Chapter 18

The Protector's Kiss

Harry had fantasized about bunking class before, and it was most often for History of Magic during which he had to suffer Professor Binns' soporific drone. But even though it was not him but Draco foregoing the lesson, the daring streak it required to do it was too much for Harry. The incredibly vivid expression of outrage and revenge on Hermione's face in his mind caused a vicarious anxiety in him on Draco's behalf.

"Granted knowing about Goblin wars isn't a lot helpful for your working life but are you going to bunk the other lessons as well?"

"Why not?" Draco said as they settled at a workstation in the Slytherin common room. "My priorities have changed."

"Explain," Harry said as he threw his Invisibility Cloak onto the table. Having spent almost a fortnight dogging a Slytherin, he was long used to the nauseatingly fraternal emerald hue of the flames in the fireplace, the winding snake-shaped black rails of the staircase leading up to the dormitories and the green-tinged light in the common room due to the fact that the dungeons were located beneath the Black Lake. A few seconds ago he had shocked Draco by offering the password to the portrait before the Slytherin could.

"Why bother with school if I'm going to die?"

Harry sighed. "You're not going to die because you're going to listen to me for once and get under Dumbledore's protection."

"I don't want to talk about it anymore – my head is going to blow," Draco moaned, bracing his brow against the palm of his hand and sighing.

"Fine," said Harry, who had also had quite enough of death imagery.

A long spell of silence passed them. Having experienced these as well with Blaise, Harry was also used to the uncomfortable feeling of knowing he was an unwelcome intrusion to someone's space, but the feeling was all the more intense with Draco; Harry was at the source of the matter.

"What I still don't get," Draco said without looking up from the same notes he had been reading beneath the beech tree, "and sounds like the most ludicrous and impossible thing ever, is your claim that we… started to like each other… in that way."

"I'm with you; it still beats me."

"Just—explain to me step by step how it happened? I mean—I mean, there's just no way…"

"Well," began Harry extremely uncomfortably; he had taken the developments between him and the Draco of the first timeline he had visited for granted. They had been gradual, natural and self-explanatory. "Basically it started out with you being amazed by me-"

"I doubt it," interjected Draco in a rather defensive tone.

"It was a whole lot of factors, to be honest," Harry continued with forced nonchalance. "Basically our… attraction…"

"Oh Merlin, you can stop there – forget I asked," Draco moaned, covering his head in his hands.

"Bloody hell, I'm going to finish the sentence whether you like it or not," Harry snapped. He was annoyed that he had to defend his assertion that he and Draco had begun to feel an attraction for each other to the very person who had formed half of that bond. "Basically we had all the stuff to fall in love with each other from the very beginning!"

An expression of horror exploded on Draco's face. "Potter!" he groaned pleadingly for him to stop.

"I mean think about it!" Harry plunged on. "Two boys, both from different worlds and on opposites sides of the battlefield, going at each other from the very first day they meet each other. Most people would say that's simply sexual tension playing out."

"Someone like a moist fangirl! That's how girls think, Potter! Do you seriously think—I mean, we were eleven years old! How can any two people so young fall in love with each other? In days no less?"

Harry exhaled forcefully, irritated. "Fine then. Let me show you, shall I?" He extracted the Time-Turner from his pocket, at which point Draco's bulging grey eyes moved to it.

"What? What are you doing?"

"Showing you you and me together."

"Fucking Merlin, Potter, we don't… you know…?"

Harry was biting his lower lip as he untangled the very fine gold chain linked to the hourglasses. "What?" he said distractedly before he looked up and his face flushed crimson. "No! I mean, no, we don't – I was joking about that, by the way."

Draco did not looked relieved much and quietly eyed the Time-Turner in Harry's hands.

"This way," said Harry, "I can kill two birds with one stone: I can show you what – you know – happens between us and how you get killed… Do you want to see it?"

Draco shook himself out of his stupor. "No," he said. "Not really. It's Blaise, right?"

"Yeah… but… So you do believe me?"

Draco's face closed off. "Just hurry up and show me how we allegedly start to like each other 'cause Merlin knows I need the amusement right now."

"You asked for it," Harry chirped. "Okay, hang onto me… Argh, just stick at least one body part on me so that you don't get left behind. You know, it's amazing you're trying to be so straight when you were the one who had his hand on my chest for no reason at all as I was trying to explain why you can't make me out into a hero just because I faced Voldemort three times and survived."

"I presume by 'straight' you mean normal. You can't change normal – I haven't heard of peopling turning gay. Not that I hear much of these things anyway – they're very rare these gays. It just doesn't make sense, Potter. I presume you were normal before-"

"I'd really appreciate it if you used the word 'straight.'"

"I presume you had normalness when we met, as did I. So why all of a sudden we change? You can't change the two... personalities."

Harry had to fight hard to stop himself from correcting Draco about the erroneous labels he was using to describe homosexual people and their orientations – otherwise he would seem to know suspiciously too much about such matters. In fact, he did not know much beyond what he knew from the Muggle world. But the Wizarding world's vocabulary for sexual identity issues was shockingly underdeveloped. Why would someone choose to be gay if he knew he would endure punishment from Dudley and his gang?

"Let's just stop talking and let the truth speak for itself, all right?" Harry resolved.

"You mean your own truth," Draco rebutted. "It was you who chose to go to that timeline and change it with your presence."

"What difference does that make?"

"Well, your being in that alternate timeline changes things in it, doesn't it? I presume you tried to convince me of the same thing you did today of joining Dumbledore, so I didn't behave the way I would have had you not done so."

"It didn't matter what I said or did to you – you didn't listen to me, it didn't change anything – that's why I'm here now."

"Still, that me knows that you tried to convert me into a Lighter – he has that knowledge; he knows about you and what you tried to do, so he isn't the same person – he can't ever be."

Harry grudgingly worked through the logic of Draco's proposition and found it, irritatingly, sound.

"So because you changed that timeline very uniquely and you are the cause of its unique trajectory now and because it will never interfere with any other timeline, it's your truth and yours only. It effectively only happened to you because you've stepped out of it."

Harry chewed carefully on this next piece of argument. His cheeks were burning from getting tangled in the logical nuances. But after less time than his brain actually needed to complete its work, he bleated, "So? It doesn't change anything."

He flew through the memories of his first timeline for any indications of Draco's I. Q. and, annoyingly, arrived at the high marks Draco claimed to achieve in his schoolwork. If Draco was so smart, why does he not save himself?

"Even so," Harry countered after Draco raised his eyebrows, "the Draco that I found and can always find is, before I do anything, the same in every timeline, right?"

Draco thought for a second and appeared reluctant to respond. "That could be conceivably possible," he conceded haughtily.

"It is," Harry asserted, reinvigorated. "You have to branch out. Every different thing that Draco can do branches out from a point where there is no difference in all his possible future actions. Therefore," Harry concluded with immense relish, tempted to hold an index up, "because you're the same Draco in every timeline before I interfere in it, whatever way I influence you, you act the same way you would act in any timeline. Therefore Draco acts like any and all possible Dracos – including this one standing in front of me."

"Can you refrain from abusing my name please?" Draco asked feebly.

"Therefore," Harry stressed, punctuating the word as though to stab it into the chest of the other boy, "this Draco could 'conceivably' fall in love with me."

Draco looked away quickly before he could present a flush. "You know, you should really warn people when you say un-normal things like that."

"That's not even a word – that's just to—it's for the sake of being vicious."

"Can you just show me already? Stop talking and put up."

"Be my guest," Harry sang. "I think we have to do it like this: come closer. Maybe we should stand up." They did so. Harry grabbed his Invisibility Cloak and hung it around his neck underneath the Time-Turner while Draco cautiously drew nearer towards him. The Gryffindor looped the fine gold chain around the other boy so that it hung around both their necks. "Okay," Harry whispered, thinking hard as he stared at the three hourglasses. "What do you want to see first?"

"The first time there is even the tiniest hint of my liking you. I don't need to see the you liking me part because we've already established you're a faggot."

"Oi! I was perfectly straight before you came along!" Harry protested.

Draco evidently could not help the chuckle that escaped him. He quickly coughed, cleared his throat and resumed a serious expression as he appraised what Harry was holding in his hands. Harry growled and turned back to the Time-Turner; he had to do the temporal calculations all over again in his head.

"Okay… um… let's see… The first time there was any hint, yeah? Um… Oh! Got it! Oh my God, you're gonna love this…"

A blond eyebrow shot up a pale forehead. "That was totally so something I could have heard a girl say."

"That was totally so something I could have heard a faggot say," Harry countered.

Draco's jaw dropped but he was soundly silenced. Harry, immensely satisfied with his track record in wit so far, made the calculations quietly in his head, turning one hourglass after the other gingerly, biting his lower lip again, until suddenly there was a flash of light. Draco started into him as they rushed upwards towards a sky made of liquid sun. The inside of their eyelids burned so bright the light threatened to blind them with their eyes closed, but a second later it receded. Like a widening puddle the floor melted into existence, walls lengthened from the ceiling, a bed stretched itself into view and the armoire and escritoire redrew themselves whole. They had arrived in Draco's room.

"Okay, we're going to arrive in a few minutes," Harry explained. "Get under here." He took the Invisibility Cloak off his neck, spread it open and threw it on the both of them. He pulled them back towards the corner behind them so they could not interrupt the movements their doppelgangers would make in the room – at least as far as he could remember them.

"This is brilliant!" Draco praised quietly. "Wow, we're going to see you and me going about in my room…"

"Yeah," Harry answered.

Draco nodded as he looked around his room. "It feels kind of good not thinking about my task… even if I have to endure the likes of you." His eyes roamed around the room until they landed on the bottle of cologne on the escritoire.

"You're welcome," Harry snorted. "Okay, shush: can you hear them? Here they come."

The footfalls drew nearer until there was a click at the door. It swiveled open and admitted Draco wearing a beige long-sleeved Houdani rugby jersey, dark-blue Herringbone twill pants and black Karvela suede slip-ons. Harry followed him inside in the same dress as that of the Harry underneath the Invisibility Cloak: dark-green "H" jersey, frayed jeans and a pair of beaten trainers. The concealed Draco turned his head slightly to attempt a subtle once-over on Harry's clothes; the Slytherin's nostrils swelled. Harry flushed an ugly puce and rigidly faced the scene ahead.

"Nice posy you got here, Malfoy," Harry praised, smiling around the room. He came near the two boys beneath the Invisibility Cloak as he moved past and dropped his Firebolt on beside Draco's trunk next to the bedside table.

Draco sat in his chair and faced Harry, who had lowered himself on the emerald bed. "So," said the Slytherin vaguely.

At this point Harry stood up, extended his hand and said, "I'm Harry."

Draco took it. "I'm Draco. It's been long enough."

Draco underneath the Cloak gagged. He watched an awkward moment pass between their two doppelgangers before Harry reached for the cologne and Draco grabbed it, crossed the room and buried it in his armoire. The nervous movements of Draco's double told Draco all he needed to know.

"Eighty-two Galleons ninety-five for cologne?" Harry exclaimed.

"Well, you know the pretentious pouffes we are sometimes," Draco trilled. The Draco beneath the Invisibility Cloak palmed his forehead.

While their doubles talked about brooms Harry was doubled over in the corner. He and Draco watched themselves negotiate a few more seconds of dialogue before they left the room. Harry burst out into laughter and threw his head back.

"Why on earth did you put on that cologne? Just for me?" Harry wheezed.

"A visitor was coming over! It's common courtesy!" Draco blustered.

Harry giggled wildly. "That's the first I've heard of it!"

"Shut up! Argh, why did I do that?" Draco whispered to himself in chastisement, slapping his forehead again. "It was just Harry—fucking—Potter! I've had enough - I want to go back."

"Okay, all right," Harry sniffed, wiping away his tears as he lifted the Time-Turner under his gaze. But at that moment a brainwave hit him. "Oh wait!" he exclaimed, his eyes lighting up. He dashed over to the escritoire and pulled open the drawer. Rather surprisingly he found what he had thought he had just started to look for. He grabbed the mound of folded pieces of parchments and joined Draco back in the corner.

"What are these?" Draco asked.

"Letters we sent back and forth," Harry answered as he prepared to transport them back into their original timeline. "These will show you how we became friends practically overnight."

"That's impossible."

"Believe it."

Harry looped the gold chain around their necks and turned the hourglasses. A moment later they were back in the Slytherin common room. "Here." He handed the notes over to Draco, who passively took them with a vague expression of astonishment on his face.

Half an hour later Draco was convinced that if they could become friends so rapidly, it was not a huge stretch of the imagination that they could nurture an attraction for each other. As exciting as Draco had found the time-travelling, he neither had the stomach nor, he insisted ironically, the time for it.

"It's still... Can't wrap my head around it... But anyway, it was fun while it lasted."

There hung an awkward question in the air between them. The silence was so horrible to endure Harry would rather have Draco ask the question out loud: given that he had drawn that other Draco into making suggestive innuendos and throwing enquiring glances Harry's way, did Harry intend to achieve the same thing with this Draco?

Harry's answer to that would be no. He simply wanted to return to where he belonged having changed Draco's fate and succeeded in his self-imposed mission. That was all he wanted. He missed Ron and Hermione. And even Dumbledore. He missed his home. That was his head thinking.

"So there," said Harry, "a bit of comic relief."

Draco grunted.

"So?" Harry prodded.

Draco threw him a sardonic frown. "So what?"

"So..." Harry huffed. "You know, I don't have all year."

"All year for what?"

"To do this thing all over again and twist your arm."

"I never asked you to be here."

"You actually did – at the tree, remember?"

Draco covered his hand in his arms. "To help me."

"Sure."

"But you won't."

"Not in the way you want me to… Just tell me your plans."

"You already knew them before I said anything."

"Exactly. So now what?"

"Shut up. I don't want to talk about it."

"Then let's not."

"Really?"

"Yeah. What do you want to do?"

There was silence for a minute.

"Escape…"

"Where?"

Silence for another minute.

"The Muggle world."

"What?" said Harry after the full five seconds it took for his brain to work on error-correcting the audio it had just received and conclude that it had heard faithfully. But he still could not believe what he had heard.

Almost deservedly, in Harry's opinion, Draco flushed scarlet.

"You want to escape to the Muggle world?"

Draco kept quiet.

"You said you want to escape to the Muggle world?"

"I don't know."

This was revolutionary. The heavens would sing and the sun would burst with joy. Draco Lucius Malfoy had confessed a desire to set foot on a world he and his forefathers have derided and abhorred. Surely it was off with his head if Lucius heard him admit this – or even remotely imply such a desire. Harry never thought he would see this day.

"No, we can!" he said energetically to bolster the daring streak Draco had summoned to make his admission which Harry saw rapidly receding in the moping Slytherin's face. "We could, you know, visit America and Australia! Anywhere you want!"

"Forget I mentioned it, all right?"

"Of course not! It's brilliant, Draco! Come on then!"

"No."

"It'll spare you a headache, yeah?"

"Potter, stop being excited like a tyke and calm yourself. I have no intention of going anywhere."

But Harry was already thinking of going down to Hagrid and asking for his Gringotts key, at which point he realized he should not be the one to foot the bill. Which in turn led him to the question of how one could travel in the Muggle world.

"You're the one who started it."

"And I took it back."

"You can't."

"Why not? I don't have time for this codswallop. My life is in jeopardy."

"If you cared so much about your life you would've listened to me ages ago. So how much money can you blow in a day? Do you have an allowance you get or something?"

Draco snorted. "Allowance," he spat. "So quaint."

"Well then? Come on, I know you want to brag."

"Potter," said Draco, pinching his nose, "you seem to operate on the presumption that you're running the show and I need to listen to you. When has that ever been the case?"

"Right, so my best guess," Harry said, ignoring the question as he was adrift in the idea of exploring the Muggle world, "is that you have an allowance of a couple of hundred Galleons. We could-"

"I don't have an allowance," Draco denied waspishly. "I have my own vault of miscellaneous expenditure."

Harry's eyebrow rose. "Okay… So you have an entire vault just for your daily needs… Right. So we take some of it, have a look around and be back here before the day is out."

Draco looked aside at him. "Do you go off on pointless tangents like this often with your friends?"

"If there's no hairless monster with red slits and a skull-like face on my arse, yeah. Quite often."

Draco looked away, a look of serene disbelief in his face. "You're utterly incorrigible. Unbelievable."

"Right, it's settled. Let's go."

Harry grabbed Draco by the hand, whereupon the other flung his arm away. "Do you want me to Stupefy you?" Harry asked, trying to ignore the hurtful rejection of the gesture.

Draco had a look of profound indignation. "You can't just make me do want you me to and drag me around; who the hell do you think you are? I'm a Malfoy!"

"I haven't heard that one in a while," Harry said with a touch of sarcasm and indeed truth and another of defensiveness. "I'm warning you."

He felt reckless and he was coming to the resolve that in order to effect real change in this timeline or any other possible future ones he would have to make rather drastically actions he would not necessarily ordinarily make, whatever that entailed. Surely that would ensure a different outcome, whether positive or not. But he had certainly learned that negotiation was not his most effective weapon as was demonstrated in his first attempt. And he also felt Draco needed the vacation.

"Do you want me to take my wand out?"

Draco stared at him with a mixture of curiosity and indignation. "You wouldn't dare."

"I would," replied Harry, who knew that Draco knew he could beat him in a corridor duel as he had countless times before – in any timeline. "Now, shall we?"

Draco continued to stare at him with incredulity until he said, "Where exactly is the Muggle world?"

Harry made his best attempt to conceal his satisfaction. "We have to go to King's Cross, I guess."

He had not anticipated that fact.

Draco of course was only too glad to pounce on the glitch in his plans. "Amazing. That would require we have a train to board. And even if we did find it, it'd take a whole day to get there."

Harry was thinking rapidly. And then it hit him. "We can go to Malfoy Manor, take your broom, copy it and then fly to King's Cross. At a hundred and eighty-five miles per hour it'll take us some two and half hours to get there!"

Draco stared at Harry. "Potter, you want us to travel three hours nonstop on brooms?"

"Two and a half – let's not exaggerate here."

"Your fanciful ruminations have grown less amusing. I want to be left alone with my work."

"What's wrong with that?" Harry said, genuinely curious as to what reasonable objection Draco had to his plan. "It's perfectly possible!"

"Enough dreaming, Potter! You've wasted my time long enough."

"Look at you," said Harry, "pouring over a bunch of notes you think are help you kill the greatest wizard ever when you could be touring the world!"

Draco muttered something as he looked up at the ceiling, seemingly praying to some deity to grant him the calmness of mind not to destroy Harry.

"Or… we could learn to Apparate?"

"Without guidance, I suppose?"

"Why not?"

"Because you need trained professionals and they're only coming next year."

"Give me an hour."

"Potter! Where are you going?" Draco called after Harry, who was loping headlong out of the common room door.

"The library!"

"Do you seriously think the library's going to have books on how to Apparate? You're even dimmer than I thought! It's a Ministry-run course!"

"Oh!" said Harry before he disappeared out the door. "If I don't come back before lunch-"

"Lunch is in less than ten minutes," Draco pointed out with obvious relish.

"Damn," hissed Harry. "And I can't exactly saunter into the Great Hall."

"I almost wished you would," Draco muttered, "that'd be fun. I mean, if you think you can learn how to Apparate from the library in an hour, whatever gaffe you're bound to make in public would be epic."

"What do you attend after lunch?"

"You think I'm telling you?" Draco scoffed.

Harry gave the other boy a serious and almost moping look before it broke into one of confusion. "Wait, are you even going to attend it in the first place?"

"Depends if I'm in the mood or not."

"Fine. If you won't tell me… I guess I can't go." Harry dragged himself back to the seat beside Draco.

Draco, far from looking triumphant, wore an expression of stifled confusion. "Glad you found your common sense at the door, where you must have left it when you came in here," he said a little cautiously.

Harry rubbed his hands together in his lap despondently. Beneath his brow he surreptitiously eyed Draco's hands

"Can I see your hands?"

"Why?" Draco enquired suspiciously.

"I just wanna look at them."

"No, Potter! You're sick! Has someone checked you out? I think they have a bed with your name on it at St. Mungo's. Merlin's scrotum."

"I just wanna see them."

"No, Potter!"

"Oh shit!" Harry screamed as he pointed at something on the other end of the workstation. When Draco turned to look there Harry charged in for the Slytherin's right hand, pulled the emerald ring off the finger, grabbed one of the pages of parchment of Draco's notes and sprinted for the exit.

"POTTER!" Draco boomed. "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!"

Harry ran out of the dungeons, Draco hot on his heels. Between dodging curses from Draco's wand, Harry looked back and saw a mass of black and a red smudge, which was Draco's face: his face had gone an explosive crimson. Harry quickly realized the other boy was going to give up on neither the chase nor landing a head-cracking spell on him. Moving rapidly to save life and limb, Harry shot a Silencing Charm at his feet – muffling his footsteps as he pummelled the floor – ripped the Invisibility Cloak off his neck and threw it on him. As soon as he heard Draco let loose a loud howl of obscenities he knew he had won the race. As suddenly as they had started it, it was over when he no longer heard pounding footsteps behind him. With an immensely self-satisfied cackle he could not help, he continued along the way to the library.

Little more than an hour later, when Harry knew Draco was supposed to be attending Defence Against the Dark Arts as they shared the class, he found the aristocrat in the fifth year boys' dormitory reclined on his bed.

"Right. Got your ticket then? Let's go," he announced.

Draco looked up from his Potions tome. "You learned how to Apparate in an hour and fifteen minutes?"

"Positively," Harry panted. He patted his pocket where, just in case, the instructions on Apparating were stashed.

Draco was hardly believing. He followed Harry's hand to his pocket and back to his face. "You should be kidding right now."

"I'm not," Harry replied as he went around the bed and stood beside Draco. "So? Come on. Where do you wanna go?"

"I want my ring back."

"You're not getting it until you come along."

Draco stared at him for a few seconds. He put down his book. "Potter, do you live in a supernatural, fantastical world or something?"

"No, just a magical one," Harry mumbled.

"Does the fact that this is not a joke and is about my life resonate in that thick cranium of yours?"

"Perfectly. That's why you need a vacation – stressful times these."

"You can't be, Potter – you simply can't be. It's outrageously inconceivable he could be that fast with a book but I can certainly buy this stupidity of wanting to travel the world."

"America? Africa? Australia? And that's not even all the A's," Harry rattled off casually. "What do you say?"

"I say you're barking mad and you need an appointment with a Mental Wizard."

"If that was meant to be an official title it only succeeded to mock its holder," Harry muttered. "You're coming whether wilfully or not."

Draco looked at him with a slight but genuine look of fear and more than an equal measure of defiance. "You can't do that. That's like rape."

For reasons which will never be known to him, Harry experienced a wave of arousal. He felt sick for it. "You can't throw a word like that around," he chided with more venom than he meant to inject in his voice, continuing in a lighter tone, "It's liking crying wolf, you know. Or like playing the Muggle card – you want to save it for the real howlers. Not when people like you say something like Mudblood. Maybe something like, 'Go the fuck back where you came from,' or something of a similar persuasion. Which hurts more than the name-calling does, by the way."

Draco took in all of his with an expression that said he did not know how to respond to the speech. He gave the room a slightly enquiring and beseeching look, hoping it would offer him a means of trying to understand what he had just heard.

"Potter, this act is getting old really quickly."

"Time's up." Harry leaned over and grabbed Draco's arm but the other boy began fighting him off. Harry had read that he needed to concentrate really hard on his destination and he would need to hold onto his co-Apparator in order to transport them both. On the heels of the unkindly heavy reference Draco had made to rape, Harry was distinctly self-conscious and wary of achieving substantial bodily contact with the other boy. Draco threw his leg into Harry's middle. Eyes tearing up, Harry stiffened his resolve, kneed up on the bed and threw himself at full-gauge into the struggle.

It continued for a full thirty seconds before Harry gained enough grips on Draco using all limbs and a few teeth to contemplate his destination. Unfortunately there was the inconvenient fact that this was the closest and most intimate he had ever been with Draco. And he sustained a problem. Quite unsurprisingly Draco suddenly stopped struggling beneath and there fell a painful silence in the room that lasted five seconds before Draco regained speech and whispered the dreaded question. Harry did not bother to answer – it was roaringly self-evident.

The texture of the ruffled gelled hair; cinnamon and desert rain… the vibrating, warm body beneath him… The skin of his cheek against the crook of a silky neck… the knowing of Draco's physical strength and the feel of his corners – knees and shoulders and hip bones – and the expanses of his torso and thighs… Harry started shaking slightly. In what seemed like a viciously powerful and rapid motion limbs suddenly snapped and Harry found himself on the other side of the bed smarting in his groin and his chin. It was almost worth it. He could not even force a fake mischievous grin to save face. He had been found utterly naked in his worst vulnerability.

"Potter!" Draco cried as he leapt off the bed to his feet. "You're a sick man! A very sick man!"

Harry found himself inexplicably unable to move. It was true the physical struggle on the bed had been draining, but not so much. All he was able to do was offer a vague smirk serving rather the same function as a "closed" sign on a store as the management (Harry's brain) tried to resolve a crisis which had suddenly arisen: his pants were wet.

Draco made a gesture of frustration and indignation and paced in a circle. "I need to do something about you…"

And just as suddenly Harry regained his strength. His partially closed eyes opened widely and he, very cautiously, rose off the bed.

"Where do you wanna go?" he asked rather as a means to force a natural conversation than deal with his complete and wounding humiliation. But Draco, judging by his indignation, which had not faded the slightest, did not seem keen to brush the issue under the carpet. "Dobby."

POP!

"Harry Potter called Dobby for his assistance."

While Draco was processing the appearance of his ex-house-elf with a gaping mouth, Harry explained to Dobby that he needed to take the both of them outside Hogwarts.

"Dobby is delighted to be helping Harry Potter. Sir, you sure you want to make company with him? I remember him and his father. Nasty people but Dobby escaped."

"Dobby?" Draco said weakly.

Dobby turned around to face Draco, seemed to take a second to muster himself and then, assuming a face of pride, said, "Dobby is not to be answering to his previous master; Dobby is a free elf now thanks to Harry Potter."

Harry took Draco's inattention to mutter a quick Cleaning Charm to refresh his sticky underwear. "Yes, yes, yes. Are we done with the formalities?" he said quickly as he took Dobby's hand and Draco's with the other; the other boy had not recovered from the shock of his seeing his self-manumitted – or rather aide manumission house-elf.

"Potter, you freed him?" Draco asked hollowly as he faced Harry. But before he received his answer Dobby clicked his fingers and the dormitory was empty.

They reappeared before the tall black wrought gate beside which two winged boars stood on bastions.

"Right. Thanks, Dobby. You can go back in the castle," Harry said.

Dobby clicked his fingers again.

POP!

"Right. Again: where you want to go or shall I choose?"

Draco took a few seconds to gather his bearings and the fact that they were standing outside the school grounds. After looking around it was apparent that something else was enjoying more importance in his memory.

"Potter, you seem to be overlooking the fact that you were about to rape me-"

"That's fucking—I said you need to stop throwing that word around!" Harry snarled. "Or maybe that word isn't as loaded here in the Wizarding world as it is in the Muggle."

"Oh, you're just asking to be discriminated upon for someone apparently so sensitive to it!" Draco trilled. "Allow me to point out the obvious: if you don't like the way we use words in this world, then STAY THE FUCK OUT OF IT!"

Harry blindly lunged forwarded and sealed the roaring open lips with his own. And there was a brief flash of red in Harry's vision, a moment where his body was paralyzed by a tingling, almost clammy sensation and he pulled back to stare at the pallid face of shock.

Draco was frozen in his absolute incredulity and his expression had not changed. Harry's brain worked furiously to conjure up a random place – breaking off a tooth in one of its cogwheels, so furious they had spun. Thoughtlessly and gaping, he reached for Draco's raised arm, took in the unmoving face of the other boy, closed his eyes and – in a desperate lapse of faithlessness – prayed for the God of Abraham – the merciful one he had been brought up to revere at strategic and spare periods in his life, the one to whom he had been forced to proffer offering when he was younger – to save him from the full might of Slytherin retribution and deliver him to a heavenly place of paradise and safety.

There was a sharp crack and the two boys disappeared.