|The Black Road VI: Dreamers
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Consumed by this greedy disposition
* * *
Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was a disaster, and Draco thought that was being generous. It had infestations of every kind of pest known to wizardkind and then a few he only recognized from offhand comments by Muggle-borns, it was dark and cramped, and it had an attitude.
He spent his first few days making sure it understood who he was and what he was capable of, and only then did he venture beyond the basement room into which he’d been dropped. Luckily for him, the kitchen in the basement was relatively inhabitable, and had indeed been recently stocked with food, as Lupin had promised—lucky because Draco soon discovered that the house somehow prevented communication to anyone outside of it, and didn’t care to let him walk outside either.
On his seventh day, Draco served himself a large lunch and finished it off as he explored the upper floors. The first floor was disgusting. He hurried onto the stairs to the second floor and accidentally jostled a portrait of some old hag, who immediately started to screech and carry on at him like Aunt Bella. Draco promptly hexed the damn thing into silence, which made him feel absurdly pleased with himself till he got onto the second floor and had turned into the nearest bedroom. Then he saw what Lupin had meant about someone else being in the place.
Firstly, the room was neat—neat in the way that meant it was almost half-dead from it—but didn’t glisten like Draco’s home had. Secondly, it was stripped down to the bare essentials: bed with one side-table, two wooden chairs, a dresser. No clothes in the closet. He stepped back outside and wandered further down the hall, absently hexing and banishing as he went, and found a pile of discarded furniture. Then he worked his way back to that particular bedroom.
Thirdly, all the other rooms had portraits in them, but this one didn’t have any. After Draco had stood in the hall and watched for a while, he decided that the portraits out there were indeed averting their eyes from that doorway. Except for that bitch on the stairs, they were all abnormally quiet and still, holding themselves tensely and watching him as if they expected the worst.
He went back into the bedroom and started poking around. Much to his delight, Draco found several packs of cigarettes in a dresser drawer. They weren’t his brand, but they were nearly as good and he lost no time in sticking a lit one between his lips and a pack in his pocket.
“You know, if I’d just brought some from hell instead of picking those up at the corner shop, you’d be in loads of trouble right now. If you weren’t dead, that is.”
Draco jumped, scrambling to grab his cigarette before it fell from his mouth. Then he gave himself a shake and slewed around to face Harry. “Oh, will you stop that? Yes, we know you’re sneaky. We knew that ever since you got that Invisible Cloak—whatever happened to that, anyway?”
Harry was leaning in the doorway, hands in his pockets. Once he knew Draco had seen him, he pushed off the frame and strolled inside to pick up one of the packs Draco had left on the dresser top. He pulled out a cigarette, but instead of lighting it, spun it in his fingers. “Ron should’ve gotten it. I wanted it left to him.”
He carried a faint smell with him: blood and something else that took Draco a surprisingly long time to recognize. Fear. Not Harry’s own, of course.
“Ron’s been non compos mentis since last month. More or less. He tried to rescue his sister and ended up being entertained by Aunt Bella for a few days before he was rescued himself.” Draco didn’t back away, but he kept a close eye on Harry’s reaction. “She’s been limping around the Manor ever since.”
The muscle in Harry’s cheek twitched. He pressed his lips together, then abruptly turned back and went over to the bed. He sat down on the edge and flopped backward with a long, tired sigh, his hair fanning out around his head. Against the off-white sheets, it looked like some kind of reverse halo.
“Take it you’re not about to kill me, or torture me, or whatever you’ve been doing with my father,” Draco muttered. He dropped into the chair by the bed and consequently discovered that he’d actually been quite nervous, because all his muscles painfully unwound. Then he looked around for an ashtray, settled on a queer-looking dish on the bedside table, and ashed his cigarette. “Do I want to know what you’ve done to him?”
Apparently even demonic resurrected heroes needed a rest now and then. Harry didn’t even lift his head. “Do you love him?”
Then again, perhaps it was because he’d gotten a bit more subtle. That had been a nice, concise, sharp verbal thrust. “What a question. I might as well ask you how hell was.”
Something white blurred up into the air and came back down: the cigarette Harry had. “It was hell, so how am I supposed to describe it?” he irritably said. It was almost as if Draco had caught him snapping at Granger to stop pestering them to do their homework. Then he blew out his breath again and subsided till he was…no, actually, the mattress was sinking beneath him like a sensuous cradle. “It was odd. Time—you felt like years were seconds, and then you felt like time didn’t exist at all. And it hurt.”
Once his cigarette was used up, Draco flicked the butt into the trash and moved himself to the edge of the bed. He felt vaguely present, as if he’d been wrapped in layers of cotton. He knew that this was rather a bad idea, and even now he was letting resentment at his father direct a good deal of this and that just added to the frustration, but he found it quite difficult to care.
“I smelled Lupin in the downstairs. He’s been here.” Up and down spun the cigarette. It was a small white shadow, transient and dancing.
“Yes, and he restocked the pantry. If you have to worry about that sort of thing, anyway. I do—apparently this is where I’m to be staying for now on,” Draco said. He bounced on the mattress a few times. Where he was sitting seemed firm enough, even if the part Harry occupied looked as soft as a poached egg.
Harry stopped tossing the cigarette about and tipped his head so his eyes were slivers of green aimed squarely at Draco. “Why?”
“Because I walked out on the bloody Death-Eaters, and the resistance thinks the best use for me is baiting you. Of course, since they haven’t killed me outright in retaliation for Dumbledore and that assault on Hogwarts, I suppose I should be grateful,” Draco replied, shrugging.
And here was the point where, if the world and the people in it made any sense, Harry was supposed to grab Draco and break his neck. Instead Harry flicked his cigarette so hard at the bed’s canopy that it bounced off and Draco barely snatched it out of the air in time to keep it from smacking Harry in the face. Then he kept on rolling over, since he was already heading in that direction, and kissed Harry goddamn Potter.
After a moment, Harry pulled him off by the hair. “Draco, what are you doing?”
“Well, I’m fairly sure I’m whoring myself for safety.” Draco had his hands on Harry’s chest and one knee between Harry’s legs, which might look very sexy to onlookers but which was damned unstable. He moved his hands to the mattress beside Harry’s head.
Harry blinked once. His gaze was deep and expressionless behind the cracked, bottle-bottom lenses. “I’m fucking your father. Well. Not that itself yet, but eventually. He’s starting to get a bit ragged.”
“And curiously enough, this does not disgust me enough to overcome my desire for self-preservation. I must be desperate,” Draco snorted. He leaned back down, only to be shoved off to the side. “Oh, for Merlin’s sake. If I can’t even compromise—”
As it turned out, he didn’t quite have to because Harry pushed himself over and came at Draco like a storm of fire, wrapping Draco back into the bed and thoroughly scarifying him. His nails caught painfully on Draco’s scalp as they raked through his hair and down the back of his neck, scratching and digging like an animal struggling for a grip. Harry’s knee smacked down on Draco’s thigh; the flesh beneath went numb, then blossomed into pain when Harry slid his knee upwards and inwards to nudge rhythmically at Draco’s prick. The blood in Draco’s veins turned to steam and it seemed that Harry sucked it all out through Draco’s mouth, tongue swirling blood-taste as it went.
Then, of all the things he could have done, Harry backed off a second time. It was evidence that he’d really been through hell and picked up some tricks along the way, Draco supposed, but it was goddamned aggravating. He reached up without thinking and in the next instant, had his wrists slammed into the mattress, which might not have been stiff enough to allow for proper grinding of bones but which still didn’t do much to cushion the pressure.
“Remus sent you here? And because…my God…” Now Harry’s eyes had some life in them. Incredulous, hurt life, but life nonetheless. He laughed blackly and glanced to the side, then back at Draco. “It’s gotten so I can’t tell one side from the other.”
“If I’m to be charitable, I’ll admit I don’t know that this is quite what Lupin had in mind.” Then Draco really heard Harry and frowned. It was a bizarre reaction for him to have instead of say, being utterly terrified of the black shadows that were coiling over Harry’s shoulders, but he’d decided he no longer was going to try and make sense of things. “What? What’s Voldemort doing?”
The shadow on Harry’s left shoulder slowly peeled itself off and rose into the air. It was a peculiar-looking thing, like a blunted one-dimensional snake, and it began to nuzzle Harry’s cheek in a way that made Draco shift about; his prick apparently didn’t give a toss about reality either.
“Charitable?” Harry raised his eyebrow.
“You’re evil, therefore the apocalypse is nigh and all sorts of strange things can happen,” Draco dryly said. He squirmed till he could look at his right wrist. “Potter, if you aren’t about to let me hit the bottom of the well and throw myself at you, mind letting me up?”
To Draco’s mingled disappointment and relief, Harry let go and sat back. “Your father has informed me that Voldemort and Snape are resurrecting my godfather.”
Ah, so that had been what Harry had meant. After a second, Draco started to laugh. He shakily pushed the hair out of his face and fumbled for his pack. It had been squashed by their recent actions, but he managed to extract one cigarette. He was going back for his wand when Harry simply cupped his hand beneath the cigarette tip and a thin trail of smoke began to issue up from it.
Nicotine had a strangely sobering effect on Draco. He laid back for the length of one slow drag, occasionally wincing as a bit of reason attempted to catch up with him. “Harry, why aren’t you trying to kill me or otherwise make my life utter hell? You do remember everything I tried to do to you, don’t you?”
“Like letting Death-Eaters into Hogwarts?” Fingers suddenly closed around Draco’s throat, though not tightly enough to make him choke. Harry’s face loomed over Draco, displacing the clouds of smoke; his eyes flared up once before slowly dying back to their previous state of opacity. “Of course I do. But you’re already as miserable as you can get, and you know it, too.”
Draco had to laugh again. This time it went on a little too long, and when he tried to stop himself, his laughter only shrilled up the scale so his lungs tightened from the lack of air and his skin shrank around himself.
His head rocked back, then forward again and that was when his cheek burned with the pain of the slap. He took in a ragged breath, closed his eyes, and then opened them in the middle of his second breath. Harry was still holding him by the throat and Draco convulsively grabbed the other man’s wrist, trying to shake him. “What are you doing with me?” he hissed. “What are you doing with my father? What do you want, damn it?”
It was so slight that Draco almost missed it, but Harry’s shoulders relaxed. “I need you to get me into Malfoy Manor,” he said. “You see, if it’s not a place I’ve been before when I was alive, I have to be invited in. Or brought in.”
Draco sucked in his breath. “I see.”
“I’d also like to get into wherever they might be bringing back Sirius,” Harry conversationally added. “I’m not going to kill your father. Yet, anyway.”
He was looking hard at Draco when he said that, but if he’d been holding Nagini to Draco’s face, Draco still wouldn’t have been able to provide a coherent answer. Or a coherent reaction, for that matter, so he settled on ‘neutral.’ Harry Potter could read that however he damned well pleased; that probably was what he’d do in any case anyway.
Harry arched his eyebrow. “So?”
“So I’d be happy to give you a tour of my home, since you’re asking so nicely,” Draco sarcastically replied. He pushed himself up and pulled at his clothing. “Aunt Bella’s still home, incidentally.”
“Then I hope you aren’t desperately attached to her,” was Harry’s parting shot. The room was suddenly empty.
Apparently they weren’t going quite yet, which gave Draco mixed feelings, but in that mix relief definitely was uppermost. He climbed off the bed and stood unsteadily by it for nearly a minute, trying to sort out what he should do next. Eventually he went downstairs, hexing that screeching portrait hag again, and made himself a sloppy sandwich. He sat down at the kitchen table and chain-smoked and stared at it.
* * *
Severus poked his head out the door long enough to snatch at a passing runner and ask what in Merlin’s name was going on. Then he really looked at the runner, as he’d not done in years, and recognized him as Roger Davies.
Davies stammered and unconsciously pulled at the metal collar around his neck. Most of the slaves had that habit, given other Death-Eaters’ habit of grabbing them by it and half-choking them. “Um…well, you weren’t to be disturbed at all, He said…”
“If I’m asking you, I’m hardly being disturbed against my will,” Severus replied. He found himself trying to tone down his sarcasm.
It was wasted effort. The way Davies reacted, Severus might have well have just Crucio’d the man. “Greyback, sir! Fenrir Greyback’s just been brought in from Malfoy’s—and he’s dead, and everyone’s upset—”
“Thank you, that will be all,” Severus curtly said. He withdrew back into the hall and shut the door before Davies could fall into worse hysterics.
He quickly walked down the entry corridor of the old Department of Mysteries and into the rotating room, then into the area people liked to refer to as the Death Chamber. He’d set up a lab in the area a week ago, just as Greyback had been ushering Lucius to his exile, and he’d not left the place since except for one time. That exception had been an ill-chosen decision to return to his private chambers in the Catacombs and gather some personal items.
Harry had stepped from behind the door and the next hour had been…best described as uncomfortable, since while Potter had refrained from physical attacks, he certainly no longer was a clumsy boy when it came to alternatives. That had been three days ago.
So Greyback was dead. Frankly, Severus was surprised that it’d taken so long; he’d expected something to happen directly after Harry’s visit to him. Instead his feverish efforts to please Voldemort while searching for an explanation for Harry had warred long and hard with his nerves in which could give him the worse dreams. Perhaps that was deliberate: leaving them alone so long, then suddenly springing attacks on them and then vanishing was a classic psychological guerrilla tactic.
Severus stopped just behind the stone benches that circled the room. Over a hundred candles were scattered about the pit, but they made no headway against the gloom and remained isolated pinpricks, burning dully in an area little bigger than their flame. Past that, the darkness fell like a cloak and he could barely make out the archway rearing up in the center. There was no wind, but the tattered cloth hanging in the arch constantly fluttered and murmured.
Voldemort thought he could use Sirius against Harry. It was a foolish idea and would not work, but Severus had refrained from telling Potter, and now he was going to go through with it, hoping against hope that he would finish before Lucius or some other source let Harry know what he was up to.
He slowly exhaled, and the stirring created by his breath seemed to both echo about the room and to die instantly away before him. He started moving down the stairs towards the archway. His one and only chance was quickly passing away from him.
Despite—or perhaps because of—all that had transpired during the course of his life, Severus had a great and fierce desire to live on. At the bottom of it he feared was some foolish hope that if he survived long enough, he would see the light of the sun once again, but in any case, it was an integral and unchangeable part of him. When he’d seen his life sinking too deeply into Voldemort’s hands, he had sought out Albus, and when Albus had failed, he’d thrown himself back into Voldemort’s arms. And now…
He knelt at the edge of the dais and studied the muddy gleam of the sigils he had painted all around the platform. Once upon a time, he’d told featherbrained young first-years that he could stopper death. If any of them had had a wit in their head, they would have seen that for an empty boast; the real challenge was stoppering life.
Severus moved slightly aside so he could reach the goblet, with paintbrush still inside it, that he’d left there earlier. He pulled a small wrapped-paper packet from his robes and carefully unfolded it to reveal the hairs within it: some long as his wand, some short as his thumb, but all the same tangled coal-black. For all that he was an Animagus, Pettigew had ignored the mundane-appearing items and gone for the few flashy possessions Black had had left; if his motivations for betraying his old friend had ever been unclear, that had rectified that.
After removing the paintbrush, Severus dropped the hairs one by one into the goblet. He leaned back as the remaining potion inside bubbled and hissed thin lines of green smoke at his eyes. It simmered, then cooled to iciness within seconds of the last hair.
He picked up the goblet and set it on the floor beside his feet, then removed his outer layer of robes and carefully folded them. Those he also put on the floor, to the other side of the archway so he could grab them quickly if need be. Then he took out the goblet again and lifted his wand above it.
He began to lower the tip into the cup, but aborted that at the sound of something scraping against stone. When he whirled about, wand foremost, a dry chuckle greeted him.
“Ah, Severus, you need not fear Potter will interrupt,” Voldemort said as he came gliding down the stairs. Nagini slithered behind him, her head slipping in and out of his robes. “I doubt even he would dare risk a frontal confrontation with me at this point.”
“My lord, I wouldn’t have dreamed of pulling you away from your duties,” Severus uneasily began. He’d been counting on being completely alone for this, and he desperately hoped that his disappointment was not obvious.
He casually lowered the goblet as he turned to greet the Dark Lord, and just as casually, he flicked open the top of the ring on his left hand and knocked the contents of its hidden compartment into the goblet. It frothed, but silently, and given the way Severus held the cup, only he could have seen that. He had difficulty not gritting his teeth; that ingredient should have gone in at the very last minute, and he didn’t have the time to work out what effect the delay might have.
Voldemort shook his head, and did not stop until he was standing less than a foot from Severus. “Oh, no. I am just as concerned with the outcome of this as you, Severus. I only wish to observe. Continue.”
Severus had no choice but to turn back to the archway. He lifted his wand, then dipped its tip into the goblet while murmuring. The wood flared white and a scorching, black strand of smoke whipped up where it touched the potion. It didn’t continue on towards the ceiling, but instead bent about Severus’ head, grazing burns over his ear. He held the goblet slightly to the side, knocked the wand against the rim to remove the excess potion, and leaned over to draw the final sigils on the dais.
The fluid was thick and dark, with the faint smell of sulfur. It blended in so well with the stone that Severus was hard-put to distinguish the lines he’d just drawn and ensure that he correctly inscribed the symbol. When the line seemed to be thinning too much, he dipped his wand back into the potion. The moment he added the last stroke, he took a long step backwards.
For a second, nothing happened and Severus feared that he’d gotten it wrong. His nails sank through his robes to gouge at his hips.
Then a wild wind blew vertically upward from the air; it would have inverted Severus’ robes and sent him crashing into the ceiling like a storm-taken umbrella if he hadn’t made a desperate leap to the side. The change in the angle at which the winds hit his breeze meant he merely slammed down on his side, several yards back, instead. His robes whipped up in his face and he pushed at them, then ripped at them when it became clear he was suffocating.
As suddenly as they’d come, the winds died. The air was still and chilly, and the only sounds Severus heard were a low, thin moan and Voldemort’s equally low, thin voice. “There, there,” Voldemort was saying. “You’ve come through in one piece.”
Severus sharply shook his hands to free them of the cloth strips and sat up. Voldemort was bent over the dais and his front was…no, his robes were being pushed up into that hump from the outside, not the inside. As Severus watched, the heavy fabric slowly fell aside to reveal a thin, pale body clinging to Voldemort’s knees.
“Solid…” it rasped.
“Yes, I am, and I won’t disappear on you.” Like a spider, Voldemort’s spindly long fingers coursed through the dark head of hair. His forefinger and thumb circled one white ear, and then he abruptly withdrew so the man fell hard on the dais.
It was Black, but he appeared even worse off than when he’d escaped from Azkaban. He curled up without even a hiss of pain and didn’t seem to notice Severus approaching.
“Well done, Severus,” Voldemort said. He regarded Black in the same manner as he would a flagstone; when Nagini came up and bumped her head against his knee, his eyes warmed in comparison. “You may take him to your chambers and begin instructing him.”
Severus looked down at Black. He swallowed, but the sour taste in his mouth only strengthened. “Yes, my lord.”
* * *
Several hours later, Draco had finally eaten the sandwich. After that, he hadn’t known quite what to do and finally had settled on cleaning up after himself, mostly because a bold rat the size of his foot had actually come out of the woodwork to stare at his crumb-bestrewn plate. He’d hexed the thing into a dark stain on said woodwork, but nevertheless he made a run at the sink.
“Dear Merlin,” he muttered as the water ran over his hand and the plate. “I’m not even a pet. I’m a damned house-elf—”
Someone screamed. Then the scream turned into a roar that literally shook the house; Draco dropped the plate and dove for the floor, scrabbling for his wand. He rolled beneath the table and made a dash for the hall on the premise that the sound seemed to be coming from the other direction. Of course, he was utterly wrong.
Harry came storming down the stairs, eyes surrounded by a red glow. He tossed his hands up in the air and the people in the portraits—even the bitch-hag—promptly ducked. “You let them! You let them do that! You let them bring him back! I thought we had a—”
The long shadow that had been sweeping behind Harry suddenly flooded ahead of him, then curled itself off the wall like a rearing cobra. It towered above him so that even with power literally smoking off him, he looked like a boy facing off against an elephant. A touch of the old Harry was evident in how he shoved his fists against his hips and glowered up without apparently noticing the disparity.
“I’m doing what you said,” Harry hissed. “Haven’t I sent you two already? Maybe they’re not the Horcruxes, but I’m seeing to that. I will have those.”
Shadow and boy. It was like some demented tableau out of Draco’s mother’s medieval grimoires.
Harry’s lip curled at whatever response he received, and he abruptly snapped out of his tense crouch to slouch elegantly with one hand on the railing. “Why everyone thinks they have something to offer me, I’ll never understand. I told you when we made our deal—I’m not interested in afterwards. I’m doing this for you, and then I’m on my own. You promised.”
The shadow lingered a second longer before it fragmented and each piece flowed back to its correct place. Somehow it did that in such a way as to suggest careless dismissal, the way Lucius had used to greet any stubborn protest of Draco’s. Don’t worry, you’ll come round soon enough.
“Bastard,” Harry muttered. His elaborate casualness dropped off like a rock and he stalked down the stairs in such a black fury that he almost missed Draco. Then he stopped and backed up, tilting his head. The corners of his mouth turned up in what was decidedly not a smile.
Draco had the cigarette in his mouth before he even realized where his hands had gone. “I take it that’s set the agenda for the day?”
“Congratulations, Malfoy. Your dad’s gotten a reprieve—we’re not visiting him yet. We’ll visit some of his friends first—care to see what Macnair’s been up to lately?” Harry turned around and went back up the stairs, clearly expecting Draco to follow. “Then you’re taking me to Snape.”
Which Draco, not being stupid even if he was dangerously close to calling it all a lark and giving up, did. He wondered idly if he should try getting word to Lupin and the other resisters, and then he wondered if it’d make a particle of difference. One by one, they’d all managed to end up on the same road, after all, and he imagined he’d be seeing the rest of them sooner or later.