Thicker than Blood
- Story Summary:
- It is Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts, and Voldemort has returned to full power. The Death Eaters lay siege to the castle, trapping everyone inside. Draco is injured, Harry gets roped into saving his life, Crabbe shows unexpected resourcefulness, Dumbledore gets his way (as usual), and life is complicated for Harry. But then, life is always complicated for Harry, and adolescence only makes it worse.
- Author's Note:
- Author's Note: I'm sorry that this chapter took so long! It was a real monster to write, and I'm still not very happy with it. But there comes a time when you have to let your chapters make their way in the big, wide world, without the comfort of your word processor to protect them... *sigh* So I'm turning this one loose at last, complete with rough spots and possible typos, before I smother it.
Chapter 11: Things Broken, Things Lost
Wormtail. The name kept coming back to him, over and over again, like a spell he was afraid of forgetting. Wormtail. It slithered through his mind on a current of raw pain and guilt, bringing with it images of a graveyard at night and a bubbling cauldron. He tried closing his eyes, but it only made the picture that much sharper, and for a terrifying moment, the sound of Wormtail's screams blended with the voices all around him. His eyes snapped open again and he caught a glimpse of silver-blond hair through a shifting wall of bodies. Pain erupted inside him, pain that had nothing to do with the Blood Link and everything to do with the memory of Wormtail and a slender knife that flashed in the moonlight. Harry bit his tongue to hold back his cry and shrank further onto the bed, hoping no one would think to look in his direction.
They were bustling about - Madam Pomfrey, Professors Snape and McGonagall, and Sirius - murmuring to each other. Harry caught snatches of their words, confused with the cries and curses in his own head, and pierced cleanly every now and then by Dumbledore's strong, calm voice giving instructions.
"A simple dressing will do, Poppy. There's no bleeding."
"Good lord! Did Lucius Malfoy do that?"
"I've never seen anything like it. What spell would make such a wound?"
"It's quite neat."
"A fine lot you are," that was definitely Snape, and he sounded like he wanted to hurt somebody, "talking about him like he's a well-pruned shrub! What I want to know is how this happened!"
"Calm down, Severus," Dumbledore said, soothingly. "We will find out what happened in due time, but first, we must do what we can for Mr. Malfoy."
Madam Pomfrey interjected, "There seems to be little enough wrong with him, Headmaster."
"Little enough?!" Snape growled. "You call this little enough?!"
"When I find out who's responsible for this, I'll..."
"This shouting is doing no one any good, Professor," Madam Pomfrey snapped, cutting off Snape in mid hiss. "All of you clear out and let me do my job!"
"I'm sorry, Poppy, but we can't do that until we have some answers," Dumbledore said.
Harry swallowed nervously and tried to make himself invisible, huddled on the next bed over from Draco's, hidden behind Dumbledore's back. He knew that he couldn't avoid the moment of truth indefinitely, but a panicked voice in his head was gibbering, frantically, Please, please don't ask me. I can't stand it. I can't tell them what I did. He'll never forgive me... never... Please don't ask!
Dumbledore went on in that inhumanly calm way of his, "However, you are quite right about the shouting. Severus, I must ask you to control yourself."
Snape stood at the head of Draco's bed, opposite Harry, so he could see the Potions Master's face clearly. Snape was glaring at Dumbledore as though trying to flay him with his eyes, but he clamped his jaw shut and swallowed his rage, showing what was for Snape heroic restraint. Harry saw his eyes stray downward, to where Madam Pomfrey worked with bandages and wand, and his face tighten with pain. Harry knew exactly how he felt.
"Poppy, when you've finished with that dressing, we will see if we can rouse Mr. Malfoy."
"He was awake when I found them," Sirius commented.
"Was he? Then it was not the wound that rendered him unconscious."
"No, it was me. I think I scared him out of his wits... literally."
Dumbledore made a noncommittal noise in his throat and waited for Madam Pomfrey to finish. Harry watched, glad that Dumbledore blocked most of the other bed from view, as the nurse sealed the bandage in place with a touch of her wand and pulled the blanket up to Draco's shoulders. He could see just enough of what she did to know that the dreadful wound was safely hidden - from Draco as well as from him - and he let out a whispered sigh of relief.
Dumbledore nodded at Snape and murmured, "If you would, Severus."
The room suddenly got very quiet, and Harry held his breath. He saw Snape's tall form stooping over Draco's motionless, silver-gilt head, his wand held with peculiar delicacy in one hand. The wand dipped, touching the unconscious boy once, lightly, right between the eyebrows, and there was a tiny spark of purplish light. No one moved for the space of a heartbeat, then Draco's eyes abruptly opened.
He blinked to bring the Potions Master's face into focus and said, fuzzily, "Professor Snape?"
"Your grasp of the obvious is staggering, Malfoy." The words were infinitely sarcastic, but they were spoken with the closest thing to gentleness Snape ever achieved. "How are you feeling?"
"That's not surprising. Do you remember what happened?"
Draco frowned up at him for a moment, then a look of horror swept over his features, and he sat bolt upright in the bed, crying, "Sirius Black! I saw Sirius Black! He was there, Professor, I swear it! He was a dog, but then he..." Draco's gaze jumped wildly from face to face, until it fell on the man standing at the foot of his bed. He let out a choked cry of alarm. "Black!"
Before Snape or Dumbledore could stop him, Draco kicked his legs free of the blankets and tried to scramble further up the bed, away from the spectre of Sirius Black. He reached both hands behind him to brace against the mattress, but then pitched sharply to his left. As his weight landed on his wounded arm, he gave a tearing cry that echoed agonizingly in Harry's chest.
The adults all moved at once. Snape caught Draco before he could topple from the bed, supporting his deadweight against his own body. Madam Pomfrey gave a squawk of protest and tried to grab his arm to protect it, but Draco tore it out of her grasp and pulled it in tightly to his chest. Dumbledore whipped out his wand, while Sirius backed away from the bed, looking as though he wished he had someplace to hide, and McGonagall made a move toward Harry, frowning in concern.
Harry felt Draco's pain lance through him and reacted instinctively, forgetting all about the need to stay invisible. He hopped off his bed and crossed to Draco's in two strides. Then he reached across the mattress to grab Draco's arm, ignoring Snape's fierce eyes on him and the watchful silence of the others. His vision blurred with gold sparks and scintillating light as he poured his power into the link, but he could see well enough to find Draco. The other boy was huddled in a tight ball of pain on the far edge of the bed, leaning against Snape's chest, supported by his arms. He did not cry out, but Harry could hear the breath hissing through his teeth as he fought to control his sobs, and he could feel him shaking.
Harry closed his eyes, all his attention focused on the Blood Link and the power coursing from his body to Draco's. He concentrated on blocking the pain without touching the other boy's emotions, remembering Dumbledore's warnings. Every cell in his body ached to use the link, use his power, to take away the anger and fear and resentment he knew must be brewing inside the Draco, to guarantee that when he asked for his forgiveness he would get it. But he could not. He could not violate the trust that Dumbledore, and more importantly Draco, had placed in him. So he ruthlessly squashed the urge to slide through the link and calm Draco's seething emotions, and threw all his energy into stopping the pain.
It seemed to Harry as though it took him an eternity, but in reality it was no more than a few seconds. The pain ebbed, the tension drained from Draco's body, and he sagged nervelessly against Snape. Harry let his surge of power die and, with a secret sigh of regret, dropped his hand.
Draco lay utterly still for a moment, his eyes closed, while those gathered around the bed watched him in frowning concern. Then Snape broke the stasis by lifting Draco slightly and settling him back on the bed. As his head hit the pillow again, Draco stirred and opened his eyes.
"Potter?" He reached blindly toward Harry, grabbing a fistful of his shirt.
Harry sat down on the edge of the mattress and let Malfoy pull him closer. "Yeah."
"You're doing it again, aren't you? Mucking around in my head and... turning things off."
"Do you want me to stop?"
Malfoy shook his head fractionally. His eyes tracked over to Harry's face, and Harry was shocked to see the fear reflected in them. "I suppose you expect me to thank you," he murmured, in a ghostly imitation of his usual sarcasm.
Harry smiled crookedly and clasped Draco's wrist with one hand. It was the most he dared do, but he had to have some kind of contact with the other boy or his chest would explode from the pressure building in it. "No. I expect you to be rude, obnoxious and ungrateful, like always."
"Good." His eyes fell closed, and he took a deep, ragged breath. "As long as we're square on that."
Harry tightened his grip on the other boy's arm and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Draco, I'm s..."
"Don't!" Malfoy stiffened. "Don't say anything!"
"This is important..."
"Don't say it!" he hissed, tearing himself away from Harry's clasp and twisting onto his side.
Harry looked miserably at his back and started to tremble. He felt the link, like a twisted skein of warmth and power, binding him to Draco, beckoning, tempting him with the promise of forgiveness and an end to the pain of uncertainty. If he could only use it... if he only dared...
Suddenly, a familiar voice sounded in his head, laughing. It was high and cruel and hideous, and it cut through Harry like a fine, silver blade. I'm not you! I'm not! Harry shrieked inwardly at his laughing enemy. It's not the same! I didn't do it for myself! I didn't!
He must have cried aloud, because Dumbledore was suddenly stooping over him, gripping him by the shoulders and speaking in an urgent voice to the others.
"Everyone, wait for me in my office, please. I need to speak to Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy alone."
Harry shuddered, as he fought to still the imagined voices in his head. Dumbledore's touch helped. It steadied him.
"But Headmaster..." Snape protested.
Dumbledore silenced him with a glance. "Poppy was right. This is not the time. I must insist that you all leave us, and I will join you in a few minutes. Poppy, if you would see to your other patients...?"
As the adults drifted away from the bed with varying degrees of reluctance, Harry lifted haunted eyes to Dumbledore's face and said, with as much courage as he could muster, "It was me, Professor. I'm the one who cut off Draco's hand, not Lucius Malfoy."
"I gathered as much."
"He was trying to apparate, to take Draco away with him, and I..."
"Harry, there really is no need to explain." He lifted a hand to silence Harry's protests and went on, "I want you to listen to me. Both of you."
Draco said nothing and did not turn to face them, but Harry knew that he was listening.
"I'm going to leave you alone for a while, to talk or simply to collect yourselves, whatever you wish. The important thing is that you stay calm. I will instruct Madam Pomfrey to keep an eye on you and take what steps she feels are necessary to keep you from getting agitated.
"Harry," he squeezed the boy's shoulder affectionately, "I have a fair idea of what's going through your mind right now, and I'm sorry for it. It's my fault that you're so overwrought, and believe me, if I'd had an alternative, I would have cut the Blood Link long since. Three days is far too long for anyone to maintain such a close and powerful connection."
"No! Professor, really..."
"Try to be patient, Harry, and relax. Once the link is gone, you'll find that your emotions are much less raw, and you'll be able to sort out everything that's happened. But I need to leave you two linked for just a little while longer, so I need you to try very hard to keep a hold on yourself."
Harry nodded stiffly, refusing to meet Dumbledore's eyes. The old wizard gave his shoulder a final squeeze and turned to leave. "Remember, stay calm, both of you. I'll be back soon."
Draco waited until Dumbledore's footsteps had faded into silence, then he asked, very quietly, "Are we alone?"
Harry glanced around the ward. He saw people lying in a few of the beds - witches and wizards injured in the battle, he supposed - and Madam Pomfrey bending over someone in a bed at the far end of the room. Two other people stood near her, and from the shock of red hair on one of them, Harry gathered that it was Ron. The room was far from empty, but no one was paying any attention to them.
"Pretty much," he answered.
Draco rolled onto his back and looked up at Harry. His face was blank, protected by that smooth indifference he did so well, and his eyes were neutral. He had even managed to tamp down his emotions so that nothing came through the link to Harry. The two boys just stared at each other for a long moment.
Finally, Draco spoke. "So... I guess I'm not dying anymore."
"I guess not."
"You don't want Dumbledore to cut the link." It wasn't a question, and Harry could think of nothing to say. He shrugged. "You like mucking around in my head, then?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Malfoy." The retort came naturally to his lips, but Harry instantly regretted it. His gaze slid away from Draco's, and he bit his lip to hide the fact that it wanted to tremble. "I like having the link because... it's easier to talk to you when I know what you're really thinking."
"You can read my mind?"
"No. It's really more what you're feeling than what you're thinking."
"I always know what you're thinking. I don't need a link for that."
"Yeah, well, some of us aren't so good at pretending we don't give a damn." Harry fidgeted for a moment, staring at his hands, then asked in a rough whisper, "Why won't you let me apologize?"
A flash of confused emotion, quickly smothered, surged through the link. "What's the point?"
"I need you to believe that I didn't want to do it, that I'm sorry..."
"You're sorry?! For what? For saving both our lives?"
Harry's gaze flew to his face in surprise. "Not for that!"
"Then for what?"
Harry nodded mutely toward Draco's midriff where his left arm lay, carefully hidden by bandages, dressing gown and blankets.
"Why did you do it?" Draco asked, harshly.
"It was the only way I could stop your father from taking you. I couldn't break through his guard, and I couldn't let him hit you with the Cruciatus Curse, so I... made him let go of you."
"That's what I thought."
Harry heard himself pleading with the other boy and wished he could stop it, but he was way past being able to control himself tonight. "I didn't want to, Draco, I swear!"
"You think I don't know that, you incredible git?!"
Harry stared at him, baffled by the hurt and fury in his voice that didn't seem to fit with his words. "What are you saying?"
"I'm not saying anything! I didn't want to talk about this at all, remember? But if you're so set on apologizing, then you might as well do it properly!"
"You cut my hand off to save my life, and you say you're sorry. But you're not sorry I'm alive, or I don't think you are, so you must be sorry that it was you who had to do it. You don't like being the hero so much anymore, do you, Potter? It isn't much fun, when you have to chop people up to do it!"
"It was never fun," Harry whispered.
"Well, guess what? It's no fun for the people you rescue, either."
"Draco, I'm sorry!"
"Stop saying that!"
His furious shout echoed through the high-ceilinged room, and they both fell instantly quiet, straining to hear Madam Pomfrey's approaching footsteps. Either the nurse did not hear them, or she decided that they didn't need to be drugged into docility just yet. No one paid them any mind.
Harry slipped off the bed and went to fetch the privacy screen that stood, folded, against the wall. He opened it and pulled it into place to conceal the length of the ward to their right. Then he sat down on the bed again and fixed a grim, level stare on the other boy.
"Are you mad at me, or not?"
"I don't know."
"How can you not know?"
"Gee, maybe I'm a little upset. I got kidnapped by my own father, almost died - again - and had my hand cut off for my own good. It's been kind of a rough night."
Harry opened his mouth to say 'I'm sorry,' but stopped himself in time. "Yeah. For the record, I'm not sorry you're still alive. I'm also not sorry I was the one who had to rescue you. The only thing I'm sorry about is that I had to hurt you to do it. I'd much rather have cut off your father's hand. In fact, I think I'd have enjoyed it."
Draco laughed, but it came out sounding wrong. "Okay. For the record, I don't think it's you I'm mad at. I'm just mad. I want to break something - a lot of things and make a lot of noise doing it - and throw the biggest, nastiest, most vile and painful curse I can think of at my father. I'd definitely enjoy that."
"I'll hold him down for you."
"Don't bother. I can't use my wand properly with my right hand."
"Draco..." Harry broke off, gazing sorrowfully at him, then heaved a sigh and looked away. He could think of absolutely nothing to say, so he pulled both his feet up onto the mattress, tucked them under him, and stared down at his hands, which lay knotted together in his lap.
After a handful of long, quiet minutes, Draco spoke. His voice sounded light and dry, with no hint of anger in it. "I didn't imagine that Black was a dog, did I?"
"No, you didn't. He's an animagus."
"And I suppose you're going to tell me that he isn't a mass murderer."
"Snape says he is."
"Snape hates him. It's a long story."
"Tell it to me, sometime? When we're trapped in a root cellar for days on end and get tired of insulting each other?"
Harry grinned. "Okay."
Another long, long pause followed, then Draco asked, "What's going to happen when they cut the link?"
"I don't know," Harry whispered, his eyes blurring with threatened tears, "and I don't want to find out."
"You think we'll go back to the way it was before. To hating each other."
Without thinking about what he was doing, Harry stretched himself out on the bed next to Draco and closed his eyes. He could feel the other boy's presence in the darkness, like a white flame that gave off no heat, burning just out of reach. He knew he dared not stretch out his hand toward the flame, but he couldn't stop himself from stretching his thoughts out through the link. It might be his last chance, the last time he would ever share himself this completely with Draco. He wouldn't force him to feel anything. He wouldn't violate the trust placed in him. But he would have the last word.
Don't forget me,he pleaded. Don't forget what it was like. I won't, ever, I promise. Please Draco, don't forget me.
*** *** ***
"It was Potter?!" Snape bellowed, his face a violent shade of purple. He stood in front of Dumbledore's desk, rigid with fury, his eyes nearly popping from their sockets. "Are you telling me that Harry Potter did that to Malfoy?!"
"Are you sure, Albus?" McGonagall asked, worriedly.
"He told me himself, and Ron Weasley confirmed it." Dumbledore sighed and threw Snape a sympathetic glance. "It shouldn't come as a surprise. There was no reason for Lucius to cut off his son's hand."
"And what reason did Potter have to do it?" Snape growled.
"To save both their lives. Severus, I understand your feelings, but you must be reasonable. Mr. Potter did his best against a fully-trained Death Eater. That he got out of the encounter alive, with Mr. Malfoy in reasonably good shape, is quiet an achievement."
"I'll show him what I think of his achievement."
"No, you will not. You will let those boys deal with this in their own way, and you will say nothing, unless one of them comes to you for help. Do I make myself clear?"
When Snape glared sullenly at him and muttered something that may have been agreement under his breath, Dumbledore turned to the others.
"Sirius, I need you to find Arthur Weasley and Alastor Moody. Get an update on our progress and tell Moody about Lucius Malfoy's disappearance. We'll need to get the Ministry on his trail as quickly as possible. We can assume that he meant to take Draco back to some stronghold of the Death Eaters or to his home. Some place where he would feel protected."
"What's the likelihood his spell actually worked?" McGonagall asked. "The way Weasley described it, he must have been taken unawares. He wouldn't have time to visualize his destination properly."
"He wasn't splinched," Sirius assured her. "No body parts left behind."
"Yes, but who's to say where he ended up?"
Sirius grinned wolfishly, the expression making his face look even more gaunt and his eyes more sunken than usual. "If we're lucky, will find his pieces spread all over England, and we can put him back together inside Azkaban."
"Whatever the result of his rather unconventional disapparation, we must find him," Dumbledore said. "I would appreciate it if you'd take care of that, Sirius, and quickly. I'll need you in the hospital wing later. Harry will need you."
Sirius nodded once and strode out of the room without further comment.
"Severus, you may return to the hospital wing, but you must give me your word that you will do nothing to make this situation more difficult for Harry."
"Of course not," Snape retorted, at his most acid, "after all, Potter is the injured party, here."
"They are both injured parties, and you know that as well as I do." Snape wouldn't meet Dumbledore's eyes, and he squirmed slightly under their regard. "I need Harry calm and alert, not pushed to the breaking point by threats or accusations. He is in a highly volatile state, drained by the constant use of power, confused by the effects of the Blood Link and changes in himself. Even at his most stable, he would have reacted badly to what he was forced to do tonight. In his current condition, it's likely he won't be able to hold himself together much longer. And I need him, Severus!
"When we have finished this night's work, I will sever the link. Then you and Minerva can both breathe easier. I know that neither of you approved of my decision to form the link, and some at least of your concerns have proved valid. But the fact remains that Harry saved Draco's life - repeatedly - and for that alone, it was worth the risk."
Snape nodded, reluctantly, his eyes still avoiding Dumbledore's. "What will you do about Malfoy's hand?"
"Minerva and I will take care of that, right now. Go back to the hospital wing. You'll feel better for it." Snape nodded again and turned toward the door. "Ah, Severus? Your word?"
"You have it," he growled, as he stalked out of the room.
* * * *
Professor McGonagall stared down at the object lying on the desk through eyes blurred with exhaustion. It was beautiful, in an eerie and unsettling way, and she felt a measure of pride in it but no relief. No lifting of her spirits. She had no idea how long it had taken them to make it, but she felt as though she'd been fighting the Imperious Curse for a week, and when she looked at the fruits of her labor, she could only think of the boy waiting downstairs and how much she wished that they need never show it to him.
"Well, Albus, what now?"
Dumbledore lifted the graceful, crystalline thing and laid it in a small wooden chest. It shone even more fascinatingly against the crimson velvet lining of the box. "Now, we finish our task. The sooner we do this, the better for Mr. Malfoy's state of mind."
"But the wound is still fresh, and the boy is frightfully weak, for all Poppy's insistence that there's nothing wrong with him."
"Harry will give him what strength he needs."
"But the wound." She pictured the unyielding, inhuman limb they had made pressed to raw, freshly cut and cauterized flesh, and a shudder of pain went through her.
"If we wait for him to heal, he will grow accustomed to the idea that his hand is gone, and it will be much more difficult to make his mind and body accept a replacement."
She sighed and reached over to flip the lid of the chest closed. "I do wish Potter didn't have to be there. This is all monstrously unfair, Albus. That boy has more than enough guilt to carry without adding Malfoy's hand to the pile. Where will it end?"
"With victory or death, my dear Minerva, as it will for all of us. Harry will manage."
"He shouldn't have to manage." She hesitated for a moment, then added, gruffly, "Neither should Malfoy."
To her amazement, Dumbledore smiled. "Knowing Mr. Malfoy, I suspect he'll grow very fond of his spectacular new hand. It is quite unique, after all, and very striking."
"You're an incurable optimist, Albus."
"No, I simply know my students. Harry would hate every moment of wearing such a thing, and I have no doubt that he'll lash himself into a frenzy of remorse every time he sees Draco with it. But Draco is cut from different cloth." Minerva snorted. "He is not shy, has no desire to blend into his surroundings, and takes it as his due when others set him apart from the common herd. I predict that our young Mr. Malfoy will soon be wearing his adamant hand as a badge of honor."
"Insufferable brat," McGonagall remarked, mildly.
"What? No longer a demon?"
She snorted again and scooped up the box. "Let's get this done, so we can cut that blasted link and give Potter... give both of them a little peace."
*** *** ***
Not silver. Please not silver.Harry stared hard at the chest in Dumbledore's hands, repeating the phrase like a litany in his mind until it nearly drowned out the old wizard's voice. Please. Anything but silver. If Dumbledore opened the box and showed them a silver hand, Harry thought he would snap. Just... snap. Like a worn harp string or a Blood Link that had been stretched too far.
Some of what he was feeling must have bled through the link and reached Draco, because the other boy began to shift uncomfortably and shot him a frowning glance. They were sitting side by side on the edge of the mattress, Harry to Draco's right, but with a careful distance between them. Sirius stood at Harry's shoulder like a tall, lean, protective shadow.
"Mr. Malfoy, do you understand what I'm telling you?" Dumbledore asked.
Draco nodded, his face chalk white and his mouth pressed into a tight, hard line.
"This is going to hurt, but that's why I've left the Blood Link intact. Harry will control the pain and help us form the attachment."
"What is it made out of?" Draco asked in a nearly soundless whisper.
Please not silver!Harry chanted to himself, screwing his eyes shut when he saw Dumbledore begin to open the box. He would not think of Wormtail and his shining silver hand... He would not...
"Adamant," Dumbledore answered.
Harry's eyes flew open, and he craned his neck to look into the box. He heard Draco give a little choke of surprise. There, lying on a bed of crimson velvet, was the most beautiful thing Harry had ever seen. It was a hand, but a hand like no human being had ever worn. At first glance, it looked like blown glass. Then Harry realized that it wasn't transparent. The outer surface was polished and clear, but inside, it was brilliantly faceted. As Dumbledore shifted the box, the hand caught the candlelight and broke it into a thousand shards of color.
"It looks like a big diamond," Draco murmured.
"Adamant is a very rare and very magical substance. It responds to wizarding power in a way that diamonds and other non-magic gems do not, aligning its crystalline structure with the power flowing through it to become a conduit for that power. It is also, because of its own magical properties, very resistant to outside magic. Once it is attuned properly, no other source of power can disrupt or control it."
Draco reached out toward the glittering object, then pulled his hand back without touching it. His face was carefully blank, but Harry could feel a sickening brew of shock, horror, curiosity and fear seething inside him.
"You may touch it," Dumbledore said, gently.
Very slowly, he reached into the box again and laid his fingertips against the polished surface of the hand. He grimaced slightly. "It's cold."
"Your body heat will warm it, though it will always be a bit colder than the rest of you." Dumbledore's eyes gleamed at him, reading the distress behind his white mask. "What's troubling you, Draco? Tell me."
Draco swallowed nervously and said, his voice sounding very small in the listening silence, "It doesn't look real. Like you took it off a statue. Is that all it is? Something... something pretty to stick on the end of my arm?"
"At the moment, it is just a piece of sculpture - something pretty, as you say - but that is only because it is not yet a part of you."
"Part of me? It can't ever really be part of me."
"Ah, but that is the true beauty of adamant. Once the hand is attached, it will begin to attune itself to your power. A spell binds it to you at first, but after a time, even that spell is unnecessary. The adamant becomes an extension of you, part of your wizarding power and, in truth, part of your body. It will function as smoothly as any flesh and blood hand."
"I'm left-handed. Will I be able to write with it?"
Dumbledore smiled. "With a little time and practice. And I'll tell you a useful secret, Mr. Malfoy." He leaned closer to Draco, letting his voice drop to a conspiratorial murmur. "Ink wipes right off."
Draco stared down at the hand without really seeing it, while all the gathered witches and wizards fell quiet, waiting for him to digest what Dumbledore had told him. Harry waited, too, his hands clenched together in his lap and his own emotions held rigidly in check so that they could not bleed through the link.
"The decision is yours, Mr. Malfoy."
Draco started at the sound of Dumbledore's voice, but it was to Harry that he looked. His eyes were strangely dark, as if the pupils had swallowed up the grey and turned them into black wells in his terribly white face. Harry winced at the touch of that gaze, but he did not look away. Trust Dumbledore, he thought urgently, willing the message to reach Draco in some form. You can trust him.
A flash of understanding lit Draco's eyes, and he turned to nod slightly to Dumbledore.
"Excellent," the old wizard said. "Poppy, remove the dressings please. Minerva, I'll need your help with the binding spell..."
"Do I have to watch?" Draco asked, very quietly.
"No. In fact, it would be better if neither of you did. Harry, keep the link well open and your power ready. I'll tell you what to do when the time comes."
Harry shot Draco an apologetic look and said, "It's easier to direct the power through the link if I'm touching you."
Draco promptly held out his right hand, turning away from Madam Pomfrey and facing Harry directly as he did so. Harry clasped Draco's wrist and felt the other boy's fingers close around his wrist in answer, locking their hands firmly together. Then they took identical deep, calming breaths, blew the air out quickly to banish their nervousness, and looked straight into each other's eyes.
"This is going to really suck, isn't it?" Draco muttered.
"Nope. It'll be a breeze," Harry muttered back.
"Lying Gryffindor scum."
"Chicken-hearted Slytherin git."
"Call me that again and I'll..." He gave a hiss of pain and shut his eyes, in the same moment that Harry flung himself through the link.
It was not nearly as bad as removing the summoning charm, but still it was bad enough. Harry was sweating and lightheaded with the outpouring of power by the time they finished. But he felt instantly better when he opened his eyes and saw Draco. Whatever use Dumbledore had made of Harry's power, it had worked. Draco's face was still distressingly pale, but the lines of pain were fading from it, and his eyes had turned from haunted black to grey again. Harry sent a last whisper of strength and - he could not help himself - affection through the link, then he let go of Draco's hand.
Draco lifted his left hand, holding it up where they could all see it, and turned it slowly to look at every angle. Light slid over its graceful contours and broke against the facets within it, throwing flashes of color across Malfoy's face and hair. Amazingly, the cold, lifeless piece of sculpture had become fluid, almost alive, and Harry fancied that, if he touched it, it would feel warm.
"Can you move it?" Dumbledore asked.
Draco shot him a doubtful glance, but at the old wizard's encouraging nod, he set his jaw and frowned at the hand in concentration. Slowly, awkwardly, the crystalline fingers straightened and spread apart. Draco gave a short, breathless laugh that he swallowed nervously, and Harry grinned.
"It works!" Sirius exclaimed.
Dumbledore threw him an affronted look. "Of course it works. Have you so little faith in me, after all these years?"
Sirius' hand came down on Harry's shoulder, squeezing it warmly, and Harry sensed that he was chuckling to quietly for anyone to hear.
"Now, Mr. Malfoy," Dumbledore went on, "you may use your hand as much as you like. The more you use it, the more quickly it will become attuned to you. And don't be afraid of damaging it. Adamant is virtually indestructible."
"But that doesn't mean you should test its limits," Snape interjected.
"True. Fingers can be broken off, if you stick them in the wrong sorts of places."
Draco opened his mouth to ask what qualified as a wrong sort of place, but thought better of it in time. Instead, he simply nodded.
"I want you to get back in bed, lie down, and rest. Madam Pomfrey will give you something to help you relax."
As Madam Pomfrey fussed over Draco, getting him settled in his bed again and pouring potions into him, Dumbledore turned to Harry and said, softly, "Close the link for a moment."
Harry started to protest, but a sharp look from Dumbledore silenced him. He waited until he saw that Draco was lying down comfortably, then he shot Dumbledore a sideways glance and closed his mind tightly around the link.
The effect inside his own body was immediate and familiar. His heart began to labor painfully, his lungs refused to expand, and the pressure in his chest threatened to burst his ribcage. But Harry had expected this and ignored it, turning his attention to Draco instead.
Malfoy felt the flow of power shut off. That much was obvious. He threw Harry a startled look, and his eyebrows drew together in a slight, pained frown. But when Madam Pomfrey spoke to him, he answered her easily, and his hand was perfectly steady when he took the cup of potion from her.
Dumbledore was watching him as keenly as Harry was. When Draco had swallowed the potion, the Headmaster leaned over to study his face intently, and he asked, "How does your arm feel?"
Behind the wizard's back, Harry made a frantic gesture and mouthed silently to Draco, It hurts.
"It hurts," Draco answered, solemnly.
Dumbledore turned to smile at Harry, catching him with an agonized grimace on his face. His eyes twinkled knowingly at the embarrassed boy. Then he turned back to Draco, eyebrows raised.
Draco flushed and muttered, "Well, it does."
"I don't doubt it. Open the link, Harry."
Harry gratefully snapped open the link and sent a rueful, Well, we tried in Draco's direction with the flow of power. Dumbledore motioned for Harry to take a seat on the mattress and stepped back so that he could see both of them at once. His face was still kind, but the twinkle had left his eyes. They studied the two boys gravely for a moment, shifting from face to face, then he pulled his wand from his robes.
"Please, Professor, don't!" Harry cried.
"It is time, Harry. Time for both of you to heal on your own."
"But Draco needs me," he mumbled, his face heating with embarrassment as he said it. He felt surprise and an odd trickle of warmth come through the link, and his heart contracted in agony at the thought that he might never feel such a thing again.
"You and Draco both need to become separate people again." Dumbledore said. "I am sorry, Harry, but it is time." He lifted his wand and muttered a spell that Harry could not hear. Then he tapped Draco gently in the center of his chest with the wand. There was a soft popping sound, a brief discharge of scarlet and gold magic, and then nothing.
Nothing. No golden haze of power, no strange laboring of his heart to pump his lifeblood outside himself, no tightness in his lungs, no tantalizing whisper of emotions not his own, no pain. Nothing. Harry pressed his hand flat to his chest and pulled in a sobbing breath, willing himself to feel the tug of the link inside him, but it was gone.
He closed his eyes to blot out the faces around him. Tears squeezed treacherously from beneath his lashes. His hand rubbed hard against his chest. And still there was nothing.
"Sirius, take Harry to Madam Pomfrey's sitting room. It's two doors down, on this side of the corridor. No one will disturb you there."
Harry felt a hand close around his arm and urge him to move. He picked up his feet obediently, awkwardly, without caring where he put them, following the pull of that hand. And with every step, he waited for the pain of the stretched link - a pain that never came.
"Come along, Harry." Sirius' voice was low and rough with concern, his grip on Harry's arm gentle.
Some instinct made Harry open his eyes at just that moment. He had not meant to look at that room or at any of those people again, but as Sirius guided him around the end of the bed and toward the door, he suddenly opened his eyes. His head turned of its own volition, and his gaze met Draco's squarely. Their eyes held for a bare moment, then Harry turned away, his shoulders slumping.
He allowed Sirius to steer him out of the hospital ward and down the corridor to Madam Pomfrey's sitting room. This proved to be a comfortable little chamber that reminded him of the Gryffindor Common room, except that it was much neater and the furniture was in better repair. A squashy, inviting divan was pulled up close to the hearth, where a cheerful fire burned. The coffee table was strewn with magazines and books, all with wizarding pictures moving on their covers.
At Sirius' insistence, Harry collapsed into one corner of the sofa. He stared blankly into the fire, ignoring the coy advances of a witch on the cover of Magical Maladies Monthly. Sirius clanked and clattered about behind him, then appeared with a couple of glasses in his hands. He thrust one of them at Harry, saying, "Go on, have a snort."
Harry took the glass but did not taste the brown liquid sloshing around in it.
Sirius perched on the other end of the small sofa, looking worried and extremely nervous. He took a long drink, made a face, and set his glass down on the table with a thunk. "You have your godfather's permission to get sozzled tonight."
Harry looked up into his deep-set eyes, seeing, as always, the ghosts of Azkaban in them. At the moment, they were also full of genuine concern for Harry.
"Give me a clue, here," Sirius urged. "How can I help?"
"You can't." Harry felt tears prick his eyes again, and a burning humiliation filled him. Not only had he imagined he heard Voldemort in his head, but he had turned hysterical in front of Dumbledore and now was about to cry all over Sirius. This night just kept getting worse and worse.
"There's a lot going on here that I don't understand," Sirius said, "and that's all right. You can explain later. Or not. Maybe none of this is my business. Maybe you don't want to talk to a godfather you hardly know about things that seem really private and really huge to someone your age. But I was sixteen, too, in another lifetime. And I've... been places most other people haven't, just like you. So maybe you can talk to me."
Harry swallowed painfully. "What do you want me to say?"
"Just tell me what hurts so much."
Harry tried to laugh, but it came out as a sob. The tears began to slip down his face. "That I can't feel anything!" He stared down into his drink, remembering that last glimpse of Draco's face and his closed, unreadable, winter-grey eyes. "I looked right at him, and I have no idea what he was feeling."
"Oh God, Sirius, it's gone! I don't want it to be gone!"
Abandoning his last shreds of control, Harry slumped over to bury his face in Sirius shoulder and let go. It all came out of him in a flood of scalding tears - days of unending pain, fear and euphoria so intense that it shook him to the soul, sorrow for the dead children on the grass, regret for the years of hatred that seemed so hollow to him now, remorse for the terrible thing he had done to save the very person he had now lost, and a terrible grief for himself and for Draco.
Somewhere in the middle of the storm, he felt Sirius' arm fall around his shoulders. He burrowed his face into his godfather's shoulder, drew closer to his protective warmth, and cried until his body was empty and light. The tears had not washed the loneliness out of him, but they had exhausted him enough that he could sleep without fear of dreams or phantom voices. Without moving from his place on the sofa or moving his face from the wet patch on Sirius' robes, he closed his eyes and slept.
*** *** ***
Draco waited until he was alone, until the last of them had finally left and Pomfrey had gone into her little office at the far end of the ward, then he slipped out of bed and padded down the length of the ward to the window. It was the same window his father had smashed. Someone had repaired it, but it stood open, letting the cold night air flow into the room. After all these days shut up in the castle, the cold felt good on his face. He tucked his hands - or his hand and his... whatever it was - into his sleeves and stepped up to the sill. Then he leaned his head against the icy metal frame of the window and stared out at the stars.
Snape had not wanted to leave. He had stayed long after Dumbledore and the rest had gone, hovering around the bed, obviously reaching for something to say. Draco felt vaguely grateful for his concern, and he wanted to have a long talk with Snape sometime soon - about his decision to betray the Death Eaters and ally himself with Dumbledore - but not tonight. He didn't have the energy for it tonight. He didn't want anyone near him, except maybe...
Draco squelched that thought before it could form properly, but he was too late. Cold blossomed in his chest, and the great, yawning emptiness threatened to swallow him whole. He pressed his forehead against the window frame hard enough to hurt and shut his eyes, fighting the treacherous feelings of loneliness and abandonment that didn't belong inside him, refusing to let the image of Potter's face form in his mind.
Potter's face. He had turned to look at Draco, just as Black hauled him out of the room, and the expression on his face seemed to be burned on Draco's eyes. Every time he let his mind fall still for a moment, it came back to him. He could not find a word to describe it. Desperate was as close as he could get, but that didn't begin to cover all the layers of hurt and pleading and regret Draco had seen there in that one glimpse.
Draco tightened his arms around his body and breathed deeply of the clean, chill air. He was shivering, but not from the touch of the winter night. The worst of the cold came from inside him, where the link used to be, where warmth and strength and a sense of presence used to flow into him. He'd only had it for a few days, but in that time, he'd grown more than used to it. He'd learned to rely on it. Now there was nothing there, and Draco had never in his life felt so cold or so alone.
What had Dumbledore said about the two of them needing to heal from this on their own? Well, maybe he was right about Potter. Maybe the link was draining him too much. Maybe his behavior over the last day or two was all caused by the link, and he'd go back to normal without it. Maybe... maybe Dumbledore didn't realized just how cold it was in here, without Potter.
He felt something wet against his cheek, sliding between his lashes. It had to be the night's dampness collecting on his face. It couldn't be anything else. How stupid was it to stand here and freeze, when he had a warm bed waiting for him? Only it wasn't warm, and it wasn't really his, and he didn't want to lie in it, shivering, waiting for something that wasn't going to happen.
Potter's face took shape behind his eyelids again, and with a muttered curse, he pushed himself away from the window. Even with his eyes open, he could see it. Potter's face, turning toward him for a frantic instant, pale and strained, eyes wide behind his crooked glasses, mouth open to protest but no sound coming out of it. Draco shook his head to banish it and started back down the room.
Suddenly, he stopped and turned to look at the figure sleeping in the nearest bed. It was Granger. But what was Granger doing here? He ventured a step or two closer, staring curiously at her. She was deeply asleep - probably drugged with one of Pomfrey's watermelon-guava-mugwort potions - her face unnaturally white and lined with pain. He could see no marks on her, but a blanket covered most of her body, and he certainly wasn't going to muck around in her bed to find out what was wrong with her. Whatever it was, she didn't look too badly off. But Granger's being here meant that Potter had yet another thing to worry about - another source of anxiety or guilt or whatever it was he felt for the Muggle-born girl.
Leaving Granger to sleep undisturbed, Draco made his way to his own bed and crawled under the covers. It was difficult to get the blankets up around his chin with only one hand, but he wasn't ready to put his adamant fingers to the test yet. He'd gotten by without his left hand for three days. He could do it for a while longer, until his brain wrapped itself around the fact that the glittering thing on the end of his arm was now a part of him. He would have to get used to it soon. He couldn't let anyone see him like this, especially not Potter, who would almost certainly throw himself into yet another guilt fit over it.
When did I stop wanting to torment Potter?he wondered, as he burrowed down under the covers and closed his eyes. At a guess, he would say that it was when Potter stopped looking at him like he was a particularly vile kind of fungus. It didn't seem important to hurt him anymore. More to the point, it didn't seem necessary. Potter had spent three days sitting beside him, talking to him, even helping him, and Draco had not once had to lash out at him to draw his attention. And when he had lashed out, he'd felt vaguely foolish doing it, like he was playing some childish game they'd both outgrown.
No, he didn't want to hurt Potter, even now. He wanted to see him, talk to him, maybe yell at him a bit and call him a few rude things to ease the tightness in his chest, but he didn't want to hurt him. If Potter would only come back, Draco would straighten this mess out. He would make Potter understand that a person could be grateful and angry at the same time, and that once the anger was done with, the gratitude would still be there.
He had no doubt of that. He didn't know how he really felt about Potter or how Potter would feel about him when he'd recovered from all of this. But he knew that he would always be grateful to the stupid, sentimental, stubborn git for everything he'd done. Even the hand.
Tentatively, Draco closed the fingers of his left hand into a loose fist. They moved - a little stiffly, but they definitely moved - and he tucked the hand protectively into the crook of his right elbow. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, having a hand made of adamant. It made a fashion statement, if nothing else. He couldn't feel the flannel of his pajamas or the heat of his own body against the smooth, hard adamant. All sensation ended abruptly in the middle of his forearm. It was an eerie feeling, but considering how much his hand had tortured him these last few days, it came as something of a relief. At least Potter had cut off the one that was already a bloody mess. That showed a measure of good sense that Draco would not have expected from a Gryffindor.
His cocoon of blankets was gradually warming, and he felt his exhausted muscles begin to relax. The coldness inside him was still there, but the certainty that Potter would be back had eased the pain of it. He knew Potter would come, if only to visit Granger. The Gryffindor was as predictable as he was loyal, and he would not fail to visit one of his closest friends while she languished in the hospital wing. What would happen then, he had no idea, but he didn't strain himself trying to think past that point. Potter would come. And Draco would be here when he did.
To be continued...