Chapter Four: The Veritas Curse
For a moment, they just stared at each other. Then Hermione lunged at Draco, who, totally unprepared for her assault, was knocked backward. He landed on the floor with Hermione on top of him, hitting him with both fists. "WHERE IS HARRY?" she screamed. "What did you do with him? Where are you keeping him? You cant have killed him, you need him to keep making Polyjuice Potion"
"Hermione" Draco was making not the slightest effort to protect himself as she slammed her fists into him. "I swear to you, I havent hurt him"
"Liar!" She grabbed him by the neck of his robes, yanked his head up, and then whacked it back into the stone floor. Draco saw stars as she fumbled in the sleeve of her robes and pulled out her wand. She aimed it at his heart. "If you hurt Harry, if you sliced off his fingers to make your horrible potion"
"Look," said Draco, fighting to stay calm, "I did not give your speccy little boyfriend so much as a haircut. Although he could use one. I havent been making Polyjuice potion. This is the same potion from Snapes class, it just never wore off."
Hermione was shaking, but her grip on the wand did not falter. "You expect me to believe that?" she said.
Draco looked at her. "My father taught me Dark magic, you know," he said.
"Don't change the subject, Malfoy."
"Put a truth spell on me," he said. "Ill show you how to do it."
"Thats advanced Dark magic," said Hermione, looking very white, "Its use is strictly controlled by the Ministry--"
"Fine," Draco said, reached up, and grabbed her hand where it held the wand pointed at his heart. "Veritas," he said.
A jet of black light shot out of the wand and hit Draco in the chest. He had seen his father use the Truth Spell on plenty of people before but had never imagined how it might feel. Now he knew, and knew why it was considered Dark Magic he felt as if two enormous silver hooks had been driven into his chest, just under his ribs, and was ripping it open, leaving his heart bared.
"Ask me quickly," he said, through gritted teeth. "It hurts."
Hermione stared down at him in shock, but she still had her wits about her. Quickly, she said, "Harry, is Harry all right?"
"Yes," said Draco. His voice sounded odd and strangely transparent, even to his own ears.
She blinked. "Why is it that youve taken on his appearance?"
"When we drank that potion in Snapes class, we didnt turn back when everyone else did. Harry thought I had done something to the Potion, but I hadnt. He didnt believe me --- he hit me I hit him back and knocked him out. Then I realized that everyone thought I was him. I played along with it."
"I wanted to see what it would be like," said Draco. "I thought at first I was doing it so I could get the goods on Harry. Find out his secrets. Use them against him. But it didnt turn out like that." He gasped. Each word felt like it was being ripped out of him. "It was like I took some part of Harry into me with the potion. I started acting like him and I couldnt control it. I saved Nevilles toad, and you from the Bludger. I feel things, now. Things Ive never felt before."
"Like pity?" said Hermione, grimly.
"Yes," said Draco.
"Where is Harry?" she asked.
"When I told you that Draco Malfoys dad had come to take him home, that was the truth. Only instead of me, he took Harry."
Hermione, being Hermione, grasped the import of this immediately and shuddered. Her grip on the wand, however, remained quite steady. "What makes you think hes all right?" she demanded.
"I can feel it," said Draco. He heard his own response with some amazement. "I didnt realize thats what it was until now.... Its like Harrys scar. He and Voldemort are connected by the curse that failed; now Im connected to Harry by the failed spell of the Potion. I could feel it when he left the castle, thats why I went pelting upstairs during dinner. I could feel it when he woke up."
"What were you going to do?" she said. "Keep on being Harry? Someone would have caught on. I did. What was your plan?"
"Didnt have one," said Draco. "I was trying to think of a way to get to Harry."
"What do you care what happens to Harry? What do you care if he dies?"
"Look, Im telling you," said Draco. Every word was an effort. "Theres some part of Harry in me now. It makes me do things Id never normally do. Right now I think its fighting for self-preservation. Harry's got a really strong will, I think. Theres a voice in my head that keeps saying get to Harry, get to Harry." He grinned, the ghost of his old nasty grin. "Cause if it was just me," he said, "Id probably let him die."
Hermione did not rise to this bait. She was staring at him. "Why did you kiss me?" she said.
"Dont ask me that," Draco said, shutting his eyes, but it was no good, he had to answer. "You," he said, "I like you. You make me want to be a good person."
He opened his eyes and looked at Hermione. For a moment, they gazed at each other with identical expressions of amazement. Then, a sly grin spread over her face.
"Malfoy," she said, "Have you ever had sex?"
"No," he said, and then yelled at the top of his voice, "HERMIONE, TAKE THIS SPELL OFF ME RIGHT NOW!"
"All right, all right," she said, chuckling, "Finite incantatum!"
The pain and the feeling of being split open vanished. Draco sucked in air, gasping; he felt like hed just run a marathon. "Hermione," he said, not without some admiration, "that was really vicious!"
"Sorry," she said, although she didnt look the least bit sorry, "I had a bet on with Ron. And you deserve it for kissing me and making me think it was Harry." She stood up and, to his surprise, offered him a hand to help him up from the floor. "Wed better go. There are sensors all over this castle that can detect the use of Dark magic. Some teachers probably on their way here right now."
"Oh yeah," he said, getting up, "I remember that from Hogwarts: A History."
Hermione stopped and stared at him. "Youve read Hogwarts: A History?"
"Yeah," he said, "So?"
"Nothing. Lets go."
After McNair had gone, Lucius Malfoy disappeared as well, telling Harry and Narcissa that he had work to do. Harry, not wanting to hang about and make awkward conversation with Dracos mother, decided to explore the mansion and see if he could find the entrance to the dungeons. Sirius would be here tomorrow; Harry wanted to be prepared.
First he went outside and walked around the mansion, trying to get a feel for its size and shape. This turned out to be a mistake. At first, it was quite interesting, if eerily so. The mansion was huge, carved out of what almost looked like one continuous slab of black granite. He discovered a rock garden, some horse stables (empty), an extremely depressing-looking gazebo, and an enormous maze which Harry studiously avoided. (Since his fourth year at school, he had not liked mazes much.) Around back of the maze he found a small garden where the bushes were meticulously carved into the shape of animals. Magical creatures, he corrected himself: there was a hippogriff, a phoenix, a unicorn, a troll holding an axe, and a dragon, as well as some more nasty-looking creatures Harry didnt recognize.
Absently, he reached out and poked the troll-shaped bush with his finger. It was so realistic...
Harry yelled as the troll turned and sank its teeth into his hand. He ducked aside just as it lifted its axe and swung it at Harrys head. It might have been made out of leaves and twigs, but it made a very solid-sounding THWACK as it hit the ground, nonetheless. Harry felt into his sleeve for his wand, pulled it out, and pointed it at the troll. "Stupefy!" he yelled, and the troll froze in mid-movement.
Harry scrambled to his feet and dashed out of the garden. If there was one thing he prided himself on, it was his hexes, but even he wasnt sure how well a Stunning Spell would work on shrubbery.
His hand was bleeding profusely where the troll had bitten it. By the time he reached the house, the sleeve of his shirt was soaked in blood. Narcissa, who was passing through the front hallway, saw him and screamed out loud.
"Draco!" she cried, looking over at him. "What happened?" She turned his hand over, examining the wound. Serrated leaves stuck out of it like jagged teeth. "Draco, you know better than to go into the topiary garden! Your father would be so angry if if---" she broke off, and dragged him, protesting, into the kitchen, where she bandaged his hand, first smearing it with a purple ointment that burned and stung.
"Youre going to have to wear your gloves tonight, Draco," she said. "If your father"
"Tonight?" asked Harry, in alarm, his bitten hand forgotten. "Whats tonight?"
Done with the bandages, Narcissa straightened up and looked at him in surprise. "You know we have company on Saturday nights," she said. "Your fathers...colleagues will be here soon."
"Er, right," said Harry. "I forgot."
He couldnt help picturing dinner at the Dursleys with Uncle Vernons colleagues from the drill company. He had a feeling a big Death Eater dinner would be something else again, however.
"Do I have to dress up?" he asked, without thinking.
"Draco!" Narcissa looked him squarely in the eye. "You know you have to wear the Malfoy family dress robes!"
"Right," said Harry, but Narcissa was now looking at him with grave suspicion, and he felt it was imperative he get away. "Id better start getting dressed, then," he said, edging towards the door. "You know those dress robes...so many zippers..." With Narcissa staring after him as if he had sprouted another head, Harry backed out of the kitchen and sped down the corridor towards Dracos room.
Telling Draco to wait in the Gryffindor common room because "I know where Harry keeps his things better than you do," Hermione bolted upstairs and invaded the boys dormitory, something she had previously done only in emergencies (and on Christmas mornings.) Dean Thomas, who had been about to get into his pajamas, yelled and fell behind his bed.
"What do you think youre doing, Hermione?" he hissed, poking his head up above the bedclothes. "You could have seen.... something."
"Dean, I didnt see anything," said Hermione. "I swear. I just ran up to get something for Harry. Give me five minutes and you can go right back to being naked in peace."
She opened Harrys trunk and tore through it, grabbing James invisibility cloak, the Marauders Map, and some sweaters in case it got cold. She looked around for something to stuff everything in and caught sight of Harrys school bag lying under the bed. She pulled it towards her slowly.
She had bought that bag for Harry their fifth year at school. It was an ordinary enough bag, but shed put all sorts of spells on it: a spell so it would never tear, a spell so Harry could lock it, a spell so he could find it if he left it lying around, which he often did. Shed also sewed words onto it--not magicked them there, actually sewed them by hand: HARRY POTTER GRYFFINDOR SEEKER.
The sight of the bag recollected Harry so sharply to her memory that she choked, and a little sob escaped her before she could bite it back. Shed been running on autopilot, not thinking about Harry, because if she thought about him in danger she would fall apart completely and then she would be no use at all...
"Aw, Hermione..." Dean scuttled towards her across the floor, alarmed by the sound of her tears. Hermione wasn't a girl who cried often. "Dont cry..."
"Thanks, Dean," said Hermione, putting up one hand to ward him off, "and I, uh, appreciate the thought. You might want to put some pants on, thats all Im saying, but I appreciate the thought just the same."
Hermiones dark mood did not lift when she returned to the common room and found Draco sitting in one of the overstuffed armchairs, apparently quite asleep. She stalked up to him and glared. "WAKE UP," she said.
He opened his green eyes and looked at her, "I am awake," he said.
"Fine," she said, feeling stupid. "Im going after Harry," she went on. "I thought about taking his Firebolt, but Im pretty sure you cant fly a broomstick off Hogwarts grounds like that. So Im walking to Hogsmeade. Theres a train at midnight that goes to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station"
But Draco was on his feet. "You are not going without me," he said, softly but firmly. "Youll never find Malfoy Mansion, it's unplottable, just like Hogwarts. And even if you found it by some miracle, there are seventeen hexes on the front door alone, and each one requires a specific Disarming spell "
"Malfoy," said Hermione, "I was not even thinking of going without you, so you can shut up. In fact, I was going to threaten you with the Veritas curse if you didnt agree to help me get into your horrible house."
Now it was Dracos turn to feel stupid and not let on. "Hermione, you cant do the Veritas spell," he snapped. "There's more to doing Dark magic than just saying the words."
"I wouldn't be so show-offy about my knowledge of Dark magic if I were you," Hermione said shortly. She swung Harry's bag over her shoulder and stalked toward the portrait hole. Draco hurried after her. He loathed the way she always had the last word.
Harry was sitting on the end of Draco Malfoy's bed, rubbing his eyes. He'd fallen asleep for a few moments and had a strange dream that he was half-walking, half-running down a dark road with Hermione. It had been a very vivid dream, as if he were right there beside her, and when he woke up he missed her with an ache that was nearly physical. Of course, he told himself, he missed everything about Hogwarts, not just Hermione.
He forced himself to get up and go over to the wardrobe, where he searched for the "Malfoy family dress robes." This was difficult. It appeared that Draco had a lot of clothes, from long velvet cloaks in every color of the rainbow to extremely expensive-looking Dolce and Gabbana linen shirts. His parents must have spent an absolute fortune on this lot, thought Harry, gawking. Draco's collection of designer sunglasses alone would have run about six hundred pounds. And they were not proper wizarding wear either, but apparently the Malfoy family's disgust for all things Muggle did not extend to Armani jackets.
Harry jumped. Narcissa's voice was echoing from somewhere above his head.
"Are you ready yet? Your father's friends are already here!"
"Uh " said Harry. "I can't find my dress robes!"
"Well, then just wear black!" she snapped.
"Okay!" he yelled, then stopped to wonder if he had to yell or if she could hear him just fine anyway. He felt immeasurably stupid. He reached into the wardrobe and was about to pull out a pair of black pants when Narcissa's voice crackled overhead again:
"And Draco? No Muggle clothes!"
"Aaargh," said Harry, but very softly, hoping Narcissa wouldn't hear him.
"And I'm sending Anton to fetch you," she snapped, and there was a loud snap, like a switch being thrown. Harry assumed she had switched off the spell that allowed her to converse with him in his room, and began cursing quietly to himself. Who was Anton? Was he some relative that Harry would be expected to know? Still swearing to himself, he selected a black pair of satin pants, a long black ruffled shirt, and a pair of high black boots from Draco's closet and put them on. They were the most magic-y looking clothes in Draco's closet, but he felt deeply silly in them.
There was a knock on the door and Harry went to open it with a sense of deep foreboding. A tall man stood outside his door, wearing an immaculate butler's uniform and carrying what looked like a black and silver velvet cloak. He was also quite transparent.
Ah, thought Harry. A ghost servant. This was fine. Harry was used to ghosts.
"Your mother wanted me to bring you this," said Anton-the-ghost, handing Harry the cloak. It was long and looked expensive, with a big silver clasp at the throat in the shape of a snake. Harry thought he would be happy if he never saw another snake-shaped ornament in his whole life after this. "You left it in the drawing room last time you were here."
Harry stopped stock-still in the act of pulling on the cloak. What the ghost had just said had set off something like a firecracker in the back of his mind. The drawing-room. There was something significant about that phrase, something huge. What was it about the drawing-room that was important?
"I suggest, young Master Malfoy," said the ghost, "that you fasten that clasp in front of the mirror. It is complicated."
If he thought Harry's struggles with the cloak were either amusing or suspicious, he didn't show it.
Harry went over to the mirror, still pondering the question of the Malfoy drawing-room, and made a disgusted noise. If Harry had been a girl, he would have thought the reflection staring back at him was alluring and sophisticated, the white-silver of Draco's hair contrasting beautifully with the black of his cloak and the silver embroidery bringing out the gray in his eyes. But Harry was not a girl, and he merely thought that he looked like a transvestite. Ruffles! Satin! Buckled shoes! Yech!
They were sitting on the platform at Hogsmeade station, waiting for the train, when Draco began to laugh. Hermione twisted around to look at him. "What's funny?" she asked, frowning.
"Harry," said Draco. "He's wearing my clothes and he hates it Hey!" he added, irritably, "I like that shirt. It is not effeminate!"
Hermione was staring at him. "Malfoy, please stop channeling Harry," she said. "It makes me sickeningly nervous." She fiddled with the strap on her bag. "Can he see what you're doing?' she asked finally.
"He can, a little," said Draco, "but he thinks he's just dreaming it."
"Harry's got a stronger will than me," said Draco neutrally. "He projects more."
"Does he " said Hermione, now fiddling with the strap harder than ever, "does he think about me?"
Draco looked at her. His green eyes were unreadable. "Sometimes."
Hermione opened her mouth to ask more, but at that moment the train came chugging into the station. It was painted bright red and had HOGSMEADE---LONDON picked out in sparkling letters across the side. She and Draco hopped to their feet and boarded. They were the only passengers in their compartment.
"Hermione," said Draco as they settled into their seats, "How did you know I wasn't Harry?"
Hermione bit her lip. Why was he asking her this now? She didn't have a good answer; it would sound silly to say that he hadn't smelled right when he kissed her, not like Harry. She studied his face, but couldn't read his expression.
Maybe that's it, she thought.
"I always know what Harry's thinking," she said. "He never bothers to hide anything he feels. But when I was looking at you, it was like I was looking at his face, but Harry had gone away. I couldn't tell at all what you were thinking."
Draco didn't say anything to that, only stared out the window. They were leaving the heavily wooded area around Hogsmeade now and rolling into an area of dark fields dotted with small farms. A huge white moon had risen.
"Do you want to know what I'm thinking now?" he asked finally.
"No," said Hermione, "I'm sure it's really unpleasant."
She immediately regretted having said this, but was unsure how to take it back. They lapsed into silence.
Harry would never have imagined that a big gathering of Death Eaters could have been so fantastically boring, but so it was. They were a grim-looking bunch of men, even with their ugly masks off. Lucius Malfoy presided at the head of the table; Harry recognized some of the names: Crabbe and Goyle were there, just as big and ugly as their unpleasant offspring; there was Nott, Zabini, Rozier, and Franz Parkinson as well.
He had rather hoped there would be some talk about Sirius, but there was none. It seemed likely that McNair and Draco's father were the only ones who even knew about the plan. And Wormtail, of course. They probably didn't want to share the glory.
Harry sat squashed between Hugo Zabini (brother of the Zabini who had tried to send Harry an exploding broom) and Eleftheria Parpis (the only Death Eater who was not a man) an enormous woman in black satin robes who was obviously quite taken with Lucius Malfoy: she laughed at everything he said and kept leaning across the table to give him a view of her expansive bosom. Narcissa, who was kept busy carrying trays of food in and out of the kitchen, didn't notice.
Zabini, on the other hand, was more interested in talking to Harry about all the fun he must be having as a Slytherin at Hogwarts. Harry, to whom the idea of fun now seemed a faint and distant memory, was kept quite busy inventing all sorts of activities for Draco and his Slytherin pals. "Well, we study a lot, of course," he said, "and we play with the torture instruments in the dungeon, and, uh, someone gave us a basilisk egg and we're trying to get it to hatch."
"Is that wise?" said Rozier, a tall old man with very thin eyebrows.
Harry, thrown by the fact that someone had actually paid attention to what he was saying, stammered, "Well, McNair said he'd kill it for us if it got too big."
"I, for one," said Eleftheria, "like to see children learning for themselves. That is why I sent my sons to Durmstrang where they have already mastered Level Five of the Dark Arts."
"Is it true they chain the Durmstrang students to glaciers for days if they do badly on their OWL's?" Harry asked with great curiosity.
"Not overnight," said Eleftheria, waving her fork airily.
Zabini turned to Harry, "Is Severus Snape still head of Slytherin House?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Harry.
Lucius Malfoy suddenly turned and spit on the floor. "Draco," he said between his teeth, "is quite friendly with Severus. Despite the fact that Severus betrayed us all. I have told him it is unseemly, but he does not listen."
Harry looked at his plate.
"Severus will get what is coming to him, Lucius," said Rozier in a voice that made Harry's blood run cold. "When we put the Plan into action."
Harry never thought he'd feel bad while considering the prospect of something awful happening to Snape, but he did.
"Father," he said, before he could stop himself, "I'm not feeling well. Can I be excused to my room?"
This was the wrong thing to say. Lucius turned a cold, glittering gaze on Harry, full of icy rage. When he spoke, however, his voice was even: "Certainly, Draco," he said.
Harry pushed his chair back and began to make his way from the hall. As he passed Lucius, however, Draco's father shot out a hand and grabbed his arm. His grip was cold. "You will come and see me in the drawing-room after dinner, Draco," he said quietly. "You will not be late."
"Yes," said Harry, mechanically, and, freeing his arm, he sped out of the hall.
Once away, he collapsed against a wall in the corridor, holding his head. Lucius Malfoy's voice saying the words drawing-room had sparked his memory, and he suddenly recalled the day four years ago when he heard Draco Malfoy telling Crabbe and Goyle that his family kept their most powerful Dark Arts objects under the drawing-room floor. At the time, Harry had thought he meant there was some kind of secret compartment under the floor. Now it occurred to him that in fact, what Draco might have meant -- and he could not be sure why he felt this, but he did -- was that the entrance to the chambers underneath Malfoy Mansion was in the drawing-room. Perhaps the dungeon entrance might be there as well.
It was a slim chance, he knew, but worth investigating.
"Anton," he called softly. "Anton."
The ghost materialized before him, carrying a tea-towel and looking inquiring.
"Anton," said Harry in a whisper. "How do I get to the drawing-room? I've forgotten."
As Harry had expected, the ghost showed no surprise. "Follow me, Master Malfoy," he said, and began wafting down the corridor. He led Harry to a large room filled with overstuffed velvet chairs. The portrait of a tall woman wearing an enormous choker of rubies hung over the fireplace and a wide Persian rug covered the floor.
"Thank you, Anton," said Harry absently, and the ghost vanished.
Harry dropped to the floor and dragged the Persian carpet aside. Underneath it was the clear outline of a trap door with a looped iron handle. Harry grabbed the handle hard, and pulled.
The door lifted easily. Harry had a brief glimpse of a set of gray stone steps disappearing into darkness before his head was nearly split open by the most ear-piercing scream he had ever heard.
"MASTER LUCIUS! MASTER LUCIUS!" It was the woman in the portrait, her mouth open as she howled." THE TRAP DOOR IS OPEN! MASTER LUCIUS! THE DRAWING-ROOM!" Harry let the trap door fall as he staggered back, hands over his ears, but even with the door closed the woman continued to scream. "MASTER LUCIUS, COME QUICKLY!"
On the train, Draco opened his eyes with a start. "Oh, no," he said. "Harry, you stupid prat, what have you done?"
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