A.N.: Sorry for the delay but look: Biggest. Chapter. Yet! I kid thee not! There are so many things happening in this chapter but I just couldn't find a good way to end it. The spot where I actually did end it didn't satisfy me much either, but going on after twenty-two pages was too much.
On a different note, this story had surpassed four thousand reviews. I couldn't believe my eyes! I was coughing all week, but at least I had that! You guys rock!
I hope you'll like this chapter too and don't forget to review!
Disclaimer; I own nothing but the joy of writing this story and the utter disgrace my spelling mistakes bring me (disgrace on me, disgrace on my cow, etc.). All characters, except my OCs, belong to J. K. Rowling.
Adrian could do as he wished. He had other things to take care of first before he dealt with his twin's hissy fit. Voldemort was back; how he had managed that was still a mystery. The war was beginning. And Harry vowed to find his way through it and come out the other side alive. Adrian was right, in a way. He was the younger brother; always the one that was though of last, the spare Potter, even to Voldemort up until that very night. A plan he had come up with when he was seven remerged in his mind; he would have to ask his father's help of course, but it would be a beginning. His path was now set; all that was left was to follow it.
Adrian was given a bill of clear health the very next morning, being urged not to overexert himself by a stern Madame Pomfrey. Harry, for once, was happy to see him go. All things considered, he should probably find him and curse him something awful the moment he laid eyes on him. He had half a mind to scream abuse at him but there was another part of him that wanted to return to Silbreith at once. Last night had brought to mind something he hadn't thought for over eight years but now there it was once more; and if he wanted for the plan to work, he had a lot of things to do the moment he returned home. Then there was the small, insignificant nuisance that was Voldemort, he thought sarcastically.
The man had seemingly risen from the dead and Harry had no clue as to how he had managed to pull that of. For one, he thought, he should not have survived the killing curse in the first place. Harry was far from stupid; he had seen the memory of that Halloween night, seven years ago with Merlin's aid. And while he was doubtful of ever being able to reproduce a shield strong enough to deflect the killing curse, he was quite certain it had worked just as any other fully functional shielding spell of its type did. Harry closed his eyes and recalled the basic information on shielding spells, from one of the very first books he had read on the subject.
Though many would attempt to classify shielding spells in various separate categories regarding the spells and curses they block, their size or time duration, when examining the end result they produce, there are two kinds of magically conjured shields; those that absorb the spell or curse they block and those that deflect it. The first category consisted of shields that lasted longer and were more durable, usually for as long as the caster's magic held, but had the drawback of disabling any form of counterstrike. The second category, included shields that could only withstand a finite amount of hits, usually low, but allowed counterattacking in the form of deflecting the offensive curses they blocked back to the original caster. If the shield was cast correctly, the rebounded curse would be of the same form and power as the original spell or curse or, as it happened with particularly strong shields, it would be even stronger than the original.
The green eyed wizard knew for certain that the involuntary shield that had saved his life as an infant belonged in the second category. And it had been certainly cast correctly if one judged from the fact that, well, he was still breathing air. Bottom line, Voldemort should have died that night. He should have been nothing but bones and a terrible memory by now. Yet Harry had seen him lose his body but somehow cling to life, managing even to return to full strength.
"He managed to create a blood ritual for that," Harry murmured in the empty room. Fleur had vacated the hospital wing before he had woken -Fleur had left him a note that she would return to see him later that afternoon when Madame Pomfrey permitted it- while Mad-Eye and Victor -who had sustained more wounds than the other three champions put together- had been removed to St. Mungo's a few hours ago for further monitoring. Harry sighed and tried to find a comfortable position on the bed as he replayed the events of last night in his mind. His ribs protested, the area around the wound still tender, even though Madame Pomfrey had healed them after his body had replenished enough blood to undergo the procedure. Images of Voldemort emerging from the cauldron replayed in his mind but all they managed was to bring back the terror he had felt and no obvious answer to his question. How had Voldemort survived?
"Ready for your last blood replenishing potion?" The school's nurse asked, approaching Harry with yet another cup of the red liquid.
"Would it make any difference if I wasn't?" Harry asked, massaging his temples. He needed to talk with Severus immediately; his father would probably be able to help him sort his thoughts out. The problem was, the potions master had yet to return to the hospital wing. From what Harry had gathered from random conversations he had caught snippets off when McGonagall had arrived to collect Moody, things weren't going very well with the announcement of Voldemort's return. Fudge seemed to be denying the very possibility of it actually happening and Harry would have to wait for his father before he found out anything. Because, apparently, his Head of House thought he was only a child and thus should not be bothered with the new developments concerning the return of a certain Dark Lord he had fought against less than twenty four hours ago.
"Not really, Mr. Potter." Madame Pomfrey stated, handing Harry the cup. Harry sighed and drunk the offered potion, wishing he could just leave the infirmary and found out what was happening out there. As it turned out, he would have to wait for half an hour before his father entered the hospital wing, looking mutinous.
"Idiots!" Severus exclaimed, plopping on the chair next to Harry's bed. "Each and every one of them!"
"I presume talking to Fudge didn't go very well." Harry said, lifting his body in a sitting position.
"How that man ever managed to get elected escapes me!" The potions master stated, hiding his face in his palms.
"Professor Snape!" Madame Pomfrey's voice echoed in the room as the witch in question walked towards the potions master, a stern expression on her face. "Mr. Potter is on bed rest and visiting hours don't start until four! That's two hours from now, professor!"
"In light of recent events," Severus said, looking at the nurse with tired eyes, "I would ask for your understanding." Madam Pomfrey regarded him for a few seconds before sighing and nodding her head in agreement.
"Fine." She acquiesced. "But I would prefer you didn't distress Mr. Potter further, Severus."
"How much more distressed can I get?" Harry asked rhetorically, causing the nurse to tut at him before returning to her office. Severus looked around the room before pulling out his wand and casting a few choice spells to ensure their privacy.
"It's not perfect, but it'll have to do for now." He said, turning his gaze towards his son. "I think you'd better come over my office later tonight to tell me exactly what happened last night."
"I suppose." Harry offered, deflating slightly at the inability to get everything out of his chest just yet.
"How much worse can it have gone than what I've imagined?" Severus wondered, placing his hand on Harry's shoulder.
"He knows. Voldemort knows." Harry answered simply. Severus' eyes widened as he stood frozen, looking at his son as if he might disappear. In a swift movement he had moved forward and enveloped his son in his arms, trying to assure himself that Harry was truly there and comfort him as much as he could.
"I'm going to kill that man." The potions master stated, still not letting go of his son.
"Get in line." Harry muttered, his voice coming muffled from somewhere next to Severus' shoulder. "Dad, air."
"Oh, sorry about that." Severus apologised, not sounding very much repentant.
"So, how did it go with the Minister?" Harry asked eventually, smiling fondly at his father.
"It didn't." Severus spat, fuming. "He refuses to even consider the notion Voldemort could be back." Harry blinked a few times owlishly, trying to come to terms with the latest developments.
"Why?" The green eyed wizard managed to utter, not quite understanding the Minister's reaction.
"He doesn't want to face it. Voldemort's return means war and Fudge doesn't want to go down in history as the Minister that allowed the Dark Lord to return." Severus explained, inwardly cursing the stupidity of one Cornelius Fudge.
"So he'd rather go down in history as the man that allowed the magical community of this country, maybe of the whole of Europe, to go down without a fight?" Harry asked, feeling his headache making a vicious return. "How in the world are we supposed to fight in this war, let alone win it, if the majority of our community doesn't even know it's happening?"
"Fudge will not be easily swayed in this; he had always feared Dumbledore coveted his post. Having him announce that Voldemort is back and asking him to take action has spoken to every paranoid theory he has ever had." The potions master explained. "During the first war it was Dumbledore that moved the strings and quite right too; the previous Minister had been murdered alongside her family and Voldemort had full control of the Ministry; if we had been left at the hands of the likes of Fudge, we'd have been doomed. Fudge believes that Dumbledore's aiming to bring things back to where they were during the war."
"That's ridiculous!" The green eyed wizard protested. "Dumbledore is many things, but an aspiring Minister of Magic is not one of them. From what I understand, had he wished it, he would have become Minister right after the war. What if I show Fudge my memory of last night or, at least, the part with Voldemort's return?" Harry wondered, trying to come up with a way out of this
"Dumbledore has already offered that for you." Severus stated, gritting his teeth, obviously annoyed that the Headmaster felt it was his place to offer his son's memories freely. "Fudge claimed they would be fabricated."
"What?" Harry exclaimed, his fists slamming on the mattress in anger. "Is he such a moron? Fabricating a memory that lasts over a minute is night impossible to do and, even with memories that last less than that, the deception should be obvious!"
"Not if the memory was planted." Severus explained, running a hand through his hair.
"He thinks Dumbledore has messed with my mind so much as to implant a memory?" Harry asked incredulously. "That's a serious accusation to make so easily."
"Which was what I reminded him, while your godfather tried to stop James from hexing the man." Severus offered. "He seemed less reluctant to make open accusations after remembering just whom he would involve in such a scandal."
"What if we go to somebody else with the memory?" Harry asked, willing his headache away. "Someone with sway in the Wizegamont, perhaps?"
"The only person that holds more sway over the Wizegamont than Fudge at the moment is Lucius Malfoy." The potions master said, causing Harry to fall back to his pillows in exasperation, cursing his bad luck once again. An image of Draco, laughing at something his brother had said popped into his mind, managing to depress him further. Was any aspect in his life not complicated?
"So, our two choices are an obstinate fool and a Death Eater?" The green eyed wizard asked, knuckles pressed over closed eyes.
"In theory, there's also Amelia Bones." Severus amended.
"Susan Bones' mother?" Harry wondered out loud, remembering the shy, kind Hafflepuff.
"Yes. She's much more capable than Fudge, if you ask me, but she can do very little if the Minister and Malfoy are against her. And don't forget, the Ministry has the press on their side." The potions master said.
"Do you think they'll use the press against us?" Harry inquired, honestly not doubting that Fudge would dare do something like that.
"He could make our lives hard," Severus admitted, "but I don't think he would dare declare war openly. Had it been solely Dumbledore and Adrian involved, he might have. But both James and Lily have friends in the Ministry and so do Lupin and Black." The potions master smirked. "Then there's the two of us to consider; you are Harry Potter, Triwizard Champion and wealthy broomsmith and I just got awarded the Order of Merlin First Class. Not to mention we're two of the few wizards that are in amiable terms with the goblins."
"So you're saying it could have been worse." Harry stated, pondering on what his father had said.
"Much worse." Severus agreed, nodding emphatically. "The Daily Prophet is heavily influenced by the Ministry -it has been ever since the end of the war- and the primary source of information in the country. As things stand now, Fudge is in place to keep Voldemort's return a secret but can only do so much to actually turn the public eye against us."
"But he would have done so, if he could." Harry said; the current conversation did nothing to abate his urge to curse something to oblivion.
"Undoubtedly." The potions master supplied. "I still think he'll try; Dumbledore will take the burnt, mostly. Perhaps Adrian too. Maybe the whole Rita Skeeter debacle from last March and the following law suit will hold him back on that front until he feels truly cornered. I honestly don't know."
"Perhaps Adrian will benefit from his self-assurance being knocked down a peg." Harry muttered. Severus looked at his son in complete befuddlement; though the Potter twins had never truly been close, Harry had gone to extreme lengths just to ensure Adrian's safety.
"Did something happen between you and Adrian?" He asked, deep down knowing that it had; for Adrian's sake, he hoped the older Potter twin hadn't pushed Harry to his breaking point. Still, caring for his son immeasurably more than he did for Adrian, he had decided that, had his twin truly pushed Harry to his limits, he would support his son's future choice of action, whichever that would be. It took a lot for Harry to snap and, if Adrian had managed it, he was worth the repercussions.
"I believe you should go now, Severus!" Madame Pomfrey interrupted them, walking in the room, a tray of food in her hands. "Harry has to eat and rest for a few hours." Severus cursed inwardly, lifting the spells he had placed around his son's bed, while Harry fell back onto his pillows with a huff.
"If you say so, Poppy." Severus muttered, standing up so that the nurse could approach Harry with his food.
"Mr. Potter will be discharged after he sleeps for a few more hours." Madame Pomfrey announced, taking note of their annoyance.
"Alright then." The potions master agreed. "I'll leave you to it. I have to attend some urgent matters till late this afternoon, actually" He added, looking pointedly at his son before turning around and walking out of the room; lovely, the green eyed wizard thought. He would have to wait till nightfall before he could speak to his father again. Harry ate with little appetite, knowing that if he didn't, Madame Pomfrey would find a way to keep him on bed rest indefinitely.
At four o'clock sharp, the doors to the infirmary burst open to reveal Fleur. She ran straight to Harry's bed and, upon reaching it, kissed him for all he was worth. It took Harry a few seconds to restart his brain before he was able to do something more than smile stupidly.
"Nice to see you're alright." He finally said, instantly wincing and berating himself for the words that had left his mouth. 'Nice to see you're alright,' he inwardly repeated; smooth, Potter.
"And you too." She said sniffling, her voice coming muffled from where her face was pressed against Harry's chest. "Don't ever do that to me again, 'arry! Never!"
"I shall try not to." Harry assured her, smiling slightly.
"And congratulations on winning the Tournamnet. You deserve it." Green eyes widened at her proclamation and not because she thought he deserved to win. He had completely forgotten he had actually won.
"I almost forgot. There's that, I suppose." He muttered. Fleur turned her eyes at him, her expression perplexed.
"You forgot?" She asked, seemingly afraid he had hit his head along with everything else. "'ow could you forget?" The sinking feeling in his chest returned; nobody had told her of Voldemort's return yet. Harry knew that, during the first war, France too had been affected by the Dark Lord's plans of supremacy; Fleur should know. Everybody should be warned.
"Fleur there's… There's something you should know." And he told her of Voldemort's return, everything save from his conversation with the Dark Lord and his status as the boy who lived. Fleur got paler and paler, her lips trembling, her hands clutching his shirt tighter.
"'Arry… Is this for real?" She asked, shaking her head once. "Is 'e really back?"
"I fear it is." He said, his expression sober; there really was no sweetening the pill with this one.
"But he can't… he is…" Harry simply shook his head negatively. "Oh, Harry!" She exclaimed and hugged him again, body trembling as the magnitude of what had happened last night crushed onto her.
"It's…" He wanted to tell her it was alright. Or that it would be at least. But even if the words floated in his head he couldn't turn them into sentences, at least, not into lies. "It's going to be difficult." He said in a soft voice. "Very difficult and very dangerous. As it was fifteen years ago. But I haven't lost hope yet." I can't afford to, he added mentally. "I hope you won't either." He felt more than saw her nod and like that they stayed, for a few more minutes until Madame Pomfrey returned for Harry's final check-up.
"I'll go write to my family, 'Arry." Fleur said, smiling softly at him before leaning in for a kiss, ignoring the school's nurse that not-so-subtly cleared her throat behind them. Harry shook his head exasperatedly; Madame Pomfrey was an amazing nurse but seemed to have the worst timing in history.
He finally managed to leave the infirmary at five that afternoon, thanking the nurse for her help; he knew he should have shown his appreciation more, especially remembering that a few hours ago he had been carried into the room bleeding, his ribs broken and in pain. Lost in his own thoughts, he walked all the way to the Gryffindor Tower, moving through hidden passageways, not wanting to run into anybody before it was absolutely necessary. All hopes of finding some peaceful and quiet place to think until it was time to visit his father were soon extinguished from his heart as he stepped foot into the Common Room. The roaring noise alone was enough to have him taking a step backwards.
Banners had been placed all over the walls. There was food from the kitchens abound. Fred and George had set of some of their special fireworks and the whole House was cheering and applauding. Ron and Hermione looked as if they hadn't slept last night. Adrian was clapping too, not overly enthusiastic and avoiding to look his twin in the eyes. Neville was the only one that was looking at Harry apologetically.
"Here's our champion!" Two identical voices chorused as the Weasley twins pulled him inside the room. Harry smiled slightly -hoping his reaction didn't look too forced- and walked around the room, being congratulated for his victory.
"Sorry for that." Neville muttered as he finally managed to approach his brother. "I tried to tell them that you might be too tired for this -I didn't want to spread mass panic with mentioning, well, you know what, out of the blue- but Fred and George wouldn't have it."
"It's alright, Nev." Harry assured him, smiling his first true smile since he had entered the Common Room. Adrian passed by them, still not looking at his twin. Hermione followed him out of the room, her expression half annoyed, half apologetic, while Ron clearly glared at them.
"Did I miss something?" Neville asked, feeling a sudden impulse to curse that glare off Ron's face.
"Adrian being a jerk, honestly." The green eyed wizard stated, wincing as Lee approached them, eager to find out what had happened inside the maze; it seemed as if the Universe did not wish him to have a decent conversation on that day of all days. Still, he started talking, explaining what he had faced during the Third task, finishing his narration the moment he touched the Cup.
"And then you were transported back to the entrance of the maze?" A first year student Harry vaguely recalled as Romilda Vaine asked.
"I wish." Harry answered, sighing silently.
"Then what happened, mate?" George asked, his attention completely focused on the narration.
"I believe the Headmaster will probably want to tell you personally." Harry answered, watching almost every single Gryffindor in the room regarded him with expressions of various phases of confusion. He knew that Dumbledore would not allow his students to leave the school without being warned of the danger that lurked ahead, the Ministry's opinion notwithstanding.
"The Headmaster?" Fred wondered, sharing a befuddled gaze with his brother.
"Yes." Harry stated, his eyes trailing over the faces of his housemates. "I suppose it will either be tonight or on the Leaving Feast in two days. Either way, it is not something you should hear from me." As much as he hated it, he knew that Dumbledore had better chances of getting that message across; hearing that the most dangerous Dark Wizard of the past centuries had risen from the dead from the mouth of a fifteen year old, no matter if it was Harry Potter, would only amass to spreading panic. "I'm just going to ask you to listen carefully when he says what he has to say and heed his words." The green eyed wizard advised as Neville nodded his approval of a speech well given.
"Now you got me curious." Dean Thomas admitted, the majority of the people in the room nodding in agreement, some, those on the last two years mostly, looking at each other in something akin to fear.
"Good." Harry said, rising from the chair he had been seated at since he had started his narration. "But enough of that! Dinner is about to be served in the Great Hall and we have managed to eat everything that Fred and George," he said bowing to the twins in an exasperated manner, "had kindly brought to us from the kitchens." There was a general murmured consensus around the room and Harry sighed, rubbing his forehead tiredly as the attention of his fellow Gryffindors shifted elsewhere.
"Sometimes I wonder how you can keep so calm." Neville whispered as he approached his brother, both teens heading for the Great Hall, Harry being congratulated on the way.
"I don't think I get remotely enough credit for all the effort I make not to become a sword-wielding, wand-toting maniac." Harry threw back, smiling slightly as his brother chuckled, shaking his head in amusement.
"Let's not push you then." Neville offered, his smile falling slightly as he saw his brother's shoulders fall, a sigh escaping the raven haired teen's lips. "Is this about Adrian?"
"It's about Adrian too." Harry admitted. "Can you wait for a little more, so we can get Draco and find a more private setting?"
"Of course!" Neville assured him, throwing an arm over his brother's shoulders, winking at Ron as the boy tried to glare at them from across the room. After they reached the Great Hall they ate in a haste, Harry trying to catch Draco's eyes over the tables; he didn't need to try very hard. The blond Slytherin seemed to be in the same mindset, looking for his friends from where he sat. Harry bumped Neville in the shoulder and rose, chasing down his last bite of treacle tart with some water, nodding towards Draco's direction. The blond teen had also risen from his seat and Neville followed suit, the three boys meeting at the entrance of the Great Hall.
"Would you mind if we took a walk around the castle?" Draco asked the moment they stepped out the crowded room. Harry noticed he was clutching a piece of parchment in his hands -a letter, he realized- and was looking even paler than usual.
"I was about to ask for the same thing." Harry stated, pointing towards the general direction of the Grand Staircase. "What about a walk to the courtyard?" He asked. It was only seven thirty in the afternoon and, being early June, the sun had yet to set.
"As good a place as any." Draco muttered, following his two friends through the corridors.
"A letter from home?" Neville asked, having noticed the parchment too.
"From my mother." Draco clarified. "She doesn't mean to show it but I believe she's scared; she said that a house elf would come to pick me up at the station as she and father will be otherwise occupied. I think we all know why."
"I… look, Draco, I can't even begin to say how sorry…" Harry tried to apologise, only to have the Slytherin punch him on the shoulder, bestowing him with a tortured and exasperated look he had never seen anyone else quite pull off.
"Because it's your fault that the Dark Lord has returned, of course." Draco said, his voice laced with sarcastic drawl. Neville cocked an eyebrow at his brother, his expression clearly stating that even trying to think it was his fault would mark him as an idiot in his books for the remainder of his years. Harry smiled at both his friends, not quite able to come up with words that could convey his gratitude.
As they neared the door to the courtyard, Harry pulled out his wand and started casting an array of protecting charms and small wards around them, feeling suddenly quite paranoid; after what had happened, he supposed that he couldn't be blamed for not wanting to have delicate conversations out in the open.
"Anyway, Harry wanted to tell us something about Adrian." Neville said, sensing neither Draco nor Harry wanted to delve further into the reason why the Malfoys would be indisposed come Friday. Harry sighed and repeated the conversation he had had with his twin after they had left the infirmary. By the end of his monologue they had walked around the courtyard twice and had opted on sitting on a bench by the south wall of the cloister surrounding it.
"And today he has opted not to talk to me, or look at me at all. I'm getting sick of this." Harry admitted, looking towards the summer sky.
"I'm going to kill him, you know." Neville exclaimed and Harry turned to look at him only to find him smiling a wide, cheery smile that only made his threat seem that more ominous.
"I can't believe he's being such a monumental jerk." Draco stated, nodding in appreciation at his friend's suggestion of murder. "And this is coming from me, so it should mean something."
"How so?" Harry asked, feeling better already with his friends' support.
"I can be quite a jerk if I want to, I'll have you know." Draco explained, assuming a haughty countenance, pretending to swipe an imaginary speck of dust from his robes.
"Yes, we know, Malfoy." Neville said, rolling his eyes at the teen.
"Anyway, not even I would say something like that to a person that had just saved my life. Especially not to my twin." The Slytherin stated, his expression getting serious. The three friends remained silent for a while after that. Harry sighed once again before speaking.
"I'm not going back to Potter manor this summer." He didn't know what he had expected his friends' reaction would be but all he got were two understanding nods.
"I'm not sure I would return home either if I had the chance." Draco said, not looking at anything in particular.
"I get it." Neville simply offered. "So, when would you like me to come visit at Silbreith?" Harry smiled.
"Whenever you want." The green eyed wizard stated. "That goes for you too, Draco." The blond turned to look at him as if he had just proclaimed the earth was flat and the Dark Lord had given up on his plans for world domination, deciding instead to pursue a career as a florist.
"Me?" The Slytherin asked, index finger pointing at himself, grey eyes wide in surprise.
"No, Malfoy, my other friend called Draco." Harry answered, eyes rolling in exasperation.
"Oh." Draco said, a smile forming slowly on his lips. "Fine, I suppose."
"Just send a letter when you wish to visit and I'll send a house elf to pick you up." Harry offered. "You understand why I can't have the floo network open…"
"No need to explain." Draco stated, hand waving in dismissal. "I'll try to be in a public place when your house elf comes to pick me up. Leaky Cauldron sounds alright to you?" Harry nodded in agreement.
"You have to see the Quidditch pitch at Silbreith, Draco!" Neville exclaimed, brightening up at the prospect of all three of them spending time together over the holidays. "It's practically…" Harry, who was smiling up to that moment, suddenly froze, looking around in confusion. The courtyard was empty. Yet, one of his wards had been tripped; having no specific boundaries to set his wards on, he had opted for simpler ones that notified him when breached. And the one that had been breached was… the anti-animagus ward? Harry had only cast it as an after thought, the image of a bleeding Pettigrew passing through his mind momentarily and it had proved to be quite helpful.
He looked closer to the ground, noticing Neville had stopped talking at was instead observing him. He motioned him to keep speaking, feeling relief when neither he nor Draco questioned his motives. He gripped his wand tightly and then he caught it; a black shiny bug, seemingly inconspicuous, perched atop a bush next to the bench. He cast a silent stunning spell in a fraction of a second, startling both his friends. His aim was true and the bug toppled over on the ground unconscious.
"I hadn't realised you hated beetles that much!" Draco exclaimed, placing a hand over his heart.
"I don't." Harry stated, conjuring a glass jar with a lid, pocking a few holes, no larger than the head of a needle with a spell on it. "I do however hate animagi that have no business listening in to my private conversations with a passion."
"This is an animagus?" Neville asked, looking from his brother to the beetle in shock.
"Considering it activated the ward I had placed especially to inform me of the presence of an approaching animagus, yes, it is." Harry stated. "I think a walk to Sev's office is called for." The raven haired wizard said, gathering the beetle in the jar, lid in place. It took them only a few minutes to reach the potions master's office, Harry walking purposefully, jar in hand. He really didn't need something like this today. Severus answered to the sharp knocking on his door in a few seconds, surprised to see the crowd that had gathered outside his office.
"Come in." He said, moving aside to allow his son and the two teens entrance to the room. "Could I help you with som… is that a water beetle in that jar?"
"No, it's an animagus turned into a water beetle." Harry spat, placing the jar on Severus' desk with a little more force than what was necessary. "It tried to listen into a private conversation and I didn't appreciate it." Severus grinding his teeth in anger, pulling out his wand. He placed the beetle on the floor, took a step back and pointed his wand at it, fighting back the urge to incinerate the wizard or witch in question; would they ever leave his son in peace? Instead of setting the insect on fire, he cast the spell that would force it to turn in its original form. The four wizards stood by as the beetle grew and sprouted human limbs, slowly taking the form of an unconscious…
"Rita Skeeter?" Four voices chorused, two in confusion, two in anger.
"That does explain a few things." Severus admitted, hands slowly massaging his temples, wand still clasped in his fingers.
"I didn't know she's an animagus." Draco said, staring at the prone form of the reporter.
"She's not a registered one, that's for sure." Harry spat, his own fist clenched tight around his wand.
"What now?" Neville asked as Severus cast a spell to lift her from the floor and onto and armchair. Harry moved forward, binding her to the chair before summoning her wand and enervating her, determination carved on his expression. Severus stood back, wanting to see how his son would handle the situation; Harry seemed to have a plan. The journalist opened her eyes and blinked twice, feeling disoriented before her gaze focused on the four wizards in front of her. Suddenly wide awake, she gulped audibly, trying to rise from the armchair. Finding that she could not, she tried to plead her case;
"This is not what it looks like!" She exclaimed, eyes frantic.
"It's not?" Harry asked. "Because to me it looked like you were trying to turn a private conversation into one of your little exposés." His tone didn't leave any room for arguments.
"I…" She stuttered, her mind frozen in fear, thinking of the repercussions of being caught.
"You're not a registered animagus, are you?" Harry pressed on. The woman paled even more. "I guess that answers it." The green eyed wizard muttered.
"I'm not going to write anything about you, I swear! I didn't manage to catch anything anyway!" She said, words tumbling from her lips, her shrill voice echoing in the room.
"Oh, I know you won't." Harry stated, smiling slightly, raising his wand. Skeeter froze in fear, completely missing the fact that Harry wasn't even aiming at her. Instead, he summoned an empty parchment from Severus desk having it float in front of him at the level of his eyes. The remaining two teens in the room shared a confused glance while Severus smiled as his son placed his wand on his temple. Harry was about to draw up a magical contract, it seemed; to what purpose it was yet to be determined.
Harry removed the wand from his head before touching the tip of it on the parchment; letters started forming on it until the page was almost full. The teen smiled at the ending result, eyes skimming over the text. He looked at the reporter in front of him and tapped the parchment with his hand.
"What is this?" The woman asked, looking at the contract as if it was going to explode.
"A magical contract. I think you'll find its contents to your liking." Harry stated.
"I… don't understand." She said, not relaxing one bit. Harry simply held the contract in front of her so that she could read it. Her eyes widened as she went on, finally setting on Harry, her expression utterly bewildered. "I still don't get it." She admitted.
"The way I see it, you're in deep trouble, Miss Skeeter." The green eyed boy said. "Even if you weren't an unregistered animagus, you have been caught on Hogwarts' grounds, from which you have been banned, and in a distance of five feet from a person -that would be me- you are bound by law not to be in a hundred feet radius from." He shook his and tut condescendingly. "What a mess you've made, Miss Skeeter!"
"And so you decided to hire me?" She asked, causing three pairs of eyes to regard her and Harry in complete confusion.
"You're hiring her?" Draco asked, his tone disbelieving. Severus simply looked on, a smirk etched on his lips.
"Yes, I am." He turned back to the reporter. "As you'll be finding out in a few days, I'm sure, things are about to change in the Wizarding world. The contract I've drawn up, won't stop you from working as you always did. It won't prevent you from writing the articles you'll be asked to write, it won't sensor them. That's not what I want." Harry explained. "I could easily have you convicted for what you did but that would cause you to lose your job and your connections. And that would be a shame, for I could truly use your connections, Miss Skeeter!"
"Yes, I read that." She said, as Severus chuckled, realising what his son had come up with. Sneaky and outright brilliant. I must have done something right raising that boy, he thought, beaming with pride. If Harry managed to show the same talent when dealing with the other aspects of the coming war, much unnecessary bloodshed could be avoided, less time wasted in walking around in the dark, looking for answers.
"In the future, I might need to use your connections and, when the time comes, I want to be in a position that will allow me to do so. That's why, in exchange of not telling anybody of our unfortunate meeting today, I want you to sign this contract. You shall not print any details of my personal life from now on and you will provide me the information I ask -and I will only ask for information I know you can provide, rest assured- when the time is right. You shall not speak, write or in other ways, magical or not, inform any other person or magical object of the existence of this contract, its contents and today's meeting. You'll swear on your magic to uphold the contract and its terms, of course." Harry stated, emerald gaze unwavering. "Considering everything, you're getting out of this unharmed." The journalist gulped.
"May I read the contract again?" She asked, voice trembling. Harry shrugged and agreed. It took her half an hour to reach a decision and it was the one keeping her out of Azkaban. Harry smiled as Severus proofread the contract, changing the wording here and there. He signed his name, Skeeter mimicking him while Severus signed it too as a witness.
"That would be all." Harry said and passed her some floo powder, freeing her from her invisible restraints. She stood on wobbly legs, taking some of the green powder silently; Harry returned her wand to her and kept his pointed at her person until she flooed to the Leaky Cauldron. Harry turned around to the three other wizards in the room, grinning widely.
"That. Was. Wicked!" Neville exclaimed while Draco burst out in laughter. Severus approached his son and tussled his hair, ignoring his protests as much as ever.
"I've turned you into a Slytherin, finally." He proclaimed, making Harry laugh.
"I can't believe I just did that!" Harry admitted, looking at the contract on the desk.
"Bloody brilliant!" Draco offered, still smiling at his friend. Draco and Neville stayed only a little longer in the room after, already out of curfew, speaking in excited tones on how Skeeter had reacted and how Harry had dealt with her. Harry, of course stayed back longer, to finally talk with his father.
"Those past twenty four hours may very well have been the strangest and most tiring of my life." Harry offered, collapsing on the armchair Rita Skeeter had vacated. "I don't know if I want to scream of laugh hysterically at it all."
"It was amazing how you handled Skeeter, Harry." The potions master stated, smiling at his son. "You're going to make it through this. It won't be easy, but I have faith in you."
"Thank you, Dad."
"Now." Severus said, taking his place on the armchair across his son. "Could you tell me exactly what happened last night?" And Harry did, leaving nothing out. He spoke of the ritual, his conversation with Voldemort, the resulting fight and the Death Eaters. He told him of Adrian's reaction and his own decision to return straight to Silbreith for the holidays.
"I don't even know what to say about Adrian." Severus started from there.
"Don't say anything then." Harry offered. "He's not five anymore, complaining 'cause someone took his favourite toy."
"That, he's not." Severus agreed. They talked of the way Voldemort had returned too; Severus agreed the Dark Lord had used some sort of ritual; still, how he had managed to tether himself to the world of the living was as mind-boggling as ever. His look pensive as he recalled a similar conversation he had had with his son, in this very office, two years ago after the destruction of a specific diary. There was something there, he knew it. And he would make the connection, come what may. They also spoke of how Dumbeldreo had agreed that Severus had better not to return as a spy for the Order between Voldemort's lines.
"He said that that I had been too open about my affiliation with the Potters in general and you in particular to be able to resume my role. If he pressures me in the future, I will find myself inclined to inform him I bear the Dark Mark no longer." The potions master shrugged. "At the moment I'm not in a particularly sharing mood."
"And neither am I." Harry mused. "I know the time has probably come to tell everyone but…"
"I don't know if the time has come or not," Severus interrupted him, "but I know you should not tell the truth while angry at your twin. This is your greatest secret Harry, one that you have kept for eight years. It will change your life and Adrian's and I think you'd regret it if you simply blurted it out because you're furious at your twin, no matter how much he deserves it."
"I think…" Harry said, "I think I would like a few days to sort my thoughts out. See what Voldemort plans to do, perhaps. If he makes a move out in the open, I'll tell the truth immediately, even if I'm not ready to; I'd rather everybody found out from me than him." Severus nodded, placing a comforting on his son's shoulder. Their conversation turned to Harry's plans to return to Silbreith; the green eyed wizard implied there was something he wanted to work on but opted on not saying what exactly. He wanted to run an experiment first and then… well, he would see what he'd do from then on.
Next day was, of course, the last day of term. Adrian was maintaining his attitude, not understanding that his twin had stopped paying him any attention. As Harry had predicted, Dumbledore made the announcement of Voldemort's return at the end of the Leaving Feast.
"The Ministry of Magic," Dumbledore said, "does not wish me to tell you this. It is possible that some of your parents will be horrified that I have done so, either because they will not believe that Lord Voldemort has returned, or because they think I should not tell you so, young as you are. It is my belief, however, that the truth is generally preferable to lies, and that any attempt to pretend that Voldemort is dead and poses no threat to our community would be the direst falsehood." A ripple of fear and terrified whispers passed through the room, faces anxious and scared looking at the Headmaster.
"The Triwizard Tournament's aim was to further and promote magical understanding. In the light of what has happened -of Lord Voldemort's return- such ties are more important than ever before." Dumbledore looked from Madame Maxime and Hagrid, to Fleur who was looking at her plate in contemplation and her fellow Beauxbatons students, to Victor Krum and the Durmstrangs at the Slytherin table. Krum, Harry saw, looked wary, almost frightened, as though he expected Dumbledore to say something harsh. He had returned to the school earlier that day, his hand in a cast and his demeanour reserved. Victor had taken what he had done under the Imperius to heart, having apologised again and again to all three champions. Harry had made a point to tell him that it wasn't his fault as many times as he could, but the Durmstrang champion was still troubled. Karkaroff's disappearance the day before did nothing to help him of course.
The Beauxbatons were set to depart early the next morning, just a few hours before the students of Hogwarts boarded the train home. Harry had gone out of his way to meet with Fleur before she left; back in the beginning of the school year he had hoped to follow her to France after a few weeks, for the Rennes tournament. Now he could see how that would be impossible.
"It's not a goodbye." Harry told her as they sat by the lake, just out of sight of the Beauxbatons carriage, watching the deputy Headmaster of Durmstrang -a man much more likeable than Karkaroff who had arrived urgently from the school last night- prepare his school's ship.
"It's not?" She asked, her head resting on Harry's shoulder as he run his fingers through her hair.
"No." Harry assured her. "Maybe it could be an au revoir?" He asked, smiling softly.
"Till we meet again then?" She asked, lifting her gaze to hold his, her eyes moist. "Je pense que… Oui, un au revoir a bien raison." She said, nodding mostly to herself. It made sense to not say goodbye; Harry was convinced they would meet again. He didn't know why, but he felt this was not the last he'd see of Fleur Delacour.
"That's the spirit!" He enthused, leaning in for a kiss. She smiled through it, her smile much brighter when they parted.
"Besides, I'm applying for a job in Gringotts. There's a year of training and then who knows? I may find myself back 'ere." She said.
"I hope things will be much better in a year." Harry offered, stroking her check softly. They said their au revoir by the lake, promising to write as soon as possible. By the time Harry got reunited with Neville and Draco at the Great Hall, he had a smile on his face, thinking that at least his relationship with Fleur had been one of the things that had gone great that year.
"Okay, Harry?" Neville asked, not quite sure how to approach the subject. Harry saved him the trouble by smiling at him. His friendship with Neville and Draco was one more think that had worked out through the year.
"It'll be fine." He simply answered as he helped himself to a generous amount of pancakes; they had to board Hogwarts express after breakfast. The conversation soon turned to how Harry was going to break the news of not going to Potter manor to his parents.
"I hope they won't object too much." Draco said, trying to sound optimistic.
"They will." Harry assured him, making a small, dismissive movement with his hand. "But they can't do anything else. Emancipated, remember?" He asked, his grin rivalling the sun in brightness.
The train ride was almost uneventful. The three teens shared a compartment, Luna and Ginny passing by to say hello a little before the train arrived in King's Cross. Luna and Neville had kept a closer relationship since the ball; Harry knew that Neville was somewhat concern with Luna just turning fourteen, but would have been blind if he said he was unaware of the attraction. He for one -and Draco too, not having forgotten how the younger girl had kept Pansy at bay at the Yule Ball- was rooting for them; Luna was smart and fun, in her own special way and she made Neville smile.
"So, Voldemort is back." Luna said, going straight for the root of the matter as usual.
"I fear so, yes." Harry answered.
"Lovely." Ginny stated. "I suppose the Ministry won't acknowledge anything until Voldemort comes knocking at their front door?"
"They probably are." Harry said, smiling at the visual of Voldemort visiting the Ministry with a flower bouquet, leaving his calling card at the entrance with the message "woo-hoo, I've returned" written at the back. Maybe the stress is getting me, he mused. Then something different occurred to him. "You didn't take long to convince."
"Dumbledore made an announcement in front of the whole school; his students." Ginny explained. "He wouldn't do that if he wasn't telling the truth. And the fake Moody was given the Dementor's kiss on the spot." Harry had heard that too; Fudge had eliminated the only other source of information as fast as he could, citing Crouch Sr.'s murder as the reason for his actions. "Fudge must have been desperate to keep something from coming out."
"And he thinks that Dumbledore wants to become Minister." Luna added, silvery blue eyes focused at the conversation. "Everybody knows that."
"I wish everybody was as easy to convince as you two." Harry offered; he had heard the talks around the school. People didn't want to believe that Voldemort was back. Next term would be quite interesting, he could already tell. By the time the train entered King's Cross, Harry was ready for the impending confrontation. He dragged his trunk from the train and onto the platform, his eyes searching for his family; he found them a little further down, just being reunited with Adrian. The Weasleys where with them. Breathing in deeply and looking back at Neville and Draco that were giving him encouraging looks, he walked towards his family. Adrian spotted him first, his demeanour changing immediately, his smile falling from his face, eyes adverted.
"Hey, kiddo!" Sirius exclaimed, coming closer to hug his godson.
"Hello, Sirius." He kept the reunion as short as possible and soon, James invited Arthur over at the manor, calling for his family to leave the platform.
"Actually," Harry began, looking at Prongs neutrally, "I won't be joining you."
"What?" James asked, looking at his younger son in confusion.
"Why?" Asked Lily, just as surprised as her husband.
"I'll be heading straight to Silbreith." Harry explained. "I have pressing matters to attend to."
"You can't be serious!" James exclaimed, approaching him. "Whatever it is, you can do it from home." I intend to, Harry thought.
"No, I can not." Harry stated.
"Harry, please." Lily said, placing a calming hand on James' shoulder. "You must come home with us." She shared a look with Prongs. "Your father and I have talked about this with Albus and we think you should start training too this summer." Harry openly chuckled at that.
"I think I can managed my own training." He stated, smirking slightly. "I have done good enough so far, I think."
"Harry…" Sirius tried to speak but Harry wouldn't have it.
"Actually I have talked about this with Adrian," the teen in question turned to face him, slightly panicking at what his twin would say, "and we've agreed that it's better for me to train on my own. Haven't we Adrian?" He asked. There; and let him clean up his own messes for once. "Now, if you'd excuse me…" He said and turned around, leaving a shocked group of people in his trail. He passed Ginny in his way to the other side of the platform where he had arranged for Minty, one of the house elves of Silbreith, to pick him up. The girl must have heard anything, for she smiled at him nodding her head in respect;
"Nicely done, Mr. Potter!" She said, her grin getting bigger, eyes shining mischievously.
"Why thank you, Miss Weasley!" Harry exclaimed, winking at her as she left to reach her parents. The green eyed wizard was still chuckling, feeling freer than he would have thought possible considering the circumstances, and would have made a beeline to Minty had he not spotted yet two more members of the Weasley family. Fred and George were just descending from the train; feeling spontaneous, he approached them instead, hand reaching in his inner pocket where a pouch filled with shimmering coins lay. One thousand galleons as a prize for the Triwizard Champion; one thousand pounds he did not want.
"Hey, Weasleys!" He said, gaining their attention. The moment they turned his way, he made sure the spell on the pouch was still holding it tightly closed before throwing it to Fred. It didn't take more than a few seconds for the twin to understand what had happened.
"Harry, what are you doing?" George protested.
"I don't need that pouch. I don't want it; you can use it to make people laugh and something tells me we'll need that soon. Consider me your silent partner." He said and winked.
"Harry, if this is some form or charity…" Fred warned him, looking from the small treasure in his hands to Harry and back.
"It's an investment, and a good one. From one wild card to another." The green eyed boy threw over his shoulder and waved, leaving two red haired twins to stare dumbly at his retreating back.
"Thank you, Harry!" He heard their voice chorusing, screaming at the top of their lungs just as he handled Minty his trunk. He was still smiling when he stepped foot at Silbreith. Severus, who was waiting for him in front of the fireplace, immediately relaxed upon seeing his smile.
"I take it everything went well?" He asked, hugging his son.
"With my family?" Harry asked back. "No, not really. I did however subtly place the blame on Adrian and left them all too stunned to react at the time. I fully expect angry letters later today." He shrugged and smiled at nothing in particular. "Still, it's good to be home."
That first night, Harry wrote to Neville and Draco, narrating how things went with his family. He lay in bed, thinking of what he wanted to do the next day; he would have to work a bit in his alchemy lab. Metallurgy and actual metalworking would be involved and Harry found himself oddly excited. Maybe it was the prospect of actually getting to hit something with a hammer, he thought before sleep claimed him.
Next morning, he wolfed down his breakfast under the exasperated gaze of Minnie and the fond one of his father before excusing himself to run to his lab. There was a book in there somewhere that he had left for future consideration; he hadn't truly touched it since he had created the Philosopher's Stone but he had a good reason to revisit it now. Besides the fact that he had always wanted to try it, of course.
Severus found him whooping in joy, having just located what he wanted from said book, when he arrived some hours later with two letters in hand. One was from Neville, the boy writing that he had arrived home just fine and was still laughing imagining the reaction Harry's words caused. The second letter was from Draco. And it was neither long, nor informative.
"What is it?" Severus asked, observing the change in Harry's features.
"Draco writes to ask if he can come over." Harry said, his tone worried. "He will be at the Leaky Cauldron at noon, if we can send someone to pick him up. He says he understands if we don't." He looked at his father. "Should we both go, or just me?"
"I think it's better if I went alone." Severus said looking at his watch; it was twenty minutes before twelve. "We don't know why Draco seems so eager to leave his house."
"No, Harry." Severus objected. "I have the utmost trust in your abilities, but there really is no need to come along; it won't take more than five minutes." Harry seemed to contemplate his answer a bit, but could see in his father's eyes that he would be fighting a lost cause.
"If I have to wait for more than five minutes, I'm following you." Harry stated, laying down his terms.
"Understood." Severus said nodding. Father and son walked back to the living room, the potions master started a fire in the fireplace with a silent spell.
"Minnie!" Harry called, the house elf appearing in front of him in an instant.
"Yes, master Harry?"
"A friend of mine will be arriving soon." He said, smiling at the house elf. "Could you prepare a room for him? I'm not sure if he'll be staying over, but I'd rather we were ready."
"Of course, Master Harry." The house elf offered and bowed.
"Thank you, Minnie." He turned to his father once again. "Five minutes before twelve."
"I should better go." Severus offered.
"Five minutes, Dad." The green eyed wizard reminded him. The potions master nodded his agreement, throwing a handful of floo powder into the open flames. He stepped in, leaving his son to pace in front of the fireplace. His world was reduced to a kaleidoscope of colours for a few seconds until his feet landed on the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron. Inwardly he hoped Draco was in time; he was quite certain that his son would swoop in, wand in hand, if he was a few seconds late; as he took in the room around him however, he realized he shouldn't have worried. He could easily see the ash blond hair of the young Malfoy even in the half full room.
"Hey there, professor!" Tom the barman greeted him. "Can I help you with something?"
"Not today, Tom." Severus offered. "Just picking a student up; school related business, you understand."
"Of course, professor!" And with a polite nod, Severus headed for Draco's table. The boy was sitting on his own, staring at the table in front of him, not having taken a single sip from his butterbeer.
"Draco?" He called, immediately gaining the young wizard's attention. The teen's grey eyes were bloodshot, dark rings prominent around them.
"Professor?" He asked confused, his voice raspy. "I thought Harry said he'd sent a house elf?"
"I'm better than a house elf." Severus offered, smiling softly. "Now, if you could just answer this question for me and we'll be gone; where did you meet with Harry and Neville when you first started talking to them last year?" He knew he had to ask; he trusted the boy, but not his father and he would under no circumstances bring a Death Eater in disguise to his son.
"At Hogsmeade; the Shrieking Shack, actually. I thought they had been following me and we started screaming at each other." Draco said, his expression confused. Severus nodded with a smile and pointed towards the fireplace.
"I just had to make sure it was you, Draco." The potions master said, clearing Draco's confusion. "Now, follow me outside; have you ever side apparated before?" He hadn't have time to connect Silbreith to the floo network for the day so he could travel from the castle but not to it.
"Once." Draco mumbled, allowing the potions master to lead him through the back door.
"Good." Severus stated and offered his hand to Draco. "Hold on tight." Draco did, closing his eyes tightly. Next time he opened them, he found himself inside a grand castle; tapestries covered the walls of the hall where they had landed, the room three times as big as the entrance hall back home. "Welcome to Silbreith, Draco." Severus offered, smiling at the boy's reaction to his home.
"Sev?" Harry asked, appearing from around the corner. "Right on time!" He exclaimed, approaching the two wizards. "Hello, Draco! Welcome to Silbreith! Don't just stand there; I asked Minnie to make us some tea."
"To the back porch then?" Severus asked leading a startled Draco further into the castle.
"Yep!" Harry agreed looking at his friend. Draco remained silent as they walked, red rimmed eyes wide as he took in the large corridors of Silbreith, gasping as he caught sight of one of the ballrooms that was being cleaned at the moment. "It's kind of huge," the green eyed wizard admitted, smiling softly, "but it's home." Draco didn't comment on Harry's proclamation, having seemingly lost himself in his thoughts. He gasped once more as he took in the view of the forest and the glittering lake while Harry pointed to the couch they would be using. He sat down just as silently, not even blinking when Minnie appeared with the tea and wide assortment of cakes.
Severus and Harry exchanged a look of concern; they both knew that there was something wrong with Draco but, with the teen completely silent, it was hard to find the right question to begin a conversation. And just as Harry was about to blurt the first thing that came to mind, Draco started the conversation himself.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience. I couldn't think of anywhere else to go." He said. Not the most reassuring way to start, Harry thought, unconsciously leaning towards his friend.
"I've already told you, Draco; you're always welcome here." The boy nodded, still staring at the coffee table.
"Harry's right, of course." Severus offered, his voice soft.
"When I returned home yesterday, the whole manor was in an uproar. There were…" He gulped and finally turned to look at the two wizards sitting next to him. "There were Death Eaters there." Harry could feel the blood leaving his face.
"Draco…" He started, but his friend carried on, seemingly wanting to get everything out of his chest in one go.
"They were injured in the fight against you, in that cemetery; they couldn't go to the hospital so father volunteered our house. Nott is badly burned; his face will scar. McNair lost his leg. I think I heard it got incinerated during an explosion?" Draco asked, looking at his friend in wonder.
"I would feel bad hadn't I cracked two of my ribs in that explosion." Harry stated, smirking wryly. "Besides, that one is Voldemort's fault. The explosion I mean." Harry amended. "I did sever his leg." Draco gulped before continuing.
"Crabbe shuttered both his legs. Avery lost two fingers and some mobility in his left arm. My father broke his wand hand and six ribs." Harry winced.
"Draco, I'm so sorry…"
"I didn't expect you to sit there and die. I didn't want you to!" The Slytherin said with disarming honesty, his face frozen in a grimace of pain, his eyes shut. "Wormtail is dead."
"Good riddance." Severus muttered, Harry nodding in agreement. He couldn't find it in him to grieve for the man that Pettigrew had once been.
"My father was running around the house shouting orders. More Death Eaters came, ones that hadn't been in the cemetery. I think you only faced the inner circle." Draco carried on, his shoulders shaking. Harry was looking at his friend dumbfounded; this couldn't be easy for Draco. He could practically feel his friend's pain as the blond spoke. "Father said he was preparing everything for the Dark Lord's arrival. I couldn't sleep, not with everybody there. My mother was nowhere to be seen, so I walked to her private rooms. My father was there with her so I hid behind the curtains. I used to hide there when I was younger, have I ever told you that?" Harry shook his head negatively as Draco lost himself in happier times for a few moments. "My mother was pleading with him, asking to have the meeting somewhere else, away from our home. My father wouldn't budge. He said it was an honour, that she should stop acting like a… a blood traitor and a coward."
"You can stop if you want. Just for a while." Harry said kindly, feeling pain grasp his insides as Draco's voice broke.
"Mother said that I was back home; surely he didn't want me near the Dark Lord. I had never seen my father look so furious. For a moment I thought he would strike her." Draco mumbled, tears started forming in his eyes. "But he didn't. Instead he said it would be an honour if I was deemed worthy to receive the Dark Mark so early in life. He left the room; he passed right by me. I had never seen my mother cry before last night." Harry moved forward and pulled Draco in a hug. The boy squirmed a bit, his body shaking with silent sobs.
"Draco, I don't know what to say." Harry admitted, looking at his father over his friend's shoulder. The potions master looked murderous, his hands clenched tightly into fists.
"I run back to my room and into Hedwig. I immediately wrote back asking if I could come over. My mother was ecstatic I'd leave the house. Father thinks it will do me good to keep you close in sight for some reason; he said the Dark Lord would appreciate the information." Harry's arms tightened around Draco; if Voldemort as much as thought he could use his friends against him he would personally make sure his death would be dealt as slowly as possible.
"Don't worry about that now." Harry admonished.
"I spent the whole night thinking over everything." Draco admitted. "I don't want to be a Death Eater, Harry." He said, pulling back to look at his friend's emerald eyes, imploring Harry to believe him. "I don't want to become like my father; I scarcely recognise him anymore. I don't want to make my mother cry." He stopped for a second, gathering his courage. He held his head higher, grey eyes determined. "I want to help you."
"What?" Both Severus and Harry exclaimed.
"I want to help you. Your side. I refuse to be that man that I saw in my father last night." He added with conviction. "I will have to pick sides eventually. And this is a war; I could die on either side of the battlefield. So I chose to fight with you; if this war is over fast enough, maybe my mother won't have to fight. If I help you, maybe you won't get hurt. I once said I envied your independence, Harry." Draco said, lips pressed in a thin line. "What I really envied was your courage to break free; this is my chance to do the same."
"Draco, think of what you're saying." Severus cautioned, knowing deep down that the teen in front of him was determined and would fight either way. And Severus would have him in their side without as much as a second thought if it wasn't for the fact that his father was already thinking of using him as a spy. And by aligning himself with their side, Draco would find himself in the position the potions master had occupied during the last war; that of the double spy. He wouldn't wish that on any man, let alone a fifteen year old teen.
"I have thought it. And I know you might not trust me." Harry made to protest but, before he could find the words, Draco offered what he thought was the solution to their problem. "I want to take an Unbreakable Oath." He said, and Harry's mind went completely blank, a soft buzzing in his ears.
"It's for my protection as much as yours." The blond teen explained. "You will be sure that I will keep my word…"
"I know you will!" Harry exclaimed.
"Fine, others on your side -our side- will know it too then." Draco offered. "And I can't have information protected by the oath wrestled out of me without you knowing. If I'm forced to break my vow by force, you will immediately be notified of my position and get me the bloody hell out of there before I blurt anything out."
"If things ever go there, the oath will be no guarantee that I'll be able to help you. Knowing where you are and getting there are two very different things." Harry stated.
"I will join your side anyway, Harry." Draco stated. "I wish you'd help me with it."
"Draco, you can't ask me… There are things you don't know about me!" Harry said, trying to dissuade his friend from this madness, wondering why his father wasn't intervening. He could see it in Severus' eyes; the potions master knew that Draco had made up his mind. That didn't mean Harry wasn't going to try.
"And I won't hear of them unless I do this." Draco stated, jumping backwards and pointing his wand at himself. "I pledge myself to your cause!" A bright orange light surrounded him, Harry's exclamation of protest dying on his lips. Of all the cursed things… Draco had gone and pledged himself! A pledge was something like a wizard's oath, only reversible. The problem was that only the caster could reverse it; till then, his alliance would be clear to anyone who had the ability to read magical traces. Voldemort would see it from a mile away.
"Take that pledge back, Draco!" Harry pleaded. "This isn't the middle ages."
"Not unless you accept my terms." Draco pressed on.
"You don't need to take the Unbreakable Oath to be on our side." The green eyed wizard said.
"Not in your eyes." The Slytherin agreed.
"Why does anybody else have to count?" Harry deadpanned.
"Look, Harry," Draco tried to explain, "I'll either do this the right way or not at all. And since not doing this is not an option for me, you'll have to indulge me."
"Blackmailing Slytherins…" Harry muttered, sliding down on the couch.
"You can't win this one, Harry." Severus repeated his words from earlier, eyes sad. He understood Draco's need for the oath. It was a clean break; the ultimate proof to himself that he wouldn't turn out like his father; not with his own life on the balance. And the potions master knew what that meant too; not wanting to turn into your father. "But Draco, I implore you, think of the risks."
"I have." Draco said. "My family is already affected by the war. I will not allow my father to drag me into his choices."
"There's no turning back from this." Harry said, looking at Draco, even as he kneeled and extended his hand.
"I know." The Slytherin stated, clasping Harry's hand with his own.
"If you'd please, Dad." The green eyed wizard said, looking at the potions master.
"Dad?" Draco asked, his eyes widening, gaze flying from Harry to Severus and back.
"I told you there are things you don't know about me." Emerald eyes locked on grey; Harry was giving him one last out. Draco smiled, breathing in deeply.
"I hope you're in a sharing mood." He threw back. Severus lifted his wand, looking at the two teens. He sighed once, hoping this was the right decision to make. He pressed the tip of his wand on their linked hands.
"Will you, Draco, fight by my side against the Dark Lord Voldemort until the war is over?" Harry asked, emerald eyes locking on grey.
"I will." Draco intoned. A thin tongue of brilliant flame issued from the wand and wound its way around their hands like a red-hot wire. Harry felt like screaming; he inwardly cursed Voldemort for everything he was worth.
"And will you keep my secrets until I say it's time to reveal them?"
"I will." A second tongue of flame shot from the wand and interlinked with the first, making a fine, glowing chain.
"And will you swear not harm me or my allies 'till the end of this war?" Harry asked, smiling softly at Draco.
"I will." And a third tongue of flame shot from Severus' wand; it immediately twisted with the others and bound itself thickly around their clasped hands, like a rope, like a fiery snake.