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.
- Author's Note:
- This chapter is just a short interlude, the morning after the siege is lifted, all talking and angst (my specialty :).
Chapter 12: The Morning After
Harry plodded up to the Fat Lady's portrait and paused to collect himself.
"Password?" she chirped, brightly.
He grimaced at her plump, smiling face and mumbled, "In a minute."
The Fat Lady gave him a huffy look and pretended to become absorbed in the progress of a fly that had blundered onto her canvas.
It was late morning - well past breakfast time - and Harry knew that the common room would be crowded with chattering Gryffindors. If he didn't need a shower and clean clothes so badly, he wouldn't risk going in, but after three days in hospital pajamas and a night spent sleeping on Madam Pomfrey's sofa, he felt in desperate need of repairs. His body was stiff and sore, his face sticky with dried tears, and his hair a disgrace. He wouldn't be caught dead roaming the halls in this condition, and certainly couldn't visit Hermione in the hospital wing. One glimpse of him would send her into fits.
He sighed and ran a hand through his grimy hair. The Fat Lady pursed her lips in disapproval, but whether at his scruffy appearance or his delay in giving the password, he couldn't tell. Finally, he pulled his shoulders up straight, bracing himself for the worst, and said, "Betwattled."
"You certainly look it," she retorted, as she swung open.
The scene inside was even more chaotic than Harry had expected. He barely had time to step through the hole before Neville was on him, calling breathlessly, "Harry! Did you hear? They found Padma and Justin, and they're all right!"
Harry stopped dead as the sea of grinning faces swung in his direction, and he felt the closing portrait smack him on the backside. He saw Parvati seated in the middle of a throng of happy Gryffindors, sobbing into a large handkerchief. Lavender hugged her from one side, while Hermione bent over her on the other. At Neville's cry, everyone turned to stare at him, and Harry found himself suddenly the center of attention.
Hermione straightened up, her face glowing, and limped toward him. "Oh, Harry, isn't it wonderful?"
He stared at her in confusion, his feelings a mix of relief and disappointment at finding her here. "Why aren't you in the hospital wing? Sirius told me you were hurt."
"I'm just a little sore. Nothing serious. But Harry, you saved Justin and Padma!"
"No... no, I didn't."
The rest of the Gryffindors were converging on him now, with Parvati at the front of the mob. She flung her arms around him and, much to the delight of his classmates, kissed him full on the lips.
"You did," she gushed, her eyes shining through her tears. "Professor McGonagall told us all about it. If you hadn't sent Snape out to look for them, who knows what would have happened?"
"I sent Snape? What are you talking about?"
"They were just where you told him they would be, in Hagrid's hut! They spent the last three days hiding under the bed, eating turnips, and waiting for Hagrid to come home."
"That's not the only thing they were doing," Seamus cracked, rolling his eyes.
Dean snickered, Ron grinned fit to split his face, and the girls made disgusted noises. Harry just stared at them in numb disbelief, trying to shake off his paralysis and move. He was happy to hear that Padma and Justin were okay, but he was in no mood to deal with all of Gryffindor House celebrating his heroics - again - for something he hadn't really done - again. All he wanted was some privacy. Even his desire for a shower had deserted him, now that Hermione was back and he had no reason to leave the dormitory.
Mumbling something about a clean shirt, he broke away and made for the stairs. Hermione came up behind him before he had climbed two steps. She stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"Where have you been, Harry?"
Her face relaxed into a smile. "I'm so glad! I was worried, when I didn't see you this morning. I guess," the smile died and worry crept into her eyes, "Professor Dumbledore cut the link."
He nodded once and turned again to leave, but she held onto his arm and wouldn't let him go.
"Are you all right?" she asked, softly.
He shot her a sideways glance and muttered, "Honestly? I don't know."
"It's for the best, Harry..." His furious glare made her swallow her words and brought a defiant sparkle to her eyes. "I'm sorry if it hurts you, but that's what I think," she said, stubbornly.
"You're entitled to your opinion."
Shrugging off Hermione's grip, he turned his back on her and swiftly climbed the stairs to reach the relative peace of his bedroom. He slammed the door behind him, clambered onto his bed, and pulled the curtains. There he lay in the quiet dimness, holding very still, willing himself not to cry. He did not dare to think or to feel, so bruised and exhausted was he in body and spirit. He did not dare to let a chink of light into his mind, knowing that it would fall on that torn and bloody spot where the link used to be, or upon the aching gash in his heart where Draco's emotions had lived.
Dumbledore was right. The Blood Link was dangerous. Hermione, Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape, all of them. They were right, and Harry was a fool. But knowing that didn't help him cope with the emptiness and pain inside him. He could go on telling himself that he was a fool until he went mad, and he would still miss the intimacy and warmth of the link, he would still miss Draco's feelings crowding into him, and he would still look for the other boy beside him every time he opened his eyes or turned his head.
Unable to stop himself, Harry did just that. He opened his eyes, and he turned his head, searching for Draco's sleeping form in the shadows beside him. All he saw was the heavy brocade of his bed curtains and the rumpled blankets that covered his mattress. Empty.
Closing his eyes again, Harry summoned a picture of Draco as he had seen him countless times over the past three days - curled up on his side, lying still, eyes closed, face shadowed with illness and pain, hair tumbled loose around his throat and cheek. And finally, to make himself remember all of it, he added the gleaming, adamant hand pulled in close to Draco's chest, fingers curled slightly, clutched protectively in the flesh-and-blood fingers of his right hand.
It was a beautiful image. It lingered tantalizingly behind his eyelids, making Harry ache and bleed and burn for the closeness of the link and the touch of the other boy's presence within him. The pain was as vivid as the picture in his head, and Harry treasured them both as a sign that he could still feel something for the wounded archangel of his imaginings.
I don't know if I love you, he thought to his perfect, unknowing vision, but I do miss you.
*** *** ***
Potter didn't come. It took Draco most of the morning to accept the truth of this and stop looking up every time he heard the slap of feet against the floor. But when everyone from Dumbledore to Vincent Crabbe had stopped in to see him, fussed a little, told him scraps of news, and gazed at him with a truly nauseating combination of concern, admiration and pity, he got the message. Potter wasn't going to come, at least not today, and his endless parade of visitors knew it.
His mood turned sour and his appetite, which had revived for the first time in days, abruptly deserted him. Draco told himself that he was simply tired after days of illness and various kinds of trauma, but he didn't believe his own excuses. He cast occasional bitter glances down the ward to the bed where Granger had slept the night before - now empty and made up with clean, crisp sheets for the next student who burned himself in Potions class or fell off his broom at Quidditch - mentally cursing her for leaving so quickly. In his blacker moments, when the coldness inside him grew so intense that it hurt, he was sure that she'd done it deliberately to keep Potter away from him. It was exactly the kind of thing Granger would do - sticking her nose in where it didn't belong, manipulating Harry for his own good, trying to save him from threats that didn't exist.
Madam Pomfrey tried to jolly him out of the sullens and get him to eat, but Draco refused to be cajoled. He was going to sulk, and no clucking, motherly, pillow-plumping witch was going to stop him. But he did take advantage of her current weakness where he was concerned to get some information out of her. All it took was one winsome, innocent look, and she was ready to tell him everything she knew about last night's battle. Unfortunately, that wasn't much.
She was able to fill in the details of his own rescue for him, most of which he had missed while screaming in pain from the stretched link and passing out at the sight of Sirius Black. Draco had to admit to a grudging respect for the Gryffindors, now that he knew the whole story. None of his Slytherin cronies could have handled his father so efficiently or worked together so smoothly. But then, none of the Slytherins could begin to compete with Granger for raw brain power or with Potter for sheer, idiotic bravery. Someday, maybe, he would thank them. Maybe. After he stopped resenting Granger for being a fast healer, blaming Potter for being so bloody noble that he couldn't tell Dumbledore to sod off and get his skinny arse back into the hospital wing, and hating Weasley just for being Weasley and so eminently in need of hating. He'd already thanked Crabbe, and the look of disbelief on the other boy's face had both pleased and embarrassed Draco.
Draco's mood lifted when, in the middle the afternoon, Professor Snape turned up. He was feeling bored and lonely, with both his arm and his head aching, desperately in need of a distraction, so he welcomed Snape with more warmth than he might have otherwise. Not that he didn't like Snape. He did. And he respected him more than any other teacher in the school. But as a rule, Draco kept that respect and liking to himself, only showing them in his willingness to follow Snape's orders with no more than a token sneer. Cooperation was the most sincere gesture of respect Draco knew how to give.
Today, Draco so far forgot himself as to sit up and break out in a genuine, if slightly frayed smile when he saw the tall form of the Potions Master stalking up to his bed.
Snape loomed over him for a moment, his face stamped with its usual sour expression, then he nodded a wordless greeting and dropped a pile of books onto the bed. Folding himself into a handy chair, he said, "You look better today, Malfoy. Does your head still hurt?"
"It always hurts," Draco answered shortly, his attention on the books and his eyebrows raised nearly to his hairline. "What's this, Professor?"
"Your homework for the rest of the term."
"I thought classes were cancelled until after the holidays."
"They are." Snape flicked a finger at the bag on the top of the pile. "Crabbe gathered up your quills, ink and parchment. McGonagall put together the assignment list. It's not complete, but it's a start."
"Why do I have to do homework?"
"You don't. But you'll want to keep busy while you're shut up in here, and you'll need a lot of practice, if you're going to learn to write with that hand."
Draco wasn't fooled by the sour note in Snape's voice or his depressive choice of words. That was simply Snape. They both knew that Draco was not "shut up" here, except by his own choice. Dumbledore had given him permission to stay in the hospital wing as long as he wanted, and Draco had no intention of exposing himself to the curious eyes of the school until he felt in control of himself and the situation. Snape's gift, however ungraciously delivered, was his way of telling Draco that he understood that decision and would do what he could to help.
"Thank you, Professor."
Snape grunted wordlessly and twisted his mouth into a new kind of grimace.
Draco hesitated for a moment, then pulled his left hand from its hiding place in the front of his dressing gown to reach for the book bag. He upended it on the mattress, spilling ink bottles, quills and rolls of parchment across the blanket. When he tried to pick up the nearest quill, it snapped and crumpled between his fingers before he was aware that he'd closed them on it.
Snape watched him crush the fragile quill, his face impassive. Then he plucked the ruined mess from between Draco's fingers and commented, dryly, "You'll find that hand a good deal stronger than your own. Be careful with it."
Draco lifted the adamant hand, frowning at it, and brought his fingertips carefully together. He did not know they had met until they resisted each other, refusing to move. "I can't feel anything."
"There are no nerve endings to feel with."
A whisper of panic stirred inside him. "How can I use my hand, if I can't feel anything with it?"
"You'll learn to use your power to sense contact with the surface of the hand. But that's very subtle magic, a matter of fine-tuning your awareness after you've fully assimilated the hand, and it won't come easily. In the meantime, watch what you're doing or you'll break a lot of quills. And maybe a few other things."
Draco picked up another quill in his right hand and held it up where he could see it clearly. Keeping his eyes fixed on the slender shaft, he brought his crystalline fingers up to either side of it and closed them, slowly. This time, he saw the fingertips make contact with the quill, pushing aside the wisps of feathers to reach the spine. He saw the adamant press into the hollow shaft, bending it slightly with the pressure of his grip. Halting the movement of his fingers before they could break the quill again, Draco let go of the feather with his right hand. It stayed balanced between his fingers for a moment, poised, then it spurted free and spun down to the mattress.
"As I said, it will take some practice," Snape said.
Draco picked up the quill once more in his right hand and twirled it, idly, between his fingers. His eyes stayed on the spinning feather, but they were looking at something else entirely. Snape said nothing to disturb him, letting his mind drift where it would while his hand fiddled with the quill. Finally, he spoke without lifting his eyes.
"Professor, have you heard anything about my father?"
"Then he got away."
"For now, but we'll find him."
Draco shook his head. There was a cold lump in his stomach, warning him that his father was still alive, still at large, and still bent on taking him away from the safety of Hogwarts. All these wizards thought they knew so much, but they didn't know Lucius Malfoy. Not like Draco did. And the truth was that Draco was far more afraid of what his father could do to him than he was of the Dark Lord. With a sigh, he dropped the quill and reached up to rub his aching head, closing his eyes against the constant, wearing pain.
It was love that did it. Made you weak and afraid. He loved his father, and that made him vulnerable. He knew his father, and that terrified him. His father both knew and loved him, and that gave his father all the weapons he would ever need to hurt Draco, to shatter him, to destroy him. In that moment, Draco devoutly wished that he did not know his father quite so well and could still believe that Lucius would not use those weapons against him. But the last three days had taught him otherwise.
Sometimes, love wasn't enough. Maybe it never was. Maybe love was just another kind of weapon, another kind of control, another kind of trap. And only a fool walked willingly into a trap.
He dropped his hand and turned clouded, pain-dulled eyes on Snape.
"I'll get you something for that headache."
He shook his head, making an effort to pull himself together. "I'm all right."
"If you're waiting for Potter to swoop down and..." The swift, deadly look Draco shot him from beneath his lashes cut off the acid taunt unfinished. Snape swallowed his words, scowled darkly for a minute, then snapped, "There's no point in hurting when a simple potion will cure it."
But there was a point. The pain in his head, caused by the ravages of the summoning charm, was a constant reminder to Draco of what his father had done to him in the guise of love, and right now, he needed that reminder.
"Are you waiting for Potter?" Snape demanded.
Draco ignored the question, choosing to change the subject abruptly, though he couldn't quite drag his thoughts away from Potter all together. Sirius Black had become intertwined with Potter in his mind, after seeing Black escort him out of the hospital wing last night, and it was suddenly important to Draco to find out who Black really was.
"What was Sirius Black doing here?" he asked, coolly, betraying nothing.
Snape grunted and bared his teeth in a grimace of distaste. "Black came at Dumbledore's request. He is a member of the Order of the Phoenix, a group of wizards dedicated to fighting Voldemort and defending our world from the threat of darkness. When the Death Eaters besieged the castle, Dumbledore sent a request for help to the leaders of the Order who remained outside - Black, Weasley, Lupin, and some others. They called in the troops and organized a counter attack."
"Did it work?"
"Yes. Black's forces drove off the Death Eaters and lifted the siege. Those of us inside the castle with the power to withstand the Dementors helped. We attacked from inside, while Black attacked from outside. A handful of Death Eaters and more than half of the Dementors were captured."
"So Black is a hero."
"It depends on who you ask. Dumbledore trusts him. Potter fawns over him."
"Why?" The question sounded innocent enough, and Draco kept his eyes down so Snape couldn't read his eagerness in them. "Why does Potter give a damn about him?"
"Black is his godfather. His legal guardian, now that his parents are dead. I suppose Potter is so desperate for a real family that he'll even take a convicted mass-murderer over those foul Muggles who raised him."
"Potter says Black isn't a murderer," Draco commented. Snape grunted again, his lips twisting unpleasantly. "He seems pretty sure, and so does Dumbledore. Would Dumbledore have put him in this Order of the Phoenix, if he thought Black had betrayed the Potters?"
Snape's eyes narrowed. "Dumbledore is a trusting fool."
Draco hesitated for a moment, then said, very quietly, "There are some people who think he's a fool for trusting you."
"Maybe he is." A fierce, predatory smile lit Snape's face. "Maybe I'm a spy for Voldemort, after all!" Then the smile died, and Snape settled back in his chair with a weary sigh. His face was neither sour nor sneering for once, only thoughtful and very tired. He met Draco's eyes squarely. "No, I'm not a spy, and Dumbledore is right to trust me. I am as committed to the fight as he is."
"But you were..."
"I was a Death Eater, yes. I was one of Voldemort's followers during his initial rise to power." He pushed up his sleeve to expose the hideous mark that defaced his forearm. "I'll wear his mark all my life, though I have long since left his service."
"And... was it worth it? Changing sides?"
Snape did not answer at once. He stared at Draco, his face unreadable, and Draco knew that he was trying to find the words to explain his choice to a young man who now faced much the same decision. At last, he said, "It was. I have never doubted or regretted the path I took. But every such choice comes at a price, Malfoy. You will pay, as I have paid, as Dumbledore and Moody and Potter have paid. And as each and every Death Eater in Voldemort's service has paid. The difference between us and the Death Eaters, is that what we fight for is well worth the price."
"Even if it means your death?" Draco asked.
"Even so." Snape's expression hardened, a hint of the usual derision creeping into his eyes. "But only if you do it for your own sake. You can't do it for Dumbledore, for me, or for... anyone else. Only for yourself. Because in the end, you're the one who pays, Malfoy, and if you're paying for someone else, it will break you."
Draco didn't answer. He didn't need to. The warning was clear.
Snape pushed himself to his feet and stood over Draco, like a towering black bird of ill omen. "You've made a brave and difficult choice, Malfoy. I wish it were a painless one, but nothing that truly matters is painless. Don't make it any worse than it has to be by playing the fool."
A dull flush crept into Draco's cheeks. He murmured a farewell to Snape without bothering to ask him what his last warning meant. He knew, well enough, and he didn't need Snape rubbing his face in it. The Potions Master strode out of the room, closing the newly-mended door behind him and leaving Draco alone with a host of tangled, contradictory, unwelcome thoughts.
With movements as deliberate and controlled as his face was blank, Draco swept aside the litter of books and papers, then he stretched out his legs under the blankets and lay back against the pillow. His left hand came up to cover his eyes, and he did not flinch at the cold touch of adamant against his face.
After a moment, he opened his eyes to watch the play of light through the facets in his palm, hoping that the dance of ice and color would distract him from the chaos in his head. A chaos that, only a few hours ago, would have spilled across the link into Potter, where he would have sorted it out, made sense of it, and sent back... something. A whisper of reassurance, a tingle of warmth, a little extra strength to help Draco master it all. Something of himself.
Draco groaned and jerked his hand away from his eyes. Fumbling about on the mattress with his right hand, he located another quill and held it up in front of his face. Then, wearing a frown of concentration, he lifted his adamant hand to grasp it. On the first try, the shaft bent dangerously, and Draco let it fall rather than break it. On the second try, he was afraid to hold it too firmly and had to search for it on the floor after it slipped from his fingers.
Time after time. Try after try. He kept placing the quill between his unfeeling fingers and closing them on it, struggling to find the right combination of balance and pressure, the right placement for each gleaming fingertip, to hold it securely. And while he fought his fierce, silent battle with that feather, he didn't have to think about everything Snape had said or the doubts that had sprung up in him of their own accord. He didn't have to think of Harry Potter.
Except that he was thinking of Potter, even as he told himself that he would not. He thought about how much he needed Potter, with his myopic green eyes and ridiculous glasses, to look straight through him the way he always did and tell him the truth. Or maybe to just sit there, saying nothing, and make the coldness inside him go away. To make him less afraid. Less confused. Less lonely.
Why didn't you come, Potter? he wondered, as he stared blankly at the quill balanced between his adamant fingers. What's the matter with you? Why didn't you come?
But he already knew the answer. Potter hadn't come because he was being hopelessly, desperately high-minded and noble. He was trying so hard to live up to Dumbledore's expectations of him, trying so hard not to let anyone down or make a wrong move or tarnish his image as Perfect Bloody Potter, that he wouldn't do what he wanted, only what he thought was right. And Dumbledore had convinced him that the right thing to do was to stay away, to let them both heal on their own and pretend that everything between them had died with the link. So now Draco would never know what Harry really wanted, only what he thought was right.
That was the way nobility worked. And wasn't it just Draco's miserable luck that he was waiting on such a noble, high-minded, idiotic prat! If he had the sense of a... of a Hufflepuff, he'd give up on scar-face Potter and go back to the dungeon where he belonged! If he had the sense of a Hufflepuff. But clearly, he didn't, because the very last thing in his mind was the possibility of returning to the Slytherin dungeon, where Potter couldn't find him.
He let the quill slip from his fingers and tucked his hand in the crook of his right elbow, hiding it from his own eyes. The adamant felt cool and hard against his side. Bloodless. Inhuman. Like Draco himself... or like he always imagined he was meant to be. A perfect, gleaming, unfeeling, deadly thing, with no blood and no tears in him. He had never managed to live up to that image, though, like Potter and his desperate nobility, he had tried awfully hard. But there was always something - or someone - around to make him feel, make him bleed, make him cry.
Well, today he wasn't going to cry. Today he was adamant. All he had to do was to remember that love was a weapon, that a man had to pay for his choices with his own blood, and that anyone who expected help was a fool. And Draco Malfoy was no fool.
*** *** ***
Dumbledore and Sirius sat on either side of the Headmaster's desk, sipping from delicate china cups that steamed invitingly, saying nothing. Dumbledore drank tea; Sirius had opted for coffee - very black. They both wore the look of men with too much on their minds, but who were determined to snatch what peace they could while it lasted. Unfortunately, it could not last long.
The screech of an owl swooping past the window startled Black from his private musings and brought him upright in his chair with a groan. Dumbledore smiled at him in understanding, eyes twinkling over the top of his spectacles.
"I am sorry to send you back into the fray after so little rest, Sirius."
Black shrugged and shoved his unkempt hair back from his forehead. "I've passed worse nights."
"So have I. Some of them quite recently."
"What's next?" Sirius asked, setting down his empty cup and turning bright, dark eyes on the old wizard.
"I must try to get Hogwarts back on its feet. The Christmas holidays begin in two weeks, and by the time the students return for their next term, I want things as close to normal as possible."
"I expect you'll have most of them on your hands through the holidays. At least their parents know they're safe here."
"We shall see. For you, my dear fellow, I have a less pleasant task."
Sirius grunted, a smile twitching his wide mouth. "Don't you always?"
"We must find a place to keep them and a way to contain them. At the moment, the Ministry is holding them, but we cannot tie up the efforts of all our best Aurors for long. Nor can we put them in Azkaban. Nor can we simply banish them, since Voldemort would only call them back again."
"I see your problem. Azkaban is the logical place, if we could find a way to keep them inside." He paused, thinking, then broke out in his rather feral grin. "We need something meaner than a Dementor. How about dragons?"
Dumbledore looked pained. "I'll leave the ultimate solution to you. Subject to the approval of the Ministry, of course."
"What about the Death Eaters?"
"Remus has them well in hand, ably seconded by Arthur Weasley. Alastor was itching to join in the interrogation, but I need him here. And that reminds me, Padfoot..."
Sirius threw him a mock-innocent glance and encountered the Headmaster's most keen and piercing look. He immediately felt as though his skin had been stripped off.
"Before you take yourself off to deal with the Dementors, I would appreciate it if you'd lend Alastor a hand in locating all of the, shall we say, less obvious entrances to the castle. He has the unenviable job of plugging them up."
"I think I can manage that."
"Thank you." Dumbledore gazed at him for a moment, the sharpness fading from his eyes, then asked softly, "How is Harry?"
A scowl darkened Sirius' face. "A mess. What in blazes did you do to him, Headmaster?"
"Only what was necessary. Did he sleep at all?"
"Excellent." Dumbledore visibly relaxed, settling back in his chair and sipping his tea. "He'll mend."
"I'm not so sure about that. He's way beyond upset over losing the link with Malfoy. If this weren't Harry we were talking about, I'd say he was distraught."
"That will pass, now that his emotions are his own. It has been a trying few days for both of them."
"How is Malfoy?"
"Hm. In much the same condition as Harry but hiding it a deal better."
"And this is all just going to go away, now that the link is cut?"
"Did I say that?" Dumbledore asked, his face a study in benign senility.
Sirius growled threateningly. "Headmaster..."
"Calm yourself, Sirius."
"You're playing a dangerous game with those two boys."
"It is not a game, and the situation is not of my making. But I will do whatever I must to resolve it."
"You're speaking in riddles, and it's annoying me."
"I beg your pardon." Dumbledore twinkled at him again, lifting his teacup to mask his smile. "I forgot that you have not been privy to all the, er, heated discussions of this matter. You must simply trust that I know what I'm doing, and that I will never put Harry at risk."
"You did when you linked him to Lucius Malfoy's son."
Sirius could not hide the distaste in his voice, and Dumbledore's smile widened. "You and Minerva have much in common. She refers to him as a 'little demon' and an 'insufferable brat'."
"McGonagall always was a smart woman. And you are trying to sidetrack me, Headmaster. I want to know what you think you're resolving by linking Harry to Malfoy and turning him into an emotional wreck."
"Six years of confusion, distraction, misdirected energies and wasted brilliance. It is quite simple, Sirius. Harry and Draco are inextricably bound together, with or without the Blood Link. That much was always clear. But whether they are destined to be mortal enemies and destroy each other, or to be the strongest of allies and stand together against the darkness, has not been clear to me. It is still not entirely clear."
Sirius grunted sourly. "If you'd seen Harry last night, it would be pretty damned clear."
"You may be right. I devoutly hope that you are." Sirius grunted again. "You do not like young Mr. Malfoy, but you must acknowledge his skill as a wizard and his potential as a weapon against Voldemort."
"He reminds me a little too much of Snape."
"My point, exactly. Severus has been invaluable to us." Dumbledore leaned forward, a hand outstretched toward Sirius, cutting off his acid retort. "Put aside your dislike of the Malfoys and your desire to protect Harry for a moment. Think of what it would mean to have Lucius Malfoy's son - a powerful wizard in his own right - completely committed to us. And think of the alternative: Harry standing alone, not just against Voldemort but against Draco and his father as well. That kind of enmity obsesses and drains a person. It has done so to Harry for six years. But when the drain is no longer there and the opposing power is joined to his, complementing and supporting his, how much stronger will he be?"
"Are you so sure of Malfoy?" Sirius asked, slowly.
"I am sure that he will be one or the other - Harry's greatest ally or his direst enemy. His strength or his weakness."
"From what I saw last night, he is Harry's weakness either way."
"A vulnerability, perhaps. We all have them. But they do not make us weak, only give us more to fight for."
"I still think you're playing a dangerous game."
"Trust me, Sirius. And trust Harry. He'll sort this out and make us proud of him, no matter what happens."
"It's not you or Harry I have trouble trusting. It's that... Slytherin."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled merrily at him. "Harry has faced down everything from a basilisk to Voldemort himself. Do you honestly think he can't handle one Slytherin? Just watch."
"Thankfully, I won't be here to see him in action." Sirius pushed himself tiredly to his feet and settled his cloak around his shoulders. "But you will let me know what happens?"
"And you will look after Harry?"
"I always do."
Sirius nodded and turned for the door. "Good bye, for now, Headmaster."
"Good luck, Sirius."
Black nodded again, lifted his hand in farewell, then slipped out the door and was gone.
To be continued...