"Married? Wi- Wife?" With his first word, Harry was quite shocked. By the second, the incongruity of Draco being in the position of being a 'wife' had hit him, and he was starting to laugh.
"I... Wife? Never! You must be joshing!" the blond Slytherin protested with wounded dignity.
Snape leaned forward in his seat, almost looking as though he'd stand up out of it. "And when have you ever known me to jest about magic, Mister Malfoy?" he said in a deadly calm voice.
"But I... Potter, will you please stop sniggering!" Draco was in a fine state of indignant pride, and Harry's reaction wasn't helping matters at all.
That did it. Harry fell off his chair, holding his sides to keep them from hurting, he was laughing so hard. "Wife!" Of a sudden, the realization hit him, and he stopped laughing, eyes going wide. "My wife. Oh, gods!"
"Exactly, Potter," Draco said smugly. "Now what are we going to do about it? I'm not a wife!"
"Only in magical terms, Mister Malfoy," the headmaster interjected. "I'm sure what Professor Snape meant was that you are in a magically induced relationship akin to being wed, and you, Draco, hold the less prominent position due to the bonding ritual's original intent - hence, 'wife'."
Turning to the greasy-locked man, he queried "Isn't that correct, Severus?"
"Must you spoil my fun, Albus?" Snape replied with a scowl. The others ignored him.
"So how do we fix it?" Draco asked.
"Was there a counter to the bonding ritual you used?" the headmaster asked.
"No. Not that I could find, anyway," the Slytherin replied. "And I tried. I didn't want a binding that could be undone, after all, or... The consequences don't bear thinking about," he said with a shudder. "The one I finally decided to use was meant to be permanent and binding, even to the bondee's descendants, to an extent."
"Then I'm afraid you've just answered your own question, my boy. It's permanent."
The words had a mixed reaction from both young men. On the one hand, they had expected to be bound for life anyway; but on the other, they had expected a somewhat different relationship. There were so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that they seemed to just lock up - the mental equivalent of a Muggle traffic jam.
Dumbledore ploughed on, seeming to ignore the reaction his words had engendered, yet with a very merry twinkle in his eyes. "We'll have to set up separate quarters from your Houses for the two of you. And if sometime in the future you wish to make the arrangement a formal one, that, too, can be arranged."
Harry made a strangled, gurgling sound in the back of his throat. "That's going a bit fast, isn't it, Professor?" he choked out. "Until last night we've barely spoken two civil words to each other!" he protested. Catching a rather hurt look in Draco's eyes, he continued as though still talking to the headmaster, while truly explaining himself to the Slytherin. "I certainly fancy Draco, but it's a bit soon to be thinking of marriage." He was relieved to see a look of understanding come over the blond's face.
"As you say, lad," was the reply.
With the wild twinkle in the old man's eyes, Harry was sure he hadn't fooled Dumbledore in the slightest with that last sentence.
"Regardless; we would have had to do something similar, had the two of you succeeded in your original intentions." He looked over the two young men, trying to judge what they would accept. A judicious prevarication, he decided. "The only rooms we can get ready in good time is a small suite; just a bedroom, bath, sitting room and toilet. I'm afraid none of the others have a kitchen either, so you're out of luck, there. Meals will have to be taken in the Great Hall with the rest of the student population."
"Why can't we sleep in our own dorms, and - date?" Harry wanted to know.
"So much about this bonding has changed," Draco said musingly, "but the original ritual only allowed for about forty to sixty feet of space between the bonded, so the 'slave' would always be close to protect the 'master'. Enough distance to allow for separate rooms, but not much else."
"Quite right, Mister Malfoy," the old man replied. "We'll have to conduct some tests to find which restrictions still apply and which do not, but for now we'll go on the assumption that all restrictions that have not already been disproven, are true. I don't think Mister Malfoy would appreciate the consequences, else."
"What consequences?" Harry asked, sharply.
"I can't voluntarily leave the boundary - period. I'd suffer extreme pain, then pass out. If you deliberately leave me behind, I suffer until you return," the blond replied.
"And if it's not by my choice?"
"Then I do everything in my power to find you, and worry myself sick about you in the meantime. According to one of the notes in the other pages, there's supposed to be a sort of tracking bond built in, but it doesn't show up in every case."
"Other pages?" Harry asked, a hint of anger showing in his eyes.
"I... I only brought the ritual. There was more, that told about all the effects," Draco admitted, almost shyly.
"And you didn't think to bring them - why?"
Draco tried to put on a brave face, but his emotions were in a turmoil. "Two reasons: More pages missing might be noticed sooner, and..." He took a deep breath, then truthfully said, "And I was afraid that if you knew everything, you wouldn't help me."
"Thank you for your trust, Draco," Harry said sarcastically.
"You just barely decided to help with what you did know!" Draco said, defending himself.
The Gryffindor took a deep breath. "It wasn't all that close," he denied quietly, "but it's all moot now, isn't it. So, if I... died... what would happen to you?"
"I'd probably be dead before I allowed that, but if not... Insanity or death; I'm not quite sure which," Draco admitted sullenly.
Harry didn't react well to that. "Oh, that's just peachy! You couldn't have told me any of this before the binding, could you? No, you had to put up a brave front and keep all that from me! I hate being responsible for other people's pain, Draco. I have nightmares about the people who have died because of me!"
"Would you rather I was dead in an alley somewhere, Harry?" Draco said bitterly. "I could have used the dagger on myself, and then you wouldn't have to worry about it!"
Harry immediately felt like tuppence worth of garden fertilizer, and wanted to take the blond in his arms and comfort him, but he resisted, not only because he was still a bit frustrated and angry, but because he didn't know how the gesture might be recieved. "I'm sorry, Draco. I forgot about that. I just... I hate it that you're restricted because of me."
"I'm alive because you agreed, Potter!"
Harry stopped trying to resist his urge to comfort the Slytherin (and if he were honest, gain some comfort and reassurance for himself), and moved over to the blond, wrapping his arms around him, and disregarding the older men's presence. "I'm just sticking my foot in it deep, aren't I?" Harry asked rhetorically. He held on tighter as Draco started squirming. "Of course I'm happy you're alive! I'd miss our fights, if nothing else," he added, slyly.
Draco was offended. "Our... fights? Let go of me this instant, Potter!" he said, pushing against the dark-haired young man.
Harry grinned and did as he was told, but not before planting a kiss on the Slytherin's cheek. When Draco saw that grin, he knew he'd been had, and gave the cheeky Gryffindor another push, which landed Harry on the floor laughing his arse off, pleased with his successful baiting of the blond, and that there were no overly-negative reactions to it. Draco even managed a somewhat sheepish grin through the glare he was sending him.
"I- I- I'm sorry, Draco, I- I just couldn't - help it!" Harry said, apologizing through his laughter.
"Very convincing apology, Harry," Draco dead-panned.
Harry held out his hand to the blond. When the Slytherin took it, intending to help Harry to his feet, the Gryffindor pulled him down on top of him, and kissed him. "There. See? I'm sorry," Harry said.
"Huh-hem! May I remind you two that you are not alone? I would prefer not to see you rutting in front of me." The potions master had decided to verbally rejoin the group.
"A kiss is hardly 'rutting', Professor," was Harry's mild reprimand, " but I apologise if my little display of affection offended your delicate sensibilities." Harry forced his tone to remain light, and seemingly sincere.
There was no hint of sarcasm in Harry's voice for Snape to take offense with, especially with the headmaster sitting right there, so he was forced to accept the seeming 'apology' at face value.
Draco raised an eyebrow. 'That was worthy of a Slytherin,' he thought.
"Then perhaps you'd care to get off each other, and into a chair?" Snape sneered.
Harry and Draco had been so comfortable in each other's arms they hadn't really noticed the impropriety of their positions. They now scrambled to their feet, straightening their clothes, then sat in a chair - the same chair. Harry dragged Draco into his lap, just to cheese off the potions master. Well, the man had said, "into a chair," so he was, more or less, being obedient. He caught Draco's eye and winked, quietly whispering "Shh" to him.
Draco wasn't quite sure what was going on, but he knew two things; Harry was showing an intriguing side he hadn't seen before, and this was going to really upset Professor Snape.
"Just what do you think you're doing, Potter?" the greasy-haired professor demanded.
"Just what you told us to do, Professor," Harry replied 'innocently'. "You said we should get up and get into a chair. We're in a chair."
Draco couldn't help it; he felt himself losing control of his laughter, so he buried his face in Harry's shoulder, to muffle it. Unfortunately, his shaking, heaving shoulders gave his reaction away.
Snape turned every shade of red, then started on the purples.
Fortunately, Dumbledore chose to intervene at this point, or who knows what would have happened.
"I believe separate chairs would be more appropriate, gentlemen," he directed. "And Severus, please do control your temper."
Professor Snape just glared angrily at him, then at the two boys who were desperately trying not to laugh, then got up and swept out of the room.
"That was, perhaps, not the wisest thing you could have done, Harry," Dumbledore said.
"I'm sorry, Professor; you're right, but he was insulting, as well as being so - prim!"
"And you were behaving improperly, Mister Potter. If school were in session, you would have lost points and had detention for that. As is, I believe you should not only offer a sincere apology, but help Professor Snape catalogue and store away the potions ingredients the classes will be using this year. I leave it up to you whether you do or not." He got up and headed for the double doors himself, then stopped and turned. "Look for the portrait of Sir Roxley. The password is 'togetherness'." He turned back, and continued on his way.
"You're going to do it, aren't you," Draco said.
Harry shrugged. "If he hadn't insulted us, there would be no question. But I'll talk to him, anyway. I suppose I was being rather childish. But I think we should have a cooling-off period, first. Let's go find Sir Roxley."
The fact that Harry had included him by saying 'us' meant a lot to Draco. That it hadn't been a conscious word choice on Harry's part meant even more - but it was his final sentence he replied to. "Why didn't Dumbledore show us where it was?" His irritation about that showed in his voice.
"I think I finally managed to irritate the old bugger," the Gryffindor replied, oddly pleased. Eyes twinkling at you all the time can be rather irritating; you keep wondering if you're the butt of some unknown joke.
Draco snorted, choking off a snicker. Their eyes met, and they grinned companionably at each other. "So where should we start our search?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe we should start in the library."
The blond stared at him for a second, wondering if he'd gone daft, then light dawned. "Ah! Find out who he was and what he looks like!" he said triumphantly.
"Right. Shall we?" Harry said, gesturing towards the doors of the Great Hall.
Four hours later, they finally found Sir Roxley in a book in the library.
Sir Roger Roxley [1734-1801]: Infamous for inadvertently creating dangerous situations, yet not only surviving, but appearing afterwards as the hero of the incident.
"Sounds familiar, Potter," Draco said drily.
"I don't create dangerous situations; I just... wind up in them." Harry started defending himself strongly, but finished rather weakly.
"Mm-hm. Well, at least we now know what he looks like. Brown hair, blue eyes, hook nose... You, know, except for the colouring, he rather looks like Snape.
Harry examined the print. "Just the nose, I think," he opined. "I don't remember seeing him anywhere, though."
"Neither do I, which means he must be hung in a part of the castle we haven't visited, yet. I've been through almost all of the dungeons and most of the lower floors," he said, inviting Harry's input.
"We need quills and parchment so we can draw out where we've been. Between the two of us, we must have seen most of the castle, and I can't imagine where I haven't been." At Draco's look of curiousity, he explained. "Nightmares, visions, and just plain insomnia."
"Nightmares and visions. Would it be rude of me to ask?"
"My wife can ask me anything," Harry teased, then ducked the gentle swipe Draco aimed at the side of his head. Then he sobered as he satisfied the Slytherin's curiousity. "Nightmares about the people who have died or got hurt because of me, and visions about what Voldemort is doing. We seem to have a link through my scar."
"Can he see what you're doing?" Draco asked, alarmed.
"Not very often, any more. I've taken Occlumency, and I've become rather good with it. I just need to remember to clear my mind before bed."
Draco nodded, and dropped the subject. These were things he'd want to think about later, but right now they needed to find their rooms.
"Dinner first, I think. It has to be past noon by now," Harry said.
Three hours after eating and procuring the ink, quills, and parchment they needed, they had mapped out most of the castle, using Harry's Marauder's Map as a template1, and identified those places they'd been. Surprisingly, as much as they'd both explored, they found quite a lot of white space on their maps.
"I've been to Dumbledore's office any number of times over the years, but I never realised there was so much... castle around it," remarked the Gryffindor as he surveyed one of the maps. "Well, we still have a few hours until supper, unless you want a snack before we go exploring?"
"If we start in the dungeons and work our way up, we can stop in the kitchens for a bite," Draco suggested.
"I'm all for stopping in the kitchens, but if we start at the bottom, we'll have all those stairs to climb when we're getting tired," Harry pointed out.
"But if we climb all those stairs to start at the top, we'll be tired before we even begin!" the blond protested.
"You have a point. Do you suppose Dumbledore would be amenable to giving us a clue?"
"You haven't apologised to Snape, yet," Draco reminded him.
Harry pulled a face. "I was trying to forget about that. Well, I suppose there's no time like the present. "Lead on, Mcduff, and accursed be he who first cries 'Hold! Enough!'""
"Must you mangle your quotes, Potter? It's "Lay on, Macduff; And damned be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'"" Draco complained, as he led the way to the dungeons. He knew Harry was fully capable of finding Snape's office, but he knew that he had a nice backside as well, and Harry was most likely feasting his eyes.
"I didn't know you knew Shakespeare," Harry commented.
"That wasn't Shakespeare, Potter, that was pure Francis Bacon2."
Harry didn't feel like trying to argue the point. Nor did he walk behind for long: just long enough. He quickly caught up and took Draco's hand, walking like that the rest of the way in a comfortable silence - although he caught the blond giving him a curious little glance every now and again. But when nothing was said, he decided to leave it lay.
~*~1: The Marauder's Map shows spaces, but only identifies people.