Author's Note: Sorry the last chapter was so bad. I admit I was sleepy when I wrote it…hopefully this one will be better and more interesting, as it will include a confrontation!
Hermoine dragged Harry to a relatively empty corner near the eating area. Tall green shrubs rose up behind them, the bushy broad-leaved plants offering them some privacy on one side. The far corner of the restaurant was on their other side and although they were standing out in the open, she knew it was the best they could do under the circumstances. Glancing back at the others, her ponytail whipping her on one cheek, Hermoine was relieved to see the others had seated themselves at one of the plastic Muggle tables. Draco was pointing at the red and white soda sign and his father nodded. A broad red umbrella blocked the son and she thought that was good. The Malfoys with their pale coloring were prime suspects for sunburn and she wondered if she could convince them to wear some sunblock. Satisfied they were alone for the moment, she returned her attention to Harry. Her brown eyes focused on his face with concern. "What is it? Did Remus tell you something? I noticed you had a little chat with him."
Harry's green eyes darkened as he stared at her. "What would you care? You're getting awful cozy with Malfoy, aren't you? I thought you're on my side!"
"Harry! I am on your side!" Hermoine replied as she reached out and rested a hand on his shoulder, sighing. It was clear he was in one of his dark moods again. Obviously, whatever the werewolf had told him hadn't agreed with him at all. "And I had explained what had happened, why we're trying to be friends with them. I know you're totally focused on the big battle with You Know Who and all, but we also need to separate him from his followers. That would weaken him a lot and help you greatly. Can't you see that?"
"Look, you just can't continue fighting with Draco all the time. You know that, don't you?" Hermoine asked, her tone of voice serious. Through the years she had watched as the little disputes had grown into serious scuffles. Harry's bad temper always won out over his common sense and the result was Draco being beat with Harry's fists. Sure, she had hit the blonde Slytherin once during Third Year, but she hadn't actually hurt him. Only Draco's pride had been wounded that day but he had bounced right back, the cocky smirk on his face the next morning. Plus she had saved him from seeing a truly awful sight, saved his innocence. In many ways, the blonde was far more innocent than Harry. He was still playing childish games in a way. He wanted to compete with the famous Boy That Lived and his mouth got him into trouble. "If you do, you'll end up right in Azkaban sharing a sell with Lucius!"
"I'd end up living with him anyway…" Harry grumbled under his breath, his mood dark as a thundercloud.
"What?" Hermoine asked, not having exactly heard what he had mumbled. "You have to control that temper you have! One of these days you'll end up killing Draco and he really hasn't done anything that deserves that. Dumbledore…"
"Dumbledore is an idiot!" Harry quickly cut her off, his green eyes blazing with fury. Reaching out, he gripped her by her shoulders and held on tightly. "Dumbledore expects me to go live with him!"
Hermoine's face grew confused, her lips slightly parted and a crease between her brows. "Go live with who?"
"The Malfoys!" Harry replied angrily, his grip tightening. The words spilled from his mouth quickly, one after the other in a mad rush. "Can you believe that? After all I've been through and all I did for him and the school, he expects me to live with a convicted Death Eater! It's crazy! I mean, there's so many other places he could put me: the Weasleys, Grimwald Place, with any of the Order members. You know what? I'm glad I thrashed his office!"
"Harry!" Hermoine exclaimed, shocked.
He released her and started nervously pacing in the small area. "Our esteemed Headmaster has practically gift-wrapped me for Voldemort. He doesn't care about us, Hermoine. He's just using us! He gives us leeway and let's us get away with things so we do all his dirty work."
"Harry, I'm sure that's not true!" Hermoine replied as she stood there watching him pace. "Dumbledore is very wise. He cares about all of his students…."
"Does he?" Harry asked. He had once thought Dumbledore the greatest sorcerer on the entire planet and had told Tom Riddle that down in the Chamber. But that had been years ago, in Second Year. Now it felt as if it had been ages ago, eons even. He hated being lied to, kept in the dark. "Then why did he keep so much from me? Why did he let Sirius die? Who do I have to go live with a Death Eater?"
"I…" Hermoine didn't know what to say to her friend. "I only know this fighting between Houses has to end. If it doesn't, the whole school will fall. We'll loose, Harry! Do you want to loose to You Know Who?"
"No. I want to kill him." Harry stated, his voice cold and determined. "He murdered my parents, he was responsible for Sirius' death and he killed Cedric. And who knows how many other innocent lives he snuffed out? I'm tired of him always coming after me, Hermoine. He could have left me alone. I was just a kid going to school and I really didn't know anything about him. I suppose if he wouldn't have started that thing First Year I wouldn't care now, but he did start it. So I'm going to finish it, somehow. I just don't know how…"
Hermoine's brown eyes grew wide at his words. She knew Harry had killed before in self-defense, but to hear him say it just like that – it was unnerving. "Harry, if you do that, you'll be sinking to his level."
"I don't care anymore." Harry said as he stared down at his worn sneakers. "I'm tired of just sitting somewhere waiting for something to happen, asking myself Is today the day I'm going to die? Do you have any idea what that's like? I don't think you do, Hermoine. I appreciate the help you've given me over the years, but you can't really know what it's like. I'm the madman's main target and I'm expected to go live with his right hand!"
"I'm sure Dumbledore wouldn't put you in danger, Harry." Hermoine reasoned. No matter what Harry thought of the Headmaster, she still trusted him. "Look, you've always wanted a family…"
"Not that family!" Harry instantly replied. His gaze shifted to the three blondes sitting at the Muggle table talking to each other. Remus was relaxing at the table as well, his long legs stretched out in front of him. Truthfully, he wasn't as pleased with the werewolf's presence anymore.
Hermoine shook her head sadly, her ponytail flying about. "Harry, you have to stop hating them! They are not the enemy!"
"They're Slytherins." He replied matter-of-factly, as if that explained it all.
"Yes, they are." Hermoine admitted. "But not all Slytherins are bad! And I'm sure not all of them grow up to be murderers, either! Is that what you think, Harry? Do you really believe Draco is going to become a murderer? Because I don't think he has it in him. Why, he can't even defend himself! Take the wand away and he's an easy target. And that's why it's your job to protect him!"
"Me? Why the heck is it my job? I don't even like the bloody git!"
"Because you're the Chosen One!" Hermoine exclaimed as she poked a finger at Harry's chest. "You have the talent and the ability! You defeated the basilisk and opened the Chamber, you made it through the Tri-Wizard Tournament and stopped the Death Curse a second time…"
"That was an accident!" Harry exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. "I told you what happened!"
"There are no coincidences, Harry!" Hermoine explained as she gazed into his emerald eyes. "Don't you see? Its fate that's helping you! You were meant for that wand, a wand that shares the same core with his wand! It saved you once and who knows what coincidence may save you again? I know you're prejudice against Slytherins and think they're all like You Know Who, but they're not. If you'd only get to know them, give them a chance I'm sure you'll realize they're people just like us. And they need your help, Harry, more than the others. They don't have the courage we do to stand up against him! If You Know Who would put the pressure on Draco he'd likely cave in from fear, but if you're there with him, then he'll be able to find the bravery inside himself."
Harry stared at her. He didn't like the idea that he was prejudice against any group, but she was right. He didn't like the Slytherins. The thing is, he couldn't trust them. They were all crooked and underhanded, weren't they? "Look, Hermoine, I know you think you're going to accomplish something this weekend, that you have high hopes, but I'm not sure we're getting anywhere. So they see some Muggles and ride a few rides. What does that get us? I really don't think it's going to change anything! I saw Lucius at the beginning of Second Year. He was selling poisons, Hermoine! Poisons! He's just using this ridiculous situation to get off the hook! He'll nod his head, say he's sorry and slip Fudge some huge amount of money under the table and he'll be free again! He'll probably convince the man that it was some great misunderstanding that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know Fudge is an idiot. He can't even make decisions on his own!"
Hermoine sighed, aspirated. She had hoped she had convinced him yesterday to really give it a try, but he was still fighting the idea. He apparently loved to hate Slytherins and wasn't ready to give them an honest chance to prove otherwise. And this hate for them wasn't doing Harry any good. In fact, it was harming him. Yet he was blind to the fact. And if it grew any worst, well, then he wouldn't listen to her at all. Who would be able to control him then? Certainly not Ron! And Dumbledore, it was clear Harry distrusted him as well. He hated Snape with an all-consuming passion and McGonagall was too elderly to take him on. That only left Hagrid and their big-hearted friend was too soft to control Harry. He would just pat him on the head and say it would be all right while pouring tea or showing them some new horrid creature he had bred. Harry's powers were growing, as was his thirst for vengeance against the man who had killed his parents as well as anyone else that got in his way. And if he weren't careful, he'd end up being the very thing he hated!
"Harry, you promised me yesterday that you'd give this an honest try!" Hermoine reminded him sternly. "I know maybe this all seems totally stupid and ridiculous, but I think we may be getting somewhere! You have to remember they don't know anything about Muggles! To them, this place is very strange and frightening. But more important than the rides or the food is the opportunity to talk to them! We're in a neutral place, more or less. There are no Houses here, no Quidditch matches to fuss over, no Potions professor breathing down your neck. Now, I've been doing my part. I've been talking to them all morning. I've been trying to be a real friend to Draco and it's not polite that you were laughing at him earlier. Friends don't laugh at each other like that and you know it."
Harry hung his head, feeling slightly ashamed of his behavior. "Look, you have got to be reasonable here. You just can't wave your wand and expect us to be friends!"
"Well, I wish I could!" She replied, glaring at him slightly. "I never said this was going to be easy. But you need to let go of your pride and do what I'm asking. It'll work, trust me!"
Harry studied her face, searching for some clue that the Imperious Curse was controlling her. There was no doubt in his mind that Lucius would cast it if he wanted to or needed to. No matter how much his friend hoped that good existed inside everyone, Harry knew better. Some people's insides were darkened by evilness and no amount of preaching was going to change that. And surely Lucius Malfoy, convicted Death Eater and escapee from Azkaban, was such a person? He had even been caught red-handed in the Ministry of Magic garbed in Death Eater robes! But no matter how much he studied her face he couldn't spot any signs of control, but then one usually couldn't. Maybe Hermoine actually believed in this crazy scheme of hers. It sounded like something from a book, actually. He even had the appropriate wicked Aunt that treated him like a slave… "What of all the things he said to me in the past? Do you just expect me to forget that?"
"Yes, I do!" Hermoine replied as she nodded her head. "We were just kids, Harry! He doesn't know any better. You hurt his feelings when you snubbed him…"
"Did you forget what he called you?"
"No, but I've forgiven him." Hermoine explained gently as she once again reached out to her close friend. Laying a hand on his arm, she looked into his emerald eyes. "I know this is difficult. You remember when Ron called me mental First Year, how I spent most of the day crying in the bathroom? Well, that tore me up inside and it hurt me far worst than Draco's Mudblood taunts. But I forgave Ron and I forgave Draco, too. And if you really think about it, I insulted him first that day by implying his father had bought his way onto the Quidditch team. It wasn't very nice of me and I really had no right to say such a thing, even if he is a Slytherin. I don't like holding a grudge against people or how that makes me feel inside. It'll eat away at you, you know, and it'll destroy you in the end if you let it."
"So you want me to forgive him?" Harry asked, surprised. "Hermoine, he was insulting my parents!"
"Yes, I know what he said. But people often say things they don't mean. And it's not a very good way to live, is it? Going around and hating people just because they said some dumb remark?" Hermoine glanced towards the table and saw Lupin was apparently keeping the three Purebloods occupied for the moment. Relief and gratitude swept through her at the sight. The last thing she needed was for one of the Malfoys to come wondering over while she wasn't done with Harry yet. It was strange, really, when she paused to realize it had been far easier to convince Draco to be friends with Harry than Harry to be friends with Draco. "And it's really his attitude that you dislike, right? Well, beating him won't teach him anything; it'll just make the problem worst. But if you become his friend, then you can change his attitude."
Harry released a puff of breath. "I … I just don't like the idea of living with them."
"Lucius donated a bunch of money to St. Mungo's, didn't he?" Hermoine remarked, her brows rose in concentration. "I'm sure I remember that from the Quidditch World Cup…"
"That was just a front, Hermoine!" Harry insisted. "It's to cover up his dark arts background!"
"But if he were truly evil, he wouldn't give them anything at all." She replied calmly. "Still, if you're going to go live with them, then so will I! I want to make sure you give them a fair chance and don't judge them by past actions or rumors you might have heard."
"I don't believe this…" Harry shook his head. He knew all too well how Hermoine loved to boss him and Ron around. Nor had he missed how she had latched herself to Draco, dragging him onto rides. Before he knew it, she would be bossing Lucius as well! And that he would like to see. But then, she had managed to convince him to come here, didn't she? Maybe she was already bossing him. His green eyes focused on the group of four people sitting at the pale pink picnic table. He supposed he could forgive Remus. The werewolf had been only carrying a message from Dumbledore. It really hadn't been his fault the senile old man had chosen Lucius for his new guardian. Nor was he going to hide from the facts. Making up his mind, he focused his gaze on the elder Malfoy. "You want me to talk to them? All right, I'm going to go talk to them."
Harry strode towards the pink plastic table, determination in his step.
"Be polite!" Hermoine hissed at his back and then she scurried to catch up with him. The last thing she wanted was for some fight to break out and with Harry one never knew. He was often so hotheaded and did things without thinking it through.
Reaching the round table, Harry stopped across from Lucius and rested his palms on the smooth tabletop. Glaring with green eyes, he stared at the Death Eater, unafraid. "You think I'm your ticket out of Azkaban, don't you?"
A flicker of surprise passed over Lucius' face but he quickly hid it. "I surmise someone has told you the Headmaster's grand idea. I assure you yesterday when I showed up at your Uncle's house it was not my intentions to adopt you, but it seems Dumbledore has other ideas. Believe me, I had not been aware that so many problems existed in the Muggle home where you were staying."
Draco's blue eyes widened in shock at the adoption news, as this was the first he had heard of it. Was his father really going to adopt Potter?
"Or what? You wouldn't have kidnapped me in the first place?" Harry asked defiantly.
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call it kidnapping." Lucius corrected. He had hoped he would have had more time to figure out exactly what he was going to do about his unusual and unexpected problem. Unfortunately, it seemed that Harry's werewolf friend had spilled the beans already. "You did crawl into my carriage by yourself, if I recall correctly. Nor had we gone searching for Miss Granger. I assure you our meeting was fairly accidental. We had simply gone to the beach to observe some Muggles."
"I'm not going to let you hand me over to Voldemort." Harry stated.
"I assure you, Harry, I have no desire to go back to Azkaban." Lucius admitted honestly as he watched the young teenage boy. He had silently observed the little chat the two Gryffindors had engaged in over by the shrubs and had correctly assumed Hermoine was trying to ease him into the situation. Dumbledore had been correct about the boy's emotional troubles. He acted very heroic at times and even Lucius secretly admired his courage to face Voldemort in the cemetery a few years back – no matter how foolhardy it had been – but he was also a bully. According to reports from his son, Harry flew off his rocker at the slightest provocation and often resulted to fighting with his bare hands: a vulgar display. No doubt it was learned from those awful Muggles. Abused, mistrustful and with bad habits, he had been dropped into his lap and now Dumbledore expected some miracle no doubt. "Even with the Dementors gone it's not a very pleasant place. I didn't enjoy sitting in a tiny cell and freezing all the time. But the Headmaster did put me into a tricky position. If I don't care for you properly, I will be sent back to Azkaban. Yet my Master will expect me to hand you over. If I don't do that, he'll kill my family…"
At this news, Draco gulped and his blue eyes widened in fright. He had feared becoming a Death Eater, of course, but to hear his father state such a thing in the open like that…somehow that made it all the more real. The death threat seemed to hang over his head now and his eyes flew over to Harry. How had the Gryffindor lived for so long like this?
Harry continued to calmly stare at the longhaired blonde man. He didn't like that his fate rested in the hands of a Death Eater but what could he do about it except act brave? "So? What are you going to do?"
At the question, Draco's eyes flew back to his father.
"You do know it's wrong to follow a man who would threaten your own family, don't you?" Hermoine added as she slid onto the smooth plastic bench next to Draco. Reaching for his hand under the table, she gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"Voldemort lied to you." Harry added as he continued to stand at the table, hands resting on the smooth pink surface. "He's not a Pureblood at all. Nor does he care about them. The basilisk he released would have killed anyone who happened to meet its gaze. It didn't care about blood, only its own bloodlust. And he tried to kill Ginny. She is a Pureblood. Even you admit that. Voldemort is nothing but a serial killer, a psychopath. He told me down in the Chamber that he changed his name because he hated his Muggle father and didn't want to keep his filthy name anymore."
Draco's jaw dropped. "He … he has a Muggle father?"
Sighing, Lucius closed his eyes for a brief moment. He didn't know what he should do in such a case. He was beginning to like the two Gryffindors and even admire them. Both seemed to possess Slytherin traits. Nor had he forgotten Harry's long list of rule breaking he had admitted to yesterday at the zoo. But did he care for them enough to risk his own family? For he had no doubt in his mind that Voldemort would kill him and his family if they sided with Harry. Reopening them, he focused his silvery-gray orbs on the Potter boy. He stood across the table defiantly, his gaze steady and unafraid. The boy possessed courage and raw power that was for certain. A breeze blew past and his shaggy bangs moved across his forehead, the jagged red scar becoming visible. Lucius gazed upon it for a moment, reminded of how Harry had bested the Dark Lord in the cemetery. Nor had he forgotten Harry's daring during Quidditch. He had been sitting in the stands that day next to Severus and had witnessed the bludger break the boy's arm. That injury alone would have stopped any normal person, but not Harry. He had continued on after the golden snitch and had caught it with his other arm; his body huddled over his broomstick for balance. It was becoming clear that Harry very well might beat the Dark Lord. And being the Slytherin he was, it was in his best interests to be on the winning side. "Can you protect my family?"
The unexpected question surprised Harry and it showed on his face. "You're asking me?"
"You have beat him at every turn." Lucius stated. "I saw you defeat him in the cemetery myself. I wouldn't have thought it possible…"
"That was an accident!" Harry exclaimed. The life seemed to drain out of him and he sunk down onto the bench. "Why does everyone always think I plan these things? I did the only spell I could think of!"
"But it worked." Hermoine soothed. "You're a great wizard, Harry! You have the Fates on your side and you'll defeat him one of these days."
Harry moaned loudly and rested his head on the tabletop, his arms folded on his head. "If I ever meet these so-called Fates, I'll kill them, too…."
"Oh, Harry!" Hermoine said as she stood. "You must be famished. I'll get us all something to eat."
Lifting his head, Harry watched Hermoine hurry towards the nearby line for food. "Too bad I can't feed Voldemort to Aragog…"
Draco's brow rose in confusion and he stared at the Boy That Lived. "Who's Aragog?"
"Just this giant spider that lives in the Dark Forest." Harry replied matter-of-factly, his tone of voice bored. "There are thousands of them out there, in this hollow…"
"You're … you're making that up!" Draco accused, frightened. "Surely the Old Fool wouldn't let all those spiders live out there… They'd be a threat to the school and the students!"
"Believe what you want." Harry shrugged. "But I talked to Aragog. I saw him. He's bigger than Hagrid's house. Anyway, I guess it's a he…"
"You've talked to it?" Draco sneered at the other boy and rolled his blue eyes. "Potter, spiders can't talk! Do you think we're that stupid?"
"Yes, it talked to me!" Harry replied. He lifted his head from the tabletop and glared at the blonde teenager. "Why do you think it's called the Dark Forest? Do you think because it's filled with nasty, dark creatures? I've been in there plenty of times and have seen things that'll turn your hair white…"
"Potter, my hair already is white!" Draco snorted. "And spiders can't talk. I don't care how big they are! They don't have vocal cords. Why, they don't even have a proper mouth…"
"Are you suggesting I'm lying?" Harry asked as he rose partway out of his seat, his green eyes darkening from emerald to forest. "Because I'm not. You want to go see Aragog?"
"Boys!" Lucius interrupted, waving his snake-headed cane threateningly. "Need I remind you two to get along? And we will not be taking a trip into the Forest to go see this aramantula. I have no desire for anyone at this table to be eaten by such creatures. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Father." Draco leaned back slightly and stared at Harry, his hands folded neatly in front of him. "I'm sorry, Father."
"Harry?" Lucius asked, one dark brow rose in question.
"Would you really care whether or not I get eaten?" Harry asked, partly scared that the reply would be in the negative. But then, he couldn't really hope for a positive reply, could he?
Both Lucius and Narcissa's mouths dropped open in shock.
"Why would you even think such a thing?" Narcissa asked, one pale hand hovering near her mouth. "Of course we would care! We may have pale skin and hair, but I assure you we're not cold-blooded!"
"Well, I know my Aunt and Uncle wouldn't care one bit." Harry admitted. "They'd probably celebrate."
"Ooohh! Those horrid Muggles!" Narcissa gritted her teeth and an angry expression appeared on her face. Harry could practically swear he saw her long hair bristling outward from her sleek ponytail, but perhaps that was just static electricity from some ride. The Pureblood witch clenched her manicured hands into fists and then relaxed them again. Climbing out of her place on the smooth plastic bench, she hurried over to Harry. Gripping him by the shoulders, she forcibly maneuvered him into place next to her husband and then she reseated herself. Reaching out, she hugged the very startled dark-haired boy. "This is exactly why those horrid creatures shouldn't raise our kind! They always mistreat them, the filthy creatures! But don't you worry, Harry. We'll take good care of you from now on and I don't care what that freak of a walking corpse says!"
Draco's mouth hung open as the scene played out in front of his startled eyes. It was clear his mother had taking a liking to Harry or something along those lines anyway. And Mother usually got what she wanted…
Harry's nerves jumped as he was squashed between the two adult Malfoys. This sudden behavior of Narcissa's had sent him into a mild state of shock and he didn't know what to think. He had always presumed them to be cold-blooded. "But … what about Voldemort?"
Narcissa waved a manicured hand, polished fingernails flashing before Harry's green eyes. "Don't you worry about that, Harry. Lucius will take care of that, won't you, Dear?"
Closing his mouth, as it was undignified to be seen in public with a gaping jaw, Lucius sighed. Now that Narcissa had taken the boy under her wing, he'd have to keep him! He knew once Cissa decided she wanted something; there was no changing her mind. She'd fuss and make a huge stink until she got her way or he'd end up sleeping on that lumpy sofa again. And he hated that sofa! Sometimes he suspected that she had the house elves put extra lumps in the cushions to further punish him… although it had improved slightly since Potter had freed Dolby…
Then Hermoine appeared with an over-loaded tray of food and he eagerly reached for the now familiar red-and-white cup of fizzy soda. He needed a drink, badly!
To be continued…
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