"Do you think they've been hexed?" the sound of voices and the feeling of people nearby dragged Harry back from whatever corner of the universe his brain had decided to visit this time.
"I don't think it's normal to smile like that if you've been hexed," Harry recognised Hermione's voice, but he couldn't quite drag his eyes open yet.
"We should tell Professor McGonagall," Neville put in his thoughts on the matter, "they're out cold."
"Maybe you're right," Ron agreed.
That struck Harry as a very bad idea and as he heard the sound of movement towards the door he reacted rather than thought anything through. There was a slam from the direction of the door and a squeak from Neville.
"Who did that?" Longbottom asked rapidly.
"I did," Harry said, or at least that's what he tried to say as his brain realigned with his body. It came out rather garbled.
"Harry?" Hermione asked and as he opened his eyes he found his friend leaning over him.
"Hmm," he said knowing that anything more complicated was liable to come out as gibberish, or at the least in the wrong order.
"Are you okay?" Hermione continued her questioning.
Harry blinked up at her for a few moments while deciding on an answer. When his friend's face came into focus and stayed that way he nodded and pushed himself off the floor.
"Fine," he managed to say and was glad to find that the word was understandable.
"Have you two been sniffing something?" Ron asked dubiously. "You look stoned."
Draco was still lying on the floor, but Harry could tell that his soulmate was awake, he was just not moving yet. Ignoring Ron's enquiry he reached out to his lover's hand. Draco reluctantly opened his eyes and sat up as his limb was pulled. He looked somewhat nonplussed and Harry couldn't help worrying.
"We're not stoned, Weasley," Draco said evenly, "Harry just forgot to read the small print on a spell."
"There wasn't any small print," he defended himself, but ran out of steam quickly, "at least I don't think there was."
"You probably forgot to turn the page," his soulmate responded pointedly, but there was amusement coming from Draco's direction which waylaid most of the anxiety.
"What spell?" Hermione asked curiously.
Much to Harry's delight Draco stuck out his hand for the young woman to see, proudly showing her the ring.
"Oh my," Hermione said with just a touch of awe in her voice, "that is beautiful. Harry did you make this?"
He nodded, not sure what to say. Draco was brimming over with pleasure as he let the three standing Gryffindors see the ring, but Harry was not sure if he'd been forgiven for the unforeseen side effects yet.
"He has some talent behind those round glasses," Draco said in a neutral tone, "although he hides it well sometimes."
Harry had the sense to look sheepish and apologetic. Draco grabbed his hand and held it up next to his own so everyone could see.
"So this is what you've been hiding," it was Ron who made the observation. "What do they do?"
To a Muggle it would have been a strange question; to a wizard it made perfect sense: very few things in the Wizarding world were only what they appeared to be.
"They're protection against the Dissaepius curse," Draco said with a mixture of pride and love in his voice. "Harry didn't realise the magic would have to align properly after we put them on. It was rather an overwhelming experience."
Now Harry knew he'd been forgiven.
"I had no idea there was a shield spell for Dissaepio Iugum," Hermione said with interest.
"It was designed by Martha Claypole a little over four hundred years ago," Harry provided helpfully. "She and her bond mate were hit with the curse during the Hereford Revolt of 1581 and she designed a counter measure when they recovered. It can only be done using raw magic and silver and they have to be combined without a wand."
As he finished he found that everyone in the room was looking at him.
"What?" he asked, not sure why everyone was staring at him.
"Who are you and where's the real Harry Potter?" Ron said with a grin.
[I think you were channelling Hermione,] Draco told him silently.
"I do know where the library is," Harry said, blushing. "Just because I refuse to read 'Hogwarts: A History' does not mean I only read Quidditch Weekly."
"Could have fooled me," Draco said sarcastically.
[Thank you for the support,] Harry replied in kind.
[You're welcome,] his lover said unrepentantly.
"I hate to break this up," Hermione said with a grin, "but we have half an hour before we have to be in the great hall and you two look like you're been wrestling with a dust bunny."
The thing about stone floors was that they didn't always show up the dirt that was on them. The house elves polished and cleaned once a week, but there had been a friendly Quidditch match earlier in the week that had ended in a summer rainstorm and mud so the floor was not exactly spotless. Harry pulled himself to his feet using the edge of the bed and then offered Draco his hand.
"We'll be down in ten minutes," he promised faithfully.
"He'll be down in ten minutes," Draco corrected ruefully, "I'll be down in twenty."
Harry just grinned and did not disagree.
The hall was decorated in Gryffindor colours, somehow the house had held on to the house cup. In Draco's view this was probably because Harry had been so distracted all year he had not had time to end up in trouble and he said as much, which caused those around him to laugh. It was strange to think that at the beginning of the year he had come to school believing that his only future lay alone, along the path of the traitor, and yet now, here he sat, beside the young man who had once been his sworn enemy with friends he had once ridiculed. It was quite a humbling thought and he looked at the lion ring on his finger knowing he had been given a future he had never dreamed possible.
[Sometimes I can't believe it either,] Harry's voice sounded in his mind and Draco was not sure if he had voiced his thoughts accidentally, or his lover was just reading his body language.
It didn't matter and he smiled fondly at his soulmate.
[I could not wish for more,] Draco replied and felt the warmth of love envelope him.
They had been running slightly late and before Harry could continue the conversation, almost as soon as the seventh years were settled, Dumbledore climbed to his feet. It was the last speech of their last year and with one accord all the final year students at the Gryffindor table turned to look at their headmaster. Dumbledore spared each house a smile and Draco found himself smiling back for the first time in all his years at Hogwarts. It was a liberating experience.
"We are here again," the headmaster said slowly as the hall hushed, "the end of another year, and a better year than I had hoped. We have had our share of drama," Dumbledore paused, "and romance," he continued with a twinkle in his eye.
"Don't we know it," it was Seamus' voice.
That caused a ripple of laughter to flow round the hall and Harry turned a lovely shade of pink. Draco was not prone to embarrassment and he grinned broadly at the reference, sharing a look with Dumbledore and partaking of the old man's delight.
"Firstly I would like to extend my congratulations to Gryffindor who have retained the house cup this year," the headmaster continued in his usual manner. "It was a close run competition this year and they only beat Slytherin by twelve points."
A cheer went up from the Gryffindor table and took a good few minutes to settle. Draco did not shout his approval with those he was sitting with, but he did give the other seventh years a genuine smile. He was still a Slytherin and cheering for those he sat with would have been inappropriate, but Draco could appreciate their delight, especially since Harry shared in it.
"And secondly," Dumbledore continued when the noise finally stopped, "I would like to end this year with a message of hope. There is a growing darkness in our world," he said gravely, "and it has touched this school twice this year: once with the kidnapping of Mr Malfoy and once with the suspension and subsequent hospitalisation of Mr Zabini."
The headmaster let his words sink in as his old eyes moved around the room.
"However, Hogwarts has also been blessed with a union that has crossed established boundaries," Dumbledore told the school in a warm tone. "A rare bond has been seen amongst us, which had bound two souls together who were once the most bitter enemies. Let this be a lesson to us all that no certainties are ever written in stone and that light may banish darkness wherever it may find it."
Draco felt himself hanging off the headmaster's words, but he spared a glance at the Slytherin table for old times' sake. What he saw gave him hope that his house was not completely lost. There was derision and boredom on many faces, but just a few seemed to have forgotten their masks and had their eyes fixed on Dumbledore.
"Voldemort continues his campaign of subterfuge and dark magic," the headmaster told then all evenly, "and he seeks to make us fear him, but never forget that darkness is only the absence of light and while Hogwarts stands there will always be that. United we will remain and together we shall weather the coming storm."
Total silence greeted Professor Dumbledore's affirmation, but every face that was turned to him seemed to agree. Draco could almost feel the energy in the room and he suddenly knew that the old man's words were not rhetoric, as he had been taught by Lucius; Dumbledore spoke the truth and while Hogwarts existed the darkness could have no victory. At that moment Draco realised what a gift this place of safety was to their world.
"That is all I wished to say," Dumbledore said suddenly with a smile, breaking the mood with cheerful warmth, "and I only have one more notice. When you return to your houses tonight would all fifth, sixth and seventh years please check the lists posted over the fireplaces. If your name is on the list report to your head of house in their office before you retire to bed. That is all, now let us eat."
The tables were instantly groaning will food and a cheer went round the room. Draco was curious as to Dumbledore's last message as he could tell was Harry, but the food smelt wonderful and there was no way either of them was going to let curiosity get in the way of celebrating their final year end. With a grin to his soulmate, Draco reached out and joined the feast.
It had not really been a surprise when Harry and Draco found their names together with those of many of their year mates, and since the Slytherin had been on the Gryffindor list he had stayed with Harry rather than going to Snape's office. Harry shook his head, but he didn't blame the Irish seventh year for asking, after all he and his friends were usually ahead of the game. This time, however, they were as much in the dark as everyone else. Professor McGonagall was seated behind her desk waiting for the last few to pile through the door and as it finally closed she stood up.
"Thank you for coming," she said in her normal calm tones, "I have no doubt you are all wondering why you have been called here."
A murmur of agreement went round the room. It had not escaped Harry that those in the room were all pupils who excelled in one way or another or who were members of the DA. Neville was there and he was undoubtedly the best Herbologist in the school; the entire house Quidditch team who were fifth year and above were there; Seamus and Jocelyn Clark a fifth year had both gained recognition for their Charms work over the year; Dean and Parvati, and then of course there was the usual Voldemort fighting crew of Harry, Draco, Ron and Hermione.
"Hogwarts will not be closing down as usual this summer," the Professor told them. "In light of recent Dark activity it has been decided in conjunction with the Ministry to offer advanced classes in many subjects not covered by the normal curriculum. These classes are only being offered to a select number of pupils: you are among that number."
She paused and looked around the group making eye contact with every individual.
"Where necessary every one of your parents has already been consulted and they have given their permission for you to stay on should you so wish," McGonagall continued seriously. "Now of course no one is forcing any one of you to remain here: the classes are purely optional and you may go home if you would prefer. The subjects you will be studying if you choose to remain will be in advance of what most of you have looked at before. If you feel you are not up to the challenge join your classmates on the train home and none the worse will be thought of you."
There was total silence among the pupils. It was news that Harry had not even considered and it shocked him as much as it shocked his fellow Gryffindors. Firstly he was so used to the Ministry being the enemy with their heads in the sand that there cooperation in such an enterprise was startling, and that Dumbledore would consider using his school to teach what Harry suspected would be war craft showed just how far the Voldemort situation had progressed.
"We are facing open war and this decision has not been made lightly," Professor McGonagall said. "We believe that before next year is out Voldemort will show his hand openly. None as young as you are should have to face this and if it were in our power we would not ask you to, but our world is out of time and we have no choice. We wish you to be prepared and this is our only way of doing it. If you wish to stay, report to the great hall tomorrow morning when the others leave for the train. That is all."
The Gryffindors looked at each other and all faces were openly showing shock and surprise. There had been several theories thrown around at dinner, but none had been close to the truth. Almost too stunned to speak to each other, the group wordlessly turned to the door, unable to voice the decision they were facing.
"Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy," his house head's words broke in to Harry's thoughts as he moved to follow his companions, "please stay a moment."
Harry moved to obey without thinking and pulled Draco to the side as the others filed past them. Professor McGonagall's news had been so thought provoking that Harry didn't even both to wonder why she might want to see him and his soulmate.
"The headmaster would like to see you both in his office as soon as you leave here," the professor told them after the last of the other Gryffindors had left the room. "I believe he wishes to talk to you both about your future."
Harry found himself nodding before he caught up with what he was doing, after the previous revelations this did not surprise him in the slightest. Both he and Draco had been expecting the summons for days now.
"Thank you, Professor," he said evenly, "is that all?"
His head of house nodded and with a look at Draco he knew they were agreed and as one they turned to leave.
"I have a confession to make, Harry," Dumbledore said eventually in a calm, deliberate manner. "I believe that the coming conflict will centre on wherever you are. Once it may have been the Ministry or another target, but over the last two years it has become plainly obvious that you are Voldemort's focus. This fact alone gives us an advantage."
Harry did not know what to think; his instinct was to demand that he be sent as far away from anyone who could be harmed as possible, but the headmaster's last sentence stopped him. Draco's hand was clamped firmly over Harry's fingers and when Harry glanced at his soulmate Draco's mouth was set in a firm line.
"With your cooperation, Harry," Dumbledore told him evenly, "this means we may prepare the battle ground."
"We both know it's him or me," Harry replied in a tone that matched the headmaster's. "I will do whatever is necessary."
"We both will," Draco added firmly.
The headmaster smiled at them in a rather sad way as if he had been expecting the answer, but regretted having to ask the question.
"The most defensible place in the British Isles is Hogwarts," Dumbledore continued calmly.
"But the children," Harry said as what the headmaster was saying became clear.
"Will be taken care of, Harry," Dumbledore assured him calmly. "Voldemort will not set foot inside these walls, that I promise you. The battle, whatever form it takes, will not touch the innocents here, but the conflict must end on these grounds."
"The summer lessons," Draco spoke without emotion in his voice, "they're part of the whole plan aren't they."
Dumbledore nodded firmly.
"A castle, no matter how impregnable must have an army to guard it," the headmaster said openly. "Those lower years who partake of the training will be in charge of their fellows should a battle come to Hogwarts."
"And the seventh years?" Harry prompted although he suspected something of the answer.
"As of next year there will be fifteen new appointments to the staff of Hogwarts," Dumbledore revealed with a slight smile. "Each will be as an assistant to an existing post, thus allowing the current members of staff time to assist in the defence of the school and giving Hogwarts a further level of security. These places will be offered to those seventh years who show the most aptitude for the positions."
The old man was holding something back of that much Harry was sure, but he did not know what until the headmaster produced two sheets of parchment from his desk draw. He placed one in front of Draco and one in front of Harry and waited for their reaction. Harry could not help himself; he began to read.
Contact of Employment
Job title: Assistant Flying Coach and Head of Extra Curricular Defence Against the Dark Arts Training
Harry didn't make it any further as he looked up at Dumbledore rather dumbfounded, then he glanced over at Draco's parchment. Under job title it said "Assistant Potions Professor".
"I need nothing more than what I have seen of both of you over your time here to know that is would please me a great deal to welcome you both to the staff," the headmaster said in such a genuine tone that it brought a lump to Harry's throat. "You have both shown resourcefulness and courage under conditions which could have destroyed the strongest wizard and your strength is something Hogwarts cannot afford to lose. The other thirteen positions will be offered at the end of the summer to the strongest and most resourceful of your fellow school leavers, but it gives me great pleasure to offer you both places now."
It all left Harry rather speechless, but one question did make it to the front of his mind.
"What does it mean by 'Head of Extra Curricular DADA Training'?" he asked before his thoughts could become too bogged down by other things.
"It means the DA," Draco said as he looked at Dumbledore steadily, "doesn't it Headmaster."
The old man nodded his head with a smile.
"Your efforts to arm your fellow classmates have been admirable, Harry," Dumbledore told him, "and we would like you to continue openly. The DA will become the After School DADA society and it was unanimously agreed that if you are willing, you should continue to run it."
Now Harry really didn't know what to say and he looked at Draco rather lost. The hardness was gone from his soulmate's features and he seemed a little overwhelmed as well. This was more than either of them had been expecting. Harry had thought at worst he would be shipped off to somewhere deemed safe and at best hidden away somewhere in Hogwarts, this was so much better.
"You need not decide tonight," the headmaster said kindly, obviously sensing that neither of the soulmates could really process the information, "and please feel free to study the contracts thoroughly."
[They want us to stay,] Harry said, still not quite able to believe what had been said.
[Do you think I could be as terrifying as Snape?] Draco replied with a catch in his mental voice.
Harry let out a little laugh, this was incredible.
"Do you have a quill I could borrow?" Harry asked as he turned back to the headmaster and the old man smiled warmly.
Even as Harry signed his name at the bottom of the parchment and then watched Draco do the same he still couldn't quite believe it. Only an hour before he had thought his final night at Hogwarts was coming to a close and that he would be leaving the only place he truly called home, but now he was becoming part of it as he had never been before. Live or die, win or lose he was home and as he looked into Draco's eyes when his soulmate finished adding his name to his contract, Harry knew that, together, they were beginning a whole new chapter of their lives.