Before the Rumblings of the Storm Part 2
The door slammed open, but those who entered did not bring any comfort. The Malfoys, followed by McGonagall, strode into the room, ignoring the pack of Gryffindors still huddled against the wall and the few lone Slytherins in favour of their son. Harry felt strangely pleased that both parents were still dressed for slumber, for all their robes and slippers were luxurious. It made them seem close and loving. It didn’t reduce their formidability, unfortunately.
“Draco,” Narcissa swept him into a close embrace, and Draco hugged back, silent, but Harry could see how the boy clung.
Lucius gazed at his family and then turned that expressionless face onto him. He swallowed and sat up straighter on his chair.
“Headmistress McGonagall favoured speed over explanations,” the lord drawled, “Perhaps you can explain to us why our son is in his current state.”
The words were languid, it was his eyes that made Harry realize the man’s focus on family was more than an abstract ideal for a name. He silently handed over the parchment.
“This appeared on his back.”
McGonagall swept into the room and went to stand by the group huddled by the window. “There seems to be little doubt who is the author of this message.” For all her voice quivered, she stood ramrod straight and strong. “There are few who would have a better chance than yourselves of deciphering what this means.”
Lucius inclined is head and read, his eyes flicking back and forth. Soon enough, his nostrils flared and his hand flexed to crunch the parchment in one vicious move. “…I see.”
Both mother and son turned to him as one, trust and hope glowing from their eyes. How could they, after he’d lead them to the edge of disaster? Lucius turned his son around to stare at his back. “Yes, I see,” he repeated, teeth grinding. “Fifteen out of around sixty symbols have faded already.” His mouth worked for a moment, and then he straightened and turned to him.
“Mr Potter, what you see is the result of the Dark Lord’s delight in experimentation and his sense of humour,” he ground out. The lord’s current opinion of his former master was quite clear. “It amused him to spend many hours in modifying spells, inventing curses that held special symbolic meaning to him. And he liked to…play with his victims.” He turned to his son. “Think, Draco. Did the dark lord at any time strike you with words that made no sense and appeared to do nothing?”
The younger Malfoy shook his head fretfully. “I’ve been trying to remember, but there was so much…” He broke off. “When I was first brought to his presence, after I couldn’t…” he swallowed. “…He was angry, so angry, taunting and teasing with that mocking way of his. He put me under crucio, and I think I remember hearing his voice chanting, but I was in so much pain I didn’t care….”
“Draco, hush now,” Narcissa planted a kiss on his head, her arms still wrapped around his shoulders.
“The dark lord always punished failure, but he liked to be clever about it.” Lucius continued, his fist still crumpling the parchment. “He’d been experimenting with delayed curses,” he continued. “Curses that would shock and surprise, just when you thought you were safe…curses that would taunt.”
“And Malfoy’s punishment is to die if Harry doesn’t love him by the time the words disappear.”
“So it seems,” Lucius gritted out.
“But it’s also a punishment for Harry,” Hermione insisted. “A way of taunting him.”
Malfoy senior started and rubbed his fingers over his chin. “Yes, perhaps. If he could hurt you as well as punish failure, it would be a double pleasure. The dark lord certainly knew of your enmity. I am sure he felt quite confident that blows would be exchanged and the curse would engage at some point. Of course, if you had not seen fit to hit him, this would never have happened.”
Oh, he knew it would come to this. “He hit me first,” he ground out.
Lucius raised his brow but said nothing. The damned bastard was yanking his chain.
“Fuck you,” Draco turned on him. “I didn’t mean it.”
“Well I didn’t know you were cursed!”
Professor McGonagall swept forward. “Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy, this is not helping.”
“Well, maybe we should think about how to stop the curse instead of people trying to throw blame around,” Harry retorted bitterly.
“Oh, very mature of you, Potter, when you’re not the one who’s going to die.“ Harry turned to look at him with such misery that the blonde stared, and subsided.
“Oh Salazar, another symbol has gone,” Pansy whimpered.
“How much time do we have left?” Narcissa asked, her face tense. “When did the first one go?”
“Half an hour ago,” Hermione replied. “I checked.” Harry shot her a grateful look. “Around sixteen symbols in half an hour, approximately sixty in all…We have roughly two hours to beat this,” she finished weakly.
“Two hours and I’ll be dead,” Draco interjected harshly. “There’s no way this curse could be stopped or lifted unless the terms of the condition are filled; it’s the dark lord’s own invention, and he wouldn’t have provided or written down a counter-curse. It’s hopeless.”
Harry stared at his hands. “No it isn’t,” he mumbled. “The curse says you’ll be saved if I love you.”
“You can’t just say I love you and the curse disappears with sparkles and bubbles and rainbows,” Malfoy sneered. “It has to be meant, you moron.”
“I…could,” Harry said carefully. “Mean it, I mean.”
The noise in the room cut off abruptly. It seemed his love life was destined to cause awkward silences today, he thought glumly.
“Potter. What? Potter.” Malfoy’s throat bobbed, his eyes wide and staring and filled with a wild mix of disbelief and hope.
“Harry?” Ron asked incredulously.
“Um, what?” came Seamus’s just as confused voice.
Zabini’s jaw dropped to match Goyle’s. “You must be kidding,” the dark aristocrat said flatly.
“I thought so,” Luna smoothed out her dress complacently. “You can always count on the Moon Frogs.”
Oh, Merlin. He bent his knees, wrapped his arms around his legs and cradled his burning face away from all the poleaxed expressions. Even the two senior Malfoys looked stunned. “That was what I was trying to tell you before,” he mumbled to Hermione. “The best way to deal with it is to fulfill the conditions. A curse won’t hold if it doesn’t keep to its own conditions, right? And…it…wouldn’t be absolutely impossible to…erm…um.”
“Well, then,” came McGonagall’s crisp voice. “In that case, it seems prudent to discover just how to legitimize your…well, your…feelings…” The helpless way his head of house said that in no way comforted him. “…In order to satisfy the curse. Mr Malfoy is quite correct in that words without formality will not suffice to fulfill the terms of a magical contract, curse or no.”
“Odire existitus mortis, Amor inrutus et strangulatus,” Lucius mused. “Hate becomes death, Love invades and strangles.” His eyes turned sharp. “I believe…” He turned to his wife. “Narcissa, stay with Draco. I am almost certain the answer lies in our library. I recognize…” The man frowned. “It is not hopeless, but I fear…” He strode out of the room. The stasis that had fallen on those that remained was abruptly broken.
“Harry,” Hermione whispered, her voice weak. “Oh, Harry.”
He bounced up from his seat, keeping his eyes on the floor. “Gotta piss,” he muttered. He took refuge in the infirmary’s toilets and wrestled with his jeans, breathing heavily. When the door opened he stifled a groan. Didn’t anyone have any tact? A figure stood next to him at the urinal and he jumped a mile in an inch. Malfoy. Oh hell. He stared resolutely forward as his tension and the fullness of his bladder waged war on his prick. The blond said nothing, but quietly opened his trousers, pulled down his fancy traditional underwear, and started to urinate. That cued his own bladder to release, and he was hard pressed not to burst into high-pressured hiccupping laughter as he kept his eyes resolutely forward.
“Do you love me, Potter?” Malfoy asked evenly.
He choked, jerked, and readjusted his aim. “…I…don’t hate you,” he said carefully.
“Why thank you, Potter. My heart flutters. But don’t hate won’t cut it.”
“Oh, come on, Malfoy,” Harry burst out. “Our relationship…whatever it is, is complicated. As you said, after everything we’ve said and done, you can hardly expect me to feel some kind of sweet, easy, kittens and sunshine love for you. All I know is that you…you matter to me and I would be…” he swallowed and stared up at the ceiling. “After everything that’s happened, it would be just absolutely wretched if…”
He looked up at the unexpected silence to find Malfoy’s face twisted as he tucked himself away, emotions chasing each other so fast they were like ephemeral afterimages, gone before he could process them.
“Will you do whatever it takes to stop the curse?”
His eyes widened. “Of course. Of course I will.”
Malfoy smiled humourlessly. “Ah, yes. Heroic Gryffindor and all that.”
“Oh, stop trying to make out that I…” Wouldn’t do it just for you. But no; he’d humiliated himself enough. “Oh just piss off,” he snapped. Then he felt bad. He thought he was miserable, how much worse was it for Malfoy!
The blond stood awkwardly, hesitated, and then left silently. Another symbol had disappeared. Harry cleaned up, lingering over the soap. If only he could just…stay here. Forever. Because then he wouldn’t have to face his friends who, when he finally emerged, had so obviously banded together to discuss him he could smell the echo of their words lingering in the air. It was great that no one confronted him, but it left such awkwardness in its wake he wanted to scream. Malfoy was back on the bed, encapsulated by his friends and his mother, who gripped his arm. How Narcissa Malfoy must hate him, no matter how guarded her gaze when it rested on his.
Long moments dragged on, broken only when Madam Pomfrey handed him a mug of tea balanced on a plate of sandwiches and biscuits.
“Eat. Drink. Even if you don’t want to,” she advised.
He nodded and accepted the tray. His friends were quietly doing the same. Even Malfoy was being gently forced into drinking his tea. It was like some kind of horrible parody of Nearly-Headless Nick’s deathday party, and he’d never enjoyed a sandwich less. Still, he ate mechanically. If he was to be part of any ritual designed to fix this nightmare, flaking out or fainting from residual drunkenness or hunger didn’t bear thinking about. He noticed both Pomfrey and McGonagall separate from discussion and move over to face them.
“All those not directly involved may depart for the eight year dormitory,” McGonagall instructed. I think it’s best if you all retired now.”
An instant protest went up from several voices, which cut off at the headmistress’s raised hand.
“It is late, and a crowd can in no way be beneficial to Mr Malfoy.”
Narcissa inclined her head, but said nothing. Draco reared up with irritation.
“Well I want Blaise, Greg and Pansy here.”
“Then they may stay.”
It said much for the growth of his friends that none of them argued it. But all of them turned to him. He shrugged. It felt shameful to act as if it were his tragedy to require comfort. But oh Merlin, he did. It burned like acid, to have thought he’d finally shaken off the mantle of being responsible for the deaths of others, the deaths of those he cared about, only to find it grinding down on him again. To know that it was to sting him that Malfoy would die. Knowing Voldemort bastard, evil disgusting bastard, did it to punish Malfoy as well didn’t lessen the misery much. Not fair, not fair, not FAIR! He’d counted on time giving him a chance to…well, change things between him and Malfoy. But not like this. Not like this.
“Miss Granger, Mr Weasley, I’m sure Mr Potter would value your support. The rest of you—“
Whatever protest may have followed was cut off by the re-entrance of Lucius Malfoy. He strode into the infirmary with a large book under his arm. Harry stared intently, desperate for hope. The man’s expression was strange, though, neither despairing nor jubilant. He looked at the clock. An hour past. One hour left. He felt sick, he didn’t want to imagine how Malfoy felt. The boy sat up, his eyes burning. He saw Pansy staring anxiously at his back.
“It is as I suspected.” Lucius sat down heavily on a chair next to his wife, and rubbed his fingers over his temples. “The dark lord borrowed extensively from our library, but this book in particular interested him. I suspect that the curse he used was a variant of this, the amor vincit omnia et nos cedamus amoriae.
It seemed as if everyone in the room burst into speech. Malfoy’s face was ashen.
“Father, please tell me it’s not what I think you mean,” he begged.
“Draco. You know the dark lord would be satisfied with nothing less than what he perceived as impossible.”
“But it is not impossible,” Narcissa stated, her eyes for the first time clear. “It is possible. Harry Potter can do this.”
“But mother,” Malfoy argued. If only, if only he’d at least grown up in a wizarding family, then he would understand why his childhood nemesis sounded so dismayed at what was supposed to be a cure.
“Shush, my lovely one. You will endure, and you will survive. I expect no less.”
“Oh, no,” Pansy moaned. “Oh, no. It can’t be that, oh Draco, tell me it isn’t like that.”
“Pans, don’t,” Draco urged, his face pained.
“It would never work!” Ron insisted. “You can’t expect them of all people to make it work!”
“Harry could,” Luna insisted, still serene, blast her.
“Could what?” He turned to Hermione, who for once, looked all out at sea.
“Narcissa, can we really allow…?”
“What choice do we have?”
“Potter, make it stop!” Pansy insisted hysterically. “You beat the dark lord on your own terms! Make this stop!”
“It’s madness,” Ron insisted.
“There’s got to be another way,” Zabini uttered, his face pale.
“There’s a reason that oath is never used,” Professor McGonagall interjected. “It is highly invasive and dangerous.”
“The dark lord was clever,” Lucius’s voice was as smooth and well-modulated as ever, with glass shards under it. “The codicil of Odire existitus mortis, Amor inrutus et strangulatus is the key.”
Harry felt his insides quiver. “What does this mean for what I have to do?”
Lucius stared at him. “This oath is no mere sweet binding ceremony,” he explained. “The dark lord requires nothing less than your complete and eternal act of love.”
“…What is that supposed to mean?”
“A merge of your mind and magic. The ingenuous would call it a binding of souls, which is accurate enough, if nauseatingly naive.”
“…A merge of…” His insides congealed. “We’d…join minds? And magic?”
Lucius smiled coldly. “Indeed. A complete alignment. You will both be privy to every memory, every shameful secret, every dark dream. At least, until you learn how to occlude to a proficient degree. You could call it a loss of individuality, which is not an attractive prospect to anyone, no matter how in love. I hardly need to add that it a bond, and you cannot marry nor seek comfort in the embraces of another. For all these reasons, it is lauded as the purest and most divine of magic and is never, ever used. A most romantic picture is it not?” he sneered.
He felt sick. To allow Malfoy to see him, all of him, every memory, every deed, every embarrassing moment, all those shameful thoughts and dreams he’d rather die than admit to… and to see all of Malfoy, knowing the boy would hate him for the indignity of it all, was horrible.
“Yes, not quite the heroic splendor of self-sacrifice you imagined, is it?” Though Lucius still sneered, only the belief that it wasn’t actually directed at him held him quiet. “In this way, the dark lord expected to win in all his imagined scenarios. You refuse, or Draco refuses, and he dies, leaving you with crushing guilt. You attempt the bond, and either both of you die, or you drive each other mad. You succeed, but the forced sharing of yourself to an enemy to the exclusion of those you may love, lead you both to a life of misery. As a tidy little adjunct, the Malfoy line dies out.”
“Would you prefer me dead, father?”
Lucius stared at his son for one heartbeat, and slowly gathered him into his arms. “No, no,” he whispered against Draco’s head. “Your mother and I will sort out the issue of an heir. It is not your concern.”
“And we have to make the choice whether to attempt the bond.” Harry hid his face in his knees again.
“Wonderful, isn’t it, Potter?” Draco spat bitterly.
“How much love does there have to be?” Harry asked awkwardly. “How does the curse, or the oath…I dunno…grade it?”
“Just enough love to agree to the bond, Mr Potter,” Lucius replied. “The magnitude of the love one must feel to undergo such an ordeal is implied.”
“Time is running out,” Narcissa interjected, her voice wavering. “You must decide soon, to give enough time for the binding to take hold.”
This unleashed another round of voices.
“Draco, I’ll do it,” Pansy pleaded. “Let me!”
“Pans,” Malfoy pushed her hands away and gripped his hair. “It doesn’t work that way, and in any case…” he flushed and winced. “Just…don’t. Don’t.”
“Harry, you could die,” Ron pleaded. “You can’t do this.”
“He’s right.” Neville shook his head. “For two people who aren’t really in love to try it…how could you successfully align?”
“It must be attempted,” Narcissa interjected.
“But is there enough time to achieve such a thing?” McGonagall argued
“How is it to be achieved in such a rushed, ill-considered manner?” from Pomfrey.
“Draco, I thought we’d…,”
“Pansy, you don’t understand,” Blaise drew her away.
“It’s madness,” Seamus shook his head. “And all for Malfoy? You can’t sacrifice yourself for him!”
“Of course Harry Potter can,” Narcissa shot back. “And he will.”
“Oh, Harry,” Ginny cried.
“He’s done enough.”
“It’s not fair on him.”
“It’s not fair to Draco!”
Malfoy shoved is hands over his ears. “Just everybody get out,” he shrieked. “I can’t think with you all jabbering away!”
“It’s best if we…do as he says,” McGonagall shocked him by saying. “If they do choose…to do this, the consequences of getting caught up in the magical backlash would be…severe. Come along. All of you, except for Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy, and his parents. Back to the dormitory. And what you have seen and heard here tonight will not be discussed with your fellow eighth years, or anyone else, do I make myself clear?” There were subdued murmurs. “And if I hear of any fighting over what has happened, you will be expelled from this school.”
Everyone looked shocked enough, which was one less thing to worry about. He gave a nod to all his friends, especially to Ron and Hermione, who looked practically in tears. He tried to smile.
“Hey, you know me,” he managed. “Always pull through in the end.”
Hermione smiled through her tears. “We’ll…we’ll see you soon.”
And they were gone, leaving him to hide his face against his knees again. His life was about to change in the most drastic way possible and still live. Lucius was right; this wasn’t some kind of heroic sacrifice where he could just do it and it’d all be over, it would be a lifelong struggle. Just because his…feelings about Malfoy weren’t as clear-cut as they used to be didn’t mean Malfoy felt the same. He’d have to offer himself, painfully naked, for Malfoy to tear to shreds. And what if the boy refused? His punch would have killed him.
“Draco, you must agree,” Narcissa urged. “So few symbols are left, and you need to succeed in the bond before then.”
Malfoy stared at his hands. “What about Potter? He hasn’t agreed.”
“Of course I agree.” Harry ran his hands through his hair. “Of course.”
“You could hardly say no, I suppose,” Draco sneered.
“Of course I could say no,” he snapped. “I just don’t want to.”
“Really?” Draco turned to look at him, then. “Really, Potter? Father, what would we have to do…? If I agreed?”
“There is no choice in that,” his mother insisted.
Draco shot her a guarded glance and turned back to Lucius.
“I can teach you the words. It is very old magic and relies on action in the form of merging rather than in ritual, so there is little to learn. What time is taken is due to the difficulty in synching two minds, two magics, especially those…not so inclined.”
“Teach me,” Draco said quietly.
Harry stood by the bed. “And me.”