Chapter 19. "It's our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities"

Draco didn't understand where he was. He glanced around the dim room carefully, trying to recognise his surroundings and blinked in surprise when he discovered a figure sleeping in a chair next to his bed, mostly covered by a large blanket. Curious he tried to push himself up to see the mysterious person's face, but he yelped in pain as soon as he put weight on his arms. He fell back into the soft pillow and groaned, pinching his eyes shut to stop himself from screaming. After a moment he brought his arm to his face, moving slowly in order not to jar it again. It was covered in a thick layer of foul smelling burn paste. He squinted. A way too thick layer, he corrected himself, looking at the sleeping person in wonder. Had he done that? Why? He tried to remember what had happened to him, recalled sitting in the common room, doing his homework and then nothing but a haze of pain.

Why wasn't he in the hospital wing? Was he even still at Hogwarts? The furniture in the room was very old fashioned and unquestionably very expensive, Draco hadn't seen anything quite like it before. Definitely not Hogwarts then.

Was he safe? His instinct told him he was and it hadn't proven him wrong before.

He carefully moved to sit up again, succeeding this time. He recognised the man now, it was Lord Black.

Then everything came back to him, being disowned, running and hiding in the safe room his Magister had told him about. Had he really smashed the man into the wall? He shivered, hoping that had been a fever dream.
Was he still in that safe room then? Or had Lord Black moved him to his own house? In any case, Draco really wanted something to eat and to take a shower. He was sweaty and felt filthy and when he carded a hand through his hair he could feel it was really greasy.

"Finally awake, are you?" a friendly voice asked. Lord Black was awake now. He sat up in the chair and flicked his wand at the lights, turning them up until it was light enough to see, but not as bright as to hurt Draco's still sensitive eyes.
Lord Black lowered himself onto the bed, being careful not to jar Draco's arm too much.
"How are you feeling? Do you need more pain relievers?" he asked softly as he saw Draco stare at the thick layer of salve.

"No." the boy answered with a sigh, looking up, "I'm fine. It doesn't hurt that much." he hesitated before he asked. "How does it look?"

Harry grimaced. "It's pretty bad." he admitted, for a moment cursing his inability to use a white lie to make his ward feel better. "Do you want me to describe it for you? It might make you feel better if you actually knew what was there."

Draco was silent for a moment, floating his good hand an inch above the salve as if he wanted to rub it off, then nodded.

"Well. It's worst on your hand, right where your Heir ring sat. From there it spreads with third degree burns right up to here," he used the side of his hand to mark the area a little further than Draco's wrist. "and second and first degree burns and blisters up to your shoulder."

Harry watched the blond's reaction carefully and when he didn't seem too upset he continued, "Everything will heal, though the spot where you wore the ring will probably scar, as might some parts of the back of your hand. For the exterior, that's all."

"The exterior?" Draco asked, sounding panicked for a moment. "There is more?"

"No curse, if that's what you are thinking." Harry said, trying to keep his voice level the way Madam Pomphrey usually did when she explained something like this. He scratched the back of his head in thought of how to explain this.

"You see, every member of a pureblood Family is protected by Spirits, I trust you know that?"

Draco nodded shakily.

"In payment for that protection they ask to uphold certain values. When your Father cast you out of the Family, he basically told the Spirits that you had violated those values and they were angry that you broke your agreement with them. The burns were caused by a curse on the ring that keeps anyone who is not the accepted Heir from wearing it.
The Family Spirits are also no longer protecting you, that's what you felt afterwards. Your magic is no longer encased by your Family Magicks, you now feel everything around you and your magic aren't used to that. It tried to protect you by reaching out to your spare, mature magic, which completely overwhelmed you."

He paused for a moment when he saw Draco shiver. "But why don't I feel like that now? I haven't put on the Heir ring yet." he asked.

"That's because of me." Harry answered with a soft smile. "You accepted your Black lineage when you gave your oath. As long as I am close to you, my magic shields yours and keeps you safe. Should I leave now, you would be exposed once more."

"What? Will I be like this forever?" Draco yelped wide eyed, pulling up his knees to his chest and hugging them with his good arm. Tears welled up in his eyes.

"No, you won't. I could simply accept you as a full ward of the Black Family and you would be protected again." he explained patiently, putting his hand on the other boy's knee.

"But what about the Heir ring then? Why did you tell me to put it on immediately and accept me as your Heir if you could just accept me into the Family and attain the same consequences that way?"

"First of all, I do want you as my Heir." Lord Black said firmly. "But I also did that because the acceptance of a full ward needs a ritual, similar to the one we have already done, it would take time. I knew how unpleasant this experience is. You putting on the ring with my advance permission would have protected you almost instantly."

"Shouldn't I do that now then?" Draco asked hesitantly. "Put on the ring, I mean."

Lord Black's green eyes sparkled for a moment before growing dim and serious again. There was a hint of something else there as well, Draco noticed, was the man...nervous?

"About that." he started slowly, picking up the ring box from the bedside table.

Draco's heart jumped. This was it. Now his Magister was going to tell him that he didn't want him anymore, that this was all he wanted, to see Draco without a Family, exposed like this.

"I haven't told you everything yet. You see, I wasn't born with the name Black."

He was nervous. How strange. What was going on? "What do you mean?" he asked, confused.

"Do you know how everyone was trying to find out who I was exactly during the summer after I claimed my inheritance?" Lord Black asked. "And how no one succeeded?"

At his ward's nod, he continued, "That was deliberate. I did not want anyone to know who I was."

"Why not?" the blond asked. "Did you do something wrong? Were people looking for you?"

"Well, I didn't do anything wrong exactly. But people did know me. I didn't want my reputation to cast a shadow on my being Lord Black. I wanted a fresh start, a chance to choose what to do on my own. I couldn't do that with my old name."

Draco nodded. He understood. His father had taught him a lot about the influence a name could have, good as well as bad.

"So I decided to split my identity. The Black Family spirits understood my question and granted me that possiblity by giving me this amulet."

Draco leaned forward curiously and examined the heavy medallion in his Magister's hand. It was made of gold, roughly cut and the image of the Black Family crest shimmered as he moved it.

"Draco." Lord Black said, so urgently that it made him look up immediately. "I am telling you this now, so you have a choice. You do not have to be my Heir if you don't want to. If you just want to stay in the background, I will not make you do anything and I will still protect you, even if you don't want anyone to know."

What in Merlin's name was going on? Who was that man? Draco's instincts made him stay silent.

"I really do look like this. I didn't always, though. On my sixteenth birthday I got a letter from the late Lord Black, naming me his Heir. So I went to Gringotts and I asked for the inheritance ritual.-"

Wait. Sixteen? Not seventeen? In Draco's head alarm bells started ringing.

"The Family Spirits granted me permission and restored my body to the way it would have been, had my muggle guardians not abused me and then gave me a medallion to mimick my old looks when necessary. The goblin that helped me did not expect me to survive the ritual, since I already held the Heir position for another House. Instead I was made Lord Black, skipping the Heir stage altogether.-"

Sixteen meant Draco's age. Students Draco's age that lived with muggle guardians and were the Heir to an ancient and noble Family.

Lord Black made eye contact, making Draco focus on the exceptionally rare green eyes that were set in the young aristocratic face.

"Draco, I am Harry Potter."

When his ward didn't react at all, Harry first thought he had gone into shock or something. He as about to cast a diagnostic charm when the boy shook himself out of his stupor and broke eye contact, looking down nervously. "I need a moment to think." he said softly.

Harry nodded in understanding, feeling relieved that there was at least some kind of reaction.

"I meant alone." Draco added hesitantly, nervously twitching his good hand.

"Of course." He stood, smiling down gently. "Take as long as you need. I will be right in the next room. Feel free to call Kreacher should you want anything. I imagine you are hungry." He put the ring box on the bed, next to Draco.

The boy nodded carefully. Harry wasn't certain he should leave him alone in this state, but he understood the need for thought, so he exited the bed chamber, closing the door behind him and walked towards the study.

"Kreacher?" he called. The elf popped up immediately. "Could you go and tell my friends and Grandmother that Draco and I are both safe, though it might be a while before we come back?"

Kreacher nodded. "Anything else, Master?"

"Yes, ask Hermione to prepare a bag with my books and homework assignments. I might as well start to catch up."

"Of course, Master." Kreacher croaked, bowing low. Then he straightened up again and looked at Harry hesitantly. "How is the boy be doing, sir?"

The Potter Heir sighed. "He will be okay, though I don't know what choice he will make. We weren't exactly the best of friends before."

Kreacher awkwardly patted his elbow, it being the highest point he could reach. "Master shouldn't worry. Mister Draco Malfoy is being a smart boy."

Harry smiled weakly. "Thank you, Kreacher."

The elf bowed again and popped out, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.

Draco's mind ran around in circles. Lord Black was Harry Potter, Harry Potter was his Magister, his nemesis was his protector, but did that mean he was safe or not? He tried to calm himself down. He needed to start with the facts. One, Harry Potter had always mocked him. Why would that change now? But aah, his mind supplied, hadn't he been left alone this year? As far as he could remember, there had been no real confrontations this year.
But, another voice protested, that was only because he had acted neutral. Did that mean Potter would be nice to him as long as he was acting neutral? He had planned on doing that anyway.
On the other hand, it had been Potter as Lord Black who had ordered him to be neutral in the first place. Did that mean that he would only be safe as long as he did exactly what he was ordered to do?
That didn't sound very different from the Dark Lord!

Calm down, he told himself again. Potter couldn't be similar to the Dark Lord. That was absolutely ridiculous. He was rambling again.
Okay, start over. Had Lord Black ever done anything to hurt him? No, he hadn't. He had shown Draco his real options and he hadn't pushed him to do anything, except that week of neutrality and he had liked that, hadn't he? So, the question was why he hadn't stopped his efforts after getting Draco disowned. Why had Potter still helped him? Hadn't he reached his purpose, humiliating and isolating him completely? If it would have been him, he would have left Potter to die afterwards.

But it wasn't him, which brought him back to the problem at hand. Potter had explained how he wanted to offer everyone a choice. Merlin! His godfather was going to freak out when he heard about this. Why would Potter off protection to him? They hated each other? Was he just going to expose him to the Dark Lord?
No, he could have done that before if he wanted to.
Did Potter gain anything by recruiting them? Influence, maybe. Power, definitely, but Draco agreed with his goals. Why not support Lord Black then?
He didn't have anyone else to protect him. The Dark Lord was after him and he didn't want to go running to Dumbledore with this stupid ideals, who might even force him to spy on the Slytherins. He kicked the side of the bed in annoyance.
Why was this so difficult?

Would Potter truly protect him? Or was he just going to use him? He didn't really have to worry about getting hurt. Once he got accepted as the Black Heir and wore the ring, he would be protected by Family Magicks again and the Lord of a Family couldn't hurt the Heir, everyone knew that.
He would gain the status of being the Heir of the House of Black, regaining his status in the Slytherin common room. He wouldn't have to do his Father's bidding anymore. He could toss the marriage contract with Pansy. His heart leaped joyously for a moment when he realised he didn't have to marry that cow.

The worst scenario would be if Potter failed. He would have a bull's eye painted on him for sure and would be taken down with him.
But on the plus side, he could profit from the situation if Potter won. And everyone seemed to think he could do it.

Why not take the chance? He needed the protection and Potter would be too weak hearted to hurt him. He was still a Gryffindor, he told himself, ignoring the voice in the back of his head that whispered that Potter would not want to hurt him. That the man (for he was definitely NOT a boy anymore) truly cared.

He would become Draconis Lucius Malfoy, the Heir of the most Ancient and Noble House of Black. He looked at the ring box on the bed and picked it up hesitantly.

A surge of love and protection coursed through him as he opened the box. He had never felt something as wonderful before. The ornate ring stared up at him. It wasn't as unforgiving as the Malfoy one had been, but more elegant, welcoming. Its magic was inviting him, promised protection. Draco nodded firmly.
He had taken his decision.

Severus Snape stalked through the Forbidden Forest, casting and recasting a locator and point me charm with every step he took. He had to find Draco. Lucius had just flooed him to inform him of his son's disloyalty and had boasted about casting him out of the Family. The man had never really cared about his Heir, beyond his necessity for the continuation of the Malfoy line, which was why Severus had been the one to teach Draco morals, to show him love and to be there when the boy had needed him.
Narcissa considered her job to be finished after birthing her husband an Heir and since then only occupied herself with managing her husband's estate and organising parties. Her heart was cold as ice, though Draco didn't want to see it.

The Potions Master knew that if he wouldn't be able to find Draco soon, he would succumb to the effects of the sudden overexposure to magic and die of exhaustion. He again sped up his pace. Not a single spell worked, to his utter frustration.

He ignored the leaves and branches that tore at his robes while he roughly entered the less frequented, darker part of the forest.

An owl hooted, several birds suddenly flew up from a bush to his far right. Snape froze, raising his wand to defend himself. "Draco?" he called tentatively. No one replied. Then a claw grabbed at his shoulder, the man cried out in surprise, instinctively casting a stunning spell over his shoulder. A dull thud resounded when the spell hit its target. He looked around to see what had dared to attack him, sighing in relief when he discovered it to be a mere owl. "Stupid creature." he muttered to himself, picking it up. It carried a letter, he noticed. He carefully unraveled the string that tied the scroll to the bird's talon. His heart beat faster when he recognised the Black crest on the seal as well as the owl's foot.

Professor Snape

Draco is well. Meet us at the gates in half an hour.

The note wasn't signed, but he knew who it was from so it didn't matter.

Draco is well, tension left him. He didn't know how the man had found his godson when he couldn't, but he was grateful nonetheless. He set the owl down on a branch, high enough to keep predators away. Then he started through the forest again, in a straight line for the Hogwarts gates.

Harry sat in Slytherin's study, working on his homework. He tried not to think of Draco too much, though it was getting very difficult not to. Once every few minutes he heard bare feet come his way through the corridor, hesitate in front of his door and then walk away again. It seemed he wasn't the only one that was nervous.

Hermione had put a note in his bag, warning him the Umbridge trial was in a few hours and that he really shouldn't be late. He had been furious to hear that. He should have been notified personally! Then he had remembered the owl diversion wards on these quarters and hit his head on the desk in frustration.

He hoped Draco would hurry up. He couldn't leave him here alone, that would expose him again and if he did choose to become a full ward of the Family, then the ritual would take some time.

"Magister?" Draco's voice brought him back to the here and now. The boy stood in the door opening, wearing his school uniform again, Harry must have missed his knocking on the door.

"Please, come in." he said, mentioning to the chairs on the other side of the desk. He tapped a square on the desk and a tea set appeared.

It was unsettling to see his school nemesis this insecure, curling his hands around the tea cup, his knuckles white with tension.

"Careful." he joked with a grin, "You don't want to break that."

Malfoy gave him a tense smile. Then he opened his mouth and spoke so fast that it took Harry some trouble understanding it. "I'll do it. I'll be your Heir." While in a normal Family this might not have been an appropriate way to accept such an honorable position, both of them understood the risks of being Harry Potter's Heir.

Joy lit up in Harry's chest. Still, he forced himself to ask. "Are you sure?"

Draco nodded curtly. "I trust you." He put the ring box on the desk. Harry got up and came to the other side of the table, kneeling down at the other boy's chair. "You won't regret this." he said sincerely. "I promise I will protect you the best I can."

He saw Draco understood the meaning of his promise as recognition lit up in his eyes. Harry's honor as a Potter would force him to obey his promise, almost as if it were an unbreakable vow. He put his hand into Harry's and the latter pushed the Heir ring onto Draco's ring finger.

A rush of magic filled the room, and then disappeared again, blanketing Draco in comfortable cocoon of what felt like hot air, before seeping into his skin and encasing his magic in a protective hug.

The Black Heir sighed in relief as the itching openness that had been there since his Father had cast him out of the Family disappeared.

He barely noticed as his Family Head nodded to an owl in the corner of the room, that immediately flew off with a prepared note on its leg.

His Lord allowed him to sit for a while, to bask in the joyous feeling feeling safe again, before clearing his throat. "We need to go now. Do you think you are up for a short walk?"

Draco looked up at him questioningly. "Where are we going?"

Harry grinned. "You were out for a few days and I would like to get you back to your Godfather before he skins me alive. He is waiting for us at the gates"

"But we are in the castle already. Why walk all the way up to the gates?" Draco asked with a frown.

Harry looked at him seriously. "Because I would like this place to remain a secret. We are in Salazar Slytherin's personal chambers. No one needs to know they even exist. We'll let everyone believe you were in one of the Black properties."

Draco gawked up at him. "We are in Salazar Slytherin's quarters?"

"Yes, we are. But we need to go now. I'm in quite a hurry."

Draco knew not to be hurt by this exclamation and rather abrupt ending of their conversation. People were worried about them and the longer they stayed away, the more difficult it would be for Potter to explain his absence. Now that he thought of it, "Sir, what will I say? Were you at Lord Black's as well?"

Apparently his Magister had thought it all through already. "Why, I helped you get back to Lord Black's place of course. And then you knocked me out with your magic because it was fragile and I was stupid enough to come too close, not that you would expect any different from a Gryffindor of course. Lord Black wouldn't let the two of you leave before you were both recovered enough. He does apologise for not letting anything know, but he'd rather keep his position a secret, as he's sure everyone understands given the circumstances."

Draco's mouth fell open.

Harry gave him a smug look. "I might not be able to lie, Catulo, but that doesn't mean I'm helpless."

So I got stuck for a while. Honestly, I was too scared to start writing this chapter. It was very important to me and I've been designing and redesigning in my head every since I started. I hope you liked it in the end?

How did you like Harry's explanation to Draco about revealing his identity?

What did you think of Draco's mental rant?

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please leave me a review with your thoughts.
Thank you for everyone that has reviewed in the past! I love every single one of them. I'm grinning like a fool every time I see an e-mail that announces one. Thanks so much!