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Way Down We Go

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Harry takes Teddy to the Zoo.

The buggy gives him a bit of trouble, which is embarrassing.

Defeat the Dark Lord? Certainly.

Figure out how to uncollapse the pile of pushchair parts so that it actually resembles a transportation device for a child? Perish the thought.

Eventually he gets it sorted, possibly with a bit of magical assistance—not that he’d admit to it— and they’re off.

Initially, Teddy is grumpy, which is fair considering he didn’t sleep much the night before, having spent it as a very small, ferocious, creature; but he naps on the walk there and wakes to find himself confronted with an atrium of birds, and suddenly is in the best of spirits. Since it’s early and cold, the zoo is under-populated and they make their way leisurely through the various exhibits unmolested. They stop for an overpriced snack from a food kiosk and a bathroom break and then continue on to the reptile exhibit.

In the dim, humid hallway, Harry finds himself missing Lyra and he casts a notice-me-not around him and Teddy before whispering a quiet hello to each of the snakes they pass, inquiring about their health and happiness and if there’s anything he can do for them. Most are quite content, but he does track down a keeper to alert them to a heat-lamp that’s gone out in the boa’s enclosure and then awkwardly suggests a slight dietary change for the king cobra. The keeper clearly thinks he’s mad, but the cobra appears to appreciate his efforts, nonetheless. They’ve nearly left the exhibit when Teddy suddenly leans forward in his buggy to point at the final glass enclosure.

Pretty banana! he hisses, and Harry is so shocked that, for a moment, he does nothing at all.

Teddy claps his hands and then cranes his neck to make sure that Harry is listening to him. Pretty banana he repeats. Look!

Harry exhales.

The toddler werewolf speaks parseltongue.

Fantastic.

Banana! Teddy cries, louder this time.

Apparently he doesn’t speak parseltongue well, though, seeing as he’s making absolutely no—

Oh.

The final enclosure hosts a bright yellow, lightly dozing, viper.

It blinks at them as Teddy repeats his banana refrain for a fourth time. 

It is possibly insulted.

Sorry, Harry says. He’s just a baby. He er, really likes bananas, though. So it’s a compliment?

The snake moves towards the glass and Teddy positively shrieks with excitement.

Hello, little human. The snake says.

Hello, banana, Teddy says back.

Harry can’t decide if he should be bursting with pride or overwhelmed with concern.

***

It takes nearly fifteen minutes to convince Teddy to leave his self-proclaimed new best friend, but eventually Harry convinces him that they can return soon to visit. The sky is overcast and looks like it may soon snow and Teddy is starting to grumble about lunch. Harry is also rather anxious to borrow Andromeda's mobile to call his own phone in Draco’s possession. Draco should be awake by now and Harry finds the thought of it—Draco waking up in their bed alone—leaves a strange hollow ache in his chest.

Their return trip is uneventful and Andromeda has lunch waiting when they arrive.

While Teddy is occupied with a banana, gibbering excitedly in only somewhat-intelligible English about his new snake best friend, Harry slips upstairs with the mobile and curls into the chair by the window in his room. He’s already smiling when it rings.

Except, after several seconds, no one answers.

He rings again.

No answer.

He checks the time.

Draco should be up. Perhaps he’s in the greenhouse? Or left the mobile up in the loft? Harry stands and tries again, pacing to the chest of drawers and back while it rings.

His stomach feels hollow in a way that has nothing to do with hunger.

He’s probably being ridiculous. There are all manner of reasons that Draco might not answer the phone and it would certainly be an overreaction if Harry were to apparate directly to the portkey office and—

“Harry?” Andromeda calls.

“Yeah?”

“Can you watch Teddy while I run to the shop? We’re nearly out of J-U-I-C-E and you don’t want to know the terrors that will be unleashed upon this household if Teddy finds out.”

“Sure, of course.”

Harry pockets the phone and resolves to stop being ridiculous. He’ll try again in an hour and if there’s still no answer then, he’ll head back to the barns.

Everything is fine.

***

Twenty minutes after Andromeda has left, there’s a knock on the door.

He answers with Teddy on his hip.

“Harry,” Hermione says. “What are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you, too.”

Harry,” Hermione says in voice that Harry has only heard a few times.

“What?”

“Did you not go home after sunrise?”

“No? I mean. Obviously. I’m still here.”

“Have you spoken to Draco at all today?”

“No, actually. I tried calling a bit ago but he didn’t answer. Why?”

“Harry, I think you ought to go home.”

The hollow feeling comes back with full force, pushing from his stomach up into his throat; wary and fearful.

“Why?”

“Because you really shouldn’t be away from Draco for more than a few hours at this point. The curse on him—or at least how I understand it—is exponential. I didn’t think--I assumed you’d go back as soon as the moon set.”

“Exponential?” Harry says. He seems to recall hearing the word in muggle primary school, but can’t remember what it means. For once, he wishes he’d taken a few more years of standard mathematics.

“Means it doesn’t have the same rate of growth,” Ron supplies. “Means it gets more bad each day instead of the same amount of bad each day.”

“That’s—yes, actually,” Hermione says. “That’s exactly what it means. And you’ve been counteracting the effects for so long that, without your presence for,” she checks her watch, “fifteen hours, now, he’s likely to have a really significant relapse into his prior symptoms. Except they’ll be even worse than before.”

Everything inside of Harry goes horrified and still.

He feels like he can’t breathe.

Oh.

Oh.

Draco hasn’t answered the phone.

He should have—Harry knew something was wrong and he didn’t do anything and now—

He presses Teddy into Ron’s arms, turns, and apparates on the spot.

He shoves his way through the crowded hall of the portkey office—ignoring the shouts of alarm at the sudden appearance of Harry Potter—and into the permanent destination room.

He runs to the section for US locations and throws himself at the stupid tire-iron that takes him to—

The Marian portkey shack.

He apparates again, directly into his living room.

No one is there.

“Draco!” he shouts.

He apparates upstairs.

No one—only rumpled bed sheets and a disturbing pile of bloodied tissues on the bedside table next to his phone.

He apparates to the potions barn.

Draco!?

Here Lyra says, and it’s as close to a shout as a snake can produce. Here, hurry.

Draco is on the floor next to the oleander with Lyra curled in an anxious spiral around one limp arm. His eyes are closed and skin is whiter than the blooms above him. His lips are blue.

He’s—

Breathing.

He’s still breathing.

Harry crashes to his knees, rucking up Draco’s shirt to get a hand on his chest. To feel his heartbeat—faint and thready but there under his palm.

“Draco,” Harry says, “Draco, wake up. Please. Draco. Wake up.

And he does.

His eyes open, unfocused and startlingly flat. Dull in a way they shouldn’t ever be.

“Oh good,” he says faintly, “you’re back.”

And then his eyes roll up and he’s limp again and no amount of yelling will rouse him.

The next few minutes pass in a lurch of terror and Harry’s own too-loud heartbeat in his ears.

He sends a patronus to Luna and then the rest; he gathers Draco up into his arms—too light, he’s far too light—and apparates them to the house.

He lays Draco on the sofa and tears Draco’s shirt in his haste to get it off and then shucks his own shirt so he can press his chest to Draco’s back; to press his hands against the cool skin of Draco’s abdomen; to press his mouth to the back of his neck; to pray, maybe.

“Draco,” Harry says, over and over again.

He doesn’t answer.

Luna and Ginny arrive what must only be minutes later, but it still feels like far too much time has elapsed.

“What can we do?” Harry asks. “There has to be something—”

“I don’t know, Harry,” she says. “There’s things we can try but I don’t know.”

Luna tips a few potions into Draco’s mouth and tells Harry to keep holding him and then Hermione and Ron and Pansy and Blaise are there and they’re all arguing and Harry has never felt so out-of-control; like he might shift at any moment; like he might lose himself entirely.

“We have to take him to ‘Mungos,” Hermione says.

“They wouldn’t admit him before, why would they admit him now?” Pansy shouts back.

“We could take him back to Colorado. Nott would see him,” Blaise argues.

“I don’t think the location of the hospital matters,” Luna interrupts. “I don’t think he can recover from this; he would have shown improvement by now—with Harry touching him and the potions—if it was something we could fix by treating symptoms. We need to have the curse removed. Immediately.”

“His hearing isn’t for another month,” Harry says.

It comes out rough. Nearly unintelligible.

Draco is so still and so cold.

I did this. He thinks.

I did this.

I did this.

I did this.

“We’ll need to file an emergency petition,” Hermione says. “To get it moved up.”

“How much time do we have?” Harry asks. He feels slightly hysterical.

“I don’t know,” Luna says. 

She’s solemn in a way he’s never seen before.

“Likely not very long,” she says.

And well. That’s that.

“We’re going to ‘Mungos,” Harry says, standing. He shifts Draco, still in his arms, into a more comfortable position. “That way he’s close to the Ministry. Call Healer Nott and have him meet us there; I want someone we trust taking care of him while we file the petition.”

“And if they won’t let Draco inside the hospital?” Pansy snaps.

“Call The Prophet, too. Any of the papers. All of the papers. Have them waiting. Mungo’s isn’t going to turn me away. Especially if it’s being documented.”

“That’s…actually not a bad plan,” Pansy allows.

“Let’s go,” Harry says.

***

Mungos doesn’t turn them away.

None of the healers there want to take responsibility for Draco but that’s fine because Nott arrives minutes after they do.

Half the Aurors, including Ron, are called in to deal with crowd control outside the building and in the reception.

Hermione and Blaise take their hastily cobbled-together petition, in person, to the Ministry.

It’s denied.

“What do you mean, it was denied?” Harry snarls from the hospital bed where he’s trying to maintain as much skin-to-skin contact with Draco.

“Rather self-explanatory,” Blaise says.

“Hold still,” Nott murmurs.

“It means,” Hermione says, “that we approached the current presiding judge and he barely looked at the petition, and then said no.”

“So what do we do next? Who do we petition next?”

“There isn’t anyone else, Harry,” Hermione says, and her eyes are bright with fury or tears or both. “Legally, there’s nothing else we can do.”

“Get me Kingsley.”

“Harry,” Hermione says.

“Actually,” he shifts so he can pull his wand out of his trouser pocket. “I’ll do it myself.”

He casts a patronus. “Kingsley Shacklebolt,”  he says. “Come to room 413 at St. Mungos immediately unless you want me to tell the press what, exactly, I think of you and your leadership capabilities. You have thirty minutes.”

The stag leaps through the wall.

Kingsley steps into the room five minutes later.

“Harry,” he says, eyebrows mobile and likely judgmental as he takes in the crowded room: Harry propped on a half-dozen pillows, shirtless, and clinging to Draco who certainly looks more corpse than human. 

“Your message was a surprise. I’m not entirely certain—”

“He’s dying,” Harry says. “The curse is doing exactly what it was supposed to and now he’s dying. We tried to file an emergency appeal to have his case reopened but it was denied.”

Kingsley fingers the embroidered edge of his robe.

“From what I understand, Mr. Malfoy has already been granted a hearing to that effect.”

“A month from now. Does it look like he has a month, to you?”

“That’s hardly my problem.”

“It is. Because you and Robards engineered this. When you lied to me. When you used me. And now you’re going to fix it.”

“Oh Harry,” Kinglsey says, and it sounds like he’s talking to a child who has asked for something impossible. “You must know, I can’t intervene. Not with something like this.”

“I do know, actually. I know better than most that you can intervene. You just don’t want to.”

“He’s a Death Eater, Harry.”

“He’s a former Death Eater who took the Mark as a minor because his mother’s life depended upon it.”

“The public doesn’t see it that way.”

“Well, clearly public perception matters more than fact.”

“Actually,” Hermione says, “Terrible as that argument may be, I think you’ll find that the public’s perception has changed recently, regarding Draco. Haven’t you been reading the papers?”

“Speaking of the press,” Harry says. “There’s plenty downstairs. Might go have a chat with them.”

“That won’t work,” Kingsley interrupts. “Not with this. You can threaten all you want, but I don’t believe you’d actually do it. And even if you did—”

“The public is still pretty divided,” Ron says suddenly.

It’s unexpected, this intercession. Usually Ron leaves the arguing to Hermione.

“And most of the more conservative voters are older. More powerful. Wouldn’t want to piss them off by helping a former Death Eater live. Not on an election year, anyway, right? Bit pathetic, to put politics over human life, but you’ve done it before; I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.”

Kingsley’s face does something that Harry can only describe as nasty.

He looks down at Draco in a way that makes Harry want to cover him, to protect him from Kingsley’s impassive gaze.

“I’ve heard enough,” he says, infuriatingly dismissive. “Talk to the papers, if you’d like. But nothing will save him, now. And most, I think, will agree that’s a good thing.”

He stalks out into the hall.

Harry only barely resists shifting and hunting him down.

Mostly, he resists because he refuses to stop touching Draco. Nott said it’s possibly the only thing keeping him alive and Harry is now terrified to let go, even for a second.

“We can remove it,” Blaise says.

Harry forces himself to refocus. “What?”

“The curse. We know how to remove it. The book—it explains the process.

“What book?” Nott asks.

Blaise ignores him. “We were just reading about it. We have all the necessary ingredients for the potion. We have three strong casters to perform the spell. We have everything we need.”

“What potion?” Nott asks. “What spell?”

“The curse that bound Draco’s magical core,” Hermione says. “We found a book that details both the curse and the counter-curse. It involves a potion and an incantation but it’s—risky. Too risky, we thought, to try. Before.”

That before sits heavy in Harry’s stomach.

Nott dismisses the purple diagnostic spell hovering over Draco’s body.

“You’re certain it’s the correct counter-curse?”

“Certain,” Hermione says.

“While I can’t endorse the illegal removal of a Ministry-enforced binding spell,” Nott says, “If I may be frank, ‘risky’ is likely Mr. Malfoy’s best option for survival, at this point. I’m relatively sure Mr. Potter is the only thing keeping him alive and I can’t definitively say how long that will continue to work.”

“Do you have a guess?” Harry grits out.

“Perhaps a few days,” Nott says quietly. “Perhaps not even that long.”

And well. That made things simple.

“How do we remove the curse?” Harry asks.