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A Reckless Frame of Mind

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy, Psyche-Diver for St. Mungo’s for the past five years, often learned of his patients first through files, and this particular one he’d met through the Hogwarts Express, but he still wanted to see him in the flesh if at all possible.

It appeared that such a thing was possible. His patient had been brought to St. Mungo’s two days ago, and installed in the Nereus Norby Ward on the fourth floor, the ward in which victims of unidentifiable spell damage languished. Of course, they knew perfectly well what spell he’d used to try and end his own life, but they didn’t know what spell had made him do it. And they were certain it was magic; why would a wizard as celebrated as Harry Potter try to commit suicide otherwise?

Draco shook the words out of his head when the rest of the file tried to intrude. He wouldn’t let the determinations of others prejudice his conclusions. He would observe, learn as much as he could from his own eyes and senses, and decide on his own program of treatment from there.

Potter’s room, as did most of the others on this ward, contained a hidden window through which a Healer could watch and which was invisible to the patient. Draco touched the window with his wand, murmured the charm that would make it transparent, and then cast a few privacy spells around himself. It was vital that he not be interrupted as he conducted his investigation.

The only things he saw at first were an abandoned chair in the corner and a small table with some kind of game set up on it—Wizard’s Chess, he realized when he focused his eyes on the pieces. He turned his head, carefully altering the angle of his body so that he could look around. The room was entirely of a soft, pale blue color, the shade that research Healers had found the most soothing to potentially violent patients. In the far corner were a bed and a small door that led to a private loo. Draco curled his lip for a moment—nothing but the best for Harry Potter—but then he shook his head. Necessary as some dislike for the subject was for the best Psyche-Diving, he didn’t want his old ideas to overwhelm the new ones.

Potter lay on the bed, his hands crossed on his chest, staring up at the ceiling. Thick bandages encircled his wrists, protected by the shimmer of wards to ensure he couldn’t pry them off. His glasses had wards, too—to make sure he couldn’t break them and use the lenses to cut himself, Draco knew. In fact, when Draco relaxed and concentrated, letting the guards that usually shielded his sight fall, spells blazed absolutely everywhere in the room, linked to alarms that would let the Healers know if Potter so much as thought about doing violence to himself, or made a sudden, slashing movement that might herald a bit of wandless magic.

Draco gazed at the magic until he understood the precautions that the other Healers had thought necessary. Then he lifted his head and focused his eyes on Potter’s face.

Potter looked weary but wary, his head now and then turning when footsteps passed outside his door. Draco could feel himself smiling very slightly. The Healers had used sound-muffling charms, but evidently Potter’s magic was powerful enough to permit him to hear through them.

The lightning bolt scar shone under his fringe as it had always done; Draco would have recognized it at the distance of a dozen paces. Potter’s hair had not been cut recently, and when he shifted, he reached up with what seemed an instinctive movement and carefully patted it into place over the scar. Draco drew a sharp breath, but then forbade himself to draw any conclusions from that simple gesture, and continued simply to watch.

Potter leaned his head back on the pillow again and closed his eyes. That let Draco study the shape he was in without being distracted by the intense green of his gaze, for which he was duly grateful. Potter looked well-cared-for, at least. He was not as slender at twenty-seven as he’d been at eighteen, but who was? He had more muscle than Draco was used to seeing on Aurors, probably indicating that he spent much more of his time fighting and running and dueling than they did. And that conclusion was correct, Draco knew, because he had seen Potter’s name incessantly in the Prophet for the last two-and-a-half years. He always asked for the most dangerous assignments, and he was always given them, and he always completed them.

His face had new creases, but Draco could not tell how many of them came from sun, wind, weather, and the like, and how many from worry. He breathed slowly and steadily, indicating no problems with his lungs. Now and then a hand lifted and toyed with his glasses, but Draco thought of that as a nervous habit, nothing terribly significant. He also bit his lip and huffed to himself, but it was impossible to gauge his thoughts just from that.

All in all, he did not behave like a man Draco would have expected to commit suicide.

But there could be no doubt that Potter had tried to take his own life, and had just barely been stopped in time. And there could be no doubt that what Draco saw might not necessarily be what was there.

For the first time since leaving his office, he let the words of the file glide back into his mind.

Other Psychological Problems: The patient has been a pathological liar for over a year, not telling the truth for no apparent reason other than delight in lying. Appeals from friends and family to stop the deceptions have not worked. The subject’s personal relationships have crumbled around him, but he does not appear concerned. He has conducted or attempted to conduct many forms of research into the Dark Arts, as well, but his recognition factor has made it difficult for him to keep this research anonymous. The Ministry would like him rehabilitated of both the lying and the suicidal thoughts if at all possible.

Draco let himself give another smile. He had never claimed to like Harry Potter, and he despised the Ministry that had spent most of the nine years since the war trying to claim it had never happened, that nothing had changed, and silencing or binding or bribing its most virulent opponents. When Potter had become an Auror, one of the thugs who had been responsible for Lucius’s imprisonment and his mother’s self-defensive exile, Draco had sneered, thought it a matching of like to like, and given it little more consideration.

But there was something wrong here, something off. Potter was supposedly under a curse that caused him to desire death, but no one could find a trace of it. He supposedly loved his friends, but his constant lying had driven them away from him. He did not behave like someone in the throes of despair, but what, if not despair, could have driven him to do what he did?

Draco turned and strode back to his office with a swirl of his cloak. He was rather looking forwards to this. One thing that still remained to him, after all his years out of Hogwarts, was his curiosity.

*

Draco’s office was in the very back of St. Mungo’s; the hospital did not like to admit that its Psyche-Divers existed, even when those same professionals were responsible for restoring the sanity and souls of dozens of people. But he couldn’t complain, really. He had a large window that overlooked an enchanted view of Malfoy Manor’s grounds, complete with hedges clipped in the form of magical creatures, and under the ordinary, bland appearance of his office blazed wards and paintings of his ancestors and a Slytherin banner that he had always thought he would get rid of someday, but hadn’t yet managed to convince himself to take down.

Draco settled back in his comfortable seat, which he could Transfigure, with a tap of his wand, from a rocking chair to an armchair. At the moment, it was a cross between the two, and began to gently rock under him of its own free will as he leaned back under a shelf containing mostly books that he’d written himself.

Come to think of it, that was probably another reason St. Mungo’s was so uneasy about Psyche-Diving, other than its combining Legilimency and a dash of the Dark Arts: Draco had played an intricate part in the creation of the profession.

He forced away pride and went back to scanning the contents of Potter’s file. There was disturbingly little, really, because all the attempts of the Healers to find out what had made him suicidal had failed. Asked about it, Potter had only laughed and responded with obvious lies. Draco did find it interesting, and a touch frustrating, that the lies themselves were not recorded. He would have liked to hear for himself just how untruthful Potter’s words were.

So. Harry Potter, twenty-seven years old, an Auror for the past six of them, since he’d completed three years of training. Technically, he shouldn’t have been able to become one at all, since he hadn’t completed his schooling, but no one was going to say no to the boy who’d defeated the Dark Lord. And that was another example of the Ministry’s absorbing what was useful to it, Draco thought clinically. Anyone who really thought that Minister Scrimgeour would have permitted the Boy-Who-Lived to become a focus of opposition to him needed a session with the Mind-Healers.

He had been engaged to Ginny Weasley—Draco sneered automatically—but that relationship had fallen apart through his lying. Likewise, the rest of the Weasleys, listed as “surrogate family” in Potter’s file, had distanced themselves from him. They had tried a year of tearful remonstrations, countercurses, and keeping Potter away from locations he frequently visited, in hopes that the spell that affected him was somehow linked to one of them. But nothing had worked. Potter reportedly laughed when asked about the efforts of his family, and lied about his regard for them.

The Ministry had continued to send him on assignments, though without a partner, since Potter could not be trusted. But he was so damned brilliant, and knew so much about Dark Arts without ever casting the spells himself, that they hadn’t had a choice. It seemed they’d even been willing to turn a blind eye to his research into the Dark Arts, at least until he actually used the magic.

The same consideration was not extended to me. Draco tasted acid on his lips. He’d had to carve a place for himself, to prove he could be useful, while Potter was simply assumed to be, and used that way long after he’d proven what an arse he was.

And then, earlier this week, Potter had conjured a pair of hinged iron jaws and set them on his wrists in a corridor near his own office. His friend Weasley had discovered him in time to stop the bleeding and heal the ragged wounds on the veins, but there had been no doubt that Potter couldn’t continue his work now. He was on temporary leave from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement until the Mind-Healers could figure out what was wrong with him.

Draco gave a little smile and leaned back in his chair, tapping the file against his fingers.

They hadn’t sent Potter to the Mind-Healers. They’d sent him to Draco. And Draco knew why.

Psyche-Diving, as he’d conceived of and mostly created it, was far more than just repairing the physical damage to a brain or finding countercurses for insanity, the two most typical tasks for a Mind-Healer. Draco, or another practitioner, would use Legilimency, and then a few simple Dark spells, to actually enter the mind of a patient, sending their own souls and sanity into entwinement, manipulation, and mastery of the other. It was the only way to break some of the nastier curses, to figure out the more irrational kinds of irrationality and destroy those preoccupations in the minds that had them, and to discover what trauma might have created horrible memories in the first place.

Nevertheless, Draco knew that some of his fellow Healers hated and distrusted him. They saw Psyche-Diving as forcing someone into health, while they coaxed and persuaded. And it didn’t help that Psyche-Diving worked best when the Diver had somewhat of a dislike to the patient, or at least was someone that patient would never have associated with in his right mind.

It made absolute and utter sense that Potter had been given to Draco, considering their past. He’d never had such a personal subject before. He’d taken a positive delight in the Mudbloods he’d healed from their mental suffering since the war, because he could hate them in peace and yet have the perfect excuse to make others shut their mouths about his beliefs. He was helping them, after all.

But there had been no one like Potter, and certainly no one with the strange complex of undetectable curses that he appeared to have suffered. And that was not even saying what Potter’s own hatred of Draco, and the mental connection he’d once been rumored to have with the Dark Lord, might do when Draco entered his mind.

Ordinarily, he waited a few days and tried to collect more facts about his patients before he Dived. But Potter’s file was thin, and when he flicked through the interviews the Healers had conducted with his family and friends, he uncovered only the same bewilderment and fury that had shown up in the summaries. They didn’t know what had made Potter change. They didn’t know when he might have become desperate or despairing enough to kill himself. They didn’t know why he lied, and why he wouldn’t simply break down and ask for help if he was suffering.

Draco thought he knew the answer to that last, at least. Potter was too proud. He would have thought he could defeat the curses on his own. He wouldn’t want someone else to see him at that level of weakness—not Potter the Hero, Potter the Grand Auror.

Draco grinned out the window. He loved proud patients. They were inevitably the ones most humbled when he became a part of their minds, the ones convinced no one could understand them who had to acknowledge that he could, and the ones who cringed when he looked at them afterwards. He knew all their most humiliating secrets, and he could tell. Just knowing he held that power, even if he never used it, was a torment to them.

And now he had the chance to repay not only old schoolboy insults but his family’s suffering at Potter’s hands, and make his reputation as the one who had Healed the savior of the wizarding world, and prove his usefulness to the Ministry.

There was nothing about this situation that did not lend itself to his victory.

He would begin his Dive tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Harry imagined half-a-dozen pairs of eyes peering in through the window in the walls that he knew must be there, gawkers watching him at all hours of the day and night, speculating on what could have driven the Great and Wonderful Hero of the Wizarding World to try and commit suicide.

It wasn’t the most comfortable sensation, but imagining that kept him away from betraying any signs of his true condition. He examined his wrists and stared at the ceiling and made sure to do nothing remotely interesting.

Was it really so different from the life he’d been living for the past year?

Harry didn’t think so.

He’d been under the Cassandra Curse, a spell from which there was no escape, finally, except the one he’d chosen. And this was only the first part of his plan completed. He had the second still to go, and doubtless the Mind-Healers, or the Psyche-Divers, or whoever else they assigned him to in St. Mungo’s, wouldn’t want him to enact that second part.

Harry didn’t care. He’d had a lot of practice in not caring about others’ opinions in the last year, too.

He closed his eyes now. It would look like he was sleeping. But instead he plunged into intense memories, memories that would never be shared with anyone else. He had felt better when he had learned to stop trying.

*

He had noticed the effects of the Curse almost at once, of course. It was hard not to, when you were condemned to speak the truth but have everyone around you react to it as if it were a lie.

He’d told Ginny that he’d be home late for dinner that night, since he had to finish the paperwork for a case he hadn’t yet tidied up after. She’d turned around, hands on her hips, and stared for so long that Harry had begun to feel uneasy. Then she’d shaken her head and said, “Harry, if this relationship isn’t enough for you and you have to go fuck other women, why don’t you just break up with me now?”

“What?” Harry’s jaw had literally hit his chest. He stared at her for some moments, then said, “Ginny, I’m not—not fucking anyone else.” The word felt strange in his mouth. It was certainly the first time he had ever heard Ginny say it, along with the first time he had ever said it in front of her. “I don’t want any woman but you.”

Ginny’s hands tightened on the cloth she’d been using to wipe her plate. “Oh, yes,” she said bitterly. “And I suppose the way you turned your head to gape after that witch we met in Diagon Alley the other day—the one who just happened to be an adoring fan—was coincidence?”

Harry took a step backwards, uncertain what had happened, but knowing Ginny had to be under a spell of some kind. Was it a spell that would make her attack him? He couldn’t be sure, not until she whipped her out her wand and launched a hex, but he wanted to be ready. “I don’t even remember her,” he said.

“But you do,” Ginny whispered. “You must. You gape after her like a fool, and then you say that you’ll be late the next night?” She laughed harshly and then turned away as if to prevent him from seeing the sparkle of tears. “I’d wish you’d just say something, honestly, so we could both leave each other and go on to more satisfying lives.”

“I really don’t want anyone but you,” Harry began, and put a hand on her shoulder with the notion of taking her into his arms to show her how much she meant to him. She whirled around, though, and slapped him across the face, eyes blazing.

“And now you’ll try to kiss away the insult?” She tossed her hair. “I’ve let you get away with far too much, Harry. Not this time.” She turned and walked out of the kitchen steadily, though Harry could see the heartbreak on her face.

Thoroughly bewildered, Harry had Flooed Ron and Hermione. Perhaps Hermione, who was steadily becoming an expert in Dark magic as she worked her way up the ranks of the Hit Wizards, would have some idea of what spell could cause results like this.

*

In his hospital room, Harry rolled his eyes and snorted, rubbing his bandaged wrists gently but steadily. He imagined a Healer taking notes through the window—he finds his situation amusing, a sign of great mental disturbance—and snorted again before he could help himself.

It hadn’t been just Ginny.

*

Harry had explained the situation to Hermione as fast as he could, words tumbling over each other, when she’d come running to the hearth with her hair still dangling in wet curls around her face. She’d said nothing when he stopped, and Harry licked his lips. “Do you need me to explain again?” he asked, his heart suddenly sounding in his ears. “Or do you think it’s incurable?”

“I think you’re making up excuses,” Hermione had said, her eyes narrowed in distrust and dislike that Harry had never seen directed at him. “That’s what I think. I agree with Ginny. If you want to leave her, Harry, leave her, but at least be honest about it. The thought of you sneaking around behind her back and asking some other witch to be your bit on the side—it’s despicable, frankly. Did you know that in Dark Spells, Dark Ages it says that adultery between wizarding couples was once a crime punished by death?”

“Hermione!” Harry felt as if the room had tilted and he were about to fall out of the fire through which he’d been speaking to sprawl on the floor. “First of all, I haven’t cheated on Ginny. She only thinks I did, and I don’t know why. That’s what I want you to find out. Second, she and I aren’t married—“

“Oh, and now the excuses come out, do they?” Hermione folded her arms and looked away. “I still think you should have told her, Harry.”

“I’m not—I don’t—“ Harry slapped his hands on the stones of his own fireplace in frustration. And then Ron, perhaps attracted by the noise, wandered into the room, and Harry seized on a desperate notion. Perhaps the spell, whatever it was, only affected witches. He might be able to tell Ron the truth and have his best friend believe him.

“Ron!” he said. “Both Hermione and Ginny think I cheated on Ginny, and I didn’t, and I don’t know what—“

Ron stiffened suddenly, and then he moved over and stood close beside his wife. “I did suspect it,” he murmured into her neck. “I just didn’t want to believe it.”

“What is wrong with everyone?” Harry didn’t dare open his mouth too wide, or he would start to either scream or laugh hysterically. “I didn’t cheat on Ginny! I’m telling the truth—“

He paused abruptly, and narrowed his eyes. Could he have been given some tainted version of Veritaserum? He didn’t know who would have had occasion to slip it into his food or drinks, and he’d never heard of a potion that made everyone suspect the drinker was lying at the same time, but he had to try.

He tried to say, “Yes, I cheated on Ginny. You caught me.”

The words twisted halfway between his brain and his tongue, and what came out was, “I’ve never wanted anyone the way I want her, and I plan to stay faithful to her for the rest of my life.”

“The rest of your life except for your flings on the side, you mean?” Hermione’s voice was scathing. Ron put an arm around her waist as support.

“I don’t have any,” Harry said. He wanted to reason things out, but his ability to do so was rather slipping away in the face of the heaviest rejection he’d ever received from his best friends. “I’ve never wanted any side-effects of my fame, you know that, but the worst is everyone assuming I want to sleep with other people.”

“I think you dislike the others, just not this one,” said Hermione, and her voice was patient and disgusted, the way it had been when she found out one of her co-workers carried the anti-Muggleborn prejudice. Harry winced. That tone of voice felt as if it were opening small lacerations all across his skin. “And nobody’s perfect, I know, Harry, but I did think that you had morals enough to announce it if you were living with someone else.”

“I’ve never lived with anyone but the Dursleys, you, and Ginny, and the other Gryffindor boys when Hogwarts was in session—“

“The lies just get worse and worse,” Ron said, and then he took out his wand. “Come back when you have something worthwhile to say, mate.”

And when he moved his wand, the Floo connection closed abruptly, and Harry sprawled on his kitchen floor, covered with soot, his ears ringing with the depths of his loneliness, as though he were underwater.

*

Harry rolled his eyes at himself. He’d thought he was lonely then?

Try living with everyone else disbelieving you even though you can’t say anything but the truth for more than a year, he advised his past self. Then we’ll talk.

*

His lies—they said—cost him any partners. He found himself on dangerous solo missions, chasing feral werewolves, maddened giants, and Dark wizards who had tried to go down the same route of immortality that Voldemort had sought.

When he complained, they said that he couldn’t be trusted with anyone else at his back, and in any case, didn’t he want the glory?

When he screamed that he didn’t want these kinds of assignments, which was only the truth, they said he was lying and sent him back out into the field without a word.

When he tried to get the help he needed for some of the wounds his opponents had inflicted, the Healers had immediately assumed he was trying to get more attention, the kind the Daily Prophet had always pegged him as wanting. Harry had managed to live, but only by spending nearly all his spare time studying medical magic—which made those who caught him at it assume he wanted to know it so that he could torture suspects when he brought them in—and getting used to the accumulation of scars and bruises.

He’d come up with all sorts of supposedly brilliant plans in those first days. He’d tried to write the truth. He’d tried to pantomime it. He’d tried to owl people who knew him as a celebrity, in the hopes that the curse only affected the wizards and witches who saw him face-to-face. He’d cast spells to alter his appearance and his magical signature, certain that if the curse was embedded in one of them, it might fade when they changed.

Nothing worked. His written words were also assumed to be lies. The worst possible interpretation went to each gesture; when he tried to hug Ginny, nearly sick with longing for someone else to touch him, she drew her wand on him and screamed that he was trying to choke her. The spell was weaker on owls, but the moment his correspondents found out they were talking to Harry Potter, their attitude became tinged with distaste. Any glamour charms or other disguising magic only made others suspect that he had something disastrous to hide. Harry had already spent two nights in the Ministry holding cells, with other Aurors searching him grimly for some sign of the Dark Mark.

The worst stigma came from his attempts to discover exactly what kind of curse he carried. That their hero was studying Dark Arts was more than the wizarding world could bear. Harry had grown almost indifferent to Howlers six months later, since the range of insults that other people could think up was rather limited when one received twenty of the letters in a day.

Harry might have despaired if he hadn’t discovered, by accident, the thing that eventually led him to the way out.

*

Would it have been so awful to die that day? Harry thought wistfully now. It would have spared me some pain.

But then he shook his head. He’d always been a survivor, and even if no one alive right now knew anything real about him, there was always the past. Harry had turned more and more to his memories of the dead as his nightmarish year continued. His mother had sacrificed her life for him. Sirius had died trying to rescue him. Dumbledore had trusted him, had believed he would be safe with Harry.

Harry would not betray them by simply giving in and dying.

Coming close to death, however, was acceptable.

*

“But if you could just tell me where—“

“I have no reason to tell you anything,” Borgin had interrupted him, turning away to shove the Dark Arts book Harry had tried to purchase back into its place on a high shelf. The man’s back was tight and his voice clipped with disgust. That had happened even before Harry pulled his hood off, as if the curse were a body odor that other people could sense. “Don’t know why you’re in here, anyway. The press would have a field day with their precious savior coming to Knockturn Alley, wouldn’t they?”

“I don’t know what part of the Prophet you’re reading, to think that anyone has a positive opinion of me anymore,” Harry muttered, and rubbed his face. His scar never hurt him anymore, but the gesture was one he’d adopted in the past year to soothe his own frustrations.

“And crocodile tears won’t work on me, either,” Borgin said sharply. “Get out, now, before I call the Aurors.”

Laughable as that was, when Harry was himself an Auror and Borgin had much more to lose if they came here than he did, Harry turned away. Arguing made no difference. He’d tried Veritaserum on himself by now, managing to purchase it from an apothecary who wasn’t that picky about whom she sold her wares to, and it neither cured his inherent truthfulness nor made anyone else think he wasn’t lying; even Hermione just thought it was water, and this was Harry’s idea of a funny joke. When Harry had encouraged an Unspeakable with Legilimency to look into his mind, the man had wrinkled his nose and proclaimed he’d never seen such foul, distasteful thoughts in all his life.

Harry was near giving up.

Perhaps that was why he didn’t react fast enough when someone on the opposite end of the street hurled a curse at him as he stepped out of Borgin’s doorway. He never saw who it was, or even what spell. One moment he was striding along the dirty paving stones, heading for the entrance of the alley; the next he lay on his side, his lungs laboring to draw breath with a strange whooshing sound, his back covered with a warm liquid that he knew must be blood.

He closed his eyes. He didn’t think he could rise to his feet, whether or not he wanted to. The pain had come on the heels of the surprise, but right now, what he felt more than anything else was numbness. It would consume him, and when it reached his heart, things would be over.

He heard someone scream in distress, and frowned, wondering fuzzily if he’d been caught in the edge of a duel. After all, the person screaming couldn’t be concerned about him.

And then there were warm arms around him, and a frantically casting wand flicking above his face, and Hermione’s voice whispering, “Oh, God, Harry, I’m so glad I tracked you today, I don’t even care what you went into Borgin and Burkes for, just hold on, please, please don’t die—“

Because a side-effect of her spells kept him awake even as she did her best to heal the wound and then whisk him away to St. Mungo’s and scream at the Healers until they treated him, Harry heard the concern in her voice. It seemed that the enormous hole in his back had overcome the resigned irritation with which Hermione now treated him.

The effect hadn’t lasted long. As soon as the Healers proclaimed Harry out of danger, he’d seen the same mask fall over Ron’s and Hermione’s faces, and Ginny, who had visited for the first time that day, had turned away from the bed in silence. Harry had felt the new rejection like a blow to the stomach.

But he had learned something valuable, something that let him finally determine what curse he labored under. It was the Cassandra Curse, one he’d marked in his Dark Arts reading but hadn’t been sure of, since there were several other curses that closely resembled it. It did indeed make the victim always speak the truth but sound as if he were lying to others, the way that the priestess Cassandra of Troy had been ignored and dismissed for her warnings of the future. His research had indicated that the curse could only be broken by the caster, but since the magic was capable of altering memories and perceptions of Harry in the minds of everyone he came into contact with, the caster had likely forgotten he’d ever used the spell. Harry had no idea who that person might have been, in any case.

But the Cassandra Curse was limited in its influence over people the victim had never met before and who never knew his real name—and it could not prevent others from being concerned over drastic actions.

Such as a deep injury.

Lying in his hospital bed, tended by trainees who flinched away from him as if his condition were catching, Harry had formulated the first steps of his plan.

*

The door opened. Harry turned his head in that direction, and nearly smirked when he saw a nervous young mediwitch with blonde curls there. She looked straight at him as she walked towards the bed, as if he would vanish if she glanced away, then reappear on the ceiling and drop on her shoulders to bite her head off.

“How are you feeling today, Mr. Potter?” she asked, after several attempts to clear her throat and ask the question.

“Not suicidal,” said Harry, and watched in secret glee as her face contorted. Like all the others, she heard only lies. Like all the others, she would assume that he was in denial about wanting to die.

“Very well,” she muttered in heavy resignation, and then picked up a file between the tips of her fingers and dropped it onto the bed. Harry scooped it up, and she jumped as if she thought the thin parchment could cut through the bandages on his wrists. “You have an appointment at nine tomorrow morning with Psyche-Diver Draco Malfoy,” she continued.

Harry laughed in spite of himself. Of course it would happen that way; they would want to give him to the Psyche-Diver who hated him most, from what Harry understood of the profession, and Malfoy was a perfect candidate. The only good thing about it was that Harry would spend his last few weeks in the wizarding world around someone whose good opinion he sincerely didn’t want.

“I’ll be there with bells on,” he replied, and the mediwitch pursed her lips, probably already thinking about the extra security she’d have to provide so that Harry made it to his appointment on time.

Harry flopped back on the bed and grinned at the ceiling. They could increase their security all they liked. It wouldn’t make any difference in a few more weeks.

*

He stood in the corridor near his own office, his eyes closed and his heart pounding. Since he’d nearly died from that curse in Knockturn Alley, he had got his hope back, and that, ironically, made the only possible course of action open to him more distasteful.

But he had to do it. Yes, he had hope, but it wasn’t hope that could let him stay where he was and keep his friends. That was gone. He had to look to the future, not brood on the past.

And he had arranged everything perfectly. Dropped a few “suspicious” comments in front of Ron this morning, who was the only one in the Auror Department still visiting him, and chosen a place where he would be found before he bled to death.

Probably.

Harry moved quickly then, before he could change his mind. A snap of his wand, and the hinged iron jaws appeared. Another flick, and they were animated. He shook his sleeves back from his wrists and bared them.

The jaws went to work slowly chewing through skin and flesh and vein and tendon. Harry closed his eyes as the first drops of blood welled up.

It had to happen this way, he reminded himself as dizziness and instinctive panic took him over and he slumped to the floor. He flung his wand from him so he wouldn’t be tempted to use it to heal his wounds. Only a suicide attempt, and one brutal enough to make him look mad, would get him out of the Auror Department. He could say that he didn’t want to continue in the field, but of course no one would believe him.

Either he would survive and be moved into St. Mungo’s—

Or he would die.

Since it was out of his control entirely by the time blood loss wrapped his mind in red-black fuzz, either option sounded good enough.

*

Harry rubbed at his wrists again, and resisted the temptation to get up and do a little dance around his hospital room.

Obviously, it had worked. Ron had found him in time, stopped the bleeding, and got him moved here. The first part of Harry’s plan was accomplished.

The second was more complicated. Since no one at St. Mungo’s, Psyche-Diver or not, would believe him when he said he wasn’t suicidal, and he couldn’t lie and “admit” he was, they would keep a close watch on him. He would have to wait some time, learning the patterns of their security, before he could escape.

But escape he would. And he would perform a permanent self-Transfiguration then, rather than just a glamour spell, to make himself look different.

And he’d go to the Muggle world, adopt a new name, and owl home to the wizarding world anonymously for what he’d need. He still expected to encounter hostility from his neighbors, but all he learned about the Cassandra Curse pointed to one thing: its control over more drastic forms of magic, no matter what they were, was weaker. That meant a self-Transfiguration would not draw as much attention, nor as much open opposition, as his attempted glamours had done.

He would be—

Harry snorted. Not happy. Happiness isn’t for me anymore.

Self-pity tried to wash over him with that thought. Harry pushed it roughly away. He was alive, wasn’t he? And he would survive. And the Cassandra Curse had taught him, through more than a year of bitterness and isolation and loneliness so biting that he had awakened with tears in his eyes sometimes, that he could only depend on himself. He didn’t need help to escape, and he wouldn’t need help to live in the Muggle world, either.

Not an ideal existence. But all I can hope for.

Malfoy was not going to be able to find the truth, either, since Legilimency couldn’t—and even if Psyche-Divers were different from the Unspeakable Harry had contacted, Harry was not enough of a fool to believe that Malfoy would want to help him.

Just a few weeks, he reminded himself, and shut his eyes so he could get some sleep. It was important that he be well-rested for his escape. And then I’ll be free. Happiness and company are overrated, anyway.

Chapter Text

Draco had arranged to meet Potter in his own office, of course. This was home ground for him, an advantage that Potter might try to fake but could never match. He settled back in his chair, his eyes on the file, but his attention fastened on the door that led into the room. Potter would be coming under armed escort from his cell several corridors away, and Draco intended to snap his head up and fix him with a disconcerting gaze the moment he saw a trace of his shadow.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The first person into the room was a mediwizard wearing an expression that made it look as if termites had crawled up his trousers leg. He glanced back once, then nodded in resignation, and two more mediwizards, walking closely behind Potter as if he were a prisoner and not a patient, brought him into the room.

Potter walked with his wrists clasped tamely in front of him. His spine was straight, as though he headed into an interrogation—

Smart man, Draco thought, feeling the first vestiges of a sneer begin to lift his lips.

--and didn’t want to betray any nervousness. His eyes were likewise cool and guarded, far more so than Draco had ever seen them at school. He seemed to think he was some sort of hero—

Not that that isn’t a common delusion of his.

--who could resist anything a Psyche-Diver might throw at him. Draco’s hand ached for his wand, so that he might show him that wasn’t true.

“Good luck with him,” the leading mediwizard muttered to Draco, which surprised him. Even relatively low-ranking Healers like this went out of their way to pretend that he didn’t exist, or at least they sneered at him where their superiors could see it.

But evidently his disgust for Potter was great enough to result in some sympathy for Draco. His two companions seated the patient on a combination of divan and chair that was deliberately lower than Draco’s seat, while he stood back, arms crossed and a heavy frown on his face. He made sure to shake his head at Potter on his way out.

Interesting. It seems that Potter’s determined lying affects even people who’ve known him for a relatively short time.

Draco waited in silence, wondering how long it would take Potter to break it and demand an explanation, or start saying he wasn’t crazy and hadn’t meant to chew his wrists open with magic. But Potter didn’t move, didn’t respond, other than to examine the bandages on his hands as if they contained the secrets of the universe.

“You do realize that you can’t leave St. Mungo’s until I say that you’re sane?” Draco asked at last, softly, spinning his wand between his fingers. “And I’m unlikely to do that if you stare into nothingness?”

Potter looked up. For just a moment, the glass over his eyes starred with amusement, but it was gone in instants.

“Say whatever you want, Malfoy,” he replied in a bored tone. “Even though I am sane, and if you just listened to me I could prove that to you, you wouldn’t let me go. This is your big chance, isn’t it? To repay me for everything I did to you in Hogwarts.” He shrugged and returned his gaze to his fingertips again.

Draco understood the mediwizards’ reaction to Potter in instants. His dislike grew sharp enough that his fingers tightened on his wand.

“Do you understand what Psyche-Diving is?” He made his voice cool and distant. “At all?”

“Enlighten me.” Potter’s lips skinned back from his teeth.

Smug bastard. He does know, I know he does. But since he had moved the conversation in this direction, and one of his biggest tenets when faced with a patient was the unalterable principle that a Diver did not retreat, Draco continued. “It involves entry into the patient’s mind—no, more than that. Movement into the patient’s mind. I’ll essentially set up camp within your thoughts. I can evaluate your sanity best that way. And it’s called Psyche-Diving because I’ll dive into your soul, Potter. Every single one of your secrets will be mine.”

He might have expected defiance, bravado, or nervousness. Potter’s full-throated laughter was a new reaction.

*

Harry shook his head as his laughter subsided. He felt happier than he had since the moment he’d awakened in St. Mungo’s and realized that the first part of his plan had really worked. Malfoy was so funny.

No one knew all his secrets now. No one ever would again. And if the wildest chance came to pass and Malfoy somehow got past the Cassandra Curse—

Harry caught the hope and strangled it before it could grow.

No, he wouldn’t. But even if he did, let’s talk impossible universes, Harry, he wouldn’t tell anyone else. He would just hug the truth to himself for the delight of tormenting someone he’d always hated.

Malfoy was Malfoy. He’d done well enough for himself, and he had something of a reputation as a Mind-Healer, but that was with people he didn’t have childhood grudges against. Harry was just a victim. He couldn’t expect any help from him.

No help from anyone, ever, he reminded himself, and raised his eyebrows and settled back into his seat as Malfoy stared at him with a thundercloud expression. Did the idiot really think he could intimidate Harry by seating him on a lower chair? Harry had endured too much of the same thing from Snape when he was a student to be affected by it.

“I’m sure you’ll find all sorts of interesting things in my mind,” he said.

And of course he told only the truth, and of course the curse only ensured that Malfoy took it as a lie. Harry had become somewhat of an expert in the Cassandra Curse over the past half-year since he’d recognized it, and now he could notice the smallest signs of its conquering a new victim. A slight glaze slid over Malfoy’s eyes, and a shadow flickered about his temples as the curse attacked his mind.

That was the reason that he wouldn’t ever find the caster, from what Harry had understood. The curse altered immediate, present-time perceptions, but also memories—or Ron and Hermione would have been able to compare his “lies” with his past behavior and understand that he would never have wanted to do something like this. The caster’s memory had been altered along with everything else, and now he either didn’t remember that he’d cast the spell, or probably thought he’d done it for some good reason.

“I’ve never before met a patient who thought his own mind wasn’t interesting,” Malfoy said softly, and lifted his wand. “This shall be a—unique—experience, indeed. Legilimens!”

The magic, familiar from Snape’s old Occlumency lessons and from the Unspeakable more recently than that, entered Harry’s eye like a needle. He flinched and hissed under his breath, but held himself still, staring boldly at Malfoy. Even if he saw things Harry would prefer that he not know about, he wouldn’t understand any of them. The curse hung in front of them like a dark veil, distorting their shapes and reality.

Harry had never thought he would be grateful for the damn spell, but he was now.

*

Draco braced himself as his own perceptions arrowed forwards, twisting and cutting around any barriers that might have been in the way. If Potter was an Occlumens, he was such a poor one that Draco didn’t even feel broken shields scraping against his belly.

In moments he floated in darkness. Draco waited. This was usual. The spell only took him so far on a first journey such as this; then it reached ahead of him, and fetched back what he wanted to see. In this case, Draco was concentrating on the reason for Potter’s suicide.

The memory bounced back to him, surrounding him with a sudden wash of nearly white walls and plain gray carpeting. Potter stood in front of him, and yet at the same time Draco was seeing through his eyes, hearing his rasping breath as his own.

The split perception was caused by the memory itself battling with what Draco expected to see, since he was not Potter and knew it. He knew how to combat the confusion, since he’d been doing this for five years. Coolly, he divided them completely, assigning the real memory to his right eye and the view from the outside to his left. Then he closed his left eye tightly and shared Potter’s body for those moments before he had decided to conjure the iron jaws.

Contradictory emotions rushed through him, such an explosion that they rocked Draco slightly in his seat. Worry, fear, hope, fury. He wanted this to work, so badly, but he didn’t know if it would, and what if someone found him in time to stop him from cutting his wrists at all, or, worse, didn’t find him in time after he did it—

Draco sniffed. It really was just a plea for attention, wasn’t it? He never meant to die. I knew it, although I didn’t think even this arrogant wanker would stoop that low. Cutting his wrists so people would fuss over him? Pathetic.

When it came to the final moments before the suicide, Potter moved quickly. He conjured the jaws. He animated them. He let them have his wrists. And he flung away his wand when the blood began to flow. Draco caught the quick dart of his thought: can’t be tempted to heal myself.

Of course he couldn’t, or it would have seemed that he wasn’t serious—which he wasn’t—to anyone who happened by. Draco snorted in displeasure. He had somehow expected better from Potter, though he wasn’t certain why any more. The man was twenty-seven now—

But still a boy inside, and you always knew that, didn’t you? The public perception of him is different, but then, everyone thought differently of him than you did during Hogwarts, too, and the plain and simple fact even then was that they didn’t see him like you did.

Potter crumpled as blood loss overcame him, and the memory ceased to be interesting for Draco. He closed his right eye and opened the left, expecting to see the same thing from the outside now, though without the distraction of Potter’s idiotic emotions.

And paused.

Potter was breathing fast, his eyes closed. Then those eyes flared open, and the sheer expression of determination and fatigue there caught Draco. He looked as if he’d been suffering for years and had finally decided to end it all. If that look had still been on his face when Weasley found him, Draco could understand why his best friend hadn’t immediately realized that Potter had sliced his wrists open just for the attention.

But you know that’s not real. You were just inside his head.

Yes, but the emotions didn’t match the expressions on his face. Or, at least, not perfectly. Draco thought he could make them match with just a little work, but—

He pulled himself sharply back from that temptation. He would not prejudice his own conclusions. This was the whole reason that he used the outer perspective along with the inner one. It could sometimes reveal things that not even the patient had noticed, the way that a Pensieve could show more than someone wanted to remember.

As objectively as possible, he watched Potter call the jaws and fling his wand away, again. And now there was another expression on his face as he closed his eyes and slumped to his knees. Triumph.

Well, of course. He must have realized that this would take him to St. Mungo’s and away from a workload that was becoming too much for him, poor hero, even though it was only what the wizarding world had a right to ask of their “savior.”

And he forced himself to watch the whole thing, before he at last leaped backwards and opened his eyes to look at Potter over the edge of his own desk again.

“You wanted to kill yourself solely for the attention?” he asked, trying to make sure that his voice expressed all of his incredulity, and not sure he succeeded.

*

Harry shivered in relief the moment he felt Malfoy depart his mind. He couldn’t have blocked the entrance, and it had to happen as part of the healing process, but he still disliked having someone else spying on him like that. No one who had entered his thoughts had ever been kind to him.

“No,” he said. “I did it to get myself out of the Auror Department.”

And that was the truth, but Malfoy heard it as a lie, of course, and slapped his hand against the edge of the desk. “Your duties there were light enough, I should think,” he said, with a curl of his lip. “They wouldn’t have worked their hero that hard.”

Whoever had invented the Cassandra Curse had been very, very clever, Harry had to admit. It could make someone else ignore his own memories, in the rare cases where those directly contradicted something he had learned about Harry.

“Think of what you’ve read in the Prophet,” he said, in a self-mocking tone that he knew Malfoy would take a different interpretation from. “How many different cases did I solve? How many different times was I alone? How many times did I almost die?” He shook his head. “I was the hardest-working Auror in the Department, because I was always handling not only fieldwork but paperwork meant for two.”

The faintest frown marred Malfoy’s forehead, as if he were struggling to recall reading about those cases and couldn’t. And then he straightened and gave Harry a smirk, and Harry felt an odd twinge of relief. It would have been too much, after all his planning and careful resignation of hope, to meet someone, now, on the edge of his escape, who could resist the curse’s influence. Not to mention the horror of having to depend on his enemy.

“Not true at all, Potter,” he said. “There were only a few articles about you—“

Harry resisted the temptation to roll his eyes.

“And most of them covered you in fawning detail.” Malfoy leaned forwards and made his voice a soft croon. “Were they not flattering enough for you? Did the mean reporters hurt Baby Potter’s feelings? Is that it?”

Harry shuddered. “You sound too much like your aunt when you do that,” he told Malfoy, who had raised his eyebrows. “Stop it.”

“You’ve met my mother’s blood traitor sister, then—“

“I was speaking of Bellatrix.” Harry shook his head, and the memory of Bellatrix taunting him after Sirius had fallen behind the veil vanished. He’d had to become practiced at that, even as he spent more and more of his time dwelling with the dead who could still understand him. If he focused too much on how horrible his past had sometimes been, it was another invitation to despair and giving up.

“You never met my aunt Lestrange,” Malfoy said, his head rearing back like a disturbed snake’s.

“Yes, I did.”

“Why are you lying about such easily verifiable facts?” Malfoy crossed his legs and draped them over his desk, as if he could be completely casual in Harry’s presence. Harry pitied him, a little. That was the one thing he had never managed.

Well, all right, one of a long list of things he never managed. There was also winning the Snitch away from me, and getting me in trouble without getting in trouble himself, and figuring out I had an Invisibility Cloak, and earning better marks than Hermione—

“I could bring other people into the room who would testify that you never met my aunt,” Malfoy continued. “That’s my next question, in fact, Potter. Why lie? What’s the pleasure in it for you, when you must know that it drives everyone away?” He paused, and lifted a hand to his cheek. “Or do you not enjoy the company of your courtiers anymore, since they don’t have the grace to laugh at your jokes?”

“I want my friends back more than anything in the world,” said Harry, and for a moment he hated the curse all over again for the honesty it compelled him to. “But I’ve learned that I can’t have them. They’re under a curse.”

Malfoy laughed. “The Healers did examine them for that, you know. Sometimes a suspected case of suicide is actually a case of someone else getting jealous or impatient for an inheritance and pushing too much, too early. But there was no trace of a spell on them.”

“The spell’s on me.”

Malfoy simply shook his head. Harry shrugged in return. Well, this way, he can’t say that I never told him.

*

Draco was growing steadily more fascinated as he pushed onwards. There was apparently a core of malice in Potter that he’d been lucky enough never to run afoul of. Potter was lying for sheer delight in lying, just as his friends had said. He had attempted suicide for attention. He had delusions of grandeur. He would insist that simple and small facts were untrue, just for the sake of forcing his interlocutor to look them up.

If this was part of an intentional plan to drive the Weasley family around the bend, Draco had to salute him.

But he wouldn’t allow Potter to baffle him. He always triumphed over his patients. Always. He coaxed his suicidal ones back to sanity; he forced the mad to realize that their delusions about their friends and family were not true; he stripped the obsessive of any ground to believe that the objections of their obsessions would ever love them back. He was a Healer, but the best kind of Healer, the kind who could get away with inflicting wounds under the guise of helping someone else.

He would enjoy injuring Potter, breaking through that smug mask to find the vulnerable and bleeding man beneath.

“And what is this spell called?” he asked, pretending to play along for a moment.

“The Cassandra Curse.”

Draco laughed again. “That’s a legend, Potter,” he said. “Did you really expect me to believe you?”

“I don’t expect anyone to believe me, Malfoy.” Potter had slumped in his seat and started picking at his bandages again. “It would be nice, but this curse makes everyone believe that everything I say is a lie. Why should you be the exception?”

Draco’s pride reared up, but more than that, he knew Potter was not telling the truth. He wanted people to believe him, follow him around with open and panting mouths, and be available to him to taunt and tease and fuck and ignore at any time. It must have rattled his cage fiercely when his family and friends had decided to bring him to St. Mungo’s instead of indulging him any longer. They would probably have brought him much sooner, Draco thought, but for his being Harry Potter.

“This was just an exploratory session, you do realize,” he whispered. “Tomorrow, I go deeper. And every day after that, I dive deeper still, until I’m seated in the center of your soul.”

Potter looked up at him, and his eyes were infuriatingly fearless.

“Look as hard as you want,” he said. “You won’t find anything.”

And that made the fearlessness a mask of bravado, Draco knew, and glee exploded through him. He couldn’t wait for the moment when Potter would have to admit that Draco really did know him, that he had pried his secrets open in a way that no one else had before, not even his Mudblood and blood traitor friends.

“Since you refuse to confess the truth to me,” he said lightly, “I think our session is finished for this morning.”

Potter simply nodded, and sat still as Draco rang for the mediwizards. They escorted him out of the room, and Draco turned to take notes on his session.

Patient has major delusions of grandeur. Among other things, he believes that the Daily Prophet has written lead articles about every single one of his cases for the past few years.

Draco tilted his head back and sucked on the end of his quill for a moment, trying to recall how many articles there had actually been. He shrugged when he couldn’t remember. It was not as though Potter was the center of Draco’s life the way he wanted to be the center of everyone’s, and he could always look it up later.

Patient also refuses to volunteer explanations for his suicidal behavior, but in this Psyche-Diver’s opinion, it was born solely of the desire for attention. Further Dives are necessary to confirm this, however. Patient also lies solely for the delight in lying, and apparently believes that no one will catch him at it, or that everyone will forgive him for these deceptions. My next Dive shall be an attempt to get to the center of this delusion.

Draco signed the report with a flourish, and then Summoned a Pensieve from a hidden corner of the room. He would copy the memories of Potter’s mind to it and study them again. That way, if he had missed anything, he would be more likely to see it on a second scan.

But he didn’t think he would find anything interesting. This was his first contact with Potter in a decade, and yet he thought he could say that he understood the man better than anyone else. He always had.

*

Harry kept his head bowed as the mediwizards escorted him reluctantly back to his room, as though he were utterly uninterested in everything around him. The mediwizards were probably used to this reaction from patients who tried to kill themselves, and didn’t do anything more than glare at him occasionally.

Harry was studying the walls, though, and the nearly hidden—though not well enough, to the eyes of an Auror—buttons and bells and alarm wards which would inform them that a patient had escaped. Each patient’s door had a particularly intriguing knot of red and yellow lines. Harry had seen spells braided together like that before, but not in this pattern. It would take him at least a few days to work out what it meant, and how he could pick it apart, without his wand, so that he could leave his room unnoticed.

They put him back in his cell, and Harry stretched out on the bed and stared at the ceiling, again, his mind whirling with the security precautions on the fourth floor and how he would get past them. He knew where his wand was held—on the first floor, where every dangerous patient’s wand was taken away; he’d escorted a few mad prisoners to St. Mungo’s in his time—and he had to concentrate on getting there before he could come up with any other brilliant plans.

He had time, though. He doubted Malfoy was going to figure anything out, either.

*

Draco sat back from the Pensieve with a deep frown on his face, his fingers rapping the edge of the stone bowl so hard that it almost turned over.

Something was wrong. And it wasn’t just the continual inherent wrongness of the universe fawning over Potter when Draco and certain other people had done so much more they deserved to be honored for.

There was a disparity in his memories, Draco felt certain—some chink when his mind had skipped important information, or refused to comprehend it, and for no apparent reason. But he could not tell what it was. Potter was certainly no Occlumens. The scrape of those barriers could not be hidden. He could have shoved particular memories to the forefront of his mind and hidden others if he had enough training, but in that case, Draco would still have felt him doing so, even if he didn’t know what the hidden memories pertained to.

Looked at objectively, there was no way that what he had seen in Potter’s mind could be anything but real.

And yet—

Draco had learned not to ignore the ragged edge of his instincts. They had saved him too many times to count.

He bent over the Pensieve again. There was no way that Harry Bloody Potter would fool him. Potter had won enough of their contests for one lifetime.

He would find out the truth.

Chapter Text

“You’ll have some visitors today, Mr. Potter.” The blonde mediwitch who had brought him his file the day before yesterday, and seemed to have been permanently assigned to him, was valiantly trying to conceal her distaste under the kind of crooning tone she might have used to a kitten. “Mr. and Mrs. Granger-Weasley. Won’t that be nice?”

Harry glanced sideways at her. “It will,” he said.

As always happened with simple statements that were hard to twist into outright lies, the Cassandra Curse made her take it as sarcasm. Her eyes—they were as blue as Ron’s, Harry noted with a touch of sadness—narrowed, and she took a step towards his bed. “If I had tried to commit suicide for no good reason,” she hissed, “I would welcome the visit of friends. At least it would prove they hadn’t completely given up on me. Even if I deserved to be given up on.”

Harry restrained his temper and managed to do no more than smile at her. He could yell, of course, but what good would it do? None.

This is why I can’t depend on anyone else.

“You really did just do it for the attention, didn’t you?” the mediwitch persisted in the face of his silence. She buried her hands in her gray robes to try to hide them, but it was too late; Harry had already seen them shaking with rage. “Because you have to have the eyes of everyone in the wizarding world on you?”

Hello, Harry thought suddenly, and restrained himself from sitting up. This is new.

And he might be able to use it.

He had known the attendants at St. Mungo’s wouldn’t believe him when he said he didn’t want to die, but he had thought they would work to keep him locked up more securely than ever, and keep sharp edges and corners and wands away from him. But if their disbelief had taken the form of scorn, the idea that nothing was wrong with his head except his pathological need for people to gossip about him…

They might let him go.

If he could only seize this and use it!

“I don’t want that,” he said carefully. Truth, of course, but she would hear it as a direct lie. “And really, if that Psyche-Diver was any good, he would see that.” Truth again, but it could easily send the woman running to Malfoy for answers—and, of course, Malfoy would confirm her guess.

“You have no idea what Psyche-Diver Malfoy risks when he comes in contact with a mind like yours,” the woman said snidely.

“Tell me, then.”

But she heard sneering superiority in it, and turned away with only a cold notation over her shoulder of, “Your friends will be here to see you at one.” And then she touched the door and let herself out.

Harry let his head fall back onto the bed and closed his eyes. He’d already eaten breakfast, under the watchful scrutiny of an older matron, and he knew lunch would come precisely at noon. Presumably the invariable routine comforted some patients who had ended up here because of the chaos and stress in their lives.

Not me. My haven’s far away as yet.

He’d eat. Then he’d pretend to be asleep again. But he would be watching carefully, very carefully, when Ron and Hermione entered the room at one.

The mediwitches, Healers, and others who belonged to St. Mungo’s had the ability to pass in and out of the warded doors without breaking the spells. They’d have to lower that magic to let his friends inside, though.

Harry was very interested in seeing how they did it.

*

Draco Apparated in to the hospital that morning with a frown on his face, which hadn’t gone away when he fetched tea from the communal kitchen. He had spent the night looking up the newspaper articles on Potter from the past few years, especially those that concerned the cases he’d been on for the Auror Department.

There were…

A great many of them.

Yet he’d also had good reason for thinking the Daily Prophet didn’t often write Potter up. He knew he had. He didn’t randomly make up facts and defend them to himself. But whenever he tried to think too closely about the idea, to trace the thought process that had made him certain Potter’s activities weren’t often written up, a headache began to pound behind his eyes.

It only made him all the more sure that something was wrong, and all the more determined to figure it out. He hadn’t had a patient who intrigued him like Potter in a long time. The surface of most psychoses was unique, but he had been Diving long enough to recognize at a glance, most of the time, what those irrational thoughts would prove to be rooted in at last.

With Potter, he was not sure.

He detoured to Potter’s room to watch him through the invisible window, and met a mediwitch coming out. He thought her name was Laura, and he knew she didn’t like him, since she was one of those soft-hearted fools who thought insane people should be persuaded back to health. He started to sneer peremptorily, but was caught off-guard when she turned to him with a softened expression.

“I don’t know how you stand it, Psyche-Diver Malfoy,” she whispered, and that was another change. Most of the time, he received a cool Malfoy from her if he got any greeting at all. “Knowing that one of your patients tried to kill himself just to waste everyone’s time and make them fuss and mutter over him. When there are other people you could be helping!” She shook her head, blonde curls bouncing on her shoulders. “I only have to bring his files to him, and I can still hardly stand him.”

Draco felt his guard rise. If Potter was confessing that he had wanted to kill himself out of spite, then it seemed he had gone back to telling the truth. But why would he? “He told you this?”

“Oh, no, he’s still denying it and just saying he’s not suicidal, but it’s obvious enough from his behavior.” She put a hand on his arm. “There are—well, small things, you know, that we can do to make a patient’s life miserable here. I would ordinarily never suggest them, of course, but for someone who’s mentally healthy and a drain on our resources? Say the word.”

Draco thought for a long moment, eyes half-shut, watching Potter through the window. Potter had his eyes entirely closed, and appeared to be sleeping.

Conserving his strength, maybe.

And Draco’s mind had changed again. If Potter was now acting in such a manner as to convince everyone that, yes, he had just slit his wrists open for fun, then there must be something more behind that. Another lie, another reason that he wanted to turn suspicion away from his actions.

If everyone feels disgust towards him, what does that lead to? Petty torments at the hands of petty women like this, but what else?

Draco could not yet see Potter’s goal. But he thought he would have to start seeing it, and soon.

“Psyche-Diver?” the mediwitch persisted.

Draco might not know what Potter ultimately wanted, but he was opposed in principle to giving him anything he wanted, including contempt. He turned to the woman and let one eyebrow rise. “You would suggest harming any patient, even one this mad?” He leavened his disbelief with pity, and she flushed and abruptly found it hard to look him in the eye. “I will certainly remember your suggestion, Laura—“ A discreet search of her robes revealed her surname. “Fallowchilde. Whenever we must look for the source of shortened rations or a patient lying in his own waste, perhaps we will want to look into sacking you.”

He turned and strode on his way, ignoring her loud calls behind him that it had only been a joke. He felt happy enough to spread some of his irritability and confusion about, and make others suffer with him.

When he reached his office, he read the note that said Potter would have visitors at one, and smiled to himself grimly. Yes, he would want to observe that.

For now, though…

And again he pulled out memories of his session yesterday with Potter, but this time he used the ones of their conversation in the office rather than those that had come from his Dive. Perhaps there was something in Potter’s face or gestures or words he had missed, which he would catch if he viewed them from the outside.

*

“Mr. and Mrs. Granger-Weasley, to see Mr. Potter.”

Harry kept his eyes mostly shut and his muscles limp. He did, however, watch as the mediwitch guided Ron and Hermione in through the wards on his door.

He felt extraordinarily smug when he could see the wards part with a twang around them and reform like a cage of string. That was the usual procedure for wards on the remade Azkaban Prison, and if he had been thinking straight, he would have realized that those meant to keep in mad patients at St. Mungo’s couldn’t be too different. It was only the superficial differences in pattern that had confused him.

Don’t pay attention to superficialities, he scolded himself, and managed to sit up and smile at his best friends. Of course, the Cassandra Curse would twist their perception of it into a smirk. Harry was nearly used to it by now, and told himself he did not feel lonely when Hermione put an arm around Ron as if she needed the support.

“Hello, Harry,” she said softly. She paused, obviously trying to find a topic that he wouldn’t lie about when she knew full well there was none. Finally she continued, “How are you feeling?”

“Pretty damn good, actually,” said Harry, and Ron’s eyes narrowed.

“Just stop it,” he said.

Harry blinked. “Stop what?”

“Stop lying!” In a sudden blur of motion, Ron released his wife and raced across the stretch of floor that separated him and the bed, seizing Harry’s shoulders and shaking him so hard Harry felt his teeth cut into his tongue. “Tell us the truth, for once in your goddamn life! Tell us the truth!”

“Ron!” Hermione cried out in alarm, and Harry was certain she was pulling at Ron’s arms, but he couldn’t open his eyes to be sure. He was concentrating, grimly, on making sure that his wandless magic didn’t rise in response to the danger. He was magically stronger than anyone knew, but if a sudden blast of power shoved Ron away from him now, the observers who might or might not be watching through the invisible window would be sure to notice. And that could be deadly to Harry’s plans for escape, in which his wandless magic played an enormous part.

After a long moment when he thought Ron might come near choking him to death, he pulled back. Harry let out a soft breath of relief and opened his eyes.

Ron was sitting in front of him on a chair the mediwitch had left, tears in his eyes. Hermione drew up another seat, her gaze passing warily back and forth between Harry and her husband. Harry licked a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth and said, “That wasn’t very nice, Ron.” They would hear mockery.

Sure enough, Ron sat up and dashed his tears away with a sudden motion. Harry sighed to himself. Even after a year, he hadn’t become used to how much the curse hurt his best friends, but that was another thing, like the shroud it cast over his memories for a Legilimens, which actually served him in this instance. Shove them as far away as they would consent to go, and they wouldn’t be so hurt when he vanished into the Muggle world.

*

Draco’s fingers had closed on his wand so hard that he was surprised he hadn’t snapped it. Perhaps anyone else watching through the window would have concentrated solely on the Weasel and his anger, but then, most other people who might have been in this position were fools.

Potter had been the one to watch. He had shut his eyes and grimaced, and his features had taken on a look that Draco knew well—one he’d seen on Severus’s when the man had to restrain his magic in the face of insults from lesser Death Eaters. Potter could have stopped his “friend” at any time.

He’d held back. He hadn’t.

What is he doing? Why is he doing it? Draco felt sure the curiosity would devour him alive if he did not find out soon.

“I just want my friend back,” Weasel was saying now, his voice lower and more determined than Draco had thought it could become. “The best mate who joked with me, who worked on Auror cases with me, who told me he was going to marry my sister.”

Well, Potter’s well out of that one, at least, Draco thought.

“Where did he go? What happened to him?” Weasel leaned forwards, and his Mudblood wife stirred uneasily, but Draco could have told her he wouldn’t try to assault Potter again. He thought he could get answers out of the man who hadn’t answered any question truthfully for more than a year just by pleading. Idiot. “I want you to tell me that, Harry. I want to understand why you started this.”

“Whatever I say,” Potter murmured, his voice as low and clear and stubborn as the Weasel’s, “you would just disbelieve it.”

Draco felt his lip curl, and saw the same frustration reflected, less attractively, in the flush on the Weasel’s face. If Potter returned non-answers in the face of genuine concern, it was no wonder that Draco’s threats had failed to move him.

“I told you about the Cassandra Curse,” Potter continued, and raised his hand, for a moment, to feel at the trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth. He must have cut his tongue or his lips, Draco reasoned. Weasel looked filled with stupid remorse, but of course he didn’t apologize, for which Draco might have almost mustered some fellow-feeling. One didn’t say sorry to someone like Potter; it was impossible. “I showed you the book I found the information in. You told me—“

“It isn’t real, Harry!” Granger said then, her voice shrill and her face flushing in turn. “I’ve looked up all the other books, and they insist it’s just a legend! There are dozens of well-documented cases where wizards tried to use it, and they failed, even when they varied the incantation in a hundred subtle ways. Stop asking us to believe that you’re under that curse.” She suddenly softened, and tried to catch one of Potter’s hands. He moved it away with an adroitness Draco had to admire, but she only tried again, and succeeded this time. “Would it help if you talked to me alone? Ron’s upset about Ginny, but you can talk to just me if he bothers you.”

“I’m never going to be Ginny’s husband,” Potter said, with a tone of gentleness in his voice that Draco was sure he had only summoned because it would hurt his friends more. Really, it is hard to know which side to applaud in this conversation. “And I don’t think I’ll be your friend anymore, either. That’s just the way things worked out.”

“And see?” Granger raised her free hand in exasperation. “You want to be. I can hear the longing in your words, Harry. Tell the truth, and please, please recover and say you’ll never try to kill yourself again, and everything can go back to normal. We can pretend this idiocy of the last few months never happened. Please? Will you?” Her hand that held his was making little stroking motions, over the back of his wrist and up towards his fingers. “I promise you won’t regret it. We won’t ever taunt you about this, if we can just know why it happened.” Weasel nodded in support of his wife. “Please.”

Potter looked down at Granger’s hand holding his with an expression Draco couldn’t define. He ground his teeth, then forced himself to stop. But this was bringing him close to the kind of irrationality he expected of his patients. He knew Potter best, and would only know him better. He ought to realize immediately what that expression meant.

As the silence drew on, Granger closed her eyes and drew away from Harry with a long, slow huff of breath. “Fine,” she whispered, in a tone of uttermost defeat. “If you have to be that way, be that way, Harry.” She stood and tugged at Weasel’s shoulder. “Come on, Ron. There’s nothing we can do here.”

“Ginny misses you,” the Weasel told Potter, not moving from his seat. “She says that she wishes you hadn’t gone crazy, because there’s no one she would rather have for a husband. She hasn’t even been on a date since you started lying to us, do you realize that?”

I’m sure that’s just the temptation Potter needs to climb out of his madness, Draco thought, irritated. A red-haired fan sniffing up his crotch.

“Tell her I miss her, too, Ron,” Potter murmured.

Weasel let out an explosive breath and stood. “You could at least have sent her a letter saying you were through,” he said, and stomped out. Granger followed him, with one more pitiful look back towards Potter. The mediwitch let them out the door, but Draco didn’t watch them go. He gazed at Potter instead.

For a moment, an expression of the most desolate loneliness passed across his face. Then he took a deep breath, and screwed his eyes shut, and when he opened them again he just looked grim.

He must want something greater, to give up the company of his friends like that. What is it?

Draco had already cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself to avoid any nasty incidents with Weasel and the Mudblood when they emerged. As soon as he could be sure they were gone, he removed it and ducked into Potter’s room.

Like it or not, today was the day the bastard would let Draco see the first glimpse of his soul.

*

Harry straightened abruptly when Malfoy came into the room. He wondered if it was his imagination that a cold wind had come in with him, and decided that it was. He tightened his fingers on the edge of the bed and faced him. His best friends couldn’t give him the time of day anymore—he winced as his tongue sent another small jolt of pain back into his mouth—and his schoolboy rival thought he would succeed?

“Hullo, Malfoy,” he said, as amiably as he could. “Come to watch yourself be a failure once more?”

A slight narrowing of Malfoy’s eyes was the only indication that he took Harry’s insult seriously. He seated himself in the chair Ron had taken, and drew his wand. Harry rolled his eyes. “An impromptu session, then?” he asked, and watched in satisfaction as the curse flickered around the sides of Malfoy’s head. Yes, it would distort whatever he saw in Harry’s mind.

And he was welcome to look. Harry couldn’t imagine that his own soul would have been a very pleasant sight for anyone even unvarnished.

Legilimens!” Malfoy said, and the sensation like a needle passing through Harry’s eye came a moment later. Harry shivered, but forced himself to sit and endure it. Only a few more days of this, instead of weeks, now that he had realized how similar the wards on the doors in St. Mungo’s were to the wards in Azkaban.

He had had to undo the wards in Azkaban himself, more times than he cared to count, particularly in this last year when he’d been assigned to numerous cases where the criminals nearly always ended up in the prison. He would want to wait and practice with these, until he was sure they would not trigger alarms when undone, but he could do it.

He rubbed the bandages on his wrists, and waited patiently for Malfoy to end his latest farce.

*

As before, Draco found himself carried into the midst of darkness. Ordinarily, his spell would have darted ahead of him and fetched more memories. But Draco was becoming steadily convinced that that wouldn’t work with Potter. Even his Pensieve study of their first session this morning, though it had convinced him more strongly than ever that something was wrong, had revealed nothing substantial. Potter’s eye-rolls and touching of his wrists and flickers of expression could mean too many things. What Draco needed was the knot that tied them together.

So he would have to begin the process that had given Psyche-Divers their professional name.

He closed his eyes for a long moment—even though, here, his eyes were mental, and what he saw with them shut or open, as long as no memories danced in front of him, was the same—and prepared himself. Then he raised his wand, or the imagined analogue of it. Even though he was within Potter’s mind, it was easier to think of himself as being in his own body. It strengthened the sense of his separation from his patient, and that was essential, or he could be pulled out of his own sanity and drowned in the overwhelming flood of another personality.

Metempsychis meum,” he whispered.

The darkness around him wavered for a moment.

Then he began to move.

*

Harry sat up abruptly. Whatever Malfoy was doing, it didn’t feel anything like a normal Legilimency probe. He was used to something slimy darting about in his mind, seizing his memories and making him relive them at the same time as the Legilimens did.

But this…

This felt as if Malfoy were passing out of the surface of his mind and somewhere deeper, into a place where Harry hadn’t given him permission to go.

For the first time, he pushed with all his might, the way he had once done in his Occlumency lessons with Snape, doing his best to chase this intruder out of his mind.

*

Ah, yes, Potter was fighting back now. Draco wasn’t surprised. Even patients who didn’t care that another presence was in their minds—since they had their share of second, third, and other voices—disliked the sensation of someone else entering their soul.

But the spell had been spoken, and Draco’s own powerful magic and dedication to his job, and his curiosity in this case, carried him deeper and deeper. The darkness was rushing past him now, not simply parading. The spell had worked even better than usual.

Well, in most cases I’m not as desperate to catch a glimpse of the soul as I am with this man.

Harry, his mind amended a moment later, because one could not be this deep and still think of the patient in less than intimate terms. Draco spent a few moments wagering with himself what the predominant color of Harry’s soul would be. Probably red, for his temper and his devotion to courage and other Gryffindor virtues.

But when the first lights began to shimmer alongside him, they were blue and green. Draco smiled tightly as he spoke the second, simpler incantation that slowed his dive. Being wrong about this minor thing just made him all the more determined to learn what the fuck Harry was hiding.

And then he hovered in the midst of Harry’s soul, and, as usual, the beauty nearly struck him senseless for a few moments.

He turned in what looked like empty air, though it was really only the small gap he had created to maintain his own sanity, with the sides of a vast chasm stretching away endlessly to right and left. Draco had never been able to describe them accurately to anyone else who hadn’t seen them; the most he could say was that they resembled transparent panes of jeweled glass, shaped like graceful curves, laid overlapping on one another. When the colors were strident, as the red and gold of Draco’s crazier patients tended to be, the effect was blinding.

But Harry’s soul was the brilliant blue of an ocean surface near sunrise, and behind that glowed the gentle green shade of moss in a noontide forest. Blue and green, they rippled away into the distance, with only a touch of red and gold or black and purple here and there, small chips nearly lost in the great springtime cathedral.

Draco knew he would not be able to stay long. For one thing, there was no obvious source of the problem to focus on; for another, his own soul hurt with the sight of this overwhelming glory. He would have to grow used to it over repeated Dives.

He was already hungry for his next journey back, though. If Harry’s soul was so perfect on the surface, what lay beneath?

He began to swim.

*

Harry was concentrating so hard on pushing Malfoy out of his soul that he nearly didn’t sense the other flicker of motion in his mind, sliding like a long, lean snake down the path Malfoy had taken. He flared his eyes open, certain for a moment that a second Psyche-Diver had entered his room, but all he saw was Malfoy sitting in his chair and staring at him like a blank-faced doll, which was quite unnerving enough.

And then he realized what it must be. The Cassandra Curse prevented someone else from reading the truth even in his less extreme gestures. Surely it would act to prevent someone else from reading the truth in his soul, too; it had merely never had to reach so far before.

Harry fell back on his bed with a loud sigh of relief. Malfoy hadn’t proven any more immune to the curse than Ron and Hermione, yet.

It would be all right. He would survive unscathed, unnoticed.

And, with Malfoy so far from the surface of his mind, he could plan his escape from St. Mungo’s without Malfoy reading his thoughts.

He smiled, and half-closed his eyes, thinking of the few times he’d visited the fourth floor on his own, and what the staircases looked like that led from the Nereus Norby Ward to the place where they held his wand.

Chapter Text

Draco swam on across blue expanses and green ones, the colors varying only slightly, as though, once Harry had decided on these hues for his soul, he didn’t ever want to choose others.

Draco shook his head slightly. He was being nonsensical; he knew that no one really chose the colors of his soul. But he had expected to find signs of irrationality before now. Why else would someone lie to his friends for a year and then try to kill himself, but because he was insane? No other explanation made sense.

He halted for a moment, thinking. Of course, Harry could resemble a witch he’d treated a few months ago, who had not only become convinced that she was persecuted by invisible enemies, but also that they’d planted monitoring devices in her very soul. She’d turned her irrationality inside out, making it nearly invisible, along with attempting to think different thoughts than what really occupied her head so as to fool anyone who might be reading her mind. It had been a tangled and difficult case, but once Draco figured out what she had done, he’d spotted the turtle-shaped dome in the core of her soul and worked his way in through a chink.

He looked around now for a sign of a similar dome in Harry, but couldn’t spot it. Of course, he was not yet near the core. Perhaps he should head in that direction.

He closed his eyes, to shut out the beauty that was distracting him, and cocked his head. Yes, a faint vibration came from the direction that, for the sake of convenience, he was choosing to call left. He paddled towards it, only opening his eyes now and then, to make sure he wasn’t passing a jagged flaw that could be the source of Harry’s insanity.

*

Harry shifted uneasily on the bed. He had tried to make his plans and ignore Malfoy’s motionless body as much as possible, but it was getting hard. For one thing, he had no idea if the curse had managed to stop Malfoy or not. Would he open his eyes and exclaim in disgust over the state of Harry’s soul if it had? Maybe, but maybe he would also keep swimming, battling against the current of foulness. He was stubborn that way.

But there was something else than the passage of time which irritated his mind until it felt as if soap had been rubbed against his thoughts. He didn’t like Malfoy being—well, in him like that. He wouldn’t see anything real, not with the curse coiling around Harry’s secrets like a guardian snake, but he might see other things. Even if they were foul and distorted beyond recognition, they were his. Harry hadn’t invited Ron or Hermione into his soul. He hardly saw why the first intruder should be someone he’d hated for sixteen years.

He—

Harry blinked and frowned at the ceiling, playing for anyone who happened to peer through the window and watch him.

He had never thought about it before, but at some point his determination to depend on himself had changed. He now sincerely hoped that someone else didn’t discover the truth in time to stop him before he fled the wizarding world.

His frown deepened as he wondered whether this could be the Cassandra Curse influencing him, in turn. He didn’t think so, but then, would he really know? None of the books he’d managed to read said that it could change the victim’s own perceptions about himself, but then, most of the books agreed that it was a legend.

Think about this too much and you really will go mad, he told himself. You’ve been so alone, the only one in the world who believes your version of events. Start thinking that other people have a point or are right about you, and you’ll start disbelieving in the existence of the curse next.

Harry wiped a hand across his mouth. No, he would accept this new thought as real and coming from himself.

What did it mean, that he didn’t want anyone else to find out?

Harry gave an impatient shrug. Just that I’m tired of living like this, and the one concrete step I can take to better affairs is to flee. No one managed to help me in all the months before; no one should try to “help” me now, and only end up hindering my recovery. I don’t need Malfoy or anyone else who thinks this is a good idea. I don’t want help.

Really, he thought, as his heartbeat slowed down, he was only living with reality. There was no way to break the curse without identifying the caster, and the books he’d consulted said that the caster could have used the spell anywhere up to twelve hours before Harry felt the first effects. He’d been in the Ministry then, surrounded by nearly a thousand witches and wizards. He would never know.

Far better to concentrate on rescuing himself, instead of brooding about what would follow if the impossible should happen.

He didn’t want to be helped.

He held up a map of St. Mungo’s in front of his mind’s eye instead, and forced himself to concentrate on it.

*

Draco shivered as he flowed over one blue arc. He was nearly to the core, now, and he should be able to see in moments if Harry had indeed protected his insanity with a clear cover of sanity and reason.

Except—

He couldn’t see the core.

Draco halted, staring. He’d never faced anything like what confronted him now. A brooding darkness, shaped like a hurricane, it whipped searching arms out along the blue-green jeweled windows and then drew them back again. It breathed. Draco had no idea what part of Harry’s mental defenses could have produced it.

He also had no idea how to get through it.

He aimed his wand at the thing, and the black tendrils promptly aimed at him. He lowered his wand and moved away, and they went back to ignoring him, though Draco trusted the sensation about as much as he would have trusted the dozing of a crocodile. No, it knew who and where he was. The only thing he might be certain of was that it would hold off on attacking him if he held off on attacking it.

He swam in a slow circle around the edge, then tried to dive beneath it. It didn’t work. The core of Harry’s soul, as with every other soul Draco had visited, sat like a jeweled egg in a place where the planes of glassy colors bent together. Eventually, the arcs across which one could travel thinned, and any nearer would bring him within reach of the dark thing’s outer edges. Draco hovered, and thought some more.

Possibly the madness had sunken so deep into Harry’s mind that he was denying it, not to outside observers, as the paranoid witch had done, but to himself. He would rather think himself evil than insane.

But Draco did not like the theory. It did not fit with the way Harry had acted since he came to St. Mungo’s. Sarcastic, yes; cynical, yes. And there was something about him that effortlessly irritated Draco, as there always had been. But he had not been violent, and Draco still could not picture him committing an evil act simply to revel in it.

No, something else had happened here, something new in his entire experience as a Psyche-Diver.

And he did not yet know what it was.

Perhaps he should return to the surface and ask Harry. He would get only lies in return, but he could still watch his face and his gestures for clues. He could not conceal himself in everything, not from one so skilled in interpretation, and especially Potter-interpretation, as Draco was.

He cast Finite Incantantem, and rose.

*

Harry felt a spasm of pure relief when the motionless Malfoy across from him twitched and then resumed its life. He watched with narrowed eyes for a moment as the other man jerked and put a hand to his forehead, but there was no comprehension in the pale eyes that peered at him a moment later. If anything, Harry thought, the dislike had increased.

I’m safe. He can’t hold anything over me.

“Rather an interesting expedition, Potter,” Malfoy said coolly. “There is less wrong with your soul than I would have suspected, given the condition of your behavior.” For long moments, he twirled his wand through his fingers, and Harry wondered what emotions that signified. Then he told himself it didn’t matter. Malfoy was being paid—quite a hefty sum from Hermione, if he had understood the paperwork correctly—to understand him, not the other way around.

Harry just sat on the bed and stared at him. He didn’t feel like talking. Malfoy would interpret the expression of relief on his face viciously, anyway. The curse had already flickered darkly around his temples.

“Do you know what a soul looks like?” Malfoy asked a moment later, his tone gone warmer, almost conversational.

A Slytherin trick. Harry shook his head.

A faint frown marred Malfoy’s forehead at that; he was probably trying to determine how Harry could possibly know anything about the area of his own expertise. It smoothed out a moment later, though. If Harry knew the operations of the curse, Malfoy had managed to interpret the headshake as not a deceptive denial of knowledge but a simple refusal to care about what he said.

“Listen to me, then, Potter,” Malfoy said, and his voice had acquired more of the warmth. Does he really think I’ll be charmed into listening to him, when I know him so well? Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing. “They’re gorgeous.”

Harry bit his lip again, this time to keep from laughing at Malfoy’s choice of adjective. He really was a ponce.

The git didn’t seem to notice, or else decided to ignore it. He leaned back in his chair and directed his own gaze at the ceiling. The wand had stopped spinning through his fingers and now simply rested on one knee, since he had crossed his legs as if that would conceal his impatience. Harry waited, rasping his fingers through the bed linens in a rhythm he knew would become sharply annoying in a few moments.

“They’re beautiful,” Malfoy whispered, and Harry might have interrupted to complain that he was repeating himself, but Malfoy’s voice had already surged on, crushing any possible interjection like an ocean wave washing over a rock. “They resemble stained glass windows more than anything else. The colors are radiant, as if lit from behind by full sunlight. They’re everywhere around you, except the very small space in the middle, where you create a void that preserves your own sanity. And yet…the temptation is there to give in and join with the other person’s soul, even though you would cease to exist in any recognizable form. So beautiful, Potter. It seems wrong to be apart from it, the way it seems wrong to be indoors on a morning when the sun is just rising.”

Malfoy goes for sunrise walks? Harry had always pictured him as the type who stayed indoors as much as possible, shuddering when someone else mentioned insects, and calling for house-elves the moment a visitor departed, so that they might get rid of the stray dust and lint the other wizard’s robes had collected.

The prat was still speaking, and Harry reluctantly found himself drawn in. It was so long since anyone had talked to or in front of him like this, obviously unconcerned with what lies he might tell next, involved in their own rapture of experience. And this was something he understood better than he’d ever understood Hermione’s flights of fancy when she spoke about her research.

“Your soul is like an ocean. Blue and green, but it never gets darker; it’s all surface everywhere, and purest, most brilliant day.” Malfoy looked at him suddenly, and Harry blinked, taken aback. The expression on his rival’s face was—well, almost fond. “There are flaws, of course, as with everyone, but far fewer than I would have expected of someone like you. Small chips of gold and red and black and purple, that’s all.” He leaned forwards in the chair, and it had been so long since anyone had done this that Harry didn’t have a chance to react before Malfoy’s hand brushed his cheek.

Oh, God, it felt warm. The people who had touched him in the last year had done it to compel or hurt. This was gentle. Harry closed his eyes and shivered, fighting the temptation to turn and lean desperately against that palm. For just a moment, he wanted to talk, to tell Malfoy the truth openly and fully, in the desperate hope that he would understand.

And then he remembered exactly who the fingers sliding down to cup his jaw belonged to—the one person who wouldn’t have cared what he had to say even if his words could somehow make it through the curse.

He clenched his teeth and would have drawn away, but Malfoy had hold of his chin now, and was turning his face back and forth. Harry was ashamed to admit how much he needed the contact, but he did.

A second, or a few. He would wait just a few seconds more, and then he would draw away. It didn’t matter if he felt good. He had resigned himself to going down his road alone, and the curse made it necessary. He’d resume his tough mask and be the lone adventurer again.

In a few seconds.

*

Draco hadn’t expected his talking to Potter like this to work. Hardly anyone who hadn’t been in a soul was capable of understanding what a Psyche-Diver saw. More, hardly anyone cared. Some people were reluctantly fascinated by the pictures of their own souls, but they didn’t want to think about what their flaws meant, and even when they were sane enough to understand him, they arranged to “forget” what he’d told them.

But Potter had listened with his eyes opening wider, and when Draco had given in to his mingling of curiosity and appreciation for the man who contained such colors and reached out, he permitted the touch. Now he was turning his head back and forth slowly, his eyes shut, his breathing shallow, brushing as much of his skin as he could against Draco’s fingers.

Draco found his own breath quickening, though not quite to the pace of Potter’s. Potter wasn’t the most beautiful wizard he’d ever seen—that honor still belonged to Blaise Zabini—but with his eyes closed and his mouth tightened as though in pain, his neck arched in absolute surrender and his voice emerging only in small desperate whimpers, he was a temptation Draco didn’t think he could resist.

He brought his other hand into play, sliding it up and around Potter’s head into the hair at the back of his neck, just so that he could feel what the curls there were like.

For a moment, Potter froze at the sensation. Then he shivered. Then a sound that Draco would swear up and down was a moan emerged from his lips, and it seemed as if he would permit his head to loll back bonelessly and let the full weight of it rest in Draco’s hands. Draco surprised himself with how fiercely he wanted that to happen.

And then Potter seemed to remember their respective positions.

He jerked like a slug sprinkled with salt, and ripped his head out of Draco’s grasp with a speed that made Draco’s fingers sting. Moments later, he was sitting on the far edge of the bed, face closed, mouth worked up into a sneer.

But in the moments between, he’d worn the same expression of desperate loneliness Draco had spied through the window when his friends left.

Draco licked dry lips. His curiosity had increased again, to a physical ache like hunger. He wanted in. He wanted to know what Potter was feeling. He wanted to see Potter relax around him, even if it was unwillingly and simply because of the knowledge that he had nothing important left to hide from Draco.

Of course, the next words he spoke were another lie.

“I don’t want you to touch me like that again, Malfoy.”

Draco simply raised an eyebrow, and let the silence speak for him.

*

Harry’s skin still rippled with prickles of burning cold, and it clamored against his declaration. Yes, his body wanted that touch again. His body wanted any touch. He’d started dreaming about hugs and handclasps and the friendly kisses on the cheek that Hermione used to give him, and lovemaking had assumed almost sacred proportions in his mind since the last year.

But his mind made the words he spoke simple truth. He couldn’t afford to start thinking, like a complete idiot, that Malfoy had somehow done a turnaround and liked him now, just because he liked the colors of his soul. And he felt furious at the thought that he might let the prat manipulate him just for a minute or so of simple physical contact.

Malfoy seemed to think the silence he was letting repose between them now significant, and he went on staring into Harry’s eyes, trying to compel him to—some admission. Harry wouldn’t let it happen. He reached for cruel truths, which the curse would make Malfoy think were equally cruel lies.

“I’ve never thought about you once since Hogwarts, do you know that? If I was reminded of your existence, I would probably have said, ‘Oh, yes, that nasty ferret who let the Death Eaters into the school and nearly caused the deaths of three innocent people, how is he doing these days?’ I won’t think of you as anything else, it doesn’t matter what you do. You can tell me how beautiful my soul is, but that doesn’t mean I’ll change anything about myself for you. Your efforts to establish a bond, or whatever you’re doing, are doomed to failure.”

A high flush rose up Malfoy’s cheeks, and Harry clenched one hand in the bedclothes behind him in hope. When he was irritated, Malfoy didn’t think. The Cassandra Curse must not have distorted his soul in quite the way Harry wished it would, but poke Malfoy enough and he could make him forget about that.

*

Draco took several deep breaths. This was Harry Potter, and his scorn cut deeper than the scorn of the average wizard in the street would have, as always. Draco didn’t care what his colleagues thought of him. He’d spent the last five years building a career in defiance of all those who had hated him and didn’t want to see him succeed.

But he had a right to a place in Potter’s mind. He’d thought about him perforce, what with all those Daily Prophet articles to remind him, and the constant trumpeting of his name every time the anniversary of the Dark Lord’s defeat came around. It was only fair that Potter repay his regard. And he was lying, now, about how much he’d thought about Draco. It was probably constant.

Besides, the expression on his face when Draco touched him hadn’t been anything so uncomplicated as pleasure. It had been relief, relaxation, exaltation, as though Draco had come to release him from bondage. He’d probably longed for closer contact for years, but his pride had got in the way.

Draco reached out again now, towards Potter’s knee, simply to see what he would do.

Potter flinched, and slapped his hand away. Draco gave a thin, tight smile, even though his fingers stung again, and lowered his hand back to his side. Yes. Definitely fear.

“You do realize that I’m the only one here who has a say in what happens to you, Potter?” he asked. “On my word, they can release you or lock you up in the Janus Thickey ward for the rest of your life, where all the people are they couldn’t cure. Do you want to slap at me like a child, or are you going to cooperate like an adult?”

Potter snorted. “You won’t have a say what happens to me in the end, Malfoy. I’ve made plans that don’t include you.”

He’s afraid, and that’s a mask for bravado. Draco stood, never looking away from him. “There’s a darkness in the center of your soul, Potter, covering the core,” he said. “I wasn’t able to break it open today, but I will eventually. You would save yourself a lot of pain and trouble if you gave up now and told me what I wanted to know.”

“I already have,” said Potter, and now there was a glint of amusement in his eyes, damn him. “It’s not my fault you didn’t listen.”

Draco didn’t think he could spend another moment around him. He turned and glided to the door, stepping through it without a word. Then he went back to the office and placed his memories of Potter’s soul and the darkness there into a Pensieve, so he could study the hurricane for weaknesses he might have missed.

The hunger-like curiosity hadn’t gone away.

He was going to solve this. And it didn’t matter how long it took him. Potter would be his in the end, all his secrets known, all his peculiarities explained.

*

Harry took several deep breaths when Malfoy had left, and rubbed the bandages on his wrists. His thoughts were whirling, but he had finally managed to tame them into something like a semblance of order.

Fine. Malfoy was dangerous to him, more dangerous than he had initially suspected. He could cause reactions Harry had not been prepared for, and might enlist Harry’s desperation for touch—which was simply biological, and which he couldn’t ignore in the way he could ignore his loneliness—against him. Harry didn’t intend to slow down or hesitate against him, but he might do it anyway.

Step up his plans, then. Escape from St. Mungo’s as soon as possible. He already understood the wards.

He needed his wand.

Of course, fetching it too early would cause a massive fuss and an intense search of his rooms, and once he had it, he might as well leave. Besides, if he went for it too soon, he would probably grow careless.

But there was no reason not to conduct a test.

Harry nodded grimly. He would leave his rooms tomorrow night, as a test of the wards and his own ability to move around the hospital unnoticed, scout out the traps and alarms on the floors that separated the Nereus Norby ward from the entrance, and then return to his cell. A few days after that, he should be able to leave completely.

He couldn’t wait.

I really hate Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Draco gave a gusty sigh and pushed his fingers into the creases at the corners of his eyes, massaging gently. He knew the signs of impending headache from studying too hard—he had experienced it often enough while cooped up in Spinner’s End with nothing to do but read—and he knew he would have to end another afternoon of trying to find the solution to Potter’s neurosis.

It had been more than a day since he’d talked to the wanker. Perhaps leaving him alone and letting him believe himself unwatched would encourage him to display some behavior that might give Draco a clue to his secret. But every time he’d passed the observation window and paused to look inside, no matter whether he timed his observations five minutes apart or fifty, all Potter did was sleep, or eat, or pick at the bandages on his wrists and stare at the ceiling with a frown.

Draco briefly considered leaving instructions with the mediwitches on duty that night to watch Potter carefully, but then dismissed the notion. There was no doubt they would watch Potter carefully anyway, since most of them disliked him. The ones who didn’t had said, often in Draco’s hearing, that he deserved whatever punishment he received for the way he had failed the wizarding world.

He did have to wonder if Laura, the mediwitch who had wanted to mistreat Potter, was the only one of her kind. Perhaps he would have to order special wards on Potter’s room soon, the kind that kept track of anyone who moved in and out. The Healers would likely refuse a request for anything more than that until and unless Potter was hurt, but at least such specialized wards would give them a list of suspects.

Draco shook his head and snorted softly as he gathered up the books on suicidal behavior he’d been studying, to take home and read there. Who would have thought he would not only be acting as Psyche-Diver to Potter, but trying to protect him from bodily harm as well?

If I don’t, I doubt anyone will. He’s made his friends bugger off, too.

In defiance of his own instincts, he stopped at Potter’s observation window one more time and stared in at him. Something must have changed. He remembered Potter as so restless in school that he could hardly sit through five minutes of Potions class without fidgeting. He would be going mad in confinement like this.

If he is not mad already, of course.

But Potter lay on his side, his face turned into the pillow, his breathing loud and deep. Draco frowned. That breathing made it sound as if Potter were feigning, but it told Draco nothing concrete about why he wanted to, any more than the numerous small signs of something wrong had added up to a larger picture as yet.

Draco closed his eyes and shook his head. He would reason better once he’d been home for a time, and taken off his formal robes, and spent some hours thinking about anything that was not Harry bloody Potter.

*

Harry sighed into his pillow. He didn’t want to move. It was almost comforting to lie in bed, knowing that on the morrow he would rise and see Malfoy or perhaps his friends, and that they would fail to understand him as always, and that nothing would change. Temptation nibbled at him in the form of letting Malfoy give up on him and put him in the Janus Thickey ward. People would still dislike him, but that was nothing new. And at least he would have food and shelter there, and he could remain in the wizarding world, instead of fleeing to the Muggle one.

But then he growled. No, that was the same sort of temptation as the one that had told him, when he was preparing his plan to leave the Ministry, to simply use the Killing Curse on himself in a quiet place so he wouldn’t bother waking up. Whoever cast the Cassandra Curse on him had probably wanted him to give up on life. And Harry wouldn’t.

He would survive. And though he was saddened that his friends couldn’t play the role in his life anymore that they used to, he would adapt to that along with everything else. He would live, and escape, and become someone other than Harry Potter.

And now, he had to take a risk. Though it was past midnight and the likelihood of someone glancing in on him through the invisible window was small, it was still a possibility. He couldn’t tell. He would just have to hope that no one was at the moment.

He closed his eyes and tapped deep into his wandless magic, the force that had sometimes carried him up to fleeing suspects faster than human legs could move, and which had Apparated him uncontrollably away from a rogue werewolf the Ministry assigned him to chase moments before it charged him. He’d spent the last few days eating full meals and resting. If there was any time his wandless power should be at full strength, it was now.

Harry pictured the wards on the door, the tangled knot, dissolving in the same way that the wards on the doors of Azkaban did when he escorted a prisoner there. They should part seamlessly, leaving no traces of themselves behind and triggering no alarm to warn anyone in St. Mungo’s bound to them. He envisioned the exact sequence of the knot melting and parting, again and again, until his magic stirred in him like a lazy snake and sweat stood out on his forehead.

Open,” he whispered, again and again, not worried if someone watching through the window heard him muttering it. After all, one couldn’t perform magic simply by wishing it.

If one were a normal wizard, at least, and even for Harry, it was a struggle—like trying to lift an enormous rock with one hand. He drove his teeth into his tongue and panted, then bit down at the same moment as he drove his magic forwards.

The effort ripped a moan from him that he muffled in the pillow, but it worked. Harry felt the sudden absence of a tingling power in the air that he’d almost come to take for granted. The wards on the door had parted, and he was free to move.

He stood, concentrating on the image of the separated wards all the while to hold them while he slipped towards the door. He opened it cautiously, despite his strained magic shrieking at him to hurry. No alarms sounded, and no mediwitch stood on the other side with her hand uplifted to point accusingly at him.

With a harsh breath of relief, he stepped into the corridor, and relaxed the grip of his mind and magic. The wards snapped back together. Harry turned to stare at them critically, and noticed the red and gold colors ricocheting back and forth through each other. After a moment, however, they settled again. It would take a long, hard glance and a deep familiarity with ward magic for any onlooker to know they had been altered.

Harry glanced down at his clothes. He still wore the robes he’d been brought to St. Mungo’s in, since he’d steadfastly refused to change into the hospital pyjamas they’d tried to give him, and none of the mediwizards liked him well enough to coax him into changing. He licked his lips, wincing as his bitten tongue throbbed, and then concentrated on his magic once more.

It would be exhausting to keep a Disillusionment Charm on himself as he traveled up and down the stairs, but there was simpler magic he could use. Thinking intently of clean clothes, he whispered, “Scourgify.”

The magic washed reluctantly over him this time, a cold feeling just as pervasive as the Disillusionment Charm would have been, but with a far different effect. The wrinkles in his robes smoothed out, the dirty feeling vanished from his hair—leaving his scalp stinging with the effects of the spell—and a small shower of dust and lint fell away from him and cascaded to his feet. Harry began to stride down the corridor towards the stairs, making sure to keep his head bowed a little, as if he were in the throes of grief.

Auror robes and concealing his scar might be enough to keep him safe until he could reach the first floor and look over the defenses of the hospital. He would just have to hope that the mediwizards and Healers who might be on night duty would notice the clothes first and not think of looking into his face.

Of course it was risky. But Harry had no better ideas.

He reached the third floor and glanced around. He could make out the same gleaming red-gold knots of wards on the patients’ rooms, but on the walls was a long, thin strand of magic that made him narrow his eyes. He moved towards it, staring up.

It was bright blue, and looped down to touch each door in turn. Now and then it pulsed as if it were a vein bulging with traveling blood. Harry shook his head in bewilderment. He hadn’t seen anything like it before, and wasn’t sure what it did. For all he knew, it took a photograph of each person who paused to study it and sent it directly to the Healers.

He controlled the impulse to touch it. No matter what his Gryffindor instincts said, sometimes it was best not to poke something unknown and dangerous.

Holding his breath, he passed beneath it as he made his way towards the stairs on the far side, studying the wards all the way to make sure that none of them varied from the general pattern. The thin blue line continued to pulse above him, but did nothing else. Harry began to relax slightly.

Then he heard the sound of footfalls from down the corridor, coming towards him.

Harry stiffened and lifted his head. Here comes the first test.

*

A good dinner, a half-hour of soft, soothing music from the Melodious Network on Wizarding Wireless, and comfortable silk robes had helped Draco’s body immensely, but done nothing for his mind. He still lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling while notes of the “Giants’ Concerto” floated into his ears, and pondered the problem of Potter.

At least he could do it without a headache now.

Too many fractured, jumbled pieces. A truly suicidal man should have tried again to kill himself by now—unless he was waiting to lull everyone into relaxing around him, but, from Draco’s observations, a truly suicidal man would not have been able to maintain Potter’s calm. And he would have been more placating towards his Psyche-Diver, too, wanting to be seen as the model patient. Potter had replied to him with sarcasm and cynicism.

Potter’s symptoms didn’t fit with most of the irrationality Draco had studied. He reported no hallucinations, seemed to understand cause and effect, showed insight and empathy into others’ behavior, and had submitted to Draco’s touch—which a paranoiac could not have permitted himself to. Even though he still continued lying and had tried to end his life, Draco might almost have been moved to declare him sane.

It would almost make sense if what Potter had said about the Cassandra Curse was true.

Draco shifted uneasily, and scoffed at himself. He would be thinking that leprechaun gold lasted more than one day next.

There was only one tactic that had brought Potter out of his tight defensive shell for even a moment, and that was speaking to him as if he were a friend and touching him gently. Potter was starved for contact. Coax him along that way, Draco suspected, and he would respond because he wouldn’t able to help himself.

It went against his principles as a Psyche-Diver to do so. He worked by domination and control, merciless refusal to let the patient deny the reality outside his own head.

But this time, since even Potter’s soul defied him

He might try gentleness tomorrow, he supposed. For a few minutes, at least.

*

The Healer who came into sight was an older man, with a halo of silver hair around his head, and a long sheaf of parchment in his hand. He was consulting it as he walked, now and then glancing up at the thin blue line on the wall and shaking his head as if it worried him. Harry walked past him with a strong stride, only offering a half-nod when the Healer glanced towards him.

His fists clenched. He didn’t dare use any more magic now; he would need all the power he had remaining to open the wards on his door when he returned. If the Healer saw his scar and called for help, Harry would need to subdue him with his bare hands.

But the Healer, like most people, saw the Auror robes, assumed a patient couldn’t possibly be wearing them, and simply toddled on, with a half-nod of his own back. Harry could hear him muttering something that sounded like, “can’t even keep their own records.”

He nearly collapsed in relief when he came to the head of the stairs and heard no sudden shouts of realization after him. So far, he had escaped.

So far.

He went carefully down the stairs, muscles tensed, ready at any moment for a ward to cross him and erupt in noise or a violent vibration of color that would alert anyone concerned that someone was out of his room who shouldn’t be. Or would he hear or see the ward at all? Perhaps it only rang for Healers—

Harry cut that chain of thought off. It wasn’t doing him any good. He settled onto the second floor, and glanced about carefully.

No other, unusual wards, and no thin blue line, either. Harry licked his lips. It seemed impossible that St. Mungo’s would be so careless with its security. After all, some of the patients were violent, and Harry himself had seen the criminals he caught imprisoned in rooms that were little better than cells.

Deciding that this was another risk he had to run, he walked away from the stairs and to the first observation window he saw. Carefully, he arranged himself next to it and peered in at the woman who lay in the bed, her head swollen to twice the normal size.

After long moments of study, he realized that the air around her shimmered oddly, with odd pearly undertones that might just be reflections of light off the white sheets—and then again, might not. The undertones adjusted themselves any time the woman shifted or muttered to herself, and when she rolled onto her side in a useless search for a comfortable place to sleep, Harry could actually see the whole of the glittering cocoon before it spun, settled into place, and then went nearly invisible again.

That’s how they do it, then. Wards on the doors, but also wards on the patients themselves. No wonder I’m not being detected; the majority of the spells here are oriented towards one individual only, and don’t concern themselves with me.

Harry snorted lightly as he wondered what wards were on him. Almost certainly some spells that would warn the Healers if he had suicidal thoughts or made violent moves towards his person again. It was just too bad for them that he really hadn’t had the desire to kill himself.

He walked the length of the second floor, satisfying himself that nothing here could hurt him, and then prepared to go to the first floor.

*

Draco lay on the bed, holding his temples. He once more had a headache, and his eyes burned from long peering into a Pensieve. Silently, he asked himself if this aggravation was worth it. Usually, he left work at the office. It was just a patient, after all—just Potter.

But he also felt he was on the brink of a revelation, and given his quest to understand Potter’s mad behavior, that was nothing to sneer at.

He dropped his hands to his sides, since massaging his head wasn’t helping, and focused his mind once again on what he’d learned from surveying his memories of his conversations with Potter.

It was at least possible that the statements could be the truth, despite the mocking tone behind most of them. Or truths of a sort, Draco amended silently to himself, since he was not yet willing to entertain the idea that Potter had been only pretending to lie all along and had managed to make a fool of him.

And the Cassandra Curse would explain—

“The Cassandra Curse would explain nothing,” Draco said aloud, frowning at the ceiling, “because the Cassandra Curse does not exist.”

But it was easier to think about it, here, away from Potter and his infuriating tendency to make Draco’s head spin with anger. If it did exist, it would explain a great deal. But then, if it were possible to drink unicorn blood without being cursed, that would explain some of the miracles that had happened in the wizarding world in ancient times, too. Draco couldn’t throw out reason and sanity simply because one of his subjects had a delusion that things must be different. He would never get any work done if he did.

If it had happened—

Say something like it had happened. That wasn’t impossible. And say that Potter sincerely believed himself to be under it.

Draco’s eyes opened wider. That could be true. Perhaps someone had suggested the Cassandra Curse to Potter, and in his madness he’d latched onto it and started acting as if he were under it. That could explain everything, from the darkness at the center of his soul—he was preventing himself or anyone else from accessing the truth, just as Draco had thought he would—to his lies. He could tell the truth, if he wished, in the sense of retaining the ability, but he had convinced himself that he couldn’t. And of course he reacted snappishly to everyone else, because to him, he was the only clear-sighted one in a world of people under the spell.

Draco smiled. He knew the smile was thin and vicious, and he did not care. I’ve got you, Potter. I just need to undermine that stubborn conviction, and I can heal you.

But given Potter’s magic and the whirlwind defense he’d constructed, which continued to resemble nothing else Draco had ever seen, his usual method of digging into another’s soul and dominating it would be dangerous for the both of them. Potter might rip Draco’s mind apart in throwing him away.

And what pain would it cause him to have his whirlwind defense breached, when he’d put so much of his magic into it?

Draco sighed. This was making more and more sense; it would explain why Potter was resting so much since he’d been brought to St. Mungo’s. He had used his magic to hide the truth away from himself as soon as he realized what a Psyche-Diver did and what one of them might see, so his body had been weakened by the sudden stress.

But it all led back to the same conclusion.

His best chance was to persuade Potter to take down the barrier himself.

His best choice was still gentleness.

Draco folded his arms behind his head and scowled. His headache had finally started to subside. Trust Potter to change all the rules to suit himself.

*

The moment he stepped onto the first floor, Harry’s head swung. He licked his lips. Since the destruction of Voldemort and its brother wand—which Harry had snapped over his knee—he could sense his own wand of holly and phoenix feather at a much greater distance. And he could sense it now, radiating its magic from the direction of the far end of the corridor.

Of course, there were wards crawling on the walls and even the floors here, and certainly someone would be guarding the wands. He would have to be careful.

He ducked his head again, slid his hands into his robe pockets, and wandered down the corridor, doing his best to look like a visitor who’d just lost a best friend to disease. He slowed as he heard voices, and glanced out of the corner of his eye at the large desk that stood catty-corner to the entrance doors. They had changed some things since the last time he’d been here; for one thing, wands had once been kept on the ground floor.

Now they floated, suspended in blue light, in the middle of a large bone-white cage behind the desk. A handsome but iron-faced woman sat in front of the cage, talking with a witch appearing so bereaved that Harry guessed she’d lost a child. The only person he’d seen look remotely like that was Molly Weasley, when Charlie died in the war.

He slouched along the wall and stared at his feet, now and then looking up at the wands when he was sure their guardian was fully involved in her conversation with the grieving witch. There was his wand, circling among the others like an innocent memo in the Ministry of Magic. His mouth watered, and his fingers flexed. His yearning was so strong that he thought he might be able to call the wand to him, exhausted magic or no exhausted magic.

But then he let out a little breath, and shook his head. No more risks than necessary. He would take gambles when he had to, but he wouldn’t be careless and mess this up. He had only one chance to escape, really, and that would come while they were still unsuspicious of him wanting to escape at all.

And once he ran, he would never return to the wizarding world. Right now, his nerves were still jangling from the mere proximity of other people. The witches might turn around at any moment, feel the inherent dislike that the Cassandra Curse seemed to inspire, and accuse him of plotting murder.

He turned and walked towards the stairs, trying to mimic the pace of someone who had problems but had virtuously resolved to tackle them. He took the stairs all the way back up to the fourth floor this time, and was huffing slightly by the time he reached the top. Luckily, he didn’t meet anyone on the way.

In front of his door, he thought for a moment that his exhausted magic wouldn’t be able to open the wards, and panic surged through him. But strong emotion of any kind was fuel for the fire, and the knot reluctantly creaked open a moment later.

Harry glided through the door, shut it tightly behind him, and flopped down on the bed with a sigh. Perhaps someone had seen him missing and was even now reporting him; Harry hadn’t had the power to spare to leave a glamour of himself here. But he didn’t think so. He thought he had managed to get away with it.

And in a few days, he would get away with it completely. He would escape.

He closed his eyes and shivered, feeling for a moment as he had when preparing to cut his wrists. This was the brink of change. Once he fled the wizarding world, he would never come back.

Tension caught him along the edges of his eyes, and he wanted to weep. But then he shook his head, listening to the soft rustle of his hair against the pillow. He should get used to the sound, he thought. He would hear it for the rest of his life, since he highly doubted that he would convince anyone to become his lover. And he didn’t want one, now that he’d lost Ginny as a fiancée.

It hurt. But he had already made his decision, and it was rather late to go back on it now.

He would bear whatever came. He would live specifically because he thought the caster of the curse would not have wanted him to. And no one would stop him from doing that.

Not his friends, who honestly thought they were acting in his best interests.

Not the caster of the curse, who by now probably couldn’t even remember the level of hatred and hostility that had permitted him to throw the spell.

And certainly not bloody Draco Malfoy, who wanted Harry to think of all the things he had already determined not to think of.

Harry gave a grim smile, and wondered what someone watching through the observation window would think of it. They would deem it fiendish and write that he needed watching, probably.

Watch me all you like. I’m still going to slip past you—

Three nights from now.

Yes, that should work.

Chapter Text

Draco paused outside the observation window, watching Potter, just to see if something had changed. But Potter once again lay in the grip of sleep, as if he were entirely innocent of all the fuss that had built up around him. Draco rolled his eyes. I wonder if he thinks that he has to lie even with his body.

He strode to the door and opened it. He had not sent a mediwitch ahead of him to tell Potter he’d see him this morning, because he didn’t want the git to have warning and he didn’t want the mediwitches to have something to gossip about.

The moment the wards parted, Potter rolled over to face the door, and his eyes flared open wide. His hand tensed, and Draco thought he was keeping himself from making a sudden movement that would probably alert half-a-dozen Healers and make them think he’d tried to commit suicide again. Then he let out an enormous whoof of breath, as though Draco had collapsed on his chest instead of merely walking into the room, and sat up, running his fingers through his indecently tangled hair and yawning now and then.

“What do you want, Malfoy?” he murmured, in a voice that said he knew it wouldn’t be anything interesting but he was willing to put up with it because he had no choice.

Draco felt himself starting to bristle, and took a deep breath of his own to calm down. Control. Calm. Gentleness. Even if he hadn’t planned on the latter two, at least for now, he would want to have the first. It was unfair that Potter could cause him to lose his composure so easily, but that only underlined, not excused, the necessity of keeping it.

“To talk to you, Potter,” he said quietly. “Just to talk.”

Potter only nodded. Probably he didn’t notice the difference in the tone of voice and believed Draco would conduct an interrogation like their last two sessions. He sat up on the bed and motioned Draco towards one of the chairs in front of it. He hid another yawn with the back of his hand, then licked his lips with large sloppy sounds and rubbed his eyes, causing a small rain of yellow sleep particles. Draco’s lip curled. Has no one ever taught him manners, or the meaning of cleanliness?

But then he reminded himself that Potter’s gestures were calculated to produce this effect, and he couldn’t fall victim to it. He never should have fallen victim to it in the first place.

Potter is a practiced actor, he reminded himself then, and sat down in the chair with some semblance of a smile on his lips. Of course, that made Potter draw back and regard him as if he were a snake. Draco found the expression heartening.

“Just to talk,” he repeated. “There won’t be any Psyche-Diving this time, and if you don’t feel like answering a question, tell me.”

Potter’s hands clenched. Draco had no doubt that if the idiot had been allowed a wand, it would have been pointed straight at him.

Violent, isn’t he, Draco’s mind tried to warn him, but Draco had seen violence from Potter in school and managed to live through it. He shrugged the thought off and caught Potter’s gaze in an intense lock from which he showed no interest in escaping. His breathing had quickened, but Draco could not tell which emotion drove it, anger or fear.

He wanted to know. He wanted to know everything about Potter. It was intolerable that he’d been locked out of his mind and soul for so long.

“I believe I know what’s wrong with you,” he said.

Potter flinched, the way he had when he suddenly wakened from the spell caused by Draco’s touch last time. Draco frowned slightly. Is thinking himself alone and powerless against the world that important to him? He doesn’t want help?

But he probably didn’t. Potter had always liked being special, Draco thought. It had been visible in his actions all throughout school.

“You believe in the Cassandra Curse, whether or not it’s real,” Draco continued. “And that makes you behave the way you have. Telling lies. Rejecting every attempt by your friends to get through to you, because if the spell was real, they wouldn’t be able to.” He paused. Potter’s eyes had widened with what looked like true panic now.

“Potter,” he said, and then changed his mind. He would associate himself in Potter’s mind with the mediwitches and Healers if he kept using that name. He wanted something different. “Harry. Listen to me. This is exactly the kind of case Psyche-Divers were created to handle. I can help you. I can heal you. Let me do it. I know you can still understand my words, and I’ve never heard that a victim of the Cassandra Curse was unable to recognize truth when he heard it. Let me in.”

He rose from his chair and strode forwards, sliding his hands around Potter’s jaw and the back of his neck before he could object.

*

Shite! No!

Harry could feel hope cresting against his stubbornness, and now he had visions of an impossible future, where Malfoy helped him and made him able to stay in the wizarding world. He could have his friends back. Or at least he could have an ally to help him search out the caster of the curse and make him reverse it. He could have—

I can’t have any of that. I made my mind up, remember? Going back on that decision now won’t help anyone.

He jumped when Malfoy’s hands touched him, and that they made his skin break out into a thousand goose-pimples was not why. In moments, with a combination of ducking and rolling across the bed as if Malfoy were a dangerous suspect trying to strangle him, he was free. He turned his face to the wall and shuddered.

“Go away, Malfoy,” he said, and hated the fact that his voice broke in the middle. Was he really that close to being overcome, just from a simple touch? If so, he hated his body almost as violently as he had come to hate the curse. “I don’t need your help, I didn’t want it, and I didn’t request it. I tried to kill myself, remember? You should think that I want to die, and that I resent being brought back.”

He closed his eyes and hovered for a few minutes in the darkness with his heartbeat, hoping against hope that that would make the difference to Malfoy. The curse should make him hear ingratitude and the unattractive fear of a coward in the words.

Please, let him hear that. I can’t afford to trust him. And I’m such a weakling that I probably would try to trust him if he kept on.

*

Draco stared at Potter’s turned back, astonished. The words made him want to bridle. Potter had no clue about what was in his head, and here he was, trying to read Draco’s mind when it should be the other way around.

But, once again, his body language was speaking a different message than the words, as it had last time Draco touched him. Draco blinked, and blinked again. He had the feeling that he should be seeing different things, but he fought past the conviction, and did his best to see what was actually there.

Potter, turned in on himself like a turtle pulling all its legs into its shell, his shoulders shaking and his hands clenched. A frightened child, Draco thought. He was tempted to jeer—the sight was pathetic—but he clung to the mantra of control, calm, gentleness, and whispered, “I’ll think what I want to think, thank you very much.”

Then he slid onto the bed and took Potter into his arms.

*

Harry relaxed when he heard Malfoy’s words. I did put him off. Thank God. Of course, no one that arrogant likes being told what thoughts should be in his head—

And then he found himself in an embrace for the first time in far too long, and the warm, strong arms were drawing him back against a warm, strong chest, and Malfoy arranged his head so Harry could hear a heartbeat in his ears.

“I decided I’d rather do this instead,” Malfoy whispered into his ear, and then began to rub soothing circles in the middle of his back.

Harry froze. All his emotions threatened to overwhelm him at once, as if the rubbing hand were drawing them closer to the surface. Yes, it was his body that was making him react this way, and he could not stand it.

He didn’t need anyone any more. And Malfoy was not going to succeed where his friends had failed. That would be an insult to Ron and Hermione.

It occurred to Harry that his thinking was perhaps not of the clearest anymore, but who could blame him? He had to battle not only the curse that had isolated him for a year, but also the efforts of his greatest enemy, who had grasped an effective idea for once in his life—of course, at the time that it would be most inconvenient for Harry—and seemed intent on making him break down.

He dug his elbows into Malfoy’s sides.

*

Draco was a bit surprised at how much he enjoyed holding Potter. The loud gasps the other man gave were not attractive, and bits and pieces of his subconscious urged him to push Potter away. But at the same time, it was a pleasant thing to make him tremble in a rush of what could only be pleasure—Draco refused to listen to the impulses that tried to convince him it was something else—and see the way his eyes squinted shut, as if he were trying to deny that Draco could have a heart like anyone else.

It was pleasant until Potter stuck him in the ribs with his elbows, at least.

Draco gasped in surprise, and Potter started to wriggle away from him. But Draco had understood what the maneuver was for the moment Potter enacted it, and he wasn’t about to let his prey escape that easily. He flopped forwards instead of letting go, so that Potter fell down on the bed beneath him.

Draco was proud of his self-control, since now his impulses were urging him to give as good as he got, return pain for pain. But that had been what everyone who had known Potter in the past year had done, and they had all failed with him. Draco would win if it took effort that reduced every bone in his body to mush.

He rolled over onto his side, tucked his arms around Potter’s chest once more, and then drew him in so closely that they rested together like lovers, and Potter would have to hurt himself to break free.

“I still want to help you,” he whispered into Potter’s ear, and waited a moment to see how the git would react to that.

Well, that and to enjoy the weight and warmth of a fit body in his arms. Really, he was only human.

*

Harry had the idea that if he squeezed his eyes shut tightly enough, maybe the inner voice that urged him to listen to Malfoy would drain out his ears.

They were lying in a position Harry had only ever occupied with Ginny, and his skin was burning, and his heart was pulsing like a badly-beaten drum in his ears, and it was a physical effort to keep his arms up, folded in front of his chest like a barrier, and not stretch them around Malfoy. His stupid, primitive, backwards body didn’t care who was holding him like this, only that someone was.

I don’t want any help. I don’t need any help.

And still his memory sped, trying to immortalize every moment they lay this close together, in preparation for the years when Harry knew he would have no one at all.

God, he wanted to give in so badly, especially when Malfoy murmured the words, “I still want to help you” again, and his breath tickled Harry’s ear, and he felt the soppiest impulse to turn his head and rest his cheek against Malfoy’s.

He had to make Malfoy let go, he understood with sudden clarity. The longer they stayed like this, the closer he came to deciding that he should risk his entire plan and just charge in.

He didn’t think he could push Malfoy away without hurting him badly, though, and that was still against his morals. A few bruises in a tussle were one thing, but the Cassandra Curse had not succeeded in making him into a monster, disregarding every other life but his own, and he was damned if it would.

So it would have to be words.

He took a deep breath and prepared himself to speak.

*

Draco was discovering that, irritating as Potter was when he talked, he could be quite a good pillow when he shut his mouth and consented to lie still.

Quite a good one. Draco couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed himself this much outside of fucking and generally irritating people. The same pleasant sensations he guessed must be overwhelming Potter, if he gaped witlessly like that, made Draco grumble low in his chest and shift closer. If Potter would stop being an overdefensive idiot and embrace him back, it would have been even better. Draco’s shoulder blades were starting to get jealous of all the warmth his arms and chest were receiving.

Draco nuzzled his nose into Potter’s hair and sniffed. Nothing spectacular about the smell, but it was hot and close and human, and Draco had never objected to any of those. He wondered if he could coax Potter to hook their legs together. No harm in trying, perhaps. He moved a knee forwards and nudged at Potter’s stiffened limbs.

Who knew the soft-hearted idiots around him could have a good idea once in a while? If this was what persuasion led to, then Draco thought he should use it more often.

And then Potter spoke, and it was obvious that he’d filled his words with as much venom as he could.

“If you’re really that desperate for a fuck that you’re reduced to molesting your patients, Malfoy, then I’m sorry for you. Even I have better self-control than that, and you know I have a horrible temper.”

He doesn’t really believe that, Draco thought, and rage exploded in his chest, because by bringing up fucking Potter had transformed their warm intimacy into something other than Draco had wanted it to be. And now he couldn’t just lie here and hold Potter without also thinking of the way he might use his body weight in other contexts.

He did that on purpose. He wanted to spoil this.

Draco was not in the mood to let it be spoiled, even if it had been. He could lie just as well as Potter—probably better, since he had twenty-six more years of practice. And right now he tamped down his more immediate reaction and just let out a gusty sigh, following it with a yawn that Potter imitated despite himself.

“I think if anyone’s desperate, it would be you, Harry,” he murmured. “After all, how many people can you find to fuck when you’re under a curse like the one you’re under? Or, at least, the one you believe yourself to be under?” He moved one hand up Potter’s spine to caress his hair. Tugging on it just a bit also tugged a low noise from Potter. Draco repeated it, but this time Potter clamped his lips shut and glared at him. Their faces were so close together that Draco had to fight to keep his eyes from crossing. “Not very many,” he continued, still keeping his voice soft, considerate. “And that’s another thing we can talk about. Your frustration. Anything that you wish to talk about, I’m here for.” He shifted his other hand to trace Potter’s shoulder blade, making sure to keep it as non-sexual as possible.

“As if I’d share anything like that with you, Malfoy.”

And now he’s lying about his own desperation. He really would share it with me if I could convince him to let me inside his barriers. Draco decided it was time for another concerted effort, one that might take him past Potter’s mental barriers as well as the physical ones.

“But you have to share it with someone,” he said, directly into the git’s ear. His arms tightened reflexively when Potter tried to turn away. “Caging up all your emotions, all your truths? Don’t you know people have gone mad from less?” He once again caressed the back of Potter’s neck, and then used his grip there to pull their faces together. He rested his forehead against Potter’s and looked into his eyes, trying to summon sincerity, which was not something he had a great deal of practice at.

“I don’t want you to go madder than you already have,” he whispered. “I want to know. I promise, you can trust me. Psyche-Divers have all sworn the Healer’s oath that anything said by a patient remains in strictest confidence, unless you give us permission to share it.” He was cupping Potter’s cheek now, and he thought it was a shame that nothing like this had ever happened before, or he might have known just how wide those green eyes could open, how Potter’s breath smelled when he was hurriedly gasping in air. “And you don’t have to give me permission to share what you say with your friends. I’m a bit selfish, you know. Malfoys often are, and Slytherins more so. I’d enjoy knowing I’m the only one you ever confessed those things to.”

There. All truth, and all matching what he already knows about me, and all spoken while I’m holding him like a lover—or, at least, a friend. He can’t ask for more than that.

*

And he really expects me to believe that he’d keep his word?

That Malfoy would keep any oath he gave to Harry was impossible. The prat hated him still, or he wouldn’t have made such a determined effort to force him to confess when Harry had made it clear that he wanted to be left alone.

Harry was wiser in the ways of the world than that now. Even lonely, even with his body so starved for contact that he wanted to do nothing more than lie here for hours on hours and days on days, he knew better than to believe a lifelong enemy who suddenly seemed to have acquired a conscience.

Harry shook his head, eyes locked with Malfoy’s, and said, “The day I tell you something before I tell it to Ron and Hermione is the day you prove yourself a hero, Malfoy.”

There, he thought in triumph as the other man went pale. I should have thought of doing that before.

It was well-known that Malfoy had been anything but heroic in the war; one of the most famous Daily Prophet photographs showed him throwing his wand in the air and fleeing madly when the battle went against the Death Eaters. That had been the one battle in which he ever participated. He had been caught by Aurors a few moments later, and volunteered “information” on his cohorts before they could even get him into a cell. As it turned out, all that information was either inaccurate or evidence that the Aurors knew well already, and so while they hadn’t gone hard on Malfoy, they hadn’t granted him an Order of Merlin, either. Both sides wished he would quietly cease to exist, since he wouldn’t do them the favor of choosing a set of principles and staying with them.

He wants to believe whatever he likes, but he isn’t willing to fight for those beliefs, Harry thought, staring hard into Malfoy’s eyes. Contemptible, that is.

*

Draco couldn’t pretend to be unaffected any more, or that he wanted to stay close to Potter any longer. His breath was coming in short gasps, his hands clenching, and his arms freeing themselves from Potter’s body before he consciously ordered them to do so. He rolled away from the other man and sat up, burying his forehead in his hands.

He hated to show such weakness, but he couldn’t help himself.

Potter was saying that, under certain circumstances, he could have believed Draco heroic. That was what lay beyond the lie and the hyperbole on the surface.

Draco had never encountered one person in nine years who had said that to him. He had been sure he never would.

And that the one person who would say it was stubbornly refusing help, even help that Draco didn’t have to bend and offer him…

Draco shot a wicked glare over his shoulder. Potter simply raised an eyebrow at him. He tried for a smirk, too, but couldn’t quite pull it off.

And his eyes told a different story.

Draco found himself once again battling the impulses of his mind that told him to just turn his back on Potter and recommend him for inclusion in the Janus Thickey ward, or at least treatment by another Psyche-Diver. Those eyes would never match the smirk in mood, because those eyes were haunted and lonely. The truth screamed from them because Potter couldn’t help himself from showing it, any more than he could have helped showing his pleasure at Draco’s touch the other day.

He still stood the chance to prove himself a hero in Potter’s eyes. And he knew how to do it. Was he going to give up at the first obstacle?

No, goddamn it. No, he was not. Enough of Slytherin remained in him that he had the ambition to prove himself. Creating Psyche-Diving from scratch hadn’t been enough to do it. Surviving the war had just made others glance at him with quiet scorn in their eyes. But if he freed Potter from this unnatural obsession with the Cassandra Curse, they must see that he was capable of extraordinary things, and honor him for it.

And just because his extended hand had been slapped away—again—and he was feeling the same mortification he had during the war was not reason to give up.

He straightened his shoulders and regarded Potter coolly until the forming smirk faltered. Then he said, “You have twenty-four hours to come up with a good defense against me, because the next time I’ll be even more willing to listen to you.”

And then he turned his back and walked out.

Let Potter deal with the fact that he hadn’t managed to drive Draco away.

*

What does he need? A bloody engraved invitation to go fuck himself?

Harry ran a hand down his face in frustration. He was still panting as if he’d run a race, and his body ached in new ways—as if it had become used to being doubled, to having another pair of arms to be embraced by and another face to stare into.

What’s the matter, Potter? Need a hug? he thought to himself in Bellatrix’s voice.

He had to get a grip on himself.

What he was most afraid of was that continued exposure to the Cassandra Curse had made Malfoy somewhat immune to it. No one had spent this much extended time in Harry’s company since the curse took hold. Malfoy seemed able to ignore some of the signals Harry gave off that were pestilent to anyone else, and he had accurately read the truth behind some of Harry’s statements—or, at least, controlled his anger resulting from them.

Let him push a little further, and he might discover the whole truth.

Harry would never let Malfoy have that kind of power over him.

He would have to consider altering his escape schedule. He still thought he needed three days, so that he could rest and let his wandless magic come back to full strength, but if he could make the staff at St. Mungo’s wish him gone before then, purely because they hated him so much, then he wouldn’t have to run the risk of escaping on his own.

Let the games begin, then.

The moment the first mediwitch entered, Harry set himself to be as obnoxious as possible.

Chapter Text

“But I don’t want soup.” Harry folded his arms, to the point that his hands were sticking under his armpits, and frowned at the mediwitch who had brought his lunch. This wasn’t Laura, the one who had so disliked him, but an older woman, probably in her forties, with a deep weariness in her eyes that made Harry suspect she disliked her patients in general. She had brown hair streaked with gray tied in such a tight bun on the back of her head that it must have hurt. Harry liked to think that that was what caused the pain on her face, and not him.

It wasn’t as though he looked forwards to hurting people or making their days hard. But he was damned if he would stay in St. Mungo’s long enough for Malfoy to figure out the truth, and escaping before he had to use his own wandless magic for it was starting to look better and better.

“Please, Mr. Potter, just eat it.” The mediwitch rattled the tray, on which the soup and two small scones sat, temptingly. It had been a long time since breakfast, which Harry had refused anyway, and Harry felt his stomach rumble. But he kept his gaze fixed on her face and shook his head anyway.

“I want eggs,” he said, doing his best to try for a two-year-old’s tone.

The woman’s mouth twitched, and then settled into a firm line. She gave a glance at the door, as if to reassure herself it was shut, and then turned back to him with her wand raised. Harry tried to calm the immediate mad pounding of his heart. The sight of someone else with a wand out when he didn’t have access to one tended to agitate him, but this time he had invited it, and he thought the woman kind enough that she wouldn’t do him permanent harm.

He thought.

The mediwitch moved the wand in a pattern of linked star-shaped lines, and Harry found himself abruptly bound to the bed, his folded arms tied around his chest so tightly he couldn’t move them, his legs crossed in the same way. He could only move his mouth and blink, and a moment later a spell settled in what seemed to be his vocal chords. Harry suspected that trying to speak wouldn’t be very productive right now.

“There,” said the woman in great satisfaction, laying her wand aside. “That’s what we use for babies when they won’t eat. It should work just as well for you.” She picked up a spoonful of soup and joggled it at him. “Now, Mr. Potter, open your mouth wide for the Hogwarts Express!”

Harry had to open his mouth, since he didn’t like the metal edge of the spoon and the hot soup nudging at his lips, but there was no law that said the soup had to stay there. The moment the spoon started to withdraw, he spat the soup back out over the mediwitch.

She gave a little shriek as the liquid dripped down the front of her neat blue robes, and then stared hard at him. Harry tried his best to look sullenly triumphant, though his heart was pounding harder and harder as his muscles flexed, trying to find some way out of the restraints.

“What a naughty baby you are,” the mediwitch breathed, and then picked up her wand and cast another spell. Harry felt it slide across the muscles of his throat, but couldn’t tell what it did until he tried to swallow and failed to do so. He felt the panic suddenly rear up in his chest like a living being, clawing and screaming and demanding an outlet.

“You can swallow, but only when I touch your chin,” said the mediwitch firmly, and put the spoon back in his mouth.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut as the soup invaded his throat, and for a moment he imagined drowning in steaming chicken. What would happen if she wasn’t fast enough? Or if she let him struggle for a moment just to prove her point, and that moment was a moment too long—

She touched his chin. He swallowed with a click of abused muscles, and glared at her. She simply chuckled and raised the spoon for another try. Harry felt a sickness creep through him. He hated this.

But he had chosen this course, and not all the mediwitches would be as pleasant or long-suffering as this one. He set himself to endure.

*

Draco frowned at the book in front of him. It was the sixth one that had told him the Cassandra Curse was not real, only a nightmare invented by a few mad wizards who might have believed they could actually use the incantation, but had never proven able to do so. It was a good candidate for the cause of madness in Potter, that was certain, but why couldn’t Potter have picked up a book and read for himself that it wasn’t real?

Unless the madness prevents him from admitting the truth of anything that might break his delusion.

The more he learned about what seemed to have happened with Potter, the less sense it made.

Draco shook his head and leaned across the table to put the book on the Cassandra Curse back, stirring a frown from Madam Pince. He stared coolly back, and she finally flushed and looked down at the tome in front of her.

He’d come to use the Hogwarts library because it was the most extensive archive of information on such magic—far larger than his store of books at home, which was impressive but focused mostly on the spells and Legilimency he had used to create Psyche-Diving. He had hoped for one book, just one, in the Hogwarts library that would help him to understand Potter’s symptoms, especially the ones that managed to make him look sane even as he lied reflexively and denied the truth when he heard it.

There was nothing, however. The scant descriptions of the wizards who claimed to have “invented” the Cassandra Curse made them sound incompetent to function in normal society. And Potter had managed to live for a year under this curse, even survive dangerous missions on which he must have worked alone.

Draco abruptly paused and cocked his head. Could that be part of the source of the trouble? He’d been proposing complicated psychological and magical explanations, and yet he’d ignored the evidence of simpler troubles right in front of him. Draco disliked that tendency of his brain. It had been happening more and more often on this case.

Potter had spent a year alone. The only time his friends had felt any deep concern for him, according to the file Draco had read, had been a time when he was hexed by an unknown assailant in Knockturn Alley and nearly died. But the moment he had properly come out of danger, he had started lying again, so their sympathy had faded back into sad exasperation quickly enough.

One of the descriptions of the Cassandra Curse said that it can waver when its victims are in extreme danger.

Draco pushed the thought away. He had no time to admit the truth of legendary Dark magic right now. He was on the track of a thought.

Potter was naturally independent anyway—Draco had seen that in the risks he ran at school, when any normal child would have broken down and cried for an adult—but he had needed his friends. Draco imagined him gritting his teeth and adapting to what would have been, in his twisted version of reality, a sudden and unwarranted isolation, slowly stripping himself of his immediate reaching-out to his friends, accustoming himself to danger—

And what would have happened if he were hurt while living with his new and twisted mindset? He would have decided that he’d alienated his friends with his “truths,” and he would “know” that he couldn’t go to them for help. He would have had to heal himself, outface dangers without flinching, and suffer any consequences and side-effects, such as nightmares and the pain of recovery, by himself.

The man who had refused to relax in Draco’s arms yesterday no matter what he did suddenly made much more sense.

Draco licked his lips. He was not dealing just with madness. He was dealing with the legacy of a year under that madness, one that had managed to bend and twist Potter’s perceptions of the rest of the world outside his own head but not entirely destroy them. It was, indeed, a combination of insanity and clear-eyed evaluation of his own circumstances.

It was a challenge.

And if Draco could conquer it…

It would make his heroics in merely healing Potter look like nothing. Just dispelling the madness, he understood now, would not return Potter to a productive position in the Ministry; he probably couldn’t trust any other Auror enough to work with a partner now. The legacy of what had happened would linger between him and his friends. But Draco could change that.

Now that he understood.

He plucked one more book on the Cassandra Curse from the shelves and went to Madam Pince to check it out. He would consult it, certainly, but his skin burned now with the desire to confront Potter with his new comprehension.

Could he hold out against gentleness and an offer to meet him on his own ground, respecting his difficulties and countering them? If he could, he was not human.

*

Harry wheezed, trying to breathe around the constriction in his throat. It loosened a bit, and he gratefully gasped in air, but in the next moment it tightened again, and the edges of his vision flashed with red. He controlled the impulse to hiss in Parseltongue, the way he had during the war when Voldemort set pythons on him.

He had thought that not every mediwitch would be as calm and patient as the one who had fed him breakfast, and he was right. Laura Fallowchilde was not a tenth as patient and calm.

She flicked her wand, releasing the Strangling Spell again for a few moments, and then said sweetly, “Are you ready to tell the truth now, Mr. Potter?”

Harry glared at her. He knew he must look a sight, with his eyes still bulging and his face bright red and his sweat so slicking down his hair that his fringe needed no extra encouragement to lie flat over his scar. But he didn’t care. He hadn’t surrendered to Voldemort, either, even when the bastard had attacked his mind during the war with visions of Hermione and Ron being raped and tortured.

“Fuck you, bitch,” he said.

And then the Strangling Spell tightened once more, and he couldn’t say anything else. He dropped back on the bed, his lungs laboring, his legs twitching and his heels beginning to drum. He clung to his resolve in the middle of a descending whirlwind of black and white, as if he were in the middle of a storm of stars. He would not yield and make them think him tame and compliant. That would only result in their wanting to keep him in St. Mungo’s longer.

He wondered, dreamily now, as if he were falling asleep in snow, what would happen if Laura let the strangulation run too long. Perhaps she would kill him. Well, he had been risking death since he sliced his wrists open. This might not be too bad…

“Release him!”

Harry heard the shout from far away. He wondered if it had something to do with him. Perhaps it did. But it had come too late. He knew what the blackness of death felt like—he had felt it licking at him when he killed Voldemort, and again last year in Knockturn Alley—and this time there was no Hermione to save him.

Abruptly, the constriction on his throat fell away. Harry might have blinked if he still had the strength.

An enormous force slammed into his back, jolting his lungs. Harry gasped, and then began to cough. The force—a fist—hit him twice more, as the owner was apparently quite interested in violence, and then a pair of arms wrapped around him and pulled him against a strong chest. Harry couldn’t convince his own arms to work, or he would have embraced the shape back.

He could hide his face against warm skin, though, and he did, enjoying even the sensation of small hairs tickling his cheek as he panted and breathed and panted again.

*

Draco didn’t clearly remember what had happened after he stepped through the door into Potter’s room. He had seen the mediwitch with her wand raised, and seen the blueness of Potter’s face. He knew what that meant. Potter wasn’t breathing; someone had used the Strangling Spell on him. It had been a common trick in the Slytherin common room.

But no one ever went this far.

Draco had known that the mediwitch must hate Potter. She swung around when he entered, and her eyes were bright and wide and guilty. He had recognized her, vaguely, as the woman who suggested mistreating Potter because he deserved it.

And as had not happened since he was eleven years old, Draco’s accidental magic exploded.

The mediwitch’s wand went flying, and the Strangling Spell ceased in the same moment. The woman herself staggered, and a sudden red handprint appeared on her cheek—the same slap Draco wished he could give her. She made a thin sound of fear, but Draco didn’t look at her. He was moving rapidly across the room, all his attention focused on Potter, whom he did not want to die.

If he perished, he promised himself, he would turn and loose such anger on the mediwitch as would have made his father proud.

He hit Potter hard in the middle of the back, doing it until he heard the git’s wheezing breath, and then dragged him upright and nestled him against his chest. Then he turned his head to glare over his shoulder at the mediwitch.

She had been standing up, inching to the side to retrieve her wand, but her hand fell nervelessly back to her side as she stared into his eyes.

“Go,” said Draco quietly. He had never heard his own voice sound like that. There was menace in it that did not need to be louder, any more than the swaying of a cobra needed to have sound. “Go now, and if you dare come near Potter again, I will break every single one of your fingers.”

That dried up whatever words she might have spoken to excuse herself. She simply closed her eyes, nodded, and then opened them again and backed out of the room, as if she wanted to make sure he would not spring on her if she turned away.

Draco drew his own wand, then, and carefully cast a few spells that tested the regularity of Potter’s breathing and eased any pain he might be feeling in his throat; those were also standards in the Slytherin common room, as the solutions to the Strangling Spell. Then he ran his fingers through Potter’s hair, delighting in his ability to touch him without protest, and bent down to murmur in his ear, “It’s all right, Harry. I’m here now.”

*

If only that were true.

The surge of his own loneliness struck Harry by surprise. He had got to the point where he would depend on anyone, even Malfoy, for the reassurance and company he so desperately needed.

No, he reminded himself. The reassurance and company you think you so desperately need. There’s a difference. And you should be ashamed for even thinking that someone who once called Hermione a Mudblood is a person you can depend on.

With an enormous effort, he forced strength back into his muscles and managed to pull away from Malfoy. The other seemed reluctant to let him go; his fingers trailed through his hair, and he made no effort to remove his other hand, forcing Harry to shift away from under it until it dropped limply to his side. Then he folded his arms and regarded Harry with glittering, emotionless eyes.

“Thank you for saving my life,” Harry said. He knew his words were too stiff and formal, but that didn’t matter when Malfoy would hear them as mocking anyway, and probably interpret them as resentment that Malfoy hadn’t let Fallowchilde finish the job Harry had started himself. “You didn’t have to.”

Malfoy took several deep breaths. Harry prepared himself to be yelled at. It shouldn’t hurt, after all. This was Malfoy. His stupid, weaker side wanted to lose sight of that, but Harry wouldn’t let it happen.

Malfoy’s hands came out. Harry braced himself for a slap. Instead, Malfoy slid his palms gently around Harry’s cheeks. Harry shivered. They were cooler than he had expected, the skin smoother.

“You haven’t had a lot of choices, Harry,” Malfoy whispered. “I understand now. What it must have been like, to work by yourself, disbelieved by everyone, healing your hurts on your own, never knowing if you’d survive from one day to another without help against some of the dangers you faced. And you couldn’t even tell anyone. You didn’t keep a journal. You didn’t have a single friend who stood by you against the world, since the curse affected everyone you came into contact with. People less strong than you are would have exploded by now. That you haven’t is testament to your strength.” His fingers moved, wandering gently to the corners of his jaw, the hollows behind his ears. “I could never have done the same thing in your place. I don’t know one person in a hundred who could have.”

Harry was frozen more effectively than he had been by the mediwitch’s spells this morning. He just stared at Malfoy. He’s figured it out. I can’t run. I can’t do anything now but whatever he wants, repeated in his brain.

He tried to ignore the feeling of relief rising in him. If Malfoy knew everything and was about to take hold of everything, at least Harry would not have to be in charge of it anymore. He could nearly relish giving up control of his own life now, since he had done such a poor job of using it.

“And then you tried to kill yourself because it became too much,” Malfoy continued, voice hypnotic. “You need not feel badly about that. It was selfish, yes, as suicide always is, but you must have thought you had no one left to hurt. And you had taken so much, and endured so long.” His fingers closed down a little, as though he wanted to memorize the shape of Harry’s face. “But you don’t have to be alone any longer, Harry. I’m here.”

So deep was the tone that it took Harry a moment to listen to the words. When he did, he wanted to shout with both amusement and disappointment.

He doesn’t know everything.

Malfoy still didn’t know why he had tried to kill himself. He had no clue that Harry wanted to run away and live in the Muggle world. He thought Harry was simply a strong weakling broken at last, not someone who even now continued his plans to live and thrive by himself.

Harry showed his teeth and ripped himself away from Malfoy’s grip. That grip had become easier to feel, he thought clinically. He suspected Malfoy had overplayed the card of touching him, to the point where he was starting to gain a partial immunity to it even as Malfoy was starting to gain a partial immunity to the curse.

“You’re still wrong,” he said coolly. “I’ll still never let you in. And you can stop touching me any time now. If I didn’t know better, Malfoy, I’d say you were bent.”

He rolled away onto the bed and buried his face in the pillows. Maybe that would get rid of the odd, tingling flush that seemed to have overcome it.

*

Draco blinked at Potter for a moment, then smiled slightly. He should have expected that response, really. Along with incredibly courageous and incredibly strong, Potter was also incredibly stubborn. He wouldn’t trust that someone was on his side just because that person had said so. Draco would have to prove himself.

He could do that.

He stretched his arms above his head, never taking his eyes from the turned back of the figure in the bed. Potter had said he was wrong. But he was lying, which meant that Draco wasn’t wrong.

He already had a new tactic to try. He was a Psyche-Diver who had gone for several days without Diving. He would use one of the rarer spells to get himself inside Potter’s soul tomorrow.

“I’m still here for you whether you believe me or not, Harry,” he said. “And as for bent—well. If it were possible, you’re the sort of bloke who could turn a straight man bent, just to keep you.”

He reached out, let one hand glide down that set shoulder, and then turned and strode from the room. It was time to see what Fallowchilde would do for him in return for not having her appalling treatment of a patient reported.

*

Harry had to spend ten minutes after Malfoy’s departure battling hope. He finally strangled it and shoved its corpse in a closet.

He’s lying. He doesn’t want anything to do with me. All these compliments and touches were just to get a hold over me so he could repay me for my victories in Hogwarts.

Two more days.

Chapter Text

“I’m glad we understand each other.” Draco leaned back in his seat and smiled at Laura Fallowchilde, who had her hands clasped and her eyes fastened on them, as if that would keep her from remembering the bargain she’d just made. “A move towards Harry Potter again, and you will be sacked. And in the meantime, you’ll keep any of the others from treating him too badly.”

“Yes,” Laura whispered, and then snapped her head up and glared at him. “But only because I have no. Other. Choice.” Her hands were clasped tightly enough now that the stretched skin over her knuckles gleamed. “Not because I like him.”

Draco spent a few more moments studying her in silence. Why was she so eager to convince him that she didn’t enjoy Potter’s company? He was the Psyche-Diver, and the one who had power over her. If anything, she ought to be groveling, thanking him for letting her keep her job. Unless she was too stupid to do it, which was not a possibility that Draco was ready to dismiss.

It was almost unnatural, the intense distaste that Potter seemed to provoke in everyone who met him. Draco had been willing to put it down to the public’s fickle opinion of the wizarding savior in general, but this was something more.

Almost like a curse.

But then I would be affected by it, and I’m obviously not, he thought, and produced a small smile to hand to her. “I would never presume that you could be sophisticated enough to appreciate Potter’s company,” he said, and watched in delight as her face flushed. “But make one more move towards him, and you will hurt in more than the loss of a job, let me assure you.”

There, finally, was the fear he’d been hoping to see in her eyes earlier. She dipped her head at him, stiffly, and then stood and looked towards the far wall, muttering, “Can I go?”

Draco waved an expansive hand, and she backed hastily out of the office. In one hand, she clutched her wand, which Draco had given back to her against his better judgment. It had to be done, however, lest someone ask her where it was when she tried to perform the ordinary duties of her office.

He leaned against his chair and shut his eyes. Then he shook himself out of the temptation to sleep here—he’d done it before, and he always woke with a bad temper and an ache in his neck—and rose to his feet. He wanted to be fully rested for the Psyche-Dive that he intended to conduct into Potter’s stubborn little soul tomorrow.

He already looked forwards to it. The blue and the green had been beautiful enough that he wouldn’t mind seeing them again. And this time, he thought he knew how to get through the black whirlwind guarding Potter’s core. The books on the Cassandra Curse had offered little enlightening information in and of themselves, but combined with his realizations about Potter’s psychology after a year under his delusions, they had told him what was missing from any of Potter’s relationships right now.

And thus, what he would need to bring back.

*

Harry was suspicious.

The mediwitch who had brought him his breakfast this morning was one he had never seen before, and she had talked to him calmly and sanely until he accepted the food she offered. She smiled each time a bite disappeared into his mouth, but Harry couldn’t really blame her for that, given how difficult he’d been. Perhaps there was some sort of contest going on, to see who could feed him the most, and she won it more decisively when he put the meal away willingly.

Then he was left alone, but his skin prickled with awareness, and he was almost sure that someone was watching him through the invisible window. Harry feigned indifference, picking idly at the bandages on his wrists. He had shifted them enough that he could peer beneath them and check the progress of his wounds. They were healing nicely. By the time he had spent a few weeks in the Muggle world, he should have nothing but a pair of thick scars.

Malfoy came in silently this time. He had a sober expression on his face, one that increased Harry’s suspicions. He stood up to meet the other wizard. Malfoy did not pause, as many people did when confronted with a wizard of Harry’s strength and reputation, but kept walking. His drawn wand swung in his right hand, low against his hip.

“You’re not diving into my soul,” said Harry flatly.

“Oh yes I am, Potter,” Malfoy retorted in the same tone. “And I don’t particularly care for the stance you’re taking towards me. I’m trying to help you, you git. What do you need from me? A signed statement of my good intentions?”

He was scanning Harry intently as he spoke. Harry fought the temptation to squirm and flush under his gaze. Not even people in Diagon Alley, back when he was likely to attract stares of awe rather than disgust, had looked at him like this, as if they wanted to know all his secrets.

He can’t know them, Harry reminded himself, and pushed intensity into his own gaze. “That would be nice, yes,” he said. “But since I know you’re incapable of any good act, removing your wand and your presence from this room would do.”

Incredibly, that made Malfoy smile. “Sit down,” he said. “This is likely to be rough on both of us.”

Harry opened his mouth, and then the wand twitched and was pointing at him. He had to shut his mouth and back towards the bed, his gaze darting distrustfully between the wand and Malfoy’s face.

“If you want anything to happen,” said Malfoy softly, his face reflecting a different emotion now, one Harry didn’t believe he’d seen there before, “to be freed from the curse or the delusion you have that you’re under one, you’ll need to sit down, and you’ll need to trust me.”

Harry laughed aloud. Malfoy’s face tightened and his mouth twitched, but he didn’t back down. The first two things pleased Harry; the last did not.

“You will have to,” Malfoy said, and his voice dipped into a softer register than Harry had heard from him, even yesterday after he rescued him from Fallowchilde’s clutches. “Like it or not, Harry—and I know you don’t—I’m the only one who can save you now.”

Harry shook his head, panic rising in his throat. If Malfoy were to have that power over him, he would be worse off than he already was. A door had swung open in front of him, but he couldn’t step through it because he would not be beholden to his enemy. He didn’t care what he had to do to get out of that. He would do it. He would do anything

Malfoy’s hand landed on top of his, and then encircled his wrist, squeezing gently. Harry hated that more than any gesture he’d made so far, even the intimate touching he’d condemned Harry to a few days ago, because during that, he’d seemed to be taking his own pleasure as well. This felt like a gesture meant to calm and soothe and reassure, and since he knew Malfoy wasn’t capable of any of those things, it left Harry doubting his own senses.

“It will be all right, Harry,” Malfoy whispered.

Harry whipped his head up, mouth opening, desperate to tell Malfoy not to call him by his name, not to call him anything

And the wand was there, pointed at his face, and Malfoy’s eyes were steady and steely, and he whispered, “Legilimens.”

*

The moment the darkness of Potter’s mind enclosed him, Draco used the spell that he normally didn’t employ in his Psyche-Dives. The spell he had wielded on his first journey was used to move his consciousness into another person’s soul; it was based on the concept of transmigration. But it was communication rather than a journey that Draco needed now.

Anima mea ad tua,” he whispered.

The magic around him shimmered and ground together like enormous ice floes. Then the darkness began to turn in stately circles, and Draco closed his eyes as he felt his body twist in answering rings. The Soul-Linking Spell was never comfortable, but the dizziness and temptation to reject the connection that was blossoming between him and Potter only lasted a moment.

Then he flicked his eyes open, and once again he was seeing the glorious, overwhelming blue-green arches of Harry’s soul, and once again he was unable to think of him as anything but Harry.

He drifted, waiting. If the spell had worked, Harry should be able to see his soul, too, now, and he would be taking the first steps down a road that must lead him to the conclusion that Draco meant no harm.

*

Harry flung a hand up in front of his eyes as the room around him exploded into pinwheels and flashes of light.

His first thought was that Malfoy had somehow blinded him, or turned on him like everyone else—like all his friends, like everyone who had come to hate him under the curse—but the light did not fade like afterimages, or completely take his sight. Instead, it spread out and then flattened, running up the walls, turning them translucent, and scooping under him and bearing him from his feet, like a wave of water. Harry tried to brace himself, but directions and weights, pressures and objects, no longer seemed to have the meanings by which he had known them.

He looked up, gasping, and found himself in a place so beautiful that it froze his heart with wonder for long moments.

There were—mountains around him. They were rounded like hills, but they were definitely mountains, from their sheer size, and he hovered somewhere near their peaks. They shone so brightly that Harry felt tears start in his eyes. They were green, matted jade, streaked with chips of black that might be forests or the absence of forests, and drifting winds of purple, and lazy strands of gold that thrilled Harry in odd ways. If asked, he would have said that Malfoy could never have had such a Gryffindor color in his soul.

Wait. How do I know--?

But he did. The knowledge was like air, lapping over him in undeniable waves. This was Malfoy’s soul he saw, and the name Malfoy warped and twisted in his head, too distant and lacking intimacy for the place in which he now hovered. It was Draco here, Draco who had this soul variegated with darkness, but also with the colors of life. Harry could not think of green, even a green so dark and close to poison as this, as anything else.

“Harry,” said Draco’s voice, coming from the air in front of him and making the air that cradled him throb like a drum.

Harry shut his eyes and refused to answer. This was some trick again, and he would not surrender to it.

“I know you can hear me.” Draco’s voice was low and amused, but Harry could hear that the amusement was not directed at him. It was simply there, and Draco was joyful at the chance to share his soul with someone else. “This spell reveals us to each other. My soul to yours, Harry, that’s what the incantation means. I’ve never willingly showed anyone else this. It only worked in a few desperate cases. I don’t think yours is that desperate yet. I simply wanted to show you this.” His voice deepened to a coaxing purr. “Don’t you think I ought to be able to see yours?”

“You can see it,” said Harry, and hated the way that his voice came out thin and frightened. He fought the impulse to tuck an arm around his face, too, which would hardly do him good. “And I didn’t invite you in, I’ll have you know. What else should you be able to see?”

His voice was less hostile than normal. He simply couldn’t speak that sharply to someone whose soul he was staring at. Fucking Mal—Draco. Harry ground his teeth against a deep sense of violation.

“There’s a dark mass blocking your core,” said Draco calmly. “It’s either the curse or what you believe to be the curse. I know you know this exists, Harry. Lying to me about it won’t make a great deal of sense, not when it’s hovering right in front of my eyes. Let it down. Let me in.”

Harry was discovering how sincerely he could hate sincerity. He shut his eyes and took several deep breaths, but the only air available carried a sense of Draco to it, and made him aware of several things he hadn’t known before, such as the purple spots in Draco’s soul representing his dislikes and impatience. Harry was sure there were multiple purple spots with his name on them.

“Go to hell, Malfoy,” he said, even as his voice tried to twist away from him and admit the more intimate name past his lips.

Silence for long moments. Harry hoped that Draco had given up. Why shouldn’t he? He was being paid for this, but he would be paid just the same if he declared Harry fit for only the Janus Thickey ward and stepped away from his soul.

“No,” Draco whispered, and his voice was closer than before, richer, warmer. Harry whirled around, but he continued to drift alone—or as alone as he could be in a place like this, where he could smell Draco’s scent, and every small wind felt like the other man’s breath on his cheek. Harry was unfortunately familiar with that sensation after the time two days ago when Draco had held him close and murmured into his ear. “You can’t put me off that easily. You never could put me off, Harry. I could always draw a reaction from you, and when I ignored you, during sixth year, you drove yourself mad trying to find out what I was doing.”

“Because you were a Death Eater!” Harry shouted, thrashing. He went nowhere, of course, with nothing solid to press his body against.

“But you still hunted me,” Draco whispered, and Harry knew he was smiling, wherever his ugly face was. Of course, he disbelieves me, and he probably thinks I was secretly lovesick for him. Harry had never encountered someone as vain about the effects of his looks on other people as Draco was. “You still couldn’t leave me alone. And now we can’t leave each other alone, Harry. What you need to do is trust me. Trust will bring that barrier down. You can see my soul. You could feel it if I intended you harm. I don’t. You know I don’t. Let me in. Let me in, now.”

And Harry felt a warm push, as though Draco had shoved at him with his fists wrapped in sunset clouds, and he felt himself tumbling, spinning, dropping into new awareness and a sharing he had never felt before. The distance between them closed with a snap, and when he opened his eyes again, he saw blue and green spangled through the arches of Draco’s soul like fireflies in the middle of a dense jungle.

He saw the barrier Draco was talking about, too, the brooding black cloud in the midst of the wilderness. That was the curse’s formation to protect the truth from a Psyche-Diver.

And he was powerless to lower it even if he wanted to, because he didn’t control the curse.

He smiled bitterly, and waited for Draco to react to the knowledge spreading through them both.

*

Draco hadn’t known that the further connection of their souls would actually work, even though he had willed it to happen. And he had never seen anything as beautiful; he would have willingly lingered to admire the sight, since he doubted he would see anything more beautiful in the future, either.

But he had a more important concern, right now. He swam towards the drifting shape of Harry and wrapped him in tight arms, drawing him closer. Their souls swayed nearer in response, blending, and glinting arches jogged, and colors floated in and out of each other like butterflies made of water, and Draco caught his breath in a sob. He could feel Harry trembling against him, as if struggling not to give in to the beauties of the sight himself.

“This is so much better than being alone,” Draco murmured into Harry’s ear, aware that he spoke as if in a fever, and thus couldn’t quite control or stop or portion out his words. “Isn’t it? And it’s what you can receive from me, if you just offer me your trust. I’m certain that I could trust you, you know, and not jus because you were once a Gryffindor, but because I’ve seen your soul.” His hands couldn’t stop moving, roaming up and down Harry’s back and around his shoulders to drape over his neck and rest loosely on his chest. They weren’t touching in bodily reality, of course, so the sensations weren’t the same as when he’d cradled Harry on his hospital bed. Instead, he felt tiny scraps of knowledge drifting into his head: Harry’s favorite foods, how much he missed the warmth and security of the Weasleys and their home, that Harry had sometimes awakened early to watch the sunrise and wished he could do it more often. He wondered what Harry was learning about him, and couldn’t wait to ask. He entwined his legs with Harry’s, until he was sure they couldn’t get much closer, and nuzzled into Harry’s neck. “You can trust me. You’ve seen my soul. That’s enough, isn’t it? Take down the whirlwind over your core, Harry. Let me in.”

God, he was dizzy with desire—and it wasn’t physical, or sexual, but simply the intense longing to see past that blackness to the core. His fingers were digging into Harry’s hair, venturing beneath the image of robes he wore here to skim along his skin. Thicker and faster the knowledge came: that Harry had sometimes wished he was ambidextrous so that he stood more of a chance of catching the Snitch, that he’d nearly died on a case involving a rogue animal breeder who turned out to have a chimera in his shop, that he liked to sleep on his left side, that he had spent most of his childhood in a cupboard… Draco whined and touched his tongue to Harry’s neck, no longer caring that their bodies sat stiffly inches from each other. He’d never descended this deep, never opened himself so far or spun his mind and soul into someone else’s so deeply, and he was shaking with the urge to feel reciprocation. “Please, Harry. Please.”

He felt Harry relax against him, and their souls were so entangled now that Draco could barely see the whirlwind; patches of black and purple from his own soul covered it. Harry tilted his head back towards him, and Draco waited for the permission he was sure to receive now. Harry owed it to him.

Harry whispered, “I can’t remove the block on my core.”

And he was lying, he had to be lying, and Draco’s rage that he could try to deceive him, here, now, when they were seeing everything about each other, exploded between them and rent them apart.

*

Harry shut his eyes and held back his pain as their entwined minds—and souls, he supposed he had to admit—separated. It hurt, yes, but not nearly as much as the idea that Draco had gifted to him, freely and without reservation, something beautiful and valuable that he couldn’t accept.

He had never thought he would know sympathy for Draco bloody Malfoy.

But he hadn’t expected to know that Draco wrinkled his nose when he was tired, either, or that he listened to sappy love songs on the Wizarding Wireless Network when no one else was about, or that he missed his mother, who had remained in Europe for several years now, not daring to set foot on British soil. That he had five different kinds of smiles to parcel out to friends, strangers, enemies, lovers, and those people he wished to think well of him but whom he didn’t actually like, and practiced them all in the mirror. That he took care of himself because he liked to look good, whether or not he had a lover at the moment to appreciate it. That his delight in Psyche-Diving came from a strong desire to dominate other people, but that he had never used that to hurt his patients—only to taunt them and remind them what they owed to a former Death Eater before he healed them.

Here was a man Harry would have been honored to call his friend, even as he disagreed with him on several things.

But the Cassandra Curse made things impossible between them, and it was better that Draco be struck away. He could join the other people who had already given up on Harry, and Harry could leave behind someone else who wouldn’t be hurt by his going.

He opened his eyes, to find himself seeing the hospital room again; their mingled souls were gone. Draco was sitting on a chair in front of him, blinking slowly; a film seemed to clear from his eyes in the next moment, and he glared at Harry.

Harry could bear only a moment of the gaze before he looked away. He had wounded Draco deeply with his rejection, and it would do no good at all to explain that it wasn’t his fault, since Draco would only hear a lie. He couldn’t apologize, either. That would be salt on the wound. So he clamped his lips tightly together, and waited for the scorn he knew would come.

It did.

“I cannot believe,” Draco said, hissing every word, “that after what I showed you—after what I would have given you—you have the nerve to cling to your stubborn pride and your delusions.”

Harry said nothing.

Look at me, goddamnit!”

But Harry didn’t have the strength to, so he simply examined the bandages on his wrists, and listened to Draco—no, think of him as Malfoy, it’s easier that way—stand up and storm out of the room. The door banged so sharply that it nearly flew back open, but the wards caught it and guided it shut.

Harry closed his eyes. For long moments, he felt the temptation to tear open the bandages on his wrists and finish the job that he’d already begun. Yes, spells would go off when he did, and they’d taken his wand and any possible weapons from him, but he still had his teeth.

Carefully, slowly, he guided his mind away from that desperate brink. Yes, he’d thought about suicide. No, he wouldn’t do it.

He’d always overcome his pain and scrambled on. So long as he was still alive, he could do nothing else. And killing himself would be to admit that his enemy, whoever had cast the curse, had won.

Gradually, his breathing quieted. Harry lay back on his bed, and told himself that Draco would get over this eventually, and probably be grateful for the reprieve when Harry vanished. Why would he want to share himself with someone so ungrateful?

The truth? Dra—Malfoy wouldn’t.

Harry squirmed onto his side. He should sleep, gather his strength.

That it took hours for him to fall asleep meant nothing. The curse still possessed him. It was still driving him on. Malfoy shouldn’t feel bad. He’d made the best effort he could against it, and there was no shame in being defeated by a spell so complex and powerful.

That was certainly the way Harry had comforted himself during his own failures of the past thirteen months. And the comfort that could apply to him could surely apply to Malfoy.

Chapter Text

It had taken Draco hours to calm the pain churning in his gut and biting at his soul. He had remained in his office, staring with unseeing eyes at the parchment he shifted back and forth again and again, before he finally stood with a curse and returned home. And once there, he had proceeded to do nothing but sit in his favorite chair, sip Firewhiskey too fast, and relive the final moments of his joining with Harry.

You went too far, he accused himself in his head. You rushed into things. You should have spent at least a week studying him first, learning his temper and how much he distrusted anyone offering him help. Instead, you plunged in, confident that you knew him and that he’d open with an appeal to his personal sympathy, and you were rejected, just like you were when you approached him as an ignorant child. This is your own fault.

And maybe that was true, but the endless self-recriminations didn’t make him feel any better.

Draco swallowed his Firewhiskey and clenched his left hand in front of him. If he just kept pressing his fingers into his palm, then perhaps he could pretend he didn’t care, and that this was solely about anger, and not hurt.

He’d been stupid. He’d shown too much of himself to Potter. He’d believed, naively for a man with his experience of life in general and Potter in particular, that, after seeing his soul, the other wizard would give him a fair judgment. But of course he hadn’t. This was Potter. He’d sunk himself into arrogance and self-delusion, particularly now, when he thought he was the victim instead of the people he lied to.

Draco could put it into words, but that didn’t make the pain go away. It went on sinking into him, growing worse the more time passed since the confrontation. Draco had reached for the one thing he’d most wanted since he’d become a Psyche-Diver: admittance into the soul of someone who fascinated him, rather than being the usual piddling challenge that his patients were.

And he’d been slapped away.

No, worse than that. Cast away, shoved away, thrown down and trampled on. And Potter didn’t even have the courage to look him in the eye afterwards.

Draco curled his lip, and returned to drinking.

He’d made a mistake, that was all. He had assumed that Potter was capable of changing, when he should have paid more attention to the testimonies of the people who’d been around him for a year. Even his dearest friends were convinced that something was wrong and he needed Healing in St. Mungo’s. And what did Draco do? Assumed some sort of sanity in a man who had continually lied for the delight of it.

He had been wrong.

He had to face that, and stop raking over Potter’s actions in his mind as if they would mean something else if he just looked at them a bit differently.

And, of course, he had to decide what he intended to do about Potter now. He was still the Psyche-Diver. He was still the one with the power to make the judgment in this case.

He squinted his eyes shut. Unlike the last time, he didn’t intend to rush in and do something stupid because of his haste. He would, instead, evaluate his options sanely and make the best possible decision.

His hurt pride urged him to transfer Potter to the Janus Thickey ward immediately. But his hurt pride wasn’t the only factor to consider.

Coldly, carefully, Draco leaned back in his chair and decided what Potter’s fate would be.

*

Harry thought he was dreaming, at first, when he opened his eyes. His room had a soft light glowing in the middle of it, though he knew it was long past the time when all the light but that of the wards went out, and behind the Lumos¬-lit wand stood Ginny. He’d wanted this so often in the past year that it was possible his mind had granted him the vision just to spite him.

He licked his lips and forced himself up on his elbows, not caring now who might be watching him through the observation window. “Ginny?” he whispered.

And then she moved forwards and embraced him abruptly, and he realized that he wasn’t dreaming. No vision could be this warm, this vital, this real. He wanted to reach up and hug her back, but his arms were frozen with wonder.

She stepped away from him, and left Harry’s body feeling stretched. There shouldn’t be this much distance between them. He opened his mouth to speak, then remembered she would only hear lies and swallowed, hesitating.

“Harry,” she said, in a low voice. He had never heard her so rational since the day the spell took effect. “I thought at first I would just let you find this out through Ron and Hermione, but Hermione said no, I should come and tell you myself.” She took a deep breath, and it seemed to make her shiver, as if she were a gauzy curtain instead of a human being. Harry lay still, watching her, not sure what would happen next, but sure it was nothing good.

“I have someone else now,” she said.

Harry dug his fingers into the blankets beneath him, and told himself that he hadn’t hoped for forgiveness anyway.

“You’re not getting better,” Ginny said, her eyes large and wet. “You won’t relent towards me. You won’t tell me the truth about whatever made you start lying in the first place.” She looked aside from him, and Harry could see her throat moving nervously. She was swallowing, too. “I deserve better than someone who will do that to me. So I started dating—well, it doesn’t matter what his name is. I don’t want you attacking him.”

“I wouldn’t!” Harry blurted, horrified that she could think such a thing of him, and then she faced him and smiled sadly, and he realized that she had heard the exact opposite of the truth he’d meant to speak.

“Maybe you wouldn’t mean to,” she said. “But I remember how jealous you could get, when you thought you had cause.” She hesitated, then added, “I didn’t want to tell you like this. But I had no idea if I would ever see you again. And God help me, I’m still in love with you, even though I have no reason to be.”

Harry said nothing. What in the world did one say?

“I hope you can find the Healing you need here,” Ginny said, and came forwards, giving him one last hug, and one last kiss on the cheek. Harry didn’t miss the way she shuddered violently when she did it, as if the very touch of his skin disgusted her.

“Good-bye, Harry.”

And then she had turned and slipped out of the room, and Harry lay down on the bed and shut his eyes. He would not weep. He had no reason to. He had given up the belief that Ginny might return to him long ago. Honesty was important to her, and even if he had an explanation she believed in for the lying, she wouldn’t have put up with him doing it all the time.

But he had still hoped, it seemed, in one part of him, and that made the blow all the worse. It was like cutting a tendon he hadn’t known he still depended on to walk.

He hoped, distantly, that he had at least provided a good show for whoever used the observation window right now.

*

What are the advantages to putting Potter in the Janus Thickey ward?

Draco had leaned back in his chair, his head and neck supported and cradled, his hands folded comfortably in his lap. He had deliberately deepened his breathing and concentrated on his heartbeat, until it sounded more slowly and powerfully in his ears than normal. He would make his choice with a clear head.

There are other residents there who are suffering long-term spell damage. Potter’s lies wouldn’t affect them, and they’re unlikely to hate him as much as normal people would, either. He can find friendship and companionship there, or an acceptable substitute for it. He wouldn’t be troubling the mediwitches and the other people who have to take care of him, if they knew that he wasn’t about to leave. And I could work on his soul at my leisure, assuming that I still want to do it after this.

He was not sure that he did. Potter’s soul had taken on the effect of a glittering bauble waved before a child and then continually snatched away. Why should he want to know what lay at Potter’s core, if the denial happened every time?

And that’s exactly what a child does, too: eventually he pouts and pretends he never wanted the toy anyway.

Draco gritted his teeth. “I’m not a child,” he said aloud. “I’m making the only choice I can that will let me keep my sanity.”

Coward, the voice of his thoughts taunted him. You’re giving up on him because he managed to hurt you. He’ll be the first patient you’ve ever lost, the first one you didn’t heal.

But when he was in the Janus Thickey ward, Draco could work on his soul still. He might even have more success then, because in his eagerness to be out of the ward, Potter would look forwards to any relatively sane company he could get.

But if he’s relatively sane, what business do you have putting him in that ward?

Draco groaned softly into his hand. It seemed that the longer and harder he ran from his emotions, the faster they caught him up. He was, now, not sure that he would be putting Potter where he belonged out of compassion, or putting him in an unsuitable place out of sheer frustration with his rejection.

Or would it be the place he belonged because of frustration? And if you made a commitment to continue to work with him—in a few weeks, perhaps, when he’s had time to become used to his new status and you’ve had a chance to let your temper cool?

*

And one more time.

Harry once again built up the walls that had sustained him during the past six months, since he’d made his plans to commit suicide so the Ministry wouldn’t hunt him in the Muggle world, and shoved the ragged emotions that would weaken him behind those walls.

He had said that he would go through with this plan whatever it cost him. The curse had already stripped his friends and his family and his fiancée from him. Ginny’s appearance earlier this evening shouldn’t have hurt. That it had said he wasn’t strong enough yet, and he might collapse on the brink of victory.

He would not.

He searched his soul—Draco wasn’t the only one who could do that—and crushed the last unrealistic vestiges of dreams. Time and time again he had thought he had done this, and it turned out he hadn’t.

He thought of visions of reconciliation with Ron and Hermione, and then set them on fire in his mind. He thought of the curse fading away someday, and then reminded himself it would never happen. He thought of Ginny’s arms around him, cradling him in honest love, and then heard her words from earlier this evening. She’d found someone else, moved on with her life when it became obvious they couldn’t share theirs anymore. Could he be less brave?

He could do this. He would do this.

The very last temptation was that of rescue from an unlikely source: Malfoy. Harry smiled wryly at himself. It was no wonder that that fantasy had fascinated him so strongly. Why wouldn’t it? His enemy, brought at last to admire his virtues and admit that Harry’s bad luck was not his own fault…

And you failed to let him help you. If you were stronger, you would already have found a way of breaking the curse on your own, and you could have lowered the barrier when he asked you.

Harry rubbed his face in his own failure, and held back the tears that wanted to emerge. He crossed his wrists, so that he could feel the bandages rubbing against the wounds and remind himself that he did have strength when it counted, and even courage. The curse had done its very best to deprive him of both, but it hadn’t succeeded, had it? And that meant his mysterious enemy hadn’t succeeded, either.

He would not allow any enemies to win any victories over him.

And that included Malfoy.

Harry leaned back on the pillows and managed a peaceful smile. He hoped someone was watching through the window, so that he could practice. He would have to maintain as calm a demeanor as possible when he was among the Muggles. There would still be some hostility aimed towards him, particularly if he had to communicate often with his neighbors and they found themselves lied to.

But the curse worked less well on those who did not know his true name, as Harry had discovered by gaining some help when he wrote anonymously. When he became someone other than Harry Potter, he would receive dislike, but not outright hatred.

No more assassination attempts. No more wild cases for the Ministry.

It might almost be relaxing.

And, once again, he repeated the most essential truth to himself.

It’s not the life I would have chosen, but it’s a life. It’s much better than dying in the war, or at the claws of some deadly beast. And if someone in the Ministry did cast this curse on me, then he or she should be glad that I’m gone, and won’t have any more reason to hunt me. I’ve arranged the vaults so that enough money should flow to me to keep me alive. And there must be jobs in the Muggle world where people disliking me won’t matter.

He was uncomfortably aware that he hadn’t spent enough time in the Muggle world since he left the Dursleys’ house at seventeen to be sure of that, but on the other hand, he remembered people even in Little Whinging who had been tolerated as long as they did jobs that no one else really wanted to do. He could take one of those jobs.

Hermione would say that I’m wasting my potential or something else equally pretentious. Dumbledore would, too, I’m certain. And I don’t want to think what my parents and Sirius would say.

But that was the whole point, wasn’t it? Though he loved the dead, and he still loved his friends, none of them were here right now. He couldn’t go on living his life by what they might have said, any more than he could go on living in dreams of what might have happened if the curse weren’t cast.

Smaller, calmer, quieter, more ordinary, less ambitious. That was what his life would be from now on.

After long hours of furious concentration, he had managed to beat himself into believing that, and so he could look up almost with a smile when the door to his room opened. Two mediwizards he hadn’t seen before stepped in, followed by a Healer who was shaking her head as she studied a sheaf of documents.

“Are you sure, madam?” one of the mediwizards asked. “I hadn’t thought Psyche-Diver Malfoy had quite finished examining him.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” said the Healer absently. She looked up, and Harry saw both kindness and weariness in her blue eyes. “All the appropriate decisions have been made, and all the appropriate documentation has been filed. Mr. Potter will be spending—well, quite a bit of time in the Janus Thickey ward from now on.”

Harry didn’t offer any resistance as the mediwizards gathered him up, held his arms behind him, and escorted him down the corridor. The Janus Thickey ward was on the same floor as the temporary Spell Damage ward, and so had essentially the same protections. And the magic in the ward itself was actually weaker, because so many of its residents weren’t coherent enough to take advantage of said weaknesses.

He could still escape, and tonight, he would.

For now, though, he would rest, because a night of beating his own hope into submission wasn’t conducive to the strength and speed he would require.

*

In the end, Draco’s stubborn pride had indeed had things all its own way, but not quite as he’d suspected it might.

He strode through the doors of St. Mungo’s with a new urgency. The witch behind the desk where the wands floated, caged, blinked and gave him an odd look, but she was always giving him odd looks, since she was one of those who thought patients had to be coaxed and lectured into health, instead of bullied into it. Draco nodded to her anyway, and then took the stairs. His energy was too impatient this morning to stand the confinement of a lift.

He didn’t want to put Potter in the Janus Thickey ward after all. He wanted to force the stubborn bastard to accept that, yes, they’d shared their souls and it meant something after all, that he wasn’t like everyone else, that Draco had an innate talent for seeing Potter that should be respected and honored.

That was what he meant by Potter owing him. He’d never invested this much of himself in a patient. He deserved to get the same investment back. In fact, he wanted it. He’d awakened from a dream of Potter’s soul, and an aching desire had spiraled through him, concentrated in his chest instead of his groin.

He reached Potter’s room, and stopped outside the invisible window. Doubtless, Potter was staring at the ceiling with his usual frown on his face, or pretending to sleep. Well, Draco would go in if he was and say one of the most unexpected things possible—perhaps a cheery greeting—so that Potter would need to turn towards him with green eyes opening wide and a response in his face—

Except that it wasn’t Potter in the bed at all. It was a woman who appeared to have two heads.

Draco felt a sharp shiver run through his body. He stepped back and glanced up at the soft blue numbers hovering over the door, wondering for a moment if he had come to the wrong room—even as he knew he hadn’t, because stopping beside Potter’s room to look in on his patient had become instinctive.

Potter had been moved.

Without Draco’s express consent.

He could feel his blood pulsing through him like a second heartbeat, but he didn’t explode. Either this was an innocent mistake, which he couldn’t react like a child to, or something more sinister had happened—and he couldn’t show that he suspected it.

He reached his office and wrote a memo asking to see Laura Fallowchilde about matters related to Harry Potter. No one should think anything of that, since she was one of the mediwitches who had attended on Potter. He sent it winging off with a tap of his wand, and then settled behind his desk to wait.

Fallowchilde showed up not long after, hatred and fear fighting in her face. The fear was winning, and that was all Draco required. He tapped his fingers on the desk until she began to shuffle in place, and then said, “I want to know why Potter has been moved from his room without my express knowledge and consent.”

Fallowchilde’s mouth dropped open to form a small circle. Draco suspected she was surprised. He began to speak the words that would send her sorting through patient records, to find Potter’s altered files and bring them back to him. A normal thing to ask for, and it would involve less exposure than asking for them himself.

But Fallowchilde said, her voice bewildered, “He’s been transferred to the Janus Thickey ward, of course, Psyche-Diver. I saw your name on the paperwork that authorized the move.” She was watching Draco more warily than ever now, as if he might grow an alternate personality and attack her at any moment.

Draco felt a surge of rage so enormous that for a moment he imagined it could float him out of his chair and let him hover over the desk without the aid of a broom. Fallowchilde took a step away from him, staring all the while.

That was what let Draco knew that he had to restrain his emotions, just in case he ceased to intimidate Fallowchilde and she carried the news of his fury to someone else. He sighed and flipped a hand. “Yes, but I wished for one last interview before he was transferred there,” he said. “I left instructions for him to be brought to my office, and it was not done.”

“Oh.” Fallowchilde relaxed. “And you wish me to fetch him?”

Draco performed some rapid calculations in his head. Whatever odd enemy had done this—someone wishing, perhaps, to wreck his prestige and position in the hospital—would be watching to see his reaction. Open rebellion would probably promote more open interference. On the other hand, if Draco kept his reactions muffled, he could lull his enemy into a false sense of security, making them think that he cared more about fitting seamlessly into the hospital than claiming his rights.

“It does not matter this one time,” he said. Do you have listening wards on my office, whoever you are? Take that into your ears and keep it in your brain, then. “I had largely given up on Potter. But I would not like to see a habit of disobeying my requests crop up.”

“Of course not, Psyche-Diver.” Fallowchilde inclined her head, seeming glad that he didn’t require any hard task of her. “And may I leave now? Only, I left work unattended that shouldn’t go unattended long.”

“Yes, you may go,” said Draco, as if indifferent, and she turned and hurried out of the room.

Draco leaned back in his chair and began to flip idly through the documents that contained the interviews with Potter’s friends, as if attempting to settle the information one more time in his head before he began the next case. His mind had taken a different track, of course, but it was still beyond even a skilled Legilimens to read his thoughts from a distance.

Who would have the authority and power to transfer Potter to the Janus Thickey ward before Draco gave permission?

A Healer, of course. But Fallowchilde had said his permission was written on the paperwork, and a Healer could have acted openly, without the necessity of that subterfuge. Of course, someone who did not want Draco to know who she was might not have done so, but even then…

No, Draco did not think it was a Healer. Someone like that who had decided to challenge his authority and legitimacy as a Psyche-Diver would have done it openly, with most of the hospital behind her, so hated was Draco.

But that cut down the number of suspects considerably. One of Potter’s friends could have contested Draco’s authority, but they were frankly all too honest and acted too much like Gryffindors to do so.

And then Draco’s head came up, and he felt his nostrils sniff like a hunting beast taking in the scent of a hot trail.

What if he was looking in the wrong direction? What if it was not a mysterious enemy of his who had done this, but a mysterious enemy of Potter’s?

Someone in the Ministry.

Someone who wanted to reduce the embarrassment of one of their best Aurors going mad and trying to kill himself, by ensuring that he would never leave St. Mungo’s?

Or someone who hates him. Perhaps enough to have cast the Cassandra Curse on him.

This time, perhaps because he had spent so much time thinking along the same lines, Draco felt it. There was an intangible pressure in his head, pushing at him, trying to force his thoughts back into the mold of deciding that the curse was not real. It was subtle, powerful, and clever, but Draco fought back with all his own stubbornness. He was good at fighting back, at least since the war.

A headache began to spread through his temples. He felt sweat break out on his face. And then the pressure retreated, instead of dissolving. Draco felt as if he were drifting between conclusions, wanting to think the Cassandra Curse was real but without enough evidence to prove even to his own satisfaction that it was.

And then he remembered the book on the matter he had taken from the Hogwarts library, and not read since.

Once again, he stood and strode out of his office, frantic energy coursing through him. He would find the book, which he had left at home. He would read it. He would fight back against the pressure if it returned, and decide once and for all if it were real.

And if it were, then he would break down both metal doors and shut doors in the soul to open the darkness at Potter’s core.

There was still one more, deeper kind of Dive that he had not tried.

Because you have never tried it, whispered the voice of his Slytherin caution.

Draco did not care. There were circumstances that warranted acting like a Gryffindor, and this was one of them.

Chapter Text

Draco cursed softly as he paged through the book. There was information on the Cassandra Curse, yes, but it was scattered over and among and through the descriptions of other curses, other madness, and other impossibilities. He would have welcomed a writer less addicted to making comparisons between different kinds of Dark magic than this one was.

So occupied was he with thoughts of how he would prove Potter’s madness—or sanity, as the case might be—and how he would fool the enemy who had stolen a march on him that he nearly turned past the relevant information. He stared at the paragraph, licked his lips, read it, and then sat back against the pillows on his bed and heaved out a tight breath. Yes, this was it; this was what he had been looking for.

If any of it was real.

Draco told his doubts to be quiet, and bowed his head to the book so that he could read the truth in more detail.

The Cassandra Curse is said to be even more of a pernicious influence on minds than the Thought-Twister. The Thought-Twister harms only those people the caster wishes ill-will upon, but the Cassandra Curse is believed to affect the minds of everyone who comes into contact with the victim. According to the ancient terms of the curse, it warps the truths the victim speaks, and makes them sound as lies to the ears of anyone who listens to him or her. Others interpret the lies, and even simple gestures, in the most violent and repugnant terms possible. Those who do not know the victim will react with milder versions of the same emotions. For this reason, the Cassandra Curse was often rumored to be used on wizards who had great public name recognition, so as to kill their character in the eyes of many people rather than simply friends and neighbors. Of course, such claims are often impossible to distinguish from more ordinary claims of character assassination.

Draco licked his lips. Disregarding the fact that the author didn’t seem to have information on everything that had happened to Harry, and disregarding his doubt about his own research, this fit with a great deal of what Draco had experienced and seen the mediwitches and Harry’s friends experiencing. They heard lies—

His statements are lies.

It took a great deal of concentration, but Draco could feel the impulse in his head that was saying those words and urging those thoughts on him now, and it wasn’t him. He fought back with focus so intent that he felt sweat break out on his brow, but the thought retreated, snarling. He had his mind back again. Draco gave a sharp nod of satisfaction and looked again at the book in front of him.

…and even simple gestures, in the most violent and repugnant terms possible.

That would explain why even those who hadn’t interacted directly with Harry were speaking of him as if he were the most troublesome patient in the hospital. And his general air of arrogance—that wasn’t real, it was Draco’s twisted mind interpreting his body language in accordance with some other purpose.

A mental block tried to close off the thought. Draco didn’t let it, though this time, when he managed to establish mastery of his own mind again, he was breathing hoarsely.

Could that be why Harry had tried to commit suicide? Not because of isolation—though Draco would not blame him if he had indeed done it for that reason, if the curse was real—but because he knew that any ordinary call for help would go unheeded? But if he cut his wrists, in a particularly violent and brutal manner, they would know that something was wrong and have to put him in St. Mungo’s.

Draco gave a small, grim smile. There was a chance he might still be wrong, shoving curse in his head and all. He had seen stranger varieties of madness. He had learned never to make a solid guess unless he had proof from multiple sources. One obscure book and his own perceptions of Harry, which he couldn’t trust anyway if the curse were real, were not much to go on.

But the only way he would learn anything further would be to go to Harry and complete that final Psyche-Dive, the one that would put himself at risk.

Draco closed his eyes and tried to think about it rationally, but he was incapable of that. His skull buzzed and vibrated, as if he had bees inside it. He had thought, before, that only a Gryffindor-like impulsiveness would get him through this, and that seemed to be true.

He did eat a solid lunch and look up the incantation he would need for this last and greatest Dive one more time. Then he Apparated to the hospital. His heartbeat made him feel lightheaded with its speed.

*

Harry had cooperated with the mediwizards who brought him lunch, and as a result his stomach was full of warm soup and a badly-made cheese sandwich. He would have refused if he thought he could safely do so, but his body would need all its strength.

This room was larger than the one he’d had in the temporary ward, though it had fewer pieces of furniture. Harry suspected that residents in the Janus Thickey ward had fewer visitors. And the observation window was visible, an enormous glass pane that stretched along one wall of the room and hummed with wards to prevent patients from smashing it.

Harry preferred it that way, actually. He always knew when he was being watched, even if the shapes of the passers-by were dim and fuzzed images on the other side of the glass. He would know when the best time had come to make his escape.

One shape passed his room, striding briskly, and Harry watched it idly, tempted to make up a story about who it was and where he was going. He would have, except that he couldn’t afford to drift into the listless immobility that marked someone resigned to staying here. He had to be alert, had to focus on reality.

When Malfoy stepped into the room, that became much less difficult. Harry was very focused on the reality of knocking his teeth in.

“Hello, Malfoy,” he said, imitating the bastard’s drawl as much as he could, and not bothering to rise from the bed. “Did the latest patient you wanted to fuck turn you away, so that you had to come to me instead?”

Malfoy bared his teeth, but oddly enough, Harry didn’t think he was doing it out of anger. His eyes were fixed and brilliant, staring through Harry and out the wall. Harry controlled the impulse to turn and follow the path of his gaze. He knew he would see nothing there. Malfoy seemed to have chosen an odd form of revenge against him, trying to make Harry think he was mad.

“I’ve learned to listen,” Malfoy said at last, and drew his wand. Harry rolled his eyes.

“Listen to my insults, you mean? Let’s see you try your best Body-Bind, then.” Harry could feel his wandless magic building and churning in him. A morning of rest and an excellent meal had restored it to full potential. He wanted to rest still further, so that he could leave during the night when there would be fewer people around, but it was comforting to know that, if Malfoy did restrain him somehow and leave him that way, he could throw off the spell.

“To your words,” Malfoy said softly, and his face had softened, too. Harry found himself crawling backwards, pressing his shoulders to the wall. “And to your gestures. To all the little things I should have attended to, when I was first trying to learn the truth, but let the curse distract me from.” He seemed to force the word curse through his lips, and his forehead prickled with sweat as he said it.

No!

Harry lunged past Malfoy, towards the door, but it seemed that he didn’t need to be perfectly still for the spell to take effect. “Legilimens,” he heard, and then there came the needle-like pain in his eye again, and he knew that Malfoy had slid past his shields and was thrashing about in his thoughts.

Wishing now that he’d put much more effort into Occlumency when he first tried to learn it from Snape, Harry dived after him, determined to haul him out.

*

Draco needed to sink deeper more quickly than he liked. Harry’s uncoordinated attempts to remove him wouldn’t do anything, of course; Draco was the best Psyche-Diver in Britain, and Harry hadn’t even had elementary training in Legilimency. But this being his mind gave him something of the advantage of home ground, and Draco had to make sure that he couldn’t interfere, or distract him at a crucial point.

So Draco did need to approach the problem like a Gryffindor after all, and use the incantation that he had been avoiding all his professional life and certainly had never contemplated using on Harry Potter.

Anima frango!”

And his soul splintered.

*

Harry cried out as an intense shuddering sensation coursed up and down his body. It didn’t hurt, but it rattled his ribs in their settings, made his teeth jangle like silver spoons ringing against wineglasses, and spilled him to the floor. It took him long moments of dizzy turning to realize he was staring at the ceiling.

He pinched his palms to bring himself back to reality, and then scrambled up and stared at Malfoy. Of course, he stood there like a Muggle statue, his head sagging on his chest, his eyes fixed and dead. His wand stood rigidly in his hand, pointing at Harry, turning like a compass needle wherever he moved.

Harry glanced longingly at the door. He could still run through it, and anyone who came to investigate might be more concerned with Malfoy and his strange behavior than they would be with Harry’s escape—

Then he reminded himself, savagely, that he couldn’t afford to lay his escape against such chances. Might was not acceptable. It had to be would, and his best chance of escape still lay with the night and the inattentive mediwizards that would walk the Janus Thickey ward then.

Besides, wherever he went, he would carry Malfoy’s consciousness within him, and God knew what the consequences of that might be.

Grimly, Harry closed his eyes. Did he figure it out? He sounded like he’d figured it out.

Well, not for long.

And he bore down again, seeking some trace of Malfoy, willing to swat and hunt like a cat after a fly until he found it.

*

Draco writhed in pain as the spell cut through him at the deepest levels, crunching and tearing like a hawk’s talons into a mouse’s flesh. But he didn’t cease the magic, though he could have at any time simply by casting Finite Incantatem. Instead, he gritted his teeth and kept his thoughts alert past the pain, for the moment when the process would be complete and a small shard of his soul would be torn free of the rest. After some of the stranger things he had seen in patients’ minds, that should be easy.

Or you thought it would be.

But, as it turned out, he knew the time after all, because the pain abruptly ceased. Draco cast desperately after the piece of himself now drifting away.

This was the dangerous moment, he knew, the one that the books cautioned him against, and the reason why he’d never used this spell. Tearing one’s soul was a component of the darkest magic, something that normally only happened with murder. Including a spell like this in the books meant to teach Psyche-Divers had occasioned all sorts of protests, and Draco had fought long and hard—emphasizing the unlikelihood of anyone ever using the spell, and its healing purpose in this case—to have the right to print it.

He caught the piece of his soul, and instead of letting it disintegrate, as a careless murderer would, or fastening it to an object, as was the way of most Dark magic using it, he made a gift of it, consciously willed it to go—

To Harry.

In the strange darkness and imagined space that occupied the center of another person’s mind, Draco saw the piece of his soul, glowing like a snowflake lit from behind by intense winter sunshine, drift downwards and downwards. Draco dived after it, his hands stroking over memories, feelings, sensations, contradictions. The piece of his soul should go exactly where he thought it should, but, on the other hand, he’d never used this spell before. Practice might be rather different from theory.

Further, and then the darkness shredded away from him, melting like black snow in the wake of an ultramarine sun. Draco drew a deep breath of satisfaction when he realized he was once more among the blue-green arches of Harry’s soul, but didn’t take his eyes off the piece of his soul in front of him, and didn’t stop swimming. If he looked away now, he might very well lose his gift; it would take on protective coloration to become part of the man he had given it to.

And that started to happen; his soul-fragment slowed, lights dancing and flickering through it, and the harsh blue color began to fade. Draco knew it would look for a place to settle and then fasten there, like a bit of ice becoming part of a larger glacier. Or at least, that was what he supposed would happen, having researched the spell before but never used it.

He couldn’t allow it to happen. Not yet.

Reaching out, he snatched up the fragment of soul. It felt strange in his hand, burning and repulsing him, but so familiar that letting go of it would be as hard as releasing his own severed limb on a battlefield. He aimed it at the core of Harry’s soul, where the darkness—

Call it what it is, Draco.

—of the Cassandra Curse would still crouch. But Draco had a weapon now, one that could shelter him and take him through that shield without the risk of losing his own sanity.

He hoped. This was still more theory than practice.

Once aimed in the right direction, the piece of his soul began to blaze and tug, pulling him along with it. It could have fastened itself anywhere in Harry’s soul and slowly made its way to the core, but it would settle there first, given choice. Draco closed his eyes and concentrated on making the rest of his soul, the parts that still belonged to him, as much like this shard as possible.

He focused his attention on Harry, on how easy it had been to give his efforts over to this man he hadn’t seen in nine years and had hated for far longer than that. Never had he become invested in any other patient so quickly. Never had he started dreaming about another’s soul, with the hunger to enter it again and again; he had had to fight not to find excuses to start Diving when he didn’t really need to. Never had he derived such powerful pleasure from so simple an enjoyment as holding Harry in his arms.

With little risked, there is little gained.

Draco understood that, now. He thought he had when he opened his soul to Harry, regardless of the fact that the Cassandra Curse had prevented Harry from answering him fully just then. He’d felt Harry’s willingness to let down barriers. He would coax them to fall—but only by giving more of himself, only by showing that he wasn’t afraid and didn’t think Harry should be, either.

So this fragment of soul, this ultimate gift, which Harry would have to cherish and hold forever when its work of guiding Draco through the darkness was done.

The brooding whirlwind of the Cassandra Curse was ahead of him now, and the tendrils rose and cracked like bullwhips as Draco floated near their edges. He shivered a bit. One reason he had been unwilling to dare the darkness before now was a simple lack of information about what would likely happen to him inside it. And he still didn’t know. After all, Psyche-Diving hadn’t been real when those ancient wizards had invented the Cassandra Curse, so it wasn’t surprising that the books contained no answers.

But the fragment of soul was determined to go home, and Draco would have to trust that it would serve as a shield, partially masking his presence by glowing so strongly of Harry.

And then he had a chance to find out, since the pull to Harry’s core grew more intense this close in, like gravity, and he had crossed the barrier into the maelstrom before he was quite aware of it.

All around him was silence.

*

The sensation of Malfoy’s intruding presence abruptly vanished from Harry’s awareness. He opened his eyes and twisted his head around, staring at Malfoy’s motionless body. Had he come back, then? Would he speak of some further disappointment in a moment?

But nothing happened. He stayed as mechanically still as ever, but when Harry edged to the side, the wand swung as mechanically to follow him.

Harry clenched his hands into fists on his knees. The thing that most irritated him was that he had no idea what Malfoy was doing. Why had he attempted this again? What did he think he could do that he hadn’t done the other two times?

Harry waited to be forced into the soul-blending process again, forced to face the fact that he had hurt yet another person.

But nothing happened. Moments passed as soft and numerous as snowfall, and Harry leaned his head back against his bed, the cords in his neck stretched to the breaking point.

*

Draco had never been more isolated. Blindness engulfed his eyes. The piece of soul felt like nothing under his hands; he was only sure that he still held it because without it, he thought the curse would have swallowed him. There were no smells or tastes—there never were inside someone else’s soul, unless he was blending his with theirs as he had on the last Dive into Harry’s psyche.

But worst was the silence.

It muffled him, not only his voice but his sense of himself. Draco couldn’t draw a breath without imagining high glass walls cutting him off from everyone he’d ever loved. It was easy, here, to think that his mother was dead instead of merely in France, that he had lost his every friend in the war, and that Harry would never look at him with friendliness in his eyes. Death would have hurt him less, because at least then he would not feel this pain.

Draco wanted to curl up, tuck his hands to his chest and strike wildly in any direction, seeking for a way out. Only the fact that his fingers were curled so tightly about the soul-shard he couldn’t loosen them prevented him from trying it.

And then his head came up—he knew that, in spite of the curse’s attempts to make him forget how his body moved—and he understood.

This was the same isolation that Harry had lived through for the past year. The Cassandra Curse, after all, affected mostly his communication with other people, their interpretations of his language and the sounds he made. Even Draco himself hadn’t been immune to that; he’d bought Harry’s lies along with the rest of them.

But Harry had existed under this silence, under this loneliness. He’d fought his way through it and come out the other side, heavily scarred but still alive.

Draco could not do less. He would not have anyone else say that Harry Potter had done something he could not—not here, not in the soul that was supposed to be his special knowledge and domain.

Besides, if he was going to share part of his soul with Harry, he had to show him that their stubbornness was equal.

He reared up and struck ahead boldly, accepting the fear that the silence inspired in him, but conquering it, too. He could let his lungs cramp and his cheeks freeze with unshed tears and his chest swell in panic without dashing off. He could follow the bit of soul and determine that he would keep following it, wherever it led him. He could do everything Harry had done: staking out a goal and holding grimly to it, come what may.

He could refuse to give up and lie down and die, which was what the curse had been designed, he now understood as it twined itself with him in intimate cruelty, to make its victims do.

Harry had survived it without going insane, perhaps the first person in history to do so. And Draco’s hunger to know him better increased exponentially at the mere thought.

And then he broke through.

He heard a long, dying scream in his ears, as though the curse were a living beast to be hurt by his hacking through it. He didn’t care. He was too busy drinking in the sight ahead of him.

Harry’s core.

It took the form of an arched dome of many colors, each gleaming bit of glass or tile set in exactly the right place to continue the form of an abstract, glorious design without end. Here were all of Harry’s flaws and virtues, most concentrated, and so there was obsidian and sunrise-gold and purple like the flakes of a geode among the jade and sapphire. But it blazed. Oh, how it shone.

Draco felt something shift and change in himself as he floated there. It felt small, a click around his heart, a new sound to its beat, but he knew its effect was forever. He didn’t try to analyze it yet, just drank in the sight of the beauty and enjoyed his triumph.

The soul-shard, through its insistent tugging, at last pulled free from his cramped fingers and fled towards the dome. It danced around the mosaic in dizzy spirals, then turned completely blue and settled into its proper place, a scale high on the flanks of the glass. Draco smiled. He couldn’t even recognize it as a separate entity after its light faded.

They would carry a part of each other within themselves now, both he and Harry. Draco was inclined to count the sight of Harry’s core as a gift, nearly as precious as his gift of a piece of his own soul.

Draco closed his eyes, and flung up his arms in celebration, and rose towards the surface of Harry’s soul, eagerly anticipating the sight of his face once he understood that someone understood him.

*

Malfoy stirred. Harry sat up, his jaw working. He wouldn’t play Malfoy’s games, whatever they were. He would answer insults with insults and false kindness with crudity, the way he had so far.

Malfoy opened his eyes. Harry stiffened at the sight of the victory in them. What does he want now?

“I broke through.”

“Broke through what?” After the exultant softness of Malfoy’s tones, Harry’s own voice sounded in his ears as harshly as a crow’s. He didn’t care. He wanted to know what the bastard meant. He had no right to sound like that, not after a dive into a soul he must perceive as befouled.

Perhaps he thinks soul-rot is pretty. It wouldn’t be surprising.

“The blackness the curse wrapped around your soul.” Malfoy smiled at him. “I didn’t break the curse for anyone else—only the caster can do that—but whoever invented that spell couldn’t have known that Psyche-Diving would be invented someday, too. I know the truth now, and I can help to convince others.”

Harry stared at him. Then he snarled, “You’re lying, Malfoy.”

“And that doesn’t make me angry,” the git whispered, “because that’s the truth as you perceive it.”

Harry’s head was brilliant with rushing, dizzy light. His limbs trembled and ached, and his throat itched with the urge to cry.

So many months, a year, I waited for help, and it comes now? Just when I’m on the verge of escaping from everything? And it would leave me utterly dependent on someone I wouldn’t even trust with the Apparition coordinates of my flat?

No!

Harry lashed out with his wandless magic, cutting open Malfoy’s extended hand and knocking him sprawling. Then he lurched to his feet and ripped open the wards that guarded the door and observation window, not caring about the alarms that immediately began to shrill.

He—

If he stayed here, he would become—

Weak. He would be weak. He would ask Malfoy for help, and the bastard would delight in cutting him open with the power he had over Harry.

And everything would have been wrong. And everything he suffered during the past year would have been for nothing.

Malfoy couldn’t have solved the problem when Harry had tried and labored so hard and hadn’t managed to. He couldn’t be Harry’s answer.

Harry was escaping now.

He ran.

Chapter Text

Harry skidded out of his room and used the momentum and a slap of his hand against one wall to turn him in the direction of the “normal” ward where he had last stayed. His mind was running in frantic circles in his head, and he knew that he had to master it and follow the track of his clear thoughts. Dash around St. Mungo’s like a wild thing, and he would just be captured and shut up in some ward even more secure than the Janus Thickey. And this time, they wouldn’t leave him alone as much as they had when they didn’t know that he possessed wandless magic.

But it was so hard to think with fear running in his veins like hot tar, and when his legs knew where to go for the first part of his journey, and when his thoughts had a good reason to be frantic.

Malfoy knew.

Harry’s last bit of privacy was stolen. There could be no doubt but that Malfoy would urge him to stay in St. Mungo’s now, and work with the Healers to establish links with the outside world again. But since Malfoy was the only one who knew the truth, he was the one who would have to mediate between Harry and the Healers. Harry would be as helpless as a baby, or a Muggle who spoke another language and couldn’t use a translation charm.

He had had enough of being helpless in the past year. He had finally managed to achieve some measure of control over his life, he’d put his plan into effect, and Malfoy was choosing now to interfere?

Where had he been when Harry most needed him, then, if he really wanted to help so much?

Harry was aware, somewhere in himself, that he was being unfair, since Malfoy hadn’t known that Harry had any problems before he ended up in St. Mungo’s for attempted suicide. But he didn’t care. He was allowed to be unfair.

But not stupid.

He caught himself just as he was running towards the lifts. Of course he couldn’t take them. The Healers controlled them, and all they had to do was command the one he chose to stop, and then he was trapped. And it was a confined space, one where he couldn’t maneuver and duck spells, or lead his pursuers a merry chase.

He listened intently. Yes, there were the steps of his pursuers now, pounding up the stairs at the far end of the corridor, past the room where he’d first been kept. He flared his nostrils and turned for the stairs on the other end. That would carry him through the Janus Thickey ward again, but that would be good. They wouldn’t expect him to plunge back into the trap he’d escaped. They would waste time securing the lifts and the other end of the fourth floor first, and any extra moments he had would be appreciated.

This path would take him past Malfoy again, too, of course.

A dull, throbbing pain appeared in his chest when he thought of Malfoy. Harry shook his head in irritation and sped up. Why should he feel as if he were carrying part of Malfoy around, and now there was a stretch between them, a distance that shouldn’t increase more than a few feet at a time unless they both gave permission for it to do so?

He shouldn’t. And he didn’t feel that way. He was overstrained and overexcited right now, and it wasn’t surprising that he was interpreting the sensations he did feel in the oddest ways.

He knew exactly where Malfoy was as he ran back past his room: sprawled on the floor. Harry ignored that, and shoved away the implications of the knowledge when they tried to make themselves known to him, writhing through his mind like serpents.

It’s not real. I can’t trust him. We have nothing to do with each other anymore.

*

Draco had found his first moments without a piece of his soul and with clear evidence of Harry Potter’s wandless magic…interesting, to say the least.

He felt a cascade of searing pain across his hand, and then he was on the floor with the wind knocked out of him and his head stinging as fiercely as his hand, and a part of himself was far away. It was annoying, as though he’d misplaced an eyeball. Even shaking his head and staring hard at certain corners of the room didn’t rid him of it.

Well, he would just endure.

And then the knowledge of Harry’s escape came fully to him, and Draco cursed silently. He knew exactly why Harry had run, and he had only himself to scold for not predicting those actions. He knew Harry had been suffering for a year in intense isolation, caging God knew how much emotion and helplessness under a mask of careless indifference. He had no outlet. And now he was offered one, but not with a person he had ever loved or trusted. Of course he would run away, and then do his best to keep away from that person as well as the rest of the staff at St. Mungo’s.

Draco felt a clenching surge around his heart, as though he were about to have an attack there. But when he pressed his hand there, it grew no stronger, and his heart was laboring no more than normal. This was just the result of the connection between him and Harry, he thought. He knew, vaguely, the direction Harry was in, and he could feel the pull if he got closer.

But if Harry got outside the hospital…

Draco wasn’t sure he could track him down again, unless he came near Harry by accident. And he had to track him down. He had literally invested part of himself in Harry now. There was no way to end this but by breaking the Cassandra Curse for everyone—which meant finding the caster and demanding he or she remove the spell.

And if Harry got away from him and out into the Muggle world or wider wizarding world, perhaps the caster would have better resources to search for him than Draco would. He’d have a reason, the way he’d had a reason to move Harry into the Janus Thickey ward and try to leave him there to rot. He wouldn’t be obliging enough to sit back and wait while Draco stumbled about looking for Harry.

Enemies never stay still, Draco thought, something he had learned while he was still in Slytherin, and then he was on his feet and acting like a Gryffindor, again, going with the impulse that had popped into his head while he sorted through his options. He pulled a button from his robes, tapped it twice, and cast the spell that would turn it into a Portkey.

Then he slid it into his pocket and went Harry-hunting. He knew he had come back through this ward and started to take the stairs. He would be heading downwards, of course, since there was only the visitors’ room and teashop above them. And he would be aiming for the front doors, since wandless magic wouldn’t be strong enough to allow him to Apparate and he wouldn’t dare go near a Floo connection—

Draco blinked twice. He wondered if the piece of his soul planted in Harry had truly given him more insight into the man, or if he was only thinking things that would be common sense to anyone even slightly acquainted with Harry.

He wants his wand, of course. He won’t leave without that, especially if he doesn’t intend to come back.

And of course he didn’t intend to come back. So far as Harry was concerned, the wizarding world was closed to him, especially if he wouldn’t take Draco’s hand. He would want his wand with him when he ran. As long as he had that, he had the basics of making a new life elsewhere.

Draco couldn’t permit that, because Harry would transform himself into some cringing creature living in the shadows, fearful of any contact with his neighbors, and Draco thought he deserved better.

He began to run himself, hoping that he got to Harry before the staff of St. Mungo’s—or someone working for his enemy—did.

*

Harry flattened himself on the stairs as a Body-Bind curse shot above his head. It spattered harmlessly against the far wall, but he knew he wouldn’t be so lucky with every spell sent his way. For the moment, the Healers were still confused about what had happened, and they had to move from room to room, checking to make sure all the patients were where they were supposed to be. But some of them had seen him now, and the information would be relayed to every mediwizard in the building. It’s Harry Potter we’re hunting. Focus on him.

And to make matters worse, it wasn’t as if he were escaping from Death Eaters, and could fling his wandless magic about with impunity. Harry didn’t want to hurt them.

If only they would understand that he had no chance here, and just wanted to go free!

If Draco—

Harry severed the thought before it formed. Malfoy’s just like the rest of them, and why would he tell them the truth? It would be so much more fun for him to claim that he had no idea what I was talking about, after all.

He’d been right. Life with one person who could understand him but refused to help was worse than a life where everyone stared at him in hatred.

A more serious curse, a jet of purple light, attacked from above. Harry shook his head, telling himself to move, and began to navigate the rest of the stairs to the third floor.

*

Draco closed his eyes, dangerous though it was, as he ran past the Healers who were chattering like frightened birds and towards the stairs. Most of them would recognize him on sight—it was the hair, Draco had always thought—and he couldn’t take the lifts right now, they’d be too crowded.

He’s on the third floor.

Draco leaped over several steps, opening his eyes to do that, and nearly collided with a mediwizard who had his wand out and was peering around the corner. The man drew himself up with an offended huff, but Draco had no time for the niceties of communication.

“Harry Potter is my patient,” he said. “I need to know if he came this way.” The connection pulsing in his chest told him that, yes, Harry had, but he would prefer that others know he was on the trail, so that he was not stopped or hindered.

“He escaped from one of your sessions, did he?” The mediwizard had a sneering mouth and crooked eyes that Draco disliked, and not only for their ugliness, at first sight. He returned a cold stare that cowed the man a bit, at least enough to make him step back.

“He did, in fact,” Draco said. “I didn’t know that he could use wandless magic—“

Wandless?” Sudden panic gleamed in the back of the mediwizard’s expression like foam blown from the top of waves. “We thought he’d got his wand back somehow, that someone brought it to him out of misguided compassion. But if he ripped open the wards by himself—“

“And did this,” said Draco, glad of the wound now as he extended the hand. If it would keep more people away from Harry and give him the time to approach him in relative calmness and isolation, he would be grateful.

The mediwizard studied the cut, his experience telling him how deep it was, though the blood had stopped running by now and so it looked less gruesome. He swallowed, then said, “What do you want me to do?”

“Leave Potter to me,” said Draco as smoothly as he could, while joy hammered its wings in him. “I can make him stop and listen to me. I triggered his reaction in the first place by asking a question I shouldn’t have asked, but I also know what will calm him, and I’ll talk to him until he is calm. Tell the others. Make them back off and stand ready if I need them. Close off Potter’s escape routes, but don’t approach him, no matter what nonsense I seem to be saying.”

“As long as he doesn’t get out of St. Mungo’s,” said the mediwizard, looking torn between duty and his desire for any excuse not to confront a wizard who could do wandless magic.

“He won’t,” Draco said, and turned his attention back to the stairs. “I have no reason to want him gone.”

He touched the Portkey in his pocket as he plunged on. Let the watchers assume he was drawing his wand if they wanted. He knew the truth.

*

Harry had had to duck onto the third floor to avoid an alert mediwitch with a drawn wand, and then he’d had to hide further behind a bed left outside an observation window, because Healers and mediwizards and trainees and the rest of the lot were pelting up and down the corridors, asking each other impatient questions. He ground his teeth as his panic subsided and his clearer thoughts told him what a mess he’d made of everything.

If you’d managed to wait, and just convince Malfoy that you didn’t know what he was talking about…

But the bastard was too persistent and too perceptive, and if he really knew the truth, if he really had been at the core of Harry’s soul, there was no hiding anything from him anyway.

The pulse in his chest beat as if in agreement. Harry shook his head. The moment he was out of the hospital and had Apparated to safety, he’d cast a spell that should diagnose whatever was wrong with him and get it out.

Abruptly, he realized the corridors had cleared, or at least this one had. Harry lifted his head cautiously and turned it in several directions, then decided that he wouldn’t get a better chance to run and started to emerge from behind the bed.

With a soft humming noise, enormous curtains of light appeared, draped over the walls and floor in front of him. Harry shrank back, staring at them. After a moment, his Auror training came to his aid, and he cursed softly at the recognition.

They were red and yellow, the side that faced towards him always crimson, the one that faced away always gold. They were wards, but not designed to keep someone in his rooms, the way that the wards he’d torn had been. Instead, the red side would mark the fugitive with a visible aura, and the gold side would weaken his muscles and stir his brain into a slow dive towards sleep. Passing one curtain wouldn’t mean his capture, but passing the ten or more he probably would have to cross to get out of St. Mungo’s would.

Harry gave vent to his feelings for one of the first times since he’d come here and screamed in rage. No one responded. Of course, they didn’t want to come too near him when he was like this. They were just waiting for the double wards to sedate him so that they could approach him comfortably.

None of them, except perhaps Malfoy, knew what they were dealing with, and if Harry had any luck in the world, Malfoy was still unconscious on the floor of Harry’s room.

Harry stood up from behind the bed. He spent a few moments standing in plain sight, breathing hard, gathering up every bit of hatred and rage and fear and desire to be free he’d felt since he was brought to this place. And then he reached further back that, reliving the sharp, jagged memories of his year without anyone else. The emotions swirled in the middle of his chest, building, compressed into a small space and getting more explosive by the moment.

Harry raised his hands, facing the doubled curtains of light, and let the emotions fly, as magic.

Enormous flashes of brilliance, quick and bright as lightning, filled the corridor. Harry smelled the scent of singing cloth, and the hiss and bubble that followed the smell suggested he’d succeeded in burning at least a few holes in the stone. Purple whips cracked around him. Dazzling afterimages flared across his sight. Smoke lay heavy on his tongue.

But when he could see again, the crimson-and-gold wards were gone.

Harry took a grim smile, and a single step forwards.

He nearly pitched onto his face, just in time bringing his arms down to support himself. His muscles trembled like marmalade, and he cursed again. He was exhausted, and he didn’t know if he could get to the desk where his wand hovered in the cage with all the others.

Yes, you could, said the same implacable will that had kept him alive through numerous desires to die and flee the wizarding world before he had assurance that the Ministry would not come after him. You will.

With a sob of pain—the spell had backlashed and burned his legs—Harry Potter forced himself to his feet again and began to walk, building into a shaky trot.

*

Draco shook his head as he slowly lowered his hand from his face. He should have suspected that a trapped Harry would manage to do the impossible and break St. Mungo’s strongest wards, but he hadn’t enjoyed the discovery. He was still stunned, slightly blind and slightly deaf from the burst of magic.

But the connection in his chest told him Harry had reached the second floor, and certainly, if Draco didn’t get to him, no one else would. Someone had probably alerted the Aurors by now, and the Healers would remain safely in hiding until they came.

And with the Aurors might come Harry’s enemy from the Ministry.

Draco commanded his legs to bear him, and they did. He made it to the staircase that led to the second floor, and cast a Feather-Light Charm on himself, so that he could bound from step to step like a gazelle. The sound of the spell seemed to be the only one in the stunned and waiting hospital.

Second floor, a pause and cocking his head. No, Harry had gone on to the first. But from the richness in his soul like blood in his mouth, Draco thought he wasn’t that far ahead. The effort to tear the wards had taken a lot out of him.

And sure enough, he turned a corner, and there was Harry, a few steps beneath him, one shoulder leaning on the wall as he limped gamely on. His robes were still smoldering.

“Harry!” Draco shouted.

*

Harry had known all along that Malfoy was getting closer—he could divine it through the importunate push in his chest, whatever he wanted to tell himself—but he had hoped that the bastard would remain out of sight until Harry could fetch his wand and cast a Strengthening Charm on himself. But since when was his luck good?

He tried to keep walking, but his momentary pause had made the burned skin on his legs tear open. God, it hurt. His eyes watering from the pain, he turned and faced Malfoy. If he was going to be sent to his death or endless imprisonment in the Janus Thickey ward, at least he’d do it with eyes open.

“What do you want?” he snarled. “Come to mock me some more for my helplessness?”

Malfoy gazed at him without answering for long moments, as if he thought that would intimidate Harry or wanted to give other Healers a chance to catch up. Then he reached into his pocket, took out his wand—

And laid it on the floor.

Harry stared at him, not understanding. He had no choice but to hear Malfoy’s next, soft words when he spoke them, however.

“I gave you a piece of my soul,” said Malfoy, his eyes and hair shimmering to make him look like some unearthly thing. If it hadn’t been for that wand lying on the floor, Harry would have been certain he was a hallucination. “That is the reason I could find you so easily. And it means that I saw your core, Harry.”

“Shut up.”

“No,” said Malfoy, with a slight shake of his head. “How can I, when I saw what you’re dealing with, and bearing so bravely? How can I, when I know the Cassandra Curse is real?” He took a few steps nearer, ignoring Harry’s tension, and caught his breath before he spoke, as if he weren’t certain of what came next, after all. “How can I, when I know that you tried to commit suicide because you wanted to get away from the Ministry and whatever enemies you have there, and that you’re fleeing because you want to hide in the Muggle world?”

*

Those last two had still been a guess—at least about the Muggle world instead of a different part of the wizarding world—but they’d done perfectly. Draco saw Harry sag, his head bowing, as if the fact that someone knew everything he’d tried to hide had bereft him of all strength. He controlled the impulse to rush forwards and take him into his arms. Harry would have to come to him.

Harry would have to learn to trust.

“What do you want?” Harry whispered now, his voice as dry and papery as a fallen leaf.

Draco kept his own voice soft and understanding, the voice he used to speak to his mother during the rare times when she firecalled him. “I want you to let me help you. Not here. There is an enemy of yours somewhere in the Ministry—someone who had the power to move you to the Janus Thickey ward when I never authorized it, at least—and he or she will try again to have you declared mad, I’m certain. I want to help you find that person, and force him or her to remove the spell.”

Harry’s head came up, his green eyes wide. “But the caster would have forgotten casting the spell.”

Draco shook his head once more. “I don’t think so. The Cassandra Curse changes perceptions, but it also strengthens negative emotions. Whoever this is still hates you. Maybe he doesn’t remember the exact cause of his hatred or what else he’s done in pursuit of it, but that doesn’t matter. He could hurt you. And…call me disinclined to see someone who has a piece of my soul inside him die.”

Harry swayed. Draco knew it wasn’t only the weariness of destroying the wards and running through the hospital that had got to him. He was also remembering all the other times he’d reached out for help and been slapped away.

“How can I know this is real?” Harry whispered.

“I’m hearing everything you say as the truth,” Draco murmured.

Harry jolted. He stood with head bowed for long moments before he looked up once more. Draco licked his lips. There were so many emotions fighting in those green eyes, including some that he knew Harry had tried to leave behind.

“I don’t—you’ll hurt me again,” Harry said. “You’ve never liked me.”

“I’ve seen your soul,” said Draco. “I could never hate anyone who bore something so beautiful. And you’re a challenge.” He grinned. “We’ll be fighting against the entire Ministry, at least until we narrow it down to a few suspects, and I’ll have to fool St. Mungo’s at the same time. That sounds like a challenge to me.”

And it did. He hadn’t known how badly he wanted a change, until Harry came along. There had been too many years of the same thing: Healing people who were ungrateful for it, and having St. Mungo’s refuse to acknowledge his skill. If he was with Harry, one person would acknowledge him no matter what happened, and if they were successful in digging out the enemy, then maybe they all would someday.

He had some ambitions left to tend. They could be let out into the open if Harry was with him. He wanted Harry with him quite as much for his own sake as Harry’s.

“I get something out of this,” he added, when Harry went on staring at him. “But I want to help you, too.”

Harry shut his eyes. Draco felt his own smile fade as the connection between them stretched taut and trembling. He did not know what Harry would decide, and if he tried to press the matter, Harry would either lash out at him or fall senseless, and then Draco would have interference from others on his hands.

Though it was the hardest thing he had done in his life, he extended one hand, and then he waited.

*

Harry was so tired.

He almost wanted to lie down and let the hospital staff have him. It wasn’t such a great sacrifice, was it? One had to have a life and freedom that meant something to think that going into a ward was a sacrifice. He could have kind treatment within the curse’s limits, and regular meals, and no one chasing him around. And no struggle, ever.

He almost wanted to lift his wrists to his mouth and tear them open again with his teeth. Death would be the ultimate stopping point, the ultimate cessation of struggle. No one could bother him there. No one could hurt him. Guilt and regrets couldn’t pursue him.

He was so tired of fighting.

He wasn’t sure that he could muster up the will for one more battle.

But when he tried to make himself close his eyes and crumple to the floor, he couldn’t do that, either. The same stubbornness that had driven him through his trials so far rose up in him, and he hung in a void between his own fatigue and his own bloody-mindedness.

I don’t trust him.

But I trust everything else less than I trust him.

And…if I always have to do the hardest thing, the hardest thing right now is trusting him, not collapsing on the floor or turning my back and trying to go on.

The hardest thing is hoping.

From somewhere within himself, Harry’s strength rose to his call. He gave a weak smile. Malfoy—Draco—whose extended hand shook, shifted his stance to the side, as if he thought this was the beginning of an escape attempt.

“All right,” he whispered.

Draco’s face melted into a smile like his soul, and he came down the stairs even as Harry climbed them, shaking with every move he made. They met in the middle, and Harry leaned forwards, still half-expecting a trick.

But Draco’s arms were there, and Draco’s body was warm, and Harry leaned against him with a little sob of relief, his arms threading firmly around Draco’s waist. Hair and skin and fingers and chest—he’d forgotten so much about the simple pleasure of being touched by another human being.

He felt Draco stoop to pick up his wand, and then he whispered into Harry’s ear, “You have to go ahead of me, or they’ll suspect too much.”

Harry nodded, though he couldn’t make himself raise his head from Draco’s shoulder. But he felt Draco shift him gently until they were touching but free of each other’s embrace, and then something small and round was placed into his palm.

Draco murmured a word as he drew his hand back, and a swirl of dazzling colors grabbed Harry.

*

Draco, left behind on the stairs at St. Mungo’s, contorted his face into an expression of shock and whipped around, staring. He knew the angle had been perfect. There were Healers and mediwizards watching them, but none closer than the top or bottom of the flight. They would have seen him coax Harry in, and then they would have seen Harry vanish, but the angle of Harry’s body and the walls would have prevented them from seeing the Portkey.

The Portkey that had taken Draco’s patient straight to Malfoy Manor.

Draco stooped and picked up his wand with shaking hands. “He’s gone!” he shouted, and heard the immediate stir that produced.

There were several things to do now. He would have to retrieve Harry’s wand, answer questions from the Aurors and anyone else who wanted to ask them, and perfect his mask of horror that a patient had escaped. But then he could go home.

And he and Harry could—talk.

He just had to stop himself from grinning like a successful Psyche-Diver until then, and practice looking like a disappointed one. He’d seen several examples, though he’d never had the displeasure of being one himself. He could manage this.

Chapter Text

Harry nearly fled when he recognized the sensation of traveling by Portkey, but the swirl of colors died out of sight at once, and he realized that he stood in some sort of wide, airy room, very different from anything at St. Mungo’s. Calming his wild, yammering thoughts that said Draco had betrayed him, he stared in several directions.

It must be Malfoy Manor, but somehow Harry had never envisioned Malfoy Manor containing any rooms like this. There was a fireplace and a long table in the middle, essential components for conducting wizard business, but the walls were done in a pale blue calmer than any color the hospital used to soothe its patients. It was on the edge of the color of the sea, if Harry looked at it right. The windows took up the eastern and western walls of the room, arched panes that made Harry think of being in the middle of a greenhouse, and gazed on a grassy parkland with scattered trees and flowing water in the distance. The view made Harry’s breathing and heartbeat slow even further.

A pair of dark wooden doors stood open at either end of the room, but at the moment, Harry didn’t feel much like exploring. He collapsed into a comfortable chair near the cold fireplace and drank in the sight of the sun.

*

Draco knew the Aurors were frustrated with him. It was no large clue that told him so, only the sight of set faces becoming more and more set, fingers hovering on the edge of an impatient drumming rhythm, teeth grinding softly, as if that would make him less likely to notice the grinding.

Draco folded his hands one on top of each other in the small room where they’d brought him—one usually occupied by a senior Healer counseling family members on bearing their grief—and smiled.

The tallest Auror, who had blond hair and had interrogated him fruitlessly so far, cursed abruptly and turned away. “Lila, you take over,” he snapped at the small woman who had accompanied him.

Lila, who had dark hair from which a red highlight now and then sparked, slid into the chair across from Draco. She had dark eyes which reflected no more emotion than a turtle’s, and Draco knew from the calm smile she gave him that she was dangerous. He didn’t flinch or betray any sign of discomfort. After all, he was dangerous, too, and considerably more so than a woman who had consented to serve at the Ministry, bastion of deception and corruption.

He kept his shoulders straight, his face attentive. Lila might work for Harry’s enemy, or be a means of getting information back to him, even if she didn’t know it. For Harry’s sake, his performance had to be perfect.

“Mr. Malfoy,” she began.

“Psyche-Diver,” Draco corrected her politely. He would insist on his proper title, and if they thought him fussy and over-formal for doing so, well, that didn’t matter. One’s foes carrying away false assumptions about one was always a plus.

“Psyche-Diver Malfoy.” Lila didn’t show her anger as her partner would have. Her smile was tranquil and didn’t bare her teeth. “You claim that Mr. Potter had just come to you when he panicked and Apparated?”

Draco nodded. “I’d told him a nonsense story about believing what he said, even though he’s spent the past year and his entire stay in St. Mungo’s lying. He claimed to trust me. He even embraced me. And then, just as I thought that I’d managed to secure him and I could signal the others to move in, he vanished.”

“You do know that wandless Apparition is considered impossible?” Lila’s expression did not vary as she spoke the words, did not show a trace of condescension or fury.

“Don’t tell me that Harry Potter can’t do the impossible when he wants.” Draco gave his head a little shake as he held her eyes. “You didn’t see the way he tore through the hospital’s strongest wards just a few minutes earlier.”

“We felt the traces of magic. I think that I know what Mr. Potter can do, yes.” Lila leaned forwards to stare at his face, and still didn’t turn a hair. “And now his wand is gone.”

Draco grimaced. “Yes. I can only think that, when he realized he could Apparate inside St. Mungo’s and that we were all staring like idiots at the place he’d been, he went downstairs, took his wand from the cage, and disappeared again to—who knows where. I suppose the Ministry has to regard him as a fugitive now?”

Lila’s smile was more clipped than before. “That’s for Minister Scrimgeour to determine, and not you, Psyche-Diver.”

“Of course.” Draco raised one hand, then let it fall. “Forgive me. It’s simply frustrating to know that a patient I spent so much time coaxing to return to health, one nearly there, is gone now.”

“From the story you told on the steps,” Lila murmured, “are you really all that displeased he’s gone? You spoke as if you wanted to help him escape, according to the witnesses we questioned.”

“I told you,” Draco said, letting a trace of his own anger through—which was hard when he wanted to laugh aloud with delight—“I told him that story to get him close to me. He wanted to believe that someone was on his side.”

“According to another witness,” Lila said, “there was a swirl of color on the stairs, as if Potter had taken a Portkey.”

“He had a Portkey in this hospital, where he desperately didn’t want to be,” Draco said with flat incredulity. “And he didn’t use it.”

“This witness suggested that you might have given it to him.”

Draco rolled his eyes and handed his wand across the table. “Cast Priori Incantatem on it if you like,” he said. “You won’t find that the last spell I used was to make a Portkey.”

Lila picked up the wand, face so still he had no idea what she thought, and waved her own wand above it. Sure enough, the grasping hand representative of a Summoning Charm uncurled from the hawthorn wand’s tip and then faded. She raised her eyebrows, and Draco shrugged. “I thought he might still be somewhere nearby, and I tried to summon him. Stupid idea.”

Of course, he had actually Summoned Harry’s wand from the floating cage behind the desk, but since even the witch who usually welcomed guests to St. Mungo’s had been away from her post, joining the hunt for Harry Potter, no one had heard what he shouted after his Accio.

“Hmmm,” said Lila, and returned the wand to him. Draco accepted it gratefully. Never taking her eyes off him, the Auror then cast the Summoning Charm. “Accio Harry Potter’s wand!”

The wand didn’t fly to her, though Draco felt it wriggle in the pocket of the trousers that he wore under his robes. Rather difficult for it to go to her when he was sitting on it, Draco thought, as he gave the witch an apologetic smile and a shrug.

“I do not know that we have the right to retain you here any longer, Psyche-Diver,” Lila said, rising gracefully to her feet.

Damn right you don’t, Draco thought, but he did his best to keep his face in the same careful, polite mask from before.

“If you uncover any information on Potter’s whereabouts, I trust that you will let myself or Barnaby know?” Lila paused with her hand on the door of the room, her eyes trained backwards, as if she thought that Draco would change his expression and rub his hands together gleefully the moment she turned away.

“Of course,” said Draco. “I’m always glad to help the Ministry.” He pasted on a bright, false smile that he knew would not seem false to someone like Lila, who probably thought that everyone who worked outside the Ministry would kill for a job inside it. She gave him a smile like winter fog and drifted away like it, too, leaving Draco to sigh and massage his face, as if Harry’s escape had wearied him.

Touching his face was an excuse to cover the grin that still threatened to burst out of him.

Just a few more people to lie to, and then I can go home to the Manor and explain things to Harry.

*

Harry had honestly lost track of time, despite having the moving sun to give him a better idea of the hours than he’d had when locked in St. Mungo’s. He’d just stared and stared out the window, and sometimes drifted into sleep, and sometimes awakened with a start, imagining that he heard Ron or Hermione’s voice calling for him, or Ginny teasing him for sleeping so late.

I don’t have those things. I’ll never have them again.

That revelation made him rise to his feet and pace back and forth. Why had he come here? Malfoy had spoken as if Harry stood a chance of regaining what he’d lost, but how could that be, when they still hadn’t broken the Cassandra Curse for anyone else? Thousands of wizards and witches worked in the Ministry, and many of them had reasons to wish Harry harm—probably many that he’d never heard of and could never guess. Some people took every loss in the war personally, and thought that it had been his duty to save everybody, despite the impossibility of that. If someone had chosen this particular Dark Arts spell as a form of vengeance, how would he ever know?

“There you are! I thought the Portkey had brought you to this room, but I wasn’t sure.”

Harry spun around, one hand raised defensively. He was still tired, but the nap in the chair had somewhat restored him. He couldn’t cast the same kind of magic he could if he had a wand, but he could make Malfoy sorry he’d been born if he tried to hurt him.

Something banged off his palm and rolled on the floor. Harry stared at it in confusion, and then recognized his wand. He stooped to pick it up and turned it over in his hands, blinking at it.

“What…?”

“You could say that you’re grateful, you know.” Malfoy folded his arms and grinned at him. The grin was narrow and more private than the smile he’d given Harry on the stairs at St. Mungo’s, when he had seemed to sincerely rejoice in Harry’s partial freedom from the curse. Now he looked—conniving.

And what else did you expect a Malfoy to be? Harry thought, even as he ran his fingers over his wand in delight. He fought down the first responses that rose to his lips, though, reminding himself of two things: Malfoy had helped him, despite a lack of any real reason to do so, and now that he had his wand back, he could still go to the Muggle world if he wanted.

“Why?” he asked, quietly.

“I thought we went through this back in hospital.” Malfoy strode past Harry to take one of the other chairs, putting his hand out as he passed and brushing Harry’s elbow in a proprietary manner. Harry was too startled to object. “You did say that you’d trust me, and you agreed to come with me.”

“I was a bit out of my mind with fear just then.” Harry turned to face him, spinning his wand. As long as he kept one end pointed towards Malfoy, he could relieve his feelings of being trapped here. “Talk to me again. Tell me why I should accept your offer of—complicity, instead of striking out on my own. With the plans I had in place, no one would ever find me if I didn’t want them to.”

*

Draco spent a moment looking keenly into Harry’s face, and not just to read the emotions there. It was a positive pleasure to watch his small gestures and habitual expressions unhindered by the Cassandra Curse. Draco had not realized how much the blasted spell influenced his perceptions of Harry, exaggerating any potential malice and making him seem slower and stupider whenever possible.

Seen this way, and ignoring the jagged line of the scar on his brow, Harry Potter was a damn handsome man. That he held his head as if he were unaware of that only made it more striking. His stare was frank. His lips were tight-set, as if he were holding in profanity or a bark of outraged laughter. And Draco could see, though perhaps only because he had been in Harry’s soul, the strength that had supported him, pulled him, driven him this far through the most severe trial of his life.

The soul-connection between them had subsided to a soft, steady pulse, nearly mistakable for part of the normal heartbeat. Perhaps because one of them wasn’t trying to run from it and resist it, Draco thought idly.

“Someone would find you eventually,” Draco said quietly. “I told you, you have an enemy. Someone cast that curse on you. Someone transferred you to the Janus Thickey ward. And who was summoned to St. Mungo’s when you escaped?”

“Ron and Hermione, I’d imagine.” Harry’s face shuttered. He’d resigned himself to the loss of his friends, Draco supposed, but it still chafed. He probably thought that he should have broken through the curse earlier, knowing his noble, self-tormenting Gryffindor nature.

“No,” Draco said. “Aurors. I never did get last names, but there was a Barnaby who strikes me as incompetent and a Lila who strikes me as dangerous.”

Harry lifted his upper lip to bare his teeth, not seeming to realize he was making the gesture even as he did it. “Lila Ambernight?”

“No last names, I said.”

His tone of irritation wasn’t enough to rouse Harry from his abstraction; he began to pace slowly back and forth. Draco rapped his fingers on the arm of the chair. He didn’t like it when he wasn’t the center of Harry’s attention.

“I worked with her once,” Harry said slowly. “For only half a year, because our temperaments weren’t right to allow us to continue as partners. She’s a cold fish. Sure that she knows what’s right according to the Ministry rules, and determined to obey them.”

“She was a Slytherin, then?”

“Don’t be stupider than you can help, Malfoy.” Harry rubbed a hand along his arm. “No, I don’t think she was. Hufflepuff, actually, if I’m recalling her file correctly. She wants to obey the rules for their own sake. Their justice doesn’t matter. I can see her reporting information on me to someone higher up in the Ministry. It wouldn’t matter to her why they wanted it. Someone more powerful than she is requested it. They had a right to do so, just because of who they are.”

Draco wasn’t certain he agreed—he thought Lila was more dangerous than that, and no one so dangerous would be content to remain a tiny fish forever—but neither did he think Lila was the one who had cast the Cassandra Curse. He changed the subject. “And you’re still set on taking off on your own?”

Harry stopped walking and stared at the far wall, breathing as if he had to gather his strength. Then he turned back to Draco, his face calm and blank. “You said that you had something to gain from helping me. What was it?”

“Respect,” said Draco, knowing that he could not hide this from Harry, no matter what else happened. “Heroism. Your attention. My own self-respect. There’s never been a patient I couldn’t Heal and help.”

“But you’ve helped me,” Harry said, his brow contracting. “I never would have got out of St. Mungo’s without you. Let me go now.”

Draco laughed softly. “Have you become so dead to hope that you’re incapable of grasping it when it hovers in front of you, a low, bright star?” He held his hand out on the arm of the chair again, palm up. “With my further help, you can find out your enemy’s name. You can make him pay for trying to exile you from the wizarding world without your consent. You can regain your friends. No, I doubt they’re the same people you knew, any more than you’re the same Harry Potter they knew a year ago, but you’ll have them.” He leaned forwards. “And you’re willing to give all that up because of—fear? Pre-made plans you like too much to destroy? Now who’s acting the Hufflepuff and living in compliance with traditions and rules that he doesn’t actually need to obey, Harry?”

*

Harry. The name plucked and pulled at Harry’s insides. No one had called him that in too long. He’d been “Potter” to most of the people at the Ministry, “Mr. Potter” to the mediwitches and Healers who bothered to address him. Ron and Hermione and Ginny still used “Harry,” of course, but in tones of longing and weariness and contempt. Malfoy spoke as he would to another wizard, person-to-person, face-to-face.

And he saw him. Had made extra effort to see Harry, in fact, what with all the diving into his soul.

Harry recalled the thoughts he’d had while under the influence of panic and fatigue in the staircase at St. Mungo’s. He had surrendered then and grasped Malfoy’s hand because trust was the harder course. It was a stupid reason to make this his new road, of course. Why not go to the Muggle world, change his face, and not live as Harry Potter? It would be lonely, yes, but it would also be his own choice. He wasn’t looking forwards to having his life directed and managed the way it was sure to be if he stayed in the Manor.

But—

His life always seemed to be calling him forwards on new roads. It had changed drastically when he was a year old, when he was eleven, when he was eighteen and had finally seen Voldemort’s body wisping away into dust in front of him. And then the Cassandra Curse had unsettled him violently again just a year ago. This would be the fifth switchback, the fifth step into a new existence that might or might not end with him dead.

He couldn’t take it just because it was new; two of the major changes in his life had been for the worse. But on the other hand, he couldn’t reject it just because Malfoy was the one offering it and might profit from it.

“How would this work?” he asked stiffly.

Malfoy’s jaw relaxed, and he leaned forwards still further, until Harry half-hoped he would pitch out of the chair onto his smug face. His hands were flapping in animated motions, though, which helped shape and sculpt his words until Harry, God help him, was seeing some hope in them, too.

*

“You’ll stay here,” Draco said, pleased to note that Harry had given up some of his wild wariness and appeared to be actually listening. “It’s the best solution, since at the moment they think you’re on some wild cross-country flight. They won’t be looking for you to stop in one place in Wiltshire. Together, we’ll work on combing through the Ministry, searching out people who have a certain amount of enmity to you, and eliminating them as suspects.”

“That’s a long list,” Harry muttered.

“I wasn’t planning on this being a short task,” Draco said, raising a reprimanding eyebrow. “I want to get you your life back, and my own good deeds noticed and acknowledged.”

“In that order?”

Draco felt a ball of anticipatory warmth roll up and down the sides of his stomach. Harry would not be easy to work with, but that didn’t matter. In fact, Draco was glad of it, because the more difficulty they had, the closer Harry evidently was to getting his old personality back. “Yes,” he said. “I am still a Psyche-Diver. Helping you recover is part of my job, and thus part of what will get me noticed and acknowledged.”

Harry didn’t spout some shrill nonsense about ambition being repugnant; he just nodded, as if he were thinking it through. “You won’t tell anyone about my presence here, then?”

“No.” Draco snorted in amusement as he thought of the likely expressions on the faces of the Weasleys if he approached them with news of Harry being alive, sane, and in his custody. “The Cassandra Curse is still working for everyone else, and even your best friends might feel that you should be in St. Mungo’s instead of with me, because they distrust me so much. And I don’t know anyone I would trust with news of this magnitude, let alone anyone who would go uninfluenced.”

Harry’s face changed. Draco knew the source of that change, though it was subtle: the green eyes darting back and forth, the tip of Harry’s tongue appearing briefly between his lips.

And he had to find words equal to answering the fear behind Harry’s expression.

“Yes, Harry, you do have to depend on me,” he said, softly but firmly. Let him hear everything I say clearly. I have not lied to him. I will not start now. “I’m the only one who can help you. But though I might mock and humiliate you—it’s just my way—I won’t betray you. I won’t rest until we find out who cast this curse and force them to reverse it. I won’t use my power over you to your disadvantage.” He stood and moved closer, until they stood exactly as far apart as they had on the stairs at St. Mungo’s. “And that isn’t just fear of your magic, either. I respect you too much for that, believe it or not. Let me show you how I can help you before you trust fully, if you want. You won’t regret it.”

And he reached out again and slid his hands into place on Harry’s jaw and the back of his neck. He didn’t realize until they landed how much he’d been longing to do it. He closed his eyes and let the heavy warmth of close contact seep into his bones.

And, once again, he waited.

*

Harry felt as if he had unexpectedly taken a step forwards and found himself reeling down off a dizzy cliff.

A free choice. I am free to make it. Malfoy—Draco—won’t force me. I can Apparate from here and be gone, after all.

But still Draco offered the gift of his words, and his help, and his not-inconsiderable cunning, and his hands.

Harry closed his eyes, striving to attain some cool, objective place above his situation, from which he could choose with impunity. But still his head pounded as if all the blood were rushing to it at once, and his breath came sharp and short. He raised his hands, clasping Draco’s wrists, not sure until it happened whether he’d draw him close or push him away.

He drew him close, and rested his marked forehead against Draco’s clear one.

“If you’re that determined,” he whispered, “count me in.”

*

Draco did not stamp his foot and howl like a demon, because such things were against Malfoy dignity.

He did offer Harry a small smile, which he knew Harry would probably miss this close, and turn his head to whisper into his ear. Harry shivered absently at the gesture. Draco had no intentions of missing anything like that, no matter how small.

“You have no clue,” he whispered, “how determined I can be. You always did bring out the stubbornness in me.”

Harry stepped nearer instead of answering, so that their breaths mingled. Draco kept his hands in their somewhat awkward posture instead of shifting them to an embrace. It felt—right—for what they were. The hug on the steps in St. Mungo’s had been born of desperation, and every other embrace, he’d begun. Harry had initiated this level of contact and nothing else. Draco would keep it like that.

“What are we waiting for, then?” Harry’s words were soft, urgent, close, but the future they lit in Draco’s mind was wide and dazzling. “Let’s start.”

Finite.