Chapter 19 Meetings, letters and trains

Benny J's dad was apparently also named Benny. The J stood for junior. Prince looked completely unfazed by the whole thing. They were tucked into the lounge area of some room. Harry thought it was supposed to be a hotel room, but it had a small piano and no beds in sight so maybe he misunderstood. It was probably like a meeting space or something. Do hotels rent those? They must… Harry let the man shake his hand although the impression of curiosity/suspicion/interest at the touch made him a bit woozy. He'd discovered that the more he practiced with his empathy the more sensitive he'd become. Skin to skin contact was incredibly uncomfortable.

Benny the elder wore an eye patch, although he didn't need it. Harry had seen him adjust the thing twice already. He was also overweight, although not the obesity of Uncle Vernon. Harry shifted nervously in the lounge chair. Dudley and Benny J were going on about Smeltings stories and the wrestling team, describing pranks and matches in turn. Benny the elder laughed loudly at the funny bits and seemed to give them his full attention. Harry didn't want that attention turned onto him. Prince meanwhile had taken to imitating a large feline again. He stalked along the perimeter of the room, lounged near the balcony and generally slipped into shadows. Harry was hyperaware of his anchor, feeling the focus and apprehension radiating off the blond. He did his best not to watch Prince directly, keeping his eyes on the Bennys.

The whole situation was confusing to him. Granted he wasn't used to meeting his friends parents. The Weasleys had practically adopted him before they'd met him, sending a Weasley sweater at Christmastime. He'd only vaguely been introduced to the Grangers, a formal hand shake and 'pleased to meet you' had been the extent of their interaction. This whole socializing and telling tales was a bit odd. He couldn't quite figure out if he was supposed to be telling his own stories –like that's even possible – or if he was supposed to stay out of the conversation all together. Is this normal? He hadn't really spent time with adults other than Hagrid. The Order had always had a purpose, a theme of sorts, that all the conversations revolved around. He let himself sink into the soft cushions and tried very hard not to be seen.

XXXxxx

Prince watched Benny Sr. size up his youngest charge. The older man wasn't stupid. One of the reasons Prince accepted the summer job was his respect for this man. He knew that Benny Sr. knew exactly who his guests were. Perhaps he wasn't aware of the wizarding aspects but the man was in tune enough to know that the manhunt for these teens was spearheaded by a classified government operation. After all, the phone number for the Ministry of Magic was only given when serious threats affected the muggle world. Being observant enough to note the odd number, it wouldn't be hard to track that number to a classified agency even if Benny would never find out more than that. The business man was also smart enough to realize it wasn't his son's friend that was of interest to that organization. It likely wasn't what he'd anticipated when his son had asked to 'hide' a friend for the summer.

Prince watched carefully and waited. If this man became a threat he would deal with it. It was far more likely that Benny Sr. was simply curious. Prince knew Harry was uneasy. The young wizard was more comfortable with a few close friends than a crowd of strangers. He wondered how awkward it must be to have this stranger thrown into the close friends. Considering how Dudley and Benny were easily socializing while Harry hadn't said more than a 'hello' Prince didn't think he was doing well. Slipping silently across the floor he checked the balcony again. Nothing noteworthy in the streets or the buildings across the way, it was all clear. Settling against the wall he let his gaze drift back to the group. Benny Sr. met his eyes and gave a small nod. Internally he uncoiled; everything would be fine. Outwardly he remained impassive giving an almost unnoticeable nod back.

XXXxxx

Prince led the tired boys back into the flat, eyes scanning for any observers outside or threats from within. It had been a long train ride and the excitement of the trip had finally waned in the last ten minutes of the ride. The three teens were drained of energy as the day caught up to them. Hungry and tired himself, Prince had little sympathy for the dragging feet and heavy sighs. He put his bags in the room he'd taken over and rubbed his face.

Benny Sr. had bluntly asked if Harry's trouble was going to follow Benny J to Smeltings. His wizardling had been startled and more than a little shell shocked by the full attention of the older man. Ignoring Benny J's protests and Dudley's firm defense, the older man had pressed for answers. Harry assured him in a soft voice that they'd done everything they could to keep anyone from finding where and with who he spent his summer. Harry assured Benny Sr. that there was no reason for anyone to even know about Benny J and that Harry wasn't ever going to give them a reason. The older man had been satisfied with that response. They'd left the hotel room to wander about muggle Paris, but Harry had been half distracted for the whole time. The young empath didn't even ask when Prince took his new robes to a custom embroiderer, although Benny J's eyes had gone wide and he'd mouthed something about 'cosplay'. He'd reached a silent agreement with Benny and Dudley to skip dinner in Paris in favor of getting Harry back to the familiar flat. I have to remember to do something special for the two of them. They have really come a long way.

Smelling something delicious he realized Harry must be cooking dinner. He tried to send a wave of appreciation or pleasure to his bonded but wasn't sure how successful his attempt was. He wandered out to the kitchen to ask for feedback and to check on Harry. It was nice to keep a visual on the younger boy.

XXXxxx

The next morning Prince lounged on the couch, thinking. His wizardling was just below, reading a book, stretched out on his belly along the length of the couch. The quiet page turning was soothing. Dudley and Benny J were at the gym, an activity that wasn't any better for his nerves than it was a month prior to this. His laptop was set up on the coffee table monitoring the two through the security cameras he'd hidden there.

There was much to do before the school year started. Smeltings was, thankfully, starting September 2nd this year. Unlike Hogwarts, that seemed to change on an annual basis. On the last day of August, they would drop both boys off with their belongings at Benny J.'s dorm, checking him in first. Benny and Dudley agreed to wait until the next morning before getting Dudley checked in.

Smeltings of course, was the easy part. There were a number of things he needed to get in order before heading to Hogwarts and his reintroduction into the Wizarding World. Not the least of which was his family. All of which lead him to his current dilemma and the contemplation of one Harry Potter.

"Harry?" he interrupted softly.

"Prince?" Harry looked up.

"If you have a moment?" he backtracked surprisingly uncertain.

"Of course." Harry marked the page, closed the book and sat up.

"You remember when we first met?" he caught the small smile and nod. "You asked for a vow-"

The smile left his face and apprehension buzzed across their link. "I remember."

"I'd like to write my father, and tell him a bit. Not a lot, not your name or where we are, but he should have some warning about" he gestured widely "everything we are about to do. I didn't expect my return to happen so – dramatically, or so soon. There will be backlash on my family, they should be ready to face that."

"That's – fair." Harry responded carefully. "If you're not telling anyone about me than you don't need my permission."

"I would like your blessing though. I'd like your understanding at least. I don't want to feel like I'm doing this behind your back." Prince took a breath.

"Are you certain it's safe? I know you wouldn't intentionally betray me, but are you certain it won't be intercepted or used to track us or something?"

"I promise, I will not allow this to harm you in any way. I will take every measure of caution in what I write and how I send it."

"You've always been careful- I don't mean to imply that you would just… I only want to be certain you've thought about this, which obviously you have or you wouldn't have brought it up. You think about everything. I just don't want to lose this safe haven. This summer has been… You promise that this is safe?" rambled Harry.

"You are my bonded charge. I vowed to look after you. I don't want to betray your trust." It wasn't until he said the words that he realized what was bothering him about the situation.

Harry looked startled then smiled softly at the admission. "You can write your father, Prince, and tell him whatever you feel he needs to know… including anything protected by the unbreakable vow you gave me."

"I don't-"

"I trust you to decide what you need to tell him." Harry said softly. "I do trust you."

"Silly Gryffindor." Prince smiled. "You can go back you your reading. Thank you."

Harry stretched out on the couch again and flipped the book open.

XXXxxx

Dearest Father,

It has been three years since we last spoke. I am sorry to contact you like this, I know it was both our wish to remain clandestine until Draco reached his majority. Fate, and my own actions have prevented that. I have heard your war has resumed, and the Dark Lord Voldemort has once again risen. It was my sincere intention to remain apart from this conflict as I have remained apart from your world all these years. As you may have guessed, circumstances have changed.

In less than a week, I will be rejoining the wizarding world and will be rather publicly siding against the Dark Lord. I do not regret the magics I have done that have forced my hand, nor do I consider my actions a mistake. I do however, regret the position I have put you and the Family in. I am a Malfoy and our motto has always been 'First, Family' I cannot make amends for breaking that faith. If you need to distance yourself, to disown me or cast me out I will willingly accept that consequence. I write this in the hope that you will choose to stand with me instead.

Malfoys do not beg so I will leave this letter at that. Know that whatever your decision you have my love and respect.

Your son,

Briar Lucius Malfoy

Heir to the Fair and Glorious House of Malfoy

Prince leaned away from the table. It was somewhat meandering but well penned and appropriate. He liked to get letters right on the first draft. He looked over to where Harry was curled around one of his romance novels. Prince was amazed at how close he'd allowed this wizardling to become that Harry was comfortable curling up on his bed. I have to admit there is something very satisfying in seeing him sprawled on my comforter. He brushed away the lingering thoughts and cleared his throat.

"Do you want to read it before I send it off?" he offered.

"Read..?" Harry, bless him, looked perplexed. "The note to your father? No! Unless you want me to?"

"Just thought I'd offer, I know you weren't certain it was safe."

"You promised though." Harry responded as if that was all there was to it.

Prince couldn't help puffing up a bit at the clear faith and trust from the young empath in his charge. He resisted the urge to put an extra swagger in his step as he moved to the window. He whistled up the post owl he'd rented for the delivery. A great horned owl ghosted in landing softly. He quickly attached the message.

"This is for Lucius Malfoy. Not his wife or his house elf, understand? For his hand only." The owl bobbed its head, little tufts bouncing and turned, launching itself out the window again.

XXXxxx

It was breakfast the next morning when Prince received the letter. Benny J looked a bit startled but quickly started babbling about secret agents. He was only slightly surprised to receive a full envelope instead of a rolled note. He quickly pulled open the letter.

No faith has been broken, my son.

A heavy ring fell into his palm. Turning it over he recognized it. White gold and baring the Malfoy crest it was to be given to the heir to the Malfoy Family line after he reached his majority. For obvious reasons his father had withheld the ring when Briar turned seventeen. He half expected it to go to his little brother, even before this latest entanglement. He slipped the ring onto his left hand, feeling it size itself instantly. The reality of the upcoming week hit him abruptly. In two days he would be reintroduced to the Wizarding World. He would be fully acknowledged by his family and standing watch over the 'Boy-Who-Lived'. He'd spent his entire life playing shadow games and spying. He was now thrusting himself into the spotlight. What is the world coming to? A tiny hand reached out and grasped his knee. Looking up he met Harry's eyes and smiled. His bonded sent a gentle question/care/trust through their link and he pushed back a happy/reassured/comfort. He was getting better at utilizing their bond. He tuned back into the conversation.

"…Are you seriously suggesting that I'd be contracted to 'off' someone via owl?" bemused kept his face blank and watched as they realized he was still in the room. "Those contracts come by black crow."

He left the table with two boys exchanging worried glances and a third giggling into his orange juice. Life is good.

"That was a joke right?" Benny J asked Dudley softly.

Life is very good.

XXXxxx

Smeltings was a big brownstone building that looked like it wished to be Oxford. It had several short little "towers" and poky little projectiles that could have been envisioned as spires if one squinted just right. Harry carefully kept himself out of sight of just about everyone. It was incredibly nerve wracking. He didn't know what would happen if they were caught now. It was so close to the start of school that it might not matter at all. He just didn't want to ruin his last day with his cousin. Dudley had done so much for him this summer. It wasn't just getting him away from that house, it was the way his cousin just accepted his magic, the way he'd tried too hard to cook and clean because he wanted the chores to be fair. It was the way Dudley had made a stranger's flat into a home, enough that Prince could feel the blood wards activate. It was the way his cousin offered to protect him and tucked him into bed and asked him if he'd gotten enough to eat. Harry loved his friends at Hogwarts and the Weasleys he saw as family, but having his own family accept him, maybe even love him, that was something Harry never thought he'd get. This summer was the best in his life, traumatic nightmares and all.

The boys school was easy to navigate with clean, manicured lawns and clearly labeled halls. Harry couldn't imagine why every building and hall needed a different name and number, it wasn't like they moved around. Even the dorm rooms were labeled with numbers. How hard is it to remember where you live? He continued to puzzle the oddities of muggle boarding schools as they unloaded the duffels from the auto. And how does he do that anyhow? Prince just makes whatever we need appear from autos to letters. It's like he has problems solved before I even know they exist! He sat on one of the beds in the room as they debated their next steps.

"So you've checked in with the RA and gotten into your room. You said you had mail to pick up before we leave you here?"

"Yeah, I sent most of my stuff by mail so I have a couple boxes to get." Benny J confirmed.

"Dudley, Harry, stay." Prince swept out of the room without another word.

"Oi wait up!"

Harry looked over at his cousin. Dudley was grinning after the two.

"I wanted to say thanks, for this summer." He said softly.

"Thanks? You don't need to-"

"Yeah, I do. Dudley this has been so good. I-"

"Hey, stop it. I'm really glad you had a good summer. You don't need to be thanking me though. I'm your cousin, I should have had your back all along."

"Oh, please Dudley don't start that. You couldn't have- I mean they didn't"

"My parents hurt you. I helped them sometimes. It wasn't okay and you're not fine." Dudley interrupted quickly. "I don't want to argue about this right now. I just wanted to say I'm sorry and that I'll be here for you next summer too."Dudley firmly stated, his expression sincere.

"Thank you. I know you think you should have, maybe sooner, but you did. You kept me safe, you and Prince and even Benny J and for that I owe you more than I can say. I just wanted you to know how much it means to me."

"Any time, coz." Dudley smiled. "You'll keep in touch right? Let me know if that school or those people give you a hard time?"

"I'll owl you."

"Cool." The two cousins smiled softly at each other. "Hug?" offered Dudley.

Harry opened his arms and was swept up by his larger cousin. He was laughing and demanding to be put down when Prince and Benny J entered, each carrying an end of a long brown box. The blond raised an eyebrow at the pair.

"I see how it is. We do all the bloody work and the pair of you just fuck around." Benny J mock complained.

"Feeling left out?" Dudley smirked, dropping Harry to the bed and rushing Benny lifting him off his feet.

"Oi!" Benny J shouted before doing a maneuver that broke the hold. The two boys were wrestling on the ground fast enough to make Harry blink.

Prince shook his head once, nudging the box out of the way.

"Hey, you're going to get the RA in here." Harry reminded as they got louder.

The two boys broke it off looking sheepish and apologetic. They quickly sorted out the boxes and bags to Benny's satisfaction.

"Guess you're leaving now?" he questioned.

"Yes." Prince answered. "Stay out of trouble."

"We will." Dudley answered for both of them. "You keep him safe?"

"Always."

"Good."

"Hey little bit, you take care of yourself. Gimme a call if anyone tries fucking with you, I'll give um a few good knocks. You're not so pretty covered in bruises you know?" Benny offered with a careless smile.

"Benny!" Dudley protested punching him in the arm.

"What?" he cried. "Like you wouldn't crack sculls for him? I just want him to be safe you know."

Harry giggled and blushed. "Thanks Benny. Be safe yourself."

There was a round of hair ruffling and back patting between the three and then Harry was following Prince back to the vehicle. They would stay in a hotel near Kings Cross for the night.

XXXxxx

Morning came and Harry sicked up his breakfast. Prince sat on the bathroom floor with him rubbing small circles on his back. Kiki was mewling softly in the doorway.

"Sorry." He apologized softly.

"Nothing to be sorry for wizardling. You going to be okay?" Prince kept his voice low.

"Yeah."

The blond stood and went to the sink wetting a washrag. He gently washed his empath's face.

"I'm the one who's sorry. My concern is not helping your anxiety. You should be able to lean on me."

"It's not your fault!" protested Harry. "I can handle the nerves or I should be able to. I'm just wound up about how everyone is going to react. It's a big day."

"It is a big day. Just remember that no matter what happens I will be right here with you. No one, not even the Minister of Magic or Dumbledore himself can force me to leave your side. You read that law book?"

"Yeah, yeah" Harry's voice sounded firmer. "You're my bonded Anchor. You can't be forced to leave me for any reason magical or mundane. You are allowed to go anywhere that I am and invited to attend me at any time or place. Which means you can go to Hogwarts and stay with me, even in my classes."

"If I want, and I do want. I will keep you safe my bonded. I will make certain you are shielded."

"Thank you, I know that. I just- panicked. You know I had a nightmare last night?"

Prince nodded. He'd woken to the tiny whimpers and quickly comforted the younger boy.

"I don't know why I would be so upset though. I love Hogwarts, why wouldn't I want to go back. I get to see my friends, the castle, play quidditch and everything. I shouldn't be feeling queasy. I don't even know why!

"I get that I ran away and didn't contact anyone even though they were looking for me, but they can't punish me for that right?"

"In our world there is nothing illegal about running away. If the Dursleys had cast you out of the house without disowning you they could get into trouble, but not you. It's not uncommon for young purebloods to up and leave their families, even while they are still at Hogwarts. You weren't kidnapped or coerced. The worst they can do is sit you down and give you long pointless lectures."

"Right, so why am I so wound up?" he asked feeling miserable. "I'm excited to see Ron and Hermione…"

"But there are going to be a lot of questions. The fact that you are perfectly fine is going to gain a lot of attention, you know that. You haven't been fond of attention in all the time I've known you. It's natural that you would be apprehensive about that, and about the fact that you are going to be asked for explanations you don't want to give about your relatives. Let's also not forget that you have become more sensitive with your empathic abilities. On top of the Dursleys, the public gawking and questions about the summer, you also will be revealing those abilities, and that must be causing some anticipation."

"This is supposed to be making me feel better?" he let Prince pull him off the floor.

"Just explaining why you feel so rotten. You're in knots for several legitimate reasons. It doesn't mean you don't want to see your friends or go back to school. All of these things will pass and you'll be back to yourself in no time." Prince gave him a quick hug before releasing him with a nudge towards the main room. "I laid out an outfit for you. It should get us through the station unrecognized."

Looking in the mirror minutes later he could see why Prince thought so. His reflection was nothing like Harry Potter of fifth year. His calico hair and thin framed glasses Harry had gotten used to seeing in the mirror but he knew they disguised him very well, then there was the outfit. A green sleeveless turtleneck shirt made his eyes look impossibly green. He'd pulled the dream catcher choker out of the shirt, although it was a snugger fit with the layers of t-shirt in between. A pair of black jeans that fit him snuggly and didn't need to be rolled were the opposite of the dangerously baggy trousers he usually wore this time of year, and the black studded boots were not something Harry would have considered for his own wardrobe. He toyed with the platinum arm cuff on brilliant display, the blue spirit stone dangling brightly against his pale skin. He doubted any of his classmates would recognize him at first glance. Even Ron would have difficulty, although if anyone noticed the scars on the insides of his arms it would be his best friend. Ron was very familiar with the Basilisk bite and where Wormtail had bled him for the Voldemort resurrecting ritual. Neither were especially eye-catching but Harry was hyperconscious of having them on display.

"Here, one last bit." Prince came up behind him.

Harry turned to face the blond. Prince was wearing a plum purple fedora that drew eyes away from the trademark hair to his hat. The rest of the outfit was nondescript grays and blacks, like Harry sleeveless to show off the armband. He watched as Prince pulled out a familiar little box.

"Oh!"

"This should go perfectly." Prince started to pull the bracelet from the box.

"We talked about this. That should be yours, so we each have one."

"As I told you then, spirit stone is good for empaths. It will be good for you to have, and it wouldn't suit me at all." Prince fiddled with the stone for a moment.

"It's too much." He watched as Prince unclasped the charm from the bracelet.

"Don't you know it's poor form to judge a gift by its price? Hold still a moment." Prince leaned in close his concentration intense as he adjusted the charm. "There take a look."

Harry spun to look in the mirror. The charm had been clipped to his necklace dangling just over the front of the dream catcher. He had to admit the stone fit the design. It was lovely. Touching it gently he could hardly believe the magnitude of it all. The dream catcher itself was the most amazing gift he'd ever been given. It was something he'd never thought of- something he'd never known was possible- and gave him peace of mind. Adding the spirit stone, something so rare, valuable and meaningful to that gift, especially coming from his Anchor, blew him away.

"Shouldn't it stay on the bracelet?" his voice heavy with emotion. "It is an heirloom of sorts."

"I don't think the previous owner would mind." Prince ruffled his hair lightly.

Harry watched in the mirror as the hair fell mostly flat, endlessly amazed that a simple haircut could tame his unruly locks. The red and blond bang over his scar still fluffed up but it just looked intentional if odd. He wanted to lean back and rest against Prince who was standing behind him. Shaking off the feeling he looked away from the mirror and towards their trunks.

"Are we packed?"

"Ready to go." Prince confirmed pulling on a light jacket.

XXXxxx

Getting on the train was surprisingly easy. Prince had somehow timed it so they showed up just as it was getting busy. With families bustling about and friends searching for each other no one paid any attention to two more unfamiliar faces. Harry recognized two Order members near the entrance but neither gave him more than a quick glance. He hurried onto the Express and began searching the compartments.

Not finding Ron or Hermione he settled on an empty compartment near the rear of the train. Stowing their trunks and settling in took another ten minutes as Harry fussed to keep himself busy. Prince finally stood, rummaged in his trunk, and handed Harry a book. Blushing a bit at the obvious gesture, Harry opened the novel and let himself become distracted by the story. Prince radiated comfort and warmth beside him and Kiki curled up at his feet, batting at shoe laces.

The start of the train jostled him from his reading. He frowned and looked around. Neither Ron or Hermione were with them in the compartment. Out the window he could see a cluster of Aurors gathered talking, none looked happy as the train sped away. He marked his page and shut the book.

"No one came?" he asked softly.

"I think I saw your Weasley friend peak in the window" he gestured at the small peek-through on the compartment door "but he didn't stay long. Must not have recognized you right away."

"Oh" Harry was surprised to be slightly put out by that fact. It meant that their disguises did their job, but he honestly hadn't expected his friends to be among the fooled.

"We can go find them in a bit if they don't come looking again." Prince offered.

"No, no. They'll find me or I can find them at the feast. I don't want to deal with the general public just yet."

They settled in talking softly. Prince pulled out a set of cards and they played a few rounds of Go Fish, the only game Harry allowed after the blond had showed his skill at poker. It wasn't long before the compartment door slid open and a familiar redhead peeked in.

"Sorry for the intrusion but- Harry?" Ron pushed himself fully in.

Harry grinned and a squeal told him Hermione was just behind. "Hey mate."

"Harry." Ron stepped forward, arms wide.

Harry couldn't help it, he slid backwards towards the window avoiding the touch. Ron's face fell his eyes flicking suspiciously towards the blond that was suddenly between himself and his best friend. Harry tried to think of how to explain, his hand unconsciously drifting to the arm cuff. Ron's eyes followed the motion and his eyebrows raised. Hermione pushed in then closing the door and half launching herself at Harry. Prince caught her firmly.

"Oy!" she protested. "Put me down."

"Who are you?" Ron demanded sharply, his attention back on the blond.

"I am Briar, and the Bonded Anchor to Harry." Prince answered in a firm, clear tone, as if he wasn't restraining a bushy haired girl in a cramped train compartment.

To Harry's surprise Ron stepped back. Standing against the compartment door the redhead nodded respectfully to Briar before turning to Harry. "He is your choice?"

"Yes Ron." Harry smiled, he could feel the respect and awareness radiating from his friend.

"Ron!" Hermione protested, stopping her struggles to round on her other friend. "What are you doing? He's obviously a Malfoy and he's got Harry."

Ron seemed to take notice of the resemblance for the first time but after another look at Harry only nodded to Hermione. "I guess he is, but he's Harry's Anchor Hermione. See the band on Harry's arm? That's real and there is only a handful of reasons someone wears one, fewer that include an Anchor Bonding."

"That doesn't mean I can't greet my best friend!" Hermione was obviously still angry.

"Yes." Ron said solemnly. "Yes it does, actually." Ron looked at her sternly as Hermione gaped at him. After a moment he turned to his friend, looking around the tall blond, and raised an eyebrow. "Harry?"

"Thanks mate." Harry took a breath. "Ron, Hermione, I'm an empath."

"Wow, mate I had no idea." Ron looked startled and impressed by this revelation. "Do you need us to leave?"

"Ron!"

"No, but thanks."

"Merlin, you've both gone insane." Hermione huffed.

"Look," Ron started firmly "This obviously isn't something you've read about, and I understand that you're uncomfortable."

"What the hell? Uncomfortable!" Hermione rounded on Ron.

Her rage and betrayal were so strong Harry gasped and reached out to Prince. His anchor was there in an instant a balancing force between himself and the emotions radiating from his friend. Harry closed his eyes letting the soothing calm wash over him. He knew he should say something, comfort or confront Hermione and take control of the situation but he needed a moment. When he tuned back into the conversation Ron was already talking.

"-mean it like that, but you can't deny that you hate it when you don't know things that everyone else does. There are some parts of Wizarding culture that you would miss because you weren't raised around it. No one is judging you for this, it isn't even the point. The point is that Harry is an empath and you have to respect his boundaries. That means no more jumping on him or unwanted hugs or other contact."

"He's my best friend, what do you mean 'unwanted hugs' we always-"

"Hermione, at least try to control your temper. You are being rude and unreasonable and I don't want to be kicked out of here."

"Control my-"

"Look at him!" Ron blew up. "Yes, your temper. You haven't stopped shouting and fighting since we entered the compartment and it's hurting Harry. I can forgive a lot, and I'm sure Harry would too, but this is not okay."

Hermione flushed red and Harry could faintly feel her emotions change from anger to embarrassment and shame. He tried to think of something to say.

"Look Hermione, I just really need you to calm down and I can explain." Harry tried.

Hermione huffed softly, crossing her arms but settling. Prince raised an eyebrow towards Harry and he nodded slightly allowing the two past the blond. Prince gracefully slid back into his seat, tossing one arm over the back of the bench behind Harry. Ron and Hermione stood frozen by the door a moment before Ron quickly slid into the bench opposite, taking the window seat opposite Harry. Hermione frowned at everyone and took her seat.

"So- so I'm an empath. That means I sense other people's emotions."

"I could figure that much myself." Hermione snapped scornfully.

"I didn't realize before this summer what that really meant…" Harry trailed off embarrassed. "It wasn't something I was allowed to talk about at the Dursleys and after I came to Hogwarts I just…"

"After you came to Hogwarts?" she puzzled.

"Being an empath is something you are born with." Ron explained. "It's not one of the gifts that come with maturity or majority. You either are or you aren't one. That's why I was so surprised" he turned to Harry, explaining. "I thought you might be a telepath or diviner. The stories I heard most empaths would be completely crippled at Hogwarts without an Anchor. They don't do crowds of people easily."

"Yeah, part of that came from the Dursleys and part of that I need to apologize to you for Ron." Harry blushed. "I didn't know what I was doing, but I kind of used you as a temporary anchor."

Ron startled. "Me?"

"Yeah, and I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to invade your privacy, I wasn't doing it on purpose."

"Hey mate, relax it's okay." Ron offered him a half smile. "I'm glad I could keep you sane. You know I'd do anything for you."

"Thanks." Harry beamed. "I was worried…"

"Nothing to worry about."

"What is an anchor?" Hermione cut in.

"It's kind of a buffer." Harry explained. "When I get overwhelmed my all the people and emotions around me, like when I'm in a big crowd or when people are really emotional, my anchor gives me one person to focus on. It's a little different with P-Briar, because we're bonded now."

"So your anchor could be anyone?"she clarified.

"Before, it could have been. I have a Bonded Anchor now and that is permanent."

"So what, he tricked you into this bond and that's where you've been all summer?"

"Hermione!" Ron sounded appalled. Prince growled and shifted forwards. Harry knew his own exes were big.

"What? No! We only bonded last week, and it wasn't like that."

"That's not how it works Hermione. You can't trick an empath like that. Not to mention the magic involved wouldn't allow for that kind of misuse." Ron snapped. "Merlin, where did that come from?"

"Are you even trying to listen?" Prince asked harshly.

"I…" Hermione flushed red at the hostile reactions she was getting from all directions. "Then how did you leave the Dursleys, what happened to the kidnappers?"

"There were no kidnappers. I ran away with Dudley. His friends helped us. I was staying in a flat the whole time, perfectly safe. I would have contacted you, but I couldn't risk someone tracking my post back to me."

"Good for you." Ron said firmly.

"Ron!"

"Thanks mate."

"What now Hermione?" Ron asked.

"That was dangerous, anything could have happened to him this summer. Dumbledore said-"

"Dumbledore says a lot of things, but the Dursley's aren't good people and I'm glad Harry got himself somewhere safe this summer. I wish he could have warned us" he gave Harry a pointed glance "but he's here alive and well and looking healthier than I've ever seen him after summer holiday so someone was taking good care of him."

"Well yes." Hermione looked Harry over critically. "There is that."

"Can we talk about something else?" Harry blushed and shifted under both the looks.

There was a small pause before Hermione pulled out a handful of papers from her pocket. "I have your OWLS and booklist!"

Harry grinned at Ron who shook his head. "Let's see then." He accepted the papers. "You opened my OWL results?"

"I wouldn't have but I needed to know what classes you might be in so I could look up your books."

"She was going to buy them for you but I convinced her that just because you made it in you might not want to take the course." Ron grinned and shook his head.

"I put together an owl order slip from Flourish and Blots and you just have to confirm or scratch off the ones you don't want. I put in the prices so you can send payment with the form and get all your books before classes start . You won't have time to read ahead, bit most of the professors will understand."

Harry shook his head with a grin. "I actually have several of the books I need." He flipped open the letter.

"How'd you do then?" Prince asked.

"A in Astronomy and Divination, O in Defense, Es in Care of Magical Creatures, Charms, Herbology, Potions and Transfiguration, D in History."

"How on earth did you get a D in History?" Prince startled.

"It's taught by a ghost professor. He's right boring and I think I slept through most of his classes. I also might have fallen asleep during the exam." Harry grimaced at the memory of the vision.

"Really?" Prince was shocked. "No wonder your friend is so ignorant of our culture. History is one of the most important classes taught at Hogwarts."

"Hey!" she glared. "I'll have you know I got an E in History."

"And Harry has told me you are very smart. That doesn't make the curriculum or professor any more appalling."

Before more could be said the compartment slammed open and Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle made their appearance. The Slytherins paused a moment eying Harry with uncertainty but the presence of Hermione and Ron must have convinced them.

"So Potter, you've been found." Malfoy started in with a sneer.

"Draco Malfoy you will hold your tongue." Prince replied in a perfectly mild tone. He didn't move his right arm from behind Harry but the fingers on the left toyed with the ring on that hand. The white gold glinted in the sunlight. Draco's eyes narrowed on him before being drawn to the ring. Ron sat up straight also taking note of the ring.

"If you will excuse us Mr. Weasley, Ms. Granger?" Prince turned to Harry's friends. "We have Family affairs to discuss."

"We need to change into our school robes anyhow. We'll be back in a bit." Ron responded after a quick nod from Harry. He grabbed Hermione up and pushed her out before she could protest. The group of Slytherins moved out of the way.

Draco must have said something to his flunkies because he reentered the compartment alone. Harry watched curiously. He didn't know how Prince intended to handle this conversation with his little brother. He felt like he was intruding, but the arm around him kept him from feeling unwanted. Draco glared at him a bit, obviously resenting his presence and deciding whether to make an issue of it or not. The younger blond eventually turned his attention to Prince, deciding to ignore Harry.

"Father warned me that Malfoy succession worked differently than in the Black line. He said that someday I might see that ring on someone else, that I was to respect any heir chosen. I always assumed that was just-"

"A threat?" Prince filled in gently. "Not really."

"Have I failed the line?" Draco asked softly.

"No." Prince denied firmly. "There is far more to the story than you have been told. It will all be revealed soon enough. First, my question: what will you do now young Malfoy? With Lord Malfoy's blessing I stand with Harry Potter."

Draco jerked at this implication that his father was aware of this new development. He shook his head and responded "First, Family. I will follow your lead." Draco sounded less confident. "I don't know why Father didn't warn me before I came today."

"I did not tell him exactly when I would make my move, only that it would be soon. He likely didn't want to show his hand" Prince explained. "Besides that there was some concern your Lady mother would protest this turn of events. He didn't want you in the middle."

"She's a Malfoy." Draco protested with a frown. "She knows the importance of family."

"She's a Black first. Her line casts out those who go against tradition. She has shown a willingness to cast out family before this day. If it were up to her I would be removed from the Malfoy line and ignored, not followed."

"That's- but we don't follow that practice. You would have to deliberately turn against the family for- We don't even cast out our squibs!" Draco sputtered looking appalled.

"Your father has taught you well. I admit I was concerned." Prince smiled at his younger brother.

"I am a Malfoy. Of course he did." Pure arrogance in his tone.

Prince laughed and gestured to the door. "The other two will be back soon and we will have to let them in. They will be irked enough I kicked them out of their own compartment. You recognize this?" he ran his fingers over the platinum arm band and dangle. Harry angled himself a bit to better display the band.

"That's an Anchor Bonding cuff." Draco sounded even more startled by that than the heir ring. "Potter's?"

"An Empath. My empath, as it were. It has been an eventful summer."

"The Dark Lord has been searching for him. He's been in the papers, I didn't expect… Who knew?"

"No one. It was coincidence I came across Harry this summer, and a greater revelation of his gift. We were surprisingly compatible and ended up bonding. I hope you understand the full implications for myself and for the Family."

"Empath bond certainly trumps any pledge to the Dark Lord, whatever our family beliefs." Draco stared at the cuff for another moment. "I have already promised you my allegiance is with the Family."

"So you have, and our time is running out. Do you have any pressing questions for me?"

"I should be asking you. Do you have any more big surprises to spring on me? Not that bonding to an Empath and Potter isn't enough mind. Not to mention the Heir to the House bit." Draco smirked.

"Well there is one more…" Prince watched the smirk fade. "Does the name Briar mean anything to you?"

"Of course. That was the name of my brother before he di-" Draco's voice stopped "not dead?"

"No little brother, not dead." Prince reached out a hand to steady the boy. "Father will no doubt tell the tale when he visits."

"Right." Draco looked faint. "Right."

"Off you go then. I'm sure you have some social navigating to do in preparation for all these revelations. I can't imagine the secret will hold longer than the Feast. You will need to check your alliances."

"Of course." Draco pulled himself together at the reminder, looking every inch the aloof pureblood aristocrat. "If you'll excuse me?" he nodded to Prince, paused and offered a half nod to Harry as well.

The blond exited the compartment and the Weasley/Granger duo entered quickly, firing off demands and questions which he ignored. His wizardling offered quiet assurances but no explanations. Weasley calmed and huffed softly.

"Family affairs, yeah?"

"Yeah." Harry answered his friend.

"Thought so." The red head looked put out and frustrated but content to let matters slide.

"That's it!" Granger exploded. "He's having private conversations with Malfoy! How can you let this- this-"

"Hermione!" Ron snapped. "In case you hadn't noticed Harry's bonded Anchor is a Malfoy. Let it go. You trust Harry don't you?"

"Of course I trust Harry. But this guy has obviously done something, taken advantage"

"Shut. Up." Ron cut in with a snap. Prince was furious and Harry was appalled but getting angrier by the second. "I know as a muggle born you are at a disadvantage when it comes to certain social expectations, and I know empaths are rare enough that you obviously haven't read about them, but shut up. You are being down right insulting and crossing a line here Hermione. You think I like that he's chosen a Malfoy? This guy is Harry's chosen and Bonded Anchor. Accept it and move on or leave."

Harry had rarely seen Ron get that serious. He was glad Ron was speaking for him because right now he wanted to say really mean and insulting things to Hermione and that wasn't a good idea.

"Can you even hear yourself Ron? You've never insulted me for being muggleborn before. What's changed, huh?"

"It isn't an insult but a fact. You can't possibly know everything I was taught growing up. That has nothing to do with school or magical ability and you are missing the point. Calm down and get over your hostility or you are going to lose a friend." Ron paused. "Possibly two."

Hermione gaped. She turned to look at Harry. He glared at her and crossed his arms. Her gaze flicked to Prince who glared at her fiercely. Thankfully the bushy haired prefect let it go, settling back into her seat. Ron very deliberately turned the conversation to quidditch.

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A/n: Review review! I thrive off reviews. What do you think? I promise this isn't going to be a Hermione bashing fic. She will come around quick enough as soon as she reads up on empaths and realizes she was in the wrong and why.