December 6th, 2004
Harry woke up. At least, he thought he was awake. It was hard to tell, because everything was strange. Waking up had been like pushing through layers of stifling cloth, as if sleep tried to keep him in its grip by using brute force, making him struggle to shake off its greedy hands.
When he opened his eyes his sense of the bizarre only increased. Everything was fuzzy and he could not quite focus. After blinking for a few minutes, he decided it was because his glasses were off, although things had never been quite so blurry before.
At least the blurry images that met his eyes were familiar. He recognized the curtains surrounding his bed. The red was patterned with a gold fleur-de-lis design and tied back with braided golden cords. He and Ginny had picked them out. He smiled at the memory and his face felt stiff at the movement, as though he had not smiled in a long time.
He focused on the light beyond the curtains, trying to determine the time of day. Early morning? He lifted a hand—or tried to lift a hand. Panic set in immediately when his fingers barely twitched. What the hell was wrong with him? He tried to lift his hand in earnest, concentrating hard, and managed to raise his palm off the mattress. He let it drop, shaking with effort.
Was it a spell? What had happened? He cast his mind back to the night before, combing his memory. For some reason his memory seemed as unclear as his vision. It finally came to him, sluggishly, like a dream. He had been with Ginny. Merlin! He had married Ginny! The thought would have made him bolt upright, except that he could barely move. His body only shivered slightly and a moan burst from his throat.
He remembered saying I do, and then a burst of light had exploded around him—or in him. So. A spell then. But who had cast it, and why?
A face appeared in his vision and he blinked several times, trying to focus.
"Harry?" a voice cried, tinged with astonished disbelief. "Merlin, you're awake! You're actually awake!" Arms enveloped him right when the face began to swim into view. Harry shut his eyes in frustration, trying to place the voice. Male, obviously, and familiar… but not completely. Not Ron, at any rate.
The man pulled back quickly with a cough. "Sorry, I forgot myself for a moment. Let me fetch Muddy and Pans. Bloody hell, the damn thing worked!" Harry blinked again, but only caught a glimpse of blond hair and dark robes as the man fled. Blond? It was none of the Weasleys, then. Was it a medi-wizard? Why was he at number 12, Grimmauld Place if he had been hit with a spell? And why was he too weak to move?
Harry struggled to sit up to no avail. The best he managed was to scoot nearer the edge of the bed and wear himself out in the process. He heard a loud shriek and then pounding footsteps down the hall before a woman burst through the door and leaped upon him.
"Harry! Oh my god, I can't believe it! Harry, it's really you, you're awake!" It was Hermione's voice. Harry could not see her through the smothering embrace, but he recognized the scent of lavender that surrounded her.
"He won't be awake for long, Muddy, if you asphyxiate him," a dry tone commented.
"Oh, shut up, Draco," she said, but sat back. Harry gaped at her and not merely because of her words, although those caused Harry's gaze to snap to the blond man beyond her shoulder. Draco Malfoy?
"What…" he began and was shocked at the sound of his voice. It was raspy and barely audible. "What is going on?" He started to cough and Malfoy snapped his fingers. A house-elf appeared next to the bed.
"Ibby, fetch Harry some water. Bring a pitcher," Malfoy ordered.
Harry looked at Hermione and wondered if he had awakened in an alternate universe. Bloody hell, what had she done to her hair? The normally frizzy mass had been hacked to near shoulder-length and coiled into neat ringlets. She looked… utterly grown up and almost beautiful. She noticed his perusal and smiled, raising a hand to touch her hair.
"Like it?" she asked. "I finally gave in to Draco's bloody nagging and went to see Madame Shirer last year. I think she did a fabulous job, even though I hate to give credit to the Walking Ego for directing me to her."
Harry shut his eyes and gave more credence to the alternate universe theory, considering she had mentioned Malfoy's given name more than once, and spoke as if they were old friends. A pop announced the return of the house-elf and Harry opened his eyes to see Malfoy taking the glass. The blond moved forward and knelt on the edge of the bed before sliding an arm beneath Harry to raise him into a sitting position.
"Malfoy? What the hell—?" he managed before the glass was placed against his lower lip and liquid trickled into his mouth.
"Hush now," Malfoy said in a soothing tone. "Drink. It will take you a while to get used to speaking again, not to mention moving your limbs."
Harry gave up worrying about the incongruity of Draco Malfoy being nice to him and concentrated on the water. It felt delightfully cool and soothing and he realized he was parched. He drank greedily.
"Easy," Malfoy said gently. "It's been a long time. You might feel nauseous if you drink too much."
Harry reluctantly stopped when the glass was nearly drained and allowed Malfoy to lower him back to the pillow. "A long time? What do you mean?" His voice was still rough and he thought he saw Malfoy send a glance to Hermione, but he wasn't sure. "Where are my glasses?"
"Glasses? Where are those, Muddy? I haven't seen them in years," Malfoy's voice was serious and Harry's brow furrowed at the bizarre quality, not to mention the words themselves.
Hermione said, "They are in the bedside stand, Draco, please. Have you never looked in there?"
"Why would I?" he said with a sniff, but got to his feet and pulled out the drawer. He reached in and acquired Harry's glasses, which he handed to him. "A bit outdated, but they never were attractive, were they?" The drawling tone sounded much more familiar and Harry began to believe it was really Malfoy, rather than George Weasley or Ron having him on.
Harry slid the glasses into place and drew in a gasp when he focused on Hermione. It was not only her hair that was different. She simply looked more… mature. His eyes narrowed and he turned his attention to Malfoy. The git looked the same and yet… not. He seemed taller and less thin and pointy. His hair was glorious, no longer slicked back against his skull, but cut attractively to fall over his brow and cascade in gentle waves to his shoulders. If he had been anyone but Malfoy, Harry might have described him as devastatingly handsome.
Hermione reached out and grabbed Malfoy's hand suddenly, as though seeking reassurance. Rather than pull away or make some snide comment, Malfoy squeezed her hand and stepped closer to her.
"What the hell is going on?" Harry demanded. "Where's Ginny?"
The glance that passed between Hermione and Malfoy was anything but reassuring. Harry closed his eyes, suddenly terrified to hear it.
"All right, out of the way. Did my patient actually wake up? I don't believe it." Harry cringed inwardly. The voice was also familiar, but in no way welcome. He reluctantly opened his eyes to see Malfoy being shoved aside by a dark-haired woman. Oh, Merlin, please no. Not Pansy Parkinson.
But Pansy it was. She leaned over him with a wand and began to cast a series of spells. Harry made a terrified squeak and looked at Hermione for assistance, but other than watching Pansy warily, she seemed undisturbed.
"Are you trying to make sure he's awake?" Hermione asked caustically.
"Shut up, Granger, and let me do my job."
"You haven't done your job in five years. Do you still remember how?"
"You were never amusing at Hogwarts and that hasn't changed, Granger."
"How is he, then?" Hermione asked archly.
"If you would stop mooing long enough for me to concentrate, perhaps we will both know," Pansy snapped.
"Do I need to spray you both down with ice water?" Malfoy asked sharply and both women pursed their lips, but stopped the verbal sniping. Harry wished to know what the hell was going on. Why was Pansy Parkinson acting like a medi-witch?
"Hermione, what is she doing?" he asked.
"Here's the thing, Potter," Pansy said briskly. "You've been in a coma for five years and just woke up today, thanks to someone in this room acting like a complete imbe—"
"You bloody heartless bitch!" Hermione shrieked. "You can't just blurt it out like that!"
Pansy rolled her eyes. "I just did."
"OUT! Both of you!" Malfoy bellowed. Both women glared at him, but the blond Slytherin looked furious. "Let me talk to Potter. Alone."
Harry tried to reach out and grab Hermione's hand as she got to her feet, but his limbs refused to obey his orders. His fingers brushed against hers as she rose and stepped away. "I'll be back soon, Harry. I need to go tell the others you've awakened. And to try and keep it out of the media for as long as possible."
"See that you do," Malfoy said in a warning tone.
Pansy sighed and rolled her eyes. "He seems fine with the limited spells I cast."
"All right, but I'll be back." Pansy stalked after Hermione and the door slammed behind them, leaving Harry alone with Draco Malfoy.
Draco pressed his fingers into one aching temple when the girls departed, fighting another stellar headache. He massaged the ache for an instant, prolonging the moment when he would have to face the Saviour. Potter said nothing, making it easier for him to collect his thoughts.
He finally dropped his hand and forced a pleasant smile as he turned to face the terrified looking Gryffindor. Draco felt a wrench of pity despite himself.
"What did she mean?" Potter asked softly. "Is this some sort of horrible joke?"
Draco sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. He had done so a thousand times in the past, but it felt markedly different with Potter awake. He shook his head. "Pansy was telling the truth in her less than subtle way. You have been sleeping, in a manner of speaking, for just over five years. What is the last thing you remember?"
Potter's eyes were astoundingly green, Draco noticed. They had been closed so long that he had forgotten, but now the green was startling in its brilliance as Potter's eyes widened and widened… Oh shit, he was panicking. The emerald began to roll up into Potter's head and Draco leaned forward to grip his shoulders.
"Oh fuck, stay with me, Potter! Stay with me, come on, you can deal with this! Compared to the Dark Lord, this little period of senselessness is nothing!"
Draco shook Potter and then slapped him sharply on one cheek. To his surprise, the green returned as Potter focused. Draco nearly sagged in relief.
"It can't be true," Potter whispered. "It can't."
Draco's grip loosened slightly and he sighed. "You married Ginny Weasley on June 17th, 1999. As soon as you uttered your wedding vows, you collapsed and fell into a comatose state. Today's date is December 6th, 2004. It's all true, Potter. I'm sure Muddy… I mean, Granger will validate it all when she returns."
"Not Granger," Potter said. His voice was still a barely audible murmur and Draco reached for the glass of water. "She married Ron, so it's Weasley."
"Well, technically, I suppose, but she generally goes by Granger since the divorce."
Potter goggled at him and Draco frowned, wondering if the man would survive the information Draco had yet to impart.
"Divorce? They divorced?"
Draco nodded. "Would you like all the bad news at once or do you prefer that we dole it out in small doses?"
Potter's lips thinned into a grim line. "Tell me. I most likely won't believe you, anyway. Why did Hermione leave you here with me? Why does she even…?" The last question trailed off into a fit of coughing and Draco slid back onto the bed to raise Potter back to a sitting position. He held the glass and allowed Potter to drain it before setting it aside and brushing the hair out of Potter's eyes. He was overdue for a haircut, Draco noted absently.
"Quite a lot has happened in the past few years. I'm certain your primary concern is your former wife." Potter stiffened at the word former and Draco continued, "According to Wizarding Law, if a marriage has not been consummated within three years, the vows are dissolved and the marriage is annulled. Muddy—Granger—says it hearkens back to the Crusades, when girls would marry a knight before they rode off to fight in the Holy Land. If the knight did not return within three years, she would be free to marry another." Draco spoke in a soothing tone, hoping the brief history lesson would give Potter something to focus on besides his loss.
"I would have wanted her to get on with her life," Potter said roughly. "In case I never woke up."
"That's what she said." Draco's grip tightened briefly on Potter's shoulders. "And so she did. Ginevra Weasley married a medi-wizard named John Silverstein last year."
"I think you can let go of me," Potter said dryly, acting as if he had not heard Draco's words at all. "I don't plan to commit suicide, especially since I can barely move. Why are you here, anyway? Are you the designated bearer of bad tidings?"
"Partially, I suppose. You already hate me, so if you decide to take out your rage on the messenger… Well, let's just say I would not exactly be missed." He removed himself from Potter and eased the dark-head back onto the pillow, avoiding his green eyes.
"So, I'm not married," Potter said quietly. "And neither are Ron and Hermione."
"Correct. I will let Muddy regale you with that tale. I'm sure you would prefer to hear it from her."
Potter turned his head away as if examining the wallpaper on the far wall. "Five years," he murmured. "Merlin. And Ginny… remarried." Something resembling a sob startled Draco and he took a step forward, but Potter's face turned back to fix him with an intense gaze. The green was bright with unshed tears, but burned with fierce determination. "You said I fell into a comatose state. Why? Was it a spell?"
Draco nodded. "We determined that it was a very old spell. Rather tricky to cast, actually. The spell could have been cast upon you at any time in the past decade and was something like a latent virus, waiting in your system until certain conditions were met. Muddy believes your wedding vows were the trigger."
"Why do you keep calling her that?" Potter snapped, sounding very much like his old self for the first time.
Draco laughed. "That is a story for another time. I believe your well-wishers are about to arrive." He stepped away from the bed as the door banged open once more to disclose an explosion of Weasleys.
"Harry!" George cried. "I can't believe you're awake!" Molly and Arthur were next, and Molly sobbed brokenly while cradling Harry's near-lifeless body. For once, she seemed at a loss for words.
"Harry, my boy!" Arthur said in a hushed tone. "Oh, Harry, it's so wonderful. Ron is on his way. He dropped everything as soon as he heard the news."
Draco hung back near the window, uncomfortable as always with the bustle and boisterousness of the Weasley family. He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down into an earnest face beneath a tumble of dark auburn locks. "Unca Draco, why's everyone crying?" He smiled and knelt down to pick up the only tolerable Weasley—Hugo Draco Weasley. Of course, it didn't hurt that the chit carried his name.
"Hugo, those are just happy tears. Your Uncle Harry just woke up from his long long sleep. Would you like to meet him?"
Blue eyes widened in terror and Hugo shook his head vehemently. Draco grinned and hugged the boy. "All right, then. How about we go downstairs and hit up Kreacher for some fruit tarts?"
Hugo nodded and buried his face in Draco's neck. Glad for the excuse to escape, Draco headed for the door with his four-year-old burden and nearly bumped into Hermione.
"Oh! Draco, do you want me to take him?" she asked, but her gaze was already leaping toward the bed.
"We're fine. Hugo and I have a craving. Where is Rose?"
"Still shopping with Fleur."
"That's right. Call me if you need me." Draco bypassed Hermione and went out.
"Bye, Mummy!" Hugo called as they passed her.
"Don't eat too many sweets!" she admonished as they reached the stairs and descended.
Draco made a scoffing sound. "As if there is such a thing as too many sweets." Hugo giggled and held him more tightly, almost assuaging Draco's incumbent feeling of loneliness.
Harry felt his world steady into a more normal rhythm as the Weasley's crowded around him, overwhelming the bizarre presence of Draco Malfoy and the words Harry still hoped were fables. He scanned the faces around him, searching for Ginny, but Molly Weasley all but stifled him with a gigantic hug before bursting into tears.
George and Arthur spoke, uttering words of gratitude and amazement that Harry barely registered. His attention was snared by Malfoy picking up a redheaded boy and snuggling him tightly. Harry frowned. Was it Malfoy's child? The blond started out the door and paused to speak to Hermione. Their conversation seemed relaxed and casual, as though they talked to each other on a regular basis.
Malfoy departed with the child and Hermione hurried forward to join the others surrounding Harry's bed.
"I'm so glad you're finally awake, Harry. What did Draco tell you?"
Harry's lips thinned. "He told me that my marriage was annulled and that Ginny wed someone else. A medi-wizard."
Molly threw herself forward again, sobbing in earnest. "Oh, Harry! She never would have done it, except that she gave up hope! You were out so long and no one could even determine the cause! The Ministry gave up and we… Please forgive us, Harry. Everyone but Ron and Hermione stopped believing."
"And Draco," Hermione said quietly. "Draco never quit."
Molly's head rose and she wiped her tears away. "Yes, of course," she said, but Harry thought she did not sound convinced. He wondered when Hermione had turned into a staunch ferret supporter. Thankfully, the others still seemed to have their heads on straight.
"It's true, then?" Harry asked quietly. "She's moved on?"
Molly made as if to envelop him again, but Arthur thankfully wrestled her away to make room for Hermione, who sat on the edge of his bed. "It's true, Harry. I'm so sorry, but I think you'll like John. He was assigned to you for almost a year, which is how he and Ginny became so close."
Harry scowled, in no mood at all to hear what a wonderful man his wife had married. "Malfoy also said you and Ron divorced."
Hermione blanched and Molly frowned. There was obviously tension between the two women and Harry thought back to the time Molly had snubbed Hermione because of a story in the Daily Prophet. How much worse would it be if Hermione had tossed aside one of her sons?
"It's true, but we're still fast friends. I think we get on much better now that he doesn't have to listen to my nagging." She laughed in a self-deprecating fashion. "Of course, we have to behave like adults for Hugo and Rose."
Harry was not quite ready to deal with any new names. "Malfoy said I was in a coma because of a spell. Who cast it?"
Hermione's eyes met Arthur's and he answered, "We don't know, Harry. The Auror Department is mystified. Every clue we thought we had turned into a dead end."
"Five years?" Harry said. "My life is ruined and you don't even know who did this to me, or why?"
"Your life is not ruined, Harry. It will just be different than you expected," Hermione said pragmatically.
George smacked him on the shoulder. "And you're still rich, Harry. I kept you on as part owner and we're rolling in it now. I even opened a branch in Hogsmeade last spring. Took over Zonko's actually, after nearly putting them out of business."
"I… I have a lot to take in right now. I'm feeling really tired. Do you mind…?" Harry knew he was probably being rude, but he wanted to leap to his feet and scream in rage. His inability to do so would probably cause him to weep hysterically and he wanted no witnesses to that sort of weakness.
"Of course, Harry. I'll send Ron in as soon as he arrives. I'm sure Pansy will want to check you out more thoroughly before you rest."
"Pansy? She is…?" Harry had no intention of allowing the Slytherin woman near him with a wand again.
"She is your medi-witch, Harry. She has been for three years, actually. As much as I despise her as a person, I have to admit she is a decent medi-witch."
George snorted a laugh. "From Death Eater wannabe to Healer. I still think she went into the profession to learn sneakier ways of killing people."
"George!" Arthur said in a shocked tone, but Hermione chuckled.
"And Malfoy?" Harry asked reluctantly, although he was almost afraid to ask. "Is he a Healer, too?"
"Didn't he mention it?" Hermione asked. "He is the Ministry's prize Curse-Breaker. He is the one responsible for bringing you back."
After tearful hugs, the others promised to drop in daily. George left a small parcel for Harry, filled with "goodies" that Harry was almost afraid to open. He knew George would find it amusing to welcome him back with something bizarre or revolting.
Pansy returned as the three Weasleys departed. He found it hard to believe that the pug-faced girl was now in the business of helping people. Her lips were set in a thin line as she cast what seemed an endless series of spells.
At last she sat back and looked at Hermione. "As far as I can tell, he should make a full recovery, after physical therapy, of course. His organs are all responding well and his heart seems to have withstood the shock of learning his dearest love tossed him aside for another."
"Pansy!" Hermione admonished angrily.
The black-haired woman rolled her eyes. "I thought you damned Gryffindors were supposed to be faithful unto death and all that. She should have known the Chosen One would come out ahead in the end. He always does."
"Ginny had her reasons!" Hermione snapped.
"Yes, I suppose a handsome walking, talking man is far better than a vegetable, even if he is the Saviour."
"Fine," Pansy said with a sneer as she got to her feet. "But I'm sure Potter agrees with me." She flounced out with a swirl of sapphire robes and Harry wondered what Malfoy ever saw in the unpleasant girl. He drew in a breath. Were she and Malfoy still together? Had they gotten married?
"Ignore her, Harry. She's just bitter and rude beyond imagining. Why we've put up with her this long I'll never know."
"Are Pansy and Malfoy…?"
Hermione blinked at him. "Draco?" She laughed. "Heavens no!"
A house-elf popped in with a tray full of food. The instant he saw it, Harry realized he was famished. "Ibby is bringing food for Master Harry. Master Draco says Master Harry is to be eating it all, especially the red meats and the broth."
"Thank you, Ibby," Hermione said and took the tray. The elf disappeared.
"Malfoy brought his own house-elf? Here? Where is Kreacher?"
"Kreacher is still here, but you know he is nigh unto useless. Ibby keeps the place spotless and she can prepare edible meals."
"What about S.P.E.W.?" Harry asked before Hermione shoved a bit of roast beef into his mouth.
"Believe me, I fought Draco tooth and nail for months over it. Sometimes I think he lives merely to annoy me. Now, however, he needs Ibby…" She trailed off and shoved another forkful of food at him, preventing questions. "Never mind. Enough about Draco. Let's concentrate on making you well."
Harry sighed and concentrated on his food, knowing he had years worth of questions yet to be answered. Hermione refused to say anything more. She fed him until he could eat no more and then shut the bed curtains and let him sleep.
Draco stood over the bed and watched the moonlight play over the features of the risen hero. Potter was dreadfully thin. They had only managed to keep him alive for the past half decade, it was impossible to keep him healthy.
He brushed the hair out of Potter's eyes with a grimace.
"What's wrong?" Hermione asked.
"I can't cut his hair any more," he said softly. Her hand reached out and gripped his arm sympathetically. He shrugged. "No matter. You'll just have to learn to do it."
She snorted. "I think I'll Apparate him to the hairdresser. I doubt any of us would like the results of my attempt."
"Are you still irritated that I cast the spell?" Draco asked smugly.
She sighed. "It's nice to have Harry back, I admit. But the cost, Draco. Damn it, you still should have waited until we found the book."
"We've been looking for it for months and Harry would not have lasted much longer. You know his time was running out."
"It could have killed you!" she snapped. "It was stupid of you to risk your life when I was not even here."
"You would have argued me out of doing it. Besides, his life is worth more than mine. He has people to save and kittens to rescue. I'm just an ex-Curse-Breaker and Death Eater."
"You were never a Death Eater."
"My Dark Mark begs to differ."
"Enforced servitude is nothing but slavery!" she snapped and Draco laughed at her. "What?"
"Potter will not be amused to find that you are my biggest supporter. Or, my only supporter aside from Pans."
"Harry will get used to it, especially after he learns about your sacrifice."
"He will never learn about that," Draco snapped.
She rolled her eyes. "How do you plan to keep it from him?"
"By the time he learns of it, he will be well and back in the Auror Department, regaining his life and forgetting all about me. Until then, your Unbreakable Vow should keep you quiet."
"I think you should just tell him," she growled.
"He will heal faster if he continues to hate me. He needs a focus for his anger and I have no problem providing that focus." Draco grinned at her wickedly.
She punched him in the arm and he glared at her. She had always been a physical little bint. "Men are utterly stupid," she said.
"I believe you mention that at least ten times a day."
"Because you keep proving it correct."
"Shut up, Muddy. Go get some sleep. I'll watch over the Chosen One."
She planted a kiss on his temple and gave him a quick hug before he could wave her away in annoyance. "Goodnight, Draco."