- Story Summary:
- When you've spent six years fighting evil, all you really want is a quiet time. But when your name is Harry Potter the chances of that are very slim. A series of vignettes chronicling Harry's final six months at Hogwarts. Exams, friends, lovers, Quidditch, the war and Draco all conspire to make the year end seem a very long way away. Slash (Harry/Draco)
- Author's Note:
To Cheryl, for her never-ending patience, eye for detail and for being my friend. Thank you Dear Heart.
Author's note: Resolution was started before the publication of Order of the Phoenix and is based on the canon of PS/SS, CoS, PoA and GoF. While certain canon facts from OotP will be incorporated in the story (such as spells and locations), the events of Harry's 5th year in Resolution are NOT the same as those in OotP.
Amongst other things, Resolution makes the following assumptions: 1. Sirius Black is alive. 2. Voldemort's return at the end of GoF is not common knowledge to the Wizarding world and many people, including the Ministry of Magic still refuse to believe it. 3. Lucius Malfoy is still considered to be a pillar of the community and any connections he might have with the Dark Lord remain a secret. 4. Draco Malfoy was never picked as a prefect. 5. Wizards love to ski!
Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love -- George Eliot
Chapter 6: Emeralds and Diamonds
Diagon Alley ... Wednesday 16th August 1995 ... The Summer after the Triwizard Tournament ... Early afternoon
"Sorry I'm late." Ron Weasley, his face a little flushed from running, came to a halt beside the table. "I couldn't get away from my brothers." Breathing deeply, he put down his bag and leaned on the chair back for support.
"It's okay. We've got plenty of time." Sapphire eyes gleaming from under a shock of jet-black hair, David Morrello leaned forward and rested his elbows on the tabletop. "So, which brothers held you up?"
This was David's fifth meeting with the boy since their first encounter in the Armando Dippet Memorial Library and he was very pleased with how pliant Ron was. He had been told the boy was strong willed, but it was easy to twist the mind when someone was desperate.
"Fred and George." Ron was still panting for breath, his chest rising and falling beneath the tight-fitting t-shirt. The garment had pulled out of his jeans on one side and he tried to tuck it back in without much success. "They were looking for new ingredients for something they wanted to make and thought I would enjoy being dragged around with them."
"Oh yes, the twins. Is this their final year just coming up?" He nodded to the chair, watching as the 16-year-old redhead dragged it out and sat down.
Ron nodded and took a swipe at his messy hair. "Yeah. They keep saying they're going to spend it messing about, but then I catch them reading up on school stuff." He finally looked at David and grinned.
"Well, you know what I think about studying." David straightened. "Talking of study, how did you get on with the new book?"
Scrabbling in his bag, Ron pulled out a thin leather-covered book. "I finished it."
"Good." David signalled to the waiter and ordered coffee for himself and milkshake for Ron. The table was set in a little alcove away from the crowded interior of The Tiny Toadstool, a favourite restaurant for out-of-town witches on a trip to the big city. "What did you think of it?"
"Well..." Ron leaned forward, resting an elbow on the table and cupping his chin with his hand. "I'm still not sure. I mean, we all know that if magical people don't marry outside of the Wizarding world, we'd all die out eventually."
"What makes you say that?" David fell silent as the waiter returned with their drinks. He watched as Ron drank thirstily from his glass, almost emptying it before putting it down and wiping away a little moustache of milk with the back of his hand.
"It's obvious. There just aren't enough of us."
"That is what they want you to think." Pushing his cup aside, David leaned forward, his voice a whisper. "It's all part of the Muggle plan to obliterate us completely. Non-magical people have been attempting to get rid of us since the beginning of time. They've persecuted us openly for generations, but it didn't work. Now they are trying from the inside. They want to breed magic out of us."
"Ron, you read what Mr Gates said in his book. Every time one of our kind marries outside of our people they dilute the magic of us all." David jabbed at the desk as if to make his point clearer. "Remember what we talked about last time?"
The boy nodded. "About our innate magic?"
"Yes. Our magic. Our power. Our inheritance. Not the Muggles, but ours. It's all around us, running through us. Part of us, Ron. And each time one of us takes a Muggle as a partner we dilute that gift. The child born from such a union is a little bit less powerful, a little more ungifted. Even if that child marries a magical person, they will carry that taint into the next generation, and the next and the next."
"But lots of Wizarding families have Muggle relatives."
"I know, even I have them in my family. But if we carry on letting Muggles into our society in a few more generations we will be as powerless as they are. No more magic, Ron, no more flying or things like this." He waved his hand and a plate of Cauldron Cakes appeared on the table between them. "Your grandchildren will all be squibs if we allow the Muggles to keep polluting us." One of the cakes floated from the plate and settled on the table just in front of Ron. The paper case slowly unwrapped itself, turning into a delicate china plate as it flattened against the wood. "There are more and more squibs being born to pure-blood families. We don't hear about them because our government doesn't want us to know, because then we would find out that they have betrayed us all." Reaching for the cake, David broke a piece of it off and offered it up to the boy. "This is just another of the ways they've sold us out, Ron. They've been selling us out for years." Ron opened his mouth.
"You can help us get our inheritance back."
The Present ... Friday 6th March 1998 ... 4am ... Slytherin Dungeons
"No! DON'T touch that!"
Harry staggered back against the cold glass of the window and tried to breathe, tried to get a grip on what was happening. He'd gone to Draco's room. They had -- well, he'd think about that later. Then he'd knocked over the oil bottle and it had gone everywhere. The last thing he remembered was reaching for a huge emerald in the drawer, then blackness....
And then ... here....
He scrutinized the opulent book-lined room. Was this Hogwarts still? It didn't feel like Hogwarts, but he knew there were loads of rooms he'd never visited in his six and a half years at the school. Odd details pushed into his clouded mind as he reached out a hand for support.
Darkness spilling in through the windows ... large desk, surprisingly plain considering the other furniture ... several chairs ... empty fireplace with a crest he thought he recognised ... wooden floor with a thick carpet ... portraits....
This had to be a dream, he decided. I'm asleep and this is all a dream. But it felt so real. Normally his dreams had an element of fantasy about them, with very vivid colours and objects sharply in focus. They didn't have such clarity of thought either. Had he ever been able to question his own thoughts and let his mind wander like this in a dream? This felt like real life. He could feel cold air sneaking in through the window frame, and the hardness of the floor beneath his bare feet.
Harry looked down and found that his feet were, indeed, bare. As were his legs. He was standing in a strange room wearing nothing but his boxers and an unbuttoned shirt and there was ... ugh ... oil and ... eww ... dried stuff ... on his skin. The oil was in his hair as well ... in fact it seemed to be everywhere. Of course it was everywhere -- hadn't Draco made sure of that? With a grimace, he wiped his hands on the shirt and began fastening the buttons. The ridiculousness of the situation made him snigger. This is a dream and I'm worried about my shirt being undone.
Leaving just the two lower buttons fastened, Harry unconsciously tugged down the hem of his shirt and took a deep breath. Then carefully, as if unsure where the movement might take him, he stepped forward and placed a foot on the carpet. It felt real, solid, and he took another step. The tufts of wool tickled the soles of his feet and the thought he'd already discounted edged back into his mind.
What if this was reality and he was actually "somewhere else"? If it was, how did he get here? Harry ran through recent events in his head and considered the emerald in Draco's bedside table again. He felt certain that it was important ... as though there was some connection between it and himself. What if...
Harry came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the room. What was it Draco had said at Hagrid's cottage about the coin being a Portkey? He had wondered at the time if Draco had been trying to scare him, but if he had been telling the truth, what then? What if the Slytherin had a Portkey of his own -- something to let him get out of the school, and Harry had touched it by mistake? If that was the case, he could be anywhere. This could even be...
The click of a key turning in a lock made Harry jump. He stared wide-eyed at the door, petrified for a moment in horror at the thought of being discovered in some stranger's home. His eyes darted around the room, looking for somewhere to hide. There was nowhere, not even curtains, and all he could do was freeze to the spot as the candles in the wall sconces flared into life.
An instantly recognisable blond-haired figure strode purposefully into the room.
It was Lucius Malfoy and Harry knew at once that this was Malfoy Manor.
Draco scrambled from the bed and onto the floor where the Gryffindor lay. "Harry!" He dropped to his knees, ignoring the cold stone beneath them, and held out a hand towards the still figure, fingers stopping short of the unnaturally pale skin as a strange sense of dread filled him. Harry looked like a broken doll, thrown down by some spoilt child; bare legs twisted unnaturally, arms spread haphazardly to either side. The blue shirt was thrown open, spread out like a silken sheet beneath him and his head was tilted to one side, mouth slightly open.
He looked dead.
A wave of relief finally flowed through Draco as he realised that Harry was breathing. He reached for the boy, removing his glasses. "Come on, Potter, talk to me."
The movement let Harry's head tilt further to the right, exposing more of the dark tangled hair and with slightly trembling fingers, Draco prodded at the exposed skull, scared of finding blood, grateful when his fingers came away clean.
He let his fingers move to Harry's cheek, lingering there for a moment before running over the strangely serene face. They traced the features, pausing against the slightly parted lips to feel damp breath, teasing at an eyelid in the hope the movement might rouse him, and finally pushing dark hair from the damp forehead. Fingertips moved over the scar -- dark red against the unnaturally pale skin. Harry was clearly breathing. But....
But what? Draco traced the scar again, remembering how alive and vibrant Harry had felt when he touched him; as though the strength of his personality was a vital force that could be felt. Now it just felt like ...
It felt like Harry wasn't there anymore. That this body was just a shell.
Perplexed and with a bubble of fear building in his stomach, Draco lightly slapped Harry. "If you are mucking about, Potter, I will kill you." Nothing ... not even a flicker of response. "Come on!" He tugged at the shirt; panic mixed with the fear he was feeling, making him a little light headed and sick. Anxiety mounting, he pulled at the shirt. "What the hell are you doing with my shirt, you kleptomaniac Gryffindor?" He'd hoped the comment would make Harry laugh and open his eyes in righteous indignation, but still there was nothing.
Sitting back, Draco grabbed for Harry's shoulders, shaking him. When that didn't work he shook harder and harder, until in the end, he had pulled the unresisting body from the floor. Like a rag doll, Harry hung limply in his grasp, totally unresponsive.
"This is ridiculous." He let the body down gently onto the floor again and scrambled to his feet. The drawer to his bedside table was still open, and he pawed at the contents, cursing under his breath at not being able to find what he was looking for. Grey eyes skittered around the floor until they found the emerald his father had sent him lying innocuously several feet away from the bedside table.
He picked it up, letting out a little hiss of pain as a sharp edge on the once smooth surface dug into his palm. Sucking at the blood, he studied the fracture that now marred the stone's once flawless surface. He was sure the crack hadn't been there the last time he'd looked at the emerald and the simple act of being dropped to the floor couldn't have caused the damage. Was Harry responsible? He knew Harry had touched the stone because he'd knocked it out of the Gryffindor's hand. So why was Harry unconscious on the floor instead of being transported off to god-only-knows where?
Draco hefted the stone. He should have hidden it better ... made sure there was no way Harry could ever have found it. But how was he supposed to assume Harry might one day be in his room rummaging through that particular drawer? He turned the gem over and over as if it would give him the answers he was searching for.
"What did you do with this, father? Why did you tell me it was a Portkey if it isn't?" His voice was a whisper. "If it wasn't a Portkey, then what was it?"
As he looked back at the unconscious form on the floor all sorts of horror stories flooded into his mind; objects could be charmed to do just about anything if you knew the right magic. His father had shown him spells that would leave someone in a charmed sleep and several assassination curses that would kill without leaving a trace of what the caster had done.
He pushed a restless hand through his hair. What was the point of putting Harry into a charmed sleep? His father wanted Harry, of that much Draco was certain, so why waste time putting him to sleep when he could Portkey him out of the castle?
Shit! The castle! Could Portkeys work through the castle wards? What was it his father had said in the letter sent with the coin back in January? This Portkey is to be used when Potter is away from the school. Did that really mean Harry was safe from a Portkey spell within the confines of the castle?
But why would his father lie? Why tell him the stone was a Portkey if it was charmed for some other purpose? If he contacted Lucius now, would his father have some method of spiriting the unconscious boy away from the safety of Hogwarts? Was that what Lucius expected him to do?
Placing the stone on the bedside table, he scooted back to Harry's side. He would try to fathom his father's rationale later. For the moment Harry, and why he was unconscious, were the most important things. With surprising tenderness, Draco pushed his hand through the unruly black hair, once again smoothing it from the boy's face. Then he picked up Harry's hand; it hung limply in his own fingers, totally unresponsive even when Draco pinched the back of it very hard.
"Okay, Harry, maybe you've just fainted. If we give you a few more minutes, you'll just come round." He sat back on his haunches, a finger tapping out a nervous beat on his bare knee. "But I can't leave you on the floor can I?" He tried hard not to hear the nervousness in his own voice as he struggled to lift the dead weight from the floor. "God, Potter, have you put on weight?" Finally managing to get back to his feet, Draco stood still for a moment, cradling the unconscious boy in his arms. His lips brushed against the damp surface of Harry's temple and he whispered Harry's name against the lightning bolt scar.
"Okay..." His jaw tightened as he carried the unresisting body to the relative safety of the bed where, intoning a warming spell, he attempted to make Harry as comfortable as possible. The boy settled on his right side and Draco returned to fiddling with the messy black hair. "Come on, Harry, now bloody well WAKE UP!" The last words were screamed into the unconscious boy's face. "Please!" The final plea was dragged like a ragged breath from deep within him.
The next five minutes were the longest of his life. It felt like each second was somehow magically transformed into a minute and then each minute into an hour. Draco sat at the foot of the bed, hugging his own knees, watching the still figure. It took him a full 15 minutes to accept the fact that Harry was not playing a practical joke nor was he just asleep.
This was serious.
So serious that Draco knew he needed help.
Hermione Granger was in the middle of a very pleasant dream. It was like most of her dreams -- full of nice shiny happy things that made her smile in her sleep. Her grandfather had once told her that she slept the sleep of the righteous. She had never really been sure what he meant, but nightmares were a rarity and she never had any problems sleeping.
Remembering her dreams had never been a problem either and, despite her insistence that Divination was woolly nonsense, she had kept a dream diary since the start of her seventh year. Not that any of them had ever come true, of course.
Tonight's dream was most agreeable and involved the whole school celebrating May Day. There was a huge picnic and everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, the girls in floaty dresses and the boys in equality floaty shirts -- though their trousers were rather tight, she had to admit. Students were dancing around a Maypole, making intricate patterns with their ribbons.
She was sitting on a huge throne-like chair, crowned Queen of the May, and there were showers of apple blossom falling like snow on everyone.
At her feet, Ron and Harry were playing chess. They were laughing and happy together as they had been in their first year at school when life had been simple; there was no Voldemort to fight and any dangers were only seen through the eyes of a child as Great Adventures. Ron was winning as usual and he had just taken one of Harry's knights. "You'd better watch your Queen, Harry, she'll be the next to go."
Harry grinned impishly. "Well, Ron, occasionally you have to sacrifice something very important in order to win." He moved his Queen with a nonchalant flick of his hand.
"I warned you." The white Queen was pummelled to the ground by one of Ron's Knights.
"Yes you did, Ron." Harry picked up his Bishop and moved it across the board. "Checkmate."
Ron's expression became dark as he scrutinised the board and when he finally smiled in defeat there was no humour in his face. "Well done." He picked up his King and held it out to the victor.
"No! DON'T touch that!"
The voice came from a long way off, getting closer as she tried to swim through a room full of apple blossom. She was being chased by chess pieces and the Black King was currently trying to drag her back down into the suffocating mass of petals.
Something shook her violently and Hermione's eyes flashed open as she snapped herself instantly from the nightmare into reality. They darted around the darkened room, finally settling on the one small spot of light. It was focused just above her, illuminating a face, stark white, almost skeletal. She let out a yelp of surprise and fear, dragging blankets over her as she scrambled back -- away from the face -- away from the danger.
"Shush ... don't scream ... shush." The circle of light moved and suddenly the room was filled with the glow of candles. "It's only me -- Malfoy."
Hermione stared, her expression a cross between disbelief and shock. "Malfoy?" She shook her head, clearing the sense of confusion and sleep, which still permeated through her. The shock began to condense into anger and, now fully awake, her eyes blazed. "How the hell did you get in here?"
He stepped back, finally lowering his wand. "It doesn't matter..."
"It bloody does." While the anger fermented, Hermione did a double take at the Slytherin. She had never seen Malfoy look like this. The normally pristine boy's robes were fastened incorrectly and his hair was slicked untidily to his head. He looked, she decided, like he had just been dragged out of bed. "You manage to get into Gryffindor Tower ... into my room ... in the middle of the night and you say it doesn't matter." She scrambled to her feet and quickly grabbed her dressing gown. "There are passwords and things."
"Look Granger, I don't have time for petty details. We can discuss passwords later. I need..." He hefted his wand nervously. "It's Potter."
"Harry?" Hermione stared at him, the anger instantly dissipating at the mention of her friend. "Harry?" Then she saw it. Clutched in Draco's hand was an invisibility cloak she was sure belonged to Harry. Her look became fierce. "What's wrong? What have you done to him? Where is he? Where did you get that?"
"Just calm down..."
"I am perfectly calm. Now what is going on, Malfoy? What. Did. You. Do?" Each word was enunciated clearly in a strong, determined voice as she tied the belt of her robe.
"Nothing! I've done nothing." Draco glared at her, his expression suddenly arrogant. "He collapsed."
"Collapsed? Where is he now? In the hospital?"
"What did Madam Pomfrey say?"
"Will you just shut up and listen." He pointed his wand at her as if the gesture would silence the girl's constant questions. "Just listen to me for a minute. He's in my room. He passed out and I can't get him to wake up."
"What's he doing in your room?" Hermione asked indignantly.
Draco glared at her, a 'what the hell do you think' expression on his face.
"Oh." She could feel herself blushing and was very grateful not to have to follow up on the comment, at least for the moment. Better to find out the truth from Harry rather than Malfoy.
"I thought about getting Pomfrey or Professor Snape, but I didn't think it would go down well if the Hero of Gryffindor was found unconscious in a Slytherin room. So I thought of you." He gave a small smile that wasn't quite condescending, but not friendly either. "Look, one minute he was standing there and the next he'd passed out on the floor. Now are you going to help me with him or not?
"Of course I am. But I'm warning you -- if you're lying to me..." Brown eyes fixed Draco's face in their hard stare.
"Sure, Granger. I've traipsed all the way up this bloody tower in the middle of the night, used my cunning to find out your stupid password and then made it all the way to your room just to make you very, very angry." Draco closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them again, the grey seemed clouded. "Fine. I'll sort this out myself." He turned to leave.
He stopped, but didn't turn back. "What now?"
"Is that Harry's invisibility cloak?"
"Do you know anyone else in school who has one?" He turned back. "Look, Potter's been on his own for long enough. Either come with me or not."
"Okay." Hermione's hands automatically fixed her hair into bunches as she crossed to a wardrobe and found her shoes and cloak. "Was there anyone in the common room when you came through?" He shook his head. "Well, we'd better not risk you walking through there openly, so you'd better wear the cloak again." She was already at the door. "Come on." Draco strode across the room, disappearing as he covered himself with the cloak. There was a flutter of breeze as he came to her side. "Ready?"
"Good." Hermione opened the door, pausing for a moment with her hand on the handle. "What on earth is that smell?"
Two house-elves trailed in Lucius Malfoy's wake, their little shuffling footsteps halting as they paused beside him, clearly waiting for further instructions. He didn't speak, but simply pointed at the desk where the creatures deposited the small boxes they were carrying before scurrying from the room. Lucius watched as they hurried to the door, which closed at the wave of his hand. A slight smile played on the pale face, the look familiar from the many times it had graced the younger features of his son. The smile faded as he paused to sniff the air before turning his attention to the portrait hanging above the fireplace. It was of a regal-looking woman in her mid-50s and the little brass nameplate below the painting was engraved with the name 'Eleanor Malfoy'. Lucius stared at her for a very long time.
Harry stepped closer to the man, wanting to see his face. If this was a dream Lucius couldn't hurt him, could he? The man's features were hard, and Harry wondered if he ever smiled in a friendly way or if he always looked like this. What was he like when Draco was at home? Harry had never considered the Slytherin's home life before and had only seen Draco and his father together on a few occasions. The last time had been just before Christmas when Lucius had turned up at the school. Father and son had been eating in the Great Hall, a surprise in itself and Draco had been looking at his father with ... with adoration, his face lit in a way that Harry had never seen before. The look had gone the moment Draco had caught sight of Harry. As far as Lucius was concerned, all Harry ever saw whenever he looked at the older man was one of Voldemort's minions -- someone who wanted Harry dead.
Harry couldn't help but give a little laugh at the absurdity of the situation. This man wanted him dead, yet Harry was standing in his study, having just had sex with the minion's son. There was a certain irony even if this wasn't Real Life.
Lucius finally finished his study of the portrait and turned. For a moment he seemed to stare directly at Harry, but there was no indication on his face that he was aware of Harry as he sat down at the desk.
Harry frowned. He had known from almost the moment Lucius had entered the room that the man couldn't see him, but to finally get confirmation of that fact.... If Harry was wrong about this, and Lucius could, in fact, see him, then Lucius was currently giving an Oscar-winning performance.
He finally stepped up to the desk, stopping right in front of Lucius, and waggled a hand in front of his face. Once again there was no reaction; Lucius' attention was fixed on a sheet of parchment he had taken from a drawer. Harry was tempted to speak, or to prod the man with his finger just to check, but decided not to push his luck.
Why, he wondered, was he dreaming about Lucius Malfoy?
The answer was actually staring him in the face, but it took Harry a few more moments to focus on what was shimmering in the candlelight. In one of the boxes the house-elves had brought in, nestled in folds of soft white cloth, was a large faceted emerald. Harry gave a sharp, audible intake of breath as he moved closer to the object.
It was the gemstone that had been in Draco's room.
And -- Harry's hand automatically reached towards it, palm down, almost touching -- he could feel the energy coming from it. The gem was a Dream Stone.
That was why he'd been compelled to reach for it earlier.
That was why he was here in this room.
It wasn't a dream at all; at least, not his own. He was in the dream vision of the stone's history and it had brought him to this point in time. But this was completely different from the dream visions he'd experienced since that first one in Dumbledore's office three weeks ago. So far they'd always been linked with heightened emotions, death and fear. This one was ... it was calm ... unexceptional ... almost normal....
If, of course, being at Malfoy Manor could ever be considered 'normal'. Harry crouched, bringing himself down to the level of the stone. What did it want to tell him? Fingers reached towards it, allowing the connection already existing between it and Harry to heighten slightly. "What are you?" Harry whispered.
I am the past... A sensation tugged at the scar on his forehead, condensing into words in his mind. Watch...
Eyes narrowing, Harry straightened. Lucius was writing on the sheet of parchment, the nib scratching on the surface as he wrote. Harry tilted his head, staring in disbelief at the elegant words:
Saturday 7th February 1998
First, you will NEVER send me a message such as your last one without the appropriate security features. You may have used your own owl and it may have been coming back to the Manor, but it could have been intercepted by anyone. In the future you are only to send me messages of a general nature. Anything of greater importance is to be discussed only in person using Fire Talk. Is that understood? I will be arranging for you to receive the appropriate spells so that you can set up a private link to me here at the Manor.
Second, you let him destroy it? Have I taught you nothing? What foolish magic did you let him perform to enable him to do that? There is a further Portkey with this note. Do not make the same mistake again. I know you are working with Potter in Potions. You are to keep your contact with him until you are in a position to use the Portkey. We do have loyal followers within Hogwarts but it is better that you do not know who they are. They are there for your safety as well, and one of their tasks is to protect you.
Congratulations on your win over Ravenclaw. I knew you would be a great captain. Now carry this through and beat Gryffindor. We will then have something else to celebrate when you come home for your birthday. Your mother sends her love.
By the time Lucius had finished his letter, Harry had moved around the desk and was now beside the chair. The letter was tossed to one side as if Lucius wanted him to read it. Wanted him to read that Draco was in secret correspondence with his father ... that they were sending messages too private for normal post ... that there was another Portkey and that the person he had slept with a few hours before had been instructed to use it on him.
That Draco was using him.
Harry thought he might black out and that his knees were going to give way. His grip on the desk edge tightened and he realised he was shaking. He had thought that since New Year he'd come to understand and trust the Slytherin in ways he'd never thought could be possible, but this.... How could he have been so wrong?
But ... but.... Hadn't Draco told him about the coin Portkey and even destroyed it? He could understand that Draco couldn't tell his father the truth of how it had been destroyed, but he'd had the second Portkey for a month and said nothing. Surely all the things Draco had told him couldn't be lies. He didn't want to believe that ... couldn't....
But this letter proved it, didn't it? Proved that Draco was lying? What other lies and falsehoods had Draco told him? Harry gasped for breath, trying to bring some clarity to his thoughts as he attempted to commit the letter to memory.
Followers at Hogwarts ... loyal followers... Loyal to whom? Lucius Malfoy? Voldemort himself?
Then, on top of the realisation of Draco's duplicity and loyal followers, came Lucius' command to 'beat Gryffindor'. Green eyes darkened. "Sorry, Lucius," Harry mumbled. "Not this year. Not ever."
The study door opened again and Harry dived behind the chair as if it would shield him. He ducked out of sight, peering round the edge as a tall figure walked from the shadows into the candlelight.
Harry gasped as he took in the dark curly hair and sapphire blue eyes. "Riddle?" he whispered. "My God, Tom Riddle."
It was the boy Harry had seen in the Chamber of Secrets, except Riddle was older now, perhaps by a dozen years. But it was still Riddle -- still the person who would one day be Voldemort. Would one day kill his parents and mark him. Harry fell to his knees behind the chair, forehead pressed against the cool leather of the backrest. It couldn't be. It just couldn't. A flicker of pain, like a distant memory, washed through his mind and touched his scar. It wasn't like the other times he had been near Voldemort, when the pain could become excruciating. It was as though he was remembering a headache suffered years ago, the distance in time taking away the sting of pain, but leaving the memory.
Then Riddle spoke with that same honeyed voice he had spoken to Harry with all those years ago, a little deeper now, but no less seductive. "Lucius."
The older man came to his feet and Harry peered around the chair. Lucius towered over the newcomer, but it was Riddle whose very essence seemed to fill the room. The blue eyes sparkled with a slight inner glow, which might have been red, but the face was not that of a killer -- not yet that of someone who was the most feared wizard in generations.
"Master." Lucius' voice sounded suitably deferential.
"Is the stone ready?" Riddle reached out and picked up the emerald.
"Yes, Master. All it needs is the personal item and then it will be completed."
"Good, because I have it here." Riddle reached into the pocket of his robes and drew out a Muggle pencil.
Harry had slowly come to his feet as he stared at the innocuous looking item. If he'd been a Muggle, living in that world, a simple pencil wouldn't have been particularly important. But here, in the Wizarding world, they were few and far between. Harry recognised it immediately -- the pencil had his name on it, embossed in gold; it had been part of his birthday present from Hermione. It was dark red and the last time he'd seen it was at Hagrid's cottage on New Years Eve.
As he desperately tried to work out how the pencil had found its way here, to Malfoy Manor, Harry heard a voice. It came from a great distance and was calling his name. He felt a sudden emptiness in his stomach, which momentarily tugged at him, and his world went black.
Hermione wasn't sure what shocked her more; hearing Malfoy say that Harry was unconscious in the Slytherin's room, or actually seeing Harry tucked up in that bed.
She stood for a moment at the door, just staring at the tousled black head resting on the white pillows. It was only when Malfoy almost shut the door in her invisible face that she stepped into the room. Pulling off the invisibility cloak as she walked, Hermione approached the narrow bed and studied Harry for a moment. He was curled on his side, one hand flat on the pillow beside him face. "Has he moved since you left?"
"No." Draco moved to the opposite side of the bed.
"Well, at least you remembered to leave him on his side." She laid a hand on Harry's forehead, unsure if she was pleased that he didn't feel either cold or feverish. But there was a flush in his cheeks as though someone had put spots of blusher on his face.
"Harry." Her voice was urgent as she pulled back the sheet. "Come on, love, wake up." She shook his shoulder; the movement making him drop onto his back, one arm slung haphazardly across his body. The sight that greeted her made her gasp. From her reaction, Harry might just as well have been completely naked. Of course, she'd seen him dressed just in shorts before, even just in a towel, but this was different ... this was Harry in Malfoy's bed and she had no difficulty imagining what must have happened there earlier.
There was a smell in the air that she thought was sandalwood, but there was something else trapped in the enclosed room. Hermione noticed a small window high up in the wall, but doubted it ever opened. She could see a sheen on Harry's skin and hair that she realised was some sort of oil. It was on the sheets and, she now realised, on Malfoy as well.
And ... she wrinkled her nose ... now her hands, too.
If it had been any other two males ... or even under different circumstances ... Hermione might have found the thought of what must have happened ... well ... interesting. But this was Harry, and Harry didn't do things like this. It was like trying to imagine her own parents...
Harry and Malfoy having sex was a disturbing image -- sort of like ... like Ron with house-elves.
But Harry did look like he somehow 'belonged' in this particular bed. She shook her head, trying to lose the peculiar images spilling onto her thoughts -- like how Harry had come by the large lovebite on the top of his breastbone, and a second where neck joined shoulder.
She finally met Malfoy's troubled gaze -- it was an expression she'd never ever seen before. "What did you do to him?" The anger in her voice made Draco's eyes open wide.
"Liar! Harry wouldn't be here of his own volition. He wouldn't ... wouldn't..." Her hand gesticulated wildly as though that was enough to explain everything.
"He wouldn't what?"
"Do that ... come here..."
Draco's lip curled slightly at her words. "Well, he did come ... right there, in fact."
"That is not what I meant and you know it." Hermione pulled the sheet back a little, hiding the results of the boys' nocturnal activities.
"Look, Granger, I don't know what sanctified vision you have of Saint Potter, but I did not ask him to come down here, nor did I trick him into it. He came down here all by himself."
Draco's hand pushed through his hair as he became more and more agitated. He desperately wanted to hold on to Harry ... comfort him ... and he was beginning to hate himself for feeling like that. She was touching Harry's hair, smoothing it back from his face and Draco realised with a pain-stabbing reality that he was actually jealous. The sensation made him angry. Angry with Harry for making him feel that way and at Granger for the assumptions she was making.
"Well he did. Potter came down here of his own free will. I did not ask him to. He was the one who ... who..." Draco voice faltered as he realised the truth. Harry had all but seduced him -- Harry initiated the kiss. Harry had gone down on him. Harry had asked him for sex. He blinked, a little shocked at the realisation. Hadn't Draco been in charge of things? Wasn't sweet, innocent virgin Harry just doing what he was told?
When Draco finally spoke again he knew there was an edge to his voice. "Just wake him up."
Waking up had never been more difficult. Harry was aware that he was, indeed, waking up, but he was having a particularly difficult time dragging himself back to consciousness.
It was, he thought, like struggling through a box full of those little polystyrene bits used to pack things safely. He remembered one of Dudley's birthdays when his cousin had received something in a large cardboard box. Harry had long forgotten what the present had been, but Piers Polkiss and another of Dudley's friends tipping Harry into the box was indelibly inscribed on his memory.
They had attempted to seal Harry in and for a moment he thought they might succeed and that he would suffocate. The more he had struggled the deeper he sank into those little white bits. Somehow, he'd managed to punch a hole in the side of the box, scattering the bits all over Aunt Petunia's conservatory. The destroyed box and messed-up room had earned Harry a whole week locked in his cupboard ... but the look of horror on everyone's faces had been worth it.
But now, as he tried to claw his way back through the chaos of his dreaming state, he was beginning to think he might actually never wake up again ... and perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing considering what he'd seen and done. It didn't seem to matter what direction he chose, it was still blocked by millions of little white polystyrene bits.
Then he thought he saw something ahead.
It was difficult to see what it was at first because both the polystyrene and the creature were white. It looked like a rat ... a very big rat, and Harry's first thought was, "Now I'm dreaming of Piers ... I'll probably be squished by Dudley the Whale next."
But the creature seemed to know how to burrow out of the morass of his dream, and Harry followed.
As he drifted toward consciousness, he realised two things. The first was that he could hear voices arguing. And second, that the creature leading him back to reality was most definitely not a rat -- it was much too big to be a rat. The voices were strangely familiar, but it took him a moment to put names to them. One was a girl and he knew without question that it was Hermione. She was berating someone in her best Head Girl voice. He wanted to open his eyes to look, but his eyelids felt too heavy to even consider that as an option. Instead he just listened.
How the hell do you expect me to help if you won't tell me what happened?
Yes, definitely Hermione. For some reason, Harry had expected the responding voice to be Ron's, but while it was a boy, he knew instantly it wasn't his friend.
If I knew more, don't you think I'd tell you? A pause. And stop mauling him ... that doesn't help.
The day you are honest about everything will be the day the fires stop burning in hell and the angels sing sweet arias in your name, Draco Malfoy! And I am not 'mauling' anyone. Another pause. Although you clearly have. Harry felt a hand on his head, tilting it to one side Look at the mess you've left him in. The hand pushed through his hair. I'll have to clear all these marks up. He can't go to breakfast looking like this.
The hand jerked suddenly away as if it had been pulled back.
Isn't that up to him? A hand touched his shoulder -- a different touch ... firmer, more masculine. Almost possessive. Draco.
Of course it is, but I take it you aren't planning on walking into the Great Hall hand-in-hand.
No. The hand's grip relaxed and then slowly pulled away.
Harry just knew Hermione had folded her arms. How long do you think it would take for people to wheedle out of him what happened if he goes in looking like that? Not, of course, that anyone would think you were responsible.
Harry is a lovely boy, but he has the devil's own job lying. Unlike someone I could mention.
I do not lie.
Of course not. I am not going to let him have to explain anything, least of all to half the school. And if we can't get him to wake up in the next ten minutes, I'm going to get Snape or someone who can help.
"I'm awake!" Harry croaked, the sudden vision of the Potion's Master finding him here ... wherever 'here' was ... was a horror beyond belief. His eyelids suddenly opened, the green eyes bright in his pale face.
The silence in the room as his words cut through the arguing voices was almost palpable and Harry thought the very air around him might suddenly explode.
"Harry?" Both voices spoke at once. Hermione's voice, questioning and worried, Draco's laced with concern and fear.
"Can you talk...?"
"I need to get you somewhere safe..."
"Just what is that supposed to mean?"
"That the dungeons are hardly the safest place at the best of times, especially for Harry."
A snort of derision. "And you call me a small-minded bigot."
"Get over your preconceived notions of who the bad guys are, Granger, and look a bit closer to home if you want to find out who really is a danger to Harry."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?"
"If I have to spell it out to you, then you aren't as clever as you'd like people to think."
"Oh, shut up, Ferret ... not everything is about you."
With Hermione's words, it suddenly became clear to Harry. Of course ... it hadn't been a rat in his dream ... the white animal had been a ferret! It had been Draco the Ferret leading him back to reality.
"Ohhhh ... " Draco's voice was snide and oily, "the Head Girl is reduced to name calling. How immature... Am I supposed to revert to calling you 'Mudblood' now?"
"Oh, piss off ... you self righteous, sanctimonious little prick..."
"That's enough!" Harry roared. At least he had planned it to be a roar, but his throat felt as dry as hell and it came out as a little croak. What did seem to silence the two was Harry suddenly sitting up, the sheet falling to his waist. Hermione and Draco were leaning across the bed, their faces inches from each other; they turned to look at him and he placed a hand on each person, intent on pushing them apart. At first neither moved, so he took a breath and pushed harder. "Just pack it in!"
The move, at least, had the desired effect of parting the two antagonists, but the movement sent a spiral of light-headedness rushing through Harry's body. It seemed to tighten the further up his torso it moved, until by the time it reached his head, Harry was left feeling faint with dizziness.
He dropped back to the bed in what he was sure was a swoon. Whatever it was, both Hermione and Draco seemed to take it as a sign for direct action. Hermione leapt on the bed beside him, reaching out to gather him in her arms. Harry fell into the familiar comfort with a groan and made no attempt to stop her. His glasses were missing, but he could make out Draco turning to the bedside table where he rummaged in a drawer. It was then Harry saw it ... a large green emerald.
The gem rested serenely on the tabletop, as though totally oblivious to its role in the unfolding drama. Harry stared at it as reality crashed back in again and he remembered.
Coming to Draco's room. The sex. Touching the stone. The vision.
Oh God! The vision!
Harry's eyes flew to look at the Slytherin as what he'd seen and heard in Lucius' study smashed into him with the force of a speeding train. If it was true, then....
It didn't bear thinking about. Lies ... it meant everything that had happened was a lie. Harry had asked Draco if he was serious or whether this was all a game and now it looked like his own doubts about the Slytherin might just turn out to be true. It wasn't a game Draco was playing with him, but a matter of life and death.
He was still watching Draco when the blond tried to pull him from Hermione's arms. It was only then that Harry realised he was the one holding onto her. He saw a look on Draco's face that he couldn't quite fathom, a cross between fear and a sickening realisation.
Draco finally cupped Harry's face with his hand, the pressure and touch making the Gryffindor's eyelids flutter closed with the memory. Something cold touched his lips. "Harry, come on, drink this."
Lips clamping shut, Harry looked up at the grey gaze. It was imploring ... confused.
"What are you doing?" Hermione knocked the little glass phial away and the same confused gaze turned on her.
"It's a fortifying potion. I use it all the time."
"I don't think it's a good idea for Harry to drink anything you give him."
Harry watched as Draco's expression changed to that of the hated Slytherin he'd known for years. The sneer was almost one of distain. "Hermione..." the dark-haired boy's voice was pleading.
"What, Granger, you think I'm going to kill him and that I went to all the bother of getting you here as a witness? Fine." He raised the phial to his own mouth and drank down the potion. "Drag him up all those stairs for all I care." Draco turned away and strode across the room where he stood with his back to them.
Both of them watched the blond's back for some time. Harry could see the tenseness across the shoulders through the thin folds of Draco's dressing gown. He wondered what Draco's expression was like and he ached to go to him. Yet there was a new knot of fear in his stomach, which came with his realisation of Draco's past, and how that might affect the present and future. He thought people could change, but Voldemort's fingers had a long reach ... maybe much longer than Harry had ever realised before.
He pulled himself from Hermione's grip and finally managed to sit up on his own. "I think I'm okay now."
"Fine. Shut the door on the way out." Draco glanced over his shoulder. "And take off my bloody shirt before you leave."
As the door closed, Draco flicked a hand towards it, locking it with a spell. He hadn't moved from the corner where he had retreated after leaving Harry's side and the longer he remained there, the harder it was becoming to actually shift from that place.
He stared around the room ... at the mess left by the events of the previous evening. Bits of clothing, messy sheets ... the smell of sandalwood and of Harry in the air. What the hell had happened and how had it all fallen to pieces so very quickly?
Shoulders slumping, Draco tried to take a step forward. Despite the fortification potion, his whole body felt incredibly tired, as though he was holding himself erect by sheer force of will. Yet his brain was crystal clear, as awake as it had ever been and it was with this sharp focus he realised the fact that for all they had both enjoyed what had happened in the now very rumpled bed, he had lost Harry.
What it didn't tell him was why.
His legs finally gave way, and Draco dropped to the floor. He sat on the cold stone and stared, unseeing, ahead as he ran over and over the events. Each time they ended with Harry reaching out for the emerald Portkey and Draco shouting No! DON'T touch that! and the dark-haired boy unconscious on the floor.
The idea that his father had lied to him surfaced again. Draco knew how his father felt about Harry, but he wasn't privy to all of his plans. What if Lucius had used other spells on the stone ... something deadly ... and that was why Harry had passed out? Draco let out a long angry breath, unsure whom his anger was directed at. His father for giving him the stone, Harry for poking around where he shouldn't have, or himself for not hiding the emerald more carefully.
His father! Would Lucius know that Harry had touched the stone? It wouldn't surprise him to find that there were tracing charms locked on the emerald and that his father would know exactly what was going on. But how Lucius would react to being told, 'Potter touched it and nothing happened'?
If nothing else, if he talked to his father, he might be able to find out if the device was even more deadly than he had originally thought.
Maybe he should confess to Harry. Didn't Harry deserve at least that much from him?
But hadn't Granger made it quite clear what she thought about him and Harry? And hadn't Harry, after all the trust they'd shared, shied away from him when all Draco had wanted to do was help? Both had shown their true colours and treated him as though he was beneath contempt ... not worthy of their company.
Both? Draco pushed a hand into his hair. Harry had just looked scared and confused. And Granger? Hadn't she just been protecting her friend? He had gone to her for help after all.
He hated feeling like this. Hated being confused. Hated not being in control. Hated feeling so bereft by Harry's absence.
Well, he wasn't going to feel it anymore. He'd wasted too much of his valuable time on Potter already, and if he preferred his own friends then so be it. Draco looked up at the untidy bed again, his mouth set in a hard line. His hand reached out and, as he whispered a spell, the sheets whipped from the bed, hanging like ghostly figures in the centre of the room. The word "Incendio" was spat from between clenched teeth, and the sheets burst into flame. They flared brightly for a moment before littering the floor with little piles of ash. Another wave of his hand, and Draco banished those as well.
That was how easy it was to get rid of Harry Potter. Burn his very touch and taste and smell from the room.
Draco came to his feet, dusting off his hands as though wiping away the last traces of the Boy Who Lived.
"I don't need you," he whispered to the spectre that still lurked in the room. "I never have."
Saturday 7th March 1998 ... 6am ... Gryffindor Tower
"I really should go to bed," Harry muttered as he stifled a yawn. His eyes were fixed on the floor because he couldn't bring himself to meet Hermione's gaze. Waking in Draco's bed to find her standing over him was difficult enough, but he knew the longer he remained here, the more chance there would be for the as-yet silent Head Girl to begin the barrage of questions she was clearly itching to bombard him with.
"I think we need to talk, Harry." Hermione appeared in front of him and Harry finally had to look at her. "You've been unconscious for an hour and we need to know why."
Harry's heart sank, but at least she hadn't said anything about the obvious liaison between himself and Draco. He watched as the girl crossed the room and began rummaging in her wardrobe. "We could do this later." He was aware of the underlying whine in his voice that he didn't like ... it was bad enough that he looked pitiful without sounding like that as well.
"Yes, like all your other 'laters'. If I let you go now, you'll weasel your way out of it until the end of time. We are going to talk, Harry. But first why don't you get cleaned up." She tossed a towel at him. "You smell like a Slytherin bordello."
Clutching the towel to his chest and face aflame, Harry disappeared into a side-door leading to the bathroom.
The Head Girl's room, like so many in Gryffindor Tower, was round. It had been divided into two half circles, one part with a bedroom and bathroom, the other a little sitting room. It wasn't big, but to Hermione, the privacy and freedom it afforded made up for the extra work and responsibility that had come with the role.
And Hermione, being Hermione, took being Head Girl very seriously. She regarded it a great honour that she, a Muggle-born, had been selected. In fact she'd considered being picked as a prefect in her fifth year as an honour and prided herself on making sure no one ... not even the Slytherins ... could accuse her of being biased.
Of course, the Slytherins still did, but Hermione knew it was sour grapes because she'd been picked for Head Girl rather than Pansy Parkinson, the Slytherin seventh year prefect. In fact, Hermione was sure they would much rather had Hufflepuff Hannah Abbott or even Ravenclaw Padma Patil instead of any Gryffindor in the post.
She was positive Draco Malfoy's loathing for her had expanded exponentially when it had been announced who would be Head Boy and Girl for their seventh year. His spitefulness towards her was almost as legendary as his battles with Harry. Granted, the name-calling and other taunts had lessened to the point he'd hardly given her the time of day during most of their sixth year, but when he had deigned to cast his grey gaze in her direction, it had always been with that same condescending stare ... the one that said without words she wasn't worthy of his attention.
It had changed again since September. Of course the fact that Gryffindor and Slytherin shared more classes now meant they had to work with each other. But there was something else as well which she couldn't quite fathom. Sometimes Malfoy seemed so much more mature than his seventeen years, especially when she looked at some of the other boys in her year.
Occasionally she would wonder about his shift in attitude towards her, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when it had happened, but worrying about him seemed to be the least of her problems ... at least until now. She did know a lot of people had returned to school different people the summer after Cedric Diggory's death. Some were just plain scared. A few just shrugged philosophically, saying they'd worry about Voldemort when they had to. Others, including Malfoy, had taken great delight in claiming Harry was responsible for Cedric's death. There had even been a little whispering campaign that Harry had actually killed the Hufflepuff in his desperate desire to win the Triwizard Tournament.
But back in those dark days when Harry seemed to be angry all the time and had turned in on himself, hardly speaking to anyone and refusing to defend himself against the allegations, she had seen a look in the Slytherin's eyes as he taunted Harry. At first she hadn't understood it, but then she and Malfoy had fought a particularly vindictive quarrel and Harry had retreated even further into his shell. She'd realised then that Malfoy was actually as frightened as the rest of them. He might crow about the Dark Lord's return, but somewhere deep down he was scared stiff of the idea. Clearly it hadn't only been Harry who was affected by Cedric's death.
Now a little older and wiser, Hermione wondered what Malfoy's home life must have been like that summer. Had his underlying fear been because his father had made him meet Voldemort? She pursed her lips. Maybe he'd been initiated as a Death Eater already ... maybe that was what had happened and why he was different when he'd come back to school.
But, surely Dumbledore would know if that had been the case and the Headmaster wouldn't have let a known Death Eater into the school no matter what his age. Would he? She began twisting a stand of hair round and round a finger. Dumbledore might, if he thought he could still save the person ... retrieve him from a path that would ultimately only lead to darker and darker places. Maybe Malfoy had already turned his back on Voldemort, and Dumbledore was sheltering him here at the school. It would explain his change in attitude at the beginning of the year and also why he'd not gone home at Christmas.
With a huff of annoyance, she quickly threw the whole 'redeemed Death Eater' idea away. Harry had seen Lucius and his son talking in the Great Hall before the holiday and according to Dennis, who had witnessed the entire father/son incident, the two had gotten on like the proverbial house on fire.
Picking up a cushion, she pounded it with her fists a couple of times before flinging it at the other armchair in annoyance. This whole train of thought was pointless. Why Malfoy had changed and whether or not he had been Marked were not supposed to be her priority at the moment. Her problem right now centred on what the Slytherin was doing with Harry. What had possessed Harry ... her sweet, innocent Harry ... to have a dalliance with Malfoy in the first place? Why, when virtually any girl in the school would die to date Harry had he picked Malfoy? The thought quickly rephrased itself ... if Harry was gay, she knew of at least three other boys whom she considered a much better catch than the Slytherin.
Except ... she sucked on the strand of hair ... as much as she hated to admit it, Malfoy was a catch in his own right and if it wasn't for all his pure-blood proselytising, the possible Dark Mark, the Slytherin connection and the self righteous, sanctimonious prickishness, she might very well have fancied him herself.
Hermione smiled darkly at the wonderful retort she'd flung at him. That one had been stored up for at least three years. Just waiting for the right opportunity. It was a pity there had been no one around but the little prick to hear it, but the expression on that sanctimonious face had been worth it. Maybe there would be other times to use it -- she'd have to think up variations on the theme.
She heard the water turn off in the bathroom and paused in her deliberations for a moment.
Maybe that was it ... could Malfoy have possessed Harry in some way? She'd always assumed the blond had access to illegal spells and potions, so maybe Malfoy had given Harry something that had made him collapse and that was why he'd been so cagey about explaining what had happened.
Getting to her feet, she crossed to a bookcase overflowing with seven years of school books, neatly bound parchments covered with her meticulous writing and her small collection of Muggle literature -- 'light reading' as Ron put it. Maybe there was a spell she could use on Harry to see if she could detect anything.
Harry had never really gotten used to wizard mirrors. Even after more than six years, he still found it just a little disturbing to hear his own reflection talking back to him. It didn't help that his reflection always seemed intent on waging a personal war with him over the way he looked.
He stared into the mirror in Hermione's bathroom and waited for the normal tirade of comments, but for once his reflection was silent. The oval mirror, with its pretty frame, was a Muggle one, and for once his reflection was just that ... his likeness, only moving when he did and, thankfully, silent.
Until Harry finally spoke, sounding like that magical reflection. "You look awful."
For once Harry knew the words were true. He looked extraordinarily pale, despite the heat from the water and his scar stood out rose red against his forehead like a fresh wound. Leaning towards the glass, he squinted as he rubbed fingertips over the dark smudges under his eyes and the marks on his neck and throat -- everything looked bruised ... as though he'd been in a fight. Except for the lovebite at his elbow, which looked ominously like the Dark Mark he'd seen on a Death Eater in his sixth year. He shivered slightly and for the first time became aware of scratches and other blotches on his skin.
Even worse, if he looked carefully he could see the marks Draco had made at the top of his right thigh ... three little marks in a row. He'd asked Draco to mark him ... I don't want it removed. I want it to stay there and for you to know it's there ... the Slytherin's own dark mark.
He quickly picked up a towel, winding it around his waist in an effort to banish the marks from his sight if not from his memory. He didn't want to look at any of them or to think of the pleasure receiving them had brought him. It was all spoilt ... ruined in the instant he'd reached for the stone and been thrown into the vision at Malfoy Manor. Even now when he'd had time to think about what had happened, he still didn't want to believe Draco had lied to him ... used him ... was a danger not only to him but to everyone who was trying to defeat Voldemort.
But everything about him was touched and tainted by the night. Even his hair.
The black wet tendrils hung around his face. It had taken four washes to get all the oil out, and Harry was sure he could still smell the sandalwood. Worse than the smell was the ghost-like sensation of Draco's fingers on his skin. It was almost as if those long fingers were still in his hair, tugging ever so gently as they had pulled Harry towards him. He could sense the spectre of Draco's lips on his own mouth and the way their bodies seemed to fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
And he hated it now as much as he had loved it hours before.
With a growing sense of anger, coupled with hurt and frustration at his own stupidity, Harry reached for a pair of nail scissors that Hermione had left beside the washbasin. He picked them up and sliced into his hair, cutting off a damp curl. It dropped into the sink, a black ragged line against the white porcelain. He stared at it for a moment before reaching for another strand as he tried to cut out the sensation of Draco along with his hair.
Draco Malfoy didn't have the luxury of a private bathroom, but no one else was up at this hour on a Saturday and he spent a long time scrubbing away the final remnants of the night. Skin glowing pink from the meticulousness of his actions, he finally returned to his room to find the bed had been made. Even his spells didn't keep the house-elves out, he ruefully considered. Deliberately not returning to the bed, Draco instead picked up his leather-bound copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare and crossed to his chair before the fire.
See how easy it is? his mind ventured. See how you can just return to your normal life?
Draco flicked open the tome at a bookmarked page. He was halfway through The Tempest and had put off continuing for much too long. However, instead of the words, his eyes were drawn to the scrap of paper he'd used to mark his place.
It was the remains of a drawing Harry had made of him the previous September during their train journey from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade, and the circumstances surrounding it were as clear in his mind as the day they happened ... perhaps even clearer because of the fortifying potion.
Hogwarts Express ... Monday 1st September 1997 ... Late afternoon
The seat bounced as the large boy dropped onto the upholstered cushion. The violent movement sent the pile of sweets he'd just flung onto the surface into the air. Scooping them back towards him, Vincent Crabbe licked his lips and reached for a Chocolate Frog packet. "What're you reading, Drake?"
It took a few seconds for the seat to stop undulating, by which time Draco Malfoy had secreted the leather-bound edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare somewhere chocolate-covered fingers would not be able to find it. He cast hard grey eyes on his companion. "If you call me that again, I'm going to turn you into a bag of Fizzing Whizzbees and leave you somewhere Greg will find you."
Vincent merely shrugged, knowing full well that Draco's bark was far worse than his bite. "Frog?" He held out an open packet, the Wizard card already joining the collection in his pocket.
"No thanks." Draco pushed the sweets away from him, forming a pile between them. "Where did you get all this from?"
"First years," the large boy grinned. "Easy targets."
Draco shrugged, remembering that a year ago he, too, had terrorised youngsters into handing over sweets. It seemed childish now, especially after his summer. "I'm going for a walk."
"Want me to come with you?"
"Oh. Word is that Weasley isn't on the train."
"Really. The rumour is he was hurt in a flying accident. We can go and pay our annual visit on Potter and he'll be all alone."
"Doing her Head Girl act."
Draco looked thoughtfully out of the window for a moment. When he turned back, his mouth was twisted in a sly smirk. "No, not just yet. We'll get him later."
The corridors of the Hogwarts Express were crowded with children. Five hours into the long journey from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade, the younger children were desperate for something to keep them occupied. If all went according to plan most of them would be so bored that they would fall asleep soon.
Draco strolled slowly down the train, pausing occasionally to chat with people. Over the six years he'd been at Hogwarts, he'd noticed a change in his fellow Slytherins -- they had ceased to be quite so separatist and aloof. The change started during his fifth year after Potter's story that the Dark Lord had somehow returned. People had become scared and even children from Slytherin families had looked for comfort in their fellow students no matter what house. Well, maybe not with the Gryffindors, but he knew Pansy Parkinson was very friendly with some of the Ravenclaw girls and for the first time she was travelling in their compartment.
He paused at the open door, just in time to hear the girl mention 'Neville Longbottom' and 'sexy' in the same sentence. Pansy smiled at him and patted the seat beside her, but Draco remained by the door. It had come as another shock to him the previous year to realise that aside from the Gryffindors most people in the school didn't give a damn about Slytherins. They might cheer for the other team during Quidditch matches, but that was as far as their animosity seemed to go. He wondered if it had always been like that or whether it was another knock-on effect of the 'Voldemort Has Returned' saga. There was no doubt in his mind that people were much less willing to be seen as taking sides in what could be a nasty, possibly violent, confrontation. In fact, he remembered a discussion with Wayne Hopkins (a Hufflepuff with what some described as 'Slytherin tendencies') in which the boy had made it quite clear that Mr and Mrs Hopkins were patiently waiting to see just how powerful the New Dark Lord was before making any rash decisions in the power stakes market.
It would help, Wayne had also said, if someone could actually prove that Potter had been telling the truth and that Voldemort had returned. There might have been escalating Death Eater activity over the past two years, but no one had actually seen the Dark Lord in that time.
There were several rumours as to Voldemort 's current location.
One of the strangest was that he was currently at a Mediterranean beach resort where he had gone after finding that his newly regenerated body didn't like the damp British winters. A cartoon had appeared in the more left wing newspaper Independent Wizard showing the Dark Lord, complete with swimming trunks, sunning himself on a lounger at St Tropez. Someone had taken great offence and threatened the cartoonist, renowned Gryffindor Don Price, who had suddenly given up on cartoons and was rumoured to be working on the checkout at a branch of Crouches' Country Store (You Can't Buy Cheaper).
The idea that Potter had lied still surfaced occasionally. Considering Draco had been the major instigator for spreading that version of events in the early months of their fifth year, it wasn't surprising that Potter had suffered from whispered accusations that he'd not only lied but also actually killed Cedric Diggory. Back then Draco had actually believed what he was saying. After all, that was what his father had told him.
How things had changed.
The latest story was that Voldemort was currently in Cornwall, building up his following again. Of course no one was actually willing to state publicly that this was true, mainly because the Ministry people sent to verify it never returned. The Minister of Magic hadn't seemed particularly concerned about the non-return of his operatives, explaining that his officers had clearly loved Cornwall so much they simply hadn't wanted to come back. He had even pointed out that a couple of them had sent him postcards saying how much they were enjoying their new lives.
Having a great time, wish you were here...
But the truth? Draco had heard his father talk about what was really happening. How the darkness was a visible wall shutting the southwest peninsula off from the rest of the country. How that line moved steadily forward as Voldemort's forces pressed onward, taking over towns and villages either by stealth and clever words or by violence. Rumour had it that the Muggle authorities had turned a blind eye to what was happening, happy to sign up to a non-aggression pact with the Dark Lord in order to save themselves from the powerful wizard. If that were true, they would be disappointed. Voldemort cared nothing for Muggles and would stamp them out when the time came, treaty or no treaty.
Draco shivered inwardly as an icy fist twisted in his gut. The same fist which had twisted just over two weeks ago when his father had found him in the garden at Malfoy Manor and said, "Draco, there is someone I'd like you to meet."
He had been taken into his father's study and made to kneel. It had been painful; his knee still hurt from his accident several weeks before, but Lucius had taught him well ... taught him how to remain still. Not daring to look up, he had watched the pair of feet cross the room, soundless on the rug. He'd kept his eyes on those feet until a long bony finger had touched under his chin, making him look up and meet the red eyes boring into him. Looking at him as though he was an object rather than a human being. Then, almost worse than the eyes, there had been the voice; hissing, cold, and calculating. "Yes, Lucius, a fine specimen. A fine specimen indeed."
Draco rubbed absently at the spot on his chin where the finger had pressed as though trying to remove an itch. Sometimes he thought he could still feel the touch. When he woke in the middle of the night, it would almost feel like he could sense the ridges of the Dark Lord's fingerprint on his skin. More than once he had gone in search of a mirror to check that there really was nothing there. Once he thought the area seemed to feel rough, like touching old scar tissue, but now it felt smooth.
Swallowing, Draco took a deep breath that was almost a sigh as he tried to banish both the image of Voldemort's serpent-like body and the horror that he might be the only one on this entire train to have met the Dark Lord face-to-face.
Except, of course, Harry Potter.
He found his best smile and favoured Pansy with it. "Pansy, dear, I hope you haven't completely lost your sense of taste. Did I actually hear you calling Longbottom sexy?"
He had almost come to the end of the train before finding what he was looking for. Harry Potter.
The Gryffindor was alone in a compartment, unusual in itself. Normally Potter would have been surrounded by his friends who would make sure lesser mortals didn't breathe the same rarefied air as The Boy Who Lived. Draco stood for a moment just out of Harry's line-of-sight, studying the dark-haired boy. Harry was reading; his legs stretched out along one of the seats, feet crossed at the ankles. He had taken his shoes off and his toes flexed back and forth as he read.
Grey eyes flicked over the reclining boy as Harry raised a hand to his mouth and chewed at a nail, clearly engrossed in the paperback novel. Unlike Draco, he hadn't changed into his uniform yet and still wore jeans and a baggy grey sweatshirt. The left sleeve had been pushed up to his elbow, showing off a summer tan that had darkened his skin several shades. Harry's head was tilted to one side resting against the back of the seat, exposing the curve of his neck and shoulder where the sweatshirt had been dragged to one side. The same tan coloured his throat, looking even darker against the grey as it disappeared beneath the neckline of the shirt.
It seemed a shame to disturb him, Draco considered, but wasn't that one of his roles in life -- to make things difficult for Potter? Hadn't that been his raison d'être for the last six years?
He sauntered to the compartment and leaned nonchalantly on the doorjamb. "Afternoon, Potter."
Harry's eyes flicked up from his book, his head remaining tilted at an interesting angle. Curls of black hair dusted over the skin, catching the glow of late afternoon sunshine. His eyes widened slightly as he caught sight of Draco and a slight flush coloured his cheeks, but otherwise he did not respond. Instead he held Draco's stare as he turned a page, and then lowered his gaze back to the book.
Draco's eyes narrowed; he wasn't used to being ignored, especially not by Potter or his little gang. "All alone?" No response. "So where are your adoring fans?" Nothing, except Harry uncrossed his ankles and crossed them again. "Is the Mudblood off flaunting her little Head Girl badge?" Green eyes glanced up again, the only reaction to the insult being a slight stiffening of Harry's jaw as he returned his attention to the book. He turned another page, clearly not having read the previous one.
A slight frown creased Draco's brow at Harry's refusal to rise to his taunts. This was not, he wanted to say, how the game was played. He insulted, Potter responded. Or rather he insulted and one of Potter's cohorts responded while Potter looked on. Draco's mouth tightened. Well, two could play at the 'silent treatment'. He stepped into the compartment and sat down opposite Harry, stretching his legs out across the small gap between the seats. From his new position he could see Harry's profile. The Gryffindor had changed in the eight weeks since they had last seen each other. His face had thinned a little, strengthening the jaw line, but there were dark smudges under his eyes as though sleep had eluded him for some time. Harry swallowed, his Adam's apple visible as it moved the neckline of his sweatshirt.
Draco waited in silence, biding his time. His posture was relaxed, but his eyes were alert; he was determined to break through Harry's wall of indifference. He watched as yet another page was turned. "Good book?" The enquiry was deliberately polite. Draco watched carefully, noting with sharp interest how Harry's fingers tightened and the book was pulled closer. One eyebrow rose speculatively and his gaze sharpened. Was Potter embarrassed about what he was reading?
He suddenly moved forward and grabbed at the book. The two struggled for a moment, with the Slytherin eventually winning, but only because in the fight Draco had knocked a large manila folder from the seat, which Harry had obviously considered more important than the book. The Gryffindor grabbed for it, tumbling into the gap between the two seats. When he finally looked up, Draco had both folder and book. He quickly moved out of Harry's reach and sat back down, placing the folder as far from the grasping hands as possible.
The colour in Harry's cheeks reddened as Draco stared at the book cover. It showed a very voluptuous woman with flowing black hair and a very low-cut blouse. The Slytherin's eyebrow rose in obvious amusement as he stared at Harry. "The Flesh Endures by Cleo Cordell." Grey eyes glinted. "Why, Harry, I never expected to find you reading smutty Muggle literature."
Harry tried to snatch the book back, but all the action did was leave him on his knees in front of the Slytherin. For a moment his hand rested on Draco's knee -- he quickly pulled it away.
If Draco noticed, he didn't react to the touch; instead he flicked the book over to read aloud the blurb on the back. "Karolan, Lord Rakka, with his knowledge of alchemy, achieves a dark immortality and yearns to create a partner as unique as himself. Fate brings Garnetta into his path, and a bond of desire develops between them, until she discovers the truth about Karolan, and herself, and flees." He looked down at Harry, the smirk on his face growing, and gave a little snort. "So, let me guess, are you Karolan ... the dark lord? And does that make Granger Garnetta?"
"It's not mine."
Draco's eyes flared briefly in triumph at finally having found a chink in Harry's armour. His voice was mocking now, deliberately needling his rival. "Ah, He speaks. And here I was hoping some affliction might have caused you to lose your voice indefinitely." Slim fingers pulled back the cover of the book where a name had been careful inscribed. "So it's actually Granger's. I might have guessed she'd read this sort of thing in private. Does she know you're reading her smut?"
"Malfoy." The tone was getting harder.
"This is so typical of you, Potter," Draco hefted the novel, as if weighing it against the Works of Shakespeare now locked safely in his trunk. "If you're going to read Muggle books, at least read something worthwhile." The tone was suitably condescending and he prolonged the moment by tutting theatrically. "So, what's in the folder?" He reached for it. As he did so, the flap opened, spilling sheets of parchment onto the carriage floor.
"Be careful, you idiot!" The sudden scathing tone bit into Draco and for a moment he didn't move as Harry scrambled for the sheets before either of them could cause any more damage. Still on his knees, he straightened the parchments and reached for the folder.
"What's wrong? Scared I'm going to ruin your precious work?" Draco pulled out the remaining sheets before handing over the now empty folder. "What's so important anyway?" He cast a critical eye over the meticulous lettering on the sheets. "This is your Herbology homework?"
Harry had risen to his feet now and was holding the folder against his chest. "So what if it is?"
Draco shrugged. He had been given the same assignment -- Produce a Herbarium showing fifteen plants. For each include a dried and pressed plant specimen and details of how the plant is grown, its properties and uses. It had been an easy assignment as the grounds of Malfoy Manor contained just about every plant they had studied over the past six years and, of course, Draco had made one of the house-elves dry the plants. His collection was bound in a tasteful volume, the cover suitably inscribed with the Malfoy crest just in case Professor Sprout wondered who had produced it.
But Harry's work consisted of loose-leaf pages in a tatty folder. He'd expected more of the Gryffindor, that his work would at least be carefully arranged, but this? Why, there didn't appear to be even one plant specimen. In fact each plant had instead been carefully drawn, with some of the images subtly coloured. "You're not supposed to draw them."
"You actually drew these yourself?"
"I just wondered." Draco wanted to say they were good. That he hadn't known Harry could draw.
"Please can I have them back?" Harry's hand reach out and the look on his face made it clear he thought the Slytherin might destroy his work.
"In a minute." Green eyes flashed angrily, but Harry remained still. Finally his arm dropped back to his side. "You know you're supposed to dry and press the plants?"
"You'll probably lose points for drawing them."
"What do you care, Malfoy?"
"I didn't say I cared."
There was a long period of silence when the two boys just watched each other. Finally Harry spoke again. "I did have proper plants, but they..." He took a breath. "They got ruined. Then I had to go home." There was a long pause as if the explanation would make sense to Draco. Instead the blond just raised a questioning eyebrow and Harry finally elaborated. "Most of the plants don't grow in Muggle gardens."
"Ah yes, of course." Draco frowned, remembering stories he'd heard about Harry's Muggle relatives. They didn't appear to be the most helpful of people and had probably prevented him from getting the plant specimens. Mind racing, he tapped the sheets of parchment on his legs. "Do you draw anything else besides plants?" Harry gave a little nod. "Okay," Draco said as he leaned back, his gaze challenging. "Draw me and you can have these back."
"Simple trade. Draw me or I rip these up."
"I'm not wasting my time drawing you," Harry scoffed.
"Okay." Draco held up one of the sheets and made to rip it in half.
"No!" Harry's hand shot up, this time he was holding his wand. It was pointed directly at Draco's throat. "I asked nicely, Malfoy. Now give them back."
Grey eyes glinting, Draco's lip curled into a half smile. He leaned his head back against the seat rest, his fingers still holding the paper. "Shall we see who's faster, Potter? My nimble fingers or your little hex? I bet I can rip this in half before it hits me." He raised an eyebrow. "Want to wager something on it? I hear you have a fair few Galleons in your bank vault at Gringotts."
Harry's eyes darted from the sheet of parchment to Draco's face and then back again. They widened as the tiniest tear appeared on the edge of the sheet. Jaw tightening visibly, Harry suddenly pulled the wand back, the tip just grazing Draco's chin. "All right."
"Good boy. And you better make sure it's a nice drawing or I might change my mind."
"You want me to do it now?"
"If you want these back. If I take them with me, I can't promise they will get to school in one piece. Goyle was showing me his origami broomstick earlier and I know he's looking for more paper to practice on." Draco smirked, enjoying the uncomfortable shuffling of the Gryffindor's feet. This was, he decided, much better than fighting ... even better than arguing. There was something very satisfying in controlling Potter this way ... getting him to do what Draco wanted. Not only that, but it was an eye-opener to watch his adversary when there was no one around to back him up. Under normal circumstances Weasley would have attempted to hex him at least once during this discussion and Granger would have been spouting some psychobabble about how All Slytherins Are Evil. Potter-on-his-own was a completely different person from Potter-with-backup.
He wondered briefly which one was the 'real' person and knew it was the one he had with him now. This wasn't The Boy Who Lived; it was the boy he'd first seen in the robe shop when they were 11 years old. This was the Harry Potter who hadn't known about his own history, or how other people expected him to act. It was the boy who was looking for acceptance as himself rather than as some sort of living legend.
Draco's eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he remembered something from his own holiday. An observation ... no ... a realisation ... about Potter. That even though Potter was always surrounded by his adoring fans he was somehow isolated because of who and what they thought he was. People didn't encroach on Harry's personal space, they unconsciously kept their distance from him, and it was them not Harry who placed Saint Potter on his pedestal.
Even the teachers seemed to keep that personal space sacrosanct. The only person who didn't was Draco Malfoy.
The memory of there recent tussle over both the book and folder, and the touch of Potter's hand on his knee came into sharp focus, washing a strange heat through him as it derailed his train of thought completely. The sound of Harry taking a deep breath made him look up with an expression close to annoyance.
"All right." Harry's fingers reached out again. "But give those back to me first."
"How do I know you won't just change your mind?"
"Because if I say I'm going to do something then I will. You know that." Harry gave a humourless smile. "Because I'm a Gryffindor."
The was an underlying self mockery in Harry's voice, almost as though he'd had enough not only of Draco, but also of life in general. Draco stared at him for a long moment, trying to decide whether or not to pursue the point. Finally he held out the papers, watching as they were carefully tucked away in the folder, which was swiftly returned to the safety of one of Harry's bags.
Harry rummaged in the bag and eventually found a small art pad and some Muggle pencils. He pushed the bag to one side and sat back down in the same position Draco had first seen him, but this time he drew his knees up, using the slope of his thighs as a resting place for the pad. "Don't expect much, not with the train as bumpy as it is."
Draco fell silent, watching intently as Harry concentrated on his task. Green eyes would flick between him and the paper. Little frown lines on his temple gave an indication of how much Harry was concentrating and occasionally he would bite his lip or quietly mutter something to himself.
Finally he finished and sat back upright, a hand sweeping through black hair in a gesture which Draco now recognised as nervousness. The sheet of paper was torn from the pad and held out. "There. Get Goyle to make paper airplanes out of that."
Draco took it from Harry's outstretched hand. He had expected something horrible even though he had threatened to destroy the herbarium assignment if that was the outcome. Maybe a caricature, or some nasty version of himself. Instead, Harry had drawn a small head-and-shoulders portrait with soft pencil lines, and little smudges of shadow. The portrait didn't move of course, because it was created with Muggle pencils, but Draco was captivated by the way Harry had drawn his mouth. There was a slight upturn to it, which could have developed into either a smile or a smirk. He wanted the image to move ... wanted to see what the expression would change into ... wanted to know how Harry had expected it to turn out. The eyes surprised him as well. They were the only piece of colour in the entire portrait ... slate grey shot through with an underlying blue.
Blue? There was no blue in his eyes.
He was just about to make that comment when a shadow fell over his lap. He whipped the sheet of paper away and looked up to find Granger scrutinizing him with calculating brown eyes. Even she had changed over the summer, he decided. She'd done something with her hair and he didn't remember her robes fitting quite that well last year.
"Hello, Granger," he drawled, one of his best trademark sneers destroying the look Harry had managed to capture. "I understand congratulations are in order." He rose gracefully to his feet. "Though why Dumbledore should foist you on us as Head Girl I will never know."
"Well, at least we didn't have to worry about you ever being Head Boy. Not surprising really, as you were never even considered prefect material."
Draco's glare shot ice daggers at the girl. The fact he had not been picked as a prefect was a constant irritation to his father, who had been further enraged on hearing that a Mudblood had been made Head Girl. He picked up the paperback and waggled it in front of Hermione. "Is this the sort of thing you're reading when we all think you're busy studying? You better watch where you leave your smutty books, Granger, or you might find Potter stealing them." He glanced back over his shoulder at Harry. "He clearly enjoys a bit of girly reading."
Throwing the book down, Draco gave one last mocking smile and made one of his better dramatic exits. With his robes flowing behind him, he swept from the compartment and into the corridor. As he strode away, he could just hear Granger's voice asking, "What did Malfoy want, Harry?"
His own compartment was empty when Draco arrived back there and he all but flung himself down on the seat. After a couple of minutes he realised he had unconsciously thrown himself into the same corner Harry had been sitting and he quickly moved.
Damn Potter! Damn him for....
For what precisely?
Draco stared out of the window at the world rushing by. Damn him for just being 'Harry' and for having woven some sort of spell over him all those years ago. Damn him for tuning up in the robe shop, for being on the Hogwarts Express, for attending Hogwarts.
Damn him for being the wretched Boy Who Lived.
He looked down at the sheet of paper in his hand, the edge damp where he had been holding it so tightly. The image stared up at him with its mocking half-smile.
Mocking Gryffindor smile.
Harry Bloody Potter could get to him even through a drawing for fuck's sake.
He began ripping at the paper, tearing it into smaller and smaller pieces, scattering them onto the compartment floor like confetti. With reach rip he repeated over and over, "I. Hate. You." eyes full of unshed bitter tears. The movements were measured, precise, and with each rip and every syllable, Draco felt a tiny piece of the enormous tension he constantly carried with him drain away. The release was addictive, the destruction of the page taking the place of every fear he'd ever repressed and every tear he had refused to let fall. The process was cathartic, and when he finished, he was left staring down at the shredded remains of Harry's carefully drawn sketch.
He blinked, the sudden realisation of what he had destroyed leaving him disturbingly bereft. A hand reached for his wand and he held it over the pieces, but the words of the spell to mend the drawing were never spoken. He toyed with the wand thoughtfully. It was just as well to leave it, he decided; if anyone found the drawing, he'd never be able to explain it.
Why did he let Potter get to him like this? He hated the boy, he reminded himself. Tucking his wand away, he stared down at the carnage and kicked a few of the scraps with the toe of his shoe. A flash of colour amid the white caught his eye, and he leaned down to pick it up. His grey/blue eyes had survived the destruction and in that brief moment, Draco realised that like everyone else, he had fallen under Harry Potter's spell. That somehow the hate he'd felt for so long had morphed into something else.
The hate had become something ... different, turning into fantasies and needs of a different kind, especially after his summer and the time spent with his Quidditch coach Alex Palmer. The sexual exploits he'd experienced with the older man had allowed his fantasies of Harry to take on a different, more personal nature.
What actually disturbed him now was the realisation that one of those fantasies had slipped into his mind while Harry had been drawing him, and THAT was what made him so angry now. He didn't want to think about it or about the idea that Harry might want to draw him naked or....
Draco let out an angry growl, trying to grind the scraps on the floor into dust with the heel off his shoe.
"All right, Drake?"
Grey eyes flashed with anger as he looked up at Crabbe and Goyle. Only much later would he realise that the small grey/blue scrap of paper ... all that now remained of the drawing ... had been tucked carefully into his pocket. "No I'm bloody not. Let's go and beat the crap out of someone."
The Present ... Saturday 7th March 1998 ... 6.30am ... Slytherin Dungeons
Draco stared at the fragment of paper for a long time, watching his own eyes look back at him.
His mother had once told him his eyes were like diamonds, transparent little windows into his soul. She had told him that when she looked into them, she could see who he really was ... that he should keep them clear and bright and never to let the sparkle leave them. He remembered being scared at this because he thought it meant people could see through the shields he'd erected around himself, and find out the truth. The diamonds had lost their sparkle a little as he learned not to show his feelings in that grey gaze.
Sometimes he would look in a mirror and catch his eyes staring back at him. When that happened he would often try to see what his mother had seen. But all he saw was his father's gaze ... that same cold grey stare. And, worst of all, he'd never seen his own soul.
But he had seen Harry's.
It shone out from those jade eyes as bright and clear as a mountain stream. Crystal clear emeralds that, for good or ill, showed everything the Gryffindor was thinking. Draco knew he'd looked into that gaze and seen it all ... fear, anger, love, hate, longing, need, desire ... every emotion laid bare.
But when Harry had sat on a bumpy train and looked at him, he'd drawn a picture that had seen beyond the shields and captured his soul. It stared back at him from the little scrap of paper ... the blue/grey diamonds that his mother had seen when he was a young boy and she had loved him.
He felt an unfamiliar tightening in his chest, which made it difficult for him to catch his breath. The sensation threatened to overwhelm him, and Draco found himself experiencing one of those all too rare moments of pure revelation as the truth suddenly hit home.
He'd wanted Harry from the first day they had ever met. First as his friend and now as his lover.
"Harry." A light rapping on the door accompanied the voice. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." The words were clipped, edged with a frustration Harry didn't know quite how to deal with. He was leaning over the washbasin staring at the hacked lumps of hair, which darkened the white surface. There were hair clippings on his shoulders and strewn around him on the floor as well, and the anguished reflection in the mirror told its own story.
"Are you decent? I'm coming in."
"No ... no I'm not." Eyes darted round the bathroom looking for some way to hide his attempts at a new career in hairdressing. "I'll be out in a minute."
As the door swung open, Harry didn't move. Instead he stared at Hermione's reflection in the mirror. He must, he decided, look like a pitiful wretch.
Hermione didn't say anything at first, instead she crossed to stand beside Harry. They didn't look directly at each other, but instead stared at each other in the mirror. "Harry, what are you doing?"
"Cutting my hair." He looked down at the small nail scissors still in his hand.
"Why?" Her gaze travelled to the scissors.
With a shrug he dropped them into the sink where they lay on the cushion of his hair. "I got fed up with it."
"And you thought now would be a good time to come up with a whole new style? Is 'scarecrow' in fashion this year?"
Harry gave a weak smile, the absurdity of the situation cutting through the anguish that had caused the drastic action. He was standing in Hermione's bathroom in the middle of the night dressed in only a towel attempting to cut his hair with one-inch nail scissors. "Can you do something with it?"
"Well, I have a very nice hat." A smile started to grow on Harry's face. "You know the one Mrs Weasley made me for Christmas. The mauve one with a nice pink 'H' on the front." He started to laugh and she joined in. "With the big bobble on the back. It would look very fetching on you."
They shared the joke for a moment before Harry leaned towards her, his head resting on her shoulder as they stared back into the mirror again. "Oh, Hermione, I've made a real mess of everything."
Her arm wound around his shoulder giving it a little supportive squeeze. "Yes, you certainly have. Have you looked at yourself in a mirror recently?"
"Ha, ha. Very funny."
"I'm serious." Hermione's hand gestured at the mark on Harry's throat.
"Don't." He quickly raised his own fingers to cover blemish, but that only exposed the one on his forearm, which he tried to hide with his other hand.
"It's a bit late for coyness now isn't it?" She watched as Harry let his hands drop away with a resigned sigh. "Are you ready to talk about it?"
"You're going to have to sooner or later. Something happened earlier, Harry. People don't just collapse for no reason..." Harry gave a little snort. "Not even Harry Potter."
"It's not that easy," he finally ventured as he pulled away from her to lean on the sink.
"Okay, I understand that and I'm not going to demand you tell me anything. But someone should know what happened to you. If you won't tell me, then please speak to Ron, or Professor Dumbledore..."
Harry looked shocked. "What? I can't tell..."
"No, no." Hermione was waving her hand. "No, I didn't mean about Malfoy and your sordid shenanigans. I meant about collapsing." Harry felt himself start to blush under her scrutiny and he had to look anywhere but at her. "Unless it's all connected."
He gave a strange, high-pitched laugh and finally looked into her brown eyes. They twinkled with amusement and he decided that if he hadn't loved her already he would probably have fallen in love with her now. "What? You think it was some sort of Slytherin foreplay? He conks me over the head and has his wicked way?" The tense atmosphere seemed to dissipate a little.
"Well, I don't remember reading that in Hogwarts: A History, but I could check the Slytherin records if you want." They stared at each other for several minutes before finally collapsing in howls of laughter. Hermione was still giggling when she finally spoke again. "Look, as much as I'd like to stand here debating Slytherin mating rituals, I think you should get dressed and we can continue this in much more comfortable surroundings."
Harry found the tension and fear slowly leave him and he let out a long heart-felt sigh. "You're right, of course."
"Well, aren't I always? It's just a shame it's taken you seven years to actually admit it."
"If you tell anyone else I said it, I will deny it categorically."
"Typical. You boys are all the same, full of hero worship in private, but never admitting it in public. Now, what are we going to do with your hair?"
They both stared into the mirror again as Hermione picked up a few strands between her fingertips as though she was touching something horrible. "There is the hat option, of course."
"It might grow back."
"I should hope so ... I'd hate for you to be like this for the rest of your life."
"No. It does that sometimes. Grows back really fast. When I was little, Aunt Petunia was always hacking at it because it was such a mess, but by the next morning it had grown back."
"Really?" Harry nodded as Hermione ruffled the black hair thoughtfully. "Must be magic."
"Don't tell her that ... she'd have a fit if she found out I'd been doing magic all my life."
"But, that doesn't solve our immediate problem does it. In about..." she looked at her watch. "Two hours, you will have to go down for breakfast. Do you want to assume it might grow back before then?"
"It doesn't seem very likely does it?"
"Well, you could try a spell on it and see what happens."
"You could try a spell ... it's more likely to work than mine. I'd end up turning it green or blond."
"Now, that would be interesting. A blond-haired Harry Potter. You could be a matched pair with Malfoy." His face fell and Hermione quickly changed tactics. "Or I could cut it for you."
Thirty minutes later, the newly shorn Harry Potter stepped out from the bathroom. His fingers worried the hem of the t-shirt Hermione had collected for him. It was one he'd almost worn to death under his Quidditch robes, the once dark green colour washed to a paleness almost obscuring the silver writing across his chest ... My team lost at Quidditch... "Well, what do you think?" He'd had to shower away all the loose hair, but finally he felt clean and dry.
Hermione leaned back in her chair and scrutinized him for a moment. She'd manage to salvage something from Harry's hacking job, and now his hair was a little shorter, probably just collar length. It still looked a little messy ... what Lavender had once described as 'just out of bed' ... and Hermione thought the only way to cure that would be to cut it really short, like Ron's. She'd styled it so that it curled over his ears, and around his neck, but for the first time the fringe was pushed back from his temple. It seemed to open up the whole of his face, even if Harry kept fiddling with bits to cover his scar. Now, if she could just get him to change his glasses to lighter frames, something that didn't hide his eyes quite so much.
"Hmmm, very nice. I made quite a good job considering what I had to work with. Still nicely long enough to annoy people like Snape, and for people to imagine running their fingers through." He shot her a dirty look. "I have a list of people waiting for that dubious honour. And stop fiddling with the fringe."
Harry shoved his hands into the pockets of his jogging bottoms. "I am not that desperate."
"Of course you're not. Come and sit down. Dobby's brought us some tea." She indicated the chair on the other side of the low table where a tray of tea things had been placed. "Now talk."
He crossed to the armchair and rested his hands on the back. "I've been thinking. Maybe I should talk to Malfoy first. There are things I need ... I should check things out first."
Hermione shrugged as she began to pour tea into the two cups. "Okay, if you would feel more comfortable talking to him first." The change in tactic had the desired effect. Harry seemed to relax as he slid into the chair. She played her second card. "He came to me for help."
"He came here?" Harry didn't hide his surprise at this news.
"Yes. I wonder why he did that? Slytherins don't normally venture this high up, and to come right into Gryffindor territory as well ... right into the Lion's Den." She let her words drift off, able to almost see Harry's mind mulling over the concept of Malfoy climbing all those stairs.
"I thought maybe you'd ... you know ... come looking."
She shook her head, keeping up the gentle easy conversation, the one she knew would eventually get what she wanted from Harry. "I didn't even know you weren't tucked up in your own bed. Malfoy got in here." She changed her tone slightly and put on her best school ma'am voice. "You didn't give him the passwords, I hope."
"No, of course not!" He began worrying his lower lip, trying to equate the person he was sure had been lying to him with the one who would sneak into Gryffindor Tower, risking getting caught by Filch or one of the teachers. "Was he ... worried?"
Hermione shrugged. "He was Malfoy." She spoke as though those three words would explain everything. Then, after a thoughtful hesitation, she added. "He did seem concerned."
"Oh." Harry watched as Hermione pushed a cup towards him.
"Harry, can I say something?" He shrugged and gave a little nod.
"Something happened tonight and I know you aren't ready to tell me what it is. But when you woke up you were really scared. I've known you for a very long time ... we've been through a hell of a lot together and I don't ever remember you looking as scared as that."
"It's difficult to explain."
"I know. And I know you need to sort things out, but if you go to Malfoy and he does something to you before you tell anyone what happened, we won't be able to do anything about it. We know what Malfoy is like ... what he's capable of ... what his father is involved in. I hate to say it, but you don't know whether or not he's using you."
Harry stared at her for a moment. "I know, Hermione, I know."
"Then please tell me what happened tonight, someone has to know just in case ... well, someone should know."
The pleading in his friend's voice cut into the knot of worry still held deep inside from earlier. He pulled his legs up to his chest, resting his head on his knees, as he debated for a moment just what to say to the person who was his best friend in the whole world. Probably more so than Ron, which was saying something.
Dumbledore had told him not to tell anyone of the prophecy, but he'd told Ron, who had suggested he keep it secret from Hermione. As for his new magical talents, he'd discussed that with no one besides his godfather and the Headmaster.
The truth was, he wanted to tell Hermione what had happened in Draco's room, but he couldn't explain why he thought he'd collapsed without telling her about the dream stone. So he would either have to tell her nothing or everything.
So he told her everything.
To her credit, Hermione took the whole story in her stride, but by the time Harry had finished she had no fingernails left. She had never doubted that Harry was special, and what he told her just confirmed it even more. The idea that he would have some form of magic different from others fitted in with what she had found out about his father's family and now she was left wondering about Lily's background as well.
As for the prophecy, was it really possible that something that old could be tied into Harry? Her mind was already mulling over books that might help trace the document and authenticate it. Dumbledore had probably already done that, but for some reason she needed to check for herself.
That thought caused a little knot of concern deep inside ... she had complete confidence in the Headmaster, yet someone had to watch out for Harry ... someone who didn't have a separate agenda.
Her reaction to the Portkeys and Lucius' letter had been just a little different, however. She had demanded that Harry go straight to Dumbledore and when he had refused she threatened, cajoled and eventually pleaded with him to be sensible.
Harry ... being Harry ... stuck to his guns. He would, he told her; go to Dumbledore after he'd gotten a satisfactory explanation from Draco. Until then please would she keep his confidence?
And that was where they currently were. They sat in silence for some time watching the now cold pot of tea as Hermione tried to comprehend everything. An impasse that neither was prepared to give way on.
He didn't sleep.
Instead, Draco spent the time between his moment of crystal clear revelation and the inevitable crashing on his door accompanied by shouts of, "Come on Draco, breakfast," studying the emerald.
It sat on his desk, glinting in the candlelight, and Draco had come to hate everything about it. Even its value as a gemstone had ceased to be of importance and all he wanted now was to understand what had happened earlier.
He'd tried all the spells and incantations he could think of, from simple revealing charms to several rather complicated hexes, to find out how the stone had been enchanted, but none had worked. Of course, there were a few things he could still try, but that would mean getting into the potions storeroom and 'liberating' certain items without Snape's knowledge.
Lips set in a thin line, he picked up the stone yet again, twisting it between his hands as though this time the information he sought would suddenly become available to him. There had been a couple of times when he had looked deep into the heart of the emerald and thought he'd seen something ... a flicker of light maybe, but it had been so ephemeral that he wondered if he'd imagined it.
His fingers tapped nervously against the cut facets of the stone. There was, he finally decided, one way to learn more and that was to talk with his father. If he phrased his questions just so maybe he could get Lucius to tell him why Harry hadn't disappeared and why the Gryffindor had collapsed.
Draco put the stone down and wrinkled his nose in annoyance at the residue that now coated his fingers. Even though he'd wiped the surface several times there were still traces of oil on it ... even magic hadn't cleaned it. He sighed. Now he would smell of sandalwood again.
"Draco, are you in there!"
The shout was followed by what sounded like a kick against the door and Draco glowered in annoyance at the interruption. He reached for his wand and quickly cast his privacy spells over the room to hide all traces of his work on the stone. Only when he had unlocked the door did he realise that the handle of his wand now had oil on it as well.
This was, he decided, getting beyond a joke. It was like Potter had hexed the wretched stuff and he was going to find it lurking on everything he touched for the rest of his life. Without thinking he tucked the wand away and wiped his hand on the side of trousers as he crossed to the door. The action stopped him dead in his tracks and he stared at the offending hand and grimaced at what he'd just done.
"Fucking hell, Harry." The mark didn't show on the dark material, but swearing didn't help either.
He opened the door with more force than necessary. "What!"
Waiting in the corridor were not only Crabbe and Goyle, but also the rest of the Slytherin Quidditch team and a few hangers-on. He stared at the welcoming committee for a moment before raising a sardonic eyebrow. "Are we going to breakfast en masse today?"
"There's a notice." Goyle spoke the words as if they should explain everything, then he sniffed the air. "What's that smell? Have you been burning incense? Snape will be really pissed if you stink out the common room again."
"It's nothing. What notice?"
"They've moved the Gryffindor match." Milena pushed her way between the bulk of the two Slytherin Beaters. "It's not going to be until next term."
"It's got to be Malfoy's fault." Seamus peered closely at the signature at the bottom of the sheet of parchment. "I bet he's forged it."
"Don't be silly, Madam Hooch pinned it to the board ... Neville saw her." Hermione tutted. "All this over a stupid game, which I should point out is only being postponed not cancelled completely. If you want to worry about something then it should be your NEWTs. Do you know how long we have left?" The comment was met by a chorus of catcalls from the group of Gryffindors clustered around the notice board in the Entrance Hall. Folding her arms, she glared at them all. "You'll all regret it, you know. Don't come crying to me when you fail."
"Good point, Granger, though I doubt even after seven years of study they'd pass much anyway."
The voice cut through the general hubbub and as one the Gryffindors turned in its direction.
Hermione recognised the lazy drawl and looked skyward as if in need of divine inspiration. Draco Malfoy -- the last person she wanted to see at the moment, especially not with Harry's tales still fresh in her mind. She would be eternally grateful to Harry that he had skirted around the more 'intimate' details -- it was bad enough seeing what she had seen earlier.
The rest of the Slytherins were arranged behind Malfoy like some sort of Praetorian Guard, while he stood there, hands in his trouser pockets, like the emperor she was convinced he thought himself to be. He stared at her, eyebrow rising in a question before turning his grey gaze onto Harry who was standing by the notice board next to Ron. Harry looked quickly at Malfoy, then at her. She winked at him and was pleased to see that he held his ground, green eyes glinting as he met Malfoy's gaze.
It was clear to her that something passed between them and she wondered if anyone else noticed. Harry shifted slightly, leaning back against the wall while Malfoy straightened a little, chin raised as he cast his cold stare around the assembled Gryffindors. He stepped forward, and, amid dark mutterings, the group parted as he strode up to the board and stopped in front of Ron, who made no move to get out of the Slytherin's way.
"Excuse me." Draco's voice was clipped. He had to look up a little to meet the Gryffindor captain's eyes.
Ron's lip curled slightly, and with exaggerated courtesy, he stepped aside and waved the Slytherin captain forward.
The notice was very simple:
Hogwarts Quidditch Cup -- Change of Match
The following matches have been rescheduled:
Ravenclaw v Hufflepuff
Original date: Saturday 23rd May 1998.
This match will now be played on Sunday 19th April 1998.
Gryffindor v Slytherin
Original date: Saturday 14th March 1998.
This match will now be played on Saturday 23rd May 1998.
Madam Hooch -- Director of Flying
Draco turned towards Weasley, his head tilted slightly to one side. He could see Harry standing just behind the redhead. "Happy? Me? Oh, I'm ecstatic." Grey eyes flicked to again meet the green before returning to stare down Weasley. "Did you go to Hooch and tell her you weren't ready, and pleeeassseee can we have more time?" His voice took on a whiny tone.
Blue eyes glinted dangerously and it was clear Ron was annoyed at not getting in the quip about asking for a rescheduling first. "In case you've forgotten, we don't need more time. We could play it now and destroy you and your bunch of losers. Harry," he glanced over his shoulder. "How many points are we currently ahead of the Slytherins?"
There was a moment's silence before the Gryffindor Seeker finally answered. "Two hundred and forty."
"And how many times has the current Slytherin Seeker beaten you to the Snitch?"
The surrounding Gryffindors let out whoops of delight and in return the Slytherins turned on them, both groups breaking into arguments with much arm waving and threatening fists. The two captains watched for a moment, but made no move to help Hermione try to break up the altercations.
"I checked up on your birthday, Ferret."
"Bully for you, Weasel."
"So, is daddy planning on getting you a new broom for your birthday?"
Draco glanced at Weasley and shrugged. "Possibly."
"Well, you need something to replace your broken shaft don't you."
"There's nothing wrong with my broom, Weasley. In fact I've been told it gives a really nice ride." He looked pointedly at Harry who was currently arguing with Milena, one of the Slytherin Chasers. Watching Harry's arrogant stance, the delightful profile and the gesturing hands brought pleasant warmth to the pit of his stomach. "In fact I've had no complaints at all ... unlike you."
"I've never had any complaints about my flying."
"No? I've heard tales about how you take them flying but the flight always gets cut short. Something about shaft weakness. You should get that seen to, you know. I understand it gets worse with age."
"My broom comes from a long line of very productive models." Ron glared malevolently. "Unlike yours. I bet daddy hates that he's only got one in the family, and a defective model at that."
"Not defective, I just choose to fly it differently sometimes. Have you ever tried it?" The grey eyes that turned on Ron were full of mock innocence.
"Fuck off, you pervert."
Draco shrugged and leaned closer to Ron, his voice soft so as not to be overheard. "He's got a nice arse hasn't he?"
"What?" The single word was spat out with incredulity.
"Potter," Draco nodded in the direction of the Gryffindor Seeker who was still arguing with Milena, and he realised for the first time that Harry had cut his hair. The knowledge threw Draco for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure. "Nice arse. I bet you're pissed you didn't get to him first. All those years of trying and you never managed to snag him for yourself."
"Harry's my friend..."
"Yeah, just like I thought. I bet you watch him in the shower..."
The two boys had turned on each other and were now almost nose-to-nose. Ron's face was red with fury and both his hands were balled into fists. "You are dead, Malfoy." A hand snapped up and Draco felt the tip of a wand press against his throat. "You are going die very, very slowly." The hissed words cut through the tense air between them.
"Well, fuck me, Weasley, I'm sooooo scared." The only sign of his own fury was the cold glint of ice in Draco's eyes. He didn't reach for his own wand or for the one digging into his throat. Instead he raised a hand towards Ron as if to push him away, and let out a little controlled breath. To those watching, it looked like Draco had pushed Ron, but his hand never made contact. Instead a surge of energy whooshed from his palm, the magic flowing from him like an invisible pressure wave. It hit Ron squarely on the chest, sending him flying backwards to land in a sprawl at Harry's feet.
A silence fell over the Entrance Hall as everyone stared at the fallen Gryffindor Captain. It was as if the scene had been captured in a Muggle photograph, the little groups frozen in mid-fight or shout. Then, just as it seemed no one would ever move again, Ron let out a roar of anger as he took aim at Draco, the curse already on his lips.
Harry's voice cut through the still air as he leapt for his friend, knocking his arm away. The curse crashed into the leg of the huge notice board, snapping it in a spray of splinters. Draco stared, open mouthed, as the board seemed to teeter over him for a moment. He turned on his heel, trying to get out of the way, but his foot slipped beneath him.
If it hits me, it'll probably kill me. The thought echoed through Draco's mind as something crashed into him, sending him flying across the ground. As he landed on the unforgiving stone, all the air was forced from his lungs in a single grunt of pain. Stars danced momentarily before his eyes and he pushed at the weight pressing down on his chest. It gave under his hands and his eyes flashed open. Notice boards do not 'give'.
"Potter." The word came out as a hiss as he realised the weight belonged to Harry, who had clearly pushed him out of the way of the collapsing notice board and was currently sprawled over him, hips and chest pressed very nicely against Draco. He met the green eyes and thought he saw something in them ... eleven hours ago they had looked at him with desire ... nine hours ago they had been hazy with passion as he had pushed into Harry's body ... three hours ago, they had looked at him with fear...
And now? What was the green telling him? As he watched, he thought he again saw desire and need. Then they widened slightly in what appeared to be horror, the reason behind the look suddenly obvious as Harry's growing hardness pressed against him. Harry's hands fled to the ground, pushing him up from the Slytherin's body, but that only made his hips dig harder into Draco's own.
Draco grinned surreptitiously and flexed against Harry. The movement was just delicious. He was on the floor in the middle of the Entrance Hall with Harry Potter getting hard. All his fears from earlier suddenly scurried away. If Harry hated him after what had happened, then dark-haired boy would hardly get turned on like this.
"What is going on here?"
As the new voice echoed with undisguised loathing around the Hall, the glorious weight suddenly disappeared. Draco pushed himself up onto his elbows, eyes flicking from Harry, who was scrambling away on his backside, to the owner of the voice he knew so well.
Standing by the stairs leading up from the Slytherin Dungeons was his own Head of House, but what made Draco raise a surprised eyebrow were the two men accompanying the Potions Master. On one side was Professor Lupin, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and on the other Harry's godfather Sirius Black. Draco didn't deign to give the man the title of either teacher or professor. Whatever Black was teaching students, it didn't involve the Slytherin and that was yet another reason for Draco's distaste for the man.
"Potter, I might have known you'd be involved in this." Snape's sneer was directed at the Seeker.
Harry was now on top of the flattened notice board, his ankle having caught on the wood in his attempt to get away from both Draco and his own impending erection. "Professor, it's not..." Green eyes turned imploringly towards his godfather, but judging from the man's expression, it soon became clear that no help would be forthcoming from that direction. "It's not like it looks, sir."
"I'm not interested in what it looks like. All of you, get back to your common rooms."
"But sir," Seamus took a step towards the teachers. "We've a training session in an hour."
"No you haven't, Mr Finnigan." Snape folded his arms, hands disappearing inside the voluminous sleeves of his black robes. "As none of you appear to be able to control yourselves over a simple change of match notice, neither team will be allowed to practice until after the Easter break."
For once both sets of students seemed to be in agreement and the choruses of disbelief were in unison. Draco scrambled to his feet, aware that Harry was actually at his side. "Professor..." His words joined those of the other students.
"What?" "That's not fair!" "We need to practice." "It's their fault."
All the words jumbled together as the three teachers watched in silence.
"Enough." Lupin's quiet voice cut through the noise. "Severus, I have a suggestion. Mr Filch mentioned the windows of the Quidditch changing rooms need to be varnished. I am sure he would appreciate..." He quickly counted the students. "Eighteen willing helpers on a sunny day like this."
Harry looked up from his close scrutiny of his right index finger and gave Neville a sad smile. "I've got at least two splinters from that bloody notice board." He wiggled the finger. "I'll kill Sirius for coming up with the idea of me repairing the board and for suggesting I do it with Malfoy!"
Of course, Harry knew he couldn't tell anyone the real reason he was pissed with Sirius. The very last person he wanted to be with at the moment was Draco Malfoy. It had taken them the best part of the day to repair, sand down and then repaint the notice board and in all that time they'd had one conversation, which had gone along the lines of:
Draco: "You've cut your hair."
Harry: "Why what?"
Draco: "Why did you cut it?"
Harry: "I felt like it."
Draco: "I like it. It suits you."
Harry: "Pass me the varnish."
And that had been the sum total of their words to each other. The problem was that the fact Draco had noticed his hair had made Harry's stomach flip, and he had quickly realised that being with the Slytherin was exactly what he wanted. Yet he couldn't get out of his mind what he'd seen during the dream stone vision. He also knew he should talk to someone ... Dumbledore ... Sirius ... McGonagall ... even Snape ... yet somehow it felt almost....
Disloyal? How could he be disloyal to Draco if either Draco or his father were doing something that could directly endanger everyone at Hogwarts? He sucked briefly on his finger as if he could draw the splinters out that way. It was a mess ... everything about his life was such a mess.
Realising Neville was watching him, Harry finally pulled the finger from his mouth. "What about you?"
Neville shrugged. "Well, I'd have preferred to fix the notice board then all that painting. See these shiny patches on my arm?" He shoved his forearm at Harry. "That's varnish and it won't come off, even with Pansy's cleaning potion."
"So, that's where you've been." Seamus dropped down with a thud onto one of the armchairs around the fire in the seventh-year dormitory. "We wondered where you'd ended up after dinner."
"She mentioned the potion."
"Suuurrrre, Neville. The potion." Seamus toed off his shoes and wiggled his feet in the direction of the flames, deliberately ignoring the tirade of abuse from Dean about the smell. He dismissed the comments with a wave of his hand. "Piss off, Dean, your feet are worse. I'm surprised we survived nearly seven years with them. Hey, hey, hey. I've got an idea!" The Irish boy bounced on his chair. "Harry, you could use Dean as a secret weapon. Get him up close and personal with the Dark Lord and then take his shoes off!"
The four boys sniggered together for a moment, before Neville turned his attention back to Harry's finger. "You want me to get them out?"
Harry nodded and watched as Neville reached for his wand. "Did you all finish the painting?"
"Just about," Dean commented with a grunt. "You had the best part of the deal."
"Yeah, spending the day repairing a notice board and then sanding it down and repainting it without magic was a real fun adventure." Harry stared in fascination as the splinters slowly pulled from his finger, hanging momentarily in the air between finger and wand.
"I hope you got sawdust in Malfoy's hair ... or paint. Permanent unremovable paint in his hair would be good." Neville finished his healing spell and the splinters dropped into his palm. "There ... finished."
"Thanks." Harry looked at the finger. The inflammation where one of the splinters had been was now completely gone and there was no longer any irritation. "You should go into medical magic, Neville, you've got a real talent there."
The young wizard grinned as if the comment from Harry was one of the most important things ever said to him. "That's okay." He sat down with his friends. "Has anyone seen Ron?"
"What the devil were you thinking of?"
Cloud stood before the desk, his head bowed a little as Shadow berated him for his earlier behaviour. "I'm sorry, but he..."
"I've told you that I don't care what Malfoy did or said. You stupidly tried to curse him. Have you any idea what would have happened if your curse had hit him? You should thank your lucky stars that Potter disrupted your aim and then stopped the notice board from hitting him. Do you know the trouble we have been through to get you the Head Boy post?" The boy opened his mouth to answer, but the older man held up his hand, silencing him. "Dumbledore is quite within his rights to remove you, but I think I've persuaded him that you weren't at fault. But I'm warning you, step out of line again and I won't be able to protect you."
"Please, it won't happen again."
"Really?" Shadow sat back and steepled his fingers. "You hexed his broom."
"I..." A flush of colour swept across Cloud's face.
"It was ... well..."
"An accident? You keep on having accidents, don't you." The anger clearly visible on Shadow's face finally turned into something else. "Sit down." The boy did as instructed. "Listen, because I am only going to tell you this once. We are here for two reasons. The first is to protect Malfoy."
"I. Said. Listen." The words were spoken as though talking to an idiot. "Why do you think we've had the Quidditch match postponed? We can't afford for Malfoy to be injured when we are so close. David needs Malfoy fit and healthy and I can assure you that he hasn't waited for nearly 18 years to be foiled by a brat like you with a vindictive streak a mile wide." He paused.
"Didn't it occur to you that they'd analyse his broom? That they would eventually trace the magic back to you?"
"No ... no it didn't. I'm sorry."
"So you should be. If you can't learn to control your temper, then I am going to have to teach you. Believe me, you won't enjoy the lessons."
"I'll do my best."
"You will do better than your best. From this moment on you will make it your life's work to make sure that nothing happens to Draco Malfoy between now and his birthday. After that, when he gets back to school you can do what you wish." A grin spread across Cloud's face at the thought. "Our second reason for being here is to deal with Potter. Your task in that is clear and hasn't changed ... watch him and find out what Dumbledore has been filling his stupid head with. And, when you're not doing that, to help me rip him apart so that his powers will seep out of him just as the magic did from Malfoy's broom."
The smile disappeared almost instantly and a look of hesitancy flickered in its place. "About ... about Harry. I'm not sure... He's my friend and..."
"Was your friend. You gave up that friendship when you decided to follow David."
"Has David asked for anything from you? He's taken you under his wing and trained you ... given you access to magic beyond your dreams."
"I know. But to destroy Harry? I know he's not pure-blood, but it just seems a ... a waste. What if I can turn him? Get him to understand about David and everything else."
Shadow gave a chuckle. "Foolish boy. Not even you could drag Potter away from Dumbledore's brainwashing. You have to make a choice once and for all, Cloud. Either you choose Potter or David. You can't have both."
Harry's Journal -- Wednesday 11th March 1998
If anyone had told me a week ago I'd be searching through the newspaper archives I found back in January looking for things that might give a direct connection between the Malfoys and Voldemort, I'd have said they were idiots. Of course there's a connection. It's been clear for nearly seven years, so why do I need proof?
I need proof because suddenly it's very important to know. Before New Year I think that if I'd gotten proof that he was involved with Voldemort I would have been over the moon. At last I'd be able to go to Dumbledore and tell the Headmaster that I knew who Voldemort's spy at the school was. But since then we've talked and spent time together and had Valentines Day and the Astronomy Tower.
And last Friday.
But it's because of last Friday that I'm here now. Down in the bowels of the castle in this room that I don't think anyone else knows about. It is full of racks of old newspapers -- probably the complete back catalogue of the Daily Prophet. There are other newspapers as well -- ones I've not heard of before, so I guess they aren't published any more.
I've noticed something about the Daily Prophet. It's changed. It used to be much more serious ... more controversial ... than it is now. There's loads of stuff about the trials after Voldemort tried to kill me. But after they ended the reporting became less serious. Oh, there's still 'news' in it ... like back when someone tried to break into Vault 713 on my 11th birthday ... but there was nothing about what happened after the Triwizard Tournament or any of the incidents with Death Eaters since Voldemort's return.
It's like Voldemort has disappeared ... or never returned ... as far as the public is concerned. Dumbledore must feel like he's hitting his head against a brick wall sometimes. I'm not sure whether I'm pleased or scared to know the truth about what the Dark Lord is up to. But what chance do we have of getting rid of him if most of the Wizarding world isn't interested or doesn't care? Have they forgotten what he was like before?
And what about 'him'? Is he still planning on being a Death Eater like his father?
I spent years knowing what Lucius is and expecting it to be 'like father like son'. But he was different last September ... different at New Year. It was like he'd finally realised just what Voldemort really was and there was a little spark of hope in the back of my mind that maybe he'd changed. I even think I believed that until the letter in the vision. Could I really be that stupid?
I've not spoken to him much since then -- just a few words in class, but nothing else. I want to, but I don't know what to say to him. "I hate you because you lied to me," sounds like a good beginning. But the trouble is I don't hate him ... at least I don't think I do.
Or is it okay to want to shag your enemy?
Looking up from his journal, Harry automatically closed the book. It had become an unconscious action now -- if he was writing and someone else turned up, the book got closed and the locking charms automatically set. He grinned at the visitor. "Ron, hi. What are you doing down here?"
"I was about to ask you the same question." The redhead dropped onto a chair next to his friend. "There's a room at the end of the corridor that seems to have taken over from the Astronomy Tower as a meeting place. I've just chucked a couple of Ravenclaws out and saw the light on in here. Have you any idea of the time?"
Harry glanced at his watch, surprised to find it was almost 9pm ... in another 30 minutes Ron would be perfectly within his rights to give him a detention for being out of Gryffindor Tower past that magical cut-off time when all good children were supposed to be in bed. "I lost track." He gave a cocky half smile. "Does that mean I get a detention?"
"Yeah right, Potter. You can polish my Cleansweep when you get back to the dormitory." He grinned at Harry and began flicking through some of the papers spread on the table. "So, what are you doing down here? Have you decided to become a Daily Prophet journalist and are here looking for inspiration?"
Harry swept an arm around the room. "Did you know this place was here?"
"Nope. Hogwarts: A History mentions there's an archive at the school, but not that it seems to have every newspaper ever printed."
"Since when did you start reading Hogwarts: A History?"
"I didn't. Hermione left her copy open on the desk and it happened to be at a page about the archive." Ron scanned over an article about someone flaunting building regulations, snorted and tossed the paper back onto the table. "Why the sudden interest in old newspapers?"
Harry flicked through one of the issues and pointed to a photograph. "Remember how Hermione and Justin had their pictures in the Prophet when they were named Head Girl and Boy, and then your picture was in there when you took over from Justin? Well, these are my parents on the day they were named. I've found out loads of stuff about them. I even found my birth announcement."
He pulled out the relevant newspaper and turned it to a well-thumbed page. When he'd first found the little announcement, Harry had torn it out, but had felt so guilty about destroying the paper he'd pestered Hermione for a spell that would put it back in place.
The words were simple:
Potter: Harry James. Born to James and Lily at the St Keira's Teaching Hospital, Southampton on Thursday 31st July 1980 at noon. Our boy is here at last.
Harry ran his finger over it. "Ron, do you really believe in astrology?"
Ron shrugged. "Do you?"
"I don't know. Did you make it up? What you read on my star chart ... was that true?"
"As best as I could understand it. Harry, what's this all about? You've never worried about divination stuff before. Is it because of that prophecy thing?"
"Maybe." Harry gave a little shrug. "I've been wondering what my parents were doing in Southampton when I was born, and why they were there instead of Godric's Hollow? Did we live there first and then move to Godric's Hollow later?"
"Have you asked Sirius or Dumbledore? They'd know."
"Yeah, maybe I'll do that. But the star chart. Would it have been different if I'd been born at Godric's Hollow?"
"Don't know if it would have made that much difference, mate, but I'll check it if you want."
"No." Harry gave a little huff of a sigh. "It's all stupid anyway. I refuse to believe that my fate is foretold in the stars." He grinned at his friend.
"Oh? What about the prophecy then? Do you believe in that?"
"Yeah, sure I do." The tone was suitably sarcastic. "Did you manage to find out anything else about it?"
Ron shook his head. "No, but I did find a copy in a library book printed 70 years ago, so Dumbledore is right that it's been around for a while. But not anything before then, so he might be exaggerating with the idea it's 750 years old. Has Dumbledore said anything else to you? About the healing the land bit?"
"No, nothing." The lie was blatant, and Harry was surprised at how easy it was. "Ron, do you remember things from the second year ... you know, the Chamber of Secrets and Tom Riddle?"
The Head Boy gave a snort. "How could I forget? You being a Parselmouth, Ginny almost being killed, Tom Riddle being You Know Who." He gave a shudder. "All the spiders. I'll be happy to never, ever go back into the Forbidden Forest for as long as I live."
"Yeah. Neville said he's found you chanting a Spider Detracting spell."
"Well, I bet you'd do the same."
Harry smiled. "I won't tell you what sort of detraction spells I've got round my bed."
"So what's this got to do with Riddle?"
"I saw a picture of someone earlier and it reminded me of him."
"And you're looking for a photo of Riddle to confirm it?" Ron asked.
Harry sighed, pursing his lips thoughtfully. Yes, why? The idea of trying to find a photo of Riddle had started earlier in the week. He had been in bed trying to sleep, but his mind just kept going over and over his first sight of Draco's room. There had been the weird sculpture on the wall, and all the bits and pieces on the shelves.
But there had been something else he'd not taken in at the time. On one of the shelves there had been a photograph of Draco and on either side of him were two men Harry thought he recognised. One was definitely Alex Palmer, the Seeker for the Montrose Magpies. Draco had made no secret of the fact he'd received some extracurricular training over the summer or whom it had been with.
It was the third person that'd caught Harry's attention. It wasn't so much that he recognised him, as that there was just something familiar about the man's expression and his stunning blue eyes. Then, when he'd finally gotten to sleep, he'd fallen into one of his nightmares, this time reliving the events of his second year in vivid detail.
The expression of the man in the photograph had been exactly the same as the one on Riddle's face after the Basilisk's fang had pierced Harry's arm, flooding his system with its poison. That image had remained with Harry all day, to the point that he was now convinced the third person in the photo was either Riddle's twin or Riddle himself.
Harry knew he couldn't tell Ron about the photo in Draco's room -- what kind of excuse could he come up with for being there in the first place! He rummaged through the papers again. "I finally found this." The newspaper was opened to a selection of Hogwarts related photographs, including those of the Head Boy and Girl for the coming year. Harry tapped one of the images. "That's Riddle. Do you know who he reminds me of? He looks like the guy who owns the Chudley Cannons. What's his name?" Harry tapped his fingers in annoyance on the table as he tried to remember. "Morrello ... David or Dennis Morrello."
When Ron didn't answer, Harry looked at him. His friend had gone ashen, his numerous freckles standing out like painted-on dots across his pale cheeks. "Ron?" He reached out a hand to touch the other's shoulder. "Ron, what is it? What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Chudley Cannons Stadium ... Saturday 16th December 1995 ... Morning
"Wow, I don't believe I'm really here." Ron Weasley was standing on the centre spot of the Chudley Cannons Quidditch pitch, and he was currently looking around in awe. As he turned, he stared at the towering tiers of seating that surrounded the pitch, finally letting his eyes linger on the huge golden triple hoops at one end. He really was standing on the hallowed turf of his favourite team.
"Do you want to fly?"
"Could I?" Ron turned to meet the sapphire eyes of his mentor, totally unaware that his own blue eyes were twinkling with need and desire and yearning. The Cannons had been his favourite team for as long as he could remember, in fact he wasn't even sure when or why he had started supporting them. He'd been to see them play many times, but to be here on a match day as a special guest was beyond his wildest dreams. "This is brilliant."
David Morrello smiled benevolently as he placed a hand on Ron shoulder. "Well, I said I'd get you tickets, didn't I? And you know I always keep my promises."
"Yeah, I know." The young wizard smiled at the older man; still unable to believe the fact the person he'd met in the library during the summer was actually the new owner of the Chudley Cannons. When he'd found out a month before he was over the moon, and told everyone who would listen that he knew David personally. And now here he was, with his family, a special guest for the day for their match against the Montrose Magpies.
"So, how does it feel to be a Keeper yourself?" With a gentle push, David steered the boy back towards the stands. As they walked they left their footprints in the frost.
"It's really great. My first game's at the end of January." The words were spoken quickly, their speed an indication of how excited Ron was. "Of course, it's a shame about Robert. He was a good Keeper."
"But a Keeper who loses his nerve isn't much good is he?"
Ron shook his head, the image of sixth-year Robert Hesketh seeming to just lose it during the match against Hufflepuff still clear in his mind. Robert had been turning to block Hufflepuff chaser Megan Jones when he'd just stopped in mid air and stared into the distance. The Keeper had then flown to the ground and fled into the changing rooms. No amount of cajoling would persuade him to return to the pitch even though Gryffindor would forfeit the match if he didn't. Ron had been asked to step into the vacant position and he couldn't wait to play against Slytherin.
As the two reached the stands, David beckoned over a young wizard. The man stepped towards them and smiled. David still had his hand on Ron's shoulder as he gestured towards the new comer. "This is Martin Snell, he'll be looking after you and your family. Martin, I want you to make sure everyone has a really good time. I want Ron to remember today for a very long time."
"Yes, Mr Morrello." The man ducked his head a little, as though giving a bow.
"Ron is also going to join the team for our warm up..."
"But..." Snell looked shocked at the suggestion, while Ron's expression was euphoric, almost overcome with excitement at the suggestion.
"It's all been arranged, Martin." The words were strangely cold and the assistant's eyes widened slightly in what might have been fear. "I want you to find Ron a full set of robes and have him ready on the pitch in 30 minutes."
"Yes, sir." The words were almost inaudible and he quickly ushered Ron away.
As the two young men disappeared from view a figure moved out of the shadows, stopping at Morrello's side. He followed the other's gaze. "I think he's ready."
Neither man looked at the other as they watched the empty space where the young Gryffindor had just walked. "Yes."
"Give him the Firebolt as well, and he'll do practically anything."
"No. That would raise too much suspicion. Besides, I don't want him to get ideas above his station. Too many presents and he'll be almost as useless as the Malfoy brat. No, my dear Shadow, this one is pure and I want him bent to my will." Morrello chuckled darkly. "It's so easy when they're left wanting. And when our sweet little Ron finally falls he'll bring young Mr Potter along with him as well."
Ron strode purposefully down the corridor. Someone watching might have described his stride as 'angry', and the set of the Head Boy's mouth would confirm that. He was angry ... in fact he'd been angry for so long that he'd forgotten what it was like to be a happy normal person.
And now Harry had finally made a connection between Tom Riddle and David Morrello. If he told anyone else and they believed him, then David would fall under suspicion. David's role as owner of the Chudley Cannons had enabled him to gain such influence in the Wizarding world, which would have been unthinkable as Tom Riddle. If he should lose that then all their plans would fall into ruins.
He started up the flight of stairs leading to the Entrance Hall, taking them two at a time as a growing hatred for the boy who had once been best friend gnawed at him. Ron had found out about David's true identity a year before, but it was so easy to ignore the fact he had pledged himself to Voldemort when it was David he was dealing with. Voldemort was an evil, bigoted megalomaniac, but David was...
David was different. David had very strong views, but with him they suddenly all made sense. David treated him with respect and understood him in ways no one else did. David would make one hell of a great Minister of Magic ... a damn sight better than Fudge or any of the stupid man's cringing lackeys.
Ron came to a halt near the top of the staircase and plonked himself down in the shadows. Everything would be perfect if it wasn't for the fact Harry was involved. He didn't care what happened to Malfoy, even though, in theory, they were both on the same side now. But Harry...
It was one thing doing all this for David, but Harry's words down in the archive had reminded Ron that he was in the process of betraying his friend to Lord Voldemort and that knowledge was making Ron feel more than a little uneasy. There had to be a way to do what David wanted without Harry suffering ... to get Harry to understand that Dumbledore's wasn't the only way. If Harry was to come to David willingly...
He scratched absently at his left arm where the Mark given to him by David on his 18th birthday irritated his skin. He would have to be careful that no one saw the inflamed patch. Under normal circumstances, the Mark was invisible unless David was calling him, but sometimes it would itch when Ron was thinking about the Dark Lord and he would end up with red, angry-looking flesh.
Was it too late to turn back ... to go to Dumbledore and tell the old man what had happened? Harry was his friend; didn't he owe Harry something for their friendship? Maybe he should go back to Harry and talk to him.
Harry would understand ... Harry always understood....
Ron froze as a familiar voice echoed from above in the Entrance Hall. Malfoy? He knew it was the Slytherin and a flicker of cold hatred condensed in the pit of his stomach. Malfoy ... out of his dank dungeon at this time of night. Oh the joy. He could give the git a nice detention. Not something that would be dangerous of course, just nasty and very, very dirty.
He crept up the last few stairs until he could see the Entrance Hall through the gaps in the stone banister where he could see the blond jogging down the corridor. It was only then that he realised whose name Malfoy had just called.
He frowned as Hermione came into view and stopped in the centre of the Hall. Malfoy had called to her as if they were friends ... well, maybe not friends, but not enemies. What the fuck was going on? Hidden by the banister, Ron strained to listen. He wished he could get closer and cursed the fact he'd left the invisibility cloak David had given him for his birthday in his room.
"Malfoy. It's a little bit late for you to be running around the school. Unless you're looking for another detention."
"I know. I need to talk to you, Granger." Draco was a little breathless.
"And this couldn't wait until a more reasonable hour?"
"No. You've been doing your best to ignore me, just like Harry has since last week."
The girl frowned thoughtfully. "Oh, very well. My office is just down here." She gestured across the Hall.
Ron wasn't sure when he had stopped breathing. Maybe it had been when Malfoy had said he wanted to talk. Perhaps it was when he'd called Harry by his first name. Or was it when Hermione had agreed to discuss Harry with Malfoy?
Hermione had gone willingly to talk with Malfoy. As they walked past him now, there was something about the way the two fell into step that set alarm bells ringing in his head. Hermione was being friendly with Malfoy. She was talking to that scum ... just like Harry was.
Ron was nearly overcome with a sudden wave of fury and resentment, his earlier thoughts of talking to people about Voldemort completely erased. Not only had Harry betrayed him with Malfoy, now Hermione was doing exactly the same. David was right ... Mudbloods and half bloods -- neither could be trusted. They would always betray their friends in the end.
Everyone was turning their backs on him. Everyone except for David.
Except for Voldemort.
Hermione turned and watched Draco Malfoy jog down the corridor towards her. She'd never seen him run before out of Quidditch robes ... in fact, she couldn't even remember him doing anything at a quicker pace than a stroll. He came towards her now, robes billowing elegantly about him, hair flicked back from his face, and she found herself not for the first time beginning to understand what Harry might see in the Slytherin.
Harry hadn't said much since their heart-to-heart the previous Saturday, but it was clear that despite everything, he was still enamoured of Draco. She found herself sneakily watching them both in class and during mealtimes all too aware of what she could only describe as sexual tension between them.
"Malfoy. It's a little bit late for you to be running around the school. Unless you're looking for another detention."
He was breathing deeply, as if he'd been running to catch her and there was a flush of exertion on his face. "I know. I need to talk to you, Granger."
She folded her arms as she watched him, her foot tapping on the flagstone. "And this couldn't wait until a more reasonable hour?"
"No." Malfoy quickly shook his head and pointed an accusing finger at her. "You've been doing your best to ignore me, just like Harry has since last week."
Hermione let out a huff. It was true. The idea of discussing Harry's collapse or any of the other things he'd told her with Malfoy was something she'd deliberately shied away from. But the truth was that Malfoy was the answer to this and if Harry wasn't going to make the effort to find out, then someone else had to. Someone had to look after him if he wasn't going to look after himself. "Oh, very well. My office is just down here." She pointed to the corridor that lead eventually to the library and set off across the Entrance Hall.
Draco quickly fell into step beside her, but neither spoke again until they reached the little office she'd inherited as Head Girl and the door was closed behind them. The room was Spartan; it had a desk and a couple of wooden chairs ... not exactly the best or most comfortable place for a tête-à-tête.
Draco looked at the hard chair and wrinkled his nose, but sat anyway. He wrapped himself tightly in his robes, and Hermione wondered if he was cold. The room might be okay for her day-to-day work, she realised suddenly, but it wasn't the place for this particular talk.
"Oh, come on. Let's go somewhere more comfortable."
She crossed the room to a little door, whispered a spell and pushed it open. "After you."
Draco looked at her for a moment, but stepped through the door. Hermione followed the Slytherin and felt a familiar little pull that reminded her of a Portkey. It made her feel disorientated for a fraction of a second, but the sensation was so fleeting it was as though it hadn't really happened. Another step, and she found herself in her room up in Gryffindor Tower. Closing the door, she looked at Draco who was studying her with an expression of intrigue on his face. "The rooms are connected by a sort of portal."
"Oh." It seemed to be all Draco was able to say.
"We have to have a room where anyone can contact us, so if all I had was this one in Gryffindor Tower I'd be cut off from three quarters of the school. This way, people can go to my office and ring a bell and I can go down to them without having to traipse up and down all those steps."
"I know there are rooms connected like that. I'd just never used one of the portals before." Draco's eyebrow rose thoughtfully.
"It's all password protected and keyed to me before you think it's some easy way up here."
"That thought never crossed my mind."
"I bet." Hermione pointed to the chairs and watched as Draco made for the same one Harry had sat in the previous Saturday. "If that's the case, then you won't mind telling me how you got in here last week."
Draco looked up at her and shrugged. "It's easy. You wait in the shadows until someone comes to that portrait of the Fat Lady, use a magnifying charm so that you can hear what the password is and just hope that there isn't anyone in the common room."
"And if there is?"
"Then you cast a Confundus or distracting charm so that they don't see you. Or you steal Potter's invisibility cloak."
"And getting into my room?"
"Now, that was really difficult, Granger. I just opened the door."
"Do you know how many rooms there are here? Did you work your way round them all?"
"With Potter passed out in my bed?" he gave a snort of annoyance and took out his wand. "There's a version of the Four-point spell that can locate people if you've set your wand to do it." He laid the wand on his outstretched palm and said quietly. "Point Me Granger." The wand spun and finally came to rest so that the tip pointed in the girl's direction. "Like that."
"Okay. So you have your wand charmed to find me? Who else is it charmed to find?"
Draco frowned as though realising he'd given away more information then he'd intended. "Well, it helps to know where certain people are if I'm off having assignations with their friends." His face took on a much too innocent expression.
"Hmmm. All right, so, what is it you were so desperate to talk to me about that you were willing to hang around the Entrance Hall waiting for me?" Hermione leaned back in her chair. She would look into that spell in the morning and find a way to block it. Except, she reminded herself, without it Malfoy would never have tracked her down and she couldn't have gone to help Harry.
He didn't answer for some time, and Hermione found herself watching his hands as the long fingers twisted in the edge of his robes. This was a meeting she would never have considered possible a week ago, not when she took into account the animosity between the two of them. Malfoy's spitefulness to her was almost as legendary as his battles with Harry. Everyone seemed to know of his 'Mudblood' taunts, which had started in her second year and carried on until the fifth. They had lessened that year and were almost non-existent by the sixth. But while the name-calling had apparently become beneath him, he would still look at her in that same condescending way.
Until Harry had let it slip about his interest in Malfoy, she'd never spent much time wondering about the changes in the Slytherin. So much had taken place in their fifth year and if she was honest with herself, it was clear to her that Harry wasn't the only person affected by Cedric Diggory's death.
Her father had some interesting ideas about Malfoy, most of which she put down to the fact he didn't know the boy or have to put up with him day after day. The previous summer Harry had spent a couple of weeks with the Grangers after the events at the Burrow. Harry had told her some of what had happened to him and Ron, but Hermione was sure he was hiding something. It wasn't that she thought he lied, but more he hadn't told her the whole truth. He had stayed with them for his birthday and after returning to Privet Drive, Hermione had talked to her father about Voldemort, the Death Eaters, Harry's role in things and, as it happened, Draco Malfoy.
She'd first mentioned him in connection with Lucius Malfoy, but as the conversation had continued, she had opened up to her father just what life with Draco had been like. He had listened carefully, occasionally asking questions Hermione didn't understand the reason for, but she'd answered anyway.
As the discussion finally seemed to come to an end, her father had sat quietly for a moment and then said, "Do you think Harry is scared by all this?"
"Of course he is ... we all are. Everybody gets scared."
"Everybody? What about Draco?"
She had scoffed at the very idea. "Well, he might get scared of things like Hippogriffs, but not of really important stuff. He doesn't get scared because he already knows what's going on. I expect he knew about the Burrow attack as well. And look at the way he gets so conceited when he thinks he's won."
"Why do you think he acts so cocky all the time?"
"People get like that to hide just how scared they really are. How do you get when you're worried, Hermione?"
"Ask Harry or Ron, love. When you're worried you turn all bossy. When Harry is worried he turns in on himself. Ron will revert to cursing people, but inside he becomes morose. Maybe Draco acts self-important because that's his way of coping with just how scared he really is."
As she looked at the Slytherin now, she wondered if her father might have been right. Was this Draco's way of dealing with things? Did he act conceited to hide his fear? Her father was good at reading people but could he make that speculation about Draco just from what she had told him? If anything she would have expected her father to agree with her viewpoint because in the whole conversation she'd not had one good word to say about Draco.
Yet her father had seen something else in Malfoy.
As had Harry.
"What did Harry tell you?"
Hermione looked up, realising that Malfoy was repeating his words to her. "Malfoy, even if Harry told me something, I wouldn't break his trust by repeating it to anyone else."
She watched his expression harden a little and realised that was part of Malfoy's problem. When he was relaxed and allowed his features to soften, the boy had a very pleasant face, but now it had turned into the arrogant Malfoy she'd hated for so long.
"I'm not asking you to break any trust. But will you at least tell me whether or not he talked to you."
Hermione tapped a finger thoughtfully on the arm of her chair. "Okay, let's assume for the purposes of our discussion that Harry and I talked. Why don't you tell me what happened and I'll let you know if your story matches with his."
"If you and Harry talked did he tell you about ... everything?"
She felt a warm flush suffuse her cheeks as he stared at her with liquid grey eyes. Under other circumstances she'd be of the impression he was actually trying to flirt with her. Oh, not like Seamus or one of the other boys might, they'd be doing all the normal things ... leaning towards her, moving to sit on the arm of her chair, making nice comments. All Malfoy did was look at her and she wondered if that was how he looked at Harry.
"I know you're having some sort of relationship with him."
"I think you're using him."
"And if I'm not?"
"I think you are. I told you that at the Valentines Ball and I'm still of that opinion right now."
"You think I'm trying to get him off the school grounds?"
"That's a possibility."
The grey eyes twinkled a little as Draco cupped his chin with his hand, a finger tapping gently against his lips. "If you really believe that, Granger, then why haven't you gone to Dumbledore, or McGonagall? They'd believe you without a seconds thought. I'd be locked up and no further threat to their Golden Boy." He held out his hands toward her, wrists together. "Know any good binding spells?"
"If you're not going to take this seriously..." Hermione came to her feet, towering over the seated boy.
"Oh, I can assure you I'm quite serious. I've had several opportunities to kidnap Harry ... to 'use' him as you put it. Why would I wait for last Friday when I didn't know Harry was planning to visit me? He did tell you that, didn't he? That it was his idea to come to my room." Hermione found herself nodding. "And why did you let Harry meet me at Hagrid's hovel after the ball if you thought I was such a danger?" He waved his hand in her direction. "You did send him there, Granger. Whether you like it or not, you are involved in this."
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment. Malfoy was right ... she had arranged for Harry to fly out to meet with Draco on Valentines night. She could have stopped the two of them meeting up if she had really wanted to, but there had been a gleam in Harry's eyes ... a longing she'd never seen before when he'd talked about Malfoy. "I'm not Harry's keeper."
"No? Then stop acting like you are. If you think I'm a danger to Harry, then do something about it. There are people after him and he needs someone he trusts to keep him safe, because he's bloody hopeless at looking after himself."
"And you've suddenly decided to put yourself forward as his keeper?"
"Me?" Draco scoffed. "No, Granger, I just want to shag him. It's up to you and your little Gryffindor friends to keep him safe. I'm the enemy, remember."
Hermione opened her mouth, a suitable retort on her lips, but it got lost somewhere between her brain and her mouth. It didn't help that when she actually met his eyes again, the Slytherin had a lascivious grin on his face. She looked away, and drew a long fortifying breath. "If that's all you want then why are you here? You've had your wicked way with him, so why don't you just get the hell out of his life?"
"Because I want to talk to him. If he doesn't want to see me after that then fine, but I think he owes me that much."
"Harry owes you nothing."
"Are you sure? If you care for Harry..."
"How dare you come to me and question my friendship with him!" The anger was clear in her voice. "Just because you've suddenly decided it might be fun to have sex with your old sparring partner, don't think that suddenly gives you rights over him."
"And just because he's your friend doesn't mean you have rights over him either." The Slytherin was now on his feet and they glared at each other from opposite sides of the little table. "Everyone seems to think they own a bit of him ... that they have some right to decide what's good for him and what he wants. Let him decide for himself for a bloody change!"
"Why not just use your direction charm to find him?"
"Because it doesn't work on him. I don't know why, but my wand won't pick him up. And the rest of the time he's always with you and his little Gryffindor posse. I can't just walk up to him in the Great Hall and drag him off without his honour guard hexing me within an inch of my life." Draco dropped back on to his chair, a look of resignation on his face as he took a deep breath. "All right. If I answer your questions will you tell me where I can find him?"
Hermione sat gingerly in her chair, as if it might suddenly disappear from beneath her if she moved too quickly. "I'm not sure it will make any difference what you tell me. I don't think Harry wants to talk to you -- at least not at the moment."
Long fingers rose to Draco's temple, rubbing hard against the skin. The silence between them seemed to go on forever and when he finally spoke, he didn't meet her face. "I know you won't believe this, but I do care about him. I need to explain about ... about something to him."
"An emerald?" Grey eyes flicked up, meeting her face. She thought he looked like he might cry. "He thinks you've betrayed him." That was more than she'd planned to tell him.
"What did he say?"
"You'll have to ask him yourself."
"Which, you will remember, is why I'm here." The voice was full of exasperation.
"Okay. I'll check if he's come back to the common room yet. If he hasn't I'll tell you where he's supposed to be."
Draco was just about to respond when there was a knock at the door and it was flung open, revealing an over-excited Seamus Finnigan. "Hermione, you'll never guess..." His voice trailed off as he realised the Head Girl wasn't alone.
Hermione's eyes flicked from one boy to the other and she was amazed at how Draco, who moments before had looked almost bereft, now looked like he had every right to be sitting exactly where he currently was. He smirked at Seamus and spoke in his customary drawl.
"Evening, Finnigan. Care for a cup of tea?" His hand waved in the direction of what had a few seconds before been an empty table, but which now boasted a tea set, complete with two poured cups of tea and a plate of biscuits. Hermione's eyes opened wide in surprise and she glared at Draco.
Seamus stared briefly at the cosy scene before him. "What the fuck is he doing here?"
Harry knew it was way past curfew, but if he was honest, he wasn't particularly worried. He'd just found a whole collection of newspapers from the time of Riddle's final year at Hogwarts and he wanted to go through them before leaving.
He still couldn't decide whether he was being stupid or not about Riddle and Morrello. The one and only picture of Morrello he'd been able to find hadn't been very clear, but there was something about the man that made him shiver. If he was right, then no one had to worry about Voldemort getting back into public life ... his alter ego had already succeeded in doing just that.
There had to be some proof either way ... Draco's photograph for instance. Harry sighed, if Draco had been photographed with the Dark Lord, then it just confirmed that the Slytherin was already involved with the Death Eaters. Did that also mean he was just using sex as a way of getting Harry for Voldemort?
Harry let out a little snort. Of course it was possible that Draco just wanted sex and it was nothing to do with Voldemort at all.
He picked up his quill and looked down at the collection of notes he'd written in his journal. The page looked like a spider had been running over it, making a web joining together the different bits of information. Underneath the name 'Tom Marvolo Riddle', he drew a line joining it to 'David Morrello' and another line to 'I am Lord Voldemort'. Then with a frown he slowly began circling each name ... round and round as he remembered what had happened with Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets.
There had to be something...
There had to be...
Harry's eyes widened in realisation. Riddle had used Harry's wand to write his name in the air and then had rearranged the letters to form the phrase 'I am Lord Voldemort'. What if...
Leaning closer to the page, he began crossing out letters on the names. First the letter 'D' ... yes in all the names. Then 'A' ... 'V' ... 'I' ... all the way to the letter 'O'.
Which left him with the letters 'T', 'O' and 'M'.
He stared at the three letters before fishing through the newspapers again as he tried to find the photo of Morrello. "Yes!" There it was. David Morrello's middle name began with a 'T'. It was just too close a coincidence. Riddle clearly loved fiddling with his name to get something new, so why not reinvent himself a third time? Why not fool everyone by pretending to be a great benefactor to the most popular pastime in the Wizarding world? Who would ever think the owner of a Quidditch team would be the most evil Wizard in over a hundred years?
Add to this new identity the fact his role gave him access to just about every Ministry official in government, and Voldemort could have been spending the last two and a half years slowly putting his own people into positions of power while building his forces down in Cornwall. In fact, he could be doing anything in this new persona ... anything at all.
The consequences seemed too horrific to contemplate.
Harry's hand pushed into his hair, tugging at the dark curls with something that felt like frustration. He had to be wrong ... just had to be...
He looked up as the door to the room opened. "Ron? Do you know what David Morrello's middle name is?"
"It's not Weasley. And if you're talking about the David Morrello, then his middle name is 'Tom'."
Harry's emotions sprinted through a myriad of types as he realised who the new comer was. Joy, lust, anger, fear ... everything. "Malfoy." The single word was throaty and he gave a little cough as he automatically closed the journal; his comments about the Slytherin weren't exactly polite and there was no way he wanted Draco to see them. "What are you doing here?"
Draco pushed the door closed and stepped closer to the desk where Harry was sitting. "I've been looking for you."
"Oh." Harry was cross at himself because Draco's presence made the breath catch in his chest. This was the person who'd betrayed him, he reminded himself. Draco ... Malfoy ... had been playing him for a fool since New Year and now it looked like he'd been involved with Voldemort all along. He also felt vulnerable, down here alone with the blond.
"I want to talk about last week." Draco strolled across the room and sat at the table. "In my room, remember?"
"I remember." Harry started to gather up the newspapers, using the action to keep from having to look at Draco. "I've got nothing to say." He piled them on a shelf and turned back to face the seated boy. "I need to get back to my room."
"Harry, you've ignored me all week and I want to know what happened."
"I told you I have nothing to say." He stepped past but was pulled to a halt as Draco grabbed for his arm.
"Harry..." Draco's grip on his arm tightened.
"Let me go."
"If nothing else, I think you owe me an explanation."
With a tug, Harry finally pulled away and stepped back a few paces. His forehead creased visibly and Draco was sure he could see a little tic at the corner of the Gryffindor's right eye. "I owe you an explanation?" The words were tinged with disbelief, as if Harry was trying to grasp a brand new concept. The journal in his hand was placed on the table with exaggerated care.
"You left with Granger. You've not been bothered enough to come and talk to me about what happened. But I guess if you can't be arsed to tell me what the fuck I'm supposed to have done..." Draco came gracefully to his feet, brushed an invisible thread from his shirt and turned his back on Harry. As he took a step towards the door, he could feel it. Harry's glare burned into his back as though those green eyes were branding him. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end and the muscles down his spine quiver.
"Where would you like me to start?" Harry's words were restrained and quiet, as though held in check by sheer strength of will alone. "At the very beginning when you decided it would be fun to make me choose who I could have as a friend on my first day at school?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Harry, don't bring that up again." Draco spun back to face the dark-haired boy.
"Or half way through when you thought it would be funny to mock someone I watched die?"
"That is not fair."
"No, it isn't. Cedric was a pure-blood, just like you. What reason did Voldemort have to kill him? And what did you have to say about it?"
Draco said nothing. He remembered the incident on the train home at the end of his fourth year with a clarity he didn't wish to contemplate at the moment. Too late now, Potter! They'll be the first to go, now the Dark Lord's back! Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers first! Well -- second -- Diggory was the first--, followed rapidly by the blinding light of a blaze of spells.
He wasn't proud of his actions ... at least not now he was older and, hopefully, wiser.
"Nothing to say on that? Then what about right now when I know that you've been spying for your father?"
"Sure, isn't that what trainee Death Eaters do all the time?" Draco scoffed, struggling to make his laugh sound suitably condescending. He wasn't sure he'd actually succeeded, however. How the hell did Harry come up with that one? Of course, it was the sort of thing the Gryffindor might say ... hadn't his little group of friends always thought Draco was some sort of super sleuth for the Dark Lord ever since Day One? Judging by the expression on Harry's face, the Gryffindor wasn't joking, he really did appear to believe it now. Draco had often heard the expression 'if looks could kill...' but until now he didn't think he'd ever seen it quite so clearly displayed. "I wanted to be your friend. I've told you that."
"No! You wanted me to choose. I could be your friend, but nobody else's. What did you expect me do? Choose you just because you were a Malfoy?"
Well, actually, yes was what Draco wanted to say, but instead he just said nothing. He had the feeling that even if he agreed with Harry right now, it would be thrown back in his face.
"You know, we could have been friends. It would have been so easy."
"Then why didn't you?"
"Because you walked into my life and demanded I do exactly what you wanted. You were a self-centred, spoilt child who tried to steal our sweets, insulted my friend and then even had the nerve to bring my parents into your little rant. Remember?"
Oh yes, Draco remembered ... just like he remembered everything else to do with Harry. I'd be careful if I were you, Potter. Unless you're a bit politer you'll go the same way as your parents.
"Did you really expect me to follow meekly like a lamb to the slaughter?"
"Is that what you thought you could do now? Fuck me senseless and then hand me over to Voldemort?"
"What?" The bored expression Draco had carefully cultivated for Harry's little diatribe slipped a little.
"I know what your father told you to do, Malfoy."
Hearing his surname spat out with such venom shocked Draco. He'd become used to Harry calling him 'Draco', and to hear him revert back to the previous antagonistic phrasing left him momentarily speechless. Then he noticed Harry's posture ... balanced on the balls of his feet, fists clenched at his side, chin jutting angrily forward and eyes blazing.
And the power emanating from him. It was almost like a tangible aura around Harry, lighting up the very tip of each untidy strand of hair ... making his skin almost glow. Draco remembered experiencing something like this before. When he had knelt before the Dark Lord the previous summer, he had felt the man's power rolling off him in dark waves. It was the same here ... the same ... but ... different.
"Don't call me that. Only my friends get to call me 'Harry'."
"Saturday the seventh of February. Do you remember getting a letter from your father?" Harry took a step forward and then another as Draco backed away, keeping the distance as the other boy's power seemed to press against him like a solid barrier. "Let me see if I can remember what he said? Yes ... you will never send me a message such as your last one without the appropriate security features. I will be arranging for you to receive the appropriate spells so you can set up a private link to me here at the Manor. Isn't that how it went?"
Then Harry did something Draco hadn't expected. He smiled. But it wasn't the open sweet smile Draco had become used to, but something dark that sparked the power around him almost like a charge of static electricity.
Draco tried to keep his face passive, but deep inside his stomach was churning and he swallowed down the bile it brought to his throat. How the hell could Harry know about his father's letter? If Harry knew about that, then he would know there was a second Portkey and....
"What, Draco, cat got your tongue?" Harry rolled the name into a long sensual sigh and for a moment the Slytherin was reminded of Weasley doing the same thing on Valentines night.
"You've got it wrong. You don't understand." Draco folded his arms across his chest, suddenly feeling cold. He wanted to be out in the sunshine, not down here in the bowels of the castle where demons lurked, sucking out the joy from everything.
"Of course I don't understand. I'm just a stupid Gryffindork aren't I? Too stupid to know when I'm being taken for a ride. I bet you and your father had a good laugh about that over your little private link."
"No. It isn't like that. I explained to you, remember? When we were at Hagrid's. I told you about the coin."
"But he gave you another one!" Harry's voice was suddenly full of righteous indignation. "Don't make the same mistake again. I know you're working with Potter in Potions. You are to keep your contact with him until you are in a position to use the Portkey." Harry had closed the distance between them as he spoke and he stopped in front of Draco and looked up to meet the grey eyes. "Is that what all this has been about? Waiting for me to drop my guard so you could send me off to God only knows where?"
Draco held the gaze for a moment, but had to finally look away, fixing on a spot over Harry's shoulder. "It isn't like that," he repeated.
"No, I warned you that you weren't safe here. I told you to be careful."
"Yeah, but not of you." Draco flinched as Harry's hand rose to his cheek, cupping it gently. "Was that what Valentines Day was all about? Getting me off the school grounds so you could use your Portkey?"
"No." Draco didn't want to lean into the warmth, but he couldn't help it. Until that moment he hadn't realised just how much he'd missed Harry.
"Did you have a good laugh about that as well?" The words were sarcastic, but the tone was wistful. "At me getting all flustered over the presents and the clothes?"
"And watching me making such an arse of myself when we got to Hagrid's? Stupid little virgin Harry falling for all the pretty words." Harry's voice was soft, almost gentle, and his thumb swept across Draco's lips, making the Slytherin take in a hoarse breath. "Was I a good fuck, Draco? Was that all it meant to you?"
"No." Draco's response was equally soft, underscored by a note of desperation.
"Stop it!" The voice changed, hard and sharp now, lashing out at Draco. Harry snatched his hand away and balled it into a fist. "Liar! How can you stand there and just deny everything? I saw it, Malfoy. I saw the letter. I know what the emerald is. I know you've been stealing things from me." The fist whipped back and for a moment Draco thought Harry was going to hit him. He flinched as it powered toward him, but made no move to step out of the way.
It never struck home. Instead Harry's face seemed to crumple and the Gryffindor staggered away, turning his back on Draco. "I'm not going to let you make me feel guilty. You're not worth it. Just get the fuck out of here." Harry stepped towards the table, leaning on the edge, his head downcast.
"Harry, please..." Draco wanted to move towards the distraught boy, desperate to take hold of him and banish the pain. "It's not like you think."
"You keep saying that. Then what is it? Am I wrong? Didn't your father send you a letter saying we do have loyal followers within Hogwarts ... they're there for your safety and to protect you. Protect you from whom, Malfoy? Me? Dumbledore? The good guys?" Harry turned back to face him. "I really, really don't understand you. How can an intelligent person like you want to serve him?"
"How dare you..." The confused temper that Draco had been holding in check erupted to the surface. He'd listened to Harry's tirade almost placidly, but now the insults were starting to prick deep, drawing insecurities from inside him he didn't really want to think about. "What gives you the right to criticise me? Who made you the purveyor of all things decent? You believe your own press, Potter. The Boy Who Lived ... Perfection Fucking Personified!"
"Sure, well, I am the picture of all things virtuous in so many ways, aren't I, Malfoy?" Harry scoffed, the sarcasm dripping like vitriol from his words. "I can see why you might have trouble believing that I would actually have a fault of some kind." He suddenly folded his arms, green eyes dancing dangerously as he glared at Draco. "Okay, then explain to me why you follow him?"
"You have absolutely no idea what my life is about, Potter."
"That's true ... and you have no idea about mine either. You stand there in your designer wizard gear and your rich-and-famous lifestyle ... big house, loads of money, both parents alive!"
"Yeah, and you're the poor little orphan aren't you? Not short of a Sickle or two, though, or so I understand."
"You want my money?" Harry thrust his hand into his trouser pocket and pulled out a little gold key. "Here, you can have it!" He threw the key at Draco, who ducked trying to avoid it, but it caught him across the hand raised to protect his face before falling to the ground at Draco's feet. "I'd give up every penny in that vault to have my parents back, every Galleon, Sickle and Knut. But even I have my price. Did you know Voldemort offered me that? When I was 11 years old he told me that if I followed him I could have my parents back. I refused and do you know why? Because there was too much at stake. Nothing has changed and if he made that same offer again I still wouldn't take it because..." Harry's voice faltered and he paused as if trying to draw on some deep inner strength. "What ... what have you got to lose, Draco? What is the price of your soul?"
Everything! Draco looked down at the key and remembered quite vividly his thoughts on New Year's Eve on what he would pick if made to choose -- his Malfoy inheritance or love. Back then the money had won and the idea of marrying for love seemed completely far-fetched. But now? If he turned his back on his father, he would lose everything -- his home, his family, his parents, his inheritance, and probably his life.
He wondered what his ultimate price would be. If Voldemort said to him "Join me and I will give you anything you desire." Money? Power? Glory? Immortality? All the things he had once believed to be "the answer". But now? Deep inside him a very small voice whispered a night's sleep where I don't dream of darkness and even deeper and more quiet the response was Harry.
Harry's home and family consisted of people who treated him like dirt. Harry's parents were dead and as much as he hated to consider the possibility, he was sure his father was somehow involved in that. As for Harry's inheritance -- that vault full of money Lucius had told him existed -- the Gryffindor (in typical Gryffindor style) never flaunted it and would probably never spend it either.
As for Harry's life...
Oh, Harry's life was torn between being the Wizarding saviour and being just the boy who was desperate to be loved for who he was rather than what he was. There were moments when they were together that Draco knew he had the latter with him, when the dark-haired boy really was 'Just Harry'. Desperate to please. Desperate to be held and touched and wanted.
Harry had nothing to give up because he'd already lost it all.
But Draco knew he couldn't vocalise any of this, because it hurt too much. To admit any of it felt like losing face. So instead of words of support and help ... instead of voicing his fears ... Draco responded coldly with, "I don't have to justify anything to you."
"No, Draco, you don't. You've made that quite clear. But if you've gone to all this trouble to get me for him ... the Portkeys, the lies, the sex ... then I'll save you the trouble of having to try anymore. Give me one good reason and I'll hand myself over."
Draco opened his mouth to respond, but was momentarily stunned by the suggestion. "I..."
"Come on, you're going to pledge yourself to him soon ... assuming, of course, that you haven't already done it." Harry frowned. "But then I would have seen your Dark Mark wouldn't I?" The frown changed to a dark smirk, which Draco realised was modelled on one of his own. "Wouldn't that have been a bitch -- such a giveaway. So, come on, tell me. I give myself to Voldemort and get my nice Dark Mark, but there must be something else in it for me. What do I get to go with it, Malfoy? Power? Well, it might surprise you to know that I don't need that."
Harry raised a hand absently, as though flicking away a fly, and in a parody of Draco's own spell at Hagrid's cottage, he changed Draco's shirt from soft black cotton to shimmering Gryffindor-red silk.
"You want to be marked by someone, then have this one on me." Anger spilled out from Harry's hand and the energy slashed across the front of the shirt, leaving a gold lightning bolt mark across the red silk. For a second Draco thought he could feel it burning into his skin, but the sensation dissipated almost immediately. "At least you can take that one off. Ask Voldemort how to remove his before you let him brand you with it."
"How did you learn that?"
If Harry heard, he ignored the question. "But let's not talk about me. There must be some sort of payoff for you, since you want to follow him. What's Voldemort offered you to betray me?"
"It's not just about you."
"No? Then what is it about? Do you know who Voldemort really is?" Harry glared at him for a moment before turning to the stack of newspapers he'd put tidily on the shelf earlier. He grabbed at them, sending sheets of paper haphazardly about him until he found what he wanted. Then, with the single sheet in his hand, he crossed the distance between them and shoved the page hard against Draco's chest. "That is Voldemort. That's the Heir of Slytherin."
Draco wasn't sure why his hands trembled as he took the scrunched up sheet of paper. The boy, probably his age, who looked up from the yellowing page was disturbingly familiar. He looked from it back to Harry and held the sheet out towards him.
"No, take it back to your nice cosy little common room and show it to everyone who thinks that man has the answer. Tell them that their Dark Lord isn't a pure-blood wizard. Even I have more wizard blood in me than he does ... at least both my parents were magical." Harry pointed at the photograph. "Tom Riddle's mother was a witch, but his father was a Muggle, Draco. The Heir of Slytherin ... the person who spouts pure-blood rhetoric is only a half-blood. And guess what else..."
Draco met the blazing green eyes. His own had taken on a hooded look as he tried to cut off his own feelings and thoughts, wanting to hide them from Harry. "I don't know, you tell me."
"Riddle's mother died when he was born and he grew up in an orphanage because his Muggle father didn't want him. That's why Voldemort hates Muggles and Muggle-borns. It's got nothing to do with bloodlines or magical ability. All of the deaths in the past ... what's happening now ... is nothing but Riddle's vindictive streak because his father abandoned him and his mother when he found out his wife was a witch."
"No, it's more than that."
"Sure." Harry ripped the paper from Draco's hands and let it flutter to the floor. "I forgot all about Riddle's plans for immortality. Are you going to help him on that quest as well? Become one of his Death Eaters and bear his Mark for the rest of your life?" Harry grabbed at the blond's left arm and ripped at his shirtsleeve. The button on the cuff tore off as he wrenched the sleeve up to expose the pale forearm. He let his fingers linger for a moment on the soft skin just below the inner curve of Draco's elbow. "What's Voldemort offering you for that privilege?"
"I ... I...."
Harry looked up and Draco could see the green eyes were bright with unshed tears. "You don't need to do this."
"There are things I need to consider." Draco wrenched his arm out of the painful grip and had to look away, but his chin was grabbed, pulling him roughly back to meet Harry's demanding expression. "Don't..."
"Don't what, Draco? I don't care if you want to follow him. All I want is for you to tell me the truth. For once in your life be honest with me."
Draco flinched away as all the times he had been honest with Harry came crashing in on him, and what those times of honesty were going to cost him, regardless of what else happened. "I have been honest ... I have ... remember...."
"Actually, I do care. I care about ANY stupid idiot who thinks that following a mass murderer is a bloody good idea. If you want to be evil or become some sort of Dark Arts expert, Draco, then do it because you want to, not because your father or mother or Voldemort tells you to. Don't be someone else's stupid little minion, be yourself for fuck's sake!" The breath suddenly caught in Harry's throat, coming out as a sob. "I don't want to have to face you on some battlefield."
Draco couldn't look even though Harry still held his chin with a grip likely to bruise. His gaze was downcast and he could see Harry's throat working as he tried to swallow. He watched, fascinated as a drop of moisture slid from the boy's chin, splashing on his black t-shirt and leaving a small wet mark. It was only when it was joined by a second one that he realised Harry was crying.
He looked up, watching as the green eyes brimmed with tears and he wondered if Harry realised. The grip on his chin suddenly eased and Harry almost staggered away, heading for the door.
"Harry, don't..." His own hand shot up and he muttered a spell, sealing the door closed. The magic was so palpable; it stopped the Gryffindor in his tracks.
"I need to..."
"Unlock the door!"
"Unlock it or so help me I'll blast it off its fucking hinges!"
In the past, Draco might have left the door locked and fought with the person. To defer to that person would have been a defeat in his eyes ... in his father's eyes. But this wasn't the past. And this was Harry.
After a moment's hesitation he removed the spell, and there was an audible click as the lock opened. Harry took a step towards the door, but Draco was on him, reaching for his arm and pulling him to a stop. "Harry..."
Whatever the Gryffindor was trying to say came out as a sob, and he tugged at the grip, trying to pull away. Draco pulled him back, the momentum bringing Harry hard against his chest, the air around them seeming to crackle with energy.
"Don't go," Draco whispered. "Please don't leave me. Please..."
Draco's words seemed to be the final breaking point for the Gryffindor. He felt Harry collapse against him and realised that if he hadn't been holding the smaller boy, Harry would have dropped to the floor. Draco tightened an arm around the narrow waist, while his other hand tangled into the soft dark hair as he felt the familiar face nestle against his own neck.
As Draco cradled Harry reverently, tenderly, the words began to spill out, whispered into Harry's ear. Confused, desperate words of admission and need as he held onto the boy, rocking him gently. He told Harry about the letter and the stone, how he couldn't destroy it without his father knowing and how he'd hidden it away never expecting Harry to find it. He told Harry that he didn't know what he wanted from his life but that it wasn't the same as what his father planned. He told the boy how important Harry had become and how much he'd missed him ... how much he needed him.
And then he realised he was crying, too, and that Harry was kissing him. Kisses that lapped at mingled tears in shared moments that dragged into infinity. They clung onto each other as though their very lives depended upon it. Desperate hands tugged at each other and they crashed back against the desk, Harry letting out a grunt of pain as the wood slammed into the back of his thighs. Draco tried to pull away, concerned words lost as Harry dragged Draco's mouth back against his own and he felt as though his lover was sucking all the air from his body.
His hands thrust downwards, gripping at Harry's buttocks as he hauled him from the ground and onto the desk, grinding their hips together in a need beyond emotion ... beyond words. There was only longing and desperate desire as he ripped first at Harry's shirt and then his own, fervent to feel the warmth of skin under his demanding fingers.
The shirts fell to the floor, forgotten as Draco pushed Harry back against the smooth surface of the desk. He stepped into the vee of Harry's spread legs and leaned forward, wanting ... needing ... to feel Harry's body against his own. Hips, stomach, chest moulded together and just as Draco didn't think they could be closer, he felt Harry's legs and arms snake around him, ankles locking around the small of his back, hands around his neck. The vice-like grip took his breath away and he dived into Harry's mouth, needing to claim and reclaim his lover again and again.
In the shadows, close to the door Ron watched. Hiding behind one of the shelves stacked with old newspapers and parchments, his eyes were fixed on the two figures standing in the one clear space in the archive room. After he had seen Hermione and Malfoy walk into her office, he'd stormed off, angry with his friend for talking to the Slytherin, let alone doing so in private. He had wandered the castle corridors for some time, trying to decide how to deal with everything.
He would get his revenge on Malfoy soon enough, but his problem at the moment was Harry's suspicion that David and Voldemort were one and the same. So he had come back to the archive hoping Harry would still be there because he didn't want to discuss this in the Gryffindor common room. Hidden under his cloak, he had pushed open the door and realised almost immediately that his friend was no longer alone and deeply embroiled in an argument.
With fucking Malfoy. The bloody Slytherin just couldn't leave Harry alone for a single minute.
At first he was torn between getting the hell out or striding in and slapping the Slytherin in the mouth. Instead he watched from under the safety of his invisibility cloak in fascination, first angry and then intrigued by the argument ... by the admissions of both boys. He felt almost voyeuristic as he watched, a strange sensation tickling in his chest as he watched Harry shouting down the Slytherin, besting all of Malfoy's attempts at responding. It was ...
It was ...
He swallowed, trying to will the sensation away as he moved to get a better look at Harry ... at the way he held himself, the stretch of his shirt over his back, the angry colour in his eyes, and ... oh God...
The Power emanating from him.
It was like a physical presence in the room, and Ron found himself desperate to get closer to the source ... to be part of that magical energy ... to feed on it. He groaned almost plaintively, the sound lost in the dusty shelves.
But it shouldn't be like this. Harry shouldn't have innate magic this powerful ... he shouldn't have any left at all. Harry's magic was supposed to be weakened, diluted almost to the point of non-existence, yet he seemed to be stronger than ever. More powerful than...
Ron crept closer, chewing absently on his fingernail as Harry touched Malfoy's face. Listening to their whispered words. Watching as the magic flared between them, a feeling of panic erupting in him as the door locked, preventing his only path of escape.
If they found him...
Then Malfoy had taken Harry in his arms, and Ron felt anger wrench in the pit of his stomach. How dare he!
How DARE he!
He gripped onto a shelf, wanting to sweep the papers to one side ... to let them known he was here ... that they weren't alone. Instead his gaze was fixed on the muscles of Malfoy's naked back. The way Harry held onto him, fingers marking the pale flesh with long red lines.
He'd been right. Harry was gay and he was sleeping with Malfoy. They were kissing ... kissing like lovers ... and Malfoy's hand was....
Ron fled the room and threw up in the corridor.
Saturday 14th March 1998
He liked mornings like this -- ones where the mist rolled off the lake, making it look like the water was on fire. The white tendrils spread over the damp dew-covered grass, covering the ground like a blanket, and winding around Draco's legs. He was sitting on a fallen tree, wrapped in a warm cloak, but he knew the mist was already dampening the material ... he'd been out this early enough times in the past to know how it would soak into the cloth and dampen his hair.
Draco pulled up his legs, resting them on the trunk and wrapped his arms around his knees. He liked days like this because he had Hogwarts all to himself. On other mornings when the sun shone people would be out before breakfast, practicing Quidditch or walking or taking the time for quiet assignations with their current loves. But no one else seemed to be out today. Of course the fact it was a Saturday meant most people would still be in bed asleep.
Except, of course, for Harry Potter.
He watched as the Gryffindor made a fuss over his owl, letting Hedwig fly off only to come back to his arm for whatever tasty morsel Harry held out for her. The boy and bird were too far away to see him -- at least that was what Draco hoped. He didn't want to talk to Harry at the moment; didn't want to be drawn into a discussion with questions that he wasn't sure he could answer.
It had been two days since their confrontation and the mind-shattering sex that had followed. Two days of going to breakfast, then lessons, then dinner and hours of trying to figure out just what was going on. Two days of watching Harry blush and look away and Draco knowing he would be hard for the Gryffindor within minutes.
Two days in which they hadn't spoken a word to each other. They'd had sex down in that dusty archive room ... angry, cathartic, heart-wrenchingly intense sex that had left them both bruised and gasping for something Draco couldn't comprehend. The emotions were too deep, too entrenched.
They hadn't spoken; any words seemed to be lost in hard bruising kisses, and afterwards, they had dressed in silence. Then, just when Draco had finally come up with something to say, Harry had turned his back on him and started picking up the scattered newspapers that they had brushed to the floor. He had watched for a moment, torn between wanting to help and needing to speak, desperate to pull Harry round to face him, but in the end he'd left Harry to his newsprint.
He liked to believe he'd left because Harry was ignoring him. Or that he was angry with Harry for making him feel the way he did. But the truth was the part of him that had fled from Hagrid's the Sunday after Valentines Day needed to flee again and he didn't know why.
As the snowy owl flew off again, Draco rubbed absently at his left arm. There was a ring of bruises ... little finger-shaped bruises ... on both of his arms ... where Harry had clutched at his flesh almost in desperation. At the tip of each bruise was the crescent mark of a fingernail where his nails had dug in so deeply that they, too, had left bruises. Draco knew he could banish the marks easily, but he finally understood Harry's request for Draco to mark him. There was something intimately territorial about having Harry's fingers mark his skin, something about wanting the Gryffindor to possess him.
Yet, there was something more than that. He kept telling himself he was only in this for the sex ... the physical pleasure of knowing he'd possessed Harry ... that he'd taken the dark-haired boy's virginity and that no one else could ever have that part of him. But if it really was just for the sex, then why could he count the number of times they'd been together on one hand? Why couldn't he stride over to the Gryffindor right now and take him on the grassy lawns of the castle grounds? Or drag him into some empty classroom at any time in the last two days and take him on a desk? Or push Harry to his knees in a corridor and spear that incredible mouth?
And why did those few times ... the Sunday at Hagrid's cottage, the interrupted session in the Astronomy Tower, the incredible night in his room, the awesome stretch of time in the archive ... mean so much to him?
Harry was on Dumbledore's side. Harry was the enemy of his beloved father. Harry stood for everything Draco believed was wrong with the Wizarding world. Being pure-blood had to mean something even in this day and age. People had to understand that by marrying outside of the Wizarding world the very magic they all relied upon was being diluted and destroyed. That Mudbloods were just Muggles with access to innate magic.
But, if that was true why was Granger considered to be the best witch of her generation? He would never admit it to her face, but he had nothing but admiration of her ability to control magic. She was a Mudblood ... a Muggle-born ... the hated enemy who Voldemort wanted wiped off the face of the world.
How could he respect her?
Draco knew he'd already told Harry too much. The fact he'd admitted getting the letter from his father was enough to have Dumbledore expel him from the school -- the Headmaster could even hand him over to the Aurors if they found out about the Portkey. He'd spent the last 48 hours waiting for the call to Dumbledore's office, but nothing had happened. Did that mean Harry hadn't told anyone about their discussions, or that the Headmaster in one of his off-the-wall moments had decided to do nothing about it?
If you want to be evil or become some sort of Dark Arts expert, Draco, then do it because you want to, not because your father or mother or Voldemort tells you to.
Harry's words ... the ones that seemed to be set on a continuous loop in his head. Draco watched the Gryffindor wait for Hedwig to return. His own eagle owl never spent time with him the way Hedwig did with Harry. Sophocles would arrive with Draco's mail (which usually consisted of regular notes from his mother), and occasionally stop for a bit of breakfast before disappearing to the Owlery. The bird would never linger in the Great Hall as Hedwig did with Harry, nor could Draco imagine it spending time with him now, just flying around the grounds. In fact, Draco didn't think any of the owls were as friendly as Hedwig was with Harry.
The snowy owl fluttered back down to Harry's shoulder and the boy began walking towards the castle. Draco sighed as Harry disappeared into the mist. He wondered if Harry thought about him ... whether their conversations played over and over in his mind as well.
The truth was that Draco knew he did things simply because his father expected it. He wanted ... needed ... Lucius' approval. Could he just keep things the way they were and still have Harry? Was that what he really wanted? He knew that as much as he thought he could juggle these two worlds, it wouldn't work. He had no doubt his father could tell when he was lying, so to keep any relationship hidden from Lucius was next to impossible, especially given who that relationship was with. It would be hard enough to go home at Easter and lie to his father about why he hadn't managed to capture the Gryffindor, without hiding the fact he was shagging him in his spare time.
What if Lucius was wrong? What if everything Draco had thought and been taught was a lie?
Draco's head dropped to his knees. Was Harry really worth all this ... this confusion? All the lies and deceit? Would Harry still want him if he followed his father's plans? Draco knew Lucius expected him to join the Dark Lord ... that had been made quite clear last summer. Would his father listen if Draco told him he wasn't ready to pledge himself ... that Draco wanted to wait until after he had finished school before making his decision? Was that too much to ask?
He was sure his father would never force him to do something he didn't want. Lucius loved him. Lucius would protect him against anything ... all Draco had to do was ask.
But he needed to know. Needed to find out what magic was being weaved around both him and Harry. Not only by his father, but by Dumbledore as well. Everything was connected in ways he didn't yet comprehend and he needed to understand how Harry fitted into his life and what linked the two of them together. There had to be something ... something more to their constant animosity turned to lust.
He thought about the magicks his father had taught him since he was old enough to wave a wand. How his father had come to him the week before school started with a new project. Draco was to teach himself the art of wandless magic. At first he'd laughed, thinking Lucius had been joking, but it had soon become clear just how serious the man was. So Draco had thrown himself into this new art despite the fact it left him fatigued and confused.
It was like that whenever he performed Dark Magic ... the spells and rituals always sapped the strength from his body, drawing out the warmth from deep inside. There were times after he had finished his father's latest instructions that he wondered if he would ever feel warm again. He would come out into the sun and try to draw its heat into his bones or huddle in front of the fire swathed in blankets.
Would Harry want him if he knew about the Magic? Would he bring Draco hot drinks and cuddle warmth back into him?
Draco pulled his mind sharply away from that distraction. He knew that he could find the answers to at least some of his questions through the Dark Arts his father had taught him. It would be hard doing the rituals here at the school, shielding them from Dumbledore and the other teachers, but Draco knew he could do it. He had to find answers to the questions gnawing at his insides.
A knot of pain was growing in his stomach and Draco wasn't sure whether it was hunger or fear. He took a breath as he straightened and looked back towards the castle. The mist had lifted, leaving a few little pockets in hollows in the ground and he quickly realised he was no longer alone. Sitting on the end of the tree trunk, just looking at him with her big yellow eyes, was Hedwig. There was no sign of a letter or Harry, and he wondered just how long the owl had been there and exactly what she knew.
The room was in almost total darkness except for a ribbon of silver light from the moon. It had reached full moon the previous night and now it filtered through the small arched frost-covered window high up in the wall and spread across the cold stone floor, interrupted only by the dark form of a kneeling person, swathed in black hooded robes, his back to the window.
If he had cared to climb up to the window and look through the glass, he would have seen the moonlight blaze across the Hogwarts grounds. But all his concentration was on the single candle on the floor in front of him. It was sitting in the darkness of his shadow, warming the bronze coloured bowl above it.
Draco was aware of the cold stone beneath his knees, could feel its chill seeping into his shins as he knelt before the candle, but he didn't move. He pushed the ache it brought to his muscles and the stiffness in his joints to one side, using the pain to deepen his level of consciousness rather than jerk him back to reality. His hands rested lightly on his thighs, the sleeves of his black robes almost covering them so that just the white fingertips with their normally perfect nails showed. The nails were far from perfect now. Each had been bitten down to the quick, a sure sign of his own nervous exhaustion.
Around him on the dark stone, it was just possible to pick out the symbols and marks he had painstakingly drawn over the course of the day as he'd prepared the room. They seemed to glow slightly in the moonlight, adding to the air of enchantment that saturated the room from the layers of magic he had carefully constructed.
The first layer had been a shield to prevent the Dark Magic he was using from being detected. The second had been protection to keep him safe. Nowhere in Hogwarts was safe anymore, at least not until he found out who his father had sent to the school. The third layer was infused with spells to pull him back if he became trapped within his own Dark work.
The fourth had let him tap into the spells his father had used on the emerald. He understood them now ... knew what Darks Arts had been crafted into the stone. He could change them if he wished ... make it his own now that he understood what his father was trying to achieve.
And now he had reached the fifth layer. He'd never gone this far on his own. Never....
Draco reached for a small flask of water, the movement freeing his hair from the confines of the hood of his robes; the strands glinted softly in the candlelight as a hand rose to brush them away. He poured the water into the bowl, it hissed as it touched the warm metal, and Draco carefully began to whisper another of many incantations. Returning the flask to its correct position, he picked up a small silver stiletto and pressed the razor sharp tip against the ball of his thumb. He had always refused to cut himself for blood to use in his magical work, determined not to mar his skin with the criss-cross marks he knew were on his father's body. Instead he had perfected a method that allowed him to pierce his skin just enough to cause the blood to flow.
Calm features grimaced slightly as the blade cut into his flesh, but they soon settled back into the placid mask as he leaned forward and allowed five drops of blood to fall into the bowl. The red drops remained whole for a moment before slowly spreading across the surface, mingling with the warming water.
He placed the stiletto back on the floor and his bloodied hand returned to its place on his thigh. He could sense the blood marking his robes, but did nothing to prevent it as the fifth layer of magic encircled him and in a voice hoarse from hours of whispered incantations, he loudly intoned, "Show me."
The protection spells he had layered around himself did keep Draco's activities secret, but they also had a drawback. He hadn't realised that if someone was looking for his magical signature they could track him down or that his protection spells prevented him from picking up any other magical activity in the castle. If he had looked carefully, he would have found out that others were aware of what he was doing and were tapping into his magic. They were slowly breaking through his layers of protection and using his carefully crafted spells to work their own magic.
Like a mirror of the room where Draco currently knelt in solitude, the two sat in darkness. There was no window here, and no moonlight spilled across the marked floor deep within the castle. The candlelight flickered over their features, casting them into stark relief against their black robes. The boy had his eyes closed, a raised hand circling over the flame, the elder man watched in rapt concentration.
"Well, Cloud?" the voice whispered. "What do you see?
Eyelids flickered open, revealing a glazed stare. It focused on a point somewhere else in the castle -- in another room -- on another person. "He's looking into himself. Looking at memories ... long-forgotten memories." Without looking at the candle, he picked up a pinch of powder from a small plate beside him and sprinkled it onto the flame. It flared upwards producing a thin almost transparent sheet of iridescent smoke. Within the shimmering swirls, a figure emerged, that of a kneeling person. "He's troubled. It's very strong."
"Is he looking for the other?" Shadow finally asked.
"No." A frown marked the features for a moment. "No, he's within himself for now. But his questions are focused on the other."
"Good, he will seek him out eventually, so we must find him first. Are you ready?"
The glazed look slowly left Cloud's blue eyes as he snatched a hand out towards the figure in the smoke. His fingers yanked at the image and it collapsed as he drew his arm swiftly back. Then, taking a brief, but deep breath, his gaze dropped to the floor and the photograph carefully laid in front of him at the beginning of the ritual. It was of Harry Potter in his Quidditch gear. The image in the photo leaned against his broomstick, a cocky half-smile on his face.
Taking hold of the edge of the photograph, Cloud held it in the flame of the candle waiting for the edge to catch light. The Harry image saw the fire and began to back away, letting go of the broom as the flames licked closer.
Dropping the half-burned photograph into a small silver dish, he watched as the Harry image disappeared out of the photo frame just as the broom burst into flame. The paper curled slowly, blackening in the heat until the flames flickered over the point the Harry image had disappeared. As the fire finally engulfed what was left of the image, a scream echoed through the otherwise silent room.
With a slight smile, Cloud looked at Shadow, who nodded at him. "I'm ready."
Climbing through the portrait hole, Harry all but dragged himself across the empty Gryffindor common room and up the stairs to his dormitory. He wasn't sure how he made it to his own little room and he stood for a moment staring at his bed, wondering if he actually had the strength to cross those final few feet. The pain in his head pounded through his skull and when he raised a hand to his face, his skin felt hot ... feverish.
And in the back of his mind, there was a distressing thought that if he slept now, he might never wake up again.
It had hit him as he began walking up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower -- a feeling of such profound tiredness it had caused him to actually slump to the ground at one point. In fact, if it hadn't been for Peeves the poltergeist, he would probably still be sitting on the stairs where he had fallen.
Then his scar had started to hurt as well. He rubbed absently at the lightning bolt mark just above his right eye. It didn't actually hurt as such; it was more like an irritation as if he'd been stung. Not like when Voldemort was around he decided, yet there was something about it. Something he thought he remembered but couldn't place in his hazy mind.
With a groan he finally crawled onto the bed and collapsed against the pillows.
Today was his birthday and he was six years old. He was out with his grandmother in the woods, which were part of the Malfoy Estate, and they were playing Pooh-sticks. She had taught him how to play the game the previous summer and they were throwing sticks into the river from one side of the bridge, then rushing to the other side to see whose stick would appear first.
It was always his, Draco remembered. She would join in with his laughter and eagerly wait for the sticks to appear, claiming the first was the one he'd thrown even if it wasn't. She had picked him up with ease, swinging him around and hugging him to her so tightly he couldn't breathe. And he thought she was crying.
In the darkened room, the moon's light had moved now, tracking further across the floor and it no longer touched him. The image in the smoke before him flickered slightly and he reached out a hand to touch it, stroking it back to stillness as the two figures stood entwined on the wooden bridge. He had been such a frail child; 'sickly' one of his aunts had called him, 'not likely to live to manhood' another had often said, and the childhood version of himself rested lightly on his grandmother's hip, his head against her shoulder. She spoke to him from deep within the memory. Don't fret dearest; you will walk with the light. I've seen it in the stars. The darkness isn't for you.
And she had sung to him. He remembered her voice, heard it now in the stillness of the room. This was the last time she had ever held him, sung to him, talked to him. After his birthday party she had gone to her own home and a month later she was dead.
No more stories. No more Pooh-sticks. No more picking flowers. No more playing.
Playing was for children, his father had told him, and children do not learn magic. She had stopped his father using Dark Magic on him and had brought Draco through his childhood illnesses with light and love. But now she was gone, and it all changed.
The voice in his dream echoed through Harry's mind.
He knew it was a dream, but it felt so real ... so very real.
He was six years old and it was his birthday.
It was his birthday and they had told him he would have a new bedroom because they needed his old room for someone else. He had followed Uncle Vernon eagerly, wanting to see where he would sleep. In his hands he carried his few possessions in a carrier bag with the word 'Tesco' printed in big red letters over the front.
"Here you are, Harry. A place just for you."
He looked at the door. It was the cupboard under the stairs. He knew where the door led because this was where the dustpan and brush lived ... where he was locked when he was naughty ... and now he was to live there all the time?
A hand pushed between his shoulder blades, shoving him into the room where there was now a little bed. He fell on top of it, the bag squashed beneath him as the door was closed, shutting him into darkness.
"Happy birthday, Harry."
"Damn it, he's awake." Cloud's concentration shifted and he struggled for a moment to hold the image.
A second hand joined his and fingers laced together briefly. "Stick with it. You still have him."
"How can I get into his dreams if he keeps waking up?"
As the image strengthened, Shadow pulled his hand away and carefully added several drops of his own blood into the mixture already coloured red by Cloud's blood. "He will sleep again, you've already made sure of that. Then you can influence his dreams." The voice was reassuring, almost soothing in its tone. "Now, let's see what our other friend is doing."
He was eight and he was standing in the cold room with tears running down his face. His hands were covered in blood and at his feet was a dead animal. It might have been a fox or a deer or even a dog, but he didn't remember. All he remembered was that he had killed it and now his father's hard stare was full of disdain because of his tears.
Draco had never enjoyed his Dark Arts training, at least not as a child. It was hard and it hurt and he wanted to play, not spend hours in dark places. But the pain and the darkness were made worthwhile because his father spent time with him, was there at his side, his voice quietly reassuring as he took his son through the incantations and intricate procedures.
Until Draco cried.
Then his father would change. He would chastise Draco for his weakness and punish him. Oh, nothing physical -- Draco knew Vincent's father would beat him, but his own father never touched him physically. Lucius' punishments were subtler, more incomprehensible especially for a child to understand.
Lucius would make him do the spell again and again until he got it right and managed it without emotion and fear. Sometimes it would take hours, by which time Draco would be almost too tired and confused to know what he was doing.
Lucius would make him stand for hours utterly still, while his father would walk back and forth telling him what it meant to be a Malfoy, to be pure-blood, to be part of the elite in the Wizarding world.
Draco had a vague recollection of falling asleep once while standing, trying to concentrate on his father's words. He had been aware of toppling to the floor and then trying to scramble back to his feet again hoping against hope that his father might not have seen him. But there had been no admonishments. Instead Lucius had bent down and picked him up, carrying him to his bedroom. He remembered the change in his father's eyes from that of teacher ... hard and fixed -- to parent ... soft and caring. Tender as he waited for his son to fall asleep, gentle words of praise for how well he'd done.
The image of the bloodstained child in the smoke slowly dissolved and was replaced by that of Lucius putting his nine-year-old son to bed.
His beloved father.
Lucius had been the most instrumental person in his life. Lucius was the person who had moulded and shaped him into what he was now. Loyal, forthright, intelligent, capable of almost anything. He had always thought he would follow his father anywhere, even into the very depths of hell.
Until now. Until he realised there was someone else he thought he would rather follow.
Where was that loyalty to his father and family now? Not only had he destroyed the Portkey coin, but also he'd lied to his father about what had happened. His breath hitched as he realised the implications of that action ... of lying to Lucius. His father was the one person he had always been completely honest with. As a child caught doing something wrong, Draco would have lied to everyone from his mother down to the house elves, but never to his father. Lucius would fix him with a stare from eyes so similar to his own, and Draco knew he would tell the truth.
And where was the famous Malfoy loyalty now? Did he really care this much for Harry that he was willing to throw away the past seventeen years of his life for him?
Reaching down, he picked up the emerald, feeling its cold hardness in the palm of his hand. What was he doing with his life? It had always been so ordered and clear. But now...? He realised he was back on that same precipice he had stood on six weeks ago. Still waiting to decide whether to retreat to the comfort of the world he knew or to step into the unknown. If only he had someone to talk to. If only his grandmother was still alive.
Grey eyes suddenly became wide in the gloom. He could do it. Could conjure up her image. Could call her from those other places. He had done it once, just after his 11th birthday and he had been unconscious for days afterwards. But he was more skilled now ... more powerful, and his magic stronger.
She would come, he was sure of that, if he could just find it within himself to use the magic.
Carefully he constructed a further layer around himself, this sixth one created with energy so strong it was almost tangible. He picked up his wand and, holding it like a pencil, began inscribing more symbols around himself. These where much smaller than the rest and he moved in a tight circle, each mark made with careful consideration, each accompanied by the correct incantation. As he returned to his starting position, the circle was completed and he began the complex ritual of Obtestationis -- the Summoning of Spirit.
As he spoke the Words of the Ritual, the symbols inscribed on the floor exploded with light, which shot up to the ceiling, encircling him in a column of brilliance. It arched across the ceiling, connected with the walls of energy he had created and flowed back down to the floor like a waterfall.
Draco sat very still as the light exploded around him. Waiting. Where the beams hit the floor they rippled outward, filling the area between him and the wall with power that moved slowly like white-hot lava across the floor. They rippled back towards him; the bright glow fading as it moved closer, until a dark lake of shimmering energy surrounded him. The column of light slowly dissipated until there was nothing but the gleam of the single candle and the surrounding blackness that moved around him like a living being.
He took a deep breath and then let it out as a single deep sigh into the darkened room. It seemed to go on forever and he wondered if he would ever breathe in again. The candle flickered as his breath touched it, struggling to remain alight. It fluttered briefly, like the movement of his heart at that moment, and then died.
Plunging the room into darkness.
The moonlight had gone now, taking with it the gentle friendly silver that had once pervaded the gloom. All that was left now was the black glimmer of the lake of energy. Iridescent in the descended night, it cast its strange darkness over everything, filling with room with its power.
Then, even that glow dissolved into nothing.
He was nine and he was locked up again.
"Wait till your uncle gets home!"
Aunt Petunia's voice still rang through his head, which hurt from where she had slapped him.
Now he was locked in his cupboard and he sat on the bed, hugging his knees tightly.
She'd taken away his glasses, but that didn't matter because the room was in darkness, a little line of light drifting in from under the door. The light slowly turned to green and it spread around the room, casting a shadow in the corner. The shadow grew, towering over the boy.
Something touched his hand and he let out a little whimper as he cringed back against the wall.
"I have Harry trapped in his dream."
There was a pause as Cloud's concentration shifted from a room in Gryffindor Tower to one down in the Dungeons. "Oh, he is hurting as much." Cloud's voice showed mirth that was not visible in his eyes as his power touched the candle in the far-distant room, snuffing out the light as easily as if he had been kneeling beside the Slytherin. "Such confusion. I can feel the emotion but I can't get into his thoughts. They are too well shielded. He's trying to Summon someone, an ancestor. He's good but we can tap into this ... he's left himself so open."
"Good." Shadow was on his feet now adding more marks to the symbols on the floor. "It's time to manifest Him."
The voice was not the one he'd expected. It came out of the darkness, sounding like dark chocolate and smooth silk.
It was not the voice of his grandmother. This was a male voice ... a strong voice.
Draco turned his head, trying to work out which direction the voice was coming from. In the dark, it seemed to be all around him. "Who are you?" His own voice seemed to be sucked up by the night, sounding distant, feeble compared to that of the stranger.
"You Summoned me, Draco. I came at your bidding."
Off to the boy's right a shape, even blacker than the darkness, moved. It stepped forward.
"No." Draco's fingers reached for his wand, scrabbling at the floor for it. "My grandmother." Fingers closed around the wand, but it vanished even as he made to pick it up. "I Summoned my grandmother." He thought he let out a gasp of surprise.
The shape moved closer, almost gliding over the undulating lake of energy that surrounded Draco. "Well, you have me instead." It moved around, behind the kneeling boy and Draco felt a breath against his neck. "I've come to help you sort out your troubled mind."
Draco felt rather than saw his own wand appear by his shoulder. He was aware of the energy pulsing from it and knew it was his own. It pointed towards the candle, which flared into life again, reflecting off the energy surrounding him. The suddenness of the brilliance after the dark hurt his eyes and he raised a protective arm over his face and made to stand.
But two firm hands held him down.
"Oh no, you stay where you are. This is not a spell for you to break. After all, you've spent all day creating this exquisite setting, it would be a shame to waste it now." The voice was close to his ear, whispering.
"Who are you?" Draco hoped his voice was steady -- neutral. His hands returned to his thighs, gripping at the material of his robes as if the only way to keep his sanity was to hold onto something from the real world. "I have a right to know if I Summoned you."
"In time. All in good time. I will have all your answers, but first I want to look at you and see how you've changed and grown. Take down your hood."
The voice had moved away and Draco looked round. The figure was swathed in red robes so dark that they might have been black and he now stood several feet away towering over the kneeling figure. The face and hands were hidden in the voluminous material. Finally, Draco pulled the hood down, shaking his hair free without thinking.
Silence filled the room and Draco was aware of the other's scrutiny.
"Your father said you had changed since the summer. He's right."
Draco frowned, trying to see into the cowl of the robes. The figure moved again, coming to a halt in front of him and finally the candlelight illuminated some of the face. He could see the angular plane of the cheekbones, and realised he could have been looking at an older version of Harry.
"Don't you remember me, Draco? I was at the manor last summer. I watched you play Quidditch."
"We had tea ... you and I and Alex."
"And then before you came back here you knelt at my feet. I asked if you would stand with me. Do you remember your reply?"
"I didn't...." Draco's mouth made the shape of the word but no sound came out. The figure stepped forward a few paces before crouching down in front of the kneeling boy. He pulled down his own hood, revealing a shock of black hair. The eyes that met his were sapphire blue and they glinted jewel-like in the darkness, reminding him again of Harry. Eyes the colour of precious gems. But within these gems Draco thought he saw a gleam of red flash in the depth. And the power emanating from the person was palpable. He recognised it. Remembered it. Feared it. Realising for the first time that this was Voldemort, this handsome man with whom he'd talked earnestly about Quidditch was also the snake-like horror he had knelt before and who filled his mind with nightmares.
The figure smiled as he saw recognition in the wide grey eyes that stared at him. He reached out a hand and brushed a strand of blond hair from Draco's face, smiling as the boy tried not to flinch from his touch. "So you do remember?"
Draco finally managed to regain some semblance of control. His back straightened with an arrogant thrust of his head and he returned the look with his own self-assured expression. "I remember." Unfortunately the tremor in his voice betrayed all the care he had put into his stance.
"Of course you do, my dear Draco. I hear you are troubled. That you've forgotten your words to me and the duty owed to your father. I have come to make sure you choose the right path." With that Tom Riddle rose to his feet and held out a hand. "Come, why don't we go and see the source of your problems."
"I can't do this...." Cloud stumbled back from the candle, arms wrapping around his head as it threatened to explode. "... He's too powerful ... too strong...." He curled into a ball, whimpering in pain. "Help me...." One hand reached towards Shadow, the fingers a claw of tension.
Shadow gathered the boy in his arms, and dragged him into a sitting position. "Hush, you are channelling a very powerful being. Stop fighting it and the pain will go away."
Gulping for breath, the redhead leaned into the person holding him. God, he hurt all over, and he could feel the power ... the very essence that made David the person he was ... pouring into his body. The Dark Lord couldn't get through the castle's wards ... at least not yet ... but Cloud could give him access. And once David was within Hogwarts, he could move around at will. Cloud had done this before, but this time it was different ... almost overwhelming in its intensity.
He took a shuddering breath. David's life force was currently with Malfoy, but he could feel it moving, travelling like a ghost through the very fabric of the castle to another place.
The room was one Draco had never been to before. There were no lighted candles, but the moon flooded in through the windows, illuminating the tiny space with silver light, touching the furnishings with its diamond brilliance. It was smaller than his room, but Draco suddenly realised that size wasn't everything -- the light spilling in through the windows was beautiful.
At first he wasn't aware of the colour of the curtains around the small four-poster bed. The moonlight turned everything into black and white, leaching the colour. Then he realised they were red and gold ... splashes of blood and amber in the silver.
"Where are we?" he finally whispered, aware of Voldemort's hand gripping his shoulder.
"Don't you know?"
Of course he knew. Even without seeing the face of the figure sprawled on the bed, he knew it was Harry. But he wouldn't say it ... not to this man. "It's a Gryffindor room," was all he finally replied. He suddenly realised that Harry wasn't in bed, but rather on top of the blankets, still in the clothes he'd worn all day. A frown of concern flickered across his face.
"Come now, Draco. You are cleverer than that. Tell me whose room."
The fingers dug into the boy's shoulder and it felt like they were tipped with steel points. Draco tried no to flinch at the pain. "Harry Potter's room."
"Good boy." The grip loosened a little. "Now I want to show you something, Draco. You need to see the Boy Who Lived for what he really is. See, and remember."
"I suggest you remain silent until I tell you to speak, boy."
Draco swallowed; grimacing as the fingers dug into him again and he remained silent as Voldemort pointed towards a darkened corner where the shadow of the bed cut off the light from the windows. It took his eyes a moment to adjust and what he first thought was a bundle of clothes, condensed into a figure.
It was a small child, huddled in the corner, knees drawn up to its chest and arms wound tightly about them. Draco couldn't see the child's face, because it was resting on those upturned knees and curtained by a veil of jet-black messy hair.
Harry? His lips moved, but the word was silent as he stepped closer, unaware that the hand had finally left his shoulder. The little boy lifted his head as though he'd heard his name, dark hair spilling over his face, and the moonlight glinted in the green eyes, turning them silver. A fist scrubbed at an eye as he tried to brush away tears and he let out a little hiccup of a sob before resting his head back onto his knees again.
Draco realised he'd stopped breathing and when he filled his lungs, the sob matched Harry's. It was the Gryffindor ... down to the mismatched oversized clothes. But this Harry could be no more than nine or ten ... the boy before he knew he was a wizard. Draco stared at the child; surprised at the sudden urge he felt to protect the boy, to wipe away his tears.
"Why are you showing me this?"
"Because you need to know who Potter really is. This is what they are pinning all their hopes on, Draco. A scared little boy with no particular magical gifts who should have died as a baby. He is nothing, Draco, nothing but what you see now. Inside the grownup is this child. Nothing but a snivelling scared little brat of no consequence to anyone."
Voldemort spun Draco from the image of Harry and his fingers grabbed at the blond's face, forcing him to make eye contact. "Is that what you want to tie yourself to? A weak snivelling child who can't even save himself, let alone anyone else?"
"I...." Fingers tightened in Draco's hair, pulling painfully on the strands.
"If you want to fuck him, then go ahead. He has nothing else to offer anyone. But, dear Draco, if you dare to consider cheating me, I will rip you to pieces." Voldemort pulled on Draco's hair, forcing his head to one side. "You are pledged to me. You are alive because I saved your miserable existence when you were a year old. All your magical powers are gifts from me and without them do you know what you would have been?"
Draco gasped as the hold on his hair forced him to his knees and when Voldemort crouched in front of him, the sapphire blue eyes were filled with red fire.
"Without me you would have been a squib, Draco. Nothing but a magickless squib. Just remember that because what I gave to you I can easily take back."
He woke up on the floor of his room. He knew it was his room because he recognised the furniture and the fire burning in the grate. Rolling over onto his back, Draco looked at the ceiling, and even recognised the cracks in the plasterwork from the hours he'd spent staring at it in the past.
His own innocuous little room in the Dungeons, with its tiny window overlooking the broad sweep of grass leading down to the lake. His room where he'd been doing Dark Magic. But there was no sign of what he had done. No marks on the floor, no blood on his robe ... no robe...
He could remember everything, but had it been real? Had the Dark Lord been here or was it some sort of illusion? It felt real enough, he could still feel the pain in his shoulder from Voldemort's grip. But for the Dark Lord to actually be here in this room would mean he could get through all the school's wards with ease and would mean he had free rein to wander through the school whenever he wanted.
Draco's fingers reached for the place where he could feel the imprint of the hand like an icy coldness on his skin. As he touched it, the words Voldemort had hissed at him came crashing back ... Nothing but a magickless squib.
It couldn't be true ... just couldn't be. But hadn't everyone said he was a sickly baby? What if by 'sickly' they'd meant devoid of any innate magic? Draco could feel the magic within him now ... his connection with the enchanted world linking him to all other magical beings.
Draco Malfoy, a squib who only had magic because of the benevolence of Lord Voldemort.
He didn't think he could bear it. If Voldemort took this away from him he would be no better than Filch or Granger's parents. Even Longbottom would have more magic than he did. It couldn't be true. Just couldn't be.
And what about Harry? He'd seen Harry's magic ... felt the power emanating from him. If it turned out that Draco was nothing more than a powerless Muggle, would the Gryffindor still want him? Or would Harry just toss him away like some useless rag?
With some difficulty, Draco reached for his wand and got to his feet, swaying a little with vertigo from rising too quickly. If Voldemort was telling him the truth, then the Dark Lord didn't leave him many options. The warning was quite clear and the consequences of disobedience obvious. Draco crossed to his desk, flexing his arm as he walked in an attempt to get some warmth and movement back into his shoulder joint. It felt like it was encased in ice and where the tips of Voldemort's fingers had held him, as thought frozen spikes had been driven into his flesh.
Sitting at the desk, he finally unbuttoned his shirt, and eased it off the shoulder. The shape of a hand had been burned into his skin, purple against his own paleness, and where fingernails had dug into him, fresh blood pooled. Draco swallowed painfully and touched one of the cuts. The blood was frozen, and flaked away as he scraped a nail across it. Dark magic ... he could feel the way it poured through his body and gave a bitter laugh. So much for all the protection he'd placed around the room earlier.
His hand was trembling with exhaustion and apprehension as he retrieved a small leather pouch from one of the desk drawers and unrolled it on the desk. Little crystal phials each filled with liquid glinted in the candlelight and after careful consideration he selected three. The first he drank straight down, the effects of the potion so immediate that he let out an audible sigh of relief as the warmth spread from his stomach through his body. The second was sprinkled over the wound on his shoulder. It prickled painfully on contact, but he knew that it would soothe the injury and bring movement back to the joint.
The third he put on the desk in front of him. Then, placing the handle of his wand on the phial, he intoned a charm and as the last word of the complicated stanza left his mouth, he pressed down hard. There was an audible 'pop' as the crystal gave way against the pressure of his wand, and for a moment the crystal and wand became fused. The magic washed over him in an all-pervading wave of energy, which cleansed away the darkness and he sat for a moment soaking up the light. He knew he would pay for the use of that particular potion later, but the relief it gave him from the darkness left by Voldemort was worth it.
Worth it to show Voldemort that he wasn't a squib ... he could do magic, and not just everyday magic either. It had taken him the best part of a year to acquire the ingredients, weeks to learn the incantation and days to make the potion. The fact it worked so well brought a smile to his lips and he let his eyes close as all three potions worked their way through his body and soul, easing both the physical and emotional anguish.
Tomorrow he would arrange to see Harry. Tomorrow he would worry about Voldemort. But for now he just wanted to rest.
A second audible pop brought Draco back to reality with a jolt. His wand clutched tightly in his hand, he came to his feet, the chair crashing backwards to the floor. "Lumos." The spell lighted the room and with adrenalin pumping, he spun round, trying to find out who, or what, had made the noise.
Nothing ... nothing at all.
Trying to calm his fast-beating heart, Draco reached for the chair and pulled it upright. He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Sleep. I need to sleep," he murmured and slumped back onto the chair. But first he needed to tidy away his potions. If anyone saw what he had in the pouch...
His hand stilled as it touched the desk and he realised what had made the popping sound. Standing on the desk, furling its silver wings against its body was a perfectly formed three-inch-tall dragon. It looked up at him with its mother-of-pearl eyes and let out a yowl followed by a little puff of flame.
Draco blinked at the creature in surprise. "Draconis?" He reached out a finger to the little toy Welsh Green and let it climb onto his hand. Then, leaning back, he let the creature rest on his arm. "You've chosen a good time to decide to come home."
His grandmother had given him the toy for his second birthday, and he'd always been very attached to it, almost to the point of obsession. It wasn't until years later that he'd found out that what he believed to be a marvellous toy actually acted as a movable ward spell ... whenever he had Draconis with him, he was surrounded by extra protection charms. It was also supposed to let the 'protector' know if there was a problem with the 'protected'. He had often wondered how his grandmother had known when he was in trouble and it was when his mother had let slip what the toy dragon really was that he had discovered the truth.
When his grandmother died, the special charmed ties she'd placed on the dragon had been broken, and it reverted to just an expensive toy, but Draco had kept it as a lasting reminder of the woman who'd loved him. It had been taken away from him on several occasions as a punishment, but the dragon had always somehow found its way back to him no matter what spells others put on it.
So when Draco had given it to Harry on Valentines Day, he'd expected Draconis to delight the Gryffindor and the reaction in those green eyes had been everything he'd wanted to see. Harry's childlike enchantment in the toy and then the way he'd looked across the Great Hall after receiving the gift had caused a wonderful warmth to build inside Draco.
But the dragon hadn't returned to Draco as he'd expected. It had always returned to him in the past when he'd left it lying around some place at the mansion or when visiting people, so why hadn't it come back this time? He knew the toy was still in Harry's room because occasionally one of the other Gryffindors would mention it. Harry had never said a word about the dragon though, and Draco would have occasional fits of pique at Draconis for not wanting to be with him. Of course, Draco could have asked for the toy back, but there was no way he was going snivelling to Harry and having to explain its significance.
As he looked down at the creature now, he wondered whether the danger he'd been in earlier with Voldemort had somehow alerted the protection wards in the dragon. Or maybe it had been the disastrous Summoning spell and Draconis' return was his grandmother's way of telling him she had been around after all.
The mother-of-pearl eyes still watched Draco, and he was surprised that the dragon hadn't settled on his arm like it normally did. Then, it suddenly nipped his finger.
"Ouch!" Draco's hand pulled back and the little dragon took to the air, wings flapping as it hovered in front of him and yowled again. "What was that for?" Blood seeped from a little pinprick puncture wound and he quickly sucked at it while glaring at the creature. "If that's what being with Potter has done to you, you're not leaving this room again."
The air around the dragon seemed to flutter with the movement of its wings and a clear image coalesced in Draco's mind. It was that of a scared little boy and the broken body of its real-life counterpart on the bed.
Grey eyes widening, Draco suddenly realised that what he'd seen in Harry's room hadn't been a dream or an illusion. Voldemort ... or someone ... had done something to Harry.
Chest heaving, Draco stood just inside the Gryffindor common room. Typical Gryffindors, not bothering to change their password even though they knew others were aware of it. The room was empty and he padded across it towards the stairs that had to lead to the dormitories. Part of him wanted to go find Granger, but then he'd have to explain yet again that Harry was in danger because of something he'd done. Just over a week ago he'd come to her because Harry had collapsed. What the hell would she say and do if he told her Voldemort had paid a clandestine visit to Saint Potter?
The seventh-year dormitory was clearly marked and he pushed the door open, stepping into the little room. There was a sofa in front of a fireplace and five curtained doorways. He recognised the slouched figure of Longbottom seated at a little table, and wondered for a moment what schoolwork kept the boy awake so late. Draco raised his hand and made to intone a confusion charm, but Draconis had fluttered down to rest on Longbottom's book.
"Hi there." Neville tickled the creature with his finger, oblivious to the fact that someone was creeping around the room behind him. "Looking for Harry?" The dragon blew a little puff of smoke and shook its head. "Sorry, can't help you there -- he's not been around all evening."
The dragon flew away and disappeared through one of the curtained doorways. Draco quickly slipped passed the curtain into a room that exuded emptiness and found himself where Voldemort had brought him earlier. Draconis settled on his shoulder, suddenly digging its claws into the already tender flesh. With a hiss of pain, Draco paused at the creature's warning.
"What is it?" he spoke sotto voce to the dragon. It had often warned him of danger in the past, but not since his grandmother had died. Cautiously, he stepped forward, his wand now outstretched in front of him; it connected with something that felt like the air had thickened and almost solidified. Now he realised why the room had felt empty ... someone had put barrier spells around it so that people would think Harry was elsewhere.
Taking a breath, Draco pushed through them and was almost bowled over by what assaulted him. First was the feeling of Harry's presence. The distinct lack of it on the other side of the barrier made its sudden presence now almost overwhelming. Then there was the cold ... a chill that turned his breath to little puffs of whiteness as he breathed out and froze his lungs as he breathed in.
He shivered, absently pulling his robes closer. The movement stopped as he heard the noise ... a low sob of pain as Harry tried to call out for help ... and he wondered why Longbottom didn't hear his friend. Then he realised ... of course ... there was a silencing spell as well. Whoever had planned this attack had made sure Harry would not be found or helped in his pain.
Yes, pain. Draco could almost feel the pain ripping into him as he stepped towards the bed where he could make out the shape of Harry lying prone. This was no longer the image of the little boy cowering in the corner, but the real life teenager. "Harry?" Draco's voice was a whisper.
The boy let out a little whimper and tried to move ... tried to turn away. "No."
"Harry..." The dragon took off and settled on the bedside table, and Draco perched gently on the edge of the bed, concern clouding his features as he reached out to touch the dark-haired boy. "Look at me."
"Can't. Go away." His voice was hoarse with pain ... as if he'd been calling for help for some time.
"Harry, please, I need you to tell me what's wrong." He reached for the dark head, pushing the messy strands of hair from the boy's eyes. "Please, let me help you. I need to know."
"Not like this." Harry tried to curl into a ball, as though making himself smaller than he had ever been, like he was hiding in the dark corner Voldemort had put him in. But the movement seemed too much, as though it sent shafts of pain ripping through his already damaged body. "Don't want you to see me like this." The words were hissed, through clenched teeth.
"You need help. I'm going to get someone." Draco started to get up, but Harry's fingers gripped at his wrist.
"No. No one else. On the table. In the wrapper."
Following the whispered instruction, Draco saw a little square of folded parchment next to Draconis. He managed to get Harry to let go of him and quickly picked it up. Inside was a fine powder and simple instructions -- Mix with water. Drink. He raised a questioning eyebrow, but filled the glass from a small water pitcher and poured in the contents of the packet. The powder dissolved almost instantly, leaving the water clear. Returning to the bed, he helped Harry up and held the glass to his lips. "Come on, drink it."
The glass emptied, Harry fell back against Draco's shoulder and let out a shuddering sigh. "Thank you."
"Can you move?" The head on his shoulder moved slightly in a little nod. "I'm going to take your clothes off." He thought Harry managed a smile.
"I'm not feeling that well." Harry's voice trembled slightly, shivering from the cold
Draco snorted. "Piss off, Potter." The words were gentle, though, and laying the boy back onto the bed, he started unfastening buttons, surprised at his own tenderness. Harry was still clearly in pain, and he whimpered as Draco pushed his shirt from his shoulders. "What happened?"
"I get them ... dreams ... sometimes." Harry moved so Draco could get his shirt off. "They ... I have headaches from them. What are you doing here?"
Draco realised he couldn't meet Harry's eyes. Did Harry know that Voldemort was responsible for his current pain? He glanced at the dragon. "Draconis let me know something was wrong."
Harry's little snort of surprise made him cough painfully and Draco held onto him until it had passed. "Draconis is some sort of rescue dragon?" His voice was husky.
"Ask me in the morning."
Lifting his hips, Harry let Draco slip his jeans off. "You'll have to rename it 'Lassie'."
Draco met the green eyes and within the pain he could see a trace of humour. "Lassie?" He pulled back the sheets and managed to get the nearly naked boy covered.
"Ummm. 'What's that, Lassie? ... Timmy's trapped in the old mind shaft...'." Harry's attempt at an American accent was completely lost on the other wizard. He gave a weak smile. "Ask me in the morning."
"I don't think I want to know, Potter."
"I'm so cold." Harry clutched the sheets to him.
Draco reached for a bedspread, which had been folded at the foot of the bed. He knew the room was freezing and realised it was yet another spell. Whoever was responsible had not only been thorough, but also quite vindictive. If Harry had been left in this cold all night, he would probably have been hypothermic by the morning. It took Draco a moment to muster enough power to break through the spells, but when he did it was like summer warmth spilling into the room. "I'm going to get some blankets."
"No, don't go ... please." Hands clutched at him.
The grip was tight and for a moment Draco studied Harry's hand. "Okay, I'm not going anywhere." Quickly he stripped off his own clothes and, scrambling under the covers, pulled Harry towards him. The boy gave a little whimper and Draco was reminded of the scared little boy Voldemort had shown him.
He'd been shown Harry like that because Voldemort believed that seeing the hero of the Wizarding world as a helpless child would make Draco detest him. People saw the Gryffindor as a powerful saviour, but Draco saw him as ... well ... Harry, and maybe that was the difference. Because he never expected Harry to be some sort of powerful demigod, seeing him as a helpless child had the opposite affect. As he held Harry now, all he wanted to do was protect him from the dangers that awaited them both.
And that, in itself, surprised him. He'd been through a whole raft of emotions regarding Harry over the past weeks, from hatred to desire, back to hatred again and ending somewhere close to ... well, could he call it love? Draco pursed his lips at the very thought. That was not a route he cared to travel down at this moment.
Yet he was here, when all his good sense told him that he should be safely tucked away in his own room. Obeying his father. Preparing to follow Voldemort.
He felt Harry snuggle against him, the warmth of his own skin chasing the chill from Harry's body. Carefully he curled an arm around Harry's shoulder and began to gently stroke Harry's temple. Fingertips grazed over the raised skin of the scar and at the contact with the mark, he pulled his hand away.
"What?" The word was whispered against the dark hair.
"That was nice. It stops the pain."
"What? This?" Draco stroked across the scar again, his touch feather-like.
"Ummm. It hurts when Voldemort is around ... when I dream about him. But what you're doing stops the pain."
"Okay. Then I'll keep doing it."
Harry sighed against Draco's skin, the little hot breath ghosting over his collarbone. "Don't go. Stay with me tonight."
Draco's breath hitched at the request and he knew ... finally knew what he wanted.
"I'm not going anywhere, Harry. I've got you. I've got..." Draco leaned closer, his arms tightening around the shivering form. "...you."
I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly
Well I'd soar to the sun and look down at the sea
And I'd sing cos I know how it feels to be free
One love but we're not the same
We got to carry each other Carry each other
I knew how it would feel to be free
(I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be) Free/One -- Lighthouse Family
Chapter 7: The Art of Protection: Ron gets in deeper. Snape makes demands. Harry gets artistic. Draco submits. Birthday presents
To my Betas (in alphabetical order): Alex, Milena, Olivia, Nancy, Plumeria, Stacey and Tara. These people have been patient, supportive and without them the chapter would never have gotten finished. Special mention must go to Zed and Milena for their help with plotting, for listening to me wibble and for their endless patience.
To everyone at LiveJournal who have answered my stupid questions over the last few months
To everyone on at Worlds_Colliding for their continued support and inspiration.
To everyone who has reviewed or commented on previous chapters. Even though I don't get the chance to respond to them all, please know that I do read and appreciate every one.
A comment made during a conversation with Zed Adams and her hilarious ficlet "Ron's Daymare" was the inspiration for Hermione's idea of "Ron and house-elves" (snigger). The story is part of Zed's "A Basket of Rotten Citrus Collection" and can be found here: http://www.darksites.com/souls/pagan/boysdorm/miscellany/daymare.html
Artwork: I am very lucky to have several new pieces of artwork drawn for this chapter. They are linked in the appropriate places throughout the chapter. If the links don't work, then try http://www.worlds-colliding.co.uk for further links.
Bhanesidhe's artwork: Ron in distress, Harry and Hermione, Draco and Hedwig.
Milena's artwork: Little Harry, Draco Dabbling, Draco's Portrait.
By TaraDiane and midgewood58: Green Eyes. This photo manip uses an image of Daniel Radcliffe, which is one of my favourites of him. Tara and Midgewood58 added the green eyes and the scar. Take note of the hairstyle Dan has in this photo ... it is very much how Hermione cuts Harry's hair in Resolution Chapter 6!
There are two Yahoo groups associated with my stories:
The adult group for Resolution can be found at: Worlds_Colliding: The Restricted Section
The general group can be found at Worlds_Colliding. The R-rated version of Resolution and my non-slash story Coming of Age can be found here.
Any reviews are more than welcome, either here on the Fiction Alley Board (click on review), to me at [email protected] or feel free to post your comments at Worlds_Colliding.