A/N: For those of you who have remembered this fic and have been prodding me for an update, I'm very, very sorry. I am a lazy bugger, and have started more fanfiction projects than is safe. But, I promised I would get this done, and I have J Enjoy.
Summary: The final battle is approaching, and no one is under any illusions. This is, and always was, Harry Potter's fight. While he himself tries to prepare for what lies ahead, treated as though the fight is already lost, difficulties occur in the form of Draco Malfoy. Death Eater, spy of Voldemort, or the greatest love he'll ever have?
A Harry Potter Fanfiction
By Knowing Shadows
The small village of Ingerton lay in the sweeping hills of western Kent, surrounded by empty fields where wheat, rapeseed and other crops would have been just before the harvest. It was primarily a rural town, where all the families knew each other and the most exciting event of the year was the local summer fete held by the Church (and the proceeding bet between the villagers that Mrs Ranger would win the best raffle prize for another year running).
Ingerton had no nightlife to speak of, so by nine o'clock most of the residents were indoors and the lanes were empty except for the occasional car that passed through, but that was only on the road that ran straight through the centre of the town and out again. When darkness had fallen, Ingerton was lit up only by the few ageing lampposts on the main road and the dimmed lights that filtered through the net curtains on some of the house windows.
Mr Patterson was a middle-aged man who lived on the outskirts of town and had yet to close his curtains at a quarter past nine at night that one Autumn evening. He was quite happily watching TV with his wife and teenage daughter when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something pass the window. A large shadow, black and chill as the winter dawn. Wondering who might be outside at this time of night in Ingerton, of all places, and fighting a growing sense of unease, Mr Patterson got up, pulled on his coat and stepped outside, still in his slippers.
"What're you doing, Ben?" called his wife from inside the living room.
"I thought I saw someone outside," Mr Patterson said softly, for when he scanned outside, he could see no one. The main road ran right by his house and any cars that could have passed were not there. It was extraordinarily quiet, even for a calm night such as this. Even the wind had died down. No one was lurking outside, either his house or any of the other houses across the road, either. The hulking outline of the Church lay solid black against the starry sky, somehow intimidating in the dark.
"Come off of it, who'd be out there at this time?" came his daughter's voice, sounding exasperated. Ben Patterson hesitated in the doorway of his house, taking one last look outside to try and ease the dread in his stomach. He had not liked that shadows at all, and he wasn't quite sure why.
"There's nothing out there," said Mrs Patterson vaguely. "Come back inside, you're letting all the heat out."
Maybe there hadn't been anything at all, and it was just his imagination. Mr Patterson's gaze swept across the houses this side of the road, and he blanched. There was something out there; a great, black, shrouded shape heading through the shadows towards the village green and Church. It was too large to be a man, but there was nothing else it could be.
"Hey!" he called out, satisfied it was not just a villager out for a stroll. "Hey, you there!" The shape, no more than four houses away, did not stop or respond to his call. He wasn't even sure if it had heard him. It just shuffled onwards, as silent as Death. He frowned as he lost the indistinguishable shape for a moment in a darker shadow, but then it reappeared again, its back still to Mr Patterson as it headed away from him.
"Ben, what's going on?" asked Mrs Patterson.
"There's something out there," he answered vaguely, all of his attention still centred on the strange figure, now 6 houses away. He stepped away from the door onto the path outside to have a better look. He could make out no more than what he'd already seen.
"What do you mean, 'something'?" An exasperated sigh, then, "It's probably a dog or a cat or something." Ben looked over his shoulder briefly as the voice neared, and his wife appeared in the doorway where he had just been standing.
"My God, what is it?" Her eyes widened as they landed upon the creature, half-frightened.
"I don't know what it is," Ben said quietly, unwilling to raise his voice. "It's not an animal." He nodded to the black figure as it carried on its way. Pursing his lips, he decided that leaving them out there unwatched was not a good idea. "I'm going to find out what it is, though," he said, heading off resolutely along the path towards the village green and Ingerton's mysterious visitor.
"Ben, oh- be careful!"
Ben Patterson followed the thing as quietly as possible, each tread of his feet gentle so his slippers did not make any noise to betray him. Something inside him was saying that he should be seen. Of course, that was ridiculous. Why should he want to sneak around? It wasn't like it was dangerous or anything, whatever it was. Better to announce himself and hopefully scare it off, though he couldn't imagine scaring anything that tall with his thin 6ft frame.
The figure started to cross into the road and Mr Patterson stared in surprise, as a smaller, man-sized figure appeared into view from in front of it, also shrouded heavily in black.
It was probably burglars, or trick-or-treaters from somewhere nearby that had decided to try their luck in Ingerton. Maybe someone should have told them that Ingerton's community was too small for Hallowe'en celebrations. Very few people went out trick-or-treating in England, for it wasn't generally safe for people to wander out after dark like that. The only ones who really wanted to were children - and these were no children.
It was the only thing he could think of. However much he said this to himself, he couldn't quite convince himself that it was true. There was something...something about them...
It seemed that the two figures no longer wanted to be hidden, for they walked now right down the centre of the black-tarred road. The larger figure's robes - for that's what they seemed to be - billowed out slightly in the breeze, which seemed to be picking up again. The smaller of the two headed on resolutely towards the centre of town, followed by its taller companion.
The rushing sound of a car caught Mr Patterson's attention for a second, and his dark eyes widened as the polished saloon car came speeding down the road, heading right towards the figure before it. He thought that the driver hadn’t seen them, but at the last minute the screeching of breaks could be heard; the car was sliding across the tarmac, unable to stop in time. It was going to run them down-
Let it hit them, let it hit them-
-but the car didn't hit them. There was a brief flash of white light, and then silence. Mr Patterson let his eyes focus again as the sunspots faded - sunspots at half past nine at night! - and stared in shock and horror.
The car - and its driver - had gone.
And the black-robed people were still walking down towards the Church and green, as if nothing had happened.
One panicked thought ran over and over through Mr Patterson's shocked brain, something that was impossible, just wasn't within the human scope of ability -
They did it. They did it. They made it disappear. They did it!
Before he knew what he was doing, Mr Patterson was following them again, trying to keep as far into the dark as possible. As he thought of getting closer, the memory of that white light and the space where the car had been made him forget about it. There was no way in Hell that he was going to get too close, if those people had done what he thought they had.
The first figure reached the green and stepped up off the path onto the grass, stopping for a moment to look around. The follower stopped at the first's back. Mr Patterson's feet did not seem to want to stop, for he crept ever closer. Vaguely, the thought crossed his mind that no one else in their houses seemed to have seen the flash of light and come out to see what it was.
He stopped behind one of the trees at the end of the road where it forked off around either side of the circular green. He was within twenty feet of the still figures, trying to keep his distance enough that they didn’t see him.
"...close. Far too close to stop now." Mr Patterson was surprised to find he could just about hear what the smaller figure was saying. It was a man's voice, pitched slightly too high for normal. Distinctive, was the word. "Everything's going to plan. We have his weakness. There's nothing he can do to stop it. He is only human after all."
The larger figure did not reply, but drew in a long, deep, rattling breath, which the smaller seemed to take as agreement, for he inclined his head slightly towards the other. It - Mr Patterson didn't know what it was - moved forward silently to the man's side and seemed to survey the green with him.
"It's frustrating, having to wait like this - my plans resting on the shoulders of a 17-year-old boy I don't trust," said the man - though what man had a voice that sounded like a snake? - to his companion, but his tone of voice implied that trust didn't really matter in this case. It was something akin to amusement that coloured that unnatural voice, and stayed there as he spoke again. "Let's just hope that both he and Harry Potter's personal interests are too strong to ignore, which I strongly believe to be the case."
The deep, chest rattling sounded again in reply.
Mr Patterson felt a dreadful chill begin to spread through his body from his chest. Whatever this man was talking about, it wasn't good. What could he do? He didn't understand what exactly was going on, first of all, but something told him that it would be a horrible, horrible thing of this man's plan was realised.
I can't do anything. I'll go the same way as that car and its driver.
"However..." The robed figure's arms moved to fold over his chest. "I have things to do." A dry chuckle carried on the still air. "I believe the 'Shadow Killer' should make a reappearance."
Mr Patterson's eyes widened in shock and his mouth went dry with fear. His hands went to his mouth to muffle his surprised gasp. If he had heard correctly, then this was the serial killer who had been terrorising Southern England for months- the killer whose mark of leaving a green smoke skull inexplicably above the homes of his victims haunted the nightmares of many.
And he was going to kill someone here tonight.
The smaller man unfolded his arms and drew out a thin object from his pocket - it looked like a long, polished twig - and raised it. A great sense of foreboding filled Mr Patterson, tinged with a fear bordering on panic.
Suddenly, the man's raising arm stopped and there was silence for a few seconds before that high voice spoke once more. "Before I forget, you can have the Muggle eavesdropping on us. He won't live anyway."
Mr Patterson didn’t understand, but suddenly the larger figure had turned and was moving towards him extremely quickly for something of that bulk. He gaped, too afraid to move as it reached him and gripped him tightly with one oozing, rotting hand. The other hand was going to the hood of its robes to draw it back.
The last thing Mr Patterson heard was a high, cold laugh as a pale, lipless mouth descended on him.
Harry had been trapped in the dark void that was unconsciousness for what seemed like an age. Hours, days, he couldn't tell, and he couldn't bring it upon himself to care.
There was nothing but blackness surrounding him, something inside his mind telling him that his eyes were open, and this void was indeed all that could be seen outside; all that there was.
There was little that he could feel, physically or mentally, in his current state of being. Harry couldn't remember what had happened to make him get here, but frankly he didn't mind. There was an odd sense of peace in the place where he was. A peace that he hadn't felt for as long as he could remember pervaded him, and he didn't want it to go.
However, slowly but surely, Harry felt himself seem to rise, up out of the voice into a state of unawareness before he realised that he was waking up. Winding slowly into consciousness, Harry found that he body was sluggish and unwilling to respond to his wishes of opening his eyes. He stayed in the dark, but this time he knew that if he could just get his muscles to work, he could end it.
As his body slowly became more enthusiastic about responding, he sensed that he was in a bed, and he was not alone in the room. Common sense told him that he was in the hospital wing, but for the life of him he couldn't remember why he would be there. Maybe it really wasn't common sense at all.
"...authorities are already there. We can't get close."
People were talking over him, definitely not to him, and it didn't seem like the soft of things to be said about him.
"I think it was probably planned that way. But, to cause that much destruction, to massacre that many innocents..."
"For attention? Yes, it does seem excessive, even by his standards."
There was a thoughtful silence, and Harry struggled further to try and move, to open his eyes. He thought he made his finger twitch, but couldn't be sure.
"Maybe the attention of the Muggle community was what Voldemort wanted."
"What do you think he's trying to do? Surely, Albus, you aren't suggesting that he's trying to draw their attention to our kind-"
"It would seem feasible. Think of the chaos that would ensue..."
Just the kind of chaos Lord Voldemort wants.
"But inviting them to know about us would mean as much trouble for him-"
"You think that they can really stand up to Voldemort?"
"But their military-"
Useless. Absolutely useless.
"The strongest weapons they own would destroy themselves as well, even if Voldemort couldn't stop them."
Another silence. Unease settled across Harry's chest, somehow giving him the strength to move his weary muscles. The weights on his eyelids lifted enough to allow him to crack them open. His head lolled to one side and he couldn't find the reserves to move again. The full extent of his exhaustion hit him like a wave then, and he was vaguely stunned. He felt vulnerable from the complete lack of control over his body. What had he been doing?
"Harry?" Rustling at the side of the bed where his head was facing, and Albus Dumbledore was crouching to his eye level. His face was unusually grey, eyes sombre and troubled. Harry couldn't even move his lips to say 'sir'.
"The amount of power that You-Know-Who used," said the other voice from his far side, "was phenomenal. He's going to be very weak for the next few days."
What happened? What did Voldemort do?
Either Dumbledore could read his mind - which he wouldn't put past the old man - or there had been question in his face, because the Headmaster smiled sadly at him and said softly, "A village in Kent was almost completely destroyed by Voldemort last night. You collapsed at the Hallowe'en party because some of that power lashed out along the link between him and yourself."
Only about half of what Dumbledore said made any sense to Harry. He blinked owlishly, fighting to open his eyes again as he tired to understand what had happened.
The other presence - he assumed it was Poppy - started talking again. "Headmaster, I would leave the story until he can take it in. Now, all he needs is sleep. I would be surprised if he could hear you, right now."
Albus Dumbledore stood up and moved out of Harry's view. He let his eyes close, listening to Dumbledore's voice. "Of course, Poppy, I understand. God speed your recovery, Harry. Then..." Dumbledore sighed sadly. "Then...we will have to discuss the unfortunate fact that it seems that Voldemort doesn't need to be anywhere near you at all to cause your death. How will our supposed saviour ever prevail with all the odds against him, and when the very presence of the enemy renders him almost unable to fight?"
As Harry fell back willingly into that black voice he had climbed out of, his last thought was that there had never been any way for him to prevail, even without the complications.
He didn't wake throughout the next day, and when he was shaken awake the afternoon afterwards, he was pleased to find that a lot more strength had returned to his weary body. Hermione and Ron came to visit, and he sat up in bed to talk to them.
Hermione re-explained what had happened, and Harry only vaguely remembered some of the events of the evening. Most was lost, to his frustration. Ron sympathised with him, having a terrible memory on an everyday basis, though his predicament was still outstripped by Neville's forgetfullness.
Despite collapsing, Harry was astounded by Hermione saying, "You didn't half scare Malfoy, though. You almost fell on him."
Something didn't seem quite right there. "Huh?"
"You were talking to Malfoy," Ron said, a slight hint of resentment colouring the way he spoke the name. "At the time, that is."
Harry frowned. "Why was I talking to Malfoy?"
"Say my name..."
They both shrugged. "That's what we - and half the school - were thinking."
Fair enough. "Okay then."
Hermione had brought in the Daily Prophet with her from two days ago - the morning after his fall. He took it and stared at the front page in numb shock. A huge picture of smoking ruins - there was the barely recognisable foundations of a ruined Church - stretched across the page. The trees were burnt, gnarled, or just plan blown apart. The burning remains of the houses were still smoking. Around the edges lay strangely shaped things, bent at all kinds of impossible angles, and there was blood, blood everywhere-
And there, hanging above it all, was the Dark Mark.
"They're bodies," Hermione murmured, seeing his confusion.
"But they don't even look like bodies, however much they could've been hurt-"
"I know," Hermione said, and by the soft tone of his voice, Harry realised that that was the entire point.
Oh God. I feel sick.
Eyes drawn to the picture of carnage again, Harry noticed something else, narrowing his green eyes. "This is a Muggle photograph. Nothing's moving," he said.
"Stupid really," Ron piped up, eyeing the picture with distaste.
"And you can say that that picture there won't be as terrible to look at as any moving photo?" Hermione asked angrily, shooting her boyfriend an upset look. "It's called 'capturing the moment'!"
Ron kept quiet, startled by the woman's tone and unwilling to upset her any further by inadvertently saying something stupid.
Harry couldn't bear to see his friend so distraught - he knew she was getting more and more frightened for her own family - but could do nothing about it. He sat and stared at the paper, at it's awful picture-
That's what I have to stop. At any cost. Even though nobody thinks I can do it.
"Professor Dumbledore's been really busy these past few days," Hermione said after a time of awkward quiet. "Someone told me that some people had got in touch with him about You-Know-Who. I don't know who they were, though, or what they wanted. They must be pretty important, since Dumbledore's fussing over them so much."
"Can't you find out something else, you being Head Girl and all?"
"That's what I found out as Head Girl."
"Harry, when Dumbledore or Lupin or whoever comes in to see you-"
"Professor Lupin said he'd see Harry after we'd gone, didn't he?"
"- oh yes - Harry, surely they'd tell you something?"
Harry didn't really think he had much more chance of finding out information than Hermione did, but didn’t say so. He nodded, hoping that to the others it meant that he would at least try.
After Hermione and Ron left, it didn't take long for Madam Pomfry to pop up with some food for him, which he devoured with relish. He hadn't know he was so hungry until his stomach grumbled loudly as Poppy entered, making her smile and Harry blush with embarrassment. Then he had been left alone for a little, allowed to watch the sky darken outside through the windows. He wondered when he would be able to get out of there, but he still felt weak.
Alone, Harry had nothing to do except think about what had happened. Voldemort had struck again, with one of his worst blows yet. Harry blinked tiredly at the ceiling, visions of the burning village flashing on the back of his eyelids.
Dumbledore was right. How can I stop him? Whenever he uses the Dark Arts it hurts me, directed my way or not.
But does he know that? Harry realised with a started that as long as Voldemort himself didn't know of his enemy's weakness, it would be as crippling as it could be. As long as he kept it secret.
He was in the middle of contemplating this when Professor Lupin arrived, Sirius in tow. Lupin looked as sick with worry as Sirius did, but some of this alleviated when he spotted Harry awake and alert. He smiled thinly. "Harry, how are you doing?"
"I'm doing okay," Harry replied, hauling himself back into a sitting position. "Herm' and Ron visited earlier. They said you would be coming later."
Sirius grinned wolfishly, in seemingly high spirits. "And they were right. Look, Harry, you'll be fine with all of us taking care of you. Voldemort won't be able to lay a hand on you."
He doesn't need to, Harry thought forlornly. He can kill me from wherever he wants. He could be in bloody Albania again and it wouldn't matter.
Sirius, seeing his godson's expression fall, settled himself on the bed and patted Harry's knee. "Hey, hey...it's all okay. I wouldn't let it get you down. We're all here to support you. You don't have to do this alone."
No? I'm not so sure about that.
"Has Dumbledore been talking to you, then?" he asked, half-accusingly, half-defeated, as Lupin hovered worriedly at Sirius' back.
"Not much about you," the teacher admitted. "He did mention that something had to be done about your connection to Voldemort. But...we might have that covered. We've been busy with another matter that's come up, though."
Maybe that's what Hermione was talking about. "What's that, then?"
Lupin and Sirius exchanged a brief look. "Well..." Lupin coughed. "Some people got in touch with Dumbledore about Voldemort, that's all."
"Who did?" Harry asked, watching his teacher expectantly. "Come on," he said as he thought it, "if it's got to do with Voldemort, I'm going to have to know, if you think about it."
Abruptly, Sirius laughed. "You won't get nowhere like that, Harry. We've been sworn to secrecy until Dumbledore clears it, and we've been warned especially not to tell you."
"Why's that?" Harry asked, feeling rather annoyed by this. "I'll blame you if I get killed because of withheld information."
Sirius snorted and Lupin cracked a small smile. "No good, Harry," Sirius continued. "You won't get it out of us. You'll just have to wait and see, like the other students."
"Like the other students?" came a low voice from nearby, startling Harry, though Lupin just looked over towards its owner with mild curiosity. "Surely Harry transcends that. After all, he is supposed to be everyone's 'knight in shining armour', as muggles say, come to save us all from certain death."
Only one person in the entire world would dare speak like that to a teacher. Harry suppressed a groan - finding that he was also surprised by the new visitor's presence - and followed Lupin's gaze to where Draco Malfoy stood in the doorway of the room. He looked thin and pale in his black robes, and his eyes were slightly bloodshot, as if he hadn't been able to sleep at all for several nights. Other than that, he looked as perfect and immaculate as always and still the epitome of English sarcasm.
But he does it so well.
"What do you want?" Sirius asked coldly, recognising the teenager as Lucius' son, and heir to the Malfoy estate.
Draco turned defiant eyes to the Gryffindor protector. "I came to see Potter."
Not 'Harry' anymore. I should have guessed. Maybe I dreamed that whole conversation in the library. It was certainly weird enough to have come from my twisted head.
"What for?" Sirius continued, not satisfied in the least with that short reply.
The Slytherin lowered his eyelashes, regarding Harry's godfather with his usual aloofness. "Well," he drawled, "considering that the last time I spoke to him he fell on me - quite unexpected - I decided that it would be a nicety to see how he was." He shot Harry a resentful glare. "And you ruined my dress robes, by the way. I hope you're happy."
Harry had the urge to laugh, but held it back, settling for a vague, self-satisfied smile.
"Well, go on then." Sirius fought back his own smile, motioning for Draco to go ahead with what he wanted to say, knowing full well that Draco did not want an audience.
Draco sneered in disgust, and, never one to admit defeat too easily, turned to Harry and said, "I trust you weren't hurt too badly." Something in his eyes made Harry wonder whether Draco had wanted him to be hurt or not.
"No. I'm fine," Harry replied genially, smiling quite smugly at Draco, knowing that the blond was extremely uncomfortable in his current position. "Thank you for asking."
"What made you collapse?" A more daring question, though not suspicious.
"Must have been too hot in there," Harry said easily, not going to betray the real reason to someone whose father was near enough Voldemort's right-hand man. "It's nothing serious."
Draco looked decidedly doubtful. "Potter, it's now November. Are you sure you didn't addle your brains around a bit, or are you just naturally stupid?"
Or that bad a liar. You don't have to say it, I know you're thinking it.
"Naturally stupid, I think," Harry replied. "And we were inside, Malfoy. We weren't standing outside in the cold. It probably was quite hot in there."
Something passed over Draco's face for a second. "Probably? You don't remember?"
Harry glanced at Sirius and Lupin, who were both following the conversation with polite curiosity on their faces. Harry didn't believe it for a second. "No," he replied after a moment. "I don't remember much at all. 'Mione and Ron said I was talking to you, but I don't remember why, or what we were talking about."
"Oh," Draco murmured. Harry thought he saw disappointment in the blond's grey eyes for a second, and felt an intense desire to ask about it to fill in the blanks in his head. However, with Lupin, Sirius and Draco's obvious discomfort all in one room, he decided against it.
"Sorry," he said softly when no one spoke. Broken out of his thoughts by the word, Draco stared at Harry half-hatefully, half-hurtfully, before saying coldly, "I've said what I came to say. I'm going now." He spun round and strode towards the door, pausing only just before he left to speak again, his voice decidedly softer.
"It wasn't hot, by the way. You told me you had goosebumps."
Draco started resentfully at Harry's back from where he sat at the Slytherin table. It had been several days since he had seen the dark-haired boy in the hospital wing and Harry had only just been allowed to come back to normal school. It was the evening meal on that day, and The Boy Who Lived had not left Draco's thoughts for more than a minute since Hallowe'en, much to his annoyance.
He had been hurt when Harry had said he didn't remember the Hallowe'en party. They had been talking. That was it. Talking. Once something totally out of reach for both of them because they hated each other so much, and yet they had been doing it. Conversing quite normally for any two boys their age.
He had been happy. Happy because Harry Potter really was the noble, nice-guy everyone said he was, and he was willing to overlook 6 years of abuse in that moment just to chat idly with Draco Malfoy. And Draco, in his turn, had overlooked 6 years of snubs, returned insults and loathing to talk to him.
And Harry really did look quite attractive in dress robes.
But now that was gone. He tried to tell himself that he didn't mind, that it didn't matter, but he still felt that loss, that feeling that something important had slipped between his fingers like sand and, however hard he tried, he wouldn't be able to get it back.
Trying to turn his mind away from the aching hurt, Draco found that the only other thing his mind would dwell upon was the letter his father had sent him the day before. It offered no respite, and only caused more conflicting emotions to rise in him. The content had been...uncomfortable...to say that least.
'Dear Son, I have had word that the ring you were wearing is not functioning correctly. I know full well what you've probably done with it, but I advise that you wear it at all times or bring the wrath of the Dark Lord upon you.'
At that point in time, the anger of Voldemort would probably be welcome, rather than carry on with what he had assigned Draco as a mission.
'And, speaking of the Dark Lord, he has been enquiring upon your process with your target, since he cannot get at you through the ring. He has told me that he wishes for progress, because he needs to know that it's done. He has been told that the Elves are moving, massing what is left of their scattered forces to join the war against him, and does not need to worry about you when he has more pressing matters.'
The idea of Voldemort worrying about him was ludicrous and not just a little frightening. He had mixed feelings about the Elves. If they joined the war Voldemort would surely lose. Though their numbers had dwindled, they were still a force that could scatter enemy forces with fear alone. And then, even as he hoped that this would be true, what would happen to him when they found out the task Voldemort had set for him?
'Get on with what you have been told to do. Without Harry Potter, Dumbledore's side will crumble. They have no hope without him. Make sure you destroy it. Lucius.'
Returning to normal lessons, Harry noticed that Draco was being far more elusive than usual. He rarely saw the blond except at meals and the lessons they shared, and this was both a relief and a cause for concern. Draco behaving this way usually pointed towards him planning something, though what, Harry could not say. Thinking about it, he didn't really want to know, and dismissed Draco from his thoughts as much as was possible.
On his third day back they had double potions. Harry sat at his normal place on the back row, as far away from Snape as possible. The Potions Master was sitting at his desk at the front of the class, hands steepled under his long chin as he coldly watched the class file in. Harry watched Draco move to his place near the front, wondering what was going on in that blond head of his.
Snape had lost weight recently, his robes hanging from his thin frame a little more than normal. Harry knew that it was probably due to his spying. The Professor never missed a lesson, but some days he would enter the dungeon looking as if he had not slept. This did nothing to dull his sharp tongue, in fact it only seemed to hone it, but just made him look decidedly ill.
This was one of those days. Harry could tell he was ready to break something, rather like a coiled serpent waiting to strike. He let his eyes linger on every student for a few moments, just enough to let them know they were being watched, before moving onto the next one. When he looked at Harry, the Gryffindor met his teacher's gaze head on, feeling the most sorry for Snape as he had ever done in his entire life. What he was doing could cost him his life, and he knew that.
Sitting on the desk in front of Professor Snape was a small vial of clear liquid. It looked innocent enough, but if this was something from Snape's cupboards it probably didn't even know the meaning of the word, let alone be it.
"When you're all done wasting my time," Snape snapped icily, not moving an inch where he sat. The whole class went silent, watching the vial or the teacher apprehensively. "Idle chit-chat at the wrong time will get you killed, if you're lucky. And this is the wrong time. No teacher in this school can waste time teaching students who will not use what they learn. I am less patient than most of them. Anyone caught slacking in my class will be thrown out, and they will not come back."
The class seemed stunned by this, and Neville looked positively terrified of the prospect. Ron dared murmur to Harry, "Who bets Neville doesn't make it to the end of this lesson?"
Snape shot Ron a dark look before unlacing his fingers and placing them on the desk either side of the vial. "Now, since enough of my lesson has already gone: does anyone have any idea what this substance might be?"
Not even Hermione put her hand up.
Snape surveyed the perfectly silent, uncomfortable students. "Good, because you should never have heard of it. It was banned in the 1500s, and no one has ever dared try and brew it until this year." At this point he gave the vial a long look of its own. "This sample was taken from a Death Eater last week, and has yet to be destroyed. Technically I should not even be showing it to you, but Dumbledore has advised that I do so, since it seems that He Who Must Not Be Named intends to use it."
At this point, Hermione tentatively raised a hand and, at a sharp nod from Snape, said, "Sir, what is it?"
A small, tight smiled decided to grace Snape's thin lips, but it wasn't a pleasant expression in the least. "Its technical name is Arabus Ellandil. Only the Elves used to be able to make it. They used to make it and use it so skilfully that the effect it had wasn't dangerous at all. However, when it got into the hands of wizards, they found another use for it." The smile disappeared, replaced with a grim expression as the class waited with almost bated breath to know what they were looking at. "It used to have many names in our tongue, once its effect was known. The most common, however, was the Black Ivy Potion. Black Ivy is extremely rare and almost none exists anymore. To put it mildly, a mere drop of this potion will turn you incurably insane."
To put it mildly?
"If it touches the skin, the effected area will turn black, dry out, and it will spread. The blood will become infected and turn black, slowly starving your body of oxygen until you suffocate, and dying can take days. However, if swallowed, the effect is much worse. Not only does it burn away muscle in your mouth and throat and stomach, it will keep you in a never ending cycle of agony until you go mad. Even then it does not stop. You become violent, to yourself and others." For a moment a strange, haunted look settled on Snape's face. "I saw the person this substance had been used on before I took this. All their skin was black and shrunken, like they had been burned. They were screaming in agony. All the blood vessels in their eyes had burst and were turning black. They were trying to climb the walls of the room, shrieking like a banshee. I saw them rip great chunks of dried flesh out of their arms to try and stop the pain. When they started gasping for air from lack of oxygen as their blood dried up, I had to kill them."
There was a horrified sniffling from one side of the room, and Harry turned his head to see Lavender trying not to burst into terrified tears. As Harry looked around the rest of the class, feeling oddly numb, he saw that everyone looked afraid.
"There is no cure, or, if there was, it is no longer recorded. It cannot be stopped, like the Cruciatus curse can. It is absolute."
Oh God, if Voldemort is brewing this stuff...
Quite suddenly, a malicious smile lit Snape's face. "Does anyone volunteer to demonstrate the effects?"
Neville did make it to the end of potions, but only because he was too terrified that Snape would chose to use the Black Ivy potion on him - or throw him out of class - that he copied down everything so frantically that he was the first to finish, and knew what was at stake if he answered a question wrong. Snape seemed to have deemed him fit to carry on in his class and let him go unharmed.
Hermione and Ron still seemed stunned as they went to lunch and then made their way to Defence Against the Dark Arts. Sitting down, they saw the most of the class was still like that; sombre, meek and not a little scared of what Professor Lupin might come up with for them to do in the wake of their potions lesson.
They'll all have nightmares about what that potion does. I know I will.
Harry was rather surprised to see Sirius sitting on the teacher's desk, legs swinging quite happily as Lupin nosed his way through something in a book as they filed into place. Sirius grinned at Harry's confused expression, winking. Sirius seemed unusually happy, and had been for quite a while now. It was quite amusing to see sometimes. They would enter the common room and find Lupin sitting in an armchair trying to read a book, and Sirius would be sitting by the fire, throwing things into it that made satisfying popping sounds. Every time he would glance back at his old friend, who was studiously ignoring the other's vain attempts to irritate him.
Lupin finally closed his book and looked up. "Right, now-" He paused, frowning when he saw the expressions on all their faces. "What's up with you lot then?"
Everyone glanced at each other. Seamus told Lupin about the potion Snape had told them that the Death Eaters were brewing to use. Sirius listened with interest, eyebrows faintly raised. "I wouldn't worry too much about it," Lupin said finally. "That stuff is extremely hard to make. I'll bet that the vial Snape has is all that was made, and I doubt anyone else was making any, or will."
This didn't seem to ease their fears much, so he carried on valiantly with the lesson. "Mr Black here-" he motioned to Sirius, who saluted the class, "-is an animagus, like Professor McGonagall." He made a vague gesture and Sirius slid off the table and into the form of Snuffles, the large black dog Harry had once thought was a death omen following him around in the third year. The class all craned their heads to see, and all gasped as Sirius switched back. "Very interesting, isn't it," Lupin said, in a way that suggested it was anything but. "Now, some of the Death Eaters will be unregistered or registered animagi, and if you find one, here are some spells to keep them from transforming back into animal form, and some spells for detecting them..."
Sirius submitted himself to the spells of every one of the class merrily, until Lupin deemed him unfit for any more, even though the black-haired man insisted he was fine as he stumbled into a table, cursing loudly and making the class laugh. Harry found this highly amusing and quite fun to do, and everyone launched into the lesson with gusto. Quite instantaneously, everyone forgot Snape's potion.
Sitting in his own lesson, Draco Malfoy stared blankly at the board, not paying attention at all. In front of his eyes was a vision of an old, hidden cupboard he had stumbled across at home once during the summer holiday that year, and on the top shelf had been several tiny bottles of a clear, innocent-looking liquid.
What if his father had been getting Black Ivy potion made from the same man Snape had obviously 'disabled'?
What if he uses it? Oh no, oh...I can't...
I can't follow him if he condones that. Even I found it barbaric...I just can't...oh God...
The vision haunted him through the rest of the day and well into the night.
And then another letter came.
Harry stayed in the common room very late that night, dozing off in one of the comfortable old chairs by the fire, waking every half hour or so to check the time. Every time he vowed he would get up and go to bed, but sleep claimed him before he could do it. At about 3am, he sat in the chair, eyes half closed, staring at the fire in a rather peaceful frame of mind.
Out of the blue there was a loud pounding on the portrait, and muffled cries from two people. One was the Fat Lady indignantly shrieking “Ah! Get off me! Get off!”, and the other was a man’s voice.
“Someone let me in! I don’t know the password, let me in!”
Dazed, confused and not thinking straight at all, Harry quickly made his way to the portrait and swung it up from the inside, coming face to face with a tall, slender figure shrouded in a cloak, very pale, very tired-looking, and very upset.
If I didn’t know how much it must have taken you to come here, I’d turn you away, or turn you over to Dumbledore.
“Harry,” he said with tangible relief.
“What do you want, Draco?” He had intended it to be cold, snappy, trying to make him go away, but instead his voice was soft, concerned. Exactly how he felt. “What’s wrong?”
The Slytherin was breathing fast, as if he’d run all the way from his own common room. “Harry, I need your help.” He panted, trying to catch his breath. He was holding something in a trembling hand, and it drew Harry’s eye. A piece of paper – a letter? What was going on?
“I need your help, you’re the only one-“ Draco cut himself off, the words obviously not coming out as he had wanted them to. “I need you to come with me to Dumbledore. You’re coming away with me after Christmas, right? I need you to help me-“
Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t make it to bed.
It was going to be a long night.
End Chapter 5.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters, the settings, etc, just the plot : ) which is going in a totally new direction right now but oh well. We’ll see where it leads.
Thank you to everyone who’s reviewed, and I hope you review again ^_^
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