Title: A Very Walpurgis Night's Madness
Warnings: Profanity, violence, shameless abuse of A Midsummer Night's Dream, voyeurism, slash sex. DH spoilers but no epilogue.
Word count: ~20,000
Summary: The fading and diminishing of the English faeries was caused by wizards; they bound them away from the mortal world so that only shadows of them could come through. Now one powerful being, known to humans as Puck, has escaped from confinement. Harry and Draco have to imprison him again before he can turn the whole of England into a twisted faerie amusement park.
Disclaimer: Characters are the property of JK Rowling, et al. This was created for fun, not for profit.
Author's Note: This was written for the 2009 hds_beltane fest, for graylor, and beta-ed by a friend of mine named Linda. The prompt was Adventure, romance, plot over porn, happy endings a must, no main character death, h/d only, and Aurors!
A Very Walpurgis Night's Madness
"Yes," Harry said for the tenth time, holding on to his temper with his teeth, "but I don't see why I have to do it with him."
Kingsley opened his mouth, but Malfoy interrupted before the Minister could say anything. "He doesn't need to know, sir."
Harry spun around and glared. Malfoy's mouth was prissily set, his lips clamping onto each other. He looked as if he hadn't changed at all since Hogwarts, other than growing taller, but Harry knew better than that. Malfoy was one of the best Aurors in the Department now. What he wasn't was easy to work with.
And there was no particular reason for him to be assigned to this case, either, since he and Harry had never worked as partners. Harry knew that Kingsley needed him in order to soothe the fears of the public, should the public ever find out about this. But Malfoy—
"Don't be difficult," Harry managed to say, which was much more diplomatic than what he wished to say. "If you have expertise of some kind, then I should know about it, so that I know what I can rely on you for." He almost didn't say the next words, but Malfoy had started to look too smug. "And what I can't."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed, but Kingsley said, "Yes, very well. In fact, it's Malfoy's wand that ties him into the case."
Harry cast a doubtful glance at the hawthorn wand. Malfoy shifted his body a little, as if to guard it from Harry's sight. Harry snickered under his breath, and Malfoy gave him a glare sharp as a sting. The wand had never quite given him back the loyalty that it had transferred to Harry.
"Hawthorn is tied to the realm of Faerie," Kingsley said, as if that was a normal and everyday thing to proclaim. Harry checked carefully, but yes, it looked as if the Minister was fully in possession of his sanity, more was the pity. "Specifically, hawthorn trees traditionally bloom on the first of May—Beltane."
"And you said that this Puck person—"
Kingsley held up a warning hand. "Puck is a faerie, and not a person," he said. "You need to keep that in mind, Harry. Think of him as human, and you'll expect him to act like one. But he won't, and in fact faeries have no morals and no habits as we traditionally understand them."
"No souls," Malfoy muttered.
"That is still under dispute," said Kingsley, in the tone of someone who'd spent too much time arguing with Hermione about house-elves. "But yes, Puck will be trying to raise power towards the first of May, specifically on Walpurgis Night, the night of April thirtieth. It was an old Celtic holiday, the first day of their summer, the celebration of warmth and light. Fires, fertility, that sort of thing."
Harry snorted. "I know all about Beltane celebrations, sir." He'd been used to patrol several last year, mostly so that drunken young wizards who thought they were reviving "ancient traditions" wouldn't be tempted to revive the tradition of Muggle-baiting.
"No, you don't, Potter." Malfoy's voice was peculiarly low, peculiarly intense, and made Harry eye him sideways. But Malfoy stared straight ahead of him, instead of looking back at Harry. Harry rolled his eyes. Does he think that makes him impressive? "You really don't."
"Various celebrations use different rituals," said Kingsley diplomatically. Harry wondered if he wanted to cover his eyes and shake his head—it was the way he tended to deal with Harry's pointing out that he didn't need protection anymore—but though his hands twitched, he kept them on his desk. "The important point is that hawthorn trees are also associated with faeries, the otherworld, and sometimes the entrance to that otherworld. As much as the experts on the situation can tell us, they believe that Puck will try to use the power of this night to free his people from the otherworld."
"And we don't want that to happen," said Harry, barely managing not to make it a question. He really didn't know much about faeries, except for vague memories of small creatures with wings sitting on toadstools—Mrs. Figg had had wallpaper like that in one room—and Hermione dragging him to see A Midsummer Night's Dream two years ago. He assumed that Puck freeing his people was bad, because nothing else could require him and Malfoy to work together, but he didn't understand it, intellectually or emotionally.
"It depends, Potter," Malfoy said with brittle brightness. "Do you want to go back to a world where you have to put iron above your children's cradles to keep faeries from stealing them? Where certain nights mean certain death? Where not leaving out milk or bread or other gifts for the faeries, or speaking of them by their names, might mean your house being destroyed or your life taken?"
Harry watched him closely. Malfoy's hand was clenched on the hawthorn wand as though he wanted to snap it. He noticed Harry looking and tossed him a hostile glance. Harry turned back to Kingsley, because he could be graceful and diplomatic like that. Right. Nice to know that there's no chance of camaraderie with him, just in case I forgot.
"Puck is strong enough to bring his Queen through," Kingsley said, very gently. This time, it was the white-knuckled grip of his hand on the side of the desk that let Harry know he was actually frightened. "And that could well mean the end of modern civilization. It almost did when we fought the last war against the faeries."
"I never heard anything about that," Harry said.
Kingsley shook his head. "Our ancestors destroyed most of the knowledge about the war and how they bound the faeries away, because they were afraid someone would try to free them. Not every wizard agreed with the decision to banish them. There have always been fools who liked beauty better than peace." He was quiet a moment. "Destroying that knowledge leaves us at a disadvantage right now, but it was the wisest thing to do," he added. "We do know that the faerie war was what caused our revealing to Muggles in such large numbers that the witch burnings started. And now that Muggles have worse weapons and a longer reach, we don't want that to happen again."
Harry blinked, shaken and sobered. Faeries must be powerful, then. I'll have to learn to think of them as something other than little creatures with wings.
"How did Puck escape?" he asked. "Or do we know?"
Kingsley nodded. "We were able to find his entrance to our world and examine the broken bindings. Apparently the wizards who chained him were charmed by him and deliberately made the chains a little weaker than they were supposed to be." He shook his head, then fastened his eyes on Harry. "You'll have to be careful when you face him, Harry. The one thing all the stories about him agree on is that he's amusing and clever. He'll do his best to trick you instead of simply killing you. You must not be taken in."
Harry nodded back. Something that could scare Kingsley was no laughing matter. "How do we find him now? Or how do we know where he's going to try to force the entrance for his Queen?"
"That's where I come in," Malfoy said quietly, stepping up beside him.
Harry ignored the frisson of awareness that moved through him. He was at least as much an expert on ignoring that kind of thing as Malfoy was an expert on hawthorn. He often had that reaction to attractive male Aurors—and one had to call Malfoy physically attractive, if only to say something nice about the poor bastard. Harry knew what the shiver meant, but he didn't have to act on it.
"My wand connects me to Faerie," said Malfoy, his hands moving slowly over the hawthorn wood. "Really, any hawthorn wand has that connection. But in this case, it happens that the wood was taken from the most likely stand of trees for Puck to try and force an entrance through, because it's the most powerful. And my wand has been vibrating in my hands and trying to pull me in certain directions since the first day of spring." He smiled tightly. "I'm fairly sure we'll have no trouble finding him. It's what happens when we do that's the problem."
Harry nodded again. He wondered idly if the distraction of the vibrating wand was why Malfoy had flat-out lost to him in a duel the other day, something that had never happened before. They were more equally matched in training than in Quidditch. "And do we have a strategy for fighting him?" he asked, turning back to Kingsley.
"Read the reports and files before you go." Kingsley spread his hands. "I've already had our researchers talk to the Aurors who found the broken bindings and gather as much information as is available on the first war against the faeries. Beyond that, I'm afraid I can't help you."
Harry exhaled. His heart had begun to beat a solemn, steady tattoo, similar to the one it had played when he went up against Fenrir Greyback, the last of the truly dangerous Death Eaters, but worse. Greyback, whatever his status as a personal threat to Harry, was hardly capable of destroying modern civilization.
And it was April twenty-ninth today.
This, at least, is an adventure.
As they left Shacklebolt's office, Draco glanced at Potter. He wanted to sneer. He could see the slightly dreamy look in those green eyes that meant the scarred git was thinking of it as an adventure.
He doesn't understand how powerful or dangerous Puck is.
But Draco kept his sneer to himself, because Potter had become quick to notice signs of disrespect directed towards him in the last few years, and Draco had no wish for their mission to fail because of bickering. It would probably fail anyway, of course; that was how his luck ran. But he wouldn't add an extra burden to it.
"I think we should visit the place Puck escaped from," Potter said suddenly, startling Draco. "I'd like to examine the bindings."
Draco clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. His immediate impulse was to protest that they didn't have time, but that was only because Potter had made the suggestion. In reality, he would have said something similar himself, if he'd thought of it.
"We should," he said. "But we'll talk to the researchers first, so that we can know where that place is."
Potter gave a long, aggravated, aggravating sigh. "Of course we have to do that, Malfoy. I'm not stupid, you know."
"You do a bloody good impression of it," Draco muttered before he could stop himself. Really, he didn't mean to, but Potter would keep giving him such perfect openings.
"What was that?" Potter glared at him.
Draco was very careful not to look fully at him, this time. Those eyes had a devastating power over him that Potter hadn't discovered and Draco had no reason to let him know about. And it was simply ridiculous and unfair that Potter had become more fit and more steady since he was an Auror, dropping the ugliness and the rash behavior that Draco had used as defenses against his own tendency to be attracted to the Chosen Blunderer.
"I said you have bloody good ideas sometimes," he said.
Potter looked vaguely dissatisfied, but Draco stretched his strides out, and Potter had to scramble to keep up. Give him one indignity to worry about, and he was less likely to question the other.
Harry winced as they Apparated into the grove of trees that had contained Puck for five hundred years. He hadn't seen a sign of the bindings yet, and the magic vibrating in the air still stung his skin and made his hair curl harder.
They stood on the top of a small hill, until recently shielded by an Unplottable spell. The Aurors who had investigated the escape had broken the spell so other people could come in. Harry looked around and rubbed his arms. The hill was tiny, the countryside about it flat and blandly green, the "grove" a few scattered thorn trees. That didn't seem to matter. The magic made it all stronger and stranger than it should be.
"Shite," Malfoy said, arriving beside him.
"What?" Harry asked, picking up his wand and turning in a slow circle. He didn't see anything, but after what they had learned from the researchers, he realized that didn't necessarily mean much. Faeries were good with glamours and shapeshifting and tricking the senses, and Puck was one of the most powerful among them. Harry did resent the time it had taken them to consult the researchers, which meant this was now the day Puck was supposed to bring his Queen through, but there could be no doubt they'd learned some useful information.
"My wand is vibrating," Malfoy said under his breath. Unconsciously, Harry leaned closer to him, and then regretted it when Malfoy glared up at him with intense eyes. Harry hadn't had sex in four months, and his brain was still too apt to turn in directions it shouldn't when he was in close quarters with someone. Why couldn't Malfoy be a woman? he thought irrelevantly. "That means that he's probably here."
Harry resisted the urge to cast a spell that would detect eavesdroppers, or one that would muffle his and Malfoy's words. No use giving up the advantage of surprise if Puck hadn't realized they were talking about him.
"Can we do anything?" he murmured.
Surprisingly, Malfoy nodded. Harry reckoned he hadn't yet joined Kingsley's "We-Are-All-Going-to-Die-Because-Puck-Is-Free" Club. "It would actually be easier to confront him here, where the bindings still have some of their force. We might be able to chain him again."
Harry smiled and turned so that his back was to Malfoy's. "Come out, come out, Puck, wherever you are!" he called, cupping his hands around his mouth.
"You blithering idiot," Malfoy said, neither raising his voice nor adding any inflection to it. "What did you want to do that for?"
Harry shrugged, eyes intently searching through the trees in front of him. He had the feeling that the magic had changed when he called out the name, but he couldn't tell for certain. He didn't even know whether it had grown weaker or stronger. "Because the researchers said that faeries admire courage," he said.
"Yes, but they detest being named," said Malfoy, and caught his arm. "Call them the Good People, or the Fair Folk."
Harry frowned at him. "If they're either of those, it's only because it's what suits them at the moment. That's what the researchers said."
"But that's the way they are," said Malfoy. "For God's sake, Potter, you have to understand—"
He stopped speaking. Harry followed his gaze, the tension of the magic prickling down his spine.
He nearly laughed with relief when he realized that a black donkey with one white spot on its head was the only thing that stood watching them. "That's not him," he told Malfoy, who obviously needed some help understanding this.
"Shapeshifters, remember?" Malfoy hissed out of the corner of his mouth. He didn't take his eyes off the donkey.
Harry felt a bit stupid for forgetting that, but he still didn't see the point of hiding, especially when Puck knew they were here. He marched forwards to confront the donkey.
It watched him come, twitching its ears back and forth and champing its teeth. Maybe it was eating a thistle, Harry thought crazily. A faerie thistle, since he couldn't see anything in its mouth.
"Good donkey," he said, pausing a step away.
The donkey cocked its head and eyed him up and down. Harry flinched a little, then shook himself. If there wasn't human—or being—intelligence behind those eyes, he would feel really stupid.
Abruptly, it moved towards him. Harry could smell the scent of wet fur and bark, strong enough to make him wrinkle his nose. There was nothing of the sweetness that the researchers had said would surround Puck.
Then the donkey stepped delicately on his foot.
"Bloody—" It hurt so much that Harry couldn't even finish swearing. He clutched his injured toes and hopped up and down, teeth clenched on a howl. Malfoy, the git, laughed out loud before he managed to stifle it. Harry shot him a murderous glare. He wasn't going to forget that one.
Then another laugh cut the air, and Harry didn't have to be told that it wasn't Malfoy throwing his voice. It was far too high, shrill and sweet, like a soprano lark. He turned around, trying to draw his wand and hold his foot away from the ground at the same time.
The donkey had vanished. Facing him was a slender young man as tall as Harry, with curly golden hair hanging to his shoulders, so that he looked like a more dandyish Lucius Malfoy. He had pointed ears, emerging from under the hair and projecting up the sides of his head until they looked like a cat's. His eyes were slanted sharply, and a riotous green so rich that Harry looked hastily at the ground, only then remembering the researchers' warning about becoming trapped in a faerie's gaze.
"The old jokes are still the best ones, I feel," said the man comfortably. "And you can't say that I hid. I came out when you called me, did I not? You called my name, and I came." He paused, apparently savoring the sound of the words, then shook his head regretfully. "I can't let it stand, I'm afraid. What with the unfortunate turns that human language has taken over the centuries, there are too many of my peers who would laugh if you told them that I come when called."
He made a casual gesture at Harry, adding, "It's rather too bad. I like your eyes."
Draco had been on edge from the moment the donkey appeared, not least because the hawthorn wand was vibrating a warning like a rattlesnake's tail against his hand. And he had sense enough not to look into Puck's eyes, if Potter didn't.
Then the faerie made a gesture that resembled the rising and falling of an executioner's axe.
Draco knew it was meant to remove Potter's head in the exact same way.
He had spent some time among the Dark Arts books in his parents' library since he received the wand's first warning—and if Shacklebolt believed that all knowledge of how to fight Puck's kind had perished with the original binders, he was sadly mistaken. Draco's ancestors had fought in that war, too, and they had delighted in recording how they managed to overcome a terrible, powerful set of foes that, until the Queen had wanted to destroy the entire world because she was bored and dying humans were pretty, no one had tried to fight.
He'd sneaked one hand into his robe pocket whilst Puck was busy with Potter. Of course he was fascinated with Potter; everyone was. And those green eyes were a sign, perhaps, of faerie heritage in the far-distant past.
But Draco could not be fooled by mere beauty, and he threw the weapon he held at Puck without hesitation. It formed two loops, and one of them was hawthorn wood.
The other was cold iron.
Puck swung around to face the loop the moment it was thrown, and his hand came down, completing the gesture but severing the hawthorn wood instead of Potter's throat. Draco began to breathe again. He carefully kept himself from looking at Potter, of course. He knew the idiot would be gaping gormlessly, and that reminded him how unlikely they really were to survive this.
"Foolish," Puck began in a sober tone, wagging his head, "to use hawthorn wood against me so close to Beltane—"
And then the iron loop, which had continued whirling, utterly unaffected by faerie magic, hit him across the face.
Puck screamed, his head flying back with the force of the blow. Draco knew he couldn't count on it laying him out unconscious, the way it surely would have a human, so he darted forwards, grabbed Potter's hand, and then tugged him back to a safe distance.
The iron flared with blue fire, and there was a scent like roasting chestnuts. Draco shuddered. Well, I reckon we should be grateful that faerie skin doesn't smell like meat when it burns.
Puck reeled away, then caught himself with a hand on one of the thorn trees and stood there for a moment. Draco had to put his wand away, so hard were the vibrations. He had practiced Apparating without it, though, so he moved close to Potter. Potter still hadn't said a word, and hadn't looked away from Puck. Draco wondered in some irritation if it was possible for a faerie so powerful to hypnotize a victim without using any song or glamour.
Puck looked up at them at last. An enormous burn scar crisscrossed his face, and the effect was like destroying part of a paper mâché mask; behind it was nothingness. Draco shivered.
The more so when he realized that Puck was smiling.
"A real challenge," said Puck. "At last. Most of my imprisonment was spent listening to humans congratulate themselves. I could hear their language. The bindings were meant to leave us in partial contact with your world, after all, or how would we know what we had lost?" He shook his head solemnly. "But most of them aren't real challenges. My Queen will know what to do with them, when she comes.
"But you, I like." He nodded to Draco. "And you—" He turned to Potter, and then the smile vanished from his face as if knocked off.
"You," he said, and his voice was a soft snarl. "Who are you? What are you? Even if he had not flung the iron at me, my spell would not have touched you." His voice sank further. "What are you?"
"I don't know what you mean," Potter said, his voice sounding dazed. Draco cursed under his breath. Elf-shot. He'll tell the truth to any question Puck asks him, now. At least he doesn't know the answer to this one.
"No matter," said Puck, and his voice was cheerful again, like the rush of a small stream downhill in the rain, though his fierce frown stayed. "It'll only take one turn to be rid of you." And he lifted his arms and flapped them twice.
The thorn trees uncoiled in a wash of blue lightning, and something like a gauzy golden curtain swung out to embrace them. Draco shouted and tried to Apparate—
The nothingness that usually surrounded them during Apparition was full of dazzling green eyes and blond hair instead, and Puck's voice, echoing from everywhere and nowhere, said, "Lord, what fools these mortals be."
And then the air went silent. Draco lifted his head and looked around fearfully.
They stood on a meadow crowded with lilies, bending and crackling underfoot. Draco only knew they were lilies because he recognized the shape of the flower. They were blue, and the sky was green, and an intolerable, honey-sweet scent was everywhere.
Puck had cast them into the otherworld.
And, almost incidentally after everything else that had happened, a black unicorn was charging them with a lowered horn.
Harry didn't know what had happened to him. He didn't know how they had got where they were now, in a field of flowers that smelled bad and beneath a sky that looked like a storm was coming in, with a unicorn charging them.
But he knew one thing.
He didn't like it.
Anger burst through him like a vision from Voldemort, and he whipped his wand out and screamed, "Abiscido!"
The spell soared away from him in a burst of boomerang-shaped air and hit the unicorn hard between the eyes. Its horn cracked in two down the middle. Then it wavered and crumbled to dust.
The unicorn stumbled to a stop and spent a moment crossing its eyes in a vain attempt to see the middle of its forehead. Then it turned those enormous, betrayed eyes, liquid like a cow's, on Harry, and backed away a slow step.
"I can't believe you just did that, Potter," Malfoy said in a faint voice. Harry didn't need to look at him to know he would be wearing an expression of shocked disapproval. He always did when he used that tone.
And since when can I link his expressions to his tone?
Harry ruthlessly ignored the question and watched as the unicorn turned and trotted into the forest of thick, lumpy trees that had suddenly appeared across the meadow, its head bent so its mane trailed the ground. "It was charging us," he pointed out. "I think that's a pretty good reason to deprive a unicorn of its horn."
"Yes, but you don't do that," Malfoy began.
"You don't drink a unicorn's blood, either, but Voldemort did," Harry snapped, and shifted from foot to foot. His toes still ached where Puck had stepped on them in donkey form.
"And do you always take the Dark Lord for your role model?" Malfoy had obviously recovered from whatever Harry had done to shock his proprieties, as his tone was perfectly acidic.
"We don't have time for this discussion," Harry said, and deliberately made his voice harsh enough that he felt Malfoy jump beside him. Good. I don't need the git getting in my way. "Puck tried to get rid of us so that we can't interfere with his dumping his Queen into our world. That's clear enough. The question is, what do we do about it?" He turned and looked at Malfoy expectantly.
Malfoy appeared both upset and coy. "Why assume I know, Potter?"
"Because you managed to scar Puck," Harry said. "You know how to fight him. Anything you know about faeries, I need to know."
"Well, that knowledge doesn't include a map of the otherworld, Potter," Malfoy snapped, all traces of a smile vanishing from his face. Good, Harry thought. I like him better when he doesn't smile. He's always plotting something when he smiles. "I don't think it's possible to make a map." He looked around apprehensively; Harry followed his gaze and noticed that the forest had vanished again, replaced by a stand of unnaturally blue and sharp mountains, which appeared at once distant and close by. "The otherworld shifts and changes constantly. Two doors out of it might be side by side and at the same time come out thousands of miles apart in our world." His voice sank.
"Save the cheap theater," Harry said, and started out across the lilies in the direction of the mountains, less because it was the direction he would have chosen than because the mountains were at least different. "In the meantime, I'll be tackling the problem directly." The heads of the flowers swished against his robes.
Malfoy choked on a noise of disgust and hurried after him. "Weren't you listening to Shacklebolt, Potter? Faeries can't be fought as if they're human."
"I know," Harry said absently, studying the flowers. Was there something moving underneath them? He thought he could catch a glimpse of a sinuously sliding body, like a snake's, but after Voldemort he had a tendency to pin any sudden movement that way. "But we're human, and I don't believe we can think like them. We're going to end up fighting them like humans no matter what we do."
Malfoy paused to think about that one, which Harry was glad of. It gave him more time to look around the otherworld and try to determine what was so strange about it.
Honey-scented air and green sky were things he could conceive of. He could even imagine an entire field of lilies Transfigured to blue. And the appearing and disappearing forest and mountains were really no stranger than some of the hallucinations he had seen whilst under the influence of the narcotic potions administered during one of the final Auror exams.
It wasn't even the fact that nothing had a shadow, although that was an unpleasant shock when he realized it. No, his breath was speeding up and his skin was crawling for no reason, and he hated it.
"It's land adapted to another species," Malfoy said suddenly.
Harry spun around and stared at him. "What?" It wasn't every day that Malfoy suddenly started sounding like a Muggle biology textbook.
Malfoy gestured at the field and the mountains, which had shrunk to lemon-colored hills. Each hill had a tall, slender tree in the exact middle of the summit. "We're used to tame countries," he said. "Countries we've tamed, I should say. We're the superior species in our own world. We don't worry about unicorns stepping around the corner to spear non-virgins through the heart or centaurs raping us in the middle of the night. But here, the faeries are the superior species. We're just prey."
Harry thought about that for a few seconds. Then he said evenly, "Bollocks."
Malfoy lifted his eyebrows. He was sweating for some reason, and his face appeared to be pulling apart at the corners. "I thought you were the one who wanted to trust my expertise on faeries?'
"We can't sense something like that," Harry said irritably. "Unless you're claiming that we're nervous in the same way we would be if we were traveling a wild jungle and being stalked by a jaguar."
Malfoy shook his head. "This goes deeper. The faeries have conquered and tamed their nature as thoroughly as we have ours. The problem is that the effects are different, and so we're walking through a land that's spent thousands of years being sculpted by alien minds and aesthetics." He ripped his nails down his arm whilst his face turned into a blue lion's. "That's what we're feeling."
"Bollocks," Harry snapped again. "And stop shapeshifting."
"I'm not," said Malfoy, even as he dropped to all fours and began to gambol in circles.
Harry backed up, aiming his wand carefully at this strange apparition. Clearly Puck had managed to replace Malfoy when he wasn't looking.
Draco closed his hands into fists and held perfectly still, though he knew that it probably wouldn't help if Potter was seeing a complete faerie illusion. Damn it, I know this is one of the side-effects of being elf-shot. I should have been prepared.
But unfortunately, the treatments the books recommended for helping someone recover from glamour-sickness involved numerous potions, only two of which Draco was carrying with him. And those probably needed to be saved for later and more severe trouble.
Draco forced himself to speak almost casually. Again, that wouldn't make a difference if the illusion had twisted him into a creature Potter hated and feared, but he would win any slight advantage he could. "Tell me what I'm doing. What kind of creature do you see me as?"
"A lion. A blue lion. With a bleeding arm." Potter sounded belligerent and confused at the same time, as if he knew what he saw didn't make any sense but didn't have the courage to doubt the testimony of his senses.
Draco could have laughed in relief. Whether it was Puck who did this or one of the faeries he was certain was watching him, they had made a miscalculation. "But why should you be afraid of my shapeshifting into a lion?" he asked, keeping his voice innocently confused. "A lion is the Gryffindor house symbol."
Potter relaxed as he thought about that. Then he said, "Not a blue lion."
"So perhaps I bred with a Ravenclaw." Draco moved closer to him, step by slow step, his voice still low. Potter's eyes widened, then narrowed. Still no hint of what he's really seeing. Sod it. "I'm supposed to be here with you, Potter, no matter what shape I'm in. And we have a Puck to catch."
"How can you catch him on four legs?" Potter demanded.
"I'll carry my wand in my mouth," Draco said. His heart was pounding hard enough to fill his ears with sound, but at least that was better than some of the things he might have heard in this country. "And when Puck comes near, I'll cut his knees apart. He won't expect that."
Potter laughed. Then he doubled over, gasping, one arm wrapped around his midriff, and something small and dark green flew out of his mouth.
Thank Merlin, he coughed up the elf-shot. Draco didn't touch the thing, though, instead backing away and casting Incendio at it. All he needed was to have the shot sink into his skin and for Puck to gain control over him that way.
Potter wiped his mouth for a moment as the elf-shot burned, then squinted at Draco. "Malfoy, you're not a blue lion anymore," he said vaguely. Then his eyes sharpened. "Why did that work?" he asked.
"I used the kind of irrelevant humor that a faerie would try on you," Draco said calmly. "The weapons they use on mortals can't withstand their other weapons." He arched an eyebrow. "Feeling better?"
"You saved my life, I think," Potter said, smiling at him. Draco hated the frantic flutter in his stomach and banished it to the deepest, darkest depths of the place where Weasleys went when they died. "Thank you."
"I certainly do hope you're feeling better," purred a voice behind Potter.
Both of them turned, and Draco felt the flutter in his stomach return with a vengeance—though not for his own sake—when he found himself facing the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
Fuck. I can protect myself against her, I think, but what about Potter?
Harry blinked. He had assumed that any faerie finding and speaking to them in this country would be Puck—after all, why would others want to reveal themselves to invading Aurors when they could remain hidden and still have the advantage of surprise?—but no, this was a tall, slender woman with pale skin, delicate dragonfly wings, a tumble of red hair that put Ginny's to shame, and stunning green eyes.
She moved slowly towards him and reached out one hand. Her eyes shone with curiosity and a quality that Harry could only call impishness.
Remember that imps were originally fiends of hell, he thought, and stepped backwards, raising his wand.
The woman pouted and stopped, flinging curls of fiery hair back from her pointed ears. "Oh, you aren't any fun free," she said, and concentrated.
In moments, her face acquired extra dimensions of beauty, as if it were a diamond with more polished facets. Her skin shone, her eyes were blazingly, unnaturally bright and emotional, and Harry could imagine how soft her hair would feel wrapped around his throat, how her arms would cradle him. This was the part, he decided, where he was supposed to fall down fainting at her feet.
Except for the other part where I'm gay.
Yes, he decided as the minutes passed and the faerie woman looked more and more bewildered, completely gay. I reckon I owe the faeries something for teaching me that, at least.
"That doesn't work on me," he said, when he decided that she was getting angry anyway. "Sorry."
At least the woman, unlike Puck, gave some notice before attacking. She crouched, her arms held out in front of her like a praying mantis's, and hissed through her teeth. Then she sprang at him like a mantis on a bug.
Harry had learned from the way Malfoy scarred Puck, though. He twirled his wand, and two manacles of iron popped into existence on her wrists. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw them materialize. He hadn't been sure how far his magic would work in the otherworld, one reason he hadn't tried Transfiguring the grass or flowers into chains the way he normally would have.
The faerie woman stopped and stared at her hands. Then she uttered a shivering scream that made Harry reach up automatically to his ears, thinking his eardrums must have shattered. They hadn't, but it was a near thing as the woman raked her hands over the iron bands again and again.
Harry endured the screaming for a moment or so, then used a Silencio. The woman's mouth went on moving; maybe she could still hear her own cries. All that mattered to Harry was that he couldn't.
"I am impressed, Potter," Malfoy murmured behind him. "Maybe you're learning how to fight faeries after all. Though of course I had to instruct you first."
"Shut up, Malfoy, you annoying git," said Harry in a weary tone, and, since the woman's mouth was still moving, suspended her upside-down in midair to get her attention. "Now," he said when her green eyes fixed on him, and cautiously lifted the Silencing Charm. "I want you to tell us the way out of the otherworld."
The woman's hands flexed in the manacles. Sometime in the last minute, she'd replaced her ordinary fingernails with glistening glassy claws. Harry kept a sharp eye on her as he waited for her to respond.
"That is a great gift," she said at last, and her voice sounded like knives scraping together. Harry shuddered involuntarily. "I would not give you such a great gift for such a little one as to escape scarring."
Harry huffed. Wonderful. She wants to bargain. The researchers had warned him that would probably happen, since faeries loved to trick mortals and a bargain that made the mortals greedy and eager was their favorite tool. But he had hoped he wouldn't run into someone like that.
"I can do more than scar you," he said, and leaned forwards threateningly. "I can cut off your wings and your hands."
Malfoy made a small, contemptuous noise behind him, eclipsed a moment later in the faerie woman's laugh. She had grown thinner all the time, so that now she really did resemble a mantis, her shoulders hunched forwards under her wings and her face spare and triangular. "You couldn't do a thing like that. You don't have the heart for it." Her tongue flickered out and around her lips as though she were tasting the air. Snake, insect, I wish to Merlin she would make up her mind what she wants to be, Harry thought. "I'm very good at seeing mortal hearts. I know you won't hurt me. And if you did? I could simply grow the limbs back again." She twisted in the manacles, rubbing her chin against her arm. Harry wondered if that was some sort of odd preening gesture.
"You understand nothing," Malfoy said roughly, and shoved past him. "Here. Let me bargain with her."
Harry would have refused, except he saw the way the faerie woman's eyes narrowed on Malfoy and turned wary, and he decided that anything that scared her about Malfoy was all to the good.
So he satisfied himself by falling behind his partner and scowling menacingly. If Malfoy wanted to think the scowl was all for the woman, then he could.
Draco kept his eyes locked on the faerie woman's as he moved forwards, and noted absently as he went how much it was like matching stares with Potter. He must have faerie blood, somewhere, even though people said he inherited his eyes from his mother. Well, it wouldn't be the first time that a child who could have made trouble for a pure-blood woman was dropped off for Muggles to adopt.
Then Draco realized what he was thinking and shook his head in disgust. Focusing on Potter's parents when he had to make a bargain! Really, Potter had been creeping into his head far too often lately.
He halted a respectful distance from the woman. He had already cast a spell that would moisten his eyes without giving him the trouble of blinking. The slightest sign could make the faeries think you weak. Draco knew they would have enough trouble merely getting an answer out of her. No need to add extra problems to the process.
"You can see what I am," he told her. "What I was." He made a tiny gesture to his left forearm, where the Dark Mark was hidden under the sleeve; the faerie looked in that direction, and recoiled. Draco smiled. Faeries were amoral, not immoral. Dark magic like Voldemort's was likely to repel them, especially because it wasn't beautiful. "You can bargain with me. And I know more about your kind than my partner does. I assure you, whilst I might not be able to mark you permanently, I can hurt you much more than he would." He bared his teeth. "And I'd enjoy doing it."
For long moments, the woman went on looking at him with defiance in her face. Draco held still. Faeries were flighty, fickle, difficult to predict. He'd done all he could to encourage her to see him as a fellow predator and not a foolish mortal; time would tell if he'd managed.
And then she sighed, and tilted her head down, and said, "You know all about hunting, I see that. But it will take someone like your companion to force a way through the door."
"Someone like my companion," Draco said, not wanting to admit ignorance when he actually had the faerie cooperating. "Of course. I didn't plan on leaving him behind." He smiled when she started at that, her head swaying back and forth like a pendulum. Keep her off her guard. "And what price will you take for the location of the gate?"
"A small thing," sad the faerie, her voice wistful and sly. "I have mated so often with my kind that the thrill of it has worn off—which is the only reason I tried to enchant your companion." She pouted at Potter; Draco heard him grunt in irritation. "I wish a kiss from you." She opened her mouth wide and tapped her pointed tongue against her teeth, as if to reinforce what the kiss would mean.
Draco considered it carefully. He knew, from what both the researchers and his own studies had said, that he shouldn't offer a lock of hair or a drop of blood. Faeries could use those to gain far too personal a control over a human's body and actions. But he didn't think they could use saliva, and a kiss was different.
Besides, he suspected what the woman would try to do since her trick hadn't worked on Potter, and he was vastly amused at the idea of pulling her into such a bad bargain.
"Agreed," he said. The faerie brightened and ran her tongue all the way around her mouth again, which did seem as if it could open uncomfortably wide.
Potter's hand closed on his arm at once, with a grip as punishing as that the iron manacles had on the faerie. "No!" he hissed. "Are you mad? She'll do the same thing she tried to do to me, except with you she'll succeed, and—"
"You are making no sense, Potter," Draco said in a high-pitched voice, as if he were much more nervous and irritated by Potter than he really was, and twisted free. He turned around with a haughty tilt of his head and faced the faerie woman. Her eyes were wide and shone, and her pointed ears pricked forwards, signs of sexual interest. He used his wand to flip her right-side up.
I don't care how well you can read hearts, Draco thought, as he stepped up to her and clasped a hand behind her neck. You can be fooled by fairly simple devices, and that makes you an idiot.
His lips met the woman's, and she immediately darted out her tongue, scrubbing at his gums and teeth frantically, hopefully. Draco could feel the smooth movement of something richer and thicker than saliva along his tongue, and laughed silently. Yes, she had planned to enchant him. She wanted one victim that her wiles worked on, and if she couldn't do it by means of a glamour on her face, she'd use venom.
Except the venom only made the kiss a bit more wet, and caused Draco to spit out a gob of congealed liquid on the ground. The faerie woman pulled back and looked at him, eyes so wide that he thought they might turn as round as human eyes in a moment, instead of unnaturally doe-like.
"I only like men," he murmured, loud enough for Potter to hear. He didn't know how the fool had managed to resist the faerie's glamour, but he knew he had to announce his means, so that Potter didn't mistake it for Dark magic.
The woman shrieked in anger and tried to bring her hands up to scratch him, but Draco had suspected that would happen and danced lightly out of the way. She was left flailing and jerking. Draco spat one more time, to rid himself of the last of the venom, and then inclined his head.
"The gate?" he asked.
Malfoy's bent, too?
Harry knew he should be thinking about something else—such as whether the faerie would really tell them the truth about the exit's location when they'd hurt and tricked her—but his mind was fastened on that seemingly irrelevant fact. He'd assumed it was bravado that made Malfoy decide he could survive a faerie's kiss. But no, it was the same reason Harry could.
It was a reason that mattered to Harry, stupid as it was to be concerned with such things when they were in another world and had no idea if they would escape in time to stop Puck, much less manage to stop him when they found him.
The woman remained silent until a shudder ran over her body, bowing her back and making her wings twitch. Harry stepped forwards in concern, but Malfoy's wand was still at his side, although his mouth was locked in a wide smile. He hadn't done whatever was making the faerie convulse, Harry decided cautiously, and retreated until he was out of the way.
"The gate is at the base of the mountains, inside three blue stones." The faerie literally spat the words, so that both Harry and Malfoy moved out of the way to avoid a string of honey-colored venom. Harry thought Malfoy's casual movement was more designed to show how utterly he despised the woman for trying to seduce him even now, though. "And you will not survive it."
Harry bristled, thinking she meant him at first, and then noticed that her eyes were locked on Malfoy. "What do you mean?" he demanded, forgetting that she had no reason to answer him truthfully, since they hadn't made a bargain.
The faerie woman laughed at him, high and mocking. "Do you wish to offer me something and then ask the question again?"
Harry snarled in frustration. Malfoy had the knack of negotiating with faeries, but he had proven too openly that he didn't.
Malfoy laid a hand on his arm and shook his head. "Not worth it, Potter, even if you could think of something she wanted. Let's go."
Harry nodded and turned to follow him. The hills had turned back into the mountains, luckily, so at least they didn't have to chase them across the otherworld.
"You have not removed the iron," the faerie called after them, her voice taking on a haunting tone, like a bell ringing in the distance. "Even with my claws like this, I can't cut them off myself."
"I wasn't going to remove it," Harry said over his shoulder, and waited until the incredulous screech had died before he added, "Maybe you aren't so good at reading hearts after all."
The faerie apparently tried to fly after them, if the sound of beating wings was any indication, but something—the mere heaviness of the manacles, perhaps—dragged her to the ground. Harry chuckled and walked faster, raising his wand. The sky was changing and darkening, so he cast a Lumos that stabbed a path of light out before them. He hoped the sky's change didn't mean that hours had passed outside whilst they were trapped in the otherworld.
"You're crueler than I thought you were, Potter," Malfoy said thoughtfully.
"And you're braver." Harry shot a sideways glance at him. Malfoy was walking with his head slightly bowed, his forehead wrinkled as though he had to think long and deeply about Harry leaving the manacles in place. "Unless you knew all along that the faerie's kiss wouldn't affect you."
Malfoy gave him a glare deep enough that it actually rocked Harry on his heels. "I knew," he snapped. "But I don't think you can claim that it takes anything away from my bravery."
"No, no, of course not!" Harry said hastily. Bloody hell, I try to pay him a compliment and this is what it winds up as. "That would be stupid. Especially since you've been the one taking all the risks and counting up all the achievements since the beginning of this adventure."
Malfoy slowed down as he thought about that. Harry had to conceal his surprise. He would have thought the git was always silently measuring his actions and concluding that he deserved more acknowledgment than he received.
"I have, haven't I?" Malfoy eventually said, sounding pleased as they moved on through the swishing lilies and tall, lighted strands of individual grass that hissed as they rubbed against their robes. "I was the one who scarred Puck, the one who bargained with the faerie, the one who knew what it meant when Puck transported us to the otherworld—"
"The one who's rubbing it in right now," Harry muttered, but he wasn't as upset as he pretended to be. Malfoy sounded more positive, more confident. Harry could do with some confidence right now, when he had so little himself.
It's the smugness that comes with it which I object to.
"You can't deny that I'm as good an Auror as you are," Malfoy said, looking around as if he sought an audience who would agree with him. "Better, right at the moment."
And Harry saw a chance to regain control of the conversation. He smiled. Malfoy, turning around to face him again, actually started and fell backwards a step.
"Right at the moment, yes," Harry said amiably, and then stepped past him and walked on towards the three blue stones that concealed the gate, whilst Malfoy spluttered and scrambled after him.
He's gay—he must be, to resist her so easily when he succumbed to the elf-shot—and he admires me.
It had been so long since those two thoughts went together for Draco that he had to work hard not to simply stare at Potter with his tongue hanging out.
But it would have been stupid to do that. Clearly, Potter still delighted in taking him off-guard; he had deliberately done it a few minutes ago. There was nothing to say that he would still return Draco's admiration when the crisis was past and they had managed to stop Puck.
If they managed to stop Puck.
That was another reason he shouldn't think too much about Potter's vague attentions, Draco told himself virtuously as they hiked up a steep hill and towards a triple gleam of blue. They were fighting a deadly enemy at the moment. He had to keep his mind on that and not on spinning dreams of—what? Dating Potter? Of all people?
Don't make me laugh, he thought, but the retort was less effective when the person he directed it at was himself.
He shook his head and then turned around, narrowing his eyes. He thought he had heard a laugh behind him. But, of course, hearing things in the otherworld was no guarantee that they actually existed, and all he did was make Potter look at him sideways in curiosity.
"Nerves," he said briefly, and Potter nodded and smiled as if he understood, before he turned back to the three blue stones in front of them.
Draco eyed them. They stuck out of the hill like teeth, he thought, and the center one had a dim white line on it that he could imagine widening into a door that led elsewhere. But no matter how much Potter tapped them with his hand or his wand, hopped around them, kicked them, or sang them the names of faeries—ones he had picked up from Muggle drama, Draco understood incredulously—nothing happened.
"I don't reckon you know how to open this thing, do you?" Potter asked at last, turning towards him. His hair was disheveled and his eyes wide with desperation. Draco cursed himself for finding it heart-warming.
"No," Draco admitted. "I could have asked the faerie, but that would have cost me another bargain, and I doubt I would have succeeded in tricking her this time." He hesitated. "I don't reckon you have any idea what she meant when she said that you would survive the passage through the gate and I wouldn't?"
"If I did," Potter said sharply, staring at him, "I would have done something already to extend the protection to you."
Draco swallowed to avoid showing how much that meant to him. Then he said, "It has to have something to do with faerie magic. Have you noticed that all the ones we've met so far have eyes the same color as yours, Potter?"
Potter looked away and kicked at the ground with one foot. "Lots of people must have them," he muttered.
Draco shook his head. "I don't think so. I've never met another one." He paused reflectively, forcing his racing thoughts—which wanted to contemplate Puck, and the lack of time they probably had, and Potter's attractiveness, and many other irrelevant things—to lie still. "But then again, your mother was a Muggleborn."
Potter gave a short, clipped nod, peering suspiciously at Draco as if he thought an insult would come out next.
Draco thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "That doesn't rule out anything, unfortunately," he muttered. "A faerie could have slept with a Muggle as well as a witch or a wizard, and left a trace of their blood behind." He paced back and forth in front of Potter, his head bowed. "There has to be something there, and it has to be something we can turn to our advantage."
"Does it?" Potter muttered darkly. "It would be like faeries to refer to some 'advantage' that doesn't make a bloody bit of difference."
Draco scowled at him over his shoulder. "You're supposed to be the Gryffindor optimist and the hero around here," he said. "The shining symbol of the light. The answer to all our hopes." Potter grimaced, looking as if he'd bitten into a sour apple. He should; Draco had stolen those titles from headlines in the Daily Prophet of the more fawning kind. "So come up with some hopeful perspective on the situation."
Potter took a deep breath. "Well, I don't think my blood is going to do it," he said, and he made a successful struggle not to sound snappish. Draco was impressed in spite of himself. "But the researchers told us other things. About hawthorn, and the first day of summer, and fertility, and—and things." His face flushed, which made Draco bite down hard on his lip. There'd been nothing spectacularly naughty in the papers they'd seen, which made him wonder how Potter would react to his own books about Beltane at home.
"In case it escapes you," Draco said dryly, "there's no hawthorn around here, and neither of us is a woman, to get pregnant and hope that the 'blessing' for a child conceived on Beltane would transfer to us."
"Malfoy!" Potter snapped, and raked a hand through his hair. "I'm trying to be hopeful, and you insist on picking holes in my suggestions."
Draco fluttered his lashes at him, beyond interested to see the way that it made Potter flush and his eyes stick to Draco's lips for a moment. "But Potter," he said, "I'm only fulfilling my natural role in things, the same way you are. It's a perfect example of a working ecology."
"Eco—" Potter slapped his brow against one palm and shook his head. "I'm not even going to ask how you know that word," he said.
"But it's a very interesting story," Draco said innocently.
"Of course it is," Potter muttered, and began to massage his scar. He stopped suddenly and lowered his hand, looking at it. Draco looked at it, too, but couldn't see anything so special about it that it should take Potter's attention away from Draco.
"I should have remembered that," Potter breathed. "I really should have, and stopped investigating all the less obvious possibilities first. After all, it always comes back to this bloody scar, doesn't it?" His voice was sharp, but Draco found it hard to tell if he was angry or not.
"What does?" Draco demanded, taking a step forwards. "Have you thought of some way that you could survive the gate? What is it?"
Potter took a deep breath and looked up, his face pale. Draco began to reconsider whether he wanted to know anything about this method of surviving the gate, but then Potter said in a flat voice, "The researchers told us about the holiday being a holiday of in-between things, right? Like most of the Celtic holidays. It's the dividing line between spring and summer, between a less fertile time and a more fertile one. And the ceremonies often took place at sunset, which is the dividing line between light and dark. And the faeries' gates are like—borders. Boundaries. Or on borders and boundaries."
Slowly, Draco nodded. "All that's true," he said. "But I don't understand why you think that you embody some kind of boundary. Unless you're going to tell me that because of the scar you're part good and part evil."
Potter didn't smile, which irritated Draco. He'd thought it one of his better jokes. "I'm in between two different things," he said. "Life and death."
"I don't understand what you're talking about, Potter," Draco said, and stuck his nose in the air, but his heart had begun to pound with ferocious rapidity, and wouldn't be silenced or struck still. Good thing, too, he thought. Or you'd be dead. He felt a mad giggle try to rise, and cut it off.
"I died to get rid of—well, something dangerous that Voldemort had put inside me," said Potter quietly. "Behind my scar. I couldn't kill him unless I died first. And I assumed I'd stay dead, but because I sacrificed my life for love, the same way that my mother sacrificed hers for me, what I really did was give protection to people on my side from Voldemort's spells." He rubbed his fingers together nervously, as if there was a film on them from his scar. "I died, but I returned. I'm standing on the boundary between life and death."
Draco stared at him. "You're not making any sense," he said.
"I think," said Potter, his voice so low that Draco wouldn't have heard him at all if he hadn't been straining his ears by then, "that I have to die again, and then my sacrifice will protect you as we go through the gate."
Draco had taken a step away before he had realized he was going to, and drew his wand with the same kind of speed. "You are mad," he said. His voice had gone very calm; privately, he thought that he had entered shock. "You are mad. I'm going to Stun you, Potter, and take you back to the point where we entered the otherworld now. It's possible that we could find some way to escape there if we searched." He aimed carefully at Potter's right hand. "I would prefer it if you give up your wand without a struggle, but I reckon that's out of the question?"
Potter snorted. "You're an idiot," he said. "A fine pair we make, the idiot and the madman together."
"So you don't deny it." Draco edged sideways, having realized only then that his position didn't allow him the best amount of space to cast a spell. "Then you should have no problem about giving up your wand."
"I think," Potter said, "that I'm still between life and death. The faeries seem to think so, anyway—"
"They said no such thing."
Potter ignored him, which made Draco think of all the stories he had read in his books about people who went mad in the otherworld. It didn't take much, or so the books had insisted, but Draco hadn't seen Potter eat any food or drink any water. If simply breathing the air could do it, he should have gone mad at the same time.
"But I can't be sure my sacrifice will protect you." Potter's eyes were wide and solemn. There was a bit of fear in them, but not nearly as much as Draco thought the situation warranted. "So I'll need to die again, and for the same reason. And if I'm right—"
"If you're right?" Draco was afraid that his voice had risen in an actual shriek, but he cared about more than his dignity right now.
"Then dying as a sacrifice should allow me to return again. And especially because I've already died once." Potter looked thoughtful for a moment. "I wonder if I can die, normally," he mused.
"Let's find out," Draco snarled, and flung himself at the imbecile.