By the clock, it had been nearly three days since her son had left Grimmauld Place with the girl, and Narcissa was starting to genuinely worry. Whatever her son had decided to do, well, it should have been done by now. She would accept whatever decision Draco had made, either to take the Horcrux to the Dark Lord when he found it or use its destruction as his ticket into the Order. As far as she was concerned, though, neither option was very good and had its own set of dangers associated with it.
Deciding to get drink before she went to bed, Narcissa put on her dressing gown and left her room. Just as she was tip-toeing past the painting of her aunt, she heard a popping noise coming from the living room. She advanced down the stairs only to the point where she could hear but not see whomever had Apparated, and listened.
"...I think that we all need some sleep. We can finish sorting things out in the morning, and get everything else done then," she heard Potter say.
"Not to mention that article we have to wright critiquing the security measures of Azkaban prison for the Quibbler," Granger said almost lightly.
"They're atrocious," her son piped in. "If a Death Eater isn't in charge of security there, an idiot is."
"What does Azkaban have to do with anything?" Ronald Weasley asked.
"Considering that I'm mostly concerned with Voldemort's allergies at the moment," Potter said, "I really don't care right now. Like I said, in the morning. We're all to tired to think clearly right now."
Narcissa had enough time to duck into her son's room before the four teenagers tromped up the stairs. She left the door open just a sliver, and was just in time to see that Granger wore some sort of a necklace dipped in something dark that was starting to flake away. She had a pretty good idea what it was.
She moved from behind the door to beside it, and seconds later her son came in. From behind him she could see that his shoulders were slumped with exhaustion, and he needed a haircut. Well, first things first. "I see that you've made your choice," Narcissa said, and Draco spun around to face her, his wand in his hand.
When he saw her standing there, he lowered his wand and sank down onto his bed. "What are you taking about, and why are you sneaking around like this?" he asked her.
"It's a mother's responsibility to snoop. And I assume that it's the destroyed Horcrux that Granger is wearing? Yes," she said, her question answered by her son's stunned look. "I'm not sure if it's safer to work for or to oppose a capricious Dark Lord, but I'm guessing that the girl comes as part of the package deal you've chosen."
"You disagree?" Draco as coolly, calmly, as if they were discussing which symphony to attend.
"I don't think that any of your options were good, but I do want you to be fully aware of the consequences of any decision you make unlike the time you accepted the Mark in the first place. You are aware, of course, that had or if you named the girl's services as the price for yours, they would not have withheld her from you. She would not have withheld herself from you."
"It isn't like that," her son growled, his cheeks going red, but his hands griped his knees so tightly his knuckles were white. Was it anger or fear? It was easy to disguise fear as anger, and it was one of her son's favorite tactics.
"Her blood is red, just like mine," her son said after taking a few deep breaths, "and that's good enough for me."
"I have no objection that you have turned against the Dark Lord," Narcissa said. "I know that our lives will never be the way they were no matter how much I want them to be, and I accept that. As a mother to her son, I only want you to be careful, to consider every side of the matter. Your heart or spirit could heal with time, but dead is dead."
Harry sat in the chair in his study rubbing his head, wondering how many more days he would have like this. Hermione and Draco's accounts of what had happened made sense...in a somewhat twisted sort of way...and then Ron had given a quick recount of what they had done and left their meeting when his mother was outside the door demanding his presence. Harry knew that Molly would want to see him too, but that Ron was sufficing for the moment. Shortly afterward, Malfoy had left the room, but Hermione had remained where she was, shifting nervously in her chair for a few seconds before speaking.
"Harry," she said, "I have a confession."
"Okay," Harry said hesitantly, wondering how she could possible make this whole matter any more confusing than it already was, and knowing that she somehow would.
"I'm in love with him," Hermione said, her cheeks getting pink. "It isn't an act anymore. Even after the war is over, even after we get out of this house, I want to continue to see him...maybe even.... Well, the point is, I haven't told him that. He knows that I'm more than interested in him, but he does not know that I love him."
Harry blinked, mentally dismissing yet another definition of 'impossible' from his mind. "Hermione, I know that this is your choice, but.... Why, in Merlin's name, if you had to fall for Malfoy did you not tell him about it? That might be the kind of thing he should know, and it might bind him to us just that much more tightly."
Apparently deciding that she had had enough of her chair, Hermione got up and started pacing as much as the small study allowed. "Harry...after you and Ron left us alone in the cave...we both told each other that we had originally started our relationship with the intention of milking each other for information. He said that he guessed that fair was fair...but his eyes...he had already known, or guessed that I had been trying to use him."
Harry frowned. "I don't see what that has to do with...."
"No, you don't see. He's the one that doubts me," she said desperately, pointing a shaky finger at her chest. "In his situation, I probably would too. He's proved that he loves me, he even said it, but me on the other hand.... If I said that I loved him, he would either force himself to believe me because that's what he wants to hear, or else he wouldn't believe me at all and think that I was only saying that so I could use him. Harry, I don't want either of those to happen. We did promise each other that there wouldn't be any more lies...but I don't think that he will be able to keep himself from wondering if it's true or not."
"So the reason you're not telling him yet is so you won't risk hurting him or forcing him to trust you," Harry said, nodding. "He would have believed anything you said right after he stopped the Horcrux from killing you, when I'm guessing that you were at your most vulnerable state. What did you tell him then?"
Hermione blinked slowly. "That I wouldn't doubt him again," she finally answered.
"That you trust him," he said with a small smile. "I still haven't figured out how you women think, but among guys, we want the woman we love to trust us more than anything else. Now the understanding that that is what we really want only does come after some level of maturity has been reached...."
"I don't doubt that," Hermione said, smirking.
"...But," he continued with a warning frown, "your trust should be enough for Malfoy for now." And the possibility of failing that trust was the greatest fear a man had. The look of confidence Ginny always had in her eyes when she looked at him was seared in his memory. It was that look in her eyes that said that her Harry would defeat Lord Voldemort, the Death Eaters would not even know what had hit them, and the world would be put right again. There was no doubt in her mind that he would survive without a scratch, that after all was said and done he would be there to hold her again.
Even if everything else failed him, Harry knew that he would continue the fight if only to confirm Ginny's faith in him.
Hermione stopped pacing for a few seconds, nodded, and then returned to her chair. "Well then," she asked, "what was it that you wanted to talk to me about."
"I want Malfoy to give me Occlumency and Legilimency lessons, and to get rid of this...I suppose for the lack of a better word...Horcrux on my head, I'm going to have to have him help me learn about Possession as well," Harry admitted.
This time, it was Hermione's turn to be surprised. "Well, I suppose that this isn't any worse than anything I've thrown at you in the last fifteen minutes," Harry barely heard her mumble. She took a few deep breaths, and then said in a louder voice, "I'll talk to him, and see what I can do."
After she left, Harry slumped in his chair and hit his head on the surface of the desk. He wondered how Dumbledore had handled days like this. Life just had no rationality at all anymore. Even the explanation the aging researcher had given him...Harry never had managed to find out what his name was or had been...had been more than unusual.
Harry let his mind drift back to the well-lit but aging study, walls covered with shelves containing more books with titles he was unable to read and unusual devices than Dumbledore had ever had. The Researcher looked only slightly younger than Dumbledore had been when he died, until you looked at his eyes. His eyes were ancient, but his voice still held strength.
"It more or less started when he tried to kill you as a baby, he tried it in spite of a powerful charm your mother had placed on you with the Old Magic--he could not kill you if he killed her, it was her life for yours," the Researcher said frowning into his teacup before putting it on his desk. "Her protection of you from Voldemort quite literally ran in your blood, the effective communicator and currency for covenants written with the Old Magic, though there are some covenants in blood written in the dark. This covenant is what saved you during your second year, why the man Voldemort was possessing could not touch you."
"Then," Harry asked, "what is the Old Magic, exactly?"
"The Old Magic is the foundation that all sentience, be it human or otherwise, is built upon. It is why we are aware of ourselves, what gives us the choice of freely doing something or refrain from doing something rather than acting on mere instinct as animals do. Fundamentally it gives us the choice of putting ourselves before others, or putting others before ourselves; it gives us the choice of either hating or loving others. Also built into this is truth, justice, honor and other side-effects of love. The Old Magic supports what is right, making it unusable for any dark magician. Some have theorized that the Old Magic may have a will of its own, but that is a topic for another discussion. I don't doubt that my understanding, while helpful, may be incomplete.
"Back to your situation, ah, when Voldemort gave you that scar what he had probably been attempting was not only the killing curse, but the curse that would make a Horcrux as well," the Researcher said, glancing up at Harry's scar. "As you should know, killing separates the soul--tearing it into two pieces--for a very short amount of time so a Horcrux must be made immediately if one is to be made at all. The spells, the verbal Avada Kedavra and the mostly nonverbal Horcrux curse, must be cast simultaneously--or interwoven rather--you see. Had he used only Avada Kedavra, you wouldn't have that scar. The killing curse leaves no marks. What rebounded destroying everything in it's path--some of the house, the Fidelius charm that was on it, tore the other half of Voldemort's soul from his body, and gave you that scar--that was the spell used to make Horcruxes that backfired. Normally, a Horcrux is almost completely detached from the person owning it, but Voldemort's soul had already started putting itself together after he had murdered your mother. The Horcrux that became your scar was, therefore, incomplete. That is why you have the view inside Voldemort's mind that you do."
Harry opened his mouth to ask a question, then thinking better of it, closed his mouth again. There would be time for questions shortly.
"Then," the Researcher continued, "when he used your blood to regenerate himself, he was making a fateful error. He thought only of the protection your blood carried, knowing that once he possessed your blood the charm your mother wrought with her death would no longer differentiate him from you. The price it carried, however, was an exposure to love that he had never had before. Think of it as an allergy. Your body is exposed to a foreign substance, and later when it again senses that same substance, which may or may not be damaging in and of itself, and it releases a chemical cascade reacting to it. It overreacts to the substance--sometimes it overreacts enough to kill you--so it is the reaction rather than the substance that does the damage.
"So this is why Voldemort was unable to Posses me at the Ministry?" Harry asked.
"Very good. You see, damaging the soul affects the ability to love, and there is no soul more fragmented than Voldemort's. Even when his soul was whole, he did not love and while I would wager that he could charm people into liking or respecting him, he was never loved. Like or respect finds a person agreeable because of something, but love finds a person agreeable in spite of something. Because his tattered remnant of a soul had been exposed to love through the possession of your blood that carried your mother's covenant, he had an 'allergic reaction' when he tried to Posses you fully. Such reactions are usually worse if they are repeated."
"So," Harry asked, "if he tried to Posses me again, it would hurt him worse? Would it destroy him?"
"I doubt that after that last attempt, he would not try Possessing you again. But...but if you drew him into yourself, forced him into your mind where his Horcrux was, those two pieces of soul would reunite with each other. The reaction of that, however, might kill him. The part of his soul that was with you, actively functioning as part your own as it was only a fragment that was overruled by your healthy soul, has been saturated with love. The trauma of that would at best kill him, and at worst the pain would distract him enough that someone could kill him by simply sticking a knife in his back."
Harry blinked, mentally returning to the spare study he now occupied. 'So now,' he thought, 'I need to find a way to get into Voldemort's mind any way I can.'
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