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 09


Chapter 9: Playing with Fire

Dumbledore took the scroll from the owl's offered leg and dropped a couple of Knuts into its pouch. As an apology for the time the owl had spent sitting on a ledge outside the owlery, waiting for permission to cross the wards, he added a nice, juicy mouse to the bargain - a little something Crookshanks had left for him. The owl hooted once and hopped onto the back of the chair in which Professor McGonagall sat to enjoy its snack

McGonagall gave the bird an irritated look but did not shoo it away. "Who is it from?" she asked Dumbledore, nodding at the letter.

"Let's see."

Dumbledore turned his attention to the letter in his hands. It bore no seal or mark, and was tied with a leather thong set in a blob of green wax. He could feel the protective charms that enclosed it tingle against his fingertips. He broke the wax and untied the thong easily, with no interference from the charms. Then he unrolled the parchment and turned it slightly to catch the light from the fire behind him. It was written in a bold, clean hand that he recognized instantly.


We move at dusk today. Look for our attack with full darkness. I am sorry relief has not come sooner, though knowing you, I have no fears for those inside the castle. It has taken us some time to gather sufficient numbers, with so many afraid to leave their families unprotected.

Our intelligence can find nothing definite on YKW's location, but he is not in Hogsmeade. This gives us reason to fear that the attack on Hogwarts is a diversion meant to draw us out. You will understand why we cannot rush to your relief without some thought to those who are left unguarded by our absence. But all is now in motion.

You can contact me at the Burrow. Use owls only. Arthur has reports that the floo network is compromised, and we know from past experience how adept the enemy is at tampering with it. This is one of four letters sent from four locations in hopes that one will reach you. Rest assured that all are suitably warded. They may fall into the enemy's hand, but they will tell him nothing.

Give my love to Harry.


Dumbledore rolled the letter into a neat scroll and handed across the desk to McGonagall. She read it quickly, her brows drawn together in a frown of concern. When she looked up at Dumbledore, the frown had spread to her mouth. She looked positively fierce.

"Is it possible that Sirius is right, and this is just a feint on Voldemort's part?" she asked.

"Certainly it's possible, but I think it unlikely."

"He must know that the Order will come to our rescue, and that they will leave families behind them."

"Yes, but we have accounted for all the Death Eaters and the Dementors. They are right here, under our eyes, not lurking about the countryside to ambush the families of the Order."

"So long as they're not physically on the grounds, they can apparate..."

"And our forces would see them do it, return to their homes, and pick them off one or two at a time as they came." Dumbledore shook his head. "No, he wants me, and he wants this castle, but as usual, he has been a little too clever for his own good. He thought to use these children as a weapon against me, to force me to overextend my power in protecting them and leave an opening for him to strike, but instead, he has shut me in my stronghold, with my most powerful allies at hand, and all the most vulnerable and valuable wizards of our age - these children - safe inside where he cannot touch them. His attack failed in the first night, when we repulsed the Death Eaters. If he could not get to me then, when he had the element of surprise on his side and I was occupied with the welfare of the students, he will not get to me at all."

"I do hope you're right, Albus."

He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling. "If I'm not, you have my permission to say 'I told you so.'"

*** *** ***

Harry took Dumbledore's advice and changed his shirt. He also allowed Madam Pomfrey to clean him up, fuss over him a bit with potions and treats, and settle him in his bed on a mountain of pillows. Her mothering mood of the early morning had not passed, and with no one left in the hospital wing to coddle except Draco - who was dead to the world - and Harry, Harry got all of her attention. But the minute she pulled the privacy screens into place and left him alone, he abandoned the lavish comforts of his own bed and crawled into Draco's instead.

It occurred to him that this was not the most rational thing he had ever done, considering Draco's inevitable reaction when he woke up, but Harry wasn't in any mood to care. His entire body ached so relentlessly with exhaustion that he couldn't face sleeping in a chair again, and he couldn't relax in his own bed with all that empty space around him, so the only solution was to scrunch up next to Draco in the narrow bed and hope he got a few hours of sleep before the Slytherin dumped him out on his head. Or turned him into a cockroach.

The beds in the hospital wing were not meant to hold two people, but the cramped quarters didn't bother Harry. The warm body sleeping next to him brought him far more comfort than all of Madam Pomfrey's extra pillows and self-straightening blankets. And for the first time in days, he actually relaxed. He fell asleep with the curve of Draco's back fitted into his side, Draco's bare foot hooked around his leg, and a contented smile on his face.

Somewhere in the warm channels of sleep, Harry rolled onto his side and pulled his knees up, curving his body protectively around the smaller one beside him. He turned his face into the pillow, burrowing into the length of blond hair spilled over it, and his breath fell upon the back of Draco's neck. He slept deeply and happily, with dreams that brought him warmth instead of fear.

In the middle of one such dream, Harry awoke with a start to find himself in an extremely compromising position. He abruptly twisted his body away from Draco's, his cheeks flaming and a groan of pure agony rising in his throat. Draco was lying on his left arm. He could not tug it loose without waking the other boy, which was simply not an option at the moment, so he was stuck. Lying on his back while his arm went slowly numb, his eyes fixed blankly on the ceiling and his body betraying him in the most humiliating way, Harry bit back another groan and silently cursed his miserable, impossible, insane life.

This was not how love was supposed to work. Harry might not know much about love, but he knew that. He had spent his adolescence on a battlefield, fighting for his survival and the survival of his entire world, not making out with girls behind the greenhouse like other kids his age. He had accepted the oddities of his life because he had no choice, but he had assumed that, sooner or later, he'd catch a break. Voldemort would go away, get bored, take a vacation, leave him alone for five bloody minutes while he trimmed his foot-long nails, and Harry would have a chance to find out what normal teenage lust was all about. He was entitled to that much! Right?

Wrong. Not Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived. Not Perfect Bloody Potter, as Draco so loved to call him. Harry Potter had to wake up one winter morning, in the middle of an all-out war, to realize that he lusted madly after a boy who would probably disembowel him with a spoon when he found out! And as if that weren't enough, he was so completely, stupidly in love with him that he'd probably stand there like a prat and let him do it! Typical. And the truly ridiculous part of it all was that Harry had done it to himself. He'd done the Dark Lord one better and come up with a way to complicate his own life that would not have occurred to Voldemort in a thousand years of plotting.

Harry shot a sideways glance at the back of Draco's head and, in spite of his best efforts to the contrary, broke out in a foolish smile. One bright spot in this awful mess was that Lucius Malfoy would die of an apoplexy when he found out. Of course, that assumed that Harry would live long enough to drive Malfoy to an early grave, which wasn't looking so good just now. Another bright spot was that, whatever happened now, Harry had three days of perverse happiness to take into the Great Beyond with him.

With that thought, his hormones took another leap, and the beneficial effects on his body of dwelling on his own death were wiped away in an instant. He groaned softly, tried to twist onto his side, and almost tore his arm out of its socket in the process. His hand was completely numb and his shoulder felt like a pincushion.

"How did you get to be so heavy, all at once?" he whispered to the oblivious Draco. "Come on, Malfoy, give me a break. Roll over or something. Please."

It seemed that Malfoy was as proof against Harry's wiles in sleep as he was awake. He did not so much as twitch. Harry took a few deep breaths, willed his treacherous teenaged body to behave, and planted his free hand in the middle of Draco's back. Pushing steadily with one hand, he began to pull the other arm from under the other boy. He had almost extricated himself and was beginning to think he'd get away with it, when Draco suddenly stirred and sat up.

"What?" he mumbled, thickly.

"Nothing," Harry whispered. "Go back to sleep."

Draco turned to look at him through a curtain of rumpled hair, his eyes open but fogged with sleep. "Potter? Is that you?"

"Yeah. Go to sleep, Malfoy."

"Okay." Draco flopped back on the mattress, his face buried in the pillow, and was unconscious almost before his eyelids closed.

Harry sat up to peer over his shoulder at his face, and broke out in the foolish smile again. He sat there rubbing his arm for a few minutes, trying to get the blood back in his fingers, while availing himself of this chance to watch Draco sleep without the constant pain of the charm to disturb him. But that proved dangerous. His body just wasn't going to let him get away with staring at Malfoy that long.

Harry quickly called himself to order and lay down with his back to the other boy to get some sleep himself. He couldn't wipe the loopy grin off his face, so he quit trying and closed his eyes, secure in the knowledge that anyone who wandered by and saw him smiling in his sleep would assume he was dreaming about the Quidditch finals.

*** *** ***

Crabbe had the common room almost to himself and, for the first time in his six years at Hogwarts, claim to the best chair by the fire. Under any other circumstances, he would have enjoyed this novel experience, but he had more important things than the common room pecking order on his mind today. Much more important things.

Casting a furtive glance over his shoulder to make sure no one had wandered into the room, he pulled a crumpled letter from his robe and spread it open. This was the fourth or fifth time he'd read it, since Hagrid had given it to him that morning. He knew what it said, but Crabbe didn't trust his memory, and when he wanted to think heavily about something, he needed it in front of him.

It was from Pansy Parkinson, and her writing was as scrunched-up, frilly and annoying as she was herself. He had trouble making out some of the words, especially the ones that were heavily underlined, but he figured that he'd gotten the gist of it by now. It said:

Dear, brave (underlined twice) Vincent,

We are coming to get you out! Draco's father has a Plan. He says he won't leave Draco in that castle for another night, where the Old Coot can do horrible things to him, but he needs your help to find him. Be in the Slytherin dungeon this evening after dinner. I don't know who Mr. Malfoy is sending, but someone will meet you there so you can take them to Draco.

We're counting on you, Vincent! You're our Only Hope of rescuing poor, dear Draco. We simply must get him away from Potter!! I shudder (underlined three times) to think what they are doing to him!

Don't tell anyone. Just be ready. And thank you, Vincent! If you can save Draco, I'll be grateful to you forever and even tell your father that you got that B on your test all by yourself!


Crabbe chewed his lip nervously, staring down at the letter without seeing it. He knew what he had to do. He had to tell someone that Mr. Malfoy was going to break into the castle tonight. The question was, who? Should he tell Draco? Or maybe Snape?

He'd tried to tell Draco twice already, but both times he'd gone to the hospital wing, he'd found Malfoy asleep and Potter still there. Snape would be easy to find - his office was right down the hall - but Crabbe wasn't entirely sure which side Snape was on, and he was afraid to show him something this important. What if Snape decided to help Mr. Malfoy? What if Draco wanted him to help Mr. Malfoy? What if Crabbe foiled the rescue attempt and Draco turned him into something nasty as payback? Or worse still, what if he didn't foil it, and the Death Eaters took Draco out of the castle when he really wanted to stay?

It was all too confusing, and Crabbe heartily wished that he'd never told those lies to the Slytherins and gotten himself mixed up in this. If he could only talk to Malfoy! But Potter was always there, watching him, listening to everything he said. And until Crabbe knew why Potter was there...

Crabbe's face hardened in sudden determination, and he pushed himself out of the chair. Maybe he couldn't talk to Malfoy, but there was someone else who had all the answers. She always had all the answers. And this time, he would make her pay attention, because this time, he had the letter to prove he wasn't just another under-handed Slytherin trying to make trouble. Clutching the letter in one hand, he strode out of the dungeon in search of Hermione Granger.

*** *** ***

Draco awoke slowly, drifting up from a comfortable place of darkness and peace. He didn't really want to wake up. He was completely relaxed for the first time in longer than he could remember. Relaxed and happy just to be still. But his brain wouldn't cooperate, and it insisted on dragging him back to consciousness. Back to hunger, thirst, fear, the pain in his head and the burning in his arm.

He opened his eyes to find himself lying in a bed - not his own - with his forehead pressed into someone's softly breathing back. The someone wore hospital wing pajamas - white flannel with little blue stripes - and was very deeply asleep. Draco lay curled up on his right side, his left arm tossed over the someone's ribcage and his face mostly hidden in stripy flannel.

Potter. The name formed in his fogged and aching head, and Draco wondered idly why it didn't upset him more. Potter. He was lying in bed with Harry Potter, settled comfortably against his back, an arm flung familiarly over him as if his body had known he was there and welcomed him long before his mind figured it out. But now that his mind had figured it out, how was he supposed to react? Shouldn't he be outraged and disgusted that Potter was lying next to him in bed? Yes, he definitely should, but he wasn't. He was... he was scared, only he was so worn out from days of feeling nothing but fear that it came out as a kind of vague unease, churning around in his stomach.

Very carefully, he pulled his arm back and rolled away from Potter. It hurt to move his left arm, but not the way it had before. This was just a normal kind of pain - vicious, but not unnatural - and one he could handle with no trouble. What were a few burns, when you'd been mind-reamed by the Dark Lord, after all? His head throbbed, as if responding to his thoughts, and he stifled a groan.

He thought briefly of waking Potter, so he could use the Blood Link to dull the shattering pain in his skull, but Draco shied away from that solution. Potter awake and talking and looking at him with those big, sad, puppy-dog eyes was a very bad idea. Very bad. He didn't need Potter. He needed food and water and something else to think about. Unfortunately, every possible place his mind tried to go was fraught with danger, and sooner or later, Potter showed up in all of them.

He shoved back the blankets and slipped out of bed, doing his best not to wake the other boy. The floor was cold under his bare feet, and he shivered slightly. Suddenly, he wanted desperately to climb back under the blankets and hide his face in that soft flannel shirt again. His head did not hurt nearly so much when it was lying against Potter's back, and Potter's body warmed up the bed much more thoroughly than Draco could himself. He always had that problem. He didn't generate enough body heat to compete with winter at Hogwarts, unlike Potter, who gave off heat like an open flame.

Squelching the urge to retreat back into the comfort of the other boy's nearness, Draco padded over to the nearest window. He could feel the link stretch as he did so, tugging at his chest, but he didn't go far enough to make it really hurt. The window was tall and arched, with leaded panes of heavy glass that distorted the view outside, but Draco could see the green of the Hogwarts grounds and the pale winter-blue of the sky through it. He leaned his forehead against the cold glass and shut his eyes, willing the pain and lingering sickness in him away.

Voices reached him, blurred by distance and the closed window, but recognizable. Draco straightened up, frowning, and listened.

"You know better than that," the first voice said. It was Dumbledore, sounding as cool and controlled as always.

"I know you're a coward and an oath-breaker!" the other shouted.

Draco's stomach contracted in horror. Without realizing what he was doing, he fumbled at the window catch and swung it open. A rush of cold air flowed in, bringing his father's voice with it.

"You swore to release my son! You swore by blood and fire!"

His father, here at Hogwarts, bellowing insults at the Headmaster... His stomach heaved again, and Draco had to clutch at the window sill to keep his feet. He was sweating in spite of the cold, his face twisted with pain and nausea, fighting the urge to scream out his father's name.

"I have kept my word, Lucius," Dumbledore answered, calmly, "and you know it well. Look at your hand to see the judgement of the oath itself."

"It means nothing! You tampered with the spell! I know what you are, Dumbledore, and I wont fall for your tricks! I have come for my son and for satisfaction, and I will not leave until you grant them to me!"

"Draco is not mine to give, nor is he yours to demand. He is a young wizard with the right to choose his own path, which he has done."

Dumbledore's reasonable words acted like a tonic on Draco. He listened to them in wonder, feeling the panic in him die and the sickness fade. He was not subject to his father's demands. Dumbledore would not let Lucius take him out of the castle, and the charm was no longer there to force his obedience. The horrible, wrenching illness in him now was a product of his own mind and not of the poisonous charm. When his father spoke again, Draco listened with something approaching calm.

"My son would never choose you over his own father, unless you forced the decision upon him! I know your methods, Dumbledore! You mouth platitudes about choice and right, while you twist minds to your purposes and rob young wizards of their will and power. But you will not succeed with Draco. He is my son! He will not be used by the likes of you!"

It seemed to Draco that the voices came from nearby, though they were magically amplified and echoed strangely off the castle walls, confusing his sense of direction. Curious and more than a little frightened at the thought of his father on the school grounds, he peered out the window to find the source of the voices. He spotted Dumbledore almost immediately, standing on the top of the nearest tower and looking both very small and very imposing in his purple robes and long white hair. The angle of the hospital wing gave him a clear view of the entire tower and the gleaming figure standing at the parapet. It took him a moment longer to find his father, because he was looking for him on the ground. It wasn't until he let his eyes skim up the length of the tower that he found him - floating in mid-air less than a hundred feet from the window where Draco stood.

With a choke of surprise, Draco stepped hastily back and to one side, putting a chunk of solid wall between himself and his father. Fear that Lucius may have seen him made his heart pound unpleasantly, but he could not help straining to catch the next words, regardless of the danger. This was his future they were discussing. His imprisonment or freedom. His life or death.

"Get off the grounds, Lucius, or I will summon the Masters of Hogwarts to remove you."

"Make all the threats you like, Dumbledore," his father sneered. "Your authority ends at the doors of the castle, and soon it will not reach beyond the broken shell of your own body! Make no mistake. I will have satisfaction, and I will have my son!"

"Then you will have to kill me," Dumbledore answered evenly, no hint of emotion in his voice, "and I will not be the last you have to kill to reach him. He is not a prisoner in this castle, Lucius, but a willing recruit in an army that you created for us. You brought war to Hogwarts. You forced this decision upon Draco and every other child within these walls. If you now find yourself without a son, who but yourself is to blame?"

"Let him tell me of this decision himself! Let me hear it from his lips, and then, perhaps, I will believe you!"

Draco's heart lurched painfully, and he wrapped his arms around his ribcage in an attempt to hold himself together. Part of him was terrified that Dumbledore would agree and that he would have to face his father. Another part wanted so desperately to see Lucius that the ache of it choked him.

"No." With that one word, Draco's throat unclenched and his body went limp with relief. He gasped aloud, as the air rushed back into his lungs. "I don't care what you believe, and I won't expose Draco to your anger for no better reason than to satisfy your stubborn pride."

"You will not let me see him?" Lucius sounded incredulous.

"I will not. You spout a deal of self-righteous noise, Lucius, but one look at the oath rune on your palm will prove the truth of what I say and negate any claim you make, either to Draco's life or to mine. The spell is binding, for all you scoff at it. The charm you laid upon your son is broken. He is no longer subject to your commands."

"This is your doing!"

"If that is what you wish to believe, then by all means, believe it. I can understand why you are loath to relinquish your claim on Draco. He is a remarkable boy. He stood against the full onslaught of Voldemort's wrath, denied the Dark Lord his victory, and lived to do it again. Make no mistake, Lucius, he will do it again. He has all of your monumental stubbornness and fierce, if often misguided, loyalty. Now that he has made his choice and given that loyalty to our cause, he will fight Voldemort with all of the passion and brilliance that are his birthright."

"How dare you speak of his birthright, you Muggle-loving traitor?!"

It sounded to Draco as though Dumbledore were laughing. "Do you deny his paternity? It's a little late in the day for that, don't you think? No, Draco is a Malfoy to the bone, and thanks to him, that may well become something to be proud of."

His father uttered a wordless snarl of rage, and he must have reached for his wand to judge by Dumbledore's next words.

"Do not forget where you are, Lucius! If you draw your wand against me, without the judgement of the oath to uphold you, then you place yourself outside its protection." There was a long, burning pause, then Dumbledore went on, sternly, "Leave these grounds while you can. You have no further business with me, or with anyone else in the castle."

"You have not won this battle, Dumbledore."

"That is patently obvious, but neither have I lost it. Until I do, this conversation is over."

Draco froze, straining to hear his father's answer, the slam of a door, a muttered spell, anything that would tell him what was happening. He heard only silence that stretched on forever and scraped his nerves to bloody ruin.

"That's it, then. He knows."

Potter! The breath caught in Draco's throat for a moment, and he almost turned, but he stopped himself just in time. If he turned to face Potter, then he would have to face those eyes, and he couldn't do it. Not now. One look from them, gazing wistfully at him from behind their stupid glasses, and he'd fall completely apart.

"I'm sorry, Draco. I'm really sorry that it had to end this way."

When had Potter started calling him by his given name? And when had he picked up that soft, kind of husky, kind of gentle note in his voice? It was worse than the eyes! If he didn't shut up...

"Do you really think it's over?" Draco heard himself ask. "Will my father just let it go?"

"No, but Dumbledore won't let him get to you. He promised to protect you."

Draco took a ragged breath and muttered, "I don't care about Dumbledore's protection. I didn't stay for him."

There was a long, long pause, during which Draco could feel Potter standing so close behind him that the heat of his body beat solidly against his back and his breath rasped in Draco's ears. Finally, Harry said, "I know."

Potter's hands came down on his shoulders, resting lightly, spreading warmth over his chill skin. He flinched at the touch, but he didn't have the strength to pull away. And somewhere deep, deep inside him, a part of him began to cry. He closed his eyes against the brightness of the day and the terrifying nearness of the other boy. Unfortunately, Draco could feel him all the more acutely in the darkness.

His voice sounded in his ears again, soft and harsh at the same time, speaking words he couldn't remember giving it permission to say. "When did you figure it out, Potter?"

Potter, for all that he was a Gryffindor and congenitally stupid, did not have to ask him what he meant. Maybe it was the link feeding him secrets. Maybe it was something else. But he knew without asking and answered the real question. "It came to me gradually, over the last few days."

"Kind of slow on the uptake, aren't you?"

"Yeah." The warm hands held his shoulders a bit more tightly, letting him feel their weight. "But I had six years of hating to work through, so I guess two days isn't so bad. Dumbledore says we knew from the start, but we were too young and too scared to understand. So we chose to hate each other."

"I never chose."

Potter's voice cracked a bit when he asked, "What do you mean?"

"I never chose at all. You did. Remember that first day on the train, when I offered to shake your hand?"

"I wouldn't."

"You made the choice for both of us that day."

"You... you can't tell me you didn't hate me all these years, with the way you behaved!"

"Oh, I hated you, right enough. You spat in my face and walked away. I swore I was going to make you regret it."

"Well, you succeeded. I spent half my time at Hogwarts regretting the fact that I had ever met you."

Draco couldn't quite smother the jolt of pain that went through him at Potter's words. He knew he had only himself to blame for the years of rancor and deliberate hurt that they had inflicted on each other. He could have stopped it at any time - except that he couldn't. To spare Potter the constant lash of his jealousy and hatred would have meant losing all connection with him, and that was unthinkable.

He had known, almost from the start, that he had to bring Potter to him somehow, and if he wouldn't come of his own free will, as a friend, then Draco would have to force him to come as an enemy and rival. It was a compulsion as strong as anything his father's summoning charm could dish out. It was part of him, like his arm or his leg or the beat of his heart, this need to have Harry Potter see him. And now... now he was too frightened of himself even to turn and meet his eyes.

"I'm sorry," Potter said, in that same rough, gentle voice. "I can't go back and change anything, but I'm sorry that my choice made us enemies for so long."

"Stop apologizing," Draco whispered.

"I can't. I have so much to..."

"Stop it. Potter, do you really think I was secretly some kind of angel underneath it all? I wasn't, and I'm not, so get over it. You were right to refuse my friendship. You were right to spit in my face. Just because I didn't... just because..." He couldn't finish that thought, with his throat and his lungs refusing to cooperate. Tears choked him, and something that felt horribly like a sob clutched at his chest, wringing the words out of him.

Potter's hands tightened on his shoulders again and turned Draco to face him. Draco kept his head down, so he wouldn't have to see those moss-green eyes staring at him, smiling the way they always did, looking warm and alive and dim with sadness all at once. He stared at Potter's bare toes instead and waited.

Potter didn't let go of him. He slid his hand down Draco's arm, until he reached his left hand. Then he lifted the hand, very carefully, and turned it over to look at the thick dressing bound across his palm. The bandages covered a deep, ragged burn in the shape of the summoning charm - so deep that it had damaged the tendons in his hand and partially paralyzed his fingers - and a myriad small cuts made by flying shards of crystal.

"Why did you touch the charm?" Potter suddenly asked.

Draco shrugged, uncomfortably aware that his left hand was still lying in both of Potter's. "I don't know, exactly. It was... talking to me. Calling. I dumped it out of the bag before I knew what I was doing."

"Voldemort." Potter's fingers turned his hand, supporting it, curving against the back of his cold, motionless fingers. "I can heal it."

Draco felt an instantaneous surge of power inside him and the pain of his hand almost vanished. With a wordless grunt of protest, he tried to pull his hand from Potter's clasp. Potter's fingers tightened around it, holding him, and whatever he was doing with the link kept Draco from feeling the pressure of his grip.

His eyes lifted to Potter's face of their own volition, and he found the other boy gazing intently at him, his green eyes glowing with an internal light that appalled and terrified Draco. He tried again to pull away, and this time, Potter let him go. But the eyes held him, piercing him, shattering him, pinning him to twitch and die like a bug on a card. Don't look at me like that! he wailed silently. It hurts! It hurts it hurts it hurts...

"I won't hurt you," Potter murmured, and Draco felt his stomach drop through the floor.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Draco whispered.

"Like what?"

"Like that. Like... like you're enjoying this."

Potter's fine, black brows rose above the rims of his glasses. "But I am." The brows came down, his hands lifted to rest on Draco's shoulders again, and his face softened with some emotion that Draco flatly refused to name. "I won't hurt you," he repeated, softly.

Draco had gone completely nerveless. He couldn't move, he couldn't think, he couldn't speak. He could only stand there, helpless, as Harry Potter stepped closer to him and brought his mouth down to rest against his. In the instant of that touch, he stopped breathing, perhaps his heart even stopped beating. The world went utterly black, and Draco knew that he had gone finally and irretrievably insane.

There was a resounding crash.

"Harry James Potter! I need to talk to you! Now!"

The darkness swam into sickening blotches of light and color. Draco's heart started again with a thud, and he staggered slightly as Potter let go of him.

"Hermione?" Potter said, his voice cracking. "What are you..."

"I said, now, Harry!"

Draco backed away from him and the on-rushing Granger, one hand pressed to his mouth and his eyes dazed with shock. Potter threw him a bewildered look, as Granger snatched his arm and began pulling him away. She cast Draco a look of pure venom and snapped, "And we don't need an audience!"

"But the link," Potter tried to protest.

"Do I look like a complete idiot?"

She dragged Potter a few beds down the ward, then she waved her wand imperiously, and all sound was instantly blanketed. Draco could see them, but he could hear nothing. Still pressing the back of his hand to his mouth in a desperate attempt to hold back his rising nausea, Draco climbed onto his bed and lay down, back to Potter and Granger, and closed his eyes very tightly.

He was not going to cry. He was not going to throw up. He was not going to think about the fact that Harry Potter had just kissed him, and that it had almost driven him mad and he didn't care... he didn't care...

Harry followed Hermione because he had no choice, but when she plunked him down on a bed and sat herself down facing him, he didn't look at her. His eyes strayed over her shoulder to where Draco now lay curled up in his own bed, shivering slightly and looking so miserable that it wrenched his heart to see it.

"Harry!" Hermione spoke in a warning growl that brought his eyes reluctantly back to her face. "Pay attention!"

"You picked a really bad time to have a chat, Hermione."

"That depends on your point of view, doesn't it? This is important, Harry, and I think we need to discuss it before you get too comfortable with Malfoy."

His gaze moved once again to Draco, and Hermione uttered another furious growl. Hopping off the bed, she marched over to the nearest privacy screen, unfolded it, and dragged it into place to block Harry's view of the other bed. Harry sighed and made a valiant effort to control his sudden, burning desire to throttle Hermione.

Why was it, he wondered, that every time he managed to catch Draco with his guard down, someone interrupted them? Was it a conspiracy? Or was it just that he had the worst luck in the entire wizarding world? He had actually been kissing Malfoy! Right here, not two minutes ago, he had planted one on Draco and not had his teeth kicked in for his trouble! But did he have a chance to find out how Draco felt about it? No! Did he have a chance to do it again? No! If Hermione had given him five more minutes, he would have said everything that needed saying, told Draco that he loved him, made him believe it, and made damn sure that he had something besides his father to think about over the next few hours! He might even have had the chance to find out if Draco felt the same, to find out once and for all if their souls were truly bound by love and not by hate.

Instead, Hermione had crashed in on them before he'd really gotten started, and now Draco was alone. Harry was facing Hermione on a rampage. Both of them were confused and embarrassed, and God only knew what Draco was thinking! Harry could kill her. He loved her, but he still would gladly kill her. And if she started in on him about Draco, he just might do it.

"I've been doing some research on the Blood Link," she said in her matter-of-fact way. Her anger seemed to have evaporated once Malfoy was out of her direct line of sight.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course you have."

"It's no laughing matter. The link is an incredibly powerful thing."

"I know that. I'm the one using it, remember?"

"But do you really understand what it is, Harry? Do you understand just how strongly tied you are to Malfoy right now? The link is formed through shared blood, but it goes beyond blood and body. It's a bond of the spirit, too. A really strong one can even let you feel the other person's emotions." At the look on his face, she added, "I guess this was a strong one."


Hermione cocked her head to one side, her eyes sharp and knowing. "But you're not upset about that, are you?" Harry shook his head. "I would've thought you'd hate having Malfoy's feelings inside you, but you like it."

"Not... not all of it. I can feel everything, you know, even when it hurts. And I felt Voldemort."

"I was afraid of that. Was it terrible?"

Harry shuddered. "Yes. But honestly, Hermione, the most terrible part was knowing that Draco was stuck in the link between us, dying, while Voldemort tore him to pieces to reach me."

She gave him a big-eyed, mournful look. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

"But you're not sorry that Malfoy did."

"I am... in a way. I don't like him, Harry, and I don't trust him. But I would feel sorry for anyone who had to face You-Know-Who."

"Would you be willing to cut Malfoy some slack, if I asked you to? Strictly as a favor to me, and with the understanding that you actually can't stand the selfish, mean, hateful little git?"

"Strictly as a favor to you? Maybe." Harry's face brightened, but Hermione dampened his enthusiasm with a stern look. "But not until you hear me out."

"About what?"

"The link. I know you've started feeling things for Malfoy..."

"Not started. I always felt things for him."

"Okay, started feeling good things for Malfoy, as opposed to the bad things you felt before. Fair enough?"

Harry smiled reluctantly. "Fair enough."

"I know your feelings for him have changed, and believe it or not, I'm not surprised. The more I find out about the Blood Link, the more I expect it. You have to know that the link is causing all of this."

Harry's stomach did a flip, and he surreptitiously wiped his sweating palms on his trouser legs. Hermione's words sounded horribly like the things he had told himself while alone with Malfoy last night, when he was trying to control his feelings. But what if they were true? What if he had just kissed Malfoy because the link had warped his emotions, not because he really wanted to? Then he remembered that all-too-brief moment when he had clasped Draco's shoulders in his hands and touched his mouth to the other boy's, and he knew he had really wanted to do it.

"How far have you let this go, Harry?" Hermione asked, disrupting his thoughts. He gaped at her, his face heating with embarrassment, while she went on, remorselessly, "You think you're in love with him because of the link, but it can't be real. When he's well enough, Dumbledore will break the link, and you'll go back to hating each other. How are you going to feel, then, if you've..."

"Done anything I'll regret?"


"Whatever I've done, I won't regret it," he said, with such finality that Hermione's eyes widened in shock. Then the words were coming out of him - terrifying, euphoric words that he had meant to hold secret for another time, another person, but that would not stay safely hidden - and he felt the truth of them in the very center of himself. "I love him. He's part of me, and he always was, long before either of us ever heard of a Blood Link."

"Oh, Harry."

"Don't say it like that. It isn't bad!"

"It is, if he doesn't really love you back."

Harry just shrugged.

"Think about what you're doing to yourself!"

"What do you want me to say?"

"That you'll be careful!"

He looked at his friend, at the concern in her face and pleading in her eyes, and smiled crookedly, his own eyes bright with unshed tears. "I tried that once. It doesn't work for me. You're just going to have to trust me, Hermione."

"I do trust you."

"Then don't worry about me."

"Worrying about Harry Potter is my only hobby. I tried collecting stamps once, but I had to give that up when I came to Hogwarts. Wizards don't use stamps." To his surprise, Hermione suddenly leaned over and threw her arms around him. "You know I'll stand by you, no matter what, but I'm frightened for you, Harry."

Harry patted her awkwardly, not quite sure what to do with an armful of Hermione Granger, and bent to speak into her bushy mop of hair. "It's okay. No one's going to hurt me. I have everything under control."

Hermione laughed, sounding slightly hysterical. "You always think that, right before it all goes up in flames. He doesn't love you, Harry. He's a Malfoy, and sooner or later, he's going to remember what that means, then you'd better watch out. He doesn't love you."

"Maybe not, but that doesn't change how I feel. And for now, at least, there's something I can do for him that nobody else can. He needs me, Hermione. He's the first person in my life who ever needed me."

She straightened up to stare accusingly at him. "That's not true!"

"I don't mean as a weapon against Voldemort or as a symbol of something for people to fight for. I mean as a person. As me. Draco needs me, Harry James Potter, the boy with the broken glasses and the potion stains on his robe, not The Boy Who Lived."

"Oh, Harry..."

"And I'll tell you something else. I'm going to protect him from his father if I have to kill Lucius Malfoy myself."

"You really don't know how to be careful, do you? Isn't one all-powerful mortal enemy enough for you?"

"Malfoy isn't all-powerful, and he isn't my enemy. He's a miserable excuse for a human being who doesn't deserve to live. But he can go on living forever for all I care, running errands for Voldemort and leading his Death Eater rallies, as long as he stays away from Draco."

"I hope, for all our sakes, that he does."

"He won't," Harry said, grimly. Hermione gave him one of her 'Oh, Harry' looks but offered no comment. In an attempt to distract her from another homily on the dangers of associating with Malfoys, he asked, "Where's Ron? Didn't he want to visit me?"

Hermione flushed and pressed her lips together. "I sent him back to the common room."

"Back to the common room? He was here? When?"

"The first time we stopped by for a visit. You were asleep."

"Oh." Now it was Harry's turn to blush, remembering where he had slept.

"Yes, oh. You should be very glad that he isn't here right now. He would have clocked Malfoy the minute he saw him. No," she amended, "he would have clocked you and murdered Malfoy."

"Oh, dear." Fixing a pleading gaze on her, he asked, "Is there any chance that he'll ever speak to me again?"

"He will. The question is what he'll say." At his stricken look, she cried, "Oh, Harry, what do you expect? Ron's only human! You're his best friend and you're... consorting with the enemy!"

"Don't call him that!"

The edge in his voice brought her up short. She turned big, worried, uncomfortably knowing eyes on him and shook her head.

"I'll talk to Ron and try to make him understand," Harry said, desperately, "but there's nothing else I can do! Don't you get it, Hermione? It's too late to go back and pretend none of this happened. It's too late!"

"I get it." She sighed and pushed herself to her feet, looking suddenly tired. "I'll talk to Ron. He's not unreasonable, really, and I've been wearing him down over the last couple of days. This morning, I almost got him to admit - almost - that Malfoy was not put on this earth solely to feed the giant squid. That's a major concession on his part."

"But that was before he saw me... uhhh..."

"Yes, well, the sight didn't thrill me, either. But at least he missed the kiss."

Harry flushed painfully and reached out to grab her arm. "Hermione, you won't tell anyone about that, will you?"

"I can absolutely guarantee you that I won't," she said through tight lips.

"You're the best!"

"And you are playing with fire. Very pretty fire, but dangerous all the same!"

Harry gave her an odd, distant look and mused, "You know, I used to think Malfoy was kind of ugly, with that pinched, pale face of his and that sneer..."

Hermione rolled her eyes in disgust. "Boys!" She flicked her wand to banish the muting spell, then walked out of the room, shaking her head and muttering under her breath about boys who were not only dense but blind as well.

Harry did not wait until the door had shut behind her. The moment she walked away, he was up off the bed and around the screen. He found Draco still lying curled up in his bed, pretending to sleep and doing a sorry job of it.

One quick check of the link told him that the other boy's defenses were once more firmly in place and his emotions back under control. Hermione's interruption had not only broken off their conversation; it had also given Draco time to armor himself against another such encounter. Harry sat down on the edge of the mattress and eyed him thoughtfully.

After a few minutes of silence, he asked, "Are you okay? You're shivering."

"I'm always cold in this place."

Harry promptly swung his feet up onto the bed and pulled the blanket over himself. He did not dare to move any closer to Draco, so he lay down with his back to the other boy, scrunched onto the very edge of the mattress. There was a slight stirring behind him, and then he felt Draco's head rest lightly against the middle of his back.

Harry could feel the splitting pain in his head coming through the link, and he sent out a deft, soothing tendril of power. Draco sighed as the pain eased.

"Do you want to talk?" Harry asked.

"No." He hesitated, then said, more softly, "Not right now."

"Are you mad at me, Draco?"

The other boy shook his head, very slightly, and Harry felt the movement against his back. The tension flowed out of him with Draco's answer, and he closed his eyes for a moment, a smile of relief softening his lips. That was enough for now. More than enough.

*** *** ***

Hermione did not rush back to the common room. She had little desire to face Ron and the enormous task of convincing him that loyalty to Harry included letting Draco Malfoy live, unmutilated. In an effort to buy herself some time and put off the inevitable, she found excuses to wander the castle. She spent some time in the library, reading up on Blood Links. She sneaked down to the kitchens and begged a pastry from the House Elves. Then she went up to the owlery and had a chat with Hedwig, telling herself that Harry would appreciate such attention to his friend.

It was getting on toward dinner time when she finally turned her steps toward the common room. The corridors on the east side of the castle were growing dim, and the torches had not yet lighted themselves. Hermione walked in near darkness, but the path was so familiar that she didn't stop to think about it, until she drew near the Fat Lady's portrait, and one of the deep shadows beside it moved.

Hermione froze and whipped out her wand. "Lumos."

The ball of light shot from her wand and flew over to where a large, lumpish figure stood just beside the portrait. In its blue light, she instantly recognized the pudding-bowl haircut and dull expression.

"Crabbe! Honestly. Don't you have anything better to do than lurk around in corridors? Go away!"

"I need to talk to you."

"Go away! I have nothing to say to you!"

Crabbe ambled over to her, ignoring her cross dismissal. "Tell me what's going on with Malfoy and Potter. I need to know."

"Then you need to talk to Dumbledore," she snapped.

"Okay. You come with me."

That pulled her up short. "What?"

The huge shoulders lifted in a shrug. "I don't know where his office is, and I've never talked to him. In person, I mean. So you come with me."

She gave an exasperated sigh and tried to push past him. "I have better things to do than to take you for a walk, Crabbe." But he didn't budge, and when she tried to sidestep him, he moved to block her path. "This isn't funny!"

"I'm not trying to make a joke. Listen, Granger, I know you don't like me and I guess I don't like you much, either, but this is important. I need to know what's really going on with Malfoy. I need to know if he really wants to be here, in the castle, or if Dumbledore is making him stay. And I need to know right now."

The sincerity in his voice finally got through to Hermione. She quit shoving at his slab-like shoulder and looked up into his face. His mouth was screwed up in a grimace of worry, and his eyes were staring at her intently, with no sign of his usual sluggish stupidity in them. This was a boy with something serious on his mind.

"Okay. Why do you need to know?"

Crabbe shoved a damp, creased piece of parchment into her hands and said, "Read that."

Hermione read it, and felt the blood drain from her cheeks. "Oh, my! When did you get this?"

"Middle of the morning. I tried to talk to Malfoy about it, but I couldn't. Then I came looking for you. I've been standing here for a couple of hours, I think."

"Why didn't you take it to Dumbledore?" she nearly screeched.

He gave another monumental shrug. "I don't know if that's what Malfoy wants."

"Of course it's what he wants! Crabbe, you idiot, he chose to stay here, and if his father takes him out of here by force..." The blood drained from her face again, as she bit off her panicked words. She did not even want to think about what would happen to Harry, if Malfoy were kidnapped while the link was still in place. It was just too appalling an idea. "We have to show this to Dumbledore immediately."

"I'm not going to see the Headmaster by myself."

"I'll come with you. But I don't..."

Suddenly, the little remaining light in the corridor dimmed, and a sickening cold flowed over Hermione's skin. She gasped, clutching at Crabbe as the nearest solid object, while her knees threatened to fold beneath her. He fastened a hand around her arm, holding in so tightly that her hand went numb.

"What is it?" he asked, his voice high with panic.

"Dementors!" Hermione shuddered and pulled herself away from him. She looked wildly around but could see nothing in the corridor. The only light was her ball of wandfire, now a small, pale globe fighting the unnatural shadow of the Dementors.

"Come on, Crabbe, come on!" She caught his hand and tried to drag him down the hallway. He resisted her for a moment, then broke into a shambling run at her side. "We have to get to Dumbledore!"

Together, they fled through the clinging darkness that filled the castle.

To be continued...