Three days had passed since the night he spoke to the Headmaster about Draco, and Harry grew more and more frustrated. Draco had somehow managed to get to every class with only seconds to spare each time, and been among the very first to leave, giving Harry no chance whatsoever to pull the boy aside to talk. Mealtimes were no better, either. Every time Harry made to go to Draco, the other boy would send him such a fierce glare that it felt as if Harry had been slapped across the face from the force of it, and when he’d recovered enough to make another attempt, Draco was always long gone.

It was utterly infuriating. How was Harry supposed to explain his actions to Draco if the boy would not stand to be anywhere near him? Not to mention relay the plan he and Dumbledore had come up with in order to help him? Harry had even tried sending him a note, asking him to meet, but all that had accomplished was Draco shooting him a triumphant look as he cast Incendio on the unread parchment while Harry watched from the Gryffindor table. His message had come through loud and clear to Harry: leave me alone! Harry would never admit it to anyone, but the outright rejection hurt.

He was glad, therefore, to receive a missive from Dumbledore, asking him to come to his office after dinner. Harry hoped it was about Draco and not the Horcrux, because he felt it was important they deal with getting the boy and his mother to safety first.

Hermione, who was sitting next to Harry, glanced at him. “What is it, Harry?”

He shrugged, tugging the parchment into his pocket. “Nothing. Professor Dumbledore wants me to meet him here in a bit,” he murmured.

She frowned, leaning into him to whisper, “Is it about you-know-what? Has he found it?”

It took everything he had not to glance at Draco and to keep his attention focused on Hermione instead. He shrugged. “Dunno, possibly. He didn’t say one way or the other,” he hedged, hoping she’d drop it.

Thankfully, she did. She sat back with a nod, then said, “Just remember, you still have that essay to finish for Professor Snape.”

Harry cringed, having completely forgotten about their homework. He was sure Snape would relish the chance to demean him, and he was in such a mood he wasn’t too concerned with putting forth much effort to stave it off. Not in light of what might be happening tonight.

As soon as he’d cleared his plate of dessert, Harry got up and made his way to Dumbledore’s office. He had his hand poised to knock when he heard, “Enter,” so he opened the door and walked in. Harry was surprised to find both Professor Dumbledore and Snape, as well as Madame Pomfrey, talking quietly by the fireside, though he realized that he ought to have known. After all, Snape was Voldemort’s supposed spy and would need to “verify” matters, and Madame Pomfrey would have her own part to play. Harry cleared his throat, nodding to each in greeting. “Professors, Madame Pomfrey.”

“Ah, Harry, good, you’re here. Take a seat, if you will,” Dumbledore pointed to the chair facing away from the door and Harry obeyed. “Severus, Poppy, I trust you know what to do?”

Snape gave a curt nod, his eyes cutting sharply to Harry for a moment. Harry suppressed a shudder and sent up a silent prayer that everything would work out as he hoped. Madame Pomfrey folded her hands calmly and nodded as well.

There was a knock on the door and the adults all turned to it, though Dumbledore made a brief gesture, indicating Harry should stay out of sight for now. Harry’s heart started beating rapidly as he listened with all his might. The door opened slowly, and all was silence until after it had closed again and Draco cautiously asked, “Professor Dumbledore? Professor Snape said you needed to see me, sir?”

Harry wished he could see the boy’s face, could know what was going through his mind. Glancing at the Headmaster, Harry gulped. Moment of truth, Harry, no backing out now.

“Yes, Mr. Malfoy. Please, have a seat,” the Professor indicated the chair opposite Harry’s.

Harry held his breath as he heard Draco walk across the room. The boy had half-lowered himself into his seat when he realized the other chair was occupied and he looked up. Fury, embarrassment, and fear all seemed to vie for a place on Draco’s face as he sprang to his feet, spluttering in his rage, “You! You… dare! You self-righteous, meddling pillock! You told them, didn’t you?! I’ll-”

“Sit. Down, Mr. Malfoy,” Snape’s voice cut across Draco’s tirade like a glacier. “And beQuiet.”

Draco’s mouth snapped shut and he sat down, glaring maliciously at both Snape and Harry.

“That’s better,” muttered Snape almost too quietly to hear, but Harry just caught it. Draco didn’t appear to, however. “Now,” Snape continued in his usual drawling sneer, folding his arms with a flourish of his robes, “Mr. Potter and the Headmaster have a proposition for you, Mr. Malfoy. It would behoove you to listen and pay. Attention. After they have stated their case, you will have a choice to make. Either you will swear on your magic to never divulge what you have learned here tonight, or I will obliviate you.”

Draco stared at the professor with a mixture of confusion and hatred in his eyes, but he remained quiet, for which Harry was grateful. Harry chanced a glance at the Headmaster who had his keen gaze on Draco. Clearing his throat lightly, Professor Dumbledore clasped his hands in front of him and smiled kindly, if briefly at the boy. “Well then, shall we begin?” Dumbledore conjured another chair between Harry and Draco, as well as a couple for Professor Snape and Madame Pomfrey. Snape remained standing, though he moved next to the fireplace to watch Draco with sharp eyes. Madame Pomfrey took the offered seat.

Fixing Draco with his gaze, Dumbledore came right to the point. “You have been set a difficult task, Mr. Malfoy, though not an impossible one. I’m sure that, given time and some measure of luck on your part, you might succeed in killing me.” Draco flinched, color draining from his face. He remained quiet however, and after a few seconds, the Headmaster continued. “I knew you had been set this task, though I will admit to not being entirely aware of the exact reason why, aside from it being a form of punishment for your father’s failures as Lord Voldemort saw them.”

Draco’s cheeks flushed and he opened his mouth to object, but one brief gesture from Snape had him snapping his mouth shut. Harry felt terrible for the boy. He could tell from the way Draco was digging his nails into his hands that he was beyond anxious, not to mention furious with Harry. He could also tell from the look in the other boy’s eyes that he felt as if his whole world had come tumbling down around him at last and there was little more to do than go down with it. Harry had never wanted to reach out to anyone as badly as he did Draco right in that moment, but he was rooted in his seat.

Dumbledore went on, calm as you please, as if they were simply discussing what they might have for tea. “It was brought to my attention, however, that you were forced into action under duress and that your mother is basically being held captive at Malfoy Manor. Is this correct?”

Draco spared Harry a seething glare before looking at the Headmaster and nodding once. Harry could almost hear the boy’s accusation: if she dies, it will be your fault, Potter.

“Very well,” said Dumbledore, settling back in his chair. He steepled his fingers and tapped them against his lips for a long moment before continuing.

Several hours later, and Harry’s nerves were not much better than when Draco had first set foot in Dumbledore’s office. They were up in the infirmary, in a secluded section. Harry sat next to Draco on a bed while Professor Dumbledore cast a couple of charms on them both to make them look like they’d been in an accident. Harry shared a conspiratorial grin with the other boy and felt his face flush when Draco shyly returned it.

“Right,” said Dumbledore, lowering his wand at last. “Should anyone see either of you before the evening is done, it will seem as if you are both quite the worse for wear. All you need do is pretend to be asleep, or at the very least immobile whenever anyone besides Madame Pomfrey, Professor Snape, or myself are in the infirmary.”

Both boys nodded. Harry noticed from the corner of his eye that Draco was breathing slow and deep, trying to remain calm. The way his fingers knotted in the blankets, however, gave away his nerves, which made Harry feel slightly better about his own. Dumbledore gave them a reassuring smile. “I shall leave you now so I can welcome Mrs. Malfoy, I expect she will be here any moment.”

They nodded again and watched the Headmaster as he made his way first to Madame Pomfrey’s office, then out of the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey poked her head out of her door and asked, “Do either of you need a calming draft?”

“No, thanks,” they replied in unison. They stared at each other, startled, then fell into a fit of nervous giggles. Madame Pomfrey’s lips twitched briefly. “Very well. Let me know if you change your minds, I know things are… quite tense for you both,” she said, her tone obvious she tried to be as delicate as she could, which amused Harry.

“We will. Thank you, Madame Pomfrey,” said Harry. With that, she went back in her office, leaving the boys on their own for the first time. They alternately stared at each other or at their knees, the silence stretching uncomfortably between them.

Finally, Draco scrubbed his face hard, then turned to Harry. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes briefly to steel himself, then opened them again to meet Harry’s levelly. “Look, Potter-” At Harry’s raised eyebrow, Draco’s huffed even as he tried to keep from smiling. “Harry,” he corrected dutifully. “Are you sure about this?”

Harry rubbed his sweaty palms on his robes, giving the question honest thought so that Draco might believe him. He nodded. “Yes. It’ll be alright, you know? Your mother is a Black by birth, and I’m Sirius’ heir. In every way that matters, I am the Lord of House Black, so technically, protecting you and your mother falls within my purview.”

Draco shifted uneasily, letting the reassurance settle over him. With a sigh, he ran his fingers through his hair and Harry shoved his hands under his thighs to keep from reaching out. “Right,” Draco said. He blushed slightly and ducked his head. Glancing up at Harry, he said softly, “Speaking of protecting. Thank you, for… for what you did with Pansy.”

Harry’s stomach fluttered with nerves that had nothing whatsoever to do with the plan they had set in motion and everything to do with the sincerity in Draco’s words and the knowledge that Draco wasn’t one to ever thank anyone. Never mind admitting to any vulnerability. Harry’s face flushed all the way down to his neck. “You’re welcome. And… I’m sorry.” At Draco’s widening gaze, Harry quickly clarified, “For the whole Liber-thing. I-” He took a deep breath, then plowed on. “I thought you were up to something, which obviously you were, but you know; I wanted to see if I could catch you, or learn information without you knowing it was me. I honestly thought…”

Draco’s wry grin had Harry’s heart skip a beat. “That I was the bad guy and you took it upon yourself to stop me. You are such a Gryffindor, I swear to Merlin.”

Harry’s cheeks heated further. “Right,” he bit out. “Anyway, I’m sorry about all of that. I was wrong and I hope… I hope that you can forgive me, Draco.”

The other boy stared at him for what felt like hours. Then he chuckled. “Come to think of it, that was actually a very Slytherin thing to do, Potter.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Yeah, well,” he muttered, scratching the back of his neck nervously. “I could’ve been.”

Draco’s eyes widened. “Could’ve been what?”

“A Slytherin.” Harry watched the other boy process this information.

“I don’t understand,” Draco admitted, looking puzzled.

“The Sorting Hat, back in first year? It initially wanted to put me in Slytherin. I asked to be put in Gryffindor instead,” Harry confessed. “I’ve never told anyone,” he added softly, staring at his hands.

“Merlin, Harry,” Draco murmured, sounding impressed. “Only you.” After a minute’s silence, he took a deep breath. “You’re forgiven.”

“What?” Asked Harry. His head snapped up and he stared in disbelief at the other boy, certain he must have heard wrong.

Draco smirked, holding his hand out. His eyes seemed much livelier than they had in a long time as he said, “Why don’t we start over? My name is Draco Malfoy.”

Harry huffed a laugh, taking Draco’s hand, shaking it. “I’m Harry Potter, nice to meet you.” Chuckling, he added, “You’re mad as a bag of ferrets, you know that?”

“Oy! Watch it with the ferret jokes!” Draco groused, though Harry could tell he was trying to keep from laughing.

They were both practically giggling, partly from nerves and also because this whole situation seemed just too crazy. Before too long, they heard voices coming closer. They shared one last, reassuring look and then made a mad dash for their respective beds to settle themselves in. As Dumbledore had told them, they pretended to be out of it, though neither could manage faking sleep.

They could hear Professor Snape talking to Mrs. Malfoy, assuring her that everything was being done to see the culprits of the “incident” would get what they deserved. “Where is he, Severus?” she asked. She sounded composed, but on the brink of breaking.

“Over here, Mrs. Malfoy,” came Madame Pomfrey’s voice.

A couple of seconds later and the boys found themselves surrounded by Mrs. Malfoy, Madame Pomfrey, and Professors Snape and Dumbledore. Mrs. Malfoy only had time to gasp, one hand clutching her mouth before Snape pulled out his wand and cast a couple of quick privacy and security wards.

Mrs. Malfoy turned sharply around, her eyes narrowed as she addressed Snape. “What is going on?”

Draco and Harry both sat up in their beds. “Mother,” Draco started, holding his hand out to her. Mrs. Malfoy immediately stepped up to her son, taking a seat on the edge of the bed so she could hold his hand.

“Are you alright, my dragon?” she asked him quietly, her free hand brushing away a stray lock of hair from his brow. Harry’s heart ached a little at the genuine love and affection between mother and son. He missed his own mother fiercely in that moment, but he stamped it down. Now was not the time for that.

Draco nodded. “Yes, Mother. I am. This,” he gestured to his supposed injuries as well as Harry’s, “is just a spell. We’re both fine, I promise.”

She shot a quick, assessing look to Harry, then focused on her son once more. “Then I don’t understand why-” she started.

“Mrs. Malfoy,” Harry cut in gently and she turned to look at him, “as the Lord of House Black, I offer both you and your son sanctuary. If you accept, you will have my protection to the fullest extent I can provide it, you have my word.”

Mrs. Malfoy’s gaze swept over the group, uncertainty and fear warring with hope as she settled on Snape. “Severus?” she asked hoarsely. “Explain?”

Snape nodded, and proceeded to explain everything that had happened, offering her the same choice he had given Draco: to accept the help and swear on her magic to keep secret what she had learned, or be obliviated.

Draco gripped her hand tightly, and he watched anxiously as his mother processed all the information. “Please, Mother,” he begged. “This is the only way. You know he will never let us go. The only other way out is death, and I don’t want that for you. For us. I don’t want this,” he added, thrusting his left forearm toward her.

She cringed away from the Dark Mark, tears glistening in her eyes as she cupped her son’s cheek. Turning to Harry, she took a wavering breath. “And you would do this for us? For my son, who has been your adversary all these years?”

Harry and Draco shared a glance and he gave the boy a small smile. He didn’t see a rival anymore when he looked at him. Instead, he had gained a new appreciation for him and could see the beginning of a new friendship between them. He firmly pushed any thoughts of anything else aside.

Turning his attention back to Mrs. Malfoy, he nodded. “Yes, Ma’am. It is not just my duty to see to your safety as Lord of House Black, but also my honor. What you’ve had to go through, no one should have to experience, and I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to realize it.”

She watched him for a while, thinking over everything that was said. Eventually, she took both Draco’s hands in hers and smiled tenderly at her son. “Your father would be proud of you, my dragon.”

Draco swallowed hard, then nodded. They had discussed the matter of Mr. Malfoy at length before settling on this course of action, and while Draco had resigned himself to the situation, Harry imagined it was still a bitter pill to swallow. His father was too deeply ensconced in Voldemort’s inner circle to be trustworthy, plus, he was currently in Azkaban. They had no way to get to the man safely, and considering that his Mark was fully functioning, there was nowhere they could hide him. Snape had warned that Voldemort might seek to punish Lucius for their escape and if that were the case, he would be unlikely to survive it.

Mrs. Malfoy lifted her son’s hands to her lips, then, with a wavering breath said, “Mr. Potter, I humbly ask the protection of the Most Noble and Ancient House Black for myself and my son.”

Harry sighed in relief and smiled. Glancing at Dumbledore, the man nodded his permission, so Harry handed Draco a piece of paper. “Read it, memorize it, both of you. Do not speak it.” After both mother and son had read 12 Grimmauld Place, written in the Headmaster’s cursive, they handed it back to Harry. Casting a quick Incendio to ensure no one could accidentally come across the information, Harry got to his feet.

“Kreacher!” he called.

Draco climbed out of bed right as the elf popped next to Harry. “Master Harry calls Kreacher, Kreacher comes,” he muttered. His mouth worked silently for a while, no doubt with all the curses Harry had forbidden him from ever uttering again.

Mrs. Malfoy smiled softly at the old elf. “Hello, Kreacher.”

Kreacher gazed in adoration at her. “Mistress Cissy is here?” Casting a cautious glance at Harry, he was obviously trying to figure out how he could serve his beloved mistress over his deplored master, but his bonds would not allow such anymore.

Harry crossed his arms and gave his elf a stern look. “Kreacher, I have a very important job for you.”