Harry woke up when he heard the door to Snape's rooms shut. He listened with a frown, and decided that Draco must be out of the rooms when he didn't hear him moving around.
That's probably a bad thing, Harry thought, flinging the blankets back and sitting up. He knew Draco had been killingly angry when he sent Harry to bed. Harry hadn't been worried because he thought Draco could keep his temper under control with that same icy lightness he had shown Harry when they were fucking.
"Draco?" he called, stepping into the central room.
"Do let him do as he wishes," a drawl said from behind him. "He has taken a potion and will act better without you there at his side. Trying to hold him back will simply make him impatient of restraint, and your presence will inflame him to demonstrate that he can protect you. Let him go, and he will extract a powerful but not overwhelming revenge."
Harry turned to Snape's portrait. He wondered if it would lie, and then decided it probably wouldn't. If Draco was really in danger, the portrait probably would have already flickered away, in fact, to watch out of another frame.
"You're sure?" he asked dubiously.
Snape leaned on his cauldron and sneered at Harry. The cauldron wasn't bubbling, which Harry thought was a first since he had come back to Hogwarts.
"Not entirely sure, Potter, as no one can predict the future," Snape said. "And do not bring Trelawney up to me." From his shudder, Harry thought Dumbledore's portrait must often have done that. "But it is my belief that Draco needs to do this himself, to confirm, if only in his own mind, the—unusual—relation to you he has taken up."
Harry turned away, flushing and pulling on his hair. He had forgotten that Snape, along with all the other portraits, knew about his sex with Draco in the Room of Requirement.
"How unusual," Snape said to his back, with the light, almost bored tone that meant he was preparing some masterpiece of malice. "How wonderful¸ that a Potter would prefer to be dominated rather than dominating others."
Harry shook his head quickly. "It's not that," he said. "I know what you're talking about, and I'm different from those people."
"But not so marvelous that a Potter would claim uniqueness," Snape said, from the sound of it telling the walls.
"I'm not—" Harry fell silent and moved to the other side of the room. Draco had laid the glass shard in the middle of the table. Harry stared down at it and wished he had written notes about what the potion was. At least that would convince Harry that Draco was justified in getting as angry about what Covington had done as he'd sounded.
Why should I argue with Snape? He would only find some way to twist my words around anyway, and I'd rather save my efforts for someone who actually deserves them.
"You are unusual," Snape said flatly to his back. "Do not accept that, and it would make Draco miserable. I would rather not see him miserable."
Harry turned back and glared at Snape, good resolutions already forgotten. Draco might have to live with a portrait frame cracked down the middle or a canvas that had caught fire. "D'you think I want to make him miserable? But I won't be the slave or the pet that you're thinking of, either."
"How do you know that is what I am thinking of?" Snape moved so that he was standing beside the bookshelf, but made no pretense of reaching for a book. He studied Harry without blinking, in fact. Harry concealed a shudder over that fact and decided there were some advantages to being paint.
"Because you mentioned domination first," Harry said, and had to keep his fingers from curling around the shard. He might destroy important evidence that Draco needed to analyze later. Or he might cut his fingers. It was strange to think that Draco might be more upset about that than about the destruction of evidence. "And then that you don't want him to be unhappy. Apparently he needs a slave to be happy." His voice curdled in his throat. He didn't believe that, but then again, Snape had known Draco longer.
"You have become sensitive to the nuances of words at last," Snape said. "Is it any surprise that you still interpret them wrongly?"
Harry refused to look up, and tapped his fingers on the table to ease his impatience and anger. Draco couldn't be far ahead. If Harry left now and went with him, he would at least know what he planned to do. And, really, wasn't his place at Draco's side? Their sexual relationship didn't mean that Harry had to keep away from him because Draco had chosen to "defend his honor."
He had started to reach out for the door-handle when Snape spoke again, in the neutral tone Harry had once heard him use to tell Hermione that her potion was correct. "Draco needs a focus for his intensity. He has found a suitable one in you. I would prefer that you not destroy yourself when that would deprive him of his focus."
Harry blinked. Snape looked as if he was trying to keep from chewing on his tongue, but he had actually spoken the words, and they seemed to be true. That they weren't about Harry's welfare but Draco's wasn't the point. Of course they would be about Draco's welfare, because Draco was the one Snape cared about.
The one Harry cared about, too, come to that.
"Isn't his brewing focus enough?" Harry asked. "He's told me about some of the things he's doing with experimental potions—"
"No doubt, in truth, things he did two or three years ago," Snape interrupted. He had an air of relief, as though he was launching vitriol to relieve an itch that had built up when he admitted Harry might be good for something. "It would take him that long to simplify the concepts so that you could understand them."
Harry ignored this, and had the satisfaction of seeing Snape look exquisitely frustrated. "Well, isn't it focus enough? Why would he need someone like me, if he has such an all-consuming passion?"
Snape sighed hard enough to make the portrait frame swing on the wall, or at least it looked like it. "Because potions are not people," he said. "And because they cannot give him someone to fuck." He paused and tilted his head. "Unless he has delved into areas of research that I cannot see him having an interest in," he murmured, attention caught. "Perhaps I should encourage his interest, however."
"If they would be dangerous to him, then you can't," Harry said.
Snape gave him a faint, distantly amused look. "How do you imagine that you could stop me?"
Harry held up a hand without answering. The anger was slow to come, but not the magic, and if he couldn't call up flames as devouring as the normal ones that resulted from his rage, he doubted Snape knew that. He held out his hand towards the portrait and watched as Snape stilled, his eyes fixed on the fire.
"You have made your point," Snape said at last, though he apparently had to swallow bile twice before he could speak.
Harry lowered his hand. "I meant it," he said, not dismissing the fire yet, because he wanted Snape to take him seriously. "I don't want you to encourage anything that would be dangerous to him. I want—I want him safe. I want him happy. If I can achieve that only by walking away from him, then I will, but you haven't proved that I can do that yet. In fact, you're speaking as though I'm necessary to him."
It was his turn to have words catch in his throat. He didn't know what he felt at the moment, tossed back and forth between emotions and conclusions, reactions and facts. He wanted to stay with Draco. He didn't want Draco in trouble. He still had trouble accepting the truth about himself. That truth seemed to be something Draco desired, or that made him desire Harry, so Harry wanted it to stay the same. He shook his head sharply and closed his fingers down, eliminating the fires.
"Trust that Draco will restrain himself," Snape said then. He was no longer chewing on ashes, and when Harry looked up, he had come forwards to lean on the edge of the portrait frame. "He has played these games for far longer than you have. The Ministry woman might feel that she must fight for her life with you there, given that you wounded her. She will be less cautious around Draco, and he will get further with her."
"To the point of killing her?" Harry murmured, but he no longer felt as much need to open the door and storm after Draco.
Snape shook his head. "He would not do such a thing when he understands the cost—and the cost will remain in his mind even when he is most angry."
"More than I can do," Harry had to admit.
Snape sneered, but seemed to consider the straight line too perfect to take advantage of. "In the end, you will be avenged, and Draco's need to protect you be assuaged, and the Ministry woman under control." He paused thoughtfully. "In truth, this may be the best thing that could have happened." He ignored Harry's snort. "I do not mean your enslavement. I mean the Ministry acting in such a way that Draco does not need to hide behind the polite walls of politics. Until this moment, all their offenses against you were too far in the past to merit revenge. Now, he can do something that should result in the Ministry reopening Hogwarts as you desire, or at least making a bargain with you."
"He's going to take Covington as a hostage, and then bargain with them?" Harry hazarded.
Snape laughed. Harry jumped. He hadn't imagined that he would ever hear a full and free laugh like that from Snape's throat, without a hint—well, all right, this had a hint—of the malice that Snape seemed to feel all the time.
"Watch and learn from a master," Snape said, turning back to his cauldron. "I can see part of the reason why Draco likes having you. You will be a pleasure to educate."
Harry made some weak protest, but he knew it was weak as he made it, and that Snape had talked him into waiting. Not because he was afraid, he knew; he could have handled Covington. But because he trusted Draco, and because he wanted to show that he trusted Draco.
He went back into the bedroom, to lessen the temptation to talk to Snape again and ruin the fragile accord that subsisted between them right now or touch the vials and destroy something, and found himself looking at the gloves that Draco had enchanted to bind his hands the other night. Harry flushed and turned his head away, but then looked back, his breath quickening.
It would do no harm if he—
He picked up the gloves and held them for a time, turning them over, then slid them onto his hands. The enchantment Draco had placed on them didn't activate without his presence, but Harry could still feel the tight clutch of the leather, and had to close his eyes as a thrill passed through his blood.
This might be all right.
In the end, Draco found Covington by the simplest means. He only had to summon a house-elf and ask it where she was, promising that he had a healing potion to relieve the pain in her hand. The elf squeaked and scraped and bowed, and told him that she was in an office on the sixth floor that apparently served as her private infirmary.
Draco reached it and spent some time considering his potion, wondering if he should hide it or pretend that his lie to the elf was the truth. In the end, he shook his head and pushed the door open. He was too angry to practice effective subterfuge, and Covington would never trust a potion that he offered her now.
Covington was holding a mangled mess of a hand over a cauldron, wringing the skin around her fingers back and forth with her good hand, apparently trying to bleed it out so that she could use the blood to create a healing enchantment. Draco admired her steadiness of mind. He didn't know many wizards who would automatically try to do something so time-consuming and magic-consuming when they were wounded.
He shut the door behind him hard enough that she would hear it. Covington started and turned towards him, half-crouched as if she intended to cast a spell—though since her wand was on the floor beside the cauldron, Draco wondered how she would have done that.
"Goodness, Mr. Malfoy," she said, with a wide, false smile. "You startled me."
It was the first time Draco could remember that she had neglected to call him Potions master Malfoy. He didn't think it was deliberate, so much as the pain catching up with her and making her forget about details. He stared to walk forwards, one hand on the vial that he carried in his pocket.
"What's the matter?" Covington straightened up and stared at him with a displeased expression, the kind that she might use on a house-elf who had interrupted her lunch. Her mangled hand remained above the cauldron. Draco had to admire her focus, too. She never lost sight of what was really important—in this case, healing herself.
"The problem," Draco said, deciding that he could explain to her, since she wouldn't have long to resist, "is that you tried to enslave my partner." It was a simpler word than many that came to mind, and perhaps not quite true. But then again, he could say that Harry was his partner for the duration of the investigation into the riddles. He stopped in front of her and looked at the hand.
"He told you how this happened?" Covington's voice held nothing but curiosity. Draco wondered if she didn't know as much about the connection between him and Harry as she thought she did.
"Yes," Draco said. "And you shouldn't have done it." He met her eyes, wanting to see the dread gathering there.
Covington pursed her lips as if she didn't know what to make of that. "I certainly shouldn't have done it," she agreed, and gestured with her head to the dripping blood. "I learned a lesson about trying to use a potion on someone I am unprepared to fight. I remain uncertain—and curious—why it is your concern, however."
Draco shook his head. He would have to speak some more of the truth to make her dread, he saw, and then he would have to move fast, since he couldn't chance her getting away and using what she knew. "It is my concern because I have control of my partner for my own purposes. He trusts his health and safety to me, in some ways. And you have violated that. You tried to take control of him."
Covington's eyes, for a moment, reflected nothing but astonishment. Draco nodded. Yes, her knowledge had not extended as far as Harry had assumed it had. She knew something about Harry, but not how close they had become.
Then he saw the fear he had been longing for. Draco smiled and held up the vial. "If you swallow this," he said, "then I don't need to cause you more pain than Harry already has."
"You're mad," Covington said. She took a step back and faced him squarely, but Draco wasn't blind to the fact that the step had carried her closer to where her wand lay on the floor. "You must be. Did you really think that you would get away with threatening me?"
"A threat that comes true cannot be classified as a threat any longer," Draco said. "And you have spent your time threatening both me and Harry since you came here."
Covington shook her head. "This would mean open warfare with the Ministry," she said. "And you're not that stupid. They won't stand for someone imprisoning, torturing, or poisoning their employees." Again she moved a step backwards.
"I prefer the term coercing," Draco said. "And it doesn't matter what they call it, if they never find out about it."
He sprang forwards while Covington was still trying to process his words and locked his arm into place around her throat. Covington raised her bloody hand to fend him off, and Draco closed his teeth on a hanging strip of skin and whipped his head sideways. She screamed in pain, taken off-guard by the jolt that went through her.
And, more to the point, opening her mouth as wide as it was capable of going. Draco had the cork out of the vial already, a deft sleight-of-hand trick that he had perfected to impress his clients. The potion passed into her throat, and Draco slammed his hand across her lips after it, to prevent her from spitting it back out.
From the furious look in her eyes, she was holding it in her mouth instead of swallowing, and she promptly began turning her head from side to side, seeking a way past the barrier of his palm. Draco had one free hand, though, and that hand nestled his wand against the bottom of her chin. He tapped it. "Glutio," he said.
The simple spell, meant to help patients with sore throats swallow their medicinal potions, did its work. Covington's muscles contracted, and the potion was gone. Draco took his hand away and stepped smoothly back. The noise of the struggle might bring someone, and he wanted to show that he hadn't hurt her if they did show up.
Covington shivered and bowed her head as if huddling before a strong wind. Draco watched critically, nodding when he noted a slight green undertinge to her skin. That was a sign of the potion working, and he hadn't wanted to test it until he saw the signs begin to appear.
"Lift your left arm," he said.
Covington's left arm shot above her head. She stared at him in horror and dawning revulsion, and Draco smiled sweetly back. He hadn't perfected the sentient potion that would let him command the bodies of hundreds yet, but this was the next-best thing. It would operate when the person who had swallowed it was away from him, too, and it was undetectable to anyone who might run the standard tests—which definitely included the Potions staff of the Ministry, not known for innovation.
"You won't speak to anyone of this," he said. "Your throat closes if you try. You will hurl yourself down the nearest flight of stairs if you try to write something. You needn't stare at me as if I won't do it," he added scornfully, because Covington's eyes were fixed on him in something that might have been shock and was certainly horror. "I will. I have no compunctions about hurting someone who hurt Harry."
Covington shook her head. Draco wondered if he should allow her to speak, but he couldn't see what it would gain to keep her silent at this point. When someone else was watching, yes. "You may speak," he said.
"You—must have a desire that I can give you," Covington said. Although she had to feel the alien thrum of the potion traveling through her by now, she still managed to smile. "We understand each other, I hope? We have both been Slytherins. You must have desires that your Potter can't grant you."
Draco studied her, not sure whether he was more surprised or impressed that she was still trying tricks at this late time. "You have nothing I want," he said. "You might have granted me something when Harry was still uninjured, but you didn't think of it then, and you'll give me anything I want now."
"The Ministry will not trust me if I start advocating for you," Covington said. Her voice remained clear and quiet. Only her wildly darting eyes let Draco see how much she was affected at the moment. "You still won't get what you want. On the other hand, release me from this slavery, and I might be…grateful."
Draco laughed outright then. "You won't be," he said. "I know your kind. You'll smile and thank me prettily while you're in front of me, and then try to stab me the moment my back is turned. You'll be too enraged by what I did to you to agree to a reasonable bargain. Come, come, don't look like that," he added, cruelly enjoying himself, when Covington stared at him in dismay only until her face smoothed itself out under his instructions. "I'm someone like that myself. That's how I understand you so well."
Covington looked as if she would have liked to cry out, but Draco clenched her throat down briskly on that, and stood there studying her for some time. Then he began to give her her commands, one by one, all of them so clearly worded that there was no way she could get around them—unless she wanted to commit suicide. Draco had to admit that he wasn't able to guard against all the contingencies of that.
"You will not speak a word of this to anyone without your throat closing. You will not hint about it to anyone, or your throat will close. You will walk at once to the nearest staircase and fall down it with no attempt to save yourself if you write anything. You cannot gesture the truth without losing feeling in your hands. You will resist mightily if someone attempts to interrogate you with Legilimency. If someone asks you why you are so agreeable and accommodating now, you will answer that House loyalty to Slytherin compels you."
"I could lose my position with the Ministry," Covington whispered. "What use would I be to you then?"
"Absolutely none," Draco said, and gave her a smile that made her flinch. "Unless as someone to punish. So you should make sure that you don't lose that position. It's the only thing sparing your life at the moment."
Covington closed her eyes. The sweat stood out on her forehead, thick as blood.
Draco tapped his fingers thoughtfully against his lips, and then said, "You'll remember that I'm in your veins now, I trust? Are there any other chains that I need to set on you?" He would be reluctant to give her extra commands. He wanted her working for their interests with some faint hope that she could free herself, not bound in utter desperation. She might decide to betray them, or try it, because one way or the other she would be free from the slavery, and Harry and Draco might have to work with someone who would be even harder to deal with.
Whimpering, Covington shut her eyes more tightly and shook her head.
"Good," Draco said, and paused again, until she opened her eyes and looked at him. Draco clucked his tongue. "I take no pleasure in doing this. I wouldn't have done it at all if you hadn't threatened Harry. Keep that in mind, if you want to take revenge. I have potions that can do worse things than this."
Covington's face said she didn't believe him, because she couldn't imagine what would be worse than this. Draco laughed. "I'm a Potions master," he said. "Think about that, and think about all the ways that nightmares can come true."
She turned her head away from him, shuddering. Draco nodded. "Remember," he said. "There need be no long-lasting consequences from this if you can control yourself. When Hogwarts is open again, and Slytherin House restored to its proper place, then I'll retract most of my restraints, and you can go back to your normal life."
"The potion will leave my blood?" Covington whispered.
"Oh, that?" Draco asked casually, as if he hadn't anticipated the question. "Oh, no. It will stay."
Covington stared at him in sick horror. Draco knew what she was thinking: that she would have to live with the fear for the rest of her life that he'd be bored someday and decide to take control again.
Draco let his masks drop for a moment, and all his hatred and contempt burn in his eyes. This was what he did to people who preyed on those he loved.
Covington hid from that fury. Draco nodded, murmured, "So glad we understand each other," and left.
His fury cooled to a slow burn as he did so, and it occurred to him that he and Harry should be able to work on the riddle with few distractions now.
"Nothing makes sense."
Harry winced in sympathy and touched Draco's back cautiously. Draco had acted simultaneously self-satisfied and easily ruffled since he came back from punishing Covington, and the only thing he had told Harry for certain was that she wouldn't bother them again. Harry hadn't even offered congratulations, because Draco pinned him with a piercing stare each time he opened his mouth. Perhaps it wasn't something he wanted to talk about. Perhaps he was feeling a bit ashamed of himself, if he had used the violent or coercive means that Harry suspected him of using.
But he leaned back into Harry's palm and sighed out what seemed to be most of his tension, so at least that part had to be all right.
"Why doesn't it make sense?" Harry asked, when a few minutes had passed with him touching Draco and Draco staring at the list of suggestions in front of him with his eyes half-lidded.
"The riddle seems to be talking about a place that rises," Draco murmured. "That ought to make it a place easily visible on Hogwarts's grounds. But it can't be a place inside the school, or someone would have stumbled over it by now. Yet all the candidates on the grounds are objectionable for a number of reasons." He turned abruptly to Harry. "Have you thought of anything else that could have mattered to Dumbledore?"
"No," Harry said. "I didn't know his past all that well. I learned more about Tom Riddle—Voldemort—during my sixth year, when I was studying with him, than I did about him." He hesitated, then added, "I learned more about him after his death. But I can't think of anything that would be relevant here."
"Really?" Draco's eyes were more piercing than they had been when Harry tried to speak to him earlier.
Harry nodded firmly. "Most of the things I learned about took place far away from Hogwarts, anyway. I don't see how they could contribute to riddles or memories on the grounds."
"Hmmm." Draco swept his gaze back to the list of trees and sites in the Forbidden Forest in front of him and frowned again.
Harry cocked his head. "Why couldn't it be somewhere inside the school? The fireplace in the Slytherin common room was inside the school, but that doesn't mean anyone stumbled over it before now. This could be another half-deserted place. Remember that the school's been shut up for six years, without any kids running through it."
Draco made a restless motion with one hand, which looked an awful lot like a dismissive motion. Harry tried to hold his temper and wait for the reply. "The only possible candidates are the towers. We've been up to Ravenclaw Tower. I think we would have found something there. And Covington has told me that the Ministry investigated the other Towers, because they wanted to add safety wards to them. They didn't find anything."
"Do you know how closely they investigated them?" Harry asked. "The only wards I saw on the Towers were ones that people could have put up there flying on brooms. If no one's been up there on foot…"
Draco went still. Then he turned around and said, "Harry, that's an idea I never would have had."
Harry flushed with pleasure, knowing as he did so that the pleasure he took from Draco's compliment was far more than he would have taken from it if someone else had given it. He shook off the thought and said, "Well, do we know? We'd have to look at them all, I think, and go over every inch of them with a wand, but it's a start."
Draco nodded and stood up. "And I think we should begin with the North Tower. The reference to eternity could easily be to the Divination classes that were held there." He made a face. "Not that it pleases me to go through the ruins of Professor Trelawney's old office, but it's the most likely candidate I can think of. Plenty of people at the Ministry, my father told me, thought Divination was a waste of time. It's probable that they haven't bothered to clear out the classrooms and clean the Tower itself, since they aren't planning to offer Divination."
Harry took a deep breath. He felt dizzy, as if he were standing on a mountain with wind blowing around him, but that wouldn't get him out of saying what he had to say.
At the sound of his voice, Draco paused again and turned around with a curious frown. "Harry, is something wrong? You sound that way."
"I don't think it's the North Tower." Harry wanted to put his arms around Draco, but once again, he wasn't sure how Draco would receive that gesture. Better to stay where he was for right now and make his case. "There's no reason for it to be dark in memory, or for the riddle to talk about fire above and fire below. I—think it's the Astronomy Tower. The stars are the fire above. The fire below would come from the models of the stars that Sinistra kept in her offices, or maybe it was just a generic reference to the fireplaces. But—you know why it would be dark in memory as well as I do."
For a moment, Draco's face was grey, and Harry wondered whether it was really only fear of talking to Snape again, and shame, that had kept him away from Hogwarts for this long. Then he shook his head and seemed to return to himself with a snap. "No," he said. "That can't be it. The riddles were set up before Dumbledore's death. They had to be. There would be no reason for the Tower to be 'dark in memory' then."
"Ah, but there would be."
Harry started. He had been so focused on Draco that he hadn't realized Dumbledore had come into Snape's portrait frame. Snape was standing off to the side, looking rather put out. Dumbledore leaned forwards, hands all but braced on the frame, and studied Harry steadily.
"I can remember that I—he—brooded over Grindelwald and what had to be done to stop him on that tower," Dumbledore said. He caught Harry's eye. Harry nodded silently back. He was going to keep what he'd found out about Dumbledore and Grindelwald to himself, at least until a reason came along to reveal it.
Draco, Harry saw, had noticed the exchange and seemed to be frowning about it. Knowing him, he would demand an explanation sooner rather than later. Harry tried to keep from shaking his head ruefully and focused on Dumbledore instead.
"And there is one more way that the riddles could have been changed," Dumbledore continued. "My former self trusted Severus's former self absolutely. Severus could have altered the last riddle before he died."
"Yes, he could have," said Snape from the portrait behind Dumbledore, his voice so flat that Harry had no idea what he was feeling. He wasn't sure it would have helped much more if he could have seen his face. Snape was in one of his uncompromising moods, the same way he'd been when Harry had tried to question him two years ago. "But I have no memory of it, if he did."
Dumbledore reached back and made a patting motion with his hand. For some reason, his eyes were fixed on Harry. Perhaps he just wants to make sure I really won't betray his secrets, Harry thought. "I know, Severus. I simply wanted to alert them to the possibility."
"He was on the Tower, too," Draco said, in a dreamy voice that made Harry turn to him at once. Draco's face was pasty. He looked more like the boy Harry had known than he had since he'd been that boy. "But he couldn't know that I would be the one uncovering these riddles. Weren't these riddles made to be solvable by anyone?"
He was appealing to Dumbledore, Harry saw, his eyes beseeching him to say that the Astronomy Tower couldn't be the answer because he was so desperate not to go up there again. Dumbledore bowed his head for a moment and closed his eyes before he nodded. He saw Draco's pain and was trying his best to acknowledge it without hurting him too badly all over again, Harry thought.
"Yes," Snape's voice said. "But my former self was paranoid enough to have decided that the riddle was too easy. Or perhaps he intended you as his choice to solve it all along. That would be like him." There was pride in his voice now, for some reason, Harry thought.
Draco stood there without speaking, gaze turned so inwards that Harry wasn't sure if he would notice if Harry waved a hand in front of his face. Not that Harry was about to try. He was fairly certain Draco wouldn't find that funny.
"I'll try," Draco whispered. "I will. But I can't promise that I won't collapse."
"I'll be there," Harry said. "You won't collapse, because I won't let you."
Draco started. I think he forgot about me, Harry thought as he turned around again. That should probably be insulting, but he can make up for it if he remembers me now and takes advantage of the offer of support.
"You don't understand," Draco whispered in a hiss that seemed to start from the depths of his chest. "You can't—you don't know what that night means to me."
"I know," Harry said. He would have said that the memory wasn't all that prominent in Draco's recollections of the school if someone had asked, because he hadn't seen him mention it or react to it so far. And the memory of the battle on the Astronomy Tower had been slotted in, for Harry, along with all his other horrible memories, something that he remembered in nightmares, but that had to wait its turn alongside the images of Sirius's death, his mother's death, Cedric's body, Voldemort coming back to life, and Hermione's screams as she was tortured. "But I can be there for you anyway."
Draco studied him further, bending in as though he wanted to emphasize the difference in their heights. Since that difference was less than nothing, Harry glared back staunchly, until Draco whispered, "You can't. You're not strong enough."
"Are you about to start that nonsense of thinking of someone who likes to be bound in bed isn't as strong as his partner?" Harry demanded in a carrying voice. He didn't care if Dumbledore and Snape overheard, since they already knew most of the details of his and Draco's sex life. "If you are, then I'm walking out the door."
Draco crossed his arms. "It has nothing to do with that," he said, though the faint flush along his cheekbones declared he was lying. "It simply means—you have so many issues to deal with, including your anger. What happens if you get angry on the Tower? Then I'm left trying to soothe you and myself at the same time."
"There's no reason for me to get angry there, unless someone tries to harm you," Harry said. "And I've had a lot of practice in holding back anger for a short time, until I can get to someone who can help me."
Draco's eyes flashed, even with everything else going on. "I had better be the only one who helps you with that, in the future," he said.
Harry licked his lips and tried to ignore the melting sensation in his stomach. It wasn't excitement, or at least he didn't think so. "I know," he said. "You will be. I was saying?"
Draco nodded curt permission to go on.
"My anger can express itself in magic, or in intense physical activity," Harry said. "And I think there's likely to be more than enough physical activity for me, given that we'll face another fight to the death on the Tower."
Draco lit up. "That's true. We will."
"You like the idea of that?" Harry asked, and then realized he was being stupid. Draco would probably welcome anything that could create a new memory, and thus a new association, with the Tower in his mind at this point.
"Yes," Draco said, and no more. He turned back to the portrait frame. "You're sure that Professor Snape could have changed the riddle after you set it, Headmaster?"
"I trusted him absolutely," Dumbledore said softly. Harry tried not to think of the basis of that trust, of the fact that it played on Snape's guilt over failing his mother. "I'm sure."
Draco nodded and turned away. Harry followed him, only pausing to make sure that he had his wand before they left the room.
Draco strode along the corridor with his jaw firm and his eyes shining in a fashion that promised horrible consequences for whoever got in his way. Harry followed him for a few minutes, but when Draco turned in a direction that wasn't going to lead them to the hospital wing or Ron and Hermione's rooms, Harry coughed. "Aren't we going to bring Ron and Hermione in on this?" he asked. "We could probably use their help against whatever's living in the Tower."
"We'll be able to handle it," Draco said, without looking around. If anything, his stride grew longer.
"We don't know that for certain." Harry tried to keep his voice calm. Sometimes, Draco got on his nerves something awful, although Harry hoped those incidents wouldn't be as frequent now that they were sleeping together. "It would make the most sense to bring them along. Do you want me to—"
Draco swung around on one heel. Harry blinked. He had to admit that he hadn't realized Draco's eyes could glare that fiercely. Draco would have made a good Auror, he thought inanely, and then shook his head to get rid of the fantasy.
"How much more plainly do I have to say this?" Draco's lips were slightly parted, his hands clenched into each other. "I don't want someone around who I don't trust, when I'm going back into a place that means as much to me as this one does."
Harry winced. He should have been able to guess that for himself. "Oh," he said quietly. "Yeah, that makes sense."
"Doesn't it?" Draco faced up the corridor again, his voice calming into a curious flatness, as if yelling at Harry had used up some of the nervous energy. "But that means that Weasley and Granger will just have to live without the glory of joining us." He hesitated so short a time that Harry wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't started watching Draco a lot more closely than before. "Unless you want them to be involved, of course. Unless you'd rather join them for the evening than me."
Harry frowned at the back of Draco's head. This mattered to Draco, and it mattered to him, but he wished he had better words than he did. As it was, Draco was likely to accuse him of sounding sentimental or false.
But while Harry couldn't say yet if he loved Draco, not for certain, or even liked him very much outside of bed, he knew what he said next was true.
"There's no one I would rather fight beside than you."
Draco half-lowered his head, and his eyes fluttered once, seen from profile. It was a minute hesitation, smaller than the one before his mocking words, but it was enough for Harry, who followed him in contented silence.
And who saw that Draco hesitated one more time, to swallow, before he took the stairs to the Astronomy Tower.
Draco was climbing through stone and shadow. He knew that. Harry's idea that no one had been up to the Astronomy Tower in some time was correct. They passed through a set of wards that were meant to keep students away—Harry destroyed them with scornful ease—and dust flew around them with every step. Draco was aware of all those things, and more alert than that, waiting for the moment when the death trap promised by the last riddle would explode around them.
But he was also sixteen years old, and racing up to the Tower with his heart in his throat, caught between excitement and terror. It had worked! He had let them in! But now, he had to go up here and hope that the last part of the plan was in place. He had to kill Dumbledore. He had to do it, this time, and all the nerves that he could feel trembling in the backs of his hands would just have to shut up.
Draco could remember being that young. He had never understood the people who said they couldn't. Of course, most of those people didn't have fear and shame acting like a permanent fire to sear the sensation into their heads.
He came out on top of the Tower, in two years, in two times, and turned his head from side to side. He had thought for sure that the ambush would happen on the steps of the Tower, and why not? It was only sense that the creatures or the wards that were part of the trap would attack them in a confined space that would make it harder for them to fight. Severus and Dumbledore wouldn't have wanted just anyone surviving a fight to the death and getting hold of the last keyword.
Instead, though, they stood in the open air without a sign of anyone or anything to oppose them. Draco frowned and glanced at his feet, prepared to see the stones cracking apart in lines of fire. Then he looked up again, in case a predatory bird stooped from above.
"I don't understand," he said slowly, and turned back to Harry. "Perhaps you're wrong and this isn't the right Tower after all?" Joy leaped up in his heart at that possibility, hotter and more important than what he had felt when he was a boy.
Harry was gone. Instead, Draco found himself staring into the eyes of a sixteen-year-old, his blond hair slicked back from his forehead, his hand trembling on the wand.
It was as though time had turned backwards and Harry was once more on the Astronomy Tower as he had been all those years ago, standing silent and mute and invisible under Dumbledore's spells.
Exactly like. He could see Draco in front of him as he was, with his eyes wide and his skin waxen but his strength and his age showing—and as he had been, with his skin so pale that he looked as if he were going to fall over at any moment and permanent lines of stress tied together around his mouth.
Between them both stood Dumbledore, his expression so sad that Harry felt a ripple pass through his heart, stirring it as nothing but anger and his feelings for Draco had stirred it in years. This was the real man, not the portrait. Harry wondered how much of the animosity he felt for the portrait came about because that shadow of Dumbledore would never be able to replace the real thing.
Harry reached out, and his hands passed through both Dracos. He shouted, but neither one heard him.
They saw each other, though. Harry couldn't doubt that, because the teenage Draco let his eyes dart away from Dumbledore and to that older version of himself with uneasy fascination. Then he backed up and lifted his wand, as though he thought he could prevent a vision from attacking him that way.
"D-don't come near me!" His voice cracked when he stuttered, and Harry could see the utter humiliation beaming in his eyes. The sudden pink on his cheeks probably came more from embarrassment than anything else. "I'm warning you! I'll cast a curse, and I know Dark Arts!"
Harry darted a glance at Dumbledore to see how he would respond to that. He looked a little more grieved, but otherwise he only stood there, watching and listening.
Harry reached out again. If he was seeing this vision, there had to be some way he could affect it, wasn't there? And it wasn't as if they were in a Pensieve.
Harry had paused to think about that, and almost missed what Draco—his Draco—responded to the boy they had both known. Draco's voice was soft and hoarse, and full of something that Harry thought was wonder and yearning. "I'm you. I've lived through what you've lived through right now. It's going to be all right."
The teenager stared at him. Then he shook his head. "You're something that he sent, to test me!" he said. "Or you're something that the old man is trying to do, to distract me." He turned away and focused on Dumbledore again. "Why did you bring him here? Send him away again. You can't trick me."
Harry had to close his eyes at the pride in his voice. He was sure that he hadn't sounded much different when he was a boy, but it was still painful to realize that someone could be so young.
Or do I only think that because I know what's going to happen next?
"This was not my doing," Dumbledore said, voice older than Harry had thought it would be. Of course, how much did he remember of that night on the Tower, seven years ago, compared to Draco, who seemed to remember everything? Harry was beginning to think that they stood in Draco's memory, and that was the reason for the perfect detail on the people and the stones of the Tower. "This is a doing of the future or the past." He shut his eyes and sighed, though his lips wore a faint smile. "Or a doing of dreams. I cannot be sure, and that makes it hard to concentrate."
The teenage Draco looked at him angrily, as though to say that everyone should be able to concentrate when it came to something about him. Harry remembered that expression, and that attitude. Fuck, Draco still had it. He had thought that he should be different from Harry's other lovers, although all of them had been content with a quick fuck or the money that Harry could give them, or both.
"It has to be yours," the boy said, but less sure now. He turned to Draco now and made a rude noise. "You can't be my future, can you? You don't look strong enough."
Draco shook his head and seemed to come to life. "You have no idea what you're talking about," he said, his voice soft but controlled, rather than breaking out furiously the way Harry thought he would if he was faced with a past self this ignorant. "I'm your future the best way it could turn out, without being dead or in exile or in Azkaban."
The boy's face lost all its color again. "No," he whispered. "No, he's going to win, I know he is."
No need to translate the "he," Harry thought, and he could only imagine that that must be even more true for Draco, who would remember every sensation of this moment with clear and painful intensity.
"He's not," Draco said. His voice was calm and quiet, cool, the same tone that he used sometimes to give Harry orders. He must hope that he could reach his past self this way, Harry thought, and then wondered why. If they were in the middle of a memory, then Draco wouldn't be able to change anything. "You always knew that. I know the secret moments of doubt that you've had in the middle of the night, doubt that you're doing the right thing, for yourself or your family, even if you obey his crazy demands. I am you. All your thoughts are mine. Why shouldn't I know this?"
"Shut up!" the boy screamed, and swept his wand up and down. "Just shut up!"
Dumbledore coughed and said something that Harry lost in the sound of the teenage Draco casting curses. His Draco darted around them and then got behind the boy, pinning his arms to his sides and saying something low and urgent into his ear.
Harry couldn't stand it anymore. It had been bad enough to be imprisoned once outside this event, when he couldn't help but thought he might have been able to if Dumbledore had let him intervene. He wasn't going to let it happen again. He began to circle the edges of the Tower, looking for the passage into the memory that Draco had found.
"Listen, you little shit," Draco said. He knew it would get the boy's attention, because no one except the Dark Lord and other Death Eaters had ever spoken to him like that at that age, and even they usually used more deferential language, concerned about offending Lucius through his son. "You have no idea what you're doing. This is a mistake that you'll regret for the rest of your life. Professor Snape wasn't trying to steal your glory when he told you that you couldn't do this alone; he was telling you the simple truth, and offering his help. Put the wand down, and everything can be different."
He was barely aware of what he was saying; the words leaped through his lips and hurried into his younger self's ears without anything like a plan. He had to say them. His mind was spinning with memories overlaid by the new reality that seemed to be taking place around him, and if he had a chance to make a difference and change some of the consequences that stemmed from that night, he would.
Of course, he might cease to exist if his past self really did act differently. Or he might lose his relationship with Harry, or his Potions mastery, or the knowledge that he had gained from Severus, or anything else beautiful and pleasant that carried him through his days. One of the lessons that his parents had made sure to teach him young was that anything beautiful and pleasant had a price that must be paid for it, and goodness and evil—in the sense of personal benefits—were linked together in a thousand ways. You had to suffer through education and the torments of homework and boredom and repetition in order to learn how to cast powerful spells. You had to listen to people you didn't like or respect or pay your dues until you arrived in a position where they would have to listen to you. You had to spend money and time making potential allies trust you. There was always time to be paid, if nothing else, and the list of prices went on. Draco knew that he might be condemning himself, and perhaps Harry and Dumbledore, to a price that he couldn't bear.
But he couldn't help himself. The instinct was too strong, to intervene and tell himself how it was and how it should be and offer the benefit of superior experience to his younger self. To take the shortcut, if he found it.
That was the Slytherin way.
The boy struggled against him, all angles and elbows and legs and ribs. Draco remembered himself that way, and he wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. He tightened his arms instead, and kept whispering. He no longer heard what he said; he wasn't sure that he would have wanted to. The important thing was that he kept his voice running, and the boy struggling against him was, for the moment, still in his grasp. He still had the potential to change things, somehow. Draco had to believe that, or he would have given up and simply sat down and laughed in despair.
Someone's hands touched him.
Draco started and reared back, intent on throwing off the unknown attacker much as he was intent on throwing Draco off. And sure enough, the boy squirmed free a moment later and faced him, panting, eyes so brilliant and angry that Draco winced in spite of himself at what looked out of them.
Then he realized that Harry was standing beside him—Harry, whom he had somehow missed at the start of the memory, or the vision, or the dream, or whatever it was that surrounded them here. Draco knew that he wanted it to be time-travel, but he also knew that it was more than likely not to be.
"Harry?" he whispered. "Where did you come from?"
"From right over there," Harry said, nodding at what looked to be the empty stones of the Tower. Hadn't Dumbledore been there a moment ago? Draco wondered, but he didn't have the time to look, because he couldn't turn away from the brilliant conflagration of Harry's eyes. "I was locked outside the memory at first, and then I went back down the stairs, came up them, and thought of the exact same thing you were probably thinking about, that night. I think the trap Dumbledore and Snape set was triggered to go off when that happened."
Draco shook his head. He was still upset and shaken, and he still didn't understand most of the thoughts that wanted to rush through his head. "I don't—why the fuck would they want to create a trap like this if they knew the chances were excellent that someone they trusted would walk through it?"
"I don't know," Harry said. He kept his voice low and soothing and didn't turn to look at the boy Draco could feel watching them with wide eyes. "But perhaps they couldn't be sure of the kind of people we would be when we came back. Perhaps they had to be sure, before they started to let us into the secrets."
Draco was about to protest that that was ridiculous, but he stopped with a grimace. Yes, he could see Severus being paranoid enough for that, and Dumbledore thinking of it as one of his insane "tests." Draco had no idea what Dumbledore would still be testing them for, when he was on the brink of death in this memory or knew that he was going to die soon as he was constructing the riddles, but that seemed to be his way.
"Yes," Draco said. "Fine. All right." He gestured at the teenager who had an odd expression on his face, anger mixed with complex sadness and frustration. Draco wondered why, but had the feeling that he wouldn't like the answer that he could feel rising in the back of his mind, and didn't pursue it. "But what are we supposed to do about him? Why are we here—now—at this time, whenever we are? How are we supposed to break through this and get the keyword to the wards?"
"What are you talking about?" the boy demanded, his eyes darting back and forth between them. "Why is Potter with you?"
"I'm his friend," Harry said, his hand pressing down hard on Draco's shoulder for a moment, as though he wanted to make sure that Draco didn't break away from him and go to embrace the boy.
"And lover," Draco said. He wouldn't let Harry deny that to anyone, not even a vision. He rested his hand on Harry's and glared challengingly at his teenage self.
The older—younger—Draco blinked and stared at the ground. Draco shook his head. The complexities of time-travel had always made him dizzy. He hadn't even done well at the Arithmancy equations concerning it.
"Oh," the boy whispered, or Draco thought he whispered. Harry had started talking, and in the wash of those words, he lost the quieter sound.
"I don't know if we're supposed to break through the memory in any way," Harry said. "I think we're here for a different purpose. I was outside the memory at first, and couldn't break through until I stepped in a certain place on the stairs and thought as hard as I could about what you would be feeling when you walked up here." His arms tightened around Draco. "I think we're here to help you get over some of the trauma that you're feeling."
Draco stared at him, then snorted. Harry could come up with some fairly ridiculous theories, but not even Draco had envisioned anything that ridiculous. "No. That can't be."
"Why not?" Harry turned and paced behind Draco, making Draco tense automatically. He let his hands pass in soothing motions up and down Draco's spine, and Draco relaxed despite himself, and despite the audience of one teenage boy and one dying old man, both of whom he kept an eye on. "If they cared enough to make sure that only we—or you—could gain access to this secret, then why wouldn't they care enough to try and bring you past this moment? Heal you of something that even you admit still affects you?"
"Still affects you?" The younger Draco's voice was intolerably high-pitched when one was trying to think, Draco thought. He shut his eyes, but he could still hear the voice, persisting in shrill tones. "What's going to happen?"
"Many things," said the vision of Dumbledore.
Draco resisted the temptation to tell the old man to shut up. It wouldn't help anything. He swallowed and said, "But I don't know the way to get over it. What am I supposed to do?" And now he was whining, he thought in disgust a moment later. He bit his lip sharply and forced himself to stand there, quiet, while Harry thought.
"Well," Harry said. "I could think of a few things. First, what was it about this night that traumatized you the most? I know that one of the reasons it took me so long to get over the fight with Ron and Hermione was that they'd been everything to me, once. There was no one else in my life who mattered so much. Was there something like that here? Was Snape—Professor Snape—so important to you that you couldn't take what you thought of as his betrayal?"
Draco let out a sharp laugh, and then controlled himself. "What do you mean, Potter?" It was easy to slip into calling Harry that again when he was faced with this very physical reminder of his past. "The whole situation was the traumatizing thing. I was supposed to kill. I couldn't kill. I saw someone who had been Headmaster of the school I was in for the past six years die, and I knew that other people were fighting, and possibly dying, down in the school because of me. And then we had to run, and I knew that the Dark Lord would be less than pleased with me because Severus had done my task instead. The whole night is a long miasma of anger and betrayal and fear."
Harry wrapped his arms around Draco, living, warm, solid arms that Draco could hold to. It took a long moment for him to find the necessary courage, but in the end, he leaned back and let himself be supported. Harry kissed the skin under his ear.
Draco knew his younger self would be staring in horror and hatred and—yes, he could acknowledge this, remembering some of the thoughts that had risen to the surface of his mind when he looked at Harry—perhaps envy. He had never thought specifically of being Harry's lover at that point, that he could remember, but he had certainly wanted to be closer to him than he was, and was jealous of those who were.
"Then start thinking of ways that would let you live with yourself," Harry murmured. "Do you consider yourself a coward for running, the way I screamed at Snape that he was?"
Draco shook his head. "Running was the only reasonable thing to do in that situation. I was more scared of what I was running to than what I was running from."
Harry nodded against his cheek. Draco felt the crisp rustle of his hair, and concentrated on that instead of his memories. "What about killing? Were you disappointed that you couldn't bring yourself to kill Dumbledore?"
Draco licked his lips. He knew the truth, and he knew what he wanted to say. The truth might make Harry think him a horrible enough person that he wouldn't be interested in talking to Draco again.
Then he told himself not to be ridiculous. He had already forced his way into Harry's confidence and his bed. If Harry backed away from him because of Gryffindor morality, then Draco would simply win him back once more. And after the way he had been willing to curse his best friends, Draco no longer thought him as delicate as he had once been.
"I was disappointed at the time," he said quietly. "And I still am, I suppose. I wanted to show that I had what it took to be taken seriously by the other Death Eaters. Someone who couldn't cast the Killing Curse mattered less than some of the vampires the Dark Lord was recruiting as allies."
"I didn't cast the Killing Curse, either," Harry said at once, his voice low but comforting—all the more comforting because it was hard, factual, as though he didn't really care about Draco's feelings. "Remember? I defeated the Dark Lord with a simple spell that a second-year could have used. That a second-year did use, more than once," he added, probably thinking about the way he had used it.
"But you didn't have to," Draco said. "The Elder Wand—things worked out the way they did in a strange fashion. Without that coincidence, you would have had to use it."
"I know," Harry said. "But I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that, because that's not what happened." His arms tightened. "And you should know that the reason that situation occurred is because of this night on the Tower. I said that much when I was dancing around the Great Hall with Voldemort, remember? You made my victory possible."
Warmth hit Draco and spread all around the center of his chest like a breaking wave. He reached up a hand that trembled and settled it on Harry's arm. He had never thought about it—he had never thought about it that way.
Even my thoughts are stuttering.
He had been angry enough at himself over this night for the reasons he had stated to Harry, but also because it had seemed such a waste. What did he gain from confronting Dumbledore before the others arrived? Nothing, either the glory of the kill or credit for courage, not when his arm had lowered.
But to know that he had made Harry's victory possible, that he had contributed to saving people, to doing something grand that people still praised Harry for…
Draco bowed his head and smiled slightly.
"You have my smile," the teenager in front of him said.
Draco blinked and looked up. Strangely, he had almost forgotten the boy over the last few moments. He had been absorbed in hearing that he was important to Harry, and from there, his mind had started to spread in other, new directions. Such as that this new claim he had on Harry, this new importance he had registered in Harry's life, wasn't so new after all, and he had the right to say that he had always been there.
Their connection ran deep, and Draco never needed to feel like an alien or an intruder, the way that Weasley and Granger's sometimes hostile gazes said they considered him.
"Is this what's coming?" the boy Draco whispered, his gaze locked on their joined hands. Draco imagined, with a sudden flash of empathy, what he would have felt if someone had told him that Potter was willing to be intimate with a different version of himself—just not Draco as he currently was. "Really? Can you promise me that?"
"I don't know," Draco said gently. "I don't know that your future is going to be the same as mine." He didn't know if the boy was real, come to that, if he was back in the past or only in the falsely constructed memory that Harry seemed to think Dumbledore and Severus would have left as the bait for a trap. "But you could make a future that's even better, in your own way, if you just try."
Harry nodded encouragingly past his shoulder. "You have to be willing to try," he echoed.
Draco arched his head back and kissed Harry. Those words had undone him. Harry had no reason to remember this younger Draco fondly; the words he had spoken to comfort and soothe Draco just now were the words to an acknowledged lover. They didn't know if this Draco was real. But he had tried, anyway, with compassion that was one of the reasons Draco felt bound to him.
In love with him?
Who knows, yet.
The Tower appeared to pivot around them. Draco felt as though the stones were melting beneath his feet and then reforming themselves in interlocked patterns. He would have stumbled or at least sought support, but Harry was there, and he had one hand locked into place beneath Draco's hip and one arm around his shoulders.
The night tingled with a thousand stars. Draco opened his eyes and saw the teenage Draco of the past lowering his wand, his face filled with uncertainty.
He also caught a glimpse—though it didn't matter as much to him as the former image did—of Dumbledore staring at them with deep delight and satisfaction, nodding his head.
Harry gasped and opened his eyes. They stood alone on the Tower now, the stars blazing softly overhead, the memory faded like a dream. He looked cautiously around, wondering if it was possible that there were two traps up here, and they would have to face the second in a fight to the death at any moment.
But then he thought of what might have happened to Draco if he wasn't there, and accepted that there was more than one way to fight to the death.
Draco let the kiss go reluctantly, leaning heavily on Harry. His eyes were dark in the way that Harry had only seen them in the bedroom so far, and when Draco reached up and pushed shining fingers against his cheek, he gasped, half in shock. It seemed that Draco was aflame with desire, right here, right now.
"Thank you," Draco whispered.
Harry nodded. "You're—welcome," he said, and hoped that he managed to say it without his voice cracking. He had, right? He didn't want to check to make sure. "And now, don't you think we should look for the riddle and the keyword?"
"Only keyword, this time." Draco's fingers stroked his chest, heading teasingly towards a nipple for a moment, and then pulling back. "This is the last riddle."
Harry blinked. "Right," he said. He had known that, too. God, he was out of it, and he didn't know why. He wasn't the one who had had to face his past self or have a major revelation about himself today. He pulled Draco upright and looked around for another bubble containing a twist of parchment like the ones that had held the riddles and keywords so far.
One moment it wasn't there, and then it was. The bubble appeared with a shimmer and a gleam like that of soap bubbles, and Harry bent down to retrieve it. Draco's hand glanced over his arse on the way. Harry grunted, half in shock, and stood up to glare at him.
Draco shrugged back unapologetically. "You know what I want, Harry," he said, and his eyes shone like the bubble. "You'll have to be a little louder about making your own desires heard."
Harry shook his head and dragged him off the Astronomy Tower. He had questions to ask Dumbledore's portrait, and a conversation to have with his best friends. And he and Draco needed to decide how they would handle the Ministry's demand that would doubtless come for them to turn over the keywords to the wards.
And after that…
He and Draco would have to speak. Harry had no idea what he was feeling right now, no idea if he would want to continue their relationship or not. Perhaps, yes, as long as he could feel desire.
But Harry knew how quickly desire could burn out. Every time he had had sex in the last few years, he had felt free of it the moment he had come and his anger had calmed down for the next few months.
Every time except for the last time.
Harry physically hunched to chase the thought away from him. He would get Draco to the bottom of the stairs first, and then he would worry about the other problems.
"I told you that it doesn't matter," Draco said patiently. He had to wonder at how thick Harry could be. He had seemed smarter than this when they were up on the top of the Tower.
Then he remembered that this was the same man who had let the disapproval of his best friends ruin his life for years, and snorted softly. Yes, well, he could see traces of that man in the stubborn mask that faced him now.
"It's—" Harry shook his head and stuck out his lower lip. Draco knew that he probably only did it because he was thinking, but it made him want to bite Harry. That, and the memory of those words Harry had spoken on the Tower, were enough to make him hard again. He had to turn his attention to the wall and examine it attentively so he wouldn't embarrass himself. "Someone has to notice what you've done to Covington, Draco. Your potion may be undetectable, but she won't act like herself."
"She will if I command her to cover up what happened and act as though she's normal, except for obeying my instructions," Draco said. "Here, her reputation as someone who keeps her goals silent and her methods slippery—someone who was in Slytherin—will work against her. They might not understand what she's doing, but they'll assume that she has a long-range goal in mind that will benefit herself, no matter what it is. Advocating that they open Hogwarts again and start to hand control over to the school governors and the professors won't be the strangest thing an employee of the Ministry has done. In fact, I'm sure there are factions in the Ministry who favor that and will support her."
Harry gave him a faint smile. "I reckon you're right," he said. "I never bothered to understand politics much."
"You don't need to, now," Draco said comfortably. "You have me."
Harry paused, his brow furrowing. Draco sighed in disgust. "Yes, you do. Unless you're going to let your friends' opinions influence you even now, and you'll shove me away so that you can embrace them." He didn't care about the jealousy in his voice. That encounter on the Tower ought to have taught Harry that he was important to Draco, which meant Draco didn't have to expend as much effort on hiding his emotions.
"It's not—that," Harry said. "Not exactly."
"I hope it isn't some renewal of the shame of being with me, either," Draco said, as quickly as he could.
"No," Harry said. "But I have to wonder if you'll want to be with me when we've fucked a few more times." His face turned red. "I can't change that much, Draco. I don't have the sexual experience you do. When you realize that you can find someone else who can match you, when you've had me a few times, will you really want to stay with me? That's the problem with a relationship based primarily on lust." He tried to laugh, but the laughter caught in his throat.
Draco reached out and put a hand on Harry's cheek, turning his head back and forth. Harry fell silent but kept his obstinate eyes locked on Draco's face. Draco wondered for a moment what it would be like to live with such pessimism, hating what you had to do to keep yourself under control and alive, and, when you did finally find a solution to the problem, having to think that it wouldn't last.
Draco had gone through horrible things in his life, but he had been an optimist compared to Harry. Amusing, when you considered their various histories.
Or perhaps simply understandable.
"Listen to me," Draco murmured. "I will stay with you. We'll work on your anger together. We'll discuss other means of relating than pure sex. I'm willing to believe that it will be difficult, yes. But I am not willing to give up."
Harry jerked a little, as though he wanted to remove his face from Draco's palm but didn't have the physical strength to do so. "I didn't—I didn't say I would," he muttered. He seemed interested in all these subtle distinctions, Draco thought. He didn't know why. As he saw it, only one thing was of importance, the fact that Harry wanted to go away and Draco didn't want him to. "But I've started out with the best intentions in the world sometimes, always thinking when I walked away from each new bed that I wouldn't need the fucking again, and something always proved me wrong."
"That was your problem, then," Draco said, his hand itching to slap Harry. He managed to keep the urge down, but the temptation filled his lungs like heavy smoke. "You thought this would end. You thought of the fucking as the means to an end and no more. You didn't want to build a real relationship."
Harry's eyes fired, but still he didn't move away. "You might be right," he said. "But it's presumptuous and arrogant to think that you're the one who will make me different, isn't it?"
"Presumptuous and arrogant is me," Draco said, and leaned forwards to capture Harry's lips. Harry held stiff and stubborn against him for a moment, and then leaned forwards with a little moan and kissed him back.
Draco pulled Harry closer still and whispered, "You can touch me, too. You don't have to wait for an engraved invitation."
Harry groaned hungrily and reached down to grip and stroke Draco's cock. Draco rested against the wall, shutting his eyes so that he could focus on the sensation more strongly. Harry's fingers were too quick and too rough and pulled in ways that made Draco squirm and hiss in discomfort. But it hardly mattered when Harry's breath also rasped against his cheek, hushed and violent, and his eyes were fixed on Draco's face whenever Draco looked.
Draco came in triumph, and kissed Harry again as Harry spelled his pants clean. Then Harry muttered, "We just turned to sex again. We can't use that to solve every argument."
"No," Draco agreed, fluttering his eyes reluctantly open. He would have liked to go to sleep in Harry's arms right there, but he knew that it wasn't a good idea. "Just most of them."
Dropping to one's knees and taking Harry's cock in one's mouth was an excellent means of shutting him up, as Draco discovered a moment later.
I know there are going to be problems, he thought in the moments before he lost himself completely to the taste of slick, salty skin. But unlike Harry, I refuse to worry about them until they get here. That's all.
Harry smiled uneasily. Hermione could sound like that for lots of reasons. She might disapprove of the sex flush that Harry could still feel on his face. Or maybe she knew what Draco had done to Covington and disapproved of that. Or maybe she saw the determined set of his jaw and feared what he would say.
All of those involve disapproval or fear, Harry thought as he leaned down to kiss her cheek. Maybe that should tell me something.
He sat down next to her and cast a glance at the bedroom door. Ron's snores came from behind it, familiar from their time in Hogwarts as children.
As children. I can't go back there, not now that I'm an adult.
"How's Ron?" he asked.
"He's fine," Hermione said. "Only a bit tired from some of the potions that he had to take. And if you had waited for him to be fully recovered, then we could have joined you in finding the answer to the riddle."
Yes, her voice was as reproachful as her face. Harry shifted uneasily and wondered what he could do or say to appease her. Then he shook his head. Why should he worry about appeasing her? He had come here to say a certain thing, and he had already known that Hermione wouldn't take it well.
"I don't think it's going to work," he said.
Hermione frowned. "What? Finding the riddle? But I thought you already did, from that look in your eyes."
Harry experienced a crawling sensation in his skin and shook his head again. Once, he would have been happy that Hermione could read him so well, or at least accepted it as a natural consequence of their friendship. Now, it bothered hm. Why was that? Why should it trouble him that she had a friend's privilege?
"Listen," he said. "I'm not coming back to the wizarding world. I'm going back to the edges when this is done, to resume my old job."
"Why?" Hermione asked softly. "We could find you a place to live. We could find you another job." Her eyes were already bright with the planning for Harry's future. "And someone you could work with—I mean, if you wanted to—to…solve your other problems."
"I know you could," Harry said, and tried to ignore the feeling that crept like a finger down his skin. What he was doing would hurt Hermione and Ron, but he had to do this, in hope that it would help them all later. "But, Hermione, I don't want that. We can't go back to what we were as if this row had never happened. I want to give myself some time to get used to not despising my own actions, and I need time and privacy away from you."
Hermione's mouth fell open. But she either hadn't absorbed the implications of his words fully, or had decided not to let him see her pain. She shook her head. "Harry, I don't know what you mean."
"Most of this is my fault," Harry said. He was willing to admit that. "I thought you were partially right. I didn't want help for my problems, but I did think they were problems, even when I was indignantly telling you that they weren't." He frowned at the floor. It was hard to say this, which was one reason he had come to speak to his friends without Draco. Draco would want to speak for Harry, so that he could protect him, and as nice as the impulse was, Harry couldn't let him do that. "Then I tried to repair our friendship too fast, by forgiving and forgetting everything. But I haven't. I still look at you, and remember what you said, and resent your interference in my life. And I wanted—I wanted to demand other things from you when we had that reconciliation conversation, and I didn't. Even though I had told Draco I would."
"He ordered you to demand them, I reckon, and you didn't." Hermione's voice was shrill, the color in her cheeks high. Only someone who knew her—or had known her—as well as Harry did would see the trembling tears behind her eyes. "Don't you see that's a good thing, Harry? He shouldn't be able to control you like a slave."
"No," Harry said. "I wanted them, I thought of them on my own, and I didn't say them. I was worried about hurting you. But—to heal, Hermione, I have to stop worrying as much about that. And then I can start worrying about it again. I was trying to be friends with you, these last few days, on false terms. I was relieved when you weren't working with us. I was tense and anxious when you were."
Hermione stared openly at him now. "Harry," she whispered. "Even Malfoy got along better with us than that."
Harry nodded. "But he didn't have the history with you that I did," he said. "The close friendship, and then the splitting apart. You're—you're all mixed and tangled up in my head with the parts of myself that I despise, Hermione. I think I'm slowly getting over them, but it'll take more time and more work than I thought it would when I tried to charge back into friendship with you. I want to go away. The thought of talking with Ron fills me with dread. I'm fearful of the time when you start interfering in my life again. I don't trust that you won't."
"You don't trust us, in other words." Hermione's fingers knotted together.
Harry shook his head. "No. And you deserve to be trusted, at least if you really are the kind of people I always thought you were when we were at Hogwarts together." He took a deep breath. He knew what he had to say, he thought he did, but it didn't excuse the way that Hermione seemed to flinch as if from blows. "I really do want to trust you," he whispered. "I promise. But it'll need more time. There was nothing, for two whole years, except my brooding on the thought of how much I hated you. And now—I want your friendship back again, but I can't have it, not the way it was. I'll go away for a little while. I'll owl you. I'll visit once a month or so, and then make it more often. But right now, with everything else I'm trying to keep in mind and get used to and reconcile, I can't do this, too."
Hermione gave a complicated mutter in which Harry could only pick out the word "weak."
"Yes, I am," Harry said, and smiled a little as she gave him a look of shocked surprise. "I know. I wouldn't have been able to admit that a while ago. But—Hermione, I do think you're right about some things. I don't know why I've been so angry since the war. I still don't. I only know what soothes it, and that I think Draco can help me permanently, when no one else has been able to." He winced, paused to shoulder the burden, and then pushed on. "Maybe you're even right that the abuse I endured, and the manipulation, had something to do with the way I express my sexuality. But I can't think about that right now. I'm too close to it. I'll have to go away, think, and approach it carefully. And I can't give up Draco. I can't." Harry thought he had done a good job, yesterday, of hiding how much the idea of Draco leaving him dropped him into utter, cold desolation. But he had believed that was what would happen. He had needed Draco's denials otherwise, but he hadn't been fishing for them.
"What you're telling me," Hermione said, pausing several times along the way as if she thought that Harry would speak up and contradict her, "is that it's complex."
Harry smiled at her. Sometimes, after all, she did know the right words. "Yes."
Hermione took a deep breath. "I think that it would be better if you worked with Mind-Healers," she said. "You gave up on them too quickly, Harry, and you were too convinced that you either had no problems or that you had to handle them on your own. You can try again."
Harry listened to the echo of her words in his head, and then smiled in wonder. He no longer felt the fear and resentment he would have a short time ago. He could consider what she was saying more objectively.
Because he knew he would be going away, and he no longer felt compelled to be her friend in the way he had a few days ago, when he had thought he was going to repair everything, change everything, go back to being exactly as he had been.
He wasn't their friend exactly as he had been. The relief he felt when he thought of leaving them behind at Hogwarts, and the way he hadn't missed them when he and Draco went to the Astronomy Tower, said that.
"Maybe I can consider that," he said. "It's something I wouldn't have given much consideration to before, just because it was your suggestion. But with some time and distance, then it might sound better."
Hermione went very still. Harry wondered if his complaints and threats were finally becoming real to her, now that he was speaking them in a calm, happy voice and not begging to be brought back together with his friends.
"This is your dream, though," she said. "Hogwarts is your home, Harry. You've told me that more than once."
"I've had a few years to find another home," Harry said. "I wouldn't call the house I have now perfect, but I like what I do, and I'll do it even better when I don't have anger preying on my mind most of the time. I'll have Draco, and that changes a lot of things. I can come back to Hogwarts for visits, but I don't need it to be my home anymore."
"I thought you did," Hermione said. "I thought you always would." Harry discovered that it was hard to make out emotions in her voice.
Harry shrugged a bit. "Well, now I don't. I hope that you and Ron stay here, though. I think you'll be great teachers, and someone will need to watch and make sure that the Ministry doesn't try to take over again, the way they've done in the past. You and Ron are vigilant. You'll think of some way around them if they do."
"Mate? What's going on?"
Harry turned. Ron had opened his bedroom door and stood there on the threshold, staring at Harry. He paused to wipe some sleep away from his eyes, then came closer, his gaze fastened questioningly on Harry's face.
"I'm leaving," Harry said. "I hope to visit and to owl you, and maybe you can come and visit me when you feel you're ready. But I don't think I can stay here. I was trying to recover a fantasy of friendship. But fantasies are easy to break, and not so easy to fulfill."
Ron paused. Harry wondered if he was injured; as with Hermione's tone, Ron's face was hard to read. But then he shook his head and said, "I'm glad."
"Ron," Hermione hissed urgently. She seemed to think that Ron's declaration would hurt Harry's feelings.
Harry smiled at his best friend, though—his first friend. He couldn't forget that, no matter how much solace he found with Draco. The problem was that it couldn't keep meaning exactly what it had to an eleven-year-old child, either, because he was no longer that child. "What do you mean?"
"We're adults now," Ron said. "We've made lives here, and our peace with the Ministry, but I don't think you can."
Harry shook his head. "I don't want to, anyway. Maybe I could, with a lot of time and effort, but I'm not willing to invest that." He hesitated, then added, "I'm willing to put a lot of effort into building a new friendship with you two, though. Just not in resurrecting the dying corpse of the old one."
Ron nodded. "The dead should stay dead." He crossed the room and clasped Harry's hand. Harry looked up fearlessly into his face. His dread of Hermione had melted away, and he no longer felt the weary impatience that he had around Ron in the last week, as though he was waiting for the next hurtful thing to emerge from his mouth and could do nothing else around him. Now, he could see that Ron had good qualities, was clever in his own way and protective of Hermione and Hogwarts, was grounded in and committed to the wizarding traditions that Harry had left behind. It was the life that Harry had once imagined he wanted.
But it wasn't his life now. It was best to leave and build the good parts of that life into a new, stronger one when he could.
"I can't say that I'm surprised, either," Ron continued. "You know that we can't accept Malfoy, and you need him."
Harry held back the immediate response he wanted to make to that, and then finally said, "I hope that you'll be able to accept him someday. But it's best if you have the chance to get to know him through my owls and a few visits. We can't expect you to get over your animosity towards him at once, and I don't expect him to accept you just like that, either. It's the reason that I didn't let him come with me," he added, deciding that it would do them no harm to hear that. "I knew that he wouldn't be able to hold back on the insults, no matter how much he might want to be mature."
"I don't think that desire is very strong," Hermione muttered.
Ron was the one who flashed her a chiding look and nodded to Harry. "I can see that, mate. I can't say that I understand your choice, and I think you're wrong about how soon we can accept him. But I don't know that for certain."
Harry nodded back and stood up. Nothing had to be certain yet, he reminded himself. The future hadn't arrived. Ron might be right, and Harry would have to keep his friends and his lover apart. But nothing had been proven on that score. They'd had only a few days of close association, and those were in circumstances so tense that Harry didn't blame Ron for being gloomy.
"Thanks," he said quietly, shook Ron's hand, and hugged Hermione. She hung on to him tightly, and Harry thought she would have retained him if she could, but Ron's hand on her shoulder made her step back.
"I just hope this isn't a mistake, Harry," she said.
Harry gave her a temperate smile in return and shut the door of their rooms behind him.
Draco closed his eyes for a moment, and then smiled. He could feel the control that the potion gave him over Covington as a tight, thrumming bond stretched between the two of them, like a cord he could pull on to manipulate her limbs. He turned his head up to face the ceiling and exhaled slowly, then nodded once and sent forth the commands that made her stand up and turn around to face the gathered professors of Hogwarts and the witnesses who had come from the Ministry. The words that formed in her mouth and then spilled over her tongue were of Draco's making, and though some of the witnesses from the Ministry exchanged uneasy glances and shifted as if they didn't know what to make of this, they didn't surge forwards and start shouting about treachery.
That meant they had won, Draco considered.
"Hogwarts was once the greatest school of magic in the world," Covington said. "It has been closed for the past six years as we sought to make it safer and redress some of the errors of our predecessors." Draco could feel her sweating. This was the part where she wanted to say something completely different. Doubtless there would be a lot of that in the speech that was coming up.
Draco didn't care. She had paid the price for attempting to hurt Harry. She ought to have known what stupidity she was performing even as she inflicted it on herself.
"Dumbledore was the greatest Headmaster Hogwarts has ever known," Covington continued, "but he was not perfect." Draco had decided to go with that tactic in the end, as fun as it would have been to make Covington praise Dumbledore without reserve. Someone would have become suspicious if she did, and Draco never intended to have his meddling discovered. "He would have urged us to think carefully about our actions in the future, because there is little else more damaging than damage to education and the future of our world."
The crowd nodded. They were grouped around the lake in front of Hogwarts, and Covington was standing on a boulder. She looked around as though she was concerned that not everyone could hear her. Draco was the only one who could feel her shifting against the bonds that tied her, seeking desperately for some way past them.
There was no escape, and in the end, she fell back into despair and continued with the patter that required nothing of her but her tongue and lips.
"In the future, we shall be more careful about what we teach our youngsters. Houses will not be permitted to stay apart in isolation and prejudice. Professors will bring them together and teach the ideals of the Founders—as well as the proper historical context of those ideals. We can no more live by purely Gryffindor rules than we can live by purely Slytherin ones, but all children should be allowed to have pride in their Houses."
More judicious nodding. Covington turned to face Hogwarts and drew out the silver key to the Headmaster's office that the keywords had released from one version of the Room of Requirement, once Harry and Draco had spoken all four together in front of the door on the seventh floor. The Sorting Hat and the Sword of Gryffindor had been in the same room. Draco had been amused to see the way Covington's eyes shone when she lifted them out. Even enslaved to Draco, it seemed that she didn't forget her love for luxuries and powerful artifacts.
"We will go forwards into a new future," Covington said. "With the Ministry working closely with the Headmaster and the school governors, there is nothing we might not accomplish. And I am pleased to announce that the first Headmistress of the school will be none other than the candidate we are sure Headmaster Dumbledore had meant to announce, had he lived: Minerva McGonagall."
The Ministry flunkies' mouths hung open. McGonagall herself looked shaky and pale as she climbed up to receive the key from Covington. But she had been the best choice, Harry and Draco had both agreed, and Covington would be able to come up with the right lies to convince anyone who was shocked of the validity of her choice—the popular perception of Dumbledore, the need to acknowledge the continuity of his choices, and so on.
"Congratulations," Covington said with a stiff smile.
McGonagall took the key and examined it for a few minutes. Then she visibly straightened to take up her new burden. Draco shook his head. That was Gryffindors for you, always thinking they had to do their duty no matter what. McGonagall could have refused and gone on to a peaceful, quiet retirement, but neither Harry nor Draco had ever really thought she would.
"Better her than me," Harry, standing beside Draco in the third rank of watchers, muttered.
Draco nudged him hard with one shoulder. "You would be a disastrous Headmaster," he whispered. "They're supposed to last a few decades at least, and you would get yourself killed flying around the Astronomy Tower, or something equally ridiculous."
"Or they'd find me bound to a bed and fucked to death by an overeager Slytherin," Harry murmured back.
Draco couldn't help the way his hand shook for a moment on Harry's back. And when had his hand got there? He couldn't remember reaching out. Harry only cocked his head wisely and fastened his eyes on McGonagall again. She was making some gracious speech now about how this honor was unexpected but she would do her best to support the burden and do a good job. The people around them were applauding politely, for the most part, but Draco could hear genuine enthusiasm among them.
"The Ministry will support the new Headmistress," Covington said, with the assurance of tone that said she would personally take over that task.
Draco chuckled. She struggled more fiercely than ever when he made her say that. Harry winced beside him, and Draco glanced at him.
"I just wonder if it's right," Harry said, his eyes fastened on Covington. "To make her a slave for the rest of her life."
Draco shook his head. "That's what she would have done to you. Unless you think that she would have had a qualm of conscience in a few years. But even then, would she dare to release you? The first thing you would have done was turn on her. By that point, your anger and your magic would have built up to the point where they needed the release."
Harry grimaced, but not in a way that said he resented Draco's presumption. "I know," he said. "I know that you can't release her for the same reason."
Draco smiled, glad that Harry had seen the drift of his argument before he had to make it. Harry wasn't unintelligent. He simply didn't allow himself to exercise his intelligence much. Too much hanging back when he was young and trusting Granger to come up with pronouncements and explanations, Draco thought.
Well, no partner of his was going to do the same thing. So far, Draco had demanded at least one exercise of Harry's intelligence every day, and he intended to go on doing the same thing for day after day.
Until Harry left him, perhaps, or started realizing that Draco admired him for more than his ability to gasp when fucked.
"Yes," Draco said. "Perhaps it's more than she deserves. Perhaps she would have done something more than Obliviate you afterwards, to keep herself safe, so that she could release you. But I don't think so. I think that, once you were leashed, the Ministry would have found you too convenient and supportive to let go. They must have told you more than once that you would do them, and the whole of the wizarding world, good if you just let yourself be chained."
Harry chuckled in spite of himself, and the discomfort curling through his gut. Yes, they had told him that, and in almost the same words. "Do you think they don't have consciences, then?" Like you? he almost added, but he knew that wasn't the case. There were some things Draco wouldn't do; he did have a sense of right and wrong. But he saw no reason to leave an enemy alive at his back.
Draco snorted. "I think they're political. A political advantage like the Boy-Who-Lived is too great to let go."
"But you aren't trying to use me that same way," Harry said, with a ripple of discomfort, but feeling at the same time that Draco had to have thought of this before Harry brought it up. "Why not?"
Draco turned to face him, and seemed to dismiss Covington from his mind, despite the fact that he must have told her what to say. His hand curled around Harry's wrist and dragged him closer. Harry flushed, with more than embarrassment, but with embarrassment on top of that. He hated the fact that a simple touch could excite him so much.
"Because I know that you wouldn't stay with me if I tried to use you without your full cooperation," Draco whispered. "And I want you to stay with me more than I want any petty political gain that I might win with your help."
Harry swallowed and nodded. It was an answer he understood, appreciated, even; the difficulty was in believing that it was true. He had shoved away people before Draco because he hadn't wanted to go through the pain of finding out that it wasn't, as well as because he had been ashamed of what he was and what he desired.
Draco ran a tender hand down his cheek. "If you're going to leave me," he whispered, "I'd hope that you'd tell me. Trust me that much. I would be angry, but I already know that I couldn't hold you back."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why?"
"Your magic is so much stronger than mine," Draco responded, giving him a strange look, as if he couldn't believe that Harry didn't know that.
Harry smiled. In some ways, it was good to have a Slytherin lover, one who wasn't shy to acknowledge power imbalances.
"Which is, among other things, what makes it so wonderful to watch you crush the impulse to conquer and yield to me instead," Draco finished, with a self-satisfied smile.
Harry rolled his eyes. And then there's this side to having a Slytherin lover.
"I didn't expect it to work out this way. My dear boy. I did hope that you would find your way back to Hogwarts, but under rather different circumstances."
Harry drew a deep breath as he faced Dumbledore's portrait. Complicated emotions stirred in his chest. He wanted to say that he understood Dumbledore's concerns, but despised them; he was beyond the simple boy who could be manipulated to find his happiness and the greatest good. And then he wanted to turn his back and walk away without another word. Hermione was right. Surely the old man's manipulations had contributed to at least some of his anger and his inability to fit in.
But the man who had done all that to Harry was dead. Harry had come closer to him in the memory trap that waited at the top of the Astronomy Tower than he had in this portrait, who was only a fragment and a lesser version, not the whole man repeated over again in miniature. Dumbledore had been wise and brave and clever and foolish all together. This portrait had little power to make himself as wonderful and as terrible in the eyes of the living.
"I came back," he said. "And I think that now I've come back once, I'll visit more often. It was this place of fear to me, and I didn't think that I could do anything to change what the Ministry would do. But now that I've been here once, it will be easier to come back."
Dumbledore nodded and touched his beard as though he was thinking. "And—forgive me, my boy, but I must ask this. Are you going to sacrifice your chances of a normal life to a life with Mr. Malfoy?"
Harry gave him a sweet smile. "I gave up all chance of a normal life long ago, sir. You gave it up for me, when you put me with the Dursleys instead of letting a wizard family raise me."
Dumbledore sighed. "I did think that I was doing the best thing, my boy. If you had been raised in our world, you would have been a pampered prince. They might not have meant to spoil you like that, but it would have happened. It is never a good thing for a child when adults stand in awe of them."
"But that happened anyway," Harry answered brutally. "They were either in awe of me, or they suspected me of being the Heir of Slytherin or in league with Voldemort or evil in some other way. After the myth of the Boy-Who-Lived got spread around, there was no other way for them to react." He paused, panting, and realized that Dumbledore was watching him with sad eyes.
"I would have preferred being spoiled and insufferable to being abused," Harry finished.
"I did not foresee that," Dumbledore admitted sadly. "Please believe that I did not intend it, Harry."
Harry shook his head. "I know. You had only the best of intentions. But you kept on having them even when circumstances should have pointed out to you that having them wasn't enough. That's where I distrust you the most, sir. I know that your original went on manipulating me even after he was dead. I don't know that you've ever admitted you were wrong. All the things you've said to me since I came here don't imply it."
Dumbledore was still. Harry watched leaves blowing through the enchanted window on the opposite wall and waited until he spoke again.
"It is very hard to admit that your weaving of a young life has gone wrong," Dumbledore whispered. "Because of all the ruined chances, all the delicate things that you have ruined. I am sorry, Harry. If I wanted you to have a normal life, I should have labored harder to give you one."
That was more of a concession than Harry had expected. He turned back and nodded. "Yes, you should have," he said. "And you should have trusted less in the prophecy and trusted me more, as well as taken more of an active part in the fight against Voldemort. But I have my life now, and I'm learning to be contented with it. If some things need to change, still, I don't need to be ashamed of everything in it."
Dumbledore watched him with bright eyes. "I hope that you are right, my boy," he said. "I do sincerely hope that you are right."
Harry rolled his eyes at Dumbledore's stubbornness and inability to actually listen to him, rather than raise doubts, but he could let it go. "Good-bye, sir," he said. "If and when I visit Ron and Hermione, then I'll come and visit you, too."
"I will look forward to that, Harry."
That was the one thing he had said in the conversation that was likely to be one hundred percent true, Harry thought, as he shut the door of the Headmaster's office behind him.
"You are making a mistake, Draco."
"Am I?" Draco didn't look up from packing his cauldron away, but in truth, he was more curious than he would let Severus see. He had wondered when Severus would try to discourage him from continuing to associate with Harry. Now and then over the past few days, Severus had mentioned fleeting hints of Harry's good qualities, such as his ability to challenge Draco, but Draco had had no doubt that Severus still disapproved of Draco's choice in partners on the whole.
"Yes." Severus leaned forwards against his portrait frame, eyes narrowed. "I have learned some more about the requirements of a relationship like the one you are embarking on with Potter. You are temperamentally unsuited to it. Either you would demand too much of him and make him resent your power instead of trust you, or you would be unable to be as firm as he needs and let him get away with too much."
Draco laughed aloud. "Severus, you do realize that you sound as if you're talking about a pet, rather than a human being who has the ability to tell me if I do something he doesn't like?"
"Does Potter have that much wit?" Severus sneered. "I honestly hadn't noticed."
Draco shook his head. "And this is yet another way in which you're less than your original was. He would have given little credit to Potter for intelligence, but he still relied on it, enough that he trusted him to save the world when he was younger and less rational than he is now. You, on the other hand, act as though any relationship we have is foredoomed to disaster just because you hate Potter."
Silence, and then, "You are like me," Severus said, intensely. "You are more like me than you think."
"There was a time when I would have taken that as the greatest of compliments," Draco said lightly, and laid a stirring stick in the proper slim slot in his packing case. He could have packed by means of a spell, but he was determined to indulge in this last conversation with Severus. "Now I know that you mean I'm doomed to lose the first person I'm truly interested in because that is what happened to you, and I refuse the comparison."
Severus caught his breath in what sounded like pain. Draco watched in curiosity. How much did portraits feel? He had never settled that question to his satisfaction. He especially didn't know if this portrait could feel deep emotions, since he had acknowledged that it was a highly imperfect copy of the Severus he had known.
"I am not my original," Severus said, after several moments of tense, painful silence—or at least they seemed painful to him. Draco felt much less than he would have expected. "I have seen things that he did not, including your strange fascination with Mr. Potter."
"And you knew some things that he knew," Draco said. "Did you remember him changing the last riddle so that it referred to the Astronomy Tower and the memory trap that I went through there?"
Severus's eyes flickered in the way Draco had once known would be followed by calm, cold chastisement. Then he said, "Yes, I did."
Draco nodded. "That was the hardest of the traps to go through for me, the one I might not have survived if Harry wasn't there. He repaid me for being there with him in the Forbidden Forest when the centaur's arrow struck him. I won't give him up now. If you'd like to blame someone for my stubborn clinging to him, you might blame yourself."
The portrait Severus turned and strode away, beyond the edge of the frame. Draco waited for a few minutes, but he didn't reappear. Draco shrugged and returned to packing.
He felt satisfied, despite the exasperation that the past week and more had given him, despite the uncertainty in the future of his relationship with Potter lasting, and despite the fact that he had to control Covington from a distance. He didn't mind the power that Covington granted him. And he could allow her a little freedom in certain actions, as long as he always kept the prohibition in place that she couldn't speak or write or gesture to anyone about his control over her.
I'll have to strengthen the prohibition against allowing anyone to read her mind, he reminded himself.
Coming back to Hogwarts had been less stressful than he once would have said it was. He had even managed to work with the Weasel and the Mudblood successfully. And Severus was not the man he had remembered in portrait form, overwhelming and stressful—disturbingly like an idol to him, as Draco saw now. He didn't know everything. The man who had was dead, or, more likely, the product of a fevered adolescent's mind and a few nights on the run.
Draco smiled a little as he shut the lid of his trunk. Yes, his relationship with Harry was uncertain, but he no longer wanted to live in a world studded only with diamond-edged truths and nothing else. Fucking someone was like brewing an experimental potion. If he could live with uncertainty and risks in the one, he could surely live with it in the other.
Harry stood in the doorway of Severus's rooms, waiting for him with folded arms and a raised eyebrow. Draco walked over and kissed him. He made the kiss forceful on purpose, and Harry grunted and then leaned into him, nearly bowling him over.
Satisfied that Harry had once again been reminded that Draco wouldn't leave, Draco stepped away. "You're ready?" he asked.
Harry nodded. "I've packed everything up. Who knows when my owl will follow me home, but I'm not worried about her."
His eyes were fixed on Draco, clearly saying what he was worried about. Draco took his hand and turned it over, spreading the fingers. Harry watched him, brow furrowed in a way that said he wondered what Draco was doing.
"I trust your hand to drag me out of danger, the way you did with the memory trap," Draco said.
Harry flushed. "That was nothing," he muttered. "You would have overcome it on your own if I hadn't been there."
Draco shook his head and kissed Harry's palm. "And I also trust your hand to be bound and strapped to my headboard," he said. "Do you understand?"
Harry licked his lips and nodded. "It's something I never thought I would have," he said.
"But you have it now," Draco said in that tone of cool command Harry liked. "Stop doubting me."
Harry gave him a cocky grin and leaned in to kiss him back, using more than a hint of teeth. Draco shivered with delight. While he wanted Harry to understand all the terms of their relationship, it would have been no fun without the challenge.
"Come on, then," Harry muttered. "I'm more than ready to go."
And they left the castle, climbing up the stairs from the dungeons slowly. Draco could still feel his past self climbing along with him if he thought about it, a terrified teenager who sometimes looked at Harry Potter and envied him, and sometimes, more terribly, wanted him for himself.
Now I have him, Draco thought, listening to the man breathing beside him.
On the whole—and he thought the same could be said of Harry—he preferred his future to his past.