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Chapter Six—Dreams and Desires
Draco slowed his run when he emerged from the Floo connection into St. Mungo's. He would attract the wrong kind of attention if he hurried here. Those who recognized him would think it their duty to interfere and ask why an Apprentice Healer was running in the corridors; those who didn't would stop him and ask where the emergency was and if they could help.
Not for the first time, Draco regretted that there was absolutely no one anywhere in hospital he could trust.
But that's the price to be paid for having a lot of magic and a Death Eater name, he reminded himself as he slipped down the corridor that led to Harry's room, checking anxiously behind and in front of him. The doors to the sides were all locked, and only dim firelight spilled out from beneath them. Draco kept his wand, with the Lumos Charm on the end of it, low in front of him, so that no one behind those doors would spot the strange shine moving down the corridor where no shine should be. And for remaining an apprentice for three years, when everyone else I entered the program with can feel superior to me.
Draco ground his teeth. Everyone thought he was incompetent, and although that had worked to his advantage with Mallow, who'd assigned him to Harry because he thought for sure Harry would die on Draco's watch, the implication was still insulting.
He reached Harry's room. Draco forced himself to pause and draw a deep breath a few times, rather than simply burst through the door, no matter how much he wanted to. If he entered and found Harry dead, then he couldn't be responsible for his reactions. If he entered and Harry was still alive, he might spring a trap.
Eventually, when he thought his heartbeat calm enough, he lifted his wand and examined the door.
His caution paid off. There was no way he would have seen the small and subtle net of silvery lines stretched across the doorframe if he'd simply followed his worry and charged in, trying to be a hero. Draco traced the lines to the knob and the side of the door, and nodded in grim admiration. Mallow had made sure there was no way Draco could open the door without triggering the spells, even if he didn't touch the knob.
And what were those spells meant to do?
Draco checked one more time over his shoulder, almost expecting to see Sabian there, or Haagedorn with his squeaking bucket. But the corridor remained dim and silent, so he cast another charm of the kind that he'd found among his father's papers and which he would probably be sacked merely for knowing.
The magic left him as a trail of bright white sparks that looked oddly like breadcrumbs. They floated around the spells and returned to him with a clear picture of the spellcaster's intentions. This particular incantation was considered an invasion of privacy, and not foolproof, since someone could cast spells in good faith and still have them go wrong. But in this case, Draco had no doubt of what appeared in his mind.
A bolt of shocking force would speed towards Harry, unstringing his nerves and squeezing his heart. He would die swiftly, though not fast enough to prevent him from getting off a scream, and it would appear as though he had died because Draco entered the room.
Draco had no doubt at all how that evidence would be interpreted.
He shut his eyes and stood calmly, working hard to contain his joy, because the use of those spells at least suggested Harry was still alive. Draco had to wonder if Mallow's own compulsion towards revenge had undone him. Mallow had probably figured out that Draco was the one who'd foiled his violent poisons this afternoon and so wanted Draco to be responsible for killing Harry if possible.
Draco moved in a slow circle, pacing, and wondering what the correct thing would be to do. He could fetch someone else and show them these spells, but there was no evidence that Mallow had cast them. And in the meantime, Mallow might be watching, or have a spy who was doing so, and leaving Harry's room so soon after he reached it would be a clear signal that Draco had learned the truth.
No, he had to enter. Somehow.
Draco smiled grimly a moment later. The method was clear enough; the consequences of that method were something he would have to deal with later. At that moment, he thought he could deal with being sacked from St. Mungo's, although he had fought so hard for three years to remain there. He couldn't deal with losing Harry.
He took a Calming Draught from the inner potions store in the pockets of his robe and uncapped it. Then he poured a few drops on his wand at the same time as he murmured another of those charms his father had taught him—this one with distinctly more spectacular results.
His wand began to hiss and smoke. Draco reached out and swept it through the series of silvery traps Mallow had set.
All the lines dissolved at once, puffing into non-existence with tiny bangs and flashes. Draco knew it could attract attention, but in truth, he wasn't so worried about that. The real problem would be the sudden appearance of a hole where there was no magic and no possibility of any. It would spread, and dissipate only after ten minutes or so, and those who felt it would know that something was wrong with the magical balance in hospital, though they wouldn't know what had caused it until they investigated.
There was a reason this was known as the Muggle-Forming Curse.
Draco waited until the last of the silvery lines was gone, and then thrust the door open. Any other nasty spells Mallow had left near the entrance would be dissipated in the same way by Draco's curse. He was no longer worried about them.
He stepped into the room and saw Harry lying on the bed, his face caught in a silvery stream of moonlight from the enchanted window, his lips slightly parted. Draco shut the door behind him and sagged in relief.
Until he remembered that Mallow always had two lines of attack.
Draco turned slowly in place, not lifting his feet from the floor. If Mallow could leave the silvery traps on the door and hope that Draco would kill Harry by bursting past them, he could have left a curse that would respond to slight changes in pressure like steps.
But no matter how hard Draco peered, or how much he increased the light of Lumos, he couldn't see any trap. He frowned. Perhaps Mallow was waiting, this time, to see whether the second line of attack was necessary. Draco might even have thought he was in the room at the moment, except that he'd decided it was a powerful Switching Charm and not an Invisibility Cloak that had let Mallow replace the porridge and the apple.
Draco nearly leaped into the air until he realized that the whisper came from the bed. He swallowed and stepped up to it, letting one hand touch Harry's shoulder. He didn't quite believe that Harry was solid, real, and alive until he felt the bending and shifting of the muscles beneath his hand.
"What's wrong?" Harry sat up and reached for his glasses, which lay on the table next to the bed. Draco made him wait while he studied the glasses closely and then cast several detection charms. There was nothing wrong with them he could see, however, so he reluctantly allowed Harry to put them on.
"What is it?" By now Harry was leaning forwards so far that Draco was afraid he would fall off the bed, his muscles quivering with curiosity.
"I figured out who's responsible for trying to kill you," Draco told him. "And there was a curse on the door that I might have triggered if I'd simply opened it—one that would have killed you and made it look like it was my fault."
Harry sat back against the pillow. His eyes were large and very bright. It took a moment, and thick words coming out of his mouth, before Draco realized that he was angry. "Who is it?"
"Healer Mallow," Draco said, and then waited to be told that it was a weak or stupid conclusion. He was braced, he realized a moment later, for the kind of criticism that the Healers tended to give him.
Harry opened his mouth, then shut it. Draco watched his nostrils flare and his eyes half-shut, and knew Harry was working through the same kinds of conclusions that he had thought of earlier and fitting them in with the clues they'd had about his murderer from the beginning. His hand, on a slender shape beneath the blankets that was probably his wand, clenched down and relaxed in a regular pattern. Draco hoped that meant he was considering carefully what to do, rather than simply attacking.
"I see," Harry said at last. "I suppose you haven't uncovered any traces of a motive?"
"No," Draco said. "For all I know, he could be doing it because he's angry that you cheated his friend's brother-in-law's cousin at a game of cards." Harry laughed, but Draco could tell from the sharp crackle of the sound that he wasn't amused. Draco pressed on. "I don't think we have evidence that would convince a jury, however."
"We'd have to see, wouldn't we?" Harry was quiet and slow and dangerous at the moment, Draco thought, and a shiver of excitement worked its way along his spine and earthed itself at the base of his skull. Harry raised his wand in front of his eyes and held it there as if he was examining some hidden potential in the holly wood that Draco couldn't make out. "We'll get the evidence," Harry said. "The most important thing to do right now is to get the information to someone outside hospital. Ron would be best. He'll be able to coordinate the raid on Mallow's office, or whatever he decides to do."
"I hope that he manages it better than the raid on Pythia's Potions," Draco muttered. He was calming down a little now, but he still couldn't forget how many things Aurors, unexpectedly, simply did not know.
"The shopkeeper had wards set up to destroy the most illegal potions before he could get to them?"
Draco felt a hand of ice on the back of his neck this time. He kept his eyes on Harry's wand for long moments, and his mind raced. Had he mentioned something like that in front of Harry? There were explanations. Harry had already proven himself more intelligent than Weasley, as far as Draco was concerned, by recognizing the ability in Draco that only superior good taste could notice. He might know about such wards, or at least suspect their existence, in ways that Weasley wouldn't.
But that didn't change the instant conviction that had leaped into his mind: this was not Harry.
"Yes, he did," Draco said, and told himself Harry could have read it in Weasley's owl. Well, read between the lines, since Weasley himself didn't know the reason that there were no illegal potions in the shop. It wasn't impossible. This could be Harry, gazing at him with innocent eyes. He had called Draco by his first name. He seemed to know all about the raid. There was no reason to think it was Mallow using Polyjuice, or one of Mallow's creatures.
Except that Mallow had been close to the door—he had to have been—when he used the Switching Charm on the apple, and maybe the porridge. He could have overheard what Draco and Harry were talking about.
And except for the fact that Harry hadn't tried to touch him once since he had come into the room, which Draco would have thought would be a priority.
Draco licked his lips and continued to press forwards. So far, Mallow had been clever. He'd said nothing that would give away his identity—if it was his identity—and he'd had reactions that could have been his own but were within the limits of possible reactions for Harry, too. Draco had to make him betray himself while not giving away his own interest in a possible betrayal. Not an easy task. "Do you think that we should go to the hospital administrators first? This is the kind of thing they would be interested in."
Harry—or Mallow—shook his head decisively. "No. We could be stopped along the way, or worse. We have to get outside hospital."
Draco took a single shallow breath. Harry would probably kill him for the risk he was taking, but it was the only thing Draco could think of. Polyjuice lasted only an hour. Mallow would either have to take another drink soon, risking revealing what he was, or he would have to get rid of Draco before the potion wore off. That could be one reason he was so insistent on getting beyond the wards that would alert people if someone died here.
Or he could be Harry, with an excellent reason for leaving behind a place that he didn't understand and where his enemy had the advantage, and who would be furious when he learned that Draco had suspected him.
Walking a knife's edge, Draco met his eyes and nodded. "Yes, of course. We'll go to Weasley. That would be best."
"Of course it would be." Mallow smiled at him, and Harry's eyes gleamed. Draco told himself to stop searching for shadows in the face, which he didn't know well enough yet to predict, and glanced away.
"What's the Floo address to Weasley's house?" Draco whispered as they crept down the corridor a few moments later. He made sure to keep to one side of Harry and slightly behind, so that he could see in an instant if Harry took a flask out of his pocket.
"We shouldn't Floo on this floor," Harry promptly whispered back. "Too many Healers walking around. We could run into Healer Mallow himself! Let's get down to the ground floor and do it."
Which made perfect sense, Draco had to admit. Maybe. Or it could be a tactic that Mallow was using to try and disguise the fact that he didn't know Weasley's Floo address, not being Weasley's friend.
Down they went, and then they were on the ground floor and Draco was trying to control the hammering of his heart and look as if he were calm and cool and collected, with absolutely nothing wrong. This was the kind of occasion that made him grateful for the way his father had taught him to control himself. He couldn't fake the signs of fear and anger before a trained Healer as well as he could in front of someone else, but he could control his expression, and in the dimness and with the need to not give away his identity, the chance was excellent that Mallow wouldn't confront him.
Or else it was Harry, who would never notice anything in the first place that a Healer would. Draco linked his hands together behind his back and squeezed them painfully.
"The Floo connection?" he reminded Harry when it looked as if he were about to simply sneak out the front doors of hospital.
"I don't think it would be right to use one in hospital at all," Harry said, glancing apprehensively over his shoulder. Draco registered the inherent wrongness of the gesture and then realized that he couldn't really say it was wrong, since he had never seen Harry exhibit that particular emotion. He hissed under his breath in frustration. Harry smiled at him, apparently mistaking the sound. "Yes, you're right. Healer Mallow might spy on us, or someone else might come in and want to know what we're doing."
All true, and it fit in with Harry's quick ability to change his plans and his stated desire to get out of hospital, Draco thought, trotting after him towards the doors. But still suspicious.
Then there was a movement ahead of them. Draco held out a warning arm, while trying to keep one eye on Harry to make sure that he wasn't taking the moment to sneak a drink of Polyjuice and one eye on the danger ahead.
"Yes, I see it," Harry said grimly, and at least the dangerous expression was right, as was the tight grip on the holly wand. Draco clenched his teeth in an agony of indecision.
The shadow wavered and moved towards them, and then narrowed on the floor. A single man, walking rapidly, Draco judged. Maybe someone dangerous to them, maybe simply an Apprentice Healer on errands.
The figure came around the corner, and it was Sabian. His eyes widened when he saw Draco, and he started to speak, but then he caught sight of Harry-Mallow, and frankly stared.
"What?" he asked in disbelief. "But I saw you lying on the ground in—"
As a curse exploded from Mallow's wand, Draco silently blessed Sabian's presence; Mallow had instinctively sent the curse towards him. He jumped Mallow from the side and managed to hit him in time to send the curse soaring wide, as well as knock him down and begin the attack first himself.
Mallow was swift, twisting underneath Draco like a serpent; it also probably helped that he had the advantage of a younger body than his usual one and battle instincts of his own, if he was the one who'd also cast the curses at Harry on the battlefield. He tried to get his wand into Draco's ribs or pointing at his heart. Any Healer knew spells that, reversed, would cause a lot of bloody damage from there.
Draco gritted his teeth and fought back. He was good, too, and he had the advantage of Dark Arts. Small, glowing shields blazed into being above his heart and ribs and guarded them, and he struggled hard to maintain his superior position above Mallow. If he rolled under once, he thought, he was dead.
Mallow swore at him, once, and then saved his breath for the spells. Draco went flying off him with the impact of a Blasting Curse, but turned and managed to conjure a thick-woven draft of air that saved him from taking the next curse in his back. Mallow's eyes shone with a fury that Draco would have been hard-placed to find familiar in Harry, and he scrambled up and ran for the doors.
Draco followed at once. If Mallow got out, he could commit some crime in Harry's body that might ensure the rest of Harry's life would be miserable.
Only when Mallow turned at bay near the doors and made a complicated gesture with Harry's wand did Draco remember that Mallow had no particular reason to leave hospital behind. All the people who knew the truth were here, and if Sabian's half-completed sentence was correct, Harry was still somewhere in St. Mungo's. Sabian wouldn't have found him otherwise.
He cursed himself more than Mallow could have done and whirled left, planting his back against the stone. But though the initial blast of the spell cut past him, it became obvious that Mallow had prepared this room as a trap. The stone surged dizzily beneath Draco, and then rose up around him. He was rapidly being encased in a small cell of it that he could imagine pressing down and crushing him, or holding him there until he suffocated.
Grimly, Draco raised his wand and intoned another Dark Arts spell of the kind that he would have lost his job for, had anyone in hospital been able to think he was competent and pay attention to him. "Aerius."
His body grew light and transparent, and Draco shifted to the side and out between the stones.
He had done this before, and it was never a pleasant sensation. The spell enabled Draco to become a paper-thin version of himself—and was banned because of the way it slid around wards and alarms, meaning someone could spy on prominent Wizengamot members and the like with less of a chance of getting caught—but he still had to pass directly through the stones. He saw flecks of grey and black that could have barred his way; light blazed through cracks and disoriented him; the weight of the stone, ignored by his body for the moment but still existing, pressed down most heavily of all. Draco was gasping by the time the spell expired and he found himself outside the stone cell again.
Mallow had turned to Sabian, and his back was to Draco. Draco felt a brief moment of dizzy triumph. Mallow must have thought the cell was sufficient to stop Draco from interfering again in the battle. He would pay for that assumption.
Draco raised his wand.
Someone called from down the corridor, "Who are you and why do you think you're attacking a Healer?"
Draco swung around in astonishment. A figure was pelting towards them from the corridor that led up to the nearest staircase, and Draco gritted his teeth. Of course he should have realized that the noise of the battle would attract someone official to oversee it.
Then he realized something else. Anyone who'd seen enough of this battle ought to also think that it was Harry Potter Draco and Sabian were fighting, not a Healer in disguise; the Polyjuice Potion hadn't worn off yet.
Draco made a wilder leap of trust than anything so far this night. He whirled to the side and tossed his wand to the coming figure who, if his next realization was right, probably didn't have a wand of his own.
Harry caught it handily, gave Draco a single fierce grin, and then leaped onto Mallow's back. Mallow had only just begun to turn; Draco suspected that Harry's words had partially made him think he didn't have anything to fear, or else he wanted to make sure of Sabian first.
Draco stepped out of the way as Harry's holly wand, in the hand of a stranger, and his hawthorn wand, back in Harry's hand for the first time in years, went to battle.
He had thought that Mallow was using the full potential of Harry's body. Not so. The real Harry was leaping, dancing, and circling while Mallow was still struggling to turn in place. He thought nothing of curving his spine under an attack or turning his head to the side to accept a slight cut on his cheek in return for keeping his aim steady and true. He had quick hands, and a quicker casting time, and he knew all about what to do if he had a wound on his forehead with the blood dribbling into his eyes and how to cut an opponent's feet from under him. Mallow was only holding his own because he was a powerful wizard in the first place.
Draco watched in dazed admiration until he saw Mallow's hand go up and twitch once, in a motion that Draco recognized as the beginning of a Switching Charm.
"He's switching!" Draco screamed.
There was no reason for Harry to know what that meant, but he somehow did, as though his mind was harnessed to Draco's and could make the same leaps it did. He gave a nod of acknowledgment and Summoned his holly wand from Mallow's hand, which he hadn't dared do before, Draco thought, in the stampede of the battle.
Mallow snarled, but another wand appeared in his hand. Draco blinked. He must have intended to Switch Harry's wand with his own, and had completed enough of the gesture that he could make his own appear. Yes, he was powerful.
And twice as dangerous, using a wand that he knew and understood well, rather than one he had stolen from its rightful owner. He pointed this wand at Harry and said softly, "Motus in ossibus."
"No!" Draco cried, but by that time, the Bone-Earthquake Spell had already taken effect and Harry was crouched on the floor, shaking, his bones beginning to shatter in his body with every tremor that wrenched through him. It was the sort of spell Mallow would probably have used before, one analytic corner of Draco's mind chattered to him, except it would have given him away as a Healer.
Draco had seen the results of the Bone-Earthquake Spell. So many fragments of bone scattered through a body that they were impossible to put back together; so many sinews were snapped and tendons cut by the fragments that it was hopeless to repair them. A few patients had killed themselves, or refused treatment and gone home, which amounted to the same thing, rather than live with the pain and the mangled body that had resulted.
He couldn't allow that to happen to Harry, and it didn't matter what he had to do to stop it. He Summoned his wand, which Harry had tossed to the floor when he called his own, and pointed it at Mallow's hands.
"Manus contundo!" he snarled.
Mallow cried out when invisible hammers began to strike his hands, and turned to attend to them. That had been all Draco was waiting for. There was no point in lifting the spell from Harry when Mallow would probably take the next chance to restore it, and also curse Draco so that he couldn't help again.
Whirling to face Harry, Draco dismissed the fact that he had never performed this particular spell successfully before from his mind. There was a first time for everything, and he was a competent Healer. He was a competent investigator, even, to have solved the case before Harry or Weasley knew what was wrong. He was fantastic. He could do this.
"Nex destinatum!" he said.
The lights around Harry's body appeared to dim, though Draco knew all too well that if he had affected only the magical lights in the corridor's wall, his spell had already failed. He maintained his stance and his expression of calm concentration with an effort, which he hoped wouldn't be too obvious.
The air around Harry's body trembled and sighed, and turned cold enough for Draco to see frost on the stones. Harry stopped shaking, and then he sighed in turn, as though releasing his horror and fear.
And pain, Draco thought, his hands clenched into tight fists. Let it to be pain, too.
The mist that rose from Harry's body in the next moment was iron-grey, the color of prison bars. It seethed and coiled and slammed against the sides of the invisible box in which Draco had placed it, seeking and finding no escape. Draco ground his teeth when his wand suddenly snapped taut and pointed at the mist, while an invisible quivering line seemed to start in his belly and join them.
The spell—that was what the mist was, or at least represented—strained towards him like a vicious dog on a leash. Draco stared at it, held his wand steady, and tried not to think about what would happen if the magic did succeed in reaching him.
The Intention's Murder spell, which he'd used, was meant to pull a curse away from someone's body and dissipate its force, ending it in such a way that all the damage it had caused would be reversed. It was much more powerful than a simple Finite, and the only method Draco had been able to think of for handling a curse as strong as Mallow's.
But if it failed, then the spell would snap into the caster's body, and Draco's bones would begin to shatter in turn. He was not foolish enough to think that Harry would be able to help him. It was a horrible way to die, and he might have condemned himself to it.
But even that would hurt less than watching Harry endure it. Draco kept his eyes on the spell, never moving, and didn't pay attention even when he heard movement to the side. He knew Harry had stood up and retrieved his wand, because he'd seen that from the corner of his eye. If Mallow had managed to defeat Draco's powerful Dark spell, which had few counters, Draco would have to trust that Harry could handle himself.
The voice shouting was one Draco knew, but not Harry's. He tried not to let it startle him too badly, and bore down with his will on the congealed mist, which lashed and recoiled on itself, knotting one corner of itself into a tail that flailed furiously away, and began a high, painful hissing like a teakettle.
Mallow gave a bellow that sounded more outraged than hurt, and then Harry leaped into battle with an inarticulate cry of his own. Draco ached to turn and watch. But he thought Harry would probably prefer it if his bones weren't broken, and stayed in place.
The mist screeched at him, hissed again, and then, with an air of protest so keen that Draco wouldn't have been surprised to see it form a face that would wear the expression, turned inside out and faded. Draco closed his eyes and gasped in a breath that felt as life-giving as though he'd been actively suffocated. Then he turned to see what he could do.
Sabian was dodging around Mallow like a hound snapping at a horse's heels, his eyes so bright with fury that Draco blinked. His hexes and charms weren't doing much, but they kept Mallow off-balance and made it harder for him to resist Harry's assault. Harry, of course, was dueling as magnificently as he had before, driving Mallow in circles and looking for the opening that would permit him to bring him down.
Draco shuddered once and then focused on Mallow's hands. Already he had managed to get rid of the Hammerhands Curse, and he was weaving—behind a shield so fine that it was nearly invisible—another spell Draco recognized.
This one would simply stop Harry's heart.
Furious, Draco flicked his wand and muttered the first spell he could think of, one that was so childish he would never have bothered, most of the time, to cast it in a fight more serious than a schoolboy struggle. "Nudus."
Mallow's clothes vanished, including the clothes he'd stolen from Harry and the ring that he'd been wearing on one finger, drawn from God knew where; maybe it was a magical artifact he had intended to bring into the battle when the time was right. He froze, staring down at himself, and since he was still Polyjuiced as Harry, Draco got a longer look than he'd thought he would at what was awaiting him.
From the way Sabian gaped, Draco rather feared that the other Apprentice Healer might have switched his crush on Hermione Granger to one on someone else instead.
Of all three of them, Harry was the only one who didn't lose his composure. His Stunner knocked Mallow flying, his Summoning Charm caught the deadly wand and pulled it towards him, and he was binding Mallow's hands and feet in the next instant, faster than Draco would have thought the spells could be cast. He walked over and stared down with a grim face, then conjured a blanket and draped it over Mallow's limp form.
"Finally," he said, to no one in particular, and then turned around and stalked towards Draco.
Draco stood there and watched him come. From the look in Harry's eyes, he thought he must be angry about the spell that had rendered Mallow naked. He opened his mouth to defend himself, including a claim that he had forgotten Sabian was there and hadn't realized the revelation would have that much effect on him, which was certainly true.
Having his lips open like that made it all the more convenient for Harry to seize his shoulders and bear him backwards, thrusting his tongue into Draco's mouth, Draco had to admit a few breathless moments later.
"Don't ever do something like that again," Harry began to mutter between kisses and nips, which had a tendency to move further away from Draco's mouth and further south the longer they went on. "What were you thinking? I'm the one who should be able to duel crazed murderers bent on destroying me. You're the one who's supposed to save my life when they try to poison me or do something else that a Healer would know more about. I thought it was a good partnership, and then you had to change things around like that."
Draco yanked in air in a desperate gasp and put his hand on Harry's, which had dipped to cup his groin. Draco didn't think Sabian could see, because of the way their bodies were turned, but it was still more than he had wanted to show Sabian so early on—or at all, really. "I didn't—I mean, you can't possibly think that I would—where were you, anyway? How did Mallow take you by surprise and get the hair for the Polyjuice?"
Harry sighed. "He came in Polyjuiced as you, and I fell for it this time," he admitted reluctantly. "He knocked me unconscious, and I woke up in a deserted hospital room and worked on the spells locking me in without a wand, which is why it took me so long to get here. Of course, when I heard you fighting, that inspired me to hurry." He curved a hand behind Draco's neck and kissed him soundly enough to make his head spin.
"Um, Malfoy?" Sabian asked, sounding meek.
"We're busy," Harry snapped at him. "Don't you have bedpans to change or something?" He locked his mouth on Draco's neck again and sucked so hard that Draco felt as though the skin was pulling away.
"It's just that, um, it sounds like people are coming," Sabian said, and Draco used the words like a shower of cold water, to force himself to pull away.
"Draaaaco," Harry said, with a pout and reproachful stare that Draco could already tell was going to be hell on his self-control. With great effort, he managed to frown at Harry rather than put his mouth to work soothing the pout.
"We have to find out why Mallow did this," he said. "And explain the situation when they see the damage to the walls and test for the spells on our wands." He was privately grateful, now, that he had cast such a harmless hex on Mallow last rather than the complex (and partially Dark) spell that had yanked the Bone-Earthquake Curse away from Harry. "Don't you want to be able to enter St. Mungo's again if you need to, rather than be exiled from it?"
"God, yes," Harry said, as though someone had brought an unexpected problem to his attention. "How am I going to date you, otherwise?"
"We're not sleeping together in hospital!" Draco hissed at him from the corner of his mouth as they turned to face the hospital administrators' approach, together.
"What else are all those beds good for?" Harry asked, in a voice that sounded honestly shocked and indignant. Only his rapidly twitching lips and half-squinted eyes gave him away.
If it hadn't been for the appearance of Healer Okono-Jones and Healer Nonne a moment later, clucking under their breaths like a pair of chickens confronted with a group of dead chicks, Draco would have hit him.
It was six interrogations later, and Draco was left sitting in a chair, head leaning back against the wall. It felt too heavy to lift.
"Here, have this."
Draco cracked one eyelid and then managed a wan smile when he saw that Harry was in front of him with a cup of tea. "Thank you," he murmured, slinging the warm liquid down his throat with a swift motion. "You wouldn't believe how much I needed that."
"I might." Harry sat down on the only other chair in this deserted little room—the patient who'd had it last had suffered from a case of Spattergroit so virulent they'd had to move out all the other furniture—and cocked his head at him. "Ron talked to you, didn't he? I know going two rounds of questions with him leaves me feeling as though my brain's liquefied."
"Him, but also other people." Draco blew across the surface of his tea, then thought about why he was bothering and swallowed the rest of the cuppa in one motion. Harry pulled out a teakettle from what appeared to be the bottom of his left sleeve and refreshed the cup without even asking. Draco smiled wanly at him and leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. "I think the Healers would rather admit that anything else had happened than what did."
"You heard about the reason Mallow wanted me dead?" Harry asked.
"Varden told me that the Aurors had got it out of him, but I didn't quite believe what he said," Draco admitted. "Surely he must be wrong?"
"No." Harry grimaced as though he had bitten into a sour apple. "He thought I had survived long enough, and wanted to see what it would take to kill me. Which doesn't even have the pleasure of being an original motive. The Aurors who've tried to kill me in the past thought I had survived long enough, too. Though I suspect professional jealousy was part of the reason there, too," he added thoughtfully.
"I'm thinking about the spells he used in the duel against you," Draco said. "Most of them were modified versions of the spells that we use to cure. It seems that he took death's side in this and decided that you should die because you'd outwitted and cheated death long enough. Some of the older Healers have a seriously skewed view of how much control they have over people's lives. He'd treated you in the past. Perhaps he thought he should be the one to say when you'd had enough life."
"That makes more sense than some of the theories I was coming up with." Harry flashed him a smile. "I reckon we won't know for sure until and unless we get a full confession rather than a few scattered words, but thank you."
"For what?" Draco asked. His eyes kept wanting to drift shut, and he thought he had to be mistaken about some of the things that Harry was trying to thank him for.
"For that particular theory," Harry said. "For organizing my knowledge of Mallow's motives more than anyone had managed to do so far." He put down his cup and stood up, and now he wasn't smiling. "For saving my life. For making sense of things in a way that most other people fail to do."
Draco cleared his throat. "You're welcome. Are you all right? You don't look happy."
"When I think of how much I owe to you," Harry breathed, "it's overwhelming. It's awe-inspiring. Draco…" He moved closer.
Draco barely managed to put down his teacup in time. Harry was kissing him in a way that told him this was more serious than anything they'd shared so far. Draco could do little but tangle his hands in Harry's hair and hold on for the ride.
Harry kissed him long and hot and deep, and then acted as if he would crawl into Draco's lap. Draco squeaked and shook his head. "Not here," he said. "Someone could walk through the door at any moment, and we could break the chair."
"You're right," Harry said, pulling away and looking as disheveled as though he'd spent hours snogging. "We have to do something about that." He aimed his wand at the door, and Draco heard the snick of the lock sliding home.
"We still shouldn't do this in the chair," Draco breathed, trying to ignore the thrill that had traveled through him. He'd never done anything like this. He had followed the rules to the letter instead, trying to convince the Healers that he was worthy of becoming a journeymage. Of course, Harry could probably get away with things like this because he was Harry Potter, but Draco would never have thought of taking advantage in hospital.
"Right again," Harry said. "So we'll do this against the wall." He gave Draco a wicked smile that he could do with a lot more of, and then practically picked Draco up and whirled him around so that his back was against the wall.
Draco opened his mouth, but he never knew if he was going to protest or laugh or voice approval, because Harry's mouth descended neatly back into place, hot and sucking, and his hand closed around Draco's cock. Draco was afraid that he must have jumped, given the vibration of Harry's chuckle down his throat a moment later, and was grateful for the weight that held him in place.
"Yes," Harry said. "No one's ever touched you enough, have they?" He was looking at Draco with greedy eyes now. His voice had dipped several notches lower. "Not that I mind that, since it leaves more for me." His hand slipped to the side and gave an agile twist, and Draco cried out as his knees buckled.
"Oh, dear," Harry said in a voice of mock concern. "We wouldn't want anyone to hear that, would we? I think I'd better stop." Draco moaned, but he was breathless, and it didn't keep Harry from pulling away and beginning to unfasten his trousers. "Yes," he continued in that deep voice, "we'd better stop and do something else."
This isn't happening, Draco thought in awe as he watched Harry's cock emerge. It was flushed so dark that Draco clenched his teeth. He had never actively wanted to suck someone else's cock—he thought of that as a special favor to be awarded when someone fucked him good and proper—but he wanted it now.
"Now," Harry said, as if in echo of his thoughts, and leaned forwards. He had already unbuttoned Draco's trousers and slid his pants to the side, apparently. Draco thought he would have noticed something as exposing as standing there with his cock hanging out, but Harry had gripped both their erections in his hand and was rubbing them slowly back and forth together, and his ability to remember changed to a storm of flickering bolts in his head.
He wanted to close his eyes; he wanted to keep them open. He shivered, and his head banged against the wall. Harry smiled at him, and then arched his neck back, probably so that he could groan and sigh with more enthusiasm.
Draco clutched at Harry's shoulders embarrassingly soon, but he was genuinely afraid that he would have melted and slid down the wall otherwise. His legs had joined the general shivering. His stomach was tight with anticipation. He wanted to say something, but he was breathing too hard. He shook his head, and a quiet whine emerged from his throat.
"That's it," Harry whispered. Draco blinked and found that Harry was focused on the present again, his eyes bright and piercing. "Do you know how beautiful you are? Do you know how long I've waited to do this?"
Draco wanted to say "no." He wanted to remind Harry that they hadn't known each other, really known each other, all that long, so Harry couldn't have been waiting all that long.
But words had rolled down his throat, deserting him along with his ability to remember. He whined again and glanced down so that he could see Harry's hand rubbing briskly along the heads of their joined cocks, slowing when he reached the shafts, his fingers spreading as if he wanted to span the whole of their erections at once.
Colors. The darkness of Harry's erection, the comparable pallor of his own, the blunt pinkish squares of Harry's nails, the ragged places where he had bitten or chewed them gleaming with red, and the glaze that was precome spreading over everything, the slipperiness and the warmth that Draco could see as well as feel—
It overwhelmed him, and he came.
The heat in his belly stretched and snapped all the way through him, and his throat constricted. That was good, because he would probably have babbled nonsense otherwise, and Draco knew no one wanted to hear that. He scratched Harry's arms, and he did pant and whimper enough to satisfy a small country, and his pleasure was great enough that for long moments he couldn't even feel his body; the sensation seemed to haunt him along invisible nerves.
"Draco," Harry said. "Draco." It sounded so important that Draco tried to pay attention, because he thought Harry needed him to, but it was just Harry coming and groaning and thrusting his hips after all. Draco smiled, hoping that no other response was required of him right now, and wrapped his arms around Harry's hips, closing his eyes with a sigh.
Harry seemed to shake himself apart when he came, and put himself back together at the same time. He ended up leaning forwards, maybe to prop Draco up as much as to balance himself, and whispering his endearments against Draco's throat. Draco stroked his neck and felt the rasp of his hair against his chin and was so perfectly content that it seemed like blasphemy when Harry stirred.
"I've wanted to do that for so long," Harry repeated, stepping back and looking at him intently. Draco wanted to squirm. No one had ever looked at him like that, or at least not while he was leaning against a wall, pants open, and covered in dripping come. "Do you believe me?"
"I believe you," Draco said, glad that his throat had unlocked when he most wanted and needed it to.
Harry kissed him, a gentle brush of his lips this time rather than a quest after his tongue. Draco waited until he had some of his strength and then kissed back. The lazy brushing of their tongues happened anyway and caused a thrill to race through Draco's body and his cock to twitch.
Harry noticed and chuckled. Draco waited to feel humiliation after the laugh, but he couldn't. It was nothing but the kind of secret laugh that lovers often shared, he thought, rather than a laugh at his expense.
"I'm good, but not that good," Harry said, and reached for his wand to cast the cleaning charms. Draco did the same thing, and was glad that Harry, who had chosen to cast on him first, used the kind that made Draco's skin tingle softly with the sensation of cleanliness, rather than the kind he typically used on his patients' bedsheets. He'd had a few lovers before who assumed everyone was made of rough cloth.
"So," Harry said when they were buttoned back up, and cocked an eyebrow at him expectantly.
"Is this going to be a discussion where I have to think?" Draco asked apprehensively. "Because I think it would be best if we had one of those tomorrow, at the earliest."
Harry laughed, but his smile faded quickly enough that Draco knew something serious was coming. He moved towards the chairs again, and cast a Warming Charm on his tea. He wanted something to hold him up other than the wall if Harry said distressing words.
He had to wonder—because he always doubted good fortune—if Harry was about to say that this one wanking session was all he had wanted and he was going back to the She-Weasel in the morning. But he could see the affection shining in Harry's eyes when he went back to sit in his own chair, and he blew out his breath and tried to remind himself that he didn't have to be a pessimist all the time. Just most of it.
"We have to discuss your future," Harry said, leaning forwards and letting his clasped hands dangle between his knees. Draco tried to ignore the sensation that he was pointing to his cock, despite the fact that it was going to be incredibly hard not to think of Harry in terms of his cock for a while yet. "Do you really intend to stay at St. Mungo's?"
Draco blinked. "Unless they sack me for daring to attack a Healer. Some of these bastards are like that sometimes, no matter what the Healer might have done," he added bitterly.
"I didn't mean it that way," Harry said, and he flashed Draco a grin. "I think that they'll see reason once the full tale of his crimes comes out. There's no way that they can pass this off as a misunderstanding or an unwarranted attack on Mallow."
"Yeah, but they'll try," Draco muttered, slumping in his chair and staring at his hands.
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Do you want me to list the reasons why they won't?"
"Yes," Draco declared, sitting up. "I think it would make me feel better."
"Right," Harry said, after a short pause, as if he had to take that long to decide whether or not Draco was joking. "Well. For one thing, it is going to matter that you managed to disable Mallow without killing him. I'm going to say that I was losing the battle until you intervened. You saved my life again, Draco."
Draco felt a smug gush of feeling travel through him at the reminder. "I did, didn't I?" he asked happily. He felt confident enough about his feelings for Harry and Harry's feelings for him by now that he didn't think gratitude was compelling Harry to express more than he really wanted to.
Harry smiled. "Yeah. And when we tell them about the variety of ways that he tried to kill me—the poisons that you foiled, the potion with poppies in it that you foiled, and the spells and serpents and other methods before that—then they'll have to admit that he was obsessed and mad. It's not as though they can claim that you were mad for opposing him. He gave you a patient, and you tended him with all the resources at your disposal. That's another reason, too. They'll have to admit that you're much more competent than they thought you. Most Apprentice Healers couldn't take care of patients on their own, could they?"
Draco snorted, thinking of Varden. "Are you kidding?"
Harry nodded. "So. That will be another reason for them to listen. Mallow was trying to undermine you, and you proved him wrong. They'll have to consider that, Draco. No, they really will," he added, when Draco opened his mouth to argue with Harry's optimism. "I promise. I'll repeat the results of the interrogation and my own experiences until they surrender and at least promote you to journeymage."
Draco hesitated. He wanted badly to say something else, but he thought it might come across as complaining about troubles that hadn't even happened yet, when Harry had already done so much for him.
"Just spit it out," Harry said. He seemed to be distressingly good at recognizing when someone was struggling with a question.
"I don't know if they'll make my life as journeymage any more pleasant than the one I have right now," Draco said quietly. "They could keep me frozen at that stage for even longer than the three years that I've been an Apprentice Healer. They won't like that I made hospital look badly by exposing Mallow."
"That's ridiculous," Harry said at once. "St. Mungo's would have looked far worse if they lost a patient as famous as I am." He made the statement without conceit, somehow, Draco thought in wonder. He couldn't imagine anyone else alive who could do that. "They'll listen to reason."
Draco sighed. "Reason has nothing to do with some of their prejudices against me, Harry. Yes, some of them were holding me back because they genuinely believed the others when they said that I was incompetent, but those others hate me for my last name. That prejudice isn't going to dissolve into thin air no matter what heroic deeds I perform."
Harry looked thoughtful. "How sure are you of that?"
"Very sure," Draco said. "There's no reason for so many different Healers to have used me as nothing more than menial labor over the years. The ones who don't have a prejudice against me didn't care enough to find out the truth, or looked straight at my skills and then ignored them, or let themselves be persuaded that I was really a poor worker when they could see for themselves that I wasn't." He closed his eyes. It was stupid for him to feel so bitter when he and Harry had both survived and escaped and then just made love, but there it was. He was losing the glory and the exhilaration of survival now, and thinking about what his life would be like two days from now, which was the longest he expected the excitement to last.
"Did you know that there are other ways to become a Healer?" Harry asked softly. "Other programs?"
Draco opened one eye and snorted. "I looked into that when I first made the decision for my career. The other programs are with individual Healers, and cost too much money for me to afford after the losses of the reparations."
Harry nodded, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Draco wondered if the reparations were one of those subjects they should never discuss. "Well, there are other ways of paying one's way in," he said. "Skill, for example. I could ask one of the Healers I know to set an exam for you. I don't know that he would take you—he's willing to make an exception for me and look, but he won't necessarily accept a candidate for my sake—but it would be a chance to escape from St. Mungo's. If you can accept that much as a gift from me," he added softly.
Draco swallowed. "I—I don't know," he said. On the one hand, he had never wanted anything so badly that he could remember, except Harry a few minutes ago. On the other, he didn't want anyone to think he had only become a Healer because of his boyfriend.
"Then think of it as payment for the bundle of life-debts I owe you," Harry said. "You can tell that to anyone who asks. I don't mind." He grinned abruptly. "Well, partial payment. That means that I'll still have plenty of ways to pay off the rest." He lowered his eyelashes and threw Draco a smoldering look. Draco stared. He hadn't known that someone as pure and good as Harry Potter knew how to do smoldering looks.
Then he swallowed and allowed himself to actually consider what Harry seemed to be offering. He had to close his eyes, and he felt a little faint as full realization swept across him.
"I don't—you don't have to do that," he said, even as he wondered if there was some kind of catch to it. What would happen if he and Harry stopped dating? Granted, at the moment Draco couldn't imagine what would make him stop doing that, but it might happen. Or what would happen if Harry, who was no judge of Healers' professionalism in the way that Draco knew himself to be, had made the wrong decision and fastened on someone who couldn't teach Draco what he needed to know? "I mean—there's no saying that it would work out, and—"
A firm, warm hand gripped his jaw. Startled, Draco opened his eyes and stared at Harry, who was leaning close and looking at him without a smile for the first time in this conversation.
"I think that you've been mistreated for so long that all you can think of happening is the worst," Harry said softly, commandingly. "Now, I can't promise that everything is going to work out for the best. But I can promise that I'll be by your side, working as hard as I can to make sure that it does. And this Healer won't accept you simply because I recommend you, or make you into a journeymage or a full Healer simply because you're dating me. He's hard enough to evaluate your work for himself. The most he'll do is consider you a bit more seriously because you're leaving St. Mungo's, which he thinks is ridiculously warped by the pretensions of its Healers."
"Who is he?" Draco asked through paper-dry lips. Tears were actually stinging the corners of his eyes when he thought of the distance Harry was walking for him, but he wouldn't shed them, of course. He could feel them properly by himself.
"Reginald Hooker," Harry replied.
Draco sat up so fast that he dislodged Harry's hand on his face. "What? He's famous! There's no way that he would accept someone like me! He must have dozens of people lined up outside of his house to study with him."
Harry laughed. "No, because he's too fair for them, and his standards too exacting. That's why I can be sure that he won't be influenced by your reputation, or mine."
"Hooker," Draco repeated in wonder. He had heard stories about Hooker since he first became an apprentice. He had invented several dozen of the more common healing charms and potions, and he had saved the lives of desperately ill patients with a dogged determination that the other Healers had to respect him for, no matter how much they hated the way he ignored orthodox opinion. Draco could think of few Healers he would rather study with.
"I'm glad that you apparently like this solution," Harry said dryly, and then his voice changed. Draco looked up and couldn't name the expression that he saw on Harry's face, or the emotion in his eyes. "Please, let me give you this much. You've given me so many gifts, and I feel as though I'm falling behind. I'm hopelessly owing you debts that I can't ever repay."
His heart full, Draco reached out and cupped Harry's face in turn. "Don't think of it that way," he whispered. "My whole future is going to be different. I'll finally be getting out of here and have a chance to become a Healer. And there's you."
Harry turned his head to the side and kissed Draco's palm. "I love you," he said.
Draco closed his eyes. He was soaring, twisting among the clouds in a new direction.
No, there was no reason to believe that all his studies with Hooker would go well, or that he and Harry would be together forever. But he had a chance. And that chance was worth more than what he might have had, so much more.
"And I love you," he said, opening his eyes.
Harry smiled and kissed his palm again.
"So you're really leaving?"
Draco smiled in spite of himself at Sabian's plaintive voice. He knew Sabian liked him, but he hadn't envisioned how much he did. He turned around, slipped the last of his files into the satchel he'd been packing for the last half-hour, and nodded. "Yes. I think it's for the best, really. You know that there are already mutters going around about how I hurt Healer Mallow more than he deserved."
Sabian flushed. "But I hurt him, too. And no one is saying that about me."
Draco sighed and considered him for a moment. Sabian was still young in a lot of ways. "I know," he said at last. "But you don't have the reputation that I do."
"Oh." Sabian stared at the floor for a moment, pondering. "I wish I could come with you."
"If you do well enough in the Apprentice Healer program," Draco promised, "or if I hear that they're treating you unfairly, then I'll make sure that I put in a good word for you with Healer Hooker. Not that that would get you accepted, mind," he had to add. "I hear that his standards are very high."
"You're studying with him?" Sabian's envy was palpable, and Draco had to admit to himself that he was enjoying it. "How did you get the chance?"
"I only know that I'll be introduced to him," Draco said. "I can't say that I'll actually be able to study with him. His standards are very high."
Sabian astonished him utterly by landing forwards and pounding him on the shoulder. "I know you'll succeed," he said fiercely. "You're a good Healer, and you're smart. You solved the whole mystery, didn't you?"
"Well," Draco said, not unwilling to accept the praise, "yes."
Sabian nodded, and then sighed. "It's not going to be as fun around here without you."
Draco fought to keep his eyebrows from rising. Was tracking down and then fighting a murderous Healer Sabian's definition of fun? Perhaps Draco should remember to recommend that he become an Auror Healer when he had finished at St. Mungo's. "I appreciate the compliment," he said, and reached out. "Good luck."
Sabian pumped his hand and then walked out slowly, shaking his head. Harry stepped in, raising his eyebrows.
"How do you deal with your hero-worshippers?" Draco asked, hefting the satchel. "I thought that having one would be more pleasant than it was. Not that he's not a good lad, but I feel responsible for him."
"Mine are usually more annoying, so I don't," Harry said cheerfully. Then his smile vanished as it had earlier when he started talking about Draco's pessimism. "Are you ready for this? I know you've been here for three years. Leaving must be hard."
Draco shook his head. "I don't have friends here," he said simply. "Except Sabian. And I'm in love with you. That makes the decision easy enough."
Harry reached out and gripped his hand silently, almost crushing it. Draco decided that Harry probably had some insecurities of his own, if he had really thought that Draco would choose St. Mungo's over him.
For what Draco sincerely hoped would be the last time—unless he was wounded or Hooker recommend that he come here to observe something—they walked down the pale corridors, past the wards and the rooms that Draco had come to know so well. No one came out to watch them depart, but occasionally they passed someone who stared at them in disbelieving hostility. Draco ignored them magnificently each time.
And then they were out the doors, and into the fresh, clear air of a bright evening, and Draco knew his future was in front of him.
And by his side.