A/N: Here is the final chapter of Unthinkable Thoughts, and it is by far the longest. I hope you enjoy it. But before you read it please spare a thought for Penguin and Plumeria, who have sorted out my bad punctuation and overlong sentences for many months now. I am very grateful to you both. I know that I would not have finished it without your encouragement. I also want to thank the many hundreds of you who have reviewed UT and mailed me about it. That kind of feedback is so welcome after the hours spent writing it. Thank you again.
~ Dedicated to the Pal o' my Heart ~
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dumbledore's office was decorated in a way that was both enthusiastic and refined, but none of those gathered there on the morning of Christmas Eve were particularly concerned with the hundreds of twinkling lanterns that were festively suspended from practically every point possible.
The faces were sombre as the Headmaster began his summing up.
'Things have reached crisis point,' he started. 'And so to preserve the status quo in the castle, I have stopped all owls delivering messages from outside these walls to any of the students remaining here. I have let presents through, and will give them their missing correspondence tomorrow afternoon. Thank goodness I have stopped the Daily Prophet being delivered here since the end of term. I think only Miss Granger has noticed its absence.'
He glanced at that day's headline, the last before the newspaper's two-day Christmas break:
FUDGE DEPOSED AS ATTACKS INCREASE
Dumbledore scanned the columns, and quickly summarised the details for Snape and McGonagall.
Lucius Malfoy has had Fudge removed as Minister on grounds of incompetence, and has "reluctantly accepted" the post of Acting Minister while a replacement is sought.
Dumbledore approached for Minister's position.
McGonagall and Snape both looked up.
'First I've heard of it,' mused the Headmaster.
Another attack by a group of Death Eaters on Muggles in central London, near the building Voldemort is presumed to have commandeered as his new HQ.
'Eliminating witnesses?' thought McGonagall.
Three members of the Muggle cabinet reported missing for six hours yesterday. Back at work last night.
'Presumably Death Eater replacements using Polyjuice Potion?' pondered Snape.
'I think we must assume so,' said Dumbledore.
Vast migration of giants in central Europe. Increased numbers of veelas arriving in London yesterday and the day before. Record numbers of street brawls in all Wizarding settlements. Six werewolf attacks in the last three days, and we're a week from a full moon. Three break-outs from Azkaban. Igor Karkaroff thought to be hiding in Ireland.
'Let's hope he's doesn't decide to hide here,' sighed McGonagall deeply.
Dumbledore flicked through a few more pages. 'There's more,' he said, 'but it all amounts to the same thing. Look through it at some point today if you have the stomach for it.'
He shuffled some papers on his desk and continued.
'It gets worse. An owl two days ago from Arthur Weasley: the increased threat of Voldemort rising to power has caused total chaos at the Ministry. People missing, behaving irrationally, all office procedures broken down, not enough man power available to administer Muggle memory charms, Hit Squad wizards dead, Aurors overstretched. Morale low and falling.'
His colleagues were silent.
'Another owl from Arthur this morning. Lucius has sacked him. He's out of London and at the Burrow with Molly, awaiting instructions from me. An owl three days ago from Lucius Malfoy demanding that Draco be returned to him by what was, when he wrote, last night. He accuses me of withholding Draco's mail. He is right of course. Owls from Brigid Finnigan and Edna Longbottom expressing worry and support. An owl yesterday from Arabella Figg detailing a ransacking of the Dursleys' home in Surrey. Presumably that security has now been broken.'
Snape looked impassive, deep in thought. McGonagall fiddled nervously with her teacup and saucer.
'But these two are the most immediately problematic,' continued Dumbledore without emotion. 'An owl from Quentin Parkinson first thing this morning. He is furious, claiming that what he calls "routine magical security spells" have revealed that a memory charm was performed on Pansy some time this term. He doesn't say if he has managed to recover the memory, but we all know he has the Dark Arts know-how to do so. And I am guessing he has, from a further owl which arrived half an hour ago, this one from Lucius Malfoy again.'
Dumbledore held up the paper and read it to his colleagues.
Headmaster. From a frantic correspondence this morning from Quentin Parkinson and from Draco's failure to arrive at Malfoy Manor last night, I assume that I have been deceived as to the real reason for Draco's detainment at Hogwarts this Christmas break. Despite increased weighty duties pertaining to my new responsibilities as Acting Minister of Magic I will be arriving at Hogwarts tomorrow morning to remove Draco from the school, where I can only assume he is being held against his will. He will not be returning in the New Year, or at any other time. I would remind you that the post of Headmaster of Hogwarts School is within the gift of the board of governors of which the Minister of Magic is chairman, and any failure to comply with my wishes in this matter may result in your replacement in this role. Sincerely, Lucius, Baron Malfoy, Minister of Magic, Order of Merlin (First Class).
'When was he awarded the Order of Merlin?' choked McGonagall.
'Second act of his new administration yesterday, I would imagine,' grimaced Snape. 'Straight after making himself a baron.'
'Yes, indeed,' pondered Dumbledore. 'He always did have delusions of grandeur.'
There was a moment of quiet as McGonagall and Snape adjusted themselves to these developments.
'I have taken a number of preliminary decisions.' The Headmaster's voice was calm and controlled. 'The news embargo in the castle is to remain in place until after Christmas Lunch tomorrow, which gives us the chance to put other arrangements in place before we ruin the students' Christmas. By the end of today we will have been joined here by Arabella Figg, Alastor Moody, the entire Weasley family, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. Together with all the staff that remain on the premises and all the students that are still here tomorrow afternoon we will form the very beginnings of a group that will ultimately defend the castle against all comers. The castle will become the headquarters of all those in opposition to Lucius Malfoy's administration, which we must assume is merely a political front for Voldemort's intentions. When all are assembled this evening I will resign as Headmaster of Hogwarts with witnesses so that Lucius cannot have me removed. You, Minerva, will become Acting Headmistress, and you, Severus, will be her Deputy, although the posts will be nominal as I doubt we will be able to reopen the school in the New Year.'
The pair nodded solemnly.
'Between tonight and the arrival of Lucius Malfoy tomorrow we will work to make the castle impregnable with new wards and security devices. Alastor has been working on a way to make the castle and grounds invisible to everyone except those that are within it, which should mean that Lucius or any others won't even be able to locate us unless we desire it. We will not be able to hold off the world forever but we should gain ourselves some time for thought and provide a haven for others sympathetic to our cause. After lunch tomorrow I will give all the students the mail I have been withholding and offer them the chance to leave, although I have already received confirmation from their families that Longbottom and Finnigan will be staying. The Weasleys will be here anyway, and Harry will obviously stay as he has nowhere else safe to go now that the Dursley house has been compromised. That leaves Hermione Granger, who will almost certainly choose to remain, Dean Thomas, about whom I have no idea, and of course Draco. We will give him all the facts and let him choose, with the assurance that if he decides to stay we will protect him from his father for as long as we are able. If he chooses to go, we will have to hope that this does not destroy Harry completely. They managed the three-day trial separation without too many problems but I have no way of knowing how that blasted book will have affected things. If Draco goes, he goes. We will have to forget him and make our plans without him, and hope that the presence of all those that are close to Harry make the loss less difficult to bear.'
The strength and command of Dumbledore's tone filled Snape and McGonagall with hope.
'Meanwhile, Christmas, such as it is, will run from now until lunch tomorrow. I do not know what will happen afterwards. But I want Harry and Draco to have just one year when they can be together. We will not mention anything to the students until tomorrow afternoon, and any guests arriving tonight will be concealed from them. That is all we can do at the moment. Merry Christmas. We must enjoy it while we are able.'
It was grey and blustery in the afternoon when the students remaining in the castle went out for some fresh air. Christmas spirit abounded in the Gryffindors, except in Harry, who had not been able to get to the bottom of what Draco had been so terrorised by out at the lake on the day the school had departed for the holidays.
Harry had carried him into the castle and up to the Gryffindor common room, stripped off his wet clothes and wrapped him in blankets from his own bed. Then he had sat with him in his arms in a deep chair pulled right up close to the fire while the other Gryffindors tiptoed round them not really knowing what had happened. Harry didn't know what had happened either, and he still didn't, because Draco had said exactly nothing. Not for the whole of that evening, after which Harry refused to let him sleep alone in Slytherin House, instead sleeping with him in the chair by the fire. Nor had he uttered even a single word until about lunchtime the following day. And although he had eventually begun to talk again that afternoon, he hadn't once referred to why he had been out at the lake, or what had upset him to the point of crisis, or even what Dumbledore had wanted to see him about. He was no less loving to Harry. He was not bad-tempered, or unfriendly, or unappreciative of the concern for him. But there was a wall up, and Harry sensed there was nothing he could do to get Draco to lower it until he was ready and, as frustrated as Harry was, he had had to try to let it go.
As they lagged behind the others on their winter amble around the grounds, Harry stopped and turned to Draco.
'There's not one minute passes when I don't rack my brains for some way to help you with this burden,' he said, before turning away, embarrassed that he should have said something so silly even to Draco.
Draco's hand pulled Harry's face back to look at him, his own eyes and face betraying nothing, his mind racing behind the façade. Then he slowly kissed Harry on the forehead, saying nothing, but thinking how desperately sad it was that within a day he was going to knock all the happiness out of Harry without knowing whether he could ever put it back.
As they carried on walking after the laughing group, Draco held Harry's hand noticeably tighter.
'Quidditch!' yelled Ron, the captain of games.
'Game played on brooms, Ron,' clarified Dean. 'You know, Bludgers and a Snitch, four hours of rain and so forth.'
'No, I mean, Quidditch!' repeated Ron in irritation. 'Let's play! There are eight of us, we can play four-a-side!'
It should have been an impromptu bit of fun, but by the time they actually got around to playing it had become something far more serious. Brooms were fetched from the castle, owned and loaned alike; and the set of practice balls was acquired from Madam Hooch. Hermione insisted that the Bludgers be enchanted so there were no injuries. Instead of playing on the full-sized school pitch beyond Hagrid's hut, Ginny and Neville marked out a smaller area nearer the castle with a boundary charm, and Draco took a pair of fallen branches and transfigured them into a single goalpost for each end. But these preparations were nothing compared to how the eight would divide into teams.
'One Beater, Chaser, Seeker and Keeper per team,' offered Neville. There seemed no arguing with this. But there were plenty of other things to argue about.
'So do we play with one Bludger, or two?' asked Ginny.
'One,' decided Ron.
'Two,' countered Hermione. 'They're going to be a bit lazy, remember. We should cope with both.'
'But we'll have fewer players,' said Dean.
'And it will depend on how well each team functions,' thought Seamus.
'That will be down to the two captains,' stated Draco.
'Who will they be?' wondered Harry.
'Not you and Draco,' said Ginny.
'Why not?' asked Neville.
'Too obvious,' said Hermione. 'We're all going to play, not just be bystanders to the two fastest brooms.'
'No arguments from me,' said Draco.
'You don't want to be a captain?' Ron wondered, bemused.
'No. I just want to be on Harry's team.'
Hermione giggled. 'Really? I challenge you to say that again and not sound quite so endearing.'
Draco gathered himself up and deepened his voice. 'I'm going to play on the same side as Harry.'
They laughed and Harry looked pleased. 'I'd like that very much too,' he beamed.
Ron rolled his eyes. 'That's simply not on,' he declared. 'You two are the best players here, it's fairer if you're split up.'
'You think I'm a good player, Ron?' smirked Draco casually, causing a surge of hope to ebb through Harry. This was more like it; Draco had actually sort of smiled. He almost wished Draco had called Ron "Weasley".
'Well,' back-pedalled Ron, flushing a bit, 'that's the general feeling in the school, for some unknown reason…'
'Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph!' cried Seamus. 'We'll never get started! Let them play together if they want; it's only a game. How about Harry and Draco play on the same side but neither is captain and neither is Seeker?'
'That should offset the advantage,' thought Neville.
'So couples can play together if they want,' continued Dean. 'Hermione. Do you want to play on the same side as Ron?'
Hermione laughed. 'Good Lord no. Not if it means being seen to be as sickeningly lovey as this pair,' she choked, indicating Harry and Draco.
Ron looked surprised. 'Well, obviously I seem to be playing on the team opposing Hermione's.'
'Got it!' laughed Seamus. 'Ron will captain a side consisting of himself, me, Dean and Nev. Herm will lead the other side with Ginny, Harry and Draco. Captains will decide positions within the teams. Tis very fitting.'
'Why is it fitting?' asked Ginny.
Seamus grinned mischievously. 'Boys v Girls, of course!' he crowed, and the others collapsed into laughter.
'Right, Finnigan, fetch me a skirt,' Draco snorted. 'We'll see who the bloody girls are!'
Six brooms circled around as Ron and Hermione stood in the centre of their make-shift pitch, unloading and enchanting the balls. The Snitch was released, flitting immediately out of sight. The Bludgers loped off at an easy pace. Ron held the Quaffle in his hands.
'Fair game?' he asked Hermione, going through the etiquette.
'Not bloody likely,' she smiled, as Ron tossed the Quaffle in the air.
Within minutes there was mayhem in the sky in front of the castle that Christmas Eve. Any positions that had been decided on were soon forgotten as all eight players concentrated on the Quaffle and dodged the drunk Bludgers. The sides traded three goals each, and with the score at 30-30, the competitiveness of the match raised sharply.
'Dean! What are you doing?' cried Ron. 'We're basically playing with three men, with you messing about over there!'
'I'm setting an offside trap!' called Dean, looking pleased with himself.
'You great Muggle eejit!' bellowed Seamus. 'This is Quidditch, not football! There is no offside rule!'
'Exploit their weaknesses!' ordered Hermione to her team.
'That won't be difficult,' drawled Draco, deftly catching the Quaffle from Ginny and speeding under Ron's broom. 'Harry!'
Harry caught the Quaffle, dived expertly to avoid a Bludger, and tossed the ball back to Hermione straight past Dean's left ear.
'Ooh, nice play!' cried Ginny.
Hermione bolted above the crowd of arguing boys with the Quaffle under her arm and Ginny swiftly followed in support.
'Watch out!' screeched Ron. 'Our goal is undefended!'
Neville, nominally the Keeper, tried to swing round 180 degrees and pursue Ginny. In the process he knocked Harry's Firebolt and Harry swung temporarily off balance.
A ninth broom swooped down into their midst.
'This match is appalling!' yelled Madam Hooch. 'You need a ref! Longbottom, that was either atrocious play or a deliberate foul. Either way, it's a penalty to the "Girls"!'
'WE ARE NOT GIRLS!' shouted Harry and Draco together, laughing, sharing a connection that they hadn't for some days.
At the other end of the pitch, Hermione scored unopposed and she and Ginny hooted in delight.
'HERMIONE SCORES!' bellowed the magically amplified voice of Hagrid, who was standing on the touchline with a number of other staff. '40-30 TO THE "GIRLS"!'
'HOW MANY TIMES DO I——' Draco began at full blast, laughing so much he was having to hug Harry to stay upright. But a sharp blast from Madam Hooch's whistle cut him short.
'Stay up that end, Miss Granger!' shouted Madam Hooch. 'Penalty to be taken! Which of one you is supposed to be your Keeper?'
'I'm the Keeper!' cried Ron, Dean and Seamus in unison, all glaring at Neville.
'Three Keepers? That is rather unusual; but then this is by far the silliest game ever played on Hogwarts grounds,' said Madam Hooch. 'Very well, line up!'
Hermione, as captain, took the Quaffle and faced the three Keepers. Draco casually batted both Bludgers away to prevent them interfering.
'Go for it, Herm!' cried Ginny.
Hermione charged at the three boys and loosed the Quaffle underneath them. They all three pounced on it, colliding heads and limbs in the joint effort, but just managing to prevent Hermione's shot from slipping through.
'Good shot, Herm!' cheered Harry. 'Notice it took three of them to stop you!'
'PENALTY SAVED!' came Hagrid's voice. 'AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A BLOODY EMBARRASSMENT IF YOU HADN'T!'
'Hagrid, please!' reprimanded McGonagall. 'And I thought Jordan was bad!'
There was no stopping them now. For a further twenty minutes the battle heated until the score stood at 90-70 to the "Boys", most of the goals coming from penalties rather than effective play.
'Come on!' screamed Hermione, urging her troops on. She intercepted a pass between Seamus and Dean, flung a Bludger at Neville and tossed the ball to Ginny. Ginny, in her excitement, launched it way beyond the main crowd of players. Harry and Draco immediately chased after it.
'Think you're fast enough, on that Firebolt, eh, Harry?' smirked Draco as they raced side-by-side.
'A Firebolt outstrips a Nimbus by some way, Draco,' stated Harry matter-of-factly, jostling knees with Draco as they pursued the Quaffle. Harry thought of another Firebolt, the one wrapped up and waiting in the Tower to be given to Draco the next day. 'Today at least I shall beat you to the ball. As usual.'
They both sensed a rising tide of competition between them, as if it was the Snitch they were chasing in a real match, as if it mattered. Grinning to each other, they suddenly both pushed their brooms to top speed.
This will be the last time we ever play on mismatched brooms, thought Harry. After tomorrow we really will know who is the better player. He spurred his Firebolt past Draco, buzzing on the sudden burst of adrenaline from the competition.
This will be the last time I ever have a chance of beating him, thought Draco. After tomorrow… after tomorrow, Quidditch is going to become a complete irrelevance. He urged his Nimbus faster. Just once, just once, I am going to beat Harry Potter…
Suddenly Harry slowed and dropped behind Draco, leaving the way forward for him to catch the Quaffle. What on earth am I doing, competing with Draco? Does this matter? Draco's had something awful on his mind for days, and all I can think of is beating him in a silly race?
Blast him! thought Draco. What's he doing, behaving like a gentleman? My one and only chance of some tiny sense of achievement on the Quidditch field, and he takes it away from me by waving me past him? Draco dropped back too.
'S'okay, you get it,' said Harry. What kind of victory would it be if I'd only beaten him because Draco was too preoccupied with something awful to be able to concentrate?
'No, it's alright, you get it,' said Draco. What kind of victory would it be if I'd only beaten him because of Harry's integrity, especially the day before I'm going to… the day before I'm going to…
Draco didn't finish the thought, because suddenly the Quaffle changed direction in mid-air and was suddenly bolting back in the opposite direction beneath them.
Draco and Harry looked at each other in surprise, then both recalled Ginny and Neville's boundary charm. They laughed.
'What the bloody hell are you two doing?' exasperated Hermione as she caught the Quaffle, which had effectively leapt into her hands. 'You're supposed to be on the same side!'
Both aware of the competition between them somehow receding, they laughed at themselves warmly.
'YOU TWO, CONCENTRATE ON WINNING THIS MATCH, OR ELSE!' bellowed Hermione. 'CAPTAIN'S ORDERS!'
Draco and Harry grinned and headed back into the action.
'Nice flying,' said Draco, sideways.
'Not bad yourself,' conceded Harry.
'Need to work on your turns a bit, mind.'
'Your braking needs a bit of attention, too.'
'GINNY!' screamed Hermione suddenly.
It was the Snitch. It was zooming up the pitch between Hermione and the others. Ginny saw it immediately and went after it at full pelt. All four of the boys charged after Ginny. Hermione flew with astonishing doggedness straight at Ginny with the Snitch midway between them. Harry and Draco, out of the area, sat on their brooms and watched, amused.
'Well, one of them is going to get it,' observed Draco.
'Imagine. A Quidditch match with you and me both playing, and neither of us gets the Snitch,' mused Harry.
Ginny was having trouble staying ahead of the boys. They were interfering with her broom, trying to hold her back.
'FINNIGAN!' warned Madam Hooch.
'Seamus!' shouted Ron in surprise. 'I though she was your girlfriend?'
Ginny, oblivious to the boys' squabbling, reached forward at full stretch, her hand within inches of the lightning-fast ball. She was nearly there… But suddenly her broom was knocked away from her, and she was sent reeling out of the mob.
'NOT FAIR!' she screamed in frustration.
'PENALTY!' yelled Madam Hooch.
But at that very second there was the sound of a hand swiping the Snitch out of the air, and Hermione went wheeling over the boys, with a huge 'YES!' of victory.
'"GIRLS" WIN, 220 POINTS TO 90!' bellowed Hagrid's commentary.
'WE ARE NOT GIRLS!'
Molly and Arthur Weasley sat in Dumbledore's office and took in the enormity and gravity of the situation facing them. The news was not good, not at all; but it was not all bad either. Among the group assembled there was a feeling that lessons learned from Voldemort's previous attempt to seize control of the wizarding world were going to be of great value now; furthermore, Arthur had a list of about fifty names, Ministry workers and others, who he deemed to be incorruptible and obvious allies. A plan of sorts had emerged, and all were buoyed by its possibilities.
They would set up a Ministry in exile. Out of London. At Hogwarts in fact.
Arthur's thoughts of recent days had become the kicking-off point for their discussion. Get the upper hand this time. Instead of waiting until our friends and colleagues disappear or are turned against us or even killed, simply remove them from Voldemort's grasp first. Establish a rock-solid core of opposition, base the Aurors' activities where they cannot be subverted, garrison the Hit Squad wizards at the very hub of the operation. Hogwarts is impregnable, the safest place in England. This time, it will be different. We will be ready. Voldemort won't be able to pick us off one by one; he'll be forced to deal with a united force. A force with Dumbledore at its head. That would convince the magical world that there is hope. That there really is hope.
The circular office buzzed with conversation and plans. It was evening, a cold rainy grey Christmas Eve, but guests had begun to arrive shortly after the students' Quidditch match, and there was now, despite the black news from outside the castle, a real sense of hope. And a sense of Christmas too.
Fred and George Weasley looked around them. Tricks, jokes, pranks, they all seemed out of place now. They were aware that they were sitting in on a meeting of possible historic importance, only present themselves because their parents, on the morning of Christmas Eve, had inexplicably told them the family were travelling to Hogwarts, and the twins were to come along and keep-bloody-quiet-or-there'll-be-hell-to-pay. And for the most part Fred and George had sat quietly, not saying anything, which was unusual enough for some of the staff to wonder if they were sickening for something. Percy and Bill were more at home; both had valuable insights and observations to bring. Charlie, they were told, was on his way, currently making progress through the vast network of fireplaces across Europe. Arabella Figg, she was an odd old sort; the twins hadn't really known what to make of her. Finicky about some things, like the half-dozen cats she had arrived with, worldly-wise about others. Alastor Moody skulked in a corner with Snape, discussing security. And Black! Yes indeed, Sirius Black himself, mass murderer and escaped convict, he was there, with the entire trust of all assembled. There he was now, talking to their mother and McGonagall. Their father was talking to Remus Lupin. Hooch, Pomfrey, Sprout, Flitwick, Hagrid, they all knew as well. There was a whole secret movement being born in front of the twins' very eyes. More of their father's colleagues would be arriving over the next couple of days, more trusted friends of Dumbledore's too. It was exciting. There was an air of expectancy. There was hope. And, after all, it was Christmas Eve.
Sirius moved away from their mother and towards Dumbledore. The twins caught a snippet of what passed between them.
'Yes,' said Sirius under his breath. 'Draco wrote to me. He's going to give it to him for Christmas, tomorrow morning.'
'So be it. We shall have to wait,' replied Dumbledore.
Fred and George looked at each other, mystified. But they didn't think about it long, as at that moment another body entered the room.
'Charlie!' called their mother in joy. The twins looked pleased. Weasley Boys all back together! This could be a good few days, despite the awful circumstances.
Dumbledore was pleased too, and he also was aware it was Christmas Eve. As the crowd had expanded to the total he had expected, he had surreptitiously introduced drinks to the group. The twins watched him watching them help themselves to some punch. And he had smiled, and gone off to talk to their parents again, huddling them into a corner. Fred and George couldn't hear what was said, but they didn't mind especially. It wasn't as if they hadn't already heard about ten years' worth of interesting information.
'Molly, Arthur, there's just one more thing you ought to know,' began Dumbledore. 'It's about Harry.'
'Is he alright?' asked Molly nervously. 'Ron wrote repeatedly about him being ill this term; I have been terribly worried.'
'He's fine, truly, he is fine. He is well, and getting stronger each day. But…'
The Weasleys regarded the Headmaster with concern. Dumbledore was fiddling with a small glass sphere.
'Is that…?' wondered Arthur.
'Yes, it is,' said Dumbledore. 'An Orbis Ardens. Molly, Arthur, the Crimson Cloud has been hovering above Hogwarts for most of this term.'
'Oh how lovely!' Molly cried. 'And who has been blessed?'
'And…?' Arthur asked, slowly.
Dumbledore coughed. 'Draco Malfoy.'
Molly stumbled. 'Lucius Malfoy's son?'
'Yes. I am afraid it made both of them rather ill, as they both refused to accept the implications. They had a lot of trouble understanding that the Cloud is not the cause in its own right, but springs from something that already exists. Harry in particular was dangerously ill. But he has recovered, and they have both faced up to their feelings. For a while now they have been as hopelessly enamoured as you two were when you were here at school.'
Arthur looked thunderstruck, and Molly's face was nearly scarlet. 'Lucius Malfoy's son?' she repeated. 'A MALFOY? And Harry is… happy with this?'
'Molly, Arthur, I assure you that Draco Malfoy is not cast in the same mould as his father. Try not to judge him until you have met him.'
'But…' continued Molly, 'you're sure? Is he really worthy of Harry?'
'Possibly he is the only one who is.'
'And you are sure that this is not a trick, and Harry is genuinely happy?' stressed Arthur.
'Very much so. But it has taken a long while for him to feel that, and this been a difficult term for him.'
Molly let out a deep sigh, shaking her head, still stunned.
'Has there been any increase in magical ability?' asked Arthur, more calmly.
'My word, yes. Quite extraordinary in some instances.'
Molly and Arthur shuffled their feet, looking sideways at each other.
'You will both realise of course that this adds an unforeseen complication to our plans,' said Dumbledore softly.
'I'll say it does,' said Arthur. 'Lucius must be fuming.'
'Lucius doesn't know. Furthermore, Draco doesn't know his father is Acting Minister, nor does he know that his father is coming here to fetch him tomorrow. That meeting, if it goes ahead, is likely to be problematic on both sides.'
'Lucius Malfoy is coming here, tomorrow?' gasped Arthur.
'Yes. Hence the need to keep this meeting utterly secret. I only hope that when he does leave, Draco does not leave with him.'
'If Harry and this boy are bound by the Crimson Cloud, they won't be able to be separated,' said Molly. 'We know that.'
'Indeed. But Lucius is a strong force; yet, I do not know exactly how strong his hold over Draco is. However, Draco's decision, such as it is, is likely to be taken before Lucius even arrives. There is one last piece of undiscussed business between Draco and Harry, one last critical complication. It should be resolved, one way or the other, by lunchtime tomorrow. Before he even knows his father intends to remove him from the school, Draco will know where his future lies.'
'But…' began Arthur, '…if the Cloud has been accurately confirmed, there is nothing that can ordinarily come between them.'
'So, are you saying that this last "complication" is actually serious enough for them to consider even trying to live apart?'
'It may be, I don't know. But I know how crucial it is. If they get over it, Draco is likely to be turned against his father forever. If they don't, Draco may well think the rift between him and Harry is so great as to be unbridgeable, and that he can't be any worse off by leaving with Lucius tomorrow. Considering whose son he is, Draco's staying would be of considerable advantage to us, as you can imagine. It all comes down to this, I'm afraid: Harry is fast becoming more of a match for Voldemort with the strength he has gained from Draco, but as to what happens to Harry if Draco leaves, and the Cloud is fought, and Harry becomes low and magically unstable…well, I really couldn't say.'
'But this is frightful! This affects all of us!' cried Molly. 'Isn't there anything we can do to tip the balance?'
'No. There are eight students in the castle who have no idea what is going on outside these walls. They are going to have a trouble-free Christmas, a happy one, so that when Harry and Draco come to address this issue, the only factors in play will be their own feelings; I don't want this complicated by news from outside, or by pressures from third parties. I have meddled in these boys' lives enough; I have already taken gambles that would appal you. Quite apart from the Cloud, this is either going to bind them together or fling them apart, and therefore it has to be down to them alone. We will wait, and we will hope. Now, Molly, do please have some more egg-nog.'
There was no doubt in Harry's mind that Draco's pain had eased slightly during the course of the afternoon.
The Quidditch victory, which, Draco pointed out, had been very little to do with either him or Harry, had given the whole group something to talk and laugh about for several hours after they had come in from the cold, and the sense of sad withdrawal that had surrounded Draco since the first day of the holidays did seem to be partially lifted. Perhaps because Draco was amused by Ron's poorly disguised irritation at being beaten by the 'Girls', or perhaps because there was a genuine air of excitement about the special meal they were all to share in Gryffindor Tower that evening, or perhaps just because Draco had smiled at him a few times in the afternoon – smiles which had sent Harry's stomach fluttering with the memory of their time in the hospital wing – Harry felt, for whatever reason, that Draco might be getting closer to unloading whatever it was that had tormented him for some days.
The four or five days between Harry finding Draco by the lake and the Quidditch match on Christmas Eve had been a cheerless time. Draco had slept each night in one of the armchairs in the Gryffindor Common Room, not wanting to return to Slytherin House, not wanting to share a bed with Harry in any of the empty dormitories in Gryffindor Tower, but preferring to stare for long periods of time at the seductive dance of the flames in the grand fireplace – never wanting Harry out of touching distance, but rarely touching him with any meaning Harry could understand. Harry had not been physically capable of maintaining the level of distress he had felt when he had found Draco by the lake, but that didn't mean he was any less anxious. At frequent intervals in their deep silences in front of the fire, Harry would whisper, 'Please let me help you,' or 'Draco, my love, I'm so worried, there must be something I can do,' and each time Draco would look desperately grateful for this offer, but say nothing, his silvery-sad eyes meeting Harry's in a look of love but not of relief. Draco would reach for Harry, and stroke his arm or his hair, or kiss his hand, or his neck, or the crown of his head, but never his lips, never sensually, never in any way that might precipitate physical love. And then they would lapse into silence again, Draco staring unseeing into the fire, his outward demeanour never betraying his inner sorrow and despair and regret. Inches separated them. And a million miles.
And there they sat now, after their victory in the Quidditch match. Draco's eyes smiled softly for the first time in days, Harry lay with his head in Draco's lap, the silence not quite so impenetrable as it had been before, and all around them the other Gryffindors were preparing for their meal in increasingly festive happiness. A table, set for eight in the centre of the Common Room, proudly and meticulously arranged by Dobby, glinted in gold and silver and glass, an air of muted magic from the gentle light of the fire and the candles and the lamps focussing the table in the familiarity of a much-loved memory of Christmas Past. On a second table to the side sat a number of bottles of butterbeer – a Christmas gift from Dumbledore – and other jugs and flagons of lemonade and pumpkin juice. Ron and Ginny had decorated a tree with magical icicles and twinkling lanterns, cutting themselves off from the rest for a while, talking of their parents and brothers and of family meals, both happy and sad. Seamus had appointed himself barman, and spent a while polishing glasses with a squeaky white cloth, and Dean and Neville had suspended strings of streamers from the ceiling, while Hermione offered opinions on the streamers' symmetry from her foreman's armchair.
Gradually the sense of festivity permeated even Draco, who leaned over and started to whisper in Harry's ear. It was nothing that any of the other Gryffindors could hear, but a small stifled giggle from Harry, so unexpected that Seamus nearly dropped a glass, uncorked the quiet anticipation and allowed it to bubble over. Ron and Hermione glanced at each other in relief. Within minutes, Seamus was handing round bottles of butterbeer, and the group were once more involved in recalling the principal events of the afternoon's Quidditch match, particularly one incident in which Hermione had dispossessed Ron of the Quaffle and scored easily past Seamus and Dean who were disputing whose tail-twigs were the twistiest. Harry and Draco listened with amusement, smiling to each other silently, Harry daring to hope that the crisis was past, Draco becoming increasingly determined that Harry and he should have at least one memorable night this holiday, at least one more memorable night in each other's company, at least one more memorable night to last them the rest of their lives. The chatter surrounding them mounted in volume, and Harry and Draco rose slowly from their chair and were painlessly enveloped in the group's bonhomie. Harry watched, delighted, as Draco's eyes began to show some spark of their former life, while Draco himself, whoever he was talking to, couldn't stop his gaze wandering back to Harry at the rate of several times a minute.
The butterbeer had warmed them right through, appetites, unacknowledged since lunchtime, were beginning to bite, and Draco found himself drifting towards the table to take a closer look. The place setting nearest him was adorned with a stiff parchment label, displaying the name DL Malfoy in a highly elaborate and painstakingly careful script Draco knew to be the one Ron used for ceremony and apology letters. His hand brushed the back of his chair as the large clock in the corner struck 8 o'clock.
'Stop!' screeched Hermione, causing Draco to snatch his hand from the chair as if it might be dangerous. He swung around.
All the Gryffindors save Harry were looking at Draco trying to suppress smiles and adopt a mood of intense seriousness. Harry looked completely nonplussed.
'Ahem,' began Ron.
There was a lot of sniggering.
'As clerk of this court, I, Ronald Weasley, do hereby call you, Draco Lucius Malfoy, to face the Tribunal of the Lion. Her Honour Judge Hermione Louisa Granger will preside. Positions please.'
As if it had been rehearsed – which, Harry later surmised, it almost certainly had – Ginny, Neville, Seamus and Dean drew four armchairs into a line and sat down on one side of the room. On the other side, one chair was placed by Ron for Harry to sit in. ('Visitor's gallery,' he grinned.) Draco was indicated to stand in the centre of the room facing Hermione, who was enthroned on a small sofa with a low table in front of her. Good Lord, thought Harry. She's even got one of those hammer things. Ron stood to her right. Ginny was giggling and Neville was whispering to Dean.
Hermione rapped the gavel sharply on the table. 'Silence in court!'
There was immediate attention. Draco snuck a secret sideways look at Harry with more than half a smile on his face. Harry shrugged, smiling back.
'Are you Draco Lucius Malfoy, of Slytherin House and of Malfoy Manor?' asked Hermione in a clear, slow voice.
'I am,' replied Draco, rather bewildered by the whole scene.
'I am, your Honour,' repeated Draco with gravity.
'Mr Malfoy, before you may dine in Gryffindor Tower you are required to face the Tribunal of the Lion. Three questions will be asked. The honesty of your answers will be determined by four Gryffindors here assembled as your jury. Do you understand the proceedings?'
'Yes, your Honour.'
'Clerk!' barked Hermione. She passed Ron a piece of paper and a book.
Ron stepped up to Draco. 'Mr Malfoy, please place your right hand on the book and read aloud the words on the card.'
Draco's palm rested on the top of Hermione's personal copy of Hogwarts: A History and he read:
'I do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, however embarrassing.'
The jury burst out laughing, and Harry had the distinct impression that they had no idea of this change to the wording.
Hermione rapped the gavel noisily, and the jury were silent.
'QUESTION NUMBER ONE!' boomed Ron.
All eyes swivelled to Hermione.
'When did you first realise you loved Harry?'
All eyes swivelled to Draco.
Draco smiled. 'An easy question, m'Lud. The realisation came about two hours after the Care of Magical Creatures lesson during which the faun Dixter was privileged to speak with Harry and myself. I was in the shower. At the time it was not a happy recognition, but I have since had reason to alter considerably my perception of this matter. Harry was not so quick to work things out though.'
The jury laughed, as did the clerk and the judge. Harry tried to stop himself blushing.
Hermione looked at the jury, who all nodded once.
'He speaks the truth!' judged Hermione dramatically.
Harry applauded, but Hermione silenced him with a stare and a single gavel-rap as sharp as a pistol-shot.
'QUESTION NUMBER TWO!' came Ron's next announcement.
All eyes were on Hermione again; Ginny was giggling.
'When did you first kiss Harry?'
'Ahhhh!' cooed all the jury together. Bastards! thought Harry, it's all been rehearsed!
'Your Honour,' spoke Draco. 'Sometime after 3am in the rose garden on the Saturday night of the day it started to snow, the day Harry had made his peace with the clerk of the court, the day I myself spoke with you, your Honour, and you, Mr Weasley, in the fourth floor classroom in the evening. It was—'
'You went out that night?' blurted Ron, amazed, staring at Harry. 'I thought I'd—'
Hermione shot Ron a harshly rebuking look and Ron blushed and fell quiet.
'It was my decision,' continued Draco. 'I leaned across to Harry, and he did not pull away. My lips touched his for the briefest time. The moment is quite vividly fixed in my mind.'
'Oh!' sniffed Ginny, and a delicate silence hung around the courtroom. Hermione looked at Draco for some moments, then turned to the jury.
They nodded, immediately, together, once.
'He speaks the truth!' Hermione declared.
An appreciative buzz went around the courtroom. The jury fell back into whispering and Hermione looked at Ron, both smiling. At length they nodded imperceptibly at each other and Hermione's face, flushing deeply, turned down to the paper in front of her.
'QUESTION NUMBER THREE!'
There was a long silence before Hermione could overcome her blush enough to intone slowly, 'when did you and Harry first have sex?'
'Oo-oo-ooooooh!' chanted the jury in perfect unison.
Harry couldn't believe it. He blushed furiously and stared at the floor as he heard Draco begin to speak.
'Another easy question, m'Lud.' Then he paused, and looked for a long while at the top of Harry's head. And Draco smiled, and continued:
'Shortly after the time we set the furniture floating and the clothes dancing in our room in the hospital wing, on the day we had brewed the Perceptivity Potion. We were both rather overwhelmed. Afterwards we went to shower together, when yourself, your Honour, and Mr Weasley came into our room for supper. We probably seemed particularly content at that time. Now you know why.'
There was a little pause, in which Harry was sure he saw Hermione mouth the words 'told you!' to Ron, then Draco added, 'it was a profoundly beautiful experience; my first, and Harry's. I shall never forget it.'
Harry's face was crimson. Despite his considerable embarrassment, Draco was smiling broadly, like he hadn't for days, like maybe he never had before. Hermione looked deeply and seriously into Draco' face, then turned her head to the jury.
They nodded, as one man.
Hermione stood up to make her final pronouncement. 'He speaks the truth!'
The jury cheered, and Ron went to shake Draco's hand.
'Draco Lucius Malfoy,' said Hermione gravely, 'you have faced the Tribunal of the Lion and been judged to have answered with honour.'
To the sound of applause, Draco inclined his head in a respectful bow. He reached for Harry's arm, and pulled him out of his chair
'Eurghh!' spluttered Ron, watching the pair embrace. 'Avert your eyes for a second, everyone!'
'Oh!' cried Ginny. 'Is it me, or is the air in here going red?'
They laughed, and Harry, his face burning, managed to look his friends in the eye.
Hermione smiled at all assembled. 'Draco,' she laughed, 'come and sit down. You will always be welcome at our table.'
The Fifth Year boys' dormitory in Gryffindor Tower was silent.
Draco woke suddenly. His heart was thumping and he was uncomfortably hot, but his anxiety and discomfort were nothing to do with his being wrapped around Harry so tightly that Draco wondered briefly how Harry could actually breathe. Had he held on to Harry like this all night? He loosed his grip on Harry's slim naked body and Harry relaxed slightly in his arms, burrowing his back closer against Draco's chest and stomach. Draco kissed the back of Harry's neck and, needing the contact again, pulled Harry tightly towards him, so that they were spooned together on their sides, each following the contours of the other's body from head to toe.
'Oh Harry,' breathed Draco into the line where Harry's unruly hair finished and the back of his neck began.
The slow, warm rise-and-fall of Harry's body soothed Draco slightly as his mind came back yet again to the scrapbook, which was sitting at the end of Harry's bed, wrapped in green and silver paper. With the other boys all sleeping in the girls' dormitory, they had been alone; and after days of an abstinence determined by Draco, he had finally allowed them to be intimate the previous evening, after they had retired to Harry's own bed for the first time, the happiness of the Tribunal and the meal still smiling in their eyes. He had felt guilty at the bliss Harry had brought from his body while the ominous presence of the book had haunted him like his conscience looking on from the edge of the bed, but Harry had seemed to need it so much, to be convinced that Draco was still the one for whom Harry would do anything, that Draco's resolution had faded to nothing in the arms of his lover. And Harry had done so much for him, just a few hours earlier, that Draco was breathless to think of the lengths Harry had gone to; as if Harry thought by his own actions of love he could tear down the wall that separated them, as if Harry, although unaware of the book, could have cast it into oblivion by his adoration and his selflessness in this very bed.
Draco still felt guilty now, and desperately anxious, and on the brink of tears as he thought of what was to come that day, that Christmas Day. He was hot, but he couldn't conceive of letting go; he was sick with the nerves of inevitability, but leaving would achieve nothing.
The proximity of Harry, as it always did, kept Draco almost constantly rigidly aroused, intimately crushed against Harry's lower body. He gently licked the back of Harry's ear, and whispered, utterly silently, so that the only sound was the faintest movement of his lips, 'Harry, whatever happens, I will love you forever,' then relaxed his head back onto the pillow, and snuggled closer to his sleeping lover. Or was Harry asleep? Harry imperceptibly altered the position of his body, angling himself slightly more at his hips, and shuffled himself almost unnoticeably backwards, closer into Draco's hardness. Was this the sleepy, self-comforting wriggling of a young man who had no more taboos left to challenge, whose firm body was even now subconsciously brimming with a new animal sensuality sprung from their latest explorations? Or was this Harry, awake and desirous to please, offering himself once more in a way that made Draco feel faint with thoughts of beauty, and rapture, and unworthiness?
'Harry,' came his whisper, as silently as before. 'You don't have anything more to prove to me. I couldn't love you any more. Just lying here with you is easily more than enough for me...'
Draco wasn't sure at first if Harry had answered; so quiet were Harry's words that they didn't register in his ears but in his heart and body. 'Shhhh. It's not just about you or me. It's about us.'
Draco wept silently, even as he kissed Harry's back and shoulders, even as their bodies moved so naturally as one on another heart-breaking journey to ecstasy.
Dumbledore hadn't slept at all.
He had seen his guests to their various quarters around the castle, and sat with the Orbis and his Pensieve at his desk for most of the night. The Orbis burned unbearably brightly, too hot to hold, and it kept catching Dumbledore's eye, forcing him to remind himself that however well-planned his strategies were, however many good and honest people he assembled at the castle, it might all count for nothing if the two boys currently sleeping in Gryffindor Tower couldn't somehow find a way to overcome the existence of his own blasted wedding present to Harry's dead parents.
An insipid dawn was just beginning to light the squalls of rain over the fields and forests to the east of the castle, and once more Dumbledore slumped into his chair after a brief wander to the windows and back. Dare he pray for just one more piece of luck in this most urgent of matters? Lucius Malfoy would be arriving sometime in the morning; he was expecting simply to remove Draco from the school. Draco would either go with him, heart-broken, or defiantly stay beside Harry. Dumbledore had plans for both contingencies, which allowed the security of the castle to be maintained whether Lucius left triumphant with his son in tow or had to be ejected, livid and furious at a turn of events he surely hadn't foreseen.
But Lucius was not his problem. It was Harry. What role Harry might have to play in any forthcoming drama with Voldemort was unclear. But the effect of the news on the rest of the wizarding world that their champion was weak and vulnerable would be catastrophic. They might simply think that all was lost and quick surrender was the easiest option. Or they might fight on half-heartedly and without conviction, drawing out any conflict before an inevitable capitulation.
Dumbledore knew that in reality Harry's strength may have very little to do with the outcome, whoever won. But his weakness could be decisive.
He sighed heavily and went through his papers and plans again. There was no point going to sleep now, it was nearly day. The students in Gryffindor Tower will be opening their presents soon. And then we shall know.
Harry looked at Draco inquisitively.
'What is it?' he asked, eyes alive with the excitement of a present, the intimacy of opening the present naked with Draco in his own bed, and the memory of the night they had shared.
'It's a present, you tit. From me, to you. Open it.'
Draco had not seen anything like it. Presents at Malfoy Manor were a duty of excess on Christmas morning. And he had never once got even remotely as excited as Harry was now, as they both sat up in bed each with one small parcel to give.
'Of course I'm sure! I didn't buy it so you could look at the wrapping paper!'
Harry looked at Draco with utter adoration as he slowly and carefully unwrapped the parcel, savouring every moment of it undress, as if the unwrapping itself was part of the present. Eventually the paper lay open with a neatly folded pile of black silk at its heart. Harry lifted up the garment, and swiftly found there were two.
'Pyjamas!' he yelled in delight, and jumped up to stand on the bed, slipping his arms into the jacket and trying to step into the loose trousers.
For the first time in his life Draco realised the joy of presents was in the giving and not the receiving. Despite the nagging horror of Draco's other present, still sitting innocently at the end of the bed, the sight of this childlike Harry overcome by a pair of pyjamas was better than any present Harry himself could ever give him. Filled him with a silly happiness, he couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he watched Harry showing him how they fastened up, and how they fit, and how much he loved them.
'Mind you,' said Harry, looking a little coy, 'not that we wear pyjamas that much…!'
'The joy of silk PJs, old boy,' laughed Draco, 'is that they are just as delightful to remove as they are to put on. Especially if someone helps with their removal.'
'Well, we'll have to put that to the test sometime soon,' mused Harry contentedly, getting back into bed beside Draco, and passing him a small parcel of his own.
It had been lovingly but amateurishly wrapped in shiny red paper and far too much ribbon.
'What is it?' asked Draco.
'Duh,' smiled Harry.
In one swift movement Draco tore the paper away and revealed another (less neat) pile of silk. Darkest green, that ran through his fingers like water. He lifted it up and saw that it was a shirt, beautifully cut, exquisitely stitched, that fit him – as he stood and donned it – like a glove. Enough room to move in, yet in no way baggy so that his skin ever lost contact with the fabric.
'Harry, I love it. I've never owned a shirt I love one tenth so much as this one,' said Draco, trying to prevent the tears from coming. 'How did you get it so that it fits so well?'
'Erm, well, Hermione swore that we are the same size. So I had it made with my measurements, then I thought, if it doesn't fit you, at least I could have it!'
'Well, I'm afraid for your sake that it does indeed fit me. So the only contact you're going to get with it is…'
'…when I get to remove it?' laughed Harry.
'Too right. A shirt like this one won't go with your baggy jeans and old jumpers. I refuse to allow you to wear it until you've got some proper clothes to go with it!'
'Well, Draco, you appointed yourself my personal shopper. After Christmas can we ask Dumbledore if we can have a day in London, so you can help me buy some clothes, like you said?'
Harry looked at Draco in earnest and with a smile so happy that Draco's heart broke in that moment. It was highly likely that Harry wouldn't ever want to go to London with him, wouldn't ever wear the pyjamas, and would look upon Draco's green shirt with a permanent sadness and a wonder that he had ever wasted that much money. Tears welled behind Draco's eyes, as he knew that whatever happened, the green shirt would be the most precious thing he ever possessed.
'Draco! What's the matter? What did I say?' gasped Harry, as he saw how upset Draco suddenly was.
But Draco didn't answer. With his heart in his mouth, and ignoring Harry, he reached down to the end of the bed and fetched his other present. The he sat in front of Harry, and, without looking at him, but, staring at the bedcovers in a hopeless despair, he began to shake, so uncertainly, so wretchedly, that the Draco of the Tribunal, and of the meal, and of their glorious night together, and of the pyjamas and the shirt, was utterly unrecognisable. This was the Draco he had found by the lake. Harry's breath caught. This was it. He was going to tell at last.
'Harry,' said Draco, soberly, repressing all the emotion he could, 'I'm going to tell you a story. And I ask only one thing of you. That you to listen more carefully than you have ever listened to anything before. And at the end, I am going to ask you a question. Just one. The Tribunal of the Snake, if you will. But the answer you give will be a thousand times more important than the answers I gave last night.'
'Draco, stop this, you're scaring me! What's the matter? Just tell me!'
'Hush, love,' breathed Draco, touching his finger to Harry's lips, wondering if that touch would be the last physical contact he would ever have with the one he loved. And he swallowed hard, and began.
'Once upon a time, there was a magical baby boy, whose parents loved him very much. And his parents were good people, and were very popular; so popular that at their wedding, which was the happiest day in many lives, they received many presents from their friends. And a great wizard was at their wedding, and he gave the young couple a book, which was a magic book, because it could record all the happiness and store it in its pages. And the young couple filled the book with images of themselves and their young son, and their friends, playing Quidditch, going on picnics, walking in parks and on trips to the coast.'
Draco fingered the book in its wrappings nervously, completely aware of what he was saying, but unable to stop the emotion rising in his voice.
'But an evil wizard disliked this young couple, as they stood in the way of his plans, and he decided that they must be killed. And on one awful night, the evil wizard came to the young couple's house with his band of followers, and he killed the young man, and he killed the young woman, and he tried to kill the magical baby boy. But the baby boy was a special baby, and the evil wizard couldn't kill him, and the evil wizard nearly died in his efforts to kill the baby.'
A single tear of anguish began a slow sad journey down Draco's left cheek, and he stared at the bed as he forced himself to continue.
'And the evil wizard's followers went mad at the demise of their master, and they destroyed the young couple's house, leaving the special baby boy in the rubble. Two brave men rushed to the house that night. One was a half-giant, the trusted servant of the great wizard who had given the young couple their magic book. The other was the baby's godfather on his flying motorbike, who was beside himself with grief at what had happened to his friends. And when the baby boy was sent safely away to his stay with his aunt, no more was remembered about the house, or what it had contained.'
Despite his previous thoughts, Draco's hands reached instinctively for Harry's, who held them tightly.
'But the evil wizard had one particular supporter who was cleverer than the others. And while the others destroyed, he observed. And one of the things he observed was the young couple's magic book, and he took it, and hid it away. Maybe he did this because he knew his master would rise again and the book might be a way to harm the magical baby. Maybe he took it out of self-protection. Or maybe he took it because it intrigued him. But he stole it nevertheless. And out of the awful tragedy in that house that night, only two precious things were saved. The baby, and the book.'
Draco, filling with shame, withdrew his hands from Harry's and gripped the book instead.
'Years passed, and the magical baby boy grew into a beautiful young man. And the supporter of the evil wizard still kept the magic book, taking it out from time to time, and wondering what use it might be. And this supporter also had a son, the same age as the magical baby boy, and they were at the same school at the same time, and then the two sons fell in love, not knowing that the father of one had been complicit in the deaths of the parents of the other. And one day the great wizard found out about the book, and that it was still in existence, and he sent his trusted servant to reclaim it. And the great wizard discovered that the book held a terrible secret, and he did not know what to do.'
Draco tried desperately to suppress a sob rising in his chest as he continued to speak.
'And Dumbledore came to me, and showed me the secret that the book held, asking my opinion on how much the secret of the book would hurt you, would hurt both of us. And I ran away from the problem, hating it, and ran all the way to the lake, and stayed there for hours, not knowing what to do, never wanting to hurt you, but not seeing any way that I could help you escape the pain. And you came to me, and found me soaked to the bone, and carried me to the fire, and loved me, and made me realise that I had to give you the book, that however much pain it would cause, it was yours by right, that my father had no claim to it, and now, Harry, I'm going to give you the book back, to return it to its rightful owner, properly, justly, the only honourable thing I've ever done in my life, with the prayer that whatever hurt the book causes, you will let me help you get over it. Because all I want to do for the whole of the rest of my life is stop you getting hurt, because you mean the world to me, the absolute bloody world, and that doesn't even begin to come close to what I feel, to how much I love you, Harry.'
Not daring to look at Harry's face, Draco passed the package into Harry's hands, then sank face down on the bed, and waited. The unwrapping of the paper around the book crinkled like the scratch of a quill on his own execution order.
He heard as Harry turned each page, terrifyingly slowly. Draco hoped perhaps that he might turn the pages so slowly that he might never get there… but no, that was stupid. Sometimes there was a sigh, a caught breath, a laugh, a stifled sob. Then another page turned, then another. How many pages were there? Draco couldn't remember. Oh God, it wouldn't be long now. Another laugh, and another sigh. 'Hello, dad,' whispered Harry. Another page turned. Oh God, any minute, he was going to see it… he was going to see the deaths of his parents…
The page turned one last time.
Draco tried hard to block out the sounds he had heard once before, in Dumbledore's office at the very beginning of the holidays, but some part of him told him he ought to try to live through it again, just so that Harry didn't have to go through it alone. Half forcing himself to listen to the James's shouts and Lily's cries and Voldemort's cackling, half forcing his mind elsewhere, Dumbledore came back to his thoughts once more. Dumbledore himself had given this book to me. Surely, surely he had meant me to pass the book on to Harry… if Dumbledore thought that, then I must have done the right thing… 'Not Harry! Not Harry!' rang Lily's voice from the page, straight into Draco's heart. Please, please let me have done the right thing…
At last it was over. There was a long silence, in which he could hear nothing from Harry. Then to Draco's intense horror, he heard Harry close the book completely then open it once more.
The scene began once again. The same cries, the same pleas, the same outcome. How can he bear to watch it again? But he did. Still silent, still sending Draco into torture, Harry watched it again. I must have done the right thing, in principal, Draco prayed fervently. I really have… it wasn't mine to keep, still less my father's… I've made my choice… I've chosen Harry over the murderer who masquerades as a devoted family man… Harry will see that, he must, he's got to. Please don't let him hold my father's sins against me! He won't, he loves me, he gave himself to me last night, it must count for something, please, oh God, please…
It ended. And then, unbearably, Harry watched it a third time. Draco's mind knew nowhere more desperate to go. Trembling with his face flat against the pillow, Draco told himself that this was Harry's right, and if he wanted to see it a hundred times, he would still be there at the end. I'm trying to be selfless here, I really am, as selfless as Harry, I could have hidden it, burnt it, never told him about it, it would have meant I could have kept him for ever, but that would have been no better than my father, Harry needed to see it, it was his birthright, I've done the right thing, he loves me, and I pray that's going to count for something, I myself am innocent, it's my father who is the guilty one, a father I now loathe, a despicable, murderous father that I here and now push away forever, Harry will know that, he will understand the difference… Won't he?
The book closed once more, and this time it did not open again. So slowly it made his neck ache, he raised his head to look at Harry, hardly daring to, unable not to. Harry's face was ghostly white, drained, exhausted. He looked at Draco, unseeing, and Draco felt that the weight of the world was pushing him into the ground. And then, Harry spoke.
'What was your question?'
'What was your question? You said you're going to tell me a story then ask me a question. What is it?'
Draco forced himself to sit up and face Harry, but he couldn't meet his eyes. Looking down in his lap, he summoned all his strength, and eventually voiced, 'can you still love me?'
Oh God, do I have to say it again? 'Er, Harry, however long it takes, do I have a chance? Do we still have a chance? Is there a prayer that, in years to come, you can love me again like you have done until today? Can you still love me?'
'Can I still love you?' echoed Harry, looking at Draco incredulously.
Oh no! This is it! thought Draco frantically. He can't believe I even have the audacity to ask! Me, the son of his parents' murderer, of course I don't have a chance! I should leave now. Take my memories, and leave him to his pain. I should—
'Draco, now you listen to me. I'm going to tell you a story, then I'm going to ask you a question. And you are going to listen carefully. Yes?'
Draco nodded dumbly, not comprehending this unexpected turn of events.
'Once upon a time there was baby boy named Harry, and he loved his parents very much, only he never knew them, because they were murdered when he was a year old. And for ten more years he still never knew them, because his aunt and uncle said not a single word about them that wasn't a lie. And then one day Harry found out he was a wizard, and that people knew his name, and that people knew his parents' names too. And these people said things like, 'doesn't he look just like his father,' and 'his mother loved him so much, you know, she died to save him,' and yet the boy Harry had no idea what they were talking about. And then one day some years later, Harry realised that he had fallen in love with his arch-enemy, and his world was turned upside-down, and during that whole time he kept wishing that he could ask his mother and father what to do, only they were dead, and nobody said anything about them except 'his father was a fine Quidditch player, you know,' and none of those things were ever going to help Harry with his awful dilemma. And gradually Harry began to realise that the love he had found with his enemy was as deep as the love he had missed from his parents, and that the boy wasn't his enemy any more, he was his family.
'And then Harry's former enemy came to Harry on Christmas morning, and he gave him a book with more detail and information and memory in it about his parents than Harry could ever have dreamt of. But the boy was terrified about this book, because it implicated his father in his parents' murders, and he despaired at the thought of Harry having to see anything this terrible. And he was sure that Harry would reject him, because it would seem like one more betrayal in the list of tragedies that popular folklore says is the sum of Harry's life. But what the boy didn't understand is that Harry already knew how his parents died, and he already knew that the boy's father was implicated, and he already knew that the deaths had been unpleasant. Harry had seen part of his parents' deaths in visions induced by the chill of Dementors, and now he had the chance to see, once and for all, what the whole truth was.
'And Harry saw that his parents had loved him right up until the point that they could no longer love. And Harry saw that his mother's love was so powerful that the evil wizard was no match for it, and he was near-mortally burned by something so pure. So Harry loved the boy even more than ever, for having the courage and the strength to prove to Harry that he was loyal, and honourable, by giving this book to Harry, and by letting him know his parents better than he had ever hoped would be possible. And truthfully, Harry was delighted, because he had dared to have such great expectations about the life he might live with his former enemy, and he now he knew for sure that the boy was surely true, and that he loved Harry, and that he was so determined to do the right thing, that even though he thought he might have to sacrifice his own happiness, he still went ahead and gave Harry the book, renouncing his father, and making his choice in a way that Harry couldn't mistake.'
Harry grasped Draco's head and pulled it up so he could look into his eyes.
'And I know something else too. That we are not defined by the Crimson Cloud. Because the Cloud serves to pull people together who are magically in love, and makes it impossible for them to live apart, even if they wanted to try. But in giving me this book, Draco, you were prepared to risk all of that, you ignored the pain you would feel with a lifetime of separation, and acted against the Cloud in a way that neither of us has been able to do since we became aware of it. You were prepared to try and live without me for the sake of an honourable deed. And that says to me that your love for me is something way more powerful than that which is dictated by some silly Cloud neither of us has ever seen and neither of us understands. And so in answer to your question, 'can I still love you?' I say, you might just as well have asked, 'how can I not still love you?' because once and for all, Draco, you have shown me that you've got rare and wonderful qualities, that I hope you will let me cherish for ever.'
Harry smiled as tears coursed down Draco's cheeks.
'And now I've got a question for you. What on earth can I do in the whole world that can equal what you have done for me this morning? And if you can't give me an answer now, I'm going to spend the rest of my life working it out for myself.'
Draco couldn't answer. He couldn't even speak.
'No answer, eh?' smiled Harry. 'Stuck for words? No clever quips? My, my, Draco old boy. I guess I'll have to work out how to repay you myself then. And, I tell you what, I've got a bloody good idea of where to start.'
He kissed Draco briefly and then leaned down under the bed for something.
'You're not the only one with two presents to give, ferret boy. Now dry your eyes and have a look at this.'
Draco looked, staggered, at the parcel Harry fetched up from under the bed.
'Oh my God!'
There was absolutely no mistaking its shape, even though it was wrapped as elaborately as the shirt.
'Oh my God!'
'Go on, I didn't buy it so you could look at the wrapping paper!'
'Oh my God!'
Draco ripped madly at the paper.
'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!'
Harry laughed and laughed.
'Harry! Oh my God, Harry, a FIREBOLT!'
'Worth every Knut for the look on your face, too.'
'Oh, Harry! Promise me one thing…'
'That whatever happens, that however bad things get, that whatever battles we have to fight, or tragedies we have to face, promise me that we will always, always be together, because—'
'Draco! Of course. Anything else would be unthinkable.'
A/N: Ever since I began UT many months ago, the intricacies of Harry and Draco's relationship have been with me every day, which has been both wonderful and draining. During that whole time my own life has changed greatly, and UT is now a very personal project in many ways. My aim with this fic was always to tell the story of how Harry and Draco fell in love, not conquered the world, and I will leave stories of battles with Voldemort and showdowns with Lucius to other writers who know about magic swords and ancient spells. Ending the story here, at this very point, is appropriate for me as although the larger flow of events obviously continues in fandom in general, the pledging of Harry and Draco to each other is now complete in UT and the 'unthinkable thoughts' themselves are now ended.
If you have read all the way through UT and not yet left a review, please spare a minute to do so now, as I would love to know what you thought. For all those of you who have left many reviews before, I am very grateful for your support and encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to read this fic and for showing your enjoyment of it.
Good luck, Aidy.