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Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Six—In the Blood and Runes

Draco watched as the flare of light colored like old blood disappeared from around Bellatrix. He licked his lips. If he had done all his reading right, and all his planning, then this ought to be the time to wake her.

He had to admit that the spellbook he'd found this ritual in hadn't actually said that the magic could overcome the effects of the basilisk Petrification. On the other hand, it didn't say it could overcome the Dark Mark, either. Draco felt he had to trust the statement that it could "succeed despite any obstacle in the way."

Draco closed his eyes and reached out. There ought to be a link between him and his aunt now—

And there it was. It was so strong and thick that Draco didn't understand how he'd missed it in the first place. It shimmered like a streak of dull red-orange. Draco laid his will upon it.

The link seemed to roar in his head the way Dash might if he discovered Draco doing this. Draco staggered, but didn't let the sound throw him from his feet. "Come forth," he said, thinking the words and speaking them aloud at the same time. "Obey me, my aunt. The shared blood we have between us is too strong for you to resist."

There was a rolling, snapping sound. Draco opened his eyes. Bellatrix was on her feet, a faint shimmer of red far back in her eyes.

Other than the fact that she was moving and the glow, though, she looked exactly as she had when she was Petrified. She was still staring straight ahead of her and all her limbs were stiff. Draco smiled a little. Dash ought to be less angry at him for breaking the paralysis that kept her imprisoned.

"You will obey me."

The woman stared at him. Then her lips parted and she said, in a voice as heavy as her tongue, "Yes."

Draco breathed out. This was going to work. And then he would have made a solid contribution to the war effort. He knew that Harry and Professor Snape would say that he'd already made one, but using blood magic on his aunt once wasn't enough. It wasn't like that would defend them.

Now, he could make her act against Voldemort. That would be a much bigger contribution.

Something brushed against his ankle.

Draco yelped and leaped as he turned around, which made his cheeks burn a second later, but he honestly hadn't thought there was anything down here. Any insects had stayed far away while he worked on Bellatrix, and there was no—at least there weren't supposed to be—any basilisks. Right?

Ultio raised his head and stared into Draco's face. Draco was more than surprised to see Conflagration behind him. The flame cobra had refused to come anywhere near the Chamber of Secrets no matter how much Draco coaxed him.

"It's you lot, then," Draco said, and tried to make sure that his voice didn't come out high and squeaky, the way it wanted to. "What are you doing down here? Is something looking for me?"

Ultio twined up his arm, looked at Bellatrix, and hissed. Then he turned and looked pleadingly into Draco's eyes, which didn't make a lot of sense to him.

Conflagration wrapped his tail around Draco's ankle, which must have been what Ultio was doing before, and tugged firmly. As Draco blinked at him, still not understanding, the flame cobra turned his head pointedly towards the stairs.

"All right, all right," Draco muttered. Conflagration probably wasn't smart enough to know when something was an emergency, and that meant Ultio had come up with this plan. Draco sighed and turned back to Bellatrix. "You will lie down here and act as if you were Petrified until I come down and retrieve you. You will not obey any other command that someone gives you, even if it comes from your Dark Mark or Voldemort himself."

"Yes."

In seconds, his aunt was lying down again, and her muscles locked into what looked like basilisk Petrification to Draco. He sighed again and turned to follow his snakes up the stairs. This had better be good.


Someone interesting is coming.

That was the only warning Dash gave him before Draco staggered into the corridor in front of Harry, a snake around each ankle. Draco was off-balance and yelling at Ultio and Conflagration as if he was a Parselmouth. Their hisses back were so agitated that Harry could only make out the word danger.

"What's going on?" Harry asked cautiously a second later, when he realized Draco was too busy wrestling the snakes to look up at him.

Draco looked up, jumped, and then pressed forwards despite Ultio and Conflagration, his mouth parted. "Harry, you've got to talk to them! They pulled me up here like something was on fire, but nothing is and I was arguing with them but they won't leave me alone and it's driving me mental!"

"What is going on?" Harry asked Ultio, because he thought he was more likely to respond in an understandable way. Conflagration was a magical snake, but not nearly as intelligent as the others.

"He was doing something he should not be doing! Powerful magic! He cannot control it!" Ultio let go of Draco's leg, but only to rear up and dance back and forth as if he was the cobra and had a hood he could flare. "You need to talk to him about it and make sure he can control it before he tries it again!"

Harry blinked at the inrush of information and said, "Okay. Um." He ended up having to look at Draco, away from Ultio, so he could be sure the words wouldn't come out in Parseltongue. "He said that you were doing some magic you couldn't control. Or Ultio thinks you can't, anyway. What happened, Draco?"

Draco's face twisted and he actually turned pale. He took a step back, but he tripped over Conflagration, and Harry had to whip his wand around hastily to cast a Cushioning Charm before Draco cracked his head open on the stones. Harry knelt down next to him. He'd been on his way to Charms, but this looked more urgent. "Draco? Are you all right?"

Draco swallowed. Then he said, "If I just asked you to trust me and said I could handle it, would you leave it alone?"

Ultio began hissing in a frenzy, and Conflagration looked as if he was going to bite someone any minute. "Calm the hell down," Harry hissed. He didn't know how Parseltongue translated the curse, but it seemed to do some good, because they stopped flailing for at least a second. Harry turned back to Draco. "I would, but Ultio is really concerned. I don't think I've seen him get like that before. Can you tell me what you were doing?"

"It was going to be—a surprise."

"Like a Christmas gift?"

"Yes! But bigger."

Harry hesitated. He really did want to trust his boyfriend. Most of the time he could, right? And Draco was giving him this desperate pleading glance that said he should. A snake could worry about something that wasn't worth worrying about. Dash had done it before.

You also know that I worry about many things that turn out to have a good reason behind them.

Harry grimaced over the reality of that, and looked at Draco again. "Please tell me."

Draco avoided his eyes, looked up at the ceiling, looked down the corridor, and said, "Aren't you going to be late for Charms?"

"You're more important."

For a second, Draco's eyes shone, but he looked away and shook his head. "Then trust my very important word that this isn't something you need to worry about."

"Please, Draco." Draco only shook his head again, so Harry sighed and tried another tactic. "You know that I'm probably going to get detention for being late to Professor Flitwick's class—or missing all of it."

"That's why you should go now."

"And Severus is going to want to know why I got the detention," Harry continued in a musing tone. "That means he'll ask some questions, and he's never satisfied with vague answers. He'll demand to know why I got it, and I'll need to tell him, and if my answers don't satisfy him—which they can't—then he'll come and find you."

Draco's face was as pale as old cheese by the time Harry finished. "It was going to be a surprise."

"Not a good one. Not if your snakes are this agitated."

"Thank you," Ultio said. By now he was curled on Draco's shoulder, looking irritated enough to bite him if Draco moved. "Maybe now he will tell you, and then we can stop worrying that he was in the Chamber by himself."

Harry waited. Draco seemed to wrestle between his reluctance to tell him and his reluctance to have Severus read his mind for a few minutes, and finally he looked at Harry and sighed. "I was working blood magic on Bellatrix. If I could turn her loyalty from Voldemort, then it would mean we'd have a spy in his ranks, and one we could depend on."

"No matter what you do to her, she's never going to be loyal to us—"

"With blood magic, she would! She won't have any choice. The blood in her veins would make her!"

"I would never trust her," Harry decided he needed to say. Draco looked so offended. "And neither would Severus. And the rest of our allies would probably follow our lead, even though they don't know Bellatrix. Sorry, Draco. I just think it's too dangerous."

He felt far more than that, a churning sickness in his stomach and a faint, cold wind that seemed to stick close to his skin and lift the hairs on his arms. But he knew Draco would be more upset if he brought that up, so he stuck to his relatively calm words and glanced at the snakes. "How long has he been going down to the Chamber?"

"Since the time shortly after the battle."

Harry winced a little, but he knew it was no good asking a snake to think in terms of days and weeks. "Thank you," he said, and faced Draco, who was giving him the kind of glare that meant he wasn't about to listen to anything Harry said. "Draco, please. Think about it. Why do you want to make Bellatrix loyal to us so badly?"

"Because she's my aunt, and she attacked you. And because I haven't done anything noteworthy in the last little while. I haven't invented a Horcrux-finding machine like Granger. I didn't help defend you during the battle. I didn't—"

"Wait. You're jealous?"

"I never said that." Harry had never known that Draco's nostrils could get so narrow.

"I know you didn't. But it sounds like it to me." Harry tried to keep his voice gentle. It seemed silly to him, but obviously it wasn't to Draco, or he never would have taken so big a risk. "What if I told you that I want you to give this up?"

"I already used the magic. I already broke the basilisk Petrification and she's lying down there now, ready to get up when I tell her to."

Harry closed his eyes. He could hear Dash's hiss down the bond. It seemed that Draco had done something that truly angered Dash, at last. Could you go down there and Petrify her again? Harry asked him.

I could, but I do not know if it would work with the blood magic. Or if it might break the hold Draco has over her and make her run mad, or straight back to Voldemort. I should kill her now. That would waste the least breath and blood.

"Dash wants to kill her," Harry told Draco. "He doesn't trust her, at all, and you've put people in danger."

"I haven't put them in danger!" Draco sounded aghast. "The spell did exactly what it was supposed to do! I have control of her now!"

"And you're absolutely sure about that? Sure enough that you would let go of her in front of other people and see what happens? That's what could happen if you marched her up here with the blood magic and let her see other people."

"I'm not going to do that." At least Draco was calmer now and he spoke as if he was willing to listen to Harry instead of just yell at him. "The best thing we can do is use her for information on Voldemort. I was going to keep her in the Chamber and speak to her about that. And unless you wanted to send her on some kind of spying mission, I was going to have her stay there."

"It was still dangerous to break the Petrification." Dash roared his agreement down the bond. But just as Draco was speaking quietly, Harry felt some of his fears quiet down. If they could just make sure that there was no way Bellatrix could break out and endanger anyone…

"It was." Draco nodded, staring into his eyes. "And I'm willing to acknowledge that. But the blood magic is advanced far enough now that I don't know if I could put her back even if I wanted to."

"You don't want to?"

"No. This is still something only I can do, something that shows I'm loyal and I'm worth something and you'll acknowledge me."

"Of course I acknowledge you," Harry said, a little helplessly. "I mean, do you think I'm going around kissing everyone I see and calling them my boyfriend? Or that I'm lying about loving you?"

Draco hesitated, then blinked. Dash murmured down the bond into Harry's mind, I honestly do not believe he thought that far, or beyond any words that sounded good to him.

"No," Draco said slowly. "But you look up to Professor Snape and Granger. You don't look up to me. You don't admire me the way you do them."

"So this is about wanting me to give all my emotions only to you? Because that's not going to happen, Draco, and I'm sorry if someone told you it was. But it's not."

"Just admire me the way you do them!"

"I think you're smart," Harry said, and made himself speak patiently. "But not about this. This was a stupid thing to do, Draco."

That made Draco scowl and look petulant, which was the last thing Harry wanted. He sighed and raked his hand through his hair. "You're absolutely sure that you have control over Bellatrix with the blood magic you used?"

"Yes," Draco said, and perked up enough to smile at him. "Does that mean you're going to be smart about accepting this, too?"

I don't see that we have any choice, Harry said to Dash down the bond. Unless you think that you could replace the Petrification.

There are too many unknowns about blood magic. If he could exactly reverse what he did, that would still leave Bellatrix free in the moments before I could paralyze her. And no doubt he would refuse to reverse it, because he thinks practicing dangerous magic makes him indispensable somehow.

Harry nodded, more to Dash than Draco, and then said, "All right. So we'll leave things the way they are for now. And you'll control Bellatrix and get information from her. But not as a field scout."

Draco smiled a little. "We'll see."

Harry stepped forwards and let his smile fade. "Draco? Are you listening to me?"

"Of course. I always listen to you, Harry. You know that. I only did this because I want you to listen to me sometimes."

"Then you know that I'm—" Harry braced himself "—the leader of the group you want to join. And you want to impress me. It's not going to impress me if you send Bellatrix on a mission when you know that you can't control her. Or if you sneak out to accompany her. Do you understand me?"

"So you'll get angry at me for disobeying orders?"

"Angrier," Harry corrected at once. "I'm already angry at you. You did something stupid and dangerous and you won't reverse it. And now you're hinting that you're going to do something even more stupid and dangerous because you're pouting about me responding to your already stupid, dangerous action. No, I'm not impressed. Yes, I'm angry at you. Do you want to make it worse?"

"No. I want to make a contribution!"

"Then make it by doing what's sensible next time. And telling someone about your dangerous ideas before you put them into practice."

"Did Granger talk to you about building her Horcrux-finding machine?"

"Of course she did," Harry said, wondering what Draco was doing now. "She told us where she thought they were, and she did a lot of experiments to get the machine right. We didn't see all of them, but we knew what she was doing."

Draco drooped a little. "Oh. I thought she made it as a surprise."

"No. Were you trying to make this a surprise for me?" Harry winced when Draco nodded. "I'm sorry, but I'm never going to take something dangerous as a welcome surprise. If Hermione had kept the Horcrux-hunting machine from me, I wouldn't have liked that surprise, either."

Draco nibbled his lip for a second. Then he nodded. "I won't do something like this again."

Do you trust him to keep that promise, since he's got away with doing exactly what he wanted when it comes to Bellatrix?

I don't really see that we have a choice except to trust him, Harry said briefly. If he does do something else, I give you permission to give him a mild bite of poison. Or Petrify him for a while and see how he likes it.

You are also angrier than I thought.

He did something stupid. He could have got himself killed if Bellatrix broke free from his control. Harry breathed out slowly. But he also did it to impress me. So I need to pay more attention to him and remind myself that I can't—just be ignorant of what it's like for him.

What is what like for him?

He thinks of me as this glorious leader, and then I spend more time with other people than him. I need to change that. I do love him. I just thought everything was better than it is.

Dash said nothing, but sent a soft nudge of love down the bond. Harry turned back to Draco's description of what he had done to Bellatrix, absently hissing orders for Ultio and Conflagration to release him.

He wasn't as much to blame as Draco, but he was part of the reason Draco had done this mad thing. That meant he had a responsibility to make sure that it didn't blow up in all their faces. And if part of that was spending more time with his boyfriend…

Hardly a price at all.


Severus sighed as he listened to the last of Harry's words fade away. "Draco is reckless. I never thought he would be so reckless. Do you think he has proved himself to you to his satisfaction now, or will he do something else?"

Severus went on watching Harry as he faced the dummies that he had just hit with a powerful curse, and saw the peculiar stillness settle into his face. It was an expression Severus had first seen the night of the battle. Harry was growing into being a leader and making hard decisions, whether or not he realized it.

"He knows the consequences," Harry said finally. "He wants to deal with me as his boyfriend, but I'm also his—his leader, in a way. So I would have to stop trusting him if he did something like this again. Now that I know what made him do it, I can try to prevent it."

"It is not your fault that he did this."

"Why not? I should have seen that he would. I should have spent more time around him and realized what it meant to him that I loved him and other people were doing all these splendid things. Please don't try to talk me out of this," Harry added, as Severus opened his mouth. "I know you care about me, too. But if I'm really—a leader, then I have to accept the consequences of my decisions, too."

Severus had to admit the justice of that, but not aloud, so he moved smoothly on to his next question instead. "You can barely believe it yourself, can you? You stumble every time you're about to say the word."

The stillness vanished from Harry's face, and he blushed like the child he still, in some ways, was. "I just mean—that's what you want me to be! Why are you teasing me about it?"

"Because I wanted to see how you would respond," Severus said frankly. "If you always flush and stammer, then you won't give a positive impression of yourself."

"Okay. Um. You're right."

"Of course I am."

Harry rolled his eyes a little and faced the dummies again. "Wandless this time?"

"And wordless."

Harry all but snarled at him, then gestured hard at the dummies with one hand. Severus watched with a critical eye. He hoped to train the gestures out of Harry in the end, too. It was all very well for him to wave a hand like that in the security of the classroom, but when he was on the battlefield and facing someone who knew what it meant—

He leaped into the air himself as lightning crackled out and hit three of the dummies. He stared at them as they burned, then cast the charm that would keep the flames from spreading. He glanced at Harry, who seemed a little dazed.

"Um," Harry said. "That was better, right?"

"You won't be perfect until you can control the hand gesture."

"Of course, Severus."

"And you need to work on your Occlumency and Legilimency."

"Yeah, I know." Harry paused. "Severus?"

"What?"

"You are so bloody impressed right now, aren't you."

That it wasn't a question told Severus that his leap had put paid to his façade. So he smiled, and delighted in the way Harry's eyes widened.

"Yes, I am. Now get back to work."