--I have now enabled anonymous reviews. I hadn't realized I needed to do that specifically.

--Dedicated in part to all those reviewers who asked about Lucius, especially dantemalfoy who suggested that Draco simply flip off Lucius and be more independent. That image was quite inspirational! I hope everyone likes it.

--For those curious about my movie reference of last chapter (nobody mentioned they caught it), it is from Hawk, The Slayer. It is a very "B" fantasy movie which you can nevertheless find on DVD. The dwarf tricks the giant into not eating the dwarf's sugared nuts by saying they are "turkles." When questioned, the dwarf "translates" the word as lizard's eyeballs and the giant runs off to toss his cookies (or is that turkles) into the bushes.

Chapter 15 – Sunday, 20 October 1996 and Epilogue

"Might you tell me where you were this past week that you could not be found?" Severus asked mildly, cutting a piece of sausage.

"Perhaps. Are you truly interested in such a small thing?" Harry asked casually, leaning back from the dining table and swirling his breakfast tea. Draco watched the interchange silently and ate his eggs.

Severus blinked, then blinked again, then raised his eyebrows, unable to completely hide his astonishment at Harry's question. "Why, Mister Potter, what a positively Slytherin question," he said.

And it was. The "perhaps" said that Harry was willing to trust him with the information. The "truly interested" was essentially asking him if he would be willing and able to keep the answer to himself. The "small thing" told Severus that wherever they had gone was quite secure and there was no need for him to be worried should the two boys decide to return there upon occasion. It was an entire conversation in less than a dozen words. He was impressed.

Harry smirked. "Thank you."

Severus sat back in his armchair and chewed his bit of sausage, considering the real questions he had been asked and studying the young man across from him. The young man unabashedly studied him back; he was quiet, calmly waiting for a response.

Severus mused that he was having a much easier time with Potter's presence than he thought he would. The young man across from him was just that: a man. Replacing the arrogant and brash boy was a man who held himself with quiet confidence. Replacing the abysmal and uncaring student was a man with intelligent and calculating eyes. Replacing the foolhardy Gryffindor was a cunning Slytherin. There was no James Potter in the man sitting across the table from him. Severus wondered when and how this had happened. He wondered how long this man had been deliberately hiding underneath the boy.

Finally, Severus nodded slowly, looking Harry in the eyes. "Yes," he said, "I am truly interested."

Harry smirked at his professor; he couldn't wait for the reaction! In the back of his mind he felt an equally wicked anticipation from Draco. "We were in the Founder's Quarters. Specifically, we were in the master suite of Salazar Slytherin's Quarters."

Severus face slackened in astonishment. The Founder's Quarters! It was rumored that the Founders had their own library, comprehensive of their day, within the confines of their Quarters, safe from unworthy students. How he would love to see it! Imagine all the lost knowledge it might contain! Severus frowned then. What about the Dark Lord? Surely if Potter had found and could access Salazar's Quarters then so could the Dark Lord. But, no; Harry had, well, not-said, that the place was safe from intruders. How could this be?

"I presume the Dark Lord would be denied entrance?" he asked blandly, seeking a confirmation of Potter's previous statement.

Harry took a sip of tea and watched his professor. Even though the reaction had been less than another might show, seeing the small signs of the tightly controlled man's astonishment had been quite satisfying. Harry wondered how the professor would react to his next statement. "Tom Riddle is no heir of Salazar," he said casually.

Severus eyebrows rose once again. Glancing at Draco's bland face and back to Potter's apparently unconcerned countenance, Severus said mildly, "Indeed." Taking another bit of sausage, Severus considered what information that statement imparted.

It seemed Potter had access to something of Salazar's. Given Draco's expression it was probably a painting, and one that Draco had met. The familiarity of the first name suggested that Potter knew Salazar's painting quite well and, therefore, had been to the Founder's Quarters on a fairly regular basis. Severus wondered how Potter managed that without anyone catching on and then remembered the time turner. Of course. Potter could spend whole days with Salazar and not seem to go missing. And it seemed Salazar's painting did not approve of the Dark Lord's actions so was likely helping to train Potter to defeat him.

Severus narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Just how much time had Potter spent with that painting? Given Potter's physique…"And you found this out, when?" he asked, meaning How long have you been going there? He figured Potter, this Slytherin Potter, would understand exactly what he was really asking.

Harry smiled appreciatively. He was truly enjoying their oh-so-casual conversation. It was nice to talk to someone who understood the meaning beneath the words. "About three weeks into my third year," he responded.

"Interesting," Severus replied. So, Potter had been meeting with Salazar for three years. That would certainly account for the polish Potter displayed but there must have already been the seeds of this man beforehand. Severus wondered how they'd been planted, it certainly wasn't any inheritance from James. Well, he would puzzle it out later; it was time for a new topic.

"You do realize that several of the Slytherins will do their best to inhibit you spending time together, yes?" Severus asked, meaning "How will you maintain your relationship and continue Draco's training when faced by Lucius' and the Dark Lord's opposition?"

"That's all right. I've had experience with uncooperative snakes before," Harry replied with a mischievous smile.

Severus raised his eyebrows as Draco snickered at Harry's words. "Indeed." There must be more meaning to that sentence than simply "Don't worry. We've got a plan." Maybe they would tell him one day.

"The Headmaster was quite concerned about your absence." "You can expect to be interrogated on Monday."

"Is that so?" "I can keep my secrets from curious old men."

"Your friends have also been quite agitated." "Are you really prepared to choose Draco over your Gryffindor friends?"

"I'll speak with them." "I'll not abandon Draco no matter if they disapprove."

"The newspaper has had a number of articles ever since the invitations arrived." "Are you prepared for the publicity and censure that you will receive from what you've done as well as any further affiliation you engage in?"

"I imagine they'll have many more before they find a new scandal to lie about." "Let them say what they want. I'll not abandon Draco."

"Lucius and the Dark Lord have been somewhat upset at this development." "Lucius will present Draco to the Dark Lord the moment he steps out of this castle."

"I hope they haven't given you too much trouble." "Are you well? Did you get tortured very much about what happened?"

"No, not much. Still, they'll be upset for some time, I imagine." "I'm fine. Answer the question."

"Ah, well. If Lucius storms the castle I supposed I can always hide again." "I'll hide Draco away in the Founder's Quarters before I allow him to be taken to the Dark Lord against his will."

"It might not be you he comes after." "And if Draco is alone?"

"I'm sure Draco knows several hiding places. "Draco can get there without me."

"Of course he does." "Good."

Draco nibbled his toast, idly amused by the double conversation happening in front of him. This was going very well, this meeting between his father and Harry. He could see the approval growing in Severus' eyes – Severus always did like the subtleties of a good dialogue. Draco was glad that his godfather was assessing the situation as it was and not falling back on his old patterns or beliefs; he must have spent some time searching his memories for what Draco had already seen and at least somewhat come to terms with Harry as Draco's transition partner. He hoped it hadn't been too traumatic an experience.

"Checkmate," Severus said as he moved his knight.

Draco sighed and toppled his king.

"You must be tired, Draco," Severus said in concern. "Your game is not up to its usual standards."

Draco looked up. "I am tired. Leftover from last night, I imagine," he said.

"Perhaps you should rest. You should be prepared for when you go to your parents tonight," Severus said, allowing a grimace to quickly cross his face at the thought of the day Draco was going to have to suffer through with his parents.

Draco grimaced as well but nodded his agreement. He stood and walked towards the sofa. "Harry?"

Harry looked up from his book to see Draco approaching him. "You look tired. Do you want to take a nap?" Harry asked.

Draco chuckled. "Severus just said the same thing," he said in amusement.

Harry darted a glance over at the older man and said, "Oh? Well, maybe you should nap, then, if we both think so."

Draco nodded and pulled Harry up from the couch and led him over to the chess table. Pushing Harry into the still warm seat Draco had vacated, Draco said, "You play chess with Severus and I'll go sleep. Play nice," he admonished them both with a suspicious glare before heading towards the guest room.

Harry stared at the chessboard glumly. "I don't like chess. I always lose."

Face impassive, Severus pressed a square symbol on the side of the board causing it to quickly morph. "Backgammon?" Severus offered.

Surprised, Harry only nodded.

They set up the game and played several turns before Severus asked, "How old are you, Mister Potter?"

Harry glanced up momentarily then moved his pieces and answered, "About seventeen and a half."


Several more turns were played.

Harry offered his own question. "How long have you had that potion on the sixth year curriculum?"

"Since I started here," Severus answered after a slight pause.

More silence. More dice rolls. More pieces moved.

"What is your Gift," Severus asked.

Harry paused in the middle of about to roll the dice to stare at the Potions Master. Then he started to laugh. The man hadn't asked "Did you really have a transition?" or "Are you Gifted?" but had bypassed two relatively useless yes/no questions and had gone straight for what he really wanted to know about what he must have surmised.

"Been thinking about things, have you?" Harry asked. "Draco warned me you would."

Severus merely nodded once and continued to stare at the young man across from him.

Harry rolled the dice and moved his pieces.

"You will remain silent?" Harry asked. "Not even Draco knows. I will tell him at Easter. I don't want him to think about how to express my Gift just yet, but focus on his own."

Severus picked up the dice and rolled them in his fingers contemplatively. "Yes, I will remain silent," he said, watching the young man thoughtfully.

Harry nodded and closed his eyes. Feeling the bond to ensure that Draco was actually sleeping, he released the glamour over his hair.

Severus sucked in a breath as he stared at the long red-streaked hair. "Fire," he breathed. Looking at Harry with a flash of hope he asked, "Can you produce Phoenix Fire?"

Harry fidgeted then shook his head slowly. The hope died in Severus' eyes. Harry said haltingly, "Not yet. I think…I think I might be able to get it, though. Draco…" He stopped, unsure, but then continued as the older man waited patiently for him to get out whatever he wanted to say. "The bond with Draco is grounding me."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Already?"

Harry nodded. "The bond probably won't become completely exclusionary for a couple years yet, but it's well on its way. I think even if we stopped having sex that it would still become exclusionary eventually."

Severus set down the dice and leaned his elbows on the board, steepling his fingers. "That's not unusual for Gifted partners," he said.

Harry shrugged. "Only about a quarter form exclusionary bonds."

"True," Severus replied noncommittally. "How much time will you need to accomplish Phoenix Fire?"

Harry looked at the spy gravely, "How much time do I have?"

"Less than a year," Severus replied honestly.

Harry winced but squared his shoulders, "So be it."

"I will help you," Severus offered.

Harry's eyes widened in shock. His first reaction was to refuse; the man had always been cruel to him and his apparent teaching skills were abysmal. But…it was obvious the professor was finally seeing Harry for Harry, not to mention Severus had been the one to teach Draco apparition and wards, neither skill of which could be learned from a book or from an incompetent teacher. Slowly, still a bit leery, he nodded.

Surprise flashed in Severus' eyes followed closely by respect. He hadn't expected Harry Potter to set aside their past and accept his help, even if the young man had done just that for Draco. "Do you wish to continue training where you have been or shall I make other arrangements," Severus asked. He was essentially asking if Harry was willing to reveal more of his secrets.

Harry thought a moment then said, "We should use my spot. It's large enough that we won't get hurt if I have to release a fireball."

Severus nodded and leaned back, reaching for the dice. He said nothing about the specious reason offered for using Harry's training grounds. Severus could have found a large enough and secure enough room and they both knew it. Harry was extending an olive branch of sorts and Severus was going to plant it without any fanfare.

"There's something else," Harry said as he reapplied the glamour to hide his hair.

Surprised at the display of wandless and wordless magic, Severus asked, "How did you do that?" A moment later he waved a hand and said, "Never mind. What else?"

Harry lifted his sleeve to expose the bracelet Draco had given him and held it out for the older man's inspection.

Severus recognized the bracelet. "Constance' bracelet," he said in surprise. He looked up. "Draco gave that to you when you exchanged gifts, didn't he?"

Harry nodded and pulled his arm back. "Constance. That was the name of Draco's great-grandmother?"

"Yes," Severus said. "When she died there was quite the uproar over this bracelet as she had not detailed its disposition in her will. Everyone wanted it and no one admitted to having it. I would never have guessed it was in Draco's possession. He was only four at the time."

Harry snorted in amusement; it was just his luck to now be in possession of a contested family heirloom. "She gave it to him a few days before she died and told him to give it to someone worthy. Draco didn't tell me the other little details."

"He probably didn't know them," Severus said, then added dryly, "I recommend not revealing it to Lucius."

Harry shook his head. "I won't."

"Why show it to me?" Severus asked.

"Did you know that it didn't belong to her originally?" Harry asked.

"No?" Severus asked, mildly surprised.

Harry shook his head and said, "It belonged to her older brother, Pierre Badeau. Does that name mean anything to you?"

Severus thought for a moment then said, "It seems familiar, as if I've heard or read it somewhere."

"You probably have," Harry agreed. "He was the last Fire Gifted able to achieve Phoenix Fire. Do you know what the bracelet is made of?"

Severus nodded. "The eggshells of a Chinese Fireball dragon. Very rare. They supposedly are excellent protection against fire, though that's not been confirmed as those with such artifacts have never allowed them to be officially examined."

"Watch," Harry said and conjured a red flame above his right hand. He put the bracelet above the flame and they both watched as the flame was sucked into the bracelet with apparently no effects to the bracelet or nearby fabrics.

Severus inhaled sharply. "Again. Hotter."

Harry rolled up the sleeve of his robe so as to have a better view of the bracelet and conjured another flame in blue. Once again he placed the bracelet in the flames and once again the bracelet absorbed them.

"Hotter?" Severus asked, watching intently.

Harry nodded and conjured a small white hot flame. The same thing happened.

"Merlin," Severus breathed and looked at Harry.

"I'd tell you to cast Incendio at me, but since I'm not affected by that spell anyway it's not a good example to show the properties of the bracelet. If you want, you can put it on and I'll cast the spell. It will be absorbed," Harry offered.

"That's not necessary Mister Potter," Severus said. "How do you know its properties?"

"I read a book on Chinese Fire Elementals; Fire Gifted abilities are very similar. This," Harry said, lifting the bracelet a bit, "is how they help hone, focus, and control their power. I put out feelers months ago for Chinese Fireball eggshell but I've not yet had any bites. Now I won't need to keep looking."

"This will help you learn control?" Severus immediately saw the possibilities.

"Yes," Harry said. "Before, when I tried something and lost control, my fire would burst out and tire me. I had to stop, usually for about a day, before I could resume working with my Gift. With this bracelet I shouldn't lose control completely. When I'm about to lose control I should be able to direct the fire to the bracelet and the eggshells will dampen the power of the fire enough for me to regain control. It should let me train faster and farther than I ever could on my own."

Severus nodded thoughtfully. "Good. I will begin thinking of ways in which your fire can be trained. Come see me next week."

Harry nodded his acquiescence and Severus rolled the dice to resume the game.

"Harry, stop whining," Draco said, once again putting on his unicorn embroidered robe.

"I can't help it," Harry said glumly. "We have to go spend a whole day with them."

"You'll survive," Draco said and helped Harry into his own outer robe.

"Your father is going to look at me the whole time like I'm scum of the earth," Harry complained, shrugging into the robe.

"Probably," Draco agreed lightly, inspecting Harry's appearance.

"He'll be constantly trying to find ways to incapacitate me and take me to his master," Harry said.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Not here in Hogwarts. More likely he'll just try to recruit you."

Harry looked disgusted at the very thought. "He'll be sending off all these innuendos about you serving him and…"

"No," Draco interrupted, "He'll probably just come right out and say that."

Harry looked at him incredulously. "With me right there in the room!"

"Yes," Draco said matter-of-factly.

"Is he really that arrogant?" Harry asked in disbelief.

Draco gave Harry a look.

Harry winced. "Right. Of course he is."

"He'll know that you won't say anything against him about what he says in private," Draco said, "because he knows that despite the fact that he and I are not close that I still don't want to see him incarcerated. And you won't want to upset me."

Harry groaned. "I can't believe this. I'm going to be listening to a recruitment speech for my enemy."

"Probably more than one," Draco said brightly.

"You're not helping," Harry said sourly.

"Stop thinking about my father," Draco instructed with a shake of his head.

"I can't. If I stop thinking about him then I start thinking about your mother," Harry said.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "What about her?"

"She'll spend the time trying to insult me underhandedly," Harry said petulantly.

"Think of it as a challenge," Draco suggested.

"What?" Harry said in disbelief.

"She'll be wrong about probably everything so you can have fun insulting her back," Draco said.

"That is not a good enough incentive," Harry said sullenly.

Harry suddenly found himself pushed against the bedroom door being kissed deeply by a rather assertive Draco Malfoy. A minute later Harry looked dazedly at his smug bond-mate.

"How's that for incentive?" Draco asked.

Harry nodded.

"Good," Draco said. "Let's go meet the parents."

Harry sat stiffly next to Draco on the loveseat they had appropriated for their afternoon tea with Draco's parents. "Just a few more hours," he thought to himself. "Just a few more hours."

The prior evening had gone well enough, probably because it had consisted solely of a stiffly polite greeting and wishes for a good night's sleep before he and Draco had been excused for the evening. The morning, however, was an entirely different story.

Harry now knew exactly why Draco never talked during meals. Breakfast had been utterly silent. It was also the last bit of semi-peace Harry and Draco had had. Immediately upon the table being cleared and retiring to the sitting room, Lucius had started a conversation with Harry to subtly discover and/or influence his beliefs. Annoyed, Harry had decided to have some fun.

He could clearly recall Lucius' shocked and then gleeful face when he had agreed that muggle-borns were a danger to wizarding traditions. Harry could also clearly recall Lucius' subsequent anger and disgust when Harry had expounded his ideas on early intervention with muggle-borns and their families and his thoughts on how to allow them to grow up bi-cultural. Lucius had been furious, though still properly cordial, when Harry had asked his opinion on adding a class to Hogwarts curriculum about wizarding traditions because didn't it seem that many of the purebloods had forgotten about them, too? Draco had remained impassive but Harry could feel the other boy's laughter through the bond.

It wasn't until after the (completely silent) lunch that Lucius had admitted defeat against Harry's values and hopes and plans for the future. He'd then taken a break and let Narcissa at him. Harry had been right when he'd believed she would be the worse of the two.

Draco's mother had mercilessly, and surprisingly forthrightly, attacked his education, both formal at Hogwarts and in pureblood tradition. He'd told her bluntly that his studies were progressing to his satisfaction and that he would pit his pureblood knowledge against any of his peers any day. She hadn't been happy with his response and proceeded to essentially call him liar, intimating that it must have been Draco that had paid for and told him exactly what do with the Presentation because it was obvious he could never be a proper provider. He had glared at her in contempt and boldly displayed his Lord's ring. In a cold tone he had told her that it had been him, thank you very much, who had seen to and paid for all the arrangements for the Presentation. Would the Lord's ring sit so placidly on his hand if he were an unsatisfactory provider? The conversation had gone downhill from there.

Luckily, Narcissa hadn't lasted as long as Lucius. It was now tea-time and she'd turned the proceedings back over to her husband. Apparently, it was now time to attack Draco.

"Our Lord will be pleased to have a Gifted wizard in his service. It will be beneficial to have all his supporters in top physical condition," Lucius said pleasantly.

Draco put down his teacup and decided to accelerate the confrontation between him and his father. He wouldn't mind another few hours of testing his wit against his father, but Harry… Well, there was a reason the other boy had been able to survive in Gryffindor tower when Draco wouldn't have had a chance. And that reason was the rising anger and impatience he could feel through their bond. If something wasn't done he was afraid there would be words. Words that might infuriate both parties enough to actually begin a duel.

"I will not serve the Dark Lord," Draco said mildly.

Everyone was silent and still. Even Harry, who had known the truth, was shocked that Draco would come right out and say such a thing. He felt appreciation and support come through the bond.

Lucius' face expressed shock but it soon morphed into fury. "You will," he said angrily.

"I will not," Draco said.

"You will uphold your family name and follow the path prepared for you. I will hear no more of it," Lucius said sternly.

"I can give more honor to my family name by following my own path than by scraping my knees before some vile creature," Draco said calmly.

"You will do as I command or…"

"Do you even have any clean robes, Father?" Draco asked with a slight sneer.

Lucius stood and glared down at Draco in outrage. Draco merely looked up at him in contempt, not intimidated in the slightest. Harry looked on in wonder.

"How dare you? You will show the proper respect and behave yourself or you will find yourself without a family name!" Lucius spat out.

"You cannot disown me, Father," Draco said with a small snort of irritation.

"I will do as I must and if that is disown you to ensure no shame comes to the family then so be it," Lucius said dangerously.

"You cannot disown me, Father," Draco said, unconcerned with Lucius threat. "You can tell the whole world that you no longer claim me as son, you can even have more children, but the family magics will recognize only me as Heir. Or do you not actually believe in the traditions you spout off so proudly?"

Lucius narrowed his eyes. "That may be, but I can easily ensure that you not have access to the family lands or money until such time as I expire, which will not be for a century yet."

"Go ahead," Draco said indifferently.

"Do not make the mistake of thinking I am bluffing, Draconis," Lucius said dangerously.

"I'm not," Draco said with a small cold smile.

"I will ban you from the family properties and close your Gringotts account until you come to your senses," Lucius said spitefully.

Draco stood and leaned in towards his father. "Go ahead," he said softly, challengingly.

"You will be a pauper," Lucius threatened.

Draco laughed in Lucius' face then retook his seat and smiled at his father, his manner relaxed and arrogant and condescending. "I think not, my not-so-dear Father. I think not."

"It will be done before the week is out," Lucius said firmly, retaking his own seat.

Draco smiled. "Don't miss that little apartment in Seville," he offered lightly.

"Do not mock me, boy. Do you find it so amusing that you will find yourself on the streets come summer? At the mercy of filthy muggles and unable to do magic? You will be dead by September," Lucius said smugly.

Draco just continued to smile. "You are forgetting that it is I and I alone who stands to inherit the bulk of great-grandmother Constance' estate, Father."

Lucius narrowed his eyes. "Not until you turn seventeen. You will be dead before then with no money and no place to go, sought after as a blood traitor like a rabid dog."

"How easily you forget my Gift, Father, when you find I will not use it for your Lord," Draco said pleasantly. "I could spend my entire summer guesting at various homes in payment for my services, should I so desire. Or I could take gold from my clients and purchase appropriate lodgings. Really, Father, withdrawal of the Malfoy fortune has no bearing on my future living conditions. Your threats are immaterial."

"You will regret this defiance," Lucius stated.

"I will not," Draco returned calmly.

And that was that. Not another word was spoken before Draco and Harry took their leave at eight o'clock

Monday, 21 October 1996

Harry sat in the brightly colored chair in front of the cluttered desk and smiled brightly at the Headmaster who was smiling back cheerfully.

"You've been keeping secrets, my boy" Dumbledore said lightly.

"Not anymore than you have, Headmaster," Harry replied, equally lightly.

What followed was a lively conversation in which the only real information exchanged was about Draco: his transition, his allegiances and upcoming familial exile, and his bond to Harry. Harry eventually convinced the Headmaster that he wasn't going to get any information out of Harry that Harry wasn't completely willing part with. Harry swore he could almost see the moment in time when the Headmaster decided to try a different approach.

"Ah, my boy, if I were to know more about your abilities I would be able to perhaps offer you private tutoring," Dumbledore said with a bright smile. "To have spelled young Malfoy's robes yourself was no little bit of magic. Perhaps on the weekends you could come and study with me. It might even be best if you stayed in one of the guest quarters nearby so as to be closer to my personal library and not have to worry about revealing the specifics of your studies to your housemates."

"Thank you, Headmaster. That's a generous offer. However…"

"Mister Malfoy would of course be welcome to stay with you so he could gain the benefit of your mentorship as he explores his gift," the Headmaster continued pretending not to hear the beginnings of Harry's protest.

Harry blinked in surprise. Surely the Headmaster wasn't suggesting what it sounded like he was suggesting.

"Perhaps you might arrange to have various clients come to Hogwarts at those times. If so, the visitors would certainly be more comfortable meeting in the guest quarters than in a dormitory tower or some random classroom," Dumbledore continued serenely. "And I know how much you dislike the hospital wing."

He was. Dumbledore was actually suggesting that Harry and Draco stay, together, in Hogwarts' guest quarters every weekend. Harry could only stare dumbfounded at the cheerful old wizard.

"I do hope you'll agree, my boy. Both of you could benefit greatly from private tutoring," Dumbledore finished and plucked a random hard candy from the dish on his desk to plop into his mouth.

Still speechless, Harry actually sat and contemplated the pros and cons of the Headmaster's offer. There were a lot of pros. Access to Albus Dumbledore's private library was something to be coveted; it as rumored that he had the best collection in Britain of truly advanced texts on several esoteric branches of magic, including Ritual Magic. The Founders' Library was amazing, no doubt about it, but it was a thousand years old. Harry's fingers itched with the thought of access to truly advanced books of more modern times. Plus, Harry could indeed benefit greatly from the tutelage of an actual person that could show him what to do instead of just describing it or telling him which books to read. Not that he would give up Salazar's mentorship for anything.

And Draco… To be able to help Draco unimpeded in a relatively protected environment was definitely a desirable situation. And to be able to sleep with him those nights was something he hadn't thought to hope for. But he would have to give up some up his secrets to the Headmaster. Was it worth it?

Harry contemplated the Headmaster. "Answer a question of mine, truthfully and without being cryptic, and I will relay your offer to Draco and give you our decision by Wednesday," he said.

"I will answer only if I feel the answer does not endanger anyone, Harry," Dumbledore said seriously. "You know there are many things I cannot tell you."

"Can not or will not?" Harry asked doubtfully but shook his head a moment later. "It doesn't matter. I feel I have the right to know the answer to my question and it is the only answer that might get me to reveal any of my secrets to you."

Dumbledore looked at Harry a bit sadly, seeming to understand that Harry was quite serious about not trusting him without sufficient reason. "What is your question, my boy?"

"Who set the wards at Privet Drive?" Harry asked. If it had been Dumbledore himself then Harry was determined that he would trust the Headmaster with his secrets only when the man was dead and buried. If not… Well, then it would depend, wouldn't it, on just who had set the wards.

Dumbledore looked surprised and confused for a moment before answering, "Why, Harry, your mother set the wards. Had I known that piece of information was so important to you, I would have told you long ago."

Harry froze. "…your mother set the wards."

Of course she had. Of course. Who else would have set the wards? "…your mother set the wards."

Who else would have spent the effort to set down such a spider's web of magic around that house and town? Who else would have placed such strong and esoteric protections of the like he had found in his examinations? Who else would have keyed Harry into the anti-apparition or anti-portkey wards? "…your mother set the wards."

His mother. His mother, who had just lost her parents, unable to protect them from the evil of her world. His mother, who was expecting her own child and likely knew her sister was as well. His mother, who probably was channeling her anger and grief and fear into protecting the last of her family, estranged or not, and the promise of a new generation. And Dumbledore had completely misunderstood. "…your mother set the wards."

Dumbledore had taken one look at the wards and proclaimed them a labor of love between sisters. He had not seen them as an act of desperation and atonement. Lily had obviously loved Petunia. Therefore Petunia must love Lily. And, therefore, Petunia would love her nephew. Harry couldn't breath.

"…your mother set the wards."

Of course she did.

There really wasn't any other explanation.

Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing.

"Are you all right, Harry?" asked Dumbledore. "I'm sorry if reminding you of your mother has brought up sadness at her loss."

Harry opened his eyes and stared at his Headmaster in confusion for a moment. Sadness? Well, yes, in an abstract sort of fashion. "Mostly shock," Harry mused.

Harry stood quickly; he had to get out of here. "I'm fine, Headmaster. I will bring up your suggestions with Draco and try to convince him of its merits. Might I be excused the rest of the evening?"

"Of course, my boy," Dumbledore said kindly, "Have a good evening."

Harry left, leaving the Headmaster behind without a clue as to the turmoil engendered by his innocent answer.

One Month Later

Harry woke and wondered for a moment where Draco was. Then he remembered he was back in the Gryffindor dorms. Again. He groaned and rolled over to his belly to hide his face in his pillow. Merlin, he hated the first day back to school after a weekend. He and Draco had spent the last four nights together, two blissfully isolated days with Salazar and two blissfully isolated time-turned days with Dumbledore and Snape and whomever Draco was Healing at the time. They had done this every weekend since returning to school. Four nights together and five nights apart. It was hard but he was grateful. He really was. Four nights was more than he had thought he and Draco would be able to get away with. He had been certain they would only have had the two nights with Salazar. Dumbledore's offer had been quite a surprise.

Dumbledore had turned out to be genuinely delighted with the depth of their bond and supportive not only in strengthening it but also in developing Draco's Gift and Harry's skills. Dumbledore had kept to his word and was now providing Harry with more advanced lessons. And as expected, the Headmaster's library was a dream come true. Harry was already on his second thick book on the practical interaction of Arithmancy with Ritual Magic.

Snape had been true to his offer as well and Harry found that the man had many ideas about how to utilize his gift in a battle setting. Harry was making much quicker progress than he had in the months before. The increased control afforded by the Chinese Fireball bracelet was also of tremendous help. Phoenix Fire, however, still remained out of his reach.

Draco had jumped into his Healer's studies with a passion. He read muggle and wizarding books alternately and often accosted a random classmate for a quick lookover as per the latest theory he was reading about. As Draco would heal some small injury or alleviate a budding headache in payment for their patience, most students were more than happy to participate. It was actually becoming a bit of a light-hearted joke, with students participating in small betting pools as to who would be next.

Harry turned over to his back and contemplated the canopy of his bed. Draco's confrontation with the Headmaster had been quite amusing. Draco had accused the Headmaster of making the offer primarily so they could improve their skills for the benefit of his side of the war. Dumbledore had merely smiled brightly at this and agreed. He had then said that his motives weren't reason enough for Draco to not to fully take advantage of the opportunity and would they like to see the room they would stay in during the weekend? It hadn't taken Draco but another minute to agree.

"Get up, Harry! Time for breakfast!"

Jolted from his thoughts, Harry smiled and sat up. "I'm up! Let me shower and I'll join you."

"If you're not ready in ten minutes I'm leaving without you!"

"Yes, yes, I hear you. Save me some bacon, will you?" Harry asked, pulling open his curtains to look at the redhead that had been addressing him.

Ron Weasley shook his head, "No way, mate! You want bacon, you'll have to get down there fast enough to get it."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine," he said in amusement, knowing full well that there would be plenty of bacon when he made in to the Great Hall. He stood and stretched then gathered his things for a trip to the showers.

Ron had finally come around to accepting the situation – as much as he was able, at any rate. Ron still felt Slytherins in general were budding dark wizards but grudgingly accepted Draco wasn't interested in serving Voldemort. What Harry found ironic was that the final piece of evidence that had convinced Ron of Draco's intentions was finding out that Draco wasn't interested in serving Dumbledore either. Draco thought this point was so important to Ron because, to him, it kept the situation from seeming too surreal and completely upended.

"Good morning, Harry."

"Good morning, Neville," Harry replied

"I really want to thank you, Harry, for helping Gran," Neville said quietly, getting ready for his shower.

Harry glanced at his dorm mate and said, "You should thank Draco. He's the one who spent the last few weekends Healing her." Harry was surprised to hear a snort.

"I tried, believe me. Malfoy just waved me off talking about payment for services rendered," Neville said with a huff of laughter.

"Well," Harry said with a smile, "you did pay him." Typical that Draco would be uncomfortable with sincere compliments or true gratitude. Harry turned on his water and adjusted the temperature.

"I did," Neville agreed from the next stall. "But I never would have been able to if not for you accepting my offer. So, thank you, too."

Harry snorted. "How could I not have? I mean, there we are, Ron and I, having a screaming fight in the middle of the common room in front of probably the whole House…"

"It was," Neville supplied helpfully.

"And you pop in, as if we'd been talking about the weather, with "I'd like to contract Healer Malfoy's services, Guardian. Do you have time now to negotiate?" Honestly, Nev, how could I do anything but say yes?" Harry said.

"You could have," Neville said.

"No, I couldn't have," Harry argued. "I would have…"

"Harry," Neville said in exasperation. "Just say "You're welcome, Neville." Merlin, you're as bad as Malfoy."

Harry laughed and dutifully repeated, "You're welcome, Neville." It was funny that he was just as uncomfortable as Draco with sincere compliments or true gratitude. The two finished their morning preparations in comfortable silence and walked together to the Great Hall for breakfast.

As Harry piled eggs and then bacon on his plate, he realized he was happy. Dumbledore's confession about the wards had opened the way for Harry to finally forgive the Headmaster completely for the rotten childhood he'd suffered at the hands of the Dursleys; a weight had lifted from his shoulders that day. Plus, the man had turned out to be an excellent teacher for advanced Ritual Magic. Snape no longer harassed him and was actually helping him immensely with his Fire Gift. He was once again on friendly terms with Ron and Hermione and the rest of the school seemed to have finally settled down from its outrage at his and Draco's involvement. The Prophet had found a new scandal and he hadn't received any howlers for a week. And in place of a bitter rival he now had an affectionate lover. Life was good. He couldn't remember another time he was this pleased and contented with his life.

Harry felt eyes on him as he reached for the orange marmalade. He stopped and looked up to see Draco watching him. Catching Draco's eye and giving him a happy and mischievous grin, he turned instead and picked up the raspberry jam.

Draco's joyous laughter echoed through the hall.