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Chapter 3

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When they got back from St Mungo's, Draco went straight up to the drawing room to study his Healer textbooks. Harry came up a moment later, to check on Ollie. The little owl twittered and bobbed on his perch when he saw Harry. With a smile, Harry gave him a treat and stroked him, speaking softly to him for a few moments. Harry glanced at Draco, but Draco already appeared engrossed in the book he was reading.

They had not spoken at all since Harry's last words at the hospital. Draco's reaction had puzzled Harry, and he still wasn't sure what expression he'd seen flit across Draco face. Harry had simply held out his arm, Draco had taken hold of his wrist, and Harry had Apparated them back home. Now Draco seemed determined to ignore him. Harry gave Ollie a last scratch under the chin, then headed back down to the ground floor to continue the restoration of the house.

He started with the dining room. Harry was becoming very fluent with the spells, so it didn't take long before that room, like the entrance hall, was restored to its former elegance. Then Harry went down to the kitchen. Although Kreacher had worked wonders down there last summer, and it was still clean and shining, Harry could now sense the cracks in the foundation of the house, the loose stones in the chimney, the crumbling mortar in the flagstone floor. All of these things he repaired, and it was with great satisfaction that he surveyed the room when he was finished. It not only looked bright and shining now, it felt whole to him.

Kreacher came out of his boiler cupboard to watch, his great grey eyes filled with approval and adoration. But Harry noticed that every few minutes the elf's ears drooped and he looked worried instead.

"What is it Kreacher?" asked Harry. "Am I doing something wrong?"

"Oh, no, Master Harry," croaked Kreacher. "Kreacher is glad to have the kitchen repaired at last. Kreacher is worried about Miss Cissy. She is not going back home yet, is she?" he asked, wringing his hands.

"Miss Cissy is still in hospital," said Harry, chagrined that he'd forgotten to tell Kreacher what was going on. "We don't know when she'll be well enough to go home." Then Harry remembered Kreacher's comment earlier that morning when he'd returned from the Manor with Malfoy's Potion equipment. "You told me you felt something at the Manor," said Harry. "I meant to ask you about that this morning. What was it?"

"Kreacher is not knowing, Master Harry," said Kreacher. "But something is not right there. Kreacher felt a presence or a spell that was hidden and not meant to be felt by a wizard. It was something that should not be in the house."

Harry frowned. "Do you think someone is there that shouldn't be?" he asked. "Like someone under a Disillusionment Charm?"

Kreacher shook his head. "Kreacher is not sure, but Master Harry can't let Miss Cissy or Mr Draco go back there," he said. "Kreacher is only sure that it is something not right."

"All right, Kreacher," said Harry. "I'll go tell the Aurors and have them check. We'll be sure it's safe before Miss Cissy goes home."

The old elf seemed to be satisfied with this. "If there is danger, Master Harry," he said, "Kreacher is ready with his sword." He gave Harry a low bow and then set about preparing dinner.

Harry went immediately upstairs, stuck his head out the front door, and signalled one of the Aurors on duty. After he explained Kreacher's concerns to the Auror and was assured the message would be relayed to Minister Shacklebolt, Harry went up to the drawing room to tell Draco. Draco listened with a growing frown and went back to reading his book without a word.

However, the entire time Harry was telling Kreacher's story to Draco, Ollie was swooping in and out of the window, stopping on his perch to bob and twitter at Harry, then flying in and out again. Harry finally got the message. Ollie wanted to take a letter somewhere. Giving in, Harry sat at the writing desk, and wrote a short note to the Weasleys. He introduced Ollie, told them about restoring the house and about visiting Teddy. He promised to invite them over once the repair work was done, though he felt slightly guilty about that. He had no idea how long he would be keeping Malfoy's presence in the house a secret. Until Ron and Hermione get back from Australia, supplied the helpful little voice in his head. So Harry asked if they had heard from Ron and Hermione. At least maybe he would get some advance warning. With that, he'd run out of things to write about, so he sent Ollie off with the note.

Dinner that night was a quiet affair. Kreacher had cooked a fresh steak and kidney pie, and they had ice cream with chocolate syrup for dessert. Harry thought Draco was doing a very good imitation of a condemned man having his last meal.

"We need to talk," said Harry finally. "I think there are things we need to say to each other."

Draco set down his spoon, but he didn't look up. "You've said enough already," he said. His voice was tight and Harry heard the bitterness again. "It's fine if you've changed your mind, Potter. I won't ask you to help with Father again. There's nothing else we need to say."

Harry stared across the table at Draco for a long, stunned minute. "What do you mean it's fine if I've changed my mind? I have not changed my mind," he said, exasperated. "As much as I would normally loathe the idea of helping your father, I agree that it would be better if I do."

Draco looked up at that, and Harry saw again the expression that had flitted across Draco face in the waiting room at St Mungo's, and he finally knew what it was: hurt and disappointment. What the hell…? It was that damned kicked puppy face again. Harry was beginning to think Malfoy knew exactly what he was doing with that face.

"You said you can't pretend to be my friend," said Draco, and the hurt expression contained confusion now too. "That's what we agreed to try. So you have changed your mind."

"No, that's not what I meant," said Harry, suddenly making sense of everything. "I meant," he said pointedly, "that if this is going to work, we need to talk about our past and put it behind us. I said I can't pretend to be your friend. I meant it has to be real." Harry paused. "I actually like talking to you when we're not fighting, but then something from the past comes up and one of us misunderstands the other and everything goes wrong so fast. This right now is a perfect example." He paused again. Draco's face had gone pink and he was staring into his bowl of melted ice cream. "I know you think the universe will explode at any moment, but do you think we could talk, that we could try?" said Harry in a gentler, hopeful voice. "I'm tired of fighting with you…"

Draco was silent for a very long moment. At last, he looked up and studied Harry's face, his gaze questioning and thoughtful. "Yes," he said, finally. "I'm tired of it as well." Then he gave Harry a small, hesitant grin. "But if the universe does explode, it will be your fault."

"Oh, right," said Harry with a laugh. "Blame it on me."

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They agreed to talk later that night, after they went to bed.

Draco went back to the drawing room after dinner to study. Harry was working on restoring the plumbing in the first floor bathroom when Draco called out down the hall to say that Harry had an owl. It was a Ministry owl with a note and a parcel for Harry from Kingsley. Malfoy Manor, said Kingsley, had been searched again but the Aurors had found nothing that seemed unusual or dangerous.

The parcel contained two books. One was a copy of The Auror Handbook: Year I Training Manual and the other was Advanced Spells for Conflict Situations: Offensive and Defensive Spells for Law Enforcement Officers. Plumbing forgotten, Harry sat down in the armchair with an excited grin and opened the Advanced Spells book to Chapter One: Capturing Criminals with Ease and Finesse.

The most critical element in any encounter with a criminal, he read, is to prevent escape. It is the law enforcement officer's first priority. Unless there is a life-threatening situation, the Anti-Disapparation Jinx should always be the first spell cast.

Harry had never learned this spell in his Defence Against the Dark Arts classes and he felt a small thrill go through him. He was going to love this book. He looked up to see Draco watching him with curiosity. "Too bad you can't Apparate," he said, grinning. "There's a spell in here I'd like to practice."

Harry read for a few more minutes, and then Ollie returned with a note from Molly. Ron and Hermione, she said, were staying in Australia another week, so Harry was given a short reprieve from telling the Weasleys about his secret visitor. After giving Ollie a treat, Harry reluctantly went back to his work on the plumbing. He wanted to finish all of the restoration work before Hermione and Ron returned. He glanced at Draco as he was leaving the drawing room, and saw that Draco was now reading the Auror Handbook, a surprising look of avid interest on his face.

The restoration of the bathroom took some time. There were rusty pipes and areas of water damage under the marble floor, cracks in the walls and the ceiling, and peeling wallpaper. When Harry finally finished and came out into the hall, he stopped still for a moment, sure that he'd heard Draco talking. Feeling a little foolish, he tiptoed down the hall to the drawing room door, listening. Then he had to grin. Draco was talking to Ollie. In fact, Harry realised, Draco was apologising to Ollie for insulting him. He heard Ollie twitter and knew that the apology had been accepted.

With a wide smile, Harry tiptoed back to the bathroom, then turned around and walked down the hall normally. By the time he reached the drawing room, Draco was on the sofa reading as if he'd never moved.

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When they were ready for bed, they met in Harry's room. They sat on the bed facing each other; Draco sat at the foot and Harry at the head. Harry had put on a T-shirt, though he normally slept without one. He simply couldn't imagine sitting in nothing but his boxers talking to Malfoy. Draco, however, was wearing only his pyjama trousers, as usual.

The gas lamps were off, but Harry lit one candle on his desk, so that they were not in complete darkness. Moonlight flooded the room also, from the high windows on either side of the bed. The canopy overhead created the feeling of a secure, private space for them to talk.

"Maybe we should start by years, from the beginning," said Harry. "You know, work up to the big stuff slowly."

"Fine," said Draco, barely above a whisper. He was staring at his hands in his lap.

"Okay, then," said Harry. "Do you want to start?" He studied Draco curiously, waiting for an answer. Draco's head was down, his long fringe falling forward to hide his eyes. He was sitting so still, that with his light hair and pale skin, he looked to Harry like a marble statue in the flickering candlelight and cool moonlight of the room. It was almost odd when he moved finally, lifting his head and shaking back the hair from his eyes.

"First Year…" prompted Harry softly. "Anything you're still angry about…?"

Draco looked away from him, then back down at his hands. He seemed to be struggling with what he wanted to say, and Harry waited, wondering what in the world in First Year had been so terrible that Malfoy couldn't talk about it.

At last, Draco sighed and looked back up. "There isn't any way I can say this, without sounding childish," he said quietly, "but you didn't like me." He paused for a moment. "I wanted to be your friend and you turned me down. It hurt. Quite a lot, actually."

Draco's words hung in the air for a long moment while Harry tried to wrap his mind around this unexpected confession. He had truly never imagined that Malfoy had cared about being friends with him. His memory of the event was also tainted by the fact that Malfoy had reminded him almost instantly of his despicable cousin Dudley.

And then Harry realised something even more startling. Instead of beginning with the small things and working their way up, he had the sudden sneaking suspicion that maybe they had started with the biggest thing of all. He could almost see how this one thing might be at the root of most of their problems, at least the early ones.

"I honestly had no idea of that," said Harry, frowning. "But is this what it's been about all along? Our fighting? That I didn't like you?"

Draco's expression hardened and he shrugged. "Maybe."

Harry paused. "I'm not sure I understand why it would have mattered to you so much. We didn't know each other at all."

"You didn't know me, but I knew you, Potter," said Draco. "Everyone knew you. And I know now that you had no idea that you were famous, but I grew up hearing about you and imagining that you would be my friend. It was a stupid childhood fantasy, I know, but I believed it. It never occurred to me that it might not happen." He paused and looked back down. "I was… to be honest… pretty crushed. And embarrassed."

Harry stared at Draco for a long moment, taking all of that in. "Yeah," he said, finally. "I can see that." He thought for a moment about how Draco had acted at Madam Malkin's and in the train compartment and he knew he couldn't have responded any differently. "Well," said Harry, "you should know that a lot of the reason I didn't like you when we first met was that you reminded me of my Muggle cousin. He was a spoiled-rotten bully and I hated him back then."

"I don't see how that's supposed to help me feel better about it, at all," said Draco sullenly.

"Right," said Harry. "I suppose not." He paused, thinking. "I only meant that maybe I was wrong to carry on believing something just because I thought it was true when I was eleven years old." He looked up and met Draco's eyes. "Do you think maybe we could start over?" he asked softly. "Because when we're not fighting, I…" He felt his face heat up and was very glad for the darkened room. "I think I do want to be your friend now."

Even in the dim light, Harry could tell that Draco's face had also gone pink. Draco looked down, but Harry saw that there was a new pleased expression on his face. Harry held out his hand. "I'm Harry Potter," he said quietly. "I'm sorry about crushing your fantasy. I didn't know."

Draco looked up with a crooked half-smile. He hesitated a second, then shook Harry's hand. "I'm Malfoy," he said. "Draco Malfoy. Apology accepted."

"Do you think things would have been different… if I'd taken your hand that first time?" Harry asked. He was very curious about how Draco might see this, because he didn't believe it would have changed anything much. Draco's values and his family's alliance with the Dark Lord would have come between them sooner or later. Probably sooner.

"I don't know," said Draco. "It's doubtful." He let out a deep breath. "You wouldn't have changed, and I couldn't see how insane my father was or how vile the Dark Lord was until last year."

Harry nodded. "Yeah," he said. They sat in silence for a moment, then Harry asked, "Is there anything else?" He grinned a little at Malfoy's shrug. "Maybe you should just give me a list of all the things that made you angry with me."

Draco gave a soft snort. "It's a very long list, Potter," he said, but Harry heard a hint of teasing in his tone. "I hardly know where to begin…" He tilted his head back and stared at the canopy over their heads for a moment. "There was all that unfairness about you getting on the Quidditch team in First Year and having a broom. Then there was that dragon business and I got detention for trying to report you and was dragged out into the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night. I was scarred by that, Potter. Scarred. And then somehow you caused Slytherin to lose the House Cup." He paused. "That's just First Year. Shall I go on?"

"No," said Harry. "Don't." He sighed. They might be here all night. "Look, let's just acknowledge that a lot of stuff happened on both sides and let it go at that. And let's focus on the really important ones, okay?"

"There was the time you and your friends jinxed me and Crabbe and Goyle and left us on the train in the luggage compartment. It took us weeks to get over that."

Harry snorted a laugh. "I'm not sorry for that," he said.

Draco flashed him a grin. "I got you back a little, though. How's that nose?"

"My nose is fine, thanks," said Harry, returning Draco's grin. "Anything else?"

Draco's face slowly sobered. He looked away, his expression turning serious and distressed, and Harry knew that the teasing was over. Whatever Draco was about to say, it was something that mattered very much. The air between them seemed to go thick with unspoken emotion and it was several moments before Draco spoke.

At last, Draco's hand came up to touch a point on his chest near his left shoulder. "There's this," he said, his voice rough and hushed, and then his fingers traced a diagonal line across his body to a point near his right hip.

Harry felt a prickle of horror run through him like an icy finger trailing up his spine. This! Oh, Merlin. This. He should have remembered, should have anticipated this. He bent forward, squinting in the dim light, and then scooted closer to Draco to look. And there it was. A scar. A thin silvery line that ran across Draco's torso from his left shoulder down to disappear under the waistband of his pyjama trousers. Harry drew in a sharp gasp of breath when he saw it.

"I hated you for this," said Draco, his voice still quiet, but now full of resentment. "Not because you did it. I know I cast the first curse. And I intended to hurt you for seeing me cry." He paused for a moment, frowning. "I hated you for acting like it never happened. You sliced me open and it didn't matter to you at all."

While Draco was talking, his eyes still downcast, Harry had searched Draco's face. Maybe it was that the room was dark, but Harry could see no trace of a similar scar on his face. He took a deep breath when Draco finished talking. "It did matter to me," said Harry. "It mattered a lot. There are only a few times in my life that I've been absolutely terrified, and that was one of them." He reached out, for they were sitting close to each other now, and touched Draco's wrist. Draco looked up at him then. "I didn't know what that spell did," explained Harry. "I never would have done that to you on purpose."

"You never told me that. You never said a word," said Draco.

"I… It wasn't as if we were on easy speaking terms, Malfoy," said Harry softly. "And you were fine. You were back in the Great Hall the next day…" And suddenly Harry understood something he had not taken into account before. That while the damage to Draco's body may have been repaired, the hurt Harry had caused had gone much deeper than that. A lump rose in his throat, and he had to swallow hard before he could speak again. "I regretted casting that spell on you more than anything I've ever done," said Harry earnestly. "It was a terrible mistake. I'm sorry."

Draco was watching him intently, and Harry met his eyes staunchly, hoping Draco would believe he was sincere. Draco nodded after a few seconds, his eyes glittering in the candlelight. "Okay," he whispered. He was quiet for a long moment, and then a slow smile appeared on his face. "It had its compensations, though," he said, and his tone was lighter, slightly teasing again. At Harry's questioning look, he went on. "It's a Harry Potter scar," he said. "Know anyone else who's got one? Everyone wanted to see it. I was getting a Sickle for a peek, a Galleon to touch it. I made twenty-two Galleons and thirteen Sickles the day I got out of the hospital wing."

Harry's jaw dropped. For a moment, he was appalled. "You're joking," he said, aghast.

"Yes, you idiot," said Draco. But there was a fondness in his voice that Harry had never heard before. "So now you're not the only one with a curse scar."

"Ha!" said Harry, unspeakably relieved. "But I have more than one." He held out his hand where the words, I must not tell lies, were etched in faint white lines. "And then there's this," he said, pointing to the place on his chest, just below his collarbones, where the Horcrux of Slytherin's locket had burned him. "And this," he said, turning his arm over to show two small puncture marks. "That's where Nagini bit me," he said. "I might have had more, except Fawkes healed a couple of things."

Draco bent over Harry's arm trying to make out the small bite marks in the dim light. "I want to hear that story someday," he said, when he straightened up. "But look at this. I only noticed this myself a couple of days ago." He held out his left arm with his hand turned palm up. "See anything?" he asked.

Harry looked hard, but there was nothing there. "No."

Draco leaned off the bed so that his arm stuck out into the shaft of moonlight shining through the window. "Now look," he said.

"Oh!" Harry breathed. There was the Dark Mark on Draco's arm. But where before it had been black, now it glowed white. "I thought it was gone!" said Harry.

"Yeah, me too," said Draco, pulling his arm back out of the moonlight. "It doesn't show up at all during the day."

"Wow," said Harry. "I guess that beats my snake bite."

Draco stared at him for half a heartbeat and then he laughed. It was one of the few times Harry had ever heard him laugh genuinely, and Harry thought he liked the sound of it very much.

"We each have a little souvenir from the Dark Lord, then, don't we?" said Draco.

"Yeah, if you want to call it that," said Harry.

"At least I have the good taste not to wear mine around on my forehead."

Harry snorted. "Oh, very funny," he said, and it actually was. Draco grinned at him and he grinned back. It was surprising how much lighter things felt between them. "Is there anything else we need to talk about?" asked Harry.

"No," said Draco. He was quiet for a moment. "So much of it seems so… insignificant now."

Harry nodded. "That's what I was thinking, too," he said. "After last year, hiding and fighting Voldemort, I can't even remember much of it."

They moved then to get into bed. Harry put out the candle on the desk with a wave of his wand. The moonlight washed the room with a gentle light, and Harry felt a sense of peace he'd rarely felt before.

"Do I still remind you of that Muggle cousin?" Draco asked in a hushed voice.

Harry thought about that. "Not so much," he said. "He's really fat and not very smart. Not like you at all."

He heard Draco's soft laugh in the darkness and he smiled and turned over. He barely heard Draco's whispered, "'Night, Potter," before he was asleep.

There was a moment, sometime in the very early hours of the morning, when he stirred and woke to find Draco pressed against him, warm and comforting. He smiled and went back to sleep.

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Over the next week, Harry and Draco fell into a routine. Kingsley had been as good as his word and they had been contacted by the head of the Ministry's Department of Magical Maintenance and Repair and given volunteer assistant jobs with the Hogwarts castle repair crew. They spent a couple of hours each morning at St Mungo's with Lucius and Narcissa and the rest of the day at Hogwarts, revisiting the hospital in the late afternoon before going home for dinner.

The work at Hogwarts was challenging and interesting to Harry. He worked alongside Draco most of the time, using the same spells Draco had taught him, as well as new spells he learned from the repair crew staff. It was heartbreaking to see the extent of the damage that had been done to the castle he loved so much. Windows were broken, huge chunks of wall blown apart. Rubble was everywhere. He and Draco did smaller detail work, repairing tapestries and statues, suits of armour, furniture, and paintings. There was an immense amount of work to be done before the school could reopen again. But every day, the progress was evident.

Harry came home every evening tired but feeling he had accomplished a great deal. After dinner, he did more repair work on the house, working his way quickly from the first floor up to Regulus's and Sirius's rooms, until the entire house had been restored and renovated. Harry could sense the completed wholeness of the house and it felt right, like he belonged to it now, and it to him.

Once the restoration work on the house was completed, Harry sat in the drawing room in the evenings with Draco and studied the Auror Handbook and Advanced Spell book that Kingsley had sent. Draco still studied his Healing texts, but he was also reading the books on wandlore and dreams that Kreacher had brought back from the Manor. Interesting passages were read aloud and discussed, but nothing new about Harry's dreams or the wands was discovered.

At night, they talked for a while after they got into bed. Draco asked questions about Harry's adventures over the last year and Harry told him the stories of how they'd broken into the Ministry to steal Slytherin's locket from Dolores Umbridge and how they'd broken out of Gringotts on the back of a dragon. Harry explained about the Horcruxes and how he'd decided to search for the Horcruxes instead of the Hallows, even though, in the end, he'd ended up with the Hallows too.

Draco frequently interrupted those stories to say, "You're making that up," with a grin. But he was very serious when Harry told the story of how he'd walked into the Forbidden Forest with his parents, going to meet Voldemort, prepared to die, and how Draco's mother had told the lie that had saved Harry's life and brought about a way for her to be reunited with her son.

Draco told his stories, too, of the year at school with the Carrows' brutality and of the terrifying holidays at home with the Dark Lord, days when he never knew if some cruel whim or other would mean his death, his life snuffed out with no more importance than a match.

Harry had gone to visit the Weasleys one afternoon after taking Draco to St Mungo's and had played Quick Quidditch for a while with Ginny. The tension between the two of them eased and it almost seemed like old times, like when they'd practiced for the Gryffindor team at Hogwarts. Harry used George's old broom, but that just made him realise how much he missed his lost Firebolt. Maybe, he thought, he should buy a new broom to replace it, though it hurt to know that he'd lost Sirius's gift. A new broom would never hold quite the same significance, but if he did get a new broom, he found himself wondering if Malfoy would like to fly with him. Harry left that afternoon feeling both better and worse about his relationship with Ginny. They'd fallen back into a more comfortable camaraderie, but that seemed to confirm Harry's fears that they'd broken up, and he left feeling rather miserable.

He talked to Draco about it in bed that night.

Draco was not sympathetic. "You could have anyone, Potter," he said, sounding exasperated. "She's an idiot." Then Draco turned over with his back to Harry and put an end to the conversation.

For several minutes, Harry stared at the back of Draco's head and neck, which was all he could see of the annoying git from under the bedclothes, feeling confused and frustrated. He didn't want anyone. He wanted Ginny and it was completely silly that looking at the back of Draco's neck was filling his heart with a warm, fuzzy feeling. He turned over with a huff and put that out firmly of his mind.

They saw Andromeda and Teddy often at St Mungo's. Andromeda sat with her sister while Harry held his baby godson. One morning, after Harry had held and played with Teddy for several minutes, he'd unceremoniously handed the baby over to Draco. Draco had looked horrified. But as they talked to Andromeda about her sister's condition and the risky potion that the Healers now felt should be administered, Harry glanced over to see that Draco was gazing down, entranced, grinning at his tiny cousin. Then Harry laughed. Teddy's hair was exactly the same colour as Draco's. "I think he likes me," said Draco softly, smiling like a loon, and Harry knew that Draco's reluctant heart had surrendered without a fight.

Throughout these days, Harry often found himself looking up at odd moments, looking for Draco. And more often than not, he would find Draco watching him, an enigmatic expression in those light gray eyes that was far removed from the hostility of their school days.

And maybe it was because of how hard they were working and how tired they were at night, but Harry did not dream of the Waiting Place. He hoped, perhaps, that the dreams had stopped, but he was too busy to think much about it.

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Harry and Draco had just settled down with their books in the drawing room one evening when voices sounded downstairs in the entrance hall.

"Harry! Harry? We're home!"

Ron and Hermione! Harry jumped up from the armchair. Draco came off the sofa like an electrocuted cat. They froze, staring wildly at each other.

"Home?" mouthed Draco. He looked ready to bolt from the room.

"Stay!" mouthed Harry back.

There was silence downstairs and then Harry heard Ron's hushed, incredulous voice say, "Blimey, Hermione! Are we in the right house? It's so clean! What happened to the traps?"

"Yes, yes, I'm sure we are…" Then Hermione gave a little shriek. "Ron," she said. "The portrait!"

"Aaargh!" There was another moment of silence. "That's just bloody scary, that is," said Ron.

"Harry?" called Hermione again, her voice uncertain. "Are you here?"

"Upstairs!" shouted Harry. "Drawing room!" He shooed Draco back to the sofa. Footsteps were coming up the stairs. He sat back down in the armchair and picked up his book. He glared meaningfully at Draco, and after a moment's hesitation, Draco did the same. By the time Ron and Hermione stepped into the drawing room, both Harry and Draco were apparently completely at ease, reading their books, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening at all.

"Oh, Harry," said Hermione. "The house looks amazing!" She rushed forward and he stood up to hug her. "We came straight here from London," she said. "It's so good to be home." She turned to look around the room, finally caught sight of Draco on the couch, and gasped.

Ron had seen him first, however, and already had his wand drawn. "Harry?" he said, furiously. "What's he doing here?"

"Put that away, Ron," said Harry sternly. "Everything is fine. But it's a long story." He looked at both of their astonished expressions and then at Draco who was frowning at him from behind his book. It was going to be an interesting evening.

Ollie twittered from his perch by the window and Harry turned to look at him. The owl bobbed and then flew to Harry's arm when he held it out. "Hermione, Ron," said Harry, vowing to give Ollie extra treats tonight for his timely distraction, "this is Apollo – Ollie for short." Ollie walked up Harry's arm and butted his head against Harry's cheek. "I went to buy a new owl and he picked me," said Harry, scratching the owl under the chin.

"He's adorable, Harry," said Hermione, glancing nervously from the owl back to Draco. Ron was still watching Draco, but he had lowered his wand.

"He bites," said Draco, setting his book down. He held out his arm and Ollie flew to him. "But only if you insult him or call him Merwyn. Isn't that right, Apollo?" Ollie bobbed and twittered happily. Harry gave Draco a look. "What?" said Draco. "His name is Apollo. I'm not calling him Ollie."

"Actually, Harry," said Hermione, evidently deciding to take charge of something familiar, "I'm glad you have an owl. We need to let Molly and Arthur know we're back. Do you think Ollie would take a letter for us?"

"Sure," said Harry. "There's parchment and quills in the writing desk." Draco got up, took Ollie back to his perch and gave the owl a treat. Ron's and Hermione's staring eyes followed him across the room. "Er…" said Harry. "How was Australia? How are your parents, Hermione?"

"They're fine. They love Australia. I…"

Draco wandered back, sat on the sofa again, and resumed reading his book.

"I'll just write a quick note to Molly and then we can talk about… this…" said Hermione, still staring at Draco.

"I'm right here in the room," said Draco, without looking up.

"No joke," said Ron, under his breath. "Forget the letter, Hermione. Harry, why is Malfoy sitting on your sofa? Why would you even let the slimy git in the house?" Then he scowled at Draco and said, "Go home! We don't want you here."

Draco looked up from his book, his expression obstinate. "I live here," he said. "Maybe you should go home."

"No way!" said Ron. "You can't live here! I live here."

Both Ron and Draco turned to glare at Harry. "You said you had this house to yourself," said Draco.

"I do," said Harry. "Er… that is, I did… while they were in Australia. I didn't know you'd be here so long, then."

Hermione, Ron, and Draco were all staring at Harry with various expressions of puzzlement, outrage, and indignation. Harry sat back down in the armchair and faced them squarely. "Ron, put your wand away," he said. "This is my house and Malfoy is staying. Write your letter, Hermione, and then we'll talk. This story is going to take a while."

There was a prickly silence in the air while Hermione wrote a short note to the Weasleys. Ron reluctantly pocketed his wand, but he kept a watchful eye on Malfoy the entire time. Draco picked up his book and appeared to be reading, ignoring them all.

After Ollie flew off with the letter, Harry explained all that had happened since his friends had left for Australia. He told them how he'd dreamed of Narcissa Malfoy, about the attack on Malfoy Manor, and why Malfoy could not go back home. He also told them about how Malfoy had helped him restore the house, how Bill had broken Mad-Eye's curses on the door, about how they had tricked Mrs Black's portrait, and how they were using the same spells now to help out with the repairs at Hogwarts. Ron's expression remained stony throughout, but Hermione's had softened considerably by the time Harry finished telling the tale. "Malfoy and I are working hard to put the past behind us," he said at last. "He's as welcome to stay here as both of you are. But I think we all have to agree that the war is over. There's been enough fighting, and I won't have it now in my home."

"You're right, Harry, of course," said Hermione. She was gazing at Draco much more sympathetically now. "I'm sorry about your mother, Malfoy," she said. "Harry told us how she helped him that night in the forest. I hope she's going to be okay."

Draco looked up and met Hermione's eyes. "Thank you," he said stiffly. "It's been very difficult."

Harry barely managed not to laugh. Malfoy was doing the kicked puppy face again and Hermione appeared to be falling for it as badly as he had himself. It was gratifying to know that he wasn't the only gullible one.

Ron, however, was not having it. He turned from frowning at Draco to look at Harry with an expression of confusion and misery and what-the-bloody-hell-were-you-thinking-mate? all mixed together on his redder than usual, freckled face.

Harry gave him a small shrug and tried to look apologetic.

Meanwhile, Hermione had noticed Draco's books. She moved to sit on the sofa and picked one from the stack on the side table. "Oh, how interesting," she exclaimed softly, after reading the title. She looked up at Draco. "Are you going to study Healing?" she asked, with genuine interest.

Draco's expression brightened immediately. "I want to," he said, and then shook his head. "But I'll need my N.E.W.T.S. and that's not likely to happen, now."

Hermione smiled smugly and looked from Draco to Harry. "I have wonderful news, Harry," she said excitedly. "And I don't see why Malfoy can't do it, too, if he wants to. I've been corresponding with Professor McGonagall while we were away and she's agreed to tutor us so that we can take our N.E.W.T.S. even though we missed school last year."

"I knew you'd think of some way around that," said Harry amused.

Ron groaned. "Blimey, Harry," he said quietly, as Hermione began discussing the proposed plan with Draco. "I don't know if I can take any more school…"

"Yeah," said Harry. "I know…"

"Think she'll forget about us, if Malfoy does it?"

Harry grinned. "I dunno. She might."

Ron sighed. "Never mind," he said. "I know better." He looked at Harry and it seemed as if all the fight had drained out of him. "You think Kreacher's got any leftovers down in the kitchen? I'm starved."

"I'm sure he does," said Harry. He and Ron left Hermione and Draco discussing N.E.W.T.S. and Healing and trooped down to the kitchen to get Ron something to eat. By the time they came back upstairs, Harry had heard Ron's version of the entire trip to Australia, including many colourful anecdotes about the amazing ride on the Muggle airplane, and Ron was looking much more relaxed.

They found Draco alone in the drawing room with Ollie, who was back from the Weasleys. "Granger said she was tired, and went up to bed," Draco informed them. "There was a reply owl from your family, Weasley. She took it up with her."

Ron nodded at Draco with a mingled horrified and disbelieving expression, evidently still stunned that he actually had to interact so familiarly with Malfoy here in Harry's house, and then he said goodnight and went upstairs as well.

"Can I just say something," said Harry, after Ron's footsteps had disappeared up the stairs. "And I don't want you to take it the wrong way, but I was surprised tonight. I know it was hard, so thank you for being polite to my friends."

"I can do polite, Potter," sniffed Draco. "Don't know why that surprises you."

"Maybe because I never saw it before…" said Harry, with a small grin. "Or not until recently, anyway."

Draco stood up, returned the book he'd been reading to the stack on the side table, and followed Harry upstairs. "You might have warned me, you know," he said, his voice full of teasing reproach, when they got to the third floor. "I nearly died from shock when they walked straight into the house."

"You and me, both," said Harry, laughing as he walked into his bedroom. He came back out a few moments later because Draco was standing in the middle of the landing, looking torn and uncertain.

"I guess I should stay in there, now," Draco said softly, frowning at the bedroom across the hall from Harry's.

A sudden flood of awareness hit Harry. He would miss their nightly talks; he would miss Draco's comforting presence in his bed. It was an extremely sobering realisation, and one he didn't want to examine too carefully. "No, it's okay. No one has to know," said Harry.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

The Waiting Place was a wide green field. Forming out of the white mist were brightly coloured banners and stands and golden goalposts with hoops at the top. A Quidditch pitch. A short, balding, white-haired man stood at the centre of the field. Harry, smiling and barefoot and dressed in his white robes, walked out to meet him.

"Hello," said Harry.

"Oh! I know you!" said the man, beaming. "Aren't you that Potter boy, the one that killed the Dark Wizard Voldy-something?"

Harry laughed. "That's me," he said. "I'm Harry."

"Oh, that's right. Harry Potter!" The old man smiled. "I'm Ebenezer Mackenzie-Smythe. I'm what you call a Muggle, my boy, but my wife was a witch. She passed on nearly a year ago." His face sobered at that, and then he went on, his voice quiet, as if he were talking more to himself than to Harry. "I never realised how much I would miss her and all her funny little magic ways, until she was gone." He sighed and looked off into the distance. "I was hoping she would be here…"

After a moment, he looked back at Harry and curiosity sparkled in his eyes. "But now why would you be here instead?"

"I have no idea," said Harry. He looked at the stands and banners that surrounded them. "Where are we?" he asked.

Ebenezer chuckled. "I would have thought that you of all people would recognize a Quidditch pitch," he said. "Didn't you play Seeker for the Gryffindor team at Hogwarts?"

"Yes, of course," said Harry. "But how did you know that?"

"Oh, I know everything about Quidditch. My wife, Sarah, was a Chaser for Hufflepuff back in her school days. That was a long time ago, but she never lost her love for the sport, and I took it up as well after we were married. We came to many of the Hogwarts games when Hufflepuff played. Never missed a World Cup final." He looked around the pitch with a wistful expression. "I always wished I could play, you know. Ride one of those magic brooms. Catch the Golden Snitch…"

Harry grinned. "Then, I think that's why I'm here," he said, suddenly sure of it. "To help you do that."

Ebenezer looked at Harry, and for a moment, excitement and hope glowed on his face, but then he shook his head, unconvinced. "But I'm a Muggle, dear boy," he said. "I can't."

"I dunno," said Harry. "I think maybe here you can." He turned in place for a moment, then smiled. "Look!" he said, pointing, as a small trunk formed out of the mist. Beside the trunk lay two serviceable practice brooms, like the ones used in flying lessons at Hogwarts. "Yes!" said Harry. "I'm sure you can!"

Harry showed Ebenezer how to mount the broomstick and taught him the proper hand grip and the basics of controlling it. In no time at all, the old man was zooming around inside the stadium as if he'd done it all his life, an expression of absolute delight on his face. Harry flew with him, grinning, enjoying himself immensely. This was, without a doubt, the most fun visit to the Waiting Place he'd ever had.

"Ready to release the Snitch, sir?" called Harry, when he was sure Ebenezer was flying capably.

"Ready!" called Ebenezer, with an excited wave.

Harry flew down to the small trunk and took out the Golden Snitch. Its silver wings unfurled as he held it up in his hand, and then with a tiny hum, they fluttered to life and Harry let it go. The Snitch shot straight up, zigzagging fast, a streak of flashing gold in the pure white light of the Waiting Place. It was a beautiful, joyous sight. Then in a wink, it disappeared into the mist.

Harry flew up to join Ebenezer. They turned in place, waiting, watching for that tell-tale flash of gold...

"There!" whispered Harry. "By the goalposts."

A predatory grin appeared on Ebenezer's face, and he sped off, bent low over his broom. Harry flew a little behind him, keeping pace, but staying back. This was Ebenezer's party, and Harry did not intend to compete with him for the capture.

The Snitch darted away, zigzagging again, but Ebenezer stuck to it, gaining on it, little by little, his face a mask of delighted concentration. Harry cheered him on and Ebenezer gave a triumphant whoop of glee when his fingers finally closed around the elusive golden ball.

Back on the ground, after Harry had stowed the Golden Snitch back in the trunk, Ebenezer held his broom in his hands, looking down on it fondly. "This has been my lifelong dream," he said softly, "and even more so after I found that beautiful flying broom in the garden last July. It was torture to have it and not be able to fly it." He looked up at Harry. "Thank you, my dear boy, from the bottom of my heart. You've made an old man very happy." He smiled, his eyes misty. "I know I need to go on. I think I can do that now."

Harry nodded, his attention still snagged by what Ebenezer had said just a moment ago. "You found a broom? Last July?" he asked, and a shock of excitement ran through him.

"Yes, it was the oddest thing," said Ebenezer. "It was about a week or so after my Sarah died, and I was out in the back garden looking up at the stars, and wondering, you know… if she was up there somewhere. Then suddenly there were fireworks overhead and something came spinning down out of the sky and landed in the tree right there in my garden. I had to get the ladder to get it down, but it was the most beautiful broom I've ever seen. I knew right away it was a flying broom, and understood that a wizard must have been flying over and lost it. I thought many times that I should try to return it to its rightful owner, but with Sarah gone, and me being a Muggle and all, I never did."

Harry could not keep the huge grin from his face. This, surely, was his long lost Firebolt that had fallen from the motorcycle sidecar when he'd been attacked after leaving the Dursleys'. "You're not going to believe this," he said, certainty thrumming through him, "but that happened to me. I lost my broom somewhere over Muggle Surrey last July, the 27th; it was a Saturday night. Do you mind if I ask where you live?"

"Why that's it exactly!" exclaimed Ebenezer. "My house is in the suburbs of Guilford. And it was a Saturday night. Imagine that!" Then he looked serious for a moment. "Oh, but my boy, you must get it back, and quickly. The solicitors will be in to auction everything off now that I'm dead." He shook his head, beaming again at Harry. "What an amazing coincidence!"

Harry was beginning to understand that this was no coincidence at all. Whatever power it was that was drawing him to the Waiting Place, it was not coincidence.

Ebenezer told him the address and Harry promised to go straight away. "We have a tall fence so it's safe to Apparate into the back garden," said Ebenezer. "Sarah did it all the time. And you'll find the broom in the garden shed there."

"Thank you, sir," said Harry, elated and deeply grateful. "My godfather gave me that broom. It was very special to me."

Ebenezer grinned. "Then we've each done each other a good turn, haven't we?" Then he looked up suddenly, past Harry, into the distance. "Oh!"

Harry turned to see a column of light descending from above. Spiralling down inside it, he could just make out a figure on a broom.

"Sarah!" breathed Ebenezer. He mounted the broom he still held, and then turned to Harry. "Goodbye, Harry, my boy," he said. "You take good care of that broom. It's a beauty!"

"Yes, sir, I will," said Harry. He watched as Ebenezer flew away, up into the column of light to meet his wife. Within a few moments, they were gone, and everything dissolved into the white mist and disappeared.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

Harry woke with a jolt. Malfoy, as usual, was snuggled up against him, but he didn't care. With a surge of excitement, he remembered his dream. He threw back the bedclothes and jumped up, pulling on his clothes from the day before. The light in the windows was pale, barely dawn. Perfect. He could go right now to get his broom and no one would know.

Draco stirred and sat up just as Harry was pulling on his trainers. Malfoy's hair was sticking up on one side and he was frowning, glancing at the window with squinting eyes. "Where are you going at this hour, Potter?" he asked. He sounded genuinely curious, then his eyes opened wider and he stared at Harry with comprehension. "You've had one of those dreams, haven't you? Of someone dead." A look of apprehension crossed his face. "It's not my mother is it?"

"No, of course not," said Harry. "I would have woken you if it was."

Draco relaxed visibly, and curiosity showed on his face again. "Is it someone at St Mungo's?"

Harry grinned. "No, it's not a someone this time. It's my Firebolt!" He could barely contain his happiness at the thought of having his beloved broom back, and for a moment, he was very pleased that Malfoy had woken up so that he had someone to tell about it. Then he realised that telling someone before Apparating off on his own was probably a wise precaution anyway.

He quickly explained everything to Draco, including the address of the house where he was going. "If I'm not back in half an hour, get one of the Aurors outside to come, okay?"

But Harry wasn't gone more than ten minutes before he Apparated back into the bedroom, his Firebolt in one hand and a huge, elated grin on his face. He sat down on the edge of the bed, the Firebolt cradled in his lap, and gazed at it dumbfounded, simply stunned that it had come back to him after all this time.

A slim, pale hand reached out to stroke the gleaming ash handle and Harry had a sudden inspiration. He turned to Draco. "Want to fly this with me later?" he asked. Draco's pleased smile was answer enough.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

When Ron and Hermione came down to breakfast that morning, Harry was waiting for them, a huge, excited grin on his face.

"Look what I have," he said, and he held the Firebolt up for them to see. Draco was sitting at the table smirking, since he already knew the story.

"Wow, Harry!" said Ron. "A new Firebolt! That's brilliant!"

"Yeah, but it's even better than that. It's not a new one," said Harry. "It's my same old one! The one Sirius gave me. The one I lost."

"You're joking! How'd you get it back?" Ron was piling his plate with toast and sausages, his face as excited as Harry's. Draco and Hermione exchanged an amused glance that a split second later, scared them both, and they looked hastily away.

Harry described his dream and told them how he'd gone to the house in Surrey to find his broom stored safely in a garden shed. Ron was suitably impressed, but Hermione was not.

"So you're still having these dreams, Harry?" she asked. "You dreamed of Fred, and Narcissa Malfoy, and now this man, a Muggle, who you don't even know. Have there been others?"

"Er… yeah," said Harry, remembering his promise to tell Ron and Hermione about the dreams if he was still having them when they got back from Australia. "Not so much last week," he said, but maybe every other night or so, before that."

"And they're real people who have died? You're sure?"

"Yeah, Hermione," said Harry, a little amused. "I'm sure. I've talked to their family at St Mungo's or seen the obituary, or other proof, like the Malfoys being attacked, or going to get the Firebolt right where I was told it was."

"I have a theory about it," said Draco, speaking up for the first time. For a second, Ron and Hermione both looked startled, as if they'd forgotten he was in the room. Draco smirked at them over his teacup. "Harry and I have discussed it at length and I think he's having the dreams because he is the owner of all the Deathly Hallows. The story says that the one who unites all the Hallows becomes the Master of Death. We don't know exactly what that means, but meeting people who have died every night might be one interpretation." He finished his bite of toast and took a sip of tea, evidently enjoying having everyone's attention.

"But you don't have all three of the Hallows, Harry," said Hermione. "I thought you said you lost the Resurrection Stone."

"We believe that losing it doesn't change his ownership of it," said Draco. "We were wondering what he should do about the Elder Wand as well."

"Right," said Harry. "When I was duelling Voldemort in the Great Hall, I stupidly announced to everyone, including the Death Eaters, that I was Master of the Elder Wand. I never thought about the consequences of that until I heard from Ollivander last week. He had heard about it and he wasn't even there. I'm afraid I'm going to be a target now for anyone who's been looking for that wand. Now everyone will know where it is." Harry was gratified to see that Hermione and Ron both looked as worried about that idea as he was. "I need to figure out a way to get rid of the Elder Wand without letting it fall into anyone else's hands. I don't want it to continue its bloody history into the future."

"What's interesting," said Draco, "is that the Elder Wand is also one of the Hallows. So he needs to get rid of it for two reasons. To prevent any attacks from the idiots out there who want to win the wand from him, and, if my theory is correct, to stop the dreams. What I don't know is if he needs to get rid of one, or all, of the Hallows to stop the dreams." He paused and looked squarely at Hermione. "I brought some books from the Manor," he went on. "Books on dreams and wandlore. I've been studying those to see if I can learn anything helpful."

Harry was very grateful suddenly that Malfoy was there to help him explain it all. It was strange, but he knew Malfoy was on his side, that they agreed about the questions posed by the wands and the Hallows. He wasn't sure what Hermione would make of it all, and was glad he didn't have to face her sometimes bossy inquisitiveness alone.

"I'd like to see those books, Malfoy," said Hermione.

"They're in the drawing room," said Draco. "Be my guest."

Ron and Hermione were headed to the Burrow that morning, but Hermione remembered that Harry had mentioned helping with the repair work at Hogwarts. She wondered if she and Ron could help too. So Harry gave them the name of the supervisor they worked for and told them that he and Draco would meet them at Hogwarts after they visited Narcissa. Draco offered to teach them the architectural restoration spells and Harry was amused to see Hermione's eyes light up at the prospect of learning new magic.

At St Mungo's, Healer Pye was waiting for Draco. It was time, he felt, for them to start the potion treatment he wanted to try, to help Narcissa regain consciousness. The combination of Invigoration Draught, Strengthening Solution, and Mandrake Root would be administered a few drops at a time under the tongue, every hour around the clock for the next forty-eight hours. Draco signed the forms to allow them to proceed, but Harry could tell that he was worried about it. The potion was experimental, and therefore unpredictable.

After leaving the hospital, they popped back to Grimmauld Place to pick up Harry's Firebolt, and then they met Ron and Hermione at Hogwarts. Draco taught them the spells, and the four of them worked together as a team. Once they had completed their repair work for the day, Harry, Draco, and Ron took turns flying the Firebolt around the Quidditch pitch. Harry had no words for how fantastic it felt to fly his Firebolt again.

While the boys were flying, Hermione visited Professor McGonagall to finalize their plans for taking their N.E.W.T.S. She asked if Malfoy could work with them, and after smoothing over McGonagall's initial surprised reluctance, was able to tell Draco that he would be included. Back at Grimmauld Place later, she spent the afternoon reading Malfoy's books on dreams.

It was after dinner that evening, when they were all gathered in the drawing room, that Hermione announced that she thought she'd found something. She was reading one of Draco's books: The Universal Imagery of Dreams by Aisling M. Orpheus. "There's a chapter in here," she said, "about people who all had similar dream-like experiences after taking the Draught of Living Death. Evidently, many of them reported walking in a place filled with white mist and light, where they sometimes met loved ones who had died. Does that sound anything like what you've experienced, Harry?"

Harry put his Auror Handbook down and stared at Hermione, astonished. He was sure he'd never described the Waiting Place or the shining white mist that he always encountered there. "That's exactly like what I've seen," he said, excited by this revelation, that other people had seen the same thing. "But what good does that do us?" he asked. "I'm already going there."

"But you don't have control over when you go there," said Draco, his book also forgotten. He had an eager, questioning look in his eyes. "And I was thinking…" He paused, looking at Hermione. "It might be far-fetched, but the only way I can think of for Potter to permanently get rid of the Hallows, without giving them to someone else and allowing the bloody history to continue, is for him to take them back where they came from. He needs to give them back to Death."

Hermione looked annoyed for a moment. "Then you really believe that children's story, that Death created these things?"

Draco shrugged. "If you have a better idea…"

"I'm with Malfoy," said Ron suddenly. Everyone looked at him, surprised. His face turned a little red. "If Harry takes the Draught of Living Death, then maybe he can go to that misty place and call up Death and return the Hallows and that will solve all the problems."

"Ron," said Hermione, with fond patience, "how is he going to take the Hallows there if he's only dreaming? It's impossible."

"Oh, right," said Ron, deflated. "Forgot about that."

Harry and Draco exchanged an electrified glance. "The bear!" whispered Harry and Draco nodded.

"Yes! It's not impossible, Granger," said Draco. "He's done it before."

Harry explained about the teddy bear that he'd wished for and given to Edmund in the Waiting Place, and how that bear had been missing from the table the next day. Harry told them how wishes or thoughts seemed to take form in that place, forming right out of the mist and the light. He could tell that Hermione was sceptical, but he was sure now that maybe they were on the right track. This was definitely something they could try.

"Harry, do you honestly believe that you can wish for the Hallows and they will come to you?" Hermione's voice was definitely sceptical, and getting a little shrill. "That's rubbish and you know it."

Harry shrugged. "All I know is that I had a teddy bear here in the house, that I wished for it when I was in one of the dreams, and then it was there in my hand in the dream. When I looked for it here the next morning, it was not here. Draco saw that it was missing, too."

"That's right, I did," said Draco.

"Well, there's still the problem of the potion," argued Hermione. "Where are we going to get the Draught of Living Death? The ingredients are not exactly easy to obtain."

Harry and Draco exchanged another look and Harry burst out laughing. Draco looked very pleased with himself.

"We have a bottle of it down in the kitchen," said Draco. "Potter and I made it last week."

Hermione did not look pleased at having all her arguments countered so handily.

"I do see one problem," said Harry. "How am I supposed to call Death?"

"Assuming there is such a being, you can always try wishing for him," said Hermione, acerbically. "Since you're so sure wishing will work with the Hallows, why not on Death too?"

"Yeah," said Harry. "That's brilliant, Hermione!" He grinned at her, and she looked somewhat mollified.

"I still don't think it will work…" she said. "But I don't see any harm in trying it." She turned back a few pages in the book. "There are a few minor risks associated with taking the Draught of Living Death, though. We should be certain it's safe before you do, Harry."

Draco flipped back to the index of his Healing text. "There's a chapter on Potions in here with prescriptions for dosage and the required care for patients when they're administered." He skimmed down through the listings. "Living Death, Draught of," he read with a grin. After turning to the page and reading for a moment, he handed the book to Hermione. "There are some monitoring spells given here. But you'll have to do them. I don't trust my wand enough to try them myself."

Hermione read the spells, nodding. "These seem simple enough," she said. "And there's a Reviving Charm that can be used as an antidote, if the person doesn't wake up after a certain length of time." She looked back up at Harry and suddenly she was smiling again. "Okay," she said. "I think we can try it." Then she looked a little sheepish. "I guess after finding out the Resurrection Stone actually works, I shouldn't be so surprised that this might work too."

"All right, then," said Harry. The sooner he got rid of the Elder Wand, the better. "I want to try it now."

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

Within a short time, the four of them were gathered in Harry's bedroom with everything they needed. Hermione sat in Harry's desk chair with the reference books in her lap, though she had already memorized the spells. She conjured a second chair for Ron. Harry sat on the edge of the bed, waiting while Draco poured the correct dose of potion into a cup.

"I hate giving this back," said Ron, gazing woefully at the Invisibility Cloak which Harry had laid at the foot of the bed. "That Cloak was dead useful."

"Yeah," said Harry. "It saved our lives more than once." He hated to give it up too, not just because of the memories it held, but because it was a legacy from his father's family. But he had decided that he had to give all of the Hallows back, not just the ones he didn't want. He took the cup of potion from Draco and held it up in a mock toast. "To Death and dreams," he said with a grin, then drank it down.

The potion tasted like dried flowers, dusty and slightly sweet. Harry set the empty cup on the bedside table, took off his glasses and set them there too, then laid back on the bed. Draco came around to the far side of the bed and climbed up to sit in the place where he slept. Harry closed his eyes, aware of the dip of the mattress that meant Draco was there with him, and that felt reassuring.

"We'll stay right here, Harry," whispered Hermione. "If you don't wake up in three hours, I'll do the antidote charm."

"Thanks" whispered Harry. He trusted these three people, and he indeed had to include Malfoy in that number now. He knew he would be safe, as safe as if he'd only fallen asleep as usual.

A light dizziness swirled through him. Then the bed dipped, and he felt Malfoy lean over him.

Don't forget you're Harry Potter," whispered Draco. "Don't forget you're the Master of the Deathly Hallows, the Master of Death."

"Right," whispered Harry, but he didn't feel his lips move. The bed seemed to sway beneath him like a boat on water, and then he was pulled down and down, into a spinning vortex of darkness.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

The Waiting Place was different. It was similar to Harry's first experience here, where it appeared to be like King's Cross station, but it was different in quality. There was an exquisite, sharpened clarity to everything; everything seemed to glow with an inner radiance and a sheen of prismatic colour rippled and danced over the surfaces. The great domed ceiling arched high overhead, sparkling and transparent, revealing a velvet black space beyond filled with bright planets and glittering stars. Harry stood for a long moment simply staring in awe. He felt deeply, down to the core of his being, that he stood now on sacred ground.

He felt then a moment of… not fear… but hesitation. He did not want to die, and there was the very real chance that he would not return from this place a second time. He took a deep breath and accepted this. He felt love and trust well up in his heart for his friends and for Malfoy who watched over him at home, anchoring him to life, and he took that trust and that love and wrapped those emotions around himself as a living shield. Then remembering his task, Harry closed his eyes and concentrated.

The Invisibility Cloak was closest; he knew exactly where it was, at the foot of his bed. He thought of it, imagined himself wearing it as he had so many times in the past and wished it was here with him now in this place… and it was. He felt its familiar weight settle over his shoulders. He let out a breath and smiled his relief. It was working!

The Elder Wand was not with him physically, but he knew where it was. It was hidden in the secret cavity behind Dumbledore's portrait in the headmaster's office at Hogwarts. He envisioned it now in his mind, saw himself there in the office as he pictured the memory Snape had given him, saw the portrait swing forward, and himself reaching in to take the wand. It was there in his hand in his mind's eye and he wished for it to be here in his hand now… and instantly, the feeling of that slim wood handle was there within his grasp. He opened his eyes, amazed, and it was true. He now held the Elder Wand in his right hand.

The third Hallow, the Resurrection Stone, was not quite as straightforward as the first two. Harry didn't know exactly where it was, but he remembered the clearing where he'd dropped it, the clearing where the gigantic spider Aragog had once lived, the clearing where Voldemort had set up his camp. Picturing that space in his mind, he saw himself standing again there at the edge, with the firelight flickering, his parents and Sirius and Remus Lupin beside him, the Stone just that moment still in his hand. He held out his left hand palm up, and wished for the Stone to be here now… and a small cold weight fell into his hand. He had it!

Harry opened his eyes and as he stood in that hallowed place, barefoot, dressed in shining white robes, with the Cloak of Invisibility over his shoulders, the Elder Wand in his right hand and the Resurrection Stone in his left, he knew himself to be who he was: Harry Potter, Master of the Deathly Hallows, Master of Death. With that knowledge held foremost in his mind, he wished for Death to meet him face to face.

There was an instantaneous surge of presence, electric and visceral. Death stood before Harry, an immense figure robed in darkness, a bottomless black space beneath the cowl where a face should be. Its very existence seemed to eclipse the light in the place where they stood. More than anything its appearance reminded Harry of a monstrous Dementor.

And yet… this being did not feel at all like a Dementor. There was no evil here. There was instead an unfathomable calm at the core of this presence. Stillness… rest… peace… a sense of release from all cares… flowed out from this being like balm. With sudden insight, Harry realised that Dementors were in reality only pitiful, twisted, evil copies of this towering, potent immortal being. In the next instant, he knew and understood several things. That the Deathly Hallows were like child's toys, small and insignificant, they had no power over Death at all. That he, Harry Potter, so-called Master of Death, was no such thing. Death itself had no mortal Master. Here, face-to-face with Death, he was at the mercy of Death. Here he was bare and defenceless.

Harry, reeling from the sudden stripping away of all his assumptions, stared into the empty, bottomless face of Death and understood, then, one thing more, something even more startling, something that filled him with a deep inner calm. That from this being, from Death, he needed no defence. There was truly nothing to fear.

"You are rare among wizards, Harry Potter, and even rarer among men." The deep, melodious voice that emanated from beneath the cowl of darkness was not loud, but seemed to reverberate around the room. "You do not fear Death?"

"I'm not afraid of dying," said Harry, a little surprised that his voice still worked.

"And yet, you have slipped through my fingers many times," said Death. And Harry heard what might have been amusement in the tone of voice. "Have you come here, now, to make amends for that? Have you come here now to die?"

"No," said Harry, softly, his heart pounding. "I don't want to die. Not now." All the new beginnings in his life flashed before him, and they were very dear. He felt again the living trust and love of his friends that called him back to life. But he had placed himself in Death's hands and it was not up to him. He bowed his head, his eyes fixed upon the shining white floor. "That is for you to say, I think."

"Ah," said Death. The amusement in his voice was unmistakable this time. "No clever schemes, no tricks to win immortality? No desperate attempt to hide, no foolish struggle against the inevitable? Very rare, indeed." Death moved closer. "But then why have you come? And why have you brought these trinkets you hold, these relics from a child's tale?"

Harry looked up. "I… am returning them," he said. "The legend says the Hallows were made by Death. That if anyone joins them all together they will be… Master of Death. I don't know what that means, or if it means anything at all, but since I've had all of the Hallows, I keep coming back here. I keep dreaming of people who have died." He paused, but could not sense any reaction from the empty faceless space beneath the cowl. "I had hoped…" he went on, determinedly, "that if I gave the Hallows back, I would stop dreaming of the dead. But I also want to give them back because I don't want them. I want to stop the bloody history and insanity they've caused. That's why I'm here."

"You don't want an invincible wand, Harry Potter?" asked Death. "Or the power to summon your loved ones back from beyond the grave?"

"No," said Harry. "I…" For a fleeting second he thought of his mother and father and Remus and Sirius standing with him in the Forbidden Forest, and his heart ached to know he would never see them again. But he was resolute. "I don't want them," he said.

Death nodded once and held out a black skeletal hand. Harry gave him the Elder Wand and the Resurrection Stone. "And what of the other?" asked Death. "What of the Invisibility Cloak you wear? That one, I sense, is different…"

Harry pulled the Invisibility Cloak from his shoulders and held it in his hands. He stroked the shimmering fabric. "It is different," he said softly. "It was my dad's. It's all I have left of him." He looked back at Death, regretful but determined to achieve his purpose here. "But I want to give it back, to stop the violent history of the Hallows, to stop the dreams."

"The violence will end now that the Wand and the Stone have left the living world." Death closed his hand over the two Hallows he held, and in a flash of light, they were gone. "The desire they created for men to possess them will also vanish. You need not fear this. No one will seek them now."

Harry breathed out a sigh of relief at that. He stroked the Invisibility Cloak once more fondly, then held it out, feeling that ache in his heart again. "Here," he said. "You should have this back too."

Death did not take the Cloak. "In all the history of the Hallows' sojourn in the realm of the living, you are the first who has ever sought, wisely and unselfishly, to return them. Therefore, the Cloak is my gift to you," said Death. "Because it is your rightful inheritance and because you do not desire it for selfish gain, but rather out of love, you may keep the Cloak as long as you live. When it is your time to go on, then I will take it back."

"What about my dreams?" said Harry, though his heart had leapt at the thought of keeping the Cloak. "Will the dreams stop, if I still have one of the Hallows?"

"But it is not the Hallows that have caused your dreams," said Death. "You crossed through the gate between life and death as a willing sacrifice, but you did not die. There is great power in the act of sacrifice, and that power is sealed by death. When you chose to return to life, this power was not sealed and instead holds the gate open between yourself and the first transitional realm of death. That gate will close when you complete the sacrifice, by going on."

"Then, you're saying I will have these dreams for the rest of my life?" Harry asked, stunned.

"The open gate is a rare gift, Harry Potter," said Death. "If you wish it, I, myself, can close the gate and you will have no more meetings with the dead. But think well before you choose. It is only the dead who have something to give you, who have a desire or need for you specifically, or for whom you are perfectly placed to carry out a last communication or request, that can call you into death to meet them. Consider all that you have been given through these meetings and think well on what you will be giving up."

This was an entirely new perspective, one Harry had not thought of. "Then I'm not meeting everyone who dies?" And even as he said it, he knew that was impossible. He just hadn't thought it through before. There must be thousands of deaths every day…

Death actually laughed. It was a warm sound, and Harry had to grin at his own foolish question. "You begin to understand," said Death. "There were many who died in the battle at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry who did not wish to see you again. They were not present at the first of your meetings."

"Yeah, that's true," said Harry, thinking of the Death Eaters who had died, and then of Bellatrix, and finally of Snape.

"That soul desired to meet one who will also come to meet you when you go on," said Death, and Harry knew immediately that the soul Death was speaking of was Severus Snape.

And the one who had met him was… "My mother," whispered Harry, and Death nodded once.

Harry was silent then, thinking back on all the meetings he'd had with the dead. He had helped them go on and he had felt a great sense of satisfaction, and even been deeply touched by relaying the messages of the dead to their loved-ones and seeing the relief and peace those messages brought to the grieving families. But then he finally realised what he had not fully seen before. That each of the meetings had also given him a gift he would not have had otherwise. Without the dreams, he would not have known, by giving the bear to Edmund, how to bring the Hallows back to Death; he would not have helped the Malfoys or taken Draco in, with all that that had brought into his life; he would not have learned about his grandfather; he would never have recovered his lost Firebolt. Even little Agatha Bell had given him the first certainty that his dream meetings were real and a means for reaching out to Draco.

"Oh," said Harry, his heart gone light, joyful. Death stood before him, patiently waiting for his decision. But Harry's heart had already made the choice while his mind was working it out. "I want to keep the dreams," he said. "I don't want to close the gate."

Death nodded again. "So be it. And so it seems, once more, that I must let you go." The voice was amused again.

Harry smiled. "Yes," he said. "For a while longer…" He recalled how, at the ending of "The Tale of the Three Brothers," Ignotus Peverell, Harry's own ancestor, had greeted Death as an old friend, and had gone with him gladly. And Harry knew it would be the same for him, when his time came.

Death drew back and spread his arms wide. "You are indeed rare among wizards, Harry Potter," said Death. His voice was warm and pleased and echoed through the space in which they stood. "Because you do not fear, you may see me as I truly am, without the cloak of darkness that Fear has set upon me." Then Death disappeared into the midst of an intensely bright column of light. The light lasted only a few seconds before it was gone, and then Harry was alone.

But in those few seconds he had seen Death uncloaked. Within the light, he had seen a towering being of light, a being beautiful beyond words with vast, shining, enfolding wings, a being that radiated the most profound sense of blessed peace; the Angel of Death, Giver of Rest.

Harry stood rooted to the spot, completely transfixed by that incredible vision until everything around him dissolved back into the mist and vanished into white.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

Harry came back to consciousness slowly. He felt groggy from the effects of the potion, but he remembered with absolute clarity all that had transpired in his meeting with Death. The fact that the two dangerous Deathly Hallows were now out of his hands and no longer a threat was an immense relief. He sat up, his head spinning a little, and Hermione cast the Reviving Charm from Draco's Healing book. His head cleared almost immediately and he smiled at his friends.

"The Invisibility Cloak disappeared for a moment, but now it's back," said Hermione, disappointment in her voice. "Oh, Harry. I'm sorry. I was afraid it wouldn't work."

"It worked perfectly, Hermione," said Harry. "But I get to keep this." He pulled the Invisibility Cloak into his lap. "Because it was my dad's, I can keep it for the rest of my life."

"And the Elder Wand and the Resurrection Stone…?" asked Draco.

"Death took them back," said Harry. "He told me no one would search for them now that they were no longer in the living world. So we did it! The Deathly Hallows are gone."

"Death told you…? You actually spoke to… Death?" Hermione's eyes were huge. Ron also looked flabbergasted. Draco was grinning smugly as if he'd known that would happen all along.

"But Harry!" exclaimed Hermione. "This is extraordinary! Did you ask him what happens after death? Did you find out where you go when you go on?"

Harry gazed at her, bemused.

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, never mind. Of course, you didn't," she sighed. "How silly of me!"

"It didn't come up in the conversation, Hermione," said Harry, chuckling. "I wasn't exactly there to grill him about stuff, you know."

"Well, what did you say?" she asked. Her cheeks were pink but she was smiling. "I want to know everything."

Harry told them all the details of how he'd returned the Hallows to Death. Of how he'd summoned each of the Hallows in turn to the Waiting Place, how Death had appeared before him, and how Harry had not been sure he would be allowed to return to life. "He let me come back," he said softly, respectfully, "and he let me keep this." He smoothed the Invisibility Cloak over his knees, smiling.

"But what about your dreams, Harry?" asked Hermione. "Now that you've returned the Hallows, will your dreams stop?"

Harry took a deep breath. "No," he said. "It wasn't the Hallows that caused the dreams. Death explained something about a gate that was left open when I came back to life that night during the battle at Hogwarts. It's because of that, that I have the dreams."

"Then, we'll keep searching, Harry, until we find a way to stop them."

"I… no, Hermione. I decided I didn't want to stop them," said Harry firmly. "Death gave me a choice, and I chose to keep them. I'm helping people who need me for some reason, and they've had things to tell me, too."

"But Harry! You can't go on dreaming of dead people for the rest of your life," protested Hermione.

Harry looked around at each of his friends. Hermione looked exasperated and a little annoyed, Ron looked like he agreed with her though he didn't quite understand it all, and Malfoy was looking exasperated and annoyed as well, but he was staring at Hermione, not at Harry.

"There has to be some way to make them stop," Hermione went on. "I'm sure we can find –"

"Granger," said Draco, quietly cutting her off. "Maybe you missed the part where Potter said he wanted the dreams. That he had a choice and decided to keep them. Maybe you should respect that."

Harry felt in that moment that he could have hugged Malfoy. He grinned at Draco and Draco nodded and grinned a small grin back.

Hermione looked from Draco's face to Harry's and huffed in defeat. "I was only thinking of what's best for him," she said, her face turning pink again.

"I know you were, Hermione," said Harry. "And I appreciate it. But Malfoy's right. I need you to respect my decision."

"Fine," she said. She turned an appraising eye on Draco, but held her tongue.

"At least you got the keep the Cloak," said Ron, with a grin. "That was bloody decent of him, that was."

Harry most definitely agreed. He folded the Cloak carefully and laid it on his desk. "I'm still a little sleepy from the potion," he said. "I think I'll just go to bed now, if that's okay. We can talk more about this tomorrow."

Hermione and Ron said goodnight and Draco followed them out. Harry knew Draco would pretend to go into his room across the hall, but that he'd be back. Harry thought about that as he got undressed and got into bed. It was admittedly a very weird situation, but he didn't want to change it.

Sure enough, when Draco was certain that the coast was clear, he crept back into Harry's bedroom, dressed in his pyjama trousers, and got into bed. Harry put out the gas light and the room fell into darkness, lit only by the clear pale moonlight from the high windows.

"What was Death like?" whispered Draco. "You didn't say. Was he like the story of the Hallows? Was he terrifying?"

"No," said Harry. He'd felt reluctant to talk about this earlier, but with Draco here in the darkened room, he welcomed the chance. "That's the funny thing. He wasn't terrifying at all, except that I knew I had absolutely no power over him. All that stuff we thought about the Hallows and being Master of Death, was nothing. I was completely at his mercy, and he let me go." He paused. "He looked like a huge Dementor, like in the story, I guess, with a dark cloak and hood. Under the hood, there was no face at all. But what was different was how he felt."

Harry rose up on one elbow to look at Draco. "You know what a Dementor feels like?"

"Yeah," said Draco. "I remember when they came on the train. Horrible. Like nothing good will ever happen again."

"But Death wasn't like that at all," said Harry. "He was… peaceful. It was incredible, like all the peace in the world was poured into that one spot where he stood. And just before he left, he let me see him without his cloak."

"Merlin, Potter, was he hideous?"

"No," whispered Harry, still stunned by his memory of that vision. "He was… beautiful, like an angel. He was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

"Oh," whispered Draco. "Wow."

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

The following day, the first thing Harry did was send an owl to Professor McGonagall asking her to check to see if the Elder Wand was still in the vault behind Dumbledore's portrait. If it was not, he felt perfectly safe in assuming that the Resurrection Stone had also vanished from the Forbidden Forest. As soon as Ollie was on his way with the message, he and Draco went to St Mungo's.

Draco was not allowed to stay long with his mother. The Healers were monitoring her very closely. The potion was making her agitated; she was shaking and thrashing weakly in the bed. She still had not regained consciousness, but Healer Pye told them that her movements were a positive sign that the potion was working. They paid a short visit to Lucius, but Draco was clearly too anxious to draw pictures, so Harry suggested they go on to Hogwarts and find out about the Elder Wand.

Professor McGonagall met them in the Entrance Hall, her expression severe and alarmed. Harry guessed at once, from the look on her face, that the wand was gone, and he beamed at her. "It's fine!" he told her, and explained a little of what they had done. "Now we don't ever have to worry about it falling into murderous hands again," he said. She looked so bewildered and relieved, that Harry had to hug her again.

When Ron and Hermione arrived to help with the repair work, Harry was thrilled to be able to tell them the good news. Draco looked pleased that his idea had worked, but he also seemed preoccupied with concern for his mother. When the repair work was finished for the day, Harry took him back to the hospital that afternoon to check on Narcissa's progress. This time they would not allow Draco to come into Narcissa's room. A Healer was sitting with her and told him there was no change.

Ron brought his chess set back to Grimmauld Place from the Burrow that afternoon and set it up on the table in the drawing room. Harry was studying his Auror Handbook; Hermione was reading Draco's Healing books, and neither of them wanted to play chess. Hermione seemed to be as interested in the Healing theories as Draco was, and they sat on the sofa discussing what she was reading. Ron finally talked Draco into playing, and the two were intently engaged in a game for the rest of the evening. Harry hoped the game would distract Draco from worrying. From the look on Ron's face, Draco was giving him some serious competition, but in the end, it was Ron who declared Checkmate.

"I'm sure your mum will be fine," said Harry, gently, once he and Draco were in bed that night.

"I'm not," said Draco, his voice barely audible in the dark room. He turned over, away from Harry. "I don't know what I'm going to do, Potter, if she dies."

Harry had no answer for that. Several things he might say flitted through his mind, but nothing seemed helpful. "I'll stick with you, you know, whatever happens," was what he finally said.

And that might have been the right thing, because he heard Draco's soft sigh, then a very quiet, "Thank you."

He turned over himself, and for a moment simply listened to Draco's hushed breathing in the dark, wondering how he was ever going to get used to sleeping by himself again, if Draco left.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

The Waiting Place was a bleak, rocky shoreline. Towering white-tipped waves crashed in hissing plumes against the slick, dark rocks. It was familiar… Harry knew at once he had been here before… Then his heart leapt into his throat and he remembered. Narcissa Malfoy! Where was she?

The white mist covered the rocky beach like a blanket of gauze, shin-deep, opaque in pockets between the tall rocks. The beach appeared deserted, and no boat tossed upon the water offshore. Harry felt heartsick. Was he too late? He rushed forward, searching, and the shining mist rolled away from his bare feet as he walked. All he could think of was how devastated Malfoy was going to be if his mother died. And how devastated he was going to be himself, if he had done nothing to help, had no last word or vision to bring back to ease Malfoy's grief. It could not be too late…

And then he saw her. Curled up on the ground at the base of one of the tall rocks, she appeared to be little more than part of the mist herself; she was nearly translucent, like a ghost. Heart pounding, Harry knelt at her side. "Mrs Malfoy... Mrs Malfoy," he called. For a moment, he was afraid to touch her, afraid his hand would go right through her, but then he laid his hand tentatively on her shoulder and found he could touch her after all. "Mrs Malfoy!" he called again, and gently shook her. "Narcissa!"

She stirred then, and her face contorted with anger and sorrow. "Leave me alone!" she said in a furious whisper. Her hands came up to cover her tear-stained face. "I can't go back! I can't bear it!"

Harry let go of her and rocked back on his heels. "What?" A sense of outrage mixed with confusion welled up in him. "Why?" he asked. "What can't you bear?" If she said she couldn't stand living after the Malfoy's power and prestige had been stripped away by Voldemort's defeat, he was going to walk away and leave her here. "Answer me," he said, and his voice was no longer so sympathetic.

"Draco," she whispered. "They killed Draco. I know they did. He couldn't use the wand…"

Oh, Merlin! Harry took hold of her wrists and pulled her hands away from her face. "Draco is alive!" he said. "Do you hear me? He's alive and worried sick about you!"

She opened her eyes, and tears poured down her face. "No," she insisted. "I don't believe it. I saw Yaxley go into the house. He said he was going to kill my son… Oh, my son…!" She gasped out a sobbing breath. "I can't bear to go back… if he's dead."

"You can't stay here," said Harry, and he knew this truth with suddenly certainty. "Listen to me!" he said, when she turned her face away. "You're in a coma. You have to either die and move on or you have to go back and live. You have to choose, now. That's why I'm here."

She was silent for a long moment. "I don't want to die…" she whispered.

"That's right," said Harry. "You don't." He took a deep, calming breath, and when he spoke again, his voice was warmer, assertive, and encouraging. "You are Narcissa Malfoy," he said. "You are stronger than this. You spit in the face of the Dark Lord and saved my life right under his nose. Draco is alive and loves you and needs you to come back. And I… I want you to come back, too."

Her eyes had opened again while Harry spoke, and she searched his face intently. "You are telling me the truth?" she asked. "Yaxley didn't kill my son?"

"I am telling you the truth," said Harry, and a small thrill went through his heart as her colour slowly came flooding back. She no longer looked like a ghost. "Draco is safe. He's been waiting for you to come back. We need you to wake up. Do you think you can do that now?"

She gazed straight into Harry's eyes for a long moment, and Harry saw glimmers of hope replace the earlier despair in her eyes. "Yes," she said, at last. "I believe you. I want to see my son." Harry helped her to her feet, and for a moment more, she clung to him, then she straightened up and lifting her head, stood on her own. "Thank you," she whispered, and she faded away into nothing.

Harry stepped back and looked around. The crashing waves had stilled; the water rested serene and shining on the shore. Where only moments ago it had been dark and chaotic, the atmosphere was now peaceful and filled with light. Harry was amazed and uplifted. And as the white mist swirled in to dissolve it all, Harry heard, as if from far away, a faint, familiar voice calling, "Potter! Potter!"

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

"Potter! Wake up!"

The voice was urgent, insistent, and Harry was being shaken. He woke, startled at the darkness of the room after the brightness of his dream. He sat up with a gasp, remembering. Mrs Malfoy!

Draco was on his knees in the middle of the bed, holding one arm up to Harry's face. Around his wrist, the MediAlert bracelet was chiming like a clock and flashing green, then red, then green, then red… The alternating colours illuminated Draco horrified face. "It's my mother," he said, and Harry heard the panic in his voice. "I have to get to St Mungo's!"

Harry reached out and captured Draco's wrist in his hand. "It's okay!" he said. "I think she's okay!"

Draco fought him for a moment, trying to wrench his arm back, but Harry held on. "You don't know that!" Draco shouted. "How can you know that?"

"I just spoke to her!" said Harry. "She was just in my dream!"

Draco's arm went limp in Harry's grasp. "She's dead?" he gasped.

"No!" said Harry, certain of it now. "She didn't go on. She wanted to see you. She wanted to come back." He released Draco's arm. "Go get clothes on," he said. "I'll take you to the hospital. I believe she's waking up."

"Oh!" said Draco. "Bloody hell!" Then he was racing across the hall to his room to get dressed.

Harry rushed to get dressed too, and within moments, Draco was back, shirt unbuttoned, trousers pulled on over his pyjamas but not zipped, his shoes in one hand. He seemed to fling himself at Harry. Arms went around Harry's neck, and then Draco's body was pressed against Harry from knee to ear.

Harry's arms seemed to lift of their own accord to encircle Malfoy in a hug. And for the barest of instants, time seemed to stand still, and Harry held Draco in his arms and felt something slip and settle and soar inside his heart, something like a missing piece sliding irrevocably and oh so surely into place, suddenly whole.

"Go!" whispered Draco.

And Harry Disapparated, taking them both directly to the waiting room on the fourth floor.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

A little old witch in the waiting room let out a shriek when they Apparated into the room. "Sorry!" yelled Harry, but then he and Draco were running for the door to the ward. Harry knew they must look like wild men, with their clothes half-on and hair all crazy, and it never even occurred to him to stay in the waiting room and let Draco go in alone. It must not have occurred to Draco either, because he had Harry by the wrist and was dragging him along. They skidded to a stop outside Narcissa's door. Healer Pye was in the room and he was running diagnostic spells, but he was standing by the bed and Harry couldn't see Mrs Malfoy at all. Draco looked like he was suddenly afraid to go into the room, so Harry got behind him and gave him a little shove. Harry got a scowl for his trouble, but Draco went in.

"Healer Pye," said Draco, and Harry heard a quaver in his voice. "My bracelet went off. Is she okay? May we come in?"

Healer Pye turned around and beamed at Draco. "She's going to be fine. The potion did the trick! Come in!"

"Draco? Draco!" Healer Pye stepped aside and there was Narcissa Malfoy, looking very pale and worn, but sitting up. The relief in her eyes when she saw Draco was immense. Draco was at her side in a moment, sitting on the bed, and she threw her arms around his neck. "I was so sure you were dead…" she said on a sob.

"No, I'm fine, Mother," said Draco, "but it was a near thing. If it hadn't been for Potter…"

She pulled back from Draco's hug to look into his face. "Potter? Harry Potter? That's so strange. I remember something…" Then she glanced up and saw Harry standing in the doorway, and she looked shocked. "Was that real?" she whispered. "I dreamed…"

"It was real. He saw you in a dream, Mother," said Draco. "He and his house-elf – you remember Kreacher, don't you? – caught the Death Eaters that were attacking us."

Narcissa glanced back at Harry. She looked a little frightened. "Mr Potter, it seems we are in your debt…"

"No," said Harry, still standing in the doorway. "There's no debt. And Malfoy is leaving out the most important part. That he saved your life, not me. He was defending you very well when I got there. All I did was Stun them and alert the Aurors."

She turned back to Draco. "You fought them? But I thought your wand wasn't working."

Draco shrugged. "It wasn't, until I got outside and saw what they were doing to you. I was so angry and desperate for it to work; I tried to use it as hard as I could. It sparked a little and then it did work. It still doesn't work exactly right, but it was better that night."

Harry made a mental note to ask Malfoy about that later.

Narcissa was looking at Draco intently and her face was very pale. She reached out and took his hand. "What about your father?" she asked, her voice broken.

"Malfoy," Harry interrupted quietly. "I'm going to go sit in the waiting room until you're ready to go."

"Mr Potter…" Narcissa Malfoy's voice stopped him and he turned back. "Thank you."

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

They didn't stay much longer at the hospital. Healer Pye shooed Draco out, saying his mother needed to rest and sleep, that they could visit her again in the morning, that it would be a couple of days before she regained her strength enough to be released.

Harry stood up from his seat on the tattered sofa when Draco came back into the waiting room smiling, the worry of the last two weeks erased from his face. "I'm glad she's all right," said Harry.

"I told her about father and that I'm staying with you. I told her that Yaxley hasn't been caught and that we can't go home yet." He seemed to trip over the last couple of words he said, and then he sank down to sit on the sofa. "I… don't think I can go back there, after all that's happened," he said, his voice hushed. "Even if Mother is well." He looked up at Harry, dismayed. "But she can't stay there alone."

"We can talk to Andromeda," said Harry. "I'm sure she'll want to help."

Draco nodded. "I did tell Mother about Aunt Andromeda and Teddy. I'm not sure what she thought of it. Healer Pye came in just then and I had to leave."

"Right," said Harry. "Then we'll find out in the morning, okay. Are you ready to go?"

Draco took a deep breath, then stood up and took Harry's arm. "Ready," he said.

Harry Disapparated and took them back to the bedroom at Grimmauld Place. The door to his room was standing wide open and the gas lamp in the hall was lit. Harry didn't think the light had been on when they'd left, so he went downstairs to check. He found Ron and Hermione waiting nervously in the drawing room.

"Oh, Harry, what happened," said Hermione. "We heard yelling and running. And when we came upstairs you were gone."

"Malfoy's bracelet went off," said Harry. "His mother woke up. Everything's all right, you can go back to bed."

"But that's wonderful," said Hermione. "She's going to be okay?"

"She is," said Harry. "The potion worked."

"Does that mean he'll be going home, now?" asked Ron. He sounded sleepy and very hopeful.

He is home, thought Harry. A sharp ache ran through his heart at the thought of Draco leaving. "No, at least not until they find Yaxley," he said aloud. "The Manor still isn't safe. But I dunno. I think he may stay here, even after that."

Ron sighed, but Hermione smiled. "I'm actually glad," she said.

"You just like having someone to argue magical theories with," said Ron, but he was smiling fondly back at her.

"Yes, well it's not like either of you ever wanted to," she said. "But if he leaves…"

Ron and Harry exchanged a look. "I've changed my mind," said Ron. "He can stay." Then he paused and frowned at Harry. "You don't have to tell him I said that…"

Harry shook his head, amused. "I'm going back to bed," he said.

They all went upstairs and Harry continued on up to the third floor. He put out the lamp in the hall and tiptoed into the bedroom. He'd expected Draco to be already asleep, but he wasn't.

Harry got into bed and turned over to face Draco. "All right, Malfoy?" he asked softly. "I thought you'd be asleep."

"No," said Draco. "I wanted to hear your dream. When I woke you up, you said my mother had been in your dream."

"It was strange," said Harry. "I recognised the place from the first time I saw her, but I couldn't find her at first." Harry went on to tell Draco all of the dream. "She stood up finally and said she wanted to see you. Then she disappeared," he ended. "That's when you woke me up."

Draco was quiet for a long time. "I think you saved her, not the potion," he said. "The potion may have taken her as far as that place where you found her, but it was you that made her choose to come back."

Harry was watching Draco's face as he talked. Even in the dark room with only the moonlight for light, Harry could tell that Draco was struggling with some intense emotion.

"Merlin, Potter. What if you hadn't had that dream?" Draco asked. "What if you'd given them up when you had the chance?"

"I dunno," said Harry. "I think the potion might have got through to her eventually."

"No, I don't think I can believe that," said Draco. "I… Thank you, Potter. I really can't thank you enough, this time."

"It's fine," said Harry, his face going warm, and though he didn't want to let on, he was very, very touched by Draco's words. They were silent for a long moment, and then Harry remembered what Draco had said about his wand. "I heard you tell your mother that your wand worked better when you fought the Death Eaters at the Manor. Was it worse than it is now, before that?"

"When I first got home with it, I couldn't do much with it at all," said Draco, with a yawn. "That's why I was afraid to Apparate. I was sure I'd be Splinched. I still don't trust it enough for that. But it did improve during the fight."

"Hmm," said Harry, thinking hard. "Do you suppose it's choosing you again, but just not all at once? Maybe in stages?"

Draco sighed. "Maybe. I'm too tired to think about it, Potter. It's the middle of the night."

"Sorry," said Harry. "Go to sleep. We've got to be up early to go back and visit your mother, yeah?"

"Yeah," said Draco, already sounding half-asleep. "We'll have to get Father to draw a picture for her."

Harry groaned and turned over. "Oh, right," he said. "I can hardly wait."

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

The following day went by in a blur. Harry and Draco spent most of the morning at St Mungo's. Harry met Andromeda in the waiting room when she arrived that morning and he explained what had happened during the night. He took Teddy so that she could go meet her sister alone. Draco came out a few minutes later and assured Harry that his Mother had been glad and relieved to see her sister again.

Andromeda offered to take Narcissa in when she was released from the hospital since it still wasn't safe to return to the Manor. Draco protested at first that with the baby she had more than enough to deal with, but Andromeda was adamant that she had years to make up for with her sister and wanted to do it. In the end, Draco very gratefully accepted. Harry had been immensely relieved. Having Draco stay with him was one thing, but he couldn't imagine Narcissa Malfoy living in his house.

Draco took his mother down the hall to see Lucius. Later Harry saw the picture that Narcissa hung in her room: three people with yellow hair standing in a stripe of green grass under a stripe of blue sky with a fat pinwheel of a sun blazing in the corner of the page. The three people in the picture were all holding hands and it made Harry smile. Somehow, out of all the pain they'd been through, there was this bright hopeful picture.

Harry and Draco worked at Hogwarts that afternoon, and after dinner that evening, they read their books in the drawing room. Hermione was still reading Draco's first year Healer texts. Harry tried playing chess with Ron but he didn't stand a chance. His king was captured in a very short time, so he went back to studying his Auror Handbook and let Draco play. This time, Draco won and Harry was secretly glad.

All throughout the day, though, Harry caught himself looking up from whatever he was doing to watch Draco. After a moment, Draco always seemed to feel Harry's gaze and look up to meet his eyes. Sometimes, it was Harry who looked up to find Draco already watching him. And there was something now in the light grey eyes that Harry couldn't define, something that sent small electric thrill shivers through him when their eyes met.

When they finally went to bed that night, the air between them felt heavy with a vibrating, suspenseful intensity. Harry felt acutely aware of Draco's presence, that he was lying very close, though not touching, and not talking as he usually did. The room was silent and tense, dark and filled with moonlight. Gradually, as the silence stretched out, Harry relaxed. He had finally started to drift off when the whisper came out of the darkness.


Half asleep, Harry hummed softly in answer.

"Ever done it with a guy?"

Harry, sleep muddled, almost asked ever done what? but suddenly acute awareness of Draco's closeness here in his bed made his face heat with understanding and he jolted awake.

"No," he whispered. There was a long moment of silence. Harry swallowed, his throat tight. "I've never done it with anyone, Malfoy."

Fingers slid across the inside of his wrist, feather-light: a challenge – or an invitation. Then Draco's hand lay warm and alarming on Harry's forearm. Harry remembered vividly how it had felt when he'd held Draco in his arms and an involuntary thrill raced through him.

"Have you?" whispered Harry, his voice gone.


There was a smug mysteriousness in Draco's voice that made Harry grin in spite of himself. "Maybe?" he laughed, his equilibrium restored by this teasing. "You mean you don't know?"

Draco rose up on one elbow and leaned over to look down at Harry, one pale eyebrow arched. "Of course I know," he said. "I just don't want to tell."

"Er . . . if you did it with Crabbe or Goyle," replied Harry as an inner shudder of revulsion went through him, "I don't want you to tell either."

"Oh, please, Potter," said Draco with a soft snort. "Give me a little credit for taste." Then his eyes turned solemn. "Some things are meant to stay private."

So this was just talk, thought Harry, relieved that he'd misunderstood. But then Draco moved closer, his fingers sliding in a slow caress up Harry's arm, and Harry realised that he hadn't misunderstood at all.

"You can't be serious," whispered Harry, his voice catching in his throat again. He saw Draco's teeth flash white in the moonlight, a quick smile.

"It's okay. No one has to know," whispered Draco back, his fingers continuing their slow shocking progress up to Harry's shoulder. He paused, moved closer. "Just this once," he added softly, entreaty plain in his tone of voice. "I want to…" He drew in a breath. "And I've seen how you watch me. I think you want to, as much as I do."

When Draco's fingers brushed across his throat, Harry felt the shiver, whether it was in himself, or in Draco he couldn't tell, but then Draco's face was inches from his own, warm breath ghosting over his cheek. Harry opened his mouth to reply but could think of nothing to say. The truth of Draco's last statement was reeling through his mind, leaving him defenceless against the onslaught of curiosity and desire that was welling up in him.

"Just tell me to stop," whispered Draco, "and I will."

Harry moved then, his arms slipping around Draco's bare back to pull him down. "I don't want you to stop," Harry breathed.

Draco's face hovered above Harry's for a heartbeat before he lowered his head and tentatively touched his mouth to Harry's. Draco's lips were surprisingly soft. Never in his life had Harry imagined kissing Draco Malfoy, but he knew if he ever had considered it, he would never have imagined this. Not this ruthless, seductive gentleness.

Draco drew back, and their eyes met, gauging each other's reaction; the question again? and the answer yes! somehow exchanged unspoken between one breath and the next in that momentary glance. Harry's arms tightened around Draco, one hand coming up to tangle in hair that slid through his fingers like silk, as Draco's mouth found his a second time. They kissed again, long and slow.

Fleetingly, Harry thought that if kissing Ginny for the first time had felt like many sunny days, then kissing Malfoy now felt like endless nights full of sharp, white moonlight and deep, intriguing shadows; contrasts keen as a knife blade – sweet intoxicating sensations mixed with mysterious unexplored possibilities. Then all thoughts of Ginny were swept from his mind as Draco rose up and moved over to straddle Harry's hips. Desire flared, visceral and elemental between them, raw and very real. For a moment, they just held on, clinging to each other, hearts pounding, panting breath warm and shared.

A myriad of thoughts and emotions whirled through Harry's mind. No one had ever kissed him like that before. Realisation was absolutely thrumming through him, with each pounding pulse of his heart, that this, this, was what he wanted. He had no idea how long he'd wanted Malfoy – if it was only since just a few seconds ago or since forever, but he was sure. He wanted this now, had always longed for this intensity of feeling. Passion was building like heat lightning in his veins, waiting to explode, and then… then there was something… an elusive, shifting memory resurfacing… a reason he should stop… But he didn't want to stop and Draco was pressing kisses down his neck to the hollow of his throat and he couldn't think clearly.

Draco's hand slipped between them, skirting the edge of Harry's boxers, tugging the waistband down. Harry caught Draco's wrist, his clouded memory jogged. "Wait," he breathed. Ginny, he thought. Oh, Merlin. But being with Ginny had never felt like this. She had been a steadying, comforting idea he could cling to in the midst of all the chaos, a bright dream in the darkness that had surrounded him. A dream that had faded in the end into confusion and uncertainty. Her mere touch had never done to him what Draco's was doing to him now.

"Don't worry, Potter," whispered Draco, his mouth at Harry's ear. "This doesn't have to mean anything. In the morning, you can forget it ever happened."

A brief flash of disappointment ran through Harry – how could this not mean anything? But then Draco deftly twisted his wrist out of Harry's grasp and Harry was lost to all coherent thought.

Harry never knew when the aching loneliness he'd always felt inside him eased, coaxed away by the touch of strong, warm hands and the heart-catch of shy, unexpected smiles. Harry made love back, touching gently but surely, taking his time, delighting in finding places and ways of touching that made Draco moan and gasp softly and arch against the pillows. It was sweet to lose himself in Draco; to let reason slip away to be engulfed in the shared heat of what Draco could do to him, what he could do to Draco.

Then time seemed to pause, spun out and suspended in the moonlight, held forever like one endless indrawn breath until Harry felt as if he slipped over the edge of the universe, his bones turned to liquid fire. Draco held him close and he held Draco, passion weaving them together into one inarticulate cry of completion, bodies arching as one.

Then Harry, spent and sated, laid his head in the hollow of Draco's shoulder and simply held on, his heart pounding in his ears. His lips brushed across the fair, damp skin at Draco's throat. Draco shifted slightly, settling more comfortably under Harry's weight, hands sliding down to rest lightly at the base of Harry's spine.

For a moment Harry hesitated, and then said the words his heart had spoken in that fiery moment of release. "I don't want to let you go."

Harry's words wove a sudden delicate hush into the air, like a breath caught and held in anticipation. Neither of them moved for a moment. Then Draco's hands trailed up Harry's bare back with a tentative shivery gentleness, so different from their earlier urgency. "This doesn't mean anything," he said quietly, ritually, his fingers drawing slow circles and lines of secret fire between Harry's shoulder blades. "Tomorrow, you can pretend it never happened. I don't care."

But Draco's touch spoke with a silent burning eloquence and told a different tale. Harry closed his eyes, lost for a moment in the unspoken message of Draco's hands; sparks of truth laid down by each fingertip branded his skin invisibly, indelibly, sinking into bone, igniting in revelation. "Yes, you do," breathed Harry, daring to put words to that soft, exquisite touch.

The fingers stilled, silence stretched, waited, barely breathing. Draco turned his face into Harry's hair. "You shouldn't… care about me…" A whisper, barely heard, holding a question barely asked.

"I know," whispered Harry back. But I do, he thought, and caught up as he was in marvelling that such a thing could be true, he didn't realise he'd not said it out loud, nor did he hear the wistful question in Draco's voice which his unspoken words left unanswered.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

Harry woke alone the next morning. He lay for a moment, still half-asleep, missing Draco's warm comforting presence. Then with a flash that jolted him fully awake, he remembered what he and Draco had done. A second later, he remembered Ginny and a wave of panic and dismay seized him. Had he, in the heat of passion, acted like an utter fool? Had he completely ruined any chance he had to get back with Ginny? The magnitude of all he had thrown so carelessly away last night, seemed to loom huge and heartbreaking in the morning light.

He'd always wanted a family, a home, children, and he'd begun to envision having those things with Ginny. If he lost Ginny, he lost all those hopes too. He spent a long moment grappling with the pain of accepting that loss. He could no longer delude himself, though; he had to acknowledge that the Ginny of his imagination and the real-life Ginny were not the same. All of it, said the relentless voice in his head, all the hopes and dreams that he'd clung to during the last year were just that – a fantasy, something he'd made up. They were only a wish he'd wished out of loneliness, a dream that had never been based on reality.

But what moment of insanity had inspired him to latch onto Draco Malfoy instead? If he looked at things rationally, Malfoy was a risk. Harry had no idea how the future would unfold for them, or how long they would last. It would most certainly be difficult to explain to his friends, and might even cause a rift with the Weasleys, which Harry most definitely didn't want. But his heart told him now that what he'd shared with Draco last night was very real. It had felt… right. Profoundly right. It had satisfied the deep longing he'd carried inside him for what seemed like ages. So he stood now, he felt, at the brink of a life-changing choice. He could follow his head and do the expected thing; he could continue to try to work things out with Ginny, have the home, the children…

Harry gave a soft snort of a laugh to himself. The thought of that just now had made him cringe. He didn't want that. Oh, he did want children and there was a pang in his heart at the thought of giving that up, but this morning he could no longer imagine himself with Ginny. His heart had found what it wanted, and had already made its choice.

So there was no going back. His life and Malfoy's had suddenly become entangled past undoing. Well, maybe not so suddenly, Harry thought. Looking back, he could see that their lives had always been tightly intertwined. Malfoy had even been the first person his age he had met in the Wizarding world. Maybe this was simply the next step in a long sequence of events that had held them in an inescapable relationship with each other all along.

Harry smiled. It seemed he could no longer delay accepting that risk – that infuriating, fascinating, challenging, and beginning-to-be very dear risk that was Draco Malfoy in his life.

He sat up on the edge of the bed, his hand going automatically to his glasses on the bedside table, and then one more startling thought occurred to him. He remembered Teddy. And the pain he'd felt at the idea of never having children eased significantly. He recalled how he'd watched Draco smiling at the baby. Teddy was his and Draco's together in a way that Teddy would never have belonged to him with Ginny, and a light, joyous feeling rose up in his heart. And he suddenly wanted Draco back in his arms, wanted to kiss him again this morning and see how that felt.

He dressed hurriedly and ran down the four flights of stairs to the kitchen. Draco might have said they could forget what happened, but Harry didn't believe that was what Draco really wanted. And Harry was determined now that that was not going to be the case.

He found Draco alone in the kitchen, standing by the table staring into the cup of tea he held in his hands. Breakfast for everyone was already on the table, stacks of toast and plates of bacon and sausages and eggs.

"Malfoy . . ." said Harry softly. Draco glanced up at him and quickly looked away. Harry took a deep breath and tried again. "Draco." The name felt odd and unfamiliar, and intensely intimate coming from his mouth, and Harry felt the heat rise in his face.

Draco looked up again, his eyes narrowed, studying Harry carefully. "I told you," he said after a moment. "It didn't mean anything." He waved his hand, a small dismissive movement. "You don't have to pretend that it did."

"I know what you said," replied Harry, resolutely forging on with what he intended to say even while knowing and hating that fact that his face was probably going bright scarlet. He walked across the room to stand close to Draco. "But it's not true. No pretending, remember?"

Draco shrugged and took a sudden interest in the contents of his teacup. "You didn't say that last night," he said, barely louder than a whisper.

"I'm saying it now," said Harry, very softly. "Last night… meant a lot to me." It was not the most eloquent of declarations but it was as sincere as Harry could make it. "And I've realised it's not Ginny I want to be with. It's you." Draco looked up and searched Harry's eyes for a moment, unconvinced. Then a faint pink blush crept into his face and he turned away, but Harry saw the swift smile he'd tried to hide. And just as swiftly, Harry caught his arm and turned him back. The smile was a revelation. Harry smiled back.

Draco touched Harry's arm, fingers running slowly up the sleeve of Harry's jumper to the shoulder. He stood very still, head tilted slightly, a bemused expression suffusing his face as if this was too impossible to be real, that Harry allowed this blatant touch; his touch, there in the kitchen in broad daylight.

Their eyes met, and a thrill of daring sparked between them, challenging each other to risk more than this touch. Harry took Draco's teacup and set it on the table, then leaned in and kissed him. In the light of day, even in the ordinariness of the kitchen, it felt just as good, just as wonderful, as it had last night.

"Someone could walk in any minute," murmured Draco, his arms going around Harry's neck.

"I don't care," said Harry, pulling him closer and kissing him again.

This time, after the kiss ended, Draco's smile was dazzling. It completely transfigured his face into something breathtaking and Harry found himself smiling back, his heart captivated. For a split second, he was intensely conscious that he was, indeed, definitely and inexplicably, falling for this intriguing, prickly prat.

Footsteps sounded suddenly on the stairs and Draco pulled away. Draco sat down at the table just before Ron came into the kitchen. Harry could tell that Draco was trying hard to school his features into a more Ron-appropriate expression as Ron walked across the room towards them. The fact that he was failing miserably made Harry light-hearted and he laughed.

"What are you two up to now," asked Ron, suddenly suspicious.

"Nothing you need to worry about," said Harry, grinning. He sat in the chair next to Draco and snatched a good portion of the stack of toast onto his plate before Ron could get to it.

"Oh, right," said Ron, looking from Harry to Draco and back again. "Why does that make me more worried than ever?"

Draco smirked at Ron, and it wasn't a sneering kind of smirk. It was more like he'd done something brilliant and knew it, something amazing like catching the Snitch in the final of the Quidditch World Cup. Draco looked happy, and that was so new, so incredible, that Harry laughed again.

Draco turned back to Harry and their eyes met. Harry couldn't look away. He was sure he was smiling foolishly but he couldn't help it. Draco's expression wasn't much better.

Harry heard a moan from across the table. "Oh no, tell me you didn't!" gasped Ron. "Bloody hell!"

"OW!" Harry yelped. Ron's foot had connected sharply with his shin under the table.

"Please, tell me you're not shagging him," said Ron, furiously. "Harry, have you gone mad?" Then his face went so red his freckles stood out like pale spots on his face. "And what about Ginny?" he said, turning his glare from Harry to Draco. "You can't seriously be thinking of breaking up with her for this… this…"

"Slimy git?" supplied Draco. He was still smirking.

"Stop," said Harry, quietly but firmly. He quit rubbing his sore shin and faced Ron across the table. "I'm sorry, Ron," said Harry. "I didn't mean for you to find out quite like this." He took a deep breath. "You don't have to worry about me breaking up with Ginny because we never got back together. But I'll tell her. I want her to hear this from me."

Hermione suddenly appeared, sitting down next to Ron. No one had heard her come down the stairs. She looked around at all their faces one by one. Then she got that funny little knowing smile she got when she had figured something out.

"Harry's shagging Malfoy," said Ron in a tone that sounded like he was announcing the end of the world.

"I see that," said Hermione, giving Harry a quick grin. "And I heard what you said about Ginny." Then she turned to Draco. "Malfoy," she said, her expression turning deadly serious. "I know forty-seven ways to inflict pain with my wand and not all of them are spells. Hurt Harry and I promise you will find out about every single one of them. The hard way."

Draco nodded back. His eyebrows had disappeared under his fringe. "Duly noted," he said.

Ron was boggling at her. "Forty-seven," he said, incredulously. "That's all you could come up with? Forty-seven?"

"If you want to count poking his eyes out, it could be forty-eight," she said.

Ron groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "I definitely want to count that," he muttered.

"Nice," said Draco very quietly, frowning at them. "And what will you do if he hurts me?"

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Harry met Hermione's eyes across the table and saw her face go pink. He turned to Draco who was now sitting up straight, his chin up, looking back at Ron and Hermione with calm defiance, standing up for himself in the face of this seemingly solid front of opposition. Sirius flashed into Harry's mind, and the admiration he'd always felt for his godfather's resolute adherence to his own principles as the lone Gryffindor in a family of Slytherins rose up and spilled over into his feelings for Malfoy. Harry's heart did that warm little flip again, turning over with a rush of affection.

"I'm sorry, Malfoy," said Hermione. "That wasn't fair. And now that you've mentioned it, I believe I would care if he hurt you, too. So…" She cleared her throat and fixed Harry with a steely eye. "Harry, I know forty-eight ways to inflict pain with my wand. Don't give me a reason to use them on you, either!"

Harry laughed, but he knew she was serious. "I won't," he said, and she smiled at him. Then she elbowed Ron in the ribs.

"Oi!" said Ron, and he jerked his head up out of his hands. He glanced at Hermione and sighed. "Must I?" he said, and then turned to eye Malfoy across the table. They exchanged a very prolonged intense stare, like cats facing off with arched backs and bristling fur.

Hermione drew her wand and thwacked Ron on the head with it. "I have no objection to using this on you, too," she said.

"Ow!" Ron's eyebrows flew up and for a second, he looked absolutely and truly horrified. "Merlin's baggy pants, Hermione!" he exclaimed. "You wouldn't!"

"Try me," she said. The steely look was back in her eyes.

Ron turned back to Draco, but the tension of a moment ago was broken. Draco looked like he was trying hard not to laugh. Harry had barely stifled a snigger.

Ron took a deep breath. Then he surprised them all by extending his hand out over the table to Draco. "If you're with Harry," he said, "then I guess that means you're with me…" He glanced at Hermione again and she nodded. "…with us, too."

It took a second for Draco to react. He looked a little gobsmacked, but he took Ron's hand. They shook once, and Harry held his breath for a moment, waiting for the universe to explode…

"Can we eat now?" said Ron. Harry let his breath out in a soft laugh. Evidently, it wasn't the end of the world after all.

x:x x:x x:x

x:x x:x x:x

After breakfast, after Ron and Hermione had gone back upstairs, Harry sat at the kitchen table with Draco, knowing that somehow, while they'd been eating, something had crept up between them and was not right. Despite that brilliant, shining moment, before Ron had come down the stairs, when everything had seemed perfect, it was not. Draco was no longer smiling, and Harry kept mulling over something that Draco had said earlier, something that bothered him, and he was trying to work out how to ask about it.

Draco, too, seemed lost in his own thoughts, staring down into his teacup again. After a long moment of silence, he pushed the empty cup away and turned to gaze pensively at Harry. "You don't actually have to do it, you know," he said, softly.

"Do what?" asked Harry, unsettled by the doubts he saw now in the light grey eyes, eyes that only a short time ago had blazed with warmth and certainty.

"Tell her," said Draco. "You don't have to tell Ginevra Weasley, who you've been pining for, for months, what happened last night." He looked down, his eyes fixed on the top of the table. "I wasn't expecting that from you. I wasn't expecting it to mean anything to you." His voice trailed off and then he looked back up, an expression of unhappy determination on his face. "You shouldn't ruin your chances with her because of me," he said.

It was a long moment before Harry could take all of that in and respond. For a few seconds, he actually thought Malfoy was being noble, but another second's reflection told him no, that didn't fit. Noble acts of self-sacrifice weren't exactly in Malfoy's emotional repertoire. Harry searched Draco's face, trying to see through the camouflage, the pretence of Draco's uncharacteristic selflessness, to understand the unspoken meaning behind Draco's words. And then he thought he knew. Not self-sacrifice. Self-preservation.

"Draco, what are you afraid of?" asked Harry quietly.

Draco's eyes widened in surprise for a second, and a tint of colour washed across his cheekbones. "I'm not…" he started.

"No pretending," said Harry, frowning.

"I'm not pretending. I'm trying to be realistic."

"How is it realistic to keep insisting that this doesn't mean anything, when it obviously does?" This was what had continued to bother Harry. This was what he'd wanted to ask about earlier.

"I was reminding myself that it might not mean anything to you," said Draco. He paused and took a deep breath. "I wanted last night more than anything," he said. "But Granger with her funny little wand threats made me see that nothing would ever help me pick up the pieces if we start this now… and then you change your mind. So yes, if I'm afraid, it's that you'll eventually realise you've made a mistake. You'll go back to Weasley and I'll be left shattered."

"Okay, then," said Harry. "That's fair. I know this is a risk – for both of us. But I spent a long time this morning thinking about that and making a decision about what I wanted. If I tell you now that I'm very sure it isn't Ginny, will you believe me?"

"She's all you've thought about since I've been here," said Draco, but a small smile was creeping up in the corners of his mouth. "I know you were thinking about her last night. What makes you so sure this morning?" He was looking at Harry now, his eyes hopeful and expectant.

Harry gave a little laugh. "I wasn't thinking of her for long last night," he said. "And I promise you, that if I had still wanted to be with her, then what we did last night wouldn't have happened." He reached out to slide his hand around Draco's neck, and pull him closer. "As for what makes me so sure this morning, it's this…" He leaned in and kissed Draco with all the certainty and desire he had in his heart.

Draco's hands came up to cradle his face, and Harry was lost for a long moment in the sweet, astonishingly perfect rightness of kissing Draco Malfoy. "Kissing Ginny Weasley," he said, pulling back just enough to speak, "never felt like that."

Their eyes met and Draco was smiling again, and Harry saw the warmth and belief in Draco's eyes and he smiled back.

"I don't know yet," said Draco, amusement in his voice. "I might need more convincing…" He pulled Harry back into another slow ardent kiss.

Somewhere in the distance, Harry heard footsteps on the stairs and Ron calling his name, but he didn't care. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a strangled gasp and a horrified, retching groan and then muttering as footsteps went back up the stairs. He pulled out of the kiss because he had to laugh.

"I think we just gave Ron a rather nasty shock," said Harry, grinning.

"I think I've been waiting for this moment since I was eleven," said Draco, grinning back. "That was perfect."

Footsteps sounded again on the stairs and this time it was Hermione. "Ron's upstairs saying he's never going to be able to eat down here again." She gave them a wide grin. "Anyway, we're off to Hogwarts to work this morning. We'll see you there later."

"Yeah," said Harry. "We'll be there after we visit St Mungo's."

Before they left for the hospital, Harry wrote a note to Ginny saying that he had something important to tell her, and asking if he could visit her that afternoon. He sent the note with Ollie, then he Apparated with Draco to visit Narcissa.

x:x x:x x:x

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Ollie was waiting for Harry when they all returned home for lunch. Ginny's reply said she would be glad to meet with him if he could come soon. Harry grabbed a sandwich from Kreacher in the kitchen and with a quick kiss and a whispered "Good luck," from Draco, went out the front door to Apparate to the Burrow with one of the Aurors.

When Harry arrived at the Burrow, Ginny was waiting for him wearing her Quidditch practice gear. "I can't talk long," she said as she led him through the house and out the back door. "I had already made plans when I got your owl. Ollie's such a sweetheart..." She took Harry to sit on the bench at the foot of the garden again. "No one can eavesdrop on us out here," she said. "Mum's visiting Auntie Muriel, but you never know who might be sneaking around." She flashed Harry a quick grin, then sobered. "I have something to tell you, too."

"Okay," said Harry, curious and feeling like he'd been handed a momentary reprieve. "You first, then."

"I've found out that the Holyhead Harpies are looking for a back-up Seeker," she said without preamble. "I'm going to try out for it. If I get it, I'm not going back to school." She sounded determined and a little defiant. "Mum will have a fit, of course, and blame George for being a bad example, but it's what I love. It's what I want to do more than anything." She looked up at Harry now and there was a pleading look in her light brown eyes. "I'm hoping you can understand that. I hoping that you'll back me up this time with Mum."

It took Harry a moment to wrap his mind around all the implications of Ginny's announcement. His first thought was relief, that this might mean she was ending things between them herself, that she wouldn't be as hurt by his news as he'd feared. Also, he knew he'd let her down before by not standing up for her with Molly, and though he hated to be pulled into the middle of a conflict between them, he was not going to refuse to support her again.

"If I don't get the position," Ginny went on, still looking hopefully at Harry, "it will just be our secret, okay? I'll go back to school and Mum doesn't have to know."

"Okay," said Harry. "If you get it, I'll talk to Molly. And if you don't, I won't tell anyone." Then he grinned. "But you'll be great!" he said, and meant it. "I wish you the best of luck!"

She beamed at him and put her arms around his neck. "Thank you!" she whispered.

She laid her head on his shoulder and he put his arm loosely around her because this was still Ginny and he still cared, but he was suddenly acutely aware that it wasn't the same any more. He felt a small ache in his chest for that loss.

Ginny straightened up after a moment, tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked at him expectantly. "Okay," she said. "Now you. What did you want to tell me?"

Harry hesitated, uncertain again where they stood with each other, if they were together or not, and how hurt she was going to be when she found out what he'd done.

"Harry," she insisted softly. "Tell me."

He hesitated again. "It isn't something you'll want to hear," he said finally.

She took a deep slow breath. Harry felt her shift away from him slightly before she spoke again. "Tell me anyway," she said. "It sounds like something I need to know."

"It is," he said. Suddenly, faced with having to tell her this, he was deeply reluctant. Technically, they'd been broken up all year, and he thought they still were, but he couldn't escape the feeling that even so, he had violently betrayed her trust. It was going to be so hard to tell her that –

"You don't have to protect me," Ginny said quietly, breaking into his thoughts as if she could read his mind. "I would rather know the truth – whatever it is."

With a sigh, Harry nodded. "I know. I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't want to hurt you. I don't quite know how it happened. But I…" He paused, and swallowed at the lump in his throat, and then the words tumbled out in a whispered rush, like a dam breaking. "I'm involved with someone else."

She drew away from him. "Who?"

"Draco," said Harry.

"Draco," repeated Ginny, confusion sounding in the barely audible word. "Malfoy?"

"Yes," said Harry. "He's been living with me since Death Eaters attacked him and his parents right after the battle at Hogwarts. His parents were seriously injured and I'm helping him with them. He's helping me with restoring my house. We've talked a lot… and forgiven a lot. The rest just happened."

He watched her brown eyes shift through surprise and protest and reproach to realisation. She drew in a sharp breath and Harry knew she'd understood everything he hadn't said. "And you believe you can trust him now?" she asked. "You believe he actually cares about you?"

"I'm sure of it."

"But what about his parents? How can you help them, Harry, after everything they did to hurt us?"

"I don't expect you to understand about his father after what Lucius did to you," said Harry. "I was too angry at first to agree to help him, too. But he was completely Obliviated, Gin. He has no memory at all." Harry explained a little about what they hoped to do, and how the Healers thought Lucius's memories might be altered. "But his mother saved my life," he told her. "I wanted to help her and I'm glad she's going to be okay."

Ginny seemed to consider all he told her carefully. "I think the most important question is if being with him makes you happy, Harry."

"Yeah," said Harry. "Surprisingly, it does. When we're not fighting," he added with a wry smile. "But we're working on that."

"I can't even imagine it," she said with a snort of a laugh. "I guess I'll have to see it to believe it." Then she frowned and poked Harry in the chest with one finger. "But you tell Malfoy that if he steps one toe out of line, I'll find him and hurt him," she said, her face fiercely protective.

"Hermione has already threatened him sufficiently," said Harry laughing. "But that's good to know."

"All right, then," said Ginny with a smile and a decisive nod. Then she sighed and laid her hand on Harry's arm. "It really is over between us, isn't it?" she asked softly.

Affection and admiration for her rose up inside him and he drew her back into his arms for a hug. He remembered how he'd always loved the way she fit under his chin, and it was strange now to realise that the fit seemed odd and inadequate. But he did still care for her – would always care for her. "I am sorry we didn't work out, Gin," he whispered into her hair, breathing in that sweet, flowery scent he'd always loved for perhaps the last time. Then he let her go. "We're still okay, though, yeah? As friends?" he asked. "I don't want to lose you completely."

"We're good," she said, and though her voice quivered a little, her eyes were shining and sure. "We're family, Harry. That's forever."

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When Harry returned from the Burrow, he found Draco and Hermione sitting on the sofa in the drawing room studying Draco's Healing textbooks. Ron, he noted with amusement, had set up his chessboard and was watching Hermione and Draco with a mixture of abject boredom and longing on his face, obviously still waiting for Draco to finish talking to Hermione and play another game with him. It made Harry intensely glad to see that his friends had not only accepted Draco's company here, but actually seemed to be enjoying it as well.

"This is fascinating," Hermione was saying. "I'd never realised how much research went into these Healing theories and spells."

They all looked up as Harry walked into the room. Ollie gave an excited twitter and bobbed at Harry, so he walked over to the owl and stroked his head. Harry was aware that they were all watching him, intently curious to know what had happened at the Burrow.

Ron stood up, frowning in concern. "All right, Harry?" he asked. "Is Ginny all right?"

Harry tried to look serious, but seeing them all there getting along so well, coupled with the relief he felt over his talk with Ginny, meant that he couldn't keep up the pretence more than a couple of seconds. He looked up from Ollie and grinned.

Harry's gaze had gone straight to Draco and their eyes met for a moment. Draco gave him a brilliant smile and a satisfied nod.

"More than all right," said Harry, turning to Ron. "It's okay. She's fine. She said we're family, and we're both very happy to leave things at that." He wondered if Ron would approve of what his sister was up to at this very moment, but he would keep her secret.

Ron sighed. "All right, then," he said. "But, you know I was just getting used to the idea of you and her, and now…" He sank back into his chair, waving his hand helplessly in Draco's direction, evidently overcome by remembering who Harry was with now. Harry walked over to the table, thinking that he might offer to play a game of chess with Ron, since Draco was busy studying.

Just then, Ollie let out a soft, hoarse cry and they all looked up to see a strange screech owl landing on the sill of the open window with an envelope in its beak. It hopped in, flew to Draco and dropped the envelope in his lap, then circled and zoomed back out the window. "For me?" said Draco, surprised. "Who…?" He picked up the letter and turned it over. It appeared to be official Ministry stationery, addressed only to Draco Malfoy.

Harry came to the sofa and sat down next to Draco. "Go on, then," he said. "Maybe it's about the donations your father promised. Shacklebolt probably assigned someone to follow up on that."

Draco nodded and opened it, pulling out a folded sheet of paper. When he unfolded it, there was no writing on it at all. Instead, a small gold coin fell out.

Harry, whose hands were free, reached out purely by reflex and caught it before it landed in Draco's lap. Immediately, he felt as if a hook behind his navel had jerked him violently forward, the unmistakeable sensation of a portkey. He heard Hermione scream his name; for one split second, he saw the puzzled look on Draco's face turn to alarm, then he was spun away, alone.

He landed hard, in total darkness. There was a dank, musty smell that he knew almost at once. He drew his wand. "Lumos," he whispered. The light from his wand illuminated a low-ceilinged, underground room. The escape-proof cellar at Malfoy Manor.

For a moment, Harry felt raw fury rise up in his throat. This trap had obviously been intended for Draco, and there was no question in Harry's mind that it was Yaxley who was responsible. Harry remembered how Kreacher had felt something was not right here. Yaxley must still be at the Manor, hidden in a way that the Aurors had not been able to detect, but that a house-elf could. And realising that, Harry remembered something else. Something he was sure Yaxley did not know, and a wide, exultant grin spread over his face.

"Kreacher," he said softly, aloud.

A heartbeat later, there was a loud crack and Kreacher was with him. "Master Harry!"

"Shhh," cautioned Harry. "I'm sure we don't have much time. Go home and tell Mr Draco I'm okay and that I'm in the cellar at the Manor. Tell him to let the Aurors outside the house know, and say that Yaxley is probably here too. Then come straight back to me. Can you do that?"

"Yes, Master Harry," whispered the elf. "Kreacher can!"

"And Kreacher," said Harry. "When you come back… bring the sword."

Kreacher gave Harry a ferocious, gleeful grin. "Yes, Master Harry!" he said.

Stealthy footsteps could be heard, then, crossing the floor above them. "Hurry!" whispered Harry, and with another crack, Kreacher was gone. The footsteps paused, then they ran, and a moment later, the door flew open and Yaxley stood at the foot of the stairs, silhouetted in the light of the open doorway, his wand drawn.

"You!" he snarled, when he saw Harry. Then he laughed. "Better," he said. "Even better."

"Yaxley," said Harry calmly, his wand pointed directly at Yaxley's chest. "You should surrender now, before you get hurt."

Yaxley took a step towards Harry, a scowl on his brutish face. "Oh no," he said, his voice derisive. "You've been a thorn in everyone's side since the day you were born. I'm going to finish you and leave you here in this cellar to rot. No one will know what's happened to their precious hero."

"Is that what you had planned for Draco?" asked Harry. Cold fury rose up in him again, but he contained it. "Were you going to kill him first or just let him die down here, alone in the dark?" He wanted to keep Yaxley talking to give Kreacher and the Aurors time to get here.

"The Malfoys were traitors," said Yaxley. "Narcissa betrayed the Dark Lord. She's going to pay for that with her son's life."

"Not if I can help it," said Harry. He was watching Yaxley very carefully, his wand poised and ready to counter any attack.

Yaxley laughed again. "You're not in a position to help anyone, Potter. You can't escape from this room, and you will die here. Now or later, it doesn't matter."

"I'm not afraid to die," said Harry. "But what makes you think you can kill me? What makes you think you can do what Voldemort himself could never do?"

Harry saw Yaxley's wand arm falter and drop a little at that and he smiled to himself. "There's a flaw in the wards on this room that you don't know about," he said, pressing on, trying to throw Yaxley off balance. "I can escape from this room. I've done it before."

"Impossible," Yaxley sneered. "I helped the Dark Lord ward this room myself when we took Ollivander. It was not difficult to alter the design enough to let that portkey through. But no one can Apparate in or out of here."

"Ah," said Harry. "But you're wrong. There's something you and Voldemort failed to consider. It's your own arrogance that has betrayed you now." Merlin! he thought. Where was Kreacher? What was taking so long? He was fast running out of conversation here…

But then as if in answer to his very thought, crack! Kreacher was back. And Draco was with him, his wand drawn and instantly pointed at Yaxley. Kreacher raised the carving knife over his head, showed all his sharp, grey teeth, and snarled. Harry had never heard the elf make such an eerie, menacing sound and it raised the hairs on the back of his neck.

Yaxley looked completely unnerved. He took a step back, then turned and ran.

Instantly, Harry cast the Anti-Disapparation Jinx he'd learned from his book. He heard Yaxley grunt and knew his spell had hit true. Draco was already running for the door, and Harry took off too, hard on his heels. The second that Draco passed through the doorway and out of the wards, he Apparated. Harry ran up the stairs to find Draco blocking the far end of the hallway, facing off with Yaxley, his wand levelled at Yaxley's chest. Harry ran up behind, his wand also trained on the Death Eater. They had him cornered between them.

"He's mine!" shouted Draco.

"You? Ha!" said Yaxley, and there was harsh contempt in his voice. "The Dark Lord had no use for you. You're nothing but a snivelling coward."

"That was before you hurt my mother, you bastard," said Draco fiercely. He looked like an avenging angel standing tall and fearless in the corridor. "I wanted to fight you before," he said, "but I thought staying alive was more important than what I believed was right. Not anymore. I'm not afraid to fight you now!"

The hawthorn wand shot red sparks and Draco's eyes widened slightly, then a triumphant grin appeared on his face.

A leap of joy shot through Harry and he knew! The wand chooses the wizard! The hawthorn wand had chosen Draco again!

"Expelliarmus!" shouted Draco and Yaxley's wand flew in a high arc overhead.

"Incarcerous!" shouted Harry. Blue-green ropes shot from the tip of his wand and wrapped around Yaxley, tripping him as he tried to run so that he fell, bound and struggling, to the floor.

There was another crack! and Kreacher was suddenly standing over Yaxley, his bloody victory sword poised over the Death Eater's heart.

"Kreacher, no!" yelled Harry, appalled. He ran to Kreacher's side. Draco was there a split second later.

Kreacher looked up at Harry and deep disappointment showed on his face. "Just a little stab, Master Harry," he begged. "One little stab for Miss Cissy."

Yaxley wriggled and struggled on the floor. "Keep that vile creature away from me!" he bellowed.

"You shut up!" said Harry. "The only vile creature here is you!" Then he turned to Kreacher and lowered his voice. "I can't let you stab him now, Kreacher, even if he does deserve it."

"Oh, what utter rubbish!" said Draco. "Here, let me." And in one swift motion he brought his foot down hard on Yaxley's face, stomping on his nose. Yaxley yelled something inarticulate. Blood spurted everywhere. "That's for Miss Cissy," said Draco decisively.

Kreacher raised the sword over his head and did a little victory dance, chanting in his deep croaking voice, "Mr Draco, Mr Draco, Mr Draco…"

Harry's eyes rolled up to the ceiling for a second. Then he looked back at the old elf and had to suppress a grin. "Kreacher," he said patiently, genuine affection in his voice, "would you please go home and let Hermione and Ron know we're all okay?"

Kreacher stopped dancing and bowed low to Harry. "Yes, Master Harry!" he said, and with a crack, he and his victory sword were gone.

Harry gave Draco a look. "What if the Aurors ask about that?" he said, motioning to Yaxley's broken nose.

"What?" said Draco with a sly smile. "We both saw him fall on his face when you Incarcerated him, didn't we?"

Harry snorted a laugh. "And where are the Aurors, by the way? Didn't Kreacher tell you to send the Aurors?"

Draco looked amused. "Granger and Weasley were going to send the Aurors," he said. "But I asked them to give me a ten minute head start. There was quite a… er… disagreement over that." He grinned. "They gave in, though, when they saw Kreacher with his sword." Draco put his arms around Harry's neck. "And I'm guessing the Aurors will be here at any moment, so…" He leaned in and kissed Harry long and hard.

There was a garbled moan from Yaxley on the floor. "You are fucking kidding me," he muttered.

They ignored him completely.

One long glorious kiss later, the front door to Malfoy Manor was blown off its hinges. Ten Aurors invaded the place, Minister Shacklebolt himself leading the way. Harry and Draco pulled reluctantly apart as the Aurors streamed into the hallway, wands drawn for battle.

Kingsley took one look at the scene before him and burst out laughing. "Higgins, Jenkins," he said. "Take the prisoner in. The rest of you, go back to duty." The sound of eight Aurors Disapparating filled the hallway, like firecrackers going off at close range. A moment later, Yaxley disappeared with the two assigned to take him in. Kingsley walked up to Harry and Draco and shook his head. "Why am I not surprised," he said. "Harry, well done!"

"It was Draco this time, sir," said Harry. "He disarmed Yaxley. I only tied him up." Harry gave Kingsley a brief report of all that had happened – except for the part where Draco had stomped on Yaxley's nose.

Kingsley turned an appraising eye on Draco and again, Harry saw that Kingsley's opinion of Draco had risen several more notches. Kingsley clapped his large hand down on Draco's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Well done to you, then, Mr Malfoy!" he said. "Excellent teamwork!" He gave Draco a little shake. "Have you ever considered becoming an Auror?"

Draco turned pink. "I'm thinking of becoming a Healer, sir," he said.

Shacklebolt beamed at him. "You can do both, you know," he said. "The Healer Corps of the Aurors is the most elite branch of the MLE."

"Oh," said Draco, his eyes sparking with interest. "You mean like the mediwizards that took my mother to St Mungo's the night we were attacked?"

"Exactly!" said Kingsley. "You give that some thought. Harry is coming to talk to me soon about starting training. If you think you're interested, come along with him. We'll talk." He released Draco and smiled at both of them.

"I think Yaxley knows some kind of advanced Disillusionment Charm," said Harry. "My house-elf sensed it, but the Aurors that checked here didn't. I'm sure he's been in and out of here the entire time we've been looking for him, waiting to see if Draco would come home. That's probably how he got away from the Great Hall after the battle at Hogwarts, too."

"Well spotted, Harry. We'll ask about that when we question him," said Kingsley. "If that's true, it would be a very useful spell for the Auror Department to know." He took a step back. "Sorry about your door," he said to Draco. "I'll have a repair crew out here shortly to fix it." Then he was gone with a sharp crack!

Draco put his arms around Harry's neck again and his head down on Harry's shoulder. "Take me home, Harry," he said.

A quiet thrill ran through Harry, for not only had Draco called him Harry, Draco had called Grimmauld Place home. Then he laughed. "You great fraud," he said, as his arms came up to hold Draco. "You don't need me. You're obviously completely capable of Apparating by yourself."

"No, I'm not," said Draco. He held up his left pinkie-finger so that Harry could see it. A tiny notch was missing from his fingernail. "Splinched," he said. "I may never Apparate again. You'll have to take me everywhere."

Harry laughed again. "But you've got the wand back, haven't you? I saw it spark."

"Yes," said Draco. He lifted his head to look into Harry's eyes. Harry saw quiet joy and confidence in the light grey eyes and that made him smile. "It's feels like its old self again," said Draco. "Maybe better. It's perfect."

"In that case," said Harry, tightening his arms around Draco, "I think it's your turn to take me."

Draco smirked at him.

"Er… home," said Harry, and he felt his face go warm. "Take me home, I meant."

"I can do both," said Draco. There was a soft, hopeful quality in his voice that went straight to Harry's heart.

"Oh," said Harry. "Oh, yeah." He grinned back at Draco's smile. "Go!"

And Draco took them both home.

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