Author's Notes: Thanks go to my beta and to all those who sent feedback about the original draft of the fic at schnoogle or on my LJ. Your help is greatly appreciated.
Gold Tinted Spectacles
Chapter 11 - Through the Wards
It was the morning of the 31st and Harry was doing his best not to panic. It was not until he and Draco had climbed out of bed and gone through their normal morning routine that it actually hit him that today was the day he would be stepping into the real world for the first time since his change. Adding that to the fact that he would also be separated from Draco for a significant amount of time, made Harry less than happy about the date.
They had prepared as much as they possibly could, but he knew there were situations that could not be predicted and the task seemed incredibly daunting. Draco was not feeling particularly happy either, but the Slytherin was skilled in controlling his reactions and he seemed to be handling it much better than Harry felt he was.
"I don't want to leave," Harry said eventually as he pulled his clothes from the wardrobe. "I wish we could stay here, safe, and never have to go out there."
Draco turned from where he was piling up the books they had acquired over their stay and gave Harry a small sad smile.
"I know what you mean," he replied in kind, "but since we're on the subject of impossible things, I think I wish Voldemort and all his followers would suddenly discover death in the nastiest fashion possible."
"Well maybe not all of them," Harry decided that he mostly agreed, "but otherwise I'm with you."
He tried to use the black humour to lighten his mood, but it did not work. He had been outside the room every day since the first try and he could interact almost normally with the environment out there now, but it was not easy. They had even been through the same motions of testing his reactions to magic on the other side of the wards, behind the screens; Hermione and Ron had assisted as they had done inside the room, and Harry knew he could cope, but he was not looking forward to it. Thanks to the cover story the Gryffindor would have at least a couple of weeks before he would have to explain away any adverse reaction to magic, which was about the only good thing about the whole situation Harry could think of.
"This room will always be here for us," Draco said, calmly observing him from beside the table. "We can come here when we need to, and we know a good few dark corners we can disappear into."
That at least made Harry smile genuinely.
"After the last couple of months I think we've found every nook and trysting site there is around here," he said as the memories of the last weeks before they bonded came back to him.
It was difficult to believe it had only been two months since he had first accosted Draco in a corridor and offered his hand in friendship. It was like looking back to a past that wasn't quite his and it was almost as if Harry could not conceive that a world without his soul mate was real.
"It feels like we've been together forever," he said quietly. "It's hard to remember how it felt not to have you here."
At that Draco discarded what he was doing and walked towards his lover, barely pausing before placing a kiss on the Harry's lips. The touch said everything, but his soul mate sent a deep feeling of love with the gesture and Harry knew Draco felt the same way.
"Nothing will ever divide us," Draco said in little more than a whisper. "Out there we have to pretend," his soul mate looked directly into Harry's eyes, [but in here we will never be apart.]
The words were meant as a comfort, but they caused rather an adverse reaction in the Hecatemus.
[I've dragged you into danger,] suddenly all the guilt of pulling Draco into his perilous world reached up to engulf Harry.
Being with Draco felt so right that Harry thoughts had never dwelt on the whole situation being his fault before, but now that the time had come to return to the world it hit him full force. This was because of him; Draco was in danger because of him; he soul mate would be a target if anyone so much as suspected the truth.
[Stop, love,] Draco's calm, mental voice brought Harry's racing thoughts to a halt, [this is not your fault. You are as meant for me as I am meant for you. We chose this, both of us. If this had been wrong for me I would have said no; you know me far too well not to realise that. I need you as much as you need me; remember that.]
Before they bonded Harry might have tried to deny his lover's words, but when Draco chose to make him see the truth it was impossible to not at least listen. The guilt did not evaporate completely, but it slowly dissipated until it was back to a simple idea and Harry pulled Draco him.
[I'm sorry,] Harry said while holding his lover close, [I'm not handling this very well.]
[Bunkum,] Draco said pointedly, [you're handling it as well as can be expected. This is huge, Harry, and you're coping, so don't worry about it.]
The Slytherin was in lecture mode and it made Harry smile again. When he wanted to be Draco was formidable. The universe couldn't really have come up with a better matched pair: Harry was prone to guilt; it was something that was part of his nature; Draco was much more likely to side with self preservation and keeping an eye out for his own interests. They balanced each other; made the other complete without the extremes of character they both possessed overcoming either of them. Harry felt himself calming down as he held his soul mate and although he could not say he was confident, the overwhelming fear that had been threatening dimmed to manageable levels.
To keep Draco safe Harry would do anything, up to and including laying down his life. The task ahead of them seemed far more difficult than sacrificing himself for his lover, but Harry pulled his courage together and built up his mental shields.
"Thank you," he said earnestly when he finally felt ready to release his soul mate, "I needed that."
Draco smiled at him and his companion's grey eyes almost twinkled.
"So did I," Draco admitted before turning back to the task in hand.
Harry surveyed the room as his lover returned to piling up the books they had been using over the past couple of weeks. There were their school textbooks, some recreational books and two volumes on Hecatemae that Dumbledore had sent through. It seemed that those who had written about the kind of wizard Harry was were not the most entertaining of writers, but at least the books had had some general information. Neither tome had been particularly useful in their current situation, and Harry still didn't understand where he fitted in any more, but he had an idea of what to expect from his new powers. Not of course that knowing exactly how wizard society viewed Hecatemae would have helped since no one was going to know anyway.
With a sigh Harry returned to packing; it was incredible quite how much stuff the pair had accumulated in only two weeks. They would take some of their belongings with them when they left and the house elves would deal with the rest. Steeling himself for what was to come the Hecatemus resolutely began to check his mental barriers as he prepared to leave the safe haven.
Walking out of the room was not too bad: Madame Pomfrey had left the screens up so that Harry would have time to adjust once he stepped through the door. Their respective sets of friends were waiting on the other side of the barriers and he was sure if it hadn't been for the silencing charm still on the screens he would have heard insults flying. Slowly he felt around himself, strengthening his mental barriers. Draco's presence in his mind strengthened for a moment to helped, and then dimmed again as the pair shared a look.
[It's now or never I suppose,] Harry said silently, trying not to let his anxiety flow down their link.
[Take your time,] Draco replied and squeezed his hand, [they can wait. We don't go anywhere until you're absolutely ready.]
Harry smiled at his lover's firm tone and on impulse pulled Draco into a warm embrace. This was the last time they could openly show their feelings for each other and even though Madam Pomfrey was standing only a few feet away, Harry needed the last gesture with his soul mate.
[We can do this,] he said resolutely and drew back again.
Draco nodded in return but he did not speak. Looking into the calm grey eyes of his lover Harry let his finger's drop Draco's hand. Without the physical contact the strain on Harry to keep his mental barriers in place increased, but it was only slight. Now was not what the Hecatemus was worried about: when they had been out of contact for a few hours, that would be the time things would become interesting.
[If you need me just call,] Draco said firmly. [Cover or no cover, if this is going to fail I don't want you taking the fall.]
[It won't come to that,] Harry replied as confidently as he could manage.
Before he could decide that this was a really bad idea he turned towards Madam Pomfrey and gave her a slight nod.
"We're ready," he said in a quiet voice and took a step away from his soul mate.
All his instincts screamed that moving away from Draco was the stupidest thing he could ever think of doing, but the logical voice that told Harry this was the only way to keep his soul mate safe overrode the natural impulses. The school healer moved to the screens and calmly pulled one back from the others, making a gap to the outside world. She stepped through it and positioned herself to the right of the opening.
"You first, Mr Malfoy," she said in a cold tone she usually reserved for pupils who had been difficult.
Draco had a reputation as a terrible patient and his housemates would expect the reaction. As Harry watched, the open, calm expression he had become used to on his lover's face morphed into the cold, calculating sneer the Gryffindor remembered from years past. The mask Draco was capable of creating was really quite frightening: he almost looked like a different person to Harry. If it hadn't been for the fact that he could still feel his lover he might have thought he was looking at the old Malfoy.
"Your friends are to the left," Madam Pomfrey said efficiently as the Slytherin walked through the gap.
Just before Draco disappeared from sight he turned and smiled coldly at Harry.
"Bye, Potter," he said with a sneer in his voice, "let's never do this again."
This was greeted by sniggers from behind the screens where the silencing charm had been breached. Harry should really have had a come back for that, but he couldn't muster the ability to fake insults. When Draco looked away and walked to his housemates out of sight the Hecatemus felt somehow bereft. This was the first time since they had bonded that Harry had been properly separated from his soul mate and it felt terrible. Taking a deep breath the young man tried to squelch the feeling of desolation and abandonment that threatened to take over even though consciously he knew this had to happen.
"Remember, Mr Malfoy," Madame Pomfrey said loudly, "avoid physical contact for at least a week unless you wish to be in some discomfort. Miss Parkinson remove that hand, now."
It was another aspect of the cover story that worked well for them: Draconigena Mumps left its victims sensitive to contact with anyone magical for some time. This gave Harry a reason not to allow anyone to touch him and once his housemates were used to the idea he hoped he could keep it going unobtrusively.
Repeating the mantra that he could do this to himself, Harry walked towards the opening in the screens where Madam Pomfrey had changed sides.
"The Gryffindors are to the right, Mr Potter," the healer said in a much softer tone, "you may wait with them while I dispatch the Slytherins."
Harry smiled his thanks and then stepped through the last barrier between his sanctuary and the rest of the world. Ron, Hermione and Neville were all waiting for him and although he felt naked and exposed at leaving his safe world behind, he smiled at them and tried to appear pleased to be free. After all, being let out in time for the Halloween feast should have been something to celebrate.
"Hi, guys," Harry greeted as cheerfully as he could manage, "thanks for coming."
"No problem, Mate," Ron said with a big grin, "some of the others wanted to come too, but Madam Pomfrey wouldn't let us all clutter up her hospital wing."
Harry nodded in understanding and resisted the urge to reach out and touch his friend. He had been quite a tactile person and that instinct still came through.
"Harry," Neville said with a slightly worried catch to his voice, "are you sure you're okay, you look very pale."
It was just like the slightly rotund Gryffindor to pick up that another was in distress, and Harry appreciated the concern even if it might turn out to be problematic.
"I'm fine," he said and beamed at his friend, employing Draco's careful coaching on how to lie to one's housemates. Outright lying to someone's face was not something Harry had ever been particularly good at, but his lover had drilled him in how to maintain the cover story. "It's just a bit of fatigue. Damn mumps didn't want to go away and the stuff we had to take was absolutely disgusting. Madam Pomfrey insisted on dosing us up before she'd let us leave and let's just say I'm glad I never have to take that stuff ever again. Should be fine by the feast, though."
"When we get you back to the tower you can have a lie down," Hermione said sensibly, "just to make sure you have enough energy to celebrate with the rest of us tonight."
Harry nodded: it was probably a good plan.
However, as with many a good plan, things did not progress smoothly. The four Gryffindor's waited until the Slytherins were long gone and then the three friends formed a vague guard like pose around Harry and escorted him back to the common room. That was where the plan fell down.
Ever since his integrity had been so publicly restored at the end of his fifth year Harry had become popular within the house. Every one seemed to want to make sure he was okay and to commiserate with him about his isolation with the 'evil Slytherin git'. Before he could escape to his dorm Harry found himself sat by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and offers for a game of chess, a game of exploding snap or a myriad of different conversation companions. Without being very rude there was no escape.
Only three hours later, flanked by Ron, did Harry finally manage to make it to the dormitory. After his friend closed the door the Hecatemus collapsed on his bed with a groan. His housemates understood that they weren't supposed to touch him, but Harry was beginning to realise quite how often people touched accidentally and it was wearing down his mental barriers. Only one person had touched him for a prolonged amount of time and that had been Lavender who managed to forget while she was telling him all about what he had been missing.
"This is a nightmare," he admitted honestly and stared at the ceiling, "I hope to god that it gets easier."
"Well the magic thing got better didn't it, Mate," Ron said with a confidence Harry wished he could mirror. "It'll probably just take you a couple of days to get used to it all."
Harry fervently hoped his friend was right: he couldn't imagine living like this for the rest of the year. He desperately wanted to open his mind and at least find Draco's mental presence, but that could be habit forming and Harry knew sooner or later someone would notice. Conscious mental contact with his lover was for emergencies only, but he had to fight not to open the connection fully.
"I just hope this doesn't turn out to be a really bad idea," Harry said rather dejectedly.
End of Chapter 11
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