Chapter 1 : Snatched
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“Run, Griphook!” he urged the goblin.
Surprisingly, Griphook didn’t move. The only explanation was fear; Dean had learnt enough of goblins in the recent months to know that no sense of loyalty to a human would keep them from saving themselves. That wouldn’t stop Dean trying his best to protect him, of course. He was a Gryffindor – it was in his blood.
He raised his wand. The thin piece of wood was his only remaining connection to the wizarding world, the last proof that his distant memories of Hogwarts were actually real. And it was his only defence now against the approaching attack.
The Snatchers’ faces were familiar to him; they had haunted his dreams for weeks. They were the same faces that had borne down on him as he had chased through the New Forest a fortnight ago. They were the same faces that had been responsible for the murders of Ted, Dirk, and Gornuk.
He knew, when he and Griphook had evaded them the first time that the band of Snatchers would be sure to hunt them down again. Dean’s name was on the Wanted list; he had no proof of any magical blood in his family. Of course, they weren’t sure at the moment of who he was, but he’d been travelling with other runaways, and that would be enough to prove his guilt. His capture would earn the Snatchers a tidy sum from the Muggle-Born Registration Commission; the runaway goblin might be worth a galleon or two as well. That was their aim, normally: capture. Their prey was worth nothing to them dead. It was only because the five of them had decided to fight last time that the others had been killed – something which Dean still felt incredibly guilty for.
Since their escape, Dean and Griphook had been constantly on the move, never staying in the same place for more than a day. They were unlikely companions, but there had been an unspoken decision to continue travelling together. Despite the evidence to the contrary, they still felt that there was safety in numbers. The two had chosen the forest as their refuge, and had just pitched the tent and started the campfire, resting from the chase.
But now there was nowhere left to run.
Only two of the Snatchers held their wands, but the others would be quick enough to draw theirs. Dean had seconds to even up the fight.
“Stupefy!” he shouted. “Petrificus totalus! Expelliarmus!”
He had been lucky; his Stunner had hit one of the five square in the chest, and he toppled over backwards. It was four against two now – or against one, because Griphook still seemed incapable of movement. Dean wanted to tell the goblin to run again, but there was no time. The remaining four were advancing, shooting hexes of their own at him. He had just enough time to cast a Shield Charm before the unmistakable form of Fenrir Greyback cast a curse in his direction.
Seeing the purple light streaking towards them, Griphook came to his senses. As Dean had expected, the goblin turned on his heel and ran. But he miscalculated the direction, and, running from the protection of Dean’s shield, was hit by a spell and dropped to the ground, unconscious.
Shield Charm almost shattered, Dean ducked behind the nearest tree. One of the Snatchers had stopped to bind Griphook, but that still left three attacking Dean.
More flashes of light hit the dark trees around him. A spell hit a branch ten feet away, causing it to fall to the ground with a resounding crash. There was a yell and then sudden silence; even the heavy footsteps had stopped. Dean held his breath, realising that the slightest sound would give him away.
A twig broke.
A bellow of rage echoed through the forest, indicating that it had been a Snatcher who made the noise, giving himself away. A responding snarl from Greyback confirmed it, and Dean chanced casting another spell around the tree before leaving his hiding place and running further into the trees.
It was the wrong decision. Although the thick trunks afforded him some cover, he was still too close to the treeline for his figure to be lost in the darkness, and now the four conscious Snatchers recommenced the chase. He caught a brief glimpse of Griphook, bound in snaking ropes and left lying face-down on the earth where he had fallen.
The Snatchers were closing in, approaching him from different directions. Dean was exhausted; he had eaten little for weeks, and his urgent steps were slowing. It was a miracle he had survived this long on the run – an unqualified wizard still supposed to be in school. He’d never have even had a chance if it hadn’t been for the DA lessons he’d attended back in fifth year, and all the extra duelling practice he and Seamus had done when they had realised that war was really coming and they would have to fight.
Thinking of his friends renewed Dean’s energy. There was no way he was going to give up; he was a Gryffindor. His pace quickened and he shouted a curse through the trees at an oncoming Snatcher. But another voice echoed his, and then, suddenly, everything went black.
Dean awoke to the foul stench of hot breath on his face. Fluttering open, his eyes recognised the scarred visage of Fenrir Greyback hovering over him, a hungry grin stretched across his features.
“Greyback!” called another of the Snatchers in an authoritative tone. “Leave him be. He’s not worth anything to us dead. The Ministry won’t give us gold for a kid you’ve half eaten.”
Reluctantly, the werewolf heaved himself onto his feet, eyes trained on Dean and never once leaving his prey as he backed away. Noticing the tight ropes cutting into his skin, Dean felt rather like a bird waiting to be plucked and stuffed for a feast.
Suddenly, someone grabbed hold of Dean’s hair and yanked him up by it; the searing pain clouded his vision for a couple of minutes. When he was able to see again, he realised that they hadn’t moved from their previous surroundings. The fading embers of the fire he had started last night burnt beneath the dawning day, and Dean could see Griphook propped against a tree with blackened eyes and a bloody gash across his cheek. He didn’t particularly like the goblin, but that didn’t prevent the pang of guilt he suffered seeing him captive as well.
“So you’re awake, filth? Care to tell us who you are?”
Meeting the speaker’s eyes, Dean remained resolutely silent.
Sensing his defiance, a boot swung out and kicked him in the stomach, causing him to double over, struggling for breath.
“Let me deal with him, Scabior. You’ll see I get answers quickly enough,” begged Greyback.
“No!” Scabior replied sharply. “Listen, boy. You give me your name and blood status now or you’ll find I’m not as reluctant to let Fenrir take a couple of bites. Capiche?”
“Smith. Dean Smith,” he lied, gasping as he received another blow to his side.
“Good, it’s in your best interests to co-operate. Check him on the list, Warrington,” Scabior added to another of the group. “Now, blood status?”
“Oh, we don’t much like those Gryffindors here. Now, have you got proof of who you are?”
Dean shook his head. His wand had been taken from him, but even if he had still been in possession of it, there would have been no chance of conjuring any identifying material with so many hostile eyes on him.
“No Dean Smith on ‘ere, Scabior. Found a Dean Thomas, though. Muggle-born. Gryffindor ‘ouse. Truant from ‘ogwarts.”
“Dean Thomas? That’s interesting. It seems to me that you fit that description rather well, Mudblood.”
“We ain’t got no proof, Scabior.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll round of a few more and then take them to the Ministry to see what we can get for them. Even if Dean here isn’t a Mudblood, he was travelling with two of them. That’s enough to earn us a few galleons, at least.”
“What will the Ministry do with us?” Dean asked finally, trying and failing to hide the fear from his voice.
Fenrir noticed; Dean wondered if he could smell fear in the same way animals could.
“Are you scared, boy? I don’t blame you. It’ll be Azkaban for you, with the Dementors. I imagine they’ll take kindly to a young man like you.”
Unable to help himself, Dean shivered. He’d had enough experience of Dementors to last a lifetime when they had guarded the school against Sirius Black. It was impossible to forget the fear that had wound through his veins, holding his heart in an icy grip. And the memories it had brought back; a little boy left alone in his room, clutching a teddy bear and crying for a father he would never see again…
“Of course, if you’d rather, I could end it for you now. Just a couple of bites; it won’t hurt. Not at all,” Fenrir growled softly.
As scared and weak as he was, Dean wasn’t about to acquiesce to Greyback’s offer. There was so much he had suffered through to get here, and he refused to let that go to waste now. Shaking his head violently, Dean brought Scabior’s attention to the two of them.
“Greyback, get over here!” the Snatcher ordered. Scowling, the wolf complied, joining his companions in destroying the traces of the camp.
Minutes later, Dean found his temporary peace ended when the burly Warrington latched his hand onto the ropes binding him. They turned, and with the familiar suffocating sensation, the group disappeared into the darkness.