A delicate glass chime above Harry's head tinkled, a signal that meant someone was approaching his house via the front walk. He glanced at the chime next to that one, but it was still—no stranger, then.
He continued with his work, nipping off the hot glass with a quick flick of his wand and then Levitating the finished piece into the lehr so that it would cool down slowly.
"That one is lovely," Luna commented as she entered his workroom and stood next to him.
Harry grinned at her and nodded. He was rather impressed with it himself. It was a red pitcher speckled with bright yellow flecks. The handle was a yellow griffon rampant. "It's a birthday gift for Hermione," he said.
"That is next month, isn't it?" Luna asked in her usual dreamy tone, but then her voice changed. "Harry, someone needs your help."
He raised a brow at her. "You know I'm out of the helping people business."
"Really? Is that why you spend all your time making useful potions and beautiful glass vials to store them in?"
Harry frowned, but Luna's tone was not sarcastic, as Hermione's would have been, simply curious.
"I only do that to keep busy," he said lamely.
She nodded. "Yes, that makes sense, seeing that you are all alone here, except for the quintacups and the gloopers. But, Harry, if you don't help him, I'm afraid he will die. The Healers… well they think it's a variety of the plague."
Harry blanched. It had been years since anyone had even mentioned that word. Six years? Seven? The mere utterance of it brought back his crushing sense of loss, stealing his breath with the remembered pain.
He turned away and busied his hands cleaning up chips of coloured glass, trying to push away the memories and failing.
God, sometimes it was still so hard to accept. Ron, Ginny… Fuck, all of the Weasleys. Even Bill and his lovely young daughter, swept away in the first month of the horrific plague. The Purity Plague they called it, because the purebloods had gone first.
It hadn't seemed dangerous at first. The symptoms were mild, nothing more than a regular influenza, except that it began to erode magical abilities. All forms of treatment only made it worse. Even a simple Pepper-Up Potion would send the patient into convulsions with their magic spiralling out of control.
Half-bloods were less susceptible and many Muggleborns never exhibited symptoms at all. Several pureblood groups claimed the plague was the result of a Muggle plot, but soon there were too few for their protests to matter. Surviving purebloods fled Britain in droves.
Most who stayed died, including the entire Weasley clan. Harry helplessly watched them sicken and die beginning, oddly enough, with Percy, and ending with Ron, who held on for weeks through what seemed sheer willpower, only to die in the arms of a sobbing Hermione.
The Healers were frantic. Nothing they did could stop the virulent plague. Magic only seemed to make it worse.
Harry was immune. Hermione speculated it was due to his unusual magical signature and possibly his return from the dead. He didn't care, at first, and sometimes wished he had just died with Ron and Ginny, but Hermione needed him, especially when she contracted the disease.
Harry quit the Auror Division. He hadn't been there long and training to fight evil wizards seemed pointless when an invisible entity was destroying everything he held dear.
His hands shook on the tools as he hung them on their wall pegs. Luna said nothing, patient as ever. She was also immune to the disease, although she credited it to the protective aura of the mirkwood bracelets she wore.
"Who is it?" Harry asked in dread, flitting through his painfully short list of surviving friends. "Oh god, please not Neville."
Luna put a comforting hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Not Neville! Don't worry, your boyfriend is safe."
He sighed with relief and even managed to dredge up a smile at her familiar misconception. As usual with Luna, denial was pointless and Harry had long ago stopped trying.
"It's Draco Malfoy," she said.
Harry felt a lurch at the name Malfoy. God, how long had it been? He hadn't seen Malfoy since the war, not in person, at any rate, although he was often in the news. The entire Malfoy clan had survived the plague due to the lucky happenstance of their collective house arrest. Their enforced confinement had acted as quarantine, keeping them safe while much of the Wizarding World perished.
Harry left off his cleanup and looked at Luna. "Only Malfoy? Anyone else?"
Luna shook her head. "Just him, but the standard potions don't seem to be working. It could be something other than the plague, but the symptoms are so similar… I'm frightened, Harry. We all are."
Harry fought a sickening sense of dread. They had lost so many already. How could they bear to go through it again? Hermione had nearly died. Harry had worked tirelessly with her, studying Muggle viruses, immunity, vaccination, and every magical method of healing they could find. Eventually, they had combined them all, working with the best surviving minds in the Wizarding World and using the blood of Harry and the other immune wizards and witches to create the first vaccine.
Eventually, they had narrowed the culprit down to a virus that fed on magical DNA. The purer the blood, the better it tasted to the virus, apparently, although Hermione had insisted it had more to do with the presence of certain amino acids that were more prevalent in those with more wizards in their lineage. Muggle blood diluted the levels of amino acids.
"I'll come," Harry said. Without looking at Luna, he led the way from his workshop to the main house, a short distance away beneath a covered walkway bedecked with ivy. Harry's house was a simple two bedroom affair in the dead centre of fifty pristine Scottish acres.
Luna watched from the doorway as he pulled off his sweat-soaked shirt and grabbed a clean one. Glassblowing was hot work.
Dressed once more, Harry followed her to his fireplace and from there through the Floo Network to St Mungo's.
Harry was warmly greeted by the staff, all of whom he knew by name. Despite the cheerful hellos, he saw the worry etched on their faces and knew it mirrored his own.
Malfoy was unconscious. His resemblance to Lucius nearly took Harry's breath away for a moment, a bizarre reminder of the decade between the boy he remembered and the grown man before him now. Despite the similarity in features, there were differences, as well. The angles of Malfoy's face seemed smoother, less pointed and less harsh than his father's. The white-blond hair was the same, shoulder-length and sweeping across the pillow like a gossamer veil.
There were lines in his face, etched near the corners of his eyes and, surprisingly, around his lips, as though he smiled often. Harry wondered if they had been caused by genuine smiles or perpetual sneers.
There was a scar on Malfoy's cheek, marring the otherwise perfect features with a long-healed white line in a shape curiously reminiscent of Harry's scar. Harry resisted the urge to reach out and trail a finger over it, curious how Malfoy had received it.
"His parents don't know, yet," Luna said quietly. "They are out of the country and not expected back until late next month."
Shit. If the Malfoys returned to see their son in this state, there would be no end to their demands.
Harry sat on the edge of the bed and examined Malfoy with a more clinical eye. He cast a number of careful spells, knowing the application of magic often had disastrous results. He shook his head. "It has to be the plague. The Mirkwood Potion isn't working?"
"No. It seems to have slowed the effects, but yesterday he did not have these." She peeled back the sheet to expose Malfoy's chiselled torso and abdomen. A cluster of small bruises glared from the region just beneath his navel—a typical calling card of the plague, although they often appeared in random places. The marks looked as if someone had jabbed three fingers into Malfoy's pale flesh.
"I need to take him home," Harry said decisively.
After much shouting, arguing, and cajoling between Harry and the St Mungo's staff, Malfoy was finally ensconced in the tiny cottage that lay a short walk from Harry's house. His success was largely due to fear. If the plague had mutated, it was possible no one was safe, not even Harry.
Luna, as always, appeared unafraid. She tended to Draco and held his arm while Harry nicked a vein with a sharp dagger to draw blood. A Muggle plaster sealed the wound—they had learned early on that healing magic of any sort would cause the virus to react aggressively.
Harry took the blood samples back to his lab and regretfully resurrected his old equipment—items he had hoped would never be used again. Before getting started, he made a quick Floo-call to Australia. He left a message for Hermione, who spent most of her time in the Australian outback, seeking a cure to the ravages left by her own battle with the disease. He hated to bother her, but her help was always invaluable and she would want to know that the plague had returned.
Harry worked long into the night with Luna's help, although she eventually abandoned him to sleep in the guest room. When he finally sought his bed, nightmares claimed him for the first time in months. He awakened at an early hour to the horrific vision of Ron clutching his arms and sobbing, "Help me, Harry. Help me!"
Despite the time, he left his bed to splash water on his face with trembling hands, fighting back sobs. Even after all this time, he missed Ron so much he could hardly stand it. He missed them all.
Knowing avoidance was the best policy, he shoved the vestiges of the dream aside and dressed before making his way through the dark to the small cottage wherein they had installed Malfoy.
In the dim light of a Lumos, Harry examined the blond, who looked still as death. Harry's heart jumped into his throat and he quickly felt for a pulse. Despite their dark history, Harry did not want Malfoy to die. He did not want anyone to die ever again.
Thankfully, a steady throb met Harry's questing fingers and he sighed with relief.
He brushed the fine strands of Malfoy's hair away from his forehead gently and gave in to the urge to trace the nearly-invisible scar on Malfoy's cheek. Despite the slight imperfection, Malfoy was beautiful. His skin was like alabaster, as though his job as an Auror kept him indoors rather than out, which Harry knew was false. He wondered if Malfoy remained cloaked and hooded when outside, to protect his fair skin from the sun. Malfoy's eyelashes were dark gold against his cheeks and Harry moved his finger upwards to draw it over the delicate hair of one eyebrow.
He pulled his hand away with a frown, knowing his actions were improper. Malfoy was a patient, not someone to be ogled while he lay unconscious. It was more than likely that Malfoy had a girlfriend, although Harry doubted he had married. That, for certain, would have been in the papers and Luna would have informed him of the fact. She seemed to find it necessary to keep him abreast of the majority of the news.
He pulled the blankets up and tucked them around Malfoy gently before dousing his wand and heading back to the house. With a renewed sense of purpose, he went straight to his laboratory and worked until dawn was long past.