Title: Before the Rumblings of the Storm
Pairing(s): HP/DM, RW/HG, DT/GW
Summary: Harry is bored at the Yule Ball during his eighth year until pressure arrives in the form of a curse that only he can fix.
Disclaimer: The recognizable characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and legal assigns; no profit is intended or made via this work of fiction.
Warning(s): Bottom Harry.
Word Count: ~ 10,800
Notes: This was for nursedarry for the stocking stuffer gift exchange.
“This is too tame for words,” Seamus decided.
Harry glanced up to find the Irish boy slumping down on his seat, having come straight from the half-filled dance floor. “I mean to say, Yule balls, they’re more for girls, aren’t they?”
“Bloody boring, mate,” Ron agreed. The redhead looked over towards him, expectation written clearly on his face. He shrugged and glanced at Neville. From the look on the boy’s face, he agreed wholeheartedly that boring was still welcome, eight months after the battle of Hogwarts.
He let his eyes linger over the great hall. Considering everything he’d seen and done since age eleven, he really shouldn’t feel so surprised that Hogwarts had managed to regenerate itself by the end of August. Of course there had been many to help the magic along, himself included, various teachers, even the Malfoys, keen in their cool, still aloof way to provide proof of their change of heart, but looking around at the twinkling lights and solid walls, he suspected their help hadn’t really been needed at all.
He was grateful to Hogwarts (and yes, he knew the place wasn’t really sentient, at least, probably not) for providing that necessary physical work to help him sleep, and a comforting, familiar base to support him while he, and the other like him, mucked about decontaminating, licking wounds and starting to unfurl into something approaching normal, whatever that was these days. There were teething troubles; stray hexes fired at the returned eighth year Slytherins (even Pansy Parkinson, who, if lacking courage at the crucial moment, at least had the intelligence or tact to keep her head down post-battle), and muted but resentful hisses returned, but all the seething tension boiling under the polite crust just made him itchy and tired. If Professor McGonagall (headmistress, now) thought a Yule Ball would help the process, then he was all for it, as long as he didn’t actually have to dance.
“Uh oh. Giggling sixth years, heading at rapid clip north from northeast. Estimated collision time, two minutes and counting down,” Dean muttered.
Harry’s eyes widened and he sat up. Their friendship might have weathered some turbulence during the months of Ginny’s post-traumatic indecision and heart-searching reassessment of her feelings, but he couldn’t deny that secretly, the final outcome had resulted in an entirely unexpected feeling of relief and burden uplifted, and he certainly wasn’t going to ignore anything the young artist said.
“How many?” Neville asked.
“Around seven. Tightly packed, looking determined.”
He and Neville shared another glance. We already did that bravery thing, their mutual glance decided. “Ron, where’s Hermione?”
“Disappeared with Lav, I think.”
Luna broke off from her rapt contemplation of the ceiling. “Lavender was having some problems getting her concealer-charm to stick.”
“Dean, grab Ginny. Ron, hunt up Hermione and Lav.”
Luna put her chin on her hands and cocked her head. “Are we running away from the ball?”
“Strategic evasive maneuver,” Harry replied firmly, rising from the beribboned and festooned table. “Charms classroom.”
Seamus jumped up. “Meet you there in fifteen.”
“Where are you off to, then?” Ron asked.
The Irish boy winked. “Just going to fetch a little something donated by my Pa.”
“Your turn, Gin.” Harry lifted his head and glass and waited.
“Mine again? Oh, okay.” Ginny sat back against Dean’s chest and her lips screwed up in thought. “I know; how about…what would you have never dreamed of doing before, which you now think; you know, fuck it, I will.”
“Play drinking games till midnight,” Hermione said with a small smile. Everyone snickered.
“And make out with Ron practically out in the open where friends who really didn’t need to see that can stumble over you,” Harry interjected meaningfully.
There was raucous laughter as Ron and Hermione turned red. “How were we to know you’d changed your mind about heading off to the pitch?” the redhead argued, grinning bashfully.
“Just…get a room,” Harry suggested. “Save everyone a lot of grief.”
“I’m going to try out for the Holyhead Harpies and tell mum I don’t want children until I’m thirty,” Ginny stated proudly.
“Oohh, you are not allowed to do that until I can be there. Preferably with Harry’s cloak so mum can’t start off on me,” Ron interjected. “You, Nev?”
“Tell Professor Snape to kiss thestrals,” Neville boasted.
“You wouldn’t,” Lavender gasped.
“Yeah, great choice, Nev,” Harry offered. “Being that he’s all safely dead.”
The words still stuck in the throat but a slow head shake from Neville dispelled it.
“The Slytherins have hung his portrait in their common room. I was there delivering a lost firstie during my prefect round last night.”
“You didn’t,” Ron gasped.
Neville said nothing, but slugged his shot back and leaned back on his chair, arms behind his head, legs up on the table, a shit-eating grin all over his face. “Also, ask Parvati out on a date when the twins get back to school.”
Harry flashed a glance at Ron, whose face drifted off and twisted. “Dean?”
“I’m going to hold an art exhibition by the end of next year.” Dean grinned. “Only I was going to do that anyway.”
“Now then,” Seamus said, playfully aghast, “What on earth would I do now that I wouldn’t have had the bollocks to do before?”
Everyone laughed. “That’s a good point,” Harry admitted.
“I’m going to become a naturalist,” Luna used her wand to lift the whiskey out of her glass and swirl it around in the air. “Father wanted me to take over the Quibbler, but I feel the Moon Frogs calling.”
Everyone blinked politely.
Ron turned around to look up at him. “How about you, Harry?”
He hesitated, his mind suddenly gone curiously blank. “…I…I don’t know,” he admitted weakly. “I guess I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Well, think now,” Dean suggested with good nature. “You must have loads of things you want to do now that you couldn’t before.”
Claws seemed to clutch down on his mind and send ice freezing along his innards. He knew he was drunk enough to blurt out things that would require ritual suicide the following morning, like that he wanted to…well, do things he knew the others had done that he hadn’t had a chance to. And relatedly, and even more horribly, admit to a strange, amorphous, twisting sensation that had birthed and risen in his belly whenever he thought of…a certain person – people! Because if there was one thing he had learned, it was that people were massively more complicated than he used to think, and required a slow and careful reassessment, even if they were utter berks and probably really were just as stupid and pathetic as they’d originally seemed.
“I suppose you want to lose your virginity,” Luna said. “That seems to be a common thing for teenage boys.”
A sudden, awkward silence crunched the low hum of conversation flat. Harry could feel his face burn as Ron jumped up to his feet.
“Is that the time? Shit, we’d better get going or else McGonagall’s going to freak.”
“Hell yes,” Dean lifted Ginny to her feet, who did not look Harry’s way. “This one here needs her beauty sleep.”
Ginny made a show of squealing in mock anger as Hermione and Lavender burst into a pressurized chat about how the blonde girl’s modified glamours had held up.
.Meanwhile, Luna stared at him with that unblinking, un-understanding, bovine…. He squashed down a variety of uncharitable epitaphs. Because Luna couldn’t help being…Luna.
“Please tell me that never happened,” he moaned.
Hermione reached over to grip his hand. “It’s not like we didn’t know,” she whispered, her forehead creased in sympathy. “And honestly, Harry, it’s not like anyone talks about it.”
“Except Luna,” he muttered.
“Did I say something wrong?” Luna looked between the two of them with a mildly bewildered air.
He sighed. “…Never mind.”
They all sloshed out of the room and weaved down the corridor arm in arm. Harry trailed behind, hoping to be forgotten. A hand came down on his shoulder. Neville gave him a small smile, but it was sympathetic, not inclusive. He felt a stab of indignation. How had Neville-? And then felt instantly ashamed of himself. Neville was hardly the insecure, hopeless nerd he used to be.
“The only reason I’m not is because of being stuck at Hogwarts before the end,” Neville whispered. “Me and Parvarti, one night, after a particularly nasty day…well, we didn’t have time to talk about it later, what with what happened, but…yeah.”
Harry gave a dull nod and tried to fix a smile on his face. “I’m glad, Neville. Good for you.”
Harry’s gaze snapped forward as Dean, at the front of the pack, ground to a halt. “Hey, what’s going on?”
He pushed his way forward, wand in firm grip, to find two groups of students facing each other, tension in every line.
“…even be here!” he heard one spit. A group of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, crowding Malfoy, Zabini, Parkinson and Goyle. Both groups looked like he felt. He wondered how many fathers were going to reach into the liquor cabinet and find it dry tomorrow.
“Yeah!” The chorus came, sadly predictable and Harry wanted to scream. Was it all going to be the same as before?
“I hate to disillusion you, but we should be here, at least according to Professor McGonagall,” Malfoy drawled. His hair was mussed and his nose and cheeks flushed pink. He held an empty bottle. Harry sucked in a quick breath. He’d seen the aristocratic blond undone with fear and grief, but he hadn’t seen him unraveled quite this way before.
“Get the fuck out of Hogwarts!”
“Should we do something?” Neville muttered.
Harry felt his body wanting to push forward, take charge, break things up, but he forced himself still. “Well I suppose you ought to, since you’re a prefect.” Everyone stared at him, and he bristled. “I’m not a prefect, and it’s not my place to jump in. If I did I’d be…oh god, like some kind of horrible…” he waved his arms around. “I dunno…jumped up, officious, busybody, power-drunk prat who didn’t know when to shut up.”
Ron, Dean and Seamus considered this and nodded sagely.
“Well then, it’s up to you, me boy,” Seamus thumped on Neville’s back.
Neville squared his shoulders and gave a firm nod. He strode over to the group, and despite his protestations, he followed the group in drawing closer. Just to support Neville.
“Come on, you lot,” Neville broke in. “Time to go back to the dorms.”
“But!” the lead Hufflepuff protested. He had no idea who the boy was, couldn’t remember seeing him at the battle, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been there.
“Nev’s right,” Ron added, his chest puffed out just a little. The redhead couldn’t help that little glow of self-importance, he knew. He’d gone too long feeling mediocre. “It’s past curfew for all of us. Just let it rest.”
“Well, well,” Malfoy sneered, pushing his fringe back out of his eyes. “Gryffs to the rescue. This is a banner day.”
Harry’s brow rose. Good Godric, no “Gryffindork”? No rancid spit about not needing help from muggle lovers and mudbloods? A banner day indeed.
“Fine.” A boy with Ravenclaw insignia shrugged. “We’ll go. But first…” Before anyone could react, his fist shot out and connected with Zabini’s stomach. The boy doubled over and grunted.
“Bastard!” Malfoy jumped in to slam his fist into the Ravenclaw’s face, only to fall as the Hufflepuff tripped him.
“Uh, uh, you piece of shit-!”
Goyle sprang in and Seamus hollered with misplaced exuberance and jumped into the fray.
“Seamus,” Hermione hissed. “Oh, honestly.”
Dean ran forward to pull Seamus back only to get hit by another boy’s fist. “…You...you fucker!” he spluttered. His fist shot out and Neville found it necessary to add his own mite to the melee in self-defense.
“Break it up,” he yelled.
No one paid any attention.
Harry felt torn. He wanted to jump in, he felt ashamed to stay back, but sad precedence had taught him that if he did so, Authority would show up two seconds later and somehow he always wound up a) being the focus of attention, b) being blamed as the instigator, and c) getting the worst of the detentions. And there was the issue of being a self-righteous prat who thought every fight was his fight to…fight.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a patronus flick away and hoped like heck it wasn’t Hermione bringing McGonagall onto the scene.
…It wasn’t being a prat if he just helped Neville out, right?
No, that was about mate-ship. A given. A prerogative. A duty. He ran over to Neville and pushed a particularly rabid Hufflepuff away. “Give up,” he advised. “Go back to the dorm.”
The boy gave him a dirty look, but, yeah, that awed stage hadn’t quite run its course. The boy drew his robes closer and backed off to turn and run. Harry sighed and turned around right into the path of an oncoming fist.
“Aaah.” Harry held his nose in his hand for a moment and blinked away tears of pain to find Malfoy’s eyes flashing with a moment of alarm. He was still sober enough to understand that the Slytherin hadn’t meant to hit him, and opened his mouth to acknowledge this, when the blonde’s face twisted with irritation. “Oh, you would come in to save the day for the precious Puffs. Piss off, Potter. Try to not make it about you for once.”
Which was so off the mark he’d have laughed only things were a little vague and he was fucking annoyed and never any fucking apology from the snotty prick, and that would have been okay if the boy hadn’t just ignored him after everything, and his fist drew back and slammed forward. Malfoy’s head snapped back with a high-pitched grunt, he stumbled back a few paces to cradle his face, and Harry’s brain finally caught up. “That was entirely about you,” he said coldly. He drew his wand and fixed his nose and stared with withering annoyance as Malfoy gripped his shoulder with a startled hiss, his face screwed up.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” he huffed. “I didn’t even touch your shoulder.”
“I know you didn’t,” Malfoy snapped. “It just…it…fuck, ow…”
Harry glanced around to find the majority of the mob had broken up and were drifting off, nursing various body parts. No risk from a stray fist. “…I know you’re going to tell me to piss off and all, but…are you all right?”
“No, I’m bloody not all right you idiot,” Malfoy gritted out. “Fuck it…”
Parkinson rushed forward from where she’d been waiting to cling to Malfoy. “Draco, what’s wrong?”
Harry turned to Slytherin’s other friends, who were shaking out wrists. Zabini pointed his wand at his nose and muttered episkey. It didn’t do much to vanish the blood, though. “Perhaps you ought to take him to the infirmary,” he said quietly.
“We can do that, you lot can bugger off,” Goyle grunted, his tone not nearly as hostile as his words suggested. Everyone gasped as Malfoy sunk to knees, his face twisted in agony and clawed at his dress robes. The urge to rush forward and help was so strong that only the image of Malfoy sneering at him held him back.
“Draco…” Zabini stood there, looking helpless.
Harry’s nose wrinkled. It seemed the Slytherin was one of idiots who were hopeless in an emergency. “Help him out of his robe,” he suggested acidly. “He seems to want to remove it.”
He turned his attention back to Malfoy, who was tugging off his robe and moaning in pain. He had his wand out, but what could he do? He turned to Hermione, who was staring at the scene, her face creased with worry. “Did you call Madame Pomfrey?”
She nodded. “Hopefully she’ll be here soon. What do you think’s wrong?”
“Potter, I think you should see this.”
Harry’s gaze snapped over to where Zabini stood behind his friend, staring at his naked back. The look of fear on his face made his insides congeal. Parkinson took a large step back and screamed.
“What is it?” Malfoy shrieked. “It feels like fire all down my back!”
“I don’t know, but…Potter, really.”
“Just tell me,” the blond hissed.
Harry walked towards them. Everything still seemed hazy, unreal, and he wanted to vomit from the force of dread premonition. Zabini stumbled back as he approached, and then he looked. A cold weight punched him in his middle and the blood rushed from his face. “Oh dear Merlin,” he half whispered, half moaned.
“What is it?” Hermione asked anxiously. “What’s wrong?”
Harry looked up at her white face. “Parsletongue.”
“What?” Malfoy craned his neck around. “What the buggering fuck…?” His voice shook with anger and fear.
“Oh,” Lavender cried. “Oh is it him? Has he come back?”
Seamus gripped his girlfriend in a fierce hug. “No, no, cariad. No.” But his tone was begging.
“Read it out, Potter,” Malfoy gritted out. “You’re the only one here who can.”
Distantly he was grateful that the Slytherin hadn’t instantly hurled blame at him, but the neat rows of sickly dark green figures inscribed down the boy’s white back held him captive. They were slightly raised and red around the edges, like a new muggle tattoo or allergy, but there was no mistaking the twisting snakes with the variable number of heads. The figures swam and he swallowed down bile.
“NOW, POTTER!” Malfoy spat.
“My ability to speak Parsletongue…It’s fading, all right?” Harry yelled, pulling on his hair. “I didn’t tell anyone ‘cause it never came up, but I think I’m forgetting it, I mean, not just because I don’t need to use it, and I’m half pissed and tired, and…just fuck…” He sucked in a breath and felt Ron at his elbow, his face pinched with fear, supporting him. “I just need a bit of time to concentrate and remember.”
“Oh, where is Professor McGonagall?” Hermione moaned.
Harry gripped his head in his hands and sucked in several deep breaths. Why had he thought it safe to laugh and chat and get pissed? When he knew….oh, he knew, it always happened to him. He stared at the first symbol. Concentrate. Concentrate. You know this. You should. He stared at the beginning and the dread of premonition turned to a heavy ball of misery in his stomach. He drew in breath and hissed. He heard multiple sharp breaths and a feminine whimper.
“Try it in English, Potter,” Malfoy snapped.
“…Harry Potter,” he read out loud, reluctantly. “So angry, Harry Potter.”
“Great, I knew this would somehow be your fucking fault!” Malfoy shrieked. “It’s always you!”
“Shut up Malfoy,” he snapped. “Do you think I’d want this?”
“You--! You just… Oh, just fucking read and get on with it!” the boy hissed.
Irrational prick. But a badly frightened irrational prick for good reason. Harry tried to remember he was more mature now and could make allowances – even for irrational pricks. Prick. The throb of guilt choking his throat was also irrational. Just get on with it.
“Fighting, hero of the light? What would your esteemed Dumbledore think, lying cold in his grave.” Harry swallowed as tears pricked in his eyes. His voice wavered. “When he always used to say, love is stronger than hate. Let us see, therefore, whether your love is stronger than your hate, Harry Potter.”
Sick dread churned and twisted in his stomach.
“You see I have chosen your task well, in memory of your beloved mother.” He sucked in a shuddering breath as he stared at Malfoy’s back, who remained tense and still. He felt Hermione’s hand on his shoulder, and made himself continue. “Can you love who you hate, Harry Potter?” he read. “Choose before the message dies, or young Malfoy will surely follow.” I think…I think this next bit is supposed to be Latin,” he continued. “Odire…existitus mortis…..Amor inrutus…et strangulatus.” Harry’s voice turned ragged. “…Enjoy being a hero, Harry Potter.”
“What is it? What does he mean, before the message dies?” Malfoy shrilled. Harry hardly heard him over his mind replaying that last sentence, followed by Voldemort’s sibilant, jubilant laughter. Malfoy’s hiss and scratch at his shoulder jerked him back to the matter at hand. Beside him, Zabini and Parkinson gasped.
“It means, the first Parsletongue symbol just disappeared,” Harry jerked out on a quavering voice. “I guess the others will follow.”
“Oh, you guess, do you?” Malfoy snapped. He staggered to his feet, just as footsteps thundered down the hall. Harry could barely bring himself to turn around; all he could see was Malfoy, white and shaken, cradling himself and Voldemort behind his eyes.
“What has been happening here?” Madam Pomfrey bustled up with Professor McGonagall at her side. Both women had the look of those about to hand out detentions to drunk students. Harry stared at them dumbly as Hermione rushed into the breach to explain all that had happened.
“And it seems that the message is disappearing, and there’s a spell I’ve never heard of, and…”
“Quiet, child,” Professor McGonagall rested a gentle hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “First, we need to get Mr Malfoy to the infirmary. Mr Potter, can you please repeat what is written on Mr Malfoy’s back?”
Harry did so, miserably. Professor McGonagall’s lips pursed, and she did not look happy. “You will all need to follow Madame Pomfrey. Mr Malfoy, I will contact your parents. This appears to be a curse that…Your parents may be able to provide more information, given their history.”
The blond was shaking, but he managed a nod. “I would appreciate it,” he replied stiffly.
The professor nodded, lips still pursed, and moved briskly back down the corridor. Harry tried to pretend she didn’t break out into a run.
“Well then, follow me.” Pomfrey led the way, and they all followed. Dimly, he was surprised that half of them hadn’t been sent off back to their respective dormitories. It said a lot for the seriousness of the situation. He glanced at Malfoy. The boy was staring straight ahead, his face twisted and frozen.
Oh god, would he never be rid of Voldemort? Was Dumbledore wrong after all? Was it all going to start up again? He belly churned with misery and rage. It wasn’t fair. After everything, he deserved not to have to go through all this again. And, oh hell, this was like The Bathroom Incident all over again, his counter strike causing far more horrifying damage than he’d ever intended. Worse yet, Malfoy would stare at him with hate-filled eyes, accusing, scorning, blaming, and things would be back to how they used to be. And, oh god, what if…what if…
He barely noticed trudging into the infirmary and sitting on a chair next to the nearest bed, he only came back to the present when Hermione pushed a quill and parchment into his hand.
“If the symbols are disappearing, you might need to write what…what was written down.”
Harry nodded dumbly and turned to Malfoy, who had been urged to sit on the nearest bed.
“Stand back, the lot of you,” Pomfrey shooed the small crowd with her hands. Since Professor McGonagall thought it advisable, you should stay, but find some chairs out of the way, against the wall.”
This did not apply to him, though. Oh no, he was to be considered special, in the thick of it. How he wished he was sitting anonymously amongst the others, scared and worried, but safely cradled from the burden of responsibility.
“Malfoy, please sit up,” he croaked out. “I need to write it down.”
The blond looked at him with a blank expression, but to his gut-churning relief, did so without comment. Beside him, Parkinson put her hands on her hips.
“This is your fault, Potter,” she claimed. He bristled. The girl was so patently thrilled at being able to assign blame to him, to have him be the bad person instead of her for a change, he wanted to slap her. And he hated that the barb struck home and made him throb with guilt.
“Miss Parkinson, kindly keep quiet,” Pomfrey said severely from the potions cupboard.
“Harry isn’t to blame for what someone else did to Malfoy,” Neville interjected, his voice quiet, but firm. “And you of all people have no right to criticize others.”
Neither Zabini nor Goyle spoke up, although they clearly wanted to defend their fellow Slytherin.
“I was scared,” the girl shrieked. “I didn’t see…I still don’t see, why we should all have been sacrificed for you,” she stabbed a finger at him, “when you were just going to confront him anyway! It would have been a senseless waste, and I won’t apologize for believing that one death is better than a hundred!”
“You’re right, it would have been senseless, and I definitely preferred to face him rather than see everyone killed,” he said evenly.
“The thing is, Parkinson,” Hermione broke in, “Ask yourself whether you would have done the same to Malfoy, or any other Slytherin.”
“This is not helping,” Pomfrey interjected, moving back to the bedside. Everyone ignored her.
“She deserves a second chance as much as anyone else,” Zabini insisted. “She never hurt anyone, didn’t turn a wand against any of you.”
“She’s welcome to it, but her defensive attitude isn’t helping,” Harry returned coldly.
“Potter’s right, Pansy,” Malfoy broke in impatiently. “Potter, get on with it.”
Harry clammed his mouth shut and winced. The second symbol had disappeared. He wrote down the rest of the message, his mind still railing, banging against the cage it suddenly found itself in.
A silvery cat crept into the room and jumped up onto the bed. “Mr and Mrs Malfoy have been contacted and will join us presently,” came McGonagall’s voice.
The cold claw wrenched his stomach again. That was going to be a pleasant encounter. Remember, you have done nothing wrong. He stared hazily at the parchment in front of him. If only he could make sense of the words; at least he’d have something positive to show, something to prove his worth and not be reduced to their son’s albatross around his neck. He stared at the parchment, willing a spark of enlightenment to make all clear.
“What do you think it means?”
He glanced up to find Luna in front of him, and flicked that glance over to the bed. Malfoy was staring at his hands, his mouth working. “It sounded awfully like I’m supposed to love Malfoy or he’ll…die,” he choked out bitterly. “Why such a dumb curse?”
“I suppose it seemed rather fatal to a man who didn’t believe in love,” Luna replied dreamily.
“It makes sense, Harry,” Hermione agreed, squeezing his hand sympathetically. “He’d enjoy that; doing something that he thought would twist the knife in, making sure you were the death of somebody because you couldn’t love them. He certainly chose the right person.”
He cringed. “Yeah, but what if—“ A piece of parchment floated into his hands. He stared at it dumbly for a moment, then opened it. Sorry, it read. He looked at it for one puzzled moment, and looked around. Pansy Parkinson, side on to him on the other side of the bed, was sneaking a backward glance at him. He raised a tentative brow, and she swallowed and gave a short nod. He nodded back, gravely, and was rewarded with a quick, small smile. She turned back to speak to Zabini. People are complicated.