Hello my wonderful readers!
I am so very, very sorry for how late this update is, and I do hope that some of you are still out there, and are still interested in what I have to write about! We managed to make it well past the 500 mark for reviews with that last chapter as well, so thank you so much, and please keep it up! It was the reviews from you guys that lifted me up and got me to keep going with this! :3
On that note, the AN at the start of the last chapter still stands; sadly my first lot of writer-bootcamp reviewers dwindled to nothing within a few weeks. If you'd like a chance to help and read my book as I write it, please send me a PM. :)
Anyway, enough of that boring stuff! On with the story!
Disclaimer: Not mine, yadda yadda.
An uneasy silence met Severus's ears as he entered the cavernous potions lab. His two students were stood in the middle of the floor, staring with apprehension at the large blackboard that had been cleared of the previous day's work, and which now stood bare.
'Good evening' he greeted quietly, his deep tones startling both boys as they visibly jumped, before spinning to look at him.
'Good evening professor' Harry said quietly. Severus noted with a pleased frown that while his face was still washed out and eyes dark, that the boy looked notably better than he had the night before.
'Tonight we will be preparing 'Delicatus', the test potion that I set you two to try out on your own', here his usual frown deepened, 'with the one major difference being that I will instruct you verbally.'
With a flick of his wand he set the peppermint green python's box that had followed him into the room to settle down against one of the walls.
With a pleased cry Harry moved towards it quickly, kneeling down eagerly to release the creature trapped inside.
'You can't seriously be thinking of letting it out Black?' Draco asked, 'I know you have a way with snakes, but that's no reason to tempt fate.'
Severus nodded, 'I'm afraid I have to agree with Draco on this one Black; leave the poor creature alone.'
Harry shook his head as he reached an arm unafraid into the box, 'It doesn't like it in here, and we'll get a higher quality of venom from it if it's not stressed.'
Draco took in a sharp breath as the peppermint python slid lazily along Harry's arm and around his shoulders, thick curls clinging and pressing as it climbed across his body. Taking a sure step to the side, Draco grinned and relaxed a little; safe in the knowledge that he was now at least a foot further away from imminent death.
Harry watched his potion's partner with sharp eyes, taking in every motion and word with barely concealed turpitude. Something in him had broken that morning, and slowly he felt the pieces falling back into place.
Some grand decision had been made, some great gleaning of truth that he had yet to reveal even to himself. But it was there, somewhere deep inside the truth coiled within his bones, biding its time.
Around his shoulders a much more physical, immediate problem coiled, its silken scales sliding across his skin in a way that had him shivering.
'You have changed, human boy. You are no longer human.'
Harry hissed darkly, 'This is not something I will discuss with you snake.'
'Perhaps it is more true to say that you were never human?' the python seemed pensive, 'We are all snakes here.'
Harry shook his head, 'Not I.'
The green head bobbed beside his, ruby eyes watching him closely as a coil curled teasingly along his spine, 'Indeed. Not human, not serpent. Dark.'
Harry fought not to shudder, but his fingers gripped the long bench in a way that had his knuckles turning white. He groaned as Malfoy looked up, knowing from the instant light in the other man's eyes that he could tell what the snake was doing.
'Got a handle on your spine there has he?' Malfoy chuckled quietly, 'And here I was thinking you only let your worst enemy touch you there.'
Harry couldn't help but chuckle, 'You're hardly my worst enemy.'
Malfoy looked hurt, 'Truly? You wound me Black.'
'Venom!' Severus barked, once again startling them both.
Harry nodded, putting his right arm out so that it hovered over the steaming cauldron, 'If you wouldn't mind. Three drops, no more.'
'And if I do mind?'
The hiss was so soft that Harry barely heard it, but before he could answer the python was slithering lazily down his arm. He wavered a little, the shift in weight making his arm dip dangerously close to the noxious brew, before he corrected its height and held the snake in place.
Rearing up is hissed, crimson eyes watching Draco as it bared its long fangs. The two students hung in silence, the snake bobbing and weaving as it hissed and flared, crystalline drops of venom slowly building on its fangs.
One. Two. Then three drops, no more.
Closing its mouth the python relaxed, before uncurling its length and sliding surely down Harry's arm to the floor, where it swiftly made its way back to the box it was being kept in.
'Had enough of you has he?' Draco asked with a grin.
Harry was about to answer, but was cut off as Severus pushed him aside, leaning over the cauldron with eyebrows raised in shock.
'Unbelievable!' he muttered, a long-fingered hand stroking his chin as he observed the brew, 'Congratulations Black; it seems that you have discovered that willingly offered venom stabilises the draught; this potion will no longer need to have dranlirow's flower or scanlon root added to it.'
Turning to the two boys his frown tweaked ever so slightly, 'There's hope for this advanced class yet!'
'I can't believe we almost finished it!' Draco crowed, a weary smile plastered lopsidedly across his face.
Harry chuckled, 'To be fair, we were in there for three and a half hours; I should hope we got somewhere with it!'
Behind him Snape locked the tiny door, the metallic clang of wood in iron reverberating down the dank hall, 'Draco is right to be pleased Black, that 'venom discovery' significantly altered the makeup of the potion; I'd hazard that you shaved around two hours off of the brewing time.
Harry grinned, 'So you really weren't exaggerating then Professor?'
Beside him Snape looked dark and moody, 'Hardly. This is a serious class, and I would not joke about it.'
Feeling a little chastened already, Harry's smile further wavered as the soft voice of Minerva McGonagall met his ears.
'Good evening. Severus, why was a message not sent to fetch me when your class was almost done?'
The dark haired boy was still wondering how she had got the timing right at all when Snape replied, 'I'm unsure why Dumbledore has asked you to take the students to their dorms Minerva; I am a professor just as you are, and I am more than capable of seeing them to their beds.'
The elderly woman looked a little surprised, 'You know, I hadn't even thought of it that way. I suppose he thought you would be too tired after teaching all of your classes, and then tackling theirs on top of that.'
Snape nodded knowingly, 'A truly touching concern on the headmaster's part, but it will only take five minutes, and it saves dragging you from your bed each night.'
McGonagall nodded, a pleased and yet weary smile on her face, 'I thank you Severus.' Nodding to them, she said a quiet goodbye, and turned back the way she had come.
Harry let go of a huge sigh of relief, but found himself swallowing it back as Snape's words fell into the silent night air.
'I hear that you have your own rooms Black, and that the Headmaster is rather interested in their whereabouts.'
Harry felt his stomach drop out from beneath him, 'Yes Professor, but-'.
Snape cut him off with a raised hand, 'Whatever you have to say for yourself, I do not care. You have the cloak still I trust? See that no one catches you on your way back.'
Harry could feel his mouth gaping, and beside him Malfoy chuckled with amusement, 'My godfather knows the value of a safe space Black; he would never take that away from anyone.'
Snape looked distinctly uncomfortable at that, and nodding goodnight to the two boys disappeared down the corridor without another word.
Malfoy snorted, 'Well that's all well and good, but I don't have a cloak, and the Slytherin dorm is on the other side of the dungeons! Even a prefect could get in trouble for being out of bed this late.' Looking disgruntled he started to head after his teacher, rubbing the cold from his fingers and muttering as he went.
Grinning to himself Harry sprinted to catch up, startling a squawk of protest from the other boy as he threw the cloak around them, 'I guess that means it's my turn to escort you to your room.'
Malfoy scowled at him, 'You can't come in to the Slytherin dorm Black! You're a Gryffindor!'
Harry chuckled, 'Yeah, because that's stopped me in the past…'
Beside him Malfoy looked scandalised, and it was all Harry could do not to burst out laughing. Pushing the other boy towards the Slytherin dorm he asked teasingly, 'Is the password still 'Noblesse'?'
It didn't take them long to get to the entrance of the Slytherin dorm, and standing before the dank stretch of wall Harry turned to his potions partner, 'We can't both enter under the cloak; if there's anyone inside the door opening by itself will seem really strange.' Here he shrugged, 'So we can either part ways here, or you can walk in and I'll slip in behind you.'
Malfoy grinned, 'You're trying not to actually ask to see my room, aren't you?'
Harry decided he wouldn't justify that question with an answer.
Malfoy chuckled, slipping out from beneath the cloak and saying the password, followed by a soft and yet surprisingly strong 'Come on then.'
No sooner had Malfoy entered the dorm than a shrieking girl descended on him, 'Draco! Where have you been?! It's almost midnight!'
'Back off Pansy' he managed to get out around her worried chattering, 'I was at potions, I told you the classes ran late…'
Putting her hand on her hips she frowned, 'Late is one thing, but it's almost midnight!'
Malfoy grinned, pushing past her so that he could actually get into the common room before them, 'You already said that bit.'
'So how was it then?' she pressed, halting his progress up the stairs to his dorm.
Malfoy shrugged, trying his best not to look annoyed, 'It was fine Pansy, it went… really well actually.'
'And Potter?!' she pressed, though she jumped harshly as her silver-haired companion snapped out, 'It's Black.'
'You're not actually starting to swallow that are you?!' she gaped, 'You said yourself that he only did it for the attention.'
Malfoy shook his head, 'Yeah I did but…look, let's talk about this later Pansy, I'm really tired.'
Ignoring her protests he made his way steadily up to his room, being sure to leave the door open long enough for his invisible companion to slip through, before closing it behind them.
Slipping the cloak from his shoulders Harry looked around with barely concealed curiosity, 'You actually have your own room.'
Beside him Draco shrugged, 'Yeah, favouritism is actually a thing in Slytherin.'
Harry chuckled light, 'I think it is in every house, this is just a lot more…obvious than I was expecting.' He settled himself uninvited on the edge of the four-poster bed, noting with a wry smile that the tips of the posts just barely fit beneath the low dungeon ceiling, 'Doesn't this dungeon setting ever get on your nerves?'
Draco shook his head slightly, moving around the bed to flop down on the other side of it, 'Not really, you get used to it. Sometimes the solitude is actually really nice.' He gestured to Harry with a tiny smile, 'Go ahead and lie down then Black, you haven't seemed to need my permission so far.'
Harry chuckled, 'Consider it retribution; you took advantage of my weakness and now you know everything about me, the least you could do is let me do likewise.'
Malfoy snorted, 'To say I know everything about you is a huge exaggeration.' Seeing Harry's blank gaze level with his as he settled his head against the pillows, the blond-haired boy elaborated, 'You're an enigma, a god damned puzzle all wrapped up in layer after layer of questions; I wouldn't even know where to start.'
Harry frowned, 'Now I think you're the one exaggerating.'
Draco laughed, 'Perhaps, but you have to admit that of the two of us, I'm the one spouting lies the closest to the truth.'
They fell into a companionable silence, the soft doona they led on pooling between them. With a deep sigh, Malfoy broached the one question that had been distancing them since the climb to his dorm, 'I know you're wondering about it, so I'll just answer it and get it out of the way, but yes, I thought you changed your name for the attention when I first found out.'
Malfoy sighed again, lifting a hand to run it through his silver locks, 'Now I don't know what to think', here he chuckled slightly, 'but from what I can gather, the attention was an unexpected side effect on your part.' He rolled over, crystalline blue eyes meeting green, 'So why did you change it Black?'
Harry's eyes were deep, the words settling across him as he shifted and considered, before opening his mouth and voicing his reasons. No sooner had they settled in the air, than he felt their truth.
'For years I wasn't a person, I was just this thing. People didn't know me; they knew the name, and they knew the story, and even after getting to know me, that's still what most of them saw.' He shook his head, 'I never knew my parents, and I suppose a part of me is finally starting to let that go.'
Malfoy watched as Harry sat slowly, propping himself on one arm so that he could look the other squarely in the face, 'But my godfather, he was real family, and just like my parents he was the last of his name. He taught me things, and cared for me where no other did. He saw me.'
Harry shrugged, slowly sliding back down onto the cover, 'I have to honour that, and everything else that he did for me; I can't let him go.'
Draco's stomach churned, a deep emptiness filling him as he watched the other man led beside him, 'I'm sorry.'
Harry shrugged, 'It's fine.'
Silence settled over them once again, long and weary, but this time Harry was the one to break it, 'Go on then.'
Looking up Malfoy noticed the cheeky smile.
'Ask me all of these questions you supposedly have.'
Draco grinned, 'If I do, will you actually answer any of them?'
Harry shrugged, playful grin still etched across his features, 'I might.'
Draco frowned; suddenly faced with the offer of answers, he found his mind completely devoid of any useful questions.
Harry laughed, sitting up quickly as he surveyed the man led beside him, 'You don't have any!' he accused, joyous laugh tumbling from his lips before he could even think to stop it.
'No!' Malfoy frowned, sitting quickly himself, 'I definitely do!' he proclaimed, his worried brow seemingly working over the problem in his head, before he crowed with satisfaction. 'What is up with your spine?!' he asked quickly, finger pointing accusingly at the centre of Harry's chest.
Harry cocked his head sideways, 'I've already answered this one, my bones are black, that's why you can see it through my skin.'
Malfoy shook his head, calm and satisfied enough with his question now to ask more clearly, 'No, I mean why are your bones black? And what does it feel like when someone presses on your spine.'
Harry's face turned a soft shade of red, and he coughed, 'What do you mean what does it feel like?'
Draco eyed him with a calculating stare, 'When I pressed the mark on your neck, you startled and jumped away. At first I thought I'd hurt you, but now I'm not so sure.' Here he looked quizzical, 'Does it…somehow feel good?'
Oh yeah, Harry was definitely going red now. Struggling to keep the blush down he sighed, 'Yeah, it does. And don't ask me how or why, because I don't know. It just…it sends crazy shivers and tingles all down my spine.'
A wicked grin stretched lazily across Draco's features, and seeing it Harry felt his stomach drop, 'Whatever you're thinking, stop it. Right now.'
Malfoy's grin didn't falter for a second as he slowly slid to his knees, predatory eyes calculating.
Harry had less than a second to react before Malfoy struck like the snake that he was. Twisting and laughing he leapt back, struggling out of the cling of the sheets in an attempt to escape the tickling fingers headed towards his spine.
Laughing and cursing the two boys tangled in the sheets, Harry barely managing to defend himself against Malfoy's swift and accurate attempts at contact.
Somewhere beneath them a foot caught in the sheets, and a hard shove to the dark-haired boy's chest had them both sliding swiftly to the floor in a tangle of exhilarated and feverish limbs, where contact with the icy stone floor had them gasping.
Breathless from the frenzied exertion they led beside each other on the cold dungeon floor, staring up at the dark ceiling above them. Each had a foot caught in the clinging green sheets, and somehow the doona had landed half across them, further complicating their extrication.
Panting, Malfoy managed a small laugh, 'Wow, you're really good at dodging.'
Beside him Harry chuckled low in the back of his throat, 'I have to be.' Turning to face the other boy again he looked him over slowly, pulling his bottom lip into his mouth so that he could worry it with his teeth, considering.
'You really want to know what it feels like?'
Malfoy got the distinct impression that he was pushing his luck, but nodded despite himself, 'Yes.'
The silence loomed for a long moment, before it was broken by the rustling of sheets as Harry pulled his foot loose from the sheets, and reaching over with his wand muttered a quiet spell, before tapping its tip to the palm of Malfoy's hand.
Rolling over so that he was facing away from the other man he said quietly, 'Be gentle; you're not ready for a hard shove.'
Confused by the other boy's words Malfoy frowned, but was almost instantly captured by the allure of the faint mark at the base of the dark-haired man's neck. Lifting an arm he traced the tip of the spine ever so slightly with his fingertip, shivering as some strange tingle ran down his own.
Understanding now the nature of Black's spell he felt a warm tingling in his cheeks, but ignored it in favour of pressing his thumb firmly to the milky skin, and sliding it down as far as the robes allowed, which ended up being between the other's shoulder blades.
Beneath his fingers the muscles twitched and spasmed, but Draco barely noticed as something fiery shot down his spine, setting his stomach on fire with roiling snakes as his whole body shivered. Something inside of his chest blossomed and pulsed, making him gasp as his groin stirred in response, heat and pressure seeming to build inside of him in an instant.
Malfoy snapped his hand back quickly, and in an instant the sensation was over, though he was still reeling from the intense feeling. 'Christ! What the hell was that?!'
Rolling back over to face the other man Harry shrugged, 'I don't really know myself. I'm thinking unfortunate side-effect of having a black spine.' His face was flushed, but over-all he didn't seem as affected by it as Malfoy, who was still panting, 'I've had to get used to it after having clothes rubbing against it all of the time, but pressure is still hard to deal with.'
Malfoy huffed, hauling himself to his feet he pulled the doona and tangled sheets back onto his bed, before climbing inside, 'I take it that's my one question for the night?'
Harry chuckled quietly, 'Are you not satisfied with the answer?'
Malfoy grinned cheekily, 'I would have to say that 'satisfied' might just be the most inappropriate word you could have chosen. But it will do for now.' He patted the bed beside him, 'Come on then, it's too late for you to go back to your own rooms; may as well let me return that favour.'
Harry shook his head sadly, though he eyed the sheets hopefully, 'I'm afraid I have to go back, there are…things I need to deal with.' He picked his cloak up off of the floor and draped it around his shoulders, but noticing the sour look to the other's face he stopped a moment, 'I promise that's all it is, I just have things to do.'
Draco nodded and swallowed thickly as his new friend disappeared into the air, his bedroom door clicking closed quietly behind nothing as he left.
It wasn't until much later, when Draco was finally drifting to sleep, that he realised how deftly the other had dodged his real question.
Harry climbed wearily through the entrance to his dorm, throwing his cloak across the back of one of the couches as he made his way up the stairs to his bed.
'You're back late Harry' Orion said quietly, her book already down as she surveyed him with questioning eyes, 'How was your potions class?'
Harry shrugged, 'It was good, but I'm not worried about that right now.' Reaching into the drawer beside his bed he lifted two tiny blue shapes into his hands, looking down at them sadly his frown deepened, 'How can I be out having fun when I don't even know how to save my friends?'
'Perhaps they cannot be saved.'
Phillius' deep tones met Harry's ears gently, but the brutality of his unwanted words shook him; 'No, I refuse to accept that. There must be someone who knows how to help them!'
They had been as still and silent as the grave since the incident that put them into their seeming comas, and nothing Harry had tried so far seemed able to rouse them. They still breathed, though shallowly, and a carefully crafted spell had their bodies absorbing nutrients so that they wouldn't starve or dehydrate, but Harry could not fathom any other way of helping them.
'Take them to your potion's master?' Orion suggested, 'If he can be trusted, he may know a draught to awaken them.'
Harry bit his bottom lip, deep in thought, 'I think if anyone could it would be him, but it could have him asking questions I don't know how to answer.' The dark-haired boy's frown deepened, 'Still, they're worth the risk, and tonight he proved himself to be at least partially trustworthy.'
Nodding to himself, the decision made in his mind, Harry settled the two little doxies onto the bed beside him, and fell into a deep and weary sleep.
Well there you go beautiful readers! I'll do my best to avoid the dreaded writer's block in future guys!
You've made it this far, is it really that hard to push the button?