"Terrible," said Hermione, aghast. "He treats you like that, all the time?"
"When I'm lucky," Harry admitted. He was lying on his back on a grassy hill by the campsite, staring up at the sky. "But I guess it sounds worse telling you about it than it really is. I'm probably exaggerating matters. And please, don't think it's his fault. I knew what I was getting into when we started all this mess."
"Anyway, what other choice do I have? He gives out ultimatums like jelly beans. I either stick with it and do what he says, or I leave. There's no room for mediation."
"Leave then," said Hermione. "This isn't doing you any good, Harry."
"I've left him a hundred times. Just kept going back. I don't know why. I'd get half way to your house, or sometimes even the Weasleys, and then I'd start thinking back. I'd get a memory in my head, something stupid just some silly random thing he'd done once which made me laugh. Like the time he played as Seeker in the annual Ministry Quidditch fundraising match it was a wizard verses witch game, and in order to confuse and disorientate the opposition he walked onto the pitch stark naked.." Even now, Harry was grinnning. "Little things like that. And I'd wonder what the hell I was thinking, leaving him."
Hermione stared at the chestnuts she was slowly roasting over the campfire, unable to meet Harry's eyes. If Viktor ever treated me half as badly as Draco seems to treat Harry, she thought, I'd be out in a second. Or rather Viktor would be out in a second. She frowned, turning the roasting fork onto it's other side.
"So I'd go back," Harry said. "And sometimes he'd be there waiting for me, expectantly, just standing on the steps with his arms crossed. He'd say something like, So, twenty five minutes, this time, Potter. You're getting indecisive in your old age.' He'd be smirking as he said it, too, and then he'd go inside and I'd follow him." He sighed. "Other times he wouldn't even notice I'd gone."
"Why haven't you told me this before?" Hermione asked, quietly.
"Didn't want to bother you. I mean there's nothing you can do about it, anyway. And I'm old enough, I should hope, to be able to deal with it on my own."
"Yes, Harry. I can see you're dealing with it very well."
Using his elbows to hoist himself upwards, Harry looked across his chest at his school friend. "What's that supposed to mean?" he said, hearing the snide note in her voice.
"Look at yourself, Harry. You've basically just told me that you're his slave you do anything he tells you to do, and you certainly never disagree with him. And you followed him to work today like a dog don't take offence, I love seeing you, Harry, but if the reason I get to see you is because I accidentally cross paths with Draco Malfoy.." she let the thought trail off. "What I'm saying is that dealing with a problem does not mean giving in, Harry."
"Yes it does. If I want to keep him."
"Harry!" she cried, exasperated, and then swore as she realised she'd overcooked the chestnuts they were breaking apart over the fire before she could move the fork. It had- been a long time since she'd gone camping, Muggle-style. She groaned and laid down her fork, without bothering to try and salvage the ashy remains of the nuts from the embers.
"I didn't ask for your pity, Hermione," Harry said, sharply. "You asked me what was going on in my life, and I told you. I'm not asking to be rescued and I'm not asking for sympathy, or help, or even a shoulder to cry on. I'm just telling you. Nothing more, nothing less."
"If that's the case, Harry, then I don't want to listen," said Hermione.
"If you tell me something like that, Harry, and then believe I won't want to help you afterwards, you've got another thing coming. I'm your friend maybe your best friend, now that Ron's decided to take up being an asshole a primary character attribute. It's my job to care about you. So if you don't want me to care, keep your bloody mouth shut."
It was the first time Harry had ever heard Hermione swear.
"Want me to change the subject?" he offered, tentatively.
"It's your choice."
Harry reclined again, his arms folded in pillowing his head. "Okay." He felt an uncomfortable silence was about to develop between them, and said, at random, "It's a nice place, this wouldn't you say?"
"I went here on a field trip, a long time ago," said Hermione. "When I didn't know I was a witch, before Hogwarts. A camping trip with my parents. We didn't stay very long, though. The place is prone to earthquakes that's why there's so many strangely shaped hills around the area. There was one a few months ago they had to evacuate the village a few miles from here, just in case. It's not volcanic, of course," she added quickly. "But I think it was built on the site of an ancient volcano, so occasionally old volcanic tunnels, carved out by lava, fall in on themselves."
"The earth moves," said Harry, dreamily. He rolled onto his side to look at the woods, the burnt trees which hemmed the edge of the crater.
"Something like that," Hermione agreed. "Maybe the cave Ron and I found is just another of those tunnels, and it won't give us any reason why these dragons are falling from the sky. Still, a good witch or wizard always checks every possibility."
"Maybe it's just something in the air," said Harry. "It's kind of romantic here, don't you think?"
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "Not really my thing."
"Oh? So what do you and Viktor do for fun?"
"We play scrabble."
She was being serious. Harry stuffed a wad of grass into his mouth to stop himself from chuckling. Same old Hermione, he thought. Thinking about board games and the monotony of Hermione's regimented life, he wondered if being with Draco despite the man's mood swings wasn't so bad, after all. At least Draco knew how to have a good time.
From the start of the tunnel the walls had steadily begun to widen; a conical descent. They could now walk side by side without bumping shoulders. Ron, naturally adept at walking quietly after many years spent in a job which demanded circuitous movement, had started to shuffle his feet there wasn't any point in being silent if Draco was going to keep up his humming.
"We're going in circles," he said finally, after twenty minutes.
"What do you mean?" Draco asked. "I haven't seen the hole we came in from recently, have you?"
"I mean, we're walking in a spiral. Going steadily downwards, in circles. Sort of like a spiral staircase."
"Oh. We have a few of them at home."
"You would," muttered Ron.
"I heard that," Draco challenged. His skin was yellow in the light of their luminous wands.
"So what if you did," Ron shrugged, disaffected. He probed his pocket for his cigarettes, took one out and lit it, without pausing in his step. Glancing sideways at Draco, he shrugged again, puffing out a cloud of smoke. "What are you going to do about it? Whine at me for half an hour? Get over it. You'll only be wasting your own time."
"And walking down a bloody tunnel in the middle of the night isn't wasting my time?" Draco snapped. "I might as well get some amusement while I'm down here."
"If you wanted to be entertained," Ron replied, dryly, "you should have asked Harry to come along."
"Harry isn't the greatest conversationalist in the world."
"I didn't say you'd be talking to him."
"I know exactly what you were implying. But unlike you, I don't get my kicks out of making sexual innuendo."
"So how do you get your kicks, Mr. Malfoy, sir."
"By actually having sex, you git."
"Exactly my point."
Draco hissed. "Just shut up."
"You're the boss." Ron made a mocking salute, and upped his pace. Draco, the shorter of the two, had to do a quick half step to keep on. Ron could feel Draco's annoyance building and smirked to himself. He constructed a mental scoreboard in his head. Draco zero, Ron the Rogue one. It was just like being in school again, except Ron felt that now he had the upper hand. That was the best part about alienating yourself from others, it meant you could never be hurt. Insults just bounced off.
He stared ahead. The tunnel seemed to be opening to a cavern a few more steps told him that they'd reached the end of the line. They stood in the mouth of a large, dome-shaped room probably as big as Draco's bedroom, Ron thought, maliciously. The walls were black made of the same somber granite as the rest of the tunnel, but their surfaces were uneven, as if the cavern had been hacked out of the walls using some inferior Muggle tool.
Along one side of the wall a great crack had ripped through the floor, like the fault line of an earthquake. Part of the ceiling had fallen down, leaving one corner thick with rubble and dust. Other than this, the place was empty and there was no sign of an exit.
"East, was it, sir?" Ron couldn't help but taunt, awarding himself another point. He was enjoying himself.
"Didn't I tell you to shut up, Weasley?" Draco spat. He strode into the cave, squinting in the raw phosphoresence of his wand to see if he could find anything which might provide a viable reason for their long walk. The corrugated cavern walls reflected the glitter of the light. Frustrated, Draco kicked at the rubble in the corner.
"Ready to head back, yet?" Ron yawned.
Draco didn't reply. He was on his knees now, by the edge of the fracture in the rock, pulling away at the stones.
"And you said you didn't want to go on a treasure hunt," said Ron, shaking his head. He added another point to the scoreboard.
"Don't just stand there, looking like an idiot," Draco shot back, over his shoulder. "Help me, here."
"Left a bone down there, did you?"
"Weasley. How much is your job worth to you?" Draco snarled.
"About half a galleon a year," Ron smirked. "Unless you're planning on giving me a raise."
In leiu of a scathing reply, Draco bent forwards suddenly, inclining the forepart of his body into the hole. He seemed to be straining toward something buried down there. Curiousity piqued, Ron wandered over.
"Yes! Got it!"
"Sanity can be an elusive bastard at times," Ron said, mildly.
"Shut up, Weasley. When the hell did you become such a smart arse?" Draco growled, pulling himself out of the crack. His left hand was curled around something something small and green, which glowed slightly through Draco's pale fingers. He opened them slowly, still crouched by the seam in the rock, rubble scattered about his knees.
"Ooh. You found something shiney," said Ron, but he couldn't help but crane forwards to see what Draco had found.
It was a small green disk, with a hole at it's upper edge, a medallion of some kind. Emblazoned on it was a linear sketch of a dragon, caught in mid-flight. It's wings were open, and both its eyes seemed to contain precious stones they were a deeper green. Draco tilted the object in his palm, and the dragon's eyes seemed to wink.
"Yes, Weasley," Draco drawled, "I found something shiney."
"Let me have a look at that."
"I don't think so. Finders keepers, Mr. Attitude Problem." Draco got to his feet. "You're quite right, we really should be going. Nothing to see here, right."
"You bloody " Ron bunched his hands into fists.
"Don't hit me, please. I don't want to ruin my shirt, remember?" Draco stepped neatly past him, and set off at a brisk trot to the tunnel. "Ew, Weasley germs." He shivered in distaste.
"Draco get back here. That could be important. We shouldn't play with it."
"Of course it's important. And I'm not playing with it. I'm going to take it home and analyse it. It's my job, remember?"
"I should give it to Charlie my brother's an expert on dragons and dragon related artifacts."
"And I'm sure that makes for interesting dinner conversation. Meanwhile " Draco ducked out of sight down the tunnel.
Ron growled, low in his throat. Without a thought, he ran off after Draco, determined to give the little shit a piece of his mind and a piece of his fist.
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