“Wait, Harry! Where are you going?” Ron demanded angrily, watching him as he shrugged on his cloak and stuffed Hermione’s beaded bag into the pocket. “You can’t just up and leave!”
“Stop being dramatic,” Harry sighed, checking his pockets for his wand and checking the time once again. He was probably leaving a little early…nothing would be open until nine o’clock. “I’m coming back.”
“Well where are you going?”
“Just to the shops. Merlin Ron, you’re not my mother.”
“You can’t just go to the shops,” Ron implored angrily, following Harry down the hallway and pushing in front of him. He stood in front of the door, his wand drawn by his side. “We need to plan what you’re going to do.”
Harry rolled his eyes, folding his arms and looking at Ron incredulously. “We’ve been coming and going as much as we please for the last month! What’s the problem?”
“We always planned! Have you even got your cloak?”
“No, I’m leaving it here for you guys,” he admitted.
“You see? You’re an idiot. You can’t be trusted by yourself…what do you even need? I got everything last time?”
“It’s none of your business,” Harry glared, turning around and marching back down the hallway. Ron gave a sigh of relief, thinking that Harry had come to his senses. He began to follow him back down.
“Are you gonna tell me what’s made you so crazy?” Ron demanded. “Living with you the last few weeks is harder than ‘Mione and Ginny combined! Now what are you doing?”
Harry ignored him once again, pulling back the curtains and the lace and sliding the front window open. He kicked the fly screen out and watched with satisfaction as it clattered into the garden below. Climbing through the window he looked back long enough to instruct, “Stay here.”
“Oi!” Ron yelled after him, his voice growing louder with every word, and Harry was grateful for the silencing charm around the house. They didn’t need the neighbours looking in on them. “You can’t just leave!”
“I’m doing it!” Harry growled back.
“Well take your bloody cloak then!”
A moment later his Invisibility Cloak appeared beside him, and he angrily tucked it into his pocket and turned back to Ron. “Fine!”
“Fine!” he yelled back.
“Fine!” Harry got the last word in as he crossed the garden.
He walked quickly, shrugging the cloak around his shoulders and slipping his hand into his pocket to hold his wand. The streets of Little Whinging were filled with life, cars passing him filled with children on their way to school and men on their way to work. The long wait until Monday had been agonizing, time slowing down the moment he had spoken to the neighbours early on Saturday morning.
The lack of post for his Aunt and Uncle was driving him crazy. After the long months since the Order had moved them, there wasn’t one single piece of post waiting when Harry, Ron and Hermione had arrived four weeks ago. Harry’s newfound concern had peaked last week, and the moment he saw his neighbour open her front door to collect Saturday’s newspaper, he had pounced on her.
“Morning, Mrs Puttock,” Harry had greeted his neighbour, feigning friendliness. He clearly remembered the time she had berated him when he had been sent to retrieve the football Dudley had kicked into her backyard. “How are you?”
She had nearly leapt out of her skin in embarrassment, having been caught in her dressing gown and slippers, her hair neatly rolled into curlers and held in place by a hairnet. “Ah…good morning…Mr…”
“It’s Harry, I’m Petunia’s nephew,” he explained impatiently, wishing she would hurry and catch up.
“Oh, yes that’s right. Shouldn’t you be at boarding school young man?”
“Expelled again,” he said with a grin, taking pleasure from her openly shocked expression.
“Oh, right. Well what do you want then?” she asked rudely.
“Have you been collecting post for my Aunt and Uncle? They’ve been gone a while haven’t they?”
Mrs Puttock considered this for a moment. “Yes, they’ve been gone since about August of last year…after you were arrested for causing that car accident with your Uncle.”
“Arrested was I?” Harry smiled outwardly, but inside he was pondering the implications of her words. His family had been gone since August…since he was abducted? Why had no one told him? “So have you been collecting their mail?
“No…they probably had it redirected to wherever they’re living now.”
Harry left abruptly and went to the other neighbour, going through the same question and only receiving the same answer. It had left him with only one option, and the wait until the post office opened on Monday had been agonizing. He had to keep reminding himself that he didn’t truly care what had happened to them, only that he had some small obligation to find out.
The walk to the post office was shorter than he expected, and so found himself waiting outside the closed doors at eight thirty, tapping his feet impatiently. Next door the chemist shop opened, and he suddenly remembered what else he needed. Ron had been too intimidated to go inside a Muggle chemist by himself, and so had not returned with anything to help relieve Harry’s almost constant headaches. The flashes of strange emotions and the burning of his scar only worsened this, as had his inability to get a decent sleep. Ever since that first dream at the train station with Voldemort and Snape, Harry had dreamt it every time he had gone to sleep, and so every time awoke with the same paralysing terror. The dream almost never changed, and combined with the usual nightmares he was so well associated with he found himself dozing on and off throughout the day, constantly reawakening. He knew he was getting on Ron and Hermione’s nerves, their hushed whispers in the kitchen doing nothing to disperse this concern, but he mostly ignored this, finding most peace during the night when he stayed up on watch while they slept.
He must be grateful to them, he reminded himself. For the most part that had taken care of Malfoy by themselves…Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had entered the upstairs bathroom to bring a tray of food. He had been happy to let Ron and Hermione take control of this responsibility. Harry didn’t think he could stand to be in Malfoy’s presence for longer than he absolutely needed to, his desperate and highly observant eyes boring deep into him. To his great disappointment, Harry felt no sense of satisfaction or justice towards Malfoy’s situation. Was this revenge? If it was, it wasn’t barely enough to satisfy the need in Harry to make Malfoy suffer as he had. Instead of the great satisfaction he had been hoping for, Harry couldn’t wait for the day that they finally parted ways with Malfoy, regardless of whatever the circumstances.
Harry shook his head at these thoughts. They only needed Malfoy for another few weeks….their plans for Gringotts were still flimsy at the moment, but were coming along slowly. If only they could master the Imperious curse with enough confidence to practice on Malfoy. Harry couldn’t shake the fleeting feeling that Malfoy might be able to fight it.
Entering the chemist Harry wandered around until he found what he was looking for, quickly finding the shelves full of Muggle pain relief. Selecting one that appeared to have the greatest effect he slipped it into Hermione’s beaded bag, casting a quick Confoundus charm on the cashier.
“Have a nice morning, Sir,” she farewelled him cheerfully.
He gave a brief nod, not having the patience to engage in such normal interactions. He didn’t care that they stole from Muggles, having thieved more in the last few weeks than Fred and George had in their entire school history. Strangely enough Hermione had started it, during her occasional ventures into the Muggle world when they had still been in the tent, nicking basics such as bread and milk. Back out on the street Harry loitered around the entrance to the post office, breaking the seal on the medication and sparing a glance for the recommended dosage. An approaching woman raised her eyebrows at him as she approached the post office and waited by the door, but Harry ignored her and slipped the packet into his pocket.
He checked his watch, still waiting impatiently when a light inside the building flickered on. The doors finally opened some time later, and Harry’s impatience only increased as the woman waiting shoved past him in her haste to reach the counter first. It was warmer inside, the heaters coming to life as Harry watched and waited for the woman in front to finish, any by the time she finished and left he couldn’t wait to get out of there.
From his pocket he pulled Dudley’s drivers licence out and handed it to the server, casting another quick Confoundus charm at the same time. “I’m here to find out where my family’s post was redirected.”
“Ah huh, Mr Dursley I presume?” she replied, looking from the licence up to Harry’s face without concern. “Number four, Privet drive.” She turned to her computer and entered his details, frowning for a moment.
“What is it?” he asked in concern.
“It wasn’t redirected,” she replied, scrolling down the page and pursing her lips. “One moment please.”
She left the counter and slipped out a door, returning a few minutes later and gesturing him to come through. “We’ve been holding all mail since August,” she explained, handing him a completed application with his Aunt Petunia’s signature. “It’s all here for you.”
Harry’s eyes widening as she presented a large plastic tub overflowing with envelopes and small packages. He thanked the server absently as he approached the tub with apprehension clenching his jaw as he considered what to do. He reached for the topmost envelope and began to look through, sorting out a few of the bills and letters from the junk mail. His concern only grew at the evidence before him, making him feel as though the Dursley’s had simply dropped off the face of the planet. He opened one bill from the electrical company, the big red ‘Overdue’ stamp explaining why the electricity had suddenly cut off earlier that week. It was nothing a simply charm couldn’t fix. They now siphoned electricity from Mrs Puttock next door, but it had only increased Harry’s concern.
With great interest Harry removed a thick envelope addressed to his uncle, recognising it as a credit card statement. Upon opening it he scanned through the transactions, mentally keeping track of their expenses which abruptly came to a halt on the third of August. Harry shivered, recognising this as the time period in which he had been held captive. He was correct in his assumption that their disappearance had something to do with his abduction. There was no sign of any transactions after this date, not even evidence of telephone banking. Abandoning the statement he continued rummaging through the tub of mail, coming across one labelled with the name of a doctor.
Tearing that open he read the doctors brief report on the state of his uncle’s health, detailing the heart attack and surgery he had undergone last July. Harry easily recalled this, having said good bye to his family after his uncle had caught him trying to do a runner. Was it the heart attack that had caused their car accident? Or had the car accident caused the heart attack? He would probably never know, but Harry’s concerns for his family only grew as he thought of his uncle’s ill health around the time that they had gone into hiding. They had gone into hiding in August, making it seven months all together.
With this thought Harry dropped the letter back into the tub and quickly left the post office, sparing enough breath to thank the server on his way out. The wind outside had picked up again, and so he tucked his cloak further around himself, slipping his hand into the pocket to touch the Invisibility Cloak and remind himself that it was there. After staying up all night on watch Harry wanted nothing more than to return back to Privet drive and collapse into a deep sleep, but knew it was wishful thinking. Hours of unbroken sleep had evaded him for months.
Setting off in a swift march Harry crossed the quiet street and headed towards the park where he had spent many childhood hours sitting on the swings and kicking the dirt. He paid them no attention as he passed them, finding a secluded area between two trees and pulling the Invisibility Cloak on. He Apparated to Privet drive, arriving on the footpath a few houses down from number four. The soft pop that announced his arrival broke the quiet for only a moment, and it was quickly dismissed by the neighbours. A few cars passed him as he walked under the Invisibility Cloak, the woman across the road returning home from dropping her children at St Grogory’s Primary school. Harry stifled a laugh, recalling the time he had accidentally Apparated onto the school roof when he was being chased by Dudley….and who else?
Arriving in the front yard of number four he passed through the wards with ease and removed the Invisibility Cloak, mentally preparing himself for the barrage of yells and fighting he was sure to encounter. His unscheduled departure was not likely to have gone down well with his friends. He held his breath as he entered the front door, releasing it a little as he found himself alone. Closing the front door, he glanced up the stairs to where he could see the bathroom that held Malfoy, the door closed and the occupant quiet for once. Harry was sick and tired of listening to Malfoy yell, even worse was the barrage of pleading and bargains. Secretly Malfoy’s desperation gave Harry a jolt of superiority, recalling clearly that even at the worst moments Harry never pleaded for mercy or to be released.
With a slight smirk Harry marched down the hallway and dropped his cloaks over the back of a dining chair, ignoring Dumbledore’s Penseive that sat in the centre of the table. He didn’t have time to fret about that today…he needed sleep, not a barrage of unhelpful memories that he had already seen. Turning on the spot, Harry wandered into the kitchen, bracing himself for the onslaught he was about to encounter, but instead finding something entirely unexpected.
Hermione sat at the kitchen table, her face bloodied and bruised as she held a large pack of ice against it. Across the table beside her lay an array of bloodied tissues, and a bloodied shirt that belonged to Ron. At this thought Harry looked across the kitchen to where Ron leant against the kitchen sink, his arms folded tightly and his expression thunderous. His knuckles too were bruised and bloodied, and he was sporting a slightly swollen lip. In utter confusion Harry looked from each of his friends and back to the other again, trying to put the pieces together as Hermione looked up and acknowledged him with a gentle nod. Anger coursed through his veins at the scene before him, and then his mouth and hands were working faster than his brain.
“Did he belt you?” he demanded loudly, looking from Hermione and then to Ron for an explanation.
Looking up at him properly, Hermione shifted the ice pack and glanced to Ron, giving a small nod of confirmation. Harry was outraged, and before he could stop he found himself picking up his Aunt’s nearby blender and hurling towards Ron as hard as he could, feeling satisfied as it smashed loudly across his raised arms.
“Oi!” Ron hollered, streaks of red appearing on his arms as Harry drew his wand. “What the bloody hell are you doing?”
“Did you belt her?” he demanded, raising his wand.
“Harry! Harry wait,” Hermione cried, leaping to her feet and dropping the ice.
“Sit down!” he and Ron both instructed, turning back on each other when she did so.
“It wasn’t me mate!” Ron implored, raising his hands and looking to Hermione for support. “It was him!”
“Who?” Harry said in utter confusion, looking back to Hermione. Without the icepack he could see the bruising extended across her nose and cheek, her left eye swollen and blackened, dried blood smeared from her nose and down to her chin.
“It was Malfoy, not Ron,” she implored, replacing the icepack and lowering her head a little.
“Malfoy…” Harry muttered, realising his mistake. He swore to himself and looked at the ceiling where the bathroom was, lowering his wand as he planned his next move. “What happened?”
“She went to take him some food…we reckon he used wandless magic somehow, maybe weakened the spells and broke through the barrier.”
“I’m lucky you were there.”
Harry swallowed thickly, playing out the attack in his mind’s eye. “Did you deal with him?” he asked Ron.
“Yeah, mate,” he replied, lowering his arms with a sigh and inspecting the small cuts on his forearms. “He won’t be going far…gave him the same smile as mine.”
“Sorry, Ron,” Harry said sincerely, wishing he hadn’t overreacted as he usually did. With a flick of his wand the broken glass from the blender was cleared away in an instant, Ron inspecting all of his injuries with pride.
Ron sighed again. “That’s alright…I would ‘a done the same if you’d belted her…I’d sooner hit my mother than her.”
“You have hit your mother,” Hermione interjected, her voice muffled somewhat.
“Doesn’t count when you’re seven.”
“You put her in St Mungos, not to mention the time you broke Ginny’s leg.”
“That was an accident too.”
“I say it’s a pattern,” Hermione grinned, watching as Harry sat down beside her. “Where’ve you been?”
“None of your business,” he replied shortly, looking her over. “He really had a go at you, didn’t he,” he commented in awe.
She nodded. “He’s getting very desperate, Harry. We need to do something.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably. “We have to wait a bit longer. If we act too soon he’ll resist the Imperious curse, I know it.”
“We’re getting really good though,” she said encouragingly. “All of us are, we just need to keep practicing.”
“Bellatrix taught him Occlumency, he’s good enough to block out Snape. Resisting the Imperious Curse is going to be easy for him.”
She ignored this. “I still won’t accept your other suggestion for controlling him.”
“He’s a mongrel, Hermione!” Ron burst forward. “Look at what he’s done to you!”
“It’s a basic human right,” she continued solidly, looking at the table. “I won’t allow you to do it.”
“Did he consider Harry’s basic human rights?” Ron asked mockingly. “He had no trouble torturing Harry, why shouldn’t we turn it back on him?”
“Because we’re better than that, that’s why!” Hermione shouted, flinching a little as her face smarted. “Ow…”
“Hermione,” Harry began softly, reaching out and taking her hand. “I know what you’re trying to say…but it won’t be bad.”
“You’re not using the Cruciatus on him.”
“We never said we would!” Harry looked to Ron for support, though clearly his friend was content to let him carry on. “We’re just talking, er, a strong Stinging hex. Enough to hurt, and keep him under control. Just enough pain to keep his head confused, and stop him resisting the curse.”
“It’s still wrong,” she replied.
Harry resisted the urge to throw his fist at the table, knowing Hermione never responded well to that. “Then what do you suggest?”
She didn’t reply, looking highly uncomfortable as her lips formed around a suggestion that wasn’t going to come. “I’m not sure,” she said after long consideration.
“Then until you think of some miracle way to control him without pain, then you can call the shots. Until then we do it our way.”
“And what way is that? Huh?” she demanded, throwing down her icepack and getting to her feet. “Are you proposing that the four of us just march on into Gr-”
“Shut up!” Ron hissed in concern, looking towards the ceiling. “You want him to hear?”
She lowered her voice significantly. “All I’m saying, is that we need to act soon…the more desperate he gets the more unmanageable he is. He’s a nightmare already!”
“That’s why we can’t go easy on him.”
“No, I won’t allow you to torture him,” she stated, standing up defiantly.
“Then maybe you should stay behind,” Harry suggested.
Hermione’s glare was enough to melt the ice in her hands, her face reddening. “Well it seems that you’ll do whatever you want, regardless.”
“Well I don’t know about you two,” Ron began brightly, breaking the tension for just a moment. “But Malfoy isn’t getting another scrap of food outta this kitchen.”
Hermione growled, turning around to glare at Ron. “We’ve discussed this…we are better than Death Eaters! We are not going to starve him.”
“Is he still ranting about the information he supposedly has?” Harry asked curiously, seeing where Ron was going with this.
“Even after I broke his nose and knocked out a tooth, he wouldn’t shut up.”
“Then it’s an excellent idea. A few days without something to eat…he’ll be quite chatty.”
“A few days?” was Hermione’s sarcastic response. “How many days without food did you last, Harry?”
“Eleven,” he glared at her. “And if it takes eleven days to find out whether he’s full of Dragon dung, so be it.”
Ron nodded in approval. “I’ve got no problem with starving him, have you?” he asked Harry.
“None at all.”
“Well then. That’s settled,” Ron declared with a smirk. He glanced at Hermione, waiting for her to challenge him.
“Wait…you can’t just decide to starve him!”
“Yes we can. Two against one, you lose.” He and Harry shared a smirk.
Hermione’s glare faded away slowly, replaced by a soft smirk of her own. She folded her arms and stood up straight, moving a few steps closer to Ron. “I said no.”
“Saying no doesn’t work on me,” Ron said stoically, folding his own arms and taking a step back.
“Yes, it will.” She took a step closer.
“No, it won’t. You hear that, Ferret?” Ron shouted, thundering down the hallway and yelling up the staircase to Malfoy. “That was your last meal! I hope you enjoyed licking it off the tiles!”
It was Thursday before Malfoy finally conceded defeat, banging his fist against the drain in the floor to gain their attention. It echoed down throughout the house, driving all three of them insane until Ron finally burst through the bathroom door and told him to shut up. Slumped across the spare bed upstairs Harry listened to what he could hear of the heated exchange, burying his face back into the pillow and praying that he remained undisturbed. The room was warm and blissfully dark, but proper sleep eluded Harry as usual, and he had instead spent the day dozing in and out, providing some relief from his darker nightmares.
To his surprise, the terrors that kept his heart racing throughout sleep had taken a dramatic turn, differing slightly from normal. Instead of only reliving the torture and pain from last August, those moments were now interceded by the strangest thoughts and dreams of those around him. Harry had never felt so confused in his life, awakening most days convinced that Ron bore the Dark Mark also, that his friend was planning to kill him. It made for very awkward encounters in the evenings, Harry trying to bring himself back to reality and not pull back the sleeve on Ron’s forearm, or to accuse Hermione of things she would never do.
At this thought Harry curled up and hauled the blankets over his head, cocooning himself inside. The warmth helped him clear his head as he got comfortable and pulled the blankets close, and he closed his eyes in hope of sleep. It was a useless attempt. His mind was too turned on to sleep, too wrapped up in the mess and tangle that his life was becoming. Focusing on one thing at a time, he concentrated on his friends, knowing that he had been rather difficult to live with for the last few weeks. Perhaps it was their arrival at the Dursley residence that had pushed him too far, but the more likely explanation was the strange thoughts and fears that plagued him.
Harry knew he was hearing things…seeing things even. The upset look on Hermione’s face when he overreacted to an innocent suggestion told him enough. The argument that ensued confirmed it. He should have known better than to allow it to continue for this long, having quickly figured out what was behind his newfound thoughts and hallucinations.
Voldemort was messing with him, again. It was the only explanation that Harry could come up with. There was no way he would suddenly begin to mistrust everyone around him, his fear and paranoia extending even to Sirius and Ginny. Either Voldemort was messing with his thoughts again, or he was finally losing his mind. The latter was more appealing to Harry…he could anticipate better results after a hazy and potion filled stint at St Mungos than attempting to block Voldemort’s advances. Nothing had changed from fifth year when he had tried learning Occlumency, and it was perhaps even harder now to rid his mind of thought in order to protect himself.
Despite this all, Harry was quietly confident that Voldemort did not have access to his own thoughts and memories. He had never been able to possess him for long, and Harry definitely would have noticed the crippling pain. The only confirmation of Voldemort’s presence was the searing pain in his scar, which was now part of a daily pattern. Between that and the Dark Mark burning on occasion, there was usually some amount of discomfort associated with his day.
There was a short knock at his door, making Harry jump. He had been so deep in thought he hadn’t heard the approaching footsteps, or the creak of the staircase as they ascended. He considered ignoring it, after all how could he be sure that he wasn’t hearing things again? How could he be sure of what was real and what was not? He sighed and shook his head at himself, knowing he was being dramatic. There was a short silence until the soft knocks came again, and Harry finally pushed back the covers. “Come in,” he managed, not realising how hoarse his voice was.
The door opened slowly as Hermione looked in on him. The bruising on her face had healed considerably, though her nose and eye still appeared rather swollen. Just as any injury to Ginny was, the marks on Hermione’s face stuck out like an abomination. She smiled at him before looking around the messy room, her eyes narrowing as she gave a soft sigh. Harry had made no fuss about the fact that she and Ron shared his aunt’s room during the night, and as though she remembered this Hermione kept her mouth closed about his mess. “Ron and I want to talk to you, about Malfoy,” she began in a soft whisper. “Downstairs,” she added.
He gave a short nod and pushed himself up onto his elbows, hauling himself out of the warm blankets as Hermione left. Giving a long stretch Harry got to his feet and padded down the hallway, ignoring the slightly ajar bathroom door, though the occupant inside was quiet. They had taken to leaving the door ajar from now on, allowing them to keep a better eye on him and limiting the surprises he could spring. It made for awkward passes, when Malfoy could see exactly who it was and direct his ranting to them in particular, but Harry never looked inside.
“What does he want?” Harry asked when he came down stairs.
“Something…anything,” Ron smirked. “He’s been asking all day.”
“Yeah,” Ron nodded. He glanced uncomfortably at Hermione, who still did not approve of their current treatment of Malfoy. Harry didn’t dwell on her feelings for too long, knowing that she simply didn’t understand.
“He’s gotta give us something back.”
“That’s the problem, he’s still trying to negotiate with us,” Ron gave a dark laugh.
Harry considered this for a moment, thinking hard. With sudden realisation, he realised that he too was starving. Had he had something to eat that morning after he had come off watch? He distinctly remembered the great exhaustion that allowed only enough energy to drag his limbs up the stairs and onto the bed. He hadn’t slept for long though.
“I’m starving,” Harry muttered, feeling a burst of new energy as he got to his feet and marched into the kitchen. “You starving, Ron?”
“Always, mate,” Ron replied slowly, watching him leave with a frown.
As he entered the kitchen Harry could hear Ron following him, and knew Hermione would be close in tow. He opened the fridge, stocked with the bare necessities that they nicked from the corner store or removed from the tent. He removed the packet of bacon and carton of eggs, summoning a loaf of bread and sending a few slices into the toaster.
“Sandwich?” Harry asked casually, gesturing to the ingredients that assembled themselves on the kitchen bench.
“Yeah, mate, that’d be awesome,” Ron said in reverence. “Want me to help?” he asked, though could not disguise the reluctance in his voice.
“Make some coffee, eh?”
“Yeah righto, coffee. ‘Mione?”
“No, thank you,” she replied politely, standing in the doorway.
“Sandwich?” Harry asked, throwing the bacon onto the pan and listening to it sizzle. Was this the pan his Aunt Petunia had tried to belt him with? What had he done that day?
“No, thank you.”
Harry nodded, ignoring her frosty exterior. As Ron busied himself making coffee Harry buttered the toast and charmed them to stay warm, adding more slices to the toaster and cracking three eggs a few minutes later. It all came together quickly, and he even surprised himself when the eggs turned out perfectly. He sipped his coffee and assembled three sandwiches, adding generous amounts of sauce as Ron took out two plates. Cutting the sandwiches, he placed one on Ron’s and one on his own before turning away to retrieve a third plate.
“Hey!” he snapped, rapping Ron over the knuckles as he reached for a portion of the third sandwich. “What’re you doing?”
“What?” Ron managed to garble through his mouthful of toast. He swallowed painfully, his eyes wide. “One and a half each, right? Hermione doesn’t want one.”
“Ron, you completely underestimate me,” Harry smirked, placing the sandwich in question onto the plate. “C’mon.”
He took his plate and the third and left the kitchen, still ignoring Hermione whose face was turning into a darkened frown. Ron followed him into the hallway, stopping short as Harry headed for the stairs instead of the lounge room. Realisation dawned on him, and he paused long enough to ask, “Are you sure mate? I can do this, if you want.”
Harry ignored him too, balancing the two plates as he swept up the stairs and opened the bathroom door. He braced himself for what he would find on the other side, having not physically seen Malfoy at all since the night he had put him in here. He was shocked to find Malfoy sitting in the corner of the bathroom, his knees drawn to his chest as the blanket he had been given lay discarded on the other side of the small area he was allowed. As Ron had promised, Malfoy had come off far worse than Hermione after he attacked her, and the bruises and welts showed clearly against his pasty white face. When he looked up and saw Harry he registered only a brief moment of shock before he completely closed his expressions away, giving him a look of indifference until he saw what Harry carried.
“Malfoy,” Harry greeted him solidly, not knowing what else to say. What did someone say to the person they held captive in their bathroom? “Ron says you’re ready to talk.”
“Negotiate,” he stated after a long moment, his voice stronger than expected. Harry was pleased to see that just as Ron had promised, Malfoy was sporting a broken tooth.
Harry shrugged his shoulders and looked over his shoulder to Ron, who stood in the doorway holding his plate. “Call it what you want,” Harry began, placing the plate onto the bathroom floor just out of Malfoy’s reach through the charms. It looked positively delicious, and Harry couldn’t help but smile as he sat down on the edge of the bathtub and balanced his own on his knee. He placed his coffee on the floor. “But you are in no position to negotiate.”
“I know things,” Malfoy argued, determinedly looking away from the sandwich.
“And I’ve got a bacon and egg sandwich, and plenty of time to wait,” Harry replied. At this he took a bite of his sandwich, his eyes widening in delight. He let Malfoy watch as Harry finished off one half faster than he expected, his eyes constantly darting from him to the sandwich on the floor.
“It’s good, mate,” Ron complimented with a grin.
“Mmmhmm,” Harry murmured. “Almost as good as the ones your Mum makes.
Ron’s eyes widened comically, continuing their little act. “It’s the relish she makes, and the onion.”
“Shit, forgot about onion. She preserves hers, right? In those creepy little jars in the pantry?”
“Next to the jar of treacle.”
“Oh that’s right,” Harry moaned, thinking back to the treacle tart that always left his belt a little tighter than before. “Merlin, I miss that.”
“She knows you sneak golden syrup out of the tin. And the jams…”
“Yeah? She knows it’s you who never offers the last biscuit to her.”
“Well what does she expect? She only makes enough to last the day.”
“I think I could devour one of her roasts right now,” Harry sighed, starting on the other half of his sandwich.
“We could make one,” Ron suggested. “Can’t be hard, right?”
“Stop it,” Malfoy said sharply, doing well to hide the desperation in his voice. “I said I would tell you.”
“Yeah, we know,” Harry replied innocently, turning back to him. “But are you really sure you want to give up so easily? It’s only been…how many days Ron?”
“Three days? Four really, since you were too proud to eat your food off the floor on Monday.”
“Four days, is that all?” Harry questioned with mock curiosity. He turned to Malfoy. “I don’t understand why you’re giving up so easily. Another day or so and you’ll be right.”
“The pain will go,” Harry stated, suddenly uncomfortably aware of Ron’s presence. Why did he have to follow him up? “Another day or so, and your hands will stop shaking, your headache will go away and so will the dizziness.”
Malfoy looked at him in utter astonishment, having described his symptoms perfectly.
“You might even forget about hunger all together…until of course you have to stand up. Then you’re screwed…only this time the pain’s worse.”
Beside him, Ron’s stomach rumbled as though on cue, and Harry laughed. “Go on mate,” he gestured to the plate on the floor. “You know you want another half.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Ron laughed, smirking at Malfoy as he leant down and took one half of his sandwich, making quite a show of the first bite.
“That won’t work,” Malfoy said weakly. As Harry’s had so many times, Malfoy’s body betrayed him, contradicting his words as he gave an involuntary shudder.
“Alright then,” Harry shrugged his shoulders, sitting up straight and reaching for the last portion of Malfoy’s sandwich. Malfoy’s eyes flashed with brief fear, his hand lurching forward a little before he collected himself. Harry smirked openly, hesitating. “Nah…I don’t want it.”
Malfoy looked relieved for half a second, and he edged a little closer to the sandwich as though they were giving in.
“You have it, Ron,” Harry offered politely, relishing in the look on Malfoy’s face. “I’m stuffed.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Ron replied, moving forward and taking the last half. In the brief moment of silence Harry heard the stairs creak, and knew Hermione’s curiosity had gotten the better of her. “There are starving kids in the world after all.”
“Wait,” Harry said sharply, turning to Ron and putting on a mock smile. “We’re nice blokes, right?”
“Yeah mate, always,” Ron replied with a grin, the sandwich halfway to his mouth. Sauce and egg yolk dripped down his finger and onto the plate.
Harry turned back to Malfoy, and gestured to the sandwich. “Have you got something to tell me?”
Malfoy said nothing, glaring at him. For a moment Harry was taken back to their first few years at Hogwarts, when Malfoy tried to threaten people with his father. “You wait until my father hears about this,” echoed through Harry’s head for just a moment.
“I’ll tell you after I’ve had something to eat,” he answered after a long silence, airing the same superiority he was so familiar with.
“There’s no negotiations. Either tell me something worth listening to, or stay hungry.”
Harry shrugged, motioning to Ron that he should go ahead. The low growl that came from Malfoy’s throat sounded murderous, but Harry trusted in Hermione’s wand work. There was nothing Malfoy could do to them except drive them crazy with his yells and rants, and sadly Harry had the feeling that he would have to put up with a renewed course of it. As Ron finished the sandwich Harry and Malfoy stared at each other wordlessly, though he was unable to keep the smirk off his face. A minute or so later Harry and Ron exchanged brief glances, and silently agreed that a few more days without food wouldn’t hurt.
“Well,” Harry began, banishing the now empty plates back to the kitchen. He began to rise. “Don’t let it be said that I’m not concerned for your health…if you’d eaten that sandwich after four days you would have been sick, trust me.”
“Wait! What are you doing?” Malfoy demanded, getting to his feet as Harry and Ron began to leave.
“Negotiating,” Harry replied shortly, pulling the door halfway closed as he stepped out.
“Wait! I know, Potter! Potter!”
“He’s not gonna shut up,” Ron moaned as they trudged down the staircase, disappointed by the outcome.
“I know you shagged Weasley!” Malfoy shouted at the top of his lungs.
Harry froze mid step, and a few steps below him Ron laughed. Harry’s heart stopped.
“Has he got nothing better to come up with?” Ron began, looking back up the stairs. “Harry, what are you doing?”
Already Harry was at the top of the stairs, ignoring Ron as he pushed the door open and stepped inside, trying to maintain a cool façade. On the inside he was completely frozen by what Malfoy had said, and he prayed that he was hearing things again. It couldn’t be…how could he know?
Malfoy smirked at his arrival, standing up straight and smiling. “Got your attention did I?”
“What did you say?” Harry asked solidly.
“What are you doing?” Ron asked in confusion, standing behind Harry.
Harry ignored him, watching Malfoy smirk and slip his hands into his pockets. “I said, I know you shagged her.”
Realisation dawned on Ron, and just like Harry he froze in place, making the same connections.
“You’re full of shit, Malfoy,” Harry began, stepping backwards a little as he felt his control slipping away already. As much as he wanted Malfoy to take back what he had said…Harry knew something had gone terribly wrong.
“Christmas night, you came up to her room even though you were leaving in the morning. She’s got quite some memory of you, Po-”
Harry snapped, losing control and bursting forward in an instant. He was screaming…screaming something. Through the rage and fear he couldn’t hear a single thing, only distantly aware of the pain in his chest and Ron’s hands gripping his arms, holding him back. He wanted nothing more than to wrap his hands around Malfoy’s throat, who was now laughing at him…talking still…breathing when he ought to be dead. Only one thought passed through his mind. Ginny was hurt. She must be…they had her. He had tried to protect her for so long, and the first time he left her she had been hurt…he had done this to her.
Moments later there was sharp pain in the side of his head, Ron all but throwing him up against the bathroom wall in attempt to restrain him. Ron held him there, telling to calm down, promising everything was okay. For a moment Harry wondered if he wasn’t seeing and hearing things again, but the gaping hole in his chest was desperately real.
“Let me go!” he demanded, aware of himself again. He shoved back against Ron, and he conceded, but moved to stand between he and Malfoy.
“What have you done to her?” Harry shouted, trying to shove past Ron again. Malfoy only laughed harder.
“Thought she was safe, did you?” he goaded him. “You just had to leave her at Shell Cottage, you made it so easy for us!”
“Go!” Ron shouted at Harry, shoving him away and pushing him towards the door. “Go, Harry! He’s full of it! He’s lying!”
“He’s not, Ron!” Harry shouted desperately, his voice catching. Why didn’t he understand? Malfoy knew too much that he shouldn’t…he knew where they had left her. “They’ve got her!”
“Go!” Ron pushed him towards the stairs, forcing him to ascend. “Just go! Don’t listen to him!”
He swore, turning and looking to Hermione who stood at the foot of the stairs. He opened his mouth to appeal for her support, but stopped short as she began laughing at him, her lips turned into an unnatural snarl. Spinning around Harry looked up to Ron, whose face was morphing in and out of focus as he withdrew his wand.
“What’s the matter, Harry?” he asked as he twirled the wand around, but the voice was not his. “You look a little…upset.”
Taking control again Harry shoved past Hermione, breathing deeply as he dashed down the hallway and tried to get himself under control.
He spared a glance over his shoulder to Hermione, who appeared to be herself again. He tried to ignore her, bursting into the conservatory and fumbling with the door to get outside.
“Harry, I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
He practically fell outside, and he stumbled to gain his balance in the cold weather as he turned back to Hermione. Behind her stood Ron, who also appeared normal again.
“Just…just,” he managed to force out. “Leave me alone.”
Breathing heavily he stumbled out into the garden, leaving the door open as he sank down into the snow and put his head in his hands, trying to gain control. He knew what was happening. Having sensed his stress Voldemort was acting again; making him see and hear things that weren’t really there. Raising his head he looked back to the house where Ron looked out the kitchen window at him, completely himself.
Harry hauled himself back to his feet, panting as he ran his hands through his hair. For a beautiful moment he wondered if everything he had just heard hadn’t been real, but reality came back far too quickly, and the impact of Malfoy’s words nearly sent him sinking back into the snow. He was sickened by the very thought of something happening to Ginny, and now it had. He had left her, and now she was in trouble. No, more than in trouble. She could be anywhere, with anyone. He pictured her kneeling before Voldemort, bleeding and tortured, and before he could rid the thought he really was sick all over his Aunt’s withered garden.
The cold was helping somewhat, but despite this hot tears spilled down his cheeks at the very thought of her in pain. Swallowing thickly Harry wiped his face on his sleeve and tried to collect himself, uncomfortably aware of how cold his bare feet were. It was sometime before Harry considered himself in control enough to go back inside, hesitantly confident that his time in solitude had warded off further attacks from Voldemort.
Closing the conservatory door behind him, Harry entered the house again, slowly moving into the kitchen where his friends sat at the kitchen table in silence. Ron stared at the table, his face stony as Hermione looked up, sighing with relief when she saw Harry.
“Are you okay?”
Harry folded his arms and didn’t say anything, dimly noting that Malfoy was silent. “Has he said anything else?”
“He wouldn’t want to,” Ron said darkly, still not looking up. “I’ll shut him up permanently.”
Hermione placed her hand over his, squeezing gently before turning back to Harry. “He told me everything.”
“He did?” Harry asked, his stomach sinking as he realised for certain that it had been real. “What did he say?” he added, not entirely sure he wanted to know.
“She’s okay,” she began solemnly. “She’s back at Hogwarts.”
Hermione hesitated, taking a sip of water from the glass before her. “They took her around New Year’s day, but he didn’t say how. I think Bill and Fleur are alright.”
“What did they do?” Harry prompted, trying not to dwell on the fact that it was now the middle of March.
“Took her to the Malfoy’s…kept her there the night and then took her back to Hogwarts…got her new uniforms and everything.”
“And Malfoy? How did he know all that?” Harry asked, desperate for an explanation. “No one knows that stuff, Hermione.”
She shifted in her chair uncomfortably. “Bellatrix hasn’t just been teaching Malfoy Occlumency…she’s taught him Legilimency too. I think he practiced on her for a bit…that’s how he knew all about the two of you.”
“Her memories,” Ron added softly.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
Harry sank down into one of the chairs, staring at the washing machine as he tried to think. “What’s going on at Hogwarts?” he asked, thinking back to their earlier conversations with Malfoy. “Did he say anything about the Carrows?”
“They’re in charge of discipline he reckons.”
Hermione shook her head. “He didn’t say anything about them…but if she’s okay, I doubt she will be for very long.”
“We have to go and get her out of there.”
“It’s a trap for sure,” Ron commented, but there was no hint of disagreement in his voice.
“Of course it is,” Harry agreed. “Why else would they take her back there?”
“What if something happens?” Hermione asked.
Harry shrugged his shoulders as an answer. “We still have to do it.”
Both Ron and Hermione nodded in agreement. They fell into silence from then on, none of them moving from the kitchen table for the hour it took for the sun to begin setting. In the short space of a conversation, everything they thought they knew has been turned upside down.
A/N Hey readers, please review for me! I’ve worked very hard on these upcoming chapters, I hope to get them out to you soon. It’s getting very exciting!
Write a Review Chasing The Inevitable: Chapter 35 Malfoy's Negotiation