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Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Eight—The Malfoy Christmas

"Welcome home again, dear Harry."

Harry could feel himself flushing as Narcissa hugged him. He didn't think of Malfoy Manor as home most of the time; that was Severus's quarters, or the house in Hogsmeade that Sirius had given to him, even though he hadn't spent much time there in the past few months. He did say, "Thanks," though, and step out of the way for Draco to get his own hug.

Narcissa didn't hug him right away. She held his shoulders and looked into his face with such smiling pride that Harry felt a kind of ache start in his chest. He wanted a mum.

Of course, either Narcissa or Mrs. Weasley would be happy to do it for him. But Harry also didn't want to tell them. So he waited as Narcissa kissed Draco's cheek, nodded to Conflagration and Ultior behind him, and said, "You are looking well, dear."

"Thanks, Mum," Draco mumbled, looking as if, unlike Harry, he would do away with the notion of mothers if possible, and then moved out of the way of the Floo. Narcissa turned to face it, her hands clasped in front of her. Harry thought she probably reckoned that Severus would be the next of them to come through.

Instead, it was Dash's head. And then coils of his body. And then more coils. And then more. The Malfoys' grand fireplace was large enough to admit him, but Harry was holding his breath until all of his body emerged. He had thought that maybe the Floo travel would cut off some portion of it.

Then it would grow its own head and become a ravaging beast of the Floo connection. The Legendary Floo-Snake.

You're making that up, Harry said, but with a tremor of uncertainty in his mind that only faded when he felt Dash laughing down the bond. He scowled at him, and then turned and nodded to the wide-eyed, still Narcissa. "Um, this is Dash. Again."

Narcissa maintained the posture for long enough that Harry was sure she regretted inviting all of them to spend the holidays, which made him wince. But then she made a graceful curtsey, tipping her face all the way towards the floor and showing Dash the vulnerable back of her neck. "You are welcome here, King of Serpents," she said. "I only ask that you not eat all the peacocks in the garden."

This is a lady who knows how to treat a guest, Dash told Harry happily. Say my words exactly like that, or I'll bite you and send you into an hour-long coma.

Harry sighed, even though he knew Narcissa would be thrilled at the compliment, and obediently repeated it exactly as he'd been told. Narcissa smiled and said, "I pride myself on my hospitality. It should not matter whether a guest has legs or not." She nodded to the large doors that led out onto the gardens, although both of them would have to be opened before Dash could pass them. "Please, my lord. Enjoy yourself."

I like it when people call you lord better than when they do it to me, Harry told Dash as he squeezed his head out into the garden, gently tapping the doors open with his snout.

We both deserve the respect, Dash said in an absent tone. Harry could feel his tongue darting out, and knew he was scenting the garden for both prey and potential hiding places.

Harry rolled his eyes and turned back to Severus, who glanced at him immediately to make sure he was in one piece. Then he faced Narcissa and nodded to her. "My thanks for having us over, Narcissa."

"I wanted to see both my son and my future son-in-law. And the rest of you are no trouble at all."

Harry could feel the way the blushes overcame his face when Narcissa spoke of him marrying Draco in the future. Or bonding. Or whatever traditional wizards did. Draco would probably want a traditional ceremony, and if he didn't, then Harry suspected that Narcissa would smilingly talk both of them into it.

Severus flicked his eyes over to Harry as if he wanted to see his embarrassment, but nodded to Narcissa and kissed her hand. "If you would show me where you are placing the gifts so that I may add our own?"

Narcissa nodded towards an archway that Harry thought led into the great room where they had enjoyed Christmas before, and Severus floated the presents in that direction. Harry relaxed and stepped out into the gardens to check on Dash.

You could have used the bond for that, you know.

You're very contrary today, Harry muttered, and found Dash lying in a huge mound of coils in the middle of what looked like an empty flowerbed. There was one peacock pecking around almost at the base of his tail. Harry blinked. Are they that stupid?

No, that one's hungry and has decided that it's worth the risk, because it can sense that I'm not. Dash unhinged his jaws to yawn, which did make the peacock squawk and take flight into a small tree nearby. I think I could sleep here in the sun. There are Warming Charms in the gardens so that the flowers stay alive throughout the winter. It's perfect for me.

Harry reached out and gently ran his hand down the gleaming green scales. Then enjoy it.

I will. You'll call me in an instant if there's any trouble or you feel in danger.

It wasn't a question, but Harry answered it as if it was, still tickling his fingers along the line of Dash's jaw. I promise.

Dash went to sleep, a soft shrouding of the bond in a sort of guarding mist. Harry smiled at him and walked back through the large doors to greet Lucius and make his way to dinner, which Narcissa had set up to be special.


Then again, all the events of Christmas at Malfoy Manor in the next few days were set up to be special.

Harry wandered through an intersecting maze of corridors decorated in fairy lights, or through a garden hedge-maze that he'd never seen before crowned with bobbing white peacock feathers. Narcissa told him that this was the one time of year when she really found the creatures useful. If Harry concentrated hard enough, he thought he could make out a faint tracery of azure in those beautiful white plumes.

In the center of the hedge-maze was a single decorated tree, a pine so magnificent that Harry stood gaping at it. It was even bigger than Dash—

I could still crush it if I wanted.

—and a darker green, and it shimmered with soft, decorative balls of Lumos in slightly different colors that Narcissa had cast herself. The balls started out white at the top of the tree, and then descended into pink and rose and gold towards the bottom, ending up in shining blue and indigo that reminded Harry of the night sky between the stars.

"I've never seen anything like this," Harry whispered.

Narcissa, standing beside him, smiled down at him and squeezed his hand. "I would be unhappy if you had. I rather fancy the conceit being mine alone."

Harry decided not to tell her about Muggles who had achieved some similar things. Besides, this wasn't the same thing at all; Muggle lights were never as soft and brilliant as the magic on the tree.

And he didn't want to upset the woman who was apparently going to be his future mother-in-law. As strange as that was to voice sometimes.

Draco changed, too, with his parents right there with him and the familiar atmosphere of the Manor around him. He seemed to smile more, or maybe just to smile brighter. His touches were shorter but more frequent, and he almost pulled Harry into his lap snogging him one morning. He did spill the pumpkin juice.

"Not so enthusiastic, dear," Narcissa said mildly from the dining room doorway.

Draco broke apart from Harry at once, and buried his face in his hands. Harry stood back and grinned at him as he straightened his robes. "What, ashamed of our relationship in front of your parents, Drake?"

Draco looked up with his mouth actually dropping open. "Don't you call me that."

"But I have to call you something. Sweetheart."

"Did Dash put you up to this?"

"Of course not. I only want everyone to know that you're mine, and that no one else can take you away from me. Little dragon."

Draco flung the empty goblet of pumpkin juice at him. Harry dodged. Narcissa shook her head and waved her wand to clean up the mess, although her mouth was twitching and Harry could see the delight deep in her eyes. "Draco, what have I told you? Throwing objects is uncouth, no matter what someone has done to you."

"He's a monster."

"Nonsense. He is simply being polite. I will have you know that I called your father many pet names when we were first betrothed."

Draco looked so horrified that Harry leaned against the table as he laughed. When Draco shot him a narrow glance, Harry shook his head. "I won't call you that if you don't want me to." He waited long enough for Draco to relax, and then added, "Drake."

Draco ended up chasing him around the table, and Narcissa stood back politely until they were done, then said, "You have the right to open one gift today."

"Is that a tradition?" Harry asked. He still didn't know half of the Malfoy family history and traditions. Draco seemed to talk about a new one every time he opened his mouth. Their heritage bristled with them. But Harry found he liked that. He didn't really know how his parents had celebrated Christmas, or the Potters that he'd never got to meet. Being part of a family that did have all that was comforting.

And it helped erase the memory of the Dursleys and their traditions, so many of which had depended on hurting him.

Narcissa smiled gently at him as if she knew exactly what he was thinking, which made Harry tighten his Occlumency shields a little. There were things he didn't want her to see as much as there were things Draco didn't want her to hear. "It's one that I decided on. And one that my sisters and I had—some years."

Harry nodded politely and didn't pry. He had a lot of hard things in his own life, too, but at least his sister wasn't Bellatrix Lestrange.

Narcissa ushered them both into the drawing room where a smaller version of the tree from the gardens stood, glittering with lights in silver and green. Draco spent his time choosing his gift from under the tree, instead of going for the biggest one right away, the way Harry had thought he would. He finally sat down with a delicate-looking box and began to tear at it, while Ultio watched in interest from his arm.

Harry cocked his head curiously when he saw a present for him in dark red paper. He turned it around and watched the way that the red colors shimmered, looking like there was black in them, before he opened it.

Draco's gift was a cage made of white wicker filled with mice. He looked up at his mother, who smiled at him and said, "It'll replenish itself whenever your snakes need a meal. I got tired of Summoning Charms. The cage summons them by itself. And it will produce food and water for the mice from the nearest sources as well."

Draco smiled at her. "Thank you, Mother."

Stupid small snakes who need food captured for them. They are not mighty hunters, like me.

Did you just eat another peacock?

Harry actually lost concentration on the bond and Dash's response when he opened the box. He gasped, drawing Narcissa and Draco's attention. Narcissa took a step forwards when she saw the sword he held.

"Harry." Narcissa's voice was low. She looked at the gift and then back at him, as if she assumed that he would hold the answer on his face. "Who gave you that?"

Harry shook his head and said nothing for a second, turning the sword around. The steel was rippled so that it reflected light in odd ways and with odd colors, but the most present ones were scarlet and gold. The hilt was made of golden wire wrapped around a heavy red material that Harry honestly couldn't identify. Metal? Bone? It glowed brighter than the reflections from the sword, whichever it was.

Narcissa spent a moment casting spells on the present's paper, and then snorted as a tiny card flew out and zoomed towards her. "That's my cousin's handwriting," she said. "I suppose that he thought he was being funny, sending you one of the Black treasures."

"It's one of the Black treasures?" Draco asked, at the same time Harry asked, "It's from Sirius?"

"Yes," Narcissa said to both of them. She was reading the card. Her eyes widened a moment later, and she held it out to Harry. "You should read this."

Harry gave her a suspicious look, but her face really told him nothing, even if he was getting better at reading the subtle tells in expressions, so he scooped it up and turned it over.

Happy Christmas, pup!

I know that one thing you might wonder about is how to destroy Horcruxes. I've given you a sword that you can cover with basilisk venom. I think that's the best solution, given how you destroyed that diary you told me about in second year. I realized after thinking about it that the Sword of Gryffindor probably has venom in it now, but I don't think we could get permission from Minerva to take that and run around with it. Here's a sturdier sword that will do better at protecting you, anyway. You can just put Dash's venom on it and off you go!

By the way, you probably want to tell your friends not to handle the sword too much. Draco could, because he's of Black blood, but otherwise the sword defends itself by skeletonizing the hands of anyone who touches it except the recipient.

Sirius.

Harry stared at it, then at the sword again. "You've—you've seen this before, Narcissa?"

"Yes." Narcissa crouched down in front of the sword, but even though she was of Black blood, she looked as if she wasn't about to touch it either, Harry noticed. Her eyes were wide and wondering and wary. "It's called the Black Star. Supposedly the hilt is made of the bones of the first wizard—or witch—who bore the Black name, whoever they were. It locks onto one owner, usually the descendant of the family who owns the assets. But if that person gives it to someone else, then the recipient becomes the owner."

Harry stared at the sword again. "It seems—it seems like it's pretty Gryffindor for a Black blade?"

"That is a reflection of the personality of the owner. In this case, since both you and Sirius are Gryffindors, it's not a surprise."

Harry flinched a little when Draco reached out and laid a hand on the hilt, but the sword didn't do anything to him. He shook his head. "Merlin. Only your godfather would get you a sword that you can personally use to destroy Horcruxes."

"Only he would be foolish enough to do it."

Harry looked up at Severus. "Are you angry because you can't touch the sword?"

Severus's mouth shut and his nostrils flared, but a second later, he looked away and sighed. "It is a dangerous gift that I have no method of containing. It is likely that Black sent it to annoy me personally as well as give you a weapon capable of destroying our enemy."

"I'm not sure Sirius thinks ahead that much."

After a second, Severus inclined his head in acceptance. Harry smiled, put the sword aside, and went on opening his gifts: clothing, books, a delicate silver pendant from Draco that made Harry flush at the gleam of the emeralds that matched his eyes, a new variety of sweets from Zonko's that Ron had chosen, and a pair of warm dragonhide gloves from Hermione. He paused when he opened the final gift, even though he knew perfectly well who it was from.

"Severus?" he asked quietly, glancing at him. The book in his hands held the title Occlumency in huge silver letters. It was the one underneath that that caused him some concern. And the Dark Arts, it said in much smaller gilt ones.

Severus held his gaze and shook his head a little. In the end, Harry nodded and put the book aside with the rest. He understood that they would discuss it later, and he only hoped the book wasn't what it looked like.


"What is the book about, sir?"

Severus sighed as he looked down at Harry's messy black head. They were pacing slowly through the maze Narcissa had set up in the Malfoy gardens. Feathery snow was turning Harry's hair and cloak both white. His breath misted in front of him, and Severus knew that the straight, untroubled cant of his head was a lie. He would have called Severus by name if he was comfortable.

"It is time that you learned how to kill with your mind."

Harry stiffened. Severus leaned forwards to admire the curve of one of the hedges. There were claws and delicate eyes formed by the twining of the branches, and although Severus knew it would have been the house-elves who formed that sort of beauty, it was Narcissa who had come up with the idea.

"Why, sir?"

"My name is Severus."

"Excuse me for being just a little upset about what you said! Sir."

Severus sighed and turned to face Harry. He raised a Silencing Charm around them, even though he probably would go and tell everything to Draco anyway. "Listen to me. I would not push this issue if you had a normal mind—"

"Well, thanks a lot."

Severus shook his head. "Forget about your Dursley-trained reactions to that word for one moment. You don't have normal defenses on your mind, and you don't have normal enemies. Lord Voldemort has made a Horcrux with part of your soul. He has already proven that he can invade the link that the piece of him you contain provides him. Don't you want to know how to block that link?"

"Blocking is different than killing with my mind."

"But it will, in the end, be necessary. I have studied the problem of the Horcrux. Granted that there has never been a case of two people with mutual Horcruxes bound up in each other, I have still managed to make some progress."

Reluctantly, Harry paid attention to Severus. Severus knew that pulled expression about his lips and the way his hands were clenched, but he did his best to ignore it. Harry was doing his best to listen, whether or not he wanted to.

"A Horcrux is a guarantee of immortality," Severus said quietly. "Or so the ignorant consider it. In reality, it can be destroyed, as you learned with Riddle's diary in second year. What is difficult is coming up with magic of sufficient potency to do so. Basilisk venom and Fiendfyre are the canonical ways." He breathed out slowly. "Another way is directed will."

"In what way?"

"If you could command the space that the Horcrux inhabited, if you could take absolute control of the object it was stored in, then you could destroy it. There have been cases—not always identified as Horcruxes, but I have learned how to look for them—where someone who owned the artifact made into a Horcrux by right of blood could command it to break apart. That also destroys the shard of soul."

Harry blinked. "How could I—you think I could take command of my own mind?"

"And maybe the shard of soul that Voldemort tore away from you, which is embedded in his now. Yes."

"I would have to assert control of the shard he took from me, not his mind…"

"No, that would be futile." Severus frowned as Harry shivered, and cast a Warming Charm. Harry lifted his head and studied the snow-covered hedges around them as if he was thinking. "It would take a long time, but that is the only way I can see to destroy a Horcrux that is essentially hidden in the mental world that you and Voldemort share."

"And Dash. He's there, too."

"Yes, you told me that." Frankly, Severus wasn't sure that he understood the whole messy business of Voldemort's resurrection, but he knew it couldn't have happened at all without the Horcrux in Harry. Destroying that and then reclaiming ownership of his own stolen soul-piece seemed the best course to Severus.

"I don't know if I should just destroy my own piece of soul, though."

"Do you imagine that you could have it back and fit it into the place it came from?"

Harry thought about that for a while, and probably consulted with Dash down their bond, and finally shook his head. "No, Dash doesn't think that would work. The only reason he managed to give me a piece of his soul in the first place is that we already sort of shared that kind of bond, since we're Parselmouth and basilisk. And it definitely wouldn't work to try and rip away the piece of soul he gave me and replace it with the one Voldemort stole."

Severus breathed a little easier. To know Dash approved of his plan was the best guarantee it would work. "Then you will begin learning this kind of Occlumency?"

Harry spent a moment squirming and glancing around as if someone was going to walk up to him and knock him on the head for considering it. Then he nodded. "I reckon that I have to, and if Dash approves of it—I didn't really think that he would."

"Good." Severus breathed away his own fear. "Then we should get back to the Manor. I believe that Narcissa hinted your godfather would be visiting today."

The way that Harry's face lit up as if someone had set off a firework reconciled Severus to permitting the visit. He would say out of the room. He would wait for Harry and Black to speak to each other and for Black to actually say or do something threatening before he intervened.

But he would not be far away from the door.