Chapter 6

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The quarters Dumbledore had provided featured two bedrooms; by unspoken agreement, one of them was ignored. When Harry and Draco had finally fallen asleep yesterday, they had been both quite worn out. Today, neither of them felt like crawling out of bed just yet.

It was Friday, but they couldn't be bothered about going to classes. There was a weekend ahead and they would have ample time to deal with all the details like requesting their O.W.L. results, selecting their courses and bargaining with the Ministry bureaucrats. Maybe, if they felt particularly amiable, they might even try to obtain school uniforms…

"When are your friends going to ambush us?" Draco asked around ten. Frankly, Harry was surprised that the Gryffindors have stayed away from him for that long, but he guessed that Hermione had whipped them into shape and forced them to wait until at least lunch. He cursed Dumbledore for not having the decency of not disclosing their location to the entire school, but the Headmaster never was one for courtesy beyond the glitter.

"Maybe during lunch… or after classes."

Draco climbed out of the bed, and went searching for the clothes he had worn the day before, seeing as how they hadn't bothered to take their entire wardrobes with them when they went hunting Dark Lords.

"I want to talk to Snape."

Harry felt uneasy about that. They had been separated since the bond's inception, but the environment usually was familiar and the separation a part of their routine. He was afraid that Draco might run into some of his former House-mates bent on revenge or… anything. Anything could happen…

"Stay safe," he said quietly and with trepidation watched Draco's back as the boy walked into the bathroom.

He was spell-cleaned and dressed by the time the water was turned off, but hadn't moved more than two feet from his original position. The curtains on the window were parted to let the hesitant sunrays in and the earthy colours of the room seemed too soft, as if the castle itself implored them to let go, stop being on guard at all times and relax.

Harry didn't want to relax. He wanted to never again be taken advantage of, never be forced to do things against his will, never be hurt while unable to fight back. The mattress next to him dipped; he looked up and his breath caught.

Draco had apparently given up on the black colour of his hair, but, since it wasn't just a glamour, the dye didn't come off just after one shower. It looked washed out, dark gray… his eyes were returned to their natural colour. Harry wondered how was it possible he never realised that apart from being a stuck-up spoilt snob, Draco was also incontestably beautiful.

"You better be taking good care of yourself," Harry grumbled, annoyed at how vulnerable he was feeling.

"Don't get maudlin on me, Jimmy," Draco warned him, but the equally vulnerable tone belied the words. Harry leant forwards and rested his forehead against a prominent clavicle.

"Which classes will you be taking?" he asked, sighing as Draco put an arm around his back and held him a little closer.

"The same as you will. I don't want to be stuck somewhere alone."

Harry accepted the offer to make this decision for them, although it disappointed him that Draco wouldn't be able to attend Potions and get that N.E.W.T. – he doubted that he achieved better than an 'A' on his O.W.L.s. Snape wouldn't let him near the laboratory.

"Transfiguration, Charms, Defence… Herbology, if we have the marks?"

Draco nodded.

"Don't stew here. Go awe your fans," Draco said, removing himself from Harry's immediate vicinity. The mask of impassiveness shrouded his expression.

Harry only vaguely recalled having felt so lonely before.

x

Hermione, Ron and Ginny actually waited until after dinner to approach Harry. He suspected that it was because they were uncertain about how to do it. It must have been pretty obvious that Harry had changed and no one (including the boy himself) was certain about how he was going to deal with his old associates.

He didn't blame them for being wary of a wizard who bonded Draco Malfoy.

They dragged along Neville and Dean, who said 'Hi' and fled, muttering about Seamus being a royal prat once again and spreading malicious gossip about Harry before he had even seen the lauded 'saviour' up close. The braver trio brought also horror stories about articles in the Prophet and within ten minutes of their arrival thoroughly convinced Harry to not set a foot out of the quarters before people found their sanity again and stopped proclaiming him a hero.

They lounged around the sitting room – Ron and Hermione cuddled up on a sofa that was structurally sound for a change and Ginny taking the loveseat all by herself – filled him in on what had changed since Vernon had dragged him off the platform in June and described the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. He'd stopped feeling lonely in the beginning of the conversation (though it didn't make him want to move back into the Gryffindor dormitories with them) but as the hour grew late he found himself glancing at the door more and more often.

"Now it's your turn!"

He turned sharply, meeting Ginny's eyes. She was looking at him challengingly, but he didn't feel that anything he had done in the past months (with the notable exception of Voldemort's arranged accident, for which they were there) equalled her story about Flitwick teaching a whole lesson while breathing fire and in the end setting the pile of collected homework aflame.

"I didn't really do that much. We've lived in a flat in Knockturn Alley and brewed potions-"

"Didn't do that much?" Ron exploded. "Mate, you disappear for four months and turn up bonded to Malfoy and call it not much?!" Harry didn't know how to react to that. It sort of just happened. They were scared and Draco had just killed someone to protect them and… then they were bonded.

"Yeah, tell us about Malfoy!" Ginny ordered, looking a bit too interested for Harry's comfort. He didn't know how to reply to that past the obligatory proclamation of trust and comfort. It wasn't some great adventure she apparently imagined – it was just two abused kids trying to survive on their own…

"What I don't understand," Hermione stepped in, looking rather bemused for a witch who allegedly knew pretty much everything, "is how could you and Malfoy of all people fall in love."

"It doesn't mean we actually love each other," Harry protested. "We just…"

"Love each other?" Hermione shot back wryly. He shook his head, faintly amused by the fact that both Weasleys mirrored the action.

"There's really something wrong with the way you've phrased that," he said. He heard the portrait scrape as it closed and sat up straighter.

Hermione wasn't deterred easily, though, and she apparently hadn't noticed Draco's return yet.

"You've been around Malfoy too long-"

"For Gods' sake, Jim!" Draco strode in, crossed the room and perched on the arm-rest of Harry's arm-chair. "Stay silent before you push your foot further down your throat." He wondered how long Draco had been listening and if he was waiting for Harry to get into a mess he needed to be helped out of. "We're bonded, Granger. The reason is our private business, and so are the emotions that were the initial impetus of the bond. What should interest you, however, is that Harry Potter is mine and if you touch him, I'll cut off your fingers one by one."

Harry wondered if Draco had formulated it so deliberately – to seemingly remain on his side, but silently invite opposing opinions. It worried him, because up to now he thought that they shared the same opinion. Was it supposed to be a deception, to make Harry's friends think better of them? Were they already lying to people, or did they just misunderstand each other?

"Luke…"

"Jimmy-"

"We've really messed this up, haven't we?" he asked quietly. He didn't know what had gone wrong and why.

"It's your fault! You're completely transparent!"

Was that what Draco thought? That everyone would be taken in by these ridiculous notions of a fairy-tale romance between them because Harry was protective about him? And even if they were, wouldn't it be better than if they vilified Draco?

"I'm not bloody ashamed of you!" he snarled, feeling defensive. It surprised him a little that Draco has returned acting like the Slytherin poster boy he used to be before the last summer, but after the boy spent hours in Snape's company, he should have expected it. It didn't change the fact that Harry wasn't giving him up… unless that was what Draco wanted. Draco had suggested that he didn't want them to go their own separate ways, but he didn't say it outright and, anyway, maybe he had been reminded of what his life used to be like and changed his mind…

Harry leant back and, through the lenses of his invisible spectacles, surveyed Draco.

"I'm damn proud and I don't want anybody thinking that they can mess with you." Draco's expression didn't change. "Only over my dead body."

Hermione scoffed and Harry was, quite suddenly, reminded that there were other people in the room with them. Ron was red (though it was uncertain whether that was a blush and, if so, whether it was Hermione's doing) and Ginny kept her hand pressed against her mouth to muffle her giggling. They might have been good friends in their own naïve, innocent way, but Harry wished they hadn't been there at the moment.

"As I said," Hermione stated, facing the two red-heads, "they love each other."

Harry made one last attempt to protest.

"We-"

"Give it up, mate," Ron shushed him, shaking his head.

"It's pretty obvious, Harry," Ginny added, disgustingly cheerful about his humiliation.

The four of them (including Draco) laughed at him as he buried his face in the convenient robe in front of it. Draco indulged him for a while, which was really enough for Harry to notice that his laughter wasn't really all that merry, for his breathing was calm and even. Eventually he gripped Harry's shoulder and hauled him off himself.

"I have news," he said quietly in a suddenly serious voice.

"Fine, people," Harry proclaimed loudly and cast a half-hearted glare at his former House-mates. "This is it for today. Maybe we'll repeat it sometimes. Thanks for visiting and goodbye."

Ron gave him a fairly compelling fish-impression.

"You're chucking us out?" he asked incredulously.

"It's not completely stupid!" Draco exclaimed in mocking wonder. "Yes, Weasley, that's exactly what he's doing."

"Ha-" Ron abruptly fell silent when Hermione and Ginny tugged on his hands and forced him to stand from the sofa. "Oh fine. We'll come by tomorrow."

Harry waited impatiently until the portrait scraped to a close again, this time isolating the two of them from the rest of the world.

"What kind of news?" Harry asked once they were well and truly alone.

"Good ones… I think." Draco slid off the arm of his chair and lounged comfortably on the recently vacated sofa. "You didn't qualify for Potions N.E.W.T., so I dropped it, too. Snape's heard of J&L and offered us private tutorials instead."

Private lessons with Snape. It sounded disconcertingly familiar. It wasn't going to be like Occlumency, certainly, because Snape wouldn't dare do something like that to him if there was a witness, but there was also nothing stopping him from acting like he used to in normal classes.

"I don't know…" he said uncertainly. His automatic reaction – to turn to Draco in his search for an answer – was more telling that he wanted to admit to himself. Sure, they had had to learn to depend on each other… and they had also become accustomed to each other's support to the point that they were subconsciously seeking it out.

"I think he just wants to see us work before he offers an Apprenticeship."

The statement was more persuasive than anything Draco could have come up with himself. Harry wouldn't stop him from going, anyway, if that was what he wished.

"But if you'll study potions, what will I be doing?" he asked forlornly. He had come to sort of like brewing, even though it wouldn't have been his occupation of choice had he ever had a choice in the first place. Of all the things he was qualified to do (kill, steal, prostitute…) brewing was by far the most enjoyable… It was a pity.

"Idiot!" Draco snarled at him. "Jimmy, I told you before – magically, we are one being. If he offers Apprenticeship to one of us, he offers it to both."

Harry blinked in surprise. That Snape would be willing to withstand his presence despite… well, despite the fact that he was Harry Potter… they had to be more special than he had realised.

"You want that?" he asked the gray-haired boy sitting opposite him. He got no answer, but the silence was a response enough. "Okay."

Draco gave him one of those precious, enchanting smiles. Harry considered relocating to the sofa so that he was closer to that smile.

"You look… content," he said, though he, in fact, meant that Draco looked happy.

"I'll probably be soon apprenticed to a Potions Master, the Dark Lord is dead, my father has been delivered back to Azkaban yesterday and you're still here. There's no reason for me to not be content." Draco's voice was harsh and Harry was almost glad to hear that it was so. He had nearly forgotten what it was that had brought them to the initial armistice and it was good to be reminded – it was good to know that Lucius Malfoy was rotting in Azkaban – although he felt slightly guilty about finding such pleasure in something that re-awakened Draco's worse memories.

When he shifted in the armchair his stomach growled. He thought that Draco was probably hungry – he had been with Snape during the dinner – and that he might have been, too, since he had missed both lunch and dinner. He didn't feel so, though. He, actually, didn't recall feeling really hungry since the beginning of July. He figured that he was messed up rather badly.

They sat there in silence, contemplating, until the last candle burnt out. In the fallen darkness, Harry found it easier to ask the question that had been vexing him since Hermione had brought up the matter.

"Do you think we really love each other?"

Draco laughed shortly and Harry was about to get defensive, when he realised that there was really nothing malicious about that laughter.

"How would I know?" he asked self-deprecatingly.

Indeed, how would either of them know? What was it, even – love? Everyone acted like it was something fabulous, barely attainable… but then, lots of couples claimed that they knew what it was like. They said they weren't able to put it in words, but Harry figured that it included self-sacrifice, some kind of passion, willingness to put the person before other obligations… Draco and Harry had all of that.

"I want to stay with you for the rest of my life," he stated. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to recall his priorities before there was Draco (and, right behind him, simple, straightforward survival… then, perhaps, his friends). "Does that qualify?"

"No idea," Draco replied in a voice that disproved the lightness of the answer he was going for. Harry could, in the pitch-black, see through him like he never was able to before. "Just stay here long enough and I'll make it worth it."

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The End

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A/N: And that's it. I hope you are not too disappointed. If the response to this fic is truly overwhelming, I might be persuaded to write a one shot sequel/epilogue… but I'm not sure… No promises.
Brynn