stone floor, then he sauntered toward the approaching footsteps. Hermione held her breath and drew back into the shadows by the wall.

It was Snape, and he was in a hurry. He came down the stairs awkwardly, two at a time, and Hermione could have sworn that she saw dark footprints on the treads behind him. He reached the bottom step and was greeted affectionately by Crookshanks.

"Away from me, you repellant animal," Snape growled, trying to shove Crookshanks away from his legs without actually kicking him. Crookshanks only purred louder and rubbed harder. He came away with sticky, red smears on his ginger fur.

Snape muttered something terrifically rude under his breath and drew back his foot for a proper kick, but a call from the top of the stairs forestalled him.

"Severus! A moment, please!"

"I must get to the annex, Headmaster."

Dumbledore came lightly down the stairs to meet him, holding a wand in his hand that still glowed and spat occasional sparks. "Indeed you must, but first..."

"It is not my cuts and bruises that worry me," Snape said, interrupting him. "It's Potter and Malfoy. They shouldn't be left unguarded with those things about the grounds, and you know what Potter is."

"Mr. Potter isn't going anywhere, Severus. But do check on them." Snape started to turn away, but Dumbledore lifted a hand to stop him. "Wait. How many did you retrieve before the assault?"

In the dim light, Snape's face looked sour, but there was a leaden weariness in his voice that belied his expression. "Four. All from the Quidditch field."

"Have you heard from Sibyll?"

"I've heard nothing from the other team. We can only hope that Trelawney and Sprout were able to get in and out of the greenhouse in time."

"Perhaps. Perhaps." Dumbledore shook his head, his face grave. "Three still on the grounds, two destroyed, and two most likely still in the greenhouse."

"And four missing entirely," Snape added.


They fell silent for a moment, then Snape jerked himself out of his grim mood and said, "I'll be in the annex if you need me, Headmaster."

"Thank you, Severus. Let Poppy fuss over you a bit, while you have an excuse."

Snape's grunt of disgust left no doubt as to what he thought of that idea. He nodded to Dumbledore and strode off down the passage, limping slightly. Dumbledore waited until he was out of sight, then he fixed his eyes directly on Hermione and said, "Now, Miss Granger, suppose you tell me what you're doing out of the main dungeon."

Hermione swallowed noisily and clambered to her feet. Crookshanks, traitor that he was, began to rub against her legs and wipe Snape's blood on her already filthy robes. Hermione gave Dumbledore a rather weak smile and said, "I was looking for my cat. Professor McGonagall said I should find him and," she flushed slightly, "muzzle him. He's been eating other people's pets, you see."

"Yes, indeed. He's been eating many of them on my desk."

"I'm sorry, Professor! He isn't very good about staying where I put him, especially with so many edible things running around, and in all the confusion I, well, I rather lost track of him."

"Never mind, Miss Granger. I quite understand. Now I suggest you take Master Crookshanks back to the dungeon and see if Filch can put together a suitable home for him. At least until he can return to his haunts upstairs."

"Yes, Professor." She scooped up Crookshanks, who looked at her with calculating eyes that seemed to be measuring her grip strength and determination. "Umm, Professor Dumbledore?"

"Miss Granger?"

"Is Harry in any danger from the Dementors?"

"You know about the Dementors?"

"I... I felt them. I can still feel them."

"That is because they are still on the grounds." Dumbledore regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, tapping his wand against his lower lip, then he said, "You needn't worry about Harry. As long as he stays in the dungeon, he's in no danger from the Dementors."

"But Professor Snape seemed to think..."

He silenced her with a raised hand. "The Dementors are no threat to Harry. And you are not to go into the hospital dungeon without my permission, or to discuss the Dementors with the other students."

Hermione set her jaw mulishly and insisted, "You'll tell me if Harry's in any trouble, won't you?"

"I will tell you. You have my word."

She had to be satisfied with that, since she clearly wasn't going to get into the hospital annex to visit Harry any time soon. Hoisting the enormous cat onto her shoulder, Hermione trudged back to the dungeon and another period of enforced silence.

* * *

Neither of the boys had moved or spoken in some time when they heard the dungeon door bang open and hasty footsteps enter the room. Harry rolled off the bed and padded over to the screen. Peering around it, he gave a yelp of surprise and started down the length of the ward at a sprint.

Professor Snape halted him with a particularly venomous glare and snapped, "Get back where you belong, Potter!"

Harry checked in mid-stride and goggled at Snape. "What happened, Professor?"

"I said, get back where you belong! Where's Malfoy?"

Harry waved toward the screen. "In bed. Are you okay, Professor? You're bleeding."

This was a masterful piece of understatement. Snape was not just bleeding, he was bleeding a lot, and he had what looked like wicked burns up the side of his face. Harry took a cautious step nearer to him, but Snape was now striding toward the screen at the back of the room, a thunderous scowl on his face and no attention to spare for Harry. He left squishy red footprints behind him on the spotless floor.

"Madam Pomfrey went to get some more medicines from upstairs," Harry said. "She said she'd be back in..."

"Malfoy?" Snape poked his head around the screen. "Are you all right?"

Harry came up beside Snape, gazing curiously from the man to the boy. He saw the look of surprise on Malfoy's face and felt a surge of alarm hit him through the link. Stiffly, Malfoy pushed himself up on his good hand and sat up. His face was the color of dirty snow, his hair was a tangled mess, and he held his left arm cradled in his right hand as though he could not support it otherwise, but he was sitting up. That was a first.

"I'm okay." Harry knew that was a lie, even without the wash of emotion that came off of Draco. "What happened to you?"

Snape waved that away, then turned to grab Harry by the collar and shove him toward his bed. "Stay right here, both of you. You're not to leave your beds without permission."


"Don't argue with me, Potter..."

"Professor, why?!" Harry demanded, anxiety making him reckless.

Snape glanced between the two boys, his lips tight with pain and fury, then he snarled, "The Death Eaters breached the outer wards again."

A flash of hope showed in Draco's eyes, and Snape's lip curled in a sour, humorless smile. "That pleases you, does it? Then you'll be happy to know that they destroyed the bodies of two of your classmates and injured three teachers." He held up his singed and bleeding arm, his smile turning into a grimace.

"B-bodies?" Draco whispered.

"Bodies. Don't pretend you're surprised, Malfoy. You must have known there would be casualties." Draco shook his head mutely, and Harry could tell that his shock was genuine. "Eleven of your classmates, or eleven that we've found so far, killed in the first minutes of the attack. Their bodies were left on the grounds for two days, waiting until Dumbledore thought it was safe to recover them. We tried this morning, but Voldemort had other ideas."

Draco licked his lips nervously. "Who was... who was killed?"

"No one from Slytherin House." The coldness in his voice startled Harry. It was the first time he had ever heard Snape speak to Malfoy that way, and it made the hairs on the back of his neck rise. "A pair of Hufflepuffs who were working in the greenhouses, some second years who were playing Quidditch, and a handful of other students who had wandered out on the grounds for whatever reason. And there are four students still missing, two of whom are Slytherins. Missing and presumed dead."

"Who are the others?" Harry asked.

"Finch-Fletchley and one of the Patil girls."

Now the shock and horror filling Harry were all his own. "Parvati?" he gasped.

"No, the Ravenclaw."

"Padma..." Harry sat bolt upright, his eyes going unfocused as he tried desperately to remember what Parvati had told him about her sister just a few nights ago. The night of the attack. They'd been sitting in the common room, and Parvati had been gossiping with Lavender about her sister, her voice loud enough to carry through the room. She had gloated about Padma's new boyfriend and how they liked to...

"Padma!" Harry leapt off the bed and took off running for the door, thinking Justin! She's with Justin!

"Potter, come back here!" Snape bellowed.

"I know where they are!" he screamed, still running.


Before the word had left Snape's lips, Harry felt a terrible jerk in his chest, as if a huge rubber band that was tied around his breastbone suddenly snapped tight, and he was plucked off his feet. In the same instant, Draco gave a sharp cry and pitched forward off the bed. Snape caught him before he hit the floor and stood, a half-conscious boy draped over his bleeding arm, glaring at Harry's sprawled form and shouting furiously at him to get up.

Harry blinked at the ceiling, not sure how he had ended up spread-eagled on his back, his glasses askew, feeling like his ribcage had just been torn out. He could hear Snape yelling at him and spewing rude words in between the orders, but he couldn't catch his breath well enough to answer him.

"Get back here, Potter! Now!"

"I... I can't." There was a buzzing in his ears that made it hard to think, and the pain was getting worse.

To Harry's surprise, Snape stopped yelling. He was even more surprised to see the Potions Master pacing down the long room toward him, the black wings of his robes flapping, lugging Draco Malfoy over one arm like a long, skinny sack of scarab beetles. As they drew nearer, the pain in Harry's chest eased and the buzzing faded. By the time Snape came to a halt above him, he was sitting up, rubbing one hand over his chest and wondering where the huge rubber band had gone.

"That was the single most idiotic thing you could possibly have done," Snape informed him, acidly.

"Yeah. I guess it was." Harry gave his chest one more rub and clambered to his feet. "Was it the..."

"Yes." Snape snapped, cutting him off. He shifted his hold on Malfoy, and when the boy's head fell back, Harry saw that he was awake, if not very alert. Snape put an arm behind his knees and hoisted him into a more comfortable position. Draco looked as though he were about to throw up.

Cautiously, Harry sidled up to him. "You okay, Malfoy?"

Draco tried to lift his head but couldn't quite manage it, and to his own surprise, Harry slipped a hand behind his neck to help. Malfoy fixed him with dull eyes, too miserable to complain about the despised Harry Potter taking such liberties with his person.

"What happened?"

Harry shrugged. "Maybe you shouldn't have sat up so soon."

Draco swallowed the sickness in his throat and muttered, "Liar."

The word was not uttered as a challenge, and Harry felt no anger at it. Draco was simply telling him, in his own abrasive way, that he knew there was something else going on and Harry was in on it. On an impulse, Harry sent an extra surge of strength through the link to Draco. The other boy responded immediately, his eyes growing brighter and sharper, his pale face taking on a tinge of color, and his head jerking free of Harry's clasp. The look he fixed on Harry was deeply suspicious, but Harry simply pulled his hand back and turned away.

"I can walk," Malfoy said to Snape, sounding irritated.

"I highly doubt that." Snape headed for the end of the room in Harry's wake, still carrying Draco. Once behind the screen again, he set Draco on the bed with surprising gentleness and turned on Harry. "Now, Potter, what's this about knowing where to find Patil and Finch-Fletchley?"

"I don't know I know. I think I know."

Snape sighed, and Harry was suddenly reminded that the professor had injuries of his own that had not been treated. The dour Potions Master came perilously close to drooping. "Spare me your attempts at logic. Just tell me what you think you know."

"Padma and Justin are... uhmm... dating."

"How nice for them," Snape said, dryly.

"Parvati says they like to hang out behind Hagrid's hut, near the Forbidden Forest."

"Why would they...? Never mind. I don't want to know." He started to rub a hand over his face but pulled it back when he accidentally touched one of the burns. "If they were outside, there's little chance they survived."

"But Professor Dumbledore said there were no attacks from the direction of the Forest."

"There weren't. Even Death Eaters try to avoid giant spiders and werewolves, as a general rule."

"So, couldn't Padma and Justin have hidden somewhere? In the Forest, or maybe at Hagrid's?"

"It's possible." Snape frowned down at Harry. "I'll talk to Dumbledore about it, but..."

Once again, the door banged open and footsteps sounded on the flagstones, but this time, it was a whole stampede of footsteps. Snape broke off in mid-sentence and looked around the screen. Then he was gone, leaving Harry and Draco to stare at each other in confusion.

Harry hopped off his bed again and crept up to the screen. When he peered around it, he saw Dumbledore, Snape, Madam Pomfrey, and a large group of teachers all milling about in the middle of the room. Madam Pomfrey was doing her best to quell the noise, but everyone seemed intent on talking at once, while Madam Hooch fingered her referee's whistle in a threatening manner and Professor Trelawny looked as though she were about to cry.

Madam Hooch had Professor Vector propped up against her shoulder, and the Arithmancy witch was moaning and bleeding all over the floor. Between her and Snape, they were making quite a mess. The only other person who looked hurt was Flitwick. He had a black eye, a split lip and a front tooth missing, but it didn't slow him down in the least. He was bouncing on his toes and talking faster than anyone.

"Burnt to a crisp!" Flitwick shrieked, much to Madam Pomfrey's dismay. "I was trying to put out the flames when the hex hit me!"

"Really, Professor, must we talk about such things in front of the students?" Madam Pomfrey chided, as she took Professor Vector by the arm and guided her to an empty bed.

"We'll need something to carry them in, before we try again," Flitwick went on, ignoring her. "There's nothing left but a pile of ashes."

"It's not the dead ones I'm worried about," Madam Hooch retorted angrily. "It's all these poor kids shut up in the dungeon, with those... those monsters roaming the grounds!"

"Some of those 'monsters' are the parents of these children," Snape pointed out.

Madam Hooch shuddered. "I don't mean them, though they are certainly bad enough. I mean the Dementors."

Harry flinched at the mention of Dementors and backed away from the screen. His stomach was suddenly churning and his palms were sweaty, and it took him several gasping breaths to calm himself enough to think. Then he realized that much of the fear knotting his innards did not belong to him. He shot a covert glance at Malfoy and saw that he was sitting up in bed, staring blankly at the screen, his face white and sick.

"Draco." Malfoy's head snapped around and his eyes fixed on Harry's, but his expression did not change. "What's wrong?"

"They brought the Dementors."

Harry eyed him doubtfully. "Yeah... well... I'm the one who's supposed to be terrified of them, not you."

"They brought them here."

"Draco?" Harry took a step closer to him. "You're kind of scaring me. Don't look at me like that."

Malfoy blinked, and his eyes came abruptly back into focus. He seemed to recognize Harry again. "I saw them. The Dementors. All summer they were leaving Azkaban, a few at a time, gathering in a secret place under the Dark Lord's protection."

From the revulsion in his voice, Harry suspected that he had been to this 'secret place' more than once with his father and had developed a healthy fear of the Dementors.

"I heard about that. The Ministry of Magic has been looking for them."

"Father said..." Draco bit off his words and stared anxiously at Harry. After a moment's hesitation, he went on, "Father said they were only to be used against the traitors. The ones who changed sides."

Harry could not quite restrain a snort of disgust. "And you believed him? Come on, Malfoy. This is your father we're talking about."

Malfoy's face tightened, but the pain beating at Harry through the link told him that Draco's outward anger was only for show. "Watch your mouth, Potter. That scar doesn't give you the right to insult my family!"

"I'm not insulting your family. I'm making an observation. Your father is not known for telling the truth when it doesn't suit him."

"I trust my father."

Wordlessly, Harry moved over to the bed and lifted Malfoy's left arm from where it lay, heavy and useless, across his thigh. The burns on his wrist were now suppurating, the torn flesh beginning to blacken, and Harry did not need the link to tell him that Malfoy was in agony from it. Draco met his gaze, grey eyes flashing, and his lips tightened in helpless anger.

"Who gave you this, Malfoy?"

"It's Dumbledore's fault!" Draco hissed. "He won't let me go!"

"He can't let you go, you thundering great prat! You'll die! Not to mention that the Dementors will get you, if you step out of the castle. They don't know you're Lucius Malfoy's precious son; all they see is life and warmth to suck out of you. If your father thinks so highly of you, why did he send those things against us, knowing you're stuck in here?"

Draco licked lips. The rage in his eyes faltered, and fear began to creep in behind it. "Don't say another word about my father, or I swear, I'll..."

"I won't."

Without letting go of Draco's wrist or releasing his gaze, Harry suddenly opened the link as wide as he could. A flood of emotion swept over him, confused and agonizing, but he fought his way grimly free of it and threw his full awareness into the link that connected them. In the space of a breath, he was inside Draco's chest, easing the frantic pounding of his heart, cooling the acid fire in his veins, blocking the effects of the charm with his own power.

The effect was instantaneous. Draco gave a cry of surprise, and his body straightened up with a jerk. His face, which had been pale and sickly as old wax, was suddenly tinged with healthy color. The flush bloomed in his lips as well, and for the first time since that dreadful night, Draco Malfoy looked truly alive. He turned his startled, furious eyes on Harry, his mouth open, but he could think of nothing to say.

Harry smiled crookedly at him, seeing him through a gold-shot haze of power that hummed and sang in his head. "This is what Dumbledore gave you."

Then, with a snap, Harry shut off the link. Before his eyes, Draco crumpled, collapsing toward the mattress, his eyes rolling up in his head and his breath coming in a weird, terrifying moan. Harry caught him as he fell and took his deadweight against his own chest. Gently, so as not to shock his system any further, Harry opened the link again and began to bleed power through it. Draco did not stir, only lay against him like an unstrung puppet, breathing hard.

Bending down 'til his lips nearly touched the mop of pale hair, he whispered, fiercely, "And that's what your father gave you. You figure it out, Malfoy."

For a long, long stretch of time, Draco said nothing. Harry slowly increased the flow through the link, taking more of the other boy's over-stressed emotion into himself as he gave back healing strength and subtly worked to counteract the charm. When Malfoy pushed himself away, Harry immediately let him go. And still they said nothing.

Finally, Draco lifted his head and turned deadened eyes on Harry. "You're keeping me alive, aren't you, Potter?"



"It's called a Blood Link. Very advanced magic."

Draco looked at him for a moment, his face gone blank, then he quietly leaned over and vomited on the floor.

Harry gave a cry of alarm and grabbed at Malfoy to keep him from pitching off the bed. "Madam Pomfrey!" he shouted.

The racket on the other side of the screen had died down, and Madam Pomfrey came quickly at his call.

"What's wrong, Potter?" she asked as she stepped around the screen. "This is no time for..." She saw the mess on the floor and the boy lying draped over Harry's arm, and her annoyance died.

"He's sick."

"I'd say so."

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here," Malfoy gasped, another spasm shaking his body.

Clucking her tongue in distress, Madam Pomfrey waved her wand to clean up both floor and patient, then she helped Harry settle Malfoy back on the bed again. "You stay with him, Potter, and no silly tricks." The way her eyes narrowed at him, Harry couldn't help wondering if she'd seen what happened. Or maybe she, like nearly everyone else in the school, just assumed that he would take every chance offered to stick it to Malfoy. "I'll fetch the Headmaster. This is beyond me."

Then she bustled off again, leaving Harry to stand uncertainly by the bed and wonder what to do next.

Malfoy waited until Madam Pomfrey was out of earshot, then he cracked open his eyes and stared dully at Harry. "You really are a bastard, Potter."

Harry did not respond to the dig. Shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other, he looked down at Malfoy's drawn face, gnawing his lip. Finally, he blurted out, "I'm sorry I did that!"

"Shut up."

"I didn't know how else to convince you that Dumbledore is trying to help you."

"Shut up. I don't want to talk about it."

"Why? Are you afraid you'll actually start to get it?!"

Draco swallowed painfully, and for a brief moment, something other than resentment showed in his eyes. "Oh, I get it, all right. I feel like something is ripping my insides out and there isn't a bloody thing I can do about it. You and Dumbledore won't let me go. Cutting off my arm won't help, though believe me, I've thought about it. My next best bet is to bash my head against the wall until I can't hear the voices anymore. But if I move, I'll throw up again, and I hate that, especially with you sitting there looking pathetic... you're so pathetic, Potter, you can't even hate someone properly! Why did you have to do this?! Why can't you just let me die?!"

In answer, Harry reached up to touch Draco's hair, his fingers brushing so lightly over the tangled silver-gilt mop that the other boy could hardly feel it. But he clearly felt the surge through the link, as Harry blanketed him against the pain of the summoning charm.

"Stop it. I don't want you to do that."

"I don't care what you want," Harry answered, evenly. "I'm in control of the Blood Link, and I'll do what I want with it."

"You don't want to help me."

"Yes, I do."

"Dumbledore is making you."

"He couldn't." Harry's hand fell still, resting against the side of Draco's head, his palm almost - but not quite - brushing the other boy's cheek. "No one could make me do this, if I didn't want to. It was my choice, just like it was my choice to bring you back inside the wards in the first place. I chose then not to let you die, and you can't change my mind now by being a jerk."

"Do you expect me to thank you?"

"No. I expect you to be rude and ungrateful and obnoxious, like you always are. But I also expect you to live, you stupid git."

"Perfect Bloody Potter, savior of the wizarding world," Draco muttered sourly.

"Shut up, Malfoy."

"You'd better step back, Potter."

"It won't make any difference. I can still reach you through the Blood Link."

"No... you'd really better step back." The words were barely out of his mouth when Malfoy rolled onto his side and threw up again, narrowly missing Harry, who jumped back just in time.

Sidestepping the mess on the floor, Harry moved up to the bed and clasped Draco's head, supporting it while he retched again and again. Finally, he fell still, but Harry did not move. He stayed close by the bed, cradling Draco's head with one hand, staring down at the other boy's clean, fine-boned profile.

"Thanks for the warning," he murmured.

"Don't get used to it," was the inevitable reply.

"How's your stomach?"

"Just great."

A shudder went through him, and Harry moved closer, pulling Draco's head against his midriff. When the shuddering did not ease, Harry sent out a tendril of reassurance through the link, wrapping himself around Draco's frightened and pain-wracked mind to calm him. This time, the other boy made no protest.

They stayed this way, unmoving, the subtle strands of healing threaded through them inside and out, and waited. Dumbledore would come eventually, Harry told himself, and tell him what to do next. But until then, he would not let anything disturb the steady pulse of strength through the link or the fine, glittering web that seemed to bind him to the deathly sick Malfoy.

Draco would not die while he was here. He had vowed it to himself, even as he had accepted Dumbledore's word that it must be this way. And now that he knew what it felt like to give or withhold healing at a whim, he knew that he would never again close the link. Never. He would never again see such pain in another human being's face and know that he had caused it.

With his free hand, Harry brushed the loose hair back from Draco's pale, sweat-dampened face, carefully peeling a few strands away from his mouth. He could see his nemesis better, now. See the shadowed hollow of his temple and the purple smudges beneath his closed eyes. See the way his lips had cracked and bled, the way his cheeks had sunken to show the sharp bones beneath his skin. Harry had never imagined that the elegant and vile Draco Malfoy could look so fragile or so helpless, or that he, Harry, would care that he did.

"I won't do it again, I swear," he murmured, too low for even Draco to hear him.

"Mr. Potter?"

Harry's head snapped up. "Professor Dumbledore!" Relief washed through him at the sight of the old wizard standing just inside the screen.

"What is it that you will not do again, if I may ask?"

Harry felt his cheeks burning, but he answered the question without hesitation. "It's my fault Malfoy's so sick. I cut off the link. It was a stupid thing to do, and I'm sorry, but I don't know how to fix it."

Dumbledore moved up to the bed and placed a hand on Malfoy's head. Harry chewed his lip and waited in gloomy silence, until Dumbledore lifted his gaze again. "This is not something you can fix, Harry, or not alone at any rate. The charm has grown too strong for him to withstand any longer. It is poisoning him."

"What will you do? Break it?"

"Not yet. First we will remove it, from his body if not from his mind, and give him some relief from its effects. But soon - very soon - he must make a final choice."

Draco stirred slightly, one eye cracking open to gaze up at Dumbledore. "What choice?" he rasped out.

"We'll discuss it later."

Draco looked as though he'd like to argue, but he didn't have the energy for it. Instead, he let his eye fall closed and muttered, "Can't you just let me go home?"

"Not if you want to live," Dumbledore answered, gently. "Do you understand how grave your condition is, Mr. Malfoy?"

Malfoy took a ragged breath and, to Harry's surprise, pressed his forehead a little more tightly against Harry for reassurance. "I know Potter is keeping me alive."

"He is, but the summoning charm you wear is killing you, and in the end, it will prove stronger than the both of you."

"Then break the charm."

"In time, if that is what you wish." Dumbledore's hand dropped to his shoulder and gripped it firmly. "Draco, I need you to listen very carefully. This is not the time for life and death decisions. You are not strong enough in body or mind to make them now. You need not worry about the charm or your father or the Death Eaters or anything beyond the next few minutes and what you must do to survive. Do you understand?"


"I promise you that I will do nothing irreversible, nothing that will force a choice upon you either way. And when the time comes for you to make your choice, both paths will still be open to you. You have my word on it."



"Will it hurt?"


Malfoy took a ragged breath and whispered, very softly, "Can Potter stay?"

"He will stay. Now try to relax while I fetch Professor Flitwick. We need his expertise for this."

Harry did not watch them remove the charm. He could not bear to watch, though he lived every second of the ordeal, regardless. He could not close the link, so he could not block out the molten agony that poured through it or silence the screams that rang in his head. Not since Voldemort had hit him with the Cruciatus Curse had Harry felt such pain, and in its way, this was worse, because it was someone else's pain and he could do nothing to help but share it.

It took four wizards - McGonagall, Snape, Dumbledore and Flitwick - to accomplish the delicate task of removing the charm, and it took everything Harry had inside of him to get through it. He sat to Draco's right, his hands clenched on the carved wooden arms of his chair and his eyes screwed tightly shut, choking on the sweet-sour stink of burning flesh, praying that it would be over quickly.

A sudden, tearing cry brought his eyes open and his head up with a start. He had been listening so intently to the madness inside his own head that he had not expected to hear anything from the outside, and the cry went through him like a hot blade.


He turned to stare at Draco, eyes wide with shock. The other boy did not look at him, did not seem aware of him at all, but as another burst of agony struck him, he threw his head back screamed, "Harry!!"

Harry reached out instinctively to touch him. Draco's skin was burning hot to the touch, and his body was utterly still, rigid under Harry's fingers, locked in place by McGonagall's binding hex. Harry fastened both hands around Draco's arm, leaned over to press his forehead to the backs of his own hands, shut his eyes, and threw every particle of strength he possessed into the link. As he emptied himself into the other boy's body, he chanted silently, over and over again, We aren't going to die... we can do this... we aren't going to die...

"That's it!" Flitwick's shrill, triumphant cry came to Harry from a very long way off. "I've got it!"

The pain that surged so viciously between the linked bodies of the two boys abruptly ebbed, and Harry lifted his head, gasping in relief. He blinked to clear his vision and was surprised to find that his eyes were clogged with tears. Freeing one hand, he pushed his glasses up and mopped his face with his sleeve. When he settled his glasses again, he saw Dumbledore holding something on his gloved palm that shone innocently in the candlelight. The summoning charm.

"Excellent." Dumbledore gave a tired smile and dropped the charm into what looked like a simple velvet bag. "Poppy, if you would."

Madam Pomfrey was instantly beside the bed, a tray of salves and dressings in her hands. Snape materialized by Draco's pillow and lifted his head to pour something down his throat. Draco did not stir, and Harry felt a moment of blind panic hit him. Then he sensed the other boy's presence through the link - battered, exhausted, huddled so far into himself that Harry had to hunt to find him, but definitely there - and he relaxed.

"What shall we do with that?" McGonagall asked, nodding at the bag that held the charm.

"It must stay close to Mr. Malfoy, so I suggest that Mr. Potter take charge of it." As he spoke, Dumbledore smiled at Harry and held out the bag to him. Harry paled and drew away from it, eyeing it in horror. "Don't be afraid, Harry. It's quite harmless, as long as you don't touch it with your bare skin."

He glanced down at Malfoy's ghastly face. "But..."

"It cannot reach you, unless you allow it to bond with you. And it can only do that if you handle it. This bag will shield you from its heat." When Harry still hesitated, he added, softly, "You and this charm have something in common, Harry. You are both tied to Draco and cannot leave him, or he will be crippled, even killed, by the loss. Take it, please, and keep it safe for him."

Reluctantly, Harry extended his hand and took the bag from Dumbledore. The charm felt just as heavy now as it had when Draco wore it, and Harry had to clutch it tightly to keep from dropping it. The velvet felt oddly warm against his skin but not uncomfortably so, and he could not feel any outward pull from the charm. It still called to Malfoy, as Harry could sense through the link, but the call was muted and the physical torment it had caused was fading into the more normal pain of burns and exhaustion. Even the Dark spells woven into it were weaker now, as though the charm's separation from its host had stretched them to the breaking point.

Harry slipped it into the pocket of his pajama shirt, where it sat heavily against his ribs.

"Now it is time for both of you to rest," Dumbledore said.

In the aftermath of his tremendous outpouring of power, Harry was beginning to feel lightheaded and rather disconnected from his own body. He had trouble following people with his eyes as they moved and trouble focusing on their faces.

"Into bed with you, young man," Madam Pomfrey urged.

Harry blinked at her sleepily and shook his head. "I'll stay here." His tongue had gone numb, and his words came out sounding fuzzy.

"Don't be silly, Potter."

"It's all right, Poppy. He'll sleep as well there as in his own bed." Dumbledore circled the bed to reach him and gently slid the glasses off his face.

Madam Pomfrey forced him to drink something that tasted like pumpkin juice, and McGonagall put a blanket around his shoulders. Someone - he thought it was Snape, but he was having trouble keeping track of which adult-sized blob was which - helped Malfoy turn onto his side and settled his bandaged left arm against his chest, protected by the curve of his body. Another someone blew out the candles, leaving only the glow of the fire to light the space.

"Keep a close eye on them, Poppy. I don't want them left alone. And call me when they wake up."

"Yes, Headmaster. Is there anything special they need?"

"Just sleep."

Harry laid his head down on the mattress and closed his eyes. He could feel Malfoy's breath on the back of his head, stirring his hair just enough to tickle. He yawned and slipped his fingers around the other boy's wrist again as his eyes fell closed. The tickle in his hair was comforting, telling him that Draco was still breathing. As long as Draco was breathing, they were both still alive. And Harry had nothing to worry about.

That was his last conscious thought before he tumbled into a deep, dreamless sleep.

To be continued...