Author's Note: I'm... finished? I'm finished. Wow. My muse keeps telling me not to let this go to my head, since there's not only the sequel I haven't even begun yet, but PatA and HWJaB, too. (A writer's work is never done. :sheepish grin:) But still, I feel really... proud of myself? Huh.
Well, no dilly-dallying now (too late). On with the fic!
Harry Potter and the Secret Link Part 29
Draco and Duo's kidnaping and subsequent escape was the only thing anyone at Hogwarts spoke about; somehow, the facts of the matter actually mutated into blatant lies, and soon the rumor mill was absolutely positive that Draco and Duo hadn't been kidnaped by Death Eaters, but wild giants who had planned to ransom them for powdered bones to make their bread instead. According to the grapevine, it was only Duo's annoyingly cheerful banter that distracted the giants long enough for Draco to hex the nearest one with a dark curse he'd learned as a mere child under the tutelage of his former father.
"As if giants were smart enough to organize a kidnaping attempt in the first place," Draco scoffed when an eager third year Slytherin asked what kind of dark curse Draco used to subdue a clan of giants long enough for the two of them to escape.
It was only a week before the rumors trickled to a stop, the students of Hogwarts moving on to bigger and better things to gossip about. Draco, of course, had been scandalized for two important reasons, one of them being that he'd quite liked being the talk of Hogwarts for once, especially since he was cast in such a favorable light. In his opinion, it was about damn time his magical prowess had been rightfully noted, despite the fact that he really hadn't taken out a whole clan of giants with a single curse.
He found no sympathy with Harry. "How can you stand it?" Draco had complained to the Gryffindor irately. "Year after year, you go off and do something death-defyingly stupid -willingly, might I add- and they sing your praises for all of a week before Lavender Brown's failed attempt at wooing the untouchable Terry Boot becomes the next big thing!"
"Practice," Harry replied ruefully, rolling his eyes. "Patience. Right now, I'm just happy to not be involved at all." The green-eyed Gryffindor paused suddenly, glancing at Draco shrewdly. "Is 'defyingly' even a word?"
"It is if I say it is," Draco replied snottily. Harry wisely decided to spare himself the headache of incurring another snit fit courtesy Draco the Drama Queen (as he'd secretly come to call the Slytherin) and didn't argue the matter further.
The other reason Draco hated the fact that his fifteen minutes of fame had faded was because it gave people a lot more time to talk about Draco's subsequent disinheritance. That was the last thing he wanted to deal with, even though he had known it would be inevitable. The announcement of the former Malfoy heir's new status had actually made front page news in the Daily Prophet, going as far as to include Narcissa and Lucius divorce, Draco's new status as a Black, and the last disinheritance in wizarding history. Muggleborns seemed confused as to why this was so newsworthy, even if most of them probably thought Draco deserved it (and sod them, anyway). Halfbloods and purebloods who had something against the Malfoys and their ilk were eager to explain the importance of such an announcement. To have one's birthright taken away from them in such a degrading manner was like an informal declaration that the disinherited was worthless and was meant to be seen as such by the wizarding world as a whole. Draco's only saving grace was that his mother was willing to sacrifice her marriage to assure that Draco didn't get kicked out of school and ostracized by the wizarding world completely.
Speculation ran wild about the events that had to have played out for Lucius to go so far, but most assumed it was because Draco had become close friends with two Gryffindors, a Ravenclaw, and a Hufflepuff. Draco could only feel somewhat vindicated about this little reminder by noting that everyone knew he still pretty much despised Weasel and barely tolerated Granger, and they were therefore not included on the friendship parade.
McAllistar, as predicted, was absolutely gleeful in reminding Draco of his lost status. The former Malfoy was quick to prove to the seventh year that, while Draco was no longer a Malfoy, he was still a Black. Despite the stigmata attached to the name, care of Sirius Black, it was a name of equal status to the Malfoy family. The Black family was certainly higher in status than the McAllistars.
A few well thrown hexes that caused vicious boils and disfiguring warts helped, too.
Draco remained the Slytherin Prince, if a little... tarnished. He supposed, in retrospect, that was probably the best he could really make of the situation.
Duo, of course, had no problem with the details of the events occurring on Valentine's Day fading from everyone's memory, mostly because Draco suspected Duo got tired of answering the nosiest people's questions without really answering. In fact, Draco was pretty sure Duo was running out of non-answers pretty damn quick, especially when the American Gryffindor started staring at people blankly and murmuring, "El gato?" before wondering off to leave the surrounding people to puzzle over the non sequitur.
"You should take that to mean he doesn't want to talk about it anymore," Quatre said delicately as he passed the confused gossip-mongers. Eventually, the Winner heir's words were heeded, and Duo was happy to spend his free time hanging around Heero.
Speaking of the Japanese Slytherin... Heero had been acting somewhat odder than usual, spending a majority of his free time juggling between doting over Duo and scouring the library for various books on past legal matters handled by the Wizengamot. Draco cautiously decided that his actions could be explained away by one of two reasons. Either the Slytherin was considering a future in wizarding law, or Heero was attempting to find loopholes in laws that he could take advantage of should any future incidents call for it. Going by how tenacious the Japanese boy could be, Draco was actually hoping for the former; he felt he could use a really good solicitor in the future, and Heero was more pertinacious than anyone had any right to be at his age.
When Draco bothered to ask Duo about it, the American's reply was something along the lines of, "Hee-chan's just ensuring that the exact details of what occurred you-know-when won't slip from outside parties. It just means he loves me."
"Proving your entire government is filled with morons is bonus," Wufei said scornfully. "If ignorance is bliss, the Ministry of Magic must be paradise." One could only assume the Chinese youth had something against incompetent people in positions of power for him to verbally denounce the Ministry, though Draco didn't blame him. In any case, Draco cautiously took this to mean that Heero was doing a favor for his boyfriend and left it at that. He really didn't need to know.
Draco felt a heavy sense of relief when all talk of his disinheritance ceased once students realized that the exams were so near. This relief was immediately followed by panic, since he, too, was one of the students guilty of forgetting about the tests. While OWLs had made all tests before fifth year seem like cakewalks in comparison, he had no excuse to slack off and risk academic failure. Unfortunately, he was lacking in appropriate study partners. Blaise and Pansy had taken it upon themselves to attempt the impossible and drill knowledge through Vince and Greg's thick heads in hopes that the two would manage at least below-average scores instead of their usual "by the skin of their teeth" approach. Draco wished them good luck and quickly bailed on that endeavor; he'd learned long ago that, unless the cramming started months in advance, there was no way those two were going to prepare Vince and Greg for the tests in time and still expect to receive good marks themselves. Draco decided taking the every-man-for-himself approach was the right choice for him; he'd already exhausted his selflessness quota for the year.
Unfortunately, going to Duo, Heero, Trowa, Quatre, and Wufei for studying didn't quite go as he'd planned.
"They're making you take OWLs?"
"Oh, the tests are slightly adjusted to include sixth year material, as well," Duo said, surprising Draco by not even looking up from his book.
"However, without our OWLs," Quatre added, "we can't take our NEWTs. Without our NEWTs, we can't graduate. It completely defeats the purpose of schooling here if we can't graduate."
Well, damn. There went that spectacular plan, Draco thought sourly. He'd almost resigned himself to studying alone and hoping for the best when his silent contemplations beside the Black Lake later that evening was disturbed by none other than Harry Potter.
"Duo said you're looking for someone to study with," the green-eyed Gryffindor prodded hesitantly, tugging on the worn sleeve of the ghastly green jumper that displayed the first letter of his name in gold. Draco considered asking Harry if he forgot how to start his own name off often, but decided that it wasn't worth the effort considering he and Harry were supposed to be doing that... friend thing. Well, that and Harry had taken up an awful habit of smacking Draco whenever the former Malfoy heir said something that could be considered offensive. He didn't particularly want or need that headache, thank you very much.
"Duo has an atrociously big mouth," Draco drawled instead, drawing back and throwing a moderately sized rock toward a barely visible tentacle of the Giant Squid. He missed only by several inches. "What are you getting at, Harry?"
"Why don't you ask Zabini and Parkinson?"
"Because they've decided that Crabbe and Goyle might be able to pull off more than they actually can if both of them help those poor sods, and down that road lies too many headaches and the possibility of academic ruin this late in the year."
Harry didn't say anything against Draco's prediction, proving the point that Vince and Greg's academics -or lack thereof- were legendary. "Hermione wants to know if you'd like to study with us. Apparently, you're in her Arithmancy and Ancient Runes classes, and she feels she'll be more prepared if she actually has someone who knows the material go over it with her. You'll have someone reasonably intelligent to study with, and the benefit to her would be likewise."
Study... with Granger and the Weasel? Draco didn't know how many times he had to emphasize his point; just because he was on a friendly basis with Harry did not mean he in any way appreciated the company of a Weasley and a muggleborn! Hell, he'd just gotten out of the habit of mentally referring to her as 'the Mudblood' every time he was forced to even look at her, not to mention the fact that he still hoped Weasley would fall off the face of the earth one day in the near future. He was just about to tell Harry to inform Granger where to shove her invitation when he paused.
Despite the natural animosity between Malfoys and muggleborns in general, Draco couldn't help but to secretly confess to himself that he'd been dying to crawl around in Granger's big head for years. The girl was beyond mere intelligence; she was a budding sixth year whose genius was already legend amongst the Who's Who of Wizarding Society, all of whom were eagerly anticipating the day of her graduation so they could see which career she would decide to pursue. Even his father, whose hatred for muggles and all things muggle-related was widely known, grudgingly admitted that her mind would be a terrible thing to waste, especially if her talents were applied to something useful.
Getting a chance to see how Granger ticked verses spending a few grueling weeks in the company of Ronald bloody Weasley.
... Damn it.
"Fine," Draco mumbled grudgingly, half-heartedly tossing another rock into Black Lake. There was no need to sound too eager. "When and where?"
Harry's jaw snapped shut; Draco was privately amused that the Boy Who Lived was left gaping at him for a moment in the first place. There was a sort of twinkle in his myopic green eyes that left Draco feeling a little uneasy. Spirits above, the prat couldn't honestly believe that Draco had agreed because he actually wanted to spend time with his little friends, could he? Judging by the bright smile, the answer seemed rather obvious.
What an idiot...
Draco couldn't decide if his private insult was directed at Harry for being so damn noble and Gryffindor, or himself for being reluctant to wipe that soppy grin from Harry's face by bluntly stating his real reason for accepting Granger's invitation. In the end, it all boiled down to him with an appropriate study group that happened to be blemished by the unfortunate presence of Weasley.
After facing the Dark Lord and basically telling him to piss off right before liplocking with a bloody dementor, Draco felt that he could deal with that. Probably.
Well. That was...
Judging by the shade of fury that twisted Ron's face as he stomped upstairs in a snit, followed by Hermione's bitter incoherent muttering that included words like "slimy, evil, vile, snotty little prat of a Slytherin" strung together in a sentence that was clearly a list of all of Draco's more annoying traits, Harry thought he probably owed his two best friends a rather large debt. Not one of those wizarding debts, either; an honest-to-God sign-away-the-rights-to-his-firstborn-son debt.
It became rather obvious early on in the study session that Draco Black was used to dealing with the likes of Crabbe and Goyle for study partners, and the method he used in dealing with the rather thick duo when it came to studying was promptly employed in dealing with Ron. Not only that, but Hermione and Draco had gotten into more than one heated discussion about various subjects that would have normally bored Harry and Ron into tears if not for the fact that Harry had been listening to the heated battle of words attentively, completely fascinated by the passion the two felt about school. A quick glance at Ron during one of the more explosive moments between Draco and Hermione showed that, while pissed off, the youngest Weasley son was just as enthralled by someone butting heads so fiercely with Hermione. Even if the one doing the butting was Draco.
Draco had been channeling Snape. Snape with a smarmy know-it-all smirk and scathing wit peppered with frequent insults... It was exactly like Snape, minus the smirk. The smirk was all Draco.
"Um," Harry started and, receiving a sharp glare from Hermione, immediately stopped whatever he was going to say. That was actually a good thing, since he hadn't any idea as to what he was going to say to the irate girl in the first place.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," Hermione almost snarled, which kind of made Harry want to look for an isolated corner to huddle fearfully in. He'd never heard Hermione use such a venomous tone before, and the action scared the hell out of him.
"I thought it was going to be pretty bad. Mal-Bla-Draco is an unrepentant prat on his better days," Hermione ranted. "He's inconsiderate of other people's feelings, argumentative, insulting, vile, haughty to the point that it would drive a saint into contemplating vicious torture, and... and... he has stupid hair!"
Harry blinked. "Um...? I owe you one?"
The distraught Gryffindor threw herself on the couch before the fire and buried her face miserably in her hands. "That's just the thing, Harry -you don't owe me one."
"Er, Okay?" Well, what was he supposed to say to that?
"Because even though he's inconsiderate, argumentative, insulting, vile, haughty, and has stupid hair," Hermione bemoaned, "he's the best study partner I've ever had. Beneath all of the insults, we managed to not only figure out a lot of heavy material in both Arithmancy and Magical Runes that both of us struggled with individually, but I've inadvertently realized that I don't do as well in Potions as I do in all of my other classes because, while potion-making requires precision, there's a lot of room for adjustments that I didn't realize previously. It's always bothered me that I excel in Potions Theory when I'm average in practice."
God. It actually sounded like Hermione had a grudging respect for Draco. Harry flickered a quick glance out of the nearest window in hopes of catching a quick glimpse of the Four Horsemen before the Apocalypse destroyed the world. Harry really didn't like it when end-of-the-world moments popped up suddenly, and he felt he should be prepared for the event.
"You do realize, however, that you might owe Ron your firstborn," Hermione said pointedly, giving Harry a look that spoke volumes.
"You're damn right he does," Ron said hotly as he came stomping down the stairs, his red hair dark and damp from the recent shower to wash away the slime that had accumulated on his skin due to prolonged exposure to Draco. Duo was right behind Ron, his violet eyes glittering in suppressed amusement.
"His name will be Ulnid, and he'll be my servant-slash-minion for the rest of his natural life. Congratulations, Potter, you've condemned your firstborn to a lifetime of menial tasks and enforced slavery," Ron said smartly.
Duo snickered. "So I'm guessing it went about as well as expected."
Pillock. It was Duo who had planted the notion of inviting Draco to study with them that influenced Harry's pleading with his friends and asking Draco in the first place. Harry hoped that Duo was very happy about Ron taking his firstborn.
"Better for me," Hermione said grumpily. "Terrible for Ron. Draco seemed to have been under the impression that insulting Ron every other sentence was an excellent way to get Ron to learn what levisticum officinale is."
"Oi, I know what that is," Ron said defensively. "It's lovage, a kind of wonky herb in the carrot family that can be used both in cooking and medicine."
Harry nodded absently, not even thinking as he added, "Yeah, it's really effective in Confusing and Befuddlement Draughts because it causes inflammation in the brain.(1)"
Duo was blatantly grinning, and Hermione looked a mite cross. It wasn't until Harry realized the two of them were looking at him and Ron pointedly that he actually realized he and Ron had just easily spouted off something that had to do with Potions.
Harry gaped at Ron, seeing the expression on his own face mirrored by the one on his best friend's face.
"Where did you two learn that?" Hermione demanded suspiciously.
Harry bit his lip guiltily, letting Ron answer for him when he said, "Well, Mal-Bla-that bloody git said it. It was kind of hard to miss, since he was insulting me. Again."
Hermione snorted in disgust and said the last two words Harry expected to hear come out of her mouth. "Bloody hell, the prat actually got them to retain something using the Snape method. A highly reformed version of the Snape method, but the Snape method nonetheless."
Harry's eyebrows rose. "Er, does this mean...?"
"Yes, Harry," Hermione sighed despondently. "Draco bloody Black must continue studying with us until exams are over. And we'll have him next year for NEWTs, as well. Tough luck, but your future selves will thank you for it."
Duo chuckled wickedly. "What if he already has plans to study with someone else next year?"
"I don't care. I'll tie him up and lock him in a broom closet if I have to," Hermione said sharply, pointing at Ron and Harry. "He's the best thing that's ever happened to these two when it comes to learning. We're stuck with him."
"Damn it," Ron grumbled, sending Harry a half-hearted glare. "I hate you so much right now."
Harry grinned sheepishly and decided he didn't blame Ron for hating him even just a little bit. If he were in Ron's shoes, he was pretty sure he'd hate himself, too.
"Hey, Harry. Mind if we chat for a bit?" Duo said lightly after Ron and Hermione went to bed. Harry had almost forgotten Duo was there, which surprised him a little since they must have been sitting in silence for more than a few minutes, Harry staring into the fire as he contemplated the unexpected success of inviting Draco to study with them despite Hermione and Ron's reluctance. The American didn't make a habit of allowing for long moments of silence, even though Harry had noticed a suspicious lack of loquaciousness on Duo's behalf recently.
"Does this involve me owing you my firstborn son, too? Because Ron's got a prior claim to that," Harry said ruefully, grinning at the violet-eyed Gryffindor.
Duo laughed lightly. "Nah, nothing like that. I'm really not into minions much."
Harry couldn't help but to wonder about the bitter tone in Duo's voice. No matter how hard the American attempted to hide it, something had been bothering the other Gryffindor since the Death Eaters had kidnaped both him and Draco. Harry suspected it had something to do with Duo's lack of success in repeating what he had done to destroy that dementor that almost gave Draco the Kiss. He'd seen Duo practice with his scythe often, but in all appearance, the rather unconventional, albeit normal weapon was just that -a normal weapon. In retrospect, he supposed a lot more could have happened to the American while in Voldemort's tender care that Duo was unwilling to discuss, and Harry really didn't want to pry.
"Chat on, then."
Duo smirked. While Harry found nothing wrong with the American personality-wise, he found that the smarmy uplifting of the corners of his mouth annoyed Harry to no end, going as far as filling him with an almost irrefutable urge to punch the good-natured boy's face in. That burning urge to wipe that look off of Duo's face always made Harry feel guilty and confused, mostly because Duo wasn't a bad person who deserved to be hit, smirk or no smirk.(2)
"You do realize that if there's going to be anything remotely romantic between you and Dragon Boy, you're going to have to make the first move."
That was the last thing Harry thought Duo would say. Which, damn it all, meant he really should have expected it. "What makes you think that we-?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Potter," Duo laughed. "You're gagging for it. He's gagging for it. You two are a match made in heaven, as sad as that is. It's really obvious."
"Oh, really?" Harry demanded, crossing his arms stubbornly. "How obvious is it?"
"You hate the way he insults your friends, insults random people in general, his little snarky grins and jives, and the way he styles his hair," Duo said knowingly, "but on the other hand, you think all of these qualities are endearing and unique to Draco. Likewise, he hates how you act before you think, the way you charge in when you don't have all your facts straight, and the fact you haven't acknowledged the proper use of a comb yet. On the other hand, he thinks it's cute."
Harry blinked. "He thinks it's... cute? Did he tell you that?"
"It's all in the subtext, Harry. The point of the matter is, he's not going to make the first move because he hates to make his feelings obvious, and his ego, while large and intimidating, is easily shattered. C'mon, Harry, you're the epitome of Gryffindor. You have to make the first move."
It was a conversation that stuck with Harry for the month and a half that followed, only briefly shelved during exam week which, to his surprise and Ron's disgust, wasn't as stressful and difficult as in previous years. It was Ron's dying hope that this was more or less influenced by the teachers cutting the students some slack for once, but judging by the complaints that Seamus, Dean, and Neville had about the matter, it was a vain hope.
McGonagall had confirmed their marked improvement when she stopped them in a relatively empty corridor while they were on their way to dinner after their last grueling day of exams was finished. "You two did remarkably well on both your Transfiguration written exam and the practical three days ago. I take it Miss Granger has finally whipped the two of you into shape?"
"It wasn't me, Professor," Hermione said with a rueful shake of her head. "It was Draco."
Both of McGonagall's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Mr. Black? I'd heard that the four of you had taken to studying together, but I had no idea that Black would have such a strong impact..."
"Ron can't help but to listen to Draco when he uses insults to make his point," Hermione replied dryly, "and Harry thinks it's funny."
"I do not," Harry lied. Okay, so a small part of him found Draco's cynicism and wit absolutely hilarious, and Ron's reactions were more than a little comical, too. Most of his amusement could be explained by the idea that Ron was actually learning something because of Draco's tactics. That didn't mean he didn't feel sympathetic, though.
"He never insults you," Ron said in disgust when they walked away from McGonagall. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think that manky little blighter has a crush on you, Harry."
That cinched it. If Ron noticed that Draco felt a little more than friendly in regards to Harry (no offense meant to Ron, but he wasn't exactly the most observant person he'd ever met), it must have been true. That meant that Harry really did have to make the first move because Draco wasn't about to go there, feelings be damned.
He had three days to think about how he would go about making the first move. Three days was enough time to devise a plan, right?
As it turned out, planning wasn't exactly Harry's strong point.
"I can't believe you still haven't done anything yet."
"Hey! This is unchartered territory for me. Leave it alone!"
"Harry, I don't know if you've noticed this, but we're on a train heading for King's Cross. In two hours you and Draco will part ways, and the unresolved sexual tension in the air will make the both of you crabby as hell. I don't know if you know this or not, but me and the guys are going to stay with Draco this summer, and Heero and Wufei tend to be very crabby people. Two crabby people I can handle. Three crabby people are absolutely intolerable."
Heero gave his boyfriend a reprimanding look. "Duo."
"What? It's true!"
"Yes, but you shouldn't pressure him, Duo," Quatre pointed out logically, comfortably reclined against Trowa's side.
Trowa nodded solemnly. "He's probably feeling nervous enough about this as it is. Draco isn't the easiest person to deal with."
Wufei smirked. "Oh, I'm sure your words of comfort relieves that nervousness admirably, Barton."
"I think all of you are mad," Ron said firmly. "Absolutely barking mad. The only reason I'm not calling St. Mungo's on all of you is because I know what smitten-Harry looks like, and that's it right there. I can't believe you actually like the git, mate."
"It does make a twisted sort of sense," Hermione mused aloud. "Draco's not a horrible person once you get used to the prickly exterior. Then again, I'm almost positive I've grown numb to all the barbs Draco could possibly throw at me. And Harry does think he's funny."
"He's a prima donna drama queen," Harry said with a snort. "What's not funny about that?"
Ron looked like the answer was rather obvious. "Oh, it's hilarious when that prima donna drama queen attitude doesn't result in that mangy git insulting everything from your physical appearance to your parentage. Again, something he hasn't done to you in recent memory."
"You know, he wouldn't do that to you as much if you didn't rise to the bait," Trowa pointed out.
"He calls me Weasel. I'm required by law to hate him." And that was all Ron really had to say about the matter. The debate probably would have dragged on for another two hours if Duo didn't gently take Harry by the arm and propel him out of the compartment with a good-natured pat on the back.
"Go and make your move, for God's sake. I happen to know that he's in the baggage car silently stewing over the crappy lot life has dealt him recently."
Harry gave him an odd look. "How do you know that?"
"Because I was with him earlier," Duo replied cheerfully, "and he threw his shoe at me. He does that, you know; throws the most unconventional things at people. Now go!"
Damn it, he was going to get a shoe thrown at him. And it was all Duo's fault.
Okay. The cons.
Well, he was disinherited, disillusioned, possibly hunted, and a little miserable over his lousy heart's decision to patter for the attention of the Boy Who Lived. The disinheritance he could live with, since he knew his former father had his best interests in mind. The disillusionment was bound to happen one day, though he would have preferred it later to sooner. Being hunted would have probably been inevitable anyway because of his stupid heart's little infatuation.
He glared down at his chest. I thought I killed you already.
His heart mocked him by beating.
Fine, then. The pros.
He'd grown up a lot over the year, learning that loyalty outside of one's family and house wasn't exactly as terrible as most Slytherins made it out to be. He had broken the mold his former father had set for him (though he didn't know if that was a pro or con; he decided to do that thing where he looked at the glass half-full when his innate nature wanted to scream half-empty). He had six new friends, five of which he really did trust with his life and well-being, the sixth well on his way to making it on such an exclusive list, as well. He was free to do what he wanted when he wanted, and damn what anybody else had to say about it.
He was free, even though a part of him really wished he wasn't.
So maybe things were far from the way he thought they would have played out. He could adapt. It's what Slytherins did best, after all.
Draco shot a glare over his shoulder when he heard the baggage car's door slide open right before it was closed again, the unmistakable footsteps of an intruder's approach loud despite the noise of the train. "If that's you, Duo, let me remind you that I have two shoes, and I'm just as willing to part with the second as I was with the first."
He heard a despairing sigh that was distinctly not Duo's. "I knew I was going to get a shoe thrown at me."
Draco's heartbeat quickened dramatically. Stop it! Stop. Damn you, heart, why won't you die?
Again, his heart openly mocked him by continuing its fast pace.
"Oh, it's you," Draco said, standing up to stretch from the uncomfortable seated position he'd taken since the train had left Hogsmeade Station. "That's alright, then. I can be alone with you here."
"Thanks ever so," Harry said dryly, moving forward cautiously. Apparently, the Gryffindor really did expect Draco to hurl a shoe at him, which actually cheered Draco up a lot. Harry stopped within an arm's distance of Draco, suddenly appearing a little unsure of himself.
"I just... God, this sounds so wrong on so many levels, but I wanted to thank you for what you did for Ron." Harry smiled sheepishly, nervously flattening his bangs over his forehead. "I know you probably didn't think we'd noticed, but you somehow make Snape's method of teaching work on him."
Draco was both surprised and disappointed that his efforts were noticed. Instead of voicing his surprise, however, he voted to smirk arrogantly and ask, "So was Granger upset that I managed to drill more into Weasel's thick head in a few months than she's been able to do in six years?"
Harry shook his head ruefully. "Okay, Draco. Yes, Hermione's a little jealous. Don't let it get to your swelled head, prat."
"Oh, perish the thought," Draco said sardonically. He thought his ego needed a little stroking right about then, so he certainly did allow Granger's jealousy get to his head. The offhanded praise was well deserved, after all, since he was simply brilliant like that.
"Speaking of that moron and his keeper, shouldn't you be with your friends right now?"
The expression on Harry's face was... strange. "Aren't you my friend, too?"
That was probably the sappiest thing he'd ever heard, which, of course, made his heart beat that much faster. Spirits. He gave up. Harry Potter was adorable. And Draco Black had no resistance to people and things that were adorable.
"That goes without saying," Draco said with a casual shrug. "I just thought you'd want to hang out with your cheering squad before you were exiled to the muggles once more."
"Well, erm... I wanted to... that is to say..." Harry was absolutely flustered, which was something that Draco found both annoying and precious.
The former Malfoy heir raised a single eyebrow in question. "You wanted to... find a cure for the flu? Lycanthropy? See if I was miserable enough to throw myself off the train? Which I'm not, I assure you; I'm not that miserable yet. Okay, let me guess. Four words, sounds like...?"
Harry scowled. "Draco."
Draco smirked. "I thought the object of charades was that you aren't supposed to talk, Harry."
"You're making this a lot more difficult than it has any right to be," Harry grumbled.
"No, I'm not. You won't spit it out, and I'm making the best of the situation."
For a moment, it looked like Harry was going to throttle Draco. Then he muttered, "Oh, sod it," before he reached out, grabbed the lapels of Draco's extremely expensive dragon hide coat, pulled the former Malfoy heir closer and...
And Draco's brain shut down for five seconds.
Lips. Lips that belonged to Harry. Lips that belonged to Harry that were pressing against Draco's lips.
Draco decided he really liked the word lips, especially when said word was applied to the same person that made his heart want to explode... in a good way. The kiss was chaste and innocent and lasted just long enough without really lasting at all, and Harry tasted vaguely of mint and something that was what Draco privately called Harry's flavor because it really didn't have a name; it was a flavor only unique to Harry, or at least it was what that attention-starved romantic that dwelled deep inside of him called it. The sudden lightheaded feeling that engulfed Draco's higher brain functions was just starting to kick in when Harry pulled back, fingers still twisted in the lapels of Draco's coat as the kiss ended.
Harry's cheeks were stained red as he searched for some appropriate words to say, instead coming up with, "Um..."
Draco tried to smirk. He really did. But the look on Harry's face paired with the blushing was too cute, and all Draco could muster was an amused smile. "You can let go of my coat now."
The blush darkened, and Harry abruptly unfurled his fingers. "O-oh. Um... Do you...? Would you like to sit with us for the remainder of the trip?" The last part was said so fast that it took Draco a moment to decipher what was said.
Still couldn't muster up that smirk. "Okay."
"As in, 'yes, I will,'" Draco retorted, finally managed a half-decent smirk. "Really, Harry, it's not exactly a foreign word. Now help me find my other shoe."
Duo grinned wildly when Harry and Draco finally made their appearance, his attention turning from the oh-so-exciting chess match between the Hogwarts Chess Champion Ron Weasley (who knew?) And the Gundam Chess Champion Quatre Winner battled each other with their best strategies (yawn).
"It's about time," he crowed.
"Shut up, Duo," the two said in unison, Harry's tell-tale blush evidence to his theory that Harry and Draco had done more than just talk. Oddly enough, Draco had a basket hanging from one arm, a particularly nasty gleam in his silver eyes.
"No matter what, every year is more surprising than the next," Hermione mused, absently running her fingers through Crookshanks' fur. "I'm not sure if we should dread seventh year or welcome it."
"Dread it," Ron mumbled, scowling to himself when Quatre took his rook. "We have NEWTs, after all."
"Sod seventh year," Draco said, barreling into the compartment and sitting himself directly in front of Hermione, giving the orange beast in her lap a vicious glare. "So that's the filthy little mongrel, is he."
Hermione scowled at Draco, hugging Crookshanks closer to her. Likewise, the beast gave Draco a baleful glare. "What are you talking about, Draco?"
Draco snorted, opening one side of the basket and peering in, carefully reaching down and pulling a newborn ginger-haired kitten whose eyes hadn't even opened yet. He held the tiny mewling copy of her father in the palm of his hand as he smirked at Hermione. "Congratulations, Granger. We're grandparents." He elaborated his statement by completely removing the lid of the basket, revealing a beautiful long-haired white cat and five more adorable little kittens, two of which also sported the father's coloring.
"Crookshanks, you cad!" Hermione exclaimed. The beast appeared completely unrepentant, leaping from Hermione's lap to sniff daintily at the mother cat and her kittens.
"See, Hermione? I told you that cat has no taste," Ron said, peering suspiciously at the white cat that was giving him a patent you're-beneath-my-notice look. "He shagged the feline equivalent of Draco bloody Black!"
Harry hid a smile behind the palm of his hand when Duo started cackling madly, leaning heavily against Heero for support. "That's actually pretty ironic, Ron, since Draco used the same comparison for you and Crookshanks."
Ron looked utterly disgusted; Duo laughed even harder, if only for the fact that Crookshanks looked about as horrified about the comparison as Ron did.
Draco smirked, leaning back and surveying the ensuing chaos. So there were a lot of cons to how his life had come to be today. He still had his health, his former father's respect, good friends, Harry, and an almost solid guarantee that whatever scathing comment he made toward the Weasel and Granger would be tolerated to a certain point before the Weasel actually gave in to the urge to hit him. It wasn't all bad.
Maybe it wasn't going to be as hard to deal with everything as he originally thought. He was a Slytherin, after all.
(1) Thank you, Harry Potter Lexicon.
(2) Harry doesn't know it, but he feels this way because Voldemort and Duo have the same smirk, which I previously mentioned in chapter twenty-five.
Thanks to all for taking the time to read and review! Keep a lookout for the sequel, which I've decided to title Harry Potter and the Forgotten Heirs. Thanks to all of you who took the time to make suggestions!
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