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Chapter 26: One Hundred Seven Steps
Ginny’s face was flushed as she entered the Common Room with Hermione in tow. She slumped happily onto a couch; a large paper bag was on the floor. Hermione followed suit.
“That was a fun day,” Ginny said with a smile.
Hermione bent down to loosen her boots. “If fun is two hours of shopping and trudging in the snow, I don’t know what you’ll call tomorrow.”
“Oh shush, don’t dampen my spirits; I intend to look presentable for someone.”
Hermione laughed. “Ginny, the whole school knows you’re highly attractive. If you’re out to catch one guy’s eye, I’m sure he’s blinded by you already.”
Ginny stuck her tongue out and then smiled. “He hasn’t asked me out, yet.”
Hermione’s brow rose.”Are you kidding me?”
Ginny sighed. “He looks a bit bothered. It must be all this he-who-must-not-bull crap...or maybe he wants us to remain friends for the mean time?”
Hermione bit her lower lip. “Ginny, I’m sure Harry has his reasons, however noble and stupid.”
They laughed together.
“And you,” Ginny said, “You didn’t pick a dress at all.”
“How could I, with all those people hoarding the place over?” Hermione replied mildly.
“You’ve got some bloody surprise up your sleeve.”
Hermione nodded and laughed again.
Draco stood outside of the shop, his lips drawn into a thin line. Snow flurries were falling all over Hogsmeade. He looked up to see Hogwarts in all its ancient glory. The castle had looked like one out of fairy tale books. He took a breath, the cold biting through his nostrils. He had left the owner in a happier disposition, as he had set out an Obliviate spell for the old man.
He peered through the dusty window and saw the man cheerfully wiping the counter with a dirty rag, whistling as he did. Draco nodded once, as if assuring himself that he had done the right thing. He hadn't killed the old liar; he only extracted the truth from him. Turning around to pass through a bunch of trees, he came face to face with someone. Bellatrix.
He breathed in and greeted her quietly, and she dragged him deeper into the pine forest behind the shop. Her grip was strong and tight on his bicep. She breathed in raggedly. Reaching a grove, she shoved him onto a dead tree roughly and angrily flipped down her hooded cloak.
Her face was nearly the same one as he had been always used to before, the manic eyes, the malicious smile- except she now had untidy blonde hair. Her lips were trembling. Draco didn’t know if it was anger or nervousness or both. She walked back in forth in a seemingly straight line, her fingers flitting about at her sides.
He said nothing.
Then she turned to face him. “Draco, he’s punished your uncle and father. We’re next if you don’t figure it out.”
Draco breathed in, feeling the cold sting his nostrils, his palm, where he had given blood sacrifice, was beginning to throb painfully again. “I’m doing my best.”
He made no mention of the successful work he had done the last few nights. He had yet to return to the tower, to keep the box and book in good hands. His hands. His aunt looked even more agitated.
“You’re not getting this through your cranium, are you?” she hissed, stomping on the ground. “They tried something else to help him; they tried that old witch’s tale of curing the soul. It damaged him further and has rendered him nearly useless physically, only he was able to inflict pain on them just by thinking it, at his power’s expense!”
“Then he still has power,” he said quickly, shuddering at the thought of remembering the Dark Lord’s screams while he had passed out.
Bellatrix shot him a haunting glare, her yellowish teeth flashing before him. “You don’t understand, Draco. I swore I’d kill your mother and you if either you or I failed.”
The sun was setting low over the horizon and Draco quickly made his way back to the castle, passing through the basement, near the kitchens to avoid people. Walking up another flight of stairs, he had come, startlingly, face to face with Harry Potter. Of all the bloody coincidences.
At first he didn’t say anything and neither did Harry. Then Draco opened his mouth to speak, determined to give Harry some sign, he didn’t know why at that moment, but he spoke, his first words of familiarity to Harry Potter.
“I- you need to be careful,” he muttered.
Harry’s brows rose. “Why?” His voice started to sound cross. He took a step back and glared at Draco. He suddenly felt his blood rush through his veins faster. Here he was, the Slytherin Prince, muttering nonsense threats!
“Just- be careful,” Draco quickly said, brushing against Harry’s shoulder as he left, feelings of betrayal for his family overwhelming him. But he had done his best. Perhaps Harry would tell Hermione and that redheaded arse.
Draco left Harry standing halfway down the stairs as he walked away. He suddenly felt lightheaded. He leaned against a wall and felt cold rushing throughout his body. He walked for the opposite hallway, heading for the Slytherin Common Room. Upon entering, he found the Common Room in a ruckus. Majority of the older Slytherins were there.
He headed for his room, ignoring Blaise and Pansy’s cry for his name.
He saw his two other roommates resting in their beds and they greeted him, chatting continuously about their next prank on some hapless Hufflepuff.
Draco stumbled out of the room, searching for quiet. He found the door to Nott’s dormitory open and he slid inside, lying on one bed, not caring who owned it. The door opened and Draco refused to see who it was.
“What the bloody hell-“ Nott began. He quickly shut the door behind him.
“Don’t mind me,” Draco said blearily, raising one hand into the air and throwing it down on the bed. His eyes were still closed.
“You look sick.”
“Do I?” Draco slowly heaved himself up. “Is this your bed?”
“Yes, good for you. If you had lain on that bed,” Nott said, pointing to the bed beside his, “You wouldn’t like it if I told you that guy’s a wanker.”
Draco’s face looked disgusted. “You shouldn’t have mentioned that.”
Nott crossed the room and sat on his trunk at the foot of his bed.
“Where were you?”
“Doing the dark works?” Nott asked dryly.
“How is it?”
“I- I don’t know. We’ll find out tomorrow or the day after, I guess.”
Nott laughed.”It’s that soon?”
“It’s too soon.”
“You’re not telling me anything else are you?” Nott asked.
Draco shook his head. “Maybe I will, tomorrow.”
“Man of surprises, that’s what you are,” Nott laughed.
“I’m delaying my death,” Draco said quickly.
Harry motioned for Hermione to get into an empty classroom, seeing her standing a few feet away from the Great Hall, going over a checklist for the ball.
“Have you seen Ron?” he asked her as she got in.
“Sorry, bad question. It’s important.”
“I haven’t,” she replied shortly.
“Hermione, before we look for Ron...did you- have you noticed anything different about Malfoy?”
Hermione stopped in place. Draco? What was going on? Did Harry find out? But they had been careful... and she suddenly felt like a fugitive, like she had betrayed her best friend greatly. Her mind was swimming with a million excuses now, ranging from the absurd and to the simple fact that she had indeed fallen for the foe...
“I don’t know Harry,” she said, in the simplest way she could.
“He said something to me; I met him near the kitchens.”
“What did he say?” she found herself asking Harry in a small voice. She sat across him, mindful that she had gone cold and tense. He didn’t know about them, at least that was a form of relief.
Harry repeated what he said and added Draco had looked rather nervous and truthful. “You think he’s up to something?”
Hermione shrugged. Was Draco up to something? In the month that they had seen less of each other, he had become pale and less of an arse to everyone in school...he looked sick, like he hadn’t had any rest, although he did excel still. He also seemed to be dazed most of the time when he thought no one was looking. And then there was that bandage that never left his hand. He had carried it for days now, his palm was always covered and she hadn’t commented on it since that library incident.
“Maybe...he’s having family issues?” Hermione said, remembering what Nott had told her one night, the only night she had actually conversed with Theodore Nott.
“Maybe. But why tell me to be careful. You don’t think he’s trying to tell me something far better than lame Malfoy family issues?” Harry said with a frown. “Maybe he’s...you think he’s trying to tell me something connected to Voldemort?”
Hermione sighed. “Harry, are we on this again? All your theories, however probable, need solid proof-“
“Hermione listen,” Harry said impatiently. “He might be planning to desert the Death Eaters.”
“He’s not even one-“
“Father and Aunt are, that’s sure,” Harry muttered. He stood up, unable to contain the rush of theories coming out of his mind and mouth. “Think about it Hermione. He doesn’t look like he’s himself, his normal bastardly self. Have you seen him putting on airs lately? Have you seen him strutting about, beating lower years with those lumbering idiots? He looks ill, if you ask me. Something is up and I’ve only given it notice now that’s he’s approached me.”
“Harry,” Hermione began slowly. “If what you’re saying is true, then we have to know what that is.”
“We need to find Ron,” Harry said. “I need him to know about this.”
Hermione took a step back. “Could you do that alone, Harry? I don’t think I can stand another moment pretending things were the way they used to be.”
Harry’s head bowed down. Then he looked up, his green eyes were resolute. “For me, Hermione. Please do this for me, just once, after we get through the bottom of this, I won’t force you to do anything else again. Please.”
Harry knew she would say yes even before she opened her mouth.
Night time had fallen hastily and Draco found himself standing inside the tower once more, hopefully his last. He wondered how he could get away with keeping such easily recognizable items in his hands. The chest and book loomed heavily over the table he had placed it on; dust had once more given it a feel of seclusion. He opened the notebook where he had hastily written the prophecy announced by Sibyl and reread it on the same table as the book and wand container.
“The Floor is wrought by Frost, immeasurable depth, take heed... The Torch known to man by its pale, bright glow; it always burns where princes sit within… The ocean seems interminable to Man…and the waves of the water terrify all…She, the guiding star and the spherical light that comes from the darkness... the covenants are broken…the princes are to be where they are…”
Frost. He had thought about it and assumed the prophecy meant finding the items in the middle of winter. He didn’t know what torch meant, nor did he figure out who the princes were. Who the bloody hell were the princes? Harry Potter couldn’t have been a prince. He was a half-blood. And nowhere was Harry near the ancient Wizarding bloodlines. Snape was dead and he had been known back then as Prince. And was this going to happen near some sea? How? Apparating? He assumed that the spherical light was the pendant, Areatha could have been the guiding star and that darkness came from its unknown history. And what were the covenants? The pressure had radiated throughout his body and he felt weak once more.
He sat on a broken down chair, the cotton spilling all over the place like someone had spilled its guts intentionally. Draco took one deep breath and figured that what he was doing; he was doing with the best intentions. Draco stood up and then walking down the tower, he headed for Dumbledore’s office. He said the password and entered the room.
Flicking his wand, he lit a few of the candles, careful to not make much noise. Lightning suddenly flashed outside followed by the distant rumbling of thunder and he jumped back, nearly hitting a suit of armour.
He walked for the cabinet that housed the little bottles filled with memories, wondering how they survived through the years.
He tried to find another date in Areatha’s time but found none. He cursed, wondering how he could steer the Dark Lord’s plans to a safer direction for the people he cared for. He stood in the middle of the circular office, not knowing what to do. He saw the portraits of the Headmasters sleeping in the frames.
“In deep thought?” a voice broke out the silence.
Draco looked for the voice. He saw Everard’s portrait above the right wall and the old man smiled serenely. He walked up for the portrait.
“Professor...” Draco began.
“You do know it’s against rules to break into the Headmaster’s office?”
“I didn’t. I accidentally found out about the password. Some nursery rhyme-“
“Ah, my favourite rhyme and Dumbledore’s too- back when we were sprightly and breathing.”
“I need your help,” Draco began.
“But I’m a portrait,” Everard’s painting said. “Surely you know my knowledge and skills are limited now. I’m merely a fragment of memories and characteristics.”
Draco sighed. “I’m in a tight spot now.”
“Haven’t we all been?”
“Suppose you could tell me about Areatha Lestrange and Colin Peverell, or the legend of the Elder Wand’s encasement?”
The portrait placed a hand under his chin, as if trying to summon all possible memories. “Ah, I liked those two youngsters. Sad how their lives were cut short.”
“I read some accounts.”
“So have I. I do not know how they truly died, but I do know they tried to fight for it. As for the Elder Wand’s encasement...isn’t that on the fringe of the legend itself? It’s a legend behind a legend. I have heard rumours of Miss Lestrange’s family- or was that the Blacks... having it in their vaults, but rumours will be rumours. It was so long ago...”
“Please, I need all your help.”
The portrait yawned. “Get some shuteye young man,” he said. “Good night and fare thee well.”
Draco stared at Everard who had dozed off into slumber. He shook his head, feeling lost now more than ever. He couldn't do this alone, he realized. He reached for his wand and held it in his hands, wondering if he could cheat his way out of death. He stared at objects scattered all over the office; his gaze then lingered on the frayed Hogwarts Sorting hat and was struck with a crazy idea. Now if only it would work...
A/N: Please review. I'll try to upload more this Christmas break =)