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 07


Chapter 7: Fork in the Road

Several hours of sleep had done wonders for Harry. He still felt rather limp and drained from more than two days of constantly feeding power into Draco, but the long sleep had cleared his head and revived his spirits. It had also given him an enormous appetite, and he was making heroic inroads in the plate of shepherd's pie Madam Pomfrey had brought him.

Draco looked better, too - still unnaturally pale, but without the purple shadows in his face or the glazed sickness in his eyes. And he was sitting up in bed, cross-legged, with a plate in front of him and a fork in his hand. Harry wouldn't go so far as to say he was eating, but at least he was looking at the food without turning green. The removal of the charm seemed to have done him a lot of good.

Harry unconsciously pressed his hand against his pocket. The charm felt warm and heavy against his skin. He could hear its call echoing distantly through the link, and with casual ease, he sent out a tendril of thought to quiet it. Draco threw him a glance from the corner of his eyes but said nothing, and Harry pretended that nothing had happened.

Harry sat in his ornately carved wooden chair, pulled up close to Draco's bed, with his plate sitting on the mattress. He had not returned to his own bed all day and felt no desire to do so now. Somehow, the reach of the Blood Link had shrunk during his hours of sleep. Or maybe it was while they were removing the charm. He didn't know, exactly. He only knew that he didn't want to be more than a few feet from Draco at any given time. So he slept in the chair and ate off the mattress and didn't strain the link or either one of them by venturing away from the other boy.

Harry had finished his own supper and was starting in on Draco's when Dumbledore appeared. He came around the screen, smiling at the two boys. "Good evening, Mr. Malfoy. Mr. Potter."

Dumbledore looked his usual, genial self, but Harry thought he detected a current of outright worry in him. Draco must have sensed it too, because the look he turned on the Headmaster was distinctly nervous.

Before either boy could respond to his greeting, he strode over to the bed and fixed Draco with his piercing gaze. "You look much better, Mr. Malfoy." His long-fingered hand rested on Draco's head and tilted it up so the wizard could look directly into his eyes. "Much better. Did you enjoy the shepherd's pie? I thought it particularly good tonight."

Draco seemed thrown by the question. Unlike Harry, he had spent little time with the Headmaster except when in serious trouble, so he was not used to Dumbledore's casual manners, nor to his habit of making random, inconsequential remarks. Draco opened his mouth to answer but could think of nothing to say.

"You really must eat, you know," Dumbledore chided, softly, still looking intently into the boy's wary eyes. "Not that a second helping wouldn't do Harry some good, as well."

"I did eat."

Harry choked on his mouthful of potatoes at this blatant lie but didn't say anything.

Dumbledore smiled in a way that told Harry he was not fooled for a moment and looked around the small space enquiringly. "It appears that you have the only chair, Mr. Potter. May I borrow it?"

"Sure!" Harry scrambled out of the chair and collected the dishes from the bed. He could find no place to put them and was about to dump them all on the hearth when Dumbledore pulled out his wand and made them disappear. "Umm, thanks, Professor."

"Don't mention it. Sit down, Harry. I have something to discuss with Draco, and I can't have you flapping about like a nervous vulture."

Without stopping to think about it, Harry clambered onto Draco's bed and sat down on the lower half of the mattress, his bare feet tucked under him for warmth. Draco showed no outward reaction, but Harry felt a slight wash of relief go through him and knew that Draco was glad he hadn't left him to face Dumbledore alone.

Dumbledore settled into the chair and leaned forward to prop his elbows on the bed. His eyes, as clear as blue glass and as keen as a polished blade, gazed at Draco from over the top of his half-moon spectacles. "I am very sorry to do this to you, Draco, but we have run out of time."

Draco answered him in a flat tone that betrayed his underlying fear. "Do what?"

"Ask you to choose. I have delayed as long as I dare, to give you time to recover. You are stronger since we removed the charm, and you will continue to grow stronger for a while, but not indefinitely. As long as the charm exists, it is a danger to you."

"Why didn't you break it this morning?"

"For a number of reasons," Draco opened his mouth to speak, but Dumbledore held up a hand to silence him and went on, "which I will now give you. I will give you all my reasons, all your options, and the answers to all your questions. Then I will give you time to consider before you choose, but not much time. We do not have much time, any of us, and you least of all. But for now, I only want you to listen. Will you do that?"

Draco nodded, and Dumbledore smiled approvingly at him.

"Here is the situation as it stands, Draco. Your father, along with Voldemort's Death Eaters and the Dementors, is right outside Hogwarts. He wants you to come to him, and I have agreed to let you go, if that is what you want. But you do not have to go, simply because your parents send for you. If you choose to stay here, I will give you my protection and help, regardless of who threatens you. This is not the time for family demands to decide your future. This is war - a war to decide the fate of our world - and each of us must choose the side on which we will fight."

Draco swallowed painfully, and his eyes strayed to Harry's face. "You want me to choose between you and my father."

"Between the forces of Darkness and those who oppose it, but yes, it comes down to a choice between me and your father. Lucius will never forsake the Dark Lord, even for you. If you want to follow him, you must follow Voldemort."

"You said... you said you'd explain about the charm."

"Yes. I did not break the charm this morning for three reasons. The first is that I have no idea what it will do to you. You have worn it since earliest childhood, and it has become a part of you, woven into your mind and body. To break it could mean your death."

"It's true," Harry interjected softly. "I've seen it. Inside you, I mean, through the link."

Draco's face had turned sickly again. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, holding on tightly to hide the shaking in his limbs. He looked at Dumbledore, his eyes dark and wounded. "Could it really kill me?"

"Yes. Or it might simply vanish, taking all its threads of power with it. The point is that we simply don't know, and I won't risk your life without your full understanding and agreement. And I certainly won't do it, if it isn't necessary, which brings me to the second reason.

"The charm's sole purpose is to draw you to your father. It has been torturing you because you did not obey its summons. If you do obey and go to Lucius, the charm will become inert and no threat to you. So there is no point in breaking it and risking your life, if you plan to return to your father anyway."

"What's the third reason?" Draco whispered.

"When I break the charm, your father will know it. He will know that his hold on you is gone, that you are lost to him, and that may well prove the death of you in another way."


"So far, the charm has remained whole, and you have remained tied to your father. He blames me for your failure to answer the summons, not you, and he is confident that you will come when you can. But if the charm is broken..."

Draco's face paled alarmingly. "He'll think I betrayed him!"

"That is what I fear, though it is by no means certain. Had we broken it immediately, he would have assumed that we destroyed it out of fear and still thought you blameless. But you were gravely injured, and we could not risk it then. Now that you have regained some strength, we could try to break it, but that might put you at risk from your father. Or, more likely, from Voldemort, who is a good deal less understanding and compassionate than Lucius. Where Lucius might still blame me and hope for your rescue, Voldemort would write you off as a bad bargain and consign you to the flames with the rest of us."

"So, my only chance to stay alive and sane is to go back to my father."

"If you can get to him alive."

Draco pressed his forehead to his bent knees and mumbled, thickly, "Just tell me all of it. Please."

"Here it is in a nutshell. If you choose to return to your father, I will give you the charm, sever the Blood Link, and send you home."

"You can't cut the link!" Harry blurted out. "He'll die without it!"

"Probably, but hopefully he will have enough time. He's stronger, and some of his injuries have begun to heal properly just since this morning."

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here," Draco said into his flannel-clad knees.

Dumbledore smiled at his bent head. "My apologies. There is a good chance that you can get as far as Hogsmeade and your parents without endangering your life. But once you are outside the Hogwarts grounds, you are your parents' responsibility and I cannot help you."

Harry noticed that Dumbledore carefully said nothing about what Draco's parents might or might not do to save him. Malfoy might want Draco back, but would he leave the Death Eaters here while he rushed off to St. Mungo's with Draco? Would Voldemort let him go, even to save his son's life? Staring at the small, huddled form of the injured boy, Harry felt his stomach clench with new fear.

Draco spoke without lifting his head. "If I stay?"

"Then you remain linked with Harry and we break the charm. When the charm and Dark spells trapped by it are gone, Harry's power can speed your healing."

"If I'm still alive."

"If you're still alive." Dumbledore reached over to touch Draco's arm and waited until he lifted his head. Then he said, "I told you that I would leave all your options open to you, and that is what I have tried to do. If you want to go home, I will send you home with no cloud of suspicion over you and with the best hope I can give of survival. What happens to you then is not for me to say. If you choose to stay, I will do everything in my power to bring you safely through this and protect you from both your father and Voldemort. But the choice must be yours, and it must be freely made."

Draco's eyes moved to Harry's face, and there was a kind of panicked pleading in them that closed Harry's throat up tight. "How am I supposed to choose?"

Dumbledore pushed himself to his feet and rested a hand on Draco's shoulder. His voice was as gentle as Harry had ever heard it. "I can't help you with that, my boy, but maybe Harry can. Like you, he has been forced to grow up ahead of schedule by things outside his control."

Harry shook his head, fighting the panic growing in him. It was equal parts Draco's and his own, and it made his voice crack as he stammered, "I don't... I can't..."

Dumbledore paid him no mind. All his attention was on Draco. "I can give you time to think about it, but not a great deal. It would be best to go with the other Slytherins if you plan to go at all."

Draco licked suddenly dry lips and whispered, "When?"

"Tonight, before midnight. It will take a few minutes to get you packed and ready, and to sever the Blood Link, so I'll need an answer by eleven o'clock."

Draco dropped his head and buried his face in his bent knees again, giving no answer. Dumbledore favored him with a long, measuring look, then nodded a silent farewell to Harry and moved back around the screen.

Harry sat very quietly on the end of the bed, staring at Draco's bent head and wondering why no emotion was coming through the link to him. He could feel the summoning charm and the insistent pain of unhealed wounds, but no emotion, no presence, nothing that he could identify as Draco. The silence and blankness stretched on for several minutes, while Harry's chest grew tight with pain and his fists knotted in helpless frustration. But still the link was empty, as if Draco Malfoy had been erased somehow.

Finally, Harry could stand it no longer. "Malfoy..." he began.

A surge of anger, swift and hot, lanced through him as Draco's control slipped. "Don't say it, Potter."

"I just..."

"I know what you're going to say." Draco's head came up, and he fixed wild, winter-grey eyes on Harry's face. "You're going to tell me what a bastard my father is. You're going to gloat because it was my bastard of a father who did this to me and forced me choose which way I want to die. Well, guess what? I don't want to hear it!"

Harry couldn't stop himself from reaching out to Draco through the link. He couldn't see the agony burning in his eyes without doing something to calm it. "That's not what I was going to say," he murmured.

"You and Dumbledore, you have the answers to everything. You decide that my father is evil, and I'm supposed accept that. Forget that I love him. Forget that he's my father. Because for you it's all so bloody easy! Perfect Bloody Potter, savior of the wizarding world, who never made a wrong choice or loved the wrong person in his whole, perfect life!"

"I never thought it would be easy." Harry opened the link a bit more and sent another, stronger wave of reassurance through it. "And I know you can't stop loving your father, just because Dumbledore says he's evil."

Either his words or the power flowing through the link were having an effect. The silver flames in Draco's eyes slowly died, and he seemed to deflate, his body growing smaller and more drawn in on itself as his anger faded.

Harry went on, earnestly, "I do hate Lucius Malfoy, and I won't pretend otherwise. But I have the luxury of hating him, because he isn't my father."

"He is mine, and I don't hate him. I don't."

"I get that. I'm not going to say a word about him, okay?"


"You have to decide what to do, and I won't try to interfere, I swear. There's only one thing I wanted to say, that doesn't have anything to do with your father or Dumbledore or who's going to win the war or..." Harry broke off and took a deep breath. His heart was suddenly slamming against his ribs, and his voice threatened to crack, but he had to speak before he lost the chance or the courage to do it. Willing his voice to hold steady, he said, "For whatever it's worth, I don't want you to go." His eyes flicked up to Draco's face then away again, while his cheeks flushed a dull red. "I just thought you should know that. In case it... matters."

Neither of them spoke, and the wash of emotion through the link was too confused for Harry to sort it out. He knew his own feelings were in the same chaotic state, and he was frankly terrified to look too closely at them. He stared intently at his own hands, folded tightly in his lap, and wished that Draco would say something - except that he was appalled by his own idiocy and terrified of hearing the Slytherin tell him off in that acid, sneering, cutting voice of his.

He could feel the formless wash of emotion in the other boy beginning to settle, could feel him pull himself together. Any second now, he would say something, and Harry braced himself against the inevitable, wicked lash of Malfoy's tongue.

But it was another voice entirely that spoke to him, shattering the charged atmosphere.

"Hallo, Malfoy. Potter."

Harry's head came up with a jerk and he stared blankly at Vincent Crabbe. The Slytherin was sidling around the screen, clutching something in his ham-like hands and shooting furtive looks between Harry and Draco. At the sound of his voice, Harry felt Draco's guard come up instinctively. The walls slammed into place, and Draco was once more out of reach. Harry swallowed his disappointment and nodded at Crabbe, his face carefully neutral.

"Crabbe. To what do we owe the honor?" Malfoy spoke in his habitual drawl, but there was no sarcasm in it.

"You look better," Crabbe declared.

"Candlelight is very flattering."

"No, I mean you really do look better. I was scared before. I thought you were going to... uhhh..."

The sincerity and concern in Crabbe's voice startled Draco. His eyebrows rose and his face softened very slightly. "Thanks. I feel better."

"Look, I brought you some stuff." Crabbe held out his hand, and Harry saw that he carried a small leather case - like a shaving kit. It was made of fine-grained black leather and had a large M stamped in silver on one corner. Like everything Malfoy owned, it looked outrageously expensive.

Draco eyed the case in some confusion, not sure what to make of Crabbe's gesture. "What stuff?"

Crabbe tossed it on the bed with a diffident shrug. "You know, a toothbrush and a comb. Stuff like that. I thought you might want them, while you're stuck here. Maybe comb your hair, or something."

"Yeah. Okay."

"Aren't you going to comb your hair?" Crabbe asked, a trifle too anxiously.

Draco shrugged and reached for the bag. Harry had never noticed before that he was left-handed, but it was obvious now when his left hand was too sore to use and he had to rely on his awkward right one. He fumbled at the zipper, unable to work it properly with only one hand, and Harry casually reached over to hold the case still for him. Draco opened the bag, dug around in it for a moment, then pulled out a large comb and held it up for Crabbe to see.

"Got it. Thanks."

Crabbe gave him a relieved smile. "Good. Well. I'll see you, Malfoy."

Draco nodded, his face unreadable. Harry stared after Crabbe's retreating back in a good deal of surprise. When he turned back to Draco, the other boy had dropped the comb on the bed and was rummaging in the case again.

"Is he always so concerned about your personal grooming habits?" Harry asked.

"No. There's a letter in here." Draco slid a piece of parchment out of the bag and stared at it, thoughtfully.

"You want me to go away so you can read it?" Harry asked.

Draco just shook his head and started unfolding the parchment as best he could one-handed. Whoever put it in the bag had folded it several times to form a small, fat rectangle, and it took Draco a few tries to get it open. He held it carelessly, so that Harry could have read it without much trouble, but Harry politely refrained from looking at the ink strokes that covered the page.

After a minute or two, Draco tossed him the letter and said, "Go on, then. Read it."

Surprised, Harry turned it the right way around and stared at the clumsy writing.


I thought you should know that Dumbledore is letting us go tonight - anybody who wants to, which means most of Slytherin House. Our parents are supposed to meet us in Hogsmeade and take us home on the train. If you want to go, you better talk to Dumbledore soon. After tonight, it might be too late.

The Slytherins know about you and Potter.

"Know what about you and Potter?" Harry demanded.

Draco just shrugged, and Harry went back to reading.

Blaise is really hacked off and wants to make trouble. She plans to tell your father that Dumbledore is keeping you locked up with Harry Potter and won't let your mates in to see you. I asked her what good that would do, but she wouldn't tell me. You know Blaise. Maybe she just wants to get your father so mad he ruptures something. But if there really is something going on with you two, maybe you should warn Potter. I'd want to know if Lucius Malfoy was out to get me.

There was some stuff I wanted to talk to you about, important stuff, but I can't do it with Potter around, so it looks like I'll have to figure it out on my own. Dumbledore says this is the time for all of us to think for ourselves and make our own choices. I guess he's right. I'm going to try anyway.

I'll see you around, maybe.


Harry read the letter through again, frowning over the last paragraph. "Is it just me, or this is a pretty weird letter?"

"It's typical Crabbe. Weird and vague."

"Well, it was nice of him to warn you about Blaise, anyway."

"Not like I can do anything about it."

Draco gave an irritated grunt, and Harry looked up from the parchment to see him struggling to pull the comb through a huge snarl in his hair. He wasn't making much progress.

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing?"

"Hadn't you better wash it, before you try to comb it?"

"This is a Cleaning Comb." He tugged on the snarl again, wincing.

Harry looked at the comb with new interest. "Really? Ron gave me one of those once, but it didn't work. It just made my hair stand up in spikes."

"This one works."

Harry chuckled at the sour note in his voice. "Of course it does. It's a Malfoy comb."

"Laugh all you want, but at least I don't go around looking like hedgehog." Draco gave one more tug on the comb, then pulled it out of his hair and set it down, shaking his hand to ease the cramp in his stiff muscles.

"Give it here."

Draco eyed his extended hand with deep suspicion. "Why?"

"Just give it here, Malfoy."

Draco handed him the comb, and Harry hopped off the bed to circle around the end of it. When he came to a stop behind Draco and clambered onto the mattress again, the other boy craned his neck to peer over his shoulder and demanded, "What are you doing?"

"Hold still. I can't pick these tangles out if you're twitching."


Harry forcibly turned Draco's head back in the proper direction, then he took a firm grip on the comb and dragged it through a long hank of tangled, filthy blond hair. A delighted grin split his face. "It does work!"

"I told you so." Draco sounded annoyed, but he was no longer squirming. He sat very still, while Harry stroked the teeth of the comb through his hair, pausing to pick at the snarls and knots.

The comb was a lovely thing, made of polished ivory and richly inlaid with silver. It was also very heavy, and Harry understood why Draco was having trouble using it, ill and tired as he was. Harry didn't mind doing it for him. In fact, he found it oddly soothing, and he liked watching the grimy rat's nest on Draco's head turn back into the smooth, shining, shoulder-length mane he recognized.

Draco had the most amazing hair he'd ever seen. It didn't really belong on a living person. It belonged in a painting, on some kind of Medieval archangel, with a halo made of gold leaf behind his head to make it glow when the light hit it. It looked out of place on a sixteen-year-old wizard in flannel pajamas.

"Did you ever study Muggle art?" he asked, abruptly.


"You know, paintings. Portraits of old Kings and Queens, angels, that kind of thing. My favorite was a painting of Richard the Third I saw in a book about the War of the Roses."

Draco gave a disgusted snort and reached up to bat away the comb. "Don't be daft, Potter. Richard the Third was a famous wizard."

Harry knocked his hand aside, chuckling, and gave the silver-gilt hair a finishing stroke. "Maybe it's the same man. Was he a hunchback?"

"No, but some people think he was really a ghoul. He ate live frogs."

"And smothered little boys with pillows?"

"What are you on about?"

"Nothing." Harry handed him the comb and came around the bed to reclaim his spot on the mattress. He shot the other boy a sideways glance and smiled to himself, ducking his head to hide it from Draco. Definitely an archangel. All he needed was a pair of wings and a really big sword. A few ethics wouldn't hurt, either, but you couldn't have everything.

Draco had upended the leather bag, strewing its contents across the blanket. Harry watched him sort through the various objects curiously, surprised at what Crabbe considered essential to Malfoy's comfort. There was a black satin ribbon with silver threads in it, a couple of rubber bands, a toothbrush, the Cleaning Comb, a bottle of purple liquid that smelled strongly of lavender, a nail file, two pairs of black socks - neatly rolled - and a signet ring set with a glowing green gem. Draco was fingering the nail file as though he were plotting a prison break with it.

Harry picked up the bottle and wrinkled his nose at it. "What's this?"

"My mother's idea of civilized living. I'm supposed to sprinkle it on the sheets so they don't smell."

Harry shot him an awed, disbelieving look. "She really wants you to pour lavender water on your sheets? That's... well..."

"Sickening. Yes, I know. If I waltzed around smelling of lavender, I'd be a social outcast."

"You're already a social outcast," Harry quipped, automatically. "Maybe you should try it, just in case it's your smell that's driving people away."

"Very funny, Potter. Why don't you try it? Maybe Weasley will give you that kiss you've been angling for..."

Harry grabbed a rubber band and shot it at him. Draco instinctively tried to block it with his left hand and gave a slight hiss at the throb of pain in his damaged limb.


Draco sighed. "Stop apologizing. And stop messing with my stuff."

Harry obediently dropped the ribbon that he had been running through his fingers. Draco picked up the ring and looked at it glumly, his eyes seeming more shadowed and tired than ever.

"Did your father give you that?" Harry asked, softly.

"Yes." He weighed it in his palm for a moment, then tossed it back onto the bed. "It's a family heirloom."

Harry hunted about for something to say that would dispel Draco's gloom and distract him from the terrible decision he faced. Not that it would help any to put it off, but Harry couldn't stand to see him looking so worn and overwhelmed. Falling back on the old standby of baiting his Slytherin rival, he flicked a finger at the pile on the blanket and said, "Do you own anything that isn't a family heirloom or outrageously expensive?"

"No." Draco smiled at him, and Harry was startled to see that there was no sneer in it. "I am a Malfoy, after all."

"Come on. You must have something you picked up off the floor, or bought in a second-hand shop just because you liked it."


"What about pets? Did you ever adopt a stray kitten?"

Draco's smile widened and his eyes began to sparkle with laughter. "Can you see my father with a stray kitten in his house?"

"It does kind of boggle the imagination."

"I had a toad, once."

"Those aren't cheap. I've seen what the magic toads in Diagon Alley cost..."

"Oh, this wasn't magic. I caught it in the stream that runs at the back of the estate. He was just your basic toad, with nasty, warty bumps all over his back, but I thought he was spectacular. So I took him home and put him in a box under my bed. The house elf brought me bugs to feed him."

"What happened to him?"

"My father found out."

"Uh-oh. Did he do something awful?"

Draco's eyebrows rose. "Why would he?"

Harry flushed slightly in embarrassment. "No reason. What did he do?"

"He went to Diagon Alley and bought me the biggest, smartest, most magical magic toad he could find, and a beautiful glass tank to keep it in. Then he came home and set it up in my room, and he sat down and showed me all the things the toad could do, all the ways he was better than the plain old toad in the cardboard box. So I took the plain old toad back to the stream and let him go, and I let the house elf take care of my magic toad, because he was actually kind of boring."

"Are you sorry you let the other one go?"

Draco shrugged. "He probably found himself a nasty, warty female toad and fertilized a cartload of eggs and had a great life eating bugs around the stream. It's a nice place for toads."

Harry couldn't think of an answer to this. He felt perversely sorry for the little boy who had given up his pet to suit his father, and even more perversely sorry for both of the toads. There was nothing hurtful or unkind in the story, but it left a sour taste in Harry's mouth. Then again, everything about Lucius Malfoy left a sour taste in his mouth, and the more he got to know Draco, the more he despised his father. No one should be forced to love a creature like Lucius Malfoy by an accident of birth.

A small voice in the back of his mind whispered to Harry that he was jealous. He hated Malfoy, because Malfoy had a claim on Draco's loyalty and affection, and Harry didn't think Malfoy deserved it. If Harry had his way, Malfoy would get nothing from his son - no love, respect, trust, nothing - and the loyalty Draco felt for his father would belong to Dumbledore. Then Harry could stop hating Malfoy, because he wouldn't matter a damn.

Harry shot Draco a sidelong glance and saw that he was looking very tired and ill again. He opened up the link a bit more and bled a little extra power through it. "So what does Crabbe figure you'll do with the rubber bands?" he asked, innocently.

His gambit did not have the desired effect. Draco only shook his head and began stuffing things back into the bag, one-handed. Harry obligingly helped him by picking the rubber bands out of the folds in the blanket and dropping them into the case. Then he folded up the letter and slipped it inside as well. Draco awkwardly pulled the zipper shut, then he lay back on his pillow and stared blankly up at the ceiling.

"You okay, Malfoy?"

"Go away, Potter. Please."

"I can't."

"Can you shut up, at least?"

Harry cocked his head to one side and gazed mournfully at him. "Did I say something wrong? I really didn't mean to, I swear. I'm only trying to help."

"I know that." Draco covered his eyes with one hand and lay very still for a long moment. Then he abruptly twisted onto his right side and curled up, his hands drawn into his chest protectively. His hair spilled forward to cover his face, but Harry could see his eyes gleaming in the candlelight. "I just don't want to talk about it. I want to sleep. Okay?"

Harry wanted to shout at him, No, it's not okay! You're not sleeping, you're remembering him... thinking about him... and then you're going to go to him! After everything Dumbledore has done for you, you're just going to turn your back on us and go back to that monster who pretends to care whether you live or die! But all he said was, "Okay."

He climbed off the bed and sat in the chair again. Then he leaned forward and crossed his arms on the mattress, laying his head on his forearms, eyes wide open. He could see Draco's chin and jawline, see the pale strands of hair falling around his throat, and see his chest rise and fall a bit too quickly beneath his shirt. He was strung so tightly that Harry was afraid he would snap at the smallest touch. But there was nothing Harry could do to help - nothing to ease the tension in him or break the lengthening silence. He could not even venture into the link, for fear of breaking his word and influencing Draco's choice. He could only lie there, watching the other boy, and thinking in the privacy of his own head, Please believe what I said. Please don't go.

*** *** ***

The common room was piled with trunks and bags, so that Crabbe could hardly walk from one end to the other. The usual mob of sixth-years were huddled together by the fire, talking, and Goyle waved to him as he came in. Millicent shot him a look that made the skin on the back of his neck crawl. Or maybe it wasn't Millicent that made him so jumpy. Maybe it was guilt.

"Hey, Crabbe!" Goyle called. "I brought your trunk in for you!"

"Thanks," Crabbe muttered, as he ambled over to the group.

"Where've you been?"

"Talking to Malfoy."

Blaise's face turned ugly. "Have they still got Potter watching him?"

Crabbe shrugged. "Potter was there, yeah."

"I'll bet that old bugger, Dumbledore, hasn't even told him we're leaving. Well, Mr. Malfoy will show Dumbledore what's what."

Crabbe listened to the grumbles with half an ear, grunting and nodding where expected. He knew better than to say anything. Blaise had already bitten his head off once for daring to have an opinion, and it didn't matter, anyway. There wasn't a blasted thing he could do to stop them, once Blaise put an idea into their heads. Let them rant and rave and foam at the mouth. He could use the noise as cover to think, and he had to think very hard about how he was going to do this, or he'd make a mess of it. He didn't even want to think about what would happen to him, if he screwed this one up!

"No, we can't tell Snape about it," Millicent was saying. "He's too thick with Dumbledore these days."

"But he hates Potter even more than we do," Durmond pointed out.

"We don't tell anyone until we find Mr. Malfoy," Blaise insisted, glaring around the group to stop any arguments. "If we tell Snape, he might keep us here to stop us. Or put Draco somewhere his father can't find him."

"Listen, Blaise, I was thinking..." Every eye in the group swiveled to stare at Crabbe in disbelief. He felt his cheeks go hot, but he held his ground and stared back at them. "I was thinking that maybe you're right."

"Of course I'm right," Blaise snapped. "About what?"

"All of it. Dumbledore wanting to keep Malfoy away from the Slytherins. Snape being more loyal to Dumbledore than to us. And I was thinking... how smart is it for all of us to go and leave Malfoy here alone?"

Blaise was glaring at him like he was pond scum, but Pansy looked worried. Crabbe took that as a sign that he was making some kind of sense.

"How smart is it to stay in a castle that's about to be overrun by Dementors?" Blaise retorted.

He shrugged in his best big-dumb-oaf style and said, "I figured Mr. Malfoy would appreciate it if I stuck around to look after Draco. Maybe he'd tell the Dementors not to suck my brains out or anything."

"You?" Pansy squeaked. "You want to stay with Draco? Why you?!"

Crabbe shrugged again, and privately wished Pansy Parkinson to the Devil. "Why not?" Then inspiration hit, which was a rare enough thing for Crabbe that he got a bit flushed with the excitement of it. "I'm no good to anyone outside. You guys... you can talk to Mr. Malfoy, maybe help out your folks. Nobody needs me. They'll just put me on the train and send me home, and what good does that do? I'll miss all the fun."

He was warming to his subject now, his words positively flowing. "But if I stay here, I can keep an eye on Malfoy, maybe get owls out to tell his dad where he is. Mostly, I can make sure Potter doesn't do something to him while he's so sick. I really don't trust Potter, and I'm thinking that the weirdest part of this whole thing is how Potter and Malfoy are always together. But if I hang around the hospital wing, maybe I can figure out..."

"Turned detective now, have you?" Blaise sneered, cutting him off.

Crabbe just gave her a meek, slightly embarrassed look and waited for her to make up the others' minds for them.

"Okay, so you want to stay. It's your neck if Dumbledore catches you spying on Potter."

Pansy batted her eyes at him and smiled mistily. Crabbe supposed she was trying to be charming, but she looked ridiculous. "I'm so glad Draco won't be alone! It's... it's courageous of you, Vincent!"

That was more than enough for Crabbe. He didn't intend to hang around while Pansy gushed over him and Blaise looked at him like she could read his mind. Giving them all a rather shamefaced smile, he backed away, mumbling, "I'd better get my trunk out of here."

In a few minutes, he had successfully unearthed his trunk from the pile by the door and dragged it back into the sixth-year boys' dormitory. There, alone in the cool darkness, he sank down on his bed and buried his face in his pillow to muffle his semi-hysterical laughter. He had done it! He had fooled Blaise Zabini! Now he just had to get past Snape and, if Malfoy didn't blow his cover, he was home free! Or rather, he wasn't home, which was the whole point.

*** *** ***


The soft voice took him completely by surprise and jerked him out of a light doze. Harry straightened up in his chair, shoving his glasses up his nose automatically, and turned to stare at Draco. The other boy lay curled up on his right side, eyes closed, hands drawn in to his chest. As far as Harry could tell, he had not moved in hours. But in that time, the candles had gone out, leaving the dungeon lit only by the glow of the banked fire, and Harry could no longer see his face except as a pale blur in the shadows. Harry glanced at his watch. It was eleven o'clock.

Draco spoke without opening his eyes. "Are you there?"

"I'm here."

"I need to ask you something."

"Go ahead."

"What you said before... before Crabbe showed up..."

Harry swallowed noisily and ventured, "That I didn't want you to go?"

"Yes." Draco paused, his eyes shut and his body still. Finally, he whispered, "Did you mean it?"


Another long pause that stretched Harry's nerves on a rack, then he spoke again in a whisper, "Where's the charm?"

Harry touched his pocket. "Right here, with me. Do you want it back?"

"No. Give it to Dumbledore and tell him to break it."

For a moment, Harry could not breathe. He pressed his palm flat against the charm, holding it to his chest and feeling the pounding of his own heart behind it, and heard the impossible words again: Give it to Dumbledore. Break it.

Air suddenly rushed into his lungs, and he gasped, "You're staying?"

"Don't make me say it. Don't make me tell anybody. Just... give him the charm and tell him for me. Please, Harry."

"Of course I will!" He lurched to his feet, filled with a wild elation that took him by surprise. "Of course I will... Draco, are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

Harry laughed breathlessly and turned to leave, forgetting the link for a moment in his urgency to find Dumbledore and tell him of Draco's decision. But as he turned, he saw that they were not alone. Three figures stood silently at the edge of the screen - Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall - and from the expressions on their faces, it was clear to Harry that they had heard every word. He did not know how they had managed to appear so quietly, without alerting either of the boys to their presence, or why they had come at just this moment, but the sight of them brought a sob of relief from him.

He opened his mouth to speak, then he saw Dumbledore holding his finger to his lips. Fumbling in his pocket, he grabbed the charm in its little, velvet bag and held it out to the Headmaster. Dumbledore shook his head and reached out to close Harry's fingers around it again.

Then Dumbledore was around the screen, guiding Harry back to his chair and pushing him gently into it. He bent over Draco for a moment and turned to smile at Harry, whispering, "He's asleep."

"Already?" Harry said, blankly. He felt a perverse disappointment at Dumbledore's words. Somehow, he had thought that Draco's decision meant they were now allies and friends, ready to plot the downfall of the Dark Lord together, or at least hold a normal conversation. He had not expected the other boy to pass out cold the minute he made his choice.

Dumbledore nodded in satisfaction. "He needed to commit himself and to let go for awhile. Just let him rest, for now." Then the old wizard laid a hand on Harry's shoulder and bent close to whisper, "You've done well, Harry. Very well. Thank you."

With that, all three wizards left as silently as they had come, and Harry was alone with the sleeping Draco. He gazed at the pale smudge of the other boy's face in the darkness and felt an unbearable ache rise in his chest. Closing his eyes, he buried his face in his crossed arms on the mattress and just lay there, aching, wondering why he couldn't cry when every part of him seemed full to bursting with tears.

We did it, a small voice in the back of his mind whispered. We did it. We saved him. He did not let himself remember that Draco might still die when they broke the charm, and if he lived through that, he would be a target for Voldemort just as Harry was. Those things didn't matter, because Harry had sworn that Draco wouldn't die while he was there, and he would die himself before he broke his word.

He stayed for me, the little voice whispered, even more quietly. And then, toward the link and the sleeping presence at the other end of it, Thank you, Draco.

*** *** ***

"Harry Potter?" Lucius Malfoy's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Are you certain of that?"

Blaise clenched her hands together behind her back, fighting the urge to run from the sleek, deadly man sitting in front of her. They were in a private parlor behind The Three Broomsticks, just the two of them, and Blaise found herself wishing she had not come here. She had always looked on Draco's father with interest, liking his expensive clothes, haughty manners and cold good looks. But tonight, he was frankly terrifying.

Marshaling her courage and reminding herself that she was only doing her best to help a fellow Slytherin, she said, "Yes, sir. They've got him in one of the dungeons with Potter. Professor Snape says he was injured the night of... the night you came, sir. And I think it must be true, because Vincent Crabbe saw him and said he looked bad."

"Did you see him, Miss Zabini?"

"No, sir. Only Crabbe. But every time Crabbe tried to talk to Draco, Potter was there."

"Did Snape tell you why my son was with Potter?"

"No, sir. He wouldn't tell us anything, except that Draco wasn't coming tonight."

"Thank you, Miss Zabini." He threw her a frigid glance and drawled, "Hurry back to your father. I know he missed you."

Blaise shuffled her feet nervously and looked everywhere except at Malfoy's face. "Mr. Malfoy? Will you get Draco out?"

His voice turned silky, and the sound of it sent a thrill of horror through Blaise. "Most certainly I will, Miss Zabini. You can count on it."

As the door shut behind Blaise, Lucius turned to gaze at the fire. His face was blank, painted orange and gold by the flames but empty of its own light. Only his eyes lived, and they glittered so coldly that the warmth of the fire could not touch them. Behind this frozen mask, his thoughts churned.

Harry Potter. His son and Harry Potter. What game did Dumbledore play with those two boys as his pawns? Lucius could not fool himself into believing that Draco's absence tonight meant Dumbledore had broken his word. Dumbledore never broke his word. It was one of his more predictable and foolish traits, and one day, it would prove his undoing.

No, Dumbledore was not holding Draco against his will. Draco had chosen not to come. But why? And what did Potter have to do with it? He had to find out, and he had to get his son out of that castle before Dumbledore's plans came to fruition. If Dumbledore had his way, Draco Malfoy would betray the Dark Lord, and Lucius' son would be lost to him forever. He could not let that happen, both for Draco's sake and for his own. He must not let it happen.

Shaking himself out of his reverie, Malfoy reached for a small bowl of powder that sat on the mantelpiece. He took a small pinch in his long, white fingers and threw it into the fire. The flames turned a lovely, emerald green.

Leaning close, Malfoy called out, "Master! It is Lucius, Master! I have word for you of Harry Potter!"

To be continued...