Harry watched his queen smashing Ron's knight to a pulp with a small grin of pleasure; the harmless violence of the chess game appealed to both his dark side and his simple human competitiveness. He was never going to beat Ron, of that he was one hundred percent sure, but it was fun throwing caution to the wind and enjoying the destruction. He had not been feeling well after taking Snape's latest concoction around lunch time, and Ron's visit had been a welcome distraction.
"Harry," Ron complained good-naturedly, "are you actually thinking at all? You do know that I'm going to take your queen now, don't you."
Harry just grinned and sat back in his chair, he really couldn't care less, and he was enjoying himself. By indulging his destructive tendencies he had managed to lessen the churning in his stomach, which was a bonus to the joy of just playing at being normal. There had still been a slight awkwardness when Ron had first arrived with his chess set in hand, but that had dissipated quickly and Harry was very glad to have his friend back. It had been two days since the first visit and yesterday he'd had visits from Hermione and Ron as a couple and then Neville on his own, and today just his best friend.
Yesterday Hermione had come up with the idea of adding a fake window into the room and so now his place of residence was bathed in natural light during the day, although dimmer than it would have been outside. Harry's eyes were still sensitive to bright sunlight, but they had worked out the logistics of only letting a certain light level in. It was a nice view out over the lake, of course, by now it was almost completely dark, what with it being late afternoon, Winter and Scotland, but it still added a nice illusion of space to the room.
Watching Ron reach out and move a rook to take Harry's queen, he found himself admiring the long line of freckled wrist that poked out of his friend's ratty old maroon jumper as Ron stretched to reach the pieces. So fragile and yet so full of life, small bones which could be snapped like twigs, but that fitted together to form such a capable structure. Each movement of muscle and sinew, tendon and skin held him fascinated as Ron placed his rook on the same square as the queen. Battle was joined and yet Harry found himself watching the retreating hand rather than the melee of destruction.
"Mate," Ron's voice broke through his reverie, "you in there?"
Harry blinked and looked up at his best friend's slightly worried expression.
"Your move," Ron prompted as Harry just sat there.
With a smile, he leant forward in his seat and picked up the nearest chess piece and moved it into battle range of one of his friend's pawns, towards his side of the board. That caused Ron to frown at the board and look at it very carefully; obviously trying to work out what Harry was up to. So far it had been a matter of battle at every opportunity, and the seemingly needless sacrifice of his piece had Ron confused; of course the oblivious red head could have no idea that Harry had chosen the move for no other reason than to see his friend stretch across the board once more.
He smiled as that pale wrist appeared from the jumper sleeve again; he could feel the beat of life running through his friend and he let the sound reverberate through him. Such intoxicating humanity, calling to him with its rhythmic thudding; so easy to reach out and take and he closed his eyes, revelling in the sound.
"Harry?" Ron called him from his drifting once again.
When he opened his eyes he moved instantly, his hand reaching out to snag Ron's exposed wrist. His friend had frozen mid move and even Quidditch Keeper reflexes were not enough to save him from Harry's grab.
"What are you doing, Mate?" Ron was trying to sound calm, but the tremor in his voice made Harry's smile widen.
"It won't hurt, Ron," Harry said, staring straight into his friend's eyes, "I promise."
Ron's stare became slightly glassy as Harry held his gaze and his friend did not try and resist as he lifted the pale, freckled wrist towards his mouth. It took only moments for his fangs to descend as the frightened pounding of Ron's heart sang to him. His friend made no move to get away, his glazed eyes following what Harry was doing, but his expression remaining fixed and almost blank. Only when Harry bit slowly into the soft yielding flesh and warm, sweet blood flowed into his mouth did Ron react, and the moan that came out of his friend's mouth was not one of pain. The trickle of raw magic that Harry was sending into Ron with the bite caused his companion to slump forward, barely allowing his friend to hold himself up on the edge of the table as Ron shuddered with pleasure. One of the reasons vampires could be even more dangerous to wizards than they were to Muggles was because their innate control of magic was so seductive to magical beings.
Harry had taken two delicious swallows when reality suddenly flicked back on in his head. He shied back instantly, tipping over his chair and sending chess pieces flying off the board as horror at what he was doing coursed through him. Ron looked up at him with a dazed expression and Harry backed away in pure terror of what he had done. He could taste his best friend's blood in his mouth, he could feel the essence of Ron on his lips; he was horrified and disgusted with himself.
Yet the vampire wanted more, Harry could sense the instincts clawing at his self control and he continued to back away, shaking with the effort to leave his friend alone. How could he have hurt Ron; his best friend and the closest thing he had to a brother in the whole world? Nothing could excuse what he had just done, nothing. He was a despicable thing and he had betrayed a sacred trust.
He did not stop backing away until he hit the wall and then he slowly sank to the floor, breathing in short gasps as panic took away all rational though. Wrapping his arms around himself he curled into the smallest shape he could, head buried, and face hidden in shame. He had bitten Ron and he deserved anything he had coming. Dumbledore should just abandon him to the Ministry, he was a dark creature, and nothing was safe from him.
The recriminations flowed round and round his head, spiralling up and down, feeding his hatred of what he was. Loosing track of time and his surroundings his mind folded in on itself as instinct warred with horror for dominance. Ron would hate him, he had just killed the friendship that had held him together through so many things, and it was all his fault. They should lock him in Azkaban and throw away the key.
"Mr Potter," Snape's cool tones made it past his defences, but he could not seem to react.
If he did not move he could not hurt anyone else he cared about.
"Is he alright?" Ron's concerned voice almost made an impression, but Harry decided it was wishful thinking.
"I believe, Mr Weasley," Snape replied evenly, "that Mr Potter is very far from alright. I believe you were instructed to leave."
"No bloody way," was Ron's emphatic response.
Now Harry knew he was hallucinating; he had hurt Ron, Ron must be long gone by now. A hand reached past his protective barrier of arms, and fingers fixed on his chin; he did not resist as he head was lifted. Blearily he stared straight ahead; aware of Snape looking at him critically, but with all his strength aimed at his internal struggle there was nothing left to let him interact.
"What's wrong with his eyes?" the figment of his imagination that was Ron, asked anxiously.
The snort from Snape indicated that he was unimpressed with the question.
"The pale yellow of the whites and the red streaks in the irises indicate vampire malnutrition," the Potions master explained none-the-less; "quite simply, Mr Weasley, Mr Potter is starving."
Harry would have been surprised if he had had the energy left to manage it.
"But I thought he was getting blood when he needed it," imaginary Ron sounded outraged.
"He was," Snape replied coolly, "obviously it was not enough."
The Potions master moved Harry's chin from one side to the other; Harry kept his eyes on the man in front of him.
"Mr Potter," Snape said firmly, "do you understand me?"
Harry could not let himself react, if he let himself move he might do something else terrible and he could never allow that. All he could do was blink slowly and let his gaze stay on the dark eyes of the Potions master.
"Severus," the headmaster's voice entered the conversation, but Harry did not look away from his centre of attention, "can you ascertain the reason for Harry's predicament?"
"I cannot be certain, Headmaster," Snape replied evenly, "but I would conjecture that Mr Potter requires a live donor: precious little is actually known about vampires and their habits and this reaction could be normal or it may be the combination of creatures within him. In public vampires have been observed to drink blood like a human being would drink wine, but it does not appear to be sufficient to feed Mr Potter."
Harry found himself wanting to laugh at the rational conversation going on; he was evil, didn't they understand that? He had attacked his best friend; they should be preparing to lock him up forever, not talking about why.
"That would appear to complicate matters," Dumbledore said calmly.
"I'll do it," imaginary Ron was being so supportive that for a moment Harry almost let himself hope that he was real.
"Mr Weasley," Snape said acidly, "do you have any concept of what you are volunteering for?"
"He already bit me once," Ron replied with a note of annoyance in his voice, "if Harry needs more then I want to help him."
It occurred to Harry then that Snape must be a figment of his imagination as well, because he was talking to imaginary Ron; which probably meant this whole conversation was part of his insane hallucination. Why this had not occurred to him before he really didn't know, but he had obviously totally lost the plot.
"Mr Potter appears to need to feed once every three to four days," Snape pointed out, "one donor would not be enough. To be safe there would need to be four."
"At least I could help him now," imaginary Ron sounded stubborn; Harry would have liked him to be real.
"Would it be safe for Ron to assist, Severus?" Dumbledore asked in his usual tone.
Harry didn't think Snape liked the idea from the expression on his face, but then this was all in his head so he thought he should really be more sure of his facts.
"Mr Potter is in shock and he is starving," the Potions master replied; "it is impossible to be sure of anything at this time."
"I still want to help," imaginary Ron said firmly.
Letting his eyes drift, Harry decided that imaginary Ron really did appear to be exactly like the real Ron; he even had blood on his wrist that Harry's sharp nose could smell. Snape was looking at Ron as well and the potions master finally drew his wand.
"He appears to have entered a catatonic state," Snape said unhappily, "blood may wake him, or it may not, either way you will have to help him initially. I will reopen the wounds on your wrist; you tip his head back slightly and allow them to bleed into his mouth."
Imaginary Ron appeared very nervous at this, but he nodded anyway and knelt down when Snape indicated he should do so. Harry found the wrist that was offered in front of his face completely fascinating, but he could do nothing to reach out for it. His fangs were still descended and they ached at what he could see and smell; he really was starving. A whispered spell and the two red wounds became wet with fresh, coppery-smelling blood and yet there was a barrier of his own making between him and it. His mind was a cruel place to offer him such obviously unreal images.
It was funny, he had never expected an hallucination to be so solid; Snape was touching him and then Ron was touching him as well and there was no way they actually existed. Together they lifted his chin and then Ron brought his bleeding wrist to Harry's lips, allowing the blood to drip into his mouth. The taste and the sense of Ron exploded in his mouth and in his brain and he felt his whole body convulse. In that moment he knew it was real and in that moment he knew what his best friend was willing to do for him; as even his last tentative grip on reality fled and his consciousness dissolved into feeding he was filled with such love and gratitude for his friend that he wanted to scream it at the top of his lungs.
Harry opened his eyes as he felt the mattress dip and he noted that it was dark. The whole room was a sequence of pitch black patches and objects lined in silver as his eyes picked up the slightest traces of light and heat. He was lying on his side next to the right edge of the bed and someone had just climbed in behind him. Rolling over he found a familiar profile framed against the stars in the fake window.
"Go back to sleep," Draco said quietly. "Snape told me what happened and I came as soon as I could. You need to rest; I'll be here if you need me."
Memories of the afternoon tried to make it into Harry's mind, but he was still too tired to think properly and as Draco's arm snaked over him and pulled him close, Harry closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Warm fresh blood poured into his mouth and it was so delicious and the sensations running through his body were so encompassing that he couldn't stop; didn't even want to. He just drank and drank until he couldn't drink anymore and finally sated he pulled back. Blood dribbled down his chin in a small stream and he laughed his pleasure to the world before he looked down. It wasn't until he saw the body in his arms that reality made it into his mindset and Ron's pale, dead features etched themselves into his brain.
"Ron!" Harry found himself sitting in bed staring wildly around.
A gentle hand touched his shoulder and he whipped his gaze around to find Draco sitting up next to him.
"He's fine," his lover said calmly, "you didn't hurt him."
"I bit him," he whispered as if he almost didn't believe it.
Memories mixed with his dream and for a few moments he could not separate them as the images flew around his mind.
"Yes," Draco agreed with him, while rubbing gently at the back of his neck, "but you didn't hurt him. According to Snape you were starving; something about drinking from a cup did not satisfy your hunger and Weasley was there when you finally broke. You took only a little and then you shut yourself down. Weasley called Dumbledore and then with Snape's help Weasley fed you. Do you remember?"
The real recollections were fuzzy in his brain, but Harry nodded as he managed to bring back some idea of what had happened. Ron had not run; he had attacked him and Ron had not run; Harry did not understand.
"He wanted to help me," he said, voicing his confusion, "but I attacked him. Why did he want to help me?"
Draco shook his head and rolled his eyes in exasperation, Harry really couldn't fathom that either. His brain was not working too well and he was confused.
"He's your friend, you idiot," his lover said gently, "he would follow you into fire if you asked. You Gryffindors can be dense, but you're loyal to a fault. Harry, just because you have been changed doesn't mean you deserve his loyalty even less."
"But I attacked him," Harry insisted.
There were limits to any friendship.
"You were starving," Draco replied pointedly. "Mark it up as a bump along the road to making you fit for civilised society and don't think about it too hard; don't want to over tax that brain of yours, it hasn't been used much in the past and it might over heat."
It took Harry a moment to realise he had been insulted.
"Hey," he protested, indignation helping his thoughts to some semblance of normality, "I do think things through."
"Could have fooled me," Draco said with an arch of one elegant eyebrow.
Harry opened his mouth to protest again, but then realised he was being misdirected and the guilt hit him again.
"Everything is okay," Draco insisted seriously, "you stopped yourself doing any damage. You have more control over your dark side than you give yourself credit for."
"If I have so much control why did I attack him?" Harry countered.
His lover threw his arms in the air with an exasperated sigh and climbed out of bed.
"Which bit of 'you were starving' do you not understand you stupid Gryffindor?" Draco asked in a very frustrated tone.
The Slytherin stood beside the bed glaring at Harry and he could feel the annoyance coming off his lover in waves. Part of him informed him that Draco was very attractive when he was angry, which managed to distract him just a little from the guilt.
"He's really okay?" he asked quietly.
"Fit as a fairy on moon dust," his lover replied firmly. "Now, did you get enough yesterday, or are you still hungry?"
Harry examined his feelings at the question and he realised that the nagging feeling he was missing something, which had been bothering him for days, was completely gone. He had not recognised it for what it was before, but he was damn sure he would not misinterpret it again.
"Not hungry," he replied with certainty.
"Good," Draco said, his expression softening, "but let me know when you are again, because I'm here."
Part of the conversation between Snape and Ron came back to him at that point.
"Snape said there would have to be four to be safe," Harry quoted as he sifted the information out.
"Yes, well, I suspect you'll be surprised how easily that one is solved," Draco said enigmatically, "but for now, promise me you will tell me if you need anything."
There was a very stubborn expression on his lover's face and Harry knew that he would get away with nothing less than agreeing so he nodded. That, at least, seemed to satisfy the suddenly bossy Slytherin. When Harry had gone from total domination to an equal partner in this relationship he was not sure, but no matter how possessive he felt, he realised that Draco seemed to have a similar stake in whatever was between them now.
"Right, well, whatever you did to stop yourself hurting Weasley, it was not good for you," Draco continued efficiently, "breakfast first and then we can laze around for the rest of the morning. Snape said he would make sure there were no interruptions until at least lunch."
His lover turned and walked towards where the table was usually set up for meals and Harry could not help admiring the shapely behind in silk pyjamas. Draco seemed to think that he was in charge this morning, but with his equilibrium rapidly returning, Harry didn't think that he was going to let that stay for long. Okay so he was not hungry in any supernatural sense, technically, but if they had all morning they had plenty of time for breakfast and he rather fancied satisfying other urges. With a grin he climbed gracefully off the bed and tried to decide to which surface he was going to pin his lover.
Draco had to make an appearance at lunch in the Great Hall to avoid the awkward questions that came with him apparently missing so many meals, so Harry was left alone just before twelve. He had a nice long shower and then went back to his reading and research, in a much better mood than the one in which he had woken. Absorbing himself in the information in the books he managed to put the remaining guilt to the back of his mind, so much so that he did not even think about it until he heard a very familiar voice.
"Harry, are you busy?"
Shock and complete horror were Harry's initial reaction as he turned and found Ron's head peering around the inner entrance to his room. It was then and only then that he remembered the instructions he had given to Jeremy to let his friends in if they called unless he was busy with someone else. He had been so wrapped up in what he was doing that he had never told the portrait any different.
"Um, no," Harry managed to reply as his eyes darted desperately around the room, looking for anyway out.
"Cool," Ron said, seemingly not in the least bit phased by what had happened the previous day, "because we wanted to talk to you."
Horror morphed into abject terror as Harry realised that Ron had brought re-enforcements. As his three friends trooped through the door he seriously considered making a dash for the bathroom and locking himself in. All three appeared very determined about something and although he had stood against Voldemort and his whole inner circle, Harry suddenly felt outnumbered.
"Hello, Harry," Neville greeted pleasantly in his usual cheerful, if somewhat befuddled, manner.
Harry didn't even try and reply; his voice was hiding somewhere, cowering in fear and he knew if he tried to speak he would just squeak at his friends.
"Harry, Mate," Ron said after a few moments of silence, "why do you look like there's a dragon behind us?"
"Ron," Hermione said patiently, "I think perhaps Harry's a little," she paused to pick the right word, "worried about what happened yesterday."
The tension had caused Harry's entire chest to tighten up and he was breathing in short little gasps, making his lungs feel like they were on fire. He tried very hard to calm down, but he was petrified. The image that kept passing through his brain was Ron's dead face from his dream.
"That's what we're here to talk about," Ron said brightly, which really did not help Harry at all.
"What Ron's trying to say," Neville decided to step in, "is that we're volunteering. Ron says that Professor Snape reckons you need four donors, and there are only three of us, but we're willing to give it a go, if it's alright with you."
Harry just stared. He sat in his chair, forgotten book in hand and stared. He wasn't quite sure he had heard that correctly. The idea would just not stick in his head; he'd mentally grasp at it and it would slip out of his reach. Neville had definitely said something about donors, but the dream image of Ron kept putting itself in the way of all his other thought processes.
"Harry," Hermione asked gently, moving forward from where she was standing in a line with the other two, "are you feeling alright."
He blinked at her. This was Hermione, calm, rational, practical Hermione, she could not possibly be part of what he thought he might have heard, could she?
"I," Harry said, in his opinion, rather pathetically.
The mental image of Ron's dead face overlaid itself on Hermione's and he had to look away.
"Look, Harry," Ron's voice broke through the waking nightmare, "you're not blaming yourself for what happened are you? It's not your fault, and it wasn't as if you hurt me or anything. It was rather good to tell you the truth."
There was the sound of a hand slapping an arm and Harry managed to look up to find Hermione had just hit Ron.
"What?" his best friend asked hotly. "It's true; he might as well know it. He'll only sit there thinking we're sacrificing ourselves for him, and tell us not to be noble, when I, for a start, think it might actually be a bonus."
Ron really had no concept of the word subtle and for once Harry was so glad of it.
"Ron, did it occur to you that you might embarrass Harry?" Hermione asked pointedly, and the simple, friendly dispute contrasted so completely with the dark thoughts moving through Harry's mind that it broke him out of his fear.
His friends really were standing in front of him arguing because Ron had just confessed that he enjoyed being bitten. It was one of those laugh or cry moments that seemed to make up Harry's life these days, and the rather disbelieving giggle escaped him before he could stop it. He had never been prone to giggling and this sounded rather ridiculous coming out of his mouth, but he had no choice. All three of his friends looked at him as if he was mad, which was a distinct possibility the way he was feeling.
"Harry?" Hermione asked with a worried little frown.
"Do any of you know how dangerous I am," he asked quietly, the giggle dying, "what I could have done to Ron yesterday?"
"But you didn't, Mate," Ron said firmly, "and that's what counts."
"Let us help you, Harry," Neville said earnestly.
"We talked about it very carefully, Harry," Hermione assured him, "we know the risks. We looked everything up, and we're sure about this."
Typical Hermione, research a subject into the ground and go with her heart anyway. Only in this case she could not know everything, because no one did, not even Harry.
"We went to Madame Pomfrey," Neville explained further, "and she checked us all out. We're all perfectly healthy and this won't hurt us."
"But," Harry said looking at their sincere faces.
"No buts, Harry," Ron said firmly. "You can't push us away and we will help you even if we just have to sit here until you lose control again. You're our friend, and you're the best mate a bloke could ever have; for once you're going to let us tell you what to do."
He opened his mouth again to protest again.
"Harry James Potter," Hermione said sternly, "give in, you aren't going to win this one."
They had moved closer over the conversation and now Neville moved up to join them. It was a Gryffindor wall, but rather than needing to climb it and escape, Harry suddenly felt strangely safe, as if they were his own personal fortress.
"Okay," he said in little more than a whisper.
The smiles on his friends' faces were so happy that they took his breath away and he suddenly found himself at the centre of a four way hug. Strangely the dark magic inside him, which usually reacted to such contact, was almost silent, and he relaxed into the arms of his friends.
Only that lunchtime he had seen them all as they pledged their allegiance to him, offering their blood as well as their friendship, and now here he was calling them back, sure that they would hate his for what he had to tell them. Their gift to him had overwhelmed him and he had spent all day thinking. If they were willing to give him so much then he could do no less for them, and he knew he owed them the truth. He could not stop pacing as he waited for them to arrive. He had asked Jeremy to give him a quick warning before letting them in and he was on his twentieth lap of the room when the portrait finally announced that his friends were outside.
"Thanks," he said quickly.
They trailed in one after another, all buzzing with curiosity.
"Hi Harry," Ron greeted immediately, "anything wrong, Mate?"
"Um, not exactly," Harry said slowly, "but there are some things I think you need to know, and I wanted to tell you in person rather than you finding out second hand. Let's sit down."
His three friends made there way over to the table that Harry had decided was best for this meeting and took places on three sides. Harry walked over to the fourth chair, but found that he was too nervous to sit down.
"Whatever it is, Harry," Neville said warmly, "we'll understand."
Biting his lip, Harry wished fervently that he could be sure of that. It was not that he did not trust his friends; it was that he knew them very well and Ron tended to over react, Hermione often over analysed, and Neville was far too easily shocked. He had no idea how they would take the information he had to give them.
"Well, you all know that I have certain, unusual needs," he began hesitantly as he tried to decide which explanation he had worked out to use, "it's not just the blood."
All three looked at him supportively, willing him to go on.
"You may also have noticed that I'm a little touchy when it comes to Draco Malfoy," he continued slowly, searching their faces to see if any of them would guess what he was driving.
"You've only bitten my head off twice, Harry," Ron said lightly in an attempt to break the tension.
It didn't work too well and Harry began to pace beside the table.
"Well there's a reason for that as well," he said, plucking up his courage for what was coming next; "I'm rather possessive and he's my fourth donor."
Ron looked at if his eyes might pop out, and Harry knew there was worse to come.
"And I'm sleeping with him," he said bluntly, at a loss how else to put it.
Total silence greeted this announcement. He came to a halt, looking at them, afraid that one or all of them would storm out in disgust.
"The incubus?" Hermione asked eventually in her usual analytical manner.
"Sort of," Harry admitted quietly, feeling as if the spell might break any moment and his friends would we heading for the door, "but its more than that. He's not what he seems, he had as little choice in this as I did."
"But, Harry," Ron said in a surprisingly calm voice, "he has the Dark Mark; the Prophet reported it and he's under house arrest here because of it. He chose You Know Who."
It would have been so easy to tell them the lies that he, Draco and Snape had worked out for the Ministry and the press, to pretend that it was far less complicated than it was, but Harry did not want to lie to his friends.
"He didn't have much choice," he said, fighting down the emotions that threatened to wipe out his control and send him running for the bathroom. "He took the mark willingly, he told me as much, but it was that or face Voldemort's wrath. What he didn't realise at the time was that Voldemort wanted more than another Death Eater."
He paused, knowing that they had to know this to understand, but feeling strangely like a betrayer for telling anyone something so personal about Draco.
"He wanted a bedmate," Harry continued eventually, "and Draco refused him. That was why he wasn't allowed back to school, Voldemort locked him up until he agreed. I was supposed to be Voldemort's revenge; wake up as a dark creature, do unspeakable things to Draco and then kill him. He looked after me when I first woke up, before the magic changed me, and then I just took him when I woke up a second time. I told his mum to take him and leave when I went after Voldemort, but he came back for me, I still don't understand why. There's something between us that I can't explain; he should hate me, but he doesn't."
Ron was definitely having trouble with the whole idea, Harry could tell, but he also knew that his friend was trying. There was a deep crease in his best friend's forehead as Ron sorted through his thoughts.
"So all the time he was a Death Eater he was locked up?" Neville asked for clarification.
"And he didn't really choose to join Voldemort," his friend continued to rationalise calmly, "he was pushed into it, it was expected of him."
Of all three Harry knew Neville understood family pressures the best; after all he was very much expected to be certain things by his grandmother.
"So he's innocent," Neville concluded calmly.
Harry could have cried at his friend's simple logic: Ron looked at Neville as if he had grown another head. The frown slowly cleared, however, and then Ron looked back at Harry. His best friend was not yet ready to speak, but the disbelief was gone from Ron's gaze.
"That's why we're going to lie to the Ministry," Harry said eventually and glanced around at all three again. "The truth of it is that I thought the same as you until I woke up after Voldemort took me, but that's not what we're telling the Ministry, or they will try and make an example of Draco because his father is dead."
All three were true Gryffindors and they understood the sentiment of what was right rather than what was to the letter of the law.
"He did have the Dark Mark," Harry said evenly, "but it's not the same anymore."
"But I thought the Dark Mark was impervious to known magic," Hermione said straight away, "it only fades with time."
"Not my magic," Harry said quietly.
That made even Hermione's eyes open slightly in shock.
"Harry, are you saying you changed Malfoy's Dark Mark?" Ron asked a little incredulously.
Wordlessly Harry nodded.
"Why? How?" Hermione was ever the inquisitive one.
"Because he's mine," Harry snapped before he could stop himself. "He never belonged to him," he finished in a softer tone.
That rather bluntly put all his cards on the table, but he couldn't do anything about it. When it came to Draco he was very much of one mind.
"We're going to tell the Ministry it was always a fake," he explained slowly, "one that Dumbledore created. We're going to pretend that Draco and I have been together secretly since before the end of sixth year and that Dumbledore created the fake mark to prevent Draco having to join Voldemort properly. That way the Ministry will have nothing on him, they'll have to drop all charges. I just needed you to know the truth."
He looked them each in the eyes once.
"If they tried to send him to Azkaban, I don't know what I'd do," he said quietly.
Staring down at the floor he reigned in the darker thoughts this simple idea caused to stir inside him and he didn't look up until a hand covered his own where he was holding the back of the chair. He ran his eyes up Hermione's arm from where her fingers were covering his, then down her other arm to where she was holding Ron's hand and on to where Ron was holding Neville's; Harry suspected that if Neville had been able to reach he would have found his other hand covered.
"We're with you, Harry," Hermione said firmly, "whatever we can do we will."
"You and the Ferret seems mental to me, Mate," Ron said calmly, "but you know what I'm like, give me a few weeks and it'll be like it was always this way; takes a while to get these things into my thick skull."
Harry managed a small smile at that, at least Ron recognised his strengths and weaknesses.
"As long as he doesn't hex me I'll be fine," Neville said with a little grin.
"Thank you," Harry said his voice thick with emotion.
The tableau held for a good few seconds before Ron finally frowned again.
"Harry," he said, his voice full of curiosity rather than anything else, "how long have you preferred blokes?"
Harry just looked at him blankly.
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