Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Harry Potter and the Prince of Nightmares

Chapter Five: Recuperation

"Fine, lumos then," was the first thing Harry heard as he decided that he was conscious again.

Reluctantly, Harry opened his eyes. His head pounded, and he could only vaguely see three oval shapes looming over his bed. Once he put on his glasses, the oval shapes sharpened into the faces of Ron, Hermione, and... Malfoy. The younger one.

Harry smiled to his two friends, but the first words out of his mouth were, "What is he doing here?"

Ron, as eloquent as ever, simply shrugged.

Hermione, though, was always ready to give an explanation. "You're his mate," Hermione explained patiently. "Whether or not your decide to accept the bond and make him your mate." At this, Harry saw a scowl darken Malfoy's sharp, aristocratic face, but Malfoy remained silent. "So," Hermione continued. "His survival hinges on yours. He has a vested interest in your wellbeing."

Harry turned a questioning glance to Malfoy, who nodded in reluctant confirmation. A piece of Malfoy's hair—blond like the winter sunshine under the candlelight of the infirmary—slid down from behind his ear.

Harry stared. The piece of hair hung distractingly in front of Malfoy's face, making him seem less rigid and unreachable.

"Harry, are you okay?" Hermione asked worriedly when Harry didn't say anything.

Pulled out of the spell of Malfoy's hair, Harry nodded as best as he could laying down.

Hermione wasn't satisfied, though. She needed more concrete evidence of Harry's health. "Why don't you cast a lumos or something?" Hermione suggested.

"I'm fine," Harry protested half-heartedly as he reached for his wand. When Hermione, Malfoy, and even Ron waited expectantly, Harry waved his wand and muttered, "Lumos." A soft white light lit the room and reflected off of Malfoy's hair, shifting it to a more silver than blond hue.

"Nox," Harry said and the light disappeared. He turned to his friends with a tired smile. "See, I'm o..." He was about to say 'okay,' but a great weariness overtook him and the edges of his vision faded to black. At his friends' worried faces, he tried to reassure them, but slipped into a dreamless sleep instead.

"You shouldn't have tired him," Draco rebuked Granger, although he too was relieved that Harry could still do magic.

Hermione glared at Malfoy. "I didn't hear you contribute any better ideas on how to tell him that he needs to sleep with you to get better."

"Wait, wait, wait," Ron interrupted. "By 'sleep with,' you mean 'on the same bed,' right?"

"Well, I don't see how they can do it on separate beds."

Ron turned alarming shades of green and red, even thought it was still two months early for Christmas.

Malfoy ignored the color-changing Weasley. "Yes, he should have performed a spell, but you made him do two."

Impatient, Hermione rolled her brown eyes. "You wanted him to cast lumos forever? As if that wouldn't take any magic at all."

"What I'm saying is," Draco intoned forcefully. "That you could have chosen a more suitable spell."

"Lumos is the most suitable," Hermione answered, sounding more than usually irritated. "Just because you are worried about Harry doesn't mean we aren't. And, apparently, your memory is failing because you had agreed with me not five minutes ago to ask him to do lumos."

"But he fainted!" Then, Malfoy added, "And I'm not worried about him. I'm worried about me."

Hermione looked at Malfoy as if Malfoy was crazy. "Harry was supposed to faint, remember?"

At that, Malfoy remained stoic and silent.

Hermione stood still under Malfoy's silver glare, and gave back just as good as she got. Ron, though, felt that he could do without the tension.

When the two still didn't move after several minutes passed, Ron told the room at large, "Uh... I think it's time for dinner."

"What do you mean by defying me thusly?" Voldemort asked.

Lucius thought that Voldemort sounded rather pretentious. But then, Voldemort had always been a dirty half-blood fighting for the pureblood cause. Lately, though, Voldemort was just trying to replace the missing pieces of his soul with more deaths.

"I was acting for the greater good," Lucius answered simply. He didn't bother asking Voldemort what Voldemort meant. Playing stupid had never gained any favors from Voldemort. For that, Lucius gave credit where credit was due.

"How would your imperio have acted for the greater good?" Voldemort asked rather disdainfully.

Lucius weighed his response before giving it. "It would have been for the greater good of the Nightmares."

Voldemort rounded on Lucius, his hissing grotesque face just an inch away from Lucius's own, but Lucius didn't flinch. "You were to have given up all your allegiances before you became a Death-Eater."

"I can't not be a Nightmare," Lucius answered calmly. "Just as I cannot not be a Malfoy."

"You will. You will be nothing but my loyal Death-Eater."

At moments like this, Lucius would swear that Voldemort had lost his mind. He wasn't sure if it was a command or a promise, but Lucius thought that it was rather weak and preposterous as either.

"I am a Nightmare, first and foremost." As an afterthought, Lucius added, "My lord."

This only seemed to irritate Voldemort more. He hissed, "You are mine. You have my mark. And your press~ciousss~ little mate is mine, too."

"Narcissa is mine before she is yours," Lucius said. He was getting tired of this. If Voldemort felt up to a duel, Lucius was certain he had certain spells he needed reviewing. If not, Voldemort should really just let him go now.

"Your Shadow, then," Voldemort hissed. "I will take your Shadow."

Lucius made a shallow, mocking bow. "As you wish, my lord," he said in a sickeningly sweet tone before he apparated out of Voldemort's heavily warded private throne room. Quickly, Lucius 'healed' both himself and Narcissa of their unnatural tattoos on their left arms.

Narcissa would throw a fit, but Lucius was already thinking of punishments to quiet her down. Narcissa could actually be quite entertaining when she gave Lucius a reason to punish her.

Ron and Hermione sat next to each other at breakfast on Friday. When the owls came, Hermione surprised Ron by gasping and muttering before she even unfolded the paper. Curious, Ron looked over Hermione's shoulder.

Top-Class Prisoner Disappears from Azkaban.

Ron and Hermione shared a look of expectant horrors before quickly reading through the paper.

"How do they mean by they have just found out about his disappearance?" Hermione asked. "He was there and then he wasn't. That's an escape. And even if they want to term it disappearance..."

Ron skimmed the paper again. "The wards didn't go off. None of the guards were injured or dead or even had spells done on them. One day, Lucius Malfoy was in Azkaban. The next, he wasn't. And escape is when he could be chased after, but this sounds like he apparated out of Azkaban or something."

Hermione finished her toast thoughtfully. "But even without the dementors, it's almost impossible to get out of there. The wards are supposed to be even tougher than class one wards."

"But he can apparate out of there," Ron whispered in an awed voice to nobody in particular. He looked excitedly at Hermione. "I promised to tell you later about what happened with Harry, but Lucius apparated into Hogwarts—at least, he came into Hogwarts, without even setting the alarms off. So he could apparate out of Azkaban, too."

"Wait, Ron." Hermione turned so that she was looking at Ron full in the face. "When did you see Lucius in Hogwarts."

Ron frowned in puzzlement. "Monday. So four days ago."

"Okay, Ron. If Lucius Malfoy was in Hogwarts four days ago, then he wasn't at Azkaban four days ago. But they have just discovered his disappearance this morning, during the daily morning patrol. So, do you think Malfoy went back to Azkaban for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday?"

"Not really," Ron mumbled his answer, not really seeing Hermione's point in all this. Lucius Malfoy is no longer in Azkaban! Who cared if Ron saw him on Monday or not... Oh.

Hermione thought quickly, and grabbed onto Ron's hand. "We have to tell Harry."

Ron nodded in agreement, but Hermione's hand was warm and soft and distracting. "We'll have to skip Potions."

"No, we won't," Hermione said sternly. Much to Ron's regret, Hermione took her hand away to finish her breakfast. "We'll go in the afternoon. Right after lunch."

Ron sighed, but agreed.

When Harry came to again, it was to see a blond blob that must have been Malfoy sitting beside his bed, staring at nothing.

Harry tried to sit up in his bed. "You're awake," Harry heard Malfoy's voice say disdainfully, as if it was Harry's fault that he had slept for so long. Or maybe Malfoy was resentful that Harry had actually survived whatever it was that had rendered him unconscious in the first place.

Harry frowned at where Malfoy's head seems to be. "Why are you here?" He decided he needed his glasses to frown properly at Malfoy, but he couldn't find them. He did find his wand, though, and a spell would do just as well. "Acci—"

"Stop," Malfoy commanded sharply, and Harry complied in surprise. The oval got bigger—and Harry could see two eyes and a mouth... a nose must be in there somewhere—and something was shoved into his hands. "Your glasses are here."

Harry put on his glasses and saw with relief as the infirmary came into focused. With a glare at Malfoy, he grumbled, "I can do magic just fine."

"No, you can't."

Malfoy's cold and precise tone of voice chafed Harry. "Can, too," Harry argued.

"You are acting exceptionally immature today. Even for you."

Harry sniffed indignantly. "Well, I can do magic."

Draco glared cuttingly at Harry, and with his precisely gelled hair, sharp features, and pristine robe, Harry found it a little intimidating despite his Gryffindor courage. On the other hand, Harry was still injured and bedridden.

"Did the lumos three days ago tell you nothing?" Draco demanded of Harry. Harry thought that maybe only the most Slytherin of Slytherins mastered this tone of voice. Snape certainly did, and so, apparently, did Malfoy.

But then Harry's brain caught on. "Three days?"

"Yes, three days. Your body has been working night and day since then just to replenish the basic amount of magic you need to live in Hogwarts," Draco explained, and for once, Harry wished that Hermione were explaining something. Hermione, at least, only made Harry feel like he knew nothing. Malfoy, though, treated Harry as if Harry knew nothing and was worthless because of it.

"But I'm supposed to be a powerful wizard." Harry decided that was a bit spoiled-sounding, but he was arguing against a Slytherin. Besides, weren't there supposed to be some perks to being famous?

At this, Draco was silent for a moment, surprising Harry. Then, Draco answered, "Well, I took your magic."

"You?" Harry exclaimed in pure shock. He said fiercely in a quieter voice, "I don't care what you thought you were doing, but give it back. Now."

Again, Draco fell silent. Harry prepared himself to say something even more scathing to the Slytherin, when Draco answered, "Gladly."

Harry was still in shock, when Draco took his glasses away from him. Something, probably the sheets on the bed, rustled, and Harry felt the bed dip alarmingly. He struggled to sit up properly in the bed, but got pushed down firmly by a pair of hands. Something tickled his face... A feather? Hair? A solid, comforting sort of weight settled on his thighs.

Until Harry realized just who this was. With ragged breath—because Harry was in shock—he asked, "What are you doing?"

"What are you doing?" A woman's voice echoed. It sounded like Madame Pomfrey's.

Draco got off of Harry rather slowly, but his voice was nonplussed. "Making him all better."

Harry found his glasses and shoved them back onto his face.

Faced with such impertinence from a student, Madame Pomfrey wasn't quite sure what to do. She opted for a simple, "Well, at least wait until you are out of here."

Harry perked up at this. "I can leave now?"

"No." Madame Pomfrey shot Harry a stern look much to Harry's chagrin. "Maybe tomorrow. We'll have to see. It's a good thing you're awake, though. I was worried, but the Headmaster was very firm about letting you have all the rest you needed."

"You mean I have to leave now?" Draco asked with a pout. A cute pout, Harry had to admit reluctantly. The pout might not work on Professor McGonagall, but he might have been able to avoid that slap in third year from Hermione.

As expected, Madame Pomfrey's expression softened. "I suppose you can stay. But mind you, don't agitate him."

Harry saw Draco nod like a good little boy that Harry knew Draco wasn't. "I promise," Draco said most sincerely, sending shivers up Harry's arms. There was something seriously disturbing when Draco sounded so sincere when Harry knew for a fact that Draco wasn't.

When Madame Pomfrey left Harry and Draco alone, Harry shot a wary look at Draco, who replied with a toothy smirk that was almost a grin. "I get to stay because I'm so worried about you."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. Now that you've demonstrated your special Nightmare power, can I get some peace?"

"That was just being me. You've seen nothing of my Nightmare powers." Harry found the pout turned on him, somehow transforming Draco's usually cold face into something adorable. Not quite pitiful, but close enough that Harry found himself trying to figure out what he said wrong before he realized that he had fallen for Malfoy's trick.

He glared at Malfoy.

Malfoy smirked.

Hogwarts was back to normal.

Ron and Hermione burst into the infirmary, completely ignoring Malfoy, who sat there beside Harry.

"Listen," Hermione told Harry once she saw that he was awake. "Lucius Malfoy disappeared out of Azkaban."

Harry nodded. "I saw him on Monday. Didn't Ron tell you?" He snuck a look at Draco out of the corner of his eyes, but Draco's pale face was impassive.

Hermione turned one of her teacher looks on Harry. "You really shouldn't keep things like that from me."

"But I just told you," Harry protested.

"Whatever." Hermione turned serious again. "But if he was out of Azkaban on Monday, do you really think that he would go back for several days, just to break out again?"

Harry offered as an explanation, "The dementors aren't there anymore."

Hermione shook her head. "Yes, but why would he want to go back?"

"I don't know." Harry really didn't feel like thinking about Malfoy and Malfoy and who was who and how what happened. He was supposed to be a patient. Didn't Ron say something once like, at least you don't have to think in the infirmary?

Well, the rule didn't seem to apply when Hermione was present.

"Okay," Harry acquiesced. "Malfoy—Lucius Malfoy—didn't go back to Azkaban."

"But then who was there?" At Harry's blank look, Hermione elaborated. "They have daily rounds, and Lucius Malfoy was in Azkaban until this morning. If it wasn't Lucius Malfoy, then who was in Azkaban?"

"A substitute?" Harry said.

Ron added, "With polyjuice potion?"

Hermione shook her head. "I can't see somebody willing to be a substitute in Azkaban—even without the dementors—and drinking a potion every hour. Besides, the guards would have noticed errant traces of magic. And even if there was a substitute, he still had to go somewhere. No, it couldn't have been a substitute."

Harry shrugged. "I don't know."

Ron asked, being smart for once, "What do you think?"

"I think—actually, this is just a guess from what I read..." Hermione paused to make sure that both Harry and Ron were paying close attention. "But I think that Lucius Malfoy kept an illusion inside his cell."

"An illusion?" Ron repeated. "But even Fred and George can't come up with real enough ones so that people can skip class."

"People shouldn't skip class," Hermione rebuked. "And Fred and George aren't Nightmares. Nightmares are supposed to be very good with illusions, since their specialty is with a person's subconscious. They can make people believe things that aren't true."

Ron asked, excitedly, "So you mean Malfoy—Draco Malfoy—can't do anything but phony fakes?"

Ron and Hermione treated Malfoy—Draco Malfoy—as if he wasn't there, which was normal, but they usually didn't insult him so blatantly, or casually. Harry snuck another look at Malfoy, but Malfoy still sat impassively. For a second, Malfoy's silver eyes met Harry's confused green ones, but then the moment was gone.

Hermione was talking again. "Of course Malfoy can do real things, probably more real than either you or I can, because all spells have a counter spell—except for death—but Nightmares don't need spells. But he can also make people—just you, or just me, or just the entire population of Hogwarts—believe something not real."

There, Hermione stopped and looked curiously at Harry, who was busy staring at Malfoy.

She sighed and told Ron, "I think Malfoy might be in the room with us."

Ron's eyes widened in fright, and Hermione hastened to add, "Just Draco Malfoy."

Harry saw Draco—it was too confusing to think of them as Malfoy and Malfoy... and saying Draco's full name took more time than Harry wanted to give him—shrug. Apparently, Ron and Hermione saw it, too, because they both jumped.

"That was an illusion," Hermione pointed out, not one for missing a chance to impart knowledge.

"Oh," Ron said lamely. Harry could tell that Ron no longer thought illusions were useless.

"Draco," Lucius greeted quietly as he apparated into his son's room.

For a moment, Draco continued reading and neglected to acknowledge his father. When he did turn to his father, his face was a mask of utter fury such that Lucius had to control himself to not step away.

Draco hissed, "What did you think you were doing?"

Lucius kneeled in front of Draco. "I was trying to help you, my Prince."

Draco let out a harsh, grating laugh. "Somehow, I don't see my death helping me. Or you."

Lucius closed his eyes, but he couldn't pray, because the Nightmares sent their prayers to their Prince, and Draco didn't seem to be in a very giving mood. Lucius still feared for his life, though. Even before Draco had mated, he had had enough power to crush Lucius—Draco was the Prince. But now that Draco mated with Harry Potter, he could probably strip Lucius of his magic without any effort at all. Whereas before, Draco had been mellow enough to act as Lucius's son, he now acted as Lucius's prince. Who had a mate to protect.

"I wanted him to accept the bond," Lucius tried to explain.

Draco took a step toward Lucius, and the air behind him shimmered with his ethereal wings, beautiful wings in a person's darkest nightmare, and they only ever appeared when Draco was so angry that he couldn't reign in all of his magic anymore.

"You are worse than the mudblood," Draco said in disgust. "Even she would know better than to fiddle with the spirit of the mate of a Nightmare, even if she had to read a book to know it."

"I apologize," Lucius tried to appease Draco, but Nightmares were especially sensitive about their mates. In addition, Potter hadn't accepted the bond yet, so Draco would feel even more than usual agitation regarding his mate. "I did not think..."

"You are a shame to Slytherins. 'I didn't think,'" Draco mimicked cruelly. "The spirit is the magic. What do you think happens to the bond when a foreign entity takes over the spirit, father dear? Do you want me to summon mother dear here to show you?"

Lucius remained silent.

Apparently, Draco's tirade was already over, though. "I have had enough of this. Enough of you. It is not as if you can actually help with my bonding."

When Lucius didn't move, Draco snapped, "Well, why aren't you at the Malfoy Manor yet?"

Lucius disappeared from Draco's room.

Harry was finally out of the infirmary on Saturday, having satisfied Madame Pomfrey with his health for one entire day. Unfortunately, his first day of freedom was a glorious day of sunshine and clear skies spent with Draco.

"What do you want?" Harry asked shortly when they had walked silently all the way to the lake.

Draco gave Harry an intense look that Harry supposed he was expected to decipher. It only made Harry more irritable. Besides, now, ominous clouds were replacing the blue skies. "Look," Harry told Draco. "You either tell me what your problem is, or you can stop annoying me."

Another one of Draco’s dark looks met Harry’s request. Harry thought it could be because he was still weak, but he thought he saw the air shimmer, and it looked like something large and imposing behind Draco, but then it was gone. Harry muttered, "And the weather is turning miserable, too."

This time, Draco answered verbally. "Well, I'm in a bad mood."

Harry stopped in his tracks. "You mean you are causing this, too? Well, stop it, because some people actually want to enjoy their Saturday."

"Well, I do too," Draco answered.

"You can't do this," Harry said hotly. "You can't make everybody miserable just because you are."

"Can't I?" Draco returned.

Harry gritted his teeth. "It's not right."

"What is right?" Draco replied airily. "Maybe Dumbledore should worry about the thousands of muggles instead of his few hundred students. Maybe Hagrid should have been sensible and actually learned how to teach. Maybe Granger should share her knowledge instead of keeping it all to herself. Maybe—"

"You're not being fair," Harry interrupted.

"Maybe," Draco continued, taking a forceful step toward Harry. Harry tried very hard to keep looking at Draco in the eye, but when he snuck a peek down, he saw a ring of dried, yellow grass around Draco's foot. "You should worry about our alliance instead of your personal discomfort."

"Malfoy," Harry said quietly, not wanting to startle Draco into doing something even more drastic. "You're killing the grass."

"So?" Draco asked coldly. "I feel like it."

"But, you're killing it."

Without even looking down, Draco shrugged. "It's not like they can feel pain or anything. This way, I feel better, too."

"Malfoy, you can't just do whatever you want," Harry argued feebly. He felt as if he was arguing with a madman, or talking sense to a two-year-old.

"Sure, I can." Draco waved his hand expansively, his expression one of utter boredom. The air was still dry, but filled with static. Lightning started hitting trees, making them split in half. The grass and flower and weed wilted as if time had sped up. Somehow, the lake dried up—the clouds were darker—and Harry could see the squid and the water plants. "I seem to be succeeding quite well."

"No," Harry gasped as he looked around, the heavy wheezing of the dying squid filling the air. He had always thought that this was what it would look like if Voldemort won the war... but now Draco... Draco... Harry grasped his head and closed his eyes in denial. "No, no, no, no, no..." he repeated.

Beside Harry, Draco sighed almost inaudibly. "Fine," he snapped. "I'll grow it back."

"You can't undo death."

"I didn't say I'd undo death," Draco answered impatiently. Really, the phrases the Gryffindor used, as if the world was ending, instead of a little part of a little school called Hogwarts. "I said I'd grow it back. As in, new trees and grass, alright?"

"But, but..." Harry could not understand Draco's callous attitude. "But you still killed them."

Draco's voice hardened in annoyance. "If you keep complaining, the squid will die, too."

Harry closed his eyes. "Okay," he gave in. As new, clear blue waters filled the lake and lush greenery covered the land as if the deaths had never been, Harry thought despondently that perhaps there were some things Slytherins just didn't understand.

Or maybe it was just Draco.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Harry Potter and the Prince of Nightmares

Chapter Four: The Royal, the Rich, and the Rest

Lucius sneered mentally, but he wasn't stupid enough to let Voldemort see his contempt. Crucios were crude, for those who merely wanted to imitate the art of torture. As a High Councilor of Nightmares, Lucius knew so many more ways to cause so much more pain. Even so, crucios hurt, and Lucius saw no purpose in enduring pain that could be just as easily avoided.

And Lucius couldn't even begin to imagine what Voldemort was trying to accomplish by 'slipping' Veritaserum into Lucius's drink. Truly, Voldemort should have at least known that Nightmares were immune to those kinds of things. They could, after all, heal all. Their only limitation was the strength of their magic, as dictated by their mate.

But if Lucius had to endure Narcissa's endless belittling and affairs, he at least had a mate powerful enough for his High Councilor status. Besides, Narcissa had already accepted the bond, when she had first realized the power of the Nightmares. She could no longer deny Lucius her magic.

Instead, Lucius held the upper hand. He pulled on her magic whenever he wanted to, and she weakened from this loss until he decided to give her magic back to her by sleeping with her. She had only denied him her bed once, but Narcissa had learned her lesson. Of course, Lucius didn't sleep with her often, either. Still, he was careful to keep her alive, because her death would kill him by making him unable to tame the foreign magic he gathered.

"Tell me," Voldemort hissed, sounding more like a depraved, mindless monster than usual. Today must be a bad day. "Is your son's bonding with that despicable boy successful?"

So, Lucius thought, Voldemort does know my identity. Still, only old women used words like 'despicable.' This question, though, Lucius could answer truthfully, "No." The 'boy' had not accepted the bond. Yet.

Lucius would make sure that the 'boy' did, though. Now that the 'boy' was his son's mate, and no longer simply a famous nuisance to be rid of, Lucius would need a different tactic from simply aveda kadevra-ing the 'boy.' Maybe imperio would work.

But then, maybe not. It was rumored that Voldemort had used the spell on Potter and failed. Lucius considered carefully... If he pulled on the magic from both Narcissa and his son, he could probably force Potter, but he didn't like the plan much. It wasn't foolproof.

Now, if he could pretend someone else was doing it... Or maybe send the spell silently, which required more concentration...

"Will the bonding be successful?" Voldemort continued asking.

Lucius had a hard time believing that the cunning Slytherin house could only produce this... this... miscreant. But there were bad eggs from every chicken. Again, he answered truthfully, "I do not know, my lord." If he had any say in it, though, Lucius would make sure that the bonding succeeded.

In the shadows where Voldemort hid, Lucius thought he saw Voldemort nod. "How can I prevent the bonding?"

Being killed twice really must lower one's intelligence. Lucius resolved to never get killed even once. "Unless Potter denies the bond or Draco dies, nothing."

Voldemort didn't seem surprised. "What reason could Potter possibly have for denying the bond?"

Besides the fact that the 'boys' had hated each other for years? Lucius thought. Or that I am a Death-Eater and have tried to kill the Potter? "None." Lucius paused artfully. "Unless he is made to, I suppose."

"You mean, take one of Potter's sidekicks as hostage?" Voldemort seemed eager.

Disgustingly so. Like Typhulus.

Lucius refrained from rubbing the throbbing dark mark on his left arm. He refused to like Voldemort. It had been a lot easier resisting the subtle attraction to Voldemort since he had discovered the charm hidden in the dark mark to make people revere Voldemort. Cunning, really, but crude, too. And quite rudimentary.

Lucius answered Voldemort, "The acceptance is an unconscious thing. You have to make him deny the bond's existence. Which can only be done with obliviate or imperio."

Voldemort accepted Lucius's truth easily. Lucius started wondering if he even needed to use the magic to clean the Veritaserum from his system. He really didn't look forward to sleeping with his wife tonight. Still, the plan was better if it was foolproof.

"That is all," Voldemort said imperiously, waving Lucius away.

Lucius bowed respectfully. But not too respectfully. He inquired politely, "My Shadow?"

Voldemort nodded. "I will be sure to keep your Shadow active in Azkaban as a gift for your loyalty. It will be easier, of course, if it was a horcrux."

"I'm afraid I am not as great as you," Lucius replied, respectfully, and backed out of Voldemort's chamber.

Of course Voldemort wanted Lucius's horcrux, but those things caused humans to degenerate into monsters, like Voldemort. Besides, Lucius was a Nightmare, and Nightmares didn't have souls. Voldemort would just have to be happy with a piece of Lucius's spirit.

Harry had managed to ignore Malfoy for a whole week—not even mentioning his name, by the time the Gryffindor Gazette came on Monday morning. It was a new one-page biweekly started by the Creevey brothers. The owls swooped down to the table and it seemed to Harry that every girl and some guys from Gryffindor subscribed to the magazine. Even Hermione.

Harry tried to read over Hermione's shoulder, wondering what could possibly be so popular. Besides, if Hermione read it, it had to have some educational value.

Harry frowned as Hermione shifted, and the gazette disappeared under her bushy brown curls. Under the prompting of his curiosity, Harry shifted too so that he could read the gazette. But Hermione seemed really fidgety today and moved again, and the gazette was once again out of Harry's view.

"Um, Hermione?" Harry asked tentatively. Sometimes, it was a bad idea to interrupt Hermione's concentration. Especially when she was concentrated on printed text. Harry just hoped that this wasn't one of those times. "Can I see the gazette?"

"Hmm?" Hermione replied distracted as Harry watched her fold the gazette and set it in her bag.

Harry repeated, "Can I see the gazette?"

"The gazette?" Hermione started piling food onto her plate and eating the eggs very properly. "There's nothing interesting in there."

Nothing interesting? Harry wondered about that. After all, Hermione read it. Although, Hermione also read 101 Odd and Obscure Behests of Our Ministry, which Harry had managed to check out from the library. Just as Hermione had said, there was no information on Nightmares. Only that they wished to have nothing to do with humans.

Still, he had found out why pixies couldn't wear their shirts inside out. So, he thought there might be some information in the gazette as well.

Harry asked, "Can I see it anyways?"

Finally, Hermione turned her attention to Harry. "It's not interesting." At Harry's patent disbelief, she added, "It's girl stuff."

"But some guys read it, too," Harry pointed out.

"Well, they're gay."

"I'm gay, too," Harry said without thinking.

The silence spread from Harry's to the very ends of the Gryffindor table.

"I mean..." Harry peered carefully at all the people who seemed to be listening to him. "I... um..."

Hermione sighed and shook her head. "Sleeping with another guy doesn't make you gay, Harry. I can kiss and lick all the girls I want, but I wouldn't be lesbian. You have to be sexually attracted to someone of your own gender—in your case, men, and in my case, women—in order to be gay."

"Okay..." Harry couldn't believe that Hermione had just said that to a listening audience. Judging by several other faces at the table, they had expected Hermione to be all prim and proper, too. Some guys had obvious already stopped listening at the 'kiss and lick' part.

Although... On second thought, Harry could believe that Hermione had said all that. Hermione had never been a prude—she just valued knowledge over... certain other aspects of life. Besides, the explanation had probably been all very perfunctory to Hermione.

It was Lavender who broke the silence. Holding up her gazette, she pointed to the large black and white photo. "So this isn't true then?" Lavender sounded disappointed.

Harry looked closer at the picture, but he could only see a profile of himself sitting in a big armchair. He had seen that armchair somewhere, Harry thought vaguely, trying to remember the importance of the picture, when Draco stepped into the picture. The black and white Draco grabbed Harry by his chin—Harry didn't remember this part—and kissed Harry full on the lips.

Quickly, Harry realized that now, not just the girls, but all Gryffindors had seen the photo. He tried to hide the rising blush and failed. "Um, yeah," he answered lamely.

"'Yeah, it's true' or 'Yeah, you're right, it isn't true?'" Lavender pursued.

Harry felt his cheeks heating up even more. "The first one," he said weakly.

"So, you do like guys?" It seemed as if Parvati and Lavender took turns being the inquisitor and squeezing out gossip.

"Not really," Harry muttered. Why? Why did they care? Wasn't something like this supposed to be personal information? Why wasn't Hermione defending his privacy?

Unfortunately, Parvati didn't finish questioning him yet. "Then, do you like girls?"

Harry remembered the really wet kiss he had shared with Cho. "Not really."

"Ooh," Both Parvati and Lavender gushed. Harry didn't understand why they were gushing. Could the rest of the table turn away now so he could have some porridge?

It seemed not, because all the Gryffindors seemed to start talking at once. Harry was bombarded with unintelligible questions about his sexual orientation, and Harry really didn't care. He wanted to finish breakfast. He wanted to do his potions homework. He wanted to defeat Voldemort.

He sighed and tried to ignore all the questions. It wasn't as if anybody would hear him through all the shouting anyways.

"Hey," Ron finally interrupted the endless questions. "It doesn't really matter who Harry likes. He's still the savior of the wizarding world, right?"

At that, the Gryffindors cheered unanimously. Harry wasn't sure that their new attitude was an improvement.

Ron turned to Harry. "As long as you don't fall for me." Then, Ron shook his head regretfully. "But did he have to be Malfoy? I might just have end our friendship, anyways."

Harry thought Ron was joking, but he couldn't be sure. The enmity between the Weasleys and the Malfoys was legendary.

When Harry smiled hesitantly at Ron, Ron patted Harry on the back. Harry counted himself lucky that no bones broke. Ron had grown bigger and stronger and sometimes he forgot why he could be the keeper for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Ron said good-naturedly, "I'm just joking. Hermione and I'll always be your friends. Besides, Mom would have a fit if I told her you're no longer my friend."

"What," Draco asked Blaise, his voice filled with venom, "can the Gryffindors be clamoring about?"

Blaise shrugged elegantly under his custom-made school robe. It had only cost a hundred galleons, but Madame Malkin always made excellent robes. It was an issue of pride for her.

"Aristocrats don't shrug," Draco complained without much heat.

In response, Blaise only shrugged again. "Don't you want to know what they are clamoring about?"

Draco bit his buttered toast correctly in lieu of shrugging. "It was only idle curiosity."

"Okay," Blaise accepted easily, but his blue eyes sparkled mischievously under his black hair, and it made Draco suspicious and wary. "I won't tell you, then."

Draco glared at Blaise with quelling, cold eyes. "Tell me," he demanded imperiously. Just to add weight behind his words, he added, "I'm the Prince."

Blaise rolled his eyes negligently. "Well, I'm not a Nightmare. Actually, I'm more nouveau riche compared your ancient Malfoy and Parkinson lines' aristocracy anyways. Besides, I doubt even you'd do anything with him—" Blaise glanced significantly at the table at the end of the hall, from where Dumbledore surveyed the students and teachers eating breakfast. "—watching there."

When Blaise started eating his own toast instead of saying anything else, Draco narrowed his eyes at the toast.

Suddenly, Blaise found garden snakes hissing and slithering up his arm. With a yelp, he jumped out of the seat and started swatting the snakes away. As soon as he opened his hand, though, a piece of perfectly harmless toast dropped back to the ground.

Blaise spared a glare at Draco before sitting down at the Slytherin table again. The other Slytherins had the good sense not to ask why a piece of toast had startled Blaise. After all, Blaise hung out with the Prince of Slytherin.

Blaise picked up another piece of toast, only to have it turn into snakes again. This time, he pretended he still held the toast and put the imaginary toast carefully onto his plate. The snakes disappeared.

After a covert glance at Headmaster Dumbledore told him that truly, the headmaster didn't notice—or simply didn't care about Slytherins, he looked at Draco in annoyance and just a little bit of awe. "Just how are you doing that?"

"I have to be angry for it to be real." Draco sounded miffed, if Blaise read him right. "But the illusion is good enough, and if I key it only to you, nobody else will notice a thing. Actually, it's a lot more convenient in this case. And you can't tell me what they're clamoring about if you were dead from snake venom."

Blaise sighed heavily. "I can't believe I'm letting you get away with this, but I'll tell you." As Draco watched Blaise, Blaise bent over his bag and shuffled some paper around. Finally, he pulled out a piece of paper.

"'Gryffindor Gazette,'" Draco read the top of the paper incredulously. It was dated today.

Blaise muttered, "Know thy enemy." Then, in a much more enthusiastic tone, he said, "It does have some interesting news. Why don't you look at the photo?"

As recommended, Draco looked at the photo. At first, he wondered about what was so special about Potter sitting in a chair, until he saw himself enter the picture. He watched himself kiss Potter with a strange sense of satisfaction.

He actually smirked when he saw the title of the article. "The Two Most Eligible Hogwarts Bachelors No Longer So Eligible," it read. The Creeveys might want to write more concise titles in the future, but they certainly had the gist of it right.

"How did you subscribe to this thing?" Draco asked reluctantly.

"I didn't." Blaise poked his toast before picking it up gingerly. When the toast remained toast, he took a bite out of it. Ah, buttered toast with strawberry jam... "I sent Zarr with three sickles to the older Creepy yesterday. I just wanted to see if there was something worth reading. If they keep this quality up, though, I just might subscribe."

Draco only nodded in response, taking a bite of his own toast. "I think I might want to subscribe, too, if this is what Potter is reading."

"I think the easiest way is to do it is to buy a Hufflepuff's name."

Draco nodded in agreement. Occasionally, Blaise came up with decent ideas without Draco's assistance.

"And I have a plan," Blaise continued.

Draco's attention sharpened at this. "A plan for what?"

Blaise gave Draco a strange look. "A plan to become the most eligible bachelor at Hogwarts, of course."

Draco's face blanked as he thought. "Is there competition?"

"Of course, there's always competition." Blaise paused. "But it seems as if Ron Weasley is the main competition."

"How did he ever get into the running?"

Blaise shrugged. "He's pureblood, good, kind, powerful. Has nice connections. Not bad looking if you go for the red-haired type, and hot tempered enough that girls are drawn toward him." He paused in thought. "The main thing, though, is that the Mudblood would vote for him. So, if I can seduce Mudblood, then I can be the most eligible bachelor."

For once, Draco's face had an expression, and it looked as if he would gag. "You will seduce Mudblood? That's a high price."

"Well, I figure I'd have whomever I want after that." Blaise stabbed his eggs disinterestedly. "Besides, I probably won't even have to say anything with the lectures she gives."

"Still... Mudblood?"

Blaise sighed and nodded. "It's the only plan I have."

"I think I prefer Potter."

As he had expected, Blaise found Hermione in the library just after dinner, a three-foot stack of books by her side. She was perusing the one book that she had open in front of her and jotted down some notes from time to time.

Blaise had never set foot in the library before. Any research he had had to do, he had either asked the house-elves at home through the fireplace or, more often, browsed through Draco's extensive private collection.

But when Blaise had asked Draco about approaching the bushy-haired know-it-all Gryffindor, Draco had replied, without even bothering to turn around, "Mudblood would like this." The blond had pulled out a book from the shelf he was standing before. Blaise didn't know what the book was about and he didn't really care, because there was no reason that Draco would plot against Blaise's success.

It wasn't as if Draco liked girls. And even if he did, Draco had made it plain more than once that he would not descend to the mudblood's level.

Blaise sat down across from the mudblood unobtrusively and watched her for a while before he slid the book across the desk.

Surprised, Hermione looked up, her own brown eyes meeting Blaise's clear, blue ones. She picked up the book gingerly and took a look at the title. "Nightmares and Nightmares," she read in an awed whisper.

Blaise nodded in response. "I thought you might be interested." He watched as her delicate fingers skimmed the spine of the book and thought that if she wasn't so into books, she might have had some potential.

"Of course I'm interested," Hermione replied, her voice full of excitement. "I've been dying to read a book on Nightmares and this is probably the most comprehensive book on them." She paused as she remembered something. "But they're all banned, you know? Even Knockturn Alley didn't carry any. How did you get this one?"

"I asked Draco." Blaise smiled at her in what he hoped was a friendly way. "It's legal for Nightmares to own them."

Hermione opened the book carefully. "Do you mind if I keep it for a few days? I promise I won't fold the pages or get it dirty or anything."

"Of course," Blaise agreed magnanimously. "Keep it for as long as you want."

"That would be forever. But I promise to give it back as soon as I'm finished reading it." Hermione smiled happily at Blaise. "I'm ashamed to say that I never thought a Slytherin would have an ulterior motive with good consequences."

Blaise, not quite knowing how to reply to that, only said, "You look quite beautiful, you know?"

Hermione laughed. "Now, I'm beginning to think that you have an evil ulterior motive after all."

"No, really." Blaise shook his head so that his black hair framed his face just so, and smiled a little smile. He found that he was honest, though, because when Granger smiled, there was just something... pure about her expression. And even if her hair would cause many girls nightmares, she had the prettiest and softest brown eyes Blaise had ever seen.

But Hermione was already immersed in her new book, living up to her reputation as a bookworm. Blaise stood up to leave. "I'll leave you to your book, then."

Hermione nodded and mumbled something that Blaise didn't quite catch, without taking her eyes off of the book for even a second. Blaise left the library, congratulating himself that it had gone better than he thought it would.

"You aren't serious about it," Ron said hopefully as Harry pulled the invisibility cloak around himself. "You can't do this! It's midnight! Filch is out there... Snape is out there! You could... You could..."

"It was midnight last time, too," Harry's disembodied voice reminded Ron.

"Yes, but it was Saturday." Ron was stubborn when he wanted to be.

Harry continued, "I need to know just what this bonding means. And if I don't go soon, the password might change."

"But what if all the other Slytherins are in their common room, too?"

"I have my invisibility cloak," Harry replied easily. "And the Marauders' Map. Besides, it's not as if this is my first time sneaking around. I just want to find what exactly it is that Malfoy is playing at. I've always landed on my feet."

"Yeah," Ron agreed reluctantly. "But you've always had us with you before."

"That's true..."

Ron had a brilliant idea. "So, you really shouldn't be going alone this time, either. I should come with you."

"But Malfoy definitely wouldn't answer any of my questions if he saw you with me," Harry complained.

"He won't see me!" Ron jumped up from his bed in excitement. "I'll stay under the invisibility cloak and you can question him. He won't even know I'm there. I'll just be there as your backup. You know, two heads are better than one and all that."

Harry thought that what Ron said had some truth in it. Besides, he would feel better to have Ron with him, and it wasn't as if anything was actually going to happen. "Just... be careful."

Ron grinned. "Of course."

The password to the Slytherin house hadn't changed, and Harry and Ron walked into the dim Slytherin common room invisibly.

As the stone entrance clicked shut, the only occupant of the common room turned his platinum blond head around. "Who's there?" Malfoy's imposing voice rang echoed off the stone walls.

Harry hesitated for only a moment before stepping out from under the invisibility cloak. "I wanted to ask you something."

Draco only remarked, "So you finally decided to stop avoiding me."

"I wasn't avoiding you," Harry retorted heatedly. "I was busy."

"Whatever," Draco dismissed. "Finally accepted that you're bonded to me?"


"Why not?" Draco stood up to his full height and folded the piece of paper he held in his hands. Harry thought it looked a bit like the Gryffindor Gazette, but then mentally shook his head. As the Prince of Slytherin, Draco would never 'soil' his hand with something as mundane as the Gryffindor Gazette.

Draco turned to go to his room. When Harry tried to follow, Draco stopped abruptly and turned to Harry. Draco snapped, "What do you think you're doing?"

Harry frowned, baffled. "I have to talk with you. So, I'm going with you to your room."

"Exactly, it's my room. Besides, I have to see my father."

Draco turned toward his room again and Harry tried to follow. Draco stopped and gritted through his teeth, "In my room."

"That's not possible," Harry said. "You can't apparate into Hogwarts and Dumbledore would never let a Death-Eater in. Besides the fact that he's in Azkaban."

Draco's felt his jaw muscle begin ticking. There was a reason he usually refrained from socializing with Gryffindors. "He's a Nightmare," was as far as Draco was willing to elaborate.

"I'm coming anyways," Harry said stubbornly. "We have to talk. Besides, I'm your mate, so he can't hurt me."

Draco clenched his jaws and the muscle stopped ticking, but didn't react visibly. He simply swept toward his room. Harry took Draco's silence as consent and padded after Draco, vaguely aware of Ron following him silently and invisibly.

The stone door that led into Draco's room opened as Draco approached it, revealing another head just as platinum blond as Draco's. "Father," Draco acknowledged.

"My Prince," his father replied with a slight bow. "I have brought my lord to meet you."

As Draco stepped into his room, he saw the disfigured humanoid creature sitting in his chair. He made a mental note that he would need to order a new chair. Hopefully Mr. Nelson was not traveling. Otherwise, Draco would have to endure several months without a decent chair.

Ron followed close behind Harry and the stone door slammed shut right behind him. He barely managed to hold in his gasp of surprise, but he did gasp, quietly, as he set his eyes on You-Know-Who for the first time. You-Know-Who glanced right over Ron, though, and Ron felt almost guilty for hiding under Harry's invisibility cloak.

Suddenly, Lucius shouted, "Petrificus totalus!" and froze Draco at the same time Voldemort threw an imperio at Harry.

"Deny the bond," Draco heard Voldemort order Harry bluntly. His hearing was fuzzy, though, because he was concentrating on repelling his father's hex—why had his father hexed him?

The trickle of magic from Potter slowed to an erratic drop here and there despite Draco's desperate tugs on Harry's magic. Even as Harry fought Voldemort's order—because anything Voldemort wanted done must be wrong—and to hold onto both his conscious and subconscious thoughts, Draco could feel the bond fading. The sharp pain at Draco's chest spread until his whole body faded into a numb memory.

Just as Draco thought he would fade away completely, Harry fought and won the control of his mind from Voldemort. Harry felt his thoughts focus and what he saw suddenly became awfully real.

He was in the same room as Voldemort. Again.

Draco hid his sigh of relief as he felt Harry's magic trickle into himself steadily again. He used Harry's magic greedily to replenish his own.

Voldemort, though, obviously still thought that he had a chance of controlling Potter. His already monstrous face screwed up in a most unpleasant way as he reached for a stronger will to control Potter's mind.

Beside Voldemort, Lucius hid his wand behind the heavy folds of his midnight cloak and pointed it at Harry. "Imperio," he whispered softly but surely. It was really inconvenient how he needed a wand for the wizards' spells, but the wizards had managed to come up with a few useful spells.

For the second time, Harry felt himself swimming in that pleasant willingness. He tried to fight it again, but he had lowered his guard after his first victory against Voldemort and he was finding it extremely difficult to resist another attack on his will. Slowly, he felt his mind blanking, hovering almost pleasantly and waiting for a command.

Draco gasped loudly this time as he stopped feeling Potter's magic. As a Malfoy, he couldn't show any weakness, but he couldn't stop himself when he fell to the floor on his knees.

Lucius mentally ordered Harry to accept his bond with Draco, knowing that as long as his command was focused, Potter would have to accept it. When Potter struggled, Lucius pulled power viciously from both Narcissa and Draco. He was so focused on subduing Potter that he missed his son's fall onto the ground.

Underneath the invisibility cloak, Ron's eyes widened in horror. Yes, he had wanted to accompany Harry to keep an eye on the Malfoy git, but certainly wasn't prepared for two Malfoy gits. Even worse, You-Know-Who himself had somehow gotten inside Hogwarts.

Still, judging by the blank look in Harry's usually bright eyes, Ron knew something was wrong. To add to that, Malfoy—the younger one—seemed to suffering as well. Well, Ron came with Harry to protect Harry and he wasn't going to back out now.

Quickly, with the element of surprise on his side, Ron fired two silent accio wands from under the invisibility cloak and gathered the wands of Malfoy, Senior and You-Know-Who with a sense of accomplishment. DA training hadn't been for nothing.

Ron even managed to immobilize You-Know-Who before the older Malfoy snatched the invisibility cloak away from Ron. The older Malfoy grabbed Ron by the collar of his cloaks and belatedly, Ron realized that even without magic, Malfoy senior could do quite some damage.

"Stop," Ron shouted desperately. He wished Charlie or Bill or Fred and George were here. Even Percy would probably have a better idea of what to do. Ron could only feel sheer panic making his eyes bulge out. Very unattractively, he knew. And his face was probably flushed...

"You're hurting your son," Ron told the Malfoy who grabbed him by his cloak.

Lucius looked over at his son out of the corner of his eye, not trusting the youngest Weasley son, only to realize that indeed, Draco was hurt. But he hadn't used any spells against his son. He had only pulled magic from his son, and his son usually had a large reserve of magic. Draco was, after all, the Prince of Nightmares.

Lucius narrowed his eyes at the Weasley he held in front of him, but he knew that it was surprising enough that the Weasley managed to fire three spells before Lucius caught onto him. It was nearly impossible for Weasley to have also hurt his son.

Then, had Lucius drawn too much magic? All of the High Councilors were bonded to the Prince through bonds of fealty, and if for some reason, several of them pulled magic from Draco at the same time, it was conceivable that Draco could come perilously hollow and close to death.

Or—and Lucius thought about this only because he was an imminently logical being—had his imperio somehow adversely affected his son's tenuous bond with Potter?

Well, he couldn't do anything if it was the first case. And his imperio didn't seem to be working anyways. So, Lucius decided to let the curse go.

Harry felt his mind clear a second time, and thoughts dropped like lead weights from the floating, fluttery place he had hovered. Suddenly, he understood that Draco's father had been trying to make him accept the bond. Harry supposed that the bond would never go away—that somebody out there would always make it important—even if he rejected it, and he had probably already agreed to it in the contract anyways, but he was reluctant to believe that he was tied to one of his few most hated people for life. There had to be another way... Surely, fate didn't work like this...

Draco still kneeled on the floor. His trembling had stopped once he felt Harry's sweet magic pouring over him. He savored the sensation and pulled to hurry the rush magic along, asking for more and more and more. Somehow, the magic flowed into him now instead of merely trickling, even if it didn't flow freely as his father had described it.

Lucius felt a part of him relax as Draco no longer trembled from pain. He stared at the Weasley he still held in his hand. He was tempted to kill Weasley—or at least maim him permanently—for his impertinence to hex Lucius, but he realized that Weasley had probably saved Lucius's son from Lucius himself and decided to let the Weasley off this time.

However, Lucius didn't have much time contemplate the second youngest Weasley's future as Harry's head connected loudly with the stone floor.

Lucius was about to ask what was the matter when Draco made a long, loud keening noise that even the stone walls of Hogwarts couldn't contain.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Harry Potter and the Prince of Nightmares

Chapter Three: Storm and Thunder

Harry woke up early Sunday morning, feeling groggy. There wasn't any sunlight streaming through the windows yet, but that could just as well have been because the day was overcast. He rubbed his bleary eyes and peered at the clock next to his bed, only to find the fuzzy image giving him absolutely no information at all. Finally, he put on his glasses and looked at the clock again.

He flopped back onto his bed. It was only four in the morning, and even Hermione didn't get up until five on Sundays to study. He wanted sleep. He needed sleep. But he could feel his bladder protesting.

Reluctantly, Harry made his way into the bathroom. As he washed his hands after he relieved himself, he found himself staring at his reflection in the mirror. The mess of black hair covering his scar looked the same as it always did. His green eyes hadn't changed either. But he certainly felt different.

He rolled his right shoulder experimentally, and it worked fine. Unlike after an intense Quidditch match, his neck and shoulders didn't hurt. It was mostly the other muscles that he had never even felt before, and one of them, especially, made him uncomfortable.

He hadn't known that "mating" with a guy would have been so painful. Or awkward. No wonder most men preferred doing it with girls.

Harry contracted his butt cheeks carefully, and they felt all right. Still, Harry remained wary. Last night had been the most awkward moment of his life, and that included his encounters with Voldemort. In the first half of his time with Malfoy, he had had no idea of what was going on, and then in the second half, he had constantly felt like he needed to use the bathroom. In the big way. Nearing the end, his whole torso and half of the rest of his body hurt from staying still in the awkward position of only having his arms and legs on the bed. Malfoy had made him keep his torso up away from gravity, so as to make the mating easier.

For Malfoy, maybe.

And did Malfoy really need to bite Harry that many times? Harry tugged at the short sleeve of his pajamas as he stared at his reflection. Thankfully, Hermione had thought to wait up for Harry and she had healed most of his bruises. Still, one giant red bite mark wouldn't disappear. Although, the mark was only on his shoulder and Harry supposed that if he was careful to wear sleeves, he could probably hide the mark until it faded.

The only good thing to come out of this was that Harry wasn't an innocent virgin anymore. He wrinkled his nose at his reflection. He didn't feel any different in that respect and he still didn't know what his dorm mates were talking about when they said sex was pleasurable, but he knew what "awkward moments" were now.

Harry went back to lie his bed and catch some more sleep. He had barely managed to slip away from Malfoy at two, and his sleep so far hadn't helped him very much. Harry just wanted one night of comfortable sleep in a comfortable bed without having to worry about the Order, or the Weasleys, or Voldemort, or the prophecy, or what would happen if evil conquered all.

Draco turned over and let his hand fall across the other side of the bed, straight onto the slippery silk sheets of his bed. The thought of waking up without Potter beside him jerked him out of his comfortable sleep.

He sat up and groaned. Whatever time it was, it was too early to be up and about, especially since he still had all those nightmares to collect. For instance, Draco knew for a fact that the Longbottom klutz hadn't had his nightly Potions nightmare yet.

Finding Harry's absence so disconcerting, Draco could only stare at the empty half of his bed some more. Surely, Potter wouldn't just have left him—him!—in the middle of the night, especially after they had just slept together.

But Harry didn't seem to be hiding in a shadowed corner of his room either.

But... but... Harry was his mate!

Besides, nobody had ever left Draco after a night with him. He refused to even think of the possibility that the Gryffindor—a Gryffindor—could have found him anything less than satisfying.

It was probably some absurd notion that Potter had about disliking Draco. Potter would be one to leave just to show that he didn't care about Draco, and Draco hated even more the fact that it had gotten to him, made him second-guess himself.

Well, if Potter didn't like him, who cared? Draco thought. He didn't like Potter either.

It wasn't as if he needed his mate next to him in order to fall asleep. He was way past the monsters in the dark stage.

With that thought, he laid back down on his side of the bed and tried to fall asleep. From then until dawn, Draco's mind wandered between the conscious and the unconscious, trying to find peace in dreams and failing.

From the darkness of his throne, Voldemort hissed, "Do you need another reminder?"

Damien bowed low on the floor, his pale hair shone in the dim candlelight from the entrance of Voldemort's throne room. He barely managed to stop trembling, which his lord would have seen as a weakness, and weaklings were not needed or tolerated in his lord's magnificent following.

Still, three consecutive crucios of his lord's caliber were difficult to endure, even more so stoically. Their toll was even becoming visible on the Nightmare.

Damien barely managed the expected even and respectful reply. "No, my lord. I have learned my lesson."

For a second, Damien thought that his lord sharpened his red eyes reproachfully at him and Damien stilled completely. But then the moment passed, and his lord nodded blandly.

"Fortunately," Voldemort continued in a strangely cheerful tone, raising the hackle on Damien's back. "I have had several successful muggle exterminations recently to keep me in a good mood. But you don't really care about muggle infestation, do you? All you care is that the wizards remain pureblooded."

This time, Damien didn't merely imagine Voldemort looking at him as if he was a rat in a trap. Damien only hesitated for a moment before answering truthfully, "Yes, my lord." It was rumored, after all, that his lord knew legilimency.

Even if his lord didn't, his lord had a mammoth of a memory, and was sure to remember everything Damien had told him, including the name of the third guppy Damien's aunt's cousin's step-son had. Damien couldn't even remember why they had talked about it in the first place anymore.

"But now that the Prince—" Voldemort sneered. "—of yours is helping the Order, I will have to expand even more energy, which I shouldn't have needed to spend, to counteract your little miscalculation."

Damien was intelligent enough to stay bowed without saying anything.

"Tell me, Typhulus," Voldemort hissed. Damien resisted the urge to shrink from his lord, an action that he knew Voldemort would take offense at. It seemed that his lord was as mercurial as ever and his earlier good mood had already disappeared. "How do you expect me to help your people when your Prince—" Damien knew for sure that he saw Voldemort sneer this time. "—is foolishly allying himself with my enemy?"

"M-my lord," Damien began a little hesitantly, still not daring to look up at his lord, lest Voldemort took it as a sign of disrespect.

Voldemort interrupted, "Do you think that I am so ugly that you cannot bare to look at me?"

Damien felt his trembling returning with his lord's dark mood. "N-no, my lord." He stood up and looked at his lord.

"Did I say you can stand up in my presence?"

"N-no, my lord," Damien repeated, before promptly kneeling on the floor again, but he kept his eyes on his lord this time. He tried to continue his previous line of thought. "However, the mating process cannot be completed until the potential mate accepts the bond. There is little possibility that Potter will accept the bond."

"I know that, you fool." Voldemort shut Typhulus up quickly. Then, he added much more pensively, "But do you not also think that the brave, noble hero of the world would be willing to do anything to save the world?"

Finally, Damien was relieved to know something that his lord didn't. He kept his relief carefully hidden though. His voice was even when he said, "But the potential mate cannot simply agree, they must agree to be the mate subconsciously as well, and the Malfoy brat has less than ninety days to woo his enemy."

Voldemort chuckled, a harsh, unnatural sound. "The Potter boy would never love the Malfoy brat."

Damien clenched teeth, but decided that he probably should inform his master, "He doesn't need to love, he just needs to want the bond..."

Voldemort's red eyes glittered ominously in his dark chamber again. Before Typhulus could worry too much about it, though, Voldemort smiled nastily, showing two incomplete rows of horrid, rotting teeth. "Then it will be your job to be sure that Potter does not see something in the Malfoy brat."

Damien bowed his head in acknowledgement of his lord's order.

Voldemort nodded once. "Now, leave."

Damien stood up and bowed deeply to his lord before backing out of his lord's chamber. It was at times like this, he wondered why he even bothered to serve a wizard, even if said wizard was immortal. Maybe, it would have been much better if he had taken a wizard or witch mate to serve him. Damien thought that perhaps he could accomplish more without the dark mark on his left arm.

But, no, he corrected himself. He rubbed his dark mark absently as it started throbbing dully. There was no possible way that he could keep the wizard blood pure without his lord. His lord was, after all, the greatest wizard in all of wizarding history. He must serve his lord in order to serve the greater good of the Nightmares.

Harry winced as he woke up with a headache later on Sunday. It must have been from too little sleep. It wasn't even a particularly awful headache but it had reminded him unnecessarily of Voldemort until Harry realized that the dull throbbing at the temples felt quite different from the sharp pain he usually felt from his scar.

Harry sat up and put on his glasses. He glanced at the clock by his bed only to be surprised by close it was already to lunch.

Maybe the headache was from too much sleep, Harry re-speculated. Hermione had mentioned that something like that could happen. Of course, Hermione had been saying it as a reason to get up and study.

When he stood up, Harry tried to stretch out the muscles that still hurt from last night. Stretching had always worked when he tried to ease his aches from Quidditch, and he thought that it might work for these other muscles, too. He certainly hoped that these aches would go away sometime soon.

Harry pulled out some not-so-baggy hand-me-downs from Dudley. Uncle Vernon had given them to Harry several years ago, and they weren't nearly as big as some of his more recent hand-me-downs from Dudley.

It wasn't that Harry didn't have the galleons to buy himself new clothes; it was just that he hadn't bothered. Harry couldn't see the point of spending money on casual wear he already had. Besides, baggy was comfortable. So was well-worn cotton.

Harry hurried out of his empty dorm to the Great Hall, following the smell of chicken potpie and the noise from hundreds of voices. He was glad to find that the Hogwarts population carried on as usual even if the world seemed slightly askew today for Harry. Of course, Harry thought wryly, just because he was a famous wizard didn't mean everybody noticed everything about him.

He slid carefully between Hermione and Ron, who were arguing about the merits of waking up early to study. Hermione argued that since too much sleep wasn't good for the constitution anyways, it would be much more constructive to use the time studying. Ron, though, believed wholeheartedly in the arts of being lazy.

As Harry slid a slice of the chicken potpie on his plate, Hermione demanded, "What do you think, Harry?"

"What do I think?" Harry repeated stupidly as he put the plate down. His brain wasn't working yet.

Ron muttered something indistinct through a mouthful of the pie. When both Harry and Hermione gave Ron blank looks, he gulped down his food quickly—and painfully, it seemed to Harry—and said, "Harry just woke up, didn't you, mate?"

"You just woke up?" Hermione sounded scandalized.

Harry nodded, but then added quickly, "It's because I have a headache—not that kind of headache. Just a normal one..."

"I'm sorry," Hermione said sympathetically. "Maybe we can find something to help you feel better. Madame Pomfrey probably has something."

Ron's eyes widened. "B-but—" he sputtered.

"What?" Hermione asked Ron coldly. "Harry isn't feeling well. Of course he should stay in bed. You, on the other hand, have no such excuse."

"I wasn't feeling well either," Ron whined.

Hermione's eyes narrowed ominously. "Yes, but maybe you should have considered that when you stayed up until four this morning to play exploding snap."

"I-I wasn't—"

"Of course you were." Hermione huffed. "I could hear you all the way up in the girls' dorm. Stone walls block sound, but they also echo sound remarkably well. Maybe the frequency might have been altered, but the noises were all the same. Why do you think that there are echoes in canyons?"

Ron had lost Hermione somewhere along the word 'block.' It was Sunday, for heaven's sake! Hermione couldn't have expected him to learn anything on Sunday, could she? He managed to ask, "There are echoes in canyons?"

Apparently, that was the wrong response. "Ugh!" Hermione rolled her eyes in frustration.

When she turned to look at Harry, Harry said hastily, "I know about echoes in canyons. I read Dudley's Gooey and the Great Canyons when I was little."

Hermione only sighed as she tried not to roll her eyes again. It was supposed to be bad for health. Although, Hermione wasn't sure that she believed the evidence presented by that particular paper; the whole eyeballs getting stuck behind her eyelids seemed like a bull load of crap.

"I know you are much smarter and more sensible than Ron. I was just worried that you haven't finished your Potions paper yet."

Harry groaned. He had actually managed to forget all about the Potions paper. Even if Snape no longer taught Potions, the subject still didn't come easily to Harry. "I haven't even started it yet."

"That's what I thought. Do you want some help sometime?"

Harry smiled. Hermione was a very good friend and very smart, too. His paper would probably go three times faster with her help.

From the other side of Harry, Ron asked petulantly, "How come you help Harry, and not me?"

"Because," Hermione enunciated slowly and carefully, "Harry is sick. You are perfectly fine. Besides, I am helping you by making you think about the answers yourself. Sleeping draughts are very important and precise potions that are bound to be on the NEWTs."

Ron grumbled something and went back to eating.

Bewildered, Harry looked between Hermione and Ron. He was reminded greatly of first year, when Hermione corrected Ron about the pronunciation of the levitation spell, but something felt different...

Before Harry had time to dwell on it, though, a great gust of wind blew through the open doors of the Great Hall, sending stray papers every which way and errant shadows flickering on the walls. Even if it had not been sunny outside, there was hardly a storm brewing.

The whole of the Great Hall quieted, waiting for some sort of explanation, when Draco Malfoy stalked into the room. The ceiling of the Great Hall, which reflected the outside sky, showed spirals of clouds so low in the sky that it looked like the sky was falling apart.

Seemingly oblivious to the hushed Hogwarts population, Draco started a murmured conversation with Blaise Zabini, whom he sat down next to. It seemed as if the entire Great Hall strained to hear their conversation, but the Gryffindors, who sat furthest from the Slytherins, could only fidget silently and wait for gossip to travel to their table.

Suddenly, Draco raised his voice and shouted, "Potter is not worthless." After a shocked pause from the listening crowd, he added, "I could gain many favors if he somehow disappeared."

Murmurs swept through the Great Hall. The Hufflepuffs breathed again, knowing that all was normal. The Ravenclaws tried to figure out just what Harry had done this time. He couldn’t possibly have made Mrs. Malfoy join Mr. Malfoy in Azkaban, could he? The Gryffindors all looked at Harry and tried to laugh away Malfoy's latest episode.

Harry, though, stuffed the rest of lunch angrily into his mouth, and made some excuse about a headache. He couldn’t wait to leave the chattering table.

The day hadn't been worth getting up for, much less twice.

Draco walked into the Great Hall to lunch. Of course he noticed the absolute silence; He was a Slytherin. Today, however, he didn't feel like giving them gossip. They could make up their own.

He nodded to Blaise as he sat down next to him.

"People are wondering about the weather," Blaise pointed out quietly.

Draco's jaw set. "I'm in a bad mood."

"Yeah, well, you know, I know, and Pansy knows." Blaise paused thoughtfully. "Bulstrode probably knows, too, because she's Pansy's latest friend. But the rest of them don't know."

Although Blaise was right in that Draco could match the weather to his mood, today's horrid weather was not caused purposefully by Draco. Nightmares pulled magic from everybody they were tied to, and tamed the various strands of magic with the magic they pulled from the person closest to them. Before, that person had always been his father. Now, though, Draco needed to use Potter's magic.

For some reason, though, Draco couldn't get more than a trickle of magic from Potter. As a result, all the power he pulled from the other Nightmares remained as wild magic. If Draco had his way, he would probably blow up the Gryffindor Tower... except that would cause too much trouble. Besides, Harry stayed there. As it was, Draco released his magic the least destructive way possible: through the weather.

Draco gave Blaise a bland stare before placing some food onto his plate. "They can just guess, then."

A corner of Blaise's mouth turned up, but the expression looked more like a smirk than a smile. "They'll think you are a god."

"They already do."

Blaise nodded sagely. "If it weren't for Pansy's possessiveness, you would have all of Hogwarts girls falling at your feet, rather than just half."

"It's good that I don't like girls then," Draco replied easily. "Otherwise, Pansy'd have to disappear." Draco chewed a piece of chicken potpie thoughtfully. "As it is, Pansy doesn't really care either. She figures that if she has to marry a man, then she might as well go for the most eligible."

Blaise snorted. "What about me, then? Don't tell me it's not because her family is affiliated with yours."

"You," Draco looked at Blaise pointedly. "Are obviously not as eligible as I am. For one, you snort. You shrug, too. Obviously, not a very well-bred gentleman."

"You wound me." Blaise placed a hand dramatically at his chest.

"Besides, all the polls say I'm more eligible than you are."

"Pffah, the polls." Blaise waved them away with his fork. "They all say that Potty is more eligible than you are, too, and we both know that he's worthless."

Draco put his fork down on his plate carefully. He turned to Blaise and narrowed his eyes, so that they were barely glittering, silver slits. "Potter," he intoned clearly and dangerously. "Is not worthless."

As the silence continued, though, Draco realized just how loud he had said that and how odd that must have sounded coming from him. At Blaise's pointed look, he added, just as loudly, "I could gain many favors if he somehow disappeared."

Draco was gratified to hear the murmurs that swept through the hall. Next to him, Blaise commented, "And you gave them something to gossip about anyway."

Draco made some sort of response, but his attention was focused across the Great Hall. He felt a cold fury build up as he watched the other Gryffindors hover around his mate. He barely managed to catch a word here and there, but he knew the general gist of what they were saying, and he didn't like it.

His gaze followed Harry as Harry left the Great Hall. Did Harry eat enough lunch?

But then Draco felt his chest constricting and just held back a cough. He fisted his hands tightly until he got used to the pain. He needed to have a talk with Potter.

Instead of going to his dorm, Harry made his way to the Room of Requirement. Somewhere private, he thought, as he walked down the hall and walked through the familiar door. The Room of Requirement surprised Harry with an arrangement that was half his Common Room and half his dorm. Sometimes, Harry swore there must be something more than conscious in the Room of Requirement.

He sighed as he sat down in a big, red armchair. The flame in the fireplace gently evolved into a large, cozy fire, warming the room.

Harry couldn't believe how stupid he had been. He hadn't even checked with Dumbledore before he mated with Malfoy. Harry really couldn't see what Malfoy would gain by sleeping with Harry, and Harry really thought the answer might be 'nothing.'

How could Harry have just taken Malfoy's—the lying, sneaking, good-for-nothing, always-depending-on-daddy Malfoy—at face value? Now, Harry could just see Malfoy listening in on their conversation in the library and his selfish Slytherin brain telling him to take advantage of the situation.

Harry didn't want to have to do that again, but at least he would know what to expect. Besides, anybody was probably better than Malfoy.

But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that now Malfoy had something else to taunt him with. Harry could live well enough with the same bullying that he had endured the past five years, but he wasn't sure exactly what Malfoy could do with this new material. Something sharp and cutting, he was sure.

And what if Malfoy pulled out a piece of hair while Harry wasn't noticing? Malfoy could make a polyjuice potion—or ask Professor Snape to make one—and try to spy for Voldemort. Or if Malfoy took blood—from tissue tearing or just plain biting—what would Malfoy be able to do with that? Harry would rather not speculate.

Harry groaned into his hands. He'd have to go and tell Dumbledore that he mated with the wrong person. And he would have to ask who this person is—he had already agreed to the contract, after all, which was only slightly less binding than an Unbreakable Vow.

This was all so frustrating and embarrassing... and wasn't there a two-month time limit to completing the actions agreed to on the contract? Why didn't Harry read the contract carefully? Hermione would have.

Harry stood up before he realized he didn't know where to go and sat down again. He wished he could get a sign as to what he should be doing.

At that moment, the door to the Room of Requirement opened, and Malfoy walked into the room. Harry and Draco eyed each other distrustfully and asked simultaneously, "What are doing here?"

Harry braced his arms on the arms of the chair. "I was here first."

Draco crossed his arms under his chest. "I would roll my eyes at how juvenile you're acting, but—"

"—you are too damned aristocratic—"

"—that is unrefined." Draco finished forcefully over Harry.

They glared at each other.

Draco continued, "It is completely your own fault that you didn't accept my friendship over the penniless Weasley's first year. It would have made it so much easier for you to adjust to being my Consort."

Harry was distracted from Draco's insult to Ron by the last part of what Draco said. Harry repeated, "Consort?"

Draco made a sound of disgust. "I'm the Prince. You're my mate. Thus, you are my Consort."

"I'm your mate?"

Draco's eyes scanned the Room of Requirement before he leaned back against the red and gold wall. "Mudblood actually seemed intelligible. Maybe she sucked the intelligence out of all of your house, because I have never met another Gryffindor quite up to standards—Slytherin standards, that is—but I have not met one so addled as you, either, Potter."

Harry ignored Draco's insult. "What do you mean, I'm your mate?"

Draco looked at Harry. "We mated. So, you're my mate."

"B-but..." Harry stammered, completely bewildered. Then, he managed to yell, "That means we have to do... that... again."

Draco narrowed his eyes dangerously at Harry. "Are you complaining?"

"Well," muttered Harry. He was not afraid of Malfoy. He stated defiantly, "The kiss with Cho was better."

With measured steps, Draco walked towards Harry until he leaned menacingly over Harry's chair, leaving Harry no way out of the chair. Harry looked up with a vague sense of panic, only to see Draco's silver eyes staring back down at him.

Harry thought he knew what was coming, and he didn't want to do it. He regretted wishing for a private room, and hoped frantically that somebody would interrupt or distract Draco.

As Harry felt Draco's lips on his—Draco must use some expensive lip balm to keep his lips so soft—the door to the Room of Requirement burst open, and a flash of light went off.

When Draco stepped away quickly, Harry turned to see Colin standing there with his camera. Harry closed his eyes and sighed. Yes, he had wanted a distraction... but not quite this kind of distraction.

On seeing the glowering expressions on both Harry and Draco, Colin waved weakly and left the room in a hurry.

Draco turned and smirked at Harry. Draco was still upset that they had been interrupted, but now that his Nightmare instincts were safely tucked away to seethe at the back of his mind, he could also see that there had never been a mood to interrupt. This way, at least, Draco could stop gracefully.

Besides, this way, everybody would know that Harry was his. That Mudblood bitch would just have to keep her magic to herself.


Saturday, July 8, 2006

Harry Potter and the Prince of Nightmares

Chapter Two: Realization

"We were so worried when we didn't see you on the train," Hermione exclaimed as she engulfed Harry in a bear hug. "We thought your horrible uncle wouldn't let you leave or something."

"Ha, as if they want me there," Harry replied caustically from the fluffy red chair in the Gryffindor common room.

"You should have come to the Burrow," Ron said. "Even if it was just for the week before school."

"Actually," Harry confessed. "I couldn't go because I've been at Hogwarts for the past week."

Ever the sharp one, Hermione asked, "Did Dumbledore ask you to come?"

Harry nodded grimly, not really wanting to think about the deal he had agreed to, but finding that he needed to think about it. Hell, he didn't even know what Nightmares were!

"What for?" Ron prodded.

Harry shrugged. He figured he could put off thinking about the whole Prince of Nightmare business until they had settled into their classes, at least.

"Oooh," Hermione cooed, in a voice scarily like when other girls stumbled upon a good-looking specimen of the male species, except Hermione only used this voice when she had a revelation. She looked around the common room and made sure it was empty except for the three of them. All the other Gryffindors were still busy unpacking.

Hermione whispered, "Is it Order business?"

Harry shifted uncomfortably in the usually comfortable chair. Even if Dumbledore hadn't specifically instructed Harry to keep the alliance a secret, Harry wasn’t about to announce it to the world. Besides, Harry wasn't sure how they would react.

"Well?" Hermione prompted.

At that moment, though, Seamus came down to the common room with Lavender.

"I'll see you in the library after the feast," Hermione said quickly, giving both Ron and Harry significant looks, which the boys knew would bring even more trouble if avoided.

Harry didn't think that Seamus noticed their sudden silence, but just for good measure, he said, "I hear Professor Snape is teaching DADA this year."

"Professor Snape?" Hermione asked, scandalized.

"That's good," Ron muttered.

Hermione glared at Ron. "What's good about that?"

"Well, that means it's the last year we'll have to endure having him around. The DADA position is cursed."

"That's true," Harry agreed wholeheartedly, despite his doubts of Professor Snape. Nobody could honestly blame Harry for his distrust of the Head of Slytherin after all the years of Snape's obvious prejudice against Harry.

"Yes, but won't Professor Snape get... tempted by the Dark Arts?" Hermione asked logically. She knew many things, but she never quite learned the things not to say around Ron. When both boys shrugged, she added, almost petulantly, "Besides, he was a good Potions Professor."


Harry and Ron winced as they heard Lavender squeal right next to them. They could only marvel that somehow, even though Neville sat right across from Lavender, Neville seemed able to completely ignore her eardrum-shattering squeal.

To the other side of Ron, Hermione 'hmm'-ed disinterestedly before taking a bite of the absolutely delicious turkey with gravy and going back to reading Dark Lords and Their Rises.

Lavender, though, took this as an invitation to continue. "Just look at him," she gushed. She put her fork down to start gesturing with her hands. "The hair, the eyes, the face, the build..." She sighed dreamily, much to the horrors of the boys around her. "He's perfect."

Across from Harry, Ginny rolled her eyes. "You say this every year."

"Uh-uh," Parvati managed with a mouthful of the turkey. It had looked too delicious for her to avoid, and she figured she could always diet later.

Parvati swallowed the turkey quickly and started gesticulating with Lavender. "Before, he was good-looking," Parvati explained. "But now, he's good-looking."

"Right," Hermione muttered between bites of mashed potatoes and reading her book.

Down the table, somebody was telling a newly sorted first year girl, "He's very good looking, but he is an absolute git. Besides, he's engaged to the Parkinson pug."

"There," Ginny agreed whole-heartedly.

Lavender finished her bite of turkey. "Yes, but he might still get first on Hogwarts' eligible bachelor."

"He's engaged," Ginny repeated what the other Gryffindor said.

Lavender pursed her lips. "It's only a rumor."

"It doesn't matter," Parvati waved it off. "I doubt anybody would want to marry that pug."

Lavender nodded, her newly permed brown curls bobbing enthusiastically. "As long as he's not married, he's eligible."

Ginny finally conceded to her curiosity and turned around to look at the Slytherin table. "Fine, he's better looking than last year, but I'd still go Gryffindor."

Parvati screwed her face up in concentration. After a few moments, she finally said, "I don't know... I just might vote for Malfoy as the most eligible. He has that air to him, you know."

"Air of an arrogant prat, you mean," Hermione added.

Harry and Ron both looked at the girls, completely baffled, and the food forgotten. Finally, Harry asked tentatively, "You vote?"

"Of course," Parvati answered in a matter-of-fact voice before staring across the Great Hall again.

"And Malfoy just might be number one this time," Lavender added. She patted Harry's shoulder consolingly. "But you've been number one for the past three years, and he's only been number two."

Harry nearly choked on his pumpkin juice. "Me?" Ron pounded on Harry's back enthusiastically, making it even more difficult for Harry to catch his breath.

"Of course." This time, it was Hermione who answered. "Harry and Malfoy are both from old families, wealthy, rich, and powerful, but Harry has a much better personality and he's probably slightly more powerful." Hermione paused to eye Harry and Malfoy in consideration, making Harry squirm. "I'm probably still going to vote for Harry."

Ron turned his wide, brown eyes to look at Hermione in shock. He whispered, "You vote?"

"Of course." She smiled at Ron. "I'd vote for you if you did your homework."

Ron turned to his dinner and buried his red head in his hands. He decided that he was never going to understand girls.

Snape barely managed to stifle his gasp of surprise when he stepped into the outer room of his suite to find Lucius Malfoy standing there. The Nightmare had some frightening skills and apparating into Hogwarts without using his wand was one of them. Snape could only be grateful that Lucius Malfoy hadn't had any reason to dislike Snape.

"What do you want?" Snape asked, his annoyance clear.

"Good evening, Severus," Lucius replied instead. "I hope your classes are going well."

Snape snorted as he put the papers he was holding onto his desk and moved to sit in his favorite chair. Any visit from Lucius was bound to be tiring, if not long. "Even you wouldn't so blatantly ignore Dumbledore's authority unless it was something grave."

"Very well then... May I sit down?" When Snape didn't answer, Lucius looked around and sat down in Snape's favorite chair.

Snape turned and sat in the other chair in the room. "What do you want?"

Lucius hesitated. "For you to watch over Draco."

Snape let a long-suffering sigh escape. "You ask this every year. Have I ever said no?"

"Will you do it, then?" Lucius persisted.

"Yes, I will do it." Snape rolled his shoulders back into the chair, only to run them into the carved wooden back of the chair. Damn, he missed his big, comfy chair.

"And Potter, too," Lucius added.

Snape stilled. "Harry Potter?"

Lucius looked at Snape drolly. "Do you know any other Potter—who's alive?"

"But... Harry Potter?"

Lucius nodded sharply. "Potter must be kept safe. He's to be Draco's mate."

Snape searched for some trace of flippancy or something to indicate he was joking in Lucius steel eyes, but only found gravity there. "You're forcing Draco to mate with Potter?"

Lucius shook his head, so his blond hair swayed like curtains in front of the sharp features of his aristocratic face. "No, he chose Potter. Out of Potter, Dumbledore, and Riddle."

"Nice choices," Snape muttered. Then, louder, "I would ask, but I don't think I'd ever understand your Nightmare politics. All I can say is, I don't understand how you can make him go through this after what you chose."

Lucius turned his gaze to Snape's messy desk. "You know I love you."

"And I love you, but not in that way." Snape rolled his eyes. "We've had this conversation before."

But Lucius ignored Snape. "I know I should've chosen you, but politics..."

"That I would never understand." Snape sighed again. "Besides, I've never loved you in that way, so it's probably for the best that you didn't choose me. Still... Narcissa? She—"

"Don't," Lucius cut Snape off quietly, but firmly. "Don't talk about her. I have to protect her because she is my mate, and I won't fight that instinct. Don't you understand, Severus? Narcissa is my mate now. For the rest of my life, I'll think of her and dream of her and lust over her and hate her. That is my lot in life."

Snape chose to remain silent.

Lucius trained his gaze on Snape again. "Promise you'll watch over Potter, too."

Snape closed his eyes. It wasn't as if he wouldn't protect the Golden boy. After all, he still owed James Potter a debt. "I'll watch over him." Before Lucius could say anything, he added, "And I'll try to guide them, but I can't promise anything else, Lucius. The rest will be up to them."

Lucius simply nodded before he disappeared.

There wasn't even a 'pop' as he disapparated.

Snape thought, Ugh, Nightmares.

"So, you've managed to avoid us for an entire week," Hermione cornered Harry just as he was about to leave the library for the Gryffindor common room.

Harry fidgeted uncomfortably and glanced between Hermione and Ron. He had hoped that the Potions assignment due on Monday would have had Hermione frantic with research, but no such luck. Finally he decided to say, "What are you talking about? I've talked with you at every meal and in the common room everyday."

"Oh, don't try to play stupid," Hermione said impatiently. "You know what I mean."

Just to be clear, Ron added, "The maybe-Order business."

Instead of replying, Harry accused in a whisper, "There are people here."

"No, there aren't," Hermione answered shortly.

"Sure there are." Harry craned his neck to look at the rest of the tables in the library. Incredibly, they were all empty. Startled, he asked, "What'd you do?"

Hermione shrugged. "It's Saturday. The library's empty. You can tell us what happened."

Harry looked to Ron for help, but Ron shrugged, too, and stayed silent.

"Well," Harry stalled, not quite wanting to give in yet.

When both of his friends stayed silent, Harry shifted in his seat, but he couldn't think of any more excuses to keep the whole Nightmare business to himself. Besides, it wasn't that Harry didn't want to tell his friends, it was just that he wasn't quite sure what to tell them. Harry hadn't quite figured out what happened either.

"It's like this," Harry began hesitantly.

Ron nodded enthusiastically, and Hermione's gaze sharpened to attention.

"You know how Voldemort has the dementors and the vampires helping him?"

Hermione nodded this time.

Under his breath, Ron muttered something like, "Nasty creatures."

"And..." Harry thought of how he would continue. He really wasn't a people person and his first years at the Dudley's hadn't encouraged positive and open communication either. "Well, this other group of non-humans came to Dumbledore recently. They were willing to ally themselves with the Order."

Hermione thought very quickly and asked, "What do they want from you?"

Ron had a puzzled expression on his freckled face. "Why would they want anything from Harry?"

"Of course they want something from Harry," Hermione explained as if it was rudimentary Charms. "Headmaster Dumbledore asked Harry to be here for the decision. If they didn't want something from Harry, why would Dumbledore ask him to be here?" Impatiently, Hermione looked at Harry again. "And...? What did they want from you?"

"Well... They want me."

"What?" Ron asked, his expression blank from incomprehension.

"Do explain," Hermione asked more calmly.

Harry answered in a rush, though. "The Prince of Nightmares wants to mate with me."

"But Nightmares are extinct," Hermione refuted Harry's claim. Then, she turned thoughtful again. "Of course, they could hide if they wanted to. Physically, they're just like really pale humans."

Harry shrugged. "Dumbledore believed that he was the Prince of Nightmares. I don't actually know who he is, because he doesn't want me to know."

"Blimey," Ron muttered, although Harry thought Ron might have said, "Kinky." Louder, Ron exclaimed, "The prince of an extinct species wants to mate with you."

Hermione shushed him quickly. Even if the tables were empty, Madame Pince still guarded the library and was liable to interrupt their conversation at anytime. Luckily, Madame Pince didn't seem to notice them, though.

Then, Hermione narrowed her eyes angrily. "You mean, Dumbledore is asking you to whore?"

Harry winced. He hadn't quite thought of it that way, but he supposed that it was true. But what did Hermione expect him to do? Hold onto his virginity and let thousands of innocent people die? Besides, weren't guys' first times not supposed to be a big deal?

"Can you research the Nightmares for me?" pleaded Harry instead, ignoring what Hermione had said. Just because he was a stubborn and foolhardy Gryffindor didn't mean he was completely daft. He could at least try to figure out what to expect after he agreed to mate with one of those Nightmares.

"I would love to," Hermione answered, and looking sincere. Harry beamed. His face fell when she continued, though. "But I doubt I'll find anything. All information on Nightmares are banned by the Ministry."

"Fudge," Harry accused vindictively.

"Actually, it's not Fudge." Hermione surprised both Ron and Harry by saying. "The law was established over eighty years ago. I doubt even Fudge knows what Nightmares are. I only stumbled on a mention of Nightmares when I was reading 101 Odd and Obscure Behests of Our Ministry. The book was actually quite interesting. Did you know that pixies can't wear their shirts inside out? It's because—"

"So," Harry cut Hermione off hastily. It wasn't that he wasn't curious about pixie dressing habits—he wasn't, though, just to clarify, even if this law did sound interesting—rather, Harry thought the habits of Nightmares rather more interesting. "What do you know about Nightmares?"

A blush started on Hermione's cheeks. "Not much..."

"I know!" Ron exclaimed suddenly, startling both Harry and Hermione. "Malfoy is a Nightmare. He is an absolute nightmare!"

"Ron..." Hermione wasn't sure of how to correct Ron without hurting his feelings. Malfoy would be the last person who would want to mate with Harry, even if Malfoy was pale and magically talented, and someone who—if he did want to mate with Harry—wouldn't want Harry to know his identity before Harry agreed and...

Hermione focused her gaze on Ron's face. "You are absolutely right! It's Malfoy!"

"Malfoy?" Harry half whispered, half choked before covering his horrified green eyes with his hands.

Before Hermione could say anything else, though, the three of them were startled to hear clapping next to them. They looked over, only to find one Draco Malfoy smirking nonchalantly at them. "I'm surprised that Gryffindork didn't figure it out before the Weasel."

For one long moment, Ron could only stare at Malfoy, his brown eyes quickly becoming as horrified as Harry's. His whisper carried clearly to the other three pairs of ears. "It is you?"

"I know," Draco agreed uncharacteristically easily. "It's unbelievable that you actually came up with an original thought of your own. After all, your family has always been too poor to give you anything but hand-me-downs."

"You... ferret!" Ron spat with pure disgust, his face turning red quickly.

Draco remarked, "So I see the originality was just a fluke after all."

Hermione barely managed to hold Ron back as he lunged for Malfoy. Honestly, she didn't understand why Ron still let Malfoy's insults get to him. It had been five years, for Heaven's sake! It wasn't like Malfoy came up with new insults or anything.

Malfoy hardly spared Ron a disdainful look before pulling Harry aside. Unprepared for Malfoy's strength—Malfoy was only a couple of inches taller and very lean looking—Harry staggered a little before finding his balance.

"Tonight," Malfoy said before Harry could ask what in bloody hell Malfoy thought he was doing. "Midnight. Slytherin Common Room. Password's 'not about sleeping.'"

Before Harry's brain even processed the abrupt change of topic—and Malfoy's demeanor—Malfoy turned to leave, his black robes swirling behind him, reminding Harry quite eerily of Professor Snape.

"Not about sleeping," Harry muttered under his breath as he made his way down to the Slytherin dungeons under the protection of his invisibility cloak. He would've asked Hermione for help figuring out the password, but he hadn't wanted to listen to Hermione's inevitable lecture on how there should be boundaries of how much Harry should give up for the war.

Yes, he was only a sixteen-year-old boy. No, he hadn't had a good childhood. Still, Harry considered himself lucky. Not only was he the only one to survive the killing curse, his parents had loved him enough to give up their lives for him. So his aunt and uncle weren't the nicest people, but he had all—okay, most, since Snape was a professor, too—of the professors looking out for him and great friends. The Weasleys practically adopted him.

Half of the Weasleys were in the Order anyways, and certainly, many other people whom his loved and respected were in the Order. If they were willing to risk their lives—and Sirius already gave his—for the cause, why shouldn't Harry give such a little thing as sleeping with someone?

Besides, there was only five minutes left before midnight. Even Hermione couldn't work out the Slytherin password that quickly.

Harry sighed. Even though he had managed to talk himself into going through with the deal, he was still trepidatious. It was Malfoy, after all.

Harry took off his invisibility cloak at the entrance of the Slytherin common room and stared at the gray stone wall in front of him, just as blank as he remembered it being second year. Only, this time, he had no idea what the password was.

Correction: he had one hint. The password was not about sleep.

"Something..." Harry muttered again. "...not about sleep."

He closed his eyes and concentrated on trying to find one thing out of dozens that weren't about sleep. A great creaking noise startled Harry and made open his eyes. The stone wall had opened, and Harry could barely see the common room inside.

"Oh." Harry hesitated before stepping into what he considered 'enemy territory.' Then, he spat, "Malfoy." Trust Malfoy to tell Harry the password without actually telling him the password.

The wall swung shut as soon as all of Harry was inside the Slytherin common room, even before Harry had both feet on the carpet. Just as Harry remembered from second year, the Slytherin common room was still dark and dank under the lake, but decorated opulently in green and silver.

This time, though, only a dying fire from the fireplace lit the empty room. As Harry scanned the room again, he noticed somebody sitting in a chair in a corner, the shadows almost completely concealing him. Only the pale hair gave the person away, as it flickered from the light from the fire.

Harry wondered what he should say to Malfoy. He searched for something not contemptuous or vain or down putting or scathing to say, and failed spectacularly.

However, Malfoy spoke first, "So it seems like we are going to join in an alliance anyways Potter, despite first year."

Harry tried his hardest to ignore the patent Malfoy sneer obvious in Malfoy's voice, but it seemed even nastier than usual. Harry spat, "I am not offering you friendship."

Malfoy pushed himself easily out of the chair, languid as a cat, and stepped menacingly toward Harry. Somehow, Malfoy managed to reach Harry at the other end of the common room in two easy strides. He looked down at Harry contemptuously from his advantage of two or three inches. "You're just going to be my lover."

Harry refused to back down. Even if he had to dance to Malfoy's tune, he didn't have to lose his dignity. He was doing what he was doing for the sake of the Order. For the sake of the world.

Harry grimaced at that thought. He never wanted to be somebody special. His fondest dream had always been to live in an ordinary house as an ordinary child with ordinary parents. True, he was grateful for his friends at Hogwarts, but he'd always thought his first time would be with somebody he liked—like Cho—even if it wasn't somebody he loved.

Malfoy saw Harry's grimace and narrowed his cold silver eyes at him.

In response, Harry said vindictively, "I'm doing this for the war. I would never love you."

Harry watched Malfoy's eyes widen and nostrils flare gratifyingly before he regained his famed Malfoy expressionless-ness. "That's even better." Malfoy's tone indicated that he couldn't have cared less whether Harry liked him or not. "I've always wanted a fuck-toy."

Harry clenched his jaws and managed refrain from commenting. He supposed his first time could be worse. He could be raped...

Instead, he asked stoically, "Here?"

Draco glared at Harry for not having responded the way he had expected Harry to respond. He had waited for this moment, when he would have something to hold over the glorious Gryffindor hero's head. And now his goading seemed completely useless. Draco refrained from sniffing disdainfully—he was a man, and men didn't sniff, disdainfully or not—but truly, the Potty had a serious hero complex.

Well, it wasn't as if Draco chose to mate with Harry out of several choices. Harry would probably be horrible to him even after they mate, but now was the only time that Draco could get his jibes in. After they were mated—and Draco had been avoiding this thought—Draco would love Potter.

Draco felt panic and defeat creeping in on him. His life would end up even worse than his father's.

But he was prophesized as the next Prince. Draco held back a snort. Who cared about prophecies in this day and age? But he might as well get the mating over with. Supposedly, all the fear and dislike and trepidation disappears after mating. It was true, judging by his father. Only bitterness remained.

Draco gritted his teeth. "My room, of course," he answered flatly. Two could play at this game of nonchalance.

Draco turned to lead Harry to his room before he saw how Harry responded to his own nonchalance. He missed the sudden angry blaze in Harry's emerald eyes, and he was too far away when Harry vowed under his breath, "It's just this one time, and only because I have to."

Even so, Harry followed Draco down to his private rooms. Like royalty, Harry thought, Malfoy gets his own room. Oh wait, he was a prince.