Second Place- Alternate Universe
Third Place - Romance

Underwater Light


Chapter Nineteen


I haven't felt the sun for weeks

So long, so far from home

I feel just like I'm sinking

And I claw for solid ground

If all of the strength and all of the courage

Come and lift us from this place...

I know I can love you much better than this

Later that night, Harry made his way out of the showers to the dormitories and prayed to be left alone.

Because those whom the gods wished to destroy they first made Harry Potter, Ron was there and talking about the endless what-ifs of leaving Hogwarts, which Harry really didn't want to think about. He pointedly towelled his hair in Ron's direction and Ron somehow ignored this obvious hint.

"And my mum said that Muggle food can be really dodgy, I mean, they think chocolate's bad for you and - Oi," Ron said. "Harry. What happened to your chest?"

Harry stared at him, and then down at his own traitorous body. There was a trail of red marks down his stomach, and...oh God... his nipple was swollen.

"I er ah um," he said faintly. "Uh. Door. I walked into a door...?"

"A door with teeth," said Ron flatly.

Harry wished desperately for the days when they were fourteen, before Ron and Hermione started copping off, when Ron wouldn't have known teeth marks if they bit him and indeed when the thought of Draco Malfoy biting Harry's stomach would have induced a coronary and saved him all this trouble.

"This is a magical castle," he persisted. "Many... magical doors."

Ron looked amused. "You want me to believe you messed around with a door? Because you're my friend, Harry, and I will. And I'll tell Dean as soon as he gets in, and I'll tell Hermione, and soon the whole school will know that Harry Potter gets off with inanimate objects-"

Harry briefly hid his face in his towel, but when he looked up Ron was still leaning against his bedpost and sniggering like a maniac. He was beginning to think he should have stayed in his nice safe cupboard all these years.

"Bugger off!"

"Harry, come on," said Ron. "Just admit it. I know already."

"... What?" asked Harry. How had this happened? Where had Ron hidden the body?

"It's pretty obvious," Ron continued.

"Oh God," said Harry. "Are you really angry? Does Sirius know?"

"I would think so, Harry, since he saw you kissing her."

"Her?" said Harry. "That is - ah, he saw me?"

"We all saw you! And look, you needn't think I'll be mad just because she's my sister. I mean, you're a good guy, and Mum'll be pleased."

Harry felt a horrible sinking in the pit of his stomach. Life would be so much simpler if all he had to do was duck his head and mumble yes, thanks, and think about the promise of safety and warmth and belonging to the Weasleys now and forever. Getting into that family had been all he'd wanted when he was fourteen. It made sense.

"It's not Ginny," he said bleakly. "I wish it was. I mean - no, I don't, but I wish... I wish I could be someone who wanted her."

He wished he could be the simple hero he was sure she saw him as, someone uncomplicated and unafraid who would never desire anything but to save the world and sweep her off her feet. Not someone who was furious and uncertain and probably going to die someday soon, and who thought that there was some way all the jagged pieces of himself could fit against those of Draco Malfoy.

"I want someone else," he went on, quietly.

He looked up from his hands clenched around the towel to Ron's face. Ron was watching him with level eyes.

"I want an explanation," he snapped back. "What the hell do you think you're doing leading my sister on if you're shagging some other girl?"

"I'm not shagging some other girl!" Harry exclaimed. "I'm - look, okay, will you sit down?"

If Ron was sitting down, it would buy Harry a few more seconds to make his escape. And anyway, once Ron heard this he could faint and... hit his head, or something.

Ron subsided onto his bed and sat there, fists clenched and right on the edge of anger, and Harry couldn't really blame him. He hadn't thought about Ginny. He owed the Weasleys more than this, and Ron was his best friend. He owed him... the truth, or something like it.

He climbed onto his bed, stared down at his hands and took a deep breath, then looked back over at Ron. Ron was sitting still but strained, his blue eyes fixed and his big shoulders held ready, as if he was poised for the moment when he hit Harry or Harry hit him but for now, he was putting all his attention into listening.

Harry did owe him this much.

"There's someone else," he said, all in one painful exhale. "There has been for a while."

"Before you kissed Ginny," Ron stated. Harry hadn't known Ron's voice got this stern.

He pressed a palm hard against his forehead, and looked at the drapes around his bed and all the familiar shadows of the dormitory for moral support.

"Yes," he agreed. "I didn't, um. I didn't realise for a while, and then something happened, and it's - Ron, it's all weird and impossible, and I was in bits about it."

"Oh my God," Ron hissed, moved by the excitement briefly back into the territory of best matehood. "Do you love her?"

Harry cleared his throat and admitted: "Yes. But-"

"Is it a teacher?"

"No!" Harry yelped. Mind you, he thought Ron would understand Professor Sinistra a lot more. "It might as well be," he mumbled. "This person-"

"Your secret love," filled in Ron, who picked up these words from his mum.

"Well, yes, anyway - they're not interested, and they're a mess, and I'm a mess, and everything's a mess, and it would all be really har - difficult, I mean-" amended Harry, and hoped he was not going red.

"You're blushing, mate," Ron remarked critically, and then his mouth fell open. "It's someone really young, isn't it?" he demanded. "It's Natalie McDonald, isn't it? Harry, that's kind of disgusting, she's not fourteen yet-"

"It's not Natalie!" Harry snapped. "The point is that I've been all twisted up about this," he went on bluntly. "And it was even worse and we weren't speaking and I was drunk, and Ginny was there - and so was-"

He trailed off. Ron's eyes narrowed.

"That's lovely."

"Look, I'm not proud of it, okay?"

"Well, I should bloody well hope not!" Ron exclaimed. "You deserve a thumping for this, Harry. She's my little sister-"

"I know that. You can thump me if you like, I'm sor-"

Ron jumped up with his fist clenched. "Don't say that!" he ordered. "What does that matter? You're not the only one who's a mess, Harry! We're all in this together, and it's really bad. Hermione is in her room packing all her NEWTs textbooks and crying her heart out, and she won't even open the door. She's in there all alone because the other girls are gone, and she won't even..."

"And that tears you apart," Harry said, low. "She can tear you apart, because you love her, you guys have done practically nothing but love each other for years. Now there's someone I love, and-"

"And I don't hurt anyone!" Ron shouted. "I don't use anyone if she makes me feel like crap. I realise I've been lucky, and it doesn't seem like you have been, but that doesn't change anything. Hermione's a mess, but Ginny is too. She's been looking to you to save her because she's too paralysed by fear to try and save herself. I know her. She's good with action, she'd never let anyone down, but this... with people disappearing and evil creeping in and nothing we can do at all - it reminds her of being helpless with that damn diary. She's no good to anyone like this, and she is in no state for you to mess around with her just because you're scared too, and all mixed up about some girl at last. You had no right!"

"I know that!" Harry shouted back, and he did know.

He just hadn't thought about it. There'd been so much to think about, and he wasn't good with touchy-feely stuff, with analysing other people's emotions. He was useless at being close, and being considerate, and now he'd really let Ron down.

"Hit me," he said. "Go on, you have every right."

Ron looked at Harry, and then at his own fist, with about equal amounts of astonishment. Then he let it fall.

"You're my best friend, and everything in the world has gone to hell," he said. "I'm not going to hit you. You were being thick, but - I can be thick, too. I wouldn't have known how she felt if she wasn't my sister. Things are too bad to fight now... but Harry, you make this right." Ron's gaze and voice had both gone level. "You go to her, and you explain, and apologise. You make things clear. You make things right."

"Yeah," said Harry. "I will."

Ron exhaled loudly. "Okay. Harry... it isn't Hermione, is it?"

It was so like Ron, to be insecure enough about Hermione to ask, and to wait until he'd sorted things out for his family before he did so.

"No, it's not Hermione," Harry promised.

"Good," said Ron. "Because you can't have her. Now go talk to Ginny, but find a shirt first."

Harry fished a T-shirt out of the general debris around his bed. He was going to have to sweep all of this up and pack it away before the night was out. Ron sank back onto his bed, and the possibility of violence in the air faded.

"Hermione'll slap her around if I tell her you thought she could've cheated on you," Harry remarked indistinctly, struggling into the shirt.

"Yeah?" said Ron. "Well, pretty soon you'll have a girlfriend and then I'll have my revenge."

"A girlfriend? Me?" asked Harry.

Ron rolled his eyes. "Yes, Harry, you enormously stupid prat. I don't care what the bird is saying to you, if she's also yanking up your shirt and biting her way down your chest, she's probably a little bit interested."

"Er," said Harry.

"Now go talk to Ginny. Or I will beat you up. And Fred and George will beat you up, and then Percy will beat you up - though you probably won't notice that - and then Charlie will beat you up. And he'll have dragons, so I don't think there'll actually be much left of you, which will piss Bill off."

"You're a mate, Ron," Harry said dryly.

Ron sat up fast, and almost fell off the bed. "Wait! I almost forgot to tell you something. Maybe you'd better sit down or something, this is going to be a bit of a shock. I know you like the guy-"

"What?" Harry demanded.

"Even though in my opinion he's a snake and should have been sent to Azkaban at birth to save time, I'm sorry you have to find out this way-"

"What's happened to Draco?"

"Malfoy," Ron announced, "is a raving poofter!"

"Oh," said Harry.

Ron stared at him incredulously, obviously expecting something like a scream of 'He touched my shoulder once in the hall! I shall never never more be clean!' and some sort of panic attack.

Harry wondered whether Ron's system could stand the shock of one final revelation.

"About Draco," he said carefully.

"Well, what?"

"He's coming with us tomorrow," Harry said in a rush.


"Must see Ginny right away," Harry told him, and fled.


Harry found Ginny in the common room. She and Dean were in the common room, writing letters to their families. They were both going with Professor Sinistra's party: Dean's family were Muggles, and couldn't protect him, and the Weasleys were too much of a target for Ginny to be safe at home.

That was Harry's fault, too. Ginny looked so young in her yellow pyjamas, hair in two plaits and smiling at Dean's jokes to please him. The Weasleys had been so good to him, and he'd put them in danger, and now he was going to hurt their baby.

"Hi," he said.

She tipped up her face and gave him a radiant smile that made him feel so guilty he thought he might be sick. "Harry," she said. "Hi."

"Could I, um." Harry hesitated. "Could I talk to you?"

"I'll go," Dean said at once. He scrabbled around for his papers and said airily that he'd meant to leave anyway, talking so Harry and Ginny wouldn't have to. Dean was considerate, unlike other horrible human beings currently in Ginny's presence.

He looked down at her, for once giving her his full attention. She was all yellow and red filling his eyes, the Gryffindor common room her natural background. Ginny would be so glad to be a place he could belong to: she'd be happy to be his home. It would have been so easy and comfortable.

She would never be a challenge, never be an equal, but he still wished he could be the kind of person who would've loved her. Instead of hurting her like he had to.

Dean departed discreetly, giving Harry a single undecipherable look.

Harry knelt down by the fire, at Ginny's feet. The little bunnies on her slippers fixed him with an accusing stare.

"You know how we kissed," blurted Harry, and then cursed himself.

Smooth, Potter, very smooth.

She reached out her hand to him, but if he'd taken it he would have exploded from sheer guilt.

"Yes," she said, glowing undeterred.

"Ginny," Harry said wretchedly.

"Harry," she breathed.

Perhaps he could just fling himself off Gryffindor Tower. That seemed a much more pleasant option.

He blinked up at her in distress.

"Harry," she said. "It's all right."

"It is?" Harry asked with wild hope.

She leaned forward, and the soft beauty of her eyes filled him with dread. "Of course. I know you're shy, Harry, but you really don't have to ask me."

This was so bad, so unbelievably bad. She leaned forward a little more, her freckles golden patterns in the firelight, and Harry fervently wished he'd chosen the option of Charlie, dragons and death. It'd probably be quick and everything, he could just nip up back to Ron and Ron'd be reasonable, he'd see it was for the best...

"It's not you," he said abruptly.

Tactlessness like this had to be some kind of birth defect.

Ginny blinked at him and swallowed. Harry's mouth was a runaway train, and his brain was just sitting back and observing the horrible carnage.

"It's never going to be you," he went on. "There's no way it could be, you have to forget about it. I'm so sorry, Ginny, but there's someone else. No..."

Harry paused and did not find any tact, so he went on helplessly with the truth.

"There isn't someone else," he said softly. "There's just someone. I can't even see anyone besides them, not like that. There's someone, and - there isn't any room for you. I know I've treated you really badly, and there's no excuse. I'm really sor-"

"Do you love her?" Ginny's voice was very small, wounded and mortified. "Does she love you? I mean - does she really, really love you?"

Harry hesitated. He had taken advantage of Ginny, and he owed her the truth - and besides, the selfish part of himself whispered, he could bear it if Ginny turned away from him. She wasn't as important as Ron.

"I love him," he said. "He's not really bothered about me."

Ginny's eyes widened to an extent where she began to resemble a house elf. Harry met her gaze squarely.

"Him?" Ginny said, her voice perfectly blank.

Harry coughed, but did not let his gaze waver. It wouldn't be right, to let her think he was ashamed of this. "Yeah."

"I am so stupid," Ginny whispered, going a dull red. "It's Draco Malfoy, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Harry answered. The look on her face made him feel lower than worms. "I'm so sorry, Ginny. I led you on, I know, I should never have kissed you. I was-"

"You were fighting with him around then," Ginny said quietly. "I remember, and he was... oh my God, he was in the pub, wasn't he?" Her voice went ragged and she pressed her hand to the corner of her mouth. "I was so happy," she whispered. "I've been such an idiot."

"No, you're not an idiot. It was my fault. Ginny, believe me, I never meant to hurt you. I - you're my friend. Your family has been really good to me, and-"

The shine of her eyes, which he had been hoping was a gleam of firelight or even homicidal rage, turned into a spill of tears.

"My family. I've never been anything but an unimportant part of the Weasleys to you, have I?"

"I - that's not true, Ginny. I like you."

She whisked away the tears with her fingers, quickly, as if she hoped he'd failed to notice them. "But not enough," she whispered. "Not more than Draco Malfoy, Malfoy, for... You'd rather someone racist and cruel-"

"Ginny, that's enough. You can say whatever you like about me, but he hasn't done anything to you."

She wasn't trying to hide her tears now. She sat up straight in her chair, the tears rolling down her cheeks and her eyes drowned and blazing at once.

"No?" she demanded. "And his father never did anything to me, either? He never slipped me something that sucked the life out of me, made me have nightmares every night for years, w-woke me up in my bed with blood up to my elbows and so frightened-"

"Ginny," said Harry, and reached for her hands.

She made a sound almost like a scream as she warded him off. "No! You were meant to save me, not... not be sleeping with the enemy!"

"I'm not sleeping with him, and he's not the enemy. He's not his father."

"No!" Ginny cried. "You saved me from his father. Who can I trust now?"

"You could trust yourself," Harry said.

She looked at him for a long moment. "Maybe I will," she answered. "Look. Just tell me why. I don't understand - you're supposed to be a hero, you're supposed to be something good - something great - why would you choose a power-hungry bully?"

"It wasn't a choice," Harry said shortly. "No-one else was even a possibility. At least he didn't see me as nothing but a hero!"

Ginny got up as soon as Harry shouted, and stood staring down at him.

"Fine," she answered thinly. "All right, fine. I understand what I have to do now." She looked down at him for another moment. "You're such a bastard, Harry Potter," she told him, and then walked away.

"I really am sorry," said Harry to her yellow-clad back. She never turned or paused on her way up the stairs.

Well. That could have gone better.

She might have had a point about that bastard thing, and now he'd declared love for Draco Malfoy to the Weasley clan more often than he had to Draco himself. And he felt sick even thinking about it. It wasn't like he had much experience with that kind of thing - you were supposed to treat the person you loved as family, and he'd never had one. It was all going to end in painful disaster, which was at least more familiar than this.

Hogwarts was closing down and he was thinking about his love life. He was such a bastard.

There was a tapping behind the Fat Lady's portrait.

"Sorry," said a voice he recognised as his Keeper Natalie McDonald's. "Are you done in here? Because I heard shouting, but I really need to pack-"

"Yes, of course, come in," Harry said.

Natalie came shyly in. She was a nice girl, Harry thought, and it was his second time in as many minutes to see a nice girl trembling on the point of tears. She said, "Hi, Harry" and looked as if she was just going to pass on.

Harry, out of some misbegotten desire to redeem himself, stopped her and asked: "Is everything okay?"

"Oh... yes," she said. "I'm going home to Mum and Dad, it's okay for me, but... I was just visiting my boyfriend. He's scared out of his mind, his parents won't take him home - it's very hard on him." Her chin trembled. "He'll have to go to Malfoy Manor."

"Malfoy - Natalie, who is your boyfriend?"

"Malcolm Baddock," Natalie said, smiling at the sound.

"A Slytherin?" asked Harry with increased interest, because he was the king of bastards.

"Well, Harry, nobody's thick enough to still be prejudiced against Slytherins these days."

"No, no," Harry said hastily. "Never really were, anyway. Just, um... jolly rivalry. Fun for all."

"Not what I'd heard," Natalie said, dimpling. "Anyway, you know what they say."

"Not... as such," Harry answered slowly.

Natalie began to blush. "Well, that Slytherins are better kissers," she said. "You know, it goes like this... Gryffindors plunge right in, Ravenclaws work at it, Hufflepuffs try harder... but Slytherins know all the tricks."

"Er," Harry responded.

This was shocking. When he'd been fourteen, he and his friends certainly hadn't run around the place assessing the kissing techniques of Slytherins. They'd been trying to fight evil, and - all right, he had been fixated on getting Cho Chang to come to the ball with him and getting Draco Malfoy ignominiously expelled, and Ron'd been torn between pulling Hermione's bushy pigtails and writing 'Mr Fleur Delacour' on his parchment, and Hermione - the quick study - had been seducing international Quidditch stars.

Also, based on Harry's admittedly limited experience, Natalie was absolutely correct.

"I mean, it's not about that," Natalie told him hastily. "I really like Malcolm. I'm really worried about him, he - You see, Malfoy was supposed to go with all the people whose parents are Dea - won't take them back, that is, but now he's told them that Dumbledore's making him go with you, and..." She bit her lip. "They're going to arrive at Malfoy Manor to stay with Malfoy's mother, and she doesn't want to take responsibility for them. It... it's not going to be a good situation, and I understand that Malfoy needs to be kept safe, but-" She rubbed her arms, as if gooseflesh was rising on them as she stood by the fire. "Malcolm's really scared," she said softly. "And I'm scared for him."

Guilt was cold at the back of Harry's throat. He'd done this. He wasn't sure he'd have chosen differently - Draco did need to be kept safe - but he should have considered all this, like he should have considered Ginny. He had to start being responsible.

He remembered something, took Natalie's shoulder in one hand and said: "You are not afraid."

Natalie looked at him as if he was crazy. "Oh yes I am," she returned. "I just told you so."

Sod that, then.

"Well, you shouldn't be. Because I'm going to kill Voldemort," Harry promised, "and then everything's going to be fine."

She actually looked comforted, as if she knew he meant it. And he did mean it: because he wanted to act, and he wanted revenge for everyone, from his parents to McGonagall, and with Dumbledore defeated enough to shut down Hogwarts there was no-one else. He was disgustingly inept at caretaking other people, but he'd faced danger more than they had: he had at this a better chance than they did.

Someone had to do it, and he had to do something.

It was nearly June, and after the summer of hiding he'd be eighteen and no longer a student: through the summer he could train under Aurors, and then one day, somehow, he'd be ready and able to do it. He wanted to do it, he could taste it...

Revenge or justice, there was no alternative. He had to do it, so it'd be done, and then everyone would be safe.

Until then, of course, he was doomed to be an enormous prat around crying girls.

"D'you want help packing?" he asked her, not because he had any great confidence in his elite folding techniques but because she'd probably feel better if she had someone talking to her as she packed. If she wanted, he could tell her he'd kill Voldemort again.

Natalie said okay. As he helped her, some other people said they could use a hand - or someone sure, someone reassuring, to hand - and he went to them. He wasn't sure how well he did, but he did it.

It was long past dawn when he got back to his own dormitory. He poked Ron in the side until he stirred and exclaimed, "Damn the flobberworms!"

"Um, it's me, Harry," said Harry. "I told Ginny. Um. I made a complete mess of it. Sorry."

"Wasn' really expectinanythin less," Ron mumbled. "No offence."

"None taken."

Ron blinked blearily up at him. "Is Malfoy still coming with us tomorrow?"

"Later today, actually, yes," Harry said apologetically.

"Oh God. I was hoping it was all a terrible terrible nightma..." Ron fell asleep mid-sentence.

Harry packed his own suitcase using his time-honoured method of scooping everything off the floor and hoping he hadn't packed owl droppings. After that, he looked out the window. The sky was bleak and cold, but light, with fingers from cloud-shrouded sunlight reaching out over the hills: like the white streaks in a very old woman's grey hair. It was morning.

There was no point trying to get some sleep, and he'd spent all night giving out reassurance. He wanted...

He went to see Draco.


He found Draco in the common room, acting as an arbiter of justice. For a given sense of the word.

"It's not a case of finders' keepers if you didn't find it," he was telling one shamefaced boy severely. "What you did was break into her dormitory, unlock her case with a spell and take it, and worst of all - you left the lock open. And thus you were found out. Call that cunning? Give it back to her immediately, we have a reputation to keep up here."

The boy offered up what seemed to be an item of ladies' lingerie with the saddened air of one who will commit more devious crimes in the future.

"And you girls! Cassandra, it was an act of Hufflepuffian stupidity to sell her a time-share in your jade statue anyway, but it's a small item and I expect you can Owl it to each other. As for who gets first dibs, if you plan to wrestle for it I am perfectly willing to provide you with a tub full of jelly, scanty swim attire and refreshments for the undoubtedly wide audience you would collect. If you reject this idea - and I personally think there's a lot to be said for it - you could always flip a coin."

The girl he'd addressed as Cassandra, who Harry thought was a sixth year, giggled and winked at him. Draco winked back.

Draco was winking and wandering around the place in pyjama bottoms and a dressing gown. Part of his chest could be seen. It was ridiculous. People's attention was being distracted from the war effort.

"Can I get a word, or should I come back after the wrestling?" Harry asked.

Draco looked at him, eyes narrowed. "I suppose we should have a word now," he conceded. "Cassandra, Ann, feel free to start stripping while I'm gone."

He swept away and Harry followed. Harry would've suspected him of a dramatic Hugh Hefner impression if he'd believed that Draco knew who Hugh Hefner was.

"You're all taking a long time packing," Harry observed. "Must be that lack of respect for personal property slowing you down."

"All Slytherins are not petty thieves, Potter," Draco said with dignity.

"Still taking a long time to pack."

"Well, I never said none of us were," Draco answered, dignity undiminished.

He had parchment unrolled on his desk, with his handwriting on it. When he saw Harry glance at it, he gave him a sharp look and went to put it away.

"It's an Owl to my mother," he explained, and then he turned back and looked at Harry, his face sharp and unpleasant in the way it always got when he was tense. "I - look. Potter. I owe you an apology."

Harry blinked. "Sorry?"

Draco's gaze was firmly fixed on the middle distance. "Yes, that was more or less the intended word. I don't - I don't take advantage of my friends. I don't use them. And I don't try to manipulate them in order to get my own way. The rest of the world is fair game for all of the above, but... you're not. So I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

Nothing nice ever happened to Harry: it was official.

"Thanks for the thought, Draco," Harry said, keeping his face a perfect blank.

Draco scowled, apparently at one of the knots in his door. "I'm still furious at being dragged away like this," he said, a fraction more relaxed as if anger came far more easily to him. "They need me. You should have asked me."

"You would've said no! And what good would you be to them dead? Be practical!"

"I'm trying to be practical," Draco said thinly. "I don't particularly want to fight. But it's been a difficult night."

"Yes," Harry said with feeling. "They're all so scared."

"Aren't you scared?"

Harry frowned. "I suppose. I'm mostly - I'm mostly angry. I look around at them all and I wish I could hurt something."

Draco's mouth turned up at one corner. "Oh, yes."

Harry let the corner of his mouth turn up too. They could both be such bastards.

The brief moment of accord, a wavering moment when it seemed as if Draco might actually look at him, was shattered by the advent of Pansy and Zabini. As soon as he was in the door Zabini gave Harry a poisonous look.

"It's the ubiquitous boy wonder again," he remarked. "Making quite sure you get to take something Slytherin needs away?"

"Be quiet, Blaise," Draco snapped. Zabini paid no attention. He walked up to Harry and tilted his face up a little to look Harry in the eye.

"You make me sick, Potter," he said with precision. "Always swanning around the place as if you owned it, Dumbledore's precious pet, ignoring us when you weren't eyeing us with that golden-boy contempt. Draco and I saw through you from the start, and now because of some sort of whim you've got him to change his mind somehow, and you're set on taking the best we have because you've never, ever thought anything was as important as yourself!"

He put both hands against Harry's chest and shoved. Harry was too tired for this.

"Back off, Zabini, I don't like you that way," he snapped. "Or at all, actually."

"Yes, pipe down, Blaise," Pansy chimed in sternly, and now everyone in the room was against him Blaise backed down a step but continued to watch Harry with those angry, scared eyes. "Everybody's tired of the histrionics. It can't be changed now. We'll - we'll get by, and if Draco's in danger then it's right to put him where he'll be safe."

Her chin trembled slightly. Harry Potter made girls cry.

"Not that I'm happy with you at all, Potter," she continued, turning on him with a steely glare. "You interfere too much and you're always underfoot. I much prefer Weasley. Keeps his distance and brings me chocolate. You should be more like him."

"God forbid!" said Draco.

Pansy then shocked and knocked all the breath out of Harry with a fast, hard hug. She gripped too tight and it was altogether a very painful experience altogether.

"Take care of him," she whispered menacingly in Harry's ear. "Keep him safe, or I'll charm off your manly parts and keep them in a jar to experiment with."

"Um," said Harry in fear.

Pansy detached from him with a brilliantly false smile. "And you have a safe journey too, Potter. Nobody will ever shag you if you have two disfiguring scars."

"Right," said Harry.

Pansy had carefully avoided looking at Draco since she came into the room, but every muscle of her had been straining towards him and focused on him. Now she still didn't look at him, even as she went over and leaned against him, her head drooping down to rest at the hollow of his throat.

"I sent my mother an Owl," Draco said. "You'll all be quite safe."

He must be sending his mother two Owls, since he'd said the paper he'd put away was for his mother as well. That was weird. Harry wondered what he'd said.

"I know. I'll mind all of them. Don't worry about us, I can handle it," she told his neck with great conviction.

"Mind yourself as well," Draco ordered, smoothing a hand over her thick dark hair. "I'll miss you, you shameless wench," he added into her hair. "Mostly because of the daring negligees in the common room."

"I'll miss you," she whispered back. She put her mouth to his ear and said, "I love you."

It was very clear to Harry that he had to leave the room without in any way moving an inch or making a sound. What good was magic if it didn't let you do that?

Draco closed his eyes, his face tight and livid, ashen skin stretched over the bones of his skull. He'd never looked like this before: so tired and pained and frightened he was grotesque, and Harry wanted to pull Pansy away and stop her hurting him.

"I love you too," Draco said, his voice coming out calm and perfectly normal between his locked, bared teeth.

Pansy began to cry. Harry became aware that Zabini was staring at him, his black eyes filled with hatred.

"Get out," he said between his teeth. "Haven't you done enough? D'you want to stay and gloat over it? Get out!"

Neither Draco nor Pansy seemed to notice anyone was talking at all.

"I want everyone to be safe," Harry said. "That's all I'm trying to do. I want to do the right thing, even if I don't do it the right way. I'll make you all safe in the end - even you, Zabini. Even if you don't want me to."

"One day I'm going to kill you, Potter. Get out!"

"One day I might help you, Blaise," Draco said, not opening his eyes. "Harry, I know you were trying to do the right thing. Maybe you even did. But right now, it doesn't matter. I'll see you later."

"Okay," said Harry, and went.

He turned as he left the room to see them once more. Pansy was still crying, Zabini was coming closer to them and Draco, his face still shut down and ghastly, was reaching out to pull Zabini into the harsh embrace.

The Great Hall was filled with grey light as Harry came up into it, old and dull, and the defeated colour seemed to overlay Dumbledore's white beard and blue eyes as he stood waiting to bid all the students goodbye. He gave Harry a sad, subdued version of his old smile, nothing bright about it left.

"It's for the best," he said.

"It's not," said Harry, clenching his fists. "It doesn't matter what it costs, you always keep fighting. You don't give up like this. I won't."

Hogwarts was shutting down, his Hogwarts, and everybody was ripped apart and terrified. He didn't know how to stop it, or even to make anyone feel better, but angry purpose was building inside him, stronger every minute. A promise to every stone and every pang and every person he'd known here: that he would kill Voldemort.


Leaving Hogwarts was a very subdued affair.

Hermione had thought there should be trumpets, tears, black flags, a flaming sword barring the way. It wasn't like that at all: just a gathering so tight it seemed even smaller than it was, going to the train station and assembling in little groups around their allotted teachers. The students going home to their parents came together in an uneasy gang, almost ashamed that they were luckier. The Malfoy Manor lot, whose homes were judged magically strong enough to be safe but who knew going home meant joining You-Know-Who, were around that cow Pansy Parkinson.

The Malfoy Manor people were a larger group than Hermione had expected. She hadn't really thought so many Slytherins would desert their parents' side - it would only be natural to want safety and the comfort of home. Malfoy was smarter than she'd thought, if he'd persuaded that many that safety could not lie with Voldemort.

She hoped Pansy Parkinson wouldn't let him down, that stupid, bridling girl who wore too much make-up, too few clothes and made eyes at boys rather than pay attention to lessons. As far as she'd noticed, all Pansy was good for was making nasty little comments, not even as frankly insulting as Malfoy's but the mean kind of girls' talk, so underhand that boys never caught on and that bred spite and dislike.

Hermione didn't really have time for dislike today, though. Pansy looked stern and her eyeshadow was smudged, and Hermione looked at the pale faces of the Slytherins - some of them were first years - and wished her luck.

She felt awful for being so glad they weren't alone like that, so glad they had teachers with them. She tried not to think about how alone all the girls from her dormitory might be now, with no help coming - and she met the steady reassuring gaze of Lupin. She felt Ron reach for her hand, but she kept it just out of his reach. She didn't want to fall apart on the platform or anything.

Everyone else in their little group was standing alone: Lupin tired and silent, Sirius trying to act as if they were going on an adventure, Harry with an angry look in his eyes that scared her. Malfoy stood apart from all of them in silent rejection, looking the stupidest in his disguise.

The Muggle world was large enough to get lost in, Lupin had said. They'd be travelling by Muggle transport, receiving no Owls, wearing Muggle school uniforms and being for all the world a few Muggle students, going with their teachers on a classics trip. Hermione felt as if she'd been shut out of the world, back to the life she'd been expecting when she was eleven. She thought Harry felt the same; he'd muttered something about Stonewall High after all.

The others looked weird. Sirius seemed to be dressed in eighties chic, and Hermione did not feel up to suggesting that stonewashed jeans were not a good choice for those closer to forty than thirty: Ron kept tugging at his tie as if it was a choke chain, and the look on his face suggested that he'd indeed been dressed up in bondage gear and was very doubtful about this new lifestyle choice. She had assumed before this that because the Weasleys were modern enough to wear sweaters and jeans, they would be comfortable with all Muggle clothes, but this had turned out to be very much not the case. The trousers had confused Ron, the button-up shirt had upset him, the tie had defeated him and he had seen the blazer as pointless cruelty.

Malfoy looked as if he'd fought the battle alone. The trousers, thankfully, he'd apparently worked out: the thin white shirt was crumpled and buttoned wrong, the tie untied and there was no sign of a blazer. His mouth was the vicious little line it usually was before he said 'Mudblood' and he was not looking at anyone at all.

Even when Terry Boot had come over to say goodbye, he'd hardly seemed to notice.

It had been extremely rude of him. Terry had said: "Draco, I wanted you to know I still-" and Malfoy had blinked, looked at him blankly and said: "Sorry, what?"

Hermione was aware that she was desperately thinking about clothes and that cow Pansy and everything, anything, to stop herself from hearing Dumbledore's farewell speech. It was ending now, it was almost all over, and the clouds made the sky seem low and dark, as if it was about to press further down and crush them all.

There was Ginny in Professor Sinistra's group, her bright hair waving around her sad face. She was whispering something to Dean, who was looking almost hopeful as he reached for her hand. She let him take it, and that was new...

They were all getting into the carriages. Hogwarts was over.

She held her head high and still did not let Ron take her hand. Harry bumped his shoulder with hers as they got into the carriage.

"I'm going to kill him, and then you can take the exams," he said in a low voice.

She looked at his angry eyes in his set face, and nodded. Felt perhaps a little bit lighter. Harry was the most emotionally dense person she knew, blundering around hurting Ginny and having disgraceful taste in boys, but you could count on him in an emergency. She knew he'd been up all night with half Gryffindor tower. You could believe in Harry. She always had.

She was vaguely surprised when Malfoy grabbed the seat beside her before Ron could do so. When he pointedly asked Lupin to sit beside him, she understood: he was sulking at Harry for some manipulative little purpose of his own. As if Harry didn't have enough to make him unhappy.

The train began to move. She could glimpse Dumbledore outside, a lone figure against the greyness. She set her nails into her palm.

They left Hogwarts station.

There was a taut, terrible silence. Hermione's throat was aching.

Malfoy broke it, because he was an irreverent bastard.

"I think they could've - what's the Muggle word? - posted our NEWTs to us. You could have supervised us, Professor Lupin. I'm sure the board would have implicit confidence in you."

Another bad quality of Malfoy's, and there were so many it was hard to keep track, was that he was a shameless little suck-up.

Ron gave Malfoy a dirty look. "Mental as well as a bloody Slytherin," he said. "So great that you could come with us, Malfoy."

"Well, it's a travesty that we don't get to do our NEWTs," Malfoy said, and Hermione could almost have liked him before he added: "Do they expect me to work for nothing? What about our job prospects? Will this affect my political career?"

"Political career? Oh, will no-one defend England?" Sirius asked under his breath.

"Would it affect our careers?" Ron asked, frowning suddenly.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "Not any career you're likely to have, Weasley."

"Shut up," Harry said tiredly.

Ron was noble and ignored him. "Seriously, Professor Lupin. Because I was thinking of, you know, going into some kind of business with practical spells - I'm good at them - and then, um, kind of getting an apartment for two-"

"Harry already has an apartment," Hermione said absently.

It only struck her when he flushed up to his roots that in her distracted state, she had just been incredibly dense.

"Um. I know that," Ron said. "I was thinking. Um. If it appealed to you at all, in a year or so - take as long as you like to think about it, really, if nothing better comes along... You haven't been writing to that idiot Viktor Krum, have you?"

"No, Ron," Hermione promised him, smiling. It was more or less the hundredth time he'd asked.

"Quidditch players travel a lot, and - they have groupies. It's a dodgy lifestyle, Hermione, really, I don't think you'd be happy-"

Ron being a complete berk was familiar and dear enough for her to reach over and take his hands in hers, playing with them. Her hands looked lost beside his, but he let her take the lead and try to clasp them.

"I just hadn't thought about it, Ron," she said. He looked at her with his blue steadfast eyes, something to cling to as beloved and safe, with all his old insecurity in their mute appeal. She squeezed his hands and continued: "But I will."

"Yeah?" said Ron, and beamed. "Cool."

Malfoy snorted and Hermione glared as he rolled his eyes. "Gryffindors in love," he sneered. "How precious. Nobody minds if I'm sick out the window, do they?"

"Mr Malfoy, be civil," Lupin said, forestalling a snarl from either Harry or Sirius.

"Sorry, Professor," Malfoy the toady said hastily. "And call me Draco, please."

"All right, Draco," Lupin said equably.

Malfoy bestowed his slow insinuating smile on Lupin. It was the kind of smile that made you forget that he had a pointy nose and a rumpled shirt.

Lupin took out a book. Malfoy began to talk to him about it.

Malfoy's entire demeanour suggested that he'd never been acquainted with a Harry and if he had been, Harry certainly wasn't around right now. Hermione made a private resolution to corner Malfoy as soon as possible and try to get answers about what the hell he thought he was doing.

"Do we really have to take Muggle public transport?" Malfoy asked suddenly. "I mean, they have all sorts of peculiar diseases, don't they, and we don't have Madam Pomfrey with us..."

"Oh, Malfoy, if you think we're so disgusting why didn't you run away instead of coming along?" Hermione demanded.

Malfoy looked at her, silvery lashes dropped and face more serious than she'd ever seen it when he answered: "I had my reasons."

Hermione stared at him in confusion, remembering the pale faces of all those young Slytherins. He almost looked vulnerable now, with the curve of his mouth trembling.

"Well then... why did you?" she asked, more quietly.

To her increased amazement, he made a move towards her as if he would have liked to take her hand, and spoke in a low voice.

"Because..." He stopped and looked into her eyes. "Because I love you, Hermione," he whispered.

Hermione's mouth fell open.

Malfoy sniggered. "The look on your face is priceless."

"You are such a bastard, Draco Malfoy!"

Malfoy just shook his head and snickered happily to himself. Hermione looked at Ron and read her own outrage in his eyes, and then looked at Harry, who was shaking his head and smiling a little.

Malfoy was the worst influence imaginable. He had to be dealt with.

They had to wait in the train until everyone else had disembarked. They were supposed to be the last to go.

The train was the last piece of Hogwarts left to them, and Hermione let Ron put an arm around her because she wasn't sure she wanted to go through the wall of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.

She did, though. They all did, and then they stood in the prosaic surroundings of King's Cross station, on Platform Ten with grey-suited businessmen and sticky-faced children and a whole mass of people she was almost frightened of now.

I never meant it when I felt overwhelmed and wished I was like everybody else, she thought. I want to go back, I've learned a world structured by spells. I don't know what to do here, not for good. I want to go back.

The steel ceilings were high over them, the concrete harsh under her feet. There was no scarlet steam engine and no castle. The magic was gone.

They went to the ticket office so Sirius could collect their tickets. They were supposed to be making their way to Stonehenge, that was the story. Malfoy was walking very close to Lupin.

"Never seen this much of the station," he said, and his usual sneering tone briefly held a quiver. "The Muggle world's huge and ugly like this place, isn't it?"

"You always were a coward, Malfoy," Hermione said cuttingly.

"I'm not a coward!" Malfoy snapped.

"He's not," Harry said quietly.

Hermione looked at him sharply, but he wasn't staring at Malfoy with besotted concern or anything. He still looked angry, and he had just been speaking factually. He really believed it.

She recalled how Malfoy had held her up after finding McGonagall, and she opened her mouth to apologise, but... he was such a nasty little prat. She shut it again.

The train was a sad, loud, rattling thing in subdued shades. Malfoy was so busy complaining about the tatty covers on the seats that Sirius, Lupin, Ron and Hermione got themselves one set of four seats, and he was forced to sit with Harry.

"Tell me about the sleeping arrangements for the bed and breakfast again," he said. "I can share with you, can't I?"

Hermione refused to put the soft wheedling tone of his voice and the widening of his eyes together to form an explanation for his behaviour. Because one did not act that way with teachers, because it was wrong, wrong, sick and wrong.

"I'm not sleeping in the same room as that poisonous little - I mean, I mean, best not," Sirius said, belatedly remembering that he was an impartial educator and caretaker.

"Oh," said Draco flatly. "Would it involve sharing with you too, Professor Black? Never mind that, then."

Lupin, who Hermione was passionately grateful to for maintaining an attitude of total unawareness of Malfoy's shocking conduct, explained the arrangements again. There was one room with three beds in it at the top of the corridor, two of which Lupin and Sirius would take. There were no windows anywhere, so it was the bedroom most likely to be attacked. Then there was another room with two beds in it, and the last room with a king-size bed.

"Hermione can have the room with the big bed, and Harry will share with us," Sirius decided, pleased.

Ron made a strangled noise of protest. Hermione took 'Gyaaargh!' to mean that Malfoy was evil, he'd probably kill Ron in his sleep or - which would be so much worse! - molest Ron in his sleep, and in short, no.

"I don't think Ron fancies the idea," she said diplomatically.

"Well, Ron could share with us then," Lupin suggested.

"Yes. Please. Yes," said Ron desperately.

"No!" Malfoy said sharply. "No, I'll take Weasley."

Ron held Hermione in a death grip to shield himself from any taking. Harry did not say a word. His silence was almost deafening.

"Or Granger," Malfoy went on. "Granger'll do."

Hermione astonished herself. "Fine," she said. She'd wanted to talk to Malfoy alone. What better opportunity?

"Hermione!" Ron cried.

Lupin looked very taken aback. "I'm not entirely certain we can permit a boy and a girl to share a room..."

"Look, Professor," Hermione said, leaning forward and smiling. "Do me a favour. Honestly. It's Malfoy. Ron doesn't want to share with him, and - Ron doesn't want to share with him, and I don't mind. He knows I'd rather snog a Hippogriff."

"Admit it, Granger, you crave me."

Hermione gave him an appalled look and Sirius snorted very loudly.

"Why do you talk like that, you little twerp?" he demanded. "Has it somehow escaped your attention that you're all but an albino?"

"Perhaps," said Malfoy haughtily, "but I have a very beautiful bone structure."

"I suppose it would be all right if you two shared," Lupin said, and gave them both a small smile. "If we put a mirror in the room, Draco may not even notice Hermione's there."

Malfoy looked charmed that he'd won a professor over, and returned his smile with an engaging grin.

"Two of me, though? Is that fair to Granger? She's led a retired life: she might have a heart attack."

"Malfoy," Ron burst out, "your parents should have drowned you at birth."

Malfoy's mouth twisted. "Don't talk about my parents just because you're concerned for the sanctity of your little Mudblood's knickers."

"Oh my God, Draco," Harry thundered. "Shut up."

The sound of his shout echoed through the carriage. Ron and Sirius, who had both been bristling and ready to fight, went quiet with the others. Malfoy turned his head and looked at Harry, and Hermione realised he hadn't done that all morning.

"He didn't mean it like that and you know it! Stop taking this out on everyone, we all have to go through this-"

"Oh, I doubt you have any idea what I'm going through," Malfoy sneered.

Harry slammed his fist against the plexiglass of the train window. "No? You don't think so?" he demanded. His hand closed around Malfoy's arm, fingers going so white that Malfoy's skin must be going red underneath. "Come on. Let's go."

He got to his feet and Malfoy rose with him, only to shove him backwards and stride out the door before him. Harry followed and slammed it.

"Why are they friends?" Ron demanded. "If they fight all the time, why did they have to be friends? Couldn't they have stayed enemies? I liked that!"

Muffled behind the door, there were shouts.

Sirius and Ron began to lay bets on how long Malfoy would last in a fight.


In the tiny corridor between the carriages, Harry shoved Draco away so he wouldn't hit him, and then hit the wall hard.

"Oh God, oh hell," he said. "I don't want anything to be happening this way! I forgot to say goodbye to Hagrid, do you realise that? He's one of the only people who's been there for me since I was a kid, and I just left."

The fluorescent light was broken, only one side of it still dimly glowing. Draco's eyes were gleaming and cold in the half-light.

"You just left," he snarled. "Do you have any idea what I've left? Do you have any idea of what they - I promised to guard them and I had to desert them! Do you have any idea at all of how much I bloody resent you?"

"I don't care!" Harry shouted. "I don't care, I don't care, I just want to hurt something. I thought it would all be okay if I could just promise myself that someday I'd kill Voldemort, but Hogwarts was home and we tried with the Young Order and the meetings in your room, we were all trying, and it was all so damn useless."

Draco took a step right into Harry's personal space.

"Don't talk to me about futile!" he hissed. "I put everything into getting them together! I don't know what I have now, I don't know what I am now and I don't want to be a coward!"

"You're not a coward, you stupid idiot!" Harry yelled at him. "And I don't care if you do resent me, I'd rather have that than have you hurt, but I wouldn't have had to do any of it if I'd been allowed to stand and fight! I hate this! I hate all of it!"

He moved to shove Draco away and into the wall, to do something, anything, and Draco resisted. He stood still, and Harry realised that he had one hand open against Draco's shoulder and their faces were an inch apart.

He'd already been sweating and breathing hard.

They were both suddenly very quiet.

Harry could feel the rasp of Draco's breath warm against his cheek. He could feel the thrum of Draco's beating heart under his hand, and moved his fingers along, up to his collarbone, against his neck. The skin was smooth and quivering under his touch.

Very slowly, Draco tilted his head to the right angle. Harry saw the gleam of tongue and teeth behind Draco's half-parted lips.

He could feel every inch of Draco's body against his. He could reach up and grab a fistful of Draco's hair and Draco would open his hot mouth under his own. If either of them moved...

And Draco was already scared. After the night full of crying women, Harry felt as if he should work on being less of an insensitive prat, and... Draco had always wanted all the attention he could grab, had always raced to fulfil people's expectations, coaxed for a laugh. Harry'd known that when he saw Draco seeking Lupin's approval. Draco needed people, and he hated feeling dependent.

Draco was desperate.

He exhaled hard, stood back and collapsed to the floor, back against the opposite wall and locked his hands over his raised knees to preserve himself from temptation.

"Oh, hell," he said again, and then took off his glasses and kneaded his brow hard. When he replaced his glasses and looked up, Draco had sat down against the opposite wall.

"I see we're in complete agreement," Draco observed, his voice the clear cool Malfoy voice Harry knew too well, even though his cheekbones were crested with faint colour. "Do you hate everything? I hate everything."

"I don't hate you all the time," Harry said wearily.

"Well," Draco conceded. "Perhaps not all the time." He hesitated. "Or even most of it. I know you were trying to - help me be safe, or whatever, but I can't forget them! And I can't forgive you, now, for being able to be the lone bloody hero."

"It's not because you're a coward, Draco," said Harry, who'd been giving it some thought. He saw how Draco flinched at the word. "It's because you've got a mind more like an army commander. You want forces for your game plan."

Draco gave this some thought in his turn, and appeared to like the idea.

"Which makes me a more modern and efficient warrior," he noted with considerable satisfaction. Harry shrugged, and he added: "Don't worry about ignoring Hagrid, anyway. I'm pretty sure I blanked poor Terry right there on the platform."

"What a shame," Harry remarked with utter insincerity.

"You don't like him, do you? Why's that?"

"Er - bookish people. Don't like them," Harry answered.

Draco raised his eyebrows. "Woe upon me and Granger. The favour of Harry Potter has been withdrawn from us. A suicide pact is obviously in order."

"Shut up, you pillock."

"Oooh, Harry, I'm so sorry your noble instincts are all frustrated by everyone else's craven surrender of Hogwarts. Want to smuggle on a train back there and sing noble songs of resistance, and demand to take our NEWTs and stuff? I bet Granger will join us if we mention the NEWTs bit."

"It's probably not a very practical plan," Harry said with a certain amount of regret.

"Logic from Harry Potter," drawled Draco. "My little boy is all grown up. I think I may cry."

The train jolted and the light flickered off, and then fully on. Harry saw light strike the sweat gleaming on Draco's throat, thought about licking the soft place directly beneath his jaw.

"You do realise," Draco said, very evenly, "that we are now yelling at each other when we are basically in agreement. If we keep it up like this, we'll kill each other by tomorrow."

"Right," Harry said, thinking about the swollen curve of Draco's mouth last night. He shook his head. "Right, right, you're absolutely right."

Draco's face twisted in something that looked like regret.

"I'm brilliant, you know."

"So you keep telling me," Harry said, and smiled.

"I've made a bad situation worse. It's my fault. I am sorry, Harry, it was an irresponsible and unforgivable thing to do when you - you don't know anything about this sort of thing. I'm your friend and I should be helping you instead of messing you around."

The look in Draco's eyes suggested that he was concentrating on making private, spiteful remarks to himself. Harry was starting to feel extremely embarrassed. He'd been pretty sure that Draco was... no, damn it, he'd known Draco was... but it was true Harry wasn't exactly experienced.

"I mean, you haven't even decided on a lifestyle choice yet, you have no idea," Draco continued, his voice stern and his lower lip drawn in painfully.

"Oh," said Harry. "I've been thinking about that. I've decided it doesn't matter."

Draco closed his eyes as if he was in some kind of pain.

"Do you ever hear non-Dark Lord voices in your head?" he asked carefully. "Ones that perhaps, tell you to burn things because fire is pretty, or perhaps don a yellow tutu and perform a mating dance for the buttercups?"

"I'm not crazy, Draco."

"Naturally not," Draco soothed him. "But it might be an idea not to listen to the voices, Harry. Just say no, that's the ticket."

"It just doesn't seem to matter. I mean, not with everything else going on. I might not end up with a lifetime to have - lifestyle preferences in, and I don't see why I should be wasting time going over my feelings like a twit, when it can be simple." He focused hard on his own knotted hands, tried to overcome the knot of mortification in his stomach and said: "I want you. If there's anyone else-"

"When there's someone else," Draco corrected him, his voice thin. "When, very shortly, there is someone else."

"I don't think so," Harry said, challengingly. "If there is, then that'll clear things up. As it is, there isn't anyone else, so what does it matter?"

Draco's mouth kept shaping and reforming itself into different expressions, as if he was not even certain how to feel about this conversation. He kept trying to look at Harry and then failing.

Of course, Harry could only tell from the limited background view he had of Draco while he concentrated on the white line of his own knuckles.

"You must see that it would be sheer madness, Potter," he said at last, and made one of his sweeping gestures. "I mean - what, you couldn't want us to be boyfriends, or something."

Boyfriend. It was a stupid, stupid, embarrassing word.

"Wouldn't mind," he mumbled, and then said to hell with it and looked Draco in the eye. "I mean yes. Yes. That's what I want."

It was the first time Harry had ever made a proposition like this to anyone, and let alone the fact he hadn't expected it to be Draco, he really hadn't pictured the person addressed to rest their forehead against their arms and say: "This cannot be my life."

"Look, Draco," Harry snapped. "Did you like it? Last night?"

Draco lifted his face from his arm, looking warily at Harry and then down again.

"Yes," he said curtly. "Yes, but - I don't want to mess everything up because you're confused and I'm weak and excessively hormonal. I don't want to - I don't want never to see you again because we did something sentimental when we were schoolboys and you can't imagine why you did it any more."

"I'll remember," Harry said, and when Draco looked up he offered him a weak smile. "It's all about the bone structure. I have a weakness for a really good bone structure."

Draco actually laughed, which on this day of all days seemed like a tremendous accomplishment.

"All right," he said after a minute. "Go in there and tell Weasley all about it."

Harry looked at him, and then stood up slowly. "Okay."

"Sit down! Don't you dare move, are you insane?"

Harry did sit down because Draco looked panicked, though he generally did not obey barked instructions because it would only encourage Draco in his apparent belief that he was Lord High Commander of the Universe.

"Do you have no sense of shame?" demanded Draco.

"I don't think you're someone to be ashamed of," he said quietly.

Draco pointed an accusing finger. "You are crazy. I knew it! And everything I said before still counts," he added. "Sentiment is a lie, and then there'd be your horrible realisation, and - and I can't. I mean, I don't want to."

He hadn't really expected anything else, and he'd been quite girly enough without blithering about like a woman scorned. He concentrated on the wall behind Draco's head and forced his voice to be normal.

"All right," he said. "It's your decision. I'm glad we're talking again, anyway, and that you're looking at me."

"Quite," replied Draco, who was not currently doing so. "So now that everything's settled and the world remains a cruel and hateful place, and we'd both like to kill things a lot, shall we get back to the others? I fear Weasley may pine without me."

Harry stood up, and offered Draco a hand to help him. Draco took it, and looked briefly less tired.

Draco needed people, and all he had for now was Harry. And it wouldn't be right to like that.

"Your shirt's a mess," Harry said, letting go and touching the corner of the shirt shoulder. "What did you do, wrestle with it? Crumple it in your hands until it begged for mercy and let you put it on?"

Draco looked lofty. "It was giving me cheek. So perish all the enemies of the house of Malfoy."

"That tie is meant to be tied, too."

"Oooh, your expertise in Muggle habits reduces me to quivering admiration, really, it does."

"I'm sorry my superior knowledge bothers you. I can't help being so learned."

Draco held open the door. "After you, oh omniscient hero," he said in a bored voice.

Harry felt a bit less like killing things.


When they came back, they were almost smiling. Hermione shocked herself by giving them a quick once-over and deciding she'd know if there'd been any goings-on. Not to mention that she hoped Harry would have more decency with Ron and Sirius only a thin carriage wall away from cardiac arrest.

Still, it was annoying to see Harry looking calmer and happier because Malfoy had been a racist bastard and then they'd shouted at each other. It was frustrating and inexplicable.

"Forgive me for the unkind words, gentle lady," said Malfoy, and she was pretty sure her death glare was all that stopped him from bowing. He smirked at her instead.

"It's fine," she said unconvincingly.

"Did you hit him, Harry?" Sirius asked, leaning forward. "Or did you knee him first?"

"I didn't do anything to him," Harry answered. His voice sounded more relaxed, as well, and Hermione was grateful for the informative phrasing.

"Did he hit you?" Sirius asked. "The underhanded little weasel!"

Malfoy gave him a level look. "I killed him," he said pleasantly, as he and Harry settled themselves back in their seats. "Then I Transfigured my pocket handkerchief into Harry Potter, in order to escape repercussions and completely fool you all. D'you think my hanky will be any good at defeating evil?"

"The twit is trying to say that nobody hit anyone," Harry said tolerantly.

Sometimes Hermione thought it might be quite easy to be civil to Malfoy if only Harry had kept having wistful daydreams about Malfoy being eaten by the giant squid instead of disturbing her horribly by using that tone with the affection radiating from it. She was able to accept that Harry might be attracted - some people liked that sort of thing, Malfoy was blond and swaggering. She'd never quite seen all the fuss about Cho Chang, either. And Harry was naïve, and fancying someone meant things to him, and that would account for the moonstruck look. But when Malfoy did something or said something and Harry responded to it with warm recognition, was all lit up by the reminder that this was the person he'd, he, that this was - that person...

It made Hermione feel sick to her stomach, that was all. She and Ron had been enough for him once.

Malfoy, relaxing like a big pleased cat, got out a book from his bag and showed it to Harry.

"It's about vegetarian substitutes for blood sacrifice," he explained, managing the difficult feat of drawling enthusiastically with apparent ease. "I mean, I certainly think it lacks style, but this is a decadent age and we're running out of virgins, so innocent root vegetables are the next best thing. Besides, it's mainly technical, you'd be amazed at the arcane signatures that plants and people have. Sometimes they can be really alike."

"That's fascinating, Draco. I mean that," said Harry, straight-faced.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows and snickered. He buried himself in his book - which actually did look interesting and if they were sharing a room Hermione might as well take advantage of it by picking up any stray books he left around - and Harry looked out the window.

That is, Harry looked out the window for a while, but it had been a long night for him. They all became quieter as Harry's breathing deepened, and then Sirius and Ron returned to their argument about who owed who money, Lupin returned to his book, and only Hermione was watching when Harry shifted in his sleep and his head ended up on Malfoy's shoulder.

Malfoy blinked down at him, face startled into a softer expression than Hermione'd ever seen on it before. Then he sank down a little in his seat, reached over with his other hand and took Harry's glasses off. He slipped them in his own pocket.

At that point he caught Hermione staring, gave her a chilling and filthy glare, rested his cheek against Harry's hair and returned to his book, face back to its normal cool half-sneer.

She had to corner Malfoy and talk this out as soon as humanly possible.

Once they got to their stop, Malfoy woke Harry by saying "Boo" in his ear and passing over his glasses as he shifted, murmured and half-opened his eyes, then smiled. As soon as possible, Hermione vowed to herself again. If it was anyone else, she'd have said Malfoy was being sweet with Harry. It wasn't right.

After they were outside, looking around at the grimy, grey streets of one of the less attractive parts of Salisbury in the gathering evening, Hermione realised sharply that she'd been trying to use Harry's love life to distract herself from how very far away from home they were.

She wanted Hogwarts. Failing that, she wanted Mum and Dad.

She had Ron, holding her hand. She managed not to cry.

"I don't think we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," said Harry.

Malfoy gave him a mock-annoyed look. "We're not where? Whom are you addressing? You're so crazy, Harry Potter. Probably all that time in the cupboard did it to you, environment is so important for the young mind. Professor Lupin! He's Muggle-referencing at me. It's not kind, and it's not fair."

Harry's elbow was touching the inside of Malfoy's. Hermione clung to Ron's hand, and looked at Lupin's tired face, and Sirius' restless black eyes, and knew these people were all she had left of her world.

It was pathetic, but she was so scared.

She was scared as they trooped into the bed and breakfast, and Lupin smiled with tired charm at the landlady and gave her a credit card, which Malfoy asked to touch.

"Pretty money card," he said at last. "May I have one of my own?"

Harry took it off him firmly. Then Malfoy amused himself by making disparaging comments about Salisbury.

"Come off it," Sirius growled at last. "Malfoy Manor is in Wiltshire too, I was there for the wedding. You're a bloody local."

"I have nothing to do with dirty Muggle urban areas," Malfoy said disdainfully.

Lupin told Malfoy off for saying the word Muggle, let Ron see his credit card and suggested that they might all like an early night.

"Yes, Granger and I wish to be alone," Malfoy said, regarding the homicidal expression on Ron's face with calm joy. "She cannot wait to revel in the untold carnal luxury of my skin against hers," he proceeded.

"You're right, I can hardly wait to slap your face," Hermione informed him briskly. "Now go inside and get changed first, and Harry, you go to your room. You're obviously shattered."

Harry complied amiably enough, wandering down the whitewashed corridor with its hard brown carpet and faint smell of medicinal cabbages. The others seemed tired enough to follow suit and go into their room. Ron paused to kiss her.

"I'll come in a bit later," he promised. "Bearing with Malfoy, you're a heroine! I'll make it up to you. I'll cook you dinner or, like-" he went red - "perform crazy sexual favours on request, or something."

Hermione kissed him softly back. "A good book's always welcome, for choice," she murmured.

"Thanks very much," said Ron, and hugged her hard before he left her.

She stood in the cold little corridor and breathed. Eventually Malfoy came out and she gave a yelp of horror.

"Find a T-shirt, Malfoy!"

"Sleep in one of my shirts?" Malfoy inquired in a voice of ice. "I think not. I only submit to night attire because you are a lady. I'm not accustomed to it, and I probably shan't sleep. Then I will have circles under my eyes, and you will have nobody but yourself to blame for spoiling my radiant beauty."

"Oh God, shut up," Hermione said fervently, and went inside.

She'd worked out how Malfoy had done it. He had talked to Harry until Harry's brain was destroyed, and Harry was putty in his hands. He stole independent thought with his endless annoying chatter.

She chose blue pyjamas that buttoned up to the neck, tied her hair back severely, got into bed and pulled the covers to her chin, and then told Malfoy he could come in.

"Granger, you saucy vision of loveliness," Malfoy drawled, lounging in the doorway in order, Hermione presumed, to look louche and shirtless.

She knew plenty of nicer men who had good shoulders too.

"If you're going to bother me, Malfoy, you can sleep in the corridor," she informed him. "I could use a draught excluder."

He raised cool eyes to the cracks in the ceiling, and the worn-out spots in the brown carpet, and then the cheap white sheets of the bed.

"Anything that would make you more comfortable in this place, I feel it my duty as a gentleman to do."

"Well... good," said Hermione, who favoured the direct approach. "Good, because I want you to do something for me."

"You vixen," Malfoy said with an air of mock awe.

"You can stop fooling around, get into your own bed and talk to me."

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "You're breaking my heart," he declared, and threw himself dramatically on the bed with one hand flung dramatically across his brow. Hermione laughed slightly, since it was pretty clear that was what Malfoy wanted, and he did look a little bit funny.

"I think it's time for us to talk."

"So talk, Granger," Malfoy said lazily.

"I want to talk about Harry."

Malfoy went very still. "What about him?"

Hermione wanted to catch Malfoy's eye, but he lay quiet under the sheet, lying back on his elbows and looking straight ahead. All Hermione could see was his taut unreadable profile.

"I care about him, that's what. Much that you'd know about that, of course."

"Indeed," said Malfoy distantly.

He wasn't looking at her and she thought she might've been unfair, and that made her angry enough to sit up in bed and snap at him.

"Malfoy, I just want to know what's going on! You say you're on our side, well, I think things are bad enough without you messing Harry around. I want to know what you're doing with him. I want to know what you're planning."

"Something dreadful," Malfoy responded, his tone still even.

"I wouldn't put it past you! He's been up and down since you two started this whole friendship thing. I need to know that you're not trying to hurt him. I need to know that you're really his friend!"

"I'm his friend, then!" Malfoy snapped, turning a poisonous glare on her and leaning forward. "I'm his friend, or at least I'm going to be his friend again, after he gets these stupid ideas out of his head, and you can't stop me-"

At this inopportune moment, Ron walked into the room. Hermione had never been so very unhappy to see him.

He took her stare of reproach as a welcome, and came over and sat on her bed, putting an arm around her.

"Hey," he said. "I wanted to see how you were holding up in here with bloody Malfoy."

They'd been progressing nicely until Ron showed up, but Hermione shut her eyes and leaned in when he kissed her temple. She was so tired, and she felt so lonely. She should to be taking roll call right now.

He kissed the corner of her mouth and she sighed and snuggled in.

"Oh my God," Malfoy exclaimed. "Gryffindor mating rituals before my very eyes. Why me?"

"Oh, shut your trap, Malfoy," said Ron, and kissed her again.

There was a sound of rustling sheets, but Hermione kept her eyes tight shut and luxuriated in this brief illusion of warmth and security. Then Malfoy's most unpleasant voice broke the quiet.

"I'm going to go sleep with Harry," he announced, and the door slammed.



Harry lay in bed thinking about Draco.

Oh, what else was new? he thought in exasperation, turning on his side. He should be thinking about Voldemort, the danger they were all facing, or tomorrow. He was a bloody pathetic hero, letting the thoughts of Draco linger and flavour everything else.

What would Draco think about that, what would Draco say if he knew... or simply, how would it be if I had Draco with me through all this? With me, as mine.

That constant sick wanting. If this was love...

It was so bloody stupid!

It was so humiliating that his subconscious forced him, every night, to conjure up some image and hold onto it, trying to convince himself that it was Draco, Draco, Draco...

Draco slipped in his door.

Harry was so certain it was a dream he snatched up his glasses, and only seeing Draco through lenses and the smudge of his sweaty fingers did he believe.

Draco stood there, watching him. He was wearing only a black pair of pyjama bottoms and even as Harry's mind scrambled for explanations of his presence some part of him was being a deviant and cataloguing images.

The white swell of his shoulders, the smooth pale torso. The way the black material bit softly at his hip. Bare feet and, of course, an annoying air of assurance, as if this was completely normal.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Harry," he drawled, "but can I get into your bed?"

Harry's mouth was too dry to speak, to his everlasting shame. He simply made a 'go ahead' gesture.

He had that feeling of extreme sensitivity that one gets right after a hot bath. Every pore screamed out messages to him.

There was the draught of cool air when Draco lifted the sheet. There was the sinking of his bed beneath another weight, something which Harry had never felt before in his life and which was quite frankly marvellous. There was the heat of Draco's body, which seemed to be radiating at Harry across the bed in an indecent manner.

And there was how Draco looked lying next to him, his hair fluffed up just a little against the pillow. Harry felt suddenly and obscenely content.

"Weasley came into Granger's room," Draco explained simply, sliding further under the covers. "Whether it was for a snuggle or a shag, I didn't wait to find out. I don't need that kind of trauma."

Harry found a voice. It couldn't possibly his, his didn't croak this alarmingly.

"It's okay."

The corner of Draco's mouth quirked slightly.

"My, my, Potter, if you get this excited about a little sleepover your head might explode if Ginny Weasley ever gives her all."

"Don't," Harry said sharply.

The small, scrunched-up face that Draco made now was sometimes indicative of regret. Harry had to combat the urge to roll over and kiss it.

"Sorry," said Draco, in his most insincere tones.

Draco liked to sound insincere when he was saying things he meant and did not want to say.

Harry sighed. He understood Draco now, he thought. He could interpret most of those signs that had frustrated and confused and finally intrigued him. He knew Hermione didn't believe it, but he would've had to be blind not to notice that he was a right bastard half the time.

And he loved him horribly, which pretty definitely made him a bastard as well.


Draco's smile turned teasing.

"Well, good night, Harry. It'll be a long day tomorrow, so try not to take abandoned liberties with my person as I sleep."

"Good night, Draco," Harry replied dryly.

Draco rolled onto his side, his back to Harry, and appeared to settle down to slumber.

If he thought this would help Harry's distraction, he was grievously mistaken.

Harry lay looking at the contours of that back, the too-sharp definition of shoulder-blades and the straight line of his spine.

Stop obsessing over a back, Harry Potter. This is becoming truly sad.

He went to sleep instead.


The next thing he saw was a crystal with lightning and screams inside it, and then a rush of blurred, confused images and sounds.

A high-pitched laugh he knew and hated.

Black robes swirling over flagstones, shadows and the flame of torches mingling overhead. The fall of a woman on stone, a woman screaming a name. The sick thump of someone's head against the stone.

Fear running cold in his veins or someone else's, a sense of panic, urgency but most of all disbelief. Someone wondering how could this possibly be true...

Red eyes in the darkness. Red eyes with the blood of a thousand lives mirrored in them, and then a gleam of moonlight on blond hair.


"Don't think that you won't be punished."

A woman screaming in pain this time, horrible, unbearable pain... being totally unable to help her... only bearing witness and shouting silently, shouting because if they didn't stop the woman was going to...


Harry sat up, chest heaving and slick with sweat under his pyjama top. The world was blurred around him and for a moment he thought he was still - there - wherever there was - with that woman...

Harry blinked.

He was in bed, Draco's hair glinting on the pillow beside him. He was... It had just been another dream about Voldemort, one of those...

Harry bit his lip hard, throwing his head back until his lip bled and his neck muscles screamed in pain.

Just another one of those dreams where he was forced to know that someone was suffering, and all he could do was know about it. He could never ever do anything to help, there were no clues, there was nothing but waking up with despair and shuddering breath and crippling fear. Now that Hogwarts was shut, he couldn't even record it in the Somnasieve. Everything was pointless!

Harry tried to get a grip, eased himself down on the bed with the smell of his own terror in his nostrils and that aching knot of frustration and despair in his chest. His eyes were so dry they burned.

As his head fell back against the pillow Draco's voice met his ear, thick with sleep.


Harry tried to push down the ache in his throat.

"It's all right. It was just - a bad dream."

He was cold and beginning to shake with it. That woman screaming... and he could do nothing.

"Mmm," Draco murmured, just the sound of someone going back to sleep. He had never really been awake anyway.

Which was when Harry realised he was trembling against Draco. He must have jumped across to him when he woke. He would have to move back.

With dreamy slowness, Draco's arms went around him.

Harry went very, very still. That inner cataloguing was going on in his mind. This to remember, and this, and this...

One arm going around Harry's shoulders, locked strong against his shoulderblades. The other lying on Harry's side, fingers curled on his ribs. The feel of Draco's sleep-warmed chest pushed against Harry's.

His cheek and the light tickle of his hair against Harry's face, the whisper of warmth that was his mouth by Harry's neck.

"Hmm," mumbled Draco, his lips moving against the skin of Harry's throat and making him shiver. "Shhh. It's okay."

Harry had never been held after a nightmare before, let alone held by someone he loved. His impulse was to try and get closer, to kiss and caress and keep, but he was terrified that Draco's sleep-blurred purpose of comfort could be changed. If Draco woke up any more...

Harry lay quiet for a moment, then put his arms carefully around Draco. Draco made a tiny sound, more like a small animal getting comfortable in his sleep than anything else. His skin was soft, and Harry traced a single stroke up his spine.

He could feel Draco's mouth curve against his throat.

"Harry," he said in a low voice. Harry could feel Draco's body relaxing against him even more. It was all liquid comfort here, curled up around him, and Harry's mind was fragmenting into well-being.

Why had nobody told him how nightmares could go away, with something as simple as this?

"I love you," Harry whispered, and this time it didn't seem so terrible, or so terrifying.

Draco was already asleep. Harry kissed the side of his eye, pressed his face harder against Draco's. The pain melted away gently, leaving him loose and boneless and in spite of everything, almost happy.

Hosted by