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Dark Land of Wonders

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A wand made of elder.

Harry had actually paid the least attention to the Elder Wand of all the Deathly Hallows. For one thing, he didn’t have the connection to it that he did to the Invisibility Cloak he’d owned for so many years, or even the Resurrection Stone, which had helped him on his way to face Voldemort. The wand was just there, a prize with the rest of them.

For another thing, paying too much attention to the bloody thing only encouraged it.

But when he chased Rabastan Lestrange down into the depths of the Department of Mysteries and happened to feel the deep buzz through his chest when he dueled Rabastan in front of the Veil…

It was a buzz. A true, odd sensation, as though a hundred bees had filled Harry’s chest cavity the moment he saw the Veil.

And the same sensation echoed through the Elder Wand, strapped securely to the middle of his back so it couldn’t try to get itself stolen or easily used. The bees had apparently also migrated into the wand’s core.

The sensation had almost cost Harry the duel with Lestrange, which would have been of a piece with the wand’s other tricks. Harry had paused in shock, and Rabastan had tried to hit him with a spell that would have cut Harry’s arm off. Harry had dropped him in his tracks with a Stunner, suddenly less committed to hurting him and making him pay than investigating this new sensation, and wandered towards the Veil.

When he got close enough that he could hear the soft whispers drifting through it, the constant unending stream of noise. Then he felt something else. There was a distant humming in his right arm, on the hand where he sometimes bore the Resurrection Stone. Harry lifted his hand and turned it towards the Veil, still staring, and felt the humming increase. The Resurrection Stone wasn’t with him at the moment, but it seemed it had left some trace of itself behind.

And then a hum began in his left arm, the one where he had draped the Invisibility Cloak the last time he used it to sneak around Auror security.

That humming, too, lower and in the bone, drew him relentlessly towards the Veil.

Harry moved a few steps, and then a few more. There was a soft whisper of air and light around him, and he found a fog, a pale mist, drifting about his shoulders and face, separating him from the rest of the room. If someone else came in and called to him now, Harry didn’t think he would hear them.

He fixed his gaze straight ahead, and kept walking. He had to get to the Veil, if only to see what would happen to him when he arrived there.

He was there before he knew it. The whisper in the air around him and the humming were joined by the murmur of the voices inside the Veil.

Harry smiled a little. He thought other people might have run in by now, Aurors who had also been tracking Lestrange, Unspeakables who would want to make sure that a rogue Death Eater wouldn’t destroy anything vital in their secret room, but he really couldn’t be persuaded to give a fuck about them right now. He gave a fuck about this.

It was different. It touched and soothed a wound in his soul that he had never known was only scabbed over, not healed.

He moved one foot. He moved the other.

And the Veil opened up and welcomed him.

Harry found himself on a plain of polished black stone, stretched out around him to the furthest horizon. He didn’t bother looking over his shoulder to see if the Veil was there. He could feel the whispering presence, and knew it was. Only now it felt like a door he could kick shut and not care.

Overhead, the sun was shining, and the sky was the kind of hammered plate-blue that Harry had only seen a few times in his life. He looked up, wondering for a moment if the sky was merely the inside of a room, enchanted to reflect the weather like the ceiling of Hogwarts’s Great Hall.

Then he stared. There was light coming from the sky, all right, but it was really a kind of diffused radiance that crept in around the corners and made shadows like the light that had surrounded him as he walked towards the Veil. Where he had thought the sun was, where the shimmering hole of brilliance should have marked the heavens, there was, instead, Sirius’s face.

“Sirius?” Harry whispered. He had thought he was over that kind of mourning-inspired cry, but he still made it, and then reached up a hand as if he was going to take the face out of the sky. It smiled down at him, and then it spoke in Sirius’s voice.

“This isn’t as real as you’re making it, Harry,” he whispered. “You have to remember that. Not everything you see here is the same as what you see in the outside world.”

“I’ll remember that,” Harry told him instantly. “Now, come down here. Or can’t you?” He had to wonder, his heart pounding so hard that it shook his blood, if Sirius had been held here as a prisoner in the Veil all this time. It would explain why he had never returned, when Harry knew Sirius would have if he’d had a choice.

The world seemed to spin around him, and Harry reached a hand back for his wand on instinct. But then it stopped, and the face was gone from the sky, and Sirius was standing in front of him, as gaunt and grinning as he’d been on the day Bellatrix knocked him through the Veil in the first place.

Harry moved forwards, stopped, stared, moved again, and made a choked sound. It was no more voluntary than the cry he’d made at first.

This was a trick. It had to be. The automatic idea sprang to Harry’s mind, because nothing had ever worked out this well for him in normal reality. Sirius had gone from him, and he couldn’t come back this way. Just couldn’t.

Sirius raised one eyebrow and looked around as though lots of invisible people were clamoring for his attention. “Well, I could stand here and wait for you to get over your fear,” he drawled. “Or you could let me go again, and—”

Then he let out what was probably the biggest breath of his life or non-life, because Harry had charged him and wrapped him in his arms. Sirius chuckled and hugged him back. Harry closed his eyes, rejoicing.

This was almost more special than the moment when Sirius’s spirit had walked with him through the Forbidden Forest to his death. Then, he had known that he couldn’t hold or touch that spirit again because of the Resurrection Stone’s nature. And he had accepted Sirius’s death when he found himself alive again. He would rather do that than see the spirit again, as helpful as it had been at the time.

“Easy there, kid,” Sirius said into his hair. “I’m not going to vanish again now that you’ve found me.”

“How can’t you?” Harry whispered, and his arms tightened around Sirius. “I mean, unless you can come out of the Veil with me.”

“I can’t do that unless you destroy the things that tie me here,” said Sirius, and his voice was deep and grave, and he pulled away from Harry to look him solemnly in the eye. “And it’s a dangerous enough quest that I don’t want you doing it. I’d give anything, anything, to come home to you again, Harry—except you. And you would have to give yourself up if you tried to do something about my situation.”

“What does that mean?” Harry’s mind was already racing. He was betting that a quest inside the Veil, while probably pretty bloody dangerous, would be a lot less dangerous for the Master of Death than it would be for some other people. “Would it be my soul, or my ability to see, or hear, or talk, or what?”

There was a long moment when Sirius was silent and blinking, and Harry was glaring back at him. Then Sirius smiled and shook his head and said, “Well. You’ve changed. I think You-Know-Who would have died a long time back if you’d been that forceful.”

“It was the war that taught me to be,” said Harry. “And his name is Voldemort.’

“Something I’ll have to get used to, if I get out of this damned place,” Sirius muttered. He was watching Harry with that fond expression again. “You’ve grown up well, you know,” he added quietly. “Your dad would be proud.”

Harry had to smile and look away a little so that his threatening tears wouldn’t overflow. Funny, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“It would mean that you’d be tied here,” said Sirius. “Like me. You would take my place, and my soul would go free.”

“Is there any way to free you without staying here?” Harry loved Sirius, but he wasn’t so lost to all sense of the world around him as to give up his life like this. “I mean, I’m the Master of Death now. That has to count for something, right?”

Sirius almost bleated, “The Master of what?”

“The Master of Death,” said Harry. He didn’t know if Sirius was staring at him like that just because he found it hard to believe or because he had no idea what the Deathly Hallows were, so he added, “You know, the Three Brothers? It turned out the Cloak was my dad’s, and I got hold of the Elder Wand and the Resurrection Stone thanks to Dumbledore.”

“Bloody hell,” said Sirius, and sank slowly down to sit on the black plain, his hands over his face. Harry sank with him, unable to stop touching him long enough to be diplomatic. “Looks like I’ve missed a lot while I was here.” Sirius meditated for a second, and then looked up. “I wish I hadn’t.”

Harry could say nothing, not even do anything, except reach out and hold Sirius's hand. Sirius squeezed fiercely back for a minute, and then he licked his lips and sat up.

"That does change things," he whispered, as if he was afraid something in the Veil would overhear him and prevent Harry from doing something after all. "But I hate to ask you to risk yourself for me, because I don't know what it changes. It still might be a horrible idea after all, and you still might get stuck here."

"Let me do some research, then," said Harry. "I mean, I should be able to leave the Veil now, right? There's nothing holding me here?"

"I reckon not." Sirius straightened up, so cautiously hopeful that Harry ached a little. It suddenly occurred to him that they were a lot closer to the same age, now. Sirius didn't look to have aged a day, and it had been seven years since the war. Maybe it wouldn't hurt Sirius so much if Harry was the responsible adult for once.

Harry smiled at him. "Then I'll leave the Veil and do some research about this and come back. There's Unspeakables who will tell me the truth if I have to drag it out of them." A few in particular owed him life-debts or debts of other kinds, things Harry had never thought he would take advantage of.

Then again, I never knew it would be for this good a cause, either.

He sat back and took Sirius's hand. "But first, I want to tell you about some of the things that have passed since you entered the Veil, and hear some of what happened to you."

Sirius closed his eyes as if he was going to cry, and Harry waited. The Sirius he’d known would have been awfully embarrassed if someone had caught him crying, but that was all the more reason to wait and let him do what he needed to do in his own fashion.

Finally, Sirius nodded and opened his eyes. His voice was soft as he said, "When I first entered the Veil, it was only a misty grey world. I couldn't see very far, and there was no defined shape. But then shapes started appearing, made out of my own fear and desire..."

Harry listened in silent enchantment, his heart pounding harder than he remembered it pounding in years. For once, something had gone right, and the unusual occurrences that followed him around had been lucky for him instead of unlucky.

I'm going to have my godfather back.

The knowledge lay in the back of his mind like a gift he hardly wanted to unwrap, because that would ruin the surprise. But it was no surprise, no lack of reality, because he sat here, and Sirius was with him, talking.

Harry was happier than he had ever been.

*

A small and gleaming mirror.

Draco leaned back slowly from his perusal of the mirror in front of him, and shook his head. He was sure this was no ordinary hand mirror, as its former owner had tried to claim when the Aurors raided his house. On the other hand, every attempt Draco had made to trigger the rune carved on its back had resulted in failure and continued inertia from the mirror.

Thoughtfully, Draco turned and placed the mirror on one of the upper shelves in his room. Around him, beakers fizzed and bubbled, small glowing crystals filled with liquid turned over and over in their supporting cages of pipes, and what looked like paperweights unless one had Unspeakable experience glittered and twinkled. Draco surrounded the mirror with a few well-worn protective enchantments and stood, stretching.

His stomach rumbled. Draco snorted. It was easy to lose track of time in the unvarying twilight of the Department of Mysteries, but his body knew it was lunchtime.

He had almost made it out the back door of his office, the one that led to a private set of stairs the Unspeakables usually used to reach the outer Ministry and its food trolleys, when someone knocked on the front door. Draco turned around with a grumble of his own. That meant someone had come to him on Unspeakable business, and he would have to act proper and mysterious and like someone who would never even think of lunch because he had the secrets of the universe on his mind.

Draco set his back and stalked up to the door, because some people liked to see Unspeakables move like that. Then he flung it dramatically open, standing back away from the wall and lowering his hood until it totally obscured his face. "Yes?" he asked, in what was as close to a hiss as he could get without being a Parselmouth.

He had to admit, though, he was glad that he had the hood when he saw who stood on the other side of the door, if only to conceal his dropped jaw. The real living Parselmouth, the only one he knew of now, Harry Potter, stood there and gave him an impatient motion with one hand before he pushed past Draco into the office.

"Come off it, Malfoy, I know you're an Unspeakable," he said, and leaned against the wall and cast a bored glance around at Draco's collection of priceless artifacts. "I need to ask you a question, so you might as well leave off with the scary routine."

Draco lifted his hood and shook his head at Potter. "You only know I'm an Unspeakable because of an accident. I'll thank you to respect the confidence." A confidence that he'd had no choice but to give Potter when the man had come upon him dangling upside-down from a silver scaffold several dozen feet above the Department of Mysteries, but that didn't mean Potter needed to rub it in.

"Right," said Potter, and looked at him. "So I managed to get into the Veil today, and leave again. I met my godfather there. He said I could go on a quest to rescue him, but it would involve staying in the Veil in his place. I'm here to find out whether being the Master of Death would let me escape a fate like that." He took out a wand from an absurd holster on his back and extended it towards Draco. "In return, I'll let you examine this."

The Elder Wand, Draco was sure a second later, because its magic had sprung to life like a swam of angry bees. His fingers did, in fact, itch to examine it, but he held his hands down at his sides and his mouth and face neutral. "I have no way of knowing any of this. The Deathly Hallows are legendary artifacts. And I've never heard of anyone able to go into the Veil and come out again, or take someone's place there."

"Now they aren't legendary," Potter retorted, and he bent forwards as though he wanted to hold Draco's eyes. He was always doing that, Draco thought. He wondered if it was some lingering belief in Gryffindor idiocy--wait, he meant honesty--where Potter thought he could get someone else to tell the truth just by looking them firmly in the eye.

"They're right here," Potter continued. "And I want you to examine them and tell me what chance I've got. Then you can examine them for your own purposes. Whatever those are," he added, as Draco opened his mouth to remind him that Unspeakables revealed their purposes to no one. "I just want to know."

Draco stared at him, and then eyed the wand Potter held again. If he could examine this, it would be an utter triumph, he knew. He would be able to make all sorts of advances in magical research. The Deathly Hallows were the dream of every Unspeakable, the one thing everyone wanted to be able to say they had examined. The tale of one Unspeakable, Janet Errant, who had supposedly examined the Elder Wand in the nineteenth century was still told to recruits as inspiration, but her notes, if any existed, had long since been lost.

Draco could make his name.

If he could figure out what exactly the Deathly Hallows did, and how, and keep his side of the bargain with Potter. His fear that he might not be able to make sense of the Hallows no matter how long he studied was what kept him standing there, on the brink of what could be greatness, refusing to reach out.

"What's the matter, Malfoy?" Potter's voice was so soft that Draco doubted someone standing in the doorway could have heard it. But Draco did, and he looked up to find Potter's eyes locked, glowing, on him. "Scared?"

Draco knew he should be more mature than to be pricked by the schoolboy taunt, but he had never learned to be indifferent to what Potter thought of him. Skin glowing with anger, he snapped, "I'll find out what you need to get into the Veil and free, Potter. But you'll need to leave the Elder Wand with me while I do that."

For a moment, Potter froze. Draco found himself almost glad of that. Potter broke so many rules, defied so many conventions, but surely even he would be hard-pressed to let the enormous power that wand represented get out of his hands.

Potter only sighed, though, in what didn't sound like defeat, and extended the wand to Draco. "It's temperamental," he warned. "Analyze it, weigh it, do whatever you like in that arena, but don't try to cast anything with it."

Draco snorted. "I don't have a death wish," he said, and held his hand flat to accept the wand.

He did wonder, in one corner of his consciousness, if it would actually work for him, because surely he and Potter had some kind of affinity if Potter had wielded Draco's hawthorn wand so successfully. But he had learned caution as an Unspeakable, or he wouldn't have survived this long. He held the wand without gripping the shaft, and after a moment the buzzing magic from it calmed down to an angry mutter.

"Good," said Potter. "I'll be back for it in a few days." And he walked towards the door as if he wasn't leaving the most powerful wand in the world behind in Draco's hands.

"You really don't care about the power, do you?" Draco muttered.

Maybe being the Master of Death gave Potter superior hearing or something, because Draco hadn't meant for him to hear that, but he turned back at the door and looked Draco in the eye.

"The people I love mean a lot more to me than any power would," Potter said softly. Then he turned his back and kept walking.

Draco stood there for a second with his hand on the Elder Wand and knew he would recover after that second, and go back to work as if nothing had happened, except an important favor that could advance him in his career. But inside his chest, something tingled and ached, and he thought, Lucky people Potter loves.

*

A cloak of shining weave.

Harry went back to the Veil two days later. Malfoy still hadn't got back to him about the Wand, and Harry was getting desperate for answers. Plus, he wanted to see if he had to have the Wand to access the country inside, or if it was possible to use one of the other Hallows to get in.

He wore the Invisibility Cloak draped across his head and shoulders for testing purposes, and also to make sure that he could avoid any pesky questions, such as, "Why are you sneaking into the Department of Mysteries after hours?" He reached the room without trouble, and the Cloak immediately began to shift and buzz on his shoulders, full of crawling ants.

Harry nodded grimly. Then he focused on the Veil and walked into it, wondering if he would see Sirius's face as the sun again.

He didn't. In fact, the country he stepped into looked entirely different. The ground beneath him was a soft, shifting mixture of black stones and black water. Harry had worn his Auror boots and robes just in case anyone stopped and questioned him, so he could claim to be on official business, but he was most glad of the boots. The water would have soaked through any less enchanted shoes.

The sky overhead was a soft, shining velvety black that Harry had last seen on the inside of a piece of obsidian. There was movement in it that Harry stopped and watched suspiciously for a long moment, soft and vaguely wispy white movement that he thought might be unusual clouds or birds. It took him several of those moments to realize that the motion in the sky echoed the motion on the ground; the sky was reflecting the water instead of the other way around.

Harry shrugged a second later. More fool him for expecting anything to be normal inside the Veil. He simply rearranged his arms inside the Cloak and drew back the hood, calling softly, "Sirius? Are you here?"

There was no verbal answer. Instead, a figure simply appeared out of the mist in front of him. Harry took a wary step back, one hand on the holly wand.

The figure remained still and breathless for long enough that Harry grew breathless in return, and shifted his balance so that he was pointing his wand straight at it. But then long pale hands rose and pushed back the hood.

Harry winced when he saw Sirius's face underneath the hood. It was grey, marked with lines of suffering. He looked even worse than Harry had seen him when he first escaped Azkaban.

"Sirius?" Harry whispered, starting forwards, and then coming the rest of the way and hugging Sirius when he didn't resist. "What happened to you?"

Sirius lowered his head and sniffed at the side of Harry's neck like a vampire. Harry stiffened in spite of his wishes, training urging him to jump backwards and save himself. But he held still, because of how much it would hurt Sirius.

"This is the difference between day and night," Sirius finally said in a ragged whisper. "This place has days and nights like your world, even though they don't alternate on the same predictable cycle. I can remember the living and live myself in the day, but in the night, I'm so...I'm so hungry." He reached out and folded his arms harder around Harry's middle. "Can you feed me?"

Harry closed his eyes. Auror instincts screamed at him from one side, and the boy he had been, the boy Sirius had died in front of, from the other.

"If I do that, I might not be strong enough to rescue you from the Veil." Harry hated having to whisper it, for the shiver and the trembling cry it wrung from Sirius, but he had to do it. "I'm sorry, Sirius. But if you've endured the hunger for this long, you can do it for a little longer, right? And then when you're in the real world again, you can eat everything you want." He held the starved figure tighter and didn't let it break away. "I promise, think about the best meal you've ever had. I'll make you a better one. Or take you to a better one." Harry was pretty confident in his cooking skills, but he had to admit, he didn't have any idea of what sorts of meals Sirius might have eaten in the posh Black house when he was younger. "Think about it, tell me about it, and I'll plan for that."

Sirius didn't answer, only stood still and shook for a bit. Then he whispered, "There was this meal that James's parents cooked for me after I had to run away to his house."

"Yes?" Harry encouraged, and hung on as hard as he could while Sirius's jaw swung open and spilled the words forth like barely-chewed food.

"It had potatoes swimming in butter and a sauce I'd never seen before, something that was red and smelled like spices. It had chicken cut into thin, thin slices and laid over other slices of meat, and decorated with berries. It had a salad that crunched every time I bit into it, not like these limp things that my mother called salads, with plants that were barely alive from the garden at Grimmauld Place..."

Harry hung on, and let Sirius sink into his dream of the past, making notes in his mind, remembering what he'd said, because he was going to make that meal for him someday. Just wait and see.

The Master of Death ought to be able to do anything, anyway.

*

A rope of grey silk.

Draco laid the rope he had taken from his collection earlier that day down beside the Elder Wand, and looked thoughtfully at the wand again. It had seemed to respond to various artifacts Draco brought near it throughout the day, sometimes by vibrating, sometimes by buzzing, and sometimes by rolling right across the table and trying to dive under it. Draco had tried to encourage the buzzing response, since it was the one the wand had first showed when Potter handed it over, and this rope was the one thing that produced the strongest reaction.

Draco had to wonder if it was because the rope was woven of Demiguise hair, like most invisibility cloaks.

Although not Potter's. But Draco was unlikely to get hold of Potter's Cloak to check.

Someone knocked on the door of his office again. Draco casually draped the rope over the wand, which wouldn't look strange to most of the people who had authorization to be in his office anyway, and went over to figure out who it was.

Potter stepped into the room at once, his eyes darting around. He didn't seem inclined to look beneath the rope, though. "I've come for the Wand back," he announced.

Draco felt a stab of disappointment so sharp that it really did feel as if a dagger had been driven into his stomach. "Why?" he demanded, and then flinched a little when Potter turned to stare at him. "I mean, I'm making progress on figuring out what you need to do with it. It definitely has a will of its own. It's possible that it might be able to intervene and draw you back to the world of its own accord if you spend too much time in the Veil."

Potter only shook his head and snapped his fingers. The wand stirred beneath the rope of Demiguise hair and then rose up and soared into his hand. Draco blinked. He would probably have been stunned by the display if he hadn't been used to working with artifacts that had even more stunning effects, but it was still impressive.

"I went back into the Veil with the Cloak," Potter said abruptly. "I need--there are ways I can get Sirius out--there are things I need to do for him that can't wait." He kept his head turned away from Draco as he spoke, as if he had an idea how weak this would sound. "Thanks for the research you did so far, but I need my wand back now."

"Well, you have it." Draco could hardly stop the Master of Death from walking out of his office with the Elder Wand if that was what he chose to do. But he did lean against the wall and raise one eyebrow at Potter, who was still looking in the other direction. "You're sure now that you can emerge again if you try to do something that ties you there?"

Potter walked out without answering.

Draco spent a moment cursing, and then sighed. He could go back to his research now, and use some of the things he had learned from Potter's wand in his notes. It wouldn't be the advance in knowledge he was dreaming of, the one that would have led pretty instantly to his promotion, but he wasn't left with nothing, either.

As always when it came to Potter, though, Draco couldn't leave well enough alone.

*

A small stone, worn smooth and shining from much turning.

Harry closed his hand around the Stone a moment after he had showed it to the Veil. The instinct to do that had suddenly come upon him as he walked into the room where it stood, and because his instincts honestly hadn't failed him yet, he had folded back his fingers and held the stone high.

There had been a gusty sigh, as though something was looking out from within the Veil and heartily admiring the sight. Then the whispers had fallen silent, and Harry had moved forwards with his spine tingling and the stone humming against his palm, slowly, sleepily, much more quietly than either the Wand or the Cloak had buzzed.

When he moved into the Veil, he found himself on a plain of smooth, reflective black stone, as usual, but that was the only thing that resembled the previous trips he'd made into the Veil's country. Now, mirrors stood on every side of him, simple glass mirrors in tall, polished wooden frames, all of them straight as rectangles balanced on a short side, except for a place near the top when the frame gathered in a point like a widow's peak.

Harry hesitated and turned his head back and forth for a moment. The silence made him wonder if he had come to the right place after all, or if Sirius was really waiting for him. "Sirius?" he called. The land around him, including the sky, was enveloped by a soft and shifting grey mist, making it impossible to tell whether it was night or day, the way he had before.

A rush and a noise of galloping hooves, and Sirius suddenly rode a winged horse down into the center of the aisle of mirrors. Harry drew back with one hand pressed over his heart before he managed to stop himself from acting so weak, and gaped as Sirius leaped down from the black horse's back, over one clapping white wing, and grinned at him.

He looked--different again. This time, he looked like the younger Sirius Harry had seen in his parents' wedding photographs and other pictures in the album that Hagrid had made for him. He was dashing and daring, his face unlined, his posture straight. Maybe he hadn't actually turned back to the same age Harry was, but it looked like it.

"Sirius?" Harry whispered.

Sirius winked at him and spun around, his arms reaching out on either side of him. "What do you think of my new look? I'm thinking of walking into Number Twelve once I'm free and giving my mother a shock that should shut her up for a year!"

Harry swallowed. "We took that portrait down years ago," he whispered. It hit him once again, like a clap from the pegasus's wing, how much time Sirius had missed.

For a moment, Sirius looked mildly disappointed, but then he waved that away. "Well, I'll find someone else to shock." He grinned at Harry again. "You looked pretty startled yourself."

"Which is the real you?" Harry found himself asking. "The emaciated hungry one, or the one that's trapped here, or this younger version?"

"We're all the same person," said Sirius, and he looked as if he was thinking deeply about it for a second. "But I know that all of us would be equally grateful to be free." He dipped his head and blinked soulfully at Harry from beneath lowered eyelids for a second.

"Brat," said Harry, laughing. "Well, all three of the Deathly Hallows can bring me here, so that's something." He hesitated one more time, then added, "I think I have a way to free you. Should I show you?"

Sirius nodded eagerly, and Harry turned and held out the Resurrection Stone towards him. For a second, the Stone sparked and glittered as though it had flakes of mica embedded in it, and Harry concentrated harder than ever. He had a plan. It was going to work. He wouldn't let it fail, so it just had to work.

The stone gave the smallest, oddest wheezing sound, once, and then a misty shape rose from it. It floated towards the Sirius in front of Harry, who reached out a hand and slowly clasped the hand of the shape. And a second later, they were united, the spirit having faded entirely into Sirius's body, and Sirius was facing him with glittering tears in his eyes.

"That was part of me that was missing," he whispered. "Exiled outside the Veil, prevented from reaching me. That satisfies part of the hunger. Thank you."

Harry gave him a limp, exhausted smile. He didn't know exactly what he had done, but he had known it was the right thing to do. Sometimes, it seemed, there were good consequences that came from being the Master of Death. "I still need to bring all three Deathly Hallows into the Veil at once to get you back. But I promise I will."

"Good, good," said Sirius, and leaned forwards to hug him. "Thank you. I can wait a little longer, knowing that."

A flash of motion caught Harry's eye as they embraced. It was himself in the mirrors. His arms were wrapped around nothingness, which as firmly held him back.

So what if Sirius doesn't show up in mirrors? Harry thought, and turned his head aside. As though I should expect anything to be normal here.

*

A small golden cup.

Draco tapped his wand on top of the cup for a moment, wondering what the hell his colleague, Unspeakable Rowe, had been thinking. There was no spell Draco cast on the cup that was enough to make it buzz and hop up and down the way the Elder Wand had when Draco was investigating it. He had only been attracted to investigate the cup by the report of that buzzing.

But nothing he did produced it.

Draco pulled back and slowly circled around the cup, wondering if firing another spell from the left side would work. But once again, someone knocked at his door and walked in before he could finish turning around. Draco's throat leaped with the sudden suspicion that it was Potter, and he could feel the smile widening across his face.

But instead, it was Hermione Granger, who checked and stared at him when she saw that smile.

Draco didn't feel like explaining that the smile wasn't for her. He only nodded briskly and leaned back against the table, shielding the cup a little from her gaze. The cup was one of those artifacts that the Unspeakables didn't release information on to the public. It could conjure endless, unlimited clean apples and water, but it had been horribly used to flood the homes of rivals by its former owner. Granger didn't have the proper security to even know of its existence. "Granger. Something I can do for you?"

"You're the last person who saw Harry recently that I haven't already talked to," said Granger, instead of getting to the point. "I came to question you." She looked around the room in a restless fashion, as if she didn't like the presence of devices she didn't already know. Draco sneered a little. Potter's friends stayed in the familiar, well-explained end of the magical pool, the shallow spells and little jinxes and hexes.

"About what? I wouldn't say Potter visited me on a regular basis. Twice within the last week. But I can't remember the last time I saw him before that."

Granger turned sharply towards him, and Draco winced, hoping that she couldn't hear the hidden regret at the base of his voice. But all she said was, "Twice? I only heard it was once."

Draco shook his head. He didn't see any reason to hide what Potter had come for from her, because she already know about Potter being Master of Death, and it would get her out of his office faster. "He came to bring me the Elder Wand and ask me to study it, and then to take it back."

"The Elder Wand." breathed Granger. Her face was ghostly. "You're--you're sure. You're sure that he mentioned that--to you. Why?"

Draco sneered some more. Matters with the Veil were even higher security than those connected with artifacts like the cup, and while Granger might have seen the Veil once on a trip into the Department of Mysteries, that didn't qualify her to hear about it now. "That's highest secrecy."

"But you let Harry just walk in here and demand your time and labor on the Elder Wand?" Granger demanded furiously. "You talked to him about things like this and did what he asked you to, and not me?"

"He's Harry Potter," said Draco, and Merlin, he had never thought he would be glad that he could say that. He stood up a little and raised one eyebrow at Granger when she looked about to protest. "Sure, you're looking for him because he's your friend, but I dealt with him as someone who all the Unspeakables are instructed to cooperate with. There's a difference. And I don't have to cooperate with you."

Granger paused with a tormented face, and Draco rolled his eyes at her. "What is it?"

"Listen," Granger whispered. "We know--I mean, Ron and I know--that he was going to the room where the Veil is. The room where his godfather died. We didn't know he was going into the Veil himself, but that's what he told us today. He laughed and told us not to worry. But now..." She twisted her hands.

"If you just saw him today, then why come questioning me?" Draco asked in mild exasperation. Granger might be someone special in her own Department, where she was always causing people to complain in the lifts, but Draco didn't have to deal with her. "There's no reason to think that he won't tell you what he plans, or what he was doing when he brought the Elder Wand to me, even. Go and ask him."

What Draco was thinking was that Granger was an interfering busybody who didn't like anyone around her having secrets. But that wasn't his business, really. If Potter wanted to have her for a friend, well, Draco could think of worse people he could have, admittedly.

"No," said Granger, and closed her eyes. "We know he came into the Department of Mysteries. He told Ron he was heading there this morning. But he was supposed to show up for dinner with us, and he didn't." She opened her eyes. "We think he went into the Veil, and...maybe this time he didn't come back out."

Draco stared at her, heart pounding. Then he folded his arms and said, "You'll have to talk to one of the upper-ranking Unspeakables about that, then. If you want them to open the Veil Room to you, I mean."

"Listen," Granger whispered. "He came to see you. You know lots of things." Draco didn't have time to preen under that compliment, because she leaned towards him and her voice grew even thinner and more urgent. "We trust you--I trust you--to go into the Veil and bring him back again."

Draco glared. Someone had blabbed. To Potter, he thought, and then to Granger. It might have been coincidence that Potter chose him, the one Unspeakable he probably knew, but someone must have done more than hint to Granger that Draco thought he had a way to pass into the Veil unharmed and returning to the world of the living.

It was his special research project, collected and cradled against him until he was sure it would work, but--and this was the problem--not actually tested yet. He had never gone into the Veil and come back. He had spent time in the same room with it, because he had to, but even now it unnerved him and he had put off trying anything, content in the knowledge that his mere ambition to try something like this had been enough to make him appealing in the eyes of the upper-level Unspeakables and they wouldn't simply forget his name.

"I haven't tried it yet," he said stiffly.

"You can." Granger was wringing her hands, and her face was broken. "What do you want me to say, Malfoy? That you're brilliant? That I never gave you enough credit? Because it's true, but I need--I need more than this. I need you now."

And her appealing gaze never left her face.

Draco closed his eyes. His memory wasn't full of Hogwarts, though, or even the fantasies he had once woven of scenarios in which Granger would be broken down and have to ask for his help. It was usually help to pass Potions or something in his fantasies, anyway.

No. Instead, his mind was full of what he would feel if Harry Potter never came back to the world of the living.

And the research he had managed on the Elder Wand, though not enough to tell him anything genuine about the Master of Death, would be enough to let him track it. Draco was sure about that.

"Did he take all three of the Deathly Hallows with him when he went?" he asked, reluctantly opening his eyes.

"You'll try it?" Even the radiance lighting Granger's face was pathetic.

"Answer the question." Draco could make his voice commanding enough to startle some respect out of trainees, and Granger answered now before she thought about it, Draco believed.

"Yes. All three. At least, we can't find the Stone or the Cloak at his house, and he almost always carried the Wand anyway."

Except when he left it with me. Draco nodded. "Then do your part. Make sure that you keep the facts about Potter's visits here and where you think he might have gone from reporters who would try to enter the Department. Spin some other plausible story. Land Potter in St. Mungo's with an imaginary disease if you must. I have to perform a ritual and enter the Veil at exactly midnight."

And then I have one real night to find him and make it back out again. But that was the part that Draco hadn't seen fit to share with anyone, because it was a limitation he knew he would surpass with time and it would have made his project seem less impressive to the senior Unspeakables. He wasn't about to share the secret with Granger, of all people.

"We'll do that." Granger looked incredibly better now that she had something to do. "Thank you, Malfoy." She gave what almost looked like a bow before she hurried away.

Draco sighed, and turned to gather what he would need for the ritual, and the journey, and the entire half-mad plan to bring the Master of Death back to the world of the living.

*

All three of the Deathly Hallows.

When Harry stepped through the Veil this time, he found it dark around him. Simply, piercingly dark, with nothing but a slight drift of grey mist in the distance to reveal that he had not gone fully blind. He took a deep breath and held up the Stone, knowing what to do without being told. Perhaps some spirit hidden in the Hallows was informing him.

He wouldn’t have believed that, only a week ago. But he wouldn’t have believed it possible for Sirius to survive dropping into the Veil, either, even if it was only as a flicker of memory that changed form.

The mist appeared again, this time lit from behind by a powerful grey light. Then Harry saw the light speed towards him, and in seconds he was standing in the middle of it, a shining silver radiance like a Muggle spotlight. Harry stared into the distance and saw a silver path laid out for him across the familiar smooth black plain. This time, it reminded him of the moonlight.

He gave another involuntary glance upwards, but saw nothing there. No Sirius’s face as a moon. Nothing in the sky at all. It looked like a smooth black dome, shining, curved, and unbroken, from where he stood in the midst of the light.

Harry shrugged. Sirius had come to him once as the sun, but he couldn’t have that every time. It was a mystery of the Veil, one he already understood.

He reached back and unhooked the Elder Wand from the middle of his back. For this particular venture, he wouldn’t need the holly-wood and phoenix-feather instrument that had served him so long and so faithfully. This was a darker path than any of the ones that he had trod with that wand.

For this one, the Death Stick would have to serve.

He shrugged his shoulders under the Invisibility Cloak, which didn’t appear to work here, any more than it had concealed him from the hungry Sirius’s sight when he stepped into the Veil for the second time. He nodded at its weight, announced, “Let’s do it,” and marched forwards, listening to the sound his feet made on the dust of the black plain.

Which was no sound at all.

But the silver path lay shining and straight before him.

*

A small bag of badger skin.

Draco sighed and leaned back against the wall of the room that contained the Veil for a moment, wondering why him. He wasn’t the most advanced or magically capable Unspeakable. They should have been the ones to face this challenge.

But all the ones Draco had felt he could approach—the ones who had shared some research with him, the ones who didn’t absolutely disapprove of him—had refused, absolutely and without pause.

They aren’t here because they’re smarter than that, Draco thought with a little grimace, and took a final glance down at the artifacts he was bringing with him, the ones that he hoped would get him into the Veil and stand a good chance of getting him back out again.

There was the rope that had responded to the Elder Wand, lashed around his waist. Hanging from it was the cup that would give him fresh food and water in abundance—as long as it wasn’t misused. The mirror hung from a loop around his neck, his prime weapon. A satchel on his shoulder, made from the striped skin of a badger, contained the other supplies he might need.

Draco let a hand rest in silence on his last best hope, the book that contained the ritual he thought he could use for getting into the Veil and back out again. The only problem was that he couldn’t bring the book with him. The Department of Mysteries couldn’t refuse him permission for the rest of the artifacts, which he’d been assigned to study and which certainly could further an ambitious research project like this, but the book was a national and Ministry treasure.

So Draco had better make bloody sure he had it memorized. Because he wanted to come back, if he was going to come back, to his bloody job.

He spent a few long moments considering it, flipping through the pages that contained the information. The words in his mind, the imitations of the ones on the paper, seemed to sparkle and shudder as they danced through his memory. Yes, he knew them. Yes, it was time.

He laid the book down once more and spent a moment with his head bowed, breathing. Then he laid his arm against the wall and murmured, “Venio,” as he stroked the air with his wand in the shape of a specific rune he’d been taught and then warned against ever using in Ancient Runes.

But Hogwarts had never foreseen a situation like this. Or half the ones that Draco got into on this job, either.

They certainly hadn’t foreseen the Deathly Hallows, and that someone other than the Master of Death would have to deal with them.

The rune stayed where Draco had traced it, shimmering with life and magic above his head. Draco smiled a little and lifted his other arm, which meant he had to switch his wand to his left hand. He was a little uneasy about it, but the ritual said that it would happen, and it couldn’t be helped.

Invenio,” Draco whispered this time, his wand creating a different rune, one that wound and traced its tangled path down the air beside him. The rune shimmered and snapped for a moment, and then settled down, but it was transparent, and hung in the air like a dream, like something waiting to be born.

Draco took a short breath. If he was right, then he would be guided on his way into the Veil by the first rune, the “Venio” that meant “I come,” and on his way out by the second, the “Invenio” that meant “I find.”

If he was right.

But the moment had come to enter the Veil, and there was no putting this off. Draco strode solidly forwards, unwinding part of the rope around his waist and extending it forwards like a hunting hound.

It immediately began to tug him on. Draco followed it—

And stepped into mist.

*

A small stone, worn smooth and shining with much turning.

Harry didn’t need to follow the silver path for long. It coiled back on itself, and came to a halt in what looked like a clearing between standing stones, all of them as silver as the moonlight and angular, upright, though they were also thin. They didn’t look as though they had known a day of aging since they were placed here.

And why should they? Harry thought as he walked into the clearing between them, his hand upraised so that the Stone could shine before him and send out its warning and welcome to any inhabitants of the Veil that were watching him. This place isn’t like other places.

The ground of the clearing felt different than the hard black glassiness he’d been striding over so far. It crunched and shifted under his feet like dead grass. Harry looked around and awaited some sign that he was awaited. But nothing happened for a few minutes, so Harry simply held up the rock, and tried to shine it further.

“Harry?”

The voice came from behind him, and Harry turned around with a smile of welcome already on his face, even if what he saw was the hungry Sirius who had so unnerved him before. But it dropped away when he realized who stood there, staring at him with a slightly pathetic expression.

“Malfoy? What are you doing here?” Harry quietly slipped the Elder Wand back into a casting position in his hand. If Malfoy had decided to do research inside the Veil and therefore interfere with Harry’s plan to rescue Sirius…Harry didn’t know what he would do, exactly, but it would be drastic. “Answer me!”

Malfoy, a thin and pale version of him with pale hair drifting distractedly around his head, stopped staring back and forth and turned around to give Harry another glance.

“You said that you could learn the secrets of the Veil,” he whispered. “So come and learn them.” He spread his arms.

That was like the emaciated Sirius, but nothing else. Harry narrowed his eyes, wondering if someone he loved had taken on the guise of someone he hated as a kind of absurd test. But he didn’t want to actually come into the spirit’s embrace in the testing of that.

Besides, if that was what the Veil intended, it had got things wrong. Harry didn’t hate Malfoy. Not as such. He objected to many things about him. That might be the best way of putting it.

“I came looking for my godfather,” said Harry, and his voice was steady. He was glad for that much. He whipped the Stone towards the apparition, thinking that might be the best way of dissolving it. But either it wasn’t, or else the apparition was more interested in staying here than departing, because it simply stood there stolidly and eyed him. “I don’t want you. Go away.”

“But I came here to rescue you,” said the apparition, and its arms opened wide again. “If you come with me, then I can spare your life.”

Harry felt a hard ripple travel up his chest. It was true that his plan to get back alive out of the Veil, with Sirius, depended on a lot of luck and things about the Deathly Hallows and being the Master of Death that might or might not be true. Well, he would just have to hope that it was still the plan he had envisioned and it would work, because accepting help from Malfoy was out of the question.

“You said that you came here to tell me secrets of the Veil,” said Harry, and turned his back. “You can’t even keep your own lies consistent. Find a different temptation.”

Did you not know that Stone can only summon back the dead, Harry?”

That was a different voice, one that sounded like a mixture of Malfoy’s and Sirius’s, and Harry spun back with a cry on his lips. But this time, the apparition was gone entirely, and so were the stones that had made the clearing. Harry found himself once more on the path of moonlight, blazing straight ahead with nary a bend.

Harry remained there, cautiously looking around and listening and even sniffing, for a while, but nothing revealed itself to his desperately probing senses. There was simply nothingness there. He began to move forwards, at last, his senses still ringing and disconcerted.

*

A small and gleaming mirror.

Draco found the first challenge against him coming sooner than he had expected.

One moment, he was walking through mist, with something like stone under his feet. He had worried about that at first, not being able to see his footing, but the ground had never shifted or tried to trip him. He accepted that the ground was solid and tried not to worry about it.

The next moment, he was in the middle of a ring of standing stones, and in front of him was Harry Potter, holding the Resurrection Stone.

Draco knew in a second what it must be, even though it was the only one of the Deathly Hallows that he had never seen. He found his eyes pinned to it and his breath slowing down and stopping. He recovered a second later, but Potter seemed to have noted his discomfort, because he stared at Draco with a mocking grin on his face.

“Malfoy? What are you doing here?” He laughed when he said the words, and waved the Elder Wand around as though he was trying to conjure something that would terrify Draco. Maybe he was. His wand movement was pretty close to that of someone about to cast the Nightmare Charm. “Stay back!”

But then he winked and beckoned Draco closer. Draco kept his own face calm and neutral as he held up the mirror around his neck.

He had tried test after test to trigger the magic of the mirror and the rune carved on its back, and all had failed. It was only the day before yesterday, when he hadn’t even contemplated this mad rush into the mist, that he had come to realize why exactly that might be the case. And if he was right, the mirror would be a powerful weapon.

If not…

Then he might find out exactly why they now called Harry Potter the Master of Death.

The spell that came blazing from Harry’s wand wasn’t one that Draco recognized. It was smooth and green, but not the brilliant green of the Killing Curse. It was a bristly, fuzzy jade color, like a stream of cut grass. And it headed straight for Draco’s head as if it was going to mow him down like the grass must have been mown.

Draco angled the mirror to reflect it.

Because that was what mirrors did, reflected things, and Draco had been a fool not to think of this before. He saw a moment when he thought the Resurrection Stone would come flying out of Potter’s hand at him, and the mirror grew hot in his hand. The spell bounced off and went flying past Potter’s head to land somewhere in the mist.

The Stone trembled, and Draco could almost feel the ripples of power it was flinging at him. He had no idea what they did, no idea if the mirror could stop them. He was sure that the mirror was growing hot, and probably threatening to crack, because of the Stone’s power, not because of the spell.

Then there was a noise like glass splintering, and Draco found himself on his knees with a cracked mirror in his hand. And knowledge filling his head, eddying back and forth like the mist, but solid enough to feel like a block resting on his ears.

Did you not know that Stone can only summon back the dead, Harry?” he asked, his voice rising and falling like a wave on the shore, not resembling his own.

There was no answer. When Draco looked up, the stones and Harry were gone, and the rope around his waist was leaning forwards, trembling, pulling him on towards the Elder Wand it had reacted to.

Draco nodded and stood up, leaving the cracked mirror on the ground. He had known this would probably happen. He had brought three major weapons—three objects that might counter the effects of the Deathly Hallows. Whether that would actually be enough was not something he knew.

He walked on into the mist, one hand on the rope around his waist, wondering what would happen if he had to lose that one first.

*

A cloak of shining weave.

Harry smiled when he found himself walking the streets of a silver city. Overhead was the same hot, hammered blue sky he had seen when he met Sirius for the first time, when his face was the blazing sun in the sky. Surely he would find the path back to Sirius here, if he could only keep himself walking forwards.

Because he was having trouble, suddenly. The Cloak was tangling itself around his legs, and slowing him down. Harry halted at the base of a building, tall and square like all the rest, and shrugged the Cloak off angrily, so it dangled from his arms. How was Sirius going to see him if he was invisible under the Cloak?

“You won’t find who you’re looking for.”

That was Malfoy, again. Harry could just glimpse him from the corner of his eye, sitting on the steps of a building that looked a little like a tall school. Harry bit his lip savagely, and turned his head so that he couldn’t see Malfoy at all. He was here to find Sirius. He knew the various Malfoys were only tricks of the Veil.

This one had appeared in a form that echoed the Sirius of the first journey into the Veil, his face bright with a blazing smile. He stood up and stretched a little, and then came jogging down the steps towards Harry.

“The Cloak hides you from the gaze of Death itself,” he said casually, when he was walking beside Harry. Harry kept a close eye on him this time in case he tried to take the Cloak, but Malfoy only seemed content to glance at it every now and then. “But that means it hides you from other things. Essential truths.” He cocked his head at Harry. “Including that it’s not as simple as walking into the Veil and finding someone you saw tumble through it once. He’s more hidden than that.”

“I don’t know what you’re doing here, with your mocking riddles,” Harry muttered. “I went to you for help once. And it’s not like you were even all that much help.” He walked to the end of one street, and turned into the next one, only to find that it was exactly like the one he’d left. Endless streets like narrow corridors beneath tall buildings, all the same. Harry sighed a little and wrinkled his nose.

“It’s because you went to me once and weren’t satisfied with the help you got that I can be here,” said Malfoy, seriously, flipping his hair back from his forehead and frowning at Harry as if he was the one speaking in riddles. “The streets are full of people.”

That startled Harry into glancing at him fully, shaking his head when he saw the satisfied glint in Malfoy’s eyes. That had been his intention all along, Harry thought now. “No, they’re not. They’re deserted.”

“They’re hidden from you,” said Malfoy, and gave a dismissive glance at the Cloak, which was certainly the first time Harry had seen that happen, or at least since the Cloak was revealed as one of the Deathly Hallows. “Because you hide from them.”

Harry came to a dead stop then, and Malfoy stopped with him, arms folded around his body as if he was cold. “What do you mean?” Harry whispered. “Say what you mean.”

Malfoy lifted his arms and let his sleeves fall back from them. He was wearing what Harry supposed was a grey Unspeakable’s robe, but it was glowing softly from inside in a way that made it resemble the buildings of the city.

“All right, I will,” said Malfoy, and his voice shifted the way it had in the circle of stones before the end, throbbing with power. “If you hide from all truth, how do you expect to recognize truth when it’s right in front of you?

Harry drew breath to shout back, to say that wasn’t explaining, and to demand a clearer explanation—

And found himself in darkness. The mist wasn’t there. The light that had guided him had vanished. And the grey weave of the Cloak was wrapped completely around his head, cutting him off from all light.

Harry clawed frantically at the Cloak, trying to rip it away.

*

A rope of grey silk.

Draco paused when he realized he was walking past a great city, covered with a mantle of blue light that made the buildings seem hollowed from the inside out, like glass, and with streets crowded with hurrying people. They were all grim-faced and determined, wrapped in the same uniform of grey robes that made Draco think of Unspeakables, and high hats that had gone out of fashion among wizards and witches a century ago. But he was walking past it; he seemed to be on the other side of the outer boundary wall, held back from affecting the inhabitants in any way.

And, of course, inside the city was where he saw Potter, stepping along with the Cloak on his arms and tilting his head back to gape at the buildings. He seemed utterly oblivious to the crowd, who moved aside with stares and shakes of their heads. They didn’t exclaim in annoyance, but Draco thought that was only because they wouldn’t take the time out of their precious routines to do so.

He turned and kept pace with Potter, while the rope in his hands strained and whined like a hunting dog. He probably would lose the rope here, he thought, and have to rely on something else to guide him to Potter. Luck?

Draco hoped the requirements of the ritual would take him home. But he didn’t know that it had sufficed to get him here, really. The nature of the Veil was imitation—the imitation of the voices of the dead, in the one manifestation that was widely studied. That meant it could probably conjure images of the living that one was searching for, not to mention the dead, and Draco had no desire to be involved in an endless chase of mirrors.

But this Potter did turn suddenly towards him and mutter, “I don’t know what you’re doing here, with your mocking riddles. I went to you for help once. And it’s not like you were even all that much help.”

Draco had no idea what he was talking about, but he had already reckoned that the manifestation or image that Potter was engaging with wasn’t his real self. It might not even be Draco. He responded the only way he could. “I didn’t come here to trade riddles with you. I came because your friends were worried about you, and so am I. The Master of Death can’t come here and then just walk right back out, either. The Veil is a place between life and death, if my studies are right. That means the Master of Death is just as trapped here as anyone else.”

Potter showed no sign of having heard him. Instead, he flung back his head, let out a primal shout that made Draco’s hair stand up straight on his neck, and flung the Cloak at Draco.

It passed through the silver outer boundary wall of the city and came straight at Draco, flapping and panting like some monstrous manta ray. Draco hastily unwound the rope from his waist, slipped the cup off and onto the ground between his feet, and then swung the rope out to loop around the Cloak.

There was a moment when the clash of light and magic made Draco’s head swim and his hands tremble. When he could see again, he found the Cloak flying back to Potter, draping itself around him as if it had never left. Draco peered at the ground, and discovered the charred remains of his rope there. He bent down and touched them, and winced. The sheer waste of such a valuable artifact numbed him a bit.

When his hand stroked the ashes, he felt the same kind of knowledge well up in him that he had felt when his mirror had countered the Stone. He stepped back and lifted his head and opened his mouth and cried out, “If you hide from all truth, how do you expect to recognize truth when it’s right in front of you?

It seemed to him that for one moment, Potter halted and turned, hesitating, back to him.

But the city blew away like smoke, taking Potter with it, and Draco found himself panting, in silence, on a great plain of grey-stippled dark stone. At least the cup was still at his feet.

He stooped, picked it up, and pursued a wandering, random way across the plain in silence, missing the tugging of the rope at his waist.

*

A wand made of elder.

Harry was really afraid that he might be going mad.

He had walked and walked since the first moment the Cloak had wrapped around his head, and it had finally come off and dangled over his arms, for all the world like an ordinary piece of cloth without a purpose. But nothing looked familiar. There was no sign of the places where he had met Sirius, no sign of the trail of moonlight that had spread out in front of him from the Resurrection Stone. There was nothing, except mist and blackness ahead of him and behind, and the lonely, soft sound of his own footsteps making dust puff up from both.

He didn’t know whether he had seen Sirius at all since he came back into the Veil, either. He had only seen Malfoy. What did that mean?

Finally, though, between one step and another, something changed. Suddenly he was no longer in blackness, but piercing white light that reminded him of the way the hospital wing at Hogwarts had sometimes looked. Harry halted, squinting and blinking while tears streamed down his face.

He was in an oval room, its walls huge and stretching into the distance, but still visible. Harry felt a frantic fear he hadn’t experienced in years start to life inside him. He hated being enclosed, even if it was in a place like this where he could see every sign of what was really going on. He didn’t know how he was going to break free, what—

But then two things happened that made him calm down. First, the Elder Wand began to give its snarling buzz on his back, as though it was reaching longingly out for something beyond its vision.

And he saw Malfoy come into view, leaning against the far wall of the room. He straightened up and moved forwards with a strained, expectant expression when he saw Harry.

This time, he spoke with a tone in his voice Harry hadn’t heard so far. “Potter! I’ve been trying to find you. I’ve already had to sacrifice the mirror and the rope. Do you know what you’re doing here? The Veil is a place between life and death. Not even the Master of Death can survive it.”

Harry smiled grimly. The words made more sense than the ones that Malfoy had spoken to him so far, but that didn’t mean they were true, or effective. He aimed his wand carefully at Malfoy, who gave him a flat look and didn’t move.

“Listen,” said Harry softly. “Whatever the Elder Wand casts at, it can destroy. That’s the reason that I haven’t used it very often so far. I didn’t really want the power of destruction at my fingertips. But this time, I do. You’ve done nothing but show up and act like a mockery when what I really want is to see Sirius.”

Malfoy blinked at him for a moment, a confusion he hadn’t shown in either of his other incarnations, before he nodded. “The godfather that died,” he muttered. “Yes, I suppose that could be a powerful motivation.”

Harry took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to let Malfoy distract him. “Listen. I listened to you, what you said about illusions. I know you’re an illusion that’s trying to block my path to my godfather. Well, I won’t let you do that any longer.”

Malfoy’s face had acquired a vague expression of alarm, and the only thing Harry saw to object to in that was that it was too vague. Malfoy didn’t seem to really comprehend that Harry meant he was going to destroy him when he aimed his wand like that.

“Potter,” Malfoy said carefully. “Harry. I don’t hate you anymore, and you’re not an illusion. I came to help you. Well, your friends sent me, really, because they were worried when you went into the Veil room and didn’t come back—”

“Liar,” Harry said, gently. He could afford to be gentle. “I did finally think about where I was, you know. Things are veiled here. And that means that you’re not real, and I have to kill the illusion to get to the reality.”

He held out the Elder Wand towards Malfoy’s heart. There was no need to be cruel, and this was the most painless death Harry could think of. Besides, the hatred that brewed in him wasn’t for the real Malfoy. It was for this mask, this barrier, this thing that would keep him from getting to his godfather.

Avada Kedavra.

*

A small golden cup.

This time, Draco thought he was speaking with the real Potter, the one that wasn’t hidden from him by any illusion. And he had almost thought the conversation had been going well so far, up to the point where Potter had flung the Killing Curse at him.

Damn wand. It had to be the wand’s influence, along with that of the Veil and the grief that Potter apparently still felt about his godfather and had never received counseling for. There was a reason that the Death Stick switched masters so often; it betrayed them.

Draco did the only thing he could, and turned over the golden cup that hung in his hands. The apples and water began to pour out of it, splashing around his feet, building up before him into a solid pyramid.

Nothing could deflect the Killing Curse, but some things could block it, like the force of pure creation embodied in the cup. The very things that made the golden cup such a dangerous artifact to use made it the perfect opposite and power of the Elder Wand.

And that was what happened. Draco saw the flash of the green light striking and withering the apples, but they absorbed all of it, that glittering emerald death, the curse that Draco himself could not have survived, for all his artifacts and training. He gasped as he watched the apples collapsing into piles of mush, and the smell of rotted fruit came to his nostrils. The water that the curse touched turned as dry as dust and faded away.

But he was still alive. And the cup was still pouring forth water and apples, sprawling the force of life around Draco.

Draco lifted dazed eyes to Potter. Perhaps he would end up falling before the Master of Death in the end, but at least this had to have given Potter something to think about.

And it had. Draco saw that from the way Potter’s eyes were fixed on him in eager questioning, his fingers wound about the shaft of his wand. But he didn’t immediately lift it and cast again, and that meant Draco had a chance to speak.

Potter did before he could, actually, but at least it still wasn’t a curse. “What just happened?” he whispered.

“The power of your wand is death only,” Draco explained tersely. “Just like the power of your Stone is only summoning back the dead, and the power of your Cloak is only hiding.” He paused. “What did you think would happen when you came into the Veil? Why did you think the Master of Death would be able to rescue someone hidden here?”

Potter chewed the inside of his cheek before he answered, apparently wondering if he should betray secrets to someone as dastardly as Draco, but he chose to reply in the end. “Sirius, when I first spoke to him, said something about a sacrifice. About a quest I needed to go on to rescue him, but that would mean I would end up replacing him while he left the Veil. I thought—maybe an ordinary human being would have to do that, but maybe the Master of Death would be able to escape.”

Draco sighed. He had thought it was something like that, and while, on the one hand, he wondered how Potter could be so madly stupid, there was at least an explanation for it, which was more than he had expected to receive. “Potter. Did you think, for one second, that the vision you saw might not be reality?’

Potter clutched the wand harder. “It looked like Sirius. It was him. It acted like him.”

“And this is the world where all truth is veiled,” Draco whispered. “I told you. What artifact pulled you into the Veil?”

Potter stared at him. “What do you mean? I stepped into it of my own free will.”

“But something called you to it, right? Made you believe that you had to go in in the first place, when you never had, in all the years since your godfather’s death?” Draco nodded when Potter’s gaze strayed down to the Elder Wand. “It was the wand, wasn’t it?”

“So what if it was?” Potter’s nostrils flared.

“It might not be impossible that a bit of your godfather’s spirit survives here,” said Draco. Because it might not be. That didn’t mean he would allow Potter to stay here and drag them both to death searching for it, but that didn’t diminish the actual truth of that claim. “That doesn’t mean, in any way, that what you saw was the real spirit. Except when you used the Resurrection Stone, perhaps. But the wand wants to betray you to death and destroy you, Potter. It always wants a powerful master. You carry it with you but barely use it, you said. Right?”

Potter nodded, his eyes baffled as he stared at Draco from under a thick fringe of dark hair.

“Well.” Draco spread his hands. “What kind of master are you for the Death Stick, the wand that wants to destroy everything it touches? I think it was trying to betray you to your death, and came up with a method to do it, finally, after everything else that it might have tried hadn’t worked.”

He continued ticking things off on his fingers. “You made other visits, right? With the other artifacts?’

“Yes,” Potter muttered, as if in a trance.

“What did you see with the Cloak?” Draco urged him gently on, and Potter struggled for a second before he responded. Maybe it was the Wand’s buzzing and trying to tug his hand up to point it at Draco again that did it. Potter forced his arm back down towards his side, looking a little alarmed at last.

“A vision of Sirius like a hungry ghost. He was emaciated, thin. Starving.” The words were nearly a whisper.

It took him so much strength to say that, and to resist that, Draco thought, and felt a stir of admiration in the bottom of his heart. Well. Why not? It wasn’t as though he had come here solely for Potter, but it wasn’t as though he had come for a stranger, either. “The Cloak probably showed you an illusion, something hidden that you were afraid was true. And the Stone?”

“It showed me this younger-looking Sirius who came riding in on a flying horse and joked and laughed with me.” Potter’s voice was hoarse, now. Draco sympathized. He sounded the same himself when he was seeing how much of a fool he had almost made of himself. “Except I was surrounded by mirrors, and he didn’t have a reflection in the mirrors.”

“I still think that was the most real one,” Draco said firmly. “The spirit of the dead. And, well, there are legends of plenty of the dead who don’t have reflections in mirrors.”

“Sirius isn’t a vampire! Or a ghost!”

“No,” said Draco dryly. “He was the summoned spirit of the dead. And what the Resurrection Stone can do is legend. I don’t know if we understand that much about it. Only what it says in the Tale of the Three Brothers. Even my speculation may be no more than speculation.”

Potter’s head abruptly drooped, and he took a long, slow, unsteady breath before he managed to look up and into Draco’s eyes. “Then how do we stop this? And get Sirius back?”

Draco looked around. He was about to say that he didn’t know, that he didn’t even know how he had appeared in this oval room in the first place, when he didn’t have the rope anymore to guide him to Potter.

But he didn’t need to say that, he realized. Because the room around them had changed.

*

All three of the Deathly Hallows.

Harry took a step back as the white walls around them shuddered and ripped apart. For a moment, he and Malfoy seemed to hurtle, without moving, through darkness torn and streaked with red. He raised the Elder Wand, even though he knew that he couldn’t really hope to protect both of them with it.

Not with a tool that, if Malfoy was right, was utterly devoted to destruction.

But at the same moment that the Cloak came buzzing to life on his back and the Stone in his pocket, he felt the ground under their feet judder back into place. And he wanted to laugh, with despair and mirth mingled, when he saw where they were.

They stood on that smooth, glossy black plain that might be made of obsidian, but overhead, the sky was divided. Part of it was blue, with the sun-Sirius’s face smiling in it and light all around the edges. Part of it was made of clouds and mist turning in soft, swirling places across velvety black. Part of it was pure mist.

And around them, on the ground, was a turning ring. Part of it was made of mirrors, part of it of diffused light, part of mist. Harry saw silver standing stones and shining city walls and white oval walls, as well.

He shook his head and turned towards Malfoy. “What’s your suggestion for getting out of this?” he asked, and his voice cracked a little. Because, no, he didn’t want to die here, and he didn’t want to let the Elder Wand betray him merely to gratify its wishes. Not that there was a more powerful master here to satisfy it, but it might be content merely with losing a master who wouldn’t use it.

*

A small bag of badger skin.

Draco took in their surroundings with a glance, and nodded a little when he saw them. Yes, he understood. The places they had moved through, the apparently different landscapes, were only illusions piled on top of illusions, after all. This was the heart of the place, the shifting reality that spun around them and presented many different faces. If Potter hadn’t been the Master of Death and Draco a trained Unspeakable, he thought they would be dead or mad already. It took a very special human being to survive something like this.

Luckily, Draco’s little ritual had made him such a special human being. He turned back and put one hand on his badger skin bag to draw out the carved copies of the runes that would take them both home, extending his other hand to Potter. “I know a way we can both get out of here. I performed a ritual before I left that would always call me back home.”

“All three,” said Potter, and his eyes were narrow.

“What?” Draco demanded. But he had a sinking heart, always a sign of the truth where Potter was concerned, and he couldn’t pretend that he didn’t know what this demand meant.

“I came here to rescue Sirius.” Potter wouldn’t move. “You said a fragment of his spirit might still be here somewhere. I’m going to summon it and take him home.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Might, I said, Potter, might.” Anxiety made his voice sharp. “And anyway, you could pull his shade out of the Veil, but that’s not the same thing as coming back to life. As you ought to know very well,” he added, when Potter opened his mouth to argue, “Boy-Who-Lived-Twice.”

Potter winced. “Don’t call me that,” he muttered, but his voice was distracted. He hesitated, then added, “Then I want to at least pull his spirit out, so it can move on and go—somewhere. Not be trapped here.” A second later, he bit his lip, and his hand went to the Resurrection Stone in his pocket.

“I can’t do anything if you don’t tell me the truth,” Draco snapped. In truth, he didn’t know if he could do anything anyway, but it felt good to yell a bit.

“I used the Stone once before.” Potter’s voice was sullen and soft, and he kept his head turned away. “When I was walking to my death—well, I thought it was my death—in the Forbidden Forest. Sirius’s shade came to me, and my parents, and Remus. I—does that mean that his spirit isn’t really trapped here?”

Draco blinked a little, and stared. And there was an idea in his head, born of his speculation and his study of the Veil and long bored evenings when he couldn’t sleep and thought of magical theory to keep from remembering the war.

It was crazy. It wouldn’t work.

But then Draco looked across the ring turning around them, and found, near the silver standing stones and moving with them, a shell of a broken mirror. And when he turned towards the city walls, or the place where they currently were, he saw a pile of ashes that he knew came from the rope. And the cup still hung from his hand, although it had stopped pouring apples and water when his concentration had faltered.

Three—the Hallows—times three—the artifacts—times three—Potter, Black, and himself. Yes, it would work.

But it meant he would have to share this crazy idea with Potter, who would probably reject it anyway. With a dryness in his throat that might come from his hope of Potter believing and might come from his hope of being rejected, Draco held Potter’s eyes and whispered, “Listen. There’s—something we can try.”

Potter’s gaze turning to him with hope of his own was one of the most painful things Draco had ever seen. “Really? What?”

“A ritual,” said Draco. “The—Three Times Three Ritual.”

Potter’s lips moved a moment, and then he blinked. “Nine? Why? Why is that important?”

“Three Hallows, three artifacts, three people,” said Draco. “This needs three threes to work. It wouldn’t work if I just tried to take you and me back out of the Veil, even,” he added, when Potter opened his mouth to speak. “That’s only two. Or eight, depending on how you like it. It has to be balanced all the way through. We can do this.”

“Then let’s!” Potter boomed, and paused and eyed Draco when he only stood there, feeling the thickness throbbing through his throat. “What’s the matter? Why don’t you want to do this?”

“Because,” said Draco, and choked a little, and then managed to get his voice going, “the ritual has to involve—intense feelings. Three sets. Your feelings for Black are one leg of the triangle. Our past and the dislike we feel for each other are another one. But I didn’t know Black. I feel nothing for him.”

“I could share my memories,” Potter began instantly.

“No,” said Draco sharply, and for a miracle, Potter listened to him. Maybe because he could tell from the tone, if nothing else, that this was Draco’s area of expertise. “In this case, we can create artificial feelings through the use of the artifacts, since one set belongs to me, one to you, and none to Black. But—you’re not going to like them.”

“Why not?” Potter looked at him with big, guileless eyes.

Draco stared at him, but it appeared that, in spite of being the Master of Death, Potter had managed to remain innocent about some things, like common aspects of ritual magic. “We have to have simulated sex,” he said. “Use the artifacts to create an intense vision of—attraction and fucking, I suppose you could say.” His cheeks were pink, but at least Potter was the only one here to look at or listen to him. “It can be done, it’s one of the oldest ways of raising power, but it’s going to be uncomfortable for both of us.”

Potter looked at him, really looked at him. Draco raised his head and managed to ignore the intense flush parading along his cheeks. He had told the truth. He couldn’t say that the idea of having sex with Potter, even in a vision, was repulsive to him, or as cold as it would be with a stranger. There was that smolder between them, the connection of their pasts and even the compatibility of their magic that had meant Potter could wield his wand without trouble and Draco had a connection with the Elder Wand.

But it was still uncomfortable.

“Yes,” said Potter, his voice rough.

“What?” Draco asked.

“I can go through this,” said Potter. “To get me back to the world. To bring Sirius.” He moved in and reached out a darting hand as if he would touch Draco, though they were still too far apart for that. “Teach me what we need to do.”

Draco breathed out, once more. “Yes. All right. This is the way it needs to work.” And he walked across the ground to pick up the shattered mirror, reaching into his badger-skin bag for the first of his ritual salt to cast the circle on the way.

A ritual circle inside a whirling circle of other visions, beneath a sky also divided into three.

Draco had the feeling that raising the power for this ritual would not be a problem. Controlling it bloody would be.

*

A small and gleaming mirror…

Malfoy had cast a circle of salt all around them, and then lit it on fire somehow. It burned with a clear blue flame and a sharp scent that made Harry want to sneeze, but also seemed to wake him up. And now Malfoy knelt in the center of all the circles, halfway between one turning side and another, and Harry knelt in front of him.

“We have to do this just right,” Malfoy murmured, and reached out and cupped his hand around Harry’s. Harry held the Stone. It was buzzing again, but softly. Still, he heard Malfoy catch his breath when their fingers brushed, probably from the power of that buzz.

Or was it just the thought of what they would do together, later? Harry had to admit a buzz was creeping under his own skin at that thought, even if it would sort of be an illusion or phantasm or something like that.

Malfoy caught his eye for a moment, and Harry stared back at him, willing back a blush from a sudden awareness his thoughts might be visible on his face. But Malfoy only shook his head and said, “This mirror got broken in a conflict with you—”

“One I saw nothing of,” Harry interrupted. He had heard Malfoy’s story of the battle they’d fought and the unknown curse he’d cast, and it was still unbelievable to him.

“It got broken somehow,” said Malfoy firmly, “in conflict with the Stone. So, hold out the stone slowly towards me. And I’ll hold out the mirror towards you.”

Harry nodded. Malfoy had been vague about exactly what would happen as this proceeded, but at least these sounded like instructions that Harry could obey. He extended his hand at the same time as Malfoy shifted his own hand so it was cupping Harry’s fingers more closely.

And…

*

with a small stone, worn smooth and shining from much turning, planted in the center of it.

Draco never saw the moment when the magic crackled around them and fused stone and mirror together. It was the kind of thing that would be dangerous to see, he thought. He only closed his eyes, and felt Potter’s hand tremble, and then looked down at their still-clasped fingers when the magic blew away.

The Resurrection Stone sat in the middle of the shattered glass of the mirror as if it had always been there. The cracks still existed in the surface, but now they all appeared to lead up to the Stone. Draco swallowed and settled back on his haunches, cradling the joined artifacts by himself when Potter released his hands.

He noticed that the mirrors around the edges of the circle now each had a stone planted in the center, although they appeared to be different colors: blue and black and white and red. Well, that was a sign of—something. Progress, Draco hoped.

“What do we do now? Is that it?”

Draco smiled and looked up at Potter. “Yes. That’s the first part, the part we didn’t even have to think about, because of course you have feelings for your godfather that were strong enough to bring you here, so.” He set the mirror gently aside, although he would have liked to try looking into it, or seeing if it would still reflect something. “Notice the mirrors around the edges of the circle?”

Potter twisted his head, and made a soft noise of surprise. Then he looked up. “And part of the sky is gone, too.”

Draco nodded. The mist had gone, and the remaining sky was divided into halves, between the blueness with Black’s face beaming in it and the clouds dancing in the black. Well, Draco would also take that as a good sign. “The sky you saw when you summoned Black’s spirit with the Stone?”

“Yeah,” Potter breathed, and turned back to Draco with his eyes and smile bright. “What now?”

Now, something harder. Draco rose to retrieve the pile of ashes that were all that remained of his rope, and instructed over his shoulder, “Now, think as hard as you can of all the times that you didn’t like me. And hope that’s enough.”

*

A cloak of shining weave…

Harry blinked a little as he drew the Cloak forwards and let it dangle from his arms, the way it had when he was walking the streets of the city. “Are you going to think about the same thing, from your own perspective?” he asked. Malfoy had ashes in his hands and was rubbing them all over his palms. Harry had no idea what was meant to come out of this part of the ritual.

The next one, he did, and had to ignore a throbbing of shock and hope and discomfort all up and down his spine.

“Yes,” said Malfoy, although his voice was low and his eyelids already falling over his eyes, as though he had to think hard to immerse himself in awful memories of Harry. Harry had to admit, it would be the same way with him. It was years since he had taken what Malfoy did to him seriously. Things in the Aurors, the Dark wizards he chased down and captured, were so much worse.

But he could dislike Malfoy for what he had done to others. He closed his eyes and pictured Bill’s scarred face and Fenrir Greyback’s snarling one. He nodded, his stomach twisting. If Malfoy hadn’t opened the Vanishing Cabinet and let the Death Eaters in, then Bill would still have been whole and would have had a happier life.

He could feel the Cloak squirming around in his hands as if it wanted to be free from them, but Harry didn’t intend to let it go. It could just as well stay still and listen to him, he thought, clenching his fingers down into the magical cloth.

And there was the time that Malfoy had made up “Weasley Is Our King” and humiliated Ron. Even if it had turned out all right in the end, Malfoy had still humiliated Ron at first. Harry’s breathing sped up as he thought about it, his head tossing and straining, the way the rest of his body was straining to hold the Cloak in place.

It was really rippling and fighting him now, as if pulled by a wind Harry couldn’t feel towards a destination he didn’t know.

And there was the time—there were the times—that Malfoy had called Hermione “mudblood.” Oh, and told Harry that his very first friend ever was worthless. Harry could feel his teeth grind just thinking about it. If Malfoy hadn’t been so awful from the beginning, then maybe they could be friends. As it was—

He opened his eyes and hands with a yelp as the Cloak was torn from them. He reached out helplessly, wondering where it was going, only to see it blowing towards Malfoy, who leaped to his feet and reached out as if his own hands held an invisible ring.

*

…wrapped with the crumbling remains of a rope of grey silk.

It took some effort to summon incidents back to mind that would qualify for the needs of the ritual. Then again, Draco had known it would. He had moved on since the war, and especially since the childish insults that, Draco had to admit, were the only things Potter had ever really done to him.

Well. No.

Draco didn’t move his hands, because that would ruin the aspect of the ritual where they needed to get Potter’s Hallow and Draco’s artifact close together, but he wanted to. He wanted to reach down and trace the scars on his chest. Not even Snape’s spell and potions had been in time. Draco would always carry a mark from Potter’s mistreatment of him, hidden though it usually was under his robes.

Exactly why had Potter blurted an unknown spell that turned out to scar him for life? Sometimes, Draco thought that Potter’s self-righteous conviction that he was one of the good guys was only laughable; other times, it was horrible.

The ashes were starting to slowly circulate and rise in his hands.

And there was the time Potter had beaten him up in fifth year, after the Quidditch game. No matter how awful Draco’s taunting was, he hadn’t done anything physical to Potter that time. Potter was the one who had chosen to cross the line. He was supposed to be noble and above it all, not a bully? Not that day.

Draco breathed in and winced as if he could still feel the bruises. The ashes in his hands were singing softly to each other, rubbing against each other, now.

And there was the time that Potter had helped sneak a bloody dragon through the school, and he hadn’t cared at all about the way it could burn everything down. He had dared to be angry at Draco for reporting the thing. Did he honestly think that ruddy gamekeeper of his ought to have stayed at the school? Potter would probably say that Hagrid couldn’t get a job anywhere else, but the reason why he couldn’t was perfectly obvious, and didn’t have anything to do with his giant blood!

Draco’s breath was heated, and he could feel it kindle the ashes in his hands. When he heard Potter cry out, he stood up, and was ready.

The Cloak fled towards him. Draco reached out with the ring of ashes circling in his hands, echoing the circling motions of the standing stones and mirrors and city walls, and then snapped the ashes into places around the Cloak’s hood.

In seconds, he held the Potter Invisibility Cloak with a noose around the neck, a noose formed of the resurrected rope. The rope was still ashen in color and felt odd when Draco touched it, but there was no doubt that they were joined.

Draco blinked, slowly. Admittedly, he hadn’t imagined them joined like this; he had thought he would simply rub the ashes into the Cloak’s weave. But this way worked, too.

“What happened?”

Draco turned around and gave Potter a small smile. It was surprisingly easy to do, as though the joining of the artifacts had purged him of his hatred, and he no longer had to worry about what Potter would do to him. “The artifacts joined,” he said, and looked at the circle around them.

Every city wall in sight had a cloak with a noose around its neck dangling from it now, looking eerily like an invisible corpse. And there was only one sky above them now, the one with Black’s beaming face in it.

“What—what comes next?”

Draco turned around as he gently placed the hanged Cloak on the ground next to them. “You know what comes next,” he said quietly, and held up the golden cup.

Potter took out the Elder Wand, staring at it and rubbing his fingers along the haft. Just the sight made Draco tingle. “I suppose—the Wand goes into the cup?”

“I’m not sure,” Draco said truthfully. “I thought the last one was just going to end up with ashes all over the Cloak, made part of it.”

“True.” Potter swallowed heavily and looked into his eyes. “I suppose that means—I top?”

Draco thought about it, and then said, “No,” as gently as he could. “I was the one who came up with the ritual and who’s going to draw all three of us back. And I’m the one who knows the ritual that will let us blend our emotions and become—artificially fond of each other for a little while. I’m the one who has to do it.” He leaned forwards and put a hand on Potter’s cheek, both to try and reassure him, and to see if Potter would let him do it. They had just been brimming with their past dislike and hatred, after all. “Can you do that?”

Potter’s eyelids fluttered and he said, “Yes,” in a voice so quiet that Draco found he had to strain to hear it.

But there was no reluctance in it.

*

A wand made of elder…

Harry knelt in the center of the circle, and breathed softly, heavily. The Elder Wand was in his hand, and it buzzed like a nestful of hornets.

Malfoy stood over him, and Harry looked up at him and found a great compassion in his eyes. To be honest, that was really the only reason that Harry could continue to go through with this. He bent down and kissed Harry slowly on the forehead.

“Now,” he whispered, against Harry’s old scar, “keep in mind that this is happening partially in our imaginations, and partially in the real world. You’re going to have some soreness and some—sense that something happened to your arse.” Harry shivered at the word that should have sounded ridiculous and only sounded as though it were a flickering, throbbing connection between them instead. “Come. Lie back.”

Harry did, and Malfoy knelt down beside him. He touched the cup to the end of the Elder Wand, which made a spark flash and leap. Harry flinched. The spark was a color he had no name for.

“Shhh,” Malfoy murmured, and set the golden cup on the ground. Then he leaned over and kissed Harry, this time on the lips.

Harry sighed and opened his mouth. It was surprisingly easy, this kiss, despite the negative feelings he’d just been mustering towards Malfoy and the fear from the spark—and the extra, lurking fear that he might not come back with Sirius at all. Malfoy’s tongue was gentle, soft, and lapping everywhere, and Harry groaned and held out a shaking hand. Malfoy took it and laid it on his own shoulder, then bent over Harry.

His hands were full of that salt he had used to make the ritual circle, and he scattered it on and over them. Harry felt it shift, gritty, through his hair. This time, when he opened his mouth, it was to complain.

But Malfoy forestalled him. He murmured, “Fortuna.”

Only that single word, which Harry would have thought was a luck incantation if anything, and Harry’s whole body was burning. He arched upwards, gasping, and Malfoy lifted the cup and slowly tilted it.

For a moment, Harry saw a stream of cool water pouring towards him, and his whole body was waiting to welcome it.

But then it wasn’t the water, it was Malfoy instead, his hair forming out of the white bubbles on the clear water, his grey eyes glinting and darkening from out of it, and his skin shimmering and naked, translucent, then solidifying. His hands were certainly solid, roaming everywhere on Harry, touching him, soothing him. And Harry was naked, too, his clothes washed away by the water, but he didn’t care. He needed this, needed everything Malfoy was going to give him.

He opened his legs.

Malfoy’s fingers were already there, slick with water that warmed as it was forced inside Harry’s arse. Harry hummed and spread his legs wider. He had never been taken up the arse, no, but then, he had never been with a man before. Not very many people since the war, actually. There was never enough time on his side, or understanding of the way he actually was on the other person’s.

But Malfoy had seen him at his worst, thought about it just recently, and was still doing this. Harry smiled dreamily up into Malfoy’s face.

“If only you could see what I can see,” Malfoy whispered, and his voice was tender. “You have—you have an incredible soul, Harry, if you can do this.” His fingers slid deeper, and Harry moaned a little. “Someone who can come here in the name of love, who can endanger himself and the person who follows him…”

Harry managed to hang onto his dignity long enough to snap, “That doesn’t sound like a person with an incredible soul to me. It sounds like you think I’m a fool—”

He broke off, gasping, as the fingers touched a place inside him that made his vision flash like the spark that had spat between the Wand and the cup. Malfoy slid his hand out and stroked his own cock, which was all wet and gleaming, and he shook his head and murmured, “You’re someone who came here in the name of love. And I chose to follow you. Even if I think that I have a foolproof way to get back to the world, we’re either both fools, or no one is.”

And he slid slowly into Harry’s body.

Harry was gasping long before Malfoy got very deep. He was thick and warm; he dried the water as he moved, so that Harry wondered how his cock could continue sliding. But it did, and there was so much depth inside himself, depths Harry hadn’t expected would be there. He wondered for the most fleeting of moments whether Malfoy had used magic to give him a wider arse.

But he lost the silly thought when another need made itself known to him, one that went beyond pain and pleasure. He raised his head and whispered, “Move.”

“What?” Malfoy was rocking in place, bracing himself on his heels as if he wanted to test how long he could do it.

“Fucking bloody move!” Harry snapped, and the Elder Wand hummed threateningly along with him.

Malfoy laughed and said, “Well, all right,” and began to thrust. And Harry felt the difference immediately. This was something other than uncomfortable and shocking and thrilling.

This was good.

*

blended with a small golden cup.

Being inside Harry was incredible.

Draco could easily forget that it had taken them a spell, or a vision, or a ritual, or whatever you wanted to call it, to get this far. He could forget everything except the heat around and in front of him, the bliss dragging up his cock as he withdrew, then calling him back when he thrust in again.

Everything except Harry.

He knew he wanted to be with him, inside him, like this, for a long time.

But already his pace was quickening, and Harry’s hand was smoothing up and down his face as he murmured Draco’s name—Draco’s first name—with the softest air of raging contentment, and Draco could feel the enormous power whirling around them, redoubling with every spin of the circle of stones and city walls and oval walls.

He knew what he needed to do. Even if he was reluctant to end this heat and this sensation of joining with someone for the first time in his life. He’d had sex, sure, and plenty of good sex. Just not like this.

He reached out and picked up the cup, tipping it over them. This time, it was apples that came out, surrounding them in a pelting fall of red and green and crispiness and hard blows—

For a second. Then Draco was floating atop Harry in another new landscape, this one made of the same colors as the apples, luckily, which meant it was probably the landscape he had meant to conjure with the cup, and not another imaginary one that the Veil had thrown at them.

Probably.

“Draco?” Harry panted at him, lifting his head to ask for a question, or a kiss.

Draco threw his back into the last few thrusts, because all the magic was reaching down atop him now like the tail of a tornado, and he knew that he couldn’t last much longer. He had to come, and Harry had to come, in a few minutes, or—

And then, there it was.

It was as if all those apples had hit him after all, Draco thought, as he sagged forwards and thrust out the warmth into Harry’s arse. Still pumping, still moving with the quickening of his body, he managed to take Harry in hand and stroke him, and was sad he hadn’t done so earlier. Harry felt like—

Water, pouring water, as he came, and cried out his pleasure, and the world around them became nothing but magic, whirling magic, which had no color, which had no feeling, which was more beautiful than anything except Harry, which felt better than anything except being inside Harry.

Draco opened his eyes wide, and did manage to see the cup gaping wide and then utterly swallowing the Elder Wand. Or the Elder Wand was wrapped around it. Draco didn’t see either things, and he saw both at once, and then one was there and then the other. It was kind of hard to see—

He saw the mirror with the Stone in the center rise, and light reached out from the cracked and crazed sides of it, towards the sky. He saw a flapping, struggling shape that might have been a spirit flying down towards them.

The Cloak and the rope swirled up into the spirit, and wrapped around it. Draco thought he saw, for a moment, a neck sticking out of the Cloak’s hood, arms flapping through its sleeves.

Then the cup and the Wand struck them all, struck them both, struck them all three, and Draco’s last impression was being pulled down a tunnel towards nothingness, with only the carved silver runes he carried, counterparts of the ones he had carved into the air in the Veil room, dancing in front of him.

*

All three of the Deathly Hallows.

Harry found himself tumbled on the floor in the room that held the Veil. He seemed to be holding something. When he turned his head, he found it was the edge of the Invisibility Cloak, and the rope that was coiled around the neck.

And the neck belonged to Sirius.

Harry gave a rough sob, and undid the rope rapidly. It was Sirius, Sirius in body, breathing gently. Harry ran a hand over his face and his beard, which was as short and ragged as it had been on the day that he went into the Veil, but nothing woke him yet. Harry wondered for a second whether he would see Sirius’s real spirit when he opened his eyes.

“It’s all right.”

Harry looked up. Malfoy was kneeling next to him, holding the mirror with the embedded Stone in one hand, and a complicated mix-up of gold and elder wood in the other, which no longer looked like anything except a mess. And he was naked.

Harry came to realize that he was too, and his face burned a little. On the other hand, Malfoy had already seen everything that Harry had to give up, and—

Well, Harry could understand. That experience, vision or not, had been purifying, in a way. Artifacts like the Deathly Hallows could survive it, and flesh that had once been poured from a cup, but not ordinary cloth and leather.

“It’s all right,” Malfoy repeated gently. “The Stone called his spirit back, the Cloak gave him his body, and the Wand and the cup, joined into an instrument of creation and destruction, negated each other and made sure that he returned to the world of the living as one of the living, as someone who can both create and destroy.”

Harry shook his head, not in denial, and muttered, “How do you know all this?”

“Magical theory,” said Malfoy, with a slight upward tilt of his eyebrows. “The same way I knew the Three Times Three Ritual and the one that would bring us back. I am an Unspeakable.” He lowered the mirror and the mess to the ground, and reached up to take a floating silver rune out of the air. It dissipated as he touched it, before Harry could get a good look, not that Harry would probably have recognized it anyway. He had never taken Ancient Runes. “And you’re welcome.”

Harry’s throat burned for a different reason this time, and he cleared it. “I’m sorry—it’s just, to have him back…” He stared at Sirius for a second, and then back at Malfoy. “What you did—”

“I did.”

There was a heavy, waiting knowledge under that response. Harry raised his head and met Malfoy’s eyes, and saw no mockery there. Only an invitation.

Harry swallowed and stretched out his hand. Malfoy caught it, and held it in the flesh—maybe—for the first time since they had entered the Veil.

Harry would have said something else then. The words were on his tongue. Really, he meant to speak them.

But then Sirius opened his eyes.

*

A small bag of badger skin.

Draco leaned back, well-pleased to watch the way that Potter laughed and exclaimed and wept and embraced Black, well-pleased to know he would be ignored for the next few minutes no matter what he did. What he did was to go about conjuring robes for himself, and in the meantime, retrieving the two silver runes, charred and unrecognizable, that had fallen on the floor beside him, and put them back into the bag of badger skin. That ritual was his discovery, and he wasn’t about to let anyone else tamper with it.

Then he leaned back and looked at Potter and Black again.

Well, maybe he could still call Black by his last name, but the other one was Harry.

Draco watched him, and remembered pleasure, and combat, and hatred, and joining, and decided, content, that he could do more than wait for Harry to come to a conclusion that seemed obvious to Draco. He could pursue him, gently, and encourage that conclusion, and make sure that Black got settled into the world—as an Unspeakable, he could practically use the same procedures that would clear the way for a precious object—and have Harry’s gratitude pouring down on him like water from the cup.

Because, vision or not, that joining had changed something in him.

Harry caught his eye over Black’s shoulder then, and despite everything, blushed. Draco smiled back.

“Harry,” Black said then, in a doubtful tone, “why are you naked?”

Harry flushed harder than ever, and his mouth moved without any sound coming out.

That was Draco’s cue to go to the rescue again. He stood up and moved smoothly forwards, bowing when he caught Black’s eye, preparing the proper words.

He could learn to like coming to the rescue, he thought.

And he already enjoyed the shine in Harry’s eyes when they lifted to his face, more than he enjoyed the thought of the chance he might have now to study the Deathly Hallows.

I will have a lot more…

The people I love mean a lot more to me than power, Potter had said once.

Draco wanted that love, and he thought he could have it.

And knowledge, and joy, and wonder.

All in abundance, unlimited, flowing.

The End.