A/N: So, yeah! Next chapter! I stand by my word, it was soon. Unfortunately, it'll take a while before the next chapter will be up. I'm going to be really really busy for a while now, I'll only be home during the weekends. I'll try to write during then, but I think I will be sleeping most of the time. So I'm asking you to be patient, please.
Chapter thirteen, in which there is lots and lots of angst, Draco frets, insults, and finds out something that comes as quite a nasty shock, Harry is unconcious, and there's a kiss. Enjoy!
"Oh, Malfoy," she said, and sniffed, her voice hoarse as if she was crying "he's not – He's not waking up."
Draco stared at Granger, not really processing what she had just said. It was ridicules – Madam Pomfrey could fix anything, couldn't she? She re-grew bones and removed tails on a daily basis. Surely she could deal with a little internal damage?
But Granger was looking as though she was on the brink of breaking down, and besides, she didn't seem like the type to lie. Weasley, maybe, he could see playing such a prank on him, but not Granger. And she wasn't that much of an actor, anyway.
"But," he started, and stopped because he wasn't sure what he was about to say. But it's not serious, is it? Not dangerous? It's not like Potter was in any grave jeopardy, not like he was about to die, right?
"What caused it?" he asked instead.
She passed a quick hand over her eyes, and he cringed inwardly. She wasn't about to start bawling, was she? He couldn't handle that, too. Thankfully, she composed herself.
"They're not sure –"
"They're?" he frowned.
"Well, Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape and the healers they called from St. Mungos."
Healers? From St. Mungos? But that was – that was for serious stuff, not for –
"It seems – it seems something's 'eating' him from inside –"
"Not like an animal," she hastily corrected herself. "Something that's feeding on his magic. As you know, a Wizard's magic is an essential part of the Wizard, he depends on it –"
"Yeah, yeah, spare me the obvious, Granger. I'm the pureblood here, not you, I know all about Wizards."
"You don't have to be so rude –" she snapped.
"Potter, Granger. Get on with it!"
"As I was saying," she glared at him "the more the – illness – took from his magic, the weaker he grew. We saw the signs, but he kept coming up with perfectly reasonable explanations for them – he was using too much magic and that caused the bouts of dizziness he had experienced, he was not sleeping enough and that's why he was so tired and weak all the time, he was not eating enough and that's why he was losing weight. Oh," she exclaimed suddenly, wringing her hands. "I'm so stupid, I shouldn't have believed him, I should have paid more attention to it, researched it. After that time he had fainted – but even Madam Pomfrey checked him and said it was nothing to be worried about –"
"Granger," he interrupted her, "Granger! Calm down, you're giving me a headache." It was a bit hypocritical, telling her to calm down when he was rather fretful himself, but he needed to know more.
"Sorry," she apologized, and after a few deep breaths, continued. "The fact that he was overworking himself wasn't helping, of course – but he's so stubborn, he'd never admit something was too much for him, he always keeps taking responsibility for everything, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders – it all caused the illness to evolve much faster. And now – he just collapsed. They said – they weren't willing to tell me much, it's not like the fact that he's my best friend gives me any right to know what's wrong with him –" she sounded bitter. "But they told us that his body isn't strong enough to support itself anymore. That whatever it is he has, it's wracking havoc on him. And unless they stop it, he's – he's going to die."
She went quiet, blinking rapidly. Her face had the pinched look of someone trying desperately to hold their tears.
"Die?" he echoed. "But – but they can heal him, can't they? Of course they can. Madam Pomfrey has years of experience, and Professor Snape is one of the best Potion Masters in the United Kingdoms, and, and the healers will surely know what to do…"
"They're…" she seemed to be choosing her words carefully."They're not sure what it is. There isn't any record of a disease like it."
"Maybe it's not a well known disease, then?" he suggested, and she gave him a Look.
"I think they would've thought to check less known ailments as well, Malfoy. It's strange. They say it started by feeding on the protection spells he had on him – are you all right?"
"What?" he asked, staring at her, feeling faint and out of sorts all of the sudden.
"You went really pale… Are you feeling well?" she peered at him in concern.
"Yes, I'm…" They say it started by feeding on the protection spells he had on him… "I'm… you said… that can't be right, can it?"
She frowned "you're not making sense, Malfoy. I think you'd better sit down…"
"No, no, I – the protection spells? But that's – it was only… it can't be…"
Granger took a step backwards, looking suspicious. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.
"I need to go," Draco said abruptly, and turned to leave without waiting for her response. He stumbled and caught himself on the wall painfully, scraping his knuckles against the rough stone and breaking the skin.
"Malfoy, wait –" she called, but he barely heard her as he hurried to the nearest loo.
They say it started by feeding on the protection spells he had on him… but that means that I… that because of me he… but that's impossible, the spell was only supposed to remove the protection spells, not cause any damage! It didn't say anything about something like this, it didn't, I'm sure of it!
He hurried into one of the empty stalls and retched. When he was done, he leaned against the wall, pressing his forehead against the cool surface, and closed his eyes.
Think logically, Draco. Think.
He'll look at the spell again – he still had the parchment somewhere among his belongings. There had to be a way to reverse it, and it would be written there. With a new sense of propose, he got up, washed his face with cold water, and left for his dorm.
"…He's not responding to it. We've tried at least thirty potions by now, and nothing works! I never came across anything like it…"
"… It's a matter of days before it'll get to the press, and then all hell will break lose… People are terrified enough as it is, but when they'll know that Harry Potter is dying they'll…"
"… Don't say dying! He's my student, and I'm not about to lose him…"
"… Not one of us wants to lose him, Poppy. But our time – and his – is running out! We don't know what's caused this, we don't know how to stop it, we don't even know how to slow it down…"
"… We'll find a way, we have too…"
"… I wish I was as optimistic as you…"
Unfortunately, Draco was hindered on his quest, by none other than Professor Snape. The man looked down at him, his eyebrows coming close together in disapproval.
"Shouldn't you be in class, Draco?" he asked.
"I forgot my books in my dorm," Draco lied without batting an eye. In fact, he had left them in the great hall. Pansy and Blaise had probably taken them with them when they left for charms.
"That's rather unlike you," his head of house commented.
"We all have our bad days," Draco answered.
"As I can see," Professor Snape answered, his eyes lingering on Draco's wet face, hair and the damp stain on the front of his robes, as well as on his shaking hands.
"Perhaps the infirmary will be a better place to visit?" he suggested.
"No, I'm fine," Draco insisted, wanting nothing more than to reach his dorm and take out the parchment on which the spell was written.
"Are you sure?" Professor Snape asked. At Draco's nod, he raised an eyebrow. "Then be on your way. Lend a book from someone – tell Flitwick I told you to. You're late as it is. No reason to miss even more."
"But –" Draco tried.
"Now, Draco," the men said coldly, and Draco had no choice but to obey.
The rest of the day dragged on like a gum that spent too much time in the sun. Whenever Draco tried to reach his dorm, some teacher or other – and once even the Head Girl – caught him and sent him back to class, like some daft first year that was caught skiving class. He refused to answer Pansy's and Blaise's questions – both of them weren't speaking to him now, but he couldn't care less. As soon as they were free for lunch, Draco bolted in the direction of the dungeons.
He tore through his belongings with record speed, looking for the parchment. When he failed to find it, he searched instead for the old, slightly tattered book in which the parchment was found hidden. At last, he came upon it, and opened it hastily. He found it under the cover when it was torn, he remembered. But the cover was whole.
He frowned. Maybe he had fixed it? He ran a finger along the cover, where he remembered the tear to be, but it was smooth, even. He wasn't that good with fixing things.
He used his wand to cut the cover open again, and scowled. What was going on here? He distinctly remembered finding the parchment under the leather cover, but the cover was glued to the spine of the book. There was no room for dust there, not to mention for a thick piece of parchment.
But I remember it was this book. There's even the bookmark I put in it, so I'd remember which book it was!
Draco sat back on his heels, confused and frustrated. Something wasn't right. Now that he thought about it, it was awfully strange that he found that spell when he found it, exactly the spell he had needed. At the time he didn't pay it too much attention – why should he care where it came from, if it helped him with his plan for revenge? He had simply assumed luck was in his favour, and left it at that.
The parchment was gone, that much was clear, and so was any evidence to its existence. Had he not known it had indeed existed at some point -- They say it started by feeding on the protection spells he had on him -- he would have thought he was going mad, inventing curses no one had heard of and parchments where they weren't.
But there wasn't time for that now. He knew the curse existed, and he was sure he would recognize it, once he would look at it again. Now he would just have to find it somewhere else – and his best bet would be the restricted section in the library.
Professor Snape wouldn't give him a signed permission, of course. So he would just have to get into the restricted section another way.
He pulled out a piece of parchment, a quill and a bottle of ink, and scribbled something on it. Then he made his way to the owlery.
His eagle owl nuzzled his hand affectionately when he tied the note to her leg. "Be a good girl," he said, smoothing the feathers on her head "take this to Hermione Granger".
Half an hour later he was waiting in the library, in the history books section. It was rather far from the main part of the library where most of the tables were, and he knew for a fact no one would come here. Granger stepped in a minute later, her arms crossed and her face cold. His note was clutched between her fingers.
"You wanted to talk to me, Malfoy?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
"Yes," he said, and took a deep breath, before throwing all caution to the wind. "I need a favour from you."
"And what makes you think I'll be willing to help you?" she asked. "You're hardly my favourite person."
"I could say the same about you," he answered, gritting his teeth "but let's stop the pissing contest for a moment, shall we? I need Potter's Invisibility cloak."
"What makes you think I'll give you Harry's cloak?" she exclaimed, and then frowned as something else occurred to her. "How do you even know about it?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Come on, Granger. Potter's head, floating around Hogsmeade and attacking me, of all people? I can put two and two together."
"Well, fine," she grumbled "but what do you need it for, anyway?"
"To get into the restricted section."
"I'm not giving you Harry's cloak so you can break the rules!"
"Will you keep quiet?" he hissed. "The last thing I want is to be seen with you."
"You're such a nasty person, Malfoy."
"Glad you noticed. I need it to look for something – a curse."
"I'm not helping you look for a curse, either! Like I need you knowing more dark magic than you already know." She turned to leave.
"Granger, you cow, wait a minute!"
She whipped around to face him, her eyes flashing. "Now listen here, Malfoy! I'm sick of listening to your stupid insults, and right now, I'm really tempted to just knock you one! Don't think I won't, I already hit you once!"
Not one to take any chances, Draco took a careful step back. "Listen for a minute. I think I know – what Potter has, it's not an illness. It's a curse. That's why they don't know what it is!"
Her face softened a little, which meant she was less likely to hex him now and more likely to listen to what he had to say.
"A curse? Are you sure? How do you know that? Do you know what curse it is? Is this all part of your Death Eater training –"
"Will you keep your bloody voice down?" he snapped, removing his hand from her mouth and making a great show of wiping it on his robes. She rolled her eyes.
"Yes, I know what curse it is. No, I don't know what's it called, but yes, I will recognize it when I see it. I will not dignify your Death Eater comment with an answer. Will you get me the cloak now?"
She pursed her lips. "I'm coming with you."
"No way in hell, Granger. I'm not spending any more time with you than is completely necessary."
"It wouldn't hurt you to be a little less of a bastard, you know."
Draco shrugged. "Why? I don't like you, you don't like me. There are no obligations."
"It's called common courtesy, Malfoy."
"Don't lecture me about manners, Granger. I have impeccable manners."
"When you need to suck up to some one, yes. Tell me, do you prefer boot polish, or mud?"
"Oh ha ha. Look, just send it to me, will you? Before tonight, if possible."
They both became serious. Every minute counted, that they knew well.
"Yes, fine. I'll send it to you by owl by tonight. Make sure nothing happens to it."
"I'm not stupid."
"Really? Could've fooled me." And with that frosty remark, she left.
Well, Draco thought, that could've gone worse.
An owl had indeed dropped a package around six. Draco had grabbed it immediately and refused to answer any questions.
He went to bed early, with the cloak tucked under his pillow, after having set a personal alarm to two in the morning.
When the alarm rang, he dressed quietly, grabbed his wand, donned the cloak, and after checking in the mirror (that's so cool, he breathed, as he saw no reflection), left the dorm quietly.
He was almost there before he realized his feet had carried to the infirmary instead of to the library. He hesitated, and then decided to continue.
It wasn't like he was forbidden to visit Potter, right? Just for a minute. Just to see him, and then he'll be off.
The doors creaked when he pushed them open, and he cringed, but no one came running to arrest him and throw him in Azkaban. The beds were all empty, except one in the far end that had a curtain drawn around it. Draco approached it slowly, nervous.
He paused with his fingers on the edge of the curtain, not knowing what to expect, and then drew it aside softly.
Potter was lying on the bed, perfectly still, the covers tucked around his shoulders.
There were shadows around his eyes, dark like bruises; shadows in the hollows of his cheeks and in the sharp lines of his face, in the charcoal-like smudge of his lashes against his skin. His pale face was coloured an eerie whitish-silver by the moonlight that came through the window, and his black hair seemed darker than ever, compared to the white sheets surrounding him.
He seemed so different, then, from the boy Draco knew; more of a statue than a living, breathing human being, made of marble and ivory and black silk, with moonlight running in his veins instead of blood and a skeleton of silver and glass, rather than bone. He seemed fragile, a creature out of a dream, likely to disappear any moment, should Draco blink.
More to reassure himself than anything else, Draco leaned forward and pressed a hand to the side of his face. Not warm, exactly, but soft, like human skin should be, with a slight roughness of day old stubble along the jaw. Still alive, then.
"It doesn't seem strange, to touch you like this," Draco whispered, kneeling beside the bed. "It seems… good. Right. I… It doesn't seem wrong to want it."
He passed his fingers lightly along the jaw-line, across the sharp, slightly snub nose, followed the elegant, proud line of the dark eyebrows. He hesitated when he reached the lips, until warm breath startled him, and he flinched away.
"I'm sorry," he said suddenly. "For causing this to you. I didn't mean to… Well, I wanted to hurt you, but I never thought the curse will cause this. I thought it would just remove your protection spells, not… your magic."
He studied the face of the boy lying in the bed; "You're too thin, you should listen to Granger when she tells you to eat more, you're all angles and sharp corners now. I like you in the moonlight, I think; I can tell myself you're so pale and sharp because of the moon and the shadows, and not because you're dying."
He paused, and then continued in a furious whisper. "You won't die. I'm not going to let you die, I promise. I'll go to the library now and find the curse, and then I'll cure you and you'll be well again, and we'll finish that Quidditch game – I'm going to beat you this time, by the way – and maybe you'll even thank me one day. I didn't mean to poison you, so after I save you it won't count, would it? You're a very forgiving person, maybe even too forgiving. Maybe you can even forgive me some day. Maybe you'll stop hating me. Maybe you'll even –"
He blushed and looked away at the ceiling, which he suddenly found terribly interesting.
"I guess you won't. You have tons of girls falling at your feet wherever you step, anyway, so why would you want me? Even if you were into boys, you probably wouldn't have wanted me. You're Harry Potter, after all, and I'm – well, a Malfoy, for one thing, and a Death Eater in training, it's practically common knowledge, the way Granger said it so casually. Like it was a fact. Well, let me tell you something!" he rolled his sleeve upwards "I don't have a dark mark! You shouldn't assume things about people, just because you think they're true. They aren't always right."
He rolled the sleeve down, feeling foolish.
"You can't even hear me, can you? I feel like an idiot, sitting here and talking to you, and the floor is killing my knees. Besides, I have to go to the library and find your cure."
"I'm going to kiss you now."
Draco leaned closer, feeling like he dreaming. The moonlight lent everything a surreal light, making everything seem transparent and otherworldly, giving him enough confidence. He pressed his lips once, quickly, against Potter's mouth, and retreated, blushing darkly.
"It's not like you objected, is it?" he said guiltily. "I'm not going to let you rope me into feeling at fault, it's not like I did anything wrong. It was just – a kiss, for good luck."
He got up, unable to resist touching Potter's face again. "I'll leave now. With luck, by tomorrow you'll be up and about, or at least on the way to recovery. I'll try to talk to you then, too. Maybe – maybe Granger will tell you, how I helped, and you'll be more inclined to listen to me."
With a last look, he left the infirmary, and walked in the direction of the library.
A quick Alohamora took care of the doors, and he snuck in quietly, entering the restricted section. He looked at the books' names, careful not to touch anything unless absolutely necessary. He took out a book here in there, checking in the index, but nothing caught his eye. Then, at last, he came upon a thick, falling apart book, with a faded green cover, and the name "Curses of the Body Magick " written on it in peeling golden letters.
Thinking that it looked promising, he sat down and opened it across his lap. He looked at the list of chapters, written in a confident, graceful handwriting; Magick of the Body, Introduction; Time Triggered Curses; Potion-Dependant Curses.
Feeling hopeful, he opened to the third chapter. He skimmed across the titles until one caught his eye, and he read; a curse that feeds on body magick. Starts by removing any outer magical influences, such as glamour spells, tracking spells, and (Draco's heart skipped a bit) protection spells. Collects strength as it eats away at the magick. Unless stopped and reversed, will use all of the victim's reserves of magick, resulting in victim's death.
This was it. Draco eagerly turned the page, only to have his heart drop to his stomach; the next pages -- the ones detailing the curse and the cure -- were missing, torn right out of the book.
So, what did you think? I'm sorry about the cliffhanger again (well, not really : evil cackle:), but it seemed the right way to end this chapter. Read and Review, and maybe I'll write chapter fourteen a little faster : grin: but don't count on it.