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Forgive Those Who Trespass

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Chapter One—What Heroes Do

“You understand, don’t you, mate?” Ron’s eyes were anxious, and he was hovering. He might not call it hovering, but Harry knew that was what it was. Already, Ron had knocked several quills, one inkwell, and the latest “practice report” off Harry’s desk as he fidgeted about.

“I do,” Harry said. He smiled, hoping that would reassure Ron. Ron only looked more nervous. Harry finally snorted and shook his head. “It’s not as though it’s a hard concept, Ron. You’re bored with Auror training. The Department of Mysteries sounds more interesting and pays more. And Hermione’s going there.” He winked at his friend.

Ron flushed. “That had nothing to do with it.”

Harry rolled his eyes. Ron had made many strides in his relationship with Hermione, except what should have been the most obvious one: admitting it existed. “Of course it didn’t,” he said. “Really, Ron, I’ll be all right. I’m staying in Auror training because what Hermione described doesn’t sound interesting to me. But we’ll still work together in the Ministry, and I’ll see you from time to time. Why should this have any effect on our friendship?”

“Well. Er.” Ron scratched the back of his neck. “Unspeakables aren’t allowed to talk about what they do—“

“That’s why they call them Unspeakables, I know.” Harry had become tired of that joke the first day in Auror training, during the introductory lectures, but he managed to sound gently teasing instead of exasperated now. He raised an eyebrow at Ron. “Do what you need to do. I’ll be right here whenever you deign to notice me, a lowly Auror slobbering over the chance to talk to a mighty Unspeakable.”

“I didn’t mean it like that—“

Harry stepped around the desk and clasped Ron’s shoulders. He and Ron had avoided touching as much as they might have lately; the revelation of Harry’s sexual orientation had unsettled everyone in the Weasley family at first, and Ron still sometimes looked doubtfully at Harry, as if he expected him to show an uncontrollable desire to hump Ron’s leg. It was the only way to get the truth through that thick skull in this case, though. “Ron. I’ll be fine. I promise. Will I be lonely? Yes. Do I think you’re mad for starting another course of training when you’ve already spent a year in the Auror program? Yes. Will there be barriers between us? Undoubtedly. But it’s nothing our friendship can’t survive. We’ve faced evil lockets together, Ron. How many other friends can say that?”

That worked, at least. By the end of Harry’s speech, Ron’s face had lost its tight lines, and he was grinning. He slapped Harry on the back. “How could I have forgotten?” he said. “Whatever Hermione and I deal with in the Department of Mysteries, it couldn’t compare to evil lockets.” He paused reflectively. “Certain you won’t come yourself?”

Harry laughed. “Certain.” The Department of Mysteries, which had been reserved enough to suffer the least infiltration during Voldemort’s control of the Ministry, had still lost some of its members to the trials that followed Shacklebolt’s election as Minister, and was advertising for new Unspeakable trainees. They tried to make it sound exciting, but as far as Harry could tell, it was still three-quarters sitting behind a desk to one-quarter being out in the field examining dangerous magical objects. And he had to have excitement in his life. The promise he had made to himself after repairing his wand to stay out of trouble turned out to be strictly temporary.

Ron nodded. “Then I reckon we’ll see you around.” He hesitated. Harry blinked, wondering what was happening behind his friend’s clenched jaw and rapidly fluttering eyelids.

And then Ron grabbed him in a rough hug, the only time he had done something like that for months now. Harry sighed and returned it, feeling a tension he hadn’t known he still carried relax.

The door to his office opened, and Hermione popped her head in. She only sniffed when she saw them hugging and muttered something that sounded like, “About time.” Then she looked at Harry. “We’re going to a pub to celebrate tonight, Harry. Want to come?”

“I’d love to,” Harry said. “But there’s that theoretical exam in Tracking and Stealth tomorrow—you know, the one you lucky bastards are walking away from—and I have to study for it.” Gently, he let Ron go.

Hermione huffed and crossed her arms. “You do realize that you’re unlikely to meet people unless you go out, right?”

“I don’t want to ‘meet people.’” Harry stared back at her.

“Harry, if you would just—“

Leave it, Hermione.”

“Yeah, leave it,” said Ron, strolling over to give Hermione a kiss on the cheek. Behind her back, he directed a look of pity at Harry, and then started to pull his fiancée out the door. “If a bloke doesn’t want to go out, then he doesn’t have to go out.”

“Ron, I just think—“

But the door shut behind them then, and Harry was free to squash the thoughts that tried to rise to the surface of his mind. He really did have an exam tomorrow, and Auror Gillyflower aspired to follow in Snape’s boots by showing that she was unimpressed with Harry’s name. Harry knew he would get the hardest questions. He didn’t know the material that well.

He dived into reading the book, and the thoughts were successfully squashed.

*

Of course, when he got home to his flat that evening, they were waiting for him. Harry still wasn’t used to walking into a room without the sound of someone else moving around, without a warm scent that decorated the chairs and the pillows, and without a voice that responded to his arrival.

“Maybe I should get a Crup,” he muttered.

His flat was a pleasant enough place, with a drawing room that Hermione had helped him decorate in Gryffindor colors, a kitchen big enough to prepare indifferent meals, a loo that Harry kept clean because he didn’t have enough else to do, and a single bedroom. But it was nothing compared to the flat he’d shared with Ginny, which had had two bedrooms, an extra room to entertain company, and—that indefinable something else that came from someone else living there.

Harry fetched a bottle of butterbeer from the enchanted icebox and wandered into the drawing room. Its two couches and two chairs faced inward to a broad oak table, on which his books were piled. He could have got a wizarding telly that would work even in the midst of all the magic, but he had found himself more inclined to stare into space than pay attention to any diversion.

He sat down in the most comfortable chair now and did it some more.

Hermione just didn’t understand. Harry didn’t want to be gay. He had admitted it because he didn’t want to lie, either. Pretending to Ginny that they could have a future as a couple when he didn’t love her sexually would have been cruel.

On the other hand, he wasn’t proud of it, and he resented Hermione’s constant suggestions that he should be. Who would actually choose to be bent, if it was a choice? No one, that’s who.

Harry took a moody sip of his butterbeer and closed his eyes.

There were other reasons he didn’t want to go out and please Hermione by chatting up blokes. Not many people knew about his orientation right now. The moment they did, he would have to deal with constant unwanted advances and the papers speculating why this had happened.

And he still hoped—

Hermione would scold me so much if she knew about this

He still hoped that, if he didn’t have sex with other men, he wasn’t actually gay. People who were bent slept with other people of the same sex, didn’t they? At least, every definition Harry could find said so. So there was always the chance that, if he could just refrain long enough, he would start finding women attractive again. It hadn’t happened so far, but it was only a few months since he broke up with Ginny. Give it time. He hadn’t thought Ron would hug him again so soon, either.

Hermione didn’t understand his attitude. Well. Let her not understand, then. Harry would almost have liked to see her suddenly decide she liked girls and deal with that, except that he wouldn’t wish this misery on anyone.

He finished the butterbeer and resisted the temptation to get another. He wanted to look over the exam material one more time. No one could say that he wasn’t being responsible and steady now. Discovering he was gay hadn’t turned him into a voracious sexual appetite on two legs, constantly flitting from one man to another.

It never will, he promised himself, and then flicked his wand to Summon the book from the satchel he’d carried home from work.

*

Harry took a deep breath as he stepped out of the room set aside for the theoretical exams. Another nervous bunch of trainees, participating in an exam on Potions from the notes Harry glimpsed, promptly began to shuffle past him. He let them go, relieved to no longer be in their place.

He’d survived. And he had no doubt that he was going to get passing marks. He’d finally divined the often twisty way that Auror Gillyflower’s mind worked. Every question he’d studied for, including uncommon twists to common situations, was on the exam. Harry had still been the last to finish, but he had finished with a slight, confident smile.

Gillyflower stepped past him now, giving him a narrow-eyed look of dislike. Harry raised an eyebrow at her. She huffed and pushed her way irritably up the corridor, visible at once from a distance by the pinned-together sleeve that covered the remains of her right arm. She’d lost it fighting the Carrows in a battle that occurred before they were assigned to be “professors” at Hogwarts.

Harry shuddered as his own memories of Amycus and Alecto Carrow came back to him. Then he shook his head briskly. He was an Auror now, and Aurors were only expected to save individual people, not the world.

He did wonder who he would be partnered with when he finished the exams. He, Ron, and Hermione had always planned to show how well they functioned together as a triad unit, and demand to be assigned together. But the answer to that question was still two years away. No one, not even Shacklebolt, had argued that the training should be sped up simply because Harry was the Chosen One.

Harry wandered back towards his office, yawning now and then; he really had stayed up later than he should have last night studying for that exam. On the other hand, now he could relax and go home if he wanted. There were no other exams he had to participate in today.

He met Mr. Weasley just as he reached his office. Harry smiled. Mr. Weasley had been the one to accept Harry’s changed sexual orientation the most easily; it seemed he had never really entertained his wife’s hopes that Harry would become part of the Weasley family by marrying Ginny.

“Arthur.” Harry still stumbled on the name sometimes, but Arthur had insisted that, with so many grown sons, he couldn’t be “Mr. Weasley” in public any longer, as no one would know who the name meant. “What can I do for you?” Perhaps it was another invitation to dinner at the Burrow. Harry accepted those happily, even though it meant making uncomfortable eye contact with Ginny across the table. Mrs. Weasley’s cooking remained superb, and Harry knew it gave her comfort to have as many chairs filled as possible, so she didn’t have to notice the one seat that always remained empty.

“Harry.” Mr. Weasley’s voice was so sharp that Harry lost his smile immediately. “No one’s told you about Ron and Hermione?” He nodded at the door to his office, to signify that Harry should open it.

Harry swallowed, and wished that would actually cure a dry mouth and a throat suddenly tight with fear. “No,” he said, tapping his wand to remove the wards. Mr. Weasley followed right on his heels, relieving Harry of the need to give an invitation. He took the sole chair without seeming to notice what he was doing, leaving Harry to sit on the desk. “What happened?” Any number of horrible scenarios raced through his head, from a magical accident in the Department of Mysteries to sudden imprisonment in Azkaban for using illegal spells during the war.

“They’ve—gone.” Mr. Weasley was twisting his hands and staring at the floor. The sight gave Harry the strength to reach out and place a hand on his shoulder.

If someone else is hurting, it’s up to me to do something about it.

“What do you mean, gone?” he asked quietly. He wouldn’t have thought that he could be this calm, since he might be receiving news of his friends’ deaths, but his mind had put up a barrier against the thought of it being actual death. Somehow, he couldn’t comprehend that.

“They joined the Department of Mysteries yesterday,” Mr. Weasley said. A desperate sob worked its way up his throat. Harry shifted closer, so that he was holding both the man’s shoulders. “There was a mandatory meeting last night for all the new recruits. And the Unspeakables have been recruiting heavily in other Departments, so there were quite a few people there. And then—“

“Something happened?” Harry whispered, the visions of magical accidents returning to him.

“We don’t know what happened.” Mr. Weasley produced a handkerchief and blew his nose. “We only know that no one can reach the Department of Mysteries now. Any lift we try to take won’t go lower than the eighth floor. A few people have tried the staircases, and the steps simply cease to exist below the Atrium.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “What about sending a Patronus to someone in the Department of Mysteries? Or an owl?”

“Both of them return baffled.” Mr. Weasley shook his head. “There have been numerous other spells tried: Summoning Charms directed at people who were there, any number of unlocking spells, Finite Incantatem, and the use of a few artifacts which are supposed to dispel magic that goes wrong. Nothing works. I don’t know what’s happened to my son or Hermione, and I—“ He reached up and clasped one of Harry’s hands. “I thought you would want to know as soon as possible, since you were in an exam when it was discovered.”

Harry nodded. He was responding both to Mr. Weasley’s words and the unspoken plea he could hear hidden behind them. Please save Ron and Hermione if you can. And of course Harry could do no less. What was a hero for, if he couldn’t save his best friends from a mysterious curse?

“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “And I’ll go to Minister Shacklebolt for help, instead of jumping blindly into this.” There were times it paid to have known the current Minister as a member of the Order of the Phoenix.

*

It didn’t take Harry long to learn that the Ministry planned to do exactly nothing.

Possible reports that could have made it to the Daily Prophet were suppressed. Most members of other Departments refused to talk about the situation when Harry asked them. Overnight, the maps throughout the Ministry that directed visitors were redone, so that now the Department of Mysteries and, indeed, anything lower than the eighth floor appeared never to have existed.

Harry grew first incredulous, then angry, then enraged. When he finally managed to send an owl to Shacklebolt, demanding an explanation, he received a terse letter in return.

Dear Harry:

I’m sorry, but nothing can be done. If the public knew about the situation, there would undoubtedly be a panic. And after the mess that Fudge and Scrimgeour left the Ministry in, the last thing we need is the inference that we can’t control our own Departments. I plan to resolve this as swiftly as possible. Rest assured, I’m working around the clock with experts on all sorts of magical disasters. But nothing can be done for right now.

Minister Shacklebolt.

About that time was when Harry decided that heroes also didn’t sit around waiting for other people to rescue their friends.

*

Harry patted the satchel slung on his left shoulder. He’d never been so grateful that he’d made Hermione teach him that spell she’d used during the year of the war, the one that could enlarge the inside of a bag until it contained an unlimited number of supplies. He had a good store of food—he wouldn’t trust anything he found to eat in the Department of Mysteries—several changes of clothes, a Foe-Glass, a Sneakoscope, a notebook containing the most useful practical suggestions he’d picked up during Auror training, several photographs of Ron and Hermione that he could use in tracking spells, an owl feather he could Transfigure into an owl during an emergency, a series of blankets to cushion his sleep, cooking pots, a few stones to construct temporary hearths, his Invisibility Cloak, and a few other magical artifacts he’d acquired during the last year that might prove useful.

He’d thought about bringing the Elder Wand. Could he really hold back on anything that would allow him to rescue his friends? And then he’d thought of what might happen if someone in the Department of Mysteries overcame him and stole the Elder Wand.

No. He had his wand of holly and phoenix feather tucked in his belt, and that would have to do.

He stood, now, at the top of the last flight of stairs leading down to the Department of Mysteries. He hadn’t bothered with the lifts; he was certain that they bore spells to tell the Minister and any of his interfering busybodies if someone tried to access the ninth floor.

Only a few more steps into the unknown.

Harry took a deep breath and fixed Ron and Hermione’s faces in the forefront of his mind. He was doing this for them. If he didn’t go after them, who would? And maybe the Minister would find a solution in time, but maybe he wouldn’t. Harry couldn’t trust to authority. If he had, he would never have made many of his most important discoveries, and would certainly not have won the war. People like McGonagall and the adults in the Order had done their best to keep him out of things for as long as they could. It only resulted in disaster.

He took the few steps down.

At once the air in front of him turned thick and misty. Harry found it hard to breathe, as if he stood in the presence of Dementors.

He wondered for a moment if Dementors really could have taken over the Department, but then, the Patronuses people in the upper floors kept trying to use would have had some effect. Besides, this mist was warm, like steam in a tropical jungle, not the deadly cold Harry associated with Dementors.

He cast a Bubble-Head Charm on himself and forged forwards. The steps beneath his feet became progressively harder, and then impossible, to see. At last, his feeling foot found nothing but empty space. Harry cursed softly and paused for a moment.

Nothing for it.

He cast a Feather-Light Charm on himself and leaped.

For long moments, he drifted downwards, past snaking tendrils of what he could only hope was mist and not some kind of grasping vine. He could hear his own breath coming in hoarse, panicked near-shrieks. He had never realized how hard it would be to simply fall, without a broom beneath him and with dozens of possibilities as to how the fall might end.

And then, before he was ready for it, a floor crunched under his feet. Harry dropped into a crouch; old, dimly-remembered advice told him that trying to lock his knees and land upright was a good recipe for shattering his legs. Pain ricocheted through his body, quickly turning into numbness, but at least nothing seemed broken.

Harry still kept quiet, breathing, for long moments before he looked up.

Above him was a vast, empty void of space, as black as the ceiling of a cavern. Harry couldn’t see a sign of the stairs. He cast a Lumos Charm, then a stronger spell that Aurors used to scout crime scenes at night, which cast a floating ball of light in front of him. Still nothing looked back from the frozen night above. Harry frowned and turned to regard the vista in front of him.

A vast, broad corridor, paved in gray stone and with sturdy rock walls that could put some of Hogwarts’ to shame, led away to the east. Small, spinning blue flames rose from cracks between the stones here and there. They dissipated quickly, but Harry didn’t like the look of them anyway. Visible tendrils of mist swayed back and forth above head-height. At the far end of the corridor was a curve, with a blaze of white light beyond it.

When in doubt, go forwards.

He did, leaping now and then to avoid the silent flames. They never touched him, and he wanted to keep it that way. The corridor was even broader than he’d thought, big enough for the dragon they’d ridden out of Gringotts to pass through without ducking. Harry rubbed his arms and tried to convince himself that there was a chill to the air after all, and that he wasn’t getting gooseflesh out of fear.

The blaze of white light grew steadily brighter as Harry neared, but in the end it was no worse than a sunny day outside; only the blue-lit darkness of the tunnel made it seem so radiant by contrast, Harry thought. He squinted cautiously through the open door for a moment.

He thought he made out the silhouette of a human figure sitting with its knees drawn up and its head bowed over them.

Harry licked his lips and tried to recall all the theoretical expertise on Tracking and Stealth he’d just gained. Or would practical advice be more feasible, at this point? Any way you sliced it, he knew he wasn’t supposed to simply charge in—hard though that was when he thought this person might be Ron, Hermione, or one of the enemies responsible for their disappearance.

He cast a few charms, one that would dull the sound of his feet and one to lessen the feeling of contact if he accidentally brushed against the person. Then he lowered his satchel, fumbled for a moment, and pulled out his Invisibility Cloak. Arranged carefully, it would just about cover him and his baggage.

He edged in cautiously nevertheless, trying not to disturb the dust scattered on the floor of the room too obviously. The figure never looked up, but Harry still paused a good ten feet away from it and cast several detection spells to reveal traps. There were none to be found.

That didn’t reassure him.

He still couldn’t make out the source of the light, except that it seemed to come from somewhere further away in the roughly triangular room, and higher up the wall. As long as it hadn’t made him miss something in the floor or air, Harry decided he wouldn’t care about its origin for right now.

Closer, and closer. He could make out the emaciated state of the figure, and the fact that the hair spilling over its hunched shoulders and bowed face was pale. Naturally blond? Or had it gone white with whatever tortures he’d been forced to endure? Having seen the enormous chain that was locked around one leg, Harry was less inclined to the view that he’d been someone performing those tortures.

He went too fast in his eagerness, and his foot scuffed sharply. With a gasp, the prisoner flung up his head and stared wildly around the room.

Harry’s stomach dropped.

What the fuck was Draco Malfoy doing here?

Chapter Text

Chapter Two—The Mute Malfoy

Harry was glad that he had the Invisibility Cloak over him, because all he did for several seconds was stare like an idiot, and Malfoy would surely have made fun of that if he could have seen Harry.

Malfoy had, so far as anyone else knew, vanished a year ago. His family had steadily been losing prestige and money, as they spent Galleons like water to keep Lucius and Narcissa out of prison. When Draco went missing, everyone had assumed—and Harry had had no reason to think differently—that he simply couldn’t take his loss of status anymore and fled Britain. Random sightings of him from time to time in other countries confirmed that.

And now—

He had to have been here for at least a year, Harry thought, eyeing the way Malfoy’s skin hung on him like a Muggle sack for carrying food. The clothes he wore weren’t that old, but Harry had begun to learn from his instructors what the victims of long-term abuse looked like. Malfoy had spent a lot of time in the care of someone who didn’t like him, or at least didn’t treat him particularly well.

His hair was dull and lusterless. His face was coated with old, worked-in grime. His rolling eyes had a lack of sense in them that made Harry fear he might actually be mad. Since Malfoy was the only possible source of information he’d found so far on what had happened to Ron and Hermione, he hoped not.

But no, he’d started when Harry made that sound, hadn’t he? And he’d looked in more or less the right direction. That suggested he still noticed the world around him, and still managed to connect cause and effect. Both good signs.

Harry doubted he would get much more information just from observation of Malfoy, unless he could walk behind him and study how the chain cut into his flesh—but with Malfoy’s back against the wall, there was no chance of that. He would have to chance this being a trap. With a deep breath for strength, he pulled the Cloak from over his head.

Malfoy’s stare oriented on him at once. Harry waited, wondering what the reaction would be. Would he doubt his eyes? Call for help? Sneer at Harry and demand to know why he hadn’t been rescued earlier?

Malfoy began to tremble instead. He shut his eyes, shaking his head, but that didn’t dam the flood of tears from them. He stretched out a pleading hand to Harry, and his mouth formed the shapes of whispered words. They might have been help me, but Harry wasn’t entirely sure, as he was too busy staring at the extended hand.

The fingers were just—not there anymore. All of them were stumps. It looked as though someone had cut them off near the knuckle and sealed the wounds with utterly bloodless magic, leaving smooth, rounded protrusions behind.

In horror and pity, Harry looked at Malfoy’s face. He had already crouched down, though he wasn’t sure if that was a strategic move to bring his eyes to the same level as Malfoy’s or just his legs giving up their strength. “My God, Malfoy,” he whispered. “What happened to you? Why did they do this?”

Malfoy gave him a sharp look, and slapped his tongue against his teeth. Harry concentrated, wondering if he’d lost his voice through screaming, and then realized that no sound was coming out of the other man’s mouth at all. Not even his tongue could click; he ground his teeth together, and they were silent. Someone must have placed a powerful Silencing Charm on him.

Harry lifted his wand—and he didn’t miss the hungry way Malfoy’s gaze followed it. “Finite Incantatem!”

The chain around Malfoy’s leg let out a weak blue spark, and Harry thought the links dulled a little. The robes lost a faint shimmer of magic that had hung around them, and Malfoy began to shiver; Harry thought he had just ended a charm that kept him warm. But Malfoy simply shook his head and flapped his tongue again to show that he still couldn’t speak.

And Harry thought he knew, now, why Malfoy’s captors had rounded off his fingers like that. Partially so he couldn’t write to communicate, either, and partially so that he couldn’t hold a wand to reverse his own silence.

“Can you wield a wand?” Harry asked, extending his to Malfoy. He could practically hear Auror Gillyflower scolding him in his head, and Hermione joined her. Never help someone who could potentially be an enemy!

But this…Harry really didn’t think Malfoy would have gone through this just to set up a trap. No one could have known that Harry had come down, for one thing. And for another, Harry had no proof that any of this was deliberate. The Unspeakables’ torture of Malfoy must be, but would they have sealed their Department after them? It still could have been a magical accident.

Malfoy just gave him a longing look, though, and shook his head. He motioned from Harry’s wand to his eyes and back again several times before Harry understood what he was asking.

“No. Sorry. I’m pants at Legilimency.” This was the first time Harry had ever wished that wasn’t true. He had always enjoyed the fact that he couldn’t summon up the will to invade another human being’s mind, but at the moment it would have been damned useful and he sensed that Malfoy would have welcomed it.

Malfoy gave him a frustrated look, as much to say, What good are you? Then he sat up with a patient expression, and took a deep breath. Harry could see his chest inflating even if he couldn’t hear him breathing. He knew what that meant. Malfoy was committed to getting the truth across to him, in whatever form he needed to do it and however long it took.

Harry chuckled to himself. He should have found Malfoy’s arrogant attitude off-putting, but after what the poor bastard had suffered…he simply couldn’t.

“Do you know what happened here?” he asked quietly.

Malfoy nodded at once, his eyes narrow and assessing. He didn’t volunteer anything else, though, and Harry reckoned he probably couldn’t. What had happened was likely a magical accident so theoretical that Hermione would have a hard time understanding it. Harry would have to proceed to the heart of the matter by simple questions.

But there was something he had to ask first, because his heart demanded that he do so.

“Have you seen Ron or Hermione?”

Malfoy blinked at him, his eyes widening with something that looked like bafflement, before he shook his head once.

“Did you know that they’d come down here?”

Another head-shake.

Harry cursed softly to himself. Malfoy probably had some information, then, but it could hardly be complete, if he didn’t know about the Unspeakables’ most recent recruitment efforts. On the other hand, maybe if Harry told him about the symptoms of the disaster, he’d be able to recognize something he’d heard his captors discussing.

“Ron and Hermione were both recruited to become part of the Department of Mysteries,” he said, staring into Malfoy’s face. He reflected for a moment how odd it felt, to be having a serious discussion not peppered with insults with this particular man, but then discarded the idea. The only reason it was possible was because of Malfoy’s inability to speak. He’d be throwing insults about Harry’s lack of taste in clothes and sneering at Hermione’s heritage otherwise. Harry felt irritation rising in him, and pushed it away with a sharp shake of his head, which Malfoy watched curiously. “The Unspeakables have been calling anyone who’s interested to them, in fact, for a good while now. And then—two days ago now, it was, the Ministry lost all access to this floor. The lifts wouldn’t travel to it, the stairs wouldn’t lead to it, and the Minister and all his cronies are doing their very best to pretend that nothing is wrong, so that the public doesn’t panic.” He licked his lips, tasting salt and bitterness.

Malfoy pointed at Harry with two blunt stumps and raised his eyebrows.

“I went to the end of the stairs and jumped.” Harry shrugged.

Malfoy gave him a long, complex look with so many emotions packed into it Harry couldn’t hope to identify them all, but he could read the general gist of it anyway.

“No one else was doing anything!” he snapped. “I couldn’t let Ron and Hermione rot down here when I had a chance of rescuing them.”

Malfoy clapped a fist to his chest.

Harry blinked. “Of course I’ll rescue you, too,” he said. “But no one knew you were here. As far as the world above knows, you went abroad a year ago. Some people even encountered you in other countries, supposedly.”

When he saw the way Malfoy’s face paled, Harry winced and wished he had found some way of introducing the news more gently. But then, how was to know that Malfoy didn’t already realize that? He had no idea what Malfoy’s experiences had been like here, what he might have thought of passing time or what the Unspeakables had told him.

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Malfoy looked at him. There was a drawn hollowness to his face that made Harry decide to keep a sharper eye on him. He had no guarantee that Malfoy would help him, now that he knew Harry’s intentions were to delve deeper into the Department of Mysteries. He might want to go up the staircase immediately. And really, after a year of captivity, he had the right.

Harry did intend to get all the information he could out of Malfoy first, though.

“That’s why I need to know everything you know about what happened,” Harry said, softening his voice now. “To the rest of the world, this looks like something the Department of Mysteries controlled and did on purpose. All attempts at communication with people behind the magical barrier failed. And I have to admit, I don’t think the geography of the tunnel outside is all natural.” He looked up at the corner of the room from which the sunlight-brightness came, squinting. “This isn’t either, is it?”

Malfoy shook his head one more time. He was sitting bolt upright now, with his hands clasped in his lap. Harry wondered what that meant.

“So.” Harry shifted, stretching his legs out in front of him. He had no idea of how long this conversation might take, and he wanted to be comfortable while he had it. “What happened to you here?”

Malfoy touched the chain on his leg, tapped his tongue against his teeth, and extended his fingerless hands. Then he hesitated. Harry waited. He couldn’t force Malfoy to reveal anything. Maybe he was lying. But the best way to get him to tell the truth would be to show patience and a willingness to let him “speak” at his own pace, which Harry knew worked well with nervous witnesses to crimes.

After several dozen heartbeats, Malfoy seemed to decide he had nothing to lose. He shrugged and shifted about, clanking the chain and curling his hands into odd shapes as he dragged the upper part of the robe over his head. Harry could see now that the garment had been cut in half, more like a shirt and trousers than robes, though it still resembled ordinary wizarding clothing to someone who wasn’t looking closely.

And then Harry’s attention switched from Malfoy’s clothes to Malfoy’s skin, and he couldn’t think of one damned thing to say.

The skin hung slack on his torso, as on his arms, but it was also covered with scars. Harry could make out the faint white lines of old injuries and the fresher pink of wounds barely healed. One enormous scar encircled his heart; Harry didn’t know how he could have survived such a wound. And there was a ridged, waxy-looking area near his navel that Harry knew from experience to be the result of a burn.

Malfoy visibly swallowed. Then he reached out, clasped Harry’s wrist—Harry shivered at the unfamiliar sensation of fingers that couldn’t curl all the way around his hand—and drew him in until Harry was touching his ribs. Harry ignored both his own pity and the unwashed smell that hung faintly but persistently around Malfoy, since the other man seemed intent on having Harry count his ribs.

Harry could find only two on the left side and only one on the right. His fingers after that sank into puffy skin that felt too much like fungus for his taste, and made him want to jerk back. He didn’t, though, reminding himself that this was probably the first friendly touch Malfoy had felt in a year.

“How is that possible?” he asked quietly, staring into Malfoy’s eyes. “How did you survive when they removed most of your ribs?”

Malfoy shrugged and shut his eyes, his expression infinitely weary. Of course, Harry knew the answer in general, if he didn’t know it specifically. Magic.

Harry shivered. He hated to ask the next question, but it might be a way into the more general mystery of what had happened to Malfoy, and to Ron and Hermione, and to the Department. “Do you—do you know what they used your ribs for?”

Oh, yes. Malfoy’s lips formed the soundless words with a vengeance, and then he said something else silently, but so fast Harry lost the sense of it. He waited until Malfoy was done, then shook his head.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not good at lip reading.”

Malfoy clenched his fists and probably growled under his breath, all but telling Harry that someone more useful and with talents more appropriate to the situation should have come instead. Harry’s hand still remained on his torso, though, and he only needed to move his fingers to remember that Malfoy was probably impatient because of his suffering.

“Just tell me slowly, all right?” Harry murmured, when Malfoy had relaxed enough to glare at him instead of trying to speak. “Maybe I can understand if you emphasize each word.”

Malfoy stretched his lips out grotesquely as he began the sentence, which Harry had to smile at. After that, he watched intently, but still only got one word in every four or five that Malfoy was trying to show him—especially when Malfoy got caught in his own story and started to speed up.

Unspeakables…research…think they… discovered… depends… rituals… mutilation… killing…truth…

Harry sighed and held up a hand at last. “Maybe we should do this one word at a time,” he said. “What did they seek when they took out your ribs? Did you ever hear them talking about it?”

Malfoy quite clearly said, Immortality.

“Not again,” Harry said. “Doesn’t anyone learn from Voldemort?”

Malfoy blinked.

“Never mind,” Harry said hastily. “Figure of speech.” He didn’t want to mention anything about the Horcruxes, especially since the Unspeakables could still be listening and Horcruxes would probably turn out to be the one route to immortality they hadn’t tried. “And you’re sure about who did this to you?”

Unspeakables. Malfoy flexed one hand out, which reminded Harry irresistibly of a lobster’s claw grasping after food.

Harry nodded. “All right.” He rubbed his sweating hands on his knees. Maybe it was silly of him, but he simply couldn’t keep touching Malfoy’s soft, spongy flesh where bone should have been. “Do you know why they kidnapped and used you, specifically? Did you have something they wanted? Did they ever talk about why they captured you?”

A headshake answered every question. Harry frowned. “Then I reckon we have to assume for now they wanted someone they could use, and that you happened to be the best, or the only, candidate they could snatch on short notice. Until we run into something or someone that can tell us otherwise.”

He sat in thought for a moment, wondering what the next question should be. Perhaps there was only one that mattered, though, based on Malfoy’s reactions so far, Harry thought he already knew the answer. “You don’t know anything about what lies further on? Behind you, further into the Department of Mysteries?”

An even more emphatic headshake this time.

“I thought not,” Harry muttered. He racked his brains again. Hermione would undoubtedly think of all kinds of intriguing and important questions to ask, but Harry wasn’t her. He felt an intense stab of loneliness and fought it away. He couldn’t allow it to damage his priorities. He was going to find Ron and Hermione and get them out. That was what he did.

But he had another person to rescue, first.

“Come on,” he told Malfoy, and stood. “I’ll get that chain off you, and then I can take you back to the staircase. It won’t be easy to get through the mist, I know, but we can at least try. And then you’ll be among people who can start doing their best to heal and cure you. Show them you can’t talk right away; it will save lots of—“

He stopped, because Malfoy was shaking his head so hard that his hair whipped around his cheeks. Harry frowned. “What’s the matter? You can’t tell me that you want to sit here and think. A year underground doesn’t make anyone that philosophical.”

He received a look of painful longing, which made him think that Malfoy missed the sun with a force Harry couldn’t even understand. But then Malfoy pointed to Harry’s wand, to himself, and to Harry again.

“I won’t come back with you, no. My friends need me.”

That resulted in more pointing.

“You—want to come with me?” Harry stared at him. Malfoy was a coward and a Slytherin. Neither one volunteered to walk into danger. “It’ll hardly be a picnic, you realize. I expect the Unspeakables who took out your ribs and your fingers and your voice to be after me. Or, if they aren’t, then whatever magical accident cut them off from the Ministry will be. And that might be even more dangerous. Magic without anyone to control it.”

Malfoy glared at him, folded his arms, and sat back on his heels. This message was clear: unless Harry gratified him by taking him along, he wouldn’t move, even if the chain was shattered.

Harry eyed him thoughtfully, and especially the way that the skin hung slack over the muscles. Malfoy had been no weakling, the last time Harry had faced him in the Room of Hidden Things, but that didn’t mean he was strong now. He might even be overestimating his own strength, since he wouldn’t have spent much time running about while the Unspeakables had hold of him. “You’re certain you can keep up?”

A look he recognized in the original crossed Malfoy’s face, even before he nodded. He’d seen it often enough at school. Anything you can do, I can do, Potter.

“I have food that can get you back on your feet,” Harry said. “But I don’t have time to nurse you every step of the way. Unless you’re absolutely sure, it would be better for everyone involved to send you back up the stairs.”

Sure, Malfoy mouthed.

Harry spent some more time studying Malfoy. A fire burned in his eyes that hadn’t appeared once throughout this long and painful conversation. Maybe Malfoy didn’t want anything more than revenge on his captors, but still, that was something Harry understood, something that he might have delayed his own escape for. Or maybe he had made friends with someone else among the Unspeakables’ prisoners—he couldn’t have been the only one—and wanted to rescue them, too.

“All right, then,” Harry said, with a small nod of his head. “Hold still.” He aimed his wand at the chain. “Relashio!”

The incantation should have made the chain around Malfoy release its hold, or perhaps dulled its luster a little more; since Harry’s Finite hadn’t destroyed it completely, he knew its magic must be more resistant than normal.

He did not expect the explosion of white light that rebounded from the chain and hit him, landing him flat on his back.

Harry gasped for breath, and then smelled singing flesh and realized it was his own. He rolled over twice, smothering the flames that were creeping up the front of his robe. He heard a sharp clank as Malfoy tried to reach after him and was brought up short by the chain.

“I’m all right,” Harry murmured, though he winced when his hand probed the tender flesh on his chest. Luckily, he knew a minor healing charm that would numb the area, if not take away the pain permanently. “And I’m stupid.” He turned around and stared at the chain again. “I don’t suppose you know anything about the protections the chain has?”

Malfoy grimaced and shook his head. Harry shrugged to let him know it was understandable; his mind had already grasped hold of an idea that he remembered, dimly, from a lecture on Transfiguration he’d had six months ago.

Sometimes, Auror Donaldson, who had blond hair even fussier than Malfoy’s and a high-pitched, nearly squeaking voice, had said, a murderer will Transfigure the body of his victim in order to hide his crime. However, the object will not react to various ordinary spells as a non-enchanted object should. For example, trying to Levitate a table that was once a corpse usually results in the table flying very fast at the caster and knocking him over. The most common reactions to manipulation of a Transfigured human are strange motions, deformation of the object into something else entirely, and a blast of white light that may be sufficient to set clothing and hair on fire. Be cautious.

Eyes narrowed, Harry once again aimed his wand at the chain. He wondered if he would find a second person to rescue, or only a corpse. But there was no way to be sure without casting the spell.

“Stay back, Malfoy,” he murmured, even though it was unnecessary; Malfoy had pressed himself towards the far corner of the room, from which the light came, the moment he saw Harry gesturing with the wand. “Homenum reverto!”

He was prepared, this time, for the flash of light that consumed the room; he flung an arm over his face, even as Malfoy scrambled frantically about. Harry didn’t smell anything burning, though, and reckoned that the light must have done what Auror Donaldson had said it would and flown off in a random direction when the reverse Transfiguration succeeded.

A moment later, he dropped his arm and stared at where the chain had been.

He had thought he was prepared for anything. Even so, he came near to vomiting.

What lay on the floor was a human being literally made into a chain. The hair was lifted from the head and twisted together, strand by strand, into a thick, chunky block. The arms had been—Harry thought, anyway, since he kept wanting to avert his eyes—tied together behind the back, manipulated together until the elbows broke, and then lifted high enough for the tips of the fingers to touch the hair. The spine itself was a tortured curve, with the bone breaking through the skin in a few places. The chest had warped so that Harry couldn’t be sure if the person had been male or female. The legs were bound together and broken like the arms, and some spell had probably been used to remove the bones finally, so that they could be braided around and over each other to make as thin a set of links as possible.

And the whole person had been bent around again, so that the legs were tied to the hair in an enormous circle.

Harry could only hope that the victim had died soon. He had to take several steps nearer, and look carefully, to be sure they were dead now.

He swallowed, and told himself that he would not be sick, and bile and dry heaves weren’t permissible, either. He wondered for a moment what to do with the body, and then shook his head helplessly. Burial was impossible, in this stone. He didn’t want to burn it just in case it could be brought to a family member who could identify it, later. And taking it with them was—

Was—

No.

Harry turned his back, finally, gratefully, and looked hard at Malfoy. His hand was over his mouth, his eyes wide with horror. Harry doubted he had been holding back on this. He probably hadn’t known the truth about the chain holding him.

“It’ll be all right,” Harry began, strangely desperate to reassure his former rival.

And then all the light in the room went out with shocking suddenness, and Harry heard a soft clicking of claws near the door he had come in by, followed by a loud, deliberate, sniffing sound.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three—Worse Fates Than Death

Harry turned at once, putting his face towards the sound of the sniffing, his back to Malfoy. Malfoy might still not be entirely trustworthy, but at least he was human, and he had no weapons.

The sounds drifted into the room, indicating the creature had passed the doorway. Harry closed his eyes and quickly searched his memory. He couldn’t be sure that he was remembering exact sizes and shapes, but he dared not cast another ball of light, which would reveal him at once. He wanted the advantage of surprise, for as long as he could grasp it.

When he thought the creature was in the middle of the room, towards the corpse-chain, he cast the most powerful nonverbal spell he could, bracing himself for the scream that was sure to follow.

But there was no response of pain, no shriek, no scramble. Instead, Harry heard a very faint click which sounded like claws scraping on stone, and then nothing. But he felt the passage of moving air, and knew what must have happened. His attacker had leaped, and was probably coming towards him as fast as it could, tracking the path of the spell.

Harry flung himself to the floor and grabbed Malfoy’s arm, pulling him along. Malfoy whimpered, maybe because he had passed over a sharp place in the stone or Harry had jostled his remaining ribs. Harry winced, sorry, but he didn’t have time to worry about it for right now. He listened intently for the impact when the creature hit the wall.

And, once again, there was nothing. Harry couldn’t even hear the sniffing right now. He had no idea where his enemy was.

His scalp and spine prickled, and he risked conjuring the same ball of light that had guided him through the dark, flame-lit corridor outside.

It revealed a low, dark gray shape crouched in the corner he and Malfoy had just fled from. Harry could hardly make out anything beyond the black, shining nose and the massive gleam of hooked claws and curved fangs that didn’t seem attached to any sense of a body. Where the fur should have been, or the scales, or the four legs, there was only a force of ebbing and flowing shadow.

Harry stared at it, and it stared back at him. It didn’t seem inclined to move at the moment. Harry had no idea what it was waiting for, though. More reinforcements to appear? Another strike that would send it skittering forwards? Did it only attack in response to being attacked?

He felt Malfoy pulling frantically on his arm. Though he didn’t take his eyes or his wand off the creature, Harry bent down low, hoping that Malfoy could make the faintest whisper of sound into his ear.

But Malfoy yanked again, and, reluctantly, Harry had to turn his head and read the prat’s lips. He comforted himself with the notion that Malfoy probably wouldn’t have insisted on it if he thought the risk of being chewed up in seven seconds was that great.

Shadow wolf, Malfoy mouthed, exaggerating the movements to make sure Harry could understand. Immortal.

Harry hissed and took a closer look at the creature. Yes, it did look like a wolf made of shadow, now that Malfoy had mentioned it; the gray, non-solid material that made its body eddied back and forth in a more or less defined space, and sometimes took on the sparkle of guard hairs or the fullness of fur. And now Harry knew why it hadn’t made any noise when it leaped or lunged at them. It must have reformed its body so that nothing existed but the nose, teeth, and claws, which seemed constant.

And it could simply turn to nothingness again when Harry tried to hit it with a spell. How was he to kill the thing?

Malfoy tugged for his attention again. Harry bent down towards him and murmured, “I can’t kill it, can I?”

Malfoy shook his head violently. Then he swallowed and nodded towards the shadow wolf. Harry turned to look carefully at it, noticing the way the nose swung to orient on him the moment he paid attention again.

After a moment, he realized what Malfoy wanted him to see. The shadow-wolf was in the corner of the room that the light had flowed from, the apex of the rough triangle, which was the only one Harry hadn’t thoroughly investigated. They probably had to get beyond the creature and through whatever door was there in order to get out of the room.

Harry took a deep breath. So. He just had to move a sort of immortal magical creature out of the doorway it was apparently intent on protecting, with its intelligent awareness watching his every preparation, and without the ability to use spells that would hurt it in any way. Wonderful. Just the sort of challenge that Auror training had prepared him for.

He choked back the urge to laugh hysterically. He doubted he would stop if he started. He gripped his wand and stared some more at the shadow wolf, which stared back, tireless as a cat at a mouse hole.

Binding spells were out. So were illusions; Harry could create fairly complicated visual ones now, thanks to his training, but nothing that would fool that extraordinary nose. Hexes, curses, jinxes—even if they struck the claws or the teeth or the nose, Harry doubted they would hurt, and he had already received an intimation of how fast the thing could move. Surely it would move even faster if it believed itself in serious danger.

What to do? Even though he knew it was his responsibility, because he was a hero, that didn’t make the task any less overwhelming. Besides, he hadn’t done anything genuinely heroic for three years now. He suspected he was out of practice.

He looked at Malfoy to see if he had any suggestions, but Malfoy just stared back at him miserably. Presumably, he hadn’t seen one of the shadow wolves defeated before, either. After all, why would the Unspeakables want to hurt their own pets?

Harry spent some more time staring at the hidden door before he tried edging towards the one that led back into the corridor. The shadow wolf moved out of the corner, with an easy, slinking grace that warned Harry it would catch him in an instant if he ran. It stopped moving when Harry stopped, but still solidly blocked the door in the far corner of the room, indestructible. And if it destroyed him, what would happen to Malfoy? And to Ron and Hermione, who might even now be enduring torture like Malfoy had?

Harry tamped down the frustration that had become his curse in the last year of the war and which the Auror training had not cured him of completely yet. He couldn’t kill a creature made of shadows—

Shadows.

He had seen how it could operate in darkness and in dim light, but he hadn’t tested its presence in intense light yet. If he created a light bright enough, one that didn’t allow shadows to exist, perhaps they could get past it?

He didn’t wait before he acted. He would just start doubting himself if he waited. He pointed his wand at the ball of light he’d conjured and murmured, “Magna!”

There was no warning for the shadow wolf. The room simply brightened to unbearable levels, like the inside of a lightning bolt, or the inside of the sun. Harry heard a howl like the cry of Voldemort’s severed soul, which cut off halfway through.

He grabbed Malfoy’s arm, checked on the position of his satchel, and hurtled across the floor towards the corner that the wolf had been guarding.

He was running with his eyes closed, and didn’t realize, at first, that his hands had made contact with smooth polished wood. He groped frantically for a handle or a latch or a bar, conscious all the while that the light was dimming—he could only hold it to its brightness by pouring concentrated will into it, and he’d needed some will for running and dragging Malfoy—and the wolf might return at any moment.

And there was the latch.

Harry yanked at it, opening the door, and then he and Malfoy were falling. He felt a tug of distress on his sleeve so keen that he found himself rolling, putting his body between the floor and Malfoy, to cushion him from the blow that must endanger him even more than Harry, with so many of the ribs that guarded his heart and inner organs missing.

Except that they didn’t meet a floor.

There was only empty air, and Harry felt the dizzying rush in his brain increase as he realized he was falling head-down, cradling Malfoy with both arms, his wand clenched tightly in his hand, his satchel swinging beneath him and throwing off his balance, and with no Feather-Light Charm on himself to slow it.

He half-twisted and cast the Cushioning Charm beneath them, hoping that it would hit a surface and affect it positively instead of dissipating because of the depth of the fall. He had no idea deep the drop was, how long. He had no idea what would happen when they hit bottom, or if they had a chance.

He could only clutch at Malfoy, who was crying with hopeless terror now from the shudders in his arms, and hang on.

And then they struck something that bounced beneath them, and Harry had a moment of thanks that the Cushioning Charm had apparently worked. Then Malfoy leaped in his arms, but Harry had no opportunity to find out why, since the darkness rushed in upon him.

*

Harry woke slowly. And he woke, he thought, not of his own free will but mostly because Malfoy was shaking him, shaking him relentlessly, frantically, and slapping his face. Harry groaned and sat up, and blinked. The shadow wolf didn’t appear to have followed them, and this room had a dim silvery radiance flowing through it, like moonlight.

None of that explained the utter revulsion in Malfoy’s eyes. He shifted closer to Harry, and buried his face in Harry’s shoulder, as unselfconscious as if he were a child. Harry shifted to wrap an arm around him, grateful to find that he already had his wand in hand, and looked around for what could have frightened him.

Nothing. There was nothing in the room except the low ceiling above them in most directions, the long shaft they had fallen down, the cushioned surface that supported them, and a doorway far to the east, half-obscured by the slanted ceiling.

The cushioned surface.

Harry had never heard of a Cushioning Charm conjuring a mattress this large, come to think of it. And the texture didn’t feel like mud or feathers, either, which the Cushioning Charm could also sometimes produce in dire need.

He looked down.

Once again, he had to give thanks for his strong stomach, for his focus on Ron and Hermione, and for the need to be strong for Malfoy. Otherwise, he surely would have gone mad when he realized he and Malfoy were kneeling on an enormous pile of kneaded, mindlessly weaving human flesh, with hands sticking above the surface here and there, and legs waving in other places. Bodies, perhaps still alive, perhaps the victims of the mutilation magic the Unspeakables seemed to favor, stacked what must be hundreds deep all across the room.

Harry heaved on his satchel, and checked that it hadn’t torn or unraveled in the fall. He did the tasks with a single-minded focus that he applied a moment later to checking himself and Malfoy for injuries. He would not let himself look, would not let himself think, about the surface they were going to have to cross.

Then he touched Malfoy’s shoulder, whispered wordless sounds of reassurance, and began to crawl along with him. The ceiling wasn’t high enough for him to stand and bear Malfoy in his arms.

That crawl was something Harry remembered for the rest of his life. Crawling on human skin that was still warm, still living, could not compare to crawling on feathers or mud or even ash, though he’d done all of those more than once during his exams for Auror training. Warm knees pressed back against his. Hands clasped at him and groped like a baby’s searching for some new tactile sensation. A foot would brush against his boot, pause, and brush again, as if it couldn’t believe that something other than air had touched it.

Harry tried not to think about whether the pile was made of people buried alive, head-down, or simply moving body parts, detached from any real human but enchanted to live and feel. He was not sure what would be worse.

Malfoy paused to dry heave more than once, and then to clutch his chest and mourn soundlessly. Harry stroked his cheek each time, and waited until the other man managed to pull himself together and go on. He had survived a year in situations as bad as this, likely, though probably not the exact same situations, or he would have reacted with more aplomb.

On the other hand, did one ever become used to something like this?

Either way, Harry thought he might be forced to admire Draco Malfoy. It wasn’t a comfortable emotion, or a comfortable situation, but he wouldn’t have come down here if he couldn’t stand a little discomfort.

Finally, finally, the pile slanted down to the doorway, tapering off into a few folded legs and gently grasping hands opening like the tendrils of seaweed drifting underwater, and then there were ordinary flagstones once more. Harry scrambled down first, willing to brave the danger in case this turned out to be a trap and the pile of bodies would roll over on them or grab them and hold them prisoner.

But nothing happened, and Harry turned and held up his arms. Malfoy half-rolled, half-dropped into them. He clung to Harry with a ferocity that made Harry stroke his hair and murmur reassurances again, before he realized what the scene would probably look like to anyone else.

Swallowing roughly, he set Malfoy back on his feet and gave him a gentle push out the door. Malfoy went, his face set and dazed. Harry conjured another ball of light, since it looked like the silvery light that filled this room ceased at the start of the corridor, and followed.

The room beyond was ordinary, thank God, a small square box of stone floor and walls and ceiling with another door on the far side. Harry still cast spells to search out traps and dangers, adding one for magical creatures this time, but all sang reassuringly in his head. Harry reached into his satchel, drew out the blankets he’d brought along to make a bed, and spread them on the floor.

Malfoy collapsed onto them at once and lay there, his eyes shut, dark hollows of fear and despair creeping around them. Harry watched him in pity for some time. He would have been willing to leave Malfoy to sleep if he’d wanted to rest, but his breathing just sped up, from the motions of his torso.

At last, Harry coughed. Malfoy rolled over and blinked up at him.

“There are some words we’re going to have to use for communication quite a lot,” Harry said. “I think we can create a simple code to refer to them.” He reached into the satchel and searched for a moment. There was a vial of Calming Draught. Malfoy looked like he could use it right now, and Harry had another use for the vial. He held it out silently, and Malfoy accepted and swallowed it without pausing.

It has to be hard for him to trust me, with everything he’s been through. How does he know I’m not just another tormentor or a hallucination?

Harry reckoned he didn’t. Perhaps Malfoy had decided to rely on him just because Harry hadn’t yet turned out to be any of those things.

Harry took back the vial when Malfoy was done draining the clear liquid and murmured a Transfiguration spell that Hermione had either designed or modified—she’d never told them which—last year. At once the glass bent inwards and bulged, and became a crystal sphere with about twenty facets. Harry smiled in spite of himself at the astonished look on Malfoy’s face.

“Yes, on occasion I can do something useful,” he said.

Malfoy made a sharp motion with one hand. Harry wasn’t sure if that response was most like Color me surprised, or I already knew that, idiot.

Well, that was one of the problems the sphere was designed to solve. Hermione had used it for this purpose last year after Harry lost his voice for three weeks straight to a hex cast by another trainee. None of his instructors had wanted to help him reverse it, and writing to his friends had very quickly got old. The sphere had helped restore a bit of his independence—something Harry thought Malfoy must badly want by now.

“Now,” he said, and tapped his wand against the first facet. It rang sweetly, and turned dark blue. “We’ll use this to designate a particular concept. Let’s say immortality, since it seems to come up rather a lot. If you want to talk to me about the experiments the Unspeakables were performing, or inform me that a magical creature is immortal, you’ll touch the facet.” He held the glass out to Malfoy, coaxingly.

Doubtfully, Malfoy rested one of his finger nubs against the dark blue facet. At once the entire glass turned dark blue, and Malfoy jerked his head back with a look of panic. Harry shook his head. “That just means that you can choose from any one of a number of different concepts related to immortality now. When you’re done talking to me about that particular subject, then hit the sphere twice with the flat of your palm. That brings back all the colors, with immortality just one facet among many.” He settled himself on the floor; his legs were starting to cramp, crouching as he was. “Now, let’s start designating.”

He and Malfoy worked slowly through it. The immortality concepts included experiment, magical creature, mutilation, ritual, immortality of body, and immortality of mind. When Harry couldn’t understand Malfoy’s meaning quickly enough, he gestured demandingly at the satchel, forming his hands into the shape of a book. Harry nodded and pulled out his Auror notebook. Malfoy flipped through that, jabbing his nubs at the words he wanted when he found them, and now and then marking a page with the edge of his wrist when he found a word that he wanted to come back to later.

They did the same thing with three other facets, which referred to more general danger, Malfoy’s bodily health, and torture. By that time, Malfoy was yawning so severely that Harry took the notebook away, despite his outraged look.

“You should rest,” he said. “We’ll have enough work tomorrow, enchanting the rest of the sphere so that you can communicate and memorizing the meanings.” He paused and looked at his companion for a moment. “Do you want something to eat first?”

Malfoy’s response was so pathetically eager that Harry winced, thinking he really should have asked that earlier. He drew out several slices of bread and three apples, and had some trouble keeping them away from Malfoy long enough to cut them up. Malfoy sighed longingly as he licked his fingers a few minutes later; he’d eaten two of the apples and two of the pieces of bread, almost whole each time.

Harry watched, half-amused but mostly sorrowful, as Malfoy lay down on the blankets again, while he finished his own dinner—or breakfast, he thought. They really had no idea what time it was outside, after all. He spread his own blankets on the floor when he was done and cast protection spells over the doorways that should warn them when something approached, then lay down himself.

Malfoy rolled over and stared at him. Harry started; he’d assumed the other man was already asleep.

Malfoy clutched at his arms and shivered theatrically. Harry nodded and cast a Warming Charm.

That didn’t seem to do the trick. At least, Malfoy was still staring at him. Harry frowned back. “What do you want?” he asked softly.

With an impatient grunt, Malfoy hooked several of his finger stubs under his blankets and dragged them closer to Harry’s. He was done before Harry could react, and then he lay down again and opened his arms as if he had no expectation of being refused.

Harry stared back, his mouth dry. He couldn’t say that he was looking forwards to touching Malfoy. Besides, what would become of his resolve not to touch another man until he was back to normal and could stop being gay? He wasn’t attracted to Malfoy—who could be, while he was in this pitiful state?—but this might be the first step down a slope he wouldn’t be able to climb up again.

But, seeing Malfoy’s face slowly crumbling, the shadows creeping back that Harry thought the communication spells and the food had dispelled, he didn’t think he could hold out and selfishly turn his back, either.

He sighed and rolled closer. Malfoy’s arms closed around him at once, his hands running over Harry’s back with a greedy possessiveness. Harry suffered another stab of pity, wondering if he could feel much with the most sensitive part of his fingers gone.

Hesitantly, he wrapped his arms around Malfoy in return. He could feel the places where the ribs were missing and should have provided hard contact; he could feel the thinness of the skin around the spine. He swallowed and moved a little nearer, thinking only now that Malfoy’s near-starvation wouldn’t keep him very warm, either.

Malfoy released a sigh that Harry only knew about because of the motion of air over his ear and neck. Harry imagined it was a contented sigh. A few moments later, he was asleep, his breathing slow and heavy from the movement of his chest.

Harry lay there and stared at the web of wards he’d cast over the doorway into the room of flesh—it was just visible from this angle—and tried to tell himself that this would change nothing. Everything about the situation was extraordinary. He would never have expected to get along with Malfoy for one minute, any more than he would have expected Malfoy to go further into the Department of Mysteries with him.

Sleeping beside another man for just one night, or a few hours, wouldn’t change anything. Extraordinary situations required extraordinary measures. When he returned to his ordinary life, he would be all right.

Even as he was glad to offer comfort to Malfoy, though, he disliked what he was doing.

With a sigh, he closed his eyes. He would probably stay awake for hours, occupied with his own discomfort and shame, which might be silly but which he still had to indulge inside his own head so he wouldn’t indulge them aloud.

He never knew when he fell asleep, as heavily and dreamlessly as he’d ever slept in his own bed.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four—The First Pensieve

Harry woke slowly, to the realization that Malfoy seemed to be having a nightmare. He was thrashing about in Harry’s hold, his mouth open like a screaming Muggle painting Harry had once seen and his head tilted back. But, of course, no sound emerged from his lips, only erratic puffs of air.

“Malfoy!” Harry snapped, trying not to shake him. Since so many of his ribs were gone, he had no idea what would happen if he did.

Nothing happened, however, except that Malfoy’s legs were moving faster and faster, his hands flailing wildly. His teeth champed down harshly on his tongue, and Harry recalled something Hermione had once told him about people swallowing their tongues during seizures. He shuddered. Quite apart from the fact that Malfoy might be the only person who could guide him through the labyrinth the Department of Mysteries had become, he didn’t want the git to die and leave him all alone down here.

He leaned in close to the other man’s head and said, “Malfoy,” again.

The harsh breathing grew more pronounced, and his elbow slammed into Harry’s ear. Harry ducked, cursing, and shoved at his shoulder. Still nothing; Harry wondered what kind of rough treatment it would take to wake Malfoy up, if his efforts so far weren’t doing anything.

Then he stilled. Maybe “rough treatment” was the problem. Given how much Malfoy had suffered already, Harry’s efforts were probably playing right into his nightmares and convincing him he was back with the people who had hurt him.

Swallowing, and fervently glad that Ron wasn’t with him at the moment to see and laugh at what he had to do, Harry leaned nearer to Malfoy and whispered into his ear, “Draco? Draco, you’re safe now, I promise. Well,” he amended, wondering what he would say if Malfoy woke up and accused him of lying, “you’re safer. I’ll try to protect you. I’ll try to make sure that nothing else happens to you, and that you get back to St. Mungo’s so they can restore your bones and your voice and your fingers, and let you go back to being the right annoying berk you always were. All right? Wake up, now. I promise, I’m not going to torture you. I wouldn’t do that. I won’t let anyone else do that.”

He wasn’t foolish enough to think his words did that much good; he was hardly an inspiring public speaker, as the Ministry had already found out to its embarrassment. But the soft, soothing tone they were spoken in helped. Malfoy shuddered all over, and abruptly went limp. Turning his head towards Harry, he breathed for some moments, and then opened his eyes and stared at him.

Harry bit his lip. They were uncomfortably close, just the kind of closeness to make his body react the wrong way and give Malfoy ideas about Harry trying to molest him, when nothing could be further from the truth. But he knew that moving away right now would come over as all stiff and distant to Malfoy, and make him distrust Harry even more. And they needed trust to survive right now. So Harry held his posture and his stare, though he felt more and more awkward by the passing second.

Malfoy shifted, and his hands came up to tangle in Harry’s hair. Harry held patiently still as those nubby fingers explored his scalp and the small hairs that paraded down the back of his neck. If Malfoy needed tactile contact to reassure himself he wasn’t back among his tormentors, Harry would let him have it.

Abruptly, those nubby fingers yanked. Harry jumped. Malfoy must have worked them into the curly underlayer of Harry’s hair.

“That hurt, Malfoy,” he informed the other man, moving warily backwards. Malfoy had a faint, self-satisfied smile on his face, and Harry felt like a fool. Of course he was fine, and Harry’s attempts to comfort him were to be rejected arrogantly the moment he was awake. Harry started to roll away.

Malfoy clasped one palm on his shoulder, holding him still. His face had changed, and he shook his head.

Harry wished for a moment that they hadn’t been too tired to finish assigning meanings to the glass sphere last night. “What? Don’t leave you? I’m not going to do that.” His voice came out a bit more gruffly than he had intended, but his neck still tingled and hurt from the sharp pull.

Another shake of the head, and then Malfoy withdrew his left hand to lay against his ribs. Harry lifted his eyebrows. “Yes, I know you don’t have many bones left.”

A third headshake, and a light, cautious thump. Harry narrowed his eyes in confusion. The motion was similar to the ones he’d made during those three weeks he’d lost his voice and he wanted to remind people that he was in the room. But since he was looking straight at Malfoy, the git could hardly suspect Harry had forgotten about him.

“You?” he asked cautiously, deciding they would have to dedicate one facet of the sphere exclusively to common words.

Another thump.

“Malfoy?”

A pained look, and a thump.

Harry sighed. It was now obvious what the prat wanted. He’d heard the words that Harry was speaking whilst he tried to wake him up after all.

Well. It was a small enough sacrifice. And if it would prevent Harry from getting his hair yanked in the future, he could put up with it.

“Draco,” he said.

Somehow, even with the shadows of starvation and sleeplessness in his face, the prat had retained a brilliant smile. He leaned closer to Harry, and his arms ended up around the middle of his back again. Harry shifted, cautious about how he held him.

“Have you had enough sleep?” he asked, because if they weren’t going to sleep, they might as well make conversation.

A nod, brushing Malfoy’s hair against his ear. Harry frowned past his head and wondered what in the world they were lying there for, then.

Hermione’s voice appeared on cue in his mind. Because he needs human contact, Harry. Tell me that you could survive being chained up and tortured in a dungeon for a year and then not be madly glad to see the first other human being who wasn’t trying to hurt you.

Harry sighed and closed his eyes. If they weren’t going to sleep, then he might as well feign sleep. He deepened his breathing and let the arms that he had wrapped around Malfoy relax slightly.

Malfoy made no objections. He just settled closer and began small exploratory motions of his hands over Harry’s back and shoulders, light touches that wouldn’t have been enough to wake a real sleeper, though they tickled slightly. Harry rolled his shut eyes. Malfoy was not only injured, voiceless, and presuming on a level of friendliness that Harry didn’t think would ever exist between them; he was also needy.

As long as it’s not more than this. I really don’t think that I could handle more than this. And he probably wouldn’t be able to, either, no matter what he tells himself.

He did relax by degrees, though. Annoying tendencies to yank on hair or not, Malfoy really seemed to have thrown away the animosity that had been between them for their six years in Hogwarts. Harry thought he probably could trust him, at least not to act against the one person who at the moment could best guarantee his survival.

Slytherins are self-protective, right? Surely he won’t betray me—unless someone else comes along who can rescue him. And that’s not likely down here.

*

Harry sighed in relief and sat back, flexing his fingers from around his wand. He had cast a long, complicated series of charms that morning, or what might be that morning, first to designate certain facets of the sphere as certain words, and then to bond the new knowledge into his mind and Malfoy’s via a modified language-learning spell, so they weren’t forever fumbling for which facets or colors should mean what. He thought Hermione would approve of the time he’d put into steady hard work.

Malfoy leaned towards him now and touched one of the light green facets on the globe that stood for a series of ordinary words. When the colors of the glass shifted again, he touched the facet that meant hungry and stared at Harry.

Harry nodded and pulled enough food from his satchel to make a few acceptable sandwiches. Privately, he was worried about how long his supplies would last; he’d packed for one person, after all, not two. But he could manage duplication charms if he really had to—though Ron always claimed that the food Harry duplicated tasted like sawdust—and there were more urgent things to worry about right now.

“Do you know what lies beyond that door?” he asked Malfoy, when he’d handed him a cheese sandwich and settled back to eat his own. He motioned with his head at the doorway opposite the one they’d come in by, which so far led unhelpfully into darkness.

Malfoy shook his head. His face was blissful by the light of Harry’s conjured globe, and he was visibly restricting himself to slow bites and swallows, when he wanted to ravenously tear into the meal. Harry felt a small stirring of pride as he watched, and then told himself to stop feeling that. He was neither a specialist in the care and feeding of pure-blood wizards or a trainee Healer.

“What about that room?” He turned his head towards the mass of flesh he and Malfoy had crawled over, though just the memory of it was enough to make him lose his appetite. “What would happen if I cast a spell at the flesh? Do you think I should, if only to try and free whoever those people are from their pain?”

Malfoy rapped his palm on the globe to change the color back to another series of common words, from which he selected danger and before, then stared at Harry expectantly. Harry winced when he remembered the human chain, and the shadow-wolf that had come bounding out on guard when he Transfigured it to back to corpse status.

“Disabling the traps they set along the way rouses guardians?” he asked.

Malfoy nodded, and then returned to his sandwich. It might have been caviar or skylarks’ tongues or whatever he had really eaten in the Manor before he was kidnapped, considering the way he closed his eyes as he chewed. Harry shook his head in bewilderment. He would once have thought that nothing could ever make a change in Draco Malfoy’s personality, for better or worse, but here he was, witnessing it.

“Did the entire Department change when they released this spell?” he asked. “Or don’t you know?”

Two shrugs. Harry cursed under his breath. Malfoy’s usefulness as a guide was going to be severely limited, then.

“Do you know what other traps they might have set up along the way? Do you think you’ll be able to warn me in time?”

Shrug. Shrug.

Well, damn. Harry set down his sandwich, then frowned when he saw Malfoy glancing at it. “Get your own. I’ll finish it in a minute.” Malfoy rolled his eyes, as much to say that Harry was a fool for not eating it all at once. “And pay attention, this is important. How much do you remember of what they did to you?”

Malfoy shook his head.

Harry exhaled hard. He really should have expected that. If Malfoy remembered with any clarity, he would probably have been in much worse shape, psychologically, than he was. And even if the Unspeakables’ designs, whatever they were, included keeping this one prisoner alive, they wouldn’t want to leave important memories in his head.

“Then we’ll have to do the best we can without that guidance,” Harry muttered, and sat back with a slight frown, closing his eyes.

He took a few moments to consult with himself and realized that nothing had changed, not really. He didn’t have much of a chance of rescuing Ron and Hermione, but when had he ever had much of a chance? He would make the best effort he could and use the help that he found along the way, exactly as he had destroyed the Horcruxes and battled the basilisk and survived the graveyard and—

And done everything worth mentioning in my life, he admitted to himself wryly, and opened his eyes again, only to see Malfoy glaring at him. He blinked. “What?” He had been sure that Malfoy would be too busy eating to care about his meditation.

Malfoy rapped the sphere, and it flared dazzling white, which represented common phrases. Malfoy selected the facets that meant, according to the spell that suddenly shone in Harry’s mind, I can’t talk and Look at me.

Harry raised an eyebrow. He had felt left out when Harry closed his eyes and couldn’t see him anymore to tell what he was communicating? That seemed strange. But, of course, he had to keep remembering that to Malfoy he wasn’t an enemy anymore. That was difficult enough without making it more difficult for himself. He’d try to keep his eyes open in the future, for both their sakes.

“I apologize, Draco,” he said, catching himself and substituting the name that Malfoy had shown himself to prefer just in time.

Malfoy beamed at him with so much happiness that Harry had to remind himself that there was a whole facet on the sphere for sarcastic phrases, but he couldn’t help smiling tentatively back.

*

The room beyond the eastern doorway turned out to be small, round, made of stone, and littered with more of the slowly rising blue flames that Harry remembered from the corridor where he’d first landed. He avoided them cautiously, and lent his arm to help Malfoy as needed. But Malfoy stepped past him with a silent snort and a shake of his head. Food and sleep had done wonders in bringing back his confidence and giving him an expression other than stupefied terror, Harry had to admit.

Not that there was any chance Malfoy was bent, and not that Harry had any business noticing how attractive another man was. He directed his gaze to the glass sphere floating between them on a permanent Levitation Charm instead, ready to catch it if something surged up from the floor and tried to shatter it.

Remarkably, they reached the other side of the room with no such accident. And Harry halted, because there had been nothing but darkness beyond the far doorway at first, but now there was a dazzling white light.

He glanced sideways at Malfoy, but received only another shrug.

Harry stepped in first, of course, body angled so as to offer as much protection to Malfoy as possible. The globe of light still bobbed behind him, and so did the sphere; Harry wasn’t ready to trust to the seeming safety and dismiss the one or set down the other just yet.

The room was empty, except for a single pillar in the center. Harry frowned and studied it. As far as he could tell from this distance, it appeared to be made of marble, or maybe ivory. On top of the pillar sat a stone bowl that he recognized right away. A Pensieve. And from the glitter near the lip, it was full. Harry licked dried lips and glanced sideways at Malfoy, who only shivered. If he was remembering something specific and dangerous, however, he didn’t seem to think it worth his while to reach for the sphere and tell Harry about it.

Harry nodded and cast his spells to detect traps and magical creatures. Nothing responded to them. At last he edged forwards, his wand lifted and several of the most dangerous spells that he knew poised on the edge of his tongue.

Nothing continued to happen. The Pensieve came closer and closer, and no shadow-wolf unfolded from the paving stones on the floor to leap at them; no wall of human flesh formed to fall on them; no Acromantula descended from the ceiling to snare them in its web. Harry remained on edge, though, and so he yelped and jumped when Malfoy suddenly seized his arm in a death grip.

Warn a bloke next time, won’t you?” he snapped, turning around.

One look at Malfoy’s face silenced him. Malfoy was staring at the Pensieve, and he had turned so pale that Harry reached out and put his arms around him, fearing he would faint in the next moment. He stroked the other man’s hair, which embarrassed him now that he was thinking about it but which Malfoy seemed as if he needed. Harry murmured into his ear, the same soothing nonsense words he’d spoken when they lay in the same blankets together, making sure to call him Draco, and Malfoy gradually relaxed.

He still didn’t step away from Harry of his own free will, though. He waited until Harry stepped back and slipped his hand around one of the fingerless ones, shuddering absently as those rounded lumps brushed along his thumb and index finger. “Now,” Harry said softly. “Do you think that Pensieve holds some of your memories?”

Malfoy nodded, his eyes fixed and staring. Harry licked his lips, not sure what to make of the lack of response, and continued. “Is there anything you can remember about this? About this room? The Pensieve itself? The pillar?”

Malfoy shook his head three times, and then nodded on the fourth question. Harry leaned forwards, keenly interested. He’d just as soon not approach the pillar if it was a trap. “Yes? What is it?”

With a languid, slowness probably caused by fear and revulsion, Malfoy ran a hand up and down his torso. Harry followed the motion with his eyes three times before his knowledge caught up with it and he flinched, hissing between his teeth.

“The pillar’s made of your rib bones,” he said flatly.

Another terse nod.

Harry licked his lips and looked back at the pillar. Yes, the white material it was constructed of could have been bone, polished and shining. He concentrated hard, but couldn’t make out any graceful curves of rib in the thing. Of course, if the Unspeakables had altered what they stole with magic, that would be impossible.

He could make out something, though.

Harry leaned nearer. There were two letters, faint as shadows, carved in the pillar towards the base. With some squinting, which nearly caused him to fall down since he didn’t want to let go of Malfoy’s hand and also didn’t want to take a step nearer the pillar, he managed to make out that they were Cr.

No racking of his brains for any handy tips picked up during Auror training provided suggestions as to what that might mean. Harry shook his head, frustrated. “I’ve got to go into the Pensieve,” he told Malfoy.

Malfoy was clinging to him like a burr a moment later, his hold so tight and choking that Harry didn’t have to be told what he feared. He took a deep breath and played with Malfoy’s hair some more, then deliberately found the soft, empty flesh under his abbreviated ribcage again.

“I have to,” he said. “If there’s the slightest hint about what happened to change the Department into this, or about what they did to you, or about what happened to Ron and Hermione…I have to. I promise that I’ll return the memories to you when I’m done. You should have them.” He paused. “Do you want to go into the Pensieve with me?”

Malfoy turned his head away, and even though Harry could barely make out his expression from this angle, he read soul-deep shame in the angle of his neck. Impulsively, he cupped a hand around Malfoy’s chin and tilted his head gently back.

“Don’t feel bad,” he whispered. “That you’re still sane and not running away screaming at the prospect of getting these memories back says a lot. You have nothing to feel sorry for.” He tapped Malfoy’s cheek sharply with two fingers when Malfoy just blinked at him. “Do you hear me?”

Finally, Malfoy bowed his head and nodded. A few tears slipped down his cheeks. Harry smoothed them away and hesitated a moment, then held out his wand towards Malfoy.

“Here,” he said. “If something happens whilst I’m in the Pensieve, or if I don’t come back, then you should be able to defend yourself.”

Malfoy shook his head and gave him a disgusted look. Then he spread his hands wide and waved them up and down.

“Yes, I know you don’t have any fingers, it’s kind of hard to miss,” Harry snapped at him, wondering if this bizarre mix of irritation and sympathy would fill him for the rest of his life when he thought of Malfoy. He couldn’t wait until they were back on the surface, he really couldn’t, so that Malfoy would be sane and whole and Harry could start to hate him properly again. “But I still thought you could use the wand for—“ He stopped, not wanting to say reassurance. The last thing he needed was Malfoy’s stupid pride intervening in a matter of safety.

Malfoy shook his head again, and folded the wand back to Harry’s chest, using the flats of his wrists. Harry understood the gesture better now. Malfoy would prefer that he have the wand with him in case something happened in the Pensieve.

“All right. If you’re sure.”

Malfoy all but shoved him forwards now. Harry gave him a small smile and turned towards the Pensieve.

Nothing attacked him when he walked towards the pillar. Nothing attacked him when he cast a Sticking Charm on his feet, so that he could bend over the Pensieve without being afraid that he’d slip or having to touch the sides of the bowl. He stared at the silvery liquid for a moment, bracing himself to see horrors even worse than those he’d faced so far, and then plunged his head beneath the surface.

There came the same dizzying sensation that had engaged him when he watched Snape’s memories, and the memories Dumbledore had collected of Voldemort’s past. Then he was standing in a room with several gray-clad figures, all of them with hoods drawn about their heads except two. Harry glanced around quickly. The room itself was broad and covered with dark blue tiles that absorbed the light of the torches in the wall sconces. Even just in a memory, it thrummed with enough magical energy to raise his hair and his danger sense, both.

He turned back to the figures at the front of the room. One was a large, bearded man with brown eyes and an intent stare whom Harry didn’t recognize, though he somewhat resembled the Death Eater Walden Macnair. The other was Malfoy.

And he had no manacles, no glazed expression in his eyes reminiscent of someone under Imperius, and no restraining spells that Harry could see. He just stood and looked back at the bearded man with determination on his face.

“Do you understand what you have to do?” the stranger asked.

“I do.”

Harry almost jumped, Malfoy’s firm, steady voice sounded so strange to him.

“Good,” the stranger said. “There is no need to bind you by an Unbreakable Vow or any others, as long as you solemnly swear of your own free will to be loyal to the Department of Mysteries. And, in return, we will aid in you in achieving what you came for.” He glanced at Draco’s left arm. “The research we are doing in the art of body modification can rid you of the Dark Lord’s Mark, I’m certain, as it grows more advanced.”

Malfoy inclined his head and gave that smirk that Harry had known so well. “And I can help advance that research, at the moment, more than any other person you’ve recruited,” he murmured. “Isn’t that right?”

Harry closed his eyes. He felt as if he were falling again down the long shaft that had borne him to the room of squirming flesh, but this time, he had no assurance of a soft surface to catch him, or even of companionship.

Malfoy had participated in creating these horrors he and Harry had faced.

What a fool Harry had been.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five—Treacherous Memories

Harry forced himself to open his eyes and watch the continuation of the memory. Malfoy had deceived him, of course, and he would not forgive himself for falling for the trap. But at least he had become aware of the deception before it could advance far, and there might be more clues in the Pensieve as to why Malfoy would do such a thing.

Had he been betrayed? Maybe he had, but God knew what he had done in the meantime. If he had been responsible for helping to recruit others—if he had tortured and killed and harmed others in the name of getting the Dark Mark off his arm—

Harry licked his lips and calmed his fears by sheer force, the way he had compelled himself to study for exams during the Auror training. He would miss details of the memory, important nuances, if he continued to focus on himself. He watched as the strange man and Malfoy touched their wands together, and a spark of diamond light passed from one to the other. It wasn’t a spell Harry recognized, but he could describe it well enough; the spark flared like magnesium in water. He might be able to get an answer from Malfoy about it.

If I can trust anything he says.

Really, the yawning pit of betrayal in his stomach made no sense. He hadn’t had the time to form a friendship with Malfoy of the kind that would regard such concealment as a treachery. And he should have known, would have known, that Malfoy was capable of something like this if he had kept a clear head. It was only his horrified pity that had made him ignore his own memories of the past.

No longer, he thought, and then started as the memory spun around him and became another place, a smaller but brighter room with large enchanted windows lining the walls. Malfoy was leaning on the edge of a round wooden table, staring down at something in the middle of it. Harry sidled closer, reluctant to come into contact even with this memory Malfoy, but wanting to know what could make him look so grave. A chess game?

But no, he was toying with a series of red and blue counters that looked like fat marbles. Harry frowned.

“Ah, Draco,” said a familiar voice, and the bearded stranger moved into the room. He wore casual robes now instead of Unspeakable gray, but Harry was sure of his identification. “You haven’t yet decided which position those balls should go in?” He chuckled and took off his cloak, hanging it from a hook next to the door he’d entered by. Harry glanced at it quickly; there were wet stains on it, already diminishing, but recognizable when he saw a gleam of white next to one of them. Melting snowflakes. Had this scene taken place last winter?

“Not yet, Richard,” said Malfoy, and flung his head back. Harry controlled a sneer at the sight of his face, which was free of the shadows that haunted the face of the real Malfoy waiting in the room behind him. I suppose his actions haven’t come to recoil on him yet, so he’s been eating and sleeping perfectly well. “I do think I’m close, though. There are only so many orders that Sir Galen could have arranged those marbles in, and I’ve duplicated his invention more or less exactly.” He glanced at the wooden table again. “The more combinations I try and which prove nonsensical, the fewer I still have to try.”

Harry frowned. The name Sir Galen was familiar from his Auror training—some ancient wizard who had been working on learning the secret of immortality, but without the use of the Philosopher’s Stone—but he had to let it go for now, so he could keep up with the conversation.

“That’s the same thing you said last week, Draco,” Richard murmured. He had a goblet of some drink in his hand now; a glance sideways didn’t enable Harry to tell what it was. “And the week before that, and the week before that…”

And, just like that, the atmosphere in the room had changed. Before, Harry would have said that the two men were friends, or at least colleagues, the way he was with most of the other trainees in the Auror Department. Now Richard watched Malfoy with no trace of a smile, and his hand on the stem of the goblet was too tight. And Malfoy had folded his arms as if he were cold, his eyes narrowed and speculative, the way Harry had seem him look when he was trying to figure out a way to use Umbridge to his advantage.

“The more time passes, the larger my chances of breaking the code are,” Malfoy said quietly. He lifted his head and shook his hair back. Harry could see an added pallor to his skin now, and decided, reluctantly, that he hadn’t been completely unaffected by his stay with the Unspeakables. “If you had permitted me to try translation charms and rearranging charms from the beginning—“

“Absolutely not!” Richard snapped. His hand tightened again; Harry was vaguely surprised that he hadn’t crushed the goblet altogether. “Those parchments are too delicate for such advanced magic, which literally breaks apart and reforms the material the letters are written on. Even if they were yours in the beginning, I can’t let you simply manipulate them now.”

Harry glanced back at Malfoy, and saw him jerk a little, as if he had just figured out the answer to a problem that had been plaguing him. Other than that motion, though, no trace of surprise showed on his face. He simply nodded a little and hummed under his breath. “Just so. And then constructing this invention took me some time. But I will understand it. And, in fact—“ He faced the table and lifted his wand.

The red and blue balls began to roll together with a series of clacking sounds. Harry scanned them desperately, but he couldn’t make out what they were doing, other than sliding along grooves and channels and corners carved into the table. There were symbols he didn’t recognize cut in delicate flame-like patterns next to the grooves. It looked like the world’s most complicated game of billiards.

The balls spiraled around each other in a dizzy series of turns, which made Harry shake his head and squint; if something important happened in the next few moments, he wanted to be able to see it, not dozens of dancing spots across his eyesight. He did notice that there was a large, dimpled depression in the center of the table into which all the balls eventually settled, except for nine which halted in various places on the carved pattern and remained as if nailed there. Harry scanned those still balls, looking for a pattern. Seven were blue and two red; he couldn’t tell what that meant, if anything.

Finally every other ball was still, and Malfoy looked up expectantly at Richard, who was frowning and rapping his fingers on the tabletop.

“But we knew, already, that most of them must go to the center,” he said. “We knew that. The problem is—“

“The problem is the ones along the way,” Malfoy interrupted, his face shining with a scholar’s passion that made Harry think of Hermione, and then scold himself for the comparison. “Where should they go? Where do we put them so as to fracture the pattern appropriately and set up lines of magic that will help the walker to achieve true immortality?” He gestured at the maze in front of him. “I’ve placed them at last.”

With a soft exclamation, Richard bent over the table. Harry stared at the pattern again, relaxing his mind and letting the visual observation skills that Auror Gillyflower had tried to pound into his head take over. He was fairly sure that he could remember the position of the balls when he returned to the real world, though asking him to remember all the twists and turns of the maze was impossible.

Well, I’m sure Malfoy will be able to remember when he gets these images back, Harry thought viciously.

“Yes,” Richard murmured. “Yes, I see.” He tapped the third ball abruptly, one of the red ones. “Why is this here, though? Sir Galen’s notes seem to call for it to be on the fourth turn, not this straight path.”

“That’s one of the precautions he took, sir.” Malfoy’s voice was extremely smug, reminding Harry of the times that he’d got a potion right before the rest of the class. “Place the balls in the wrong order or the wrong settings, and the maze will become nothing more than a giant trap for everyone inside it.”

Harry cursed under his breath. Was that what had happened to the Department of Mysteries? Had they tried to enact this spell or build this maze, in order to create a pattern of sorts they could walk to achieve immortality, and been caught in it?

Except he still didn’t understand how they would bring a pattern carved on a table to life. It was one thing to decode a message; it was another to create corridors to imitate the twists and turns he saw splayed out before him. And what about the flame-like symbols next to it, and the balls themselves? What did they represent?

Neither Richard nor Malfoy seemed overly concerned about that, however. They were chattering happily to each other about increasingly abstruse magical theory. Harry stood with his arms folded across his chest, waiting for the memory to stop and release him from the Pensieve. He had a few things to say to the present-day Malfoy about playing with ancient magic and the consequences he deserved for doing so.

When the memory shifted, however, it plunged him into darkness, instead of releasing him. Harry came up abruptly on alert, his wand clutched in his hand, and stared in several directions, even though he knew nothing here could hurt him.

Maybe. After the discussion he’d watched Malfoy and the Unspeakable having, Harry wouldn’t have put it past them to trap a Pensieve in some way.

A moment later, light flared through the darkness. Harry turned and tracked it towards a small firepit in the center of a floor that might be wood or might be stone; the flames didn’t throw enough light to make it out. Malfoy stood not far from the fire, one hand over his mouth, his eyes large. Harry could hear his quick, unsteady breaths. A woman stood across from him, clad in the gray of the Unspeakables. Her hair was gray, too, though more the color of iron than ashes, and her eyes were large and dark. Harry winced. Her face was distorted with the same unhealthiness that plagued Malfoy’s now. Was he watching the point at which Malfoy had tortured the first of his victims?

But the woman had a wand in her hand, and she was speaking softly but urgently to Malfoy. Harry edged nearer.

“You know this has to be done, Draco,” she said. “I am never one to argue for unnecessary sacrifices. This is needed. You know it.”

“I didn’t—I didn’t—“ Malfoy shut his eyes and shook his head. In that moment, he looked very young, as he had in the memories Harry had seen where Voldemort was ordering him to torture someone else. Harry squashed the sympathy that thought stirred up. Malfoy had had no choice in that situation. Here, he had, and had got himself into water deeper than his head. Harry didn’t have to feel sorry for him now.

“This is only the first step on a long road,” the woman said. “But think of what we gain at the end! True immortality, without the price paid by those who try to drink unicorns’ blood! Common immortality, not dependent on the rare Philosophers’ Stones that miserly alchemists clutch to themselves! Immortality that leaves the mind and soul intact along with the flesh, unlike what we have found in the transformations! Isn’t this worth a few broken limbs and lost lives along the way? Besides, they were only criminals, Draco. And we didn’t promise any of them they would survive, only that they would be free from Azkaban during the time we were using them.”

“My father was thrown in Azkaban once,” said Malfoy, so lowly that Harry was surprised his companion heard him. She reached across the fire, though, and clasped his hands between hers.

“And you are a different breed of man than he was, Draco,” she said, her voice soaring, rich and warm. It reminded Harry, a very little, of the way that Hermione got when she was trying to persuade him and Ron to care about house-elf rights. “You are a better fit for this new world we are constructing. Your father thought only in terms of petty power, ambition fit to control people but not benefit them. Am I right? From what you told me about him, he couldn’t even foresee the consequences of his own actions, or he wouldn’t have begun to serve under a madman.”

“That’s true,” Malfoy said. “But, Pearl—“ Harry started, until he realized it must be the woman’s name “—I can’t see things like that happen and not question. It’s not possible. When Richard first brought me here, I thought what we did would be—theory. Not, not this.” He made a little gesture at the fire.

Harry glanced at the fire, wondering for a moment if Malfoy was seeing images in it. And then he gagged, and put a hand over his mouth, since he wasn’t sure what would happen if he vomited in a Pensieve. The fire’s kindling wasn’t wood. Harry could make out a gaping mouth and eyes under the flames, and ears, and sockets where limbs should have been. The compact, folded human body, which might have been female, was sprouting fire from every possible orifice, and Harry thought she was still alive.

“It’s rather shocking at first, yes,” Pearl said soothingly. “But, don’t you see, each time we do this, we move a bit further towards final knowledge, Draco!” Her hands stroked his, soothingly, caressingly. “We see what the human body can endure. We can detach limbs now, and make them live. We can take immortality from magical creatures, and we’re beginning to be able to apply their magic to ourselves. We show that someone can burn, and burn, and not die. And when we give that knowledge to people who deserve it, they’ll be able to walk alive out of burning buildings. No longer will parents fear having their children incinerate themselves with accidental magic or tumble headlong into fires.”

Harry shivered, hating this Pearl woman already. He wouldn’t have been convinced by the arguments, he thought, not with the atrocities happening right in front of him, and if Malfoy was, then he had already been looking for an excuse in the first place. At least he didn’t look at the burning woman as he held his inner debate. Harry supposed that was a sign of compassion.

Or squeamishness. Or not being able to face the consequences of one’s actions.

“I can’t say you’re right,” Malfoy whispered. “Not completely. But I’ll stay a little while longer. Richard has promised that we can get away from this kind of research soon, and start actually changing the state of our own bodies.” His right hand rose and brushed over his left arm, and Harry knew what he was thinking of. “I hope so.”

“Of course we will.” Pearl took his arm and started walking him away from the fire, into the depths of the dim room. “And just think what we’ll be able to accomplish soon. You can look as young and handsome as this forever. You’ve told me you don’t want to age. And of course no one wants to die. We’ll be able to—“

The memory dissolved there, and Harry found himself rising to the surface of the Pensieve again. He stood there for long moments, gasping, his hands locked on his wand and the empty air. Slowly, he leaned back from the Pensieve, and his empty hand clenched into a fist.

He turned to find Malfoy waiting not far away, his eyes wide and inquiring. Harry wasn’t sure what the expression on his own face looked like, but Malfoy flinched as if he’d been struck a blow.

“These are your memories,” Harry said. How he managed to keep back the impulse to shout and scream and curse, he’d never know. Maybe he just didn’t want to warn Malfoy of what would happen when he gave the memories back. His voice was empty and polite. “And I think it’s important that you see them.”

He dipped his wand into the bowl and cast the spell that would attach the memories as sticky silver strands to the end of it. Then he stalked towards Malfoy, who looked at him with a nervous fluttering of his eyelashes and tilting of his head, but made no attempt to run away. Harry was grimly glad. He would get some of what he deserved, when he saw what he’d done. And maybe then he’d drop the innocent act that had made Harry almost feel sorry for him.

Another whispered word, and the strands of memory uncurled and whipped back into Malfoy’s temple. He stood there with wide eyes for a moment, blinking, as if he had expected the transfer to hurt more.

And then he made a little jerking motion, like a rabbit caught in a trap, and buried his head in his hands. His fingers were so short, however, that he could barely hide his cheeks, never mind his eyes. Harry hadn’t anticipated that effect of his mutilated hands.

He stood with his arms folded, waiting, wondering what excuses Malfoy would come up with to keep him around. Heat and cold pulsed over his body in alternating waves. He debated whether he should cast a spell that hid him from sight and simply walk away from Malfoy. God knew the prat, weakened from torture and his own bodily “modifications,” would never be able to catch him up.

Or maybe Harry should look him in the eye and say, “You disgust me,” first. Malfoy might shatter at those words. Harry didn’t think it likely, but if he could just see guilt in those gray eyes, then maybe—

Malfoy screamed.

Harry only knew it because he was watching him, waiting for the moment when the excuses would start. Malfoy’s mouth was open, his eyes shut so tightly it looked as if they hurt, and he was clawing at his cheeks with the ineffective stubs of his fingers.

Harry had taken a step forwards before he thought about it, before he knew what possessed him. He hesitated a moment. Did he really want to stop Malfoy? Shouldn’t he let the bastard inflict pain on himself, to make reparations for all the pain he’d caused, and stood around and watched without stopping?

He clenched his own fingers into his palms as he watched Malfoy fall to his knees and curl up into a ball, whimpering. He recalled the image of the burning woman and tried to paste it on the inside of his eyelids, so that he could remember Malfoy deserved every bit of guilt and horror from the newly reacquired memories he could stand—

And then he cursed helplessly and knelt down, wrapping his arms around Malfoy. He didn’t deserve comfort, or he probably didn’t deserve it, but Harry couldn’t stand to watch someone suffering like that in front of him and do nothing. The burning woman was in the past; he couldn’t help her. But Malfoy was quivering like the spider that the Barty Crouch had put under the Cruciatus Curse all those years ago, and Harry wasn’t made of stern enough stuff to stand there and let it continue.

Malfoy flinched away from him at first, probably assuming Harry was Richard, or at least that Harry wanted to hurt him, and Harry had to call him “Draco” three times and soothingly stroke his hair before he would unfold and let Harry close. Then his arms wrapped around Harry hard enough to drive the air out of his lungs. Harry gasped a little and kept up the stroking and murmuring, calling himself ten kinds of fool as he did it. This is what lets criminals win, because the actual Aurors are too compassionate, he thought, recalling a lesson that Auror Peabody, the most scarred person Harry had ever met except for Mad-Eye Moody, had told him. Peabody had tried to be kind to an old woman who had committed murders out of rage over the death of her only child, and lost two of his limbs, three of his fingers, and one of his ears as a consequence.

But his traitorous body ignored him and went on holding Malfoy. Malfoy shook in a way that made Harry think he’d be heaving sobs if he could make a sound, and went on doing it for far longer than seemed healthy. But Harry wasn’t Hermione, who would have known the perfect spell for the occasion, and he wasn’t Ron, who would have had better sense than to try and comfort a torturer. He was just stupid Harry Potter, himself, and more alone than he’d ever been, since he couldn’t trust his only companion anymore.

How long they knelt there, he didn’t know; long enough for his knees to ache, anyway. Finally, Malfoy gave a little whuff of air, felt and not heard, and then collapsed against Harry. Harry rose awkwardly to his feet and stood there with him, in turn, until Malfoy pulled himself back and stared up at Harry.

He stretched out a hand, beckoning. It took Harry a moment to realize he wanted the glass globe. He shrugged and fetched it with a wave of his wand. His compassion was retreating, his caution asserting itself full force. But the only way Malfoy could make the sphere into a weapon would be to hurl it at him, and Harry was the one with the magic to catch and turn a missile like that.

Malfoy touched the sphere, and then stopped and closed his eyes. Harry blinked when he realized that apparently the words Malfoy wanted to say were nowhere in the immense list of phrases they’d compiled.

When the prat turned to him with desperate, drowning eyes, though, Harry thought he knew what they were.

“You’re sorry,” he said, as flatly as he could.

A frantic nod. Malfoy crossed the ground between them so fast that Harry had no time to blink, and then he was burrowing uncomfortably into Harry’s chest, the globe trapped between them, getting his wrists and palms all tangled up in Harry’s robes. Harry rolled his eyes to the ceiling and permitted that for a moment before he spoke up with his plan.

“I’ll take you back to the staircase upwards. There has to be a way to get past that room full of flesh and the shadow-wolf. You can go to safety, and I’ll—“

Malfoy was a few inches away from him in moments, his eyes glittering with outrage and his hands firmly poised on the glass. A few taps, and he had found the facet that meant No and touched it.

“You have to,” Harry hissed at him, exasperated. “I don’t care how sorry you are.” Malfoy flinched from his tone. “I can’t trust you anymore. And I can’t have someone at my back in these situations whom I don’t trust.”

Malfoy lowered his eyelids and appeared to be deep in thought for a moment. Then he looked up and mouthed at Harry, again using the exaggerations of his lips so Harry could be sure to understand the words, This is a maze.

“I get that now,” Harry said coolly. “And I think I know who’s responsible for it being that way, too.”

Another flinch, but Malfoy didn’t back off. I know the way through.

And Harry cursed himself for not putting that memory of the grooves on the table into his own head when he had a chance.

“You won’t tell me, will you?” he asked.

Malfoy shook his head.

“I don’t understand why you even want to stay with me,” said Harry, crossly, uncomfortable and hating the feeling that he didn’t know exactly what the right thing to do was. Heroes always should. “You’ve got to know it’s immensely dangerous. And up above, you might be able to find someone to heal you.”

Malfoy tapped the globe and chose the facet that meant Revenge, then went to the sarcastic phrases facet and chose You idiot Gryffindor.

“Apparently,” Harry muttered, and raked a hand through his hair. He wanted Ron and Hermione back with him so badly it was a physical ache, spreading through his chest and down towards his toes.

And if he wanted them back with him, he had to follow the only guide he had. He could always arrest Malfoy later, when everyone was safely out of the Department of Mysteries.

And he had the wand.

“Fine,” he said, gesturing with his head beyond the Pensieve. “Come on, then.”

Malfoy smiled triumphantly, but then chose the facet of the globe that meant Thank you.

“Don’t thank me,” Harry muttered as they began to walk again. His back prickled, and he shifted until Malfoy was where he could see him. “We’ll both end up dead in some horrid way, and then you’ll be sorry that you didn’t take an out when I offered you one.”

Headshake, and another triumphant smile. Harry quietly tightened his grip on his wand. From now on, he would be watching, and he would not let compassion get the better of him in the end.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six—Slurry

Harry didn’t like trusting Malfoy. He hated it even more when the corridors beyond the room with the Pensieve proved to split into a twisting, weaving mess. He halted and closed his eyes, trying to recall the memory of the pattern Malfoy had drawn on the wooden table, but he only remembered stray flashes of straight lines and gentle curves, nothing that would form connections and show him the way out. He opened his eyes with a hiss of frustration and turned to face Malfoy.

Malfoy wore a very faint smile, as if he were enjoying the attention and trust Harry was forced to lavish on him but didn’t like to say so. He caught Harry’s eye and then glanced demurely away, his mouth twitching.

“Yes, very funny,” Harry said. “I suppose that you do remember the way through this maze, Malfoy, and you’re not lying?”

The other man snapped a glare at him. At first Harry thought it was because he’d been called a liar, and then Malfoy lifted a hand and repeated the rib-slapping gesture he’d used earlier when they lay close together.

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Harry pushed a hand against his forehead and ran it up through his hair. “Why does it matter so much what I call you, Malfoy or Draco?”

Malfoy folded his arms and glared. Harry could read the retort in his eyes: if it didn’t matter what Harry called him, then Harry could bear the burden and name him Draco without causing any difficulty.

“Fine,” Harry said, but he scowled, so that Malfoy would know how much he resented this. “Draco. You know the way through the maze, don’t you?”

Malfoy nodded and brushed past him. Harry flinched when he felt a brief touch from the sponge-like flesh along the man’s sides. At least Malfoy was walking more easily now than he had yesterday, or what felt like yesterday, thanks to good food and good rest.

I hate this, Harry thought, trailing behind him. I want to despise him, but I can’t when I see how much he’s suffered. And then I want to pity him, but I can’t because I don’t have any idea what he might have done to people more deserving of that pity. And I can’t ask him for details because of the inadequacies of the communication sphere.

The best they could hope for at the moment, Harry thought, was to find another Pensieve. Hopefully it would have more memories this time, and they would be less confusing. And then he could finally decide which Draco was just a creation of his imagination, the victim or the torturer, and treat him accordingly, while banishing the false one.

He walked on a few more steps, frowning fiercely to himself, before something occurred to him.

You just called him Draco in your mind. With no prompting.

Harry shuddered and shook his head violently. That was not a good sign, and not because he particularly cared what name he gave the git. Auror Rosethorn, their instructor in Psychology, had told them that Aurors couldn’t afford to become too intimate with those they chased down and held, even if they thought the criminal had been wrongfully accused. And on the list of signs she’d given the trainees that indicated they were becoming too invested in the fates of individuals instead of in justice was the calling of a suspect by his or her first name.

I’ve got to retain my emotional distance, Harry lectured himself as he marched after Malfoy. Malfoy, Malfoy, it was definitely Malfoy in private, no matter what he had to call him aloud. I can’t afford to act like he’s my friend, especially after this.

Because the corridors around them were simply plain stone and Malfoy was moving through them with no sign of hesitation, Harry busied himself with two things: casting spells that would detect traps and magical creatures, and making up a list of questions that he wanted to ask the bastard the next time they stopped walking.

*

Harry had long since lost track of where they were in the maze, and admitted to himself that he couldn’t have found his way back on his own. Hermione would have been sure to scold him for that, but of course, she would have been taking notes on the route as they went. Her memory was excellent.

See, that’s yet another of the many reasons that I need to rescue her, so that she can do my thinking for me, Harry told the small section of his mind that had succumbed to pessimism and tended to swing into despair whenever he wasn’t watching it. I can’t get along without her. And I can’t get along without Ron, either.

The thought of life without his friends, much less the reactions of all their friends and family that he would have to face if he went back up without them, made him shudder. There was—there was no point to living that life. He would find Ron and Hermione down here and rescue or avenge them.

Or die trying, maybe.

But dying along the way was a better alternative than trying to live without them.

The loss of his friends as traveling companions, as research partners, as comrades-in-arms, as themselves, was especially acute when he contrasted them with Malfoy. Until he found out the truth—and Malfoy had no particular reason to tell him the truth about anything—he wouldn’t know how to treat the man. He would always be uneasy, flickering back and forth between two attitudes, certain he was being too hard one moment and too soft the next.

Ron and Hermione balanced him, he thought. They had solid ground of their own to stand on, very different but complementary pieces. They showed him what it should look like. Without them, he swayed back and forth with any thought that struck him, or with any emotion, any fear.

Maybe he could have built some solid ground of his own if he had stayed with Ginny. He had worked hard on it, at least. But this, this thing, this knowledge that he was gay, had reared up and hit him in the chest instead. He’d gone back to floundering.

Go away, he thought at his sexual orientation, or preference, or choice, whatever the hell it ought to be called. He was no good with terminology, either. Go away, and leave me alone. Then I can make a marriage, have a family, and be on steady terms with something in life other than Ron and Hermione and my Auror training.

He stopped abruptly. Malfoy had come to a halt in front of him, one hand lifted commandingly for silence. Harry controlled the impulse to complain that he had proceeded in silence and listened instead, carefully positioning his wand so that it pointed around Malfoy’s body into the tunnel beyond.

Nothing audible. But when Harry had concentrated for some time, trying to subdue even his breathing and heartbeat to the push of the silence, he made out a faint, compelling tingle of magic. His mouth tightened. There was something powerful up ahead. An artifact, perhaps, or a cursed room. Harry knew of nothing else it could be.

Malfoy fell back towards him and leaned his face as close to Harry’s as possible—quite unnecessarily, Harry thought, since it wasn’t like anything would hear his voice. I remember this place, he mouthed in exaggeration. Danger.

Harry gave him an exasperated look.

We can’t bypass it, Malfoy continued calmly, and then had to repeat that when Harry shook his head, not understanding the first time. We’ll have to go across it. Be careful.

Harry nodded. “What kind of danger?” he whispered, his words more breath than sound.

Malfoy made an open-palmed shrug, less impressive than it should have been, given his shorter fingers. Harry nodded again and moved ahead, then paused when he saw Malfoy’s incredulous look.

“Are there any more turns of the maze between here and there?” he asked.

Malfoy shook his head.

“Well, then. I’m the only one who has a wand. I should have thought it was simple enough, even for the likes of you, Draco.”

He received a scowl in return, but it was a thoughtful one. Harry rolled his eyes and turned away, irritated with himself for bothering to read nuances in his enemy’s face. Maybe he could say it was a tool for keeping them both alive, but it also felt uncomfortably like that intimacy he was trying to keep away from.

Malfoy’s hand reached out and rested on his elbow, an odd, cool shape, the stumps of his fingers barely able to cover the bone. Harry took the hint and moved slowly enough that the other man could keep the touch intact.

His body ran with small shivers, the same kind that had plagued him last night when he lay down with Malfoy in his arms. Harry told himself that now was not the time, and lifted the globe of light in front of him as the walls of the tunnel abruptly opened up and drew back.

The room in front of him was immense, and the floor was oddly patterned. Harry frowned down at it for a moment before he recognized the pattern. He controlled the impulse to laugh. Apparently, the universe liked irony; he’d had to cross a huge chessboard to get to the Philosopher’s Stone in his first year, and now here was another one in front of him.

But without chess-pieces, he noticed, as he took another, longer look. The only light came from soft, subdued white globules that hung from the ceiling, so high above Harry had no idea what they were made of. The floor beneath him gleamed, solid enough when he conjured a small stone ball and rolled it across the tiles. Of course, that didn’t prevent some of it from being illusion, but a spell to discern glamours provided no results.

“I don’t like this,” Harry hissed to no one.

Malfoy’s hand squeezed his elbow, proving that he wasn’t alone in more than one sense.

Harry finally decided, reluctantly, that they had no other choice but to go forwards. As Malfoy had said, the tunnel’s walls spread out to become the room’s, and there was no way for them to bypass it. Of course, perhaps there was another way in the maze that they could use, but if Harry turned back now, he might as well admit that he didn’t trust Malfoy to lead him through at all. And with his luck, he would just get lost and stand there futilely banging his head against the rock until Malfoy came to rescue him.

The image was an unpleasant one. Harry liked to be the rescuer, not the person in distress.

He glanced back at Malfoy, wondering if any other memories of the place had come to the git, but he only shook his head. Harry stared ahead, licked his lips, and then began the walk across the smooth chessboard.

It was surprisingly unpleasant to step on, given that it was solid and his spells hadn’t revealed any hidden death-traps. Perhaps it was simply Harry’s paranoia talking, but he didn’t like the smoothness of the dark squares, or the grainy nature of the pale ones. More than once, the pale ones shifted under his feet, though they never slid away. They seemed to be made of particles of something packed solid. Harry shuddered with the thoughts of what the something could be, and quickened his steps.

He and Malfoy reached the halfway point. It was only there that Harry noticed Malfoy was timing his steps carefully, so that they never fell far behind Harry’s strides. Harry frowned at him, but Malfoy only offered a hands-wide gesture and a shake of his head. He felt he should do it, Harry translated, but he didn’t really know why.

Something grabbed his foot.

The next moment, pain like nothing Harry had ever known flared through his body, from his foot up. He screamed and fell to one knee, trying desperately to get his wand in position, turn his body to protect Malfoy, and see what was happening all at once.

When he glanced down, he saw a dead-white tendril, barbed and edged with transparent hooks, curling out of the floor and into his foot. The barbs were sunken into his skin, pulsing and quivering, yanking on his bones. Harry had time to notice that much before the pain flared again and he tipped his head back, screaming.

Malfoy clutched at him, probably demanding reassurances soundlessly, but Harry couldn’t give them, and he couldn’t move.

And then the—

The pain was gone, and so were the bones of his foot.

Harry stared down, dazed with disgust and horror to the point where he could only watch. The hooks were no longer translucent, but bulging and rippling with some thick and pasty concoction. They were also still buried in his foot, and from that and the way they quivered, Harry thought he knew what had happened. This creature had somehow melted his foot bones, transforming them into a kind of slurry, and was drinking them.

Rage provided the spark that fear had made impossible. Harry aimed his wand at the tendril and intoned the Cutting Curse.

The spell struck the tendril, but didn’t slice straight through, as Harry had thought it would. Instead, the tendril chipped and scattered. Harry stared, sick, and finally realized what it must be made of: bone itself. The tendril withdrew into the floor, its barbs flailing and spilling the liquid remains of what had been his own bones a few moments before in every direction.

Malfoy made a loud flapping noise with his arms, and Harry whipped his head around. More tendrils were emerging from the floor, white legs that hauled more and more legs up behind them. Harry couldn’t see any heads to the creatures, whatever they were. There were only endless, jointed, flapping legs, like the limbs of spiders, and the angles and the barbs that protruded from them, aiming straight at Harry and Malfoy.

Harry dulled his own fear again. This was a situation for a hero. He knew what he needed to do.

First, he cast a spell that Transfigured the slopping, pudding-like mass of his foot—a pouch of flesh without bones to anchor it, in a jelly-like casing—into a block of light wood, which would slow him down much less when he attempted to walk. Then he seized Malfoy around the waist, cast a Feather-Lightening Charm on him, held his wand out, and shouted, “Adlevo meum!”

The spell curled around him with a sharp snap, hauling him off the ground so fast that Harry experienced a rush of dizzy disorientation for a moment. But he wasn’t on his broom, and he knew how to control this spell—one of the first ordinary spells, outside the realm of those countercurses and charms specific to Defense Against the Dark Arts, that he had proven good at during his Auror training. He stuck out his legs to slow his momentum, all the time clutching Malfoy with one hand and his wand with the other. They turned in a gentle circle, raised fully twenty feet above the crawling creatures.

Harry stared down at them. They had oriented on him and Malfoy, and the nearest bone limbs were raised in greedy desire, the barbs on them flexing and curling like tiny arms. Harry waited, tensely, to see if they were about to climb on top of each other and attempt to reach him and Malfoy that way, but they didn’t seem to be that bright.

He wondered for a moment why his spell to detect magical creatures hadn’t found them, and then made a face at himself. He’d only checked this room. The creatures had been waiting in a room below.

And, too, they might not exactly fit the spell’s definition of “creature.”

“Draco,” he asked, keeping his eyes firmly on the nearest stamping and circling spider-things, “can I kill them?”

Malfoy, scared and shaken though he must be—especially if these were the creatures that had drunk his bones out of his chest—still managed to summon the communication sphere and hit the facet that signified immortality of body.

“I thought so,” Harry said sourly.

He thought it through, his eyes narrowed. The creatures hadn’t ventured beyond their room into the maze, which could be a sign that they were bound to remain here. On the other hand, they could obviously sense food; the one that had attacked him had probably done so because the bones of his foot had finally come close enough to trigger its appetite. He and Malfoy might leave the room by the doorway that Harry could see on the far side, only to draw the things after with the promise of a free meal.

“Can they get through stone?” he asked Malfoy.

A helpless shrug.

“Damn,” Harry said, and forbore to say that Malfoy was being extremely useless right now. He hadn’t thought of a plan, either.

Except…

“Do you know a spell that will enable me to find out what something is made of?” he asked.

For that suggestion, he received a stare that suggested he was mad and a touch on the bones of Malfoy’s wrist.

“Yes, I know they’re made of bone,” Harry said patiently. With commendable patience, really, considering the circumstances. “I was talking about the floor. I want to see if it’s stone. If it is, then they can eat through stone, and trying to conjure a stone barrier in their way when we get out of here won’t work.”

Once again, he got a look that needed no translation: I am impressed, Potter. Then Malfoy mouthed the incantation at him, over and over again, with Harry softly repeating it until Malfoy nodded enthusiastically.

Harry aimed his wand at a patch of clear floor immediately beneath them, which the spider-things kept shoving each other out of, and yelled, “Discribo!”

The beam of blue light the spell produced shot straight down, hit both a black and a white square, and bounced back to him. Harry blinked, suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation of knowledge.

The black material was the remains of flesh, the white of bone marrow. Harry swallowed, a bit sick. He and Malfoy had literally been walking across the mangled layers of the creatures’ last meals.

Then he forbade himself to feel sick. The important thing was that it seemed as though the creatures couldn’t digest stone. And he and Malfoy, if they got out of here, could hide behind a conjured barrier that should fill the mouth of the next tunnel.

If they got out of here. The main drawback of the Self-Lifting Charm was the same as that of weightlessness: there was no way to go anywhere unless one had a solid obstacle to push against. Harry and Malfoy were hanging in midair far from the walls and the floor, and Harry was not about to descend long enough to push off from one of the bone creatures.

He conjured another stone ball and dropped it into the middle of the bone creatures while he tried to come up with a plan. For a moment, they scrambled madly after it, but then pulled back when they realized that it wasn’t bone. The stone ball rolled away unmolested. Harry nodded. His plan to block the corridor with a stone wall ought to work, then—and a good thing, too, since he doubted that he could conjure a bulk of wood or any other material dense and weighty enough to fulfill the same purpose.

Auror Gillyflower is always telling me that I need to be more diverse in my spellwork. And now I can see why.

“All right, Draco,” he said, once again catching himself just in time and substituting the right name. “We’ll have to sort of swim and sort of fly to the other doorway. But we’ll have to work together and push off each other’s bodies, since otherwise there’s no way that we can pick up speed. Do you understand?”

Malfoy blinked, and then touched his chest.

“We’ll be as careful of that as we can,” Harry said. “But feel free to shove against me all you like. Think of it as a return to one of your favorite pastimes,” he added, knowing Malfoy might find strength from humor. “After all, what would you have given in school to be able to hit me as hard as you could?”

Malfoy’s face shut down and became unreadable. He raised a hand and laid it against Harry’s chest, over his heart. Harry braced himself for a shove, but Malfoy just left his palm there, staring at him, his face still absolutely expressionless.

Harry was the one who turned his head away, his cheeks flaming for no apparent reason, and said gruffly, “All right. Kick against me, now.”

Malfoy did as he suggested, and at the same moment, Harry kicked away from him, retaining only a hold on the other wizard’s wrist. They spun apart like a couple of dancers, and half-tumbled, half-floated towards the far doorway. Harry spent a moment wondering whether he would lose hold of his satchel, but in the end the weight stopped dragging at him, and it swung back into line.

Harry braced his heels against Malfoy’s legs and pushed, and Malfoy gave a little jerk as that propelled them forwards a few feet. Next, Harry pulled Malfoy hard in against him, angling himself so that Malfoy’s delicate chest and lower body were aimed away from him, and they drifted towards the door again, clasped together like—

Like lovers, Harry thought, and then banished the comparison. He was working hard enough as it was, physically, without dealing with the consequences of a thought like that.

Little by little, yanking and tugging and angling and plunging like fish, they managed to attain the doorway. Harry lowered his head to Malfoy’s and spoke quietly, just in case the bone creatures, who had followed them in a hungry crowd across the floor, could understand English. “This part is going to be tricky. Go limp and trust me for a minute, then be ready to run the moment your feet hit the floor. All right?”

Malfoy blinked at him, then nodded. Harry smiled.

Then he canceled the Self-Lifting Charm and dropped them both like stone balls.

Malfoy was probably crying out, but he still had the Feather-Light Charm on him, and he did nothing but bounce softly when he hit the floor. Harry dropped into a crouch, spinning around on his knees and haunches, shoving Malfoy away from him and pointing his wand towards the bone-creatures in the same moment. He heard Malfoy gain his feet and start running away. He smiled briefly. For some things, you do want a Slytherin. A Gryffindor would have stood there and argued or tried to help.

He watched the hooks and barbs coming for his arms with a clear, cool head that he never had anywhere else but the middle of life-threatening danger, and then conjured a stone wall right in front of himself.

The sudden displacement of air threw him back down the corridor. Harry heard the wooden lump that had taken the place of his foot clack as it hit the walls, and he rolled back upright hastily, to make sure that the stone wall was big and broad enough to cover the entire mouth of the tunnel.

It was. Then Harry waited for any barbs or tendrils to come curling through, as the bone creatures tried to overthrow the wall to follow their prey.

Nothing happened.

Except a sudden hug from behind him, Malfoy’s arms curling around him as if he would never let go.

When Harry looked up, Malfoy’s eyes were tightly shut, and the rest of his face wore an expression of such gratitude that Harry had to glance away. He would have to move soon, to make what arrangements he could about his foot and to ask Malfoy questions, but for right now, he thought both of them would have found words too awkward.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven—The Second Pensieve

Harry raised his foot and brought it down again. As before, it made a faint clunk. He grimaced. So much for traveling in absolute silence.

But having a wooden foot was better than having a leaking bag of blood and flesh that would slow him down. Harry had to content himself with that, since his healing spells were limited and he had no Skele-Gro. When they returned to the surface, then the Healers at St. Mungo’s should be able to regrow the bones in his foot, just as they should be able to regrow Draco’s ribs.

Malfoy’s ribs, you mean.

Harry shook his head at himself. He had already slipped up twice in so simple a matter as the name of a potential enemy. What would happen when he ventured deeper into the Department of Mysteries with Malfoy and his entire survival relied on keeping a careful emotional distance?

This is why you need Ron and Hermione back, besides just needing their friendship. You’re half-helpless on your own.

He rose and turned to face Malfoy, who had waited for him in the first proper room they’d found since the room of the bone-eating creatures. Harry had insisted on remaining in the tunnel to test his foot. He’d told Malfoy it was so that any spells he had to cast wouldn’t accidentally hit the other man, but he had mostly wanted the chance to think without meeting piercing gray eyes every second.

He was more balanced and settled, now. It would have to be enough.

“All right,” he said quietly to Malfoy. “Are you tired? Do you need to gather more strength, or should we go on?” Beyond this room, which was another small stone circle without windows rather like the one where they’d slept, Harry had already seen that a second maze of tunnels opened. He’d rather cover what ground they could before they had to take another extended rest.

Malfoy folded his arms and looked stubborn. Harry frowned and waited, but Malfoy didn’t motion for the communication sphere, or try to mouth any words. He just kept his gaze steady and his face blank.

“I give up,” Harry said at last. “I told you, I’m no good at Legilimency.” He stopped after the words and took a deep breath. His tone sounded as if he were about to whinge any second. No whinging. I’m not a child, and I’m not a spoiled brat, either. “Just tell me what’s wrong,” he went on encouragingly.

Malfoy stepped forwards, eyes on his face. Harry stood and waited for him to come, though his muscles tensed involuntarily. Over and over, he reminded himself that Malfoy was severely wounded and had no wand. If it came to a physical struggle, Harry would still win.

He expected anything from a punch to a silent lecture on what an idiot he was. What he got were hands pressing on his shoulders, pushing him down. Harry fought back on instinct, which caused Malfoy to roll his eyes and push again. Slowly, Harry sank to his floor, his eyes never wavering from Malfoy’s face, his tongue curling around a spell and his fingers around the wand. His wooden foot clanked awkwardly beneath him, making him an even better target.

Malfoy did nothing except sit him down, though, and then seat himself opposite Harry. He promptly folded his legs beneath himself and piled his hands on top of each other in the middle of his lap. His gaze was steady. Harry waited, hearing his heart beat oddly loud in his ears.

The communication sphere bobbed not far away. Malfoy picked it up and started rapping the heel of his palm and his finger nubs against the facets. Slowly, Harry made out the message: You save my life. I trust you.

“That’s nice to know,” said Harry, and then stopped, because Malfoy had already started rapping out the same message, only in reverse.

You trust me.

Harry folded his arms in turn. “I can’t,” he said. “I just—you were here when they started torturing people, Malfoy!” His voice soared despite himself, and he didn’t care that he’d just used the “wrong” name. “How do you expect me to just accept that and go on, when you probably had something to do with my friends disappearing and the whole Department becoming like—like this?”

Malfoy gazed at him evenly. Then he pointed into the maze beyond this room.

“I don’t know what that means,” Harry reminded him.

Malfoy made an expressive gesture with one hand, managing to mime, even with his fingers mostly missing, the motion of a wand pulling memories from his temple and dropping them into a Pensieve. Then he pointed into the maze again.

“There’s another Pensieve ahead,” Harry muttered, feeling like a right berk for not getting it the first time. See? he added to whatever fate had taken Ron and Hermione away. I can’t do anything right.

Malfoy nodded fiercely.

“How do you know that?”

Malfoy sighed, then folded one finger stump on either hand into his palm and extended all the others. Harry frowned. “Eight? Eight what?”

But his memory had already returned to the glimpse of the wooden table that Malfoy had constructed and shown to the Unspeakable called Richard. There had been nine balls that had arranged themselves along the grooves of the maze instead of dropping into the center with the rest. If the nine balls had been nine Pensieves, or maybe one ball representing Malfoy and eight balls representing Pensieves…

“Eight Pensieves altogether?” Harry asked quickly. “Or eight remaining?”

That question won him a beaming smile, and then a quick nod and headshake. Eight Pensieves altogether, Harry translated.

“But you don’t remember what’s in each one.”

Heashake.

“But you want me to trust you anyway.”

Nod.

Harry sighed and rubbed his fingers across his face. “If it was anyone but you, this wouldn’t be such a problem,” he muttered. “Or if I hadn’t seen what I did in the last Pensieve, about you ignoring that poor woman as you burned.” He sensed more than saw Malfoy give a massive flinch. He dropped his hand and glared at the other man again. “How could you do that? How could you see her burn and then still let that witch, Pearl or whatever her name is, persuade you to go back to your research?”

The piercing gray eyes clouded. Then they closed, and Malfoy shook his head slowly, not in denial, but with such a lost expression on his face that Harry felt another uncomfortable twitch of pity and sympathy. He tried to banish the swirling emotions, telling himself no murderer or torturer deserved them. They refused to go.

He was faced with another of those choices he always made wrong. And he was probably going to make this one wrong, too. That was Harry Potter: face him with a precipice, and he leaped off it. He thought again of what he had done to come into the Department of Mysteries, a piece of recklessness Hermione would undoubtedly have scolded him for.

But ignoring his own instincts would make him so uncomfortable he’d probably have even worse errors later on. And his instincts were with the pity, and the sympathy, and the tendency to think that the lost expression on Malfoy’s face came from the genuine lack of a memory.

“All right,” Harry said, clearing his throat. “All right. I’ll trust you for now, and we’ll go ahead to the Pensieve.” He paused. “I reckon that you’ll let me look at the memories first, before you try to put them back in your head?”

Malfoy’s eyes flared open. Hope was in them like light. Harry blinked and glanced away, but he couldn’t escape the sudden pressure of a warm body close to his and a heavy hand on his arm so easily.

Lips moved just against his ear. Harry suspected they were only mouthing thank you, but he shivered anyway.

And then told himself not to be so stupid.

*

The second Pensieve, like the first, was standing in the middle of a solid ivory pillar. Harry glanced at the pillar just once and then away; looking at it steadily made him ill. Like the first, the shadowy shapes of letters gleamed near the base. Epi, said these. Harry wondered what they meant.

Cautious spells revealed no trace of enemies, even though this time Harry used a few extra ones to turn the walls and floor and ceiling transparent so that he could check for creatures lurking and awaiting their chance. The floor was solid stone. And Malfoy strolled in confidently enough, so that Harry eventually felt like a pillock for staying behind and hurried to catch up with him.

Malfoy glanced up at him once, then back at the Pensieve. His face had shut down again, but his eyes gleamed with some emotion Harry doubted he would have understood even if he’d been in contact with the git’s thoughts. He directed the communication sphere to hover next to Malfoy, within easy reach if he needed it, and asked, “And you’re sure you want me to look at them first?”

A firm nod. Malfoy touched Harry’s chest in the next instant, his hand resting forcibly over Harry’s heart. It was the same forced intimacy he’d instigated while they hovered above the bone-creatures. Harry backed up a step, but Malfoy just followed him, staring intently all the while.

“Yeah,” Harry said, turning away uneasily. “I’ll just get on with it, then, shall I?” Finally, he backed up enough to make Malfoy’s hand drop off, and he faced the Pensieve and cast the Sticking Charm on his feet, as before.

“Hit me over the head with the sphere if you get in trouble,” he said, and once again got another flat stare, the same as when he’d suggested that Malfoy enjoy the violence of their pushing against one another to get to the doorway. Harry bent down to the Pensieve, and his last thought while his mind was still his own was that the Unspeakables seemed to have taken Draco’s sense of humor about their schoolboy rivalry from him along with his fingers and his ribs.

*

The first memory Harry landed in was an unexpectedly pleasant one. He stood in a room crowded with fine furniture, old books, and birdcages that contained softly twittering parakeets and canaries. It was dark, but only because the sole illumination came from a fire in a grand old hearth of weathered stone. In front of the fire was a high-backed pair of chairs from which voices came. Harry picked his way towards them.

Once again, Malfoy’s voice hit his ears with the shock of being slapped in the face by a wave.

“—don’t think that’s likely to matter. Sir Galen was a fine fellow, I’m certain—a great wizard, even if you only look at this one spell. But he had some rather old-fashioned ideas about what mattered to the use of magic. The question of intent, of willingness? That sounds to me like the outdated criteria that the Ministry uses to classify some magic as Dark. There are healing spells that could be Dark, because the person casts them intending to hurt someone else. The pain ultimately leads to greater benefit, though. And our research will, as well.”

By this time, Harry had rounded the chairs. Malfoy was leaning back in his, a glass of wine cupped in one whole hand, the other waving lazily back and forth, a smug smirk occupying his lips. The inhabitant of the other chair was Pearl, the woman Harry had last seen persuading Malfoy that torture was a good thing.

“My mother would warn me to beware of men like you,” the older witch said, laughing softly while she sipped her own drink—ale, Harry thought. “The ones who spend the most time arguing about the Dark Arts, and presenting the most fascinating and persuasive reasons for studying them, are the ones who turn up with a Potions lab full of corpses some fine day.”

Harry considered Pearl as dispassionately as he could. She looked younger than she had in the memory of Malfoy and the burning woman, certainly under less stress. That meant this memory could have happened before the last one. Maybe.

“Not me,” Malfoy said.

Harry twitched around to look at him. Malfoy’s face had gone unexpectedly serious, and he was staring into his drink. Though Harry doubted it would have been obvious to anyone but an observer with Auror training, he could make out the wine shaking from a fine tremor, traveling up Malfoy’s arm to his shoulder.

“Really?” Pearl sounded surprised, perhaps intrigued. “You can’t tell me that you’ve never been tempted by the secrets one can learn only from human flesh. Even your fine old Sir Galen wrote a little about that, in the spell you’ve been helping Richard to enact.”

“It’s not an option for me,” Malfoy said, and drained half the remaining wine in one gulp. Harry put that particular remembrance in the back of his mind, just in case Malfoy ever claimed to have impeccable manners. “I can’t kill. I can’t spill the blood of another human being. I once tried to kill people from a distance, and I wasn’t good even at that. The only time in my life I ever achieved appreciable levels of violence, someone else was driving me.” He turned and stared at Pearl. “Do you think Richard is capable of doing that?”

Harry whipped about. Pearl’s eyes slid off center just a little. Lying, Harry thought, even as she gave her answer.

“No. Of course not.”

Malfoy released a breathy sigh. “Good. I wouldn’t want to think my research was contributing to something like that, even tangentially.”

The memory ended and whirled Harry into darkness, towards the next one. He was left laboring for breath and staring down at his own clenched fists, since for the moment he had nothing else to look at.

This memory is earlier than the last one I saw, I’m certain of that. He could have changed his mind later.

His own memory, which had a disconcerting attentiveness to nuances of tone at the most inconvenient times, told him that Malfoy had sounded as if he had an unshakable set of principles.

Yeah, but he agreed to participate in this just for the vanity of having the Dark Mark off, Harry told himself stubbornly, and lifted his head to see where he’d landed this time.

This was a large, well-lit room, probably the most brilliant place in the Department of Mysteries other than the chamber where Harry had first discovered Draco. He found himself grateful for that; he was tired of the atmosphere of darkness and oppressiveness that cloaked the place.

And then he made out the cloaked figures standing around a kneeling Malfoy, who had his arms bound stiffly in front of him and his legs shackled to the floor, and he swallowed, suddenly uncertain whether the light was a good thing. He moved closer, though, because what was he in these memories if not a witness?

“Because,” said a voice Harry didn’t recognize from the Unspeakable standing directly in front of Malfoy, “you have attempted to run away from us when you willingly agreed to come here—“

“You tricked me!” Malfoy snarled, bucking like a young horse in his restraints, for all that he couldn’t move his arms and his legs barely stirred. “You said that you would remove the Dark Mark, but what you meant was—“

“Because,” the Unspeakable continued, taking no notice of Malfoy’s interruption, “you attempted to sabotage the research as it went forwards—“

“You bastards—“

“Because you displayed unseemly compassion for subjects whom you knew were traitors, criminals, and worse,” the Unspeakable finished, and flourished his wand, “you shall join them.”

The flick of the wand must have been part of the movement for a nonverbal spell. Harry saw a silvery flash next to the Unspeakable who had cast the spell; then another one came from the far side of the room, behind Draco, and then another one, from the nearest side of the circle. Harry couldn’t see what they were at first, though, until they converged and arrived at Draco’s knees.

Snakes, made of metal. Their bodies were looping, flowing rings of silver, whipping and dissolving into each other, forming shearing patterns of scales in the moments before they winked out of existence again. Harry frowned. Had the Unspeakables filled the fangs of the serpents with some poison they were testing?

Another Unspeakable moved forwards and cast several spells, in such a low voice Harry couldn’t make out what they were. The stiff bindings fell away from Draco’s arms, however, and his fingers splayed wide.

Harry swallowed. Flashes of red and dizzy gray traveled across his vision. He suspected he knew what he was going to see.

The serpents climbed Draco’s body, though he shook his head and swayed back and forth, trying to cast them off. Then they spiraled out along his arms to his fingers and arranged their bodies carefully to hang from the edges of his palms. They opened their mouths.

Harry could see their fangs now—not the glassy, transparent points he would have thought perfect for the delivery of venom, but sharp steel teeth made for cutting, for biting.

The snakes began to chew Draco’s fingers off.

Harry wished there was a wall nearby in the memory to brace himself against. As it was, he called on the same resolve that had kept him seeking the Horcruxes when everything seemed helpless, maybe even the same resolve that had kept him walking into the Forbidden Forest when he believed he was going to his death, and kept watching. It was odd, but if he left the memory and had to tell Draco he’d looked away—well, that would be one of the worst things he could do, even though he didn’t know why.

The snakes bit off strips of skin first, chewing and cutting it to pieces so minute they might as well have swallowed them. Then they reached the bone and began to snap it. Harry flinched as the echoing cracks came to him, like the pops of loud fireworks, and flinched again as Draco screamed and he saw the white, jagged edges of the fingers protruding like obscene stems from the red blossoms of flesh and blood. Then the snakes would bite again, and another splinter of bone would vanish, while the wounds grew larger.

Halfway through, or so, Harry became aware that he was hissing frantically, trying to command the snakes with Parseltongue to leave Draco alone. They didn’t respond, of course.

Several times, Draco almost fainted from blood loss or pain, but the Unspeakables continued to cast spells that kept him conscious throughout it. He had screamed himself hoarse before it was done, but otherwise, Harry had no way of estimating how long the process took. The snakes simply swarmed down Draco’s body at last, and back to their masters. The Unspeakable who had cast the spells that spread Draco’s fingers for the sacrifice stepped in and cast again. This time, the strips of skin left bound themselves around the stumps, and the remaining bones puddled and reshaped themselves like water. In a moment, Draco was left with the same smooth nubs that Harry had seen when he first rescued him.

Finally, mercifully, Draco was allowed to faint.

The memory faded from view, and Harry was left to shut his eyes and try to make sense of his whirling brain. The pity and the sympathy had arisen again, and this time their clamoring completely drowned the rational voice that told him Draco was still to be distrusted, that he’d seen a woman suffer as much as he had and hadn’t tried to save her.

I don’t care what he did. Maybe he should have gone to Azkaban for a year, if there’d been anyone around to judge him after he left her there. Still. No one deserves what happened to him.

Light again. Harry opened his eyes, wondering what horror waited for him in the brilliance this time.

It was almost worse to see Draco—and Harry only became aware then, dimly, that his brain had bitten away Malfoy as thoroughly as the snakes had bitten away the other man’s fingers—with his body intact, sitting at a wide table, swearing steadily at a book in front of him. He looked up when the door of the room, which looked to be a library, opened, and nodded at Pearl. She handed him a cup of steaming tea, which he sipped gratefully.

“You shouldn’t be studying this late, Draco,” she muttered. There was a crease between her brows, and she tucked her hands into her robe sleeves as if she were cold. Harry noticed more strain in her face than in the last memory featuring her, and wondered if she’d already begun the change of mind that would lead to her betraying her friend.

“It’s this damn puzzle Richard set me,” said Draco, wagging his head back and forth as he stared intently down at the book. “The account of the only other time that someone did follow the good Sir Galen’s instructions and try to construct a maze that could be walked through to arrive at immortality.”

Pearl frowned. “I thought that book was fairly straightforward. Is it written in another language?” She leaned over Draco’s shoulder, trying to get a look at the text. Draco laughed and let the book fall shut, stretching luxuriously to make it look like an accident. Harry thought it probably wasn’t.

“Not another language, no. Just the arcane philosophy of six hundred years ago.” Draco waved a hand. “They performed most of the necessary steps. Took the bones they needed, did the experiments, found the spell that would anchor the Pensieves in place. And then the account trails off into gibberish about will, and foundations.” He clasped his hands behind his head and bent his neck with a popping noise. “I can’t make sense of it. They didn’t perform the spell, I know that, but why?”

“Maybe they just weren’t dedicated to the research enough,” Pearl suggested, leaning one hip on the table. “That happens sometimes.”

Harry didn’t miss the narrow-eyed glance Draco darted her, so sudden and fleeting it would have been easy for anyone not watching every movement with breathless attention to miss. “Maybe,” Draco said softly.

And then the memory let Harry go, and he was once again standing in the room of the Pensieve. He was breathing hoarsely, and there was a metallic tang in his throat.

He turned and regarded Draco, who was leaning fully against his side. Draco turned his head and stared at him, shaking his hair out of the way so their eyes could meet without obstructions.

“I am so, so sorry,” Harry whispered.

Draco leaned his head on his shoulder in answer.

Harry took the other man into his arms, carefully arranging himself so he wouldn’t press on the ribless flesh, and rested his chin on the top of Draco’s head. He wanted to take a moment to recover, and to think how he would describe the memories to Draco, so he would be prepared when he accepted them back into his head.

His brain was in chaos. Draco had helped set up the maze and continued his research even when he began to have doubts, but he had also been a victim.

It played havoc with Harry’s nice, neat sense of reality, in which there had been a helpless Draco and a guilty Draco, and he only had to find out which was real in order to give one substance and dismiss the other as shadow.

He had no idea what to do.

But then, that’s hardly new, is it?

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight—Ten Little Pieces

Harry had fully expected Draco to refuse to accept those memories back into his head. When he had described them, as tersely as he could, Draco’s face had paled, and he had drawn away to stand with his eyes shut and his hands resting on each other in front of him. Harry supposed he was trying to calm his upset stomach, or come to terms with the fact that his fingers had been bitten off, and waited patiently.

But soon enough Draco opened his eyes and crowded towards the Pensieve, extending an imperious hand. Harry drew his wand, eyeing him with disbelief that he made no effort to hide. Draco sniffed and threw him an even more demanding look, once again pointing.

“All right, if you must, then,” Harry muttered, and dipped his wand into the Pensieve. Up came a silvery strand of memory. Flinching, unable to keep from wondering if this were a moment shared with Pearl or a moment involving intense pain, Harry pointed the strand at Draco’s temple. Draco stood with his eyes shut and a frown on his face, even after the memory coiled about, shining, and then shot into his head.

When Harry did nothing, Draco cracked an eyelid and gave him a disgusted glance.

“If you can take it so calmly, you’re a better man than I am,” Harry muttered, and squashed another surge of helpless longing for Ron and Hermione. He took up another strand of memory, and another, and another. He watched Draco’s knuckles go white with strain and his throat work, uttering some sound Harry, of course, couldn’t hear. He swayed on his feet at intervals, as if the returned memories were a physical weight dragging his head down.

But he stayed upright, and he beckoned Harry on each time he tried to hesitate. Harry was reluctantly impressed.

A final flick and swish, and the last of the memories vanished. Draco stood breathing with his mouth open. Harry retreated a few steps, frowning at him and ready to catch him if he fell.

He didn’t fall. He did slowly open his eyes and frown at the far wall, as if the returned memories had triggered others. Then he reached out a palm and scooped up the communication sphere floating beside him. Harry edged nearer to make out the exact sequence of words the nubs of Draco’s fingers chose.

I want Unspeakables suffering.

Harry grinned tightly. “Vengeance?”

Draco gave him a sneer, to make it clear that his vengeance on the Unspeakables would be stupendous, monumental, beyond anything Harry meant with the word. Then he wrapped his arms around himself and swayed. Harry quickly stepped up beside him to offer him the support of an arm.

“Are you cold?” he asked. “Hungry?”

Draco shook his head in answer to both, but reached for the glass again. Tired.

“We’ll rest here.” Harry spread out the blankets for Draco, layering them abundantly; he didn’t intend to sleep, so Draco might as well have twice as much cloth to rest on. Draco blinked up at him sleepily when Harry laid him down, however, and made a beckoning gesture with one hand.

“I have to stay up and keep watch,” Harry explained. “It was stupid of us both to sleep at the same time last night. And if I lie down with you, I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep.” He felt his face flush, and looked away. That wasn’t the only thing he was afraid might happen if he lay down next to Draco, now that he had got over his hatred again and was seeing him with the eyes of sympathy.

The heel of a hand rapped against his hip. Harry glanced at Draco, and found him arranging himself so he sat halfway on his haunches. It was an awkward posture, one that he would surely fall from if he didn’t have someone to sit behind him and support his shoulders.

Harry saw what he meant at once: if he sat behind Draco, he was unlikely to fall asleep as easily as if he were sprawled on the floor. It could still happen, though, and Harry wasn’t inclined to gamble with their safety—or, at least, not inclined to gamble with Draco’s safety, anymore. If he proved himself to be an enemy, then he would have to. And if the scenes in the third Pensieve outweighed the ones in the second as far as the evidence of the tale they told, then—

Draco hit the back of his knee, reminding Harry that there was someone here who didn’t know about his reverie and might become impatient with it. He beckoned again, curving his whole hand inwards, since he didn’t have the fingers to be understood otherwise.

Harry swallowed and moved gently behind Draco, sitting down with his legs crossed. Draco promptly sagged back, and Harry realized how well-chosen the position really was. Draco rested against his chest and lap, but Harry still had his arms free to fire curses around the other man’s body, and he could easily open his legs and move them sideways in case they went numb. The only question was if Draco could really sleep like that.

“Can you—“

Draco gave him an eloquently disgusted glance, as much to say that he’d slept in far worse accommodations while he was a prisoner of the Unspeakables, and then curled into Harry with a small sigh. His breathing immediately became calm. Within a few minutes, the hand Harry hovered over his mouth and nose seemed to reveal the soft, easy breaths of sleep.

And that left Harry alone, as he badly needed to be, if he was to stand a chance of putting the puzzle that was Draco Malfoy together.

What do you do with someone who’s done both good and bad things? he thought, staring into the darkness that lay beyond the lighted Pensieve room. Idly, he cast enough protection spells to make the doorway glow like a firefly. Someone who might not have had the most admirable motives, but hardly deserved what befell him?

He might have tried to think of the situations with both Dumbledore and Snape, but those were different. He had thought Dumbledore perfectly good and Snape perfectly evil until after they were safely dead. Then he could question and feel anger and wonder and betrayal all he liked, but he didn’t have to deal with the person on a day-to-day basis. And it was easier to forgive Snape because he’d been in love with Harry’s mum and easier to forgive Dumbledore because he’d been a mentor and a friend.

Malfoy had never been a friend of any sort, and his particular error—crime? sin?—here had nothing to do with Harry. Harry probably shouldn’t even have made the judgment; Malfoy’s friends or the Wizengamot should have. But they weren’t here. He was the one stuck in the darkness, stuck with deciding how to treat Malfoy, and conscious of the fact that they might both live or die depending on what he chose.

Harry took a deep breath. He tried to ignore the sensation of edging out on a thin blade, maybe the Sword of Gryffindor, poised over an abyss and that a tumble from it would result in nothing but darkness and pain.

He evidently couldn’t do anything about his tendency to call Malfoy “Draco” and feel sorry for him. He also couldn’t do much about his anger, but he was better at putting his temper aside after a year under Auror training. He didn’t have the defenses Ron would have, the family feud between the Weasleys and the Malfoys that gave him an unending source of hatred and strength.

So it was better that he accepted Draco as a companion, trusted him for the present, and attempted to help him. He wouldn’t be foolish, of course. He wouldn’t give away his own weaknesses or get himself into a position where his life depended solely on Draco’s intentions. But at least, if he accepted the judgment his instincts wanted him to make, then that would be one less obstacle for him to fight against.

Decision made, he felt his eyelids droop. Harry rolled his eyes at himself. It had probably been less than one full day since their last rest, and though Draco’s tiredness was understandable and permissible, his own wasn’t.

Besides, he wasn’t ready to fall asleep while Draco stayed awake and guarded him yet.

He carefully aimed his wand at himself, and murmured, “Cognosco.”

The charm hit him like a dash of cold water in the face and lemon juice in the mouth; he barely managed to keep from shaking like an idiot and waking Draco. It did its work, though. Harry had used it before when he needed to stay awake most of the night to study for exams. He was aware, now, his brain humming and his senses reaching out. He could hear the soft song of magic sung by the floating communication sphere and his little ball of light, though still no sound from Draco. He could smell dust in the air and see the faint joints where the stones of the wall were fitted together. He could—

He could hear scraping coming from beyond the doorway on the far side of the room.

Harry hissed and sat upright, making Draco shift against him and roll his head like a waking baby. Harry tried to stay still and listen, then, though his heartbeat had almost obscured the faint noise in his ears. No need to wake Draco if this was just a false alarm or his own imagination.

The sound repeated, again and again, the heavy sound of a chain being dragged across stone. Harry wondered if it were more of the bone-creatures. They had made a more delicate noise, though, a skittering, insect-like one. Harry cast a Disillusionment Charm on them both, hoping fervently that his protection charms and wards on the far doorway would hold.

The scraping continued until it came to what Harry thought must be the final twist of tunnel before the doorway. There it paused. Harry strained his ears. He swallowed his breathing as best he could. He had to be prepared for anything, even an assault of other bone-creatures or a sudden rush from Ron and Hermione.

A figure glided into the room, stepping through his charms and wards as if they didn’t exist. Harry had only a moment for consternation before he noticed what—or who—the figure was.

It was Draco.

A chain was tied around his leg, in the exact same position that Draco had been chained when Harry first found him. His gray eyes were vacant, and he was gray of skin and shivered with cold, and he was covered with tattered robes, just as the Draco in Harry’s arms was. He staggered a step forwards, and then clutched himself with his hands, head swaying back and forth as he stared. Harry thought he was probably voiceless, too, or he would have spoken by now on recognizing Harry and his double in Harry’s arms.

The Disillusionment Charm—

But for this Draco, they didn’t seem to be Disillusioned. He was staring straight at them, and then he nodded and smiled. And then he walked straight towards them, his eyes full of yearning.

Harry swallowed, his mind dropped straight back into the tumult from which his decision was supposed to have rescued him. Was this the real Draco? Was the one he held only a copy? This Draco looked exactly the same as the one so peacefully sleeping in Harry’s arms. He could have been the one who lost his memories to the Pensieves, his voice and his ribs to the Unspeakables.

He reached out a hand.

And Harry saw long, intact fingers on that reaching hand, and made his decision at once.

A Blasting Curse, harshly uttered, sent the other Draco flying backwards. He hit the wall with a cry that proved him not voiceless after all, and woke the Draco sleeping in Harry’s arms, and summoned a procession of other, identical Malfoys from within the tunnel, all of them sweeping past Harry’s protections without stopping.

Draco moved hastily against Harry’s chest, trying to scramble to his feet and be careful of Harry’s wooden foot at the same time. Harry rose, supporting Draco with one arm, but keeping his wand trained on the mass of Malfoys. They had halted and were looking at them gravely, their eyes blinking, as if Harry and the original Draco were problems in Potions.

“Do you know what they are?” Harry whispered into Draco’s ear.

Draco held up his hands in answer. It wasn’t until he flexed the nubs that Harry understood, or thought he did. “They made them from your fingers,” he murmured, and the head under his chin nodded.

And, from the signs of it, they could locate their original no matter where he was, no matter what spells were in the way or how he might be concealed. Harry kept the cursing in his head. It wouldn’t do any good voiced aloud, and for all he knew, the sound of a raised voice might agitate the copies into attacking.

“Immortality of body?” he whispered into Draco’s ear.

A swift nod.

“Immortality of mind?”

A headshake.

Harry dragged a slow breath into his lungs. These Malfoys didn’t know what Draco did, then, at least if he understood the concept “immortality of mind” correctly. From the bright curiosity in their eyes, they didn’t even quite understand what Harry and Draco were. Now and then one started to come towards them and reach for them like children, but the first one, the one Harry had cursed, held them back. He was the only one to watch with eyes that held any wariness.

Harry didn’t want to attack again. He couldn’t kill them anyway. He whispered to Draco, “Do you remember anything else about them? Are they hostile?”

Draco nodded, then shook his head, answering the questions in order. Harry licked his lips, and looked up as the Malfoys began a concerted mass movement towards them. He tightened his grip on his own Draco and bared his teeth in a snarl, prepared to Levitate them into the air again or crash through a wall if that’s what he had to do.

But the first Malfoy to reach him only patted at Harry’s clothes and hair, with an expression of childish delight on his features. He laughed and gabbled at the others behind him, but if they understood him, Harry couldn’t tell. The others crowded round him, tugging at Draco’s robes and his own, staring in deep interest at his wand, making passes in the air with their hands as if to imitate spells. Even the one he’d cursed seemed inclined to accept him, now, and Harry saw him extending his arms, showing the others how he’d flown across the room.

Then one of the Malfoys coughed loudly to get the others’ attention, and pointed towards the far doorway. All of them turned to look that way. Harry looked, too, but saw nothing unusual or worthy of attention.

Then one of the Malfoys got behind him and began to push him and Draco steadily in the direction of the doorway.

Harry tried to brace his feet, but Draco clamped his hand down on Harry’s wrist and gave a rapid shake of his head. Harry took a deep breath, unhappy with his decision being tested so soon, and gave trust its head. He relaxed as much as he could, and concentrated mostly on making sure that Draco would take no harm from the pace the Malfoys wanted them to adopt.

There really were ten of them, Harry saw when he had time to count. They looked as Draco would have with fingers and a voice, though they were missing ribs. But their faces were different, lacking the lines of pain and suffering that cast shadows around Draco’s expressions. They bounced and bounded about like puppies, now and then making sounds that didn’t seem to be words and certainly weren’t English. They clapped and twined fingers and pointed at the walls and ceiling and floors and kicked the dust in front of them with the same manifest delight.

Harry saw nothing for the present but to go along with them. If they were dangerous, then hopefully Draco would let him know later.

Beyond the Pensieve room, the tunnels twisted out in a bewildering array of patterns. Harry thought he saw a few flame-like carvings on them, the same that had surrounded the wooden table in Draco’s memory, and would have liked to stop to examine them, but the Malfoys hurried him along. Draco faltered now and then in his steps, maybe out of fear, maybe because he was still too tired. Luckily, Harry had enough energy for both of them thanks to the awareness charm, and always managed to provide a stolid support and a comforting murmur in time.

The Malfoys finally stopped in front of a wooden door and regarded it for long moments, as if searching inadequate memories for confirmation of its existence. Then one of them stabbed a finger straight into the air and said something that made no sense, but which galvanized the others. Harry barely whisked out of the way in time as they sprang forwards, seized the door’s iron hinges, and dragged it open with a scrape and a groan, louder than the sound of their chains on the floor. The room beyond brightened suddenly in the rays of Harry’s light globe.

Harry felt Draco stiffen even before he recognized the room. It was either the same chamber where Draco had sat before the fire with Pearl or an exact replica. There were even the canaries and parakeets fluttering in their cages, fluting delicately and cocking their heads at the newcomers. One canary voiced a throbbing complaint at having his cage nearly upset when two Malfoys dragged Harry and Draco past.

They settled them into the two tall chairs before the fireplace, separating Draco from Harry gently but firmly when he objected, and settled on the floor before them like children ready to listen to a story. Then they stared at Harry in expectancy.

Harry looked at Draco. His face was drawn, but his eyes were narrowed and sparking, and Harry thought his mind was probably racing faster than it had during their entire journey through the maze so far.

Draco sat straight up. The Malfoys nudged each other and clasped their hands on their knees, leaning eagerly forwards.

Draco reached out commandingly. Harry was floating the communication sphere towards him before he consciously realized what the gesture meant. He wondered, ruefully, what Ron would say to see him instinctively obeying Malfoy.

Draco spent some moments ceremoniously cleaning off the glass sphere, though Harry thought it couldn’t have acquired much dust. Then he leaned forwards and began tapping out a sequence. The Malfoys made soft squealing noises of appreciation as the colors flickered and flashed.

Immortality of body, Draco signaled. Fingers. Maze. Not immortality of mind. Torture. Unforgivable curse.

Harry started at the last phrase, one he hadn’t thought they would ever use, but which Draco had insisted on including in the sphere anyway, perhaps because he wanted to tell Harry how he had suffered under the Cruciatus. “The Unspeakables cursed them?” he asked, staring at the Malfoys and wondering what in the world the Unspeakables had created them for.

He glanced back to see Draco shaking his head impatiently. He tapped his closed fist on his chest, then let his eyes widen and his mouth hang slack.

“The Imperius Curse,” Harry muttered, still not sure what the point of Draco’s little story was, but sure of what he was indicating. The Malfoys all laughed among themselves, as though he had made a particularly good joke.

Harry felt like doing the same himself, or else slamming his head fervently against the back of the chair. He had never realized how frustrating it would be to speak with someone who could not speak. He had to fill in the gaps between the words himself, and he wasn’t good at that.

Give me something to curse, please, he asked whatever fate might be listening, and then added, Something my curses can affect, anyway.

“Let me see if I understand this,” he said, sitting up. “The Unspeakables made these things out of your fingers.” He waved his hand at the Malfoys, and they hopped up and down in place without standing, hooting like monkeys. “But even though they’re immortal in body, they’re not immortal in mind. They didn’t inherit any of your memories, or your language skills, or your oh-so-charming personality.”

Draco raised an eyebrow at him. It was a cool gesture that would surely have been accompanied by a cruel retort if he could have spoken. Harry scowled at him, a bit happy to return to his earlier dislike, and kept scowling until Draco nodded.

“This had something to do with the maze,” Harry said. “But I still don’t know what. How did the Unspeakables turn the Department of Mysteries into this maze? I’ve been here before—“ Memories of Sirius reared up to sting him like a scorpion. He swallowed twice before he could continue. “And it wasn’t like this,” he managed to finish, though he knew his voice sounded thick.

Once again, Draco tapped the facet that meant maze on the communication sphere, and then signaled himself.

Harry blinked. “You’re the maze? That doesn’t make any sense.”

But even as the words ran out of his mouth, he was remembering his earlier idea that Draco’s body and his memories in the Pensieve represented the nine balls that Draco had positioned for Richard in the carvings. Why one person and eight Pensieves, though? Why not nine people, or nine Pensieves? Harry didn’t understand why—

Why everything had to come from Draco.

He sat up abruptly and stared at Draco. Draco had a faint smile on his face now, but it was intolerably sad. Harry’s dislike drained away again.

“That’s it,” Harry whispered. “That’s what you read in that book that you concealed from Pearl, wasn’t it? That a person has to be sacrificed to make up the maze. A body and a mind, always suffering and never dying, have to go to construct the maze that makes people immortal.”

Draco nodded, and nodded, and nodded again. Harry wasn’t sure he had much control over his head and his neck muscles left. His nostrils were fluttering with the force of his breath, his eyes swimming with tears.

“They made these copies of you to serve instead,” Harry whispered. “But these copies were mindless, and for whatever reason, they had to have your mind involved. So they used your memories.” He paused. “But then I don’t understand where the Imperius Curse comes in.”

Draco touched the facet on the sphere that meant free will.

“You had to agree to sacrifice yourself?” Harry stared.

Draco looked away from him and made a kind of complicated pass with his hands. That was hardly the whole story, Harry thought, but it was more or less the truth. The Unspeakables must have hoped to break Draco with their torture—or maybe they’d chosen him to be the sacrifice for the maze in the first place because he’d “betrayed” them—but since they hadn’t, they’d cast the Imperius to give him the parody of a free will in making the choice.

“And so, this maze—“

Draco touched another facet. Useless.

Harry narrowed his eyes, remembering the mentions of “intention” and “willingness” Draco had dropped into his conversation with Pearl. “The Imperius Curse didn’t count as true willingness?”

Draco shook his head.

“That would make sense,” Harry muttered, slumping back against his chair in thought. The maze didn’t seem like an obstacle course someone would willingly walk in order to become immortal, if only because there was so many dangers that could kill you along the way. This was an experiment that had gone wrong, with the Unspeakables not realizing until too late that their sacrifice hadn’t been truly willing.

He lifted his eyes to Draco’s face again and asked what seemed to him the most urgent question at the moment. “But then, how do I rescue you and restore your voice and your ribs and your fingers?”

Draco shut his eyes. The tears that had filled them earlier were now leaking down his cheeks. He shook his head, slowly.

“Oh, come on!” Harry leaned forwards. “There must be some way—“

He found himself abruptly pinioned. Two of the Malfoys had risen and come around the back of his chair without his noticing, and they were holding his shoulders so tightly Harry felt his spine bow. Two of the other Malfoys went over and held Draco likewise.

Harry shouted, but the Malfoys didn’t back off this time. They were giving him disappointed looks, in fact, as though he had failed at some task they expected of him.

The other six Malfoys came back into Harry’s line of sight a moment later. They were holding jagged, serrated knives.

Harry’s heart began to pound like a funeral drum.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine—Rescuing the Rescuer

Harry forced himself to relax as the Malfoys gathered around him with the knives. He thought he recognized them, or at least their general shape; they were made for cutting and tearing flesh, not with surgical neatness but with pain and the tendency to leave scars. If he tensed up when they cut him, as his Auror instructors had taught him during the instructive sessions on the typical tactics of Dark wizards against captured Aurors, then he was likely to suffer twice the pain, which would be detrimental to any effort at escape.

His hand clenched on his wand, hidden under the fall of his robe sleeve. With as firmly as the two Malfoys behind his chair held him, though, he knew he wouldn’t be able to move it in any pattern, even though he could perform some spells nonverbally.

The first Malfoy, whom Harry thought might be the one he’d cursed, held up a knife in front of his eyes. Then he turned and held it up in front of Draco’s.

Don’t hurt him,” Harry snarled, surging upright hard enough to make his wooden foot clunk against the bottom of the chair. For a moment, he dared to hope he could wrestle free, but the Malfoys just readjusted their grip and held him until the pressure made his tendons creak.

The first Malfoy didn’t hurt Draco. He just held up the knife until he seemed satisfied that Draco comprehended it and what its purpose was, and then turned and cut down Harry’s chest with a single smooth movement.

Harry sucked in a breath and closed his eyes. The cut stung, and a moment later he winced as the pain slid deeper and deeper into his torso. He wouldn’t put it past the Malfoys, or the Unspeakables, who were ultimately responsible for this, to have enchanted the knives with pain-causing curses. Or perhaps it was just the barbs, which had traveled too fast to stick in his skin, that hurt so much.

He heard a brief struggle from the other side of the room, and opened pain-hazy eyes to see Draco pulling against the hands that held him, his face frantic.

Harry tried to smile reassuringly, but he barely had a chance before the knife came back again, and cut another wound parallel to the first one. A horrible vision of himself so carved that he simply fell apart like a piece of meat came to Harry. He swallowed and then yelped as the knife made another cut, this one on his forehead, perilously close to his eyes. A flap of skin hung down into his line of sight, and he grimaced. Head wounds were as likely to blind him with blood as to knock him unconscious.

Draco struggled again. Harry peered at him instead of watching the knife—he didn’t think he was that brave—and saw Draco’s face twisted, his eyes narrowed in that calculating look again.

Trying to figure out why they’re doing this?

It was a good question, and one that Harry would have liked to know the answer to himself. He wrapped his hands together in the folds of cloth around his waist and breathed shallowly as the fourth cut opened a slice along his arm. That one bled so freely he thought it must have hit a vein directly.

The Malfoys kept cutting him. Harry locked down as much of his mind as possible, and endured. He’d gone through concentrated pain like this before, when Dudley and his friends pursued him at school—that had been compounded by the laughter of other kids as they watched—or when Voldemort used his Cruciatus on him in the graveyard. In those circumstances, he’d had to be up and ready to move as soon as possible, no matter the pain he was in. The same thing would probably happen this time.

There came an impressive crash.

Harry blinked his eyes open. Draco had dragged a leg free from his captors’ hold and lashed out to catch a poker that stood near the fireplace. It had fallen over, and all the Malfoys were turned around and blinking stupidity at him. Harry tensed. Was it now? Should he move?

But he still couldn’t find the laxness in the hands holding him that he would need.

Draco lifted his chin and splayed his own shortened fingers, pointing at his chest. Then he nodded emphatically when the Malfoys made little inquiring sounds in their throats, and went on nodding until the Malfoy holding the knife on Harry blinked and backed off.

Harry shook his head to clear blood from his eyes and watched closely as the Malfoys crowded around Draco. They were touching him with the same wonder they had shown in the room with the Pensieve, their eyes huge and glistening.

“What did you do?” Harry croaked.

Draco reached for the communication sphere, which the Malfoys let him have; they seemed oddly solicitous of him, though they still held him so he couldn’t rise from the chair. Me, he tapped on the facets. Maze. Free will.

“Yes, I know that—“

Draco shot him an irritated glance, like someone interrupted in the midst of a speech, and went back to tapping out his message. Torture you. Because of me. Maze. Free will.

Harry understood then. The Malfoys had tortured Harry until Draco agreed to become the sacrifice for the maze of his own free will. It seemed they wanted to complete the work the Unspeakables had begun.

“What part of ‘you’re weak and unable to run very far on your own’ did you not understand?” Harry raged at him.

Draco quickly selected Small and simple-minded fool from his list of sarcastic phrases, and Harry swallowed. Yes, all right. So Draco could easily have pretended compliance to fool the Malfoys.

“And—“

You, wand, Draco chose. The Malfoys chuckled as if he had made a good joke. Harry wondered if they could understand, but he doubted they would still be stroking Draco’s hair and shoulders admiringly if they could.

“All right,” Harry whispered.

Draco glanced up at the Malfoys and adopted a hopelessly innocent expression of suffering martyrdom that Harry had to admit had at least improved since Hogwarts, when he had tried to convince everyone that Buckbeak had almost taken off his arm. The copies holding him released him. He rose carefully to his feet, then beckoned imperiously to the Malfoys holding Harry. Their hands sprang away from Harry like suddenly severed shackles.

Harry was ready.

He rose and whirled on the Malfoys, pointing straight at the knives first. The Malfoys were dangerous in their sheer numbers as well as their immortality, but he would be humbled before Draco before he’d leave weapons in their hands. Calling on his memories of Transfiguration class, he transformed the knives into feathers.

The Malfoy who had cut him stared at his hand for a helpless moment, and Harry seized the chance to do something that Auror Gillyflower had always told him specifically not to do. He Transfigured the Malfoy into a chicken, who flapped his wings and stretched his neck with a long crow as though the sun was rising in front of him.

He made a handsome rooster, Harry thought dazedly. Of course, a Malfoy, even a copied one, would expect no less.

The others began to rush at him then, one of them seizing the poker from the fireplace, another taking up a heavy glass paperweight from one of the tables in the background, the rest relying on their hands. Harry dropped out of the way, into a crouch in front of the chair, which made him wince as his wounds tore open but also caused the one holding the poker to bash in the head of the one with the paperweight. The rest of the Malfoys stared, seeming torn between laughter and outrage, and Harry Transfigured the two armed ones into chickens, too.

That left seven Malfoys, who promptly reoriented on Harry, and who only gave him a moment’s respite by getting in each other’s way.

Harry dived under the table behind the chairs, ramming his leg on its leg. His motion dashed half the birdcages off the table, which made some doors fly open and added canaries and parakeets to the general chaos of the room. A few of the Malfoys must have stopped, maybe confounded by the mess or attempting to recapture the birds, because Harry heard the footsteps pursuing him lessen.

A pair of powerful hands grabbed him and attempted to drag him back into the open.

Harry whirled around. Sure enough, a single Malfoy was crouched behind him, frowning fiercely, and he yanked on Harry’s leg again, which made yet more of the wounds tear open and rippled blood into Harry’s eyes.

Perhaps that was the reason why his Transfiguration wasn’t so successful this time. It produced a rather large chicken with flesh-colored plumes. But it didn’t have hands or the size to hurt him, and that was all Harry cared about. Besides, the main problem with Transfiguring humans into animals—the concern that it might hurt them unless done by an expert—hardly applied here. Even if Harry hurt the Malfoys in the Transfiguration, they wouldn’t die.

He scrambled up onto the table and then leaped high, trying not to notice the pain that assaulted him any more than he would notice hits from the Bludgers in Quidditch. His fingers locked on the edge of a shelf, and he hauled himself higher, his legs swinging. Of course, someone else seized his leg, and this time the tug precipitated him right down on top of a struggling body, which simultaneously tried to strangle him and break his wand.

Harry, acting on sheer instinct, yelled, “Magna!”, the same spell he had used against the shadow-wolf, and flicked the wand in the limited motion that was all he needed.

He shut his eyes as fierce light stormed the room, and the Malfoys screamed. The one under him stopped trying to kill him and put his hands over his eyes. Another swift Transfiguration, and the chicken strutted away and Harry came up, squinting fiercely, scanning for his enemies.

Four of the Malfoys were staggering in circles, mewing and burping pitifully. The last one had an arm around Draco’s throat and was staring in Harry’s direction with a deeply satisfied expression on his face, even given his shut eyes.

Harry growled in the back of his throat and acted without thinking. “Imperio!” he shouted.

Nothing happened. Harry bitterly regretted his stupidity a moment later; the things were mindless, so of course an Unforgivable Curse to control the mind wouldn’t work on them. And neither would the Killing Curse, since they were immortal of body.

But he had seen they weren’t immune to magic. And the light spell proved they were not immune to pain.

The Malfoy began to strangle Draco.

A surge of hatred, fury, and desire to make the thing stop welled up in Harry and collided with other emotions—the pain from his wounds, the worry over his friends, and his utter frustration with the Unspeakables for creating the maze in the first place. Harry aimed his wand at the Malfoy, carefully over Draco’s head, and spoke the word with enjoyment he wouldn’t bother to deny to himself. “Crucio.”

The Malfoy went straight into convulsions, screaming like a stepped-on cat, and his arms fell free of Draco. Draco had to catch himself with one hand on the chair, but at least he was agile enough to do that, and smart enough to make straight for the sound of Harry’s voice, even if he didn’t dare open his eyes yet.

Harry quick-stepped around the overturned table and birdcages to come up to him, and looped an arm around his waist when Draco reached him. Draco leaned on his shoulder and pressed his wrist hard with one hand. Harry nodded, though he knew Draco couldn’t see the gesture, and Transfigured two more of the Malfoys running in circles. Then he lifted the Cruciatus Curse on the other Malfoy, but he was a rooster so quickly that it turned out not to matter.

That left two Malfoys, both of whom could see now in the quickly dimming room. They faced Harry with snarls on their faces. Their eyes were so narrow that Harry wondered how he could have thought them innocent. He controlled the temptation to hurt them, just because he knew they would have hurt Draco if they had the chance. They were stumbling towards him, perhaps too angry to recognize the danger his wand was.

Flick, and one was a chicken. The other wobbled to a stop and stared, then began backing away from Harry with his hands in the air.

To Harry, that was irrelevant. He’d still participated in this, and for all Harry knew, if he left one in human shape, he would chase them through the maze and try again. He Transfigured that one with positive glee.

Then he slumped over, breathing heavily, the adrenaline and the rage leaving him in one comprehensive rush. He spent a moment wondering dismally what Hermione would think of him, using the Unforgivable Curses again, and this time without the context of war to excuse and support them.

Should he feel wretched? Should he think less of himself? There were other spells that probably would have worked.

Except he hadn’t been able to think of them. Maybe Hermione would say that the most worrying thing wasn’t his use of the Unforgivables, but that he had turned to them so instinctively.

An elbow nudged him in the ribs. Harry looked up, blinking. Draco was reaching for his chest.

“It’s all right,” Harry told him. “It’ll scar, but it’s not as bad as it looks.”

Draco gave him a patiently disbelieving glance, and then began to mouth something. Harry squinted, and shook his head again when blood ran into his eyes. Draco visibly clucked his tongue, though with no sound, of course, and repeated the motion with his lips, until Harry finally understood he was mouthing the incantation for a comprehensive healing charm.

“Uh, yeah,” he said, blinking as he held the wand towards his torso. “I reckon I’d have got to that sooner or later.”

Draco rolled his eyes.

“Did they hurt you?” Harry added, when the worst of the cuts on his chest were taken care of and the skin on his forehead had been sealed back into place. There was still the cut on his arm, but he’d have to move his wand to his left hand in order to heal that one.

Draco shrugged, then pulled back his ragged robes to show a few bruises on his shoulders. Bruises were the worst of it, Harry surmised.

“Still, I can heal that.”

Draco shrugged again, as if to say he wouldn’t object, and held still while Harry touched the tip of the wand to his bruises and made them vanish. Then Harry shifted his wand to his left hand and promptly commenced struggling with the spell. His weaker hand wasn’t as good with the wand movements, and besides, they were all backwards from normal. He concentrated fiercely on healing the cut on his arm, and finally a cool wash closed over the wound and he felt the skin knit—awkwardly, jaggedly—back together. He sighed with relief and worked his limbs one by one, then bent and touched his toes, estimating how much mobility he still had and whether he needed another healing spell. No, he thought. The Cognosco was still working on him, which was probably why he had understood Draco’s plan in the first place and been able to see so well under the influence of Magna.

A chicken stalked towards him. Harry kicked it idly away. It ruffled its feathers and went.

“Now.” Harry glanced dubiously at the shelves surrounding the room. “Is there anything useful here?” He had no idea what, if anything, Draco remembered from these books. There could be something useful simply because this appeared to have been one of the Unspeakables’ centers of research. On the other hand, if Draco remembered nothing, digging through the archive until they hit something could waste valuable time. Harry swallowed some more regret that Hermione wasn’t with him.

He turned back to see Draco shrugging. Harry nodded resignedly. “How much time do you think we should spend looking?”

Draco appeared to consider, then tapped the communication sphere. A day.

“A resting and eating period, then?” Harry grinned. “Well, that’s fine.” He felt himself becoming impatient with restlessness already—he would rather be moving and fighting—but he had to acknowledge that walking away in this case was rather like ignoring a room full of weapons because you didn’t know exactly what enemies you would be facing.

He bent down to retrieve their satchel. “By the way,” he added, now that he was no longer looking at Draco and thought he was less likely to sound pathetic when he said it, “thank you for saving my life.”

A warm hand clasped his shoulder. Harry thought it would squeeze and move away. It didn’t. It stayed right where it was, and Harry knew Draco was waiting for Harry to rise and face him. It was another forcing of intimate moments, just as when they’d shared the blankets together and the hug after they escaped the room of the giant bone-creatures.

Harry stood up slowly, not trying to dislodge the hand. Draco’s gaze caught him again. Harry wished, sulkily and privately, that Draco had his voice then, and not to make communication easier. Everything seemed so much more profound when expressed by a person who couldn’t talk. If Draco had had a voice to snipe and snap, or even just to say that Harry’s thanks weren’t particularly welcomed, then Harry would have known how to react.

Draco gave a small, mysterious smile a moment later, as if he had overheard Harry’s thoughts and were just as glad he couldn’t talk. Then he turned to the chairs and gestured Harry to the nearest one. Harry raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m perfectly healed, I assure you. I wouldn’t hide wounds.” He didn’t add that he would have liked to, and probably would have if Draco hadn’t seen them made and if Draco didn’t have to be able to trust him to be in good physical condition.

Draco rolled his eyes at him again and folded his hands under his cheek, closing his eyes. He wanted Harry to sleep.

Harry shook his head, remembering his earlier vow that Draco wouldn’t get to guard his sleep until Harry was more confident in him. “No, thanks. I cast the Awareness Charm on myself earlier. I doubt I’ll sleep for another ten or so hours at least.”

Idiot Gryffindor, Draco settled for saying, and flopped down on the chairs himself to resume his interrupted nap. At least he didn’t insist that Harry join him this time. Harry spent some time feeling grateful for that, then pulled open the satchel and meditatively prepared himself some kippers.

Why had the Malfoys been so insistent about Draco assuming his place as the foundation of the maze? After all, his transformation hadn’t worked the first time, so why had they assumed it would work the second time?

Then it was Harry’s turn to roll his eyes. It was a bit much to think of the Malfoys as assuming anything. They’d been mindless. They’d probably become fixated on the notion of the maze, especially if they really had been created to be Draco’s replacements at first. When Draco pretended to be willing, they accepted their good fortune without looking further.

But why had the Unspeakables wanted to sacrifice Draco? Was it the mere fact of his betrayal, because he was there and convenient? Was it a matter of vengeance for that betrayal? Was there some other quality about him that had made him an ideal candidate for the sacrifice?

Harry had no idea.

And, come to think of it, if Draco’s knowledge of the making and purpose of the maze had come from his regained memories, why had he waited until they were in this room to share it with Harry? Why not the moment he got the memories back, when he had to be full of them and he had to know that Harry would be a willing and sympathetic audience?

Harry sighed and leaned against the wall between the bookshelves, idly watching a freed canary pecking at the spines of the books in search of something to eat. His own research had to be in figuring out the motives for Draco’s action and judging them, it seemed. How much should his lack of understanding damage the trust he had built up in Draco?

For right now, he decided at last, a cautious posture was still best. He wouldn’t accuse Draco; he also wouldn’t trust him to guard Harry’s sleep alone. Judicious use of Cognosco and regular meals should keep him from having to sleep for quite some time. Hopefully, by the time he collapsed, he would have found information that would enable him to make some final choice about Draco.

As to how he would free Draco from the maze…

Harry munched the kippers thoughtfully. There was one particular and permanent solution he had immediately thought of. He was a little surprised Draco hadn’t thought of it, too. But maybe constantly dwelling in the middle of his situation, and hearing from the Unspeakables that there was no way out, had deadened his ability to look beyond it.

Harry just didn’t know if he wanted to try that solution, yet. He would need more information, more certainty that it would actually destroy the Unspeakables’ plans instead of accomplishing what they had wished for all along.

Draco’s arms soon appeared over the back of his chair, thrashing in the midst of a nightmare. Harry hurried over to him and embraced him around the shoulders, calming him down. This time, Draco simply let his head roll to the side and rest against Harry’s instead of waking up.

Harry closed his eyes. Suspending judgment for the moment and giving Draco what he needed, while being wary of what he might become or learn in the future, was painful and exhausting.

Maybe I’m more right than when I did nothing but judge him, though. I can hope.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten—The Third Pensieve

Draco ate the dried meat Harry had brought along slowly, pausing frequently to sip at the water Harry had conjured with the Aguamenti charm. Harry assumed the meat was a bit too salty for him, but when he turned around to apologize from conjuring a spray of water for himself, he found Draco staring directly at him.

Harry glanced down at his robes. It would be just like him to have let a chicken shit on him during the night or something. “What?”

A few sharp bites were his answer; Draco, cradling a piece of meat between the stumps of his fingers like a parrot snatching at a nut, required both his hands free before he could speak. Then he reached for the communication sphere and said efficiently, You are tired.

Harry laughed and shook his head, wondering if Draco had forgotten what they discussed last night. “Cognosco, remember?”

Not right.

“There’s not much I can do about it.” Harry smiled at him. “You need more sleep than you’ve got in the past, and someone has to remain awake to guard us, now that we’re so deep in the maze. We made a mistake that first night, both sleeping at once.”

I awake, you asleep.

Harry had been afraid of this. There was nothing for it but to tell the truth, though, because sooner or later he would run out of lies about the Awareness Charm. He held Draco’s stare and took a deep breath. “I don’t think I trust you enough to let you guard my sleep yet,” he said.

Draco jerked; he looked as though Harry had mocked him for losing his fingers. His hands trembled, nearly dropping the communication sphere, and Harry raised his wand, ready to levitate it if he had to. But Draco only stuck his chin forwards, shuddered once, and then tapped out, Now?

Even now, Harry thought that meant, or even still, but they hadn’t put a facet on the sphere for those other words. He shrugged. “Yes,” he said. “I know you’re much more trustworthy than you were when we were in Hogwarts—“

He had to pause and restrain his laughter at the distinctly sour expression that overcame Draco’s face. It seemed Draco didn’t enjoy being reminded of his schooldays. Well, Harry had to concede he was justified in feeling that way. Who would enjoy recalling numerous incidents of being a prat? Harry didn’t like it himself.

“But I still can’t give my full trust to you yet,” Harry said. Draco shot him another wounded look. He shrugged. “Sorry. It’s the way I feel. And until I feel that I can trust you, I’ll use Cognosco to stay awake, and you can rest. It’s probably better that way. How much rest did you miss when you were under the tender care of the Unspeakables, anyway?” Anger heated his voice.

Draco closed his eyes and shrugged, which could have meant he didn’t remember or didn’t care to discuss it. Then his stumps moved again. You sleep later.

“No.”

Both sleep.

“No.”

Stubborn, ungrateful git.

“I knew there was a reason you had me put that one on there.” Harry smiled again as Draco’s eyes rolled. “Listen, Draco. I do promise I’m trying to work on trusting you, and I’ll keep at it. You can attribute that to both Gryffindor stubbornness and our reluctance to let ideas get into our heads. Hermione had trouble instructing me and Ron, too. But I won’t change things immediately.”

You are tired, you are weak.

Harry shrugged. “So what? I’ve been tired before, and I’ve also used Awareness Charms for extended periods of time. Neither did me any permanent harm.” He immediately winced as he thought of the part sleep deprivation had probably paid in some not-so-remarkable decisions in the last year. But he put that thought away. Then, he’d been nothing but a frantic Auror trainee trying to survive in the first part of the program. Now, he knew how much was riding on his level of readiness to meet challenges. Their very lives, among other things.

Books?

Harry nodded, and turned around to survey the shelves. “Do you know where we should start?”

Draco walked confidently over to a shelf, stuck his nubs together, and pointed them all at a single large book. Harry cast a Summoning Charm to pull it down, and then stared at it doubtfully. It was bound in some blue, scaly leather that might have been wyvern skin. The letters on the front were purple and raised, and could actually have been studded with small amethysts. They said, The Ethics of Human Sacrifice.

“Ethics? Will that help?”

Information, Draco said with a sharp lift of his shoulders, and cupped his palms. Harry placed the book in his expectant hands and turned back to the shelves, hoping to scan the titles and produce a miracle.

But all the while, the questions continued growing in the back of his mind, feeding on each other the way that young dragons were said to do when their eggs weren’t separated from each other sufficiently.

How much of his knowledge about this room came back with the memory of him and Pearl drinking here? How much does he remember of what they were arguing about? How did he know where that book was?

What else isn’t he telling me?

*

By the time that they were ready—or, at least, Harry was ready and Draco had conceded that it would take much more research to make much of a dent in the books that littered the shelves and the floor—to leave, Harry’s uneasiness had grown. Twice, long, loud calls had sounded down the maze outside, though nothing had come near their door. That made Harry think it was a large enough beast to be heard from a distance, which was not a comforting thought. He’d shot a glance at Draco each time the call echoed, but received only shrugs.

His face was blank, though, carefully tucked and folded so as not to display emotion. Harry swallowed hard and tried not to think about what Draco was hiding, then wondered if he should think about it.

Draco had gathered some information, but when he tried to explain it to Harry, the sphere proved not to have enough words and Harry didn’t think he could have understood the ones Draco tried to mouth to him even if he heard them aloud. Draco finally gave him a disgusted look and tossed several books directly into his satchel. Harry stifled a sigh and thought again that Hermione would have been better at this.

When they started out into the maze, Harry did have a chance to pause and study the flame-like patterns carved on the walls. He couldn’t make anything out of them, though. If they were letters, they had been turned upside-down and fringed and tortured until a mirror and a decrypting spell would have been necessary to read them. He did turn around once or twice and see Draco running the edge of his hand over them. He stopped when he caught Harry watching.

“This doesn’t increase my trust of you, you know,” Harry said, as light-heartedly as he could.

Draco set his mouth and didn’t respond.

They ended up having to retrace their route, since the Malfoys had evidently hurried them away from the main corridors. Draco led them confidently enough, which made Harry wonder at the source of his knowledge again. Could a complete picture of the maze really have come to him in that one memory of the wooden table?

Maybe he’s guessing and doesn’t want me to know.

But once more, if he started doubting that, then he might as well start doubting everything. Harry bit the corner of his mouth hard and continued obediently following Draco, ducking under lower lintels of stone now and then. He wondered gloomily what would appear ahead when the tunnels broke. Another checkerboard room? A second clutch of Malfoys, made from other scraps of Draco’s fingers?

A shock of white light told him the truth soon enough. Harry halted and debated for a long moment if he really wanted to see what was in the next Pensieve. Then he sighed. He would look. He hadn’t wanted to hunt down Voldemort most of the times he’d faced him, either, but he had.

Draco stiffened when he saw the light. Harry doubted he would have noticed if he hadn’t looked up just then, because the next moment Draco was back to his usual self, leaning casual and relaxed on the wall and watching Harry with a mixture of impatience and disdain. But Harry had seen, and he was hardly about to let it go.

Well?” he demanded, stepping forwards. “If you know something about what’s ahead, tell me!”

Draco gestured imperiously for the communication sphere. Harry floated it over to him. Draco selected, More memories, from the sphere, and looked sidelong at Harry, as much to say Ask a stupid question…

For the first time in his life, Harry thought he understood how Professor Snape had probably felt when faced with his insolence in class. It wasn’t just because he was the son of James Potter, he thought, and his irritation now wasn’t just because of his distrust of Draco. Their survival here depended on both of them. If Harry kept making efforts and getting rebuffed, he didn’t see a reason to make the effort at all. They would die just as quickly if one of them refused to share information as if they both did.

“You won’t be more specific?” he asked.

Draco shook his head.

And he had agreed to won’t, not can’t, Harry thought. He evidently had some idea about what the memories in the Pensieve might contain, if not the exact and specific images. Harry hissed to himself and shouldered past Draco, who stared after him and then rushed to catch up.

Harry refused to look at him. He really might punch him.

The Pensieve rested on the usual ivory pillar, with the shadowy letters near the bottom. Harry bent down to look at them. Din. He frowned. This was the first set that had looked as if it could be an English word.

Crepidin, he thought, if he put the letters on all the pillars together. He didn’t know what word that might be. It wasn’t English, but it also didn’t sound like Latin.

He shrugged and started to cast the usual Sticking Charm on his feet, but someone seized his arm and spun him around. Harry found his breathing speeding up until he realized it was Draco. Someone, indeed, he thought, and then shook his head and pulled away when Draco tried to mouth something at him, his face set in hard, angry lines.

“No,” he said. “What happened is very simple. I confessed I didn’t trust you completely yet, and then you started actively keeping things from me. You even admitted to it. Why the fuck should I trust you now?”

Draco cast a harsh glance at the Pensieve, and then extended a hand towards Harry. Harry glanced at the cupped palm. “Am I supposed to feel sorry for you because you had your fingers bitten off?” he asked. “Because I do already, but it rather lessens my sympathy to think that you’re helping the people who did it.”

Draco wriggled his palm. Harry finally realized what he wanted, and bit the corner of his mouth again. Then he shrugged, because he had no choice, and dropped his own hand into Draco’s. Draco promptly turned his hand around, clasping Harry’s wrist as best he could.

You can trust, he mouthed at Harry—all of them words Harry had seen enough of now to recognize right away. Then there came a phrase that took longer for him to distinguish, but he managed to snare even that; Hermione would have been proud of him. I promise.

“And what’s that promise worth?” Harry muttered, but he was propitiated, and Draco had probably known he would be. Harry had the distinct idea that Slytherins knew how to handle Gryffindors better than the other way around.

He decided to make one more test. “But you still won’t tell me what you suspect is in this Pensieve.”

Draco raised one eyebrow and nodded to the basin of silvery liquid, as much to say that he didn’t need to tell Harry; Harry was about to go in and see for himself.

“Yeah,” Harry muttered, and then moved to disengage his hand.

Draco clutched at it and refused to let it go.

Harry could have dragged it away easily enough; with Draco’s lack of fingers, especially a thumb, he couldn’t maintain anything like a good grip. But the look in Draco’s eyes—gently apologetic, genuinely remorseful—made him sigh, curse himself for a soft-hearted idiot, and grip back, briefly.

Then he turned and plunged his head into the Pensieve.

*

He found himself in the middle of the enormous, brilliantly lighted room that the Unspeakables had bitten off Draco’s fingers in. He tensed and turned around, already preparing himself for another scene of suffering, perhaps the time when they had taken Draco’s ribs or his voice.

But this memory must have happened before that, because Draco was standing among the Unspeakables with a small frown on his face and a par of whole hands clasped loosely in front of him. He glanced behind him, but didn’t talk to the woman who stood there. It was Pearl, Harry saw a moment later. She clasped Draco’s shoulder with a firm, steady pressure, but she didn’t speak either.

In fact, everyone was quiet, Harry noticed as he moved among them, trying not to even breathe too loudly. It was an expectant silence. Harry tried not to think what it was expectant of. He had no doubt he would find out soon enough.

He tried to reach back to the sense memory of his own body and feel Draco’s hand clasped in his. It didn’t work. He swallowed and glanced at the several doors that lined the round room, wondering when something would change, and if the thing that changed it was about to come through one of those doors.

Sure enough, one of them grated open at last. Harry saw Richard take a step towards it, and then he seemed to decide it was unseemly to be too eager. He halted with a small shake, but still leaned forwards like a cat held away from catnip, trembling now and then.

Harry watched with a queasy feeling as a slender figure in an ash-gray robes was brought in by several Unspeakables walking on either side of him. This was a grown man, but so skinny that he looked more like a fifteen-year-old. As he came nearer, Harry saw the skin hanging off his ribs in confirmation of prolonged starvation. He winced. He remembered all too well what that felt like.

The man’s eyes passed from side to side, but not frantically, the way Harry thought a truly terrified victim would have looked; it seemed to be more a reflex action, as if he had given up in soul but his body hadn’t got the message yet. The Unspeakables laid him in the middle of the floor and spread-eagled him, then hooked chains to iron bands already set on his wrists and ankles and sank the chains into the floor with spells. The man remained quiet, and only launched a few ineffectual struggles that his bonds easily contained. Then his captors moved away, and the Unspeakables’ silence sharpened into eagerness like a spear-point.

Richard turned to face Draco. Draco lifted his wand like a sword, and Harry expected some conflict to occur between them. But Richard only nodded, smiled, and said, “As we agreed, Draco. Carefully. If they’re damaged, then we’d have to start all over again with someone else.”

Harry expected Draco to yell, protest, stamp his foot, refuse; given the pallor of his face, this was at a part of the timeline when he’d already realized what the Department of Mysteries was doing and decided he didn’t like it. But to Harry’s astonishment, Draco nodded once and then moved up until he stood next to the victim’s torso just above the legs. He aimed his wand and held it still for long moments, shutting his eyes.

Maybe that’s a delaying tactic.

If it was, it was a shitty one. Draco opened his eyes in the next moment and let out a long stream of Latin that baffled Harry’s ears immediately; he had enough trouble with three-word incantations, and this one was a good ten or twelve terms long.

Bloody gashes opened along the man’s chest, tearing through the thin robes he wore as if invisible knives were cutting them. The blood grew thicker and thicker, and still the man didn’t cry out, though his eyes watered. Harry wondered, horrified, if they had already stolen his voice.

Draco made another gesture, spoke another spell.

And the man’s organs began to float out of his chest, soft round masses of sopping flesh and tissue.

Harry saw steam rise as they exited the body that had housed them; the air of the torture chamber, in reality, must be cold. He wanted to look away, thought he should—he owed no duty of witness here to someone who waited for him, but rather privacy to a man long since dead—but instead he stood there with his brain in suspension and noticed every detail of the deed.

The liver shone like wet metal. The intestines were long, quivering layers of smooth sausage. Something small, the pancreas or the spleen, darted among the larger organs around it like a small fish seeking safety from the jaws of a shark. The lungs fluttered twice even as Draco removed them, still pregnant with air; Harry thought they resembled dying butterflies pinned to corkboard.

Draco whirled his wand again and spoke a third time, confident, strong Latin words that pulled the organs from the man completely and deposited them into a series of waiting jars. Like the jars ancient Egyptians used to keep the organs they pulled from the body when they were making mummies, Harry thought mechanically, and then wondered why in the world he remembered that.

He also realized something else: among all the organs that had emerged, he hadn’t seen the heart.

The man was still breathing, still alive, though, from the expression in his eyes, not still sane. The Unspeakables who might have been his escorts moved forwards again and raised the chains from the floor. Harry wondered if they would finally allow the poor bastard to die, but they simply stood there, while other Unspeakables went to a different door on the far side of the room and led in four—things.

Harry would have called them horses, except that that was a little like calling a dragon a snake. Their bodies were made of flesh the same dark color as the liver Draco had extracted, and their muscles bulged and rippled obscenely underneath it. Harry couldn’t see a trace of fur, except on their dark gray manes and tails, which swung and clanged in harsh cries that made him think the “hairs” were metallic. Their nostrils flared magma-red; their eyes were the color of rotting flesh. Harry saw the edges of curved fangs when their mouths opened to neigh, which produced no sound but knocked a small puff of stone dust from the ceiling.

The Unspeakables attached the horses to the chains, one for each limb their slit-open victim had. Then Richard said, “Draco? As we agreed.”

Harry glanced at Draco desperately. The blink Draco’s eyes made as they closed and opened again looked like the heaviest in the world.

Then Draco lifted his wand and said simply, “Verber.”

A whip manifested in midair above the victim’s chest, a precise distance from each creature. Then it lashed, so quickly that Harry couldn’t make out the individual blows. He was only certain each pseudo-horse had been struck.

They cried out again, those soundless neighs Harry now suspected were too low for him to hear, and then dug hooves like razored obsidian into the floor. They leaned forwards against all the weight and resistance of the object between them, straining to move forwards, to move away from each other.

And the man in the center, the man they were drawing and quartering, opened his mouth and began to scream.

Harry put his hands over his ears. The sound traveled through his fingers like a stake through a vampire’s chest. Frenzied, beyond hope, beyond madness, it gabbled and scraped and slid against him, ringing like claws over his soul. Harry could feel tears as thick as blood traveling down his face.

The sound of the man’s body ripping had no right to sound as much like heavy, wet cloth parting as it did.

Harry looked only once more, to see the pseudo-horses galloping freely around the room, each dragging behind it a sodden lump no longer recognizable as human. Green and black and red liquid layered the floor where they passed in puddles and streams and rivulets and mountaintops.

Harry lost control of his stomach then, and could barely hear Richard praising Draco for a job well done. He was glad of the excuse not to turn and look at Draco’s face. Maybe, just maybe, he had already made the ethical arguments to himself before he entered the room, and this was the result of a long process of self-deception.

Maybe.

But now Harry had to deal with the image of Draco not only as a person who could passively watch suffering, but as someone who could actively cause it. And it was suffering so extreme his mind failed to comprehend it.

Harry lifted his head and wiped bile from his mouth. The light was sliding into darkness, but not into the abrupt stopping that signaled the end of all memories in the Pensieve, which meant he had more to view. He would have to keep as open a mind as he could, and reserve all the judgments he could make until later.

He would have to give Draco justice, if he ever could, after this.

Harry knew that. But he was tired, and sick, his throat and his stomach and his heart sore, and he had never felt less adequate to any task in his life. He thought of jerking himself out of the Pensieve right here and now. What else did he need to see? As Ron would argue.

He didn’t.

Was that courage or foolishness or stupidity?

No one to answer the questions but him.

Harry pressed forwards.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven—The Reasons

The next memory that arose made Harry blink in puzzlement. Draco and Richard stood in a room Harry hadn’t seen before, lit with a kind of soft, natural golden light that made him think it had to be on the surface. But when he turned to glance about him, he discovered the light came from enchanted windows like the ones the Ministry had, to show “surface” scenes even though the building was buried. This was still the Department of Mysteries, and they were still firmly underground.

The room was different, though. The walls appeared to be made of wood, not stone, or at least the stone had been covered with wood. Large, plush, expensive furniture occupied every corner except for a faint trail of carpet in the center, which Harry assumed was used to reach the bed and the chairs positioned along the way. There didn’t seem to be a way to reach the end tables and the bookshelves and the large table in the center of everything, however, except by leaning over other furniture. Maybe it had been temporarily disarranged so something could be moved through.

“You said you had something to show me, sir?”

Harry turned back to the central players, reprimanding himself for allowing his attention to wander. He was here for one reason, and one reason alone. He had to understand the motives that had given Draco the inhumanity to rip someone else apart. If this scene could help him understand that any better, Harry was quite prepared to watch every expression and analyze every word spoken.

“Yes, Draco.” Richard’s voice was bluff and hearty. He threaded expertly through the cumbersome furniture, and Harry surmised this was probably his living quarters. He nudged a shelf casually with one elbow, and a book fell neatly into his hand. Harry wondered if he thought that a move more impressive than a Summoning Charm. In one sense, it was. “I wanted to ask you if you’d ever heard of the Remote Vision Spell, and to read you a description if you haven’t.”

Draco folded his arms. Harry thought this must be a memory of a time before anything had happened, before the violation of anything or anyone. Draco’s attitude was puzzled, but not exactly defensive. He did watch Richard closely, however, and move an elbow back now and then—checking the position of his wand up a sleeve, Harry thought, who had often done the same thing himself. “I have. You can cast it and watch your enemies—or your friends, of course—from a distance. But the last wizard who knew how to perform it died in the fifteenth century.”

Richard laughed. “Not so! It wasn’t linked to the knowledge of one particular family line, as the fools who put together textbooks think. There was a corruption in the incantation instead, and so of course the spell wouldn’t work for later wizards. Our researchers managed to correct the corruption, and now we can perform it.” He held the book towards Draco. “The description of the spell doesn’t tempt you at all?”

Draco merely cocked his head, not exactly nodding, not exactly shaking it.

“Perhaps this will, then.” Richard stretched to put the book down on a table across the chair next to him, and then lifted his wand. “Somnium devium de Draco Malfoy!”

The air between Richard and Draco flickered and then turned transparent, as though a misty glass pane had suddenly formed there. Harry narrowed his eyes and leaned forwards. He could see Draco doing the same thing, and felt a brief stab of kinship with him.

Then he reminded himself sternly that the Draco who had felt and done and seen these things was probably gone forever, and retreated into neutrality as much as he could. He would watch, and listen, and observe. Only then could he judge.

“The wizards who tried to use this spell in the past six centuries were using the wrong word for ‘vision’ and the wrong adjectival form of ‘remote,’” continued Richard, as though nothing out of the ordinary were happening. “And they often forgot to include the target of the spell, which would have caused the incantation to fail even if they knew the proper words. No wonder they couldn’t cast it properly!”

Harry wished the cozy voice would shut up. There were figures coming to life in the transparent pane. It resembled a Muggle movie screen far more than did anything else Harry had seen in the wizarding world.

The “screen” took on thickness and density, though, until it really did seem as though a window had opened between the two men and given Draco a glimpse of the outside world. Draco hissed suddenly, and Harry cocked his head to see that his hands had gone white-knuckled. There was no doubt that he recognized the place.

Harry inched to the side so he could see better. He wondered if he would recognize the place, too.

It turned out he did. Narcissa Malfoy stood in one of the rooms of Malfoy Manor that Harry had seen on his extremely brief visit there during the war. She had her head bowed, as though in a reverie or praying. In front of her was a portrait of Draco, as a much younger child. He was playing with a fluffy white dog. Harry stared. He hadn’t expected that Draco’s parents would let him have a pet, unless it was to give him a target to practice the Unforgivable Curses on.

There’s only one person in this room right now whom you know to have performed Unforgivable Curses, and that’s not him.

But then Harry remembered that wasn’t true, either; Draco had put Madam Rosmerta under the Imperius Curse during their sixth year. He took his frustration out in an intent stare at the scene, as if Narcissa Malfoy could feel and flinch from his gaze.

Draco’s mother turned away from his portrait and paced down the length of the room, her head still bowed; now she seemed deeply in thought. But the perspective changed, pulling back instead of following her. Now it clearly framed a window, and outside the window stood a single figure under the shimmer of a powerful Disillusionment Charm. Harry had to squint, but he thought he could make out a dark wand as well as an ash-gray robe.

Draco said nothing. His head was lifted, but his eyes were distant, focused far away. Harry thought it was almost as though he saw nothing of the window at all, or had reduced it to being part of an unimportant dream. When he did focus his gaze again, it was to lean around the window and look at Richard.

“You must have extraordinarily good operatives, to get inside the Manor’s wards,” he said lightly.

“Well.” Richard folded his arms across his chest and nodded his head a time or two, as if they were discussing the sex habits of unicorns or something else that couldn’t possibly threaten Draco. “Consider this. We’ve been researching obscure magic and magical artifacts for seven generations now, and the Ministry gives us everything that it doesn’t know how to handle or what to do with. That might include spells or other magic that could give us an edge over even the most impressive wards, mightn’t it?”

Draco once more swayed on his heels, graceful as a blade of grass moving in the wind, to stare at the results of the Remote Vision Spell. “And you have someone watching her at all times, of course,” he said.

“Of course,” Richard murmured. “And elsewhere.” He cast the spell again, and this time the window changed to reveal a sight Harry knew only too well: the sea-bathed walls of Azkaban Prison. The window carried its viewers quickly through the corridors, only to hover on a cell in which a single prisoner with bedraggled white-blond hair crouched. The guard stooping down to hand him a bowl of mushy food was wearing a gray robe beneath the standard-issue Auror robes.

Harry closed his hands into fists. He was now doubtful that all the Unspeakables had been caught in the trap the Department of Mysteries had become. There were still some out there, fulfilling the purposes of Richard, or another leader. And they might be able to undo anything Harry came up with to challenge Draco’s imprisonment.

It was all so frustrating. Harry knew how he would have felt if it were Ron and Hermione threatened like this.

But when he glanced at Draco, he encountered only that imperturbable mask. Draco even nodded, as though complimenting Richard on the neatness of the arrangements he had made.

“There are others in place, I assume?” he asked.

“Of course,” Richard replied. “Pansy Parkinson, Gregory Goyle, and everyone else noted as being part of your circle in school are watched. Not harmed, of course; never that, as long as you cooperate with the task I ask of you tomorrow.”

“But I don’t really know that the Remote Vision Spell tells the truth,” Draco noted idly, “or that it shows me the present. Perhaps you’ve already harmed my parents. Perhaps you’ll harm my friends at some point in the future, when you ask me to die for you and I refuse.”

Richard laughed. “I assure you, Draco, whatever we ask you to do for us, it will not involve dying.”

Harry shuddered, but the Draco of this memory didn’t seem to realize the implications hidden behind the words. He looked back to the Remote Vision Spell, then nodded. “As you say,” he said. “Perhaps someone can be bound to the maze through his major organs, as you’ve theorized. And torturing him until he dies should be sufficient to fulfill the spell’s requirement for immense suffering.”

“That is what I thought.” Richard banished the Remote Vision window with a wave of his wand and stepped through the air where it had been, to clasp Draco’s shoulder. “I knew I could count on you for good ideas as well as sterling common sense. You’ve always been remarkable for both, Draco.”

Draco glanced up at him with eyes that reminded Harry of a slumbering lion’s. “I like to think so.”

And that memory dropped into darkness, while Harry closed his eyes and tried to recover before the next one approached.

All right. So. Draco had been threatened by the destruction—probably the death, or something worse than death—of the few people he genuinely cared for. Harry himself had been witness to the closeness of the Malfoy family during the war, as well as the way that Draco had been compelled to torture under someone else’s command. It was hardly admirable that he could find the strength of will to cause someone else incredible pain, whatever the reason, but it was understandable, and a solution to the problem of his motives that Harry ought to have thought of earlier.

He became aware that he had not been pushed back into his own head yet. But one memory had been of Draco doing something horrible, and the other vision had explained it. What could remain?

Shuddering, and wondering if he really wanted to know, he opened his eyes to see another unfamiliar room.

Draco sat on a bed in the center of it. Around him stood an array of tables and books, the latter mostly overflowing the tables to pile on the floor; the ones wavering on the furniture looked as if they’d topple over with a strong wind. A single torch flickered near the head of his bed, providing the only light.

Draco sat with his head bowed, his arms wrapped around it. Harry hesitated, then stepped nearer and knelt down so he could see inside the protective circle.

Draco’s face was contorted, his eyes screwed shut, tears trickling slowly from them. He looked more in pain than sorrowful. Harry decided, based on very little evidence except the sudden flash of intuition in his gut, that he was seeing the moments when Draco had wrestled with his conscience, trying to decide if he could go forwards with the torture.

Despite knowing how the contest would end, Harry still watched in fascination. Draco shook his head and muttered nonsense words now and then. Then his voice grew stronger, and Harry could distinguish “no” and “can’t” and “Mother.”

At last Draco sprang to his feet, drew his wand, and ignited one of the books. The pages flared and vanished into a fireball, which Draco quickly caged to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the room. But he did stand there and watch the last bits of leather and parchment become ash, his face the same mask Harry had seen when he lashed the pseudo-horses into motion.

Then he sat down again, tilted his head back, and asked the ceiling rhetorically, “What choice do I have? There’s no one else who knows they’re in danger. There’s no one else who can rescue them, or who even gives a fuck about them.”

He rolled over and was still.

And then there was darkness, and then there was the sensation of being back in his body, Draco still clutching at him with one mangled hand.

Harry stared at him, and the brave man, the tormented man, the tormenting man, ran through his head. He had no idea what to say or do. He had the impression that just standing there like an idiot would hardly help, but the shock and the fear bobbed up and down in his gut, a slick cool ball as big as the communication sphere that hovered beside Draco. He trembled, cold sweat breaking out on his skin, and swallowed twice.

Draco, never taking his eyes from Harry’s face, summoned the communication sphere with a twitch of his free hand, and Harry lifted his wand and floated it over for him, in utter numbness. Draco stroked the facets meaninglessly with the nubs of his fingers for a moment, then tapped the facet that meant What?

“Did you have a suspicion as to what those memories would be?” Harry whispered.

Draco studied him without responding for several long moments. Then he touched the facets to spell out, Torture. I suffered torture in the second Pensieve, did torture in the first. This one? Doing torture.

That was a reasonable guess, Harry had to allow. Reluctantly. “Well,” he said. “It’s…bad. Worse than I could have imagined.”

The light in Draco’s eyes dimmed, and he started to pull away.

Harry caught his wrist to hold him there, babbling, hardly aware of what he was saying or why he wanted Draco to stay instead of retreating. The words spilled out of his mouth like bees desperate to escape from a burning hive.

“No. I saw your reasons and I—I can’t say I agreed with them completely, because in one way it would be nobler to let your friends suffer rather than inflict pain on someone you don’t know, and I know that Ron and Hermione would never forgive me if they found out I made a bargain like that to ensure their safety. But your friends are different. And who else is there to love your family? I didn’t—I don’t know how much of the pictures were real. Does the Remote Viewing Spell show the truth? I don’t know. But I always seem to be suspending my final determination of your character, and I don’t even know why. It’s hard for me, but it’s even harder for you. And I said I didn’t trust you, and I still don’t, not really, but there’s something like pity growing in me. At least I believe you want vengeance on the Unspeakables, or you will, when you see what’s crouching in this Pensieve.”

He cut himself off as Draco put the free hand gently but imperiously over his mouth. Harry had to close his eyes and realize that nothing of what he said made much sense, because Draco hadn’t yet seen the Pensieve. He nodded and stepped out of the way, so that Draco could plunge his head into the liquid.

Harry held his shoulders, vaguely aware that this was the first time Draco had put his head into the bowl instead of simply signaling for the memories to be returned to him. And then he hesitated, as he wondered whether there was more to that than just fear of having those horrors contained in the confines of one’s skull again.

Well, fuck it. Even if there wasn’t an unusual significance to it, Harry could damn well make one up.

He lowered his head and pushed it into the liquid beside Draco’s, joining him. He was just in time to catch the beginning of Draco’s torture of the nameless man—given the state of his robes, probably an Azkaban prisoner.

Draco stood by main force of will, his arms wrapped around himself, shuddering. Harry took a step forwards and embraced him. Draco rested against him without turning around; he seemed determined not to miss a minute of the evil happening in front of him.

As Harry had, he lost control of his stomach. The vomit flopped on the floor of the memory and vanished. Harry supposed his own must have done that, too. He hummed and ran a soothing hand up and down Draco’s spine, watching again as the organs flew to the stone jars on the far side of the room.

It made sense that the Unspeakables would keep them, if they really wanted to use them as links tying their victim to the maze. They hadn’t got rid of Draco’s ribs or fingers, either, though they had transformed them.

Harry’s stroking hand paused for a moment. If everything they took had its part in constituting the maze, what had happened to Draco’s voice?

He frowned and held Draco a little more sturdily when he felt the other man shudder with a soundless sob. Since there seemed to be only one correct path through the maze, they’d no doubt find Draco’s voice sooner or later.

Draco sagged bonelessly against Harry when the pseudo-horses were brought out and bound to the victim. Harry supported him and forced himself to consider different details this time, as he watched it happen all over again. No drugs administered to the man to ensure he couldn’t scream, after all. Nothing that would make the process a whit less horrific or more merciful.

There couldn’t be. The instructions for the immortality maze had called for endless suffering. Harry reckoned this was the way the Unspeakables had tried to secure it in the time before they understood that their prospective victim for the creation of the maze had to be both willing and unable to stop suffering.

That memory faded and took them into the second one. Harry kept his eyes courteously averted from the real Draco’s face. Watching the false expressions the memory-Draco had been forced to put on over his emotions was bad enough. He would give Draco the ability to control who witnessed his humiliation, fear, and wretchedness this time.

Instead, he studied Richard, looking for a sign of remorse or insecurity. If Richard were still alive, instead of caught somewhere and smothered in the trap the way the other Unspeakables apparently had been, then they would have to face him, and Harry preferred to understand as much about his enemy as possible before that happened.

The man displayed no sign of weakness. He kept his eyes fastened on Draco the entire time and spoke like a cheery uncle. His gaze did burn as he watched Draco writhe, trapped, between two equally untenable decisions, but Harry had seen the same expression on Voldemort’s face when he looked at some of his Death Eaters. That just meant that this was someone who had the ability to take pleasure in other people’s pain. It didn’t mean Richard was mad. Harry didn’t think he could be. The Unspeakable was much more dangerous than Voldemort had ever been.

But wait a moment. What had been Voldemort’s ultimate goal? Power and immortality. His longing for both had hardened into a blind fanaticism that drove him past all reasonable limits, past the point of sanity.

Could the same thing have happened to Richard? Could Harry be dealing with someone who was not technically mad, as had happened to Voldemort, because he hadn’t drunk unicorns’ blood or been disembodied or made Horcruxes, but someone who also was a fanatic on the cause of immortality?

If that was so, then Harry thought he might understand his opponent’s mindset after all. And the more he watched Richard, the more subtle clues seemed to come to him from his expression and the slow blink of his eyes and his incredibly light, incredibly pleased voice.

The memory faded into the one of Draco burning the book. And the Draco in Harry’s arms straightened and took on an expression that Harry couldn’t remember seeing him wear before.

He was looking at his past self with longing. Even when the past-Draco incinerated the book, a sign of temper Harry had assumed would bring on shame when it was remembered, his Draco continued to stare, his face softened, his fingerless hands reaching out a few inches.

He wanted to be that person again, Harry thought. That person who could call without hesitation on his own magic, even for something as small and counterproductive as burning a book. That person who had made his own decisions, horrible as they might be, instead of acting and reacting like a victim all the time.

Not a hero, not a villain, not a victim. Harry knew now that Draco hadn’t walked into this trap out of any ambition to match his own stature, and he hadn’t stayed because he was so dark of heart as to love torture. And now Harry had the final confirmation that Draco didn’t want to accept the only role apparently left to him. Draco wanted to be a person, a normal one, free in the ordinary ways, limited in the ordinary ways.

Harry’s heart tolled like a bell, and his arms tightened around Draco.

It was the same desire he had himself.

He wanted, with a desire as heavy as sickness, to be up on the surface again, joking around with Ron and Hermione, avoiding questions of his own sexual orientation when they tried to arise, studying frantically for exams and using Cognosco for no more important purpose than not falling asleep over his textbooks. And he wanted to have a family and a normal love affair with a normal man—

Girl, damn it.

--and to be one of the faceless millions who drifted past each other every day in London’s streets, not longed after except in small, ordinary ways, remembered fondly by some, ignore by the vast majority, important only when he wanted to be or when he had responsibility thrust on him that he decided to rise to.

Draco wanted the same thing.

How could Harry push him away to a distance that rendered him inhuman? How could he pity him forever, or despise him forever?

Part of him melted and was reforged like iron becoming steel in those instants, when for the first time he saw Draco Malfoy with Draco Malfoy’s own eyes.

When they came out of the Pensieve again, he waited for Draco’s eyes to rise to him, and gave a smile that caused Draco to blink and step back a little.

“Do you want the memories back now?” Harry whispered.

Confused, still blinking, Draco nodded.

Harry scooped the first of them up from the Pensieve, but took the chance to trace Draco’s temple with a finger before he planted the strand of silvery liquid.

“I believe in you,” he whispered. “Not in what you were when you joined the Unspeakables, but in the man you became.”

Hope lit Draco’s face like pain.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve—Instauro Nos

Harry had barely stepped away from the Pensieve when he staggered. He put one hand on the base of the pillar supporting the Pensieve, though he longed to flinch away because it was Draco’s rib, and one hand on Draco’s shoulder. Draco paused, staring at him and mouthing a question.

“I—don’t know what—“ Harry muttered. His head was swimming, and his feet seemed a long way from it. He shook himself, remembering that he was making a spectacle in front of a man who had just recovered perhaps the most disturbing part of his past, and took a firm step.

It planted him on the floor. He didn’t even remember falling, which argued he had blacked out on the way down. He picked himself up, staring at his scraped palms; the stone of the Pensieve rooms was as smooth as that of the rest of the maze, but he’d come down hard, and with his hands splayed in front of him to catch his full weight.

“What—“ he asked.

The communication sphere was suddenly in front of his eyes. Harry blinked, while his vision narrowed and tunneled and rolled over twice and expanded, while Draco carefully selected the facet that meant Tired.

“Then rest,” Harry mumbled drunkenly, and leaned his forehead on his palm. “I’ll be up in just a moment to cast spells on the far doorway and—“ He frowned. He knew there was something else he had to do before Draco slept, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He went floundering after it in his mind for a long moment before he realized Draco was tapping out another message on the communication sphere.

Not me. You are tired.

Harry finally understood what must be happening, and flushed for not figuring it out earlier. The effects of the Cognosco had worn off. He was so weary that the thought of standing was intolerable, let alone putting one foot in front of another.

And so, unexpectedly, came the first test of his new trust in Draco.

Harry raised his head, though it lolled drunkenly on his neck, and stared at Draco. Draco looked back, eyes glittering; Harry could make that out when he concentrated as hard as he would on a Potions recipe. The shortened fingers reached out, traced down Harry’s forehead over his scar, and landed on his eyelids, which they forced shut.

He might as well have spoken aloud.

If you really trust me, prove it.

“All right,” Harry whispered. “Yes. I’ll sleep.”

He dragged the blankets out of the satchel with numb fingers, and messily spread them on the floor. He would have fallen asleep right then and there, but Draco forced him aside so that he could hook his wrists under the blankets and arrange them to his own satisfaction. Harry protested, but since it was in a sleepy mumble, Draco seemed content to loftily ignore him.

And then, instead of a pillow, Harry’s head somehow wound up in Draco’s lap.

The thought occurred to him of what Ron would say, and then of the thoughtful nod Hermione would give, and how both of them would stare when they first saw him like this. He entertained, briefly, the idea that he should roll off Draco’s lap and lie on the floor simply to prove a point, but he had forgotten what the point was.

Then a palm stroked his hair, and the next moment he was asleep.

*

Harry woke so slowly that he felt fretfulness pulse somewhere deep inside his head. Had something gone wrong? Had someone cast a sleep spell on him? Had an Acromantula come along during the night and tied both him and Draco up? Why was it so hard to move?

But at least he understood better when more of his consciousness returned. He was warm and deliciously comfortable, lying with his head still on Draco’s lap, one blanket over him and more beneath him, his breath still heavy and drugged in his ears. Draco’s slow, carefully moving palm, wandering through Harry’s hair to the nape of his neck and then back over his skull, proved he was still awake, and keeping watch.

He had slept next to Draco, of his own free will—well, mostly of his own free will; Harry still doubted he would have chosen that if the Awareness Charm hadn’t worn off—and nothing bad had happened.

He would have liked to lie there and maintain the warmth, but a sudden thought of his friends caused him to stiffen. What would they say, if they could see him there like this? Hermione might comment approvingly. She might say that it was good to see Harry getting over his problems with his sexual orientation, enough to lie close to and accept comfort from another man.

Harry pushed himself away from Draco, who stared at him with raised eyebrows. Harry coughed, said, “Good morning,” and reached for the satchel. He was hungry, and food was the best way to deflect any questions Draco might have.

He seemed to have none. Instead of trying to start a conversation, he willingly accepted the cold meat and cheese Harry offered and ate. But he stared at Harry the entire time, and his gray eyes seemed to communicate significance without meaning. Harry turned away from them at last and rose carefully to his feet, testing to make sure the scrapes on his palms hadn’t interfered with his ability to draw his wand. They had scabbed over already, which he was grateful for, but which worried him with the indication of how long he’d slept.

“Ready, Draco?” he asked, the name slipping easily from his lips this time. “I think we should start.”

Draco pulled himself gracefully to his feet. His eyes remained on Harry, joined this time by a quiet smile. Harry turned away, blushing. He could think of all too many reasons Draco would smile. He trusted the other wizard not to betray him to the Unspeakables now, but Draco would still make snide and mocking remarks as often as possible. God help Harry if he ever learned about Harry’s little preference for men.

“Is there another section of maze beyond this room?” he asked Draco.

Luckily, Draco closed his eyes to think about that, which cut off that intense stare. Harry shifted from foot to foot. The wooden one still clunked with an unfortunate noise, but at least he was getting used to balancing on it.

At last, Draco shook his head. Harry nodded briskly, slung the satchel over his shoulder, called the communication sphere and the sphere of light to float after him, and made his way to the room’s far door.

It opened on absolute blackness, as the other doors from the Pensieve rooms had, but this time Harry caught his breath when the sphere darted past him and he started casting his spells. This was a single, enormous room. It wasn’t a cavern, either. The walls and floor were finished stone, jointed flagstones. There were faint lines of squares that might have been windows filled in by more stones. Harry frowned, wondering why the maze would bother with such things when the windows had never existed, and then shrugged. Why put Draco’s memories in Pensieves on pillars made of his rib bones? The symbolic aspects of the maze seemed as important as the physical and real ones.

The room had no furniture, and Harry’s spells revealed, once again, no traps and no magical creatures. He had just started to relax when Draco grabbed his arm. He could squeeze hard for someone without a proper hand, Harry thought, wincing a little.

“What?” he whispered.

Draco pointed to the walls. Harry lifted his wand, and the sphere of light flew higher. He frowned when he made out long lines of portraits, stretching away beyond sight. They seemed about the same size, all only a bit shorter than a human body, all set in neat mahogany frames. And they all seemed to be of the same woman, unless they changed beyond the point that his light could reach.

Harry leaned as near as he could without stepping into the room, studying the woman in the portrait. She was a dark-eyed, dark-haired, beautiful witch, her eyes cast down on the floor. She sat in a chair covered with forest-green cloth, turned sideways to the viewer. She wore formal blue dress robes, as if she expected to go dancing any minute, and her hands were neatly folded in her lap. The only unusual thing about the portraits, Harry thought, was the series of runes inscribed under each one—and, of course, he couldn’t read them, never having been smart like Hermione and taken Ancient Runes in Hogwarts.

“Well, what do they say?” he whispered to Draco.

Draco shook his head, which might mean he couldn’t read them or it wasn’t important. The next moment, he flapped his left hand demandingly for the communication sphere, and Harry floated it over to him before he considered how odd it was that he should be able to read that single gesture so neatly.

Draco tapped the facets that meant, I know her.

Harry blinked and glanced back into the room. “You’ve seen the original?”

Unspeakable. Torturer.

Harry hissed under his breath, and studied the portraits again, the unknown runes seeming ten times more ominous to him than they had before. “Were you there when the picture was painted?”

Draco shook his head, and looked again into the room, troubled.

Harry let him have his stare, but when he made no move to reach for the communication sphere or to press forwards, he asked, “Is there a way around this room?”

Another headshake.

Harry put a hand on his shoulder, and drew him close, so that Draco could absorb the warmth and steadiness he needed after being confronted with the picture of a woman who had probably tortured him. Hadn’t one of the voices in the scene where he lost his fingers been a woman? Harry was quite prepared to believe that it had been, and to hate her.

At last they moved forwards together, Draco matching paces with Harry exactly, even when his natural feet could have carried him faster than Harry’s mismatched ones.

Harry glanced over his shoulder continually, and sent the light sphere wheeling in odd circles, so that it filled corners with sudden radiance and reeling shadows. Nothing was revealed, and nothing approached them. The room remained absolutely silent, and no portrait differed from the others. Harry, to Draco’s visible nervousness, did stop and spend some time studying the runes beneath one picture, thinking that they might be Latin or simply letters reversed for a mirror, and that a good moment’s concentration would make him able to figure them out. But nothing came to him—they still remained dots and lines and squiggles—and he gave up in disgust and led Draco on.

He wished there was some way of knowing when they were halfway through the room. There wasn’t, of course. No line was drawn on the floor; no door appeared in the distance; they passed the portraits and the lines that signaled filled-in windows at absurdly regular intervals. Harry cast a spell that sharpened his senses so that he might hear or smell anything out of the ordinary, but all that enabled him to make out was his own stink of sweat. He wrinkled his nose and cast a Cleaning Charm. Draco mimed a sigh of relief at him. Harry shoved at his shoulder, though not hard enough to get Draco away from his side. “Prat,” he muttered.

More pictures, and more stones, and more darkness, and more light where the sphere floated, and more silence, and Harry was losing his fear of the room, though he thought he should have felt more suspense instead. It was only natural to feel a bit giddy when you’d been keyed up for an attack and then nothing attacked you, wasn’t it? Harry thought he must have felt that way all the time.

He frowned and tapped his fingers on his thigh at his inability to remember. Him. The giddiest person he knew. The boy who had rushed around in Harry’s second year snapping pictures of him and never listening when Harry asked him to stop. The boy who died in the Battle of Hogwarts. What was his name again?

But no, wait, he hadn’t died in the Battle of Hogwarts, had he? He had lived and married that giggling girl Ron was always dating in sixth year. They had six children already. Six, to match the number of the years she’d spent in Hogwarts before she started dating Ron. Harry was delighted with himself for making the connection, and delighted with them for the match. They both suited each other, so giggly. What was her name?

He glanced at Draco—Malfoy—Draco, and wasn’t it funny how the name kept seesawing in his head? Draco-Malfoy-Draco was rubbing his forehead as if it hurt, frowning slightly. Harry laughed, and figured it was just jealousy when Draco jerked his head towards him in alarm, because Harry could laugh and he couldn’t. “Why are you doing that?” he asked. “I’m the one with the scar.”

Draco summoned the communication sphere with a flap of his hand, though it took Harry a moment to understand him. Harry shrugged indolently as he sent it skimming over. Not his fault if Draco-Malfoy-Draco’s lacking fingers meant that his gestures were hard to read. Or should that be Malfoy-Draco-Malfoy?

Whilst Harry pondered this intriguing question, Draco was stroking the communication sphere, looking hopelessly for the facet he wanted. Harry laughed again. “We didn’t put in words for everything,” he said, and then frowned a little. Maybe they had put in words for everything. It would have taken an awfully long time, but who could tell how much time had passed since they’d begun this journey into the maze anyway?

Had they begun the journey? No, Harry thought he had come alone. But then he’d found Malfoy-Draco-Malfoy.

He thought.

His attention was drawn back as Malfoy hissed and pushed the communication sphere away from him, to float in midair. Then he glanced to the side and froze in shock. The next moment, he was pinching Harry to make him look, too.

“Ouch,” Harry said indignantly. He didn’t see the big deal when he turned, either. There were just the portraits on the wall, like always, with the witch in the fancy dress robes turned so that she was looking at them, her mouth gaping wide. And a faint silvery mist was streaming into each painted mouth. So what? It was cold in here, and when it was cold you could see people’s breaths. “So what?” Harry asked aloud, and shrugged. “She’s just breathing.”

Draco gave him a look of distress. Harry couldn’t remember seeing anything so funny since the jokes made by those blokes.

You know, he told himself, cudgeling his brain. Those blokes. The red-haired ones. I’ll remember their names in a moment, don’t know why my memory seems to be so full of holes…

Draco opened his mouth and closed it again, silent as a sheep in a thunderstorm. Harry laughed once more, and reeled down until he was sitting. It seemed a safer position than walking. He closed his eyes; the spirals of silver smoke, which seemed to be rushing from his temples towards the mouths of all the portraits, rendered him dizzy.

Someone fetched him a terrific thump on the back of his head. Harry opened his eyes and repeated, “Ouch.” A blurred figure stood above him, and for a moment he thought he must have lost his glasses, but then he realized it was just that he didn’t recognize the man.

“Hullo!” Harry said, pleased to have met company in this unpleasant dungeon. Or was it an unpleasant dungeon? Maybe he was wandering in a dream, or the dungeons under Hogwarts, which resembled home to him now. “Who are you?”

The man fell to his knees in front of Harry, oddly silent in response to a friendly greeting. Harry squinted. He was barely visible through the fog of silver that seemed to be steaming off them both. But he thought he could make out shortened fingers reaching and plucking the glasses off his face.

Harry let them go; they were covered with the silver steam, anyway, and less than useless. He watched in curiosity, though, as the fellow with the nubs for fingers began to trace clumsy letters in the fog on the glass, because he had nothing better to do.

Insta, the stranger wrote, occupying both lenses, and then breathed on them to obscure the letters and started over again.

It really was uncommonly cold in here.

Uro nos, the stranger finished, and then handed the glasses back to Harry, who squinted obediently at the letters.

“Oh, no, I don’t want to wear them, you can keep them,” he said, and settled his head back against the wall. He had a vague recollection that he used to have unpleasant dreams, but he believed he could sleep without interruption now. His head felt pleasantly empty.

The stranger thrust the glasses at him again, then forced them onto his face and picked up Harry’s arm, pressing his fingers shut around the stick he held.

“That’s my arm,” Harry pointed out—patiently, he thought.

The stranger flourished the stick through a movement, again and again, so insistently that Harry thought he might as well mimic the motion so he could get solitude and some sleep. But when he repeated it, did that content the stranger? No. Of course not. He could never get a break, Harry thought crossly. The stranger jumped to his feet and started tracing the letters in the air this time.

“They won’t stay,” Harry felt obliged to inform him.

The stranger pointed at him, waving his hand wildly in the air and beginning to mouth the words this time. Harry watched the movements of his lips critically, to be sure he had the words and because the bloke really wasn’t a good writer. Then he shrugged and lifted his wand.

This time, he used the movement and the words at the same time. “Instauro nos!” he shouted, enthusiastically, because he hadn’t had a good shout in a while.

The steam around him shivered, and then appeared to reverse itself. Harry gave a sleepy smile and lowered his wand. Hm. That was funny. The stick was a wand? What did he do, go about playing at magician and performing at children’s birthday parties?

What did he do? What an excellent question.

And then the memories slammed into his head, all at once, the steam streaming backwards, the collision with what he’d managed to retain making Harry gag. He leaped to his feet at once, panting harshly, and shot an arm around Draco, bringing him close to his side. Draco came without protest, his head falling on Harry’s shoulder as if he’d exhausted himself.

He probably has, if he lost some of his own memories and then had to go through so much effort saving my life, Harry thought grimly.

Blue-white light like the glow of a will-o’-the-wisp flickered over the surfaces of the portraits. Harry could see clearly now that the position of the witch had changed. All of her leaned forwards in their chairs, their fists clenched in front of them and their mouths open in hungry snarls. Harry shuddered. She had nearly eaten him—and maybe Draco.

He wasn’t sure which vision made him angrier—himself as a mindless shell and his friends, whom he had to rescue, suffering forever, or Draco sent back into a version of the same slavery he’d just escaped, losing all his newfound memories.

He scarcely thought about what he was doing. His wand flicked out, and he sent a Conflagration Curse at the nearest portrait.

The blue-white light caught on fire in a moment, and oil poured down from the surface of the painting as if it were melting. Harry stared in fascination, even as the figure of the witch behind the oil blurred to a dark, skeleton-like shape. Draco was tugging and pulling on his arm, trying to get him to run away, but Harry refused to move. He wasn’t about to leave his enemies behind him, and though he doubted he could kill these paintings, any more than he could kill the shadow-wolf or the Malfoys, he had to make sure he neutralized them.

The oil melted away completely. What was left looked like a doorway into another room, the one where the pictured witch sat. And then she stepped out of the portrait and started striding towards him.

Harry didn’t need Draco’s panicked squeeze to tell him that this was not good.

No time for qualms, no time for spells of lesser power. Harry twisted, to put Draco fully behind him, and aimed his wand directly at the striding figure. “Avada Kedavra!”

The green light passed through her as it would have through a ghost, not slowing down. The witch grinned at him, if you could call opening her mouth fully and drawing in her breath a grin. The dress robes she wore stretched and creaked around her as if supported by whalebone.

Draco pinched him again.

Harry looked at him, perforce, and realized that Draco was leaping up and down excitedly and pointing at the portrait the witch had come from. Harry put up a Shield Charm in the hopes that might hold their enemy off a moment, and then stared at the burning painting, choosing to trust that Draco had something important to tell him, even if it was in actuality a foolish child’s fancy.

The oil had poured into the runes. Harry blinked. They weren’t runes at all, he saw, but parts of letters. They had been impossible to decipher because they were so broken and scattered, but the oil filled in the gaps like a shimmering paste. There was now clearly a name beneath that portrait, and, Harry thought, beneath the others as well.

He glanced at Draco. Draco gave him one more nod, and mouthed the name, conveying that this was the witch he had known.

“Josephine!” Harry said aloud.

The witch stopped and screamed, a piercing, terrible sound, though still not as loud as the roar Harry had heard when he and Draco were both in the room with the Malfoy-chickens and the books. Everything in the room glowed: Draco’s hair, the silvery streams of memory that once again were beginning to flow from Harry’s temples to Josephine’s mouth, the blue-white light on the burning portrait, the sphere of light, the crystal communication sphere, and the lines between the stones on the floors and wall. Harry flung an arm up to partially shield his eyes from the light, but didn’t stop watching as Josephine’s body thinned into a spear of radiance and flew backwards into her portrait. The fire recoiled, the melted oil trickling upwards and once again resuming the appearance of a barrier over the picture’s occupant. Harry thought he heard a final hungry snarl as the name became unreadable once more.

That just left the problem of how they were going to cross the remainder of this enormous room without the other portraits sucking out their memories. Even if he didn’t burn another painting, Harry knew well enough that the oil barrier didn’t prevent Josephine from feeding.

Then he snorted to himself. Once again, as with the shadow-wolf, the solution was simpler than he was making it out to be.

He chanted a certain charm Hermione had taught him when he wanted to avoid looking at letters he hadn’t answered yet, and then used a multiplication charm on that, so it would spread out to engulf however many objects of the same kind crowded the room. In moments, each portrait was flipping to face the wall. The silver streams stretching out from Harry halted, wavered uncertainly with no mouths to go to, and then flowed back into his head when he repeated the Instauro nos incantation.

And then, finally, they were free to cross the rest of the room without being eaten alive.

Harry sighed and looked down into Draco’s face. “You just saved my life twice, you know,” he told him. “You have the right to be a little smug.”

Draco leaned against Harry’s chest to listen to his heart instead.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen—Thereby Hangs a Tale

Harry waited until they were beyond the room with the endless portraits of Josephine to ask the questions that burned in him. Draco was still shivering and didn’t want to look up; Harry had the impression that he might have a less than receptive audience if he spoke now.

But when they were in a section of maze that looked almost exactly like the corridors they’d passed through so far, neatly-fitted stone and flame-like patterns on the walls and all, Harry gently touched one of Draco’s shoulders and waited until the touch and the lack of motion was noticed. Draco blinked up at him. His face had grim shadows of exhaustion.

Harry shook his head a little. “I was going to talk to you about the maze and the Unspeakables, but I think you should rest first,” he muttered.

Draco scowled at him and flapped his palm for the communication sphere. Harry sent it floating to him; Draco selected Not tired.

Really.” Harry thought his sarcasm skills must have improved from being around Draco, because he had never managed to put that much polite doubt into a single word before.

A more pronounced scowl this time, and Draco folded his arms ostentatiously and stepped away from the communication sphere, to show he didn’t have anything else to say. Harry studied him narrowly, but it was true that he didn’t sway on his feet or show any of the more ridiculous signs of tiredness that Harry had when his Awareness Charm had worn off.

“All right,” he said. “What do you remember about this area? Is it dangerous? Can we pause here and talk for a time?”

Draco stared upwards for a moment, perhaps scanning the ceiling. Harry looked up, too. After the attack of the bone-drinking creatures from beneath the floor, it wouldn’t do to assume something couldn’t drop on them from above.

But Draco nodded and sat down with his back close to a twist in the corridors, where he could see danger coming from more than one direction. Harry approved of his common sense, but made him budge up a bit, so that he could lay a blanket on the floor beneath him. This won him a cool look from Draco, neither pure gratitude nor pure annoyance—more like consideration, Harry thought. His newfound trust meant he didn’t have to worry and tease out every emotion Draco felt to be perfectly comfortable.

“So.” Harry took his place on his own blanket and tucked his legs beneath him, in a posture that Auror Donaldson had drilled him and other trainees in. He should be able to spring from such a crouch to his feet without pausing on the way up. “I know our means of communication are limited, but I think it’s time for you to explain to me what you can of the magical theory behind the maze and what you think has happened. Use small words,” he added.

A tired smile came and went on Draco’s face. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath—gathering strength, Harry imagined. He looked very small and very heroic against the stone wall, the only scrap of life in sight except for Harry.

Well, Harry thought, remembering what they’d encountered so far. Human and mortal life, anyway.

His attention was caught by Draco opening his eyes again. He gestured for the communication sphere. Harry let him have it, paying so much attention that he saw the fine blond hairs standing up on Draco’s arms. He wondered for a moment why the Unspeakables hadn’t shaved him, and then wondered why they would have. But then, why had they chosen to take his fingers and ribs and voice?

That’s the problem. I know what happened, at least some of it, but I don’t know enough of the why.

Unspeakables tortured me, Draco began. Harry nodded encouragingly when he paused. Always because. Draco struck the floor beside him with one palm, as if to add emphasis to the last word.

Harry frowned. “Because—what was the reason?”

Draco frowned back at him, and Harry remembered that they hadn’t included a word like “purpose” on the globe. Draco was doing the best he could to show the torture was purposeful, not done to indulge a random love of pain and sadism. Harry shuddered. Another difference between Richard and Voldemort, and one that made Richard, or his servants, more dangerous, because they wouldn’t be tripped up by their own indulgences.

“What was the major purpose?”

Maze.

Harry nodded. He ought to have known that, really. “What I don’t understand is why the maze required suffering,” he said. “I know that a maze that makes the people who walk through it immortal should be difficult to build, but I don’t get why this Sir Galen wanted to make horror and suffering part of the foundation.”

Draco pointed two nubs at Harry’s satchel. Harry opened it and pulled out the books they’d taken from the room where the Malfoys attacked them. That must be what Draco meant; he would have signed that he was hungry or tired if he wanted more food or blankets.

Draco waited until Harry held up The Ethics of Human Sacrifice, then nodded vigorously. Harry gave the book to him. Draco laid the edge of his hand under the word Sacrifice, and looked narrowly at Harry.

“It was the sacrifice that was important, wasn’t it?” Harry mused, leaning back against the wall. He felt almost as he did in the moments when Hermione illuminated some obscure subject for him. “Not so much the pain. But the idea that someone would willingly agree to suffer immense pain for years, or forever, makes the maze appropriately difficult to build and also invokes powerful magic. The victim would really have to love the builders of the maze to agree to that.” He found himself briefly touching his scar. He ought to know, if anyone living did, the ability of a loving sacrifice to call up protective energy.

Draco nodded again, until Harry was worried he’d hurt his neck. Then he touched the missing skin where his ribs were.

“They pulled out your ribs because—“ Harry said, leaning forwards.

It took him a moment of struggle, but Draco flipped the book open and hunted through its pages. Harry remained patient as pages flipped, glancing back into the rooms they’d traversed now and then; he’d thought he heard the scuffle of a footstep.

Draco opened his mouth in a soundless exclamation of triumph at last, and held the book out to Harry, tapping the top of a page. Harry squinted at it and hoped like hell he’d actually understand.

The ethics of human sacrifice are inextricably tangled up with certain powerful symbols, not because these symbols are the only ones that work to channel magic but because the human mind believes they are the only ones that work, thus giving them the an enhanced power. The altar is one such symbol, both sacred and unassuming, but absolutely necessary, most think, to have a place on which to lay the sacrifice. In certain Muggle religions, an altar of stone was commonly used. Wizarding beliefs, based on magic less wayward, early gravitated towards an altar of bone instead.

Harry swallowed and glanced up at Draco. “Your ribs are the altar for—your memories, another kind of sacrifice. And I suppose they thought removing the ribs but still keeping you alive would be easier than removing the bones of your limbs or your spine,” he muttered.

Draco nodded again, and clapped his palms imperiously for the book. Harry held it out, wincing inside as he watched Draco balance it on one knee and search through the pages. What would happen if the heavy tome should slip and collide with his chest? How badly would it hurt him, with no ribs to meet it? Harry knew how necessary the ribs were to protect the heart and the vital inner organs.

A troubling thought made him try to remember whether the Unspeakables had removed the ribs from the man Draco had tortured to death. Harry shivered and shoved the image away. He didn’t want to think about it, and until the moment came when he must, he shouldn’t have to.

Another page was offered up to him, this time with Draco selecting a paragraph near the middle.

Don’t think of “offered,” Harry commanded himself, and read.

The human sacrifice that most people think of is the giving up of the life, often by cutting the throat or pulling the heart from the body or decapitation. However, such sacrifices are most useful when the person making them desires a single powerful effect. For lingering magic, pieces cut from the larger body are just as useful, though their power individually is not as strong. Such pieces must matter to the victim and be important in his life (the sacrifice of the appendix is not generally recommended). Common choices are fingers, vital organs such as the liver, some of the intestines, an eye, a limb, or an ear. Careful preservation is necessary in order to retain their virtue. They are most useful in binding the victim to the will and project of the wizard directing the sacrifice.

“So the fingers tie you to the maze,” Harry said, when he thought he could get through a sentence without spitting up bile. “Just the way that the—the man you sacrificed was tied through his vital organs.”

Didn’t work, Draco signaled laconically on the sphere.

“Because they were vital organs?” Headshake. “Because he wasn’t willing,” Harry said, and received a nod this time. He frowned at the book. “This seems clearer and less arcane than I was expecting. You’d think the Unspeakables would have noticed before now how important the willingness was to the success of their final project.”

Draco rolled his eyes, expressing, Harry knew, his opinion that the Unspeakables would not notice reality if it danced back and forth in front of them wearing red silk and spangles. Harry smiled and gave the book back when Draco motioned for it, studying him absently as he turned clumps of pages towards the end. He moved his tongue in soundless obscenities now and then when the pages slipped from the clumsy non-grasp of his aborted fingers, but he kept trying.

Healed, with a chance to sleep as long as he likes and get some proper food in him, he’ll be rather good-looking.

Harry chased the thought into the furthest, darkest corner of his mind and shut the door on it. It was wrong to be thinking such things of a man who had been broken down and beaten and hurt so badly. He would have felt offended, wouldn’t he, if someone had noticed his looks when Hagrid was carrying him into Hogwarts after Voldemort had “killed” him?

Well, no. Not as long as the person looking at me was a girl.

And that just made him decide, all over again, that he was confused and this gay thing was more trouble than it was worth. He held his tongue to avoid offering Draco, who was still turning, help, and waited until he held out a page towards the very end.

Harry squinted through his glasses, still smudged from Draco’s steam-writing, and read:

The sacrifice of memories is as time-honored a tradition as the sacrifice of the body, though not as common. The most usual methods of gathering memories are mirrors and Pensieves. The memories must be significant to the purpose of the sacrifice and important to the victim. As with all sacrifices, willingly given memories will be much more potent than those snatched in the midst of pain.

“At least that explains why all the memories we’ve encountered so far have something to do with the maze,” Harry said, pushing his glasses up his nose and holding the book out to Draco. He shook his head, indicating he was done with it, so Harry tucked it back into the satchel. “I wondered if that was part of the Unspeakables’ trap—if those were false memories, for example.”

Draco gave him a tolerant look and selected Pensieves and truth from the communication sphere.

Harry nodded. Pensieves did usually tell the truth, and he’d had some experience with recognizing when memories had been altered.

“So, just one more thing I don’t understand,” Harry said. Draco raised an eyebrow, and Harry laughed and resisted the temptation to shove him. “All right, many things, but just one more thing important to the formation of the maze. Well, two.” Draco let his head drop back on the wall behind him in a parody of abject despair. “Where are the Unspeakables? And where did the immortal creatures come from? The shadow-wolf and the bone-eating spiders?”

Unspeakables trapped in maze, Draco told him via the communication sphere, and jerked his head back towards the room with Josephine’s portraits. Many ways.

Harry nodded slowly. He could see that. Some might be trapped in their own forms, or something vaguely like them, as Josephine had been. Some might have been eaten by the creatures trapped in it with them, or destroyed in the other traps that Harry and Draco had managed to avoid.

“What about Richard?”

Draco shook his head and pursed his mouth. No memories, his fingers said, moving so slowly over the communication sphere that the first word hung endlessly in Harry’s head.

“And Pearl?” Harry thought he had some things to say to the woman who had persuaded, or tried to persuade, Draco that the torture the Unspeakables put others through was for a higher purpose.

Another headshake, but this time Draco looked aside. Harry narrowed his eyes, nearly spoke, and then held his peace. He trusted Draco now, he reminded himself. And if Draco wanted to remain silent on Pearl’s fate for some reason, Harry trusted that it would not be a reason damaging to their quest.

“What about the creatures?” he continued.

Experiments. Immortality of mind. Immortality of body.

Harry sighed and nodded. The Unspeakables had tried to find all kinds of shortcuts around the very simple and straightforward requirements of the maze. It only made sense that they had studied what immortal creatures they could find and capture, and then tried to adapt the knowledge taken from them. Of course, if the best they could derive from their study was the Malfoys, their conclusions and not just their methods were flawed.

Draco started shifting as if he would rise from the floor. Harry touched his arm to detain him. Draco stilled and looked at his hand with another of those piercing gazes, this one so intent that Harry decided his touch must be unwelcome and pulled away, his hand curling into an uneasy fist at his side.

“The Unspeakables were recruiting heavily just before the Department became unreachable to the rest of the Ministry,” he said. “That was the reason Ron and Hermione came here in the first place. Do you have any idea what that was all about? Why would the Unspeakables want more recruits here before they tried to make the maze?”

Draco’s face grew almost kind. One of the facets of the globe he had just touched came to life again as he stroked it.

Experiments.

“Do you know that? Or are you just drawing conclusions from the knowledge of the Unspeakables that you have so far?” Harry hadn’t realized his own voice could sound so thin and desperate.

Draco gave a helpless shrug, and then reached out to rest his incomplete left hand in Harry’s. Harry gripped the hand and choked, bowing his head. He blinked furiously, and tried not to see Ron and Hermione suffering the same tortures that Draco and the burning woman and the man in the robe of the Azkaban prisoner had, and failed.

Then he reminded himself he was strong, he was, he had managed to survive and help Draco survive, and he should not be taking comfort and strength from a man who needed them both more than he did. Harry lifted his head, blinked bravely, and said, “Thank you for telling me.” He touched Draco’s throat this time, a light, glancing brush, the tangible equivalent of a glimpse, simply to steady himself before he pulled away. “And your voice?”

Draco’s eyes went hooded and dark. He shook his head once more. Harry controlled the impulse to press a kiss to his cheek in reassurance—Draco would start thinking he was gay next—and rose to his feet, turning to face the maze of corridors. “You’ll rest when we reach the next Pensieve room,” he said, not intending to brook any argument.

A weary blink answered him, and Draco braced his elbow against the wall he leaned on and scrambled up, too. Harry slung a rough arm around his shoulder, and they went down the corridor together, Draco pausing at each intersection but choosing the next path with a minimum of hesitance.

*

It took Harry some time to realize that Draco’s pause at one junction had gone on too long to be indecisiveness. He looked up, and licked his lips when he saw the lost, helpless expression on Draco’s face.

“Do you need to rest?” he asked. “Do you think you’d remember better with some sleep behind you?”

Draco turned to face him. His eyes were shut as if squinting against strong sun. He leaned his head on Harry’s shoulder and made no motion, his hands limp at his sides, which Harry knew was the same as someone else steadfastly shutting his mouth and refusing to speak.

So, we’ve lost our way. Harry stroked the tangle of Draco’s wild, soft hair and tried to think. Both pathways in front of them looked identical to his eyes, in everything from the width of their openings to the texture of their stone, but one twisted sharply to the right and one sharply to the left. Straight on, there was only a blank wall that Harry would hate to try and cut his way through. For all he knew, carving up one of the walls would do something detrimental to the stability of the maze.

Then he relaxed with a little chuckle. They were, after all, seeking the next Pensieve room, and there were certain characteristics that all the Pensieve rooms had in common. He drew his wand and flicked it, conjuring into being a tiny, extremely fast mote of blue light. Draco watched curiously as Harry leaned in and breathed on the mote. It stopped jumping and quivered in front of him, waiting for instructions.

Quaero lucem albissima,” he told the mote. I seek the white light. He had to struggle for a moment to come up with the words, but a few common Latin words had been part of his training, and both “light” and the names of colors were considered important for Aurors to know. The blue spot bobbed in front of him and then shot away down the left-hand turning. Harry smiled as the trail it cast behind it shone like a brilliant thread.

He turned and offered his hand to Draco, with an exaggerated bow that made the other man stare at him in wonder. “Shall we?”

Draco rolled his eyes, but let Harry lead him. Harry followed his mote with confidence. The Seeking Charm would find the most direct route passable to humans on its way to its goal. There might still be traps, of course, and Harry kept his wand busy seeking them out as he and Draco walked. But at least he knew that they wouldn’t be required to travel through walls or the ceiling to reach the next Pensieve room.

Past more intersections and through hairpin turns that made Harry’s neck prickle with danger-sense, over a slender bridge that spanned a gaping chasm and under low ceilings, the mote led them. Harry kept a sharp eye on the trail; if it started to dim, then he would have to cast the Seeking Charm again. But his mind must have exaggerated the distance in the darkness, because the blue light still pulsed in front of them, as faithful as the North Star.

They came to another broad intersection, twin to the one where Draco had lost his way. Once again, the blue mote had taken the left-hand turning. Harry did give a cursory glance down the right-hand one as they went by, just in case an Unspeakable was standing there with his wand poised.

And then he stopped, so hard that Draco staggered as he walked into the crook of Harry’s raised elbow.

There was something small sitting on the floor a few feet inside the right-hand turning’s entrance. Harry could make out its existence, and the wavering shadow it cast, thanks to their light globe, but he couldn’t tell what it was. He swallowed several times and cast the spell that would detect magical creatures.

Nothing. But when he cast the spell to detect Dark magic, the object flared with a sunburst and set up a rattling and buzzing in his teeth.

“No choice,” he said to Draco, who gazed at him reluctantly. “We have to investigate it. It could be a clue to the Unspeakables’ disappearance, or maybe something they left behind. If it’s going to hurt us, I’d rather not leave it at our backs to do so.” He thought of the scuffing footstep he’d been sure he’d heard earlier. Could there be other ways through the maze? Draco knew the way to the center. That didn’t mean there weren’t other pathways, with other destinations.

Draco gave him the pointed look that said he was doing this under protest, and fully reserved the right to tell Harry it was a bad idea later, then followed him towards the object.

Harry halted again on the way there, because he had made out some of its color now. His breathing stopped, too. Draco pulled at his arm to no avail, partially because Harry couldn’t have responded if he wanted to and partially because he was running in the next second, then dropping to his knees beside the object, picking it up in his hands.

And yes, that might have been dangerous. But nothing in the world could have stopped him from doing it.

Red-haired, neck cut as smoothly clean and rounded as Draco’s nubs of fingers, it was Ron’s severed head.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen—Harry’s Test

Harry had no idea how long he knelt there, holding Ron’s head, before it spoke.

With Draco’s voice.

“A pathetic display, really, Potter. Have you learned so little about life and death, and what they are both like here, that you assume your friend is gone without looking further?”

Draco slumped against him from behind; Harry thought him close to passing out with the suddenness and the shock of the words, or perhaps just because it was his voice. Harry looked up. He had not wept. His eyes were dry and burning. His throat felt the same, and it took him several attempts at clearing it before he was able to respond.

“I will look further,” he said. “I suspect you’ve never experienced grief, if you don’t understand the practice of pausing for some time to mourn.”

The voice laughed, and yes, it was Draco’s arrogant, sneering schoolboy laugh. Harry wasn’t sure which struck him as more obscene, the familiar tones or the fact that he could see Ron’s lips moving around the words, even as the blue eyes continued to stare past him at the far wall of the maze. “Then come ahead. This maze was never designed for you, but since it has gone wrong and your friends were your reason for coming here—because why would you come for Draco Malfoy, of all people?—you will be one of our best subjects for an experiment done to test responses to the maze.”

Harry nodded. He rose to his feet with Ron’s head in his arms and his gaze focused down the tunnel that led to the right. He knew it wasn’t the route that would take them to the Pensieve room.

He didn’t care. He could no more have walked away from this than he could have walked away from the sight of his friends tortured and dying in front of him.

A pair of arms winding around his waist jerked him back hard enough to make him catch his breath in pain. He glanced over his shoulder to see Draco digging his heels into the stone floor, shaking his head frantically.

“I mean this in the politest possible way, Draco,” Harry said. He didn’t recognize his own voice. Well, at least one of us doesn’t sound uncomfortably familiar. “Fuck off.”

He twisted to the side, kicking one leg to make Draco release him. He made sure to fling him off gently enough that his collision with the wall shouldn’t harm him. But he didn’t intend to stay put like a good little boy, even if that was the best plan. And he couldn’t—

He knew this wasn’t really Draco speaking. But at the same time it was Draco’s laughter echoing in his ears, coming from his best friend’s lips, and he was beginning to accept that he would find Ron and Hermione dead at the end of the corridor.

He ran. Behind him he could hear Draco’s pounding footsteps, gradually catching him up. Harry didn’t care. Draco was physically weak and unable to use magic. He would have no choice but to stay out of this battle, and take his chances with whoever, or whatever, won it.

For one moment, his conscience tried to restrain him in turn, asking what would happen to Draco if he were stuck down here without someone to take care of him. He would suffer. He would die—

Then Harry shrugged off that hold, too, much more easily than he’d got rid of Draco’s arms. He’d come down here for his friends, not Malfoy. Yes, he wished Draco all the best and would be sorry to see him die, but he owed his life to Ron and Hermione. If they were dead and he could have saved them instead of proceeding slowly through the maze in the midst of self-doubt and self-loathing, then the least he could do was perish trying to avenge them.

The world, which had gained such complexity that Harry felt as if he were continually walking across shaky mud, had suddenly flattened and clarified itself again. Harry hated the reason for it, but he rejoiced in the feeling of clean air flooding his lungs, of his feet hitting solid ground again.

And still Draco followed him. Harry cursed under his breath and sped up; the tunnel was a large one, but had no side-turnings. He couldn’t lose Draco, but maybe he could leave him behind.

He was vaguely aware that he was carrying Ron’s head under his arm like a Quaffle, and that it was still laughing at him. This was bizarre and would probably make him vomit later, but at the moment it had no power to slow him down. Nothing did.

He vaulted over a small rise of stone steps and into the middle of a chamber so enormous he was forcibly reminded of the portrait room. But this one wasn’t crowded with pictures. On the walls hung what looked like webs, instead.

Webs starred with people, instead of flies.

Harry’s eyes locked on Hermione’s head, in the middle of the nearest and largest web. And to one side, hanging in swathes of browned silk that must have been older, he recognized her arm, and one of her legs. Harry stooped to place Ron’s head carefully on the smooth flagstone floor, and drew his wand. He could do nothing about the past desecration of her body, but he would not leave her here to hang like this.

A sharp noise from the other side of the room, the side not lit by the globe floating beside him, caught his attention. Harry whirled towards it, his eyes wide and his arm already aiming.

What came forth was not a spider, as he had been expecting, not even an Acromantula, though it was as large as that. What came forth was an enormous snake, shimmering green-white with sickly phosphorescence, its eyes large and yellow as a basilisk’s. Harry knew what basilisks looked like, however—none better—and this was not one. He didn’t recognize the breed of snake, though he carefully noted the clanking rustle of its scales on the floor and its enormous fangs.

That solved the mystery of what hung on the walls. Not spiderwebs, after all, but swathes of the snake’s shed skin.

Draco’s voice laughed and spoke out of the mouth of Hermione’s head this time. “All the creatures you have encountered so far have been immortal, Harry Potter. What makes you think you can defeat this one?”

Harry said nothing. What was there to say? He wanted to take his friends’ bodies out of here. The snake was between him and his friends. That meant he was going to kill it or disable it, whatever else happened. He began to move carefully to the right, causing the snake to turn its blunt muzzle towards him. The forked tongue, at least a foot long, flicked out from its mouth. The eyes shone with a cruel and devastating intelligence, enough to make Harry assume it might have played some part in torturing Ron and Hermione before they were ripped apart.

His eyes fixed on the snake, he spoke in what he knew must be Parseltongue. “Someone killed my friends.” “Friends” came out more like “hatchlings of the same egg.” “Was it you?”

The snake’s head reared back as if in surprise, but it said nothing in response. Instead, it coiled the upper third of its body beneath it, swaying slightly back and forth, and Harry knew it would strike. He couldn’t tell the direction or speed of the strike, though, or what weapon it would use. The size argued for a constrictor; the fangs argued for venom. Since the Unspeakables might well have created this snake, and if not it was a magical creature, Harry saw no reason it couldn’t use both.

The snake lunged at him, coming from the left.

Harry began his spin to the side, calling a Blasting Curse to his tongue in the same moment.

And then the snake vanished in mid-motion, appearing with a solid thump behind him.

Bloody hell! It can Apparate! Harry didn’t try to correct his course; by this point, it was too late anyway, he’d built up too much momentum. He flung himself forwards, half-stumbling, half-falling. The Aurors had taught him how to control his falls. Now was the time for the training to be effective, if it ever could be, and Harry had the satisfaction of hearing the coil the snake had flung out to catch him clank on the floor at his heels. There came an inarticulate hiss that sounded for all the world like a human grumbling as he got out of bed in the morning.

Harry scrambled back to his feet, and found the snake considering him with more respect this time.

“I will kill you,” he told it.

Again, no response. Its motion forwards held a dream-like slowness, as if it had assessed the threat he represented completely in a few seconds, and was no longer concerned about what he might do.

Harry aimed his wand at the ceiling. The snake uttered a little chuckle of a hiss and slithered towards him faster.

Frigus!”

The temperature in the room dropped at least forty degrees. The snake faltered for a moment, and Harry, though he had no doubt it would adapt to the cold in time, took the opportunity to rush it. He was able to draw near before it Apparated away—or maybe it wanted him to come to it, but he couldn’t worry about that right now—and he planted a foot on one metallic fold of the body and leaped straight up.

He had cast the Self-Lifting Charm, the one that he and Draco had used to cross the room with the bone-eating spiders, already, nonverbally, and he flew towards the snake’s head with the force of his leap. The head gracefully twisted, the mouth opened, and a spittle of dark-colored venom came flying from between the fangs.

Harry felt some of the poison strike his hands and shoulder blades, and begin eating holes through him like acid. He didn’t think he flinched. He was wondering, all the while, if this was the last sight Ron and Hermione had seen before they died, and thinking it must have been, and deciding that that made it more appropriate he should suffer the poison, too, on the way to vengeance.

He caught hold of one huge fang and swung around it as he might around the Keeper’s pole on the Quidditch pitch, aiming himself directly into the gullet. The snake rumbled, a sound of pleasure, and started to close its jaws on him. If he was so polite as to come to it, it was saying to itself, then it would quite happily swallow him.

Harry closed his eyes. Auror Donaldson’s voice, in his head, chanted an incantation, and then said, If I ever catch you using this spell, I will beat the shit out of you, because Azkaban will be a better fate than you deserve. So I better not catch you using it.

Cutis falcis, Harry thought, and moved his wand in a star-shaped pattern. Right, and left, and left, and right. Had Ron and Hermione tried to cast that spell before they died? Where were their wands? Had the serpent torn them apart, or was this only a collecting room for the victims of other beasts in the maze?

Blades sprouted from Harry’s skin, serrated knives tearing up through his arms, swords unfolding like wings of steel from his shoulders, his teeth lengthening and curving. One reason Auror Donaldson had forbidden this spell was the danger of killing oneself with it, along with one’s opponent.

Harry rather thought, though, that the pinpricks he felt as the blades grew were nothing compared to the pain the snake endured as its mouth closed firmly, definitely, on him—and the blades impaled it through the cheeks and jaws.

Black blood drenched Harry at once, boiling, trying to flush him out of the mouth. Harry crouched under the worst of it, and then began pushing his way deeper, dragging and digging furrows in skin and flesh with his blades. The serpent tossed its head and folded and unfolded its fangs; that only made the going a little harder. Harry grabbed hold of a lesser tooth, one that didn’t bear a venom sac he could see, and hung on when the climb briefly became vertical.

Then he was over the rolled carpet of the tongue, and into the gullet itself. Harry slipped down a few feet and braced himself hard, slamming the sword that grew from his right shoulder into the throat wall to hold his place. He thought of Ron and Hermione for a moment more, envisioning their faces clearly, hoping they would be the first two people he saw on the other side if he killed himself with this, as he fully expected to.

Then he aimed his wand down the throat. Strange, that he could hear his own voice over the sound of the serpent’s strangled cries, but fitting.

He spoke the spell aloud this time. No taking the chance that speaking nonverbally would deprive it of some of its force. “Cutis falcis!”

His faithful globe of light had followed him. Harry could see the blades rippling along the serpent’s neck, stretching to meet one another like ingrown fangs. Harry cast the spell again, and again, and the magic traveled further and further down the throat, turning the serpent into a mass of weapons—from the inside.

Slicing it apart.

Harry closed his eyes as another tide of blood drenched him. He could remain here and allow himself to be cut apart by the blades or crushed by the constricting muscles. In some ways, it was no more than he deserved, for having failed Ron and Hermione.

He wanted to. The intensity of his grief numbed all other emotions. He had never surrendered in his life, but that was because they had been beside him or ahead of him or behind him, urging him not to surrender. With them gone, what good was he? What did he have to live for? He didn’t know for certain who had done this to them, so even the ideal of vengeance was useless, now that he had killed the snake keeping their bodies from him.

Their bodies.

He still had to take those out of the maze, and show the people who knew nothing about what had happened down here, who only knew that Ron and Hermione had vanished utterly, that he had kept what faith he could.

He cast a Feather-Light Charm on himself, and let the blood and the poison wash him out. He floated back to the floor, and spent some moments wiping liquids and chunks of flesh off his face, so he could watch the serpent’s demise. As an afterthought, he retracted the blades back into his body.

The blades he had seeded kept growing, cutting straight through the snake’s slim body, passing one another and stabbing out the opposite side they had started from. The snake was, in essence, turned into an endless string of shish kebab. Its struggles did no good, considering that the enemy was coming from inside it. When it turned and began biting itself, Harry thought he was smiling, a smile that hurt his mouth from smallness and coldness.

At last each piece of the serpent was separate, and left twitching. Harry knew it was probably still alive. That didn’t matter. By the time it could get itself back together again, he and Ron and Hermione’s bodies would be long gone, back to the surface.

Harry had no desire, anymore, to learn what lay in the center of the maze.

He turned to the disjointed limbs and heads and torsos clinging to the swathes of the snake’s skin, and aimed his wand. A Cutting Curse made the skin droop and shred and part with a sound like tearing silk curtains. Harry continued chanting Cutting Curses, mildly surprised his voice was so strong, and slowly Hermione’s head slid to the floor, and then her hands, and then her legs. They were still clad in tatters of the robe Harry had last seen her in, that day she and Ron left the office.

Draco’s voice still called to him from the lips of Hermione’s head. “Do you think this will stop it? Do you think that defeating one guardian—not even a very important one—of the Collecting Rooms will enable you to pass the test, or walk to the center of the maze and achieve immortality?”

“Death would be very welcome right now,” Harry said, clearly, and then pointed his wand at the moving lips. He would not mutilate Hermione’s body further by destroying her mouth, but he could seal it shut.

Before he could, two things happened at once: a brilliant dot of light flew out of Hermione’s mouth, laughing all the way, and passed straight through the wall; and a pair of arms closed around him from behind.

Harry hissed, annoyed. It seemed that Draco’s voice, detached from his body, was under the absolute control of Richard or whatever other Unspeakables were left, and he had no chance of stopping or catching it. He would probably encounter it again if he went ahead into the maze, which he was not going to do.

The arms continued to cling, and now Harry could feel a cheek resting against his back. He hissed again. “Let me go, Draco. I need to clean this off me, and you probably need rest. And then we need to find our way back to the Ministry.”

Even a pair of foreshortened hands could spin him around roughly, he discovered. Draco was staring at him, shaking his head back and forth frantically. A huge splash of black liquid clung like insect guts to the front of his robe. Harry cleaned it with a Scourgify, and then did the same thing to himself, though he had to do it twice.

“We have to,” he said to the shaking head. “There’s nothing here for me anymore. Ron and Hermione are dead. I owe it to their families to get the bodies back to them. And the quest I came on is fulfilled.”

Draco glared at him and held out a lump of blackened meat. Harry blinked and frowned. “Is that a piece of the snake? You’d better put it back. I don’t fancy it chasing us because it’s missing a chunk of its belly or intestines.”

Draco tossed the lump at him, forcing Harry to catch it. Only then did Harry make out the traces of red hair clinging to the top of it, and the faint indentations that might have been lips and eyes and nostrils, once upon a time.

“Ron’s head?” he whispered, and stared at Draco.

Draco turned and plucked the communication sphere, floating behind him, from the air. Then he tapped the facets for Dark magic. Artifact. He held Harry’s eyes as he moved from that set of words to another, related set. False. Illusion.

“But—the voice—“ Harry faltered. It was true, based on the little he knew of Dark magic theory, that it would have been easier to make Draco’s voice speak from a specially enchanted model, rather than through flesh and blood. Corpses were even harder to work with. You could make Inferi out of corpses, but it took an enormous amount of power to cause them to speak and respond like the living people. Better to invest that power elsewhere, and sculpt models, or cast glamours, or use Polyjuice, to impersonate the living.

False, Draco’s hands on the globe insisted again. Illusion.

Harry swallowed, and stared across at Hermione’s head still hanging on a strip of snake-skin near the floor, right above a twitching scrap of serpent. Holding his wand towards her, he whispered, “Finite Incantatem.”

The glamour covering the head splintered apart with a pop like a Muggle light bulb burning out. Harry could see the same lump of blackened flesh that had taken the place of Ron’s head.

Harry fell to his knees, pushing his hands into his eyes. That ground his glasses into his skin. He didn’t care. He had almost committed suicide, almost ensured there was no one left to avenge his friends, because he had sprinted ahead without thinking.

This just proves how badly I need them, he thought. This just proves that I shouldn’t be trusted on my own for longer than it takes me go to the loo, and we’ll probably all die before I can get them out of here.

He felt a surge of yearning as he considered the plan he’d devised which might free Draco from the maze. Something like that, he could be good at. Something like that, he understood. It only required mindless courage and strength.

But even if he chose to implement that plan, that, too, would need to wait until the very end of the journey.

Draco’s hand was on his shoulder. It didn’t grip hard, of course, but Draco leaned all his weight on it, and Harry understood the force of his silent demand.

No more charging ahead without thinking. No more stupid risks. It’s not just our lives that depend on your actions now. Have you passed the test of your own temper, Harry?

And Harry thought he had. Finally. At last.

He twisted his head enough that he leaned his cheek against the back of Draco’s hand, trapping it on his shoulder. That couldn’t have been pleasant for him, considering Harry was still covered with the stench of the serpent’s body fluids, but Draco dew nearer still, and then his arms closed about Harry’s shoulders in an embrace as fierce as the one he’d used to catch Harry in the corridor.

He understood what had happened, and why. But it had better not happen again.

They rested like that, until the stench and increasing speed of the serpent’s twitching, along with Harry’s aching knees, forced them to their feet and back in search of the right path.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen—The Fourth Pensieve

Harry walked into the fourth Pensieve room with Draco’s hand on his shoulder, now and then flexing as if Draco were mimicking the motions he would have made with longer fingers. Harry tolerated that for a time, then turned about and snapped, “You were right, you know. It was a stupid idea to run away from you into the Collecting Room and not pay attention to your warnings. But we’re past that now. I won’t run away anymore.”

Draco glanced at his hand on Harry’s shoulder, then at Harry, and raised his eyebrows.

“Yes, of course you’re doing that because you think I’m about to run away.” Harry shook his head, snorted, and rolled his eyes when Draco went on staring at him. “And I’m telling you that I won’t.”

Draco’s eyes widened humorously, but, of course, he said nothing. Harry was growing irritated with himself for constantly expecting some audible response. Draco dropped his hand from Harry’s shoulder, but strolled right beside him as they went into the Pensieve room and towards the pillar made of rib-bone, which Harry thought was nearly as annoying. He just wanted to get away from Draco and have a little freedom to move. Besides, that would be important, and not just for personal reasons, if it turned out that there were traps or enemies in this room after all.

No traps, no enemies. Only the familiar pillar, the Pensieve awaiting them on top of it, and the sharp white light that made the doorway they had come through and the far one both slots into darkness. Harry stooped to study the base of the pillar, where the two letters waited like shadows. Em, this time.

Crepidinem? That sounded more like Latin, but it wasn’t a word Harry had studied in Auror training or used in incantations, and that automatically meant he didn’t know it. He gave a little shrug and glanced at Draco. “Do you want to go with me into the memories this time, or remain behind?”

Draco studied him for long moments, as if the question were more absorbing than Harry had meant it to be. Then he gave a decisive nod and stepped up beside Harry, curling one hand around his arm.

“All right,” Harry murmured. He didn’t want to admit he was grateful for the company, since the second Pensieve had shown him such horrific memories of Draco getting his fingers bitten off, but he thought Draco could sense it anyway, from the sheer trembling of his limbs. He cast the Sticking Charm on his feet once more and stooped into the Pensieve.

Draco was beside him when they fetched up in a large, rather cozy room, this one with a central fireplace and tables radiating out from it. Harry glanced at the tables, and then away again. They held glass jars of floating frog legs, pickled brains, and less pleasant things. He didn’t do well with objects like that even when they were absolutely necessary for Potions; he didn’t want to imagine what the Unspeakables might have been doing with them.

But he quickly had to pay attention to the figures in the center of the room, who were laughing uproariously with one another in that way that signaled they were pissed. Harry edged forwards, threading his way through the tables, with Draco stubbornly close beside him. Harry told himself it was the atmosphere of the place that made him so grateful not to be alone now.

One of the figures was Draco, of course, but the other was the woman Pearl. She was pressing a hand to her chest, hiccupping with the force of her own laughter. Draco watched her with an expression Harry had never seen on his face: his eyebrows slightly uplifted, his lips parted to show a dazzle of white, straight teeth. His quick tongue darted along his lips to remove a trace of brilliantly-colored liquid, perhaps Firewhiskey.

Harry froze, shivering. The Draco beside him cast him a surprised glance. Harry shook his head and murmured, “Nothing,” and then tried to focus on the conversation.

I’m not supposed to notice he’s attractive, damn it. Thoughts like that are bad in and of themselves, and they’re worse when they apply to a man as wounded and hurt as Draco is. Whatever he might have looked like in the past, that’s come to an end.

A sly thought that tried to whisper Draco wouldn’t always look like this darted across his mind. Harry shook his head firmly and rejected it, which was made easier when Pearl began speaking again.

“I never would have expected—” She hiccupped and wiped her hand across her mouth. Harry dismissed the suspicion that she’d munched on something out of the jars; it was probably just more Firewhiskey. “I never would have expected that a dignified Malfoy such as yourself could succumb to such childish impulses,” she finished, with tipsy dignity.

Draco’s smile changed, becoming more reflective and private. Harry banished forming images of stupid situations where Draco would smile at him like that. “Well, I did. There was no limit to my awfulness when I was a child, really.” He shrugged and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on the stool in front of him. “Luckily, I had people who could teach me better.”

“You mentioned Severus Snape.” Pearl sighed and collapsed into her own chair, tilting her head back as if some soothing sunlight would bathe her face.

“Yes,” Draco acknowledged. “After I saw his heroism, clinging to my own ideals of rightness and fairness—the ones that said I should always be privileged, always treated as special—seemed petty. And there was the fact that I wasn’t around Potter anymore, so I had no need to compete with him for prestige and attention.”

Draco’s nubby fingers dug into Harry’s arm. Harry glanced at him and managed a half-smile, though he could feel the sweat prickling through the hair on the nape of his neck. “Don’t worry,” he whispered. “I won’t hold your drunken ramblings against you.”

Strangely, Draco did not look reassured.

Harry shook his head and turned back to the Draco in front of him, who had folded his hands and was staring into the fireplace, absently playing with a fold of his robes. Harry felt a sudden pang of pity. How long was this before he lost his fingers? Did he have any idea how soon he would be disfigured, his engagement with the Unspeakables turned from one of research into one of experimental subject?

“And there was someone else who taught me, too.” The historical Draco’s eyes were abruptly alight, and he flung a sly glance at Pearl, who blinked and tried to sit up, as if to prove that she was still paying attention. “Of course, I highly doubt I should talk about him to you. He’s the source of stories that would offend your virgin ears.”

“If you think I’m a virgin, Mr. Malfoy, then I haven’t done any job of educating you.” Pearl snorted and lifted her cup in a toast to someone unseen.

“Oh, but there’s virgin and then there’s virgin.” This Draco waved his hand airily. “I’m not sure I should tell you about him.” He paused and pretended to consider while Pearl pouted at him. Harry was a little startled at how well he could read the other man’s emotions; it seemed that practicing on the Draco at his side could help even with a Draco who had his voice and his whole body and his confidence. “On the other hand,” he went on musingly, “I told you about Severus Snape, and this couldn’t be much worse than that.”

“No, of course not,” Pearl said, so eagerly that Harry had to stifle a laugh. He doubted the Draco watching stiffly at his side would think this scene at all funny. “Did he kill anyone? Did he take you over his knee and spank you?”

The historical Draco laughed and stretched his hands towards the fire. “Nothing like that! On the other hand, he did…” He trailed off for a moment, and Harry, staring at his face, glanced down at his hands almost too late. They were busy making a series of explanatory, obscene gestures.

Pearl stared at him for a moment, and then let her mouth fall open. “You’re gay?”

Harry shivered, a strange coldness like a flying splinter of ice glimmering up from the middle of his chest. He shook his head and very carefully didn’t glance at the Draco beside him, who must be embarrassed at such a personal revelation.

Draco nodded. “Yes. And Jason taught me, hmm, rather a lot.” He closed his eyes and hummed beneath his breath. “He’s one of the reasons why I’m here. He let me know my life hadn’t come to an end after the war. I could still study new disciplines and make something of myself. But I wanted the Dark Mark gone. Add that to the confidence Jason gave me, and, well, I followed up on Richard’s call.” He leaned forwards coaxingly. “So, I told you something important about me and the reasons why I’m interested in this research. You promised me you’d tell me your motives. What were they?”

Pearl’s face became solemn. Harry struggled to fix his full attention on it. He was sure that this was the important part of the conversation, the one they’d come here to hear. It didn’t matter how much Draco’s revelation had shocked him; he had no reason to think about it before anything else.

Still, a voice in the back of his mind continued to chirp over and over, Malfoy’s bent!

“Well,” said Pearl at last, “you’ve probably worked out by now that a good number of my ancestors were Muggleborn.” She darted a glance at Draco to see if he would explode.

Draco waved a hand and snorted elegantly. “Yes, I got that, Pearl. I got it the moment I realized I don’t recognize your last name. What I want to know is why that would inspire you to do this research.” This time, his hand-wave encompassed all the jars sitting on tables. Harry shifted his weight, surprised at how grateful he was to realize this was Pearl’s research and not Draco’s. “Are you looking for a way to become pure-blooded?”

“If it were that simple,” Pearl muttered, “I would never have got involved with looking into immortality. No.” She sighed, and remained still for so long that Harry had to resist the impulse to step forwards and shake her. At last she said, “Many members of my family have died from Muggle diseases that wizards don’t often get. Cancer, especially. I’m here to find a way to combat those diseases, and create treatments that work better than either Muggle medicine or healing spells.”

“Hm.” The historical Draco leaned his head against his chair and stared with fascination at the ceiling. “I can see that, I suppose. And of course it would benefit your relatives as well as you.” He nodded firmly, even though he hadn’t looked at Pearl to see her own nod. “That’s good. Family’s important.” He hiccupped.

“After I watched my sister die of breast cancer,” Pearl said, “I promised that I wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of my research. Not other people’s objections. Not moral objections to Dark magic. Not silly laws.” She paused, and her voice, gentle as it was, held a warning when it spoke next, a warning Harry doubted the Draco of the past heard. “Not even friendships.”

“Understandable,” Draco muttered, and then his chin fell on his chest and he let out a deep snore.

Pearl rose and arranged several cushions behind his head. Harry could see her gaze linger on Draco’s face for a moment, as if she were attempting to memorize the way it looked, whole and unhurt. Then she turned to prod the fire, and in a whirl of sparks, the memory dissolved and left them in front of another one.

Harry blinked. This was yet another torture chamber, with a human-shaped metal frame set in the stone floor. The frame was arranged as if to hold someone tied spread-eagled, but there was additional space on the sides of the flanks Harry didn’t understand. Was it meant to accommodate an obese wizard?

A scream resounded from the other side of the room.

Harry turned sharply, barely feeling Draco lean against him as if he had suddenly lost his balance. He saw the past Draco, his eyes wide and his face full of terror, briefly tear free from two Unspeakables who held him and try to spring out the door he’d just come in by. The door slammed as he reached it, and Draco clawed at it with nubby fingers, still screaming.

Harry shivered. They took his voice after his fingers, then. Is that what we’ve come here in order to watch?

But when the Unspeakables had strapped Draco down to the metal frame in the middle of the floor and lifted their wands, he knew it wasn’t.

Harry recognized one word in the Latin incantation the hooded Unspeakables used, cut, and thought about closing his eyes. But if he would have felt cowardly closing his eyes when he was by himself in the Pensieve, and no one could tell whether he was witnessing the crimes against Draco or not, how much worse would he feel with the companion at his side?

He kept watching, and did not turn away when the spell sliced straight down the middle of Draco’s chest and opened the flaps of skin along the sides like a door. Those flaps rested on the flat part of the metal frame that had so puzzled Harry. Somehow, the revelation that the Unspeakables had known exactly what they would be doing and constructed this frame ahead of time was as disgusting as what they were doing; Harry had to swallow again and again.

Against him, Draco shivered. Harry, thinking they might both get through this better if he showed that he could still protect someone, wrapped his arm around Draco’s shoulders.

The past Draco was screaming, struggling, and straining, but the chains on his limbs didn’t allow him to rise very far, and he had no movement in his torso at all. Whether that was the result of a chain or another spell, Harry didn’t know. Somehow, he managed to continue watching as the nearest Unspeakable, face completely covered, laid his wand against the flap of skin on the right side and began to sever Draco’s rib bones from it.

The past Draco was cursing now, a steady stream that dissolved at the end into broken whimpers and moans. Harry’s Draco continued to lean against him, trembling like a rabbit. Harry was impressed he was keeping his feet, and stroked the other man’s neck and hair as soothingly as he could.

The ribs came away, leaving holes in the canopy of flesh and skin. The Unspeakables carefully stacked the bloody bones beside them, with more care than they showed for the living person. Then they touched their wands to the chest flaps and cast another series of spells that made Harry want to flinch. Whether he could recognize the Latin or not, he knew hostile intent when he saw it.

Small buds formed on the flaps of skin, and the past Draco screamed again. Harry frowned and took a step forwards, leaving his own Draco behind for a moment. He had to see what was going on. He didn’t think he would have the strength to watch this again, and once the memories were back in his own head, Draco might or might not be inclined to talk about them.

The buds, Harry realized with a jolt, were new ribs. They lengthened into knobs of bone as he watched, and then the Unspeakables folded Draco’s chest back together like a cloth tent and cast rough healing spells, stealing the sight from him.

Harry closed his eyes. They only took Draco’s fingers once, but they took his ribs again and again. No wonder they had enough bones to make the Pensieve bases.

How many times was that done? How many times was he made to suffer that torment, to go through his own pain, and know each time that it would only happen again, and again, and again? That they would never let him die?

Harry could not conceive of giving up, but he could see, now, how death might be a mercy and a kindness, not just a means to save other people from a fate even more horrible.

The Unspeakables rose and unhooked Draco from the metal frame as the healing spells settled and the red lines on his chest became white scars. He had stopped screaming some time since. His eyes were dead, and his head hung in a way that made Harry ache to hold him.

His own Draco, however, wanted holding, if the way he had pressed himself against Harry’s side like an abused puppy was any indication. Harry turned and buried his face in Draco’s hair, telling himself he wasn’t seeking illegitimate comfort, and that he wasn’t missing anything. The Pensieve had gone briefly dark around them, the way it did when moving from one memory to another. There would be nothing to see for a few more seconds, and Harry was confident that they could understand the next memory even if they missed some of the introduction.

Draco shook, and shook, and shook. Harry stroked his hair as often as the tremors raced through his body, wishing helplessly that there was something more to be done.

There is, he thought suddenly. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future. That especially holds true if Ron and Hermione are already dead. I can’t help the pain Draco’s suffered, but I can carry out my plan to free him, as soon as I have the means.

His breathing steadied, as his resolve steadied him. He felt able to turn around and face the next scene with confidence.

This was a cell. No question about that, Harry thought, staring at the pallet Draco sat on, and the chains extending from the wall, though at the moment they weren’t being used. The Draco of the memory leaned his head on the wall and panted. Harry wasn’t sure why, but from the sweat on his face and the scratches on the backs of his hands, he thought Draco might have been pounding on the door, trying to open it. The only light came from sconces along the walls, carefully placed above any height Draco could reach.

Harry cocked his head, and nodded grimly when he saw that Draco’s fingers were gone and that the skin around his chest sagged. This must be a fairly late memory, after they had begun to use Draco as their tool for the maze.

Then he remembered the last image, of the ribs regrowing, and shuddered. Who knew how long they had actually tormented Draco before they had felt ready to cast the spell and make him the foundation of their schemes? Six months? Nine months? Most of the year he had been missing?

He glanced to the side to see how his Draco was taking this. He saw him standing grimly straight, staring at his past self. Harry hesitated, then held out an arm, wondering if Draco would take the support now.

He walked over without a pause and stood under the circle of Harry’s arm, but the expression on his face and the angle of his gaze didn’t alter.

The door unlocked itself with a suddenness and a rasping of wood and iron that made Harry jump. The Draco under his arm simply stood as if nothing could disturb him. The past Draco whirled around and brought his hands up in front of his face with a pathetic defensive helplessness.

Richard stepped into the cell and eyed Draco critically for a moment. Harry bit his lip to keep from shouting in rage when he realized Richard was looking at Draco the way Harry had seen Muggles study dogs they were breeding.

“You should know,” Richard said, without changing his tone at all or giving any inflection to the words, “that your mother is dead, thanks to your disobedience.”

The past Draco made a sound like a cat being dissected. The Draco under Harry’s arm trembled like a leaf. Harry found himself stroking the other man’s hair again, whispering, “No. No. That’s not true. It was never true.”

Richard shot his wand out and chanted a soft spell beneath his breath that Harry couldn’t make out. A silver stream of thought immediately uncurled from the trapped Draco’s temple and into a vial he held ready. Richard corked the vial and held it up to study, turning it from side to side, as if different light on it would really show him differences in the composition.

“Why did you do that?” whispered the past Draco. His voice was thick with horror and exhaustion. A voice, Harry thought, as he held his Draco tighter, that had been ruined by months of screaming.

“The memories that will become the foundation for part of the maze must be exact, of course,” Richard said absently. “Memories of pain and suffering, or memories that lead to pain and suffering. We missed that essential truth for a long time, but we know it now.” He swirled the vial once more, then left, adding over his shoulder, “Your mother is still alive, of course. But we had to see what the jolt of pain would do to a captured memory.”

The Draco in the cell slumped and put his hands over his eyes. Harry could still see the gleam of tears, since his shortened fingers didn’t cover them completely. For a moment, the memory paused, as though debating showing them something else, and then Harry found himself blinking his own eyes and stepping back from the Pensieve.

He glanced to the side at once. Draco had his mouth slightly open and his eyes tightly shut, as if that would make what he had seen in the Pensieve easier to bear. For all Harry knew, it would. He held Draco without speaking, letting his hand cup the other man’s jaw or travel through his hair when he thought it would help.

His mind was on the two most important pieces of information he had learned in the Pensieve. First, that the memories placed in the maze had to be memories of pain and suffering.

That doesn’t make my plan to free Draco impossible, but it does make things more complicated. I’ll have to be very careful.

The second was the fact that Draco was bent, and even as Harry berated himself for considering that important, as compared to the anguish Draco had experienced, his mind ran about and played excitedly with the information.

Does that mean that…?

But Harry knew the answer to his own question.

No. One of three things is going to happen. One, you’ll both die here, in which case it can’t matter. Second, you’ll find Ron and Hermione and free them, and free Draco, but he’ll still be wounded physically and mentally, and he’ll need lots of recovery time in St. Mungo’s. Nothing he would like less than someone fawning around him and thinking that he might be attractive. Third, you’ll carry through your plan and free Draco from the maze, in which case no attraction will be important to you ever again.

Harry snorted to himself. That’s one way of solving the crisis of my sexual orientation.

Then he grabbed his stupid thoughts and made himself confront the truth. You won’t be gay, and there’s no guarantee that Draco would ever find you remotely attractive. Not all straight men and straight women date each other. Why should two men date just because they might share the same preferences? No, there’s no question of this, and you can’t allow this to change how you treat him.

He felt the motion in his arms and looked down to see Draco staring at him with solemn, open eyes. Harry smiled, and made sure to keep the smile purely detached and sympathetic, with no hint of the stupid things it might have become. “Hey,” he said quietly. “Ready to take your memories back?”

Draco took a breath that seemed to go on forever, and then nodded.

“Good,” Harry said, and extended his wand towards the Pensieve, while his admiration for Draco threatened to burst through his chest.

See? That would be a more valid reason to be interested in him than just because he’s bent. And you won’t be interested in him, because you can’t be. End of story.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen—The Water Room

Harry wasn’t surprised when Draco almost collapsed as they left the room with the fourth Pensieve. He was close to the edge himself, having run and fought in the Collecting Room, suffered several minor injuries when the blades broke through his skin, and then gone through the emotional torment of the Pensieves. He put a hand on Draco’s shoulder and another under his arm, and together they limped through the far doorway into the next part of the maze.

Harry halted when they came fully into it, and tilted his head back, blinking. This was the most normal room he’d seen so far, barring the room with the books where the Malfoys had taken them. The walls were circular, with no portraits, and the floor made of smooth and expertly jointed flagstones. Along the walls were slender shelves that might double as cots. Harry could even see the faint outlines of what might have been filled-in windows, and lines of white dust on the floor that seemed to indicate places where the legs of furniture had rested or been dragged.

Not that I want to sleep on those cots. With our luck, they’ll fold up and trap us next to the walls.

He glanced at Draco as he began casting the necessary spells. “What do you think? Do you remember this place being dangerous?”

Draco slowly lifted his head. His eyes were glazed over, and Harry winced, wondering if he was remembering the pain as his ribs were cut away. But he still managed to inspect the room with a gleam of intelligence in his gaze. At last, he shook his head, and then sank to the floor, bracing himself on his hands and knees.

Harry wasted no time in unpacking the satchel, spreading blankets down for Draco, and drawing out a few pieces of dried meat, as well as breaking the preservation spells on an orange whose skin he sliced through. Draco seized them and started eating without seeming to care that he was getting juice all over his face and dropping parts of the food onto the floor. Harry could feel his own hunger rising at the sight of the food, and turned away slightly. He had to make sure they were safe before he could start his meal.

And he needed to put a little distance between himself and Draco for right now, so that he could wrestle his hormones and his ideas back into compliance with reality.

So what if he’s bent? Harry told himself as he cast spells that would enable him to peer through the walls and floor. The spell revealed only twisting tunnels, or solid stone, depending on where he looked—no more giant snakes, no Unspeakables, no crouching bone-spiders. It means less than nothing to you. Or it should. There’s a time for sexual attraction and images of what could happen between the two of you, and this isn’t it.

He had already determined that he wouldn’t make a move on Draco and would do his best not to think of him that way, either. His main worry was about what would happen if he had a sexual dream. He knew he was susceptible to them; Ginny had first suspected something was wrong when he moaned the name of an attractive male Auror trainee. Draco would probably be at the forefront of his mind, and so that could happen again.

Silence myself, Harry decided. I’ll have to do that. It shouldn’t matter whilst I’m asleep. If something wakes me and I need to speak aloud, I can always remove the spell first. It’s not as though I’ll be muffling sounds around us.

More relaxed now, he finished warding the far doorway and then turned towards Draco—only to find him asleep, his fingers sprawled open and his head drooping on his chest.

Harry smiled, and felt a rush of desperate protectiveness. At least he knew that, with him around, Draco was less likely to suffer and become the prey of the creatures of the maze. He could do something right.

But will he ever be able to recover fully from things like what we witnessed in the Pensieve?

Harry gave an impatient little shrug as he moved to rearrange Draco’s limbs comfortably on the blankets and clean up the food he hadn’t eaten. He was neither a Mind-Healer nor a Muggle psychologist, and he was very far from being Draco’s best friend, even if he was Draco’s best hope for survival at the moment. He would just have to offer what comfort he could, and hope it was enough.

Besides, unless we both die, we’ll come to St. Mungo’s eventually. They’ll be the ones to offer him real healing.

*

Harry had wedged himself into another uncomfortable position between Draco and the door, one that should ensure he saw any threat the moment it appeared and didn’t fall asleep easily. He’d eaten the rest of the orange Draco had left, a few pieces of bread spread with peanut butter, and some of the meat. He had his wand in his hand, ready to cast a Silencing Charm the moment his Tempus Charm told him that Draco had slept for seven hours. He had done everything he could.

Except defeated his own sleepiness.

It yanked and tugged at him like an undertow, and the thought of just closing his eyes for a moment was nearly irresistible. Harry pinched his arm and thought about using Cognosco. It would enable him to stay awake now, and when Draco woke up, they could make excellent progress until it wore off. But then what would happen when it failed and both he and Draco needed to sleep at the same time?

Harry was still battling the issue in his mind when he heard a sharp sound from the direction of the western doorway, the one that led back into the Pensieve room. He’d heard that particular kind of hiss before. Not a snake at all, but the sound of someone without Auror training trying to speak quietly in a whisper.

Decision made, Harry waved his wand and cast Cognosco nonverbally. His spine straightened at once, but he kept his eyelids lowered and his breathing even, as if he were drifting off to sleep. His gaze remained fixed on the western doorway as if nailed there.

A few shadows agitated back and forth—human-shaped—and Harry heard the hiss of the whisper again. He frowned to himself. Any other travelers in this maze, particularly the recruits like Ron and Hermione who had been lured down here and then trapped, would surely have been madly glad to see him and Draco.

Unless they were Unspeakables.

Harry’s grip tightened fractionally on his wand, and a spell he had used to battle the bone-spiders sprang into his mouth. He would have to cast it before they moved into the room, though. He waited some more, and hoped they’d used no magic that would enable them to hear his swift heartbeat and quickened breathing.

More whispering. And then one of the shadows edged into the room, making less than no noise, and Harry saw the outline of a gray hood and cloak.

He whipped his wand up and reacted without thinking further. A stone wall promptly appeared across the doorway back into the Pensieve room, and he heard an unmistakable human cry of shock. Then another wizard cast a spell designed to melt stone or at least crack it. Harry created another stone wall behind the first, and a third after that, and then a fourth. By now, Draco was stirring fretfully against him, near to waking up.

Harry bent down and hissed in his ear, “We need to go.”

Draco started to his feet, then sagged down again as he found no support waiting for him; his hand had shot out as if to grasp a wall. Harry grabbed him under the arm and hustled him across the room towards the far doorway, dismissing the wards he’d laid there as he went. He could hear vicious cursing by now, and chanting in more than one voice. There were at least two Unspeakables, then, Harry thought grimly, and wondered for a moment how long it would take them to get through the walls.

It doesn’t matter. The point is to make them stop chasing us, not hold them at bay for a few minutes.

Harry leaned Draco against the wall in the next tunnel and gave him the communication sphere and the globe of light for company, then faced the Unspeakables across the length of the room. Already his fourth stone wall was crumbling, weakened by a series of spells that looked like lines of fire and frost combined, and then it broke and three Unspeakables in heavy gray cloaks strode through the remains.

Harry paused just a moment, in case he had mistaken their intentions and they were trapped innocents wearing the most convenient clothing available. But they made him the target of their wands instead of their voices, and he dived to the side out of cursing range even as he cast for the first time.

Red hexes slammed against the stone behind him and sparked. At the same moment, one of the Unspeakables gave a cry that abruptly faded. Harry smirked as he scrambled back to his feet. In keeping with the theme of the maze, he’d Transfigured that Unspeakable into a rat, which was struggling frantically in the heap of cloth collapsed on top of it. That should be a shape small enough to enable it to find food of some kind, and fast enough to survive the predators that crowded the corridors.

The two other Unspeakables separated, trying to flank Harry and give him a field too wide to cover with a single spell. Harry began edging slowly to the side instead, as if he were concentrating only on the wizard on his right, and they did what he wanted, gave up the flanking maneuver, and tried to catch him in a crossfire of spells.

Harry recognized the red light of a Stunner, and though it in reality went just past his shoulder, he decided to pretend it had hit him. He dropped to the ground with a high-pitched whine and lay still. Staring at the ceiling with motionless eyes and fighting the temptation to blink was the most irritating thing he had ever done, but he wouldn’t have to end the deception unless they were clever and actually bound him or Stunned him again before they approached. And the Unspeakables had given him the impression so far of being clever only when they had time to plan exquisite tortures.

Sure enough, he heard the regular rise and fall of footsteps approaching him. He took a deep breath and concentrated all his power and his Cognosco-augmented will into the spell he would cast next.

Expelliarmus! he thought, while his wand performed the necessary movements at floor level.

The Unspeakables shouted in surprise as their wands suddenly tore themselves from their hands and sped towards Harry. He sat up, caught them like a pair of Snitches, and lifted his own wand warningly. The Unspeakables halted, and one of them said, in the delicate voice of a small woman, “If you would give us a chance to explain, you would see—“

“I have no wish to, thanks,” Harry said. “I already know all I wish to about you from viewing the Pensieves.” And he flipped his wand and Transfigured them into rats as well. There was no way he could have done that without the Awareness Charm, so he would have to bless the necessity of casting it after all.

He did pull some food from the satchel and Transfigure it into cheese for them, which he left on the floor near the doorway. He could take lessons in expediency from the Unspeakables, but he wouldn’t be cruel.

*

Draco was waiting for him just beyond the doorway. He peered up at Harry with watery eyes for a moment, then looked pointedly over his shoulder.

“They’re gone,” said Harry. “Or rats.”

Draco shook his head slightly, and reached for the communication sphere. Tired. Will they come again?

“There may be others hunting us,” said Harry. “I don’t know if they’re Unspeakables who weren’t trapped into things like the portraits when the maze began or ones who were outside performing other tasks.” He moved up beside Draco, peering down the tunnel as if in abstraction, giving Draco the time he needed to pull himself together. “But we’re definitely safe enough to stop and rest now.”

A heavy weight collapsed against him. Harry turned in startlement towards it, and found that Draco had simply given up and let himself go. His shoulders shook with silent sobs. Harry could feel his own robes growing damp with the other man’s tears.

And it wasn’t as though Harry could blame him. He must have had a moment of feeling that his nightmares were coming true, when he saw the Unspeakables who had tortured him coming towards him again.

It was only that Harry was rather surprised Draco would be willing to let Harry see his tears. Perhaps his barriers had been lowered more than Harry thought by his re-adoption of the memories in the Pensieve.

Harry spread blankets again, and managed to do it without letting go of Draco in the meantime. This time, Draco laid his head in Harry’s lap as he had once invited Harry to do with him, and let his tears flow without check. Even when they stopped, he lay in the same position, and it took long minutes of regular breathing for Harry to realize that he was asleep.

Harry had to keep his right hand moving as he cast the spells that were necessary to keep them safe throughout the night, but his left hand slowly slipped from Draco’s chest to his cheek, and then his forehead.

I’ll take care of you. I won’t let anything else happen to you again, no matter what. And in the end, I’ll see you freed from this maze. I don’t care what I have to do to accomplish it.

Immediately his own conscience asked him if he would sacrifice Ron and Hermione, but Harry shrugged the thought off. There had to be a way that would let him free both his friends and Draco. He refused to consider anything else.

*

“It’s certainly different,” Harry said, and wondered if he had really succeeded in overlaying the tension in his voice with humor. From the eyeroll Draco gave him a moment later, he didn’t think so.

The long, low room in front of them was the most beautifully decorated of any they had passed through so far. Patterned screens of what looked like ivory stood about in several of the corners; Harry had peered closely at them and had been relieved to decide it really was ivory and not more human bone. Someone had cared to soften the stone further with tapestries, made of ordinary cloth but depicting a skill of weaving and intricacy of pattern that Harry hadn’t seen matched anywhere else, even in the few tapestries that had hung on the walls at Hogwarts. Wooden planks made raised walkways along the floor, winding in loops and coming back together again like paths through a garden.

It was the pools the planks surrounded and the screens and tapestries fronted that made Harry uneasy.

They were large basins set flush with the floor, except for a slight raised edging of stone around each. From here, Harry thought one was filled with mud, one with water, and the last with a dark kind of paint, until he sniffed and the thick coppery scent of blood came to him. That made him more than uneasy about what was in the other two pools.

But he and Draco didn’t have to walk on the paths. There was ordinary stone around the planks, narrow aisles but still wide enough to pass to the opposite side. And Harry had Shield Charms floating at the ready, to protect them should a monster explode out of the pools.

“Ready?” he asked Draco, with a brave smile, and held out his elbow so Draco could grasp it.

Draco studied him for a few moments instead, gravely. Then he reached for the communication sphere and tapped out, Careful.

“I’m always careful,” Harry said, offended, but it only took one eyebrow raise to bring the room with the snake back to him. He flushed. “Yeah, sorry. But you said you remembered the way through the maze, and this is the way we have to go. There are no tunnels to the sides around this, anyway.”

Draco nodded reluctantly, and took his elbow. Harry made sure to move carefully, since Draco’s grasp was never sturdy at the best of times.

They chose to go to the left, for no real reason except that Harry had had the light sphere hovering there while he cast his spells to make sure the way was safe, and knew already that the stone looked solid and normal. It carried them past the pools, at exactly the same distance from them that the right-hand path did. Harry kept his eyes in constant motion, looking behind the screens and tapestries for an intruder his spells hadn’t detected, looking behind them and ahead and across the pools, but his gaze always returned to the basins. The blood was bad enough; the others looked like ordinary mud and water, but God knew what they actually were.

Then they drew close enough to the mud pool to see it swirling, and to smell the scent that rose up from it.

Harry gagged and clapped his wand hand to his nose, half-stunning himself as the wand dug in. He didn’t care. He knew the smell from vicious training sessions that had involved fire curses. This was human flesh.

Liquefied human flesh.

Draco gagged at the same moment. Harry glanced at him, wondering if he was about to be sick and worried about how that would affect his chest, but he found Draco’s eyes fixed on the pool instead, wide with standing tears. Harry looked back and caught a glimpse of the flesh mounding, fixing and flowing together into a head. Appalled, fascinated, he jerked to a stop and stared as a woman’s head floated where there had been nothing but anonymous swirling liquid a moment before.

Though it lacked eyes, it still had the gray-streaked hair on top that Harry could identify as Pearl’s thanks to the memory of her conversation with Draco. And from the way the bloodless lips moved, he thought she might still be alive.

No wonder he didn’t want to talk about her. He may have retained a memory even then that it was this.

“I’ll remove her from the pool,” Harry told Draco quietly. “I’ll make sure that she can rest. Stay here, though. I have no idea what she’ll do, and if it’s dangerous, I want you able to run—“

Draco jerked back and stared at him in exasperation. Then he reached for the communication sphere and chose Soft-headed fool from the sarcastic phrases facet.

“I have to do something,” Harry said, and faced the pool again. The flesh was forming other heads now. He looked in dread for Ron and Hermione’s, but it seemed to be only the heads of people he didn’t know, probably other Unspeakables’ victims. “I can’t just let her remain there and suffer.”

Immortality of body, Draco said, and then gave Harry another tight-lipped look that conveyed his feelings without need of more access to the communication sphere. How are you going to kill them?

“I’ll figure out something!” Harry snapped, exasperated, and hopped from the stone onto the wooden path.

The planks curled up, strong as tree roots, and around his feet in seconds. Harry cursed and lowered his wand to burn them.

Draco shoved him hard in the middle of the back, though to Harry’s relief he was careful not to step on the planks and become a captive himself. Looking up, Harry saw the flesh forming into bodies beneath the heads, which began to climb over the edge of the basin. At the same moment, fountains rose from the pool of clear liquid and the pool of blood, and streaked towards the corpses. The “water” filled their eyes in, and the blood streamed back into their bodies through pores that opened like hungry mouths.

Harry experienced a moment’s appalled conflict. So now he had to defend himself, and to do so, he would have to risk destroying the woman who had been Draco’s friend, as well as other people who had done nothing worse than become subjects of inhuman experiments.

How did he get into these situations?

By my own carelessness, he snapped at himself, and then raised the Shield Charms already sparkling in front of him to new heights. The corpses reached them and hammered on them, mindless as Inferi. Harry relaxed; at least that gave him a few more moments to figure how to deal with the planks wound about his feet.

But pain stung him. When he glanced down, he saw that one curling, flexible piece of wood had scraped along his leg and opened a shallow wound.

Blood appeared, but instead of dribbling, it flowed away in a skein of fat red drops towards the third pool.

Harry had a sudden and, no doubt, accurate vision of the way this room would strip him into drops of fluid and scraps of skin, and sort them into the appropriate pools like some sort of mad Potions collector.

But he didn’t have the time to hyperventilate or laugh hysterically at the image. He had to figure out some way out of this. Hopefully before the hammering fists of the corpses cracked his Shield Charms.

He glanced back at Draco, to see if he had any helpful suggestion, the way he had for escaping the portraits of Josephine. Draco, who was clutching his fists together in what looked like a desperate attempt to stop himself from running away, began mouthing an incantation at him.

Harry winced and grimaced as the nearest plank scraped a bit of skin from his right leg, and called, “What?”

Draco repeated the incantation again. And again. And again. Harry, squinting, thought at least that he made out Fingere solis. He knew that had something to do with the sun, and if it would burn up his enemies and the wood at once, it was good enough for him.

He nodded and lifted his wand. Draco promptly began moving his hands back and forth in simple sweeping motions, once to the right, once to the left, and once to the right again. Harry made himself watch the whole sequence three times over to be sure he had it, despite the increasing pain in his legs and the way that he had to recast the Shield Charm in the meantime. At least none of the corpses were trying to work their way around him to attack Draco.

He cast the spell, moving his wand confidently through the sweeps Draco had shown him as he cried out, “Fingere solis!”

There was a breathless pause just before the spell went to work, and Harry had time to see Draco’s lips form a soundless No!

Fuck. I got the incantation wrong—

And then everything around him, everything he was, dissolved in light.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen—Into the Light

There was nothing around him, above him, below him, behind him. He (was he a he? Was he an it?) floated in still air, dead air, and his hands touched nothing. He didn’t think he had hands left to touch anything. He was light, and light could touch nothing but light.

He reached out. Nothing, and nothing, and nothing. He could feel splinters, fragments, of memory coming loose and drifting around him, and there were emotions, too—fear, love, gratitude. But he couldn’t feel them thrill or thrum through his body; he could only identify them, not remember what they had pertained to. They scattered about like tadpoles with small drumming tails, and his essence went with them.

What had his name been? He still knew the concept of name; it was one of those more deeply buried in him, and so it took extra pulling to make it work loose. But he couldn’t remember that, either. Did light have a name? Did light need a name? If he separated, every atom from one another, and flew to the furthest corners of the universe, who would remember what he had been, or be able to recall him?

And yet…

There was something.

If he did not have a center anymore, then something else might. And it was that center he drifted towards, and orbited around, and felt grasping for him as curiously as he groped towards it.

Here was gravity, weight, consequence. Even light obeyed the law of gravity. He could obey it and yet be true to his new nature.

(Was he a he anymore? Was he not rather an it?)

The thing exerting the gravity cried out in distress. He listened more closely, and though he still could not see that center—because light did not see, it was seen by—he decided that this was not a physical sound. It came from somewhere within the center, a sound that he would utter if he could.

He? The center was a he. He wondered how he knew that, this creature of light, clinging together only by habit and not by memory. But it was a thing he knew, and it remained blazing in his mind, even as the magic pulsing through him (it) urged the bits of him further and further apart.

The center was feeling. Believing. Thinking. Remembering. Focusing as intently as it (he) could on what the light had used to be, the form it had had, the memories it had been gathered around. The cry of distress sounded again, written on the glass of the center’s mind as it could not be uttered aloud. Ancient knowledge belonged to the light. He had taken the form of the sun, and the sun knew things about humans, as the center was, that fate could only envy. It crossed the world every day, after all, and looked down on them all the time.

The light, it-he, gathered as many thoughts as he had left and focused them all on the center, reaching back.

The center thought, and thus gave to it-him, an image of himself as he had been. Embodied in a physical form, oddly limited, with black hair that went everywhere as it-he was now going everywhere, and eyes that reflected green in the visible spectrum of light. His eyes had often shone with anger or impatience. But his hands were gentle, and the center, having no true fingers of his own, was grateful for the touch of them on his hair and his cheeks. More grateful than he had ever wanted the it-he, the person the light had been, to know, but now he reached out and freely offered those secrets. If the light would only come back, and resume the form the center had known!

But it-he did not see how it-he could become a he again. How was it possible? The separating force had lessened, but it was still there, throbbing like a heart. The center was only a temporary distraction or diversion. The moment the thoughts written on the clear glass of his mind ceased to shine, then the light must be borne apart, and lose its own truth in the sum of all that was.

But now the center was thinking of something else. The image was in a brilliantly lit room; the center, who was a blond man with empty flaps of skin at his sides and empty air where his fingers should have reached and an empty throat, crouched at the end of a chain and shivered. And then the light’s physical form revealed himself, messy hair and eyes that shone green in the visible spectrum of light and all, and the center’s immediate reaction was great and sudden joy. Hope had been dead in him; now it came crawling back, flapping tender wings, sunning itself in the radiance that the light seemed to exude. That was the first time the center had begun to believe that he might survive, that he might be safe. He had an odd form of trust in the person the light had been. No matter what happened, he survived; he encountered trials and came through them whole. Someone working beside him would have a much better chance of living than anyone working alone.

The words no matter what happened, he survived, beckoned to the light. It-he darted around them, and it-he almost thought the sensation of maleness, of being locked in a body and not separating as the magic bid him do, was becoming stronger.

But how could he do that, when the magic was there?

No matter what happened, he survived, the center pleaded, without sound, simply through the mingled medium of mind and light that they had become. And then he paused, and reached out again. Recall what you were. Share what you were with me. Make some return for what I have risked for you.

Hesitantly, the light tried to pull some of his own memories back to him. It was difficult; they had shot away on so many different trajectories. Yet those trajectories still obeyed physical laws, and they could be made to flow backwards, and slam into him, and become part of him.

The easiest memories to pull back and blend with himself were the ones that complemented what the center had thought of. So he offered how much he, himself, had enjoyed touching the center’s hair and cheeks, how he had learned the softness of skin over again. He offered the swelling of pity and tenderness and horror he had experienced when he saw how badly wounded the center was. He offered corrections on details of his appearance that he had seen every day for years in mirrors and which the center had forgotten through not seeing him as often—

Draco. The center’s name was Draco. The light accepted it as a joyous fact, a bit of himself that had been attracted by the growing gravity of the clump—light, mind, physicality, Draco—and returned of its own accord. And then more and more bits began to attach themselves, and lose their individual character in the generality of a whole, and the person that had become light remembered his own name.

Harry.

Magic tore through him, boomed through him, and fled his body. Warmth of motion and flight became the warmth of skin. Harry opened his eyes, and blinked painfully, and realized he could no longer see words etched on the clear glass of Draco’s mind. He suffered an acute sense of loss.

But only until he realized he knelt there with his arms around Draco, and only until he remembered just what secrets he had betrayed.

Harry flushed, and remembered their enemies. He was glad of the excuse to whirl away from Draco, lifting his wand—which had been dispersed with the rest of him, and come back together with the rest of him—and calling up a curse to sit on his tongue so he could fling it at those enemies.

There was nothing, though. Harry blinked and turned his head from side to side. The wooden plank path on the right side of the room remained as it had been, but the planks that had held him prisoner, the corpses with hideous faces, and the basins of liquid skin, optical fluids, and blood had gone.

He turned to Draco. “What happened?” he demanded.

Draco’s face was very odd. It was more open than Harry had seen it, but also more determined, as if this trial had confirmed for Draco the sense of his own strength most of all. He reached out, touched the tips of his stumps to Harry’s chin, and then shook his head and motioned to the far doorway.

Harry opened his mouth, then decided that he could wait to question Draco, given how thoroughly Draco had kept him from dooming himself. He nodded, slung the satchel over his shoulder, and stood. Draco walked beside him, not taking Harry’s hand or elbow when it was offered for support. Harry kept sneaking glances at him. Perhaps some of the light that he had been had fled into Draco’s eyes.

*

They settled in a small bend of the tunnels outside the room of the pools, which Harry made into a secure chamber by casting a series of wards behind him that arched from floor to walls. Then he sat, his legs crossed beneath him, and looked up to invite Draco to sit the same way. He had to swallow harshly when Draco did it without invitation, closer to Harry than he had sat at other times, save when he wanted comfort. He presented that brilliant, calm, powerful face again, and Harry found he didn’t know what to say.

Draco didn’t reach for the communication sphere, though, or otherwise try to speak. He simply laid his severed fingers on his knees and scrutinized Harry’s face, slowly, from scar to chin. It was intensely uncomfortable, and Harry wriggled several times in place before he could bring himself to draw a deep breath and begin.

“I need to know what happened. I’ll have as much patience as I need to for as long as it takes you to tell your story—“

He stopped, because Draco had lifted his brows and widened his eyes. Even spoken, there couldn’t have been a clearer expression of Really? Harry thought, somewhat nettled.

“Yes,” he said, “I will. I promise you. Will you—that is, will you please tell me the story? What did that spell do? Why did you call me back the way you did, and—“ he felt a dull flush creep up his cheeks “—why did my responding to you work?”

A moment more of study, and Draco clapped his hands for the communication sphere. Harry sent it floating over to him gladly. Draco touched the facets that meant, Incantation wrong.

“I got that, thanks.”

Another magnificent stare that quelled Harry’s irritation enough to make his eyes drop. He had to look up hastily when Draco began mouthing again, though, so he could read his lips.

Fingere sol.

Harry coughed. “So, it wasn’t solis.” He didn’t dare pronounce the whole mistaken incantation aloud again, just in case something worse happened.

Draco shook his head. Sun spell, his fingers on the globe said. Not make you sun.

Harry nodded. He wasn’t enough of an expert in Latin to say just why the incantation had gone so desperately wrong, but he trusted Draco not to be lying about it, either.

There’s a line that I never thought I would be associating with Draco Malfoy.

“And it literally turned me into light, along with the enemies I was aiming at?” Harry asked. Draco nodded. “That’s—incredible. Why didn’t it touch you?”

Desire.

Harry felt his flush grow worse, and glanced away, rubbing the back of his neck. “Because I wanted to turn only a certain number of people into light,” he muttered. “And I wasn’t clear enough about my intention with the spell, so it took me, too. Or else it affected me automatically, because that’s that what that spell does to its caster.”

He turned back in time to see Draco smile at him, though there was still a reserve, an aloofness, behind his gaze that Harry was sure hadn’t been there before. Because I hadn’t made such a stupid mistake before, Harry thought, fighting the urge to turn away again. Or because I as good as told him that I like touching him, and that means he knows I’m stupidly attracted to men, too. I wish I could convey to him that I’m not attracted to men of my own free choice.

But as long as Draco didn’t refer to it directly, Harry saw no reason to acknowledge it, either. They’d both keep mum, and hope for the best.

“How did you bring me back?” he asked.

Memories, Draco’s fingers on the globe said. And then he sat smugly back, looped his arms together behind his head, and fixed Harry with the expression that McGonagall had used when he did something promising but not exactly right in Transfiguration. She waited to approve or disapprove further actions, but she would only tell him what he had done wrong, not what he did right, until he managed to arrive there by himself.

Harry growled under his breath, but the undeniable fact that Draco had saved him from his own stupid mistake kept the growl from being too loud. “You reached out with your memories of me,” he said softly. “And I responded—or what was left of me responded—to them. And if I hadn’t offered some memories of my own, and struggled to connect with your impressions of me, I wouldn’t have come back.”

Draco considered this for long moments before giving a slow, judicious nod. Then he spidered the nubs of his fingers across the bright surface of the communication sphere, gently picking out You give me hope.

Harry’s flush grew worse than ever. “Thank you,” he said. “For saying that. And for saving my life. There’s no way I can repay you, except to hope that we can both save each other in the future.” He could feel his muscles tightening with anxiety as Draco continued to stare at him, half-smiling, hand lingering on the facet that meant hope. “It’s really remarkable, what you did. I would never have discovered that solution if our situations had been reversed, except by accident.” He shifted and coughed; Draco’s stare hadn’t lessened, and he knew no way of making it do so except by giving Draco something else to think about. “I reckon we should move on now.” He planted his feet hard against the ground and started to shove himself up.

Draco’s hand closed around his, gently but persistently; Harry knew he could easily have broken the grip, but he found it hard to move. He could only gape as the remnant of Draco’s thumb rubbed over his pulse, and Draco gave him another even stare, full of meaning.

He didn’t need words to convey the invitation waiting in his eyes, on his lips, and on the edges of his hands. Harry shivered and would have wrapped his arms defensively around himself, but with Draco holding one hand, that wasn’t such a great plan.

“I,” he said aloud, and stopped, because voicing it would give it even more definite acknowledgment than the intense, trembling charge that hung between them.

Draco dropped his gaze for a moment, but when he lifted it, the charge had not vanished, only changed. He hauled himself to his feet with his hold on Harry’s wrist and lifted his other palm, hovering it above Harry’s cheek. His smile was gentle, amused, barely hopeful, but there.

It staked a claim and made an offer that—

That Harry couldn’t accept. That he was sure he could never accept. If he had been normal, then he could have rejected this with a pure heart. But he was sure Draco had seen only his attraction to men and not understood that Harry didn’t want it, or he had understood that part but thought it silly. And what Draco thought silly, he ignored.

Harry shut his eyes and turned his head away, holding himself there until he felt Draco’s hands waver and fall away from him. He didn’t turn to meet Draco’s gaze. All right, so he was a coward, but there had to be a point where courage ran out, and this was his.

Besides, even if they both had been gay, there was no reason for them to become more than friends to each other just because they were in a dangerous situation. What Draco needed, and gave, was help to survive. Harry needed, and gave, the same things. The fact that Draco had saved his life, and he had saved Draco’s, should be more important than anything else.

Ron’s laughter echoed in his head, the way it tended to whenever Harry deluded himself. You sure about that, mate?

But I have to be, Harry thought, picking up the satchel and taking down the wards over the alcove without a word, and carefully keeping his eyes aimed away from Draco. It would be immoral to ask commitment of him. He’s so badly hurt. I can do my best for him by listening to him, rescuing him when the beasts of the maze come hunting us, and escorting him to St. Mungo’s finally. Or make sure that he has the chance to reach St. Mungo’s, if there’s no way to free him from the maze but my plan.

“Which way?” he asked, still not turning around.

Draco brushed roughly by him, banging his shoulder against Harry’s hard enough to hurt. He paused in the middle of the corridor to give Harry a betrayed look, his eyes narrow and his nostrils flaring. The determination that saving Harry had given him was still behind his face, but twisted now into bitterness; he had expected a similar strength to meet his and been disappointed.

A moment later, he presented Harry with his back and strode straight on.

Harry lowered his eyes and followed.

*

Harry shuddered and put a hand over his nose. He knew it was only his imagination that the stench of blood and viscera lingered here—after all, the torture that Draco had performed was months in the past, and the room had probably been changed by the creation of the maze—but his stomach was rebellious and jumpy anyway.

There was no doubt that this was the place where Draco had ordered the Azkaban prisoner torn apart by the pseudo-horses, though. It was large, made of stone, and circular, with half-a-dozen doors other than the one they had come in by, evenly spaced along the walls. Harry could see scuff marks on the floor if he squinted hard, which might have been left by chains or hoofprints.

And for the first time, Draco looked truly uncertain, halting in the middle of the room and turning his head back and forth.

“Will the Pensieve-seeking spell help?” Harry asked, already preparing to cast the charm.

Draco held up an impatient hand, and Harry fell silent. This might be a part of the maze with different rules and laws than the rest, and it would be good not to talk in any case, so that they might hear their enemies coming.

He probably doesn’t want to listen to you babbling at him, after what you did.

But Harry ignored that. He would be just as happy not to bring up the issue again. He crouched in the middle of the room, an equal distance from all the doors, ready to aim his wand at any one, whilst Draco shuffled carefully from portal to portal, listening at all of them. Two he stepped away from decisively, with a shake of his head that caused his hair to fly, but near two others he lingered for a long time, and between the last two he halted with a frustrated look on his face, banging one fist softly on his hip.

Harry held his tongue, though he did guide the communication sphere over to float near Draco.

Finally, Draco mouthed something that looked like a curse, and stepped back from the two doors that had puzzled him, gesturing at Harry. Harry stood up and strode forwards. Draco pointed directly at the lock hanging from the door on the left, then mimed leaping back. Harry nodded to show he was aware of the danger, and whispered, “Alohomora.”

The lock sprang with a snap, and the door swung open at once, as though only the lock had been holding it from falling outwards. Harry flinched as a burst of screaming assailed his ears. They weren’t human cries, or he might have thought they’d stumbled into another torture chamber.

Hooves struck out into the open air, but didn’t hit the floor or come further, and Harry floated the light globe over to investigate why. He could see the pseudo-horses that had drawn and quartered the prisoner standing in narrow stalls, chained by their waists and their hind limbs; their voices were the screams, half-neighs and half-rage, demands for food. Their eyes gleamed madly and rolled. Their fangs champed and snapped as they stared at Harry and Draco.

Harry shut the door again and locked it. He turned to the door on the right, glanced once more at Draco, and surprised weariness in the gray eyes. But Draco shut them and turned away, just giving a small nod in response to Harry’s murmured question.

This door, too, sprang open at Harry’s unlocking spell, but it was smell and not sound that came to meet them. Harry covered his nose as the thick, fetid stink of rotting meat curled around him. Draco’s throat worked when Harry glanced at him, but he mastered himself and stepped imperiously forwards. Harry followed.

They walked between jars—collecting jars, the kind that the Unspeakables had put their victims’ organs in. From the smell, the organs still resided there, but the preservation spells had definitely ended. A narrow aisle of stone ran between the jugs towards the far end of the room. Draco trotted along it, never turning his head to the right or left. From what Harry could see of his profile, his eyes were tightly shut at least some of the time.

Harry followed, casting a few spells to lessen the scent.

Not that it seemed to help. And they didn’t at all lessen the horror of those stacked jars, row on row and height on height. Harry estimated the jars as being at least five rows deep, and probably more than that; he couldn’t see well in the dimness and crowded conditions of the room. And the jars towered above him and Draco by at least the length of a mature Hungarian Horntail reared on its hind legs.

All of them held organs. All of them contained the remnants of dead human beings, sacrificed to the Unspeakables’ quest for immortality.

Harry tried dazedly to remember how many jars there had been in that horrible memory. Five, he thought. But even if you assigned that many to each victim, dividing the amount of dead people in here by five…

The number was still overwhelming.

Harry was more than glad to reach the far side of the horror chamber and depart into the slashing white light of another Pensieve room.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen—The Fifth Pensieve

Harry halted a few steps away from the fifth Pensieve on its pillar of rib bone. He had come near enough to see the shadow of the letters at the base—ex—and the full, shimmering glow of the basin. But he saw no reason to go with Draco into the memories this time. If this Pensieve followed the same pattern as the others had, this one would hold images of Draco torturing other people and acting like a fool. He would surely prefer privacy to confront them. And now that Harry knew he could trust him, why should he intrude?

Draco continued forwards alone, and then appeared to notice that Harry’s footsteps no longer echoed along with his. He turned and tossed Harry a single, intensely annoyed look.

“Well,” Harry said, and then found he didn’t have the words after all. Or, at least, the words that sounded so good in his head would sound stupid when he spoke them aloud. He coughed. “I mean, you don’t really want me to see this, do you? I had to see it before, because I had no idea what kind of man you were. But I trust you now, and—“

His voice trailed to a stop, because Draco had stalked a few steps nearer, and his eyes reminded Harry of a maddened werewolf’s. He probably was trying to growl, though of course Harry could hear nothing. He shook his head twice, as much to announce to the watching world that some people were idiots, and then grabbed the communication sphere and held it up suddenly enough to make Harry flinch. His fingers said, Why?

“Why what?” Harry blinked.

Why are you an idiot?

Harry folded his arms. “Excuse me for trying to give you some privacy,” he snapped, feeling his skin prickle up and down his spine. He didn’t really want to argue with Draco, but at least doing that was easier than acknowledging what had passed between them in that section of tunnel. “I thought you would want to choose what I saw, instead of my just forcing myself into everything—“

Why? Draco’s fingers asked again. It was amazing, how the sound of his hand tapping the globe and the force of his stare had the ability to shut Harry up as effectively as any voice.

“Because I didn’t give you the choice before.” Harry rubbed his forehead and sighed. He almost wished his scar did hurt. It would be a welcome distraction from this confrontation he really didn’t want to face, but which Draco wouldn’t let him escape from. “Look, I’m sorry. If you want me to come with you, I will. I just wanted to give you the choice this time—“

Draco gave him a single freezing look, and whirled around, stalking towards the Pensieve. Harry winced and trailed after him. He could translate that look well enough. You didn’t give me the choice when I really wanted it.

Harry rubbed his forehead again. He knew he could explain things to Draco if he could just find the words. But he’d never been particularly eloquent.

Together, they halted in front of the Pensieve, and Harry cast the Sticking Charm to bind his feet to the floor almost absently. He glanced at Draco, who raised an eyebrow and gave him a single nod, so aristocratic Harry felt a little shiver of—

Well, he could call it desire to himself at least. That didn’t mean he had to act on it. After all, if things fell out as he now suspected they would, he wouldn’t have the chance to do anything. What he felt was still wrong, still not what he wanted, but what he felt mattered less than how he acted.

He cast the Sticking Charm on Draco’s feet, and then they lowered their heads into the Pensieve.

*

This room was painfully bright. Harry blinked and squinted and fought the temptation to shield his eyes. The Unspeakables seemed to favor either unbroken darkness or unvarying light. He had no idea why. If it was meant to disconcert prisoners, still, it couldn’t be very comfortable for them.

In the center of this room, on a raised platform crackling with wards that looked as if they would incinerate her should she step off, sat a young woman with hair so long and tangled and dirty that Harry could only surmise she was another Azkaban prisoner. There was no way to tell the color of that hair, either; it simply resembled a living mane of ground-in dirt. She wore a tattered gray robe, and sat with arms wrapped around her knees, head bowed over them, spine arching like a hedgehog’s. Harry shivered in intense pity. He had felt that urge to crawl and cower into himself; he was feeling it now, whenever he thought too long about what had happened between him and Draco.

Draco leaned heavily against his side. Harry put an arm around him before he realized what he was doing, and then it was too late to retract the gesture. From what he could see just by peering at Draco’s profile, the other man was pleased, a faint smile curving his lips, but he kept his gaze centered on the filthy girl, so Harry did, too.

The past Draco stepped out of the shadows. He had all of his fingers and he walked in such a way that Harry knew he must have all his ribs. His lip was curled in a sneer as he looked at the girl. Harry wondered idly if he could have considered her so beneath him if she were properly washed.

“You have had your chance,” the past Draco said softly. “It’s been explained to you, over and over, that willing participation in a few of the lesser spells would win you your freedom and the thanks of thousands of witches and wizards. Yet you still drag your feet. Can you blame us, then, for dragging you in turn?”

The girl brought her head up with a gasp. Harry flinched. Her face was covered with a crusty mask of mucous, blood, dirt, and liquid that might have been any of the three. “You had every chance to realize what they’re doing,” she said. “Don’t you realize that what they’re doing is wrong?”

She surged to her feet on the last word and reached out as if to shake her fists at the wards. The past Draco raised an eyebrow and sighed, staring at her until she once again collapsed in the center of the platform. Her legs looked too weak to hold her up, Harry thought, keeping a tight grip on his emotions. She had been starved for a long time in Azkaban, and the Unspeakables could hardly have fed her much more.

“What we are doing is not wrong,” Draco said, “not when it will bring immense benefit to so many people—“

“You know the Unspeakables are going to keep it for themselves!” the girl screamed, throwing her head up again. “They’ve told you as much! Why do you still spout this rhetoric of benevolence? You know it’s wrong! But I forgot,” she continued in a mumble, dropping her face to her knees again. “You don’t care about anything as long as you get your Dark Mark removed.”

The past Draco’s face had hardened. Harry watched it and wondered for a moment whether he really thought he was fooling anyone. Contempt or boredom would have satisfied Harry that he truly didn’t care; lack of an expression meant he was fighting his emotions.

Of course, maybe I only know that because I can read Draco’s face so well.

“I think I don’t have to listen to the words of a prisoner, Marcellina,” the past Draco murmured. “And I don’t have to be kind, either. I only tried because it was the disinterested wish of my heart. But if you really don’t want this—“

“You’re just like the rest of them,” Marcellina whispered. “You have every chance to realize it’s immoral, and you’re still ignoring it.”

“I grow tired of this,” Draco announced loftily, and swished his wand. An iron harness appeared around Marcellina’s neck, and she raised her head with a small gasp. A muzzle, fitted inexpertly to the lines of her nose and jaw, locked her lips together and prevented her from speaking.

“You can at least be silent about my personal attributes, if you cannot praise them,” Draco said, and turned away. His face was expressionless again as he passed out of the room. Watching him, Harry thought that Marcellina was right. He must be uneasy with what the Unspeakables were doing, but he pushed away the realizations, argued that they didn’t exist, and refused to face them. This man was far more contemptible than the man who had gone along with torture because the Unspeakables had his family and friends under surveillance.

The memory dissolved into darkness. Harry felt Draco shift restlessly under his arm, and suspected the other man rather wanted to get a glimpse of his face, which wasn’t possible at the moment. Harry patted his side soothingly, and then winced as his fingers sank into flesh as soft as a fungus.

That Draco is not this one. He has learned better, even if the learning only came through suffering—and perhaps whatever happened to Pearl. And if I have to endure more memories of him behaving like a prat, at least I know that he changed his mind in the end.

The next memory took them into a room that made Harry’s skin crawl just standing in it. The ceiling dipped overhead, monstrously close; Harry thought he could have reached up and brushed it with his fingers, not even straightening his elbow fully. To make it worse, enclosed iron lamps hung on chains from it, causing Harry to strain not to duck as he and Draco worked their way towards the center. Once again, this room was dim, lit only by the smoldering coals of a fire; none of the lamps looked as if they had been used in centuries.

The past Draco sat at a large wooden table, his hands alternately playing with an open book and a knife. Harry tried to catch a glimpse of the cover of the book, but the other Draco refused to lift it, and of course Harry’s hand passed right through it when he reached out.

His Draco took his wrist and shook his head. Harry glanced back at him, and found Draco looking like a frog trying to swallow a fly. He gave Harry a sharp nod, and Harry understood. When the memory returned fully to Draco’s head, he would know the title of the book. They could wait to find it out.

Harry turned back to the past Draco in time to see him slam the book shut and stand, cursing viciously under his breath. He began to pace in a circle around the table, now and then looking towards the fire. He never, Harry noticed, glanced at the center of the room.

Well. That’s the next natural place to look, then.

It seemed his Draco agreed with him. Together, leaning on each other’s arms and shuffling more than was necessary, they turned around.

Marcellina lay there, stretched. Harry was sure there was some technical term for what the Unspeakables had done to her, but he didn’t know what it was, and he doubted he could have stood there and listened to an explanation of it. Her arms were pulled out above her head and extended to the sides, her legs pulled out until her ankles almost met her wrists. Her head was arched at such an unnatural angle that Harry could hear her struggling to breathe. There was a faint but persistent creaking from her, too; Harry wondered if it came from the wooden frame that held her or her bones.

Abruptly, she screamed, and one of her arms spasmed violently. Harry closed his eyes. One of her bones had broken, then.

His Draco leaned against him, using a stillness that was worse than shivering, and reminding him that he was not the only one affected by the scene. And since he could hardly do anything for Marcellina or the past Draco now, Harry turned to comfort the one person he could. He kept his hands in light, constant motion, up and down Draco’s arms, up and down from the base of his neck onto his spine, murmuring endearments when he thought he could get away with it. Telling him not to watch was useless; telling him that it would be over soon wouldn’t lessen the horror. Variations on his name were the safest and best words to use.

The past Draco had briefly paused when Marcellina’s arm broke, but had forced himself to pace on. Then he sat down and picked up his book again, staring at it with a rigid concentration that Harry knew well from the times he had tried to convince Hermione that he really was studying for his N.E.W.T.’s and not just fucking off.

Hermione. Harry was wildly glad that he wouldn’t have to see her in Draco’s memories, that she and Ron had been kidnapped well after Draco had performed these crimes. He really didn’t know how he could have maintained his compassion for the man by his side if he’d seen his friends here.

A door Harry couldn’t really make out opened on the far side of the room, and Richard ducked in. He walked over to Marcellina first, and crouched down, staring at her broken arm and shaking his head slightly. Then he touched his wand to the wooden frame and adjusted it. Marcellina gave an exhausted little whimper. Harry doubted he had done something to make her more comfortable.

Richard went over to Draco next. He didn’t demand attention, but simply leaned on the table and gave him a friendly, waiting look until Draco slammed down his book and glared at him. Harry felt his hands itching for his wand. He despised the man Draco had been, yes, but he hadn’t met someone for several years whom he wanted to curse as much as Richard.

“How many minutes ago did her arm break?” Richard inquired.

“Three,” Draco said, and started to say something else in the same neutral, exhausted tone, but abruptly he growled and pushed himself back from the table. Richard blinked and lifted an eyebrow.

“Something wrong?”

“I want to know why in the world I have to do this,” Draco said, in a low, intense tone that might have fooled someone who didn’t know him. Harry knew he had folded his arms to keep his hands from shaking, though, and he was fairly sure that Richard realized it as well. “What can we learn from all this suffering? She accused me of standing aside and ignoring immoral activities, and I—“

“You know that you do not, of course,” Richard said, with a faint tone of wonder in his voice, as though he couldn’t believe that Draco would confront him over something so trivial. Harry heard his teeth grinding, and a moment later, his Draco gave a massive flinch. He started and loosened the tight clutch of his arm, stroking Draco’s back softly in remorse. “I have told you before, Draco. This is necessary in order for us to learn what we can about endurance and suffering before we begin our true research. If we know what wizards and witches can endure without snapping, then we will understand better the things we can endure when we become immortal.”

“But I only want the Dark Mark removed,” the past Draco whispered. He still stood at a distance from the table, but already the fight had gone out of him. Harry bit his lip in vexation, though he tried to remind himself that Draco had had no support at the time, and no way to know who among the Unspeakables might help him if he rebelled.

“That is true,” Richard said calmly, “but you knew from the first that Sir Galen’s spell was adapted to creating a maze that would grant the people who walked it immortality. You had chance after chance to quit before you came this far. And you didn’t.” He rose, glancing at Draco’s left arm. “The research is important in another matter, as well. We might be able to remove your Mark with our current knowledge, but extracting the Dark magic from your body would hurt you greatly, and perhaps result in the removal of your arm. If you allow us just a few more months of research—and aid in it, of course; it is only right that those who help should receive the first benefits—then we stand a much greater chance of allowing you to pass through a painless operation.”

Draco stared at Richard, and for a moment, Harry thought he was going to tell the Unspeakable where to shove it. But then he turned his head away, lowering it submissively, and his hair fell across his face.

“If you’re certain that it’s just a few more months,” he muttered.

Richard patted him on the back as he passed. The Draco under his arm flinched. Harry stroked him again, trying to touch the same place Richard had, and hoping his own hand could banish the foul memory.

“That should be all we need.” Richard paused near the door, his head tilted back and his eyes fixed on the unlit lamps as if he were watching the descent of an angel. His face was pure, peaceful. Harry still wanted to punch him in the mouth. “And then, Draco, imagine it. We can ensure that no wizard or witch suffering an illness ever dies of it again. We can take away the pain that comes with losing a limb, with the worst cases of accidental magic, with extreme Splinching. We can make the truly valuable people, the ones who will most aid our world in the future, immortal.” His voice sank reverently. “Can you tell me that you look forwards to the deaths of your mother and father? Do you not want them to live, even if you don’t crave immortality for yourself?”

Draco didn’t reply, but Harry doubted that Richard really needed an answer. He wandered out of the room, following his own vision of blissfulness.

I still want to punch him, Harry thought, as he drew breaths that hurt his lungs. He wondered idly if he should hope more that Richard had died in the maze or been changed in a way that resembled Josephine’s portraits, or had survived, so that Harry could do worse than strike him.

Marcellina croaked. Harry wasn’t sure where she found the courage or the moisture in her throat to speak, but she did manage to say, “Water. Please? Water.”

The Draco at the table jerked once. Then he lowered his head and stared unseeing at his book, ignoring Marcellina when she called out again. Harry supposed that he had been told giving her water would interfere with her suffering and thus with the Unspeakables’ collection of data.

They stood there in the room for a few more intolerable moments. Then the darkness overcame them again, and dumped them straight onto a narrow stone rim that ran alongside a large basin. Harry barely grabbed Draco before he slipped in. Of course, since they were insubstantial in the memory, it would have made no difference—he certainly wouldn’t have drowned—but Harry appreciated that he didn’t need another bad experience to add to the collection he already had.

The basin was moving like a whirlpool, though Harry had seen at once it wasn’t full of water but the same liquefied flesh out of which Pearl and the other corpses had manifested in the room of pools. He shivered at the smell of burning and turned to put himself between Draco and the sight of the basin. Draco pinched his shoulder viciously and shoved until Harry reluctantly let him move up beside him. Then Draco hooked his arm through Harry’s, so it would be much harder to push him away again.

On the far side of the basin, the Draco of the past was standing beside Marcellina, who was once more stretched on a wooden rack. This time, he was skinning her.

Harry felt white lights expand around his vision, and he thought he would be the one to faint and slide into the pool. He steadied himself with one hand on the wall and by staring intently at his foot for a while. Then he raised his head and forced himself to study every motion of what Draco was doing. It could be important when it came to reversing the spell that had made the maze.

Draco was currently skinning her arm, which had already become a lump of mangled flesh, more red than pink or olive. He held up a strip of skin in front of his eyes, passed his wand over it, and murmured a spell. In moments, it softened and dripped out of his hand, which he held over the pool so it could join the rest of the liquid there. Then he turned and ran the blade down Marcellina’s shoulder, tugging loose a second strip.

Another pinch on his side caught Harry’s attention, and he turned to look at his own Draco, whose eyes were enormous, luminous. He shook his head and picked up the communication sphere with shaking hands; he would have dropped it if Harry’s spell hadn’t made it float. I’m sorry, he said, and when he’d chosen that facet, began to rap it over and over again, as if that would change the past.

Harry caught his hand and held it still, wincing when his grip nearly slid loose; he kept thinking Draco had longer fingers than he did. “I know,” he whispered. “I know why you did it. You were a different person then, and you didn’t listen when you should have, but that’s in the past now. Shhh.” He leaned over Draco, closed his eyes, and refused to watch the rest of the skinning.

Occasionally he heard the Draco across the basin gasp. Once, he threw up. But otherwise, nothing seemed to change. Harry wasn’t sure whether his Draco was still watching or not. He only knew that he himself had reached his limit.

And, holding Draco in the darkness of his closed eyelids, feeling the other man’s mutilated body shake and flinch at every sound, Harry came to know something else.

It’s no wonder that he was so pissy at my rejecting him like that. He lived for a year with no connections to anyone. Those he did forge were with people who turned out to be lying to him. When a prisoner tried to tell him the truth or reach out to him, he turned away. He doesn’t remember every reality of that, but he must have guessed the general pattern from the first Pensieve—and of course he can remember enough of the torture and the loneliness to know how isolated he was.

I can’t isolate him anymore. It’s one thing not to deceive him, and to avoid hurting him; it’s another to slap his hand away without telling him why.

I’ll just need to tell him the truth when we get out of here, and hope he accepts it.

The Draco on the other side of the basin vomited again. Harry closed his eyes more tightly and hung on.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen—This Conversation

They came out of the Pensieve with what felt like mud clinging to them, but which Harry suspected was simply exhaustion and disgust. Harry sighed, rubbed his eyes, and thought longingly of lying down to rest. But the Cognosco would keep him from that for another couple of hours, at least.

And if I don’t muster up my nerve and talk to Draco right now, I’ll have to talk myself into this all over again.

He released the Sticking Charm on their feet and then turned to look at Draco, who was regarding the Pensieve with a fixed stare. Harry felt his face soften. That last set of memories seemed to have struck Draco more powerfully than the rest, perhaps because he hadn’t delved as deeply into his own motivations for torturing someone.

“Hey,” Harry said, and tapped Draco on the shoulder until he blinked and came back to the fact that more than one person existed in the room. “Do you want the memories back in your head? Or do you—“

He paused, because Draco had already started shaking his head and backing away from the pillar. The revulsion on his face made Harry wince. He would have felt something similar if it was him performing those actions. But this time, from the way Draco hugged himself and looked away, Harry thought he probably didn’t want the memories back at all.

“You don’t have to have them,” he said. “I can’t force them on you. And I don’t want to force them on you,” he had to add, when Draco turned around and looked at him suspiciously.

Draco lowered his eyes and nodded once, then simply folded up and sat down right in the middle of the floor. He buried his head in his hands. Harry couldn’t hear his breathing, of course, but he could see Draco’s back rising and falling steadily. He was probably trying to calm himself the only way he knew how.

Or the only way he believed was permissible, since Harry had rejected his last attempt to reach out. Harry had thought he changed his mind with the way he’d clung for safety and comfort in the Pensieve, but perhaps that was only the shock of the moment. Back in the real world again, he would think it best to stay at a distance.

Harry winced again. Damn, I have a mess to clean up. He wished he and Draco could speak mentally, not only because it would clarify their interactions and Draco’s feelings, but because he could have just delivered a dollop of his confusion and anguish and been done with it.

A friendship isn’t supposed to be simple, though. And neither is explaining why it can’t be more than friendship. Maybe. It had been different with Ginny, because she knew that he would have been with her if he could have, if it wasn’t for his body and mind stupidly deciding on something they’d never consulted him about.

Harry carefully did some deep breathing of his own, distancing himself from the irritation and frustration he’d felt on discovering he was gay. He absolutely had to deal with Draco as Draco. It wasn’t fair—or accurate—to cast him in Ginny’s shadow. Draco just happened to be the first gay man Harry had met after finding out he was gay, and he had tried to depend on Harry only because they were in an extraordinary situation. Harry really didn’t think he would have reacted differently towards, say, Terry Boot or Dean Thomas, had they turned out to be gay and tortured by the Unspeakables.

“Draco,” he said, and tried to be calm and quiet and firm all at once, the way Hermione had sounded when she first sat him down to tell him “sexual orientation” wasn’t something that he could make go away by wishing. Yeah, but maybe I can make it go away by starving it out. “I need to apologize to you.”

It made Harry feel awful to see the slow way Draco’s eyes emerged from behind the fall of his hair, as if he were a wounded animal peering out of a hollow in the trunk of a tree. It made him feel worried and agitated and restless and—

And protective, yes. But the protectiveness could have nothing to do with sex. How to make Draco understand that and not make him feel as if he were being put down, that was the problem.

“I didn’t—when you reached out to me the way you did in the tunnels before we came to that torture chamber, I didn’t push you away because you’re you. Or because you’ve tortured people in the past. I know you’ve changed, and you’re not that man anymore.” Harry because aware that he was addressing his hands, not Draco, and that might make Draco doubt him as less than sincere. He forced himself to look up at the other man. And yes, it was forcing, because he had never been great at apologizing. “Or because you’re ugly. Merlin, you’re not ugly. And I know you’ve changed since our schooldays, so I’m not holding the past against you. It’s just—“ He paused and licked his lips, vaguely surprised that Draco’s offended pride hadn’t yet stopped the discussion.

I think I was counting on it to do that before now.

In this pause, though, Draco reached out for the communication sphere and tapped the Why? facet. The sound of his fingers lingering on that bit of colored glass matched Harry’s heartbeat in volume.

“It’s just—“ Harry shut his eyes. Maybe he was a coward, but he couldn’t do this whilst looking at Draco. Draco could laugh all he liked; at least it wasn’t aloud. “I found out I’m gay. And I don’t want to be. I really don’t want to be. I don’t want a sexual relationship with any man, no matter who he is. And I thought that was what you were trying to initiate. Maybe not,” he added, in fairness to Draco. He was the one obsessed with his sexual orientation. It would be just like him to read some innocent interaction in gay terms. “I’m happy to save your life and be your friend and try to start your healing. But dating you—“ He stopped again, because it seemed so absurd to talk about dating in the middle of a maze built out of the Department of Mysteries for the purpose of achieving immortality. “Or having sex with you, it would be wrong. For both of us. For all sorts of reasons.”

Silence. Utter silence. Draco’s fingers hadn’t even tapped on the glass again. Harry hoped that meant he was considering what Harry had said, and seriously, too.

“I hope we can still be friends,” he finished, and opened his eyes.

Draco was staring at him with his mouth hanging open. Harry blinked. Well, all right, I didn’t expect or predict that reaction.

Maybe Draco hadn’t known he was gay, though. Harry had interpreted everything all wrong, or Draco hadn’t thought he had a chance in hell of making Harry like him, and now Harry had confessed everything for no good reason. Harry felt nausea build up in him, but he couldn’t afford to vomit any more food, so he just held Draco’s gaze and waited for the mockery to start. At least he knew all the sarcastic phrases on that particular facet of the communication sphere already.

It took long moments before Draco could close his mouth and tap Why?

Harry wanted to object that the word could apply to just about everything he’d said, and Draco would have to narrow it down. But he also knew that the objection would make him look like an arsehole, so he chose to interpret it as a question about his last statement.

“Why would it be wrong? Because you’re hurt. I wouldn’t want to sleep with a man who’s in pain and suffering—both mentally and physically.” Harry could hear his voice heating up, and hoped Draco would understand the anger there wasn’t directed at him. “It would be wrong. You need other things so much more than you need sex—“

Draco gave him a very direct look that required no translation.

“Yes, well, I’m certain sex would be nice, but wouldn’t you rather have a competent Healer from St. Mungo’s at your side?”

The direct look.

“With some Skele-Gro?”

The direct look.

Harry threw up his hands. “Bloody hell,” he said, and wished Ron was here to say it for him. He did it better. “Well, the point is that we’re in danger of our lives right now, and this is another complication we don’t need to add. And I don’t want a sexual relationship with a man. I’m certain you’re a fine l-lover—“ his tongue felt numb and far too big for his mouth, and his cheeks were so hot they hurt “—but in this case, it doesn’t matter, because I don’t want to sleep with a man. I just want to marry a woman and have a family and a nice life.”

Why? Draco’s fingers insisted.

“Because being gay isn’t normal.”

In the line of Draco’s body as he reared off the floor, Harry read a deadlier threat than from many cobras.

“I mean—no, damn it.” Harry buried his head in his hands. “I meant, I didn’t mean to say that it wasn’t normal for you. And there are other people it’s normal for, I’m sure. But not me. I didn’t plan for my life to turn out this way. I planned to marry Ginny. And that’s impossible for right now, but I think it will change if I can concentrate on it. I mean, so far I’ve been gay for a few months and I’m not suffering, but when it turns out that I won’t let myself have sex with men, I’ll have to go back to being attracted to women, won’t I?”

He looked up at a faint tapping, and saw Draco’s fingers traveling back and forth on the insulting facets of the communication sphere so fast he couldn’t make out the separate phrases. It was enough to know that Draco was calling him an idiot, a git, a prat, and everything in between.

“I know that.” Harry folded his arms. “Hermione says the same thing.”

She’s right.

“But it’s my decision,” Harry countered stubbornly. “And it only affects me and the women I decide to date. I broke up with Ginny because I wouldn’t lie to her. And if someone wanted to date me—someone I want to date, too, I mean—then I’d certainly tell her I have this inconvenient attraction to men. But I didn’t choose it. It’s a fixation, and that’s all. So I don’t have to do whatever the fixation tells me to.”

Draco let the communication sphere hang in the air as he put his head in his hands. He very deliberately shook it back and forth several times, and Harry saw his fingers curl into his hair, as if he still had the nails to ruffle it. Then he sat up like a spring and reached for the communication sphere again.

It doesn’t work like that.

“Not for you,” said Harry. “Not for other people who think they’re gay. But it will for me.”

Why?

“You use that word more often than a two-year-old,” Harry said crossly.

Draco’s unimpressed look speared him. Harry could reckon the meaning of it well enough: You are acting like a two-year-old.

“Because it will,” said Harry. “Because I’m determined to carry it through. Because I won’t let myself act on this fixation. Like I said, I’m sure that being gay is fine for you and for other people. But not me.”

Draco simply watched him in silence for some moments, his face so blank that Harry couldn’t tell what he was thinking. It was oddly disconcerting. Harry hadn’t realized how much he’d come to rely on reading Draco’s face as part of their silent speech.

Draco slid closer on his knees, his gaze so intense it reminded Harry of the times he’d laid a hand over Harry’s heart. Harry felt his cheeks flush even more, but he held still. Pulling away from Draco wasn’t an option, not now, when he’d done his best to explain himself and not sound like an imbecile.

Well, you failed in that, didn’t you? As you fail at most things you try to do on your own.

Draco’s hand cupped his cheek a moment later. Harry started. He’d delved too deep into his thoughts, and neglected to realize that Draco hadn’t touched his heart after all. He shook his head a little and reared back.

“Look, I told you—“

The look on Draco’s face effectively shut him up. It wasn’t blank any more, nor full of the contempt that Harry was sure one “normally” gay man would direct at another who wasn’t happy with himself. It wasn’t angry. It was simply appraising, assessing, reading him as if Harry were still light and their minds were flowing into one another’s.

And then the same hopeful openness that Draco had shown back in the alcove appeared in his eyes again.

Harry could not comprehend the strength it must have taken Draco to offer himself like this, after one rejection and Harry’s stumbling, inadequate explanation. He could feel his breath coming faster, even as he grew angry and upset. This was manipulative! Draco had to know that Harry wouldn’t feel able to reject him now!

Even though he should. Because it was still morally wrong, no matter what Draco thought, and it was wrong for Harry personally.

And none of that changed the fact that if Harry tried another rejection now, the guilt would eat him alive.

He felt his eyelids droop, and his throat utter a helpless sound, as if both those things were motions his body made entirely independent of him. It would be nice to think so. It would be nice to disclaim responsibility, too, for the hand that traveled out and cupped the back of Draco’s head, lifting his hair and letting it fall and trail between his fingers, fine and softer than Harry would have expected of a tortured prisoner.

But that one was all him. Harry knew it because he had thought, just a minute before, of how nice it would feel to touch Draco’s hair.

And then he wanted to feel the skin behind his right ear, and his wayward hand obliged. Draco’s mouth opened in a soundless gasp when Harry touched it, and then his eyes closed like a cat’s. He looked content for the first time since Harry had encountered him at the end of the corpse-chain. He leaned nearer, and Harry thought his head would fall on Harry’s shoulder. That was fine. That was a position they’d maintained before, with nothing untoward happening.

Draco, though, halted his swaying and held himself upright, and his eyes opened fully again, a steady gaze that knew what it wanted and what it demanded.

Harry licked his lips. Draco looked at the path of his tongue. Harry thought he should dislike that. Ginny’s reaction had been to blush and lower her eyes, and Harry had been convinced that was the height of erotic demonstrations.

But this—but damn—but he had to think about his plan to free Draco of the maze, which would only hurt him if Harry allowed this to go forward—

But Draco wanted this so badly. Needed it, probably. And Harry’s body was clamoring with curiosity and the stupid attraction it had first manifested to men months ago. So stupid. Why should he care what another man’s mouth tasted like?

He could smell Draco’s breath. It wasn’t awful. It seemed sweetly-scented, even though he’d eaten that orange hours ago. Harry’s face felt so sensitive he was sure he would squirm if Draco moved the hand cupping his cheek.

It wasn’t will that made his head move forwards and his lips touch Draco’s, he told himself. It was gravity, the weight of the situation. It was inevitability.

Draco opened his mouth at once, and if he was surprised or simply delighted, Harry had no idea, because no sounds of any kinds were coming out of him. He did know that Draco’s tongue and mouth tasted different from Ginny’s. What they tasted like, he had no idea, because he wasn’t good with poetic metaphors. But maybe it was orange, and maybe it was desperation, and maybe it was male.

Harry’s heart wanted to pound its way out of his chest. It was the level of excitement that he usually experienced when he was about to actually fuck Ginny, not when he was only kissing her, and he whined helplessly. It wasn’t fair that being gay felt so good. That was a trick, he thought, something to lure him in. His body would make this fixation tempting and good so he couldn’t resist, and then he would find himself in the trap too late to climb out.

His hand tugged on Draco’s hair. Draco angled his head to the side, taking control of the kiss, and then he moved his hand up Harry’s jaw to his ear. Harry jerked and whined again, feeling as if he’d fall over from that simple touch.

Draco closed his eyes and leaned in, his fingers tracing the edge of Harry’s ear this time. Harry shivered so hard that he nearly dislodged Draco’s touch. He could hurt the other man. If he was more afraid than desiring, it was almost inevitable. And Draco had to know that, and yet he didn’t care. He was making himself vulnerable.

And Harry could not reject that gift.

But neither could he allow this to go on. In another moment, he would be lost; he wasn’t sure why he had regained his mental clarity, except that he had looked at Draco’s face. It would be too late to say stop, and—

And they needed to stop.

He pulled his face away when Draco would have cupped the back of his neck, but gently, slowly, so Draco couldn’t have any ridiculous ideas about Harry rejecting him now. When Draco’s eyes flickered open and he tossed an inquiring glance in Harry’s direction, Harry smiled and allowed honest words to emerge from his mouth. “I never thought being gay was like that. Thank you.”

Draco’s face flushed with pink warmth, but he held Harry’s eyes and waited for an answer to his unspoken question all the same.

“We can’t do this here,” Harry whispered. “You’re still hurt, and an enemy may come by at any moment. There are other ways that lead partway through the maze. And do you remember the Unspeakables that came up behind us last time we paused to rest? I do.” Draco’s face was clouding, but his jaw was setting, too, which was probably a sign that he was about to be stubborn. Harry put a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. “We’re just not safe right now, no matter what we do. Please, let’s wait for more than just kissing until we reach a place we can actually defend.”

Draco raised his eyebrows and stared steadily at Harry. Harry stared back, and hoped Draco wouldn’t realize how terrified he was under his façade of bravado; his heart leaped and thumped dangerously. He hadn’t known

He really would succumb to these new sensations of pleasure and allow himself to give up all thought of a normal life if this went on.

He had to soothe Draco, show that he accepted him, and at the same time preserve his own life separate from that. He wanted Draco’s friendship; he wanted to save him and keep him comfortable and happy. And he still wanted children, and a partner who, if she wasn’t Ginny, was like the wife he had sometimes dreamed of having whilst he was fighting Voldemort. The only way Harry could think of to have them both was to allow Draco a few liberties right now, and say nothing about his future plans.

And besides, if there’s no way but the one I dreamed up to free him from the maze, then I won’t be part of his life after we leave the maze anyway.

Draco reached for the communication sphere. Harry averted his gaze for just a moment, until he could hear the sound of Draco tapping on the glass. If he kept staring at Draco’s glistening, wet lips, he would kiss him again.

You like that, Draco said.

“Yes, I do,” Harry said, and his voice was hoarse with too much honesty. He winced. Shut up, shut up, he told himself, and especially the part of his brain that had begun to wonder if his fantasies of his future—a family and children—weren’t too limited after all, and whether he wouldn’t rather have something like this.

You think I’m—And Draco glanced up from the sphere with a swift shake of his head. They had no word for “normal,” but the curl of his lip gave Harry no doubts over what was being referred to.

“Yes, I do.” Harry found it in him to smile. “Much more normal than I would have supposed, before I tried it.”

Sheer delight consumed Draco’s expression, but Harry had no idea why until he chose, You have never—from the sphere.

Harry cleared his throat. “I’ve kissed plenty of women,” he said hotly. All right, two, but what difference does number of partners make? The number of kisses is what ought to count. “But you’re the first man I’ve kissed.”

Why?

Harry was starting to resent the fact that each facet of the globe had to carry so much information. Otherwise, he could have ripped out that little piece of glass and flung it away. “Because I didn’t want it to be real. I hoped it would go away if I waited.” He paused. “And I think I told you this already.”

And now?

“Maybe it won’t go away.”

Noble-minded coward, Draco said, but the expression on his face was amiable. He no longer seemed to be drowning in the horror and regret that had consumed him when they came out of the Pensieve. Harry was relieved. This was what he wanted to see, that Draco had strength for the journey ahead.

And if Harry had to kiss him a few more times, touch his face and let Draco touch him, in order to preserve that strength, it was not such a grand sacrifice. Hell, he enjoyed it too.

But he couldn’t let himself enjoy it so much that he lost sight of his goal. Either he might have to give up his life to get Draco out of the maze, or he and Draco would lead separate lives once they were free. Harry couldn’t imagine the bond between them enduring once they had a choice about who to associate with. Oh, everyone heard about whirlwind romances and deep friendships created from experiencing a harrowing situation together; what you didn’t hear about was their lasting.

No. He had to also concentrate on convincing Draco that he was a good person and teaching him how to stand on his own.

It was a tall order, but, for once, Harry was not convinced that Ron or Hermione could do it better. They had no experience in it, either, so far as he knew.

Gazing at Draco’s happy face, he mused, I’ll just have to do the best I can.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty—The Room of Voices

Harry and Draco spent most of the afternoon—or the period that Harry thought of as the afternoon, anyway, and who was there to contradict him?—negotiating a series of stone passages that looked even more alike than usual. Draco didn’t hesitate, or Harry might have broken down and begged for reassurance. By the time they saw the walls gradually drawing back ahead of them, indicating the presence of a larger room, Harry was longing for the sight of sunlight, for windows, for the jars that the Unspeakables had used to preserve the organs of their victims, for anything but yet another blank stone wall scored with the same incomprehensible patterns as before.

He started to dash past Draco into the mouth of the large room, and the other man had a difficult time catching hold of him. He stared at Harry until Harry gave a little shudder and shake of his head, and drew his wand. “Yes, of course,” he muttered. His voice sounded drunken to his own ears. “I should check for danger first.”

Draco scooped the communication sphere out of the air like a Seeker scooping up the Snitch, and tapped his fingers against the facet of glass that meant, Wait.

“Why?” Harry asked, and his voice cracked. His brain seemed to be filling in with fog, with fuzz. He shook his head to clear it.

You’re tired.

Harry was grateful for the spell they had used that bound the meanings of the words to the color of the facets in their minds, or he would never have remembered what Draco meant. And he was grateful for the hand that he brought up to brush across his face just then, or Draco would have seen every detail of his humiliated blush.

“Oh,” he said lamely. “Right. The Awareness Charm is wearing off.”

Draco waited in silence. Well, what else is he going to do? Harry asked himself, but he had learned to judge the quality of Draco’s silences, and he knew this one. It was critical, but also patient, waiting for Harry to see and admit his mistakes for himself.

Harry finally lowered his hand, even though the blush still hadn’t gone away, and coughed. “We could go forwards,” he said.

Draco’s eyes narrowed.

“I would cast the Awareness Charm again, of course,” Harry added hastily. “So that I wouldn’t collapse and start snoring in the middle of the room, or screw up by not seeing danger until it was too late.”

Draco crossed his arms over his chest and stared some more.

“Not the best solution, is it?” Harry muttered.

He fought with his own impulse to cast the Awareness Charm again quickly, before Draco could grab his wrist and stop it. Once it was cast, Draco would have to accept it, and they would go on. Harry would be more than ready for whatever challenges they might encounter in the large room.

But when his collapse finally came, it would be more forceful, and it might be in the midst of battle, or at some other inconvenient time. And Draco didn’t have the ability to protect Harry whilst he slept as Harry could protect him.

And Draco might think Harry’d stepped backwards again, overreacting defensively to the revelations about his sexual orientation, and that he regretted trusting Draco.

This man doesn’t need that aggravation.

“All right,” Harry muttered. “I won’t cast it. Let me take some precautions to make this area safe, and we’ll camp here.” He hesitated. “But you have to promise to wake me up immediately if anything happens.”

Draco stepped forwards and laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder. His smile was so happy and light that Harry had to glance away. How in the world can he smile like that after he knows that he tortured people and skinned them and drew and quartered them?

He started casting wards so he didn’t have to think about it.

At last, the wards were as good as they were going to get, and blankets had been spread on the ground, and Harry had checked and double-checked for traps and animals and the nasty, lingering kinds of curses he thought the Unspeakables might have left on this part of the maze. He lay back with a sigh—

To find himself laying his head in Draco’s lap again.

“Aren’t you getting tired of this?” he muttered, but his eyes were already closing, and even if Draco had been capable of speaking an answer, he probably wouldn’t have heard it. A deep ache, centered in his bones, spread warningly through him. He’d heard that it really wasn’t a terribly good idea to use multiple Awareness Charms, but, well, what else was he supposed to do?

He did feel Draco’s fingers stroking his forehead, parting the fringe to expose the scar and then letting the strands of hair fall back together again and again, and in that touch sensed his answer.

No.

*

Harry awoke feeling much better—not that he wanted to admit that. Draco sat so still beneath him that for a panicked moment Harry thought he was dead, or held prisoner, and incapable of moving to warn Harry of danger because someone had a wand at his throat. He gasped, and his eyes flew open.

Draco was motionless, but a look at his face, bowed towards Harry’s and hidden within the fall of his tangled hair, revealed no death, and no sleep. He wore an incredibly soft smile. His eyes just about shone. Harry hadn’t known that gray eyes could look that bright, unless they were gray eyes in a woman’s face.

And he couldn’t face what shone out of them.

He started to roll away, but Draco’s hand came down delicately on the side of his throat and kept him there. Harry hesitated, concerned about the sensitivity of Draco’s fingers, and Draco bowed further, undoubtedly hurting his neck, and captured Harry’s lips in another kiss.

Harry swallowed nervously as he kissed back, not once parting his lips. It wouldn’t do to encourage this kind of thing. He and Draco had to remain aware of their danger. He had to ensure that Draco didn’t become too dependent on him.

It seemed forever until Draco pulled back. It probably wasn’t. Draco’s face was perfectly neutral, and Harry swallowed again. He wondered if he should apologize, but then Draco might think he was apologizing for the kiss, and that was not the impression Harry wanted to give at all, and—

He resisted the temptation to bury his head in his arms, but barely. Thinking like this hurt. And whilst he could probably handle this kind of burden at least as well as Ron and Hermione, part of him resented that he should have had to handle it at all. If Draco had only agreed with him!

But that would be impossible, since Draco had already come to terms with being gay.

Harry yanked himself out of that unprofitable tangle of thoughts and sat up, removing himself from both Draco’s increasingly piercing gaze and a position that probably encouraged intimacy. He sighed and took off his glasses, fogged with warm breath, to wipe them on his robes.

“No one disturbed you?” he asked, and Draco shook his head. “No noises? No sign of the Unspeakables who might have been pursuing us?”

More headshakes. Harry nodded and started to say something else, but his stomach spoke for him, loudly enough that he flushed. Draco laughed soundlessly, and Harry was grateful to see some of the tension drain out of his face.

“Let’s eat, then,” he said, and dug into the satchel again.

There was an orange, which Harry hesitated over—he wondered if he should save it—but half-remembered lectures from Hermione, on the importance of some vitamin that only oranges and sunlight contained, made him decide to eat it now. God knew Draco could use vitamins and some more meat on his bones, and there was no way they would get sunlight here unless they conjured it. He sliced the orange into discrete pieces with a sharp wave of his wand, and then fetched plates for that and the corned beef sandwiches that followed. Draco wrinkled his nose at him in protest over having to eat corned beef.

“So sorry,” Harry muttered, leaning against the wall near his wards and trying to peer into the large room. He could see nothing, though. He thought about darting the globe of light into it, and then prudently refrained; there were plenty of sights in the maze that could put them both off their lunch. “I wasn’t thinking, when I packed, that I would be down here long enough to get tired of it.”

Draco parted his lips to emphasize his sigh; Harry knew it was a Why do I put up with him? sigh from the position of his eyebrows. But he ate the sandwich with more enthusiasm than Harry would have suspected he’d show after that introduction. Probably, after the year he’d had, wholesome food of any kind looked good. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t complain in an effort to get even more wholesome food, of course.

What am I doing with him?

The question occurred suddenly and smoothly to Harry as he watched Draco lick orange juice from his fingers, an expression of simple delight on his face. The conversation he and Draco had had after the Pensieve, and the need to comfort him, had driven the images of Draco skinning a helpless woman alive from his mind. But now they returned, and he had to put down his sandwich briefly to control the nausea.

He’s changed. I know that. But is that enough to make up for what he did? Can anything ever make up for it? I don’t think so.

Harry picked up his sandwich again, chewed slowly, and tried to keep the scowl off his face. Hermione claimed he always scowled when he thought too hard, and the last thing Harry wanted to find out was that Draco was as skilled in reading his features as he was in reading Draco’s.

No. He can’t atone for it. But that doesn’t mean it’s right to leave him here by himself, or reject him again. I’ll just have to be careful how I relate to him. Because I wouldn’t want him to think that anything he does is all right with me, either. I’ve heard that some people recovering from traumatic experiences can become so dependent on their caretakers that—

And then Harry half-laughed. Draco gave him a pointed, disgusted glance as bits of corned beef flew out of his mouth. Harry shrugged his apology and swallowed.

I’m talking and thinking—still—like this is going to be a permanent friendship or love affair. It won’t. You have things to do, remember?

Worry about life and death before you worry about exactly how much moral guilt Draco owes. Your own hands aren’t so clean.

Harry returned to his meal feeling absurdly cheerful. Putting off a decision that would have been difficult always affected him that way.

*

“You don’t remember anything about this place?” Harry disliked the skepticism in his voice, but he had to admit it seemed strange. Draco could remember the route through a maze of hundreds of nearly identical alcoves and turnings and side-passages, but he couldn’t remember a room as distinctive as this one?

Draco shook his head and turned away, his arms locked together around his stomach. That left Harry to glance dubiously around the room, one more time.

It resembled nothing so much as the finished entrance hall of a castle, assuming that castles were ever constructed of marble. Marble gleamed everywhere. Harry could see a slick shine on the floor that told him the joined stones there had been polished. The corners of the rectangular chamber bore jewels, large topazes from the look of them, all gleaming as proudly as though an army of house-elves had worked on them just a moment before. In the center of the room perched a high-backed throne, carved with cavorting lions and made of a gold-white, sweet-smelling wood Harry didn’t recognize. The throne stood facing away from them, and Harry felt a prickle of curiosity to walk around it and see what the seat held.

But, after what they had been through elsewhere in the maze, the temptation was not a strong one. His spells had revealed no people and no magical creatures; that was enough for him.

“Come on, then,” he said, and took Draco’s elbow to ensure he wouldn’t slip on the slick stones. Draco leaned on him, which rendered the escort a bit more problematic. Harry frowned.

Well, maybe he can save my life again. That seems to make him more confident and less dependent.

The room echoed as their footsteps tapped across it, of course. In fact, the echoes were eerily clear. Harry shivered and did his very best to ignore the implications of that that ran riot and jumpy through his mind.

They were a few steps from the throne when the first voice began to whisper.

Harry froze at once, and then whirled to look behind them, certain that more Unspeakables had chased them through the maze and only now caught up. But he saw nothing there. He cast the spell to reveal humans yet again, and it returned without result.

But still the voices continued. There was more than one of them now, and all the time they grew clearer and louder. Harry forced himself to stand still; running, or even casting, would cause noise enough to obscure them.

“—never realized how little he does to help himself, really.”

Harry shivered and went taut. Ron. That was Ron’s voice.

“Well, most of his victories were achieved with someone else’s help. Fawkes. And us, in first year. And where would he have been this last year, hunting the Horcruxes, without all the things I remembered to bring along and he didn’t? Honestly.” There followed a sharp huff of breath, though Harry had to wonder how that was possible when the voice seemed to be speaking from air instead of through a nose and mouth.

Hermione.

“Think we ought to mention it to him?”

“Of course not. He knows already, and he takes it hard enough.” Hermione’s voice was full of pity.

Harry winced, then hoped Draco hadn’t seen. Draco had his head turned towards the opposite side of the room, though, and was standing quite still. Vaguely familiar voices were speaking there; Harry thought they might be Lucius’s and Narcissa’s. He stepped over, put his arms around Draco, and tried not to listen.

That proved to be as impossible as not listening to the conversation between Ron and Hermione, of course.

“He won’t amount to anything,” said Lucius. “Not when he refuses to accept responsibility for his own faults. It’s certainly his own fault that the Potter boy doesn’t want anything to do with him.”

“I know,” murmured Narcissa. “But I’ve tried and tried to reason with him on the subject, and I just can’t. It drives him further into the obsession, in fact. I caught him lying in bed with a Prophet with Potter’s picture on the front page the other day. Just staring.”

Harry’s arms tightened around Draco in spite of himself. Draco kept his head bowed, but his shoulders were hunching, as if he found no comfort in Harry’s embrace.

“I’ll talk to him.” Lucius’s voice was full of grim promise.

Harry lowered his head and whispered into Draco’s ear, “It’s all right. I don’t think the less of you for it. We were all idiots when we were younger. Please, don’t listen to them. Just—“

And Ron’s voice began speaking again behind Harry’s shoulder, as if he and Hermione had seen Harry moving away and decided that was unacceptable. It was loud enough this time that Draco couldn’t miss a single word Ron said.

“He’s so frustrating, Hermione! Why did he break up with Ginny, if he wasn’t really going to date other men? He just sits around and broods all the time, and it’s all I can do to keep from kicking his arse and yelling at him to wake up!”

Harry breathed slowly, shallowly. Well. He had known that Hermione didn’t approve of his desire to remain out of the dating arena until he stopped liking men, and Ron often shared most of her deep-seated attitudes, now that they were engaged.

Hermione’s voice sighed, a long sound that seemed to come from the depths of her soul and blew around Harry like a storm-wind, but didn’t answer in words.

“He’d just better give Ginny first choice when he’s straight again, that’s all I can say,” Ron muttered in disgust. “Do you know she spent half the night after they broke up in tears? He was all she’s ever wanted. It’s not comfortable, you know? Torn between wanting to protect your kid sister and trying to understand your best friend?”

“I know, Ron. Remember, Ginny’s one of my best friends, too.”

Harry flinched with his whole body this time. He was holding Draco, so Draco would feel that, but there was no help for it.

Sometimes, he had surprised an expression on Hermione’s face, or on Ron’s, that made him think they really weren’t accepting his transition into a different sexual orientation as calmly as they said they were. This conversation sounded—very real. They’d probably had it in their own flat when they went home from the Ministry, and probably more than once.

Just like they’ve probably had the previous conversation you heard more than once, Harry thought, his eyelids drooping shut. They must have got tired of the way that everyone applauds you for being the big hero, but they played just as much part in defeating Voldemort as you did, and where’s their media attention?

But the realizations did not cut him with guilt. He had come to terms, long ago, with his own inadequacy when he was on his own; it was one reason he was so frantic to find Ron and Hermione now, and fervently wished they were with him as he and Draco journeyed through the maze. And if he couldn’t explain and defend his own sexual choices even to himself, well, why should he expect his friends to understand perfectly? He really should have been either straight with no regrets, or gay with no apologies.

Lucius was speaking again, his voice low and pointed and poisonous, even though by now it was loud enough that it sliced right through Harry’s private thoughts.

“I’ll tell you this once and only once. If you ever see that young man again, I will cast the Castration Charm. Oh, don’t look at me with that superior expression on your face, Draco. You may not think the Castration Charm exists, but I assure you, it does, and I will use it. As you well know, I have final approval of your choice of liaisons. I will not have you coming spoiled and tainted by Mudbloods to your marriage bed.”

Draco began to cry. Harry felt the first drops land on the sleeves of his robes, and then he felt Draco struggling madly. He was trying to raise his hands, Harry realized, and cover his face so that Harry couldn’t see the tears.

“No, don’t,” Harry whispered. “I don’t care. Draco, I don’t. What you did wasn’t wrong. It’s normal for you, remember? I don’t care.”

Ron and Hermione were talking again, but Harry forced himself to ignore them. Besides, from the sound of it, they were speaking about the anger he’d exhibited in fifth year. He already knew that was stupid, and that it had led to the loss of Sirius. The room could come up with nothing to torture him that he had not already thought up to torture himself.

Hearing his best friends’ voices say it—yes, that was bad. But for whatever reason, it was far more devastating for Draco, and right now, he was the one who needed help.

“I don’t care,” he whispered, directly into Draco’s ear this time, daring to hope that would make some difference. “I don’t. I already know you’re gay. I accept that you were obsessed with me, if that’s what you were. I know I hurt you in the past, probably more than you hurt me. I apologize for that. Please, don’t listen to them. We’ll go on. We’ll get through this.”

Draco quivered once, then relaxed against him. And then he began to tow Harry across the room and towards the far door as if his life depended on it. Harry went with him, only pausing now and then to adjust the grip of his arms or keep his wand aimed high. If the voices were only voices, well and good. If they manifested bodies or speakers at any moment, he would be ready to cast.

But no, the voices only went on, getting louder and louder all the time, until Lucius was bellowing his disappointment in Draco and Ron and Hermione were shrieking to each other about how difficult Harry was to live with, given his moodiness. Harry doubted Draco would have heard him now if he whispered comfort. The arm slung around Draco’s shoulders, the arm that only moved when Draco did and then only to adjust its grip to a firmer one, would have to do.

A quick, flickering movement near the shadow of the throne caught his eye. Harry swished his wand towards it. But although the movement repeated itself, it seemed to be aiming away from them, scuttling towards the door they had come in by. And nothing manifested when Harry waited for a challenge, and it was difficult to be sure it existed, anyway, given that the light globe threw their shadows long behind them, almost to the door itself. Harry turned his head away at last, the better to concentrate on helping Draco keep his feet.

And then they were out of the room of the voices, and stumbling headlong into a narrow, wood-paneled corridor aiming towards the brilliant white light of another Pensieve room. Draco’s body was shaking with reaction—and relief, Harry hoped. The voices had already cut off. Harry suspected it was human presence in the room that triggered them.

He gently pushed the hair back from Draco’s face, murmuring reassurances that sometimes included endearments, and sometimes were just Draco’s name. “It wasn’t real,” he said finally.

Draco shot him an incredulous, narrow-eyed look.

“Some of it was,” Harry corrected himself. “But even telling the truth, even saying horrible things about you, they can’t make you evil.” He tried a smile. “If the Pensieve memories haven’t convinced me you’re evil, why did you think your father’s voice would? I never trusted your father, anyway.”

Draco motioned for the communication sphere, and Harry floated it over to him. Draco sullenly tapped out, You were free. Why?

Harry thought about that. The only answer that came to him was the one he had realized in the room. “I was hurt,” he said at last. “But I’ve already thought those things, or variations on them, to myself. Or I would see an impatient expression on their faces and imagine that they were thinking those things about me, even if they really weren’t.” He shrugged, not sure how to better explain it. “Does that make sense?”

Another stare, and then Draco selected the facets that together meant, You have a sad life.

Harry laughed. “I won’t dispute with you there.” He paused a moment. “Are you well enough to travel on?”

Draco tossed his head and climbed to his feet. Harry saw a slight flush on his cheeks, and suspected he was embarrassed about needing so much help. Harry scrambled up to join him with a slight clack of his wooden foot.

“You don’t have to be humiliated in front of me,” he said softly. “I’ll never tease you about it.”

Draco hesitated one moment, then buried his head briefly into Harry’s shoulder. Harry hardly had time to touch his face before he pulled away again and strode towards the white light of the Pensieve room. He paused halfway between Harry and the door to cock his head back and flip up his eyebrows. Are you coming?

Harry smiled. “Yes.”

As he went after Draco, he again saw a flicker of darting movement behind him. But again it came from the direction of his shadow, and he doubted there was anything there. The last thing he needed to have was paranoid fantasies; he should concentrate on the very real evils in front of him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One—The Sixth Pensieve

The next Pensieve sat alone atop the same pillar of rib bone. Again the brilliant white light spread all around it, and again Harry’s spells revealed no traps or magical creatures hiding in the corners. He gave the pillar a look of loathing. Why had the Unspeakables done this?

And it didn’t matter that he knew something of the magical and theoretical reasons they had for taking Draco’s ribs. He wanted to know what their moral justification was, why in the world they thought they could get away with something like this and not be punished somehow.

Well, if their own consciences didn’t scar them, they probably didn’t think anyone else would. Did they expect one of their captives to be freed and make it this far? Harry smiled grimly, even as he stooped to look at the base of the pillar and make out the letter there. I, it said this time. Harry was beginning to have a theory about those letters. I don‘t think they did. They seem to have decided that once helpless, always helpless.

He glanced back proudly at Draco, who had his arms wrapped around himself and was staring at the pillar with an expression of extreme dislike. And he can chide himself for weakness if he wants to, but he’s stronger than their hatred and their desire for immortality, to have made it this far.

“Do you want to go in with me?” he asked Draco.

There was a shadow in the other man’s eyes, and Harry thought he was longing to hold back, to just sit against the wall and let Harry tell him what was in the memories rather than seeing them for himself. But as Harry watched, he straightened his shoulders and stepped forwards like a soldier.

Harry caught his arm as Draco came level with him. “You don’t have to do this just to prove something to me,” he said quietly. “So far as I’m concerned, you have nothing to prove.”

Draco gave him a startled glance, and then his expression melted into a smile so sweet Harry caught his breath. He traced the line of Harry’s chin for a moment with his foreshortened fingers, and then shook his head and faced the Pensieve again.

“You have to do this for yourself?” Harry asked. He felt less sure about his reading of this gesture than he was about many others, but he’d risk it.

Draco gave him a full-fledged grin this time, and Harry smiled back, feeling more confident and happier than he’d ever been before he entered one of the Pensieves. He embraced Draco firmly, and cast the Sticking Charm on their feet with a single wave of his wand before they leaned down together and plunged their heads into the silvery liquid.

*

Harry caught his breath when they landed. They were standing on bright green grass, beneath a wide, almost brassy sky, with the sun blazing on them so strongly Harry could convince himself he felt the heat on his skin. His heart leapt up at once. He hadn’t realized how much he missed the simple comforts of a spring day until he had them back again.

But then he realized Draco had stiffened next to him, and looked sideways. Draco was watching with that fixed expression, that almost ceramic expression, which meant he had connected this memory to fleeting, broken images he’d had before, and didn’t like what the whole resembled.

“We’re not really outside, are we?” Harry whispered. He felt compelled to keep his voice down, though the only sounds were distant, and they’d have to walk towards them to make them out.

Draco gave his head a tiny twitch, one Harry wouldn’t have seen at all if he wasn’t looking closely, and strode forwards. Harry scrambled after him, and together they mounted a tiny hillock. Draco scanned the expanse of green country below them, whilst Harry tried to convince himself, without success, that this was all fake. The air even tasted sweeter.

Well, it’s a memory, isn’t it? And it wouldn’t take much improvement to get sweeter air than you have in the maze.

Draco tugged on his sleeve. Harry followed his pointing finger, and saw a human figure darting over the grass far below.

Following it came a number of shapes on four legs, and they uttered sounds that made Harry want to scream, even from this distance. Sounds like the gibbering of a madhouse, like babies crying in distress, like—

He shut off the comparisons and nodded to Draco, who was watching his past self with that ceramic expression again. Together, they linked arms and hurried down the hill, Harry watching out sharply; if Draco fell, the blow to his chest would hurt him far more than it would hurt Harry.

Closer at hand, they could see the past Draco turning at bay next to a spindly tree, which had appeared as a shrub from the height of the hill. He seemed to have been running for a long time; his face was blotched with red, and his hair clung to his skull. Sweat-dark patches peered from under his ragged shirt, and he pressed his hand to his side in a way far too familiar to Harry from Auror training.

But what made Harry want to spit were his missing fingers and ribs. The Unspeakables had forced him to run like this after they had already tortured him.

Harry savored the blank, black hatred welling up in him. If he could have reached Richard right then, he would have forgotten about Expelliarmus and all his guilt over using the Unforgivable Curses. Richard simply didn’t deserve anything else.

The creatures chasing Draco crashed to a halt in front of him, and formed a rough semicircle, panting and staring at him. They were dogs, Harry thought, but only in the way that dragons were snakes. They seemed to be carved of heavy black stone, and their legs were hooked to their torsos, and their heads to their necks, with gleaming mechanical joints. Their eyes flared wide and red, worse than Voldemort’s eyes. When they moved forwards, their blunt, toeless feet cracked the ground, and the sounds that emerged from their throats—

Well, Harry found it no surprise when the past Draco clapped his hands over his ears and screamed, “Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!”

If he’s been hearing that sound for days and hours, it’s a wonder he’s not mad already, Harry thought, and felt another surge of admiration for Draco. It was wonder enough that he had survived physically; that he had done it with his mind more or less intact was close to a miracle. Of course, having some of his worst memories removed and put in the Pensieves might have helped with that, but Harry was not the less inclined to marvel.

He put an arm around his Draco. Draco leaned against him, but absently, as if Harry were a convenient rock. All his attention was, unsurprisingly, fixed on the drama before him.

The nearest dog edged forwards, parting its jaws to reveal teeth that made Harry ache. They were jagged, made of silver or steel, but they also gleamed like diamonds, with a disturbing inner fire. If those teeth met flesh, they would do worse than tear, he was certain.

The past Draco darted abruptly around the tree, like a deer. But the pack didn’t seem to have been fooled, and the dog with the parted jaws and two others sprang on him. Harry flinched, bracing instinctively for the crack of bone and the impact of stone against flesh.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, those glittering teeth locked on Draco’s flesh, and snagged, and then pulled. And Draco’s skin bulged away from his body, unraveling like rope from a central spool, traveling in ribbons that tangled with each other as the dogs began to leap, cavorting around one another and sometimes dropping their own threads so they could take up another.

In the middle of it, Draco fell to his knees, screaming, a low sound like the cry of a cow being slaughtered, full of dull despair. His skin tore and slid away, and behind it, slick, shining, naked flesh was left, seamed with veins and arteries. The dogs wrestled and rolled in the skin, and still it came off.

Harry was watching when they peeled Draco’s face away, and it flew like a kite before it landed on the ground and the nearest dog picked it up. Then it dangled from the heavy jaws like a mask, until the dog swallowed.

His Draco, when Harry dared to glance at him, had his arms folded around his chest, but still shook as though nothing would ever warm him again. His eyes had brewing storms in them as he stared at his fleshless past self, and then he turned his back and, without ceremony, threw up.

Harry was beside him in a moment, trying desperately to hold and brace Draco so his vomiting wouldn’t hurt him, wincing whenever he crushed the empty skin where the ribs should have been inwards. Draco didn’t fight him off, though, and made no movement of pain (though that might have been lost in the violent twitches he gave as he emptied his stomach). Harry decided he could do worse than hang on, and wait for the moment when Draco would be ready to face the memory again.

He wasn’t sure that moment really arrived. Draco certainly stopped vomiting, and turned around to observe his past self, though his body still quivered with dry heaves. Harry kept an anxious eye on him, not at all believing in his recovery, until Draco hit him with an elbow and frowned at him.

Looking at the horrible scene again, Harry realized the dogs had stopped playing and now sat patiently in their semicircle, Draco’s skin looped and piled around them like a ripped tapestry. The skinless Draco still huddled on the grass, motionless with pain. And walking towards the dogs and Draco was Richard, his wand swinging casually in his hand.

Harry bit his tongue to control his hatred, reminding himself this was only a memory, only the past, and he couldn’t affect Richard even if he cast the most violent spells he knew. He had to bite until he drew blood.

Richard stepped through the dogs, now and then patting a stony head, until he reached the lumps of skin. He picked one up, let it trail through his fingers, and sighed. When he glanced at the man he had hunted and had skinned, he wore the stern expression Harry remembered from McGonagall’s classroom when everyone (except Hermione) inexplicably failed to get a simple Transfiguration right.

“Remember,” Richard whispered, “you are the one who controls this torture, Draco. We must have your invitation into your soul so that we can take your voice. All you need to do is give us that invitation. Then we will take it, and you can have food. You can have rest. You can have escape from this pain.”

The huddled Draco shook like a rabbit, but made no reply. Richard sighed again. “One would think you voiceless already,” he said. “I don’t want to do this, but you give me no choice. The spell is most insistent on willing consent.”

He flicked his wand.

New skin began to grow back across Draco’s shoulders and arms. From the way the past Draco arched his back and opened his mouth, the process was intensely painful. Sheets of pale, mucous-like covering slid across him, so thick and slow and viscous that watching its advance could qualify as torture in itself, Harry thought. He turned away, sickened, long before it was complete. When he glanced back, Draco was wholly clad in skin again, and Richard nodded in satisfaction.

“No,” the past Draco whispered, but not in a tone that suggested he thought the words would make any difference. “Please.”

“Not until you give us access to your soul,” Richard said. He cast another spell, and chains appeared on the dogs’ necks. Then he sent stinging sparks at the soles of Draco’s feet until he staggered up and, with a sound like a strangled hare, began to run again.

Richard waited until he was over the next hillock to release the stone hounds from their chains. “Hunt’s on, boys,” he said. Again he waited, this time watching the pack disappear, and then strolled in a leisurely manner after them.

The Pensieve went dark, signaling a transition to the next memory. Draco’s fingers curled into Harry’s shoulders, digging so hard that Harry bit blood from his tongue again. But he would not cry out, not now, not when Draco was forced to suffer in silence. He put his own hand over those clenched fingers, and squeezed.

They returned abruptly to light, this time with the past Draco leaning against a wall, bound in what seemed to be the strands of a large spider web. Richard stood in front of him, shaking his head.

“I told you what’s going to happen, Draco,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn. Is your voice really such a sacrifice? You will never speak to anyone but us again, so why you would wish to keep it—“

“Tell me again.” The quaver in the past Draco’s voice betrayed false bravado, but that he could speak those words at all made Harry’s pride and pity surge. He curled his arms around his Draco, hugging more for his comfort than anything. He needed to be able to hold someone now, since he knew he couldn’t change the course of the past.

“There are sapphire spider eggs in your flesh now,” Richard said idly, flipping his wand around in his palm, never taking his gaze from Draco. “We had the female implant them in you whilst you slept. They’re hatching now—or soon. They’ll begin eating you from the inside out. Say the word, give us permission to remove your voice, and I’ll remove them.”

“I won’t—“

Draco abruptly tilted his head back and vibrated a little. Richard arched his eyebrows and looked faintly pleased. Again he reminded Harry forcibly of McGonagall, this time when someone other than Hermione managed to get a spell right.

“They’re chewing, I should expect,” he said. “Sapphire spiders are fascinating creatures, really, given their long life-cycles, the way they transmute insects into gems, and their sharp mandibles. Very sharp; they can break open the exoskeletons of insects that no other spider in the world eats. And they’re intensely magical creatures, too. They draw every bit of nourishment out of their victims they can, using a sophisticated variant of death magic that wizards have only managed to duplicate in extremely advanced necromancy. How does it feel to know that you’re both dying and being eaten alive by inches?”

Harry had heard that gut wounds were the most painful injuries possible. From the way Draco was writhing in his bonds, his legs scissoring and jack-knifing against the web hard enough to tear some threads from their anchors, he could believe it.

“Get them out of me!”

“Now, now, Draco,” Richard said, his wand still idly flipping. “Those aren’t the right words. You know what you have to say. Don’t disappoint me. You’re a brilliant boy. I’m sure you can figure this out.”

Draco began to scream. And Harry, who thought he had grown used to all the various sounds someone in pain could make, realized that he hadn’t begun to sample those sounds. This was the voice of someone in disgust as great as his pain, someone being used as food. This was the scream in the mind of the mouse pinned down under the cat’s paw, the scream of the hare with the hawk swooping on it.

The scream of the caterpillar stung and left as food for the wasp’s eggs.

The flesh of Draco’s belly bulged and rippled obscenely. Harry thought he could see the shadow of a spider’s leg moving under it, and swayed on his feet. His Draco held him up for a moment, and then they were clinging together, as tightly as two children afraid of the dark.

“I suppose, in a sense, you’re pregnant now,” Richard observed. “Tell me, how does it feel to be carrying new life? It’s a privilege that so few men ever get to experience—unless they’re the victims of sapphire spiders, of course.”

A bright, bloody slit tore across the middle of Draco’s belly, and a thrashing blue leg poked out. Richard stepped up to it, gazed at it deliberately, and then used his wand to push it back inside.

Draco was crying out mindlessly, words interrupted constantly by new flows of pain. Harry could see the gleam of what looked like armored backs, sapphire-bright mandibles, faceted eyes, through the wound.

He turned away, and with the force of his arm around his shoulders, he made his Draco turn away, too.

There was witnessing the past, so that the other man would not have suffered in vain or alone, and then there was the point where vision became obscene.

The past Draco screamed then, “You can have—you can enter my soul—just—get them out get them out GET THEM OUT OF ME NOW! PLEASE!”

“Ah,” Richard said. “Most excellent. That wasn’t so hard, was it?” And a series of small syrupy sounds followed.

Harry shuddered all over, faint and cold and weak as he had been in nightmares where Voldemort won after all. He did his best to close his ears, to sink into a trance state where the only things he was conscious of were his Draco’s skin under his hands, the brush of his hair against Harry’s face, the soft, rushed sound of his breathing. Nothing else. Nothing else existed outside the two of them.

When the darkness fell over them and then brightened into firelight again, Harry wondered whether they should turn around. Would it be worth it? Or would it only be another image of blood and pain and helplessness to carry away with them, seared into the backs of their eyes?

Then he reminded himself that this was the memory where Richard took Draco’s voice, and seeing how it was done might tell them how to get it back—or at least hint at the mystery of Draco’s voice in the Collecting Room. He animated his feet by the sheer force of will, and started to turn around again.

He paused when Draco turned with him, though. “No,” he whispered urgently. “You don’t have to do this. I can observe it alone. Just—keep your face turned away. It’s better not to know.”

Draco gave him a glance fathoms deep, the look of someone who had walked through hell and hadn’t come out of it yet. Then he touched Harry’s chest with two fingers and pointed forwards, touched his own chest, and repeated the motion.

The meaning was clear. If Harry could face this, then he could.

Harry reacted before he knew what he was doing. He took Draco’s head between his hands and kissed his brow. He wasn’t sure what he meant by the kiss. It seemed promise and humbling of himself and benediction all at once.

Draco’s gaze grew deeper. And then he looked forwards. Harry’s gaze followed his, as irresistibly as if they were joined by chains.

Richard and seven other Unspeakables surrounded Draco, who was once again bound to a stretched frame of wood and metal. They were chanting steadily, and a sapphire-blue glow surrounded their wands and radiated out to touch Draco’s limbs and chest and face. Harry felt his stomach attempt to throw itself out his mouth; he didn’t think he could look on the color of sapphires again without that happening.

After the tortures of the last two memories, the taking of Draco’s voice was almost ridiculously gentle. All that happened—and it would have been a big deal to Ron and Hermione, but not to Harry, not anymore—was that the blue glow irradiated Draco, turning his body transparent, making his bones and organs gleam like rainbow lights caught in crystal. And then Richard reached into the glowing picture and extracted one small, darker dot from among the rest. When his hand came back into view, it held a mote that looked not unlike the ones Harry had conjured to seek out the Pensieves.

Richard admired the mote, and then placed it just inside his mouth. A moment later, Draco’s voice emerged. “I reckon that our prisoner could use a bite to eat after this.”

The other Unspeakables laughed, and the sapphire-blue glow collapsed. Draco, disregarded in the middle, slowly opened his eyes. And Harry thought he knew why Draco had fought for so long to retain his voice and keep his soul inviolate from the Unspeakables, through torments that others would have surrendered to at once. He was truly helpless now, unable to communicate in any normal way, and all anyone else had to do was turn their backs to render their ignorance of his existence complete.

Harry understood now, in a way he had not before, why Draco had been so insistent that Harry look directly at him and call him the name he preferred over Malfoy. It was Draco’s way of making Harry acknowledge that he existed, as the Unspeakables had never been forced to do.

The scene faded around them, and they were back in their bodies. Harry lifted his head slowly and rolled the crick out of his neck before he looked at Draco.

“You don’t want those memories back, either,” he said, with no question in his voice.

Draco shook his head. Then he gestured for the communication sphere. Harry released the Sticking Charm on his feet so he could reach it more easily.

You can’t leave me, Draco said, barely watching the facets at all, staring fixedly at Harry instead. Never leave me.

Harry swallowed. He felt both light-headed and heavy, as if the horror had turned to gas in his mind and lead in his belly.

He knew what Draco meant. It would take him years to recover from the memories of the pain he had suffered—if he ever could—and he would need company and support throughout the healing process. As the person who had discovered the pain beside him, who had seen the memories firsthand, Harry was the companion he wanted.

But when Harry thought of all the people who would be better companions for Draco—Healers, for example—and what he might have to do to free Draco from the maze, he was not sure he should agree. This was about what was really best for Draco, not about what Harry wanted or what Draco might think was best.

Draco’s throat constricted. Harry was sure he was uttering a sob of desperation.

He reached forwards and swept Draco into his arms, communication sphere and all. Draco dropped the glass at once to hold him greedily, fingers digging into his robes and skin, clinging to reality.

There was only one answer he could give right now, because Draco needed it so.

“I promise,” Harry whispered.

And I hope like hell I can keep that promise.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two—Memory Is a Grave

Harry, at least, felt too tired and drained to move after Draco had finally stopped grasping him and stepped away a bit. He arranged blankets for Draco and walled the doors of the Pensieve room with every ward and small, clever trap spell he could think of, including several that would blare like klaxons if anything moved near them. He would have liked to stay awake and guard the other man’s sleep, but he knew he didn’t have much chance of keeping his eyes open.

Especially not when Draco lay back on the blankets and then insisted that Harry lie beside him.

Harry did so without hesitation. Show hesitation now, he knew, and he would be cutting Draco apart in a way he hardly pretended to understand. He could witness the memories, but he still felt only his emotions, not Draco’s. He had never wished more fiercely that he was actually good at Legilimency. That would let him know just what Draco needed, not to mention getting around the communication barrier.

Maybe some things are meant to be hard.

But Harry rejected the thought. This wasn’t a case of another prophecy messing up and changing lives to defeat a greater evil. The Unspeakables had created this situation themselves, and Harry could not imagine any circumstances under which Draco would have deserved it.

He found himself staring into Draco’s face; they lay side by side and chest to chest, so it was somewhat hard not to. Draco was pale, and the circles under his eyes looked more like bruises. But already his mask of pain was cracking, and Harry could make out the lines of strength underneath, like a steel support beneath a fragile wooden frame.

I wish I had strength like that. I wish I could contribute to strength like that.

You can, his conscience said, if you keep your promise.

Harry stirred uneasily. Whether he would be able to keep his promise or not didn’t depend on him.

Draco’s right hand rose and reached out to him, tracing the edges of his eye sockets—so close his fingers bumped on Harry’s glasses—and then his cheekbones and jawline. The soft, shining look in his eyes told Harry what he was trying to convey.

Stop worrying. Go to sleep.

With a sigh of both reluctance and acceptance, Harry tightened his arms around Draco’s body and sought refuge in slumber from both the painful emotions he’d just experienced and the painful uncertainties awaiting him.

*

He awoke to whispers. For a moment, before he opened his eyes, he thought the magic that had filled the throne room with voices had got loose and slipped up on him and Draco. Or perhaps the maze had moved them backwards. This time, he would watch out for a flicker from his shadow, and not dismiss it as a trick of his eyes. He took his guardianship over Draco’s life too seriously to do that now.

But when he looked around, he found them still alone, the wards over the doorways shimmering in unbroken lines. Harry had no illusions that he was the best creator of wards in the entire Auror Department, but he’d laid so many that one of them would have had to break if a spy crept up and peered through. Harry rolled his neck to ease the stiffness; he wouldn’t move more than that now, since Draco was still asleep.

He could hear the whispers, though.

Harry darted his eyes restlessly from side to side. Nothing, and nothing, and nothing. By dint of shuffling carefully and making sure that he braced Draco’s weight again the moment he lifted one part of his body away, he managed to roll over and study the far corners of the Pensieve room, and to look just past the base of the pillar. Nothing. He touched his wand and twitched it back and forth, concentrating hard on the nonverbal incantation, but no human presence appeared.

There are things in this maze that aren’t human.

But Harry didn’t know all of them, so he could hardly go through a list of spells guaranteed to hit them all. Besides, Draco was starting to stir and murmur unhappily, and Harry didn’t want to recall him to wakefulness—and memory—before it was time.

So he forced himself to lie there, or twist slowly through motions designed to relieve his cramped arms and legs, and listen to the voices instead. Perhaps he could analyze them if he listened long enough; perhaps he would hear something familiar.

This time, that didn’t happen. The whispers never rose or came closer, as the ones in the room of voices had, and Harry didn’t think one of them was Ron, one Hermione, or anyone else familiar, such as other members of the Weasley family. At the same time, they did remind him of something. The something tickled irritatingly at the corner of his memory, never coming closer, never revealing itself properly in the light. Harry huffed under his breath and then froze as he realized the motion had stirred Draco’s hair.

A moment later, there could be no doubt that Draco was really returning to consciousness. His head rolled back against Harry’s arm, and his mouth opened in a yawn that Harry found the more endearing for its silence.

Remember, Harry’s internal monitor reminded him, you can’t be too attached, in case you have to leave him. And you can’t get attached to a man too much at all, if you want to have a chance of remaining straight.

Harry admitted the truth of both those propositions, but that couldn’t change the fact that he did find the yawn endearing. When Draco’s eyes popped open a moment later, he could only smile helplessly.

“Sleep well?” he whispered.

Draco, eyes wide as though he were hypnotized by Harry’s proximity, nodded slightly. Then he turned his head to the side. Harry started to open his arms, thinking this was a signal to let him go, but instead, Draco sighed out and laid his cheek against Harry’s.

That froze Harry. It felt—very close. Very warm. Animal, almost, the kind of gesture an affectionate kitten might make. He had to hold still and just wait, slowness sliding through his limbs, happiness making his heart race.

Draco pulled back at last and rose slowly to his knees, then to his feet. Once there, he put his hands on his hips and raised an eyebrow at Harry. Are you going to lie on those blankets all day?

Harry scrambled up, his face burning. The sliding warmth hadn’t left him yet, and he didn’t know why he should be so affected by such a simple thing, but he was. Reality had an eerie habit of getting past his defenses that morning.

“Do you hear the whispers?” he asked.

Draco’s eyes narrowed at once in worry, and he turned around. Harry put a hand on his shoulder, sorry to have alarmed him. “No, I don’t think they have anything to do with that throne room. I haven’t heard my friends’ voices—or your father’s, either.” When the shoulder under his palm fell a little, he knew he’d hit Draco’s main concern. “But it does sound familiar. Maybe just because it resembles leaves in wind or the murmur of a crowd, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

Draco shrugged, as good as saying that he could deal with anything short of Lucius’s voice again, and then gave the Pensieve one more lingering glance. Harry waited. He could hardly interfere in Draco’s decision. If he wanted the memories back in his head, then Harry would fetch them for him.

But Draco shook his head and turned decisively away. Harry walked after him to the far side of the Pensieve room, where Draco waited like a cat at a shut door for Harry to take the wards down. Then he made his way into the tunnel beyond the doorway without looking back.

Harry remembered to turn around and Summon the blankets they’d lain on before he followed, but it was a near thing.

*

They went on a longer uninterrupted journey than any of the others, that day, without a single attack by magical creatures, a single odd room, or another Pensieve. The tunnels varied more than they had before, however, sometimes the plain patterned stone that Harry had grown to hate, sometimes wooden corridors of the sort that Harry had seen between the throne room and the sixth Pensieve, and once or twice stairs or ramps.

Harry kept looking back over his shoulder, wondering if he could hear Unspeakables following, wondering if the stairs would retract or the ramps grow slick and unpassable behind them. But neither happened.

The whispering voices, however, kept pace with them. And Harry’s unease and wonder that Draco couldn’t hear what was so plain to him grew.

When they reached the corridor with carpet and wooden walls where they decided to make camp at last, Harry was sufficiently unnerved to ask Draco about the voices again. But Draco peered at Harry’s ears in concern, instead of admitting that it was strange he couldn’t hear them.

“I think it’s something in the maze,” Harry said, as he, at Draco’s insistence, used a small fire spell to warm up some of the cold food he’d brought along. “Not something wrong with me.”

Draco spread his hands and tilted his head. How can you be sure? the gesture said, and I have no better idea.

“Because—well, I don’t have anything wrong with me,” said Harry. “I’m not sick. Nothing’s attacked me today. I haven’t taken any wounds since my fight with the snake, and those are all healed.” He shrugged. “If something’s wrong with me, why wouldn’t something be wrong with you, too?”

The maze, Draco said, reaching out to the communication sphere. This is my place.

“Not forever,” Harry said grimly, as a fist seemed to take hold of his stomach. “I promise I’ll free you from it.”

Draco smiled condescendingly at him and reached out to pat his knee. Harry wasn’t sure that he liked the implied lack of confidence, but on the other hand, telling Draco his plan would result in a hissy fit and Draco’s refusal to let Harry go through with it. And in his current state of helplessness, with the memories from yesterday still spreading like octopus tendrils through Harry’s mind whenever he paused to think, Draco would be able to manipulate Harry through guilt into giving up the plan.

I can’t let him do that. The more Harry thought about it, the more convinced he was that it was the only way to free Draco. The maze had gone wrong, and thus he didn’t think they had to worry about becoming immortal from walking it, but on the other hand, it was literally built on Draco’s bones and mind. How could he be removed from it?

How do you safely move the foundation from under a building? You dig under it, but I don’t think that will work here. Or you crack the building away and give up its foundation, but that would mean leaving Draco in the maze forever. Not an option.

Or you do what you have to do. And if you’re limited by a lack of materials and time, that only increases the idea of doing what you have to do, not what you might like to.

Harry took a bite of warm fish, and had to admit that tasted better than the dried meat he’d brought along. Draco was hungrily chewing, his mouth and his hand both oddly tilted so that he could eat normally despite his short fingers.

Just look at him, Harry thought, and the fist that had earlier held his stomach moved to his heart. He’s long since made up for the suffering he caused—or, at the very least, he’s alive and the people he tortured are dead, and I can’t help them. He deserves a chance to regrow his bones, to walk in the sunlight, to talk normally and confess what the Unspeakables did to him to the Healers. I’ve got to win that chance for him.

Harry relaxed as the decision spread through him. He was here to rescue his friends, but he was also here to save Draco. And he was gaining the knowledge to do it; the only thing that had been lacking was the resolve. Now he had strengthened his will, and he would not turn aside because of petty fears.

He realized Draco was looking at him with a frown, doubtless wondering why he had been so silent so long. Harry reached out and cupped the other man’s face for a moment, laying a quick kiss on his cheek. “Considering tortures for Richard, if we meet up with him,” he said. “And thinking about how handsome you look in the firelight.”

Draco beamed, and snared more fish.

*

The whispers were still present when they awoke the next day, but not louder or more insistent, and Harry largely ignored them as he and Draco trotted through endless tunnels. He was eager for the seventh Pensieve, so that he could continue to gather the knowledge that would free Draco from the maze.

Now and then he rubbed his arms, feeling a bit cold, and once or twice he got a twinge in his temples, as if a headache had started to manifest and then stopped itself. But neither of those things were a warning.

They rounded a corner into a circular space that might have served for an amphitheater if it had had seats, and in the center of the circular space was the veil Sirius had fallen through.

Draco halted at once, his face wary. Harry stepped up beside him, but he could hardly look at Draco. His body had tightened up, and the cold and the headache he’d felt earlier had come back full force.

He recognized the whispers flowing past him now, of course. These were the voices of the beloved dead.

The damned thing looked exactly as it had the last time Harry had seen it, in the normal Department of Mysteries at the end of his fifth year. There was the arch; there was the ragged veil. Currents of cold swirled about Harry and curled like hands around his waist, tugging at him as if they could get him to move forwards that way.

Draco’s hand fell on his arm, but it felt oddly distant, as if Harry were turning to marble and Draco had remained only flesh. He was probably in shock, Harry thought, and his mind shivered and scrambled as it had when he was light and reading Draco’s thoughts as words scratched on glass. That was to be expected, considering the suddenness of his confrontation with an object that had appeared in his dreams again and again.

And then something happened that he had not expected. A figure moved under the ragged veil. Thin, shadowy, uncanny, it paused just at the edge where the billowing curtain separated the worlds of the living and the dead. Harry recognized the ragged hair and the tentative smile and the flashing gray eyes.

This was Sirius—looking not young and happy, as he had when Harry summoned the ghosts of his parents and the Marauders in the Forbidden Forest, but as he had just before he fell through the veil. Harry had been content with the vision of the dead that the Resurrection Stone granted him, but now his heart banged painfully against his chest, almost as painfully as it had when he was thinking of the horror of Draco’s torments. Sirius had never received justice. His afterlife might be happy, but on the other hand, Harry could have deluded himself, or seen only what he needed to see when he thought he was walking to his own death.

“Sirius,” he said.

The figure gave him another uncertain smile, and moved a few steps away from the veil. Its body was gray, not transparent like the body of a ghost, and its feet raised puffs of dust from the stone platform the veil sat on. It paused on the edge of the platform, and held out a hand. No, he paused and held out a hand.

“Harry,” Sirius said, in the barking voice that Harry remembered. “You’ve changed so much. So much more than I thought—“ He broke off and shook his head. “Time doesn’t pass in the land of the dead as it passes out here,” he murmured, obviously saddened.

Harry tried to step forwards, and found Draco clinging to him like a dead weight of bone-spider. Harry uttered a soft distressed sound, and Draco leaned hard against him and shoved. They both fell to the stone floor, and Harry yelped as his head bounced off it.

“Harry?” Sirius asked anxiously.

“Get off,” Harry muttered, and pushed at Draco. But Draco draped himself across Harry, shaking his head wildly so that his hair rustled against Harry’s chin, his eyes brilliant with fear and determination. He was mouthing something over and over, so that Harry had to reluctantly pause and try to make it out, instead of forcing Draco out of the way so he could reach Sirius.

You promised, said Draco’s lips.

Never leave me, he had said after the Pensieve. And Harry had agreed. And even though he had not known if he could keep the promise, Draco would not have expected him to break it so soon.

Damn.

Harry craned his neck so that he could stare past Draco’s head at the stone platform. Sirius was still waiting for him, face wistful but accepting, as though he had come to consider himself never a recipient of happiness.

“My time isn’t long, Harry,” he said. “Just enough to bid you goodbye. But if you don’t want to come, I’ll understand.” He glanced down at his own body with a self-deprecating expression. “I’m afraid the years haven’t done your poor old godfather much good.”

Harry put up another struggle. But short of hurting Draco, there was nothing he could do to move him. Harry swore at him. Draco just mouthed You promised, and then dropped his head to rest his ear against Harry’s chest. He seemed to be listening to Harry’s heart.

“I didn’t die, you know,” Sirius murmured. “Or, at least, not completely. Part of my soul did separate and go on; that was how I was able to come to you in the Forbidden Forest, when you thought you were walking off to be a sacrifice. But my body and the rest of my soul remained here. I couldn’t come out again until someone who cared for me passed by.” He exhaled hard, and Harry thought he was trying to control tears. “I’d given up hope of that happening,” he added.

“You’re—alive?” Harry choked. Draco punched him in the ribs, which didn’t help him get his breath.

Sirius shrugged. “I’m half-alive. That might be the best way to put it, since ‘undead’ means something else.” He strained forwards eagerly, reminding Harry of the way he’d acted when he thought about coming out of Grimmauld Place in that last year of his life. “Are you sure you couldn’t come up and touch my hand, Harry? At the very least, we’ll have one final handshake before you go back to saving the world and I go back to moldering away here. Or you might—“ He exhaled again, and how he managed to keep speaking was beyond Harry. “Or it might be that you could pull me out of this half-life I’m trapped in.”

Harry suffered a moment of intense vertigo. He could have Sirius back again—a dream that seemed so childish and silly he’d given up hope of it years ago. He could have someone who would listen to him and act like an older brother—he’d known for years now that Sirius wouldn’t have made parent or guardian material, but that was all right, an older brother was fine, perfect even, he wasn’t fifteen anymore and he didn’t need a guardian—and try to understand him when he did stupid things and support him when he faltered. He would have someone other than Ron and Hermione, who had each other, or the Weasleys, who had felt a little less like family ever since Harry found out he couldn’t marry Ginny.

And this had to be the real Sirius. How else would he know about that walk in the woods, something Harry hadn’t even told Ron and Hermione?

“Let me up!” he snarled at Draco. God, he didn’t want to hurt Draco, but he was choosing just the wrong moment to be clingy. “It’s my godfather—I have to go to him—“

There’s nothing there, Draco mouthed at him.

Harry blinked and stared back at the platform and the veil. Still he could see his godfather, yearning forwards with a hope in his face that was painful to watch.

“Yes, he is,” Harry disagreed, and finally managed to wrestle his wand free. He would Levitate Draco off him, and then he could dash up to the platform and clasp Sirius’s hand and drag him back into the living world.

Draco gripped his shoulders and shook him. He was mouthing something else now, but so fast Harry couldn’t make it out. And he had always been horrible at lip-reading anyway. Why should he try?

Because of what he’s been to you in this maze.

Growling, Harry focused on the lip-motions. Draco began to mouth the words more slowly the moment he realized Harry was paying attention to him.

Unspeakables. Experiments with death. The veil. Prisoners saw their loved ones there, but they went behind the veil when they tried to touch them.

Harry blinked and shivered, cold. He was cold all over, in fact, except where Draco draped on top of him, a warm, insistent, living weight.

But he could see Sirius so clearly. And how would he know about that walk in the woods, if he wasn’t real?

If he’s coming from within you, his conscience said this time. If this is all just a trick to make you step on the platform and then go behind the veil.

“Harry,” the figure said, in Sirius’s voice and with Sirius’s eyes shining and with Sirius’s hand extended to him. “Please. There’s not much time.” He paused, and then added in a tone so near to begging that Harry’s heart broke, “Please.”

Harry swallowed and looked back at Draco. Draco was watching him steadily, solemnly. And then he lifted his hand and laid it against Harry’s cheek.

He could be wrong. Maybe he thought he saw people vanishing behind the veil, but they were really reunited with the people they loved.

But he hadn’t been wrong about the maze so far.

And Harry trusted Draco.

“Don’t let me look,” he whispered, and buried his face in Draco’s neck, wrapping his arms around the other man’s chest. Draco immediately embraced him back, so protective that Harry nestled closer to him involuntarily.

“Harry?” called Sirius. “Just a handshake, to say goodbye? I understand if you don’t want me back in your life.” This time, Harry’s breath caught on a sob. “But just one more touch—I’ve been without human touch so long—it’s my soul that’s with James and Lily and Remus, not me—please—“

He repeated the words again and again, and then his voice rose to a mournful shriek, and faded to a handful of whispers. When Harry dared to glance in the direction of the platform again, it was empty, and only the veil billowed there.

Draco held him as he wept, and when Harry swallowed back the tears and tried to apologize, he shook his head without speaking and cupped the back of Harry’s neck. The simple gesture nearly made Harry break down again.

As he helped Draco stand and they continued down the tunnel that opened on the far side of the circular stone room, Harry’s head was reeling. He would never have imagined that he would ever trust Draco Malfoy more than Sirius.

And another revelation was forcing its way forwards, cold and angular and uncomfortable, in some ways, as the veil.

No one will ever mean to me what he does.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three—The Seventh Pensieve

By the time the white light of the seventh Pensieve room appeared, it was all Harry could do to keep himself from crying out in welcome and running forwards. He knew they would see images of horror in the Pensieve. But at least they were known images of horror. Harry would prefer that to another veil, a sudden surprise he was not prepared for.

He noticed that Draco followed him very carefully into the room, however, staring in several directions and jumping when Harry cast one of the spells that would identify any lurking magical creatures. Harry frowned at him. “Are you remembering something we need to be careful of here?” he asked, tilting his head back and looking at the ceiling. Nothing up there, but just because the Pensieve rooms so far had all been clear…

He felt a sharp tug on his sleeve, and looked back to see Draco frowning at him over the top of the communication sphere. Of course, he’d probably tried to sign an answer, but without Harry looking at him, he was shouting into a void.

Harry flushed, remembering, all over again, his feeling when he had realized the Unspeakables had rendered Draco easy to ignore by taking his voice. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

Draco gave him a curt nod, then rapped his fingers on the facets that meant, The center of the maze.

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, trying to recall the pattern of the maze he’d seen inscribed on the table in that first set of memories. There’d been nine balls, yes: one for Draco himself, and eight for the Pensieves. They probably were close to the center of the maze.

“You’re worried about what we’ll find there,” he said, opening his eyes.

Draco nodded, and tapped his throat. Then he shrugged, traced the letter R in the air with two of his fingers bunched together, and shrugged again.

Maybe my voice. Maybe Richard. Who can tell?

The haunted look to his eyes did more to remind Harry of what was at stake here than any irritation in the tone of a voice could have. He nodded. “I’m sorry. I’ll keep a sharper look out. But my spells have already said that no one is waiting to trap us here.”

Draco let his lips flutter open on a soundless sigh, as if to show just how much he trusted Harry’s magic, but he joined Harry at the side of the Pensieve and stared solemnly into the silvery liquid for a long moment. Harry could almost feel his muscles tightening as he prepared himself for the horror he would undoubtedly be committing inside this Pensieve—at least, if it followed the patterns of all the others.

Harry put an arm around Draco’s shoulders. The other man started, but didn’t draw away from him. “Ready?” Harry whispered, as he cast a pair of nonverbal Sticking Charms and then lowered his wand to his side.

Draco gave him a look compounded of amusement and despair all at once. Harry understood better than he would have if Draco had tried to use the sphere. Even if I am, that won’t make much difference, will it?

Harry tightened his arm as they lowered their heads. No matter what Draco had done in the past, he wanted him to know that Harry would never turn away from him or abandon him now.

Unless it’s necessary to free him from the maze, of course.

*

The light that enveloped them in this memory was unlike the brilliant white glare and the firelight that so far had seemed the Unspeakables’ preference. Harry blinked, and blinked again. He knew the glow was blue, the color of sheet lightning, but that didn’t make it any easier to get used to.

At last, he managed to make out that it illuminated the bars of a narrow, hexagonal steel cage, constructed in such a way that the prisoner inside couldn’t lie down or stand up comfortably. The prisoner sat silent and stoic towards one side of the cage, the part furthest from where Harry and Draco stood. He was a young man in dress robes, as though the Unspeakables had caught him on his way to a party. His hair was red, and Harry’s heart lurched, but no matter how long he stared, the boy’s face refused to take on any resemblance to Ron’s. He couldn’t be a Weasley cousin, either, not having freckles.

Harry’s unease only increased when the past Draco came into the light. He must have appeared from a door on the other side of the room, but the contrast between the blue glow and the darkness was so intense Harry couldn’t see it.

The Draco at his side had gone as still as a mouse that feared the shadow of a hawk. Harry hugged him with his arm again, and turned back to the scene as the past Draco started to speak.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

The boy hadn’t seen or heard him appear, either. He jumped, but then turned weary eyes towards Draco. “You’ve asked me questions like that before,” he said. “No matter what answer I give, you aren’t going to let me go. Won’t you be satisfied with my silence and leave it?”

“No.” The past Draco raised his wand. His face was taut. Harry was sure it only seemed cruel to his victim, but to him, who had so much experience in reading that particular set of features, it said that Draco was struggling to control his emotions and look cruel. “I need certain answers from you, and if you won’t give them…”

“I don’t know anything.” For the first time, the boy’s voice cracked, and Harry revised his estimate of his age downwards. Fifteen, perhaps, or a small sixteen.

“You were overheard talking about the Department of Mysteries,” Draco said. “That means you know something.”

“It was a joke. That’s all.”

“And now you see how we treat jokes.” Draco began to move in a slow circle, around the cage, forcing the boy to turn each time to look at him. “You might as well know that pretending stupidity won’t save you, here. We’ll take the truth from you one way or the other.”

“You—you can’t do that.” The boy clenched his hands in his lap. “I know that giving you Veritaserum against your will is illegal.” He sounded proud of himself for knowing, but the fear in the back of his voice kept growing and growing. Harry winced, remembering himself when he’d faced Umbridge.

“You think you’re in a place where laws matter?” Draco tilted his head. “You need a convincing demonstration, I see.” He flicked his wand at the cage and spoke a single quiet word. Harry didn’t think it was an incantation; it sounded more like a name.

The cage abruptly tightened, the oddly distended sides shooting inwards, the bars sticking to the boy’s skin and robes. The boy sucked in a panicked gasp of air. Harry was sure that he wouldn’t have done much better in his circumstances. He’d had his share of nightmares about being trapped in small, dark spaces where the walls suddenly started to squeeze in on him.

Then the bars began to burn.

The boy screamed as the smells of singing flesh and hair rose from his body. The past Draco stood watching with his hands behind his back, his face the picture of cool calculation. Only someone at Harry’s or Draco’s vantage could see the way his hands twisted around each other, as distorted as the way the boy’s body lurched off the ground.

The burning smell increased. Harry held his nose with one hand, then remembered it wouldn’t do any good and let it drop. He hauled his own Draco closer to his side; the other man was so pale Harry thought he might faint, and he wanted the support for himself, too. Then he forced himself to look more closely at the boy, who was continuing to scream in a high, thin voice.

The bars of the cage were cutting into his skin. And his skin was rippling, bubbling, transforming. Harry wasn’t entirely sure what it was becoming, but whatever it was shone with the same blue glow as the cage bars.

Then the burning smell stopped. The boy’s whimpers continued for some time, before lapsing into silence and little snuffling noises. The past Draco walked once more around the cage. Harry thought he was trying to control his jumping stomach, but he faced away most of the time and Harry couldn’t be certain.

“Now,” Draco said. “You have one more chance to tell me the truth before we decide that you’re more useful in another form, and change you.”

“I don’t know anything!” A childish wail, and Harry was certain he saw tears sliding down the boy’s face.

“I believe you,” said Draco. “But that makes you only more of a candidate for transformation, so that you can’t go back among other people and tell them what you know now. And frequent Obliviation is so messy.” He flicked his wand again, and this time Harry was sure he was speaking to the cage.

The bars tightened once more. Where they touched, the boy’s skin turned stiff and gleaming—metallic. Harry could see the ripple of magic traveling up inside his body, altering his bones, making them angled like the hinges that had held together the stone dogs pursuing Draco in the last Pensieve. The boy screamed—at least until the transformation reached his face, and it became a compound of stone and metal. Then his eyes screamed his horror, until they became gems. Harry watched life leave them and wondered if they were as dead as they seemed, or if human feeling still quivered behind them.

For the boy’s sake, he hoped he was completely dead, incapable of remembering what had happened to him.

Finally the past Draco flicked his wand again, and the cage vanished entirely. The thing that had been the boy lurched to its feet. To Harry, it looked like a rather clumsy construct of stone and metal, shunted together with random strips of tough, leathery flesh. The eyes and the fingernails and a few other parts of the body had become gems. It might be immortal, but it wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests.

Draco made it walk up and down the room a few times. He had a complicated expression on his face—as if he wanted to be pleased but could not; and as if he wanted to express disgust but was afraid of what would happen should he do so.

The door on the far side of the room opened. This time, Harry could see it clearly; light was creeping into the chamber from sconces on the walls that had lit themselves. Richard stepped in, shut the door behind him, and folded his arms across his chest, nodding in approval as he watched Draco’s golem.

“You’ve done well,” he said. “And I think we can apply this research to the next prisoner we use. After all, Sir Galen’s spell only says that someone must forever suffer as the foundation of the maze. It doesn’t say that that person has to be human.”

From the quiver that traveled up the past Draco’s cheek as he bit the inside of it, Harry thought he disagreed with that opinion, but he was smart enough not to say so. Instead, he said, “And you haven’t harmed her?”

Richard only went on admiring the construct, and said nothing.

Draco took a quick, sliding step forwards, the way Harry had sometimes done in Auror training when he let his instincts carry him ahead of the proposed patterns of strike, hex, and counterattack. “You haven’t harmed her,” he said, his tone a demand for reassurance.

“Hmmm?” Richard faced Draco again. Harry would have hated him less if he could have thought Richard was acting for dramatic effect, but it really did seem as if he’d forgotten all about Draco’s frantic question. As it was, he shook his head and blinked a few times before he could bring himself back to the subject. “Oh, of course not. You’ve done what we commanded of you, Draco—made your own advances in immortality magic and selected your own victim.” His eyes went back to the construct again. “And done a better job with it than we have. Perhaps innocence is a major factor in this process, and using Azkaban prisoners is not the best idea. Hmmm.”

Draco stepped back as if someone had driven a Muggle car at him. His face was so revolted that Harry felt a surge of fear for him, before he remembered that all of this was gone, and whatever Draco had suffered as a consequence of showing his real feelings had been suffered already.

Suffered, indeed. Harry tried to smile reassuringly at the Draco at his side, but his eyes were closed and he was breathing shallowly. Harry wondered what had affected him most: the knowledge that he had designed the cage himself, his choice of a child as victim, or his selection of an innocent. He rubbed a soothing hand over Draco’s back, and Draco let his head drop on Harry’s shoulder like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

The past Draco had controlled his face by the time Richard really looked at him, at least. “Tell me,” said Richard, and Harry stiffened. That was the same tone Richard had used when speaking of the sapphire spiders he’d dropped into Draco’s stomach. “How did it feel, when you were pretending to be one of us?”

Draco’s eyes narrowed as he felt through the question for traps. At last he said, “I am one of you.”

Richard threw his head back and laughed. Harry wished he could hear some hint of insanity in that laughter, but alas, it only sounded normal. Richard’s wasn’t the gibbering kind of madness that might have convinced some of his underlings to mistrust and turn against him. “Not in heart, Draco,” he said, when his chuckles had calmed. “I know better than that. You came here for yourself, because you wanted the Dark Mark removed. You don’t give a fig for the research we do, or the lofty goal we serve, improving humanity, unless it somehow benefits you.”

Draco said nothing, but his eyes were narrowing further and further, until Harry thought it was a wonder he could see out of them at all.

“But,” Richard said, and his voice dipped and slowed, “there are times when acting goes too far.”

“I did what you wanted,” Draco said. “Now will you punish me for that as you would for rebellion?”

“You don’t understand me,” Richard said calmly. “Not that that’s new. You have misunderstood my purposes almost since we made our first serious try at building Sir Galen’s maze.” He paused, and then began to walk in a circle around the construct. The past Draco watched him with head cocked like a dog puzzled at the actions of its master. When Harry glanced down, his Draco was watching his past self with a mask of disgust.

“You came here convinced of nothing but your own right to be free from pain,” Richard went on, smoothly. “You have clung to that goal through months when our plans deepened and solidified. Sometimes we had to use persuasion to make you agree with our more extreme actions, but you have remained. Doubtless you could tell yourself that you were forced to do this, since we had surveillance on the people you love.” He threw a keen glance at Draco. “Though, I wonder. Can someone who would see suffering and disease continue in the world—someone who does not want others to live forever—know what love is? An interesting dilemma.”

“Get on with it,” Draco said, though without much voice behind the words.

“You made your justifications,” said Richard, as though obedient to the command. Harry thought it simply amused him to seem to obey. “And they were pitiful. I have listened to them and shaken my head and still allowed you to participate in the project, because you did good work and showed skill and intelligence that few of the others have. Do you see, Draco? I have no problem admitting the good qualities of people who do not appreciate mine.”

Harry very much feared that that was true, and it would make Richard an infinitely harder opponent to deal with.

“But now,” said Richard, “now and at other times, when we asked you to do something—you went further and did something else. No one asked that you select a child, or even a young wizard, for your task. That is something you did. No one asked that you build this cage and force someone else into a golem’s shape. That is something you chose on your own. No doubt it was not as grotesque as it could have been; you threw up after you skinned your last prisoner, I understand. But the skinning was not something I told you to do.”

“I don’t understand what you’re getting at.” Draco turned as if he would walk out the door. “I have work to do, and I have to compile the results of this experiment in a simple, easy code if others are to understand them.”

“I wager Pearl would understand it, no matter how long you waited to write it,” Richard said softly to his back.

Draco went still. Then he repeated, without looking around, “I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”

“You made certain decisions when you had no choice, or told yourself that you had no choice,” Richard said. “It was a defensive maneuver to allow you to retain your contempt of us whilst telling yourself that you would never do something like this of your own free will. It was a truce with your conscience.

“And now you have done something horrible of your own free will. You have made it harder for the prisoner who would transform that I would have.” Richard’s voice held a hint of laughter. “You see the perils of spending too much time with one kind of person, now? You are becoming like us, whether you want to be or not.”

No.”

Harry was not the only one who heard the snarl of despair under Draco’s denial. Once again, his shoulder received the heavy weight of his Draco’s head.

“Yes, you are,” said Richard. “Why did you choose a child?”

“Because it would impress you! Because it would keep you from hurting her!”

“And yet, you could have refused. If you were as tender-hearted as you believe you are, you would not have chosen a child as a victim no matter what provocation we offered you.” Richard raised his eyebrow. “You care more about the people around you than you should, Draco Malfoy. This compassion for them will undermine you. If you were more committed to abstract principles, you would refuse to harm someone who had never done you harm.”

Draco made no response, but his breathing sounded like the blowing of wind through a metal machine, or the series of whirs and clicks his construct was making.

“You could have knocked the child unconscious before you Transfigured him,” Richard continued, relentless. “You could have caused the transformation to happen without pain. You could have ensured that he thought he had a friend in you, so he spent his last moments in pleasure and not fear. And yet, you did none of those things, though no one was here to recommend that you use straight pain.”

No response.

“You think we are monsters,” Richard said. “I could understand resistance. I could understand joining this project with such selfishness that you simply refuse to see the suffering of others. I could understand believing as we do and accepting that the short-term pain will make for long-term gain for others—people like Pearl’s Muggleborn relatives, for example, dying of cancer.” Again the past Draco flinched. “But I cannot understand your allowing yourself to become what you think of as a monster, no matter what the cause. Unless you carried the seeds of evil within yourself already. Unless pain appeals to you at the deepest level, and you really have no compunction about hurting an innocent, though you pretend you do because it’s more socially acceptable to have that kind of conscience.” Richard paused delicately. “You liked it, didn’t you?”

No.”

“But you only looked as if you would be sick when you started torturing him,” Richard said. “It didn’t actually happen. You only looked as if you would stop. It didn’t actually happen. You were reluctant, but you did not stop the transformation halfway through, though it was slow enough, and your magic powerful enough, that you could have.

“Actions matter more than intentions, Draco. What has happened to you, no matter the qualms of your conscience, makes you nothing better than we are.”

The past Draco sank to the floor, his hands over his eyes. “I’m not like that,” Harry could hear him whispering, his voice hollow.

Richard stepped up beside him and patted his shoulder with extreme condescension. “Of course you are not,” he said. “You simply associate with us when you think we’re wrong, and you do what we do even though you loathe it. If one cannot see the soul, Draco—and no one can, save when you cast certain very specific spells—do your victims really have any reason to think that you’re different from us?”

And he whirled and strode out of the room at high speed, only pausing to add over his shoulder, “Your performance impressed me. I have not hurt her.”

Draco was left to shudder, his fingers curling as if he would start tearing skin off his face in a moment. And then the darkness fell, and Harry and Draco were back in the Pensieve room again.

Harry cleared his throat. His face was wet, but he managed to scrub away the tears and fix his attention on his Draco, who needed him more right now.

Do you think so? Draco was already tapping out on the communication sphere.

Harry frowned. “Do I think what?”

Draco jerked his head at the Pensieve, his hair flying around him. His eyes were wide and desperate, but his face was so still that it looked like the transformed boy’s as the stone and metal replaced skin.

“A monster?” Harry let his breath out and shook his head. “No. Richard’s a very convincing speaker, that’s all.”

What I did—

“Is in the past,” Harry said firmly. “I don’t want to blame you. I don’t blame you. What happened was horrible, but what Richard did is more horrible still. I’m—somewhat familiar with the ways a mind can twist when constant pressure is put on it.” Once again, his mind returned to his fifth year at Hogwarts.

You like me.

Harry blinked. Then he said, “Yes, I do. But I’m—look, if we have to use Richard’s way of looking at things, I’m like you. I can forgive people doing things like that, when I see how it happened. I wouldn’t forgive you if I thought it was unjustifiable, no matter how much I liked you.” He thought for a minute, and added, “Besides, I don’t want to be gay, so remember, I won’t be looking for excuses to exonerate you just because you’re attractive.”

Draco stepped forwards and carefully clasped his cheeks. Harry watched him curiously, and the more so when Draco indicated he should bend down.

A moment later, a pair of cold, chapped lips touched his forehead.

Harry shivered, and not from the cold.

This just ties us tighter and tighter together. I—I can almost believe that I could change my life for him.

But I won’t be permitted to.

Sadness, slow and sweet, coiled like a snake around Harry’s heart. He cleared his throat gruffly. “We should go on,” he said, and unstuck their feet from the floor.

Draco watched him with that piercing gaze as they left the Pensieve room, but Harry was sure he didn’t know what he was thinking. If he knew, he would already be lying on top of Harry as he had in front of the veil and demanding that Harry not sacrifice himself as was the only option.

I have to do this, Harry thought again, swallowing the sadness. It’s what he needs. What kind of life would he have, dwelling forever here in the maze, even with me by his side?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four—The Shadow Plague

Harry woke slowly, blinking against the pressure of sleep on the corners of his eyes. He yawned and started to roll over.

Then he paused. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t tell what it was. He wanted to look down at himself—and at Draco, who had sprawled on his chest whilst they trusted to the wards Harry had cast on their resting alcove last night—but the crusted sleep on the corners of his eyes prevented him. He lifted a hand to scrape at it.

Nothing happened, save the faint brush of coolness across his face.

Harry sat on the panic that wanted to explode through him, reminded himself that he didn’t know what had happened and anyway that panicking would wake Draco up, and squeezed his eyes tightly until he felt a few flakes fall down his face. Then he forced them open.

He no longer had hands. Instead, his arms simply trailed off into two wispy shadows, with faint, floating gray shapes at the end of them that might have been his fingers.

Harry’s eyes fell shut again. He had no strength to keep them open. His mind was full of the tiny, darting, flickering shadow he had seen when he and Draco passed out of the room of voices. It had not, after all, been the shadow of a creature running away from them. It had been the sight of something joining with his.

And now it was working on him, transforming him into something like itself.

Harry forced himself to look down as he tried to rest one of his faded hands on Draco’s hair. He felt nothing at all, and he was sure that Draco would feel nothing more than the slight coolness he himself had done—the coolness of a shadow altering its position in the sun. Draco uttered a little breath in his sleep and turned over, his arms tightening possessively around Harry’s torso.

He won’t be able to feel me soon. Harry glanced at his arms and grimaced. Was there already another small piece of flesh gone from the bends of his elbows? He thought there might be. It’s progressive. And it probably started with the hands so as to prevent me from using my wand to cast a spell that would reverse this.

Harry felt a terrible yearning to lie there and simply let the magic consume him. Draco would wake gently, slowly, and not have to suffer terror and anger for the last few hours Harry had left before he faded completely.

Then he smiled, and knew the smile was rueful. He would never forgive me if I did that. He used the still solid part of his left arm to prod Draco in the shoulder, trying his best to memorize the feel of cloth and skin from Draco’s ragged robes and warm body. Would memory be left to him? He supposed it depended on how much of the transformation was magical and how much physical. Ghosts could retain their memories, but, on the other hand, they didn’t have their brains literally turned to shadow.

It makes sense that I wouldn’t become a ghost. Life and death are different here, as Richard would say.

Draco blinked at Harry, smiled, and then sat up. Harry saw the moment when his smile faded and he noticed the smoke-like nature of Harry’s hands.

But he had not expected the transition from sleepy contentment into full-blown panic.

Draco’s fingers clamped on Harry’s waist. He was shaking his head, again and again, to the point that Harry could hear his neck popping and creaking. His face was a mindless mask of terror. Sense had fled his eyes so suddenly that Harry was frightened for him.

Draco,” he said. “Listen to me. I don’t know if anything can stop it. But the important thing is making sure you can survive and continue on to the center of the maze, and that you don’t catch it from me—“

Another wild shake of his head, and Draco grabbed onto his arms, running the nubs of his fingers down them. He stopped just short of the gap where Harry’s flesh became gray mist and stared at it.

“Don’t touch it!” Harry said, shocked that Draco would put himself in so much danger, and pulled back. Draco grabbed his leg and buried his face against Harry’s hip. Harry swore. Draco was strong; he was a survivor; he had endured worse tortures than this and come out staggering, limping, but essentially undefeated. Harry had thought he would rise to this challenge better than he had.

He reached down, then remembered he no longer had a hand to push the other man away, and swore again.

Draco lifted his head. His face was streaked with silent tears that broke Harry’s heart. He’d had no idea that Draco had been crying, and probably wouldn’t have until he felt wetness on his robes.

He yanked himself free with a great effort—Draco’s hands fell helplessly to the floor and lay there, palms upturned, cropped fingers still—and then knelt down in front of Draco. “Listen to me,” he whispered. “You can’t catch this. One of the things I’ve worked for since I started to trust you is to let you survive and be free. Will you promise me to keep working for that? I can’t—I can’t watch you give up.”

Draco seized the communication sphere, squeezing it so hard that Harry was briefly worried he’d break it. His nubs scrabbled across the glass. You can’t surrender. You can’t leave me. Never leave me.

“Do you know something that can reverse this?” Harry asked, and held up one of his hands. “Especially since I can’t hold a wand anymore?”

Draco shook his head. The gesture had become a series of spasmodic jerks by now, even as he bent over the communication sphere again. I’ll die.

“I think you might be able to at least take the wand—“ Harry pushed away his own rising fear. At least he wasn’t in pain; this shadow plague didn’t hurt as it ate him. When he glanced down at his arms, a bit more flesh was gone, and he hadn’t even noticed. “Maybe you can’t use magic, but you can intimidate other people into thinking you can. And maybe the worst of the traps are past. There’s only the eighth Pensieve, and then the center of the maze. Draco, you’ve got to go on. Please, if I’ve ever comforted you or helped you, help me now. Try to find Ron and Hermione. Learn their fates, even if you can’t avenge them or free them. And free yourself. That’s what I want. That’s what I was willing to die to ensure.”

Draco’s head still shook. His fingers tapped out, I’ll die. I’ll go mad. I’ll die. I’ll go mad.

And then Harry understood. And he was filled with the impulse to lie back and simply bang his head on the floor until he passed out. Maybe, by the time he woke up again, he would be shadow entirely, and the problem would have solved itself.

Draco would go mad without Harry by his side to get him through the rest of the maze. Or he’d simply give up and sit still, not moving, not eating, until a monster or the Unspeakables found him and ate him or put him to use. His dependence on Harry was so great that he’d given up some of his strength to endure indescribable pain.

I knew this was bad for him, Harry thought, guilt and pain swirling through his soul, at least as strong as his regret that he wouldn’t get to see Ron and Hermione again. This relationship we have, this leaning on each other. It’s taken more away from him than it’s given, if he’ll go mad at the loss of it.

It also raised troubling questions about how exactly Harry was supposed to do what he had to do to free Draco and give him back as much normality as possible, if Draco would go catatonic at Harry’s not emerging from the maze with him—

Then Harry reminded himself of the more immediate problem. The shadow plague was eating steadily towards his shoulders. He’d never get the chance to free Draco at all if he didn’t solve this riddle.

“Be still,” Harry said, piercingly enough that Draco stopped shaking and stared at him. “I promised not to leave you, and I won’t. But I need to think of a way to come back to myself—“

His breath left him with a whumpfh when Draco hugged him, squeezing his ribs until Harry had spots in front of his eyes, leaning and clinging and rubbing his face against Harry’s neck as if he were trying to crawl inside him. And wasn’t that an unfortunate image? Or at least it could have been, if Harry didn’t have other things to think about. He coughed and leaned away from Draco, who had lifted his head from the crook of his neck to look at Harry with undisguised greed.

You are necessary to me, he mouthed.

Harry shivered, uncomfortable. It was too much like his own sentiment when they’d left the room that held the veil. No one else would ever mean to him what Draco did.

And that was—well, maybe good in ordinary circumstances, maybe fine in ordinary circumstances, but these were not ordinary circumstances. Harry had to be sure that Draco survived, no matter if he made it to the end with him or not.

“Right,” Harry said. “Now, please let me go. I don’t want you to get this from me.”

Draco immediately sat back, obedient, though his hands twitched when they were away from Harry’s skin. That made Harry wonder if part of the problem was their constant physical contact. Draco had to be used to that now, when no one had touched him for a year except to hurt him, and he would find it harder to give up than even ordinary conversation, perhaps.

Things will have to change, Harry promised himself as he closed his eyes and prepared to think his way through the problem. If I solve this, I’ll pay more attention to strengthening him and less to weakening him. Because that’s what I’ve done, even if it wasn’t intentional.

He forced himself to ignore thoughts of what would happen to Draco, and to Ron and Hermione, if he succumbed to this disease, and dragged his thoughts through as much of his Auror training as he could readily remember.

He was certain he had never learned about a virus, or a creature, or a spell, that could cause someone to turn into a shadow. It was easier to make someone else Vanish forever than complete the transition into insubstantiality. Even affecting a ghost was difficult; it took magic on the order of a basilisk’s gaze to do it.

On the other hand, he’d become insubstantial rather suddenly and recently, hadn’t he? When he had used the mistaken spell that turned him into light, he’d only come back together because Draco recalled the memory of him as he had been.

But Harry’s excitement died when he remembered that he’d emerged from that little disaster with a wooden foot. Who was to say that he wouldn’t dissolve into light, return, and still have the shadow plague eating him up, colored as Draco’s most recent memories would be by that?

Well, you have no other choice than to try. And Draco was only trying to remember you at all that last time; you didn’t ask him to heal your wounds. Ask him this time. And you’ll have to get him to perform the magic.

“Draco,” he said, opening his eyes. “I have something that might work, but it will be dangerous.”

Draco immediately sat up on his knees, face bright and radiating attention. Harry felt a wave of deep sadness as he gazed at him. I’m so sorry, Draco. I didn’t mean to turn you into a puppy hanging on my every word. Well. That’s one reason to get better, so I can give you a better future.

Apparently he’d been silent too long. Draco snapped two fingers in front of Harry’s face—quite a feat, with so much of the flesh missing—and Harry started and nodded. “We need to cast the spell that dissolves me into light again,” he said. “This time, concentrate on pulling me back into my flesh—my flesh as it was, not as it is right now. That’s the only way I can think of to reverse the plague.”

Draco visibly swallowed, but he nodded. Then he glanced from Harry’s wand to Harry’s shadowy hand and raised his eyebrows.

“You’re right. I can’t hold the wand.” Harry looked directly at him. “You’ll have to.”

He nearly got his eye put out by Draco’s frantically stabbed fingers. Draco flexed his hands open and closed several times, to make sure Harry understood.

“Yes, I know,” Harry said. “But I think you’ll do better with this spell than with many others. The motion is mostly in the wrist; think of how you showed me. And you can cast spells nonverbally. You were rather good at it in our sixth year, as I remember.” He smiled encouragingly, but Draco shook his head again, and went on shaking it until Harry glanced down, saw the swathes of gray covering his shoulders, and lost his temper.

“You’re going to,” he said. “I think your thinking you can’t use magic has more to do with constant pain and degradation, the loss of your voice, and the fact that you haven’t been let near a wand since they started torturing you. You’ll have to, because I can’t. Hold it in your teeth if you must—“

Draco pointed at Harry’s mouth, with an accusing expression.

“Because I’d still try to say the spell,” Harry said. “And the wand might get turned into shadow, too. And because I’m on the very edge of being scared out of my mind right now, Draco, and I need you to do this.”

Strangely, that made Draco peer at him for long moments, and then straighten with a smart nod. He picked up the wand and clutched it clumsily in the middle of his right palm, bunching his cut fingers together around it. Harry watched critically. It seemed hard to believe that the Unspeakables would have overlooked his continued capability to handle a wand, as much time as they’d had to work over Draco.

But given how shaky his hold was, and how long it took him to work the wand into position, Harry determined that the Unspeakables probably hadn’t worried that much. Even if Draco got hold of a wand, it would be extremely easy to Disarm him, and he’d probably drop it in the middle of a frantic duel.

They weren’t in that situation now. And if Draco could successfully cast with Harry’s wand, that would give him some of his confidence back, and show him he could do magic. That, in turn, would lessen his dependence on Harry.

May he not come out of this with deeper scars than he has now.

Draco began to move his hands in the broad sweeps necessary for the Fingere solis, and the wand promptly skittered away from him and into a corner of the room. He dropped his head and stared at Harry from under his lowered eyelids, his expression a mixture of misery and defiance.

Harry took a deep breath. The shadow had moved so that it covered the sides of his neck now. “That’s all right,” he said calmly. “Just go and get it, and this time hold it with both hands as you perform the movements.”

Draco trotted across the room, though he kept turning his head to look at Harry, as if swallowing a last sight of him—or making sure he wouldn’t run away. A few moments later, he was crouched in front of Harry again, and this time he held the wand with his right hand and curled the stubby fingers of his left hand around the edge of his palm. When he began to sweep it, the wand trembled, but stayed firm.

Harry met his eyes and gave him the gentlest, most tender smile he could muster under the circumstances. Draco’s eyes lit up as though someone had touched flame to kindling inside him, and his movements smoothed and widened.

Harry saw a brief, spreading fan of light traveling towards him in the moment before he lost control of his body and the intense strangeness radiated through his mind.

He could remember—

He could not remember—

What was memory?

He tried to lunge towards the furthest corners of the room, but something made him turn and glance behind and to the side first. And there was an attractive center, blazing so with thoughts of him that he had to look. And once he had looked, he found the thoughts written on the glass of the other man’s mind, and he came together enough to remember his name and the purpose of what they were doing.

Harry flicked his name like a whip through his dispersing remains, calling them into line, scourging the desire for freedom from them. That was not freedom. Freedom was what he owed Ron and Hermione. Freedom was what Draco needed and would have from Harry in the end, whether he wanted it or not. Harry needed to survive in a human body so that he could attain that greater freedom.

The bobbing, blinking particles of light he had become funneled towards him and drifted behind him in a more or less obedient mass. Harry turned back to Draco, ready to grasp his memories and appear in, hopefully, a renewed body.

Then he saw the gray thing in the middle of the light.

It resembled a rat, but was nothing so innocuous, Harry knew. It flickered and sputtered, a dim reflection of the brilliance next to it, trying to pretend it belonged with him just like his memories did. It hid behind the light and darted from place to place, doing its best to fool his eyes.

This was the thing that had caused the shadow plague.

Harry reached out to Draco. He needed help, he tried to say as clearly as possible. The seed of the plague was still here, and if he came back into his body as he was, it would follow him and simply cause the disease again, like a scum of bacteria that remained despite an intensive cleaning regimen.

Draco understood. The fiery letters, lit from beneath, on his mind’s surface said, I will remember you for as long as it takes.

Harry hoped Draco could feel his gratitude in lieu of a visible nod. Then he turned and charged the shadow.

It fled him, diving and twisting, extending its boundaries until it thinned almost to the point of invisibility, coming back together and whirring briefly into the shadows cast by the globe of light. But Harry knew those shadows. His globe of light didn’t wane or change like the setting sun and the moon did. He could see the intruder lurking at their edges, and he would not be fooled, not this time.

And now, there was no human shadow for the plague to hide in.

Even as he thought that, it turned and made for Draco like a snake.

Harry stooped over it like a hawk. His one thought was to destroy it, disperse it before it could harm Draco. He protected Draco. Nothing was going to get past him and hurt Draco whilst he was still alive. And this counted as being alive, in a very odd way; he could not die as long as that one faithful human memory held him.

He remembered the shadow-wolf that had attacked them in the room where Draco was imprisoned, and how he had sent it away. And he turned and picked through himself even as he dived, searching for the spark that had been his magic. If everything else was here with him, his physical body and his memories and his name and all, the magic must be.

It came to him, and Harry—it was the best description he could come up with afterwards; he was not really sure of what he was doing even as he did it—forced his intentions through a ring of light into reality. Magna! Magna! Magna! he thought over and over, until the spell beat in him like a drum.

Drumbeat mingled with light, and radiance struck through the room like a phoenix going nova. Harry felt guilty as he remembered that he hadn’t warned Draco to shield his eyes, but he honestly wasn’t sure he could have, given how much effort the casting of the spell had taken.

He could still see, since he was the light. And he heard the thin, insubstantial wail as the plague virus flared, eaten in from the edges like a burning piece of parchment, and vanished just before it touched the edge of Draco’s shadow.

Harry blasted his triumph through himself, and reached out to Draco. He needed the thoughts of himself inscribed on Draco’s mind to come back to his body, and he needed them now; already the sparks were wandering away again, since he’d concentrated on something other than keeping himself together.

Draco, through pained from the inferno of brilliance he’d been plunged into, still responded. Harry felt bits of himself sticking together, memories flowing, the sensations of flesh enclosing him briefly like the thought of blankets when he was tired—

And then he was himself, and although he still had a wooden foot (which made sense, because Draco had seen him longer in the maze with the wooden foot than without), his arms were solid again. He at once snatched up the holly wand resting near Draco’s knees and waved it in front of Draco’s face, murmuring a simple charm to heal his burns and restore his eyesight. That, he could do, having been caught flat-footed by Magna a few times during Auror training. It was such a small thing, against all the weight of Draco’s suffering, but it would have to do.

Draco blinked, and blinked, and then looked at him. Harry suspected he was still seeing through dazzling haloes and afterimages, but his gaze rested on Harry’s newly solid hands with unmistakable contentment.

“There’s no way I could have done that without you,” Harry whispered, and grinned at him. “And you can use magic. Who knew? We’re pretty good together—“

Draco flung himself straight at Harry, and a moment later Harry lay on his back, winded, with an insistent Draco turning his face around. Then their lips met, and their tongues tangled, and Harry moaned as he realized how much he had forgotten about pleasure, even before he became light.

He lifted his hands and threaded them through Draco’s hair, delighting in the sensation against every fingertip. He had almost lost this, and joy struck him in the chest a bit late; he’d been so focused on survival he hadn’t allowed himself to feel fear, and now the relief he’d lived and could touch Draco again was overwhelming.

Draco uttered a hungry breath, a rush of warm air against Harry’s chin and neck, that probably would have been a moan of his own if he could make noise. Then his hand brushed, gently but insistently, against Harry’s chest; somehow he’d undone a few buttons of his robes.

Harry swallowed, slowly ended the kiss, and sat up, with Draco still in his arms. Draco stared at him, hand resting on bare skin, and then rolled his eyes and visibly relaxed from a tension that could have been a coil of anger. He patted Harry’s shoulder with a condescending expression, and mouthed, I’ll wait until you’re ready.

Then he leaned his ear against Harry’s chest to hear his heart, instead of buttoning the robes up again.

Harry bit his lip fretfully. He could only give Draco so much. He would have to be so careful, to ensure that Draco was not depressed forever when Harry left him.

It would be so much easier if Draco hadn’t decided, on his own, that Harry was not merely convenient or helpful, but necessary.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Five—The Eighth Pensieve

Harry had rested first, and so he lay awake with Draco, softly breathing, in his arms. He could shift to ease the pressure and the cramping in his limbs, but whenever he tried to move further away than that, Draco turned his face towards him and parted his lips in distress. Harry would still again and sweep Draco’s hair back from his forehead, in the gesture that Draco seemed fond of with him.

He knew the last Pensieve room couldn’t be far away. And then—

Then what would happen?

Presumably, the Pensieve room itself was not far from the center of the maze. But since he had no idea what would be awaiting them there, Harry couldn’t make many plans.

Except for saving Draco, of course. And Ron and Hermione if we can find them.

Harry’s arms tightened around Draco. He paused at the last moment, afraid that he’d woken the other man up, but Draco only twitched his nose as if he were snuffling—it was odd how even that made no noise, odder than his soundless sighs—and buried his face in the side of Harry’s neck.

If they didn’t find Ron and Hermione, Harry would grieve; he could hardly conceive of the hole that his two best friends would leave in his life if they vanished. But losing Draco would hardly be any better. Draco deserved the chance to live. Ron and Hermione had suffered, doubtless, but it couldn’t compare to what Draco had gone through in the past year.

And wouldn’t Ron choke to hear me say that?

Harry gave a wan smile and shifted so that Draco’s breath wasn’t tickling the side of his neck. As it happened, Ron probably would choke, but over something else. Harry would never have the chance to say those words to him.

He shut his eyes, and took one more moment to reconcile himself to what he had to do. He’d racked his brain again and again, and had come up with no better idea. Looking in the books that Draco had taken from the room where the Malfoys cornered them, like The Ethics of Human Sacrifice, would do no good when Harry probably wouldn’t be able to understand half the words in them. And Draco had already admitted that he was eternally bound to the maze by the extraction of his fingers, ribs, and voice, as far as he knew.

But that couldn’t be fair. It couldn’t be true. And Harry had dreamed up another solution. It wasn’t the best one, but what was best in this situation? If the universe worked the way Harry wanted it to, Ron and Hermione would never have vanished; the Unspeakables never could have tortured Draco; the maze would never have been built.

And then you would never have got to know him.

Harry worked his right elbow loose; too much of his weight had been resting on it. You can’t think like that. It would be much better for you never to have known him than for him to have suffered like that. The price he had to pay isn’t worth whatever meager comfort your presence may have brought him.

No alternatives. No holding back. No second chances. Harry wouldn’t have hesitated if Richard was in front of him begging for Harry to spare his life; why should he hold back on this?

He closed his eyes and took comfort in the warm, fuzzy push of Draco’s hair and breath against his cheek.

*

They had just spotted the white light of the Pensieve room when Draco’s hands locked on Harry’s elbow. Harry halted and turned to face him, concerned he might have remembered something threatening about this section of the maze. But Draco’s eyes were glazed and wide, staring past Harry at the entrance to the room.

“Draco?” Harry whispered.

Draco didn’t respond. His stare was so glassy Harry swallowed, hard. He hadn’t blinked in the past few moments either, Harry realized. He stepped back and embraced Draco, hoping the hard hold of his arms would be enough to cut through the fog in Draco’s mind.

It seemed so. Draco let go all his breath at once, and then clasped Harry around the torso and refused to let go.

“I know you’re afraid of the memories you’ll find here,” Harry whispered into his ear. “Each Pensieve so far has been worse than the last. But I know that you have the bravery to face it.” He paused long enough for Draco to respond, but the other man only shook his head. Harry’s voice grew stronger. “Yes, you do. You underestimate yourself constantly, you know. You think that you’re a monster just because Richard said so, when anyone in that situation would have crumbled and started doing what they wanted just to make the pain stop. At least you were still acting to protect other people. You’re not an unmixed person, Draco, but you’re predominantly a good one. And you’ll go into that room and face that Pensieve with a courage that will make me weak with admiration just standing next to you.”

Draco stood so still for long moments that Harry was afraid he’d gone into the catatonic trance again. Then he lifted his face, looking lost enough not to be embarrassed about his weakness any longer, and parted his lips.

Harry knew what he needed—and, truth to tell, he wasn’t so reluctant as he pretended. Fleetingly glad that Draco wasn’t a Legilimens, he lowered his head and pressed his mouth against Draco’s.

Draco gasped and tilted his head further back, his hands traveling up to squeeze Harry’s shoulders. Harry focused on keeping the kiss gentle and slow, refusing the fervent pace Draco wanted to set. It would probably distract them too much, and just because there hadn’t been any danger in the Pensieve rooms so far didn’t mean that would last. If Richard had set up a trap to defend any of the Pensieves, it would be this one, so near the heart of the maze.

At last, when Draco stopped trying to stab Harry with his tongue and pulled back a little, Harry let him go and smiled gently into his face. He didn’t know what his own face looked like, but Draco was torn between obvious craving to resume the kiss and obvious longing to prove Harry’s words to himself. He glanced down the corridor again, swallowed, and knotted a hand in Harry’s cloak.

“You can do this,” Harry breathed to him. “Come on.”

And he kept on repeating the same words all down the corridor, whilst ahead of them the white light brightened like the ray Harry had imagined would welcome someone into Muggle heaven when he was just a child.

*

The Pensieve sat alone, without traps, on top of the pillar of rib bone. Harry paused and frowned, noting that no shadowy letters were carved near the base.

In fact, the seventh Pensieve had lacked the letters, too. Harry wondered why things had changed, but he couldn’t fit the mere absence of letters into any pattern he understood. Perhaps his suspicions had been wrong and the letters hadn’t been spelling the words he thought they were, after all.

Draco’s hand kept tugging him forwards, and in the end, Harry went. They halted in front of the Pensieve, and Draco stared at the silvery liquid of his own memories. There was no color left in his face at all. Harry couldn’t blame him. He didn’t need to ask, this time, if Draco would rather view the memories alone. If he tried, he probably wouldn’t be able to keep standing, even with a Sticking Charm on his feet.

Harry cast the charms, then leaned over so that he was embracing Draco from behind. Together, they dipped their heads into the Pensieve.

This brought them out in the same crowded room with the fire in the center where Draco had shared his last conversation with Pearl. Draco was pacing back and forth in front of the hearth, his strides short, his breath coming fast. Harry frowned. This Draco had his fingers and his ribs and his voice, from the sounds he made, intact. Of course, there was no law that said all the evenly-numbered Pensieves had to tell a consistent story, but Harry had assumed this final one would contain the memory of the spell or the ritual that bound Draco to the maze.

He’d been rather counting on it, in fact.

Harry ground his teeth and quit worrying. There was still the center of the maze to look at, and there was every chance that he could figure out what the letters on the last two pillars would have been from the ones he had so far. His plan wouldn’t fail. He embraced his Draco from behind, resting his chin in his hair, and watched this Draco narrowly.

The past Draco spun around when a door started to open, a sharp bark of expelled air traveling up his throat. From the expression on his face, though, the person who stood there wasn’t the one he had hoped to see. He took a single stride forwards. “Richard? Where’s Pearl?”

“Oh, I think you know very well.” Richard’s voice was low and tainted with anger, which made Harry blink. He had thought Richard was mad enough never to become angry. But when he stepped into the firelight, his mouth was pinched shut, and his eyes blazed. “She confessed her plans to you, didn’t she?”

“She didn’t,” the past Draco said, his muscles coiled, alert and wary. “I swear she didn’t. I found a note she left me when I woke this morning. She described what she intended to do there. But I didn’t think she’d actually go through with it—“

“She did.” Richard turned his back to Draco and stared at one of the chairs. “Three of our experiments and much valuable data lost, because she just had to mercy-kill the prisoners.”

“And—what did she say when you captured her?” Draco asked.

Richard laughed harshly. “Exactly what she probably did in that note to you! That we’d gone too far, and her conscience wouldn’t let her continue with these ‘vile practices’ of ours. That she was glad she’d rebelled against us.” Richard’s voice dropped the anger and became that dangerously slow, smooth tone again. “She’ll be sorry, in the end, but probably not for the reason she imagined.”

The past Draco went stiff throughout his body. Then he said, “You can’t.”

“Why not?” Richard glanced over his shoulder, seeming only mildly interested.

“You can’t use her for experiments. You said you only used Azkaban prisoners—“

“And she interfered.” Richard spoke without interest; he’d already condemned Pearl in his mind, Harry thought, fighting not to be sick. “She tried to prevent the good we can do from reaching wizarding society. She chose the lives of people who have a debt to pay over the lives of healthy, normal wizards who can do much good for the world.”

The past Draco paused, his expression flickering between horror and madness. And then he drew his wand.

Harry closed his eyes, not needing to watch the flare of colored light from the hexes, already knowing that Draco’s attempt to take down Richard would be countered, and how. This was the reason Draco had turned against the Unspeakables. They had hurt his friend, probably the only friend he’d had in the darkness of these dungeons.

When the sounds of the duel died down, Harry opened his eyes again. Richard stood with his wand pressed so hard into Draco’s throat that Draco was having a hard time breathing.

“We need you,” Richard whispered. “We can’t afford to lose two researchers in one day. But you’re on probation, Draco—and Pearl’s welfare depends on you. I’m going to give you a test. I want you to choose a victim of your own and perform one of the harder experiments we’ve been putting off because we weren’t sure they would work. Perform it perfectly, and that can be the substitute for Pearl in our research.”

That, Harry thought, must have led to Draco’s choosing the boy to torture; his concern over Pearl’s safety wouldn’t have allowed him to hold back in any sense. If they were satisfied with his loyalty, they wouldn’t hurt her. And of course Draco had been begging Richard to tell him how “she” was in the last Pensieve.

His own Draco was swaying. Harry, afraid he might faint, tugged him even closer against his chest and embraced him with both arms and legs.

Together, they watched as Richard left the room and the past Draco braced himself on hands and knees. His head was bowed, and he didn’t look up for long moments, even though he was alone, so far as he knew. Harry thought he was probably fighting back tears.

The scene slid sideways, trailing streaks of silver and black, and surfaced in a comfortable room Harry immediately distrusted. This was a bedroom, with a plush four-poster in the center; the curtains, drawn back to expose the middle of the mattress, were deep blue and dusky gold. Three fires blazed in various hearths around the walls, lighting it brilliantly. And just stirring, his head piled on silken pillows and his fingerless hands plucking restlessly at the coverlets, was Draco.

Richard stepped into view from a far corner of the room, carrying a broad tray which contained pumpkin juice and a steaming bowl of a thick broth with chunks of meat floating in it. The meal looked good enough to make Harry’s mouth water, but his wariness grew. He hadn’t thought the Unspeakables would treat Draco kindly for any reason, and though they must have fed him at some point, what had he done to merit a meal like this? Why would they treat him well, especially after they’d taken his fingers and—Harry glanced quickly at the past Draco and saw the way his skin sagged along his sides as he sat up, at least half-naked—his ribs and his voice?

Richard’s face told nothing, of course. On it was that pleasant, blank, neutral expression that Harry was sure he must use in all his dealings with the Ministry. He conjured a carved wooden table, set the tray on it, and nodded to Draco. “How are you feeling?”

The past Draco shrugged, his eyes darting between the food and Richard’s face.

“I’m so glad you didn’t trust him by then,” Harry whispered to his Draco.

The other man twisted around and gave him a look that clearly said, I would have been mad to trust him.

“Yes, but in a situation like that you need to rely on someone,” Harry explained. “And with Pearl taken away from you and your friends and family so far away, it wouldn’t have been surprising if you latched onto him.”

Draco arched his eyebrows. As clearly as a shout, his expression stated, Yes, it would.

“What I meant,” Harry began, and then stopped. He had been about to compare Draco’s possible trust in Richard to Draco’s absurd trust in him after only a few days together, but he had the sense to realize it wasn’t the best thing to say right now.

“Never mind,” he muttered, and turned back to the memory. He was almost sure he saw Draco smirk, but since no snigger—of course—accompanied the expression, he could ignore it.

“I know you’ve suffered,” Richard was saying to the past Draco. “But it’s very nearly done and over now. The taking of your voice was the last important step in the completion of our research. Now, eat up. You need your strength.”

The past Draco shook his head, his lips pursed.

Richard sighed and dipped up a spoon that he raked through the broth. He made sure to catch up both liquid and meat, and swallowed them. “Do you see?” he added. “Not poisoned. Not drugged. We do need you healthy, and the pain you’ve insisted on suffering lately has done nothing for that at all.”

Draco shut his eyes as if the mere suggestion that he had inflicted pain on himself was enough to make him sick up, but in the end nodded curtly and accepted the tray onto his lap. His hand trembled as he picked up the glass of pumpkin juice. Harry could see his mouth literally watering, and a wave of pity swept through him. He hoped, when this was done, that the Healers at St. Mungo’s would have the sense to put Draco on a hearty diet from the beginning, with no gruel nonsense.

The past Draco was more cautious about trying the broth, but he did, and soon he was eagerly gulping the pieces of meat; Harry suspected he hadn’t much protein of any kind since he vanished into the Department of Mysteries. He had to rest halfway through, and shook his head when Richard tried to push more broth on him. Harry suspected his stomach had shrunken, and he probably couldn’t have kept more food down even if he’d tried. He was intimately familiar with the phenomenon from his time at the Dursleys’.

His Draco shifted next to him, and Harry glanced down to see a light frown on his face. Harry shared the sentiment. So far, this memory wasn’t particularly horrific. Why was it in the Pensieve?

Richard finally took the tray away, and cleared his throat importantly whilst Draco looked at him warily. “Now,” Richard said. “I suspect you must be eager to find out what happened to the people we were holding hostage against your good behavior, though, as you haven’t asked about them in some time—“

Harry growled; this wasn’t the most hateful thing Richard had done, but still he longed to draw his wand and interrupt the memory. The Draco in the bed, meanwhile, stabbed his nubs against his throat and glared accusingly at Richard.

The bastard just cocked his head and shrugged his shoulders. “How was I supposed to know you were interested in them, Draco? Most people who were would have figured out a way to ask, missing voice or not. That you didn’t ask only tells me that you’re selfishly concerned about your own future.” He paused, and gave Draco a look compounded of contempt and mild interest. “As usual.”

Harry set his teeth. He was imagining the worst curses he knew as punishment for Richard, and still he couldn’t settle on one that was bad enough. Draco, from the way he shook under Harry’s arms, might be having the same problem.

“You look interested now,” Richard conceded, sounding reluctant. “Oh, very well. There are still Unspeakables watching your parents and your friends, but no one has been harmed. They’re of very little use to us, really. The Ministry would notice if we took more prisoners out of Azkaban right now, so even your father’s usefulness is removed.” He sounded disappointed.

The past Draco closed his eyes and shivered, and Harry’s heart went out to him. He wondered how he could ever have thought that Draco Malfoy was cold, snooty, or haughty.

“Pearl—well.” Richard gave a shrug.

The past Draco immediately went still. Then he opened his eyes, but stared towards the wall past Richard’s ear, as if he suspected that his questions wouldn’t be answered.

“She proved useful in some ways,” Richard said. “We particularly wished to understand why she had betrayed us. But she would only babble nonsense about morals and accusations of our being fanatics and all the other things I’ve heard already from others who are opposed to this.” He shrugged again, wearily.

The past Draco glared at him.

“As for her final fate…” Richard lowered his voice solicitously. “How did she taste, Draco?”

Harry felt the words shoot through him like a dart of ice. He watched the past Draco go very still, and then they turned their heads at the same time and stared at the steaming bowl of broth and chunks of meat still sitting on the table next to the bed. Richard observed Draco’s reaction with an expression of mild inquiry.

The past Draco began to vomit. He grasped his stomach and stuck his fingers down his throat in the middle of it, as though he could urge up every speck he might have chewed and swallowed. Richard shook his head and leaned out of the way of the bile, raising his voice a little to be heard over the sound of Draco heaving.

“She was useful, as I said, but she taught us little. In the end, she was rendered down. I doubt you can get all the flesh you ate—the human flesh, remember—out of your body, Draco. Enough time has gone past for it to be absorbed. She has nourished you.”

Harry’s Draco collapsed.

Harry dropped to his knees, too horrified to listen to or watch the rest of the memory. His skin was crawling with cold sweat, his eyes swam with tears, his mind tried to present him with visions of how it would have been, and—

And his Draco lay still and cold under his touch, eyes utterly glazed and fixed, as they had been just before they entered the Pensieve room.

Harry heard Richard binding the past Draco and chanting a spell, but he couldn’t turn to look. He couldn’t do anything but drag Draco into his lap and then wrench them backwards, out of the Pensieve. A moment later, they were falling awkwardly to the floor of the white-lit room, their feet still held in place by the Sticking Charms, Harry twisting his body at the last moment to protect Draco from the collision with the stone.

Draco didn’t react. His breathing was shallow and fast, but steady; its rhythm didn’t falter. His eyes remained fixed. He had gone so deeply inside himself that Harry felt his own breath stutter as he released their feet and maneuvered them around so that Draco was lying fully against him.

An embrace had brought Draco back last time. Perhaps it would work this time.

But no matter how hard Harry squeezed—and even there, he had to be gentle, remembering Draco’s missing ribs—he didn’t respond. Harry squeezed his elbow, pinched his ear, tapped his cheek and yelled in his face.

Nothing. Draco just lay like one of the vegetables that Harry had seen on the Janus Thickey ward, the day Auror Donaldson had taken the trainees there to see what some misfired curses could do—wizards locked so deeply inside themselves that they would never surface again, fled into permanent and self-willed coma to survive pain that was too much to deal with.

Oh, God, the sacrifices he made for her, and in the end they didn’t matter. And then he ate her—

Harry shook Draco hard enough, in a fit of frustration and fury, to bang his head on the stone floor. And then he was clutching him close, whispering, “Please, please, wake up, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I—“

Draco didn’t roll his eyes or make one of his soundless hisses of pain. His eyes went on staring. His lungs went on moving. No other part of him responded; no other part of him was alive.

There followed a few minutes, or maybe hours, that blurred in Harry’s memory. He came back to himself with his face and his eyes raw with weeping, his arms holding Draco cradled like a limp doll in his lap, his legs aching with the endless rocking back and forth. His throat hurt, and it took him a moment to figure out why: the words he kept whispering over and over.

“Please wake up. Please be all right. Please just wake up.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six—Trouble Shared

Ennervate!”

The spell sputtered and fizzed out. Draco didn’t move. Harry clapped a hand across his eyes and breathed for a long moment. If he could see Draco just then, he’d probably start crying and not stop.

He had to concentrate. He had to avoid panicking. He had to help Draco, and he wasn’t going to do that by moping around and wailing. What he was suffering at the moment, as he tried to make sure Draco didn’t die here, was nothing to what Draco would suffer if Harry couldn’t wake him, or the pain that Draco had fled into his mind in the first place to avoid.

His breathing calmed, and the darkness behind his eyelids began to be darkness instead of the vision of Draco’s unsleeping, unmoving face.

And then words crawled across it. Harry stiffened, wondering for a moment if a trap had sprung at last, or if Richard had come in through the far door of the Pensieve room and cast a spell on him.

But no, they were only the remembered pages of a book. He’d once read a spell that could work in circumstances like these, he was certain, a spell that Healers used to help with deep catatonia. But he didn’t have Hermione’s memory, and of course he couldn’t remember the incantation.

On the other hand, he did have the notebook he’d brought with him, filled with notes on his Auror training. The chance that it contained a helpful spell was very low, but he could at least look; he had absolutely nothing to lose, considering he’d tried all the other things he could think of.

Harry dropped his hand from his face and reached into the satchel that hung from his shoulder. His gaze focused again on Draco, making sure the small, faint motions of his chest still endured. He was breathing, wasn’t he? Yes? Good.

If he does nothing more than breathe…

Harry’s hands shook so badly that he dropped the notebook back into the satchel when he found it at first. Again, he forced himself to sit with head bowed and eyes shut, thinking of nothing, until he felt calm enough to pick it up again. He flipped through the pages, turning at once past what he felt would be useless but lingering over any slightly unusual spell.

Nothing, and nothing, and nothing. How would casting one of the twelve variations of the Blasting Curse or the spell that revealed an animal as an Animagus help now? But there were sections he’d copied from Hermione’s notes on the days he’d been too ill or injured to attend class. He didn’t know them as well as the rest of the material. Perhaps he should read those.

Damn, what did those abbreviations mean? If they ever got back to the surface in one piece, Harry was taking time to write out the words in full, instead of abbreviating them a.p. and o.y. They could mean anything. They could contain the seed of an answer, but how in the world was he to know that when he scribbled them down carelessly and forgot the meaning the next night?

And he’d kept no key, of course.

A sudden, gunmetal-gray wave of self-loathing rose up in Harry, and he ground his teeth and held back the impulse to simply scream curses at his past self. Screaming would feel good, but if he started now, he wasn’t sure he’d stop. And he would miss the moment when Draco stopped breathing, as Harry expected to happen any moment now, or if some creature or Unspeakable started sneaking up on them.

Go back to it. Concentrate. Try to figure out the abbreviations from context. Can you do that?

With a lot of squinting and trying to think like his past pissed, maudlin, or impatient self, Harry puzzled out a few of the abbreviations. a. was almost always “application,” a note Hermione used often to designate the spell’s usefulness from its effects. c. was curse. v. meant a variant of a spell that usually had a broader reach, and j. was jinx, of course.

But some letters seemed to be used for multiple words. Harry leaned back and checked on Draco again.

He was breathing. He was staring. That was all that could be said for him, really.

For a moment, Harry imagined him being like that for the rest of his life, lying in bed at St. Mungo’s, never seeing anything but the ceiling, never having visitors he could hear or speak with, never having the chance to experience the sunlight and happiness denied to him for the past year…

He’d started to hyperventilate before he noticed and stopped himself. Every instinct urged him to go faster, to find a cure now now now, but this was exactly the kind of situation where rushing would mean he was likely to overlook a cure.

Ron, Hermione, I wish you were here right now. Draco, I wish you were awake. I’d even welcome Richard, since there’s the chance he’d want to save Draco to suffer more than he can when he’s asleep like this.

Not asleep. If he were asleep, then I could count on his waking up when he was rested enough. Gone. Unreachable.

Harry reached out and ran a hand over Draco’s forehead. It felt like slick marble under his fingers. Blood had left Draco’s face, and he looked not attractively pale but nearly dead. Harry turned away with a short shake of his head.

He couldn’t lose Draco. He couldn’t. Draco had become frantic when he thought Harry was fading into shadow, but Harry had been able to accept that calmly. He didn’t care about losing his life as long as he was the only one who died.

Draco had joined Ron and Hermione in the select group of those whom he couldn’t bear to see die, even as he would die to save them, Harry realized dimly.

He wrapped his arms around himself, shivering. He stood to lose a friend, not to distant torturers or unseen Unspeakables, but right in front of him, if he didn’t do something. What good was it if the wizarding world hailed you as its savior, if you couldn’t save one person when it really counted?

Stop that. Self-pity and self-loathing won’t work, either. If you wallow in guilt, then the next thing you know, you could look up and Draco could be dead. He’ll need to eat fairly soon, and what will you do about that? You really don’t think you can break the catatonia that grips him? Then think about something else productive.

Harry felt his stubbornness flare. Perhaps that was what he had really needed: a challenge from the part of himself that didn’t believe he could do this. And he wanted to save Draco.

That was all the more reason to show that, yeah, he could.

He reached out and picked up the notebook again. This time, he tapped the pages with his wand and cast a spell that Hermione had taught him to pick out all the various references to a certain subject. “Spells relating to mind,” he said aloud, when the light from the spell swirled up into a green question mark, asking him what he wanted to look for.

The notebook flipped open, each pertinent page turning green. There weren’t many of them, and most of them were in the sections taken from Hermione’s notes, crowded with abbreviations he hadn’t understood. Harry grimaced, took a deep breath, and picked up the book.

*

Forty-five minutes later, he was near despair again. He’d tried, and still most of the spells were locked in abbreviations he couldn’t figure out or variants on Legilimency, which he knew he was pants at.

Are you? How long has it been since you tried?

“Not that long,” Harry whispered, but he knew he was lying. It had been the better part of a year. He lowered the notebook to his lap and stared unseeing at its pages a moment more, then turned to look at Draco again. By now, he thought he could have created a perfect drawing of the other man without one glance during the process of painting—assuming he had any artistic talent in the first place, which he didn’t.

But what about damage? You’ve never even heard of Legilimency being used on an unconscious person. What if you hurt him worse? The way he is now, there’s at least the chance that someone from St. Mungo’s could help him. Without that—

Harry hesitated, caught in the horrible temptation of stealing away to the center of the maze, confronting the man he suspected waited there, and enacting the plan that would unbind Draco from the maze whilst Draco was unconscious and unable to oppose him. Surely, he would wake up physically whole and able to walk away, and then—

Then? Harry shook his head, disgusted with himself again. There’s no guarantee that he would wake up even if you sacrificed yourself. And there’s no guarantee that someone would be around to help him. Richard certainly wouldn’t. And even if he could get back to the surface, if, say, your sacrifice freed Ron and Hermione as well and they carried him, no one would know why he’d gone unconscious.

The longer Harry sat there and pondered, the longer his fears and worries pushed him towards Legilimency. And the more he worried over it, wondering what would happen. Draco had his life now, at least. If Harry pressed further, if Draco felt the protective shell that surrounded him cracking, could he pull away and will himself to die, perhaps?

Harry had no idea. He just didn’t know enough about this.

And did he have the right to push on, in his longing for a quick solution? Wouldn’t that be just like listening to Draco’s demands that Harry stay by his side no matter what, when Harry knew the best idea was to give Draco everything else he deserved?

He didn’t know. He had no idea.

And if he made the wrong decision, the only one he had to blame was himself.

Draco twitched a moment, and Harry lifted his head hopefully. But Draco’s bladder had just let go. He continued to lie in the same position as before, his hands sprawled uselessly to the sides of his body.

Harry winced in intense pity and banished the urine with a wave of his wand, then stared at Draco some more. He could feel resolve building up in him like a head of steam, but this time he wasn’t so sure what he would decide to do.

His stubbornness flared again.

He wasn’t a Healer. He wasn’t a master Legilimens in the way that Dumbledore had been. Maybe he should have been; maybe those would be good traits for someone who wanted to become an Auror, too. Maybe he could learn them when they got out of here—

Harry snorted and reminded himself of his future sharply. No, like it or not, he would have to heal Draco, if he could, with his own set of present skills, and he would face Richard the same way. As long as he could learn the spell that bound a person to the maze, then he didn’t think that second part was beyond his abilities.

He had to do what he had to do, and the consequences be damned, because there was no better choice.

He turned back to the notebook and the particular incantation he’d spotted which announced that a wizard could show his own thoughts to another person, as a way of securing trust—a very gentle and non-invasive contact between minds, an elementary telepathy. Hermione’s notes said that the spell wasn’t much use because no one had ever been able to develop it further than that. Legilimency was still needed to read minds.

Harry’s opinion was that, if he could use it to show his thoughts to Draco, then it would work just fine. Draco lay in darkness right now, non-responsive to anything around him. Harry’s plan was to show him something interesting enough to make him respond.

*

Harry glanced at the notebook one more time, then moistened his lips and the inside of his mouth with his tongue. Just one mispronunciation could cause this to be a disaster.

More than it already probably will be—

Harry turned away from his own doubt. He had no time for it.

Lux in mente mei,” he said, and the confidence in his own voice impressed him. He held the wand halfway between himself and Draco, as the notes on the spell had instructed, and wobbled it back and forth, so that the ends tilted up and down like seesaws.

A cocoon of warm, brilliant white light enwrapped him. Harry blinked. If Legilimency with Snape had been like this, he might have paid more attention to the bastard’s efforts to teach him.

Then the light shot forwards. Harry was borne helplessly along with it, and for a moment he thought he knew what it was like for a sunbeam to fly through the atmosphere. He was dissolved, burned to ashes, and reborn again, and the process continued over and over, until abruptly he was lost in darkness, and the light scattered to the farthest corners of a large, empty room.

Harry stared around. He thought he recognized the sensation of being in someone else’s mind from his brief trips into Voldemort’s thoughts, and his even briefer experience of pushing back into Snape’s head, but there was no living presence to confront him, no push the way he’d sensed before. Only darkness, and the feeling of deadness. He might have made this an extension of his own mind, if he were a master Legilimens, and no one else would have opposed him.

Harry shivered, but by then the light had spread out, and it had begun to show certain memories he remembered well from various vivid parts of his life.

He had thought about trying to confine the spell to happy memories, so he wouldn’t alarm Draco into further flight, or ones that showed him in a bad light, so Draco would laugh. But, according to the description of the spell, because its purpose was to let another person get to know the one casting it, Harry couldn’t actually choose the memories. The spell would choose the ones that made him who he was, and narrate them as a story, informative but not invasive, for the audience.

If there was an audience in this case, Harry thought miserably, and then turned to face the stream of images.

Of course, the first one was of the flying green light of the Killing Curse, and his mother’s scream ringing in his ears. Harry shivered, and hoped Draco, if he could sense this, had no complementary memories of his own that would make him decide hiding was best.

After that came glimpses of the Dursleys, mostly the times he’d used accidental magic or discovered, with varying degrees of pain, that they really didn’t love or care for him in the same way they did for Dudley. He raced across the playground away from Dudley’s gang; he flew into the air without meaning to; Aunt Petunia cut off his hair and screamed as it grew back. And then came the memory of Hagrid knocking down the door that separated him from Harry, telling him he was a wizard and revealing another, special, sunlit world Harry hadn’t known anything about.

Harry smiled, though the joy in his heart was torn with pain. The eleven-year-old staring up at the half-giant with awe hadn’t known a thing about what his life would turn into. He’d envisioned a special school for people like him, and people who were, well, like him, not conceited pure-bloods or Muggleborns who understood their place in wizarding society better than he did or the children of Death Eaters who sulked and smirked at him.

But there could no be leaving this world once he knew about it, and, in a way, Harry was grateful for that. He didn’t belong here completely, but he belonged here more than he did anywhere else, and so deeply that anyone trying to drive him out would have a hard fight. That was probably the best he could hope for.

He rose on a broom for the first time, and felt the deep thrill in his heart as he realized he had one natural talent that had nothing to do with the scar on his forehead and which no one could take away from him. He helped Ron rescue Hermione from the troll and cemented a friendship. He rescued the Philosopher’s Stone, and cowered as he heard and smelled Quirrell burning above him, and caught a glimpse, for the first time, of how terrible his destiny really was.

Second year, and Draco, if he was watching, could have seen Harry ride in the flying car and gradually work his way up to facing the basilisk. Was he watching? Harry turned away from the memories that, after all, he knew perfectly well, and cocked his head, trying to reach into the darkness with whatever senses a master Legilimens would have had in this situation.

“Draco?” he called.

A spark. A flicker. Harry caught his breath. Probably it was only a reflection of light from the spell he had cast, and he told himself not to hope. What were the chances that flinging himself into Draco’s mind like an idiot had actually yielded anything, after all?

But, on the other hand, taking wild chances had sometimes worked out well for him in the past. He edged deeper, trying to make his entire presence welcoming and calm, so Draco wouldn’t think he needed to run away just to stay sane.

Definitely a spark and a flicker this time. Harry stopped where he was and glanced over his shoulder; the memory now at play was his capture of the Snitch in the final game of his third year. He winced, because Draco would probably remember how that game had meant Slytherin wouldn’t win the House Cup, but he had to trust their bond forged by the maze was stronger than the childhood rivalry.

“Draco?” he called again, into that realm of darkness where no one seemed to wait to push back and force him out. “Can you hear me?”

He felt the first brief, tentative push. Harry spread his hands and backed away. “I’ll go if you want me to,” he said. “I’ll take the memories away if you want me to.”

The darkness around him quivered. Harry paused. Was that eagerness for him to be gone, or was that desperation at the thought that he might leave?

He decided to wait for an unequivocal sign. He settled on what, for lack of a better word, he had to call the floor, and watched as the stillness around him came slowly and pulsingly alive.

The memories appeared to have lured Draco out of his self-imposed seclusion with simple curiosity. Harry could feel the very edges of what seemed like an active mind staring, taking note of his presence and the memories, and then growing stronger, as if the fact that the memories were not Draco’s own had finally become clear. Odd crackles like heat lightning shot past Harry and towards the images. He tensed. Does he want me to go?

And the next moment, he knew the answer, as the presence wrapped around him like one of Draco’s hugs.

No.

Harry spread his arms, unsure what he could embrace here, if anything, and felt heavy, soft coils drape over him. He hissed in relief and held tight. More and more coils went on falling; the darkness around him came more and more to life with shadowy figures that Harry suspected were parts of Draco’s imagination and past, like actors filing in for one last rehearsal before the play began.

All at once, the darkness started and jerked. Harry saw white light flare, and suspected that Draco had remembered the pain that had driven him away in the first place. The presence tried to flee.

Harry grabbed on and didn’t let it go.

But he knew persuasion wouldn’t work right now, not in a situation this primal and this agonizing, and merely showing his memories was no longer enough. He tried to show more, to widen the pathway into his mind. He delved deep into his feelings and draped them in front of Draco like brightly-colored cloths.

Draco mattered to him. For all his own reluctance and dithering about his sexual issues, Harry knew he could not lose him. The panic that had taken him when Draco fell down in a coma was the same as Draco’s when he had thought Harry might fade with the shadow plague.

So important. You are the most important person in the world to me.

Ordinarily, Harry might have qualified the words with right now, or with some reference to Ron and Hermione, but there was nothing ordinary about this. Draco needed the true depth of his feelings, needed to know their clarity, even if their passage blistered Harry himself. He gulped in air and let all his barriers down.

He showed Draco how the physical attraction bypassed all the missing pieces of Draco’s body, growing as a natural consequence of their spending more time together. Harry could adjust himself to the quirks and rough edges of Draco’s personality he would once have found unbearable. Draco’s needs were not matters for resistance or regret on Harry’s part, but (mostly) matters for acceptance and accommodation. And if Harry thought a need was truly unbearable, he could always argue against it.

Harry could no longer imagine a life where he simply shared his time with Ron and Hermione and ignored Draco. The imagined, longed-for, dreamed-of girlfriend was far less important than he was, real and solid and there. Harry still wanted to be normal, but that had dropped from number three or four on his list of wants to number ten. Various desires to make Draco happy occupied many places now, just below the desire to save his life.

This flight into his mind was horrible, not only for Draco but in what it implied for Harry. He could not stand this, could not bear it, if Draco went away. He simply could not—

A sudden shove sent Harry sailing free. He gasped, and found himself falling backwards. His body had remained in an upright position all this while, aiming his wand at Draco’s chest, but a sudden exile from another person’s mind made him react in the same way he had with Snape years ago.

He scrambled back to his feet, and stared at Draco. A little color had returned to his cheeks, but there seemed to have been no other positive impact. Harry fought the temptation to close his eyes and weep.

And then Draco’s eyes fluttered open.

Harry didn’t remember crossing the space between them. It was enough that he had crossed it, and now cradled Draco’s head in his lap, and whispered endearments, and the tears were falling after all, whilst Draco traced his cheeks with one finger and mouthed over and over again, in wonder, Mine.

Harry knew iron bands of friendship and longing circled both their chests, linking them together more effectively than any set of manacles. He was exquisitely aware of Draco’s breathing, of his heartbeat, of the slide of callused fingers against his face.

How can I ever give this up? How?

But if his real priority was to save Draco’s life, not merely make him happy…

Harry closed his eyes, drowned in the embrace he had offered Draco and the other man had hungrily returned, and refused to think beyond the moment.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Seven—The Center of the Maze

It took long moments to persuade Draco to move from their position, no matter how awkward it was, and then he insisted on trailing his hands in delight across Harry’s hair and shoulders and spine. Since he didn’t have fingertips to feel, he used his palms, as the most remaining sensitive parts of his hands. The look in his eyes whenever they met Harry’s—which was far too often for Harry’s peace of mind, when he was concentrating on his plan to save Draco—was rapturous. Harry did his best to look back calmly.

Inside, though, he regretted that he hadn’t found another way than Legilimency to reach Draco. It was only now that he began to think about what his memories probably meant to the other man.

He’s going to think—well, all sorts of unfortunate things.

Finally, though, they stood and moved a few paces down the tunnel. Draco went pale and began to tremble on the way, but each time Harry laid a palm against his temple and spoke softly, and that brought him back. He leaned on Harry without self-consciousness. It was not, exactly, the puppy-like way he’d regarded Harry sometimes before. It was simply as if he were utterly comfortable, as if neither of them had anything left to hide.

Harry shut his eyes, to keep from being weak in any number of possible ways.

They slept at last in a room furnished with carpets and a dull fireplace, though any books or furniture had been removed long ago. Harry cast Incendio on the few fragments of wood and cloth on the hearth, and set up strong wards, but curled up beside Draco without fear. He was sure, now, that nothing would trouble them here.

He had become quietly more and more certain that someone was monitoring their progress through the maze. They had found the Pensieves, but not the letters that should have been carved on the base of the rib bone pillars. Though the Pensieves had been so awful, they hadn’t had as many horrible and disgusting traps in the corridors around them as before. And the shadow plague had been a long-term strategy. There was no reason to use one unless a hidden observer was confident it would act in time to take Harry out before he reached the center of the maze—or if he wanted to wait and see if such a strategy would be necessary in the first place.

Harry was sure he knew who that person was. And he knew what bargain he would make with him.

He slept quietly, deeply, without fear and without dreams, though it seemed to him as if he always knew when Draco stirred and reached out for reassurance, and each time he provided it unhesitatingly.

*

Harry made sure Draco had the best portion of the breakfast the next morning, though it was only toast and jerky. His stomach was jumping, and he couldn’t eat. Cold sweat pooled behind his ears and on his palms; he had to keep drying his hands off surreptitiously, when Draco wasn’t looking.

Yet, though his body was so nervous, his mind was perfectly controlled, calm, cool. He knew what happened next. There just weren’t any options any more.

Draco led him at a steady march through blank stone corridors most of that morning—well, Harry chose to think of it as “morning”—but then halted when they reached a half-circle of wooden wall set with a single door. Harry stepped up beside him and took his hand. “This is the center of the maze, isn’t it?” he whispered.

Draco nodded. He hadn’t used the communication sphere once that day, preferring to rely on gestures and expressions.

“All right,” Harry said.

He started to take a step forwards, but Draco reversed his hand and returned the grip on Harry’s wrist. Harry looked at him in wonder. Draco leaned in until his breath made Harry’s beard stubble dance, and mouthed, Mine.

Harry smiled, and kept the impending sickness off his face. “Of course,” he said aloud. “Who else would I belong to?”

Draco apparently failed to notice that that wasn’t the same thing as a promise to stick around, only the promise that Harry would like to. He beamed, nodded furiously, and then swept a hand ahead.

Harry looked down, took in the sight of Draco’s rounded, cut-off fingers one last time, and told himself to be patient, to be calm. Then he raised his wand and whispered, “Alohomora.”

The door swung open with the faintest of clicks, as if it had been perfectly balanced on its hinges, only the weight of the latch holding it back. Harry made sure not to touch it as he guided Draco inside.

The room before them was full of silken silvery light, such as might have come from three full moons. The floor beneath them crunched softly; it was the color of dead grass, and sounded like frost. Harry noticed, first, that a wide circular rim of stone ran around the walls of the room, and then Draco seized his arm and gestured wildly. Harry looked up.

In front of them was an enormous tree, so huge that its roots were big enough to cradle Harry or Draco lying on their backs with all limbs outspread. Its trunk was squat and bulbous, but its arching branches made up for that, reaching far enough to brush against the walls and ceiling of the gigantic room. From each twig, all of which glistened with amber sap, hung a single person. The ends of the twigs seemed to meld with their scalps, or possibly their hair, making them dangle like obscene fruit. All the people had their eyes closed, as if sleeping.

Harry felt his heart clench. Some of the sleepers wore the gray robes of Azkaban prisoners; others wore the hooded cloaks of Unspeakables. He thought he knew the fate, now, of the people who hadn’t been transformed into part of the maze or caught outside the Department of Mysteries when the transformation happened.

Draco tugged his sleeve and pointed again. Harry licked his lips and prevented himself from crying out only with a force of will. Ron and Hermione hung on two of the outermost branches, swaying as though pushed by a wind. Neither of their faces was supposed to look like that, more blank and slack than sleep could make them. At least, in sleep, there were dreams. Harry didn’t think there were any here.

He edged forwards, though he had to drag Draco, who didn’t want to move, along with him. He had no idea what he was going to do, but all his fragmented thoughts focused on getting Ron and Hermione down from the tree.

“Welcome.”

It was Draco’s voice. But it was Richard who stepped around the tree’s trunk and regarded them with calm, unsurprised eyes.

Draco wilted next to him, like a rabbit at the sight of the cat’s claws. Harry maneuvered so his body was between the other two men, and his hand tightened on the wand hard enough nearly to snap it.

But he could not attack—not immediately. This was the man he hoped would grant him the key to Ron and Hermione’s freedom, as well as Draco’s.

And if he doesn’t want to—well. Harry grinned, and knew it was the cause of the thoughtful way Richard eyed him. I’ll force him. There was a small vial he had brought with him that Hermione had brewed only as a curiosity, and which Harry had sneaked into her flat to get before he descended. It was a highly illegal potion, Harry’s secret weapon.

“Did you know,” said Richard, with just that same sneering, drawling tone Harry had always hated about Malfoy from their school days, “that you’ve given me a deal of trouble? At first you seemed likely to die in the maze. And then you kept coming closer and closer, and disrupting my plans.” He shrugged a little. “I had to make sure that, even if you survived to face me, you wouldn’t know everything.”

“I know what I’m missing,” Harry said quietly. He felt Draco start and glance at him warily, but he ignored that. The time when Draco could stop him had long gone past. “You know that you’ll suffer for your crimes, of course.”

“I always knew that,” Richard said. “If I didn’t end my days in Azkaban, I’d most likely die at the end of a prisoner’s wand. Such is the fate of all who labor to make the wizarding world better through their own efforts, rather than merely removing a cancer, as you did.” He shrugged a bit, then said, “Flawed as the maze is—neither of you are immortal simply from walking it—it is better than anything I would have if I let you simply remove Draco from it. Which can’t be done, incidentally.”

Harry had been listening with great care. There was a slight emphasis, no more than a breath, on simply. That relieved Harry. Yes, removal was possible. But it would be difficult. It would not even be so easy—well, Harry counted it easy, anyway—as dying to get Draco out.

Life and death are different here.

“There is a way to discuss matters, actually.” Harry shifted his weight, making sure the satchel moved to the side and under his left hand. He had already arranged things inside it carefully this morning, when they ate their breakfast. He would have to be quick; Richard might be willing to suffer for his crimes, but Harry doubted he would want this potion to touch him if he knew what it did. “Will you hear me out?”

Richard lifted his eyebrows and looked pleased. “I will.”

Bastard. That’s Draco’s voice, not his. He stole it.

Harry nodded, then shifted his weight fully onto his right foot and whipped around in a circle. His hand was already drawing out the potion’s vial from the satchel and throwing it. He should make the hit. He envisioned it as a flying curse, a hex, and surely he’d had enough time already to dream about how much he hated Richard and would hex him on sight.

Richard uttered a cry of surprise, rather than pain, and Harry heard glass shatter. He grinned as he came out of the turn and settled on his heels again. Right on target.

The vial had broken at Richard’s feet, having probably bounced off his outstretched hand or hip first. The yellow potion inside had burst out in a flare of light, and of golden liquid that covered Richard thickly. Richard had his mouth firmly closed, but that didn’t matter. The potion could be absorbed through the skin; so Hermione had bragged eagerly when she first made it. That much, Harry had remembered, more because of the potion’s name and nature than because he’d been spectacularly interested in her research projects.

Gryffindor’s Potion, it was called.

“Now,” Harry said casually, ignoring Draco’s hanging jaw and fretful motions for the communication sphere, “you’ll find that you’ll need to tell the truth. Lying is considered cowardly behavior, unbefitting the House of Gryffindor. And anything that’s unbefitting the House of Gryffindor, that potion is designed to punish.”

Richard narrowed his eyes, then nodded thoughtfully. “Godric’s Delight, I’ve also heard this called,” he said. “Yes. Rather. I understand, and will comply with your request. Indeed, I already thought to do so, in order that both of us may have the greatest shot at getting what we want.”

Harry gritted his teeth. The thing he hated most about Richard (well, at the moment) was how good he was at taking unexpected changes in stride. He tapped Draco’s wrist, and they sat down on the grass, well away from the nearest root of the tree. Richard continued to learn against the trunk.

“I want you,” said Harry, “to tell me what would happen if you had managed to create a perfect maze.”

Richard’s eyes glowed, and his head came up. “It would have been necessary simply to walk to the center of the maze,” he breathed. “The obstacles would be few—certainly nothing that the chosen wizards and witches, worthy of this glory, could not handle.” His gaze was distant. Harry curled his lip. Richard didn’t seem to notice. “Once in the center, the chosen would drink from the sap flowing from a crack in the trunk of this tree. They would become immortal then.”

Harry nodded. “What would have happened if someone Apparated to the center of the maze and then walked back through it?”

Richard laughed joyously. Harry’s skin crawled. Draco should be laughing like that. All the times I imagined him able to speak and rejoice as we walked here, he should have been making that sound. “A wise question, Mr. Potter! But it is not so easy for traitors to our cause to do such a thing. The blessing of the maze is one way only. Walking from the center of even a perfect construction back to the entrance does nothing.”

Harry breathed more easily. One piece of the information he had most needed to know, secured.

And Draco’s heard it. That’s even more important.

“Why did you kidnap Ron and Hermione?”

Richard shrugged slightly. “I expected some flaws and imperfections in the maze—though nothing like what happened.” He looked, briefly, vexed. Harry accepted it as the best vengeance he would get for right now. “I knew our Mr. Malfoy was not perfectly willing, and suspected Imperius was not a good substitute.” He bowed to Draco. Draco hid his face against Harry’s shoulder and refused to look up again. “They would have been used as building material to fill in the gaps.”

“Building material,” Harry repeated numbly.

“Do you have a hearing problem, Mr. Potter? And so far, you had been my paragon of hope!”

Harry breathed slowly through his mouth. “But they wouldn’t have been necessary if the maze was perfect? That is, if Draco had actually been a willing sacrifice?” Careful, careful. Draco had gone stiff where he leaned against Harry. He must not suspect before it was time.

“And you impress me again! No, in that case we would have been able to proceed with using the maze.”

“What would happen—“ Harry began, then revised the question in his head and discarded it as too likely to make Draco suspect the truth. “Suppose a way was found to free Draco from the maze,” he said quietly. “What would happen to Ron and Hermione then?”

“They would die in the collapse of the Ministry, of course.” Richard arched an eyebrow. “We are the ninth level, supporting the others that rest on top of us.”

“But suppose the floor simply became the Department of Mysteries again, without collapsing—or a perfect maze replaced it. Would they be able to walk out of here?”

Richard tapped his fingers together, looking as if Harry had disappointed him somehow. His voice was Draco’s when he had been about to launch something nasty and squishy into Harry’s cauldron during Potions. “Yes. We would have no reason to keep them, in that case. I told you, only the chosen will walk this maze.”

Harry fought back a shiver of loathing. “Have the Unspeakables outside the maze hurt Draco’s friends and family?”

Richard spread his hands. “No reason to. I certainly could not give them the orders, occupied as I am with maintaining things here, and they know better than to move hastily.”

“Some of them came after us in the maze.”

“Only those who were able to leave their posts. And they withdrew on my command, once I decided to deal with you here.”

Harry closed his eyes, once again revising the things he needed to know in his head. “I understand why you took Draco’s fingers and ribs,” he murmured. “But why his voice? And why did you need to enter his soul to retrieve it?”

“That was part of my genius, my improvement on Sir Galen’s original design.” Harry had to pretend Richard was talking about something else in order to listen to this at all. “He recommended at least two physical anchors and a mental one. The ribs and the fingers were the physical ones, the memories the mental. But the voice is both physical—it fills the lungs and travels on the air as sound vibrations—and mental—it translates the thoughts that otherwise would remain in the mind. I chose it as an extra linchpin, in case the creation of the maze should go wrong, and I went into his soul to force a more complete yielding. Its absence made Draco more dependent, more abject. Less human—“

“You bastard.” Harry hadn’t known he would say the words before he said them.

Silence for a moment. Then Richard said, in that same disappointed tone, “Really, Mr. Potter, we will never reach the culmination we both desire if you keep insulting me.”

Harry ignored him for the moment, turning to Draco and lifting his chin with a tender hand. Draco peered up at him with eyes shimmering with tears, but nodded in determination when Harry mouthed at him Can you go on?

Harry stared at him for one moment more, then kissed him gently on the mouth, with open lips but no tongue. This was the last choice he would really allow Draco to make, so he had to respect it.

Turning back to Richard, he strove to match the calm, cold tone the other man had used. “More like something that’s a part of the maze, instead of someone with an independent existence of his own.”

“Yes, exactly. And it took away a measure of his power.” Richard spread his hands. “That’s important. The sacrifice to found the maze on is supposed to be without interest in power of his—or her—own. He will, after all, be the stones walked upon, the floors slept upon, the walls slapped and carved. Had Draco’s commitment been complete, then only a dust analogue of his body would have greeted you in that first room. He would have become the rooms you see here.” He spread his hands further, widening his arms this time. “He is partially them now. You walked through him, in some ways, to get here. But not completely.”

I’ve been inside Draco.

Half an hour ago, the vulgar connotations of that would have occurred to Harry first. Now he only felt humbled, and honored, and grateful.

But Richard’s information reassured him even as it infuriated. Yes, all the pieces were falling into place. He had only two questions left to ask now.

“Why?” he asked.

Richard paused as if expecting more to the question, then sighed patiently. “Why have Muggles experimented on animals?” he asked. “Why have wizards experimented on magical creatures, and Muggleborns, and all those others considered lesser during various spans of time? We need knowledge of suffering and pain, and such knowledge comes only from the experience of suffering and pain. And yet, those who have experienced it most often do not usually become good historians of their own experience. They are likely to be stunned into silence, or break completely, and stare at the world with glassy, unseeing eyes. So others must hurt them, and then observe. The Muggles have become fabulously healthy through testing their drugs on animals, I’ll have you know. And the animals are lesser than they are in power, unable to object, morally not on the same level as humans. The perfect subjects. For us, it was prisoners, those who had forfeited their right to be part of society by committing crimes. They could at least pay for their sins this way. The healthy, the innocent, the children who should never die of diseases and the geniuses who can contribute more to the world by living longer, are saved.”

Harry shook his head. Absolute conviction shone behind Richard’s every word. And obviously he was telling the truth, or the Gryffindor’s Potion would have punished him with tearing pain through his guts.

Last question, then. Harry licked his lips. “I know the letters on the bases of the pillars were spelling out an incantation,” he said. “Crepidinem exi. I want the last few letters.”

And Richard smiled at him, an incredibly proud and tender smile, as though Harry were a beloved student who had come through his last few trials and proven himself worthy to stand beside his professor. Harry looked steadily back.

Crepidinem existo,” Richard breathed. “I become the foundation.”

Harry glanced at Draco, who had his eyes narrowed. “Is that right? Is that what the Latin means?”

Draco nodded. His eyes were darting back and forth between Richard and Harry as though he suspected he had missed something, but was not certain what it was.

“Good,” Harry said, and the word traveled out on a sigh. “Good. Expelliarmus!”

Richard’s wand came sailing from his hand towards Harry’s. He put it down in front of Draco and glanced at him as he used Incarcerous to bind Richard to the trunk of the tree. Richard wasn’t struggling, only watching in absorbed fascination. That was probably the creepiest thing Harry had seen yet.

“Listen, Draco,” he said. “When you’re free, you should be whole again. Able to walk. Tell Ron and Hermione what happened. You’ll have two wands, so you should be able to defend yourself long enough to make them listen to you.” He glanced at Richard and felt a smile lift the corners of his lips. “And he’s yours. Do whatever you want with him.”

Draco grabbed his shoulder, but tentatively, as though he feared to hold Harry back. Harry stared at him, and hoped his eyes conveyed the full force of what he was feeling. After a moment, Draco’s eyes filled with tears.

Harry stood. “I hope you can forgive me,” he said thickly. No, he wasn’t nervous—it was excitement his hand shook with, eagerness to have this done with—but it was still hard to watch realization dawn on Draco’s face. “I’ve—come to love you, Draco.” And it was not so hard to say, not so hard at the last.

Draco began to shake his head, slowly, and then faster and faster, as the panic that had overcome him when the shadow plague took Harry crept up his body again.

“Yes,” Harry told him. “But it’s important you be free, so you can have whatever you want.”

Draco seized his trousers leg and tugged, nearly hard enough to upset him. Harry read that pull: It’s you I want.

“I know,” Harry whispered. “I know. But we can’t always have those things we desire. And your freedom will give you so much more than I ever could.” He stepped back from Draco, glancing once more at Richard. He simply stayed where he was, tied, awaiting this. He wanted this. His most important priority was the creation of his perfect maze, not his own survival.

He caught Harry’s eye and smiled beatifically. “I did not lie,” he said. “The potion would have punished me if I had. And this will work. When the maze transforms, your friends and the others will walk out of here unharmed. And Draco will have everything back. His parts won’t be needed as anchors for the maze anymore.”

Harry waited, but no golden fire raked Richard. He nodded. His heart was beating so fast that his vision blurred.

How to free Draco? You can’t tunnel under the maze. You can’t simply free him without its collapsing.

Someone else has to take his place. A willing sacrifice.

He caught a brief glimpse of Draco lunging at him, arms spread, eyes wide, mouth full of denial, but Harry had always been very fast with his wand.

Crepidinem existo,” he said, his voice clear and strong.

The universe tore open.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Eight—Transformations

He knew pain. He knew it as he had never known it before, and his horror and pity for Draco when he thought of the other man’s bones and memories and voice ripped away from him became purest sympathy.

He knew some of his bones separated from his flesh to become anchors for the maze. He knew some of his memories went. But the holes in his mind healed over so rapidly, and his mind itself was changing so much, that he couldn’t be sure which ones were gone.

He rolled over. Twice. He thought it was twice. And his body stretched out, flattened, and lengthened. He could feel himself growing rough, acquiring textures not natural to human skin. Stone pattered along his legs; wood crept up from his throat; his arms extended into the tree’s branches. The power of the magic he had used rolled along his veins, and then they weren’t veins anymore, but crossroads and corridors and paths for sneaking past obstacles. He heard his breathing stop, but his consciousness went on after it, so that was all right.

It was a change. It was a profound change. He was made over into something else, someone else, and he knew that none of those who loved him would ever be able to connect with him or identify him again. After all, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish their footsteps and voices from the many that would pass through him; why should their comprehension of him be any better?

His skin ripped and rolled apart, separating from the rest of his flesh in a smooth curtain. Harry was not sure where it was going. Pain was so much a part of his reality now that he looked through it, swam beyond it, and concentrated on what was happening next in preference to what had already happened.

He dived.

He rooted.

He was gone from the middle of what he had been, and in the middle of a new thing, the thing he was to be. He closed his eyes, or closed off parts of his awareness, and extended others. They all throbbed with the same steady beat that healing wounds did. Was there a heart in the middle of them? He didn’t think so.

And then his thoughts slowed and turned sluggish. He was stone. He was wood. He was the tree in the center, the tree that no longer contained the bodies of kidnapped victims like Ron and Hermione, the tree that simply ran with sap for the drinking of immortality.

He heard Draco’s voice screaming, and frowned. It was Richard who had Draco’s voice, so why would he be screaming? Perhaps he was being tortured. Or perhaps Draco had his voice back now and was crying out in loneliness. He would never have wanted Harry to become the maze. Harry knew that much, at least.

He experienced a small spasm of irritation. Everyone was always thinking he should have done something else, saved the world in a different way or made different choices. Well, this was irrevocable. He was beyond love and comfort, and he was beyond being punished or confronted over bad decisions.

I love you, Draco, he thought, or said, and then the inexorable weight of the transformation closed over him, and he didn’t know for a long time.

*

He had always been aware of that weight. In the first moments of turning, it had been the weight of magic. It was no small spell that would tear some parts of himself out of his body and make them into anchors for the maze, and turn the rest of him into the material of the maze itself, and at the same moment restore the stolen parts that had come from Draco. But now it was the weight of stone. He was part of the lower levels of the Ministry, after all, and eight other floors leaned upon him. Meanwhile, the tenth floor hung pendant below him.

But now the weight was shifting. Little by little it grew lesser. He no longer had any way of telling time, so he didn’t know how long it took. He only knew it was progressive; they never put any weight back, but always took it off.

Sometimes he heard voices, speaking words that he could almost understand, wandering and winding through him. He wondered for a moment if they walked in a maze open to the sky now. He wondered what it looked like for them.

And then his consciousness drifted and ebbed back into the consciousness of touches on walls and doors, the light footsteps that made their way through his corridors, and the dripping of the sap from the crack in his trunk, so far untasted.

*

Sometimes he heard people arguing and screaming at each other. It was so common that he no longer paid much attention, but he did focus on one particular voice that was familiar. It was saying, “You may be a genius, Granger, but if you’re going to give up on the research, then give me that book.”

And, wild with tears, another familiar voice, another beloved, but not in the same way: “We shifted the Ministry. But this book doesn’t tell how to bring a human back from such a transformation. It doesn’t, Malfoy. Look all you like.” Sound of fluttering pages, and then a thump on one of his floors as the book fell from nerveless, shaking hands. “You won’t find the answer, because there isn’t one.”

Silence, broken by soft, deep gasps as the other voice picked up the book and turned it around in hands that were far too firm and steady. The other voice was unnerved by that steadiness, he sensed.

“The Ministry wants us to destroy the maze altogether—“ the nerveless voice began.

“No.” Steady riffle of pages.

“It might be the best answer. Who knows what Harry’s suffering?” And he was amused, because the pain had never ceased, so he could almost bear the suffering. And he had chosen, hadn’t he? It was just like the nervous voice to go on questioning his choices even after he had made one she couldn’t affect any longer.

I know,” said the steady voice. “And I know that we are not going to destroy the maze. We have to make Harry want to come back to his body.”

“How? And how would you do it, even if you could, without becoming immortal or dying as the maze collapsed?”

“Unlike you, Granger, I’m in love with him. That means I’ll find a way.”

“Things don’t always work out that way.”

“Go the fuck away, and leave me alone.”

The nervous voice walked out of him and left the steady one alone. He would have liked to remain and observe, but puffs of dust were traveling about in the most distant parts of him, and a new corridor was opening slowly like a birth canal, and there was nothing to hear now but breathing and the turning of pages. He let himself be swept away.

*

Soft. Slimy. There was something soft and slimy hanging over the limbs of the tree. He had not felt it before because some of the loops had been perfectly balanced, but now they shifted, and started slithering towards the floor. It was constant irritation, enough for him to work to open eyes in the tree and look, though hearing and touch were the easiest senses for him to use.

Oh. The glistening pink and red flesh of human intestines was draped over his branches. Endless coils, endless knots. He thought he remembered hearing that every human had yards and yards coiled in his guts. Not him, not with the transformation, but whoever had been killed and hanged on him did.

Or were they dead? When he concentrated, he could follow a faint whimpering sound to the corner of the room with the tree. It was on the opposite side of the trunk from the sap, which explained why his fugitive consciousness had never noticed it before.

A human figure lay on the floor, staring upwards, its hands making feeble clenching gestures over the slit in its belly. Now and then it would thrust out an arm and try to crawl away, but its arms were glorious with intestines, too. And its face was familiar, though no matter how long he stared, he couldn’t remember a name. It was an older man, and he thought the man had had a smooth reason that explained the maddest things as if they were sanity and a smile that could persuade others to follow him. He’d had another voice, once, too.

Now his voice was his own, and he lay there screaming. No matter how much his guts crawled out of the slit in his belly and wound themselves around the tree, he couldn’t be severed from them, and he couldn’t die. The spell cast on him wouldn’t let that happen.

As he watched, the man’s intestines slithered free of the tree’s branches and to the floor. Would he die now? Had the spell eased? From the way the man lifted his head and stared, he was wondering the same thing.

But the pink and white sausage links twitched, and began to climb over roots and twigs and trunk once more, aiming for the highest boughs. They tore themselves on the way, and spilled red and milky fluid, but they never stopped dragging along. It was the process of a horrific gut wound repeated over and over again.

Gut wounds are the most painful any human being can suffer. That’s why he chose this spell, I’ll bet.

But the meaning of the words and his own interest in the continually dying man were waning. He turned away and slid into the depths of the maze again. It was quite a business, keeping all the walls balanced, all the corridors straight, all the doors in their places and the rare windows staring where they should be staring.

*

Footsteps. Light, hesitant ones. He focused his consciousness on them, pleased. Was someone coming through the maze to become immortal at last? All the people who had entered the maze so far had taken sidelong routes, meaning they wouldn’t walk the direct path and have their bodies changed, purged of their dying.

But the figure stopped and rested a hand against a wall, and his attention oriented on that instead. The figure seemed to be getting ready to make a speech. Why? There was no one else here. Or perhaps there were ghosts caught in his walls that he hadn’t sensed, or perhaps this figure—man—was mad and about to speak to no one. In his curiosity, he formed a pair of eyes in the wall to look.

The man who stood there with his head bowed was blond, thin, with a set of dusty robes gathered about him. He looked up, and his face was pale, his eyes haunted with shadows. Had he not slept well? The spirit of the maze could feel himself growing concerned. People who were less than perfectly healthy would not survive the trek through him.

“I found the key at last,” the blond man whispered. “It was under my nose all the time. I didn’t bother to read the whole of Sir Galen’s book, because the part that concerned the creation of the maze was the only one that mattered. Damn me for an idiot.” He took a deep, gasping breath. “And then Richard removed the relevant pages and hidden them in his chambers, but still. I uncovered them at last, once I realized where the chambers would have to be inside you.” He shivered.

Richard? Sir Galen? Those were names that mattered, though the spirit of the maze couldn’t remember why. But he still blinked his eyes, and he still kept himself there, fighting the temptation when his attention would have drifted to other matters.

“A willing sacrifice is done out of love,” the blond man whispered. “There’s no other reason someone would agree to suffer for eternity and grant immortality to others but for love. And usually, someone who masterminded a transformation like this would want that and only that.” He paused to take a deep breath. “But what if the person who received the sacrifice didn’t need that? What if he needed something else, something more important?”

More important? The spirit of the maze was bewildered. He didn’t know what could be more important than immortality.

But he did remember, suddenly, that he had sacrificed himself for love of the blond man. That love even pulsed alive in his heart like a hidden egg, in a sacred secret chamber where no one else would ever come, a source of warmth and comfort when the pain grew too great. So he knew he had to listen.

“A willing sacrifice can reverse itself,” the blond man whispered. “It can always reverse. It can always be changed. The reason it wouldn’t change is the determination that made it a sacrifice in the first place; the person would have to be convinced that he could do more good not killing himself or going off to war or abdicating the throne.” He lifted his head, and his eyes were so dark. That couldn’t be healthy, certainly. That couldn’t be good for him.

“I need you to come back,” the blond man said, with pleading in his voice that the spirit of the maze abhorred. Hadn’t he transformed so that the man would never need to plead like that again? Hadn’t he done this to end his pain? Why was he still in pain, then? “We’ve shifted the lower levels out from under the Ministry, cut them away. There’s nothing above us that will fall in now if you transform back. And if this place does start to crumple when you come back to human form, I can Apparate us away. There aren’t any wards preventing that, now.

“I want—“ He paused, his throat working. The spirit of the maze was caught, transfixed, captured, and the love in him blazed like a star. “I want you to be human, Harry, damn it.”

Yes, my name was Harry.

“What you did was noble and so breathtakingly stupid I would have killed you a moment later, if I could.” His eyes flashed. “You left Richard for my punishment—and I could punish him. He only controlled so much of the first maze, the one he made out of me, and could erase the letters on the last few rib bone pillars and so on, because he had my voice, an extra linchpin, a final anchor, the only part of me he took with permission. He made a sacrifice of his own, and replaced his voice with mine. He believed that would give him control over me if I ever tried to rebel, and he could use it to taunt you to despair.

“But when you became the maze, my fingers and my ribs, my voice and my memories, came back to me—“ He paused and shuddered for a moment. “You thought I would be satisfied with freedom, and wholeness, and justice.”

And the only other thing I can offer you is immortality, the spirit of the maze thought.

“I’m not,” the blond man continued, fiercely. “I want you. You have to come back to human form and be with me, because it’s what I need. I can’t heal if you’re not there. I can’t live my own life, because you’re part of that life, now. Punishing Richard is a pleasure that palled quickly. You have to be there, to yell at and pummel and argue with and love. So. You made a sacrifice for me, once, based on such deep love as I didn’t understand at the time. Now I ask you to make it back.”

The spirit of the maze hesitated. He still remembered very little of the events the blond man was talking about, but he could remember the emotions he had felt. He had gone to the sacrifice with a glad heart. It not only let him save the man he loved—

Draco. His name is Draco.

--but also avoid something. A horrible fate. Or was it just something he was wary of? Something he could have borne but didn’t want to bear?

“Come back to me.”

Draco was on his knees, his hands and his lips pressed flat against the wall, Harry realized in horror. He looked as if he was ready to kneel here forever, and kiss cold, unyielding stone, and keep whispering. He had to leave the maze and go back into the sunlight, didn’t he see? He had to find someone else to love, because no matter what happened, even if he came back to human form, Harry wouldn’t be enough for him, wouldn’t be good enough, wouldn’t be what he needed.

“Come,” Draco whispered, and his voice cracked down the middle with longing.

Reluctantly, Harry realized that Draco didn’t believe the same things he did. He could go on without Harry, but he wouldn’t let himself do so, because he was too occupied with that ridiculous conviction that he couldn’t stand on his own. And that he needed more than the sacrifice Harry had already given him.

Harry wanted to tell him he was being silly, but he had no lips to do that anymore. Even summoning the desire to do it brought his human side surging forwards.

“Please,” Draco whispered. “Come to me, come with me, be with me.”

Perhaps it was only Draco’s belief, but beliefs could be as paralyzing as reality. Harry knew that. And no matter how he willed peace and satisfaction, health and happiness, into Draco’s life, he wouldn’t take it. He would ignore all the sweet water around him and keep crawling through the desert. Gifts meant nothing if the person they were intended for wouldn’t pick them up.

Harry could feel his annoyance growing. Really, he had thought he could rest content here. He had given his life for Draco. No, more than that; he had consented to be alive and suffer forever for Draco. What greater gift was there than that? What more did he want?

But even as the annoyance surged through him, Harry was reminded of the great distance that lay between them now. And obviously, no one who was currently human and in Draco’s life had been able to change his mind.

Harry would have to return to human form to do that. He would reverse the sacrifice, just long enough to explain the truth to Draco and give him that glimpse of Harry, that little taste, which would soothe his need and let him get on with his life. He had to reverse the choice he had made, because right here was someone who needed him to make a different one.

And he wanted to make a different one.

Pulses of weakness ran through the maze, like earthquakes. Draco started to his feet and stared around in wonder, but never stopped calling, his voice whispering and tugging and pulling, pleading.

Harry closed his eyes and rescinded his permission for his body to become the maze, his absolute and basic belief in the magic.

Stone ran down in waterfalls of dust. Wood dissolved. The pain that Harry had become used to when dissipated over endless distances and endless kinds of material coalesced into the center again and filled him, and Harry heard himself wailing with a human voice as he dropped, naked, beside Draco, his fingers and his ribs gone, gaps in his memories glowing to life. He still couldn’t entirely remember what had brought them to this pass, but he knew—

He opened his mouth to complain, to tell Draco that he had to let Harry go back, to scream—

And Draco snatched him up in a pair of arms less yielding than the walls Harry had become, and Apparated. Darkness yawned and swallowed them.

*

Harry woke so slowly that he groaned in impatience. But that changed neither the pace of his waking nor the debility that filled his muscles. His eyes fluttered open as if he was opening great doors, and he could barely turn his head.

He saw a room that looked like a room in hospital, in St. Mungo’s. His mouth was filled with the awful taste of Skele-Gro. And his whole body throbbed with endless, endless agony. He made a faint noise of discomfort, inexpressive of the sensations but all he could do for right now.

A shadow crossed his face. He looked up at Draco.

Draco stared at him in silence. His eyes were still full of shadows, but a little lighter than they had been. He reached out and closed a hand like a claw around one of Harry’s slowly regenerating fingers. Harry winced.

“Now,” Draco said in a conversational tone, “I can’t even tell you how angry I am that you chose to do something like that, giving me no choice—“ his voice abruptly rose to a shout on those words, and then died down again “—as to what would happen next. But don’t worry. You’ll get to know my anger quite well in the next few weeks and years, as you heal and we go through therapy together.

“There’s no chance of breaking us apart now. I hope you know that. If you don’t, then I’ll simply repeat it, and slam it into your head, and maul you and mutilate you, until you understand it. I’m yours, and you’re mine.

“I won’t tolerate stupidity like this again, do you understand? You’re going to be here, damn it. No running away. No deciding that sacrificing your life, or your existence, is better than standing at my side.”

“What—happened?” Harry whispered, and hoped Draco would understand his weak, small, croaking frog of a voice well enough to answer. Draco smiled at him. The smile was not a pleasant one.

“I was free,” he said simply. “I cast that spell on Richard. Your friends were free. They argued with me for quite a bit, but I had the wand, and I had Pensieves available to show them my memories. And your memories, too, by the way. I rescued those Pensieves before the maze collapsed. So you can know everything you may have forgotten about the reasons we belong in each other’s lives.

“Then Granger figured out a way to separate those lower two levels from the rest of the Ministry, by sinking them even further in the rock, but she was convinced I would never get you free. I researched until I realized that simply asking you to reverse the sacrifice was the best way. I convinced you I couldn’t live without you—which is true—and you popped out. But your anchors stayed, except the rescued Pensieves. So they’re having to regrow your fingers and ribs for you.

“What was left of the maze fell in on Richard, I assume.” Draco’s voice was cold now, his face without expression. “I neither know nor care. I wanted you back far more than I wanted him suffering forever. And he did suffer for three months whilst his intestines pulled themselves out of his body and arranged themselves in artistic patterns.”

His hand closed down again, and he dragged Harry’s finger to his lips and mouthed at it. “Now,” he whispered. “The important thing is that you’re here with me, and it will take us a long time to heal—together. Think about trying to leave me and I will open your chest and remove part of your lungs, then feed it to you.” His eyes narrowed. “You couldn’t call me normal mentally now, you know, and there’s no reason to disbelieve my threats.”

Harry shuddered, but his gaze was fastened to Draco’s face. Draco smiled at him, and there was possession and love and self-satisfaction in that smile.

Harry had to close his eyes and drop off into sleep in the next moments; just being awake had exhausted him. But his mind continued to worry and fret as slumber drowned it.

What if I’m still not the best choice for him? What if this doesn’t last? What if he really needs to move on from me in order to live the best life possible? I’ll need to talk to the Mind-Healers…

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Nine—The Meaning of Therapy

“Harry.”

The voice was so soft and so thick with relief that it took Harry, swimming up from sleep, long moments to identify it. When he finally did, he stretched out a hand instinctively, groping for the one he knew would be waiting to clasp his.

Firm, warm fingers caught his, catching on new-grown nails, which Harry didn’t remember from the last time he’d been awake. He blinked slowly, and then turned his head and met Hermione’s gaze.

“Thank God,” she whispered again, and suddenly stooped over him and hugged him as much as she could whilst sitting in a chair next to a hospital bed.

Harry closed his eyes, because he was about to cry and that was just stupid. He patted clumsily at her back with his wounded hands and winced a little as her elbow dug into a rib that felt new and tender.

She was here, instead of dangling by her hair from a branch of Richard’s tree. There was no way to convey how he felt about that. He turned his head to the side and kissed her hair, hearing someone awkwardly clear his throat behind Hermione.

Looking up, he met Ron’s eyes.

Ron blinked himself, and then began to smile helplessly a moment later. “Hey, mate,” he whispered. He walked around the bed to grip Harry’s other hand. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard he’d got you out,” he said. “To owe—we can’t—I didn’t know—“ And then he fell silent, and just beamed at Harry like a fool.

Harry closed his eyes, and let himself bask in the warmth and comfort of his best friends, something he had been sure he’d never have again. They could have been chopped into building material the way Richard had promised in that maze; they could have been scarred as badly as he and Draco had been. Richard hadn’t had as much time to torture them, of course, but he had been clever and inventive enough to find ways of doing so. Harry hoped he had spared Ron and Hermione from anything more than a few weeks of fear and bad dreams.

“How long was it?” he muttered, when he could feel Hermione pulling back and wiping at her face, and Ron had coughed and turned away, embarrassed at his own show of emotion. “Draco mentioned something about three months I was part of the maze, but—“

He fell silent, because Ron’s eyes were huge, and Harry thought he had bad news to tell him. But instead, Ron said wonderingly, “It’s true. You really do call him Draco. I thought he’d altered the Pensieve memories he showed us somehow.” He stared at Harry for a few more moments, then shook his head. “Bloody hell.”

Harry smiled through the tears slipping silently down his cheeks, because Ron said it just the way Harry had heard it in his head whilst traversing the maze. “Yes, I do,” he said. “We saved each other’s lives down there—we became so important to each other—I can’t even tell you—“

“I know a little about it,” Hermione said gently, and smiled at him, so brilliantly that Harry felt compelled to grab her hands with both of his. If Ron was going to be a wanker and not hold his hand anymore, Harry would just have to make up for it with his other best friend. “Malfoy did tell us the true story of what happened to you. He had his voice back immediately after you sacrificed yourself.” She paused, and her face darkened, and Harry knew he was about to get a mouthful. “Harry James Potter, what a bloody stupid thing that was to do—“

“I couldn’t see any other way at the time,” Harry interrupted. He didn’t want to talk about the mistake that Draco was never going to let him forget, especially when he still didn’t really believe that it had been a mistake. “What about you? Were you hurt down there?” He realized he was shaking, he was so afraid of the answer. Richard was dead, but there were still other Unspeakables, and if Harry had to go after them to take revenge for his friends, it would only be after some time spent lying in bed, which would give them days to scatter.

“No,” Hermione said quietly. “They gathered all of the recruits together in a large room in the center of the Department of Mysteries, and told us that we were about to see history made. Then Richard cast a spell.” She paused. “And after that, I don’t remember anything until we woke up in front of the tree, and Malfoy was torturing Richard. It’s a good thing Ron didn’t have a wand at that point, or Malfoy would have died.”

“Some of the things he showed us suggest he should have,” Ron muttered.

Harry couldn’t help it; he snarled at Ron, his hands closing down on Hermione’s until he let out a little squeak. Ron turned so pale that his freckles really did look like spattergroit, and fell back with an uplifted hand.

“Whoa, mate! I know he did suffer, and I wasn’t really suggesting he deserved to go back there. Just that I don’t think he’s a perfect little angel of sweetness and light, either, though he’s been trying to convince the Mind-Healers he is—“

“Ron Bilius Weasley,” Hermione said, sitting up and preparing to launch into lecture mode, “we owe him a debt we can never repay because he brought Harry back, and you know they’re so entwined in each other’s lives that we’ll have to get used to him. Besides, he did help me with that research—“

“I know,” Ron muttered sulkily. “Doesn’t mean I have to like the git, all right?”

“Actually,” Harry said, thinking it would be good to explain before Ron and especially Hermione got the wrong idea, “we aren’t part of each other’s lives permanently. That was always just a temporary bond. We got close down there, but there’s no reason it should continue up here, where we both have other people.”

Ron and Hermione turned to stare at him. Ron’s expression was wary, tinged with just a hint of hope. Hermione was looking at him with pity.

“Harry,” Hermione whispered. “I saw the look on Malfoy’s face when he realized that he’d lost you to the maze, and especially when I tried to tell him that I thought it was hopeless and you weren’t coming back. He never gave up. He isn’t capable of giving up anymore, not when it comes to you. If you tried to give him space, you’d just be doing him a cruelty. If you tried to date someone else, I’d honestly be afraid for their lives. You have to go through therapy together—“

“I know that,” Harry said impatiently. Why could none of them see? He had thought his best friends would support him, if only because both of them disliked Draco so much. “I always planned to support Draco during therapy. But that isn’t the kind of deep and healthy relationship that Draco needs.”

Hermione opened her mouth, but someone else coughed from the door. Harry turned around to stare. A tall, slender, dark-skinned woman stood, her thick black hair wound on top of her head. She reminded Harry instantly of the Patil twins.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I couldn’t help overhearing you. My name is Sita Agarwal, and I’m a Mind-Healer here at St. Mungo’s. You’re going to be one of my patients, Mr. Potter. I had wondered why Mr. Malfoy was having so much difficulty in our sessions.” She raised her eyebrows in a gesture that made Harry instantly wary of her. McGonagall had raised her eyebrows like that sometimes. “I think I understand now. Mr. Potter, could I ask you to come into our first session with an open mind? Your preconceptions of what Mr. Malfoy wants could easily get in the way of his healing.”

Harry flinched and lowered his eyes. “I never wanted to do that,” he muttered, feeling guilt travel through him like a snake’s bite. “I just want to make sure he has the very best of everything he needs.”

Agarwal nodded briskly. “I understand, Mr. Potter—“

“Please call me Harry,” Harry interrupted. She was also reminding him of his Auror training instructors, and he didn’t really need that right now.

“Thank you.” Agarwal inclined her head, but didn’t return the favor. “That will make things easier. And I understand your desires, Harry. I think most of them are even commendable. But your employment of them is not. Please, will you come into our session prepared to listen to Draco as well as yourself?”

Baffled, Harry nodded. What in the world has Draco been telling her? She can’t really believe all that nonsense about his needing me as a permanent partner, can she?

Agarwal smiled at him, a smile that was cold and assessing, and then turned and walked away up the corridor. Harry blinked, shook his head, and turned back to Ron and Hermione, determined to talk about the Weasley family and other normal things for a while.

The normality resulted in Mrs. Weasley bustling in a few minutes later with an enormous platter of food that Harry suspected was contraband in hospital, followed by her husband, and then George, and then Bill and Fleur and little Victoire, and even Percy. Ginny peeked in shyly, then joined the rest of the family and started talking to him as if he had just returned from another daring escapade in Hogwarts, which was what Harry preferred, really.

As she left, she held out her hand for him to shake, hesitated, then leaned in and gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek.

It felt like nothing more than Mrs. Weasley’s kisses to Harry. He gave her a weak smile and thought of pretending to feel something, but Ginny had already seen. She was perceptive like that; she had already noticed there was a problem with their dating before he would acknowledge it. She squeezed his hand, whispered, “I hope you’ll be happy with him,” and then followed her family out of the room.

Harry was left to stare at the ceiling in silence, since it was near ten-o’clock at night and the St. Mungo’s attendants were chasing all visitors out.

He really did wish that everyone would treat him normally, he realized. He hoped the Ministry wouldn’t insist on honoring him with a medal or something. He hoped Ron and Hermione wouldn’t feel obliged to walk on eggshells around him just in case they accidentally mentioned something that triggered memories from the maze. He wanted everyone to think, or at least pretend, that being part of the maze, and traveling through it, hadn’t changed him.

Why? Hermione’s voice, back in his head after a too-long exile, chirped. Why are you so anxious to deny that this ever happened?

Harry pictured the consequences to Draco if he wasn’t able to adopt Harry’s point-of-view, and shivered. He would just have to hope that Agarwal’s stern commitment to reality—at least, Harry thought she had that—meant Draco could join reality again, soon.

*

“Harry.” Agarwal’s voice wasn’t a whit more welcoming in her own domain, which seemed to consist entirely of white walls and flooring and couches to Harry. There were cushions on the floor, too, no doubt for the comfort of patients too disabled or skittish to sit on the couches. “So good of you to come. You can take whatever seat you like.”

Harry looked around hesitantly. The only other person in the wide office was Draco, who started up from his couch with such a desperate expression that Harry really had no choice. He walked over to him at once and embraced the other man, feeling Draco grab for him with trembling arms.

Harry was aware of a bone-deep—no, a soul-deep relaxation that touched him the moment he was in Draco’s embrace. It must be because they’d spent so much time like this in the maze, he thought. They’d grown accustomed to the position, and of course Draco would still remember even despite the three months Harry had spent as the maze, because he’d been unable to move on, obsessed with bringing Harry out of it again.

But they had an audience in the room, one who would be watching their movements calculatingly and trying to work out as much information as she could, and Harry was aware of that even if Draco wasn’t. He coughed gently, trying to bring the other man back to reality.

“Missed you so much,” Draco whispered, and his voice was thick with longing. “Even being without you for a few hours hurts.” He lifted his head and stared at Harry with gray eyes in which regret and yearning and devastation sparkled together like pieces of shattered glass. “You won’t leave me again?”

Harry opened his mouth to give a reassuring reply, but the look in Draco’s eyes demanded the truth. He said, “I’ll stay as long as you need me to stay.”

“And if that’s forever?” Draco’s hands moved from his sides to his shoulders, rubbing along Harry’s shoulder blades as if he had to make sure they were bone and not wood.

“I—you don’t need me to stay forever,” Harry said, and produced a bright smile from somewhere. “Once we get through some of the therapy, which I don’t doubt will take a long time, then—“

Draco stepped back from him with a snarl that transformed his face. Harry hid a shudder. He was suddenly sure that Draco had looked like this in the moments right after Ron and Hermione’s waking, when he’d been torturing Richard. He looked warily at Draco’s hand, but there was no sign of a wand.

“You don’t understand,” Draco said, low-voiced. “You’ve never made any effort to understand. Even that promise you made to me in the maze was just humoring me, wasn’t it? You never intended to stay, and if we had got out of there without your transformation, you wouldn’t have done it, either. You’re so eager to run off to some little witch, to some version of a normal life, that you want to leave me behind like baggage—“

“I don’t,” Harry snapped, angry that Draco could have so misunderstood him. “How clear do I have to make it? You’ll need someone to help you through the healing. I can fulfill that role. But you’ll need someone else to help you through the rest of your life, and I’m not the best person—“

Draco seized him and shook him hard enough to make the teeth rattle in his head. Harry gasped and tried to pull away, but Draco had abruptly released him and was staring at him from across the room, hands clenched. His thumbs were rubbing compulsively over his other fingers, Harry noticed in a daze, as if he weren’t quite used to having them back yet.

“You don’t listen to me,” Draco said. “Why do you never listen? You’ll sacrifice your life for me, but you won’t live for me.” He was shaking again, and there were tears standing in his eyes. Horrified, Harry took a step forwards to reassure him, but Draco shrank away. That hurt more than anything Harry had been through in the maze. “I need you, I love you, and yet there are times I hate you!” Draco’s voice soared suddenly into a shriek, and he flung a hand out in a gesture that made Harry doubly glad he didn’t have a wand. “You think you know best all the time, and you just ignore what I want to say. You’re treating me like Richard did when he took away my voice. He thought if he ignored my objections, it meant I didn’t have any. How dare you—“

“It’s because I love you so much that I want the best for you!” Harry bellowed, the restraints on his temper breaking at last. “God, how many times and ways do I have to state this? You just need—maybe I could be the best for you, but you don’t know that! What if you’re missing out on someone even better because you haven’t looked? I’m so far from perfect, Draco, and you deserve perfect. You deserve someone who can listen to you without getting angry, who doesn’t remind you of the maze every time you’re near him, who won’t wake up screaming from nightmares of his own—“

“For the last year of my life, I’ve been denied the ability to want.” Draco spoke quietly, and yet Harry went still to listen. “Everything I tried to protect in the maze has been destroyed. Every good memory I had was raped, and replaced with screaming horror. I’ve done things that make it impossible for me to live with myself. I’ll be the rest of my life recovering from this. And in the middle of that I found a person who makes life more than tolerable for me, and you want me to abandon you, because maybe someone better is out there? Fuck no. You’re not leaving me.” His eyes took on that broken-glass glitter again.

Harry clenched his hands. “But what if—Draco, I’ve been good at so few things in my life. I suffered to keep you safe because I’m good at that. What if I mess up? What if I hurt you again?”

Draco laughed shakily. “We’ll hurt each other, of course,” he said. “I won’t settle for some bastard imitation of perfect, some relationship where I’m the child and my lover is my parent. You’re not my Mind-Healer. You’re just Harry, and you’re mine, and you’re more than enough for what I need you to do.”

Harry shivered. He felt as if the most fragile and the most honorable responsibility in the world had been placed on his shoulders.

“It would hurt me so badly to hurt you,” he whispered.

Draco took a long step towards him. “You already did, when you lied to me and became the maze,” he said. “Help me to recover, damn it. Stay here, and face your mistakes, and let me heal you, too.” His voice cracked, and he shook his head. “God damn you, Harry Potter, you’re the only person I know who would choose to have his ribs and his fingers and his memories torn from his body rather than just admit that he loves another man.”

“Well,” said Agarwal, “this has been more interesting and instructive than I could have reckoned.”

Harry leaped. He had honestly forgotten she was there. He turned to face her, cautiously, and only belatedly realized that he’d moved to put his body between her and Draco, as if she were a threat. He flushed and cleared his throat, but Agarwal was speaking on, her faint, cold smile lingering on her lips.

“Harry, you seem to have the impression that you’re wrong for Mr. Malfoy, that he could find someone better. Is that because you don’t love him?”

“No,” Harry said hotly. “Draco’s explained a little to you about our situation in the maze, hasn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Agarwal, with a slight shrug of her shoulders. “But I am not his only Mind-Healer. Mostly, he has spoken to me concerning his relationship with you. But I was able to hear only his side of the story, and even what he implied about yours does not prepare me for the reality.” Thoughtfully, she tilted her head at Harry. “You are stubborn and do refuse to listen to him. Perhaps you are getting the idea at last.

“Did you even know that you will have to have therapy, Harry?”

“What do you mean?” Harry would have stepped away from her, but Draco was leaning against his back, his breath sighing from his lungs as if Harry’s skin were oxygen to him. “I’ll support Draco as much as he needs, but I’m—“

Agarwal sighed, and spoke as if to a young child. “You spent three months as a strongly non-human entity, Harry. You also shared Mr. Malfoy’s memories, and some of his experiences. You also, might I add, thought it a good course of action to suffer endlessly in order to spare Draco’s life, instead of trying to find another way.”

“I was saving my friends, too!” Harry insisted, folding his arms. “And there was no other plan that would have worked.”

“What about detailing Richard as the sacrifice?” Agarwal lifted her eyebrows. “From what Mr. Malfoy has told me about him, he seems to have been fanatical enough to agree to it.”

Harry flushed, because he hadn’t even thought about that. “We couldn’t have known he was telling the truth about the incantation.”

“Mr. Malfoy also told me about the Gryffindor’s Potion.” Agarwal folded her hands on her knees and regarded him severely. “To me, it does sound as if you would rather run away from the difficulties of loving Mr. Malfoy than remain in the same world with him—no matter what the price of running away might be.”

Harry hissed. He had only had fifteen minutes of therapy, and it was already a blistering experience. “I need less therapy than Draco does!”

“I do agree with that,” said Agarwal. “And I will be talking with him alone, as well as with both of you, about his possessiveness and his general absorption in his relationship with you. It has mounted to an obsession, which is not healthy.

“But you will also need to realize that your love involves the need to love, as well as make sacrifices.”

Harry shook his head, closing his eyes. His tongue felt so heavy. “I’m not good at that,” he said at last.

Draco hugged him. Agarwal’s face softened for the first time. “You have enormous problems with your self-image, Harry,” she said. “It seems that you believe, because the most significant event in your life was defeating Voldemort—“ Harry looked up in surprise, but she didn’t seem to realize she had done an unusual thing in speaking the name “—that that is the only skill you have. It is not so. You can stand on your own. You had enough strength to enable both you and Draco to survive the maze.

“But you were changed by that. You did not emerge unscarred, because no one could have.” Her tone hardened again. “I need you to admit that, and accept the healing I can give you, along with therapy at the hands of other Mind-Healers. One of my colleagues works with wizards and witches who spent too long stuck in their Animagus forms; he will be handling your attempts at becoming fully human again, since he has the closest analogue of a true expertise. But all of this will be useless, and you will be a poorer partner to Draco indeed, if you do not admit that you have a problem.”

Harry turned away from her. Ultimately, she wasn’t the one who had to make the decision. That belonged to him, and to Draco.

He took Draco’s head gently between his hands, one on his chin, one on the back of his neck, and tilted his face up. “Is this what you want?” he whispered.

Draco stared into his eyes, apparently disbelieving that Harry had asked the question with the intent of listening. Then a watery smile lit his face, and he nodded.

Harry swallowed. He was still unsure—still thinking that someone who really loved Draco would search out someone different for him, someone who didn’t have as many faults—but Draco wanted this.

And he wanted to be with Draco, selfish as it seemed to admit that.

He turned around, and said, “All right.”

Agarwal sighed and flexed her hands.

“You’re not really that hard a woman, are you?” Harry asked, stroking Draco’s hair.

Agarwal smiled at him again, this time with amusement. “I’m as hard as I must be to get the results needed,” she said. “You will find that out in detail in the next few months, Harry.”

Harry did his best to smile back.

It was easier than it might have been to do that, with Draco snuggled against his side and under his arm.

Where he belongs, Harry thought, before he could stop himself, and then he couldn’t be horrified at the thought no matter how he tried.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty—Widening the Circle

“Ah, Harry. Come in.” Agarwal looked up from a sheaf of papers she was consulting. She probably meant her smile to be pleasant. Harry could not find it so, but he decided he would allow the woman her delusions. “I was just reading a few statements that your friends prepared for me.”

Harry stiffened. He’d been about to sit down on the couch across from her, but what she had just revealed didn’t make him comfortable enough to do so. This was his first session alone with Agarwal, which made him jumpy already, but this… “You’ve been talking to my friends about me behind my back?”

Agarwal raised her eyebrows. “I gave you the chance to talk about yourself. Every time I came to your room, you turned your face to the wall and were silent. Mr. Malfoy has told me many things, but those are mixed with his own problems and not always reliable. And when I asked you to write me a letter instead of speaking to me face-to-face, you refused the opportunity. Yes, I talked to your friends, because it was the only way I could learn anything about you.”

Fuming, Harry folded his arms. He finally decided to sit down, because he felt ridiculous towering over her and Agarwal evidently wasn’t intimidated; she just leaned back in her chair and gave him a steady, considering look. “You still could have told me that you were doing it,” he muttered.

“I assumed it would be obvious.” Agarwal sighed when he glared at her in outrage. “How clear can I make this, Harry? You. Need. Help. I thought you had agreed with me after your argument with Draco the other day. I should have known better, shouldn’t I? You’re still fighting this with every breath in your body.”

“I know that I need help to help Draco,” Harry said stiffly. “But you still could have been honest.”

“And you could have avoided being stubborn,” Agarwal said. “It seems that neither of us is about to get our dearest wish.”

Harry turned his head away. Agarwal had no windows in her office, but she did have a large glamour of a seascape that constantly changed positions: now focusing on the blue-green curl of the waves and the foam building up on them, now on the beach where wizarding children chased each other with shrieks of laughter and cast clumsy spells with practice wands whilst their parents relaxed in the shade. It was probably meant to relax him, too. It didn’t. “What did Hermione tell you?”

“You’re that astute, at least, to know that Miss Granger gave me better information than Mr. Weasley did,” Agarwal said calmly. “Good.” Harry heard the rustle of paper. “She told me that you had trouble accepting your sexual orientation even before you went into the maze, and were convinced that it would pass if you simply refused to date men. Well. That would explain why you flinch subtly every time Mr. Malfoy touches you in a way that isn’t an embrace.”

“You’ve been watching us when we’re not in your office, too?” Harry whipped around and glared at her.

Agarwal raised her eyebrows at him. “Your supply of outrage should run out soon,” she said. “Yes. Why is it so hard for you to accept reality? I am determined to help you. I am more determined, in the end, than you are not to be helped.”

“Look, if I answer your questions straight out, will you stop spying on me?” Harry wrapped his arms around himself. Was a cold breeze pouring out of the seascape? He could swear it was.

“Very well,” Agarwal said agreeably, a tone of voice that Harry immediately distrusted. Her next words proved he had reason. “Tell me. How do you feel about being physically intimate with Mr. Malfoy?”

Harry drew a harsh breath and closed his eyes. Draco wasn’t here to listen to him, he reminded himself, and couldn’t be hurt by his words. One thing Agarwal had made very clear was that their private sessions would be private, and Draco would not learn Harry’s secrets, or vice versa, until they were ready to tell each other. And Harry still trusted her to keep that promise, as untrustworthy as she was proving about everything else.

And even if it did feel odd not to know everything Draco was thinking and feeling with just a glance to the side. Harry had found that he seemed to be losing his ability to read Draco’s features now his voice had returned. He knew it was probably just because Draco no longer tried to convey every nuance of his feelings with his expression, but still, he kind of missed it.

“Harry? I’m waiting.”

Harry swallowed nausea and said, “I’m still uncomfortable with it. There? Is that what you want to hear? I get embarrassed when he kisses me.” Draco had done it twice yesterday, when he visited Harry’s room. Harry, though he had to practice walking with his newly restored foot because the Healers said so, had accepted the kisses thanks to Draco’s intense distress when he tried to pull away. “I can’t even think about more than that. I don’t want to think about more than that.” He fell silent.

“And yet, you love him.”

“As a friend,” Harry mumbled. “And I tried—I tried to tell him that that was all it was. I tried to explain how bad it made me feel, that I was gay and couldn’t give him everything he wanted. But I’m horrible at explanations. And he didn’t listen.”

“Have you tried to explain it to him since you left the maze?”

“No!” Harry turned around and stared at her again, bewildered. “Why on earth would I do that? Do you think that’s really what he needs right now, when he’s trying to regain his balance and stop depending on me so much? When he’s so fragile?”

“He is, I think, less fragile at the moment than you are,” Agarwal said softly.

“Oh, I like that.” Harry sat up, glaring at her. Had he given some impression of weakness? She had better rethink her estimate of him, and right quick, too. “I’m not the one who went through three dozen tortures courtesy of Richard. I’m the one who was able to start walking around just a week after Healing. I’m the one who protected him down there, who wasn’t afraid of the pain that came with the transformation into the maze—“

“You are the one who’s been running away from your problems as hard as you can,” said Agarwal. “You are the one who chose death or eternal suffering—eternal, Harry, think about what that means—rather than confront an emotional situation that made you uncomfortable. You’re the one who still thinks he is somehow less than necessary to Mr. Malfoy, that you’ll part soon, when you know very well he looks on you as more necessary than air.”

“You said you were working with him on that! You said that he needed to realize he couldn’t be as obsessive about me—“

Agarwal stood. Her face was so hard with anger that Harry flinched a little, the way he did when Hermione was angry. Agarwal either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

“I am a realist,” she said. “A very good quality in a Mind-Healer, too many of whom enter the profession with idealistic dreams of curing everyone they meet, whether or not those people need the cure. I realize that there is no way you and Draco can become what you were before the maze—entirely separate, entirely independent. We will work to lessen the obsession and give you the chance to experience your own lives as well as life with each other. That is only right, only humane. But you will always be necessary to one another because you are the only ones who truly understand what you endured. And I would thank you, Potter, to stop fighting me on this, and learn how much you are still damaging yourself and the man you claim to love.”

Harry clenched his hands at his sides on the couch. The urge to hit Agarwal was strong—they still hadn’t let him have a wand—but stronger still was the urge to leap to his feet and flee from the room. If he couldn’t hear her words, then he wouldn’t have to ponder the slight chance that they were real.

And there you are, thinking about running again.

Harry blinked, and his hands unclenched. Agarwal, watching him intently, raised one eyebrow and sat down again.

“Yes,” she murmured, “do think about it.”

Harry was, flinching a little as the memories came down on him like a landslide. They seemed to have been merely waiting for the moment when he started thinking about them to escape their bounds.

The times he’d nearly refused human comfort to Draco, who badly needed it, because he was afraid of becoming too physically close. The triumph and joy and relief he had felt when his plan had occurred to him—the relief stronger than the sadness he felt at leaving Draco. How patiently and eagerly he had convinced himself that sacrificing his body to become the maze was the only way, because it solved everything, and not just the problem of Draco being bound there. How he had wanted to pretend he didn’t need sleep, because someone who did was more helpless and more human. How he had decided that he could express a few gestures of physical affection towards the end of their journey because they couldn’t be permanent anyway.

His own mind condemned him, more thoroughly and better than Agarwal could have done. Harry closed his eyes, disliking it, almost nauseated again at the thought of how thorough a prat he’d been, but left with no choice save acceptance.

“My God,” he whispered.

“I hope that this is the last time we will have to go through this particular battle?”

Harry jumped and opened his eyes. Agarwal stood directly in front of him. He flushed. He’d been so caught up in his mental contortions that he hadn’t even heard her move closer.

“You have fewer problems than Mr. Malfoy does,” Agarwal said, staring him down. “That is the case. But one thing I am trying to prepare you for—because, as I said, I am not enough of a fool to think you can be parted with no ill effects—is living with a partner who himself will need therapy for the rest of his life. You will need to get over your pride and your fastidiousness, or whatever else it is that truly makes you so uncomfortable with your sexual orientation, in order to be good for him. Will you do that? Or must I attempt the impossible and convince Mr. Malfoy he would be better off alone than with someone who cannot balance him because he is always tripping over his own feet?”

Harry swallowed, and felt his blush grow worse. “I just always assumed I would be normal,” he whispered. “After Voldemort, I mean. That would be the last heroic thing I’d have to do. Then I could get married. I didn’t envision—I didn’t think I’d have to go rescue my best friends again, and I really didn’t think I’d ever have to get used to living with a man.”

With a small smile, Agarwal stepped away and sat down on her own chair again. “Ah,” she said. “Now I think we can make progress. You are not entirely reconciled to your own extraordinary qualities, are you?”

“My own abnormality? No.”

Agarwal swished her wand and cast a spell that made Harry feel as if his wrist had been slapped. He yelped and rubbed his stinging hand. Agarwal lifted an eyebrow at him.

“What we call things is more important than most people think,” she said. “Names limit and define the character of things in our minds. Now, I will thank you not to call yourself abnormal, or a freak, or any of the other list of negative terms that your friend Miss Granger has so scrupulously provided for me after hearing you say them. Extraordinary will do.”

“How am I supposed to talk about this if I can’t even use the words I want?” Harry muttered, still rubbing his wrist, though in reality the sting had faded.

Agarwal bared her teeth in a shark’s smile. “Try.”

*

When Harry stepped into the blue office that supposedly housed Odd Robert, the therapist who worked with restored Animagi, the first thing he saw flying at him was his wand. He reached up and out towards it eagerly.

It spun past his hand and struck him under the eye. Harry yelped the way he had when Agarwal stung his hand this morning, and stepped back. The wand dropped to the floor with a light clatter.

“Now,” said Odd Robert, his voice distorted by distance, Harry thought, “they tell me you were one of the best Seekers in Hogwarts history. Surely you could have caught that as easy as catching a Snitch, on any normal day?”

Rubbing his face, Harry peered towards the dangerous lunatic who had somehow become a Mind-Healer. He had gray hair that clung obediently to his head for the most part, but frizzled on the ends and in his fringe. He wore square glasses, and Harry couldn’t see anything of his face because it was bowed over a board, and he was tapping the board with his own wand.

“I’ve been out of practice,” Harry said stiffly, and bent down to pick up the wand. It felt rough and familiar and very welcome in his hand. “A Seeker’s game every other weekend isn’t the same as constant practice.”

“Bollocks,” Odd Robert said, and stood up. Harry wondered irritably why he was keeping himself down at the other end of the room, but he didn’t offer to approach any closer. “You’ve moved past the initial relearning of your body functions—the easy ones, like a bit of walking and shitting. Now you’ve got to relearn the more complicated ones, like catching a Snitch. And performing magic,” he added, nodding to the wand in Harry’s hand. “Didn’t anyone tell you why you’ve been restricted from casting spells since you returned to human form?”

Harry scowled and shook his head.

“It was probably that Sheldon’s fault,” Odd Robert muttered. “He’s always thinking the patients should be coddled.” He looked up at Harry. “All right. Listen. When you were changed, your body got used to performing magic differently. And you were like that for three months, which frankly is at the outside of what even my normal patients go through. And at least those patients usually have limbs and eyes and all the rest. Well, all right, there was the bloke who got stuck as a Flobberworm, but he was the exception. So now you’ve got to convince your brain and your body that you actually are a man, not a bloody great mass of walls and stone and doorways and things. See the problem now?”

“What happens if I try to cast a spell?” Harry demanded. So far, he hadn’t had trouble doing any of the simple physical exercises the Healers insisted on. Yes, all right, so they had been very simple at that, and it did sometimes seem as if they flinched when he tried to walk too fast or go to the loo by himself, but that didn’t mean he needed therapy for this.

“Try it.” Odd Robert sounded as if he were smirking. “Something simple, though, Lumos or the like. We can’t have the building collapsing.”

“I was never that strong, no matter what you may have heard,” Harry muttered, and then cast Lumos.

Nothing happened. Or, correction—nothing happened in his wand. Harry felt a peculiar thrum of warmth travel down the middle of his body, as though his nerves had somehow become the phoenix feather core, and then light began to glitter out of the right wall. Harry stared.

“See that?” Odd Robert inquired. “Sympathetic resonance with the last morph—or, to put it into terms that non-specialists can understand, your magic still reaches out to walls, doors, and the rest, because they’re the last portals it escaped through. Likewise, a witch who’s spent a long time as a cat will try to cast magic through paws and a tail she doesn’t have, see? And account for whiskers she doesn’t have, either, come to that. You’re a little luckier than the rest in one respect only. We don’t have to fetch an animal for you to have around at all times. You can cast in a normal room. On the other hand, it makes things trickier because I’ve never handled a case like yours before, and the last thing we need is your magic tampering with the structure of the building.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. So something might be off about his magic, but surely—he darted towards Odd Robert, who just blinked and watched him come.

Halfway there, he fell. His legs simply froze and refused to cooperate, and he pitched over. Harry wheezed and gasped, and took a moment to pound his chest with one hand. It seemed he’d stopped breathing.

His breath started again, and the tingling that had begun to travel up his legs subsided, but he was still stunned, in shock and in pain such as he had never thought to experience.

“See there?” Odd Robert was crouching over him now, casting a few spells on Harry’s legs and shaking his head. “Your body isn’t used to quick movement any more. And when you tried to force it to behave that way, it retaliated by regressing even further, and stopping your breath. You wouldn’t need to breathe as a bloody great building, after all.”

Harry shuddered. He hated being helpless. Confinement to a hospital bed for part of the day was bad enough.

“How do we cure it?” he whispered.

“We have to bring the brain back into alignment with the body you actually have,” Odd Robert said, sounding cheerful, though he looked tired when he sat back on his heels and regarded Harry. “And, after that, bring your magical core back along behind it. I know the procedure, though I’ve never worked with a case exactly like this one. It’s what I’ve done all the other times, though. We’ll be working with memories first, so that we can both enter them at the same time and I can study what happened from the outside.”

Harry sighed and accepted the Mind-Healer’s help up. “Why were you all the way on the other end of the room from me?” he thought to ask, since not asking about noticeable things seemed to be a problem.

Odd Robert grinned. “I wanted to have enough distance for safety in case you brought the roof down on top of your fool head, of course.”

*

Harry paused. He’d been on his way to visit Draco, who had a room on St. Mungo’s fourth floor not far from his. Draco had paid all the visits so far, and Harry had thought—well, Agarwal had suggested, and he had agreed—that it would be nice for him to return the favor.

But now, just outside Draco’s door, his palms had begun to sweat. He wiped them absently on his trousers. They went right on sweating.

If you cross that threshold on your own, his mind, which often couldn’t be trusted on things like this, was gibbering, then you’re showing him you have no intention of backing away again. And that’s what you want? You’re prepared to give up all dreams of anything else to be with him?

Harry swallowed. If Agarwal was right, though, he’d made his choice, hadn’t he? Or had it made for him, in the maze. It wouldn’t have mattered if he and Draco had come out of the maze hating each other’s guts and determined to flee to opposite sides of the country. Their shared experiences tied them together.

Except that hatred would have made your therapy different, and separation possible, as you know very well, Hermione’s voice told him. She had come back to full residence in his head a few days after he woke up. You came out of this in love with him. Isn’t it about time you faced what that means?

In love with him.

Yes, I am.

Damn it.

Harry knocked. He heard Draco’s weary voice call, “Come in,” after a moment of silence. Harry wondered if he still had trouble speaking words aloud, and had paused for a glare at the door, before he remembered he could talk again.

Then he had crossed the threshold into the room, taken the step that seemed so final, and there was no turning back.

Draco lifted his head. When shock wiped his face clean, Harry knew that he hadn’t had the slightest suspicion Harry would be his visitor. He really had got too used to being the one to initiate contact, at least outside of their therapy sessions. Harry felt a little squirm of guilt, and smiled hastily.

“Hullo, Draco,” he said.

Draco stood up slowly, his arms hugging his chest. Harry took a moment to drink in the sight of him, physically healthy if not mentally. The rounded corners and edges in the room were noticeable, and Draco obviously hadn’t been trusted with his wand. (Of course, neither had Harry; that remained in Odd Robert’s hands).

But his chest was full of ribs again, and his fingers were long and elegant, and his voice was there, murmuring hoarsely, “You came.”

“Yes.” Harry edged a little closer. It had seemed very easy, this morning, with Agarwal, to speak of how uneasy he was with the idea of physical intimacy. But in the same room with Draco, such thoughts were shaken out of his head as if by the blast of a clean spring wind. He hesitated, then stepped into the other man’s personal space and wrapped his arms around him.

Draco made an impatient noise, yanked free—Harry reeled in shock for a moment, because whilst they were still in the maze, Draco definitely wouldn’t have had the strength to do that—and reached up. His hand closed on the back of Harry’s neck, and he pulled him down into a desperate, greedy kiss.

Harry gasped, and Draco didn’t hesitate about giving his tongue free play in Harry’s mouth. The same sensations that had arisen when they kissed before chased through Harry’s mind and body, but this time they were cutting, keen, impossibly strong—

They were in the light, and not in the maze where they might die at any moment. These feelings could continue, and Harry knew he would come if they did.

He pulled back with a gasp, and retreated to the length of his arms, keeping his hands on Draco’s waist. Draco peered up at him, panting, his eyes wild and dark and lost.

“We’ll wait,” he said. “We’ll go slow. But I need to know that you’ll try, Harry. If you—if you plan to leave me—“ He flinched and shut his eyes. “You need to go, right now, and not ever come back.” His voice was ugly with his need.

Harry swallowed with some difficulty. This was the challenge Agarwal had talked about. No matter how healthy Draco grew, there would probably always remain an element of obsession in his love for Harry. Harry would always need to deal with emotions that wouldn’t be part of a love relationship with anyone else, even another man.

And Draco needed someone strong enough to handle that.

Harry was trembling as he moved in. Draco didn’t look up until Harry had embraced him securely and rested his chin on top of his hair. Then he tensed.

Harry said, “I’m not leaving.”

It became true as he said it, if it hadn’t been true before. Agarwal’s words and his own memories had convinced him intellectually. The way Draco leaned against him, trusting his full weight to Harry suddenly and completely, convinced him emotionally.

It was an honor to be trusted this much. Harry wanted it. He might never have the level of need Draco did, but he had the same desire.

Draco would never be easy. Harry wasn’t sure he would know how to handle someone who was.

And when Draco began to weep, Harry held on.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-One—Consequences

Harry opened his eyes to darkness, and turned in several circles. He frowned, wondering what had happened to the lights in St. Mungo’s. Had someone canceled all the spells at once? Supposedly, that could happen with some bursts of wild magic from some patients, but it was still rather remarkable for it to happen to every torch and lamp and spell.

He opened his mouth to call for reassurance, especially because all his spinning hadn’t brought him near his bed yet. But someone chuckled, and then a point of brilliance floated before his eyes, bright enough to send afterimages searing across Harry’s vision. He placed a hand defensively over his face before he realized it was just a Lumos spell.

“Harry,” whispered Richard’s voice, and then the man was moving towards him, shaking his head slowly and tragically. “Did you really think you had escaped?”

Harry tried to answer, but it was a little hard when the inside of his throat seemed clogged with dust.

“That was one of the dreams the spell uses to make your transformation into the maze less painful, and to keep a spot of human consciousness alive in you, should the maze need it later.” Richard paused, and there was a mixture of interest and excitement on his face that made Harry want to vomit. “It gave you peace, comfort, healing, and whatever else you needed so that you wouldn’t lose all traces of yourself. But it’s time to come back now.”

“I don’t believe you.” But Harry could feel a dusty stone floor beneath him when he stamped a foot down, and his foot clacked and thumped as it would have if it were wood, if the Healers at St. Mungo’s hadn’t restored it.

Richard only shrugged, indicating the idea were entirely uninteresting to him. “I wanted to talk to you before you went back to supporting the maze and diffused your consciousness again,” he said. “Was the sacrifice worth it? Did you really love Draco that much?” He reached out and snagged something from the darkness. A quill and a parchment scroll materialized in his hands. He poised the quill above the parchment—it was already dripping with ink—and looked expectantly at Harry.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry spat.

“You don’t remember the sacrifice?” Richard blinked and drew on his own forehead with the quill for a moment, as if he didn’t want to waste the ink. “Dear. You’re further gone than I thought you were.”

“I remember the sacrifice perfectly,” Harry said, using anger to cover up the panic that was bubbling furiously in his chest. “But I don’t believe that you’re really here. How could you possibly visit me when I’m in the middle of a tree and don’t have a human body anymore?”

Richard laughed softly. “You were still built on the foundation of the Department of Mysteries, you know. As Draco was, in his time, when he was the flawed maze. And I’ve had absolute direction of the Department of Mysteries for twenty years. I made certain—changes—to give myself a way in, no matter what happens.”

Harry fell back a step. “No,” he said. “I remember now. Draco made your guts drag themselves out of you and wrap themselves around my branches—“

“That was a dream, Harry.” Richard dipped the quill into an invisible inkwell and began to scribble on the parchment. “Yes, definitely far gone—“

“I am not!”

“Committed to denying his reality and clinging to his madness, too.” Richard looked up and cocked a disapproving eyebrow. “Really, in many ways you’re a poorer subject than Draco was. He had the wits to accept his reality, no matter how painful and ugly.”

“I remember the truth,” Harry whispered, even as the darkness around him buckled and seemed to give ways to glimpses of stone walls and shining wooden doorways. “I remember—I remember that I thought myself lost, but I could still pull myself together and listen when Draco came to save me, and that’s what’s important. He saved me, just as he saved me so many times in the maze, and I saved him.”

“General dissolution of vocabulary,” Richard remarked aloud to the air as he scribbled on the scroll. “Fixation on trivialities.”

“Goddamn you,” Harry hissed, and stalked a few steps nearer, whilst Richard chuckled comfortably and shook his head.

“I’m not on the same level as you anymore, Harry. How exactly do you think you’re going to hurt me?”

“I’ll find a way,” Harry said fervently, and lunged forwards.

Richard took a step out of the way, waved his wand, and cast a larger stream of light onto the stone floor behind him. It illuminated Draco’s body, face upturned, mouth and nose crusted with blood, hands gone completely.

Harry found himself falling to his knees, vomiting, too shocked to speak. Richard’s voice spoke on from above him. “Convinced he can deny his sexual orientation, and yet reacts the way a straight man would to the murder of a love object. Reactions: extreme.”

And then Harry opened his eyes and sat straight up in the muted light of St. Mungo’s, the images of the dream already tattering and fraying behind his eyes. His body still shook, though, and his throat still burned with what felt like the taste of bile from becoming sick to his stomach. He put his hand over his face and noticed it was also trembling, as though he were a Muggle who’d come into contact with pure electricity.

Someone knocked briskly on the door, and a moment later a mediwitch came in and stared at him critically. Her wand carried a Lumos charm, and Harry had to look away from her as his stomach did cartwheels through his torso.

“Mr. Potter? Are you all right?”

Somehow, Harry found the strength to smile. He didn’t know this woman personally, which was probably the only reason. “Fine, thanks,” he lied smoothly, and lay back.

“Did you have a nightmare?” The woman hovered at his bedside, concerned. “Nightmares are an ordinary consequence of trauma like yours. There are mild sleeping spells that can ensure you get your fill of rest without waking up like that, at least for a few nights.”

Harry shuddered at the thought of being unable to wake up from another nightmare of Richard taunting him, and determinedly shook his head. “No, I’m all right,” he murmured, and shut his eyes, faking a loud and obvious yawn.

The mediwitch retreated from his bed only slowly, stopping several times. Harry thought he heard her open her mouth, but thankfully, no sound emerged. Harry pretended to snore, and at last, she went away and shut the door gently behind her. He immediately popped his eyes open and stared at the ceiling.

His throat was still sour and hot, and the memory of what Draco had looked like dead inspired the temptation to jump up and run down the corridor to see if he was all right. But of course a visit in the dead of night would be reported to Agarwal and the other therapists handling their case, and Odd Robert had told him not to run, anyway.

Harry punched the pillow, and then lay down and tried to get some sleep. He feigned it well enough to fool the mediwitches who came by regularly to check on him, but not enough to gain any sense of rest from it.

*

“We’re just worried about you, Draco, that’s all.” The voice was female, very tired, and sounded older. It paused, and then added, in an irritated tone, “Yes, Draco, your father too. I can visit him in Azkaban, you know, and he’s been told about your disappearance and the consequences of it.”

Harry hesitated, resting one fist against the wall. He had come to fetch Draco for one of their mutual sessions with Agarwal, and he really shouldn’t be eavesdropping on what was most likely a private conversation between Draco and his mother. On the other hand, he wanted to hear what Draco would say in response to her.

It was no good, though. Draco’s next reply was too quiet for Harry to make out anything more than the general stubborn tone. Narcissa sighed and said, “You always were an obstinate child. I can understand why you have to stay here most of the time, but don’t you at least want to visit the Manor?”

Draco had probably folded his arms and shaken his head, because Harry heard no sound at all, and Narcissa sighed again, more loudly. She was walking towards the door in the next moment.

Harry retreated, then, and went around the corner. Narcissa Malfoy came out and stood gazing sadly back into the hospital room. Her mouth opened, probably to offer Draco a final piece of advice, but after a moment she stiffened her spine and walked away, as if remembering that someone else might see her acting like a loving mother.

Harry stepped into the room, then, and saw Draco sitting on the floor with his arms curled around his head, for all the world as if he were about to defend himself against a blow. Harry blinked, then crossed the distance between them slowly. He wanted to rush to Draco’s side, but that might scare him right now.

“Draco?” he whispered, kneeling down beside him. “Are you all right?”

Draco dropped his arms and stared at him, then gave a gentle nod. Maybe it was just the lack of words, but Harry thought he looked more like the Draco in the maze now than he had at any point since Harry woke up: pale, half-helpless, trying to defend himself but exhausted from the effort.

It was no trouble at all to gather him into another embrace and let him lean his head on Harry’s shoulder. He still didn’t say anything, but he didn’t refuse, either, and Harry thought that was the best he could hope for right now. He let Draco rest his head below his chin and simply absorbed the warmth of the other man for a moment.

But just a moment. Too much hesitation would make Agarwal look for them, and Harry didn’t think Draco needed that right now.

“Come on,” he whispered. “We’ve got an angry therapist waiting for us. Or, if she’s not angry, she’s probably thinking of things to be angry about.”

He thought he felt Draco smile against his neck.

*

“You continue to resist having visitors, Mr. Malfoy.” Agarwal’s voice was quiet. “I’m told that your mother had to beg permission from me, Smythe-Jones, and two other Mind-Healers working on your case to see you, instead. Why is that?”

Draco shrugged. His head was bowed. He hadn’t let go of Harry’s hand since they arrived in Agarwal’s office, and he shifted over to be nearer to him every time Harry adjusted his position. Harry was divided between worry and heart-rending pity. Agarwal had told him the state would be a normal one when he had a partner as scarred as Draco was, but that was the first time Harry had experienced it outside the maze.

“Verbal answers, please, Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco looked up, slowly. His eyes were a pale, misty gray, drained of any light of life. “I just don’t want visitors,” he said. “My mother wasn’t a part of the life I lived down in the maze. She didn’t support me during the three months I worked to free Harry because she didn’t think I could get him back.” He curled into Harry like a kitten crouching away from an abuser. “I don’t know if she’ll support me being with him now.”

“Have you asked her?” Agarwal said.

Shrug.

“Have you seen any of your friends since Harry was freed?”

Shrug.

“Do you want to see them?” Harry asked, because he thought that might be more the problem here.

Shrug.

Agarwal sat back, gazing at Harry intently. Harry blinked, then realized she wanted him to take a hand in solving the problem.

He almost panicked. He wasn’t a therapist, or a Mind-Healer, or anyone who had any sort of training or education in how to heal people.

Agarwal raised an eyebrow. Harry could almost hear her thoughts. And that’s one reason for you to do this, so that you can become good at more than blind heroics.

“Um, Draco,” Harry said, and turned towards him. Draco was already lifting his face eagerly, and Harry winced a little. He could see the joy his mere presence brought reflected in Draco’s face, and whilst he understood the source, it still reminded him far too much of the rabid idolization some of the fans of his name put him through. “You said that your mother wasn’t a part of your life in the maze.”

“Right,” Draco whispered, and leaned in, eyes tracing every feature of his face with fascinated devotion. Harry’s discomfort increased. I want him to be able to stand on his own feet, and look at me with anger sometimes, over more than the length of time it took me to understand how things between us are, he thought.

“But your life isn’t in the maze anymore,” Harry pointed out, carefully. “You’re out of it, and you’ll be out of it for the rest of your life, however long that is. Isn’t it better if you get accustomed to people who aren’t me?”

Draco paused for a long moment. His eyes flickered. Harry didn’t understand half the emotions appearing in them.

“You’re not rejecting me,” Draco said at last, though his voice wavered up and down, setting the words somewhere in between a question and a statement.

“No,” Harry said, and the speed of his answer, along with the hand he lifted to Draco’s cheek a moment later, appeared to reassure the other man. “Never,” he whispered, and kissed him gently, pulling back before it could turn into something heated. He might be more comfortable going further soon, but not in front of Agarwal. “But I can’t be around you all the time, either. Don’t you think you should see your friends, and your parents, and learn to lead a life independent of me?”

Draco’s gaze dropped, and he started picking at the couch, whilst his hand in Harry’s tightened its grip. A moment later, he shrugged again.

“I think it would be a good idea,” Harry said. If Draco needed Harry to make this decision for him, then he would. “Just the way I have friends outside the maze and St. Mungo’s, too. It’s the best thing for the both of us, Draco, so that we don’t get so tangled up in each other.”

Draco’s shoulders hunched, and he muttered, “If you think it’s a good idea.”

“I wish you wouldn’t do it only because I think it’s a good idea,” Harry said.

Draco’s head came up, the motion quick, defensive. “I just don’t want to see anybody else!” he snapped, and dropped Harry’s hand. “What’s so hard to understand about that? Do you think I want my mother watching me writhe with nightmares? Or vomiting because I’ve just discussed what I did to Pearl?” He turned a little green, but went on glaring at Harry. “You know! I don’t have to explain it again to you! She doesn’t, and neither do my friends, and I don’t want to talk to them about it!”

“So don’t talk to them about it!” Harry slammed his hands together in his lap and glared back. He had to remind himself that a mere argument would not ruin the love between them, not if it was stronger than a straw. “Just joke with them about it. Or let your mum pamper you, if that’s what she wants to do and if you can endure that. But—“

“But that’s what I am now!” Draco rose to his feet, his fists working open and shut. Harry kept a wary eye on them, not entirely sure he wouldn’t be hit. “The maze is part of me, it’s the most important part of me, and—“

“It’s not.” Harry stood up to face him. “Damn it, Draco, it never was. I know that you’re not just a victim. That was the most important lesson I learned down there, I think, to see you as an ordinary person, not a victim and not someone hopelessly scarred by this!”

“I’ll bear the wounds for the rest of my life.”

“Yes, but that’s no excuse for not living.”

Draco abruptly turned away, his shoulders heaving. Harry reached out to him, not sure if he was engaging in dry heaves or sobs, but Draco shrugged him off and ran out of the room. Harry started to go after him, but Agarwal’s voice interrupted him. “If you wouldn’t run, please, Harry? I am not Odd Robert and am not experienced in restoring someone whose lungs have just shut down on him.”

Harry winced and sat down on the couch, fighting the temptation to just dig his fingers into his hair and hang on. “I handled that badly, didn’t I?” he whispered.

“Not at all,” said Agarwal thoughtfully. “He did need to hear those things, and he is more likely to accept the words from you than from anyone else. And there is the chance that his own anger will make him realize that he cannot depend on you for everything.” Her voice altered. “And you need to spend more time with your own friends, Harry.”

“I know.” Harry hid a yawn behind his hand.

“Did you not sleep well last night?”

Harry opened his mouth to lie, then closed it again. This telling the truth and being a committed, responsible adult, as much for Draco as for himself, was more tiring than he had thought it would be when he agreed to it. “Nightmares,” he said shortly. “I don’t think I got back to sleep after that.”

“Describe the nightmares to me, please.”

Harry did, slowly, wincing every time a word sounded particularly out of place or stupid. But Agarwal just listened silently, now and then nodding when Harry paused in search of encouragement.

Still, he couldn’t help wishing Draco was there instead.

*

Harry was trying. He really was. But the endless repetition of simple spells that should have worked, and only ended up coming out of the walls or irradiating stones beneath his feet or doing nothing at all was frustrating him, and Odd Robert’s brand of humor wasn’t working for him today.

“Now just try another Lumos,” Odd Robert instructed him. He was standing a little closer now, but he still had a number of protection spells shimmering around him, none of which helped Harry’s temper. “Strangest thing, but that spell does seem to be the key. Once you master that, you tend to master others more easily. I suppose there’s a reason that it’s one of the first spells most magical children learn. Only ever had one patient who didn’t do that one first.” He paused meditatively. “Of course, she had been a penguin.”

Harry gritted his teeth and aimed his wand at the ceiling. Odd Robert had suggested he do that so he could be sure he was the one actually causing the light effect when it appeared. “Lumos!” he said, and so what if it was a bark instead of the calm tone that Odd Robert had told him worked best when he was trying to realign his body and his magical core?

A square piece of the ceiling detached itself and dropped silently at his head.

Harry stared up at it, and only got out of the way in time because Odd Robert had hurled himself forwards and bowled him to the floor. The chunk of ceiling, caught in one of the Mind-Healer’s protective spells, hovered a few inches above them. Harry threw his breath out of his lungs and covered his face with one arm. “I hate this,” he moaned.

“Imagine my nonexistent delight in telling the Repairs Department what you did to this bloody thing,” Odd Robert said dryly. Harry looked up to see him trying to force the chunk of ceiling back into place with a simple Reparo spell. It wouldn’t go “Funny thing,” he went on casually, never looking away from the block of stone and wood. “The only time I’ve seen effects like this happen is when my patient’s pissed off, and not that calm after all. The magic picks up on the adrenaline and gets channeled into something that would stop a hostile attack—in this case, crushing the skull of someone annoying inside the building.”

“Oh, sod off,” Harry muttered, his throat burning with a mixture of confusion, shame, and anger.

Odd Robert gave up and let the chunk of ceiling settle to the floor. His gaze was sober as he studied Harry. “It’s obvious you’re not in the best of moods, but you need to be in the best of moods for this, you understand? Take the afternoon off. Don’t run on your way back to your room, but try a few push-ups or other simple exercises in your room.” He held out his hand for Harry’s wand.

Harry clutched it for a moment, not wanting to surrender what had been his one security in the maze. If Richard came back in his dreams that night, it would be a comfort to have the wand under his pillow—

Then Harry remembered he couldn’t use it properly anyway, and visions of burning the building down around his ears came to him. He flushed and handed it over. Odd Robert nodded approvingly.

“It’s so much hard work,” Harry muttered resentfully, trying not to use too much speed as he stretched his arms over his head.

Odd Robert grinned. “But just think of how good it will feel when you finally get your magic back! All the sweeter for the effort put in.”

Harry mourned that punching the older man was probably too much of an effort for his overtaxed body, too.

*

Ron and Hermione were waiting for him when he got back to his room. Harry felt his face brighten in a smile. He hadn’t seen them in a few days, and at the moment, speaking with anyone who wasn’t a Mind-Healer looked good.

Hermione stepped forwards and embraced him, hard. Harry hugged her back enthusiastically, but he got a little worried when she continued to hug him, instead of releasing him as she usually did.

Add to that the fact that Ron was meeting his eyes soberly over her shoulder, and Harry could feel his breath already coming short with fear. He pulled back from Hermione and demanded, “What is it?”

“Someone in hospital talked,” Hermione said quietly, smoothing his fringe back from his forehead. Her finger traced his lightning bolt scar briefly, as though taking comfort from it. “They’ll be sacked if the St. Mungo’s authorities find out who it was, but they probably won’t.”

“Talked about what?”

“About what Malfoy did when he was in the maze,” Hermione said. “And what you did, too, apparently. Skeeter is publishing articles calling for you both to be arrested for use of Unforgivables and Dark Arts, and she suggests punishment for Draco because he tortured innocents, too. The clamor’s growing. Shacklebolt will be forced to respond, and although he can hold this tide at bay for a while, that won’t last for long.”

And Harry, who had expected to explode with rage if someone else threatened Draco—

Maybe it was Odd Robert’s warnings about what anger could do to him. Maybe it was because of Skeeter’s involvement. Maybe this was just the final capstone on a supremely shitty day. Whatever the reason, Harry felt himself go cold, his anger deepening and turning black.

Hermione took a step back from him. Ron blinked and said, “You all right, mate?”

“Oh, perfectly,” Harry said. “I just need to get a message to Shacklebolt.” He smiled a little, and Hermione gulped. “You’ll take it to him, won’t you?”

“Er—sure, Harry,” Ron muttered.

Harry nodded, then looked around the room in distraction. Luckily, by the time he turned back, Hermione had already produced writing materials. Harry nodded his thanks, sat down, and started writing a short letter to Shacklebolt.

He knew the Ministry was capable of hushing up public scandal when it wanted to. It had done an excellent job after the first war with Voldemort, and then again during his fifth year when Fudge had wanted to deny that Voldemort was back. Harry wanted Skeeter shut down and prevented from spreading her horrible rumors now, or he would reveal exactly what had happened in the Department of Mysteries under the Ministry’s oblivious nose.

He and Draco would have to face the consequences of their actions. He knew that. But later, when they had healed enough not to crumble in the face of questions. Hounding them when they hadn’t even been approved to venture out of hospital yet was simply not to be endured.

He had just handed the letter to Hermione when the door to his room burst open. Harry started to his feet, prepared to face down Skeeter or overly inquisitive mediwitches, but it was Draco who flew over to him and huddled in his arms and whispered into Harry’s ear, “Make them stop. Please.”

Footsteps trampled down the corridor after him, and Skeeter poked her eager face around the door a moment later. “Now, now, Malfoy, the public has a right to hear what happened down there!” she trilled.

Harry smiled. Then he rose to his feet to defend Draco.

Now, here’s something I’m good at.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Two—As Fierce as Love

If Skeeter was at all disconcerted by the sight of Harry holding Draco and smiling at her like a demon, she didn’t show it. She pressed forwards instead, her gaze darting between Harry and Draco like a shark who had just realized that there were two bleeding, wounded fish in the water.

“Don’t you think the public has a right to know?” she murmured. “Since you really belong to all of us, Mr. Potter, and anything concerning you is automatically public knowledge? I know you won’t deny me.” She posed her Quick-Quotes Quill, and Harry thought she was eagerly anticipating an outburst. It would make him look unstable and dangerous, and that was all to the Daily Prophet’s good right now.

Harry held himself in check, though it was hard with Draco trembling against his back. He said mildly, instead, “Tell me, Skeeter. What would happen if you were forced to endure having your bones sucked out through your foot?”

Skeeter’s quill slid hard across the paper, not writing anything but simply creating a random mess of ink. She stared at him. “I beg your pardon?”

“It was quite painful,” Harry said conversationally. “The creatures that did it had the form of spiders, but they were made entirely of bone, and ate it. When they fastened on my foot, they turned the bones in it to slurry, and sucked them out through the skin. The pain was excruciating. Can you imagine that?”

He hadn’t made a threatening gesture; most of his body was still occupied in shielding Draco. He had just looked at her directly and spoken in such a clear tone that she couldn’t mistake any of his words. But Skeeter looked faintly uneasy.

“It doesn’t seem as though you have any trouble walking now,” she said.

“Oh, the Healers used Skele-Gro on it.” Harry shrugged. “Things outside the maze are different than inside. But we were inside the maze for more than two weeks, Skeeter. And Draco was inside for more than a year altogether. Can you imagine what that did to us? Can you imagine what you would have had to endure, were you in our place?”

Skeeter licked her lips. She said, “But you committed crimes.”

“Imagine what it was like,” Harry repeated serenely. “I received a sickness, a small creature that hid in my shadow and infected me. It started to turn my entire body to shadow.” He paused a moment. “The Department of Mysteries had developed it, or studied it, all on its own. It never produced any results from the study of that disease. It just kept its secrets down in the dark and brooded on them like a mother dragon.” He stepped away from Draco, hating to do it, but wanting to stretch his hand casually towards Skeeter’s elbow.

She shrank from him, then gave a nervous little laugh. “But of course you can’t still have the disease!” she said. “The Healers would never let you near anyone else if you did.”

“Haven’t you noticed?” Harry said, dropping his voice. “The ones near me are Draco, who knows how to cure the disease; my friends, who have had plenty of chances to protect themselves against the infection; and the Healers and Mind-Healers, who have their own protections. But if someone else was to come barging in—“

“I didn’t—“ Skeeter stuttered, and then stepped backwards. With some satisfaction, Harry saw that her quill was moving on its own, recording their words. If Skeeter dared to publish any of this in her paper, and cut her own idiotic contribution out, then Harry had no trouble at all releasing a Pensieve memory that would show him trying to warn her of her stupidity in entering St. Mungo’s.

“Oh, yes, you did,” Harry said, and he finally let the rage bubbling in the back of his voice through. It was important not to sound like he was threatening her, or he would confirm the suspicions she was trying to spread with her story. Instead, he could be outraged that she had broken in against all reasonable warnings and tried to imply that both Harry and his partner were criminals. “You bypassed all reasonable precautions to come into a place where you knew you wouldn’t be welcome. You didn’t ask for an interview; you tried to force one. You went after someone mentally scarred, someone who saved my life again and again in the maze and out of it, someone I love.” The word left his mouth easily, though he heard both Hermione and Draco gasp softly. “Does any of that sound like you should be spared the shadow plague?”

Skeeter was gasping by now, seeming to be unnerved as much by Harry’s slow, steady approach as by his words. Harry paused, let the smile cross his face again, and then reached out to stroke her shoulder.

“No!” Skeeter wailed, and cowered back. Harry let his hand drop, and frowned thoughtfully.

“You’re right,” he said. “I probably don’t need to touch you. You probably have the infection already.”

Skeeter blanched, and broke, and darted for the door. She was just in time to meet Agarwal, who gave her such a forbidding look of contempt that it made her gather up her robes and run.

Harry closed his eyes and took several deep, cleansing breaths. God, he’d been about three seconds from lashing out with his magic, and never mind that it would have been incredibly bad publicity for both him and Draco—and he couldn’t have been sure it would have hurt Skeeter, either.

He turned around and gathered Draco back into his arms. Draco had ceased to tremble, and his face was like a white flame. Harry knew from a glance at his expression what he needed.

“Agarwal,” he said crisply.

“Yes, Harry?” The Mind-Healer’s voice matched his own in hardness.

“You’ll find the person who leaked the story to Skeeter and the one who let her in here?” Harry tightened his embrace, trying not to imagine what would have happened if Skeeter had cornered Draco and he couldn’t get away. Would he have gone catatonic again, to defend the sanctity of his own mind? Harry didn’t like to imagine it.

“I will.”

“Good. Then get out.” Harry flicked a glance at Ron and Hermione that made them leap as if stung. “You, too.”

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but something—maybe the way Ron took her arm, maybe the look Agarwal was giving her—caused her to shut it and nod. She and Ron filed past Harry and out of the room. Agarwal closed the door a moment later.

And Draco stepped away from Harry to the limit of their arms, but left his hands in Harry’s hands, fingers and palms joined.

“You didn’t betray anything of the tortures I went through,” Draco whispered. “Even though that might have built sympathy for me with the public.”

“It wasn’t my place to betray that,” Harry answered, feeling oddly as if he were giving ritual responses in which every answer and inflection was already known. “I don’t care about their knowing what happened to me. But you hadn’t given me any permission to talk about this with someone who wasn’t a Mind-Healer.”

“You wanted to rip her apart. I could feel that.” Draco’s eyes were exalted, his expression somewhere between feverish and dazed.

“Of course.” Harry felt another surge of the emotion and had to grit his teeth, or going after Skeeter and squashing her to a pulp would sound like a good idea.

“You said you loved me.” Draco’s eyes, piercing and direct, were harder to face than the thought of losing Ron and Hermione to the maze had been.

Harry took a deep breath. Here was the response he should have anticipated most easily, and yet somehow he had not.

“I do,” he said. “So much, Draco. You have no idea—“

And then Draco’s mouth was fastened to his, wild and demanding, whilst his right hand took Harry’s left and crushed and squeezed it.

Harry gasped and kissed him back. It was like the embrace they’d shared after the shadow plague, with the joy of survival running through them both. But this time, it wasn’t an emotion to be excused by physical danger. Harry had no excuse for it. He could open up and accept it, or he could deny it, but those had to be actions he took on his own.

Feeling as if he had utterly drained himself of strength to do it, he opened up and accepted it.

He let—or made—himself feel the strength in Draco, the muscles bunching beneath his fingers, so different from the curves that he might have expected of a woman. He found no breasts pushing against him, and he made himself accept that. He opened his eyes and stared into Draco’s face, the thin lips and the high cheekbones and the harsh angles of exhaustion and the chin rough with pale blond stubble.

This was no woman. This was no random man chosen from a street corner or pub, either, in an effort to ease the urges without seeking emotional attachment, as Harry had once thought he might need to do when the images pressed and wanking wasn’t enough.

This was the man he was going to spend the rest of his life with.

Harry’s heart literally fluttered. He groaned into Draco’s mouth, and his own grip grew more crushing; he drew Draco to him and darted his tongue around teeth and gums and lips, greedy for every bit of taste he could find. His body was trembling with excitement. He was so hard that the need felt as intense as pain.

Draco leaned against him, pushed against him, seemed above and below him and around him and everywhere. This lovemaking was like wrestling. Harry laughed joyously, and if the laughter had an edge of hysteria, well, that was akin to the triumphs he had felt in the maze.

But this one wouldn’t be snatched away from them by a danger waiting just around the corner. This one could go on and on.

Swept away by his emotion, concentrating on the rapturous expression on Draco’s face, Harry reached for his trousers.

And then Draco went still, and stared up at him, and Harry had to go still, staring back. Had he presumed too much? Was he going too fast? He had seen no signs in the Pensieves that Richard had raped Draco, but there was much that he might not have seen.

Draco whispered, “We—if you do this, I want to know that it’s because you want it, not because you’re caught up in the moment.”

Harry’s body shook with warmth. He thought of all the times he would have given half his soul to hear Draco speak. And now he could.

This is not the maze.

“I want it,” Harry whispered. “I don’t know why, but I do, and I don’t know how long it will take me to want it again, but I want it now.” The arm he had coiled around Draco’s neck and shoulders shifted, so that he could stroke the other man’s forearm. “Draco—let me in.”

Draco let his head fall back, and nodded. His eyes were shut. His lips were clamped together in what looked like pain as Harry delicately unbuttoned his trousers, and drew them down, and reached in, and grasped his cock, and drew it out.

It wasn’t nearly as alien as Harry had feared. He had one, didn’t he? And it was smooth and hard and warm in his hand, where he had always half-thought it would feel like a pipe, all cold metal.

But that was ridiculous. He had one. And the greed was right there, urging him along, making him want to stroke and stroke until his palm and Draco’s erection both grew red and raw.

He stroked Draco, supporting the other man on his shoulder, watching his face. Draco continued to clamp his lips and eyes shut, except when he opened his mouth to utter an involuntary keening wail. Harry could tell the experience was transcendent, but he thought he would have been hard put to it to say whether it was pain or pleasure, if he was watching from a distance. He lost himself absolutely to the rhythm of his stroking hand and his staring eyes.

Then Draco’s eyes fell open, and the gray in them glittered like sunken stars. He mouthed, rather than whispered, Harry, and his body shuddered. A spray of wetness covered Harry’s palm, likewise less alien than he had feared.

And then Harry’s hips jerked, and he was coming in his trousers. He gasped aloud, body shaking so hard that he nearly dropped Draco. He hadn’t even sensed the orgasm rising, since he was so focused on Draco’s pleasure. It was hard and hot and fast and so good.

As the ebbing waves of intensity rippled and traveled back through him, Harry held himself up against the impulse to fall to the ground. He looked around vaguely, then dragged Draco to the loo and found a tissue to wipe them both clean. He experienced a brief spasm of regret that he couldn’t do magic.

But not for very long, because Draco was draped over his neck like a satiated cat, and every time Harry looked at him, the fierce, protective love in him hissed like a dragon and every other emotion fled far away.

He got them cleaned up, though he could never remember how. He got them both to the bed, though he could never remember how. He only remembered falling into sleep beside Draco, whose face was relaxed, his mouth open, and in spite of all the times they had slept side-by-side in the maze, this felt like the first.

*

Agarwal had been sitting in silence for some time and gazing at him critically. Harry raised his eyebrows back, because he wasn’t quite sure what she meant for him to do or say. If she tried to disapprove of the way he’d taunted Skeeter, Harry would yell at her. Agarwal had said he should be honest, after all.

Finally, Agarwal said, “Though what you did with Draco yesterday is progress, you must realize that this has not solved all questions of your sexual orientation.”

“I know.” Harry relaxed back against the couch. He wasn’t exactly cheerful today—he couldn’t be, when they still hadn’t identified who’d leaked the information to Skeeter—but he was more patient and tolerant. Good sex would do that, he thought. “I don’t know if I could go as far with him again right now, without that extreme emotion driving us.” Funny, he only had a bit of a blush on his cheeks whilst he talked about this. “And the thought of anal sex still—well.” He waved his hand, not really wanting to think about it. “But it’s a start. A stepping stone to what we both need.”

“A full sexual relationship with another man.” Agarwal intoned the words softly. “Do you know what that will mean?”

“It’s not just any random man,” Harry said, irritated that she didn’t understand the difference. “It’s Draco.”

Agarwal tapped a nail against her lips and regarded him sternly. Harry looked back. “What?” he asked.

“I wonder, sometimes, if you are not as obsessive about him as he is about you.” Agarwal cocked her head. “The way you speak about him, the way you exempt him from the rest of the world, as you would not exempt another gay man who wanted to live with you and love you—and, especially, the way that you have decided to blackmail the Minister with mention of the Department of Mysteries’ activities if he does not keep the press quiet, as your friend Miss Granger told me yesterday.”

Harry bared his teeth. Or she could think of it as a smile, if she wanted. He didn’t reply.

“You do realize that it looks like obsession from the outside,” Agarwal said.

“Oh, the outside.” Harry flapped a lazy hand.

Agarwal’s half-smile vanished. “We need to discuss this, Harry,” she said. “The steps that you take to protect Draco cannot be too extreme, or they will combat your ability to fit back in among other people. And you cannot—“

“Listen to me,” said Harry, surprising even himself with the intensity of his lowered voice. “I love my friends. I know that I need relationships with other people who aren’t Draco. And I will have them. I will work towards them.

“But Draco always comes first. I’ll take supporting him and learning how to deal with his problems over looking normal in other people’s eyes—or placating Skeeter and the public. I will not let other people hurt him. The Ministry is implicated in the processes that hurt Draco. They never even noticed what Richard was doing. I don’t like them. I don’t trust them. I won’t let them near Draco.”

“And if you get in trouble as a result of protecting Draco so strongly?” Agarwal asked softly.

“I’ll deal with that when it comes,” Harry said. “But I won’t hesitate in fear of the consequences, not when that could mean Draco getting hurt. And I’m Harry Potter.” He clenched his fists in front of him. “I have more power in my name than someone like Skeeter can ever hope for, never mind how much she writes.”

“Your friends and you have both let me know that you don’t like the kind of publicity that comes from your name,” Agarwal said, her eyes alert.

“I’ll use it,” Harry said, “rather than let any harm come to Draco. I just told you. He comes first. Before my ridiculous fears of intimacy, before my ridiculous fears of the public. He’s first.”

Agarwal stared at him steadily for a long time. Harry stared back. If she had a problem with this, he was sorry for it, but that didn’t mean he was going to change his stance or his priorities.

Then she smiled and nodded, and Harry found himself letting his breath out in a whoosh.

“Something like this,” she said, “is what I have long hoped to see from you. It is not perfect, mind. But it’s a good beginning.”

“It should be,” Harry said. “I want nothing but the best for him. He deserves the best.”

He couldn’t describe it better than that. This was love, burning him up from the inside.

Agarwal smiled again.

*

Lumos!”

And it worked. This time, Harry could feel the spirals spreading through him—spirals of energy from his magical core, spirals of thought and intellect from his brain, and spirals of strength from his body, the movements of the muscles he used when wielding the wand. He could feel them meeting in the middle of his chest, just above his heart, and the slight shock when they collided. And then they recognized each other, and suddenly he was breathing more deeply, seeing the world with clearer eyes, and wielding magic that came from his own core and his wand core, and not his brain’s and body’s memories of himself as a wall.

His wand sparkled with light. Harry laughed aloud. Odd Robert, who had sat on the opposite side of the room offering criticism as always, whooped and actually danced down the middle of the long office to hug him.

“That’s it, that’s my boy!” he crowed aloud. “And you’re doing it more quickly than I expected, too!”

Harry blinked. They’d been working on this for days, and this was the first time he’d managed to produce anything like normal magic. “How long did you think it would take?”

“Given your unique case, and how long you spent as a building, and my own lack of experience with anything like this?” Odd Robert eyed him critically, gray hair frizzing up more than ever, as if his thoughts stimulated his scalp. “I thought we’d be bloody lucky to achieve any results after a year.”

Harry gaped at him. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, “You could have told me that, and then maybe I wouldn’t have been so frustrated when I didn’t get any results right away!”

“Why would I want to do that?” Odd Robert stood on one foot like a stork and stared at him. “After all, that would have been bloody discouraging and only made you think that not putting your best effort forth was excusable!”

Harry glared, and the Mind-Healer added, hopping out of reach, “This doesn’t mean your coordination is perfect, mind. You’ll still have to work to get that back. And you really shouldn’t let your heart pump blood so fast, son.”

*

Harry swore. He’d only walked down the corridor to Draco’s room, and already he was weary and had to lean against the wall to stop the world from blurring in front of his eyes. Odd Robert had warned him that something like that was probably going to happen after his first successful use of magic, but when it hadn’t occurred between his early afternoon session with the Mind-Healer and the evening, Harry had assumed he was safe. Besides, he’d rested since then. Wasn’t everyone always telling him to bloody rest?

He waited until he was sure he wouldn’t collapse, and then went cautiously on, gritting his teeth. But he had to take care of himself, he thought sternly. For Draco, as well as for his own sake. Draco would get more worried if he saw Harry weak and shaking, and Harry didn’t want that for him, ever again.

He lifted his hand to knock on Draco’s door, and then paused when he saw it was slightly ajar. And then he heard the second voice coming from beyond it, and realized Narcissa Malfoy was visiting her son.

Heart pounding, he leaned on the wall and listened as he had once before.

“That’s wonderful, Draco,” Narcissa said. Her voice was hesitant. “But—forgive me. I know what you went through in the maze—“

Harry gasped, soundlessly, and found himself blinking. He told her. He’s reaching out.

“—But are you certain it’s best for this relationship to continue now you’re out of it? Can you be sure that Harry Potter is the best person for you in the long term, instead of just to protect you and soothe you whilst you’re healing?”

Harry’s chest hurt. He rubbed it absently and wondered if a heart attack could result from his small exertion as he waited for Draco to speak.

Draco replied softly, but with so much clarity in his tones that Harry knew he wasn’t fumbling for an answer to the question. “I’m sure, Mother. If you knew him as I know him—which is impossible, and anyway I’d be jealous—“

A joke. Harry wiped at his eyes, which really did have a tendency to water most irritatingly from the hospital’s light spells. That’s the first time I’ve heard him make a joke about this.

“—you’d know he’s the only one for me.” Draco’s voice lowered further, turned shy. “I have to talk to other people and laugh with other people and visit other people. I know. I’m planning to visit the Manor this Saturday.”

Really, would Harry’s eyes stop watering now?

“But he’s the center. I’ll always come back to him. He comes first.”

Harry could not even hear Narcissa’s answer. He didn’t care to. Joy was burning away the last of his doubts, joy as fierce as love.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Three—Steps on the Road Out of Hell

Harry woke screaming this time. He didn’t remember this dream nearly as well as he remembered the one the other day that had involved Richard; he just knew he’d been dangling above a pit meant to collect and drain his blood, whilst Draco skinned him lovingly with a dull knife and a blank face.

Harry blinked up at the lights for a moment. Were there supposed to be lights on in the middle of the night? And then he turned over and realized he had fallen asleep with Draco on the bed in Draco’s room.

And Draco was propping himself up on an elbow, his brow wrinkling. Harry flinched, a little, as he met his eyes. Draco noticed, but he just frowned harder.

“You told me you weren’t having nightmares,” he said.

Harry looked down, picking at the sheets. Then he swallowed. There was no excuse he could offer—no excuse that would be good enough for lying to Draco. He’d done it because he thought Draco should be spared worry, but that motivation wasn’t worth the hurt and gathering fury in Draco’s face now. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I don’t—it was wrong.”

That seemed to defuse the fury. Draco sighed and wrapped his arms around Harry, dipping his head to rest on his shoulder. “How much sleep are you missing?” he whispered. “Are they coming every night?”

“Every other night,” Harry admitted. He’d already talked about the nightmares to Agarwal, so he couldn’t figure out why it felt so good to tell the truth to Draco. Maybe because he had faith that Draco listened to him like no one else in the world. He turned to the side and slung an arm over Draco’s waist. “The mediwitches have said there are some spells that might help, but they’d make me unable to wake up from the dreams. I don’t—want that. I want to know that I’ll always be able to rip myself away if it gets especially bad.”

Draco was quiet for a moment, stroking his back. Then he said, “Talking about the nightmares might help, too.”

“I have—“

“With me.” Draco’s voice was both exasperated and tender, which Harry thought might be his favorite combination of emotions in the world right now. “In detail.”

Harry lifted his head and scanned Draco’s face closely for a moment. It was pale and exhausted; Harry didn’t think he’d seen Draco looking completely happy, or rested, since the maze. But that was to be expected.

This is the kind of life you’ve let yourself in for.

Then Draco smiled at him sweetly, and Harry remembered that that life also included joy and the right to be protected and cared for. They might be fleeting compared to the weight and oppressiveness of the struggle, but when they came, they made the struggle completely worthwhile.

“All right,” he whispered.

Draco’s kiss was slow and unhurried. A moment later, he settled back in the same way to listen, as Harry stumblingly told him the nightmare.

*

Harry roamed around his room restlessly. Every now and then, he got the temptation to go to his door and down the corridor, but then he’d pull himself up with a sharp reminder that Draco was visiting the Manor this weekend, so Harry couldn’t see him. And that was right, that he was visiting. He needed to get accustomed to his mother and to people outside hospital again.

But it created a hollow, unsatisfied craving in the middle of his chest.

To think Harry had thought it was Draco who obsessed over their relationship.

He roamed pathetically around the room twice more, to the point where his heart started seizing in his chest and he was forced to remember Odd Robert’s warnings, before he stopped, clasped his hands behind his head, and let out a deep, hissing breath. So he couldn’t see Draco. Draco was all right. He was with Narcissa, the person who would come nearest to Harry’s fierce protectiveness. She wouldn’t let anyone stalk him, or hurt him for his perceived crimes in the maze, or drive him to tears.

Maybe Harry could just Floo the Manor, really quickly—

Then he sighed as he remembered the instructions Draco had given him just before departing St. Mumgo’s. There was to be no contact between them this weekend. It was a test to make sure they could actually separate and begin leading (cautiously) independent lives. Draco had been stern when he asked Harry for that favor, and Harry had agreed, a little subdued by the strength in his partner’s gray eyes.

He’d agreed.

Besides, he had friends, didn’t he? Friends who would probably be delighted to spend the day with him.

So he Flooed Ron and Hermione from one of St. Mungo’s private fireplaces, and they came through the flames at once, eager to spend the day telling him how the Ministry was handling the Department of Mysteries fiasco—badly—how they had done on the latest set of trainee Auror exams—well for Hermione, not so badly for Ron—and how the Weasleys were eagerly waiting for Harry to be well enough to stand a little excitement, so they could take him to a Quidditch match.

Harry laughed with them, and listened to them, and laughed loudest of all when Ron made a casual reference to their wedding, something he never would have done before the maze, when he’d still been trying to pretend he was absolutely independent of Hermione and in love with her at the same time. Ron flushed, then smiled goofily and kissed Hermione on the cheek.

It seemed Draco wasn’t the only one who had changed when Harry spent three months as a building.

And if their presence never quite satisfied him like Draco’s presence did, it satisfied in a different way. And Harry felt a hole in his heart he hadn’t known he possessed quietly filled in.

*

“We’ve been working together for a month now,” Harry said abruptly to Odd Robert a few days later. “Tell me the truth. Do you think I’ll ever have the coordination that I had before the maze?”

The Mind-Healer paused, his wand extended in front of him. Then he cleared his throat and lowered the wand. He examined Harry with keen eyes from behind his glasses, and said, “Why that question, lad? You know as well as I do that we can’t actually judge how good your coordination will be until you’ve made more of a trial at it.”

“But you’re an expert.” Harry stared blindly down at his hands. More and more magic was coming back to him now, but his body remained shaky. He still couldn’t run faster than a swift jog, and his hands faltered when he tried to write for longer than ten minutes or catch anything flying through the air. He could grip a broom, he suspected, but with nothing like his usual grace. Sex with Draco was likely athletic enough to push his boundaries, though because Harry always rested afterwards it didn’t seem like it. “You’ve handled a lot of cases before. Tell me.”

Odd Robert sighed gustily, then said, “No, lad, you’ll never be as good as new. Never be at the level of physical strength and speed you were when you went into the maze.” He paused, then added, “I’ve suspected this for some time now, and was figuring out how to tell you. Though there are some parts of your body it didn’t affect—for example, your skin is still as elastic as it was—becoming the maze aged you. You’re lacking some of your coordination and so on because your muscles are those of a forty-year-old wizard, not a twenty-one-year-old. We’ve got some of your flexibility back; you were more like a sixty-year-old when you started training with me. But you can’t improve much more.” He glanced up at Harry. “We can get you to the point where you don’t have a heart attack when you want to hurry around hospital, yes. But we’ll never make you into someone who can jump off a cliff again, as you tell me you did to enter the Department of Mysteries, even with a Lightening Charm. Your hands will have some stiffness. Your eyes’ll be faster than your limbs. You’ll ache more if you take a tumble or break a bone. I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry closed his eyes and nodded slowly. “Will this shorten my life?”

“Now that? I really don’t know.” Odd Robert’s voice was thoughtful. “The age damage to your organs will be the answer to that, and I think many of your organs escaped more than minimal damage because they were the most thoroughly transformed.” He hesitated.

“Tell me,” Harry commanded again, not daring to open his eyes just yet. He didn’t want to weep.

“Your heart,” Odd Robert whispered. “You’ll have to be careful for the rest of your life, I think. It won’t be easy to strain, but you can always strain it.”

Harry licked his lips twice. He could hear Agarwal’s voice in his head, telling him that neither he nor Draco would pass out of the maze unscarred.

But his voice was steady, and his eyes were dry when he forced them open. “Thank you for telling me.”

*

“Draco.”

He stood no chance of fooling someone who knew him as well as Draco, of course. Draco turned around and arched an eyebrow, putting down the letter he’d been writing—to one of his friends, Harry devoutly hoped. He’d told Harry casually that he’d met a few of “his old crowd” at the Manor, and some, like Pansy Parkinson, had encouraged him to write. “What is it?” he asked, pushing a hand through his hair with a simple gesture that Harry had to stop himself from drooling over.

“They caught the bastard who sold our secrets to Skeeter,” said Harry simply.

It was all he needed to say. Draco was out of the chair in moments, crossing the distance between them and snatching Harry’s hand. “Well?” he asked, craning his neck back when Harry remained still. “Let’s go look at him before they take him away.”

Harry, who had really remained in one place just to see Draco stretch his neck like that, agreed absently, and followed his partner for a short distance down the corridor before taking the lead. Draco’s hand clamped on his arm, casually making sure they couldn’t be separated. That delighted Harry. So many things about Draco delighted him, and putting them into words would still sound sappy, so he didn’t try.

They reached the circle of mediwitches and Healers gathered around a wiry young man, who stared at the ground without looking up. The mediwitches and Healers all wore disgusted expressions.

Harry couldn’t blame them. Toby Bannering looked like what he was: a thin, weedy, contemptible snitch who would sell out anyone for a few Sickles. His hands clenched at his sides as he listened to the people asking him angry questions, and he didn’t respond to any of those questions. Harry clamped his lips down on the urge to spit, so strongly was he reminded of Peter Pettigrew.

Draco had no such restraints. He forced himself through the crowd, who fell back to let him come, and spat right in Bannering’s face. Bannering started back with a gasp, as if he couldn’t comprehend why someone would want to do that, and appealed to the watchers. “Did you see what he did?”

No one appeared ready to sympathize.

A Healer Harry didn’t know very well, though he remembered she was the Head of the Spell Damage ward where he and Draco stayed, caught Harry’s eye and bowed stiffly to him. “Mr. Bannering violated every confidentiality procedure St. Mungo’s has,” she said. “He will be sacked, but we’ll make quite a thorough example of him before then, you can be certain.”

Harry smiled brightly, even as he received Draco’s hand back again. Draco was trembling, and Harry knew it would be best to get him out of sight before he could break down. “I’m sure it will be a painful example.” After all, Healers knew so many little spells that affected the body.

The Healer’s smile widened into a smirk. “Quite.”

And then Harry took Draco out of sight, and in his room Draco broke down crying and swearing, in anger and in wonder that he had been able to express that anger, and that no one had punished him for it. Harry held him close, and rubbed his back.

*

“Harry.”

Agarwal’s voice was a reminder that she was waiting, and probably wouldn’t be content to wait much longer, for an explanation. Harry sighed and dragged his fingers through his hair. “I shouldn’t have left St. Mungo’s yesterday,” he muttered.

“You should have,” Agarwal corrected him sharply. “You need to get used to moving about in public again.” She paused. “What you should have done is come back to hospital the moment you realized it was getting to be too much for you.”

“The Weasleys were having so much fun,” Harry defended himself weakly. “It’s not often they all get together to go shopping in Diagon Alley, and Ginny and Bill and Mrs. Weasley hadn’t seen me for more than a few minutes at a time since I came out of the maze. I didn’t want to spoil their trip.”

“And you think your explosion into violence at the end of it didn’t do that for them?”

Harry scowled at his hands.

Harry.”

“He was insulting Draco!” Harry hissed, bringing his head up. “He had to know I would hear. There’s no reason to randomly start talking about Draco Malfoy when Harry Potter and the Weasleys walk by. All that nonsense about how Draco isn’t good enough for me even if I am gay, how Draco just needed a proper term in Azkaban and then he’d stop pretending to be a sniveling do-gooder—“

“Being angry about what he said is perfectly fine,” Agarwal said. “You know as well as I that casting the spell you used is not.”

Harry stared at his hands again and shrugged his shoulders. How could he say that he would have done it all over again if he had heard the man’s voice saying those words a second time? The voice had been a penetrating whinge, announcing every word, in perfect confidence that everyone who went by would agree with him. It made Harry furious to know that some people regarded Draco that way.

“Have they managed to get the boils off yet?” he mumbled.

“No,” Agarwal said severely. “Nor have they managed to repair his nose, which you turned inside out.”

“I’d do it again,” Harry said, and it was very easy after all to speak the words.

“Defending your partner does not require violence—“

“Yes, it does,” Harry said, looking up in surprise. “Sometimes, it does. There are still people who hate Draco just for his name, never mind what he did in the maze. Sometimes we get rumors that people associated with the Death Eaters are hunting him.”

Agarwal’s nostrils flared. “Then what you must do is learn to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable responses. In the long run, striking out against everyone who threatens him will do his reputation no good.”

“Yes, but it would make me feel better,” Harry muttered.

Harry.”

He sighed, and set himself to learning better like a good little patient.

*

“Mr. Potter. I’m pleased to meet you.”

Given the shadows in Narcissa’s face, Harry wasn’t sure that was entirely true, but he also knew Narcissa understood the anxious, proud shine in Draco’s eyes as well as he did. Draco wanted them to get along, and making Draco happy was important to both of them. Therefore, they would get along.

Her hand was smooth and cold in his. Not quite like marble, Harry thought, bending over to kiss it. She was alive, and to be sure of that he only had to watch the minute changes in her cool expression whenever her gaze shifted to her son.

“Thank you for welcoming me here, Mrs. Malfoy,” he said, straightening. “You have a lovely home.” And if that wasn’t quite true, if he would never see Malfoy Manor free of the shadow of Dobby’s death or Hermione’s torture, he could still say it in an unwavering voice, and Narcissa could accept it as the truth.

“Thank you,” Narcissa said, with a fraction more grace this time, and gathered up her dress robes. “Shall we?”

And then there was a magnificent dinner that would have made Hermione have a fit, since it was entirely prepared and served by house-elves, and then a parlor filled with so much expensive furniture Harry was reluctant to sit on it, but he had to because Draco wanted him nearby to cuddle with. And Narcissa’s mouth twisted only a little at their cuddling, before she hid the expression behind a tall glass of wine.

Draco and his mother talked about things Harry didn’t understand more than one word in three of, apparently acquaintances of theirs and magical theories that Narcissa made a habit of studying. Harry made little assenting noises whenever they wanted him to, and cheerfully put up with Draco’s snorts and increasingly drunken corrections when Harry made a noise of assent to the wrong thing.

And Draco’s head dipped more and more, his eyelids fluttering softly, until at last his head rested on Harry’s shoulder and his snores filled the room. Harry drank in the sight of Draco resting, really resting; he had known his nightmares were getting fewer, but there was a difference between the knowledge and the sight. He ran a hand through Draco’s hair. The light, unexpected touch didn’t make Draco shout and struggle to get away; instead, he pressed closer, some sleepy, contented mumble escaping his lips.

“You really are good for him.”

Harry glanced up, startled but careful not to disturb Draco. Narcissa was watching her son with the wistful expression Harry had seen Mrs. Weasley wear when Bill married.

She met his eyes in the next moment, and all resemblance to Mrs. Weasley vanished when she said causally, “If you hurt him, I will twine your guts around a pole and arrange for them to pull themselves out of your body and put themselves back forever, giving you a never-ending gut wound. You cannot imagine the pain.”

“I can, actually,” Harry said. “That was the spell Draco used on Richard. He was in the maze for three months like that.”

An expression of deep pride passed over Narcissa’s face. “Good,” she said, and Harry wasn’t sure whether she was talking about Draco’s use of the spell or Harry’s experience with it. She sipped her wine again.

Draco pressed his face into Harry’s shoulder, and snuffled.

*

“We can’t convince you to come back then, Harry?” Kingsley’s eyes were wistful but also watchful. Harry couldn’t really blame him, not when he’d blackmailed the Minister into keeping the press quiet. At least that had worked. There had been no more threats from Skeeter.

Of course, Skeeter was reportedly abroad, seeking cures for rare diseases in other countries, so perhaps Harry’s threat had more to do with that.

“No,” Harry said. Carefully, he placed his resignation on Kingsley’s desk. “The maze left me with permanent effects. I won’t be able to sustain the sheer physical fitness required of an Auror anymore. And I have to be available to take care of Draco. An Auror works such long hours that it wouldn’t be feasible.”

“So what will you do?” Kingsley leaned forwards across the desk to express that the matter was of no small interest to him.

“For now?” Harry met his eyes calmly, steadily. He suspected he knew what was coming, and he wasn’t about to let himself be pressured back into the Ministry. “Get a flat in Morgana’s Yard. A little village in Wales,” he added, when Kingsley crinkled his eyes in puzzlement. “Mixed Muggle and wizarding. Far enough away not to be hounded by the press or reminded every single day of what happened. Close enough by Floo and Apparition to reach St. Mungo’s in an instant and visit friends.”

“You’re really going to retire, then? At twenty-one?” Kingsley was disapproving.

“Not retire,” Harry said, irritated. Ron had expressed much the same doubts when Harry talked about their plans. “Just—rest for a while. Get our lives in order. I may eventually become a Quidditch coach. I’ve had a few offers like that already. Not all coaches have to fly all the time. Or Hermione’s offered to teach me Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, which could help me get a few jobs I’m not qualified for yet. Draco—he has plenty of skills, but he doesn’t know how to apply them yet.”

“I see,” Kingsley said.

Here it comes. Harry braced himself.

“I had hoped—well.” Kingsley made a throwaway gesture, but he still spoke softly, intently, his eyes never leaving Harry’s. “I had hoped you would come back to the Ministry. If not as an Auror, there are Departments that we would still be thrilled to have you take a place in. You know that.”

Harry shook his head. “The Ministry was what hurt Draco,” he said. “And hurt me. Even though most of the time you didn’t know all the details about the Department of Mysteries and Richard’s work, I’d never be able to forget that.”

Kingsley sighed. “It just seems such a shame that the maze destroyed the life you were going to have.”

Harry blinked. “Of course it’s not,” he said, wondering why he was the only one in the whole world—other than maybe Agarwal—who seemed to understand this. “I have Draco.”

*

Harry gasped and threw his head back. Draco was using his lips on Harry’s nipples, and oh, this was much better than Harry had ever thought it would be. He backed up a step and smashed into the locked door of his room. With some support at last, he hooked a leg around Draco’s thighs and dragged him in, pulling his mouth away from Harry’s chest to kiss him ferociously.

Draco kissed back, his eyes wide and shining, and his hand slipped down Harry’s body. Harry anticipated the touch of it on his cock, but instead it detoured, sliding around his hip and settling on his arse. Harry tensed a little, but another of those wonderful kisses started, and he could lose himself to that—

Until Draco’s finger pressed suggestively against the crease of his buttocks, and then he tensed and barked, “Stop.”

Draco pulled his hand away at once. He wore a look of understanding on his face, but also a look of disappointment. Harry knew how he would have liked to go all the way, get his fingers into Harry’s body.

At the moment, he wished he didn’t have the skill to read Draco’s face so well.

Harry staggered over to the bed and sat down. Shuddering, he buried his head in his hands. He knew the mood was utterly broken, and now he felt just slightly ridiculous with his shirt off and his softening erection in his pants. But he couldn’t help it; he still panicked at the notion of something going inside him, or, for that matter, putting his cock up Draco’s arse. It was so—ugh. The anus was the hole you shit out of, for God’s sake.

And it was still more than that. Harry was absolutely sure he wouldn’t be able to hold back if he did bring himself to surrender to such a touch. It wasn’t the pleasure he thought would overwhelm him, but the intimacy of it. He could hurt Draco, pounding away like that. And though he didn’t believe Draco would hurt him, he was sure Draco would be gently merciless if Harry let him inside his body, and it—

He just wasn’t sure he could bear it. What if he dissolved and cracked into pieces, and never came back together again?

“Hey.”

Draco sat down beside him, and put a hand on his shoulder, and there was no blame in his touch. Harry leaned into it, releasing a shuddering sigh.

“I can wait,” Draco whispered into his hair.

And Harry tensed, then relaxed once more. Because the response was perfect. Draco was acknowledging that they had time, that he didn’t expect miracles from Harry right away. But he wasn’t letting it go, either. He wanted that much from Harry, so he would gently push him until they reached the goal.

And then there would be a new goal to reach, and another new one beyond that. Because they would never exactly heal, they would never exactly be well, but they could get a little better and a little better and a little better.

Harry leaned up and kissed Draco.

There are many victories still to come. And I love him. God, how I love him.

And how he loves me.

I can believe in that, now.

Chapter Text

Epilogue—Gray Light

Draco woke screaming and thrashing at night, his lips dropping broken mumbles of words, his hands scrabbling frantically for reassurance that wasn’t there. And then Harry rolled over and embraced him, and the reassurance was there.

Harry kissed him and whispered to him, and Draco would calm down. Sometimes he would make a short acknowledgment of what the nightmare had been about. Thanks to their shared experiences in the maze, he never needed more than a word or two to make Harry realize what he’d been dreaming about. Then he would turn and bury his head in his arms.

Sometimes, depending on what he seemed to need, Harry let him. Sometimes he dragged Draco’s head back around and kissed him full on the mouth, tipping his neck back, creating enough heat between them to keep Draco grounded.

Draco would cry out and touch him softly, reverently, unsurely, as if he had momentarily forgotten that he had fingers. Harry touched him back in the same way, running his fingertips into the shadows under the coiled muscles of Draco’s torso and counting all his ribs.

They slept wrapped together like vipers, but Harry always woke earlier and watched Draco breathing noiselessly, a great murky peace rippling through him like the motion of light in water, like light on thunderheads.

*

Their flat in Morgana’s Yard was their place, decorated with no one’s insight or furnishings but their own. Narcissa had tried to convince Draco to decorate it like the Manor; Hermione sent tasteful arrangement after arrangement by owl post and through the Floo. Harry and Draco adopted none of them.

The entrance hall was broad and open, so full of enchanted windows that no shadows were cast there no matter how late in the day it was. Draco didn’t like shadows; he tensed up around them and hunched his shoulders. Harry hated to see him hunching his shoulders. He would rub them flat again and create one more diamond-shaped, tiny pane in the windows, to fracture the light into yet more beautiful patterns, until Draco’s face became radiant like the light and he laughed.

The flat had three large rooms that had probably been bedrooms or studies for the flat’s previous inhabitants; Harry and Draco made them into drawing rooms, one private one for each of them, and one where they could be together. Draco’s was deep green, deep blue, with moving paintings of tropical birds on the walls. Harry knew he’d never quite healed from the year spent amid the bleakness of gray stone. The long sojourn in St. Mungo’s and its soothing blue banality probably hadn’t helped, either. He needed life around him, and life was what he had.

Harry’s drawing room was decorated exactly like the Gryffindor common room. Hardly original, but he needed comfort when he’d had a fight with Draco, or another sharp reminder of how much his body couldn’t do now, or just a bad day. He’d prop his feet up on a couch and chat with Ron and Hermione through the fireplace, or do the exercises that Odd Robert had sternly assigned to him. He liked flowing from one motion to another. It exercised his body, and soothed his thoughts, and prevented him from having to reflect on anything in depth.

The drawing room they shared together was brown, with softer tones of the same color striping the furniture. Warm brown with a hint of gold, like honey, made up the rugs. The enchanted window gazed out on a brown savannah landscape, flecked here and there with green and blue, grass and water, but only the faintest touch for each. This was the room where they came to work together on the writing exercises that St. Mungo’s Mind-Healers assigned them—Harry thought in faint amusement that it was like doing lines again—and to talk about memories, or to read together, or just to sit side by side in peace and silence after a meal.

The kitchen was filled with brown, too, but so many windows glowed here, as in the entrance hall, that it looked gold. The sun always shone on the broad table that they didn’t really need but which they kept for the pleasure of shifting from place to place about it as they fancied, and Harry inhaled each time he stepped into the room. It was filled with quiet light. He liked that.

Their bedroom and the loo were at the back of the flat, behind their shared drawing room. The bedroom was the only room in the flat with a natural window; Harry and Draco had argued about that, but in the end they agreed they could stand to look at Wales weather once in a while. The view wasn’t spectacular—just a flat field butted up against some stony outcrops of hills—but it was adequate.

Harry was learning to live with adequate.

The bed itself was big, lavish, and imprinted with a spell that let it change colors to match the moods of the people lying in it. When Draco was alone, it often looked like gray velvet or black satin. It took Harry a while to stop panicking and accept that as just a natural part of the life they lived now. When they were in it together, red or gold shone out of the curtains most often, and Draco would arch his back and tease Harry with constant jokes about the randy exploits Gryffindors must have got up to at Hogwarts, encouraged by their own bed curtains.

Harry would lean down and kiss him, muffling any reply. It still hurt, sometimes, to think about Hogwarts.

The entire flat was decorated in wood—wood on the walls, wood on the floors beneath the rugs and carpets, wood on the ceilings. Harry had had enough of stone.

*

There came a day when they went shopping in Diagon Alley, and Draco didn’t shrink against Harry and flinch from the crowds about them, and Harry didn’t snarl and bristle and see danger in every shadow. He put his arm around Draco’s shoulders for the pleasure of comforting him, not in desperate reassurance, and they walked on.

And no one insulted Draco, either. Though Draco stated when they got back to Morgana’s Yard that that had more to do with Harry’s drawn wand than anything else, and Harry was forced to agree.

*

Draco did write to his friends, and they wrote back. Harry knew that for certain the day he came back from an interview with the retiring coach of the Chudley Cannons and found Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini drinking tea in Draco’s drawing room.

They both stood when they saw Harry, but calmly, not as if they expected the Man-Who-Had-Defeated-Voldemort to whip out his wand and eviscerate them. In fact, their eyes studied him with more open curiosity than Harry had ever expected to see from two Slytherins. He supposed Draco had been telling them tales.

Harry nodded and smiled at them and walked past, heading for his own room. The temptation to stay nearby and listen in on their conversation wasn’t even there.

Well, it wasn’t large, anyway.

Besides, Draco had cleverly foiled the impulse by choosing the drawing room that opened directly from the entrance hall into their shared one, with no doors, and therefore Harry had no way to eavesdrop. But that had nothing to do with his decision. What did was his newfound maturity.

*

Ron and Hermione were married at the end of the next summer. Harry stood happily at their sides, and danced happily with the bride afterwards; the first song chosen wasn’t one that would be dangerous for him to move to.

Then someone pulled Hermione aside, and Harry blinked as Draco stepped into her place, his eyes brilliant and dangerous, like sheet lightning. He leaned over and pressed his lips against Harry’s ear, and murmured words Harry could barely hear, but which staked his claim.

Harry shivered, and let himself be swept away. Most of the time, he still enjoyed playing the protective role—particularly when Draco was too overwhelmed by a memory of the maze to do anything but cling—but sometimes it was nice to be watched over, and touched like this, and seduced with just a glance.

*

Strong arms clasped his body, and a voice murmured frantic condolences and reassurances into his ear. Harry clung to them, not having a reason to doubt or mistrust that voice, and the arms swept him through a bumpy Floo ride, and then the voice rose and shouted imperiously for Odd Robert. Harry stirred fretfully. He preferred that voice when it was quiet and whispering words for him alone.

Draco got Harry to Odd Robert in time. Odd Robert was able to save Harry’s life when his body locked down after he’d cast spell after spell in a fit of pique and self-loathing at not being able to fly. The Mind-Healer was disappointed, and his lecture before he left Harry to see to his next patient—a woman who had spent a month trapped as a housefly in a botched Transfiguration—made Harry squirm and feel small.

When Draco found out Harry had endangered himself, and pushed his body recklessly past the first warning signs, he made Odd Robert’s scolding look like a love-tap. He screamed in absolute rage. He kicked the bed. He used the secrets Harry had entrusted to him against him, and cut Harry to small and wriggling shreds, until Harry was crying, panicked, hurt, fearful that Draco might leave him.

And then Draco sighed, and wrapped his arms around Harry, and murmured more reassurances. He couldn’t leave, he told Harry. If he could have, he might have walked out long ago. Might. He didn’t think that he knew how to get along without Harry anymore, and no one could ever take Harry’s place for him if he walked away.

Harry clung back, letting his hands travel over Draco’s shoulders, and eventually fell asleep, murmuring promises that he didn’t remember on waking.

*

Draco wanted it.

That was the main reason Harry had agreed to go through with this, even though his hands shook as he pulled off his clothes.

Draco wanted it.

He’d hinted and teased and touched until Harry was in a haze of desire last night, and then he’d whispered his request, and Harry had moaned, tortured and full of tenderness that Draco would ask like this, when he was defenseless and would agree to anything so long as Draco would make him come. Draco was still a Slytherin. But that he could ask for something so large so unscrupulously and trust Harry not to hate him afterwards was a sign of incredible progress.

Draco wanted it.

Harry finished undressing and lay down stiffly in the middle of the bed, his arms at his sides. The blankets and curtains promptly turned black. He knew he looked like a corpse. He couldn’t help it. He felt like one.

They’d discussed who should be on top, and finally, Draco had agreed with Harry that he’d do it. Harry was too incredibly afraid of hurting Draco, even when Draco had assured him that he’d enjoy it because this was Harry. But finally he’d raised one eyebrow and agreed, murmuring that maybe when Harry saw anal sex wasn’t an unmitigated evil, he’d be more willing to do it the other way around.

A light footstep sounded near the door of the bedroom. Harry turned his head, shivering, and met Draco’s eyes.

And he felt a slow, delightful burn start building from his stomach. This wasn’t desire. This was trust.

This was Draco, and whilst he hurt Harry, again and again, they always stood a chance of coming back together and healing their wounds.

Draco never took his eyes from Harry as he undressed, and though Harry had seen him do it hundreds of times before, he pulsed like it was new when he watched those long, pale limbs emerge from Draco’s clothes. Only when Draco’s cock came into sight did he remember where it would go, and then he sickened and turned his head away.

Draco paused. Harry read the message in his silence. They could stop if Harry’s fear was too great, and though he would be disappointed, there was no shame in it.

But Draco had had too many disappointments in his life. Harry wanted to help make up for them. He looked back at Draco and managed a smile, and Draco smiled back, drew off his pants, and laid them neatly on the chair beside his trousers. He was always being neat, folding his clothes like that, even when he’d wear a different set the next day. Harry never knew why; they only got wrinkled in the end when they were washed, anyway.

Draco walked up to him and spent long minutes just touching, running his fingers up and down Harry’s shoulder to his elbow, caressing his inner thighs, letting his hair, which was growing out, rasp across Harry’s neck. Finally Harry shivered again and spread his thighs, and Draco leaned over and retrieved the jar of lubrication from the bedside table.

Lubrication. The word sounded like a fat, juicy beetle in Harry’s mouth, something ready to burst and crunch. Was there a less sexy word in existence?

But he spread his legs, and Draco reached down gently to his anus—no, think of it as the entrance, Harry counseled himself, it was sexier that way. They had already performed purifying spells, several times, so Harry knew he was clean. But he still had to close his eyes when Draco nudged a finger inside.

He listened instead of looking. Listening had been his keener sense when he was transformed into the maze, easier to use than sight, and the one good legacy his transformation had left him with—if you didn’t count Draco—was hearing that even Odd Robert admitted was excellent.

He listened to Draco’s breaths, which became heavier and deepened into pants as he fingered Harry. No matter how Harry concentrated, though, he couldn’t hear Draco stroking his own cock. He was becoming aroused just doing this to Harry. He was full of desire, shaking with it, his fingers shaking as they stroked deeper and deeper inside.

That was something, wasn’t it? He was happy. He was pleased. Harry could be proud of that.

And then Draco’s fingers stroked over something inside him that made his eyes fly open and a shrill scream break from his throat. He saw Draco’s happy, smirking face for a moment before he shut his eyes again.

Draco had told him about his prostate, but Harry hadn’t really believed him. Of course, Draco got off on fingering and didn’t mind Harry doing it to him, but Harry had thought that was a pleasure real, normal gay men got to experience and he just wouldn’t. He wasn’t normal. It wasn’t normal to still be this frightened of something real gay men did every day.

And then Draco murmured his name.

Everything went soft and slippery and warm from there, time melting and dripping down past his ears. Harry heard the sound of his own voice begging softly, and Draco responded with kisses to his shoulder and flanks. He worked in—how many fingers? Harry couldn’t tell—and then he drew away, and Harry almost tensed, because he knew what came next.

But it was so impossibly soft and so impossibly slow, with Draco pausing between each quarter-inch to groan and touch Harry, and Harry’s own breathing, though it grew faster, never rose to full panic. And their bodies slipped against the sheets, but didn’t squeak, and the lubricant didn’t make horrible squelching noises, as Harry had been afraid it would. Draco had assured Harry that he retained enough Potions skills to breed serviceable but still silent lubricant, but Harry hadn’t believed him about that either.

He could distrust Draco, the way Draco could hurt him and he could hurt Draco, but they always curved up and came back together, and the wound healed—sometimes with a scar, sometimes without.

At last, Draco began to move, gentle little rocks of his hips. Harry lay with his eyes closed and refused to look. He knew he would be undone if he looked. Hell, it was hard enough listening to Draco’s deep grunts and gasps of pleasure, hard enough getting used to the shifting feeling of fullness in his own body.

But—maybe it wasn’t so bad. So long as it was done with cleaning spells beforehand, and the partner on top was careful and gentle and slow. Harry relaxed. He would be willing to do this again. He would be willing to do this to Draco, maybe. As long as he didn’t think too much about it, and as long as he relied on something else to actually come.

And then—

Then Draco touched the thing inside him again, and Harry whimpered and shifted, and Draco’s voice whispered, “Harry,” in the pleading tone Harry hadn’t heard often since the maze.

And then he made the mistake of opening his eyes.

Draco was golden, skin and hair and eyes, in the light of the single lamp, and he was pleasure, his face transfigured with it, and he was strength, his muscles clenching and bunching and releasing the way Harry had seen them before but with a far greater balance and tension, and he was—

He was not entirely happy, from the small wrinkles in his face. But those smoothed out when he saw Harry looking, and he smiled.

And then he began to move faster.

And time slipped again and sped, and Harry never knew exactly how fast Draco moved, but it couldn’t have been as bloody fast as it felt like, and his own muscles took the strain and began to ache pleasantly, and he became aware he was shoving himself backwards—how did that happen?—and this really wasn’t so bad after all, though he could feel the cracks starting in himself as he stared into Draco’s eyes, and then Draco mouthed Harry and tossed his head back, neck a long curve like a leaping dolphin’s as he began to come.

And Harry broke into pieces, the way he had been afraid he would, and puffed into dust, and fell into darkness as his own orgasm took him, entirely unexpected, born of the passion and the joy that had struck Draco in that one moment.

But Draco followed him down into the darkness, and picked him up, and put him back together again with soft kisses and a continued, gently insistent pressure in his arse, always present but making no demands. And when he was free he cleaned them at once, and then lay down beside him, and he and Harry curled there together in silence of their own choosing, whilst Harry’s fear flapped idle wings above him like a raven on a corpse, itself frightened, uncertain.

*

Harry opened his eyes and shifted his body experimentally. His arse hurt, but he’d had worse. And he knew Draco would be happy to practice Healing Charms on it.

He’d had anal sex. And he’d survived. And he loved Draco as deeply and passionately and dependently and jaggedly as he ever had.

Maybe being gay wasn’t quite so bad as all that.

He lay on the inner side of the bed. Draco was snoring beside him, those deep, snuffling breaths that meant he hadn’t woken from a nightmare all night. His head lay on his curved arm, his face tipped towards the window. Harry watched him for long moments, his heart hurting with his emotions, finally becoming aware that the lamp had burned down and the light on his face came from the window itself.

Harry lifted his eyes.

Gray light was coming in across the field and the stony hills outside—the gray light of dawn before the sun, gray light of morning, gray light of ambiguous promise.

The End.