Title: Ceremonies of Strife

Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.

Pairings: Harry/Draco, Ron/Hermione, Lucius/Narcissa

Rating: R

Warnings: Violence, Dark magic, angst, profanity, sex (slash and het), character deaths (not the main characters).

Summary: Sequel to Soldier's Welcome. As Harry and Draco head in to their second year of Auror training, they are resolved to try and balance the relationship between them with their personal difficulties. That might be a bit harder than they think when the difficulties include necromancy, Azkaban escapees, unicorn ghosts, the risen dead, a secret order of assassins…and the second war, guided by Nihil.

Author's Notes: This is the second part of what I'm calling the Running to Paradise Trilogy, focused on Harry and Draco's Auror training. A reader on AFF called SP777 suggested the idea for this series to me. I'd advise you to read Soldier's Welcome first before you try to read this one, as this story doesn't spend a lot of time recapitulating the first one.

Ceremonies of Strife

Chapter One—Harder Than You Think

"I thought you would wish to hear the story of how I made my escape, son."

Draco looked up. His father stood in the entrance of the sitting room he'd chosen as his sanctuary, a distantly amused look on his face. That look said he knew that Draco was hiding from him, but he would tolerate such foolishness as long as it produced no material hurt to the family.

Draco took a deep breath and sat up. He had prepared himself for this moment. That didn't lessen how hard it actually was to visit it, but it also didn't lessen the necessity for facing it.

"Of course, Father," he said calmly. "The last escapes I remember were orchestrated by the Dark Lord, and I must admit I am curious why the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is not yet knocking on our doors."

"That Department," whispered Lucius, but he said nothing more, not even when Draco raised an eyebrow to invite him to continue. He strode into the sitting room and took the only other seat, a chair opposite Draco's, while looking around him with the expression of slow contemplation that had raised Draco's hackles even as a child.

Draco leaned back in his chair and tried not to let the expression disconcert him now. Most of the décor in this room was original to the Manor: the marble walls, the silver sconces for torches on the walls, the smooth green and white stone that framed the fireplace. The only additions Draco had made were the shelves that contained his books—themselves plain ebony, absolutely unobjectionable—and the chairs, which had been straight and wooden when he took them over. This had been a room meant to encourage inopportune visitors to leave again. Draco had Transfigured the chairs into substantially more comfortable ones with thick cushions and subdued but brilliant colors.

Lucius perhaps found enough to satisfy him, because he leaned back in the chair, settled his shoulders only once against the cloth, and then said, "But first, we have something to speak of."

Draco met his eyes stolidly. He could think of only two things that would cause his father to speak in that tone, that tone that said he was uncertain of Draco's obedience, and offended because he had to be uncertain. Either Draco's work as an Auror, or his relationship with Harry, had probably come to his father's attention.

"It is folly," Lucius said quietly. "You must know that."

"I do not know what you speak of," Draco returned in the same tone, and saw his father pause. He would not have done that before the war, and Lucius had been in Azkaban since his trial. Draco could practically see his father revising what he knew of his son and making the careful, necessary changes on the scroll of his mind.

"This decision to train as an Auror," Lucius said. "Your mother tells me that you saw it as a road to power."

"That," Draco said, "and one of the few things that would make people cease to distrust me based on my family name."

Lucius leaned forwards, face flushing slightly. Draco raised an eyebrow. That meant his father was more in earnest than he had thought, and he prepared to listen to the words with more interest and less sense that the conclusion of the conversation was foregone.

"But that distrust is your glory, Draco, do you not understand?" Lucius whispered. "Distrust is only a few steps from fear. And the Malfoy name should be feared, held as a dagger to the throat of those who might oppose us, gliding like a specter along their skin when they think of a course of action that they know would bring them into conflict with our family."

Draco could remember a time, before the war, or even during it, when such talk as this would have impressed him. Lucius could use metaphors, yes.

But his fine talk hadn't stopped him from going to prison, or—and this was more important to Draco—serving the Dark Lord. There had been little that Lucius could do to persuade the Wizengamot that he wasn't guilty when he wore the brand of his guilt on his arm. But it had been his choice to sink to one knee before the Dark Lord and kiss the hem of his robe, and Draco was never going to forget that.

You talk of power, of being feared rather than loved, but you were the one who gave up the Malfoy power when you chose the Dark Lord. And I know that he didn't threaten you, Father. You chose it in the service of greater power. If you can betray the ideals of our family in that way, I will not allow you to talk me out of my decision, which was made in the same freedom.

But Draco said nothing of that. He simply nodded and said, "Yes, sir. I know that many of our ancestors have done the same thing and thought the same thing."

The ambiguity in his words slipped past his father's ears (indeed, Draco wondered if he had the ability to notice it). Lucius smiled. Draco had once lived for that smile and the warmth it lent a face colder than the marble walls and floors of the Manor.

"Good. Then you know that you must tell the Ministry you will not be returning to the Auror program in September."

Draco bowed his head. Let his father take it for agreement. It was not, but Draco had learned to conserve his strength when the battles looked hopeless. For months, he had refrained from demanding answers from Harry even though he would have liked to, and patiently put together what he already knew from the little clues that Harry dropped about himself. He could make his father content now and look for the moment when his guard would fall.

"Good, my son," Lucius said softly. He leaned back in the chair, which, Draco realized now, he'd been poised to rise from. Draco turned his head slightly to the side to conceal his smile. What would he have done if I refused? Was he going to strangle me right here? "And now I will tell you the tale of my escape."

But he didn't, not right away. He called a house-elf instead and ordered hot chocolate, spiced with things that Draco didn't recognize the name of. Draco leaned back in his chair and did his best to appear both drowsy and slightly discontent. His father would be less suspicious of rebellion at the moment, since he probably expected Draco to assent to his declaration but still resent it.

Draco wondered if the greater surprise was that he hadn't considered obeying, not for one moment. Lucius was still the head of the family. He was still Draco's father. He had been Draco's idol. And even though he wasn't anymore, Draco thought that he should still come to some sort of an accommodation with him.

But right now, his obstinacy was quiet and soft and implacable as a snowdrift. He was not going to do what his father told him. He hadn't considered that for a moment. He would not consider it now.

When the chocolate was spiced to his father's satisfaction, Lucius took a sip, nodded, and began.

"I have always kept my skill at illusions secret," he said. "It wasn't reckoned something to be proud of when I was at Hogwarts. There, the emphasis was on curses, the powerful, flashy spells. Illusion was considered something weak because it was so small and didn't take much effort."

Draco nodded obediently. He had learned a bit about that in Dearborn's Defensive and Offensive Magic class. Illusions could be woven with easy incantations—as long as one didn't mind them looking like mists or transparent scarves. Deeper, stronger work was needed to create glamours that would reliably imitate human faces or the presence of animals and walls, but work so fine that it was as difficult as trying to weave a spiderweb when one wasn't used to it.

"I had thought that I might be able to create an illusion of myself that would breathe and drink and sleep and die, if I ever needed to," Lucius said, and his voice swelled like some organ to fill the space of the sitting room. Draco found himself smiling in spite of his private rebellion. His father had always had some of the traits of the actor, and he was demonstrating them now. "I practiced it until I could fool my eye. I could not, of course, use the real thing in front of my enemies, but several times, during the first war and the second, I darkened its hair slightly and placed it in sight of those who would have reason to look long and hard. Each was satisfied that they saw a dark-haired wizard dying." A small smile played about his lips. "Some recognized the Malfoy features and asked me if I had a distant cousin who might have been on the battlefield."

Draco nodded again. He could admit that his father had been clever; that had never been a problem. Indeed, he had continued to admire, from a chilly intellectual distance, his father's skill with spells and plots long after he had started to distrust that he knew what was best for the family and for Draco's future.

"That illusion was my prize," Lucius said quietly, "my secret weapon. I could recreate it through wandless magic. Of course I thought of it as soon as I went to Azkaban. But what could I do? If I simply placed it in my cell, there was no reason for the guards to open the door. I would have to do something to it to make it seem as if it were sickening immediately—and even then, they might laugh and leave the door shut, and in the meantime I would receive none of the food I needed to outlast the time until they grew less cautious.

"But at last I had my chance. There was a guard I had been watching, because he seemed to care so little for the prisoners when he came to feed us that I might almost have slipped past him. I hoped that he would be in attendance on me that night. But instead, the meal was late in arriving, and then I heard shouts and footsteps pounding up the corridors. I concealed myself in the corner and cast my illusion so that it lay in the center of the cell, only grumbling and turning one shoulder to the noise as it appeared to go back to sleep."

Draco inclined his head, lost in admiration. His father had always been quick to seize the main chance and then act as if he had somehow foreknown that he would need to do so. He couldn't have known, not for sure, that this commotion would lead to his being freed, and he could have risked his secret weapon for nothing. But that had not happened, and now he was out of the cell.

Lucius smiled back at him, apparently tracing every thought that raced through his brain and appreciating them all. Draco lowered his eyes. His satisfaction about the hidden, secret layer of his mind would give him away if he tried to meet his father's gaze too directly.

"Sure enough," Lucius said with some relish, "it turned out to be what I needed. My melancholy guard had killed himself. The humans in Azkaban have become a tight little band since the Ministry got rid of the Dementors—what else should they be, all alone and facing hundreds of prisoners on a desolate island?—and none of them could believe they hadn't noticed his intentions. Their first thought was that a prisoner must have done it. So they checked our cells, and even went so far as to come inside and make sure that none of us had weapons." His smile deepened. "And they were careless enough not to look far into the shadows, and they were careless enough to leave the door of my cell not completely locked."

Draco nodded again, not believing it for a second. If his father had mastered the wandless magic necessary to cast such a complicated illusion, it was entirely likely that he would have mastered some of the smaller spells, such as Alohomora. That he had not used them before this was a measure of his patience as well as his cunning. He was determined that there should not be pursuit.

Remember that, if you rise against him, Draco told himself. And then he reconsidered, and added, Since there is no question but that this will be rebellion, remember it.

"And so I left," Lucius said, with a minute shrug of his shoulders, "and left my illusion to sleep in the cell, slowly draining its life away. It will last long enough to fool them. And then you will receive a sad letter announcing my death, and you and Narcissa will put on mourning for a time." A smile that spread all along his lips and appeared to gather up every bit of slyness he'd ever worn. "Then it will be time for me to start my new life."

"Though I grant you have a certain amount of freedom once the whole world believes you to be dead," Draco said carefully, "there is also an inevitable restriction."

"Oh," Lucius said, with an airy wave of his hand that also didn't fool Draco, "I am sure I can use my skills to make the best of my limited situation."

He can probably weave other glamours, Draco translated to himself. And he probably has investments that the Ministry could never touch because it never knew about them.

He turned his head as he heard a footstep outside the room and saw his mother putting her head around the door. Her smile was gentle as she glanced back and forth between the two of them. Draco wondered if he was the only one who saw that it was also strained.

"Lucius," she said quietly, "you promised that you would show me the extent of your vaults in Gringotts, so that I can be prepared when your death is announced." She held up a stack of parchment.

That was wise, Draco thought. The Ministry would almost certainly interfere when his father "died" and try to take more than they ought from the vaults, or claim that, since Lucius had been the head of the Malfoy family, that meant the rest of the family couldn't claim the money he had owned. It was nothing more than Draco would expect in a world so hostile to former Death Eaters as this one was.

Then he stopped, and tilted his head in private thought as Lucius nodded to him and accompanied Narcissa out of the room. That was the first time in long months that he had thought of the Ministry as an enemy. He had known that Nihil wanted to kill him, and that Nihil had a grudge against Death Eaters, and he had known that various people in the Auror program didn't like him. But the Ministry as a whole had been, instead, the institution that he was going to serve, once he finished his training as an Auror.

Draco gave a brief, barking laugh now, wondering if these tangled loyalties would destroy him, if Lucius would succeed in changing him so that he thought less about becoming an Auror and more about becoming a Malfoy, and if Lucius would really relinquish so much of his power when Draco supposedly became head of the family.

He couldn't answer those questions yet, and the uncertainty made the muscles in his stomach clench. But he leaned back in his chair and told himself sternly to think about other things.

Because two things were settled. He would not give up his career in the Aurors, no matter what his father thought. It was one of the few decisions he had ever made on his own, and it was his path to power and prestige and a pride that did not depend on the fortunes or failures of other wizards named Malfoy.

And he would not give up Harry.

Some things were his, his beyond doubting, no matter what his father said.

Because all is black and darkness, all is grey.

Harry blew his fringe out of his eyes and shook his head in frustration. It was harder than he had thought it would be to understand the necromancy book. The first few pages had seemed straightforward enough; the author had declared that the book would teach the reader how to raise the dead, how to command them, how to make Inferi, and how to use the "magic of death" for power. Harry hadn't been interested in most of those—he already had more power than he knew what to do with, unless he was using it to save and protect other people—but he had smiled at the first claim and then turned the page.

There were so many of them. So many people who had died in the war, unfairly, with no chance to say farewell, with no premonition that they were going to die. Harry just wanted to give them one more chance. He didn't think even Hermione would say that that was wrong.

If it wasn't necromancy.

Harry shifted in his seat and then carefully ignored that part of his mind. He couldn't be sure about that. Not absolutely sure.

The book spoke with relish about the amount of power a necromancer could achieve and the amount of fear he could cause, and Harry flicked past those pages in boredom. Then came the start of chapter one. Harry had assumed that he could start reading here, because, after all, since the book had said that it would teach someone how to raise the dead first, the first chapter ought to be about that.

No such thing. The first chapter was full of weird pronouncements, recipes for potions that were somehow to be made without using a cauldron, riddles, and instructions for harvesting human skin. Harry flicked through the pages in growing disbelief, wondering why it had been written. It seemed like it wasn't someone's private spellbook for recording information, the way the Half-Blood Prince's book had been Snape's. After all, there was the introduction saying it was meant to teach other people. But how was anyone supposed to make sense of this mess?

Walk into the grey and extend your hands before you. You will see your future on your left hand and your past on your right.

What did that mean?

Harry let his head fall back against the couch and grumbled under his breath. All he wanted to do was bring the dead back to life. Not such a grand desire. Not a desire that the person who'd written the book could think was bad, or they wouldn't have written the book. But trying to fulfill it with this thing was probably going to be impossible.

He hit the cover of the book with one fist out of sheer frustration, and started to close it.

A tingle of sharp, Dark magic jolted through his hands. Harry yelped and pulled them away, staring as the book fell to the floor.

For some time, he let it sit there, studying the cover warily. Something had changed, yes, but he couldn't tell what it was. He could almost hear the scolding that Hermione was sure to give him if she heard about this. Touching a book that Nihil probably left behind, in the middle of a cave that was trapped so Draco almost died, and before that was used by Death Eaters. Yes, Harry, that makes sense.

Not to mention what Draco would say.

Harry rubbed his shoulder uncomfortably. The book hadn't touched him there—though he thought he could still feel the pressure and the odd sting it had given his palms—but he was imagining the way Draco would look at him, and then open his mouth and begin to speak.

Or, worse, the way he would simply close his eyes and turn his head away, as if Harry was more trouble to deal with than he was worth.

Harry had promised to stop risking his life so much. He had. He had promised not to try and die if there was any other option. He had. But Draco would probably consider that handling the book was breaking both promises.

Still…

Harry swallowed. I just want them to have a chance. No one ever gave Remus a chance. And Teddy should know his mum. And Sirius ought to be able to see the world around him, the world without Voldemort. And Colin, and Tonks's dad, and Fred…

He at last cast a shield charm that Dearborn had taught them on his hands and leaned down to pick the book up. Now that he was close to it, he could tell what was different. The cover had, before, been entirely black except for the shabby remains of what might have been a gilt circle. Now it bore letters gleaming in a sort of flat silver that left Harry more uneasy than the blank cover had made him.

The Art of Summoning.

Harry turned slowly through the pages, ready to drop the book and retreat at a moment's notice if it showed signs of being cursed. The introduction was the same, but the first chapter now began in sentences of connected prose, instead of the scattered recipes and riddles of before. Harry let his eyes rest on the first paragraph, not really intending to read it.

The letters were an odd, dark, rusty color, but he could read them easily enough.

To call back the dead, one must first have the desire. The desire is the most important component of the summoning, and to place them into a living body instead of to make them Inferi, the desire must be stronger still.

Harry blinked. He wondered if the book had changed and shown him its true self because he had been, at that moment, yearning so strongly to bring people back to life, more strongly than he had ever felt before when he held the book.

He read further, and a slow coil of excitement rose in his stomach. Now the instructions were straightforward. The book was still scattered with warnings that this was dangerous, and could be even more dangerous than he imagined, but at least he could read them now and judge for himself.

At least now he had a chance.

And so do they.