Draco felt a trickle of sweat creep down the back of his neck.
Four years. Four years had passed since that apocalyptic night at Hogwarts. His family had been kept out of Azkaban, thanks to the simple-minded but unwavering stubbornness of Harry Potter, and the Manor had been cleansed of the evil presence that had inhabited it. He was a master in potions himself, now. A scholar and a contributor to charitable causes. He was twenty one years old, had no physical deformities (other than the one well-hidden under his left robe sleeve), and might be considered handsome by some.
Then why was he standing in the shade of an alleyway, lacking the nerve to step into a used book shop?
He told himself it would be quiet and cool in the shop. It was early afternoon early in the week, and the place tended to be mostly deserted anyway, since it specialised in books of magical esoterica and scholarship, and had much less stock of the popular type. There would be a cat.
His feet still did not move toward the door. He told himself the books would smell nice, like the great library in Rome where he had spent so many hours studying. Books were always allies or friends.
He saw a bright head appear in the window, as a clerk replaced one book with another, the flash of colour disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. He pushed his glasses up his nose. He hadn't got a good look, only an impression of youth. He wasn't even sure if the clerk was witch or wizard. But he or she couldn't have been much off in age from Draco himself.
She might say something. He might give Draco a hateful look. Might refuse to sell him anything, like Ollivander.
He couldn't bear that. He Disapparated.
Harry wiped sweat from his eyes and sat back. A year as a full-fledged Auror had taught him, perhaps even more than the events of the war, that he could not do everything alone, that other people's magic and talents and insights were critical to success. He would never be sure how much of that urge to go it alone was his own natural tendency, and how much was nurtured by Dumbledore, who had orchestrated so many things in Harry's life and yet left Harry feeling nearly all the time as if he were on his own.
The book in front of him, though, Harry would gladly pass to someone else to investigate. A tome of obscure curses, it wasn't just the curses that were obscure, but the prose itself. He half-wondered if it weren't written so opaquely as a deliberate measure to hide the information about these very nasty hexes. He shook his head. Little Teddy was only four years old. Having lost both parents to Death Eaters, it would be beyond unfair to lose Andromeda, too.
He rubbed his eyes, thinking for a moment that he would clean his glasses, and then remembering he didn't have them anymore. Muggle surgery had accomplished what magical medicine could not. He couldn't imagine Professor Dumbledore without his half-moon spectacles, but he could imagine the curiosity and wonder the man would have exhibited in a Muggle hospital. If he could convince Professor McGonagall to have the surgery, would the spectacle-like marks disappear from her animagus form?
He must have been tired, very tired, if he was having wandering thoughts like that. He looked up at the huge grandfather clock against the wall. Nearly three in the morning. At least the house was quiet. Some nights it was not so quiet, when Andromeda would wake up screaming, and then little Teddy would start screaming, too.
Andromeda could never tell him what the nightmares were about. Not that there weren't plenty of horrors in her life that could have haunted her. Her own daughter killed by her mad sister, for example.
One of the things Harry was best at as an Auror was in identifying suspects. And if Bellatrix Lestrange had been alive, he would have labelled her his number one target for hexing Andromeda somehow. But she was dead and gone four years already. He sighed. Maybe they would find something tomorrow at St. Mungo's.
He dragged himself upstairs, past Andromeda's bedroom door, past Teddy's, and to his own room where he fell into an uneasy sleep.
The sound of someone thumping on his bedroom door sent Draco into a momentary panic until he recognised the voice as his father's. He shook his head, trying to clear it of sleepiness. He was sleeping more and more lately, and really, why shouldn't he? When he was asleep he wasn't hurting anyone and no one was hurting him.
He sat up and released the charm on the door with a flick of his wand. It burst open. His father stood there with a house-elf whose leg was poised to kick Draco's door again. "Have you forgotten? The meeting with the Minister is in an hour."
"Of course not," Draco snapped. "It won't take me nearly that long to get ready." But the truth was he had forgotten. Forgetting was better than dreading. He stared at him a moment. "Father, I'm far too old for you to help me get dressed."
Lucius huffed in indignation. "Hurry up. We'll Floo directly to the junior undersecretary's office."
"Is Mother coming?"
Lucius shook his head. "She didn't sleep well last night and is taking the air in the garden. Now hurry." He shut the door firmly behind him.
Draco hid his face in his hands. The Ministry wanted him, because they wanted someone young and nice-looking they could trot in front of the papers, who was a Death Eater but who hadn't done anything too too horribly wrong, who could act as a liaison to what they called "disenfranchised" groups. In other words, they needed a pet wizard to be the ambassador to werewolves and vampires and who knew what other manner of rabble, and they couldn't get anyone properly respectable to do it.
Lucius had practically drooled at the prospect. "Just think of it, Draco," he had said, his meal entirely forgotten as he imagined it for himself. "It's a Cabinet-level position. You'd be only a few steps away from the Minister's own seat!"
He had gone on a long diatribe then about this and that department and their relative importance or irrelevance in the new world order and Draco stopped listening. He could see already where this was going. The Ministry would be pulling his strings on one side, making him the face of all the rabble that decent witches and wizards liked to spit on whenever they could, and Lucius would be madly pushing him from the other side to expand the family's influence and power.
In Draco's opinion, his father had never quite regained his sanity after the long months of living at the Manor with the Dark Lord, wandless. He was happy thanks to the force of his delusions.
Draco envied him.
Harry shut the door quietly behind him but there was no need. Both Andromeda and Teddy were still up as he came in.
"He insisted on waiting up for you," she said, drawing her shawl tighter around her.
Harry caught the little boy up in a hug, then shared a look with his grandmother over his shoulder. Andromeda's face was wan, the circles under her eyes dark. "I'll tuck him in, all right?"
She nodded. Harry carried his godson up the stairs, while Teddy told him about his day, the highlight of which seemed to revolve around a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "Grandmama made it with magic and it was the best ever!" he enthused as Harry settled his stuffed dragon against him.
"Better than mine?"
"Better than yours," the boy said solemnly. Harry leaned over to give him a good night kiss, then went to get up. "Kiss Norbert, too!" Teddy insisted.
"All right." Harry kissed the dragon, too, and then turned out the lights.
Downstairs Andromeda was sitting by the fire, her shawl still tight. "I think he worries that one day you'll go out to fight the bad guys and never come home. I know he was too young to know what was happening when..." She shrugged instead of finishing the sentence, then went on. "He still feels the loss."
Harry nodded, sitting in the chair opposite her. "There hasn't been an Auror killed in the line of duty since that same night," he said. Not even in the rounding up of the last Death Eaters who refused to surrender. "Hopefully when I come home night after night, he won't fear it too much." There were other threats than criminals and dark wizards. "What did they say at St. Mungo's?"
She looked into the fire instead of his face. "They said the same things as before. It seems likely the cause is a curse, but they can only treat the symptoms, not the source. They gave me more potions for the nightmares, and some Restoratives, and something to spur my appetite. But unless we can find the source of the curse and eliminate it..." She shrugged.
Harry gritted his teeth. "We've been through the whole house... We'll have to go back to... your old place. Have the curse breakers look it over, too."
She nodded, her eyes looking haunted and far away. "It could be a person and not a thing, you know," she said.
"Someone living? Who would want to curse you, Andromeda?" Harry shook his head. "I think we should try to get into the Lestrange vault."
She waved her hand at him. "My dead sister, plaguing me from beyond the grave? Please, Harry, Voldemort wasn't the source of all evil in the world, nor was Bella the only blight on my blood line. Besides, they'll never let you set foot in Gringotts again."
He narrowed his eyes. "This time I'll have a warrant."
She stood and went to him, patting his shoulder in a motherly way. "You're such an Auror. You remind me of... someone else, sometimes." She pressed a kiss to his forehead and left the room.
"I know," he said softly to the firelight.
Draco sank gratefully into a chair as the door closed behind him, hoping that the relief he felt at his father's absence was not utterly naked on his face. Or if it was, that the Minister would have the good grace not to mention it.
But Shacklebolt, the old Gryffindor, actually chuckled as he took a seat behind his desk, and said, "I see your father's urge to meddle is unabated from the old days. I do wonder if it would be a shock to his system to know that with every word from his mouth he hurts your chances, rather than helps them."
"My father is a Lake Serpent," Draco said bluntly, referring to the fabled but extinct magical creatures that once lived in Britain's inland waters. "The new... era has left him behind." And I wish I could, too.
"Just so," the Minister said, folding his hands. "And why it was so important that I talk to you without him here."
Draco looked up, curiosity battling with his sullen mien. "He's more eager about this possible appointment than I am."
"Well, your father's opinion aside, I do think you'd be the perfect person for the job. I've read your transcripts from Rome, including your thesis as well as the pieces you wrote for the campus newspaper. You're well-educated, well-spoken..."
"I'm a pariah," Draco spat, figuring that the only way to out-Gryffindor a Gryffindor was to be brutally frank. "And you want to make it official."
Shacklebolt, though, shocked him by saying, "Well, yes."
Harry rarely called in favours, especially from the Minister of Magic. But when Kingsley summoned him to a "meeting" (a friendly glass of Firewhiskey in his private office one evening) he couldn't help but bring up his dilemma. They were sitting by the charmed fireplace, sipping amiably, when Kingsley inquired after the health of Teddy and Andromeda.
"Well, it worries me, honestly," Harry said. "Her nightmares have been getting progressively worse, she's losing weight... and she's been to St. Mungo's more than once now to see different Healers, but there doesn't seem to be anything they can do."
Kingsley frowned. "What do you mean?"
"They suspect she's suffering some kind of curse, but she's not wearing any cursed objects, I can't think of anyone who would want to curse her now, and they say if it's not someone living hexing her, then the curse has to be tied to an object or a place. We have to find the source or what the healers can do only has a temporary effect." He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "And I can't help it, but part of me says it's not a curse or magic at all. That it's depression and post-traumatic stress."
"Excuse me?" Kingsley asked.
"Er, a Muggle problem," Harry said. "Which Muggle doctors could work on. But it's... slow."
"Harry," Kingsley said, leaning forward in his large leather-upholstered chair, "you know you only have to ask and any help of mine you need, you have it. But I do have one piece of advice for you when it comes to... this sort of thing."
Harry looked up. It wasn't often that people like Kingsley tried to give him advice anymore. "What is it?"
Kingsley's voice was solemn. "Believe in magic."
Harry met his eyes. "Yeah. Okay."
"That said, there is someone you might want to talk to about this." Kingsley rolled the amber liquid in his glass, examining it through the firelight. "Someone you recommended to me, actually."
"Oh?" Harry asked, hope beginning to rise in his breast. "Who?"
The banging on his door would not go away. Draco hid his head under a pillow, wondering what it was about elf magic that got through his Silencing Charms. But he would not repeat the argument with his father again. Not for the third time.
The first time had been the moment they returned to the Manor after the audience with the Minister.
"Well?" Lucius had asked, standing in the entrance hall while Draco had hurried toward the grand staircase up to his room. "Draco, you've not said a word. What did the Minister say?"
"Nothing," Draco had shot back. "I told him I'm thinking it over."
"Thinking it over! Then he offered the post to you?" Lucius Malfoy whipped off his outer cloak and tossed it to a waiting house-elf and stalked after Draco.
"As we knew he would," Draco said, teeth gritted with impatience. "It was only to allow everyone to save face that I did not outright refuse."
"Refuse!" Lucius' eyes were wide with shock. "Draco, my boy, how could you possibly...?"
"There are better positions," Draco hissed, cutting across his father's argument. "Are you so desperate for me to redeem the family name that you actually think it lofty that I would be consorting daily with the likes of Greyback's followers?"
Lucius' shock turned to anger. "I'm your father and you shall do as I say."
"Oh, because you know so much better than me...?" Draco threw his own cloak onto the floor, ignoring the elf that scurried to pick it up. "That worked out so very well the last time, didn't it?" Yes, following the Dark Lord had been such a brilliant idea...
He heard his father's voice at last above the thumping on the door though. "Draco, please. Your mother's ill..."
He was out of bed in a flash, swearing that if this were a ploy on Lucius' part that he would hex him and go back to Rome.
Harry helped Hermione clean up the table, Levitating the dishes into the sink while she put away the leftover food and Ron made coffee with their new espresso machine. "This thing is brilliant," he enthused. "I could never get it quite right with just charms. Hermione's parents gave it to us. Now my dad's mad to have one of his own. Mum's in a uproar, though. 'Not another Muggle gadget, Arthur...'"
Harry couldn't help but smile. He followed Hermione back to the table with the biscuits and left him to wrangle with the machine.
Even the dining room had tall bookshelves that ran all the way to the ceiling--not that this surprised Harry in the slightest. It gave the whole house a warm feeling, though, as if each room were insulated somehow. Hermione's books ranged widely and she seemed to mix Muggle and wizarding books together, the books no doubt arranged according to some internal logic of hers.
"I need to ask your advice about something," he said to her, while they waited for Ron to appear with the coffee.
"About magic or people?" she asked, taking a biscuit out of the box and biting off a corner. "Don't give me that look. You know it's always one of those two things."
"Magic," Harry said, though maybe this was a people question, too. "Andromeda's getting worse. The healers at St. Mungo's say it's got to be a curse, which is why anything they do only helps her temporarily. But we've searched number twelve, we've searched her old place... we haven't found anything connected to her with even a hint of a curse on it. And I've had some of the best curse-breakers in the Auror department looking."
Hermione frowned. "Well, of course you have," she said absently. Harry watched as she absorbed the information.
"Do you have any books on curses that might help?" He took a biscuit, but didn't bite into it, wanting to wait for the coffee.
She shook her head slowly. "Unfortunately, a lot of the curse lore has been lost. After Voldemort's first rise, the Ministry rounded up a lot of books of Dark Arts and burned them. A shame, really, since all its done is make us ignorant of the things we need to know to fight them. Some things are starting to re-surface now, in bookshops and the like, now that the books won't be seized as contraband. You might try that place off the low-rent end of Diagon?"
Leave it to Hermione to focus on his question, rather than his problem, though. "I already have one book," he admitted. "Which I'm having rather a lot of trouble getting through. It's... pretty scholarly."
She gave him an I-knew-it smile. "I'll have a look at it, if you like."
"Excellent!" Well, that was sorted then. Kingsley had suggested that Harry go to Draco Malfoy for help, Malfoy being some kind of up-and-coming expert on curses and countercurses, but he would much rather have his trusted friend on the case. He'd not seen Malfoy since the night he'd saved Draco's life and Narcissa Malfoy had saved his. He'd heard through the grapevine that they had packed him off to some wizarding university in Europe, but that he'd been back for a while--which was why Harry had suggested him to Kingsley as a candidate for the cabinet post.
"And here we are!" Ron said as he carried three steaming cups of espresso into the room on a tray, sugar, milk, and spoons bobbing along in the air behind him as he set it down on the table.
Draco slammed his mug against the polished wood of the table top and stood so suddenly his chair overturned. "This is your fault!" he hissed, rage narrowing his eyes.
Lucius looked up in shock. "My...?"
"I'm sick and tired of your wilful ignorance, Father." Draco drew his robes around him. His mother had fallen into a deep sleep three nights ago, and had yet to wake up. Healers had come and gone every day since, but none had been able to rouse her. "It's obvious she's suffering from a curse. Now which of us, do you think, could be responsible for there being enemies to our family who would cast such a spell? Me? I don't think so."
He stalked from the room before Lucius' stunned silence could turn to argument. He made his way quickly to his mother's side.
She looked beautiful as she slept. Peaceful. Unlike recently when she had been plagued with nightmares.
The Healers suggested that perhaps her mind was in retreat from the visions that had been haunting her sleep in recent months. But what had caused the nightmares in the first place? Draco wondered. She had seen horrible things in the war, and imagined worse, but why would such dreams be getting worse and more frequent of late instead of less and less as time wore on?
His own dreams were horrible, but that was nothing new. He slept night after night with a potion he brewed himself to keep them at bay. Cruciatus, being eaten by giant snakes, burned alive by Fiendfyre... these were things he could do without.
Draco shook his head and drew his wand. If the Healers were going to be no help, then he was on his own. She was in no danger, they said, so long as she slept this charmed sleep. She would not need to eat--she would be suspended indefinitely.
At least that gave him time. If it took years to discover who was attacking her, years to discover or invent the countercurse, well, he would spend years. He waved his wand over her with gentle movements, confirming what the Healers had said.
It was a powerful curse, that was sure, if it could suspend life completely this way. Perhaps his first step would be to research whether there was a known curse with this effect. The Healers knew of none, but as he knew well from his studies, the Healers knew little of the Dark Arts.
The Manor library, then. That was where he would start. He pressed a soft kiss to his mother's forehead and left the room.
Harry approached the little bookshop with a determined stride. Hermione was ploughing through what few books he had found quickly, but she had found nothing conclusive. Andromeda was doing all right, so long as she took her potions regularly, but the lack of sleep was hard on her. She was starting to doze off while in the middle of cooking, or while shopping, and Harry worried that she might hurt herself in an accident that way.
The bell tinkled merrily as he went into the shop. He waved hello to the clerk he'd seen here once before, a pretty witch with red hair. Hers was not quite the colour of Ginny's but thinking of it did remind him that he ought to send Ginny an owl to say he'd seen the latest scores in the papers and he hoped to make it to a match soon. Playing for the Harpies kept her even busier than Auror training had Harry. He hoped he'd see her at Christmas.
He headed for the shelf where he had found the previous book, not among the Dark Esoterica books, but in the section on Magical Healing. He took a breath and looked around to be sure no one was looking, then drew his wand. He wasn't that far from the front of the shop, but the shelf itself obscured the clerk's view of him.
He wasn't sure why he didn't want anyone to see him do this. He just had a vague sense that he oughtn't, like it might be considered rude or something. But ever since Hermione had told him that she'd Summoned the books they needed for the Horcrux hunt, he'd used the spell himself from time to time.
The shelf was large, stretching from floor to ceiling. Surely people used spells to get the books from the upper shelves, didn't they?
The shop cat sauntered down the row and weaved in and out of his legs. He reached down to pet it on the head, hoping that it would move on quickly. The bell at the door tinkled off to his left and the cat went to investigate the new person. Thankfully.
He tried to imagine the book that would help him, the book that had the answer he needed... "Accio," he whispered.
A tall, thin book bound in blue leather slipped from one of the upper shelves and dropped into his waiting hands, the pages falling open as it settled as if he had been reading it. He glanced around... no one seemed to have noticed. Good. He looked down at the page in front of him.
The title was bold: "Six New Applications of Moonstone In Healing Potions." But it was the name underneath the title that caught his eye.
And just as that was beginning to sink in, Harry heard a familiar voice from the direction of the door. "Excuse me, but could you tell me if you've any books on curses?"
"Curses?" came the shop girl's reply, as if she hadn't heard him clearly the first time.
"Ye-e-e-s." Malfoy's voice was strangely shaky, as if he were frightened by something. "I need to... that is... there's this... "
"Please, sir, there's no need for your wand..."
Harry came around the corner to see Draco Malfoy, looking utterly terrified, clutching his wand to his chest defensively. He startled on seeing Harry and Harry somehow knew that Malfoy was about to bolt. Auror training, perhaps. Harry was too startled by the coincidence of it all to think beyond grabbing hold of Malfoy's sleeve, and as the sensation of Apparition took him he could almost hear Kingsley's voice saying: Believe in magic.
They landed on a cobbled drive and Harry was not wholly surprised to realise he recognised the place. Malfoy Manor. Malfoy pulled free of his grip and backed away, pointing his wand.
"I... had every right... to be in that bookshop," Malfoy said, sounding as though he were hyperventilating.
Harry pocketed his wand. "I'm not arresting you. I'm not even on duty." He wasn't even dressed in his Auror robes, just plain brown robes over jeans and a jumper. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to grab you like that. I just... wanted to talk to you and you looked like you were about to run out."
Malfoy's wand shook and he looked so pale Harry wondered if he might faint. "About what?"
Harry looked around. "Could we... sit down somewhere? You don't look so good."
Draco stood motionless another few moments, then snapped his fingers and called for a house-elf, asked the whereabouts of his father, and then ordered tea in the Blue Salon, whatever that was.
"Come on," he said sullenly, and turned and went into the Manor without looking to see if Harry followed.
Draco felt a bit better after a cup of tea. That was when he noticed the book, now in Potter's lap. "I recognise that group of monographs," he said, frowning. "What are you doing with it?"
Potter seemed startled. "Oh, er, I didn't mean to take it, and I'll bring it back. But it, well..."
"You can't possibly think there's something worthy of Auror investigation in my paper on moonstone," Draco said, a sardonic edge coming back to his voice now that he could breathe normally.
Potter shook his head, looking solemn. "No, no. It's actually... well, I've been meaning to talk to you."
The crease between Draco's eyebrows deepened. "So you thought you'd read my paper beforehand to make small talk about?"
Potter set the book aside, then needed something to do with his hands and poured himself a cup of tea. "Um, no. Kingsley actually--"
"The Minister put you up to this?" Draco said, incredulous. "I haven't told him outright no, yet, you know, I've just..."
"This has nothing to do with the Minister or the position," Potter said shortly, a hint of his old temper showing through.
Draco sniffed. "You expect me to believe that? Shacklebolt himself told me you put forth my name--" he began, but did not get far as Potter cut across him once again.
"Yeah, well, he's the one who told me if I needed an expert on curse healing I should talk to you!"
Draco fell silent. Shacklebolt had read his thesis, he'd said. And he and Potter were clearly friendly. "What do you need a curse healer for?" he asked plainly.
Potter drew a breath and then talked hurriedly, as if afraid Draco might cut him off before he finished. "Andromeda Tonks. She's my godson's grandmother, you know. She's... suffering some sort of curse and they told me at St. Mungo's they can't help her. The curse needs to be attacked at the source, but we don't know what the source is. And I've searched, Aurors have searched, and haven't found anything, because I think it has to be a cursed object, not a person cursing her. Who would want to curse Andromeda Tonks? The only person I can think of is Bellatrix Lestrange, and she's dead, so it has to be an object she cursed, right? But I don't know enough about it to get a warrant to search the Lestrange vault at Gringotts and you owe me one, Malfoy."
Eyes wide with shock at this last pronouncement, Draco found himself speechless for a moment. Everything Potter said, everything, made sense... "Is she asleep?" he asked, when he had recovered the ability to use words. "A deep sleep that can't be broken?"
Potter shook his head and Draco's hopes fell. "No, it's not like that."
Draco frowned. Damn. "Then what is it like?"
"Well, but she does fall asleep at odd times, because she's been having bad nightmares, so she doesn't sleep when she should. Why do you ask? Do you know what it is?"
Draco stood up, hope rising again. It could be the same. Narcissa had been having nightmares, after all. "Your hunch about Bellatrix could be on target, Potter," he said. "She swore to kill her blood traitor sister if she could, and her half-blood daughter, too. She managed the latter at Hogwarts in the final battle, but Andromeda would have been harder to find, harder to reach."
"You think so?"
"Come with me. There's something you should see." Draco led the way toward Narcissa's room. Could this truly be the answer, dropped into his lap? Aunt Bella was certainly crazy enough that she could have devised a curse to attack Andromeda, her sister, that could catch Narcissa just as easily. And tied to an object? That would certainly be simple enough to do, and even if she herself were killed, the curse would still work. If Potter truly had the power to open the Lestrange vault, that could make things so much easier...
He pushed open the door, which swung silently back to admit them. The sound of their feet across the plush carpet was hushed. He brought Potter to the bedside and then reached down to brush a stray lock of hair from her face.
"When she... gives in to the nightmares, this is what will happen to Andromeda, too," Draco said in a whisper. "Endless sleep. She won't die, won't age... won't wake. Maybe... deep down Bellatrix couldn't outright murder her own sisters and she devised this instead."
Potter was silent for long moments before he spoke. "You think she meant the curse to get your mother, too?"
Draco shook his head, fighting a lump in his throat. "I don't know. She might have used her own blood to set the curse and didn't care if it got both sisters. My family was not exactly in favour at the time and Bellatrix was not exactly... sane." He turned his head, looking at Potter instead of his mother's wan face.
Potter's eyes were sad.
"I may owe you my life," Draco said softly, "but you owe yours to her."
Potter looked up and nodded. "We'll save them both," he said, jaw set. "You and I. We'll save them both."
Draco's study at the Manor became their war room. Draco began an exhaustive cataloguing of all possible related known curses, as well as writing many owls to his contacts within the academic field, bringing experts on sleep magic, blood magic, family curses, and others to examine his mother, and sometimes Andromeda as well. Meanwhile Harry set the wheels in motion for a hearing on a warrant to search the Lestrange vault, which Bellatrix's widower Rodolphus vehemently opposed.
They were working late into the night one night when Harry turned to him and said, "Could a curse like this be used for good?"
Draco looked up from the book he had been buried in, tugging the thin gold rims of his glasses down his nose so he could see over the tops at Harry. "By definition, a curse isn't good."
"No, I meant, the intent of the curse is bad, obviously, but could you use a similar spell to tie good intentions to an object?" He was trying to write a statement that would clearly explain the motive and method that Bellatrix might have used.
Draco looked at him curiously. "Well, that's what a good luck charm is," he said slowly, as if he were not sure what Harry was getting at. "But, you know, even Felix Felicis has its limits. To make a spell, whether curse or blessing, truly powerful, takes a high price. This is why you typically find curses of this type associated with people's tombs. Death... creates a lot of magical energy."
"Oh. I suppose I knew that." He folded the parchment in front of him into a paper airplane and flew it into the fireplace. "It takes a murder to make a Horcrux after all."
"Which isn't to say that death can't be used magically for good intentions, too," Draco said carefully. "It's just not seen as often."
Harry nodded again. His own mother's sacrifice was probably the most famous example. "Right." He began writing anew.
A bit later he looked up to find Draco still looking at him over the tops of his spectacles. "Something wrong?"
Draco shook his head. "Just thinking." He looked back into his book and was quiet.
They were eating a light meal together in the war room a few days later when Harry finally asked, "Draco, what happened to your eyes?"
Draco took his glasses off and laid them aside. "And here I've been meaning to ask what happened to your glasses. But if you must know, there are plenty of ancient books on curses and curse healing, just very few in English. Many of the most important are in the great wizarding library in Rome. I spent a year studying them."
That didn't really explain to Harry what had happened, though, so he just said "Oh?" and kept eating his roast beef sandwich.
"Yes. The truly ancient books have spells on them that prevent them from being copied or moved from their vaults. And they cannot be viewed in bright light or the ink fades, and they... take a toll on the reader." Draco shrugged, as if the damage to his eyesight were of little consequence to him. "You know the eyes do not respond well to magical healing."
"Right. Or no witch or wizard would wear glasses." Harry nodded. "I had mine fixed... the Muggle way."
Draco's scepticism dripped from his voice. "The... Muggle?... Way?"
"Laser eye surgery," Harry said, finishing his sandwich and brushing the crumbs from his trousers.
"Surgery?" Draco stared, then cringed. "Isn't that the technique where they cut you with knives and sew you back together like a patched cloak?"
"Err, yeah. Only, no knives. Um... it's hard to explain. I just... I wanted to get rid of my glasses. Without them, and with the scar being almost invisible sometimes, you know... People don't recognise me as easily." He wiped his mouth on a napkin.
Now Draco seemed truly confused. "Hang on. You don't want people to recognise you? What ever happened to Harry Potter, seeker of fame and glory?"
Harry blinked. He'd nearly forgotten that that was how Snape and all the Slytherins had seen him. "He was... only ever in your imagination, Draco," he said. "I never wanted to be the Chosen One. I just... want to be Harry."
Draco looked at him for a long moment. "But you'll... still use your influence to... do what we need."
Harry sighed. "Well, yeah. I may not enjoy being famous, but I'm not stupid."
Draco Malfoy had changed, Harry decided, the night before the hearing as they were preparing their papers. Was that really a surprise though? Of course he'd changed from the snippy, full-of-himself bully who'd made Harry's life miserable for five years. Harry had seen him crying, terrified and helpless, that day in the bathroom in sixth year. And he'd seen him in way over his head as the Death Eaters had used Malfoy Manor as a base of operations, seen even his so-called friends turn on him in the Room of Requirement. He'd seen the father he idolised jailed and then brought low. He'd seen people die.
Draco was using a charm to bind all of the testimony of their expert witnesses into a slim volume with a leather cover. When he set down his wand, Harry asked him, "Why did you have a panic attack that day in the bookstore?"
"Why did I what?" Draco frowned. "Is that what you call it?"
"A panic attack? It's... what Muggles call it, yeah," Harry said, deciding that was the easiest explanation.
"I didn't panic," Draco said quietly, but it didn't sound as if even he believed what he was saying.
"You hyperventilated and you acted like you expected that girl to hex you," Harry said then. If Draco didn't want to call that panic, fine, but he couldn't very well deny that.
Draco turned away under the pretence of pouring himself a cup of tea at the sideboard, but he did not turn back around, keeping his face turned away as he spoke. "I don't know. It just... happens sometimes. When I go out in public. It's why... why I don't. Go out."
But there's nothing to be afraid of... Harry found himself wanting to say. But maybe that was true if you were Harry Potter. Or anyone other than Draco Malfoy.
The urge to go and put a hand on his shoulder was strong. Who was Harry to say there was nothing to fear, when Draco's own mother lay cursed nearby?
"Good luck at the hearing," Draco said, his back still to him.
"Thanks." Harry took up the folder Draco had made, gathered his own papers, and left.
That night, as he was preparing to go to sleep, Draco took his usual dose of the potion that would make his sleep dreamless. But he wondered, if he could pick and choose which of his memories he would re-live, would he dream of that tandem broom ride out of the fire?
Harry arrived the next day at tea time, angry as a wet kneazle. Draco looked up from the book to the doorway of the study to see Harry's glowering face and for a moment thought Harry was angry at him. "What did I do?"
"It's not you," Harry said, disgusted, and threw his robes onto a chair, pacing in front of the fireplace.
"They didn't grant the warrant?" Draco sat up straight with alarm.
Harry waved his hand and accepted a warm cup of tea from Barty. "No, no. They granted it, but Gringotts pulled a fast one, no one allowed into that section of the vaults until tomorrow. Tunnel maintenance." He was too agitated to drink the tea, though and set it on the mantel.
"Merlin's beard, you don't think the goblins are colluding with the Lestranges to hide a cursed object?" Draco shut the book he had been reading and got to his feet.
"I..." Harry stopped pacing and looked at the wan, blond wizard standing a few feet from him. "Well, no. That... does seem a bit far-fetched. They're just... getting back at me for... that time I broke in."
Draco let out the breath he had been holding. "Then if something's there, it'll... still be there tomorrow."
"I'll be there first thing. The moment they open, with two curse breakers," Harry said reassuringly. He put a hand on Draco's shoulder. "We're right. I know we are. And we know Bellatrix hid other things there around that time."
Harry's hand was warm and solid, and the look in his eyes was unbearably kind. Maybe that was what put the lump in Draco's throat. "I'm glad... you're handling all that. I don't imagine a hearing would have gone my way too easily, and... there are always so many people at Gringotts..."
"I know," Harry said softly.
"I'm glad you're here," Draco said, just as softly, before he took a deep breath and drew away.
He led Harry to the table where he had spread out his notes and charts. "I've catalogued all the known curses that could be compatible with dream magic, but there still doesn't seem to be one that fits the description of what's going on here. Most curses are aimed at producing death, or a specific illness like boils or consumption. But charmed sleep? Even our experts on sleep magic weren't clear on what was going on. Which makes me think we simply haven't found it yet."
Harry looked over Draco's charts, but did not really absorb what he was seeing. "Like something from a fairy tale," he said.
"Like Sleeping Beauty? Oh, but, right. You had different fairy tales. Tales of Beedle the Bard," he said.
Draco nodded. "And others. Although I'm sure some must be the same? Though I don't recognise the name..."
Harry shrugged. "The princess is tricked by her wicked stepmother into eating a poisoned apple, and she falls asleep. Or, wait, maybe that's Snow White. It's not like my mother told me bedtime stories."
Sighing, Draco slipped back into his chair. "If it were a poisoned apple, that I could cure." He took up his own long-forgotten teacup and warmed the tea with a charm. He sipped it carefully. "How is Andromeda?"
Harry took his own cup from the mantel and sat, finally. "Well enough, I suppose. She still can't ever remember what the nightmares are about. Only a vague sense of dread and of the need to escape."
"Well, that may literally be true," Draco said, warming his hands on his cup. "If she doesn't break free of the dream, she may not wake up. Has she considered taking a potion for dreamless sleep?"
Drinking his tea cold, Harry nodded. "She says she'd rather keep fighting. She does every now and then, but only to try to keep from falling asleep on her feet."
"She must be... very strong." Draco wondered how it was that the Black women had such strength, and yet he was so weak. Afraid of his own memories, which were in the past, afraid of people, when what harm could words do? Afraid to even go in a bookshop.
"She is," Harry agreed. He had thought she would be much like Sirius, defying her family as she did, but he had learned her strength was steadfast, not at all reckless.
They fell silent, each thinking his own thoughts for a bit. At last Harry set down his empty teacup and stood.
Draco looked up. "Are you... going?"
Harry blinked. "Um, yeah. We're as ready as we're going to be for tomorrow. I thought I'd have dinner with Andromeda and Teddy."
"Oh." Draco's eyes were on the cup in his lap. "I was hoping..." There was a pause, and then he went on, and Harry had the distinct feeling he had changed his mind about what he had been going to say. "... that you might get a chance to look in the library at number twelve. For something we might have missed."
They had already combed the shelves there once, but it had been in the early going. A Summoning charm now might yield different results. "Um, sure," Harry said, thinking that made good sense, but still wanting to know what Draco had been hoping. "I'll see you tomorrow? I'll let you know as soon as we have anything."
Draco did not raise his eyes. "All right."
The goblins were getting more and more testy, and so was Harry. They had found cursed objects in the Lestrange vault, which came as a shock to nobody, but nothing the curse breakers on hand thought particularly nasty. A necklace that would give the wearer headaches, a cup that, if drunk from, would make the drinker mute, a mirror that would make any but its rightful owner blind. All illegal to possess, of course, so at least the trip had not been a total waste from the point of view of the Auror department. The two curse breakers working with Harry were able to neutralise everything before confiscating the objects.
But there was no sign of anything that might have been the source of the curse on the Black women. It was mid-afternoon when the curse breakers finally called a halt. "We've been over everything three full times, Harry," Middleton said. He yawned and pushed his bowler hat back on his head. "There's nothing else here."
Harry swore, earning him more evil looks from the goblins. "All right. Let's go." Rodolphus Lestrange had been released from Azkaban a year ago, but his brother was still in there. Maybe there was some pressure they could apply that way? Harry felt sick even contemplating it. It was that sort of thinking that made the old Ministry so corruptible. There had to be another way. And there had to be another place.
Harry Apparated to the front steps of Malfoy Manor and was surprised when no house-elf came to let him in. Draco was expecting him after all, wasn't he? He went up to the door and lifted the huge brass knocker.
The door opened before he could bang it down, though, and he found himself face to face with Lucius Malfoy.
"Mr. Potter," Malfoy said, voice tight and clipped. "I thank you for your help with my wife's condition. But..." And here he seemed to struggle to go on, to contain his emotions. Was he angry?
"Draco's expecting me," Harry said, wondering if Malfoy were about to slam the door in his face and knowing that Draco would be crushed if he didn't appear as he'd said he would.
But Malfoy stepped back, spine stiff. "Draco..." But his face was still as stone. Harry wondered what he could be hiding. "Come," he said shortly, and turned on his heel, like he expected Harry to follow. Harry recognised the motion, exactly as Draco had led him to his mother's bedside...
"Oh no." Harry hurried to catch up, a sense of foreboding creeping up his spine. "What's happened? What's going on?"
Malfoy tried. "He's..." But then they were at the study, and Harry burst into the room.
Draco was asleep with his head in a large book, both arms stretched out on the table where he sat. Harry realised with a start he could see the remnants of the Dark Mark on his arm, where it protruded from the bunched up sleeve of his robes. Draco had always kept it hidden, he realised. Harry felt suddenly as though he were looking at Draco's private parts and tugged the sleeve down, shaking Draco gently on his shoulder. "Draco?"
Malfoy huffed irritably behind him. "All attempts to wake him have failed. I thought perhaps he took too much of the potion he uses to sleep, but the charm to tell how much was in his system showed none."
Harry lifted his head carefully and removed his glasses, setting them aside. "I didn't think the curse could affect him," he said. "I never worried... here, let's move him somewhere more comfortable."
Malfoy raised his wand to levitate his son out of the chair, but Harry was already lifting him in his arms. Malfoy's charm lightened him, and Harry picked him up easily. "Where?"
"Through that door. His bedroom." Another wave of Malfoy's wand and the door opened.
Harry settled him on the bed. "The potion he took, to keep his sleep free of dreams. It was protecting him from the curse all along."
"Apparently," Malfoy said in a heavy voice.
Harry turned to him. "I know we've had our differences in the past--" he began.
But Malfoy cut across him. "I do not like you, Harry Potter, and I doubt that I ever shall. But I am grateful for what you have done to preserve the dignity of my family, and grateful that my wife was clear-eyed enough to help you when she had the opportunity--"
Then it was Harry's turn to interrupt. "I'll help you," he said, and looked back at Draco. He looked years younger, lying at rest like that, but the dark circles under his eyes reminded Harry sharply of sixth year. "I'll do whatever I can, but... I was counting on Draco to know what to do if we found the cursed object. It... there was nothing in the Lestrange vault today."
Malfoy did not look pleased to be cut off, but he nodded once. "My son has not told me much about your research," he said gruffly. "But I take it you need to find something of Bellatrix's?"
"Yeah." Harry ran his hand through his hair. "I thought for sure it would be in her vault, but, no luck. I'll need to get permission to search Rodolphus Lestrange's house next, I guess."
Malfoy looked at him curiously. "You are aware, are you not, that Bellatrix and Rodolphus were, shall we say, estranged for some years?"
"Um, no?" Harry felt his heart begin to beat harder.
"Yes. Her... fixation on the Dark Lord was rather inconducive to marital harmony," Malfoy said smoothly. "And once the Dark Lord took up residence here? Well. She lived here."
"Show me," Harry said, drawing his wand.
Malfoy nodded and led the way down the hall and up a wide flight of stairs. "When I had the Manor purged," he said as he hurried down the corridor, "it was easier to simply seal off her suite than to deal with what booby traps she might have laid."
They came to a blank stretch in the panelled wall. Lucius Malfoy drew his wand from within his robes, closed his eyes, then raised both hands like a conductor about to begin a symphony. Three quick slashes of his wand in the air and what looked like a crack between two pieces of burnished wood panelling began to widen, then suddenly popped into the shape of a full size doorway.
Harry moved his own wand in a series of spells that were standard for Aurors entering a potentially hostile environment. Nothing too horribly bad yet...
Malfoy hung back. "I... should check on my wife."
Harry was secretly relieved. He didn't want Malfoy hovering over him while he searched. "All right. When I'm done here, I'll check on Draco again."
"Thank you. Call a house-elf if you need me." Then the man was gone.
Harry opened the door with a charm. There appeared to be no poisons on the handle, no traps set in the frame, but he took no chances, finishing the first set of spells and moving on to a second. When he was satisfied that the doorway was safe, he moved into the room.
It was a richly furnished sitting room, a bit dusty, but unremarkable. He wasn't sure what he'd expected. Human bones sitting out on the table? Bloody daggers? And what was he looking for, anyway? The Big Book of How To Curse Your Own Family?
He'd watched the curse breakers all day, though. He knew the spells they had used. He knew he should have called someone to help him, but he didn't relish the thought of getting either Ministry approval or Lucius Malfoy's permission. He could do this.
First, the revealing spells, to locate the cursed objects in the room. Hm. On the mantel was a key, a very mildly cursed one. Another spell showed the key would make him nauseous if he touched it. Harry left it where it was, wondering if he would find something that was locked and need it later.
Nothing else. His attention turned to another door, like the one from Draco's study into his bedroom. Of course, the bedroom beyond must have been hers as well.
He repeated the spells looking for traps and then tried to open the door. His spell did not work, though. Perhaps the key? He levitated the key into the lock, ah yes.
Inside the bedroom, the heavy velvet curtains were drawn, and he set the lamps alight with a spell. Beside the fireplace there was a writing desk. He began the revealing spells and was surprised to find nothing in the desk.
But there was something in the bed. Using his wand to move the coverlet, and then the pillows, he revealed a small rectangular object. As he moved closer he saw it was a book. It looked like she had slept with it under her pillow.
His excitement rose as the spells that should have told him what kind of curse it carried had no effect. He finally Summoned it to have a closer look. It was a small book, leatherbound, with the title embossed in gold.
He did a double take. Somehow he doubted that Bellatrix Lestrange read fairy tales to herself at bedtime.
He should take the book to Middleton, ask what he thought. Or Hermione. But the only person who could tell him whether the book should be destroyed or not was probably Draco. They'd discussed what they would do when they found whatever it was, but Harry didn't know how Draco was going to determine whether destroying the book would free the cursed people or trap them forever, and if it would only trap them, what to do to break the curse.
He opened the book, and there--tucked in the title page--was what looked like an ordinary sewing needle. The stain on the page was unmistakably blood.
Would Teddy be afflicted next? The thought of his godson falling into a sleep from which he would never wake sent a chill down Harry's spine. What was he going to do next?
Believe in magic.
He had an idea.
Draco was lying atop the coverlet just as Harry had left him except for the fall of hair that lay across his eyes. Harry brushed it back carefully as he settled on the bed next to him. He looked... fragile somehow. Without the guarded expression he so often wore, Draco looked defenceless. Almost innocent.
"I know you're not innocent," Harry said in a quiet voice, laying the book aside. "I know you cast Cruciatus on other Death Eaters. But I also know you had no choice. Dumbledore thought of you as innocent. A bystander. A victim. Even that time when I saw you crying in the bathroom, though. I didn't really see you that way. I was too trapped by events myself to see how trapped you were, I guess. And too caught up in everything that was going on in the hunt for the Horcruxes to really give it much thought."
He wondered if magical sleep were like a coma, where the person really could hear you, or if this was only for his own benefit. Part of him, of course, never thought he'd actually say these things to Draco.
"I see how lonely you are. I see how... trapped you are. Still, to this day. When I suggested your name to Kingsley I had no idea... you were like this. I thought... I thought you'd jump at the chance for something you could lord over others. I didn't realise how much you'd changed. How much the war changed you."
He put a hand on Draco's chest, to feel it rising and falling as he breathed. "I saved you once, from fire. But looking at you now... I feel like you never were saved from Voldemort. I want..." He swallowed and tried again. "I want to save you from him, too, Draco. But I guess first, I have to save you from your aunt."
He caressed the inert man's cheek with his thumb. Draco was warmer than he expected, as if Harry had thought he might be cool like a vampire. As if sleep were close to death. But Draco's cheeks were flushed. Could he hear Harry's words after all? He cupped Draco's head, cradling it.
"I'm sorry... if this isn't something you'd have wanted. But I have to try." And with that, his heart pounding, Harry leaned over and brushed his lips against Draco's, then pressed them together, gradually increasing the pressure to a firm kiss.
His heart nearly stopped when Draco kissed back, when he moaned quietly and his arms went around Harry, his lips softening to allow Harry's tongue to part them, his breath catching as if Harry had just rescued him from drowning, not from sleep.
Draco blinked up at the man in his arms, wondering for a moment if it had all been a dream. That someone had been telling him that everything would be all right. He couldn't recall the exact words, but he remembered the feeling, and now... he was looking up into startling green eyes.
Harry's voice was full of concern. "Are you all right?"
Draco closed his eyes again. "So sleepy." The drowsiness was like a weight dragging him down.
"I know," Harry said, and the urgency in his voice spurred Draco to open his eyes again. "You've got to stay awake, Draco. I think I've found the source of the curse."
Curse? Draco sat up suddenly, a jolt of fear widening his eyes as he remembered. "Oh, God. Did I...?" Memory flooded back. "What was it? Where?" And why were we kissing?
Draco didn't speak that last question, but Harry gave him a regretful look, as if he'd heard it anyway. "Here," he said, handing him the book, as if it explained everything.
Which perhaps it did. Draco turned it over and over in his hands, then at Harry's urging opened it carefully to reveal the needle and bloodstain. "This... has to be it." He squinted at it, but the smaller letters would not come into focus. The title was clear enough, though. "Sleeping Beauty."
"And, well, the prince wakes the princess with a kiss," Harry said, blushing.
Draco couldn't quite meet his eyes. "Thank you. Not everyone would have... um. That is..." He reached out and took hold of Harry's arm, as if he needed something solid to hold onto. "What if..." He swallowed, trying to slow his breathing. Panic attack. "What if I fall asleep again?"
He found himself looking into Harry's eyes, as Harry cupped his chin and turned him to face him. His voice was soft. "Then I'll kiss you again. All right?"
Oh, God, yes. But speaking would have required him to catch his breath. Draco nodded instead, swallowing again.
"I'm here, Draco. I won't let anything happen to you." Harry's thumb brushed his bottom lip, as if Harry might have been contemplating kissing him again.
"Please," Draco found himself saying. "One more."
"All right." And Harry's lips were warm and real, and Draco thought he could hear a voice in his head saying that everything was going to be all right.
Harry followed Draco into the war room. Draco set the book in the exact centre of the table, then called for a pot of strong coffee and a bottle of Pepper-Up Potion. He began to test the book in various ways that Harry could see immediately were more subtle and complex than what the Aurors used in the field. At times he could barely follow what Draco was doing.
"How do you like your coffee?" Harry asked, when Barty delivered the tray to the room.
"I don't much like it at all, but..." Draco sat back with a tired push at his hair. "So plenty of cream and sugar, please. And a teaspoon of Pepper-Up."
Harry prepared it with three sugars and a healthy dose of cream, bringing it to him in a mug. Draco sipped it and made a face, then downed it all determinedly. "There."
But it was clear to Harry that within a few minutes, Draco's head was beginning to nod again. He put his hands on Draco's shoulders from behind, then slipped to one knee beside his chair. "You're barely keeping your eyes open. Maybe you should take something for dreamless sleep?"
Draco shook his head. "I worry it won't work anymore. I think..." He had to pause to yawn. "Now that the curse has found a way in, the potion will not help."
Harry wondered if perhaps it was too forward of him to say what he was going to say, but Draco could always refuse, couldn't he? "Would another kiss help?"
He saw something flicker through Draco's eyes, too quickly for him to tell what emotion Draco had hidden. But Draco squeezed his arm and said, "It certainly couldn’t hurt...?"
"All right, then." And Harry leaned in, one hand sliding into Draco's hair as he urged him forward into a kiss. Draco made a small delicious noise in the back of his throat, and Harry deepened the kiss, hoping for that sound again.
When he pulled back, Draco was breathless and quite awake. His cheeks were flushed with high colour and his eyes sparkled. "Much more rousing than coffee," Draco said.
Or had he said arousing? Harry wasn't certain.
Draco went back to his spellwork, and Harry sent Barty the house-elf to Hermione's house to ask if she had any books on fairy tales.
It was perhaps an hour later, after Barty had returned with a book of Mother Goose Tales and a book of literary criticism so heavy that the poor elf could barely lift it without a charm, that Draco sat back with a sigh. "I think I know what we have to do."
Harry put down the criticism book, whose introduction he had not even managed to get through, and looked up. "Well?"
"The book needs to be destroyed, but the blood has to be removed completely from the pages first. There's a potion I can brew to do that which won't inadvertently destroy the book in the process."
"But?" Harry looked at the worry on Draco's face. "There's always a 'but' when it comes to potions, isn't there?"
Draco nodded. "It will take three days to make." His voice shook a little. "I... I don't think I can stay awake that long."
"Oh." Harry grinned with relief. He was afraid the potion would take some rare ingredient that would take weeks to find, or that it would take months to prepare, like Polyjuice. "I'll help you with that. Er, not the potion. The staying awake part. It'll be all right, Draco. We can make it work."
Draco looked up, returning Harry's grin with a wan smile of his own. "We'll have to."
Draco sent word through Barty to his father that he was awake, that Harry and he were near a solution, and that they would be preparing a potion and were not to be disturbed under any circumstance. Stay with Mother, he wrote.
"Do you think we should tell him about the kissing part?" Harry suggested, as quick, sure strokes of Draco's quill filled the parchment.
Draco shook his head. "My mother's been under the influence for much longer. After we destroy the book, I'll tell him how to wake her, when it has the best chance of succeeding. Besides..." He resisted the urge to put his hand on Harry's, then gave in and squeezed Harry's wrist. "I don't want him thinking overmuch about how you woke me. Yet, anyway."
That would be something to worry about later. He sent the note off and began to prepare the ingredients for the potion. Harry turned back to the book.
If Draco's hunches were correct, then three things were necessary to undo the curse and its effects. First, the blood needed to be removed from the book to break the bond between the source of the curse's emanation and its targets. Second, the book itself would need to be destroyed to ensure that the curse could not affect anyone else either--for all they knew it might then attack the next person to touch the book or to read it. And third, the effects of the curse which lingered would need to be counteracted. In other words, Narcissa would have to be wakened. If the others were all awake at the time of the book's destruction, they were probably safe.
They worked in silence for an hour or so, and Draco was just measuring out a precise amount of pickled Murtlap essence when he heard Harry make a surprised sound.
"What is it?" he asked, without looking up from the dropper.
Harry was silent for a moment before he spoke. "In some versions of the fairy tale... um..."
"Yes?" Draco took up the vial and set it aside for use later.
"Well, the prince doesn't just kiss the princess to wake her up."
"Ah." Draco found his cheeks were slightly hot, but he pretended not to notice as he looked back at the potion instructions he was following. "If you find a kiss to be insufficient, well, you know what to try next."
He found himself half-hoping that they might find out.
The one flaw in the plan to keep Draco awake, Harry thought as he watched Draco work, was that it required Harry to stay awake for three days, too. And although Harry's kisses seemed quite effective at keeping the curse at bay, Harry still felt sleepy for non-magical reasons.
But there was Pepper-up. And coffee. And the lovely surge of adrenaline he felt each time his lips touched Draco's. He kept close watch, and at any hint of Draco's eyelids drooping, he would make sure he was not disturbing any potion-making procedure, and then pull Draco to him and kiss him thoroughly.
So unlike kissing Ginny. For one thing, Draco was half a head taller than Harry, and there was a firmness about him that was quite different. Not unpleasant, just different. And just when he was beginning to find the tickle of Draco's unshaven chin enticing, Draco hit them both with a Shaving Charm and explained that Harry was giving him stubble burn.
It was some time in the middle of the night when Draco declared that the potion had to set for eight hours before the next stage could begin. They went back to the war room and Barty brought them food. Harry, at least, felt confident they were going to succeed. This was so much better than uncertainty and wondering what the cause was, where to find it, and all that. They had a plan; now all they had to do was carry it out.
They were sitting together on the settee talking about Quidditch, though, when Harry looked up suddenly. What had Draco just been saying? He realised with a start that there was light in the windows. He had fallen asleep, and so had Draco.
Draco, who was not just asleep, but nestled in the crook of Harry's arm. Harry checked the time. There was still an hour to go until the next step in the potion. Could letting Draco sleep for a bit longer harm him? Would it be better for their likelihood of success if Draco rested and then was able to stay awake for longer?
That was just the sort of risk assessment that Harry hated. Best to wake him. They had slept five hours already. He murmured in Draco's ear, "Time to wake up, sleepyhead," and then tilted his face for a kiss.
But after a few minutes of kissing until he himself was breathless, the only response out of Draco was a slight murmur and a sigh.
Well, Harry thought, he had to try. He hadn't understood all the pieces of magical theory Draco had tried to explain while they'd been going along, but he got the gist. Part of the reason a kiss worked was because it got the blood moving. It aroused and counteracted the deadening, soporific effect of the curse. There was more to it, but that much Harry understood.
And so could something that was more arousing work when a kiss failed? He slid out from his position and lay Draco down on the settee and considered what to do next. His fingers went to Draco's shirt buttons, undoing them quickly to expose a vee of pale skin. Harry slid his hands over Draco's ribs, but if the touch tickled at all, Draco gave no sign.
He slid his hands upward, until his thumbs reached the pink nubs of Draco's nipples. He rubbed them in slow circles, until the flesh stood up, and then he kept rubbing them as Draco's breathing seemed to grow shorter. He pulled the tails of Draco's shirt free then, and pressed his mouth to one nipple, licking and nipping until Draco gasped suddenly.
And then Draco was pulling him up into a kiss--a hungry, desperate kiss. Harry's blood surged as relief washed through him. When he pulled back to look at Draco, he could see his heart beating in his chest. "It's morning," he said. "We both fell asleep. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."
"Shhh." Draco put a finger over Harry's lips. "I'm all right."
"All right." Harry wanted so much to keep stroking Draco's nipples. To see if he would make those tender, hungry sounds again. But it was nearly time for the next stage in the lab, and they could afford no mistakes.
The next few hours went by quickly for Draco, who did feel his head was a little clearer thanks to the nap he'd had. The pickled murtlap essence was added, drop by drop, the solution turned golden, and then it needed to sit in a cauldron under constant heat for a full day, being checked every hour or so.
"This is going to be the hard part," Draco said. "If it starts to turn green, it needs just a sprinkle of powdered moonstone, but if it starts to turn blue, then the tiger's eye needs to be swirled in it counter-clockwise. If it stays golden, it's fine. After twenty four hours of that, then it just needs to sit in a dark room for about eight to ten more, and it'll be done."
Harry sighed as if steeling himself. "So, every hour you'll need to check it."
"Yes." Draco could feel a wave of sleepiness coming over him just thinking about it. He looked up at Harry. "Kiss me?" he asked, "Please?"
Harry came to where he was sitting on a stool in front of the cauldron, put his arms around him, and bent to kiss him. No hesitation, no blush, not anymore. Draco was pleased. He could not really doubt that Harry enjoyed doing this.
He gasped as Harry slid a hand into his shirt and gave one nipple a sudden pinch, then soothed it with soft strokes of his thumb. Draco moaned. "Oh, please, put your mouth there..."
He buried his fingers in Harry's hair as he complied, licking and suckling at one of Draco's nipples and then the other, then blowing cool air on them. Draco bit his lip as Harry straightened up. "You're teasing me," he said, voice petulant.
"Well, yeah." Harry looked surprised. "I don't know how we're going to make it through the next twenty four hours other than... to make it last." He grinned. "Do you play wizard's chess?"
So it was that Draco found himself in front of a chess board at a small table not far from the potion, listening to Harry give some special ground rules.
"So, every time you lose a piece, you lose a piece of clothing, which should keep it interesting."
"But what about you?" Draco asked. "You too?"
"Oh, sure," Harry said with a shrug. "Anything to keep you awake."
Draco narrowed his eyes; the competitive streak he'd shown so often as a child had never completely gone away. "When I get your shirt off, I'm going to suck your nipples and blow on them," he said, as if it were a threat, though he couldn't help but smirk as he said it.
"That's fair," Harry said, and then Draco did smile. Gryffindors did prize fairness, after all.
A single match of chess between them easily lasted two hours, as neither one of them could abide losing, and the sleepier they were, the slower their brains worked. And then there was the fact that by the endgame, they were each down to no clothes at all. The "penalty" for losing a piece, then, became half a minute of licking and sucking. Draco grinned inwardly.
When Harry finally took his queen, Draco knelt between Harry's bent knees and ducked his head as if to suck on his nipple again, just as before. But this time he let his head keep going, until his mouth closed warmly around the soft head of Harry's cock. Harry sucked in a breath, but didn't say stop, and Draco let his tongue snake out and lick the tender ridge. Harry hardened quickly, and Draco had to open his jaw wider to keep plying him with tongue and suction.
He had no idea how long he had been sucking when Harry said, "I... think that's more than a minute."
Draco raised his head. "Do you want me to stop?"
"No! I... just... pointing it out." His face was flushed and his eyes were bright.
Just then the charm that told them it was time to check the potion rang the silver bell on Draco's worktable. He let his fingers trail the length of Harry's erection as he stood and looked into the cauldron.
Perfect gold. He reset the charm for another hour and then sat back on his stool. "We're clearly only two or three moves from mate, here," he said. "I concede. Shall we play again?"
Harry grinned. "Sure. If you win this one, I'll... reciprocate."
"Excellent motivation for me to keep my focus," Draco said, standing up to put his clothes and robes back on.
Two hours later he had Harry on the run. He checked the potion, then made a move, raising an eyebrow at Harry.
Harry shrugged. "I concede." He came forward almost shyly this time and set his hands on Draco's thighs. Draco looked down and saw his cock was at half-mast already, just anticipating this.
Harry licked his lips. "I haven't... done this before."
Draco chewed his lower lip, wondering if it was important to say. He supposed one admission deserved another. "Neither have I. Um, giving or receiving." The look on Harry's face was one of surprise. "Something wrong?"
Harry shook his head. "No, I just would have thought... I guess not, now that I think about it." He made a circle of his forefinger and thumb and stroked Draco to full hardness as he spoke. "I don't imagine you've been... close with too many people if..."
Draco nodded, then gave a moan of pleasure. He knew what Harry was saying. Someone who was afraid to talk to people wasn't likely to do much else with them either. "God, Harry, feels good..."
And then it felt even better, as Harry bent down and took the head of his cock into his mouth. Hot wetness sent pleasure bursting through him, and as Harry sucked and moved his head up and down an inch or two, he kept up stroking with his hand.
"Oh, God!" Draco came without warning, without realising he had been so close. Harry drew back in surprise and got an eyeful of come, but he did not stop pumping his hand up and down Draco's shaft until Draco had gone soft. Draco used a nonverbal Cleaning Charm on Harry and the space around them, but was too shaky to speak.
Harry ended up hugging him, Draco still sitting in the chair, Harry reared up on his knees between his legs. When Draco could speak again he said, "Sorry. I didn't realise..."
"It's all right," Harry said. "I was just surprised."
Draco nodded and nuzzled his ear. "Thank you, though."
They were both quiet for a few breaths, then Draco broke the silence, "God, I'm sleepy." He felt Harry's hands in his hair and he wanted nothing more than to lie down and let Harry pet him to sleep. "There must be something that'll wake me up."
"It's been a while since we ate anything," Harry said. "What about a sandwich?"
"Hmm." Draco breathed into his ear and then sat back. "I was thinking maybe I should reciprocate instead."
Harry's mouth seemed to hang open for a moment. "Um, I... bet that would work."
"Hush." Draco urged Harry to move to the other stool, and then he took up the position between Harry's legs. Harry's cock was already hard this time, a gleaming drop of precome gathered at the slit. Draco started there with the tip of his tongue, enjoying the salty flavour and exploring the tiny hole until Harry made a whimpering sound. Then he sucked at the head until he drew the whole thing into his mouth.
Like Harry, he could only comfortably move the first three inches or so of the shaft into his mouth, so he pumped his fist up and down the rest. In a short time, he found he could hold his head and hand still--Harry's hips moved his cock back and forth in the tunnel Draco made and Harry moaned. Draco lifted his head a bit, to lick and tease at the head protruding through his slick fingers, and then enveloped him once again.
It took a bit longer for Harry to come and Draco wondered vaguely if his technique left much to be desired? He swallowed some of the bitter fluid, but ended up with some of it smeared all over his face. The next thing he knew, Harry was wiping his jaw gently with a cloth. "Was that all right?"
And then Harry was kissing him, deeply. "Mmmm. More than all right. Perfect, Draco."
Draco found himself grinning again. "Good. Now how about that sandwich?"
Harry looked up from where he had lain his head down for just a moment... and had a surge of panic. But no, there was Draco, just finishing the final stage of the potion's preparation. He was cleaning the area around the cauldron with brisk flicks of his wand.
"Is it done?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Draco said. "Well, now it has to sit for eight hours at least. The final colour change will happen after it sets." He sat back tiredly onto his stool and looked at Harry. "Eight hours sounds like forever right now."
Harry had to agree. Exciting and satisfying as it was to tease each other mercilessly and to occasionally come, what his body wanted most now was sleep. He would have to settle for second best, which was a bath or shower. "What do you think about washing up?"
Draco looked up, dark rings under his eyes. "What?"
"Let's take a bath," Harry said, standing up and holding a hand out to Draco. "Yeah?" He was pleased to see Draco smile and take his hand in response.
A few minutes later Draco had led him to a fine marble bathtub--large enough for three, much less two--and they were soon covering each other in suds after that.
Draco's hand, made slippery by fine soap, felt brilliant on his cock. It was pure torment to tell him to stop. "I'll... come again when the potion's done, really done," Harry said.
Draco, who was reclining in the water next to him, his hand in Harry's lap, looked up at him. "When the potion's done..." He bit his lip, looking serious.
"What is it?" Harry touched his cheek, a wave of tender concern passing through him. "What's wrong?"
Draco frowned, but spoke. "When the potion's done, when everyone is free of the curse... you won't need to... I mean, that's why you're here, isn't it? Andromeda will be fine and you'll..."
Harry pulled Draco into his arms, Draco's slick body against his cock, but that wasn't his focus just now. He pressed a soft kiss to his lips, brief, but enough to be sure he had his full attention. "Andromeda and Narcissa aren't the only ones who need saving here."
Draco started to protest but Harry silenced him with another kiss. "And I'm not talking about the curse. I'm talking about you, Draco. It... it's painful to see how isolated you are. It's... not right."
His gaze fell. "You can't rescue me, though."
Draco clung to him, pressing his cheek to Harry's wet chest. "We can be lovers, but... what happens when it's time to marry? My... parents are working on arranging something."
Harry combed his fingers through Draco's wet hair. "I know. I want a wife and family, too. But not now. Not for a couple of years. And you won't convince me that you don't need me."
"No," Draco said, resigned.
"Nor that you don't want me."
Draco's cock twitched in answer.
"It's all right, Draco. Let's give each other what we can. If I can help you walk into a bookstore without fear... I will." Harry pressed a kiss against Draco's hair.
"All right," Draco whispered. "Besides, if you save my mother, my father will have to tolerate your presence at the very least."
Harry nodded and picked up the cloth from the side of the tub and began to silently wash Draco's back.
Draco leaned wearily in the door frame. Four hours to go before he could check the potion. And there was only so much sexual stimulation, coffee, and sugary snacks one wizard could stand. "I don't know how I'm going to make it. Even the fear of the curse itself doesn't jolt me awake anymore."
Harry stood up, full of rangy energy all of a sudden. "When was the last time you flew?"
Draco blinked. When, indeed? "Um, I'm not sure."
Now Harry looked incredulous. "Do you still have a broom?"
"I'm sure I do..." Draco went into the hallway and opened a closet. "Yes, here we are."
He pulled out a Cleansweep model that Lucius had bought, a limited edition with teak twigs, and handed it to Harry. A little more digging brought out the Nimbus 2001 he'd used in school.
"Come on, let's go."
Draco pulled his head out of the closet. "Go?"
"Flying. It'll be just the thing to wake you up, Draco." He took his hand and pulled him toward the stairwell. "Come on. Don't tell me you're afraid of flying now."
Draco squeezed his hand and followed with the Nimbus in his other hand. "Did I say that? I just... haven't done it in a while." He wasn't even sure why he hadn't. He'd always loved flying, and the Wiltshire countryside afforded plenty of open skies where just the slightest Disillusionment charm was sufficient.
They went down to the front lawn, and almost before Draco could suggest what direction they should go, Harry was mounted and turning lazy circles in the air. Draco kicked off and led him toward Stonehenge. They wouldn't go all the way to the stones, he thought.
But nearly an hour later, they were circling the site of the stones, the thrill of the open air and the scent of ancient magic giving him gooseflesh. They hovered side by side looking at it, the countryside green all around and the stones so stark and arranged. Draco drifted so that his boot touched Harry's shoe.
"Thank you," Draco said.
Harry looked at him, but Draco kept his eyes on the stones. "For what?"
"For caring." Draco rubbed his hand along the broom handle. "For caring enough about me to... rescue me."
He could have been talking about that day at the Room of Requirement, but Draco did not specify further. With that he turned and flew back to the Manor.
Harry wondered where that sound was coming from. They had just landed on the lawn, scaring the white peacocks, when he thought he heard a tinkling sound from far away. Fairy bells? Did fairies even ring bells?
"Do you hear that?" he asked Draco, but there was no reply. He strained his ears to hear it.
Again, a tinkling sound. Getting closer?
And again, definitely closer...
He sat up with a start and nearly fell out of the chair he'd fallen asleep in. In the dream he'd been standing outside with a broom in his hand talking to...
"Draco!" He was nowhere in sight.
The bell tinkling was coming from the laboratory. Harry stood up quickly and ran toward the sound.
There, on the workbench, wand still in his hand, lay Draco facedown on a pile of parchment. Harry looked into the cauldron. What colour had Draco said the potion would become? What was in the cauldron was perfectly clear.
Harry moved him carefully, casting a Cushioning Charm on the floor and then laying Draco down on it, before searching the room for the instructions. Apparently the sheet Draco had been drooling on was it, but fortunately it was spelled against potions spills and the instructions were legible.
Yes, clear. Harry's heart leapt.
Draco had intended to do the final stage himself, but Harry thought it made no sense to take the chance of waking him only to have him succumb again, possibly. Harry took up the book and a cloth and sat down at the bench.
He dabbed the cloth into the potion, which had the consistency of currant jam. He smeared it onto the title page, rubbing at the stain.
Lo and behold, the stain was changing colour. Was it supposed to do that? The dark brown was becoming greenish, resembling a tarnish on metal more than a bloodstain. Another application and the stain turned grey, like a shadow. And a third application and the title page merely looked soggy, with no hint of the blood that had once impregnated the paper.
"Well, here goes nothing," he said, and tossed the book into the flaming hearth. It caught immediately, and was ash in a matter of minutes.
That left waking Draco to be done. Harry lifted him in his arms, wanting a better surface than the floor.
Draco's bed was not far. He laid him down atop the coverlet and then began to undress him, until Draco was lying atop his robes and shirt, his trousers, socks and the rest on the floor somewhere. He was gorgeous, skin pale and smooth, his cock asleep on a bed of golden curls.
Harry stripped his own clothes off quickly and then covered Draco's body with his own. "Here we are again," he said in a soft voice. "I really hope I did everything right. I'm sure I did, Draco. In which case, it'll be just a few minutes before you open your eyes."
He started with a kiss, because that was how he'd started before, and for all he knew it was necessary to progress in the proper order in these things. Draco was warm and alive under him, and he responded with small sighs, as if he were dreaming of being kissed.
When Harry was quite sure that he had kissed him as thoroughly as he ever had before, he moved on to Draco's nipples, which were enticingly familiar to him now. And a bit pinker than usual, sore from all the sucking and licking they had withstood earlier. Yesterday? Harry wondered. He supposed it was. He ran his fingers over his own nipples and found them more sensitive than usual, too. Surely that could only be an advantage in the waking process...?
Draco's small sighs turned to soft moans as Harry played with the tender nubs, taking them in his mouth one at a time, and running his thumbs in circles around them.
He kept his hands in place to torment them sensually some more, while he slid his body toward Draco's feet, until his nose was buried in the soft curls of Draco's groin. He sucked one bollock into his mouth and was rewarded with a slight movement of Draco's body. His own cock, which had been neglected since the bath, throbbed.
He took the other bollock into his mouth and licked and tugged it gently. Then he licked a stripe between the two balls up to the shaft which was beginning to straighten toward Draco's belly. More licks in that direction encouraged it to lengthen, until it was full and high against his stomach, ripe for sucking.
That was definitely another movement from Draco, thrusting the organ upward into Harry's mouth. But he still did not seem to be awake. Harry repeated his technique of earlier, suckling the head while stroking the shaft, but Draco did not stir overmuch.
Harry climbed back up his body to kiss him on the mouth again. "That book, you know, it said in some versions... it isn't a kiss that the prince gives the princess. I... I don't know if you're ready for this, Draco. I hope you are, because I want you so much, my cock hurts. I wish... I wish you were awake for this, but you're not. You need waking, and it's the best theory I've got."
He kissed him quickly, then hurried back to the lab to get the slippery elm he'd seen there, and then returned, coating his fingers with the stuff, and then coating Draco's insides with it, one finger at first, then gradually increasing until Draco's arsehole was supple and slippery both.
Harry hissed as he coated himself, then frotted against Draco's cock, insuring that they were both completely aroused. Then he shifted his position, so that the head of his cock nosed at Draco's entrance. "Wake up, Draco," he said, voice soft. "Please wake up." And then he pressed his mouth to Draco's once again, as he began to push in earnest.
He felt the gasp of air against his lips at the same moment he felt the head of his cock breach Draco's tight hole. And then Draco's tongue, surging up to meet his, as he seated himself more deeply. His hips moved of their own accord, drawing him out nearly all the way, and then back in with a slow deliberate push.
The sound Draco made was one of pure pleasure. His arms and legs came to life, holding tight to Harry as if to push him yet deeper. Harry obliged with another slow, deliberate stroke and it felt as though Draco's body were taking him in further. It was not until he heard Draco's voice, dreamily saying "Ohhh, Harry...." that he was convinced Draco was actually awake.
He kept a hand on one of Draco's bony hips, using his leverage to press his cock into him at a quicker pace. Draco's response was unmistakable as he canted his hips on each stroke, meeting Harry's body thrust for thrust, a small "ah" coming from his throat on each one.
This time it was Harry who came suddenly, overwhelmed by the sensations of being inside Draco's body, crying out and fucking him harder as the orgasm hit. After four or five hard thrusts, he remembered himself enough to clasp Draco's cock and stroke it as his own aftershocks were beginning to wear down.
Draco came quickly, too, a wail escaping him as the stroking combined with fucking sent him over the edge. He pulled at Harry, as if he could merge their two chests together, then went limp.
Harry kissed his neck, his chin, his cheeks, his eyelids. "You all right?"
Draco just nodded, wincing as Harry's soft cock slipped free. He pulled the blanket folded at the foot of the bed over them and snuggled close. "Sleepy," he said.
"Me, too," Harry said, stroking Draco's hair. "I think it's all right now."
"I should... tell my..." But Draco yawned so hugely he could not finish the sentence.
"Sleep now," Harry said. "You're safe. Everything's going to be all right."
Draco nodded, closing his eyes. "I love it when you say that."
Draco settled his Ministry robes on his shoulders, holding the collar tight against the chill late-autumn wind. He pushed open the door, then shut it quickly behind him, the bell tinkling. He shook cold out of his hair and stood for a moment, then looked up to find the clerk smiling at him.
He smiled back. "I know this must seem odd," he said as he stepped up to the counter. "But I'm here to return a book."
She tilted her head. "Return a book? You mean, sell it back to us?"
He chuckled. "No, to return it after its inadvertent removal. A friend of mine didn't realise he was still holding it when we left the shop." He pulled the large blue book from under his cloak and set it on the counter. "And I'd also like to ask if you can point me to your books on curses, and perhaps help me to locate others."
"Oh, certainly, sir," she said, taking the book to return it to shelf. "Do you have an interest in that area? Many books we thought lost are beginning to reappear gradually, now that the Ministry no longer confiscates them."
"Indeed," Draco answered. "I'm working at the Ministry now, heading a department dedicated to restoring the lost knowledge on curses, countercurses, and curse healing. I hope the collection will eventually grow into an actual library, perhaps in conjunction with St. Mungo's."
She beamed at him. "That sounds excellent!" She indicated the meagre shelf. "Here we are; it's a start."
He bowed his head. "Here is my card. My budget is small but I can acquire a few books a week if they are not outrageously priced. Please owl when you get more in."
"I'll do that," she said, glancing at the card. "Mr. Malfoy."
She left him then, to peruse the books. He picked out a few promising ones, then moved on to browsing some other sections for pleasure. A grey cat, the colour of smoke, emerged from her hiding place and wove back and forth against his leg until he reached down to scritch her neck. While he was bent over, a book caught his eye. "Fairy Tales for Grown Witches and Wizards?" He pulled the book from the shelf.
He was delighted to find it was a book of erotic re-tellings of familiar stories. With some beautiful illustrations. He added it to his pile.
It would make a good gift for Harry.