Chapter Nine: Lucius and the Death Eaters"Hello, Father," said Draco.
Lucius was still looking like someone had force-fed him a slice of lemon that happened to be taped to an enormous brick. "Draco?"
"He really does look like you, Lucius," said Voldemort, giving Draco a cursory stare. "Especially around the eyes." He lifted his wand. "Pity I'll have to burn them out."
"My Lord," said Lucius desperately, turning to Voldemort. "Please believe me--" For a wild moment, Draco thought that his father was going to beg for his life. "Please believe me, I knew nothing of this."
"Strangely enough, I do believe you, Lucius," said Voldemort. "You have always been deeply stupid and it does not surprise me that you had no knowledge of your son's activities. But that does not change the fact that he is a traitor and must die."
"If I might make a suggestion, Master?" said Lucius.
"Father," Draco interjected.
Lucius ignored him.
"Make it quickly," said the Dark Lord.
"The Veritas curse," said Lucius delicately. "It is possible, even likely, that Draco has some knowledge of the whereabouts of the real Harry Potter...if this is a Polyjuice spell, he must have needed to keep him nearby...."
Voldemort smiled coldly. "An excellent idea." He took his wand out again and pointed it at Draco.
"Father--" said Draco again.
"Veritas," hissed the Dark Lord.
So for the second time in his life, the hooks sank into Draco's chest and split it open, and he choked with pain and with the horror of being so exposed. It was even worse this time, maybe because this time he was resisting. It was no use, though. Whatever he meant to say when he opened his mouth, he knew the truth would come out instead.
Voldemort started simple. "What is your name, boy?"
"Draco Thomas Malfoy."
"After me, Lucius?" said Voldemort, "How quaint."
"Where is Harry Potter?"
Draco bit his lip hard. But it was no use. "I don't know," he heard himself say. That was a relief, at any rate. The cord that had bound him to Harry had snapped with the spell's dissolution; he no longer had any idea where Harry might be.
"Why did you take on his appearance and pretend to be him?"
"My father was going to kill Hermione," said Draco. "I couldn't let that happen."
Lucius looked surprised. "Was she really your girlfriend?"
"No," said Draco. "She wasn't. She's Harry's best friend. "
"And you felt the need to risk you own life for the life of someone else's best friend?" asked the Dark Lord. "Why?"
"I love her," said Draco, and felt himself go scarlet. He would have thought he would have been beyond humiliation, but apparently not.
"My, how embarrassing," said Voldemort, but he looked faintly amused. "Why don't you tell us, young Malfoy, how you came to be in this house, with Harry Potter's best friend, whom you... love, and Harry himself, presumably disguised as you?"
"No," said Draco, fighting to get up on his hands and knees. There was something wet on his face; when he reached up to rub it off, his hand came away red. Blood. He had bitten through his lip. "No."
But he couldn't get up. The pain in his chest was too intense, the feeling of being split open too strong. He fell back to the ground.
"Father," he heard himself say, and winced at how childish he sounded, "Father, please."
Lucius stirred uneasily. "Perhaps you should hit him with the spell again, Master?" he said.
"Indeed," said Voldemort, and did.
They were nearly at the base of the stairs that led up to the drawing-room when Harry gave an almighty yell and pitched forward onto the ground. Hermione whirled around in surprise.
"Harry!" she called. "Are you all right...?"
His response was muffled. He seemed to be bent over as if in pain, an unhappy black lump huddled on the ground with his hands over his face. She went towards him and he raised his head. "Hermione? Is that you?"
She was about to respond impatiently when the light from her wand fell on his face, and her retort turned into a half-scream. She clapped a hand over her mouth and stared. "Harry...." she breathed. "It's you."
"Of course it's me," he said irritably. "Were you hoping it was Lucius? Never mind, don't answer that."
"Shut up," she said, "I'm serious, Harry, it's really you...you're back, you understand?"
And he was. Untidy black hair, green eyes, lightning-shaped scar and all. He dropped his hands from his face and gave her a half-smile. "I kind of figured that," he said. "On account of the horrible pain and the fact that I can't see anything."
Hermione couldn't stop staring at him. It was so strange to see his face as his face again; his familiar features once again animated by the intelligence that lived there and belonged there. There was a moment of awkward silence as she gawked at him. Finally, she said, "It doesn't still hurt, does it?"
He shook his head. "No, but…" He trailed off. "I wish I could see."
She knelt down next to him. "I can fix your eyes, Harry. Do you want me to?"
For a moment he was silent, biting his lip. Then, reluctantly, he said, "I guess you'd better."
She knew why Harry had never let her or anyone else fix his eyesight with magic before: his glasses had become something of a trademark Harry Potter symbol, whether he liked it or not, and if he'd ever gotten rid of them Witch Weekly would have had a field day. They'd already done stories on how he cut his hair (in the bathroom, by himself, with nail scissors) and where he got his clothes ("I just let Hagrid pick them out for me.") If he got rid of his glasses, it would have meant headlines like HARRY POTTER TOO VAIN FOR GLASSES; IS THE BOY WHO LIVED GETTING A BIG HEAD? and Harry hated that sort of thing.
"It'll just be temporary," she said gently. "A Correctivity Charm. Until we get your glasses."
"It's all right," he said, and closed his eyes.
Hermione took her wand out and touched the tip of it gently to each of his eyelids. Then she leaned forward and put her fingers against his temples. "Stay still," she advised, and he took hold of her wrists to steady himself. "Oculus," she said.
Harry jumped as if he'd been stung, and opened his eyes. Then a reluctant grin spread over his face. "Hey," he said. "Thanks, Hermione."
It was only about fifteen minutes, but to Draco it seemed like several hours before Voldemort was finished with him. He'd managed to detach himself, and heard his own voice speaking as if from a long distance away, telling his father and the Dark Lord everything --- from the first moment he had taken on Harry's appearance to his belief that Harry was now in the dungeons, rescuing Sirius.
Eventually, when he had no more to tell, the Dark Lord took the Veritas curse off him. The relief was intense, but so was the sickening feeling of guilt.
"So," he heard his father saying, "Perhaps we should seek the Potter boy in the chambers under the house, Master?"
"No need," said Voldemort, looking pleased. "We must only wait. Harry Potter will come to us. He will come for your son."
Lucius Malfoy looked doubtful. "But my Lord…they are not even friends, Draco said as much…"
Voldemort shook his head. "I know Harry Potter," he said. "He is just like his father. He will come for your son, Lucius. I guarantee it."
When they came up into the drawing room, Sirius was waiting for them in his canine form. Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Sirius shook his head quickly and indicated that they should follow him. They padded after him down the hallways to Lucius' study, the door of which Sirius opened with a paw, and went in.
Narcissa was sitting behind Lucius' desk, just as she had been when Sirius had found her there, only her head was on her arms and she was crying.
Sirius turned back into a man so quickly that there was an audible *pop as he did so. He indicated Narcissa with a jerk of his chin. "I had to tell her everything,' he said to Harry and Hermione in an undertone. "She's really upset." He glanced at Harry. "Turned back, have you? I thought you might've."
Harry looked surprised. "Why'd you think that?"
Sirius toed the ground, looking deeply unhappy. "Voldemort's already come," he said, looking anxiously at Hermione as he did so. "He went to find Harry…" Sirius sighed. "Well, I mean, he would have known right away that Draco wasn't you, wouldn't he? He probably took the spell off."
Hermione looked shocked and worried; Harry, however, showed no surprise, only resignation. "I thought that might have happened," he said quietly. "My scar's been hurting now for about an hour."
Hermione was furious. "Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded.
Harry shot her an irritable look, and she recalled that an hour ago, she and Harry had been kissing in the dungeons, after which she had told him off with great vehemence. It probably hadn't seemed to him like the right time to mention that his scar hurt. "Oh," she said, going red. "Sorry."
Harry turned back to Sirius. "Do you think Draco's all right?" He shot an anxious glance at Narcissa and dropped his voice. "Do you think he's alive?"
Sirius shrugged. "Don't know. The Dark Lord might have killed him in a fit of rage. Then again, Draco is the son of his closest and most powerful Death Eater. If Draco can convince them that he was acting under the influence of the Polyjuice spell…if he gives the Dark Lord information about you…"
"He wouldn't do that," Hermione interjected sharply.
"Maybe not," said Sirius cautiously. But neither Sirius nor Harry would look at her.
"Is Narcissa going to be all right?" Harry asked finally, breaking the silence.
"I hope so," said Sirius guardedly. "Lucius…" He said the name with immense hatred. "Lucius has had her under all sorts of spells and charms for so long -- Coercion Charms, the Imperius Curse sometimes, she's forbidden to have a wand, forbidden to lie to him, forbidden by pain of death even to speak Lucius' name in case she uses it in an spell."
Hermione shook her head. "Wouldn't it just have been easier for Lucius to marry someone who actually liked him?" she wondered aloud.
"Men like Lucius don't do things because they are easy," said Sirius bitterly. "They do them because they want to show how powerful they are. Lucius wanted to marry the most beautiful girl in school. And he did."
"He should be in Azkaban," said Hermione angrily.
"And we should be rescuing Draco," said Harry.
"I'm going to have to go face him," said Harry, looking grim.
"And do what, Harry?"
"I'll trade," said Harry, "I'll trade myself for Draco."
"Oh, yeah," said Hemrione angrily, "because Voldemort is so known for keeping his word."
"I think what Hermione means," said Sirius, "is that he'll just kill you anyway. In fact, I'm sure he's expecting you to do just what you suggested."
"Well, we can't leave him to Lucius and Voldemort," protested Harry. " And the Death Eaters."
"The Death Eaters are not with them," said a faint voice. It was Narcissa, now sitting up and wiping at her eyes. "They're in the downstairs ballroom, trying to get the Lacertus Curse prepared."
Sirius went over and sat down next to Narcissa and put a hand on her shoulder. "It's all right," he said, "He'll be fine." But he didn't sound particularly convinced of this.
Harry looked over at Hermione for help, but she was looking extremely thoughtful. She walked over to the opposite side of the room and took down a fat green book from a shelf -- Epicyclical Elaborations of Sorcery.
Sirius turned around and looked at her. "Hermione, what are you doing?"
"Shush," said Harry, and put his finger to his lips. "Let her."
Hermione began flipping quickly through the pages. "I just thought….maybe…if we could make it work…. It would be…"
Sirius looked confused. Even Narcissa looked confused. But Harry just stood and watched her reading and tried to be quiet. Finally she put the book down and turned to Sirius. "I have an idea," she said.
Sirius looked doubtful.
"This is a good thing," Harry reassured him. " Hermione has great ideas."
"But I'll need your help, Narcissa," Hermione added.
Now even Harry looked doubtful. But Narcissa straightened up in her chair. "What can I do?" she said.
Voldemort ordered Lucius to watch his son, then crossed the room and stood by the window, looking out. This effectively left Draco and his father alone together. If Draco had expected Lucius to be apologetic about the horror that was being inflicted on his son, he was disappointed. He merely looked Draco up and down coldly, and said, "You have saddened me, boy."
Despite himself, Draco was almost impressed with his father's total lack of remorse. It was breathtaking. "Maybe you should ground me," he suggested.
Lucius frowned. "And your flip sense of humor is not helping your case," he said. "If you behave in a properly remorseful manner, the Dark Lord may forgive you. He had high hopes for you at one point, Draco. He can be merciful. And if you were truly acting under the influence of this Polyjuice spell…"
Draco shook his head. "I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you again, Father," he said. "No desire to join up with the Dark Lord here. I'm afraid I can't see what you see in him. Not the most stable guy. Not the handsomest bloke, either," he added, as an afterthought.
"I don't know what you hope to accomplish by defying me, Draco," said Lucius, sounding as aggrieved as an ordinary parent discovering that his teenage son has borrowed the car and plowed it into a snow bank.
"If you don't know that, Father," said Draco coldly, "than I'm not going to explain."
"And if you don't stop defying me," said Lucius even more coldly, "I won't be your father any more."
After that they sat in silence.
Harry, Hermione and Sirius sat nervously in the study, not looking at each other. Narcissa had been gone five minutes. When the door finally opened and Narcissa came back into the room, carrying a large bundled object, Sirius was so pleased that he turned back into a dog, then back into a man, then into a dog again in quick succession.
"Hang on there, Sirius," said Harry, although he was obviously relieved as well. "Too much excitement, not good for you."
Narcissa put the bundle down on the desk and stepped back as Harry, Hermione and Sirius (back to human form again) crowded around. "I told them I was taking it to Lucius," she said, sounding almost pleased. "The more I resist, the easier it gets," she went on. "I feel like I could almost say his name now."
Harry, Hermione and Sirius stepped back quickly.
"But I won't," she added.
Hermione scooted back to the desk and unwrapped the bundle, then sucked in her breath. A huge metal arm lay outstretched in front of her, grim and ugly and horrible. Each of its seven metal fingers ended in vicious blades and there were grotesque Dark-magic carvings all up and down its hollow metal body. Despite being hollow all through the inside, it looked extremely solid and heavy.
Harry was staring at it, revolted. "Is that the Lacertus arm?"
"It's horrible, isn't it?" said Hermione, nodding.
"It’s a good thing he's not going to wind up using that thing it on Draco after all," said Harry. "There's no way you could get Draco to wear something that looked like that. Well," he added, with the ghost of a grin, "maybe if you told him it was Armani."
"Oh, shut up Harry," said Hermione absently. "We only have a couple minutes with this thing before Narcissa has to take it to You-Know-Who. Let me work on it."
While Hermione worked, Sirius drew Narcissa into the corner of the room. "You've done very well, very well," he told her. "We know it's hard for you--"
"I'm doing this for Draco," she said, a little sharply.
"I know," said Sirius.
"And when this is all over," said Narcissa, "you know I'll have to stay here, don't you? I don't dare leave. Not while Draco's father has that pendant."
"But won't Lucius already think--"
Narcissa shook her head. "He'll never think I've acted against him, not by my own will, not after seventeen years. But if I left with you--"
Sirius looked unhappy. "I understand."
Narcissa smiled. It was the first time he had seen her smile in eighteen years. It reminded him of his childhood. "It'll be all right, Sirius," she said.
"Yeah," he said. "Maybe."
If he hadn't hurt so much all over his body, Draco might well have fallen asleep where he lay, on the ground in the fencing room. He was exhausted. He hardly even heard the door open as Narcissa came into the room.
She went up to Lucius. "They wanted me to bring you this," she said, and unceremoniously handed him the Lacertus arm.
Lucius looked astonished. "What--why?"
"Harry Potter is in the house," said Narcissa, with perfect truth. "He is coming up here now."
This woke Draco up. He bolted upright and stared at his mother, who didn't look back at him. Something odd was going on, he was fairly sure of that. It didn't seem likely to him that the Death Eaters would have asked Narcissa to bring such a powerful and important magical object up to Lucius without them. Not unless they had a reason she wasn't stating.
Lucius was obviously suspicious as well, but didn't want to say anything in front of Voldemort. He had already shown once today that he couldn't control his own family, and likely wasn't keen on making that point again. Instead, he lifted lift his left arm to his face and spoke into the Dark Mark: "Wormtail. MacNair. Come. Bring them all."
Instantly, all over the room, Death Eaters began to Apparate: Wormtail, MacNair, Zabini, Rozier, Parkinson, and many others. People Draco had known since he was a child, had visited, whose children he had played with. None of them looked at him, sitting bloody and wretched-looking on the floor.
Voldemort turned from the window. "Harry Potter is here," he said, flexing his long fingers. "He is outside this room."
His voice lashed the Death Eaters like a whip. They stood to attention, staring around them. Draco saw Narcissa back out of the group quietly and leave the room through the back entrance.
There were footsteps in the hallways, clearly audible. The double doors opened. First one, then the other. Draco was gripping his hands together tightly, although he didn't realize it.
Sirius came in, in the form of a dog. There was total silence. Hermione followed him, looking very pale and unhappy. And after Hermione --- came Harry.
A sort of sigh rippled through the Death Eaters, like wind in branches.
Harry was even paler than Hermione, a sort of ashy white color, but he looked resolute. He wasn't wearing his glasses, which had the effect of making him look younger than he was. There was dried blood on his hand, still, and on his robes --- some of his own, and some of Draco's.
"I'm here," he said.
Voldemort stood in the center of his circle of Death Eaters and laughed. "And I know why," he said. "You have come for him," and he pointed at Draco.
"Yes," said Harry.
"He isn't worth it, Harry Potter," said Voldemort. "What do you think he has been doing here all morning while you were busy rescuing your canine companion? He has been telling us everything. Ever since I ended the spell that bound you two -- and I really must find out how that was done, it was most ingenious -he has been singing quite an interesting song."
"I don't believe it!" snapped Hermione. "You're lying! You could have figured out Harry was here without Draco saying anything at all!"
Voldemort turned his poisonous gaze on her. "You must have enjoyed your little interlude with young Malfoy in the wardrobe a great deal," he said, "to defend him so staunchly."
Color flooded Hermione's face. Draco tried to catch her eye, but she wouldn't look at him. "Then--then you tortured him," she said, but more uncertainly.
"I cannot imagine why I would wish to torture him for the information that he spent a sordid half an hour in a wardrobe with a stupid girl," said the Dark Lord. "No. He told me willingly, told me everything. "
Hermione said nothing, but tears had begun to flood silently down her face.
"It hardly matters, in any case," said Voldemort, turning back to Harry. "I hold all the cards, you hold none. I would hardly believe you could be so irredeemably stupid as to come here thinking you could fight me. Only I knew your father, boy…and it is just the sort of thing he would have done. More stupid than brave, the both of you."
Harry held up his wand. "I have this," he said. "You don't dare duel with me while I have this."
"No," Voldemort agreed, and snapped his fingers. Ropes sprang out of the air and wrapped themselves tightly around Harry, binding his wand arm to his body. Voldemort walked up to him, plucked the wand out of his hand, and threw it on the floor. "And now you don't have it any more." He stood up and looked thoughtfully at Sirius and Hermione. "I could kill your friends," he said softly into Harry's ear. "But it would be so much more fun to let you do it."
Harry said nothing, only looked at the Dark Lord with hatred.
Voldemort snapped his fingers again and the Lacertus arm flew out of Lucius' grasp and landed in his own outstretched hand. Despite being so thin, the Dark Lord was very strong. He spun the Lacertus in one hand as if it had been a baton, then lifted Harry's arm-- the one that was not bound to his side –and shoved the Lacertus down over his wrist as if it had been nothing more than an enormous, ill-fitting glove.
Harry screamed out loud. The ropes binding him fell away, and he crumpled to the ground, not yelling any more but writhing as if the arm were white-hot and burned him. Draco could see the metal rippling and twisting as if it were melting, fitting itself to Harry's own flesh, spreading white-metal tendrils all up and down his arm like sinister bracelets.
Draco clapped his own hand to his arm in sympathetic pain. He didn't know he was doing it, but he did it just the same.
Finally Harry sat up. And even the Death Eaters gasped. Harry's arm had become a thing of metal and blades and ugly death. The silver of the Lacertus arm had spread far enough over his body to grip the left side of his chest. There was a sort of halo of black light around him --- a reverse-halo, glimmering and dark. His skin glowed white under its negative light; his eyes glittered like emeralds. He looked inhuman.
Draco heard Hermione choke on a dry sort of sob.
"Harry," said the Dark Lord in a purring sort of voice. "What are you?"
"I am a weapon," said Harry, in an odd, distant voice. "I am your weapon."
The Dark Lord grinned and turned to Lucius. "I'm not sure we even need the Imperius Curse here," he said. "But better safe than sorry."
He raised his wand, pointed it at Harry. "Imperio!"
Harry bent his head as the jet of green light struck him. When he raised it again, his eyes looked even more unfocused.
"Now," said Voldemort. "Now. Harry, turn the Arm on…her." He pointed at Hermione. "Your little girlfriend. Go ahead. Do it."
Harry turned. He raised the arm, whose metal blade-fingers were closed into a fist, and pointed it at Hermione, who stared at him with wide-open eyes. Then he said:
"And you said I was stupid."
He whirled around again, and this time the Lacertus was pointing straight at Voldemort and the little knot of Death Eaters gathered around him. He started to walk towards them, slowly, as if it took great effort. They all gaped at him.
"You know the Imperius curse doesn't work on me," said Harry. "And you should know better than to arm your enemy with a deadly weapon."
"It is hardly deadly to me," said Voldemort sharply. "You idiotic boy."
"Maybe," said Harry. "Maybe not."
And he opened his hand.
The silver blades whirred apart, and from his metal palm erupted a jet of bluish light. Its force was so great that Harry staggered backward. Draco threw himself to the ground as a tongue of blue fire whipped over his head, striking the far wall and knocking over a display case of antique swords, which rained down with a clatter.
Harry fell on his knees, but he was still directing the light towards Lucius and the Death Eaters. Draco saw the light strike first one, then the rest of the Death Eaters and heard them scream as it whipped around them like Voldemort's ropes had whipped around Harry. One by one, they were jerked off their feet, Lucius included — they howled, and vanished.
Voldemort was the last to go. He seemed to be hanging on just from the sheer force of his hatred of Harry. But Harry raised his arm and pointed it again at the Dark Lord, and he, too, was whirled away.
The blue light vanished with him. And Harry crumpled to the ground as if he had been shot.
Draco struggled to his feet and started to run over to Harry. Hermione got there before he did, though, and flung herself down next to him. He looked like he was out cold. She grabbed hold of the ugly metal arm and began running her wand frantically over it.
Draco reached over to help steady Harry's arm, but Hermione, looking white and desperate, snapped, "Don't touch him!"
Draco jerked his hand back.
There was a flash of white light from the tip of Hermione's wand, and the metal Lacertus arm vanished. Harry began to stir.
Hermione's shoulders sagged in relief. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, not looking at Draco. "It's just -- the arm was draining his strength, it would have killed him in a minute. I had to get it off him."
"That wasn't the Lacertus curse," said Draco flatly. Why wouldn’t she look at him?
"No," said Hermione, still looking down at Harry. "No. We changed it. But the arm is was still a very dangerous Transfigured object, and using it could easily have killed him."
A large tear ran down her nose and plonked onto Harry's face. Harry opened his eyes.
"Quit that," he said hoarsely.
Hermione grinned at him. Harry grinned back.
"You were amazing, Harry," she said. "You really were."
Sirius, who had come loping up, sat down by Harry and grabbed his hand. "That was fantastic," he said. "Really fantastic, Harry, congratulations."
Harry sat up slowly. He was still very pale, but color was beginning to come back to his face. "We still have to get out of here, though, don't we," he said matter-of-factly. "Hermione, you said the spell wasn't permanent?"
She shook her head. "It was just a very strong Whirlwind Charm in place of the killing spell the Lacertus usually uses," she said. "It won't kill them at all -- but it'll keep them away for a good long time. And eventually it'll dump them down somewhere random. I hope it dumps Voldemort into the piranha tank at the zoo," she added angrily.
Draco thought he should say something, but wasn't sure what. He probably ought to thank Harry for saving his life. But Harry and Hermione were busy grinning at each other like idiots, and then there was Sirius, whacking Harry on the back and treating him like he was some sort of hero. Well okay, Draco admitted, Harry was kind of a hero. Although of course he wouldn’t have been in a position to need his life saved if he hadn't been pretending he was Harry in the first place, in order to save Hermione's life. For which she had not thanked him. In fact, she hadn't even acknowledged it.
Feelings he thought he had forgotten, left behind, came flooding back. Jealousy and rage and gnawing fear. Neither Harry nor Hermione would look at him -- they thought he had betrayed them -- they were disgusted with him--
"Potter," he said shortly. He reached into his pocket, took out Harry's glasses, and dropped them onto Harry's lap. "Your specs."
Harry glanced up. "Thanks, Malfoy," he said. But his eyes were wary.
This only increased Draco's anger. "Go on," he said. "Ask me."
"Ask you what?" said Harry, looking even warier now.
"If Voldemort tortured me to get me to tell him where you were," he said. "You've been wondering. So ask."
"Don't," said Hermione sharply. But neither of them was listening to her. They were looking at each other, green eyes locked on gray.
"Well," said Harry. "Did he?"
"No," said Draco.
There was a long silence.
Draco said, "You saved my life, Potter." He jerked his chin toward Hermione. "But I saved her life. Which in my mind makes us even."
There was another silence.
"Fine," said Harry at last. "We're even."
Hermione looked from one of them to the other. Harry was still pale and shaking, but Draco looked as calm and collected as though he'd just been through nothing worse than a bad haircut; although his face and clothes were still very bloody.
"Draco," she began, but he didn't even look at her.
"I don't want to hear from you, Granger," he said shortly.
Draco bent down and picked up his wand from the floor where it had fallen. Then he straightened up and jammed it into his pocket -- he was still wearing Harry's clothes, frayed robes and all. He didn't look at Hermione as he did all this, didn't see her face wretched with misery. "See you at school, then," he said and walked away.
Hermione seized Harry's arm. "Harry---he can't go---"
Harry just looked tired. "Let him go if he wants to, Hermione."
She shook her head violently. "We'll never get off the grounds without him -- there are seventeen hexes on the front door alone and only he knows how to take them off---"
Harry turned to Sirius. "Get him," he said.
Sirius dropped down into canine form and leaped after Draco. He lunged onto his back and brought him crashing to the floor. Draco rolled over, yelling, and Sirius sat on his chest. Harry got to his feet and, followed by Hermione, approached them slowly.
"Call off your dog, would you, Potter?" said Draco, eyeing Sirius with immense dislike. "I hate dogs."
"You want to be a bit nicer to someone who's just helped save your life," said Harry.
"I thought we were even," replied Draco.
"I didn't mean me," said Harry. "I meant Sirius."
"Oh, shut up, both of you," Hermione interrupted in great agitation. "We need to go. Draco -- you have to come with us, we'll never get off the grounds without you."
"And this is my problem because...?"
Draco's drawl was back. The drawl Hermione remembered, that she hated.
Sirius suddenly resumed his human form, stood up, and yanked Draco sharply to his feet. "I'll tell you why it's your problem, my boy," he said, and snapped his fingers. Narrow ropes appeared out of the air as they had for Voldemort earlier and whipped themselves around Draco's left arm, binding it tightly to Sirius' right one. Before Draco could react, Sirius had reached out, plucked his wand out of his robes, and pocketed it. "Because I'm making it your problem."
Draco looked so angry that his eyes were nearly black with fury. Then he grinned at Harry and Hermione. It was a mean, mirthless sort of grin. "If that's the way you want to play it," he said, "Fine."
"Why won’t you just come with us because you want to?" demanded Hermione, her voice cracking. "We haven't done anything but try to help you--"
"My father says he isn't my father any more," said Draco. "The Dark Lord wants me dead, and when I get back to school, I'll probably be expelled. If the point of this all was to show me how miserable it is being you, Potter, then it worked."
Harry's eyes flashed with anger. "None of this was about you, Malfoy, in the first place."
Draco looked like he had been hoping Harry would say that. "Of course not," he sneered. "Because everything's about you, isn't it, Potter? None of our lives would have been in danger if it wasn't for you."
"Harry can't help being who he is," said Hermione in a trembling voice.
"Maybe not," said Draco, "But he could help dragging his friends into his messes over and over again. What're you going to do, Potter, when you slip up and one of them dies? It's just a matter of time, the only question is whether it'll be Weasley, or the Dog Man here, or even Granger--"
"Shut up, Malfoy," said Harry in a deadly voice.
"I don't think Granger needs a lot of encouragement to die for you, either," Draco went on, eyes glittering, "I heard you down in the tunnels, you two: Say it, Harry, say it--"
"Shut up!" screamed Hermione, and Draco laughed.
"He's just trying to make us angry enough so we'll let him go off without us," said Harry in the same deadly voice. "Well, it won't work."
And he walked away. Halfway to the doors, he stopped, bent down, and picked up one of the swords that had fallen out of the display case. He slid it through his belt, and turned and looked at the other three. "We're going," he said. "Now."
It was going on midnight, and the sky over Malfoy Mansion was an inverted black bowl spangled with sequins. The grounds were black and silver and deadly. Of course, if they hadn't had Draco with them, they would have been terminally deadly. Bitter and vindictive he might be, but he was still a Malfoy, and knew how to get around the grounds.
Sirius walked ahead, pushing Draco slightly in front of him. Harry and Hermione followed behind. Harry was quiet with the quiet of exhaustion. They skirted a number of obstacles, including a nest of giant spiders which Draco pointed out and Sirius promptly Stunned with his wand.
Hermione was feeling wretched. It wasn't just that they were on the Malfoy family grounds, which was terrifying, or that Harry was still looking white and ill and she was afraid that the Lacertus charm, even in its altered form, had done him a lasting injury of some sort -- it was also that Draco wasn't talking to her.
She had wanted to thank him for having saved her life, but she couldn't, because he wouldn’t talk to her. When she tried to approach him he waved her away. In fact he had only spoken to any of them once, to ask if Narcissa was all right. None of them had the heart to tell him about the Epicyclical Charm, even now, so Sirius hadn’t been able to give him much of an answer besides his word that Narcissa was fine. This, of course, only pissed Draco off further.
Hermione kept sneaking glances at Draco out of the corner of her eye. How could she have been so wrong about anyone? She had been sure, positive, that it wasn't the Polyjuice spell, it couldn’t be the Polyjuice spell…but the way he had looked at her, talked to her, back in the fencing room, it was as if the past week had never happened and he hated her again.
They had come to a low bridge over a narrow stream. Draco stopped dead. Harry, who hadn’t been paying attention, was about to step on the bridge when Draco reached out a hand and caught at his sleeve.
"I wouldn't walk on that if I were you, Potter," he drawled.
Harry stepped back quickly and looked at Draco with suspicion. "Why? What'll happen?"
"Standard procedure," said Draco, "is to leap fifty feet into the air and scatter yourself over a wide area while screaming at the top of your lungs."
Harry looked at him, and Draco grinned his obnoxious grin again. For a moment, it looked like Harry might haul off and punch him in the eye. Draco kind of hoped he would, but was disappointed.
"Right," said Harry, taking a deep breath. "So it’s a bomb, then."
"I wouldn’t know what you’d call it," Draco replied, looking bored. "I don't speak Muggle."
"It's some sort of Explosive Hex, let's just go around it, Harry," said Hermione, looking terribly unhappy.
"No," said Harry, still regarding the bridge thoughtfully. "Give him his wand, Sirius."
Sirius looked doubtful. "Harry--"
"Give it to him," said Harry. He turned and looked at Draco. "Take the hex off, Malfoy."
"And if I don't?"
"Then we'll all walk onto it and take our chances," said Harry. "You can go first."
Draco frowned. Sirius took his wand out and pressed it roughly into Draco’s grip, keeping his own hand firmly on his wrist.
Draco pointed his wand at the bridge. "Raptus regaliter," he said.
There was a sharp flash of light. Sirius took the wand back and they walked out onto the bridge, Sirius pushing Draco ahead of him. Nothing happened, so Harry and Hermione followed.
Sirius had said almost nothing to Draco since he had told him that getting off the grounds was now his problem too. Now, however, he turned to him and said, "What did they use on you, boy? Veritaserum?"
Caught off guard, Draco stumbled. "What?"
"I saw your face when we came into that room, and again just now when Harry almost walked on that bridge," said Sirius. "You wouldn't have told Lucius bloody anything, you're much too proud for starters. You forget, I was around back in the day when Voldemort was going around torturing people and using Veritaserum like it was Pepperup Potion. I know what resisting Dark magic looks like." He grabbed Draco's chin and forced his head up. "Bit through your lip, didn't you?" he added, sounding approving. "Very good."
Draco wrenched his head away. "What's it to you?"
"Not much," Sirius admitted. "But it might mean a lot to them," and he gestured towards Harry and Hermione behind them on the path.
"They wouldn't believe me."
"Try them," suggested Sirius.
"No," said Draco. "They were so ready to believe that as soon as the spell was off me, I'd turn right around and stab them in the back," he added with intense bitterness. "Hermione looked like she was going to spit on me. They didn't even ask."
"You didn't exactly offer, either."
"If I was Harry," snapped Draco, "she wouldn't have to ask, she'd know."
"You're not Harry," said Sirius with brutal honesty. "Not any more."
Draco jerked his head aside so that Sirius couldn't see his face. "Harry the hero," he said in a tight voice. "He gets to walk home with Hermione, and I wind up chained to the Dog Man."
"Take a word of advice from the Dog Man, then," said Sirius. "You're not doing a lot to further your own cause at the moment. Just tell them the truth, Malfoy."
"I'm not sure I'm a Malfoy any more," said Draco. "And I'm not Harry either. I don't know what I am."
Hermione had begun to lose track of time when she heard Harry give a sudden whistle of amazement. She glanced up and saw what he was looking at -- a huge chasm that bisected the ground in front of them. It was narrow, possibly no more than thirty feet across, but it looked very, very deep. It wound back and forth across the barren ground like an uncoiling serpent. There was obviously no way around it.
"It's a bottomless pit," said Draco, looking at it with some uneasiness. "Or it might be a Depthless Chasm, I'm not certain. No...I'm pretty sure my father did say that he'd asked the landscaper for a Bottomless Pit." Draco shrugged. "Either way, I wouldn't recommend falling into it. It might have no bottom, but you'll be falling a long time."
"Trust your family to have a Bottomless Pit, Malfoy," said Harry darkly. "Other people have shrubbery in the garden. You have a Bottomless Pit."
"More unusual than shrubbery," said Draco. "Handier, too."
"Enough bickering," said Sirius sharply. "How do we get across?"
"You can't," said Draco, "If you had Malfoy blood, you could walk over the chasm without a bridge. But you don't." He cocked his head at Harry. "Well, maybe you do, Potter, care to chance it?"
Harry, who had no idea how quickly new blood cells replaced old ones and had no desire to find out by leaping off the edge of a huge cliff, shook his head fervently. "No way."
"Of course," Draco added, "if I had my wand…."
Sirius handed it to him and held his wrist while he performed a spell. There was no flash of light, but a bridge appeared -- more of a narrow walkway, really, that hugged the side of the chasm. It was barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side.
"I don't much like the look of that," said Sirius.
Draco shrugged. "It's what we use when we have to get across with someone who isn't a Malfoy," he said. "It's safe enough. It crosses the Pit farther down."
"You first," said Harry to Draco, and they went.
They were about halfway across, walking two by two along the narrow path, when they heard it. A sort of whirring, thrumming noise directly overhead. Hermione glanced up, trying to see past the ten feet or so of cliff that stretched above them, and saw that the others were doing the same.
"What is that?" she said.
They all glanced at Draco, who looked baffled. "No idea," he said shortly.
"Get back against the cliff wall, everyone," said Sirius sharply, and they pressed themselves into the shaodw of the rock. After a few minutes, the noise died away and they started walking again, although more slowly.
"That sounded almost like…a helicopter," said Harry under his breath to Hermione. "But it can't be. Not here."
" It wouldn’t work," she agreed. "Too much magic in the air."
"Some sort of flying monster?" said Harry worriedly.
"It didn't sound like any kind of animal--"
She broke off as the whirring, grinding noise came whirling overhead again, this time accompanied by a flash of intensely bright light. Whatever it was had circled around and returned. They huddled back against the cliff. Then something suddenly soared over their heads---something big--if Hermione hadn't known better, she would have thought it was a helicopter or a plane, but it couldn't be---
"Get back here," said Sirius roughly, and Hermione realized that he was talking to Draco, who had moved forward and was standing on the path, out of the shadows. The bright overhead glare turned his hair to the colorless color of lightning. He was doing something with his hands---but his left hand was tied... wasn't it?
"Sirius!" said Harry sharply. "He's got his wand-"
Sirius whipped around. Draco jumped back, furiously tugging at his wrists. Somehow, in the confusion, he had gotten his wand out of Sirius' pocket and freed himself. He yanked the last of the magical ropes from his wrists and dropped them on the ground. He had a very odd expression on his face --- half triumph, half despair.
"You can go on without me from here," he said, turned, and ran back the way they had come.
Sirius dropped to all fours in canine form and bolted after him.
Several things happened at once.
Draco, hearing Sirius behind him, skidded to a stop, whirled, and ran sideways - off the walkway and into thin air. He hadn't been lying, he could walk on the air above the chasm. His feet kicked up bright silver flashes as he ran, like a knife striking sparks from metal.
Sirius, obviously startled, gave a yelp of shock and began skidding to a halt.
Harry, seeing Sirius' distress, started to run forward. And suddenly stumbled, his foot tangled in Draco's discarded bindings. He pitched forward silently, rolled, and slid off the edge of the walkway, out of view.
Hermione's heart stopped.
"Harry!" she shrieked, running to the side of the walkway and casting about wildly. "Harry!"
"I'm here," said a faint voice directly below her. "But I think my arm is broken."
Hermione fell to her knees, crawled to the very edge of the path, and looked over. At first she saw only darkness, which resolved itself slowly into a pattern of shadow and lesser shadow. She made out Harry's white face, turned up to hers. He was gripping an outflung rock with one arm. His other arm hung at a strange angle at his side. His legs were dangling out over the chasm -- deep and black and endless.
"Harry," she breathed. She flung herself onto her stomach and inched forward until she could reach the hand that was gripping the rock. She seized him by the wrist and hung on tightly. "You're all right," she said frantically, "just hang on, Harry--" She turned her head, looking desperately for Sirius, saw him about thirty feet away, watching Draco running through the air to the opposite side of the chasm. "Sirius!" she screamed. "Sirius, come quickly!"
There was a loud cracking noise, and a piece of the rock Harry was gripping crumbled away. He skidded downward about two feet, pulling Hermione with him. She threw the arm that wasn't holding Harry around a rock and braced her knees. The gravel tore at her skin, but she stopped sliding forward.
She looked down at Harry again. There was nothing but her own strength keeping him from falling now, and she was gripping his wrist so tightly that she could see her nails digging into his flesh. "Hold on," she said, her voice cracking alarmingly, "just hold on, Harry, Sirius is coming--"
She could see Sirius loping towards them at top speed, racing with all four feet, and yet he didn't seem to be getting any closer at all.
"I can't," said Harry's voice below her.
She looked back at Harry. He was very pale, the dirt and gashes standing out clearly on his white face, but he seemed strangely calm. "I can't," he said again, and she saw that he was right, his hand was slipping out of hers-she lunged forward, she was hanging half off the path now -- and caught at his sleeve, seizing it in a death-tight grip.
"Harry," she said. "Harry, please."
But she knew it was useless. He couldn't pull himself up with his arm broken. He was dead weight on the end of her arm and her shoulder was agony now. She was aware of the whirring, grinding noise overhead again but she didn't dare look up.
"Hermione," said Harry.
He was smiling. How could he be smiling at a time like this?
"I do love you, you know," he said.
Or at least that was what it sounded like he said. The whirring noise was loud in her ears and she couldn't be sure.
"What?" gasped Hermione, numb with shock. "What did you say?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply. There was the sound of ripping cloth, and his sleeve came off in her hand, as it had to, as she had known it would. She saw his eyes widen in horror-- and then he was falling, falling away from her, spiraling down into the impenetrable darkness below.
Chapter 10 >>>