Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Spoilers: All four books
Summary: A Harry/Draco SLASH romance. Under the influence of a love potion, Draco learns that poison doesn't always bring death — there are other ways to suffer and live. Chemical emotion runs feverish as Harry and Draco discover the intoxication of love. Written by a remorseless slash girl *g*, this story explores the intricate relationship between Harry and Draco.
Chapter 5 - Consequences
Love is not a word; it's a sentence.
Professor Lupin laid all their corrected homework scrolls on the table, and looked up at the class with a pleasant smile.
"Well. Here's the homework submitted last lesson, I've graded them and am just going to say a few words before returning them to you." He gestured expansively at the pile of scrolls, and remarked dryly, "Some of you have clearly taken the length requirement very technically indeed, and might be pleased to know that I did take note of your painstaking efforts to keep your essay exactly thirty inches long."
Ron smiled sheepishly and looked at Harry, who grinned back.
"However," there was a twinkle in Lupin's eye as he continued, "this homework assignment was generally very well done, with a few outstanding pieces of work." He picked up a thick scroll, and held it up. "Hermione has done a meticulous job in researching the history of Imperius through the Ages, going beyond textbook material and giving a very accurate account of the origins and development of the Curse. Five points to Gryffindor, well done."
It came as no surprise, of course, although Hermione still blushed and looked very pleased with herself. Ron grinned and raised his eyebrows as if to say What's new?, but truthfully they were all glad for the extra points, since the battle for first place in the House rankings was a tight spot between Slytherin and Gryffindor. Harry gave Hermione a thumbs-up sign.
"Another excellent essay worth mention," Lupin announced, "is written by Mr Malfoy."
Harry's head snapped in Draco's direction, genuine surprise on his face; Draco didn't look at him, and was just staring fixedly straight ahead. A murmur arose in the classroom, comprising of the Gryffindors' displeasure that Hermione wasn't the only one whose essay was highlighted, and the Slytherins' satisfaction that they had representation in the honour roll.
"Mr Malfoy has done an outstanding practical analysis of the Imperius Curse, which is actually much more difficult than the research since it incorporates personal commentary." At this Hermione frowned, annoyed at having her thunder stolen. Lupin continued, "He has managed to summarise the reason for Imperius' efficacy in a very succinct manner, and his essay is among the most insightful that I've ever read."
Lupin picked up what was presumably Draco's scroll and unfurled it; Harry glanced at Draco again, and was once more startled to see the look of dismay on Draco's face as Lupin began to read selected passages from the essay.
"Imperius is so potent because of the absolute control it affords the one casting the spell — the victim is forced to bend completely to the caster's will, unable to fight it unless duly trained or in possession of special magical prowess," Lupin read out loud; the class was silent as they all listened. "Imperius has been ubiquitous through the ages because of its simple incisive nature, in how it penetrates its victim deeply, permeating mind, body and soul. Other variations of the Imperius Curse include Mental Manipulation Spells, certain kinds of memory charms, and love potions."
Harry flinched slightly, sitting up straighter. He looked to Draco once more, and saw the blond head bowed, Draco's hands covering his eyes, his shoulders slumped. Harry stared at Draco, feeling a heavy sinking feeling in his chest as he listened to Lupin.
"But even more so, the victim is confused, such that he doesn't know what to believe as truth or lie any longer, unable to distinguish between induced thought and real intention. This serves to disintegrate the victim from within — he no longer understands the difference between what he really wants and what the spell is forcing upon him, and in the end, this proves to be the most damaging way of breaking his resolve."
Lupin paused, then skipped a few paragraphs further down, near the end of the essay: "Over time, probably the most destructive effect of Imperius on a person is the gradual, conscious yielding of the mind, until submission becomes almost voluntary, an acquired habit, and the spell has reached its ultimate success when the person truly believes that he is acting out of his own free will. That is when the Curse has finally conquered the last citadel of one's character — his heart."
Professor Lupin glanced at the class, smiling as he rolled up the scroll; Draco finally looked up with a blank expression on his face, although Harry couldn't see very clearly from Draco's profile.
"I couldn't have described it better myself," Lupin favoured Draco with a curt, approving nod; Draco barely acknowledged it, just lowered his eyes once again. "Very well done, Draco. Ten points to Slytherin."
The Gryffindors muttered in outraged protest — how could Malfoy get more points than Hermione? Several Gryffindors shot the Slytherins, Draco in particular, venomous looks, but the smugness on the Slytherin side took the wind out of their sails.
Ron glared resentfully at Draco. "That slimy bastard," he hissed, anger in his low, tight tone. "Probably the only reason he knows so much about Imperius is because he has practical experience! Why the bloody hell does he get ten points for having messed with Dark Arts?"
"Keep it down, Ron," Harry cautioned; Ron's voice was mounting with each furious word.
But Ron was livid. "This is outrageous!" he snapped, his eyes flashing. "What is wrong with Lupin? Why can't he see that Malfoy so obviously knows more about Dark magic than he should? This essay should actually be evidence that the Malfoys are still very well-acquainted with the Dark Arts, and—"
"Ron," Harry repeated, louder this time. "Calm down!"
Meanwhile, Lupin had begun handing out the marked scrolls, and the students made their way to the front desk to collect their homework. Hermione went forward to collect theirs while Ron and Harry stayed at their tables; Ron still fuming and muttering, Harry distractedly staring across the classroom — at Malfoy.
Draco quietly went to the front, picked up his scroll and made his way back to his table. Without even looking at the grade, he shoved the roll of parchment into his bag, and sat down, still in the same dazed trance, the same empty look he wore when Lupin was reading out his essay in front of the class.
Harry felt disturbed; he couldn't quite place the source of his uneasiness, although he knew that it definitely had something to do with Malfoy, and that something in Malfoy's essay had struck a nerve deep within himself. The essay said that love potions were a variant form of the Imperius Curse — was Malfoy describing what he was feeling, under the effect of the love potion? Was it really true? Did it really feel that horrible?
Hermione came back holding three scrolls, and she distributed them to Harry and Ron. She looked sadly at her own assignment, rather put out that hers wasn't the best piece of homework submitted, and even more disgruntled that she'd lost out to Malfoy, of all people.
Harry nudged her. "Hey, cheer up, Herm. Yours was mentioned as being the cream of the crop, too."
"Yeah," Ron nodded, then added darkly, "And you know the only reason why Malfoy is so knowledgeable on the subject is because his dad has a whole collection of Dark Arts things stashed away in their mansion. I'll bet Malfoy learned all that stuff even before he came to Hogwarts." He shook his head in exasperation. "Why Lupin is so blind to this is beyond me."
Hermione looked thoughtful. "Do you really think Malfoy wrote all that from first-hand experience with the Curse?"
"No," Harry answered, without thinking, just as Ron affirmatively replied, "Yes."
Ron blinked, and regarded Harry incredulously. "What?"
Harry felt rather embarrassed; but he continued reasonably, "No, I don't think so, because Malfoy was describing the effect of having Imperius—" he hesitated briefly, "or any of its variant spells cast on a person; not the other way around."
Ron was reluctant to concede. "Don't tell me you actually believe Malfoy hasn't dabbled in Dark Arts and the Curses!"
"No," Harry answered. "I'm— positively sure Malfoy's messed with Dark Arts." Messed up, too, he added silently. "But I don't think he's actually practiced the Unforgivable Curses. Maybe his dad, but not him."
"What? I can't believe you actually think that!" Ron was getting very agitated. "This is Malfoy, Harry. He'd throw a drowning man both ends of the rope, what isn't he capable of? And he probably knows all about how Imperius feels because he's seen his father use it on people so many times before."
"Well, I do think Malfoy's capable of it," Hermione said slowly, "but I can't say for sure if I think he's actually done it, before. It's not easy to learn to cast Imperius, you know — it's not just a simple wave of the wand, it requires advanced magical training."
Ron looked mutinous. "The day my dad finds enough evidence to get a search warrant for Malfoy Mansion," he said in a fierce, ominous tone, grinding his right fist in his other palm, "we'll finally expose the whole rotten family for what they really are, and then Lucius Malfoy can spend the rest of his Galleons refurbishing his cell in Azkaban."
Hermione patted Ron comfortingly on the shoulder. "Take it easy, Ron, no need to get all worked up."
They settled down as Lupin started talking about the Ministry regulations regarding the prohibited use of Imperius. There was a shuffle of parchments and the scratching of quills as everyone started jotting down notes. Harry twirled his quill absently between his fingers, his mind straying from Lupin's voice...
He threw a furtive look in Draco's direction; the other boy was looking down at a parchment laid before him, as if deep in concentration. His quill was poised in his hand, but he hadn't written down a single word the whole time. Harry watched him, slipping into his own questioning thoughts, only starting to contemplate the potential seriousness of the situation.
There was something about the essay that Malfoy wrote — it possessed a certain underlying strain that ran parallel to the covert plea and veiled urgency in Draco's voice the last time they'd spoken, in the trophy room. Ron was right; it was as if Draco was speaking from experience, although as Harry had then pointed out, it was from the receiving end of the spell. A sympathy inside him twinged feebly, not quite guilt, but still—
"Harry!" came Hermione's voice in a low hiss, next to him.
Harry snapped out of his reverie with a jolt, and blinked; he saw a few curious heads turn in his direction, and Professor Lupin was looking at him with an expectant expression on his face. He blinked again, confused; he hadn't been paying attention to a word of what Lupin had been saying...
"He asked who's been able to fight off the Imperius Curse before," Hermione swiftly came to his aid, muttering from the corner of her mouth without moving her lips, a skill she'd perfected from sitting next to Neville in Potions.
"Oh! Um, yes sir, uh, me," Harry said hastily, giving Lupin an apologetic sort of grin. "I have, uh, a couple of times before."
If Lupin had noticed his inattention, which Harry was sure he had, he let it pass without comment, and proceeded to ask, "Will you describe for us, then, how it felt when the Curse was on you, and how you managed to fight it off?"
Harry got to his feet, and thought for a moment, feeling mildly uncomfortable as everyone turned to look at him.
"Well," he began slowly, "It felt... it felt like every weight on my body was cast aside, and I was floating — as if my mind was wiped blank, just one single voice telling me what to do, and everything was pure and simple, but it actually felt so clear because it was all empty..." Harry broke off, and shook his head. "It's really hard to describe."
Lupin nodded encouragingly. "I understand what you're trying to say, Harry. It was so uncomplicated in your mind, because the spell suppressed your ability to think for yourself, to make your own choices. So how did you repel it?"
"I just said no," Harry answered truthfully. "I just tried to keep conscious thoughts flowing, my own thoughts, over and over again in my mind I just refused to listen to that voice, even though it seemed to be the only thing I could hear. I just kept pushing it away, and gradually it was easier to block it out of my head."
Draco listened intently as Harry talked; he didn't look up, but every word that Harry spoke crashed like rolling thunder in his mind, echoing with soundless meaning, like a bullet to his head. It struck up a certain ray of hope, but at the same time showered torrents of despair. That's what I need to do to get past this. But I've tried, and I just can't do it. I can't stop thinking. Thinking of him.
"Thank you, Harry," Lupin smiled and gestured for Harry to sit down. He turned to the rest of the class. "Harry has just told you his method of fighting Imperius — there are other ways of getting around it, unique to each individual, so you all have to find the method that serves you best."
Lupin's expression sobered. "The Imperius Curse is by far the least lethal of the three — Cruciatus renders you incapable of bodily control, and there is no way to repel the pain. Avada Kedavra has no counterspell and is irreversible. Since Imperius is the only one of the Curses that can be consciously resisted, it is imperative all of you learn to fight it to at least a certain degree."
At this Neville Longbottom swallowed audibly, and gave Hermione an alarmed look.
Lupin's blue-grey eyes swept over the entire class, all of whom were listening with rapt attention. "I understand from the Headmaster that some of you in this class have been subjected to the Imperius Curse during a class demonstration a couple of years back." Some students nodded.
"I will be conducting an in-class presentation of the Imperius Curse today, to give you students a feel of what Imperius is like, so that you can be better prepared to fight it, if the need arises in the future." Lupin paused, and held up an official-looking piece of parchment for the class to see. "This is a Ministry certificate permitting me to use the Imperius Curse in a limited capacity for today's practical lesson."
Lupin glanced at the students, his eyes showing concern. "I want you all to know that the extent of Imperius that you will be subjected to will not harm you in any way. I know some of you may have bad memories of the last time you underwent the Imperius Curse in class — but that was a completely unauthorised demonstration, without prior approval from the Ministry or the Headmaster. You can be rest assured that Professor Dumbledore is fully aware of this particular practical session, and he has faith that you all are old enough to be able to handle more advanced magic now."
Hermione looked excited, for some reason Harry couldn't quite fathom. Harry trusted Lupin wouldn't harm him with the Curse, but he wasn't overflowing with enthusiasm about the prospect of it, either. His sinister experience of the Imperius Curse at the hands of Voldemort was enough to last him for a long, long time.
Everyone moved toward the front of the classroom with what could only be termed as guarded anticipation. They were all fairly eager to experiment with Imperius, since there didn't seem to be any pain involved, but the natural apprehension was still evident. Lupin was very patient and encouraging, and the students formed a line and waited for their turn.
"Concentrate," Lupin would urge, as he carefully modulated the strength of the spell respective to each student. "Pay attention to your own thoughts, keep focusing on them... no, no, try to ignore my voice in your head... concentrate..."
At the end of the practical session, the only ones who were able to successfully fend off the Imperius Curse without any difficulty were Harry — and Draco. Hermione came fairly close, although she had to try five times before she managed, and got a splitting migraine for all her effort, thought that was overshadowed by her sense of accomplishment.
Lupin smiled at Harry and Hermione, and nodded at Draco. "Well done, the three of you. As for the rest, I'm very happy to see that you all put in your best effort and I have to say, it's a good start. You can only get better at this, so with more experience and improved concentration, you'll all manage it eventually." He favoured everyone with an approving glance, before saying, "Class dismissed."
"Did you see that?" Ron muttered triumphantly to Harry as they filed back to their tables to pack up their things. "Malfoy could fight off the Curse! Now don't tell me you still don't believe he's had tons of practice with Imperius already!"
Hermione came up beside them, and overheard Ron's last statement.
"Well," she pointed out diplomatically, "so could Harry and I. And we don't have Dark Arts training."
Ron gave her a look that said Hey, back me up for a change, will you?, and argued, "But that's different! For both of you — Harry, he's born with some natural Evil Repellent in his blood or something. And you, Herm, you've got the brains and talent to perform just about any charm, curse or countercurse ever invented." At this, Hermione blushed. "But Malfoy? Have you ever seen him top any other Defence Against the Dark Arts assignments?"
Harry considered; Ron had a point. Malfoy had never excelled in this class before. He cast a suspicious glance at Draco, who had just finished packing his own scrolls and quills into his bag. Maybe Ron was right. Maybe Malfoy did have more hands-on training in the Dark Arts than he was letting on. This was one more thing he needed to clear up with Malfoy.
Harry made up his mind; he had to talk with Malfoy. Soon. Now.
Ron and Hermione were already heading out of the classroom; Harry hesitated, then saw Draco quietly leave the classroom through the door at the other end, which led in the direction of the Slytherin dungeons.
"Hey!" Harry called out to Ron and Hermione, who both looked back. "I want to ask Lupin something about my essay. You two go ahead first, I'll see you at lunch?"
Ron and Hermione acknowledged him, and disappeared out of the classroom. Harry lingered a few moments more to make sure that they'd really gone off, before making a bee-line for the other exit and hurrying along the corridor, which was virtually empty since only the Slytherins frequented this route and most had already gone before him.
The corridors were quite dark, despite it being mid-day — it snaked in a general downward curve, with uneven stone steps causing ground level to dip at irregular intervals, slowing Harry down considerably because he constantly had to mind his step. He almost tripped twice, and was beginning to wonder how the hell Malfoy managed to get so much of a head-start in such a short time, when suddenly—
"What do you want, Potter?"
Harry started violently, and whirled to face the direction where the soft, sharp voice came from.
Directly to his right was a narrow passageway he had barely noticed in his hurry to get past — it seemed to have been carved by nature into the high stone slabs on either side of it, and the steep walls were unpolished, still abraded and rough with sediment. It was dark and shadowed, borrowing the slanted light from the torches illuminating the main corridor.
Draco Malfoy slowly shifted out of the darkness, seeming to materialise from the shadows. He wore a strange expression on his face, one that Harry hadn't seen before — almost wiped clean of emotion, yet tinted with a curious mix of anger and resignation. His eyes reflected the dim vermilion flame of the torches spaced along the wall, and he held Harry's gaze evenly.
Harry recovered from his initial surprise. "How did you know I was following you?"
"Who wouldn't?" Draco's mouth curled in a mild sneer. "With you stomping down the corridor like a crazed Erumpent, they'd hear you from the Great Hall."
"Very funny, Malfoy."
"I wasn't trying to be funny, Potter." Draco crossed his arms and glowered at Harry. "What the hell do you want? Just strolling — or should I say stampeding? — down the Slytherin side of town?"
Harry moved a few steps forward, into the cramped passageway; where they were now standing, they were both obscured from sight, only partially visible from a narrow angle in the main corridor, and the semi-darkness cloaked them almost completely.
But Harry could still see Draco clearly enough, the flitter of emotion that randomly crossed his delicate features caught in the flickering play of light across his pale face. They were standing about a foot apart, near enough to touch yet far enough to resist, tension stringing the short distance that lay between them.
"We need to talk, Malfoy," said Harry firmly, without any preamble. "This isn't working."
"Yes, I'm sure this is really hard for you," Draco's voice dripped with sarcasm. "You know, doing nothing and all — I completely understand how unbearable it can get."
Harry ignored him; he was determined not to let Malfoy wind him up, and equally determined to get the answers that he came for.
"Did you really mean it?" Harry demanded, "What you wrote in the essay?"
A closed expression wiped the faltering emotion from Draco's face. "It's an essay, Potter. Not my secret diary."
"Sounded real enough. Even Lupin was impressed with the accuracy of your description."
Draco shrugged nonchalantly. "I could do with the decent grade for my term average."
Harry wouldn't give it up, and pressed on. "You mentioned love potions, in connection with the Imperius Curse."
"Yes, I did." Draco's voice was still perfectly neutral; he tilted his head slightly, giving Harry a sidelong look. "But it's up to you to draw whatever conclusions you want."
Harry was exasperated. "Stop beating around the bush, Malfoy, and just give me a straight answer."
"Was that an intended pun?" Draco raised an eyebrow in mock amusement, although his eyes showed no humour.
Harry's eyes darkened with rising annoyance, but he didn't take the bait. "Have you found a way to get rid of the love spell, then?" he asked coolly. "Since you think you can handle it so well yourself."
"It's none of your business," Draco snapped, glaring at Harry. "Why do you care anyway, Potter? Did you come and look for me just to gloat?"
"So you still haven't figured a way out of it, have you." Harry couldn't keep the smugness out of his voice.
"I didn't say that. I might have—" but Draco's voice lacked conviction, "But either way, it's not your concern, Potter. And I don't appreciate you stalking me in the hallways, either."
Harry was getting very angry. "Will you quit being so stubborn, Malfoy?" He matched Draco's glare. "What is wrong with you? Do you think you can just walk away from this, like nothing's happened?"
Draco's face fell; his voice faltered imperceptibly. "I can." There was a meaningful pause. "Why can't you? If it means nothing to you."
The simple question struck a chord with Harry, because it articulated what he had been subconsciously asking himself during the past few days, each time he cast thought to Malfoy's situation: Why do you care?
"I don't care," Harry found himself answering out loud, to his own silent question; in response, Draco's eyes shimmered briefly, the expression in them hardening. Harry drew a deep breath, and continued, "It doesn't mean anything to me, Malfoy, and the only reason this whole thing is bothering me is because it's dangerous. It's Dark magic and you haven't the faintest idea how to handle or control it, much less reverse it. And the longer you wait, the deeper you get sucked in, and I don't know how serious the consequences will be, although I assure you it's not going to be pleasant."
Draco's lips parted slightly in genuine amazement, and he looked into Harry's eyes, where he saw earnest sincerity burning with simmering annoyance, and something inside him cracked under the immense pressure rising to the surface. He tried to say something, but the words seemed to choke up in his throat, now too constricted for speech.
Harry saw Draco's expression alter, the liquid emotion that melted and flowed across his face, changing aloofness to desolation, scorn to helplessness. The nerve of sympathy within Harry twitched again, and when Draco didn't answer, he took the opportunity to probe further.
Harry stepped closer to Draco, who didn't move away. He looked Draco straight in the eye, the sheer electricity crackling almost audibly between them, and asked in a low voice, "I want to know what's really going on, Malfoy."
Draco closed his eyes as the fireworks exploded silver and green and red behind the blackness of closed lids, and the intensity was too much to bear, and he couldn't hold back any longer.
He opened his eyes, and his answer to Harry's question dissolved away, inarticulated; Draco's hands reached forward out of their own volition, grasping Harry and pulling him sharply against his own body. The next thing he felt through the haze in his mind was the heated touch of Harry's mouth under his, and he was kissing Harry, and he finally knew completion.
Harry stumbled as Draco advanced swiftly upon him, and his exclamation of surprise melted against Draco's lips, which almost roughly closed over his own; he blinked, startled, as for the second time in his life he tasted the contrary sweetness of his arch enemy. Draco's hands ran up the sides of his arms, holding him against the wall, the narrow corridor urging their bodies too close for comfort, yet it still felt strangely right.
What? What the heck!
Harry placed his hands firmly against Draco's chest and pushed him away, breaking their connection; Draco abruptly pulled back as well, the shock and realisation of what he'd just did swirling like metallic shards in his eyes, and his shoulders slumped in hopeless resignation as he stepped backwards, unsteadily.
"This is what's going on." Draco whispered, and his voice quivered on the edges, breathless and anguished.
An extended pause followed, and a web of confusion and bitterness and regret spun itself in the volumes of charged silence filling the narrow void between them. Harry was still slightly dazed, the lingering warmth on his mouth reminiscent of Malfoy's soft lips, and it took a few moments for him to collect his thoughts.
"Nothing's changed, has it?" Harry's voice was quiet, carefully measured.
Very softly. "No."
They were still standing very close together, the confines of the breadth of the corridor forcing an almost unbearable proximity. Harry could feel the heat of Draco's body so near him, and the darkness accentuated the sense of feeling, Malfoy's presence seeming to flow all around him, embracing him with a distant, unreachable warmth. Just a kiss away, yet so far removed.
Draco closed his eyes, shivering not only from the sudden cold that iced through his veins. Harry's subdued reaction to his kiss was more unnerving than he had ever expected — it was so quietly intense, slicing through the tension with its silent blade, rendering him more confused and lost and helpless than he could ever remember being.
The silence started to freeze over, edged with awkwardness; Harry cleared his throat. "Malfoy—"
"I can't." The brief words spilled from Draco's lips, twisted with a hidden plea.
Harry looked up at him, meeting his gaze, mildly surprised at the raw, audible desperation in Draco's voice. He almost asked You can't what?, but bit back the words at the last moment, for that question would surely have halted Draco's tentative imploration, and he would have instantly seen the steely defences snap back into place.
And so Harry said nothing, and just waited.
Draco took a deep breath, the words catching briefly as he looked into eyes of startling green. "I can't," he said again, his voice wretched. "I can't do this. I can't do... anything."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked softly, antagonism absent from his voice.
"I mean, I can't do anything." Draco raked a hand through his blond hair, pushing a few wayward strands out of his eyes. "I can't think properly, and I can't find any way of reversing the spell. It's unbearable when you're not around, but I can't stand being with you, either."
Harry grimaced slightly at Draco's last few words. "That's nice and tactful."
Draco ignored him. "I mean it, Potter. I can't take this for much longer."
Harry sobered, and watched Draco carefully. "So what do you want me to do, then?" A mean streak flared inside him, and caused him to add, "Or is the 'stay away from me' plan still in effect?"
"Comic relief is not appreciated at this juncture, Potter." Draco looked agitated. "Haven't you got anything useful to say?"
"Useful?" Harry half-snorted, shaking his head. "You mean, like help? Because I distinctly recall you telling me in no uncertain terms that that's not something you want from me. Ever."
Draco hesitated, unsure of what to say — the alternate clenching and relaxing of his fingers betrayed his nervousness. For once his natural way with witty words evaded him as a profusion of conflicting thoughts ran through his mind like a powerful surge of electric current.
"I offered you my help the last time, Malfoy." Harry pointed out shortly, when Draco didn't answer. "You refused."
"So what, it's off the table now?" Draco's eyes glinted with a tarnished defiance, dulled by more urgent desperation.
"I'm not your slave, Malfoy." Harry said flatly. "You're not allowed to order me around according to your whims and fancies."
"But you came to look for me." Draco's simple words were measured, almost shrewd.
Exasperation and anger sparked in Harry once again. "And that means completely nothing! I told you before and I'll do it again — I didn't come here because I cared for you. I don't give a damn what you do with your life! But I draw the line when it gets me involved, because I'd sooner die than touch Dark magic, so I want you to get this spell off and just— just leave me alone!"
Harry's outburst was met with a stunned silence that reverberated down the corridor, echoes of emotions from both of them, too entwined to be distinguished.
Finally, Draco said, very quietly, "Leave if you want to, then."
"I don't want to leave." Harry's voice was edged with steel. "I want the reassurance that you'll fix this bloody mess so that we can both get on with our lives."
Draco shrugged — not casually, but heavily. "I can't give you that promise."
Harry shook his head obstinately. "That's not good enough for me, Malfoy."
"Is anything ever good enough for you, Potter?" Draco exploded, anger sparking in his eyes. "What do you want me to say? Will it make you happier if I told you that everything's fixed, so you can just walk away and pretend nothing's happened? Have you ever thought about how hard it is for me? Or are you just worried about your precious innocent skin getting tainted by Dark magic?"
"That's right!" Harry snapped back, unconsciously advancing a small step, closing the distance between him and Draco. "Just because you enjoy tinkering with horrible Dark potions gives you no right to drag me into this mess! And don't—" Harry saw Draco open his mouth to speak, "Don't give me that crap about it having nothing to do with me! Because even if you move to Alaska it doesn't change the fact that I'm involved in this— this love potion, and your denial isn't helping!"
"You think I'm not trying?" Draco's voice cracked slightly with emotion, his eyes flashing with helpless frustration and unspoken agony. "I've been doing nothing but try, and I just can't. You're damn right that this is Dark magic, and it's in my blood, Potter, running in my veins with every breath I take and it's poison. And there's nothing I can do, except maybe bleed myself dry, which is becoming a more viable option with every passing minute."
"Don't be stupid, Malfoy," Harry hissed fiercely, although anxiety tinted his eyes a deeper shade of green, the colour of the jungle in the still of the night, a darkened meadow. He took a step forward, seizing Draco by the shoulders, feeling a reflexive tension flinch through the other boy's body, but he held firm. "Are you trying to make me feel guilty, threatening to kill yourself? Do you think I'm going to fall to my knees and plead with you to be rational?"
Harry released his hold on Draco, shoving him away with ungentle force, and shifted his weight to his back foot, his gaze still burning on Draco. "Well think again, because the world doesn't revolve around you, Malfoy."
"No." Draco's voice was toneless. "Right now, my world revolves around you."
"Oh, am I supposed to be flattered?"
"Don't be," Draco said bitterly. "I'm hating every moment of it."
Harry's expression hardened, tentative amicability turning to disgust; he opened his mouth to speak, but then seemed to think better of it, and just shook his head angrily. "Forget it. I should've known better than to expect any more from you than your stupid pride."
Harry turned on his heel and strode toward the main corridor, in the direction where amber torchlight was slanting into the darkened passageway like a flaming shadow.
No oaths, no swearing, unlike the last time. He just walked away.
Draco shut his eyes, biting down on his lower lip. Arrogance and desperation warred inside him, and he knew that it was now, or never again—
Harry stopped and looked back at Draco, more out of reflex than willingness. The flaming torches cast hazy shadows of light across Draco's face, outlining the weariness dulling his fine features, contrasted with the faint rose blush on Draco's pale cheeks, courtesy of the brief, torrid kiss.
"Yes." Draco's voice was soft, defeated.
"Yes? Yes what?"
"I am. Asking you."
Genuine surprise lit Harry's eyes, and they glinted warm jade in the darkness. Draco held his breath, waiting — he wondered if Harry was going to milk this moment of triumph for all it was worth, revelling in his humbled acknowledgement, because at the back of his own mind Draco knew that it was exactly what he would have done, in the same position. He brace himself for the biting, sarcastic words he was almost certain would ensue, the moment of victory that Harry had hard won.
Harry gave Draco a searching look, trying to decipher his intentions; his eyes met Draco's, and for the briefest moment something between them connected, something akin to understanding, and all of a sudden the natural hostility and chemical anguish between them wilted for a fleeting second, laying bare relentless confusion and raw truth.
Then Draco blinked, and looked away, and the moment died like a smouldering flame touching water, but to Harry it was enough, enough at least to warrant a second chance. It was even more poignant than a glimpse into the past, or even the future, because lived now, in the present, and it was a reason to believe.
"What do you want me to do?" Harry asked quietly, no reproach in his voice, and with this unobtrusive question he allowed the golden opportunity to slip, surrendering revenge to a stronger emotion stirring within him — sympathy.
Draco looked relieved; the tension in his features seemed to relax ever so slightly, and his body struck a more comfortable posture leaning up against the wall, and his lips curled in the smallest of smiles — almost grateful, in Harry's opinion. But his body language was about all that Draco permitted to reveal his inner feelings; when he spoke again, his voice was calm and even, although lacking his usual arrogance.
Just as Draco opened his mouth to speak, the sound of distant voices floated from the outside corridor; he quickly glanced around, anxiety darting in his eyes. "Damn — someone's coming." He turned back to Harry, urgency in his voice. "Listen, I have to go now, I'll talk to you again later."
Harry swore inwardly at the untimely interruption; there were still so many things he had yet to ask Draco. "Malfoy, I want to know—"
"I'll get in touch." Draco repeated, curtly cutting him off with a brief shake of his head, although his expression was torn between wanting to stay and needing to go. A liquid emotion seemed to rise on his face, softening the intrinsic pain knotted in his features; Draco took a step closer to Harry, closing whatever remained of the short distance between them.
Harry stiffened and drew back slightly, wondering if Malfoy was going to kiss him again — but instead, Draco simply raised his right hand, and brushed his fingers ever so lightly against Harry's left cheek; the softest stroke like a phoenix's feather, so brief that had Harry blinked, he would have missed the movement, though by no means the sensation on his skin, mingled warmth and cold on a single touch.
Very quickly Draco let his hand drop to his side again; a momentarily embarrassed look flitted across his face, before he turned away without a further word and slinked out of the dense shadows back into the main corridor, his movements silent and graceful, and he was gone.
Harry stared after Draco, not moving, his back still leaning against the wall of the narrow passageway. Flickering torchlight was all that remained where Malfoy had stood, and Harry couldn't help thinking of the way it had lit amber sparks in Draco's storm-grey eyes. And he thought about the way Draco had touched his face, even for that fleeting breath of a second, the startling tenderness in his manner both incongruous and consonant at the same time.
Congratulations, Harry thought to himself, shaking his head with grim dismay. You are now officially barking mad. *And* you let Malfoy kiss you again. What the hell was that about?
But he needs your help. Another voice spoke out, definitely not the voice of reason, but not quite the scruples of conscience, more like... empathy? Not really that, either — but whatever it was, whichever source deep within him it stemmed from, it firmly told him that walking away from Malfoy's predicament was not an option. Not now, at least, not when Malfoy had finally found the humility to ask for his help. It just wouldn't be right.
Harry sighed, pushing himself away from the wall and making his way out into the main corridor, tracing his steps back where he came, past the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom (now empty) en route to the Great Hall, where from the looks of it, lunch had already commenced. He'd apparently been talking to Malfoy for longer than he'd imagined.
"Hey, where've you been?" Ron asked through a mouthful of mashed potatoes as Harry slid into a chair next to him, eyeing the food but not feeling very hungry.
Harry cast an instinctive glance across the Great Hall, at the Slytherin table, immediately noticing the conspicuously empty place where Malfoy always sat. "Oh, nothing. Just had some things I needed to clear up."
"Hey, Harry!" Seamus called from across the table. "Got some news for you — the Gryffindor-Slytherin match will be pushed forward from a fortnight away to next week instead. They want to do some patching up of the grass surfacing on the pitch in the week after next. No problems with that, I hope?"
Harry was Quidditch captain and Seeker for Gryffindor ever since their fifth year, when the annual Quidditch Cup had resumed after the Triwizard fiasco. He'd led Gryffindor to consecutive victories for the past two years running, chalking up an admirable winning streak ever since he joined the team in his first year at Hogwarts.
Harry pondered for a moment, then shrugged, still rather distracted. "Should be all right. We've been practicing hard for the past few weeks, anyway."
Seamus nodded. "That's cool, then. I'll just let Malfoy know about the rescheduling."
Malfoy, Harry realised with a jolt.
Malfoy was his counterpart on the Slytherin team — captain and Seeker as well. The handful of times they'd faced each other on the Quidditch pitch, Harry had come off victorious with the Snitch and the match. It had altogether slipped his mind that he'd be going up against Malfoy in the next match, which had now even been brought forward.
Harry usually took to the chance of meeting Slytherin with no small measure of glee, but this time, a cloud of doubt nagged at the back of his mind. Somehow, it didn't seem... fair to Malfoy, to have to compete under the circumstances he was in. But there wasn't anything Harry could do about it, anyway. The fixing of the Quidditch schedule was out of his jurisdiction, and since Madam Hooch had already authorised the switch of match date, probably even Seamus couldn't change it.
Unless, of course, Malfoy could get rid of the spell before next Wednesday morning, which would bring them back to status quo and put them on equal footing again. Although it still would never quite be the same as before.
Harry was subdued throughout the course of lunch, although his unusual quietness went unnoticed as the others chatted animatedly about Quidditch strategy, catalysed by the advancement of the next match. Ron and Seamus dominated the conversation with a thesis-length analysis of the offensive approach the Gryffindor team was adopting, whereby the Beaters would push upfield alongside the Chasers, working in attack more than defence. It was a risky strategy, because more often than not it would leave the Keeper solely in charge of defending the Gryffindor goal, but Harry had been confident that the advantages far outweighed the risks.
Harry watched absently as Ron and Seamus started taking out Bertie Botts Every-Flavour Beans and using them to represent the various Quidditch positions, poking them around with their wands to simulate their game plan. Ron was the unofficial Quidditch strategy consultant for the team; Seamus had taken over commentating duties from Lee Jordan, who had graduated along with the Weasley twins, and promised to be just as unbiased as his predecessor.
Harry had no idea what he was supposed to do to help Malfoy. He hadn't even the faintest idea what the love potion had been made of, Potions never having been his forte. And although there were clear parallels between love potions and the Imperius Curse, it would be presumptuous to assume they were identical in nature and properties. So basically, maybe Malfoy was right after all — he couldn't really be of much help.
Harry was barely listening as Ron and Seamus pronounced themselves satisfied with the strategy at the end of lunch, whooped in triumphant anticipation, and began eating up the Every-Flavour Beans, making an exaggerated show of chomping to bits the ones representing the Slytherin team players. He was still deep in thought as they all left the table and headed back to the Gryffindor common room.
It was appalling how little he actually knew about the machinations of love spells and potions, considering their notoriety even among Muggles. This wouldn't do. There was simply too much reading up he had to do, with too little time and too many other commitments, like homework and Quidditch practice.
He could get ask someone who could offer some useful advice on love potions. But Snape would sooner share the secrets of love potion-making with Gilderoy Lockhart than answer any questions Harry might have about them, so no help seemed forthcoming from that avenue. And Lupin... Harry didn't really relish the thought of explaining the whole situation to Lupin just to hear that there was nothing in his capacity he could do about it, which was a very likely answer he'd receive.
But of course, he could just ask—
"Hermione!" Harry called, quickening his pace to fall into step with Hermione. "Can I talk to you for a bit?"
"Malfoy made a love potion? And took it?"
Hermione's eyes were wide as saucers, her eyebrows were raised; incredulity chased across her face, and her expression very quickly changed to one of scepticism. "He's pulling a fast one on you, Harry. Love potions are illegal — they're banned by the Ministry!"
"Look who we're talking about here, Hermione," Harry pointed out logically. "Malfoy. His father probably owns the most comprehensive Dark Arts library in the whole of England. Maybe even Europe. If Malfoy wanted to find out how to make a love potion, probably all he had to do was snap his fingers."
Hermione shook her head, still incredulous. "And what did you say it had to do with you, again?"
Harry found himself blushing. "How do I put this…?" he trailed off, then tried, "How about fate had it that we were both at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it turned out that..."
Hermione was horrified. "You took the love potion?"
"No!" Harry shook his head vigorously. "I didn't take it. I'm the... the object of it."
Hermione's jaw dropped — she was speechless for a moment as the truth sank in. She stared at Harry in utter disbelief, and when she finally spoke, her voice was flat, as if she could scarcely believe the words she was speaking.
"Malfoy... Malfoy's in love with you?" she said slowly, eyeing Harry dubiously. "I hope I'm hearing you wrongly."
Harry smiled wanly. "I wish you were, too."
They were sitting by the fireplace of the Gryffindor common room, side by side, leaning against a big fluffy pile of cushions they had arranged against the wall. The fireplace was lit even though it was in the afternoon, to keep out the chilly wintry frost outside.
Ron had hastily rushed off to the Divination classroom to finish a piece of already-late homework that he had completely forgotten about, leaving Harry a perfect opportunity to talk to Hermione about the matter weighing heavily on his mind.
Hermione still looked appalled, but had gotten her composure back enough to ask, "What happened, exactly?"
With a tired sigh, Harry recounted everything that had transpired since that fateful night when he had made the dismal decision to take a walk along the Forest. He told her how he had met Malfoy there, and the dizzying whirlwind of events thereafter which had spun completely out of control.
When he finally finished, Hermione crinkled up her nose, although Harry couldn't quite tell if she was amused or scandalised. "Malfoy kissed you?"
Harry felt the mild heat flush on his cheeks again, and he bit his lower lip. "It was only twice."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes, only twice. Coincidences always come in doubles." But her expression quickly sobered, and there was a frown on her face when she turned to Harry. "But seriously, do you actually believe it? What Malfoy says?"
Harry nodded his head slowly, though he looked pensive. "You should have seen him, Hermione. You know how Malfoy is — well, basically an obnoxious creep. But I've never seen him like that before, those times when I talked to him — he was still unreasonable and all, but he wasn't arrogant and snobbish. He almost sounded... desperate. Like this was really serious."
Hermione still looked highly sceptical. "But it's Malfoy, Harry. Since when do you believe anything he says, ever? I mean, he's made it quite his full-time goal to get us into trouble at every opportunity he can. Remember the incident with Norbert? And how he tried to sabotage you in the third year, dressing up as a Dementor just to wreck your game? I could go on in this thread forever but I think you see my point."
Harry tilted his head contemplatively. "I do, Hermione. But— but it's just... different, this time. I just don't think he's faking it. It's too believable to be untrue... if that makes any sense," he added hurriedly, off Hermione's quizzical expression. "Look, I know this sounds really strange and bizarre and yes, it's Malfoy, who can lie as naturally as other people breathe, but... but I just get the feeling he's telling the truth this time."
"Agreed on the strange and bizarre," Hermione gave Harry a pointed, searching look. "What's gotten into you, Harry? I never imagined in my life that I'd ever see you so— so sympathetic towards Malfoy. Not after everything he's done to us! How do you know this isn't just an elaborate plot to get you into royally huge trouble?"
Harry paused for a moment, and considered. "I don't know. I just— feel it, that he's not lying this time."
"But you can't stake everything on a gut feeling, Harry!" Hermione argued.
"Sometimes you can," Harry replied quietly, shifting himself slightly to look at Hermione. "Remember that night in the Shrieking Shack, with Sirius and Wormtail? We thought that Sirius was a cold-blooded murderer back then, and I thought he was the one who murdered my parents. But when he talked to me, there was just something in his eyes that made me stop and think and believe what he was trying to tell me. Imagine if I hadn't trusted that feeling—" Harry's voice faltered at the thought of it, "I'd have killed him when I had the chance, I'd have killed my parents' best friend, who was innocent."
"That's different, Harry," Hermione objected impatiently, "Sirius never tried to hurt you — the same can't be said of Malfoy!"
"That's not altogether true," Harry pointed out reasonably. "Remember, before that everyone thought Sirius was all out to kill me, and he almost slashed Ron to bits, albeit accidentally."
"Ever since we've known him, Malfoy has repeatedly shown himself disposed for nothing good, with a special penchant for trying to land us in hot soup." Hermione said firmly, then paused. "And Sirius is different — he had Wormtail to prove his innocence, and the fact that Pettigrew had been masquerading as Scabbers all those years was incriminating enough. What has Malfoy got to show for his claim? Has he even given you any concrete evidence that this whole love potion thing isn't just conjured from being high on drugs?"
Harry gave serious thought to Hermione's words. It was true — Malfoy never really offered any solid proof of the situation really being what he claimed it to be... except for his words, and his eyes, which spoke with more eloquent truth than Harry had ever imagined could be possible, from anyone.
"Nothing," Harry admitted. "He hasn't shown me any evidence, except for... well, himself. But why would he, you know—" he hesitated briefly, "uh, kiss me, not once but twice, if it was just to lay a trap? Isn't he afraid that I'll go around school telling tales about him?"
Hermione shook her head firmly. "That's just not good enough, Harry." She turned to face him squarely. "Look, I don't know what in the world you saw in Malfoy that's making you even begin to believe him, but I still think it's too dodgy for you to get involved, not without some evidence that he's really telling the truth. It's not worth the risk, Harry, not for Malfoy."
Harry levelled Hermione's gaze, and said simply, "You think he's lying?"
Hermione looked thoughtful. "I don't trust him, Harry. And I don't think you should, either."
"So do you think I should just walk away from this?" Harry asked quietly.
The reflexive answer Yes! Why are you even giving thought to this? was instantly on the tip of her tongue, but Hermione bit it back at the last moment. She looked carefully at Harry, and to her surprise, noticed the expression on his face — hopeful and confused. It was almost as if he was waiting for her to rekindle that tentative spark of uncertainty, that inexplicable inclination of his to give Malfoy a chance.
Hermione sighed. Either Malfoy deserves a Golden Crystal Ball for his acting skills, or Harry's really lost it.
But at the back of her mind, she knew that if anyone had intuitive skills enough to stake everything on, it was Harry. He was incisively perceptive like no one else Hermione knew, and he had a way of seeing an entirely deeper realm of a situation, beyond academic logic and all practical sense.
She didn't believe a shred of Malfoy's story. But for some reason, to crush that smouldering wick of belief that Harry had in Malfoy just seemed brutal, especially since it was so rare, even though it was entirely contrary to all laws of sanity. And a chance wouldn't hurt... everyone deserved a second chance, at least once in their lifetime. Even someone as horrid as Malfoy.
"Ask him to produce something to show for it," she finally said, carefully weighing her words and wondering what Ron would say if he found out that not only hadn't she promptly told Harry to sod Malfoy, but was now actually telling him to find out more before passing judgement.
But Harry believed Malfoy. Hermione could see it in his eyes, in the layers of confusion woven in his soft voice. And she had no right to take it away from him.
"Are you going to talk to him again?" she asked instead.
"I guess so." Harry shrugged. "I don't know when, though. He said he'd be in touch."
"Gawd." Hermione rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "You two are starting to sound like pen pals! This is becoming disturbing on a level I never knew existed."
Harry actually cracked a wry smile. "Believe me, I never intended for anything like this to happen. Chalk it up to entirely bad luck. Atonement for every sin of my past, present and future life."
Hermione's smile quickly faded, and she sobered, leaning forward earnestly. "But I'm serious, Harry. Don't do anything stupid for Malfoy, not until you're completely sure this whole love potion thing isn't a gigantic hoax." She paused, then added, "And don't be too shaken if it turns out that way."
Harry gave a crooked grin. "Yeah, well, it's Malfoy, what do we expect?"
But Hermione could hear the lack of conviction, the persistent indecision in his voice. She took Harry's hand in hers, and squeezed it. "Don't get me wrong, Harry. Believing in people is a good thing — but it can also be very dangerous."
Harry squeezed her hand back. "I know. Don't worry, I won't do anything rash or stupid. And you're right, Hermione — Malfoy's done absolutely nothing to deserve my trust." Harry paused, a mixed expression crossing his face, and he added thoughtfully, "Don't you think it's ironic, how sometimes the purest qualities can turn around and stab you in the back? Feelings like trust, and faith, and love — they can slice either way, like two-edged swords."
Hermione gave Harry a sidelong glance; it was at times like this, with flashes of pensive thoughtfulness and almost endearing idealism, that reminded her how much she appreciated Harry for his depth of character and inherent affinity for virtue, which defined him as so uniquely special.
"I think you shouldn't do anything until you get some factual proof out of Malfoy. I still have very strong reservations about him, and it's going to take more than just a love potion story to change that." She got to her feet, and gave him an encouraging sort of smile. "It's a rare thing, Harry, to be able to have faith in other people — just be careful who you give it to."
Hermione had to go and see McGonagall about taking a supplementary Transfiguration paper in her NEWTs later in the school year, and so Harry was left sitting by himself in front of the fireplace, brooding over his troubled thoughts, wearing a melancholy expression that suited the atmosphere very well, around and inside of him.
Hermione was right. He couldn't allow himself to trust Malfoy so easily. It made him too vulnerable. He thought about what he'd told Hermione: Malfoy's done absolutely nothing to deserve my trust.
Harry sighed. Which makes it all the more impossible to explain why I do.
Draco didn't go down to the Great Hall for lunch that day; he spent the afternoon lying flat on his bed, ignoring the pangs of hunger that stirred in his stomach. He'd already been losing weight recently, although he didn't know if it was attributable to his irregular eating habits, his non-existent sleep pattern, or a slimming side effect of the potion that he didn't know about. Probably a little bit of each, topped off with a generous helping of stress about everything that had been happening.
He thought about his conversation with Harry en route to the Slytherin dormitories — the memory of it was still vivid in his mind, the shadowed atmosphere of the obscured passageway darkly romantic, sinisterly enticing, exactly the way Harry had been to him at that moment. Which was why Draco hadn't been able to restrain himself from stepping forward and kissing him.
The thought of the kiss evoked both anger and satisfaction within him — it had been such an infinitely fulfilling sensation, when he pressed his lips to Harry's, as if it suddenly didn't matter if everything else around them crumbled and fell away, that the kiss alone was enough to sustain him. It was so bitterly wrong, yet it tasted so heavenly and right.
And it made Draco see that there wasn't a way out of this that wouldn't involve Harry, and although he had known this before, deep inside, denied and unheeded, it took the intensity of his kissing Harry to make him realise, understand, and accept.
So he had asked. It had been the hardest thing for him to do, but somehow desperation and fear got the better of him and forced the words out of his reluctant lips. And to his utter surprise, Harry had agreed, without any pompous fuss or malicious gloating. That touched a deepest nerve within him the way nothing else had ever done.
Maybe he had been wrong about Harry, all along. Maybe Harry had genuinely wanted to help him, as much as that seemed inconceivable, because Draco knew that he'd never have done such a thing had the situation been reversed. But, he reminded himself once again, Harry wasn't like him. This was what defined him as uniquely Harry, his trademark benevolence that seemed to come so naturally to him, which Draco had always scorned and sneered at. He never imagined he'd ever be able to appreciate this quality in Harry, until now.
Draco sat up in bed, reached for a sheet of parchment on his bedside table, and picked up his quill, the tip of it still moist with ink from a useful Self-Inking Charm he'd come across while extensively reading up. He set the nib against the creamy white paper, and wrote,
Meet me in the disused storage room on the fifth floor of the Astronomy Tower, after your Quidditch practice tonight.
A tentative glimmer of hopefulness rose within him as he folded the note into a neat square and slipped it into his pocket, intending to bring it down to the Owlery to have it delivered. The image of Harry once again flashed in Draco's mind, in particular that genuinely stunned expression he wore when Draco had touched him fleetingly, before they parted ways; and the memory lifted the bleak haze for a shimmer of a moment, and that was enough.
Perhaps Harry held the answers he had been searching too hard to find, and perhaps with Harry's help, things could finally slide back into place, and this horrible tangle of confusion would just disappear like a mist of morning dew at the break of the sunlight.
Draco leaned back onto the pillows, and closed his eyes, a faint silver light streaming behind his eyelids.
Perhaps he would be able to find a way out of this, after all.
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