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.