Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Spoilers: All four books
Summary: A Harry/Draco SLASH romance. Under the influence of a love potion, Draco learns that poison doesn't always bring death there are other ways to suffer and live. Chemical emotion runs feverish as Harry and Draco discover the intoxication of love. Written by a remorseless slash girl *g*, this story explores the intricate relationship between Harry and Draco.
Chapter 6 - Missing Completion
You're incomplete until you're in love; then you're finished.
Harry showed the creased note to Hermione during dinner, unfolding it surreptitiously under the table and sliding it over to her. Hermione took it and discreetly read it, then passed it back to Harry, all the while without a change of expression.
"So, are you going to meet him?" Hermione asked in a low voice, so quietly that only Harry could hear her. She needn't have worried, though, since the scattered dinner conversation was noisy enough to drown out anything less than audible speech.
Harry nodded once, shoving the note back into his pocket. "I'll bring my wand along, just in case."
Hermione wasn't surprised at Harry's answer; somehow, even before he'd said anything, she already knew. In fact, even before Harry even showed her the note, she knew that should Malfoy ask Harry to meet again in private, Harry would agree. What still baffled her, however, was that Harry was actually entertaining the issue, instead of dismissing it with a wave of his hand as nothing more than the preposterous rubbish that Malfoy was so adept at throwing in their direction. Hermione's eyes narrowed; she was beginning to wonder if Malfoy had put Harry under the Imperius Curse.
"Are you feeling all right, Harry?" Her anxious concern showed in her voice. "You're acting really strangely about this whole thing, and you've got me worried. Are you sure Malfoy didn't put a spell on you, instead of the other way around?"
"No, he didn't hex me." Harry shook his head. Unless you count the sorcery of lips. "Besides, I can fight off the Imperius Curse, and he's not experienced enough to manage anything more advanced than that. I doubt he can even cast Imperius not yet."
"I still have a bad feeling about this, Harry," Hermione warned, giving voice to her niggling doubts. "I wouldn't trust Malfoy to trim Crookshanks' claws, and that's a task that I would gladly hand over to almost anyone willing to be scratched half to death."
"I'll be careful," Harry promised.
Hermione took one look in his eyes and gave up trying to discourage him there wasn't any use, since it was clear that Harry had already made up his mind, and probably no matter what she said short of threatening to tell Ron or Dumbledore about the whole deal, Harry would be there in the disused storage room later that night.
To quell her own uneasiness, Hermione decided to make sure that Harry wasn't being subjected to some dark curse Malfoy put on him, which denied him of conscious control over his actions. She knew a useful Dark-Sensing Spell, which could gauge if a person was under the influence of any sort of dark magical charm or spell and return either a positive or negative result.
When Harry was leaning over to talk to Seamus about the match-day arrangements for the Gryffindor-Slytherin clash, Hermione took out her wand and furtively passed it down the length of Harry's body, whispering the Sensing Spell under her breath, carefully watching for the result.
The tip of her wand glowed a pearly white, then faded to a dull green, which signalled affirmatively that everything was fine and nothing was amiss. Harry was spell-free that was a relief, to some extent, though not quite a consolation. The question that still begged answering was, Why?
Hermione thought for a moment, then decided it was pointless to ask Harry about it now firstly, he was clearly adamant about going to meet Malfoy that night; and secondly, she somehow had a feeling that even Harry didn't know the answer to that question.
As the late afternoon sun blazed in all its glory across the sky, a rare burst of colour in the spell of bleak, wintry weather in the past days and weeks, Harry headed back to the Gryffindor dormitory to gather his things for Quidditch practice that evening. The schedule was even tighter now that the crucial game had been pushed forward his team, although more than a worthy match for the Slytherins, needed all the practice they could squeeze in time for.
Slytherin had a strong defence, Harry noted as he took a clean set of Quidditch robes out of his drawer. That was their asset, which was all the more reason for him to throw everything they had into attack. Granted, the victory hinged more heavily on his ability to catch the Snitch and end the game, but Harry had never been one to play on the back foot.
Based on past matches, Harry's chances of catching the Snitch were good, almost certain if percentages and ratios were all there was to it. To date, he had faced off against Malfoy in a total of four Quidditch games, each season since their second year, and Harry had caught the Snitch every single time. He remembered the intoxication of victory, the sheer triumph each time his fingers closed over the fluttering speck of gold, each time he turned and saw Malfoy's face, the crestfallen expression twisted with anger, resentment, and unmistakable hatred.
Harry's thoughts gradually strayed from plotting Quidditch strategy to evaluating Malfoy's flying talent even though he was a much swifter, quicker flier than Malfoy was, Harry couldn't help grudgingly admitting that he liked the way Malfoy flew. In fact, he even secretly thought that Malfoy had a nicer flying style than himself. Harry had seen himself in flight on several occasions, either on replay mode on a pair of Omnioculars or in moving wizard photos, and he noticed that he seemed to hurtle through the air, though with pinpoint accuracy his body would be bent forward in perfect alignment with his broom, and he would cut through the air like a knife through soft butter, though with about as much sophistication as exactly that.
Harry remembered the first time he saw Draco fly back in the first year, when they were only eleven and still wide-eyed and innocent and childish, when Malfoy had stolen Neville's Remembrall and taken to forbidden flight on one of the school broomsticks. He, of course, had done the natural thing and had gone after Malfoy. And that moment had served to fuel an intense, bitter rivalry between them which had far from simmered, much less faded, even six years later.
Still, Harry could recall how privately impressed he was as he sped after Malfoy, thinking He wasn't lying, he could fly well there was a certain arrogance and careless grace in the way Malfoy guided his broomstick through the whistling air, precise and elegant at the same time, and maybe Malfoy wasn't the world's best flier, but he certainly flew with an altogether unique beauty and poise. Just like everything else about Malfoy, really. His encompassing ability to exude scorn and confidence so effortlessly, along with that enviable calm and refinement and stylishness which was so exclusively Malfoy.
And this all the more highlighted the brief flashes of raw emotion that flickered and waned in Draco's eyes like daytime lightning, because it fractured the composed veneer which Draco normally projected so flawlessly. It was like the hiss of thin ice on the verge of breaking, as the liquid truth beneath seeped through the spidery cracks and it was unnerving, almost frightening to watch.
Harry rummaged in his bedside drawer for a bar of Honeydukes chocolate to nibble on, since he would be missing dinner later when suddenly, his fingers came into contact with the cool touch of hard glass, which clinked like hollow metal as it jostled against the other assorted contents of the drawer. Harry's fingers inquisitively closed over it, its shape familiar, and drew it out of the drawer.
It was the empty glass vial.
Harry stared at it for a moment, the glass cool against the palm of his hand. He had completely forgotten about its existence, more preoccupied with the effect of the love potion than the physical source which had contained it. Now he held it up for closer inspection, noticing the faint traces of vivid red still staining the interior surface of the closed vial, crimson testimony of a poison that ran deeper than blood.
Or so Malfoy said. And so he had believed.
Harry chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully, and after pondering a moment longer, he slipped the small glass vial into his pocket as he picked up his Quidditch things and exited the dormitory. There was no way for him to verify the nature of the mysterious residue, but it was about as tangible a piece of evidence as he had in possession, and he thought Hermione would find it very interesting, indeed.
Draco quietly left the Slytherin common room shortly before dinner, and made his way out of the main school building toward the Quidditch pitch in the distance. It looked so very different, when viewed from ground level across horizontal terrain, as compared to the spectacular bird's eye view afforded from the perspective of the skies above.
When he flew, his surroundings would smudge and flow like a shaken palette, a canvas of natural abstract art painted all around him in a dazzle of brilliant colour, as he spun and turned over and over on his broomstick. The lush green pitch below would blend seamlessly with the blue sky above, one moment at his feet and the next, spinning overhead, and this almost dizzying spectrum of colour was what he found most beautiful, at times almost distractingly so, because it mirrored the exact way life was never clear lines of black and white, instead varying shades of grey and every other colour of the rainbow.
But as he approached the pitch, Draco was struck by how very different it looked from where he stood now it was so... typical, and grounded, the landscape as if forged by gravity and not imagination. Which made perfect sense, since he was standing with both feet rooted on the earth, and the pitch really did look quite sad, almost pathetic, and it didn't help that the torrential winter rains were cutting deep ridges of erosion in the soil, which was why it badly needed resurfacing.
But of course, he didn't come here to rue the state of the Quidditch pitch, although its sorry condition did tinge his mood with more bleakness. Truthfully, he wasn't really sure why he had come all the way down here, except that he knew Harry had Quidditch practice this evening.
Draco selected a shaded spot partially obscured in the shadow of Gryffindor Tower looming over him, and settled down on the grassy ground, leaning against the warm concrete flagstones of the wall behind him. He was hidden from view by a sharp bend, although he still had a fairly unobstructed vision of the Quidditch pitch from where he sat.
Harry was there, together with the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, all of them junior students, most of them sixth-years. Draco could see Harry talking to them, likely briefing them on the game strategy for the upcoming match. Harry gestured and pointed, giving directions to each player, who in turn nodded and sometimes appeared to ask a question back in clarification. Not long after, the small group dispersed and mounted their broomsticks, kicking off from the ground to the skies above.
It was interesting to watch Harry fly from a perspective that wasn't on eye level with him, Draco mused to himself as his eyes followed Harry's swift progression from one end of the pitch to the other, doing his warm-up laps as he raced back and forth between the two hoops on either end of the field with amazing speed. Time and again, Draco envied Harry's sheer velocity on a broomstick, while being able to maintain precision and lightning-quick reflexes at the same time.
Harry really knew how to fly. Not just be able to zip around on a broomstick and negotiate right-angled corners without falling off, but really fly in the complete, truest sense of the word as if he could shed the skin that gravity held sway over, as if the sky wasn't the limit but only the basis of so much more worth exploring. Even during matches, it occurred to Draco that Harry didn't seem like he was flying only to compete, but rather also for the pure love of it, and somehow the wind caught him and took him where his instincts led, as if catching the Snitch was only a minor satisfaction in the sheer pleasure of flying, just a shimmer of gold on a horizon that had no bounds.
Of course, Draco could never fly like that. The weight of expectation and impossible standards clipped his wings of flight, leaving him trawling the realm of sky just below heaven, and no matter how he tried, he was always one space below Harry.
Draco remembered the first time he had played against Harry in their second year, and had lost, the first of many subsequent failures. The humiliation of being defeated despite having a superior broomstick was still vivid, which had in turn shifted the bulk of the blame to his own capabilities instead. He remembered Marcus Flint yelling at him, saying It was on top of your head and you couldn't bloody see it! You can't outshine Potter even with the best damn broom in the world!
And at that moment the spark of hatred which had ignited in their first encounter aboard the Hogwarts Express had erupted into seething scarlet flames that burned eternal, stoked and kindled by anger and resentment and bitterness that only Harry had been able to invoke. It was the very seed of his loathing for Harry; envy twisted with contempt, like serpents of fiery emerald binding chains of mingled hatred and disgusted admiration around him.
Then again, when had it been any different? When had he ever been better than Harry? When did he have something Harry didn't? The answer was, never. And now, the something that he didn't have, which he wanted more than anything else, was Harry, and this raging yearning filled every space between each heartbeat.
Draco stared at Harry and tried to remember all the things about him that he used to hate, the loathing that used to come so naturally; but now it was just a strange, detached remembrance, like a faint twitch of dιjΰ vu, a whispered thread from a past that seemed too far removed to be real. Now, all he could see was Harry, the way he truly was without the distortion of the bitter veil of jealousy and enmity, and he saw the way Harry smiled, sincere and encouraging, the way his slim hands moved over the handle of his Firebolt with careful pride, gripping it as it yielded to his complete control, they way Harry's lithe body leaned over his slender broomstick as he soared downward in a steep dive, the wind streamlining past him with fluid resistance, and Draco watched, mesmerised
"What the !"
Ron appeared from nowhere, sharply rounding the bend and almost tripping over Draco's outstretched legs, just managing to keep his balance and prevent a rather unceremonious tumble to the ground. He whirled around and stared at Draco, incredulity quickly changing into plain contempt as recognition set in.
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" Ron spat angrily, sparks of fury igniting in his blue eyes.
Draco recovered swiftly, and matched Ron glare for glare. "I'm sitting down minding my own business. Not against the rules, is it?"
Ron's eyes glinted dangerously. "Don't give me that crap." He advanced on Draco, who had risen to his feet and was carelessly dusting off his robes, carrying off the air of nonchalance flawlessly. "I know perfectly well what you're doing here, Malfoy."
"Then asking questions you already know the answers to is generally not very productive, Weasley." Draco's eyes shone with malice. "But that does explain the arrested mental development."
"You're spying on our Quidditch strategy," Ron accused, his face flushing with rage, making his freckles stand out like specks of hot charcoal on flushed skin. "You son of a b"
"I am not spying on your stupid strategy, Weasley," Draco hissed, cutting Ron off. His pale face coloured slightly as Ron's words touched on a sensitive nerve. "Besides, there isn't even much of a strategy to speak of, since your only ace is that Potter can catch the Snitch and that really can't be called a tactic at all, can it? And don't you dare insult my mother, you"
"Get lost, Malfoy." Ron's voice was spiked with steel. "And don't think I won't make you leave. You're not very menacing without your two henchmen by your side, are you now?"
"Save it, Weasley." Draco smoothly stepped back, and his tone was calm and unfazed. "I can do better than picking a fight with someone who's too lousy to even make his house's Quidditch team." He gave Ron a malevolent sneer. "But then again, the sidelines are where you belong, anyway."
Ron's fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles turned a deathly white, and he was shaking with fury and frustration for lack of a retort. Draco's smug smile pierced him through, invoking something past the realm of anger and rage hatred, deep and intense, sparking like electricity in Ron's eyes of metallic sapphire. When Ron spoke again, however, his voice was amazingly even, though thinly controlled.
"One day, Malfoy," he hissed between gritted teeth, his tone low and sliced with antipathy. "On the day you finally fall with a mighty crash, know that it is exactly what you deserve." Ron's voice was chillingly quiet. "And know that I will be the first one there to watch."
"My pleasure, Weasley." Draco's voice dripped with acid sarcasm. "Anything to add some meaning to your miserable life. It's the least I can do for charity."
They stood and glared at each other for a long moment, mutual venom in their stares then Draco turned and strode off, away from Gryffindor Tower, without so much as a backward glance. His black robes billowed behind him as he walked, his gait measured and graceful, the wind streamlining the fine velvet that showed off the slender cut of his torso, and he finally disappeared around the bend.
Ron stood where he was, rooted to the spot for a few long minutes even after Draco was gone. The caustic words still lingered like toxic air, and as Ron drew a calming breath he could still hear the gloating tone of Draco's voice, taunting him and what hurt most was the silent defeat he'd had to concede, because Draco spoke the truth in all its painful glory, the truth that he always fell this much short of the best, be it in Quidditch or grades or financial standing.
The corrosive rage fed a long-harboured resentment within him, and Ron bit down on his lower lip in helpless frustration, and closed his eyes for a moment as he thought of how much he bitterly envied Draco Malfoy, for having everything that he couldn't have, and for constantly rubbing his face in it; the wrath trickled into a dark pool of vengefulness that stirred deep within him, dammed up inside his soul.
One day, Ron thought grimly, slowly turning his face toward the Quidditch pitch, where he could vaguely make out the figures of the Gryffindor team darting across the darkened skies. All of a sudden Ron found he had lost the mood and enthusiasm to analyse Quidditch strategy it began to hurt, a detached sort of ache in the pit of his stomach, just to watch the team in the freedom of flight, soaring the skies, because he secretly had badly wanted to be one of them, but hadn't made the cut.
He'd made himself believe that he was satisfied with the strategizing role that Harry had offered him instead, probably more out of their friendship than anything else. He'd tried not to think about the fact that he didn't just want to plot Quidditch, he wanted to play it until Malfoy had just mercilessly reminded him of his inferiority. It seemed that only Malfoy could see transparently through his faηade of woeful acceptance, laying bare the dark, wistful sadness within him that everyone else, even Harry, failed to notice.
And he hated Malfoy for that.
One day, I'll get back at him for everything he's done to me, Ron swore inwardly, a fervent oath to unfulfilled revenge. And then he'll be the one to regret.
Ron stormed back to the Gryffindor common room, feeling distinctly unsettled and extremely irritable, and found Hermione sitting alone at a table, deeply absorbed in a thick book laid open in front of her. Next to her stood a curious looking glass container, the interior dabbled with traces of red, placed carefully on top of a wad of tissue like a valuable piece of delicate evidence. But Ron barely noticed it as he flopped down on the chair opposite Hermione.
"Do you know who I caught lurking around the Quidditch pitch just now, while Harry and the others were having practice?" Ron fumed, glaring at Hermione as if she was actually the one responsible for sending out spies to loiter around the field. "Malfoy. He was hiding in the shadows spying out our Quidditch strategy! That sneaky little..." Ron rattled off a litany of unpleasant and vulgar names.
"Ron," Hermione cut in warningly, glancing sharply up from her readings. "Cut that out. Why are you getting so worked up about this, anyway? It's not like our strategy a state secret or something. There are only so many different strategies and I bet they're all already listed in Quidditch Through The Ages."
"That's not the point!" said Ron crossly, still looking flushed. "Malfoy's probably planning some horrid devious cheating tactic to wreck our strategy! I'll bet he has a companion edition that's along the lines of 1001 Ways To Sabotage Your Opponent's Quidditch Strategy. Bet he tried to submit 'dress up as a Dementor' to the editors, too."
"Take it easy," Hermione said, albeit distractedly, her attention still on the page she had been reading before Ron's interruption. "Don't get all hot and bothered about it you have a tendency to overreact when it comes to this kind of thing."
"I do not!" Ron replied mutinously. "But incidentally, I think that catching our sworn rival lurking around spying on our strategy more than warrants a violent reaction. Preferably directed at Malfoy." Ron balled his fist and made a nasty face.
Hermione glanced up, and hesitated before asking as casually as she could, "Did Harry see Malfoy?"
Ron shook his head. "Thank goodness he didn't, or he wouldn't have been able to concentrate throughout the rest of the practice session."
Probably, Hermione agreed silently, surreptitiously returning her gaze to the book. But not for the reason that you're thinking. However, she wisely said nothing; other than the fact that Harry would likely be very angry with her if she told Ron about the love potion fiasco, she knew better than to stoke the flames of the volatile state that Ron was already in.
While Ron continued to mutter ominously about Malfoy's grievance, Hermione returned her concentration to her book, which detailed the characteristics of various 'advanced potions'. She was hoping to glean more information about the unknown substance in the vial that Harry had given her.
There wasn't a wealth of information about the topic, and most of the conclusive tests involved experiments that would have to be conducted in a Potions lab. However, minor references here and there, such as "the blood-coloured potion" and "has natural acidic properties, thus should always be concocted in a glass jar at room temperature" all hinted strongly that the remnant potion in the vial was what it claimed to be a love potion.
Ron finally caught sight of the glass vial, and eyed it curiously. "What's that? What're you reading? Don't tell me you've started on Snape's term project that isn't due for two months!"
"No, it isn't." Hermione shot him a look, and in a slightly miffed tone of voice, "but by the way, I have started on the Potions project don't forget, it counts for one-third of our final mark!"
"I hate Potions," Ron digressed to grumble, the reminder of the assignment doing nothing to lift his irritable mood. "What does it matter if I do it properly, anyway? Snape hates my guts, he's just going to nit-pick for any errors he can possibly find, and mark me down for those." Ron still eyed the glass vial with interest, though, and pressed on, "So what are you doing, then? What's the jar for?"
"Oh, it's just some additional Potions readings," Hermione replied as vaguely as she could, waving her hand dismissively as she furtively turned a few pages forward so that Ron would see that she'd been dwelling on the love potions chapter. She nodded at the glass vial, and continued, "that's just a sample of a special sort of potion which I obtained from Snape it's from the list on page 867 of the textbook." She wagered that Ron wouldn't actually bother to go and check up the textbook, it being Potions readings and, well, on page 867.
Ron groaned. "I can barely catch up with the assigned readings for two weeks ago, let alone additional ones." He shook his head, as if baffled. "I don't understand how you can be so enthusiastic about Potions, Herm. It's ghastly I wish I could've dropped it back in the third year. I would've taken Arithmancy over Potions any time at all." He looked at the clock on the wall it was quickly approaching eight o'clock, and the skies would be completely dark outside by now. "Harry should be back soon."
"He told me that he'll be going to see one of the professors after Quidditch practice about some late homework," Hermione quickly interjected, suddenly remembering where Harry was really going after practice. Harry probably trusted her to keep him covered, and although she felt bad lying to Ron, she knew that it was the most sensible thing to do, in the circumstances. "So he'll probably not be back till later. Why don't we get started on homework first?"
At the mention of the dreaded H-word, Ron quickly got to his feet he rarely ever voluntarily yielded to the burden of studying until the exams loomed and he had no other choice. And at the moment, he was in sulky enough a mood without needing a horrid Transfiguration essay to achieve that effect.
"Um, I think I'll go take a shower first," Ron said evasively, hurriedly heading toward the staircase leading to the boys' dorm, to get a change of clothes. "See you later, Hermione."
Hermione grinned at Ron's transparent excuse she knew the suggestion of doing homework would send Ron scuttling off, anyway. She knew him all too well. Secretly, she welcomed his departure so that she could keep researching without having to be discreet about it.
Hermione was intrigued by what she'd found out about love potions so far little was revealed about exactly how a love potion could be concocted, since its formula was restricted from publication in school textbooks by Ministry educational regulations but she'd read quite a lot about their properties and effects. Without a doubt, love potions were extremely powerful magic, darkly fascinating because technically, it didn't flaunt any of the laws set forth in the 1875 Charter Restricting Forbidden Magic it didn't physically torture the victim like Cruciatus did, or allow one person to consciously control another, like Imperius, although there were similarities between the two. The Ministry actually had to enact a separate Special Section for it in 1879, whereby the use of love potions was expressly forbidden, although due to legislative constraints, the punishment for breaking the Special Section rules was not as grave as for other banned magical spells.
Hermione drummed her fingers thoughtfully against the edge of the desk. It now appeared that the unlikely event of Draco Malfoy actually be honest may actually be true, after all. But deep down inside she still had her misgivings about Harry's bizarre, implicit trust in Draco, and a non-conclusive vial stained with what only appeared to be love potion was not going to change her mind in a hurry.
Hermione sighed and sat back in her chair, rubbing her eyes. Be careful, Harry, she thought fervently, and even her mental tone was dense with worry. If it's true that Malfoy *is* under a love spell, then things are going to become more complicated than we can ever imagine.
+ + + + +
Harry was feeling hot and exhausted as he dismounted his Firebolt and swung it over his shoulder, heading in the direction of the broom shed. He was alone, having dismissed his team about ten minutes ago; he'd told them to go off first on the pretext of wanted to practise flying a few laps across the pitch before calling it a night. He didn't want them to see him heading toward the Astronomy Tower, although he had an excuse ready that he was finishing his star chart in the event someone did.
As he approached the broom shed, a twinge of memories rose within him, unbidden; he remembered talking to Draco here, the day after their first encounter in the Forest, and he recalled how privately surprised he'd been to see Malfoy looking so harassed, almost distraught. Ever since then, Draco's calm, unruffled veneer had never quite returned, although distinctive flashes of arrogance and defiance flared every so often, like light sparking off shards of a cracked mirror.
He could almost hear Hermione's voice in his head: I still have a bad feeling about this, Harry.
Harry vaguely wondered why he wasn't feeling as doubtful and uneasy as he should be, when even Hermione, who always tended to see the good in other people, was disapproving of his actions. Harry didn't even want to think about how Ron would react. Ron'd probably... yes, he really didn't want to think of what Ron would say, if he found out.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Malfoy had kissed him twice, and that wasn't counting the dreams that he was being plagued with Harry didn't want to delve into the recollection of those, not so much because they wasn't a pleasant experience than because he was appalled at himself for actually dreaming of kissing Malfoy.
Harry looked at his watch; the luminous hands glowed the way Crookshanks' eyes did, informing him that it was already half-past eight. Draco had not specified a time to meet, only that he was to go to the storage room after Quidditch practice. Harry hoped that Draco would already be there.
Keeping a wary eye out for Mrs Norris, Harry sidled along the darkened corridor on the fifth floor of the Astronomy tower, which was empty and eerily quiet, his soft footsteps echoing in time with his heartbeat, like the fluttering wings of a Golden Snitch amplified a dozen times. He counted off the doors as he passed them, knowing that the storage room was the sixth door on the right, and finally drew to a halt in front of what he hoped was the correct door.
Harry knocked softly it was a conditioned reflex, each time before he opened a door and turned the knob, cautiously peering in. The small room was suffused with the warm glow of a magical candle that would never burn down to a stump, and in the flickering play of light and shadows Draco sat on a worn-out leather armchair near the centre of the room, twirling his wand between his fingers, and reading what appeared to be a very tattered book laid on his lap.
Draco looked up when Harry slid into the room, quietly shutting the door behind him. "You're late," he remarked neutrally, emotion absent from his voice.
"I am not late." Harry stepped closer to where Draco was sitting, finding the temperature in the room distinctly warm perhaps it was the Quidditch practice. Or something else. "You just said to come here after practice."
"Practice ended at eight o'clock, didn't it?"
"I was flying a few laps across the pitch." Harry glared at Draco. "And since when do I have to account to you for my whereabouts?"
Draco looked as if he was about to say something, but thought the better of it; he simply shrugged, and carefully closed the flimsy-looking book. "All right, whatever. What matters is you're here, anyway." Draco got up, and they were standing a few feet apart. "I need to talk to you about some things."
"Wait." Harry saw Draco glance at him in surprise; he composed his thoughts, and took a deep breath. "Before I agree to anything else, Malfoy, I want to know everything about what's going on. Some evidence, if you've got any to show."
The expression in Draco's eyes hardened imperceptibly, and they shone like tarnished silver. "You still don't believe me, do you?" There was a note of bitterness in his voice. "You still don't trust me."
"This may sound harsh, Malfoy, but you haven't given me much reason to trust you since the day I knew you." Harry's voice was firm, yet not unkind. "The fact that you actually derive a warped enjoyment out of seeing me get into trouble does shake my confidence somewhat."
"That was before." Draco's voice was almost painfully soft, and he lifted his eyes to look straight at Harry. "I don't feel the same way about you anymore," his lips twisted slightly with the irony of his words, "to say the least."
Harry shook his head. "I'm not saying I don't believe you, Malfoy, but you have to give me a solid reason to believe you. Because if I'm going to help you with this, the least I must have is a complete belief that this whole love potion thing is actually true."
"Is actually true?" Draco repeated incredulously, mild sparks of emotion flaring in his eyes. "After what's happened, you still" Draco broke off in mid-sentence and closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath; he was visibly trying to keep calm. When he opened them again, they were glazed over with a forced impassiveness. "Youyou've seen the effect you have on me, Potter. And you think I've been faking it all the while?"
"I never said that." The muted pain that Draco was trying so hard to conceal, yet was plainly evident to Harry, struck a nerve deep inside him. "I just need to know everything about what you're asking me to do, Malfoy, and that includes an assurance that this whole condition actually exists. Is that too much to ask? Am I supposed to believe you just based on your word alone?"
As soon as the words spilled from his lips, Harry instantly regretted them, even as he saw the veiled hurt wash across Draco's face, pale and vulnerable in the dim light, even as those grey eyes froze and shuttered up, returning the tentative connection between them back to the level of mutual distrust.
When he was away from Draco, it was hard to remember the depth of the way Draco had affected him, as logical and sane thought took over; like a forgotten inspiration, a memory that didn't seem quite real. But now, in the same room as Draco, feeling the almost palpable waves of despair and helplessness radiating from the other boy, Harry remembered why he'd actually agreed to offer his help in the first place, remembered the same quiet desperation in Draco's eyes when they were standing so close together in the dark corridor en route to the Slytherin dormitory...
Draco broke the silence first; a measured, careful expression wiped his face clean of the stirring emotions that churned within. "No, you don't have to trust my word alone." His voice was oddly level, and thoroughly vacant. "Actually, I asked you to come here because I wanted to show you something."
Draco moved easily forward, and pressed the thin book he was holding into Harry's hands. Harry looked down at his palms; it was less of a book than a stack of parchments untidily arranged together and none too securely bound with a piece of string. It reminded Harry of the codices used in ancient times; he gingerly turned it over in his hands, inspecting it. There was no title inscription on the front page, the feel of which was dusty like worn leather. Harry opened the book, and the crisp pages rustled; he wondered if the binding was going to unravel, and so held the spine of the book firmly between his thumb and index finger.
Draco said nothing, just reached over flipped the pages of the book forward for Harry, quickly finding the page he was looking for with familiar ease. He tapped his finger lightly, and nodded toward the open page. "Here's the spellbook I used, and that's the Love Potion instructions." He wryly indicated at the preceding page. "That was the Loss of Substance Potion which I had originally intended on making. And if you say anything along the lines of 'I told you so', Potter, I swear I'll"
"I wasn't going to say that," Harry snapped, though not in an infuriated tone. He was poring over the page with rapt interest. "Just shut up and let me read, will you?"
To Harry's continued amazement, Draco obeyed, and fell silent. The room was completely quiet save for the merry crackling of the magical flame. Harry intently scanned the words written on the page, which he was reading with a good measure of difficulty as the writing was overly fanciful, coupled with the fact that the dark blue ink was badly faded and smudged, as if the book had been washed several times and hung out to dry.
There was a long list of ingredients, presumably the constituents required for the Love Potion. Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately), the ingredients list was the clearest part of the page below that was a single sentence, in a language Harry assumed was Latin: Traicit et fati litora magnus amor. A little ways further down the page was some more writing, which Harry leaned closer and strained to read.
It was written like a poem, or verse indented an inch or so from the side margin of the page. However, the words were very barely visible, like tendrils of ghost writing, although when Harry squinted for long enough he could just about make out the first two lines, before the verse abruptly terminated in a sharp linear rip that serrated the bottom of the page. The rest of whatever was written was lost in whatever had become of the missing shred.
Harry made an exasperated sound. "For crying out loud, Malfoy, this damn book is falling apart and you're still crazy enough to use its spells? How if only half a spell is listed and the other half is missing? You're lucky you didn't splinch yourself!"
"Yes, and ending up in love with you is a much better option," Draco remarked sarcastically, shooting Harry a sharp look, "because after all, I could have splinched myself instead! And that would be so much worse, now wouldn't it."
"Oh shut up," Harry said crossly, returning Draco's glare, "and tell me what it says down there at the bottom of the page."
Draco craned his neck forward, and his hair brushed lightly against Harry's cheek as he did so. "It's a short poem, I think. It says, 'A chemical emotion, falsely real; the power to hurt, and the power to heal.'" He paused, and drew back slightly.
"And?" Harry prompted impatiently.
"And the composition of air is made out of some percentage of oxygen and other invisible molecules that aren't quite as useful to us."
"What?" Harry blinked, leaning forward to peer at the page, pushing his glasses up his nose. "It actually says that?"
"Of course not," Draco snapped, rolling his eyes. "I can't read off the page, now can I?"
"So that's all it says? Or is there more to it?" Harry questioned. "And what does it mean, anyway?"
Draco shrugged nonchalantly. "How the hell should I know if there's more to it? If there is, it makes no difference it's been torn off, anyway. It might just be a two-line verse, since it seems fairly self-contained I mean, it rhymes and all. Might be a minimalist sort of artistic git who wrote it." He paused, and looked squarely up at Harry, who was still puzzling over the book with curious interest, and spoke meaningfully, "But I think I can show you what it means."
Draco drew out a slender blade from the inner folds of his robes, took a bold step forward. He took the spellbook out of Harry's palm, dropping it onto the seat of the armchair; then he turned back and carefully pressed the hilt of the knife into Harry's hand, the pointed edge facing in his own direction. Harry stared at the knife, dumbfounded, as if the carved snakes on the intricately engraved hilt of the blade had suddenly become live serpents in his palm, and he looked up at Draco, nonplussed. "What's this?"
"It's a knife, Potter. What have you used to keep your fork company all these years?"
Before Harry could think up a reply to that, Draco abruptly pulled apart the collar of his own black robes, and yanked his left sleeve down his shoulder, partially baring his chest. His collarbone marked a defined ridge on the smooth curve leading down from his neck, a flawless stretch of pale, creamy skin, which seemed to glow with its own unique radiance. Draco's shoulder was slim and angular, perfectly balanced with his lithe body frame, slender without being too thin.
Harry blinked, and eyed Draco warily. "Uh, Malfoy..."
His perplexed voice trailed off as Draco reached over and seized hold of his right wrist, the hand that was holding the knife; the blade glinted silver danger as Draco lifted it up, closer, bringing it just a whisper away from his own exposed neck, all the while never once breaking eye contact with Harry.
Now Harry was thoroughly confused, bordering alarm; he blinked again, bewildered. "Malfoy, what"
Without warning, Draco gripped Harry's wrist tightly and pushed it downward in a swift, determined stroke; the blade glanced past the vulnerable curve of his neck, and slashed a deep oblique gash right across the left side of his chest. Vivid fresh blood blossomed forth, flowing down in narrow crimson rivulets and staining the green lining of his black robes.
"Oh my god!" Harry let out a horrified yell, and reflexively jerked his hand away from Draco's grip; Draco simultaneously released his hold, and the imbrued knife went clattering out of Harry's hand to the floor, specks of blood spitting from its blade, the hollow metallic clang followed by an even more deafening silence.
Harry staggered a few steps backward, reeling from the shock; he stared at Draco, utterly stunned. "What" he spluttered, "What are you doing, Malfoy?" His eyes were wild and frantic with shock. "Oh god!"
Draco was completely unfazed, even with blood running from a deep wound across his chest. He completely ignored the bleeding, and instead stepped closer to Harry, who was still frozen with disbelief.
Draco smiled, although it was a very cool, almost sardonic smile, lined with bitterness on the edges. He reached over and grabbed hold of Harry's hand again, which was stiff and tensed, held almost protectively behind Harry's back. Harry resisted, but Draco was firm, and pulled Harry's hand forward, spreading open Harry's curled fingers with his own. Draco could feel the quivering pulse as he held Harry's wrist; he moved even closer, swallowing up the distance between them until he was so near Harry that he could feel the warmth of Harry's quickened breathing.
Then, he pressed Harry's open palm flat against the seething crimson slash on his own chest.
Harry let out another strangled gasp and tried to withdraw his hand, but Draco wouldn't let him; Harry suddenly felt a jet of ice cold lined with fire shoot through his hand. Like a sliver of energy, it exited his body through his palm, straight into Draco's wound, and it was the strangest sensation not pain, but a deep, intense pulse, like a thousand heartbeats compressed into one.
Draco felt Harry's palm go limp in his grasp, his resistance faltering; Draco he closed his eyes as he felt the fiery cold rush into his body through the wound on his chest, almost as if his heart was rent open to lay exposed. The ice in his veins made him shiver, and he broke out in a cold sweat, feeling flushed but this sensation was nothing like he'd ever felt before; instead of draining him, it felt invigorating, as if pouring life into his ebbing blood, infusing a certain power into him from within.
Harry couldn't tear his gaze away from where his palm seemed rooted by an unseen force; his eyes widened in utter surprise, and he stared as the wound on Draco's chest twitched beneath his fingers. The strangest thing was happening the fresh crimson blood suddenly glazed dark red, and the inflamed flesh lining the open gash appeared to seal together. Before his startled eyes, the entire scarlet streak itself seemed to evaporate like water on heated metal, growing fainter and fainter until only a ghostly trace of dried blood remained, outlining a glistening silver scar.
Draco opened his eyes calmly; a vague emotion darted across his impassive features, softened with weariness. He glanced down at his own chest, and saw the scar standing in the place that the knife had sliced apart it was now healed under Harry's trembling fingers, which were smeared with his rapidly drying blood.
He returned Harry's slack-jawed look with a wry smile. "It's as it says, Potter," he said softly, looking evenly into Harry's eyes, "the power to hurt..."
"...and the power to heal," Harry finished, in a hoarse whisper, the disbelief still stark on his face, mingled with disbelieving wonder and grim realisation. Harry continued to stare at the place where his hand rested on Draco's chest, tangled emotions flitting across his face like a storm of butterflies. He looked shaken; numbed, he finally drew his hand back, and Draco let him.
Draco pulled his sleeve back onto his healed shoulder and stepped back, putting a respectable distance between them once again. "It's the magic that binds us together, Potter. You can inflict a death stroke upon me, and you can heal it with the merest touch of your hand. If you hadn't done anything just now, I would have bled to death because of that wound."
Harry closed his eyes, rubbing his arm across his forehead, where a sheen of sweat had formed. "This is" he shook his head, almost at a loss for words. "This is unimaginable."
"Is it?" Draco sounded mildly bemused. "Is it all that unimaginable? All through history down to this day millions of people have given themselves over to this sort of control, entirely voluntarily. They would sacrifice everything they had, suffer torture and die horrible deaths, all in the noble name of love. This potion just reproduces that exact effect, because the truth is, love can kill, and the one you love is the one who can hurt you deepest."
Harry still wore a dazed, mildly traumatised look, and he stared at his hand for a long moment, where Draco's blood was swiftly drying under his fingernails. He rubbed his hand futilely against his robes, not succeeding in removing much of the bloodstain.
Draco gave him a sidelong look the last time he'd remembered Harry with such an expression of detached horror was back in their fourth year, during the Triwizard Cup finale melee, where Draco had glimpsed Harry being led off by the later-proven-impostor Mad-Eye Moody.
"Are you all right?" Draco asked quietly, watching Harry with an unwavering gaze.
Harry looked up abruptly, as if snapping out of his daze; the edges of his mouth curled upward tiredly. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"
Draco looked down at the front of his robes, where a patch of dark red mingled with the black fabric, and he grimaced. "Hell, my robes are in a mess. People are going to think I botched an attempt at suicide, or something."
Harry shot him a severe look. "Only that you used my hand to hold the knife. Literally."
Draco shrugged, as if such blood sport was an everyday occurrence with him. "You asked for proof, didn't you? So I gave you proof, in the flesh. Also literally."
A pensive silence followed, and it was becoming almost awkward when Harry finally spoke up. "You should go and get yourself cleaned up." He eyed Draco's shoulder, where his robes still hung loosely on his shoulder, pulled open at the collar. "Are you sure that ghastly thing has completely healed? I don't want you bleeding all the way back to your dorm."
"True, that wouldn't go too well with the Hogwarts dιcor." Draco tilted his head, a small smile on his face. "Would have worked better if we were in this castle back in the medieval times, wouldn't it? Trails of blood all over the place were a sign of efficient butchering back then. Ah, the good old times."
"Stop it, Malfoy." Harry shuddered as he turned and walked toward the door. "Such comments don't exactly make me feel comfortable being alone in the same room with you, you know."
"Tell me, when do you ever feel comfortable being alone in the same room as me?"
"Well, it helps a little if you're not enthusiastically raving about hacking people to bits. I've seen quite enough blood for one night." Harry had reached out his hand to turn the doorknob, when Draco called out softly to him,
Harry looked around, and Draco walked over to where he stood. Draco's expression was one of suppressed intensity, and his eyes were warmed with a strange yet familiar earnest. Harry held his gaze, silently questioning, and he felt a twitch of anticipation stir inside him, a formless expectation.
"Are you convinced, now?" Draco's voice was even, and bore no reproach in fact, Harry could sense the tone of resignation woven between the quiet words.
Harry took a deep breath, and nodded once. "Yes."
Harry actually felt bad, almost guilty, for having pushed Draco to the extent that he had to slice his chest just to convince him that the situation with the love potion was indeed true. And seeing the way Draco had trusted him, the reckless decisiveness with which Draco had swung the knife held in Harry's own hand downward, without even the slightest trace of hesitation it was as if Draco completely believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that Harry could heal him, and would.
To think he used to hate me. Harry thought introspectively. And I hated him, too. How things change.
Draco bit his lip, looking plainly at Harry; he hesitated, and then started to ask, "And do you t"
"take me as your lawfully wedded?" Draco raised his eyebrow with a teasing look, a devious smile making the troubled expression on his face disappear like mist in sunlight. He shook his head in mock astonishment. "My, Potter, I had no idea you'd agree so readily."
Harry gave him a narrowed look. "Very funny, Malfoy."
Draco responded by reaching over and taking Harry's hand off the doorknob, and he slid a silver ring onto Harry's fourth finger; then he offered a serene smile and took a small step backwards.
Harry gawked at the ring that Draco had placed on his hand. "You're not actually serious."
Draco nodded solemnly. "Gryffindor's most eligible bachelor is now officially off the market."
Harry stared at the ring it was embellished with a row of tiny, sparkling jewels, alternate crystalline violet and deep green, flawlessly set in a band of polished silver that glowed almost white. It certainly looked very real, and expensive, if it wasn't actually so. "What's this for, Malfoy?"
"It's for you," Draco said simply. "Besides showing you the spellbook, I wanted to give you this."
"You said yes, remember?" Draco deadpanned. "Too bad for all the broken-hearted Gryffindor girls."
"Be serious, Malfoy."
Draco's smile faded, and he sobered. "It's a ring that belonged to my mother, which she gave me when I had to leave home to come here to Hogwarts. It's set with crystals of emerald and amethyst they're supposed to have protective powers against evil, and are used to help focus thought." He levelled Harry's gaze. "But I have no need of it now, since, as you've just seen, you have the ability to very conveniently kill me, if you wanted to."
Harry still looked dubiously at the ring. "And so you want me to wear it, instead."
Draco said nothing, just took hold of Harry's hand once more and drew it closer, examining the ring where it encircled Harry's finger. "Amethyst is supposed to heal, bringing protection and clarity of mind. Emerald repels evil and" Draco looked up at Harry, tilting his head contemplatively, "well, it brings out the colour of your eyes."
Draco let go of Harry's hand, and moved back calmly; Harry blinked, and could think of nothing to say. He looked expectantly at Draco, but the other boy had already averted his eyes and turned away.
Draco opened the door, and held it open for Harry to exit first. "Keep the ring properly, will you? It's bloody expensive, and it's my mother's. Which is why it's probably the only piece of jewellery I have that doesn't have 'Malfoy' engraved on it."
"What, so that 'if found, please return to owner'?" Harry rolled his eyes, stepping out of the room. "Because if you didn't have the family name inscribed on, people won't know who it belonged to and might just about pocket it for themselves?"
"Shut up, Potter," Draco snapped under his breath, as he soundlessly closed the door to the storage room after checking that everything inside was in original order. "You're just jealous because you don't have enough jewellery to send to have your name carved on."
"Oh, so that's the reason bulk discounts."
"Quit it, Potter, before I take the ring back and then you'll have no protection against the wicked ones."
"Just walk a little further away from me and the same effect would be achieved."
They reached the stairwell and began to descend it in silence; halfway down, Harry suddenly remembered the upcoming Quidditch match, which was only five days away, it currently being Friday night. He turned to Draco. "Do you know that the Gryffindor-Slytherin match has been advanced to the coming Wednesday?"
The shadows shielded Draco's expression, which seemed to darken imperceptibly. "I know. Finnigan told me."
"So..." Harry trailed off questioningly.
"So hopefully we can fix this before the match." Draco answered shortly; his voice was clipped, and he didn't sound as confident as he usually did. "I'll try and think of something."
"You've figured out a plan?"
"No," Draco seemed rather agitated, "but I will come up with something." He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself more than Harry. "And and if you've got any ideas, let me know."
To Harry, that was about as positive an admission that Draco was still clueless about what to do next. Draco Malfoy, as he knew, was never one to ask for help unless he was well and truly hedged in with an urgent need to get out. He'd seen it before, when they were alone in the corridor yesterday the waves of quiet desperation, all too evident in the way Draco looked away, in the tightness of his voice.
They exited the Astronomy Tower, and reached the parting of the ways; Harry was going back to Gryffindor Tower while Draco was taking the stone stairway down the Slytherin dungeons.
"Well, I'll see what I can do." Harry turned to Draco, and suddenly thought of how the shadows that fell across Draco's face complemented his fair complexion and light hair very well. It was a darkly pretty contrast, one which he'd never quite noticed before, probably due to the fact that he didn't make a frequent habit of strolling around with Malfoy at night.
Draco merely nodded, though there was a muted sadness in his eyes. "All right." Then he abruptly turned and walked away, slipping off to the stone staircase by the side, which led to the Slytherin dungeons.
Harry stood for a few moments, watching Draco leave; then he turned in the opposite direction, walking back to his dorm, and troubled thoughts filled with knives and rings and blood and Draco accompanied him all the way back to Gryffindor Tower.
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