Title: Protective Bonds
By: Sadie DragonFire
Part: 12/12
Refer to Chapter One for disclaimer
Rating For this Part: PG 13
Warning: There may be a few spoilers. Ron/Hermione suggestions as always (but only if you're paying attention).
Feedback: Any and all, please.

Big thanks go out, as always, to Talya Firedancer (who is an awesome writer in her own right) and Genevieve Pratt (whose also good writer and just a kick-ass person in general) for their help with this fic.

_________________________

Draco tumbled back onto the bed with complete lack of grace that might have earned disproving looks from his former dorm-mates, should they have been in the room to witness it. Not to say that he would have cared. He was in a pleasant mood that was one part the aftereffect of last night (and the mild messing around this morning) and another part getting to see his father. Granted, the first event was cutting down a bit on his joy of the second.

After all, his main reason in getting his father to Hogwarts was so that he could have the elder Malfoy's assistance in separating him from Harry. Certainly, his father didn't want him shacking up with the enemy anymore than he had and would be more than helpful in changing that fact. That had been his plan in the beginning, but of course, fate liked to play havoc with plans.

The trouble was that now, he rather *liked* the idea of shacking up with enemy and was planning to keep doing it for a while longer. Should his father find out about this desire, Draco knew he wouldn't approve (probably in the same way he hadn't approved of the time Draco had accidentally burnt down the guest house). That would be potentially bad for all involved.

Things were so much easier when Draco could just leave it up to his father to fix it. Now the situation was totally different and had 'take care of it your own damn self' stamped all over it.

Such suffering.

The bed shifted as Harry sat on the edge and began removing his shoes. "Have you seen Hedwig recently?" the dark-haired teen asked neutrally. "She must think I've been ignoring her."

"I saw Gwydion chasing her off earlier this morning," Draco offered, turning onto his side and curling his arm up under his head. "He was rather nasty about it too by the looks of it." Harry looked over his shoulder, mouth stretched into a crocked, sarcastic grimace.

"Oh, that's positively splendid. Only you would have a homicidal owl." He said, tossing his shoe across the room, resulting in a dull thud on the far wall.

"I sense an insult in there...and not a very good one at that," Draco drawled, reaching up to pluck at the back of Harry's robe. "Especially considering that owls are carnivores." Harry twisted around, breaking the contact.

"I've got some studying to finish," Harry said, bracing his hands on the bed in preparation to push himself up. Draco swung his legs around until they were aligned with Harry's.

"Is that all you can think of to do?" He was gently teasing now as he sat up and slid his arm around Harry's shoulders, hoping to distract them both from less entertaining thoughts. He knew that Harry was responsive to touch and planned to use that to his advantage. Harry hunched under and away from his arm.

"I'm serious," Harry almost snapped, slipping off the edge of the bed.

"You're upset," Draco announced, only just realizing. His brow furrowed with a frown. He hadn't considered this aspect of it; though in retrospect it made sense.

"Absolutely brilliant, your powers of perception continue to amaze me." Harry said, sighing. He dropped his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that."

Draco leaned back on his hands, grazing up at the tattered edge of the canopy ruffle. It only figured that Harry would be having a private hissy fit over his father coming to see them. His lover was too serious, made too much out of everything. What was the saying? Troll caves out of gnome holes. Did Harry honestly think that Draco wouldn't take care of it? There was no need to be afraid of his father; Lucius would never do anything to hurt his only child. Not that it mattered anyway, *Draco* would not allow Harry to be hurt, not by anyone else, and that was the end of it. Still, did he really expect Harry to have any faith in him?

['Expect'? No...but how wonderful it would be to have...] He shook his head and aimed a self-depreciating smirk at the far wall. Foolish thoughts. He only needed the faith and support of two people in this world and Harry wasn't either of them. And never would be besides. [Deal with what you have; stop looking for more.]

"You're just being an idiot again," Draco said, the superior tone of his voice indicating this was a standard thing and Harry shouldn't be offended by his confirmation of it. "So, studying you said?"

Harry looked up from his life-affirming study of the bedspread. "Yes...studying."

"Better get to it then. God forbid we get bad marks; the world would end."

_____________________

Gravel spread itself out underneath the weight of Lucius Malfoy's fine leather shoes, producing a rough crunching sound not unlike the dismayed cries of all those who had ever stood in his path. He was not, at this time, on a mission of revenge; the focused expression on his face lacked the usual amount satisfaction such an act would produce. He went straight to the main entrance for Hogwarts and into the open foyer where a stiff-backed seventh year of uncertain house greeted him instantly.

"Right this way, Mr. Malfoy." The student motioned at the hallway to their right. Lucius came to a full stop and regarded the young adult with strong disapproval.

"I want to see my son," he announced, his voice ringing with unquestionable authority. The student remained as respectful and unmoved as a carved statue.

"Right this way, sir. Your son will be brought to you." The youngster motioned once again, almost bowing, "The Headmaster has arranged a room where you can meet your son comfortably and without distraction."

Lucius' mouth tightened. There was really nothing this student, nor most of the professors for that matter, could do to stop him if he chose to scour Hogwarts in search of his son. Still, he didn't really come here to annoy everyone within reach, which was his normal operating procedures, and the private room would come in handy. Turning on his heel, he walked steadily to and down the hall, leaving his guide to catch up with him. The hall echoed with the firm rhythmic clicks of his footsteps. The student moved quickly to surpass and lead him.

"This one here, sir," the younger male said finally, after a short walk and a few turns. The door he stopped at opened into a small conference room normally reserved for important visits and the rare parent/teacher meeting. "The others will be along shortly, please make yourself comfortable."

Lucius leveled the other with a glare that displayed grave displeasure at the suggestion that he, a mere student, could request Lucius to do *anything*, polite or otherwise. The student reacted in the way a rock might. Malfoy Senior felt rush of annoyance and anger, yet there was something almost like interest. It was hard to stand up to him without flinching, a fact he took pride in, and seeing it at once enraged him and appealed to him professionally.

[If only he was a Slytherin,] Lucius thought as the student took his leave after an almost overly polite farewell, [Far too many of those blithering idiots lack any backbone at all.] He passed a disinterested glance over the straight-backed armchairs arranged business-like around a sturdy desk and went to stand by the window.

That side of the building faced the Forbidden Forest, a surprisingly splendid view on a bright day, but Lucius hardly cared for it. He had long since lost any fascination for or fear of the Forest; all that remained was the distant respect of one powerful force for another. He folded his hands behind his back, balancing his weight easily into an arrogant stance and stared blankly through the glass. Anyone who might have seen him would have thought he was deeply engaged in something profound and not bothered him.

Some unnoticed clock produced a short Irish violin piece to mark the hour. Annoyance sparked then, at the thought that they would keep him waiting much longer. It was a tactic he had used and the idea of it being used against him was infuriating. A door opened behind him, heralding the sound of someone entering. He turned after a moment, face etched with a frown, entire posture radiating authority.

Dumbledore stood a few feet before the door, hands lightly clasped together before him, head tilted slightly to the right, studying him as though Lucius was an interesting bird he had just happened upon. "Mr. Malfoy. It is, as always, a unique pleasure to see you."

"No doubt, Headmaster," Lucius responded sharply, extra force added to the title. "But my only purpose here is to see my son and I want to do so now."

"The boys have been called from their class; they should be heading this way now. Barring any unwarranted circumstances, of course. The most unusual things happen around here." The elder wizard advanced further into the room, stepping around to one side of the desk and resting a hand on its surface. His expression was mild and distant, neither polite nor fearful nor respectful.

"'They'?" Lucius ignored the rest of the rambling, his mouth twisted into a vicious, mocking version of a smile as he focused on that one fact, "Oh, of course. Harry Potter: my son's new tagalong. Remarkably ironic, isn't it?"

"I've always been rather fond of irony myself. I believe, though, that you see it in a different manner than I do." He patted down his beard and the front of his robe, as though looking for something. "Young Potter is not a follower any more than Young Malfoy is. Rather, they are a matched set. Ah." He pulled something from his robe and set it on the table.

Lucius ignored the action and acknowledged only Dumbledore's statement. "There is *nothing* 'matched' about them! This whole spectacle is little more than an example of your own gross incompetence!" Lucius drew himself up, "If you and your teachers monitored the students properly---"

"I'm sure we would have found ample reason to have expelled Draco ages ago," Dumbledore interrupted calmly, not unlike a lawyer stating a known fact.

"How dare you even suggest---"

"Not to mention," the Headmaster continued undeterred. "That we would have prevented dozens - nay, hundreds - of other incidents that have made life so much more difficult." He nodded sadly. "Yes, I too mourn our inability to know everything that happens."

Lucius exhaled the air he'd gathered for his next retort, uncertain of how to take that remark. It contained a truth he had no interest in confronting. So, when other roads fail: detour.

"Pleasant as it is to converse with you, Headmaster, it is not my reason for being here," Lucius reminded him, rather pointlessly.

"Of course, of course. Not much longer now." Dumbeldore assured him. "I must also remind you that as we are still in the school year, Draco is under Hogwarts guardianship and should not be removed from the grounds."

Lucius snorted. "That doesn't mean I can't take him home with me. Especially if Draco insists on it."

"True, to a certain extent." Dumbledore titled his head in acknowledgement. "Your guardianship does supercede our own...for Draco. Harry Potter is another matter entirely. Regardless, even Draco would not be allowed leave unless it was because of a family emergency or if Draco himself where suffering from a severe affliction of some form."

Lucius thought he covered his reaction to the comment rather nicely, responding with a smooth, "I imagine it shouldn't be too hard to...handle such problems. It is in the boy's best interest after all, to get him separated from my son. And I believe that a spell constitutes an affliction."

The expression on Dumbledore's face gave Lucius no clue as to how much the elder wizard believed him. The whole meeting bothered him, made things less clear-cut than he had intended them. Not that it mattered in the end; the situation would go his way, no question.

He passed his hand down over the right front side of his robe, his fingers brushing over a small, round object secure in an inner pocket.

No question at all.

_______________________

"Father!" Draco called has he shoved aside the half-open door into the meeting room. Harry followed two steps behind, looking like he'd rather be on the other side of the school entirely. Draco paused once he was past the doorframe, allowing Harry the chance to glance over his shoulder. A slight chill went down his spine when he spotted Lucius standing there, even though he was expecting it and despite Dumbledore's presence.

Lucius Malfoy turned slowly toward the door at his son's loud entrance, appearing only mildly interested in the arrival. He regarded the younger male with the professional pleasantry of one meeting a long time, but rarely seen, associate. Draco drew himself up straight; in such a way that Harry could practically feel the gathering of pride and arrogance and cloaking superiority that stated he was a Malfoy, and don't you ever forget it.

"Father," Draco repeated, calmer and more stately this time. "I've missed you." He made his way across the room, leaving Harry with no choice but to follow after. The darker teen noticed how Lucius's face shifted slightly, becoming more open.

"It's good to see you, Draco," Lucius admitted, bending over slightly to grace his shorter son with a quick, polite hug that nonetheless held certain affection. Harry lingered back several paces, feeling completely out of place and fighting the irrational urge to yank Draco away from his father and haul him someplace far away. Somewhere with a bed. And a fireplace. And maybe room service.

Harry shook his head; in the processes catching the reassuring smile and wink that Dumbledore sent his way. The Headmaster was leaning back against the desk and had been, up until that point, whistling some obscure musical piece. Harry tried vaguely to smile back, but was more concerned with Draco, who was stepping back from his father.

"I'm glad you were able to take time out of your day to visit," Draco said. "You're usually pretty busy this time of year." A smug tone accompanied that, and he turned his head to glance at Harry out of the corner of his eye, indicating his own importance in his father's life. If he were feeling any less tense, Harry would have scoffed and rolled his eyes.

Rather than disregarding his son's words with a fatherly 'Seeing you is more important', Lucius nodded and said, "Yes, the timing is bad, but Mr. Oisian should be able to handle the details until I return." He motioned to the arrangement of armchairs, an invite to sit, and sat in the chair closest to himself.

Draco took his own chair, leaving only the Headmaster and Harry standing. Harry hurriedly took the seat next to Draco, feeling the powerful need to stay close. Father and son began a subdued conversation that involved people and events and paperwork that held no interest to Harry.

For his part, Harry was utterly baffled and at something of a loss. A little abandoned and ignored too, but that didn't concern him as much. Other than an initial, dismissing look, Lucius hadn't even acknowledged him. He'd half expected the older man to go into a rage of denial and anger and throw himself foaming at the mouth at Harry once he'd entered. The fact that everyone was being so civil and polite about the whole affair had killed all the mental preparation he had engaged in last night. (After somehow managing to appease a hurt Draco, who'd been very disgruntled when Harry's worrying had ruined the tow-headed teen's attempts at intimacy.) Now he was left feeling more than a little stupid.

Not that he was foolish enough to consider Lucius harmless, not by a long shot, but it appeared that Mr. Malfoy wasn't going to start a fight on Hogwarts grounds. It was just that it seemed so silly now; with Dumbledore sitting comfortably in the chair on the other side of the desk, a silent guardian, and Lucius focused only on his son, showing no interest in upsetting the strange little universe he and Draco had built around themselves. Maybe he would get through this after all, a possibility that filled him with something like relief.

But it was all so anti-climatic!

"...the one that had to do with protecting endangered Troll species?" Draco was looking at him curiously, tapping his hand to get his attention. Harry blinked, pausing while his brain automatically switched into search mode to locate the answer.

"Um, the Orggelrock Treaty?" he ventured, recalling the details of the History lesson that had covered it.

"Right!" Draco turned back to his father, unconsciously giving Harry's hand a grateful squeeze. "Even under the rights of the Treaty, they still must have written *proof* that the species is endangered before they can shut down the mining operation..."

In the same way a scurrying mouse catches the attention of a hungry cat, so did Lucius noticed the brief handclasp. A quick downward glance, then his gaze panned up to meet Harry's. The look on his face was assessing, but the light in his eyes was threat-sharp. Harry's stomach flip-flopped unpleasantly, his heart picking up speed even as he tried to keep his expression frank and unafraid. Lucius's attention shifted seamlessly back to Draco.

[Okay, I take it back. I can handle dull and anti-climatic. Seriously. In fact, I'd *love* it, just as long as whatever bad thing he's planning doesn't end up ruining the rest of my day,] Harry forced a quiet, calming breath while trying to *not* look like he was panting in terror. Wouldn't do to give the wrong impression. [Screw the day; the rest of my *life*.]

"That is similar to what Mr. Oisian planned, but I will be sure to tell him your suggestions," Lucius was saying, and Harry suddenly regretted having missed most of the conversation. Draco did retain a lot of information---though most of it must fly out of his head during tests---and it was interesting to listen to what came out. "But to change the subject, do you think it would be possible for me to speak with my son alone for a few minutes?" Lucius spoke now to Dumbledore.

Draco cocked his head, eyes flicking towards Harry as the Headmaster frowned thoughtfully. Harry thought he saw nervous fear flash across the blond teen's face, before the pale features smoothed out into calm acceptance. Panic prickled spider feet down his spine.

"You can stand listening at the door, if you please," the cultured voice was now thick with sarcasm, "And 'alone' means without the *precious* Harry Potter present, so you shouldn't have to worry much for his well-being." Lucius smirked at Draco to share his distain with his heir.

Harry couldn't help the glare of disapproval and betrayal that stole across his features when Draco let out a soft, mocking laugh in agreement. He'd expected as much from Draco, honestly he had, but that didn't stop the glimmer of pain deep inside. It wasn't like the lanky blond had had any intention of telling his father about them---'Oh, on that matter, Harry and I are shagging and would you please stop trying to kill him?'----Still, it was a nice thought. Draco had his full attention on his father and subsequently missed the glare.

Dumbledore folded his hands to together on the desk and leaned forward. "What do you think, Harry?"

Harry started, head whipping around toward the elder wizard. "Pardon?"

"I fail to see how *his* opinion has anything to do with this," Lucius said scornfully.

"Consider it politeness," was Dumbledore's explanation. "Harry, would you be willing to remove yourself from that comfortable armchair and accompany me to the hall for a few minutes, even though it would require being some distance from Draco?"

"I...well, um..." Harry hedged uncertainly, trying to catch Draco's eyes so he could read the other boy's reaction but Draco had his head turned aside. "We have been able tolerate longer separations..."

"We'll manage, it's not that far," Draco announced suddenly, sitting straighter his chair, "And I can handle a little pain." Now he looked at Harry, a sidelong glance full of challenge. "Can you?"

Defiance sparked and Harry arched his brow, scorn sharpening his words; "I faced worse things than you have, Draco. Considering that I seldom ran screaming from them, I dare say your resistance is in far greater question than mine." Draco grimaced with anger at this slight, his eyes flaring with something hateful and deep-seated. Their gazes locked in a challenge-stare for a moment or two before Draco turned away in an obvious snub.

Fully aware he was receiving displeased glares from more than one angle and still irritated with his lover's behavior, Harry lifted his chin and held his back straight. "I'm fine with it; they can talk alone if they want."

Dumbledore considered him from under the brim of his hat, idling tapping the ends of his fingers together. "Very well then! Fifteen minutes soon as we step through the door, not a heartbeat longer." He pushed himself to his feet with some theatrical stiffness and groaning, "Up and off with us. Family business is best tended to by the family themselves."

Harry swallowed, only just realizing that agreeing to this meant he had to leave now, this instant, and that realization swept through his anger. He started to his feet, intending to hold his upset close and hard and not acknowledge Draco on his way out, but he couldn't do it. Without meaning too, he grasped lightly at Draco's hand and their fingers clutched together briefly. When Draco looked at him again with a softness to his expression that hadn't been there since they'd entered the room, Harry understood. Understood, forgave, and admonished himself, all in a heartbeat without fully comprehending what had just transpired.

The blond shook his head, pushing away Harry's hand and making a short shooing gesture, "Enough drama, get on with it." His tone was mocking, but pitched lower and warmer than earlier and there was a difference in the way he held himself. That difference went with Harry as he gave Lucius the same barely-civil nod the older man granted him and follow Dumbledore across the chamber and out the door.

Then they were in the hall, several dozen feet and a solid oak door between him and Draco. His insides twisted with fear and other nameless things, but not the spell for once. [Small mercy.] He forced a deep breath. [God, am I pathetic...I'm sure I'd be right embarrassed if I weren't so bloody *worried*...]

A warm hand clapped his shoulder. "Fifteen minutes; something of an eternity when you're upset," Dumbledore said with good humor, "Fear not, I'm not as scattered brained as I like to think! All is being looked after."

"It's not that..." Harry murmured, leaning against the doorjamb, an age and distance in his face that saddened the older man, though Harry didn't know it.

"Faith can be very helpful, all on its own," was the end of the conversation.

______________

"Hm, I'd thought we'd get more of a fuss than that," Lucius remarked as the door clicked shut.

Draco shrugged awkwardly, not sure how to reply. Honestly, it had been more than enough fuss for him. [Ooh, it's not going to be fun talking to Harry after this---Not that I should be dwelling on that with my father here,] He forcibly reminded himself with an internal wince.

"Draco," Lucius started, sighing deeply when he saw he had his son's attention once more, "I sent them off because I want to talk to you. I want you to come home. There *are* ways to sort out this mess of a spell that's got you bound up with Potter." The name was said like a curse. "Just not the sort of ways the narrow-minded professors of Hogwarts would approve."

"Black magic, hmm?" Draco smirked faintly, eyes roving across the neatly furnished room. He'd been expecting this, more or less, but still wasn't entirely sure how to handle it. He didn't want to go because he knew how much harder it would be to hide his attraction of---and physical meanderings with---Harry inside Malfoy Mansion. He also didn't want the spell broken just yet, while it still provided a useful excuse.

"And go against the Ministry? Really Draco, who do you think I am?" Lucius said. They shared a glance and both laughed at the familiar joke.

"But!" Draco raised a finger and waved it, his expression and voice making the words into a jest. "They said we couldn't leave the school."

"Actually, they can't keep you here if you insist on leaving," Lucius said reasonably. "Especially if you are under a spell and I can provide proof that the only way to break it would be in our home."

Draco assumed an expression of disbelieve. "'Proof'? If your planning on using the Darker magicks---"

"*False* proof, Draco," Lucius said, a hint of warning entering his tone, "I know better than that." The disapproval in his face made Draco wince in apology.

"Still, isn't that more effort than necessary at this time?" He offered consolingly, "I'm not exactly dying here---though I wouldn't put it past Weasley to try---so a few more months won't make any difference." [At least as far as you're concerned. And I really can't believe I'm arguing with my father over this…damn you Harry.]

Lucius favored him with a long, thoughtful look. Draco imagined his saw suspicion in those familiar eyes and the knot of worry in his stomach tightened. This was *not* a situation he had ever wanted to be in.

"This spell…" Lucius spoke slowly, his brow lowered in thought, a dark look in his eye. "It makes you very protective of Potter." It was not a question, but Draco bristled fearfully anyway.

"Well, that's nature of it, but I'm not---"

"I have something for you," Lucius interrupted a touch sharply, "A gift from your mother." He reached into the chest area of his robe and pulled out a spherical object. Draco blinked at it, startled at the sudden change of subject and surprised that his mother had a gift for him when it wasn't his birthday or Christmas.

He held out his hand and accepted the gift in his curved palm. "I'll be sure to send her a thank-you note." It was perfectly round and clear blue with a glimmer of green and black at its center, and maybe twice the size of a marble. "What is it?"

"A privacy charm, so she told me." Lucius shrugged and smoothed the fall of his robe. "Supposed to light up red when someone is eavesdropping or getting into your things. Something of that fashion." A reproving look came over his features. "She told me she found it horrible that you had so little space and time to yourself."

Draco clutched his hands around the shimmering ball, suddenly missing his mother with a passion. How long had it been since he'd seen or heard from her? "How is she?"

"Oh, she has her complaints. The new cook doesn't boil the beets right and the house elf doesn't understand how important it is to keep the mantel dust free, but otherwise she is doing very well." Lucius leaned forward slightly, his voice taking a deeper, more familiar tone, "She misses you."

Swallowing against an unexpected rush of emotion, Draco nodded. "As do I." It had been easy to lose track of the outside world when it was just Harry and himself, and it was something of a surprise to realize he hadn't gotten his weekly letter from his mother. He hadn't even noticed. He closed his eyes at the sense of loss and abandonment that created.

"It's upset her, you know, everything about this spell," Lucius continued, watching Draco closely, "She's been worried about you these past days. It would do her good to have you home again."

Opening his mouth with a volley for that one too, Draco was overwhelmed with a flood of homesickness he hadn't felt since his first week of his first year of Hogwarts. It stole the words from his throat and filled his head with images and scents and sounds that spoke of *home*. The glimmer of sunlight on the moat. The scent of dinner from the kitchen. Sitting in the garden with his mother while she read through the dozens of letters she received on a daily basis. Running through halls filled with the chatter of hundreds of family portraits talking family history. The warmth of his father's study. The sound of the fireplace roaring softly in his own bedroom.

"I…I want to…go home…" he whispered softly without intending too. Lucius' face brightened visibly and he patted Draco's arm in an affectionate manner.

"Don't worry about the school or the professors; I can handle them well enough. We'll get to the mansion and handle all this nonsense with Potter in no time." His hand tightened warmly on Draco's lower arm, a loving fatherly grasp.

Draco sprang from it as if stung; has startled by this reaction as Lucius was. A sharp painful pulling in his chest sent him to his feet and stumbling away. "Father, I really can't," he stammered uncertainly, rolling the charm-ball back and forth between his palms. [I want to, I want to, I want home. I can't I can't I can't.] His stomach felt like it was trying to rip itself apart and he bit his lip in horror when he saw anger flash on his father's face.

"You said you wanted too and I assure you I can mange it," Lucius countered, something Draco couldn't define sharpening his tone. He stood up and Draco unintentionally fell back a step. "Draco?"

"Yes?" [What's wrong with me?? He wouldn't hurt me! This is so stupid!] Confusion lashed up his thoughts and he couldn't seem to think straight. The homesickness was so powerful he could taste it and the solution for it was right here, he simply had to agree to it. [Harry isn't safe in my father's house. I can keep him safe. No, no, no, he isn't safe in my father's house. I have to go home, I have to! I want my own bed and my own books and everything I know…but, but…]

"What's wrong?" Lucius moved toward the stricken teen with obvious concern, but Draco drew away from him again in the direction of the door. Anger darkened his next words. "Are you afraid of me?"

"No! Of course not! I…I just…" His heart beat a fast tempo in his chest and he clutched at the charm, feeling the shape of it hot and hard against his skin. The open air of the meeting room was thick and strange in a throat that wanted most of all to be breathing the air of the Malfoy estate. "I want to stay here." The words came out weaker than he intended. He tried to speak them again and found he couldn't.

Lucius paused, brows lowering, frustration evident through the anger. His hands clutched at the sides of his robe. "Draco, I'm going to take you home with me," he said slowly and forcefully, turning the words into an order.

Body shaking, Draco swallowed hard, no longer able to understand his own reactions and thoughts. [Can't disobey, shouldn't disobey, need to go home.] He took several more steps closer to the door, not once looking away from Lucius.

[Not safe in my father's house, not safe in my father's house.]

Whatever else may have happened, whether it was an agreement that meant to spill from Draco's opened mouth or a drastic action on Lucius part, was brought to a halt when a loud, piercing wail came from the direction of the desk. At the same instant, the sphere in Draco's hands became white-hot and he dropped it with a cry.

Like a splash of ice water, the babbling confusion and desperate longing fell away and left him gasping. The charm hit the wood floor with a sharp crack, bounced once, and rolled several feet before coming to a stop. Light flashed vividly across its surface before the whole thing went black. The wailing from the desk abruptly stopped. Draco looked down at the charm, then up at his father, horrified.

"You..."

The door burst open then, just as Lucius started forward. Draco didn't look behind him to see who it was, couldn't seem to notice anything beyond the look of rage on Lucius' face, but he recognized the arms that went around his middle and saw the back of Dumbledore's robe as the Headmaster came to stand before him.

"You sir, are to leave immediately," Dumbledore was saying, and Draco was being pulled backwards, Harry franticly saying something in his ear. And Lucius was still staring at him, and the anger and hate in that beloved face tore apart his insides.

It was all confusion after that. More adults appeared and pushed and pulled the two teens quickly from the room and the scene building there. Draco felt too numb to respond to anything and allowed himself to be manhandled. The sound of his father's yells followed him through the halls. Harry was a solid weight and warmth at his side, holding him up for his own body was having trouble cooperating.

"Draco! Draco!" Warm breaths against his ear, a worried note he didn't know how to acknowledge. "Say something!"

"He appears to be shock. Hurry now, to the hospital wing."

After a hazy timeless passage through hallways and up stairs, he was laid back in a soft bed and covered with blankets; only vaguely aware he was shivering. His mind was a humming blank, his gaze fixed unseeing on the ceiling. He didn't notice anything else for long while afterwards.

______________________

"Harry! Hey, Harry!"

Harry came to a stop, looking in the direction of the yell before spotting Ron's autumn-brilliant locks. Draco continued on without him, kicking idly at the leaves that covered the ground like feathers on a bird's back, head titled back to take in the gray, overcast sky. Harry watched him for a moment, but let him go on and waited for Ron.

"Hullo Ron," Harry greeted his friend as the boy jogged up to him.

"Good to see you out and about," Ron said cheerfully, panting slightly from his run. Harry winced for show, recalling that he and Draco both had been a pair of shut-ins during the four days since Lucius Malfoy's visit and the subsequent shunning of Draco by his Slytherin classmates.

"I'm sorry, Ron. I'm afraid I've been neglecting you..." he began softly, gaze turning unerringly to where Draco walked a slow pace toward the borders of the Forest.

"None of that now," Ron interrupted, clearly hearing the guilt. "Didn't get the chance to tell you earlier but...well, Hermione and I, we..." he stopped and cleared his throat, "We understand, all right?" He gave Harry a hopeful look, shifting about awkwardly. Harry smiled and nodded.

"Thanks." There was a slight pull in his chest and up ahead, Draco stopped and stood waiting with arms folded.

"How's he doing?" Ron asked quietly, appearing genuinely interested.

"Better than I expected," was all Harry would admit to. In honesty, it had been a horrible past few days, with Draco getting increasingly tense and violent, before he had a complete breakdown just yesterday morning. It had been a painful thing to watch and even more agonizing to wade into it and try to pick up the pieces. Until then Harry had only known what had happened on his side of the door: how he'd stood there becoming increasingly frantic, when a sudden shrieking had come from the room and Dumbledore had announced that it meant Lucius was enacting a spell of some form.

Hearing Draco choke out the whole thing had sent him into tears as well. Draco had known that his father didn't always do things on the sunny side of legality, but it had been something of a game: a play against the Ministry and their pompous, limiting restrictions. The probations against Dark Magic, so Lucius had told Draco, were simply the Ministry's ways of impeding upon the advancement of more powerful wizards and pointlessly protecting Muggles. It had never occurred to Draco that Lucius would use that same magic against him. He also seemed oblivious to the darker deeds Lucius had preformed on other wizards, leaving Harry to think that Draco was far more sheltered than he believed.

They'd talked late into the night after they both had calmed down, (they'd had the time for it since they were once again excused from regular classes, though they started again tomorrow), and that night they took a different kind of comfort with each other.

But all that, of course, was not for Ron to know.

"Hope it continues to improve, then," Ron said with honest feeling. Then, much to Harry's surprise, Ron pulled him in for a quick, strong hug. "I meant it when I said we understand. I won't pretend to like Draco, but you're my friend, and that's that however you cut it. I won't give you any gripe for anything regarding Draco and neither will 'Mione." He pulled away and grinned into Harry's startled face.

"I...thank you," Harry felt his throat tighten with gratefulness and wished he was better with words. Ron simply shrugged and nodded toward something in the distance.

"Time for me to be off, but we *will* have to spend more time together later." He said, giving Harry an affection swat on the shoulder when the other boy snorted. Ron jogged off again with a grin.

"Bye!" Harry called, watching him go. Ron met up with Hermione as she came out of the greenhouse and both waved at Harry before setting off on their own mission. For a moment their hands came together as they walked, palm-to-palm fingers interlacing, and then separated once more.

[Oh, really?] Harry let out a soft huff of laughter and shook his head. That would be an interesting conversation someday, he was certain. But for today, he continued on his intended path, a new brightness to his expression. Draco remained as he had been before, tracing patterns in the leaf cover with his toes. Harry came up beside him and, since the yard was mostly empty, slid an arm around Draco's waist.

"Have a nice talk?" his fair lover inquired as they matched pace.

"Yes," Harry smiled. "Quite surprising, actually."

"Hmm," Draco replied, clearing showing his disinterest in anything further.

They followed the path that ran around the lake in silence, leaving it once they reached the part closest to the Forbidden Forest. Walking carefully over the damp, slippery leaves, they came to rest on the arching root of an old oak tree whose branches were almost entirely bare. The rough trunk provided a barrier against prying eyes of the school. Harry pulled Draco close against his chest, pressing his face into the warm, downy skin at the back of his neck.

"You stood up to your father for me..." he mouthed soundlessly on Draco's skin, finishing the rest in his head; [...so you maybe you do love me after all.]

"Hm, what was that?" Draco questioned, hands closing warmly on Harry's wrists and pulling them around his waist.

"Nothing." He lifted his face and placed his chin on Draco's shoulder. "Just nonsense."

[And maybe someday, I'll be strong enough to say it myself...and know your feelings for certain.]

The wind picked up with a rustle, pulling the leaves from the trees like rain from the clouds and sending the sound of Harry and Draco's breathing out across the forest.

End

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Final Notes:

And so it ends…the largest fic I have ever written and finished. I suck at responding to feedback, but I will say right now: this story would have never been completed without all the wonderful e-mails I have received. I started this fic for myself, but I kept on it because, shock of all shocks, you readers out there actually seemed to like it. So…thank you, thank you! I'm proud to have made something so many people enjoyed (even if you do want to kill me for this ending).

'Till the next fic!