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.