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Chapter Forty-Five—It Blows Up

"Have you made up your mind about telling us the truth?"

"Yes."

Theo doesn't actually trust the smooth face that Harry's wearing for a second, but that's all right. He sits down next to him and butters his toast. There's still food to be eaten. Books to be read. And messages from the Nott house-elves to treasure in all their crinkling parchment in his pockets.

Harry stares at the far wall throughout most of breakfast. Theo is satisfied to see that Professor Snape is watching him from the staff table. Harry isn't going to get away with this for very long.

"So. Care to spill?" Theo finally asks, when there's only about five minutes left of breakfast and Blaise has settled in on Harry's other side. Draco and Daphne are sitting further down the table, glancing over now and then. Draco's glances are a lot more cautious than Daphne's. Then again, Harry is wearing that pendant that means he's accepted her alliance. So maybe Daphne has a reason to feel smug.

Harry sighs. "Okay. You know that the Muggles didn't treat me that well when I was growing up."

Draco jumps as though he's been pricked by a pin, although Harry's voice isn't loud. Theo simply holds his calm expression. "I know."

"I want to have something stable," Harry says, lowering his voice. Blaise and Theo are listening intently; he probably knows that he can speak like this and they'll still hear him. "Something that won't change. And my only hope of having that is Sirius. He'll get healed by this Mind-Healer and then I'll have something stable."

"Black is the least fit person to have custody of you."

"He's the only legal choice."

"He can—"

"I don't want to move from house to house the way you were suggesting, Theo." Harry sounds tired. "I don't want to be a nomad. This is the only way that I'll have someone who can stay in one place and I can live there, not just visit."

"Black is dangerously unstable," Blaise says in a bland, helpful voice. "You can't just go to him and expect things to work out, for reasons that we've already discussed, Harry."

"I don't have a choice."

There's so much bitterness underlying those words that Theo pauses for a second. He wonders when the last time was that Harry felt he did have a choice, and how much he wants one. Perhaps he isn't welcoming his friends' help for that reason, because he thinks that they'll just make his decisions for him.

But Blaise, who doesn't seem to be struck with the same thought, is persisting in his quiet way. "You're not thinking clearly, Harry. You can't be. You really think that Black is going to make the best guardian?"

"Not the best one. Just the best choice I have."

Harry stands up abruptly and leaves the table, heading for the door. And it's true that they have to follow him or they're going to be late to Herbology, but Theo can feel his stomach jumping still, unsettled.

This wasn't the whole truth. Or it's similar, but not exactly what Harry is lying to them about.

But Harry says nothing else, and there's not enough yet to take to someone else, an adult like Professor Snape or who is actually him. Theo will have to wait.


Blaise glances around. They're in History of Magic, and no one is paying particular attention to him. This is probably the best time to test whether he does have his mother's Gift or not.

He focuses on a girl to his left. She wears Ravenclaw colors, but he doesn't actually know her. He didn't want his first test to be on someone he knew.

Blaise cautiously extends his magic, a thin thread of it. The girl starts and turns to look at her. Blaise gives her an apologetic smile. "Could I have your quill?"

Her hand closes on the quill, which is made from an eagle's feather and expensive. She probably noticed that Blaise asked for it as if he wanted to keep it forever, not just borrow it. That's because he does.

Blaise leans his head on his fist and sends more magic at her. It doesn't actually work best to weave it in loops around her, he finds. Instead, it seems to be best to beam at her like he's the sun. The girl's face becomes dazed, and she picks up the quill and holds it out. Blaise takes it and admires it. The very edges of the upper plume are touched with silver.

"Thank you," he says, and bows his head at her. Then he releases her, and she turns around and digs out another quill from her bag to copy some of Binns's words down as if nothing happened.

Blaise swallows. So he has the Gift. His mother mentioned once that he should speak to her instantly if he ever manifested it. Blaise knew she didn't actually expect him to do that, though. She thought he didn't have it.

But Blaise never intends to tell her.

The use he makes of it is going to be his and his alone.


Draco tears up yet another letter to his father. He knows he should write him. This is important information, the extent of Harry's mistreatment. It could be a way to bring down Minister Fudge and Dumbledore. Right now, they don't have as much power as they did, since everyone found out about Black being denied a trial, but they still have too much. Father would want to know.

And yet, Draco can't. It's like all the words turn to mud and he knows that he won't convince his father with them. He has to make them just right, and no matter what he tries, they aren't.

Draco Vanishes the pieces of the letter and looks over at Harry's bed. The curtains are drawn, but Draco knows Harry isn't sleeping. He's become accustomed to the sounds that all his roommates make when they're sleeping. Harry's is kind of a soft snore, but not loud, as if someone told him once that he shouldn't make loud noises.

Probably those bloody Muggles.

And right now, there are no snores.

Draco hesitates, then casts a Silencing Charm centered on his own body and gets out of bed. When he touches Harry's curtains, he's gladder of it than he was, because they send a vicious current of energy through his body. He yelps and cradles his hand, blinking at the curtains as they yank back.

"What are you doing?" Harry has his wand leveled at him.

"I knew you were up, and I am too, so I wanted to talk to you." Draco settles down on the floor next to the bed, careful not to touch the outer edge of the curtain. "What are you going to do about your family?"

"Um. They're dead except for my cousin. Hard to do more about them than that."

"I didn't mean that." Draco winces a little at the sound of his own voice. That's the petulant tone that Mother is always trying to tell him he should master. He sits up and tries to make it deeper. "I mean that you have to talk to someone about them."

"I did."

"What? Who?"

"You."

"Potter! Don't be ridiculous."

"I owed you the answer to a question, Draco. You got it. That doesn't mean I owe you anything else." Harry turns his back and flops into his bed as if that does, in fact, answer everything and he'll just put his wand back, probably under his pillow, and go back to sleep.

"I mean that I think you're still suffering from them. That can make you weak. It won't make you a good leader. What are you going to do about that?"

Draco doesn't miss the little flinch that tightens Harry's shoulder blades at the mention of being weak. But still his voice is light. "I'm going to learn more magic so that I'm not weak. And I'll fight Voldemort if he keeps coming after me. And I'm not going to be more of a leader than that."

"You're already becoming—"

"You know, when Cho Chang said she wanted to be part of the study group, I made her apologize to Luna. And then I thought it's really not fair if I make one person apologize for their bullying but not another person. You have to do the same thing. You need to apologize to Ron and Hermione."

"What?"

Harry doesn't say anything else. Draco wrestles some more with his incredulity. Harry said something like that once before, but Draco didn't think he meant it. He manages to force his breathing and his heartbeat back under control, and says simply, "Then they should apologize to me."

"For what?"

"Insulting my name. Insulting my family. Hitting me—"

"You think that's on the same level as calling someone a Mudblood?"

Draco sits back. He wants to say that he doesn't think so, no, because it's worse, but he also knows that would upset Harry. He's starting to wish that he never got out of bed and started this conversation. "You're really upset about this, aren't you? Why? You didn't say anything about it for months."

"I realized I was being unfair." Harry sighs and rolls back to face him, his eyes glinting and strange without his glasses. "And maybe Ron and Hermione think I don't really value them because I'm spending time around you and I made Cho apologize but not you. So you need to apologize to them tomorrow."

"And you say you're not a leader, even though you're concerned about what other people think and keeping the harmony of this group intact."

Harry just rolls back the other way again.

Draco gets up and sulks on the way back to bed. But surprisingly, he doesn't feel upset when he lies down, and even though he still doesn't have the words for the letter to his father, the worry has passed off. Just before he falls asleep, he realizes why.

Harry didn't say he was going to kick Draco out of the group for insulting his best friends for years. He just said he had to apologize.

That's a way of caring about what Draco does and says that he's never had.


"Mr. Potter, stay after class."

Harry gives Ron and Hermione an apologetic look. Potions is their last class today, and they were going to head straight for the library for the first meeting of the study group with Cho and Terry Boot, who says he knows a good thing when he sees it. And Draco was going to apologize today.

But Snape probably wants to give him detention for not spending enough time talking about his feelings or something.

"Yes, sir," he says, and feels Hermione press his back fleetingly as she leaves. Theo and Blaise linger until Snape narrows his eyes at them. Harry faces Snape and bows his head a little. Maybe he'll look contrite and Snape will let him off from the detention he probably has planned.

Snape leans forwards. Suddenly he's different than he was a second ago, but not the way he looks when he's giving Harry Christmas gifts and talks about the Dursleys, either. He's staring at him and his eyes are wide. "When were you going to tell me about Dumbledore setting up Black with a Mind-Healer?"

Harry winces. It's not something he consciously avoided telling Snape. He just—forgot. "I knew for a while."

"He will not get better with anyone Albus chooses."

"Well, he's not going to open up to anyone who wasn't a Gryffindor at Hogwarts, because that's the way he is right now. When he gets better, then maybe he can talk to a Slytherin or a Ravenclaw or whatever. But right now, he has to get better."

"What did Albus promise to pay you?"

Harry could pretend to misunderstand the question, but he doesn't see the point. "Not in so many words, but I know that he won't oppose me and Sirius living together, the way I want to."

"You want to live with Black."

It's not a question. It's a statement with so much raw pain in it that Harry can only compare it to the birthday when his relatives promised him presents and then gave them to Dudley instead. It was the first time he realized they would never love him no matter what they said. He flinches away.

"Have I not shown that I would take care of you?"

All of Harry's frustration comes welling to the surface. More people, making decisions for him. Snape is different from Dumbledore in a lot of ways, but not this way. God, he hates people making decisions for him. They don't treat him like a child when he has to kill basilisks and professors with Voldemort on the back of their head, why do they keep trying to treat him like a child the rest of the time?

"You wouldn't be allowed to. Dumbledore would make you not do it. So Sirius is my only choice that Dumbledore is going to approve of, and he's the only one who has the right to legal custody of me. It's terrible, and it's not what I would choose. I would make Sirius sane. I would make my parents come back to life. But at this point, I want something I can actually get. Sir."

Snape is staring at him with wide eyes. Harry stares back. Snape should know this already. What, is he surprised that Harry does?

"I would do something," Snape says like a promise. "I would go up against Albus and force him to let me take care of you."

"You wouldn't win." Harry is so weary. He wants to go and be with his friends and make sure that Draco apologizes to Ron and Hermione, because at least that isn't going to get stalled by Dumbledore being the Head of the Wizengamot or something. "Sirius is the only choice I have."

"There are others who would fight for you. Others you know well have more power than I."

"But they all just want to use me!"

"You think that Albus Dumbledore does not? Potter—"

"But at least Sirius doesn't, and he's someone who could love me for me when he gets sane, and that's what I want! Someone who's just for me and not thinking about politics and other kids all the time!"

Harry realizes what he's done at the same time as he sees Snape's face beginning to change. Towards pity, of course it is. Harry is so stupid. All that sneaking around and lying to his friends and then he goes and tells the one thing he didn't want to tell to Snape.

He ducks underneath the spell that Snape throws, but he realizes too late that it's not aimed at him. The door is locked when he gets there. Harry draws his wand, and then Snape Summons it and he's standing there wandless.

"Calm down, Harry." Snape's voice is calm, but Harry still can't look at him, because he knows what he's going to see in those dark eyes. "I want to talk with you."

Harry hunches his shoulders and says nothing.

"I have no children. You have stayed a summer with Tarquinius, who does. Where does this sudden desire to have someone all to yourself come from?"

"You have other Slytherins to take care of." Harry folds his arms and sucks back in all the tears and sniffling and upset that want to escape into the center of his chest. "And it's not sudden. I've had it for a long time. But why talk about it when it's not ever going to come true? Now it can, because I have Sirius."

Snape steps up behind him and rests a hand on his shoulder. Harry hunches again. He hates it when Snape touches him like that, because it feels—warm and protective and all the other things that Harry can't get used to, because even if Snape didn't have other Slytherins to take care of, there would still be the fact that he can't take care of Harry.

"During the summer, I would not."

"Dumbledore won't allow you to."

"I have favors I can call in."

"You still wouldn't win." Harry can do this, he tells himself. He can make his own decisions. He firms his chin and his jaw and his voice and steps away from Snape and turns to face him. Snape still looks pained. But Harry is used to seeing adults look that way. It doesn't change things. He makes sure that his throat isn't choked up before he talks. "It's okay. Sirius has the legal right. I want him to take me for the summer."

"That would not be wise." Snape is almost hissing the words, his hands curled in front of him. Harry eyes his wand. He's going to try a bit of wandless magic to Summon it back in a second if Snape won't let it go.

"Why not?"

"He is still immature even if he is saner than he has been. He has the werewolf around—"

"Remus has all that Wolfsbane you made for me to give him for Christmas—"

Snape takes a step forwards. This time, he's the one who sounds as if he's having a confession ripped out of him. "Black does not love you. He only sees your father when he looks at you. He will encourage the Gryffindor in you and nothing else."

Harry stares at Snape, and for a moment, he feels dizzy. Snape is implying—

He wants to encourage the Slytherin in me, and nothing else. That's all he's implying. Harry shoves the dizziness away, Summons his wand with a wave of his hand, unlocks the door, and flees.

He knows, as he pounds through the corridors, that he'll have to go somewhere and calm down before he can go to the study group. He's too hoarse and panting and has his eyes too near to overflowing.

But he can't deal with the fact that Snape might—care about him like that. It seemed easy at Christmas, when he could accept Snape's gifts and smile at him and everything was all right.

But not now, not when Snape can't win any legal battle and Dumbledore would never let him and Harry isn't going to be stupid and wish for something that can never happen.

He's mature and realistic and more grown-up than he was a year ago. He has to live with what he has.

It takes him a long time to stop trembling.