Chapter 16

The next morning, Harry went with Draco to the apothecary.

"Won't you be late for training?" Draco asked him.

"I can Apparate straight into the room. I'll be fine," Harry replied.

Draco didn't reply. It went unspoken that both of them were simply trying to stall for time.

Harry helped Draco set the shop up for the morning. Mr. Mulpepper made himself scarce as soon as he saw the looks on their faces, disappearing into his office.

Harry glanced at the clock. Draco knew he was due for training at eight. It was seven fifty-five.

"I have to go now," Harry said.

Draco nodded. "I know."

"I'll see you as soon as training is over. I can come by for lunch, if you want."

"It's alright," Draco replied, trying to smirk. "I need some peace and quiet."

Harry smiled. "It'll be okay, Draco."

Draco nodded again. "I know," he lied. Harry leaned over, pressed a kiss to his cheek, and Apparated away.

The emptiness didn't settle in straight away, or even at all when Harry left, which Draco was surprised by. Instead, he felt numb. He wasn't sure which was worse.

.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:.

Harry tried not to get distracted during training, but it was hard, especially because he was told there were reporters hanging around the Ministry's main lobby, waiting for him to show his face, which he didn't plan to do. Oddly enough, there was none of that emptiness he had anticipated – instead, he couldn't feel anything at all. Everything went by in a blur, but a very slow blur. Ron didn't comment, and Harry had to admit he was glad he was able to work with Ron instead of someone he didn't know. Not only did Ron alert him whenever he spaced out, he also kept his mind off of Draco by talking about other things. Most of them were random, unrelated and made no sense, but Harry appreciated the effort.

It was only around lunch time when he started to feel that something was missing again, but it was different from before. Perhaps he had just gotten used to it. The lunch table was oddly silent without Neville there, which only added to Harry's messed up thoughts. He knew he should Apparate to the apothecary and have lunch there, because he knew by now Draco would probably want him to, but a part of him stubbornly refused to because Draco had said he'd be fine. Harry couldn't help but smile at the thought. Even in his deepest misery, he still wanted to start arguments with Draco. Maybe that was something that would never change.

Finally, evening arrived. Harry was immensely glad when training ended, but before he could even think about Apparating away, a memo floated down into his hand. It said Kingsley wanted to see him. Harry groaned. He didn't feel like meeting the Minister For Magic just yet. He replaced the charm on the memo and had it fly off somewhere else. Hopefully by the time anyone noticed, he'd be long gone.

Ron rolled his eyes. "I'm not making any excuses for you."

"Then you're just going to have to escape quickly, too," Harry replied.

They were about to step outside the training hall when Hermione came into view, pushing past a poor old wizard trying to charm a large stack of cursed files into submission.

"Hermione!" Harry exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

Hermione didn't answer directly. "Why don't we sit down and have a drink?"

Harry wanted to refuse, but he took one look at her face and decided he'd rather endure the numbness for a little longer than have to face her wrath if he refused.

They went to the cafeteria and sat down. None of them ordered any drinks.

"How're you feeling, Harry?" Hermione asked.

"Pure rubbish, thanks, but that'll be fixed as soon as I get to the apothecary," Harry replied, hoping to cut the meeting short.

"Do you still feel empty?" she questioned, ignoring his hints.

"Yeah, that's why –"

"No, Harry," Hermione said impatiently. "Really. Do you still feel empty?"

He sighed. "No, just numb. Look, Hermione, can't the explanations be done at the apothecary?"

Hermione ignored his hints again. "Only numb?"

"I feel like something's missing, but in a different way from before. Listen, Hermione –"

"No, Harry, you listen!" she snapped. "This is important."

Harry fell silent obediently.

"Do you remember what I was saying the other day to Proudfoot?" she asked. "The bit about Wand Bondage only being present until a certain stage is completed?"

"Yeah, you said it was probably incorrect information."

"I was just telling you that until I could research it more properly," Hermione said. "And I did, and I think I know what type of Wand Bondage yours is, Harry. We've been going about this all wrong the whole time."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, frowning.

"The Bond stopped existing when you and Draco kissed for the first time," Hermione stated.

"What?" Harry demanded. "That can't be, that was at least a fortnight ago! And I'm still feeling it now –"

"No, you're not, Harry. You have to listen." Hermione waited until she was sure he wouldn't interrupt, then elaborated, "The Bond's effects don't just disappear, Harry. You and Malfoy built a bond of your own during that period, which was all the Elder Wand really wanted you to do. The kiss broke it off. From then on, whatever feelings you had towards each other were all your own."

"That can't be right!" Harry interjected.

"Think about it, Harry," Hermione said. "Did anything about that dynamic change between you and Malfoy after you kissed? What happened after that?"

"Err...well, we shagged –"

"Too much info!" Ron snapped.

Hermione glared at him. "Unfortunately for you, Ronald, I need more than that statement. Besides, Harry, I didn't mean physically."

"Oh," Harry said, frowning. "Well, Draco told me I was his first kiss..."

"What?" Ron gaped.

"...and then when I tried to approach him again, he sort of shoved me off," Harry went on, ignoring Ron. "But I don't see why –"

"That's it! That's the turning point!" Hermione exclaimed. "With the Bond gone, he was able to think rationally, and he started getting afraid of what all of this meant. Has it been like that, lately?"

Harry suddenly realised she was right. "Yeah. He's been frightened of what's ahead. Yesterday he was being a prick about my Auror training."

"Because he didn't know how it'd be when you guys had to separate!" Ron exclaimed, finally making a useful contribution. "Blimey, Hermione, you might be right!"

"I am right," Hermione replied smugly.

"Just because he's able to think –"

"Harry, think about it more carefully," Hermione said. "I'm guessing things between you after that kiss have been less...umm...lust-based and more tender."

Harry nodded. "Yeah...well, I don't know. We've done some stuff –"

"Too much information!" Ron cut in again.

"Shut up, Ronald," Hermione snapped. "Okay. Let's use an example. What did you do yesterday night?"

"We..." Harry trailed off. "I took him on a date. But we still shagged, Hermione, I don't get –"

Ron held his face in his hands. "I'm not getting very pleasant images right now."

"On a date? That's so sweet!" Hermione exclaimed, then paused when she saw Harry glaring at her. "Alright, focusing. But hasn't Malfoy been more distant lately? He's thinking about all of this, Harry, and he's worried about how this will end. Without the Bond's interference, both of you are able to see an end in sight. Do you understand now?"

"Look, that's a brilliant explanation and all that," Harry said, "but that doesn't explain why I'm still feeling like I'm missing something!"

"Oh, Harry," Hermione sighed. "Of course you feel that way. You just miss him."

Harry stared at her for a moment. "What?"

"Wait, it makes sense," Ron said suddenly. "Think about it, mate."

"Think about what?"

Hermione spoke again. "You've spent a few months exclusively in Malfoy's immediate presence. If anyone had to separate from someone they've spent a long time with after learning to enjoy their company, it's only reasonable that they'll feel a little lost without that person."

The puzzle pieces were fitting together in Harry's head. It made sense. He just missed him – that was why he wasn't empty anymore – the Bond was gone, and he missed Draco. It was all so surreal.

"You're right," he said at last. "I understand now."

"But Harry, there's another thing you should probably know," Hermione said.

"What's that?"

"Malfoy's extremely intelligent," she stated. "As soon as you left, he probably started to wonder why he wasn't experiencing the exact same emptiness as before, and he would have probably figured it out. He's going to think that because the Bond is gone, you don't feel the same way anymore."

"Or maybe he's the one who doesn't," Harry muttered bitterly.

"Harry, you've gone two weeks after the Bond broke," Hermione said. "If he didn't feel the same, he would've left already. It's clear you both still love each other."

"Whoa," Harry said, holding his hands up. "Love is a very strong word."

Hermione made a sound with her tongue. "Then replace it with something till you're ready to use it!"

Harry stared at her for a moment, trying to process all the information.

"Well? What are you waiting for?" she snapped. "Hurry up and tell him you still...whatever him before he bails out!"

Harry leaped to his feet. "Right. Right!" He turned to Ron and Hermione. "But he's at the apothecary now. I'll cause a scene."

"Cause a scene or lose him, mate," said Ron, and Hermione glanced at him.

"That was actually a good statement."

"Always the tone of surprise," Ron muttered. "Look, if it makes it better, we'll go with you. Besides, there's still a chance he hasn't realised the bond has broken."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "No, there isn't. The idiot's too bright for his own good. That head of his does way too much thinking. But Ron's right, Harry. We'll go with you."

"Thanks," Harry said. "Meet you there." He closed his eyes and Apparated, hoping to Merlin that he wasn't too late.

.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:.

When Harry appeared outside the shop a few seconds before Ron and Hermione, he pushed his way straight inside, searching for Draco. Luckily, he was standing at the counter, and he didn't have any customers with him – there were only two or three scattered around the shop today.

"Draco," Harry said, walking up to him. Just seeing him restored some of the feeling he had been missing throughout the day. Draco glanced up, and Harry saw something there that he didn't want to see – a mask. There was a mask of indifference over him. "There's something I have to tell you. It's important, and it's about –"

"The Bond, I know," Draco replied, leaning casually against the counter. "It's broken; I'm aware of that. I'm not certain how that happened, but you can be assured that I'll move out tonight."

Harry gritted his teeth – why was Draco such an idiot? For someone so bloody intelligent, he sure was stupid. "No, I don't want you to –"

"It's fine, Potter. I understand. You don't have to pretend –"

Harry grabbed one of Draco's hands. "No, you're not listening to me," he said desperately. "Draco –"

Draco wrenched his hand away and Harry felt as if someone had stabbed him in the chest. Why was he making this so difficult? Behind him, the door swung open, admitting Hermione and Ron, who kept their distance but watched the pair of them. Draco's eyes flicked to them, hardened, and averted back to him. "Forget it, Potter. I'm not some damsel in distress. I don't need you to reassure me. I don't even care." He pulled his hand away once more and turned to enter the storeroom.

Frustrated, Harry shouted, "You know what you are? You're fucking scared."

Several heads turned their way and a hush fell over the few present customers. Harry would've recognised them, had he paid attention – these were their regulars, the ones who always came for prescriptions every other day or the ones who ran their own smaller potion businesses, or those tutoring the subject. Hermione and Ron were the only odd ones out among them, and Hermione was chewing her lip anxiously while Ron muttered something about explosions.

Draco turned back to face Harry, very slowly, a dangerous flash in his eyes. "Excuse me?" he whispered, the kind of murmur that was a prelude to war.

"You're scared!" Harry repeated. "You're scared to let me in! You play it off like you're some confident, arrogant piece of shit, but inside you're just too scared to admit the truth!"

Mr. Mulpepper had come out of a side door and was watching them with his arms folded. For a second, Harry thought he was going to ask them to leave the shop, but he leaned against the wall and watched, his eyes twinkling slightly although his countenance remained serious.

"And what is that truth, Potter?" Draco asked, his voice still frighteningly quiet in comparison with Harry's yelling. "Is it really the truth? Or is it just what you want to believe?"

Harry stared at him in disbelief for a moment. "Are you serious? You're just going to pretend you don't care?" he questioned, his voice growing softer as well, but more in weariness than anything else. "Why are you so afraid of what's going to make you happy? Why are you so terrified of anything that even hints at giving you the happiness you've earned?"

Draco sighed, looking just as deflated as Harry felt, or worse. He leaned his hands against the counter, his head staring down at it. "You know what?" he breathed. "Fine, I'm scared." He looked up, and Harry saw that he looked exhausted. Before Harry could go to him, he spoke again. "Fucking terrified, in fact." He laughed. "And you know why, Harry?"

Harry inhaled sharply when Draco used his first name. He wasn't sure if it was a good sign or a bad one. "Why?" he murmured.

"Because this whole time," Draco murmured, "this whole fucking time, I thought it was just the Bond that made me feel this way. But now I'm not so sure, and that's what scares me, Harry. What if it's not the Bond? What if it's me?"

The shop was deadly quiet. Hermione's hand flew to cover her mouth. Ron, who had subconsciously taken a few steps back during the duration of the argument, was standing rigidly still in shock. Mr. Mulpepper was smiling, and the customers were catching each other's eyes in disbelief. Harry, on the other hand, was suddenly feeling rather light.

"You idiot," he grinned, closing the distance between them quickly. "That's what I came here to tell you. I feel that way, too."

Before Draco could respond, and not even caring who was watching, Harry took Draco's face in his hands and kissed him.

A few seconds passed in silence, and then the customers present began to clap. Hermione and Ron were sighing in relief, and Mr. Mulpepper looked as if he had quite expected this the whole time. A customer in the back yelled, "It's about bloody time!", and someone responded, "I know! I've been watching them dancing around it for months!"

But Harry and Draco heard none of this, as they were both quite happily oblivious to all that rubbish, thank you very much.

When they eventually broke apart, Harry was smiling like a fool, and he could see Draco trying very hard not to, which had to be fixed immediately.

"I hate you," Harry muttered. "You know that?"

Finally, finally, Draco smiled. "The feeling's mutual."

Before Harry could think of a response, the door swung open, and a hush fell over the apothecary once more, all eyes trained on the entrance. Harry and Draco turned to look at the person coming in and instantly stood to attention, although Harry kept one arm around Draco's waist protectively. It was the Minister For Magic himself.

Everyone was completely silent except Mr. Mulpepper, who piped up, "Oh, good evening, Minister! May we help you?"

Kingsley smiled respectfully and shook his head. "No, thank you." He turned to Harry. "Mr. Potter," he said formally, "I left you a memo at the Ministry half an hour ago."

"Really?" Harry grinned. "Must have missed it."

Kingsley arched an eyebrow disbelievingly, his eyes travelling over the occupants of the shop. "I requested to see you in my office. I suggest we finish up what business must be taken care of now. If you would follow me?"

Harry reluctantly released Draco and started to follow him.

"Mr. Malfoy, as well," Kingsley added.

Draco stepped forward. Harry reached out and took his hand. If Kingsley noticed, he did not comment.

"We will Apparate from here," Kingsley smiled. "I will see all of you there in five seconds. Altogether now, one, two –"

Harry and Draco turned in unison and disappeared.

.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:._.:*~*:.

Draco felt slightly disoriented as they appeared in Kingsley's office. Perhaps it was the fact that he was still exhausted from spending the day away from Harry, or perhaps it was that he was simply still light-headed from the kiss Harry had given him. Either way, he stumbled slightly as the opulent office came spiralling into view. Harry was still holding his hand.

Kingsley was already standing regally in front of them. "We're all here? Very good. But what I wanted to show you is not in this office. If you will follow me, gentlemen.." He led the way out of the room. Draco and Harry exchanged a glance and rushed after him.

They entered the lift and Kingsley hit the button with the number 9 on it. Draco frowned. That was the Department of Mysteries. He glanced at Harry to see if he had a reaction – it was where his godfather had died in battle, after all. Harry looked mostly curious, and smiled briefly at Draco when he saw him looking. For some reason, it reassured Draco sufficiently. When had they learned to communicate without words?

They exited the lift and followed Kingsley into the department. Draco wondered how many other civilians had been given the privilege of striding right into it, and with permission at that. Kingsley walked fast and Draco and Harry strode briskly to keep up, not willing to get lost in the labyrinth of turnings.

Finally, they came to a halt outside a certain door. Kingsley waved his wand in front of it in a series of complicated movements that Draco didn't even bother to memorise. After several minutes, the door clicked open, and Kingsley stepped back to allow them in first.

Draco and Harry walked into the room slowly, still holding hands, not sure what lay ahead of them. It was a simple room, dimly lit, its walls dark and giving the illusion of an endless expanse of blackness. There was a glass case set right in the middle of the room. When Kingsley stepped in and closed the door behind them, it, too, took up the appearance of empty space.

"Don't worry," Kingsley assured them. "I know the way out."

Harry was tugging Draco's arm forward. He followed as Harry led him towards the glass casing. Within the Charmed enclosure was a thin object resting on a platform, and it looked awfully like...

Draco's jaw dropped in shock.

"The Elder Wand," Kingsley said gravely. "A Ministry official stumbled upon half of its splintered remains after the Battle of Hogwarts, and we scoured the mountains for the rest. It was vital that we restore it to its original condition. Perhaps it isn't perfect, but it's all we can do at this point."

Draco stared at it in awe – the most powerful wand in the world.

"There has only been one other case of Wand Bondage by the Elder Wand in history," Kingsley said quietly.

"Arcus and Livius," Draco murmured.

"Yes," Kingsley confirmed. "You've done your research." He cleared his throat and went on, "If at any point in your lives, either of you find yourselves doubting whether your romance is genuine, or if it was forced by the Elder Wand's superior powers, remember this." He turned to face them. "Arcus and Livius were forced together, yes, and they were rivals as you were, yes. However, neither of them had any genuine feelings for each other. The only reason Gregorovitch was never able to confirm who the Master of the Wand was before him was because he simply recovered it from their home." He waited for a moment, then said, "Arcus and Livius killed each other."

Draco stared at him, dumbfounded.

"Surprising, no?" Kingsley said. "They were Bound, and yet they couldn't bring themselves to develop genuine feelings for the other. They could not fathom going through the stages – each time they did, they hated themselves for it; they were disgusted. Arcus snapped first – he decided that he couldn't live any longer and decided to murder Livius. Livius, however, knew what he was planning and vowed to kill him first. They duelled. Neither survived. They did not care for each other; only for their own selves. Livius did not try to reason with him – they both wanted the other dead." Kingsley gestured to the Elder Wand. "An object like this can Bind you together, perhaps, but it cannot create love. What you feel for each other is genuine – the Wand only helped to make you see that."

Harry squeezed Draco's hand. Draco looked up at the Minister. He understood that this had been for his benefit, because every single person who knew Harry would know that he didn't doubt his own feelings.

"Thank you, sir," he said.

"Not a word of this goes to anyone," Kingsley reminded them. "That is all the gratitude I require."

Draco and Harry nodded. Kingsley led the way out of the room. When they reached the elevator, Kingsley pressed the button that would lead them to the main lobby.

"Harry, are you certain that you want to be an Auror?" Kingsley asked.

Draco watched as Harry nodded. "One hundred percent."

Kingsley smiled. "Very well."

Draco pondered this. He knew of Harry's hopes and dreams, but he wasn't sure if Harry knew what they would entail – the hero status would be back, and despite all he had said to rile Harry up before, he wasn't sure if Harry liked being the hero. He seemed to lack the appearance of animated iron and shining golden light that most of those who claimed to be heroes aspired to achieve. To Draco, Harry was neither a victim nor a victor, but a man driven by his own innate and insufferable decency.

But at the same time, Harry was a man who Draco believed in, and whom he cared about. And perhaps, really, that was all that mattered.

"It'll be swarming with reporters out there," Kingsley informed them. "I think you gave everyone quite an eyeful at the apothecary. I don't believe even my presence will hold them off. Can you handle them?"

Harry glanced at Draco confidently. "We'll manage."

Kingsley laughed. "Very well. Good luck."

The lift chimed, signalling their arrival. Harry turned to Draco and reached out to hold his hand. Draco didn't hesitate to take it.

"Ready?" Harry asked.

Draco took one look at him and smiled. Harry was nervous, he could tell, but so was he. Taking a deep breath, he smirked as arrogantly as he could and nodded.

"Ready."

Finite


A/N: So this fic has finally reached its end! Thank you so much to all those who read, followed, favourited and reviewed! I loved reading your feedback.

Special thanks to Fortun4 Maj0r for all her lovely reviews that never failed to make me chuckle at my computer screen and earn several odd glances from my roommate! :)

I'm also planning to do a sequel for this at some point next year when I get back from National Service. What do you guys think? Drop me a line in the form of a review or PM and let me know. If there's anything you'd like to see happen in the sequel (if there is one), you're more than welcome to make suggestions! :D

Thanks again everyone! Have a wonderful year ahead!