They set out for the Manor before dawn the next day, packing up their belongings and hoping that the Death Eaters in residence were the type to sleep in. Hermione had successfully—or so they hoped—Modified the Snatchers’ memories once they’d finished their interrogation and then turned them loose. They had then been Imperiused once again and told to seek out the werewolf pack Remus had infiltrated and turn themselves over, claiming a reformed spirit with a newfound love of vegetarian fare and a hatred for all things Voldemort.

“They’ll be torn apart—Greyback included,” Draco had sniffed, though he hadn’t sounded too broken up about it, gingerly clutching his still-healing arm.

Harry had merely shrugged, having difficulty mustering sympathy for the wizards who’d been responsible for the deaths of good people on the run. The pack might not kill them, he told himself, and that was enough to let him sleep soundly at night. If either Hermione or Ron had any objections to the script, they kept it to themselves.

As Draco had the strongest determination among them when it came to making it to the Manor and knew where it would be safest to appear so as to avoid detection, it was he who Apparated the four of them onto the Malfoy holdings. When Ron had initially objected to Draco being in charge of their Apparition, clearly still nursing a healthy helping of doubt as to Draco’s trustworthiness, Draco had simply said, “By all means, Weasley. Let it be on your head when we land in the Venomous Tentacula, then.”

“The—what?!” Ron had sputtered. “Why’ve you got Venomous Tentacula growing in your gardens?!”

Draco had been the picture of innocence. “How else are we expected to keep out the riff-raff?”

Ron had stifled his protests after that, but he’d kept his wand at the ready when they Apparated, just in case he needed to fend off deadly flora or worse.

After Hermione had placed a Disillusionment Charm over them, they had all linked arms, and Draco had turned on his heel and sent them tumbling into nothingness. When the world had stopped spinning, they’d no longer been faced with the scrubby steppe they’d camped on the previous night. Instead, they were skulking in the overgrown tree brake lining the edge of a long and winding drive that ran up to an imposing manor house. With its tall topiaries and gravel-strewn garden paths towered over by several impressive turrets, it had clearly once been a handsome place—but there was an unsettling air about it now. Like the stately exterior couldn’t quite disguise the dark mischief being worked inside.

A flash of white in Harry’s peripheral vision drew his attention, and he quickly brought his wand to the ready.

But it was only a peacock—an albino one, he was amused to note—out for a morning stroll. Its head bobbed rhythmically atop its long, curved neck as it strutted about, clearly confident in its role as master of its domain. How fitting.

Draco followed his eye, muttering. “Nasty bastard, that one. Rather full of himself. He chased me up a tree when I was seven. I think I’ll have him skewered and fried up for a victory celebration once this is all over.”

“Now come on, have some respect for your Patronus’s formsake.”

“It’s not going to be a fucking peacock!” Draco hissed, jabbing him in the side with the tip of his wand. “Let’s go. And keep it down; the manor grounds proper are warded against uninvited guests, but they might still have armed patrols monitoring the perimeter.”

A wrought-iron fence taller than even Ron and tipped by wicked spikes surrounded the whole place. They fell in line behind Draco and walked for what felt like a half an hour through the underbrush before they finally wound their way around to the backside of the manor. The fence, which had seemed impenetrable from the front save through the menacing front gates, was broken here by a small latch gate that looked much more manageable.

Draco held up a hand to signal for them to keep behind him, then drew his wand as they slowly approached the little gate. He looped his arm through Harry’s, then nodded down the line for the others to do the same, until they were an unbroken chain. Draco tapped one of the bulbs tipping the lamp post, then moved his lips as if to cast a spell, though Harry didn’t hear him say anything. The gate unlatched of its own accord, creaking inward to welcome them through.

As they passed over the threshold, Harry could feel a distinct ripple of magic that he assumed must be the wards Draco had spoken of. If whatever he’d just done hadn’t fooled the protective enchantments surrounding Malfoy Manor, then whoever was waiting for them inside would surely know by now that they had trespassers on the premises and be out to greet them at any moment. There was no turning back now.

The Malfoy gardens were a sight to behold. There were greenhouses the size of the Dursley’s whole home, and they gleamed in the glow of the morning sun just cresting the treetops. Harry could have happily spent the morning exploring—he kind of wanted to see the Venomous Tentacula, if Draco hadn’t been pulling Ron’s leg—but Draco was laser-focused, and they quickly worked their way through the rows of vegetable beds sleeping under Warming Charms until they came to a squat, nondescript door. Harry half-wondered if it wasn’t a dog door before remembering whose lands they were on; no, no chance of pets here—at least nothing so mundane as a dog.

Draco tapped the jamb with his wand, and the door grew to something much more suited to humans. He chivvied them through, then tapped the jamb again to shrink the door back behind them. Harry was the first into what he took to be the kitchen, and he drew up short as soon as he was over the threshold, causing Hermione and Ron to bump into him.

The room was full of house-elves, some scurrying about holding trays of biscuits or casserole dishes, others perched on step stools ladling soup or stock from pots bubbling atop woodfire stoves, and still others hunched over a butcher’s block with rolling pins or chopping knives, engrossed in the day’s meal preparations. This explained the size of the door, then.

It was a madhouse, and Harry quickly glanced over to Hermione, who was resolutely staring ahead, lips pursed. He wondered what sorts of rants were building behind that hard gaze and hoped she wouldn’t be so foolish as to make a scene right this moment. What looked like twenty elves was absolute overkill, even for a Manor of this size, but there were more appropriate times to introduce Draco to the wonders of S.P.E.W.

The elves paid them no mind, though—whether because of the Disillusionment Charm or because they’d been trained that way—and Draco snapped his fingers for them to follow, leading them down a short corridor. They arrived at a door that looked to lead to an earth cellar—though it was bolted tight with three different locks on it, suggesting it was being used for far more than just storing vegetables.

Two of the locks melted under a simple whispered Alohomora from Draco, but the third refused to budge, to Draco’s clear consternation. He’d either never been down here to deal with this door before, or the locks had been installed without his knowledge—both were equally plausible. He eventually resorted to a Portaberto, which blasted the lock from the door and left behind a smoking hole. The elves didn’t appear to have noticed, intent on their tasks, but there would be no hiding the fact that someone had broken in, which would make covering their tracks difficult if not impossible.

“No one but the elves have any business being in the kitchens,” Draco assured them once they’d slipped inside and shut the cellar door behind them. “We’ll be long gone before anyone notices, if they ever notice.”

“If you say so, mate…” Ron said, taking in their surroundings. The cellar was dark, dank, and musty—if there were any perishables being stored in here, they’d all be rotten.

“Which way now?” Harry whispered; he didn’t want to hang around here any longer than they had to. They still had no clue how many Death Eaters were in the Manor, after all; Homenum revelio left a magical trace that could be felt and would surely tip off whoever was lurking about that someone had infiltrated the wards. They couldn’t even be certain the Malfoys were still around. Perhaps they’d fled for the Continent and this had been a perfectly unnecessary risk; there was no telling how out of date Greyback’s information had been.

Draco cast Lumos, and Harry winced, bringing his hand up to shield his eyes until they adjusted. The deep shelves and racks for wine suggested they were in what had once been a large pantry for dry goods—but further on there was another door. This one led to a corner hallway, and when they finally stepped out the other side, it was clear they were no longer in anything remotely resembling a cellar.

“Don’t judge,” Draco grit out, clearly aware of what the room looked like. “It’s not what it seems.”

“Unless you lot get up to some kinky times, I’d say it’s exactly what it seems,” Ron muttered, running his eyes over the iron bars lining what were undeniably cells.

“The Estate used to be much larger!” Draco protested sharply. “We had boarders on our land, and the nearest lawmen were—”

“Now is hardly the time to be having this discussion!” Hermione hissed, rushing ahead with her own Lumos-bearing wand to check the occupants of the cells. When she reached the second cluster of three, she cried in relief, dispelling the Disillusionment Charm, “Luna!”

“Hermione…?” came Luna’s lilting, dreamy voice, betraying a raspy roughness that said she hadn’t had much in the way to drink recently. She approached the bars to her cell cautiously—then brightened when the others stepped into the pool of light cast by Hermione’s wand. “Harry! Ron! And—oh. I don’t believe we’ve met properly.”

Draco kept his distance, looking extremely uncomfortable with the situation. “We ought to hurry,” he reminded Harry. “Dawdling here’s decidedly unwise. There’s no telling when the guards might be back to check on their prisoners.”

“Oh, they won’t be by with breakfast for some time. They’re late risers around here, and sometimes they forget to feed us altogether. You haven’t been caught, have you?” Luna seemed unaccountably cheery given the abysmal conditions under which she was being quartered.

All the same, there was no time for tearful reunions just now. “No, we haven’t been caught. We’ve come to rescue you, Luna; we heard Mr. Ollivander’s here too?”

“Yes! He’s in terrible shape, Harry, but I think he’ll be fine if we can get him out of this horrible place.” She cast an apologetic look at Draco. “I’m sorry for the slight against your home, but it really has been just dreadful. So many nasty auras floating about down here!”

“It’s fine,” Draco muttered.

There were, it turned out, more prisoners locked up in the Malfoys’ cells than just Ollivander and Luna. There was the goblin Griphook that Greyback had mentioned, and Dean Thomas was here as well. It was quite a relief to see Dean had only been captured and not killed, as those on Potterwatch had feared.

The locks to the cells were easily countered, and Luna led them over to the corner of her cell, where Ollivander lay curled in a foetal position on a pile of damp hay, reminding Harry uncomfortably of the aged figure in his vision. His eyes were sunken into his skull, and his skin was practically hanging off his bones. He was but a shadow of his former self and looked even worse than he had in the vision Harry had witnessed the previous summer.

“I’ve been trying to take care of him,” Luna said, sinking to her knees and brushing Ollivander’s scraggly, thinning hair back from his feverish face. “But he’s been tortured with the Cruciatus Curse several times since I was brought here around Christmas, and I’m certain he suffered even more before then.”

“We need to get him out of here now, Harry,” Hermione said, and Harry nodded. The original plan had been for Ron to Apparate Luna and Ollivander to Bill and Fleur’s place on the coast outside of Tinworth, which they knew had been fitted with hefty security charms and enchantments when it had functioned as a decoy house in Harry’s escape from the Dursleys. Hermione, Harry, and Draco would then explore the Manor looking for Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy and join Ron shortly thereafter.

Things were looking a bit tricky now, though, and Ron seemed to agree, counting their tagalongs with a frown. “I could handle two or three, but four Side-alongs, plus myself?” He grimaced. “Honestly, I’m worried I’d Splinch us…”

Hermione bit her lip. “…I could share the load, I suppose,” she offered with a worried glance at Harry. It was a departure from their plan, but a necessary one, he could see, and he nodded.

“It’s important we get as many out of here as possible—and preferably in one piece.” He gave Ron a wry smile. “Not that I haven’t got the utmost faith in you, mate.”

Ron shook his head. “No, less pressure on me this way.”

Harry nodded. “Right, then Draco and I will follow shortly.” He glanced to Luna. “I don’t suppose you know how many Death Eaters are lurking about? And names would be great, if you know any.”

“Hm, some come and go, but I know that nasty Lestrange woman is here quite a lot. I think she’ll be here.” She frowned. “…She likes to use Dean for sport sometimes. He comes back with the most awful burns on his face and hands.”

Great. He’d been hoping they wouldn’t have to deal with any Death Eaters of note just yet, but if it came down to kill or be killed with Bellatrix Lestrange, well Harry wouldn’t lose any sleep over doing what he had to do.

“Have you—that is, do you know if…if my parents are…?” Draco asked, uncharacteristically bereft of his usual way with words, and Luna gave him a soft look of pity.

“I’m afraid I don’t really know how they are. They aren’t down here, though, as you can see, so I suppose they must be doing all right? I’m sorry I don’t have any more information.”

Draco just resolutely shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest and slinking back into the shadows. His bandages peeked out from the cuff of his left sleeve; he’d slept the entire night before in the Sanctuary, letting the dragon heal itself as much as possible in case he needed to use his Animagus form in the doing. It would probably be another few days’ worth of shifted time before he could fly again, but Hermione had pronounced him well on the mend when she had rewrapped his hand before they’d departed.

They rounded up the prisoners, with Luna and Ollivander Side-alonging with Hermione while Dean was partnered with Ron. The goblin Griphook would ride piggy-back on Ron, as his legs were useless after what looked to have been a thorough drubbing.

“If you’re not there with us in a half-hour, we’re coming back for you,” Ron said, while Hermione used a blanket to form a makeshift sling so that Griphook was in no danger of sliding off Ron’s back mid-Apparition.

“No, you’re not.” Harry didn’t even know if it would be possible for them to Apparate back onto the grounds without triggering any wards. “It could take us that long just to find out where the Malfoys are being kept, let alone to mount any sort of rescue.” He shook his head. “If you come racing back for us, you might tip them off before we’re ready.”

“Then at least take this.” Hermione fished out the Master coin they’d used to communicate with Draco when speaking with Xenophilius. “Use it to let us know if you need help, all right?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, determined to never use it. He pocketed it with a reassuring smile, anything to get them out of the Manor faster.

Ron looked to Draco, swallowing. “…Watch his back, yeah?”

“I’ll be leading the way, but your concern is noted.”

Ron pursed his lips, though he seemed to have been expecting something along those lines and declined to start an argument.

With Griphook safely secured and Mr. Ollivander toddling on dangerously unsteady legs, Harry shared a last, longing look with Hermione and Ron—and then they Disapparated with a faint pop, and it was just Harry and Draco alone in the cellars of Malfoy Manor now. Hermione’s Lumos had gone with her, and the room was suddenly much darker than before. It hadn’t been cheery by any means, but there’d been a certain comfort derived from the presence of so many of his friends that Harry had taken heart in. Now, he and Draco were on their own in a house full of people who wanted Harry dead.

He took a deep breath. “Guess this is it.”

Draco snorted softly. “Still not too late to back out, Potter.”

“Come on, what kind of Gryffindor would I be if I backed out now?”

“One with a higher likelihood of living to see old age than not?”

Harry grinned despite himself. They really made an unhealthy pair, feeding each other’s tendencies towards dark humour. It was strange, finding something of a kindred spirit in Draco Malfoy of all people, but here they were. Never had he been more conscious of how macabre his humour tended, and if he survived all of this, he was probably going to need to have a Mind Healer on permanent retainer.

Draco jerked his head back down the passageway. “Come on, back to the kitchens. We’ll take the passages behind the walls, less risk of getting spotted.”

“Passages—behind the walls?” Harry gaped. “You have secret passageways in your house?” He didn’t know why this shocked him so, given he was a wizard who performed any number of magical spells on a daily basis, but it did.

“They aren’t secret,” Draco corrected shortly. “They’re hidden.”

“That’s called being secret.”

“That’s called being discreet. Servants used them, so the gentlefolk of the Manor wouldn’t have to see them going about their duties—that was before house-elves of course.”

Harry’s eyes about rolled out of his head. “Of course.”

Draco led him back to the kitchens, where the house-elves were still hard at work and paid them no attention even without the Disillusionment Charm. He approached what Harry had initially taken for another cupboard but now saw hid a very narrow stair lined in green baize that they had to mount single-file, for they could not fit abreast. Harry followed Draco as they made their way quickly and quietly through the house, muffling with whispered spells the creaks of the old floorboards that hadn’t been trod on in an age. Malfoy Manor was somehow larger on the inside than it had seemed on the outside, and Harry wondered if you were technically allowed to put Extension Charms on the insides of residences like this, since Hagrid had mentioned they were tightly regulated.

They started in the eastern wing of the manor and worked their way over, checking the occupants of each room through tiny peepholes that usually turned out to be disguised by bookcases or portrait frames or similar frivolous décor. By the time they reached the grand atrium—or at least the passageways that riddled the subfloor beneath it—they’d found two Death Eaters making bored rounds along the walkways ringing the fore and aft towers and a third passed out on a settee in the library (“One of the libraries,” Draco had corrected), a copy of the Daily Prophet shielding his face while he snored loudly.

Surmising that these three were meant to be lookouts and that there would be three others in the western wing with similar duties, they decided to focus their search efforts on the rooms in the immediate vicinity of the central court. Given the hour, any residents would likely either be still abed or perhaps in the dining room, awaiting the fine breakfast the house-elves were preparing.

Harry had frowned at this. “…Greyback said they’re practically prisoners. You think he’d say that if they were taking their meals in the dining room like normal?”

Draco’s twisted grimace showed how he felt about the situation. “…Master bedroom it is, then.”

The master bedroom was actually a master suite, with a receiving room, a study, a bathroom, and a bedroom. There was being filthy rich, and then there was overkill, and the Malfoys seemed to subscribe to the notion that if you weren’t going to make something obscenely opulent, you might as well not do anything at all.

In the end, though, Draco’s parents weren’t in any of the rooms in the master suite—they were in what Draco called the Drawing Room but looked to Harry like just another overfurnished library. And they weren’t alone.

Lucius Malfoy was sprawled out on one of the sofas in a stained shirt and ill-fitting trousers, his wispy white hair in disarray and dark circles under his eyes. He certainly didn’t look like he’d had months to recover from his stint in Azkaban; hell, he looked like he might still be there.

Narcissa looked a sight better than her husband—or at least she was more polished in the way she’d put herself together. Her robes hung about her thin frame with a casual elegance that even her current living situation didn’t seem to have robbed her of, and though she wrang her hands before herself and had her lips pursed tight, her eyes were still bright and sharp.

And then there was Bellatrix, a witch who must once have been terrible and beautiful but now was just psychosis warmed over and who’d never met an Unforgivable she didn’t like, torturing for sport. Her jet-black hair was piled atop her head in a wild coif that seemed in as much disarray as her mind, and she had cut the sleeves of her gown off at the elbows so her Dark Mark was on display for all to see.

With no way to know what the state of things inside the Manor might be, they’d necessarily been forced to wing this part of the mission, so they spent several long minutes with their ears pressed against the drywall, listening to the conversation on the other side, while taking turns glancing through the peephole.

From the sound of things, they’d arrived right in the middle of a righteous argument between Bellatrix and Lucius.

…some gratitude for the honour you’ve received! Bellatrix hissed.

We are grateful,” said Lucius with a weary peevishness that suggested this wasn’t the first time they’d had this argument and he was in no mood to waste his breath. But we’re beginning to feel like prisoners in our own home! And we were promised retribution!”

And so you shall receive it, at the hour of his choosing and no sooner!” Bellatrix scoffed, tone dripping in scorn. To moan and whinge about this and that not being done, pathetic! Pull yourself together, man!

“Bella, surely you must understand…our difficult situation…” A new voice spoke up now, which Harry was pretty sure belonged to Draco’s mother. She was evidently stuck playing the mediator between her hot-blooded sister and a husband at his breaking limit.

Indeed I do, Cissy. Which is why I’ve given you as much lead as I have. Test me much further, and you’ll no longer be sheltered under my wing!

The tension between the three in the room was thick enough to slice with a knife, and next to him, Draco was staring through the peephole tight as a drawn bowstring and ready to snap, barely even breathing. Harry placed a warning hand on his shoulder, worried Draco might otherwise be tempted to just burst through the wall, wand blazing.

Draco relaxed a hair, and Harry flicked his wand to throw up a Muffliato. “All right?” Draco just nodded, and Harry didn’t push any further. Slytherins were tricky beasts to navigate emotionally. “…How do you reckon we ought to play this?”

“I don’t think Father or Mother have wands—but Aunt Bella will. And she won’t be afraid to use it, even on me.” Harry had no trouble at all seeing that, given she’d happily murdered her own cousin. “Do you have any of those Wheezes products on you? The ones that waddle away and blow up?”

“The Decoy Detonator? Yeah, I brought a couple along.” He rooted around in his pocket and drew out a handful of Nosebleed Nougats, a pair of Extendable Ears, a couple of Dungbombs, and one slightly smushed but still viable Decoy Detonator.

“Let me do the talking once we’re in there,” Draco said.

“What, you don’t think your folks will be beside themselves at the opportunity for a private audience with the Chosen One?” Harry shook his head. “Fine. What should I do?”

“Just stand there and look pretty.”

There was no exit from the passageways directly into the Drawing Room, but there was one into the space next door: a nook with a cabinet for storing the tea service. They carefully crept out from the safety of the passageway, their steps muffled by a thick runner underfoot, and cordoned off their section of the wing with Silencing Charms. Harry gently placed the Decoy Detonator on the floor, angling it so that when it scurried out into the hallway, it would pass the Drawing Room. He took a breath, casting a final glance back at Draco—but his eyes were fixed on the damask wallpaper patterning the wall separating them from his parents just on the other side.

Knowing if they dawdled any longer, Draco was probably going to start entertaining ideas of letting the dragon take care of matters on its own, Harry gave the Detonator a tap of his wand, and off it toddled to do its business. After a three-count, there came a loud BANG, and the hallway filled with a thick, noxious black smoke. Narcissa shrieked, and Bellatrix came dashing out, wand-first—only to be hit squarely in the back with a Petrificus Totalus from Draco’s wand.

She instantly seized and toppled to the floor, stiff as a board. Draco stepped over her with his long legs and strode into the room with his shoulders thrown back, looking every bit the Malfoy scion, while Harry slipped in behind him and tried not to be too obtrusive. He hung back by the door, keeping one eye on the hallway, just in case the sounds of the Detonator going off somehow penetrated their Charms and brought the patrols running.

With a swipe of Draco’s wand, the smoke from the Detonator cleared, and Narcissa gasped sharply. “Oh my—Draco?!” Lucius had been shocked into evident silence, his grey eyes wide—until he spotted Harry lurking behind Draco, and his whole demeanour darkened.

He jerked his sleeve up with a manic gleam in his eye, exposing his Dark Mark, and was about to press his thumb to it—when there came another burst of magic and he, too, crumpled to the floor comically still, hit by the whipcrack snap of Draco’s wand unleashing another paralysis spell.

Narcissa shrieked again and recoiled in horror, dropping to her knees by Lucius’s side to check he was still breathing.

Draco slipped his wand into his sleeve, staring down his patrician nose at Lucius’s paralysed form. “Apologies, Father, but I’d rather not be interrupted by our Lord’s presence just now.” Narcissa slowly turned her head to peer up at Draco, her breath coming in trembling little huffs as she ran her eyes over him in obvious disbelief. “…Mother.”

“What have you—but…but how did you…” Harry shifted uncomfortably in the corner, feeling exposed and out of place. Her brows furrowed as her gaze fell on him. “Is that…Harry Potter?”

Harry gave her a weak salute. “Um… Hullo, Mrs. Malfoy.”

She seemed at a loss for what to do and simply inclined her head in greeting, with a rather bewildered look on her features—then she turned back to Draco and rose shakily to her feet. “But…but they told me—Severus said… He said that you’d been—” Her lips tightened, and she fisted her hands in her robes in nervous habit. When she spoke again, there was a hitch in her voice. “He said you’d been put down. That the—the Ministry deemed you a dangerous creature and—and that they had to—”

“If he said that, then he lied,” Draco said, matter-of-factly. He sounded entirely too like his father, and inside these walls, he looked the part too. Harry had to fiercely tamp down the urge to grab Draco and just go, back to their tent, back to their little routine they had going. He didn’t like what reality did to Draco in his eyes. “And I thank him for it. Perhaps he thought to keep me out of this.”

So Snape had been the one to tell Voldemort Draco was dead by the Ministry’s hand? Had he lied on purpose—or merely been misinformed? That sounded like a hell of a risk to take, lying to Voldemort’s face just to keep a student safe. It wasn’t even as if Draco had failed in his task: whether he’d meant to kill the Headmaster or not, Dumbledore was still dead by Draco’s hand. Wouldn’t he have been praised and welcomed back into the fold with open arms? Draco could even have pretended like his Animagecraft studies had been part of the plan all along.

Narcissa finally broke and took quick strides forward to wrap her son in a bone-crushing hug, breath coming in heavy sobs as she clutched him to her breast. Draco returned the embrace after an awkward moment, and only because Harry knew to look for it, he could tell this was less a teenage son embarrassed by his mother’s emotional outburst and more a distraught boy trying to hold himself together. He probably didn’t want Harry witnessing this—Harry knew he’d felt ashamed when the shoe had been on the other foot in Godric’s Hollow—and he tried to quietly fade into the background, wondering if he ought to cast another Disillusionment Charm on himself.

Narcissa’s sharp eyes didn’t miss the way he was hanging back, though, and she quickly collected herself. “That…that is Harry Potter, then?”

“Well spotted, Mother.”

“You’re travelling with him?”

Her word choice was telling indeed, and Draco gave a half-smile. “I’m not under Imperius, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Precisely something one who’s under Imperius would say,” she reminded pointedly.

Draco glanced over his shoulder at Harry, one brow lifted. “Potter’s the one who found me in the Ministry and rescued me. I’ll admit I wasn’t all that keen on becoming one of his band-at-large at first, but the Chosen One can be most compelling.”

Her thin lips twisted into a disapproving frown. “…You’ve sided with him, then? Against—us?” There would be no mention of Dark Lords; this was and had always been a family matter it seemed.

“I’m here to save you,” Draco said, even if this didn’t really answer her question. He pointed to Lucius, still lying in a crumpled, undignified heap. “I’d lift the curse on Father if I knew he wouldn’t summon the Dark Lord the moment he could move his arm. I’m hoping you’re more receptive to reason.” He hardened his voice to a commanding tone that Harry had heard on several occasions from Lucius. “We’re leaving. Together.” He gestured to Harry. “Potter’s got a refuge—a place we can all go and be safe. Where we can—we can wait this out.”

He was being very careful with his phrasing—so careful, even Harry was having difficulty working out if he was actually sticking to their plan. He made sure Narcissa knew that she wouldn’t be asked to pick a side, and Harry marvelled again at how the Malfoys seemed to be so adept at twisting themselves into knots to avoid ever having to take a stand. It was a wonder Draco was standing here by Harry’s side today—and Harry resolutely did not dwell overlong on why that was.

“A refuge…?” she parroted, turning the words over in her mouth. She looked to Harry, for reassurance that Draco knew what he was talking about, he supposed, and Harry nodded.

“You may be asked to…” Harry cleared his throat softly. “…Make certain concessions, for everyone’s safety. But you’ll be taken care of.”

“We’d be prisoners, you mean? Out of one prison, into another?”

She sounded exactly like Draco, and he could really only deal with one surly, sour Malfoy at a time. “You’d be protected,” he said firmly. “At least you’d have your lives. And each other.” They might not have their dignity, but they didn’t have much of that now, so what was the difference?

She looked back to Draco with a worried frown plucking at her lips, and her eye found his bandaged arm. “…What have you gotten yourself into, Dearest?”

Draco drew himself up. “Nothing I can’t get myself out of.” He tightened his jaw and swallowed thickly. “Potter’s word is good, Mother. I trust him.”

A rush of warmth flooded Harry’s system, leaving him tingling from head to toe, and it felt like his heart was going to burst. Draco never said such things lightly—he wouldn’t. It wasn’t in his nature, Slytherin that he was. He didn’t know where the boy who’d sneered Rely on others and you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment had gone, and he didn’t care.

How had he ever thought Draco was anything like Lucius? He felt abjectly ashamed within the confines of his own mind and had to glance away, forcing himself to count the panels in the wainscoting.

“So you expect us to trust him by extension, then?”

“Of course not—but I do expect you to trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

Narcissa looked at them both in turn, then Lucius, and finally all that she could see of Bellatrix from her vantage point: a pair of sharp-heeled pumps over striped stockings. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “We can’t leave.”

“What?” Draco took a physical step back, clearly thrown. “You mean—there’s a spell…?”

“I mean we can’t go with you,” Narcissa said in a firmer tone, as a mother to a young child being contrary. “You must leave us here, just as you found us, and run away with Mr. Potter, back wherever you came or on to wherever you are bound next.”

The tension that had been seeping steadily from Draco’s shoulders came back at once, until Draco’s hair was practically standing on end. He was buzzing with nervous energy, and it showed in the way he was now unable to stand still. “But—that’s insane, Mother! We’re ready to leave right now!” He extended his good hand toward her. “Come, we’ll Apparate! Potter has a safehouse ready—”

Narcissa stamped her foot sharply to silence him, and Draco’s mouth snapped shut with comedic immediacy. Harry was going to have to remember that, for future reference.

When she spoke again, her voice was soft and achingly gentle, and she brought her hands up to cradle his face. “Dearest, it’s too dangerous.”

“But—you’ll be safe behind security charms and wards and—” Draco began to protest, but Narcissa shook her head.

“Not for us, for you.” Her eyes shone, belying the forced smile on her lips. “You think he won’t gather he’s been betrayed in some way should we go missing? That he won’t consider that—dead or alive—there’s really only one person who would have come for us, in our own home, able to bypass our wards and security without raising an alarm? Your father and I are wandless now; we could never have managed it alone, and no one else would give us aid, you know this.” She stroked his cheek, brushing a stray clump of hair behind his ear. “He’ll realise Severus lied—and he’ll kill him for it. He’ll know you’re out there; he’ll scry for you, torture you through that horrid Mark, and…and use you to unthinkable ends, if it’s true you can do what…what they say you can.” She lifted a brow, searching for understanding in Draco’s face, and he closed his eyes, shutting down wholly. She took a bracing breath. “So you’re going to Obliviate the three of us—plant whatever memories you think you must, and then go.”

Draco’s face twisted into an ugly grimace. “I can’t. I can’t leave you.” His voice was thick with emotion, real, raw misery that drove a knife into Harry’s gut, and Harry’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. He knew Draco would hate the idea of Harry pitying him, but he couldn’t help it. Seeing his friends in pain hurt, full stop, and he didn’t like the Malfoys very much, but he did like Draco. Liked him rather a lot, and was it so bad to wish for once that someone who’d been cut a raw deal several times over finally got a break? Draco had worked hard to get here; to have his legs taken out under him, so close to his goal, felt unimaginably cruel.

“You’re not leaving us. Look where you are—you’ve saved us! Something I’m sure your Father would appreciate under…less trying circumstances.” She smiled weakly. “This too shall pass, Dearest. Provided the Dark Lord thinks our loyalty absolute, we’ll manage.” She tipped her head forward and nudged Draco’s nose with her own. It looked so startlingly maternal—something Harry had witnessed Molly do with Ron and Ginny—that it threw Harry, seeing it from Narcissa Malfoy. “We’re very good at wriggling out of sticky situations, your father and I.”

Draco forced a laugh, and it came out watery. He had his face turned away from Harry, like he didn’t want Harry to see him come undone. Narcissa drew him into another hug, rubbing her hand up and down his back soothingly. “My brave, brave dragon…” Her eyes met Harry’s over Draco’s shoulder; they pinned him in place, dark and threatening. “…Look after him, Mr. Potter.”

She hardly needed to say so, but Harry took her words to heart. She would not remember this promise, but Harry would. “…With my life, Mrs. Malfoy.”

Draco followed his mother’s gaze back toward Harry, regarding him with an unreadable emotion, and then he turned away again, eyes closed and head hung. Narcissa placed a kiss on his forehead, whispering something in his ear that Harry didn’t try to catch, and then stepped away.

Harry drew up close beside him, daring to brush shoulders. Anything else would surely be rebuffed, and with violence. “…Do you want me to do it?” he offered. “If it’s tough, I really don’t mind—”

“I can do it,” Draco grit out bitterly, eyes still clenched shut tight. “I’m not a child.”

Harry touched his elbow; it wouldn’t do for there to be an incident here and now. “I never said you were. You know I don’t think that at all about you.” Draco’s eyes flickered open, though he was still staring down at the plush carpet and breathing harder than he ought to be. “…I’ll handle your aunt.”

He didn’t wait for Draco to reply; he doubted Draco wanted him to watch, confident though he claimed to be he could manage the job. Harry stepped out into the hallway and cast another Muffliato so he didn’t have to hear Draco Obliviate his parents.

Bellatrix was still lying there, stock still, but he could easily imagine that this shell of a body encased rage and fury and a psychopathic streak a mile long. He placed his wand between her eyes and only just resisted the disturbingly strong urge to do for her what she’d done for Sirius. He couldn’t murder her in cold blood, not like this—though it wasn’t as if she didn’t deserve it. It was only Narcissa Malfoy’s words that Voldemort would know someone had broken in and deduce that it must have been Draco behind it, dead though he was thought to be, that stayed Harry’s hand.

Perhaps he would pay later for placing Draco’s life over the lives Bellatrix had already taken—he was half-expecting it, really. But he had to act in their best interests right now, and that meant putting off his vengeance for later.

So he proceeded to Modify her memory with his best Obliviation charm. He didn’t feel as comfortable with the spell as Hermione, and he couldn’t manage anything too convoluted, or it started to fall apart, but they had little other choice. They would have to tweak the story, now that the Malfoys weren’t going to be joining them, but it was easy enough to pin the breakout of the prisoners on the long-gone Greyback. He carefully shifted and wove the threads of Bellatrix’s thoughts, crafting a tale of Greyback turning traitor and renouncing his ways after seeing too much blood, fleeing to join a pack of resistance werewolves to mount a rebellion against the ‘Dark Lord’—but not before sneaking in to free the unfortunates locked in the Malfoy cellars. It was a flimsy story, but it would have to hold for now.

Harry didn’t want to be Greyback if any Death Eaters ever caught up with him—though that was assuming there would be anything left of him once the pack he’d been sent to confront finished with him.

Once he’d tidied up the loose ends of his Obliviation, he tugged three long black hairs from Bellatrix’s wild coiffure and pocketed them. One never knew when it might come in handy to look like Voldemort’s second.

“Let’s go,” Draco said, startling Harry. He hadn’t heard him come up behind him—and then he remembered the Muffliato. He hoped Draco’s Obliviation story had stuck to the script and not been too heavily embellished.

“You’re done?” he asked.

Draco gave him a look that said Obviously, and hardened his jaw. His hand was clenched white-knuckled around his wand. Harry dared a glance back into the Drawing Room and now found the Malfoys slumped against one another on the couch. They were arranged in such a way that it looked as if they’d been surprised by someone entering the room and then Stunned in place before they could react.

Together, they dragged Bellatrix into the room with the Malfoys and left her splayed face-forward on the floor, to suggest she’d been Stunned from behind. It was the only conceivable way a second-rate wizard like Greyback could have ever hoped to take down Bellatrix. They set Timer Charms to release the paralysis placed on the three of them, after which they would rouse in due course and assume they’d been the victims of a sneak attack by Greyback and his rogue Snatchers.

It would have been so easy to take them; they’d done everything perfectly. It might have been days or weeks before Voldemort even got wind of what had gone down in the Manor, and that was assuming he even cared enough to pursue Draco. He was searching for the Elder Wand; what did he really need with a dragon?

He thought about bringing this up, giving Draco just a sliver of hope—his mother didn’t see the whole picture, she didn’t know about Voldemort’s hunt for the Wand. She could be forgiven for thinking he might try and exact some mote of revenge on Draco, when in reality he had much more important matters on his mind.

But before he could open his mouth, Draco had stepped toward him and drawn him into a tight embrace.

“Get me out of here, please…” he begged, voice soft and tremulous.

Harry just stood there, frozen for a beat, before he let himself go. He slid his arms up and around Draco, resting his chin on Draco’s shoulder and taking several long, centring breaths. Draco was shivering—though from sadness or rage, it was difficult to tell. Maybe both.

Harry closed his eyes and thought of Shell Cottage, sitting warm and cosy on a rocky, late-winter beach with the salt spray in the air and the roofs of Tinworth visible in the distance—and together, they twisted into nothing.


Men Who Love Dragons Too Much Copyright © 2018 by fencer_x. All Rights Reserved.

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