The Secondary Task – 1/2 – ProfFrankly

Title: The Secondary Task
Author: ProfFrankly
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Mystery, Romance
Relationship(s): Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Violence – Graphic, Violence-Canon typical. Frank discussions of teen sex (no actual teen sex).
Author Notes: This work is inspired by my favorite Harry/Draco authors, Keira Marcos and Vorabiza. Thanks to Keira for talking me out of giving up on this piece, and to Gypsysue for the fantastic beta and Brit-pick. Any mistakes left are mine. Thanks, also, to Coco, who did the amazing art. Finally, thanks to my fellow Cheetahs on the JustWrite Discord server. Sprints with you made this work possible.
Beta: Gypsysue
Word Count: 51,000
Summary: When Harry Potter’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, Draco Malfoy decides the Boy-Who-Lived needs a friend, whether he wants one, or not. With his mother’s backing, Draco sets out to make sure Harry knows he has someone in his corner, for now, and if Draco has his way, for always.
Artist: CoCo



Chapter 1

Draco Malfoy watched as Harry Potter’s face turned sheet white.

Potter’s name had just come out of the Goblet of Fire. And by the looks of it, Potter didn’t enter himself.

Interesting.

My Darling Son,

Your father’s Mark grows ever more clear. I fear that we will need to implement our plans sooner than we expected. Do keep watch on Harry Potter. He cannot trust anyone at that school, as you know, and I very much fear that he is being driven down a dark path. Your antagonism toward him was part of our plan, it is true, but I think it might be time to take a different tack if we wish to survive what is coming. Use your discretion, my son, in approaching him. He must survive, so that we may survive.

Your position in Slytherin house is secure. If you think it at all possible to befriend Mr Potter directly, you have my permission to do so. We can help, and we should. Our world must not become the dark and terrible place He would make it. Magic herself will not survive.

With all my love,

Mum

The fucking Ministry wanted Potter to face fucking dragons.

Draco steamed inwardly as he caught a glimpse of the monstrous-looking animals being unloaded near the Forbidden Forest.

Fucking dragons.

Draco walked slowly back to his dorm, thinking. If ever there was a time to intervene on Potter’s behalf, now would be it.

But what to do, and how to go about doing it? The antagonism between the two of them wasn’t all fake. Though Draco bore Potter no ill will, at all, he did, at one time.

Rejecting his handshake had stung, badly.

But it had become apparent, in the intervening years, that Potter had no clue at all about his own heritage, his own place in the wizarding world, or even his own appeal as a person.

Where had he spent his childhood?

The rags Potter wore when he wasn’t in uniform provided a very healthy clue that all was not well in Potter’s home life. It was obvious unless you weren’t looking. Or, unless you did look, but didn’t want to see.

Draco had made rather a study of Potter from the beginning, after all.

And now, facing fucking dragons, Potter was down a friend—though Draco never did see the appeal of the Weasel—and without any sort of coach or mentor to help him figure things out. The other champions had their headmasters or mistress, and Diggory even had his Head of House, Professor Sprout, but Potter?

As far as Draco could tell, he had no adults in his corner at all.

Well, that could change, Draco thought, but it wasn’t likely to.

For some reason Draco couldn’t quite see, it appeared that no one wanted Harry to have an adult he could rely on.

Well, fine. Draco wasn’t an adult, but he very much wanted to be someone Harry could rely on.

But how to approach it? How to approach him?

He thought for a moment, then had an epiphany. He made his way quickly to his room and his trunk.

From it, Draco drew three slim books: Wizarding World Etiquette, The Sacred 28 and Those Who Were Better Than That, and Strategy for Beginners. He bundled them up, then sat at his desk with parchment and quill.

Dear Potter,

I know you have no reason to trust me. We’ve not really had a chance to get to know each other and at times I have been an outright twat to you. But I have no intention of seeing you become dragon food. I enjoy fighting with you too much.

That said, these books are my own to share and to give. I think that you might find them enlightening. For one, you’ll find out why I was hurt and angry when you refused my hand on the train. For another, some strategy could be useful to you as you think about how to get past the fucking dragons in the first task. If I come across anything else I think could be useful, I will share it.

I would ask that you keep my help quiet if you can. My House can be, well, dangerous, for any who might express sympathy toward certain factions. I imagine the same could be said for yours under certain circumstances. I hope, today, that you will finally take the hand I offered you. In spirit, if nothing else.

Draco sat back, and thought again, spinning his quill idly. He re-inked it and wrote one more line.

If nothing else, be assured that I am Slytherin enough to want to be on the winning side of whatever’s coming, and I believe that side to be yours.

In friendship,

Malfoy

“Dobby!” Draco called. The little elf popped into his room. “Master Draco needs something?” he asked.

“How is Harry today?” Draco asked.

“Master Harry is sad and frustrated,” Dobby said, wringing his hands. “He’s not eating much.”

Draco frowned. “I wish we could be more open about our help,” he said, then shook his head. He picked up his bundle of books and the letter. “Can you please bring these to Harry? We’re tipping our hand a bit by having you do this, so maybe just leave it on his pillow or something and watch to make sure he gets it?”

Dobby wagged his finger at Draco. “That be creepy stalker behaviour, young master.”

Draco gave a lop-sided grin. “Isn’t that what I am?”

“Nah, you just be making sure your Harry Potter be safe,” Dobby assured him. He took the bundle from Draco. “I’ll be making sure he gets this.”

“Thank you, Dobby.”

Draco watched at breakfast the next day, and Potter caught his eye. They stared at each other long enough that Theo Nott elbowed Draco hard in the side, breaking the eye contact.

“What was that, Malfoy?” Nott drawled. “Fancy Potter, do you?”

Draco looked back up at Harry, who’d glanced down before glancing back up again. He smiled slowly, catching Harry’s eye. “Maybe.”

The letter on his pillow that night surprised him.

Draco sat on the edge of his bed and reached for the small folded parchment. The looped handwriting told him the message came from Harry; the fact that it was on his pillow told him that Harry had used a house elf for delivery, as well.

Dobby looked to be plenty busy, Draco thought.

He carefully broke the seal and opened the letter.

Dear Malfoy,

Thank you for the books. I read the etiquette one first, and now I’m sort of wondering what else I’ve missed. I think you probably know by now that I didn’t intend to levy any sort of blood feud with your House—even if you were acting like an entitled bully. If you’re willing to start over, I am too.

You should know that I’m coming to find out some friends aren’t who I thought they were. So it’s not really a surprise to think some people I thought of as enemies might not be who I thought, either.

I appreciate your help. I know that you’d like to keep it quiet, so I have to ask: What was with the looks this morning? Not that I mind. Just curious.

You can certainly call me Harry.

In friendship,

Harry.

Draco smirked. The more he thought about Potter—no, Harry, it’s fine, he asked me to call him that—the more he started to dwell on the other’s messy black hair and sparkling green eyes.

Did I just think about sparkling eyes? Crap.

He paused for a moment on that thought, then shrugged. It’s not like his mother would mind if their alliance with Po—Harry, was cemented a bit more permanently. The scandal would irritate his father, but as he chose to let himself be marked by an evil twat, Draco didn’t much care.

He sat down at his desk to write a reply.

Dear Harry,

I would be delighted to call you Harry, and I invite you to call me Draco. It’s probably best we maintain last names in public, at least for now, but I’m happy to know that you’ll allow me the privilege of your first name. You really did read that etiquette book, didn’t you?

I don’t think it’s any secret to, well, anyone, really, that I’ve paid close attention to you, your friends, and your activities since we met in Diagon Alley. (I never did apologize for coming off like a twat at Madame Malkins, did I? It’s clear by now that you didn’t have anyone else to take you round the Alley, and I really stuck my foot in it. Well, I apologise. I was rude.)

Did I know I was doing it because I liked the way your eyes sparkle? Or how your ridiculous hair can’t be tamed? No, I don’t think I did at 11. But at 14, well, some things are starting to get a little obvious.

Be assured that if you’re in no way interested in me in that way, I will say or do nothing. But if perhaps, you ever entertained the idea of a romantic pairing between us, I would welcome your courting overture.

Read the Sacred 28 book next, please. You’ll see why it must be you who makes the first move in that kind of game.

In friendship (and maybe more),

Draco

Draco called Dobby, and his note was popped off to Harry.

Draco,

What do you think about my summoning a broom to get to the egg I’m meant to take from the dragon?

Harry

Harry,

Why don’t you just summon the damn egg?

Draco

Draco,

What if it’s spelled against that? I think that would be a pretty obvious solution, right?

Harry

Harry,

You seriously overestimate the common sense available to the members of the Ministry. I think it’s pooled in a cup somewhere, and the odds of Ludo Bagman having access to it, ever, are slim to none.

Draco

Draco,

Point.

Harry

Draco sat nervously in the stands, watching as each of the other champions went up against the dragon. Fleur’s sleeping spell worked pretty well. Krum’s conjunctivitis curse worked but crushed some of the real eggs, which would cost the Ministry a pretty penny. Diggory? Well, offering the dragon alternate food wasn’t a terrible idea, but it was very, very Hufflepuff.

He bit his lip obviously as Harry entered the arena, and Nott, who sat next to him, took note, as Draco intended.

He watched as Harry stepped into the arena with a fucking Hungarian Horntail, raised his wand, winked in Draco’s direction, and called out, “Accio Golden Egg!”

To the crowd’s astonishment, the egg soared out of the nest and directly into Harry’s hands.

The task was over, and Harry exited the Arena.

“Clever,” Nott muttered next to him. “Wonder where he got that idea?” And looked, very obviously, at Draco.

“It’s a mystery,” Draco said airily, his eyes tracking Harry’s progress toward the medical tent.

“Right,” Nott said. “You sure this is what you want?”

Draco smiled mysteriously and got up, Crabbe and Goyle getting up from their places behind him to follow him out of the stands.

Harry,

Well done. Their faces were priceless. I thought Bagman would shite himself out of shock. Dumbledore twinkled more than I thought possible. You were just brilliant.

I heard a rumour afterwards, though. Did Weasley actually apologise to you? Am I to be replaced?

In friendship,

Draco

Draco,

Thanks. It was your idea, though. I just executed it. But it did go rather well, I thought.

Ron did apologise. I forgave him, but I’m not forgetting that he’s been a jealous asshole. I don’t think most know this, but Ron was my first ever friend, so he’s probably always going to get the benefit of the doubt from me in a lot of ways. But he won’t be replacing you, no.

I have the distinct impression that friendship is the least of what you want from me. And I’ve no objection.

Just as a bit of curiosity, what kind of courting overture would you entertain?

(A bit beyond friendship,)

Harry

Harry,

Cheeky, Harry, to ask the intended object of your affections for ideas about your courting gift. Very Gryffindor. Very you. Which means, of course, I love that you asked.

If you read the books, you’ll see that the first gift usually is to signify intentions. It should be something that shows you know enough about me to make it personal, and enough about my station to make it worthy of attention.

If you are the gifter, I’m sure to love anything you decide to give.

One thing, though. I don’t know what you have planned, but there must be some sort of public presentation of the first gift. It doesn’t have to be huge and in the Great Hall, or anything like that. In fact, I’d recommend against that if we don’t want to draw attention. But the gift has to be given in front of a witness, who can sign the magical contract that we decide between ourselves if (when) I accept your gift.

I’m being very forward in this letter, Harry. Mother will be scandalised when I tell her. (And she will also be pleased, not to worry. When we are able to meet together in person, I can explain, but she is very supportive of my communication with you. We need not speak of my father. Ever, if we don’t want. But that’s an in-person conversation.)

I can tell you that my housemate, Theo Nott, is aware of my interest in you and might be a good candidate for our witness. It’s customary that the person making the gesture contact a witness to ensure he or she will be there for the presentation.

And I would very much like to see you in person. Someday, I hope to hear what you mean by your “first-ever friend.” Did you not have any friends among your peers before Hogwarts?

Draco

Draco,

I have an idea that it might be challenging for us to see each other before Yule break. And the unexpected task of taking someone to a ball has my mind going in many, many directions. Can I take you? Would you come? Would that be too public? If I can’t take you, who can I take without ruining things with you?

And I suddenly want new clothes, and I have no idea where to go to get them. I’m not going to ask Hermione, and asking Ron is pointless. Friend Draco, help me, please.

Regardless, do you think you’d be able to quietly meet me at some point during the Ball? Dobby showed me a place that I think would suit us. Perhaps bring Nott?

I’m glad to know your mother, at least, will be happy to see us building a relationship of some kind. With your permission, I’d like to share this with my godfather, Sirius Black. He is the only adult in my life with whom I have any sort of parental relationship, and I know he’ll think this a great prank. And, well, I don’t really like to talk about my years in Durzkaban (the less said about the Muggle relatives I must stay with during summers the better), but I wasn’t allowed friends, per se.

Thinking of you,

Harry

Oh, Harry,

I would love to go to the ball with you. I find that I want nothing more, actually, but I agree that perhaps that would be tipping our hand before we’re ready to. Let us say that we will each take a girl, as a friend, to throw others off our trail. And yes, I think we could find a time, easily, for us to meet with Nott. Dobby can help us arrange it. I take it you know that he’s in my employ? His bond with my father was broken, but I offered him my personal bond, and he accepted. His work here serves to help you and to keep an eye on things here at Hogwarts.

I don’t mind your discussing this with Lord Black if you have contact with him. He’s my first cousin, once removed, after all. Actually, if you are in touch with him, ask him if he’s aware that he’s the de facto Lord Black. He might not know. And depending upon his circumstances, claiming his House ring at Gringotts could benefit him in real ways. As long as you are certain he will be supportive, I support your decision.

Finally, I’m enclosing an owl-order catalogue for my tailor. Dobby can measure you. Fill in the measurements, circle what you want, and it will be delivered to you. I’m afraid he doesn’t stock much in the way of Muggle fashion, but I promise you will have good quality clothes. And they’ll take the gold from your own Gringotts vault with your key imprint as a signature.

I will ask no more about “Durzkaban,” but I hope one day you will feel comfortable talking about it. I had gathered that things were not… great? Too much? Too little? But know that I support you in whatever way I can.

Always thinking of you,

Draco

Draco,

Well, I’ve done it. I have reclaimed my key—Mrs. Weasley still had it, I’m not sure why I didn’t think to get it from her before—and I’ve ordered enough new clothes that I hope I won’t embarrass you too badly if we’re ever able to go public.

As I thought, Sirius thinks our courting is a grand prank, though he did have some concerns to start off with. Being in Azkaban for so long makes him a bit prone to paranoia, I think, but given the circumstances of the last war, I can see why he’d be a bit concerned. He did not know that he was the Lord Black. It somehow slipped his mind that was even a possibility. I suggested he go claim the ring and see about getting some help if he can. Perhaps he could arrange for a private Healer under his House protections?

I will be taking Parvati Patil to the ball, and she knows we’re going only as friends. Ron is taking Padma. Parvati is a bit of a gossip, but she’s good-hearted and understands that I’m actually spoken for. She’s also agreed to cover my escape to meet with you that night, for which I’m grateful.

I will see you there, at the Come-and-Go room Dobby found, at about 10 p.m. Dobby carried a note to Nott for me, and he’s agreed to come and witness. He might mention it to you.

Looking forward to our date,

Harry

Harry,

You will never embarrass me in any way. I couldn’t be more proud to be the person you’re interested in courting, and I cannot imagine a time that I wouldn’t be happy to have you on my arm. Or be on yours. Whichever works for us.

That said, I am looking forward to seeing what you bought. Knowing you do so for me gives me a good feeling. I hope I can dress to impress you, as well.

I’m taking Pansy Parkinson. She’s not a great choice, honestly, because she has designs above her station and has hinted strongly, more than once, that she’d like a courting overture. I smile and say nothing because I’m not interested in her that way. My father has hopes, but so far, my mother has persuaded him not to start a betrothal contract on my behalf. Theo has agreed to help facilitate my escape, and Blaise will step in to dance with her when we go so that she doesn’t feel neglected.

I look forward to our date, too.

Draco

Draco offered Pansy his arm, and escorted her to the Great Hall politely, hoping to catch a glimpse of Harry among the other Champions before they were led to the ball. Pansy clung tenaciously to his elbow and chattered in his ear, but he paid no attention as he finally saw what he’d been looking for.

Harry looked amazing.

His dress robes, in Slytherin Green, brought out his eyes, and his hair had grown out enough to pull it back in a short ponytail at the base of his neck, the rest smoothed with what Draco could only assume was liberal amounts of his family’s hair potion. His trademark glasses had been polished to a gleam, framing those gorgeous green eyes, and why was he obsessing over Harry’s eyes again?

“Right, Pansy, that’s very interesting, now do be quiet for a moment while they call the Champions in,” Draco said disinterestedly.

Pansy glared at him but did as he asked.

Harry caught Draco’s eye and gave him a slow, approving smile.

Draco preened. He did look rather handsome, he thought. His black robes, trimmed in silver, brought out the silver-grey of his eyes, and his hair, trimmed short in the back as befitting an heir, flopped in a curve over his right eye to frame it.

Merlin, we are not subtle at all, Draco thought, and he smiled back.

Nott nudged him, and Draco broke eye contact, tuning back into Pansy, who’d started nattering again about something or another.

Right. Dinner and dancing.

They ate. He swept Pansy out onto the floor in the wake of the Champions, giving her the first dance, as was proper, before Theo tapped him on the shoulder. “We have a situation,” Nott said solemnly. “I’m sorry; I’m going to need to steal you.”

Pansy pouted. “But I wanted to dance some more.”

“Ah, well,” Draco raised a hand and caught Blaise’s attention. Blaise came over to the dance floor. “Blaise will fill in for me, won’t you?”

Blaise gave nothing away as he bowed and said, “Of course. I’m always happy to dance with a beautiful girl.”

Pansy tittered. Draco refrained, barely, from rolling his eyes, as he gave Pansy’s hand to Blaise. “I don’t know how long I’ll be,” he said quietly, for both of them to hear.

Blaise gave a brief nod, and Pansy pouted in a way she probably thought was pretty before nodding, too. “I’m sure I’ll have fun with Blaise instead, then.”

“Thank you,” he said to Blaise, before turning to follow Theo.

The pair trooped up to the Come-and-Go room, Theo watching for anyone who might follow, and Draco paced in front of the dancing troll. On the third pass, a door appeared, and Draco and Theo stepped inside.

“Wow,” Theo said and whistled. “Potter went all out.”

Harry had gotten there first, obviously, and set up a cosy lounge room with drinks and snacks, twinkling lights, and fresh Yule flowers. Another door by a stone fireplace, blazing with a crackling fire, opened even as Draco looked, revealing Harry.

“Hi,” Harry said softly.

“Hi,” Draco replied, smiling at him.

They stood and looked at each other, smiling, until Theo rolled his eyes and said, “Right, the UST here is ridiculous. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

The tips of Harry’s ears turned pink, and Draco was charmed.

“Right,” Harry said and cleared his throat. “Heir Malfoy, please join me here by the fire?”

Draco grinned. “Of course, Lord Potter.”

Harry quirked a brow. “I just discovered that bit after I read your books, you know. I’m going to Gringotts tomorrow myself to claim my rings.”

“How are you managing that?” Draco asked, taking a seat.

“At Sirius’ suggestion, I’m sneaking out undercover to Hogsmeade, where he’ll meet me and apparate with me to London,” Harry said, taking the other seat. “Apparently, when he claimed his own ring, he discovered many problems with the Black and Potter accounts. Including some fraud, as Sirius is my legal magical guardian and someone else was claiming to be that.”

“Really?” Draco thought that over. “Hmmm.”

“He also engaged a private healer, as I suggested, and discovered he’d been spelled to forget he had any sort of noble claim at all,” Harry said. “No way to tell who did that now, obviously, but it’s old work. He’s getting himself healed and keeping his claim of the title silent, so I’d appreciate your being quiet about it, too.”

“No problem,” Draco said, shooting a glance at Nott, who looked like someone denied him a sweet. “Anything done here is done under the secrecy accords of the courting contract that Nott presumably has?”

Theo nodded. “I do. Dobby brought it to me on Harry’s behalf. And yes, of course.”

“Excellent,” Draco said. He bit his lip. “Would you like company tomorrow?”

Harry grinned. “Why, Heir Malfoy, are you suggesting sneaking out of Hogwarts? The very idea is so terribly Gryffindor.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Just, well, I’d like to be on hand if I can, to answer any questions you might have, or you know, just be there for my betrothed.”

Harry’s eyes softened. “I’d actually love it. I’m sure Siri won’t mind. Just, I’m leaving directly after breakfast. There’s a passage to Hogsmeade that opens up in the Honeydukes cellar. Meet me by the one-eyed witch statue? I can get us out from there.”

Draco smiled softly. “I’ll be there.”

“Right,” Theo said. “The sap is getting to me. Here’s the contract, lads, as I’m positive you’ve discussed already. But if you need changes at this late date, you can cross them out and add them, initial them, and do it before you sign and seal the document.”

“Yes, right,” Harry said and looked at the parchment Theo held out. “Let’s go over it, shall we?”

The pair read it out loud in turns, making sure they understand all its parts together. Draco clarified one point; Harry another. In the end, very few changes were made to the original document, and Draco looked up at Harry expectantly.

“I can see that you want your courting gift,” Harry said with a little grin. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Because you already know me well?” Draco said coyly.

Harry laughed, then held out a hand. A carved willow box appeared in it, laden with protective runes.

“Oh, shiny,” Draco deadpanned and giggled.

Harry rolled his eyes and handed the box over. “It opens with the unlocking spell, and it’s part of your gift, actually. It’s warded against theft, and it has a pretty intense notice-me-not built into it that you and I are keyed into. You could store anything important in there that you wanted to keep safe. But it’s already got one thing in it.”

Draco whispered, “Alohomora,” and the box opened, revealing a space lined in Slytherin green velvet. On it rested a single, broad, silver man’s ring, with an ebony stone. A recognisable man’s ring.

“The Black promise ring?” Draco breathed. “Oh, Harry.”

Harry smiled, and for the first time, touched Draco, just lightly, on the arm. “I thought you’d best appreciate something with family history, something with value beyond price.”

Theo whistled.

Draco lifted the ring carefully out of the box and slid it onto his left ring finger, where it warmed and sized to fit him. “You are not wrong,” Draco said. “But do you know what this means?”

Harry reached for the box, still in Draco’s hands, and set it down before taking both of Draco’s hands in his. “I do. Siri explained it to me. It means that I truly intend for our courtship to end in a lifetime partnership. In marriage. I know our contract specifies we have three years to court, with betrothal expected by my seventeenth birthday unless we choose to part. But giving you this, now, means I’m already committed. Draco, I expect that I could get used to seeing that ring on your finger. But I do plan to give you the Potter bonding ring for your seventeenth birthday, Dragon. I want you to know how serious I am about this.”

Draco refused to let the tear that had gathered in his eye fall but smiled softly. “I could love you, Harry, in time. But I will absolutely put everything I have into being your partner.”

“That’s all I would ask for now, and all I hoped to signify,” Harry said.

Theo cleared his throat. “Best sign that contract then, yeah?”

“Right,” Draco squeezed Harry’s hands. “Right. Let’s.”

Harry squeezed back, dropped Draco’s hands, and reached for the special quill he’d brought along. He signed his name and handed the quill to Draco, who also signed. Theo signed as the witness and then Harry sealed the whole thing. The minute his heir ring seal hit the wax, the original document glowed, copied itself, and then disappeared. The copies remained, and Harry picked one up to tuck into his pocket before holding a hand out to his intended.

“Can I interest you in a late snack?” Harry asked. “I’ve got it set up in that room next door.”

“You may,” Draco said. “Theo, I think we’re set here.”

Theo picked up the other copy. “I think you ought to put this in your new box, Draco. We don’t want the others getting wind of this right now.”

“Likely not,” Draco allowed. He watched as Theo set the document in the open box, then headed out with a wink.

As the door closed behind him, Draco turned to Harry. “You know, now that we’re officially courting, we probably ought to have a chaperone. But as you gave me the Black ring, I think we can dispense with that.”

“Brave of you,” Harry said, tugging on Draco’s hand to move him a bit closer. “What if I wanted to have my wicked way?”

Draco burst out laughing. “Where did you get that?”

“Oh, from one of my aunt’s stories.” He quirked a half-grin. “I like listening to you laugh.”

Draco moved a little closer. “I like listening to you.”

Harry smiled softly. “Would a kiss be considered scandalous?”

“Terribly,” Draco confirmed. “But I really don’t mind.”

Their lips met, chastely, for a long moment, and then Draco drew back a little, softly breathing into Harry’s mouth. “I mean I really don’t mind.”

Harry smiled and kissed him again.

Chapter 2

Upon returning to his dorm room that evening, Draco felt as though he was floating through his nightly routine. He was vaguely aware that he was smiling, widely, when he sat down to open the twinned journal in which he conversed with his mother.

Mother,

I expect you’ll be pleased to hear that the courting contract has been signed and witnessed. His courting overture…Mother, he gave me the Black promise ring. In a beautiful warded box made of my wand wood.

I’m so happy I can’t even stand myself.

You’ll also be pleased to hear that he’s taken an interest in his title and has been in touch with your liege, who has claimed his. We will be sneaking out of Hogwarts tomorrow, he and I, so that Harry can claim his own ring. We knew the courting contract would be valid because he was at least a recognised Heir. With the claiming of his ring, everything should be quite settled, at least for the next three years.

We plan to leave after breakfast. Mother, I would not mind your support, should you be free to offer it, at Gringotts in the morning.

With love,

Dragon

He closed the journal, then sat back, twisting the new ring on his finger.

Somehow, though Harry said he knew what it meant, Draco didn’t think he really did.

Really, really.

Married to Harry Potter. Lord Consort Draco Malfoy-Potter. Draco sighed, dreamily, allowing himself one minute to bask in the romance of it.

Right. Enough of that.

Draco took stock of what he’d need for the morning, laid out his clothes, and settled into bed. His mother, if she saw the note tonight, would leave a response for the morning, so he’d know whether she’d be present.

He’d retreat to his room after breakfast, then have Dobby pop him to the statue of the one-eyed witch when Harry was in place. From there?

An adventure with his intended.

Draco couldn’t wait.

When morning came, Draco dressed carefully. An astute observer would see he wore the pants and button-down that went with his best wizarding suit, but a sloppy Slytherin green jumper tossed over the ensemble distracted the eye from the intent, which was a quick change after breakfast, adding vest and robes. He always took time with his hair, so no one would comment on that, at least.

He ran into Theo in the common room, who smirked at him, but obligingly remained silent on the way to the Great Hall, allowing Draco his thoughts. The pair sat in their usual places at the Slytherin table, and Draco drew the porridge toward himself. He added strawberries and cream, and ate heartily, watching for signs of Harry at the Gryffindor table. He spotted him about halfway down, a few places from his usual spot, wearing a sloppy red sweater and eating scrambled eggs.

Draco made eye contact, and smiled, slowly. Harry winked at him, careful to do so from the turned-away Hermione Granger, who sat on his other side, puffy-eyed. No sign of the Weasel this morning.

He finished his porridge, then made eye contact again. Harry inclined his head slightly, and Draco did the same as he left for his room. Once he left sight of the Hall, he moved more quickly, heading to the Slytherin dorm to make the quick change he needed to meet Harry.

He ran into no one, and a quick whisper of the password later, he was up the hallway to his private room. A swish of his wand changed out his clothes, and he noticed that his journal was glowing. He opened it quickly to find a note from his mother:

Dragon,

I am delighted for you. Rest assured, if you need it, I will provide your excuses for leaving school. I also will be at Gringotts at 9 a.m. I’ve convinced your father that he needs a morning’s respite, and so have sent him to the villa in Italy for some sun. I will join him there for lunch after my errands.

Love, Mum

Excellent. Draco took one last look in the mirror, then called, “Dobby!”

Dobby popped in. “Master Draco looking sharp.”

“Off to Gringotts with Harry to witness his ring claiming,” Draco said calmly. “Need to look my best.”

“Master Harry be nervous this morning,” Dobby confided. “He’s waiting under his cloak at the statue already.”

“Then let’s be off, please,” Draco said and held out his hand.

Dobby took it and they popped to the statue. A disembodied hand reached out for Draco and pulled him under Potter’s invisibility cloak.

“Oh,” Draco said, breathlessly. “Hello.”

Harry chuckled and laid a chaste kiss on his cheek. “Dobby’s providing lookout. Watch.” Harry pulled his wand, tapped the statue from under his cloak, and whispered, “Dissendium.”

The stone moved, showing a sliver of space large enough for one person to climb down.

“Brilliant,” Draco breathed. “Who’s first?”

“You, please,” Harry said. “I’ll cover you. You’ll want to go down a bit to leave me room to follow, but it does widen up so that we can walk together eventually.”

Draco nodded and without another word, headed into the passage. He felt, rather than saw, Harry follow him and hummed to himself as he held out his wand and cast, “Lumos!”

The light helped a bit, and as he moved down, he discovered that Harry was right. Not only did the passage widen, allowing Harry to catch up and walk with him, but light sconces on the walls began to light up automatically with their movement.

“That’s very handy,” Draco observed.

“‘Tis,” Harry agreed, pausing for a moment to stow his cloak in his messenger bag. He jogged to catch Draco up, then held out a hand, which Draco took, blushing a little as Harry laced their fingers together.

They chatted a little as they made their way down the corridor, mostly talking about how unfair it was that the tournament had cancelled Quidditch. “I’d totally take you this time,” Draco boasted. “Sure, you would,” Harry said, his tone obviously humouring him. They both ignored the innuendo, aware of it only in the pinkening of the tips of Harry’s ears.

“Say,” Draco said suddenly as they reached the ladder at the end of the passageway. “Does Lord Black know that I’m coming?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “He predicted you’d want the adventure if you were anything like your mother. Which, of course, you are. Up you get. Siri said he’d be browsing the chocolates. We’ll cloak up when we get into the cellar and head up the stairs.”

Draco smirked. And if he gave a wiggle of his arse as he went up the ladder in front of Harry, well. Only he had to know that Harry groaned a little.

When Draco reached the wooden door to the cellar basement, he eased it up slowly, peeking in to see if the cellar was clear. No one seemed to be present, so he eased it up further and climbed into the cellar silently, before extending a hand down to Harry, who took it.

They manoeuvred the flat door back into place, then Harry pulled his cloak back out and covered them with it. They didn’t worry too much about flashes of ankle on the stairs, but as they eased through the main door into the shop, Harry elbowed him gently and mimed hunching.

Right, Draco thought. I’m a bit taller than he is at the moment.

Draco ducked a little, and after Harry checked to see that they were all completely covered, they headed toward the chocolates, where a nondescript looking wizard with sandy hair and green eyes looked at a chocolate orange. A tap to his elbow led the man to look up, set the orange back down, and walk out of the store, Draco and Harry following closely, to an empty alley nearby.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” the man said to no one in particular, and Harry visibly relaxed.

“Siri. We’re under the cloak,” Harry said.

“Ah, the dragon came, too?” the man asked.

“Yes. You don’t look like yourself,” Harry said.

“Forgot to tell you. Got a goblin-made glamour, tied to a bit of jewellery,” the man pulled off a necklace, and Draco caught a glimpse of black curly hair and laughing grey eyes before the necklace was hastily put back. “Mischief managed, I think.”

“Most definitely,” Harry said. “What’s next?”

Siri held out both hands. “Don’t let go. We’ll apparate to the Gringotts front steps. You can ditch the cloak there quickly enough, and we’ll head into the bank. Ready?”

In answer, Draco stuck his slim, white hand out from one side of the cloak as Harry’s darker hand came out from the other side. Siri chuckled as he realised the pair were holding hands. He tightened his grip, and turned a heel.

They landed in a heap on the Gringotts steps, in a spot off to the side. Good thing, too, Draco thought, as he noticed the few wizards and witches about to finish shopping or distribute their Boxing Day gifts. He stood slowly, sliding the cloak off of himself and straightening his cravat before holding a hand down to Harry, who was detangling himself as well. He helped him up, then glanced around.

“Into the bank, before you stow the cloak, I think, my dear,” Draco murmured.

Harry and Siri glanced around. Siri nodded briskly. “Agreed.”

They hastened into the bank.

Inside, Draco spotted his mother waiting patiently in a cove, a cup of tea in her hand. He let go of Harry to approach her with both of his own hands, knowing she’d vanish her tea for him. “Mother,” Draco said formally and allowed himself to be drawn into a brief hug. He kissed her cheek and turned to Harry and Siri. “My companions, Lord Black and Heir Potter.”

Narcissa smiled gently at him, then turned to curtsy. “My Liege. And my son’s much-welcome intended. I hope you don’t mind his inviting me to provide, how did he put it? Ah, yes. Backup.”

“Lady Malfoy,” Harry bowed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you formally. Will your husband be joining us?”

Narcissa’s eyes glittered with amusement and a little admiration at the cheek. “Not at all,” she said airily. “He was persuaded to rest at our villa in Italy this morning while I ran errands. I will join him for lunch later, and I am assured that he is, in fact, there.”

“Persuaded.” Siri stood back and laughed, a bit harshly. “Narcissa Black Malfoy, what have you been up to?”

“My Liege,” Narcissa looked up at him. “I owe you a thousand apologies. And a rather long explanation. But I promise this: I am on your side, always.”

A glow between the two of them made Draco’s eyebrows raise, and Harry looked to Siri for an explanation. Siri noticed. “A magical oath, pup,” he explained and nodded. “Very well, Narcissa. And honestly, didn’t you call me Siri once upon a time?”

“Only when your mother couldn’t hear it,” Narcissa allowed. “May I hug you?”

“You may.”

They hugged fiercely, and Harry looked at Draco. “Are we too closely related to be betrothed?”

“Not at all, Harry,” Draco said softly, regarding his mother with something like wonder. “Your father and Sirius were second cousins, I think. They shared a great-grandmother on the Black side? Maybe? I’d have to review the tree.”

Siri gave a bark of laughter. “Dorea Black.” He stepped back from Narcissa. “Who married Charlus Potter, your great-grandfather’s brother. They had no children, but your great-grandfather Henry did. And your grandfather, Fleamont, did, eventually, have James. All the rest of the Potters were wiped out in the war with Moldyshorts, and that leaves you the last of the line and the Heir to the Potter Lordship.”

Draco mouthed, “Moldyshorts,” an expression of utter disbelief on his face. Harry snorted, then composed himself.

Siri straightened. “Well, we have a room set aside, so we best get there before we air all of our House business today. Good choice of private cove, Cissy.”

“Thank you,” Narcissa demurred. “Shall we?”

The quartet moved down the hall to the Noble office, from which they were directed to a comfortably furnished lounge. There, they met Ragnok, the bank’s director and overseer of Noble accounts, titles, and business.

“Ah,” Ragnok said. “Lord Black, Lady Malfoy, Heir Potter, Heir Malfoy. Welcome. I understand you’re here to claim your Lordship, Heir Potter.”

“I am,” Harry said calmly.

“And you’ve brought appropriate witnesses,” Ragnok acknowledged. “Lord Black, it is safe for you to remove your glamour in this space.”

Siri took the hint, removing the necklace and placing it in his pocket. Draco thought Siri’s true looks suited him much better.

“Heir Potter, as you know we’ve had to wait to audit your accounts until you claimed the Lordship. As a minor, you had no legal way to view any but your trust vault. At this time, your magical guardian is no longer incarcerated and could instigate this action on your behalf, but as you’re fourteen, have been declared an adult by no less than three Ministry officials in a public setting, and have bound yourself to a courting contract, you are eligible to claim your ring.”

Harry nodded. “I think it’s best I do so, for my own protection. The Ministry has its own agenda with regard to me, and I don’t trust that it’s an agenda that serves my interests at all.”

Ragnok reached for the carved wooden box that contained the Potter ring, then held it out to Harry. “Your ring, Heir Potter.”

Harry took a deep breath, held it, and let it out slowly before accepting the box and opening it. The ring gleamed at him, a heavy twist of gold and platinum set with a large ruby that sat flush, with diamonds on either side. The Potter crest appeared to be etched into the main stone. He picked it up, set the box down, and with a steady motion, pushed the ring onto the third finger of his right hand. The ring warmed and sized to fit him.

Draco watched, waiting for some sort of signal from Harry.

Who continued to look at the Ring. In fact, it looked as though Harry was entranced.

“Harry?” Draco said softly.

Lord Black—Siri, Draco reminded himself again—shook his head. “Wait, Draco. The ring is clearly communicating information to the new Lord Potter. James told me about this. It sort of holds the memories and accumulated knowledge of the previous lords. It’s a unique bit of magic to his line.”

“Did yours do something similar?” Draco asked.

“Somewhat,” Siri allowed. “The Blacks have other objects, which I was able to access with the ring, that gave me similar information about our line. All we can do for Harry at the moment is wait.”

“Right.” Draco continued to watch Harry while he asked, idly, “Any idea how long?”

“As long as it takes,” Siri said. He glanced at Narcissa. “Meanwhile, do you want to go into your explanation now?”

“I’d prefer to wait until Lord Potter can also take part,” Narcissa said. “If things go as the boys hope, he will be my son-in-law, and he should be a part of our discussions overall.”

Siri inclined his head, and they all watched as Harry took a gulp of air and relaxed. A faint glow swept over him and a black mist erupted from the scar in his forehead.

“What was that?” Draco asked no one in particular.

“A piece of Moldy’s soul,” Harry said darkly, hoarsely. “Apparently lodged there since he tried to kill me as a baby.”

Everyone sort of looked at each other with raised eyebrows in that sort of British way that makes everyone look utterly appalled, fascinated, and dismayed, all at once.

“Do you mean to tell me that the self-styled Lord Voldemort split his soul?” Ragnok growled.

“According to the ring, that’s exactly what he did,” Harry said, anger apparent in his calm, low voice. “It automatically gauges the health of the new Lord and looks for curses. It came up with that. It called it a Horcrux, and said it’s the very darkest magic.”

“It’s not wrong,” Ragnok said. “And if a shard of his soul split off in the events that night, it must have been very unstable. That can only mean he’s split his soul more than once.”

Narcissa looked pale, Siri looked murderous, and Draco looked confused.

Harry, however, clenched his jaw. “I believe that Professor Dumbledore might know more about that, given the events of my second year.”

“Ah, yes,” Narcissa said. “The year my husband proved his loyalties once and for all. And they were not to his family. I took control of him shortly after he tried to kill you, Lord Potter, and I do apologise for his actions.”

Siri raised a sardonic eyebrow. “You took control of him, Narcissa?”

She shrugged elegantly. “We discussed his actions, I expressed my disapproval, and I reminded him that he wasted the Malfoy money on that wanker. Since he was rendered infertile by a curse he took shortly after Draco was born, also due to that wanker, Lucius defaulted on our marriage contract by failing to provide me with more than one child. At this point, should he wish to live in the manner to which he is accustomed, he will do as he is told. Or I shall take our son and my money and leave. He wasn’t pleased. But he can be reasonable.”

“Especially with a Confundus or two?” Siri asked, well aware of his cousins’ training in household management.

“Perhaps,” she said, with a Cheshire smile.

Harry looked at Draco. “I’m not sure I approve. And yet, I really do approve. Have you been learning spousal management at your mother’s knee?”

“Among other things,” Draco said, “though I wouldn’t worry, Harry. It’s mostly Lucius-management that I’ve been learning. You and I will find our own way together.”

Harry gave him a slow smile, and Draco blushed.

“You two are adorable,” Siri observed. “It’s a little sickening. I can hardly wait to see the fallout from your marital alliance.”

“It’s going to be entertaining,” Narcissa agreed. “But more than that, and I hope I do not offend Lord Potter, I am very glad your alliance will allow us to safeguard you, your assets, your status, and life. It appears that claiming your ring already has brought a measure of protection.”

“Yes, and I don’t know that I would ever have known to do so without Draco’s help,” Harry confessed. “I didn’t know it was even a thing. And Sirius, well.”

“I was spelled to ignore the Black family and to be utterly uninterested in my own noble rights,” Siri said. “It’s old work. As far back as my childhood, actually, and the signature degraded over time.”

“Who would have had the most to gain by that?” Harry asked. Draco approved of the question.

Ragnok answered it.

“Anyone interested in taking control of the Black estates and properties,” the goblin said. “And that is quite a lengthy list.”

“Quite,” Narcissa agreed.

“And it includes numerous relatives as well as purported friends,” Sirius agreed. “Well. I’m all better now, and I have no intention of letting the family legacies languish. I plan to hand down an edict to the family refusing succour or shelter to any who sport the Dark Mark.”

Narcissa smiled. “Oh, lovely. Believe it or not, that will cover only Bellatrix and her husband. Much of the extended family wouldn’t touch that wanker with a ten-foot pole because of his low status—an illegitimate half-blood of a line known to be prone to insanity.”

“Not that the Blacks can talk much about the insanity thing,” Siri muttered.

“No,” Narcissa agreed, “but we do take care of our own.”

Draco was intrigued by the idea of Moldy being an illegitimate half-blood but assumed he could ask Harry later, as it appeared that Harry knew exactly what his mother was talking about.

“Well,” Harry said, turning to Ragnok, “please institute the audit on my accounts. If someone’s been accessing them illegally, I’d like to know. But even if there’s been no such activity on the account, they’ve been languishing for a number of years, so we really ought to put the money to work again.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Lord Potter,” Ragnok said. “It shall be done.”

Harry smiled. “Draco, would you and your mother like to join Siri and I for an early lunch? I’m starving.”

Draco glanced at his mother, who nodded. “We’d love to. I imagine we’ll have other things to discuss, too. Like our courting contract.”

Siri nodded. “Yes, I’d like to see it. I advised Harry, of course, but I’d like to review the contract itself and see what the pair of you snuck in there.”

“Why, Sirius, it’s like you don’t trust us,” Harry said cheekily.

“You, my young Gryffindor, have a Slytherin core,” Sirius said dryly. “Does your intended know this about you?”

“Oh, I’m fairly certain that’s part of the attraction,” Harry allowed, and smirked at Draco, who held up one hand in the universal sign for “just a little bit.”

“Yes,” Draco said. “He mentioned he’d been a hat stall, actually. Didn’t surprise me in the least.”

“Well, then, lunch. Wait, Narcissa, didn’t you say you planned to join Lucius for lunch?”

Narcissa smiled. “I’ll have a cup of tea with you all before I leave. I, too, would like to see what our young men have cooked up between them.”

Ragnok cleared his throat and held out a ledger book for Harry to take. “Your account ledger, Lord Potter. It’s as up-to-date as we can make it, and the numbers should be automatically recorded daily. Please take it with you. As your audit proceeds, you’ll have all the information you need there.”

“Thank you, Ragnok, for your time and presence today,” Harry said gravely. “May your coffers overflow.”

Ragnok nodded and showed them the door.

The group decided to head into Muggle London for lunch, settling on an Indian place that Sirius vaguely remembered from pre-Azkaban. Harry, who’d rarely been allowed to eat takeout with the Dursleys, expressed interest in trying curry, which always smelled good when Dudley ate it.

The Malfoys were on board with this plan, as a secret hobby of theirs had been eating in Muggle restaurants on Saturdays, followed by a trip to the cinema since Draco was 4 or so.

Sirius and Narcissa handled quick transfigurations of the boys’ wizarding attire before they left the Leaky Cauldron, and Sirius had slipped his glamour necklace around his neck to resume his nondescript appearance.

As they settled in around their table, Harry took a deep sniff. “That smells really good,” he said.

“You’ll probably want to start with something like Butter Chicken,” Draco advised. “It’s mild but flavorful, and if you’re not used to a lot of spice at all it’s a good choice. We should get some paneer and naan, too, Mother.”

“Oh, and some samosas for the table,” Narcissa exclaimed, while Sirius looked at her as if she’d grown another head.

“What happened to my snobby cousin?” he wondered allowed.

“She discovered the joys of Indian food, Sirius, and there was no way to hold her back after that,” Narcissa deadpanned.

Harry and Draco laughed out loud, while Sirius pouted.

“But seriously ….” Sirius said leadingly.

“Well, I made a friend,” Narcissa said, “when I was pregnant with Draco. She was a muggleborn, she was pregnant, too, and she introduced me to the Muggle world.” She took a deep breath. “I was devastated when Lily died and determined to help her son any way I could.”

“I didn’t know you were friends with Lily,” Sirius said softly.

“Well, how could you?” Narcissa replied reasonably. “You and James were busy with the raids, Lucius was actively taking part in the raids. On the surface, we were on opposite sides. But we met at St. Mungo’s one day. I confess I had been having a rough time of it, and I burst into tears in the waiting room when I got a message that Lucius couldn’t join me, again, and I was worried for my baby and I simply broke down. She was there, too, and it didn’t matter to her whether I was a Death Eater’s wife or not—I was a fellow human being, growing another human being, who needed a shoulder to lean on for a moment. We became quite good friends, then. We had lunch frequently in the Muggle world, as it was safest, and she introduced me to the cinema, too.”

Narcissa looked at Harry, the memories putting a fine sheen of tears in her eyes. “I mourned your mother, Harry, and I tried looking for you, too, especially when Sirius was shut in Azkaban. I didn’t know what I could do, and Dumbledore whisked you out of sight so fast that it was impossible to know where you were. I managed to figure out that you’d been placed with her sister, and I was able to get a house-elf past the wards by the time you were 3.”

Harry closed his eyes. “Dobby.”

“Yes, Dobby,” Narcissa agreed, softly. “He wasn’t able to do much about your aunt and uncle’s treatment of you. But he was able to aid you with your assigned chores and magically multiply what was on your own plate at mealtimes. He couldn’t do too much—they are truly awful people, and your aunt is observant—but he was able to redirect the worst of the ire in an attempt to keep you safe. Which ought to have been a large clue to me when Lucius was up to such no good that Dobby felt you safer at Privet Drive than at Hogwarts. I’m so sorry, Harry; I got complacent.”

Draco could see Harry processing this, and decided to give his intended a moment to do so. “Why did you not tell me, Mother?”

Narcissa smiled tremulously at her son. “I intended to do so next summer, but you, my lovely son, decided to take matters in a direction I didn’t anticipate at all. Not that I regret it, certainly. I hope Lily would be happy that the pair of you have found in each other a potential partner. She certainly thought you a beautiful baby, and the pair of you played together often enough before she went into hiding.”

The conversation paused as their server brought great platters of everything they’d ordered to the table, family-style. The group shared out the food, taking the opportunity to settle down.

Harry took a bite of the butter chicken, over rice, and hummed appreciatively. “That’s delicious, Draco.”

“I thought you’d like it,” Draco said. “Try a samosa.”

They ate their way through the pile of food while Narcissa had a samosa and a cup of tea, and Sirius cleaned up a sampler platter. Draco produced a copy of their courting contract for the adults to review while he reached for Harry’s hand under the table, eating with his left hand and fooling absolutely no one.

Narcissa and Sirius read through the contract together. “Seems pretty standard,” Sirius mentioned. “It looks like what I suggested.”

“We did add an opt-out clause,” Draco said, squeezing Harry’s hand. “We didn’t want anyone claiming that Harry was coerced into courtship or locked in for nefarious reasons, or anything. Neither of us intends to use it, but if we mutually decide we don’t work, we can dissolve it.”

“I think my giving Draco the Black promise ring demonstrates my intent and commitment to the potential of this partnership,” Harry said. He reached for another piece of naan to wipe up the sauce on his plate.

“Agreed,” Narcissa said softly. “It’s a very strong first overture. But then again, Potters are known for their decisiveness in matters of the heart.”

“Not that Blacks are flighty in that respect,” Sirius added hastily. “But we do tend to wander a bit before we settle. Once settled, we’re a little possessive.”

“Hmm,” Harry said and turned to Draco. “Feeling possessive, Heir Malfoy?”

“A bit,” Draco smirked. “And Malfoys love once.”

“A fact which mitigates my ire toward Lucius,” Narcissa sighed. “I do love the man, and he, me. But I fear what will come should the wanker return.”

“Well, then,” Harry said, slowly. “We’ll just have to make certain that doesn’t happen.”

Chapter 3

Harry and Draco returned to Hogwarts the same way they’d left, via the tunnel under Honeydukes. The pair chatted quietly as they made their way up the tunnel, and Harry paused as they got to the final climb to the one-eyed witch.

“Draco, I want to start being less secretive,” Harry said, “if you don’t mind.”

Draco smiled. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, Theo knows we’re courting,” Harry pointed out reasonably. “I’m sure some of your other friends have noticed that you’re sort of into me. I’m almost positive that Hermione has figured out that I’m sort of into you, even if she hasn’t said anything to Ron. Who is, honestly, pretty dense about this stuff.”

“Yeah, I caught that,” Draco admitted. “Is he why Hermione’s all puffy today?”

“Had it out with her before bed,” Harry confirmed. “Something about how she shouldn’t have gone with Krum to the ball, and she pointed out Ron could have asked her at any time.”

Draco shook his head. “They going to get their act together?”

“No idea,” Harry said, “but I don’t think Ron would be good for Hermione anyway, really. He doesn’t even respect the things she likes.”

“True,” Draco considered. “We should keep an eye out for someone on her intellectual level.”

Harry laughed. “Are we going to set her up with someone ‘suitable’?”

“She’s not really a muggleborn,” Draco observed. “I suspect she’s probably a Dagworth-Granger descendant. That family is known for its potions-making, but it fell to Squibs about a century ago. It was suspected at the time that they’d been experimenting with a potion or twelve that went wrong and led to that particular magical repercussion.”

“How do you know this stuff?” Harry wondered.

Draco shrugged. “We have a large library at the manor and I get bored easily.”

Harry shook his head and laughed a little. “Well, if I have questions about anything wizarding, I’ll know who to ask first.”

“I hope you do,” Draco said and took Harry’s hand. “As to your original question, I don’t mind. Just, slowly, maybe?”

Harry squeezed Draco’s fingers and leaned forward to press a chaste kiss on Draco’s lips. “How about dinner?” he asked his breath mingling with Draco’s. “We’ll sit together, maybe among the Durmstrang or Beauxbatons group?”

“I like that plan,” Draco said, moving to press his body along Harry’s. “Won’t be obvious, but will be together. Flirt, snark, in relatively neutral territory.”

“The Gryffindors would go crazy if you sat with me,” Harry said, nuzzling into the space under Draco’s ear.

“And the Slytherins would be fine if we announced the courting. But there might be—oh, right there, wow—some who would be worried about their family’s reactions to your sitting with us,” Draco said breathlessly.

Harry gently bit the tender skin over Draco’s jugular. “You could announce the courting in house tomorrow if things go well tonight,” he murmured.

“Merlin, we need a chaperone.” Draco gripped Harry’s hips with both hands and leaned into his partner’s mouth. “We’re not going to meet the chastity-until-betrothal part of the contract if we don’t, will we?”

“Hmmm.” Harry bit the other side of Draco’s neck. “We’ll just have to get betrothed earlier than planned, then.”

“You cheeky Gryffindor,” Draco said breathlessly and pulled Harry’s head up so that he could claim the younger boy’s mouth in a deep kiss, adding tongue. They both shuddered, battling for dominance in a way that felt delicious. Draco felt himself teetering on the cusp of orgasm without even touching and wrenched himself away. “Shite. Shite.”

“What?” Harry asked, concerned.

“I almost came,” Draco admitted. “That would definitely be a contract violation. We’d have to get betrothed immediately.”

“And we should probably wait at least 24 hours after signing the courting contract before we do that?”

“Probably.”

Harry laughed and raised a hand to Draco’s cheek. “Let’s go up then. See you at dinner?”

“I’ll sit next to Krum and make Weasley jealous,” Draco confirmed.

Harry rolled his eyes and led the way up and out into the passageway.

Dinner played out beautifully.

Draco sat next to Viktor Krum, as he’d suggested, and Harry sat across from Krum. Close, but not close enough to give the game away.

Krum, for his part, only grunted at the addition of the two young men to his table, nodding briefly to Harry. Harry smiled and beckoned Hermione over, as well, which made Krum perk up a little and had the added benefit of making Ron turn a terrible shade of red.

Draco leaned forward. “Are you trying to make Ron apoplectic?”

Harry shrugged. “It’s an interesting side effect. I’m still sort of mad over his recent attitude.”

“And that makes two of us,” Hermione said briskly as she sat down next to Harry. “Hello, Viktor.”

“Her-my-own-ee,” Krum articulated carefully and smiled. “I am glad you sat with us.” He nodded toward Harry. “Your friend?”

“Yes, of course,” Hermione said and looked across to Draco. “Malfoy.”

“Granger,” Draco acknowledged, as Theo sat next to him. “Theo.”

“Draco,” Theo said. “Granger. Potter. Krum.”

Harry rolled his eyes a little but straightened up properly. “Draco. Nott. Krum. Hermione.”

Hermione started to giggle a little. “Harry. Nott.”

Krum looked around. “We are introducing ourselves, yes?”

“Well, acknowledging each other per protocol,” Draco said.

“In which case, it’s curious that Harry acknowledged Malfoy by his first name,” Hermione observed. “I read those books, too, you know.”

“I thought you would,” Draco admitted. “I’m thankful you let Harry read them first.”

Hermione pursed her lips. “It was a close thing, but they weren’t my gift.” She drew a breath. “Right. Heir Malfoy, you may call me Hermione.”

“Thank you. I’m Draco,” he said simply, and Theo chimed in. “And I’m Theo. To all of you.”

“I’m Harry,” Harry said with a small shrug. You’re all welcome to use it.”

“Viktor,” Krum said. “That is everyone, ja?”

“I believe so, yes,” Draco said. “What’s for dinner?”

Dinner, it appeared, consisted of cleverly made over leftovers from the previous night’s ball. Harry settled on pork chops and mashed potatoes, with a side of roasted carrots, and Draco went for roast chicken and dressing.

As everyone started eating, Hermione started quietly chatting with Krum, and Harry looked at Draco over his water goblet.

“Have a good afternoon, then, Draco?” he asked innocently.

“I did,” Draco said. “Got some paperwork done. Wrote my mother. Finished my Charms essay. Yourself?”

“Caught up on some family reading,” Harry said. “Wrote my godfather. Thought about my intended a lot.”

“Oh, did you?” Draco said, about to add something cheeky.

Hermione interrupted. “Your intended? Harry, what on earth are you talking about?”

“I thought you were talking to Krum, er. Viktor,” Harry said.

“I was until I heard that.” Hermione gave him a Look. “Spill.”

“Later, ‘Mione,” Harry said, and looked back at Draco, who gave a slow grin.

Hermione jolted, then covered her mouth with both hands. “Are you kidding me?” The words came out with enough of a hiss that Draco briefly considered whether the Dagworth-Grangers had parselmouths in their ancestry.

“Haven’t said anything yet, now have I?” Harry said reasonably and gave Draco a slow grin of his own.

“Oh. My.” Hermione seemed flummoxed, but Viktor, whose age made him a little more experienced in such things, had caught the subtext.

“Ah,” he said. “You are courting?”

Harry smiled, nodded, and said, “Of course not, he’s a Slytherin.”

“As if I’d be caught dead with a Gryffindor,” Draco sniffed, then grinned widely.

Theo rolled his eyes. “So that’s how we’re playing this? Lovely. Hermione, I suggest we start the pool on whether and when they’re outed officially within our houses.”

Hermione, who, to be fair, still looked a bit flummoxed, nodded absently. “Right, of course. The twins usually hold the books in Gryffindor; I’ll start the pool. I’ll also check to see who won the … ah.”

“Who won the what, Hermione?” Harry asked darkly.

Hermione blushed. “Yes, well. There’s a pool about when you two might get together, whether you’d actually give in to the UST. There’s a chart with months, dates, and incidences, actually.”

“We’ve got one, too,” Theo added, to Draco’s surprise. “Once they formally announce, we’ll distribute funds.”

Harry and Draco looked at each other. “Did you know about this?” Harry asked.

“Not at all,” Draco responded, and looked ‘round at their friends. “So who won?”

“That depends. We’ve got date of first kiss, date of courting contract, date of betrothal, and date of wedding on the books right now. I talked Seamus out of adding first shag because that’s really none of our business,” Hermione said briskly. “May I know when all this —” she gestured vaguely to Harry and Draco “—happened?”

“Courting contract was signed during the ball last night,” Harry said softly. “First kiss followed shortly thereafter. Nothing else applies just now, but we’d like to keep the faculty, at any rate, out of the loop for a bit. I don’t particularly trust anybody at the moment, given the circumstances of my entry into the tournament.”

Viktor leaned forward. “You did not enter yourself, did you?”

Harry shook his head negatively and looked resigned.

Viktor leaned back. “Is a travesty. I apologise.”

Harry looked surprised. “For what?”

“For my disbelief,” Viktor said. “I will do what I can to fix this in my own school.”

Hermione looked pleased, and Harry quirked a small grin. “Appreciated,” he said, “but unnecessary. People will choose to believe what they like about me. Opinions change from minute to minute, and the public is fickle.” The blasé way this was said led Draco to snort.

“Could you sound any more like a Muggle movie star?” he asked, restraining the giggle that threatened.

Harry turned a bored look on him. “It is a burden to be this famous,” he said, making everyone crack up, even as Draco knew the statement held more than a grain of truth.

Viktor, the only other person at the table with any experience with fame, shook his head. “It is funny because it is true,” he grumbled. “But, at least, we can make sure no false claims on your honour are spread further. You have my word.”

Harry sobered quickly. “Thank you, Viktor.”

Viktor shrugged, and the table fell to silence for a moment as Draco picked up his fork, and the others followed to finish eating.

As talk picked up again, the conversation turned, inevitably, to Quidditch, with Hermione rolling her eyes as the three Seekers at the table started talking about technique. Theo, in an effort to keep her in the conversation, asked her a question about Ancient Runes, sending the pair into a spiral of increasingly hard-to-follow discussion about Elder Futhark. Neither she nor Theo noticed that the Quidditch conversation had tapered off, nor that Viktor had begun to look at Hermione with a small, indulgent smile.

Draco looked at Harry. “Well, then. That’s us out.”

Harry laughed. “Guess so.”

“Share a treacle tart?” Draco asked.

“Why not?” Harry said, and reached for the dish.

Draco had hoped that dinner with his intended, even if with other friends, would send a clear signal that Harry Potter was not his enemy, at the very least.

Therefore, he wasn’t surprised that his housemates took notice.

He was, however, taken aback at the flurry of activity in the common room after dinner that centred around the House betting book, activity that stilled when he walked into the room. The book itself disappeared, and his housemates assumed blank expressions and busy hands almost seamlessly, but it was too late.

Draco pondered for a moment, then decided to be oblivious as he walked back into his dorm room.

His pause drew notice, but his was the sort of House where subtext was everything, and he was unsurprised to hear the activity pick back up the minute he stepped into the dungeon corridor toward the dorms.

He grinned to himself and headed back to write a note to his intended.

 

Dearest,

Well, that walk into the common room was fun. I love making a spectacle. I chose not to say anything though. How did it go in Gryffindor?

I loved having dinner with you, but I think I’d love it even more if we could sit next to each other. Maybe that can be our next statement?

Yours,

Draco

“Dobby!” Draco called, and he handed the sealed paper to the little elf when he appeared. “Please take that to Harry.”

“Dobby will do!” The house-elf popped away, and Draco sat back in his chair.

He didn’t have to wait for long before another note popped onto his desk.

Breakfast? Slytherin table? Make the Gryffindors crazy?

Oh, he really needed to get a two-way journal for Harry, too. He scribbled a “Perfect!” on the back of the note and called out, “Dobby?”

Dobby popped back in with a huff. “Dobby is not an owl, Master Draco.”

“I know, I know. I’m going to ask Mother for another journal set. But please?” He held out the note to Dobby, who took it, rolled his big eyes, and disappeared with a crack.

Draco grinned and got ready for bed.

He snagged Theo on the way through the common room in the morning to walk with him to the Great Hall for breakfast.

“And what is the plan for today?” Theo enquired, hurrying next to Draco, who was moving with long strides down the hall.

“Harry’s going to sit with us in Slytherin and set the cat among the pigeons,” Draco said calmly. “We’re not confirming or denying anything yet, mind. Just. Well. I think we’d both like to see what happens.”

Theo shook his head. “The pair of you are going to be a menace together, aren’t you?”

Draco gave a Cheshire grin, and they slipped into the Hall. Harry was just coming down the stairs with Neville and Hermione, and he looked up, grinned, and waved the pair off to the Gryffindor table before heading over to Draco.

“Good morning,” he greeted him and held out a hand.

Draco smirked. “Good morning.” He took it, and the pair of them walked leisurely to the Slytherin table, revelling in the gasps and whispers that grew around them as they took seats, with Theo on Harry’s other side to provide a buffer.

Harry winced a little when he heard a Weasley screech coming from the direction of the Gryffindor table but resolutely did not turn around to see which Weasley it was. Blaise Zabini, across from them, leaned forward. “Ginny,” he said quietly, and Harry acknowledged the phrase with a nod as he pulled the platter of sausages toward his plate.

“Coffee, dear?” Draco asked sweetly. “Or tea?”

“Ah, tea, please, darling,” Harry said, just as sweetly. Theo rolled his eyes, and Blaise started grinning widely.

“Now, who’s won the pool?” Blaise asked just loud enough for their section of the table to hear.

“Which one?” Draco asked. “Because we signed a courting contract during the Yule ball. Kissed shortly thereafter. Though we are attempting to make the Gryffindors’ heads explode and would prefer not to clue in faculty to how official this is for some time yet.”

“You’re likely to make Snape’s head explode,” Blaise grumbled wickedly. “He’s about to stare daggers into you, Draco.”

“Let him,” Draco shrugged, nonchalantly handing Harry his tea. Harry took it, sipped it, and with a surreptitious glance in Snape’s direction, muttered, “Let’s go ahead and make his head explode. We’re well-chaperoned at the moment, yes?”

Draco grinned. “Yes.”

Harry set his tea down, and he turned to Draco. He framed Draco’s face with his hands, leaned in, and chastely kissed him.

“Oh my God, I think Snape just had a stroke,” Blaise mumbled. “He just went red, then white, and now, oh, shite, he’s coming this way.”

“There’s a distinct lack of exploding,” Harry said, his tone disappointed, and drew back from Draco just as Snape appeared behind them.

“What is the meaning of this?” Snape asked angrily.

Harry and Draco looked at each other, communicating silently until Draco said, “I believe my boyfriend just kissed me. That was what that was, right?”

“I believe so,” Harry said. “That’s what I thought that was. Kissing is a thing we do now, right?”

“Yes, yes, I think so,” Draco said.

“Perhaps do so privately,” Snape said, grinding his teeth. “And your father will hear about this, Draco.”

“Of course, professor,” Draco said politely, enjoying the snorts and snickers he could hear running up and down the table.

“Potter, detention.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “For what?”

“A public display of affection in the Great Hall. I will see you tonight, in the potions room, at 7 p.m., sharp.”

“I shall be there,” Draco said, “as any punishment given to my boyfriend should also be given to me.”

Snape’s jaw dropped, working impotently.

“Severus, what’s all this?” Dumbledore came up behind him.

“The professor just gave Harry a detention for kissing me, his boyfriend, in the Great Hall, and he is apparently surprised that I’m choosing to take it as well,” Draco explained. “After all, I was a willing participant.”

“Quite so,” Dumbledore agreed. “Although I do believe a detention is not the right course of action in this case.” He waved around, and the couple’s attention was drawn to at least three other couples kissing chastely. “We don’t have any rules against a chaste kiss in public, Severus.”

“Fine,” Snape gritted out. “No detention.” He spun on his heel and his robes flared dramatically around him as he left the room.

Dumbledore peered over his glasses at him. “All well here, then, boys?” he asked.

“Yes, professor,” Harry said. Draco echoed him.

“Well, then, it’s nice to see the pair of you, er, getting along,” Dumbledore said, and strolled away.

Harry and Draco looked at each other. “That was unexpected,” Harry murmured.

“Indeed,” Draco agreed and pursed his lips.

The pair agreeably broke off after breakfast to find a suitable space to snog in and took Theo and Hermione along to chaperone. With minimal fuss, they settled on the Room of Requirement and began to head that direction when suddenly interrupted by the Weasley twins, who had an air of importance.

“Right, gentlemen,” Fred said, producing a large red book from the thin air, “first kiss?”

“Night of the Yule Ball,” Harry said.

“Formal contract or no?” George asked, pretending to polish spectacles.

“Yes,” Draco said. “Courting, signed the night of the Yule Ball.”

“Which came first? Contract or kiss?” Fred asked, scribbling.

“Contract,” Harry confirmed, amused.

Fred hummed as he worked his way down a list. “Courting gift?”

Harry smiled darkly. “The Black promise ring.”

George whistled. “Well, that’s a gesture, all right.”

Fred peered at them over the book. “Feeling particularly amorous, are you? How long are you likely to make it before giving in to your base desires and being automatically betrothed?”

Theo, of all people, rolled his eyes. “I’m on the books in Slytherin for forty-eight hours, actually.”

Hermione agreed. “The UST is pretty intense.”

“I’d give you odds on that one,” Fred said, and George looked over his shoulder. “Looks like Ron won the kiss bet.”

Harry gave a start. “What?”

“Oh, he’s not as oblivious as he looks, sometimes. He’s got you down for kissing at the Yule Ball, but seems to think it’s not going to be a permanent anything, as he’s down for no courting contract,” George said, frowning.

“Right, that doesn’t surprise me,” Harry mumbled.

“Recognises the UST, doesn’t think I’m worth his mate’s time,” Draco said dryly. “Lovely.”

“Well, did anyone win the courting contract bet?” Hermione asked, eagerly.

“Since you’re asking, you know it’s not you.” Fred grinned at her. “Surprisingly high number of folks went for ‘courting contract,’ but only one came close to ‘at the Yule Ball.’”

“And that was?” Harry asked, curious.

“Professor McGonagall, actually.” George made jazz hands.

Both Harry and Draco gave the twins quizzical expressions.

“She’s been on the books for courting by the Yule holiday of fourth year since about midway through your first year, gents,” Fred said gently. “We’re sort of obligated to tell her she’s won, but if you’d like, we can ask her to keep it under her hat?”

Harry and Draco looked at each other, and Draco gave a tiny nod.

“Yeah, all right,” Harry said. “We’ll go talk to her ourselves later.”

“Pleasure, gentlemen,” Fred said importantly, vanished the book, and walked off with George.

Chapter 4

Later, as it developed, took its time about coming. In class, Professor McGonagall gave no indication she knew anything at all about the couple, and Harry and Draco decided they’d just roll with it.

Anyone who paid attention could tell the two were engaged in a romantic relationship. Slytherin knew the pair were courting, but as they hadn’t officially said anything, their bet remained on the books and the Slytherins kept quiet if asked. Gryffindor was aware that Ron had won the “kiss” bet, but Fred and George had been discreet about the matter of the courting contract.

The entire student body “knew,” but didn’t “know,” how official Draco and Harry had decided to be. A state of affairs that suited them both to the ground.

As the weeks passed to the Second Task, Harry got a little help from Draco with the golden egg. They met in the Room of Requirement at least once each day, and with Draco’s coaxing, Harry brought the egg along one cold evening toward the end of January.

“So that’s it, eh?” Draco said, taking it from his intended and examining it.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I opened it first thing, but it just shrieks a lot.”

“And it’s supposed to be a clue to the next task?” Draco dug his fingers into the lid and pulled it open. Shrieks filled the room. “Oh, that’s just uncalled for.” He closed it.

“Supposed to be a clue, yeah,” Harry said glumly.

“Then I think it likely that the shrieks are some sort of communication, right?” Draco said logically. “We just have to figure out which kind.”

“I’d sort of hoped you’d recognize it,” Harry admitted.

“Well, I don’t, unfortunately.” Draco set the egg down on the small table the room had conjured for them. “But, we do have some options for deciphering it.”

“Such as, oh learned one?”

“Well, we could record it and play it back at different speeds, for one,” Draco said. “Mum said there was some weird Muggle invention that people used to do that and a big scandal.”

“Oh, right,” Harry said. “Playing some rock and roll music backwards made people think it was the devil’s language. Weird, right?”

“Definitely,” Draco said. “And much too complicated. And now I think much too Muggle—no one would have expected wizarding students to come up with that.”

“No. So that means it must be some sort of magical cypher? Or language?” Harry posited.

“Oh, language,” Draco nodded. “That’s logical, well done. So what languages sound like that?”

A book appeared on the table next to the egg, and Draco’s eyebrows rose.

Water, Water, Everywhere, and No Consonants to be Found: A Comprehensive Guide to Languages of the Deep. Huh. Thanks, room.” Draco picked it up and flipped through it, then turned a page to face Harry. “Mermish.”

“Mermish.” Harry paled. “Draco, are there merpeople?”

“Of course,” Draco said. “I believe there’s a colony under the lake.”

“Of course,” Harry echoed. “How on earth was I meant to know that?”

“Doesn’t everybody know that?” Draco asked. He looked at Harry, nonplussed.

Harry took a deep breath. “No, Draco. Muggles actually think merpeople are the stuff of fantasy stories. So, the language is Mermish. So, how do we listen to it? Dunk it in water or something?”

A large aquarium-style tank filled with water appeared in the middle of the room, which had grown to accommodate it.

“I’m guessing that’s a yes,” Draco said and picked up the egg before holding it out to Harry. “I’d open it underwater if I were you.”

“Right,” Harry said, wandering over to the tank. “Here goes.” He lowered the egg into the water and opened it.

Faint rumbling could be heard above the water.

“I think, maybe, you might need to put your head in the water,” Draco added helpfully.

“Lovely,” Harry muttered. “I don’t even know how to swim.” He took a deep breath, and plunged his head in for a few seconds, before heaving himself back out and taking a deep breath. “It sounds like singing.”

Draco rummaged in his book bag and took out a piece of parchment and a quill. “Right, then, have a listen, tell me what it’s saying, and I’ll write it down.”

So it went, Harry putting his head underwater to listen, then popping up to give Draco a few bars of the rhyme. It didn’t take long until they had the whole thing, and then Harry pulled the egg from the water. The tank disappeared, and a pile of fluffy towels appeared in its place.

“I love this room,” Harry commented, pulling up a towel to dry off the egg before grabbing another to rub his wild hair dry. “Though I’m regretting not taking my shirt off before I did that, now.”

“Here,” Draco said, muttering the drying charm and directing his wand. “I’ll help with that.” The warm air wafted over Harry’s torso, drying the material that had begun to cling to him like a second skin. “Though, for the record, I liked what I saw.”

Harry blushed.

Draco smirked.

Clearing his throat, Harry nodded at the parchment Draco had been working on. “So, what have we got?”

“Sounds like they plan to take something from you, hide it under the lake, and get you to retrieve it in under an hour,” Draco mused. “So we need to figure out what they’ll take, and what the penalty will be.”

“Also, how I’m going to breathe underwater, and, oh, this is the big one: How am I going to learn to swim in less than a month?” Harry asked glumly.

“I’ll write Mum,” Draco said absently, digging in his backpack. “You should write Sirius, too, to see if he has any ideas. As for the swimming thing? Eh. I’ll help you learn. We’ve got a pond at the Manor that I spend half my summers in.”

“That would be great,” Harry said. “But where? I don’t fancy swimming in the lake at this time of year. Which raises another point, actually.”

Draco blinked, slowly. “Right, the cold. Well, that’s a problem. I’m definitely writing Mum.” He pulled out what he was looking for. “Oh, and this is for you.” He handed Harry a journal bound in navy leather. “It’s part of a set. You write in that one, and I can answer you. I have its twin.”

Harry took the journal. “That’s handy.”

“Yes, and as Dobby was so kind to tell me, he’s not an owl, and apparently he’s getting a bit tired of acting like one for us,” Draco said briskly. “He’s right, anyway. And this will be easier.”

Harry stepped forward and cupped Draco’s face. “Thank you, darling.” He laid a chaste kiss on Draco’s lips. “I mean that sincerely.”

Darling, again. Draco liked.

After some back and forth over the following week, the pair discovered that Sirius did indeed have a couple of ideas about how to get Harry past whatever he needed to get to his prize. He recommended, first, a bubble-headed charm, and second, a Muggle-style wetsuit.

“For warmth,” he said, speaking to Harry over a specially enchanted mirror of his own invention, sent hastily when he’d gotten Harry’s letter about the second task. “You’ll stay warm, you’ll be able to breathe. It’s just the swimming part that I worry about.”

“You and me both,” Harry mumbled. He cleared his throat. “Draco said he’ll be glad to teach me, but we’re coming up short on places to go to learn.”

“Have you thought about asking the Room for a pool?” Sirius asked.

“We did, and we get kind of a single-lane lap pool. I mean, it’s working for the basics. I can sort of float now. But I’m really not a strong swimmer and I don’t see how I can become one in only a few weeks. And if they’re taking ‘something precious’ from me, I don’t want to be weak in any way going after it,” Harry said.

Sirius nodded, visibly thinking through the problem. “Right, well, it sounds like, if we can, we should see if we can find something that will allow you both accelerated swimming skills and the ability to breathe underwater. I’ll do some digging, too.”

“Thanks, Siri,” Harry said.

“No problem, pup,” Sirius said. “Hang in there.”

They disconnected, and Draco, who’d been quietly listening, called, “Dobby!”

The little elf popped up. “You needs Dobby?”

“I was wondering if you’d have any idea where we could go to help Harry learn to swim better, or, failing that, know of where we might be able to find him a way to swim and breathe underwater.”

Dobby rolled his eyes. “You be needing gillyweed, Master Draco. Gives you fins and flippers, lets you breathe.”

“Oh, of course,” Draco said, shaking his head at himself. “Gillyweed would do the trick. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Master Draco be thinking with his pants and not his brain,” Dobby said primly. “Master Draco likes helping Master Harry learn to swim.”

Draco blushed. The elf wasn’t wrong.

Harry blushed, too, but said, “Thank you, Dobby.”

Dobby nodded and popped out.

Draco coughed a little, then said, “We have time to buy or gather some. It’s a plant that, when eaten, gives the person who ate the ability to swim and breathe underwater. It’s kind of slimy. We grow it on the pond at the Manor, and I’ve played around with it before.”

“So can we get some from your mother?” Harry asked.

“Dunno,” Draco replied, “I’ll have to ask if it’s in season. Likely not; I haven’t seen it growing in winter before. But we can get some through Jiggers.”

“The apothecary?”

“Yeah, they’ll have it. It’s a rarer ingredient, but it’s used in some healing potions,” Draco said. “I’ll write Mum.”

“Fantastic,” Harry said, letting out a breath. “Still, we should probably keep up with the swim lessons. You know. It’s a good skill to have.”

“And being half-naked with me has nothing to do with it?” Draco asked flirtily.

“A tiny bit,” Harry allowed. “A trifle, really.”

Draco laughed.

The pair had managed to keep their hands to themselves, mostly, though spending so much half-naked time alone certainly didn’t help their efforts. Laying hands on a wet, slippery Harry did not do much for Draco’s self-control. It was, honestly, the best kind of tease.

Still, Draco set that thought aside and focused on the other half of the problem. “Now, what might they take from you?”

The problem, it appeared, was that Harry really didn’t have a lot of things that were precious to him. His broom, yes. Hedwig. But otherwise, as Harry had pointed out to him, what he had were clothes and schoolbooks. Things that could easily be replaced.

“An owl wouldn’t survive underwater,” Draco mused. “And I can’t see them taking a broom either.”

“Unless…” Harry said, thinking. “Unless they mean not to take a thing.”

Draco’s eyebrows rose. “If not a thing … do you think they’ll take a person?”

“They could spell a person safe under the water, I assume?” Harry asked.

Draco nodded, slowly. “Yes. Yes, that makes sense.” He bit a lip, not noticing how Harry’s eyes followed the motion. “But who?”

“Who’s most precious to me?” Harry asked quietly. He came forward and took Draco’s hands. “You have to know that’s you.”

Draco smiled softly, and squeezed Harry’s hands gently. “Same.” He drew a deep breath. “But do they know that?”

“What, the organisers?” Harry asked. “I think everyone in school knows we’re seeing each other. I guess it depends upon how they make that call. Is it magical? Or common-sense?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “What is this thing they call ‘common sense’? If there’s a magical way, they’ll use it.”

“Which means it’s most likely you in the water,” Harry said.

Draco used their joined hands to draw Harry closer and lay a chaste kiss on his lips. “Probably.” He hesitated, then said, “You could put a tracking charm on me.”

Harry drew back a little. “A tracking charm?”

“It would let you know where I am, at all times,” Draco said quietly. “You tie them to an object, like a piece of jewellery, and it tells you where I am and whether I’m well. It would help you find me in the lake. It might make you less mental while you’re searching if you can tell that I’m OK.”

“I don’t like this,” Harry said. “I don’t like this at all.”

“I’m not a fan, either,” Draco admitted. “Mum will not be happy. I don’t imagine anyone thought about getting something like parental permission for hostages.”

“Of course not.” Harry sighed. “Their ‘not asking for permission’ is why I currently have a Lordship ring on my finger.”

“There’s that, yes,” Draco said and gave a sigh of his own. “Right, we’re running out of time.” He kissed Harry again, gently. “I’ll go back to my dorm and write Mum. I’ll write you when I get her answer.”

“I’ll call Siri again when I get back to my room,” Harry pledged. “Let him know what we’ve figured out.”

“Right, that’s a plan.” Draco kissed him again. And again.

Just for the hell of it.

Dear Mum,

Well, we think we’ve figured some things out. First, we need gillyweed. If we have none fresh at the pond, could you please pick some up for us from Jiggers? It will allow Harry to breathe and give him an advantage in the water, as he’s really not a strong swimmer at all.

Secondly, we think that what they’ll take is a hostage. We think they’re going to take what Harry would miss most. And for him, he says, that’s me.

Mum, I think they’re going to take me hostage for the second task.

Harry offered the idea that they’d use common sense to choose hostages, but we both think that it’s more likely they’ll use a magical artefact to determine the best choice, and that puts me squarely on target.

I’ve offered to allow him to put a tracking charm on me. Do you have anything we can use as a focus object? Maybe something intended to be mine, anyway?

Harry plans to fill in Sirius, so if he’s already been in touch, feel free to conspire amongst yourselves.

With love,

Draco

My dear Dragon,

Look for a package in the post tomorrow. It contains enough gillyweed for two hours, your usual sweets, and a silver bracelet set with three stones. One is a diamond, one is an emerald, and one is a ruby. If you tether the tracking charm to it, the stones will glow—the diamond for your good health, the ruby for imminent death or danger, and the emerald for moderate danger.

Essentially, my son, it will tell Harry you need help and pull him in your direction if the green or red stones are glowing with the phrase, “Draconis.”

I purchased it with this in mind yesterday. It was new, but I cleansed it anyway, so it should be ready for Harry’s spellwork.

I appreciate your warning regarding the second task, and I’ve spoken to your father about it. He and I will attend. I know that we have been struggling of late, but your father does love you, and he plans to be present should you be in danger and require saving. I have pointed out that you are courting a powerful young Gryffindor, and will likely not need his assistance, but he insists on being present, anyway. I do not believe he intends Harry harm; in fact, he has said, under the influence of a truth serum, that your betrothal and bonding to Harry Potter would be excellent news for House Malfoy. However, his mark grows ever darker, and we both worry that Lucius’ will is not going to be his own for much longer. You know that the mark makes slaves of His followers, taking away their free will. I am confident that your father will act in the family’s best interest for as long as he is able.

Oh, but I digress, Dragon. I will keep your father under control; you will do your part and keep yourself as safe as you can. Never forget we love you.

Mum

Harry,

Mum is sending us a bracelet to use for the tracking charm. Same time, same place tomorrow evening?

She also says that when in control of himself, Lucius is on board with our courting, and that he plans to be on hand at the second task to “help” if necessary. Never trust my father, Harry; you know this better than most. He is Slytherin to the core and under the wanker’s influence. But he is fierce in defence of his family, so I believe he will assist if he’s able.

I really want to believe in my father again, Harry. It’s painful to know that he’s just not the same man I idolised as a child.

Well, that’s probably enough of my whining, at any rate.

With love,

Dragon

Dragon,

Same time, same place, confirmed.

And no, it’s not whining, Draco. I want to know your deepest thoughts. I understand what it is to idolise a parent. Everyone seems to idolise mine. But I just wish they were here, you know? Would they be proud of me? I’m told so, but I will never know so, and that hurts.

I’m sorry your parent has disappointed you so much.

I love you.

Harry.

In the press of business surrounding the tournament, Draco had almost forgotten that Harry was awaiting the results of an audit on his vaults through Gringotts. It wasn’t until Harry turned up for their standard after-dinner “date” in the Room of Requirement the first week of February, looking distinctly disgruntled, that Draco remembered it.

“What happened to make you look so,” he gestured in a general way and made a face. “Not that you don’t always look good, Harry, but you’ve got a pretty grumpy face on.”

“I got the preliminary results of the audits on my vaults,” Harry said, flopping himself down on a couch that obligingly lengthened itself and grew more plush. “I’m not happy at all.”

Draco’s eyebrows rose as he took a seat on the end by Harry’s feet, collecting them in his lap. “Do tell.”

“I have businesses in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley that haven’t paid rent in fourteen years,” Harry said plainly, covering his eyes with both hands, mumbling into his palms. “Apparently, they didn’t know where to direct the funds. Some attempted anyway, placing the rents in a separate vault, while others just apparently wrote off their obligations. I’ve either got to kick some businesses out or get them to pay up within a reasonable amount of time. And, to boot, there have been multiple attempts to get at my money while I wasn’t in charge of it.” He dragged his hands down his face and looked at Draco. “One of those who attempted it was Dumbledore.”

Draco opened his mouth, closed it. Then he cleared his throat. “Would you like me to say something well-meaning but ultimately meaningless, something comforting, or something mean? I have possible responses prepared for all three possibilities.”

Harry stared at him for a moment, then started laughing. Draco grinned, too, as his intended’s laughs died to chuckles and snorts, but he remained quiet. He’d asked the question, after all, and still needed the answer.

Harry wiped his eyes, and took Draco’s hand. “I love you more with each passing day,” he said earnestly. “Please do feel free to be as mean as you’d like about the utter bastards who’ve been trying to steal from me.”

“Dumbledore is a first-class wanker who needs to be shunted out of every so-called position of power he currently holds, and he ought to be held accountable legally for every cent he’s tried to steal from an orphaned wizard who is the last of his line,” Draco said, firmly. “I don’t care if he had good reason or not—and I’m guessing not—there’s no excuse.”

Harry nodded. “He set up a stipend to the Dursleys, which, fine, I get that. Apparently there is a procedure for that through the bank, but he had no authority to do so. The bank employee who allowed it is facing an inquiry at the moment. The fact that the same employee did not allow Dumbledore to withdraw funds or items from the Potter vaults when the request was made, will probably go in his favour. And it’s all sort of a grey area, anyway, as Sirius was actually my magical guardian and couldn’t actually help me from his position in prison.”

“A position he wouldn’t have been in if not for Dumbledore,” Draco pointed out, fanning the flames. “As Chief Warlock, he could push for a trial. He should have pushed for a trial. Even if he didn’t know who the Secret Keeper was, which I doubt.”

Harry took that in, then sat up straight, his eyes burning with righteous fire. “You’re absolutely right. Why has no one yet pointed that out?”

“You could,” Draco said, reasonably. “You could take your seats at the next session and raise that very question.”

Harry stood up and began to pace. “Sirius is considering making a public appearance at the next Wizengamot himself, but if I can go myself, he might not need to take the risk. He’s still wanted, right? If I go, take my seats and stand proxy for the House of Black …”

“Perhaps with my mother’s backing and support?” Draco suggested. “She’s probably the most publicly visible member of House Black aside from your godfather at this point. The elders have mostly backed away from public life, especially after Arcturus died.”

“Arcturus?”

“The former Lord Black,” Draco explained. “Sirius’ paternal grandfather. He died about ten years ago.”

“So House Black has been sort of drifting ever since?” Harry mused. “I don’t think I quite understood why Sirius claiming the ring was so important.”

Draco nodded. “Most of the House thought the ring would pass to me eventually, as I’m the only boy born in this generation of Blacks and Mum is a direct descendant of Arcturus. I mean, he was my great-grandfather. But it’s been in limbo as Sirius was in Azkaban and he had a better claim.”

“Interesting.” Harry continued to pace, then stopped dead and sighed, deeply. “We’ve got to get him a trial.”

“Well, then, let’s build a plan,” Draco said, and the pair put their heads together.

Chapter 5

Draco decided he’d better start some lists because he and Harry had several balls in the air they could not afford to drop. Sirius needed a trial. Harry needed to learn to swim. The second task would likely pull Draco into the water, too, so they both needed Muggle wetsuits.

Warming charms would do, too, Draco thought, but why waste the magic? Sirius, fortunately, had a source in mind.

The courtship was going nicely. Officially, they were in the getting-to-know-you stage, which would be followed by betrothal if they so chose.

Unofficially, they knew each other well enough that they’d been hard-pressed not to activate the automatic betrothal clauses. Draco lost count of how many times they’d had to separate and head to their own quarters before a mutual orgasm might have happened. He idly wondered if that clause was meant to test for sexual compatibility, or if magic wanted to join those who were meant to be. Magic worked on intent, after all; forced sexual contact between a courting couple would negate the contract out of hand.

Maybe, Draco thought, the originators of such contracts had too much experience with horny 14-year-olds. An automatic betrothal under those conditions would dampen enthusiasm in pairs who weren’t sure about permanence at 14.

Well. That wasn’t really an issue for Harry and him, was it? His intended was hot, smart, cunning, and ridiculously powerful. Draco would have to be utterly straight and utterly stupid not to be into him.

Fortunately for them both, Draco was neither. His family backed his play, and Harry, with his ridiculously romantic and over-the-top courting gift, made it clear that he thought the partnership could last.

Given the givens, Draco would be happy to mess around with his intended.

If his intended would cooperate, that is.

Unfortunately for Draco, Harry would never let them get too far, citing his perfectly reasonable stance that they should wait until they were ready for the official notice of betrothal to be published in The Prophet. That would happen automatically when it happened, and neither really wanted to put an end to their game of trolling Dumbledore.

Because it was, in fact, only Dumbledore who didn’t have a large clue at this point.

By Valentine’s Day, with the task just ten days away, the entire school knew that Draco and Harry were a couple. Fewer had it confirmed that they were a courting couple, but most everyone had come to that conclusion independently. Especially when the Weasley twins let it slip to the Gryffindor Gossip Queens—Parvati and Lavender Brown—that the bet on a courting contract had been paid out. They’d drawn their own conclusions, and spread the word.

Draco found it hilarious.

The only downside appeared to be Dumbledore’s assumption that their relationship wouldn’t or couldn’t be official, and that puzzled them both. Harry told Draco that Dumbledore had invited Harry to his office for tea, had mentioned that it was a fine thing to enjoy a young romance, but that such romances rarely lasted. Again, Dumbledore hadn’t brought up Harry’s Lordship, which Draco continued to find strange, and again, Dumbledore had counselled caution in his dealings with Draco.

Almost as if, Draco thought, Dumbledore thought he needed to warn Harry away from cultivating close relationships at his age. As Headmaster, Dumbledore really had no need to do so. He didn’t call in other students for chats over tea about their love lives, Draco considered.

So why did Dumbledore think it his duty?

The only conclusion Harry and Draco could come to did not make them happy. They believed it quite likely that Dumbledore believed himself to be Harry’s magical guardian. Though patently false, the evidence had begun to pile up: Dumbledore’s arrangement at the bank for payment to the Dursleys, his attempts to secure other funds from the Potter vaults, and his odd focus on Harry’s school activities made them suspicious. A magical guardian, however, ought to have stepped in with a child’s non-magical relatives if that child appeared to be poorly taken care of. Dumbledore hadn’t done that. In fact, he insisted that Harry go back to the Dursleys every summer.

More fool him, Draco privately thought, because Harry had no intention of doing so this summer. His intended had options and planned to use them.

Still, the caution against getting too involved at his age made Draco curious. It could be genuine concern.

Or, it could be something more sinister.

Draco set that aside for at least one evening of romance on Valentine’s Day. While he knew anything physical was probably off the table, he saw no reason at all not to give his intended a gift and spoil him a bit. He arranged to have Harry meet him at the Room of Requirement after dinner, and slipped away from the crowded Great Hall quietly.

By the time Harry reached the RoR, Draco had set it up with a comfortable sofa done in a plush gold velvet, some scattered red roses, and a glass table that featured Honeydukes chocolates and butterbeer.

Harry paused on the threshold as he took the scene in. “Draco, what’s all this?”

“A gift for Valentine’s Day,” Draco said, smiling softly. “A little chocolate, a few flowers. Me on a plush surface.”

A deep rosy blush came to Harry’s cheeks. “Oh, boy, I already think we need a chaperone.”

Draco laughed a little but held out a hand to Harry. “Oh, I don’t think we want a voyeur. But I promise to stop before we, er. Well. I know we’re not ready to be betrothed publicly yet.” He pulled Harry to him with a little swirl and a dip that flustered the Lord Potter most obviously. “But I see no reason I can’t show you that I love you.” He bent to kiss Harry softly.

Harry gave a little hum and opened his mouth. Draco righted him so that he could grip that messy black hair with both hands and deepen the kiss, slipping his tongue into his boyfriend’s mouth. Harry kissed him back, and the messy kiss—more of a battle really—began to smooth out as they learned the way of it together. Harry broke it reluctantly, then backed Draco toward the couch, seating him on it and straddling Draco’s lap before leaning back in.

Draco ran his hands up Harry’s back as they gentled each other, kissing in long moments, pausing for breath, kissing again. Finally, Harry drew back a bit, taking a big gulp of air.

“I’m going to need to look up charms for, er. What do you call it when you don’t want to come even though you really do want to come?” Harry asked.

Draco pursed his lips. He was in the same boat. “I have no idea. Where would we even look?”

“We’re not asking your mum,” Harry said firmly.

Draco shuddered. “Yeah, no.” He sat back in thought. “Would asking Sirius be too embarrassing?”

Harry tilted his head. “I don’t think there’s much I could ask that would shock him, no. Shall I?”

“Please do, love,” Draco said. “Then teach me. If we’re going to stay pure by terms of the betrothal contract, I think we’ll need a little help.” Then he grinned wickedly. “And I bet there are charms that could be a lot of fun later.”

Harry rolled his eyes but returned the wicked grin. “I’ll call Sirius later.”

“Right.” Draco kissed him quickly, then gently shunted him off his lap. “Chocolates. And romance. And no talk about anything stressful.”

“Just us,” Harry agreed.

“Just us.” Draco handed Harry a butterbeer with the top popped off.

Draco,

These journals are awesome. So I talked to Sirius. It was a little embarrassing but he was cool about it after he stopped laughing. I have two charms for us. One is a charm he said acts like a “cock ring,” which is a kind of device that goes around your cock and balls to keep you from coming even when you really, really want to. He said it can lead to even bigger orgasms after you take it off, so it can be fun to play with in the future, too. The other one is basically a cold shower charm. He said most boys need to use that one on the regular as teens to keep from having hard-ons all the time. He’s pretty impressed we’ve managed without knowing that one yet. He showed me the wand movements and I practised, and yeah, they work. I’ll show you in the Room one night. Incantation for the cock ring charm is “Serrer”—but don’t do it to yourself until you see me show you, please. The cold shower charm is “Douche froid.” I asked him why they were in French and he smirked at me.

I really, really, am not sure I want to know now.

Anyway.

I love you.

Just felt like saying it.

Harry.

Harry,

I always love hearing it. I love you, too. I look forward to “practising” with you.

XXOO

Draco

XXOO?

Hugs and kisses.

XXOO

But the problem of Dumbledore persisted. He said as much to Harry one evening while they were taking a break from Harry’s swimming lessons.

“I’m wondering if Dumbledore thinks, as your magical guardian, he has the right to dictate the terms of your betrothal,” Draco said casually.

“He’s not my magical guardian, though,” Harry pointed out, idly tracing a pattern on Draco’s knee.

“No, which means any attempts on his part to start a contract for you would fail,” Draco admitted. “He might not know that, though.”

“There was a light show when our contract was confirmed,” Harry pointed out. “Glowy, with automatic copies made and filed everywhere. Wouldn’t he know that his contract had failed on those grounds if he tried to make one?”

Draco shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. It sort of depends upon whether he’d ever taken part in the process himself. It tends to be private, so if he’s never done it, he wouldn’t know it. And he’s unmarried, so, odds are he didn’t complete the process if he ever did start it.”

“So, he’d, what, sign a contract, manually make copies, and keep one on file for himself without knowing where else they’d go?” Harry shook his head. “That seems pretty ignorant. And Dumbledore doesn’t seem ignorant to me.”

“Maybe he thinks he can get control of you now that Sirius is out of Azkaban,” Draco suggested. “Somehow guilt Sirius into giving up your magical guardianship so that Dumbledore can make decisions on your behalf.”

“Barking up the wrong tree, there,” Harry commented. “Sirius wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire at this point, knowing what we do.”

True, they’d discovered that Dumbledore could have gotten Sirius a trial at any time, just by virtue of being Chief Warlock, and hadn’t. The formal petition they were filing on his behalf through a neutral office had been blocked already.

Twice.

“No, somehow I think this is still about controlling you for some reason,” Draco said. “He doesn’t want you to have permanent ties. He doesn’t want you to be independent. He doesn’t want you to take up your Lordship. But what does he get out of all of that?”

“I hate to be crass, but I’m guessing money and power,” Harry said glumly. “What else?”

“I think we need to answer that question, don’t we?” Draco said. “What else does Dumbledore gain from attempting to control you?”

That question began to haunt Draco’s thoughts as he and Harry made final preparations for the second task. The night before the event, Draco, along with Hermione and Cho Chang, were brought into the Headmaster’s office.

“Ah, there you are,” Dumbledore said. “Welcome. I’m certain you’re wondering why we’ve brought you here.”

Draco raised an eyebrow, silent. The others looked around to see Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Madame Maxime, and Headmaster Karkaroff. A young blond girl, probably a relative of Fleur’s, Draco thought, looked up silently at the giantess. He guessed she’d had a more thorough explanation than the rest already.

“Tomorrow, our champions have been tasked with retrieving something of great importance to them from the merpeople under the Black Lake,” Dumbledore explained. “They will have precisely one hour, and their scores will be determined by how well and how quickly they manage to retrieve their goal. In this case, their goal, should you all agree, will be to retrieve each of you. Earlier this evening, the other judges and I cast a spell to determine the person who meant the most to our respective champions. Your names appeared next to your champions’ names. Of course, should you not agree, we will simply cast again. But if you do agree tonight, I will place you under a temporary enchantment that will keep you asleep, warm, and alive under the waters of the Black Lake. There, you will be guarded by the merpeople until your champion comes to ‘rescue’ you. Should your champion fail, the merpeople will ensure your safety until one of us can come to retrieve you.”

Hermione raised a hand, and Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as he nodded to her. “Do our champions know they are about to retrieve a person, rather than an object?”

Dumbledore smiled. “If they deciphered the clue correctly, then, yes, they’ll have a strong hunch.”

“And we’re perfectly safe?” Cho asked from her position next to Hermione.

“Yes, of course.”

Draco pursed his lips, and asked, “Have our parents given permission for us to participate?”

Dumbledore’s twinkle dimmed slightly. “Well, no. We didn’t think it necessary as you all will be perfectly safe and on school grounds.”

“Ah, not to sound too much like my old self, but I’m almost positive my parents would prefer I not participate,” Draco said quietly. “And I can’t imagine any of the rest of yours would be all that happy about it, either.”

Hermione gave the Headmaster a hard look. “Our parents really should be involved in this decision, Headmaster.”

“I am the magical guardian of all Muggleborns in Hogwarts, as long as they are in school,” Dumbledore explained. “I can give permission for you to participate. I am de facto guardian of all Hogwarts students, in fact, while school is in session, and can give you all permission to participate, should you prefer it. Of course, if you’d like to decline, we can move to someone else on the list.”

And wouldn’t that sting, Draco thought, if their champions thought they didn’t value them equally in return. Dumbledore, you old bastard.

“As it happens,” Draco said, fingering the bracelet with the tracking charm imbued in it that he now wore at all times, “my champion and I worked out that this might be the scenario and are prepared for it. My parents are not thrilled with my participation but have left the decision to me. They will also be present in the audience tomorrow to assist in the event there’s a problem.”

At once, Draco could see a flash of irritation on Dumbledore’s face that was quickly hidden. “We’ll be pleased to see Lord and Lady Malfoy, of course.”

“My parents would hardly know what to do with themselves,” Hermione muttered. “But I give my consent, anyway. They’d probably prefer not to know, actually.”

Cho glanced up. “I’ll participate, but I’d prefer my parents be informed, as well.”

“You may write them a note that I will have delivered,” Professor McGonagall assured her when Dumbledore looked nonplussed.

“I have already spoken with Gabrielle’s parents,” Madame Maxime said coolly, giving the impression that she was not at all impressed with Dumbledore’s lackadaisical approach to parents’ rights. “They have agreed she may participate. But I will be the only one to cast on her, yes?”

“Of course, Madame,” Dumbledore said smoothly. He cleared his throat and picked up his wand. “Are you all quite ready?”

“My note, Headmaster,” Cho reminded him.

“Right, yes, here,” Dumbledore ducked around his desk and came up with a piece of parchment and a quill. The group waited in silence while Cho scribbled a note to her parents, folded the parchment, sealed it magically, and handed it to Professor McGonagall. She then stepped back into place, and Dumbledore raised his wand. Draco watched with interest as he cast several charms that made Cho appear asleep, then cast the same set on Hermione. Reluctantly, Draco stood and allowed Dumbledore to cast on him, as well.

Blackness fell.

Draco’s first thought as face hit the cold air of a Scottish February, was that his face was freezing. He quickly realized, then, that the rest of him was following suit.

Right, he hadn’t got the chance to wear the wetsuit.

He turned quickly in the water, looking for Harry, who had let him go when Draco broke the surface and woke.

He spotted him, just below, breathing through his gills. Harry held up two hands, fingers spread.

“Ten minutes?” Draco asked. “You got to me in ten minutes?”

Harry shook his head no and pointed to his gills.

“Ah, you have ten minutes of gill time left, got it,” Draco said. “Shall we make for the shore, then?”

Harry nodded, and the pair struck out for the shore, Harry skimming just below the surface of the water and Draco shivering all the way.

“Bloody Headmaster,” he muttered. “No time for preparation. Just, here’s my office, here you go. What if I’d had to go to the loo? I’d have been in big trouble right now, right? My balls are freezing.”

Harry appeared to be giggling silently under the water.

“Are you laughing at me, Potter?” Draco said with a playful look of menace.

Harry shook his head no, obviously suppressing his amusement as they approached the shallows, where Harry had to stay, though he waved Draco forward to get warm.

“Don’t dawdle once you’re gill-less, love,” Draco said absently as he made for the shoreline, where he could see Madame Pomfrey and his mother waiting with Pepper-Up, blankets, and a thermos of what he truly hoped was Dobby’s hot chocolate.

Harry nodded.

Draco looked around as he took his steps onto dry land and was caught in a blanket by his mother. He spotted the crowd, which was cheering for his arrival, but the rest of the champions were nowhere to be seen.

“Were we the first, Mum?” he asked as he endured the vigorous rubdown and took the Pepper-Up from the school nurse. He bolted it, letting his ears steam as his mother nodded.

“Yes, you were, dear,” Narcissa said, adding a drying charm and swapping out his potion for the thermos. “Your Harry made good time. And, if I may say so, your strategy worked perfectly. The gillyweed and wet suit? Inspired. And he found you fairly quickly, too. The other champions appear to be struggling somewhat.”

Draco thanked Madame Pomfrey and took a sip from the thermos. Rich hot chocolate filled his mouth, and he groaned. “I love you, Mum. And Dobby.”

Narcissa laughed. “Glad to hear it. Have a seat. I’ve a thermos for Harry, too, when he can come to shore.”

“Why do you think the other champions are struggling?” Draco asked, sitting down on a convenient bench near the dock.

“Well, they each took a different approach, of course,” Narcissa explained. “Your father managed to insinuate himself on the monitoring team, so I’m getting updates in my ear.” She turned to show him the elaborate earring she wore when she wanted contact with her husband at a fancy dress thing. “Ms Delacour and Mr Diggory used bubble-head charms but didn’t think to keep warm. They’re both in swimsuits in this cold lake, and I shudder to think how that will affect their health. Ms Delacour ran into some grindylows, too. Mr Krum used partial human transfiguration to turn himself partly into a shark, which is a saltwater creature, but apparently it worked in this freshwater body too. He’s found the place you were held, and he’s attempting to free Ms Granger, but he’s using his teeth, and, oh. Oh, that’s not good at all.”

“What’s not good?” Draco asked.

“Well, it looks as if he’s grazed her arm as he managed to get the ropes off of her,” Narcissa said. “Oh, dear. Madam Pomfrey, it appears we’ll need to heal up Ms Granger when she arrives.”

Draco winced. Not good for the state of their sort-of building relationship, injury by shark teeth.

“Ah, Mr Diggory has arrived, managed to free Ms Chang with a knife, and is following Mr Krum up,” Narcissa reported, relaying what Lucius was telling her over the earring. “And, oh, dear. Ms Delacour needs rescuing. They’re sending Lucius and Mr Shacklebolt to retrieve her, and to retrieve her hostage. Quite unfortunate.”

Draco nodded, as in the distance, he could see Viktor’s shark head break the surface and shrink. He approved of the way Viktor held Hermione just below the water, keeping her asleep until they were closer to medical help. He truly hoped Viktor knew enough to apply pressure to her wounded arm until they got here.

He also saw Cedric and Cho break the surface, and the couple swim ahead. Draco watched as Cedric drew alongside Viktor, presumably offering help before Viktor shook his head no.

The couples were racing at this point, and Draco was watching as Harry drew himself out of the water, gill-less, marking the end of the hour. Privately, Draco enjoyed the show as his intended walked toward him in an extremely form-fitting black suit. While it was clear that Harry still had some growing to do, he’d begun to fill out with lean muscle, and Draco very much liked what he saw.

Narcissa shook her head at her son, giving him a small smirk, before standing up with the now dry towel she’d used on Draco and handing it to Harry. “Nice swim?” she asked, as he began to towel himself down.

“Bracing,” Harry said, the word muffled as he towelled off his hair and ran the material over his face. “The wetsuit was a brilliant idea. I’ll have to thank Sirius again. Alright there, Draco?”

“Just fine, Harry,” Draco said, enjoying the show. “Mum’s got Dobby’s hot chocolate ready for you when you want it.”

“Brilliant.” Harry handed the towel back to Narcissa, accepted a Pepper-Up from Madame Pomfrey, and chugged it. His ears steamed, and he shook his head slightly to clear it as Narcissa then handed him a thermos of hot chocolate. “How’d we do?”

“You were first,” Narcissa informed him. “Inside of the hour. The others, you can see.” She waved to indicate the spot where Viktor had just brought up a gasping Hermione, and the space just down from them where Cedric and Cho were also steaming from the Pepper-Up. “Hermione was injured, but I can see that Madam Pomfrey is already at work. We’re only waiting for the rescue team to bring up the Misses Delacour.”

“Oh, what happened to Fleur?” Harry asked.

“She got caught up with the Grindylows and injured, herself,” Narcissa explained. “Lucius and Auror Shacklebolt went to fetch them up, see?”

Harry turned to look, watching as a boat picked up Fleur, then sped out to where her little sister had broken the surface of the water, supported by the Merpeople. “I see Lord Malfoy managed to make himself useful, as he expected to?”

“Quite,” Narcissa confirmed. “He suggested to Minister Fudge that he’d be helpful on the monitoring and retrieval team, as long as he was here. The other judges could hardly refuse.”

Harry quirked a grin. “Of course not.”

They looked up as the judges hurried to the beach to assess the state of the champions, and observed the chaos that ensued when it was determined that Hermione had been seriously injured.

Draco heard snatches of Viktor’s deep voice, sounding remorseful, and Hermione’s calm practical tone as Madam Pomfrey stopped the bleeding, mended the skin, and handed her a blood-replenishing potion. It looked as though the injury was confined to her lower arm, near where her hands would have been bound.

He looked round at Harry, who looked grim. “You know, love, any of you could have made the same decision,” Draco pointed out, watching Harry’s face as it didn’t relax in the slightest. “It’s a valid decision, human-to-animal transfiguration.”

“One would think, however, that arms could be useful,” Harry said quietly, “and a weapon, more so. I brought a knife. It shows a clear lack of foresight to assume shark teeth could be used. I know he had arms, even with the transfigured head.”

“I agree it wasn’t bright to use his teeth,” Draco said, watching Hermione attempt to calm a clearly remorseful Viktor. “And he clearly thinks so, too.”

Harry made a noise that could be interpreted any way one wished. Draco approved, but he did get the impression that Harry found Viktor wanting. Given that Hermione seemed to be as close to a sister that Harry would ever have, Draco found himself agreeing with Harry. And yet.

“Still her choice, love,” Draco said quietly.

Harry shrugged, conceding the point, but saying nothing. Draco took that for as good an agreement as he’d get at this point, and glanced at his mum, who simply smiled serenely.

The boat carrying the Delacour’s, Lucius Malfoy, and Kingsley Shacklebolt lodged itself on the beach, and Madam Pomfrey hurried to meet it with Pepper-Up and towels. Fleur looked a little worse for wear, bleeding from several long, thin scratches on her upper arms and torso. Her little sister looked fine, if cold, wet, and sleepy.

The judges converged on the boat, and Hermione and Viktor wandered over to Draco and Harry.

“Alright there, Hermione?” Harry asked, concernedly.

“Just fine, Harry; see? Not even a mark,” his best friend said, showing off her arm.

“Viktor?” Harry asked, coolly.

“I’ll live,” Viktor responded, grimly. “I had no wish to harm Hermione during this task. I am disgusted with myself.”

“None of that,” Hermione assured him, laying a hand on his arm. “You prepared the best you could.”

“Not good enough,” Viktor grumbled. Harry, who agreed, remained silent, and Draco rolled his eyes.

“Well, we’re all here, relatively in one piece, and waiting on the judges,” Draco said, breaking the tension a bit. “Cho and Cedric are coming over, too.”

He watched the couple approach, hand-in-hand, and saw a beetle on Cho’s long black hair. “Er, Cho, you have a thing. Just there,” Draco said, waving vaguely at the insect. Cedric pulled it from her hair, then flipped it back into the water, where it gave a vague wave of tiny legs and sank.

“I’m not sure that was a water beetle, Cedric,” Hermione observed.

Cedric shrugged, unconcerned. “If we picked it up in the water, it can survive in the water.”

Draco couldn’t fault his logic, but kept his eyes on the spot, anyway, as if willing the beetle to come to the surface. It didn’t.

He forgot about the bug as Ludo Bagman directed the crowd to watch him with a “Sonorous!”

“Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! The judges have conferred and award points as follows: In first place, returning well within the time frame of one hour and demonstrating excellent use of gillyweed, Harry Potter. We award him full points.”

Polite applause sprung up from the crowd, with cheering from Gryffindor house.

“Returning second, Cedric Diggory displayed excellent use of the Bubblehead Charm. However, he was slow to get his hostage, returning five minutes after the hour. Therefore, we award him 45 points.”

Cheers and applause emanated from the stands, where Amos Diggory could be heard shouting, “That’s my boy!”

Draco refrained from rolling his eyes.

“In third,” Bagman continued, “Viktor Krum, who successfully retrieved his hostage using a complex human transfiguration. He returned just after Mr Diggory, but his hostage was injured. Therefore, the judges award him 35 points.”

“It should be zero,” Viktor muttered, and Hermione quietly shushed him.

“Finally, Ms Delacour came in fourth. While she did demonstrate excellent use of the Bubblehead Charm, she failed to retrieve her hostage and required rescuing herself. The judges, therefore, award her 25 points,” Bagman said. “Thank you all! I do believe they’re serving refreshments in the Great Hall.”

“Lunch,” Dumbledore was overheard to say, looking up at the sun, now nearly directly overhead. “It’s lunch, Ludo.”

“Right, er. Lunch. Everyone come in for lunch,” Bagman said, then quieted his voice.

The crowd began moving in that direction as Lucius Malfoy glided over to his wife, who remained next to Draco.

Draco cleared his throat, “Father, may I introduce my friends? Harry Potter, my intended, whom you know; Viktor Krum, Hermione Granger, Cho Chang, and Cedric Diggory. Everyone, my father, Lord Lucius Malfoy.”

“Charmed,” Hermione murmured.

“A pleasure,” Viktor said.

“Nice to meet you,” Cedric said.

“Charmed,” Cho echoed.

Harry said nothing, but inclined his head.

Lucius looked around at the group. “Well met,” he drawled. “You did well, champions. I’m sure, however, that you must be hungry. Please, don’t let me keep you here.”

The two other couples took their cue and bolted for the castle, while Harry remained, stepping up to take Draco’s hand and look calmly at the Malfoy Lord, who regarded him quietly.

“Lord Potter,” Lucius said. “I am pleased with your overtures toward my son, and I look forward to welcoming you to the family.” His tone radiated sincerity, and Draco briefly considered whether his mother had him under some sort of compulsion. “I invite you to call me Lucius.”

Harry, nonplussed, had clearly not expected that welcome.

Narcissa smiled gently. “He is sincere,” she said quietly. “We have had many discussions on this topic, and we are agreed on it.”

Draco inwardly shouted in glee.

Harry stilled for a moment, then inclined his head. “Thank you, Lucius. You may call me Harry.”

Some tension Draco didn’t even know he had eased inside him. He cleared his throat. “Mother, Father, if you would join us in walking to the castle? I believe we were promised lunch.”

Lucius looked warmly at his son. “Of course. Lead the way, son.”

Lunch after the second task seemed a bit surreal to Draco. His parents and Harry sat with him at the Slytherin table, adjacent to the Durmstrang contingent, and engaged in pleasant conversation about light topics—their studies, mostly—and the rest of the Slytherins looked on, impassive, but clearly anxious to dissect this new turn of events.

Draco’s occasional glances at the head table revealed a perplexed Snape next to an outwardly impassive Dumbledore, but Draco did wonder how long that impassive mask would last.

It was Professor Moody’s reaction to his father, however, that tripped Draco’s internal sophistry alarms. The man did nothing.

Less than nothing.

He failed to even look at Lucius Malfoy, and that gave Draco pause.

Why wouldn’t a celebrated Auror with a history of antagonism toward Dark wizards at least display some sort of emotion at being in the presence of one, especially one with whom he had a somewhat cantankerous history with? Draco knew that Moody had arrested his father, once upon a time, and that his father had been released for lack of evidence and proof of the Imperius Curse.

Moody never did buy that, and generally harassed Lucius in small ways, ever since.

So why the complete silence now?

Draco glanced at his father, then at Moody, and Lucius flicked his own eyes that direction. “Agreed, Draco,” he said, quietly, then asked after his Charms grade.

Harry managed to maintain polite conversation about school all the way through the lunch, then stood at Draco’s side as they waved the senior Malfoys off at the gate.

“I’m starting to chafe,” Harry muttered to Draco. “This wetsuit has got to go.”

Draco, who had wondered why Harry was still wearing it, muttered back, “Are you a wizard or what?” He tapped Harry’s suit with his wand, and it switched for a set of Draco’s own black joggers and a soft green tee. “There.”

Harry slumped in relief. “Right. What was I thinking?”

“Oh, I imagine you had a lot to think about just then,” Draco allowed. “That’s alright. I can handle some of the details.”

Harry rubbed his hands over his face and levelled a Look at his intended. “You know how much I appreciate that, right? That you can handle details I can’t? Or even, that you know what those details should be? I feel pretty damn useless sometimes.”

Draco opened his mouth, closed it, then took Harry’s hands and drew the younger boy to him. “You are far from useless,” he said, firmly. “You are amazing. You’ve been learning your roles at an incredible rate. You have more magical power in your pinkie finger than most of the wizards here have in their entire bodies, and you never notice. You’re unfailingly kind, unflinchingly determined to do the right thing, and you’re hot. Don’t think I haven’t noticed, because I have.”

Harry started laughing even as he pressed his forehead to Draco’s. “Thanks, I think.”

“You don’t need to be anything other than who you are, Harry Potter,” Draco said softly, sharing breaths with Harry. They breathed together for a moment before Draco pressed a soft, chaste kiss to Harry’s lips and backed up. “So, let’s get you into something more comfortable.”

“Nah,” Harry said, sending Draco a soft look. “I like this outfit. Let’s go somewhere and hangout.”

“The RoR?”

“Perfect.”

Chapter 6

Some afternoon cuddles in the Room of Requirement restored Harry’s equilibrium a bit, and their thoughts turned toward the matter of Sirius’ trial—and Dumbledore’s efforts to block it.

“I really don’t know what to think,” Harry said. “He’s presented himself as something of a grandfather figure, but I know now that he was responsible for sending me to the Dursleys in the first place. That he has attempted to take money and items from my vaults, failed to educate me in matters of my own estate despite his assertion that he’s my magical guardian, and generally done his best to keep me ignorant of my circumstances.” He drew a deep breath, held it, then let it out. “If he’s deliberately blocking a trial for Sirius, then this, this, situation means Dumbledore is doing his level best to control me, by whatever means necessary. And I want to know why.”

Draco thought about it, holding Harry’s hand. “Well, it could be that he thinks he needs to control you and your reputation in order to remain in control of the Wizengamot. Though that’s unlikely, as your seats haven’t been in play since your parents’ deaths. I checked. Controlling the Black seats might make more sense, but that’s only if he thinks he can’t control Sirius, which, let’s be honest, is true. But those haven’t been in play since Lord Arcturus’ death. I’m not sure a political motivation makes sense. But neither does his overt interest in you. So, what are we missing?”

Harry rubbed his scar out of habit, then paused, and looked at his hand. “My scar. The Horcrux. Oh, shite, the diary.”

“Diary?” Draco inquired.

“Second year, the diary of Tom Riddle’s that your father made sure made it into the school,” Harry explained, “It contained a bit of Tom Riddle that possessed Ginny, opened the Chamber of Secrets, and attempted to kill me by freeing the basilisk, which I killed.”

“Mother was livid,” Draco remembered. “He hadn’t informed her of the plan beforehand, and she wanted him to retrieve the diary when she found out about it. But.”

“But. It was already in play and unreachable, even for those of us here in the school,” Harry nodded along.

“He apparently tried to get into the school after he got Dumbledore out of the way, but that was a no-go. McGonagall at the gates, you see,” Draco said. “My father’s reputation does occasionally hinder him. I don’t think he actually intended harm to students; he just wanted to cause a Weasley scandal that would derail the Muggle Protection Act.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, the diary had a bit of Tom in it. What if it was a Horcrux, and Dumbledore figured that out? What if he started to wonder about my scar?”

“But he started trying to control you way before second year,” Draco pointed out sensibly. “So that can’t be all of it. If anything, the diary might have confirmed something about your scar for him.”

“So the question becomes, what does he know about me that I don’t?” Harry slumped into a chair helpfully provided by the Room. “I’m bloody tired of not knowing everything I need to know about myself.”

Draco squeezed his hand, but could not think of a single thing to say to that. Draco had always known, it seemed, what he needed to know about the Malfoy family and his role in it. Granted, his parents sometimes were not quite united in how Draco should play that role, but he’d been educated. Informed. Family ties discussed, plans laid. Knowledge acquired. True cunning came from knowledge, after all.

“Maybe,” Draco started speaking, slowly, “we should have another conversation with Sirius. We know he didn’t know about his ties to the Black seat. What else might have been hidden from him? What did he actually know about why your parents were in hiding? Dumbledore hasn’t been forthcoming on that subject, has he?”

“No, actually; not at all,” Harry said. “I asked once why Voldemort was after me, and he said he’d tell me when I was older.”

“Which rather implies he does know why Voldemort went after your parents and is choosing to keep you ignorant and downtrodden,” Draco said calmly. He’d begun to seethe, inwardly, thinking about it. Remembering Harry’s rags, and his obvious lack of knowledge before Draco, himself, had decided to do something about it. “Would direct confrontation work, do you think?”

Harry shook his head negatively. “I’ve tried just asking, and I get nowhere. I’ve given up on straight answers from Dumbledore.”

“So we need to find people who knew your parents,” Draco affirmed. “We’ll talk to Sirius again. And didn’t they know Professor Lupin?”

“Yes,” Harry nodded along. “Though as the only one of the four Marauders free after the night my parents were killed, you’d think he’d have made an effort to see me.”

Draco pursed his lips. That was a good point. “He helped you significantly last year.”

“He did,” Harry said. “But I do wonder, if he was such good friends with my parents, why last year was the first time I’d ever seen him.”

Draco hummed, low in his throat. “I’ll see what Mother knows, too. I think she’d have likely said something if she knew anything on this front, but with your permission, I’ll check in with her with our conclusions to see if she can suss out anything else.”

“You have it, of course,” Harry readily agreed. “I do think we need an adult. One who can help sort out some of what we just don’t know yet.”

“Right,” Draco said. “I’ll write her straightaway tonight.” He stood and tugged Harry out of his slumpy chair, drawing him straight into Draco’s arms. Draco tucked Harry’s head against the curve of his neck with one hand and wrapped his other arm around Harry’s waist to draw him close and hold him tightly. “We’ll figure this out, Harry.”

Harry tightened his arms around Draco and felt safe.

Dear Mother,

It was good to see you and Father today. I know Harry appreciated your support.

After you left, we took ourselves off for a post-combat cuddle, and we started talking about what we do and do not know about Harry’s life so far.

Mother, do you know why the Potters were in hiding? We think it might have something to do with why Dumbledore has insinuated himself into Harry’s life and business. We’re planning to check with Sirius, too.

Our problem is finding Dumbledore’s motivation. He’s explicitly told Harry he’ll tell him why Voldemort was after Harry “when he’s older.” This tells me he knows why. And since Dumbledore’s not using the Potter seats, nor has he been able to secure funds from Harry’s vaults for himself—and yes, attempts were made, the audit bore that out—we think perhaps the reasons for Dumbledore’s interest and actions goes back before Harry’s placement with the Dursleys—which we now know was at Dumbledore’s behest.

Dumbledore is everywhere in Harry’s life, and yet he is curiously absent, too.

Any insight you could offer would be gratefully accepted.

On another note, our attempts to petition for a trial for Sirius have been blocked. Twice. By the Chief Warlock. Curiouser and curiouser. What should our next steps be, then? Is there a higher authority to which we might appeal?

With love,

Draco

Draco watched with interest as Harry took delivery of what looked like official correspondence from Gringotts. The sealed gold envelope was a dead giveaway and often used when the bankers wanted to be obvious for some reason. He glanced around quietly to see who else was interested in Harry’s mail and noted that Dumbledore had come to attention, as had his own Head of House.

He saw Harry open the envelope, read the parchment to the bottom, then produce a quill to sign it at the bottom. The paper glowed, then sealed itself. Draco recognised that a copy had likely been magically produced and forwarded to the bank.

Interesting. He’d have to get details from Harry later.

More interesting is the way Dumbledore’s whole body sharpened as his eyes focused on Harry, who remained nonchalant about the whole thing. Draco overheard Hermione ask something, and distinctly heard Harry reply something about “family business.” But Dumbledore’s focus didn’t waver.

Oh, Draco thought. He’s trying to use Legilimency. And with Harry wearing the Potter ring—not that he advertises it—Dumbledore can’t get anywhere with it. Well, shite, that might give the game away immediately.

What were the bankers thinking?

In one stroke at breakfast, Dumbledore now knew that a) Harry had protection from Legilimency, b) Harry had a relationship with Gringotts of which Dumbledore knew nothing, and c) Harry knew something about his family. Any one of those things could tip the man off about Harry’s claiming of his Lordship, which they did not want Dumbledore to know about just yet. It didn’t seem prudent, given the lengths to which Dumbledore had gone to keep Harry ignorant.

Draco watched Snape nudge Dumbledore to stop his laser focus. Clearly, his Head of House had noticed they were being observed. Draco looked down at his own breakfast, tucking in as though he had not a care in the world.

But he suspected a confrontation was coming.

Dearest Dragon,

Our next step must be to elevate the petition to the International Confederation of Wizards. While they are largely an advisory body, they do have the authority to order a trial, and if necessary, conduct it. A person tried and exonerated in this way is normally exonerated in their home country. However, the Minister and Headmaster are playing a long game here that might not allow for the outcome we want. If you’d like, I can take point on submitting the petition on behalf of my Liege Lord, and our wheels will turn.

I asked Lucius the very question you asked me: Why did the Dark Lord target the Potters, and why were they in hiding? He couldn’t tell me. And by that, I mean he tried, choked, and nearly died before I could get him help. The curse laid upon him to keep silent on matters for the inner circle of Death Eaters clearly remains in effect, and it wouldn’t if the Dark Lord were truly dead. Therefore, we know several things now: The Dark Lord isn’t dead. He targeted Harry Potter for a reason. The Potters were hiding to protect Harry. Your father knows why, but can’t speak of it in any way. (He did try writing it down, but the same thing happened.)

What we must ask ourselves is what possible reason could the Dark Lord have for attacking a baby, the son of a Peer?

The only answer I can come to is prophecy.

Somehow, the Dark Lord knew that Harry posed a threat to him. He sought to eliminate that threat. But as a baby, Harry could have harmed no one. Therefore someone must have predicted that Harry would grow up to harm the Dark Lord in a rather permanent fashion.

Prophecy would explain it.

However, the only one allowed to ask about prophecies made about them, which are recorded in the Hall of Prophecies, is the subject of the prophecy itself. Therefore, I have made an appointment for you and Harry to come with me to the Hall of Prophecies on the next Hogsmeade weekend. We’ll go on Saturday. Details of your escape from the village I will leave with you, but I have also informed Sirius of these new developments. I imagine he will greet and transport you at the usual spot.

Be very careful, my son. Until we know the shape of this prophecy and Dumbledore’s interest in Harry, we must be cautious.

With love,

Mother

“Mr Malfoy.” Draco looked up from his place in the Slytherin common room to see Professor Snape bearing down on him. “A word.”

Draco raised an eyebrow before calmly rising himself to follow the professor out the Slytherin door and to the rarely used Head’s office next to it. He seated himself in a chair opposite the Head desk as Snape took the seat behind it.

Silence.

Draco sat back in the chair, waiting for the Professor to come out with whatever it was he had to say and determined not to speak first.

Snape clearly recognised this, because his body slumped, just a little, in the ornate wooden chair behind the desk. “Mr Malfoy—Draco—I need to know what you’re doing.”

Draco hummed. “At the moment, I’m having a conversation with my Head of House, of course. Though I’m not certain what the conversation is about at this point.”

Snape pinched his nose between his eyes and gave a loud sigh. “What. Are. You. Doing. With. Potter.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Professor, but I do believe that’s information you’re not allowed to ask about in your official capacity as Head of House.”

Impasse.

Snape removed his hand from his face and began to roll up his left sleeve. “I assume you know what this is?”

Draco nodded. “Of course.”

“It’s darkening.”

“I’m aware.”

“So it behoves me to repeat. What. Are. You. Doing. With. Potter.”

Draco eyed his professor, who was beginning to turn red. “I’m seeing him romantically, sir.”

“Yes, and?”

“And? And, what? I’m a fourteen-year-old boy with a hot boyfriend. What’s left?”

Snape said quietly, “You know very well that your ‘boyfriend’ is likely to die at the hands of the Dark Lord. Try again.”

Draco did not, in fact, know any such thing, though he could see why Snape might think so. “Is that the official party line, then? Because my parents are well aware of my romantic interest and have decided to be supportive.”

Snape opened his mouth, closed it, then drew a deep, shaky breath. “What?”

“You saw them here yourself the day of the second task,” Draco said quietly. “What did you think was going on?”

“I certainly never thought your father would condone a relationship with Potter.” Snape spit out the name as if it was vile to him.

“Condones, supports, enthusiastically approves of, take your pick.” Draco stood up. “If that’s all?”

“What about the Dark Lord, then?” Snape hissed. “What possible gain does Lucius hope to have with the Dark Lord?”

Draco cocked his head. “What makes you think he hopes to gain anything from the Dark Lord? As far as we’re aware, the Dark Lord is dead.”

“The mark says otherwise, as you know,” Snape gritted out. “I want to know what you’re playing at. Lucius does nothing unless it will advance him or his family in some way.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Draco agreed. “If I were you, I’d think about that.”

Snape snapped his mouth shut and stared at Draco, black eyes glittering.

Silence.

“May I be dismissed?” Draco asked, affecting boredom.

Snape gave a brief nod, and Draco took himself out of the room.

Well.

That was interesting.

Dearest Draco,

What, on earth, did you do to Professor Snape? He just left us, terribly flustered about your relationship with Harry. He doesn’t understand why we support it. I’ve asked him why we shouldn’t, and he couldn’t give us an answer. Literally couldn’t, I mean.

Which means, of course, that Snape knows something we don’t that he can’t share. And it makes him concerned for our family to bind itself to Harry’s fate.

Please do share what the pair of you discussed, son.

Mother

Mother,

The professor called me into the Head’s office and asked me about my relationship with Potter. I told him that it was romantic and that you and father supported it. He said, “You do know that he’s likely to die at the hands of the Dark Lord.” Which, of course, I know no such thing. I intend for Harry to be completely prepared for any confrontations he might have with the Dark Lord, for one. But I do find the Professor’s utter assuredness that Harry would die to be …suspect.

Thoughts, Mother?

Draco

Draco,

The professor believes that Harry will die at the hands of the Dark Lord. He believes it utterly but is unable to speak of “why” we should discourage your relationship. Again, I think we must consider prophecy, and we must also consider Professor Snape to be an “enemy” of Harry’s. He knows more than he’s allowed to discuss, anyway.

I am hopeful that we will learn more when we meet on Hogsmeade weekend.

Your father sends his assurances of continued support. As he should.

With love,

Mother.

Harry caught Draco’s eye at breakfast, giving him a subtle nod toward the stairs to let him know he needed to talk. Draco nodded back, finished his toast, and strolled toward the stairs himself, meeting Harry at the bottom of the staircase and walking with him to the nearest empty classroom. The classrooms, having portraits, weren’t as secure as the Room, but apparently, Harry no longer cared that much about operational security.

Or, maybe he did, Draco noted, impressed as Harry used a spell he’d never heard of to banish the people from the portraits in the old room and set a silencing ward.

Draco whistled in admiration. “What’s up, love?”

“Dumbledore tried to get Sirius to sign off on a betrothal contract between me and Ginny Weasley,” Harry said bluntly.

“I beg your pardon?” Draco said, astonished.

Harry began to pace. “I got a call from Sirius before breakfast this morning. Dumbledore has figured out that he’s not my magical guardian, that Sirius is, and is attempting to strongarm Sirius into a contract benefiting the Weasley family.”

“We wondered if he would try something like that,” Draco said quietly. “We suspected he was overly invested in you.”

“Well, apparently he’s made a veiled threat to keep blocking Sirius’ attempts at getting a trial if he doesn’t come on board with Dumbledore’s plans,” Harry muttered. “Sirius told him he’d consider it to get him to back off.”

“We’ve got to get Sirius a trial.” Draco pulled out the journal that linked him to his mother. “Mother said she’d do the petition through the ICW on behalf of her Liege Lord. Let me ask if she’s managed.”

He scribbled a note in the journal asking that question and outlining the newest move by Dumbledore. The journal glowed, but no immediate response came. “She must be away from her desk. I’ll let you know what she says. But why the Weasley family?”

Harry scowled. “Apparently, Ginny wants to marry the Boy-who-lived, and her parents want her to have what she wants. Incidentally, they’d have access to funds to outfit her as befitting a Potter bride and frankly, I wouldn’t have thought it of Arthur, but someone wants my money. Dumbledore as much told Sirius the Weasleys deserved the reward of my funds for their work in befriending me. Because befriending me is apparently a lot of work! A lot of risk!” Harry paused in his pacing. “Because of course, no one would want to be friends and support for someone with the kind of negative attention I get.”

“Hey, none of that,” Draco said, reaching out to take Harry’s hand. “You are amazing, and worth every effort. You need to know that, Harry. You need to know that in your soul.”

Harry shook his head violently. “Ron was my first friend, Draco. My first. Because my aunt and uncle and cousin bullied me mercilessly, and my cousin made sure no one at our primary school would risk being my friend. How can I believe that I’m worth it?”

“Oh, Harry,” Draco said softly and pulled him in for a hug. “You’re so worth it, my love.”

Dear Draco,

I have submitted the petition to the ICW, who were appalled at the treatment of our Liege Lord and started an investigation that should culminate in a trial. Please tell Harry that we remain in his corner, and remind him that your contract with him supersedes every other attempt that might be made. The Weasleys and Dumbledore will not benefit in any material way from their association with him. I promise you both that.

Mother

Draco watched, worried, as Dumbledore nonchalantly approached Harry at the breakfast table. The conversation could not be heard, and Dumbledore blocked his view. He caught George Weasley’s eye, and the twin-tipped his ear down, unfurling what looked like a string between him and Harry.

Draco watched George’s face, which paled a bit before the Weasley’s eyebrows rose as far as they could, and his eyes darted toward Draco. George made a “come hither” motion with one hand, and Draco was up and across the room before he realised it, coming up behind Harry to embrace him.

“Good morning, Harry,” Draco said into his ear, registering the stiffness of his love’s body as Harry fighting off a surge of utter rage. “Headmaster.”

Dumbledore looked nonplussed. “Mr. Malfoy, what brings you to the Gryffindor table this morning?”

“Ah, it looked as though Harry could use a supportive boyfriend,” Draco said with a smile. “You must have brought him some terrible news.”

Draco watched the neon flowers embroidered on Dumbledore’s purple gown bloom, fade, and start again in the time it took for the man to clear his throat. “I was unaware that I was delivering terrible news,” Dumbledore said carefully, looking at the couple. “I had thought that your relationship was no longer.”

“Whatever made you think that?” Draco asked calmly, feeling from Harry’s posture that the other teen was struggling to control the urge to curse the Headmaster. “We’ve been together all year.”

“I see,” Dumbledore said. “I suppose I thought Mr. Potter had broken it off with you after he and I talked.”

“You talked,” Harry snarled. “I had to listen to you demean a relationship I value because you didn’t think it would last. I chose to leave that conversation before I could get angry, but now you’re telling me that you’ve decided to set up a betrothal contract for me, without my input, nor without telling me that you have the power to do so. What the actual fuck?”

“Language,” Dumbledore said crisply. “Ten points from Gryffindor. Harry, I was assured that your relationship had ended and that you were most urgently in favour of a contract between you and Ginny Weasley.”

“By whom?” Harry said. “All of Gryffindor and Slytherin know that I am heavily invested in my current relationship, Headmaster. I have utterly no romantic interest in Ginny Weasley, and I am utterly gay, so there’s no way a relationship with any female would endear you to me.”

Dumbledore looked taken aback. “I see.”

“I hope you do see,” Harry said.

Draco looked around to see that the small silenced bubble around them had been breached by several entrepreneurial Gryffindors. He cleared his throat. “Perhaps a change of venue, Headmaster?”

Dumbledore glanced around, saw what Draco had seen, and nodded. “Quite. Mr Potter, if you—ah, and your boyfriend—would like to adjourn to my office for further discussions, I’d be happy to clear the matter up.”

Draco squeezed Harry briefly in assurance, then stood and held his hand out to Harry. “Shall we?”

Harry took it, stood, then laced their fingers together. “We shall.”

Dumbledore gestured them forward, and they made their way out of the Great Hall. Draco listened to the burst of whispers and discussion that followed them and privately vowed to catch a memory of it from Theo later.

He considered, briefly, whether they should bring in one of their Heads of House for the discussion with the Headmaster when Professor Snape made it a moot point by getting up from the Head Table and following them with a silent, dramatic sweep of his robes. Draco admired the little flare Snape gave the hem and made a note to try it himself at some point.

The quartet walked silently through the castle until they arrived at the gargoyle, which automatically opened upon Dumbledore’s approach. They trooped up the stairs, then Snape leaned up against the wall behind Dumbledore’s desk while Dumbledore himself gestured to the boys to take the seats opposite. Draco sat down, keeping Harry’s hand, and watched as Dumbledore seated himself and cupped his own chin.

“Well, it seems I’ve been in error,” Dumbledore admitted. “I was told you were interested in something permanent with Ginny Weasley, and that a betrothal contract would not go amiss. I admit that I started the process with that in mind. I actually approached you at breakfast, rather than ask for a private meeting, because I thought you’d be happy and interested in sharing your good fortune with your friends immediately.”

He’s not lying, Draco realised abruptly.

He squeezed Harry’s hand.

Harry looked at him, read the angle of Draco’s brow, and inclined his head. “No, Headmaster. I am not interested in Ginny Weasley, and I have no interest in being betrothed to her. May I ask who told you differently? And why this person approached you?”

Dumbledore looked abashed. “Well, Harry, I thought myself to be what we call a magical guardian to you,” he explained. “With your parents dead and your godfather in prison, I took it upon myself to ensure that when you were old enough, you could come to Hogwarts. I also made sure you were safely housed with your aunt and uncle. I asked a dear friend of mine, Arabella Figg, to stay nearby and keep an eye on you for me, as I could not actually manage that. Mr and Mrs Weasley knew that I had assumed that role and approached me for the contract, citing a current relationship with their daughter.”

Draco glanced at the gobsmacked expression on Harry’s face as he processed all of that. “Headmaster, are you aware that Harry’s aunt and uncle neglected him?”

Dumbledore’s face seemed to age before their own. “I came to be aware when you arrived here, Harry. Mrs Figg had mentioned that you seemed normal enough, but when you arrived, I saw how thin you are, how ragged your mundane clothes were. Your first letter was addressed to the ‘Cupboard Under the Stairs,’ and I knew something was wrong. But you seemed, for all that, at least well-adjusted. I wrote to your aunt to suggest she put a little more effort into caring for you.”

“She and my uncle responded by locking me in the second bedroom all summer,” Harry said woodenly. “I was given tinned soup once per day to eat. They put bars on my windows. The twins and Ron had to bust me out.”

Dumbledore paled. “And the following summer?”

“It wasn’t much better,” Harry confirmed. “And Uncle Vernon’s sister Marge did her best to beat me down before I blew her up.”

Draco tightened his jaw. He hadn’t heard this part of Harry’s story before, and he squeezed Harry’s hand lightly in support.

Dumbledore drew a steady breath. “And this past summer?”

“I threatened them with Sirius,” Harry said quietly. “It worked, for the most part.”

Dumbledore sat back in his chair, looking defeated. “I have not done well by you, my boy.”

“No, sir; you haven’t.” Harry sat up straight. “Are you still my magical guardian?”

“It seems because Sirius never had a trial and thus was not convicted, that I am not,” Dumbledore admitted. “And I never was.”

“Then why block his efforts to get a trial?” Harry asked, bluntly.

Dumbledore scrubbed a hand over his face. “An ill-advised attempt to keep you at the Dursleys, where the wards I put up when I placed you there would keep you safe from anyone outside of the house who would wish you harm.”

“Outside of the house?” Draco drawled the question. “Trapping him inside the house with people who also wish him harm does, in fact, seem ill-advised.”

For the first time, Professor Snape spoke up. “Mr Potter, did your aunt and uncle physically abuse you?”

Harry looked away. As far as Draco was concerned, that was answer enough.

It was answer enough for Professor Snape, too, it seemed, as he drew his wand involuntarily and strode toward the Headmaster’s fireplace. Dumbledore popped up and cast a shield between Snape and the Floo. “No, Severus.”

“Headmaster, you know my vow. You know what I must do,” Snape said, low and menacing.

“At least let me go with you,” Dumbledore said.

“You’ll just slow me down,” Snape hissed.

“Well, perhaps. But we should think about this, Severus.” Dumbledore raised both hands in a plea. “Getting you sent to Azkaban for murder would do no good.”

“It’s not illegal for a wizard to kill a muggle, especially if the cause is just,” Draco said, coldly. Harry looked up at him in surprise. “Abuse of a wizarding peer by a Muggle, in fact, is punishable by death.”

“Of course you’d know that,” Harry muttered, but he squeezed Draco’s hand back, just the same.

Draco ignored the aside, even as he smirked internally. “However, Professor, it might be best to approach the matter as a Slytherin … if your ‘vow’ will allow it.”

“I vowed to protect Harry Potter,” Snape said, looking at Harry. “Your mother was my closest friend until our falling out, and I vowed to protect you.” He glanced at Draco. “From all threats, Mr Potter.”

“But, you don’t even like me?” Harry asked weakly.

“I hated your father,” Snape admitted. “That doesn’t mean I hate you. But you do remind me of what I lost when she died, and of what I did to cause our falling out.”

“That must be hard,” Harry said softly. “I’m sorry.”

“You’ve done nothing wrong, Mr Potter,” Snape said stiffly. “It is I who should apologise. I was under a misapprehension about the way you were raised, and I chose to see your father in you, rather than your mother. It is my failing, not yours.” He drew a deep breath. “Albus, I believe we must discover a new place for Mr Potter to live in the summers. And I cannot allow this situation to go unpunished. Petunia should have known better. But she was always a spiteful bitch.”

Harry perked up. “You knew my aunt?”

“We grew up together,” Snape said briefly. “Hated each other on sight.”

Sensing the worst of the danger had passed, Dumbledore let the shield go. “You’re quite right, Severus. We will plan. And, I believe, if I allow Sirius’ trial to move forward, clearing his name would allow Harry to stay with him.”

“You should have allowed his trial to move forward, to begin with,” Draco said with a cold look. “Out of decency, if nothing else. I did think better of the Light, Headmaster.”

Ouch, Draco thought as he saw the blow hit. Dumbledore absorbed it and nodded. “You’re quite right, Mr Malfoy.”

Silence reigned for a moment as all took stock of what they had learned.

Finally, Dumbledore broke it. “Harry, I will do everything in my power to ensure that Sirius is cleared and that you have a place with him outside of school. I swear this on my magic.” He lit the tip of his wand with Lumos to show the sealing of the vow, then put it away. “Severus, you and I will seek to dismantle the wards on Privet Drive, and then, I will leave them strictly alone. Do you understand?”

Snape’s eyes glittered. “I do, indeed.”

“And the betrothal contract?” Harry asked. “I am not interested at all.”

Dumbledore strode around the back of his desk and reached for parchment and quill. “My intent in approaching you today about the contract was to allow you to pressure your godfather into agreeing to it,” Dumbledore said simply. “As that will not happen, in any case, we are left with no contract at all. I will speak with the Weasleys, and I will explain that they were mistaken in your affections for Miss Weasley.” He scribbled a note. “Fawkes.” The phoenix appeared in a ball of flame. “Please take this to Molly Weasley.” The bird accepted the message and disappeared again in a ball of flame.

“I think you two should go to class,” Dumbledore said. “I think there’s just time for you to get to Charms.”

Draco got to his feet, pulling Harry with him. They still held hands. “Of course, sir,” Draco said. Harry said nothing but allowed himself to be steered out of the office and down the stairs.

They said nothing as they strolled hand-in-hand to Charms, but Draco could tell that Harry was thinking deep thoughts. As they approached the door to Charms, Draco kissed Harry’s temple swiftly. “We’ll meet at the Room for lunch,” he whispered in Harry’s ear. “We’ll call Sirius. It’ll be alright, Harry.”

Harry gave him a wan smile, lifted their joined hands to his lips for a kiss, then let go, and walked ahead of Draco into the classroom.


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Proffrankly

I’m an old nonfiction writer trying to learn how to write fiction. I enjoy many different fandoms, but was drawn back to writing fan fiction by BBC's Sherlock. I'm a total Holmesian.

6 Comments:

  1. My coffee has grown cold; my yogurt has grown warm…all inconsequential in the face of devouring this story as quickly as I can. This story is fantastic. I love your characterizations and the way you have the intrigue swirling around Harry and Draco while they are steadfast in their regard for each other. Lovely!

  2. You had me in wheezing giggles so often through this–wonderful! Off to part 2!

  3. I’m not ashamed to admit that I really didn’t see Dumbledore’s actions in the last scene coming. I expected the usual hard sell, dismissal of Harry’s opinions and subtle threats. This was so much better and also much more confusing. He can’t be that ignorant, uninformed and uninterested can he?

  4. It’s official… too many lemon drops have rotted that barmy old meddlers brain!!! I’m loving this! THANK YOU!

  5. Thoroughly enjoying this. I particularly liked the part about ‘marriage management’. I’ve been managing my husband since the day we met. He still doesn’t realise!
    Thank you. On to part 2 xx

  6. Greywolf the Wanderer

    freaking awesomesauce!!

    very nicely done! *runs off to read moar*

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