The Curse at Malfoy Manor

Draco Malfoy flicked his wand at the massive brass doorknob and muttered an incantation. The knob turned and with a groan, the iron-clad door to Malfoy Manor opened. The musty smell of the house, which had been closed tight over the summer and fall, greeted Malfoy's nose. He sniffed loudly and scrunched up his face. "What a stink," he said then turned to the men behind him. "I'm sure you're used to it, growing up in a rotten shanty like you did, Weasel."

Ron Weasley took a single, slow step towards Draco, who flinched. Behind Ron, Auror Quinton Andreas, Ron and Harry's commanding officer, cleared his throat. "On with it, Malfoy," Andreas said, and Draco stepped into the house he grew up in.

"All right then, I suggest we begin in father's study. He had loads of dark objects hidden away in secret compartments in the walls." Draco's shoes clicked on the marble floor. He opened the door to the study with a whispered Alohomora then turned to the men. "Touch nothing," he said darkly.

"Got it," Harry Potter answered, all business now, his wand loose in his hand. As Auror trainees, Harry and Ron spent much of their field time on clean up missions. Allowed onto the scene of wizard crimes only after the perpetrators were captured, Auror trainees were meant to gather evidence, modify Muggle memories if necessary, and generally pick up after the full-fledged Aurors. For the most part, the "missions," if they could be called that, were only a little more interesting and a good deal less dreadful than detentions with Snape had been.

It didn't matter that both Harry and Ron were war heroes. They still needed on the job training, and this particular mission was immensely gratifying. With Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy awaiting trial, and Draco still afraid that the net of the law would extend to him, despite the fact that he'd been underage through the war, Draco had little choice now but to allow the Aurors into his home to search for illegal objects and evidence that could be used against the elder Malfoys.

Both Ron and Harry had reacted quite differently to the news that they'd be making a trip to Malfoy Manor with Draco in tow. Harry had seemed pleased, willing to put the nail in Lucius' proverbial coffin by finding damning evidence against him.

Ron, on the other hand, had balled up the memo with their assignment and thrown it against the wall. Harry knew not to ask what was wrong. They shared a flat in London, and Harry had heard Ron having nightmares, repeating the scene of Hermione's torture. When Hermione, home for Christmas from her seventh year at Hogwarts, learned of the assignment, she'd gone pale, and the quill in her hand trembled. "Well, be careful you two," she'd said at last when she recovered and shook her head, as if shaking off a chill or an omen.

Harry wondered at Draco's level of cooperation. Draco had never thanked them for saving his life during the battle at Hogwarts, but Harry thought that this was Draco's way of doing so, and of getting back at his twisted father, too. Still, there was nothing friendly about Draco, and he comported himself with the same level of hostility towards Ron and Harry as ever.

Lucius Malfoy's study was lined in mahogany walls. An enormous fireplace sat like a dark mouth at the end of the room. A glass-topped desk was set in a corner at an angle, and was flanked by two greyhound sculptures. Draco made a brief circuit of the room, his long, black coat swishing behind him and brushing one of the greyhound statues. "Apertitodo" he said, and nearly fifty drawers emerged from the mahogany paneling, some small enough to hold a single sickle, and others large enough to hold a person. Draco pocketed his wand. "Father's treasures," Draco said. "Like I said, touch nothing. Levitate anything you are going to take with you. And if any of you gets…damaged, you can't blame me. I'll be in the living room." Draco turned on a single heel and stalked away. He'd grown more elegant in the months since the war, as if being relieved of his father's presence he'd been allowed to stand straighter.

Once Draco was out of earshot, Ron let loose with a growl. "I hate that git," he said, and Harry chuckled. Auror Andreas, a middle aged man taller than Ron (which was saying something), who'd requested being put on these sorts of missions after losing the vision in one eye during the war, pretended not to hear Ron.

"Mind what Malfoy said, now," Andreas said. "I don't want to lose either one of you to one of Lucius' dark trinkets."

The men began floating objects out of the drawers and putting them down into a steel trunk which Andreas had just transfigured. They worked quietly, twisting the objects in the air and observing them before packing them. Many of the objects had skull designs on them, the Voldemort aesthetic obviously in mind. Others seemed rather innocuous, like the pair of baby shoes Ron floated into the trunk. He wondered if they'd belonged to Draco and couldn't for the life of him imagine Draco as an infant.

Ron paused for a second before putting each item away, hoping to sense via a darkening mood or an impulse thought, whether the object could potentially be a Horcrux they had missed in their search two years ago. He was nearly done with his portion of the wall when he stopped to look out of the study, checking to see where Draco had gone.

Ron could see him in the distance, sitting in a leather armchair in the living room, just a few feet away from the place where Bellatrix Lestrange had tortured Hermione Granger for information. Behind Draco was the trap door that led to the cellar in which Ron and Harry had been kept, along with Luna, and Dean, Griphook and Ollivander. Draco sat with his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling with such a constant rhythm that Ron knew he was deeply asleep. The image angered Ron.

To think that Draco could sit there, THERE of all places, and drift to dreams… For his part, Ron slept fitfully every night, his imagination often returning to this very place, on that worst of all nights, when Hermione had screamed in such agony that Ron had wanted nothing more than to take her place so that he might never hear that sound again. Ron knew, too, that Hermione's sleep was troubled, and Merlin knew Harry didn't know a good night's sleep if it bit him in the arse. And yet there was Malfoy, sleeping like a baby.

"I hate him. I really do," Ron said from the doorway, with a voice that sounded resigned more than anything else.

"Don't waste your energy on him, mate," Harry said as he floated a ball of red twine down into the nearly full trunk.

"Since when did you get so nonconfrontational about things?"

"Since when did you start using words like 'nonconfrontational'?"

"Must be Hermione's influence," Ron said, turning back from the doorway and finishing off the last three drawers on the south wall behind the desk.

The last drawer, no bigger than a jewelry box, was at Ron's eye level. He stood on tiptoe to look inside and found a glowing orange orb, no larger than a big marble, floating within the door. When Ron levitated the orb, it floated before his nose, and then, ignoring the Ron's spell that was to send it into the trunk, zoomed out of the room. Ron, Harry and Andreas followed it at a gallop. The orb had found Draco, and was now hovering just over his head, pulsing with orange light.

"Don't move, young Malfoy," Auror Andreas said, stepping carefully close to Draco, his wand pointed at the glowing ball.

"What the…?" Draco sat very still, his eyes narrowed as he assessed his situation. He knew what that thing was, had been threatened by it his entire life, particularly when he started dating Pansy Parkinson, who was only a half-blood. Draco eyed the room next, noted the places where Ron and Harry were standing, both of them pale, wands drawn. He knew once the orb was in motion, there was no stopping it. It was a tiny missile that would chase him until it made contact. Draco quickly calculated the risks, and then, he made his move.

Ducking out of the chair and onto the floor, Draco scrambled to his feet. The orb close to the top of his head still, exuded tremendous heat, and buzzed as if bees were trapped inside. Draco counted on chaos to help him dodge the orb, and he got it. "I said don't move!" Andreas yelled as he began shooting spells at the top of Draco's head. Harry and Ron were sending Containment Spells Draco's way, too. Ron, in particular, was so concerned with aiming his spells at the orb and not at Draco, that he didn't notice Draco running full tilt towards him, the ball of orange light trailing him.

In a move that took Ron by surprise, Draco ducked and wrapped his left arm around Ron's waist, propelling himself behind the redhead so quickly that the orb flew right into the center of Ron's chest.

Ron patted his robes furiously, looking for the orb, which had disappeared. "What the fuck was that, Malfoy?" Ron shouted, but Draco had begun to back away.

"Sorry about that, Weasel. I didn't mean for you to get in the way," Draco said, and Ron understood he meant exactly for that to happen. Of course, Draco was well adept at playing the innocent. At first, Ron wasn't sure if the heat in his chest had something to do with the anger he was feeling towards Draco for using him as a shield, or the orb itself. But that confusion soon passed. The heat spread to his limbs, and it felt as if his bones were melting, if one could imagine that feeling.

When Ron fell to his knees clutching his robes, Harry rounded on Draco, and had him pinned to the ground, his knee on Draco's throat. "What was that thing?" Harry said, his voice deep and deadly. Ron's struggle to get back on his feet was the only other sound filling the massive room.

"A betrothal curse," Draco said, blandly, and rolled his eyes, as if, already, he'd lost interest in the events occurring before him. Ron was groaning now, his fist curled around the edge of the oriental carpet.

"Lift it," Harry said, putting more weight on Draco's throat.

"I can't, you nutter," Draco gasped. "It was meant for me. Whoever father intended for my wife is the only one who can lift it." Harry weakened a bit, and Draco smiled. "Perhaps you should let father out of Azkaban to come and help."

"Fuck that," Ron moaned from the floor. Andreas was at Ron's side, but there was little the man could do. Healing spells weren't working, and Ron's breathing was becoming more and more labored.

"I don't understand," Harry said, and wished Hermione were here. Perhaps she'd read about the curse and knew how to counter it.

"It's simple, Potter. If I refused to take a pure blood wife, father would sic that thing on me. It's easy enough. He picks a girl, some daft bird like Daphne Greengrass, hits me with the curse, and only she can lift it by marrying me, and thus, preserving the pure blood line."

"What if she didn't want to?"

"Father had ways of convincing people to do all sorts of things. I never thought he actually had one in his possession, though," Draco said, and his eyes darkened. "Once the bird lifts the curse, she's bound to the one she saved."

Harry felt a moment of passing pity for Draco. "So we find this girl your father had in mind, and she, um, has to marry Ron to lift the curse?" Another groan from Ron punctuated the question.

"Sounds right," Draco said. "I'm sure Father will help you in exchange for the Wizengamot's mercy."

Andreas pressed a cold, thin hand on Ron's forehead. The heat emanating from his skin prickled his palm. He felt the young men were misreading the curse. If Lucius Malfoy's intention to marry Draco to a pureblood was so important, then the curse's shift from Draco to Ron would reduce Lucius' intention to nothing. Certainly Lucius wouldn't care who Weasley married. No, thought Andreas, the girl didn't matter at all. "Not Lucius," Andreas said suddenly, and Harry and Draco turned to look at him. Andreas smiled then. "Molly. Who would Molly choose?"

Harry Apparated into the Burrow, knocking over a hat stand and a broomstick leaned against the wall. He let loose his Patronus with a message for Bill, who made a living breaking curses, and yelled for Mrs. Weasley. The racket brought Molly Weasley into the kitchen in an instant.

"Ah, Harry!" she said, and wrapped her arms around him. She held his face at a distance and scrutinized what she saw there. "What's wrong, Harry dear?" Harry's eyes darted to the Weasley clock, where Ron's hand was pointed at "Mortal Peril." Mrs. Weasley followed his eyes and gasped. "My Ronnie! What is it?"

"Listen very carefully, Mrs. Weasley. If you had to choose Ron's future wife, who would she be?"

"What kind of question is that? Is he ill? We'll need to go to St. Mungo's. And call Arthur." Molly was turning in circles, and Harry found he had to hold her still.

"Please, there's no time. Who would he marry? Choose someone."

"Harry, what are…"

"Choose!" Harry shouted.

"It's obvious. Arthur and I would both choose Hermione. It's who Ron would choose himself." Harry smiled and planted a kiss on Molly's cheek, then sent his Patronus with a message for Hermione. Harry's stag leapt once, then twice, and bounded towards the flat where Hermione was staying with the boys during the holidays. The silver creature was barely out the window when Harry turned on his heel and Disapparated.

Molly shouted for Harry to wait, and looked again to the clock. Ron was still in danger, and Molly had no idea where he was.

Bill was first to arrive at Malfoy Manor. He cast a spell that blew open the front door and left it in shards the moment he heard his youngest brother's muffled screams from the outside.

"What happened?" Bill was shouting over the din of Ron's agony. Andreas explained quickly, his slender hands animated as he pointed from Draco to Ron. For his part, Draco was sitting in the armchair again, his eyes downcast.

"Bloody hell, Ron, what did you get into?" Bill whispered as he kneeled by his brother. Ron gripped Bill's hand as another wave of burning heat entered his body. Bill felt his own eyes burning, tears threatening as he watched his baby brother racked in pain. "What was it called, Malfoy?" Bill asked Draco without taking his eyes off of Ron.

"Father used to called it tesca, tizzy, tes, um, something of that sort."

"Tezcatlipoca's curse."

"Yes, that sounds right."

"Aztec then," Bill said to himself and Ron loosened his grip on Bill's hand. "Better?" he asked Ron.

"It comes and goes," Ron said gruffly, still wincing. "What is this curse?"

"Betrothal curse. Pureblood fanatics like the Malfoys borrowed it from the Aztecs. So the legend goes, Tezcatlipoca forced the divine Xochipilli to marry him with the curse. Only his touch could lift the burning sensation she felt, one that, well…I reckon you know all about it."

Ron could feel the heat again, starting at his chest and boiling his blood. "Is it killing me?" he asked through gritted teeth.

"I won't let it," Bill said and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

"I've a theory," Andreas interrupted, and shared his idea with Bill.

"So you're saying because the curse missed its mark," Bill said, and flashed dangerous eyes at Draco, "the caster's intention is thwarted. Have I got that right?"

"It's the best I could come up with," Andreas whispered. "There is no caster to the curse in this case. I think the touch of any witch could break it. But it's best if she's the right one."

"That'll be Hermione then," Bill said once Andreas was finished. "Mum and dad have said they want her in the family for years."

"No, no," Ron barked. "Not like that." He growled and gave in to the pain again. He knew he wanted to marry Hermione some day. He'd even asked her about her taste in jewelry. She had raised an eyebrow then, and Ron dropped the matter. She obviously wasn't thinking along those lines. And to marry her this way would feel too much like a trap. He wanted Hermione to choose him of her own volition, not because it would end a bloody curse. And there was no doubt that if Hermione knew about this, she would lift the curse. She'd lift it for Harry, too, or Bill, or even Draco if it came down to it. Because that was the kind of witch Hermione Jane Granger was. As much as she teased Harry about his "hero complex," she had one, too, and it ran deep.

Ron heard someone kicking aside the bits of door that Bill had destroyed, heard the light footsteps he had come to recognize after so many years, and then, heard Hermione gasp and run to his side, followed by Harry.

"Don't touch me!" Ron yelled, doubling over to cradle his stomach, where the heat had grown more intense.

"What's wrong with him?" Hermione shouted.

"Don't let her touch me!"

Bill, Andreas, and Harry all began speaking at once. Panic had quickly set in among them, and Hermione could not discern what they were saying. She heard "curse," and "betrothal," and "don't listen to him," and other shouts. Above the din, were Ron's own whimpers, and his ragged voice urging her to "Keep away, Hermione. Please. Not like this," again and again.

Hermione's hand hovered over Ron's for a moment. She closed her eyes, then her fist, and removed her hand. "Draco," she called, her eyes still closed. "What have you done?"

"Me?" Draco asked, rising from his chair, and smiled at her. "It's not what I've done, but what you need to do. Want Weasel to live? Touch him. Do, and you have to marry into that wretched family."

Draco didn't see Bill as he came to his feet, and certainly did not expect the furious punch to the jaw that sent him to the ground, out cold.

"Had to be done," Bill said, rubbing his fist.

"I saw nothing," Andreas answered.

Hermione turned to Harry, her eyes wide. "Was he telling the truth?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "Fix this, Hermione. Please." Hermione remembered how Harry had made a similar request concerning his broken wand. She hadn't been able to mend it, but this she could fix.

"Don't," Ron said, his voice barely a whisper now.

"Ronald Weasley." Hermione bent low to speak into his ear, "I love you, idiot." She wrapped her fingers around his wrist and mouthed a silent prayer.

The room was quiet save for Ron's ragged breathing, which was coming slower now.

"Better?" Hermione asked. Ron nodded.

"Now what?" asked Harry.

Bill, still rubbing his knuckles, was back at Ron's side. "Now you let go," he said to Hermione. "Let's test this thing."

She released her grip on Ron's wrist, and instantly, the young Auror hissed in pain. "It's back," he said, gritting his teeth.

Hermione clamped both hands on his forearm this time. He sighed in relief, and she squeezed her eyes tight. She was crying without making a sound. Unwilling to lift a hand off of Ron, she wiped her cheeks on her shoulder.

Ron saw her, and turned his head from the sight. "I'm so sorry, Hermione. You're cursed, too."

Hermione shook her head, and strands of frizzy hair stuck to her damp cheeks. She wanted to convince him that she'd do anything to save his life, that she'd pictured marrying him time and again, that this was why she wished he hadn't wanted to become an Auror, that this place, Malfoy Manor, was the setting of all her nightmares, that if she could, she'd burn it down to cinders. But Hermione could say nothing for the lump in her throat.

"Can you sit up, Ron?" Bill asked.

Ron rose slowly, and for him it felt like waking from a horrible nightmare. The heat was gone from his body, so completely, that it was as if he had imagined it in the first place. The longer Hermione held onto him, the stronger he felt.

"The lavish ceremonies Mum is so fond of are just rituals. Marrying a witch or wizard requires only a simple spell, so I can marry you right here and now. Our other option is St. Mungo's so they can test some countercurses," Bill said.

"St. Mungo's," Ron said.

"Marry us," Hermione said at the same time. She narrowed her eyes at him and Ron paled.

"I know how this usually goes," Harry announced. "Let's give them some room." Andreas and Bill followed Harry out of sight.

Ron stared at his hands. "You don't have to do this," he said, his voice still weak.

"It doesn't make any sense to run further risks if we can be rid of this curse immediately. What if we get separated during Apparition? What then? I couldn't live with myself if you, if you, if…" Hermione stopped herself before she lost control. They were both quiet for a long time.

"This isn't what you want," Ron said, filling in the silence.

"I want you. Alive. Well."

"Shackled to you for life," Ron said. He smirked a bit when he said it, but his heart wasn't in the joke.

"Yes. Exactly." Hermione slid her hands over his forearm, his wrist, caressing the back of his hand before twining her fingers through his. "Forever, if you'll have me," she said as she squeezed his hand.

"I never thought you'd be the one proposing," Ron said with a chuckle.

"I've always been progressive that way. I did ask you out first."

"Bloody McLaggen," Ron said, remembering how their first potential date devolved into a monstrously long cold war between them.

"He was rather horrible," Hermione said, laughing and leaning into Ron's shoulder. She sighed and the two of them were quiet for a long time. "So will you?" she asked.

"I do."

"Save that bit for later. I think a simple 'yes' is fine." Ron leaned down to kiss her. His mouth was parched from all the yelling and groaning, and he hoped she wouldn't notice.

"If this doesn't work, and it may not," Bill warned, "we're off to St. Mungo's. Agreed?" He looked hard at his brother, and then softened when he saw how afraid Ron seemed at the moment.

Just then, the remnants of the door were trampled again, and a troop of people came in—Molly and Arthur Weasley, George, Percy, Ginny, and Mr. and Mrs. Granger. Behind them was Neville, then Luna.

"Don't you dare start without us!" Molly Weasley shouted.

"I didn't have time to put on anything yellow, unfortunately," Luna said loudly.

"What the hell?" Ron asked.

Harry reddened, and looked apologetic. "I sent Ginny my Patronus telling her what was going on."

"And I spread the word!" Ginny announced. "On with it then," she said to Bill, who took hold of Ron's and Hermione's wands.

Hermione turned to look at her parents. Her father and mother held hands, and her mother was nodding, her face tight and concerned. Neither one moved to stop what they were watching.

Bill took a deep breath. "It's simple, really. Give me your hands." Bill put the two wands together and situated them between Ron's and Hermione's joined hands. "You love each other, yes?"

The couple nodded at the same time. Molly and Fleur sniffed somewhere in the distance. "Good," Bill said, and felt his throat tighten. The magnitude of the moment hit him then, and Bill struggled to go on. "Then repeat after me: Semperadamo, Semperfide, Semperpietas."

Ron and Hermione spoke the words at once, he stumbling over the pronunciation, she enunciating as if Latin were her first language. The wands they held warmed, and soon, a soft, yellow glow bubbled over their hands as if it were water, then disappeared into the air.

"That's it," Bill said. "Sorry I couldn't add the usual flair you find at weddings, the long windedness and such."

"Don't forget the horrid dress gowns!" George called from the back of the room.

"It was perfect," Hermione said, and rubbed her eyes on her shoulder again. Ron found he could not speak, but instead, wrapped his arms around Hermione. Their wands clattered to the floor as he dug his face into her neck.

Bill cleared his throat. "Let's, er, try separating the two of you again." Ron released Hermione slowly, and she, trembling, created distance between them. When they no longer touched, Ron let out a small sigh.

"What? What is it?" Hermione asked, and took hold of his hands at once.

"Nothing, nothing," Ron said, his ears turning telltale red. "I just liked having you in my arms," he whispered, so that only Hermione heard. She blushed then, too.

"That's our cue to get out," George said.

"Agreed," Percy answered as he left the room.

Molly, Arthur, and the Grangers surrounded the couple and hugged them. "A proper wedding is in the make young man," Molly said, ruffling Ron's hair.

There were congratulations all around, and fierce embraces. Ron and Hermione stayed behind as everyone Disapparated.

Harry was the last to go. "You two can have the flat tonight," he said. "I'll stay with Neville." Hermione blushed a deep red as Harry spoke. The couple watched him vanish, and then they were alone.

"That's contagious, it is," Ron said, poking her cheeks.

"I'm a Weasley now, aren't I?"

"I reckon you're right," he said and paused. "It won't be easy, Hermione. I mean, this just got sprung on us, didn't it?"

"Nothing's ever easy with us."

"No, it isn't. But it always turns out right, doesn't it?"

Hermione smiled and held Ron by the waist. A groaning in the distance startled them, and they watched as Draco sat up, rubbing his jaw.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Bugger off, Malfoy," Hermione told him, which set Ron laughing.

"Language, Mrs. Weasley," he said, and she laughed too. They disappeared with a crack, leaving Draco Malfoy to deal with the shattered front door and the mess left behind by the impromptu wedding party.