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.
Author's Note & Dedications:
To the wonderful folks on the C&R list, on the occasion of our first year anniversary :) Thank you all for the wackiness, laughter, and inspiration you've made the experience of writing this story twice as fun as it would've been.
And as always, thanks to Minx and Heidi, my beta-readers.
Impishie has done several wonderful pieces of IP Artwork -- you're missing out if you don't take a look :)
As an appendix to the story, I'm linking a very well-written insightful essay on IP by Slightlights, entitled Draco's Wide World O' Hurt.
Chapter 12 - Wildfire
Many play the game of love; but few ever know the score.
Hermione burst into the Gryffindor common room, out of breath from running. She glanced around urgently, scanning the room with her eyes but evidently not finding the person she was looking for.
"'Lo, Hermione," Seamus called out from where he was sitting with Dean and Neville. "What's up?"
"Where's Harry?" Hermione demanded. "Is he back from Quidditch practice yet? I need to talk to him right now."
"Stand in line, Herm." Seamus rolled his eyes. "What is up with Harry tonight! Ron just came down and asked us the same question. Well, Harry didn't come in and we don't know where he is. You'd think that if his two best friends couldn't find him, he must really not want to be found."
"Ron was looking for him, too?" Hermione's heart sank. "So where's Ron gone off to?"
"Dunno." Seamus shrugged, and then broke into a knowing grin. "You just missed him, actually we think he's gone off for an S. A."
"S. A.?" Hermione repeated. "What's that?"
"It stands for Snog Appointment," Dean chipped in with an impish wink. "See, Ron was asking us if Filch usually patrolled the fifth floor of the Astronomy Tower after dark and we all know Ron never actually draws his star charts, he just copies them off the textbooks."
"What!" Hermione exclaimed, dismayed; she spun on her heel and dashed out of the common room without a further word.
Seamus, Dean and Neville stared after her, looking nonplussed.
"Oops," Seamus spoke cautiously. "Was it something I said?"
"You think she's into Ron?" Neville asked, wide-eyed. "She seemed upset when we said Ron might be off snogging."
"But she came in asking for Harry," Dean pointed out. "Not Ron."
"Maybe she's afraid Ron's gone off to snog Harry?" Seamus offered with a wicked smile.
"What?" Dean and Neville said together; Dean shook his head dismissively. "No way. Not Harry and Ron, I don't think so. Really."
"Harry and Hermione then?" Seamus suggested.
"Now I'm getting confused," wailed Neville. "Who do we think is snogging who, again?"
"Only one way to find out," said Seamus decisively, sounding pleased. "We'll just have to see who comes back looking thoroughly snogged."
"And how exactly does one 'look snogged'?" Dean inquired, amused.
"Oh, you know... the usual," Seamus said, sounding very authoritative on the subject. "Cheeks flushed with colour, lips tinged a rosy hue, eyes misted with passion, a general breathless and guilty look..."
"Hey, how d'ya know so much about what it's like to be snogged, hmm?" Dean interrupted, quirking an eyebrow.
Seamus gave him an angelic smile, and with a casual shrug of his shoulders, turned back to his homework.
Hermione had a gift of perceptiveness, a certain intuition that sent warning tremors through her mind each time she sensed that trouble was waiting around the bend. And now, as she hurried along the corridors that led toward the storage room in the Astronomy Tower, something akin to a massive earthquake was building inside her head.
She almost stumbled on the edge of a step as she reached the fifth floor. The oppressive silence that hung all around did nothing to appease her fears; it only served as a foreboding of unpleasant things that were almost certain to come. If she could only get there on time, to warn Harry...
She hastily rounded the bend, and stopped dead in her tracks.
The door to the storage room was hanging open, and Ron stood inside the doorway. His posture was rigid, as if frozen with shock and clutched tightly in his hand was the silvery Invisibility Cloak. Behind him, Hermione saw Harry and Draco: their faces were flushed, the heated tinge on their lips visible against white shadows of candlelight cast on their skin.
"Oh, crap," Hermione exclaimed, unable to contain herself as she surveyed the scene before her. It was like watching a disaster unfolding yet being completely helpless to stop it.
Ron turned at Hermione's tight voice behind him; his eyes widened even more, but it seemed that words still failed him. Unbearable tension hung in the air, and the mounting stillness promised an even worse outburst at the end of it; although no one seemed willing, or in enough possession of their faculties, to cast the first stone.
Harry's shaky voice finally speared through the silence, shattering it. "Ron."
At the sound of his own name from Harry's lips, the same lips that had so clearly just... it spurred Ron to action. He just couldn't take it anymore.
"What the hell is going on?" Ron exploded, his eyes flashing as he looked from Harry to Malfoy and then back again. "Harry, what are you doing in here, alone with Malfoy? What the " he broke off; his face was an alarming shade of crimson. "Does anyone mind telling me what the fuck is going on here?"
"Ron!" Hermione broke in, her voice bearing a clear tone of warning, as well as fear. "Calm down stop shouting before somebody hears you and comes over!"
"And why not?" Ron whirled on her. "Something's definitely wrong here, and I think someone is simply delighted at the idea of getting a detention," he spun back and gave Draco a cold, steel-wrought look, "seeing that he's gone to such great lengths to flout the school rules."
"Do you want to get Harry in trouble as well?" Hermione asked sharply.
"Well, it seems like he's done that all by himself," Ron said, his voice thinly controlled, quivering with suppressed rage.
He turned to face Harry, and his anger seemed to ebb slightly, replaced by a pained desperation and fervent disbelief. Their eyes held for a long, intense moment filled with raw, revealed emotion, sad black eyes fixed on fiery blue; and in Harry's silence came the wordless answer to Ron's unspoken question. Harry's lack of denial was a bitter confirmation of what Ron had wished was only a trick of his eyes: Harry, with his arms around Malfoy's waist, staring into his eyes with an adoration that Ron had never, ever seen him direction at anyone else...
Ron's eyes glazed with liquid anguish, as his eyes flickered briefly over to Malfoy. The blond boy held his calm, dignified silence; his grey eyes were remote, but Ron saw a shimmer of victorious arrogance pass across Malfoy's face.
Ron turned and stalked out of the room without another word, shrugging off Hermione's hand as she tried to stop him; he ran down the stairs, away from the humiliation and the sheer, renting pain of betrayal, and defeat.
They all stared after Ron; even when only the open doorway and the darkened corridor gaped back at them, and the sound of his footsteps faded away, an uneasy silence closing in once more. Hermione looked at the two boys, still bewildered; Harry let out a soft groan and shielded his palm over his eyes, rubbing his temples ruefully.
"Now what?" Hermione sounded frustrated.
"Why don't you come up with something, Granger?" Draco answered; they both started slightly, and turned to him. He gave Hermione a thin smile, and added, "Since you have all the good ideas."
Hermione looked enraged; she opened her mouth to retort, but Harry interrupted.
"Draco." He glanced briefly at the blond boy as he spoke the single word in a low, quelling tone.
To Hermione's surprise, Draco fell quiet, and did not snipe back; instead, he strolled over to a large wooden trunk (which now, when she thought about it, seemed strangely familiar), and sat down on the lid. He gave her a defiant look, then turned away; but Hermione saw that Draco's gaze soon strayed over to Harry, who was staring down at his own hands, looking thoroughly vexed.
"What exactly happened back there?" Hermione inquired, her voice gentle but firm.
Harry looked up at her wearily, and was about to speak when Draco cut in first. "Leave him alone."
"Shut up, Malfoy, I'm not talking to you," Hermione snapped, her eyes flashing as she whirled to face him. "I think you've caused enough trouble for the next century, and probably the worst thing you could do to all humanity is make yourself immortal. So shove off."
Harry's eyebrows shot up, and he looked at Hermione with surprise. Even Draco flinched ever so slightly, perhaps seeing the trademark flare of anger in Hermione's eye which the last time he'd seen it, had culminated in a very sound slap across his face. He subsided, simmering.
Hermione looked grimly satisfied and turned back to Harry.
"What happened?" she repeated, her tone softening as she saw the depths of anguish and uncertainly that burned in his eyes of liquid green.
There was a long pause; no one spoke, as both Hermione and Draco looked at Harry in anticipation. The seconds ticked by, and the air grew still and weary of the suspense; but Hermione waited, and Draco's keen eyes never slipped away from Harry.
Finally, Harry spoke; his voice was filled with turmoil, tortured by a great dilemma.
"I can't," he said softly, dropping his gaze, studying the random swirls of dust and footprints that scattered across the wooden floor his and Draco's making, of course.
It was hard to imagine that the two simple words that fell from Harry's lips could have such a congruent effect on the two very different people who stood before him. Hermione looked disappointed, and then worried, although she held back from asking further; Draco simply looked away, although in his eyes there was a fleeting sadness.
"I just can't explain it." Harry's eyes were filled with pain as he raised them to look briefly first at Draco, then Hermione. "I have I have to go now. I'm really sorry."
Harry moved towards the open doorway; his footsteps were leaden, almost numbed as if he was walking in a dream planted in reality. He pushed his unruly fringe out of his eyes as he stepped across the threshold; but Draco's voice behind him drew him to a halt.
"Where are you going?" Draco asked.
Hermione bristled, and glared at him. "It's none of your business where Harry's going," she hissed.
Harry paused, and glanced back at them.
"To try and make things better," he said wanly.
Then he turned, and left; no one said anything to stop him. Nothing in the storage room stirred; for a moment, the sheer uneasiness of the atmosphere held things in a strange balance of silence and stillness. But as always, Draco moved, the first to make things change.
"What is he going to do to make things better?" he asked.
"He's going to look for Ron, you nitwit," Hermione replied, patience thin in her voice.
"To snuff him out perhaps?" Draco sounded almost hopeful. "Weasels are related to moles, aren't they can't get too careful there."
"Don't get smart with me, Malfoy." Hermione stalked towards Draco, where he still sat on the trunk (and now she remembered exactly what part that trunk had played in the grand scheme of things). She placed her hands on her hips, and glowered down at him. "I don't know what happened, but it's clear enough to me that you had everything to do with it."
Draco raised his eyes, and Hermione saw that they were once again clear: no longer was there a shroud of hidden pain veiling his irises of stormy grey. Now defiance rose in place, although the malice that used to stir in them was still absent. It was strange to behold, almost surreal; it seemed to Hermione that Draco had changed, and yet he hadn't.
"What did Ron see?" she asked, her voice controlled.
"I don't know," Draco replied, without missing a beat. "I don't plan to take on squint-eyed tunnel vision just to imagine what Weasley saw through those beady eyes of his."
Hermione lost her temper.
"Draco Malfoy!" she shouted, now beyond caring who heard her. "You are going to tell me exactly what happened back there, what Ron saw that made him so upset, and what cursed part you had in this whole mess RIGHT NOW!" She whipped out her wand in a flourish, and brandished it threateningly at Draco. "Unless of course, you're interested in bringing the white-coated ferret look back in fashion, in which case I'd gladly oblige."
Draco stiffened, and eyed Hermione's wand warily; he had no doubt that she would have mastered Mad-Eye Moody's ferret spell by now, having topped McGonagall's advanced transfiguration class. He gave her a narrowed look; but with a very livid young witch behind the wand and a potentially humiliating spell hanging over his head, he thought better of it.
"This is what happened," Draco said slowly; his voice hazed over slightly, as if he was being drawn back into the vivid memories. "Harry and I were talking. I kissed him, once. And then..." he paused, and bit his lower lip. "Then he kissed me back. And when he pulled away he started to say something, but Weasley came barging in apparently he has an Invisibility Cloak, though it beats me how in the world his impoverished family came into possession of one of those."
"It's Harry's," Hermione said through gritted teeth. "One more word about Ron, and I'll give you a set of whiskers anyway. Now get on with it."
Draco looked mutinously at the wand pointed at him, and continued. "Weasley came in, stared at us, and then started hollering. Harry tried to calm him down, but it didn't work then you joined the party. That's all there is to know."
"Why?" Hermione shook her head in sheer exasperation. "Why did you have to kiss him again, Malfoy? I told you it was a bad idea for you two to meet up alone, but you insisted you just had to talk to him and now look what's happened!" She paused, her eyes blazing. "Do you even care about Harry? Do you ever plan to leave him alone?"
There was a pause; the air was tense with hostility, but the silence was also pondering. Draco stood up, and dusted off his jeans; he was calm and unruffled as always, although Draco's hand quivered ever so slightly as he swept his hair away from his eyes, and looked levelly at Hermione.
"Yes," he finally answered quietly, deliberately. "Yes, I do."
"You do, what?" Hermione demanded; but Draco had already gracefully shouldered past her, and walked out through the door; he was gone.
To Harry, Ron had always been an easy person to find. Apart from the fact that he was tall, with a head of flaming red hair, Ron was always there, somehow; this thought struck him with a deep pang. Harry realised how Ron had stayed by his side, even in the most difficult of circumstances, giving him a heartfelt kind of support.
Luckily for him, Ron was also very predictable. Or so Harry hoped, as he sped out into the open Quidditch field. The cold wintry air stung his skin like icy needles. Looking up at the night sky was like gazing into a black lake, and the feeble twinkle of stars was a silver glimmer in the depths. The field glowed a strange, earthly dark green; like a verdant island caught in a sea of deeper shade all around. Around it, the tall spectator stands loomed, high and stark towers piercing the black sky.
Please let Ron be here, Harry willed fervently, shivering as he ran. He has to be. Where else would he go?
His heart leapt as he caught sight of a shadow against the backdrop of darkness, lingering by the edge of the field; the faint starlight picked out the head of red hair in a dull shimmer of colour.
"Ron!" Harry called out, putting on a fresh burst of speed as he hurried over; when he neared, Ron turned at the sound of his name; but he said nothing, even though the intense feeling of hurt emanated from him like dark red waves, stained by the blackness all around.
"I can explain," Harry was breathless as he finally drew to a halt in front of him. "Just hear me out a moment, Ron, please. I didn't mean to hide anything from you, you have to believe that."
"Oh, sure," Ron's voice was icy, more bitter than the gnawing wind that blew. "I can understand that, Harry it's easy to see how a relationship with Malfoy, of any sort at all, could have accidentally slipped out of our conversation. I mean, I only see you all the time everyday."
"Listen," Harry tried again. "What you saw between me and Malfoy just now it's really not what it seems."
"Not what it seems?" Ron exploded. "Harry, you had your hands around his waist. Didn't seem much room between the two of you for ambiguity, but hey, let me know if I'm reading too much into things."
"Ron," Harry said in despair. "Look, will you just give me a chance to explain?"
"What is there to explain, Harry?" Ron almost shouted; even in the wavering moonlight, Harry could see his friend's face contorted in anger and pain. "Why is there suddenly so much to talk about between you and me, when you never cared to say a word before? When I had to find out about your secret business with Malfoy from this!"
Ron took something out of his pocket and hurled it in front of Harry; it struck Harry's foot lightly before it fell on the grass with a gentle rustle.
Then something else suddenly dawned on Ron. "Did Hermione know?" he asked abruptly. "Because she seemed awfully calm about it, more than the usual Hermione-calmness." His voice grew harsh. "Did you tell her? Did you?"
"Yes." Harry said in a choked voice; a word never seemed so hard to force out of his mouth.
A darker shadow of anguish and shock passed over Ron's face, and seemed to disappear, as if absorbed into him; he took a step back, and gave a humourless laugh.
"That's great, Harry," he said softly, his voice slicing the crystalline night air like a knife. "So it seems like everyone is in the loop, and you just conveniently forgot about me. I'll be that all the time you two were whispering away in a corner, you were chattering merrily behind my back about me."
"We were not talking about you," Harry forced himself to speak levelly. "We were talking about Malfoy, and what to do about... this big problem that we had on our hands. And the reason I didn't tell you was because I wanted to protect you." In his mind Harry knew that the major reason was that he knew Ron would overreact spectacularly, as he had already amply proven; but he simply added, "And I didn't want you to get involved."
"Get involved in what?" Ron demanded.
Harry hesitated; then looking at the drawn, grim expression on Ron's face, he decided that now was the time to get it out in the open, once and for all. He was sick and tired of sneaking around, hiding things; and he knew that he owed Ron this much.
And so Harry told Ron the truth, in its unbelievable yet achingly true entirety: how he and Draco had become bonded under the spell of the love potion, which decreed that Draco would be in love with him; how they had met regularly in the desperate race against time to reverse the effect of the potion; and how he had asked Hermione for help.
"Malfoy told you all that." Ron's voice was flat.
Harry nodded. "Yeah, he did."
"And you believed him?" Ron said sharply; he shook his head in disbelief. "Since when did Draco Malfoy's word become worth throwing your common sense out of the window?"
"You don't understand, Ron," Harry said earnestly.
"That's right, Harry." Ron folded his arms across his chest; his jaw was set, and his eyes were dark. "I'm still not even beginning to understand why you would do this and 'because Malfoy said so' does not count as a lousy excuse."
"I'm not trying to make excuses," Harry said tiredly. "I'm just trying to explain things to you, that's all. If you'll even hear me out."
"Oh, I hear you all right." Ron said, his voice hard and unyielding. "I even saw you, too, and seeing is believing." He took a deep breath. "But what I can't quite comprehend is why. Why would you even believe such a ridiculous story? Why can't you see that Malfoy was just trying to cause a rift in our friendship? And why did you choose to stand by him, instead of me?"
"He was suffering, Ron!" Harry protested, desperation in his voice. He was starting to feel as if he was shouting down an endless well that all his words were lost in the tunnel of emptiness, vanishing without an echo. "He was in constant pain, and I saw it with my own eyes. And I saw the way I could heal him he may not have been the trustworthiest person up until now, but he was telling the truth about the love potion. I'm sure of it. There's no other way..."
"But since when did it bloody matter to you?" Ron retorted. "I don't recall you getting upset when Mad Eye Moody turned Malfoy into a ferret, or when he got a nasty cocktail of curses from us on the Hogwarts Express a couple of years back. So what's the difference now?"
"Because..." Harry's voice faltered, and glazed over with emotion before he finally choked out, "because now... maybe I do care about him, after all."
There was a dead silence; the ominous hissing of the trees of the Forbidden Forest could be heard on the wings of the wind, even from a fair distance away. Between starlight and dark fields, the air was still: tense, unbroken.
"I don't believe this!" Ron finally exclaimed; he turned and sprinted away into the darkness, in the general direction of the school building.
Harry didn't even try to stop him. Dejectedly, he sat down in the grass and rested his head in his hands, silhouetted against the night, with pale quivers of light falling balefully down upon him.
He remained there for a long time; he didn't know how much time had passed, except that his limbs became stiff from the cold and exhaustion, and everything else. He stretched, trying to get some feeling back into his joints; and as he did, his fingers brushed against something on the grass.
It was the object that Ron had flung at him. Harry realised that it was a piece of paper, crushed into a ball; he picked it up and smoothed out the creases, and was struck anew with a dart of hollow pain. It was the note Draco had written him, asking him to meet in the Astronomy Tower: the start of everything that had fallen apart since then.
Slipping the paper into his pocket, Harry got up with a heavy sigh. He started to make his way back towards the school building, which stood in the distance, brightly lit like a cheerful landmark in the darkness all around. But it brought him no comfort.
As Harry trudged back towards Gryffindor Tower, Hermione suddenly appeared in front of him. She looked pale and ashen, although her cheeks were flushed as if from running; her eyes widened with relief and fearful excitement when she saw him.
"Harry!" she squealed urgently. "We've been looking all over for you! Listen oh, no, Harry everything's a horrid mess now, but first of all you should know that "
"Ah, Miss Granger I thought you might be the first to find our elusive celebrity tonight." Snape's silky voice sliced the air before his formidable figure loomed behind them; they both started, and Hermione broke off in mid-sentence. Snape smiled smoothly at them, and added, "What are friends for, after all?"
Harry took a step backwards; he knew that something was wrong. He looked at Hermione, bewildered; in response, she only shrugged helplessly.
"Come with me, Potter," Snape seized him firmly by the shoulders and propelled him back down the stairs, heading swiftly in a direction that Harry soon realised led to Dumbledore's office.
"Where are you taking me?" Harry demanded even though he knew full well; he was recalcitrant even as Snape marched him forward. "What's going on?"
"I would have thought you would've known the hallways well enough by now, Potter," Snape said in a low, calm voice that simmered with antagonism. "Surely you have that confounded Map memorised in your head now, as well as refined experience in sneaking around in the middle of the night. You always have put yourself above the rules."
Harry fell silent. He twisted around to look at Hermione, who was trotting beside them, panting slightly to keep up with Snape's sweeping pace. She looked at him miserably and shook her head, indicating that now was not the time to talk. Harry's shoulders sagged, resignedly; he was confused and exhausted, and his brain was barely registering everything that was happening.
They reached the entrance to Dumbledore's office; Snape muttered the password under his breath, and the gargoyle sprang aside to let them in. They went up the spiral stone staircase, and drew to a halt outside the polished oak door. Snape rapped smartly, and then entered; Harry stopped in surprise when he looked around the circular room.
Inside, standing on opposite sides of Dumbledore's desk, were Ron and Draco. As Hermione slid into the room behind him and Snape closed the door. Harry certainly hadn't expected to be standing in an enclosed space with Ron, Draco and Hermione again within such a short time.
Dumbledore, who had been seated in his chair, now rose, and regarded Harry gravely. Snape, who had gone to stand behind Dumbledore, wore a strangely smug look, like that of a cat who was poised outside a mouse-hole, waiting to pounce.
"Hello, Harry," Dumbledore said; his voice was kindly, even though his eyes were troubled. "I'm aware that it's rather late to be holding a conference; but certain serious matters have been brought to our attention, and they cannot be left until the morning."
Harry glanced at Ron, questioningly, but the red-haired boy was not looking at him. Instead, Ron's hard eyes were fixed upon Draco, standing directly opposite him. Draco held his gaze evenly, matching him with effortless arrogance; the hatred between them was palpable.
"Ron has informed us that some unseemly plots are afoot," Dumbledore continued, carefully watching Harry's reaction and noting his confused silence. "He has made some charges, which we need you to confirm or deny before us all."
"Tell us, Potter," Snape spoke up suddenly; his voice was soft but sharp as the edge of a sword. "Do you recall having imbibed a love potion in the recent weeks? And answer the question plainly; there is no need to weave any colourful tales around it."
Harry looked at Snape, utterly stunned. "Wh-what?" he managed, in a shaky voice.
Snape's eyes sparkled with a malevolent light; but Dumbledore cut in before he could speak.
"What we're asking you is this," Dumbledore leaned forward, and looked straight at Harry. "Do you have any recollection of drinking a strange potion? Think hard and long before you give us your answer, Harry. Can you remember ever swallowing a love potion even if only a vague shadow of the memory of it?"
Harry's eyes inadvertently cut towards Draco for a brief moment, but Draco was determinedly not meeting his gaze. He looked back at Dumbledore, and realised that the headmaster was watching him very carefully.
"No," Harry finally answered; his voice rasped on the edges of the word. "No, I don't remember having taken a love potion. Not at all."
"See!" Ron abruptly burst out; Harry turned to him, amazed. "Professor, I told you that " But his sentence faded midway, as Dumbledore raised a hand to silence him, indicating that Ron was to let Harry continue speaking.
"Harry," Dumbledore looked solemnly at him. "I'm going to be very direct with my next question; and I want you to answer me Yes or No, after you think through it very carefully. Do you understand?" Harry nodded; Dumbledore paused, and looked even graver as he resumed speaking, slowly, every word of his weighted with meaning and significance.
"Do you recall Mr Draco Malfoy this young man standing here on my left giving you a love potion and making you drink it, either forcibly or willingly?"
"WHAT?" Harry blurted out, unable to contain his utter surprise; he hurriedly calmed down, although Dumbledore now looked at him with renewed curiosity at his violent reaction. Harry took a deep breath, and then shook his head firmly. "Of course not!"
"Can't you see, Harry!" Ron shouted. "He's warping your mind! He's making you believe that he's under the love potion, when it's actually you!"
"And how would I do that?" Draco suddenly spoke up, for the first time. "How would I make him believe anything? By my natural charm and powers of persuasion?"
"You've got some Dark spells on him!" Ron seethed. "Don't think you can fool me, Malfoy! I saw how easily you could throw off the Imperius Curse you could very well know how to cast it, too!"
"Harry can shake off Imperius like water off a duck's back!" Draco retorted. "Don't you know that, Weasley? What's the matter brain malfunctioned, again?"
"Maybe you used Memory Charms, then!" Ron yelled, refusing to back down.
"ENOUGH!" Dumbledore's voice boomed over the din; immediately Ron and Draco subsided, although still simmering. Dumbledore eyed them severely. "Mr Weasley and Mr Malfoy, I am going to remind you both that this is not a corridor; it is my office. Hollering is not acceptable here. Matters will be resolved amicably as far as it is possible; failing which, the only one who is allowed to raise his voice is me."
"But Professor Dumbledore," Ron protested earnestly. "You have to believe me when I say that Harry hasn't been himself, of late. I see him everyday; I know him. He's been very... distracted, and I never quite knew exactly why until tonight, when he told me about the love potion."
"But I never said that I was under a love potion!" Harry objected.
"Yeah, you said it was Malfoy," Ron said dismissively, "but can't you see how ridiculous that is? You aren't thinking for yourself, Harry!"
"Perhaps Miss Granger will be able to enlighten us," Dumbledore said unexpectedly.
Hermione jumped slightly at the mention of her name. Dumbledore turned to her kindly, and beckoned her forward; she stepped closer, and stood next to Harry.
"Miss Granger," Dumbledore asked calmly. "Have you noticed Harry behaving in a manner out of the ordinary, especially over the past fortnight?"
Everyone turned their eyes to Hermione, even Draco. Hermione glanced nervously around, although she quickly controlled herself, and looked back at Dumbledore.
"No," she finally said, in a small but steady voice. "I didn't notice anything different about him. Harry's been busy with Quidditch and things but he hasn't been acting weird at all."
Harry exhaled a tiny sigh of relief; Ron stared at Hermione, aghast.
"Well, Professor," Snape said, looking at the three Gryffindors in the room with distinct distaste. "It seems like there is a deadlock in this discussion, as I had anticipated. Potter seems too confused to be a valid source of evidence, yet he denies having consumed a love potion. But he confirmed affirmatively that Draco Malfoy, who has from the start emphatically disclaimed any involvement in this, had not given him a love potion. On the other hand, we have Weasley here, who brought up the whole matter in the first place: he asserts that Potter has been behaving strangely more than ordinarily so." There was a smirk in Snape's voice. "However, Miss Granger does not agree, saying that she has not noticed any change in his behaviour."
Snape paused for dramatic effect. "I think there is more to this than meets the eye." He turned towards Dumbledore, and dropped his voice slightly, although his words were still audible in the stillness of the room. "Maybe now is the time when Veritaserum will come in useful once again."
"Yes, Veritaserum is an option," Dumbledore said simply. "But I would much rather the parties involved speak on their own accord, on their word of sworn truth." He looked at Harry. "So what is your final say on this matter, Harry? Or do you need some time to think about it?"
There was complete silence for the space of a few heartbeats; then Harry spoke.
"It is quite clear, Professor," Harry said, his voice quiet yet filled with resolve, "that Ron is mistaken. It must be a misunderstanding. There is nothing going on."
Ron's jaw dropped in shock at Harry's words; Draco's eyes flickered up ever so briefly, before he cast his gaze downwards again.
"Perhaps so," Snape said, stepping forward; he would not be denied so easily. "Far be it from me to doubt a Potter's word" he spoke the name in a tone sliced with steel "but here is one who is suspected of being involved in a love potion, and whose testimony does not corroborate with his close friend's: perhaps in this case, further verification is needed, to provide reasonable assurance that indeed nothing is amiss."
There was a long, thoughtful pause. Dumbledore's brow was furrowed, and he seemed to be pondering deeply. Finally, he raised his eyes and looked at the four students gathered around him, before his gaze settled on Ron.
"Ron," Dumbledore addressed him directly; Snape cut his narrowed eyes toward the redhead, as well. "On two occasions tonight, I have heard you mention that what Harry actually told you, verbatim, was that Draco had been under the spell of a love potion, and not Harry himself. Is that right?"
"Well, uh..." Ron hesitated, and looked hedged in. "Yes, that's what he said, but I knew it couldn't possibly be true..."
"Harry," Hermione hissed, taking the opportunity when Snape and Dumbledore were both listening to Ron. Harry glanced at her enquiringly; she continued in an urgent whisper, "There's something you have to know: the Anti-toxin potion didn't work."
"What!" Harry's voice was filled with horrified disbelief. "It didn't work?"
"No!" Hermione replied mournfully. "We weren't supposed to add the flowers of Sansevieria trifasciata; we were supposed to add the seeds. I managed to get into the Restricted Section just now, and I checked it out "
"Did you tell Ron that, Harry?" came Dumbledore's voice; Hermione quickly moved away, and cleared her throat innocently as Snape fixed her with a suspicious stare.
"Uh, sorry?" Harry tried to mentally push aside the disturbing news Hermione just gave him; but to no avail. "I didn't quite catch your question, Professor."
"I was asking you what exactly you told Ron earlier tonight, while you were both talking on the Quidditch field," Dumbledore repeated, although he gave Harry a long, probing look, clearly having noticed his uncharacteristic lapse in concentration. "Did you in fact tell him that Draco Malfoy was under a love potion, and that you were frequently meeting him in secret to try and help him counteract it?"
"Yes." Harry's shoulders sagged in defeat; there was no point in lying now.
"And why did you tell him that?" Dumbledore inquired.
"Because..." Harry trailed off. This incessant questioning was starting to take a toll on him, especially since he did not have the truth to defend him; instead, he had to defend a secret that could not, at any costs, be revealed. If Dumbledore found out the truth, Draco would be in deep, deep trouble. And as he stole a glance at the Draco, Harry knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he could not let that happen.
"It seems that Mr Potter isn't quite sure of his story yet," Snape noted scathingly. "Perhaps we should discount the value of truth in his version, until he gets some of the finer details sorted out."
"I am not lying!" Harry glared at Snape, rash fire in his green eyes.
"No one accused you of that, Harry," Dumbledore said calmly. "All we are asking now is for you to give us the entire truth of the matter, without bias or prejudice. Then we will judge what we have heard. So tell us: did Draco ever inform you that he was under the spell of a love potion? Have both of you been meeting each other in secret, as Ron said were your very own words to him?"
The crisp rustle of Snape's flowing robes displaced the silence as the potions master shifted his weight, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Yes, I did say that; but no, I didn't mean..." Harry started, grasping at straws and feeling very foolish. "This had nothing to do with a love potion Ron misunderstood what I was saying..."
"I have had enough of this, Headmaster," Snape said, sounding disgusted. "We have wasted precious time here, just listening to a lot of confused nonsense from students who clearly have something to hide, or otherwise are just too confounded to know any better. And now, we have to endure Potter's endless dithering about whether what he told Weasley was just some clever allegory that Weasley, in his literal-minded brain, had interpreted as a diabolical plot involving a love potion. I am fed up with all this I propose we take decisive action to settle this matter once and for all."
Dumbledore sighed, although it was clear that he too was not satisfied with the contrary tale that had emerged. "As I said before, Veritaserum is a possibility; but I will only use it when it is imperative to do so."
"I'm not referring to Veritaserum," Snape's upper lip curled knowingly. "I have the perfect alternative. The poison in question here is a love potion, which cannot be detected by any Dark sensing spells but there is one method that would work. The Revealing Tonic tells all secrets of unknown concoctions and one of its special properties is that it will turn blue, then red and finally black, when a drop of sample mixture containing a love potion is added to it. A simple yet conclusive test."
Harry glanced at Hermione, alarmed; and he could tell from the expression on her face that she was regretting not having taken Advanced Potions. Draco's face was still stony and unreadable; Harry didn't look at Ron.
After a long thoughtful moment, Dumbledore finally agreed, albeit reluctantly. "Very well, Professor Snape. Since talking things out seems to have reached a dead end, it leaves us no choice but to take action to prove or refute the accusation that Mr Weasley has brought against Mr Malfoy."
The Headmaster paused, and looked at Harry over his half-moon spectacles with eyes that were sad, yet resolute. "Harry, you and Draco will follow Professor Snape to his potions classroom. He will then take a few drops of blood from both of you, and test it with the Revealing Tonic. We will see what the results show."
Harry closed his eyes, a helpless shudder going through him. But there was nothing more he could do: the issue was settled, and there was no use protesting, except to create further suspicion.
With his head bowed, Harry followed the potion master as he triumphantly swept out of the door; Draco walked close behind him. They dropped back a distance behind Snape who seemed very eager to carry out this brilliant suggestion of his and gradually fell into step together.
"Gee, Harry," Draco muttered at him, out of the corner of his mouth, "was this your idea of making things better? Then I really don't want to be around if anyone ever tells you, 'You're making it worse!'"
"It would've been a bigger disaster if I'd tried to lie, and you know it," Harry answered under his breath, sounding frustrated. "What did you expect me to say?"
"I don't know," Draco hissed back, "Perhaps you could have enlightened them on Weasley's history of psychiatric disturbances, and that he has been highly delusional since his owl ate up all his medicine at the start of this term."
"Very funny," Harry muttered dolefully. "Ron's not crazy."
"No, he's not crazy," Draco agreed, his eyes glinting darkly. "He's just hateful, which is much worse."
Harry had nothing to say in reply to that. They walked without speaking for a few moments, before Harry finally couldn't keep it in any longer.
"The Anti-toxin didn't work," he blurted out, unable to look Draco in the eye. "Hermione said that we added one of the wrong ingredients."
The other boy stopped dead in his tracks, and slowly turned to face him; seeing the look on Draco's face made Harry feel as if an anchor was dropped in the pit of his stomach. He bit his lip, and forced himself to meet Draco's eyes.
"What did you say?" Draco's voice was constricted, and so hollow and devoid of feeling that it chilled Harry just to hear it.
Harry took a deep breath, and gave a helpless shrug.
"I'm sorry," he said honestly; and at that moment he wished that there was something he could do to make this horrible situation better, for Draco's sake. But the reality left little room for hope.
"Sorry isn't good enough, Potter." Draco shook his head, and there was a strange mix of emotions in his grey eyes not anger, not resignation, more like realisation swiftly dissolving into pained indifference. And with that, Draco turned on his heel and strode after Snape.
Harry stared after Draco for a long moment, feeling utterly miserable; then he sighed, and followed the other two on the long trudge towards the Potions classroom.
Harry had endured a full five minutes of Snape's placid remarks as the Potion master had drawn a few drops of his blood from a pricked thumb. Truthfully he hadn't found it all that hard to bite his tongue to keep from answering Snape back, because he had been busy trying to make eye contact with Draco; but the other boy had determinedly averted his gaze. Draco had finished getting his blood sample taken first, and had left without waiting for Harry.
Now they were all gathered once more in Dumbledore's office, suffering the agonising wait for Snape to deliver the test results. Harry fought to contain the wild terror that chased through his mind; but his hands still trembled, and his heartbeat quickened as he heard Snape's heavy footsteps approaching along the corridor outside, like a harbinger of doom.
"I have the test results," Snape said rhetorically as he entered the room, achieving as much dramatic effect as he could with the sweep of his billowing robes. He gave them all a languid smile; Harry's heart sank. It was bad news if Snape was happy with the results.
"Very good," Dumbledore said, with a nod. "Please tell us what you have found."
Draco stared down at the ground fixedly; Ron seemed anxious, and for once he looked at Snape with a hopeful expression on his face; Hermione was nervous, worrying a stray thread on her cardigan in her hands. Harry closed his eyes; this was it.
"There is no sign whatsoever of any love potion," Snape announced; he gave Ron a nasty smile, and then turned his malevolent gaze towards Harry, who was frozen in shock. "However, there is evidence of residual alcohol traces in Mr Potter's blood sample perhaps he might care to explain where he obtained the liquor."
There was a silence: Harry was still too dizzy with wild relief to speak, and even Hermione looked dumbfounded.
"I gave it to him." Draco said abruptly; Harry looked at him, surprised. Draco continued, "He was very stressed last night, so I gave him a drink of Butterbooze to calm his nerves."
"Oh, really," Ron said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Are you sure he wasn't very stressed because you were pressuring him into doing something he didn't want to do?"
"Weasley!" Snape barked, losing his temper. "This is getting ridiculously absurd, and highly wearisome! One more word from you maligning Mr Malfoy in such a manner, and you will scrub potion tables every weekend for an entire month. Your work in the potions classroom this evening was only mediocre perhaps you will enjoy a chance to refine the skill."
Ron's face flushed with embarrassment, and he fell silent; only a person with a masochistic streak would dare venture another word after Snape's clear threat.
"Well, then," Dumbledore said soberly, "it seems like this matter has been put beyond a shadow of doubt, given the testimony of the Revealing Tonic, which does not lie. Mr Weasley, you must have been mistaken about your allegations, and we'll just chalk it up to a misunderstanding between you and Harry, which we'll leave you two to sort out."
Dumbledore paused, and looked at Harry; there was still a thoughtful expression in his eyes. "Mr Potter and Ms Granger, you are both free to leave although, Harry, you might be better off staying away from Butterbooze until you are of age. Mr Malfoy, I wish to have a word with you about your alcoholic contraband."
Harry took a step backwards, feeling as if he was walking in a dream. Strangely, he felt no elation at this unexpectedly favourable outcome even though the moment triumphed against all hope, he did not feel any jubilation. Glancing at Draco, the blond-haired boy would not meet his gaze; as Harry turned away, he locked eyes with Ron, and the desolate, injured expression in Ron's eyes stabbed him deeply.
"Ron," he called out hesitantly; but Ron just shouldered roughly past him, and stalked off down the corridor into the darkness.
"Don't try to talk to him now," Hermione advised, as she came up behind him. "I don't mean to be brutal, Harry but I think you've hurt him enough, and you're the last person he wants to see now." She paused. "No, make that second-last. I think Malfoy has permanent claim on the bottom spot."
"What the hell just happened in there?" Harry asked softly; everything felt ethereal, as if thought and sense danced on the edge of his grasp. "The Revealing Tonic it didn't find any love potion in Draco's blood. But the Anti-toxin..."
Hermione wisely led Harry away from Dumbledore's office, just in case Snape was lurking behind them. They made their way back to Gryffindor Tower, and as they drew near the portrait of the Fat Lady, Hermione abruptly pulled Harry aside, into a dark corner.
"I don't know for sure what happened just now," she said, speaking rapidly. "And I can't explain it, either but I know where you can find the answer. I had a hunch that something wasn't right with the Anti-toxin potion so I went and asked McGonagall for a note to the Restricted Section, on the pretext of taking on another Advanced Transfiguration term assignment. And there I found an updated listing of the Anti-toxin potion that's how I knew that we used the wrong ingredients, but it was too late."
She paused to take a deep breath, and then continued. "But I found something else, too. While I was in the Restricted Section, I checked out the main concordance index for 'Love Potion' and there was only one listing for that subject: a book on the Dark Arts shelf that was untitled."
Harry's jaw dropped. "Is it the same..."
"I think so," Hermione nodded. "I remember you saying that the book Draco brought was plain on the cover, with no title inscription. So Draco's book was right under our noses in the Restricted Section all along! Only that we never even thought to look for it, since we assumed that since Malfoy's copy was so tattered, there wouldn't be any others available."
"What did the book say?" Harry asked urgently. "Did you read the page about Love Potions?"
"No," Hermione answered. "I didn't have the time to look in it I had to rush out to tell you about the Anti-toxin potion as soon as I could. But the book's right there in the library, Harry and I think the answers that you're looking for are in those pages. You've got your Cloak back now you can go look it up."
"Oh damn!" Harry exclaimed in despair. "But Ron took it! Where is it now?"
Hermione bent down, and retrieved a neat bundle of shimmering fabric from where it was carefully stashed behind a pillar; she gave it to Harry with a proud smile, and relished the look of joy that spread across his face as he took the Cloak from her.
"Ron very carelessly left it in the storage room," she explained. "In all the excitement no one saw it lying on the floor but I was the last one to leave, so I brought it back with me." She paused. "Now, you'll have to hurry Snape won't be much of a threat, since he's still in Dumbledore's office. Just watch out for Filch. Remember it's on the Dark Arts shelf. You've seen the book before; you should be able to find it. Be careful!"
"Thanks," Harry said; he rubbed his bleary eyes, and prepared himself for another sleepless night ahead.
It had been quite a while since Harry last stepped into the Restricted Section even though he was a senior student, his extensive involvement in Quidditch left him little time (to supplement equally scarce inclination) to work on additional credit assignments that would warrant the use of the Restricted Section for research.
Walking under the familiar cover of his Invisibility Cloak, Harry remembered the first time he had sneaked into the Restricted Section he had been in his first year, and the name on his mind had been Nicolas Flamel. There was a strange irony to him sneaking in once again, although this time for very different reasons.
He moved quietly, and with great care. He scanned the Dark Arts shelf with eager anticipation; there were few books in this shelf, compared to the wide range of Transfiguration and Charms references. Hogwarts evidently recognised the danger that lay in too much knowledge that however good the initial intent, there was no assurance the lure of the dark arts could be resisted, once one knew too much about them.
He scanned the books, straining to make out the titles and finally, his eyes fell upon a thin book with a spine devoid of any inscriptions. His heart skipped a beat; with trembling hands he took the book off the shelf. He held the book in his hands it was the same one that Draco had shown him. He quickly leafed through it, searching for the page on Love Potions. This copy was in far better condition than Draco's the pages were whole, thankfully, and the print was still clear.
But when Harry finally found the page he was looking for, his eyes could barely believe what they saw; and in his mind, the sheer realisation of the truth rose in his mind, like a terrible dawn.
The ingredients were listed, followed by the familiar quote, Traicit et fati litora magnus amor. And at the bottom of the page was the poem, in its completeness:
A chemical emotion, falsely real
The power to hurt, the power to heal
Only when induced love is returned
Is the mockery of the potion spurned.
He'd been so earnest in his endeavours to help Draco find a way to get rid of the effect of the love potion, that he had never actually cast a thought to the possibility that, after some time, he hadn't really wanted Draco to be free of it. Not in the sense that he wanted to see Draco suffer he truly didn't but because he had secretly been reluctant to see him revert to the nasty, insufferable git he used to be.
He didn't want to let go of the Draco that he had come to know so intimately, in all senses of the word. In his mind, he saw a clear vision of those silver grey eyes devoid of contempt, which he had grown accustomed to seeing; set in a face of delicate, defined features, pale cheeks sometimes flushed with warmth born of desire, perfect lips curling in a sad but beautiful smile
This Draco whom he had been in such close contact over the past couple of weeks was completely different from the person he had sparred with all these years. This person was heartbreakingly sincere and painfully human, whose feelings were raw and vivid and intense, fiercely passionate at times; someone who he had gradually grown to
He couldn't have.
It couldn't be, not even through these past turbulent days Draco couldn't possibly have become someone that he had actually, truthfully, started to...
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