"Hmmm?" Ginny didn't look up from her broom polishing, which made Harry smile. Her long hair was tied back in a messy tail and she had a smudge of broomstick polish across her nose.
"I was thinking that we should get away together sometime soon, just for a weekend."
"All right," she replied, forehead furrowed as she scrubbed at a particularly stubborn spot.
"Do you know your schedule for the next month?"
"Erm… well, we have two matches every weekend for the next ten weeks, and a lot of on-site practices. Can it wait until March?"
Harry sighed. "Do we have a choice?"
"Not unless you want me to quit the team." Her voice was tight.
"I didn't say that."
"I didn't say you did. But you know how important this is to me."
"I do, I do. I just… you can't take one weekend off?"
She looked up at him. "I have some Mondays and Tuesdays off. We could go in the middle of the week instead."
He frowned. "I've no more holiday time. Unless I quit my job as well."
"Then we wait," she said, and went back to work on her broomstick.
Harry pressed his lips together and nodded, rubbing absently at his sore hand.
"It's bothering you, isn't it?"
"No, I understand."
"Your hand, I mean. You said it was better."
Harry held up his right hand and flexed his fingers. "I had to cast a lot of spells at work today. I may have overdone it."
"What about your head?"
"Hurts, as always." He couldn't remember what it was like not to have a headache.
Ginny set her broom aside. "You should go back to the healer." She held up her hand to cut off the protest she knew was coming. "A different one this time, one who will look for things the others haven't. There's a reason for the pain, there has to be."
Harry clenched his hand into a fist. He knew what the problem was, but he couldn't tell anyone -- not even Ginny. He shook his head. "I think I just have to live with it."
"But it's got worse," she said, her voice soft. "You won't admit it, but I know it has. Especially in the last month. I see how much headache potion you take. It's doubled since November."
"That's why I want to get away now, not later. If we wait until March, I may not be able to enjoy it at all."
"If you go to another healer, maybe you'll be better by March. We shouldn't go when you're not feeing well."
"And if nothing will help? If I continue to get worse?"
She looked away at that, but not before he saw a flash of frustration on her face. She cared about him and loved being with him, but she didn't believe him. She thought he was just being stubborn, trying to tough it out.
He wondered what she would say if he told her that he was dying.
Nine weeks "You all right, mate?" Harry looked up to see Ron peering through the doorway at him with an expression of concern.
"Yeah. Just tired. Didn't sleep well."
"Right." Ron stepped into Harry's office and closed the door behind him. "So… remember that healer I was telling you about the other day, the one who helped Mum when she--"
"Did Ginny put you up to this?"
Ron tried to look innocent, but his obvious lack of experience in that department worked against him. "No, of course not. I just happened to be walking by your office and it occurred to me that Mum had written his name and address on a piece of parchment and that I just happened to stick it in my pocket this morning." He crossed to Harry's desk and held out the scrap of parchment, upon which was most certainly not Molly's handwriting.
"Thanks, then," Harry replied with a non-committal wave of his hand. "I'll send him an owl when I get a chance."
Ron seemed to relax, having accomplished his assigned task. "So how are you, really?"
"Same as always."
"That bad?" Ron flicked his wand and an empty chair slid across the floor to meet him as he sat. He propped his feet on the edge of Harry's desk. "You look like death warmed over."
"I'm serious, Harry. You should take the rest of the day off."
"It won't do any good. Why waste my time lying about when I could be doing something important?"
Ron was silent for a long moment. "How long has this been going on?"
Harry shrugged. "Months. Maybe a year."
"And how many healers have you seen?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't know. And I'd rather not talk about it right now."
"A dozen, at least. And none of them had a clue what might be wrong with you."
"Which begs the question, why bother going to another one?"
Ron scratched his chin. "Which begs the question, what do you think is wrong with you?"
Harry looked away. "How should I know?"
Ron sighed. "Do you think it's some sort of Muggle disease? Maybe you should see a Muggle doctor."
"I did, about eight months ago. She couldn't find anything wrong either. Well, she said it might be pain induced by depression, but I'm not depressed. At least, I wasn't then."
"Those were some good painkillers, though," Ron said with a grin.
"Which I gave to you because they didn't work on me, if you remember. And that's why I think it's magical in origin."
"A curse?" Ron lifted his feet off the desk and sat forward. "A curse we can do something about."
Harry groaned and pressed a hand to his forehead. Hadn't he said he didn't want to talk about this? "You think it's been going on for about a year, right?"
"Do you remember anything unusual happening around this time last year? Any encounters with strangers or people you hadn't seen for a while, unexpected flashes of light, surprise packages you felt odd after opening?"
Harry raised an eyebrow. "At Christmas? I can't imagine."
Ron frowned. "That does complicate things a bit."
"Ron, I know you mean well, but--"
"Wait a minute, we captured those last Death Eaters in Wales about this time last year. Do you think one of them could have hexed you when you weren't looking?"
"They were half-starved and gave up without a fight. I don't think so, Ron."
"Yeah, true. Whoever did this probably planned it for ages, and hexed you when you were least expecting it."
Harry looked up at that. "Maybe. Or maybe he didn't know what he was doing. Maybe it was just an unlucky accident."
Ron frowned. "You think someone did this to you by accident? That's hard to believe."
"It may not even be a hex. Maybe it's something I've had my whole life." Harry stood and gathered some papers from his desk. "I've got a meeting."
Ron nodded and headed to the door, but turned just as he reached it. "Oh, Hermione wanted me to ask you if you'd like to come over for dinner next Saturday night."
"If I feel up to it, yeah. That'd be nice."
Ron tapped the doorway with his long fingers and gave him a tight smile, then disappeared from view.
Harry leaned over his desk and rested his forehead on its cool surface. He should think about telling them the truth. The sooner he did, the sooner they'd just leave him alone.
Harry didn't venture out into Diagon Alley very often. Even though the War ended nearly five years ago, he felt on display there. Crowds parted for him, children stared at him, and random strangers would pat him on the shoulder as they walked by. It was annoying, to say the least.
But today he had little choice. The potion he'd been taking for pain wasn't enough any more, and he'd decided to inquire at the apothecary about something stronger. He apparated to an alley off of Charing Cross Road, ducked through the Leaky Cauldron and quickly out the back, and stepped into the apothecary before anyone could stop him for an autograph.
The small shop was empty save for one figure standing at the counter, examining items under the display glass. With a jolt, Harry realized who it was -- the elegant dark cloak, the pale shoulder-length hair, the tilt of the jaw as the man turned to see who had just entered the shop. Draco Malfoy turned to face him, his pale eyes narrowed to slits, and Harry could do nothing but stand in the doorway and look awkward. He forced a pleasant expression and walked forward, stopping a respectable distance from Malfoy, but still making it clear that he wasn't going to leave.
"Potter," Malfoy said in an apparent greeting.
"Malfoy," Harry replied with a nod. "Is the shopkeeper in?"
"He's in the back."
They stared at each other. Harry fished around for small talk. "So. How have you been?"
"Well," Malfoy said.
"Yes, me too. You were married recently, weren't you? Congratulations."
"Thank you. I hear you're seeing Ginny Weasley."
"Yeah. But we're in no hurry to get married or anything. I mean, her Quidditch career is going quite well at the moment." He clenched his jaw, not sure why he'd felt compelled to say that.
"Yes. My wife is a fan, actually." The last was said with an expression that implied Malfoy didn't share his wife's enthusiasm for the Holyhead Harpies.
"Is she? Does she play as well?"
Malfoy looked at Harry as if he thought he was mad, but before the conversation could continue, the shopkeeper returned to the counter. Harry pretended to examine a display near the door while the two talked quietly, but curiosity finally got the better of him. He hadn't seen Malfoy in years and he wasn't sure when he might see him again. He looked much the same as Harry remembered, though a bit taller, a bit older, a bit leaner. He moved with a grace that reminded Harry more of Narcissa Malfoy than of Lucius.
At last, Malfoy gathered his purchases and slipped them into pockets in his cloak, and turned to leave. Harry thought for a moment that Malfoy was going to walk right past him without saying another word, but he didn't. He stopped, and his eyes raked over Harry in a way that made him feel as if he were on display.
"It was good to see you," Malfoy said. He sounded oddly sincere.
"Yes," Harry replied. "It was. I suppose I'll see you around."
"Yes." Malfoy looked as if he wanted to say something more, but he didn't. He nodded his head and left, the bell attached to the door tinkling behind him.
"Can I help you, Mr. Potter?"
Harry turned back to the shopkeeper, who was giving him a quizzical look. "Yes, sorry." He crossed to the counter, glancing around the shop to make certain they were alone. "I need something for pain, something stronger than before."
The shopkeeper's eyes narrowed. "I can't give you anything stronger without a written request from a licensed healer."
"I know," Harry replied, "and I'm not asking you to do anything improper. But I've seen all the healers. They can't help me."
"Then why do you think any of this will?"
It was a valid point: if the healers could find no magical reason for his condition, then why should he expect magical remedies to do any better? Of course, the more time passed, the more he was sure he knew what the problem was. And there was no remedy for it.
"I'm just looking for something to take the edge off, that's all."
The shopkeeper paused for a moment, then glanced around the empty shop, as if worried that the shelves themselves might be listening. "Potter, I didn't tell you this, got it?" He leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I can't give you what you want, but there is someone who can."
Harry frowned. "Are you suggesting--"
"I'll stop now if I'm offending your delicate sensibilities." Harry shook his head, and the man continued, "You know Hadrigardel's on Knockturn Alley?"
"I know of it."
"It's a pub, of sorts. Rough clientele there. But you can get anything you want. Ask after a man called Finkelton. He can get you what you want."
The shopkeeper swept another glance around his shop and then headed into the back without another word. Harry waited a few moments longer, until it was clear that was all he would get.
He headed down Diagon Alley, his cloak wrapped tightly around him, and then glanced up and down the street before ducking down Knockturn Alley. He felt eyes on him as he walked, and fervently wished he had the invisibility cloak with him. But the further he got down the alley, the less interested people seemed in what was happening around them. He was all but invisible by the time he reached the thick wooden door with the word Hadrigardel's burnt into it in rough, uneven letters.
He pushed the door open and slipped into the darkness. It was a moment before his eyes adjusted. The interior reminded him of the Leaky Cauldron, though far more cramped and run-down. It was difficult to tell how many people were in the pub, as there were many nooks and corners, some with just a hint of smoke or sound wafting out to indicate they were occupied.
Harry swallowed and made his way toward the bar. If the rough-looking character who poured him an ale recognized him, he didn't show it. Before Harry could work up the nerve to ask where he might find Finkelton, the barman wandered off, leaving him standing there alone. Harry felt exposed; he couldn't see any eyes on him, but he could feel them.
Every nook he ventured into seemed occupied, and there was nowhere to go. He finally settled for leaning awkwardly against a grimy wall and sipping his ale. It tasted bitter and stale, and he wondered if anyone else had ordered it in the last decade. People seemed to come here to do things other than drink.
"Potter," he heard in a rough whisper, and felt his stomach lurch. He would really rather not be recognized by anyone here, let alone by someone who would call out his name.
He turned toward the direction of the voice, but saw no one. He took a few steps forward and heard the clink of a glass inside a secluded booth. He clenched his jaw and looked inside. There was a figure sitting in shadow.
"You can sit, if you like," he heard, and then the figure leaned forward enough that Harry could make out his features -- Draco Malfoy.
It was almost with relief that Harry sat across from him. He expected to see people like Malfoy in places like this.
"Looking for something?" Malfoy asked, and took a sip from a smoking silver cup.
"Aren't we all?"
"Ah, but one only looks for a very particular sort of thing in a place like this."
"I suppose. What about you?"
Malfoy smiled. "I'm always looking."
They drank in silence for several minutes, both watching each other. Harry was used to feeling as if he were on display, but only rarely like this. It was as if Malfoy was expecting him to do something.
"Come here often?" Harry asked at last.
"Does that line usually work for you?"
"It's fair, I suppose. You have a better one?"
"I prefer a more direct approach."
"I can imagine." He nodded toward the cup in Malfoy's hand. "So is that what you're looking for?"
"Maybe." Malfoy raised the smoking cup to his lips again. "But I asked you first."
Harry rolled his eyes, growing annoyed with the circular small talk. He might as well get it over with. "I'm looking for Finkelton."
Malfoy nodded. "I reckoned as much. When the apothecary turns you away, that's the next place you go."
Harry didn't bother showing surprise. It hardly mattered at this point what Malfoy knew and how he knew it.
"It must be pretty bad, whatever you're trying to escape from."
"Says the married man looking to pick up girls in a pub."
"I'm not interested in girls," Malfoy replied with a meaningful look.
Harry was glad that the booth was dark, as it hid the blush he was certain was spreading across his cheeks. "Well, whatever strikes your fancy, it's all the same."
"If you say so."
Malfoy was looking at him with definite interest, and Harry wasn't sure how he felt about that. He'd considered men before, but hadn't had an opportunity to pursue it. Considering his current situation, he doubted he ever would.
"So do you know this Finkelton?" he asked, hoping to change the subject.
"Yes, but he won't talk to you. What do you need?"
"That's none of your business."
Malfoy shrugged. "I'll find out anyway. But if you tell me what you want, I can get it for you. Finkelton knows me. Well."
"I need something for a headache," Harry said after a pause.
Malfoy gave him an odd look.
"A very bad headache."
Malfoy smirked. "All right, I get the idea. I'll be back." He stood and slipped out of the booth, leaving a bewildered Harry sitting alone.
A long time passed before he returned, during which Harry wondered what he was getting himself into. Not that it mattered, to be sure. If this sped up his demise, it might be for the best.
Malfoy finally reappeared and slid a small brown packet across the table. Harry opened it to find a small glass vial containing a greenish-brown liquid. He pulled the cork from the vial and sniffed at the contents. The liquid was nearly odorless, to his surprise.
"Start with a small amount, and see how you like it. A bit goes quite far."
"What is it?"
"What do you think?"
"Right." Harry raised it to his lips and drank a tiny sip. It was bitter and spread across his tongue like a thin oil. He recorked the vial and reached for his ale to wash it down. It took about a minute, and then it happened -- blissful relief. It spread across Harry's forehead, across the top of his skull, down the back of his head and into his shoulders.
Malfoy said nothing; he just watched Harry. When Harry looked up at him with a surprised smile, he smirked.
"That's amazing. How much?"
"That one's on me," Malfoy replied. "I've never had to chance to thank you properly for ridding the world of the Dark Lord, have I?"
Harry didn't like the idea of being in debt to Malfoy, but he doubted Malfoy would fail to overcharge him next time. Harry knew enough to understand how these things worked.
He raised his glass of ale. "Well, I find the depth of your gratitude quite touching."
Malfoy's smirk faded into an expression that was almost predatory. "I can do better, if you like."
Harry snorted. "I imagine you can. But this will do for now."
Malfoy's eyes sparkled. "For now, then."
The flat Ron and Hermione lived in was best described as cozy. They'd opted for location over size, and so spent a large amount of their entry-level salaries on a tiny flat a short walk from the Ministry complex.
The three of them barely fit around the tiny dining table, but they made do. Ron dished food onto plates in the kitchen while Hermione opened a bottle of wine. Through a well-orchestrated application of kitchen magic, the table was set.
Harry smiled as he watched them. It was good to know they had each other, that they wouldn't be alone when he was gone.
"So Ginny's in Newcastle this weekend?" Hermione asked as they finally tucked into their meal.
Harry nodded, his mouth full.
"How long has it been since you've been to a match?"
"A year," Harry replied, reaching for his wine glass. "I haven't felt up to traveling."
"You seem to be doing a bit better this week, aren't you?"
Harry smiled at her. "No, actually I'm not. But I've got a new potion that helps with the pain." Ron and Hermione exchanged a look, and Harry decided to get it over with: he pulled a half-empty vial from his pocket and placed it on the table.
"Harry!" Hermione's eyes were wide. "That's not… That's illegal! And highly addictive!"
"You forgot expensive and difficult to procure," Harry said. "But it works."
"But it interferes with your ability to do magic and--"
"That it does," he conceded. "Which means it doesn't do me much good at work. But it's certainly made my evenings more pleasant."
Hermione was livid. "You can't continue to do this. It's not going to help you get well. Ron, tell him!"
Ron winced, clearly not wanting to be drawn into this particular argument. "Mate, she's got a point."
"I'm not going to get well." Both of them stared at him, and he sighed. "Actually, I'm dying. I don't know how much time I have left. It could be weeks, or months, but most certainly less than a year."
"Harry, don't be ridiculous," Hermione said. "You aren't dying."
He smiled. "But I am. Ever since the day I defeated Voldemort, I've been deteriorating. I think the part of me that was a horcrux was too entwined with my magic, or something. And when Voldemort destroyed it…" Their faces had both paled, and he looked away. "I know you don't want to hear it, but I am dying. And there's nothing to be done about it." +++++
Harry downed half a vial of the potion and leaned back in the darkened booth, a smile spreading over his face. "Merlin, that's better than sex. At least, I think so. I hardly remember what sex feels like."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow over the smoking cup of potion he'd been nursing since before Harry arrived. "You're joking, right?"
"I haven't felt up to it in months. And of course, Ginny will be away for another week, so I'm left on my own." He laughed. "God, I haven't even wanked in ages."
"I'd have offed myself by now."
"I've thought about it."
There was a pause. "So why haven't you?"
Harry shrugged. "I'll get to a point when the pain will be unbearable, and I'll do it then. I'm not afraid to die." He started to say more, but remembered who he was talking to. Only Ron and Hermione knew he'd died once before. Not even Ginny knew that.
"I suppose one can only live with a death sentence for so long before it stops being a point of anxiety."
"True. At least this time I have an idea of when it's coming."
Malfoy set his cup on the table and frowned. "So you really are dying?"
Harry nodded. "Voldemort left me a bit of a gift. It's only a matter of time." At Malfoy's look of concern, he added, "It's not contagious or anything. It's just a curse. Nothing can be done."
Malfoy picked up his cup again and drained it. He sat back against the leather banquet and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, for what it's worth."
"Yeah. Me too." Harry took advantage of this rare opportunity to simply watch Malfoy. He'd grown into his angular features in the last few years, and it gave him a look of elegance that Harry found oddly pleasant. He was almost pretty, in a way. He didn't look feminine, but not entirely masculine either.
"You're staring at me," Malfoy said, eyes still closed.
"Am I?" Malfoy opened his eyes and stared back at Harry for a moment. "Let's go somewhere else."
Harry shrugged, feeling a bit of a buzz from the potion. "All right."
They left the pub and headed even further down Knockturn Alley, then turned down street so narrow they couldn't walk side-by-side. Malfoy paused at a nondescript door and knocked three times. The door opened, seemingly on its own, and Malfoy disappeared into the darkness on the other side as if he had passed through a curtain.
Harry paused, frowning. He hadn't stopped to question this friendship of sorts he seemed to have developed with Malfoy over the last couple of weeks. By some sort of unspoken agreement, neither of them had mentioned any of the difficulties they'd had in the past. It was as if none of it mattered now, and in a sense, it didn't. Harry had a short amount of time left -- why should he spend it fighting with anyone?
Of course, he wasn't sure he trusted Malfoy enough to keep following him into darker and darker dens.
Malfoy's head materialized in the middle of the doorway, an irate expression on his face. "Waiting for a personal invitation?"
"I was," Harry replied, stepping forward. "So thanks." He walked through the magical barrier, and was immediately assaulted by sound and light.
It was an underground club, one of the sort he'd heard existed but had never actually seen himself. The room he was standing in had been magically enlarged and rose several levels above them. He could see people dancing and hanging over the edges of railings above, lit by hundreds of real fairies that swirled through the air, changing colors as they did. There were several long bars along the walls, behind which barwizards were directing dozens of bottles to pour at once, creating brilliantly-colored drinks that customers snatched up as quickly as they could.
The patrons themselves were as varied a group as Harry could remember seeing since attending a World Cup Final a few years before. There was a mix of witches and wizards, but also veela, goblins, hags, vampires, some witches who looked as if they might actually be wizards in drag, and a lone centaur who was surrounded by a circle of stylishly-dressed witches in a far corner. Couples swirled above them on broomsticks in time to the music, executing maneuvers that would have made any Quidditch player envious, and everyone was dressed in their most extravagant robes -- which made Harry feel a bit of a slob.
"Don't gawk as if you've never seen it before," Malfoy scolded. His hand closed around Harry's wrist and he pulled him through the crowd towards the bar. He plucked two tall glasses containing bright blue liquid from a tray. "You owe me a drink."
"Right," Harry replied, though he didn't. Better not to argue at this point. He passed a handful of knuts to the barwizard, who gave him an incredulous look until he dished out a few galleons.
After handing him one of the drinks, Malfoy took Harry by the wrist again and directed him towards the back of the club, where a maze of tunnels opened from the wall. Malfoy studied two identical doorways before choosing one, and took Harry through it. They made their way down a narrow corridor, passing alcoves and entrances to other tunnels in which people seemed to be engaged in a variety of noisy activities. Strange smells emanated from some, and bands of giggling fairies occasionally dashed out and buzzed about their heads before flitting away. Malfoy swatted at them, but seemed intent on his destination.
Harry was already feeling the effects of his drink, and regretted not asking what it was before downing half of it. It only seemed to enhance the painkilling effects of the potion he'd taken, so he didn't worry too much. It was only when Malfoy pulled him into a dark room that seemed to be occupied by people having sex in groups of various sizes that he began to worry about the fact that his ability to use magic was severely impaired.
"Don't look so shocked," Malfoy whispered, and pulled him to an unoccupied sofa in a corner.
"What should I look like, then?" Harry spat back.
"Intrigued?" Malfoy offered. "You're such a prude, Potter. I should've known."
"Being uncomfortable watching dozens of people having sex in front of me hardly makes me a prude. Why did you bring me here?"
"Even if you're a Gryffindor, there are some things you should do before you die. I'm only trying to help."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but stopped. Malfoy had a point. "As long as I only have to watch."
"Ooh, a voyeur," Malfoy whispered, his mouth quite close to Harry's ear. It sent an odd chill down his spine. "Suit yourself."
Malfoy slung back the rest of his drink and stood. He shot Harry a smug smile and, to Harry's amazement, proceeded to strip out of his clothes. He dropped each item on the sofa next to Harry, and once he was completely naked, went to join the nearest group writhing on the floor.
Harry was simultaneously horrified and fascinated. He'd seen this sort of thing in porn before, but never right in front of him, and certainly never involving someone he actually knew. The darkness of the room made it a bit hard to follow what was happening, but it wasn't long before Malfoy was in the middle of the action -- and clearly more interested in the men than the women.
Harry watched him for what seemed like an hour. It was difficult to tear his eyes away from Malfoy's pale skin as it was being touched by multiple pairs of hands, from the sight of his lips stretched around a thick cock, from the curve of his arse as someone fucked him from behind. Every now and then Malfoy would look up at him and Harry would stare back, unable to pretend he wasn't riveted by the scene.
His buzz had nearly worn off when Malfoy collapsed onto the sofa next to him again, still naked and sticky and glowing. Harry would never have thought he could describe Malfoy as anything approaching sexy, but at that moment he was the epitome of sex. And he was staring up at Harry with a look that could only be called "inviting".
Harry swallowed -- even though he was dying, this was probably the stupidest thing he could possibly do. Just because one had the opportunity to do something didn't mean one should pursue it, not when it could fuck up everything else so monumentally.
But he couldn't resist. Even knowing all the places where Malfoy's mouth had just been, he found himself leaning forward over Malfoy and pressing a soft kiss against those swollen lips, just to see what it felt like. To his surprise, Malfoy didn't push; he let Harry kiss him softly, slowly, let him take his time.
It wasn't until Harry felt Malfoy's hand slide around the back of his head that reality crashed in. He pulled away and almost immediately felt a wave of pain hit his skull, so strong it made him grimace and press his hands against either side of his head.
"Potter?" he heard Malfoy ask, but his voice sounded far away, as if in a tunnel.
"Potion," he managed to grit through his teeth, and fell back against the sofa. He was dimly aware of Malfoy searching through his pockets, of the vial being pressed against his lips, of the oily-bitter taste he'd grown so accustomed to spreading over his tongue. But it wasn't enough to kill the pain this time, just enough to make it bearable.
He groaned and scrubbed at his face with his hands before finally opening his eyes again. Malfoy was hovering over him, his face unusually pale. Harry pressed his lips together and shrugged. He wanted to smile, to be reassuring, but he couldn't.
"A curse," Malfoy said, and sat back a bit. "And there's nothing to be done for it?"
"Nothing but wait to die. And try to have some fun in the meantime, I suppose."
Malfoy looked as if he was trying to smile, but his expression was more of a grimace. "You'll need more of that potion, then."
"More and more," Harry said with a sigh. It was only a matter of time before it stopped working at all. And then he had no idea where he'd be. +++++
"Just relax," Hermione said, staring at him from so close a distance he could see green flecks in her hazel eyes.
"It's a bit difficult, considering," Harry retorted. The pain in his head and hands had started to spread in the last few days, so much that he found it difficult to function without the potion. Hermione had insisted he not use it for this session today, and he was already regretting it.
Her wand was pointed at his forehead, and she frowned in concentration as she spoke the words of an unfamiliar spell.
"Are you sure? Because that should have--"
"Hermione, I'm sure. None of it has worked, and none of it will work. The problem is that I was a horcrux. If you're going to waste so much time doing research to help me, perhaps you should start with that."
"I already have," she said, a hint of frustration in her tone. "There aren't any known cases of humans being made into horcruxes. No one has ever survived the process, and there certainly aren't any cases like yours, in which the horcrux was destroyed without--"
"Destroying the host object," Harry finished. "I know. And that's why I think all of this is pointless." She looked as if she might cry, and Harry took her hand. "Please don't misunderstand me. I know you've spent every spare moment thinking about this for the last two weeks. I'm grateful that you've gone to so much effort, but I don't think there's any hope. I would just like to enjoy the time I have left, and not spend it searching for a cure that doesn't exist."
A tear spilled onto her cheek, and she brushed it away. He realized it had been years since he'd seen her cry.
"I just can't believe there isn't something," she said, her voice trembling with emotion. "There must be something we can do. I'll have to work harder, go back to the books on horcruxes that Dumbledore left us."
"If it makes you feel better." She nodded and wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her jumper, and he forced himself to smile. "I'd like to take a nap, if you don't mind. All of this has tired me out."
"I'll show myself out." She released his hand and stood, still sniffling a bit. "If you need anything--"
"Ginny will be back tonight. Don't worry."
She turned back to him from the doorway with a sad smile. "How can I not?"
Malfoy passed five vials of potion to Harry across the table, and Harry handed him a small bag of galleons -- this habit was getting more expensive all the time.
"Your girlfriend gone again?"
Harry nodded. "I don't venture out much when she's home."
"Does she know about this?" Malfoy gestured to the vials of potion.
"It's none of your business, is it?"
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "What, do you think I'd run off and tell her? Maybe I could add in that you've been snogging me nightly while she's gone, just for good measure."
Harry blushed, though it was the truth. He wasn't sure if potions-induced snogging counted as cheating, so he hadn't allowed himself to think about it much.
"What about your wife? Does she know what you do on these evenings while she's out socializing with her friends?"
Malfoy shrugged. "I don't know and I don't care."
"Then why are you married to her?"
Malfoy gave him an odd look. "Why does anyone get married?"
"Because you're in love? Because you want to spend the rest of your life with someone?"
"That's ridiculous," Malfoy retorted.
Harry wasn't sure what to say to that, so he said nothing. He uncorked one of the vials of potion and took a measured sip. The pain throughout his body wouldn't abate completely, but he'd found that frequent small doses took the edge off enough to make it tolerable.
"Do you have sex with her?"
Malfoy laughed. "On occasion. She doesn't like it very much."
"Perhaps you're doing it wrong."
"Now you're being completely ridiculous."
"You seem to prefer men. Maybe you don't know how to please a woman properly."
"Oh, I know how to please a woman," Malfoy retorted. "I can prove it to you."
"Oh, no -- I'm not going back to that club. Three times watching you in the middle of an orgy was quite enough for me, thanks."
"I thought you liked to watch." Malfoy leaned closer, and his hot breath tickled Harry's ear. "You certainly seemed worked up afterwards."
Harry felt the tip of Malfoy's tongue flick against his earlobe, and he closed his eyes. His ears were damn sensitive, something Malfoy had discovered by accident but now liked to use to his advantage. "Live porn has that effect on people. And I'm not gay."
"That doesn't mean you don't want to fuck me."
The words went straight to Harry's groin. "I do not want to…" He trailed off as Malfoy's lips found his neck, moving slowly lower.
"Yes, you do. And you can whenever you want. You need only ask. It's one of those things you should do before you die, you know."
"That's my excuse," Harry said, pushing him away. "What's yours?"
Malfoy smirked. "One never knows when he might die."
"Wouldn't you rather die happy?" Harry asked. "This life you live makes you miserable, despite the fact that you have everything you want -- enough money that you don't have to work, a beautiful wife, the family estate--"
"You think that should be enough to make me happy? I'm not that shallow, Potter, despite what you've always thought."
"I didn't say you were."
"Yes, you did." Malfoy leaned away from him, visibly angry. "But the fact is that you don't know me at all. You haven't bothered to find out the least bit of information about me, despite the fact that we've spent a good amount of the last few weeks together."
Harry pursed his lips. "You're right, I haven't. I've been a bit self-absorbed, and I'm sorry."
"Did it not occur to you that I might care about the fact that you're dying? That I might be trying to ease the pain for you, to do something to help you enjoy the time you have left?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't…" He dropped off, not sure what more to say. Ron and Hermione were spending all of their time trying to find a way to cure him, Ginny was ignoring his continuing deterioration, and the rest of the world seemed not to notice what was happening. Only Malfoy was actually doing what Harry wanted -- helping him spend his last few weeks enjoyably.
Harry reached for Malfoy's hand and intertwined their fingers. It was a small gesture, and he wasn't even sure how Malfoy would interpret it, but it was all he could think of to do.
"Want to get out of here?" Malfoy asked after a moment.
Harry nodded, and let Malfoy pull him out of the pub and into the street. He half-expected Malfoy to take him back to the underground club, but they passed that alley and kept winding their way deeper. The potion was wearing off again, sooner every time. Every step was suddenly painful, rattling his joints when his feet hit the pavement.
"Where are we going?" he asked at last.
Malfoy dropped his hand and turned to face him. "I've no idea. Where are we going, Potter? What's the point of all this? Are we even friends at this point, or are we just spending time together because neither of us has anything better to do?"
Harry sighed. "Does it matter? We've been having fun. Why do we have to label it?"
Malfoy shook his head and looked away. "Fine. We don't. It doesn't matter."
"Hey," Harry said, and stepped closer to him. "Are you all right?"
"I should be asking you that."
"I'd rather not talk about it."
Malfoy shrugged, clearly frustrated. Harry dug one of the vials out of his coat pocket and took another sip. The pain in his body faded again -- he had about half an hour before it returned.
He tugged Malfoy's sleeve and nodded toward an empty alleyway. Malfoy followed him, and looked surprised when Harry leaned back against the weathered stone of an old building.
Harry tried to grin. "I've never snogged a man in public, have I? I can scratch it off the list."
Malfoy made a show of rolling his eyes, but he leaned against Harry, opening the front of his robes to press the warmth of his body against him, and kissed him. Malfoy always kissed with feeling, and this time was no exception. It was as if he were trying to express all he couldn't say. Harry remembered a time when Ginny kissed him like that
He slid his arms around Malfoy's thin frame and pulled him close. They usually did this when they'd had a bit more to drink, when the rawness of their emotions wasn't quite so apparent. The erection pressed against Harry's thigh wasn't new, but for the first time, he didn't feel inclined to ignore it. He shifted his hips against Malfoy's, and felt him shiver in response.
Harry broke the kiss and moved his lips to Malfoy's ear, nibbling in a way he'd recently learned Malfoy liked. A thought swirled in his head, one he'd been tossing around for more than a week, despite his earlier protests to the contrary. One he'd been working up the nerve to act on.
"Malfoy," he whispered, and waited for a groan indicating he should go on. "I want to fuck you."
He felt Malfoy still against him, and heard something like a laugh. "I told you so."
Then Malfoy's mouth was on his again, and there were hands fumbling at his trousers, working their way inside. Harry tried to reciprocate, but the angle was awkward, and then Malfoy slid to his knees and took Harry's cock into his mouth.
It was all Harry could do not to cry out; the contrast between the cold air and the wet warmth of Malfoy's mouth was stunning. After a moment Harry realized he wasn't going to last very long. He pushed at Malfoy's head in an unspoken signal to let him know, but it only seemed to make him work harder. He worked the shaft with his lips and tongue in a way Ginny had never done, and then Harry was coming, hard.
He gasped out an apology, and then hissed at the sensation of the cold air against sensitive wet skin.
"Just wanted to take the edge off," Malfoy said, coming up to kiss him again. "I expect you to last longer than that next time." He turned them while he kissed Harry, then leaned back against the stone and pushed down on Harry's shoulders. "My turn."
Harry blinked at him -- it hadn't occurred to him that he might have to do something like this. He'd meant literal fucking. "I don't…"
Malfoy pushed on his shoulders again. "Suck me off and you can bugger me. That's the deal."
Harry sank to his knees, feeling a weird mix of nervousness and anticipation. It wasn't that he'd never thought of doing this before, but he certainly hadn't ever thought it would really happen. His hands shook as he unfastened Malfoy's trousers -- from the cold, he told himself -- and tugged Malfoy's pants down over his hard prick. He'd never seen an erection from quite this angle before, and he found himself wanting to study it for a moment.
"Merlin, it's cold," Malfoy said above him, and Harry wrapped his lips around the head before he could think about it any more.
His mouth was dry, and it took a bit of conscious effort to produce enough saliva to enable him to move. He worked the shaft into his mouth slowly, not wanting to gag, and then pulled back again. It wasn't bad -- Malfoy's cock just tasted like skin, despite his expectation of saltiness, and he found the sensation of the foreskin sliding under his tongue pleasant. He repeated the movement, and was rewarded with a groan above him.
"I love first times," Malfoy said, combing his fingers through Harry's hair. "It's amazing to watch you figure it all out."
Harry was a bit annoyed -- he was hardly a virgin -- but he ignored the comment and kept moving. If he did this well enough, Malfoy wouldn't be able to speak at all.
His jaw was aching after a few minutes, and he focused on using his tongue the way Malfoy had done. He couldn't take the shaft in all the way, so he used his hand at the base to make up the difference. He sped up his movements, listening to the sound of Malfoy's breathing above him.
He heard a hiss, and then Malfoy pushed him back. "I don't want to come just yet. Are you ready to go again?"
Harry pushed to his feet and looked down at his prick, which was starting to take interest again.
"Let me help with that," Malfoy whispered, pulling him into a kiss. There was a fumbling out of Harry's line of sight, and then Malfoy's hand was wrapped around Harry's cock, spreading something warm and slick on it. Harry groaned into Malfoy's mouth.
A minute later he was hard and aching, and Malfoy turned to face the wall, pushing his trousers down to his knees. Harry paused a moment, taking in the sight of him with his hands on the wall, waiting for Harry to take him. It was one of the most erotic sights he could remember seeing.
"Do I need to do anything to…?"
"Just fuck me," Malfoy replied, his voice slightly muffled. "I like it a bit on the rough side."
Harry worried for a moment that he wouldn't be hard enough to penetrate, but it turned out not to be a problem. He parted the cheeks of Malfoy's arse with one hand and lined his prick up with the other and pushed forward. Malfoy seemed to be pushing back, and after a long slow slide, he was fully sheathed in Malfoy's body.
He paused then, amazed by the tightness and the heat of it, so different from being inside Ginny. He wasn't sure how he'd possibly be able to last once he started moving.
"I thought you said you wanted to fuck me," Malfoy hissed, and pushed his arse back against Harry's groin.
"Right," Harry said, and gripped Malfoy's hips firmly as he started to pull out. He moved back as far as he dared, and then slid back in again, groaning at the way Malfoy's body squeezed his prick.
"Harder," Malfoy said, and Harry nodded, though he knew Malfoy couldn't see him. He tightened his grip on Malfoy's hips to give himself leverage, and pulled back more quickly before slamming his hips back in. Malfoy kept urging him to move faster, and he started to wonder if Malfoy liked pain.
It was surprisingly easy to lose himself in the sensation, though, to slam into Malfoy so hard that Malfoy's head hit the wall a few times, pushing himself closer and closer to the edge of orgasm. He was so wrapped up in what he was feeling that he was caught by surprise when Malfoy started gasping beneath him. Harry wasn't sure if Malfoy had been touching himself or not, but he was coming now, and the convulsions of his body around Harry's cock only intensified everything. Harry felt himself slip over the edge, felt the rush in his groin, the clenching of his balls, the surge of pleasure as he came, and buried himself in Malfoy's arse as far as he could go.
They were both shivering a moment later, though not from the cold. Harry pulled out slowly and let Malfoy take care of the mess with a flick of his wand. They re-dressed in silence, as if neither of them was sure what to say.
After a long moment, Malfoy stuffed his hands in his pockets and said, "Well?"
Harry grinned and ran a hand through the mess of his hair. "We should definitely do that again sometime."
Malfoy shrugged. "If you live that long." Harry's smile faded, and Malfoy's expression fell. "Oh, fuck. I didn't mean--"
"No, you're right," Harry said, swallowing down his anxiety. It was odd; he hadn't thought much about death lately, just accepted that it was coming. But now he wished he had more time. He wasn't ready, not when he'd just found Malfoy -- found this. He didn't even know what to call it, but he knew he wasn't ready to let it go so quickly. He took a deep breath and tried to smile. "I've been getting worse and worse. For all I know, this is it."
Malfoy opened his mouth as if he was going to argue, but closed it again. He looked away. "You checked it off your list, at least."
They walked in silence back to the entrance of Knockturn Alley, and said tense goodbyes before apparating away.
Harry was awakened by the soft whump of a pillow hitting his head. He blinked and looked around, then tried to sit up in bed, but sank back under the covers as a fresh wave of pain hit him.
"Ginny?" he called out, and then pulled the covers over his head. There was silence, and then the sound of footsteps drawing closer to the bed. He felt the mattress dip beside him, and he peeked out to see her sitting there and glaring at him. "You're home early. Match canceled?"
"Forfeited," she replied. "Why would you go around telling people you're dying?"
He groaned. "You talked to Hermione, didn't you?"
"I got an owl from her last night asking me how I was holding up, what with your nearing death and all. She seemed to think I was off playing Quidditch because I didn't care." She paused to yank the covers back off of him. "Will you do me the courtesy of looking at me when I'm talking to you?"
Harry pushed himself to a sitting position, trying not to grimace as he did. "I tried to tell you before."
Ginny gaped at him. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm getting worse. You know that. The healers haven't helped. Every pain medication I've tried has stopped working, including the illegal ones. I have to face the fact that I'm not getting better."
"You're serious? You really think you're dying?"
He sighed. "I don't know how much longer I have, but at the rate I'm deteriorating… I don't know how much longer I can live like this." He watched as the blood drained from Ginny's face, and then as tears began to well in her eyes.
"When…" she began, but she had to press a hand over her mouth for a moment and take a deep breath. "When were you planning to tell me this?"
"I tried t--"
"Don't lie to me, not now." Her voice was wavering, and she was on the verge of losing control. "How could you not tell me? You just let me go off and play Quidditch, when all the while you think you only have weeks to live. Do you care so little about me?"
Harry winced. "No, that's not it at all. I just… I can only take things one day at a time right now, lately more like one hour at a time."
"And it didn't occur to you that I might want to be here, to help you?"
"I asked you to spend a weekend with me, one weekend, and you couldn't even tear yourself away from Quidditch that much."
"If you'd told me you were dying, I would have felt differently! Damn you, Harry, how can you be so fucking self-centered?"
"I'm sorry if my impending painful death has me a bit preoccupied at the moment," he retorted. The tension was making his head pound, and he sank down into the covers again. He knew he was being unreasonable, horribly unfair, but he couldn't help it. It was too late now.
Ginny disintegrated into sobs. He listened to the sound of her crying, and fought to keep his own emotions in check. What was wrong with him? He cared about her, even loved her, so why was he pushing her away when he needed her most? He'd even cheated on her in the worst possible way, using the last of his strength to have an affair with someone she couldn't possibly compete with, when he should have spent that time with her.
"I'm sorry," he said, now crying himself. "I didn't want to hurt you. Your life was going so well and you had everything you wanted. I didn't want to ruin it for you."
"Everything I wanted includes you," she replied, reaching out to grasp his hand. "None of it means anything without you, Harry."
It was the worst thing she could have said, and he was wracked with guilt. He needed to tell her now, to get it off his chest. He couldn't bear the thought of her finding out after he was gone.
And so he told her. He didn't give her all the details, left out the actual amount of time he'd spent with Malfoy, but he told her he'd gone to Malfoy to get illicit painkilling potions, and that they'd had sex in a potions-induced haze. It didn't mean anything, he said. He regretted it, and even if he were well enough, he wouldn't do it again.
None of it was true, but he clung to the fact that it could be. It should be. Hell, he wanted it to be true. He didn't want to think about the fact that he missed Malfoy, that he'd developed feelings for him, that the sex had been amazing, mind-blowing, that he'd never felt that way with Ginny. That if he were well, he'd leave her for Draco Malfoy.
She sobbed, and shouted at him, and hugged him, and finally forgave him. It was all her fault, she said. She should have been there. She should have listened to what he was trying to tell her. She shouldn't have left him so desperate and alone, and so vulnerable to a potions dealer like Malfoy.
She left him to get some more rest, promising to fix him lunch, and went to take a shower.
He didn't feel better.
He hadn't got out of bed for two days when Hermione came to see him. If she was shocked at his appearance, she didn't let on. She just sat next to him and smiled, and tried not to cry.
"I wish I had something to help you," she said, "but I've tried everything."
"It's the horcrux," he replied. "I'm sure of it."
"It could be bad fairy dust for all I know. You were right all along, there's nothing to be done." It was strange to hear the words come from her lips. Hermione never gave up.
"You don't have to watch me die," he said. "None of you do."
"What else would we do?" Tears did spill over then, and she shook her head. "That last year before you defeated Voldemort, we all knew we would probably die. And somehow, it was all right, because we were going to die for something. But this -- this is for nothing, Harry."
They were both silent for a moment while she regained her composure.
"I've had a lot of time to think while lying here," he said at last. "And I've been thinking about horcruxes, about how they're made. It's a crazy thought, but… I was wondering if there was a way to repair the damage done when one was created by reversing it."
He tried to laugh, but it came out a cough. "I don't even know how you might do that, but if what's wrong with me is that there's a rip in my soul where the piece of Voldemort's soul used to be, then there should be a way to repair it." He shrugged. "Crazy, isn't it? I'm not afraid to die, but I can't stop thinking about ways to live."
She didn't reply, though -- she was staring at the window across from him with an odd look on her face, one he hadn't seen in a long time.
"The reverse of a horcrux," she said, her voice soft. "Merlin, could that be it?" She turned to look at Harry again, her eyes wide. "You might be on to something. I need to go re-read everything I've got on horcruxes." She stood so quickly she pulled part of the blanket with her. "I'll be back. Stay in bed, and conserve your strength."
She dashed out of the bedroom before he could get the words out. He heard the front door close behind her, and she was gone.
Ginny poked her head through the doorway. "What was that about?"
Harry frowned. "I'm not sure. But she only gets that look when she's got a good idea."
Harry was sitting up in bed, propped up with pillows and wrapped in blankets when Ron and Hermione arrived. Ginny took the opportunity to go to the market while they were there, so it was just the three of them.
"I have no idea if it will work," Hermione said, "but it's worth a shot. It can't hurt anything, at least."
"Easy for you to say," Harry replied, wincing as he tried to adjust a pillow behind him.
"I found references to reversing the process of creating a horcrux," she continued. The thing is, most of the writing focused on the fact that once the soul is intentionally ripped into two pieces, they can't be put back together again by simply reversing the process."
"It involved feeling genuine remorse," Harry added, and Hermione nodded.
"Without that, and as long as the soul of the horcrux creator was ripped from its physical form, it would be far too dangerous to try to repair the object that contained it. So the literature is mostly full of warnings not to do it. But since you're the first person who's been made a horcrux, your case is different. And since Voldemort's bits of soul are long gone, repairing you shouldn't make you a horcrux again."
Harry frowned. "So you're suggesting that we can repair the damage done to my soul?"
Ron jumped in. "We reckon it's possible. You have to kill to create a horcrux, right? So you'd have to do the opposite to unmake one."
"What would be the opposite?"
Ron's cheeks pinked a bit. "You have to create something bigger than yourself. We think … well, an act of love."
"An act of love? What the hell does that mean?"
"I've been working on a spell based on everything I've read," Hermione said, her eyes starting to flash with excitement now. "And I think we can do this, I really do. It'll involve -- stop blushing, Ron -- Ginny casting this spell I've developed, while you two make love."
Harry laughed, incredulous. "You can't be serious. Sex is going to repair the rip in my soul? Are you taking the piss?"
"Not just sex, Harry. Like Ron said, an act of love."
"This is ridiculous! Maybe it would have worked a couple of weeks ago, but now it's too late and--"
"There's a bigger issue to worry about. Voldemort was an incredibly powerful wizard when he made you a horcrux. So we need to be sure the cure is even more powerful."
Harry frowned. "How do we do that?"
Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance. "Ginny will need a really powerful wand," Ron said.
They both stared at him, and their meaning sank in. Harry's eyes widened. "No. Oh, no. I swore no one would ever use that wand again. It's far too dangerous. If something happened and it fell into the wrong hands--"
"It's the only way," Hermione said, her expression serious. "You have to trust us on this, Harry. No matter what happens, we'll make sure the wand gets put back where it belongs."
"But where does it stop? We use it for this today, and who knows what will come up tomorrow? We can't start down that road, no matter what."
"And besides," Harry continued, "the Elder Wand might not let Ginny control it. She'd probably be no better off than if she used her own."
Ron's eyes lit up. "You're the current master. You could let her take it from you."
"It doesn't work that way. We'd be better off with someone who actually had mastered the wand, whom it recognized, who--" He dropped off as the realization hit him. "And we know someone like that."
Hermione gasped. "You can't possibly mean--"
"Malfoy," Harry said. He felt a strange sense of calm come over him. "Oh god. It might work."
"Have you listened to anything we've said? It has to be an act of love, not a fistfight."
"And you'd have to be crazy to give Malfoy an unbeatable wand," Ron said.
"There's something you don't know," Harry replied. And he told them everything that had happened between him and Malfoy, including the parts he hadn't told Ginny. He was sure they'd shout at him, tell him what a horrible person he was, even leave in disgust, but they didn't. Both were silent when he finished, staring at him intently.
"Well," Ron began after a long moment, "if it's a choice between you dying and you… and Malfoy making this thing work, I'd rather keep you around a bit longer."
"But can you trust him?" Hermione asked. "Because if you can't, it's far too risky."
"I do," Harry said. "I really do."
The concern on Hermione's face was clear. "This is completely insane. But what choice do we have?" She shook her head and stood. "I'll go talk to him, see if he can really do it. Ron will go to fetch the wand--"
"You'll have to tell me how," Ron interjected, to which Harry nodded.
"--and I'll bring Malfoy up to speed. If he's interested. And if he's not?"
Harry smiled. "Then I die." +++++
"I don't understand why it couldn't be me," Ginny said as she helped Harry into the shower.
"I know," he replied, wincing as the hot water touched his skin. If this hurt, he had no idea how he would get through the rest of this day.
She stayed in the bathroom while he washed himself off, and handed him a towel when he was done. "Despite what you think, I do love you. And I know I could cast this spell."
Harry didn't answer. They'd had this argument far too many times in the last few days, and he didn't know how else to explain it. In the end, it was as much about how he felt about Malfoy as it was how Malfoy felt about him, or about Malfoy being able to wield the Elder Wand. He and Ginny had too much baggage between them at the moment, and he doubted it would work under those circumstances. He tried to say that in so many words, but she didn't believe him.
"I appreciate everything you've done for me these last weeks," he said. "I really do."
She frowned, but said nothing more. She helped him back into bed after casting a cleaning charm on the rumpled sheets.
"They'll be here soon," he told her, and she nodded. She left the room.
Ron arrived first, and Harry could hear the two of them arguing in heated whispers in the living room. He was sure Ron was no happier about the arrangement than Ginny.
Hermione arrived with Malfoy in tow some fifteen minutes later. Harry hadn't seen him since the night in Knockturn Alley, and hadn't heard anything from Hermione except that he'd agreed. He could hear the three of them talking in the next room, though he couldn't make out what they were saying. He could imagine how uncomfortable Malfoy probably was, the way Ginny was glaring at him, the way Hermione was trying to keep everyone calm, and Ron -- he still had no clue how Ron really felt about everything.
There was a knock on the bedroom door, and Hermione came in with a steaming mug for him. "This should help with your pain long enough for the spell to be cast."
Harry took it and smiled. "I don't know if that will be enough, honestly. I'm not certain I'll be able to…" He made a vague gesture toward his groin. "…perform under these circumstances."
"All you really have to do is lie there, you know." At Harry's look of surprise, Hermione winked. "There's something in the potion for that too. Don't worry."
He took a sip and felt it begin to soothe him already. "This is very weird, isn't it?"
"Completely," she agreed. "So if you don't mind, I'll just excuse myself. Everything is ready to go."
"But I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
She paused at the door. "You only need to be open, Harry, open to everything you feel. If you care about him as much as you've said, I think it will be fine."
He sipped the potion and thought about her words. He did care about Malfoy, more than he wanted to admit. But how could that be enough?
He'd almost fallen asleep by the time the next knock came. It was Ron this time, peeking sheepishly through the door. Harry waved him in.
"So do you think this is going to work?" Ron asked, leaning back against the door.
"No idea," Harry said.
Ron nodded. "I just wanted to say… I mean, Ginny is my sister and--"
"I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone."
"I know, and I know it wasn't all perfect between you. I just wish you could have told me about… well, not just Malfoy, but…"
"I wouldn't have known what to tell. It all happened so fast, and under such strange circumstances."
Ron looked away. "But I'm your best mate. If you couldn't tell me you were gay…"
Harry didn't know what to say to that. He pursed his lips and said, "I'm sorry."
He'd done little but apologize all day, and it was getting old.
Ron nodded, and there was a knock on the door. He smiled at Harry, and opened it. This time Hermione had Malfoy with her. He paled at the sight of Harry, as if he hadn't expected him to look quite so weak.
"If you're ready," she said, and Harry nodded. She turned to Malfoy, who seemed unable to tear his eyes from Harry's form, and said, "There's one more thing you need." She reached into her robes and pulled out the Elder Wand.
Malfoy frowned. "I have my wand."
"You need this one," she said, and pressed it into his hand.
"But I can't use a strange wand."
"It's not strange, though, is it?"
His fingers tightened around it, and he gave it a quick wave. He stared down at it for a moment, and then his eyes widened. "No," he said holding it out to her. "I can't."
"You can. It's the best way."
He shook his head. "Please don't tempt me with this. I don't want it."
"You don't get to keep it," Harry said. "None of us do."
"I'll make sure of that," Ron added.
Malfoy stared at the wand for a moment more, and then sighed. "I must be fucking mad."
"Then you're not alone," Hermione said, patting him on the shoulder. "You know what to do. I'll leave you to it." She shooed Ron out and closed the door behind them, leaving Harry and Malfoy alone.
Malfoy looked up at Harry with narrowed eyes. "I'm still not sure this isn't an elaborate joke."
"It's not. But you don't have to do this."
"According to Granger, it's this or you die."
"Then I have to." He emptied his pockets onto the bedside table, and then toed off his shoes and started to undress.
Harry laughed, something he'd barely had the strength to do in the last week. "This is completely bizarre."
Malfoy paused in his undressing to pick up his wand and cast a quick silencing spell around the room. "You're treating this rather lightly for someone who might die if it doesn't work."
"I'm not convinced it will work."
Malfoy frowned at that, but said nothing. He stripped off the remainder of his clothes and stood next to Harry's bed, staring at the Elder Wand on the night stand. It was the first time Harry had seen him naked in broad daylight. It wasn't a terribly impressive sight -- Malfoy was wiry, too thin to look masculine and too muscular to look feminine. His skin seemed especially pale in the morning light. He was unselfconscious, though, standing there completely exposed while Harry was nestled under the covers.
"I suppose we'll have fun trying," Harry said, and tugged the covers aside. He was naked as well, having not bothered to redress after his shower. He doubted what Malfoy saw of his body was impressive, but he didn't shy away from his gaze. It was far too late for that.
"Budge over," Malfoy said, and climbed into bed beside him. He stretched out alongside Harry, and they lay there for a moment, staring at each other.
"This is awkward."
"Especially with your girlfriend in the next room, knowing what we're about to do."
"She wasn't very happy about that."
"I imagine she wasn't. So why me and not her?"
Harry pursed his lips and considered how best to answer. "Hermione said it had to be someone I truly cared about. I care about Ginny, but…"
"You care about me more?" There was something odd in Malfoy's eyes.
"Lately, yes. I think I do."
Malfoy looked away for a moment. "I wasn't sure what had happened when I didn't hear from you after that night in the alley."
"I went downhill pretty fast after that. I should've owled."
"Yes, you should've. Until Hermione contacted me, I thought…"
Harry put a hand on Malfoy's bare chest, tracing the light sheen of pale hair with his fingertips. "I'm sorry. And I'm glad you're here now. Even if you weren't here to do this spell, I'd be happy to get to see you again."
Malfoy took a deep breath. "Are you ready, then?"
It was strange at first. They kissed and touched each other, and it seemed to lack the passion they'd felt in their previous encounters. It was awkward and stiff, but after a few minutes they both relaxed. Harry felt better than he'd felt in a week thanks to the potion Hermione had given him -- making him wonder what she'd done to procure it -- and found himself getting aroused as well, much to his relief.
He wrapped his fingers around Malfoy's prick and stroked, and Malfoy melted against him. It was odd, Harry thought, that he was in bed with another man and it felt so natural. It shouldn't, somehow -- it should be strange or unsettling, or even disgusting, but he felt none of those things. Maybe he was gay after all. Not that it mattered now.
"Let's have some fun before we get down to business," Malfoy whispered, and with a wicked smile he turned around, swinging a leg over Harry's torso. It wasn't until Harry felt Malfoy's lips close around the head of his cock that he understood. Malfoy's prick was hanging heavy in front of his face, and with a bit of maneuvering Harry was able to reciprocate.
It felt good, though it was distracting. He supposed that was for the best -- if this was the last time he'd ever get to have sex, it might as well last as long as possible. But then Malfoy took his cock in further than Harry thought one could safely do, and the feeling of his throat closing around the head made Harry moan. He dug his fingers into Malfoy's thighs, urging him on, and Malfoy came off and turned to face him, straddling Harry's hips.
"Not quite yet," he said. His hair was mussed around his face and his lips were wet, and the sight of him was undeniably erotic.
"God, I want you," Harry whispered, and pushed himself up to sitting. He pulled Malfoy into a kiss, caressing the back of his neck with one hand, and feelings their cocks brush together between their bodies. "You know -- if by some chance this works, we could do this every day."
He was only half-serious -- he doubted it would work, and he knew the situation was far more complicated than either of them could admit. Malfoy was married, and Harry had Ginny, and none of that could be resolved without difficulty. But it didn't matter right now. Right now, it was just the two of them.
Maybe this was what Hermione meant by being open.
Malfoy didn't reply. He stared at Harry for a long moment, and then seemed to make up his mind to begin. He picked up the small bottle he'd placed on the nightstand and uncorked it, and spread the liquid on Harry's cock. He reached behind himself, apparently applying more, and then set it aside.
Harry nodded, and Malfoy positioned himself over Harry's erection. He lowered himself slowly, and hissed as he moved. Harry wondered if it hurt or felt good, or perhaps a bit of both -- and realized he'd never know. He pushed that thought aside and just let himself feel. Malfoy stared down at him, and it was almost too intimate. Harry had an urge to close his eyes, but he forced himself to keep looking. This was not the time to be embarrassed of his own emotion.
Malfoy leaned forward and plucked the Elder Wand from the bedside table, and then started to move. Harry had no idea what was going to happen, what Malfoy was going to do or what he should be doing while Malfoy was doing it. But after a minute, he couldn't think of anything but how good it felt. Malfoy's hips rose and fell, and Harry tried to rise to meet him, losing himself in that tight heat. He'd always liked this position, enjoyed the feeling of being ridden, of someone else fucking themselves on him as he lay back and enjoyed it.
He wanted to do something more, though, so he found Malfoy's prick and stroked it in time to his movements. He was rewarded by the feeling of it growing even stiffer beneath his fingers, and of Malfoy's breath becoming ragged.
Harry had always been fairly quiet during sex, but he couldn't help himself now. He was grunting and making noises of encouragement, and he was insanely glad for the silencing spell around the room. He lost track of what Malfoy was doing, unable to focus on much more than hanging on, on not coming yet. He was vaguely aware that Malfoy was speaking, but he didn't understand the words. It didn't matter.
"Now," Malfoy said, and the word cut through the haze -- Harry came on command, almost against his will. It was glorious, and as it washed over him he realized Malfoy was coming too, and that something else was happening. He felt warm in a way he hadn't in ages, and his extremities tingled, and he was enveloped in something he could only describe as joy.
It all lingered after his orgasm subsided, to his surprise. Malfoy collapsed on his chest and pressed a sweaty cheek against his, panting.
"That was…" Harry started, but couldn't think of a word to describe it.
Malfoy kissed him, and then buried his face in Harry's neck. He didn't say anything more.
Reset: Week one
Harry took a sip of lager. "This never tasted so good before, I swear."
Hermione laughed. "You're probably right. You've got so much more color today."
"I feel great. Like I could do anything." And it was true. He hadn't felt this well in years. It had only been four days, but his recovery had been remarkable. "And I owe it all to you."
Hermione shifted on her bar stool and looked uncomfortable. "It wasn't just me."
"I know, but you were the one who figured it all out."
"I wasted weeks because I didn't believe it had anything to do with the horcrux. You needn't have come so close to dying."
"Not your fault. Even I thought it was crazy. And besides, it might not be over. There's no way to know if the spell really worked, or if this is just a temporary reprieve." It was a frightening thought, but he had to voice it.
Hermione frowned. "I suppose that's true. But still… Have you seen Draco?"
"Not yet, but I'm meeting him for dinner tonight." He felt a flutter in his stomach at the thought.
"There's something you need to know, Harry. I'm afraid he won't tell you himself."
"He didn't keep the Elder Wand, did he?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Merlin, no. He seemed happy to be rid of it. It's back where it belongs, thanks to Ron."
Harry took another swig of lager and set the pint glass on the bar. "Then what are you on about? I thought I knew what he did."
She shook her head. "Not all of it. I left some things out, because I thought you would… Well, the chances of it working at all were quite remote, so I didn't think it would matter. I didn't tell you this before, but… he had to do quite a bit more than cast a spell to unmake the horcrux."
She paused and took a sip from her own pint. "It's hard to explain, but… He could only have accomplished what he did if he really, genuinely cared about you. And he created something that will be part of him for the rest of his life."
Harry frowned. "I don't understand."
She looked up at him. "He had to create something bigger then the two of you, right? And the way we reckoned it would work was if he could bind himself to you, in a way. I told him that he shouldn't try if he wasn't sure about his feelings for you, if he didn't believe that the two of you could--" She dropped off and looked away again.
Harry swallowed. "So you're saying he sort of… bonded himself to me?"
"In a way I never would have expected, but considering how well you are now, he must have done something quite extraordinary. I told him he would have to mean it, and… well. He did."
Harry leaned against the bar, unsure what to say. He cared about Malfoy, but he hadn't really known if Malfoy cared about him in return. And what were they to do now? Malfoy was married, and Harry had Ginny, and he wasn't even sure if he was really gay -- and Malfoy had made some sort of commitment to him, one that could last a long, long time? "Oh, god."
"Exactly," Hermione said. "So it's not me you should be thanking. And I hope to hell you truly care about him, because what he did for you--"
"I do," Harry said, cutting her off. "I just didn't know he felt the same. And to be honest, I'm terrified of what happens next."
"As you should be. But you've been given another chance. You're quite lucky, you know."
He stared at his lager glass. "I'm not sure luck had anything much to do with it."
Half an hour later he was standing outside the Muggle restaurant he'd arranged to meet Malfoy at. He waited outside for nearly five minutes, trying to decide what he should say. "Thank you" seemed horribly inadequate, and "I love you too" overly trite. How did one greet the person who'd saved his life by loving him, in spite of a hundred reasons not to? And they barely knew each other. What if it didn't work out? What about the women in their lives? What would he tell Ginny? What if Malfoy didn't want to get a divorce, despite everything? He had no idea where to begin.
But there was no use in stalling any longer. He took a deep breath, opened the door of the restaurant, and stepped inside. Malfoy was sitting at the bar waiting for him, and when he saw Harry, he smiled.
And suddenly, Harry knew it would all be fine. It wouldn't be easy, but little that was good ever was. His heart was open now, that much he knew. It would be enough. They'd figure out the rest as they went along.
He smiled back, and crossed the room.