A/N: First things are first—I really suggest going back to chapter 15 to ensure that you've read the right version, else this may not make sense. Yes. That. It should be relatively easy to tell by the author's note (if anyone actually reads those, that is). Haha. (:
I really hope everyone likes this chapter. I'm quite fond of it and while I'm a bit paranoid that there's slight OOCness, I think it's slight enough that no one will come chasing after me with pitchforks. Maybe. Hopefully. Mm, yeah.
My next update should be Monday morning, as usual, and as always, please review!
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and associated characters belong to J.K. Rowling. I clearly worship her work, and no copy-right infringement is intended. The song Homesick is property of The Spill Canvas, and again, no copy-right infringement is intended.
Now we're finally home, it feels good not to be alone—
just remember you must tend to it for it to really grow;
a garden of broken friendships reminds you you survive..
click your heels three times
and pray that you will make it out alive.
/ / Homesick by The Spill Canvas.
Her heart was in her throat, beating hard—frantic—and she uncharacteristically cursed, the stairway's grinding drowning out her words. Moving to the bottom of the staircase, she half-thought about cursing his back. It would be so simple—a single word and a flash of bright red and then Ron would be suspended, frozen in mid-air for but a moment before falling to the floor—but his heart was in the right place, no matter how misguided his actions were, and she waited impatiently for the stairway to rejoin its base instead. As soon as it locked into place, Hermione rushed down the corridor, hurrying past a handful of other students and deliberately ignoring the portraits' disapproving looks and remarks of, "No running in the corridor's!" or "The weekend isn't going anywhere, young lass—I suggest you slow, lest Gryffindor lose points!"
She kept telling herself that Ron would never actually curse Harry, not like he tried to curse Malfoy, but there was something in her gut that propelled her forward.
Hermione hadn't intended to tell Ron about Harry's spell of insanity from the day before—she had intended to keep it to herself with the condition that, should it happen again, she would notify McGonagall. Despite all of her common sense and knowledge of mental illness and its warning signs and whatnot, Hermione couldn't see Harry as a threat. She had felt threatened yesterday, yes, but she couldn't connect that feeling with her friend, with the boy who had struggled against darkness his entire life and had succeeded in lighting the world. Harry's behavior had flustered her more than even she knew, however, because one moment she was trying to convince Ron that he was still Harry, still their friend, and that distancing him would be of no help (for him or them), and then she slipped and said something she shouldn't. Ron had pressed her for details until she had broken, until her fear and anger and disbelief had spouted from her mouth and eyes, hot and sad and angry, so angry—Ron's anger responded to hers and then he was gone. She chased after him but the stairway—that bloody stairway—her thoughts were a rush, darting from one thing to another, and Hermione darted down another corridor.
Harry jerked awake, his eyes blearily staring up at the canopy above him. He wondered about its color and why it was red, not blue, and thought of a bloodied lake pressing in on him. His heart twisted at the thought, shuddering and quickening, and then there was a loud knocking against their portrait. He could hear someone yell and his senses came rushing back to him with the realization that he was awake, not dreaming, and no lake could hurt him—or hold him, for that matter. The thought was fleeting and he hurried from his bed and to the portrait, quickly pulling it open. Surprise flashed across his sleep-ridden face at the sight that greeted him: Ron stood in front of him, his hands twisted into fists at his sides, his face flushed and eyes wild. He had been trying to bargain with the portrait, a knight that clearly recognized him, but apparently the password had been changed after Draco took his place as Harry's keeper—his anger swelled when Harry opened it from the inside, and he quickly stepped into his room, the portrait swinging shut behind him.
"'swrong?" Harry asked, taking his glasses off to rub at his eyes.
"You bloody well know what's wrong," Ron replied loudly, searching Harry's face.
Shoving his glasses back onto his face, Harry's brow pinched together at its center.
"What are you talking about?"
"Hermione—she told me, Harry."
Ron stared at him expectantly, as if waiting for a confession, an admission of sorts, and Harry shook his head, his mind thick with grogginess and confusion. He felt mildly disoriented and he wondered if his realization had been a trick—maybe he was still sleeping after all.
"Told you what?"
Ron smiled but it wasn't a nice smile. It was twisted, laced with disbelief and anger, and he moved closer to Harry. Harry could feel the anger radiating off of him—he could practically taste it, bitter and sweet at the same time, and he took a quick, apprehensive step back, his heart twisting in his chest again. Say this wasn't a dream and he was awake—he searched his memories for what Ron could be referring to.
"Everything," Ron replied.
Harry thought of the day before, when he had last seen Hermione. He thought of her distance—his distance, even—and that frightened, hesitant sort of look she had given him in the corridor before potion's class. He could feel something pulling him in, drawing him closer, but when he tried to focus on it, it disappeared and confusion was in its place.
He licked his lips.
"Wh-what are you talking about, Ron?"
Ron gave him a disgusted look, his upper lip drawn up, scrunched toward his nose, and said, "Don't play stupid. Just—how could you, Harry?" He paused and took another step forward. The movement lacked grace. It was a bit unbalanced, propelled only by anger, and Harry could see the heat in his eyes, hear it in his voice—he was almost yelling at Harry, his voice hard and loud. "She told me everything—how could you? How could you call her that and—and bloody hell, Harry—she's your friend!"
Harry could feel that knot in his stomach twitching, uncurling itself, his own anger reaching out to Ron's. He tried to suppress it, control it, but his voice was strained when he repeated, "What are you talking about?"
Ron visibly scoffed and repeated his own words, "Don't play stupid."
"I'm not—I really don't know what—"
"Bullocks," Ron interrupted, his eyes flashing.
The tight, thin-band of control Harry had managed on his anger snapped then. He could feel it loosen, stretch up and into his lungs, wrapping itself around his heart and burying itself deep in his chest, squeezing hard and expanding and making him breathless—Harry's eyes darkened and his expression contorted into something cool but somehow angry, a silent, teasing fury taking place of his confusion.
Ron hesitated, aware of the change. His own expression softened and the Harry's mouth twitched in amusement.
His voices whispered and he repeated them aloud, quiet and taunting.
"What? Are you jealous? She smelled delicious, you know—I could almost taste her." Ron's face flushed a deep red and Harry pressed on, his mouth shifting into an easy smirk. Both eyebrows darted up for but a moment as he said, "I would have liked to, actually.." He cocked his head to the side. "That is, if that traitor hadn't intervened—tell me—have you tased her? Is she as delicious as I imagine?"
Ron's own control snapped and he was on Harry within an instant. He shoved him hard, back toward the bed, and Harry laughed, quickly regaining his balance. He gave Ron an almost challenging look—and then everything happened so quickly. Everything was a rush of movement. Harry was only vaguely aware of the bathroom door opening, Draco emerging to lean casually against its door frame. He had heard the ruckus and, after trying fruitlessly to convince himself that he was not curious, had decided to investigate. Just as his shoulder connected with the door frame and his eyes started to dance across the scene, Ron's hand was reeling back much like Harry's had just days before—and then it was propelled forward, turned into a fist, and Harry tried sidestepping it. Ron hit his shoulder hard, missing his intended target—Harry's face—and then the portrait was opening on its own accord. Hermione shoved her Head Girl badge back into her robes and rushed forward, grabbing Ron's arm as it reeled back once more.
"Ron! Harry!" she yelled, clearly distressed, her own anger flashing in her eyes.
Harry ignored her and shoved Ron back into her.
Draco narrowed his eyes. He couldn't see Harry's face, but his body language was obvious, and he could identify the difference in his reply, the cold darkness twisted into his words, and he straightened against the door frame.
"Here's your chance," Harry taunted loudly, almost laughing as Hermione tried to restrain Ron. He paused and his eyes met hers for a single instant as he added, "Although, on second thought, I doubt she's as delicious as I implied—she is a mudblood, after all."
Hurt flashed across Hermione's face and she tightened her hold on Ron as he started to twist from her grasp. He was blinded by white hot anger and Harry laughed at him. It wasn't at all a pleasant sound—Hermione shivered, its familiarity unnerving—but before Harry could move closer, Draco had stepped forward and wrapped a hand firmly around his forearm, squeezing slightly, his wand in his other hand. Pain surged through Harry's arm and he startled, looking to Draco. Almost instantaneously, Harry's eyes lightened, his expression softening, laced with pain instead of anger. The slice across his forearm burned and Harry gasped, the noise choked and confused, and tried jerking his arm away from Draco's grasp. Draco's touch was tight and insistent, however, and he only loosened his hold on Harry's arm when he saw the brightness returning to his eyes. His grip softened but remained, and the pain in Harry's arm started to subside. He searched Draco's face for but a moment before turning to the two in front of him. His eyes flickered from Ron to Hermione and then back, searching his face—why did he look so angry?
His confusion and hesitance was etched in lines across his forehead and Harry's voice was soft when he asked, "Wh—what's going on?"
It was Ron who laughed then, the sound erupting from his throat unwanted, bitter and choked, and Hermione's hands tightened around either of his arms. She edged closer to him, her body brushing the length of his, and peered around him to look at Harry and Draco. Her eyes were focused on where they were touching, silently tracing the curve of Draco's hand against his arm, and she didn't quite meet Harry's eyes when she looked up.
"You—" she hesitated and Harry thought her eyes were sad, drowning, unfocused and breaking. Her voice mirrored her eyes, cracking slightly when she continued with, "I—I wish we could help, Harry. I wish we could help instead of him but we can't and I—" she stopped again, her eyes moving to peer up at the side of Ron's face. "I think we should go."
Harry thought Ron looked very much like Draco, then, a tightly wound coil, stiff and ready to snap. Remnants of anger were still apparent, his face slightly red, blotchy, but he had calmed considerably under Hermione's warmth. He was no longer struggling but there was a tightness to his stance.
"Not until he apologizes," Ron said through gritted teeth.
Before Harry could ask what for, Draco was speaking, his voice hard and challenging.
"I suggest listening to your girlfriend, Weasley, while you still can."
At one point Draco had evidently moved closer to Harry because, while his hand was still wrapped around his forearm, their arms were brushing, resting against one another's ever-so-slightly. Harry glanced at him as Draco cocked his head to the side, his mouth twisting into a cool smirk. He made a deliberate motion with his wand and Ron's expression darkened.
"This is your fault, isn't it?" Ron asked, voice low. "You're bloody corrupting him, aren't you, Malfoy? You're just like your father—a—"
Before Ron could even think about finishing the sentence, Draco's hand was raised, his wand just breaths away from Ron's chest. His arm was steady, eyes dark, and his mouth was set into a thin line. He, too, was a tightly wound coil, but his voice was quiet, almost conversational, as if he were simply mentioning the weather: "I really must insist you leave."
Ron very obviously wanted to object but Hermione gave his arm a sharp jerk and started pulling him toward the portrait hole, muttering gently, "Come on, Ron. We're leaving—now."
Very begrudgingly, he allowed himself to be led out of their room. He didn't even say another word—but his eyes were burning into Harry and Draco until the very moment the portrait swung shit behind them. The moment it closed, Draco lowered his wand, his hand releasing Harry's arm. Despite the burning it had caused, Harry missed the warmth—he stared at the portrait hole for a long moment, his thoughts spinning, rushing around him. He felt a piece of himself deflate, collapse into itself—he didn't know what had just happened, but he had the very distinct feeling that nothing would ever be the same. He swallowed hard, his eyes burning at the realization. Although Draco's touch had retracted, he was still standing just breaths away, and Harry tried blinking away the sensation behind his eyes as he turned to properly look at him. There was a question on the tip of his tongue, an answer Harry yearned for, but the moment his eyes met Draco's, he felt another piece of himself break. He was suddenly exhausted, overwhelmingly drained, and he sucked in a sort of gasping breath instead of uttering the words he so desperately wanted to: What happened?
There was a tightness to Draco's eyes and then his brow creased, just slightly, with something incomprehensible—before Harry could even attempt to guess at its meaning, Draco moved forward, his arms hesitantly wrapping around Harry. The hug was deliberately loose but the moment Draco touched him, Harry fell forward into the embrace, pressing himself against his chest, his eyes slipping shut on their own accord. The burning increased and hot tears spilled through his eyelashes—he let out another gasping breath and wrapped his own arms around Draco in reply, pulling them closer together.
Draco was still stiff—so bloody stiff—but the embrace felt less awkward than before, perhaps because it wasn't simply Harry hugging Draco—they were hugging each other.
Moments passed until Draco shifted awkwardly against Harry and Harry hesitantly, although willingly, pulled away. He didn't quite meet Draco's eyes, instead busying himself with cleaning his glasses against his shirt as his tears slowed. Once the choking knot in his throat had subsided some and the burning in his eyes had dulled, Harry shoved his glasses back on and spared Draco a curious look.
"What was that for?" he asked finally, trying to make the question sound more dismissive than it was. "I thought you would never need a hug from me."
Draco's face was smooth, expressionless, but his eyes were trained on Harry's as he gave a casual sort of shrug.
"I didn't. You needed one from me—Harry." There was a moment's pause and then his mouth was twisting into a familiar smirk as he said, deliberately, "And don't get used to it."
Harry almost laughed.
A/N: Out of curiosity, would any of you care to tell me what your favorite part of this story has been—or of its characters? I'd just really like to hear more thoughts on how it's progressing thus far! Thanks much! (: