Chapter 20 : The Serpent's Son, Part One
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The Serpent's Son, Part One
And manage it against despairing thoughts.
That night, Draco guarded Hermione's dreams.
He had asked Harry and Ron to leave, almost begging for them to understand how he felt. He had been polite, and fortunately, they had obliged. Ron had been emotionally exhausted after seeing Hermione, and all he wanted was to sleep. Harry had had his fare share of the exhaustion as well. They were drained, all of them. They couldn't even imagine what Hermione was going through.
Draco had pulled aside the curtain that was covering her bed, not caring that she might wake up. It was bloody time for her to stop fearing him. He wasn't the one who had hurt her. She had been able to listen to his real voice for awhile now. His face shouldn't be that different.
"You, dear girl, are giving us a hard time," he said quietly, watching her peaceful face. She had fallen asleep right after Ron, Harry, and the adults had left.
A part of him wanted to leave as well, wanted to go to sleep, wanted to forget everything and just rest for a million years. He had been through so much. It was unbelievable even to himself that he was still standing on his own two feet, almost all parts of his mind attached.
He was actually getting stronger.
"I miss you." Draco knew he was being soft, but he couldn't help it. Seeing his father had been horrible, but seeing him save Hermione had been otherworldly. Nobody in his right mind could believe that Lucius Malfoy was good, but Draco felt tempted. He wanted it. He wanted his father back. And he needed Hermione's advice on the matter, her strange ability to calm him, her strength, her courage, every aspect of her being.
It was easy to talk to her now that she wasn't listening. "I'm kind of hoping that you'll remember everything I’ve done for you. I want you to know that I've been here." He paused, stroking her wrist gently. "I know it's not good or proper to want something like that. I should be doing this out of the goodness of my heart, but... I'm not sure if there is such a thing somewhere inside me."
He had changed sides, he had worked against the Dark Lord, he had chosen to follow Harry's lead. What more was there? Was he supposed to become something pure? He couldn't do that. He wasn't built that way. But somehow he felt inadequate, as though he was playing a part that didn't really fit him.
Pulling his chair closer to the bed, Draco rested his forehead against the soft mattress, letting his arms hang freely, almost touching the ground with his knuckles. "I'm tired, you know. I don't want any of this. I want a very dead Dark Lord, a manor that is not burned to the ground, and a mother who actually remembers who I am. I would also like to have a father who won't plot my untimely death every time I turn my back on him. Could that be possible?" He sighed, shifting a little, leaning his cheek against her arm. "I hate this life."
He loved her scent. It was so subtle and soothing, and he just couldn't resist it anymore. Tentatively, he climbed on the bed next to her, wrapping himself around her. He missed touching, he missed being held, he missed feeling safe, he missed himself on happier times. Things had been so clear before. He buried his face into her hair, breathing quietly. "I can't do this anymore, not without you," he muttered. "You have no choice. You have to get better. You have to be strong. Please."
He lay still for a while, certain that he would not fall asleep, not while Mary could come back and find him like that, or while Hermione could wake up and shatter into million tiny pieces because of all the fear she had for him. Really, it was impossible.
It was the first time in months he didn't dream at all.
"Draco, wake up. Draco, you're killing my arm. Wake up."
Draco opened one eye, trying to get through his muffled brain that there was someone warm beside him, breathing to his ear. It was a girl. He didn't get to sleep with girls that often. Where was he anyway? "What?" he mumbled, feeling safe and wanting to inch closer to the source of it all.
"Oh..." Draco sat up, suddenly remembering that there was indeed a very sick girl in bed with him. He had been careless, too tired to act like a normal person. "I'm sorry." He tried to get off the bed, but Hermione took hold of his arm. When he turned to look at her she let go of him, but didn't lower her gaze. She didn't say it, but he knew anyway: she was afraid that it wouldn't last, but while it still felt all right, she wanted him to be there.
He lay down slowly, staring into her eyes. "You're okay with this?"
She nodded, a ghost of a smile tugging at her lips. "Could you... please... Could you just talk?" She turned her back on him, shivering. They had managed to get rid of the blanket, but he only had to stretch a bit to reach it on the floor. He covered them with it, pulling Hermione gently against his chest, ready to let go if she protested in anyway.
What could he possibly say? He had used all his words while she was recovering. "I've missed you," he said, tasting the words, deciding that they were truthful. He thought of other things to say, but everything felt meaningless. He just wanted to be close to her. "Harry's started the DA again, and even Slytherins are participating. Oh, and Dumbledore said that he's finally going to tell us what this pairing magick is all about. Tomorrow... if you're strong enough."
He continued to talk, his words useless and even a bit pitiful, but Hermione didn't seem to mind. She lay there in his arms, relaxed and warm, more normal than he could have ever hoped for. After a while she fell asleep and he soon followed, hugging her tightly, his body a protective shield against the outside world.
Mary stopped in her tracks when she entered their private world, quietly watching them sleep, not all together surprised. A soft smile spread on her face, her eyes following the relaxed lines of their entwined bodies. It was the first time in months she felt like everything would be all right, that this craziness wouldn't continue always and maybe one day, she could see Hermione happy with her own family.
Knowing that her daughter was loved, she left, closing the door behind her carefully.
The next day, Draco followed Harry and Ron to the War Room, feeling awfully gloomy and uncomfortable. They had left Hermione to the Hospital Wing with her parents because she was still too weak to participate in strategy meetings, but Draco dearly wished she was there. That way it would have been easier for him to face his father again.
“Good, you are here,” Dumbledore said when they entered the round tower room, gesturing for them to sit down.
They were gathered together again, Dumbledore's trusted ones: two Death Eaters, one criminal, one elderly Headmistress, the Boy-Who-Lived and two very different seventh year students. They would most definitely win the war.
Draco sat as far from Lucius as possible and then turned to look at Dumbledore, not caring that he could still see his father in his peripheral vision. Harry sat next to Draco, tapping his forearm lightly. “Don’t stress over him,” he whispered quickly and then turned his attention to the old wizard as well. Ron took the seat next to Harry just before Dumbledore started.
“There are many things that need to be solved today, but let’s start from the most pressing news. You probably want to know how our journey went and what we found out. To make a long story short, we have managed to convince the Ancient Clans, including Amadeus’ own, that it would be a very bad idea for them to join forces with Voldemort. The other three Clans are not willing to help us, but they will not interfere either. Amadeus… Well, he has promised his full support.”
They all stared at the young wizard, who was now white haired, very solid, and smiling like a crazy person. “What?” he said. “I can change my mind if I want to.”
Dumbledore coughed, shaking his head a little. He would regret this deal one day. “I would also like to welcome Lucius Malfoy to the Order of the Phoenix. He has promised to support us till the very end. Of course this promise has been weighted, and he has already given us valuable information about the Death Eaters and Voldemort’s possible plans. He has also restored the missing part of Ms Granger’s mind. This is not all he has done, though.” He gave Lucius a small nod, asking him to continue from there.
Lucius Malfoy stood, straightening his robes, and then started walking slowly around the table, stopping when he reached Draco’s chair. He stepped in between Draco and Harry, placing his hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I have promised to take a vow which I cannot break.” His tone was stone-cold, and he squeezed Draco’s shoulder hard, almost making him wince. “You may want know why I am doing this, but I have no intention of explaining myself to you now. The only thing you should know, the one thing that defines this whole war for me… I may be many things, but there are limits for my willingness to follow other people. We are a very old Pureblood family. This is not what our ancestors would have wanted.”
“You’ve killed people,” Harry spat out before he could stop himself.
“That is exactly why you need me.”
Harry stared at him in shock, wanting to strike, to jump up and attack, anything but sit still and accept it all.
Lucius smiled, the expression almost cruel on his otherwise stoic face. “You have no idea how powerful he is - but you will once you have seen him through my eyes.”
“Mr Malfoy has offered to give us some of his memories,” Dumbledore clarified, locking eyes with Harry, making sure that he wouldn’t do anything irrational.
“Yes,” Lucius said, his smile spreading to reveal his teeth, “I will show you what he has demanded from us. I think you will find it most educating if a little unpleasant.”
Draco felt sick. He had chosen his seat for a reason: he did not want to be anywhere near his father. The man had a crushing presence, the kind that made him want to crawl out of sight and hide. The hand on his shoulder burned, but he couldn’t get rid of it without making a scene.
“Why do we accept this?” Headmistress McGonagall asked, sounding a little helpless. “How did you even find him?”
Dumbledore took off his spectacles, laying them on the table, sighing. “Minerva, we need this. It is not something we can be proud of, but... This is war. We almost lost the last one. Without Harry, we would have. I want to make sure that he does not have to do it alone this time. I am sorry that we cannot choose our battles more carefully or our allies, for that matter. He,” he gestured towards Lucius, “was nearly killed because of his family, because he wanted to visit his wife, because Voldemort does not care how long someone has stood by his side. We care. We will give him a chance. We will not judge him now, not before he has had the chance to show us how useful he can be. Please, trust us. We are not doing this lightly.”
“I feel so welcome.” Lucius sneered, letting go of Draco and walking back to his earlier seat next to Professor Snape. “If I could choose I would not be here, but unfortunately this is the best option at the moment. The Chosen One... the boy will win. He has won before. He will win again.”
Draco dared not to look at his father. He was sure the cold grey eyes were fixed on Harry, measuring, demanding. That look had followed him as long as he could remember.
A curious expression on his face, Snape asked, “How can you be so sure?”
“Because the odds are on his side. He has won every year so far. He may die saving us, but he will save everyone.”
“He’s not going to die!” Ron yelled, standing, grabbing the edge of the table. “Don’t say that!”
“Everybody dies,” Lucius said, amused.
Dumbledore motioned Ron to sit down. “We are not going to fight. I understand your concerns. I understand that it is never easy to trust someone who has hurt you in the past. I know. We will use every precaution we can think of. You do not have to spend any more time with him than is necessary, especially you Ron. I know it is hard for you to forget what happened to your sister.”
Ron was shaking with fury, but he sat down and nodded. The acknowledgement of his discomfort and distrust was enough to calm him so he could think rationally. Lucius had saved Hermione. That had to mean something.
After that the focus of the meeting turned to Voldemort and the war itself. Voldemort’s actions so far had been simple: dived and conquer. He had turned the Aurors against the people. He had destroyed the Ministry of Magic. The wizarding world was leaderless - or had been until Dumbledore had taken the Aurors under his command. He acted from the shadows, still trying to prevent the world from knowing that he was alive, but nothing was more important now than gaining some leverage in the war, not even their fake deaths and how Voldemort might react to that knowledge. They were very careful, though, making sure that Professor Snape wouldn't lose his position as a spy. Even in Hogwarts, Amadeus and Dumbledore hid their presence by Glamouring themselves into house-elves while walking among the students and staff members.
The image of the two very powerful wizards having huge ears and very small bodies managed to make Draco, Ron and Harry snicker, but they quickly fell silent when Professor Snape gave them an evil look.
Dumbledore also revealed that Order spies were trying to predict Voldemort's next move, but for the time being he had been ominously quiet. Lucius Malfoy had given away their hideout, and the Aurors had raided it only to find it empty. But the Death Eaters had left hastily, leaving behind books, maps, potions, spell instructions: things that might be crucial for learning more about their plans.
"It is possible that Voldemort is planning an attack against the school," Dumbledore concluded. "The rumours indicate such, and we must believe that our deaths have given him a false sense of security. He wants to destroy Hogwarts. This place holds too many bad memories for him."
"What more can we do?" Headmistress McGonagall asked. "The school is as ready as it can be, I've made sure of that."
"And I want to thank you for that," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling for the first time that day. "You have done marvelous job here. I am very pleased that you even managed to get the Guardians of the Blue Room to work for you. You must reveal your secret one day."
The Headmistress bowed her head, pleased but unwilling to let it show. They were ready, and it was all because of her.
Dumbledore smiled then, addressing them all, "I think we need a small break before we start going through our list of problems." He looked at them, receiving accepting nods and baffled looks, but he knew he was right. They had a lot to do, and they couldn't do it all at once. "Feel free to stay here or go outside, but please be here in half an hour."
Before he left he had a brief whispered conversation with the Headmistress, and then he was gone.
The room fell silent after that.
Amadeus was the first to leave after Dumbledore, and then the others stood as well, stretching their legs, moving around a bit.
Harry turned to Draco, asking, "You want to come with us?"
Draco wasn't sure if he was being polite or if he actually wanted Draco to accompany them, but it was nice nevertheless. He smiled and said no anyway because there was something he wanted to do. The boys left, and he went to stand by one of the arched windows. He waited, and surely his father approached him.
"Have you heard of your mother?" Lucius asked, trying to put a hand an his shoulder again, but Draco sidestepped and managed to avoid it. Lucius looked at his hand for a moment and then clenched it into a fist, lowering it to his side.
It would have been so easy to follow the old patterns, to become the obedient son again. He had worshipped the ground under his father's feet, but the man had betrayed him.
Draco would never let that happen again.
"No, I haven't," he said, not turning to face his father.
"Would you like to come with me to see her?" Lucius said quietly, making it sound more like a command than a request.
Draco felt tempted, everything about his family made him want to scream: I want you back!, but it was just impossible. He couldn’t let them affect him this way after everything that they had put him through.
"Father," he said, finally looking at him. "Don't. Don't try to pretend that nothing happened, that you didn't abandon me. I remember everything." He turned to leave, but his father grabbed his wrist.
Draco pulled his hand free, mouth curling, and walked away without another word. He wouldn't be his father's puppet anymore. The Soul Ripper had nearly killed him, and he could still feel Voldemort's cold words gripping his insides: "He asked me to... destroy you before I leave your healthy young body."
Lucius Malfoy may have switched sides, but Draco wasn’t willing to forgive him, not now and not ever. Draco knew that his father enjoyed corruption and power, enjoyed manipulating the less intelligent, but he didn't want to serve anyone. That was his soul reason to accept Dumbledore's offer. Harry didn't ask anyone to serve him; he only needed help.
It made him want to smash things, the fact that his father could still make him feel so small and weak. He was fuming when Dumbledore and the others returned and when the meeting continued. He didn't want to spend any time with his father, and he was rather relieved to hear what Dumbledore had to say next.
The old wizard cleared his throat. "Severus, could you please escort Mr Malfoy... Senior to the other room. Do the usual precautions." They maybe trusted him when they needed him, but he would never be present in any of the strategy meetings.
As Professor Snape took Lucius away, Dumbledore started. "We have an urgent matter to discuss. The Dark Mark. Remember Maximillian Metzger, the Death Eater we captured last autumn after the attack?"
"The one who was killed?" McGonagall asked.
"Yes." He paused. "We now have two former Death Eaters on our side, and both of them bear the Mark that could get them killed. If Voldemort finds out that he didn't kill Lucius Malfoy, he will kill him through the Mark. The same will happen to Severus if Voldemort ever starts to doubt the information he receives from his spy. It is possible that he has heard rumours about Amadeus and myself being alive. It is possible that even though we have acted very carefully someone might have recognised us, someone not friendly. That is a serious threat to Severus."
Harry sat down between Ron and Draco, watching Dumbledore carefully. "How can we ensure their safety then?" He couldn't believe that they were trying to protect the same person who had tried to get Ginny killed, who had attacked them at the Ministry, who definitely wasn't good in any known way.
It was strange how their side seemed to get darker with each new recruit.
"We've been studying that ever since the incident with Metzger, but nothing useful has come up," Amadeus said. "This kind of magic isn't common at all. With Snape we can't even carve the Mark out magically because he's still a spy."
Snape returned, taking a seat next to McGonagall, scowling. He looked even more sour than before. "The man is intolerable," he muttered. Harry couldn't have agreed more, and the thought was just horrific. He actually shared an opinion with Snape. He felt impure.
"There is a way to solve this, though." Dumbledore's eyes locked with Draco's. "We need to find the Book of Dreams."
Draco stared at the old wizard, fighting the urge to look behind him to see if there was someone else Dumbledore was looking at. He didn't know anything about the Book of Dreams. Hadn't that been made clear the last time they talked about this? "Why are you looking at me?"
"Because you have it."
Draco stood, stumbling away from the table. "I don't... I'm... I don't have anything."
"But you do." Dumbledore stood as well, walking slowly towards Draco. "We visited an intriguing old lady at Amadeus' village, and she showed us you. You have it. Where is it?"
The old goot had gone mad. He looked frightening as though he was thinking that Draco had betrayed them somehow. He hadn't. How could he prove that? "You can search my things. I don't have any... Wait... It might be." Draco began to pace, thinking hard, trying to remember. "She said she got it from the Restricted Section of the library. Didn't you say that the book came within the boxes. What was his name? Grave-something."
Dumbledore relaxed visibly. "Mr Graveriver, yes."
"You're not serious? It's that book? You showed it to us," Harry said in disbelief.
Draco felt ashamed. He had had the book the whole time. They could have used it. They could have destroyed it. Anything. Now it was just lying on the bedside table in his private Slytherin Head Boy room, being totally useless. "I'll go get it," he said hastily as he ran towards the door.
"Harry, go with him," Dumbledore said, sitting down.
Ron looked hurt. "What about me?"
The three boys stormed out the door, running through the empty corridors, excited of the sudden chance to do something meaningful, something that would solve at least a few of their problems.
It didn't take them long to find their way back. Draco was holding the book triumphantly above his head. "Here." He gave it to Dumbledore who motioned all of them to gather around him. He opened it slowly only to find all the pages annoyingly blank.
Harry growled in frustration. "What's that? My dreams don't contain wordless books."
"No. This can't be." Draco grabbed the book, frowning. "The last time I looked at it, it was full of dark spells."
"Well, now it isn't," Ron said flatly.
"Great observation skills you have there," Draco mocked, giving the book to Amadeus.
Ron just glared at him.
Amadeus examined the book carefully. "I believe it's not enough that you merely look at the pages, you need to want to see something." He turned to look at Draco. "What did you need at the time?"
Draco blushed behind his ears. "I needed something that would keep my mind occupied while Hermione slept in my bed, something that would prove that I wasn't a blood traitor. I wrote all the spells down, copied the book because it was hers. I didn't know that it showed something else to her than it did to me."
Ron's glare burned holes into the back of Draco's neck. Hermione sleeping in his bed? He wanted to strangle the other boy, but Harry grabbed his arm, shaking his head. They knew already. There was something going on between the two, and Malfoy wasn't playing a game. He had proved it countless of times while trying to save Hermione over the months. He was serious about her. Ron pulled his arm free, but didn't try to kill the blond boy. He would accept it someday.
"What about you? What did you see then?" Draco asked Harry, a curious expression on his face.
It was Harry's turn to blush. "Nothing important."
Draco smirked. It had to be something good, something he could use to taunt the other boy with. "Come on, you can tell me."
Harry shot a warning glare at Draco. Don't push it.
Dumbledore coughed. Sometimes he felt so old. "We need to concentrate on the matter at hand," he said. "My suggestion is that we all read the Book of Dreams one at the time, keeping in mind that we really want to see the solution for the Dark Mark problem. Maybe we can overcome all the other urges inside us. Mr Weasley, please start."
Ron took the book and sat down on his usual seat, opening the book, expecting to see a spell that would stop Voldemort from killing Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape. In reality, that wasn't high on his list of dreams. How to become the richest man in England? How to find true love? How to be happy? How to hex Draco Malfoy in ten thousand ways without killing him? Oh, it was useless. No matter how hard he concentrated, he just couldn't get the right one out.
"It's not working," he muttered, handing the book to Harry.
Harry held the book only for a few seconds and then gave it to Draco. "Mine is broken," he just said, staring at the cracked surface of the table. His face was flushed again.
"We're seventeen-year-old boys after all," Draco whispered knowingly, smirking. When he opened the book it said: To be worthy is to accept oneself. Nothing else. It didn't change, even though he opened and closed it many times, trying very hard to concentrate on the Mark. He gave up and levitated the book to Professor McGonagall who sat on the other side of the table.
She tried very hard, too, but finally let go of the book, pushing it to Amadeus. "You try."
Amadeus burst into laughter and then threw the book to Dumbledore, who almost didn't catch it. Young people these days. He opened it tentatively, fearing that none of them would find the answer there. The book was tricky. It was impossible to control it. Master Dumbledore, just buy new socks. That shouldn't be too difficult. Dumbledore pushed his chair back and stood, walking to Professor Snape briskly. "Please make sure you'll get the answer out of this sarcastic little book." He sounded rather irritated.
All of them stared at the Potions Master as he opened the Book of Dreams. His greasy hair almost covered his face when he leaned over the book, reading out loud: "The Dark Mark is a claim, both heart and soul of the servant belong to the Master. To break the heart and to destroy the soul - that is the key to freedom."
The silence that followed was maddening. How could they do that without killing the two former Death Eaters? It was an impossible riddle.
Draco leaned forward, looking at Snape intently. “What does it mean?” he asked, voicing the question they all harboured.
Snape looked thoughtful. “Hmm… To break the heart… Maybe it's not literal at all. Voldemort has said that the skull represents death and the snake destruction; maybe they are the heart and the soul of the riddle. What do you think, Albus?”
“It is possible,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “We need to work on this.”
To Draco's amusement, Harry actually raised his right hand as though in a classroom, his left one clutching the edge of the round table hard, his knuckles turning white.
"Yes, Harry." Dumbledore looked at him over his half-moon spectacles.
“Sir,” Harry said, standing, “can we go? We want to spend time with Hermione. We're useless here since we know nothing about the Dark Mark. She needs us more."
Draco wanted to laugh. Harry clearly wanted to avoid all the troublesome research they were supposed to do. Amadeus had finally managed to deliver all the books of his private collection to the Library of Hogwarts as he had promised Madam Pince. Among those books, there might be some references to the Book of Dreams and how to make it work more efficiently. They had done nothing but studied over the months Hermione had been sick, studied and stayed beside her bed. Now they finally had the chance to talk to her, see her for real.
Dumbledore knew that the children were tired of the war and it hadn't even begun yet. There were so many things they still needed to face - and he was supposed to give them the means to do that. He sighed. They deserved their time off.
"Go. We will do this."
The three boys left the room quietly, trying to hide the fact that they were very excited. The day was warm, summer almost at their door. They wanted to go outside, to show Hermione that the world hadn't changed that much while she was gone.
They found Hermione sitting on a windowsill, reading. Nobody else was in sight. She lifted her gaze when she heard them come in, closing the book and placing it on her lap. "Hello boys," she said, not quite sounding like herself yet, but it was better than this morning when she had mostly been quiet, listening to them talk, watching her hands and trying not to wince every time someone spoke too loudly.
“How are you?” Harry asked as they took their places close by her, Ron sitting on her bed, Draco leaning against the wall next to Hermione and Harry himself dragging a chair closer, turning it around and straddling its back, leaning his forearms against it.
“I’m fine. I’ll get better,” she said quietly. There was still a haunted look in her eyes, but she was strong, stubborn. She would survive. Draco remembered the three-month-deal they had made earlier that year and smiled to himself. She hadn’t mentioned it once. She didn’t want to die anymore.
Ron shifted restlessly, taking hold of one of the bedpost. “D’you maybe want to go outside? Has Pomfrey said anything about you leaving the Hospital Wing? Is it okay?”
Hermione smiled. “Yes, it’s okay. She just said that there has to be someone with me every time I go somewhere, and mostly even if I don’t. She’s worried. Everybody is.” She mumbled the last words, clearly not too fond of the fact that everyone was fussing over her.
“Shall we go then?” Draco asked, extending his hand to Hermione.
She looked baffled, her eyes widening, but she took his hand anyway, jumping off the windowsill, leaving her book behind. He didn’t let go of her, just led her out of the twin doors, knowing that both Ron and Harry stared at them in disbelief. It would take them some time to get used to Draco actually being comfortable enough to show his affection publicly. He managed to smother the smirk that threatened to spread on his face. He felt gleeful, finally free of his father's influence.
They spent the whole day outside enjoying the sun, playing Snitch-hunting, lying on a checkered blanket reading and chatting, letting Hermione get used to everything. People stopped by, asking her questions, wanting to know how she was doing and if she would participate in the NEWTs. They had sat by her bed, too, had come to see her, had missed her. She didn't even know how much everyone had cared for her well being. It should have probably made her feel overwhelmed, but instead she felt like she actually belonged somewhere. She wasn't just Harry's best friend, the Muggle witch. She was also herself, Hermione Granger, someone people liked.
"I can do this," she whispered to Draco when they finally gathered their things and started getting back. The sun was setting, colouring the castle with bright red and yellow. Hermione couldn't remember when she had last seen a sunset. "I'm going to be okay."
Draco smiled, whispering in her ear, tickling her a little, "I know."
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