Harry edges forward slowly, wand drawn and held out in front of him as his eyes scan the final room of the decrepit building he’s been assessing. There are no windows here; the floor is scuffed up concrete, and there’s a chill that goes straight through his Auror robes, making him shiver. The whole place looks more like a teenager’s shady hangout spot than a crime den.
He casts a lumos charm, lighting up the rest of the room. Empty bottles of Muggle alcohol litter the floor and clink loudly as he kicks them out of his way. There are holes in the wall panels and graffiti covering the rest of the space. An old mattress is shoved into one corner, wiry springs peeking through the frayed fabric, and Harry wrinkles his nose at the questionable stains all over it.
A recent sweep of this predominantly Muggle area had shown higher than normal levels of magical energy. It was likely just a witch or wizard passing through, but Head Auror Clemens was in a foul mood today, and had insisted that it couldn’t wait until Monday, that somebody had to spend the dying hours of Friday afternoon checking it out. It was a shit assignment that no one wanted, even with the prospect of department promotions around the corner. The other Aurors had clapped Harry on the back gratefully when he’d volunteered. He wasn’t trying to be selfless; he just has nowhere else to be tonight and doesn’t feel like going home to an empty apartment again.
“I could have a pint in my hand right now if it wasn’t for you, you bloody shit.”
His partner, Blaise Zabini, isn’t as understanding about it, and Harry can feel his scowl without looking at him.
They’re an unlikely partnership, Harry knows, but they work well together. The two of them were paired up back when they’d both joined the Auror force right after the war, and Harry’d been completely narked off about it. He’d always imagined he and Ron going through training together, having a laugh and taking down bad guys. But Ron had decided to help George run his shop and Clemens had thrown Harry and Blaise together, and Harry had quickly discovered that in between training sessions, most of their assignments involved nothing but desk work anyway.
Harry had known very little about Blaise at first — he was a friend of Draco Malfoy’s, a Slytherin, and he and his mother remained neutral during most of the war. It wasn’t until a week after they started training that Hermione told him Blaise had come back and fought alongside the Order in the final battle, and that she’d heard from Kingsley that Blaise’d spent his seventh year laying low and protecting the younger kids from the Carrows.
Harry was surprised at first, but now that he knows Blaise better — knows how his mind works and how fiercely committed he is to protecting those who can’t protect themselves — he thinks it makes perfect sense.
Harry glances over at him. Blaise is tall and slender, always perfectly groomed and impeccably dressed; even the gold buttons on his Auror robes are shined perfectly. His hair is cropped short, his face always smooth. Harry, on the other hand — with his hair pulled into a messy knot at the back of his head, his Auror robes in a perpetual state of unkemptness, and the beard on his face getting thicker everyday — is Blaise’s polar opposite.
“I’m going to have to throw these robes away, you realise,” Blaise is muttering as he runs a diagnostic charm over the room. “I can literally feel the smell of this place seeping into the fabric.”
Harry chuckles. “Then you’ll only have— what? Eighty-six sets left?”
Blaise shoots him a dark look over his shoulder, but Harry knows he wouldn’t have come out here if he didn’t want to. The thing about Blaise Zabini is that if he doesn’t want to do something, not even Clemens has a hope in hell of making him do it.
He extinguishes the blue light of the diagnostic charm and turns around to face Harry. “Nothing,” he declares. “No traces left. As I suspected, this was a waste of time, and we’ve just spent an hour in this hovel for no bloody reason.”
Harry lowers his wand too, a little disappointed at the dead end, and he checks his watch. “It’s just gone five. You want to head back and do the paperwork now? Get it out of the way?”
“Christ, no, Potter,” Blaise scoffs. “It’s Friday night, and I need to go home and get ready to go out. If I don’t get laid tonight, I’ll start thinking even you’re a good option— and if that day ever comes, I’ll thank you to hex me immediately.”
Harry, though, only half hears him — he stares, frowning at the floor, as a wave of nausea passes over him. He swallows, trying to push the feeling away. Maybe the sandwich he ate at lunch was bad — Hermione is always warning him not to eat food from the Muggle food truck that’s parked across from the Ministry, but Harry can’t resist.
“Why do you look weird?” Blaise asks him.
Harry looks up. He’s not sure if the room is spinning, or if somehow there is now two of Blaise standing in front of him. He shakes his head, trying to clear away the spots suddenly clouding his vision. He doesn’t feel right at all. His magic is unsettled, an itch under his skin is forming, and he reaches frantically for the wall.
“Harry, what the fuck?”
Blaise sounds far away now. Harry stumbles, fingers grasping at the wall to hold himself upright, and he’s filled with the inexplicable need to get away from here. To get… to get somewhere. He doesn’t know where, but he needs, urgently, to go.
He tries to move forward — he has to get to the door — and he thinks he hears a shout, someone saying his name maybe, but it feels as though a heavy fog is settling over him, forcing him down, and then he’s falling, darkness creeping in.
And then there is nothing at all.
Harry heard a loud whistling noise somewhere close by, and he was sitting in a familiar compartment. Was this the Hogwarts Express? The world outside the window was racing past, a blur of green fields and blue sky, and he should have been more curious to know why he was there, but he knew somehow that this was where he was supposed to be. So he waited.
This was a dream, he thought, as he looked around. The edges of his vision were blurred slightly, not quite able to come into focus, and he felt strangely calm. He stretched his legs out in front of him, sinking lower into the seat. He may as well enjoy it while he was here.
Suddenly the compartment door slid open and his calm disappeared. He was nervous now. Uncertain.
The door slid shut, but Harry couldn’t see anyone.
“You came,” he heard himself say.
“I said I would,” came an irritated voice from in front of him. Harry couldn’t see them, but there was relief mixed with his uncertainty now that they’d shown up.
Harry was staring at the empty space. He waited for more words to come, from himself or from his guest, but silence stretched out between them.
“You’re a fool to be so trusting,” they finally declared. “How did you know I wouldn’t just keep this cloak?”
And that makes sense, Harry realised. He’d given this person his cloak so they could sneak in here.
“I don’t trust you,” he said, his voice sounding far away, though his mouth was definitely moving. “And I know you don’t trust me. But we want to help the same person, so I knew you’d show up.”
“Idiot Gryffindor,” was the muttered reply. “We can’t help, you realise,” they continued dramatically. “There’s nothing we can do. It’s utterly hopeless.”
“If there were really no hope, you wouldn’t have answered my owls,” Harry said confidently. “And you wouldn’t be here.”
“So I’m here,” they snapped. “Talk.”
“What I need from you,” Harry said, glancing to the compartment door to make sure no one was out there, “is to tell me everything you know about what Draco Malfoy did this past summer.”
Harry comes to slowly. His body feels heavy and groggy as he blinks his eyes open, the way he feels sometimes when he takes a nap and oversleeps. The room is fuzzy without his glasses, but he recognises the crisp white walls of St Mungo’s, and he can smell the strong scent of the magical cleaning solution that’s used on the floors. After many, many visits here, it’s all very familiar to him.
He pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to align his thoughts and focus on how he got here this time. He remembers being in the old building with Blaise, assessing that there was no danger, and he remembers the moment right before he passed out; there’d been a strange, overwhelming feeling of need that had consumed him out of nowhere. He realises abruptly that the itch is still there, just below the surface of his skin. He rubs at his arm. It’s not painful, but it’s making him unsettled and fidgety, and it’s becoming more irritating the more he thinks about it.
The door to his room opens. Harry gropes beside him to find his glasses and pushes them back onto his face.
“You’re a right bastard, you know that?”
Blaise walks in and stands at the end of his bed, still in his full Auror uniform, which means Harry hasn’t been out for that long — there’s no way Blaise Zabini would ever wear the same clothes more than one day in a row.
“My dick is furious with you,” he continues, crossing his arms, “and I’m not too happy either. What was that about?”
“Blaise, honestly.” Hermione follows him into the room, coming to Harry’s left side and dropping a kiss on his cheek. “Are you alright?” she asks. “Penelope is on her way— the spell we put on the room notified us you were awake, but she had to finish up with another patient.” She’s watching him worriedly as he pulls himself up into a sitting position. Her curls are styled neatly back into a sleek bun, and she’s pulled one of Ron’s old hoodies over the top of an elegant black dress.
“You and Ron had a date tonight,” Harry groans, remembering. “Shit, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be stupid, it’s fine.” She waves a dismissive hand in the air. “Ron’s back at home with Rosie — she's thrilled obviously, because Ron is letting her have pizza for dinner. I’ll have to Floo him and let him know what’s happening shortly.”
“Still,” Harry says apologetically. “It was your date night; I’m sorry to drag you down here.”
“Excuse me,” Blaise interrupts. “What about my date?”
Harry rolls his eyes. “Casual sex with someone you haven’t met yet isn’t a date, Blaise,” he says. “I’ve told you that before.”
Blaise huffs. “Some poor girl is missing out on—” He gestures broadly to his face. “—all of this right now. I hope you can live with yourself knowing that, Potter. Knowing I had to Apparate your sorry arse out of that place and drag you here again.”
“Actually, I think I’ve probably just saved this imaginary girl from a night of hearing sleazy pick up lines,” Harry tells him.
“I’m a Zabini,” Blaise says proudly. “There is nothing sleazy about anything I do.”
Hermione is watching them from beside Harry and shakes her head. “You two are so odd,” she comments. “You’ve not even asked how he is,” she says to Blaise.
“He’s fine, Granger,” Blaise replies. “He lives to cockblock me, so he won’t be dying anytime soon. I’m half-convinced he only defeated Voldemort so we could be paired up at the Ministry and he could ruin my weekends.”
“You’re the most dramatic human being in the world,” Harry scoffs.
Hermione snorts. “Draco,” she offers as explanation when Harry looks at her curiously, and Blaise gives a rare chuckle.
“True,” he agrees. “You really should have more patience with me, Granger, when you have to deal with that man almost daily. He’s much worse than I am. In every sense.”
“It’s a photo finish,” Hermione mutters. Harry isn’t listening properly to them though; the itching has flared up again, like his magic is prickling him from just below the surface. He’s shifting against the bed trying to find relief from the uncomfortable sensation when the door opens again and Harry’s Healer, Penelope Clearwater, comes in.
Penelope looks much the same as she had in school — tall and willowy, with kind eyes and a permanent smile fixed on her face. She has her wand tucked behind her ear, and is holding Harry’s chart, but Harry knows her well enough by now to know that her soft exterior is masking one of the toughest and most efficient Healers St Mungo’s has.
“Back again?” she says cheerfully, flipping open the chart and flashing Harry her trademark grin.
“Of course he is— he’s obsessed with you,” Blaise offers unhelpfully.
“I haven’t been here in months,” Harry grumbles.
Penelope glances down at her notes. “Three weeks, actually,” she confirms. “What was it this time?” she asks Blaise. “Another top secret mission?”
“Not this time,” Blaise replies with a smirk. “We were in an empty room in no immediate danger, and he fainted.”
“Hmm,” Penelope says thoughtfully, tipping her head to the side as though considering Harry. “He’s getting less and less heroic, isn’t he? We might go a full month without seeing him one of these days.”
Harry isn’t sure how the strange friendship between his partner and his Healer first started, only that it’s based purely on them mocking him when he ends up in a hospital bed. Which does not happen that often, thank you, and when it does, it’s usually not his fault. He can’t help it if he never quite grew out of being accident prone.
“Alright,” Penelope says, seeing Harry’s petulant pout. “Now that you’re awake, I’ll take some readings, and I have a few questions we need to go through. Would you prefer to continue in private?”
Harry looks at Hermione and Blaise. Hermione will insist she needs to be there, and Blaise will just refuse to go without further explanation. They both care about him, in their own ways. “They wouldn’t leave even if I asked them to,” he says, shrugging.
Penelope nods, then plucks her wand from behind her ear and begins casting her diagnostic spells, her charmed quill adding notes on Harry’s chart as she goes.
Harry answers her questions robotically, so used to them now that he doesn’t even need to think about the answers. No, he isn’t experiencing any additional stress. No, he hasn’t been ill. No, he hasn’t been out of the country. No, he hasn’t experienced any unexplainable pain before this. It’s a familiar routine, one not dissimilar to the one he and Madam Pomfrey’d had in school.
“Okay, let’s talk about today,” Penelope says, waving her wand in a complicated movement without looking up and casting the next charm. “Can you describe to me how you felt both before and while the episode was happening?”
“I felt like I was going to throw up,” Harry says. “And I got dizzy. I sort of felt like I was far away, though I could see the room I was in. Then I just…” He frowns, looking down at his hands as he twists them in the sheet. “I had this urge, like an itch. I needed to get out of there. To get somewhere else.”
Penelope is watching him carefully when he looks up. “How do you feel now?” she asks. “Are you still feeling any of those things?”
“The itching,” Harry says. “It’s my magic, I think, under my skin. It feels unsettled. It’s not unbearable, but it’s annoying.”
Penelope is frowning at her chart, which he isn’t used to.
“What is it?” Harry asks uncertainly.
She scans the notes again, and then looks at Harry. “There’s an... unusual undercurrent in your magic that I picked up on just now,” she explains. “There’s nothing recorded to explain it in your medical history, and I’ve never seen it in your readings before. It’s very faint, but—” Harry glances at Hermione, and is reassured that she looks confused as well. “I need to know,” Penelope continues. “Have you ever performed, or allowed someone else to perform, any kind of bonding spell on you?”
Hermione makes a small noise of surprise beside him, and Blaise arches an eyebrow. “Wild night in Vegas you forgot to mention?” he asks Harry. “Do you have a secret husband we don’t know about?”
“No,” Harry denies at once. “I wouldn’t even know how to do a bonding spell. And I’d know if someone had performed one on me, wouldn’t I?”
“Not necessarily, no,” Penelope says, tucking her wand away and closing the chart. “There are a myriad of different bonding spells, the most common obviously being for marriage, but that leaves a much stronger trace than what I’m seeing here.”
“So it’s not a bond then?” Harry asks hopefully. “Is it some sort of curse?”
“It’s not a marriage bond, no,” Penelope corrects. “And no, I don’t think you’ve been cursed. Obviously I can’t confirm anything yet, because what I’ve picked up on is too faint, but based on what I can see, and the symptoms you’ve described, I do think you’re experiencing the effects of some other sort of bonding spell.”
“Is there any indication of the bond’s nature?” Hermione asks. “Is he in any immediate danger?”
Penelope shakes her head. “Again, I can’t say anything with certainty, but there doesn’t appear to be any immediate threat, no. I’ll continue to monitor him closely. Unfortunately, in this kind of situation, we have to rely on the symptoms to guide us; if they come back, I’ll be able to get a clearer picture of what effect the spell is having on him.”
“Can’t you just—” Harry searches frantically for the words. He hates the idea of there being something wrong with him that’s beyond his control, that’s potentially in the control of someone else. “I don’t know— do a spell? Figure out what it is? Surely there aren’t that many possibilities?”
“I wish I could,” Penelope says gently, “but the problem is, Harry, there are bonding spells for essentially every reason imaginable, and some are very, very subtle. There are, of course, some that have obvious requirements — things like the bondees being forced to remain physically touching — but that particular branch of bonding magic is very outdated, and if that were the case here, you’d be in immense pain. The most common of the more subtle bonds are those used for tracking. They’re very popular right now, particularly with parents on their teenagers. They leave minimal magical residue, so they’re hard to spot without a Healer reading, and considering your line of work and who you are, that seems likely. But even so, generally the caster needs to be present, so I don’t want to promise you anything until I get a better read on this.”
Hermione turns to him, a hand on his arm. “Harry, are you absolutely sure there was no one in that building? Is there any chance you could have missed something? Someone?”
“It was just me and Blaise,” Harry says. “We checked everywhere and cast all the normal spells, so unless he did it—”
“Oh, no, don’t look at me,” Blaise says, holding his hands up in front of him. “He causes me enough problems without having him stuck to me permanently.”
“Is it possible it was cast elsewhere?” Hermione asks Penelope. “Is there a chance it wasn't even cast today?”
“There's every chance.” Penelope nods. “It's faint, which could either indicate it's a weak spell, or that it’s been dormant and is only now starting to show itself — though that kind of thing is very rare — but even that much is speculation right now. All I can say at this stage is that there is some sort of bonding magic intertwined with Harry’s, and as he doesn't know when it was cast or to whom he is bonded, we need to monitor this very closely.”
Harry slumps further down into his pillows. “I’m bonded to somebody,” he says miserably. Suddenly, his boring Friday night alone seems a lot more appealing.
“Most likely,” Penelope agrees. “Again, we need to determine what kind of bond this is, but the good news is that your symptoms are mild for any bonding spell. You should consider yourself lucky it’s been nothing more than a fainting episode.”
Harry isn’t feeling particularly lucky, and the looks on both Hermione’s and Blaise’s faces indicate that they share his feelings. “And if it gets worse?” he asks. “If you can’t work out what it is?”
“Then we will need to track down either the person you're bonded to, so the spell will settle and we can work on it in a contained environment, or we find the person who cast it so they can remove it.”
She doesn’t need to say it, but the look on her face tells Harry all he needs to know — neither of those options are likely when they have no starting point.
“I’ll be writing a Healer’s Recommendation that you be given the next week off work and owling it to Head Auror Clemens,” Penelope continues. She holds her hands up as Harry starts to protest. “Just until we sort this out, Harry. We don’t know how serious it is, so I’d like you to come in each day so I can assess you. Ideally, we’ll resolve it much faster than a week, but I want to be sure we have enough time. Also, when you’re not here, I’d recommend staying with someone else, just as a precaution. With Hermione and Ron maybe?” she asks Hermione.
“Of course,” Hermione agrees. “You can stay as long as you need, Harry.”
Harry runs both his hands over his face in frustration, his beard scratching his palms.
“It was an abandoned Muggle shithole and you still managed to end up completely fucked, Potter,” Blaise says, clapping him on the shoulder. “You never fail to make me eternally grateful I'm not you.”
Harry looks up to glare at him, but Blaise is smirking and Harry can’t muster the energy. “I have to go,” Blaise announces. “Now that you’re not dying or anything else equally terrible on my watch, it seems like a good time to go. Owl me if you want.”
He says it nonchalantly, but Harry knows he wants to make sure Harry is okay.
“Here’s hoping you enjoy your night more than I’ve enjoyed mine,” Harry grumbles.
Blaise chuckles. “No doubt I will. I might Floo Draco and see if he wants to come out. We’ll see what happens.”
He’s gone a moment later with an elegant swirl of his robes, but Harry can’t focus on anything around him because the itching is getting worse and it’s driving him completely mad.
“Harry,” Hermione says. He feels her touch his arm again but it barely registers. “What is it?”
He drags his nails over his skin but it doesn’t help. The itching is so persistent. “I need— ” He swings his legs off the bed. He should follow Blaise, that's what he should do. “I need to go,” he says earnestly.
“Go where?” Penelope asks, moving close to him, her wand alight with a diagnostic charm. “Are you feeling compelled to follow Blaise, Harry?”
“Yes,” Harry says, but he knows that's not right as soon as he says it. “No. I—” He's confused. He tries to push off the bed. Hermione is holding onto his arm to stop him moving. “I need to go,” he says again. He can hear the urgency in his own voice and he doesn’t know how to get them to understand. “With him. Blaise. Not with him, but that way. I don't know.” He groans. It feels as though he's going mad. His magic, his body — all of it is trying to pull him, to make him get up and move, but Penelope and Hermione won’t let him.
“Harry,” Hermione says again, her voice strained with worry. “Harry, do you need to follow Blaise because he's going to see Draco?”
And the itching erupts further. It's everywhere, completely out of control and Harry needs to move, to follow, to go with Blaise now. It’s the only thing that will help, that will settle his magic and this feeling, he has to go, needs to go, because that's where…
“Yes,” he manages, realising what Hermione has said, what he needs, and it makes so much sense. Of course that's where he needs to go. “Malfoy,” he says, trying to push his way off the bed again. “I need to see Malfoy right now.”