Title: This Worship of an Extinct Fire
Summary: Unspeakable Draco Malfoy has planned for nearly six months how to take down Thomas Linwood, a man who has discovered the secret of converting wizard bodies to pure magic. He was prepared for anything-except the discovery of the missing Harry Potter in Linwood's compound.
Warnings: Sometimes graphic violence, descriptions of magical torture, angst, deaths of original characters
Word Count: 30,500
Author's Notes: Written for awickedmemory in the 2013 Draco Tops Harry fest. Awickedmemory, thanks so much for a great prompt! (Which involved Draco, working undercover as either an Unspeakable or Hit Wizard, finding Harry in the clutches of villains a year after he vanished). There is no non-con in this, but lots of other violence and vengeance. Thanks to my betas L and K, and to A, who found the title of this fic in A. E.'s poem "On Behalf of Certain Irishmen Not Followers of Tradition." The poem is quoted at the beginning of the fic.
This Worship of an Extinct Fire
And they would have us join their dirge,
This worship of an extinct fire
In which they drift beyond the verge
Where races all outworn expire.
The worship of the dead is not
A worship that our hearts allow...
Draco turned around in front of the mirror and checked the hang of his cloak. Then he nodded. It mimicked the pose in the photographs that he had sent to Linwood, and that was enough for him.
He faced the mirror. Yes, the glamour was in place, the one that darkened his pale hair to deep golden-blond and made his grey eyes look more blue than anything. Draco smiled. He had found that people were more likely to fail to recognize someone who had made slight changes to his form and features than someone who had made a total change.
He had practiced writing like Eddison Dane, the "magical theorist" who had made contact with Linwood months before. He had practiced walking like him, and speaking like him, and feeling what he would feel, and gazing at the sunset the way he would.
Now only one thing remained, the final step that would let Draco become him.
He lowered his head and closed his eyes, sinking at once into the grey mental space that all Unspeakables were taught to access. Draco had yet to figure out whether it was pure magic, or simply a trick of meditation. What mattered was that it worked, and he needed it to work now.
Behind the walls of that space, that dungeon room in his own mind, he carefully shut away his own preoccupations, his pure blood, his family history, his story of the war, his shadows of the past. It was Eddison Dane's life he needed, and Dane was a half-blood, hadn't fought in the war-due to a prudent leave of absence from Britain-and preferred to avoid discussing anything except magical theory. Of course, Draco had let a few hints of unhappy shadows slip into the letters he wrote to Linwood. That would make his target think he had the advantage, some way to conquer Draco and twist him around his finger.
Stop thinking of him as the target. He's Linwood, your correspondent and someone who can tell you everything you want to know about this original line of magical research.
Draco dipped himself into the freezing greyness, and when he opened his eyes and gazed into the mirror, it was Eddison Dane who looked back.
He nodded. It was time.
"Mr. Dane. Such a pleasure."
It was Thomas Linwood, the master of the project himself, who came to meet him outside the grey stone complex where the Dreamers of the Future worked, his hand extended and a soft smile on his face. Draco took his hand and bowed with the courtly manners that were important to him, murmuring a greeting while his gaze traveled over the complex.
It looked like nothing so much as a school, with low walls and gated courtyards where children could play in safety. Here and there windows opened on dark rooms that could have held classes, although they emitted no sound. And Draco could make out young wizards sprawled about on the velvety grass with books.
"When I learned you felt comfortable enough to come here, I knew that all my hard work had paid off."
Draco faced Linwood again. Of course he knew what the man looked like-the underground world they both moved in had been lavish with photographs and descriptions of both the man and his school-but it was another thing to see him in person. He looked all points, pointed chin and angled cheekbones and slender fingers that bore beautiful nails. A few inkstains on the edges of the fingers curved under the nails. Linwood's dark eyes followed Draco's gaze down to his fingers, and he laughed, shaking his head.
"I'm afraid that a scholar's duties must take precedence," he said, and bowed. "Won't you come and see what you've traveled so far to see?"
"You're very kind," Draco said, and faltered, and looked down.
"Yes, I heard about your loss," Linwood said, referring to the rumors that Draco had taken care to spread before he came here. He took Draco's elbow. "Will you allow me to say that we are all sorry? The Healers are very fine people, of course, but they don't understand magical progress, and they require too many tests. I'm sure we could have saved your mother."
Draco closed his eyes and nodded. "Thank you," he whispered. "I-I'd like to see what I came to see, yes."
He flicked his eyes open in time to see the fleeting smile cross Linwood's face. The man liked echoes, and Draco intended to make himself into one. There was a great empty spot at the center of Eddison Dane's heart simply waiting to be filled, and Linwood would want to step into that place.
For his own reasons, Draco wanted him to, too.
They passed through one of the courtyard gates, and Draco tilted his head back and breathed in the heavy scents of the roses that decorated the bushes here and there. There were colors he had never seen on the flowers, from a black as velvety as the grass to a peacock-colored blossom he would have liked to linger to examine.
"Rather unusual to have roses at this season," he remarked.
"We are capable of greater miracles than that." Linwood unlocked a door in front of them that had appeared to lead into a classroom, but now Draco saw steps going down. "I was going to take you to your room so you could relax, but-forgive me, but I'm accustomed to thinking of myself as a man who can read hearts. I think you would want your tour to begin with a sight of the magic we're harvesting here. Isn't that right?" He tilted his head at Draco.
Draco, his heart full and singing, nodded, and together they proceeded into the school, Linwood closing the door gently behind them.
Small lights that floated in the air like fireflies immediately sprang into being. Draco nodded at them and followed Linwood down the stairs, his mouth slightly open with awe.
The stairs were wide and well-used, not narrow and shallow the way Draco had half-expected them to be. He shook his head in wonder as they came down into the wide room that was the center-one of the centers-of Linwood's "process." No one else would know that the shake was also an admonition to himself. He must not allow his expectations and stereotypes of a place like this to interfere with seeing the reality. Otherwise, he was likely to end up on the other side of the "process."
And he didn't want that. The Unspeakables didn't want that. He was here for something else.
Linwood turned and gestured in front of him, though he might have saved himself the motion. Draco was already looking. "Behold, the fires that shall change the world!" His voice shook a little, and so did the hand that fell back to his side, while he stood, looking around and breathing.
He's allowed himself poetic license, but only a little.
The room in front of them glowed and flared with what might have looked like pillars of fire from a distance. In reality, they were twisted columns of crystal, springing from the floor and making their way in delicate corkscrews like unicorn horns to the ceiling, and all around them danced lashes and leashes of color.
One could almost ignore the chains at the bottoms of them, Draco noted. In reality, even those were more delicate and gentle than he had seen elsewhere.
Then again, these prisoners were not moving far. Linwood might not have needed the chains.
Draco looked at them, and noted the bowed heads and folded arms and shaking shoulders. Now and then someone would whimper. But all in all, it was a very quiet kind of torture, and their bodies shone almost like the crystal pillars, turned to faint and glowing glasses.
Now you sound like Linwood.
But the closer he could imitate Linwood's strictures and vocabulary and viewpoint, the more likely he would survive this, and not end up in the chains. Draco looked up at Linwood, and blinked a little. "Might I see the most powerful one you have?" he whispered. "The one who might have saved my mother?"
Linwood inclined his head, smiling. "Of course. I did promise you that, didn't I?" He took Draco's arm and started to escort him around the room. "Meanwhile, you know the process, but if you have any technical questions, feel free to ask me."
At the moment, Draco was too absorbed in watching the process Linwood's letters had talked about come to life to have any questions. He paused now and then to watch the dancing ribbons of red and green and blue and purple and grey-always those five colors, correlated to different levels of magical strength-twine their way up the pillars. Linwood always paused courteously beside him, to watch and smile.
Draco watched until he noted the exact points at which the ribbons emerged from the skin. They were in many different places, but always from the part of the body that was in contact with the chain.
At one point, he was lucky. While he was watching a thin, shivering woman rock back against the pillar, he saw one particular fat ribbon of blue get away from her and course up the corkscrew. At the top, it flared and turned a small stretch of crystal the brilliant color of a sapphire.
And Draco looked back down just as the woman's arm-the part she was chained to the pillar by-faded out, to a flesh-colored shadow with the bones floating in it like meat in soup. The woman moaned faintly, and one of the grey-cloaked attendants that hovered along the sides of the room hurried forwards to move the chain to a collar around her neck.
"It's just as you described, isn't it?" Draco murmured. "The conversion of their flesh and bone and blood to purest magical energy."
Linwood nodded. "Many wizards have succeeded in tapping their magical cores, of course, but few of us have found the way to open a direct conduit between our magical cores and the surface of the world where we can use the power. Our cores are buried too deep, linked to the health of the body and the alertness of the mind and, oh, all sorts of things." A flash of his hand dismissed all solidity. "With this device, we bring the core to the surface, and turn all the barriers in its way into more magic, part of it."
Draco nodded. It was what he had understood before, but clarifying what he understood was always good. He had made mistakes in the past.
He turned his head to the side as he approached a squat crystal pillar, shining like a heap of golden coins. Draco blinked. Yes. The light around it was phoenix-colored, something he hadn't seen before.
And chained to the pillar was a slumped figure with his black hair almost the only solid point of himself.
Draco raised his eyebrows. The black hair was almost familiar, but he had seen lots of people with hair that wild in the past few years. He turned a polite look on Linwood.
Linwood stood with his hands clasped together, breathing softly and steadily. That struck Draco as odd. So far, the man hadn't shown glee or any stronger emotion than academic pleasure when contemplating his victims. What was it about this one that made it different?
"Come and see." Linwood, as though Draco had voiced the question aloud, whispered those words and took Draco's hand to drag him over the floor towards the pillar.
It loomed larger and larger as Draco got closer, and he could see delicate threads of gold even in the veins that he had taken to be pure crystal. It seemed this particular wizard was almost completely transformed. Draco wondered what Linwood would do to replace him when he was gone.
"Behold," Linwood said, reaching out but stopping his hand short of the chain that bound the collared wizard to the pillar. "Our greatest prize, our greatest conquest."
Draco made a small black mark in his mind. So far, Linwood seemed to have few weaknesses; even a sense of humor was part of his psychology, a trait Draco saw in few wizards who invented magic the Unspeakables wanted for themselves. But the only other man Draco had heard talk about possessing someone in that rapturous way was the Dark Lord.
As though compelled by the presence of people near him, the prisoner tilted his head back degree by degree, and met their eyes.
And Draco's grey prison that he'd contained his personality in broke, and the personality of Draco Malfoy rose towards the surface, displacing the mask of Eddison Dane, because the wizard chained to the pillar had brilliant green eyes, and a lightning bolt scar, and was Harry Potter.
Draco touched the rising personality, the memories, the rivalry, the fury, and crushed it back down into the prison. It was harder to concentrate and force the cold grey walls to close around that part of him than it had been, but still. He was going to control this situation. He would not reveal himself for who he was in front of someone as dangerous as Linwood.
He had become Eddison Dane. He must stay that man at least until he was in the room that Linwood had prepared for him. He could not explode now.
He would explode later.
He was uncomfortably aware that that promise to himself was the only thing that allowed him to resume his mask, but for the moment, he had resumed it. He could deal with the emotions that had prompted him to shatter it in the same later that contained the explosion.
He opened his eyes, and focused on Potter again, the emptiness in those green eyes, the way they seemed to float slightly above his face, as though the substance-draining had begun in them first.
"Harry Potter?" He let his voice squeak. Eddison Dane would, and that was who he was. "I thought he was dead!"
Linwood laughed, and the sound was rich and irritating at the same time, scraping against the prison walls that Draco had raised again. Since Draco still didn't understand why the fury was there or where it had come from, he didn't react to the irritation, either.
But he did keep his eyes on Linwood. He wasn't sure what would happen if he looked at Potter again.
"That's what everyone seems to believe about Harry Potter at some point or another," Linwood said, shaking his head. "The Dark Lord, and the people who thought he'd died when he was living in the Muggle world, and the people who saw him vanish after the Third Task at the Tri-wizard Tournament, and the people who saw him carried into the Great Hall at Hogwarts." He reached over and touched Potter's head, giving a small shudder as he did so. Draco, concentrating strongly on his analysis of Linwood's reactions so he could forget his own, doubted it was a shudder of disgust. "You'd think everyone would have learned to stop assuming it by now, until they saw the body staked through the heart and then buried. And even then, I wouldn't put it past him."
"Of course," Draco said, and squeaked a little more as he looked at Potter, or rather at the pillar behind him. Linwood was distracted enough not to notice the real direction of Draco's eyes. "I just-I know he vanished a year again. Every time, he came back much sooner than that."
Potter showed no sign of recognizing him, Draco realized distantly. Good. He hadn't counted on the possibility of finding someone he knew among Linwood's prisoners, and he should have. But as long as Potter was this out of it, Draco's mistake wouldn't cost him his own life.
Not your own.
Draco accepted the revelation of who else's life might be important to him, and put it behind grey prison walls once again. Azkaban had nothing on his mind.
"That's true," Linwood said. "And I don't know all his adventures from the time he vanished a year ago. He would have to tell you, assuming he wanted to. But I've never been able to drag that out of him." He shook his head and sighed. Once again, Draco doubted that he was putting on those mannerisms. "But whatever he became involved in, he ended up as a slave ready to be sold. Of course I took him at once. We all know how strong he is. I couldn't pass up a chance to have him as part of the process."
"Strong?" Draco repeated, as if blankly. "Well, yes, of course. Although I have read a few arguments that say the Dark Lord was the mightiest wizard of the last ten generations, and another one would not have been born so soon afterwards."
"How ridiculous," Linwood said, with the first flash of passion Draco had seen from him beyond the way he approached Potter. "Magic has a sense of balance and proportion, or at least we can discover laws that make it seem that way, but it isn't our sense of balance or proportion. It wouldn't confine itself to one great wizard in a certain number of human generations. It's just as likely to obey the movements of the stars, or the moon. Besides, the figure of the 'last ten generations' ignores wizards such as Dumbledore and Grindelwald." He tugged on Potter's hair. Potter closed his eyes.
The rage threatened to burst out again. Draco built an extra wall and concealed the moments of his mental uncertainty by bending down to examine the chain that bound Potter's collar to the crystal. It was made of crystal itself, or so it seemed, although this had veins in it that the pillars didn't. Draco wished he could ask about it, but Linwood had no reason to trust Eddison Dane that much yet.
"Of course," he said at last, and sighed a little. "You make it all sound so reasonable. I don't know why I can't think of these reasons on my own."
Linwood touched his arm again, the way he had when they were strolling through the pillared chamber. Draco would have felt better about that if he had once let go of Potter's hair since he touched it. "Don't put yourself down that way, Eddison," he said. "Our movement needs people like you, too, people willing to put in the time and patient study to understand what we're doing here."
Draco swallowed and glanced up from beneath fluttering eyelashes. "Then my application to join your school and spend some time studying the process is-accepted?"
Linwood laughed. "I did make you wait for a formal answer, didn't I? I'm afraid that's procedure, just an instinct that I have." He clutched Draco's hand for an instant, then let it fall away and twined the fingers of both hands in Potter's hair. Potter's swaying head might have belonged to a doll for all the reaction that produced. "But yes, you're invited, Mr. Dane. I'll have someone show you to your room."
Draco bit his lip. "You won't come yourself? I mean, it's just-I would feel so much more welcome if you did."
"It's time you met other people here, your fellow students." Linwood nodded as the young witch who had moved the chain on the fading witch came forwards. "And I'm afraid that Potter requires my special attentions, sometimes."
None of the notes Linwood had shown him or the correspondence they'd exchanged said anything about the need for human interference in the "process," other than having to move the chains to a more solid part of the body when the magical core thinned one to shadow. But Draco understood the real reason at the level of his viscera, and another black mark went down on his mental slate next to Linwood's name.
"I understand," he said, and turned to the witch, and tried to make himself smile. "What's your name?"
"Teresa Brooke," she murmured, and turned away with lowered eyes. "Come with me, Mr. Dane. And be accepted."
Draco glanced back only once. Linwood stood with his hands clenched in Potter's hair, his hips rocking back and forth. For a shocked moment, Draco thought he was forcing Potter to suck his cock.
But no. Potter didn't have a mouth solid enough for that. He was simply lost in the enjoyment of his triumph, a passion that must be rarer and sweeter for him than carnal lust.
Draco turned his back and left the chamber.
The room that Linwood had allotted to him was small, but not as bare as Draco had expected. A huge fire burned in a hearth, beneath a mantle that looked as if it had been made of carved ivory. There was a shimmering tapestry on the wall, thick blankets on the bed done in a variety of colors-sky-blues and peacock-greens and cinnamon-browns-and a pillow that Draco let his hand sink into. It descended a long way before it finally stopped.
Draco went through the motions of someone like Eddison Dane making himself at home: gawking at the room, bouncing on the bed, splaying out on his back to test its softness, and then bouncing up with a little shake of his head to hang up his cloak and take off his boots and unpack his trunks. But all the while, his mind churned.
The way someone like Eddison Dane would make himself at home.
Because Draco couldn't lie to himself. He wasn't the perfect shell, the automaton with a mask for a face, who had walked out his door on his way to Apparate to Linwood's place. He was no longer a means of recording detail, of evaluations on Linwood's process and the best way to possess that secret for the Unspeakables, or judge whether it was too dangerous and Dark to allow it to continue existing.
He hadn't been since he saw Potter.
The answer to that question had roots perhaps as deep as fairy tales, and the stories that his mother told him with her face averted-the stories that were connected with the short stay his father had had in prison after the first war-and the boy like a bird who had alighted on the stool next to him at Madam Malkin's.
And they had roots in the cellar where the Unspeakables had questioned him after his initiation, questioned him and listened to him as he poured out rubbish about himself that he had forgotten he knew but which, for some reason, they couldn't live without knowing.
Potter. It's always been Potter.
That had been what he said when, after hours and hours of wearing down, of relentless questioning, of water dripping on his face, someone-he never saw the faces of his questioners-had asked him what his greatest weakness was.
"Potter," he whispered, and someone shook him, while the voice of the first one-not the same as the person shaking him, he had been sure-asked him to repeat what he had just said.
"It's always been Potter," Draco said, staring at the floor, his shoulders heaving in their bonds, his desire to be an Unspeakable fluctuating and fluttering and dying at random intervals like a poorly-nourished fire. "I never wanted to admit that before. But I wanted him to pay attention to me, and he wouldn't. I wanted to beat him at Quidditch, and I couldn't. I wanted to be on the winning side, and I wasn't. When I tried to deliver him to the Dark Lord, on the last day I was a Death Eater, he had to rescue me instead. I can't get over what I owe him, and I can't get over that he doesn't need me. I can't repay those debts."
There had been silence, and then the bonds released his shoulders, and in dim light they let Draco stand on his own and gave him a cloth to wipe the dripping water away from his face. Draco had done so, a little stunned.
Through one of those leaks that weren't supposed to happen, Draco learned, later on, that he had been one of the few Unspeakables ever to admit his fears openly and quickly and quietly. Most of the rest resisted on that question longer than any other. The people who had tested him had taken that to mean he knew what he was doing; he knew himself, and he wouldn't make mistakes in stressful situations by misunderstanding his own reactions.
So Draco had been an Unspeakable from that day forwards, and he had never failed to anticipate what he would think.
Except for now.
Yet even that wasn't impossible to foresee, if I had remembered what was important.
Draco nodded. All right. He was still here to find out Linwood's secret and take it back to the Department of Mysteries. He still had to be sure that no one suspected him.
But in the meantime, he would have to find a way to rescue Potter as well. His own outrage and life-debts and emotional tangle and stupidity would have it no other way.
Draco sat down on the bed and flopped back again as though exhausted, shutting his eyes. He had to plan.
"Was it everything you expected?"
Draco dared a quick glance up into Linwood's eyes, before he blushed and looked back at the table. Linwood was watching him with a self-satisfied little smile, using his finger to trace runes in water on his plate. As Draco watched, the runes lit up and flared into blue fire.
Not possible anywhere else. But Draco had been in the school long enough to feel how saturated the air was with power, leaking away from the crystal pillars, waiting for someone to do something with it, waiting for an outlet. Linwood had admitted, when Draco mentioned it, that the process of transferring magic into the pillars wasn't perfect. They needed better chains, or a more automatic process to tie the chains to another part of their victims' bodies when the first part began to thin.
"My room?" Draco smiled and nodded. "Very kind. But of course you mean the main chamber," he corrected himself hastily when Linwood's eyebrows began to rise. "Dear me, yes. It was..." He paused and thought about it, trying to find words. "Intense," he said at last.
Linwood did smile at that, and half-bowed his head. "It is," he agreed. "Especially for someone who's not used to it."
Draco let his hand fly to his mouth, something he had described doing in his letters as Eddison Dane. "Did I look that obvious?" he whispered.
Linwood smiled more widely and leaned back in his chair, his hands clasped behind his head. This room was larger than most of them, and with its roaring fires and long tables where Linwood's students ate, reminded Draco of nothing so much as the Great Hall at Hogwarts. But candles without holders floated above their table, and here and there on the walls were shelves with golden vases and tiny ivory harps and small scarlet dragons. All creations of the ambient magic, Linwood had said, and as likely to vanish at any time. They hadn't yet figured out how to make them stay. The impression was one of fleeting, glittering, enchanting luxury.
"Someone who's not used to it always reacts that way," Linwood said, shaking his head. "It's the one thing I can be generous with you about."
The one thing. Draco could read a warning there, and as unsubtle as he was, so could Dane. He nodded and dropped his eyes. "Yes, sir," he whispered. "In the meantime-I wanted to ask you something." He hesitated as if gathering his courage.
Linwood only waited. "Yes?"
He knows. He knows already. He might not have understood the source of Draco's reaction to Potter-no, he must not have, or Draco would be chained to a pillar already-but he had seen it. Draco ducked his head, shrugging a little. Since he couldn't hide it, he would work that reaction into his plan.
"Why Harry Potter?" Draco whispered. "I would have thought he'd fight. Or was all the spirit gone out of him by the time you got him?"
That was what it had looked like: Potter pale and trembling, eyes glassy, unable to react, unable to do anything but sit still as his magic flowed into the chain, and then into the pillar.
"Whoever captured him had made him slow to react," Linwood said. "Taught him a lesson. We did have a few problems with him, but taking his magic relieved us of those. If we had been a more traditional group of Dark wizards, with more traditional methods of breaking prisoners, we might have had more problems."
Breaking-the word made Draco's prison walls want to break again in response. But he had promised himself that wouldn't happen, so he only nodded and murmured, "I understand. Does the draining of magic affect people's spirits that way, usually?"
Linwood lifted the goblet of wine in his hand and revolved it. Draco watched the flashing, changing nature of it, now made of paneled gold with rubies glowing in it, now rough wood with veins of silver here and there. "You are seeking some way to pull back," Linwood said. "Or else to tell yourself that this isn't Dark."
Draco could stare down at his hands without fear. He had made Eddison Dane a timid, fluttering personality, who had waited six months to come this far because of his own fear as much as because of the need to make Linwood trust him. "Yes," he whispered. "I thought-it was the look in some of their eyes. I thought I would see some despair. I saw nothingness."
"You saw transformation," Linwood corrected, and for the first time, his voice was noticeably sharp. "You saw the passing into magic that they were destined for, to serve the strong."
You are consuming them. You are consuming him.
The first thought didn't burn; the second did. Draco had had them both on purpose, to test himself. Understanding even more about the limits of his own weakness, he whispered, "All right. But-do they feel any pain?"
Linwood smiled then. "Most don't. They're in the stage where they don't know what's happening to them anymore, and feel no desire for food or water or any of the other commodities that purely physical bodies need. We use the chains and some drugs during the first stage," he added, correctly anticipating Draco's next question. "When they stop fighting, we let them wake and be quiescent, caught in the becoming of their own majesty."
Overly pleased with his own eloquence, Draco noted down next to Linwood's name in his mind. He bobbed his head a little. "Potter's pillar looked different from the others. Is there a reason behind that?"
Linwood's smile broke out again, and his eyes shone the same way they had when he was near Potter. Draco wanted to crush the table. He contented himself with dropping a fork and having to bend down after it, although the ambient magic floated it back into his hand before he actually had to touch the floor.
"Of course there is," Linwood said. "Such a grand reason, besides. No harm in letting you know it." He leaned forwards, and Draco held Dane's breath and leaned in to match him, so close to the candles he nearly singed his face.
"Potter is so powerful," Linwood whispered, "that he has lasted in our possession for nine months. Most wizards last two."
More than four times as powerful. Draco chanted the simple maths to himself so he wouldn't stand and reach for Linwood's throat. That gesture held no future and no meaning for himself or Potter.
"And so the pillar glows," he whispered, channeling his rage into making his voice low. Linwood could mistake that sound for fascination. "Do you know what will happen when you come to the end of his magic?"
For a moment, Linwood's eyelashes fluttered, and his fingers curled on the table as if he had his fantasies of crushing it himself. Then he put down his goblet, and gave Draco a charming, reckless smile. Draco had last seen its like on Potter's face during Quidditch matches.
"You've come this far," Linwood said. "You've dined at my table. And you know so many of our secrets, and you've contributed so much money to our cause." Draco saw no need to tell Linwood that those Galleons came from Unspeakable vaults, rather than Dane ones. Linwood pushed his chair back, and stood up. "Watch. This is what we hope to achieve, what we can achieve if only we can take another four months from Potter. And there is every sign that we can."
He stood in front of his chair with his arms extended and his eyes closed. Ambient magic gathered around him and made his hair glitter as if it was threaded with gold even though it was so dark. Draco waited and watched in breathing silence, though he felt the air tighten around him. He wondered if Linwood was calling in the magic to create some spectacular spell.
A second later, Linwood opened his eyes and winked.
And then he vanished.
Draco started to his feet, his own natural reaction as well as Dane's, and swung around, staring. He didn't reach for his wand up his sleeve only because Dane should trust his host a little more than that. "Linwood?" he called softly.
The voice was soft and feminine. Draco turned, assuming the young witch who had escorted him to his room had returned.
But instead, he saw a glorious woman in front of the fireplace, naked, her golden hair tumbling down her back and her arms folded across her chest as though to emphasize her breasts. Draco blinked, and saw her dark eyes.
"Linwood?" he asked. "You've gained the power to Transfigure yourself?"
The woman-Linwood-tossed back his head and laughed. "Not Transfigure," he said, and great wings grew out of his back, and he became a snowy winged cat of the kind Draco had once faced in battle, and of whose existence the Unspeakables would prefer British wizards were kept secret. "Reshape. When we are done with Potter and have enough power, we can do this permanently. Our own bodies will become magic, flowing and changing with our whims, with pure strength." The snowy cat wavered and collapsed like a glamour, revealing Linwood on his knees, rubbing his shins with a tenderness that made Draco really believe they had been hind legs a moment ago, not merely enspelled to look like them. He smiled up at Draco, as rapturous as he had been with Potter. "Imagine. Wings when you want them, to fly. Becoming older or younger , a different sex, a different person, in an instant." His smile deepened to a promise of wildness and immortality. "Never having to die."
Draco half-closed his eyes and shivered, purely because it was the sort of thing Eddison Dane would do. "Never having to die," he whispered, while his own memories contained the Dark Lord and the things that could happen when someone decided that he should not have to die.
And the rest of him, the flawed part that put far too much importance on Potter and the ways that he behaved and what he thought, throbbed with longing to grab the ambient magic and stuff as much of it back in Potter's core as would fit.
He had to stop this. Not because the secret was too valuable to be left in Linwood's hands, or because the Unspeakables would want to study it and duplicate it in a way that didn't use living victims (too messy), although those things were true and what he would use to his superiors, if he ever had to justify what he was doing here.
But because Potter would fade away into magic otherwise, magic that Linwood and his students would absorb and use to their liking, and he would never look at Draco again, or rage at him, or defy him, or apologize, in the way that Draco still cherished a fantasy of happening.
It was a motivation that would have made many of the Unspeakables Draco knew shake their heads. But it was the one he had.
He opened his eyes fully and smiled at Linwood. "Tell me more."
Draco leaned back on his bed and began to breathe, slow, deep, compelling exercises that he had learned to do at the same time as he had learned how to seal away part of his personality in the depths of his own mind. The breaths reached into his own magical core, and soon power flooded him, shimmering gently just under his skin, until his fingers ached for his wand, to release it.
Draco didn't let that happen. He simply breathed. The magic stirred. The wand lay motionless on the table, where he had left it, to attract the attention of the wards and the spells Linwood no doubt had watching his room.
Draco breathed, and his fingers moved back and forth now and then, as if twitching in his sleep. He had made sure to write to Linwood that Eddison Dane had lots of dreams, including nervous nightmares that startled him awake, to prepare for the use of this tactic. Of course, he hadn't thought at the time that he would be using the tactic for quite this purpose.
He had to rein in his mind when it almost rambled off on another track of accusing himself for being stupid. All right, he was here, and he was going to do this. It was useless to waste time worrying about it.
And he would waste Potter's time if he waited, which was more precious.
Finally, he could feel the magic gathering in what felt like golden bubbles under his skin, under his chest and his fingernails and his neck, the bubbles hovering like hummingbirds. He had reached the point when he might be able to help Potter, and waiting longer wouldn't aid anyone.
He stretched his hands out in front of him and flicked his fingers. The magic ebbed for a second, as if it would drip out the ends of his fingernails, and then washed back down inside him, towards the core it had come from.
Yes. He had reached the tipping point. Draco stretched out in a different way, imagining that tendrils extended from his ears, eyes, fingertips, nostrils, and tongue. He opened his mouth slightly to help that particular tactic. It had to be all those things, or he wouldn't have the senses he needed to investigate the room. He had tried to do this one time last month, and had ended up deaf when he forgot to imagine the tendrils extending from his ears.
This time, it worked the way it was meant to. There was a soft sound, like bubbles popping, or meat ripping.
And Draco popped free of his body in response.
He opened his eyes, or rather moved the magic that had come from his eyes, and looked around the room. In this form, which was as close to pure mental travel as any wizard would ever come, he could see the magic in the room, the wards and the spells that Linwood had woven about him.
There were fewer of them than he would have reckoned-two large blue wards on the door, one on a patch of the wall behind which Draco could sense a hidden passage, and crystalline loops dancing around the trunks and cupboards. Spells that would carry any noise made in the room to a hidden observer, of course. Spells to amplify sound, too, so that any whisper Draco might try to make would sound as clear as a tolling bell to someone who listened for it.
But no more than that. Either Linwood trusted Eddison Dane more than he had shown he did so far, or he considered him a wizard of no account.
Draco would have smiled if his lips weren't on his face two yards away, from his current perspective. Instead, he turned and passed quietly out through the gap in the wards. In this form, he was as large or as small as he wanted to be, and even the tightest wards needed a space between them to keep them from canceling each other out. He made it easily.
Through the walls of the compound he moved, through the thickness of ambient magic that hung there. That was visible in this form, too, looking like snowflakes that had been arrested in the air instead of completing their tumble to the ground. Draco studied the edges of the flakes, and when he had lingered long enough, he saw the shimmer of gold from them, the same color he had seen in the crystalline pillar Potter's magic filled.
Perhaps half of the magic in the room had come from Potter.
Draco moved effortlessly in the direction of the chamber where Linwood kept Potter and the other prisoners, and he concentrated all the way on the little flashes of gold like suspended coins. If he didn't, then his rage might break free, and he would find himself back in his body, with most of his night's effort wasted.
Draco spent long moments studying the chain that bound Potter and the configuration of the pillar, in case he had to have the information at a later date. Then he floated around in front of Potter.
He couldn't tell whether the complete careless bastard-
The world flickered, almost becoming the room Linwood had given him, and Draco reminded himself of the breaths that reached down into his core, the magic that surrounded and cradled him, and the ambient magic that Linwood shouldn't get the chance to use. The chamber of pillars stabilized around him again.
He couldn't tell whether Potter was asleep or awake. His eyes floated in a filmy face, his body gone as thin as a vessel of crystal itself. Perhaps he was lost in some state in between, neither dreaming nor not dreaming.
In the end, it was enough to make Draco take the risk. He reached out with the spiky tendrils that represented his fingers right now, and passed through the image of Potter's eyes.
The world shuddered around him. Draco braced himself to resist, and felt something far beneath him, some great and somnolent power, shuddering to life, staring upwards and flexing what felt like wings.
Potter's magic, Draco knew at once. Somehow, Linwood had managed to bind it with the chains and the pillar in such a way that it didn't take them as a threat. But it would take someone pushing in from the outside that way.
So Draco sent an image of himself as he had seen it only in dreams, not in life. In the dream, he sat with his arm around Potter's shoulders, and they leaned on a tangled bank of vines and flowers, somewhere in the middle of blazing green summer. Potter breathed slowly and evenly, and his eyes were alight with joy because he was with Draco. Draco couldn't even name the expression on his own face. It wasn't one he had ever worn in waking life, though.
The eyes of Potter's magic, or whatever they really were, examined it. Draco felt as though he was slipping through a dangerously small gap between wards, and waited with breath that he would have held if he had lungs for access to Potter's mind.
Then it seemed to work. He slipped through the gap, and landed in what looked like a misty clearing, full of shifting piles of gold power and beams of light that brightened and blinked, became real and then vanished, so bright that Draco had to raise his hand to shield his eyes more than once.
Draco hadn't noticed how deep the ache in him ran to hear that voice until it spoke. He had thought Potter was dead for a year-or gone, missing so deeply that Draco would never speak to him again, if only because he couldn't bear the thought of Potter as an unknown corpse in a nameless grave. Now he turned around again with his magical senses blazing with saliva and hunger, and saw Potter standing before him.
In the depths of his own mind and what was left of his core, Potter looked the way he once had. He had his arms folded, his head tilted to the side and his eyes stubbornly wide and stubbornly green. He wore Auror robes, although the version of him chained to Linwood's pillar was naked. He had a burn mark near his neck that was new, and his scar appeared dimmer on his forehead than it did now. Although, Draco had to admit, probably that was just the difference between memory and reality. Potter had hated that scar before the end.
"Come to learn how it's done?"
Draco flinched before he could stop himself. He had tracked Linwood's activities, charmed his way into his confidence, created the identity of Eddison Dane, and done everything he could to achieve his entrance into this cavern, this school, without thinking much about the sufferings of his victims. The Unspeakables would possess the secret, and study it to determine if it was of use or not. Then they would destroy Linwood.
Now, Draco had to breathe before he could answer. God knew what he was breathing with when his lungs were on the bed, but then, he was touching a Potter composed of magic and memory and imagination, anyway, the same way Draco was. "I'm an Unspeakable now. We learned what Linwood was doing and decided we needed to know more about it."
Potter nodded, his eyes full of vivid mirth. "And Unspeakables move slowly. For example, it probably took you at least six months to come this far." He shook his head slowly. "Should have asked someone on the inside, I could have told you faster. Since I've been here for nine months and all."
Draco had to close his eyes. To think he had once wanted to see despair on Harry Potter's face.
"Anyway, I can't tell you much."
Draco faced Potter and blinked again. His mind seemed to dart from one subject to another. Not surprising, in someone who had been chained up to a pillar and tortured for months on end, but Draco had understood him well so far. "What do you mean?"
"I've spent those months on a chain, with the things I understand growing smaller every day." Potter gestured crudely with one hand, and his smile twisted. "I wonder what poor dear Thomas will do when I can't respond to him anymore."
"Tell me what?" Draco repeated. "What do you mean?" He was watching Potter now and absorbing as much as he could of the eyes, brilliant with fear and rage and hatred. If this was the last memory he ever had of Potter blazing with his own light, he would take it, and no matter what kindling the light burned on.
"I can't tell you much about how it works," Potter clarified. "So if you came to interview me on what it's like to have your magical core drained, you're wasting your time. Some of the other prisoners might have more sanity left."
Draco felt himself shimmer and stretch, almost breaking apart. The desk and the trunk appeared in the corners of his eyes again; the sheets of his bed scratched under his back. And all the time, his pulse pounded and danced with fury in his ears.
He came back because he dragged himself back by will, and not by force of discipline or training. He came back to find Potter gaping at him. "What happened?" Potter demanded. "You looked like you were fading. Did-"
And abruptly he drew his wand and whirled around, scanning the misty landscape around them. "You should go," he said quietly. "It's not worth it, if Linwood figures out what you were doing and chains you up, too."
Draco moved forwards. He had no choice, the same way he'd had no choice but to confess his weakness for Potter when the Unspeakables were interrogating him. He kept his hands up and out. The words spilled from his mouth in a way he knew that his hands couldn't catch.
"I came to save you. And-you don't have to save me, you don't have to stand between me and him. Shit, Potter. Shit." He halted a few centimeters from him, realizing abruptly that his hands would have risen in the next moment to frame Potter's face. And he couldn't lower them.
Potter stared at him, his lips parted as though he assumed that he'd have to fling an insult at Draco. Then he shut his mouth, took a deep breath, and asked, without backing up and without flinching, "You know I'm dying, right?"
Draco shook his head. "I've come to get you out of here," he said, and he remembered the Unspeakables and Eddison Dane and all the preparations he'd made to be here so that he could take the secret of turning wizards into magic from Linwood, but he knew that that hadn't been his real reason from the moment he saw Potter chained to the pillar. "I didn't know it until I saw you, because I had no idea you were here. And it-" Well, he might as well say it. Either Potter would die and Draco would die and no one else would ever have any idea he'd said it, or Potter, the kind of man he'd just proved himself to be, wouldn't confess it to anyone else if they made it out alive. "It makes me furious that you're offering to stand between me and him, that you care about what happens to me."
"I don't want anyone else to suffer what I'm suffering," Potter said. He'd understood part of what had Draco upset, at least. His eyes were narrowed and he looked as though he wanted to turn into magic himself and spring and spin around the misty landscape that contained them. "I would make the same offer for everyone, anyone, who came to rescue me."
"But you made it to me," Draco said, and touched Potter's face. His fingers leaped under the contact, all his magical senses contracting into one ball and shivering. "I'm going to remember that."
Potter reached up and took his wrists, but didn't try to move Draco's hands away. "You're still mental," he said, gently, penetratingly. "There's nothing you can do. Linwood's changed so much of me that this is the only place I can be real." He swallowed, and Draco saw the hollows in the back of his eyes. He wondered how deep Potter had descended, how long he had waited to speak with someone like this.
How long it had been since he was sane.
"I can't escape," Potter continued. "The chain's taken my body along with my magic. You'd bring me up to the surface and I'd fade away like a puff of dust in the sunlight."
"Is that what you believe?" Draco asked, cocking his head to the side and throwing his words like nails. "Or what Linwood's made you believe?"
Potter's head snapped back, and he stared. Then he said, "There's still no way you can give me back what I've lost. I'd be, for the rest of my life, this thing. Not even a vegetable, because I know what I've lost. I don't want to live like that."
And Draco laughed.
Potter jerked in his hold, and grew thinner. Draco could feel his thoughts through his fingertips, Potter's impetus to flee and hide himself down in what was left of his mind rather than endure the one person he could talk to mocking him.
Draco shook his head and cradled him close, blinking rapidly. His mind was leaping along other secrets, experiments he had conducted in the Department of Mysteries, the studying he had done in preparation for coming to Linwood's school, and yes. Yes, it could work. Terrifying, mad, brilliant, but it could work.
"Tell me what's so funny." Potter still sounded like an Auror on an interrogation when he tried.
"The air around the school is full of ambient magic," Draco whispered back. "In the form I came here in, I could see how much of it was yours-the same color as the power in the pillar. What I need to do is reverse the process, a little at a time. That magic is still yours, more responsive to you than anyone else. Maybe we can't recover what's pouring from you into the pillar, but what's in the air could come back to you."
Potter blinked narrowed eyes. Then he said, "And how would we do that? Anyone can use that magic if they're free of the chains. Linwood showed me. It's not-it's not as though it would come back to me for the asking."
"We work together," Draco said. "I've done things like this before, back when I was a new Unspeakable in the Department and they gave me all the problems that famously didn't have solutions. I know it sounds hard," he added, because Potter was shaking his head. "But I know how to store magic and then send it somewhere else. It was supposed to be an attempt to enchant objects that would last forever instead of breaking after a few years. I never succeeded at that. But once Linwood shows me how to access that ambient magic, I can store it and bring it back to you instead of using it."
Potter folded his arms, although they stood so close that he jostled Draco when he did it, and Draco had no intention of moving away. "Linwood's going to notice that you aren't using the magic, you know. He isn't stupid."
Draco hummed but didn't discuss his contempt of Linwood, the way he would have liked to. "I'm good at illusions. I can fool him for a little while. And I think I know a further way to trick him, given his obsession with you."
"What?" Potter stared at him.
Draco licked his lips. He doubted he could hide how much this appealed to him from Potter, and so the best course was not to try, simply to speak and be damned for his honesty, if necessary. "I pretend that I'm just as desperately obsessed with you as he is. He'll like that. He'll let me have access to you a little at a time, for the pleasure of taking it away again. And I can store the magic most easily in my body."
Potter blinked, and blinked again. Then he said, "You're saying you could store it in your-in your mouth and kiss me?"
Draco nodded, holding his gaze. "And in my hands, and massage it into your skin when I touch you."
Potter flinched back from him, hard enough to break Draco's hold on him at last. He paced up and down with his arms folded, and then turned back and shook his head. "No," he said. "Absolutely not. I've had enough of him touching me, and I can't fight back or even really speak to myself about how much it hurts. No."
"I wouldn't hurt you," Draco said.
"Not physically," Potter said, and snapped his teeth like a shark chewing up bait.
Draco shook his head and tried to get close again, thinking it might reassure Potter to have someone touching him while they spoke. But Potter jerked back like a spooked horse, and watched him with eyes so furiously wide that Draco thought he might flee back into the depths of his mind if Draco tried again. Draco retreated with his hands high and sighed a little.
"I wouldn't want to hurt you at all," Draco said. "But if you're hurt by me touching you after all your time here, I can't blame you."
Potter's smile was a narrow slash. "How bloody fucking generous of you, not to blame me," he said, with a drawl that made Draco's teeth itch. He supposed it was a good enough revenge, since he had probably sounded the same to Potter many times in the past. "No. I'm not doing this. I don't trust you enough."
"I won't betray you to Linwood," Draco said quietly. "I want you to have your magic back, too. What Linwood could do with it isn't to be borne, and this way, I can take the secret back to the Department of Mysteries without them insisting that I leave Linwood alone to observe him for a while."
Potter's eyes were as wide and wild as forests, as the dreams that Draco had had on the nights after he'd heard Potter had disappeared. "You want to preserve what's happening here? Spread it? Fuck no. There's no way I'm trusting you, Malfoy."
Draco shook his head. "What can I say to convince you that I'm not like him?" Although he suspected that he was, if you looked at it a certain way. The most he could say was that he wanted Potter to touch him back, and that his obsession had endured years, instead of months.
"Nothing." Potter's face was a still mask. "I should have known you wouldn't come bearing good news. I'm grateful for what you did for me in the war, but good news? No."
"Fucking farewell, Malfoy."
And Draco found himself exiled from Potter's mind again, drifting about in the glittering world of magic outside Potter's body. He reached towards him again, but this time, it was as though he reached into the mist that had consumed most of the landscape of Potter's mind. His hand passed through, and he could feel the soft chimes and sounds of relaxing wards from around him, the signs of a household awakening.
Draco floated away, back to his body. When he had returned, he lay there for a long while, his hands flexing as though he'd just awakened from nightmares and was clutching wildly at the bed, his breathing slow and soft.
The plan to take back Potter's ambient magic from the air around them and channel it into his body was still the best one Draco could think of, bar the fact that Potter would hate to be touched that way. But Potter would never agree.
So Draco would need to store the magic, and get close, and find some other way to transfer it to Potter's body.
He thought he might know a way.
"I trust you slept well, Mr. Dane?"
Draco kept his eyes down and picked at his food, allowing only a soft grunt to escape his throat. He counted internally, using heartbeats to time. When he pushed his plate away and stared at the table, it only took twenty-five before Linwood stood up and sighed at him. Draco looked up. Linwood hadn't done it out of real concern for his guest, of course, but because he couldn't stand to have that guest's attention anywhere than on him.
"Tell me," Linwood said, and smiled at Draco with the winning manner of a Mind-Healer. Draco thought, with a real but mental sigh, that he would have made a good Unspeakable liaison to the public, able to present the results of dangerous experiments as though the public had approved them.
"I did," Draco admitted. "But I found myself dreaming of what I could do with that magic, and especially with the one who-" He shut his mouth, and blushed (he had spent a month learning to blush on command) and hastily pushed back from the table and turned towards his room. "Good morning," he added over his shoulder.
Linwood came and stood in front of him. "Harry Potter?" he whispered. "The trouble in your heart concerns Harry Potter?"
Lowering his eyes so Linwood wouldn't see what Draco thought of him saying "heart" that way, Draco hesitated, then nodded. "I knew him," he whispered. "Well, I mean. I say knew him. I saw him. And I learned all about him when he first defeated You-Know-Who, of course. And I always felt that we shared a special connection, you know? If that makes sense?"
He glanced up bashfully, and found Linwood smiling at him, one hand held out as though he wanted to take Draco's and shake it.
"I know exactly what you mean, Mr. Dane," he said warmly. "I share the same connection with Mr. Potter, and it's so rare to find someone else who understands that. Won't you come with me and have your formal introduction to him? A rather more intimate one than you received the other day," he added, when Draco hesitated.
"Could I? Really?" Draco swallowed and took Linwood's hand.
Meanwhile, his mind raced, trying to decide if this offer was genuine. If Linwood was really that obsessed with Potter and wanted to keep the pleasure of conquering such a powerful wizard to himself, then Draco thought it was strange he would offer to share.
But he saw the way Linwood turned his head to the side, as though trying to conceal the smile that kept threatening to break free, and the way he ran ahead of Draco down the stairs at one point, and Draco understood. He was tired of being alone in his conquest, not allowing his students near enough Potter to understand what he had done. He wanted to brag, to show off, and be sure that he had a sympathetic audience.
Draco kept a small smile fixed on his face, and followed. Although he could dream of grinding Thomas Linwood's bones to dust, he wasn't in the position to effect that-yet.
Potter's face was even more pathetic to Draco now than it had looked yesterday, when he hadn't yet seen it alive with remembered fire. He wondered if that fire was gone out now, if he would never see it again, since Potter had effectively locked him out of his mind.
No. I won't accept that.
It was too late now, he had already decided, for him to retain a distant position from Potter. He would have to use his anger as his weapon, and as they came near now, he gulped and took his wand from his pocket.
"I heard once that Potter has a special connection to wands," he whispered to Linwood. "Because of the Elder Wand he used to defeat You-Know-Who." He had thought of mentioning Draco Malfoy's hawthorn wand, but there was no reason to get Linwood thinking in the right direction. "Would you mind-if I just touched my wand to his cheek, a little bit, just for a minute? Since that might-bless it."
He knew he was blushing, and Linwood did stare. But his smile broadened a moment later, and he nodded.
"I never thought of that before, the connection Potter has with wands," he said, watching with interest as Draco drew his wand and dropped to his knees beside Potter. "Perhaps I'll try it later."
Draco smiled vaguely over his shoulder in Linwood's direction, the way Dane would. He could guarantee that Linwood's wand wouldn't have the same effect on Potter that Draco's would, unless Linwood had also cast a spell that stored the ambient magic in his wand's core and planned on transferring that back to Potter.
Draco brushed his wand up and down Potter's cheek, hesitated, then pressed in closer as if his courage was growing. He murmured nonsense words into Potter's ear, not taking the chance that Linwood had wards that could make out anything he said. He had only managed as well as he did last night because the encounter was completely immaterial. If Linwood knew part of Potter still lingered, sane, he would have long since forced it to worship him.
The core of Draco's wand was swollen with the magic, and Draco only needed to concentrate a little to release it. It rushed back into Potter's skin, and Draco thought for a second he could make it out, sinking into Potter's body, straight down to the depleted magical core.
Of course, when it went there, it would become vulnerable to being drained by the chain and put into the pillar again. But Draco hoped the gesture was enough to make Potter begin to trust him, to realize that he had Potter's best interests at heart.
In the meantime, he had to make Linwood trust him, and he did it by closing his eyes, clutching at the wand, and then gasping aloud and starting back, his hand over his mouth as he looked down at Potter.
"What is it?" Linwood demanded, crowding up to him. "What is it?" Draco thought he might have tried to grab Draco's wand himself, but he contented himself with a single, burning look back and forth from Draco to the wand.
"The blessing," Draco whispered, and let his voice shake as much as it wanted, although Linwood wouldn't know the cause of that trembling was being so close to the man he had been sure was dead. "I felt it. It went up my arm. Like lightning. Like roses." He turned and gaped at Linwood. "Like magic."
It was nonsense, but it was the sort of nonsense that Linwood would expect from a man like Dane, and his nostrils tightened and flared, his head lifting as though someone was pushing on his neck. "You felt it?"
Draco nodded. He was walking such a thin line, because there was the chance that Linwood would want to destroy a successful rival for Potter's magic, but it was the plan he had come up with, and the one he would play through to the end.
Linwood knelt down in front of Potter, his hands trembling. For a moment, Draco thought he would shake him or slap him, anything to get him awake. But he glanced at the chain and the glowing golden pillar, and seemed to decide that it would be useless.
"I want you to tell me everything you remember," he whispered. "Everything, from the moment he knelt down beside you."
Draco opened his mouth, then closed it again. From the pronouns, Linwood wasn't talking to him. He was still talking to Potter, softly pouring words into his ears, and Draco moved back a step. He would have liked to listen, but he had to yield to Dane's discomfort with the moment.
Besides, thinking back on it, he wasn't sure that he did want to hear. Linwood seemed to know part of Potter remained alive and sane enough to listen to him, even if it was buried, but he wanted to coax it back to the surface simply so it would respond to him.
Does he even think of what he's doing to Potter is torture?
There might be a good chance he didn't. And Draco laid the fact down in his mind, along with so many others, so many marks next to Linwood's name, and memories of the way he had seen Potter last night, so that he could use it to help him make a decision about what to do in the future.
Linwood stood up finally, and frowned down at Potter. Draco coughed diffidently and ventured, "You look as though you were upset with him. I'm sorry, did I do something wrong?"
"Not you," Linwood said. "I thought-I thought he understood his place here, that it's his duty to put all his strength and magic into the pillar. That he has enough left to respond to someone else, a new student..." He whirled away from the pillar and strode rapidly towards the stairs that had brought them down.
Draco stared after him for a long time before he followed, understandable for a man of Dane's cautious temperament. Was Linwood insane? Did he think that Potter would really thank him for Linwood's treatment of him if he woke up and had to confront it?
No, Draco decided at last. Linwood had simply thought Potter broken, not able to respond to anything at all, and that had made it acceptable for Potter not to react. If he could, then Linwood wanted the response all to himself.
If he realizes that Potter isn't completely broken...
Then he could become dangerous. Or, at least, more dangerous than he already was, as a man who had thought up the process that converted wizards into pure magic and could use the ambient magic that was drifting around in the background of the "school."
Draco walked after him anyway. He had a part to play, suspicions to encourage and discourage, and he could do nothing better for Potter than to keep playing the role he had chosen for himself.
It didn't take as much time to release himself from his body that night. Draco suspected that the ambient magic in the air was helping, just like it had helped Linwood Transfigure his body into different shapes. He floated between the wards and dodged and dipped down to the cavern and the golden pillar.
Something seemed different about it from last night, and Draco paused to study it. He could make out the ripples of light that it cast on the floor, and the intense glow, like phoenix fire, all the same as it had been...
No. A moment later, Draco knew his eyes would have narrowed if he was in his physical body. The shine of the pillar, the color, had reminded him of piled golden coins the first time he had seen it. There hadn't been a trace of the blue and orange and white that made it resemble phoenix fire before. No other colors dancing up and down in the crystal.
Draco swallowed, and forced himself to reach back into his memories of that afternoon, the way the pillar had looked when he came down here with Linwood. If Linwood was to notice something different about it, that was probably the end of Potter's life. Or Draco's, if he connected the way the pillar looked to the "blessing" that Draco had taken from Potter. Draco could accept the second risk, but not the first.
No, he remembered at last. The pillar had still seemed golden that afternoon, without a ripple or a wisp of any other color. He nodded shortly. It must appear that way only in this special kind of sight, seen more through the eyes of magic than physically.
He landed on the stone in front of Potter, or so it seemed, shaking so badly that he nearly lost control of the delicate state needed to hold himself here. Then he reached out towards Potter.
This time, he slid beneath the surface of that misty face. He was in a different landscape, one with more green grass and a lake-a lot like Hogwarts if you took away the castle and the forest. He folded his arms and waited.
"How did you do that?"
Draco started and turned. It seemed he wasn't going to sense Potter coming, here in the landscape of his mind, if Potter didn't want him to. He was watching Draco with brilliant eyes, and smiled a little when he realized he had his attention.
"Give me the magic," Potter clarified. "I feel a lot better than I did, but I don't know how you did it." His eyes shifted to the color of the grass under their feet. It was like watching pieces of glass float into place. "And you did it without kissing me, either. You told me that you had to do that, but you found a way around it."
Draco rolled his eyes. "I told you that was the most effective way to do it, and that's still the truth. I was able to store some magic in my wand core and bring it to you that way. It helped. It's not as much as I could have brought you if I could have stored it in my body. That's all."
Maybe this was a good thing, he thought, that Potter was back to his irritating self. That meant Draco might be able to pull back from his obsession with him, as well as rescue him sooner.
Potter stared at him in silence, then said, "But you saw what Linwood likes to do to me. How can you ask-" He broke off, with a faint sound that Draco didn't recognize at first. A moment later, he realized it was Potter's teeth grinding.
That meant he had recovered enough strength to add sounds and extraneous physical details to his mindscape. He wasn't imagining just the country around him, but more detail to his body, things he didn't need.
Draco smiled. He couldn't help himself. Potter seemed to shrink in size, but a moment later he shook his head and walked towards Draco, casting a bigger shadow on the green grass as he came.
Draco remained passive, and watched him approach, finding more and more signs. Potter's remembered Auror robes were neater, more polished, more done-up. He had neat hair, too, smoothed back and tangled only around his ears. Draco smiled more widely. That had to be a wish instead of a desire. Potter's hair had never looked that neat.
Potter grabbed his hands. "You're touching me now," he hissed. "Why can't you transfer magic to me like this?"
"A touch of my hands to yours would work," Draco said. "Not as well as a touch some other places, because your hands are almost completely transparent now. But that would work. It doesn't have to be a kiss."
Potter blinked, but repeated, "What's wrong with now? Why can't you transfer magic to me now, right here, if you're so determined to do it?"
"Because," Draco told him quietly, "this isn't my real body, only a compound of magic. If I tried to give any to you, it would be my power and not yours that you absorbed, and alien magic doesn't stay easily in the body. That's why Linwood has to store it in the pillars or keep it floating in the air most of the time, instead of just taking it into himself. And that's why I would have to bring it to you as soon as possible after I started taking it in. Otherwise, it'll become just as useless for me as it would be for him."
Potter blinked. Then he turned away and dropped Draco's hands. Draco licked his lips and told himself he was battling to win a real touch here, that he could be disappointed later about how much Potter walked away from him.
"You've become so clever, so Unspeakable," Potter said over his shoulder. "You're not like you used to be."
"Neither are you," Draco pointed out. "And I think that both of us have changed in a way that would allow us to escape-if you would cooperate with me instead of continually looking for a way out of this."
Potter folded his arms. "I'm not supposed to look for a way out?"
Draco shook his head. "One way I haven't changed is that I still have trouble saying what I mean, at least when it comes to you," he muttered. "I meant that you need my help, and I want to help you, and there's no way for you to escape this without me, but you're still balking and resisting and acting as though you should have your own personal rescuer sent from fate, someone you like better."
Potter closed his eyes. "You have no idea what I want, or what I went through in the three months before Linwood bought me, let alone after that."
"I might know if you told me," Draco suggested quietly.
Potter opened his eyes and stared at him. "Really? You think-you think you would be the perfect confessor for me? The perfect friend, along with rescuer?" He was sneering at Draco now. "You think I could trust you that much?"
"Maybe not," Draco said. "But if you want to talk to someone, then the offer is there." He leaned back against one of the trees that had started springing up in the mindscape and admired the color of Potter's eyes again.
Potter stared at him, then shut his eyes. "You have no idea what it's like," he whispered. "Giving up hope was peaceful. When I knew there was no way I could survive, I at least knew that I wouldn't have to exhaust myself fighting anymore. And now you show up and tell me that it's not over, that I'll always have to fight and I'll never have the kind of peace I was dreaming of..."
"I can't promise you peace one way or the other," Draco said. "I can promise you a chance at freedom. A chance to take a risk, the way you always did at Hogwarts."
Potter smiled. It was the most desperate smile Draco had ever seen. And still he didn't open his eyes. "I might die."
"Then you'll die fighting, and not drained of your magic the way Linwood wants to make you," Draco said. "Imagine. No one really understands all the implications of Linwood's process. What if you pass into magic that can feel itself being used? What if you know that you're giving power to Linwood as he does-whatever his ultimate goal is with it?" At the moment, it seemed to him that Linwood had few goals beyond storing more magic. "Would you want that?"
"Wow," Potter said, opening his eyes so wide that Draco thought he could see himself reflected in the backs of them. "Somehow you managed to make a horrible fate sound even worse. Well done!"
Draco reminded himself that he probably shouldn't bite Potter's head off, since he didn't know everything he had undergone, and simply inclined his head. "It's a talent of mine," he said.
Potter choked, then chuckled, then folded his arms and scowled-probably at himself, for doing either. "I don't want that to happen," he admitted slowly, finally seeming to take Draco's question seriously. "But I don't really know how to stop it, either. I mean, say that you do bring me magic. The pillar will drain it again. I don't see any way that you can undo the chain or stop that from happening."
Draco tilted his head. "I need more time to study the theory that Linwood's working with. He explained a lot to me in the letters, but not the way the chains and pillars work, or whether someone can turn into sentient magic, for that matter. I'm not even sure what's happened when he's come to the end of any of his-resources."
"Had someone just fade into mist, you mean?" Potter's face was the green thing now.
Draco nodded. "I know he has. He's been doing this for more than a year, and he was bragging to me about-how long you've lasted." He lowered his voice as he finished the sentence, only now thinking how that might sound to Potter. "Nine months, he said. If that's a long time, there are plenty of others he's drained completely by now."
"And if I leave here," Potter whispered, "what happens to the other people whose magic is draining out of them?"
Draco grimaced. He should have known better than to wake up those bloody hero instincts. "Come up with a way to rescue them all, and I'll be happy to go along with it," he said. "For now, I think we need to concentrate on rescuing you. If nothing else, your magic is the one thing giving Linwood most of his strength."
Potter slowly nodded. "How long do you estimate that it would take you to free me by bringing me magic in your wand core?"
"Days. Maybe months." Draco thought again about softening that, but Potter had survived hearing himself referred to as a resource for Linwood's mad plan. Draco thought he could survive this.
Potter took a slow, deep breath, eyes locked on the lake. It stirred and bubbled, and a silver fish came up and flopped around. Draco watched it. Who knew why it was there? Since this was Potter's mindscape, it might be an emblem of anything from the helplessness he felt to the food that he was missing.
"That's not acceptable," Potter said at last.
Draco held himself back from what he wanted to say. Potter had changed less than he'd reckoned, but Draco could be mature and rational. The Unspeakables had taught him to be, if in savage ways. "That's all I can manage. I'm one of the most sophisticated users of this technique in the wizarding world, one of the few who's studied it, but it's still difficult."
Potter braced himself as though Draco had tried to hit him. Draco surreptitiously checked his hands to make sure they hadn't moved from his sides. "I meant," Potter said, "that I can't accept the slowness. You should start bringing me magic in your lips and hands."
Draco felt as though a shimmer of lightning had come up through the ground and rooted him to the spot. He hoped he wasn't actively trembling. "I don't want to make this something that you can't bear," he said, and he didn't think there was anything in his Unspeakable training that made it unacceptable for his voice to be that gentle.
"I can bear it," Potter said, and jerked his head at something that Draco couldn't see, and apparently Potter couldn't, either, because the next instant he frowned. "Sorry. What I meant is-I have to get out of here. I have to do it before I convince myself this was all a dream and die of sheer despair. Or before Linwood finds out and does something to stop you. And I want to have the power to rescue the others, too."
Draco nodded. "Once you have your magic back, I don't think there's much you can't do."
The smile in Potter's eyes was a desert smile. "I don't know. The strength will take a while to return to my body, too, especially since most of it's fog right now."
"I'll study the pillars," Draco said. "And the chains, to find out how they transform your body like that. And I'll make sure that Linwood doesn't find out what's happening."
"That puts so much of the burden on you," Potter muttered, shaking his head. "How can I thank you enough for doing this? For taking all these risks for me?"
"You just did," Draco said, unthinking, then reminded himself of his past as an enemy of Potter's and his current job as Unspeakable when Potter's eyes widened. "I mean, I came here intending to possess the secret of how Linwood was doing this and deprive him of it, one way or another. This is the best way. This way, you get your power back, and you take it away from Linwood as well. If you cooperate with me, if you're sure you can, we can get this done a lot faster and I can accomplish my goal a lot faster."
"You're here undercover, right?" Potter seemed oblivious to the black cloak that had appeared draped over his shoulders, probably because of what his mind had associated with the word "undercover," and utterly oblivious to what the sight of him in that cloak did to Draco. "You would have to be, of course. It's not like Linwood would allow anyone he knew was an Unspeakable inside."
"If only for fear that we might steal his secret," Draco agreed. "Yes, I'm undercover. The way you were when you-vanished." It was taking another risk, but Potter had been able to talk about some of what was happening to him, and Draco violently wished to know more, how this had happened.
Potter set his jaw. "Yes. I was careless."
Draco blinked, as impressed that Potter could admit that as he was surprised by the admission. "What happened?"
Potter sighed and stared at the ground. "What happened once before when I was on a mission to infiltrate a group and not let anyone know what I was there for. They started torturing someone who couldn't fight back. The Head Auror had warned me that I might have to observe torture and not do anything to stop it, because that would endanger our chances of rescuing more people later. But I couldn't do that. I had to interfere." He looked up with a small smile. "But I rescued her, and sent her safely home before they took me."
"Safely home-you idiot, that was why some little girl showed up clutching your emergency Portkey and sobbing, and no one knew where you were," Draco said, and had to clench his teeth on his tongue, so he wouldn't continue at length with how horribly and stupidly Potter had behaved.
"You heard about that?" Potter shrugged before Draco could say anything. "Oh, right. Harry Potter. The news must have been all over the Ministry inside an hour."
Draco nodded. He was glad that Potter knew little enough about the Unspeakables' work to ask why all the details had lingered in Draco's memory instead of being immediately replaced by those of experiments that he was supposed to be thinking about. "But no one could figure out why you hadn't come with her. It would have been simple enough for both of you to use the Portkey."
Potter gave him that desert smile again. "They had hold of me by then. I threw the Portkey to her and activated it just before she touched it. She went free. I used her memory to keep myself whole during the next three months."
"What did they-"
"Everything," Potter said. "They did everything."
Draco had to glance away and swallow. "Oh," he said. "Except the magical torture that Linwood put you through, I reckon."
Potter nodded. "By the time they sold me to him, I thought there was nothing left that I couldn't endure. I thought he'd kill me." He waved another hand at the lake and the trees, that was probably meant more to indicate the cavern beyond his head. "Not this."
"What does it feel like?" Draco asked, less because he needed to know for his research than because the question was always there, waiting under the surface, and escaped before he could reconsider it.
Potter leaned forwards, his arms folding. He looked at the grass for a long time before he answered, his voice as flat as it was, as unnaturally flat as his hair.
"It feels like someone's hooked something to your soul. The way a Dementor's Kiss would, except it goes on and on. The chain's always there, even though most of me has gone so transparent and filmy that I can't feel anything anymore. So I can't feel pleasure or heat or cold or hunger, just pain. On and on."
Draco nodded. "We'll free you."
"And the others," said Potter, looking inflexibly at him now. Draco wondered what kind of person could so easily dismiss his own pain to focus on the pain of others. "I want them freed, too. Or I won't take the magic you bring me."
Draco grimaced. "Of course you won't. For right now, I don't know how I would do it, or whether the chains are all similar or operate on different principles. I do know your pillar is different from the others. It glows gold, not the colors that the others' do. That means that the method I come up with to free you might not work on them." In truth, all he wanted to do was take the chain off Potter's magical core, give him back the power Linwood had sucked out of him, and vanish as soon as possible with him. Fuck the others, fuck what he might be able to learn about Linwood and his methods if he stayed longer, fuck what the Unspeakables would think.
Potter only looked at him.
Yes, the flaw in his soul, what he can't surpass, is that desire to be a hero, Draco decided, with a shake of his head. And mine is him. "Fine. But like I said, I don't know whether I'll be able to or not."
For no reason, given that Draco had lied to him in the past and his experiences in the last year certainly wouldn't have let him trust anyone, Potter relaxed and smiled at him. "Thank you. You don't know-what it means to hear someone say that."
Draco cleared his throat. He had to, or he would reveal what it did to him to have Potter smiling at him that way. "I need you to tell me everything you can about the sensation of the chain, what you might have heard Linwood say about it before you started to lose your awareness of the world around you, what his students do, and anything else that you think might be important."
Potter nodded, and closed his eyes. His face was deep and serious, although Draco could see the lines of laughter around the corners of his eyes, too. He wondered how long it had been since Potter laughed.
And when would he have had the reason? If I'm going to insist that he should laugh, I have to at least prove to him that he has reason.
"Linwood welcomed me in with this excited little speech about how much I could help them learn about magic," Potter murmured. Draco thought he was hearing the relaxed, calm voice of an Auror who might have to testify to exact dates and times and words in a criminal case. "He told me that he might have made me one of the students, that it would be exciting to work with me that way, too, but my magic was so strong that there was no choice but to use me as a resource."
A shudder in his shoulders. Something clamped and clenched tight in Draco's stomach relaxed at that. It was possible-barely-that Potter might recover, if Linwood hadn't convinced him that his new reality was normal, if part of him still disliked and hated it.
"How did they know you were that strong?" Draco asked. "Reputation, or did the people who had you before tell him about it?"
Potter opened his eyes. "I didn't think to question that," he muttered. "Didn't they have a conversation-no, wait! He had some kind of crystal rod in the room where he talked to me. It glowed and vibrated whenever I thought about reaching for my wand. I couldn't do it, of course, with my hands tied behind my back, but I wanted to. And that rod kept changing colors. Sometimes yellow, sometimes red. I remember blue once. But mostly yellow."
The color that Potter's pillar turns, Draco thought. He had to find out what gold meant, besides powerful magic, in Linwood's private perception of the world. "What did the rod look like? A smaller version of the pillars?"
Potter shook his head. "Just a rod. I thought it was a stirring rod at first," he added, probably because Draco had glared at him and he understood that he needed to make his answers more helpful.
"Like this?" Draco asked, and concentrated, hard. He had never tried to do something like this before, because most of the time he didn't talk to someone when he was in this half-magical form, floating free of his body. But since everything here was a compound of memory and desire and imagination, including the body that Harry had carved out of his mind and the very landscape they stood in, Draco doubted this would be impossible.
The image of a stirring rod such as Draco had used a hundred thousand times snapped into being in the air between them, glowing white from the inside. Draco looked harder at it and imagined lines of delicate yellow running up and through the glass.
Potter gave him a grim smile. "Brighter on the yellow, but yeah."
Draco obediently made the yellow brighter. Now it was the golden color that the pillar behind Potter glowed, and Potter studied it critically and paced in a circle around it before he nodded. "That's it."
I have to find out what the color means. Draco marked that down as his next task, for certain, then asked quietly, "Did you notice whether the rod made any sounds when it changed colors? Humming, chiming, vibrating?"
"He was always talking," Potter muttered. "I could never hear anything else but his voice babbling on and on." When Draco looked at him in much the same way as he had looked at the image of the stirring rod, though, Potter sighed and put a hand on his forehead. "Let me think for a minute."
Potter stood with his eyes closed again. Draco watched the edges of his body. If he started flickering or disappearing, then Draco would concede that they had pushed the matter too far, and that it might be best for him to return to his body and for Harry to-
Return to his body? Draco actually wasn't sure that he was away from it. He was speaking with the sane Harry, the real one, as he thought of him, the one that Linwood would have given anything to reach and couldn't. Maybe Harry couldn't leave this part of his mind; he could only force Draco out if he became displeased with him, the way he had the other night.
Draco examined that fact in his mind and then calmly laid it aside. It would not be permitted to happen, that was all. Other people might want it to happen, or Linwood might try to kill Harry. But Draco would save Harry.
At the moment, it was more important to get the facts Harry could remember than to worry about how.
His Unspeakable mentors would be horrified. Draco knew and accepted that. On the other hand, they had also told their trainees again and again that no one except the Unspeakable on the ground could know what was best to do when a mission turned out to be more complicated than expected. They had to make their decisions and do the best they could. Their mentors would give them the training to try and ensure those decisions would be good ones.
They couldn't hope for anything beyond that, not really.
Harry finally opened his eyes and said, "You know, I think there was a little chime. A subtle one, a sweet one. I assumed that Linwood had windchimes when he was questioning me, but we were in an enclosed room. Windchimes? Where?"
Draco stepped forwards, smiling, and took Harry's hands. He had become Harry in the last few minutes, as he had to, as Draco had been preparing himself for since last night. "Good. That means I have some idea about what spells he wove into the crystal, and that means that I have some idea about how to fight him.
"That's important," Draco added in a whisper. "That's so important. I only know a few spells that would make a noise like that, and not all of them could be used with crystal."
"But the pillars and the rod I told you about aren't made of crystal, are they?" Harry frowned at him. "I mean, they aren't literal crystal, like the kind that you might make a glass out of."
"They're close enough," Draco told him, quietly and truthfully. "There are some properties of crystal that are true all the time-magical properties, I mean. And your clue gave me a very important hint about what I should do next."
An important one, but a potentially suicidal one. Already Draco's mind was blurring through the possibilities, the facts and the cases he had researched that would have to be recalled, so he could create a weapon that would play the right tune. It would take more time than he might have, and more determination than he could usually summon, and more will than he had ever had up until this point.
But he had never been laboring to save his fatal flaw, the man who had been the cause of him almost being dismissed from the Unspeakables, the reason he had sat in an empty room staring at the wall for three days last year.
"How much time are you going to need?" Whether or not Harry knew anything about Draco's other limitations, he had picked up on that one.
"I'm going to make as much time as I need," Draco said calmly. "And in the meantime, I have something to do that may be more difficult than figuring out how to free you and the other prisoners. I have to convince Linwood to let me near you, to let me touch and kiss you."
Harry shuddered a little, then nodded. "Whatever you have to do."
"I'll be so gentle," Draco said. The words came out of him because he had no defense, not against that look in Harry's eyes. "You have no idea how gentle I can be, when I-"
"But I'm not your lover, or your friend, or your family," Harry said, and looked Draco in the eye. "If you choose to take a little revenge, I can't stop you. I will ask you to consider how much of a time limit we're under, though."
Draco winced. "I-wouldn't do that."
Harry considered him long enough that Draco feared he might have to return to his body so he could be there before the morning came and Linwood found him. Linwood might not know what he was doing now, or ever have heard of this particular method of using one's magic, but Draco didn't want him to find out, either. He was dangerous enough as it was.
"All right," Harry said, and smiled a little at him. "I reckon I can trust you that far."
Draco wanted to say that Harry should trust him further than that. He wanted to say that he would take Harry out of here in an instant if he could manage it, that he would break the chain the moment he was sure his plan would work, that Linwood would never touch Harry again because Draco would kill him before that could happen.
But how many times had Harry dreamed of rescue in the past few months? Especially here, where he lived in a place of dreams and his body became more and more inaccessible to him each day?
He wouldn't want to listen to Draco's protestations of devotion (obsession, call it what it is) or attempts to rekindle his hopes. He would want results.
Draco nodded. "Thank you," he said, and picked up Harry's hands, watching his face all the while. Harry only stood there, staring at him, so Draco continued with the gesture he hadn't dared use before and kissed Harry's hands. "I'll reward your trust in me. You won't regret it. Please don't regret it."
Harry blinked at him again, so rapidly that Draco was afraid for a moment he had strained credulity, and Harry would turn his back after all. Then he smiled, almost helplessly, and nodded. "I'll try," he whispered. "Thank you for-for trying."
Then he dropped Draco's hands and cleared his throat, as though he worried that someone else would see them and be embarrassed on their behalf.
But even that is more than what he had before, that hope that he might get back into normal society, with his friends, who would be embarrassed for him if they saw this.
By the time they had said goodbye and he'd returned to his body, Draco was alive with joy. Plans for the right way to crack the crystal whirled through his mind as he opened his eyes.
And, best of all, he had come up with a plan that would make Linwood let him near Harry.
"What's wrong, Eddison? You look inattentive."
Draco started and jerked his eyes away from the walls of Linwood's study, where he had let them wander for the fifth time this morning. It was a useful way to make out the titles of the books, and see what tomes he might have studied and which ones he didn't have. "Nothing," he muttered, and lowered his head.
Something that wasn't a hand touched his cheek. Draco jerked his head up, shuddering a little, and realized that Linwood wore claws on the ends of his fingers and a smile that showed more teeth than could fit in a mouth. Well, a human mouth, anyway.
"What is it?" Linwood whispered, even as Harry's magic slid away from him again and left him human. "Tell me."
Draco took a deep breath. He had to use real emotions and lying words, braiding them together until they made a rope that Linwood couldn't break free from.
Make it good.
"I don't-I'm so miserable," he whispered. "I know that you mean it for the best in everything you do, but you're making me miserable, telling me about the magic that you get from Potter and emphasizing that you're the only one who can touch him."
Linwood turned his head a little to the side, the way Draco had anticipated he would. The quiet intensity in his eyes was more than Draco had hoped for this soon, though. "Explain what you mean," Linwood told him.
"I want to touch him," Draco said, and lowered his head into his hands. Right now, he was speaking pure truth. He wondered if there was some way Linwood could tell, if he was going to laugh in a second and tell Draco that he'd been caught out after all, and he would be destroyed now. But Draco didn't think so. "I want to stroke his face, kiss him, caress him. I want to-I want to do things that I know aren't even possible right now, because you've changed him so much that he wouldn't feel it if I tried to touch him. But that's the way it is."
"Why do you think that your ambition is hopeless?" Linwood's voice was very quiet. He sat with his arms looped around his knees, folded on top of them, in utter silence and stillness and attentiveness, when Draco looked again.
"Because you're the only one who can touch him." Draco sighed shakily and spread his hands. "Do you think I don't know that? Of course I know it. You're the one who bought him and brought him here, the one who probably hauled him out of whatever pit he was living in before. I know all that. I have to give up what I want for the greater good of learning what you have to teach me and leaving him with someone who can appreciate him the way he should be appreciated."
He paused for a second, then dropped his head back into his hands and shuddered. "But my desire still torments me, and I haven't learned the right way to discipline it yet."
There was a long silence, long enough that Draco thought he would have to begin the act over again, or later. And then Linwood leaned forwards and rested his hand on Draco's shoulder.
The contact was like Harry's in one way only: the intensity of it. Draco shivered and stared into Linwood's face through the eyes of his disguise.
"One should never suppress one's desires unless there is an excellent reason for it," Linwood said quietly. "I don't think this counts as an excellent reason."
Draco had to swallow several times, although not for the reasons Linwood thought. It's working. Then he shook his head a little and said, "But don't you have to give desires up when they come into conflict with reality? I know he's yours. There's no doubt of that."
The way Linwood's jaw tightened and he gave a little turn of his head told Draco that the bolt had gone home and his plan was working out as he had wanted it to. Linwood enjoyed the exclusive possession of Potter, yes, but he would enjoy it even more if he could show if off to an audience while having it remain exclusive. Someone who humbly acknowledged his absolute superiority of control over Potter was the best candidate.
"My desires were to be more powerful than anyone else, to have enough magic to Transfigure my body at a moment's notice," Linwood said. "I didn't give it up when certain people told me it was impossible, including people at the Ministry. You have to know how to keep going, Eddison, not collapse at the first hurdle."
Draco turned his head downwards and fluttered his eyelashes in Dane's trademark hesitation again. "Yes, but you're so ambitious," he muttered. "You're so much more determined than I'll ever be. I can't do the same thing."
By now, Linwood had risen to his feet and was standing with his hands on Draco's shoulders, beaming down into his face. "You're wrong," he said, calmly enough. "I teach people here. How to master the process of turning resources into magic, yes, but also how to be determined."
Draco trembled again. This was working. He would get there, he would achieve what he had come for, but at the moment, he was dazzled by the visions that unreeled around them, as dazzled as ever Eddison Dane could be by the chance to touch Harry Potter. "You-mean it? You won't change your mind in the middle of the experiment?"
Linwood shook his head. "None of my students see him the same way I do," he whispered, leaning his forehead against Draco's as though he could get inside his mind that way. "They see him as a great resource, but no more. When I tell them he was once a great man in the outside world, they stare at me and ask why that matters, since what is most important is what he is here." Linwood sighed. "I taught them to be that way, so I can't complain when they aim for it. But it is discouraging, and ultimately, distracting. I want to share my love of Potter before he vanishes into literal mist. I didn't think someone would come along who could share it."
Draco ducked his head before the weight of emotion in Linwood's eyes. There was suspicion among that emotion. Of course there was. Draco had managed to tap into one of Linwood's desires, and Draco had seen how he treated those people who fulfilled his desires.
But Linwood was going to allow him the chance anyway, Draco knew. Even as his paranoid mind rattled and lashed like a scorpion's tail, some more rational part of him asked how Draco could have known that he wanted someone to show Potter off to? And so he let him go ahead with it.
For that reason, and because his desire is stronger than his reason.
Draco promised himself that he would not tumble into the same trap.
"Even kiss him?"
Shaking again, a shaking that was as real as anything else he had done since he came into the school, Draco knelt before Harry again. He reached out and cupped his cheek, and felt nothing there but slightly warm mist. His lips were still visible, though, and more solid than the rest of him. The change to magic had affected ordinary skin first and most of all, Linwood explained. The eyes, the hair, and places like the mouth and the insides of the ears went later, as the magic learned to transform them.
That had given Draco ideas about the chain and the way that he could stop the magic he fed Potter from simply being drained into the pillar.
But he couldn't think about that. Right now, all he could think about were the great, drowning, blazing green eyes in front of him, and the liquid lips that parted a little in advance of his tongue, as though Harry knew where he was.
If he has that much awareness, I would do anything I could to grant him more.
Draco lapped out with his tongue, stuck it deep, and caught a touch of warmth that wasn't his own before he released the ambient magic that he had collected on his walk down the stairs. He gasped as he did, his hands clenching tight on the airy patches where Harry's arms hung. He didn't think Linwood had noticed anything; he was standing by with his fingers folded into his palms and his own eyes very bright.
The warmth grew deeper around Draco, for a single moment. Then he had to withdraw his tongue and his hands. Desire panted and sang deep inside him, and Draco understood, for a moment that went through him like splinters of crystal, how Linwood could chain someone like Harry to keep all to himself.
I must not yield to that.
Draco had come alive through the tests that gave him admission to the Unspeakables. He had been able to back away and leave Harry to his dreamscape despite speaking to him, touching him, the way he had always imagined. He stood up now and looked at Linwood with a face that he knew he didn't need to make glowing.
"Thank you," he said. "It was-" And then his voice broke, and he looked away, which he hadn't planned, but Linwood reacted as though he had. He stepped forwards with his hands extended. A moment later they came to rest on Draco's arms. Draco controlled the impulse to snatch them away, and turned back and blushed and ducked his face and stammered something, the way Eddison Dane would.
He thought he saw one of Linwood's students watching him, the one who had moved the chain on the fading woman the other day, but when he looked up and blinked at her, she turned her head away. Draco hoped that she wasn't one of those dangerously observant people you sometimes got in places like this. All he could do was keep going with his plan, though, and come up with ways to foil her interference if he needed to.
"You don't need to thank me," Linwood whispered. "It is good to find someone, at last, who appreciates our resources the way I do."
He's convinced. Draco used that triumph to ruthlessly smooth over the surface of his soul, the rage that wanted to explode out of him and crush Linwood's eyes. He bobbed his head instead, and made himself move away with Linwood from Harry's glowing golden pillar and listen to every word he told him about the magic process.
Among those words was the secret that would free Harry from the chain and the others, as well, and restore them to themselves.
"You seem even more well-educated on magical research than I had assumed you were."
Draco put his cup down in front of him. He and Linwood were at dinner again, and the food this time was smoked salmon, with a wine served with it that Draco didn't recognize. He didn't dare refuse, but he didn't dare let Linwood make him the slightest bit drunk, either. He toyed with his cup and simpered.
"Well," he said. "I didn't want to tell you too much about my education-I was afraid that you might think I wasn't right for your school."
"Why not?" Linwood leaned forwards, his hands creeping across the table towards Draco. "You must know that the better-educated you are, the more I should like you."
Draco let his cheeks turn red, and ducked his head further and further, until his chin brushed the tablecloth. Then he looked up again and let Linwood take his hand. He didn't dare put this off forever; even Eddison Dane would come to seem unbelievable then. Someone with a complete lack of confidence would never buck society's rules to study the Dark Arts the way Draco claimed Dane had done.
"I was afraid that you wouldn't want someone who already had some schooling," Draco mumbled. "This is a place where you teach pupils, after all. I thought you would want someone who was on a lower level, so that you could have more fun enlightening their ignorance."
Linwood's smile widened, and he gave a single stroke to the palm of Draco's hand. Then he pushed his chair back and rose to his feet. "Let me show you something else," he said. "Something I can do, something that answers my desires in the way Potter does."
No one can answer your desires the way Harry does. But Draco's tongue was still, rather than moving to utter the words. He leaned back in his chair and studied the man, nodding a little.
Linwood spread his hands and bowed his head. For a moment, his breathing sped up. Even with all the ambient magic in the air, Draco thought, this was still something he had difficulty in doing. Well, good. Draco didn't like the thought that the bastard could use Harry's magic for everything, effortlessly.
Then Linwood began to change, to mold, to flow. Draco squinted until his eyes hurt, trying to decide how what Linwood was showing him right now was any different than what he had shown him so far, but no help was forthcoming yet. So he waited, only tapping his fingers a little on the back of the chair.
Linwood flowed and bent like candle wax, dark, lit from behind so that Draco couldn't see exactly what was going on. Then, when he finished, he kept his head bowed, and Draco still couldn't judge the extent or effectiveness of his change. He dug his fingers into the chair and waited. He had plenty of practice at that from attending endless and tedious-but he repeated himself-Unspeakable meetings.
Linwood looked at him, and smiled.
Draco cried out in wonder before he could stop himself. Well, that was all right. It was precisely the sort of silly gesture that Eddison Dane would make, in fact.
"You recognize me, then?" Linwood's voice was smooth and deep. It was a voice Draco had imagined, never heard, but it fit the face. The craggy face, the pointed chin with the long beard covering it but not enough to conceal the chin, the thick eyebrows that almost hid the eyes, and, oh, those eyes.
Dark and brooding, they had stared from multiple portraits in Slytherin bedrooms and books about the history of magic. This was Salazar Slytherin, or at least the face Slytherin wore in the most popular portraits of him.
It occurred to Draco that, supposedly, Harry had seen an image of Salazar Slytherin when he entered the Chamber of Secrets. He suppressed both the desire to ask him about it and the mad giggle that having the desire caused.
"I do," he whispered. "I don't know how you did it, but you look exactly like him. Do you think-is there any way that your voice really resembles his voice? Are the thoughts that pass through your head his thoughts?"
Linwood-Draco had to remind himself that it was Linwood and not Salazar, but they were in more than enough trouble if Draco started letting himself think that way-started and turned that craggy face back towards him. "How remarkable," he whispered. "You leap straight to something that ninety-nine percent of my students never see, an application that doesn't occur to them."
Draco shrugged a little, and fluttered his eyelashes like Dane would, but under them, he was watching Linwood more intently than ever, and awaiting his answer.
Linwood thought a little more about it, and then nodded. "Yes, I suspect they are," he said. "Of course, no recordings of Slytherin's voice exist. We only have descriptions of it, often written by people hostile to him. And my mind alters, but I do not lose my own memories, my own attitudes."
Yes, you don't, or you would have done something else with this magic, Draco thought. Something more Slytherin and less likely to get you found out.
"But I think so," Linwood went on. "I know that I have found myself with the ability to understand Parseltongue when it is spoken to me in this form, although never able to speak it. That may come with practice and more complete changes into this form."
Abruptly, he shuddered, and the beard sloughed off his face. Draco held himself still. He had seen worse things in the Unspeakable labs than Linwood turning back into his own form, but not many.
Linwood collapsed into his chair at the table and reached out for his cup of wine, taking a long drink. Draco sat with his fingers clasped around his own goblet now, but let his hand shake. Linwood would expect it.
"Do you see?" Linwood asked, when he put his cup down. "This is an end to the problem of mind, if we apply it more consistently and learn to master it. We can become the great historical figures and learn what they were thinking. We can solve historical conflicts and learn the solutions to great mysteries! We can become violent murderers and learn why they did what they did in the middle of crimes to baffle us."
Not that you need any practice in thinking like a murderer.
Draco took another drink, so he would have a minute to hide his mouth. It was happening again, the shattering of his walls that had first occurred when he saw Potter chained up to the pillar. The man that lived inside him and wasn't an Unspeakable or a spoiled Slytherin or Eddison Dane, the man he was when he spoke with Harry in Harry's dreams, wanted to come out and speak.
He couldn't. He would endanger Harry and everything else if he did, and that was not acceptable. For the moment, Draco had to nod and listen.
That wasn't difficult. Linwood was in full flood.
"We can even become ordinary people, and learn what the other person thinks, what they feel, from the inside," Linwood whispered, and his eyes resembled stars more than any others Draco had ever seen, except Harry's. "Imagine being able to resolve any quarrel with your wife or your partner because you can see what they were thinking when they made a bad decision. Or with your children. You would know exactly what punishment would be fair and yet make them think twice before doing anything stupid again, now, because you have their minds open to you." He sighed delicately. "I can scarcely comprehend what it will be like when we can hold the form for more than a few minutes at a time."
He just gave you a weakness. Remember it.
And he had just given Draco a strength, too, although Draco doubted he knew that. If anyone could become someone else, then it might be possible for Draco to become Linwood. It would only last a few minutes, if he understood Linwood correctly.
But a few minutes could be enough.
"And this isn't like Legilimency, or Veritaserum, with the tiresome moral objections that people raise to those," Linwood continued. "You wouldn't be literally opening someone else's mind, or forcing them to speak their innermost thoughts. But you would know what they thought all the same, and you would be able to return to your own person and apply that knowledge to them without them knowing where you got it."
No, it only has the pesky moral objection of sacrificing other people by torturing them to death.
Draco didn't say that. It paid for him, right now, to keep his voice gentle and soft and eagerly agree with Linwood's conclusions, and so he asked some more questions, and Linwood gave him more answers.
This was the heart of the way he regarded his "methods," Draco was certain. Linwood had once trained as an Auror for a few months before he quit. He retained a certain passion for justice, and that was among his reasons for choosing this way of doing things.
Draco could use that against him. The Unspeakables had sent him to discover the reason Linwood was doing this as much as they had sent him to learn the secrets of how to do it. He could have left now.
He would have, if he didn't know Harry was here.
But now that Linwood had told him so much, Draco knew how to get them all out. How to free them from the chains-or how to learn how to free them from the chains, which was more to the point. How to ensure that Linwood didn't realize what Draco was doing in time to stop him. How to do everything.
It would take time, and skill, and luck. Draco had everything except the first already, and he planned to arrange a way to get the first.
The plan came to him as he sat there. He smiled slightly and put it into action at once, setting his cup down on the table an instant before his hands started to shake and his nostrils twitched. Then he sneezed.
Linwood sat up, frowning, his words finally cut short. Draco reckoned he counted a sneeze as a sign of lost attention, perhaps on the scale right below a yawn. "I'm sorry," he said. "Did something go down your throat and disagree with you? I've sometimes regretted we can't have house-elves here to take care of the dust."
Draco shook his head. "Just a little tired," he lied effortlessly, lowering his eyes the way Eddison Dane would if he had to admit to such a personal weakness. "Last night I couldn't sleep, I was coughing so badly."
Linwood got up and came along the table to lay his hand on Draco's forehead. Draco, his wand out of sight and his face anxiously bland, cast a Fever Charm, which made Linwood wince from the heat when he touched Draco's skin.
"I don't want you to become so sick that you hurt the students here," Linwood said, frowning at him. "I wish you had told me before now. You might already have infected someone."
Draco gave a shiver hard enough to shake Linwood's hand off his forehead, and bit his lip. "Sorry," he whispered, in Eddison Dane's voice. "I thought you would send me away if you knew, and I've already worked so hard and talked so much to come here..."
"I won't send you away," Linwood said, speaking with what sounded like iron patience. "But I would have wanted to know, to make sure that I could take precautions to protect the others." He took Draco's arm and gave it a little shake. "Do you understand?"
Draco gave a desultory bob of his head. Linwood cursed under his breath and stepped back, calling for someone else. Draco wondered for a second why he didn't just use the ambient magic to float Draco back to his bedroom. But perhaps Linwood considered that a special weapon, to be reserved for the moments when he wanted to show off to someone.
Or perhaps he didn't want his students knowing as much about the magic as he had already shown to Draco, someone who did, after all, come from the outside more recently and shared Linwood's obsession with Harry. Draco had tried to make himself into a special case. It seemed it had worked.
And his other plans would work, too, assuming that he had the time alone he needed to think about them and perfect them. It seemed he would, since Linwood's students carried him with a layer of warm air between their hands and his skin to his room, and practically threw him on the bed. Draco curled up, and began to plan.
"You made me remember something I didn't before, something about the way they put the chain on me."
Draco had once again floated free of his body and come to visit Harry, and those words were the first ones that greeted him as he walked across the peaceful green country that surrounded the lake. Draco smiled at Harry and reached out to take his hands firmly, ignoring the fretful little backwards jerk he gave. Harry would just have to realize they had come too far for him to pull away now. "What is it?"
Harry spoke with his eyes on the lake, as if he assumed Draco would disapprove of what he said. "They spoke an incantation over me before they put the chain on me. I knew they had to use magic, it's not like you can just attach a chain to someone's magical core by throwing it at them," he added hastily, as if he thought Draco would say that he knew that already.
Draco could have listened to Harry talk for much longer than he had so far, about things that were much less important. He let his hands feather back and forth along Harry's now, his fingers stroking Harry's palms. "Do you know what the incantation was?"
Harry swallowed. "They were two. But I was already under the effect of the first one when I heard the second one. And I don't remember the first one, either." He ran his hand down his forehead. "I only feel real when I'm here, like this, with you. Some memories are coming back to me now that you're feeding me magic, but-not all of them. Sorry," he added in a whisper.
"What you need now is to trust yourself," Draco said, so fiercely that Harry blinked and acted as if he would have stepped back had Draco not captured his hands again. "Please trust yourself, your ability to come back together, that your memories are real. Doubt it too much, and Linwood wins."
"What are you, a Mind-Healer?" Harry muttered.
Draco smiled. "Think of me that way, if you want. I doubt you're going to be an ordinary person now after you've been under the influence of the chain and the magic that it implies. I'll accept you, though. Whatever you are. Whatever you need me to accept."
Harry's face flushed from the neck down, and he ducked his head, then swallowed. "Thank you, Draco."
Draco resisted the urge to push Harry up against a tree. They didn't have much time here, and he had to tell Harry about the discovery he had made of Linwood's abilities, as well as listen to the rest of his story. "Do you remember any of your sense impressions when they were putting the chain on you? Did you hear chimes again?"
Harry closed his eyes and bowed his head. Draco watched him. He thought it might be his imagination, but the curls on Harry's head, the shaggy black hair, looked even darker and thicker than they had. Draco raised a hand to touch them, and Harry jumped at the light caress on his head and opened his eyes.
"I can remember better when you're touching me," he muttered, and made a face. "What my mind and body want is so bloody strange."
"Not all that strange," Draco said casually, while his heart hammered and sang in him. "I'm the one who's feeding you the magic, the only friend you have here. I think your mind and magic recognize that. Now. Did you remember hearing a chime?"
"When they fastened the chain to me. Not before, and not after." Harry slapped Draco's hands away from him, hard, but Draco only stepped back and folded them into his chest. "What does that mean? Is it going to help us fight them, at all?"
"Yes," Draco said. "Especially now that I have a means to get close to you that no one else will suspect."
Harry stared at him. Draco said quietly, "Linwood showed me that he can use your ambient magic to become specific people, Salazar Slytherin in his case. I'm going to use that magic to become him, when the time is right. I can't hold the power for long, but I'm going to be giving it back to you, so I won't have to."
Harry shook his head, but Draco didn't think it was in doubt, or even denial. "And what about the chime that I heard?"
Draco closed his eyes and spent a few minutes more remembering some of the research he had done among the Unspeakables. He heard Harry clearing his throat roughly, but he remained still. Then Draco opened his eyes, lifted his hands, and said, "Is this the kind of chime you heard?"
He produced the sweet, solid sound that had echoed in his ears when he studied some forms of soul magic. There were all sorts of theories about what produced the noise, and Draco had never found one that satisfied him. But what mattered was that the sound happened, and became a means of identifying those particular spells.
"Yes." Harry took a step towards him, and his eyes had a dark shimmer in the back of them. "How did you know?"
"Research with the Unspeakables," Draco said shortly; he found he didn't want to talk about that research in front of someone who had suffered from the kinds of spells he had found intellectually fascinating. "I know a little bit about them. Not as much as Linwood, but how to get the chains on and off."
"And from the other people, too?" Harry looked as though he would dig his heels into the cavern floor if Draco argued again that they should leave without freeing the rest of the prisoners.
Draco sighed. "You realize that trying to get everyone away is ten times more dangerous."
"I don't care."
Draco closed his eyes. He tried to understand the sort of generosity that would still care about other people when the person possessing it had suffered for more than a year, and couldn't. But that was one reason Harry remained his fatal flaw, wasn't it? Harry probably wouldn't be able to grasp, any better, why Draco found him so interesting, interesting enough to risk his fake identity for him.
"Fine," Draco said at last. "I need to feed you some more magic and study the ambient power more myself, but in a few days, we should be ready to move."
"Good." Harry was right in front of him when Draco opened his eyes again, and his face was bright and hungry. "I don't know how I can repay you."
"Break free, and live," Draco said, reaching up to cradle his cheeks this time. "Run when you're free, and don't look back, no matter how much danger you might think I'm in."
Harry's mouth firmed, and then he shut it and nodded. He probably knew as well as Draco that he couldn't do much to help in that particular scenario. He would have to hoard the magic that Draco gave him and use it for what was really important, not what seemed important at this point in time.
"And let me do this," Draco whispered, drawing nearer. Harry hadn't thrown off the touch Draco was giving his face yet, and that made Draco bold.
Harry didn't move as Draco kissed him. Draco tried to make the touch of his lips as light as possible, less like a real kiss and more like the caresses he had given Harry to return his magic. But he was pretty sure that Harry, whose sensibilities, amazingly, hadn't been blunted by all his months of being drained, knew the difference.
Still, he endured it and didn't say anything, and Draco moved away at last, shivering like one of the instruments that Harry had heard chime. Harry stared at him in silence, reaching one hand up and stroking it through Draco's hair as though feeling it would make Draco more real to him.
Or maybe just rejoicing in sensation, Draco reminded himself. Harry barely had a physical body left to experience the world with.
"I'm going to free you," Draco whispered. "Be patient."
Harry smiled, and his face went transparent the way his body was, like a crystal lit from the inside. "I've had no hope for months," he said. "To the point that I forgot what time was, what life was like, that I wanted to die." He hesitated one more time, and rested his hand on Draco's shoulder. "You've brought me something worth living for. Worth waiting for."
Draco was afraid it was more than just magic that made him float back to his body in the next few minutes.
"Feeling better, Dane?"
Draco nodded and reached a shaky hand towards the butter on the table. He had been obliged to drop the pretense of fever, or he couldn't have visited Harry to strengthen him. But he made sure that he moved slowly, and acted dizzy, and used charms to accentuate the pallor of his face whenever he caught Linwood watching him. "Yes. Thank you," he added, because Linwood's gaze had sharpened.
"Good," Linwood said, after a moment of silence. "I thought we might visit Potter again, and this time...this time I'll send my students out of the room."
Draco looked up, then winced as if the motion had hurt his neck. "Why?" he asked, when Linwood watched him with inscrutable eyes and said nothing.
"Because I think you should have time alone with Potter," Linwood answered him, and buttered his own toast. "I'm curious to see what you'll do."
Careful, careful, Draco chanted to himself. He suspects something, or he might. You can't break your cover. You still have to act like Dane, and Dane recovering from sickness, at that.
"I would like to have some time alone with Potter," Draco muttered, and ducked his head. "If you're sure that I won't get him sick, of course."
Linwood laughed, but the sound contrasted with his eyes as he continued gazing at Draco. "He can no longer catch any infection. You don't have to worry about that. I'm surprised that you can feel anything when you touch him."
And still more careful. Draco hoped he would have the few days he had told Harry he needed. It was an effort to lounge back in his chair and blink at Linwood as though he was unaware of the extra current running beneath the surface.
But what was effort? He had been and done and studied harder things during his training with the Unspeakables. He mastered himself enough to smile blandly now. "It's more about the fantasy for me," he said. "How what little I can feel translates into touches and kisses."
"And that's enough?" Linwood leaned back in his own chair, but Draco knew that didn't mean he'd escaped from observation.
Draco shook his head. "But it's all I'm going to get."
Linwood smiled abruptly. "Well, that is honest," he said, and stood. "Come, then. We can visit Potter, and you can tell me what you feel when you touch him." He half-shielded his eyes. "I don't think he will last much longer. Even his strength has to give out at last, and I'm impatient to move on to using the ambient magic. While he still exists, it has, in a sense, a connection to him. I think that's why I find it harder to maintain the forms that I prefer to take."
Draco nodded and stood up, his mind ringing with ideas. Linwood suspects. That might mean he'll put an end to Harry's existence prematurely. I think he would rather kill Harry and lose the magic that's still untapped than have someone else take him away.
Draco would simply have to move faster. Be better. Think deeper. That wasn't unusual, it was what he had always done since he survived the war, and now he could smile at Linwood with genuine gratitude.
"Whatever else happens, I'm thankful that you invited me here," he said. "It's been an interesting experience."
Linwood's face softened with his own genuine emotion. "It has, hasn't it?" he said, and faced forwards.
Draco softened the boundaries of his body as he walked, absorbing as much of the magic as he could. If he had few other visits to Harry left, then he would make sure that the ones he could make were as productive as possible.
There was a shade more color in Harry's cheeks and eyes, or so it seemed to Draco. He told himself as he knelt down in front of Harry not to take too much for granted or grow complacent, though. There was still too much that could go wrong, still too many chances for Linwood to end his existence.
But Draco leaned forwards when Linwood nodded permission and pressed his mouth to Harry's, to the floating mass of pink and red that his lips had become.
And he breathed out magic like fire.
There was no immediate flood of color into Harry's face, or strength into his limbs. But Draco saw the chain shimmer for a moment as though the flow of power through it had reversed, and Harry sucked in a deep breath. His eyelids fluttered. Draco caught his breath, wondering if he would see the spirit that lived in Harry's eyes during the dreams looking out at him.
"He does have a reaction to you, doesn't he?" Linwood sounded like he was talking to himself when Draco glanced up. "I wonder why the one other person I've met who has an obsession with him should provoke that sort of response."
Draco shook his head. "I don't have much magic of my own," he said. Compared to Harry or Linwood, it was true. What the Unspeakables had taught him to do was work with artifacts and theory and take advantage of what he did have. Finesse, not force. "Maybe he feels that I'm someone who has to depend on him, not a rival or a challenge."
Linwood looked far more arrested than Draco had thought he would with a lie that simple, his eyes sparking as his hands closed for a second in front of himself. "You think he might see me as a rival?"
"I don't know, sir," Draco said, in the tone that Eddison Dane would use when realizing he had gone too far. "But I know that you can use magic to turn yourself into Salazar Slytherin." He didn't have to feign the awe. "I can't do that."
"But what matters is whether he knows that I can do that," Linwood whispered, and knelt down in front of Harry. Draco took a step back and bowed his head, hoping that Harry, if he was paying attention, knew how to interpret that gesture. Not a betrayal. Only a yielding to necessity for a moment.
And an opportunity to study Linwood without Linwood knowing he was doing it, which would help him later.
Linwood reached out and framed Harry's face with his hands, the kind of thing he had to do now because so little about Harry was solid, so little other than a drifting mass of fire. The fire that was coming back to life, Draco thought, to control his own impulse to step forwards and introduce a certain lack of solidity to Linwood's body.
Harry was regaining his fire, and Linwood had not the slightest idea. Draco could watch as he leaned in and whispered frantically into Harry's ear. Someone further away wouldn't have been able to hear the words, but Draco could.
It was debatable whether that was a pleasant ability, of course.
"You know me. I know you know me. The one who's transformed you, who's made you into living light and magic. Do you see me as a rival? Someone you need to impress? Or am I merely your captor to you?" Linwood's hands shook, and so did his voice. "Can you let me know? I know part of you survives, or you would have made the transmutation by now. Tell me."
Harry remained still, or rather, drifting and silent. That didn't surprise Draco. He couldn't speak even to someone who wanted to help him outside that dreamscape.
But Linwood stepped back with his hands on his hips and his face set in a way Draco had never seen it before. Perhaps he wasn't as suspicious of Eddison Dane and what he wanted with Harry as Draco had thought he was. This pallor, this trembling, this tightness of lips, seemed to be reserved for someone Linwood hated.
"Very well," Linwood whispered. "If you will not respond to me, then perhaps you have outlived what you can do for me."
Draco's heart tightened. His limbs froze. Then his heart was beating again, and his limbs were loose and relaxed, and he knew how he would strike, the exact direction he would move, if Linwood dared to do something to destroy Harry.
But it seemed that Linwood didn't intend the "consequences" for Harry's supposed disobedience to be immediate. He turned around, his lips set again and his face so pale that Draco half-thought he'd have to support him. But instead, Linwood murmured, "I think we have done all we can. Don't you, Eddison? I do so want to try and teach you how to assume other forms."
Draco nodded hastily and walked away at Linwood's side, not daring to risk a glance back at Harry. He would have to do many things faster than he had anticipated. He hated that idea.
But he hated more the idea that Harry would pass into nothingness in this cellar, his whole being a mere glow of light in a crystal pillar, or scattered in drifting flakes of ambient magic, for Linwood's pleasure. Harry should serve no one's pleasure but his own.
Draco stepped back from the small construct he had put together and studied it. Then he reached out and adjusted one of the hanging pendulums, careful to hold it between two fingers so it wouldn't chime.
A few pieces of crystal, flakes from demolished pillars and probably from pillars that had had chains removed, lay on the ground in Linwood's cellar. Draco had collected enough of them to fuse them with some of the Unspeakable artifacts he had brought in his trunk, and then layered his room with charms that would prevent anyone from spying on what he was doing, feeding a false loop of images to the wards that showed him merely lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. That couldn't last long.
But it had lasted long enough for him to assemble this instrument, with small trunk-legs of steel interlaced with the crystal shards, and lined with pendulums and sparkling medallions on the ends of chains that would swing against the legs and produce the same sweet, high chime that Harry had heard when Linwood bound him.
Draco swallowed down a dry throat and stood up. The assembly of the machine had gone faster than he had thought, which meant he had little excuse for not trying his plan of escape tonight.
Oh, he could have waited. He could have studied the techniques that Linwood had shown him today more. He could have practiced with Linwood's face, and he could have given more magic to Harry. As it was, Draco didn't know whether Harry was solid enough to escape.
But Linwood's threat to Harry had changed that. Draco had sent the undetectable message to his fellow Unspeakables the minute he got back to his room. They would stand ready outside Linwood's house, ready to help him transport any documents or artifacts he had got his hands on.
This time, they would also be transporting people. Draco hadn't told them that, but Unspeakables were well-trained to cope with all sorts of untenable situations. Their training should stand them in good stead now.
Draco smiled thinly and began to gather in the ambient magic from the air around him, the way he had when he wanted to feed it back to Harry. He was hoping a lot of things, and he was a fool. But he knew he would do nothing without hope.
And Harry needed more from him than to lean back and give up in despair.
Soon his body was swollen and pulsing with the power, and each step he took made it seem as though the floor and walls trembled around him. Draco picked up his instrument, shrouded it in glamours, and prepared to remove the loop of images he had fed to the wards.
Then he paused. It seemed there was a deeper silence outside his door than the silence that should be there.
Draco had little time to investigate. He dispelled the loop of images on the wards, shrouded himself in more and complex spells, muffled the pendulums and medallions on the instrument so it wouldn't chime, and turned to the door.
It opened before he could get there. Draco relaxed a little when two of Linwood's students stepped into the room. They wouldn't have the same information or powers as Linwood, and less training than Draco.
When they saw him, they hesitated-unsurprising, since Draco's glamours made him appear to have two shadows and an extra head. Draco struck while they stood there staring, paralyzing them and weaving them around with shadows that made them impossible for anyone else to detect. Then he Levitated them into the corner of his room and stepped out into the corridor, closing his door.
He had hated most of the tests that the Unspeakables put him through to check for reflexes and speed of reactions. He wasn't good at physical fighting, he still flinched from seeing an enemy coming at him for the first time, and he was better with time to prepare.
But now, his heart and his head were both still and cool, and he felt as though he could have taken down any three enemies that appeared. Perhaps not more than three, but one had to start somewhere.
It's Harry. The image, the thought of him, gives me the strength to do things that I would hate otherwise.
Draco shook his head with a faint smile as he moved forwards and laid his hand on the wall, sucking in yet more ambient magic with quick sweeps of his wand. Perhaps he was too quick to attribute everything to Harry. Perhaps he should rejoice in his own talents and admire his own strength more.
But I wouldn't be moving this fast or opposing Linwood so much if it weren't for Harry.
That seemed reasonable to admit. Draco sucked in some more ambient magic, watching the corridor all the while. It remained quiet. Draco began to move towards the stairs, the route down to the cellar with the crystal pillars unfolding in his mind like a drawn map.
"What are you doing?"
A voice behind him, not Linwood's. Draco cast the same spells he had used to subdue the first two attackers over his shoulder, and heard the person gasp. He did glance back once to make sure she had really yielded to his magic, and hadn't used one of Linwood's tricks to shapeshift or escape. Then he moved her into a niche in the wall and ignored her.
Three steps down. Two to the right. No secret passages or excessively hidden corridors on the way, luckily. Linwood didn't seem interested in concealing the cellar from those he had already invited into the school.
Perhaps he would want to, after this.
Draco paused on the steps, partially to listen for sounds ahead of him and partially to consider a new idea that had appeared in his mind. Linwood was so obsessed with Harry, Draco found it hard to imagine that he would let him go. Draco had come up with a plan that would let him free the prisoners and leave.
But he would have to kill Linwood, too, wouldn't he? Otherwise, Linwood was likely to just keep coming, and never rest until he had Harry back or Draco had confronted and killed him anyway.
And I'm not going to let him have Harry back.
Draco shook his head and continued to move forwards. He would only get a few minutes in his Linwood costume before he had to shed it, so he wanted to save shapechanging until he got closer to his destination. But now he had something else to think about, and while he no longer hated killing as much as he had during the war, it still wasn't something he'd proven himself particularly good at during Unspeakable training.
I wish I could have stayed Eddison Dane. Just reacted the way I was taught to react, maintained my cover, and got in and out with the secret. Then I wouldn't be second-guessing myself as much.
But that would have required either that Harry not be present or that Draco not be obsessed with him. Draco reminded himself again of what he had learned during Unspeakable training: don't regret. This is your flaw, your weakness. Accept it and keep moving forwards.
The glow of the crystal came from ahead of him. Draco paused and checked the instrument he held one more time, then cast a charm that made a beam of light blaze out from his wand. Invisible in the radiance of the transformed bodies and pillars around the corner, it made a circuit of the room and bounced back to his eyes.
Draco saw what the light had illuminated in the room without the danger of poking his head around the corner. It looked as though six of Linwood's students were on duty, hovering solicitously near the chains and getting ready to remove two that were attached to nearly faded arms or legs.
No more time.
Draco took some of the ambient magic and swirled his wand around his shoulders to wrap it about himself. The magic tightened and glowed, and Draco felt-
It didn't feel like the painful changes of shape he had seen Linwood undergo, or even the metamorphosis that he had seen happen to a werewolf. It felt more like slipping on clothes that were too tight. Maybe it had something to do with him and Linwood being near the same size.
No. It has to do with us being similar in mind.
And it wasn't his own voice that said that, his own thoughts which proclaimed it. Linwood's voice was there in his head, the soft voice in which he heard his own thoughts spoken, and Draco knew the gleam of gold along them, the colors that Linwood saw when he was thinking. That was what gold meant to him, what Draco hadn't been able to figure out. Gold meant power. Himself.
He was Linwood. Linwood's mind blended with his, and Draco saw long reaching corridors of plans, the ways that he had thought of using the magic and hadn't confessed to any of his students yet, the way he would move unhesitatingly to crush anything he thought of as rebellion, and the ease he would use in doing it.
And his obsession with Harry.
It was the same smothering golden cloud that Draco felt, although he had never thought of it in those terms before, or visualized it like that, even in the privacy of his own head. He shuddered a little, and then pushed it aside and stepped forwards.
He had done this wanting to be similar to Linwood. He had done this knowing that no other disguise would pass muster with Linwood's students and guards. There were wards that could detect the use of Polyjuice, and glamours that would imitate someone already in the building. Not glamours already applied before anyone came in, or Draco would have been in trouble, but the students would know if someone was merely counterfeiting their master.
So Draco walked down the stairs clad in Linwood's skin. It was his skin for the moment, and that was what mattered.
He swept into the room the way Linwood would sweep into it, and he knew that, knew it perfectly, down to the length of the strides and the side of the room he started looking at first. He stared scornfully at the student who was starting to chain a woman's leg to a pillar, and made her drop the chain and scramble back in stupefaction.
"Sir," she stammered. "What are you doing here?" Then her ears turned red, and Draco, riding Linwood's memories, knew that he had made fun of her in the past for slips like that. "I mean-if we knew, we could have made it more comfortable for you-"
"You think I needed that?" Draco asked, in the soft blistering voice that Linwood found most effective in making these people who had signed their obedience away listen to him. "When there is no place in the world that I feel more comfortable in than here, when I made this place?"
The student bowed her head, and let the waters of his contempt pour over her. "No, sir," she whispered.
"Get out, all of you." Linwood said it without looking at the rest of them, so that was the way Draco said it, keeping his attention on the unfortunate woman who had questioned him. She wilted further, and the others scattered, apparently just glad that they weren't Linwood's chosen victim this time. "The room is sealed until further notice," Draco added, wording that Linwood's memories told him Linwood had also used in the past. "I am conducting an experiment. You are not to disturb me for any emergency."
There came a series of murmurs, and Draco looked away from the woman in front of him. She promptly ran, and slammed the doors of the cellar behind her. Draco used some of his own power to Transfigure the lock to a fused part of the door. He didn't want to waste any of the circulating power that had once been Harry's right now.
Then he turned back to the center of the room, and set his muffled instrument down in the middle of the pillars. There was a pattern to them, once one knew how to look, and Linwood's eyes knew.
Draco took a step back and permitted himself to close his eyes. He had come this far. He had to gather his strength for the next part. And his daring.
Linwood's guise wavered and threatened to go. Draco let it. He had come as far as could be expected under it, and if Linwood managed to break down the doors and get to him before Draco finished the transfer of magic to Harry and the breaking of the chains, it wouldn't matter anyway.
His own calm and his own thoughts were a vast relief. Draco opened his eyes and focused on the sunlit cloud that was Harry.
"This is yours," he whispered, not because he thought Harry would hear him, but because it would make him feel better. "Reclaim what is yours!"
And he gestured with his wand, and the magic he had stored in him flooded back out, glowing streamers of power, tumbling dust-motes, that he sent to Harry, willing it to move freely now that he had no audience to conceal it from.
He poured and pulled and pushed, and although he knew he couldn't give Harry all the magic in the school, he sent what he could, and saw Harry's mouth open in a thick gape as the magic poured down his throat in a glittering golden stream like the sunlight that gilded Linwood's thoughts about Harry.
Harry twinkled and flashed from the inside, now. Draco saw his eyes blink open and shut, the most normal movement he had seen out of them since he had been in Linwood's school, and then Harry bowed his head and clenched his fists around the chain. Draco knew the taken power would leave him as quickly as it had been restored, to light up the pillar.
Draco reached down, removed the muffling from the pendulums and medallions of his instrument, and then cast a Wind Charm at them.
The chimes swung against each other, singing, tinkling, gleaming to the ear the way they shone to the eye. Draco watched as first one chime and then another collided with the shards of the crystal he had buried in the midst of the steel.
The sound that rang out then was the same deep, sweet, clear trumpet-sound that Draco had heard during his Unspeakable research into precisely this phenomenon. He shuddered a little as his own bones picked up the chime, the resonance, and trembled in his body the way the pendulums were trembling around the body of the instrument, swinging back and forth harder and harder as the momentum of the magic gripped them.
Someone began to hammer on the doors.
Draco ignored it-that particular rhythm was nothing next to the rhythm of the chimes-and reached down to touch the chimes into greater effectiveness.
He hadn't counted on the fact that some of Harry's magic was still in his body, absorbed by his own wand and magical core, or that the instrument would catch hold of that power.
Draco gasped aloud as the chimes began to whirl around the body of the instrument, moving so fast now that they showed as mere silver and crystalline flashes. The music rose, triumphant, soaring. Draco gritted his teeth as the pitch became clearer and higher, like the intolerable sound of wineglasses shattering.
Then it passed from music into power. The crystal pillars began to vibrate in tune with Draco's instrument, and the shudders that passed through the shards of crystal embedded in the body were their own. Draco shielded his eyes as the magic writhed inside them, more in ecstasy than in pain.
Harry's golden pillar exploded.
As Draco spun to face it, he thought he would always regret that he had been mostly looking elsewhere and so had missed the exact moment of destruction. He saw only a holocaust of golden light, the fountain rising in a plume of glory, edged with the clear transparency that until a moment ago had imprisoned it.
Then the magic fell back down into the body of the prisoner who had crouched at its feet, and he closed his hands on the chain and crumbled it into shards and links.
Harry turned his head and opened his eyes for the first time in the physical world.
Draco's heart went as mad as the chimes. There was such pride there.
Well, and raw hatred, and fury, and power like the inside of a volcano. But the pride most of all. Harry had been a helpless prisoner of the first villains who had captured him, and he had been nothing but a resource to Linwood and the rest of them. Even Draco had used his magic, fed it back into him, absorbed it, taken on Linwood's guise with it, made his machine and set it going.
But now he had it back. And when Harry stood up and spread his hands, the magic came running to him.
Streamers, streamers of scarlet and gold and silver and crystal, bounded and rippled and unfurled across the air, heading straight towards Harry's palms. Harry lowered his hands in front of him, cradling his magic against his body. His solid body, without a trace of the transparency that had meant he was losing himself and becoming nothing more than a veil of gauzy flesh around a magical core.
Draco would have killed for the sake of the wonder on Harry's face at that moment.
Harry spun around, laughing-and the sound of that laughter did things to Draco that he had no name for-and pointed straight at the other pillars. They were already cracked and shivered, thanks to the chimes of Draco's instrument that had never stopped ringing, but they broke apart when Harry pointed. The great pieces of crystal soared upwards, flinging themselves across the chamber to embed themselves into the walls like arrows.
Draco saw the other prisoners slumping in their chains, their chins dangling. Some of them broke apart in a flurry of whirling motes, and Draco knew that they were too far gone to come back together. Harry's face was raw with the grief of it.
But others stood up, and shivered like the pillars in their nakedness. Draco blinked, only now realizing for the first time how many of them were naked, and that Harry was, too. It hadn't seemed to matter when he stood there clothed in his power.
Harry flung his head back and sniffed the air like a hunting animal. Then he turned unerringly towards Draco.
And he smiled.
Draco knelt before he thought about it. The gesture was instinctive, like so many of the reactions since he had come to Linwood's school. Unworthy of a trained Unspeakable, he could hear his trainers sniffing.
His trainers were far away at the moment, and their opinion didn't matter.
"Please get up, Malfoy." Harry's voice was unused, as scraped and bled as the rest of him, but he came over and tugged Draco back to his feet with hands that held no uncertainty. "We owe this to you."
"You owe it," Draco said, closing his hands around Harry's and feeling the strength of his arms, seeing the veins in them that were not the color of summer skies any longer. He could feel the warmth of blood, and it meant more to him than the warmth of the magic. "You do."
Harry smiled a little at him. "Well, whether you want to claim the rest of their debts or not, I need your help to get them out of here," he said.
Draco nodded, and turned back to the doors. The chimes were still whispering, but they had mostly wound down now, and the pillars and the chains were entirely gone. The pounding, though, hadn't diminished.
"We have some Unspeakables waiting for us to take us to safety, if we can get there," Draco said. "But they're unlikely to intervene before then. They came here for the secret."
Harry stared at him. "And will they aid living people?" he asked, his voice dipping a little.
Draco understood. After all those months of slavery to Linwood, Harry would be sensitive to anyone being considered a resource, even if it was only a source of information rather than power.
He nodded. "They can get information they need from them," he said. "They'll aid them. And in the meantime, you can inspire them," he added, seeing the panic that was growing and blooming among the people in the cavern, their darting eyes and their randomly reaching hands.
"I can," Harry said, and turned to them.
"Listen!" he yelled, his voice echoing so loudly that even the pounding on the cellar doors stopped for a moment. They looked at him. Draco didn't know how anyone could have looked away. "I'm Harry Potter! I was a prisoner like the rest of you, but now I'm going to lead you out of here! Follow me!"
And he shone, and a corresponding shine started in their faces. Draco knew the name for it. Belief. They didn't know how it had happened, but here was Harry Potter, appearing from nowhere, helping them, bringing them out of captivity at precisely the right moment. That was what he was best at, though. That was what he was for.
Draco intended to show him other things he was for, as soon as they were free of Linwood's school and could concentrate on those other things.
Harry faced the doors. "How many do you think are out there?" he asked Draco from the corner of his mouth.
"Linwood and all his students," Draco said. "He would have summoned them by now, and probably managed to convince them that he's the real Linwood. We don't dare assume less."
Harry smiled, and his eyes were wild. "I don't care so much about the others," he said. "None of them knew as much as Linwood did about the process. Telling them instead of showing them tricks might have meant they would break away from him and go start their own little schools. They can go. But I want him."
Draco knew what he meant by that, and pressed his hand briefly on Harry's shoulder. "You'll have him," he promised, and faced the cellar doors.
"On the count of three?" he asked, lifting his wand.
Harry laughed. "On the count of one," he said, and blasted the cellar doors down.
Linwood leaped through them immediately, and behind him came what really did look like all the students of his school. Draco began casting charms that would blast open kneecaps, break necks, paralyze spines. This was no time to discriminate, and while he didn't like killing, this was what had to happen.
Harry inspired Draco in odd ways.
Linwood never had eyes for him, although Draco had the feeling that the melting of his Linwood guise might have also broken the glamours that made him look like Eddison Dane. Linwood stared at Harry instead, and there was such hunger in his eyes, such thwarted, baffled longing, that Draco's heart ached one more time for him.
"I held you captive," he was sure Linwood whispered, although he could see nothing but his lips moving in the glare.
Harry answered by reaching out.
Draco didn't see where the spear came from. It seemed to materialize in Harry's hand, glowing brilliant as the crystal had been, but made of something else, something that looked like birch wood. Harry held it for a second, studying the glittering point, and then looked at Linwood and smiled.
Draco would have given his heart for that smile, too. He was learning a multitude of disturbing things about himself today.
Harry nodded to Linwood, which could have been an acknowledgment of what Linwood had said or simply his way of marking out the enemy he was killing, and tossed the spear as Linwood opened his mouth again.
The spear arched across the air between them, and then down. It stabbed through Linwood's mouth, and into his throat, and kept on going. Draco saw his clothes rupture somewhere around his arse. The spear projected out and slammed into the stone, and pinned him there, wavering, impaled.
Linwood twitched, and bled, and died.
Harry didn't even need to raise his arms after that. Linwood's students were trampling each other in their eagerness to flee. Some of the former prisoners started after them, but Harry gestured, and a wall of wind eased them back into the room. Gentle breezes, Draco could feel from the way they pressed against his skin, but nevertheless definite. Harry didn't want any of them to get hurt.
Linwood dangled there, limp as a flag without a breath of air. And Harry turned to Draco.
"How long do you think you'll be able to do magic without a wand?" Draco whispered. "Long enough to get us out of this building?"
Harry smiled while barely moving his lips. "At least that long." He studied Draco, and then shook his head. "Thank you. There aren't any words for what you did, but I'll try to make those suffice."
"Those do suffice."
Harry gave him an odd look, and then a gentler smile. "Don't worry," he said, turning away. "Your enchantment with me, or infatuation, or whatever you want to call it, should only last long enough for my magic to settle back into my core. I'll find my wand, and I'll be an ordinary wizard again by the time everything's settled."
Draco said nothing. He only made sure that he was at Harry's side as, together, they herded the former prisoners up the stairs and out to where Draco's colleagues were waiting. They showed little or no surprise at having to find clothes for naked people. They were Unspeakables, after all, and they had seen things far more unspeakable than this.
Harry was everywhere, talking gently and convincing a terrified woman to accept a cloak from a tall unsmiling man and reassuring everyone who asked that Linwood was indeed dead. He shook his head when someone tried to hand him a bowl of conjured warm water and passed it on to the others he felt needed it more. He touched shoulders and held hands and let everyone see his scar who needed to.
And Draco still remained at his side, because when Harry needed someone to do that for him, Draco intended that he should be the one to do it.
"Why did you do it?"
Draco didn't actually know how much later it was. They had reached the Department of Mysteries, and Draco had laid his head in a crystal stocks that might originally have been meant for something else, but which the Unspeakables used to collect a bunch of memories at once. With that invention, his superiors didn't require him to remain.
And with the way that Draco looked at them, and probably because a lot of the men and women he confronted in the room with the crystal stocks had been present at his testing when he was admitted to the Unspeakables, they had nodded and let him go when he asked if he could take Harry to his own home.
Harry had come with him, without question. Draco could think of many reasons why that might be, and not all of them were good. But the important thing was that he had accepted clothes, good undergarments and grey trousers and shirt, and warm robes over the top of that, and sat on Draco's couch with a cup of steaming tea in his hand.
And now he had begun to ask questions. That was all to the good.
Draco laid aside his own tea. He had taken it to be a companion to Harry in his tea-drinking, anyway, not because he wanted it. He was still satiated by what he had seen, full-feasted on beauty.
"You've been my flaw for a long time," he told Harry quietly. "For whatever reason, I couldn't forget you, I couldn't let the memories of the times that you offended me go. By the time I became an Unspeakable, I had to accept that those were a part of me, the same way that some people never get over a death in the family." He was thinking of other Unspeakables he had known, who had similar hard kernels of memory that would never unknot. "I didn't even know what the rumors of your death had done to me, how much they shaped me, until I saw you in Linwood's cellar and realized that I couldn't let you stay like that."
Harry nodded in silence. He still hadn't taken his eyes from Draco's face. "But you'll be disappointed now."
"No," Draco said. "What I was obsessed with-what I am obsessed with-is the glory and the pride that make you up."
"Exactly." Harry sat his cup down so hard that tea slopped into the saucer. "But the magic is already retreating into my core. I won't be as glorious and proud as I am right now ever again."
Draco looked at him quietly, memorizing the way that his hair hung into his eyes before he responded. "No. What I want is you. You, unchanged. You, breaking free of the chains. You, the way you spoke to me in your dreams. You're free now. I have what I want."
That was as close as he could come to explaining the satisfaction that sang in him like a white bird in a green tree. Harry would leave him and go back to his normal life-although so far, he hadn't asked about his friends or anything. Draco didn't know what he would say if Harry did. He hadn't kept up with what Weasley and Granger were doing lately.
Harry kept looking at him. Then he said, "You would be within your rights to claim a life-debt from me."
"But you would fulfill it under obligations," Draco said. "And I don't want what Linwood made you into."
Harry stared at his teacup again. This time, what Draco tried to memorize was the color of his eyes.
"But you want me," Harry whispered.
"Hell yes," Draco said. "That's what I just finished telling you."
Harry shook his head furiously, hard enough that Draco wanted to reach out and hold his face still, tell him that he was hurting himself. "No. I meant you want to have sex with me. That's inevitable. You must."
Draco had to laugh, despite the way the laughter caught in his throat like a pebble. "Yes, of course. Keep telling yourself that, Mr. Desirable."
"I mean," Harry said, his voice so low that it sounded like the growl of a manticore about to charge, and Draco loved it, "that you want to fuck me."
"I would want to," Draco said. "But you've been the victim of Linwood's obsession for almost a year, and who knows what happened to you before that? No, I don't want that as long as you're damaged."
Harry shot to his feet, and the teacup rattled with what Draco knew was magic and not the way he was moving. Draco stared at him with his mouth open, and then shut it. He had just finished telling Harry the truth, that he didn't want him when he had to be weary of being stared at and felt and pawed, and now he was panting after him with his tongue out? Yes, that was a good way to convince Harry.
"Damaged," Harry said. "Fucking damaged. You have no idea what they did to me."
"Not the first people who captured you, no," Draco said, although his mind still rang with the Everything Harry had told him before. "But with Linwood, I saw it. I can't imagine that you want to be desired like that right now. If maybe someday you did, then I would want to be with you. But anything less than your full..." He searched for the right words, couldn't find them, and settled for some wrong ones. "Anything less than you being in my bed and fighting like hell to get yourself on my cock isn't worth it."
Harry stared at him. "And why that particular choice?"
"Because that would mean you were fully recovered." Draco swallowed. "And it would mean you want me, too."
That was the final and most pathetic part of his secret, the part that he didn't know if all the Unspeakables who had tested him knew. But there was no reason to conceal it from Harry. He would never use it against him. Draco knew that as he knew the sun rose in the east, as he knew that his heart beat in his chest, as he knew that Harry was beautiful.
Harry stood, eyes on him, for so long that Draco wondered what would come next. He couldn't imagine, and it hurt that he couldn't imagine.
Then Harry turned and walked out of the room.
Draco shut his eyes. He leaned forwards until his hands touched the table where Harry's cup sat, and then he reached out and caressed the side of the cup. He thought he could feel some lingering warmth.
He heard a door open and shut, and he sighed, but he made himself do it noiselessly. If Harry heard and felt pressured to come back, then Draco would have to think of himself in the same light as Linwood.
It's easy to do that, actually, Draco thought, as he remembered himself kissing and touching Harry for no reason other than to pass the magic on to him.
Then he heard an impatient voice call from down the corridor. "I thought you would be faster than this."
Draco stood up and blinked, moving towards the voice. Even when he realized what direction it came from, he still held his thoughts carefully in his head, telling himself that Harry must need Draco to open the wards on the door for him.
Then he stepped through his bedroom door, and he could no longer deceive himself about where the voice was coming from.
Harry stood in front of the bed, undressing himself with furious jerks of his wrists. He wrestled with the buttons on his borrowed shirt for a minute, and Draco stood there with his chest aching. Of course. Harry hadn't worn clothes for almost a year. Draco opened his mouth to apologize for giving him something with buttons in the first place.
Then Harry looked up, and Draco saw the eyes of the man who had thrown the spear at Linwood.
"I get to decide when the hell I'm damaged and when the hell I'm not," Harry said, and finally flicked his hands to the sides. The shirt tore at the top button and fluttered to the floor, and Harry stepped out of it, and his eyes were fierce with the flame that Draco loved and honored in him. "If I decide that I want to sleep with someone, then I'm bloody well going to sleep with him."
Draco opened his mouth.
"And this is my why," Harry said. "Because I'm not in love with you, but I see what's in your eyes, and that's what I want right now, is to be desired by someone who doesn't just see the magic, who likes me with a solid body, who liked me enough to win that solid body back for me. I haven't had any sex for more than a year. They tortured me. They did-lots of things to me. And then Linwood wanted to destroy my body altogether." His voice had got low and rough again, but he never stopped stepping out of his trousers, or looked away from Draco. "I want to learn how to live in my body again. You're the one I'm picking to help me learn."
Draco came forwards, and took Harry in his arms.
It was violent. Harry twisted under Draco and snapped so impatiently that Draco finally reached for his wrists. Then he stopped, thinking of the chain and the way it had been fastened at least once around Harry's wrists.
"The whole point of this is to give me something else to think about," Harry snapped at him, and grabbed Draco's hands, and fastened them around his wrists as much as he could from that angle.
After that, Draco bore him down.
Harry was squirming long before Draco eased into him. And it was to get closer, and it was to impale himself, and Draco felt as if he was the one who had become a cloud of colored magic, all flesh dissolved, melting into nothing more than insistence, nothing more than reaching.
Draco trembled once he was inside Harry, but Harry knew exactly what to do, hooking his ankles behind Draco's legs and shoving himself down until Draco began to thrust. Then Harry rode with him, looking smug for long seconds until his expression grew full of wonder and lust, his eyes opening as wide as his soul.
When he began to squirm and whimper again, Draco let go of one of his hands to reach for his cock. Harry pressed up against his palm before Draco could wrap his fingers properly around him, panting and saying, "Yes," a full and joyous sound that mattered more to Draco than even the moment when Harry shuddered under his touch, a sound that made Draco come.
Harry rode out Draco's staggering motions and sudden collapse onto him much the same way he had ridden out his own climax, gasping and moving closer, grabbing onto bits of Draco-shoulders and hair and back and spine-that slid out of reach as Draco moved. Draco could do nothing but lie on him and kiss and kiss and kiss him when it was done.
He thought Harry would want to get out from underneath him, but instead Harry smiled down at Draco's hands and face and tested his strength against Draco's arms, grunting in satisfaction.
"It's solid," he said, when Draco stared at him. "It's not just magic."
Draco lowered his head and laid his cheek against Harry's. He didn't have the words, but this time, he didn't need them. He lay there and let Harry feel his warmth, relearn the meaning of touch, relearn his body.
"This is-this is good," Harry said, and his voice was full and sweet and satisfied and reminded Draco of the way he had looked when he stood in the middle of Linwood's cellar with the magic swirling around him. His hands were idly exploring Draco's shoulders and the side of his throat, as though he had no idea where it led. "I had no idea it could be so good."
Draco held him. There were no words, no. But there was touch, and the memory of Harry's glory.
And when Harry turned his head and looked up at him with those radiantly green eyes, Draco knew there was something else.
There was a kiss, and there was determination, and there was glory, and there was the return of the fire, the fire that Linwood had worshipped and tried to extinguish, but which still blazed in spite of him, which Draco had kept burning, which he thought he could go to his grave adoring.