Title: The Long Defeat
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Lucius/Narcissa, mentions of Ron/Hermione
Warnings: Some violence, some angst, ignores the epilogue.
Summary: Harry thought that becoming a slave to the goblins was about the worst thing that could possibly happen, except the sinking of the wizarding economy that the goblins had threatened if he didn't. Then Lucius Malfoy showed up and offered to buy him instead, and maybe that was the worst thing. Or maybe not—at least, not if the Malfoys are sincere in their efforts to help him fool the goblins.
Author's Notes: This is being written as a thank-you fic for helenadax, who's given me several virtual gifts and a lot of reviews over the years. She left this prompt of Harry being enslaved by the goblins and the Malfoys stepping in to help for the Draco Tops Harry fest a few years back, but although I intended to claim it, I didn't get around to doing so before time ran out to submit fics for the fest. She asked for a happy ending and focus more on the con side than the angst side of the story. It does eventually get there, although with some angst at first. This story will be updated every Saturday evening.
The title is a phrase from The Lord of the Rings: "And together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat."
The Long Defeat
Chapter One—Vault Exchange
"I don't know how you're so calm."
Hermione spoke from behind Harry, where he was studying himself in the mirror. Well, not really himself. The chain-link collar that the goblins had put around his neck, instead. Such small links, Harry thought, reaching up and tugging on them lightly, to be so searing. The metal was colder than he had known it was possible for metal to be.
"Calm?" Harry asked, and reached out to put his hand on the wooden desk beneath the mirror.
It crumbled at once, the ashes flinching away from his fingers. Harry looked at Hermione, and she took a step back from him and spent a little while staring at the wood, although all of Harry's friends knew what his magic could do to organic things by now when his anger was up. It had started after the war, and as near as Harry and Hermione could figure out, it was due to the remains of Voldemort's Horcrux in Harry. Harry supposed it had to leave some stain.
"You're not showing it," Hermione muttered, shaking her head.
Harry shrugged, and looked at himself in the mirror again. No, he supposed the only visible sign of his temper was the flush to his cheeks and the flash in his eyes—although he thought Hermione really should have noticed that, since she was one of his best friends. "What good would showing it do?" he asked. "I always knew it wouldn't last, you know, the devotion they were proclaiming to me after the war. They would need a scapegoat again sometime, and I was the perfect one. I just didn't know it would change so soon."
"The goblins shouldn't have made their threats," Hermione whispered. "And it's wrong, for so many people to care more about what's in their vaults instead of your life."
Harry smiled at her over his shoulder, the kind of smile that would crack his teeth if he hadn't already decided that was dumb. "They don't know me personally. They think it's only for a year, anyway, and what's so bad about that? I stole things from Gringotts. I probably deserve it somehow or other. And it's important to keep the goblins happy."
Hermione glared at him. "You don't believe that. And I know you haven't been reading the papers since the day you dissolved that one with Skeeter's article blaming you for Dumbledore's death."
"I know how they think." Harry rolled his neck back, and listened to the collar clink and bounce. "I always will. Anyway. This is the way it worked out. And after this year…" He let the words trail off, and saw the blurred shadow in the mirror as Hermione leaned forwards to hear him.
Harry smiled with a force that would crack his teeth if he thought too much about it, and nodded to Hermione. "After this year, I'm gone from the wizarding world. I'll make my own path and my own freedom, and I'm done with every-fucking-thing else."
Hermione closed her eyes and reached out a hand to him; Harry saw it in the mirror. Then she let it fall. "Of course," she whispered. "You deserve at least that much, when they've taken away so much."
"So glad you agree," Harry murmured, but he found Hermione's hand and squeezed it to let her know that he knew where she stood. "Let's get this over with."
"Harry Potter, designated slave of the goblins for one year…"
Harry stared over the heads of the crowd gathered to watch his punishment, staring instead at the far stone wall of the courtyard. That was what it resembled the most, for all that it was a cavern beneath Gringotts and far from the open air. A square, flat floor, and square, rising walls, sculpted by some magic or tool that Harry didn't know the name of. The walls were absolutely blank, undecorated stone, unless one counted the richness of the bronze sconces where the torches burned.
"And you will not set foot beyond the bank for the duration of that year…"
Harry could have shifted and shouted and ruined the moment, but he found he didn't want to. The crowd hadn't come to bear him silent witness or support, he knew that much; they had come to watch him be condemned and ensure that he was actually taken into Gringotts as a slave. They had come to be sure their vaults were safe.
The only way he might defy them and the goblins, for a little while, was to hold his face absolutely blank and smooth and refuse to listen to the terms of his slavery, which he knew damn well already. So he stood there, and looked at the stone, and told himself that it wasn't so bad, that it was only one more year with the Dursleys, and then he would be free, free, free, and he would find a place in the Muggle world that no one except his friends knew about, and bury himself deep.
"The terms to…"
It took Harry a minute to realize that the goblin who was standing up in front of the crowd on a large, scone-shaped dais and reading out the scroll had trailed off not because Harry had stopped listening to him, but because of something else. He turned his head.
Two figures were forcing their way up towards the dais, struggling as though through thick water. The crowd gave way to them, so Harry wasn't sure why they needed to struggle so much.
Then he recognized the blond hair as the smaller figure's cloak fell back and revealed his head. He nodded. Oh, right. Malfoys. Probably come to take some kind of payment from Harry in turn, and demand that he be a slave loaned out to them sometimes. They could make those demands all they liked, but Harry knew they wouldn't get anything. The goblins had been very clear about how Harry would serve them and only them, and loaning him out to wizards—who might treat him a little more kindly—would never happen.
So Harry watched in amusement as Lucius and Draco Malfoy halted in front of the dais and stared up at the goblin. Behind them came Narcissa, following the clear path her family had made for her rather than struggling. Harry met her eyes, and she flashed him a dazzling smile.
Harry stared. The smile wasn't the smirk he would have expected, and Narcissa's hand briefly extended to him, out from under the sleeve of her robe, as though to offer him something to hang onto. It disappeared again, but the sight made him wary. What had they come for? Was it some fiendish way around the goblin laws that they had come up with because of the life-debt Harry owed Narcissa?
For a moment, he wondered whether life-debts would allow the Malfoys to enslave him when this year was done.
And then he remembered that he didn't care, because he would leave, and allow the unpaid debts to fall on him as they would. Hermione had warned him once that debts like that, not repaid, could diminish a wizard's magic, but what would Harry care? He would be living in a place where he didn't need magic.
"Mr. Malfoy." The goblin holding the scroll moved so that the sound of crumpling parchment drifted around the room. "You have something to say?"
"Yes, I do." Lucius's voice was clear, and he stood up as though he were still the all-powerful Malfoy lord and governor of Hogwarts that he had been when Harry was in his second year. Harry just watched. He was almost going to enjoy the moment when Lucius found out that the goblins weren't obliged to yield Harry to him. "I wish to make an offer on a certain slave, one that I will take into my home and punish as I see fit."
There was a grumble around the cavern. Sarcastic laughter, protests because that might mean the goblins wouldn't feel that their debt was fulfilled and take the bank away, cries of joy—it could have been all of those and none, and Harry wouldn't have cared. He went back to looking at the stone wall.
Lucius was going to fail. That was all there was to it. And a good thing, too, because while the goblins would put Harry to back-breaking labor and probably starve him, they couldn't use the Cruciatus on him. The Malfoys would.
Harry was sorry for what the Sectumsempra curse had turned out to be, the mess he'd made of Draco's chest. But he wouldn't forget, he wouldn't ever forget, that Draco had been trying to use an Unforgivable Curse on him when it happened.
Never again. The goblins' slavery was the last time Harry ever intended to submit to bad treatment of any kind.
"You cannot offer us anything we would accept," the goblin with the scroll said, and Harry thought about watching to see Lucius's mouth gape, but in the end the wall was more interesting. "We have chosen, and for his crimes, Harry Potter must pay us the gift of a year's labor—"
Harry also thought about spitting when he heard the word gift, but endurance was the best option here, and the goblins would make him pay for disrespecting them in public. He stood there with his mouth shut.
"I can offer you a vault."
Harry looked around, gaping. Then he saw Draco and Narcissa watching him, and shut his mouth again. He would not look weak in front of them, would not yield, would not bow down. Never again. He'd had enough of giving in.
"We have enough money," the goblin with the scroll said, though Harry was sure he wasn't the only one who had seen the minor tremor work its way through his claws. "We do not need anything you can give us. Need I remind you that we would take away your money if not for Harry Potter surrendering to us?"
"Not money." Lucius gave the goblin a hard, sweet smile. That expression made Harry want him to lose all over again. "The vault itself. The carving out of rock, the space beneath Gringotts. Yours to do what you will with. Provided that you give Harry Potter to my family and count the debt paid."
More gasping. Harry stared. He could see Hermione on her feet out of the corner of her eye, her hands making furious gestures, but he couldn't look away enough from the Malfoys to see what she wanted him to do.
That was—incredible. Harry knew from the research Hermione had helped him do into goblins, when he still had some hope of getting out of paying the debt, that the goblins hated the way the wizarding world had them hold Gringotts and all its contents in trust for wizards. The goblins had been the ones to dig the caverns, create and name and number all the chambers, and set up the guards like dragons that kept the vaults safe. They had had to accept wizarding gold after they began losing their political standing to the Ministry's new laws. They could pretend to own the space, of course, but they never would as long as wizards still maintained a familial claim to them.
To have a wizard give part of that space back to them might satisfy a goblin's craving for possession and ownership in a way that not even having Harry as a slave would do.
The goblin on the dais swayed on his feet and cast a longing glance back towards the ranks of goblins behind him, as though he hoped someone might come forwards and volunteer to save him from making the decision. But all of them stood there, enchanted by the vision, maybe, or not wanting the burden, and the goblin grunted and turned back again.
"You would need to hold by certain terms," he said.
Harry clasped his hands in front of him and held them there, tight. He was going to break his wrists if he kept standing there like that, holding them, he thought. It wouldn't matter.
"You would need to make sure that Harry Potter did not venture outside the Manor for a year, and you would need to ensure that his suffering in part paid for our suffering, when the dragon rose from the vaults," the goblin continues.
Harry bore down, and down. The bones were creaking. He could hear Lucius Malfoy's calm replies, somewhere behind the roaring of blood in his ears, but those didn't matter, not next to that roaring.
He had made his last decision to submit. He had said that he would allow the goblins to enslave him, but he had never said anything about the Malfoys. He was going to break free now, because he knew what they could do to him, would do to him. They had the life-debts to hold them back, maybe, but Harry owed them two in return, and they were forced to abide by the terms that the goblins had said they were going to make for Harry's slavery in the original contract.
They would curse him. They would increase his hunger until he wanted to eat his own flesh. (Harry knew that Lucius could cast that curse, having run across it in records of the first war). They would make him writhe with pain, and they would make him do impossible things, and call him freak in the same way that the Dursleys had, if not for the same reason. At least with the goblins it would be revenge, not abuse.
Harry took a quick breath, light, curt. He already knew how he was going to move. His magic wouldn't do anything for the chain-link collar around his throat or the chains he was bound with, but he could lunge to the side and touch the goblin. He would crumble into ash. And while everyone was still gasping over that, Harry would touch Lucius's wand into ash, and then Summon his own, and Apparate.
He didn't care that he had never used that particular magic on someone else before. In fact, he was usually careful not to touch anyone but his friends when he was this angry. He was soaring in the middle of a clean, almost heavenly despair. He was going to break free, or he was going to die, and at the moment, it didn't matter much which one it was.
A small noise caught his attention. He turned his head, and saw that Malfoy, or Draco, was standing there with his eyes on Harry, shaking his head frantically. He hesitated, then conjured a small tongue of fire on his wand, which danced and vanished at once. His eyes on Harry still didn't move, still clung and pleaded.
Harry stared back, not knowing what it was, except a delaying tactic. What—
And then he knew. Malfoy was reminding him of the Fiendfyre, the life-debt he owed Harry. He was trying to tell him that this wasn't a trick, or a plot to hurt Harry, that they were going to do something else. Or perhaps simply try to fulfill the debt.
Harry stared again. Draco's eyes on his were bright and frantic.
He only wants to save his father's life. He doesn't care about me.
But there was also the fact that Draco had been watching Harry closely enough to recognize the rage, and had tried to prevent it from exploding. The same thing might happen during his enslavement, Harry supposed. Perhaps the Malfoys would treat him better than Harry was imagining, simply out of fear of their own lives.
And if they don't, I can escape better later, anyway. I can dissolve all their wands and their house-elves to ash, and I can smash their anti-Apparition wards better than the ones on the bank, too.
So Harry relaxed, and stood there without a word as the goblins concluded the deal and transferred his "ownership" to Lucius Malfoy. All the time, Draco watched him, never looking away, even when Harry shifted and sent him a glare. Draco only shook his head and continued watching.
Not what I thought he would do.
That intrigued Harry enough to put off the escape he would have tried. For now.
Draco wanted to bow his head and sigh when the deal concluded without further problems, and it turned out that his father now owned Harry Potter. But he couldn't. The goblins wouldn't want that reaction from him, wouldn't expect it. They had sold Potter in the first place only because Draco's father had made a sly little speech implying how much he would love to abuse his authority over Potter. The goblins would want gloating. They would want villains.
One thing Draco had learned over the past two years was that he didn't have the heart of a true villain. He couldn't torture, he couldn't kill, and he was even bad at maniacal laughter.
But he could hang on until they had Potter out of here and could explain the truth to him. He had to.
For now, his task was to match stares with Potter and try to ignore the sense of dancing power around him—another reason Draco would never make a good villain, he was far too sensitive to other people's magic. It could unfold in circles, or in sharp knives, or in spirals.
Potter's magic was spirals edged with knives. Because he had to be special like that, in the middle of everything else.
Draco shook his head, eyes still connected with Potter's. It was starting to hurt, almost, holding the eye of someone who had the power to destroy everyone in the giant room if he wanted to. But there was no one else to reassure Potter that they weren't kidnapping him or doing something else awful to him. So he stood there, and closed his eyes in relief at last when the goblin who'd been making the announcement so far said, in a high, croaking voice, "Mr. Potter is now the property of the Malfoys."
Draco felt the cool presence at his shoulder that indicated his mother had drawn near. A good idea, he thought, looking up. I'm glad she's here before Father. Lucius was the one Potter had fought more than once, and his mother was the one Potter owed the life-debt to.
"Mr. Potter," his mother said, her voice like a soft snowy shadow. "I hope that you will come with us without trouble."
Potter shrugged, but his magic sharpened and drew in towards his body, in a spiked maelstrom this time. Draco had to bite his lip to keep from snapping at his mother when she reached out to take the chains that wrapped around Potter's arms. It was like trying to use a tiny leash on a dragon.
But in the end, although he kept his head bowed and his neck quivering as though he would like to fight his way free, Potter let Narcissa tug him along. He walked with his hands clasped in front of him, and all his muscles bunched, and the chains rang like celebratory bells.
The goblins laughed and clapped as they watched. Potter's friends were on their feet, the Mudblood with her hands over her mouth. Draco couldn't help sneering at them as their little cavalcade passed. They thought this was worse than the goblins, but of course they did. They would probably rather see Potter dead than associating with former Death Eaters of his own free will.
That was the Weasel, running to catch up with them. Draco turned around, exchanging a flickering glance with his father. They had to keep the act up in public, which meant they had to restrain Weasel from trying to break Potter free, with violence if necessary.
Potter was the one who restrained him before Draco could even put his hand on his wand, and he did it with nothing more than a nod and an intense gaze. "I think this will be better," he said, not looking at Draco or Narcissa or Lucius, his presence dismissing them, erasing them out of his life. "Better than it—would have been. Even though they won't let me outside the Manor."
"But we could have visited you in Gringotts, and now we can't!" Weasel was rocking and hopping on the balls of his feet, not coming any nearer, but looking as if he would have dearly liked to. Draco shuddered to think what would have happened if Potter had not held him back as far as he had.
"I don't think you could have," Potter said, and turned to face Granger, who had hurried up behind the Weasel, not something Draco had even noticed. "Hermione, explain it to him. You were there when the goblins told us about the terms of the debt I would pay."
"It's true, Ron," Granger said, her body angled as if she would move in between Weasel and Harry in a minute. She laid a caressing hand on Weasel's arm, and Draco had the most nauseating flash of what they were probably doing the minute Potter's back was turned. He had to close his eyes and shake his head to clear it. "Remember? The goblins said they would take Harry's freedom for a year. That means that they would have made sure that he couldn't venture out of the bank, and no one could come in to see him. They would probably have had him working in the deep vaults, anyway, and no one's allowed down there unless their vaults are already there."
She was looking at his father, Draco realized. Well, perhaps she realized the significance of him giving up a vault to "rescue" Potter.
Let's hope that she remembers the significance of life-debts, and that she can teach Weasley.
"All right, then," Weasley said, and leaned forwards as if he imagined that a whisper would evade the fascinated people craning their necks from all directions. "But the Malfoys have wands."
"Right, they do," Potter said, and smiled. Draco shuddered as that edged magic brushed up against his skin again. In that mood, Potter could burn or damn the world, or perhaps leap out a high tower without a safety net below. Draco was a little surprised that he hadn't done something like that already. Presumably the goblins' threat had kindled his martyr complex. "But there are ways around that."
Weasley's gaze sharpened. "Harry," he said, "before you pull a dragon's tail, make sure that you talk to us."
Pull a dragon's tail? Draco thought it was a metaphor. He hoped it was a metaphor.
Then he remembered what he had heard about the debt that the goblins had insisted Potter pay them back for, and he was no longer sure.
"I will," Potter said. "Lots." He turned to Lucius and cocked his head. "I presume that I'll be allowed to send owls to my friends?"
Draco's father had perfected an even better mask for the public in the past year since the trials than he had had before. He shook his head slightly now and curled one finger in a beckoning gesture that made Weasel start frothing at the mouth. Granger looked little better, but she was pulling on Potter's arm and trying to say something to him that Potter didn't listen to.
Potter just nodded, remotely. The look in his green eyes made it seem as if he was gazing through a window at another world.
Draco shivered, and ducked around his mother to be on the other side of her from Potter as they paraded him out of the bank, and the cameras flashed, and the shouts resounded, and the curses came their way—and deflected from his father's careful Shield Charms and the bank's wards—as some people thought this transfer of the debt meant that they would lose their money to the goblins after all. He could not wait until they could explain everything, and Potter might want stop wanting to kill them.
Might being the important word there.
His hands shook, and he scrubbed his palms quickly on his robes, and continued walking.