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The Final Battle by HPFF United
Chapter 14 : Dangling by a Thread
 
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Dangling by a Thread
by JLHufflepuff
(Hufflepuff)


Draco couldn’t sleep. It was not new to him, lying in the dark listening to Crabbe’s snores, wondering if he would be summoned. His Mark hadn’t burned in over a week. Still, he couldn’t sleep with his dark thoughts, the building sense of terror, never knowing if he would be allowed to live another day. He’d felt that way ever since the night Snape had killed Dumbledore and the Dark Lord had mercifully spared his life after a violent round of Cruciatus curses. He was dangling over a fire by a fine thread, never knowing if it would hold, always expecting a malicious hand to slice it without a warning.

Goyle stirred slightly, murmured something in his sleep, and Draco’s hand flew to his borrowed wand, his mother’s wand. After a moment, he realized nothing was happening. His Mark wasn’t burning. All was quiet. His breathing slowed once more. He tried to forget about the last time he’d been summoned, about what he’d been forced to do. He willed himself not to worry about what it would be next time, about if he would be able to do it or not. In the part of his mind that wasn’t afraid, he was filled with rage at what the Dark Lord had reduced him to.

He wondered where he would be now if he’d chosen differently on the astronomy tower, if he’d accepted Dumbledore’s stupid, radical offer of protection. It hadn’t been an option, really, not with the others already in the castle. But what if he didn’t have to be here now, jumping at nothing like the coward he truly was? It was blasphemous to think that way, he knew, but he couldn’t help torturing himself with chances long gone. And the worst part of all was the fact that his fate, in any of these imagined, “safe” realities, was truly worse than being Avada Kedavra-ed by the Dark Lord.

Potter. No matter what, these childish fantasies of safety involved Harry Potter, and they involved him triumphing like Draco had always refused to believe he would. And really (Draco fervently hoped the Mark on his arm had no powers of Legilimency), the only thing he really wanted to happen, even now, was for Potter to curse the Dark Lord off the face of the earth. As the prophecy his father had failed to retrieve had supposedly foretold, Harry was the only one who could do that. Could do what he, Draco, couldn’t.

Abominably, then, the idea of Potter ending this torment calmed him just enough for a bit of desired drowsiness to fall on him. He was just settling into an uneasy sleep when the familiar, seething burn spread along his left arm like a hot chain being yanked. Draco sat up, his mother’s wand gripped in his hand. He hesitated, unable to move, trying to calm the choking breaths that wouldn’t quite escape his chest.

Momentarily he realized that the summons wasn’t for him, and he felt relieved for a slight second until the full reality of what was happening hit him. Then, his terror grew. Someone in the castle had summoned the Dark Lord Himself, which meant only one thing - someone had captured Potter, and if they hadn’t, or if he ran off, the Dark Lord would be very displeased. Flashes of what had happened after Potter and his friends had escaped the Manor before the Dark Lord had arrived consumed Draco’s senses against his will. He went back there.

Now Aunt Bellatrix, who had taught him all about ruthlessness, was screaming helplessly, and begging.

Now his father was laid out on the floor, writhing, bellowing, gasping.

Now the Dark Lord was approaching
him, and all Draco could see was the furious glint in His inhuman eyes, and his body came alive with searing pain, a familiar agony. In between the curses and high pitched screams that couldn’t possibly be his, he thought he heard himself plead, “Kill me. Please. Kill me.” But still, the pain vibrated through him.

Draco shuddered back to the present, the echoes of screams flowing through his mind. He was covered in a cold sweat. He knew he should try to find out what was going on, but he had to gain control of himself first. As he struggled, eager footsteps and shouts filled the corridor outside the dormitory door. The few other Death Eaters in Slytherin were on the move. Someone running by banged on the door, was banging on every door all the way to the common room.

A thrilled voice yelled, “Someone’s got Potter!”

Blaise Zabini stirred at the sound, as did Crabbe and Goyle, and Draco sensed rather than heard them excitedly readying themselves for whatever was afoot. He desperately wanted to hide somewhere, but before he realized what he was doing, he was following his classmates out into the chaos-filled common room.

Professor Slughorn was attempting to speak over the excited, confused jumble of students. “Now, look here, everyone,” he began. “Look here!” Some of the students stopped to stare at him, while others continued talking noisily. “You-Know-Who will soon be here, and we – ”

The Death Eaters and wannabes whispered excitedly amongst themselves, and Slughorn’s face colored with embarrassment and frustration.

“LISTEN!” he thundered, though he still couldn’t catch their full attention. “We are evacuating the school now. Proceed to the Great Hall. Prefects, you are in charge of …”

Some students scrambled to grab random belongings, but most obediently allowed Slughorn to shepherd them into the corridor. Two students Draco knew to have the Mark were attempting to blend in as they exited, but they moved purposefully and excitedly like they were headed to Hogsmeade for the first time. If only they knew how unlike a pleasant day at Hogsmeade this night was likely to be. Draco barely moved, not even when Slughorn turned contemptuously to stare him down before pushing the rest of the students out of the common room. Crabbe and Goyle stood oafishly rooted beside him.

“We gonna stay and fight, ain’t we?” Goyle proclaimed proudly, and Draco thought he looked stupid. As if staying and fighting would be a fun little picnic.

He was working out how to get off Hogwarts grounds before the Dark Lord arrived, but suddenly the seething burn spread across his forearm again, much stronger than earlier, obliterating his pathetic hope of getting away. The Dark Lord was here, and from the pulsating burn that continued longer than it ever had before, he was summoning every last Death Eater to his side. Of course, Crabbe and Goyle had no idea it was happening, and Draco felt no need to enlighten them.

“I want t’ see where they’ve got ‘im,” Crabbe almost whined, and Draco assumed he meant Potter.

Crabbe’s voice jolted Draco out of his paralysis at the summons he’d just felt. “Yes,” he agreed. “Let’s go.”

He was still bent on escape, somehow, as they made their way into the roiling corridor, but he wanted his friends to stay with him, and he knew they would be adamantly against anything less than living out the Death Eater dream, though neither of them had been so gifted as he had been. He was contemplating the best places to hide that would also appear like a search for Potter when the Dark Lord’s cold voice sounded around them.

“I know that you are preparing to fight,” [1] he intoned. Draco’s knees felt weak. The Dark Lord was bartering now, offering mercy as a trade for Harry Potter, an exchange none of the crazed Gryffindors would ever accept. He continued, “Give me Harry Potter, and you will be rewarded. You have until midnight.” [2]

In those last words, Draco felt the Dark Lord was speaking directly to him. As much as he loathed the master he couldn’t escape, it still felt like salvation, hearing “reward” on his lips. Would it be possible to reverse all the damage he’d done to his family name with such a simple act?

“Le’s find Potter for ’im!” Crabbe exclaimed urgently, obviously just as enticed at the prospect of a reward as Draco was.

Draco turned toward his friends, determined not to let them screw up his one chance. “Disillusion yourselves now!” he hissed. “He can’t see us coming.”

oo

Draco limped along the eerily quiet grounds, staying close to the bushes, fearful lest anyone should see him. His plan had gone horribly, horribly wrong. Not only did he fail to capture Potter, fail to redeem himself, but now he also had to slink along with no wand. Damn that foolish Crabbe, ruining everything. Draco shuddered, remembering the heat of the flames he had barely escaped, not sparing a thought for his friend until he himself was safe. Even after something as utterly rash as summoning the almost always uncontrollable fiendfyre, his lifetime friend hadn’t deserved to die like that, in explosion of molten flame. He pushed thoughts of Crabbe as far out of his mind as possible.

Earlier the castle had been so filled with fighting and chaos that he’d failed to find an adequate hiding place and had been dodging curses from both sides all night. After what seemed an eternity, the Dark Lord had granted his enemies a reprieve, expecting Harry Potter to come to him. The strategy seemed unbelievable to Draco, too easy – that the Dark Lord expected his arch-enemy to approach him simply because he ordered it, but Draco had a sinking feeling that Potter’s bleeding-heart-hero-complex made it the best strategy of all time.

The sudden peace had come as an immense relief, but Draco felt apprehensive, knowing that something of utmost importance that he did not control would soon take place. As time dragged on, the deceptive calm began to be almost as maddening as the fighting. Ever since the ceasefire had begun, Draco had successfully avoided those gathering the dead and wounded, knowing that the mere sight of him might be an easy trigger for violence. He felt so inexplicably helpless and unable to face even the weakest opponent, but somehow his body kept moving, anxiously awaiting the impending storm.

After what had to have been longer than the promised hour of reprise, Draco convulsed in fear as the Dark Lord’s voice sounded throughout the grounds again, so close to him that he flinched as at a physical blow. Draco had been expecting a tirade that promised more violence, more fighting, but instead the unthinkable, horrific words spilled gleefully out of the Dark Lord.

Harry Potter. Dead.

Voldemort. Promising a brave new world built on magical strength alone.

Draco started to shake, uncontrollable tremors, short little gasps. The premise of pureblood rule had been in his ears and on his lips for as long as he could remember, but now that it was imminent, he felt like vomiting. Not like this, he thought. Not with a madman leading the way. A part of him couldn’t believe what was happening, couldn’t even begin to imagine what a world ruled by this psychopath would be like. And hadn’t the prophecy foretold the Dark Lord’s defeat? What of that?

A deathly silent crowd began to file out of the school, surrounding him. He noticed Potter’s friends sprinting through the great doors at the front of everyone and gathering in a disbelieving huddle. Members of “Dumbledore’s Army” and the Order of the Phoenix, what was left of them, were scattered throughout the crowd that grew, some looking demoralized, others obviously in denial as if this were merely a part of the Dark Lord’s strategy to defeat them and not at all the truth. Their hero couldn’t be dead.

All eyes focused on the Forest. Gradually, the low thunder of the giants’ steps shook the ground, and then the Death Eaters were just barely visible amongst the trees, moving slowly, deliberately. Their dark cloaks were perfectly visible, even in the dim morning light, and Draco soon realized that none of them wore masks, not even the most paranoid about revealing their identities. As they drew nearer still, Draco made out the white-blonde of his mother’s hair bobbing among them, her carriage dignified, resolute. For a split second, he felt that everything might still be okay.

But then he caught a glimpse of the dangling form in that idiot, Hagrid’s, bulky arms. The long, matted hair could have belonged to anyone, really, but even before he saw the tell-tale glasses, Draco knew it really was him. Really Potter. Dead.

All he could do was wait. All any of them could do was wait. When the Dark Lord addressed the crowd and spilled Potter’s lifeless form onto the ground at his feet, it seemed like everything should be over. What could Draco possibly do without his wand, or with it, for that matter? Even Draco’s desire to flee had left him. How many times had he wished death on Potter only to wish, now, that it wasn’t true?

As the Dark Lord’s enemies began to engage him, Draco was swallowed up in his mother’s frantic arms. What should have been a comfort was nothing to him. He felt hollow; he couldn’t respond to her embrace, though earlier he had been ready to sprint up to the macabre parade simply to be at her side. He stared at her face as if she were a stranger.

Narcissa met his eyes as if trying to communicate something of great importance and then quickly looked around to make sure no one was watching them. She pressed him closer, and he thought he heard her whisper, “Not dead.”

Draco pulled away and glared at her, not comprehending, and then his gaze followed hers to the corpse at the Dark Lord’s feet. Potter looked deader than a doornail, but why would his mother make up such a useless tale?

He was drawn out of his confused thoughts as Neville Longbottom started screaming and screaming, the Sorting Hat enflamed on his head. And then suddenly out of nowhere, centaurs began attacking, one of their arrows felling the Death Eater standing next to Draco. Without a thought, he made to run for the open doors of the school. As he did so, he thought he heard someone screaming that Harry was missing, but he didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop.

There was, in an instant, pandemonium and fighting inside the school once again. Somehow, Draco was hurdled toward the Great Hall in all of the confusion, and he quickly crouched beneath a section of table that had earlier been hurriedly pushed against a far wall.

oo

Even from far under the table, Draco could tell that Potter and the Dark Lord had engaged each other. Their circling footsteps were the only sound aside from the words they jeered at one another, sizing each other up. The greater the Dark Lord’s rage at Potter’s words, the farther Draco backed up under the table, waiting for the curse to come from one of them - soon - and he wanted to be as far away as possible when it did.

Their taunts veered to what Draco had come to think of as “the wand issue.” Even though the Dark Lord had been raving about it for the better part of the year, Draco still didn’t grasp the importance of any wand over another past the obvious necessity of cursing the other first. The whole thing seemed to him to be a sure indicator of his honored Lord’s madness. Back and forth they yammered about it until Draco thought he would be sick with anticipation. Potter, you dumbass, just do it while he’s still talking, he thought. He wanted the game of cat-and-mouse to come to an end. Someone was going to die, and they needed to get it over with.

Gradually, from his extremely hidden position, Draco realized they were arguing specifically about the Death Stick of legend. It seemed the Dark Lord was enraged because he believed himself to be master of said Death Stick, having finally won its allegiance by killing Snape who’d won it by killing Dumbledore who … The train of thought was a bit too much to follow in his fog of terror, but the direction it was all headed – that someone other than Snape had possessed the wand’s allegiance – was making Draco break out into a sweat. It was absolutely, one hundred percent lunacy Potter was talking.

And then Potter actually brought his name into it – “The true master of the Elder Wand was Draco Malfoy.” [3]

There was no more space to back into under the table, and as Draco bumped against the wall, he felt the world falling away. It wasn’t like the Dark Lord knew where he was, but he felt vulnerable and exposed. Snape had died so that the wand could truly belong to the Dark Lord, so Draco, of much lesser value, didn’t stand a chance. He so badly wished he could Disillusion himself and run away never to be seen or heard from again.

Suddenly, however, Potter and the Dark Lord’s spells rang out in horrible screams, simultaneously, and Draco could see the light flashing even from his hidden position. The ominous moment he’d been dreading and awaiting had come, and Draco found himself crouching closer to the edge of the table to be able to see the outcome.

With a sickening thud the Dark Lord’s body fell not far from him, and then it felt like his left forearm was being burned and ripped open. Crying out in agony, he pulled up his sleeve with a shaking hand. He gasped. It was as if the Mark had been splinched away, leaving only an ugly wound. This was not the slight fading that the Dark Lord’s first disappearance had left behind on his followers, indicating his return. This was the chain that had bound Draco for the last year, finally and unalterably, gone.

The pain was nothing to him as he breathed a sigh of relief. Bloody Potter.

oo



Author's Note: A huge thanks to Blissbug for beta-ing! You're awesome!

[1] Taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, US Hardcover edition, page 609.

[2] Taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, US Hardcover edition, page 610.

[3] Taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, US Hardcover edition, page 743.


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