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.