“We’re going to have to deal with our ‘guests’ soon, you know,” Hermione reminded them when they convened for dinner that evening.
“What do you mean ‘deal with them’?” Ron asked, colour going pale. “You’re not saying we should…”
“Of course not!” Hermione huffed. “I just mean we can’t keep them here forever.” She looked to Harry. “It’s already been nearly three days; they’re liable to be missed soon, if they haven’t been already. We’ve got Charms and wards up, but if they broke through them one time…they might manage it again.”
“You think they’d follow us? Even after we made three jumps, just in case?” Harry asked; once he’d gotten back on his feet, Hermione had deemed it best they find a new campsite, just in case the wards failed again. He, Hermione, and Ron had taken turns choosing new locations on each jump, to be sure no one had traced their Apparition destinations. They were currently squatting on forested land on the backlot of a stately country manor near the eastern coast.
“It might not matter at all how many jumps we make; if their masters have placed some sort of tracking spell on them…” Hermione worried her lip. “We can’t keep them prisoner—for one, we don’t have the time to look after them, and for another, they’re just dead weight. They aren’t Death Eaters, judging by the fact they’ve not got Dark Marks, and even if they were, I fail to see how holding them hostage could benefit us in the slightest.”
“The Dark Lord’s more of a ‘cut your losses’ type,” Draco confirmed. He had his injured arm done up in a sling now; after a sum total of twelve hours in the Sanctuary taking advantage of the dragon’s natural healing abilities, he was in much better shape than he’d been when Harry had awoken. Still, unless he began spending most of his waking hours—or else his sleeping ones—letting his Animagus form heal itself, it would take several more weeks before he was in any shape to put weight on the wing, meaning he was grounded for the foreseeable future.
Ron frowned. “So, what? We just Obliviate them and send them on their way, like we did at Lovegood’s place?”
“How did they find us?” Harry asked. “Shouldn’t we figure that out before we just toss away a useful resource? For that matter, why don’t we ply them for information on what the hell’s going on out there?” They hadn’t managed to swipe a copy of the Prophet since before Christmas, and it was too risky to seek an audience with Phineas Nigellus Black again.
“How can we trust anything they say, though?” Ron asked. “Assuming they talk at all.” He turned to Hermione. “Did you bring along any Veritaserum? Or reckon you could whip up a batch?”
“Whip up a batch? Ron, it takes a month to brew!” Hermione said. “And no, I haven’t got any on me. That stuff’s highly regulated—though I wish I’d had the forethought to smuggle some out of the Ministry when we infiltrated it…”
Draco looked at them all in turn, expression deadpan. “…Are you three as stupid as you look right now? Have you not got wands? Or are you just too prissy to use them?”
“There’s no law saying you’ve got to open your pie hole even when you’ve got bugger-all to contribute to the conversation, you know,” Ron groused.
Draco rolled his eyes. “Just make them tell you the truth, if you’re so fussed about it.”
“…How?” Harry asked. He couldn’t think of any threats they could hold over Greyback or his underlings to ensure his compliance, short of death—and Harry had no intention of letting things go that far. There’d be plenty of time for unavoidable murder later; no sense in getting started earlier than necessary.
“By using a spell that makes them do what you tell them to.”
Harry’s expression darkened as understanding set in. “…You’re saying you want us to Imperius them?”
Hermione was stricken, and she brought a hand to her mouth. “But that’s an Unforgivable!”
“We’re at war, in case you haven’t noticed, Granger,” Draco said, looking not at all ruffled by his blithe suggestion they practise spells that were illegal for a reason. “And unless you’re willing to wait a month to get that Veritaserum brewed or stage another smash-and-grab job at the Ministry, I’d say you’ve not got much other choice.” He shrugged. “Besides, it’s hardly as bad as Cruciatus, or the Killing Curse.”
“…He’s right,” Harry agreed, to Hermione’s visible dismay. “I know it’s an Unforgivable, but we really should interrogate them and find out what we can about how they found us and who else might know what we’re up to.” A tiny, insidious little voice in his mind crooned that this would be for the greater good, and Harry stamped out the thought immediately. “But we won’t do it unless we’re all agreed. Ron?”
Ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then gave Hermione an apologetic look and nodded. “We haven’t got the time to brew anything, and it’s to keep ourselves safe, right? Like Malfoy said, I don’t see we’ve got any other choice, really. And—and at least it doesn’t hurt, right?” He looked to Harry for reassurance.
Hermione’s nostrils were flaring in anger, and she had her lips pressed tightly together. Harry hated that it seemed they were all ganging up on her, but she had to see logic. Eventually, she sighed, her shoulders slumping, and she ran a hand through her bushy hair to push it back from her face. “…All right. But we mustn’t abuse the spell. Or else we’re no better than…” She cut herself off before she said the Death Eaters, but it echoed throughout the tent all the same. “Well, let’s just not get carried away?”
Harry nodded. “Right, then it’s settled.”
“…So who’s going to cast it?” Ron asked.
His, Harry’s, and Hermione’s gazes all crawled to Draco, who glared back at them coldly. “Just going to assume I can do it?”
“Can’t you?” Harry asked. “Because we can’t.” He didn’t understand the attitude; Draco was the only one among them who’d been raised around Dark magic, and he was also the only one with a Mark on his arm that said he would’ve been expected to be proficient in the Unforgivables.
Draco smiled at him with a glittering sharp-toothed sweetness. “You won’t know until you try.” The unsettling expression was quickly replaced with a frosty haughtiness that better suited. “But don’t you worry your little heads; I wouldn’t ask you to dirty your hands with an Unforgivable.” He drew his wand out from where he’d had it tucked in his sling, waving it towards the Sanctuary. “Right, let’s get this over with.”
Harry and Ron were in charge of dragging Greyback away from his mates and keeping him secured while Draco interrogated him. Hermione transfigured a bush into a high-backed chair, and they wrestled Greyback into it, slapping another Incarcerous on him for good measure. When Hermione lifted the stasis spell she’d placed on him, he blinked in bleary confusion for only a moment before the howling and snarling started.
“Lemme go you filthy little brats! I’ll tear your throats out! I’ll string your innards up like tinsel and—”
“Imperio!” Draco shouted, and the vile threats immediately died as Greyback’s yellow eyes went funny, taking on a far-away look. Draco huffed, letting his wand drop. Clearly maintaining his hold on Greyback’s mind didn’t require much effort. “Well?”
“We should ask how they found our camp first,” Hermione said. “In case we need to move sites or take further measures to ensure we don’t get caught again.”
Draco raised his wand, his eyes fixed firmly on Greyback’s. “Be truthful in all your responses. Now, tell me how you found our camp.”
“One of you lot spoke the Dark Lord’s name,” Greyback said, voice monotone and airy.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Ron asked, and Draco relayed the question.
“There’s a Taboo on it. Only upstarts like the Order of the Phoenix or Harry Potter’s liable to say that name. It breaks protective enchantments when used and calls Snatchers like us to the location.”
“Snatchers?” Hermione said. “They—kidnap people? Just for using You-Know-Who’s name?”
“And what do you do with the witches and wizards that you ‘Snatch’?” Draco asked.
“Take ‘em to the Ministry for processing.”
“‘Processing’,” Ron snorted. “There’s a euphemism if ever I heard one.”
Draco regarded Greyback curiously. “…And if it was Harry Potter you found—you’d take him to the Ministry as well?”
Even in his Imperius-ed stupor, Greyback’s lips curled into a wicked grin. “Certainly not about to let the Ministry take credit for that, are we? No, no—Harry Potter we’d take straight to the Dark Lord, and be rewarded most handsomely for it, too.”
Harry’s heart leapt. “They know where You-Know-Who is? Is he still abroad? Or…or is he back?” Had Voldemort found the Elder Wand already? Harry had assumed he’d feel it through their connection if he had—with a coup like that, he’d never be able to keep his elation hidden from Harry.
“Where is the Dark Lord right this moment?”
“I don’t know,” Greyback said. “Word is he’s using the Malfoys’ place as a base of operations in Britain, though. We’d take the boy there and then have a branded Death Eater summon him.”
A cold spear lanced through Harry’s heart, and the expressions on Ron’s and Hermione’s faces said they’d been similarly struck. Draco’s face was a pale mask, eyes wide and white under furrowed brows. His wand faltered, dropping—and the distraction brought Greyback’s eyes into focus.
“Draco!” Harry hissed, reaching out to grab his shoulder. Draco abruptly straightened at his touch, renewing the spell and drilling into Greyback with questions.
“He’s there? The Dark Lord is in residence at Malfoy Manor?”
“In residence? I just told you I don’t know. He’s there sometimes and he’s not at others. That’s just where we’ve been told to go if we’ve got important information worth sharing.”
Draco licked his lips. “Is—is the master of the manor at home?”
“Master? What, Lucius?” Greyback laughed, a snarling little snort and bared his yellowed teeth. “Oh, he’s around. But Lucius Malfoy’s barely master of his own pissing schedule these days. We’ve got the run of the place. Murder Manor, it is.”
Draco swallowed, throat bobbing, and he turned to Harry, voice soft and desperate. “We have to go there.”
“Draco…” Harry started; they really couldn’t have this discussion right now.
“We have to. He’s got my parents—prisoners in their own home!”
Ron looked as uncomfortable as Harry felt. “But safe, at least?”
“Safe?” Draco spat. “Surrounded by Death Eaters and perhaps the Dark Lord himself?!”
“Yeah,” Ron said. “Surrounded by their allies. Like I said: safe.”
Draco’s neck flushed darkly, and his eyes flashed, incensed. He turned back to Harry. “Harry, please.”
Harry glanced to Ron and Hermione, who both seemed curiously interested in the toadstools sprouting in the leaf litter. “I…Draco, it’s an insane risk. And—Ron’s right.” A look of utter betrayal crossed Draco’s features, and Harry quickly amended, “Your folks are smart; they’re Slytherins, and you lot know all about self-preservation. If they’re honestly not interested in the whole…conquest of the magical world thing…then they should know how best to play their cards and not get caught in the crossfire. They’re going to sit tight and not make a fuss.” Just as he imagined Draco would have been happy to do, Harry was sure, had things not worked out the way they had.
Draco’s lips screwed up into an accusing snarl. “You promised me you’d save them!”
“And you said I couldn’t promise that!”
“You owe me, Potter! When I beat you in that race, I won a favour!”
It took Harry a moment to even remember what race Draco was talking about, and when it came to him, he almost laughed, baffled Draco had been hanging on to their idle wager this whole time. “This hardly counts as a favour! A favour is—is, I dunno, doing your washing for a week! Or bringing you breakfast in bed! Not risking our mission just to save your folks!”
“Just to—” Draco seethed, biting his tongue before he worked himself into a froth. He took a deep, ragged breath, and Harry knew he wasn’t imagining the angry embers dancing just behind his eyes. Let him pitch a fit, if he liked—if he could look at the situation objectively, he’d see their hands were tied. “…You don’t have to come with me.”
“What? Draco, we’re not going to let you just go running off all by yourself to—”
“You’re not going to let me? You can’t keep me here anymore, Potter! I’m not your prisoner.” He clenched his wand tight in his fist to seal his threat, and Harry had to fight against the instinct to palm his own wand, adrenaline firing his blood and muscles tense and taut.
It was bluster, Harry told himself. Or no, not bluster, but it wasn’t what Draco truly wanted. These threats were born of Draco’s fear for his parents’ safety, and while Harry understood it, there was nothing they could do. Nor could they, he knew, let Draco run off half-cocked to try and save them himself. He’d been privy to far too much to risk falling into Voldemort’s grasp.
Would this whole journey end right where it had begun: with Draco locked up and placed under stasis?
“How many are at the Manor?” Hermione asked Draco, and Ron squawked, “What?!”
Harry whipped around, staring at her in accusation—was she really considering this? But she wouldn’t look at him, her gaze instead fixed on Draco’s.
Draco blinked, thrown by his unexpected ally, and he turned the question on Greyback.
“Dunno. Malfoy and his Missus, the Lestrange bitch sometimes. There’s a few others who pop in and out. The Dark Lord’s only there for business—he’s got his own matters to attend to, as I hear it. And then there’s the prisoners, of course.”
“What prisoners?” Draco asked.
“Ollivander. Some loopy Hogwarts brat they’re keeping for leverage on that coot what runs The Quibbler. Think there was a goblin—can’t be arsed to remember the blighter’s name. I imagine they’ve welcomed some others since I last visited. Malfoy Manor’s got some roomy cellars; plenty of space for troublemakers the Dark Lord wants close at hand.”
Hermione brought her hands to her mouth. “Mr. Ollivander and Luna!” She pursed her lips, turning her pleading gaze on Harry. “Harry, we have to go! We can’t leave them there, they’re prisoners!”
Harry recalled the vision he’d had months ago, back at Grimmauld Place, where he’d witnessed Ollivander being tortured by Voldemort for information on why his wand had reacted so strangely to Harry’s. Something sparked in his chest: Would Ollivander know about the Elder Wand, and about Voldemort’s search for it? Could he direct them to it? He’d promised Draco he wouldn’t seek it out, and this…this wasn’t seeking it out. This was just making sure that Voldemort hadn’t gotten his hands on it yet either.
He looked to Ron, who shrugged. “…It’s Luna, mate. I feel like we’ve got to. Her dad did us dirty, but we’ve gotta do something now that we know they’re there.”
He sighed, suddenly understanding his friends’ frustrations with his own compulsions to act when there was wrong being done and he knew he could stop it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go; it was only that this was a risky detour that they couldn’t afford to take.
But take it they would.
“…All right,” he sighed. “We’ll break into Malfoy Manor and try—try—to rescue those we can.”
Draco didn’t look entirely thrilled with the outcome, but he nodded all the same.
It was decided that, given the hour, they would start planning their infiltration of Malfoy Manor the next morning. Greyback was released from the Imperius Curse and placed back into stasis alongside his fellows. They would work out how best to Modify memories after prising any further information they needed from the remaining wizards, though it was generally agreed upon that Greyback, being the leader, was probably the most reliable source.
Harry tried not to think about how close their little group had just come to being torn asunder. He imagined he understood, just a little, how the dragon felt now, struggling under the incessant, paralysing fear that the slightest misstep would send someone it cared about fleeing.
He’d always known on some level that of course Draco’s parents were far more important to him than the tentative accord he’d struck with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Draco had never pretended otherwise—that was one of the great things about him. For a Slytherin, he was pants at subterfuge and using schemes to get what he wanted. Maybe it was the Malfoy blood in him; he simply spoke his desires into existence. So when he said he loved his parents and would stop at nothing to see them rescued, Harry had known he meant it.
But there was a difference, he now saw, between knowing something and understanding it. And Draco had just thoroughly taught him a lesson.
They turned in as soon as they returned to the tent—and as expected, Draco mutely gathered his pyjamas and toiletries and left to prepare for bed, avoiding Harry as best he could in the cramped confines of the tent. When Harry finished his own evening ablutions, the lamps had already been doused, and the long line of Draco’s back was facing him in silent accusation.
Harry hardened his heart, though; he maintained that he’d made the right decision, and it had only been Hermione’s thought to ask who else might be at the Manor that had them even considering going in the first place. It wasn’t personal—it was logical. The Malfoys were perfectly safe. Probably. Luna and Ollivander, though, were being held against their will, and Harry knew that Ollivander had been tortured for information on wandlore.
Had it been anyone else, Draco would have understood and come to the exact same conclusion as Harry had. Eventually he would see that, and this odd, uncomfortable tension that made it feel like they’d crossed a line and would never be able to go back to the way things had been before would eventually dissipate.
His mind was reeling, worries swirling about how they were going to manage what honestly seemed impossible—but he must have eventually fallen asleep, because for the first time in a very long while, he dreamed of Voldemort again…
He saw a tall, dark tower, alone and forbidding amidst the landscape, and Harry felt himself racing towards it with a sense of purpose, at once calm and impatient—confident and assured that he was here, finally, after so long a journey, after so much searching.
Voldemort’s thoughts were razor-sharp in Harry’s mind: He was so close…so very close to the object he’d fervently sought these many months. It lurked within these ragged stone walls, and he had but to reach in and take it. By force—it had to be by force. He had to claim it. That would not be a difficult task at all.
He was, Harry realised, flying—or gliding, moving over the ground with a preternatural speed and then spiralling up the high walls of the black fortress, gaze focused on the topmost turret, a lonely tower standing sentinel over all.
Harry rose and rose and rose, until he stood before a window that was no window at all but only a narrow slit in the moulding, crumbling stone wall. Sunlight could have barely penetrated, and certainly no man would be able to pass.
But he was no man—not any longer. Not even just a wizard, he was something more, and when he peered through the slit in the rock, he could see a figure, emaciated and contorted into a foetal position beneath a moth-eaten blanket. Dead or asleep, Harry couldn’t tell, but he forced himself through the slit, sliding impossibly thin, like a human Knight Bus, and alighted on the cold flagstones of the tiny room.
The space could only charitably be called a cell, musty and dank with unchinked walls that let in the chill of late winter. The figure on the floor, starved and skeletal, stirred to life and shifted enough to fix Harry—Voldemort—in its sights. Milky eyes in sunken sockets drew open in a face that looked like a skull, skin stretched tight over protruding bones.
The figure stared at him (them) and then sat up. It was a man, Harry thought, or had been once—
And he was smiling.
His grin might have been toothy once, but most of those seemed to have fallen out or rotted in their sockets.
“So here you are at last!” the old man chortled. “Oh, I knew you’d seek me out eventually. Knew you’d be a believer, knew you’d track me down…” He shook his head of scraggly hair, thinning to show a liver-spotted pate. “But you are too late. Your journey has been wasted. It left me long ago, for a better man than I.”
Harry could feel white-hot rage sear through his veins as Voldemort hissed, “Lies! You will tell me of its fate, or I will strike you where you stand!”
The man threw his arms open wide, head tilted back to expose a wrinkled throat of sagging skin. “A greater gift I could not ask for! Kill me—do it! You’ll only be granting a beaten old man his just deserts. My death will not bring you answers—you don’t even know the question! You might have been great, the greatest! But the very fact that you have come to me, after all this time, seeking what it is you seek, tells me you’ve already lost. The Wand is lost to you. You have already been beaten—”
Harry felt Voldemort’s fury snap; he lifted his wand—his faithful yew wand, which would never fail him again once it was his Elder Wand—and a supernova of green light filled the cell. The old man’s back snapped, limbs contorting unnaturally as he was lifted into the air—
—and then hit the cold stones again with a sickening CRUNCH, unmoving, still wearing that broad, toothless grin.
In a flash, Voldemort turned back to the window, blood pounding in his ears. The man’s words seemed to still echo off the cold stone walls: The Wand is lost to you, you have already been beaten…
A spike of anger drove into Harry’s skull like a railroad pike, right over his scar. The agony wrenched Harry from Voldemort’s mind, back into his own body—
He shot upright in bed with an anguished cry—and nearly slammed his head into Draco’s, who had been hovering over him, one hand on Harry’s shoulder to jostle him awake.
Draco abruptly drew back to avoid conking heads with Harry. “You—you were talking in your sleep. Crying out…”
Harry was breathing hard, and both his chest and head ached. He had his eyes clenched shut tight, and spangles of colour danced behind his lids from the effort. He rubbed at them, trying to banish the vision of the thin, decrepit prisoner laughing at Voldemort. He swallowed, throat dry and wishing he had a glass of water at his bedside. He had half a mind to point an Aguamenti down his own throat. “Nightmare…” he breathed, and he could feel Draco fixing him with a knowing look, so he corrected, “…Vision.”
“…Do you want to talk about it?”
Harry’s eyes snapped open at the unexpected offer, especially given how rote and disingenuous it sounded. Draco was giving him a long glance, looking out of sorts, and Harry realised he was simply copying what Harry had said to him when Draco had had his own nightmare. Harry wished he had the energy to laugh, because it was darkly amusing, seeing Draco Malfoy trying to empathise with someone and not being very good at it.
He eased into a sitting position and rubbed at his scar, blinking in the light. The lamps weren’t up very high, but coming back from that dark, cold cell full of decay and rot and death, everything felt far too bright. Even Draco, with his parchment-pale skin and grey eyes, was a vision Harry couldn’t quite bring himself to look at square on for too long.
“It was…him, then?” Draco asked, stumbling over his words, though his clumsy opening didn’t disguise what he was really asking.
“He’s not there. He’s not at the Manor, I mean. He’s…I dunno, elsewhere.” Harry screwed up his features, trying to keep the fortress firm in his mind when everything inside of him wanted to forget what he’d just seen, his head throbbing in plea. “There was a tower…tall and black, stretching up into the sky. Like a castle, but just the one tower. I think maybe it was a fortress?”
“Or a prison…” Draco said, lips pursed grimly. “That sounds like Nurmengard.”
Where had he heard that name before? “Wait—you mentioned that place…”
Draco nodded. “It’s where Grindelwald was imprisoned, once they caught him after his duel with Dumbledore.”
Draco just shrugged. “Is? I don’t know if he’s even still alive.”
“I think I do…” Harry muttered to himself. Pieces began to slot into place—Voldemort had chased down Grindelwald…thinking he held claim over the Elder Wand. And Grindelwald had been the merry-faced thief who had robbed Gregorovitch. Was that what he’d ‘stolen’ from Gregorovitch, then? The power of the Elder Wand?
But Grindelwald had claimed not to have the Wand any longer—had told Voldemort it was too late.
It left me long ago…for a better man than I.
The Wand had a new master now—that was where Voldemort would be bound, seeking the next owner in the chain of succession until he finally found the witch or wizard whose ordinary, run-of-the-mill wand contained power so great it had been ascribed to Death itself.
Draco sank onto the edge of Harry’s bed in relief. “He’s not at the Manor…” he repeated to himself, like a mantra—then gave Harry a sidelong glance. “Guess you’ve got no excuse not to go now.”
Harry felt anger—his own, blessedly—flare hotly in his chest. “I wasn’t looking for one; we already decided we’d go.”
“But you didn’t want to. Not until you’d heard about Ollivander and Lovegood.”
“I did want to!” Harry protested. “But if you’d use that cold, calculating mind Slytherins are supposed to have, you’d see the same thing I did: that we’d risk everything marching into a den of Death Eaters for—for—”
“For nothing?” Draco spat. “Is that what you want to say?”
Harry’s hands clenched into fists in the bedsheets. “No—for something that’s not part of the mission. I promised you we’d save your parents—”
“A promise you’ll evidently break when it suits you.”
“Not when it—” He threw his hands into the air in frustration. His head was pounding with an aching throb that had nothing to do with Voldemort this time. He just wanted to go back to sleep, preferably without macabre visions of death and torture; not to go another ten rounds with Draco in the middle of the night. He fixed Draco with a hard look; he was being petulant and moody, using that haughty tone that made Harry want to clock him. He was emotionally unstable right now, and he wasn’t thinking straight. Harry would simply have to force him around to seeing things the way they really were, since it seemed he was disinclined to be led there. “So you’d be all for us charging in, wands at the ready, if it were Mr. and Mrs. Weasley in there?”
Draco scoffed. “You’re saying you wouldn’t?”
His barbs were pointed, and they hit hard and held fast—because Harry could well imagine the state Ron would be in if that had been the case. He could admit, in the privacy of his own mind, that he wasn’t certain he could have made the same difficult decision with the Weasleys’ lives in peril.
Draco hung his head, shoulders shaking. “…I can’t lose them, Harry,” he muttered miserably. “I know they’re—they’re not perfect. But they’re mine. Don’t ask me not to want to save them when we’re so close.”
“I would never ask you to do that,” Harry said, reaching out to cover the fingers of Draco’s good hand with his own. Draco didn’t pull away, but he didn’t accept the gesture either.
“Not letting me’s little better.”
Harry sighed slowly. “…You’re right that you’re not a prisoner here. It’s your life, and they’re your folks. You’re entitled to do what you feel you need to in order to keep them safe. You know I wouldn’t stand in the way of that, not after all the stupid risks you’ve seen me take in the name of my parents.” Draco’s lips quirked up at the corners, almost imperceptibly. Harry sighed, brows cinching. “But—Draco, what if you got caught in the doing? What if you got killed? You think your parents would want that?”
“I’m of-age,” Draco sniffed. “I can do whatever I damn well please.”
Harry nodded. “You can. You can also be told it’s stupid.”
Draco’s eyes flashed in anger. “It’s not stupid to want to save—”
“It’s stupid to go off half-cocked, barrelling into a situation you’ve got no control over!” He ran his hands through his hair, scrubbing in nervous irritation—then he took a long, drawn breath. “…I want to kill You-Know-Who. Like—I want to. I don’t want to just apprehend him, turn him over to the Ministry for proper judgement and trial. I want to kill him—me and no one else—and I want it to be slow and painful. I’m supposed to be this…this beacon of hope or whatever bullshit the Order’s selling these days, but don’t think for a second that means I wouldn’t be able to cast the Killing Curse given half a chance. He’s taken most everyone I’ve ever loved from me, forced me into a war I’m not honestly sure I can win, and ruined countless lives over the years. There’s nothing I want more in the world right now…than for him to die by my hand.” He swallowed a thick lump. “But I can’t. I can’t, because if I try right now, I’ll fail. I’m of-age; I can do whatever I damn well please, but it would be stupid to march out there, arms wide open, and challenge him to a duel.”
Draco had a wary look on his face that Harry told himself wasn’t fear. For some reason, Draco’s esteem mattered to him, in a way that Ron and Hermione’s didn’t. “…I just want to save my parents. Not defeat the Dark Lord.”
“And we’re going to. We are. So maybe accept that we’re doing our best here and want to actually manage it instead of—of flinging ourselves into uncontrolled situations unthinkingly.”
Draco’s lip curled into a sneer, though it seemed a bit forced and faltered after a moment. “I thought that was the Gryffindor motto. Flinging oneself into uncontrolled situations unthinkingly.” He made a face. “Probably sounds better in the Latin.”
Harry snorted softly, lips lifting on one side, and he raised his brows. “Well you wouldn’t want to go around sounding like you were mis-Sorted, would you?”
Draco gave an exaggerated shudder for effect. “Merlin, no.”
Harry shifted around, until he was settled on the edge of the bed alongside Draco, and listed to the side to bump their shoulders. “We’ll go, and we’ll get them. I swear I won’t let you lose them.”
“I believe I told you you can’t promise that.”
“Well then, when I manage it, maybe you’ll finally trust in me.”
Draco stiffened, good hand clenching white-knuckled, and he said tightly, “I’ll hold you to that, Potter.”
They stayed like that, pressed up against each other, for a long moment—Harry thought he might have drifted off, and time seemed to pass with a curious, dream-like quality, where seconds stretched for hours before what felt like days had passed in the blink of an eye. He contemplated crawling back under the sheets and trying to grab a few more winks before it was time for breakfast—who was on duty again? He’d entirely lost track after being unconscious for the better part of the last three days.
But Draco was a warm, insistent solidity against him, and Harry was feeling…alert, he supposed. Not awake, just too primed by his vision and their heated exchanged to actually fall back asleep. His body was exhausted, but the adrenaline in his blood would need to be flushed before he could settle his mind enough to drift off.
He took a breath. “Draco…”
“Hm?” came the muzzy, half-awake reply.
“Hey,” he said, tone a bit sharper, and Draco lifted his head from where he’d let it droop against Harry’s shoulder, sleepy question in his eye. “…Do you need anything?”
Draco gave him a bemused half-smile. “At—” He reached around Harry and grabbed his wand, casting a quick Tempus Charm. “Half-four? Certainly nothing that won’t keep until morning.”
Carefully, Harry settled his hand on Draco’s thigh, tracing the corded muscles beneath the thin silk sleep bottoms. “…Anything.”
He didn’t want to sleep, even though he understood he needed to. He just knew it wasn’t going to come, not with Voldemort in his head and Draco nestled against him, his fringe tickling where it brushed against Harry’s bare skin.
Draco just stared at him in ear-splitting silence, and Harry saw the instant understanding dawned as the coalfires in his eyes lit. His throat bobbed, and he blinked forcibly. His tongue darted out, a flash of pink, to wet his lips, and he nodded slowly, as if he had a lead weight balanced on his crown.
Harry felt himself getting hot—first his neck, then his cheeks, then his ears, a rising plume of heat that probably had him flushing ten different shades of red. If Draco was going to tease him for acting the prude, he wisely seemed to be waiting until after Harry had gotten him off to do so. “Will you…for me, too?” He knew, given what had happened before, he ought to make it explicitly clear what he wanted and that he wanted it, but hopefully Draco could piece things together from Harry’s fumbling request.
Draco lifted a brow, and in a tone that was entirely too self-satisfied, he asked, “…You need it?”
Harry shrugged. “Who doesn’t?” And because he felt compelled to defend himself, for some odd reason, he added, “…I can’t sleep.”
Draco’s lips thinned into a wry smile. “Well that just won’t do. Our Saviour must have his beauty rest.” He shifted around on the bed so that they were facing each other, one leg dangling over the side of the bed, and brought his good hand up to draw Harry’s chin closer, leaning in for a too-gentle kiss. He hated kisses like this from Draco—as much as he loved them. It was just too easy to get lost in them, to let Draco sweep him away to somewhere unfamiliar, with no idea how to get back.
Harry traced a finger down Draco’s arm—his shoulder, bicep, the jut of his sharp elbows, and the magically sealed bandages wrapped around his forearm. He didn’t sleep with the sling on, and Hermione seemed pleased with the healing he’d managed so far. Still, Harry was careful to avoid mussing the wrappings, not keen to explain to her why they needed to be reapplied.
He eventually let his hand settle at Draco’s hip, rubbing circles in the fabric over the knob of his hipbone, and Draco let his good hand trail down to brush briefly over the pulse of Harry’s neck before dropping between them and rucking up Harry’s nightshirt. His fingers were warm, and Harry didn’t know why he’d expected them to be chilly, but he had, so his stomach muscles jumped in elation when Draco’s touch skittered over them, tracing the dip of his navel and snapping the waistband of his pyjama bottoms.
“Lucky thing I didn’t damage my wand arm, no?” Draco chuckled softly.
Harry huffed. “I’m Harry Potter; I live on luck, or so I hear.”
“Mm, don’t I know it…”
Harry braced, waiting for Draco to slip his fingers under the waistband—but it never came, and instead he let his touch travel over the outline of Harry’s cock with only perfunctory attention, palming him through his pyjama bottoms like he was a too-soft tomato before quickly moving on.
“Bloody tease…” he groused roughly. It took everything in Harry not to buck his hips, or grab Draco by the wrist and show him where his hand was meant to be. Maybe this hadn’t been a need in the conventional sense before, but much more of this, and it was going to become one.
Draco’s eyes glinted in the low light. “It’s called savouring the moment, Harry.” He pinched the shaft gently between two fingers, though, and gave a long draw in apology, and Harry saw stars, fists clenching in the bedsheets. Getting groped through his pyjamas really had no business feeling this good.
Harry could feel that his pants were already tenting, fabric rubbing uncomfortably over his flushed skin as Draco teasingly traced along his cock, and between the soft lamp light and their close breathing and Draco’s deft fingers, it was all he could do not to get lost in the muzzy memory of Draco touching him on the sofa.
But Draco hadn’t wanted to do this then, and Harry couldn’t honestly remember too much of the finer details of the encounter. He would therefore have to commit this one to memory in living colour.
Not a lot of good had happened to Harry over the past year or so—no, he’d had a right rotten twelve months, he could safely say. But this? Well, Harry had certainly endured worse, and he could feel how much Draco wanted this—wanted him—in these teasing caresses, the lingering touches, the gentle way he handled Harry, like he was afraid Harry would come to his senses any moment now and shove him away. Reject him.
Even here, in the warm comfort of Harry’s little bed, the dragon had insinuated itself between them, and Harry had to really wonder if this would have escalated to a need, like the touching and the kissing. If it would have been something the dragon demanded as a physical demonstration of Harry’s commitment, instead of something Harry had simply told himself was a need.
It was difficult, in moments like this, to tell where the dragon ended and Draco began—and more difficult still for Harry to figure out if he even wanted to know. Knowledge was a dangerous thing, because once he knew, then he couldn’t lie to himself anymore. Couldn’t pretend.
The dragon mostly only wanted attention from its mate—and however that attention came, as long as it was real and serious and focused, that was all that mattered. What did Draco want, though? In over six months together, Harry hadn’t yet learned how to navigate Draco’s tumultuous moods without running aground or getting caught in a maelstrom, and at least once a day he found himself with his foot in his mouth.
“Harry…” Draco whined, still palming Harry through his pyjamas. He spread his legs a bit, arching his back, until Harry finally caught on: he hadn’t been holding up his side of the bargain, instead luxuriating in Draco’s touch and letting his racing thoughts run rampant.
Harry nipped his lip in soft apology, quickly shoving trembling fingers under the hem of Draco’s pants.
Draco hissed sharply. “Easy on the goods, Potter,” he growled, voice rough with arousal.
“S—Sorry,” Harry laughed weakly, grateful Draco probably couldn’t see him blushing with shame. He was already mucking this up, after Draco had been so gentle and skilled and—oh fuck. He’d done this before. Had to have: wanked another bloke off. That was the only explanation for how he was so damn good at it. Even when Harry had been doped up on Hermione’s homemade virility serum, he’d had sense enough to understand that Draco knew his way around a cock.
And that didn’t sit well, for several reasons really, but most because it meant Draco had probably been wanked before, too. He was going to measure Harry against this nameless, faceless other and find him wanting. Only mutual mortification would keep him from mercilessly teasing Harry over breakfast the next morning.
“Gentle…” Draco breathed against his lips, lightly kneading Harry’s cock through his pyjamas in demonstration. “Like you’re all alone, warm and safe and no one else about… Like you can take it slow and easy…work yourself up right.”
Harry tried to imagine himself as Draco suggested, though it was a difficult feat. He’d never had the luxury of such conditions; at least not in any situation he might have felt at all amorous. He probably could have indulged on those occasions when the Dursleys went out to the cinema or the zoo or the gardens and left him behind, but who could ever get it up in that dreadful place?
Wanking had always been something he’d done quickly and quietly, when needed, and not because he’d really felt like having one—and certainly not anything he’d ever prepared for.
He smiled to himself, because he could hear Draco saying in that superior tone, What a Gryffindor, can’t even schedule a proper wank—have to charge in without a plan.
But then, who planned a wank? Well, clearly Draco, if his instructions were anything to go by.
Harry made a face. “You make it sound more complicated than it should be…”
“Now, now—don’t say ‘complicated’.” He tugged down the band of Harry’s shorts with one finger until his cock popped up, pert and alert. “Say…involved.”
“That’s just…” Harry huffed, squirming as Draco finally—finally!—wrapped those long fingers of his around Harry’s aching shaft and brushed his thumb over the bulbous crown. “’S just a fancy word for ‘complicated’.”
“Then do me how you think I’d like, if you know best.”
Harry frowned. “…How’m I supposed to know what you like?” Hell, Harry barely knew what he liked, beyond the obvious preference for getting off full stop. He was easy to please, he thought, in that he really didn’t care as long as there was an orgasm waiting at the end.
“Well, you could listen to me, when I tell you what to do. There’s a thought.”
“Arsehole,” Harry grumbled, choking back an undignified yelp when Draco did something with his wrist that made it feel like Harry’s cock was about to pop right then and there. He’d only narrowly kept from embarrassing himself. Had he cast Muffliato? They really ought to, if this was going to be something they did with any regularity. “Why…” He swallowed when his voice almost broke. “Why aren’t you asking me what I want, then?”
“Because you’re very easy to please,” Draco said, too matter-of-factly for Harry’s liking, even if it was true.
“And you aren’t?”
“What do you think?”
Harry winced in pleasure as Draco’s grip slid down his shaft to tease the thin, sensitive skin covering his bollocks before drawing a finger back up to the tip. He was leaking, he could tell, because Draco’s thumb swiped over the tip and came away wet with slick. “I think…you’re a difficult bastard.”
“Right in one,” he said, pressing a dainty kiss to Harry’s nose. “Do you want to do it one at a time?”
“Huh?” Harry’s thoughts were starting to scatter, and he was losing track of their conversation.
“You aren’t even touching me, just got your hand shoved down my pants like I’m your personal hand-warmer. Can you even walk and chew Drooble’s Best at the same time?”
Harry’s ears burned at the insinuation. “I can get you off!”
“I’m sure you think you can—but can you get me off while I’m getting you off?”
And well, seeing as his hand was just sitting there dead inside Draco’s shorts, he was starting to have his doubts—but now that he’d been accused of a lack of focus, he found himself grinding out, “Of course I can. And I can do it before you get me off, too.” He groped about until his fingers brushed Draco’s shaft, and he made an earnest grab for it—and Draco winced.
“It’s not a race, Potter,” he said, a bit snippy, and Harry instantly relaxed his grip. That was twice now he’d shown himself to be overeager and ill-experienced, and he’d never liked embarrassing himself in front of Draco Malfoy.
His expression must have been pitiful indeed, for Draco tilted his head to press a soft kiss near Harry’s ear. “Together, then. Match my pace.”
Harry only nodded mutely, and when he took Draco in his hand again, this time he made sure to handle him like fine china, taking the slow, gentle approach Draco evidently favoured. He wondered what it might look like, to see Draco wanking himself off—surely he ought to observe, if only once, for research purposes. The better he was at this, the more satisfied the dragon would be, and if Draco was laid out boneless from an orgasm, well then he couldn’t get into any mischief, could he?
He had to play catch-up, since Draco had already worked Harry up into a handsome erection that strained pink and pert against his stomach, dribbling a viscous something-or-other over Draco’s fingers. Harry felt suddenly clumsy in the face of Draco’s apparent experience with pulling off another bloke, palms sweaty, and he had to take care not to rub the sensitive shaft raw with his inept fumbling. Draco didn’t seem to mind the drawn-out pace, though, offering pleased sounds and throaty encouragement that for once wasn’t a backhanded compliment.
In short order, Draco’s cock was settled hard and heavy in Harry’s hand, and there was slick leaking from the tip that made things easier all around. Draco sighed, breathy and aroused, and rejoined his own stroking efforts—this time a bit more stilted and frenetic. ‘Who can’t walk and chew Drooble’s Best at the same time now?’ Harry thought with a silent smirk.
Draco worked him with a steady, building touch, somehow knowing the perfect moment to twist his wrist or apply just a bit more pressure or to let off altogether. A part of him wondered, ridiculous as the thought was, if Draco was somehow using Legilimency on him, else how could he know? Was Harry really that easy to read? Or did every bloke get off like that? Was there some secret to wanking that Harry hadn’t yet plumbed?
Draco was too damn good at this, or maybe it was just the dry spell Harry had been living in for the last…well, entire life, but it was too soon by half before he was feeling his limit approaching, though Draco had done little more than hmm in pleasure every now and then.
“Dr-Draco, ease up…” he begged. “I’m close…” He didn’t want this to be over with, not quite yet: not when he’d only just gotten Draco going. He’d probably last at least another few minutes of earnest wanking, and that was too wide a gap for Harry’s pride to survive intact.
“Already?” Draco asked, tone suspiciously even.
“It’s been a while,” Harry protested, trying not to sound too defensive.
“Mm, but I just wanked you yesterday…”
“Well, a while before that, then!” he snapped, wriggling in place. “Just—stop touching me for a second, I’m too close.”
Draco seemed to mull this over with a furrowed brow, then his lips stretched into a familiar grin that betrayed the beginnings of a wicked plan. “…No, I think not.”
And then Harry learned what it meant to be wanked to within an inch of his life. Draco’s grip loosened, and his tugs came slick and far too fast, his fist flying over Harry’s cock with abandon. Harry brought his free hand up to clutch at Draco’s shoulder—though he didn’t know if he wanted to shove him away, or draw him closer.
“F-fuck, stop that—I said I’m—close—”
“Then you’d better hurry, hadn’t you?” Draco panted, grin gone manic. “Else I’m going to win.”
“You—said it wasn’t a race.”
“Honestly, you trust the word of a Slytherin? Tut tut…”
But though he claimed to be trying his level best to get Harry off, Draco still held back, refusing to do quite enough to send Harry careening over the edge—maybe it was just to tease, or maybe he was giving Harry the chance to catch up with his own efforts. Regardless, the results were torture.
Harry let a string of epithets build behind his tongue, colouring his mindscape with filthy oaths, and he rutted on the bed, trying to shove his cock into Draco’s fist to get that jolting connection his body craved. Yet still Draco kept him riding the edge, grip too loose and touch too light to truly satisfy.
Harry tried to distract himself by redoubling his efforts to get Draco off. Trial and error had taught him that Draco liked to be squeezed just a bit at the tip on the upstroke and then forced through the tight channel of Harry’s fist—but it was too much stimulation if he went too fast, and Harry’s mind couldn’t make the connections he needed to know when he ought to gentle his handling and when he could stand to be a bit rough. He tried, though, god did he try—and he coupled his strokes with deep, exploring kisses, matching the rhythm of his tongue against Draco’s to that of his hand on Draco’s cock. But this only got him wondering what it might be like, what it might feel like, if their cocks were touching right now, if they were just rutting against one another—
That would have to wait for another time, though, because Quidditch player though he might be, Harry was not too proud to admit he lacked the stamina right now to—how had Draco put it? To savour it. Because Draco was something you savoured. Bitter and biting at first, but as you let him settle and work his way under your skin, you grew accustomed to him, even came to like him, until you couldn’t get him out of your system.
With a thousand and one worries hanging over his head, Draco was the most fantastic distraction Harry thought he’d ever met. Draco was something he could let take over, let guide him, even if it made the smarmy bastard insufferable. He wouldn’t let Harry get inside his own head, wouldn’t let him brood—he’d just swoop in with a Snitch or a Pop-Tart (he was fascinated with all foods instant) or, now, an eager hand and draw Harry away from everything.
Harry shuddered to think how he might have been expected to get through all this without Draco; he might have gone his whole life, never knowing what he was missing, and it was a strange ache, to be sad for something that had never come to pass.
At length, Draco began to finally show signs of approaching his peak as well, hips trembling and trying to rise off the bed when Harry’s grip loosened or his pace slackened, and he brought his bandaged arm up to loop around Harry’s neck, pressing their foreheads together. Sweat had started to bead across their skin, brought out by the close warmth of their shared body heat, and the only sounds filling the room now were their laboured breathing and the wet, slick slap of their hands on each other’s cocks.
Harry liked watching Draco, though he was a bit fuzzy around the edges without glasses. Harry didn’t really need them to imagine the little crease between Draco’s brows, the way his bottom lip would be tucked under his teeth, the gentle bob of his throat. And he could hear him, and smell him—ragged, shuddering breaths as he tried to stave off his orgasm, the scent of clean sweat and freshly washed sheets and the faint must from his slick and cock. Harry was fascinated by the sight of Draco falling apart, but it usually only happened in terrifying situations: a fight or a transformation gone wrong or conditions of near torture. He was a vision, for all the wrong reasons.
This, though? This was pure, unadulterated pleasure, and Harry knew he could get drunk on it, given half a chance. He was already feeling light-headed.
Draco whimpered somewhere deep in his throat, a keening, desperate whine that reverberated through his chest because he had his teeth worrying his lips. His grip on Harry’s cock stuttered, squeezing sharply—and then Harry’s hand was covered in a warm, gooey mess.
Harry cursed under his breath, fighting the immediate urge to jerk his hand away and shake it clean. He used his free hand to cover Draco’s over his own cock, desperate now to follow. It was awkward going, not being a leftie, but he was so close to climax it only took a few more strokes and a sloppy kiss from Draco that missed his lips by a mile and made contact just under his chin to push him over, and then they were both sailing on bliss.
His hips kept jerking like he had a livewire shoved up his arse for a full thirty seconds after, and Draco was leaning into him with a heavy lethargy. His vision lit up, spangles glittering like flashbulbs, and he could feel his heart thudding against his ribcage as he drifted down from his high.
This time, it was Harry who took the initiative to clean them up, Vanishing the mess and gingerly tucking himself back into his pants. He reached for Draco but had his hand weakly batted away.
“I’m a big boy,” Draco sniffed. “I can do it myself…”
“Yeah, I know. Just wanted another grope.”
“Cheeky arsehole,” Draco snorted, clearly still drunk on his orgasm. Harry found he quite liked Draco like this; if he couldn’t have a quiet Draco who kept his snide remarks to himself, then he could at least maybe have a loopy one who smiled rather a lot more than usual. It wasn’t a bad smile at all, really, and Harry took another mental snapshot, thinking the sight might bolster his own Patronus. One could never have too many nice memories to draw on, after all.
Draco eventually managed to put himself back to rights, still leaning heavily into Harry, and he cast a longing look back at his own bed on the other side of the room. “…I don’t know if I can make it over there without my legs giving out.”
Harry’s brows lifted. “That good, huh?” He liked having his ego stroked about as much as his cock.
“No,” Draco said, jabbing Harry with a finger. “Just tired is all.”
Harry glanced down, smoothing out the rumpled sheets. He’d still give them a wash in the morning; even though they’d Vanished everything, the fact remained they’d still wanked themselves silly in this very spot, so it was more the principle of the matter. He cleared his throat softly. “…Mine’s not so far away,” he said, trying not to make it sound so obviously an offer. It was only, they didn’t have to part just yet; Harry was finally feeling nice and sated and just wanted to lie down and close his eyes. If Draco moved, it would ruin the moment. It wouldn’t even be the first time they’d found their way into each other’s bed—though curiously, both times had been Harry inviting Draco, and that seemed unfair for some reason.
Draco followed his eye to the sheets, stifling a yawn. “No, it’s not…” He snatched up Harry’s wand again and gave it a flick, whispering Epoximise. The two beds slid together, nearly bucking the two of them off with the sudden, jerky movement, and with a faint POP became one full-size bed. Draco nodded, passing Harry back his wand. “Much better.”
Harry blinked, trying to process what had just happened. “Er…we can’t sleep like this.”
“Of course we can,” Draco said, drawing back the covers and sliding under. He patted Harry’s pillow invitingly, then punched his own to fluff it up.
“No—I mean, if Ron and Hermione come in and see, they’re going to think…” They were going to think a lot of things. Mostly that Harry was out of his gourd—which they’d be entitled to, honestly. Harry wasn’t sure the past two months hadn’t all been a fever dream, and that he was still suffering under the effects of Nagini’s venom.
“Why would they come in and see? We’ll separate them again in the morning.” Draco shrugged, unconcerned. “Set an Alarm Charm if you’re so worried.”
Harry settled in next to him, a dubious frown on his lips. “You’re not worried?” Was this that ‘fatalist’ streak Draco had claimed to have, rearing its head again? Maybe he wasn’t so much drunk on his orgasm as he’d lost his marbles out his cock.
“Mm, I’ll be worried later…” Draco mumbled. “Feeling rather knackered now.” He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly as he slid in closer to Harry. It was uncomfortably warm, after their exertions, but Harry didn’t dare move a muscle. “…You won.”
Oh, he supposed he had, technically—and that was a pleasant surprise, given how self-conscious he’d been the whole time. He hoped Draco hadn’t let him win. It sounded implausible, but then so did Harry lasting longer, admittedly. “…Do I get a favour?”
Draco smiled into Harry’s shoulder, which he was currently nuzzling in a manner Harry might have called cute on anyone else. “Why does it sound like you already know what you want?”
He had several ideas, and they didn’t involve anyone doing his washing or bringing him breakfast in bed. “Must be hearing things.”
Draco pulled back, giving him a bemused look, then rolled his eyes and dipped forward to deliver a rather sweet kiss. It was only a chaste brush of the lips, certainly nothing to owl home about, but something shifted in Harry’s chest. It was a bit worrisome, unsettling even, how natural such gestures were becoming.
“No more nightmares,” Draco said, both wish and command at once—and funnily enough, Harry had no more visions that night.