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Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Chapter 4

Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Author: Kroki Refur
Pairing: None
Genre: Action/Drama
Rating: R
Summary: Sixth year, and Harry's back at Hogwarts, but how can it be like it was? NEWTs and even Quidditch pale into insignificance, with Sirius gone and the horizon dark with war. Familiar faces turn up in unexpected places, and then there's the small matter of Malfoy... Drama a-plenty, and maybe an apocalypse or two to come.
Warnings: Language; violence.

Chapter 1 here.
Chapter 2 here.
Chapter 3 here.

I hope posting this here so soon isn't overkill, but since I'd finished it it seemed foolish not to. The rule is only two pieces a week, right eryn_?

Also, I thought I should mention that this chapter is pretty long -- 8-9000 words.



Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Beta-ed?: No

Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Chapter Four: Things Fall Apart


Lupin sighed and stared out of the window of Dumbledore's office. The gibbous moon shone down from a cloudless sky, bright enough that it seemed he could make out every blade of grass from the castle to the lake – and perhaps he could; he had had sharp eyes ever since he had been bitten. It was beautiful, he thought dully, but it made him feel cold. Shivering, he turned back to the fire and the circle of strained faces, but found no warmth to comfort him there.

"This simply confirms what I said all along," Snape was saying, for what seemed to Lupin to be the thousandth time. "Draco must have been kidnapped."

"Yes, Severus, we've been through this already," McGonagall said, passing a hand across her face in weariness. "But whether Malfoy and Potter were spirited away by the same agency or not, it brings us no closer to finding them."

Lupin felt his mind begin to drift again. They had been arguing back and forth for hours, ever since he had burst into Dumbledore's office in a panic after hearing Ron and Hermione's news. He had somehow hoped that Dumbledore could make it all all right, the way he always did; but the grave look on his face now reminded Lupin painfully that the time when the old wizard had seemed omnipotent to a young outcast boy was long gone. He was responsible for cleaning up his own mess now. And this mess... this mess made him feel nauseous and desperate. Some guardian you make, said Sirius' voice in his head. I would have been better off leaving him in the care of Voldemort and cutting out the middle man. And he was right, Lupin knew he was right, and the knowledge was a twisting knife in his guts. But this was no time for self-pity; Harry was lost, and it was Lupin's duty to find him. But how on Earth could he do that?

His reverie was interrupted by Dumbledore rising suddenly from the chair where he had been sitting listening. "Someone requires our attention," he said mysteriously, and went to the door of the office. A moment later, he reappeared, shepherding a pair of ferociously babbling children. Ron and Hermione.

"...and then we saw it move and he's in Derbyshire Professor..."

"...and I'm going to break his face when I get my hands on him..."

Dumbledore held his hands up with a gentle smile, and both children fell silent at once. Lupin leaned forward, feeling their excitement begin to infect him.

"Miss Granger," Dumbledore turned to Hermione. "I take it you think you have succeeded in locating young Master Potter?"

Hermione nodded, then glanced around the room slightly nervously. "I- We did a Locator Spell-" she started, but Snape cut her off.

"I tried a Locator Spell myself earlier today, Professor," he said, "and I assure you that if Miss Granger believes she has located Mr. Potter in that way then she is performing the spell incorrectly." He shot Hermione a nasty look, and she straightened and drew back her shoulders.

"Not Harry," she said. "Draco."

Snape looked like he was about to say something else, but Dumbledore raised a hand to cut him off, and he subsided with an ugly scowl.

"You have located Master Malfoy?" the old wizard asked, as if he were simply curious.

Hermione nodded vigorously, and pulled something out of her pocket. "Here's one of his hairs," she said, handing the invisible thread to Dumbledore.

Snape was on his feet now. "Oh yes, Miss Granger? How precisely did you come by one of Mr. Malfoy's hairs? I can presume you were not in the habit of removing them from his head before he disappeared?"

He was staring at her with a mixture of suspicion and annoyance, and Hermione shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. Lupin saw Ron step forward and open his mouth, and decided it was time to forestall the inevitable confrontation.

"Yes, well," he said, rising to his feet with as much cheerfulness as he could muster, "if that's all, I think some of us would be best off going to bed." He gave Ron a hard stare, and the boy flushed slightly and closed his mouth. "That is all, isn't it Ron? Hermione?"

Hermione nodded determinedly. "That's all." She looked up at Dumbledore. "Will you do the spell, Professor?"

Dumbledore smiled kindly down at her. "I certainly will, Miss Granger. But for now, Professor Lupin is correct. It is time you children were in bed."

Ron and Hermione exchanged glances, then turned to leave.

When they had gone, Snape shook his head. "You know I performed a Locator Spell for Draco as soon as we knew he was missing, Albus," he said, sounding aggrieved. "The Granger girl is as arrogant as ever to think that only she would think of such a thing."

Dumbledore stared at the hair he held between his thumb and forefinger thoughtfully. "He had been blocked, had he not, Severus?" he asked.

Snape nodded. "Granger must have mixed the potion wrong," he said.

"Or the block has been removed," McGonagall put in. "There can be no harm in trying, Albus."

"My thoughts exactly," Dumbledore said. "Severus, if you would be so kind as to prepare the potion?"

Lupin sat back into the chair with a sigh. Outside, the moon shone beautiful and cold as ever; but inside, he was warmed by a ray of hope.

-----

Bitter disappointment flooded Lupin's heart as the silvery spot began to flash in Wiltshire.

"As I suspected," Snape said coldly. "He's still blocked. It's only showing Narcissa."

"There's no way that could be Draco?" Lupin asked half-heartedly, though he already knew the answer.

Snape shot him a contemptuous look. "It never ceases to amaze me that you were permitted to become a teacher at this school. Any seventh-year schoolboy knows that a flashing marker appears in the absence of the required person, and indicates the location of their closest family member. In this case, it would have to be Narcissa, since Lucius Malfoy has been blocked ever since he escaped from Azkaban."

Lupin closed his eyes, too tired even to respond to Snape's insults. He shouldn't have allowed himself to hope... and yet, sometimes in the past the knotty problems that had flummoxed both himself and all the adults in the Order had been solved by the clear sight of children. Was it such a stretch to imagine this might be one of those times? But it wasn't, he reminded himself. We're still at square one, and God only knows what's happening to Harry right now.

-----

"What d'you mean, your wand?" Malfoy asked with some suspicion, staring at Harry. "How did it get in here?"

"I don't know," Harry replied, still staring at the slim length of wood in his hand. It hadn't been there when he had inspected the cell for possible escape routes earlier, of that he was sure. But then how could it have got in? And could they get out the same way?

"Come on then, Potter!" Malfoy's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"What?" he asked sharply.

The other boy raised an eyebrow and jerked his right hand forward so that the heavy chain connecting it to the wall clanked dully. "Any time in the next five years," he said. "I'm in no rush."

"Oh," Harry said, feeling foolish. He raised the wand and flicked it. "Alohomora."

Nothing happened.

Harry frowned, and tried again. louder this time. "Alohomora!"

Still nothing.

Malfoy's shoulders slumped slightly, but his face revealed nothing but a slight sneer. "You know, I've often wondered how you managed to get into Hogwarts. Most wizards can tell their wand from any old stick they find lying around."

"It is my wand," said Harry, perplexed. He knew it was; he could feel the familiar power in it thrumming along his arm. He turned to the enchanted wall. "ALOHOMORA!" he cried. But the result was no more encouraging than the first two times.

"They must have magically sealed it," Malfoy said, looking at the metal cuff around his right wrist in a disgruntled way.

"No," said Harry. "I would have felt something. The spell's just... not working."

Malfoy was silent for a moment, then extended his left hand. "Let me try," he said.

Harry shrugged and handed over the wand. Malfoy inspected it for a moment, then raised it with a slight flick of his wrist. "Avada Kedavra!"

Harry felt his stomach lurch, and he threw himself instinctively to the floor; but the jet of green light that exited the wand wasn't aimed at him. Instead, it hit a fly on the other side of the cell; the tiny insect dropped out of the air like a stone.

"Looks like it's working fine to me," Malfoy said with a smug grin.

Harry picked himself up, feeling somewhat sheepish. "Where did you learn to do that?" he asked accusingly.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "Oh come on, Potter, everyone can do that. Don't tell me you've never tried an Unforgivable Curse?"

Harry remembered the Department of Mysteries and Bellatrix Lestrange's mocking voice. You have to mean it. "No," he said, flushing slightly. "They're illegal."

Malfoy snorted with laughter. "Come off it, you moron! If you'd been paying any attention in Dark Arts this term you would already know the Killing Curse. Ivanov practically wrote instructions on the board! And he's right; how are you supposed to defend yourself if you don't even know as many spells as the enemy?"

Harry stared at him in astonishment, which seemed to give Malfoy a fit of the giggles.

"My God, you really are that self-righteous, aren't you, Potter? And I thought it was all an act. But I can't believe your father didn't even-" he stopped, then frowned. "Oh, except your father-"

Harry felt his fists clench at his sides, and he took a step forward. "Don't you say anything about my father," he ground out.

Malfoy stared at him, and a look of fear flashed across his face. Then it was replaced by a slight smile.

"Now, now, Potter," he said. "I think you've forgotten who's holding the wand."

And he pointed it at Harry's heart.

-----

"...didn't tell us anything we didn't already know."

Lupin suddenly became aware that Snape had stopped just outside the door of Dumbledore's office and was glaring at him, as if expecting an answer. He wondered what the question had been; given that it was Snape, though, it shouldn't be to work out.

"They were only trying to help, Severus," he said, feeling bone-weary.

Snape snorted. "Always so quick to the defence," he said, each word like a bullet. "It's lucky for us Dumbledore isn't quite as blind as you, or we might be off on a wild-goose chase looking for Draco now. Those Gryffindor brats have been pulling the wool over your eyes since you met them. All their meddling ever does is cause more trouble. Mind you," he leaned closer to Lupin, his eyes glittering in the torchlight, "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You've never had very good taste in companions."

Lupin stiffened, Sirius flooding back into his mind. Then he sighed. He didn't want to argue with Snape; he just wanted to get the Wolfsbane Potion and get back to 12, Grimmauld Place, before the meeting started. The other members of the Order were due to arrive any time now, and Lupin was hoping against hope that somehow, one of them would be able to help. "Let's just get the potion, shall we," he said, trying to keep his voice neutral.

Snape's mouth curved upwards slightly at the corners; he had won. "Of course," he said, and swept away down the steps towards the dungeons. Lupin followed with a heavy sigh.

-----

Behind them, the corridor was silent and dark. Then Hermione pulled the Invisibility Cloak from her head, and stared at Ron in horror.

"They're not going to go," she whispered frantically. "Why aren't they going to help Harry?"

Ron shook his head with an ugly scowl. "It's got to be something to do with Snape. You heard him. Lupin was on our side, but Snape vetoed it. Maybe he's working with Malfoy."

"You always think that, Ron," Hermione pointed out.

"Oh yeah? Well you explain it then? It's like Dumbledore doesn't even want to help Harry!"

Hermione bit her lip and was silent. After a moment, Ron took a deep breath.

"Well, I s'pose it's up to us then," he said grimly.

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked with an anxious frown.

"We can't just leave Harry there. We've got to go and rescue him." Ron's mind was made up. He started off down the corridor, but Hermione grabbed his arm.

"Ron! We can't! We're not powerful enough... And we promised Professor Lupin."

Ron shrugged her off angrily, and turned to glare at her. "You don't have to come if you don't want," he said, "but there's no way I'm leaving Harry to deal with Malfoy on his own." And without another word, he turned and strode off.

Hermione stared after him for a moment, her eyes wide. Then she broke into a run to catch up.

-----

Harry stood very still, every nerve screaming, and readied himself to dive out of the way. "The Killing Curse doesn't work on me," he said, very carefully. "That was what did for Voldemort in the first place." He hoped Malfoy was as much in the dark about his abilities to resist the curse a second time as he was.

Malfoy stared at him for a long moment, and utter silence fell. Then he gave a laugh that sounded more nervous than amused, and lowered the wand.

"You didn't really think I would do it, did you, Potter?" he asked, making a brave attempt at a sneer. "Right now you're my ticket out of here. Alohomora," he said, flicking the tip of the wand towards the cuff on his right wrist.

Nothing happened. Malfoy frowned. "Alohomora," he repeated imperiously. The cuff stayed stubbornly closed.

"It's not just me, then," Harry said, stepping forward to take the wand back and trying to ignore the slightly shaky feeling in his legs. But Malfoy lifted the wand again sharply.

"You don't think I'm going to let you have it back, do you?" he asked incredulously.

"What?" Harry was nonplussed. "Why not?"

Malfoy stared at him in astonishment, then raised his fingers to his swollen lip. "You may have everyone else fooled into thinking you're a big hero, Potter," he snarled, "but I know the truth. Let's just say I need some... insurance."

Harry stared at him in horror. "What do you mean? I would never..."

But he didn't finish the sentence, because Malfoy's glare said the same thing as the accusing voice in his head. </i>But you did! But you did.</i>

He sat down suddenly, feeling exhausted. "I'm not like that," he said, very quietly. "I'm a Gryffindor."

"Oh, so what? You get a free halo on initiation?" Malfoy shook his head. "Just give it up, Potter. You're not getting the wand back."

Harry would have answered, but he saw Malfoy's pale eyes widen as they saw something behind him, and then there was a sharp pain in the back of his head, and darkness.

-----

The sun still hadn't risen when Ron and Hermione left the castle under the cover of the Invisibility Cloak. The night was very cold, and the stars still shone down pitilessly in the Western sky, making Hermione feel very alone. Dewdrops fell glittering from the grass as they passed, and the silent trees of the watchful forest were swathed in mist.

"We've got to get a decent way from the grounds before we catch the bus," she muttered to Ron. "Otherwise the driver will be suspicious."

"Right," Ron agreed. "We can walk down past Hogsmeade to the Muggle village a few miles over. It's probably better to wait till light as well, so it doesn't look too weird."

As they exited the grounds, Hermione glanced back at the lightless bulk of the castle against the sky, and shivered.

-----

Harry awoke with a vicious headache, face down on the gritty flagstone floor. He struggled into a sitting position and winced slightly, holding his head.

"What was that all about?" he muttered. There was no answer. "Malfoy?"

But Malfoy was asleep, or unconscious, his chin resting on his chest, still propped up against the wall. Harry watched him for a moment, feeling his stomach begin to growl with hunger and half wishing he hadn't given away the bowl of unidentified liquid. Then he noticed something: Malfoy wasn't holding the wand.

He was on his feet immediately, casting around. Where was it? It didn't take long to locate it: some six feet away from Malfoy by the cell wall. He picked it up in relief, then frowned; how had it got there? Had Malfoy thrown it away? He turned to look at the other boy, and saw grey eyes watching him intently.

"You're awake," Harry said.

"Nothing escapes you, does it, Potter," Malfoy replied bitterly, not taking his eyes off the wand.

"What happened?" Harry asked.

Malfoy shrugged slightly. "Some thugs came in, whacked you on the back of the head and Stunned me," he said shortly. "That's all I know."

Harry walked over to the opposite wall and sank to the floor, rubbing the lump on the back of his head and feeling exhausted. He had been in this cell for what felt like days, but he was no closer to getting out than he had been when he first arrived. Fishing the shard of mirror out of his pyjama pocket, he experimented, calling Hermione's name a few times, but he heard nothing but a crackly sound almost like static. Sighing, he put it away again, and became aware that Malfoy was still watching his every move.

"Oh, stop that," he snapped. "I'm not going to do anything to you."

Malfoy raised one eyebrow slightly, but was silent. Harry began to feel uncomfortable.

"I'm not like..." He stopped. I'm not like you. That's what he had been about to say, but somehow it didn't seem like that was going to win Malfoy over. "I'm not like that," he finished lamely.

"You could have fooled me," Malfoy said quietly.

"Well look, if you hadn't provoked me," Harry started vehemently, then stopped as he saw Malfoy flinch slightly. "I'm not like that," he said again.

Malfoy snorted. "I don't know why you feel the need to justify yourself to me, Potter," he said. "We're enemies, remember? I didn't exactly expect hearts and roses."

"Yes, but..." Harry glared at his hands, wondering why exactly he did feel the need to justify himself. "It was dishonourable," he finished, knowing as he said the words how ridiculous they sounded.

Malfoy snorted again. "Dishonourable? Oh dear, Potter, you and I have very different ideas of what honour is."

Harry frowned. "You have an idea of what honour is?" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

Malfoy's face snapped shut. For a moment he just scowled, then he said, "It may come as a surprise to you, but I am human."

Harry was about to answer, but Malfoy was staring at the wand again. Harry's discomfort was replaced irritation. "Look, would you just stop it?" he cried.

"Shut up, you moron," Malfoy said, a slow grin spreading across his bruised face. "I think I've just thought of a way to get us out of here."

-----

"What didjoo say your names were again?"

Ron looked up and swallowed. Stan Shunpike was looking at the pair of them with some suspicion, where they sat perched nervously on the edge of a massive armchair.

"Emily Masters," said Hermione promptly, and smiled at Stan, then nudged Ron in the ribs.

"Ow," Ron muttered. "Err... Neville Longbottom," he said quickly.

Stan's eyes narrowed. "Really. Seems like there's a lot of that about these days." But the bus screeched to a sudden stop at that point, nearly throwing Hermione onto the floor, and Stan turned, distracted. "'Arrogate, Mister Marigold!" he yelled up the wooden stairs that led to the upper deck. A moment later, a harassed-looking old man struggled down them and almost fell off the bus, which was in motion again immediately. Stan turned back to Hermione and Ron, who tried to look as innocent as possible.

"Should be there soon," he said, seemingly having forgotten his previous line of questioning. "Nice day for it. I 'ear it's lovely down your way, love."

Hermione nodded vigorously; she had told him they were going to visit her parents for the weekend.

"Ain't never bin meself," Stan continued thoughtfully. "Well, 'cept for on the bus o'course."

Ron did his best to look interested and wished Stan would go away. He was feeling more and more nervous. Luckily, at that moment the bus shrieked once more to a halt, and this time Ron did fall on the floor.

"There we are," Stan beamed at them. Ron picked himself up and clambered off the bus as quickly as possible, followed closely by Hermione. Stan grinned at them from inside. "Now don't you let them give you too much of an earful," he said winking at Hermione, "only I know what it's like the first time your boyfriend comes to visit an' all."

Ron felt himself flush. "No-" he started, but the bus was already gone, leaving them blinking in the bright sunlight. He sighed and looked around. They were standing by the side of a single-track road, in what looked an awful lot like the middle of nowhere. On either side of the road, stone walls bordered fields of heathy grass and dead bracken, which rose steeply towards the cloudless sky. "Where are we?"

Hermione was inspecting the map; they had retrieved it from the second-floor bathroom late the previous evening, but the silver mark had already disappeared. Hermione had marked its location, as far as she remembered it, with a quill.

She looked up and down the road for a moment, hesitated, then pointed to where it curved and plunged sharply downwards. "That way," she said in a businesslike tone, and started off, not turning to see if Ron was following her.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Ron muttered.

-----

"No, look, like this."

Malfoy waved his hand carefully, with a complicated flick of the wrist. Harry tried to repeat the action; he could see from Malfoy's face that he had not succeeded.

"Why don't you just let me have the wand?" Malfoy said petulantly, for what had to be the twentieth time. "All right, all right," he added grumpily, as Harry scowled at him. "God knows how you ever passed your OWLs," he added in an undertone, that nevertheless carried easily to Harry's ears.

Harry felt his scowl deepen. "We didn't have to do Dark Magic for our OWLs, in case you hadn't noticed," he said. "Not that I would have put it past you to curse the examiners so they would give you better marks."

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. "Whatever, Potter. I'm not the one who can't master a simple spell."

Harry sighed and flicked his wrist again. "Imperio," he said wearily, then looked up. "How was that?"

Malfoy opened his mouth, then shut it again, looking annoyed. "It was fine," he said.

"Really?" Harry looked at his wrist in surprise, and tried the movement again.

"All right," Malfoy said. "Now we need something for you to practice on." He looked around. "There must be some insect or something around here."

Harry joined the search; but after half an hour of examining every inch of the cell, floor, walls, and ceiling as far as he could see it, he had to admit that there was nothing. He slumped down in defeat. "I'll just have to hope I get it right first time."

"Don't be an idiot. This is our only chance." Malfoy looked like he was considering something, then straightened his shoulders. "Do it on me."

"What?" Harry stared at him, then shook his head. "It's illegal!"

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "That freak Moody did it on Goyle in the fourth year, and he never got into any trouble. I'd have thought you'd jump at the chance. Oh, but I forgot." His nose wrinkled in a sneer. "You're a Gryffindor. Never mind that you break school rules at every sodding opportunity and always get away with it, you won't curse your worst enemy to save both your lives because it's illegal. Grow a bloody spine, Potter."

Stung, Harry grabbed the wand where it lay on the floor in front of him. "Imperio!" he cried, flicking his wrist the way Malfoy had shown him. Nothing happened.

"Is that the best you can do?" Malfoy's sneer was growing wider now, and the dried blood under his nose cracked and flaked. "Well, it's no surprise, really, considering your background. I mean, you're practically a mudblood!"

Harry scowled. "Imperio!" he said again, feeling like he would rather be pummeling Malfoy's face again than trying to curse him.

Malfoy shook his head. "You have to mean it, Potter..." he started, but he never got the chance to finish. Bellatrix's screeching laughter echoing in his head, Harry felt rage overwhelm him.

"IMPERIO!" he yelled, and a jet of green light hit Malfoy squarely in the stomach. Immediately, he stopped speaking, and his mouth hung slightly open, his eyes vacant. Harry felt power humming through him, connecting him to Malfoy. He could make him do anything he wanted. It was thrilling, intoxicating – and it terrified Harry.


For a moment, he stood, trying to cope with the flood of feelings the Curse had awoken inside him. He felt as though someone had stepped inside his body, someone cruel and ambitious, someone who laughed with glee at the sight of Malfoy, helpless and submissive before him. Fear raced across his skin; who was it who had possessed him? How could he fight it? He watched, as if from a distance, as his own hand rose, and he heard himself say, "Stand up."

Malfoy stood dreamily. The empty look on his face made Harry feel sick. "Come here," he heard himself say.

Malfoy stepped forward, but after two steps he reached the extent of his chain. He kept trying, though, pulling on the chain until his pale wrist was rubbed raw. It wasn't until the first drop of blood oozed from beneath the manacle that Harry suddenly snapped back into himself.

"Finite Incantatem!" he cried. Malfoy stopped abruptly, then stepped back so that the chain was no longer dragging against him. He frowned, rubbing his wrist.

"It worked, then?"

Harry felt his knees go weak, and sat down sharply. "Yeah," he said, hoping Malfoy didn't hear the slight tremble in his voice.

"Good." Malfoy was looking at him suspiciously. "Now we just have to wait."

"Right." Harry nodded vaguely. Waiting I can do. Waiting I'm good at. But as silence settled over the room, he couldn't stop his mind from returning to the feeling of triumph he had had when he cursed Malfoy; and as he pondered it, he began to have the disquieting thought that perhaps he had not been possessed at all.

-----

Ron stopped walking. Hermione continued for several yards until she realised he was no longer following her, then turned, an impatient look on her face.

"Come on, Ron," she said, "or we'll never get there."

"Never get where, exactly?" Ron asked, raising his eyebrows. "We've been walking for hours!"

"Oh, look, it's only..." Hermione consulted her watch, then bit her lip. "Four o'clock," she finished in a small voice.

"Exactly." It had been around noon by Ron's reckoning when the Knight Bus had dropped them off. "And I'm beginning to think you don't know where we're going."

"I do!" Hermione looked hurt. "According to the map, it should be right around the next bend." She pointed just ahead, to where the road ran down into a deep cleft between two towering hills.

"I'll believe that when I see it," Ron muttered, but he followed Hermione as she started off down into the cleft. The narrow gap, walled by sheer grassy slopes, was eerily quiet. The only sound was the wind rustling the grasses and, somewhere far away, the lonely sound of a sheep bleating. It sounded as disconsolate as Ron felt.

Then they came out of the ravine and skirted around the bottom of the left hand rise, and there, before them, was a little village of stone houses with grey slate roofs, huddled closely together between the glowering hills.

"There," Hermione said triumphantly. "What did I tell you? Malfoy must be here somewhere." She started down the road eagerly, but Ron caught her arm.

"I don't think so," he said.

Hermione frowned at him. "Oh, honestly, Ron, what is it now? Where else would he be?"

Ron raised his hand and pointed at a spot half-way up the slope on the right-hand side of the village. The remains of a castle stood there, looking as ancient as the landscape itself, and ruined as though parts of it had somehow melted into the hillside. "There," he said.

-----

Hetty the House Elf paused by a section of wall in the dank, underground corridor, and laid her hand against it. Closing her eyes, she whispered a spell under her breath. Immediately, a wavering picture of a small room appeared in her mind; the boys were both there, the blonde one in the corner with his head drooping onto his chest, the dark-haired one lying some distance from him on the floor. Both were asleep. Hetty removed her hand, rebalanced the tray she was holding in the other, and tapped four times on the fifteenth brick from the nearest sconce. A narrow gap appeared in the wall, and she stepped through it, keeping a careful eye on the tray so that the gruel in the bowls didn't spill. A noise from within made her look up; the dark-haired boy was sitting up and staring at her with bright green eyes.

"Imperio," he said.

-----

"OK," Ron said, flopping down to sit on a rock in the middle of the ruined castle's courtyard. "What now?"

Hermione looked around. They had searched every inch of the castle grounds (which hadn't taken long; it was fairly small, as castles went), but found no sign of hidden entrances, or of Harry. The afternoon was drawing on, the light taking on a thick, rich quality as it spilled across the hilltops. The castle was already in shade, though it was still two hours until sunset.

"All right," Hermione said, thinking fast. "We'll just have to look again."

Ron sighed in frustration. "We've already looked everywhere," he said. "What if this is the wrong place?"

Hermione frowned; it was unpleasant to hear Ron voice the creeping doubt in her own heart. But doubt would get them nowhere; it certainly wouldn't help them find Harry. "No," she said, decisively. "You were right the first time, Ron. This must be the place."

"Fine," Ron muttered, rising to his feet. As if as an afterthought, he gave the rock he had been sitting on a good, hard kick. "Ow!" he yelled, hopping up and down in a way that Hermione would have found comical if it wasn't so annoying. Then he stopped hopping, and stared. "Hermione," he said quietly, "get over here, would you?"

Hermione rolled her eyes and strode quickly over to Ron's side. There, under the rock, a narrow, dark gap had appeared, revealing what were unmistakeably steps, leading down into dimness.

"Ron, you're a genius," Hermione whispered. Ron just grinned and pulled the Invisibility Cloak out of his satchel. Pulling it over themselves, they took a collective deep breath, and stepped into the darkness.

-----

"Remus. Oy, Remus!"

Lupin awoke with a start, to find Tonks grinning at him from under a bright green fringe. "Thought you were going to sleep forever," she said.

Lupin sat bolt upright. He was in the kitchen of 12, Grimmauld Place, and it was growing dark outside. "What time is it?" he asked, fearfully. "Why didn't you wake me?"

"Thought I just did," Tonks said cheerfully, but Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was sitting on the other side of the table, reached over and put a hand on Lupin's arm. "It's nearly seven, still more than an hour till moonrise, and I wouldn't have woken you up now if we hadn't had some news. You need to sleep."

"News?" Lupin asked, feeling his heart rate speed up. "What kind of news? Have they found Harry?"

Shacklebolt shook his head, looking serious. "I'm afraid not. Ron and Hermione have gone missing."

Lupin felt his mouth go dry. "Oh God," he whispered. "Not them too."

"No, not them too," Shacklebolt said. "As far as we can tell, they left of their own accord. Some of their belongings are gone."

Lupin frowned. "Why would they...? Oh." He remembered Hermione's anxious face in Dumbledore's office. Will you do the spell, Professor? "They've gone after Harry." He shook his head anxiously. "But the spell was wrong, it showed Narcissa, not Draco."

Tonks nodded; all the members of the Order had heard the entire tale of the previous night several times from start to finish, as with all the other circumstances of Harry and Draco's disappearances; but although they had worked all night and well into the morning, they had not been able to think of a solution. "Well, I'll go and fetch them. Better not leave them to Narcissa's tender mercies, eh? Where did you say she lived again?"

"Wiltshire," Lupin said, but frowned as another memory rose in his mind. "But Hermione said something about Derbyshire. What if they've gone there?" He struggled to his feet, forcing his weary limbs to bear him. Damn the moon! He thought, not for the first time in his life, or even that week. I should be out there finding those children, and instead I'm going to spend the night locked in the cellar. Sirius, old friend, you should have chosen someone else to be Harry's guardian. How can I protect him when I'm so weak?

Shacklebolt and Tonks exchanged glances. "Did she say where in Derbyshire?" Shacklebolt asked.

Lupin shook his head. "To be honest, I couldn't even swear that that was what she said. There was a lot of shouting." He attempted an apologetic smile.

"Right," Tonks said, all business. "Well, Hermione's not the only one who can do a Locator spell. I used to be a pretty dab hand at them myself. I'll go and see if Molly can rustle up something of Ron's, and it'll all be sorted in no time." She stood to leave, but turned back and laid a hand on Lupin's shoulder. "Don't worry, Remus," she said. "We'll sort it."

Lupin gave her a weak smile, and hoped that he looked more convinced than he felt. Then he turned, with a heavy sigh, and made his way towards the door to the cellar.

-----

"Potter! Where are you going?"

Harry looked back at Malfoy's pale form, pressed against the dank wall in the corridor behind him. "Well, we've got to go somewhere," he hissed. "Why not this way?"

"What's wrong with the other way?" Malfoy asked querulously, the torchlight gleaming dimly from his green silk pyjamas.

Harry sighed in frustration. "Look, Malfoy," he said through gritted teeth. "We're never going to get anywhere if you keep questioning every decision I make."

"Oh, right, because you're the leader of this little gang. Sorry, I forgot for a moment there that I was dealing with the fearless Harry Potter, Noted User of Underage Magic and Utter Git," Malfoy sneered. "If you hadn't left the bloody House Elf behind we wouldn't be lost in the first place."

"It was safer this way; I don't know how well the Imperius Curse works on non-humans," Harry muttered. In truth, that wasn't the reason at all; although the power he had felt when he had cursed the House Elf had been weaker and subtly different from the time before, he was still too scared of what he might do to bring her along with them. But he wasn't about to tell Malfoy that.

"Looked like it worked just fine to me," Malfoy pointed out, interrupting his train of thought. "You sure you're not secretly a Dark Wizard, Potter?"

Harry clenched his jaw. "Just shut up and follow me," he ground out, and set off towards the other end of the mouldy-looking passageway without a backwards look. If he doesn't follow me, the good bloody riddance, he thought. But after a moment, he heard Malfoy's footsteps behind him

-----

"Ron! Where are you going?"

Ron felt Hermione elbow him in the ribs. "Ow," he muttered. "What was that for?"

"You were about to walk into a wall," Hermione pointed out.

"Oh, right," Ron said, peering through the cloak at the slick black stone in front of his nose. "Well, it's not my fault your bloody hair keeps getting in my face. Can't you tie it back or something?"

Hermione rolled her eyes – or at least, Ron assumed she was rolling them, that was what she usually did in these situations, but she was standing so close to him under the cloak that he couldn't really see her face. "This way," she hissed, and steered him down a corridor branching off to the right.

"How do you know?" Ron asked, rubbing his bruised ribs.

"The air smells worse down here," Hermione said. She peered out at the increasingly slimy-looking stone walls, and gave a satisfied nod.

"Right, so we're looking for Malfoy, and you reckon he'll be with the scum where he belongs," Ron said, trying to keep up.

Hermione gave a sigh. "No, we're looking for Harry, and they're probably keeping him in some sort of dungeon, which is likely to be in one of the less pleasant sections of the catacombs."

"Right," Ron agreed, wondering what catacombs meant. "Looking for Harry. Right."

But it wasn't Harry they found. It was Malfoy.

-----

The corridor came to a sudden t-junction. Harry stopped, uncertain.

"Which way now, oh fearless leader?"

"Don't call me that," muttered Harry. He heard Malfoy sigh extravagantly, then the other boy pushed past him.

"This one will do," he said, turning left confidently.

"Malfoy, don't-" Harry started, but he never got the chance to finish. From the left branch of the corridor he heard a piercing yell, and then Malfoy shriek. The corridor exploded into a cacophony of sound. His heart thudding in his chest, he flattened himself against the wall. Caught.

Then he began to differentiate words in the yelling. They went like this:

"Malfoy, you evil bastard, what have you done to Harry? I swear, I'm going to rip out your liver!"

And a second voice: "Ron! Get off him, you're going to get us caught!"

And finally: "Potter! Call off your sodding lapdog!"

"Ron! Hermione!" Harry cried in astonished relief, and raced round the corner to find Ron sitting on Malfoy's chest and punching him repeatedly in the face. Malfoy was trying to fend off the blows and whimpering. "Ron!" said Harry again, in alarm this time. Ron glanced up.

"Harry, can't you see I'm-" He stopped, and did a double-take. "Harry!"

A moment later, Harry found himself enveloped in a double hug. The third person in the embrace was invisible, but Harry could tell from the sobbing in his ear that it was Hermione. He felt close to tears himself.

Malfoy picked himself up off the floor. His nose was bleeding again, and there was thick, sludgy dirt in his blond hair. "You're dead, Weasley," he growled.

Ron shot him an ugly look, but Harry disengaged himself from the embrace and scowled. "You don't know when to shut up, do you Malfoy?"

"What's he doing here?" Ron said crossly. "Isn't he supposed to be on the other side?"

"I am on the other side," Malfoy said. "At least, I will be when we get out of here."

Ron turned to stare at Harry. Harry shrugged. "Looks like Voldemort's not behind this one," he said. "They kidnapped Malfoy too. I'll tell you the whole story later; in the meantime, let's just get out of here."

"Right," said Hermione's voice a short distance from his left shoulder, startling him. A moment later, he found himself enveloped in the Invisibility Cloak, along with Ron. Malfoy was frowning, looking around.

"Where'd everyone go?" he asked, plaintively.

"Get under here, Malfoy," Harry hissed, and reached out an arm to drag him under.

"It's not big enough," said Hermione in his ear, sounding worried.

Harry frowned; she was right, it wasn't. It was barely big enough to cover the three of them these days, since Ron had grown so tall.

"Right. Malfoy?" he hissed again. Malfoy turned in his direction, still looking confused. "Follow us, and try and stay out of sight."

The three of them started off, but a moment later they heard Malfoy's voice behind them.

"Brilliant plan. How am I supposed to follow you exactly?"

Harry closed his eyes. "Hermione," he whispered, "grab Malfoy's elbow and guide him."

Hermione nodded, tickling his ear with the movement of her thick hair.

"Right, we ready?" Harry asked. Then was a general murmur of assent. "Then let's go."

Moving around with three people under a single Invisibility Cloak had never been an easy task, even when he, Ron and Hermione had been eleven. Three almost full-grown people, one of whom was trying to guide a fourth, was almost impossible. Their progress was so slow that Harry felt his fingernails digging into his palms in frustration. To make matters worse, no matter how carefully they tried to walk across the bare stone floors, their footsteps seemed to echo as if they were in a church. There is absolutely no way we're going to get out of here alive, Harry thought to himself. The thought of seeing Sirius again gave him some kind of bleak comfort, but he tried not to even imagine what would happen to Ron and Hermione if they were caught.

Finally, Hermione whispered in his ear that she thought they were nearly there. For Harry, the knowledge that escape was so close actually made the tension worse, and it was almost a relief when he heard footsteps coming their way.

"Someone's coming!" Hermione said in a panicked whisper, and immediately dragged Harry over to the wall. Harry grabbed hold of Ron, managing to pull him with them, but Malfoy was left in the middle of the corridor, staring around wildly as the footsteps came closer. Just in time, he ducked behind a rusty-looking suit of armour as a figure swathed in black stepped around the corner.

It was only a temporary respite, though: the man was striding towards them, and once he passed the suit of armour, he could hardly fail to notice Malfoy, cowering there in his incongruous silk pyjamas with mud in his hair. Harry was thinking fast, but he couldn't think of any way out of the situation. He tightened his grip on his wand, and wondered if he had the strength of mind to use an Unforgivable Curse to save his one-time worst enemy's life.

In the event, though, he didn't find out: the man stopped just on the other side of the statue and opened a great oak door that stood there. He grunted slightly with the effort: the door was old and warped, and it dragged against the stone floor. Stepping through, he disappeared from sight, leaving the door standing ajar. Harry breathed a sigh of relief, and was just about to suggest they got out of there as quickly as possible, when he heard a voice that rooted him to the spot.

"The boy still lives?"

It was Voldemort.

Harry glanced over at Malfoy again, but the other boy seemed to show no interest in moving. He wore a slightly stunned look; Harry wondered if he recognised Voldemort's voice; he wondered if he had heard it before.

"He did when last I checked, Lord."

There was an angry hiss, and Harry flinched. They're talking about me, he realised. But why would he be dead?

Voldemort's voice continued, the sinuous intonations making Harry's skin crawl. "I was led to believe that the hatred between your son and Harry Potter was powerful. Why does he still live?"

They heard another voice now, one that Harry had definitely no expected. "My Lord, if you recall it was not I who suggested using my son for this task." The oily tones were unmistakeable: Lucius Malfoy.

Harry stared through the cloak at Malfoy, whose eyes were nearly popping out of his head. They had wanted Malfoy to kill him. But why, then, had they chained him to the wall? And was he in on all this? Had he just been acting a part all along? The look of total disbelief on the other boy's face decided Harry: no-one was that good an actor.

"Nevertheless, Lucius. He is your flesh and blood. I would have expected more from you."

There was a short silence, during which Malfoy looked as though he was about to choke. Then Lucius' voice came again.

"My Lord, you have taken-" There was an angry hiss, and Lucius paused, and then smoothly changed tack. "I have given you my son. I fail to understand why I must remain here to watch him die."

Harry tried to make sense of that. Watch Malfoy die? But...

"Your son will be a martyr. His sacrifice will make it possible for all my plans to come to fruition. Why would you turn your face from such a glorious end?" There was a note of cruelty in Voldemort's voice, and an undertone of amusement.

"Yes, I understand that, but he is my son." Lucius' voice rose slightly.

"Sometimes, my dear Lucius, I begin to doubt your commitment to the cause," said Voldemort, and although his voice was very quiet, every word fell echoing like a trumpet blast.

There was a painful silence. Then Lucius spoke again, and Harry heard the reluctance beneath his once-more unruffled tones. "Forgive me, my Lord. I have failed to thank you for giving my son this chance for glory. You are too kind."

Footsteps approached, and someone pulled the door to. Harry leaned heavily against the wall, trying to understand what he had just heard. Across from him, Malfoy sank slowly to the floor with a look of utter horror.

-----

"Malfoy, we've got to go." Harry's pitched his voice low, but urgent. He was crouched in front of where Malfoy sat slumped on the damp stone floor; he didn't even seem to notice Harry, though Harry had slipped out from under the Invisibility Cloak.

"Malfoy, come on." Harry felt the tension within him rise to an almost unbearable pitch. He had a sudden overwhelming urge to laugh; he fought it back stubbornly.

"We've got to get out of here," he hissed.

Malfoy looked up at him. "But my father," he whispered. "My father..."

"I know," Harry said, trying to sound kind. "But we haven't got time to think about it now."

Malfoy shook his head. "I've got to talk to him," he muttered, scrambling to his feet. To Harry's horror, he headed straight for the rotten old door fro behind which they had heard Voldemort's voice.

"Malfoy, for God's sake!" he cried, and grabbed Malfoy's elbow.

Malfoy looked down at his hand, and then met his gaze; his face twisted with hatred. "Get your filthy hands off me, Potter," he spat.

"Look, you fucking moron, you're going to get us all killed!" It was Ron's voice, though he himself was not visible. Malfoy's eyes narrowed, but a moment later Hermione appeared from under the cloak and stepped forward, with an anxious glance at Harry.

"Draco," she said gently. "Your father betrayed you. If you go and find him, he'll kill you. I know it's difficult to understand, but you have to trust me."

Malfoy's eyes narrowed, and for a horrible moment Harry thought he was going to hit Hermione. Then his face went slack.

"All right," he whispered. "All right, let's go."

Hermione smiled at him nervously and took his elbow, guiding him carefully away from the door. Harry found himself suddenly enveloped in the Invisibility Cloak again, and he and Ron followed. They turned left, then right, then right again – Harry had no idea how Hermione was able to remember the directions – and suddenly they reached the foot of a flight of worn stone steps. They were too narrow to go two abreast, and so Malfoy went first, with Hermione behind him pushing him gently upwards, then Harry, then Ron, the Invisibility Cloak now stowed in his satchel. At every step, Harry was sure that they would be caught – but then he squeezed out of a narrow gap between two stones, and found himself in a long-abandoned courtyard, the broken edges of the flagstones casting sharp shadows in the moonlight. It was the first time he had breathed the fresh air since he had woken up in the cell, and although it was cold enough to make him shiver in his pyjamas, he was glad of it.

"We're out," Hermione said in some relief.

"Right," Ron agreed. "Run!"

And they ran, Hermione dragging Malfoy by the hand, across the ruined courtyard and out of a yawning gateway; down a slippery grassy slope and onto a narrow road that led downwards to a collection of twinkling lights. Hermione paused, looking in both directions; above them, the moon was ringed with a pale halo. Harry stopped, panting, his breath smoking in the freezing air; his feet were sore and going numb. "Which way?" he asked.

"We'll catch the bus," Ron said, pointing up the road, but Hermione shook her head.

"They'll know," she said. "They'll catch us before we even get on. This way." And she pointed towards the hillside that loomed over them, a darker shadow against the starry sky.

They couldn't run up the hill; it was so steep that they practically climbed on all fours. The grass was wet with evening dew, and slippery enough that Harry often found himself grabbing onto tufts to stop himself falling, and scrabbling with freezing fingers against the hard earth. A dizzying sense of vertigo assaulted him as he looked up at the summit towering above them; but he had to keep moving, or he knew he would be dead.

When he looked back later, Harry remembered little of that night's nightmarish climb. He gradually lost all sense of time and place, of the others climbing beside him; there was only the next painful step, which could so easily end in failure. There was nothing but touch to guide him: no sight but darkness, no smell but the brittle air, no sounds but his own heart thumping in his ears. After a while, he forgot why he was climbing at all; he knew only that he mustn't stop.

And then, they reached the summit, and there was a slithering scramble down the other side to a wet, squelching bog, and then another climb, with nothing to differentiate it from the first until they were half-way up, and they heard a shriek of rage that froze the blood in Harry's veins.

"He knows you're gone," Hermione said. "Keep climbing."

And when they reached the top of the second hill, the frozen light of the moon and stars was joined by another, that flickered red and orange above the hilltops: the village was burning, in a towering pillar of flame. But to Harry it seemed that the whole sky was burning, that the air was nothing but flames and acrid smoke. "It's the end of the world," he whispered in wonder.

"Wrong again, I'm afraid, Potter." Harry turned in surprise to see Malfoy staring at the flames, his pale face like a stone carving in the moonlight. "This is only the beginning," he said.


End of Part One

Comments

Finally had the time and energy to read through this, it's been on my "to-do" list for awhile.

I really am enjoying it. The banter between the characters works and gives a little levity to an otherwise heavy plot. The style is a bit more introspective than JKR's (and of course there are some POV changes) but it has the right sort of "adventurous" feel as a gen fic should.

I don't have any criticism, really. Keep it coming :)
Thank you! It's nice to know I've been on someone's "to do" list ;).

You're fine with the amount of postings... And I don't think there will be a hard and fast rule about number... just the idea that people will read more if you don't overwhelm them. :-) For whatever reason, some people need to have common sense explained.
Thanks for the typo warning! I keep finding typos every time I look at it now, it's kind of embarrassing -- I guess I was overexcited when I wrote it...

And OK, now I see that this plot isn't so original ;). I guess it's pretty hard to write anything new in HP fandom these days.

Thank you so much for the review!
I loved how you didn't have Draco switch sides or be convinced and how you had Hermione talk him down from what would be suicide.

Interesting that Hermione got vastly different results from the locator spell.


And the whole plot you've developed is really fabulously interesting.

I thought in one of the books that they had to enlarge the cloak to get the three of them under it.. maybe 5. Seems like they should have done that in this instance, but maybe even magic can't stretch a power like invisibility that far.

This is really phenomenal and you should most definitely write more and soon.
Thank you so much! Hmm, I didn't remember about the enlarging thing; I think I'll just go with your explanation if anyone else calls me on it ;).

As for the Locator spell results... well, I guess that'll probably be explained in the next chapter.