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 13

Author's Note:
I hope you're all enjoying Order of the Phoenix. I expect most people are still reading and discussing it, so I don't expect many of you to find this chapter. But for those who could use something to lighten the mood a little, here's a bit of slash for you!

Chapter 13: Inevitable

Like all secrets at Hogwarts, the story of Lucius Malfoy's midnight raid on the castle had spread to the entire student body within a day. Those few who knew all the details weren't talking, but that only set the rest to speculating all the more avidly. No one really expected Granger and Weasley to say anything. They were Potter Loyalists to the death and knew how to hold their tongues. But it came as some surprise to the curious that most of Gryffindor House, including all of the sixth-years, and a fair proportion of Slytherin House refused to say a word about it.

Everyone knew that Draco Malfoy had stayed at Hogwarts in defiance of his father's summons to join the Death Eaters, though why remained a total mystery, and everyone knew that Dumbledore had stood up to Malfoy Senior when he came to collect his son. Most of the castle had heard the final confrontation between the two wizards. But from that point, the stories got wilder with every telling.

Somehow, Lucius Malfoy got into Hogwarts and tried to take Draco out by force, but Harry Potter stopped him. Harry Potter cut off Draco's hand. No, it was his leg. No, it was both his hands, so he'd never use a wand again. Harry Potter sent Lucius to Hell in a fireball, or sent him back to You-Know-Who in a cardboard box. Harry Potter used an Unforgivable Curse on Draco's father and Dumbledore was hushing it up to keep him out of Azkaban. Whatever the truth, Harry Potter was, once again, the center of furious controversy. The school was divided into camps and up in arms over Potter's latest exploit.

So, what else is new? Hermione thought, as her eyes traveled around the Great Hall and saw nearly every head turn away surreptitiously. She tried not to let it bother her - a necessary skill for Harry's friends - but it was very difficult when she didn't have Harry beside her, holding his head up proudly under all those avid stares. If Harry were okay, none of this would matter to her. But Harry was definitely not okay, and no one knew this better than Hermione. She and Ron had done their best, but he had withdrawn into a haze of pain and depression that they could not penetrate.

Hermione knew Harry well enough to have a fair idea what was bothering him. He would deny it hotly, if she charged him with it, but the simple fact was that Harry was afraid. He had wracked his brain for logical explanations and excuses, told himself that he had done his duty and now had no further part in Malfoy's recovery, and wallowed in doubt 'til his nails were chewed to the quick and his eyes dull with exhaustion. But when all was said and done, he knew how he felt and what he wanted. Hermione was sure of it.

Harry had long since sorted out all the tangled threads of emotion snarled up in him by the Blood Link and come to the stark conclusion that he loved Malfoy. He was just too afraid to admit it, even to himself, and Hermione couldn't honestly blame him. Any normal person would be afraid of feelings as strong as Harry's, and any person with a grain of sense would be terrified to expose that kind of weakness to Draco Malfoy, the Human Venom Sack. Add to that the fact that Harry still felt hideously guilty for cutting off Malfoy's hand, and you had a recipe for misery that Snape would be proud to bottle.

Harry had refused to come down for dinner tonight. It was not the first meal he'd skipped in the last week, but his tendency to retreat into his bedroom and avoid even his fellow Gryffindors was becoming more and more pronounced with every day that passed. And Hermione was growing more and more frightened for him.

She was working her way through a lovely, rich pudding - and not tasting a bit of it - when she caught a movement by the door from the corner of her eyes. Turning to look, she froze with her fork halfway to her mouth.

Across the table from her, Dean Thomas demanded, "What's up, Granger? You look like you swallowed a fire nettle."

Hermione did not answer him, but dug her elbow into Ron's ribs and hissed at him, "I don't believe it. Look who just walked in."

Ron obediently turned to look. "Bloody Hell! I thought he was still in the hospital wing."

"So did Harry. Oh, no! Harry! I'm so glad he didn't come to dinner tonight... do you suppose he knew?"

Ron shook his head emphatically. "He'd be hiding under his bed, talking to dust bunnies."

By now, most of the room had noticed the new arrival, and a weird silence had fallen over the Hall. With an aplomb that only he could achieve, Draco Malfoy walked calmly over to the Slytherin table and sat down next to Malcolm Baddock. As he did so, a kind of sigh went around the Hall, and a low hum of whispers began. Malfoy ignored the whispers and reached for a bowl of fried potatoes. Beside him, Malcolm looked as though he wanted to faint but didn't have the nerve. Because the hand Malfoy stretched out across the table was his left one.

He wore no glove, and his sleeve pulled back from his wrist as he stretched out his arm, exposing his left hand to the eyes of his fellow students as surely as if he'd stood up on the dais and waved to them all with it. In the light of hundreds of candles, the adamant flickered and shone like a living thing - a strange, inhuman, unutterably beautiful thing - and moved with all the ease of flesh and bone. But it wasn't flesh and bone. It was crystal, one Gryffindor whispered. No, glass, another countered. Dean, who was standing unashamedly on his bench to see over the heads of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, announced that it was diamond and pointed out how the candlelight broke into colors across its surface.

Hermione didn't bother to educate them on the magical properties of adamant. The rumor mill would disseminate the truth soon enough. She was staring in wonder at Malfoy, her eyes growing to the size of dinner plates, and wondering how he had the nerve - the bloody, incredible nerve - to waltz into the Great Hall as if nothing untoward had ever happened to him and sit down to a meal. It was stunning. It was amazing. It filled her with an admiration she had never before felt for the Slytherin. But it also made her blood run cold.

Giving Ron another jab in the ribs, she murmured, "We have to warn Harry."

"Why? So he can stay in his room for the rest of the school year?"

"Don't be stupid, Ron. Somehow they've got to figure this out, and soon, or Harry will turn into a ghost and Draco will..." She watched him for a moment, seeing his cool, distant composure, and finished, "ice over completely. And don't you say anything rude, Ronald Weasley! Draco chose to stay with Dumbledore and fight against You-Know-Who. You may think he's a slimy git, but he's on our side, and if we're going to win this war..."

"I wasn't going to be rude," Ron snapped, cutting off her lecture.

"Yes, you were."

"No, I wasn't." Ron gave her back a level glare. "Are you forgetting that I helped Harry save the slimy git? I may not like him - and I don't - but I know better than to fight Harry and Dumbledore and McGonagall... For crying out loud, Hermione! He's even got Madam Pomfrey going loopy over him! I saw her give him a chocolate frog and pat him on the head. I swear it. It made me so sick I almost threw up. Nice old Madam Pomfrey patting Malfoy on the head! Eurgh!"

Hermione cast him an exasperated look. "Can we stick to the point?"

"The point is that Malfoy's got some kind of hold on Harry, much as I hate that thought, and he isn't going anywhere. Harry's miserable. He's pining away like... like the heroine in one of Ginny's tacky romance novels. And I'm not such an idiot that I don't know why."

"Me either," Hermione said, grimly, with another sideways look at Malfoy.

"So either we get them sorted out and learn to deal with that ferret-faced swine, or we lose Harry."

"Oh, Ron!" The look of glowing pride in Hermione's face made Ron blush furiously. "You are such a good friend!" She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, deepening his blush to purple. "And you're absolutely right."

With that, she bounced up off the bench and headed across the Hall with a purposeful stride. Once again, the room fell strangely silent, as Hermione marched up to Draco and said, "We need to talk, Malfoy."

He looked startled, then his face closed up tight and his usual faint sneer twisted his lips. "Nice to know you missed me, Granger."

"Shut up, and follow me."

With an elegant shrug, Draco climbed over the bench and strolled out of the Hall in Hermione's wake. The moment the doors shut behind them, the room exploded with eager voices.

In the entry hall, Hermione made for the shadowed corner beside the wide, marble stairs. She parked herself with her back to the wall and her arms crossed, then she turned her most piercing, know-it-all gaze on Malfoy. He lounged against a convenient suit of armor, looking neither curious nor embarrassed nor any of the other things one might expect under the circumstances. His face had gone perfectly blank.

"How are you?" Hermione asked.

The startled look flashed across his face again, then vanished. He lifted his hands, spread wide, to offer his immaculate person for her examination. "Gorgeous as ever."

To her own surprise, Hermione laughed. Two weeks ago, she would have wanted to hit him. Today, she took a moment to look at him and decide that he was right. He was as gorgeous as ever. No wonder poor Harry was eating his heart out over this beautiful and infuriating little beast. Nodding toward the glittering hand, she asked, "Does it work?"

"Better than the real thing." Hermione watched, fascinated, as he turned to the suit of armor and casually bent one of its massive shoulder plates between his fingers. Draco twisted the thick metal until it stuck out at right angles to the rest of the suit, then he just as casually bent it back into place.

"Oh, my," was all Hermione could think of to say.

Draco smirked at her, his shoulders once more propped indolently against the armor. "Did you drag me out of dinner to ask after my health? I'm touched."

"I need to talk to you about Harry."

Was it her imagination, or did his face just freeze?

"What about him?"

No, it was not her imagination. His face had turned to blank, flawless ice and his eyes were so tightly shuttered that she wondered if he could even see out of them.

"He's not doing well."

"What's wrong with him?"

Hermione licked her lips nervously. Now that it came down to it, she did not know if she could say the things she needed to say to this aloof, ice-bound boy. But if she didn't, then Harry would go on suffering. "He misses you," she blurted out.

Draco blinked at her, clearly startled out of his composure. "Me?"

"Of course you, you infernal idiot," she snapped. "I know you don't care about anyone but yourself, Malfoy, but you might consider what Harry went through for you! What he gave so you could get away from your father..."

"I know." His words, quiet as they were, halted her in her tracks.

She looked up and met his storm-cloud eyes, and something inside her broke at the terrible longing she saw there. "Then please don't let this go on," she whispered.

"What do you suggest I do about it?"

"Go see him."

"You... you actually want me to see Potter?"


Malfoy stared at her as if she had sprouted an extra head in the last two seconds. "I thought you were going to threaten me with foul hexes and major bodily harm, if I didn't stay as far away from him as possible."

"Well, I'm not. So quit being such a prat and go see him. I'll even give you the password to the Gryffindor common room, if you'll..."

"Oh, no. I'm not quite that big a prat!"

"This is not an ambush. I swear. Malfoy, please. Please! This is probably the only time in your entire life you'll hear me beg you for anything, but I'm begging! Talk to Harry! Let him say whatever he has to say, and promise you'll listen to him! And then... I don't know." It was a sign of how thrown Malfoy was that he made no attempt to deride her for 'not knowing' something. "But it will have to be easier for Harry, whatever it is, than having you walk out on him like this."

"Me? Walk out on him? What are you talking about? I didn't go anywhere. I made a point of not going anywhere as long as I could, hanging around the hospital wing so I wouldn't have to go back to the dungeon where..." He broke off and swallowed uncomfortably, then snapped, "I just spent a week sitting on that damned ward with nothing to do but talk to Pomfrey about healing potions! And if you think I did it for fun..."


"Bloody Hell! What do you think I've been waiting for all this time? My crystal fingernails to grow?"


"I've been waiting for Perfect Bloody Potter to get a clue!"

"Malfoy, shut up!" Draco shut up. He blinked at her, startled as much by his own vehemence as by her shout. "Okay, let's start over. You've been hiding in the hospital wing all week why, exactly?"

"Because it was the only place I could stay where Potter could find me if... if he wanted to. But he didn't want to, obviously, which I finally got. Now I'm back in my dungeon, where everyone agrees I belong."

"He did want to find you, but he didn't know he was... welcome."

"Even Potter isn't that stupid."

"Apparently he is." Hermione gazed at him thoughtfully for a long moment, then decided that there was no point in holding back. "I'll be completely straight with you, Malfoy, but if you ever use it against Harry, I'll personally disembowel you and string your intestines on the Whomping Willow like Christmas tinsel. Do you understand me?" He nodded mutely. "Okay, here's the problem. Harry is afraid."

"Of what?"

"You." She stared very hard at Malfoy's face as she spoke and saw no flicker of triumph or gloating in it, only surprise and, just maybe, a twinge of pain. "He's so torn up with guilt over what he did to your hand that he just assumes you hate him for it."

"I told him I didn't."

"That was before Dumbledore cut the link and you two spent a week apart, licking your wounds and brooding. Now Harry has worked himself into a state, and the only way he's going to believe you don't hate him is if you convince him of it. Don't ask me how you're supposed to convince him, because that is not my problem! And I don't want to hear about it. Ever. But trust me, Malfoy, it won't be hard."

"He wants to see me."


"Does he know we're having this conversation?"

"No, and he'll probably murder me when he finds out. He may be lovesick, but he still has some pride." Even as the words left her mouth, Hermione realized what she had said and blushed a deep, painful red, but Malfoy didn't seem to notice.

"Idiot," he remarked, distractedly.

"You're both idiots, in my book, but Harry is one idiot I care about very, very much. And if he can't be happy 'til he's worked this out with you, then I'll put up with an extra idiot underfoot for his sake. Don't think for a minute that I'm doing this for you, Malfoy."

"Perish the thought."

"Well? What's it going to be? Do I hand over the password and keep the rest of Gryffindor House out of the dormitory 'til the walls stop shaking? Or do I torture you with foul hexes and major bodily harm?"

Draco shook his head, his face still distracted and his gaze turned inward. "I won't risk that ambush. Not you. I know you aren't trying to sucker me. But that tower is full of Gryffindors who would love to see me planted head down in Hagrid's garden. Besides," he pulled abstractly on the suit of armor, mangling its plates without noticing, "Potter would feel cornered."

"I hadn't thought of that."

"It has to be neutral territory. He only shows if he wants to."

"He wants to."

Malfoy's lips tightened as he came to some kind of decision. With his jaw set and his eyes flashing that way, he looked quite fierce and even more devastating than ever. Hermione felt suddenly very sorry for Harry. "Okay. Tell Potter... tell him I'll be out by the lake tomorrow, after breakfast."

Hermione waited for him to go on, but he was apparently finished. She stared at him, blankly, and said, "Is that it? Do you think you could be a little more disinterested?"

"Yes. I could walk away, right now, and leave you to deal with Potter."

Hermione gazed at his haughty, furious expression and, to her surprise, saw the fear lurking beneath it quite clearly. He was every bit as afraid as Harry, she judged, and yet he was still trying to make the first move Hermione had demanded of him - however oblique a move it might be. She broke out in a beaming smile. "I'll tell him."

Malfoy hesitated for a moment, then he gave her a curt nod and strode off across the entry hall without a backward glance.

*** *** ***

Harry lay on his bed in the Gryffindor tower, eyes closed, trying not to think. He had begged off dinner in the Great Hall tonight and dissuaded the Creevey brothers from hanging around the common room to keep him company. Now he was pretending to sleep, so he didn't have to join his friends downstairs. He could hear no more than a wordless hum of voices, but he knew what they were talking about - what everyone in Hogwarts was talking about - and he felt quite sure that he'd rather starve to death behind these bed curtains than hear any more on the subject.

The door to the tower room swung open, but Harry ignored it determinedly. Footsteps approached his bed, and he turned his face into the pillow, willing his visitors to go away and leave him alone. The footsteps halted right beside him, there was a pause, then Hermione's voice said, "We need to talk, Harry."

He cracked an eye open and glared up at her. "I don't want to talk."

"You don't have a choice. Now stop sulking and sit up." She gave him a poke in the ribs and grabbed his legs to swing them off the bed.

At this point, Harry decided that fighting the inevitable would take more energy than bowing to it, and he rolled over. He found both Ron and Hermione standing over him - Ron looking intensely uncomfortable and ready to run at a moment's notice; Hermione looking mulish. With a soul-deep sigh of weariness, Harry pushed himself into a sitting position and reached for his glasses.

"What's up?"

Hermione sat down on the end of his bed and fixed him with eyes that glinted in a very disturbing manner. "We need to talk to you about Malfoy."

Harry stiffened. He tried, with all his might, to achieve that lovely, blank, emotionless look that Draco did so well, but he only succeeded in looking sullen. Or maybe panicked. It was hard to tell from inside his own face, but either way, it wasn't the effect he was hoping for. "I don't want to talk about Malfoy with you or anyone!" he croaked, his throat suddenly too tight for normal speech.

"Harry, my dear, you can't live this way anymore. You can't."

He swallowed convulsively and his eyes pricked with tears at her gentle tone. "I know."

"We're worried about you. Not just Ron and I, but all your friends, Professor McGonagall, the Headmaster, Snape..."


"Snape," Hermione repeated, firmly. "He asked me about you twice yesterday."

Harry shot a wild look at Ron and demanded, "Is she having some kind of breakdown?"

Ron shook his head mournfully. "Not her."

"Look, guys, I know I've been a little out of it lately, but..."

"Don't even try it, Potter," Hermione snapped, in such a remarkable imitation of Draco's sarcastic tone that it made Harry flinch, as if she'd just pinched him hard enough to bruise. "We're your friends - your real friends - and we know you're hurting. We even understand why."

Once again, Harry's eyes flew to Ron's face, looking for some kind of confirmation there. To his immense surprise, Ron did not look angry or sullen or spoiling for a fight. He looked worried. "I... don't know if you do. Not really."

Ron cleared his throat and spoke without looking at Harry. "Yeah, we do. The truth is, Harry, that I think you're completely nutters, but I'd rather have you nutters and happy than going into a decline."

"A what?!"

"A decline. That's what the heroines in the romance novels Ginny reads do, when they think the hero is dead or has run off with some other girl. They go into a decline - stop eating, stop sleeping, sort of fade away..."

Harry gave a heartfelt groan and slid over to lie face down in his pillow, locking his hands behind his head. "This is so pathetic! Why don't you just kill me now and dump my body in the lake?!"

"Come on, Harry, it's not so bad." Hermione gave his leg a shake and urged, sensibly, "We're not making fun of you, honestly. Were you, Ron?"

"He asked me what a decline was..."


"I'm not making fun of you, Harry. I can sort of, almost, in a dim and shabby kind of way, understand what you're going through... if I close my eyes really tight and pretend it's Fleur Delacour we're talking about." Harry groaned again, without lifting his head, and Ron sighed. "Come on, Harry. I mean it. I'm not making fun and I do sort of understand. I can't really, because..."

"I know," Harry said, his voice muffled by the pillow, "because it's Malfoy and it's sick."

"No. Because I've never felt like that about anybody. I don't think it's something you get until you feel it."

Harry looked up at him, startled to hear such words coming from his mouth. "Do you mean that?"

"Yeah. And if half of what Hermione says is true, it's not something I'm ever going to feel, which is maybe a good thing, because if this is what it's like then I don't want anywhere near it."

Harry's perplexed gaze shifted to Hermione, silently asking what she had told Ron to bring on this attack of sympathy. She shrugged and said, a trifle stiffly, "I just told him what I always thought about you and Malfoy. That there was something weird and... and kind of inevitable about the connection between you two. It's always been there, even when you loathed each other."

"How did you...?" Harry began.

Hermione interrupted him with a caustic snort. "Honestly! It was obvious to anyone with half a brain."

Harry muttered, "Which is why it went right past me."

"But Hermione's right, isn't she?" Ron pursued, doggedly. "All this time, when you were trying to beat the Slytherins at everything, it was all about Malfoy."

"Of course it was! But it was about..." Harry broke off, suddenly sick and tired of pretending. "Yes. You're right. I was drawn to him and I couldn't help it, just like I can't help it now. The only difference is that now I don't want to help it."

Hermione eyed him narrowly, and he sensed that this was the crux of the matter for her. "Then nothing has changed since they cut the Blood Link."

"Plenty has changed, but not that." Harry sat up again and slumped forward, propping his elbows on his knees. "I wish it had."


"Sometimes." He rubbed his eyes tiredly, pushing his glasses up on his forehead, and murmured, "When I still had the link, I was terrified that it was the only thing between us, and that when it was gone I'd lose all of these... feelings. I thought that would be the worst thing that could happen to me. Now the link is gone, Draco is gone, and all I have left is a bunch of feelings I don't know how to deal with and the fear that I'll..." he closed his eyes tightly against the sight of his friends' faces and whispered, "that I'll go crazy."

"But he isn't gone, Harry." He did not open his eyes, and she reached out to clasp his knee, shaking it again to emphasize her words. "He isn't forced to stay less than thirty feet from you anymore, but that doesn't mean he's gone."

There was a long pause, during which Harry refused to look at her and Ron chewed his lip in silent distress. Finally, Hermione went on, "We saw him at dinner tonight. He's been released from the hospital wing and gone back to the Slytherin dungeon. And he's wearing that adamant hand of his without a trace of self-consciousness, I might add. I think he likes it."

Harry opened his eyes at last. He knew they were full of agony and longing, betraying him, but he didn't care. "Did you talk to him?"


"How is he?"

"I couldn't tell. Malfoy isn't the most forthcoming person, and he's very hard to read. But he seemed basically well. He looks fine - elegant and sneering, just like old times."

Harry laughed, but it came out as more of a sob. "Was he horribly rude to you?"

"No, not really. He was almost charming, in a Malfoy-ish kind of way."

He closed his eyes again. He had to, or he'd totally humiliate himself by crying in front of Ron and Hermione. Too many days had passed with no glimpse of Draco around the school and no one willing to mention his name in Harry's presence. It was like being lost in the desert, wandering in circles looking for water, knowing it was there but never finding it, while his heart slowly dried up and shriveled in his chest. Hermione's words struck him like the first raindrops of a storm - tantalizing, full of promise, but wholly inadequate to quench his thirst. And they hurt... God, how they hurt!


"What?" he whispered, eyes clenched tightly shut.

"Malfoy asked me to give you a message."

Now it was coming. The blow to his chest that would shatter his ribcage and crush his heart to bleeding ruin.

Hermione's hand touched his knee again, and her voice was soft with sympathy. "He said that he would be out by the lake tomorrow morning, after breakfast."

Harry's eyes flew open, careless of the tears that spilled down his cheeks. "He said that?"


"He wants to talk to me?"

"That wasn't part of the message, but..."

"He wouldn't say it. He'd make you guess."

"Then yes, he wants to talk to you," she said, her voice firm with conviction.

Harry looked from Hermione to Ron, his face a study in amazement and the light back in his eyes for the first time in a week. "Is that why you both marched up here and cornered me in my bed? To tell me that Malfoy wants to see me?"

Ron shifted his weight awkwardly. "Not exactly."

Harry felt the lurking panic twitch to life again. "What, then?"

"Well, we did sort of. But first we wanted to make sure that... to see if..."

"Spit it out, Ron," Harry said, his voice edged with nervousness.

"Okay, here's the thing. We both know you're obsessed with Malfoy, and you're putting yourself through hell over what you did to him. But we weren't so sure that it was, well, serious."

"You mean, you thought I was doing this for fun?!"

"No, more like guilt."

"And habit," Hermione interjected.

"Oh, great. My two best friends think I'm deliberately driving myself insane out of guilt!"

"Well, you're hiding up here and avoiding Malfoy out of guilt," Ron pointed out, "and that's kind of insane, under the circumstances. Don't get mad, Harry. We just wanted to talk to you and figure out how far this thing with Malfoy had really gone - how deep it went with you - before we gave you his message and sent you running down to the lake to meet him. If you were just doing your Harry Potter, Savior of the Wizarding World routine and telling yourself you owe it to Malfoy to eat your heart out as payback for cutting off his hand, then we didn't want to help you do it. That's all. We didn't want to get you into worse trouble by encouraging you to get involved with a..." Ron broke off and flushed slightly.

"I get it," Harry said, sparing him the effort of recovering his near-blunder.

"That part was my idea," Ron insisted, stoutly. "Hermione wanted to give you the message straight out, but I said we had to make sure we weren't setting you up for another big disaster."

"We both agreed, Ron..."

"No. Tell the truth. I'm the one who doubted how you felt. Hermione's said all along that you have it bad for Malfoy. She cornered him and told him he had to stop torturing you and work things out, one way or another."

"She what?!"

"I didn't have to ask twice," Hermione said, in a small, apologetic voice. "He was perfectly willing to see you and glad I told him..."

"Hermione, I could kill you!"

"But you're still going to go, aren't you?" Ron asked.

Harry thought about it for all of half a second, and answered, "Of course I am."

"So Hermione did the right thing. And I agreed to back her up, if we talked to you first and made sure you were really... I mean..."

"Here we go again," Harry sighed. "Ron, I understand. Don't strain something trying to say it out loud."

"I can say it!" Ron protested. His face flushed darkly, and his lips compressed into a tight, disapproving line, while Hermione eyed him with fond exasperation. "You're in love with Malfoy. There! I said it!"

Harry felt a strange, terrifying thrill go through him. He hadn't spoken those words, even in the privacy of his own thoughts, but he recognized the truth of them the instant he heard them on Ron's lips, and the truth burned through him like silver-gilt fire. He laughed raggedly, struggling to hide his moment of recognition, and said, "How do you guys manage to make me feel better and worse at the same time?"

"How worse? We just brought you news that your whatever-he-is wants to kiss and make up..."

"Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?"

"Okay, so he only wants to talk, but who can resist the Famous Harry Potter for long?"

"Do you want a list?" Harry asked, dryly.

Ron waved that away disdainfully. "That's only because you never really tried with any of them. You could have had Fleur, if you'd turned on the Potter charm. Or Cho. Or even Ginny! But you just made cow's eyes at them a few times, then wandered off, pretending you'd been rejected, when the problem was that you didn't try." Ron broke off to think for a moment, then added, grudgingly, "Okay, so maybe you had a good reason for not trying. But you can't tell me you aren't trying, this time! And I'll bet you a gross of chocolate frogs that he caves the first time you bat those big, green eyes at him."

"I don't think this is an appropriate conversation," Hermione said, severely.

But Ron was paying her no mind. He was staring at Harry with wide, sickened eyes, having just realized what he'd said to his best friend in the whole world. "Bloody Hell! Did I just bet that you could seduce Draco Malfoy? Draco Malfoy?! I think I'm going to puke!"

Harry couldn't help it. Ron looked so horrified, and the whole situation was so ridiculous that, in spite of his own misery, he burst out laughing. "Will you ever forgive me for this, Ron?"

"Only if you let me fly your Firebolt during the next practice. For as long as I want!"


"Then I forgive you. But I think I need some pepper imps to burn the bad taste of that wager out of my mouth." Shuddering dramatically, Ron fired a lopsided smile at Harry and turned to rummage through his trunk in search of sweets.

Harry smiled at his bent head, feeling his face soften with affection. Suddenly, Hermione sat forward on the bed and leaned close to bring her mouth to his ear. In a private whisper, she said, "Don't worry, Harry. Ron's perfectly right."

"Don't you start," he muttered.

"I'm not making fun. I talked to Malfoy, so I know. Just bat your eyes and see what happens." She dropped a light kiss on his cheek, then spun away and got off the bed before he could react. "I'll see you both at breakfast tomorrow."

Harry watched her go with embarrassment and hope warring for control of his face. As she sailed out of the room, all he could think of were how many hours remained between now and tomorrow and how terribly long they would seem. It never occurred to him that he might sleep.

*** *** ***

The two boys sat together beside the lake, wrapped in their cloaks, staring thoughtfully into the dark water. Winter had closed in properly during the night, and the sky was a solid, leaden grey that seemed to lie heavily on the towers of the castle and the tops of the trees in the Forbidden Forest. It was a day to gather round a crackling fire in the common room, sipping hot chocolate, not to sit on the brittle, winter-brown grass while the wind sliced effortlessly through cloak and clothing. But neither boy seemed in a hurry to seek shelter in the castle. Nor did they seem in any hurry to talk.

Oddly enough, after days of wanting nothing more than to talk to Draco, Harry now found himself with surprisingly little to say. He sat quietly on the grass, legs crossed, huddled down in his cloak with his chin deeply buried in his red and gold Gryffindor scarf, and let the minutes slide by without comment. His fear and guilt had not abated. The nervous, jangling excitement that had kept him awake all night still fluttered in his stomach and made his fingertips burn with periodic jolts of adrenaline. But he found himself strangely content to sit and wait, just so long as Draco was there with him.

Draco sat in comfortable silence, leaning back on his hands, his grey eyes distant and his face calm. Whatever he might be thinking or feeling, he betrayed nothing. He wore his hair loose around his shoulders - something Harry hand never seen him do before the siege - and the effect was startling. The mop of shining, windblown hair softened his sharp features, took their hard edges off, and made him seem far more like a human boy than a Medieval painting. He wasn't even wearing a sneer, which both unnerved and encouraged Harry.

Harry flicked a sideways glance at Draco and let his eyes slide down to the hand braced behind him on the grass. It was beautiful, in an eerie sort of way, and Harry had to admit that it suited him. A white crystal glove - perfectly human in its contours and perfectly alien in its touch.

His eyes moved back up from the hand of adamant to the face of the boy who wore it. Was he angry? Hurt? Relieved? Indifferent? What emotions moved behind those storm-cloud eyes? Once, only a short time ago, Harry would have known without trying. The emotions would have filled him, even as they filled Draco, and he would have known what to say or do to answer them. But today... today they were separate people again. Isolated. Alone.

Draco felt Harry's eyes on him and turned his head to return his look. Cloudy and clear all at once. That's what Draco's eyes were. Grey, silver, translucent, opaque. A window into his soul that opened on blank walls. Draco the Inscrutable.

He blinked once, like a cat in the sun, and asked, "What are you thinking, Potter?"

The question startled Harry, but he answered promptly, "That I wish I knew what was going on in your head."

"Just ask me."

"You won't tell me the truth."

"Yes, I will." Draco's eyes looked straight into Harry's, unwavering. "Ask me."

"Okay. Are you angry with me?"


"You don't even want to know about what?"

Draco's eyebrows rose and a smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. "How many things am I supposed to be angry about? Are we going all the way back to first year?"

"I cut your hand off!"

Draco shifted his weight forward and raised his left hand, turning it so that the dull winter light flowed into the white crystal. "I noticed. Pretty stylish, huh?"

Suddenly, while Harry was hunting for something to say, Draco reached forward and rested his fingertip lightly against the scar on Harry's forehead, brushing aside a lock of hair as he did so. Harry jumped, startled both by the gesture and by the touch of adamant against his skin. It was cold and impersonal, but once he recovered his composure, Harry found that he didn't mind it at all. Draco frowned slightly in concentration as he traced the scar with his finger, drawing a chill lightning bolt on Harry's forehead. Then he pulled his hand away, and Harry gave an inward sigh of disappointment.

"The only bad thing about this hand is that it doesn't feel anything." Draco shot Harry a look from between his lashes and asked, softly, "What about you, Potter? Will you tell me the truth?"

"I always do."

A mocking smile twitched at Draco's lips for a moment. "I forgot. You're Saint Potter."

"Are you trying to insult me, so I'll run away? It won't work, Malfoy. I won't go away, no matter what foul things come out of your mouth."

Draco looked amused at that. "I bet I could come up with something. Slugs, maybe."

"What truth do you want to hear from me?" Harry demanded.

"Why didn't you come back?"

Harry hesitated for a bare moment, then answered as honestly as he could. "I wanted to, but I was afraid."

"Granger said that you were afraid I hated you, because of this." He lifted his crystalline hand again.

"That was part of it."

"What was the rest?"

"I was... afraid that my feelings were a lie." Harry turned his gaze on the iron-grey surface of the lake, avoiding the lighter grey of Draco's eyes fixed so intently on him. "I thought that maybe, with the link gone, there was nothing between us but hatred. That I had been fooling myself. That... you would laugh at me, or worse."

As he said the words, he braced himself for Draco's answer, knowing that he had laid himself open to attack and he had no reserves of strength with which to meet it. If Malfoy flattened him now, he would never get back up again. But Draco simply asked, his voice level, "Were you fooling yourself?"

"I don't know." Harry lifted his eyes to the other boy's face. "Am I?"

Draco did not look away, but he shifted uncomfortably under Harry's steady gaze. Something suspiciously like a blush stole into his cheeks. "You're doing it again."


"Looking at me like... that."

A tiny, triumphant smile lifted the corners of Harry's lips. "I can't help it," he murmured. "I didn't get to look at you for a whole week. I have to make up for lost time."

"Well, stop it!" Draco snapped.


"It makes me uncomfortable."

Harry's smile widened. He could feel his confidence growing as Draco's faded, the small kernel of hope and certainty inside him expanding in the heat of Malfoy's embarrassment. He didn't exactly want to see Malfoy squirm - though he had to admit that it was kind of fun - but he knew that only an emotion as intense and frightening as the one filling Harry right now could possibly ruffle Draco's composure this way.

"Why?" he asked again.

To his amazement, Draco flushed a deeper red and turned to stare furiously at the looming shadow of the forest. "The last time you looked at me that way, you... Well, you know what you did."


Draco waited for him to go on, but Harry was determined not to put his foot in his mouth by volunteering anything. After a moment of tense silence, Draco said, "You still haven't told me if that was you or the Blood Link."

"That was me."

Draco's shoulders stiffened and his breath came more quickly. "You sound awfully sure of yourself."

"I am. I spent most of this last week thinking about exactly that and..."

"And what?" Draco asked in a ghost of a whisper.

"Look at me, Draco." The other boy did not move. "Look at me. Please."

Reluctantly, Draco turned his head and lifted his eyes to meet Harry's. He still wore his blank, guarded expression, but his eyes were afire with some emotion that Harry could not name. Whatever it was - fear or anger or eagerness - it burned too fiercely for him to conceal.

"I spent most of my time thinking about what happened in the hospital wing," Harry said, his gaze fixed unwaveringly on the other boy, "wondering why I did it, whether I really wanted it, and whether I wanted to do it again now that the link was cut."

"What did you decide?"

In answer, Harry unfolded his legs and rocked forward onto his knees. Draco did not move, did not seem to breath, and Harry had a brief vision of a deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing truck. Then he closed his eyes and leaned in to bring his lips to Draco's.

It was the very lightest of kisses, a fleeting touch, and Draco's mouth was as tense, as still as the rest of him. But in that moment of contact, Harry knew, with absolute certainty, that none of it had been a lie. The link may have awoken his emotions, but they belonged to him as surely as his hands and feet and messy black hair and wizarding power. His mind knew it, his heart, his body, every part of him. And every part of him wanted Draco so desperately that he almost sobbed aloud with the pain of it.

He abruptly sat back on his heels, breaking the feather-light kiss, and looked questioningly at Draco. The other boy was staring at him, eyes wide and stunned. Harry smiled crookedly, fighting to control the urge to grab him and kiss him again, and murmured, "Don't forget to breathe."

Draco let the air out of his lungs in a rush, his face once again flushed with unnatural color. He opened his mouth to speak, but then changed his mind and looked away from Harry, the color now draining from his cheeks as quickly as it had risen. Harry watched, half amused and half alarmed, wondering what would finally come out of Draco's mouth when he collected himself. But Draco stayed silent, eyes averted, until Harry could not contain himself any longer.

"Was it really that bad?"

"No." Draco looked at him, and Harry saw that his eyes were once again inscrutable. "Did you think so?"

"Me?" Harry blushed and grinned. "No, I liked it."

"Are you going to do it again?"

Now it was Harry's turn to open and close his mouth, helplessly, for a moment. Then he blurted out, "It's not up to me! I mean... well... I'm not doing this by myself, right? What do you want?"

Draco's face tightened. "Nothing."

Fear clutched at Harry's heart. Had he fooled himself, after all? Had he imagined the incredible rush of longing he had felt with the touch of Draco's mouth on his? Was he hallucinating, remembering the link, wanting something so badly that he created it in his own mind and deluded his own heart? Then he looked at Draco, really looked at him, refusing to be fooled by the mask of flawless ice he always wore, and saw a panic every bit as frantic as his own building inside him. Draco was not rejecting him, only protecting himself, which Harry could appreciate.

Pushing aside his own fear, he tried another approach. "If I try it again - kiss you again, I mean - will you hurt me?"

A ghost of a smile flickered across Draco's face. "Not unless you want me to."

"You are seriously weird, Malfoy. Do you know that?"

The smile appeared again, but it died almost at once. Drawing his knees up to his chest, Draco propped his chin on them and looped his arms around his shins. For several minutes, he stared out at the lake while Harry stared at him, and neither of them spoke. But finally, Draco turned to face Harry again. His eyes had darkened to the same brooding grey as the water in the lake. "What now?"

Harry opened his mouth to say whatever you want but thought better of it in time. Instead, he asked, lightly, "May I see your hand?"

With a slight shrug, Draco stretched out his adamant hand to Harry. Harry clasped it in both of his own, turning it to look at the elegant contours and run his fingers over the hard, polished surface that was too cold for flesh but too alive for stone. He told himself that he was admiring the construction of this beautiful, inhuman limb, but he knew that the truth was he simply wanted an excuse to touch Draco, even if it was the one part of him that could not feel it.

"Is it hard to use?"

"For some things. I can use it well enough to fool the Slytherins, but they're a dim lot."

"Maybe you can switch to your right hand."

"Not for writing. Or for Quidditch."

Harry felt a fresh surge of guilt go through him. He had not failed to notice the slight awkwardness in Draco's movements when he reached to touch him, or the moment when he paused to gauge the distance between his fingertip and Harry's forehead. They were slight stumbles, almost undetectable, but to Harry they were glaringly obvious. He had played Quidditch against Draco and raced him to the snitch. He had watched Draco measure a delicate pinch of powdered unicorn horn into a bubbling cauldron. He knew, maybe better than anyone, just how precise and graceful Draco's hands could be, how fast his reflexes, how sure his movements. And knowing this as he did, Harry could not doubt that the uncertainty and clumsiness he saw in Draco now would irk him beyond bearing.

"I'm sorry, Draco."

Malfoy's lips tightened in annoyance, and he tried to draw his hand away, but Harry held onto it stubbornly, fingers locked around his wrist.

"I'll help you train," Harry insisted. "We'll practice 'til you couldn't miss the snitch if you tried."

"Don't go all noble on me, Potter."

"Don't worry."

Without stopping to consider what he was doing, Harry slid his hand from Draco's wrist up his arm to his neck. His fingers buried in the long hair spilling over the other boy's collar and curved around the back of his head, drawing him closer. Draco stiffened slightly, resisting him, and Harry leaned over to close the gap between them.

"You don't bring out the noble streak in me," he murmured, as he brought his lips to Draco's.

He had meant it as a gentle and undemanding kiss, a gesture of reassurance maybe, or of tenderness. But he hadn't bargained on the jolt of excitement that went through him at the touch of the other boy's lips on his or the willingness with which Draco moved into his arms. He felt Draco's mouth open against his and forgot all about caution or gentleness. He forgot about everything except the feel and taste and delicious silver fire of Draco Malfoy.

A seething, gold-shot haze swam up in Harry, filling his head and blurring his thoughts, drawing him more and more deeply into the amazing kiss. He recognized it as his own wizard power - the same he had used to heal Draco of his injuries - and knew that it was responding to Draco's closeness. And he realized, with a surge of joy, that his power was still linked in his own mind and heart to the boy that he loved so completely, even without the Blood Link.


The sound of someone clearing his throat just behind them shattered Harry's golden dream and brought Draco up with a start. Only as the other boy shoved him roughly away did Harry notice that they were lying on the grass, tangled together, with Draco's body beneath his. Draco pushed himself upright and twisted around in alarm, while Harry rolled onto his back and gazed bemusedly up at the intruder.

"What do you want, Crabbe?" Draco snapped.

Crabbe eyed him dubiously, taking in his rumpled hair and the hectic flush in his cheeks. Draco unconsciously lifted his hand to wipe it across his mouth.

"I wanted to talk to you," Crabbe said.

"I'm a little busy, here."

"Yeah. I can see that." One blunt toe scuffed uncomfortably at the grass. "What're you doing, Malfoy?"

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Draco retorted acidly.

"Making out with Potter."

For a moment, it looked as though Draco would explode, then he suddenly laughed. "You noticed, huh?"

"Why were you doing it?" Crabbe demanded.

Draco shrugged. "Because I wanted to."

"Really? That's kind of weird. I always figured if you snogged anybody it'd be Pansy."

"Me and Pansy Parkinson? Eurgh! I'd rather kiss... Hagrid!"

Crabbe nodded. "I guess so."

The look of horror on Draco's face made Harry laugh out loud, which earned him a searing glare. "That's not what I meant," Draco said through his teeth.

"I'd rather kiss Hagrid than Pansy!" Harry assured him, still laughing. "I'd rather kiss Hagrid's dog than Pansy!"

Draco paused for a moment, considering, then nodded and grinned. "Me, too."

Crabbe, who refused to be distracted by this exchange, turned back to Draco and asked, bluntly, "Are you shagging him, too?"

Draco's face froze. When he could find his voice again, he said, tightly, "I don't think that's any of your business."

Crabbe shrugged. "Okay. But it's still weird."

"What did you want to talk to me about?" Draco had still not managed to unclench his jaw, so the question came out as a hiss.

"Just wanted to tell you that I wrote to my dad. I told him the truth and told him that I'm staying. At Hogwarts, I mean."

Harry looked at him curiously. He had never pegged Crabbe as one to rebel against his parents or friends, but maybe he had misjudged the oafish boy.

"That makes us both traitors to the Cause," Malfoy remarked. "What about Goyle?"

"He's gone." Crabbe scuffed his toe into the ground again, his eyes averted from Malfoy's face. "So it's just... you and me."

Something in Draco softened at the look of abject misery on Crabbe's face. "They made their choice, Crabbe. They wanted to go."


"But you made a smarter choice."

Crabbe's head came up and a spark showed in his eyes. "Yeah?"

"You and me both. We'll stick together, because we're Slytherins and we're better than the rest of these drones. But we'll stay here where we belong, with Dumbledore. Right?"

A wide smile broke across Crabbe's face. It was the first genuine smile Harry had ever seen on him, without a trace of sneering or gloating in it. "Right. Thanks, Malfoy." His gaze shifted nervously to Harry, then back again. "You gonna be hanging around with him, now?"

Draco shrugged again. "We'll see."

"Guess it's none of my business, but the Slytherins aren't gonna like it much. I'll see you around, Malfoy."

"See you."

Crabbe shuffled away, leaving Harry and Draco sitting on the grass together. Harry watched Crabbe lope back up the hill toward the castle, a thoughtful frown pulling his brows together.

"Did that mean what I think it did?"

"That Crabbe sided with Dumbledore against the Death Eaters? Yes."

"And that he's counting on you to watch his back." Harry's eyes flicked to Malfoy's face and caught a startled look there.

"Yeah, well... I wouldn't want my father to turn him into a toad or anything, so I guess I'd better look out for him."

Harry grinned and punched him lightly on the shoulder. "You're going soft."

Draco turned to look directly at him, and there was no humor in his eyes. "You know he's going to tell all of Slytherin House what he saw. It's going to be all over school by dinner."

Harry's smile died. "Yeah? What does that mean for us?"

"You tell me, Perfect Bloody Potter. What're you going to say to all your Gryffindor buddies when they ask you why you were snogging the Enemy out by the lake?"

"That I liked it. That I'm going to do it again, any chance I get. And that if they call you the Enemy, I'll put a Furnunculus Curse on the lot of them."

"Even Granger and Weasley?"

"Even them."

"I don't think your reputation can stand it."

"What about yours, Prince of the Undead?"

Draco's eyes flew open. "What did you call me?"

"Oh." Harry chuckled. "Hermione came up with that one. She said you looked like a zombie and that Voldemort probably planned to..."

"Spare me. I really don't want to know."

"I was only joking." Harry leaned over, bringing his mouth close to Draco's and murmured, "You know I think you're almost as beautiful as you do."

Draco pulled away from Harry's attempt to kiss him and demanded, "What does that mean?"

"It means I'm teasing you, you prat." He hesitated for a moment, then asked, "Why did you get mad when Crabbe asked if we were... you know..."



"Because it's nobody's business but ours. When we do it..."


"If. When. Whatever." Draco swallowed nervously, his grey eyes guarded. "What do you want from me, Potter?"

"I want it to be 'when'," Harry whispered. "And I want it to be soon."

"Are you asking me to have sex with you?"

At any other moment in his life, Harry would have flinched at the bluntness of the question or blushed in embarrassment. But at this moment, sitting on the grass by the lake, with Draco's body close beside his and Draco's eyes looking straight at him and the taste of Draco's kiss still on his lips, Harry had no room in him for embarrassment.

"No." Draco stiffened slightly, and Harry hurried to add, "Yes. Sort of."

"Make up your mind, Potter."

"I made it up a long time ago. It's not that I don't know what I want, it's that I... I don't know how to say it."

"It's simple. You just look at me with those big, green, kicked-puppy-dog eyes and say, "Draco Malfoy, you are so incredibly gorgeous that I can't keep my mitts off you, and I have to ravish you or I'll go mad.""

Harry smiled teasingly at him and murmured, "Draco Malfoy, you are so incredibly gorgeous that I can't keep my mitts off you, and I have to ravish you or I'll go mad. How was that?"

"Very good."

"Did it work?"

"Of course it worked, you moron."

"There's just one little problem..."

"What's that?"

"It isn't what I wanted to say."

"Oh." Draco managed to look hurt, but Harry wasn't fooled for a second. For the first time since the link had been severed, he felt as though he were once again sharing his awareness, his emotions, his very life's blood with the other boy, and he knew that Draco was neither hurt nor angry. He was afraid.

"I do want to ravish you, Draco," he said softly, "but I want it to be more than just a chance to kick up the dust in the Astronomy tower."

"Is this where you make the pretty speech about True Love and all that rot?"

"I want it to be the best thing you ever had in your life."

Draco gazed at him, unblinking, for a long minute. Then he answered simply, "It will be."

Harry took a moment to master the break in his voice, then said, "Let me just get this straight, for the record and all. Are you saying that you'd actually let me..."

A tiny smile curled the corners of Draco's mouth. "I'd help you."

Harry couldn't stand it. He had to kiss that secretly smiling mouth before he burst. He slid both his hands into the long, fine hair spilling over Draco's collar and twined his fingers in it, pushing the other boy back onto the rough grass. Draco tumbled backward, pulling Harry with him, and opened his mouth instantly to welcome Harry's kiss. In a heartbeat, they were straining together, tongues meeting desperately, mouths moving against each other with a hunger that terrified and elated them. Harry rolled half on top of Draco and plunged into the kiss with a ferocity he did not know he had in him.

When he at last came up for air, Harry gazed down at Draco's face and saw that it was flushed and softened, his eyes bright with longing. Harry's own body was in a distressing condition that he knew he would not be able to conceal if he stood or sat up. The realization that he was about a heartbeat away from losing his virginity on the bank of the lake, with the giant squid and half the school likely watching, made his cheeks flame with embarrassment but did nothing to ease the burning in his blood.

As Harry broke the kiss and freed his mouth, Draco murmured in a small, doubtful voice the likes of which Harry had never heard him use before, "What's going to happen tomorrow, when we wake up and remember what we've done?"

"I'm going to sit right here and wait for you to show up, so I can do it again. And if you don't, I'll go looking for you."

"What if it's snowing?"

"You'd better dress warmly."

"Do you really want to be here with me? I mean really want it, Harry?"

"Yes." Harry bent down to kiss him again, but Draco put his adamant fingers against his lips to stop him.


"Because this is the best feeling I've ever had in my life."

A hint of dry amusement crept into Draco's voice. "All teenagers think that when they get their first good snogging."

"I'm not like all teenagers," Harry asserted, without a trace of arrogance. "I've seen death and suffering and total evil. I've lost the people I love most and found new ones to care about. I know what I want, Draco. I know love when I feel it."

Draco's eyes darkened with sudden pain. "I don't like that word."

"Why not?"

"It's not what you think it is."

"Because your father said he loved you and hurt you? Not everyone is that cold or cruel, Draco. Not everyone is Lucius Malfoy."

"Not everyone is Perfect Bloody Potter, either."

"No, but I am." He smiled happily down at the scowling archangel sprawled on the grass beneath him, thinking that there was not another face in all the world he treasured as he did that one. "And I love you."

To be continued...