Chapter 37

The Hogwarts Howler

A blurry ceiling stretched from the centre towards the top and bottom of his field of vision. No matter how hard he blinked the stencils and the fine cracks on it that he knew from the back of his hand did not become clearer. Bright, almost painful, sunlight streamed through a nearby mullioned window. It was the first day of a new month, a new beginning surely. He blinked again futilely, squinted up and met the pale underside of a chin. Harry recoiled slightly, blinked harder than ever and watched Draco's face smiling down at him.

"Hey, you."

Harry looked away before the colour of his cheeks could betray him and hauled himself up to a sitting position. He stretched, cracking his bones. "Draco," he yawned. He felt around for his glasses and when he did not find them he remembered that they had been crushed hours earlier.

"Pomfrey couldn't do anything for your eyes, sorry: you're irrevocably sightless. I'm supposed to guide you for the whole day, she said. Of course I can't do that since I technically no longer study at this school. So Granger and Weasley will have to take turns being your guide dog until we can come up with some plan… And I think they're waging a fight against Madam Pomfrey on the drawbridge as we speak." And sure enough, now that he was fully awake, Harry could hear protesting and a few beseeching cries at the doors of the infirmary. "Shush, don't make a noise – maybe they'll go away."

"I don't want my friends to go away," Harry said before declaring loudly in Draco's face, "Good morning, Draco."

Draco's mouth fell open and he narrowed his eyes at Harry.

"See! He's awake! He'd want to see us – we're his friends, woman!"

"Ron, do be polite! Madam Pomfrey, please, we just want to see if he's all right."

"Are you questioning my healing skill, little missy?"

"I—I—of course not-!"

"Of course she's not questioning your healing skills, lady! You've healed Harry wonderfully since first year!" Ron paused here, perhaps to let the compliment sink in. "We're just asking to see him for a few minutes, then you can chuck us out if you want!"

"Well, all right," sighed an exasperated-sounding Madam Pomfrey after a short pause. "But hurry if will you, my patients need resting time to recuperate properly before they can hurt themselves all over again and come back."

She was clearly referring to Harry.

"Don't worry, we'll only bother one of them. We're not so interested in the other one. We'll leave him to sleep all he wants."

"Ron," admonished Hermione. Her voice grew louder as they approached as she continuing reproaching Ron.

"Harry, mate—Oh…"

Ron had been about to fling himself onto his bed when he noticed who else was in it and broke off before he took flight, seeming to have crashed into a glass sliding door. Then Dean, Seamus, Blaise and Goyle came into view a second later, looking over their shoulders suspiciously as they scanned the area for signs of Madam Pomfrey: they had every appearance of having sneaked in. Blaise and Goyle came around the bed and stood at Draco's side while the Gryffindors stood on the other side.

"Hey, guys," Harry said, grinning. The Gryffindors chorused back in greeting.

"How're you doing?" asked Hermione.

Harry shrugged. His injuries were minor, but he could still feel the lingering sting in his muscles from running the hardest and fastest and longest he had ever ran in his life. Harry looked around at the Slytherins and Gryffindors around their bed. He was aware that they all knew two facts: that Draco had been a sex slave to Voldemort and that Sirius had been that enormous shaggy dog they had seen yesterday. These facts considered, Harry did not feel alarmed at all, however, because he knew he could trust them with even his own life. They had run alongside him, battled the werewolves beside him, and had been united in fear with him. Harry would die for any of them.

"You all right?" Blaise asked Draco. Crabbe, who now looked strangely diminished without his equally bulky companion beside him, nodded approvingly at the question.

Draco rolled his shoulders. "I could do with a shot of Ogden's though," he chortled.

Blaise snorted and Crabbe wore a reminiscent grin as though having a taste of Firewhiskey in his mind as he stood there.

Harry turned sharply to Draco. "What's that?" he asked, an uneasy suspicion already growing in his head.

"Firewhisky, Harry," Draco answered with a soft, chiding cluck of his tongue in seeming irritation and incredulity as though he did not believe Harry did not know about Odgen's Old Firewhiskey this and was acting foolish to be funny.

"You drink?" asked Harry, his eyes popping wide as he stared at the blurred and pale, easily innocent-looking face, recalling his brilliant teeth so white they appeared almost blue, untouched by alcohol seemingly.

Draco looked affronted. "Well, I wouldn't put it that way," he said defensively with a gentle scowl. "I'm the occasional drinker."

Harry merely stared at the pale blur in front of him. Draco looked far too… pure to be a drinker. It was hard to believe it. Draco looked away from Harry's eyes as though they scorched him. Seamus wore a similar look of disbelief and disappointment at Draco as he clutched Dean's hand in his own openly, apparently not bothering to hide anymore.

"Drinking. At fifteen," observed Ron quietly with pursed lips superiorly in a very Hermione-like way and in a tone that suggested he thought himself to be on higher moral ground.

Harry turned to Ron and his eyes landed on his freckled hand, like Dean and Seamus, intertwined with Hermione's, the latter of which twitched when it felt Harry's eyes on it and attempted to pull out of its freckled companion but Ron held on firmly, unwilling to let go. Harry looked up into his face and could not read much more in the expression than an edge of defiance. He was vaguely revisited by that strange sense of abandonment he had felt when he had seen Hedwig so shamelessly enthralled with Dragonfly the night he visited his dormitory, when he had caught Seamus' and Dean's surreptitious mating hands in the common room, and now as he looked at his two best friends standing in front of him hand in hand.

But this time there was no accompanying sting of betrayal, of feeling left alone and feeling as though he were missing out on a vital aspect of life, because he too had someone now. Someone with whom he was involved, had as his own – his special, significant other. One who complemented him and with whom he could share and gain energy and on whom bounce off, judge and gauge his ideas and stances. So, now filled up and not lacking, he instead smiled at Ron and Hermione proudly. And they blushed harder than they ever had before.

"Congratulations!" Harry cheered happily.

"Ron first thought he was attracted to you!" Harry said very rapidly and in a high voice. "We really didn't ask for it to happen!"

Seamus turned sharply to Ron, whose face turned an ugly puce.

"Hermione!" the redhead squeaked in horror, looking thoroughly betrayed.

Hermione flustered horribly, turned an even more impressive and violent red to match her Gryffindor jersey and studied the floor as though he held all the secrets of life.

Harry's dark eyebrows disappeared into his shock of raven hair. He did not understand. He remembered the longstanding chemistry between Ron and Hermione since term had begun a month ago. They had demonstrated a secret understanding between each other when Harry had lost control of his magic and shook the common room. They completed Ron's Transfiguration essay together looking beetroot purple in the face. Harry had always known them to fight and bicker like an old couple. And lately Harry had noticed that Ron was starting to pick up some of Hermione's habits. After all of this, how could Ron… possibly want him? Harry could not even…

Yet even as he gaped in befuddlement he suddenly recalled Ron giving him that strange squeeze to his pectorals, and then that equally baffling and curious outburst: You know, I'm the one who's looked out for you for all these years. I'm the one who stood up for you. I'm the one who woke you up while you were moaning in your nightmares. I'm the one who climbs in your bed and comforts you and rubs your back until you go back to sleep – not Malfoy. Why should he have you?

He had never known Ron to be gay – quite the opposite if anything. Had Ron thought that if there was anyone with whom Harry would want to explore his new homosexual whims, it would be him because they were best of friends? Or had Ron perhaps thought it was better for him to have Harry than for Draco Malfoy to? Had he decided he would rather sacrifice himself so he could in some way save Harry? Or had he simply suffered an instance of masculine insecurity and grown an infatuation for Harry?

"Sorry, Ron," said Harry with a smirk, "but as you can see, I don't do redheads – I'm more of a dumb-blond person."

"Who you calling dumb?" growled Crabbe, stepping closer to the bed, his figure suddenly seeming not so diminished at all.

"Yes, Potter, do explain yourself," Draco demanded tersely.

Harry winced. "I was just kidding, babes?" He gave the blond a conciliatory and pleading peck on the lips. Ron mewled and screwed up his face but stopped when Hermione stomped on his foot.

"You think a kiss is going to make everything fine and dandy again?" asked Draco, who had reacted to and acknowledged neither the affectionate term nor the kiss, which was particularly disheartening for Harry, who attempted to disarm Draco by keeping his idiotic, lopsided grin and making fun of himself. He had thought the affectionate term would have gone a long way to bridging things as it was something with which he was uncomfortable at the moment and had to work on to get used to, and that this uncharacteristic effort to be a wittier and more sensitive partner and be on the same brain wavelength as Draco would have appealed to the Slytherin, who had appreciated his rare spasm of boastfulness just the previous day.

It quite fortunate at that moment that there was the sound of flapping wings. They all turned to the window and saw Hedwig and Dragonfly beating the window down barbarically.

"Hedwig!" Harry said as he attempted to lift the covers to slip out, but Hermione yanked them down and glared at him threateningly.

"Stay put. Pomfrey'd never forgive us for letting you out of bed. She barely let us in as it was."

Meanwhile, Draco, free from authority-adherent friends like Hermione Granger, had got out of bed and tiptoed to the window, which he then pulled open and let the two owls fly inside. Dragonfly landed on Draco's arm, which was weighed upon so alarmingly that it nearly took Draco to the floor before he recovered. Hedwig flew over to Harry, landed on his shoulder and nipped him in the ear affectionately.

"Hey, girl." This was all Harry was able to say to her as she quickly flew back to Dragonfly after the eagle owl hooted. It had not sounded the slightest commanding, which was just as well, Harry thought, imagining what Hedwig would have done if she thought Dragonfly was trying to order her as though she were some vapid, stay-at-nest owl. Dragonfly's golden brown wings flapped importantly and snow white followed suit. But this weird courtship of sorts was shortly interrupted by a scandalized scream.

"Oh! Owls in the infirmary! I will not have this! OUT, you creatures, out! I granted you this favour and this is how you repay me?" breathed Pomfrey, looking menacing in her apron as she fisted her hands against her hips. Hedwig and Dragonfly flew out of the window and into the distance. "And what's all this?" went on a fuming Pomfrey, gesturing broadly at the Slytherins. "New faces I see, eh? Sneaked in, did you, then? Well, I'll simply not tolerate it! Leave the hospital wing at once! At once! All of you!"

Pushing and pulling them and slapping a few stubborn others, Madam Pomfrey drove Harry's and Draco's visitors out of the infirmary. And they heard the sound of the door closing shut and then a loud sigh of satisfaction before Pomfrey's footsteps came closer as she muttered about children and proper medical care. Reappearing in front of them once more, it was apparent Madam Pomfrey was not just about done. She replaced her hands on her hips.

"And you, young man," she said strictly as she eyed Harry, making a plain effort to ignore Draco lying next to him in his white hospital robe. "I never expected it of you but now that you're not satisfied with making regular trips in here, you're also finding a fascination with weapons, are you? Wait till the headmistress hears of this, you just wait…"

At these puzzling words Harry sharply turned to the top of his bedside drawer, and there upon it lay Sirius' dagger quite placidly, nothing of this calm picture at rest recalling the deadly feat it had managed of decimating an entire pack of werewolves mere hours before.

"It's not a weapon!" Harry protested, looking back at Madam Pomfrey. But she was so adrift in her monologue that she could not have stopped even if she had heard him.

"Oh yes, Madam Pomfrey, heal my wounds, grow back my bones, fix my concussion! All the while gallivanting with a grotesque weapon and sneaking out in the middle of the night! I've heard those offish rumours from the Fat Lady of your common room. Cannot believe I lend my services to irresponsible, ungrateful…" And she walked off, mouth rapping wildly with what Harry thought were unfounded accusations and ill-information, which was not unexpected if one's source was the Fat Lady, whom Harry believed must have exaggerated the facts grossly.

"Forget about her," said Draco, "McGonagall'll understand – she's a huge fan of yours as well, I'm sure, Head of your House and all."

"You don't know McGonagall," Harry snorted, folding his arms as he stared into Pomfrey's office through its solid wall, now feeling quite offended himself. That dressing down was uncalled for.

"You healed nicely, see," Draco pointed out as he lifted Harry's white robes, revealed his side and ran his hand over the area near his lower back. "Your body's probably used to seeing this room and kick-starting the healing process. Is this your regular bed?"

Harry lifted himself slightly off the bed to feel his healed flesh for himself it for himself. "Pomfrey's work – it's always perfect." He settled back into position.

"Do you think she'll let you stay in here for a while longer? You might not have to go back into the humdrum circle of life out there just now."

Harry rolled his eyes. "And stay in here all day?"

"Well, yeah, if it means no homework."

"I'm not allergic to homework, you know."

"Could've fooled me," snorted Draco. "But anyone could do with a surprise holiday if it comes along, just like me." And Draco, who was effectively out of school, smirked smugly.

Harry looked away contemplatively, his eyes losing the little focus they had held. Holiday… More time on his hands… for a purpose… "Need to start as soon as possible…"

"What's that?" asked Draco.

Harry shook his head, still staring into the distance. Draco shrugged and began kissing him along the neck, at which Harry slunk away, grinning shyly.

"Draco! She's right in there!"

"Toss her!" said Draco dismissively and went for Harry's lips again, and Harry could not do anything else but kiss back, which started a hot and intense wordless minute. But then, feeling that soft, dizzy sensation again roiling up, begging to spring from his gut, Harry gently pulled back and breathlessly whispered, "She could walk out right now!" Draco looked at him dully as though waiting for him to give him a better reason to stop. "…And I need to go to class!" Harry supplied. "I want to see how everyone else's doing."

"You're that eager to be rid of me?"

"Of course not, you sod. But I want to get out of here as soon as possible. Where's your Portkey?"

Draco carelessly waved his hand at his neatly folded clothes and accessories on the bedside drawer of his own bed. "Somewhere there."

"Come on, let's get dressed."

As he huffed and puffed about Gryffindor tenderness and how senseless his need to check up on other people was, Draco slipped off the bed, went over to his own and pulled on his clothes. With a sickening drop of his stomach, Harry watched Draco don an elegant, emerald robe that very much resembled the one Lucius had dressed him in in his memory which he accessed in Dumbledore's Pensive. Draco grabbed his silver watch, which was too big for his wrist, pulled his head back and studied it before he finished dressing and came over to Harry, taking his arm without saying a word.

"What's this?" Harry enquired, staring at Draco and the watch.

"I want you to wear it," Draco said shortly without looking up.

"Why?" Harry asked almost in protest and was tempted to pull his wrist away from Draco as the Slytherin clicked the watch around his wrist.

"Father gave it to me," Draco answered simply.

Feeling unaccountably uncomfortable, Harry stood and frowned as Draco finally did the clasp and held up his hand, for which the watch was still a little too big but fitted him better than it had its previous owner. Harry, for all his desire to experience all the conceivable different moments of a relationship on a continuum starting from the good to the bad, desired nothing more than for the sentimental moment to end. It was certainly not their first such moment, but it was the first one where Draco was exercising an atrophied – if it was ever used at all – part of him: selflessness and charity.

Damn him but Harry was still fighting to rid himself of his preconceptions about himself as a Gryffindor and Draco as a Slytherin. This selfless act on Draco's part unsettled him because he thought that if anyone in their relationship was supposed to be selfless and altruistic, it was Harry Potter. Draco dependably brought all the negative traits into the relationship ad infinitum. They balanced each other out nicely, and Harry had something to do in the way of redeeming Draco and fixing him. But if Draco was transforming himself into a good person all on his own, it was one less way Harry was useful. One less thing to give Draco, whom he wanted to give everything under the sun.

Why did he think of himself as Draco's redeemer? Did he think he was a better human being than Draco? The honest answer embarrassed him. It was true Draco had proven himself selfish, deceptive and unreasonably stubborn, but surely Harry had no right to think himself a better person when he had flaws as well.

Perhaps he was reading too much into things. Perhaps his desire to improve Draco's moral personhood was simply fodder on which their infantile relationship fed to grow organically or a shockwave of their different energies connecting and writhing before they came into equilibrium.

Harry looked down at the flashy silver watch as Draco watched him quite expressionlessly. "What does the writing on the back of it mean?" he enquired, less out of curiosity than a desire to disrupt Draco's blank gaze at him.

"It's in the Northern Sotho language of South Africa. It means I Live Only for You."

Harry made a noise of agreement and did not look up from the watch, blazing hot in the face. He was suddenly captivated by the watch's beautiful craftsmanship even though he could still feel Draco's eyes on him. And he knew there was nothing expressionless about it at all.

"It's beautiful," Harry observed with a small cough, running his fingers along the face of the watch.

Still gazing unblinkingly at Harry, Draco tilted his head to the side and said nothing.

"Let's go," Harry said, trying to move away from the moment. "Escort me to Transfiguration."

After stowing Sirius' dagger in his robe he walked out with Draco out of the infirmary. They went to Gryffindor Tower first to fetch their things and were heading to the Transfiguration classroom, in which the students were already filing, when Harry heard an angry hoot from behind them. He spun around and saw a plain, tawny owl swooping down on them, dropped a small note from its talons and flew off with another irritable hoot. Harry caught the missive before it hit the ground and opened it.

The school gate.

Sirius

Harry's heart pounded. Draco was watching him expectantly. "Sirius's at the gate," Harry said, barely believing the words coming out his own mouth.

"You can't honestly be thinking of going there. Transfiguration is just about to start – McGonagall will turn us to some pendulum grandfather clocks so in future we're wisely timely!"

"I have to go. Come. Besides, there is no future for you." He grabbed Draco by the wrist and dragged him down to the Entrance Hall, across the fields and down the drive. Harry ran the rest of the way towards the school gate after catching the unclear sight of a straggly mass of long, black hair and a glimpse of a slightly ghoulish face.

"Sirius!" Harry yelled with utter happiness as he threw his arms at the gate and hugged Sirius through the bars.

"Hey, Harry!" Sirius' eyes were bright and full of life as he looked at Harry. But his expression wavered when he looked beyond Harry's shoulder at the person behind him. Yet he did not appear startled him. "Draco."

Draco inclined his head.

"Where're the specs?" Sirius asked Harry. "You look… younger."

"Lost them yesterday. I'll make a plan," Harry replied offhandedly. "You look… great!" He knew this was somewhat a lie, and Sirius knew it as well, raising an eyebrow. Harry decided to move on quickly. "It was you yesterday, wasn't it?"

Sirius nodded and smiled warmly at him. "I told you I'd do everything I can to look out for you. Remus couldn't come because they know him, scent and all. They would've killed him on the spot. But that was the most foolish thing you could've ever done. Even this I hadn't expected of you. Werewolves, Harry?"

"We had to do it," said Harry unrepentantly.

"Yes, it would seem so to you, Harry," said Sirius quietly to the accompaniment of Draco's assenting snort. After he looked over to the Slytherin he sighed exasperatedly, "Were you hurt?"

"Not really, no."

"Why did you do it? I've got to hear this one."

Harry shook his head. "Long story – tell you another time. Were youhurt?"

"Not really, no. Bellatrix though was very… determined to get me. Alas, the ties that bind us..."

"Come again?" said Harry, who was sure he had not heard Sirius correctly due to all his stress.

"Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry," said Sirius as though the revelation was being wrenched from him unwillingly. "She's family to me. I'll explain some other time."

Harry stared open-mouthed at Sirius and thought he heard a strange noise behind him. "That shrieking little hyperactive woman with the black rings around her eyes and that Voldemort broke out of Azkaban is your family?"

"Quite."

Harry merely stared at Sirius, who waved dismissively with his hand.

"Forget it for now. I'm afraid to ask how many of you survived."

"You should've seen what you dagger did yesterday!" Harry trilled as he changed the subject rather than deal with Sirius' morbid question.

"Oh and what's that?" asked Sirius, humouring him.

"Shredded the whole lot of them, it did! It was brilliant! It was something like what Hermione looked up – I think she called it Legend of a Thousand Knives or some other. I thought me and Draco were done for!"

Sirius looked impressed. "Did the trick then, did it?"

"More than that! But it also nicked me a bit, but Pomfrey took care of that. She's going to retire one of these days 'cause of all the stress I'm giving her alone." Sirius smiled. "So we'll be coming to visit you these coming holidays."

Sirius' eyes shot to Draco. "It's what Dumbledore had planned," he said gently with a small smile on his chapped lips.

"About that," began Draco ominously, at which point Harry looked over his shoulder at him carefully. "I don't think I will be doing that – my parents' villa is just as good a place to hide."

Harry looked at the pale blob behind him. "It was Dumbledore's plan for you to stay with Sirius."

"I know," said Draco, his arms folded, "but plans change. I'm quite comfortable there – I wish to return."

Harry continued to stare at him quietly. Why did Draco not want to respect Dumbledore's plans? It made him feel betrayed all over again and that Draco did not care about how dear Dumbledore had been to him. "It's safer at the Order's headquarters," Harry argued. "You can stay a little while there but you have to go to Sirius' afterwards."

"It might be the safest place but no one knows where the villa is," countered Draco. "So it's practically the safest place in the world. And besides, my parents are there under storage. I have some things to take care of there."

Harry glared at Draco for a few more long seconds before turning his back on him. For the duration of his chat with Sirius he tried driving Draco out of his mind and failed. But among other things, he learned from Sirius that Kingsley Shacklebolt had been made Acting Minister of Magic, something which Harry thought was ridiculous since there was no Ministry to lead. It had evidently fallen in Voldemort's hands. Sirius showed him the Daily Prophethe had with him, the heading on the first page of which blared, "Party of Horrors". Harry declined to read it.

Minutes later he and Draco headed back to the Transfiguration classroom. He knew the class was already underway but still stayed with Draco in the middle of the corridor, unable to look him in the eye. Who knew when he would see Draco again after he disappeared?

"When does it activate?" Harry asked.

"I set it for three times, just in case," Draco said. "No one knew what would happen. I didn't know if you'd let me come along, so I had activated it for seven-thirty. If you did let me come along, I still didn't know how long we were going to in Hogsmeade, so I set it for midnight – didn't think it would take long for our necks to get ripped off. Then, if we were somehow to survive, we'd have been grossly injured, so I set it for ten the next day after checking out of the infirmary, as we surely did, which is in-" He took Harry's arm and regarded the silver watch. "-two hours."

"So you still have an hour," Harry pointed out, feeling as though the world was opening up and almost light-headed with relief and happiness. "You can do Transfiguration with me – it's a double period, then you can go after."

Draco did something Harry had never seen him do: pout. "I don't wanna do Transfiguration," he whined. "Besides, McGonagall will probably bite our heads off for being late as you said after you just had to catch up with your Azkabanian godfather."

"McGonagall biting our heads off is nothing new, and that's not funny with the Azkaban thing. Let's just go, can't we?" He grabbed Draco by the wrist and dragged him along.

Very self-consciously Harry led them into the classroom and took their seats while the class remained stunningly quiet. Mercifully, McGonagall had her back turned to the class as she wrote on the chalkboard and had not seen them enter. Despite his painfully blurry vision, Neville was blushing so incandescently that Harry could locate him and make out his doughy, oval-shaped face as he sat next not an enormous blob Harry was certain was the fat girl to which Neville had a liking. That she was attending classes normally must have meant her leg was fine now. The wild bushy mouse-brown mane did not make it hard to spot Hermione, who was looking at him with a warm smile. She turned back to the front at McGonagall flicking her wand at the blackboard while letters chalked themselves across the green surface.

Nearly two hours later Draco helped him out of the Transfiguration classroom as he had done when they left the infirmary, and with Dean, Seamus and Lavender, walked along with them into the corridor.

Meanwhile Hermione's mouth was on overdrive. "We asked McGonagall about what was going happen to those four Slytherins who attacked the others and Draco's parents. She told us she's been keeping them in some abandoned classroom in a cage she Transfigured for them. She said she doesn't know what she's going to do with them because it seems as though there's no one we can trust anymore, not even the Ministry of Magic – I mean, Dumbledore was murdered on their grounds, wasn't he?" But before an uncomfortable silence could arise at the mention of Dumbledore, she swiftly moved on to other matters, one of which was the effect which had been invoked when Harry's and Voldemort's Killing Curses met last evening.

"…From that article Draco gave me, that black hole that nearly sucked you in wasn't supposed to be that strong to do so. But then again strange things that are never supposed to happen always happen between and V—V—V—Voldemort."

Harry blinked at her with a mixture of surprise and pride. It was the first time she had said Voldemort's name. He looked up at Ron and raised his eyebrow expectantly. Ron turned his head the other way.

They reached the spot in the corridor where Draco had disappeared with the Portkey with his parents' corpses yesterday. It was his last time seeing Draco and he could not even do so properly because his glasses were gone. Everything was unfair. Draco's departure, which was minutes away, and the desperation to be with him still stoked a thought that had occurred to him before while they had been in the infirmary: since they had spoilt Voldemort's plans by not only preventing him from expanding his werewolf army but annihilating it altogether, Harry had no idea of Voldemort's next move. Would it be to rebuild that army or come straight for Hogwarts?

With Hogsmeade, Harry at least had had a frame of reference. Now he was clueless – he had no idea how Voldemort's mind worked. He had no other choice but to expect the worst and therefore he had to go for jugular and try to eliminate the entire threat. He had to kill Voldemort: he had to start searching for the Horcruxes. And considering the disbandment of the DA by McGonagall after she found out about it from a visit Madam Pomfrey made during the class and made the connection between it and the recent deaths, consequently handing him and the DA a year-round ban from Quidditch, he felt he had more than enough reason to drop out of school as well.

Should he go with him? Should he go with Draco to that seaside villa and spend time with him there, and start hunting the Horcruxes?

Harry's heart thundered.

But how can I throw away my school career like this?

We're talking about the Darkest wizard of all time – school can surely wait.

But Sirius would kill me!

He doesn't have to know.

What about Ron and Hermione?

You know they'd want to come along – they'd insist, in fact.

Harry's mind whirred as he stood there staring at the unclear flood of students, many of which held what were probably copies of the Daily Prophetin their hands, flowing in opposite directions as they changed classes. He looked down at his watch and was infuriated when he obviously could not make out the positions of the hands.

"Nine forty-seven," Draco offered. Harry looked up at him and imagined the Slytherin looking at him with pity.

"I want to go with you."

"I beg your pardon?" Hermione gasped. Harry did not mind her but kept looking at Draco, whose expression he could not make out, which did not improve his temper.

"Harry?" said Ron, with a trace of worry in his voice as though he believed Harry had finally gone off the edge, while Lavender's eyes popped open.

Draco stood wordlessly in front of Harry. The Gryffindor did not break the silence and let the expectation for an answer mount.

"What's that in your hand?" he heard Draco enquire as he looked to Harry's right.

"Something that's confiscated," answered Hermione idly, who was frowning at Harry with her mouth slightly gaping. "And it's succeeding tremendously in distracting the entire school this morning as we speak. Lavender wasted no time in taking advantage of the DA being banned and hence my Sneak Jinx not working anymore."

There was an excited screech on Harry's left. "The Hogwarts Howler, Harry!" Lavender screeched. "It's finally out! Went to print right this morning! It was an effing nightmare I tell you but Flitwhich and Sprout were real angels and helped us out big time! We'd been working so hard on it, me and… Parvy… and Colin…" She suddenly fell quiet but then quickly gathered herself, snatched the paper out of Hermione's hand threw a naughty look at Harry. She cleared her throat and began to read the front page.

"That is prefect-confiscated property!" Hermione protested without much heart in her words because all her energies were directed at trying to understand what Harry had meant by saying he wanted to go with Draco only a month into the academic year.

Quite ignoring Hermione, Parvati read, "The Hogwarts Howler, first edition, October first, nineteen ninety-five-"

"I wanna come with you," Harry declared, cutting across Lavender, who gladly fell silent and sighed soppily, tears brimming in her eyes.

"Hang on, Harry, mate," Ron protested gently. "We're talking about-"

"We're talking about your schooling career being put in jeopardy just because you want to be with Malfoy," said Hermione sharply.

"Mate, for once, I agree with her," Ron said with a slightly guilty grimace.

"Yeah, you would agree with her ʼcause she's your girlfriend. Why can't I be with my boyfriend?" Harry said angrily without turning to them. He heard Hermione gasp in shock.

"At least we'll still be together in school!" she shrieked.

"You heard McGonagall – I'm no longer on the Quidditch team – that's the fun out of school just like that! And Angelina will kill me if she sees me. Besides, I want to… I want to… start searching for them."

There were no more protests after he said this. He had no desire to see figure out the expressions on his friends' faces but continued to fix his eyes on Draco, who had not said a word so far besides enquiring about The Hogwarts Howler.

"You want to… start searching for the You-Know-Whats now?" asked Ron, sounding slightly put-upon but mostly incredulous.

"Yeah," Harry replied. "We don't know what his next move is – we have to start attacking him as soon as we can." He finally looked away from Draco and turned to Ron and Hermione. "Let's all go. We can hunt for them together and stop him once and for all." What he would give to see their expressions right now. Of all the times he could have lost his glasses…

After a few seconds of silence Ron finally remarked, "Mum would literally kill me."

"If Voldemort doesn't get around to it first, you mean," Harry countered swiftly.

Another more contemplative pause ensued. "Harry, we're taking our OWLs this year. I mean-"

"What will be the use of our OWLs if there's no school to take them in, Hermione? Don't you remember? Voldemort wants Hogwarts in his grasp and unless we find a way to kill him he'll get it – believe me! In any case Hogwarts isn't safe anymore – look at just yesterday with Draco's parents. Don't you remember what I said in the Hog's Head?" Hermione flushed presumptuously even as Harry was yet to apparently reiterate his point. "We can't be thinking in that mentality anymore – we can't afford to! No more predictabilities, no more constants, no more guarantees – remember? And Fudge, the Minister of Magic, is dead! The whole Wizarding world is spiralling into chaos! Things aren't going to get any better unless we start to attack him from the inside, as soon as we can so he doesn't see us coming, Hermione! We! Us! ʼCause we're the only ones who know how to!"

There was more silence.

Harry looked down at his watch again and clucked his tongue loudly in ire.

"Ten to," supplied Draco.

"Thanks," Harry spat without looking at him. "What do you say, guys?" he asked his friends pointedly.

The two blobs in front of him did not move for a while. Then they looked at each other. "Okay, Harry," Hermione sighed. "There's really isn't any other way, if you put it like that. I mean goodness, after yesterday, the way he was so powerful, just his screaming alone could… And he could fly…!"

Harry nodded gravely before he turned back to Draco. "We're coming along – you don't have to be alone, Draco." He could not see Draco react but he felt Draco's lips on his own as he was kissed.

"Thank you," Draco whispered after he pulled back.

Harry smiled. He felt quite strange, as though the world had dropped out from beneath his feet. Everything was changing both by his own design and the world's own random nature. He could not believe what they were about to do.

"Just wait here while we get our stuff," he told Draco, who nodded.

Harry, Ron and Hermione made their way to Gryffindor Tower. Dean, Seamus and Lavender accompanied them. When Lavender broke off to join the rest of her class in History Harry had expected Dean and Seamus to follow her. But after borrowing her copy of The Hogwarts Howler, something which undoubtedly flattered Lavender, Dean said, "We're coming along, me and Seamus here – we want to be with you guys."

Neither Harry nor Hermione protested but they all smiled at their new companions. They met up with Draco in front of the Transfiguration classroom after a packing blitz, finding the corridor almost empty and Draco standing in the middle of it looking quite lonely and forlorn.

"Didn't have time to get Hedwig and Dragonfly – they'll just have to stay behind," said Harry as they arrived and labouring under his extremely heavy rucksack. "Thought we should come with as little as possible, which is Hermione's idea. And it was her idea as well to 'quickly dash' to the library for 'a few' books."

"You can hardly believe that the things in here are shrunken," Ron grunted as he adjusted his bulging rucksack with a wince.

"Dean, Seamus!" said Draco in astonishment as the pair dropped their tightly packed and equally bulging bags on the floor.

"Yeah. Thought we'd like to see the sea," said Dean, grinning at Draco.

"And we think we deserve a holiday too after last night, Jeanie Mac, don't you reckon?" Seamus remarked, beaming at Draco and thrilled that he had used his first name.

Draco did not respond but simply stared at them. But then suddenly, clearly panicked, he cursed under his breath, "Salazar's knickers!" and searched himself frantically until he drew out of his emerald robes a thick hairpin bedazzled with rows of diamonds that twirled towards a handsome pearl at the top. It was flashing blue.

It forcibly brought back the image of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy lying on the cobblestone lifelessly. Harry sincerely wished that this association of flashing blue with death was not something he had to live with from now on.

"One minute," said Draco, gritting his teeth. He swept his eyes over the Gryffindors standing with him. "You really want to do this?" he asked more to Harry than any other person. "You want to go with me?"

"There's nothing else I'd rather do, Draco," Harry answered. But his heart raged on and his chest felt as though it had opened up to a breathless chasm again. This was it, he had decided it. It was done. He looked at the others, unable to make out their expressions and what they could be thinking. Ron patted him on the shoulder while Dean and Seamus nodded in a very overt manner to compensate for his poor eyesight. He looked intently at Hermione, hoping she would also give a reaction he could easily perceive. Her bushy hair quivered as she too nodded, and Harry thought he could see that blazing, determined expression on her face. He turned back to Draco.

"Okay, let's gather around. Make contact with Draco," he commanded. And so they did in the empty corridor.

There was perhaps fifty seconds left to go but those fifty seconds were the longest of Harry's life. And it was within them that his heart thundered uncontrollably as a thousands thoughts whirred through his mind.

He was going to be with Draco.

He was dropping out of school.

He was making his friends drop out of school.

They were going after Voldemort's Horcruxes.

They were possibly heading to dangers that they may not be able even to imagine.

But he was going to be with Draco.

He could hear the breathing of the others picking up just as his was. They were all frightened. He kept his gaze on the blue blur of the Portkey.

No one spoke.

And there came a flash of blue.

Harry's eyes inexorably flew to Hermione and the others, but he could not see if they had done the same thing.

A second flash of blue.

This is it.

A third flash of blue.

There's no turning back now.

A fourth flash of blue.

I'm so in deep shit for this.

A fifth flash of blue and he instantly felt the pull behind his navel and the accompanying nausea. His lungs were squeezed together, his body was collapsing and he saw the world give way. Hurtling through a k1aleidoscope of blurring structures and whipping scenery, Harry soon felt his feet touch earth once more.

The first sense to awaken to their new surroundings, while his eyes were suspended sightless in the sudden glare, was his nose: they picked up on the smell of salty air. Then his ears followed: the wonderful sound of crashing waves and squawks from the flying seagulls. Harry let his breath out, gasping; travelling by Portkey had never proved a comfortable experience.

He attempted to open his eyes again and when the white blanket cleared, the colours deepened and sharpened until a most stunning sight greeted him: the hazy sea stretched out in front of him, reaching farther than his dismal eyes could see. The fuzzy sun was high and bright, beaming down at them. He could vaguely discern that they were high up and near the cliff. He looked around and spotted what must be a handsome villa a small distant from them surrounded by lush greenery and in front of which stretched a grape orchard.

It was quite a sight, and Harry felt a new emotion flow into his heart: absolute freedom. This was the picture of freedom. He looked around at the others: they were probably as impressed and elated as he was. He imagined Seamus' fair face beaming with those two faintly rosy cheeks and Dean's face bright and his cheeks oozing that childish, bulging happiness again. He looked at Draco, smiled and took his hand.

"Not bad. Not too bad at all!" Seamus hooted in a voice of awe. "Do you make wine with those?" he asked excitedly as he pointed at the grapevine.

"Malfoy Chardonnay," answered Draco. "It's only white grapes here, see."

"Can we call this place our honeymoon?" Seamus asked with a cheerful laugh.

"It's Harry and Draco's honeymoon, Seamus. Don't be rude," Dean chided. But Harry could detect a trace of amusement in his voice.

"No," said Seamus, "I meant a honeymoon for the six of us – me and you, Ron and Hermione, and of course last but certainly not least, Harry and Draco."

No one responded to him. Irked, Seamus cleared his throat and ripped The Hogwarts Howlerfrom Dean's hand and, while they made their way all hand in hand to the beautiful villa in front of them and under a forget-me-not sky and with the magnificent open sea behind them, began reading the legacy of Colin Creevey and Parvati Patil, two of some of the fallen foot soldiers of Dumbledore's Army.

"This should get you talking…"


The Hogwarts Howler. Issue #1. 01 October 1995.

HARRY & DRACO: THE HOLY HERO & THE DAMNED DAMSEL

A Love Story That Was Never Meant to Be Written

Parvati Patil & Lavender Brown (Unsolicited assistance by Professor Sprout)

First of all, the Howler team would like to extend their condolences to the Creevey and Patil families for their losses and wish Dennis Creevey and Padma Patil all the best. Both Colin and Parvati were the most passionate fans of Harry Potter (caption: Incorrigible Worshipper. Colin Creevey beams into the camera beside a put-out Harry Potter Tuesday, 30th September. Photo: Colin Creevey) and Draco Malfoy and their out-of-this-world union. The Hogwarts Howleris the brainchild of Parvati Patil and the first edition honours her life and those of others and the beautiful zeal with which they led them.

All the beautiful people of Hogwarts, have we got some delicious bench-talk for you or what! Of course we're talking about the saga that's HARRY AND MALFOY! I mean, that we are utterly captivated by their tale would be the grossest understatement to be uttered before and after Merlin's death. It hasn't been an easy journey for our two heart-stoppers at all. It's been filled with ups and downs many of us can't even imagine and many of you don't have a clue about. So sit back and let us spin you this enchanting tale of romance between two boys whom everyone thought were never meant to be.

It all started when Parvati was discussing the break-up of Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson with Harry, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Harry had gone on to ask whether Malfoy and Parkinson were really dating, which of course should have set alarm bells ringing in her head but she had never thought it a strange question since she had known Harry for as long as she had been in Hogwarts.

But then things turned slightly hairy that next Sunday when, while Harry was enjoying breakfast with the hot Ravenclaw Chaser Cho Chang after making arrangements the previous day while strolling beside the lake, Draco Malfoy sauntered into the Great Hall. The Hogwarts Howler has established that Harry was visibly lost for words and completely ignored the attractive girl next to him (who declined to comment about this) as he openly ogled at Malfoy making his way to his seat. We know, right? (We're like screaming at the top of our lungs right now!) That's so flippin' hot! And this is after he seemed as besotted with Cho as she was with him, blushing madly into each other's faces and what not. Can you believe it, Hogwartans?

Okay, hold onto your knickers! Stay with us, beautiful people! Then, remember that Monday morning when, right in the middle of the entire school in the Great Hall, Malfoy waltzed up to Harry, gave him back his blanket (yes, a Slytherin that actually returns stuff, shocking, we know) and then – wait for it – SMILED at Harry! Draco Malfoy flashed his perfect, million-Galleon rows of teeth! We thought we were going to faint right then! One of us had to hold the other by the shoulders!

And then, even more amazingly, after Malfoy swaggered out of the Great Hall Harry ran after him, shouting his name no less than SIX times! And after the sixth time Malfoy finally looked back and Harry, all determined-looking and with that blazing look of his eyes that makes all our blood run, walked up to Malfoy and just stared at him! He just stared at him! Oh, our bleeding' quill! What we wouldn't give to know what Harry was thinking in that moment! And he did it again when Malfoy joined us for our DA meeting! Needless to say Malfoy kept coming back!

And then mere minutes after Malfoy showed up at the DA meeting, we all know what happened. Harry went off completely off the cauldron, screaming and crying and howling and blowing these huge jets of fire into the air (caption: Fiery Feat. Harry Potter unleashed as he spits fire on the Quidditch pitch Tuesday, 23rd September. Photo: Colin Creevey), burning up the air and making the grass sway and the seats rumble like when the Slytherins start banging on the seats when their Quidditch team is losing. Then Malfoy muscled his way through the crowd and told the late Dumbledore that only he could get through to Harry and stop him (Lavvy just squirted).

Dumbledore – bless him – obliged and then Malfoy was hurtling towards Harry, screaming his name, asking him what he was doing. But Harry was completely out of it – he was crying and screaming and literally spitting fire like a dragon (dragon – Draco… hello?). But Malfoy finally got to him and whirled him around, said something and then they both fell to the ground and then… hang on, hang on… and then MALFOY KISSED HARRY! He pulled him down and put it right there on the lips in front of the entire school! It had taken us all by surprise so much it had Parvati going down Lavender's throat about why they hadn't seen the kiss coming.

But, if you can believe it, things were just getting heated, so to speak! Just the next day Harry and Malfoy walked into the Great Hall practically hand in hand! They ate their breakfast as the whole school watched in shock! Ah! The school must have thought it was hallucinating! And if that wasn't enough, Harry apparently had a one-way smooching session with Malfoy while he was under his Confundus Charm! Was this a rare show of cowardice from our favourite hero? Was he too afraid of what Malfoy would do if he tried it while Malfoy was completely aware of it? Whatever your opinion may be, we think Harry simply seized the opportunity. It's not a crime to be opportunistic.

The norm soon became drama, drama and more drama! From bubbles baths with Malfoy to Malfoy actually moving into Gryffindor Tower. Yes, you read right, and we have the picture to prove it (caption: Making Moves. Malfoy moves into Gryffindor Tower led by Harry Potter Wednesday, 24th September. Photo: Colin Creevey). He conveniently moved into the fifth-year boys' dormitory with Harry, Ron Weasley, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan and Neville Longbottom for "safety reasons". The Hogwarts Howler could not establish the developments therein as our journalists were attacked by a monstrously large eagle owl belonging to Malfoy. But our photographer was able to snap a picture of the tense moment between the dormitory inhabitants as they stood among each other (caption: A Snake among Lions. Fifth-year Gryffindors Seamus Finnigan, Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas and Ronald Weasley try to suss out their new bedfellow Draco Malfoy Wednesday 24th September. We apologize for the blurry nature of the photograph. Photo: Colin Creevey).

But we were not out of the Harry-Malfoy action for long. In our next DA meeting we kindly suggested they duel each other. Naturally it was epic and many dubbed it The Duel of the Year. Before the two heartthrob duellists engaged each other they simply stared into one another for so long (so in love they were! Ah!) that Parvati actually had to yell at them to start. And the duel began. Spells flew fast and furiously. Harry was being rather clumsy in that adorable way but Malfoy was absolutely graceful as usual.

When Malfoy trapped Harry in a Tarantella Jinx, Harry did something even we could never have seen coming, people! He zoomed right across the floor to Malfoy and then – wait for it – ground his sex backside into Malfoy's lap! How [expurgated] amazing was that? How [expurgated] [expurgated] [expurgated] was that? [Expurgated]! We nearly fainted, we swear we nearly did! It was so orgiastic and out-of-his-world there is simply no words to describe it. There's simply no way to describe the way Malfoy slipped and slid, dodging Harry's spells like a Borvine pixie, came close to him, all the way up in his face, looked at him, green eyes into grey ones, and kissed him as he whispered the final spell that Stupefied Harry and sent him into oblivion. And the way Malfoy held him, and how they fluttered towards the floor, and how Malfoy laid him on the floor as gently as would a lover and then sweep out of the room as gracefully as a lynx. It was simply the best day of these two journalists' lives thus far and we'll take it to our graves!

Following that spectacular duel was more than spell-lit conversations. It seemed the news of Harry and Malfoy's relationship was paving the way for other gay couples to leap bravely out of the closet. A few Hufflepuffs have made the leap, our Hufflepuff sources report. And Seamus Finnigan has successfully converted Dean Thomas as you'll gather from our Ramming on the Ramparts: Who Fancies Whom and Who's Ramming Whomsection. Thomas had been obviously straight as he has been known to have been dating Ginny Weasley. Her brother must be pleased.

Harry and Malfoy's relationship continued to blossom. They were soon exchanging Quidditch magazines for leisure reading (caption: One Serving of Hot Snakeskin Please!Harry Potter peeved at our photographer during breakfast moments before asking Draco Malfoy if he could "borrow" his "Quidditch book" Thursday, 25th September. Photo: Colin Creevey). And Malfoy was seen kissing Harry full on the lips right in the Great Hall in broad daylight!

Of course as tends to happen in relationships, Harry and Malfoy sailed onto rocky shores on a few occasions, not least of which was when, out of nowhere, Malfoy returned to Hogwarts only just yesterday after he had left for safety reasons. He stood right in front of Harry, who looked quite beside himself and doing that staring thing at Malfoy like he always does. Malfoy was going off that he felt alone and wanted to be with Harry but Harry kept demanding that he go back wherever he came from! Harry being so protective was so sexy we could have exploded into a million pieces right then and died happily! We thought it couldn't get better than Harry manhandling Malfoy outside the HoM classroom as they argued and Harry did his sexy Parseltongue thing again! (caption: Heated Hissings. Harry and Malfoy have words outside the History of Magic classroom Thursday, 25th September. Photo: Colin Creevey)

It's amazing to think that these two boys had been bitter enemies always prompt at exchanging heated words and raising their wands at each other in their entertaining corridor duels from the moment they first laid eyes on each other in their first year. Who would have thought their vastly different and far-apart paths would lead them to each other? Harry, incorruptible and noble, came into the Wizarding world a ready-made hero who would become a prominent figure in the fight against the Dark forces. And Draco Malfoy, the androgynous enigma whom everyone loves to hate, son of the famous and equally attractive (we confess without shame – the man was gorgeous) Lucius Malfoy, heir to an ancient fortune and a vocal adherent of supremacist philosophies. Are they ultimately star-crossed lovers, truly never meant to be? Or will the universe bow and let them conquer him as they had conquered the so many challenges their relationship has seen?

Through the hardships and the brief spells of happiness, Harry and Malfoy have stayed strong together and shown all of us what true love really means: it knows no gender or race or blood or Galleons. It comes in the most unexpected of manifestations and buds even between the unlikeliest of pairs. And whatever you may think about Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy or gay couples in general, we at The Hogwarts Howler and the many of you out there believe that Harry and Malfoy deserve their newfound happiness, and we wish them the very best!

FINITE INCANTATEM – THE END