Drama Angst
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 01/29/2002
Updated: 04/28/2007
Words: 322,203
Chapters: 11
Hits: 100,487


Frances Potter

Story Summary:
When you've spent six years fighting evil, all you really want is a quiet time. But when your name is Harry Potter the chances of that are very slim. A series of vignettes chronicling Harry's final six months at Hogwarts. Exams, friends, lovers, Quidditch, the war and Draco all conspire to make the year end seem a very long way away. Slash (Harry/Draco)

Chapter 08

Chapter Summary:
res·o·lu·tion, noun -- solving of doubts, problems, questions etc.

Chapter 8: Barriers. Snape makes demands. Harry finds out about his past.

To Olivia, who deserves co-author credit on this chapter. Her help with role-playing Sev and Harry made it possible for me to get on with story. Not only that but her continued help with plotting and keeping Draco true is something I couldn't cope without.

Author's note: Resolution was started before the publication of Order of the Phoenix and is based on the canon of PS/SS, CoS, PoA and GoF. While certain canon facts from OotP will be incorporated in the story (such as spells and locations), the events of Harry's 5th year in Resolution are NOT the same as those in OotP.

Amongst other things, Resolution makes the following assumptions:

1. Sirius Black is alive.
2. Voldemort's return at the end of GoF is not common knowledge to the Wizarding world and many people, including the Ministry of Magic still refuse to believe it.
3. Lucius Malfoy is still considered to be a pillar of the community and any connections he might have with the Dark Lord remain a secret.
4. Draco Malfoy was never picked as a prefect.
5. Wizards and witches come of age at eighteen.
6. Wizards love to ski!


One day you will ask me what's more important, your life or mine? And I will say, my life, then you will walk away, never knowing that you are my life. -- Unknown


Chapter 8: Barriers

The Present ... Monday 16th March 1998 ... Late afternoon ... The Potions classroom

"Remember, read the first chapter, Mr Potter. And don't be late."

"Yes, Professor." Harry nodded curtly at the Potions Master and headed back to his desk. Pulling a face, he dropped the leather-bound book Snape had given him. Having to take detention with the man was bad enough, but this time Snape seemed to be more eager than usual for Harry to take his punishment.

"Read the first chapter, Potter," Harry's tone was suitably mocking as he mumbled to himself. "As if I've got time to read anything between now and then." Lips pursed in a thin line, he stared at the title of the book -- Potions Preparation for the Dilettante. What the hell was a 'dilettante' anyway? No doubt it was some sort of reference to exactly what Snape thought of him and also hinted at what he was likely to face when he arrived back in this classroom after dinner for his detention.

Yet more potions making.

Harry sighed and began tidying the desk. Well, at least there was one redeeming factor about having to come back down to the dungeons. Perhaps he would put his Invisibility Cloak to good use and meet up with Draco when Snape had finished with him. He glanced towards the storeroom where the other boy was still putting the leftover ingredients away, and the memory of the way Draco had touched him earlier drifted back into his mind. The thought brought warmth he could feel deep in the pit of his stomach. It pulsed with his heartbeat. In fact, he could feel the beat right down to the end of his....

"Okay, Harry?"

A hand gripped momentarily on Harry's shoulder and he jumped in surprise. "Ron." The heat in his stomach shot up his body, turning into embarrassment that his friend had caught him deep in lustful thoughts about the Hated Enemy. "Did you finish your potion?"

"Yeah, no thanks to Bulstrode, though. Sometimes I think she's been memory charmed. What did Snape want?"

Harry tried to look nonchalant as he shrugged. "He wanted to talk about my detention. Not only detention, but pre-detention -- he expects me to read the first chapter of this before I see him." He pointed at the book.

"Hard luck, mate." Ron's response was sympathetic as he twisted the book towards him. "But don't worry, we'll get our own back with Malfoy soon enough. It was his fault after all."

"Hmm." Harry glanced at the storeroom entrance. Yes, in a roundabout way Draco was responsible for Harry getting the detention ... and Harry could think of a few ways to get his own back, but not in the way Ron was probably thinking.

"Fancy a game of chess later? We haven't played for ages, not since New Year."

Harry sighed. "I'm not sure I can cope with anything more intellectually challenging than Exploding Snap at the moment."

"Okay, I'll see if the others want to join in. Hey, we could have a Gryffindor Dorm Debating Society meeting and the discussion topic can be...." Ron leaned in closer. "Potions capable of ridding the world of Snape once and for all."

A wicked grin flickered across Harry's face at the prospect of discussing the Potions Master's demise. "Excellent, but I don't know how long he's going to keep me." The hopes of a get-together with Draco began to fade, as did the warm glow. Ron was right; it had been ages since he'd spent an evening with his friends. "Got any idea what a 'dilettante' is?" He tapped the front of the book.

"Nope. You'll have to ask Hermione ... or Snape." A grin lit Ron's face and he gave Harry a friendly punch. "Good luck, I don't know which one I'd rather -- Oh fuck!"

He watched as Ron suddenly sprinted across the room to where Millicent had knocked over a bottle, the contents of which were clearly eating into the tabletop. The girl's panicked cries attracted the attention of several students, who were now desperately trying to mop up the mess, and Snape was hurrying over. The professor's words cut through the commotion. "Idiots. How many times have I told you not to spill that on wood?"

Harry watched in amusement, delighted that for once it was a Slytherin who was feeling the professor's wrath.

Talking of Slytherins ... Harry glanced at the storeroom for what seemed the thousandth time. What the hell was keeping Draco?

Shoving his hands into the pockets of his robes, Harry crossed to the room and entered the darkened interior.

"Malfoy?" The surname slipped out easily, Harry's own sense of care making him use it in a place others might hear. "Malfoy, do you need some help with putting stuff away?"

He moved deeper into the room towards a soft glow from a light near the rear of the room. As he stepped round the shelving into the light, he froze at the sight of Draco slumped on the floor. "Draco?" Eyes opening wide in alarm, he dropped to his knees in front of the boy and reached towards him, words coming out in a tumble of concern. "What happened? Are you okay? Should I get Snape?"

Without thinking, Harry gathered Draco into his arms and studied the upturned face. Draco was pale -- so pale it looked like he'd seen a ghost. He'd always pale-skinned compared to Harry, but this time his face was ashen, grey eyes wide in stark relief to his pallid skin. The blond leaned forward, his forehead settling against Harry's chest.

Draco was trembling -- Harry could feel it -- and when his fingers sneaked inside Harry's robes to twist in his white shirt, Harry realised that the trembling was from fear. Harry's hand caught briefly in the blond hair and he leaned into it, eyes closing for a moment, as he whispered words that were lost in the soft silky texture.

"I slipped and fell." Draco's mumbled response was hoarse. Then everything changed as he disentangled himself from Harry and pushed him away. "I said I was fine."

Harry gasped at the sudden change in Draco's temperament. "Oh." The Slytherin had gone from trembling fear to cold disdain in seconds and, as Draco straightened, Harry was reminded of the old days when the face before him would twist in contempt. And here it was again. "Are you -- are you sure?"

"Yes." The look of scorn on Draco's face as he came to his feet made Harry's heart sink like a lead weight. It was as if nothing had ever happened between them. "Did you see anyone else come in here?"

"After you?" Harry frowned thoughtfully, trying to remember whom he'd seen. "Snape called me over, so I wasn't looking. But most people are clearing away, so I guess they've all been in. Why?"

Draco shrugged, his eyes shifting round the dark room as if looking for something. "Nothing."

"Well, like I said, I wasn't watching all the time." Harry reached out again, wanting to feel Draco's warmth against him and to bring colour back to those pale features, but he was pushed away again. "Draco, what happened?"

"I slipped."

"Well, you look terrible. All pale...."

"Harry...." The name was spoken almost with desperation and for a moment Harry thought he saw something in those grey eyes. He reached out again, but Draco took a deep breath and sidestepped out of Harry's reach. "Just forget it, okay?" With a purposeful step, the Slytherin strode from the room.

"Draco?" Harry took a step before shouting louder after the retreating boy. "Malfoy!"

Nothing. Black robes blended in with the darkened room and soon even the blond head was no longer visible. Harry tracked the boy's journey out of the storeroom by the magical lamps flickering on and off as Draco passed beneath them until finally the only light in the room was the one shining down on Harry.

Confused, he bounced nervously on the balls of his feet. Something had definitely happened here in the storeroom. He could feel magic in the room, not the natural energy of the ingredients, but something else. A lingering signature that was familiar and yet different, somehow twisted from its natural state to something else ... something tainted and corrupted. And it had been wrapped around Draco, like a tendril clinging to his body, leaching away all the sunlight and joy from the boy. Harry could feel it, like a coldness that ate into his heart, and he recognised it as being the same magic that had permeated his own room less than forty-eight hours ago.

The same coldness. The same sense of despair.

And even worse was the icy atmosphere it seemed to create between him and Draco. It was as if they'd never shared anything together. As if they were still enemies. What had happened to the boy who had touched his hand earlier? Run fingers up his leg? Touched him with such delicate firmness?

Well, whatever had happened, he wasn't going to let Draco walk away without some sort of explanation. Squaring his shoulders, Harry strode out into the classroom just in time to see Draco collecting his quills and spare parchments. Then, without looking back, the Slytherin headed for the door.

"Malfoy!" Quickly Harry collected his few belongings and set off after him. A few heads turned as they left the room, but no one followed them out into the corridor. "Draco, stop a minute." He grabbed at the Slytherin's shoulder. "Damn it, Draco! Wait!

Draco flinched away, but did stop, finally meeting Harry's gaze. For a moment Harry thought he saw a glimmer of emotion deep in the grey eyes, but it was gone almost as quickly as it came there, replaced by.... Harry swallowed, shocked by the condescension that filled the stare.

"What?" The voice was as cold as the look.

"Come on, this is ridiculous. What did I do?"

"Nothing. This just isn't going to work."

"What isn't?"

"You and me -- us." The grey eyes flickered to Harry's face before moving to stare just over his shoulder. "This isn't going to work."

"You're...." Harry's jaw dropped and for a moment he didn't know what to say. Was Draco finished with him? How could it end just like this when they'd been so close all day? Okay, so things hadn't always gone smoothly over the last few months and maybe Harry still wasn't convinced that Draco was always honest with him, but the truth was he'd kept more than enough from Draco, too. No, it couldn't end like this. Harry didn't think he could bear it if things went back to the way they had been in the past.

An icy fist clutched at Harry's insides, twisting his gut, his voice betraying how he felt. "You don't want me?"


"Don't call me that! Not after everything that's happened today. Everything you said and did ... the things I said...."

"Stop taking life so seriously, Potter." Draco's sneering smirk was almost like a physical slap in the face. "We weren't having a relationship anyway."

"Oh, right." The hurt welled up from the knot of ice in Harry's stomach and turned into anger as it fed the flush he knew was colouring his cheeks. "Then what was it?"

"It was just a bit of fun, but it won't work. I'm a Slytherin and you're a Gryffindor for a start. We both want different things and in the end we're just going to end up hurting each other." Draco suddenly leaned in close and for a moment Harry thought he was going to be kissed, but the touch never came. Instead the grey eyes stared into him. "My life has been planned out and if you think I'm going to change it for you, then you're very much mistaken."

Harry reached out again, but Draco ducked away, turning his back. "Draco, I know something happened in the storeroom. Please, talk to me."

"Just leave me alone, Potter." With that, Draco strode off, his words echoing back to the stunned Gryffindor. "Get the hell out of my life!"

"Malfoy!" As Draco disappeared round the corner, Harry started after him, but stopped just before the junction. The corridor led to the Slytherin dungeons and a group of third years had come noisily down the stairs from the Entrance Hall and were following in Draco's wake. As much as he needed to go after Draco, the last thing he wanted was some sort of public fight. That would just make things even worse.

Not, he reasoned, that it could get any worse. Watching the point where Draco had disappeared, he ran a hand through his hair and, with a huff of something that was a cross between annoyance and trepidation, he rested the other hand on the wall. This was completely ridiculous; how the hell could everything change in twenty-four hours? In less than an hour for that matter?


He looked back over his shoulder as Hermione caught up with him and simply shook his head.

"What is it? What's going on?"

Waving a hand in the general direction the Slytherin had disappeared, Harry sighed. "It's Draco...." He dropped back against the wall, resting his head against the stone. "Everything was okay and then suddenly he's gone weird."

"Weird? How?"

"Like he's gone back to how he used to be."

"Well, I'm not...."

"Hermione, something's happened and I...." He fell silent as he saw Ron striding towards them. "I'll tell you later."


Harry shook his head silently, eyes flicking towards their friend. "Later," he mouthed.

"What's wrong?" Ron had walked past and was glaring along the corridor where Draco had disappeared. "What's the Ferret done now?"

"Nothing." The conspiratorial look Harry gave Hermione was missed by their friend. There was no way he was going to discuss Draco with Ron. The redhead would blow a fuse if Harry told him Draco had just announced he was splitting up with Harry, especially as Ron didn't even know they were together. "It's nothing."

"Sure," Ron snorted as he sauntered back to his friends. "Mark my words, Harry, he's not going to be happy until he's turned you over to his father. I bet the git is planning something, you know, looking to get famous by being the one to give you to You-Know-Who." He folded his arms. "I heard Nott saying Malfoy's going home for Easter, so at least you won't have to put up with him for two weeks."

"Really?" Harry's face fell momentarily as realisation struck. Draco was going home? Of course he'd known about the birthday since working out Draco's birth chart, but he'd forgotten the possibility that the Slytherin might go back to Malfoy Manor before the end of the school year.

Why hadn't Draco told him? Harry pushed himself away from the wall and fell into step with his friends as they began walking towards the stairs that would take them back up to the entrance hall. He glanced down the corridor as he passed it, wanting to do nothing more than to go after Draco and hold him safe ... away from Malfoy Manor and away from Voldemort.

Ron shrugged. "According to Nott, it's Malfoy's birthday and he's having some big shindig. You know what that means?"

Harry stopped, one foot raised onto the steps. "That he'll be eighteen?" The tone was tinged with sarcasm.

"Sure, that, but for the past seven years he's been going on about how wonderful he thinks You-Know-Who is. We all know that his dad's a Death Eater. So, put two and two together and you have a Dark Marked Ferret." Ron had climbed the stairs as he spoke and he stopped, now several steps above the other two and looked back down. "Q.E.D."

Hermione frowned. "Are you saying that just because he's going to be eighteen, it means he'll end up being Marked?"

"Stands to reason, doesn't it? At eighteen we're considered adults. We can use magic without getting one of those letters from the Underage Magic people, we can vote, stand for office in the Ministry, play Quidditch professionally and even Apparate. So what better time for Malfoy to be admitted into the Order of the Death Eaters? And what better opportunity than some swanky party at his over-inflated excuse for a manor house?"

Harry opened his mouth, wanting to respond, but he wasn't sure just what to say without it becoming clear just how he felt about Draco. The dreams that had plagued him the previous night came crashing back to haunt him, and he felt physically sick at the thought of something happening to Draco. Was that the reason for Draco's sudden change? Had someone gotten at Draco, just like they'd invaded Harry's dreams?

"Hey, Harry...."

He looked up to meet Ron's gaze. "What?"

"If we're lucky, he won't come back."

"Won't come back?" Harry's voice was a whisper. As Ron's words sunk in, he realised he was shivering. Won't. Come. Back?

"Yeah, just imagine, no Ferret right up to the time we leave." Ron had been rummaging in his pockets and groaned. "Bugger, I've left my Head Boy badge behind." He jumped down the steps. "Won't be a minute."

As the redhead disappeared, Hermione leaned in close to Harry. "Now, what the hell is going on?" She clutched at his arm.

Harry realised he was clenching his jaw, almost grinding his teeth. "If I knew that, I'd tell you. Look, make my excuses to Ron; I might have to skip dinner." He turned, taking another step up the staircase, but his journey was halted by Hermione's ever-tightening grip.

"Harry, where are you going?"

"To get my cloak -- I have to find out what's going on."

"No! I'm not going to let you go wandering around the Slytherin dungeons. It's dangerous."

"Well, he's not going to come to me, is he?"

"And you've got a detention with Snape. If you don't turn up, he'll give you another."

"Fine ... sod the bastard. He'd probably give me another one tomorrow anyway. This is important." With that, Harry pulled away, striding up the stairs two at a time as Hermione's desperately hissed calls followed after him.


His mind still on getting to the dungeons and just what he would say to Draco, Harry rounded the top of the stairs at a run. Within two strides across the Entrance Hall, he stumbled into something solid, staggered back and would have landed on the floor if strong arms hadn't grabbed him. The book and papers in his hands spilled to the floor, scattering around the feet of Remus Lupin.

"Whoa, Harry, slow down there. Where's the fire?"

"Professor Lupin!" Steadying himself, Harry looked from the person he'd crashed into, down to the broken bottle of ink that had splattered on the floor tiles and both their lower legs. He looked back up again. "Sorry."

The older man smiled softly. "It's 'Remus' outside of classes, remember?" He winked. "At least when no one else is about."

Harry gave a small smile. "Okay. I'd better clear this up before Filch finds it." He rummaged quickly for his wand. "Oh." Lupin had already pointed his wand at the mess.

"You're lucky, Harry. This is one thing magic can clean up. Though I think the laundry will have to get the ink out of your trousers." He crouched down. "I'm not sure about the book though."

Mouth opening in concern, Harry took the potions book from the professor. The edges of the pages were stained with drops of ink and he opened the book to find it seeping into the pages. "Damn it," he hissed.

"Problem? Is it a library book? I can explain to Madam Pince if you want."

"No. It belongs to Professor Snape."

"Oh dear."

Harry sighed. "I'm going to be in detention for the rest of my life."

"Don't panic just yet. Let's see if Dobby has something that might fix it."

"I'm supposed to read the first chapter before detention tonight."

"Oh yes, Sirius said Severus had picked on you again. Something to do with flying?" Harry nodded. "Well, let's not worry about our favourite Potions Master for the minute." The professor gave Harry's shoulder a paternal squeeze. "Sirius left a note for you in the Gryffindor Common Room. He said you've got something to discuss, so he's arranged for the three of us to have tea in his rooms."

"He has?" Harry frowned, remembering the conversation with his godfather at breakfast. It seemed a lifetime away now and hadn't he told Sirius he didn't want to discuss Hermione's prophecy with anyone else just yet?

Remus nodded. "And when Dobby brings tea, we can ask him about the book. So, are you free?"

"Well..." he glanced quickly back towards the staircase. He wanted to talk to Draco ... no, needed to talk to him, but he quickly realised Remus was already steering him away from the stairs.


Draco stared into the mirror, grimacing as his fingers prodded gently at the skin of his shoulder. The damage caused by Voldemort -- or whatever it was he'd managed to conjure up two days ago -- had faded over forty-eight hours to four dark pink crescent-shaped marks. But since the events in the storeroom, the wounds had flared to life again. It had begun as a dull ache when Harry had arrived and had gotten progressively worse. By the time he'd managed to reach the safety of his own room, it hurt so much that he'd expected to see open wounds in his shoulder, but on the surface there was now nothing, not even the little marks. Beneath the skin, however, it felt like thorns were spearing deep into his flesh.

It didn't help that he'd been waylaid in the common room by a group of fifth and sixth years wanting to set up a second Slytherin Quidditch team because half the team would be leaving in June. As he listened to them, Draco had been sure he'd felt a breath on his neck and for a moment ... one brief, wonderful desperately hopeful moment ... he'd thought Harry had been there just as he'd been before. But there had been nothing else, no more warmth, and Draco knew he had been mistaken.

He sneered at his reflection. "You've blown it this time, Draco."

The look on Harry's face -- no, the multiple looks ranging from shock to disbelief to anger -- came flooding back, and Draco knew that walking away from Harry had been one of the most difficult things he'd ever done in his life. It felt like a piece of himself had been lost along with the other boy and that he couldn't get it back without taking Harry as well.

Flexing his arm, Draco grimaced again as the movement made the pain flare in his shoulder, reminding him just why he'd walked away. He was doing it for Harry's own safety. He was doing it because if he stayed with Harry the risk to both of them was just too great.

With a sigh, he moved to his desk and sorted through the little potion phials he'd retrieved from a drawer earlier. Maybe things would be different when he returned to school after the holiday. He would get the chance to talk to his father and perhaps finally understand what was going on. After all, didn't he deserve to know the identity of his father's spies?

Jaw tightening, Draco sat at the desk and dropped his head into his hands. The potions he needed had all been used up and the last thing he felt capable of doing right now was making more. He gave a bitter laugh, if he tried he'd probably end up killing himself and perhaps then everyone would be happy.

Pushing the phials away, he folded his arms on the desk and leaned forward to rest his forehead on them.

What about Voldemort?

Had it really been the Dark Lord who'd been in this very room a few days ago? And what about in the storeroom? Had that been the Dark Lord as well? Or was the whole thing someone like Weasley playing tricks? Draco couldn't decide which possibility scared him more, because if it was Weasley, then the Gryffindor was a much more powerful wizard than Draco thought.

The wounds beneath the flesh of his shoulder began to throb in time with his heartbeat, and Draco pressed his face harder into the crook of his arm. With a little sob, he finally gave into the pain.


"... Then Sirius chucked James into the lake. You should have seen Lily's face." Remus was chuckling at his own story. "She was livid and refused to talk to either of them for days."

"I did not shove him! He tripped and fell." Sirius looked suitably irked for a moment before breaking into a broad grin. "But I will admit to the fact Lily wouldn't talk to me." He leaned in towards Harry. "Your mother actually slapped my face."

Harry's mouth dropped open in surprise. "She did?" The idea that his mum might hit anyone, especially Sirius, seemed completely out-of-character with his perception of her. In his mind she was always gentle. But then, he remembered, his estimation of his father hadn't exactly been what he'd imagined either.

Sirius was rubbing at his left cheek. "She had a mean right hook, Harry. Believe me, no one wanted to mess with her when she was angry ... our Lily was one fiery redhead."

"And she could flick a mean wand as well," Remus ventured. "She could charm just about anything and anyone."

Harry reached for another cake. He'd been listening to stories about the Marauders and his mother for nearly two hours now and it had been brilliant as each little snippet added to what he knew about his parents. Even though the Potters seemed to be as famous as some other Wizarding families, the information he'd found about them had been sparse in the extreme. Sometimes it felt like all the information about the family had been erased from the records when James had died. "Where did we live? You know, in that first year."

The two men looked at each other than back at Harry and it was Sirius who finally answered. "At Godric's Hollow mostly -- that was where the family home used to be."

"Oh," Harry shrugged. "I thought we'd only gone there towards ... Halloween."

"No." Sirius shook his head. "The house had been in the Potter family for a long time and that's where I went to live when I left home. Your grandparents took me in and treated me like another son."

"And I spent lots of time there as well," Remus added. "After the wedding, James and Lily got a flat in London so they would be close to work, but they still spent most of their free time down in the country. Lily loved the area. All those wild cliffs and the sea."

Harry sat up straighter as the two men talked and finally uncurled his legs, sitting properly in the saggy old armchair. "Did they move out there when I was born, then?"

"Well, not full time." Sirius stared at the fire for a moment. "Your mum carried on with her charm work, which she did mostly at Godric's Hollow. She researched charms for the Auror division at the Ministry, working out how they'd been created, what type of wand was used and how to counteract them. James was working as an Auror so he was away a fair bit. Your grandparents looked after you, and sometimes I'd take you out as well." Sirius looked back at his godson and his eyes narrowed in concern. "Harry ... what is it? What's wrong?"

"My grandparents." Harry's voice was quiet, almost below a whisper. "They were alive? I thought they'd both died before I was born."

Sirius opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it again and glanced briefly at Remus. A look passed between them before Sirius looked back at Harry. "Harry, I thought you knew."

"Knew what?" Harry's mouth suddenly felt very dry.

"They died the same night as your parents." The silence after Sirius had finished talking went on for an eternity. "Harry?"

"I just --" The dryness seemed to spread to Harry's mind and he felt like all his insides had suddenly become clogged up and useless. Voldemort had not only wiped out his parents, but his grandparents as well. He'd ended up with the Dursleys because the Dark Lord had destroyed his family and even taken Sirius away from him for over twelve years.

But within the thoughts of death, there was another thought surfacing -- his grandparents had known about him. They had watched him for his first year and cared for him. "I just didn't know. Nobody ever talked about them, so I thought...." He took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Was it Voldemort? Did he kill them as well?"

"We don't know for sure, Harry." Remus' soft voice was soothing. "No one really knows what happened that night ... except the Dark Lord and nobody's asking him. There was never any proof they were in the house because their bodies weren't found and that's why they were never mentioned as victims. The truth is we know they were there because James spoke to Sirius earlier that day and told him, but the authorities still say they are missing."

"Was there anyone else? You know, at Godric's Hollow, who died?"

Sirius shook his head. "We were supposed to be there as well that night, but we got held up. When I arrived it was already too late. The house and gardens were in ruins -- you could feel the splintered magic for miles. I found James first, then Lily. Hagrid was there and he helped find you." He reached out a hand, resting it gently on his godson's arm. "For a while we couldn't find you and thought they'd taken you. It was only later, when the Aurors arrived, that they started getting some idea of what had actually happened with Voldemort."

"Oh." Harry had been staring at the floor, fixated on the pattern on the rug. Now he looked at the hand on his arm, and then finally raised his eyes to meet Sirius again. "Do you ... are there any pictures of my grandparents? With me? I know what they look like from the photos Hagrid gave me, but there's none of them and me together."

"I don't know. Remus?"

The other man shrugged. "There wasn't much left, Harry."

"Okay." Harry took a deep breath. He felt that he should feel really upset by all of this, but the emotion running through him at that moment was closer to anger than grief. Anger that yet more people had been taken from him before he'd even had chance to get to know them. With a hint of desperation, he began dredging the depths of his memory, trying to find even the tiniest impression that might be a memory of his grandparents. It was the same thing he'd done when he'd found out the truth about his parents, and the process was equally as pointless. The memories of a one-year-old were almost impossible for him to find.

And that was what made him feel grief. However, that sadness wasn't for the dead -- it was for himself because he'd never known them.

"Harry, are you okay?" Sirius had slipped to the floor to kneel in front of Harry, reaching out a hand towards him. "We should have told you before now. I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He leaned briefly into Sirius' hand, which cradled his head before straightening. "Who knows, maybe one day I'll get to ask Voldemort personally just what happened." He looked from one adult to the other. "Thanks. You two are the only contact I have with all of this ... my mum and dad's friends. I don't know what I'd do without you."

Remus patted Harry's arm before resting the hand on Sirius' shoulder. "You know we're here for you, Harry. Never forget that."


Dinner at Hogwarts was always noisy and Severus Snape hated it.

It was the only meal of the day when all the students were supposed to eat at the same time, breakfast and lunch both being more staggered. At least at breakfast the little horrors were still half asleep. By lunchtime they were often rushing from morning to afternoon lessons, but in the evening the students normally had had time to wind down from study, which meant they were irritatingly boisterous. Having hundreds of hungry children clamouring for food, eating with their mouths open because they couldn't wait to tell their friends something, and spilling things made Severus shudder inwardly.

He hated having to be on duty to keep an eye on all the noisy brats. Hated the smell of all the food. And hated having his own digestion interrupted by having to deal with the problems the students inevitably caused. Given a choice, he would much rather be in his private quarters having a leisurely dinner with a nice glass of wine, followed by sitting back with his feet up with a good book and an interesting glass of brandy to round the day off.

At least he wasn't sharing the duty with either Black or Lupin, which was always an even bigger nightmare. Those two still acted like children themselves ... especially Black ... and they let the students get away with just about everything.

He glanced across to Pomona Sprout, who was supposed to be sharing duty with him, but the woman seemed more interested in talking to Flitwick than in keeping an eye on what was happening at the long House tables. The sound of sudden raucous laughter made him snap around to fix the Hufflepuff offender with a stare, and he was pleased to see the second-year looking suitably admonished. At least some people were still properly cowered by his presence it would seem.

Without thinking, his gaze travelled over to the Gryffindor table and down its length to where the seventh-year students were sitting. Granger, as always, was engrossed in some text, but she also seemed very aware of what was going on about her. She was currently still looking at the book while waving a hand in the air and carrying on a discussion with Finnigan. Rumour had it that the two were dating, but what such an intelligent young woman would see in Finnigan, Severus had no idea.

He was transported back twenty years to a similar scene at that table when Lily Evans would read and chat at the same time, green eyes flicking from the page to smile at Potter and Black, or to talk with Lupin and Pettigrew, just as Granger was doing with her own friends right now. The two were similar in many ways, Severus decided, as he studied the current Head Girl. Both were Muggle-born, though he knew from some research that this just might not be the case for either of them. Both were incredibly talented witches. They cared for the oppressed.

And both seemed to have fallen for pointless, untalented Gryffindors.

At least Granger hadn't become involved with Potter. That really would be history repeating itself. And after what he'd seen going on between Potter and Malfoy, the likelihood of either of those boys making a 'traditional' match seemed more and more remote. Of course, he knew from experience that what happened in school didn't always translate into the grown-up world, but given the history between the two boys, it seemed unlikely they would fall into anything just for the fun of it.

Severus cast his lowered gaze in the direction of the Slytherin table, running down the length of it until he reached Draco. The boy had been particularly quiet this dinner time, and he would occasionally look surreptitiously at the Gryffindor table, no doubt looking for Potter who, for some reason, had decided not to join the other students. As always, Draco's expression was completely guarded, his true feelings hidden beneath years of practice at deceiving those around him. It was a shame the boy didn't also realise he often deceived himself as well. Severus wondered if Draco was pleased or angry not to have Potter to sneer at across the hall, especially after the way they had fawned over each other all day in Potions. Of course, that didn't marry up with whatever had happened in those final few minutes of the lesson when Draco had stormed out of the room (if a Malfoy could ever be said to 'storm' at anything) and Potter followed shouting so loud the gods in heaven probably heard him. Potter could use some lessons in deception ... or at least subtlety.

Another memory surfaced to join the one of Lily. It was of himself storming from the room (Snapes did 'storm') and of James Potter running after him, demanding that he stop, followed by an argument in the corridor.

Fortunately, neither Black nor Lupin had seen what followed. But Pettigrew had, his ratty little face peering around the corner as Potter had tried to pull up Severus' sleeve again ... tried to see what he'd thought had peeked out when Severus had unfortunately pulled his shirt sleeve back without thinking.

Severus shook himself mentally, trying to clear what he thought were long-forgotten memories from his mind. That was all in the past and what he needed to do now was concentrate on the here-and-now. Dumbledore had given him almost carte blanche to deal with Draco, and Severus knew that short of locking the boy up in a warded prison to prevent him ever going back home the only way to help was to persuade Potter to intervene. If the two were having some sort of relationship, then it would be easy. Potter cared little for his own welfare, but the safety of his friends would one day become his undoing. If the Dark Lord caught one of the Golden Boy's friends and threatened Potter with killing them, Severus doubted that the boy would be able to watch that friend die for the greater good. Maybe, Severus wondered darkly, he should save the Wizarding world the trouble by removing all who meant something to Potter. That way the boy could just get on with killing Voldemort without the agitation of worrying about his friends.

He looked from Potter's friends to the would-be lover and wondered what Potter would give up for Draco. Even if it didn't happen at the boy's eighteenth birthday, Severus knew that sooner or later Draco would take the Dark Lord's Mark and then it would be too late for him. A person was Marked for life, even if they chose to betray their master. Severus knew only too well that his own Mark remained like a permanent part of his body, inextricably linking him to the person who cast it. There had been times when the pain from it had been so bad, that Severus had been tempted to hack the limb off, but he knew that the Darkness from it had woven throughout his body. He could cut off the Mark, but the link would remain to forever connect him to the Dark Lord even though he'd walked away from the caster before either Potter or Malfoy had been born.

His Mark hurt now ... the aftereffect of Voldemort's continuing little game with him, punishment for betraying his master and turning to Dumbledore. Severus could imagine the scene wherever the Dark Lord currently was, something would happen to annoy him or he would just be bored and looking for entertainment. So he would send out the Earth Magic equivalent of Cruciatus or some other pain-inducing curse to those that had betrayed him. Severus could always tell how bored or angry Voldemort was by how much pain he suffered and how long the aftereffects took to dissipate.

Today had been different, Severus remembered. No short, sharp punishment, but a lazy day-long agony that had woken him with something that felt like a headache and had remained through most of the day, enough to make him feel ill and testy, but not so bad as to take to his bed.

The punishment had ended now, but the remnants of it would continue for the better part of twenty-four hours (if he were lucky), or for several days if the Dark Lord was feeling particularly vindictive. Being within the safety of the Hogwarts wards did help a little, and Dumbledore's protective magic also made a difference. Without those two things, Severus knew he probably wouldn't survive the pain. But it still ate away at his resolve; each attack was more and more difficult to deal with and he understood how Voldemort had made people go mad in the past.

There were ways of counteracting the Mark, some more successful than others, but in the end, Severus knew only two things that could help him and both of those involved asking for Harry Potter's assistance. He smiled grimly. Well, he could ask any Earth Mage, but considering there were only two alive at this moment and one of them was responsible for the Mark in the first place, his options were very limited.

Voldemort's Earth Magic, limited as it was (Severus had helped his master with potions to enhance his magic back when he was one of the man's followers) had been the catalyst for the Mark that still burned not only on his arm but also on hundreds of other Death Eaters. It was the Earth Magic that let the Dark Lord keep in touch with his followers, punishing and rewarding as he saw fit. Potter's own version of the Magic was supposed to be more powerful and if the boy chose to, he could shield and protect those about him.

Potter could imbue potions with his Earth Magic for Severus to use. They wouldn't stop Voldemort's punishments, but they would help with the excruciating aftereffects and stop them from lasting so long. Potter and potions were not, however, a healthy mix. Severus knew the boy could make them, but his concentration span was limited and he doubted Potter would be interested in a life-long commitment to make the potions for someone he disliked intensely, or at least in making them until Voldemort was finally defeated. If Potter didn't succeed in that, then Severus knew his own life wasn't worth a Sickle and his death would be very long and very painful.

There was another way, and Severus was hoping the Gryffindor would be noble enough to go through with it. It was the only way he knew of keeping Draco out of Voldemort's clutches, but the commitment on Potter's part would be equally as huge as a lifetime of potions making would be for the boy. Would Potter be willing to use his Earth Magic as Voldemort had? To Mark a person and form a link to them for the rest of his life? If he did that for Draco, then it might prevent the Dark Lord's Mark from making its connection and destroying the boy's existence.

He looked back at Draco. The boy's life would change forever if he took Voldemort's Mark. Would Draco listen if Severus tried to explain what taking the Mark really meant? He doubted it. After all, Severus hadn't listened to Dumbledore all those years ago, and he was sure that the Headmaster had much better arguments against the Dark Lord than Severus could come up with now.

But if Potter Marked Draco first, the protection could be incredible as long as Voldemort didn't know what had happened. The Dark Lord should only have one chance at taking Draco, so if Potter Marked him first and could hide what he had done until it was too late, then maybe Draco could keep his life.

He considered for a moment whether it was fair to take matters out of Draco's hands and let someone else decide his future. But hadn't Lucius always been prepared to do that anyway? None of this mattered, however, if Potter refused, or if his grasp of Earth Magic didn't live up to expectations.

So now all Severus had to do was persuade The Boy Who Lived to be what everyone else had always said he was ... the Saviour of the Wizarding World.


"You are late, Mr Potter."

Harry froze at the sound of the Potions Master's voice. He hadn't even made it to the Potions classroom and already Snape was striding towards him, black robes fluttering around him like some hideous bat. By the expression on Snape's face, Harry had the horrible feeling that his detention would involve something particularly nasty -- maybe being the guinea pig for some disgusting potion that would cover him in pustules or turn him purple with yellow spots.

The truth was, he was late. He'd spent much too long with Sirius and Remus, and they'd not even started discussing the prophecy, which had been the reason for having tea with them in the first place. If he were honest, there was a part of Harry that was pleased they'd run out of time. He still hadn't taken things on board himself; so talking about it wasn't really something he was prepared to do at least not with anyone outside of the few who knew about the prophecy already. He glanced at the place he'd last seen Draco and wondered briefly whether telling the Slytherin about the prophecy was something he was prepared to do.

Assuming, of course, the idiot ever spoke to him again.

Pushing that thought to the back of his mind, Harry turned his attention to Snape. "You never gave a time, Professor, just after dinner."

"You weren't in the Great Hall." Snape strode past Harry and he quickly fell into step behind the professor.

"Well, no...."

"Then I trust you spent your time reading Chapter One, Mr Potter."

"I was with Professor Black and Professor Lupin and --" Snape came to a halt so abruptly that Harry barrelled straight into him. He grabbed momentarily at the professor's robes before stepping away as Snape turned on him, black eyes glaring.

"I see that you are still as clumsy as ever." Snape fixed Harry with an annoying stare. "And was your meeting more important then your detention work?"

Harry glared back, feeling uncomfortable under Snape's scrutiny. The man still towered over him and their long history of animosity towards each other did nothing to quiet his growing apprehension, which was made even worse by the fact the book still had ink stains that Dobby hadn't been able to remove. "It was important."

"Of course it was." The professor's tone dripped sarcasm. "Anything those two want from you is bound to be more important than what I want you to do. You will read the chapter and report for detention tomorrow."

Harry frowned. "Instead of today?"

"In addition to today." Snape turned and continued down the corridor. "Are you well, Mr Potter?

"Sorry?" Harry rushed to catch up again. The Potions Master had strode past the classrooms and was now heading down one of the dungeon corridors Harry didn't recall ever using before.

"Are you in good health, Mr Potter?"

"Well ... I...." Taken aback by the question, Harry stumbled over his response. "Umm ... I'm okay ... I guess."

"No unusual side effects from taking your potion earlier?"

"No, not yet anyway."

"Good, then that will make this easier, won't it?"

"Umm..." Harry tried to keep his bearings as they moved deeper into the bowels of the castle. He thought he recognised a turning to his left as being the one that had taken him to the Slytherin common room back in his second year and another from his visit to Draco a week or so ago. Of course, he might be mistaken, since it all looked pretty much the same and he was convinced they had passed a particular statue twice. "Professor Snape, where are we going?"

Even as the question left Harry's lips, Snape stopped in front of an inconspicuous looking door. He drew his wand from his robes and tapped it against the wood. "Here." The door swung open with what Harry decided was an ominous creak. The young wizard halted, shuffling from foot to foot, as Snape stepped into room. "Come on, Potter, I don't have all night."

The professor disappeared and Harry glanced back down the corridor, wondering if he could find his way out of the labyrinth. The dark rectangle of the doorway became suffused with the soft glow of candlelight and, tugging at the hem of his jumper, Harry stepped towards the door. "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here," he mumbled to himself.

As he stepped through the doorway, Harry faltered again as he stared around the room in surprise. He'd expected to find himself in some storeroom (detention -- clean it) or maybe one of Snape's potions laboratories (detention -- clean it). But this wasn't either. To Harry's surprise, it looked to be a sitting room, softly lit by the candles and the embers of a fire.

"Shut the door."

Snape had crossed the small room and was currently prodding at the fire with a poker. It crackled back into life and he added a couple of logs before turning back to a clearly bewildered Harry. "I said shut the door, Potter. And sit down." Long fingers pointed towards a small sofa near the fireplace. It was upholstered in dark, rich golds and looked very, very comfortable.

It was. As Harry sat gingerly on the edge, he sank into the softness. If the sofa had been anywhere else, Sirius' room or maybe even Harry's own room, he would have had no compunction about curling up at one end of it or stretching out along its full length to daydream in front of the fire.

Harry's eyes flickering round the room, coming to rest momentarily on Snape. The older man had stopped beside a simple, elegant desk and was working his way through a collection of small rolls of parchment, nodding at some and scowling at others, before returning them to the relatively tidy desk.

This had to be Snape's private quarters, Harry decided, and it wasn't anything like he would have expected. Both Sirius and Remus had private rooms in the staff wing, but he'd never really considered where Snape's rooms were located or what they might be like. If asked, Harry would have said they'd be dank and dismal with a couple of hard wooden chairs, walls probably lined with jars of unmentionable things and the smell of something obnoxious bubbling in a cauldron. Or maybe, a huge cave, where Snape could hang bat-like from the ceiling.

Instead the room was warm, dry and surprisingly cosy.

The walls were half panelled with dark, but warm, wood that looked similar to the desk. Aunt Petunia had a china cabinet she claimed was an antique walnut veneered something-or-other, but Harry had seen the same thing in a branch of Courts. So the 'family heirloom' was probably only a couple of years old, but at least Harry recognised that not only was Snape's desk made of walnut but also that it probably was a real family heirloom.

Above the panelling, the stone walls were hung with tapestries, their patterns geometric rather than images of people or animals. Occasionally, the stone had been left bare, and Harry was surprised to see that these areas were not random. They picked out stones with interesting colours or features, which almost seemed to be artwork in their own right. The wall behind the sofa had another door in the middle of it, the rest of the space covered with overflowing bookshelves. Harry cast his eyes over the titles, surprised to see that they weren't just potions books. Clearly, the Potions Master was much wider read than Harry had given him credit for.

On the other side of the fire from the sofa was a high-backed leather chair with a matching footstool, and beside it a small table with a little reading lamp and a large book, the title of which Harry couldn't see. As his gaze took in the room, he suddenly realised that apart from the books there were hardly any personal things in the room. Even Sirius, with his history of nowhere to call home, had managed to find some photographs and other things to personalise his room, but Snape had nothing apart from his books, the tapestries and, on the shelf behind his desk, a set of what looked to be very expensive potions scales, a small cauldron and some other items that Harry didn't recognise.

Despite the animosity Harry felt for the man, he had to say that the comfort and warmth of the room somehow suited Snape. And, even worse, Harry liked the room as well. Oh, there were things he'd change, of course -- the scales for example -- but this was a room he could crash out in.

And Draco would love the armchair.


Harry's eyes, which had glazed a little at the thought of Draco and the chair, snapped back to the older wizard, surprise at the question written all over his face. The whole situation was becoming more and more bizarre -- he was supposed to be having a detention, but Snape had invited Harry into his private sanctuary and was now offering him tea. What next? Cakes and sandwiches? Maybe even a bag of Sherbet Lemons?


"It's not poisoned, Potter."

Harry thought he saw humour in Snape's eyes. That wasn't possible, was it? He finally managed to respond with the only thing he could think to say, which was simply, "Yes ... please."

The simple elegance of the cup and saucer matched the room -- it was almost translucent porcelain with a single thin line of gold just below the rim. Harry's hands shook slightly as he took the cup and saucer from Snape, and he quickly put them down on the little side table beside the sofa. If he dropped it, Snape would never forgive him.

The professor had seated himself comfortably in the high-backed chair and was currently studying the flames, his expression unreadable. Harry found his eyes drawn to the same place, and he watched as the fire danced in the grate. He was just beginning to feel relaxed when he remembered why he was currently taking tea with Snape.

"Professor, about the detention."

Snape turned from the fire. "Yes, your detention." His fingers briefly rested on the book on the table before picking up his own cup and saucer. "There is no detention, at least as far as you and I are concerned." He sipped at his tea.

"Not a detention? I don't understand."

"The concept isn't that difficult to understand, Potter. This. Isn't. A. Detention." Snape carefully enunciated each word as if talking to an idiot. Harry found himself squirming at the speech. "Detention doesn't usually include taking tea in a teacher's private quarters."

"Then what...." Harry took a breath, trying to keep the little squeak out of his voice. Why the hell did this man always reduce him to feeling utterly useless ... just like Uncle Vernon always did? He deliberately straightened and held his head high. "Then what am I here for?"

"I needed to speak to you on a matter of some confidentiality, and I had no desire to have that fact broadcast to the whole school. Giving you a detention seemed to be the most appropriate way to get you here without arousing the interest of all and sundry." Snape smirked slightly. "After all, detention for you is hardly an unusual situation, is it?"

"You want to talk to me?"

"It's a simple concept, Mr Potter; surely even you can understand that. Professor Dumbledore and I have been talking, and he has asked me to work with you." Snape calmly sipped at his cup, as though he were discussing the weather. "The Headmaster has asked me to help you develop some of your ... special abilities. Specifically your gift for Earth Magic."

Harry's mouth tightened. Earth Magic? With Snape? Something else to learn along with all his normal school stuff, and there were his additional lessons with Sirius to cope with as well. How the hell was he going to fit in revision for his N.E.W.Ts?

Then realisation washed over Harry and his eyes widened a little in surprise. With Snape. Dumbledore had been discussing him with Snape, and the Headmaster wanted Snape to teach him about Earth Magic. Harry clenched his teeth together for a moment as the idea started to make him feel just a little sick. He'd had extracurricular lessons with the Potions Master before and each time it had been an unmitigated disaster. "I'm already working with Sirius ... Professor Black ... on that. I don't need help from anyone else." Harry thought he saw a look cross the professor's face, but it was so swift, he wondered if he had been mistaken. The black eyes had seemed to widen slightly as though Snape was alarmed at what Harry had said.

"Very well, I will inform the Headmaster that the great Harry Potter believes he knows better than his elders. I had hoped that you had finally grown up, but clearly I was mistaken. You may leave." Then, completely ignoring his young visitor, Snape put down his cup and reached for the book on the table, opening it to a bookmarked page.

Harry fidgeted for a moment, eyes flicking from the door back to Snape and he watched as the man read, long fingers turning the thick parchment pages. The fact that the professor knew about Earth Magic was a surprise, but that Dumbledore wanted him to teach Harry was even more of a jolt. Didn't Dumbledore think Sirius was doing a good enough job? Harry thought he'd been working well with his godfather and had been doing okay with learning how to control the strange energies that flowed about and through him. In fact, if he concentrated hard right now, he could sense those Earth energies in the stones of the castle ... from the flames burning in the grate, even from the two or three containers of dried herbs he now realised were on the shelves.

Sirius had been teaching him how to tap into that power to enhance his own magical abilities. He could now use Earth Magic to cast spells, knowing that they would be more powerful than using just his own innate magic. The latest thing he was learning was to cast several spells at once and to keep control of each one. It was hard, especially when something distracted him, and Harry had lost count of the number of cups he'd smashed when trying to spell several things into the air at once, each with a different charm.

So why did he need Snape's help when Sirius was doing so well? "Maybe I should talk to Professor Dumbledore myself."

"Please do." The tone was one of disinterest. "And please be sure to inform him that you think Black has the ability to assist you in the use of potions to develop your Earth Magic potential. I, for one, will be extremely entertained to watch that part of the proceedings."

Harry frowned. Potions? No one had ever mentioned potions before, certainly not in connection with Earth Magic. He realised the professor was now watching him with those intense black eyes and could feel himself colour under the gaze. It was hard to keep eye contact. "How do you know about me and the Earth Magic? It's supposed to be a secret."

"I know because the Headmaster has asked me to work with you." Snape's voice was quiet as he closed the book, his fingers flexing over the leather-bound cover. "I have known since you first came to Hogwarts and despite the fact that you have been mollycoddled from day one, I have been charged with looking out for you and protecting you until you were considered old enough to protect yourself."

Harry felt his mouth open and close. Protect him? His mind whirled as the words of Hermione's prophecy slammed into him ... The Lion will choose his Protector, who will be the Morning Star's Child.

No way! Snape couldn't be the Protector of the prophecy. He just couldn't be. But what if Dumbledore knew Snape was this Morning Child person and that was why he wanted Snape to work with Harry now?

Harry mentally shook himself. This whole line of thought was ridiculous. Snape as his Protector was as stupid as ... as, well.... It was just plain stupid. He needed to talk to Sirius about this and about potions and the rest of Hermione's prophecy.

"Professor Black could teach me...."

"Black might be adequate at whatever he is teaching you, but to the best of my knowledge, I am the only person at Hogwarts who has the knowledge to brew the potions needed for your development in that area." Snape's eyebrows rose. "But by all means, ask him if you wish, but do not come running to me when he's turned your skin permanently fuchsia, or renders you mute for a year."

Harry tried to hide a smile; Snape had been telling him that potions could do that sort of thing for nearly seven years and he'd yet to see it. He watched as the Potions Master's eyes narrowed darkly.

"Those are two of the milder effects that can occur if the potions are brewed incorrectly, Mr Potter, which, I can assure you, is stunningly easy to do. But Black did manage to come a respectable fourteenth in our year in Potions, so I'm sure he's -- reasonably competent." Snape's lip curled and the black eyes glistened. "If you'd prefer him to teach you, then go and ask him." With a flourish, Snape's hand swept towards the door as he turned his attention back to the book.

Harry tapped his fingers nervously on the arm of the sofa. Head down, he looked surreptitiously at the older wizard, eyes hidden by his messy fringe. Snape was now occupied with his book and was paying no attention to him. Would it hurt to listen to what Snape had to say? It didn't mean he had to take lessons with the professor. And just maybe he could in the course of the conversation find out just why Snape hated him so much. Harry knew that in the past he would have readily dismissed almost everything the Potions Master said to him, but there was something about tonight.

Normally, if Snape wanted to humiliate him, it would be somewhere very public, like in the middle of the Great Hall or in front of a class full of sniggering, smug Slytherins. Yet this time, Snape seemed to have gone out of his way to keep the meeting secret by holding it here in his own private rooms. Not, he decided, the actions of a Snape who was deliberately setting out to make him look stupid by not explaining things to him properly.

Maybe he should give Snape the benefit of the doubt for once. Before he could change his mind, Harry took a quick breath and spoke. "Okay, let's talk about it. But just because I'm willing to listen, it doesn't mean I'm going to take lessons. At least not before talking to Professor Dumbledore."

Snape didn't look up as he closed the book, but Harry thought the professor had taken a calming breath as if Harry's response had been what he was waiting for.

Severus ran his fingers over the gold block lettering of the book and hoped that his feeling of relief wasn't visible on his face. Since the boy had first come into the room he'd been concerned that Harry might cut and run, but it finally looked like Harry would actually listen to him. Only by listening would he be able get Harry to help with, as Albus has put it, The Draco Problem.

His only problem now was just how much he should tell Potter.

Before the boy could change his mind, Severus began talking. "Very well. You will come to see me for a study session on the days you aren't working with Black. As far as everyone else is concerned you will be taking detention."


"Yes, even you must realise how important it is that your gifts do not become common knowledge at the moment."

"But, detentions É that isn't fair." Harry glared at the older man and pouted.

"As far as you are concerned nothing ever seems to be fair. What would you suggest, Mr Potter? That I tell everyone I'm teaching you Remedial Potions?" The glare in Harry's eyes grew and Severus gave a sly smile at the reaction. Harry was so easy to goad. "Very well, we can say that you are receiving follow-up studies with me to help you pass your Potions N.E.W.Ts so that the Boy Who Lives can train as an Auror. Isn't that what you want?"

"Well, yes...."

"You have, after all, improved significantly since you have been working with Mr Malfoy."

Harry fidgeted slightly at the reference to Draco. It was true, his marks had improved and Snape hadn't been picking on him so much. And he did want to train as an Auror like his father. "Does Sirius know that you're teaching me?"

"I am sure that if Professor Dumbledore hasn't already told him then you will the moment you leave here. There will be potions work involved in your study with me, and I will expect you to put the same effort into these lessons as I know you do with Black." Harry managed a nod as Severus continued, his words coming out with increasing rapidity. "There are important things about being both a Dream Weaver and an Earth Mage you need to be aware of before we move onto the potions element."

"A what?"

The words stopped Severus in mid-flow and for a moment he stared at the boy, brow rising in sardonic annoyance. "An Earth Mage, Mr Potter." The words were said with exasperation. "What you are."

"I know about the Dream Weaver thing. That's reading stones, but not about the other thing...."

"Hasn't Black even given you a name for what you are?" As Harry shook his head, Severus looked skyward. "Do I really have to begin at the beginning? Of course I do. I keep forgetting you were brought up in ignorance of certain things." He watched as Harry shifted and could see that he was clenching his jaw.

"That wasn't my fault."

"No, Mr Potter, it is never your fault, is it? Shall we start with the basics?"

"I'm not stupid."

Severus eyed the young wizard for a moment, fingertips pressed together to form an arch. The truth was, Harry was far from stupid, but the boy had never been an academic student, excelling more in the practical subjects. If he had put as much effort into his studies as Granger or Draco, Harry would have been in the top of his classes. "There are several sources of magic, Mr Potter...."

"My name is Harry."

The boy's comment was spoken sotto voce, one Severus knew he was supposed to hear and which should force a caustic response from him, but he chose to ignore it. This was going to be hard enough for him without personalising it with first names. "In fact, even some Muggles are able to tap into magical sources in a rudimentary manner. Fortunately, most Muggles do not take such people seriously so they haven't investigated it further. As for the Wizarding world, most don't even wish to consider the possibility. They prefer to remain in ignorance of such thing."

"What if the Muggles did study it? Would they be able to find ways of being magical?"

"That is always a possibility. What make us different from Muggles is that the powers within us are inborn -- our powers are part of us, as natural as breathing. But while these innate powers are strong, they are also finite. When used for day-to-day magic there will be no problem. Use them for strong magic and you would be weakened, but after a while your powers would return. Use them in this manner regularly and the healing time would get longer and longer until, in the end, you will be powerless to do even the simplest of spells. Which is why we use wands. They let us tap into other forms of magic which we can use to enhance our own energies." He raised an eyebrow, noticing that Harry was fidgeting. "Yes?"

"Someone once told me --" Harry hesitated, clearly unsure about continuing. "I heard a story that wands are actually dampeners. That we're stopped from doing wandless magic because people are scared of the power it will give us."

"And who told you that rubbish?" Harry shrugged and returned to fiddling with the arm of the chair. "No one is scared of wandless magic. I do it all the time, but only in small doses." Severus raised his hand and the book on his lap slowly rose, returning to its place on the shelf behind the sofa. "But why bother using my own energies when I can use my wand to tap into magic that will not deplete me?"

"So, if someone's doing that sort of magic ... without a wand?"

"It can be very dangerous, especially in a child whose magic isn't fully formed, unless, of course, they are someone like you. Why do you think there are rules about underage magic?"

"To spoil our fun?" Harry gave a half smile.

"To protect you against your own over-exuberance. Here in the castle, the energies work to protect silly children messing about, but outside it can be very dangerous. Do you know of someone who has been foolishly playing with wandless magic?"

Harry shook his head, but Severus knew he was lying. He could see it in every line of the boy's body. Still, this wasn't the time to question him on the behaviour of his fellow students; that could wait for another day.

"The magic we tap into with our wands is natural magic -- Earth Magic."

"Elemental Magic?"

"If you wish."

"That's what Hermione called it."

Black eyes narrowing, Severus focused on Harry's face. "You have discussed this with Miss Granger?" Harry's eyes shifted away from the professor's intense stare. "I was under the impression you had been told not to discuss this with anyone besides the Headmaster and Black."

"You're talking to me about it." Harry tried not to smile, but couldn't prevent the slight curve of his mouth at the thought he might have gotten one over on Snape.

"Whom else have you discussed this with?"

"The Earth Magic?"


"Just her. I've talked to Ron about the prophecy but not about the magic."

"I suggest you keep your peace on this matter and not tell all and sundry. Hasn't Black told you the repercussions of Voldemort finding out about this?" Severus watched as Harry shook his head. Damn Black! And damn Dumbledore as well! What the hell did the two men think they were playing at? It shouldn't be his job to explain all of this. "Natural magic, or Earth Magic, call it what you will, is all around us, in us, part of us. When we use wands, we tap into that magic and use it to enhance our own powers. But, we are only skimming the surface. There are stories that thousands of years ago everyone could control natural magic ... real magic ... without wands. It's only as we've become interbred that the powers have lessened."

"You mean with Muggles?"

"I mean with pure-blood families breeding in smaller and smaller groups. Back at the time of the Founders, the list of the Noble Families was enormous, then we started getting more ... selective about which Families we would marry into. House animosity is much more than just part of this school, Mr Potter. You can't imagine how upset the Weasleys would have been if one of their brood had been sorted into Slytherin or even Ravenclaw or how the Malfoys would have reacted had their son ended up in Hufflepuff. And don't expect Ginevra Weasley to marry outside of the Gryffindor Families without it causing a feud."

"What about the Potters?" Harry asked, his expression one of rapt concentration now.

"Oh, the Potters are an old Family. They can trace their ancestry back past the Founders. Just wait until you turn eighteen, Mr Potter, the marriage proposals will start flooding in. If you're lucky, your guardian will pick a nice pretty girl from a good old Family as your bride." Severus tried hard not to smile at the look on Harry's face. He looked horrified at the sudden prospect.

"I ... I don't understand."

"Did you expect to pick and choose your partner? It doesn't work like that. Not unless you intend to throw hundreds of years of tradition out of the window. But we are digressing. I'm not your guardian, Black should explain this to you."

"What about the Snape family?"

"I threw tradition out of the window, and my personal life is not up for debate. We are discussing Earth Magic."


"Earth Magic, Mr Potter. You are an Earth Mage. You have the ability to do real wandless magic. Some may even consider you one of the few real wizards because you don't need wands or spells to make magic." He could see Harry was dismayed at what he was being told. "What's wrong, Mr Potter? I thought you'd be pleased to find that, despite my earlier aspersions to the contrary, you actually are special."

"It's just...." Harry shrugged. "Have you really known this for ages?"

Severus nodded. "Yes. The Headmaster told me just before you arrived here in your first year."

"Is that one of the reasons why you hate me?"

The question made the Potions Master start in surprise. He'd expected lots of pointless and time wasting questions, but not something as forthright as this. And this wasn't the time to discuss the boy's father and his friends, or what they had done to Severus in the past. "I don't 'hate' you, Mr Potter. I save my ... abhorrence ... for other people much more deserving. I am frustrated by your lack of motivation and self-discipline. You are a typical Gryffindor who doesn't think before acting. People have cosseted and indulged you since you started at Hogwarts, and I believe if you had been told the truth years ago you would be an exceptional Earth Mage by now instead of a mere novice."

Harry's mouth had opened at the diatribe and when the older man finally fell silent, he didn't reply for several seconds. When he spoke there was a slight smile on his face. "Well, I guess that told me. What about my dad and Sirius?"

"I have no intention of discussing either of them at the moment. As I've just said, my personal life is not up for debate. I will point out that you are most definitely your father's son. Now, can we get back on topic? I don't have all night." Severus watched as Harry gave a brief nod, and realised that the boy seemed to have finally relaxed a little. "Your tea is getting cold."

Harry picked up the cup and saucer. "I just wondered...."

"Potions, Mr Potter, is the subject we are discussing." Severus waited for Harry to nod in agreement and sip at his tea. "There are two ways they can help you. Firstly, they can help in the short term while you are learning to control your powers. They will make it easier for you to connect with the energies until your natural abilities are suitably trained. You can also use them to enhance, strengthen and even alter different aspects of your Earth Magic. This will take time because for most enhanced skills, you need to be adept at controlling the energies in the first place."

"Are you saying I have to drug myself to do this?"

"These potions are not like Muggle drugs. They will not harm you in anyway. In fact, they might even do you some good -- one of them is normally used as a tonic. In fact, that one, if used properly, can significantly increase your ability to protect yourself. Given that you regularly find yourself in danger, I would think that would be of some interest to you." Severus paused, he knew Harry had never worried about his own safety, but that of his friends was another matter.

And it was that which Severus was currently counting on. The fact that Harry might just be persuaded to offer his protection to Draco.

"I've not had any problems in the past."

The boy's comment was unexpected and Severus raised an eyebrow. "None at all? No Dementors or run-ins with the Dark Lord in the Forbidden Forest? No problems down in the Chamber of Secrets or being Portkeyed away to Little Hangleton?"

"How would taking potions have helped me there? I didn't have time to take anything before what happened at Little Hangleton, and how would a potion have helped with the Dementors? Oh, and maybe I should just have asked Riddle to drink something to get rid of him."

The smirk on Harry's face reminded Severus of the one Draco so often wore and, not for the first time, he wondered about the rumours of the Sorting Hat wanting to put Harry into Slytherin. At least if that had happened, he could have trained the boy from the beginning and wouldn't now have to put up with the Gryffindor's need to keep asking pointless questions without bothering to listen in the first place. "There is no need for sarcasm, Mr Potter." Severus could feel his impatience growing. It would be so easy just to tell Harry to leave. "The potions can't give you the power. If that were the case, then every witch and wizard in the world would have access to Earth Magic."

"Then what are they supposed to do?"

"They are a learning aid to help you sense the Magic more clearly. They will help you understand the feeling of controlling it, and help you use it without injuring yourself. Which you can do if you try to use too much energy without understanding it. Once you have learned how it feels to control the magic, you can dispense with the potions except on very specific occasions."

"How do you know all of this?"

"I know all this, Mr Potter, because I am a Potions Master. It is actually an achievement of quite some difficulty to make these potions, and much as I know you'd like to believe I've little to no intelligence, I'm actually rather bright."

The smirk had left Harry's face as he returned his now empty cup to the table. "Can you do it? Things with Earth Magic?"

Severus shook his head. "No, Mr Potter, I can't. I am subject to it as everyone is, but I can't perform it myself."

"Then how do you know these potions work like that?"

For a moment Severus hesitated, wondering just how much information he should give the boy. The truth was it had always been a constant annoyance to him that Dumbledore had kept so much from Harry and now the Headmaster seemed content to let Snape fill in all the blanks. Maybe Albus knew that the boy would end up hating him if the truth came out, and as Harry already hated his Potions teacher then it wouldn't matter if he hated him just a little bit more.

Or maybe Albus had ulterior motives and knew full well what Severus would ask Harry to do if given the opportunity. But, for the moment, Severus knew he wasn't really concerned for himself; it was Draco that mattered. Severus owed Eleanor Malfoy that much. She had effectively saved his life; so the least he could do was try to keep her grandson away from Voldemort's clutches. If he was going to ask for Harry's help, then the boy needed ... no, deserved ... to know the truth. "I have also brewed them for someone to use. And trust me, Potter, they do work."

"Who?" Green eyes fixed on the older man's face. They glistened slightly in the firelight and for a moment they were dusted with concern.

Severus remembered seeing Lily with that same look once before. The eyes had been equally as green and the look tinged with worry. "If you can't guess, then you're not as bright as I'd given you credit for being."


The look on the boy's face was mirrored deep in Severus' soul. It still made his heart clench to hear that name and it set up an itching sensation on his left arm, as if the Dark Lord had heard his name being called. He struggled not to scratch at it. "I told you that I can't perform Earth Magic, but I am subject to it. Whom else would I have ever brewed them for?"

"Are you telling me he can do this ... this magic?" Harry's voice was almost inaudible as one of his hands pushed into his hair while the other clutched reflexively into his jumper. "And you made potions for him?"

Severus paused, taken aback by the distress that seemed to be flowing off Harry in waves. He'd expected Harry to be upset about lots of things, but not the fact Voldemort was also an Earth Mage. After all, didn't the two of them share other gifts? He frowned thoughtfully. Was that it? The fact it was yet another thing Harry had in common with the most notorious wizard of the last one hundred years

"Yes, the Dark Lord is an Earth Mage, but he hasn't any kind of advantage over you. In fact, I believe your powers will be stronger than his, given the appropriate training." He didn't know what he expected Harry to do next, but it wasn't for him to get to his feet and look like he was going to run from the room.

"I think I should go. I have homework to do."

"Do you want him to win, Potter? Running away from knowledge is a cowardly thing. Hardly Gryffindor behaviour."

"I'm not a coward and don't you dare throw that Gryffindor bravery crap at me!"

"Watch your language, boy!" Severus worked at not rising to his feet. "And stop acting as though your world has ended. You have a marvellous skill -- an incredibly powerful tool at your disposal to protect yourself and others, and you're acting like a first year."

"You can talk! What about your marvellous skills? You made potions for him!" Vitriol ran from Harry's words. "And I don't want to inherit something else from him! I've had enough."

"You've had enough?" This time Severus did come to his feet, towering over the boy. "Does it matter where the abilities came from? You could have inherited this from your parents."

"Don't you dare bring them into this. You have no right to talk about them."

"Potter, sit down."


"Sit down now!" As if taking the words as a direct command, Harry dropped back onto his seat and his green eyes fixed somewhere about the professor's knees. "I said nothing about your parents. I merely pointed out that there is every possibility that your Earth Magic is the very natural result of your own genetic make up rather than some tainted gift of the Dark Lord."

Harry didn't respond, instead breathing fast and hard as he stared fixedly forward. Severus wondered for a moment whether he should find something to calm the boy, but doubted there was anything suitable in his room. There was brandy and an extremely good single-malt Firewhisky, but the last thing he wanted right now was a drunken student on his hands. There was, of course, tea, and he quickly refilled Harry's cup and added a generous amount of sugar. "As for me once making potions, if you plan on questioning my loyalty, then I suggest you leave right now. Otherwise, drink this, Harry."

The deliberate use of Harry's first name had the desired effect. His face snapped up to look at his teacher and it was clear the sudden surge of adrenalin, which had fuelled his outburst, had finally dissipated. "Thank you," he mumbled as he took the cup.

Sitting back down, Severus watched the boy stare at the cup, holding it as if he could suck the warmth into his body. Which he probably could, Severus thought. With a low but firm voice, he finally continued. "Potter, the Earth Magic you can access is amazingly strong. You have the ability to thwart the Dark Lord. You have the ability to protect yourself and others."

Carefully, Harry put the untouched cup down and clasped his trembling hands between his legs. "I can't even protect myself, let alone someone else. Look at Cedric. He died. And Ron ... he could have been killed."

"You can. I'm not in the habit of being wrong about the effects of potions, and the Headmaster assures me that you have the ability to be a Mage of extraordinary power if you put your mind to it."

Harry finally looked up, his expression that of a person who had seen their entire world falling in on them. Severus couldn't help but wonder at what else had happened to Harry recently. For the boy to react like this meant there had to be something more. "So, do I need to have powerful Earth Magic to make use of your potions or do the potions make it more powerful?" The voice was quiet, introverted, as if the question wasn't really important.

"The potions work only for those few who can use Earth Magic, Mr Potter."

"Such as Voldemort?"

Severus flinched inwardly. "Such as the Dark Lord."

"What does he do to you?"

"To me personally or to his followers in general?"

"Both, I guess."

"Simply put: he controls and communicates with his Death Eaters through his Mark." Severus was aware once again of the itch on his left arm and fought against the urge to scratch at the Mark there. "The Dark Lord uses his access to Earth Magic to create his Mark. Once a follower has been linked to him through it, he is able to keep track of his followers and call them to him. How do you think he managed to get them to come to the Little Hangleton cemetery? By sending them owls with invitations?"

Harry gave a harrumph of annoyance at the sarcastic remark. "He used the Mark. I remember you telling Mr Fudge that after I got back from Little Hangleton."

Severus nodded, knowing he needed to explain enough to get the boy to understand but not so much that it might frighten him away. "It is also used to punish and reward. He often feels free to pass along any ... displeasure he might feel at anything his followers do that offends him."

"That serves them right, doesn't it? If you play with the devil, then you deserve to get burned." Harry's chin came up and the sanctimonious Gryffindor look that was a mirror of the boy's father stared back at the professor. It was so typical that Severus almost laughed aloud.

"How very judgmental of you." He tried to keep the sneer out of his voice, but it was very hard. They were both reverting to type -- Slytherin against Gryffindor. "Yet earlier you professed a wish to not see anyone suffer at Voldemort's hands. Now that I'm telling you that you hold the power to alleviate that suffering, you declare it deserved."

"It's true. Look at what Wormtail did and Lucius Malfoy and the Lestranges."

"I am not suggesting you run out and try to make everyone better. And I would also remind you that regardless of what Pettigrew has done, I understand you showed him mercy in that miserable Shrieking Shack even though you knew he had betrayed your parents."

Harry came to his feet, the boy's sudden movement taking Severus by surprise. "I want to see your Mark." His voice had taken on an almost cold, dispassionate tone, but Severus could feel the fear radiating from him.

"As you wish, Mr Potter." Face passive, Severus didn't hesitate as he unbuttoned his sleeve, turned it back and extended his arm towards Harry. He didn't need to look at it to know just what Harry would see -- the skull with the snake coming out of its mouth, the lines dark and clear against red, angry skin, still blistered from Voldemort's earlier attack. It looked, and was, painful, almost like it had been recently burned into his skin.

He watched as the boy's expression changed from composed to concerned as he moved from foot to foot. The green eyes belied any need for speech. It was clear Harry had expected his Potions teacher to refuse and, now that he could finally see it, the boy seemed more than a little shocked.


"Yes. Oh. It really is there." Severus watched as Harry finally crossed the space separating them, green eyes darting between the Mark and the older man's face. When the boy's hand curled around his arm, it was all he could do not to pull away.

"Does it ... hurt?"

"Everything he does to me hurts. The Mark is only the most easily visible manifestation of it." Harry peered closer at the Mark, turning the professor's arm towards the fire to see it better. "Not what you expected?"

"No." The word was said with quiet awe, and Severus knew the boy was picking up the power coming from it, his own Earth Magic sensing that of the Dark Lord. Harry's free hand moved towards it, stopping just short; he looked up, meeting the teacher's passive gaze. "Can I ... can I touch it?"

Mirroring the boy's quiet tone, Severus answered, his own eyes holding the green. "He'll feel you if you do, Mr Potter." With a gasp, Harry let go of the arm and stepped back, his legs connecting with the footstool. Without thinking, he sat down hard. "It shouldn't come as such a surprise to you." Severus admonished. "If I can be subject to the Earth Magic the Dark Lord uses, then I will be subject to it from you as well. He will feel your energy through the channel by which he affects me."

"Does he know I'm here?"

"No, he can't tell you're in the room. You would need direct contact with the Mark for him to sense you."

Severus didn't know when his demeanour had changed from being that of the hard, caustic teacher to the quiet, softer one it now was. Maybe it was due to the change in Harry's tone ... the almost awe-struck way he was acting. But, for the first time since the boy had come in to the room, possibly since he had started at Hogwarts, Severus felt a connection with Harry. As he watched Harry, his mind was once again transported back to the last time that he had seen James before that fateful day he'd gone to warn him that Voldemort's spies had found him and knew about the Fidelius charm.

James had seen the new Dark Mark on his arm in Potions and had tried to get him to go to Dumbledore, but Severus had sneered at him and left the room. The fact that the Gryffindor had chosen to follow him out into the corridor and deep into the Slytherin dungeons was still a surprise to Severus. The person who had ridiculed and tormented him for years had stood before him, pleading for Severus not to be a fool. That it wasn't too late to walk away from Voldemort. That James would help him if Severus wanted.

And James had sat at his feet, much the same as his son currently was, and held his arm, staring in awe at the Mark.

"It's magnificent and dreadful," James said. "But why, Severus? Why?"

"Because they appreciate me and understand me. They want me, Potter, unlike you and your miserable little gang."

James snorted. "Of course they want you. They want anyone ... even misguided fools. But you don't believe in what they're preaching do you? All this pure-blood crap? That isn't you ... you're more intelligent than that."

"What do you care? Piss off back to your little Gryffindor groupies."


"Don't call me that! You lost the right to call me that when you decided Black was a better friend."

"No! You started dabbling and that's why. Plus you decided Malfoy was a better friend and he's responsible for your getting this."

A long finger touched the Mark and Severus drew back with a hiss. "He knows who you are, Potter, and if you don't come to him, he's going to get you. I'm warning you, Potter, watch your back...."

James had gone to Dumbledore, and Severus had been lectured long and hard over what was right and wrong. It hadn't made any difference. Severus had walked out of school the moment his last exam was over, joined up with the Dark Lord and found out just what it meant to be a Death Eater.

"I thought it would be like a tattoo, but this ... it's alive."

The boy's words were enough to bring Severus out of his reverie and he looked up to see James with Lily's eyes watching him. "If it's not been recently ... in use, it looks rather like that, yes."

"Recently? You mean he's used it recently?"

"Does it matter? Did you want to see me writhing on the floor in agony? Did you want to listen as I screamed in pain?"

"No! ... I ... No ... I'm sorry. I just...."

"Don't I deserve it? Isn't that what you said earlier?"

"I'm trying to understand. How can I understand if I don't know what he's doing?" Harry's fingers began moving back towards the Mark as though they were drawn to it.

"Potter, don't touch it." Severus pulled his arm away, and Harry drew back as though burned.

"I'm sorry. You ... you'd better hide it again." The boy's hands quickly moved between his knees as if that would control the impulse to reach for the Mark.

Quickly, Severus pulled his sleeve back down, glad to cover the bloody thing up again. If Voldemort left him alone, hopefully, the thing would fade to almost nothing within a few days, but at the moment he was only too aware of how visible it was. "It wouldn't hurt if you touched it. It's just that I don't want to take the chance that the Dark Lord will sense your link to Earth Magic. One of the greatest strengths you will have -- that you do have -- is your access to this magic. Another is the fact that the Dark Lord doesn't know you are an Earth Mage. That is why you mustn't tell people about your gifts. Not even those you trust."

"He doesn't know?"

"No. Believe me, if he knew, then I would be aware of it. Which is what makes me believe that your access to Earth Magic is hereditary."

"But, if Voldemort can do this, then I don't understand what you expect me to do about it. He's had years to learn how to use it while I only found out about it a few weeks ago."

"Which is where the potions will help. Using them will enhance your skills and help you understand what your connection with the magic is." Severus flexed his fingers together before carefully continuing. "You would then be able to use your gift in many ways. I mentioned your ability to protect people. You could, for example, block his ability to channel things to me. As long as he doesn't know you are an Earth Mage, he won't be able to take steps to ensure that you couldn't help me ... that you couldn't help others. That is part of the reason it's important that he, or any of his followers, don't know that you can access it. At least until you become a skilled Mage."

Harry gave a snort. "I'm a kid and he's one of the most powerful wizards there is. As much as people think I've got something special, I haven't. And even if I could do it, wouldn't he know the minute I did something to you?"

"This is no time for your false modesty." Severus tried to keep his irritation out of his tone. "I may not be impressed enough by your status as the Boy Who Lived to let you break rules left, right and centre; but I've no doubt at all that you are significantly more powerful than Voldemort." He watched as Harry opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again, silent for once. "You are just young and untrained, and you lack the self-discipline to apply yourself fully. You just coast by on the minimum of effort and practice, relying on raw talent. It is one of the things that annoys me most about you, Potter, that you squander your gifts."

Green eyes glinted with annoyance and Harry's chin came up as he fixed the man with a stare. He stood up and pulled out his wand, pointing it at the older man's arm. "I don't squander things. Tell me the spell and I'll do it. Then we can both get on with things."

"Put your wand away, Mr Potter; if only it were that simple." Severus waved an impatient hand. "But do I take it that you are willing to offer your assistance?"

"I don't know what you want me to do, so how can I say that I will?" For a moment Harry stared moodily at the wand. "I don't need a wand anyway." He made the wand disappear. "But then I guess you already know that."

"Impressive," Severus knew his tone was mildly condescending, but he was beginning to feel that if he let Harry wallow any more then the boy would drop into feeling sorry for himself, which was the last thing Severus needed right now. "But let me be the first to tell you that making your wand disappear, or whatever else you've learned to date, is child's play compared with what you are capable of doing." His eyes narrowed and he pinned Harry with a shrewd stare. "As for helping me, there are a few things you could do of varying degrees of difficulty and effectiveness."

The level look was returned. "Are you asking for my help?"

Severus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It looked like he was going to have to eat humble pie if he was going to get any further with the boy. "I thought I was fairly clear about that. Yes, Mr Potter, now is your moment of glory. I, the one who has been the bane of your existence for six and a half years, am now asking for your help."


The Past ... Breakfast ... The Great Hall, Hogwarts ... Friday 20th December 1996

"So, everyone's going to be there for Christmas? All your brothers?" Harry reached for a third piece of toast and quickly spread it with butter.

Ron gestured at his mouth, quickly swallowing the spoonful of cereal before answering. "You do it deliberately, don't you ... wait until I've got my mouth full before asking me something." Harry smirked at him as he took a bite from his own toast. "Like I said -- everyone. Bill's coming back from Egypt to work in London for a while. Charlie's on holiday and even Percy has promised to take a day off. Mum's over the moon -- it's the first time we've all had Christmas together for ages."

Harry tried to return Ron's enthusiasm at the idea of a family Christmas, but his smile was only superficial. Deep down he couldn't help but feel more than a little jealous at the idea that his best friend would be surrounded by his family while Harry was remaining at Hogwarts with the teachers and about a dozen other students. It was going to be a quiet and lonely couple of weeks.

At least, he decided, it would be better than those he'd spent with the Dursleys. Hogwarts Christmases were full of wonderful food and decorations, and maybe Sirius might even drop in at some point.

Plus, of course, two weeks without Malfoy's condescending stares and supposedly witty retorts.

He glanced across the hall and found the Slytherin watching him. Harry glared back, rewarded by Malfoy tossing his head back, as his mouth curled in a sneer, which was mirrored in the boy's grey eyes.

Bloody Malfoy! Harry kept up the staring contest, a game they'd played more times than Harry cared to remember. Only it wasn't a game. It had become something more than that over the years they'd been at school -- who would look away first -- and more often than not, it would happen over the breakfast table. Harry would be happily having breakfast, chatting to his friends, and he'd look up to find Malfoy watching him. Sometimes he even thought the blond was actually able to hear what the Gryffindors had been talking about. Of course, Harry knew that was impossible, there was another table full of noisy students between them, but Malfoy would sometimes make references to things that made it seem like he'd been listening in.

Maybe, Harry considered, there was some bugging device on the table or Malfoy had a spell that let him hear things over great distances. He just knew that he hated the fact Malfoy didn't have anything better to do with his time than watch Harry Potter.

"So, what do you think?"

"What?" Harry spun in the direction of the voice and realised Ron had been speaking to him for a little while. "Sorry, I was...."

"Yeah, miles away. Like you always are at breakfast." Ron grinned as he reached for the teapot.

Harry returned the smile and pushed his cup towards Ron. "So, what do I think?" He glanced briefly back towards the Slytherin table and watched as Malfoy licked his finger and stroked the air in front of him in a gesture Harry had seen many times in the past ... chalking up another success at out-staring Harry Potter.

And Harry's reaction was much the same as every other time Malfoy gestured at him. He felt himself flush and a wave of heat wash over him from head to toe, a sensation he'd long put down to anger at being beaten yet again.

"Are you okay, Harry?" Hermione was watching him over the top of her copy of the Daily Prophet. "You look all hot and bothered."

"What? No, I'm fine. It's just hot in here." Harry quickly picked up his teacup.

"I said why don't you come spend Christmas with us? I'm sure mum wouldn't mind. In fact, I know she'd want you to be there with us ... you know she thinks you're an adopted Weasley."

"Really?" Harry's eyes lit up. "You think she'd be okay with it?"

"Sure. I don't know why we didn't plan this before. Too caught up in studying I guess, mate."

Hermione gave a snort of derision. "Too caught up with Quidditch more like."

Ron slapped Harry's shoulder as he poked his tongue out at Hermione. "If you're worried, Harry, I'll owl mum and check. Then she can let Dumbledore know and you can come back on the train with us."

"And you could come to us for New Year." Hermione folded the newspaper and reached for her cup. "I could do with some company, especially as my parents are having a big party, at which I'm sure I'll be the only person under twenty-five."

Malfoy's smug expression forgotten, Harry was suddenly buoyed up at the idea of Christmas and New Year with the two people he cared about most in the world. "That would be great."

"Why don't you come to us for New Year as well, Hermione? You could share with Ginny." Ron suddenly stood up and shouted down the table to his sister. "Gin!"

The girl looked up and Ron waved for her to join them. She quickly slid from her chair, made a comment to those around her that made them laugh and came to her brother's side. "Yes, Ronniekins?" She ruffled his hair with her hand.

"Don't!" Ron pulled away and quickly tried to tidy the mess his sister had made of his hair. "Gin, do you want Hermione to come for New Year?"

Ginny let out a squeal and quickly hugged her brother. "That would be brilliant. Hermione, say you will. I don't think I can stand being the only female besides mum in with that crowd of boys."

The elder girl smiled. "I'll have to check with mum and dad, but I think it would be great."

"And, you can both come to the Chudley Cannons match on New Year's Day." The two girls groaned, but Harry was already grinning at the prospect of seeing a professional match even if it was only the Cannons. "We're playing Caerphilly Catapults, and we've got a box so it should be great -- plenty of room for everyone."

"A box?" Hermione frowned.

Ron grinned impishly and straightened as if very pleased with himself. "That's what comes of knowing the team owner."

"Oh, yes, which reminds me." Hermione grabbed for her newspaper again and began flicking through the pages. "There's something in the Prophet I wanted to show you."

Ron craned his neck. "I've got the sports pages here." He waggled the part of the newspaper he'd already filched from her.

"No, it's in the gossip bit." She pursed her lips, clearly annoyed that she couldn't find what she was looking for. "Ah, here it is." She deliberately cleared her throat and in her best 'reporter' voice began to read. "Gossip Columnist Celandine Goutweed finally managed to get a few words with the reclusive owner of The Chudley Cannons, David Morrello, yesterday after rumours that he is to succeed Ludo Bagman as Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports in the New Year. There is even a rumour going around the political department of the Prophet that Cornelius Fudge is going to appoint him as a Special Advisor. Handsome David remained tight-lipped and refused to confirm or deny either appointment, but did ask this reporter to join him for dinner. Now that is one person who would get my vote for Minister of Magic."


The Present ... Thursday 19th March 1998 ... Lunchtime ... The Great Hall

Hermione Granger stared briefly at her fingernails, glaring in annoyance at the dirt under one of them, which she'd been unable to clean away after the morning's Herbology lesson. She ran her thumbnail under the offending nail yet again, but without any luck. "I've tried everything on this, even that new scouring charm Professor Flitwick taught us, but I can't get rid of it." She wiggled the finger towards Harry who took no notice at all. "Harry...." He didn't respond, instead staring into his bowl of soup as though the bits of vegetables held the answer to all his problems. "Earth to Harry...."

"Hmmm?" He finally looked up, letting a spoonful of the liquid dribble back into the bowl.

"Have you listened to anything I've said in the last ten minutes?"

"Sorry," he said in apology. "I've just got things on my mind."

She moved her chair a few inches closer and leaned in towards him, her manner conspiratorial. Not that she needed to get that close; the Great Hall was surprisingly empty considering it was lunchtime, and she and Harry were the only people currently at their end of the Gryffindor table. There wasn't even anyone near them at either the Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff tables. "You're not still going over what you told me last night?" Her voice was a whisper.

"What do you expect?" Harry put down the spoon and began ripping a bread roll to pieces. "How would you like it if Snape asked you to do something like that?"

Hermione pursed her lips thoughtfully as she cast a furtive glance towards the high table where the Potions Master was having his own lunch. She had finally managed to catch up with Harry the previous night, demanding to know what had been going on with Snape. Harry had somehow not only managed to get himself a detention on the Monday evening, but also on Tuesday and Wednesday as well. He'd been preoccupied since the first one and she had put that down to what had happened with Malfoy rather than anything concerning the professor. Then, the previous night, Ginny had complained that Harry had completely ignored her when he'd returned from his third detention in a row. Hermione had decided enough was enough.

She'd found him shut away in his room, sealed off behind the curtains on his bed. That, in itself, was an instant worry, Harry only did that when he was either ill or something very bad was bothering him. At first he'd refused to speak, but finally it had all come out.

Harry wasn't doing detention with Snape, but was having instruction from the professor on Earth Magic.

Hermione had to admit to being rather excited by the whole thing. Her Harry was an Earth Mage ... she'd always known he was special, and now he would be able to use his own magic to protect people from the Dark Lord.

"So why the long face?" she asked him.

"Because this is the same magic Voldemort uses to Mark his Death Eaters ... he uses it to control them."

"But just because he's done that, it doesn't mean the magic is bad, does it? It's the way you use the magic that's important."

"I know that, Hermione, but that's what Snape wants me to do for him. He wants me to use my magic to Mark him so Voldemort wouldn't be able to hurt him anymore."

She remembered sitting on the end of Harry's bed, the thick red curtains pulled tightly shut, just staring at him. The only light had been from the little sphere she'd given him for his birthday the previous year, the glow from it leaving dark shadows under Harry's eyes. As she watched him now, she wondered not for the first time just what stress and strain he was currently under. The dark smudges were still visible even in the brightness of the hall, as though someone had run a thumb covered in soot under each eye.

After surrounding the bed with some suitable silencing charms, they had talked for ages about what Snape had wanted ... for Harry to counterbalance the Mark that Voldemort had placed on Snape by adding one of his own.

Harry had promised to think it over, but he had been horrified by the prospect and had gone back to see Snape to tell him he couldn't do it. But he never had the chance; he arrived to find the professor writhing on the floor in agony from whatever punishment the Dark Lord had decided to heap upon the man this time. Harry had stayed with Snape until the initial pain had passed, trying to make him comfortable and feeling completely helpless because the look in Snape's eyes almost pleaded, You can stop this.

"I was helpless, Hermione, I didn't know what to do. Eventually, it must have gotten easier because he finally stopped shaking, but he was as white as a sheet. Tell me, how can I refuse to help him when it's like that?"

How, indeed, could Harry refuse, Hermione thought, her eyes shifting from Harry to the high table. He was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place yet again. If he did what Snape asked, then she knew Harry would feel as though he was as bad as Voldemort ... he would have to place his own Mark on the Potions Master, and he would have a similar hold over the man. If he refused, then Harry knew what he was subjecting Snape to. He'd seen what Voldemort could do to a person even when they were within the relative safety of Hogwarts.

No wonder Snape remained within the grounds for the most part. She wondered for a moment whether Snape might have planned the little display of Voldemort's powers; he would know that Harry was unlikely to refuse if he saw how much pain Snape was being put through.

"Have you decided what you're going to do?"


"Did you talk to Dumbledore like I suggested?"

Harry nodded. "That's why I was late for Herbology. I never thought it was possible for someone to talk for so long and then end up saying nothing. In the end he said that yes, I did have the ability to do it, but that it was up to me and whether or not I was willing to take on the commitment. I don't want to be committed to Snape for the rest of my life."

"Well, does it really mean you would be? Isn't it that you just put the Mark on him and it overrides what You-Know-Who's done in the past?"

"Sort of like that I guess, but...." Harry picked up another roll and began destroying that one as well. "I'm scared I could end up doing the same thing Voldemort does to him ... I could send all that pain to him as well."

"Of course you couldn't." Her voice mirrored the shocked look on her face. "You aren't like that. You couldn't ever be like that."

He looked at her, a strange darkness in his eyes. "Couldn't I? How can you be so sure, Hermione? I'm seventeen years old. I don't want to be responsible for someone else. What if I do this and he upsets me for some reason? Who's to say I wouldn't be so pissed off that I'd hurt him? How do I know that this isn't the beginning of a long slippery slope? Maybe Riddle was a good guy until he used his magic to Mark someone for the first time. Maybe having that sort of control over people is what turned him evil. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

"Stop being so stupid, Harry. And stop quoting Star Trek psychobabble at me. You know that isn't the way to deal with this. You can fool Ron and Neville with that sort of thing, but not me, I grew up with it too." She huffed at him in mild annoyance. "Doesn't it say something to you that Snape, of all people, actually trusts and believes in you enough to let you do this? You know you wouldn't hurt him. You'd be angry maybe, but Harry, you aren't the sort of person who'd do something out of spite."

Harry snorted. "Don't put it past me. Remember, I nearly ended up in Slytherin."

"Oh, for goodness sake, stop going on about that. The fact is that you didn't and that you're in Gryffindor for a reason." She reached out and squeezed his hand. "Harry, forget for a minute that this is Snape asking you. What about if it was me, or Ron, or Ginny?"

"That's different. You're my friends."

"But this isn't about friendship is it? This is about something else entirely. It's about dealing with You-Know-Who and helping those he's hurting. Snape's not going to be the only one to ask for your help, Harry, there will be others."

The green eyes widened as realisation slowly sank in and when Harry finally responded the single "No!" was hissed in an angry whisper.


"No! I'm not going to be the other side's version of Voldemort. I'm not going to end up Marking my followers and then have them doing what I want because they're scared of what I might be able to do to them if they refuse."

"But the prophecy said...."

"I don't give a flying fuck about the prophecy!"


"Everyone wants a piece of me, Hermione." He began counting them off on his fingers. "First there's Dumbledore who decided it would be a good idea to not tell me what's going on. What did he think I was going to do? Run away? Then there's Snape who wants me to stop Voldemort getting at him. Do you know what he said to me? He said that if I'd bothered to learn about being a Mage years ago then things would be easier now. Does he really think I wouldn't have preferred that? And there's Sirius who's in a crappy mood because Snape's teaching me as well. He wants me to find more time to work with him when I hardly have any time for myself. Let's not forget Voldemort in all of this, I bet the reason he wanted to kill me in the first place is because he was worried I'd have some sort of connection to magic he didn't have." He glared at her for a moment. "And what about you, Hermione? What do you want?"

"Nothing! Harry, I don't want anything from you. I'm just trying to help."

"Well, you're not. If you want to help, then just give me some bloody space." Harry took a shuddering deep breath and began rubbing at the scar on his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Look, I'm sorry."

For a moment all Hermione could do was stare down at her plate. She was aware of a couple of people looking towards them and hoped that they hadn't heard anything they shouldn't have. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push you."

"No, no, it's me." He leaned slightly towards her, shoulder resting against shoulder. "And it's him you know. He hasn't even come down to lunch."

It took Hermione a moment to understand what Harry was talking about, but she followed his gaze towards the Slytherin table. "You mean Malfoy?"

He nodded. "I still don't know what happened on Monday and he's gone out of his way to ignore me ever since. I even tried to get into Slytherin, but they've changed the password. I waited for ages for someone to come by last night."

"Oh, Harry." She began to rub gently at his back. "Do you want ... maybe I could talk to him."

"No, I've got to sort it out. I need some fresh air." Harry pushed his chair back, noticing for the first time all the crumbs in his lap. "What a mess."

Hermione sighed, wondering whether he was referring to the crumbs or his life in general. "Do you want some company?"

"Not unless you plan on missing Transfiguration. If anyone asks tell them -- well, don't tell them anything. Just say you don't know where I am. I will talk to McGonagall later."

"Harry, you can't miss a whole afternoon! Where are you going, anyway?"

"If I don't tell you, then you won't have to lie. I'll be back later on. I need to think."


It was the little trail of smoke curving up into the clear March sky that caught Harry's attention. He pulled his broom to a halt, hovering amongst some trees close to Hagrid's cottage, and watched the building for several minutes before rising back into the sky once more. The fact there was a fire at the cottage wouldn't have overly concerned him in the past -- Dobby had taken it upon himself to keep the building neat and tidy, so the house-elf might have left a magical fire burning in the grate if the cottage had become chilly or damp -- but Snape's protestations about keeping himself safe had somehow sunk in, and Harry surveyed the cottage with new sense of caution.

He knew it couldn't be Hagrid; he'd seen the half-giant teaching a group of second-years as he'd flown over the school grounds. It could be Sirius, of course. His godfather had helped with the charms around the cottage and would be able to get through them. The thought that it might be Sirius actually cheered him up a little. This could be the chance Harry had been waiting for to have a real heart-to-heart with the man.

Of course, it would also mean having to tell Sirius why his godson wasn't currently in his Transfiguration class.

Harry leaned forward slightly over the shaft of his broom, gloved hands gripping the wood lightly. There was a way to check whether the cottage was safe, of course. Sirius had been teaching him to sense how Earth Magic flowed around him and to pick up when other energies interfered with the flow. If someone ... or something ... was in the cottage he should be able to track the interference. Sometimes he could even pinpoint to whom the other energies belonged to, but that was harder and he could only do it if he'd had contact with that person's energy in the past.

"Here goes nothing."

Taking a calming breath, Harry tried to remember his lessons with Sirius. If he could just concentrate on the flow of energy around him and the cottage, he should be able to sense if there was anything wrong ... any magic that didn't 'feel' right. But his mind kept drifting and he had to start over several times before finally getting a connection with his surroundings. It was like, he decided, being part of the root system in the ground beneath him or as if he were a spider whose web stretched out in all directions. Wherever the web touched, he could sense the Earth Magic flowing and, through that, the positive and negative in his surroundings.

The first time he'd succeeded in making the link, it had only worked over a few inches away from him, but now he could achieve quite a distance. Maybe if he used one of Snape's potions....

As his concentration shifted, the link dissolved and Harry found himself back on his broom, hovering a few feet above the ground. Damn it! Harry swore quietly, chiding himself for losing the link. It wasn't as easy as it should be, but he'd held it for long enough to know there was nothing evil in the building, just the same cosy warmth there seemed to be every time he'd been there over the last few months.

Setting down outside the cottage, Harry climbed from his broom and reached for his wand, which he tapped against the front door. He could hear the locks inside click open and, tucking the wand away, he carefully placed his hand flat on the surface of the door. As he did so, he could feel the wards around the building surround him, their protection pulling him into the building as he opened the door.

He quickly leaned the broom against the wall and sealed the wards as Sirius had taught him. The building almost seemed to heave a sigh of relief at once again being safe beneath the intricate spells and, for a moment, Harry just stood there, basking in the warmth and feeling of 'home' that the cottage always filled him with.

Here he could be himself. He didn't have to hide behind the facade he was using more and more at school these days. People seemed to expect him to be the Boy Who Lived no matter what. Even Hermione, who he thought understood him, still expected him to always do 'the right thing'.

As for Snape....

Harry let out a long sigh. He was convinced Snape didn't know just what he was asking Harry to do. It was one thing to make potions, but another to expect Harry to cast a spell and put a magical Mark onto Snape that would be there for the rest of the man's life.

He closed his eyes, shuddering as the image of the Dark Mark filtered into his mind. Not a Mark that was flat and lifeless as if drawn on a piece of parchment, but alive almost to the point that he could see the snake's forked tongue flicker out. A word came unbidden to Harry's lips, and he knew it was spoken in Parseltongue.

Voldemort's gift ... talking to snakes. Harry rubbed at his forehead, a twinge of pain flickering through his scar, and he wondered if Voldemort was aware of the pain ... maybe even responsible. It had been worse since the previous summer ... since he'd used Avada Kedavra on the Death Eater, but even more so just recently ... like someone was trying to strip him of what was really 'Harry' and replace it with something else. Snape seemed so sure that Voldemort didn't know about the Earth Magic that Harry possessed, but what if he did? What if that was what Harry could feel being leached away from him?

Then there were the dreams that lay tantalizingly just out of reach. Dreams full of Draco and Dark Marks and blue eyes and words written in blood....

Harry shivered and, pulling his cloak tighter about him, he strode over to the lit fire, giving silent thanks to whoever had started it. As the warmth seeped into him, he finally stripped off his gloves and cloak, tossing them onto a chair. Then, pulling at his tie, Harry kicked off his shoes and turned around, realising for the first time that he wasn't alone.

Lying on the sofa, apparently asleep, was Draco Malfoy.

For a moment Harry couldn't move; then slowly, one step at a time, he moved across the room.



After all his efforts at trying to track the boy down, Draco was sleeping in Hagrid's cottage as if he had every right to be there. Harry wondered briefly how the Slytherin had managed to get through the wards, but he pushed that aside for the moment as relief and pleasure vied with annoyance at finally having found him.

Relief at finally finding him. Pleasure at the sight of him. Annoyance because of what he'd put Harry through over the last few days.

He slowly dropped to the floor, sitting crossed legged, and just watched the sleeping boy, wanting ... needing ... to drink in his fill of the sight. Draco must have been at the cottage for a little while. There was a half-drunk mug of now cold coffee near the sofa and shoes left tidily near the other end. Draco was stretched out on his side along the length of the sofa, his head pillowed on a cushion. He was in his school uniform, the tie loosened and top two buttons of his shirt undone. The open neck of his shirt had been pulled to one side as he'd turned at some point, exposing the edge of his collarbone to the firelight, and it took all of Harry's control not to reach out and touch it.

The urge to waken the sleeping boy was strong, but the peaceful face begged to be left in the safety of sleep, and Harry realised he was content for the moment to just watch the gentle rise and fall of Draco's chest and that slightly flushed face. He did reach forward and hook a lock of hair that had fallen over Draco's face back behind his ear and let his eyes roam from his lover's feet up those long legs, pausing briefly at his hips, before continuing to the tips of Draco's fingers which were tucked beneath his cheek.

His lover.

Harry's eyebrows rose slightly at that thought. He'd not really thought of Draco as that before and still wasn't sure if their relationship counted as such, especially as the person currently sleeping on his sofa had walked out on him a few days before.

And yet, despite telling Harry he didn't want him anymore, Draco had chosen to come here, of all places. Harry still didn't know how Draco had managed to get into the cottage, but that only piqued his curiosity further. The wards were powerful and for Draco to have not only broken through them, but also then put them back as if nothing had happened showed just how good a wizard Draco must be.

Was this the first time Draco had used Harry's retreat, or did he often visit? Draco knew Harry's lesson schedule so it would be easy for him to know when Harry wouldn't be around, but that still didn't explain why he would choose to come here when there must be loads of other places he could find peace and quiet. But, the fact was, Draco was here and that brought a warmth to the pit of Harry's stomach. Something had happened in the storeroom that had terrified Draco and now all Harry needed to do was to get him to admit what it was and why he'd walked out.

He watched as Draco stirred, rolling over onto his back with his arm sprawled above his head. His other hand flopped onto his midriff; the shirt had gapped a little, showing bare flesh around his navel. Harry stared at the patch of skin for a moment, desperate to slide his fingers through the gap in the shirt, but he didn't want to wake Draco.

Harry cocked his head to one side thoughtfully. He could wake Draco at any time, demanding to know why he was here and what was going on. But, if he were honest, he was more worried that if he woke Draco, the boy would disappear again before Harry had the chance to talk to him. He grinned quietly to himself -- maybe he should just tie Draco up so that he couldn't leave until Harry had finally gotten the answers he wanted. There were some good spells he could use -- Petrificus maybe, or a couple of good binding spells.

The grin slowly faded as the memory of being bound by magic ropes flicked to the surface of Harry's mind. Quirrell creating ropes to tie him when he had gone through the trap door to find the Philosopher's Stone ... Wormtail binding him so tightly to the headstone in Little Hangleton that he could feel the ropes cutting into his flesh.

He shuddered and, for the first time, admitted to himself that one of his fears was being tied up ... unable to defend himself. And of claustrophobia ... of being locked in that cupboard under the stairs and of bars on his bedroom window. He couldn't ... wouldn't ... subject Draco to those same fears -- to wake up and find he was trapped and couldn't move.

Coming to his knees, Harry leaned over the sleeping boy and gently brushed his mouth against Draco's slightly parted lips. "I don't need answers, Draco, I just want you back," he murmured quietly as he settled down to wait for his lover to wake up.


Draco never took long to wake up. He could remember when he first came to Hogwarts and had to share a room, watching his dorm mates struggle to wakefulness. They would grunt and grumble and whine for ages often until someone came and threw them out. Draco, on the other hand, was used to never lounging in bed once he was awake. His father had told him that all lying in bed did was waste time when he could be doing something much more productive and worthwhile.

Sometimes he did like to just curl up beneath crisp sheets and doze away the morning, but he always felt guilty afterwards and would berate himself, as his father would have done. He would work himself harder for the rest of the day and deny himself sleep the following night to make up for it.

Sleeping in the middle of the day was a luxury beyond belief, one that would have earned him discipline if he'd been caught doing so at home. As for sleeping when he should have been in class, Draco dreaded to think what his father might say.

He lay on the sofa on his back; an arm flung over his eyes, and wondered how long he'd been asleep. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, of course, just to lie back for a little while and consider where his life was going. But the sofa had been so comfortable, moulding to his body and lulling him into a state of relaxation. There was the crackle of the fire and the shifting shadows the flames made on the ceiling ... it was a balm to his body and soul, and just so easy for him to drift into the sleep he'd deprived himself of over the preceding months.

It was strange, he considered, that he should feel so at peace here in a place he'd called a 'hovel' three months ago, with its old scruffy furniture and basic essentials. He'd even have to clear up when he left, that in itself strange for a boy who'd grown up with house-elves to do just about everything. Yet, here he could ... what was it Adrian Pucey had once called it on finding out Carl Warrington was dating a Hufflepuff? ... 'slum it' with no one to take him to task over it. Even in his own room back in Slytherin House, he had to be the Draco Malfoy everyone expected because people would be there, knocking on his door, wanting his time or attention.

But all he had to do was step into the fireplace in his room and whisper "Harry" to allow his little Floo network to bring him here, where no one demanded anything and he could doze away the afternoon without the fear of being disturbed.

Granted, this was only the first time he'd come here alone, but he'd thought about it ... thought about running away to Harry's sanctuary ... thought of being somewhere Harry spent time even if he couldn't be with Harry. This place had become a refuge in his mind, and now it was finally one in reality as well. No one could get him here. Not his father, or his mother, or anyone who demanded a piece of him because he was a Malfoy.

Not even Voldemort....

That was why he was here now, needing a refuge from what was expected of him. His father had fire-talked with him earlier, wanting to know how his son was. Wanting to know if Draco was playing his part in ridding the world of their Master's hated enemy. Wanting to tell Draco that his mother had found a partner for their son. Wanting to know if Draco was ready to pledge himself.


Everybody wanted something from him ... everybody.

Draco paused as a little revelation surfaced. Not everybody. Harry didn't seem to want anything from him ... except for his time and company.

He pulled his arm tighter over his eyes as they started prickling dangerously.

Draco knew the girl chosen for him. Gwladus Llewelyn.

She came from good pure-blood Welsh stock, and her family owned huge tracts of the Pembrokeshire peninsula and the Presely Mountains. Rather than send her to Hogwarts, her parent had sent Gwladus to study at Durmstrang, and Draco wondered briefly what his life would have been like if his father had sent him there instead of Hogwarts. He would have known Gwladus for one thing, and would have been taught the Dark Arts rather than just the defence against them.

But then, he would never have known Harry.

He remembered Lucius telling him that the Llewelyns had sole rights to mine the precious Bluestone from the mountains, which was used worldwide for potions and charms. Monoliths of the stone had been used to build Stonehenge. The Hallows in the Parliament building was carved from it, and Draco knew that at least one of the Standing Stones on the Malfoy estate were Bluestone.

The Llewelyns were rich. Not only that, but there were no male heirs in the family. It all went to Gwladus as the eldest of three daughters and, by marriage, to the Malfoys. No wonder his mother and father had picked her.

So he would get his rich and pretty wife, his place at his father's side, the Mark of his Master and would walk the path as laid out for him from the day he was born. He'd be a good Malfoy and give his father the heir Lucius demanded. He'd persecute the Mudbloods and Muggles until the world was returned to its rightful owners. He'd stand at his father's side and fight those who opposed Voldemort and destroy them with the Dark magic drummed into him from childhood. He'd revel in the blood on his hands in the same way he'd seen his father and his father's friends celebrate that death and glory.

And what would he have in return?

Would he sleep the peaceful sleep of the innocent? Would he end up watching his own son walk the same path as he had and be proud of him? Would his ancestors be proud of him and of the way he'd upheld the Malfoy name? When had being a Malfoy and a Slytherin gone from being a proud heritage to bear, to synonymous with the Dark Lord and nothing else?

Would Harry still want him if he wore Voldemort's Mark?

The sound of a sigh pulled Draco abruptly from his thoughts. He froze, trying to get a direction for the sound, but it wasn't repeated. Very carefully, he pulled his arm away from his eyes, blinking in the light from the fire. He could see a figure silhouetted against the flickering flames. The owner was sitting on the floor, back resting against the couch almost in front of Draco, messy hair like a dark halo, tips on fire.

Even if it hadn't been for the messy hair, Draco would have known it was Harry. He closed his eyes, opening them again as if to check that this wasn't a dream and that he was actually awake. Yes, Harry really was here, sitting on the floor once again as he had been that night when they'd waited for the New Year to arrive. Draco wondered briefly how long Harry had been there and why he'd chosen to let Draco sleep. Hadn't he been dodging Harry since the fiasco in the Potions storeroom on Monday? Hadn't Draco chosen to run away from Hogwarts today because Gryffindor and Slytherin were having a joint Transfiguration class, and he couldn't bear to spend the afternoon knowing those green eyes were watching him?

Harry sighed again, his head tilting to one side, away from Draco, exposing his neck; for a moment Draco could do nothing but stare at the bared skin and the taut sinews underneath. As he watched the way the firelight reflected on the lightly tanned skin, he realised he didn't care why Harry was here. It was enough to be here in the same room with the Gryffindor. And, Draco realised, he actually felt a huge sense of relief at being with Harry again. It felt ... right, and he hadn't realised just how much he missed the other boy until now.

The black hair was shorter now, but it still curled around his ears and into the curve of his neck. Back at New Year he'd had to touch it to find out if Harry's hair was dry and brittle, but now he knew it was as soft as silk and ran through his fingers like flowing water. Carefully, Draco reached out a hand, tangled his fingers into the strands and waited for Harry to speak. But there were no words, just a soft groan as Harry leaned back into the curve of Draco's fingers.

The sound went straight to Draco's soul. How the hell was he going to keep his resolve and walk away when everything he wanted was right here?

His fingers tightened to the point where he knew it must hurt, and he pulled Harry's head around, seeing his face for the first time. Harry wasn't wearing his glasses, and his eyes were wide, pupils already dilated and almost obscuring the green.

Then with a flick of his tongue over parted lips, Harry whispered simply, "Draco."

It was enough. With a growl deep in his throat, Draco launched himself at Harry. Curling around the Gryffindor's body, he reached for him with his free hand; the other still locked tightly in the dark hair, and kissed him. It was hard and fast, with no real finesse, but Harry held on as Draco's momentum took them both to the floor. Harry landed on top, hands clutching reflexively at the body under his, a mirror of those that hung on to him before Draco rolled them over and over.

They hung onto each other, every touch more and more desperate with need.

Hands and mouths and lips and fingers and tongues everywhere. Touching and pulling. Licking and biting and kissing.

Draco was aware of Harry pulling at his shirt, tugging it from the waistband of his trousers, and then strong hands running up his sides as the shirt was pushed upwards. He hissed against Harry's mouth as fingers tugged at his nipples and in response, he tore at Harry's shirt, two or three buttons ripping free as he gave up trying to unbutton it. And Harry's mouth was on his stomach ... his navel ... hands pushing his trousers down ... his underwear....

Then ... oh glory ... Draco sucked in great gulps of air as that wonderful mouth surrounded him in its wet heat. He felt himself go faint as blood rushed from his head, pooling in his groin, hardening him as Harry's tongue worked its own magic.

Everything slowed down as Harry pulled back, his tongue making its languid journey and all Draco could do was whimper in appreciation. He was on his side with Harry mouthing him and gentle fingers feathering between his legs. Harry had somehow twisted around, and Draco realised he could reach the boy's belly. With slightly shaking fingers, he pushed the remains of Harry's shirt back from his torso and licked around the exposed navel, tracing the red and gold lines of the Celtic marking that circled the little depression. Finally, he dipped his tongue into the hollow, in time with Harry's movements.

Gasping against the building pressure, Draco fumbled at the waistband of Harry's trousers, his fingers suddenly clumsy as he tried to undo the button and zip. He let out a grunt of pleasure-pain as he felt one of Harry's fingers, the sound turning into shallow panting as the finger moved. With a supreme effort, Draco pushed at the grey school trousers, managing to get them past Harry's hips before giving up his struggle. As Harry took him back into his mouth, Draco hung onto his lover's legs, his forehead pressing hard against Harry's thigh. Then Harry pulled up, his tongue like silky sandpaper against the sensitised skin.

"Harry." The name was whispered, drawn out long as a groan, as Draco licked languidly down the line of dark hair leading from Harry's navel into his boxers. He did it again and again until the hair was wet and his tongue dipped past the elastic with each journey.

He was aware of Harry's every reaction to what he was doing by the pressure on his own erection, by the way Harry moved and the way he became still. He could still feel Harry's finger intimately, as well as the other fingers of that hand pressing rhythmically against his sensitive skin.

Then everything stopped as Draco's tongue slipped passed the elastic and connected briefly with Harry. The warm, wet mouth let go of him and the fingers became still. Draco also backed off and for the first time in what seemed like forever, they looked at each other. The jade-green eyes that met his own were wide, and Draco realised that his tongue was the only one to have ever touched Harry like this.

Holding the gaze, Draco leaned forward and mouthed Harry through the cotton, feeling it becoming damp. Harry's finger moved spasmodically, flicking against Draco, sending pleasure seeping through him. He decided Harry must have seen the way Draco had reacted to the touch, because the movement was repeated, this time with harder pressure. Draco responded with a thrust of his hips towards Harry.

Draco's eyelids fluttered closed against the growing pleasure. He wanted Harry. Needed Harry. Even if it meant defying his father ... defying everybody ... even defying Voldemort. This was the person he should be with ... not his rich, pretty wife-to-be or his father or with anyone else.

Harry was his need and his want.

And he needed to taste him now. Draco quickly flicked back the elastic of Harry's boxers, freeing him from the confines of the cotton. He let his fingers feather over Harry, pausing briefly as his partner's hips flicked forward. Draco wanted to take Harry into his mouth, but he was....

What was he? Scared? Was this fear? Was it a deep-seated reluctance to give up control and give someone else the power to dominate him? He remembered back to the previous summer and the wonderful sex play with his Quidditch coach Alex Palmer. It had all been incredible and wonderful, apart, that was, from the blowjobs. Draco hadn't minded giving them, but just at the moment Alex would come, his fingers would curl into Draco's hair and stop him from pulling away, anchoring him in place. He'd never refused when Alex had asked, of course, but the feeling of being held still lingered in Draco's mind -- the choking sensation of something pushing against the inside of his mouth and deep into the back of his throat.

But this was his Harry and it was more than just sex. Even if he never told Harry, this was an act of trust, as much as needing Harry to take him after Voldemort's appearance in Draco's room had been. It was cleansing. Purifying.

The hand around Draco tightened and he felt everything about Harry tighten up. Harry's hips bucked just once and Harry came with a heart-rending moan. The sound vibrated around Draco, and his own climax followed almost immediately with a mind-shattering intensity.


Draco didn't know how long he lay there, panting, on the floor. He was flat on his back, arms thrown out to either side, aware of Harry's head pillowed on his stomach. His own shirt was pulled up to his armpits and his trousers were wrapped around his calves, pinning his legs together from the knees down.

He was aware of Harry's smell on his skin, and Draco knew he had to hold his lover. His fingers wound into ink-black hair and he tugged lightly. Harry shifted, looked up at Draco and crawled up his body, covering Draco's chest with his own. As their eyes met, Harry smiled lazily and nipped at Draco's chin before collapsing, fluid-like, on top of the blond.

Absently, Draco continued playing with Harry's hair, nuzzling into it to smell and taste it as his fingers teased through the tangles. He wanted to say something, anything, but for some reason could think of nothing. He could feel Harry's cock nestled against his own, and his free hand trailed over the rumpled school shirt to knead gently at the firm globe of Harry's arse.

Harry shifted, his legs falling apart to rest on either side of Draco's, and he pushed himself up to look at the boy beneath him. The liquid smile on Harry's face slowly broadened and finally he broke the silence.

"Kiss me."

It wasn't quite a request, nor was it a demand, but Draco needed no further prompting. His fingers tightened again in Harry's hair and he pulled him down. This time the kiss was less urgent, but he was aware of an intensity to it that hadn't been there in the past. If the way they had kissed earlier had been desperation, this was beginnings, Draco decided.

He let his tongue and lips relearn everything about Harry's mouth and face. From the shape of his jaw to the curve of his cheekbones, Draco let himself roam freely. He kissed closed eyes, imagining he could count each and every eyelash, and he caressed the zigzag scar with the tip of his tongue as if his very touch could smooth it away forever.

And all the time Draco was aware of Harry's weight resting on his hips, sometimes lightly, sometimes with a weight he realised he craved. The way they seemed to fit so well together ... the way Harry's nipples pressed against his own ... the way his hands curled around Draco's body, fingertips brushing over skin as if Harry was on a journey of rediscovery as well.

When he finally pulled away, panting for breath and only too aware of the rising pressure in his groin again, Draco studied the face looking down at him and smiled. "Shouldn't you be in class?"

Harry smiled back. "Shouldn't you?" He pushed himself away and Draco struggled not to hang on like a drowning man. But Harry only reached for the blond's clothes. "You're wearing too much." He pulled at the shirt and Draco obligingly let Harry tug it off him before fighting with the trousers. The clothing joined the growing pile of discarded items strewn across the floor, leaving Harry naked and Draco wearing only his school tie.

They fell back to the floor, the warm rug beneath their backs. One of Draco's arms was flung out from his side and Harry had nestled into his shoulder. "What are you doing here?"

Harry laughed. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?" One of his hands reached for Draco's stomach, flattening over the pale skin. "Or has Hagrid suddenly given you a key?"

Draco felt his muscles tightening under the touch. "I just needed somewhere --" His voice faltered, not wanting to add to think about what I've done to you. "To think."

"I don't mind." The hand on Draco's belly twitched. "You can come here whenever you want."


"No, I mean it. I like the idea that you want to come here."

Draco wrapped an arm round Harry's shoulder, the momentum pulling Harry onto his side so he curled along Draco's length. "You shouldn't go giving people carte blanche to come here. It's your place."

"I know, but...." Harry shrugged, his arm tightening around Draco. "Finding you here today." He curled a leg around Draco's, his toes flicking back and forth over the inside of his calf. "And the sex ... wow, Draco, that was incredible. But it's left me wondering...."

"What?" Draco's hand was running up and down Harry's back, subconsciously counting as his fingers slid over the ridge of each vertebra.

"If it was a one-off for old-time's sake or if maybe you'd changed your mind about us?"

The stroking movement stilled and, for a moment, Draco held his breath. "Harry ... look, I'm sorry."

"I mean, I've been going crazy since Monday trying to work out what must have happened to make you want to leave and thinking that I'd never get to talk to you again, let alone to have this even one last time. But you came here and that has to mean something." Harry twisted a little so that he was looking at Draco. "Does it mean something or are you going to get up and walk out again?"

"Harry, I never meant to hurt you. I was ... I was just trying to...." Draco closed his eyes, not wanting to see the green eyes staring down at him, the colour so intense that he felt they were looking into his soul. "I thought it was the best thing to do ... for both of us."

"Did I do something to you?"

"No, Harry." He opened his eyes again, knowing his voice was tinged with annoyance aimed squarely at himself rather than Harry. "You didn't do anything. It was all down to me."

For several minutes, the two were silent, Harry watching Draco thoughtfully, and when he finally spoke it was with a quiet voice. "So, are you back for good or was this just a lucky coincidence? Don't you think it's fate that we've ended up in the same place at the same time?" When Draco didn't answer immediately, it soon became clear Harry had taken his silence as a negative response. "Okay, but at least you can tell me why this is the best thing for us and how you managed to get in here." Harry dropped onto his back, his head still resting on Draco's arm but no longer touching him anywhere else.

"Floo." The single word was a dejected whisper.

"Flew?" Harry matched the tone. "But how did you get inside? The wards around the building are keyed to me."

"Not 'flew' as in flying. Floo." Draco gestured towards the fireplace. "You know, the fire."

Harry sat up suddenly, clearly surprised at the admission. Concern flickered over his face. "There's a Floo network connected to here?"

"It's not part of a network. It's just the fireplace in my room." Draco felt vulnerable with Harry arching over him, green eyes intense and forceful.

"Is that how you got here before and how you disappeared so quickly?"

"It's safe -- no one else can access it."

"That's not the point, Draco." The distance between them was growing. "You were the one who told me I needed to improve the security here and now I find out you managed to set up some sort of private transport network. If you can do that ... get through the wards ... then how do I know someone else couldn't do the same thing? You should have told me. Where else can you get to without others knowing? Is that how you got into Gryffindor Tower?"

"No." Draco sat up, back against the sofa and arms around his drawn up knees. "Look, Harry, I only used it that one day -- after Valentine's -- and I haven't used it since until today. The Floo is keyed to me so no one else can use it. As for your wards, I don't know how I bypassed them; maybe it's because the Floo was already here when you set them up." He started getting to his feet. "I'll disconnect it when I get back, and you can ward off the fireplace as well."

"Draco...." Harry was on his knees, pushing at the blond so he overbalanced and fell back onto the sofa. He settled between the boy's spread knees, effectively trapping him there.

"You've got permission to come here and to be out of school," Draco continued. "They've always let you get away with things no one else does. If I got caught coming here, I'd be confined to school grounds and be in detention from now to doomsday. I set the Floo up because I lost my broom that night. When you weren't at breakfast the next morning, I thought I'd come back to check that you were okay, but I didn't have a pass and if I'd walked it would have taken ages to get here. Setting up the Floo seemed like a good idea at the time. Then today I needed to get away and this seemed like a good place." The words tumbled out until he ran out of breath, forcing him to gulp for air. "I need to go."

"You don't have to." Harry's fingers were swirling patterns on Draco's thighs.

"Yes I do. Nothing's changed, Harry, and I shouldn't have come here. We don't belong together and never have, and all we're going to do is end up hurting each other. Stick with your Gryffindor pals; at least with them you know where you stand. Once I've gone, seal off the fireplace and I won't bother you again." He pushed Harry away with much more force than he'd originally intended and begun hunting for his trousers, desperate to do something ... anything but look at Harry who was sitting silently on the floor. In his mind the same mantra repeated over and over -- I'm doing this for Harry -- and for the first time he could ever remember, Draco realised he hated his father for expecting so much of his son.

As Draco struggled to turn the trousers the right way, he became aware of a finger touching his foot. He looked down and froze. Harry was sitting at his feet looking up at him with jewel-bright eyes.

"Do you know something, Draco? I've been so angry and upset with you since Monday. Angry because you wouldn't talk to me and tell me what happened in the Potions storeroom, or what I've done to make you act that way. Do you know how much time I've spent trying to talk to you? How many hours I've spent waiting outside Slytherin for someone to come by so I could get in?"


"Do you really think I'm going to let you go now without some sort of explanation?"

"I guess...."

"Bloody right you're not going. Not yet. If you really want to leave me, I'll let you go, but at least have the decency to tell me the real reason why. Don't just walk way again." Then, as he finished talking, Harry suddenly leaned forward and placed a kiss on Draco's foot.

The gesture was too much. The difference between the demanding tone and the gentle, almost subservient kiss cut into what little resolve Draco still had left. "Don't!" He reached down, pushing Harry away. "Stop. You don't understand."

"Then tell me" Harry reached for Draco's tie and pulled down hard on it, so the Slytherin ended up back on the floor. "Make me understand." His voice was forceful, hinting at the power captured just below the surface.

"Tell you what? That I've betrayed you? That I've put you in danger?" Draco could see Harry working at a response. "For once in my life, I'm trying to do the right thing here, Harry." He was breathing rapidly as he gripped at the other boy's shoulder, hard enough to leave little impressions on his skin. "Let me go now while I still can. Before it's too late."

"No." Harry scooted forward a little and finally released the green and silver tie. "Not until you tell me what you think you did to me."

"Isn't it enough I was carrying around a Portkey that would whisk you away to God-knows-where? And that I had a second one in my room that knocked you out?"

"You've told me about them." Harry rested a hand on Draco's knee. "Besides, you were just doing what your father wanted."

"I'm responsible for what happened when you were attacked your room that night."

"No, you're not ... I've had dreams and visions for years, and sometimes Voldemort does things that makes my scar hurt. It wasn't you."

Draco flinched at the use of the Dark Lord's name. He wished Harry wouldn't use it so freely. "That night, I did some magic. I was confused about ... about us and where I was going. I wanted to --" He met Harry's gaze for a moment before looking past him, to focus on a spot on the wall. Then he straightened and looked at Harry again, the Malfoy pride returning. He'd done what he thought was right at the time, and he wasn't going to be cowed by it now. "I wanted to talk to my grandmother ... to summon her...."

"Necromancy? That's illegal."

"Don't be so naive, Harry, people do it all the time. But this time something went wrong. I had up all the wards and protections you can imagine, but he somehow got through instead and he took me to your room and I saw you there...."

"Who got through?"

"Him ... the Dark Lord. He showed me you as a little boy and he told me that you were nothing and that he was going to beat you and if I didn't do what he wanted he'd --" Draco's voice hitched. "Punish me and hurt you because I'd been pledged to him from the beginning."

"Draco, I don't know who you think you called up...."

"I don't think, I know who it was. He could have killed you that night. He expected you to die."

"But I didn't die. " Harry's voice was a whisper. "You saved me, remember."

"If I hadn't tried to summon her, I wouldn't have had to save you, would I?" Draco let out an angry, frustrated breath. "He was there, Harry -- in Hogwarts -- and I let him in. He's got people in the castle who are trying to hurt you and I helped."

"What happened on Monday?" Harry stroked at Draco's cheek.

"He came back ... in the storeroom." Draco gave an involuntary shudder at the memory of the incident, his breath hitching in his chest before he continued. "I don't think he was there physically but he's using one of his people to get at me. He told me I had to choose, and if I chose you he'd destroy both of us."

"And is that why you walked out?"

"Yes. Don't you see that if I'm not there he can't use me against you?"

"Draco, he's going to try to kill me anyway, whether you're with me or not. That's the way it's always been and the two of us being together doesn't change anything. When it comes down to it in the end, Voldemort and I are going to fight."

"But I'm not going to let him use me against you. He knows, Harry. He knows we're together and as long as he knows that then I'm a liability to you. So this has to end, right now!" Once again he tried to push Harry away, but the Gryffindor's arms held on tight.

"And I don't get any say in this?"

"I'm trying to keep you safe."

Harry snorted and his eyes flashed dangerously. "Thanks, Malfoy, but I can look after myself."

"Fine, Potter. Then bloody well do it." With that, Draco began wrestling out of Harry's grip, a determination on his face that this time he was going to leave. "Get the fuck off me!"

Harry hung on while Draco tried to push him away. In a tangle of arms and legs, they struggled on the floor until, in victory, Harry ended up sitting atop the supine Slytherin, knees planted on either side of his torso, hands pinning Draco's wrists to the floor on either side of his head.

Panting for breath, Harry leaned forward. "Tell me that you don't care for me, Draco." He bent to Draco's open mouth and sucked in his bottom lip in a surprisingly gentle gesture after the struggle of a moment before. "Hold me and kiss me right now, and then tell me your heart isn't breaking and your soul isn't screaming for mine, just the way mine does for you. Let me kiss you and tell me that you don't ever want to feel me do that again. If you can do that ... really do that so that I believe you, then I'll let you go and never bother you again. Because you won't be able to Draco. Because you want me. And I want you." Harry bent to Draco again, carefully kissing him, first his forehead, then slowly working his way down to Draco's mouth, which he slowly kissed closed lips until they gave and his lover responded to him.

When Harry finally pulled back, his eyes raked over Draco with a possessive fervour. "If you want to go, then go because you don't care about me. Never ... ever ... go because of what you think Voldemort might do."


"He's already taken so much and I won't let him take you as well." With that, Harry released his hold and slithered back down Draco's body so he was sitting between the blond's legs. Then pulling the Slytherin up, he climbed onto Draco's lap, wrapping his legs around the slim waist, and leaned in to once again kiss Draco's mouth. After only a moment's hesitation, Draco responded, moaning into Harry's sweetness and letting their tongues touch and tussle with each other. When Harry finally pulled back, there was desire on his face. "Do you want this or not?"

Oh yes, Harry, I want you so badly. The words echoed through Draco's mind. Why did Harry have to always make things so difficult? If only he'd never come here, never touched Harry again then he could have kept his resolve and stay away. It was hard not to put his arms around the other boy and hold him tightly against his chest.

He gave a little chuckle as he realised that was exactly what he was doing ... holding Harry close and feeling his breath on his skin. "Of course I want you. But there are other things going on, Harry. Things that are going to hurt us both if we stay together."

"We can deal with it, Draco. If we have each other, we can get through anything."

"Really? Just imagine what people will say when they find out." He gave a cold laugh. "Imagine what your godfather and all your friends will say."

"What about your friends? Your mum and dad?"

"They'd disown me on the spot." He could feel Harry's arms around him making little movements that made him shiver.

Harry pulled back a little, sitting up. "Draco, remember that I once asked you something ... if there were no barriers, what would you want? I'm going to ask you that again and whatever you tell me, I'll accept, even if I don't agree with it or like it. Even if you say you want to leave." He reached forward and pressed his hand on Draco's chest, palm resting over his heart. "If there were no barriers, Draco, what would you want?"

Draco looked down at the hand. He could feel the shape against his chest, the heat of each individual finger, and it was a warmth he never wanted to be without. But what was he willing to give up for it?

"I don't want his Mark. Is that what you want me to say?"

"Can't you see it isn't about what I want?" Harry scowled. "This is about you and what you want. If you want to join him and take his Mark, then say so."

"What do I have if I don't go to him?"

"Anything, Draco, Voldemort isn't the beginning and end of everything. If you want to go off and hunt for dragons in Russia, then you can. Or be a code breaker for Gringotts." Harry looked down at his hand, which was still on Draco's chest, before looking back up to meet the grey eyes again. "Or you could have me. But, Draco, the most important thing is that whatever you do, it's because you want it. Not because of me, or your father, or Voldemort, or Dumbledore, or your mother, or your friends. It has to be what you want."

"What about the consequences?"

"We'll have to deal with those as well." Harry slid his hand up to Draco's face, cupping his cheek. "Do you want to leave? I won't stop you if that's really what you want."

Draco's eyes closed at the touch and, when he opened them again, they were moist with emotion. "No. I want ... need this. I need you," he whispered. "But I haven't changed ... my views are the still the same, so don't expect me to join Dumbledore's army." He reached down to cup Harry's arse, pulling him closer, and could feel himself begin to harden as Harry pushed against him. "I'd like to stay if you'll have me."

"I'd like that, Draco. I'd like that a lot."

For several minutes neither spoke, content for the moment just to hold one another. Then, nibbling at Harry's ear, Draco finally spoke. "What about you? What would you give up?"

"If I could, I'd fly away with you right this minute, but I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because he'd still come after me no matter where I went. The only way I can be free is to get rid of him." Harry rested against Draco's chest. "Don't laugh, but there's a prophecy."

Draco smiled a little and nuzzled into the ink-black hair. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"

"Want to hear it?"

"Do I have a choice? If I'm going to be stuck with you then I'll have to get use to things like this." Draco grinned, but remained quiet as Harry recited the prophecy, hands slowly stroking and petting him.

"You see, I don't have a choice really."

"No, I guess you don't. In which case, I'd better hang around to keep an eye on you, hadn't I, because you sure as hell won't look after yourself." He was sure Harry was smiling.

Disentangling himself, Harry finally came to his feet and, reaching for the green and silver tie, pulled gently on it. "Come on, get up."

For a moment Draco didn't move, as he studied Harry, taking in the slim naked body and Harry's clearly aroused state. There was something in Harry's expression as well, an almost predatory look in the green eyes as he held onto the tie. Finally Draco got to his feet. "Where are we going?"

Harry captured Draco's lips in a brief kiss before leading him towards the bedroom. "Somewhere much more comfortable."


Stepping from the fireplace, Draco quickly brushed himself down, scattering ash on the floor. The elated mood he'd been in when he'd left Hagrid's cottage had lasted for precisely two more minutes before it began to fade away.

The room hadn't changed and he knew he was no different, but something was missing both physically and emotionally. It took him those two minutes to realise it was the warmth that was Harry. They'd spent the rest of the afternoon in a delightful tumble of sex and talking about unimportant things, and now that he was back in his own world, Draco was reminded of exactly what he was getting into and all that he stood to lose, whatever side of the fence he came down on.

It wasn't getting any easier, he decided.

He quickly stripped off his clothes, knowing he had to make himself decent before going to dinner. They'd had the most delicious shower before Draco had returned, and he still could imagine the feel of Harry's hands soaping him clean, but his clothes were definitely not in a suitable state to go to dinner in. Padding across to his wardrobe, he began rummaging for something to wear, the search excellent diversion therapy so he didn't have to consider the past ... or the future.

It didn't work, however, because it wasn't long before he caught sight of something that made him stop in his tracks. It was the photograph of himself, Alex Palmer and David Morrello in its silver picture frame sitting innocently on the shelf. Draco had found out about Morrello's true identify over the previous summer and had been sworn to secrecy by both his father and Voldemort.

It was a photograph he'd always been fond of because it reminded him of the summer and also of the fact that Lord Voldemort held him in high esteem. The Dark Lord didn't like having his photograph taken, so to have him in this one had been a joy to Lucius. In fact, it had been his father who'd given it to Draco as one of his leaving gifts at the start of the school year. There had been something about the frame that was special as well. Draco frowned as he tried to remember, and finally he crossed to the shelf to pick it up. Something about it belonging to Tom Riddle.

He ran his finger over the delicate jade inlay on the silver frame, watching as the images in the photo moved ... Alex ginning, David with a knowing look in his blue eyes, himself jumping between excitement and awe. Excitement because Alex's hand was caressing his arse and Draco knew what that would eventually lead to. Awe because the most powerful wizard in the world had his hand on Draco's shoulder.

Sometimes when he looked at the photograph, he thought he caught a flash of red in those blue eyes and that would always remind him of who the man really was beneath the delusion charms that masked the Dark Lord's true form. Lucius had once told him that one of Voldemort's desires was to rid himself of the snake-like form of his real body and replace it with David's good looks in physical form. But the sheer power that emanated from that snake-like form was incredible and it was enough to cow all his followers. How different from the charming and charismatic David. Draco had often wondered which one was the real Voldemort.

How many people knew the truth, Draco wondered, about who David really was. Did Harry know? Was the Dark Lord's secret safe from Dumbledore? Did his father's spies know?

Draco studied what had been a prized possession. He'd always loved the idea of having a photograph on show of the Dark Lord, knowing that anyone who saw it wouldn't realise what Draco had in his room. To have an image of Voldemort right here in the stronghold of the Dark Lord's enemy, had seemed like one little victory in the ongoing war.

How quickly things could change.

He'd seen a different side to the person he'd once thought of as god-like and indestructible. Someone whom he'd considered to be the ultimate answer to everything. Wasn't that what he'd been taught all his life? He remembered the lectures on pure-blood supremacy, the casual discussions over dinner of how Muggles were destroying the world and that the only way to save it was to rid it of the vermin, and the debates of what should happen to Mudbloods and half-bloods.

It had made him feel special and important. He, Draco Malfoy, was one of the Chosen, one of the people who would inherit a world wiped clean of the vermin, and the pure-blooded ruled. And reigning over it all would be the Dark Lord ... terrifying in his anger to his enemies and magnanimous in his pleasure to his friends.

Yet, deep in his childhood memory he could remember a voice telling him that Voldemort wasn't the answer and that binding himself to the Dark Lord wasn't the way forward for him. He'd only been four or five, and the words whispered by his grandmother hadn't made any sense back then.

But now it had started to add up. He realised that there had never been a need to try and raise his grandmother. She'd given him all the answers he'd required before she'd died and all he had needed was Harry to help him understand her.

It was going to be difficult, he knew that, but he would talk to his father over Easter. Lucius had mentioned him being accepted into the Order of Death Eaters at Halloween, so he had some time to sort this out. He knew his father would be devastated that Draco was going to refuse to join the Dark Lord, but he would soften the blow by telling Lucius he wasn't ready yet ... that he wanted to get married and settle into his new life first; that at least would buy him some more time.

Marriage! Gwladus Llewelyn. Draco closed his eyes. How the hell was he going to deal with that? If Gwladus was at his birthday party and their engagement was announced, could he really refuse? He didn't want to spend his life with some girl he'd only met twice in his whole life, bedding her just to get a Malfoy heir. His mother had once told him that she'd grown to love his father and that was just the way things worked. Would he grow to love his wife over time? Or would he just spend his life thinking about what he could have had, hating her for not being that person?

Draco knew he wasn't ready to get married yet, so he would just have to play that by ear and worm his way out of any official agreements.

The truth was, he knew what he wanted and that person was Harry. But would Harry still want him once they'd finished at Hogwarts?

Carefully, he slid the photograph from the frame. He couldn't keep it here in his room any longer. Couldn't have those eyes follow him around the room and feel that hand touching him. The marks from where Voldemort had gripped his shoulder might have finally gone, but he could still remember the pain from the Dark Lord's fingers digging into his flesh after his disastrous Dark magic spells. David's hand in the photograph rested on the same spot on his shoulder, and Draco felt like he'd been scarred by the touch.

He thought briefly about where his loyalties now lay. Should he tell Harry about David? Should he go to Dumbledore? Should he keep what he knew a secret? Tapping the photo against his finger, he stared into the distance, his mind whirling over possible options. In the end he knew he couldn't tell anyone ... not just yet. If he owned up to Dumbledore, the chances were the Headmaster might prevent him from going home, and Draco knew he needed to talk to his father and mother first.

Putting the frame into a drawer, Draco walked across the room and stopped in front of the fireplace. He crouched down and after a moment's hesitation fed the photograph into the flames. It crackled and blistered as it caught fire and, somewhere in the back of Draco's mind, he thought he heard himself scream.


Malfoy Manor ...

The smouldering embers in the fireplace of Lucius' study suddenly burst into flame, and both he and David stared at the rising inferno. The blaze flared black for a moment, as though they were made of smoke rather than fire, and as they finally faded back to normal red-yellow, the Dark Lord turned to his host.

"Draco has destroyed the photograph."

The words were simple and held no recrimination, but Lucius was familiar with the tone of Voldemort's voice and knew that if he wasn't careful he might just feel the Dark Lord's wrath. Not a prospect he savoured. All he could do was give a single nod of agreement because his throat had clenched up and he couldn't speak. What the hell was his son playing at? He surreptitiously glanced at David, watching him stare into the flames.

"And he's hidden the frame away. You know what that means?" Steel fingers clasped at Lucius' shoulder.

"Yes, Master." It meant they could no longer tell what Draco was up to. The photo had been like a pair of eyes in the school and through those of the photographic David they had been able to know what was going on. Now that link had been effectively removed.

"I suggest that you learn how to control your son, Lucius, or I might just have to control him for you." Blue eyes fixed Lucius with a cold glinting stare. "And I don't think either he ... or you ... would enjoy that."


Because of you
I forgot the smart ways to lie
Because of you
I'm running out of reasons to cry
When the friends are gone
When the party's over
We will still belong to each other

Underneath Your Clothes
There's an endless story
There's the man I chose
There's my territory

Underneath Your Clothes -- Shakira


Chapter 9: The Art of Protection: Harry and Snape talk more. Sirius takes Harry for a walk in the woods. Harry gets artistic. Draco submits.


Author's Notes

Q.E.D! As spoken by Ron.

Q. E. D. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase "quod erat demonstrandum", literally meaning "that which was to be demonstrated". The phrase is used after the conclusion of some line of reasoning when a theory has been proved, especially in mathematical or logical proofs.

Special thanks:

To my Betas (in alphabetical order): Golden Snitch, Milena, Olivia, Nancy, Plumeria and Stacey. I don't know where I would be without these people. Special mention must go to Olivia for her help with plotting, for listening to me wibble and for her endless patience, and to Plumeria for her help with the perennial ratings problems. And welcome to Golden Snitch ... thanks so much for your excellent input ... and the dreams *grins*.

To everyone at LiveJournal who have answered my stupid questions over the last few months.

To everyone on at Worlds_Colliding for their continued support and inspiration.

To everyone who has reviewed. I love reading your comments -- thank you so much for taking the time to write.


I am very lucky to have several new pieces of artwork drawn for this chapter by Laelithe (lj - godonthewater). Her artwork of Draco finding Harry at Hagrid's cottage is just stunning. The art by Lisa Rourke wasn't actually drawn for Resolution, but she has been kind enough to let me link to it. All artwork is linked in the appropriate places throughout the chapter. If the links don't work, you can check it out here: http://www.worlds-colliding.co.uk/Artwork_index.html

Lisa Rourke's artwork: Harry thinking, Draco

Laelithe's artwork: Ron, Draco sleeping, Draco finds Harry at Hagrid's cottage, Harry and Draco cuddle.

There are two Yahoo groups associated with my stories:

The adult group for Resolution can be found at: Worlds_Colliding: The Restricted Section

The general group can be found at Worlds_Colliding. The R-rated version of Resolution and my non-slash story Coming of Age can be found here.

Any reviews are more than welcome, either here on the Fiction Alley Board (click on review), to me at [email protected] or feel free to post your comments at Worlds_Colliding.