Chapter 25 : Vertebrae by Vertebrae
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The voice seemed to come from far away and Draco blinked, realizing he was on the floor. Nott was hovering over him and he held out a hand to help Draco up. Draco quickly sat on a chair, his head swimming with nausea. They were inside an empty room on the fifth floor, a study room reserved for prefects from Slytherin.
"I- what happened?"
"You're kidding me," Nott said. Then he saw Draco's lost look and sighed, "We were talking about your next plan of action when you suddenly slipped off your chair and started shaking. I thought you were dying or something."
Draco nodded grimly, wishing he had died. "Did anything else happen?"
"You were mumbling incoherently."
"You heard nothing that made sense?" he asked, reaching for a small book of runes he had borrowed from the Malfoy Manor's private library three years back.
Nott shook his head. "No. Do you remember anything while you were out?"
"What a question," Draco said with one hand on his forehead. He felt very cold. But then, he did recall something that he refused to divulge. He saw the Dark Lord, his body racked with pain over something failed. He had punished those who were with him. His aunt wasn't there, thankfully, but his uncle was. The Dark Lord had screamed and writhed in agony, demanding that Draco's task be done to end his pain. The Dark Lord had pointed to him...
"Hey, it is possible. You could have some sort of vision," Nott interrupted his trail of thought.
Draco shook his head, resisting the urge to throw up; unaware that Harry Potter had experienced nearly the same thing, only Harry's was far worse.
Harry had awoken an hour later and Madam Pomfrey set out by giving him a potion to reduce his pallor. Ginny, Hermione and Ron were still beside him. He did not remember a thing. He mumbled about his head hurting when asked how he felt. He looked dazed as Ginny talked soothingly to him about what had happened. Hermione sat on a chair beside Ginny, quiet and in deep thought. Professor McGonagall had left the infirmary minutes before he had awoken to set up a meeting with a few Aurors for the following day. Madam Pomfrey sat behind her desk, writing on a ledger a few notes pertaining to Harry's sudden ill health for record purposes.
"You were there?" Harry asked Hermione, trying to focus on her face.
Hermione nodded. "We were talking then you turned around and then you fell to the floor."
"Do you think it was Voldemort?" Harry said, sounding angry but too tired to look the part.
Hermione and Ron shrugged at the same time together. Hermione pursed her lips and told Harry to sleep again. Harry refused.
"What if he's out to get us? Tonight?" Harry began.
"Harry, there have been no confirmed reports of him on the move again. Professor McGonagall's gone to ask help from the ministry, we reckon she wants protection for the school also," Ginny said.
"Harry, are you sure you remember nothing?" Hermione asked.
Harry looked down on the clean white sheets and sighed. "I'm trying. The only thing I can recall was hearing some ear splitting scream, and that's it. I don't remember seeing any face at all."
"I won't be having you stressing Mr. Potter out, now off with you three," Madam Pomfrey said, walking for them and shooing them about.
Ginny squeezed Harry's hand and whispered something in his ear. Hermione patted his hand once as Ron gave him a thumbs-up, telling him he had to be present to fix up the Great Hall for tomorrow. Harry nodded with a smile as Madam Pomfrey gave Harry a stern warning about the need for a proper rest.
"Harry!" Hermione gasped, seeing him walk for the Gryffindor table the following morning.
He looked better than ever, like nothing had harmed him at all. He slipped on the seat, beside Ron and Ron clapped a palm on his back. Hermione was a few seats away from Harry and she quickly moved in to be closer to Harry, keeping in mind to have a good distance away from Ron too. Ginny thankfully sat in between Hermione and Ron. The four of them, including Seamus and Faye kept mum about the incident.
The morning air was abuzz with talk about the ball; the students were to have the afternoon off to ready themselves for it. Even the Slytherins spoke about it, although in hushed tones. Pansy twittered about it though, gushing over something her mother had sent her from her last trip to France. She passed long glances to Draco as she spoke to her female cohorts.
Draco paid no attention; he was absentmindedly drinking juice as Blaise bragged on with his planned conquest or conquests for the night. He nodded once in awhile, looking withdrawn and only Nott seemed to notice this. Well, of course, he was the only one who knew what Draco was going through. The day seemed to pass by too quickly for Draco, and although he looked calm, he was apprehensive underneath. To his horror, the last two lessons of the morning were over by eleven-thirty. He walked slowly among the throng when he spotted Professor McGonagall welcoming four older looking people among the students.
His eyes widened a bit. He recognized these people from the newspaper. Aurors. Kingsley Shacklebolt was there, along with Proudfoot, Savage and Williamson. McGonagall stood; her lips pursed and then she led them to a staircase heading for her office. Draco saw Kingsley glance at him and Draco felt his jaw set, his eyes defiant. It lasted only a second.
Draco shook his head, determined not to let the plans spoil. He had to get out of Hogwarts and get to Hogsmeade without anyone seeing him. Walking for the nearest exit, Draco found himself on the Quidditch class grounds, the snow up to his ankles. No one was around. He walked for Hogsmeade straight away.
Harry looked at the grim faces before him and knew he was in for a long talk. Hermione and Ron were with him, quietly standing before the Aurors and Professor McGonagall. Professor McGonagall began to explain the need for further protection and Auror presence.
"We'll set up additional barriers tonight," Shacklebolt said in his baritone voice. He turned to face Harry and asked, "Do you recall anything at all?"
Harry shook his head and felt defeated. "I'm sorry sir. I've racked my brain to try and remember something at least; I just keep remembering someone howling in pain..."
"You won't cancel the ball, Professor?" Ron spoke up.
McGonagall pursed her lips once more. She cleared her throat. "I have taken the liberty to ask for aid from the Ministry. Thus, if there is no news of immediate danger until four in the afternoon tomorrow, the ball may push through."
"I'd like to see the Death Eaters crash into an adolescent party," Savage snickered.
The two other Aurors laughed, but Kingsley didn't.
He shot a glare at the three younger Aurors and cleared his throat as well, facing Hermione. "I have been told you were Head Girl this school year. I request that you have your prefects on alert and that they take turns scouting the nearest grounds surrounding the First Floor of Hogwarts, they will of course report to us once in awhile. After our shift, we will be sending another batch of Aurors at dawn."
"Even the Slytherins?" Ron said with a gasp.
Kingsley's brow rose. "Why young man? Does it affect Hogwarts' overall protection by telling Slytherin prefects to guard their own school?"
Harry stepped in. "Sorry, Sir. There have been certain biases with the current situation. You see, Slytherin hasn't been of much...they're not in good terms with any of the houses other than themselves."
"It's still on, eh?" Williamson chimed in. He was a man in his early thirties with a shock of orangey-red hair. "I was in Hufflepuff back in the day and it was war I tell you, one time I cast a flaming-ear hex on one of those Slytherin bas-"
Professor McGonagall loudly cleared her throat.
Williamson stopped and grinned. "Sorry ma'am. Just a little trip down memory lane. You do remember no one was particularly close to anyone from Slytherin."
McGonagall stopped in place. It was true. As far as she could remember. She sighed and eyed the three youngsters before her. The youngsters, who had defied every set of rules imaginable, defied every reason to die. Harry Potter no doubt, lent his greater fighting and surviving spirit to the young lass and the red headed lad. She recalled the young boy walking into the halls of the castle, green eyes in awe of the magic present. He was so small and nearly defenceless, but he had proved himself a warrior in his own right. From first year all the way up to now, he still had the same determined spirit. She would die before someone would lay a hex on any of her students, even those from Slytherin. Slytherin wasn't bad, she thought, although some seemed misunderstood and lacked the proper guidance...
"Professor?" Kingsley interrupted her. "Would it be alright if we started sweeping the hallways clear?"
She nodded and the Aurors left, the three younger ones stayed in her office, dumbfounded by the sudden turn of events.
"Alright Mr. Potter, I want no heroic actions from you tonight or tomorrow, not until this matter is settled," McGonagall said sternly.
"Will it ever get settled, Professor?" Harry asked her in a bitter tone.
Hermione tugged on Harry's sleeve, as if to reprimand him for asking Professor McGonagall that question. "I'm sorry Professor, Harry needs more rest," Hermione said, quickly holding onto Harry's arm and leading him out.
Ron followed. "Excuse us, ma'am," Ron mumbled.
Hermione shoved Harry into an empty classroom and Ron sat beside Harry. Harry's face was distraught and angry at the same time. Weak sunlight filtered into the room, dust danced in the air, setting an atmosphere of gloom in everyone's faces.
"You shouldn't talk like that," Hermione told him.
"Talk like that? I was stating the obvious. It won't end unless one of us dies-"
"And that has to be him, not you!" Hermione said ardently.
Ron nodded. "She's right, mate. Best be thankful Auror presence is here."
Hermione pursed her lips and avoided looking at Ron. She bent down and touched Harry's clenched fist. "Harry, you know that you're going to need all the help you can get-"
"At the cost of other people's lives?" Harry began. "We've lost more than a fair share of the Wizarding population because of me. If he wants to have a battle, let him come, he-"
"The point is to protect everyone. I promise I'll do my part," Hermione told him. "Now, keep your chin up. I'm sure Ginny will be worried if you keep up with that long face of yours."
"Hermione- what if he's out to get something that belonged to Dumbledore?" Harry suddenly spoke up.
Hermione stopped in place. Last summer, she, along with Harry and Ron had received heirlooms from the deceased Dumbledore. She had racked her brains out, trying to understand the connection between Voldemort, the book and Harry. She knew Dumbledore had been buried with his wand and she had assumed it might have been the Elder Wand. But of course, this had to be proven. The book Dumbledore gave her was safe in Gringott's, as was Harry and Ron's heirlooms.
"Harry," Hermione said, her heartbeat elevating considerably, "What if Voldemort's after the wand in Professor Dumbledore's tomb?"
Harry's eyes widened and so did Ron's. "So he's trying to break into school to steal a wand?"
"Dishonorable prick," Ron said.
"But he can't yet," Harry said, excitement coursing through him now. "He's too weak; his scream must've been the one I've heard. He needs something else to break into Hogwarts, no one else can do it, and I'm sure, not even his strongest Death Eater can break into Dumbledore's tomb barriers. He needs something to make him stronger then taking whatever it is will be as easy as-"
"Harry, you do realize you're making theories up," Ron said.
"Plausible theories!" Harry answered. "What do you think Hermione? Haven't you noticed anything strange lately? We all know Dumbledore's tomb was sealed for protection by the Ministry. They sent the greatest Aurors just to protect his tomb, they had no knowledge that his wand just might be the wand that Voldemort needs, but Voldemort, maybe; just maybe he got wind of it. Don't you see? He wants that wand, he needs something to break into it, that's why there's been news of Death Eater sightings close to Hogwarts-"
"Harry!" Hermione held her hands up to stop him from rambling on. Harry stopped and took a breath.
"Alright, Harry," Hermione continued, "Then if your theory might be true, how can you fight against him when you're-"
"Lacking power? I don't intend to steal Dumbledore's wand at all, I want to protect it from him. If Voldemort gains access into Hogwarts and steals the wand inside his tomb..."
"Woah," Ron said, incredulous from Harry's talk. "Harry, if this theory is plausible, shouldn't we at least tell someone else? Professor McGonagall or the Aurors, at least."
Harry took another breath. "I'm telling them tomorrow then. You have to help me figure things out, Hermione, Ron."
And they stayed inside the empty classroom until the clock struck three and Hermione remembered she was supposed to meet Ginny. They had discussed the theory for three solid hours, forgetting lunch.
"Hermione," Harry called out as she was halfway through the door. "Please don't say anything to Ginny."
Hermione nodded and then excused herself and quickly walked to meet Ginny, leaving Harry and Ron in the classroom to discuss the presumption further.
He was having another slow day, not one person came into his shop the past three days and he was muttering about how he shouldn't have sold that little trinket that supposedly brought his grandfather some luck back in the day- when the door's bell rang, signalling a customer. Quickly, the aging, thin man, who resembled the look of a mad scientist with a shock of white hair, brushed his hair with his hands and smoothed over his fading shirt.
"Afternoon, lad," he said in a raspy voice. "What can I do you for?"
The young man was pale and tall, no doubt of rich upbringing, obvious from his boots of expensive leather, to his dark cape. He had on a snobbish bearing on his chin and his hands were covered in black leather gloves.
"I'm looking for something," Draco began. "A trinket actually. A friend of mine came here once and told me she found a rather nice looking pendant with a green gemstone."
"Green gemstone? Why, I sold that last year! To a young lady, I believe she was from Hogwarts." "Oh," Draco said, looking disappointed. "I had wanted to get a green pendant for myself."
"Sorry laddie. I actually miss the pendant too."
Draco gave a short laugh. "Like how you miss a person?"
"Exactly!" the old man guffawed.
"Why, well see here boy, tha' trinket has brought my family a fair amount of luck, I believe." "Luck?" Draco said, sounding interested. "How did you get that trinket, by the way? I'm actually beginning to feel sorry I missed out on something like that."
"Well," the man said enthusiastically, "My great-grandfather got this from a fairy market; you know back in the day, they used to have those travelling fairs."
Draco smiled thinly. He had recalled Hermione's story on how he'd gotten the trinket.
"Really?" Draco said. "How lucky of your great-granddad to have something as exquisite as that..."
"Mighty exquisite pendant if you ask me."
"Might I ask why you're lying?" Draco followed.
The man's mouth froze in place. "What? What do you mean by lyin'? I am not making that story up. And how dare you accuse me of lying when you haven't even bought anything!"
Draco fished out for the pendant he had hidden underneath the layer of clothing. It dangled heavily on the chain, like the weight had doubled in the last few days. Draco smirked and eyed the shopkeeper.
"You have it!" the man said in a strangled voice. "I don't understand... what do you want from me? Do you want more? I have nothing else of that, I-"
"How did you get by this pendant?" Draco asked, finally twirling his wand once in his hand. "Like I said, at the fairy market, my great grandfather bought it from a gypsy-"
"That's not the same story you told my friend."
"Her?" he laughed nervously. "I thought I was doing myself a favor to be off with that thing! No one's been interested in buying that in the years since I've managed this place. Even my father, bless his soul- and grandfather didn't have enough of luck to sell that!"
"Alright," Draco said. "I believe we'll do this the hard way... Crucio."
A/N: Thank you for your reviews.^^
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