Chapter 28: Runaway

-

Harry Potter sat, in a far corner of the shop; faced away from the other customers.

He was still aware however, of the crowd starting to thin gradually when the thunder started an hour ago.

Now, only a few customers were left; him included.

People didn't want to get caught in the rain going home, he supposed.

But Harry wasn't bothered by the change in weather.

Because he wasn't planning on going back to Hogwarts just yet.

Earlier, when he had grabbed his Invisibility cloak and the Marauder's Map from his trunk, he hadn't the faintest idea where he was going.

His only thought had just been;

/Away from here/

And under the blanket of his invisible shroud, his path had led him to Hogsmeade.

Where he had been sitting for the past two hours, in the Three Broomsticks, staring out of the window. The only time he had spoken was when Madam Rosmerta asked him what he wanted to drink.

Now, his butterbeer remained almost full still, having only sipped it once or twice since she put it in front of him.

Things were quiet here now, and without the din of a crowd; only the sound of the rain hitting the pavement outside could be heard.

He sighed and leaned back against the backrest of his chair.

It felt unbelievably good to be away from all the confusion he had felt.

He checked his watch.

It was just past eleven o'clock at night.

That gives him only seven, maybe eight more hours.

Anytime after that and his dorm mates would awake to find his bed empty. Ron would probably throw a fit.

Now, the mere thought of having to eventually return back to his life in the morning was filling him with a heavy dread.

He wondered briefly if he could get a room upstairs. He started toying with the idea of leaving Hogwarts for good and living on his own.

He certainly had enough money to sustain himself modestly.

And what was stopping him from getting a job?

Only his age, of course.

Well, it won't be long till he turns eighteen. And until then, he could do whatever he wanted.

He smiled to himself and took a sip.

The possibility of the plan seems so alluring in its potential.

He could start a new life, forget about everything that had happened.

*And everyone.* he added sullenly.

But he stopped, it would be awful to never see Ron and Hermione again.

They were the first real friends that he had known in his short life.

*Well, they could always visit.* he thought as he sipped his butterbeer and started to feel cheerful again.

++++++++++++++

Meanwhile, back in Hogwarts, Ron and Hermione had been frantically going over the school grounds for any sign of their friend.

"Ron. Wait, stop." Hermione said wearily, pulling on the back of the redhead's robe. They had been walking and asking the other students if anyone had seen Harry, for over an hour now.

She sighed.

"It's useless. He wouldn't take his cloak and map with him if he didn't want to leave the school grounds."

"Yeah, I know." Ron admitted. "But what else can we do? It's not like we can sneak out like he did. Someone's bound to spot us."

"I think -" Hermione paused thoughtfully, "I think it's time we went to the most obvious reason he ran away in the first place."

"What?! You want to ask Malfoy for help after what he did to Harry?" Ron almost shouted.

"We have no choice, Ron." Hermione said quietly.

++++++++++++++

Draco Malfoy was lying on his bed, both hands clasped over his stomach.

His eyes were closed but he wasn't sleeping.

After he had gotten back from the Great Hall, he hadn't even bothered to change.

Thunder boomed dramatically from outside his window and the rain was splattering onto his windowsill and the floor underneath it.

He also hadn't bothered to pull the shutters close when the storm had started in earnest.

*What does it matter anymore? I think I'll just lie here forever. * he sighed deeply.

Just as he was about to turn and curl himself up on the mattress, someone knocked on his door sharply.

"Go Away." he called out, not moving.

The knocks came again, more insistent.

He cursed.

"Whoever you are, go away. I'm not in the mood!"

"Draco, open up! It's us - Hermione and Ron!"

He sat up in surprise, and narrowed his eyes at the door suspiciously.

Was it a trick?

The voice *did* sound like a lot like that mudblood.

But what the heck were they doing here in the dungeons?

He reluctantly slid off his bed and walked the few steps to slip the bolt off his door before opening it.

"How did you two get in here?" he demanded almost instantly when he saw it *was* them.

"Never mind that. We have more important thi-" Hermione started urgently.

"I'll have to report you to Professor Snape, of course." he cut her off, "It *is* an offence to trespass the dungeons." he continued coolly, ignoring Ron's growing livid expression.

Hermione shook her head impatiently.

There was no time for their games now.

"Harry's gone missing." she blurted out.

Draco blinked and took a step back.

His first thoughts were "What?! Why?! and Where?!"

But then he suddenly remembered that it was no longer any of his business now what Harry did.

"I don't see how *that's* my problem, Granger." he said indifferently.

"I think it *is* your problem, Malfoy. Because I don't see any reason why Harry would want to leave if *you* hadn't had something to do with it." Ron seethed.

Draco frowned.

*Was that true? Did Harry leave because of me? But, why? It doesn't make any sense!* he wondered, feeling quite astounded.

"We've searched everywhere. He's not in the school." Hermione continued, biting her lip worriedly.

"We think he might have run off somewhere...maybe Hogsmeade... it can't be too far. But the thing is, we can't sneak out to find him without getting caught ourselves." she said.

Looking at her tense expression, Draco felt the first surge of uncertainty and fear squeeze his heart.

If Granger was worried, then maybe Harry *was* in real trouble.

"He could just have taken his broom out for a joyride, you know." he suggested hopefully.

"In this weather? You must be joking!" Ron exclaimed.

Draco automatically turned his head to glance back at his open window. A strong gust of wind suddenly blew in, causing his shutters to bang violently against the wall.

And the rain was coming down in sheets now. He could barely make out anything outside.

"Besides, I checked and his broom is still here. So wherever he went, he went on foot." added Ron.

"Right..." Draco said and turned back to the two friends.

The three looked at each other in silence.

For maybe the first time, they all had something in common.

Harry.

Draco gripped the side of his door with a hand and looked down for a moment, thinking hard.

"I have an idea." he said suddenly, looking up.

+++++++++++++++

(5 minutes later in The Owlery)

"This is it? *This* is your idea?!" Ron asked, in disbelief.

"Yes, Weasley." Draco stated non-plussed, and straightened a few hairs on his expensive broom. "Unless you have a better one." he waited and looked at the redhead.

Silence.

"Well, I guess that says it all."

"Malfoy... Ron has a point. Don't you think it's a little dangerous for you to be flying around in a storm?"

Draco shrugged and tied his cloak around his neck. It was black and he couldn't be easily spotted with it on. Its inner lining however, was satin and blood-red.

Hermione drew her wand and quickly performed an Impervious charm on the cloak.

"That should keep the rain off, but I don't think it'll hold against lightning. So BE CAREFUL!"

"All right." Draco said absently, straddling his broom with ease.

"And keep your hood on!" Hermione added.

Draco looked at her incredulously for a moment before nodding brusqely and putting his hood up over his head obediently.

Who would have thought the day would come when Hermione Granger would be molly coddling a Slytherin?

"I think I should go instead. Or at least let me come along with you." Ron said insistently.

"Weasley, we both know that I'm the better flier. And I can get there faster without having to babysit you the whole time."

Ron sputtered and seemed about ready to throttle the blonde before Hermione wisely stepped in.

"I think what Malfoy *means*," she threw the blonde a stern look, "is that he wouldn't want to see you get hurt. And there's no escaping being caught if you do. Which means we'll have to tell McGonogall about Harry as well."

After a loaded pause, Ron finally nodded reluctantly.

"Look - are we just about done here?" Draco asked impatiently.

"I guess." Hermione said reluctantly.

"Good. I'm off then." he said as he prepared to kick off but stopped himself as he thought of something. "You two better get back to your dorms. No sense all of us getting into trouble."

And before they could say anything he shot out the window.

++++++++++++++

Harry rubbed at his eyes and stifled a yawn.

He was feeling rather sleepy.

Perhaps it was time he got himself a room and slipped into bed. He could deal with the repercussions of him leaving Hogwarts in the morning, he thought tiredly.

He got off his chair slowly and turned around.

To see a very wet and stone-faced blonde dripping before him.

"Leaving so soon?" Draco asked flatly and side-stepped a very surprised Harry to take a seat at the table.

He propped his broom up against the wall to dry and shrugged his cloak off his shoulders.

It was still warm and dry; Hermione's charm had worked well.

The only thing she hadn't anticipated was that the wind would blow his hood off during his flight. The rain had completely soaked his hair.

He hung the cloak on the back of the chair and sat down.

Harry gaped, speechless. The last person he was expecting to see right now was Draco.

At once, a thousand questions raced through his head.

What was he doing here? How did he know where Harry would be? And worse, if he knew, did Dumbledore and everyone else already know as well?

"So." Draco sat back, looking at Harry thoughtfully. "I brave the rain and the lightning on my broom, in the middle of the night, no less, to come looking for you; I scour the streets for a good fifteen minutes before I finally *do* find you, and... you have nothing to say?" he asked plainly.

Harry opened his mouth to speak, and closed it again.

Draco sighed and ran a hand through his damp locks. They were dripping down his collar uncomfortably.

"What were you *thinking*?" Draco asked curiously, when Harry remained silent.

Harry swallowed and bit his lip before he remembered that it was still quite bruised.

All of a sudden, his plan seemed rather silly now.

He flushed deeply.

"I guess I wasn't." he said glumly and slumped back into his chair.

"How did you -" he started.

"Granger and Weasley found out. They came to me."

"Oh." Harry frowned. He hadn't thought that Ron would notice.

The thought of making his friends worry over him made him feel rather ashamed of himself. He winced.

"Does anyone else -"

"No. Just us three know. That is, unless somehow the two of them got caught out of bed after I'd left."

Harry groaned.

This was bad.

And this time, it was entirely his fault.

He *had* to fix it somehow.

"All right. We better head back now; the sooner the better. If they're in trouble, I'll take the blame for everything." He said determinedly and stood up.

Draco stared at him.

"Uhm, unless you haven't noticed, we have the Storm of the Century brewing out there. How *exactly* are the two of us going to get back?"

"The same way you got here." Harry said, pointing at the broom.

"No way! I *barely* made it here in one piece and that was just *ME* alone on the broom." He shook his head at the memory.

For the first time since he had made his appearance, Harry noticed that the boy's shoulders were trembling a little.

Maybe it *was* too dangerous to fly out there all the way back to the school.

Harry glanced out the window to see the sheets of rain pounding the pavement mercilessly. Lightning lit the empty street outside for a split second.

He couldn't imagine what Draco had to go through to get here to him.

And in a moment of clarity, all the confusion he had been feeling within him evaporated.

All that he could feel now was concern and fear for the boy.

"Are you all right?" he asked cautiously. "You're - you're shaking."

"Oh. Must be the cold." Draco said dismissively, with a tired sigh.

"So - it looks like you're stuck with me till the storm blows over." He looked away from Harry as he said this.

Now that the initial relief of finding Harry had faded, the rejection he'd faced this evening came flooding back to him again.

It stung just as raw as it did then.

Suddenly he was regretting his decision to come, instead of letting Ron make the trip himself.

Harry would probably have been delighted to see Weasley, he thought bitterly. He forced himself to blink back the hot tears that were threatening to spill.

How humiliating. Only his pride saved him now.

"We can fly back in the morning, hopefully make it back in time before everyone wakes up. With luck, no one will be the wiser and we can forget this ever happened." Draco continued, keeping his eyes fixed on the table top.

Harry nodded with relief. It seemed like a good plan.

"Thanks." He said gratefully and tried to meet Draco's eyes to convey this but the boy was refusing to look at him. Harry frowned.

"Forget it." Draco mumbled.

Harry, of course, remembered what had happened outside the Great Hall very clearly.

He could guess then that he had hurt Draco but he hadn't known till now how much.

And now, looking at the blonde, he wanted nothing more than to hold him close and tell him how sorry he was and how he hadn't meant what he had said.

Things had been awful for so long and he wondered what was standing in his way now to making them right again.

Nothing, he realised truthfully.

And if there was anything Harry could do well, it was being direct after he had made his mind up about something.

He stood up abruptly, scraping the legs of his chair on the floor loudly as he did so.

Draco looked up at him.

"You - want to sit at another table." He stated flatly.

He knew Harry wanted nothing more than to escape from his presence, but he hadn't expected such an obvious gesture.

"No!" Harry exclaimed, looking at Draco strangely. "Why would I - oh never mind. Come on, get up!" he held onto Draco's arm and coaxed the boy out from his seat.

"Wha- what are you doing?" Draco asked, baffled.

Not letting go of Draco's arm, Harry grabbed the broom with his other hand before pulling a very reluctant Draco forward along with him determinedly.

"I'm going to ask Madam Rosmerta if she could let us have a room for the night. No point sitting here the whole time when we could get some sleep in a warm bed, right?" he said matter-of-factly.

Draco started to yank his arm back in sheer horror, but Harry's grip was remarkably strong and it kept him in place.

Stay in the same room with Harry? In the same bed? Was the boy trying to torture him even further?

"I think I'd rather just sit here, really! You go ahead, though." He suggested, with an air of desperation.

Harry looked back and faced the protesting boy; shaking his head firmly.

"That just won't do. Besides, you need to dry off or you'll catch your death of cold." Harry paused thoughtfully.

"I think I'd better run a hot bath for you as well, just to be on the safe side." He added mischievously.

"What?!" Draco yelped, his eyes growing wide in alarm. This was *too* cruel, even if Harry did hate him.

"No! Look, just -"

"Dra-co..." Harry cut him off with such affection in his eyes, that Draco was stunned speechless.

Unable to contain his smile any longer; Harry let the broom fall to the floor with a thud, and used his free hand now to gently trace Draco's smooth cheek.

Draco blinked in shock.

"You have *got* to learn when to stop talking." Harry said with a slight shake of his head, and pulled the resisting blonde closer against him.

Draco thought his heart would leap out of his chest, it was ramming so loudly in his ribcage when he saw Harry lean in towards him.

And he did the most incredible thing Draco could ever wish for.

He kissed him.

Draco closed his eyes and melted into the kiss almost instantly.

His nerves were on fire.

Every brush, every touch of his skin against Harry's seemed amplified a thousand times.

His legs were starting to buckle weakly under him. It was a good thing that Harry was holding him so tightly or he would've crumpled to the floor within seconds.

"Er-hem." Someone in the room cleared his or her throat loudly.

To Draco's dismay, Harry pulled away. But he exhaled shakily as he realised that he was still tightly ensconced in the boy's arms.

And for some reason, the simple gesture gave him a strange thrill.

Harry looked up to see a stern looking old wizard staring at them reproachfully. He must've been the one who had cleared his throat pointedly.

There was nobody else around, except for Madam Rosmerta behind the counter and she was pretending to be busy wiping her mugs dry, a small smile playing at the corner of her lips giving her away.

Ordinarily, Harry would've immediately let go of Draco and feel completely embarrassed at his inadvertent public display of affection.

But, for the first time in his life his heart felt free and light, and he found that he couldn't care less what anyone else was thinking about them.

He was amazed and delighted at this entirely new and unfamiliar feeling of freedom.

"So." Draco started awkwardly and fingered Harry's robe. The raven-haired boy turned back to him, a question in his eyes.

"How about that room?"

Harry grinned and leant in to kiss him again.

+++++++++++

A/N: A very big Thank You to everyone who's read this story and reviewed or bothered to send me an e-mail about it. When I started this, I never (NEVER) imagined that it would get quite so long & get so many reviews! I LOVE all your feedback and it never fails to put a smile on my face. This chapter stayed in my computer for a while before I could finish it because I've been a little distracted putting together another HP/DM fanfic (my second) "Stuck! The Elevator Story."

So, check it out if you haven't already & let me know what you think!

Cheers! ~ Katanes D.