|The Black Road XII: Poisoned Fountainhead
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Rerum concordia discors.”
* * *
The first thing Draco noticed when he swam back to agonized consciousness was the smell. It was charred and horrible, and it was coming from quite near him. Then he saw his hand, and he wished he could pass out entirely a second time instead of merely feeling nauseated and dizzy. He absently glanced across the room and the human-size lump of charcoal resting there wasn’t terribly surprising, though it was frustrating and actually quite sickening.
He laid his head back down, and in the middle of wondering how the hell he was going to explain this, he did lose consciousness again. Someone had decided to drop a parcel of luck in his lap.
It wasn’t a very big one, since the next time he woke, he was in a bed with Remus Lupin sitting by the side of it, staring at him as if the next full moon couldn’t come too soon. Draco sighed and began to reach for his cigarettes. Then he stopped. He couldn’t lift his hand.
“You were lucky to keep it,” Lupin said. “The healers want it strapped down for another day.”
“Do they. I didn’t realize you still had healers, and not just whoever happens to be just wounded and not insane.” Much to Draco’s relief, his left hand was free and relatively whole, though it was covered in scabbed-over cuts and bruises. He struggled into a sitting position and looked about for his things.
Lupin silently produced a pack of cigarettes—not Draco’s. He shook two out, stuck one between his lips and handed the other to Draco. He lit his from his wand, but didn’t offer a light so Draco had to lean over and light his off the bedside candle.
“Hermione’s dead,” Lupin murmured, staring away from Draco so his expression was indecipherable. The cigarettes he had were coarse and cheap, tasting of salt and tar, and the smoke they gave off was thick and oily.
Draco didn’t reply to that, since it explained itself. He stuck his cig in the corner of his mouth and undid the strap holding his heavily-bandaged right hand to the bed. Then he started picking at the bandages. “Where’s my wand? And my clothes? Come to think of it, whose bloody clothes are these?”
“They’re what we had on hand. I’m sorry, Draco, but we don’t have the space to keep things sorted after people die.” The edge to Lupin’s voice was better at conveying his rage than his sudden smoking was, since he’d clearly only started recently. He coughed after two drags, then set his cigarette in an ashtray on the side-table. “What were you two doing? You were lucky the whole building didn’t come down on top of you, given the size of that magical blast.”
“You don’t say,” Draco muttered. The last wrap of bandage had fallen away from his hand and now he could see it.
It didn’t hurt as much as it looked like it would—actually, he couldn’t feel it at all, aside from the nebulous sense that he had something attached to his wrist. The skin was much darker, as if it’d been run under a broiler, and it looked glassy and hard, though when he concentrated, the slowness of his fingers’ response seemed to be due more to paralysis than to any stiffening of their skin and flesh. His hand had otherwise looked perfectly fine when it was lying flat, but when he curled his fingers, jagged bone fragments and weird twisted tendons bulged up grotesquely beneath the skin. So did something else.
“The core of your wand, I think.” Lupin nodded at the long, irregular ridge that snaked needle-fine around and around Draco’s hand. He pulled out a small silver flask from his pocket, uncapped it, and took a long pull from it. “They can’t get it out. The bandages are warded so that you won’t accidentally do anything. It’s…possible that your hand might be able to function as a wand now. They don’t know, but they can detect magic in it.”
“Of course, you’ve just watched me rip off those.” The flask didn’t have whiskey or any kind of alcohol, Draco decided. He would’ve been able to smell that. Pity. “Wanted a good excuse for beating the shit out of me?”
That, apparently, required another long drink from the flask. Then Lupin put that away and folded his hands in his lap. He leaned forward, and his eyes were a little golden—Draco suddenly remembered Granger mentioning something about Lupin not needing to wait for the full moon anymore. “Draco. What. Happened.”
Draco sat and smoked and stared at his hand. He willed it to flex and unflex, and he watched how his mangled bones and muscles moved as it did. He could feel sweat start to bead up from the effort it took. “Ginny brought something back with her—this little gold cup. She said to destroy it, for Harry.”
He dared a quick glance at Lupin and saw that the two magic words, as they had with Granger, had gotten to the other man. Lupin’s knuckles were white with strain as he unknowingly twisted his hands around each other. Actually, his looked rather bad as well: they bore so many cuts of so many varying ages that they looked like one continuous scab.
“Been running through broken glass at night? It’d go along with Granger’s little book…” Draco saw Lupin’s expression begin to change and got back on topic “…She—Granger—had this theory about what Harry was. That he’s a bound death collector, and the goblet was one of the objects binding him. So we tried to break it.”
It certainly hadn’t been a memento mori after all, Draco thought. If it’d been that, it should have broken without any problem and the power in it should have merely trickled away, but what actually had happened had unleashed a fury like he’d never seen. Well. If he excluded Harry’s temper, at any rate.
“I suppose the spell did what it was supposed to, but Granger’s guess was wrong. That thing wasn’t that, and so the wards we set up didn’t hold.” Draco shrugged and ducked his head to suck on his cigarette. Truly awful tobacco, but even as he fought not to gag, he was thanking it for the nicotine and smoke and whatever other poisons had found their way into it. He wasn’t used to operating without something in his system. “That’s it.”
“Is it?” Lupin harshly, loudly demanded. He began to get up as if he were going to come at Draco, but then he sat heavily back down. The flask made a reappearance, and when he noticed Draco looking, he tipped it forwards so Draco could smell the bitter herbs. “One of Hermione’s last gifts to me: she figured out how to modify my curse so it could be of some use. I can change whenever I want, but my control is…a bit rough. This potion keeps accidents from happening.”
What desperate times…and then Draco couldn’t remember the rest of the quote. It didn’t matter, anyway. It shouldn’t be all that shocking—after all, he’d just come from the side that had been doing without such niceties as morality for centuries. “Well, I hope you’re not waiting for an apology from me, especially in that case. We did what we thought needed to be done, and we both knew the score.”
“Did she? She was—” Lupin’s face twisted, sudden and horrific. He threw himself back against his chair as if he’d been shocked and scrambled to get out the flask, but it clattered uselessly between his rigid fingers. His mouth and nose were already elongating, and on his next jerk he slid forward towards the bed.
Draco pushed himself back, but his hand hadn’t been the only injured part of his body. He’d be too slow that way—he yanked up his crippled hand and—
--the flask cap shot to the side to ricochet off the wall, while the flask itself rammed into Lupin’s mouth so hard Draco thought he heard teeth chip. Trickles of potion gurgled out from between Lupin’s spasming lips. He slammed back into his chair, and slowly his face began to return to normal. Eventually it looked like he might be in possession of his senses again.
“Finite…Finite Incantatum,” Draco hesitantly said.
The flask dropped from Lupin’s mouth so he barely caught it in time. He remained thrown back in the chair, head tipped so he could stare at the ceiling. His breathing was labored and raspy. “Why you, of all people,” he finally said. “Ginny, Hermione…Kingsley, Albus, Minerva, Hagrid, Nymphadora…and you keep living.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re blaming me for the unfairness of life,” Draco spat. He looked around the room again, but before he’d even gotten halfway about, his coat came zooming from a corner and smacked him in the face. He’d been thinking about whether Accio might work, but…he awkwardly began wrapping up his hand again. At least he wasn’t totally defenseless, but he had no intention of dying stupidly after coming this far. “Tonks? I thought you had her tailing Dolohov in Serbia.”
Lupin slowly lifted his head. He looked at Draco only briefly before he got out of his seat and walked over to the wall to retrieve the flask-cap. “I called her back,” he said in a voice full of self-loathing and grief. “The estate Severus received from Voldemort used to be in the Black family. She’s sneaked onto it a few times in the past with Sirius, and when you told us about him…she was on her way back. Bellatrix Lestrange caught her. We haven’t heard anything of her since. She hadn’t had time to send a full report either.”
“If my dear auntie’s got her, then she’s dead.” Draco lit himself a proper cig and inhaled deeply. He heard Lupin suck in his breath, but a moment later, the other man merely spun on his heel and stalked out of the room.
As soon as Lupin had left, Draco went about getting himself out of bed and into his clothes. Accomplishing that took longer than he’d thought, but he resisted the idea of simply collapsing back in bed. He only had to look at his hand for a reason why he couldn’t stay: now he was marked out by more than one side, and safety lay only in staying ahead of them. By blind luck if necessary.
He looked at his other hand and the ring it still bore, which he found a little surprising. But then, Lupin was apparently senior leader now, and he didn’t seem to be all that together at the moment. At any rate, it was worth a try.
* * *
Since the last time Lucius had been in the lower levels of Hogwarts, the conditions hadn’t improved. It was late in the afternoon, but that made no difference in the dungeons. The damp chill seeped through Lucius’ shirt and trousers in the time it took he to walk down the stairs into the place, and clung to him afterward like a curse. He wrapped his arms around himself and stumbled after Harry, who didn’t provide any light.
Harry didn’t seem to need it, but instead strode steadily and confidently through the dark and broken corridors with no difficulty at all. He clearly knew exactly where he was going, and how to get there.
They finally paused at the edge of a short precipice formed by a hall that jutted out three feet over a deep gouge that had crushed away the rest of it and hadn’t stopped till it was a good three floors down. Lucius had no idea what Harry was doing, but it took more than a minute and they still stayed put.
“What…what were you saying about Draco?” Lucius finally asked.
Cool green light suddenly flared, startling him. His foot hit some fragments of rock and in his tense state, he mistook the sound of them clattering over the ground for them falling off the ledge. He instinctively backed up, only to be grabbed and dragged forward just as his foot slid off the true edge of the hall.
The glowing green eyes of his cane’s snake-head burned into his eyes. Then it dropped, and Harry’s pale face loomed above it. His eyes were also glowing, but much more faintly, and his pupils actually appeared to have gone to slits like a cat’s. “You picked a hell of a time to get closer to your son.”
A cold breeze stroked the back of Lucius’ neck and he shivered. The light from the cane-head was low, but somehow extended to the farthest reaches of the pit below them so he could pick out the oddest details: part of a tapestry, a broken picture frame with a jagged piece of wood thrust through the breast of the corpse-eyed, slumped figure it contained, a student’s cauldron. “Would you please just tell me? I don’t need your recriminations,” he snapped.
Too daring…but then Harry merely chuckled beneath his breath, and turned to look out over the pit again. “Fuck, I’m not here to do that anyway. No point in bothering, since they’ve got plenty to do that in the afterlife. We need to get down there.”
“Can’t you just…make us Apparate there as you’ve been doing?” Lucius’ entire body ached and his muscles were continually stiffening up, only to painfully and abruptly loosen without any warning. He was on the point of simply collapsing and taking whatever punishment Harry meted out. At least then, Harry would have to decide whether to keep dragging Lucius along or leave him somewhere.
“I could, but I don’t think you’d like ending up in twenty feet of rubble. Pettigew buried it good. About all he ever seemed to be good at,” Harry said. He looked at Lucius again, and then past him. “Also, I think we’ve got a bit of company. Voldemort’s set guards on the place…well, he’s got more wits than I gave him credit for.”
“Who?” Lucius asked. He turned around, but the corridor behind them was empty and silent.
When he turned back, Harry was gone. The eerie green glow still permeated the whole place, but it no longer came from any specific object or person; no matter how hard or far Lucius looked, he couldn’t spot a trace of Harry or the cane. He shivered again, and slowly moved up against the doorway so he could look down both ends of the hallway without exposing his back.
As if a filter had been lifted, sound slowly began to return. There were the usual background noises of pebbles rattling over the floorstones, water dripping, the vague scurrying of small animals, but very gradually Lucius began to detect a distinctly different set of sounds. They at first seemed to be coming from above him, but then they were on the same level as him, and rapidly approaching. He looked about again, but Harry still refused to appear.
So he was bait again. He wasn’t foolish enough to think Potter would have simply abandoned him here, where he had a chance of escape, so that was the only other possibility. Lucius straightened and tidied himself up as best he could, mainly as a way to occupy his hands. He had a lingering desire to look his best despite the situation, but that habit seemed ridiculous now; whichever colleague he was about to meet wouldn’t live long enough to appreciate it.
A particularly large pest was startled by the approaching person and leaped out in a scatter of rubbish that sent some pieces flying within range of Lucius’ sight. He heard someone gasp and slowly stepped out to where he could be seen.
Narcissa’s pale face floated several yards down the corridor. It spasmed in fear; her wand came up and her mouth opened just as Lucius said her name.
He threw himself back to the side of the doorway so the Stupefy spell just missed him. And he stayed there, pressed tightly to the stones. He felt their dampness quickly soak his shirt and chill him to the bone, while patches of slime coated his palms and oozed revoltingly between his fingers.
“Lucius?” Narcissa finally said.
“What are you doing here? You need to go,” he hissed. He glanced frantically about, but the lack of anything—anything that would indicate Harry—only made him more anxious. “Draco’s still alive, and—”
“You know where he is?” She walked quickly forward…with wand still aimed at him, he was blackly amused to note. Her other hand twisted nervously in her spotless robes. “What are you doing here? Voldemort’s had two of us on six-hour shifts here since—”
Lucius looked upwards. If he strained his ears, he could hear something that sounded like footsteps, but the noise was erratic and faded in and out. “Who else is—never mind. Narcissa, what do you think I’m doing here? Potter’s around and he’ll kill you the moment he finds you, and you need to go find Draco, damn it.”
“Draco’s done something.” In the green light, she looked like a wax doll down to her wide, beautiful, hollow eyes. Her wand dipped, then rose again. “Voldemort called me in specifically and told me Draco was officially an enemy of the Ministry. He’s to be killed on sight—what did you do this time, you overconfident fool? What did you do? What did you do?”
With each repetition of her question, Narcissa took a step closer. Her voice swung in wider and wider arcs, and her wand did the same so it was easy for Lucius to grab it in one hand, her wrist in the other, and have her wand before she could even make an attempt to scratch out his eyes.
He slapped away her nails and they both stumbled back, though he recovered more quickly; he was a bit more accustomed to working around shocking surprises at this point. Lucius whipped up the wand and jabbed it at her face, nipping her next lunge in the bud. “Narcissa. Draco’s had nothing to do with me for a long time, and hopefully that’ll save him. Hopefully that’ll save our family. Now, if you have any desire to survive this, you’ll find him and help him with whatever it is that he is doing.”
He would’ve sent her away at that point, but she spoke up before he could mouth the spell. “And what will you be doing?” she snapped. “Will you come back a few months from now to drop off more orders?”
Sometimes Narcissa could be an incredibly blind woman. It had been one of the reasons Lucius had decided on her—that could be a boon to those who wanted to push one and only one agenda—but right now, he wished she would simply pull her head out of the sand. “Look at me, Narcissa.”
She actually did look at him. Her mouth shut with a click, and for several seconds her eyes rapidly flicked over his face, down to his neck and then back up. For his part, he was so surprised that he didn’t take advantage of the pause to send her away.
Finally Narcissa drew herself back and up, the lines of her face settling into a strange, tired sympathy. It was about as warm as the waters of Antarctica, but it was sympathy nonetheless. “So you’ve finally overplayed your hand, and no chance to recover yourself,” she said quietly. “I always thought I would laugh.”
“There isn’t a table on which to play now,” Lucius sharply replied; she’d both hit the point and missed it entirely, as usual. He stopped wasting time and pointed her wand at her shoes. “Portus.”
Her shoes momentarily glowed blue, then returned to normal. Narcissa opened her mouth and took a step forward, then vanished. With any luck, she’d appear on the street outside of the Catacombs.
Lucius sank back against the wall, absently fingering her wand. The extra effort needed to use a wand not his own had left him short of breath, and the effort needed to deal with Narcissa had further sapped him.
“That was interesting,” said a voice quite nearby. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be Harry, who was leaning against the wall and staring down at Lucius. He glanced at the wand Lucius held.
Without a word, Lucius held it out to him. He resisted a little when Harry took it, but let go before Harry did again. Then he slowly stood up.
Harry flipped the wand once, then made it disappear. “I sent it back to her,” he said. “Draco doesn’t seem to hate her so much as he does you.”
He slewed about and walked out onto the ledge, then reached back and took Lucius by the elbow. A second later, they were down in the pit and on the far side of it. They exited through a hallway half-filled with boulders and picked their way along it while Lucius tried not to jump at every crumbling shower of stones. This section wasn’t stable. “There’s someone else here.”
“Yeah, Bellatrix Lestrange. I tripped her into a stairwell. There was this tapestry over it, so she thought it was solid. She’s not dead yet, but I think she deserves some more for Sirius, so I’ll come back later,” Harry casually informed Lucius. He glanced over his shoulder with oddly curious eyes. His fingers slid down to Lucius’ wrist to accommodate the narrowing of the passage, which forced them to go in single-file. “I used to be a little jealous of Draco—at least, when it came to having parents. Just the fact that he had them…then again, they’re you and her, so that was stupid.”
They rounded a turn and were confronted by a solid mass of rubble. It completely packed the hallway, and no matter how Harry raised or turned the cane in his other hand, the light showed no way in. He let out an annoyed sigh and dropped Lucius’ wrist, then handed Lucius the cane. Lucius was so dumbfounded that Harry nearly had to close his fingers around it for him.
“What’s with you two, anyway? You’re all concerned about him now, wanting him to live and everything, but I always got the impression that you were a…what’s it…‘death before dishonor’ family. Hell, you let Voldemort give him the job of killing Dumbledore, when he was bloody sixteen.” As he talked, Harry walked right up to the wall of rock and pressed his palms against it. He paused to take a deep breath—the shadows were pooling around him again and gathering especially thickly around his hands—then pushed. “Kind of late to have a change of heart, isn’t it?”
The rock simply parted before Harry, as if he were pushing through fog. His shoulders were straining a little beneath his coat, but he was by no means exerting all of his strength and was actually moving into the rubble at a fairly normal walking speed. At first Lucius hesitated, fearing the unstable debris would cave in after him, but as the silence mounted outside the tunnel Harry was creating, he grew too unnerved and followed after.
“Draco is a Malfoy,” Lucius hesitantly said, unsure of whether or not the question was rhetorical. Still, the sound of his voice was distracting enough for him to chance it. “There are expectations attached to that, and I…thought he could fulfill them. He should have. He’s my son. But…he’s still my son, despite that.”
“‘Despite that.’” Harry echoed Lucius’ words with a mocking laugh. “You’re a really loving father, aren’t you?”
“What would you know about it?” Lucius snapped, forgetting himself. “You died as a brash, hot-tempered teenager and clearly you’ve still no sense of greater responsibilities.”
His frayed temper had gotten the better of him so much that he didn’t notice when Harry stopped. Then Harry had him by the throat and was swinging him around so quickly that Lucius didn’t have time to defend himself. Harry suddenly released him, and where Lucius had expected rough stone there was only air, which did far worse damage. He fell backwards, landing hard on his hip before rolling to his side and curling up from the pain.
They’d breached a long, narrow room lined with pillars of carved serpents, which led to a statue at one end that Lucius could only dimly see. Bones were scattered all over the floor, and from a great dark mass in one corner issued a dreadful stink.
“Chamber of Secrets. I bet once upon a time, you would’ve felt really honored to step foot in here,” Harry snorted. He crossed the room and lifted something small and shining gold from the base of the statue, then returned to kneel beside Lucius.
The thing he’d taken up was a gold locket with Salazar Slytherin’s seal on it, which Lucius could see quite plainly because Harry held it up so it just grazed Lucius’ cheekbone. Then he moved it down Lucius’ cheek in a strange caress that ended with him holding Lucius’ chin so the locket was pressed to its underside. Harry peered into Lucius’ face with a frown, then smiled sardonically. He lowered the locket and pulled the cane from Lucius’ hand to stroke its head along Lucius’ jaw; Lucius found himself turning into this touch till their mouths slid over each other. Very tenderly, Harry worked Lucius’ lower lip between his tongue and teeth till half-healed cuts opened and bled afresh. Then he moved roughly inward so in a moment, Lucius was pressing himself up against Harry.
“You’re bloody hoping I kill you at this point.” Harry’s observation was made in a tone that was half-disgust, half-amusement. He drew back and began to stand up.
The spell was badly aimed and hit Harry in the shoulder instead of Lucius, for whom it was presumably meant, but it did have the effect of knocking Harry off his feet. Then something shrieking and bloody, with long tangled hair, rushed Harry and they locked together, tumbling once over the floor. When they came up again, Harry was on top and he had Bellatrix on her back with a hand fisted in her hair. She was still screaming at him when he yanked hard and snapped her neck.
He immediately dropped her afterward and got off, wiping at the bloody scratches her nails had left on her cheek; they disappeared as his hand passed over them. Harry looked up, then froze.
When Bella had tackled him, she’d done Lucius the favor of knocking the locket from Harry’s hand. Lucius had immediately snatched it and the cane up, and now stared defiantly at Harry. “You must know I can do a little magic with this,” he shakily said, nodding at the cane. “I could do enough to get this locket away from you, and you’d have to waste time finding it again.”
“But you’d be messily, painfully, regretfully dead,” Harry breathed, slowly stalking towards Lucius. His eyes were a ferocious red, but his low, certain voice was terrifying.
“I’ll be anyway. But tell me—tell me it’ll stop here, with this generation.” This would have to end soon, one way or the other. Another few moments and Lucius would drop the locket out of sheer nerves, and then he’d have lost the one chance he had. “Have your fill with me—you’ve made sure of that already—but with Draco and Draco’s children…”
Now Harry was standing nearly on top of Lucius, hands curling and uncurling in tendrils of shadows that reached hungrily upward from the floor. He appeared to be considering it. He also appeared to be a hair away from bringing all the walls down around them.
Then he was down in front of Lucius, his face a hair away, and Lucius’ gasp was trapped in his throat by Harry’s tight grip on it. Harry’s other hand was crushing the locket against Lucius’ palm, and as Lucius thought that his half-witted idea was indeed the bottom of the wall, Harry leaned forward to graze his lips along the length of Lucius’ throat. “All right,” he whispered.
The next second, Lucius was sprawled on the floor and choking, while Harry was walking, locket and cane in hand, towards the center of the chamber. He stopped there and waited for the shadows to thicken and rise till they formed a figure with one outstretched hand.
Lucius closed his eyes. There was a flash of light so bright that even with shut eyelids, he saw it. When he opened his eyes again, it was because Harry was pulling him to his feet. Harry jerked him forward and kissed him in a way that promised more such violence later, then looked around. “You’ll answer for that idiocy later,” he said. “This place is too good for that sort of thing now.”
It was…a little warmer, Lucius noticed, but he’d barely done so before the world faded out around them and they were elsewhere.