Don't be scared to fly alone
Find a path that is your own
Love will open every door
See in your hands the world is yours
Don't hold back and always know
All the answers will unfold
What are you waiting for
Spread your wings and soar
Harry found that he just couldn't seem to stop grinning like an idiot as he rode the lift back up to the Atrium with the headmaster and Miranda Bloomwood.
He felt free from worry and fear, almost care-free…except for that little matter of – no. He wasn't going to think about Voldemort or prophecies or anything but the amazing feeling of freedom he was experiencing in that moment.
Harry's stomach gave a distinctly unpleasant lurch as the lift jolted to a stop.
"Yes, Harry?" Dumbledore glanced down at him as he helped him out of the lift.
"Do you know where the nearest toilet is?"
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"Right. Ms Bloomwood, could you please wait by the fountain for the rest of Mr Potter's party? We shouldn't be too long."
"Of course." Miranda smiled sympathetically at Harry and walked off into the main room of the Atrium.
Luckily the loo was quite close by, located just at the end of the hallway beyond the last lift, and Harry rushed inside and fell to his knees in front of the nearest toilet.
Dumbledore kept himself busy in front of the large ornate mirror, combing his long snowy beard with a tiny purple comb and humming, ignoring the sounds of Harry retching into the toilet.
Harry collapsed with his back against the wall of the stall and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. He grimaced at the disgusting acidic taste in his mouth, absently appreciating the ingenuity of the makers of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans and how dead-on they were with the vomit flavoured ones.
"Feel better?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yeah." Harry cautiously got to his feet and flushed the toilet before heading to the sinks to splash his face with cold water.
The golden sinks all stood in a row with tiny never-ending fountains of water splashing down into the shiny bowls.
"Mint Hum-bug?" Dumbledore offered, extracting a silver bag of candy from his robe.
"Yeah, thanks." Harry took the pro-offered candy with a tired smile, wondering if the man was keeping Honeydukes in business single-handedly.
Dumbledore popped a toffee into his own mouth before placing the bag back into his pocket. "That should help settle your stomach as well as give you something a little nicer to taste than your previously digested dinner."
Harry made a face and munched on the sweet candy. "Actually, I haven't had anything to eat all day."
"You took Veritaserum on an empty stomach?"
"Well, I didn't know at the time that I would be taking it," Harry snapped defensively. "But I probably would've been sick anyway, I was so scared and nervous and then so happy and relieved all at once – it's no wonder that I was feeling nauseous."
"Too true." Dumbledore nodded.
"I'm just glad it's over," Harry sighed, staring at his pale face in the mirror.
Dumbledore paused. "You did great in there, Harry. Better then I could've hoped, and I think you came out stronger in the end."
Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. "Sure, sobbing into my hands was a true display of manly strength."
"But it released something, didn't it? I think that was the turning point in there, you showed them that you had indeed been put through a lot this year and were capable of triumphing over your demons. You made sure that the guilty person paid for their crimes no matter how hard it was for you and despite all personal cost."
Harry remained silent and stared down at the swirling water in the sink below him.
Dumbledore gently took him by the shoulders and turned him around the face him.
"Listen to me, Harry," he began seriously. "You not only did yourself and our side some good, but you will be helping other people in your situation realise the strength they have to remove themselves from harmful relationships like yours. They will see that the famous Harry Potter isn't perfect and can be hurt just like the rest of us, but can also find the will and the power to come out okay in the end. To go on living."
Harry nodded, digesting all that the headmaster had said.
Dumbledore smiled. "Are you ready now?"
Harry looked up. "Yeah, let's go."
"What did you think of Ms Bloomwood?" Dumbledore asked as they exited the washroom.
Harry shrugged. "Oh, well…you know, she's very pretty I suppose…"
Dumbledore chuckled. "No, I mean what did you think of her as a person?"
"Oh." Harry flushed. "She was really nice, supportive without being overly sympathetic or condescending."
"Good, good. Because she'll be coming back to Hogwarts with us, just in case you need someone to talk to…"
"Why would I want to talk to a lawyer?" Harry asked in confusion.
"A lawyer?" Dumbledore knitted his brows in puzzlement.
"Yeah, you know, a…you don't know, do you?"
"I'm afraid not. Harry, Ms Bloomwood is a therapist. St Mungo's finest, I'd say."
"A therapist? Why was a therapist at the trial?"
Miranda stood and waved as Harry and the headmaster came into view. Dumbledore raised a hand in greeting and steered Harry towards the fountain.
"I asked her to be there," he answered.
"Why?" Harry asked curiously.
"She was there for your well-being. To make sure the Minister stayed in line with his somewhat intrusive line of questioning and, as you say, she was nice and supportive – and pretty."
Harry felt his cheeks redden as they finally met up with Ms Bloomwood.
"Feeling better, Harry?" she asked.
"Yes, thank you."
"I hope you didn't lose your lunch." She winked teasingly.
"Actually, I did throw-up, but I haven't eaten anything all day so it was mostly bile."
Miranda raised a brow in surprise as Dumbledore laughed heartily. Harry clapped a hand over his mouth in horror.
"Well, I think it's safe to say that the Veritaserum is still working," the headmaster chuckled.
Harry sat himself down on the edge of the fountain and kept his mouth firmly closed.
The two adults laughed as Harry glowered at them.
Harry looked up and saw Hermione and Ron racing across the Atrium towards him, grinning madly.
Harry's face broke out into a smile as he stood up.
Hermione threw herself into Harry's arms, almost knocking them both backwards into the fountain in her enthusiasm. Ron patted him on the back and the trio laughed together as they hadn't done in a very long time.
Dumbledore and Ms Bloomwood walked off to talk with Ron's parents a little ways away.
Harry stepped back and simply took in the fact that his best friends were once again at his side.
"Where's Malfoy?" he asked, figuring that the blond was probably still hiding under the invisibility cloak somewhere nearby.
"He left," Hermione answered carefully.
"He left? When?"
"Right after the trial ended," said Ron. "Stupid git stepped on my foot in his rush to get out."
Hermione elbowed him sharply.
"Ow!" Ron exclaimed. "What was that for?"
"It's okay, Hermione." Harry smiled. "He is a stupid git, and I need to talk to the two of you alone anyway. Let's sit down."
The three sat on the edge of the fountain, watching the ripples of water lapping up against the stone base beside them.
"Look, I just wanted to apologize," Harry began.
"No, Hermione," Harry cut across her firmly. "I know you're just going to blame the Inflecto potion, but the truth of the matter is I wouldn't have gotten so angry and upset if I hadn't already felt those things in some small way. I don't remember what I said to you guys, but I'm guessing it was pretty horrible and I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry and I can assure you that I didn't mean any of it. I don't want to make excuses, but I wasn't myself then."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, her voice wavering slightly. "We forgive you. We were just so worried about you and now we know why you were acting the way you did. You'll have to do a lot worse to get rid of us as friends."
Harry smiled and hugged Hermione in thanks.
"Are we okay then, Ron?" he asked over her shoulder.
"Yeah, of course we are, mate." Ron smiled. "But you don't have to hug me or anything," he added hastily.
Harry and Hermione laughed, and Hermione quickly wiped her eyes on her sleeve. The boys pretended not to notice and averted their eyes to the fountain instead.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Harry exclaimed suddenly. He stood up and reached into his pocket, extracting a green velvet money bag with gold ties.
"What are you doing?" Ron asked.
"I have a promise to keep," Harry replied secretively. He opened the bag and dumped the entire contents into the water.
"Harry!" Ron said in alarm. "That must've been at least fifteen galleons!"
"Eighteen actually, but who's counting?" Harry shrugged.
Harry laughed at Ron's incredulous expression.
"That's a nice pouch, Harry." Hermione eyed the velvet bag appraisingly. "Where did you get it?"
Harry looked down at the bag still clutched in his hand. "It was a gift, from Draco actually."
She paused, considering. "Harry, you should talk to him. He was really-"
"I will," Harry interrupted briskly. "Later."
Hermione was about to say more when the arrival of the adults interrupted her.
"Harry, my boy." Mr Weasley beamed. "Knew you would win. That cowardly creep got what he deserved."
Mrs Weasley enveloped Harry in a crushing hug, her eyes still red and puffy. "Everything always seems happens to you doesn't it, dear?"
"That's what Hagrid said," Harry mumbled into her shoulder.
Mrs Weasley pulled away, smiling tearfully at him. Harry looked away in embarrassment.
"I think it's time we got going," Dumbledore announced.
"Where is everyone?" Ron asked. "The place is empty."
"It's quite late, son," Mr Weasley replied, glancing around the empty Ministry building. "I expect everyone's gone home for the day."
"Oh, right. I'm surprised the press didn't hang around to snap Harry's picture."
"The guards ushered them out straight away," Ms Bloomwood answered.
Ron blushed as the blond witch smiled at him.
Harry followed behind the others as they walked towards the exit. He paused beside the fountain and dropped the velvet pouch into the water where it floated for a moment before sinking beneath the surface. Without even sparing it a second look, he ran to catch up with Ron.
"So are we going to have a celebratory dinner tonight?" Ron asked.
Dumbledore chuckled. "I dare say a good feast is in order."
"Excellent!" Ron licked his lips.
"Don't you think about anything besides your stomach?" Hermione asked, coming up behind them.
"Of course I do," Ron retorted indignantly. "I think about loads of things."
"Like what, quidditch?"
"Isn't that right, Harry?" Ron implored, ignoring her.
"Ah, I wouldn't ask Mr Potter anything you don't want the absolute truth about, he is still under the effects of the Veritaserum," Dumbledore informed them over his shoulder.
"Really?" Ron turned towards Harry with a sudden gleam in his eyes.
"Now, Ron…" Harry said warningly.
"Harry James Potter, did you or did you not steal my Ptolemy wizard card back in fourth year?"
"Y-yes," Harry replied haltingly, trying to hold it in.
"Ah ha! I knew it!" Ron exclaimed triumphantly.
"But that was when we had that big row and weren't speaking to each other," Harry tried to explain.
"So why didn't you give it back to me afterwards?"
"I burnt it," Harry admitted miserably.
"Tut, tut." Ron shook his head in mock-disapproval. "Guilty as charged."
"Stop it, Ron." Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Don't you have any burning questions to ask our truth-spouting friend here?"
Hermione eyed Harry figuratively.
"Not you too," Harry groaned.
"No, I just thought…" she trailed off and grabbed Harry's elbow to slow him down a few paces back from the adults. "If you wanted to know how you really felt about Malfoy, then now's the time to find out. I could ask you…"
Harry sighed. "The thing is…I don't think I want to know."
"So you're still mad at him?" Ron asked.
"I'd rather not think about it right now if you don't mind."
"Sure, Harry, we understand." Hermione gave his arm a squeeze. "We'll talk about something else."
"Like what kind of food we'll be eating tonight at your party," Ron said dreamily.
Harry and Hermione laughed as Ron looked at them in bewilderment.
"What'd I say?"
. . .
"To, Harry!" They all chorused.
The man of the hour blushed and smiled, green eyes full of unspoken emotion.
They all toasted Harry's triumph with a swig of pumpkin juice and Harry fondly regarded the group gathered around the table. Everyone that mattered to him was there; the entire Weasley clan (excluding Percy), Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Neville and his infamous grandmother, McGonagall, Madam Pomfrey, and even professor Snape. He'd been told that Snape had rushed off to get Dumbledore and the Ministry guards in order to save his life that night less than a week ago, and he now found that he just couldn't hate the man with as much vigour as before.
He felt cozy surrounded by his make-shift family, overpowering the uneasiness he was experiencing from being back in the Great Hall for the first time since 'the incident.' It had been hard walking back into the school again, so many horrible memories lurking around every corner, still so fresh in his mind and laying heavy on his heart.
People began to chat as they dug into their food, and Hermione, who was seated to Harry's right, turned to speak quietly to him.
"I wonder where Draco is?"
"I dunno." Harry shrugged indifferently.
Hermione made a noise of exasperation. "Oh, come on, Harry. Don't you want to talk to him?"
"Not particularly, no. And since when is he 'Draco' to you?"
"Since I decided that the git deserves a second chance, or," she said loudly as Harry opened his mouth to protest. "At least be told why you've decided to remove him from your life altogether."
"Isn't it obvious?" said Harry. "Besides, it was Malfoy that decided to remove me from his life first. I've already given him my reasons."
"But you were angry then," Hermione reasoned. "Now you've had time to gain some perspective-"
"And I'm still angry. Why does everyone think that I'm just going to return to my life good as new, as if nothing had ever happened?" Harry exclaimed furiously.
"I don't think that, Harry," Hermione said, patiently. "I just don't think you should leave it this way."
Harry put down his fork and tried to speak calmly. "Hermione, he doesn't deserve an explanation. He doesn't deserve a fucking thing from me."
"Don't you know how sorry he is for everything?"
"Good! He should be sorry, he should be wallowing in guilt and regret and self-hatred."
"Harry," Hermione said disappointedly. "I didn't know you were so vindictive."
"Yeah? Well, being beaten within an inch of your life can do that to a person."
"It's not entirely his fault," Hermione spoke hesitantly.
"What?" Harry exclaimed.
"I mean, you made some bad choices, too."
Harry gaped. "I can't believe you're taking his side!"
"I'm not taking sides!" she cried in exasperation. "I'm merely saying that in all fairness you can't place all the blame on his shoulders."
Harry shook his head in disbelief.
"Listen, I know the situation with Ethan was beyond a nightmare for you, not that I pretend to know how it feels, but you don't know how that night I found you unconscious in the broom shed has haunted me. I was so outraged and angry at Ethan for doing that to you…but not once did I think of or blame Malfoy. It was Ethan who hurt you, Harry. I know Malfoy hurt you too, in a different way, but breaking up with a person is a lot easier to forgive then actually breaking someone."
Harry sighed, his anger vanishing as quickly as it had come. "It did hurt – a lot. It felt like he ripped my heart out and stepped on it for everyone to see. It wasn't enough that he broke up with me but he humiliated me as well."
"So tell him," Hermione urged. "Tell him everything you just said to me, just don't blame him for Ethan's actions. I know he blames himself for all that's happened to you and a person shouldn't have to live with that. Let him make it up to you, Harry, I know he so desperately wants to. And remember that at one time he did make you happy."
Harry heaved another sigh. He knew deep down that what Hermione was saying made sense. Maybe he did put an unnecessary amount of blame on Draco for the poor choices he'd made himself, not that he was about to forgive the blond, but…maybe he should at least talk to him, even just to clear the air between them so that he could move on with his life.
"Alright," he finally relented. "I'll talk to him, but that's all – I'm not making any promises that we'll be best friends by the end of the night or that I'll even be nice."
Hermione smiled. "That's all I ask."
Harry returned the smile and extracted his legs from beneath the table to stand up.
"He's outside by the lake," Hermione mentioned nonchalantly.
"I thought you didn't know where he was?" Harry asked suspiciously.
Harry rolled his eyes and started away from the table.
"Where ya going, Harry?" Ron called out.
"Just going for a walk."
"But you're going to miss dessert!"
"You can have mine," Harry answered over his shoulder as he strolled out through the double doors.
Ron smiled and returned to telling Ms Bloomwood all about the newest seeker for the Chudley Cannons as he shovelled his mouth full of mashed potatoes.
. . .
Harry pushed open the heavy castle doors and stepped out into the moon-lit night. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, revelling in the cold air and peaceful silence. The Great Hall had felt stuffy and claustrophobic and he didn't even want to imagine what it'll be like when all the students return after the holidays.
Harry sighed and reluctantly opened his eyes. He descended the stairs onto the frosty grass that crunched noisily under his feet and started off towards the lake with his hands deep in his cloak pockets.
It didn't take long before the darkness began to press in on him from all sides. He stopped short, recognizing the beginnings of a panic attack – the quickening of breath, the rapid beating of his heart, the silence growing in intensity until it was almost unbearable.
"Get a grip, Harry," he sternly commanded under his breath.
The sudden hooting of an owl and the snapping of branches as it took flight nearby did nothing to alleviate his jittery nerves.
A chill suddenly crawled its way up his spine as he felt as if he was being watched. He spun around, completely forgetting that he was a wizard and had a wand tucked under his cloak, and scanned the darkness around him, his arms hanging uselessly by his sides.
He jumped and just barely suppressed a scream when he saw something moving amongst the bushes in the garden.
He stumbled backwards and fell as the 'thing' came running out into the moonlight.
"Mrs Norris?" Harry gasped, watching as the ratty old cat went tearing by after a tiny scurrying mouse.
Harry pressed a hand to his chest and breathed deeply, his panic receding slightly. He turned to watch Mrs Norris' progress as she disappeared into the night. His eyes fell on the lone figure standing morosely under one of the weeping willow trees at the edge of the lake.
Harry quickly got to his feet and wiped the perspiration from his clammy forehead. He could make out the gleaming blond hair from there and breathed a sigh of relief when it became obvious that Draco had not noticed the dramatic scene unfolding by the garden.
Harry squared his shoulders and started towards the lake and Draco once more, his fear subsiding as his determination to be blunt and detached returned.
"Harry?" Draco looked up in surprise as the brunette approached.
"We need to talk," Harry stated.
"Alright," Draco replied slowly, apprehensively, but there was no mistaking the tiny spark of hope shining in those grey eyes.
Harry paused, and then averted his eyes, looking out over the glassy surface of the lake.
"Are you okay? You look a little pale."
Harry nodded silently.
"So…what did you want to talk about?" Draco broached hesitantly.
"I don't even know anymore," Harry sighed, feeling suddenly lost.
Draco bit his lip and sat down on the gnarled tree root curving up out of the ground from under the willow tree. He decided to wait out Harry's silence as he seemed to be trying to collect his thoughts.
Draco sat contemplating the thoughtful Gryffindor standing alone under the night sky. All he wanted to do was to wrap his arms around that too thin and fragile frame and protect him from the world. Harry looked so achingly young and vulnerable standing there, the weight of the world resting on his sixteen year old shoulders – a traumatic past and an uncertain future always preying on his mind.
It was painful to watch. It hurt to see Harry hurting and not knowing how it felt to be him or even how to begin to comfort him. All he could do was watch and feel helpless.
After five minutes of absolute silence Harry turned and sat down next to him, still staring out over the still water.
"Why did you leave after the trial?"
Draco blinked. "I would've thought that that was obvious."
"What do you mean?"
Now it was Draco's turn to stare out over the lake. "I didn't think that you'd want to see me. I heard everything you said in there and I…I know you blame me for everything – for Ethan." Draco paused, a bitter smile on his face. "I just assumed that you would punch me as soon as you saw me, not that I don't deserve it."
He stopped and rubbed his hands over his face wearily.
"I don't know what to say to you, Harry. I know how you feel and I can't stand the fact that you hate me so much and I just…I don't know what to do. Somehow 'I'm sorry' just isn't enough, is it?"
Harry sighed and fiddled with the fabric of his cloak, running the thick material through his fingers. "Enough for what?"
Draco swallowed. "Enough for us, enough for things to go back to the way they were before…"
"Before I broke up with you."
Harry sighed. "Why did you break up with me?"
Draco stood and walked to the edge of the water, his arms wrapped protectively around himself.. "Because I was stupid, because I was scared, because I couldn't see any other way out. Pansy was threatening to tell my father everything…"
Harry's expression hardened. "How is your bitch of a girlfriend?"
Draco turned around. "What?"
Harry stood and stared accusingly at him. "Breaking up with me because you're scared of your father and the consequences of choosing the Light side is one thing, but deciding to pretend that you're straight and dating Pansy Parkinson on top of it all was really low, even for you."
"Harry, let me explain-"
"Explain what? That you're weak and cruel? I already know that. Tell me, how does it feel when she kisses you or when she calls your name? Do you tell her that you love her too, or are you going to tell me that you were thinking of me the whole time?"
"Harry, I had to-"
"No!" Harry shouted angrily. "Please explain to me how fucking her was your only option!"
"I never slept with her-"
"Oh, what a relief," Harry spat sarcastically. "What bullshit."
"And," Draco continued loudly. "She blackmailed me, she used me, and I thought that it was my only option. But it's over now. I ended it long ago."
"Breaking up must be your specialty."
"Harry, I hated every minute that I was with her. I wanted to be with you so badly that it hurt."
"Well, it hurt me to see you with her so you got what you deserved."
Draco walked back to stand in front of Harry. He could see the raw pain overpowering any anger in those green eyes.
"I know," he said quietly.
A lone tear slipped down Harry's cheek. "You said you loved me and yet you did nothing to prove it. I don't trust love anymore and I don't trust you. In some ways you're just as bad as Ethan."
Draco stepped back in shock, the force of Harry's words like a slap in the face.
"How do you propose to get past that?" Harry asked, weakly.
"I don't know," Draco replied honestly. "But I want you to trust me again." He paused. "Maybe this could be a start."
Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out a neatly folded piece of white parchment. Harry hesitantly took it from his outstretched hand and opened it. Draco sat down once again, watching Harry's face as he quickly read the letter - then read it again.
Harry finally looked up in disbelief. "I thought you were going to be a spy for Dumbledore?"
"I was, but this is more important to me."
Harry folded the letter up and held it out.
"No, I want you to send it," Draco said, firmly.
"I want you to trust me again and I want you to know that I'm serious, so if you send it yourself then you'll know that my father actually received it."
Harry looked at the letter in his hands; such a little piece of paper and it contained so much information and held such a lot of power. Enough power to change more than one life forever.
Harry sat down next to Draco and tore the letter in half.
"What are you doing?" Draco exclaimed.
"I don't want you to tell your father the truth," Harry said. "I appreciate the gesture but you'll do more good by being a spy."
"Then how am I supposed to prove to you that I'm sorry?" Draco cried in frustration.
Harry responded gently. "It was enough that you wanted to send it, Draco."
Draco looked up.
"The old Draco Malfoy wouldn't have even considered writing that letter to your father, the old Malfoy wouldn't have cared about trust and honesty. You've changed a lot, and sometimes I forget that. You've really grown since I've gotten to know you. You know, I keep forgetting that it was only July that we first became friends and I first got to see that other side of you."
Draco shook his head ruefully. "It feels like years. I can't believe everything that's happened in six months."
"I know, sometimes it feels like it was all a dream."
"You mean a nightmare."
Harry glanced sideways at the brooding Slytherin. "It wasn't all bad. We did have some good times together, too."
Draco suddenly smiled. "Remember the food fights?"
Harry laughed. "How could I forget? I think I had jam in my hair for a week."
"Maybe you should try a little something the rest of us use called shampoo."
Harry mock-glared at the smirking blond.
Draco laughed and looked out across the lake. He could just make out a group of people standing on the front steps of the school.
"Looks like everyone's leaving," he commented.
Harry looked up. "Yeah, they're probably looking for me. I should go."
He stood up and brushed off his cloak before starting to walk away.
Draco hurriedly got to his feet. "Harry?"
"So…where does that leave us?" he asked, hesitantly.
Harry turned around and walked back to stand in front of Draco, gazing searchingly into his face.
"I need to ask you something."
"What?" Draco asked breathlessly.
"If you could go back to the day you broke up with me, knowing what you do now, would you still have done it?"
"No," Draco answered without hesitation, his gaze unwavering in its intensity.
Harry smiled. "Then that's all I need to know."
"So, we're okay, then?" Draco asked, unsure. "Friends?"
"Friends," Harry confirmed, smiling.
Draco smiled back. It was more then he could've hoped for.
"I'd better go, we'll talk some more tomorrow." Harry turned to leave.
"Harry?" Draco called out.
"Yeah?" Harry paused, looking over his shoulder.
He nodded once in acknowledgment.
"You won't regret it."
Harry smiled softly. "Prove it, Draco," he said quietly.
Harry jogged off across the grounds towards his friends.
"I will," Draco vowed fervently under his breath. "I will."
. . .
Harry entered the headmaster's office and smiled in greeting at Ms Bloomwood, who was casually perched on the edge of Dumbledore's desk.
"Good morning, Harry." She smiled. "Won't you sit down?"
"I'm so glad you decided to come and talk with me," she said, moving to sit in the chintz chair next to him.
"Well, to be honest I didn't so much decide as get coerced into it by Draco."
Miranda laughed easily. "How are you two doing by-the-way?"
Harry smiled. "Good - really good. We still have these awkward moments and sometimes I get really mad at him, but it's getting better."
"Does he ever get mad at you?"
"No, never. He sulks a lot but he never yells at me."
"He sounds like a good friend to have around."
Harry grinned. "He is…now."
"I'm glad you made up with him." Miranda paused thoughtfully.
"Is it going to get serious now?" Harry joked.
"Have you been sleeping lately, Harry?" she asked bluntly.
"Okay so it is," he muttered under his breath. "Yes, I'm sleeping alright."
"I only ask because you've looked a little tired lately."
"Maybe I've had a few restless nights, but that's to be expected, right?"
"Are you using a concealment charm again?"
Harry looked surprised. "No."
"So you won't mind if I just use my wand to check?" she said, withdrawing it as she spoke.
"Alright, alright," Harry exclaimed quickly. "I've been using it again."
Miranda lifted her wand questioningly. "May I?" she asked.
Harry nodded mutely.
Harry's face immediately transformed; his skin paled and dark circles appeared beneath his tired eyes.
"How did you know?" he asked quietly.
"It's very common for abuse victims to stop eating or sleeping. Anything you want to tell me, Harry?"
"Have you been hurting yourself?"
"Hurting myself? No, why would I do that?"
"It's another symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Are you telling me the truth, because I can always check…"
"No! I mean, I swear I'm not hurting myself. That just sounds really…weird. Why would someone do that?"
Miranda clasped her hands around her knees and leaned back in her chair, looking particularly young in her baby-blue suit.
"It's not as common among PTSD sufferers, but it's still a concern."
"So you think I have post…post-
"Traumatic stress disorder?"
"Hmm…" She stood up and grabbed a quill and some parchment from Dumbledore's desk. "I'm going to ask you some questions and you just answer yes or no."
"Do you feel anxious and worried on a daily basis?"
"Yes or no, Harry."
"A constant watchful awareness around others?"
"Depression and grief?"
"Feelings of detachment from others?"
"Do you feel the inability to demonstrate feelings of love and affection?"
Harry nodded slowly.
"Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep? I guess we already know that one. Umm…vacillation?"
"Vacillation means that the victim tends to miss and feel the loss of the abuser, alternating with rage toward and rejection of him."
Harry abruptly stood up and crossed the room to stand at the window.
"Harry, it's alright to have those feelings. It's completely normal." Miranda stood and leaned against the wall next to him.
"I just feel so sick…I hate feeling like that!" Harry spat, disgusted and angry. "Do you know why I cried in the trial when they made me list what Ethan had done to me?"
"Because you didn't want him to be punished for it," Miranda answered knowingly.
Harry looked up. "Wow, you are good."
Miranda smiled fleetingly. "I should tell you that I specialize in domestic violence."
Harry smiled bitterly. "I guess I'm a text-bookcase."
Miranda shook her head. "No such thing, everyone is different. You may have all the symptoms but everyone deals with them differently. How are you coping, Harry?"
"I dunno." Harry shrugged. "I'm okay, I guess. I just feel so confused all the time, one minute I hate him and the next I actually miss him. Every time he hurt me he would spend the next few hours holding me, apologizing, comforting me, telling me that he loved me and somehow making me believe that it was my fault in the first place – that I drove him to it."
"So of course you would miss the love and care he provided, it's only natural. That's the trap – the abuser also becomes the only source of comfort, thus the conflicting emotions you're experiencing now."
"Pretty twisted, huh?"
"I'd say pretty typical. Although, your case differs from all the others I've dealt with because Ethan really didn't love you. Most batterers do carry loving feelings for the victim."
"You'd think that that would make me hate him without all these stupid guilty feelings, but it doesn't. Sometimes I hate him more than anything and I'm glad he's going to Azkaban. I only wish I felt like that all the time."
"Did you love him, Harry?"
Harry paused and turned to look out the window. "I never said it to him…"
"But did you?"
"I…don't know. I don't think I did, I don't think I ever really got over Draco enough to fall in love so soon after our relationship ended. I cared about him but I don't think I loved him. I suppose I should be glad that I never said it to him, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I had."
Miranda nodded in understanding.
"I know what you want to ask," Harry spoke up after a minute.
"You want to know if I still love Draco."
Miranda smiled. "Let's go for a walk."
Harry frowned. "But-"
Miranda led the way through the empty corridors and out into the crisp and blustery outdoor air. They strolled off together, slowly weaving their way through the garden paths.
"Do you feel happy here, Harry?"
"Um, kind of. I used to love it here, it was my only real home."
"Now I feel like I'm not safe anywhere. Not at the Dursley's, not at school, not wandering about Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley…"
"You need to find a place where you do feel safe, a place to go and just be calm, meditate, whatever - just to get away for awhile."
Harry smirked. "Ah, the joys of being the famous Boy-Who-Lived – absolutely no escape."
Miranda stopped and thoughtfully chewed her lip.
"Ms Bloomwood?" Harry questioned, stopping beside her.
"Please call me Miranda," she said, beginning to walk again.
"What were you thinking about?"
"Hmm? Oh, nothing."
Harry shoved his cold hands into his pockets and stared at the ground as they walked on.
"I guess everything here triggers an unpleasant memory of Ethan," Miranda voiced aloud.
"Yeah. He's in prison and he's still affecting my life."
Miranda nodded. "It'll pass."
"How long does it take? Because I don't think I can take this forever," Harry asked desperately.
She sighed. "I know you don't want to hear this, but it usually takes about six months to a year or more."
"A year?" Harry exclaimed in dismay.
"To properly heal, yes. But Harry, it does gradually get better with every week. You'll see."
Harry nodded and kicked at some loose pebbles along the path.
"It's just so exhausting," he sighed.
"Pretending. Acting like I'm fine and that nothing bothers me, but everything bothers me now. It upsets me when people yell or are angry, even if it's not directed at me. I'm scared and nervous all the time, I hate loud noises, I'm scared in the dark, and when I do fall asleep I have terrible nightmares. I keep dreaming that I'm trapped in a room with no doors or windows. Everything reminds me of him. How am I supposed to fight Voldemort like this? What good am I if I can't even fulfill my purpose?"
"Harry, it's not your purpose in life to fight him."
"Yes, it is. And I'm going to lose."
"You need to learn that not everything that happens in life is your fault."
"It's pretty hard to when everything you do in life is documented, dissected, and printed in all the papers for people to judge," he grumbled bitterly.
"It doesn't matter. The only opinion that matters is your own."
Harry looked up and smiled. "Is that Psychology lesson number one?"
Miranda cracked a grin. "Don't be cheeky."
The two walked on across the damp grass, stopping at the edge of the strangely quiet quidditch pitch.
"I hear you're an excellent seeker," Miranda said, looking up at the empty stands.
Harry shrugged and looked away.
Miranda glanced down at him. "Bad memories?"
Harry shrugged again.
"Come on." Miranda turned and led Harry away to take a turn around the lake instead.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked, looking up at the trees of the Dark Forest bending in the rough wind.
Harry breathed out heavily. "I beat him at quidditch once and…let's just say that he didn't take it so well."
"Are you going to play again after the holidays are over?"
Harry kept his eyes on the gravel path as they walked. "I don't know…probably not."
"You never know, Harry, it might make you happy to fly again."
"Just don't let anyone force you, though. I imagine your team considers you pretty important and they may not understand your decision."
Harry glanced up. "Lesson number one again?"
Miranda smiled. "Yes, lesson number one."
Ms Bloomwood stopped and faced him. "I want you to do something for me, Harry."
"What?" he asked curiously.
"I want you to write a poem."
"A poem?" Harry repeated in dismay.
"Yes, and don't give me that look. I want you to write a poem about how you're feeling, things you've been through, thoughts, musings, whatever you want. You could even write it to someone like Ethan or Draco, or your friends, or even your uncle."
"You know about the Dursley's? I mean about…"
"It's my job to know everything about you."
"So will you do that for me, Harry? You don't have to show it to me if you don't want to. It really helps some people to see their feelings on paper, helps them deal with it matter-of-factly, and it makes them realize just how far they've come."
"Does it have to rhyme?"
Miranda laughed. "No, it doesn't have to rhyme."
"Okay, but I should tell you that I'm complete crap at creative writing."
She patted his shoulder. "Just between you and me – I am, too."
Harry grinned as they continued walking.
There was a thin layer of ice covering the outskirts of the lake and a fat little Plimpy was waddling about on the slippery surface. Harry laughed as the Plimpy slipped and fell, bouncing over the edge into the lake's icy waters.
Miranda smiled at Harry as he laughed, glad that the boy hadn't lost his sense of humour. She was worried about him, though. Worried that he would repress his emotions and fall into a deep irreversible depression once classes resumed and he was thrust back into school life, especially now that all the students knew the most intimate details of his life these past few months.
"Do you remember what day it is today, Harry?"
Harry looked up. "Christmas Eve?"
Miranda smiled. "Yes, but it's also the day the Ministry delivers Ethan's verdict."
Harry stumbled. "I-I forgot…"
"I heard that you didn't want to go to the trial with your friends."
Harry shrugged and stared at the ground.
"Anything you want to talk about?"
"I just didn't think I could go through it all again. Every time I think of him in those chains…all dirty and…unhappy…"
"You feel sorry for him," Miranda finished for him.
Harry nodded miserably, then ran his hands though his hair in anger.
Harry broke away abruptly and picked up a large rock from the edge of the lake and hurled it into the rough waves. He picked up four more and threw them as far as he could, yelling angrily with each stone. "I. Hate. You."
Miranda watched silently from the path as he worked out his aggression.
Harry finally bent over, breathing heavily as he rested his hands on his knees, his eyes closed. A single tear leaked out and he angrily swatted it away.
Ms Bloomwood stood patiently as Harry finally heaved a shuddery sigh and walked back to join her, his eyes cast downwards.
The blond witch continued walking along the path and Harry fell into step beside her.
"Sorry 'bout that," Harry apologized.
"Don't apologize. Do you feel better?"
"See, it was time well spent."
Harry shook his head. "Are all therapists at St Mungo's as strange as you?"
"I hope not, I like to think of myself as an original."
They'd finally circled the entire lake and were back at the castle entrance.
"I have to go speak to the headmaster about something," Miranda said, looking down at him from the bottom step.
"About me?" Harry asked.
"Yes, as a matter-of-fact."
Harry looked surprised by her honestly.
"Your friends are back."
Harry turned around and saw Ron and Hermione running up the long drive at break-neck speed, flapping newspapers clutched in their hands. They were both grinning from ear to ear.
"Must be good news," Miranda commented. She faced Harry, turning serious. "Remember, it is good news, Harry. This is what he deserves, he's a Lestrange in every sense of the name."
"Right," Harry said with a determined edge to his voice.
She worried her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment before speaking. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to take your wand."
Harry's expression dimmed considerably.
"Sorry, Harry. I'll return it to you the day before classes resume."
Harry nodded and withdrew his precious wand from his pocket. Letting his fingers linger on the smooth surface as Ms Bloomwood took it from his outstretched hand.
"Good bye, Harry. I'll see you later." She turned and started up the stairs towards the large double entrance doors. "Oh, and Harry?"
"Yeah?" Harry replied, sullenly.
"Don't forget about that poem."
Harry rolled his eyes.
Miranda smiled and pushed through the doors.
Harry pressed his hand against his empty pocket, feeling naked without his trusty holly and phoenix feather wand at his side. He decided that he would talk to Dumbledore about it, surely it wasn't safe for Voldemort's prime target to be walking around without even the protection of a wand.
Harry turned and forced a smile as Ron and Hermione came to an abrupt stop in front of him, both sporting identical flushed cheeks.
"Was that Ms Bloomwood?" Ron asked interestedly, peering around Harry.
So maybe the exercise wasn't the only reason for Ron's pink cheeks.
"Never-mind that," Hermione said in exasperation. "Harry, he's guilty! He's been sentenced to life in Azkaban."
Harry smiled. "That's great."
"Aren't you happy?"
"Yes, I…I'm just so relieved. I can't believe it's over."
Hermione grinned happily.
"Here - read this, Harry." Ron passed over the wrinkled Daily Prophet.
Harry took the newspaper and retreated to the stairs to sit and read the front page. There was a picture of Ethan in handcuffs being forcefully shoved through a crowd of media photographers and reporters, a large hulking guard on each side of him.
Harry looked away from the picture as Ethan flipped off the cameraman with an angry sneer. He scanned the article quickly, reading that Ethan had been found guilty on all charges, including illegal use of an Unforgivable. It briefly mentioned Harry's involvement at Ethan's previous trial.
Ron and Hermione settled down on either side of him on the cold stairs.
"How come it doesn't mention you?" Harry asked, glancing up at Hermione.
"They're not allowed to use my name since I'm still a minor and I said no to it," she explained. "But I got to fill out a report and was a witness and everything."
"I'm a minor, too," Harry grumbled. "Doesn't stop them from using my name and pictures."
"The law doesn't include celebrities." Ron grinned.
"Turn to page four," Hermione instructed, tapping the Daily Prophet impatiently.
Harry flipped it open and gasped.
There in black and white was a large moving picture of professor Lupin. He was smiling shyly at the camera and squinting slightly from the sun in his eyes. It looked like a picture of him from his graduation ceremony at Hogwarts, when he was only seventeen.
Harry's hand shot to his mouth and remained there as he read through the article.
'Lestrange's Second Victim'
Thirty-seven year old wizard and known werewolf, Remus John Lupin, has just today been named as Ethan Lestrange's second, and hopefully last, known victim. An anonymous informant led the Ministry to search Lestrange's property and Lupin's body was found hidden in the basement. A thorough examination proved that Lestrange had indeed used the killing curse to murder the victim. Sources say that several witnesses have said that Lupin had gone to Hogsmeade village that day to visit student and long-time friend Harry Potter. The two had apparently become friends during Mr Lupin's short stint as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts before he was forced to leave due to his 'condition'. Two of his former students relayed to the staff at the Daily Prophet that professor Lupin was 'an outstanding Defence teacher, the best they'd ever had, and felt was never a threat to their safety.'
Lestrange's first victim, Alec Fielding (see page six for details), was found in the backyard of Ethan's adoptive home. The Ministry has just released the gruesome news that Alec Fielding was apparently buried alive, and died later due to suffocation. Lestrange's adoptive mother, Irene Fielding, has been admitted to St Mungo's for an extended stay in their mental illness ward. Mr Lestrange is being kept under very heavy surveillance until his imprisonment in Azkaban. Ethan has since admitted to the fact that his intent was to gain entry into the Death Eaters circle by bringing them the body of young Harry Potter. Luckily, that plan was thwarted by the heroic Boy-Who-Lived himself and is the reason Ethan Lestrange is now in Ministry custody. Although Harry Potter was not available for comment, we do hope he is doing well and wish him a very happy Christmas. For a detailed account of the trials and tribulations of the famous Harry Potter turn to page-
Harry threw the paper aside in disgust.
Hermione delicately picked it up and folded it in her lap.
Ron fidgeted nervously. "You okay, Harry?"
"I'm going for a walk." Harry stood abruptly and jumped off of the stairs.
"Just leave me alone for awhile."
Hermione watched her friend head in the direction of the Dark Forest and shared a concerned look with Ron.
"Should we get, Malfoy?" the red-head asked.
Hermione almost smiled. "You know, you just might make a decent human being after all."
Ron smiled, and then frowned. "Hey!" he exclaimed, insulted.
But Hermione had already headed into the school and he quickly ran to catch up.
Harry traipsed angrily across the frozen grounds. "I killed him, I killed him, I killed him," kept running through his head like a guilty chant.
He stopped at the outskirts of the Dark Forest and peered through the dark mass of trees and thick underbrush. The wind was howling around the huge tree trunks, causing the branches to sway and snap all around him. Owls were hooting eerily from above, their questioning calls mixing hauntingly with the wind's song.
Harry shoved aside his fear and pushed his way in. After only a few steps he was immediately ensconced in the pitch black. He carelessly stumbled onwards, heedless of the scratching brambles and sharp thorns in his path.
He finally missed his footing and slipped and fell down a steep embankment, landing in a cluster of prickly bushes and thick mud at the bottom.
"Shit." Harry pushed his glasses back up on his nose and delicately removed his torn cloak from the bush's thorns. He stood unsteadily in the deep mud and glanced behind him. The embankment was slick with water from last night's rainfall; the surface was almost pure mud.
Harry sighed and brushed the wet hair off of his forehead. He heard a loud snap behind him and quickly spun around, almost falling into the slop under feet. He couldn't see anything and realized in terror just how dark it really was. He couldn't see more than ten yards in front of him.
His heart pounded uncomfortably fast and the sound of his own breathing echoed loudly in his ears.
Harry cautiously began to back up until he was pressed against the embankment, his eyes still trying in vain to pierce the darkness. He couldn't hear anything above the harshness of his own breathing and he immediately tried to calm himself down.
Another loud snap – this time much closer.
Harry cried out and tried to climb up the slippery embankment, his hands scrabbling in a blind panic as he began to slide back to the bottom over and over again.
He screamed and dropped to his knees when he thought he felt hot breath ghost across the nape of his neck. He clenched his eyes closed and buried his face into his knees, whimpering quietly and waiting for the harsh blow to fall or the sneering voice to whisper into his ear.
The voice was coming from above him and he sat cowering in the mud, waiting for the pain that he knew was coming.
"Harry, are you hurt?"
Harry opened his eyes in confusion, the concerned voice slowly drawing him out of his haze of terror and panic.
"Harry, just sit still, I'm coming down."
Harry blinked. Draco. It was Draco, not Ethan. Ethan's not here. Ethan is in Azkaban. He immediately stood up and looked up at the top of the slope. All he could see was Draco's pale skin and platinum hair glowing blurrily out of the dark.
"No, don't!" Harry yelled. "It's too slippery, you'll never get back up."
Draco breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of Harry's voice. "Do you have your wand?" he shouted.
"Look, could you just go and get some rope or something?"
"What do you think I am, a muggle? I'll use my own wand."
Harry rolled his eyes and waited, not even aware of how quickly his fear disappeared once Draco had shown up.
Draco flicked his wand and Harry stepped back in surprise as about fifteen stone blocks pushed their way out of the surface of the embankment, creating a kind of disjointed staircase.
"Climb up!" Draco called down to him.
Harry eyed the wide gaps between each stone dubiously. "Couldn't you conjure a few more? I can barely reach them."
"Sorry, that's the best I can do. You'll just have to kind of pull yourself up."
Harry grasped both sides of the first stone and heaved himself up, using his legs to push off of the slope. He threw one knee up onto the stone then heaved the rest of his body up onto its mud-coated surface.
"This is going to take forever," he moaned, looking up at the rest if the stones above him.
"Maybe you should climb faster," Draco offered with a smirk.
Harry glared upwards, but of course the blond couldn't see it. "Could you give me some light? I can barely see down here."
"Of course." Draco laid out on his stomach and reached his wand down towards Harry. "Lumos."
The tip of his wand ignited with white light and he could now clearly see Harry's face some twenty yards below.
"Thanks." Harry blinked in the sudden light and reached up for the next stone.
Draco rested his chin in his hand and waited patiently while Harry started to climb once again.
Something moving down below caught his attention. He squinted as he tried to make it out.
The meagre light from his wand showed the distinctive glint of two very large eyes.
Draco jumped to his feet. "Harry, there's something down there!"
"Nice try, Malfoy. That's not going to make me climb any faster."
"No, Harry, I'm serious. You have to move now!"
Harry's heart jumped at the sound of panic in Draco's voice; a very un-Malfoy-esque emotion. He glanced over his shoulder and down at the ground below.
About thirty yards away and slowly moving towards him was a very large Quintaped. Its wide mouth was open as it targeted its hungry gaze on Harry, its five hairy legs stepping easily through the mud.
"Oh, shit," Harry breathed.
"Harry, move!" Draco shouted frantically.
Harry tore his eyes away from the approaching beast and swung into action. He grabbed the next stone and hung upside down, then swung his legs through his arms and up onto the stone. He used his arms to pull his upper body up until he was sitting on the block. He jumped to his feet and went to work grabbing the next step.
"Hurry, hurry, hurry…" Draco urged under his breath. He knew he couldn't put out his light to attack the Quintaped or else Harry wouldn't be able to see, and he'd never actually used an attacking spell on anything before, he didn't know if he could even do it.
Harry kept on climbing, his arms beginning to ache painfully and his hands becoming raw from the rough stone. He glanced down and saw the Quintaped approaching the bottom of the slope.
"Don't stop!" Draco yelled.
Harry kept climbing, getting closer and closer to the top as the Quintaped kept getting closer and closer to him.
His arms shook weakly as he pulled himself up onto the third to last step. He paused, breathing heavily.
"Come on, you're almost there!" Draco urged, he could see how exhausted Harry was becoming with each step.
Harry took a deep breath and pulled himself up to the next block. He sat there, feeling dizzy. He glanced down and saw the furry beast rapidly gaining on him. Cold anguish filled his chest, he knew he would never get to the top fast enough.
"Harry! Come on! Don't give up!" Draco leapt down onto the top stone and leaned out over the edge, reaching his one free hand down towards Harry. "Grab on!"
Harry looked up and quickly got to his feet. He jumped and reached upwards, but his damp hand slipped through Draco's fingers.
"Try again!" Draco demanded.
The Quintaped was right below them now, its mouth opening wide.
Harry jumped again and this time Draco grabbed his forearm. He gripped him tightly and hauled him up in one motion.
"Nox." Draco extinguished his wand and held out clasped hands for Harry to step onto, then tossed the smaller boy up towards the top.
Harry scrambled up on his stomach then turned around to reach down for Draco. Draco grabbed on and was lifted just as the Quintaped's snapping teeth closed around the space the Slytherin's ankles had been.
Draco leapt to his feet. "Come on."
Harry shook his head. "I can't run," he panted. "You're going to have to stun it."
"But-" Draco whipped around as the Quintaped climbed over the ridge behind him, its menacing eyes locked on Harry.
The spell hit the large beast right between the eyes. It froze in surprise before falling backwards over the edge and out of sight.
Draco expelled his breath in relief.
"Lumos." He knelt down and carefully slipped an arm around Harry and stood the two of them up.
Harry swayed on his feet and quickly put an arm around Draco's shoulders to steady himself.
Draco tried to suppress the feelings that that simple gesture ignited in him, tried to ignore the fact that Harry was right next to him, leaning on him…
"We'd better get you back," he said, stiffly.
Harry nodded and allowed himself to be helped slowly back out of the Dark Forest.
The two emerged into the Hogwarts grounds and it was a little shocking to realize that it was only one o'clock in the afternoon and still light out compared to the never-ending night of the Forest.
"I don't want to go in yet," Harry said, looking at the castle. "Can we just sit for a minute?"
"Sure." Draco led him over to the outside of Hagrid's empty hut, the half-giant being away at Madam Maxime's for Christmas, and sat Harry down on the front stoop.
Harry rubbed his aching shoulders as he stared out over the empty grounds.
"You need a massage." Draco observed sympathetically.
"Are you offering?" Harry smirked.
Draco's smile faltered slightly and there was an awkward pause as they quickly looked away from each other.
Draco cleared his throat uncomfortably. "So…what were you doing in the Dark Forest anyway, and why didn't you have your wand?"
"Ms Bloomwood confiscated it."
"Because she thinks I'm a danger to myself."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Be serious."
Draco turned towards him questioningly.
Harry sighed wearily. "I was using a concealment charm again. I haven't been sleeping and I just didn't want anyone to worry."
Draco shook his head. "I always worry about you, Harry."
Harry smiled sadly.
Draco clenched his hands together to keep from reaching out and stroking a finger down Harry's cheek.
"Did you see the Daily Prophet today?" Harry asked.
"What? Oh, um…yes, I did. Is that why you ran away?"
Harry nodded. "And if you tell me that it's not my fault then I'm going to have to hex you."
"So tell me how being born Harry Potter is your fault, because that's the only reason these things happen to you. You should blame your parents if you want to blame someone."
"But it's not their fault. They were fighting for what they believed in and they had no idea what was going to happen in the future," Harry defended instantly.
"And tell me again how your situation is any different?"
"It…it just is."
"Stop being so stupid, Harry. No one blames you for any of this and you shouldn't either. Didn't professor Lupin tell you not to blame yourself for Sirius' death? I'm sure he'd now say the same thing to you about himself. This is a war, Harry – people die and the only people you can blame are the ones holding the wands."
Harry bit his lip and bowed his head, tears welling up in his emerald eyes.
"Harry?" Draco touched his shoulder gently. "I'm sorry, I have no right to preach to you. I didn't mean to upset you."
Harry let out a dry sob and dropped his head into his hands. "No, you're right. It's true... it's all true. I just couldn't deal with the pain of losing them so I used guilt to make me feel something else. It was just another way for me to conceal my pain, like I do with everything. No one else has to carry around all the shit that I live with - it's not fair. I hate it…I fucking hate it!" Harry choked.
Draco told his inner voice to shut it as he put his arms around the distraught brunette and prayed that Harry wouldn't freak out.
Harry immediately clutched at Draco's cloak and buried his face in his chest.
Draco sighed in relief and soothingly stroked Harry's back and dark unruly hair. He began to gently rock him as they sat there together on Hagrid's rickety stairs. The only sound being that of Harry's broken sobs as he let out the poison that had been eating away at him for so long.
Draco laid his cheek on the top of Harry's head and held on, willing to sit there all night in the freezing cold if that's how long it took.
Harry sniffed as his tears slowly began to subside. There was a deep ache in his chest and he now felt hollow and empty, but it was a beginning – he now knew that he would have to face his pain head-on, no trying to avoid it or putting it off indefinitely.
He snuggled closer to Draco's welcoming warmth and comfort, not quite ready to let go yet.
Draco smiled and opened his eyes, wishing that the moment would never end.
Something white floated past his vision and landed on his nose. Draco blinked in surprise then looked up. His smile grew. "Harry, it's snowing."
"What?" Harry sniffed and pulled his head back to look up at the sky.
Tiny white flakes were beginning to fall from all over, dancing and twirling in the wind as they cascaded down all around them.
Harry slowly smiled and wiped the last of his tears away.
The two boys sat out in the falling snow for over an hour, not saying a word, just watching the world turn white all around them. Neither one of them wanted to disturb the magic.
And that's how they were found some time later by Ms Bloomwood. She smiled at the two of them as she approached.
"Enjoying the snow gentlemen?"
They both smiled back at the kind witch and reluctantly pulled apart.
"Harry, the headmaster wants to see you."
"Am I in trouble?"
"No." Miranda smiled. "He just has something important to discuss with you."
Harry relaxed. "Okay, I'm coming." He stood up and stretched his aching legs, stiff from sitting in the cold for so long.
Draco did the same, although with a little more reluctance. He wished that he had a time turner so he could just keep going back and re-living their afternoon together over and over again – minus the near-death monster experience.
"Coming, Draco?" Harry laughed, already having walked a few yards away with Ms Bloomwood while Draco had been day-dreaming.
Draco smiled and quickly caught up, falling into step beside Harry as the three made their way through the falling snow towards the warmth of the school.
. . .
"Harry? Earth to Harry!"
Harry blinked and looked up. "What?"
Draco smiled in amusement as he sat down next to the distracted Gryffindor under the willow tree.
"Where have you been hiding yourself? I haven't seen you all day."
Harry shrugged and closed the leather-bound notebook resting in his lap. "Just out enjoying the snow."
Draco smiled, noticing the flakes dotting Harry's dark locks. "What's that?" he asked, indicating the notebook.
"Homework?" Draco repeated with the raise of a brow.
"It's for Ms Bloomwood. She gave me this journal for Christmas and asked me to write a poem for her."
"Why does she want you to write a poem?"
"It's kind of a personal thing. She said it'd be good for me, but frankly I found the whole experience depressing."
"I didn't know you could write poetry."
"That's because I can't, I only did it because she asked me too. She even gave me the title."
"Oh, and what's that?"
"That's the title? It sounds kind of presumptuous on her part."
"She gave me that title because I always answer people's inquiries about how I'm doing with 'I'm okay'. So the poem is about pretending to be okay when you're really not."
Draco glanced at Harry with a frown, surprised by his honesty, but refraining from commenting on it. He didn't want Harry to think that he pitied him in any way, he knew the proud Gryffindor hated that more than anything. Draco tilted his head back and looked up at the darkening sky, a few scattered snowflakes still lazily drifting downwards through the air.
"I like what you've done with your hair."
Draco smiled. "I didn't do it on purpose, I'm out of gel so I couldn't style it and all the shops are closed on Christmas day."
"It looks better," Harry said approvingly. "Softer, not so severe."
Draco was glad his cheeks were already pink from the cold or else he would've been embarrassed at how obviously pleased he was by Harry's compliment.
"I'm starving," Harry said, placing his journal aside and drawing his knees up to his chin. "It must almost be time for the feast."
"Oh, Dumbledore said he wanted to see you before dinner," Draco said, suddenly remembering why he'd gone out in search of Harry in the first place.
"Oh, right. I almost forgot."
"Is everything alright, Harry? You seem a little preoccupied."
Harry looked over at Draco thoughtfully, considering.
"It's nothing." He finally smiled dismissively.
"Are you sure? You know you can tell me anything."
"I'm sure. I'd better get going."
Harry stood and brushed the snow from his heavy winter cloak. "See you at dinner."
Draco eyed the brown leather journal sitting in the snow as Harry began to walk back to the school.
"You can read it if you want," Harry said loudly without turning around.
Draco jumped guiltily and smiled at Harry's retreating back. He picked the journal up and undid the leather ties, carefully opening it to the first page.
Once upon a time there was a boy
In his early years he had to learn how to grow up living in a war that he called home
Never knew just where to turn for shelter from the storm
It hurt to see the pain across his face,
Every time his uncle's fist would put him in his place
After all the yelling I would cry up in my room
Hoping it would be over soon
Bruises fade but the pain remains the same
And I still remember how you kept me so afraid
Strength is my mother for the sacrifice she made
And every morning that I wake I look back at yesterday
And I'm okay
Have been wondering why I've carried all this guilt
When it's you that helped me put up all these walls I've built
Shadows stir at night though a crack in the door
Echoes of a broken child screaming, 'please no more'
Ethan don't you understand the damage you have done
For you it's just a memory,
But for me it still lives on
It's not so easy to forget all the marks you left along my neck
When I was thrown against cold stairs
And every day afraid to wake up in fear of what I might see next
Every morning that I wake I look back at yesterday
And I'm okay
Draco closed the journal and stared out across the frozen lake, his cheeks glistening with silver tear tracks.
. . .
"Merry Christmas!" Harry grinned, clinking his glass with Hermione.
All around the table people were doing the same with their neighbours, a cheerfully festive mood filling the Great Hall.
Dumbledore and the rest of the teaching staff had really outdone themselves this year – the decorations were amazing. The Hall sparkled with glittering ornaments and giant Christmas trees strung with garlands of ever colour circled the room. The enchanted sky above them dropped snowflakes that floated down a few yards then promptly vanished before they could touch the tables or heads of the people down below.
Although it was just a small gathering of a few select people, the table before them was spread with a feast fit for an entire army. There was a giant golden turkey, pheasant, roasted potatoes, mashes potatoes, carrots and peas, warm rolls, stuffing, pumpkin soup, silver tureens of gravy, and sparkling wine glasses full of wine and champagne, or ginger-ale in the case of the students.
"Merry Christmas, Harry." Ron clinked against his glass with a smile.
"Merry Christmas, Ron." Harry laughed as some of his ginger-ale sloshed over the side. He licked his sticky fingers with a grin and looked across the table to see Draco watching him.
Draco smiled and raised his glass in a silent toast.
Harry happily returned the gesture and took a drink.
Two hours later, Harry pushed his plate away with a groan. After his third helping of pumpkin pie and whipped cream he was finally stuffed to the brim. He wrapped his hands around his mug of hot chocolate and looked around the table with contentment.
"Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen." Dumbledore stood up and addressed the table. "But before you all bid goodnight and return to your rooms, I have an announcement to make."
The small group at the table looked up with curiosity, except for Harry, who fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat.
"I hold every single person here in the highest regard and trust you all to not let the following information leave this room."
The headmaster looked directly into each face as he spoke; professor McGonagall, Hermione, Snape, Ron, Draco, and Ms Bloomwood.
"As you all know, Harry has had a very tough year thus far, but what you don't know is that he is an Intimus Magus."
Draco glanced at Harry who was staring very determinedly into his hot chocolate.
"That is how he escaped from Ethan that night. Like his mother before him, Harry will be going to Ireland to study and train with Julian Price to further his powers and the understanding of his gift. Harry was set to finish his last year of school here at Hogwarts before leaving, but after much consideration and a lot of discussion it has been decided that he will leave sooner – tomorrow, in fact."
This revelation was met by a stunned silence.
"This was Harry's own decision and I respect his judgment. He will be leaving for Ireland early tomorrow morning."
"For how long?" Hermione asked, un-sticking her throat.
"A year and a half."
Draco suddenly pushed back from the table and abruptly left the Hall.
"Be right back." Harry stood up and went after the blond-haired Slytherin.
He entered the Entrance Hall and caught sight of the doors falling shut. He pushed through to the outside and stood looking around, then slowly walked down the steps and noticed the fresh footprints in the snow leading into the garden.
He followed the path and stopped when he came to the large clearing of rose bushes. Draco was there, sitting on a stone bench under the moonlight.
The snow fell all around the two boys as Harry approached and quietly sat next to him.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I only just decided today," Harry answered truthfully.
"You didn't even tell me you were considering it."
"No one knew. I wanted to make my own decision without anyone trying to sway me either way."
"I wouldn't have tried to change your mind."
Harry fixed him with a level stare. "Yes, you would've."
Draco's grey eyes met Harry's intense gaze. "You didn't even give me the chance."
"I still stand by my decision and I'm not going to apologize," Harry said, strongly.
"Of course not," Draco muttered.
Harry sighed. "Please let's not spend my last night here arguing."
"Then don't go."
"I thought you said you wouldn't try to change my mind."
Draco remained silent.
"Did you read my journal?"
"Then you must understand why I have to do this."
"But you belong here, Harry - at Hogwarts. It's your home."
Harry shook his head. "It's not my home anymore. A home is somewhere you feel safe and happy, Hogwarts is neither of these things for me now."
"But all your friends are here…"
"Ron and Hermione will understand."
"I wasn't only speaking of them."
Harry looked up sadly. "That's another reason why I have to go."
"You, Draco. You do realize that once classes resumed you would've had to pretend to hate me again. You're my friend Draco and it wouldn't be fair to put either of us through that. I don't think I could've taken it again."
Draco sighed in frustration. "Fucking Voldemort," he exclaimed vehemently. "He's ruining my life."
"Join the club," Harry said bitterly.
Draco looked at him as if searching for the truth. "Are you really going to be gone for over a year?"
"Are you scared?"
"Yeah, but I'm ready. I need a change of scenery, of people, somewhere I can go and not be reminded about the past every time I walk around another corner. It's my chance for a fresh start."
"But you are coming back, right?"
Harry smiled bitterly. "Of course, I have a job to finish."
"Don't you have any other reasons to come back besides Voldemort?" Draco asked quietly.
Harry looked at him. Draco avoided his gaze as he stared down at the snow-covered ground.
Draco glanced up. "I don't know, do you?"
"I…" Harry trailed off, staring into those hopeful grey/blue eyes.
Draco reached over and took Harry's hands into his own. "I know you don't want to hear it, and I'm sorry, but I have to tell you – I'm still in love with you, Harry. I love you even more if that's possible and I know you said we're just friends but I can't content myself with only that. I don't think I could stand it if you went away for so long."
Harry swallowed thickly. "Draco…I can't stay."
"Doesn't that mean anything to you, Harry?"
Harry tried to pull his hands away. "Please don't do this, Draco."
"Don't go," Draco pleaded, his eyes glassy with emotion.
"Don't make this harder than it has to be."
"No!" Harry wrenched his hands free and stood up. "I don't love you."
Draco stared at him, hurt written all over his face as tears slipped down his cheeks.
Harry closed his eyes, stealing himself. "I didn't mean to hurt you, but we're just friends, okay? I think this separation from each other will be good for you, too. Maybe you'll find someone new."
Draco shook his head and looked away. "Are you saying there's absolutely no hope for us?"
Harry chose his words carefully. "I'm not saying never, who knows what the future will bring, but-"
Draco closed his eyes.
"- it's not what I want right now. Please respect that."
The Slytherin nodded in defeat.
"Well…I'd better get back. I have to say goodbye to everyone else."
"I'll be waiting for you, Harry. Until you come back again."
In a flash, Harry walked forwards and embraced him.
Draco hugged him back for all he was worth, memorising Harry's scent, his touch, the sound of his breathing, the feel of his heartbeat pressed against his own.
Harry pulled back and tried to smile. "I'm going to miss you. I'm just not ready for any relationship right now, let alone…"
"Let alone me," Draco finished for him.
"Goodbye." Harry touched his cheek briefly, then turned to leave. As soon as his back was turned, he let the tears he'd been holding back fall. "No, Draco," he thought sadly. "Let alone someone I'm still so desperately in love with."
He hurried from the garden, leaving Draco to stare after him as he walked away.
"You will be back, Harry," Draco said under his breath. "And I'll be right here waiting for you."
= All lyrics included in this story are the property of Christina Aguilera and the titles are as follows: 'Walk Away', 'I'm Okay', 'The Voice Within', 'Soar', and 'Fighter.'
The Sequel: 'The Reason Is You' - It's a year and a half later and Draco is anxiously awaiting Harry's return. He hopes that things can finally return to normal, but unfortunately Harry returns with a few surprises of his own.