Per Solum Lacuna: By Words Alone
Chapter 20: Wish You Were Here
Authors: Azhure & Wintermoon2
Notes: Thank you to JediMijan, Separatrix and C Dumbledore for their wonderful beta skills.
Text in Bold, Italics: Diary entries from Flash.
Text in Italics: (within a paragraph - thoughts or emphasis) Dreams or Diary entries from Luc.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl,
year after year, running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
The sun streaked through the small gaps in the bamboo screen that covered Harry's bedroom window. A bird's cheerful chirrup woke him, and he rolled over to see the daylight. I don't even remember coming to bed last night. He stretched and sat up, brushing the blankets aside as he climbed out of the bed. The woven bamboo created a chequered pattern of light in the room, reminding him of a chessboard. This, unfortunately made him think of Ron and the fact that he was beginning to lose hope they'd ever have the chance to play a simple game of chess again. It really did seem as if he were doomed to be unhappy. He had never known how miserable he could be until he had lost his best friend and both found and lost his soul mate.
This defeatist attitude isn't going to get me anywhere, he thought. I've lost touch with myself, and dwelling on my losses won't help at all. I need to get out of here.
Far above him, in the remote mountains of China's Fujian Province, he found the perfect meditation spot. He'd spent hours, and sometimes even days there during his earlier tutelage with Lao Kuai and knew it was just where he needed to be now. Since this magical region of China was familiar with wizards, there was no problem with Harry Apparating directly to the cliff on the edge of Mount Wuyi. The red earth jutted out below his feet and rose up vertically behind his back. All around him were lush green trees and plants, the further ones slightly obscured by the morning mist that still hadn't burned off. Far below, under the misty clouds, he knew there lay a sparkling emerald green lake, which was fed continuously by the zigzagging stream that flowed down the mountain. At its was one of the dongtian, the caves that connect all the sacred mountains of the region. The Taoists knew that particular one as the Grotto Heaven of Ascending Perfection and Original Transformation, and Harry could feel the healing and transforming energy rising up from it as soon as he arrived there. Even during his beginning training, he had never questioned Lao Kuai's reasoning for choosing that spot as his central meditation place. Finally settling himself into his slightly altered version of the lotus position, Harry began the familiar steps of adjusting his breathing and tapping into his centre.
Later on, he arrived back at the hidden hut, feeling refreshed and with clearer thoughts than he'd had in days. There was no point in drowning himself in his sorrows again, and besides, there was no alcohol to be had. He went directly to the kitchen to make himself a cup of Oolong tea. The delicate tea was more flavourful than he could get in England, since it was grown there in Fujian. As he sipped it, Harry thought about his choices and what consequences would come from them. Was I right to leave like that? Perhaps I should have waited, confronted him. Before he could berate himself any further, the front door opened and Lao Kuai walked in, his pale grey robes trailing the ground, blending almost perfectly with his long grey hair.
"Ni hao, Lao Kuai, You know, I'm not surprised that you would sense my presence and show up here."
"Yes, Harry. Your discord and turmoil was strong and felt from far away, although I admit surprise that you would be so hostile in trying to keep others away. You seem... a little more open and willing to talk now, but perhaps discussing it over tea would be nice?"
Harry nodded and Accioed another cup and the delicate porcelain teapot. He proceeded to explain the whole story, which actually took enough time for a few cups of tea, even with the details he glossed over at times. As he spoke, there were moments when he realised his own rashness, and how he could have handled the situation differently. Finally, when he finished and explained why he had come to the hut and how he had burned the journal, he stopped, expecting admonishment from his teacher. Instead he merely got a single question.
"How do you feel now?"
Harry hung his head in his hands. "Empty... Confused... I wonder if I should have tried harder, if I did something wrong, if I was mistaken about anything. I wonder if Draco was right about the curse on the journals and I've managed to make sure it comes to fruition, or if I ended it by burning mine. In fact, as I think about it, I remember more and more of these incidents and wonder if I've been too rash all along. I should have talked to him. I thought he was my soul mate, but now I'm not sure there's any such thing. Why didn't I say something to him?"
"Your heart knows who your soul mate is. There is no fooling it. If you feel it in your heart to be true, then he is the one. Your heart knows well what your head denies. You must believe it in your head as you do in your heart. Perhaps this is your conflict."
"Xie xie, Lao Kuai. You know me so well." Harry twirled a spoon in his tea, trying to deny he was feeling a bit restless and unsure of himself, yet knowing Lao Kuai's words made perfect sense.
"Perhaps returning to old habits is necessary here, Harry." Lao Kuai rose and gestured for Harry to follow him toward the fireplace. The fire from the previous evening had long since died out, but to Harry's surprise the journal was still there, smudged in places by the soot, but otherwise looking none the worse for wear.
"But how…." Harry began to question, his mouth still open in incredulous wonder.
"Great magics are at work, Harry, and magical objects are not easily destroyed," Lao Kuai waved his hand over a small writing table with a large, lush cushion behind it. Two glasses of wine appeared on the table: one a deep purple plum wine, the other a clear white rice wine. "Some wine, and your journal, Harry. Old habits. Drink them both; as Li Po said, 'I hear clear wine called enlightenment, they say murky wine is like wisdom.' I believe, Harry, that you are in need of some of each, hmmm? Perhaps an appreciation of both clear and murky wine is needed for a certain type of balance."
"What are you suggesting?" Harry asked, not sure exactly what Lao Kuai wanted.
"Just think on it. Think about the two different wines. Think about the differences with your soul mate. Listen to your heart. Read what you see. Trust in your feelings, not what your mind tells you should be right. Only when you appreciate the murky depths will you come to truly see enlightenment.
Harry studied the two glasses, still not certain what Lao Kuai wanted him to do. He eventually relented and took a sip of the rice wine. It was dry and crisp with a flavour that sat long on his tongue. The plum wine still sat there, and after staring at it for a time he took a sip from that glass.
The flavour was bolder, richer, and sweet with a hint of spice. It felt soft on his tongue and left a strong burn down his throat that lingered. He could still taste that one sip many minutes afterwards. Apart from the obviously different taste, he was still at a loss to see what Lao Kuai wanted him to see.
He shrugged, one hand unconsciously opening the cover of the journal. He was still amazed by the fact it had survived the burning, but he realised that yet again he was thinking like a Muggle. Whenever the stress got too much, he often reverted to the simplest of Muggle ways to get out of things - like assuming that fire could destroy something this precious. It was a wonder that he managed at all in the wizarding world.
Harry sat back as he realised just how much he relied on Draco in that respect. He thought nothing of informing Harry of his gaps in Wizarding etiquette and knowledge, and Harry could fill in the gaps when Draco seemed confused by Muggle customs or culture.
He realised he never gave Draco a fair chance. He assumed the very worst and just ran off without even confronting him. He at least owed him the opportunity to put forward his side of the story. Could he just forget Draco and spend the rest of his life with the knowledge gnawing away at him? Didn't Draco deserve a chance to at least explain? Perhaps he would get the answer he sought. He opened the journal and began to read.
Within moments he was enveloped in the familiar warmth of the journal, the words drifting across the page like a warm hug. He was so absorbed that he never knew when Lao Kuai left the hut.
I find myself wondering if you will even read this, but I know I just have to put this down on paper - just so I can get my head around it all. I've spent a week trying to locate you, and now I realise you don't want to be found. When you get stubborn enough, nobody can break your magic. I can't believe it took this long for me to even think to write to you in the journal. I guess I didn't think you would take it. Honestly, I just didn't think. I tried to summon it before, and I'm getting nothing, so I assume you've taken it with you.
I've found your memories, Harry, and I am pretty sure I have a good idea about why you've gone, but what the fuck do you think you were doing just taking off like that? I've spent a week worrying myself to death, thinking the worst, but now I can't seem to muster up any feeling other than anger. I thought we had trust. I thought we were past all that shite. Oliver Wood is a fucking prat who needs a good dose of bitter reality, but I'm angry and disappointed in you, Harry. I didn't think you would take what you saw at face value without at least questioning it.
I know that things have been crap, and that we have had a time of it lately. Helping Severus is more work than I ever imagined, and I just don't know how to get on top of that. I admit that I've had a lot to worry about, and I should have talked to you. That was my mistake - I admit that.
For days I wondered if you were missing, or dead, or worse, but now… well now I know better and I'm just bitterly disappointed, Harry.
I know that sounds blatantly selfish of me, but I know that I just can't believe you didn't at least talk to me about any of this. You told me you were fine around Wood, but obviously you weren't. What is it with you and listening to only half a conversation? The least you could have done was confront me about what you thought you saw.
Now I'm getting myself all worked up. I don't want to because I know there is no point in arguing with you about something that is only in your imagination. There is no logic to any of this. None at all.
This is going to sound like a scripted denial, but you certainly never saw the whole story. You only saw half conversations, Harry. You didn't wait to hear what Remus said when we talked. You thought you saw me flirting. Would you even begin to believe me if I told you that Oliver was the one who made a pass at me? Would you even care if I told you that I was only telling Charlie about Oliver's pass? Would it sound trite if I said that you were the target of my romantic dinner?
I can't believe you didn't trust me enough to even confront me. You just ran away like a great bloody coward. Whatever happened to all that Gryffindor courage and bravado?
I don't even know why I'm bothering to defend myself, when I'm not the one who has done anything wrong beyond working myself to a frazzle trying to do my job and trying to help Severus. I don't know why I'm suddenly feeling angry and belligerent. I really wish you were here right now so I could hex some sense into you. I haven't felt this aggressive towards you in years, Harry. I can only think that it's because of that trust issue.
Perhaps it's this damn journal. It's not like I can lie to you in it, is it? Perhaps it's dragging the anger and frustration out of me and onto the page.
Just in case you do ever read this, I just want you to know that even though I'm angrier at you than I've ever been, I still want to talk to you. Maybe I'll never know what made you run and maybe you'll never come back. You're stubborn enough about things that you'll remain Unplottable forever. I deserve some answers, Harry.
I suddenly feel utterly ridiculous and quite bereft. I'm left sitting here, trying to do two jobs and having no fucking idea what's going on in that wool brained head of yours. The least you can do is talk to me. I don't know what else to give, Harry, but I know silence isn't going to solve anything, and yes, despite what you might think, I want to resolve this.
We haven't come this far just for you to walk away and give up. Is that what you want to do? Think about it, Harry. I'm not stupid enough to think that it's all going to be dazzling fireworks and rose scented cushions - we're two completely different men when it comes to so many things, but I think that's what makes it so right. Could you imagine how boring it would be if we agreed on everything? That's not us, and I have no illusions as such. There was a spark there from the first day I met you - albeit we both misinterpreted it and dragged around the wrong idea for years.
Are we destined to keep making that mistake over and over again? I wonder if that is the true curse of this journal. I certainly hope it isn't, but I can't help but wonder. I'm pouring out my heart honestly and truthfully, laying out everything with no barriers or masks. I have no idea if you will read it, which is more painful to think about than anything else.
I have no answers, Harry. I don't know why we just stopped talking. Have we been bewitched by a spell? Was it just coincidence? If I didn't know any better, I would think that there is some greater conspiracy or force out there controlling us. I just don't have the answers. I admit I could have given you more of my time. I kept wanting to, but by the time I got around to being with you, you were asleep, or busy.
A small part of me was hoping you might be reading this as I write, but I have nothing more to give you on paper. I would have expected you to hex or curse me in a duel, not this bitter, lonely silence. Anything is better than this.
If I never hear from you again, just know I'll be still angry and disappointed, and resigned. I never thought I deserved perfect happiness; I've not always been a nice person. Perhaps I had this one chance and for some unknown reason I blew it. If you ever want to talk, or hex or curse me, I won't turn you away - I can't. The Floo here at home will always be open to you. I can't throw away something that I've always wanted, and never knew I really needed until I got it.
Bah, I'm crap at this. I'm apologising, yet I have nothing to apologise for. Just talk to me.
You know I don't beg, Harry. I don't but I am begging you. Please. Just talk to me. Not knowing where you are is just killing me, and I honestly feel like I've been ripped in two. Can't you feel it?
I love you, Harry Potter. Don't ever forget that. I'll love you until the day I die, even if I never see you again.
The pain in Harry's chest was almost unbearable, but he knew it was only the pangs of guilt and a bitter dose of reality. Putting the journal aside, he again asked himself why he ran away. He had not been thinking clearly for weeks, and only now did he feel as if he had woken up to reality.
Draco was right. He was a coward. He had grown to loathe confrontation, and running away seemed like the easiest thing to do. Naturally, that was the dumbest thing he could have done – it definitely surpassed many of the other stupendously dumb things he had done in his time.
The more he thought about it, the more he realised that he was foolish to question Draco's trust. He might have rushed into trusting people in the past, but he had trusted Draco for months now. Why had he suddenly questioned that? He had no hard and fast answer – just that something made him question it.
He dared to hope that he wasn't completely in control of his actions, but he failed to recall any form of coercion to make him think otherwise. Looking yet again at Draco's words, he sensed the righteous indignation. He had been the one wanting answers from Draco, but now all he could think to do was ask for forgiveness, and possibly another chance. He became quite choked up with Draco's last words, and their seeming finality, and his hands shook as he searched around for quill and ink.
The journal could not lie. He remembered that now, and Draco was hurting. How could he be such a prize fool to think ill of Draco? The sense of sense of hopelessly lost love oozed off the page, and he knew he would need to put a stop to this. He turned everything in the hut upside down until he transfigured the last of the red wine into ink, and a twig on the ground into a quill.
Dipping the quill in the ink, he let it drip on the page, unsure of exactly what he wanted to say. Normally, he would have found the journal pulling him in and drawing out the words. He was hopeless with the spoken word – he realised that.
It suddenly struck that he could charm his way out of this with smooth words through the journal. He realised that whilst it never lied, it often pulled out things differently to how he would say them.
This wasn't a bad thing, but right then he knew that this situation was above the simple written word. He needed to talk to Draco - to meet his eye when they...
He looked down to see a large blotch of purple drip down onto the page.Harry, are you there?
He froze when he saw the words and realised Draco was still there, but the damn quill still had a little something to say.Draco... I... No. I can't do this... I'm sorry...
He paused before he could write more. He wouldn't write this, and for the first time in days he knew that he was doing the right thing. He took a deep and calming breath as he put down the quill and closed the journal, deciding once and for all what needed to be done, and knowing more so than anything else that this was the right choice to make.
Draco had fallen asleep at his desk, his head atop the closed journal. A slow drizzle had continued all night and the sound eventually lulled him to sleep. He had waited for a reply from Harry – had stayed awake as long as possible. Stretching and pulling at the kinks in his neck, he realised where he was, and why he had fallen asleep at his desk. The pain of his aching joints was nothing compared to the bitter disappointment of seeing nothing in response. There was, however, a large purple blot of ink, so he knew, at least, that Harry had read it.
The blotch was spreading and he sat up straighter. Harry was there – at this very minute. He picked up his quill and quickly responded.Harry, are you there?
It took a couple of minutes, and he was beginning to think he had hallucinated the purple ink when he saw Harry's response. It seemed hesitant, and then he looked at the denial in disbelief. I can't do this... What did Harry mean?What do you mean? Harry? Harry?
It felt like an eternity passed and there was no response. Somehow, he just knew Harry was no longer there. What had happened? He felt an overwhelming sense of resignation – that this was the end, and that left him feeling bereft. Perhaps laying it all out in the journal had been an even bigger mistake. He had nothing else to give with his emotions, and he had put all his hopes on Harry having replied to his words. He was definitely gone. There was no going back now.
The realisation that he had lost Harry for good struck home. The heavy drizzle falling from grey skies mirrored his mood as he realised there was no more he could do. He didn't want to give up on Harry, but he had not thought this far into his plan, and had never expected to be in this situation. He stared at the page, just hoping for one more glimpse in purple. Even a drop would tell him that Harry was still there, but a part of his mind knew Harry was no longer reading.
As the hopelessness overwhelmed him, he closed his eyes. If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost feel Harry's presence right there in the room. His head fell down to rest on the closed journal. He was beyond tears now, but a heavy, aching ball of... nothing... was filling his chest. He took another deep breath, filled with the anguish he had ignored for days. It was worse than he imagined, for he could almost smell Harry in that breath.
Despite all his years of training and his heightened sensed, he never sensed the body behind him. It was just a figment of his imagination, just like the ghostly pressure from the hand that suddenly came to rest on his shoulder. He had heard about hallucinations when people were under extreme pressure and grief. Why should he be excluded?
He absently brought his hand up to his shoulder to reassure himself that the hand was not real, when he touched flesh. He didn't flinch, but he knew that hand – had felt its touch intimately many, many times.
He turned so quickly he almost cricked his neck. Harry stood behind him, and all Draco could do was stare at him blankly. It was either a hallucination, or it really was Harry, looking every bit as pathetic and sorrowful as he had hoped. He didn't want to see him life that, but his anger was tempered with relief.
"You came back," he whispered hoarsely, still unsure if this was all real.
Harry just nodded. "Yeah," he replied softly.
Draco took a deep breath, drinking in the sight, smell and sound of his soul mate. This was what he missed, and at that moment his anger abated and he realised that no matter what, he couldn't bear to be parted again. "You didn't write... I waited up all night..."
"Some things are better said face to face," Harry replied flatly, and for just a second, Draco wondered if Harry was only back to have things out. A touch of fear returned.
Their hesitancy and reluctance to talk was evident, but Harry's hand was still firmly on Draco's shoulder. Neither wanted to lose the touch, as if their physical connection would make understanding of the situation easier.
"So," Draco started, the bitter edge of anger touching his words, "What made you come back?"
Harry shrugged. "I guess I stopped overthinking, and finally listened to my heart and my feelings."
Draco seemed to accept this explanation, but Harry wasn't finished. It was as if he had now opened the floodgates. "Actually, I felt profoundly hollow at the thought I might never be with you again, and I don't think I could live like that." Harry's words were tinged with hope, and for the first time, Draco saw the hint of a smile at the corner of Harry's mouth.
He desperately wanted to forgive Harry on the spot, but the lingering anger wouldn't be satisfied until it got some answers. Draco suddenly found his voice, standing to look Harry in the eye. "You just ran? You couldn't confront me like most normal people? I'm still at a loss to even begin to wonder how you came to such hugely wrong conclusions about everything. Why didn't you just talk to me?"
Harry shrugged, his eyes expressing his own desire to know the answer to that question. "I thought... I thought I knew what I was doing. It seemed the logical thing to do if we were cursed to be miserable. I overheard your concerns to Remus about the journal curse, and I just ran with it." Harry shook his head and let out a snort. "...Just like a prophecy. I guess I was only making it come true."
Draco was silent as he processed this explanation. Harry seemed a little nervous, biting his lip and not looking Draco directly in the eye. He continued, finally lifting his face to look at Draco as he grasped both of the blond's hands. "I knew that something wasn't right, but I lost sight of us. I realise that when you aren't in my life, I'm lost, and I want to fix that, because I don't want to feel lost ever again."
Draco quickly pulled his hands out of Harry's, running them through his hair. He walked over to the window, the sound of an overflowing drain drowning out the conflicting thoughts in his head. "I... if it's any consolation, I should have talked to you, too. My only excuse is my woeful inability to prioritise around my work."
"Yeah, we both got busy, didn't we?" Harry replied, stepping up behind him, ostensibly to look out the window also.
The past tense in Harry's words kept Draco a little on edge, and he felt he had to explain himself further. "I was so focussed on doing the right thing to help Severus and trying to keep an eye on Wood that I didn't put enough time into us. I kept telling myself we would talk on the weekend, but the time never came. Just when I arranged a dinner for you, you left."
Harry nodded, his hand back on Draco's shoulder. He could feel the heat radiating off Harry's chest, and he tried in vain not to lean into it. He knew they had to talk this out, but Harry's presence was intoxicating, and he didn't want to let go. "I know why you spent all that time helping Maggie. She's on the team, by the way." He turned to find himself in a close embrace. Neither of them moved to step away.
This news did make Harry smile. "I'm sorry I missed that. I've let everyone down – I realise that. I guess I've done more than just hurt you by leaving. I have no defence to offer other than my wool headed Gryffindorishness."
"We could sit here for hours and offer recriminations, Harry. I admit my faults, and you yours. I was a little pissed off for your reaction to Maggie's sorting, but I should have talked it out, not buried myself in more work. I know how to help Severus, but I'm at a loss sometimes with what to do for you."
"Your work is important, Draco. I can see that, and so can everyone else. You should help Severus, but not to the point of being a martyr – you do enough of that by refusing to let anyone help you with your knee..." Draco sighed. He knew this topic was bound to come up sooner rather than later. Better to clear the air now.
"I don't..." Draco replied adamantly, but Harry just stared at him, daring him to retaliate. It took Draco a moment to regroup and talk about the one thing he perceived as a flaw.
"I'm not a nice man, Harry. You know that. I wasn't brought up to be nice. I've done horrid things, some by choice, but most by virtue of the fact I was forced to do it. I didn't choose to spy out of any noble reason – not at first. I did it purely to stay alive. But then I did – survive. I lived when so many others died. I shouldn't have lived, yet here I am, wondering if I'm about to lose the best thing that's ever happened to me, and knowing all along I don't deserve it. I want it all, Harry – I always have. But my knee reminds me that I'm not perfect, and when I start to get too full of myself, I only have to walk and I'll remember that I should be grateful just to be alive. It's... hard to explain."
"What a load of bollocks," Harry blurted. "You don't think I have any idea about survivor's guilt, Draco? You think you're the only one who had to do horrid things? Hello, you're talking to Harry Potter here, just in case you've forgotten. I didn't exactly have any choice in my destiny, not after Voldemort made that prophecy come true. I've read between the lines in the journal, Draco. Luc thought I was the one to give him that injury. I see that now. I don't doubt you were bitter towards me for the longest time. I've offered you help, but you're the most stubborn Slytherin I know. You don't need to be a martyr – you have done more than many. How many lives did you save just by being a spy? So many more than those that you took. Don't be a prat – just swallow that damn Malfoy pride and suck it up like a man."
"I..." Draco had trouble speaking.
"Shhh," Harry tentatively moved his other hand to Draco's shoulder, squeezing them in support. "You say you're not a nice man. Who is the one with the burning desire to help all werewolves? Yes, I know you'll get the fame and recognition you've always craved, but deep down I know that it's the fact you've made a difference that means the most to you."
"Well it's all a moot point anyway," Draco mumbled. "I won't forget you found the cure for the curse – it certainly saved your scrawny arse. Not much point in thinking about it any more, not unless you know where there's a stash of Pegasus Wingtips? I just think there's no point in us even talking about this, not when there's no hope of a cure."
"Would you let Snape talk like that about his current injuries?" Draco could sense the anger rising in Harry. He knew it had been stupid to bring this topic up with Harry. "Would you let Remus give up and give in to his lycanthropy?"
Draco knew Harry had him. He shook his head. "No."
"Then stop being so proud. Wearing an injury isn't a mark of pride, Draco. It just helps people to remember. I want to forget the past. It's over. Look to the future. Now who is being the wool head?"
"All fine words, Harry. I had forgotten the past, but then you had to go and think I was cheating behind your back. Who was the one losing his trust in me?" Draco couldn't help the accusatory tone as the words slipped out.
Harry nodded. "I deserve that. I think Oliver's presence did unsettle me. I guess I'm not over him like I thought. Seeing him around just brought back sour memories and all the insecurities. I was worried you might actually retaliate against him in some way, but I didn't speak up because I didn't want you to know I really was struggling around his presence."
Draco snorted. "I heard the lies he told you. How could you believe them?"
"I didn't want to, but then I saw you in the hallway later, and I... I just didn't think." They both nodded at that assessment.
"I honestly don't know why I thought anything, Draco. Oliver made me all insecure, and then you were pissed off at me about Maggie, and you were always working... my mind just came up with these scenarios and I ran with them."
Draco nodded. "Remus said you always kept things to yourself."
"Yeah. I wasn't very good at sharing my feelings. Is it any wonder why I ended up sharing things about myself in a journal?"
"No." Draco still felt that it wasn't enough of an explanation. Coercion, potion, blackmail, threats – all those things he could understand. Having Harry just feel insecure and lose trust was not good enough.
"Why did you lose your trust in me?" Draco finally asked. "What did I do?"
"I honestly don't know. I thought you would have hexed Oliver in the halls, or yelled, or done something. Perhaps that's part of it. I never consciously thought it – not until I got angry enough to leave."
"But I did retaliate against Oliver," he said, almost as an afterthought.
Harry looked surprised. "What? I never knew..."
"I didn't do anything until this week. I held back because I thought you might have been pissed off at me for doing something like that..." Draco let out an ironic laugh. "See, I should have asked you too. I thought you wouldn't want me to hurt him, despite my keen desire to string the prat up by the big toe..."
"What did you do to him?" Harry asked, more out of curiosity than anger.
"Oh, I just gave him a taste of what it is like to be somewhat incapable of performing."
"You hexed him?" Harry asked in surprise.
"Poison – in a manner of speaking. But it's only temporary... he'll be fully functioning in a few weeks, once it's all out of his system."
"You're slipping, Draco. Your compassion is showing. I would have made sure it was permanent."
"I would have, but I was worried that you might think less of me."
Harry laughed, and the sound warmed Draco's heart. "Never. I actually think he deserved a lot worse."
"Don't tell me you actually still care what happens to the git," Draco snickered.
"No, I don't, really," Harry shrugged. "He's lost a lucrative contract with Puddlemere, and he's trying to find his way back up to the top. Success is important to him, and now I realise that he constantly wants to win, at any cost. Taking the role as Quidditch coach means that he's the top of the pile again, and he craves that."
"He seems to think you cursed him when you threw him out, hence his run of bad luck."
"Oh, he would have known if I had cursed him. No, he made his own circumstances, and now he has to live with the consequences. I actually feel pity more than anything else. I'm sorry he had to come between us, even if he was being his usual git self. I... I probably don't deserve forgiveness."
"You got that right," Draco muttered under his breath.
Harry looked suitably guilty. "I guess I'm the stupid one – stupid for believing you would be dumb enough to sleep with him." He hung his head, still not willing to look Draco in the eye for too long.
Finally, Draco took Harry's chin lifting it firmly. As their eyes met and communicated hurt, regret and unhidden anger, they realised they could finally start to talk.
"I'm not going to pretend that this week hasn't been sheer hell, Harry. I shouldn't forgive you so easily, but I'm glad that you seem to be in one piece. Despite my better judgement, I really am not willing to lose you." He poked him heavily in the chest. "If you think I would just give up on you on a whim, then I really haven't proven myself to you yet." He finally sniffed and looked up and down at Harry's grimy clothes. "...Even if you haven't bathed in a week..." A faint grin quirked at the corner of Draco's mouth. "Either that, or you've bathed in rice wine."
Harry smiled. "You're a fine one to talk," he said as he ran his fingers over the stubble on Draco's chin before tucking a stray strand of unwashed hair. "We're really a pair, aren't we?"
Draco finally smiled, nodding as he looked away in embarrassment. There was no denying it, really. Looking back, it seemed obvious from the moment they met that they were both strong personalities and had a sparking chemistry between them. They meshed so well together that they even had the same issues, as they had demonstrated with their recurring miscommunications.
"Don't think we aren't going to work this out and start talking – properly. It's not going to fix itself overnight." Draco looked at Harry, so dishevelled and weary, but tentatively smiling. For just that moment Draco felt only joy that Harry had returned and was standing right in front of him. Nevertheless, he couldn't help but wonder how they had got to that point. "Exactly what prompted you to run, Harry?"
"I honestly don't know." Harry shrugged. "At first it was avoidance, and then anger. I didn't want a repeat performance from when I found Ollie in bed with those guys." He held up a quieting hand just as Draco opened his mouth to protest. "I know I wouldn't have seen that. I realise now that you wouldn't have been with him, or with Charlie. I guess I wasn't thinking rationally for a while there. I just had it in my head, and nothing could stop me from seeing what I imagined."
Harry sat down on the sofa and Draco followed suit, sitting next to him, but not close enough to seem intrusive. He still wasn't sure what Harry was feeling. Harry sighed, running his fingers through his hair, and finally continued. "Like I said, that was my first reason for running. By the time I actually got here and started to pack, I was also thinking about the curse. If there really was a curse on our journals, then it would mean that sooner or later one or both of us would be hurt. We might die tragically. We might be separated forever. We might have long years of suffering ahead of us. I guess I figured it would hurt us both less, and keep us safe if I just left and stayed away. Even though I was mad as hell at you about this imagined affair with Oliver Wood, I didn't want you hurt. I don't know if that makes sense, but there you have it."
Draco smiled and covered Harry's hand with his own. "Your personal brand of logic is definitely unique, Harry. Nothing makes sense when it comes to us, but I think I understand you anyway. Right now I'm just glad you came back." He squeezed Harry's hand lightly and was surprised when Harry stood up, looking slightly uncomfortable. "What is it, Harry? You did come back to stay, didn't you?" He'd only just realised that Harry had no bag with him and felt a stab of fear at what the absence of luggage might mean.
Harry only looked away, shoving one hand deep into the pocket of his jeans and running the other through his hair again. He most definitely seemed uncomfortable and was at a loss for words. Draco stood too, feeling a surge of desperation and the fear that he was about to lose Harry again. "Harry, talk to me."
"Well I… I wasn't sure if you would want me back for good after all this… I knew I needed to see you, but I was afraid… I just had no idea if we could…" he faltered, knowing by the expression on Draco's face (relief, and a familiar cross between a smirk and a non-verbal reprimand) that he'd been mistaken again. "See, I'm a complete git."
"I'm not denying that," Draco said, his smirk finally winning out. "You do want to be here, right?" He allowed himself a normal breath after Harry nodded in affirmation. "Good! And just in case you get any more wild ideas or we have any further misunderstandings, let me get something clear. I don't ever want you to leave. I don't want to kick you out of my life or out of our home. You're stuck with me forever, Potter."
Home. Harry liked the sound of that, especially when Draco said it. He'd been searching for 'home' for so long that he could have kicked himself for nearly throwing it all away.
"Besides, if you ever think about disappearing like that again, I'll hex your balls off."
Harry finally offered a tired smile and said "Somehow, my love, I think you'd get far too much enjoyment from that, but in the end, you'd regret it as much as I would - perhaps even more."
Draco moved a step closer and was pleased when Harry met him in an embrace. The hesitant kiss they shared was filled with a deep love and underlying passion. It was a kiss of homecoming and completion. There were no more words for now, but they both knew that very soon they would need to talk out all their problems. For now, it was just the acknowledgement that they both wanted this, and like all wounds, it needed a little time and tender care to heal.
They silently fell to the bed, the weariness of released tension finally overcoming them. Draco stared so deeply into Harry's eyes that Harry felt as if his very soul were exposed. This scrutiny made Harry flush, but he lovingly traced every contour of Draco's face with a gentle touch, eliciting a deep sigh as he whispered the only word both wanted to hear – "home."
They fell asleep like that, not even bothering to climb under the duvet, and it was the most restful sleep either had had in weeks.
Harry went through a myriad of emotions in his first moments of waking. He immediately recognised that he was home, in the bed he shared with Draco, and he rolled over to revel in that familiar comfort. But Draco was nowhere to be seen and for the briefest of moments Harry feared that he had dreamt their reunion and was still in Lao Kuai's hut dreaming, yet again, that he was being betrayed. As he sat up and his head began to clear, he finally heard the shower running and knew how silly he was being. I've really got to stop being so insecure about things. We're together. We'll work out the details and it'll all be okay. He allowed himself a languid stretch before shedding his clothes and heading towards the bathroom. It had been far too long since they'd had an opportunity to shower together, and he stepped tentatively into the room.
Harry opened the shower door and drank in the sight of Draco, partially covered in soap suds. Draco turned, "I wondered when you were going to finally get in here," he drawled.
"Well, I would have been here sooner, but I'm not in the habit of sleeping in the shower," Harry retorted fondly as he stepped in and gathered his soapy lover in his arms. They kissed under the warm spray and spent some time just running their hands across each other's skin. What Harry wasn't expecting was the sudden urgency as Draco groaned and pushed him up against the tiles with great force. He heard a distinct crack, and felt more alive as Draco's warm, wet mouth crashed against his, knocking the wind from him. Harry groaned now in unison with Draco as they ground against each other. The last vestiges of languid sleep were now gone as Draco plundered Harry's mouth harshly, their teeth clashing and the rough stubble on Draco's chin scratching at Harry's face and neck.
The sense of urgency was apparent. As Draco let out a feral growl he turned, his own back now to the tiles and his soapy hands sliding down Harry's back. Harry found himself beyond caring as he pushed back. He groaned, throwing his head back and exposing his neck to Draco's mouth and teeth.
It was rough sex, but Harry felt the same thrill as he let out his own aggression. He wanted it like this – hard and fast. He didn't care how, he just knew he needed to be fucked, and he practically tried to crawl up onto his lover, throwing his legs around Draco's waist, his arms around his neck.
Harry stopped breathing, as he always did in that moment. It felt good, and Draco also gasped for air at the unexpected feeling. Harry's legs wrapped around Draco's waist and for a moment he thought Draco might collapse from the intensity. He rested his head on Harry's chest as he gathered his breath, before sucking and biting at a spot on his collarbone.
Harry knew he wasn't going to last very long, and judging from the shudders that ran through Draco's body, he assumed the same for him. Harry supported himself as Draco's hands braced against the wall. There would be deep bruises on Draco's back as Harry's fingers clenched and dug into his skin. He sought whatever friction could be gained from rubbing up against Draco's stomach.
He groaned in delight when he finally felt Draco's hands on him and he looked up into those pale, pale eyes. He saw the challenging stare in them.
"Don't you ever leave me again, Harry. Don't you fucking dare. You're mine."
Harry shook his head, gasping "never", but Draco wasn't finished as his next words were delivered in that familiar drawl, partly whispered across his ear. "But you won't ever think to leave me, will you, because you'll never find anyone who'll make you feel like this - who will give you exactly what you want. You're mine, Harry Potter, and I'm not going to let you forget it."
As Draco whispered, Harry could only nod. "Don't want to leave... don't want anyone else..." he mumbled and shook his head as the water beat down on their bodies, cooling their skin but not their passion. "...I'm yours... love you so much... don't stop... touching me."
Their passion intensified as they fell back bonelessly against the tiles. They cried aloud at the intensity of their climax, and in that moment, any doubts Harry had about Draco washed down the drain with the last vestiges of his release. A glorious look of utter satisfaction was on Draco's face and Harry finally allowed himself a moment of reflection.
This was what he wanted – nothing more or less, and as he felt the twinge of having been well and truly fucked, Harry knew that he could never forget the feeling of Draco claiming him. He had been a fool to ever think the worst of his soul mate, and he knew in that moment he would not doubt him again, not without very good reason.
Draco leaned back heavy and limp against the cool tiles. He didn't care, for right at that moment, he wanted no other feeling.
Harry leaned against Draco, then, pulling him close and revelling in their contact. "Mine," Draco repeated as his hand went up to Harry's face.
Harry nodded. "Yes, I'm yours. Nobody else's but yours."
Draco smiled but looked a little worried when he touched the back of Harry's head. There was a considerable lump, and they both remembered the cracking sound. Looking back, Harry noticed the tile was cracked, and realised that his head felt a little delicate. "I didn't mean to be so rough, Harry. I just felt I needed to get out all my aggression at once. I..."
Harry shushed him with a finger. "Did I complain? It was rough, but I think we both needed that." Harry nestled against Draco's shoulder. "Besides, I certainly wouldn't be adverse to something that amazing again, although I think my thick head might damage too many of the tiles..."
Draco laughed, a genuine laugh that told Harry they were well on the road to recovering what they had lost. Harry relaxed into the embrace, feeling immense relief and certainty that everything would work out now that they were together again.
Harry offered to make breakfast as an inelegant grumble belied his hunger. His appetite returned with a vengeance and he realised that in his absence, Draco had not thought to do any shopping. He called down to the school kitchens for some breakfast, but had to fend off the over zealous greetings from Dobby. He had to carefully extricate himself from the excitable elf.
The smell of Draco's coffee was wonderfully familiar, and the butter dripping from the slices of toast tasted like manna. He was just about to pop a very greasy piece of bacon into his mouth when they were interrupted by a knock at the door. Undoubtedly Dobby had advised everyone that Harry was back. He knew he needed to apologise to Dumbledore and Remus, but he had hoped to at least have some breakfast first. Breakfast, then some time with Draco, for their reconciliation was far from over. They still had some conversations that had been avoided, and it would be difficult with interruptions from other people. Something was preventing them from talking.
Harry noticed that Draco was again favouring his good leg, and that worried him. He might have made Draco discuss it briefly, but there was a lot more emotional baggage being carried around about that knee, and Harry intended to resolve it.
Draco flicked his wand and the door opened. "Charlie."
Harry looked over when Draco spoke and both of them took in Charlie's ashen-faced and sombre expression. Charlie showed a bit of interest at seeing that Harry was back, but the worry was still overwhelming. All Harry's thoughts of possible infidelity were tossed aside when he saw the look on Charlie's face. "Ron?" he asked tentatively. Surely that look could only mean one thing...
Charlie just nodded and moved to sit in Harry's favourite armchair near the fireplace. "We found him..." Harry let out a sigh as Charlie continued. "...But he doesn't know who he is. He's completely lost his memories." He whispered hoarsely in disbelief. "Practically everything..."
Harry and Draco sat on the sofa, facing Charlie. "He doesn't remember anything?" Harry couldn't contemplate the thought.
"He doesn't even know he's a wizard," Charlie said. "A fisherman on the Isle of Wight found him. He's very confused and very weak and he keeps singing a song about a little goblin. He's got no idea who any of us are, or what a goblin is, or anything. The doctors at St. Mungo's are very concerned about him." Charlie swallowed visibly. "He doesn't even know who Mum is. It seems he's been through Merlin knows what and his magic is just as weak as his body. He's… he's actually… well, they're not sure if he'll recover. He's barely alive… he's really not doing well at all, Harry."
"But how could he end up like that?" Harry didn't even realise the death grip he held on Draco's hand. "Was it a curse? I mean, I lost my memory for a while there, but it came back." He held hope in that thought.
"We don't know if he's too far gone, Harry. I couldn't care less if he's a squib the rest of his days, I just want him to survive, for Mum and Dad's sake... and Hermione."
"Does she know?"
"Yeah, she's with him. The medi-wizards are stumped as to the cause of his condition. It's not a known curse or memory charm. Hermione is looking into any Muggle related causes." Charlie scrubbed at his face with the realisation that the worry wasn't anywhere near being over.
Harry glanced over at his jacket by the door. His first reaction was to go and see Ron at the hospital, but gut instinct made him look towards Draco. There was little that would stop him from going, but his first priority had to be making sure Draco understood. He tried to gauge a reaction from Draco, and was quickly surprised.
"You should go see him. I understand, Harry." Draco's voice was tight, but Harry could tell he was being honest. "I don't know what good it would do him if he can't even remember his own mother, but I know that you'll need to go. I really don't pretend to understand your loyalty to him, Harry, but if it were Severus in that situation, nothing would stop me, either."
Harry was relieved that Draco seemed so understanding about it. He knew they would need to discuss this in more detail, but this was not the time for it. Getting up, he started toward the bedroom to change, but Charlie interrupted him.
"Actually, Draco, I came to ask you for help." Draco looked surprised.
"The medi-wizards have found a strange residue in his system. Owing to the... secrecy surrounding Ron, Hermione suggested that Severus could help analyse a sample of his blood, but he can't go get it; he's having a really bad day. I was going to bring it to him, but he said he would prefer you to collect the blood directly – he doesn't trust those medi-wizards not to have contaminated it in any way."
Harry cringed. He was prepared for Draco to sit back and refuse, but to his, and Charlie's surprise, he barely took a second to nod in agreement. "A strange residue in his system..." he muttered. "I wonder..."
"Well?" Both Harry and Charlie stood there, dumbfounded that Draco had been so quick to agree to help 'the weasel'. "What are you waiting for?"
The trip to St Mungo's was blessedly short. The medi-wizards gave him five minutes to see Ron, and only because he accompanied Draco to collect some blood samples. Ron wasn't asleep, and he looked ghastly. Apparently he was looking a little better than when he first arrived, but Harry had seen corpses with more colour than his friend. He had imagined the worst for Ron, but seeing him lying there, staring blankly into space and not recognising him was simply heart wrenching. What made it even more surreal was the fact that when Draco walked straight up to him and stood there with a vial and wand pointed at his arm. Ron was no more cognizant of Draco's presence than he was of Harry's.
It seemed so disconcerting to see him not reacting to Draco in any way. He didn't speak, but he made some hollow sounding groans that matched the vacant stare in his eyes. The atmosphere at the hospital was so depressing. Every member of Ron's family was there – including Ginny – who looked distraught that her brother had been found in such a state.
For once, none of them said a word about Malfoy being in the room, and Harry was surprised yet again when Draco spoke a few words to Hermione. "Professor Snape and I will look at this, and we'll see if we can isolate how it got into his system. I have a horrid suspicion that I would like to rule out, but if not, it would explain so much about the past few months." Hermione seemed grateful for Draco's words, and nodded. She seemed to be keeping herself busy in her work.
Harry hesitated, not truly wanting to leave just yet, but Draco grabbed him by the arm. "His family needs to be with him now, Harry. You can come back later," he replied. Harry looked around, seeing Ron surrounded by his wife and family, and nodded, knowing that his friend was in good hands. He gave Molly and Hermione a friendly peck on the cheek, and hugged Ginny warmly. She gave Harry an odd smile as she briefly glanced over in Draco's direction. He realised he had not personally told her of his relationship with Draco, and he whispered in her ear. "Yeah, he's the one, Gin. I promise I'll tell you everything – but some other time."
She snickered. "I look forward to it," she replied cheekily.
Back at Hogwarts, Draco and Snape went straight to the lab to analyse Ron's blood sample. It worried Harry that there was something in his system that the St Mungo's medi-wizards couldn't identify. He had no doubt that between the two of them, the Potions master and apprentice would find something.
This left Harry to his own devices, and he knew it was well past the time to go to see Dumbledore and make apology for having left the school so abruptly without word. Remus too. Best to know now if he actually still had a job. In his foolish dash, he had given little thought to the students, to their needs and to Remus, who he was supposed to be assisting.
Rounding the last corner before the entrance to Dumbledore's office, he literally bumped into Oliver. Of all the people in the castle, it had to be him that he bumped into. He immediately felt the swathe of emotions roll over him, the foremost being anger. He had to forcibly restrain himself from throwing Oliver against the wall, but then he remembered what Draco had done, and he restrained himself. He was already paying for his behaviour.
"Oi, watch where you're going... Oh, Harry... I didn't know you were back," Oliver said in a flat voice.
"Oli... Oliver," Harry was startled by Oliver's depressed tone, but it didn't stop the urge to pound his fist into Oliver's face. He hesitated when he noticed that gleam of smug superiority was missing from Oliver's face. This threw him somewhat.
"Don't worry. I'll stay out of your way. There's no need for you to tiptoe around me and get all upset, Harry. I'll be out of the castle by the end of the day." A hint of bitterness crept into Oliver's tone.
"You're leaving?" Harry asked in surprise. Oliver just nodded. "You're up and quitting – in the middle of a term?" Harry knew the complete hypocrisy of his words – hadn't he done just the same?
"Not by choice. If I had my way, I wouldn't be leaving," he replied as he nodded his head in the direction of the headmaster's office. "The old codger has let me go. I've got until the end of the day to clear out." The disbelief in his voice was evident.
"Dumbledore's given you the sack?" Harry found it hard to put surprise into his words now.
Oliver pursed his lips and looked around uncomfortably. "Yeah." He sounded quite put out now. "It seems that his idea for a Quidditch teacher and mine were quite different. He expected me to work after hours with the students – in my own time! Not to mention I should have been keeping better watch on who was out on the pitch. How could it be my fault that two students nearly died because they were too stupid to know how to stop their brooms attempting a Wronski Feint..."
"Kids aren't stupid, Oliver. They just need guidance. That's what teachers do. It's not all fun and games, and you sometimes have to be strict on them to make them realise their limits. Are you forgetting how much time Madame Hooch spent with us? I can't believe you would think that this is only a simple job. The students are your first responsibility. Your fawning fans will just have to come second. Don't you get that?"
"Yeah," he nodded, not really meaning it. "I see that now."
"What'll you do?" Harry knew he shouldn't really care, but a natural instinct made him ask the question.
"Dunno," Oliver shrugged. "I suppose I can hang out with my brother Sean for a while, see what's going in the way of coaching clinics. Or I could go up to Kenmere and see if the Kestrels need some coaching help. Old Seamus O'Shaunessy is getting a little long in the tooth. A little bit of careful coaching, and they'll be the team to beat in the league. There'll be money in that, you wait and see."
Harry just nodded. He honestly didn't care where Oliver went. Just knowing he was leaving the castle was enough, yet some part of him wanted Oliver to be happy. He had no idea where that desire came from, but perhaps knowing he was leaving was helping him to calm down. He knew this wasn't the right job for Oliver, who was never good at anything that involved responsibility. The thought he had no job to go to was a concern, but somehow he guessed Oliver would always manage to land on his feet. As long as he was the centre of attention and he didn't have too much responsibility, then he would be undoubtedly happy.
"But there's no need to be concerned for me, Harry. You've got your happy little family scenario happening with Malfoy. Why should you care?"
"I care, Oliver, because even if you have a cruel streak that most Slytherins would kill for, I can look back now and remember the good times we had. You had all of me, Oliver – every last bit of my love and devotion. It obviously wasn't enough, so you moved on. I hope you find what it feels like to truly fall in love, only so that you'll finally understand just how I felt. It doesn't matter now; I'm over you, and your petty games."
Right then, Harry knew that he really was over Oliver and his betrayal. He might have thought he had been all those months ago, but it had taken Draco's love and a whole load of confrontation and misunderstanding to realise he had only locked those feeling away. They were gone now, and he could try to hope for some happiness for Oliver – if only so he could see for himself the joy of true love.
The stairs to Dumbledore's office rumbled as they were revealed, and Harry knew it was time to face his own chastisement from the other person he had let down.
Oliver seemed a little repentant and opened his mouth. "Harry... I..."
Harry just waved him away. "Spare me any false apologies. Come back after you've had your heart broken, and then perhaps we can talk. Just... go."
He turned and mounted the stairs, not once looking back. A part of his spirit was glad that Oliver was going. He couldn't find it in himself to forgive Oliver, but the fact that he didn't want to wish him ill will was enough. Perhaps Draco's slip of the wrist might teach him a lesson, but Harry didn't seem to notice any great changes just yet.
No, it wasn't quite forgiveness, but his baggage with Oliver was finally unpacked.
He had expected disappointed glares from over the top of Dumbledore's glasses, but after several cups of tea and too many pumpkin pasties, Harry realised that he had yet again misjudged his mentor. He was ready for Dumbledore to give him a lecture about his responsibility to the students – to chastise him for leaving without saying a word.
Instead, Dumbledore just smiled at him with his usual all-knowing look. Harry wasn't expecting to be bombarded by a flurry of questions about his health. It seemed that Lao Kuai had apparently sent a letter to Dumbledore, explaining that Harry's magic was still adjusting after his long convalescence, and that he took off urgently to release his magic in the wild, without harming anyone. The fact he ended up in China was purely coincidental.
Harry was confused. It seemed Lao's letter stressed the importance of Harry remaining isolated in a remote area. Dumbledore had been highly concerned for Harry's health, and he could only think that the letter was delayed because of the doddering old owl and bad weather.
Harry felt even more confused when Dumbledore was the one making apologies. He was worried that Harry had not fully recovered enough to return to work. "After all," he said, "Severus is still having some… difficulties as well. It's only natural that you would need more time to heal." Harry protested and claimed Lao's letter was a cover up, but Dumbledore just nodded.
It seemed his protests fell on deaf ears, and he knew from the twinkle in Dumbledore's eye that he was going to get away with being irresponsible. It didn't feel right, but judging from Dumbledore's dismissal of his absence, he knew he was being indulged like a spoilt grandchild. He knew he could not take advantage of the old man again. He had responsibilities to others beside himself.
He wouldn't let them down again.
Harry heard Draco talking as he walked through the door joining their rooms, and his ears instantly pricked up at the conversation. "...Weasley is living proof that he did it – at least he is for now." Harry saw the back of Snape's head as he entered, but it was his gasp at their words that made them notice his entrance. Draco quickly beckoned him to join them as he tapped the side of the coffee pot with his wand, and a teapot suddenly appeared in its place. The plate of shortbread biscuits was still warm as the pot began to pour a cup of Earl Grey.
Harry wasn't really interested in tea, but he took the cup automatically, noticing that Snape was nursing a rather large mug as he tried to hide the shaking in his hands. "You found something?" Harry interrupted, trying to sound hopeful. "Is Ron going to recover?" he followed up before Draco or Snape could answer.
It was Snape who answered. "It would appear that a considerable amount of Ornithorhynchus venom residue was found in Ronald's digestive system and bloodstream."
"Venom? He's been poisoned?" Harry's cup clinked heavily against the saucer.
"I can't believe he's still alive – that much venom should have wasted him a long time ago, Harry. We can only guess that it's been altered in some way and been working in his system for quite some time." Draco was frowning at this.
Draco sighed. "I have no idea, Harry. The residue was pretty hard to detect, but someone had certainly been feeding him something. There's no way he could have force fed himself a poison."
"Any idea who it could have been? But more importantly, can you prove that?" Harry asked, knowing that this surely could account for Ron's complete change in character.
"We have our suspicions," Snape replied, "but unless we find a hidden Neo Death Eater laboratory, it's merely conjecture."
"Neo Death Eaters did it – but what could they gain from just poisoning him?" Harry couldn't understand.
"Did you not read that book you translated, Potter?" Snape asked testily. "There was a whole section in it about the use of mammalian venoms and their ability to slowly manipulate and coerce a wizard's thoughts."
Harry had to think for a second. Every now and then a few gaps in his memory were still there and he had to think back. He remembered translating the potion for Draco out of the book, but the rest of what he did was just a hazy blur. He shook his head.
Draco stepped in as he became aware of Harry's confusion. "There was a mention in there of making an Imperius potion – something that was very slow acting, but was virtually undetectable." He paused for a moment. "Phillip Parkinson often spoke about making such a thing. He became quite obsessed with it, actually." The rest didn't need to be said. It didn't take a genius to surmise that if Phillip Parkinson had been alive all that time, he could have orchestrated the creation of such a potion.
Harry looked crestfallen. "But how could the Neo Death Eaters get their hands on that book?"
Snape spoke up. "It's possible that he worked it out on his own, but either he found mention of it elsewhere, or he could have been a Parselmouth." Harry looked up in surprise. "Despite what you might think, Potter, there are other Parselmouths out there – they just prefer to keep their skill to themselves. It was no wonder Parkinson became a favourite of Voldemort and of Lucius."
"It's possible that your book ended up at Emmaline's bookstore after Parkinson no longer needed it," Draco added.
"So what happens next?" Harry asked, wondering exactly what could be done.
Draco shrugged. "Well, we told the medi-wizards about our findings. Now we'll just have to hope that Weasley recovers enough of his memories."
"But surely now that you've identified it, he'll be cleared on all charges, and everything for you will be sorted out with your estate and it will be unfrozen?" Harry suspected part of Draco's desire to help Ron was to help clear up exactly what had happened, and knowing that Ron's actions were being controlled meant that he would be cleared of all the charges that the Aurors had laid against him. This could only help to clear up the mess with Draco's estate and with Gringotts. The mystery seemed cut and dried to Harry. "Anyone with that much venom in his system surely can't be responsible for any of his actions."
Snape let out an audible sigh. "This is where we remind you, Potter, that we are merely making guesses. It isn't a crime for Weasley to have this poison in his system, which was the precise reason why Parkinson wanted to make this potion. Unless we find Parkinson's lab, or one of his assistants, your friend will still be up on charges."
Harry's jaw dropped. "So you're saying that Ron could still be held up as a Neo Death Eater?"
"That's exactly what he's saying," Draco replied.
They sat quietly, Harry still speechless. "So what will happen now? When Ron recovers his memories..."
"If your friend recovers his memories, Potter, it will be a long shot."
Harry put his cup down. "No, I refuse to believe that this is happening. I refuse to think that we've come this far and found Ron, only to have them lock him up in Azkaban when he recovers."
"Harry, this isn't your fight." Draco's words weren't harsh, and he didn't want to listen, but what else could he do? "We found what was in his system, and the medi-wizards will do their best to neutralise the potion. It's been there for a long time, so it will take just as long for him to recover."
"But I can't just sit back..."
"What are you going to do, Harry? Traipse all over the UK looking for a laboratory that might exist? I told you before – this isn't your fight."
"Are you just saying that because it's Ron, or because you've given up?" Harry looked Draco in the eye, knowing full well that they still had not talked out all their differences.
Draco stood his ground. "I'm not going to argue with you about this again, Harry. I'm not going to lie and say that I don't care, because I want this mess sorted out just as much, if not more than anyone else other than Weasley. You've got other responsibilities Harry – to the school – to us, or was all that just lip service you spoke earlier?"
Harry nodded. Draco was right. He had other responsibilities to the school, and it was less than an hour ago he promised Dumbledore he wouldn't go let him down again. "I hate feeling helpless, Draco. I want to help him."
"Perhaps all the help he wants is for you to be there for his family. I think Hermione is going to need you. Let the Aurors do their job."
"Is there some sort of counter potion – or some cure, or something?" he asked. "Something that will bring back his memories?"
"Harry, surely you know that your memories came back in dribs and drabs, and that was only through injury. This has likely been through subtle manipulation of his body via a magical potion. I'm not sure if they can come back. As much as you hate it, you're just going to have to wait."
Harry fidgeted with his cup, not really knowing what to do. "I hate this, I hate waiting and I hate not knowing."
Draco put his hand on Harry's knee. "I know. Please, just be patient. At least his family has him back now, which is something. Still they have a long road ahead."
"In what way?"
It was Snape who answered. "This stuff seems to have been in his system a long time. I think he's most likely suffering withdrawal simply because he hasn't been getting any since Parkinson was killed. It's highly plausible, and would account for his lost magic and his obliviated memories."
"So what do we all do now?" Harry asked, feeling more helpless than ever before.
Draco shrugged. "Severus and I gave the medi-wizards our findings, and we gave the Aurors our report about our speculations."
"Which Auror is on the case?"
Harry nodded. "She's good. She's not biased in any way."
"So I noticed. Look," Draco put his hand back on Harry's knee. "You do realise that if there was something I could do in way of a potion, or a cure, I'd brew it."
"No, I don't." Harry looked up.
"You know my feelings towards Ron," Harry was surprised at the use of his first name. "But I want him well for your sake, and for his family. He's another one of the victims of the war now, and if I could help..."
Harry saw the genuine look of determination on Draco's face, and was reminded right then of yet another reason that he loved Draco. He loved him for the fact that he was willing to help people – even someone he despised – purely because he wanted to, and that made all the difference.
"It's okay, Draco. You don't have to explain yourself. I understand. I can't say I am happy about staying out of this – but you're right, I have responsibilities, and I can't let them go. You are a good man, Draco, and one day I hope to be telling this story to Ron's children – right before they start coming to Hogwarts."
"Merlin save us from that day," Harry had almost forgotten that Severus was still there.
The smile on Harry's face was wide. "Ah, but who is forgetting what's even worse, Uncle Severus?" It had been worth it to see the look on Snape's face, and the genuine laugh it brought out from Draco.
For once, Harry might have just gathered the upper hand over Snape. He couldn't wait to tell Ron.
Harry spent the afternoon puttering about the place like a flighty bird, cleaning this and that, muttering under his breath, fussing over everything, and wondering aloud what he should make for dinner. Draco, busy with his own pile of marking stacked beside him on the couch, finally stopped and watched, trying hard to hide his somewhat bemused smile. Anything was more amusing that trying to read through the second years' essays.
"You know, most wizards just wave their wands and let magic take care of all that stuff. What's wrong?"
Harry started the slightest bit. "Oh, I'm just feeling a bit restless, I suppose. Like I've left something undone. I've got my bag back from China, and I think I've unpacked everything, haven't I?"
"Yes, you did. You asked me that before. Everything is accounted for."
"Oh. Well then I have no idea, but I know there's something, but I just can't put my finger on it." At this point Harry came by to plump the cushions but Draco captured his hand. He merely smiled at Harry's inquisitive look and carefully and deliberately placed Harry's finger on his own ear. Then he moved it to his mouth, and finally to Harry's mouth and ear.
Harry simply looked confused at that point, obviously not understanding the subtle hint. Draco just rolled his eyes. "We've been glazing over it all day, Harry. We've both admitted we need to talk, but we've made no moves towards doing so."
Harry closed his eyes and sighed deeply, nodding all the while. "You're right," he said as he flopped down next to Draco on the couch. "I guess I never realised how hard it would be to talk about things in person. The journals made it so easy, the way they almost pulled my thoughts out of my quill."
"I know what you mean."
"I've wanted to talk to you about us, about Ron, about Oliver, about Snape, about Emmaline, about work, about our future plans, and probably a dozen other things, but I can't seem to find the right way. I have the ideas and the feelings behind it, but I feel like I'm missing just the words."
Draco ran his hand through his hair. "All right. Why don't we just start with whatever we've got, and then we'll see if it makes sense. I promise I won't get uppity or angry. I want us to both be happy about this." He hesitated for just a moment at the look on Harry's face. "You are... happy, aren't you?"
Harry smiled. "Of course I'm happy. I'm the stupid git who can't say what he means and assumes the worst without asking." Draco was about to protest. "But no, you'll blame yourself too, and I don't want that. We mesh. We're like two halves of the same whole and I didn't even know I was missing a piece until I ran away. I love you too much to go back to that."
Draco smiled at Harry's declaration, dropping a kiss on the bridge of his nose. "I don't want you to leave again either. If it's not my temperament it's my picky habits or my anal working hours that mess up my relationships, it's the fact that I get so obsessed..." he sighed. Writing his thoughts out really had been easier, but he knew that if they were going to make this work, they needed to learn to actually talk to one another. "It seems every time I open my mouth, I either say the wrong thing, or I can't say exactly what I want to say to you, Harry." They certainly couldn't rely on the journals for the rest of their lives, could they? If nothing else, it would make life terribly inconvenient at times. "I just want you to know that you are the best thing to ever happen to me."
Harry nodded. "Everyone kept telling me I'm the most powerful wizard around, but when it comes to just being a man, I really am clueless. I mean, I thought everything was fine with Oliver, and even times before that, and it's always come out wrong and I just don't want to have that again. You wonder why I have so many insecurities? I guess a small part of me didn't believe that we could do this, and it's hard to get my head to listen to my heart. Sometimes my head keeps telling me that you're Malfoy, which really confuses the heart."
"Yeah, you wool-head," Draco smirked.
"Yeah, even Lao Kuai even mentioned that – in a roundabout sort of way. He's the one that told me to check the journal again after I thought to throw it on the fire and get rid of it."
"I think I'd like to meet this Lao Kuai sometime. He sounds like a very wise man."
Harry chuckled. "That, or he just wanted to get me drunk. He gave me two glasses of wine and told me to drink them both."
"Well, if they were Chardonnay, then you shouldn't have had a problem with that, you great lush!" Draco smiled.
"No, actually one was rice and one was plum. Plum wine is one of the few red wines I really enjoy." Harry's expression quickly changed from content and happy to contemplative and sombre. "I've just realised, Draco, there's another reason I don't care for certain red wines, especially Merlot. My Uncle Vernon used to drink it, and I have so many bad memories connected to him it's just plain ridiculous. Of course, that was years ago, and Ollie's in the past too. I suppose now that I've recognised it, maybe I can get over it."
"You never mentioned that before, Harry. Why didn't you say something?" Harry couldn't answer, but gave a shrug. "I just thought you were being stubborn to prove a point." Draco paused in thought. "I'm still finding my way – learning who I am, Harry. I guess you're doing the same too. I'm not a spy any more, and I'm not a Death Eater. You're not what everyone thinks you are either. You did more than was expected of any wizard, yet I don't think you really know who you are."
Harry nodded eagerly in agreement. "Yeah, that's it, isn't it? I'm the Great Harry Potter, but I don't want more out of life than any other wizard. I thought I had worked through all this shit, Draco. I don't want to go through it all again."
"Perhaps that's what we're meant to do for each other... I can certainly help you... if you do the same for me."
Harry smiled and cupped his hand to Draco's face. "We're really a pair, aren't we? I'm beginning to think you understand me more than I do myself."
"It's like we sort of balance each other out or something. We'll not always agree, of course..."
Harry nodded slowly, trying to follow a connection in his mind. Draco's statement had reminded him of something and he knew it was relevant if he could only remember what it was. "Balance… yes," he almost heard Lao Kuai's voice again in his mind, "clear wine is called enlightenment and murky wine brings wisdom, it's a quote from an old Chinese poem. Lao Kuai told me, and said that it takes an appreciation of each to achieve balance. I mean, what good is either enlightenment or wisdom on its own, right? That's us, Draco, the balance between us."
Draco just smiled, that old smirk slowly quirking at the corner of his mouth. "Perhaps we can do this after all." He looked at the Grandfather clock. "That's twenty minutes of talking, and we've actually communicated."
Harry smiled again and pulled Draco into the crook of his arm. It felt nice to have that familiar weight against him, and to smell the clean of Draco's hair that only wizarding shampoo could produce. They sat in silence for a while, so relaxed that Harry nearly dozed off. He started when Draco's voice broke the silence.
"You never questioned me earlier."
"What do you mean?"
"You never asked me about what really happened with Wood."
Harry cringed and nodded. "Yeah, it was pretty stupid of me to think the worst, wasn't it?" Draco just nodded. "I think that once I got it in my head that the journals were cursed, I somehow felt resigned that everything was going to go wrong. I saw you with Oliver, and part of me just froze and assumed the worst. After he lied to me that morning... well, my guard was down, and I didn't know what to think."
"You do know that he was the one propositioning me, don't you? Had you hung around a minute longer, you would have seen me turning him down."
"Yeah, I know that now. I just flipped out. Then I thought I saw the same thing with Charlie, and..." Harry found it hard to speak.
"I was merely giving Charlie the rundown of what Wood said and did. I'm so sorry you had to watch that – if your guard was down, it would have been pretty painful to watch. I can see now that you often think things through and don't tell others. You have to tell me when you're worried. How else can I tell you what's going on?"
Harry shrugged again. "I know. Bah, I feel like such a fool for all of this. I guess a lifetime of sorry won't make up for it."
"No, it won't." Harry seemed surprised by that finality. "But perhaps a lifetime of trying to get on with our futures might be better."
"So where do we start?" Draco asked with a feral grin and a raised eyebrow, tossing aside the pile of unmarked essays.
"Harry, what are you doing?"
"Hmmm? Oh, nothing – just more Hufflepuff essays," he replied, quickly shuffling the homework parchments being marked on his desk. A week had gone by since Harry came home, and things were slowly drifting back into a sense of normality. Their new routine ensured they both spent plenty of time together each day – making time where necessary. It was better than before, but they both knew they were treading carefully to make sure things worked. As a penance for having run away, Harry offered to do all of his own, and Remus' marking until he could allay all his guilt.
Draco came up from behind and pushed the parchments out of the way. "Oh? And is there any reason why you're constantly referring back to this in between marking? Are you using it now to communicate with the third year Hufflepuffs?" Draco's tone wasn't hurt, but he was puzzled as he picked up Harry's journal.
Draco had noticed that Harry would always have his journal close at hand. Oddly enough, he never knew his own journal was always within reach, but he didn't find himself as attached to it as Harry. Every so often, Draco would find him unconsciously stroking the cover, or looking through the pages with a wistful look.
Harry looked down and realised his behaviour had been caught out. "You noticed?"
"Yeah, it's pretty obvious. Weren't you the one who suggested we should put the journals aside and talk?"
"I..." Harry pulled out his journal again. "I want to put it down, but somehow... I just don't think it's right to leave them on the shelf to collect dust..."
"What else do you want to do?"
"Well, I've been thinking, but I want to ask you first." Harry looked at Draco imploringly. They knew it would be a bit of a struggle to talk, but Draco didn't say anything disparaging, and Harry continued.
"I've fallen in love with Luc – with you – through this journal. It made me take off my blinkers and look beyond what I thought to see the real you. I've fallen in love with you, and it hurts to say that I think we should give the journals back..."
Draco seemed a little confused. "Give them back?"
Harry nodded. "If we rely on these journals in the future, there's no knowing what will happen."
"There's no knowing the future anyway, Harry. What if we find that things get tense? I'm not going to pretend it's going to be smooth sailing forever."
"You're right, but I think that I'd like to take that risk – just like normal people. I want to take that ride with you – bumps and all, Draco. I just keep thinking about my journal, and how I couldn't destroy it, no matter how much I wanted to at the time."
"There is powerful magic in them. I don't think I've seen too many things that have that much inherent magic."
"Which is why we should do something with the journals. It's time we give them up so they can move on to other soul mates. I really don't want to deprive any other couple from the joy of coming together."
"You're right," Draco said as he pulled his own journal into his lap, and he seemed thoughtful. "We need to do something symbolic. Something... magical. Something that will ensure that we won't lose each other's trust. Giving them up is perfect."
He was expecting some sort of reaction from Harry, but a considered look followed by a nod wasn't what he expected at first. "It's the only way to stop using them as a crutch. You don't happen to know errant soul mates in need of getting together?"
"No, no idea. But I know someone who might have a clue. I think it's time we went to visit Emmaline." He looked at his fob watch. "No time like the present, is there?"
"Right this minute?" Here was the protest from Harry that Draco was expecting.
"I don't want to sound reluctant. I know we have to do something, but..." Harry walked over to the desk and picked up his journal. He ran his fingers over the cover. Those familiar patterns and bumps that were indelibly imprinted in his mind, and he looked at it fondly. "I'm going to miss it. I think I'll miss Luc." He whispered.
Draco came and wrapped his arms around Harry's waist as he put his chin on Harry's shoulder. "But you've got Luc right here," he put his hand on Harry's heart, "and here," he pointed to Harry's head, "and he'll always be here, Flash." Draco spun Harry around and brought him in to a longing kiss.
"You're right," Harry sighed deeply once they broke their kiss. "Everything keeps pointing to the future. Hanging on to these will only make me wallow in the past. It's time we both move forward. So, you really think Emmaline can help?"
Draco already knew the answer. He could vividly remember that day almost a year before when he pulled the journal from the shelf in Emmaline's store in Paris. He remembered the joyful crackling of magic that surrounded him then, and if he wasn't mistaken, that magic was still with him today. If anything, Emmaline was the one who would know exactly what to do with the journals. He was up and on his way to the door before he gave Harry an answer.
"Why do I get the feeling you were expecting us, Emmaline?" Draco asked as they arrived at The Leaf and Bean. The place seemed oddly silent for a weekend, and she did not deny Draco's claim, merely turning on her heel and welcoming them in with that ever-present twinkle in her eye.
"We just wanted to give you something," Draco said as he put their journals on the table.
"You what?" she asked, seemingly surprised as she glanced knowingly at the books.
"Well," Harry interrupted. "We thought you might know who to give these journals to. We decided that we really don't need them any more. Well, actually, we do, but we want to try this the normal way – like all other couples."
"And why bring them to me?" She asked, trying hard not to meet Draco's gaze.
"Don't pretend you don't know, Emmaline," Draco accused, meeting her gaze thoroughly. "You've intimated more than once you know enough about le Journal Intime Partagé. I found my journal in your store, for Merlin's sake. I think you know very well just what to do with them, so we're giving them back to you."
Emmaline fidgeted with her skirt, yet didn't once deny Draco's claims. Finally meeting their gazes, she appeared to carefully study them. As if suddenly finding an answer to an unasked question, she nodded to herself.
"Very well, it is done," she said with a banal finality.
"That's it?" Harry asked. "Shouldn't we do something else – something symbolic? These are very important books. Besides, when I opened mine, all the writing in it vanished. Isn't there some spells we can put on it to make that happen?"
"Harry's right, Emmaline. Shouldn't we do something symbolic? If there is one thing I do know about old magic, it's that it likes ritual."
"Very well, then," Emmaline said with a sense of finality. "If you boys know what you are doing..." she muttered off to herself as she bustled over to the store counter, giving her wand a wild wave over her head. The store suddenly became a hive of activity as numerous tables and chairs levitated themselves out of the way.
"Now," she turned quickly on her heel, gazing intently at Draco. "Now, before you do this, môn chéri, I want you to be really sure of your intentions. Deep down, what are you trying to do by asking this?" she asked, all sense of joviality now gone.
Draco stared at her, surprised at the suddenly serious turn to her words. He thought carefully for a moment. "Yes, I'll be sad to lose them, but only for the feelings of joy they bring me."
She quickly turned on Harry. "What are you 'oping to gain by doing this, 'Arry?"
Harry looked at her and didn't need to pause before answering. "I want to be able to have a normal relationship with Draco – one without relying on the journals. I want to be able to talk out our problems like an ordinary couple. It isn't fair that we keep those journals when there might be other soul mates out there who need the opportunity to get together. That's what I want. I want others to feel the same joy of discovery that I felt – that we felt when we fell in love. I didn't save the wizarding world to be a selfish prat."
"And what will you lose by giving up these journals?"
Draco seemed a little put out by the question. "Well, I guess that I'll just have to hope that Harry trusts me when I tell him things. It's so easy when the journal always drags the truth out of you."
Harry turned to Draco. "I do trust you, Draco. I have no reason not to. I'm sorry I ever thought to question you."
"No more apologies, Harry. I know you are sorry." Draco put his hand in Harry's, giving it a tight squeeze. He turned back to Emmaline. "You ask too many questions, Emmaline. Of course we know what we are doing. For once, we agree. We wouldn't be here otherwise. Now, just wave your wand and do whatever it is you'll do to find the right people to pass the journals to."
Emmaline let out a wry little chuckle. "As you wish," she muttered quietly. "But I think you underestimate le Journal Intime Partagé." She pointed with her wand back at the journals on the table.
They turned to find the journals were now glowing – an eerie light surrounding them. "What the..." Harry started towards the table, but Draco held him back.
"I think this is the ancient magic at work, Harry. Isn't it beautiful?" Draco stared in awe as the journals opened and the pages fanned quickly as if blown by a strong wind. The glow became blinding, and Harry and Draco looked away. A sudden rush of sound assaulted their ears as they were almost blown back.
Both Harry and Draco instinctively had their wands drawn and pointed at the living books on the table. Neither had cast any spells, yet a thin tongue of brilliant flame flared from the end of their wands as it joined and slowly bounced back from the journals to wind its way around their intertwined hands. The two bands of flame interlinked into a fine glowing chain that surrounded the pair, and the journals.
The band of flame lingered for a moment over their hearts and heads, slowly changing to almost white as it began to pulsate in time with their heartbeats. They looked deeply into each other's eyes and saw no panic or hesitancy. They saw only pure love and trust as they realised the magic was showing them their soul mate's thoughts and feelings.
The flames grew to surround them and they shared the joy and pain from every word spoken in their conversations as they lived each one all at once. The joy of finding true love, the feelings of discovery and the sense of completeness at knowing they were in love with their soul mate; the loss of anger and bitterness at a former enemy...
All this was felt in a single moment and they both grinned madly as they allowed the magic to overtake them. Harry experienced Draco's overwhelming desire to help people through his work, and a sense of protectiveness that permeated his deep love and desire. He felt the deep guilt that ran through his system and the fierce desire to prove himself, and his complete fidelity and trust. His eyes misted with tears as he looked into his soul mate's eyes and finally understood.
As Draco was bathed in the fiery magic he felt the intoxicating pull of Harry's magic. How anyone could hold onto such magic and not explode from the sheer intensity, he had no idea. All he knew was what he felt as he experienced every one of Harry's emotions on the same intense scale. Feeling the depth of Harry's love and devotion made him gasp as tears formed in his eyes also.
It seemed they were basking in each other's love for eternity, but the ring of flame seemed to fade down as it slowly made its way back to the journals, which were now bathed in the brilliant light. The colour had changed slightly from having touched their magic, but it seemed all the more brighter now for the experience.
Harry and Draco were oblivious to this as they continued to stare into each other's eyes. Draco cupped a hand to Harry's face, his mouth half open to speak. Harry just nodded as he wrapped a hand around the back of Draco's neck and they touched foreheads. They wanted to say so much, yet words just seemed so trite amongst the pull of this magic.
It seemed their instant of shared thought and feeling left them with the knowledge of what needed to be done. They shared a smile and a slight nod as they grasped wand hands and directed both wands at the journals.
"Per Solum Lacuna," they whispered solemnly. The spell had come to them in their moment of shared clarity, as a flare of brilliant white light shot out of their entwined wands. They felt the intoxicating pull of their combined magic as the aftershock tingled up their arms, and left them with an overwhelming sense of completion. They were left to bask in the wonderful afterglow as their attention returned to the journals.
The flame of magic struck the journals, bathing and binding them in the light. The books took on a life of their own as they flipped and joined, face to face. The magic lifted them in the air as the light formed a cage that surrounded them. They turned slowly, gaining speed, and were soon spinning around in a blinding gaze.
"Stand back," Emmaline warned in deep concern. They had forgotten she was even there, but took her advice as the journals began to thrum and pulsate before one final fierce flicker of light blinded them and the books promptly fell to the floor with a thud. Two distinct baubles of light lifted up out of the books, spinning slowly and cautiously. After a moment of hesitancy, the lights spun together in a maelstrom that was so bright they all had to shield their eyes.
The room seemed dank and dark as the brilliant light winked out of existence and the sound of silence assaulted their ears. Despite this, a sense of utter joy and completion surrounded them. It was a few minutes before anyone could move. Eventually Harry went over and picked up his journal. He paused, and passed it over silently to Draco. "The magic... it seems to have... gone." He turned to look at Emmaline. "What the hell happened?" he asked, expecting the secretive old witch to finally give him all the answers.
Emmaline's own eyes glistening with joyful tears. "It seems you two boys 'ave worked a miracle," she whispered in exclamation, still reeling from the powerful magic.
"What did we do, Emmaline?" Harry asked, still a little confused. He was still buzzing from being immersed in magic, along with the new knowledge of how Draco felt for him. It was a startling realisation to know just how much Draco loved him. Being told and finally realising it were two totally different things, and he could see the same overwhelming thoughts crossing Draco's mind. Of course, he didn't want to mention that he could feel the echoing of Draco's heartbeat now. That was too much to contemplate all at once. Best to just find out exactly what happened first.
"Yes, what was all that? One minute we come down here to give you back the journals, and the next I find myself surrounded by Harry's magic and with the sudden urge to say a spell I've never heard of before. Per Solum Lacuna - what in blazes was that?" Draco couldn't understand what had happened, but he understood the significance of having shared his magic with Harry - he had heard of that phenomenon happening - but he certainly never expected to have been party to such a unique and powerful thing.
"I scarcely dared to believe it would 'appen, but when I first met you boys, I had an inkling that it would be you." She grasped the back of the nearest chair and sat down, seemingly older and frailer than she did moments earlier. She dabbed at her tears with the corner of her shawl as she gave them a wondrous look. "It seems you 'ave both managed to do something that we were beginning to think impossible."
"What was that magic, Emmaline? Why do the journals suddenly feel... empty?" Harry asked as he wondered why his journal was not only empty of words, but seemingly void of the magic that felt so warm and familiar.
"They've gone. You've freed the lost souls," she whispered, her eyes following the spot where the brilliant light finally winked out of existence.
Draco swallowed visibly. "There were souls in the journals?" he asked, his tone sounding threatening. "Are you saying that they manipulated..."
"No, môn chéri, it's not what you think," Emmaline was quick to cut him off. "Now, I think you should both sit down. The time for explanations is long overdue."
"You've got that right," Harry said. "That thing was a horcrux? But Ginny said there were no souls trapped inside..."
"And your friend was right, 'Arry, to an extent. They were not malicious entities - they were far from it."
"You speak as if you knew them personally, Emmaline," Draco said.
"The journals were not 'orcruxes, as you think. The souls were trapped, but not through death. There is a curse, but not the kind you are thinking of, and an even longer story attached to it." She grasped each of their hands, bringing them down to sit beside her. She seemed suddenly overwhelmed and Draco was a little concerned for her health.
"Emmaline?" he asked.
She gave a small smile. "Now, sit and indulge this old woman. I have a story to tell you."
"Le Journal Intime Partage 'ave been around for a very long time - some sets longer than others. But 'ave you ever wondered where they started? This set was the very first one created - all entirely by accident."
Harry and Draco sat mesmerised as they listened attentively as the mysterious history of the journals unfolded.
"For countless generations the souls of two young lovers and soul mates have been trapped in these books. But you want to know how they got there in the first place. An evil wizard - a bitter old sorcerer trapped them there, all because of his own spitefulness and jealousy."
"The old sorcerer was a powerful soul magician with the ability to channel so much power, but he was jealous of his daughter's young lover. They were very much in love, but the old sorcerer knew the young man was more powerful and would easily surpass his own magical abilities. He couldn't allow this to happen. Besides, he had already arranged a marriage for his daughter with a prominent political ally."
"What the old sorcerer didn't know was that Iseult and Tristan were Anam Cara. He tried everything in his power to prevent them from seeing each other, for he didn't believe in Anam Cara."
"How could he not believe in it?" Harry asked.
"His own wife and soul mate died in childbirth, and his bitterness grew from the fact he had been denied a life together with her. He spent his life trying to refute the ideals that Anam Cara truly existed, but his own daughter threw his life work in his face."
"His jealousy was exacerbated by the fact that young Tristan was the first to imbue a magical item with soul magic - the first Journal Intime Partagé."
"Wait, Tristan and Iseult? I've heard this story," Draco scoffed. "It's nothing but a fairy tale."
Emmaline patted him on the knee. "Just indulge me a while longer, môn chéri. You have to remember that all stories have to start somewhere and that they have their base in fact."
"Well I haven't heard the story," Harry retorted. Emmaline smiled and continued.
"Tristan was a brilliant wizard with a natural grasp of soul magic. Old Absolom was actually his master as he did his apprenticeship, and very early on he noticed Tristan's skill could exceed his own. His first bit of jealousy came when he saw that he had successfully created the linked journals. What he never knew was that his own daughter had been integral in helping Tristan to develop the magic to make them work."
"Of course, they were true soul mates and fell deeply in love. They knew her father had arranged this marriage to a Muggle king of a neighbouring country, and so they did the only thing they could - they eloped."
"I can see where this is going, now." Harry nodded.
"Yes, they had planned the elopement and went through with the marriage. They planned to use the journals to stay together, for they suspected her father would try to keep them apart once he discovered their actions. Absolom was more furious than either of them imagined. In his fury he cursed them, killing their bodies and ripping their souls apart forever. He tapped in to so much soul magic, he not only ripped their souls apart and placed them in the separate journals, and he tore at the very fabric of soul magic, ripping apart all soul mates, thus causing the Parting of the Ways."
"But you can't curse something for eternity... It's not possible..." Draco was agape at the thought. He was well versed in the theory of magical limitation, but after having just experienced the most intense magic of his life, he quickly shut his mouth. Still, the thought was almost too much to bear.
"Thus their souls existed in separate journals. Unfortunately for Absolom, he was killed in his own rage, and it was all for naught, as they were true Anam Cara, and the journals were already linked, so their souls could still remain in contact. For countless generations they have been restless, only coming together when true soul mates used the journals and so they sought out true Anam Cara to bring them together via the journals. This was how the legend of Partagé journals bringing soul mates together began. They could draw out the soul's natural desire for honesty and openness, for communication and connection at the most basic level."
"Tristan had always suspected that with enough love and power, the rift that caused the parting of the ways could be healed, and their souls reunited. He suspected that when a powerful couple had to overcome the most insurmountable odds to come together, it could happen. It has taken centuries, and finally, all is as it should be." Emmaline smiled and placed a hand on her chest, still overcome with emotion.
"What is this Parting of the Ways?" Draco looked at Harry in disbelief. "What?" Harry exclaimed. "I'm just saying - I've never heard of this before. How am I supposed know this if nobody ever tells me what's important?"
"Can't you feel it?" Emmaline asked, as she put a hand over each of their hearts. "Close your eyes and take a deep breath."
Harry closed his eyes and listened. Something new seemed to beat in time with the rhythm of his heart. It was almost imperceptible, but it was there, just the same. He had felt it just before, but now it seemed more real - more alive.
"I can feel it!" Draco exclaimed, his eyes opening wide in surprise. "What the hell is that?"
"That is the rhythm of your Anam Cara. A very long time ago, when magic was young, everyone carried around two parts to their soul..."
"... I think I heard a fable like this once," Draco muttered.
"No, it's very real, môn chéri. Trust me. You've just forgotten how to feel it. There was magic in the earth, the trees and even the air around us. Every witch and wizard immediately knew who their soul mate was, and they were content. They were so close they could feel the beat of their mate's heart. They would always know what their partner was feeling. It gave them a connection so deep, strong and powerful that it could not be broken. Your Anam Cara was your immediate family, and when a soul passed on, that Anam Cara guarded it and nurtured it until another worthy child was born into their group."
"Life and magic went on in peaceful harmony for millennia, but Mars was bright, and the influence of a darker magic sewed the seeds of dissatisfaction amongst every group. Absolom's resentment and jealousy of Tristan sewed the seeds of hatred that caused his wretched outburst. His actions undid the natural order of things."
"After Tristan and Iseult were trapped in the journals and Absolom dead, magic was never the same. Mad times ensued. People became confused after losing connection with their soul mates and their Anam Cara. Some literally went mad. Others cowered and hid from the madness that befell the Wizarding world. When the darkness seemed over, there was a rift. Many who had known magic suddenly lost their way, and could not touch it. Others with magic remained. An even smaller group were transformed by the rift, and became physically deformed once the old magic died off."
Harry was completely taken in by Emmaline's tale, the rhythm of his Anam Cara speeding up and slowing down with the cadence of her storytelling. "Muggles," he exclaimed with a nod.
"Yes, that's right," Emmaline nodded. "All the races of magic were once wizards, as were those we call the Muggles."
Draco shook his head. "No, the Muggles were always there," he interjected.
"True, they were there, but where else did the magically barren go when they could no longer find their way?"
"That's a pretty amazing story, Emmaline, but what does that have to do with us?" Harry still seemed a little confused.
Emmaline smiled. "Well, as I said, 'Arry, with Tristan and Iseult trapped in the journals, and Absolom dead, there were no soul magicians to help ease their pain. Magic was changed forever and many people literally lost valuable members of their Anam Cara. The process of finding soul mates became almost impossible. It was a dark time for everyone."
"Many wizards died trying to find their loved ones. Many worked their entire lifetime in a fruitless attempt to come up with a spell to undo the damage. There was nobody to teach them the old soul magic. But within a few hundred years, people were slowly accepting the fact that soul mates would rarely find each other. Many even went so far as to wonder if soul mates ever existed."
"The journals were the only thing that could bring soul mates together. Others had heard of these journals, and many duplicate sets were made to emulate them, but none of the others could bring true soul mates together." Emmaline poked Harry in the chest for emphasis as she spoke. "You see, Tristan knew that a veiled spell of misunderstanding, bitterness and jealousy had been Iseult's father's downfall. He knew that with enough nurturing and time, people could learn to see beyond that and discover the real person underneath - to find their soul mate."
"You see, he realised that the secret was in the written word. It was mightier than any spell."
"The quill is mightier than the wand," Draco whispered, nodding in full understanding.
"Are you saying these journals... they can't be that old. Surely..." Harry said sceptically.
Emmaline interrupted. "How old do you really think Magic is, Harry? It can be patient – very patient. Alas, the magic might be patient, but Wizards aren't. We used to live twice as long, but we've cursed ourselves in our desire to rush, rush, rush."
"What I don't understand," Draco said, "Was that these souls in the journals brought Anam Cara back together, yet Harry's parents died tragically. I just don't see how that could have happened if they were so compassionate."
Emmaline dropped her head in shame. "Darkness can sometimes infect a soul, and we all know 'ow twisted and evil Voldemort was. He could never have understood the first thing about soul magic. It probably would have killed him at a touch," she looked up and directly at Harry. "In fact, I think that's what did it."
Harry nodded in full understanding. "Yes, he wasn't fond of love and compassion at all."
"Right. I'm sorry to say that even the most intensely passionate soul mates could still be torn apart tragically by other factors. Tristan and Iseult's souls could not counteract vengeful nature, and could certainly not save your parents. However your mother's love and compassion did save you. Your parents were strong and filled with so much promising soul magic, but I think their only task was to bring a wonderful son into the world."
Harry seemed quite misty eyed at the memory of his parents. Draco squeezed his hand in support. "What about Remus and Sirius? They were separated as well," he replied.
"Yes, well, they were confounded with suspicion by the Dark Lord and his followers. Suspicion breeds like mosquitoes, and once that seed is sewn, it is quickly followed by a lack of trust. I'm afraid they too were more victims of the Dark Lord than anything else. I'm sorry you have had so much loss, Harry."
"That was all in the past, Emmaline. I've got Draco now," he smiled, "but I still don't understand how we just knew instinctively what to do back there with the journals. I've had a feeling for days that we have needed to do something, but it all came out in a rush earlier. I can't believe we've done such powerful magic. We freed some souls." He still seemed amazed by what had happened.
"How did we do that if countless generations of soul mates have come together through these journals, Emmaline? Why were we the ones to free them and not someone else?" Draco asked in confusion.
"You boys 'ave made a bold step. You have voluntarily given up the journals and 'ave realised that you can't rely on them forever. You made the bold realisation that you have to work at your relationship, and that is something that many young lovers forget. By coming here today and offering to give the journals up to new people, you have shown your selflessness. That was why I had to ask all those questions. I had to be sure you were true to your feelings. Congratulations, boys. I am proud to 'ave witnessed this moment." Both men noticed again how much older she suddenly looked.
Draco frowned at her. "How will future soul mates come together now that the souls are free from the journals?"
Emmaline just shrugged. "You and 'Arry have made a bold step by confronting your demons and admitting that you will have to work through your differences. Now that you can feel your Anam Cara, perhaps the others might find their soul mates more easily. Who knows? The future hasn't been written yet. Besides, there are generations of magic now in those books, including a little bit of your own personalities."
Harry blinked several times, the look of confusion still evident on his face. "There's a piece of me in there?" he asked.
Draco seemed bemused. "Don't worry, it's only an echo. I think you're still in one piece." He sensed Harry's concern. "It's a lot to take in all at once. I'm a little overwhelmed myself."
"You seem to know an awful lot about Tristan and Iseult," Draco asked Emmaline in an accusatory tone. "I would dare to ask your age, but mother always told me it was impolite."
"Your Mere was a smart witch, môn chéri. You shouldn't ask." The smirk had returned to Emmaline's tired and drawn face. "I'm just a very old witch with way too much time on my hands."
"Do you deny that you knew them personally?" Draco asked.
"I can't deny that I have seen more summers than most witches still alive. Still, my 'ealth is not what it was." She looked around the store fondly. "I think it might be time to retire."
"Retire?" Draco laughed, "But you love this place too much. You can't retire. Where would you go, anyway?"
Emmaline just smiled at him before taking the journals up in her hands. "Oh, I think you'll cope just fine without me, môn chéri. I have watched over many younglings who have let these journals pass through their hands. When you first walked into my life, Draco, I felt a powerful tug of magic and knew you would go on to great and wonderful things. It's been an honour to watch over you as you and 'Arry have fallen in love." Her smile beamed wide and another tear of joy threatened in the corner of her eyes.
"I knew that Tristan and Iseult were close to being freed from the journals when I started to feel the effects of my mortality. It's best that I leave you boys now. You don't want a sick old woman hanging on and making things all sad for you."
"But you wouldn't," Harry protested.
"We'll miss you, Emmaline, more than you could ever possibly imagine." Draco sounded upset, and knew he was going to miss her more than he could say.
"I apologise for having meddled a little bit in your lives, but I think you'll agree it was for the best. I only did it to prod your courtship along. But, I have to confess that there was one unpleasant task. I 'ad to test you. I am sorry that I might have manipulated recent events. It was not my intention for you to leave, 'Arry, but you had to realise that your love for Draco would transcend your own personal flaws."
"You manipulated me?" he asked.
"I am so sorry. If it's any consolation, Iseult asked me to do it. She wanted you to discover that true communication was the key to overcoming your problems, and I am sorry for bringing Oliver Wood back into your life. He is a rather unpleasant and self centred young man, hmmm?"
"You manipulated us?" Harry asked again.
"Yes, I did," she said with extreme regret. "But in my defence, you had to learn the hard lesson. I know I have caused you both pain, but without that you would never have come to the realisation that you need to communicate - just like you never would have come to the discovery that you will have to do this for the rest of your lives. That sacrifice was the necessary key to what happened today. I just only 'ope you can eventually forgive me for having to make you go through such pain."
"So you've been there all along, watching behind the scenes?" Draco asked, unsure of how he felt.
"No, not watching. I have been guardian to the journals for a very long time. But now, my job is done. Tristan and Iseult's souls have moved on and all is right with the world. Now I too can rest."
"Where will you go?" Harry asked, pained to think that she was leaving.
"Oh, I'll always be around, 'Arry," she said with a cryptic smile.
"There's always a place for you in our hearts, Petite Mere," Draco gave her a hug and everyone was a little misty eyed.
A sudden glow lit u p the room, and Draco turned at Harry's gasp. The journals had vanished.
"But where..." Harry asked.
"I think they've already started their next journey." Emmaline smiled through her tears. "I guess it is a new beginning for all of us."
They all shared one final cup of coffee (even Harry, who dared a fairly mild blend) and the boys reluctantly left, knowing full well that they would not see Emmaline again. It was a sad parting, but they left with a sense of hope. The new found rhythm of their Anam Cara, which Harry said felt like an echo of Draco's heartbeat, kept them feeling hopeful for the future.
Emmaline watched as they slowly made their way out of town and back to the castle. They were oblivious to the fact that she wrapped her shawl around tighter and followed them almost to the castle gates. She walked in a slow and steady stride, slinking in the shadows like a cat silently stalking its prey. The look of contented satisfaction on her face was tempered with sadness. It was finally over. Her life's work, and now she could take that rest she so desperately deserved. There was a slight relief, as she was finding it harder to maintain that form she had chosen so long ago.
Reaching the last copse of trees just below the school gates she stopped to turn back, but not before taking one final glimpse at the young couple entering the castle gates. Her life had been long - far too long and filled with many twists and turns; loves and losses; but never in all her years had she enjoyed herself more than in the last year.
"Don't be maudlin, you old fool," she chastised herself, wiping away a stray tear from her cheek. With one final glance and a wry smile, she turned and spun on the spot, transforming one last time back to her natural form. The sleek tabby cat looked up at the castle, then with a twitch of her tail she turned, and with her nose down, followed a steady trail back to Hogsmeade.
Jean-Paul turned at a scratching noise at the door. He leapt up and opened it to find a familiar cat saunter across the threshold.
"What's this?" he asked curiously, frowning as he recognised the all too familiar cat.
Petite Amie looked up with her green eyes wide as she meowed and rubbed up against Jean-Paul's legs.
"Hmmm," he replied, not at all surprised by the cat's now insistent meowing. "So, I take it from the fact you're visiting me in your true form, that it's all done?"
"Meow!" She leapt up into Jean-Paul's arms, and he began to stroke her fur as she purred. He carried her into the back room, where with a quick flick of his wand, the large rune covered basin appeared from out of nowhere. Casting a softly murmured spell over the mist in the bowl, he waited patiently.
The pearly mist faded to reveal two very familiar journals. Petite Amie leapt out of his arms and balanced herself on the edge of the basin. Jean-Paul tenderly picked up the top journal and hesitantly flicked through the pages. They were blank.
His mouth opened in shock. "They did it?" he asked, unable to believe it. "They truly freed Tristan and Iseult?"
He had waited nearly all his life for this day, but to realise that it was now here, he felt thoroughly unprepared for the responsibility as guardian. He looked over at Petite Amie and scratched her behind the ears. He breathed deeply as a soft tear formed in his eyes.
"I'm going to miss you, Emmaline... Tante," he whispered as the tears came more readily. He picked her up in a great hug, kissing the fur between her ears. It took a couple of moments to gather his composure as he realised that Emmaline had now permanently returned to her true form. He had always known that she would turn back when the souls were freed, but he would miss his old mentor's wit and wisdom.
"Is there any chance I can convince you to hang around?" he asked hopefully, already knowing the answer.
A pitied yowl escaped from her as she leapt out of his arms.
"I didn't think so." He thought he imagined the sad look in her face as well, but knew that she had to go back and live out the rest of her nine lives.
"Yes, don't worry. I know what to tell Draco and Harry if they ask, and don't worry about the store. I promise it will be in good hands."
With one final parting turn, she leapt up onto the window sill and winked, that damnable twinkle still in her eye.
Yes, as a woman, old Emmaline Dumbledore had been a force to be reckoned with.
Alone now, Jean-Paul Dumbledore sat by the fire, the empty journals sitting in his lap. It felt like forever that he just sat there, still overwhelmed by the combination of responsibility and the loss of his aunt and mentor. Eventually he took up the pot of Floo powder.
"Papa," he called into the fire. A moment later, a very familiar face appeared.
"Jean-Paul, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Dumbledore studied his son's face carefully. "You're upset... is everything all right?"
He took a deep breath and shook his head. "Merde, no, it's not. Can I come up? There's... something I have to tell you. It's about Tante Emma."
"Shouldn't you be telling Aberforth?"
Jean-Paul shook his head. "No, he hasn't spoken to her since the divorce. But, I think I need your guidance on this one, Papa." Dumbledore frowned in concern, but with a nod of his head, Jean-Paul wandered through the Floo and into his father's office. It had been hard keeping secrets from Albus Dumbledore, but Jean-Paul promised Emmaline that he would tell his father everything when the time was right.
After all, it wasn't every day that you got to surprise Albus Dumbledore.
Friday, 19 December
Draco drained the dregs of the bottle of Pinot Noir into Harry's glass as they sat quietly by the fire. They lay nestled together on the couch with Draco's back to Harry's chest. The feast was long over and almost everyone in the castle was asleep. The energetic hustle and bustle of packing before the Christmas holidays was long over and the sound of silence pervaded the castle walls. The biting chill outside hinted at a heavy snowfall by morning, but neither Harry nor Draco had any intention of moving. One of Harry's hands played absently with a lock of blond hair as Draco closed his eyes at the soft touch.
Everything felt... right, and neither wanted it to change. No classes for two whole weeks, and Draco knew the only potions he would be brewing would be whatever he wanted to cook up for his own leisure... or pleasure.
"Listen," Draco's eyes flew wide open and he whispered quietly. A doleful hoot floated down from the rafters.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No melodrama, no stress, and nothing earth shattering. That's a bit of a change for us, isn't it?" Harry realised Draco's good mood and smiled. The grin was infectious.
"It's all a bit anticlimactic, really," Harry replied. "But to be honest, I've had enough drama for one lifetime. I'm just looking forward to the quiet life with you now, Draco."
"Mmm." Draco closed his eyes again at the soft touch of Harry's hands.
"I'm so glad all that nonsense with the bank and the Aurors is finished. I didn't think Arthur Weasley would step in and offer his support. That was good of him. I still can't believe you tried to help Ron. Have I told you how much I love you for doing that?"
Draco shrugged. "It was nothing," he mumbled.
"No, Draco it wasn't just nothing." Harry sat up and looked at Draco in disbelief. "You spent a good deal of time working on a potion that worked to counteract the effect of his memory loss. That's truly something."
"It didn't help his memory," Draco shrugged again as he felt uncomfortable under Harry's gaze. "It's still a whole bunch of swiss cheese."
"No, it didn't, but the main thing is that you tried, when nobody asked you to. His magic has returned, which has made Hermione happier than anything, and he at least remembers a few things."
"Yeah, like he remembers you and Hermione, and the only thing he remembers about me is that I apparently hexed him to belch slugs for a week back in school. I don't remember that." Draco smirked. "I would have remembered that."
"He did belch slugs, but his own wand backfired, remember? I think it was second year – you had just joined the Quidditch team and you insulted Hermione's heritage."
"Oh yeah. Now I know why I blocked it out."
"Why are you so miserable, then? You've helped Ron."
"I guess I was hoping for more – for your sake. Ron is your friend. It was the right thing to do by you. I'll help you wherever I can, because I know you will always do the same for me. Don't tell me you haven't been looking for fresh Ashwinder scales for that potion I make for Severus. You can't just stop your feelings for Ron as a friend no more than you can stop your feelings for me. You want him to get better."
"Despite what you might think, I don't want you to lose your oldest friend. I've lost too many friends over the years, and I don't want to wish that experience on anyone, especially not you."
Harry was still surprised at Draco's unselfishness. Ever since they found Ron, Draco had kept silent on his former opinion whilst doing all he could to help at the same time. It seemed Draco's compassion had finally come to its full potential as he selflessly put time into helping Ron recover.
Harry was beginning to lose hope for his old friend and it had made his heart soar to know that Draco had selflessly tried to help. Hermione had also been speechless, and had cried all over Draco when they realised that the potion was helping Ron as much as possible. It had been quite a sight the day that Ron remembered Hermione.
As a result, Arthur Weasley did all he could to thank Draco by throwing his weight behind the case that was still open against Draco. The Aurors eventually closed their case against him, and against Ron. It was proven that Ron was acting under the influence of persons unknown. Unfortunately, his condition kept him in St Mungo's and he no longer had a job at Gringotts, but none of that mattered to his family.
"I don't think I've thanked you enough for what you've tried to do," Harry gave Draco another kiss.
"You know I didn't do it for the thanks, and I never expected that the Minister would do what he did to help, but I'm not going to knock back his gift," Draco sighed, seemingly a little put out by the Minister's actions. "But it's definitely nice being able to go wherever I want without any trouble." Having Ron's behaviour explained and the bank and Aurors agreeing that Draco was in no way culpable of any wrongdoing, they were losing no time in making up for all their rough treatment of Draco. Arthur Weasley had given him full citizenship, so he could now Apparate out of the country without the need to go through Immigration.
Of course, not all of his troubles were over. The bank had tightened security and his estate was now under the keen management of a team of goblins, who left no Knut unaccounted for. For now, all he had to decide what to do with the ruined Manor. He still couldn't touch anything of his estate until he was 25, but he could rebuild it, if he so chose. He was still mulling over that thought.
"Are you all packed for the chateau?" Harry asked. "Did you get the Portkey to take us directly there?"
"Mmm, but I don't recall saying you could come with me, Harry," Draco was being cheeky. "You really haven't been a good boy. I don't know if you deserve a holiday."
Harry just smirked. His hand wormed its way into Draco's shirt, slowly teasing its way towards a nipple as he whispered seductively across Draco's ear. "What if I promise to be very, very bad, instead?"
"Promise?" Draco just smiled as he squirmed to allow Harry's hand further access. Instead, Harry just moved his hand away.
"Well, I did have plans to take someone else," Draco drawled in a matter-of-fact tone. He scratched at a spot behind his ear – a sign, Harry learned – that meant Draco was a little nervous. "We might not be completely... alone."
Harry sat up further. "Oh?" he asked, not sure where this was going.
"Well, I was thinking. Maggie's going to be all alone. I can't believe she is going to be the only student left behind these holidays. Her foster family are complete prats."
"Yeah, those idiots are the Dursleys all over again, only they are wizards, which makes it worse." There was still a small hint of bitterness in his voice. "I can't believe they now use her lycanthropy as an excuse to forget their obligations. With your improved Wolfsbane, she's safer than ever."
"Not to mention the fact there's no full moon during this holiday."
"Yeah. You wanted to take Maggie with us?" Harry asked, knowing where this conversation was going.
"Would that be all right?" Draco sat up and gave Harry a serious look. "I know you probably want to spend time alone..."
"Actually, I had similar thoughts when I heard about it this morning. I still can't believe people would be like that, but it seems the least we can do is show her that not everyone will treat her that way. It's not fair that she has to spend Yule and Christmas with only the teachers. At least I had my friends when I had to stay here over the holidays."
"There's something about her... I can't pinpoint it, Harry, but if she were any other student, I don't think I'd care so much. She deserves a proper childhood too, and some responsible adults who actually care for her welfare when school is out. Maggie really has nobody else. She needs someone who cares for her to look after her on a more permanent basis. Someone who cares what happens to her."
"Are you saying what I think you are saying? You want to do this on a more formal and permanent basis?" Harry didn't tell Draco he had been thinking the very same thing.
"You can't tell me you haven't thought about this, Harry Potter. I've seen the time you spend with her – it's almost as if you are fathering her."
Harry nodded. "Yeah. You're right. We'd also be giving Remus a bit of a break. I know he loves helping her and they understand each other because of their shared curse, but he and Jean-Paul need some quality time together too. Jean-Paul is great, but he isn't the fatherly type." Harry admitted bluntly.
"Do you really think that she would want to come with us to the Chateau?" Draco asked.
"I think she would love to come. She adores you so much," he admitted. "I can't see her saying no."
"You really do want to foster Maggie, Harry? Have you thought it through carefully?"
"She's in the same predicament I was as a kid, only this time I can do something about it. Ever since I first met her, she's had a strange effect on me. I'm not going to be a father, but I know I've got plenty of love to go around, especially for her. She reminds me of myself in so many ways."
"I wasn't sure if you wanted any sort of family, Harry. I thought perhaps with your own childhood..." Draco dismissed the thought. "But you're right – Maggie is an amazing child. How could anyone not care for her?"
"So we both want this?" Harry asked to confirm it.
"Why don't we just ask Maggie, and see what she wants. She might not want to stay with us – have you thought of that?"
"Well we won't know unless we ask her, will we?"
Draco looked a little uncomfortable. "Well, the thing is..."
"You've already asked her, haven't you?" Harry seemed upset, even if it is what he wanted. "I thought we were going to talk about major decisions before we just went ahead..."
Draco shushed him up with a finger across his lips. "If you would let me finish, I was going to say that she's as subtle as a stunner at close range. She's been dropping hints for days, if you hadn't noticed." Draco then went off and mimicked a young girl's voice, "Oh I wish you could be here for the holidays, Draco, or even better yet, I could stay near you. Wouldn't it be fun?"
"Shrewd little thing when she wants to be, isn't she?" Harry replied.
"Too right, although, I wonder if we aren't the ones being manipulated."
Harry just shook his head. "Women. I don't think either of us will ever understand them." They both laughed and relaxed again. Harry brought his glass to his lips for another sip and Draco let out a soft laugh. "You know, Harry, if I didn't know any better, I would say that you're enjoying that wine just a little bit more than you're letting on."
"Mmm, it's very good. You chose wisely," Harry replied in a mocking tone.
"Ah, but that's what's so funny. Last time I checked, it was a red wine, oh great white wine connoisseur."
Harry feigned surprise as he stared down his glass, pretending to study its contents. "Well what do you know..."
"Prat," Draco laughed.
"You know, you're a fine one to talk. Who was gushing over that bottle of German Gewürztraminer that we had last week with the pork tenderloins?"
"Ah, but you see, Harry," Draco squirmed in Harry's lap and turned to face him. "I never said I didn't like white wine, I merely said I preferred reds. That was a perfect accompaniment to such a fine meal." Draco said.
"It seems you're full of your own self importance this evening," Harry offered.
"No, not really. I just like it when we compromise on things. I know wine isn't the most important thing in the world, Harry, but right now I don't want to change anything."
"Yeah. Who could have ever imagined that two polar opposites like ourselves could have actually been soul mates?"
"Or that magic knew all along and intervened to put us on the right path..."
"Or that our persistence could have helped free two cursed souls?"
"You must be drunk," Draco retorted. "You get so mushy and all sentimental when you drink too much red wine." He took Harry's glass away before snuggling back down into the warmth against Harry's chest.
Harry was suddenly quite wistful. "I miss our journals, you know," he said hoarsely.
Draco opened his mouth to protest, but Harry continued. "I know, we chose to give them up, but it would have been nice to just have been able to keep a copy of our conversation – for posterity."
Draco nodded, but looked a little saddened as he worried a button on Harry's shirt. "What's wrong," Harry asked.
He shrugged. "Oh, just thinking about Emmaline. I'm really going to miss her." He seemed lost in memories and let out a small smile. "But you know, the old witch never did tell us all of her secrets." Harry had to smile and laugh at that too. A soft meow made him look up, and Petite Amie leapt into his lap, causing a lot of reshuffling as bony elbows dug into Harry's chest. She very quickly found the best spot that combined warmth with someone's hand to stroke her fur. Draco absently began to stroke and her purring quickly allayed his concerns for old Emmaline. She would be missed greatly, but he had Harry, and he knew he had her in part to thank for that.
His eyelids were soon heavy and he was yawning deeply, setting Harry off as well. "Come on," Harry tried to drag him up off the couch. "You might think I get drunk from too much red wine, but nobody can tell me that a Malfoy doesn't get sleepy from too much wine."
Draco was indignant at the slur, and tried to stand, but ended up overbalancing and falling back into Harry's arms. "Come on, I think it's bed for you," Harry chided.
"Don't wanna go to sleep," Draco mumbled as he tried to pull open Harry's shirt. He seemed to squint, as everything was getting blurry.
"Who said anything about sleep?" Harry playfully swatted away Draco's hands, but guided his own to the buttons on Draco's trousers. "I think you're wearing far too many clothes."
"How is it," Draco continued, "That two polar opposites like ourselves end up as soul mates?"
"Does it really matter any more? We're together, and I'm not leaving you, not ever. I'm yours, or had you forgotten?"
Draco seemed to sober slightly. "No, I hadn't forgotten." He palmed the front of Harry's trousers, feeling for the hardness that was growing there.
"Besides," Harry was sounding a little breathless as Draco began to drop kisses on his neck, "we've got the rest of our lives to work out why we're so good together."
"Well I think I'll enjoy plenty of research on the subject."
Most cats would have been prowling the halls for a slow mouse at this time of night, but not Petite Amie. Unceremoniously dumped from Draco's lap, she went back to her favourite spot by the fire. She kept one eye opened as she listened to the boys light-hearted banter, and she knew, finally, that everything was going to be just fine.
Only then did she finally close her eyes and drift off into a long awaited and well-deserved sleep.
To be wrapped up in the Epilogue - coming in a few days.
Thank You to everyone who has read and reviewed since Chapter 19 was posted. Some people were disappointed in what happened in the last chapter, but we hope this clears up the air. Thank you to:
acerbus-chan, allara , animmage, AquilusRosae, Ariathel, ashmoon, beserkergoddess, Besson, Bezzie, Cat , Chaney, cocokate, Cordelia Tonks, DemonRogue, Dr. Colleen, EmeraudeEncre, emily , Fiona , From The Dark I will Rise, HandsOff , ilyena damodred , I'm A GodSend In Disguise, itsasledgehammer, Kaaera, kokopoko, Lelimo, lemonlimesodapop , Lily Evans Potter Black Lup..., Lux et Veritas, makalaseri, Michelle , MooNBlaDeR, Morauko , MyOriginalIntent, Nony , PaDfOoT Da GrEaT, Peaceful Angel, person , plotbunnybrat , Purveyor of Darkness:Tyrini, rosemary eve , Sara , Shini4, smarmypenguin , SporkadelicAsh, sugarpixie02, Sumiko10 , triola, ura-hd, venure , Veritas.Aequetas.Redemptio., volleypickle16, white rabbit , Xandria Nirvana
And thank you to everyone who has been here for the entire ride - whether you joined us at Chapter 1 or at a later stage, thank you for sticking around. The Epilogue won't be far behind (next weekend, we hope) so you can finally put this story away a complete, and no longer a WIP! Yay!) Without you this story may have become a dreaded abandoned WIP, and we thank each and every one of you for all your encouraging words!