“Why do you think I know where she is?”
The words were mild and curious, not at all the tone that Harry had thought to hear coming out of his old rival’s mouth when he asked for information like this. But then again, the Malfoy who sat on the other side of a table in the Leaky Cauldron was not the same boy Harry had once known. Taller, dressed in dark blue robes, his hair finer and softer and straighter than Harry remembered it and bound in a braid with a black ribbon tied across the end, he looked like the ghost of Lucius.
Or of my wet dreams.
Harry shook his head. If there was a more inappropriate subject to think about when he was engaged in trying to find Ginny, he didn’t know what it was. “Because she came to the Manor before she vanished,” he said. “I know that you run a network of safehouses.”
“For people to go to when they want to drop out of sight for a while, yes.” Malfoy picked up the rough wooden cup in front of him and took a sip of the equally rough wine that he’d ordered. Another unexpected thing, Harry thought, and not fitting with either the image of the prissy schoolboy that he retained or the coolly aristocratic one that Malfoy presented now. “That doesn’t mean that she’s in one of them. After all, she’s hardly traded a Dark artifact of questionable provenance.” He smiled at Harry.
Harry took a deep breath. He would just have to put aside the suspicions that Malfoy had concealed several Dark wizards who’d been wanted as witnesses in some of the cases he worked until enough time passed that the case was tried and over. He didn’t have proof.
And he needed Malfoy’s help to find Ginny.
“It’s nothing bad, the reason I want to find her,” he began, and then stopped, because Malfoy’s face was bright with amusement, and he realized that it wouldn’t matter to Malfoy if he had wanted to find her for an illegal reason. Harry shook his head and raked his hand through his hair hard enough to make it stand up in spikes. Malfoy confused all his usual reasons and ways of doing business, and he hated it. “I mean—we had a row. A big one. I said some things I shouldn’t have, and she ran out of the house. I want to find her and apologize.”
“Ah.” Malfoy took another sip of the wine. “And did you ever consider that she might not be interested in hearing your apologies, if she’s taken the trouble to hide so thoroughly that not even Harry Potter, Super-Auror, can find her?”
Harry sighed. “Yeah, I thought of that, but—I want at least the chance to talk to her. If she rejects me after that, well.” He swallowed, and the thought of wet dreams about men like Malfoy felt foreign and far-away from him now. The image of Ginny was before him instead, Ginny with her wide-set brown eyes and her bright, inquiring glances, Ginny with the laughter that made him feel as though he had stepped into a grove of trees lit by sun and moon together. “That’s her choice.”
Malfoy considered him. His face had gone unreadable, losing both surprise and humor. Harry stared back and wondered what in the world Malfoy was thinking. Harry knew there would be a price, and he’d brought a full sack of Galleons to pay it, but he wasn’t entirely sure, from the way that Malfoy’s eyebrows pinched together, if that would be enough.
As if on cue, Malfoy shook his head and said, “I don’t need money.”
“What do you need, then?” Harry held his breath, wondering what he could offer if Malfoy really did turn his back on the Galleons.
Malfoy took out his wand. Harry tensed for a different reason, but all Malfoy did was lay it on the table between them. “Have you ever made a promise on someone else’s wand, Potter?” he asked, face strangely intense.
Harry shook his head. His throat ached. He wanted to ask what this was doing to get him closer to Ginny, but he kept silent instead, because Malfoy’s tone didn’t seem to fish for responses, despite his question.
“You make a promise that has to be kept,” Malfoy said. “That’s all. At some time in the future, the person you made the promise to can call it in. It’s like a life-debt.” His voice shook on the last words. He paused and took a drink of wine.
Harry blinked. He knew that some pure-blood wizards took life-debts incredibly seriously, but he didn’t think he’d ever heard anyone’s voice shake when they talked about it. “Er, all right?” he asked cautiously.
“You can’t break the promise,” Malfoy said. “Do you understand that? It’s what I’ll ask for, if I give you the information about where your Weasley is living.”
“I understand,” Harry said.
Malfoy bowed his head and took a deep breath. “Take out your wand and lay it across mine,” he said in a whisper.
Harry did so, his back stinging with suspicion. Perhaps this was a bigger deal than it seemed like; perhaps he should have refused. But he didn’t really think so. Malfoy was just—being weird, that was all. He tried to sit up and look like he was unafraid of the superstitious way that Malfoy was acting.
Malfoy looked down at their joined wands for a moment and then closed his eyes. Harry didn’t know what he was doing, not for certain, but it looked as though he might be summoning up the words of a ritual he didn’t know that well, or committing the sight of holly and hawthorn lying across each other to memory.
Once, Harry saw his lips move. He was murmuring to himself, Harry thought, and he was almost certain Malfoy had said, “Are you sure that you want this?”
Nothing made sense. Harry sat there anyway, stolid, waiting, and willing to do this even if it was as serious as a life-debt. After all, he had owed life-debts and been owed them before. He didn’t really think Malfoy would ask him to do something that might get him killed, not when the murder could be traced back to him easily enough. More than one person had stared at them, walking through the Leaky Cauldron at the same time and sitting together.
Finally, Malfoy opened his eyes and pinned Harry with the same intense look. Harry shifted, then told himself not to act afraid. He had the idea that that was what Malfoy was trying to cause right now with all his strangeness.
“Fine,” he said. “What do I do? Is this like an Unbreakable Vow?”
Malfoy started and shook his head. A strand of hair had come loose from the braid that trailed down his back and swayed back and forth like a stalk of wheat in the wind. “No. You simply make the promise.”
“Right,” Harry said, and waited. But Malfoy only sat there, gazing at him with wide, solemn eyes, so it was up to Harry to sigh and ask, “So, what’s the promise?”
Malfoy started again. Harry wondered if perhaps he was mentally unstable and everyone except Harry knew it. Hermione and Ron hadn’t said anything when Harry went to meet him, though. They just gave him sad, knowing looks.
“That you’ll promise to come to me when I call you,” Malfoy said.
Harry blinked. It seemed such a minor thing for Malfoy to get worked up about. What could a visit to the Manor mean for Harry, in the larger scheme of things? Or even a visit to Malfoy somewhere else; he would just make sure that it wasn’t an isolated place, or, if he had to do that, that one of his friends knew where he was going.
“What do I say?” he asked, reaching one hand out so that it hovered above the wands. Malfoy had already done that, and it seemed to make sense.
“Promise on your wand,” Malfoy whispered. His voice was hoarse, and Harry was more and more certain that either he was mentally unstable or else that he attached far more significance to a promise like this than Harry did. Well, perhaps he isn’t owed many life-debts, Harry decided charitably. Or perhaps he intends to have me come to him in front of a library that he’s going to dedicate or something like that, and he’s thinking of the political capital he’ll gain from my promise. “That you’ll come when I call you.”
“I promise on my wand that I’ll come when Malfoy calls me,” Harry said obediently.
He waited for some explosion of magic, but nothing happened other than a faint glow rising from the wands and then settling back into them. Harry reached out and cautiously picked up his wand, sending Malfoy’s clattering and rolling. Malfoy immediately lunged for his wand and caught it as if it was something precious.
Nothing felt different about the wand, Harry decided, testing the weight and the smoothness of the wood, unless it was that the shaft of the wand was smoother and warmer than before. And how could you estimate that?
He watched Malfoy. Malfoy, hugging his wand to himself, showed no inclination to resume the conversation. Harry was the one who had to clear his throat rather noisily and ask, “The information, Malfoy?”
Malfoy came back to himself, slid his wand up his sleeve, and began to write down directions on a napkin. Harry squinted to make sure that he could make out his script and then nodded, standing up with the napkin in his hand and a bright thrumming in his heart. He was going to find Ginny and make everything right again.
“Wish me luck?” he said impulsively to Malfoy, who had remained at the table and seemed content to finish the rest of the rough wine.
Malfoy lifted his eyes and fixed Harry with the same intense expression that he’d used earlier, when there seemed so little need for it. “I’m afraid that I can’t do that, Potter,” he said. “Almost anything else, but not that.”
Harry shrugged, more puzzled than angry, and went bounding towards Ginny and his future.
“Back again, Potter? And I didn’t even call on you to keep your promise.”
Harry scowled and slid a hand through his hair. He had known that Malfoy would sound like this, lilting and mocking, and he hadn’t wanted to come to him in the first place. But Ginny had insisted. “He hid me when I wanted to run away from you,” she’d said. “And he’ll do anything for the right price. Even if he can’t do it himself, he knows people who can.”
Harry took a deep breath and raised his eyes to the tall man, with a shock of soft hair dangling in his eyes, who stood wrapped in a robe in the middle of the Manor’s doorway. He was just going to recite his prepared speech and hope that worked. “Ginny and I are having some—problems—conceiving children,” he said. “We want a potion that can help. Ginny said that you would know the right people.”
Malfoy’s eyes grew very wide. Then he blinked once and said, “I need some more information. Is the problem with her or with you?”
Harry gritted his teeth. He had known this was coming. It didn’t make his cheeks burn any less. “With me.”
Malfoy didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. A single deep look was enough, and then he stepped aside. “You’d better come in.”
Harry shuddered as he stepped into the Manor, and then wondered why. He didn’t feel the immediate bad memories and fear that he’d expected, since there were memories of Hermione being tortured and them being imprisoned here. Instead, it was just a sensation of cold. Everything in sight was white or silver or grey. It reminded Harry of the grey chair that Aunt Petunia had bought once and declared sacrosanct; not even Dudley could sit in it. Just being in this place gave him the feeling that he was about to mess it up.
Malfoy studied Harry’s reaction with a little smile, the bastard, but said nothing about it. He went over to the nearest table and took out a silver inkwell and a piece of parchment so blinding white that Harry flinched back from it. “I trust that you have been to the Healers already?” he asked briskly.
“Yes,” Harry said. He would keep his answers as short as possible. “They said that Ginny can have children. I can’t.”
“What is the cause?” Malfoy sounded almost professional now, writing down words without looking up.
“They didn’t know, exactly,” Harry said, and coughed. In spite of everything, his face was burning. He turned to stare blindly at the portraits on the walls, but that wasn’t much better, since they were Malfoy ancestors and looked down their noses at him in response. “They thought it was either a genetic defect—apparently my grandparents had my father late in life, and he was an only child, even though my grandmother was pregnant lots of times—or something from the Dark magic I may have been hit with during the war.”
Malfoy snorted. “I think it’s unlikely that it’s the last, if your wife doesn’t have this damage. She spent more time at Hogwarts and in the tender custody of the Carrows than you did.”
Harry winced despite himself. He hated being reminded that he hadn’t been there for Ginny when she needed him. “Yeah, well. They couldn’t eliminate that for sure as a cause.”
“Of course they couldn’t.” Malfoy laid the quill down on the parchment. “They say it to cover their bases, and their methods aren’t as good as mine. Come with me, and I’ll test you to learn what kind of potion I’ll need to brew.” He paused and looked back at Harry. “You know that this is going to cost you?”
Harry nodded in resignation. “And I’ll have to pay more to buy your silence, of course.”
“Do you have any trouble getting it up?” Malfoy asked.
“What?” Harry snapped. “Of course not!”
“Then you don’t have to buy my silence.” Malfoy gave him that same deep smile he’d used to embarrass Harry before. “It’s hardly a titillating story that Harry Potter is infertile. If you weren’t able to fuck her at all, then I agree, that would be too much for me to resist. But what do I care if the little shrew can’t have the famous Potter children she wants?”
He went on his way. Harry rubbed his forehead, which already hurt in ways that it hadn’t since the war, and followed.
Malfoy asked more questions that made no sense to Harry, ranging from what time he woke up in the mornings to how much time he spent on the toilet. But finally he stepped back from the table in the lab he’d led Harry to and nodded. Harry blinked. He had barely realized that Malfoy was piling ingredients into a vial or stirring, since Malfoy’s body had been in the way, but there was a bright, glittering blue-purple concoction.
“And that’s going to help, is it?” he asked skeptically.
“I don’t know for certain,” Malfoy said. “I believe that, yes, the problem is genetic, but it might not be the one I think it is. The potion should make it easier for you to have children if I’m right. If I’m not, then come back and we’ll try again.” He paused, leaning against the table, and seemed to wait for Harry to say something.
“Er, thanks,” Harry said, picking up the vial and wondering if he would have the courage, after all, to take a potion that Draco Malfoy had prepared.
“My price,” Malfoy prompted.
Harry sighed. “Right. How many Galleons—”
But Malfoy had drawn his wand, and laid it down on the same table where he’d prepared the potion. Distantly, in the back of his mind, Harry was shocked. Snape would never have done something like that, and even Slughorn had told them that they should be extremely careful to clean their tables before they rested their wands on them. “My price,” he said, “is another promise made on the wands.”
Harry sighed in relief—there weren’t that many Galleons in his vault, after all, and he and Ginny had been somewhat strained lately with all the magic they’d been spending on Healers to fix this problem—and dug his wand out of his sleeve. He crossed it with Malfoy’s.
“I want you to promise on your wand,” Malfoy said, his voice low and his fingers so still that it gave Harry pause, “that you’ll do as I ask when I call you.”
Harry eyed him. “What do you mean? I’ve already promised to come visiting or to save your arse, whichever it is. Why would you need me to save you when I would already be there to do just that?”
“This is something else,” Malfoy said.
“What?” Harry asked.
“Never you mind.” Malfoy gave him an enigmatic smile beneath the swath of blond hair falling over his face. “It doesn’t concern you greatly, you know.”
Harry rolled his eyes and said, “I promise on my wand to do what you ask of me, after you call me.”
The wands hissed this time, and Harry thought the air glittered around them more than before. But his wand still felt no different when he picked it up—and he made very carefully sure that he was picking up his wand and not Malfoy’s, easy as the mistake would have been to correct.
“Thanks, Malfoy,” he said, and gave the potion a dubious glance despite himself. He didn’t think Malfoy would poison him, not really; Ginny could trace it back to him too easily. But it did seem that he’d been too eager to help Harry, and in fact to brew the potion that day instead of putting it off for a few days and making him sweat a little.
Harry should have kept going. He knew it. But he paused at the threshold of that cold drawing room and turned around, reluctantly interested in the choked tone in Malfoy’s voice.
Malfoy stood with his arms folded, staring intently at him. Harry shifted uneasily. He didn’t know why the stare and the tone in Malfoy’s voice should bother him so much; it wasn’t as though he was going to be hurt if Malfoy had a poor opinion of him. He didn’t think that even a Potions master could make a potion poisonous from a distance.
“Sometimes,” Malfoy said, “the ways of nature are too mysterious for us, too powerful. If something happens, then it might be meant to be.”
Harry snorted in spite of himself, because he doubted that Malfoy believed that. It seemed much likelier that he would use his money and his magic to conquer any obstacle that got in his way. “I’ll keep that in mind for the time when I’m dying and I know that I can’t do anything about it.”
Malfoy didn’t smile. “A piece of advice,” he said. “It’s up to you whether or not you listen to it.” He turned and walked back through the door to the lab.
Harry shook his head and left. He did notice, as he passed the table where Malfoy had been taking “notes” earlier, that the parchment bore nothing more than a few random doodles and Harry’s name. Perhaps Malfoy really had the material for the fertility potion in his head and didn’t have to think hard to write it down. That sounded pretty likely, from what Harry knew about him.
Harry pounded on the door of the Manor. Then he huddled under the gracefully arched portico, which didn’t provide as much protection from the howling wind and flying rain as it should have.
Nothing happened, so Harry reached over and pounded again.
This time, it opened so fast that Harry nearly hit the house-elf in the face. He pulled his hand back just in time and ignored the creature’s bowing and lamentations, instead demanding, “Is your master in?”
“I’m here, Potter.” Malfoy moved up behind the elf and raised an eyebrow. “Do you mind telling me why you’re inflicting violence on my servants?”
Harry pushed in without responding and stood there shivering and dripping in the entrance hall. He wanted to say several things at once, but for right now they were all tangled up with each other and fighting behind his teeth. He would just have to wait a few minutes until they sorted themselves out.
Malfoy gave him a keen look, then nodded, although Harry knew he hadn’t said anything, and spoke a few quiet words to the house-elf. It vanished at once, and then reappeared holding what looked like a glove filled with red-hot coals. Harry eyed it warily and wondered if Malfoy intended to torture him for showing up twice in three months without an invitation.
“You rest your hands inside it,” Malfoy said, “and it spreads warmth to the rest of your body. It’s less hot than it looks,” he added, as though he’d divined Harry’s thoughts, though Harry was fairly sure that he hadn’t picked up on the one about torture devices. He probably wouldn’t have been able to let that one go.
Harry hesitated once more. But he’d trusted the potion, hadn’t he, like a bloody fool? Once again, Ginny knew where he had gone. He slid his hands into the glove, and the house-elf stepped back. Harry gasped as heat shot and blazed through him, and managed to relax with a faint grunt. All right, then. He could accept that not all of Malfoy’s intentions might be evil.
Just the vast majority.
Either that thought or the passage of time prompted him to speak of the thing that had brought him here. He stared at Malfoy and demanded, “How often do you brew potions that don’t work?”
Malfoy tossed his head back as though he’d expected the accusation and knew the best way to meet it. “I did warn you,” he said.
“What?” Harry spluttered. He had expected indignation, scientific concern, or denial, but not this calm acceptance. “You did not! Why waste time brewing a potion that you thought wouldn’t work?”
“I did warn you,” Malfoy repeated, “that sometimes nature puts obstacles in our path that we can’t get over or around.” He seemed to be growing continually calmer and cooler the longer Harry was upset. “I suspected that the genetic defect your Healers said was there might be too great to be overcome by a mere fertility potion. If they couldn’t even detect it, the possibility increased. Probably the result of a long-ago curse on your bloodline,” he added, this time in the heartlessly interested tones Harry had expected. “I wonder if any of the other families bear the same curse, and if that’s the reason so many of us are slow to have children.”
“Ginny and I want a family, Malfoy,” Harry said, and drew his wand.
“What exactly is this promise going to be offered for?” Malfoy watched Harry’s wand as if he were on the verge of snatching it away and crossing it with his own immediately. The covetous gleam in his eyes made Harry pause, but he had to forge ahead. Malfoy had caused this problem, getting their hopes up. Ginny had spent the last fortnight looking as if she were going to cry. Harry would get some satisfaction from Malfoy, or else.
“I—I want some way to overcome that defect,” Harry said, lowering his wand and closing his eyes. He wanted to do something, to lash out, to kill, but Malfoy wasn’t a Dark wizard in the traditional sense of the word, and the Ministry wouldn’t accept Harry attacking him in his own home without a reason. Harry turned sharply away instead and paced to the far side of the room. He stared at the wall until he thought he could speak rationally.
Malfoy was already speaking by then, of course, the self-righteous git. “There’s no potion I could brew that could overcome something like this, Potter.”
Harry turned his head. “You said that you could brew,” he said. “You can put me in contact with someone who can?”
Malfoy bowed, never taking his eyes from Harry. He was watching Harry as if he was going to consume him. Harry turned away again and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, feeling hope for the first time in weeks.
“It’ll cost me another promise on my wand, won’t it?” he asked. He didn’t fear that. Malfoy was going to call in those promises someday, Harry had no doubt—unless he just wanted to go to his grave exulting in his power over Harry—but he would deal with that when it happened.
“Yes, it will,” Malfoy said. “And you have to realize that I can’t guarantee results. Depending on the source of the problem, if it is an ancient curse, it could well be that the potions would poison you or couldn’t be strong enough to overcome the problem without otherwise killing you.”
“Ginny and I want children, Malfoy,” Harry repeated. He would keep saying that until Malfoy realized that he was prepared to risk everything for that, including his own destruction.
Malfoy shrugged as if to say it was none of his business what strange things Harry wanted, and took out his wand.
Harry laid his over it on the table and looked at Malfoy. Malfoy stared contemplatively back at him, bowed his head, and seemed to think for a long moment before he spoke. Harry decided that was probably a load of bollocks, though. Malfoy had likely decided on what he wanted years ago, if he ever got the chance to take revenge on Harry or place him at a disadvantage. That had to be what these promises were about, Harry thought. Some way of shaming him, of making up for the fact that Harry had won the war and Malfoy’s side hadn’t.
But the help Malfoy was giving away was worth far more to Harry than those promises could be to Malfoy. So Harry just waited until Malfoy looked up, nodded slightly, and said, “When I call you, you’ll put what I ask you to do above other things.”
Harry shook his head. These promises were all so vague and insubstantial that he wondered if Malfoy hadn’t decided what kind of revenge he wanted, and would just go with whatever sounded good to him at the time. Harry didn’t mind that, really. He had learned that impulsive criminals often did the least damage, because they would flail and strike out at the first thought that came to them, and that thought was usually something stupid and small, petty.
“I promise on my wand that I’ll put what you ask me to do above other things,” Harry said.
Malfoy bowed his head. This time, the light that shone around the wands was real beyond a doubt, a blazing star, six-pointed, that wavered back and forth as though being blown in a strong wind before it faded away. Harry snatched up his and waited while Malfoy wrote out a list of names in a hand that Harry thought was unnecessarily painstaking.
When Malfoy handed over the list, their hands brushed. Malfoy swayed, and Harry wondered if the promises took something out of him that they didn’t take out of Harry. There was a strange look on his face, too, white and wide-eyed shock, as though he was waking up from a nightmare.
“Thanks, Malfoy,” Harry said, already reading the names. He recognized a few from rumors of their being Dark Arts potions brewers, but not as many as he had thought he would. He hoped that he could choose one who would enable him to get what he and Ginny needed without breaking the law.
Not that he would hesitate if it came to that, he had to admit. He’d already asked Malfoy for three favors in his pursuit of having a family. He would do it again if he had to. He would do twice that much, three times that much. The thought of Ginny’s eyes filling with tears of happiness for once was enough motivation.
He glanced back, and saw Malfoy leaning on the wall, watching him with a keen, cold, devouring gaze.
Probably hoping that I get in trouble and something even worse happens to me than his planned revenge, Harry thought, giving him a cold smile of his own back. Too bad, Malfoy. I’ll just keep going in the direction that I’ve chosen.
Harry couldn’t believe that he was back here again. Once Ginny had become pregnant, he had thought that they would have nothing left to wish for. Yes, the price for the potion that made him fertile had been steep, but it was nothing he couldn’t afford when his family’s future was on the line.
But with what the Healer had said today…
Harry took a deep breath and raised his hand to knock on the Manor’s door, but a house-elf opened it before he could.
“Master Malfoy is not here,” the elf said, bowing again and again, as if it thought Harry would lash out just because it was there. If it was the same elf he had almost hit last time, Harry couldn’t blame it, though. “He is being in the garden, with the grove.”
“The grove?” Harry asked. He thought a group of trees should be easy enough to spot, since the Manor gardens seemed to be mostly flat, but he wanted to be sure. He didn’t really have any time to waste. Not if what the Healers had said was—
His hands clenched down, and he shook his head. He wasn’t going to think of that now, not when it would overwhelm him and make him look weak in front of Malfoy.
“Yes, Master Harry Potter, sir.” The elf leaned out of the doorway and pointed a long arm around the house to the left. Harry nodded roughly back and then turned and strode away. The Healer’s words forced themselves back into his mind as he went, even though he tried savagely to think about the pretentiousness of the white peacocks strutting around in front of him.
I’m sorry, Mr. Potter, Mrs. Potter. The Healer, a tall woman with spectacles who had reminded Harry of a gentler McGonagall, had looked nervously back and forth between them and then pushed her glasses up as if that would spare them from what she was about to say. Your child has a malformed heart. We have a few days to find a cure, but we’ve seen this time and again, and we’ve never—we don’t usually save them.
Harry closed his eyes. He couldn’t help thinking that this was partially his fault, that the genetic defect that the potion had helped him overcome had wounded his child. And he knew that Ginny was thinking it, too. She had looked at him and then away, with her eyes full of shining tears that didn’t fall, and she said nothing, but he knew she was thinking it.
He stumbled over something, and his eyes flew open.
In front of him was a grove of short, stubby trees. Harry blinked at them. He thought he’d seen something like them before, but he couldn’t identify them until he moved his head a bit and recognized the (had to be artificially preserved, in this weather) white flowers clinging to them. Hawthorn.
Like Malfoy’s wand, he remembered, and then snorted at himself. Only he would think of something that irrelevant at this moment.
“Malfoy?” he asked, cocking his head to see in between the trees. He didn’t see anyone in the center of the grove, but then again, there were so many thick clusters of white flowers that he might have missed him at first.
A sliver of white-silver light appeared from nowhere. Harry glanced up instinctively, but the sun had set into a thick bank of clouds already, and the day hadn’t been very bright, anyway. He stamped his feet and shivered as the light went on shining, wondering if it was a spell Malfoy had cast to kill intruders, but unwilling to move away from the trees as long as there was a chance of finding salvation.
The light finally coalesced in the center of the grove and seemed to fragment into tiny flakes that fell together, forming up an image of Malfoy. Harry stared, with his breath caught in his throat. He’d never seen anything like that, and he didn’t know whether it made it more or less creepy that Malfoy shook his cloak off, scattering the last bits of light like snow, and strode towards the edge of the grove.
He did step back when Malfoy pulled away a thorny branch and suddenly stood in front of him. This close, Malfoy’s face was cold, his eyes lightless. Harry had to wonder if he would be as obliging as he had been the other times.
But the thought of his child strengthened him. Harry cleared his throat awkwardly and launched into the plea that he’d already prepared.
“We need your help, Malfoy. Our child is going to be born with a malformed heart. The Healers say that they can’t save her. Can you help?”
Malfoy continued to study him with that cold, shut-in look, and then turned away and stared at the horizon as if it held the answers. When he turned back, he looked more human, but only marginally. A wind whipped the edge of his cloak, and it took Harry a moment to realize why that was strange. He couldn’t feel the wind on his own cheeks or hair or clothing.
“I had thought I would let it go,” Malfoy said, apparently talking to himself. “Why disturb what worked well, what worked better in dreams than in reality? But here you are again. What will the end be, I wonder?”
Harry sighed. “Malfoy, do we have to do this mysterious-wise-sage act? Can you please just tell me whether you’re willing to help?”
Malfoy glanced at him. He had a slight smile now, one that would have made Harry back up and reach for his wand if he was encountering it under working circumstances. But he wasn’t, and his daughter needed this cure, and he gritted his teeth and continued to face Malfoy down. He wasn’t really scary, Harry told himself. He only wanted to look that way so that he could intimidate Harry.
“I notice that you didn’t ask whether I can,” Malfoy murmured. “Have you become that used to seeing me as the fount of all wisdom? In which case, I can plead for the authenticity of my act as sage.”
Harry didn’t know exactly what that meant, but he didn’t care. He just shook his head and said, “Can you help or not?”
“I can,” Malfoy said. “Not with a potion. With a spell.”
Harry bristled. “If you think I’m going to let you cast spells on my pregnant wife—”
“For the love of Merlin, Potter.” Malfoy sounded more like himself now, stupid and arrogant, his eyes narrowing in irritation. “Of course not. I’ll teach you the spell, and you’ll cast it yourself. You think I care about your pregnant wife that much?”
Harry blinked. “Oh,” he said weakly. He had no explanation for the conclusions he’d jumped to, and no longing to apologize, so he focused on something else. “But you must care at least a little bit about her, or why would you have sheltered her when she asked for help and given all these potions and advice to her?”
“Wrong person for my caring to target,” Malfoy breathed.
“Never mind,” Malfoy said. “Let me go back inside. The book I need is there, and you’ll need a few hours to memorize the incantation, at least.”
Harry swallowed back the automatic response, which was to say that he didn’t have that much time. Of course he did. The Healers had told them it would be a few days before Lily died. He would do this, and he would save her, and Ginny would look at him with shining eyes again, and they would be a family.
“It’ll be another wand-promise, won’t it?” he asked Malfoy’s back, suddenly realizing that they hadn’t discussed payment.
The words were soft and heavy, like nightfall. Harry frowned and wondered for the first time exactly what this would cost him.
But he shrugged off the worries. Whatever price Malfoy charged, it had to be less than the contentment and safety of his family. Harry had wanted people to love and belong with all his life, and now he was finally getting that. If fate tried to stand in his way, he battered down fate and found some way around it.
And Malfoy was weak compared to fate.
They were in the library already, and Malfoy drew down a heavy book filled with yellowing pages. He flipped through a few of them, nodded, and then extended the book to Harry.
Harry took only a cursory look before he shook his head and handed it back. “I can’t read Latin.”
“Then you’ll have to trust me, won’t you?” For some reason, Malfoy looked immensely delighted.
Harry thrust the book at him. “Yes, I will. But I warn you: I can make you regret this for the rest of your life if you fuck up.”
Malfoy snorted and accepted the book with care that made Harry wonder what would have happened if he’d bent a page. “I don’t want to do that, Potter,” he said. “If the help provided in return for a promise made on wands is false, then it invalidates the promise.”
Harry paused. “Then doesn’t that render my second promise to you null and void?” He couldn’t remember what the promise had been for a moment; he had to search his memory. “The promise to do as you ask when you call me?”
Malfoy shook his head. “I did the best I could with that potion, and I warned you that it might not work. You chose to take the risk anyway.”
That sounded fair, Harry had to grudgingly admit. And then a vision of Lily as the Healers had raised it, a colored shadow drifting in Ginny’s womb with her heart beating grotesquely out of rhythm, came to him, and he closed his mouth against the rush of panic, feeling as if he would throw up. Here he was, debating nuances of his actions with Malfoy, when his daughter was dying.
Malfoy seemed to catch his urgency, or read something from the expression on his face, because he turned smoothly back to the book as if there had never been an argument. “Emendator corculum,” he said, “You need to make sure that you say every syllable, Potter, and exactly as I pronounce it to you. Magic that changes the unborn is nothing to mess around with. Do you understand?”
How was it that Malfoy’s pale eyes could pierce him when his daughter was the one who would be affected? Harry wondered, but he nodded anyway. “I promise. Repeat it again.”
And he had Malfoy say it again, and again, until he was confident that he had it right, and his tongue and teeth and lips worked around the words as if he had known them all his life, as if they were English. After that, Malfoy showed him the correct wand movement, a cross-shape followed by a descending arc. Malfoy also warned him that he had to perform them right above the baby’s heart.
Harry already planned on performing them a hundred times if necessary, over every square inch of Ginny’s stomach. He was going to get this right.
At last Malfoy nodded judiciously as he performed the spell, and it flared out in a red crackle of sparks that faded when they found nothing to latch onto. Malfoy had already reassured him that the spell would have no effect if he cast it somewhere that wasn’t the target, which was why Harry could repeat it if necessary. “I think you have it, Potter. Now, about that promise.” He turned towards a projecting shelf that had no books on it and laid his wand down.
Harry looked at the door, longing. “What if I promise to come back as soon as I can and make that promise, Malfoy? I want to go home and use this spell now, while there’s still a chance that—”
“She’ll be all right for the moment it’ll take you to do this.” Malfoy’s voice was as cool as the light Harry had seen him manifest in, inside the grove—and what kind of spell was that, anyway? Harry would have asked, thinking it Dark, if he hadn’t been so worried about Lily. “I’m afraid that I’m not that naïve, Potter, to let you go right now.”
Harry rolled his eyes as he laid his wand across Malfoy’s. “You think that I’d dash off and never come back again?”
“Oh, I’m quite sure that you’d come back again,” said Malfoy, but didn’t elaborate further. He pointed to their crossed wands. “I want you to promise that you won’t make any protests when I call on you.”
Harry looked at him warily. “If you want me to murder an innocent or something like that, Malfoy, I sure as hell would.”
Malfoy chuckled, but his eyes were hollow, and he looked, briefly, like a starving vampire. Harry regretted that his wand was on the table. Malfoy saw him looking at it and shook his head, and regained a normal expression with, Harry thought, a bit of effort.
“I didn’t mean that,” he said. “I meant that you won’t complain constantly about how you would rather be elsewhere, doing something else. You’ll do what I ask cheerfully and without complaining, and when it’s finished, why then—” And he turned his hand over with a sharp movement that startled Harry, to show his empty palm. “Then you can leave.”
Harry nodded and blinked, and then gave the promise. The wands this time shone as if they had been dipped in molten gold, and when Harry picked his up, he could feel a thrumming current running down his arm, the way that he had once felt when he touched a Muggle electrical plug.
He stared at Malfoy. “What is this process doing to my wand, Malfoy?” he demanded.
“Did I say that it was doing something to your wand?” Malfoy kept his head bowed over the table where his wand lay, tapping it from side to side with his fingers, staring at it in what seemed like fascination. “No. The effects of multiple promises make it a bit more—mindful, that’s all. It’s the wand that holds the promise.” He looked up and smiled, and Harry thought this one looked even worse, like a deaths-head grin. “A wand-borne promise would weaken you permanently if you could break it. Which you can’t.”
Harry shrugged, too impatient to ask what he meant. He had already wasted enough time here, and Ginny and Lily were waiting.
As he left the house, he had the strange impression that Malfoy hadn’t moved, but stood where he had been, staring after him. And he had the even stranger one that Malfoy’s smile hadn’t lasted long, but had faded, to become a look of unconquerable longing.
But that was stupid, and there was no way he could have known that, because Harry didn’t look back.
Malfoy spoke around the mouthful of white flowers that he was carrying. Harry blinked, unnerved. They looked like white flowers from the grove of hawthorn trees behind his house, but they were so much larger—and obviously artificial—that Harry had to dismiss that fancy. These shone with a glitter and a gleam that meant they had to be made by magic. Nothing natural was that beautiful, especially after having been crushed by Malfoy’s teeth and lips. Malfoy took them out of his mouth and repeated the question while Harry stared, though, so perhaps he had thought Harry hadn’t understood him.
“Yes, I’ve come back,” he said, and then stared around the room that he’d found Malfoy in. He had come to the door of the Manor prepared to wait, but the house-elf had shown him in as though he were a welcome and expected guest. Harry had gone upstairs, hesitated, and then summoned another elf to tell him the way when he didn’t immediately see Malfoy. He had opened the door on what he thought was an ordinary room, for the most part, expecting to see more marble walls and carefully displayed treasures.
Instead, he had stepped into a chamber that shone like the middle of spring. The walls were green, and now and then Harry heard a rustling sound that convinced him they grew when he wasn’t watching. The color that streamed through the room had something of sunlight and something of moonlight; Harry had never seen them both shining fully in the same sky, of course, or he thought he could have told better. The delicate smell of flowers radiated out from the vases on the equally delicate tables of ivory and birch wood that were strewn in all directions. Harry scraped a foot over the carpet and shook his head. It was so radiantly green that walking on it felt like crushing grass.
“Why?” Malfoy asked.
Again, Harry had to take his attention from his surroundings and try to focus on what Malfoy was saying. When he did, he licked his lips and felt a surge of nervousness run through him. He knew what he was doing, he was determined to do it, and it still made him feel as if he were an intruder, to step into this beautiful space and ask for more than Malfoy had already given him.
But it was Malfoy’s right to decide if he wanted to ask for another promise from Harry. Harry could only ask.
“Because there’s something Ginny really wants,” he said, meeting Malfoy’s eyes again, “and I think you can give it to her.”
Malfoy carefully took one of the flowers and arranged it in a vase, seeming to think deeply as he did it. At least, Harry hoped that he didn’t need his mind to control the movements of his fingers. They flew in patterns that said he did this all the time, and then Malfoy stepped away from the vase, and the flowers looked perfect, as if they had grown there. Harry bit his lip to stop himself from groaning in envy. It wasn’t that he particularly wanted to arrange flowers, but he would have liked for something he’d made to look that—flawless.
“Hmmm.” Malfoy glanced at him, and then away. “Why can’t you get it for her? I don’t imagine you have less influence than I do.”
Harry winced. “I can’t—I mean, it’s not something she’s asked me for,” he said lamely. “It’s just something I know she wants.”
Malfoy turned back to him, eyebrows rising so high that Harry winced again. He didn’t know why, but Malfoy’s skepticism and incredulity still had the power to wound him.
Maybe it’s just that I’m so dependent on him for everything that he’s done for me, Harry thought, turning so that he looked at the hawthorn flowers Malfoy had arranged in their vase, rather than looking at Malfoy. And for Ginny, and for Lily. I want someone I’ve depended on to think well of me.
“If you explain the situation,” Malfoy murmured, “then perhaps I’ll understand better.”
Harry took a deep breath and launched into his story. “Ginny used to play with the Holyhead Harpies,” he said. “She quit when she started trying seriously to get pregnant. We didn’t want anything to interfere with the pregnancy, and at that time, we didn’t know anything about my genetic defect.”
Malfoy made a small assenting gesture. His eyes were firm, now, but Harry didn’t feel as judged or scorned by them as he had a few minutes before. He didn’t know why, but that enabled him to stand up and go on with some confidence.
“But now she wants to play again,” Harry said. “The problem is that the Harpies filled the hole in their ranks, and there’s not a Seeker spot on any other professional Quidditch team. She could be a Beater or a Keeper, but she doesn’t want that. She wants to do what she’s good at, what she loves.”
Malfoy suddenly tossed his head back and laughed, richly. Harry froze and found himself watching the white length of Malfoy’s throat for a moment before he shook his head and turned away. Really, he didn’t know what was worse, the odd way he was reacting around Malfoy or the way that he seemed unable to control those reactions.
“Yes, yes,” he said tightly. “You know what I’m going to ask now, and it’s just as despicable as ever.”
“You want me to use my influence to get her on a Quidditch team,” Malfoy said. Harry knew he was watching him again, and the chuckles had faded. He was in control of himself without trouble, Harry thought enviously. “You won’t use yours, because that would be immoral, but you don’t mind me using mine.”
Harry rubbed his hands on his trousers. “She would be so disappointed in me if she found out that I was asking this,” he muttered. “But—she wants it. I know that she’ll be disappointed if she doesn’t get it, too.”
“Mmm.” Malfoy’s attention seemed to have wandered. He considered the hawthorn flowers in the vase as if he didn’t know whether he’d arranged them exactly the right way, and sure enough, he reached out a moment later to adjust one of the delicate petals. “I know you care a lot about your wife and daughter.”
“Yeah.” Harry held his breath in hope. Was Malfoy going to agree?
Malfoy darted him a piercing glance. “Keep in mind that I can’t promise anything. I have contacts who have contacts among the Quidditch teams, but this isn’t like brewing a potion, which is my profession.”
“That’s enough,” Harry said, his mind flooding with the thought of Ginny once again astride a broom, waving happily to the crowds below her as she darted after the Snitch. He knew that playing gave her something she couldn’t feel otherwise, a happiness that made her walk as though her feet spurned the earth. He knew because he had seen her face when she played, and he had felt some of the same thing himself, when he first began to fly. “That’s more than enough. But don’t tell her. I want it to be a surprise.”
“And you wouldn’t want her finding out that you came to me, would you?” Malfoy smiled at him, a half-smile, his eyes once again narrow and seeming to stare straight through Harry’s soul and all the excuses that he could have given for his presence.
“Oh. Right.” Harry scratched the back of his neck, oddly shocked to remember that he didn’t want Ginny to find out. She would hate that the Quidditch team who hired her hadn’t chosen her for her own merit, but as a favor to someone else.
That roused an uneasy tickle in Harry’s conscience. Is this right? It’s doing something for her, but it’s not the same kind of thing as finding a potion that could help us have children.
Harry pushed the thought away, though. It probably hadn’t been right to bribe Malfoy to find out Ginny’s location before they married, either, but he’d done it. And Ginny had been upset, but when Harry explained that he’d hunted her so hard because he couldn’t live without her, she had softened.
Besides, when the only price was a promise to Malfoy, why should she balk at it?
“You realize that there will be a price,” Malfoy said, right on cue.
Harry smiled, and pulled out his wand. He thought that Malfoy would sneer at him, or smile, or at least look smugly superior over the fact that he was making the Great Harry Potter pay a price to him that Harry wouldn’t have paid to anyone else.
Instead, Malfoy stepped closer to him, staring intently into his face. Harry stiffened and tried not to show that he was intimidated. But he was. Malfoy had a touch of emotion to his expression that Harry had never expected to see there. It was pity.
“You’re sure that you want to do this?” Malfoy asked. “This isn’t as important as the others. It doesn’t impact your marriage or your children. Why do you want it? Is it enough to see her happy?”
“Of course it is!” Harry snapped, oddly outraged that Malfoy didn’t get that after all the things Harry had come and asked for, for Ginny. “I love her. I would do as much for anyone I loved like I love her.”
The pity faded from Malfoy’s face, and he gave Harry a solemn, almost regal nod. He acted like they were about to duel each other, Harry thought.
“I can reach out to my contacts,” Malfoy said quietly. “As with the first potion I brewed for you, there’s no absolute guarantee that the result will be what you want. Are you prepared to risk that?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Of course. I want to make Ginny happy, Malfoy, but this isn’t a matter of life and death. Not this time,” he had to add. He found that he could imagine coming back to Malfoy in a few years if it was a matter of life and death. If only because Malfoy always seemed able to provide him what he needed.
There was something behind that thought, Harry decided suddenly. He reached out, trying to capture it. It folded itself up and departed with a smug little sigh. Harry shook his head. It had probably been nothing. He had proved to have a gift for sudden insights about criminal behavior when he started working with the Aurors, but no one in this room was a criminal.
Strictly, at least. Harry could see certain reasons why someone would call him one, and probably Malfoy, too.
“All right.” Malfoy took a step back. “Put your wand on the table, crossing mine.”
He spoke sharply now, his neck corded when Harry glanced at him. He looked again as though he was facing an invitation to a duel, Harry thought in bemusement, one where he could actually be killed. He shook his head as he drew his wand. He often thought that he would never understand Malfoy, and Malfoy kept proving that by doing something else strange or unusual.
“So many promises already,” Malfoy whispered, when Harry’s holly wand had joined his hawthorn one. Harry glanced at him and saw him staring at the table with enormous eyes, apparently trying to absorb all the implications of their wands being together at once. “Which one shall I choose next?”
Harry shifted, trying not to show his impatience. In his estimation, Malfoy could do this best by asking for the bloody promise and getting it over with.
“I want you to promise,” Malfoy began, and then stopped. For the first time that Harry could remember, he looked uncertain. Harry wondered if he would demand some other price after all, and winced. Ginny would notice the disappearance of a lot of Galleons from the vault, or if his Invisibility Cloak vanished.
“I want you to forget,” Malfoy said, his eyes trained on the wand. One hand beat a nervous tattoo on his knee, but stilled even as Harry looked at it.
“Forget what?” Harry asked. “Making the promise? I’ll be reminded when I make the next one.” Malfoy glanced at him sharply, and Harry thought it was probably over the fact that Harry had spoken as if he would, naturally, come to Malfoy and ask for his help again.
Harry could feel comfortable doing that, actually. He didn’t really know why, and suspected that it didn’t matter. He held his tongue and watched Malfoy instead, waiting for the answer that he thought Malfoy owed him because of his odd request.
“No,” Malfoy said. “Not forget making the promise.”
He just stood there, and after a moment, Harry realized that he would get nothing more out of him. He sighed and looked warily at the crossed wands. He could give this up and walk away, and no one need know that he had been here. Malfoy didn’t seem inclined to tell anyone, or he would probably have sold the story to the Prophet by now, and Ginny was on a day-long visit with Lily to the Burrow.
If he left, there was also the chance that Ginny would never get what she most wanted right now. And Harry would do anything for her. That had been true since the ending of the war, when she turned and smiled at him at Fred’s funeral.
“You won’t explain?” he asked, but Malfoy just stood there, statue-like, and Harry shook his head. He actually didn’t think Malfoy meant anything with these promises. By now, he probably had forgotten about the revenge he planned to enact in the first place, or couldn’t think of anything grand enough, and so he would go on piling them up and doing nothing with them until Harry stopped coming to see him. “All right. I promise to forget.”
Nothing happened, Malfoy stared at him, and Harry had to hold back the strange impulse to laugh. “Oh, yeah. I promise on my wand to forget.”
The light that rose up this time had a cold sheen, Harry thought, like the light he had seen blazing in the hawthorn grove when Malfoy walked into it, the last time. He never had asked him about that. Harry turned around to ask, but Malfoy had scooped up his hawthorn wand and was staring at it.
“What?” Harry asked. Then he saw them. Tiny flecks of what could have been silver or snow were glinting along the sides of Malfoy’s wand. Harry picked his up and saw them, too, but his looked like flecks of mica.
Then they were gone in the next moment, fading. Harry shrugged. He could think of many different things they could have been, including simple reflections from the light that lingered for a few moments because of their dazzled eyes.
Malfoy didn’t seem to think so. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath, so deep that Harry could see it make his hands shake. Then he tucked his wand back into his pocket. He still didn’t open his eyes, and Harry felt compelled to remind him about what he had promised. He didn’t want to leave and not get what he asked for. He still didn’t really trust Malfoy, although it was true that Malfoy had benefited him so far and hadn’t harmed him.
“Malfoy? Will you get the list of contacts?”
Malfoy jumped, opened his eyes, and licked his lips. “Yes,” he said, gaze never moving from Harry. “Of course I will.”
He didn’t do anything else strange while Harry was there, which, admittedly, was only a few minutes, since he walked Harry to the door immediately. But Harry felt as though the closing door of the Manor shut on a vein carrying blood to his heart.
“I never knew that you would come back to me.”
Malfoy said the words in a strange, lilting voice. Harry stared at the ground and said nothing. He could hardly admit what was really going through his head.
Ginny had been delighted when she had a position on a Quidditch team, of course—and she did have one. The Falmouth Falcons had hired her almost at once, and Harry didn’t think they had a reason to regret that choice, although perhaps they hadn’t chosen her the “right” way. She was a good Seeker, his Gin. She could really do what she promised. If she hadn’t been a good player, Harry knew the position wouldn’t have lasted, as it had for six months now.
Lily was healthy. If the malformed heart that she had nearly died from ever bothered her, Harry saw no sign of it. Of course, he wasn’t a Healer, and they took her to St. Mungo’s every month. But nothing was wrong.
No one else in his immediate family or among his friends was hurt or dying. Everything was fine.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the snowy light he had seen Malfoy in last year, and the hawthorn flowers in his room that had looked real on his last visit, and the way he had looked right before Harry made the last promise. The vision swirled and danced before Harry’s eyes in the office, in his dreams, during the most boring parts of tracking criminals, when they had to wait for something to happen and hope they were in the right position to stop it when it did. He knew it was interfering with his ability to do his job. Kingsley had already noticed that something was different and asked him if he was all right. Ron had started frowning at him. Hermione had insisted on checking him for a fever the other day.
Ginny hadn’t noticed yet, but she wasn’t always the most observant immediately after a game. She would soon.
So Harry had come back to Malfoy, and felt a tension that he hadn’t known he was bearing ease when he stepped through the door of the Manor. It made no sense, but as long as he was here, he planned on asking for a cure.
Which meant telling Malfoy what was going on, after all. The very thing he had promised himself wasn’t going to happen.
Harry sighed, ran a hand through his hair, and looked up at Malfoy. Malfoy gave him that statue-like glance Harry remembered from last time, but it reassured him this time, instead of upsetting him. It was as if seeing the expression in reality gave Harry permission to stop remembering it so excessively.
“I’ve been thinking about you constantly,” Harry admitted. “And that grove of trees behind your house, and the flowers, and the light you appeared in. I thought that, perhaps, if I saw you again, it might stop.”
Malfoy sighed and bowed his head. Harry frowned. He had thought the news would please the git. At the very least, it was something he could hold over Harry’s head and taunt him with. But the way Malfoy looked now was simply…upset.
Or so Harry thought. The next moment, Malfoy was looking at him with calm, indifferent eyes, and Harry would have been hard-pressed to say that he had ever done anything else.
“Well, there’s a reason for that,” Malfoy said. For some reason, he paused there, as if he thought that Harry wouldn’t want to know the explanation, and only went on when Harry gestured, rather impatiently, for him to do so. “The magic that I used is sometimes addictive for those who gaze on it. No more dangerous than ordinary magic, with some preparation, but you hadn’t had the preparation, and the light can cause long-term visions and obsessions.”
“Of course,” Harry said, feeling relieved. “I should have thought of that.”
Malfoy gave him a peculiar, edged smile. “Why? It’s not as though you’d ever had any exposure to that before.”
Harry shrugged, a bit embarrassed. “I just should have,” he said, and bulled on. “So, how do we get rid of it?”
Malfoy let another ringing pause charge the air between them. Harry resisted the urge to check for a spot on his shirt or something similar. He couldn’t think of another reason that Malfoy would stare at him so intensely.
“I can lend you a book,” Malfoy whispered. “It will teach you to call the light yourself. If you use it regularly, then you can stop dreaming about it, and you’ll gradually cease to think of the light or see it as beautiful.”
Harry stared back at him. “You would really lend me a book?” he asked in disbelief. Malfoy seemed to be going a bit far towards repairing a mistake that Harry was sure he hadn’t meant to actually commit.
Malfoy half-bowed his head, his eyelids falling over his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “In some ways, this is my fault. My house-elves knew where I had gone, the day I appeared in the grove and used that particular brand of magic. I should have ordered them to keep you in the house until I appeared.”
Harry nodded, his suspicions melting like the snow the light had resembled. He could see that. And although he still didn’t trust Malfoy, Malfoy really had been a better person than Harry deserved, giving him whatever he asked for and letting him go with such a slight, light chain that Harry knew he would never feel it tug.
“I’ll take the book, with pleasure,” he said. “I think I need to understand what’s going on, not just hope to get rid of it.”
Malfoy watched him with eyes that were brilliant now. There was no trace of the trouble from before, whatever it might have been, and Harry snorted at himself for thinking that he might have been upset over—
Over what? What was happening to Harry? Malfoy knew better than that. Which would make his gestures and his recent apology to Harry a lie.
Harry dismissed the suspicions with a flick of his hand. He really didn’t want to start calculating all the ways that Malfoy might betray him right now. He was far more interested in the book, which Malfoy went into another room to retrieve. Harry stood there with his hands in his pockets, feeling as though, if he touched anything in the room, he might accidentally cause it to crumble to dust.
And then he realized that, no, he didn’t really fear that, and took his hands out of his pockets. A strange boldness had overcome him, much the same way the easing of the tension had when he walked through the door of the Manor. He took a step forwards and hesitantly ran his fingers over the nearest ivory table.
The surface was slick and smooth beneath his fingers, unexpectedly pleasant. Malfoy had good taste, Harry thought. His and Ginny’s home was comfortable, but nowhere near as beautiful as this. Of course, Harry only felt free to touch like this because he had been a guest in Malfoy’s home before. If Ginny did bring something like this home, Harry would spend months tiptoeing around, trying not to break it, until the time when he limped in wounded from an Auror raid and fell against it anyway.
“Do you like what you see?”
Malfoy’s question was as charged as his voice had been before, but Harry was sure the lilt in his voice was humor. He looked up, blinking, and nodded. “It’s very striking,” he said, although he didn’t know why the ivory table had caught his attention this particular time, since he’d seen it and many others like it before. “I hadn’t realized what it would feel like to the touch.”
“Ivory was once part of a living animal,” Malfoy said, coming towards him with the book in hand. It was a slim book, Harry saw at once, which relieved his mind. He didn’t know if he could understand the kind of big, fat tomes of magical theory that Hermione was always urging him to “improve” his mind with. “As wood was once part of a living organism. I like to surround myself with things like that. I believe living creatures are the most beautiful treasures.”
Harry blinked. For a moment, he thought he saw that shimmering white light surrounding Malfoy again, as it had when he walked into the grove of hawthorn trees. Harry felt his thoughts shift and roll over slowly, so lazy that it was hard to make them move at all.
And then the sensation was gone, and Malfoy was smiling and offering him the book as though nothing had happened. Harry took it, but didn’t open it. “Go on with what you were saying before,” he murmured.
“About valuing living creatures?” Malfoy leaned an elbow on the wall—probably in the one place that wouldn’t cause the delicate-looking marble to crack, Harry thought—and regarded him with interest. “I was afraid that you would find it morbid.”
“It’s interesting,” Harry said. And it was. He didn’t know when it had become interesting, but he wasn’t going to worry about that. Perhaps he was finally learning to get along with Malfoy, the way Hermione had said that he always should.
“All right,” Malfoy said. “Some of my ancestors kept rare magical creatures in cages. Others experimented with house-elves, making them unusual and exotic. But my more recent ancestors have preferred the ivory, the wood, and the occasional fur. I myself experiment with trees and flowers. What still grows, what you must be careful not to damage, is what holds my interest.” His eyes practically glowed at Harry.
“Oh,” Harry said. Once Malfoy had said that, it made sense. It even seemed as if he had always known it—and that reaction, he had to admit, didn’t make much sense. “And that has something to do with the white light and the magic that you did in the grove?”
“Everything to do with it.” Malfoy’s smile twisted into a weird one—weirdly charming, in Harry’s opinion. “I doubt I ever would have become interested in that kind of magic without my passion for living beings.”
“Oh,” Harry repeated. He had the feeling that he sounded unintelligent, but he really didn’t know what else to say. He tightened his clutch on the book and wondered if he should go. But being here, in Malfoy’s presence after months of dreaming about him, wondering if he should make an excuse to seek him out, was deeply satisfying. He didn’t want to leave.
“Not yet,” Malfoy murmured, which Harry decided to ignore, since it made no sense except as an answer to his thought, and Harry knew he would have felt it if Malfoy had used Legilimency. “There’s the small matter of the promise on a wand that you owe me now, Potter, in return for the book.”
“Yes,” Harry said. It was no trouble to draw his wand from his pocket, but he still did it reluctantly, because he felt himself moving closer to the end of his visit. “Which one did you want this time?”
“Cross it first,” Malfoy said. His wand was already on the ivory table. Harry had the feeling that it might always have been, and perhaps he’d simply neglected to notice it. That would be like him right now, he thought. His thoughts were drifting, shifting, flowing from side to side. He felt very slightly drunk.
The holly crossed the hawthorn, and Harry surprised himself by both the smile on his lips and the thump deep in his heart as he looked at them. This was right. This was good. He didn’t know exactly why or how, but he knew that much.
“I want,” Malfoy said, and stopped, his eyes fluttering shut. Harry decided that he could risk a slight teasing comment.
“Surely I’m not that overwhelming to look at, Malfoy,” he said. “Not to someone who knew me from childhood.”
“You have no idea,” Malfoy said, with a depth in his tone that made Harry flush and think for a moment that he didn’t, really, before he shook his head and threw the spell off. The book felt heavier in his hand, and his head weighed more, too. He wanted to go home now.
“Ask for the bloody promise, Malfoy,” he said crossly, and then winced. All right, he wanted to go home, but he hadn’t meant for his voice to bounce in uncouth echoes off the wall.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow and retreated behind a cold, polished mask, which was punishment enough. “I want you to swear that you’ll take pleasure when you come to me,” he said. “The way you touched the table tonight was an excellent start.”
“Take pleasure…?” Harry let it trail off, and shook his head. “I don’t understand the meaning of most of these promises, Malfoy, but this one has to be the most mysterious you’ve ever asked of me.”
“You don’t need to understand it.” Malfoy’s eyes were burning, now, and he seemed to have turned some sort of mental corner. His voice was brisker, and he didn’t blink. “Make the promise.”
Harry sighed. “I promise on my wand to take pleasure when I come to you.” The words felt empty, and he expected no reaction from the wands, for some reason, although the reaction had been getting larger each time.
But the wands burned.
The air around them turned a silver-white color that made Harry shiver, and he was unable to stop shivering when the light began to fade away at last. Malfoy leaned forwards, nodding and smiling, his eyes so fervent that looking at him made Harry uncomfortable. He turned away and focused on the wands instead. His wand, when he picked it up, retained a soft semblance of the shine, and then the light crept up his hand and raced towards his shoulder.
“Oi,” Harry said, but didn’t react much more than that. He didn’t think it appropriate that he should. He stood there and watched it happen, instead.
The light seemed to hesitate when it got to his shoulder, as though it was puzzled by not finding something it had been seeking. For a moment, it coiled there like a snake, swaying back and forth. Then it, softly, vanished. Harry shook his hand, then his head. He didn’t know exactly what had happened. He didn’t know if he wanted it explained to him, either.
“You’re almost all there,” Malfoy whispered.
It sounded like the kind of thing Hermione would say when she had almost finished solving a riddle or studying a magical theory. Harry frowned at him. “What do you mean?”
Malfoy stared at him hard, but turned away in the next instant and shrugged. Harry had to blink. The magical, mystical edge he had thought he had seen to the bastard had faded, and he might have been no more than a grown-up version of the prat that Harry had known in school. He had a world-weary voice when he said, “Nothing, Potter. Nothing that you’ll understand at the moment, anyway. I wish you good luck and good-bye.”
Disgruntled, especially when Malfoy didn’t respond to Harry asking what he meant, Harry turned around and left at last. It seemed incredible, now, that he had wanted to come back to the Manor or see Malfoy. He hoped that he would find the answers he needed in the book so that he didn’t have to visit again.
Halfway down the stairs, he paused and touched his brow. He had woken from a dream, he felt, and his mind blurred and ached. He had just realized that it was the longest time he had spent not thinking about Ginny since his marriage.
Harry opened his eyes. For long moments, he was so disoriented that he thought about rolling over and just going back to sleep.
But his bed wasn’t there. The sheets and pillows had vanished. Instead, Harry found himself standing in moonlight on cold stone. He shivered and shifted, looking around with bleary eyes as he tried to figure out where he was.
Cold trees stood in front of him, small, stubby thorn trees with what looked like tufts of snow on the ends of their branches, and only when he saw those did Harry realize the truth. This was Malfoy’s grove. He was behind Malfoy Manor, having somehow Apparated there in his sleep.
Or been Apparated. Harry was wearing his pyjamas still, and he had never had a history of sleepwalking, although he’d been dreaming about Malfoy for many nights. He drew his wand and crouched, looking in several directions to see if he could find a sign of an attacker. But there was nothing except a single confused white peacock, which clucked at him and then stalked, with great dignity, in another direction.
“Nothing here will harm you, Potter.”
Malfoy’s voice didn’t exactly reassure Harry, especially since it seemed to come from the hawthorn flowers and the moonlight and the trees all at once. Harry turned around in a complete circle, and no, Malfoy wasn’t there. “Show yourself,” he demanded. “You think that I’m going to trust someone who speaks to me from a distance?”
And the snow-like light shone in the center of the circle, drying Harry’s throat—his efforts to conjure it himself hadn’t been the same, not at all—and Malfoy stood there, throwing his silvery cloak back from his shoulders.
Harry could only stare. He couldn’t have moved if someone had come up and tried to shock him into moving at the moment, he thought. Malfoy was magnificent, and there was no way to escape that. He had fine-spun hair, and a strained face that was still beautiful by the moonlight, and a reaching arm that he lowered in a moment, as if he had realized that Harry still stood beyond the barrier of the trees.
“You’ve come,” he said, and his voice echoed and turned in strange ways. Harry thought he could see the notes of it, and silver flashing from those notes. “I didn’t think you would.”
“You were saying a minute ago that nothing here would harm me,” Harry mumbled. It hadn’t been what he thought he would say. The words simply exited his mouth without pausing to take counsel with him. He shivered. His skin stung with cold. It hadn’t been that cold when he went to bed, he thought. Or had it? Admittedly, he usually didn’t spend much time outside in his pyjamas.
Things would have been easier if he could have taken his eyes from Malfoy. But he couldn’t, and now Malfoy had stepped past the barrier of the trees and was walking towards him, his movements so smooth that Harry’s mouth watered.
He didn’t understand why. He didn’t understand what had happened. But his rational thoughts ceased when Malfoy’s hand came to rest on his shoulder.
“You don’t understand what’s going on, do you?” Malfoy whispered, leaning in to him. This close, Harry could feel the cold beating from him like the body warmth that other people had. He pressed closer in response, though, because that magical cold seemed to drive away the normal chill that was pressing in on him as he stood there in his pyjamas. His mouth continued to water, no longer dry. His eyes shut, and he found that he couldn’t open them until Malfoy spoke his name again.
“No,” Harry whispered. “What is going on?”
Malfoy bit his neck. Harry cried out, his mind briefly waking up. Was Malfoy a vampire? That would make sense of some of what Harry was experiencing, and it would mean that—
But the thoughts slipped away when Harry realized that Malfoy wasn’t sucking blood. He drew his head back, and his teeth shone whiter than ever, colder than ever, as though with frost. Harry shuddered again and reached out, feeling a bit better when his hand found a purchase on Malfoy. Malfoy wasn’t a ghost or a vampire, after all.
“No,” Malfoy whispered. “This is caused by what I am, by what my wand is and the legends about hawthorn trees. I dared to explore the connection, and found myself caught. But I was content to be, because I didn’t think I could have what I truly wanted.”
“What was that?” Harry felt oddly divided. He was paying attention to Malfoy’s words on the one hand, listening to them, they were important, but he also drifted somewhere far away where only the cold and the light were real.
“My family name restored. My prestige restored. People respecting and fearing me the way they should have from the beginning.” He leaned in and pressed his lips against Harry’s, so cold that Harry didn’t realize it was a kiss at first. “You.”
“You—you can’t have me,” Harry said, but it was a small word against the immense frozen power that Malfoy was bringing to bear on him.
“Oh, I know that,” Malfoy said equitably. “I didn’t even try, it was so impossible. Until you came to me for help, and I realized that I could ask you for a promise made on a wand, and have at least some of what I wanted.” He backed Harry up, away from the ring of thorn trees, towards the Manor. Or at least, Harry thought that was where they were going. He couldn’t glance away from Malfoy to look over his shoulder and check.
“The promise didn’t say anything about—having me,” Harry said. He knew that he should feel more outraged about that than he did.
“But altogether,” Malfoy murmured, his eyes bright and his movements sleek, “what did you think they were adding up to?”
Harry shook his head. He wasn’t about to answer. His heartbeat was very fast and loud, and his hands trembled. He wanted to reach out and touch Malfoy again. He didn’t want to. He wanted to see the cold light. He didn’t want to. He wanted to be warm.
He didn’t want to.
Malfoy shut his eyes and hummed. “I tried to hold back,” he murmured. “Tried to resist. And I still may, for a time. There’s no guarantee that you’ll think of this as anything more than a dream. I gave you a chance to look promises made on wands up for yourself, to find out why you were drawn to me for help, and you continued to not do so. Whose fault is that, mine for the promises or yours for making them, for begging? When I want, Potter,” he added, and abruptly his voice dipped low. “Though it feels strange to call you by that name, when I’ve been calling you by your first name in my head for so long.”
“Malfoy,” Harry said. It was the only word that would come out of his throat. He could have tried to say something else, although he wasn’t thinking anything else, but he doubted it would have been coherent.
The word spun and spiraled around him, wrapping him in that tight silver light he missed. Harry opened his eyes and found himself staring at the thorn trees, at their unseasonable blossoms, and his body stirred with fear and promise. He could remember a legend about thorn trees, if he tried, and he could remember the blossoms in Malfoy’s house, and he could remember the way Malfoy had looked, standing there in a light the color of snow, which was also the color of hawthorn blossoms—
And then the vision faded, and Harry woke with no more memory than a vague, personal dissatisfaction.
“Harry, someone is here to see you.”
Harry glanced up, smiling at his wife until he saw her expression. There was an odd note in her voice, and she checked over her shoulder as though she wondered whether the person who was there to see him was about to charge the door. Harry slipped his wand casually into his hand. The Death Eaters were long since taken care of, but every now and then, someone came along who thought that he would gain his reputation by destroying the Man Who Had Destroyed Voldemort.
“Who is it?” he asked. He listened. Yes, Lily was still playing in the study, racing along with specially enchanted dolls that George had made for her. A very normal scene. Harry cast a few spells so that she wouldn’t have to hear it if this was someone he needed to yell at.
“Malfoy.” Ginny shook her head. “I thought that you hadn’t seen him since you went and got that spell for Lily’s heart?”
Harry felt himself flush. Luckily, Ginny had never been good at penetrating his lies. And it was only the twice that he’d seen Malfoy since then, he reminded himself as he stood. Just to get Ginny’s position on the Quidditch team, and the book.
“I’ll talk to him,” he said. “He’s probably come about some favor that I can do for him in return. Always knew that he’d get in trouble someday.”
Ginny half-chuckled and half-shook her head at him as she kissed his chin. She still didn’t approve of Malfoy on a personal, Weasley level, but Harry knew that she had never forgotten the way he had helped them and brought them together. “Just remember that we’re having dinner in an hour, and it’s your turn to cook.”
Harry kissed her back, consumed for a moment with the warmth of his love for her, and paused to watch her go into the kitchen before he turned towards the drawing room. He knew that Ginny would have put Malfoy there, since it was the biggest one in the house.
He entered. Malfoy was standing beside the window, light falling on his hair and turning him to a fragile, fey figure.
“Yes, Malfoy?” he asked. His voice came out breathless, and Harry frowned and touched his throat. He couldn’t understand why that would have happened, but then, he had come to the conclusion over the years that he didn’t always know what he was going to do.
Malfoy turned around and held up his wand. Harry looked at it, frowning, until he saw the bright silver flecks that glowed along it, shining and blazing, hurting Harry’s sight. He bowed his head.
And the knowledge was there, washing over him like the cold light, making him feel and absorb and think and know. And believe.
“No,” he whispered.
“You promised that you would come to me when I called you,” Malfoy said, his voice inflexible. “I call you to come to me.”
Harry moved forwards a step. His wand was burning in his pocket, harsh as a chain. It would draw him along, he knew, whether he went of his own free will or not, because he had made the promise of his own free will.
Malfoy took his hands as Harry came near him. His left hand was cold; his right hand was warm. He bowed his head and breathed into Harry’s face, and Harry thought he smelled hawthorn.
“You promised that you would do as I asked when I called you.” Malfoy’s voice was so soft that it hurt. Harry struggled to break free, to think of Ginny and Lily, but he couldn’t. “I ask you to stay.”
Harry struggled ineffectively. He understood, now, and he thought he could already feel the doors of Malfoy Manor shutting on him. The shadows of thorn trees slanted across the room, and the smell of hawthorn grew stronger.
“You promised that you would put what I asked you to do above other things,” Malfoy whispered. Harry could feel the words buzzing around inside his stomach. “I ask you to put me above all else in life, including your marriage.”
Harry’s shoulders shuddered, and his collarbone shimmered as the magic settled on him. The thorns were twined about his wrists like manacles, along his waist like arms.
“You promised that you would make no protests when I called upon you.” Malfoy’s breath puffed on his cheeks. “I ask that you make no protests. That you never speak of your marriage, your wife, or your daughter to me, or your friends.”
Harry swallowed. Certain words froze inside him and then melted in the heat of his heartbeat, flooding away to the bottom of his soul and taking the images and the love that had sustained him with them. The thorns creaked.
Malfoy ran his thumb along Harry’s bottom lip. His eyes were enormous, bright with the shine of a man who didn’t believe that he was getting what he had always wanted. “You promised that you would forget,” he whispered. “I ask that you forget your wife, your daughter, and your friends.”
Harry shuddered. The light and the thorns pierced him. He tried to remember what he was supposed to forget, and it was gone. He couldn’t remember.
“You promised that you would take pleasure,” Malfoy said, and his voice was shrill and sweet and came from every direction. “Here it is.”
Malfoy kissed him, his chill fingers twining around the back of Harry’s head, that brilliant light shining beneath and above him. Harry gasped and opened his mouth, welcoming his tongue inside, swimming in pleasure. He saw that they stood in a grove of thorn trees, many times bigger than they had been before, and he knew that beyond the trees were marble halls and golden beds, silken curtains and tiled floors, more beautiful than any in the world he had left behind him.
Malfoy kissed him again, and Harry clung to him, drowning, but willingly.
He didn’t want to remember.
He had promised.