Dragon's Bane

Chapter 9: The Hunter's Weapon

"All truth lies behind closed doors." –Centra, "City of Fallen Angels"

The cellar.

That's how the vampire, or half-vampire as it were, referred to the dark chamber beneath the manor. When Draco was a child, he had called it the catacombs. His imagination had been better in those days, as he supposed was the case for many seven-year-olds suddenly greeting false manhood.

The Malfoy cellar was practically a floor unto itself, no simple storage area. It held secrets. The knowledge of such secrets and the dank atmosphere had sent a younger Draco's mind into the land of fierce warriors and deadly monsters. Draco had wielded his short play-broom as a mighty sword, fighting off the crates and propped, dusty portraits that attacked him. For a few weeks, the catacombs had been his favorite place in the world. And then his father had caught him climbing back out through the lone, hidden exit beneath the west wing's staircase. Playing had ended that day.

Draco though he must have been braver back in those days because, as a young man, the cellar passage alone was frightening. Of course, that could have been due to the body.

"Wonky?" he asked, his voice caught in his throat.

He stared down at the old house-elf's form.

It was fragile with age and stiff with death. The little servant had been partially blind already. Now his pale eyes were white, glazed and fixed in a perfect expression of terror. They were looking up at their master from within a tilted head propped against the wall, pointy ear squashed and, below, the neck holding on by a thread of twisted skin instead of bone.

"You were hiding it . . ." Draco raised a brow at his own conclusion—no, surely the house-elf's location was a coincidence. The elf wouldn't have thought to protect the cellar over his mistress's life. He would have been devoted to helping her alone—he could barely remember his own name muchless make a decision to protect the manor. Of course if Narcissa had given Wonky orders before the incident . . . had his mother known about the Vampire Killer?

"Malfoy, what are you doing running off like that . . . ?" Harry came to a halt as he rounded the corner, seeing the spot where Draco was knelt down. "Your house-elf. He's dead."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Brilliant deduction, Potter."

Harry took another step forward, his hand on his wand. "Did you. . . ?"

"Did I what? Kill him? Yes—in the twenty seconds that I've been out of your sight, I've tracked down my elf and twisted the little bastard's head off his body. That's how a Malfoy spends his free time, after all. . ." Draco rattled, leaning forward to grab the dead elf by his dingy pillow case.

"You arse. I was going to as if you'd found the weapon," Harry snapped.

"Liar."

"I wasn't. . ."

"Shut it, Potter." Draco slowly pulled the elf out of the way, his eyes on the other wizard all the while, pretending spite. The truth was, he didn't care to look down at the heavy lump of flesh. What if the head had fallen off? Could he stomach that? He had seen worse but he hadn't been forced to touch his father's body. . .

Draco stood back up, wiping his hands off on his legs. He leaned forward against the wall. A pop sounded and the wall swung open to reveal a door without a knob. He pressed one hand against the entry and the wood shook slightly, accepting him. The door opened inward.

"It might take a while to find this weapon. . . I'm going down there alone, too—I won't have you getting your dirty fingers on my family heirlooms," Draco sneered, taking a step inside.

Harry lunged forward, grabbing the other wizard's arm. "How do I know you won't come back with some illegal dark object that will hex us all to hell?" Harry paused. "Or have you forgotten that I don't trust you a damned bit, Malfoy?"

"This is my manor, Potter."

"And I have the wand, Malfoy."

"I hope you trip on your arse, Potter."

"Right back at you, Malfoy."

Draco blinked. For a moment, life had felt normal again, like school days spent picking fights with younger weaklings (preferably non-Slytherin). Or cursing the name of Potter. But when Draco had seen the door again, he'd realized that the comfortable tension of the past no longer existed. While the wizards were bickering, a dark reality still surrounded them—Draco had never quite noticed it when he was younger.

Draco felt weak again. But Potter looked the same as ever, damn him. It wasn't fair.

"This door only opens for a Malfoy. I could leave you down there. It's dark. It would only be too easy to lose you."

Harry smirked, looking past the door. "So nice of you to tell me as much, Malfoy. And I suppose you'll enjoy your quality time upstairs with your mate Alucard."

Harry motioned Draco forward.

The blond wizard didn't have a response. It seemed his quick tongue was betraying him, after so many years of loyal service.

Draco held to the stairs as he descended into the darkness, the only light shining for behind him, in the form of Harry's lit wand—the door had already slammed closed as soon as the wizards had passed into the cellar.

At the end of the staircase, Draco stopped, his eyes following the pale beam of Potter's wand and searching the long shadow of an object on the floor. It was a short toy broom, its handle finely shaped, its bristles slightly worn from the many times its young owner had smacked it against the floor when he'd fallen off.

All these years since his father had locked him out of the cellar, cast him into the pale-walled manor, all those years and still no one had even picked up the toy. If Draco had not been so spoiled, he might have missed the broom; if the Malfoys had lived in a quaint home, they would have actually used the cellar storage more often. Draco had thought, at first, those to be good excuses for the abandonment of the underground, but the truth was now obvious. His parents didn't come downstairs, didn't let him down into the cellar, because of what his "catacombs" actually held.

"Where do we begin, Malfoy?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "I don't even know what the hell we're looking for."

"A whip."

"Excuse me?" Draco turned, but the wand's light stopped him from glaring up at the other wizard's face. "A whip? Why a whip? I honestly don't have time for your silly jokes, Potter."

"I'm not joking. Alucard said it was a whip."

"Why would that oaf tell you that?"

"He would have told you as well, but you ran off on your own before he could—perhaps, you should pay a bit more attention to detail."

"So, the mighty Vampire Killer is a whip. What a bloody fantastic waste of time," Draco growled, stomping back up until he greeted the stair in front of Harry. "You could have mentioned that it was a whip earlier."

"Waste of time? It's a weapon for killing vampires—isn't that what you need? Isn't your mother--?

"A fucking whip, Potter? How many wizards—or muggles for that matter—do you know with the ability to use a whip?"

Harry was quiet.

"That's what I thought," Draco continued. "A waste of time. I would have been better off just looking for a wand."

Potter slowly raised his lit wand in Draco's face, the light blinding the wizard. His voice was dangerously low. "Find the weapon, Malfoy," he commanded. He leaned forward. "Now. We don't have time for your games."

"Get that out of my face!" Draco hissed, instinctively taking a step backward. His foot missed the next stair and he fell back onto the floor, catching the fall hard on his elbow. The wizard winced, rolling to one side to push himself up.

Harry stared down at him, his mouth open in surprise. "Malfoy, I . . ."

"You," Draco spat. "You are going to pay for that, Potter."

A heavy pause weighed the air. Neither wizard moved. Both had more to say, but Draco's curiosity suddenly stole the tense atmosphere. He noted something more important than the threats that were about to leave his mouth—he saw the bottom step.

The step he had missed. It was lower than the rest, and the wood. . . There was something wrong with the look of the wood. It was smoother on top, almost shiny in the light.

Harry must have noticed as well because he took to one knee on the second stair and reached down to touch the odd step.

"Don't," Draco warned. He recognized it now. The wood looked the same as that which composed the cellar door.

Draco slid a hand across the top and the step lifted ever so slightly from the dull encasing sides. Draco gripped the tiny lip and lifted the box, a hollow, topless step where it had just been. There was not a lock on the box but instead a leather latch at its front. It opened with ease.

The Vampire Killer stared back at the wizard, a leather whip twisted about itself like a narrow-bodied snake.

Draco felt a chill crawl up his wand arm. The weapon called to him. He reached out and slammed the lid down, latching the box. The wizard stared down at it a moment more, as if expecting it to attack.

"Well?" Harry asked. "That's it, isn't it?"

"No. I'm sure there are several whips hidden in my cellar."

Harry's frown deepened. "Pick it up."

Draco cursed under his breath, standing with the heavy box tucked beneath one arm. He walked past the other wizard, anxiousness pushing him back onto the ground floor. He wanted to see it again, look down at that stupid strap of leather, see what made it so special. His arm tightened around it when he reached out of the door.

Draco would have ran into the half-vampire if Potter hadn't moved to his side. The wizards stopped, surprised to find Alucard waiting in the hall.

"You were successful," he stated. "Good."

"Yes, lucky me," Draco snorted. "I have a whip."

The half-vampire glanced from Draco to Harry, as if his next words were for the black-haired wizard. "The Vampire Killer is the weapon of a Belmont." His eyes found Draco's again and he held the gray gaze. "If you can wield the weapon, you may yet live."

Draco looked away from Alucard. The weapon could save his life, his mother's life. Impossible. Surely.

It was a waste of time.

Potter's eyes were burning into his back. He knew that the other wizard wanted to know the story. He'd heard the name, of course, Belmont. Alucard had meant him to, for some reason. Potter would ask soon.

"Follow me," Alucard stated, breaking Draco's thoughts. "A bloody path lies ahead of the both of you. There are many things we must discuss."