Title: Their Phoenix

Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.

Pairings: Threesome, Snape/Harry/Draco. Some Harry/Ginny and Snape/Draco near the beginning of the story.

Rating: R.

Warnings: Magical bonding, slash sex, violence, profanity, massive denial. Springing-from-DH AU; it starts deviating from the moment Voldemort confronts Snape in the Shrieking Shack.

Summary: AU. Voldemort has learned who the true master of the Elder Wand is, and he plans to kill Draco along with Snape. Harry is desperate to save them, because Dumbledore would have wanted him to. But with wild magic, Horcruxes, and Dark Marks all involved, Harry may have condemned all three of them to something worse than death.

Author's Notes: This is One of Those Bonding Fics. It's also One of Those Threesome Fics, and also One of Those Fics With Harry-in-Denial. If that sounds like what you're looking for, then come right in. I'm sorry to say that I have absolutely no idea how long this will be, and it will also be irregularly updated, whenever I finish a major "part."

Their Phoenix

"I have always known, you see."

Harry shuddered as the hissing voice washed over him. His scar throbbed with rising pain and Voldemort's rising fury. Harry clapped a hand to it, doing his best to stay silent and keep his eye pressed to the gap between the crate and the wall.

Voldemort paced back and forth in the Shrieking Shack, his eyes on the Elder Wand, which he held out in front of him. To the right of Voldemort knelt Snape, who was very still, his gaze sometimes on Voldemort and sometimes on Nagini, coiling behind him in her enchanted sphere. And not far from Snape was Malfoy, crouched in glittering silver chains that throbbed with purple wisps of light. Dark magic, Harry knew. He didn't know how Voldemort had found Malfoy in the middle of the battle and brought him here, but quite obviously he had.

And quite obviously, Malfoy was terrified.

Harry did his best to move his attention from the other boy to Voldemort. He'd done all he could to save Malfoy by sparing his life from the Fiendfyre. Now he had to figure out what Voldemort was talking about, what he'd been hinting about for the last ten minutes, and somehow get to Nagini and destroy the Horcrux in her.

"It took me some time to realize, but I have always known." Voldemort spun around abruptly and stared down at Snape. Harry's lip curled. This was the man whose threat had dominated so much of his life. How was Harry supposed to look at him except with hatred and exasperation? "The knowledge lay waiting in my mind, until I could encompass it with my brilliance. And who shall say that I am not brilliant?"

"Not I, my Lord," Snape murmured, bowing his head towards the floor. Harry bared his teeth. He hated Snape almost as much he hated Voldemort. It would serve the git right if he had to spend the rest of his life crushing his nose on dirt and stone and whatever other ground Voldemort had a fancy to stand on.

Of course, that'll only happen if I can't kill him. And I have no intention of failing.

"I wondered why the Elder Wand would not serve me." Voldemort twitched his head, and Nagini, reacting to the signal, rose, swaying, and hissed. The cage containing her floated towards Voldemort, until it hovered midway between Snape and Malfoy. Malfoy swallowed, or tried, and looked as if he would faint. "Then I remembered. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its master."

Snape tensed. Harry wouldn't have seen it if he hadn't been watching closely. It was barely a shiver in the black cloth as his shoulders moved closer together. The man was a bloody cool bastard, Harry had to give him that.

"But in this case," Voldemort went on, his voice caressing, "ordinary wandlore is of more use than legends. A wand may also transfer its loyalty to the wizard who conquered its last master. And that," he said, turning his head, Nagini's head following his like a well-trained dog's, "would be Draco Malfoy, who disarmed Dumbledore."

What? Harry thought in a daze, but he had Malfoy's own hawthorn wand for proof that what Voldemort was saying could be true. Malfoy simply blinked and stared. His fear had put him into a kind of trance, Harry thought. There was no sign that he thought what Voldemort was saying was true.

"One who killed," Voldemort whispered, and smiled. His hand didn't stop stroking the Elder Wand, as if it were a beloved pet of some kind. Harry would have felt easier about things if he'd been touching Nagini that way. "One who conquered. And two who must die, so that I can use the Elder Wand the way I was destined to use it."

Harry froze. He understood Voldemort's words, all right, and after all the killing the snake-faced bastard had done, the thought of more didn't surprise him, but it was horrifying to think that two people he was looking at right this second might be the next victims.

Snape shifted and tensed again, but didn't reach for his wand. He probably knew he couldn't draw it before Voldemort noticed him, Harry thought. And he didn't blame Snape for not wanting to die in excruciating pain.

If he had to die. Harry didn't think Dumbledore would have wanted that, even if Snape had killed him. Snape should live and face trial, and have some sort of grand second chance. That was what Dumbledore would think.

You have to save him.

Never mind that he couldn't kill Voldemort yet, with one Horcrux still alive and right next to him, and that he was alone since Hermione thought it would be a good idea to send him here in the Cloak by himself while she went back to secure the passage into the Whomping Willow, Harry thought, half-hysterically. He would just have to save Snape.

No, both of them.

Harry gave a shallow nod. He was fighting not to simply yell or cry or vomit. Yes, Dumbledore would have wanted him to save Malfoy, too. He had thought it important that Malfoy not have the chance to kill him. He didn't want Malfoy to split his soul.

But souls would mean nothing if Harry couldn't stop Voldemort from killing Snape's and Malfoy's bodies.

As if I know how!

And then Voldemort turned to Nagini, and smiled. "Kill," he said.

The snake floated towards Snape, mouth gaping wide, and Malfoy shrieked and struggled in his chains, and Snape bowed his head as if he thought he didn't have any choice but to accept it.

And something inside Harry burst.

He thought he might have stood up. He didn't know. He had a wand in his hand, but he didn't know if it was the hawthorn one, or the broken holly one, or a wand of pure fire. Whirling winds tore through him, and waters drowned him. Wings extended from his back and melted into falling leaves. The earth heaved and shone and sang.

The force of his desire drove him. He wanted—he had to save them. Snape and Malfoy. Maybe they were almost worthless, but they didn't deserve to die. It was too easy. They had to stand trial. It was too hard. Harry had seen too many people perish at the hands of Voldemort and the Death Eaters, and Fred was an aching wound in him, and maybe he hadn't been able to save Fred, but he would bloody well save them.

He heard Voldemort shriek. Nagini hissing, high and agitated. The shouts of both Snape and Malfoy, which cut off in mid-cry, and left Harry to wonder if they had burned.

He was burning.

Accidental magic, it was accidental magic, like he'd used when he blew up Aunt Marge, and it traveled through him burning and buzzing and vibrating, and it hit something dark in his forehead, behind the scar, and danced confusedly with it for a few minutes before speeding past, now armed with the dark, in a way that Harry couldn't understand but quite clearly felt.

It found two other points of the dark, and screamed in delight. It absorbed them. Harry felt two people tossed past him on the curling waves of magic, and he grabbed them, trying to protect them and hold them back. He had the feeling that that had been important, once upon a few hundred generations ago.

And then the combined darkness and light found another point of darkness. This one was hostile, and this one it devoured.

And when it reached the greatest darkness of all, the cold void that contained a tattered soul, it shrieked contemptuously and stooped like a phoenix. He received a clear vision of a scarlet bird, highlighted and touched all over with gold, beating its wings fiercely and screaming and spreading its tail. A single golden feather detached from the tail and floated to the floor.

What spread from that was fire, and ashes.


Harry returned slowly to consciousness. It seemed to be something he had to claw to obtain. First it was above him, like the surface of water, and then it was below him, and above all there was a sort of wet snuffling sound in his ears, which was unpleasant and which he wished would go away. He muttered and tried to curl himself up.

That was counterproductive.

"I think he's awake," Hermione's anxious voice said, and then a wand tapped him on the side of the head and sent a jolt of sizzling energy through his body.

Harry jerked upright with a yelp. He reached out automatically, searching for his glasses, and then he realized that he was sitting on a bed in the hospital wing, looking at two pale faces, instead of in his bed in Gryffindor Tower.

And then he remembered Voldemort, and Nagini, and Snape, and Malfoy. Frantically, he tried to swing his legs over the side of the bed.

"Voldemort…" he croaked. He was surprised to hear that his voice sounded hoarse, as if he'd been swallowing cinders.

"He's gone, Harry." Hermione laid a hand over his heart and eased him back into the bed. Harry noticed that she glanced at his hands, as if there was some injury there, but her eyes returned to his face immediately, and he was too preoccupied with what she was saying to really care about his hands. They weren't hurting, anyway. "The burst of accidental magic in the Shrieking Shack destroyed Nagini, and then it destroyed him."

Harry stared up at her, not even caring that she was making him lie flat and treating him like a baby at the moment. "We won?" he whispered through dry lips. "We really won?"

Hermione nodded, a worried smile on her face. "I think," she said, "I think that you wanted to save Malfoy and Snape so much that the magic forced itself to make things happen the way you wanted. So it destroyed Nagini, and it reached into Voldemort and destroyed him." She hesitated.

She hesitated too long, because Harry had time to stop thinking about a world without Voldemort—though he knew more days would be required to really get over his shock—and glared at her. "What else happened?" he asked. "Did someone else die?" He would have asked about Ron, but he just remembered seeing Ron as the other person standing beside his bed.

"No, mate," Ron said, and stepped forwards to put a calming hand on his shoulder. Harry forced himself to take a deep, cleansing breath. He must look ruddy awful if Ron was trying to calm him down. "But the magic burst out of you, and it did—it did something with Snape and Malfoy's Dark Marks." He frowned and glanced at Hermione. "Hermione doesn't know everything about the magical theory yet, but it transformed their marks. And…" He led Harry's gaze to the blankets.

Harry looked down.

And then he kept looking down, staring in fact, because he couldn't get over the marks on his arms.

They glowed beneath the surface of his skin, as much a part of it as birthmarks, though Harry knew he would have remembered if he'd ever had birthmarks like these. Tangled masses of golden and red feathers, glistening the way that Fawkes when he carried Harry and Ron and Lockhart and Ginny out of the Chamber of Secrets, with here and there a brilliant flash of claw or eye or beak from among them. Harry tilted his head, squinting. He couldn't make them resolve into whole birds, though. They were more like a mosaic of phoenix parts.

"What happened?" he asked, quietly but with enough force that Hermione hurried to his side and patted his other shoulder, the one Ron wasn't touching, clumsily.

"This is just a theory," she babbled, "but it's my theory. You were confronting death in that moment, Harry. And you wanted life so much. You wanted them to live so much. I know that because, when we went to pick you up and bring you out of the tunnel, you were mumbling over and over again how Snape and Malfoy had to live. And there was this smell of burning around you, and there were the marks on your arms. Snape and Malfoy's Dark Marks have each become a phoenix, by the way," she added, her voice dipping briefly into awe and wonder instead of the fear she'd been showing so far. Harry gave her a sharp look, and she went back to babbling. "Voldemort was stretched out on the floor with this look of—of surprise on his face, and his wand was beside him, half-burned and useless. Nagini was burned, too, so charred we weren't sure what her body was at first. I think the desire for life in you was so strong, and the Dark magic Voldemort was using was so impressive, that your accidental magic rose up and responded the only way it could fulfill your wishes, by becoming the ultimate force for life and light. And, and Harry." She looked up at his face for the first time since she'd started her tirade. Her voice softened again, and she lifted her hand to brush her fingers across his forehead. "Your scar is gone."

Harry blinked. Freedom from Voldemort was something he'd hoped for, dreamed about, desired so fiercely he was sure that it would keep eluding him just to spite him. Freedom from his scar was completely unexpected, and so it was the first thing that caused a smile to break out over his face.

"I—" he said, and shook his head. The pessimistic part of him wanted to say that there was another Horcrux somewhere, but he thought of the five they'd destroyed, and Nagini being the only one left. "He's really dead, then?" he asked anyway, and looped his arms around his knees, and beamed into Hermione's face. She smiled back. Next to her, Ron was beginning, slowly, to grin.

"Yeah," Ron said. "Old Snake-Face isn't ever coming back."

"Oh, Harry," Hermione said then, and flung her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek, whilst Ron growled in mock-jealousy and hit Harry on the shoulder.

Harry laughed and hugged her back, then reached out an arm for Ron, who came willingly. They stood there, leaning on one another and laughing until they felt weak—and until a strange sensation came into Harry's head.

It was like yellow-green flame, and it was sour, and it burned just off to the left side of his vision. Harry flinched back. Ron stopped laughing and peered at him in worry. Hermione blinked.

"Harry, what's wrong?" she demanded.

"This must be some kind of—side-effect," Harry said, and touched his forehead where the scar used to be. The yellow-green flame had almost disappeared, but the sense of sourness remained. He shook his head. "I don't understand it, but it's like I'm seeing something happening somewhere else."

"Maybe the magic made you into a Seer," Ron said.

"Or maybe it didn't," drawled a voice off to the side.

Harry snapped his head around, blinking. The yellow-green sensation had grown stronger when that voice spoke. It was Malfoy's voice, and he was sitting up in the hospital bed where he'd been lying, his legs sprawling uncomfortably across the sheets. His hand rested on his left forearm, where the Dark Mark had been and where the phoenix was now. His gaze, unwavering, was fixed on Harry.

"Malfoy," Harry said, wondering what you said to someone whose life you'd saved with accidental magic. "Um. Hi."

"Hi," Malfoy said, and his voice was softer and his eyes intent with something that didn't match his words, which were sarcastic. "Such simple language he uses to begin a life that's going to be completely different from this day out. Don't you agree, Severus?" he added, turning his head, and Harry saw that Snape was slowly sitting up in the next bed.

Harry flinched. A new sensation had appeared off to the right side of his head, a purple-black aching like a bruise. He watched as Snape, his face devoid of all expression, laid a hand over the phoenix mark, too.

"Um," Harry said. What did you say to the man who had killed Dumbledore? For that matter, why wasn't he in Azkaban? "I didn't mean to mark you," he began.

"I suppose it will not gratify you to know," Snape said, in a low, passionless voice, "that Albus Dumbledore asked me to kill him." The purple-black ache grew worse, and Harry tried not to put a hand to his head. He didn't want to look weak in front of his enemies, which both Snape and Malfoy still were. "He was dying already, from the curse he had taken over the summer in trying to destroy the Horcrux. It was my Patronus which led you to the locket and the Sword of Gryffindor in the Forest of Dean." He reached for his wand, and Harry tensed, but all that happened was a familiar silver doe galloping through the room. "I have made my confession, with the aid of Pensieves and Veritaserum, to Madam Pomfrey already. I have always been a spy and a double agent. I expect you to remember that." He lay back on the bed, as if his head ached, too, but arranged himself so that he could keep his gaze fixed on Harry's face.

Harry turned incredulously to Hermione, but she nodded at him. "It's true," she said. "I watched the Pensieve memories with Madam Pomfrey."

Harry shook his head a little. He'd gone almost a year thinking Snape was a murderer and he had to repay him for what he'd done to Dumbledore. It was shocking to be told otherwise.

Then he decided he didn't care, not when Voldemort was gone and he could get on with his own life. Let the Aurors or the new Minister for Magic, whoever they would be, deal with Snape and decide if he should be in Azkaban or not. Harry wasn't going to be expected to deal with that, because he was just an ordinary person now, not even marked by the scar on his forehead anymore.

A burst of happiness ran through him, and he nodded at Snape. "All right then, Professor. I reckon we can go our separate ways."

The purple-black glow intensified. The yellow-green changed color, to pure gold, and Snape murmured, "Alas, Potter, if it were that simple."

Harry frowned at him. "Why wouldn't it be? What are you talking about?"

"The fire you called," said Malfoy, his voice choked as if he found it hard to talk about, "changed our Dark Marks. It didn't destroy them. We're bound to you now, the way we were bound to the Dark Lord, but deeper. Can't you feel us? I can feel you in the back of my head. It's like a headache," he finished, his voice whiny.

Harry tensed. The flames on either sides of his vision burned faster.

"No," he said, and his voice trembled. "No. I'm not like Voldemort." Both Snape and Malfoy flinched away from the name, but Harry couldn't take any pleasure in that right now. "I won't be. I can't be."

"You both speak Parseltongue," Malfoy said, holding up his fingers as if he meant to count off a bunch of similarities. "You both have a lot of power. You both have terrible tempers. You—"

"I don't care how true all those things are," Harry said, and his voice had become steady again. Good. It was utterly preposterous that he could have—control of the transformed Dark Marks somehow, or whatever Malfoy was implying. It had to be a joke. "It doesn't mean that I want to call people to me and have them kneel at my feet."

"One may be like the Dark Lord in other ways." Snape's eyes were larger than Harry had ever seen them, and more open. Of course, the emotion they were overflowing with was bitterness, but at least Harry was used to that. He didn't think Snape was about to suddenly play a joke on him like Malfoy was trying to. "The Dark Marks bonded us to him. Through them, he could summon us to him, find us, and torment us. He might send pleasure through the Marks, too—I believe he did to Bellatrix—but I, at least, never felt it." He looked straight at Harry, and Harry shivered. He still hated being the focus of that attention; it made him sure that Snape was about to yell at him for messing up a potion at any moment. "And now you have control of those Marks. You can do the same things to us." Snape's voice fell. "And what Miss Granger says about the force of light and life you summoned is perfectly true, as much as I wish it were only Gryffindor rubbish. The nature of the Marks has changed because of that force. It consumed the Dark magic that He used to Mark us in the first place. You are more open to us. You can feel our emotions and our memories. We can feel yours."

Harry folded his arms across his chest. The thought of someone spying in his head was terrifying. He'd hated it when Snape tried to give him Occlumency lessons, and he hated it now. "I certainly can't," he snapped.

"There should be something," Malfoy said. "A light, or a sensation in the back of your head. Like a headache," he added pointedly, and began massaging his temples.

Poor delicate mummy's boy. Harry sneered at him.

Malfoy's head snapped up and he stared at Harry. "I felt that," he whispered. "I can feel your contempt for me."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm sneering at you right now, Malfoy," he said. "It hardly takes a genius to figure that out."

"Potter." Snape sounded as weary as though he were breaking up a fight they'd had hundreds of times before. Harry resisted the urge to scowl at the sheets. He and Malfoy had never fought because Malfoy had tried to convince him they were magically bonded before, and this time, Malfoy had started it. "Can you sense anything of the kind that Mr. Malfoy talks about? There should be some sign of our presence in your mind. Lights. Sounds. Colors—"

"No," Harry said.

It was a sound of rejection rather than denial, and Snape seemed to know that. He leaned forwards, his Marked left forearm still cradled in his right hand. "What do you see?"

Harry moved his eyes right and then left, appalled by the implications. Now that he concentrated, he could make out that the golden glow was Malfoy—in some strange, indefinable way, but as clearly as if his name were written in letters across the flame. And the purple-black glow was Snape. Harry didn't know exactly what they were feeling, contrary to Snape's claim, but he knew the colors represented something, and the flames probably waxed and waned with the strength of their emotions.

"I can see fires," Harry whispered. "One for you, and one for Malfoy." Then he realized that he sounded like a scared little kid, and he defiantly sat up straighter. "But I don't know why they're the colors they are."

"There are books on color symbolism, and the use of colors within magical bonds, that we can consult to find that out." Snape made a small, dismissive gesture with one hand. His eyes never left Harry. "What is important is that you accept this, and know that there is nothing we can do to change it."

"That's ridiculous," Harry snapped. "I can control the bonds, right? I ought to be able to will them to stop existing." He closed his eyes and "pushed" magical energy at the flames as hard as he could, thinking, Stop. Cease. Stop—

"Harry, no!"

Hermione's voice made Harry snap his eyes open again. Malfoy was lying in the middle of his hospital bed, his hands on his chest as if he were having a heart attack, and his mouth moving in pained silence. Snape crouched with his hands on his shoulders, panting harshly. Long beads of blood ran across his fingers and down his sleeves. It looked as though his back had been torn open by some wild animal.

"Do not," Snape said, his voice breathless with agony and fear, "do that again, Potter."

Harry wiped his mouth with one hand. He couldn't escape the evidence of what he'd done, even though his mind recoiled from the thoughts. Somehow, trying to kill the flames was the same as trying to kill Malfoy and Snape. He would undo everything he'd tried to do when he battled Voldemort—or burned him to death, or whatever it was that had really happened—if they died now.

Hermione grabbed his hand and squeezed hard. Her eyes were bright with tears. "You can't do that," she whispered. "Harry, magical bonds usually are permanent. And since Snape, at least, was willing when he took the Dark Mark—"

"So was I, Granger." Harry had never heard Malfoy sound the way he did just at that moment, but then, he'd never heard him just after he had a heart attack, either. Harry kept his eyes away from the other boy. He was too ashamed to look at him right now. "I was proud, then. I didn't know what service to the Dark Lord really entailed, or that he would threaten my parents. I agreed."

"Willing bonds are always the hardest to snap," Hermione said quietly, rubbing Harry's shoulder. "And when the Dark Marks transformed, they did keep some of their essential qualities. So far as the magic is concerned, Malfoy and Professor Snape agreed to be bonded to you." She hesitated. "They may even have agreed again, or had to pass some test, while the fire was burning."

Harry glanced at Snape and Malfoy, but Snape's face was closed and Malfoy lay with his hands in front of his eyes. He decided it didn't matter, and forged on into what was important.

"But I won't control them," he said. "I won't. It would be like—it would be like controlling a house-elf, Hermione. They're free. They need to be free." He turned to Snape. He ought to understand, even if Malfoy—who was a frightened kid most of the time—didn't. "Don't you want to be free, sir? After you've spent all this time as a spy, and a Death Eater, doing what Dumbledore and Voldemort wanted you to?"

Snape was silent for long moments, and when he spoke, Harry suspected he wasn't getting one tenth of the thoughts that had raced behind his face in that silence. "I admit that liberty has its attractive qualities, Potter," he said. "But so does life. I would prefer life in phoenix-marked chains to death in freedom." He looked up and into Harry's eyes then. Harry winced. When he'd seen that Snape's face was closed again, he had imagined it would stay closed. Instead, Snape was looking at him with a piercing honesty that Harry had to glance away from. "And you forget. I can feel your emotions through this bond, which is stronger and more personal than the one I possessed with the Dark Lord—doubtless because his bond was dissipated among so many others. I…know that you do not want to hurt me, because I can feel it. Your fervency for my freedom is rather touching," he added then, in a snide tone. "There are far worse masters."

"But I don't want to be a master at all," Harry said. He shuddered. It was hard to explain his revulsion, and maybe he didn't have to, if Malfoy and Snape could feel it. But he knew he would have to put it into words for Hermione, at least, so she could help him find some way to break these bonds. "I want you to be able to go your own way. To do whatever you want. My own life was controlled for a long time, by the prophecy and Voldemort. Now I want to be ordinary. Having other people's lives depend on me…" He took a deep breath. There ought to be a more eloquent way to say this, but he couldn't think of one. "I don't want it."

"We didn't ask for this either, Potter," Malfoy whispered. "But it's here. And I think the bond is taking deeper root. I can feel your emotions better than I could when I woke up." He shifted and looked at Snape. "He really does want us free, doesn't he?"

"He does." Snape nodded, but he was looking at Harry.

Harry panicked. It was one thing to have them alive because of him; fine, they could owe him life-debts, the way Malfoy probably already did for rescuing him from the Fiendfyre. But his head was his. His private thoughts had always been the place where he could make fun of the Dursleys, secure in the fact that they could never overhear and never take the freedom of his mind away from him. He'd challenged Voldemort in his mind when he was powerless to do so in body. He wanted to be alone in it.

Abruptly, the flames on either side of his vision vanished. Malfoy cursed and Snape sat up straighter. "I can't feel you anymore," said Malfoy. "What'd you do?" He was whining again.

"He shut off emotional contact with us," Snape said slowly. "That makes sense. As the master of the bond, he can refuse to allow us into his mind or himself into ours, whilst we cannot shut down the conduits or force them open."

Malfoy opened his mouth, probably to complain that it was unfair, and then shut it again and studied the sheets.

"There," Harry said fiercely. He wasn't about to admit that he had no idea how he'd done that, and now that Malfoy and Snape were outside his head again, where they belonged, they would never know. "So that's it, then. We go our separate ways."

Snape's eyes opened very wide, and Harry got to know—not that he'd been curious—what he looked like when he was surprised. "You will still try to deny this?" he said. "You will still deny that the bonds tie us together?"

Harry glared at him. "Why should they? You and Voldemort spent a lot of time apart. It's not like he needed every Death Eater who existed trailing behind him. He just liked it that way. If I can shut down the emotions and never hurt you again, then it'll be like we never bonded."

"This bond is stronger and more personal, I said." Snape was whispering now. "I am certain there will be unforeseen complications."

"Then you'll go to Madam Pomfrey if they start," Harry said brusquely, and turned to Hermione and Ron. "I assume I have you to thank for keeping the hospital wing clear of reporters?"

Hermione smiled in what looked like embarrassment. "Yeah." Then she frowned. "But, Harry, magical bonds usually do demand some degree of closeness. They've been traditionally used for marriages and to mark adoptions into pure-blood families." She glanced back and forth between Malfoy, Snape, and Harry. "You might have to live with them, or take care of them, or—"

"Or nothing," Harry said. He whirled around to face Malfoy and Snape. "Neither of you are in pain?"

Snape gave a minute shake of his head. He hadn't stopped studying Harry as if he were some rare Potions ingredient. Malfoy wriggled.

"It's uncomfortable," he said. "I was getting used to it, and now it's gone. It was like—" He closed his mouth and appeared to carefully consider his next words. He'd probably been about to say something stupid, Harry thought with vicious satisfaction. "It's like having good food taken away," he said at last.

"But your headache is gone, too?" Harry demanded.

Malfoy nodded.

"Well, then." Harry leaped out of the bed, ignoring the shakiness in his legs, and tugged his robe sleeves down so that they covered his phoenix-marked arms. "Then I don't see why we shouldn't ignore this from this day forwards."

"There will be consequences," Snape whispered. "There always are."

Harry shot him a scornful sideways glance. "But you don't know what they are?" Snape looked blank. Harry snorted. "Then come talk to me when you can be more specific than Trelawney," he said, and marched over to the door of the hospital wing.

Ron and Hermione caught up with him, keeping silent until they were at the top of the stairs leading down. Then Ron cleared his throat and said, "I don't blame you for not wanting to be bonded to Snape and Malfoy, mate. But do you think it's smart to walk off and leave them like that?"

"They can't hurt me through the bonds," Harry said. "I won't hurt them. We can't be in each other's minds without wanting to kill each other. What's not smart about it?" He looked right into Ron's eyes.

Ron looked uncertain, but nodded. "Reckon you're right, mate." Behind them, Hermione heaved an immense sigh.

"Of course I am," Harry said, and then turned to face the rest of his life.