The last person Harry expected to see on that ordinary May morning was Draco Malfoy, but that was exactly who waltzed into the kitchen at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, as though it were the most normal thing in the world.
Harry's hand began to shake so badly that hot tea sloshed over the rim and scalded his hand. He didn't even notice. He set the cup down and it rattled noisily against the saucer for a moment.
"Hello, Harry," Draco said casually.
Harry did not trust himself to speak. Six months. It had been six frantic, tortured months since Draco had walked out of Harry's life leaving nothing but a tersely worded note.
Dear Harry, I took a quick solo job. Back soon, Draco.
Harry had waited patiently, but Draco had not been back soon. He had not been back at all. After a week, Harry had searched for him without success. After a month he had been out of his mind with worry, fearing the worst. Draco could not be found. Sometime during the second month, Harry had received another note. This one simply read: Harry, stop looking for me.
So Harry had let him go. That had been four agonizing months ago, the worst winter of Harry's entire life.
Now Draco was back, looking like he had just stepped out for a moment, had just popped off to Diagon Alley for some potion supplies, or gone to the Leaky Cauldron for a pint.
Draco walked forwards with his usual feline grace and sat down across from Harry, not meeting his eyes as he Summoned a cup and poured some tea. Harry's shock seemed to crystallize and then shatter. He got to his feet abruptly; his chair scraped the floor sharply and nearly tipped over. He wanted to scream at Draco, but the words were too many and too varied: rage, accusation, pain—and through it all the undeniable knowledge that just seeing him again was excrutiating bliss.
He wanted to leap across the table and wrap his hands around Draco's slender throat and squeeze. He wanted to hurdle it and kiss Draco with six months of denied passion. He tried to keep the conflict from showing on his face and felt his teeth clench to the cracking point with the strain.
He turned away and picked up a towel to blot the tea from his hand, hoping for outward calm, though his hands shook uncontrollably.
"What do you want?" he asked, surprising himself when he managed an even, somewhat bored, tone.
Draco stared at Harry's rigid back and for a moment he could barely breathe through the pain. God, what had he expected? Had he really thought Harry would joyfully embrace him after he had disappeared with barely a word for six fucking months? One did not leave the Chosen One, the Savior of the Wizarding World, the Boy Who Lived, without a damned good excuse, without a bloody reasonable explanation, without massive begging of forgiveness. Draco dragged a frustrated hand through his hair with a frown.
What he had expected was rage. A signature Potter temper tantrum with a lot of loud shouting and throwing of easily-deflected hexes. Draco had hoped to wrestle Harry to the ground, silence him with kisses, and force him to listen.
He had not foreseen this controlled, icily silent Harry, and felt a sudden spike of fear. Through everything, he had counted on Harry's feelings for him remaining steadfast. He had never expected Harry to stop loving him. Draco swallowed convulsively and opened his mouth to beg forgiveness—to apologize for being so bloody stupid—to grovel on his knees, if necessary; and then Harry turned and his frigid green stare froze the words on Draco's lips. One black brow was raised in question and Draco remembered Harry's inquiry.
What do you want?
What Draco wanted was Harry, although it was possible he had not really known that until this very moment. From Harry's expression, it was no longer an option.
"I… need your help," he said lamely, forcibly suppressing the urge to plead. He couldn't blame Harry for hating him. If the positions were reversed, Draco would feel the same. Hell, he would probably have thrown Potter into the street without giving him the chance to open his mouth.
Harry Potter, of course, was a better man than that. He sat down. A muscle twitched in his jaw and Draco watched it with a fresh wave of pain. God, how he had missed him. He wanted nothing more than to crawl into Harry's arms for comfort, but apparently that ship had sailed.
"Help with what?" Harry asked in that same cool tone, dragging Draco back to the conversation.
"Something dangerous," Draco admitted with a grim smile. "So dangerous you might finally be rid of me forever."
Harry stared at Draco, wondering what could have possessed him to say such a thing. Harry was angry, yes, probably more enraged than he had ever been in his life, but he certainly did not want Draco gone forever. It had been bad enough with him gone for six long, agonizing months. It was all he could do to stay in his seat and not reach across to drag Draco into a kiss, willing or not.
Draco's eyes were fixed firmly on the teacup in his hands. He spun it idly in its saucer with short bursts of motion from his fingertips, making a chiming rustle with each movement. Was he actually nervous? Harry studied him carefully. Now that the shock had worn off, he could see that Draco looked haggard. He was thin to the point of unhealthy and his skin was so pale it seemed almost translucent. The platinum hair was as beautiful as ever, but it was longer and less immaculate than Draco normally wore it.
Concern immediately crossed Harry's brow and he wondered where Draco had been. Had he been in danger? Harry's anger returned in a flash, overriding the worry. If so, why hadn't Draco called him? Why send a stupid note telling Harry to stop looking for him? Why had he disappeared so thoroughly in the first place?
"Too dangerous to handle on your own?" Harry snapped.
Draco seemed to flinch, but it was such an out of character response that Harry almost immediately doubted he had seen it. "So dangerous only the Savior of the Wizarding World can handle it," Draco admitted.
Harry's eyes flashed, sensing sarcasm. "What is it?"
"Mulciber? The former Death Eater?" Harry was dubious. "I thought you captured him right after the war."
"I did. The fucking Ministry bollixed up his transfer to Azkaban and he escaped. Of course, he wants revenge. He fancies himself the next Dark Lord."
Harry made a scoffing noise and Draco grinned wryly, making Harry's heart lurch—God, how he had missed Malfoy's snide expressions. Hell, he had missed everything about him.
"You're right. Mulciber is not the real problem, although it's wise not to underestimate him. He's completely ruthless and quite intelligent. It isn't him, but rather what he's found that concerns me."
Harry sipped at his cooling tea and waited expectantly.
"It's a spell—something ancient and deadly. Voldemort searched for it, but never found it. Unfortunately, Mulciber did."
Draco sighed and massaged his temples with long fingers. Once again Harry was shocked at how tired he looked.
"It's a killer. Similar to the dark magic we've been eliminating, but instead of merely warping or mutating the magical energy, this spell can turn it lethal. In essence, once it's unleashed, whenever someone casts a spell—any spell—the magic will turn on them. And kill them."
Harry stared at him in disbelief. "It will kill witches and wizards? Indiscriminately? Why would Muliciber do that?"
"Because he's stark raving mad, of course," Draco snapped and then sighed. "He thinks to eliminate everyone except those in his inner circle. All his has to do is warn them not to use magic."
"What's the point of that? If no one can use magic, we'll all be like Muggles."
"Muliciber thinks he can reverse it. He plans to let the spell run amok and execute most of the wizarding population. When he deems it effective, he'll unleash the counterspell—thereby declaring himself the new Savior of the Wizarding World—and take control in the process."
"How do you know all this?" Harry demanded.
Draco shut his eyes again. "Someone was working with him. Someone who figured out what he planned and defected to warn me."
Malfoy's silver eyes fixed on Harry and his expression became one of pure torment. Harry suddenly did not want to know. "Pansy Parkinson."
Harry felt like he'd been slapped. "Pansy Parkinson? Your ex-girlfriend?"
Draco had the grace to look guilty. Hell, he nearly looked ill for a moment. Harry buried his face in his hands. Draco had left him—to be with Pansy Parkinson? Harry thought he might burst into hysterical laughter to keep from sobbing.
Draco stood abruptly. He couldn't look at Harry; could not take knowing how deeply Harry had been hurt—could still be hurt. And there was something about the memory of Pansy that disturbed him. Something that wasn't right.
Draco had received an owl from Pansy in early November requesting an escort home. Draco had nearly turned it down, knowing how Harry would react to the news, but she had also mentioned something vital that she needed to tell him. Draco knew Pansy well enough to know she did not use such terminology lightly. Vital, she had said. Draco had decided to take the job—a simple day trip from London to Wiltshire. She lived close to Malfoy Manor, a journey Draco could make in his sleep.
He had left a note for Harry, intending to be back the next day. But something had happened. Something he could not quite remember… and why the fuck did he always get such a pounding headache whenever he thought of it?
"How do we stop Mulciber?" Harry growled through his hands, interrupting Draco's thoughts.
"We have to nullify the spell before he sets it off."
"How are we supposed to do that?" Harry raised his head finally and turned wounded green eyes on Draco.
Harry sneered. "That's not something I can just pull from a hat, you know."
Draco smiled softly because Harry had done that very thing on occasion. "We may have caught your Gryffindor break in advance, for once." Draco walked the length of the table and ran his fingers along the chair backs. Odd how much he had missed Grimmauld Place. It had become more of a home to him than Malfoy Manor, because of Harry.
"The spell is contained by a tangible object. It's inside of a small metal cask. Locked, of course."
"Couldn't you have stolen it? With Pansy?"
"It's not sitting on a sofa table in his living room," Draco said dryly. "Why do you think I need your help?"
"Where is it?"
"Beneath some old ruins in northern Scotland."
Harry was silent for a long moment and Draco turned slightly to watch him.
"Why hasn't Mulciber released the spell already?"
"We all know Mulciber is not strong enough to cast such a spell on his own. He is attempting to locate assistance. And apparently, he's waiting for a large gathering of witches and wizards to affect the largest number at once." He paused and added quietly, "He's waiting for the Quidditch Finals."
Draco watched Harry mentally tick off the weeks. They still had time, but Draco hoped he didn't suggest postponing the trip. He should have known Harry better.
"All right. We'll leave at dusk. I'll get my things together and send owls to my friends to let them know where I'm going. It's the polite thing to do, after all." Harry's tone was snide as he got to his feet.
Draco said nothing.
"You know where everything is," Harry finished flatly. "I'll see you this evening."
He went out, leaving Draco alone in the empty room.