Two months after Tonks and Moody's deaths Harry began to notice very real changes in his body. He was able to run for longer and lift much more, he needed less coffee to get going in the mornings and generally felt better. He also noticed that he was starting to get definition on his chest, arms and legs. He had never been overweight, the Dursley's had seen to that, but now he seemed to be harder, more toned. His sleeping habits had also begun to improve. After realising that Draco had similar night terrors to Harry, Hermione got to work on a dreamless sleep potion. They had to be careful because it was highly addictive, but Hermione theorised that if they took small doses, the could at least have a couple of hours of much needed rest.
All wasn't roses however. Remus would bring them copies of the daily prophet to keep them updated on the state of the world. Harry was being targeted as a traitor to wizarding kind and it seemed that every week someone they knew, however distantly turned up dead. Draco's training had increased even further when they found out that Blaise Zabini's body was found mutilated in Diagon Alley, the working theory was Fenrir Greyback was the perpetrator.
In early September Harry found himself in a right foul mood, he slammed books down and burnt dinner. Snape had made him stand in a storm for four hours until he had successfully cast a stunning spell nonverbally also while using occlumency. After Snape had left Harry locked himself in the shower for an hour and spent the rest of the evening shooting murderous glances at anyone who dared tried to speak to him.
Eventually he threw himself into the spare armchair, Hermione had her nose in a book and Ron and Draco were playing chess. "Explain something to me." Harry said, still shaking with rage. "Why the hell doesn't he push you lot nearly as hard? Why does he always have to bloody pick on me?"
Draco looked up briefly from the chess board to roll his eyes. "You seriously still don't get it do you?"
"No I seriously don't," Harry folded his arms tight. "Ever since I was eleven he's rode me harder than anyone else. If you have any insights please feel free to enlighten me."
Draco cursed when Ron took his knight. "You really are dense Harry."
"You're not helping Draco." Harry pointed out.
Draco looked up at him again rolling his eyes, Harry was starting to wonder when they would roll out of his head. "Severus is hardest on you because he knows that you can do more than what you give him. He pushes you the hardest because he knows that you're capable of performing magic that the rest of us can only dream of. That's not a compliment by the way it's the truth."
"If that's the truth, he's got a bloody funny way of showing it." Harry mumbled.
"It makes sense Harry." Hermione put down her book. "He could never show you favouritism at Hogwarts because of his position between the Order and the Death Eaters."
"Old habit die hard mate." Ron said studying the board. "Also he doesn't like you but that doesn't mean he wants to see you waste it."
"Back at school I was so jealous of how much attention Snape paid to you." Draco said taking one of Ron's pieces. "He was my head of house and he barely spared my work a glance. Face it Harry, the three of us we're here training to survive. You're the one training to win."
Harry sat back in his seat and let what Draco said wash over him. Reluctantly, he had to admit, it kind of made sense. Harry, though still believing his previous successes were largely due to dumb luck, had to admit he was a powerful wizard. He may not master spells first, that was Hermione's job, but his were always the strongest, his Patronus was the perfect example. Maybe Snape did actually care, if he truly hated Harry as much as he did his father, why would he also stand in a storm for hours waiting for Harry to succeed? After that night, Harry looked at Snape's training differently and even managed to get an impressed look as a reward.
It was a cold night in late November when everything changed. They were sitting in the 'living room' having a rare evening of fun. Ron had made fun of Draco's Quidditch team and Draco hexed 'Weasel' across Ron's forehead in pink ink. Harry and Hermione were in pain from laughing at the two of them. They were about to crack open a bottle of Firewhiskey, the first since Harry's birthday, when Remus and Snape walked in.
The appearance of their former professors alone would be cause for concern, the two never came in together, add that to the looks on their face made it frightening. All laughter died as they watched them enter, Remus pulled over two of the dinning table chairs and said, "We need to talk."
"The Dark Lord is aware that you have not left the country." Snape said darkly.
"How?" Harry exclaimed.
"It seems that Mundungus let it slip when he was drinking at the Hogs Head." Remus said eyes downcast. "Obviously he has no idea where you are or what you are doing so Voldemort can't know exactly where to look."
"But the point is he's now looking." Hermione interjected. "He's sending people out?"
"Yes." Said Snape.
"But we've proven that our wards work. Those Muggle-Borns had no idea we were anywhere near them." The previous week a group of wizards trying to escape persecution had camped out next to them, not once glancing in their direction.
"While it is true that the protective shields that you cast are sufficient to escape the notice of people," Snape said with obvious forced calm. "The would not stop a more, determined, attack. We feel that it is prudent that you separate."
"You mean split up?" Harry was very much on the defensive.
"You're as eloquent as ever." Snape drawled. "Yes Potter, split up."
"No." Harry said with certainty. "What if he finds us? We're no where near ready to face Voldemort alone! Not in a direct fight."
"You're not ready to face him together either." Snape countered.
"Then how are we meant to survive if we have even less of a chance?" Harry could hear his voice rising.
"I think," Draco said, staring at Snape. "They've already thought that through. This isn't about protecting all of us is it?:
"Oh." Hermione, suddenly on the same page. "Oh!"
"Will someone please fill Harry and I in?" Ron said shooting everyone a look of confusion.
"If we get caught while we're together the chances are that we wouldn't survive an hour, let alone the night." Draco began to explain.
"But," Hermione continued. "If we split in half ad two of us are captured or killed, there will still be two of us out there to pick up the fight."
"We're not just a bunch of kids learning how to fight anymore." Draco said darkly. "We're the front line of defence, waiting for the generals orders."
Harry felt a deep sense of betrayal, surely they weren't prepared to let them all just die. "Do you agree with this Remus?"
"What I agree or disagree with doesn't matter much here Harry," Remus said sadly. "If it were up to me, you would be hidden away from the fighting and wouldn't be allowed anywhere near the war. It is up to you however at the end of the day. The general consensus is that this is the best chance of survival for the greatest amount of people. I believe the phrase the needs of the many was used."
"You must realise," Snape interjected. Wards can be broken with enough force and considering the price on yours and Draco's heads Potter, bounty hunters will be ruthless."
After a moment of the four teens looking helplessly at each other, Hermione said. "I think we could do it."
"Hermione no!" Harry pleaded. "I won't let you, any of you, go off on your own. You're only here because of me, if anything happened."
"Harry I may not like it, but you have to admit, it makes sense." Hermione grabbed Harry's hand. "I love you, but this isn't just about you anymore. It's bigger than that, bigger than all of us."
Harry wanted to scream that her words were wrong, that she was wrong. He wanted to crawl away and cry at the prospect. He wanted to be eleven again when his biggest worry was a three headed dog.
Hermione took a deep breath to try and fight the tears forming. "I'm going to go with Ron, you need to stay with Draco. You and Ron are our strongest fighters, Draco and I have the book smarts."
"Hermione, no, please, I need you." Harry didn't care that he was begging, he didn't care that Snape was probably sneering. He would happily get on his hands and knees if it would convince her to stay. She was the one person who never once doubted him, she was his pillar.
"Harry James Potter stop this right now." Hermione chock out the words, she stopped fighting the tears. "I love you and you are making this impossible."
"I might never see you again." Harry whispered.
"Then you'll fight harder." She said with the fire in her eyes that only Hermione could conjure. "Don't you dare give up on me."
Harry pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to centre himself, eventually he reluctantly nodded. Remus and Snape gave Harry and Draco a second small tent and Hermione charmed a backpack with the same spells as her own tiny hand bag and they set about splitting up food supplies and books. After handing Harry the coordinates to where he and Draco were to go the next morning, Remus and Snape left them to their last night together.
Once they were alone, the air felt heavy with unsaid words and pent up emotion. The sun was down and there was a bitter chill in the air. Harry couldn't seem to find the words, how do you say goodbye for what could be the last time? Instead he took out a bottle of Firewhiskey that they were already planning on opening. The neck of the bottle had a small note that said 'Remember to smile every now and then. Love Ginny xx'
The four drank in silence, all in consumed by their own thoughts. On their second glass, Hermione began to giggle uncontrollably.
"What's so funny?" Ron asked, bemused.
"Oh, I was just remembering," Hermione giggled again. "When Myrtle had that crush on Harry."
Ron burst into loud laughter and Draco asked, "Moaning Myrtle, the ghost in the loo?"
"Oh god don't remind me." Harry put his head in a pillow.
"You're kidding! Oh I wish I had of known!" Draco was ecstatic.
"No joke." Ron said with a smile. "She turned into quote the little stalker as well."
"Please stop." Harry begged.
"Harry had snuck into the prefects bathroom during the Triwizard." Hermione said with a sly smile to Draco. "And there she was, hiding in a faucet, got a good view as well if you believe the gossip."
"She was bloody terrifying!" Harry groaned. "She wanted me to haunt her loo with her. She and Romilda Vane could swap tips."
"You must be used to the stalkers by now though surely?" Draco smiled. "Didn't Weasels sister and that Creevey kid have a thing for you in second year?"
"Oh the Valentine!" Hermione gasped. "I had forgotten!"
"Lucky you." Harry said lamely.
"How did it go again?" Ron said with glee.
"His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad." Draco started to sing, Ron and Hermione quickly joining in. Harry just sunk further into his seat mumbling about how they weren't real friends.
Their night continued in a similar vein, swapping stories and laughing about all their adventures during their Hogwarts days. Malfoy was mortified when he found out just how many rules they had not only broken but got away with, especially so when he heard about Harry and Ron's trip into the Slytherin common room. They talked until the early morning, laughing about their innocent years. One by one they drifted to sleep in a pile on the floor.
The next morning Harry woke with a pounding headache, he wished for a time turner, so he could convince himself to not open that second bottle. Groaning he got up and drowned his woes in the shower. When he emerged everyone else was awake in a similar state, no one forgets their first hangover. After they were all showered, drinking multiple coffees and tea and dressed for the day they began to feel something akin to their normal selves. It was early afternoon when they decided that they couldn't put off the inevitable any longer.
Draco hung back to the side when Harry was saying his goodbyes, not wanting to interrupt or intrude on the scene. When Hermione withdrew from Harry, she walked over and threw her arms around Draco's neck and said, "Look after him, please?" Ron gave him a tight hand shake and a swift nod. The last thing they saw was Hermione crying into Ron's shoulder.
They apparated onto a deserted beach, it was freezing. Draco set up the wards and made sure to include warming charms, Harry erected the tent and began to unpack. This tent was smaller than the other, just two single beds, a double sofa, a small bookshelf, a two-seater dinning set, a small kitchen and a tiny bathroom.
They threw their bags on the beds and stood awkwardly. "So what now?" Draco asked.
"I don't know." Harry responded. "I really don't want to just sit around though, I need to do something."
Draco gave him a small smirk. "I bet I can beat you to 100 push ups."
Harry gave a bark of laughter. "You're on."
So they spent their afternoon trying to one up each other. Neither pushing very hard, just trying to keep busy, trying to keep distracted. Remus turned up as the afternoon was wearing thin and stayed for dinner. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Lupin wanted to make sure that Harry wasn't still upset with him, Harry made sure to give him an extra squeeze when they hugged goodnight.
As Harry was getting ready for bed, he was suddenly filled with absolute dread. Hermione, ever the organiser, had forgotten to resupply them with Dreamless Sleep potion. He had become so accustomed to the gentle effects, the little amount they had wasn't enough to completely stop the dreams, but it dulled them. Harry and Draco were in for a few nights. It wasn't a potion Draco could brew in a few minutes, it needed to stew for at least a week.
Harry laid down on his head and tried to use his shaky at best occlumency skills to clear his mind. What felt like hours later his mind reluctantly gave in to his heavy eyelids.
He was at The Burrow in Ron's dramatically bright orange room. How did he get here? He shouldn't be here, it was too dangerous for him to be this close to the Weasley's, he needed to get back to Draco. He started to walk through the door when he heard a scream come from below him. Taking the stairs two at a time he ran into the living room, the scene he found made him sink to his knees and bile rise to throat. Arthur and Molly were lying in a pool of their own blood, the twins were both lying with their necks at odd angles and Ginny was sprawled across the couch naked and cut open neck to pelvis.
"No" Harry breathed, he tried to rouse George, but nothing was working, they were all gone. Another scream came from outside. Harry ran and realised he didn't have his wand, was it in Ron's room or was it still in the tent with Draco? He was undefended and useless. When he walked out the door, his blood turned cold. Rony was lying on the ground and Voldemort was standing over him, wand in hand.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort sneered through thin, almost non-existent lips. "Good of you to finally appear, I've been waiting for you." He pointed his wand down at Ron and said clearly, "Avada Kedavra!"
Harry was screaming but no sound was coming, the scene started to change. He was thrown to the ground, looking around he saw that he was in the shrieking shack. Draco was on his knees and his father was standing over him.
"Father, please stop." Draco begged. "I'll do it but please don't hurt him."
"You will do it and you will hurt him boy!" Lucius dragged Draco by his hair. "You will take the mark and you will kill Harry Potter."
Harry was tied to a chair with no memory of how that happened. "Draco why are we here?" Harry's voice was horse.
The Malfoys didn't seem to hear him, or they were choosing to ignore him. Lucius pulled up his left sleeve and put his wand against the Dark Mark tattooed there. Harry was screaming for them to stop, but they were taking no notice. Voldemort appeared within seconds.
"Draco good of you to finally appear, we have been ever so concerned." Voldemort forced Draco's sleeve up. "I am a forgiving lord of course to those who deserve it. Your betrayal will be forgotten if you kill our young hero here." Voldemort put his wand one Draco's left forearm and Draco screamed loud and painfully. When he looked back at Harry, his eyes showed nothing but hate.
"You were meant to stop this! You were meant to protect me!" Draco bellowed, betrayal evident in his eyes. "This is all your fault! Avada Kedav-"
His surroundings changed again. He was in the middle of the Great Hall, Bellatrix was standing on a table. She was cackling high pitched and gleeful.
"Had enough yet you filthy Mudblood?" Bellatrix screamed
"Harry!" Hermione yelled. Harry couldn't move, forced to watch the scene play out. He had to keep reminding himself that Bellatrix Lastrange was dead, Snape killed her.
"No one's coming for you girl, no one cares! You're nothing but a worthless Mudblood who's whole point in life is to be my entertainment. It's sport!" Bellatrix taunted. She jumped down off the table and pulled Hermione up to her knees by her hair. "Scream for me."
"No." Hermione spat in her captors face.
"You fucking disgusting waste of breath!" Bellatrix threw her back to the ground, pointed her wand and screamed, "Crucio!"
"Harry! Harry!" A voice was piercing the hall barely audible above Hermione's screams. "Harry you need to waken up!" Harry was being shaken, but that didn't make any sense, he needed to help Hermione. "Harry you're fine! Harry you're safe!"
"Draco?" Harry croaked his eyes flying open. "What's going on?"
"You were screaming in your sleep." Draco was kneeling by the bed. "Budge up a bit."
Harry sat up and moved over to the very edge of his bed, so Draco could sit down next to him. Harry was still shaking but after a lot of practice he had learned how to calm himself down.
They sat in silence for a while, both staring into the distance. Harry slid down in the bed and rolled over to face Draco. "Draco will you tell me about it?"
Draco slid down and faced Harry, the small bed was rather cramped. "Tell you about what?"
"What it was like there, at your home, before your mother got you out." Harry said. "What you dream about."
"You don't ask for a lot do you?" Draco fell silent and breathed deep, Harry was just about to say forget about it when Draco began his story. "It was hell. I don't mean figuratively, I genuinely believe I was in hell. Aunt Bella, she had convinced herself that I needed to toughen up. I was head of the family now since my father was locked up and I needed to start acting like it. She started randomly casting the Cruciatus Curse on me. I'd be eating breakfast or just walking down the hall and she would sneak up behind me, once I was even in the shower, that's how I got these." Draco pulled his shirt to the side and showed Harry the thick scar running from the bottom of his neck, along his collar bone. Harry used his fingers to trace the line. "It got worse whenever Voldemort turned up, I think she was trying to impress him.
"They all started talking about my initiation almost as soon as I got back home for the summer. The plan was for me to take the mark the week before school went back." Draco seemed to be staring through Harry. "The mark isn't just an ugly tattoo, it magically links you to him, you feel his emotions and you must come whenever he calls. Apparently it wont stick to innocent flesh however, I needed to do my duty as a 'ruling pure-blood'. Voldemort requires you to lose that innocence by killing a muggle during the ceremony. Mother told me about the pain you feel when he actually marks you, she says it's like everyone you have ever loved dies in the one moment.
"She walked in on me throwing up the night after she told me the truth. I was honest with her, I told her I couldn't do it, that I didn't want to turn into my father." Draco's voice became a whisper. "I felt weak. Mother and father could both do it, it was finally achieving everything I was raised to believe was right. Why couldn't I have that strength? That was when she told me what she was planning with Dumbledore, I couldn't believe how lucky I was. It didn't even occur to me that she wasn't planning on coming with me, not until I left three days later, and she didn't come with me. She had written me a letter that I didn't find until I was at Grimmauld Place that night."
After a long silence Harry finally said, "Well, fuck."
"Yeah, that just about sums it up." Draco looked into Harry's eyes. "Harry, can I stay here tonight?"
"Sure, just don't kick me." Harry smiled. Eventually they both fell into a restful sleep, neither of them had another bad dream that night.