Chapter 27

Disclaimer: I still don't own Harry Potter


Draco stared at the empty the room in front of him, cold disbelief seizing in his veins and freezing his thoughts. He blinked once, dumbly, then a second time.

Bill was gone.

Claire had taken him.

But Stevick had been the Death Eater? Why would Claire—?

The answer came to him, suddenly and obviously. They'd both been Death Eaters.

Self-recrimination washed over him, after all, there wasn't a rule that said only one Death Eater could be in Hogwarts at one time. And now that he realized it, he recognized the genius in the plan. Stevick did all the obvious attacks: the bats during the Quidditch game, the graffiti, the fire on the pitch, even the attempt on the horcrux. That left Claire free to skulk about on her own.

The Dark Lord's plan had worked. Flawlessly. Stevick had taken the fall, and that left Claire free to continue spying while everyone relaxed and thought the danger was over. And now she'd kidnapped Bill, and no one would know he was missing until the morning. In fact, Claire could come right back to the school, and no one would ever suspect her. No one would know where to start looking for Bill.

Something twisted in Draco's chest, hard and sharp and bright. He sucked in a breath, reaching up to press at his sternum. Some distant part of his mind informed him that the sensation was fear, but there wasn't time to be afraid. Not now. Not when Draco was the only one who knew what had happened.

The first thing Draco needed to do was to make it obvious Bill was gone. He pulled out his wand and used a wind charm to send the quills, ink bottles, and knickknacks on Bill's desk onto the floor. A levitation charm dumped Bill's bag onto the floor, sending papers and books scattering across the room. He plucked Bill's wand from the mess and pocketed it, intent on returning it to its owner. He glanced about, then kicked over Bill's chair. There, that looked like a struggle had taken place.

He left Bill's office, leaving the door wide open and lights on bright. It was late in the evening, but the Prefects hadn't done their patrol yet. Someone would find the mess. Someone would sound the alarm.

But might take an hour or two for Bill's absence to be noticed, and it would take even longer for them to understand what had happened – that he'd been kidnapped by a Death Eater. How long would it take Dumbledore to rally his Order? How long for the Aurors to be called? And if Bill had been taken to France, how long would it take to assemble an international rescue team?

It would take too long. Every minute Bill was in the Dark Lord's grasp was another minute he was being tortured. Another minute his mind was being pried into. Another minute of agony and fear and despair.

Draco needed to do something more.

He needed to rescue Bill.

He turned and headed towards Bill's room.

Write a letter to Dumbledore, his mind said. Reveal Claire as a Death Eater. He'll take care of the rest.

But what could Dumbledore do? He didn't know where Bill was being held.

You don't know either, his mind retorted.

But Draco could figure it out faster than Dumbledore could. And Draco could visit more places, move more quickly.

Bill knew what he was getting into, his mind argued. He knew the risks. He'd be prepared for capture.

Draco shook his head in disagreement. Bill may have been prepared for capture, but he wouldn't be prepared for torture. Not really. He would understand it from a logical perspective, but to feel it, to be the target of it… no, torture could break even the strongest person. Draco wasn't going to let that happen to Bill.

He reached Bill's door and used the professor's wand to unlock it.

It was impossible not to take a moment to glance about. He noticed the neatly made bed, the cluttered desk, and the cozy-looking chair beside the fireplace, completely with a knitted blanket that must have been home-made, no doubt by Molly Weasley. There was a collection of photos on the mantle, family photos. Draco could track the progression of time as he watched Bill grow up and be joined by more and more siblings. Everyone smiled in the photos. Real smiles that squinted their eyes and scrunched their noses. It was a stark contrast to the stern, unsmiling portraits that hang on the walls of Malfoy Manor.

Draco turned away from the photos and spotted the trunk at the foot of the bed. It opened with a simple unlocking charm, and there, at the top of the trunk, was the unmistakable slippery-smooth fabric of the invisibility cloak. It shimmered in his grasp, the quality of it easily detectable by the way his hands disappeared behind it. He rummaged in the trunk for anything else Bill had used while spying and found an old haversack – most likely from Bill's curse-breaking days. The color had faded, but the fabric – thick sturdy canvas – remained strong. Draco knew this haversack would have several spell-resistant qualities woven through it – anti-fire and water-charms. Maybe even a barrier spell. Draco grabbed it and shoved the invisibility cloak inside. He left the room and headed down to the Potion's classroom. It was completely deserted at this hour. Draco stopped at the potions' cupboard and cast an eye over the vials stacked inside. He was hoping there'd be more – but it was nearing the end of the year. Supplies were dwindling. He grabbed the last few blood-replenishing draughts and remaining pain potions. He grabbed the anti-inflammatory and bruise reducer as well and stuffed them inside the bag.

He headed back down to the dorms. The Slytherin Common Room was still in the throes of celebration. Students cavorted together, regardless of birth or heritage. Conversations were loud and unfettered; the laughter was bright and easy. Pansy had snuck into the kitchens and brought back cups of pudding that were no doubt meant for tomorrow night's dinner. Eleanor Connelly passed out bottles of butterbeer. The merfolk had been drawn to the party. They swam about the windowed wall, turning flips and rolls to the delight of the younger students. It was cheerful. Hopeful. Happy. Draco normally would have claimed his seat beside the fireplace and lorded over it, but there wasn't time. And he needed an excuse for his absence.

He spotted Pansy in the center of a group of seventh years, equally parts flirting and conniving, and caught her gaze. He tipped his head to the side; she joined him in a quiet corner.

"Well, you were impressive," she said, reaching out and smoothing an invisible crease in his shirt. It was an overture. One Draco might have accepted if he didn't have a Runes Professor to rescue. "Have you been planning this the whole time?"

"It's been simmering for a while," Draco said. "Are you pleased with the results?"

"I'm… cautiously optimistic about them."

"Optimistic enough to cover for me if anyone asks where I am tonight?"

Her eyebrows narrowed. "Where are you going to be tonight?"

"Celebrating," Draco said vaguely, then added, "with someone who isn't the best look for my image."

Her eyebrow rose. "A forbidden romance? You?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Draco retorted, faking indignation.

"Only that you're far too strict about interpersonal relationships. I'm a little impressed though. You going to tell me who the lucky girl is? Or boy is?" she waggled her eyebrows.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Just… give me an alibi?"

"If I must," Pansy agreed. "I suppose I owe you for all of this," she gestured at the room around them,

"You're a gem," Draco said.

"Go woo your secret Juliette," Pansy said.

Draco gave her a grin, then slipped into his dorm room, pleased to find it empty. He changed out of his school uniform and into the things that would be best suited for a clandestine mission – dark, sturdy trousers, a midnight-black sweater, dragon-leather boots that made no footfalls, a spell-resistant jacket. He pulled a few potions form his own supply and added them to the collection in the haversack. Then he grabbed his unregistered wand. He was going to need access to magic that couldn't be tracked. Lastly, he pulled the invisibility cloak over him. From inside the cloak, the world took a slight shimmer. When he looked in the mirror, absolutely nothing was reflected back at him – not even the merest waver of the cloak. He couldn't help the breath of shocked laughter that escaped him. He'd been raised in Wizarding England, in one of the most successful and wealthy families, at yet this cloak might be the most powerfully magical item he'd ever laid hands on.

He left the room, cloak in place and bag slung over his shoulders. He walked through the Common Room, scarcely able to believe how well the cloak worked. No one noticed him or caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of their eyes. Even the merfolk didn't see him, not even when he waved directly at them. It was strange, to be present and so invisible at the same time. He hoped it worked as well in whatever Death Eater stronghold he ended up in.

He exited the castle out of the side door and headed down to the woods. It was a bit of a hike to get beyond the wards of Hogwarts, but it gave him ample time to tackle his first problem: where had Claire taken Bill?

Draco had seen the Portkey she'd used. It was an official school Portkey, one that would be resistant to major modifications. That meant Claire wouldn't be able to access the international locations Bill had been spying on the last year. She'd have to take Bill to a closer location, one inside of Great Britain.

Draco stepped into the woods and cast a quick lumos charm to make his way through the dark forest. He considered the current members of the Dark Lord's inner circle. Many of them had isolated manors or private hunting cabins. Many of them would be honored the host the Dark Lord at their residences, but not many of them would be honored to have their private abodes turn into a crime scene. Torture and murder had been normalized during the first Wizarding World, but most of the blood-thirsty members of the Death Eaters had been killed in battle. Or imprisoned and turned insane from Azkaban. There weren't many Death Eaters left that would be willing to host a prisoner, and that number dwindled even more when the identity of the victim was considered. Bill was a Weasley. A Pureblood of an old family name. A blood-traitor, yes, but still a Pureblood. He wouldn't be held at a private domicile where his torture and eventual murder could be traced back to a Death Eater. It would hurt the cause. The Dark Lord needed something deserted. Something remote, but defensible. Something large, that could house a number of Death Eaters. Something forgotten about.

Draco paused. He knew of only one location that fit those particular demands. He pulled in a breath and started off again with a renewed vigor. He knew where Bill was being held.

He reached the edge of the Hogwarts boundary four minutes later. He checked that the invisibility cloak was still wrapped tight around him and then Apparated to the outskirts of the Black Estate. Or rather, the ruins of the Black Estate.

The Black family home had once been a large, looming castle on a hill overlooking acres of private forest. It had once been surrounded by a series of outbuildings, carefully manicured gardens, and a tall rock wall. Now, the wall had crumbled to half its original height, the outbuildings were empty shells of themselves, and the castle was partially demolished. Its decayed silhouette was ominous against the light of the moon – the moon that was only three-quarters full, Draco noted with relief. The Dark Lord was ramping up his recruitment and turning of werewolves, and Draco didn't fancy battling with a werewolf tonight.

He stepped out of the forest and crept his way up to the old wall. He could see a few fires burning in the half-destroyed outer buildings, and dark shapes gathered around them. Even this far away, the robes were unmistakable. These were Death Eater sentries. At least two dozen of them dotted the grounds around the castle. Draco could see more lights inside of the castle. If he had to guess, Bill was being held inside, most likely in the dungeon.

Draco paused at the wall and carefully checked the wards. He was disappointed, but not surprised, to find that an anti-apparition ward had been extended over the entire grounds, cutting off at the wall. There were even alarms set for any unauthorized Portkeys. Draco let out a silent breath of frustration. The wards presented a rather large challenge. It meant he and Bill would have to make it out of the castle, past the wall, and into the woods before they could Apparate. They'd be crossing a lot of open ground, and the cloak wouldn't cover both of them. They'd have to find some way to sneak their way out.

Draco trailed the perimeter of the wall, taking note of the outbuildings and position of the sentries. The gatehouse on the drive was the only building intact, and the wall on the eastern side had completely collapsed. He carefully stepped over it and picked his way through the grounds, noting which sentries seemed more alert than the others. Rule three: Know thy enemy.

Draco was surprised to see that most of the sentries were young, barely a year or two older than him. Draco had always envisioned the Death Eaters to be older, wiser, more mature. But these sentries, their hoods pushed back while they exchanged bottles around the firepits, looked like students who had taken a gap year between school and work, traveling and partying and generally sloughing off. The 'eighth year' some called it.

Draco walked by them, noticed their general lack of focus on their duties, and felt oddly irritated. They should be paying attention, not partying. But at least it would make his and Bill's escape easier.

There were two guards at the castle door. Or rather, two guards sitting on the steps leading up to the front door. They were also drinking. Of course, they were. The Death Eaters felt safe here. The location was secluded, they had a host of sentries, and no one was looking for them. There was no need for them to be alert or nervous. Draco walked past them and cautiously stepped through the front entrance. The double doors that had once barred the way were now only scraps on the ground. The front hall was largely intact, although the ceiling had holes in several places, and the walls bore the scars of spell damage from a fierce battle. Draco passed a group of Death Eaters in the front parlor. They'd transfigured some of the rubble into a serviceable set of tables and chairs. Their masks were off as they chatted amongst themselves, casually, like they were at a dinner party. Draco recognized the majority of their faces. He paused in the doorway to listen into their conversation, then walked away in disgust. They were talking about Quidditch.

He picked his way further into the castle, pressing hastily against the wall whenever a Death Eater walked by. There appeared to be no organization within the ranks. Death Eaters passed to and from different rooms, greeting their friends and catching up on the latest gossip. A few groups had pulled out dice or decks of cards. Others passed around whiskey bottles. A large group had gathered in the kitchen where tea was being made.

There were more Death Eaters than Draco expected, and more faces he didn't recognize, making him think some of the overseas recruits had been brough to England to witness how the Dark Lord dealt with the spy. But the Death Eaters were more… casual… than Draco had expected. He'd thought that the sentries outside would be in military formations, not haphazardly gathered around bonfires. He'd thought the Death Eaters inside would be pouring over maps to plot the Dark Lord's next steps, not playing cards and gambling. He was oddly disappointed. Whenever Lucius talked of the Death Eaters, it was in terms of a unified force working for the betterment of the wizarding world. Draco had imagined neatly pressed uniforms, strict rankings of officers, organized projects and trainings. The reality fell far short of his expectations. But despite their casual nature, they were still holding Bill in here. Somewhere.

He started with a sweep of the first floor, a maze of rooms that jutted off of the main halls that ran through the individual wings of the castle. The Death Eaters were mostly gathered in the intact rooms – that is, rooms that still had a floor, ceiling, and most of the walls. The more damaged rooms were empty, which provided Draco an opportune moment to escape when a mob of Death Eaters suddenly rounded the corner.

It was clear these Death Eaters had been celebrating. Their voices were raised; some of their words were slurred. Their uncovered faces were flushed with success and a good amount of alcohol. In the middle of the group was Claire. Her face was twisted into a smug look of superiority, an expression she'd never shown in Hogwarts, but seeing it now, it looked natural on her face. Draco cursed himself for not insisting on her duplicity stronger. He'd known there was something off about her. No one was as mild-mannered or self-effacing or meek as she has pretended to be. But everyone else had been fooled by her act. Rule thirteen: There is no hole bigger in a disguise, than the hole of perfection.

Draco peered out from the doorway and caught a snippet of their conversation as she passed by.

"And no one ever suspected a thing," Claire said, smugness dripping off if her in waves. "I'll head back to Hogwarts tomorrow morning, and be just as shocked as the rest of them that the Weasley boy is missing."

The Death Eaters around her responded appropriately – with praise and congratulations and undue flattery. And Claire – Claire drank it in. Draco could see it now. She craved adoration, but not just from anyone. She craved adoration from the powerful. She only accepted compliments from those Death Eaters in the inner circle – the Carrows, specifically – and the way she ignored it from the others – members so new that Draco didn't know their faces yet.

The group was stopped by an old woman – Rosaline McGinty. She was a widow now, and childless. Her husband and sons had been killed while fighting for the Dark Lord in the first wizarding world.

"Shame on you!" Draco heard her snap.

The rest of the conversation was too muddled for Draco to make out, but it was clear McGinty was chastising them for being drunk and leaving the estate. The group only laughed at her and walked on by. Draco followed, just enough to overhear them planning to hit a few bars before Claire had to return to Hogwarts. Good. The fewer Death Eaters about, the easier it would be to rescue Bill. Draco trailed them to the door on the east wing, and then suddenly found himself in the center of a busy intersection as more Death Eaters joined their impromptu celebration. Draco sidestepped bodies, ducked under gesticulating arms, and finally escaped into a deserted sitting room where he caught his breath as the Death Eaters finally exited the castle and began their trek past the wards.

It was only in the relative silence that followed that Draco heard the voice.

He snapped around. In the back of the room, half-hidden by a pile of rocks and debris, was a doorway leading into an interior room. Someone was inside.

Draco carefully crept closer. The door was open a crack, just enough for the voice to come out clearer, a cold voice, silky smooth with carefully rounded vowels and crips consonants. Draco knew that voice. That was his father.

His heart stuttered. His breath caught.

His father was here?

His feet froze to the floor even though every instinct told him to run, told him to hide. His father would see him. He'd be angry – no, not angry, he'd be enraged, furious. He'd ground Draco for sure, or lock him in his room, or – or –

Draco squeezed his eyes shut. I'm invisible, he chanted in his head. He won't see me. He can't see me. He'll never even know I was here. I'll get Bill, get back to Hogwarts, and no one will know. No one will ever know.

But even if Lucius didn't know, even if Lucius never found out, Draco was betraying their family right now. He was actively working against the Dark Lord. He was breaking dozens of rules his father had given him, actively defying the Malfoy Code.

But no. Draco wasn't following the Malfoy Code anymore. He was creating his own rules. The very first rule of the Dissenter's Code was: make your own decisions.

Draco pulled in a breath. He willed his racing heart to slow down and forced his hands to uncurl. He took a step closer to the room and heard another voice. Lucius was talking to someone.

Draco inched forward and peeked through the doorway. He saw his father in the back corner of the room, a communication crystal ball in hand. His eyes were fastened on the cracked open door, trained for anyone to approach. Draco's footsteps stuttered once, then continued forward as his father's eyes slipped right over him. He glanced at the crystal in his father's hands and his own eyes widened in surprise. Lucius was talking to Professor Snape!

"You're sure," Snape said, his voice hushed and insistent.

Draco watched Lucius's mouth turn down. "I can hear his screams from the servant's wing, Severus."

"But – but how –,"

"You're missing another professor," Lucius said. "A certain young blonde with a penchant for tweed."

In the crystal, Snape's face took on a look of horror.

"Based on her successful secrecy so far, I have no doubt that she caught the Weasley boy without a trace. You'll have to find some way to alert your Headmaster without giving this away."

Draco frowned. Why was Lucius telling Snape to alert Dumbledore?

"I'll think of something," Snape said. "But I won't have cause to do so until the morning. What timeline are we working on?"

Lucius paused to consider before answering. "He'll survive the night, but permanent injuries are likely to set in by tomorrow afternoon."

Snape's face creased in consternation. "That's not much time."

"I did what I could to mitigate the bloodlust, but you know Bella and the others. They won't be restrained for long."

A wave of confusion washed over Draco. His father was helping Bill? Even trying to orchestrate his escape?

"Do more, if you can," Snape said. "If I alert Dumbledore too soon, my cover will be blown. And the Dark Lord might turn his suspicions onto you."

"I trust you won't implicate me," Lucius said, a hint of ice in his voice.

"I wouldn't think you'd care about a Weasley this much," Snape said.

Lucius's eyes tightened. Draco knew that expression. His father was worried, which made him irritated. When he spoke, his voice was so crisp it was almost a snap. "If he tortures and maims Purebloods without any sign of remorse, he begins to sully the cause. We lost the last war because we didn't win enough Purebloods."

Draco quickly understood. His father wasn't concerned about Bill – he was concerned about appearances.

Draco had always known that Lucius was more tempered than the Dark Lord, and often cautioned him to think politically. He didn't realize that his father actively worked behind his back though. It spoke to Lucius's power that he dared to do such a thing.

But if Lucius tried to un-do the Dark Lord's work, why would he still support him? Why wouldn't he just leave the Death Eaters?

Perhaps he couldn't. Perhaps he was trapped, and was trying to make the best of the situation he was bound to. But then, why would he encourage Draco to take the Mark?

Draco's mind swirled with questions he didn't have time for. He shoved them to the side as Snape responded.

"You always were a strategist. I'll do what I can."

"Good," said Lucius. "I'm leaving to meet up with him now to oversee our options in France, so I will be unable to give you any further updates as to conditions here. But Albus has raided enough Death Eater strongholds – I trust this one won't create too many problems."

And then he stood, ending the call. Draco hastily stepped back as his father opened the door and crossed through.

This close, Draco had the insane urge to reach out and tell his father he was there. He hadn't seen Lucius since the summer. He hadn't even had a Floo call. They'd barely exchanged letters. It was longest he'd ever gone without his father. And now he was here, right in front of him.

Draco kept his body still though. Lucius walked past him, towards the hall, and then he paused. Draco saw his hand tighten around his wand.

Lucius whipped around, eyes darting about the room, like he knew he wasn't alone. Draco forced himself not to flinch. He willed his feet to stay in place and his arms to stay at his side. He couldn't keep the fear off his face, but he didn't move an inch as Lucius eyes swept past him. Draco could see the wariness on his father's face, the way he was poised to attack. A long moment passed before Lucius turned and left the room.

Only then, Draco realized he'd held his breath. It left him in a rush and he dropped to the floor to collect himself. Of all the people he knew he might see, for some reason, he never thought about running into Lucius. Now that he had though –


Lucius had alerted Snape. That meant Bill was going to be rescued. Draco could go back to Hogwarts and let Dumbledore deal with it. And Draco had even inadvertently helped Snape by ransacking Bill's room. He'd have reason to go to Dumbledore.

But even as that hopeful thought crossed his mind, he knew he couldn't leave. Even under the best circumstances, a rescue wouldn't happen until tomorrow morning at the latest. And a rescue would most likely entail a full assault on the Black castle. Bill would be killed at the first sign of Aurors. Draco couldn't take the chance, but this was certainly proving his fourth rule: Having friends was costly.

He pushed himself back up, once again resolved. He was getting Bill out of here.

He slipped back out in the hall. It was quieter now that Claire and her new posse had left, but there were still a number of Death Eaters inside. He re-calculated the tally and then, remembering what his father had said, made his way towards the back of the castle, where the servant's quarters would have been.

There were fewer Death Eaters here, and those that were posted, sat by themselves. One read the paper, another appeared to be sleeping. In the quiet, Draco heard something underneath, something faint and inconsistent. If Lucius hadn't mentioned hearing screaming, Draco might have thought it was just the howling of the wind. But the night was calm. The sound of howling was from Bill.

He followed the sound further back into a deserted wing of the castle. The rooms here had faired better than those in the front of the castle. Nearly all of the walls were standing. The ceiling was unbroken. Even some furniture remained. But no Death Eaters had made their camp here. Was it because Bill's screams were louder here? Had the sound of torture driven them away, or was it their own guilty conscience? Or perhaps they didn't have a conscience and were simply irritated at the sound.

Whatever the reason, there was no one to dodge or slip away from. Draco walked unhindered down the hall and to the staircase tucked in the back of the castle. The staircase that led down, down, down towards the dungeons.

Bill's screams grew louder, echoing up the stone staircase, and Draco could pick out different notes in the screams. Pain. Fear. Agony. Terror. It was visceral sound and Draco felt the hair on his body stand on end. His stomach twisted and he stopped for a moment, his feet pausing on the steps as animalistic instinct warred with his intention. His hindbrain heard the screaming and registered it for what it was: danger, and it wanted him to run. But Draco needed to get closer to the screaming if he wanted to rescue Bill.

The logical, analytical part of his brain heard the screaming and told him that this was the danger he was putting himself in right now. If someone caught him, if someone found out he'd helped Bill, he'd be making that sound next.

But there was another emotion beneath his fear, a revulsion so deep that it coursed through Draco's body with every beat of his heart. He was repulsed by the screaming. No one should be making that sound. No one should be screaming like that. Not himself, not Bill. Not any Muggle-born. Not even any Muggles. It was the sound of torment and Draco had the sudden realization that this was what Death Eaters did. This was what their devotion to the Dark Lord led them to – creating and inflicting this sound of terror and agony. And this would be what he would do if he joined them.

Could he do it?

Would he do it?

It was a terrible thought to consider, but he didn't have the time. And besides, rule seven said to avoid split second decisions.

So he took all of his disgust and anger and fear, all his questions and inner turmoil, and shoved it to the back of his mind. He pulled in one more breath and then forced his feet forwards, towards the screaming.

The stairs ended in a small foyer of cold stone where a lone Death Eater was on guard. He sat on a chair, and as Draco drew closer, he could see there was a silencing bubble around his head to block out Bill's screams. Draco could have laughed at what an easy target the Death Eater had made of himself, but the screaming took any humor away from the situation. He stunned the guard, right then and there. The Death Eater didn't even flinch, he just slumped over. Draco cast a quick limb-locking charm and then propped up his body back up in his chair. Then he recast the guard's silencing bubble. Now it looked like the guard had fallen asleep while on duty. The guise wouldn't hold on close inspection, but hopefully it was enough to keep Draco's presence a secret. Claire may have taken a contingent of Death Eaters with her, there were still too many left behind to fight on his own. Stealth was still his best option.

The cells of the dungeons branched out from the foyer, each of them barred by a heavy wooden door carved with the ancient wards. None of the wards were activated though. Draco knew that because Bill's screams could be heard through the door second from the left, and all dungeon wards were equipped with silencing spells. The fact that the Death Eaters hadn't activated the wards meant they were overconfident, and overconfidence led to carelessness. Draco would extort that now.

He stepped towards Bill's cell. There was a window in the door, small and barred. Through it, Draco could see two Death Eaters inside, MacNair and a lackey that Draco didn't recognize. Bill was lying on the floor, and there was blood on him, and in a pool under him, and it made Draco's stomach twist. Bill was screaming, and Draco had been hearing his screams for a while, but it was different now that he could see Bill's face and the agony written on it and the cold sweat staining his skin and the way his body spasmed from the Cruciatus Curse. MacNair was timing the lackey – seeing how long he could hold the curse on Bill. Draco, inanely, thought back to when Bill revealed that Lucius had taught Mirabelle Bonnet the Cruciatus. He'd been jealous at the time, jealous at the idea of anyone getting to spend time with Lucius. But now… now he was grateful his father had never brought him to one of these meetings, grateful that Lucius had stood over him, commanding him to inflict torture on another being. He'd been sick enough when he'd used it earlier this year, as sick as the lackey looked now – wincing and flinching at each of Bill's screams.

Draco wanted to barge into the room. He wanted to blast MacNair through the dungeon wall. He wanted to stun the stupid lackey. He wanted to run to Bill and to make sure he was okay and to get the hell out of this place. But the lackey looked like he was going vomit, and MacNair was losing patience with him. Draco needed to wait. Rule number six: Never take action directly.

So Draco waited another two minutes, fighting down his rising anxiety and trying to ignore the way Bill's voice was growing hoarse. But his patience paid off. The lackey grew paler and paler, and sweat broke out on his brow, and his wand hand started to shake.

"I'm sorry!" he blabbered to MacNair. "I can't do it anymore!"

MacNair snarled and swatted at his head. "Get out of here if you can't stomach it!"

The lackey didn't protest, just scurried away. Draco stepped back as he flung the door open and ran up the stairs, speeding straight by his stunned colleague and not even bothering to look at him. The cell door hit the wall on the other side and bounced back. Before it could close completely, Draco slipped inside, and then he cast a privacy charm on the room – just in case.

MacNair muttered under his breath, something about the softness of today's youth. Draco ignored him and cast about the room for any hidden traps, wards, or Death Eaters. There were none.

MacNair pulled out his wand and loomed over Bill. "I hope you enjoyed your break," he sneered at Bill. "That's the last reprieve you'll get for the night."

He raised his arm. Bill shut his eyes, Draco flicked his wand. MacNair dropped, unconscious.

Bill's eyes cautiously opened. Draco pulled off the cloak.

Bill blinked at him, and this close, Draco didn't like the way he was having trouble focusing on him. He dropped to his side.

"Hey, Bill. How are you doing?"

It was hard to look at Bill's face. There was blood on it, and his nose was broken, and his eyes were starting to blacken. Bill blinked at him, like he couldn't recognize him. Draco swallowed hard, cast a diagnostic charm, and studied that instead.

"What are you…," Bill whispered, voice cracking. "Are you here? Am I –?" He tried to sit up and bit off a cry of pain. His face paled alarmingly.

"Don't move yet," Draco said, helping him lay back down. "I'm still trying to triage your injuries. Anything significant I should know about?"

Bill's eyes darted about the room, like he was looking for someone. "Draco, are you …," his eyes fluttered, then refocused on Draco's face. "Lord Draco?"

Draco paused for a moment, then re-adjusted his diagnostic charms to Bill's head, wondering if he had a concussion. Why else would he confuse him with Draco's boggart?

"It's just me," he told Bill, trying to pitch his voice into one that would be reassuring despite his own panic. For some reason, when he'd embarked on this impulsive rescue attempt, he hadn't considered Bill's injuries. Now, he was hastily trying to come up with the easiest way to transport a delirious Runes Professor.

"Draco," Bill repeated, and then he shook his head. "No, Draco. You can't be here. It's too dangerous."

"Someone has to get you out," Draco said.

"Tell Dumbledore," Bill said, reaching out to weakly push at his arm. "Draco, leave and tell Dumbledore. It's too dangerous. You have to –," his voice cracked and he gave a dry cough, then grimaced as it irritated his throat.

Draco hadn't thought to bring water with him. Why hadn't he thought of that? Bill was probably dehydrated and in need of electrolytes and glucose. He rummaged in his bag for the things he had remembered to bring.

"Here," he said, uncorking a blood replenishing potion and holding it to Bill's lips.

Without the filter of the diagnostic charms, he could see the clamminess and gray-pallor of Bill's skin. And underneath the bruises and blood and dirt and torn clothes, Bill looked… dimmer somehow. His usual energy – his smile and lightheartedness and sparkle in his eyes – had been stripped away from him, leaving him lethargic and exhausted and burnt out.

Blood loss, Draco decided, not wanting to think about the other implications of torture – trauma and brokenness and insanity and all the ways torture could kill the soul while sparing the body. He finished his diagnostic spells and found himself somewhat heartened. Bill was seriously injured, yes, and it would take him days to recover, maybe even a week, but overall, he was in better shape than he should have been after hours of Death Eater torture. Although, that could be because the Death Eaters had been healing him as they'd beaten him. Draco could see four broken ribs, a fractured ankle, and six splintered fingers that had all been mended. And there were signs of lacerations that had also been fixed with spell work, no doubt to keep him from bleeding out.

But there were still a fair number of injuries that required Draco's attention. Bill's broken ankle was still swollen, and there was still some ligament damage that hadn't been addressed. Draco doused a bandage in a bruise-reducer than twined it around his leg. He dabbed sealant on Bill's arms and chest, where there were still some bleeding lacerations. Then he pointed his wand at Bill's face and said, "Episkey."

Bill's broken nose reset itself with a snap and Bill grunted in pain, then his expression eased slightly. His breathing became easier.

"You have some internal bleeding," Draco told Bill. "It's nothing I can address right now, but it's mild enough it shouldn't be an issue. Not yet, anyway. I'd like to give you a pain reliever, but I need to know if they gave you any other potions."

"A few," Bill said hoarsely. "One made my blood heat up. Another… I think it made me see things."

Draco nodded. Those were pretty standard interrogation techniques, and it would explain why Bill called him 'Lord Draco' as well. Apparently his Boggart had made an impression on Bill.

"We'll stick with the mild stuff for now then," Draco pulled out two bottles. One was a pain-reliever plus and anti-inflammatory. The other was a gentle numbing potion. Draco didn't want to try anything stronger, not if Bill had been given a delirium draught not too long ago. And it was probably better that Bill retained as much of his faculties as possible during their escape. Rule eight: Avoid pain medications.

"Here," he told Bill, and helped him sit up to drink the bottles.

Draco watched as the potions took effect. The tension lines on Bill's face eased and color returned to his cheeks. After a minute, he was able to sit up on his own.

He looked at Draco, something scared but grateful in his eyes. "You really shouldn't be here."

Draco resisted the urge to sigh in relief. If Bill could lecture him, that meant he was feeling better.

"Dumbledore would take too long," Draco told him. "And if he came immediately, all suspicions would fall on Snape, and that would ruin the entire point of your spying career. So, if you'd rather not spend the entire evening getting tortured, and if you'd rather not die in a poorly thought-out rescue attempt, you'll make do with me."

Bill huffed out a breath that could have been laughter. He reached out, gripped Draco's shoulder, and said, "Thank you. I'd rather not get tortured anymore today."

Draco grinned back, glad to see some of Bill's humor return. That meant he hadn't been broken; he'd just been injured. He pulled Bill's wand out of the bag and handed it over. Bill took it, and an expression of grim determination passed over his face. It wasn't fair that Bill had been taken without the opportunity to fight back. Now he a second chance to defend himself.

Draco stood and held out his hand. Bill used it to haul himself up.

"Let's get out of here," Draco said.

He pulled the invisibility cloak back over him because keeping his identity secret was more important than Bill's right now. Rule eleven: Always maintain reputations. They left the cell, Bill leaning on Draco for support. His leaning became heavier as they climbed the stairs. His mobility was more impaired that Draco would have liked. He'd need to take that into consideration for their escape plan.

Thankfully, the back wing of the castle was still largely deserted. He helped Bill hobble towards the back door, getting as close as he dared before dropping Bill off in an empty side room. Even though this wing of the castle was empty, the door would be guarded. Draco crept towards the exit himself, and sure enough, two Death Eaters stood at the door. Their hoods were off and they leaned against the doorframe. They look bored.

Two made it tricky. Two meant Draco would have to be fast. If one of them shouted or set off an alarm, it would all be over.

He started with a silencing charm on the Death Eater closest to him, an invisible spell that went unnoticed. Then he stunned the other. The first guard jumped in surprise as his colleague collapsed. He tried to shout, but no noise came out, and Draco's next stunner hit him a millisecond later. It was fast and clean and Draco couldn't help but smirk at his success. Then, to hide any sign of danger, he once against cast the limb-locking charm. He propped their bodies up against the doorframe and pulled their hoods over their faces. Another disguise. With any luck, he and Bill would be out of the estate before anyone realized anything was amiss.

He retrieved Bill from the empty room and helped him towards the doorway. Beyond that were dark grounds that would require some finessing to cross, but then there was the crumbled wall, and past that, the woods and safety. Draco felt relief rush through him. They could do this. They could escape.

They reached the door. Draco pushed it open, tightened his grip on Bill, and stepped through.

"Wait –," said Bill, pushing back.

But it was too late. As soon as Bill's foot crossed the threshold, the gargoyle over the top of the door shifted into life. The stone face snarled, the lips opened over large fangs, and a great roar shouted out.

Draco stumbled back into the castle, pulling Bill with him. The roar cut off short, but the damage had been done. The alarm had been deep and bellowing and all-too-audible. Every Death Eater across the Black Estate would have heard it – and would know what it meant. Draco could have sworn in frustration. Of course the Death Eaters would have taken precautions to keep Bill from escaping. He'd been spying on them all year long; they would have been wary of him. Draco had walked right into their trap. But there wasn't time for self-recrimination. Already he could hear Death Eaters shouting and footsteps running towards them.

Draco pulled Bill away from the door and hustled him back into the side room. His mind whirled with other escape plans, but they didn't have many options. The Floo would have been disabled for years now. Apparation was out of the question, as was a Portkey. No, their only option was to escape on foot.

Draco pointed his wand and carved a small crevasse into the stone floor in the empty room, just deep enough for Bill to lay in to remain hidden from view from the hallway. Draco knelt beside him and watched the first Death Eaters arrive at the door.

He cast a silencing spell around them and asked, "Did you catch what ward it was?"

Out in the hall, the Death Eaters discovered their stunned compatriots. They erupted into motion. Some of them ran outside, thinking they could spot Bill fleeing into the yard; some began tearing down the hallway in a desperate, unorganized search. Others whirled on each other, arguing and casting blame and deflecting accountability, as per rule twenty-one (if blame must be placed, make it someone else's responsibility). But as much as they argued about guilt and fault, Draco knew that all Death Eaters present would be held responsible for Bill's escape; therefore, all Death Eaters would be looking for Bill.

"Two possibilities," Bill said, his voice hoarse. "It could be a simple alarm charm. Or it could be a blood ward."

Draco immediately pulled out his wand and cast it over Bill. If it was the first option, an alarm charm, then it would be easy enough to find and cancel the spell and they'd be free to go. If it was a blood ward… well… that made things far more complicated.

Draco searched Bill for the charm, and then searched again. And then a third time.

"So it's a blood ward," Bill said. His eyes slipped shut, either an expression of defeat or because he was still struggling with the pain.

"How do we break a blood ward?" Draco asked.

Bill opened his eyes. He looked at Draco, expression somber and serious. "You should go. Get out. You can send an anonymous letter to Dumbledore."

"They'll find you between now and then."

"Draco –,"

"They'll kill you."

"Draco –,"

"How do we break a blood ward?" Draco repeated stubbornly.

Bill sighed. "It depends."

But before he could say more, the Death Eaters at the doorway reached some consensus. They turned towards the castle, wands drawn. They were going to start searching the rooms.

"Think about it," Draco told Bill.

He got up, because Bill wasn't that mobile and the only way to keep him from being discovered was to create a distraction. Bill knew that too. He tried to grab Draco, not wanting him to risk it, but Draco was still cloaked and Bill was still woozy. Draco ducked under his grasp, slipped into the hall, and wondered what his odds were of distracting an entire castle of Death Eaters while evading capture.

He didn't know if he wanted to think about it that hard.

The group of Death Eaters at the doorway split up, two of them starting towards the room he just exited. Draco lashed out with a blasting hex, sending them both careening against the far wall. The impact, and their shouts, sounded down the hall, just like Draco wanted. He followed up with two stunners and whirled around as two more Death Eaters ran down the hall, alerted by the commotion. Draco sent out another blasting hex, but it was partially blocked by the Death Eater on the left, who pulled up a shield.

"It's another one of those invisible spies!" the Death Eater shouted.

Draco grimaced. He'd been hoping they wouldn't figure it out so fast. He turned to run.

"Accio invisibility cloak!" the same Death Eater called.

The cloak yanked forward. Draco grabbed it, but not before it pulled up, exposing his feet.

"There he is!"

Draco pulled up a shield charm, right as two stunners were levied at him. The shield held, he pulled the cloak back down, and ran.

He wasn't quick enough. One of the Death Eaters called out a blasting hex – and it was a smart move. A blasting charm didn't need to be perfectly aimed. It had a large area of effect, and the edge of it hit Draco, picking him up and flinging him down the hall. The cloak rippled, offering a flash of his shoes.

"There!" the Death Eaters shouted.

Draco could have responded with a host of spells – dark spells – that would permanently shut up the Death Eater and take care of his friends, but he wasn't sure this was the time to reveal his strengths (rule number two). It might be better for them to think they had him on the run, to assume he wasn't that big of a threat. So he straightened the cloak once more and ran, bolting to the left and –

Once again, he ran right into a troop of Death Eaters.

"Invisibility cloak!" came a shout after him. "He's got an invisibility cloak!"

The effect was immediate. The Death Eaters began lashing out with summoning charms, trying to steal the cloak off of him. A few others started shooting out blasting hexes and other spells that had large areas of effect, hoping to catch him in the crossfire. Draco ran, dodged, and shielded himself from the flurry of curses that chased after him. He didn't dare duck into an empty room – that would box him in. No, he needed someplace else, someplace unexpected, someplace out of the line of fire…

He turned towards the main hall, a long corridor with a high-peaked ceiling and tall rafters. He cast a levitating spell on himself, tucked the cloak under his feet, and flew up, just as the horde of Death Eaters burst into the hall, their spells ricocheting off the walls. Draco perched on the rafters and watched their desperate attempts to find him. He'd caused a good distraction, certainly, but eventually they'd organized themselves into a true search party. Draco needed to sow more chaos, and he had just the idea for it.

Draco waited until the hall cleared and then he dropped back down to the ground. It was a simple matter to cast an illusion charm on himself. He widened his face, tanned his skin, and turned his hair dark and curly. Then, he gave himself deep green eyes. He wasn't an exact match for Harry Potter, but it would do in a pinch. Besides, people's own minds were their greatest deceivers (rule twenty).

He made his way towards the kitchen, where the largest contingent of Death Eaters had been gathered. There were eight there now. One of the more enterprising witches had called up a map of the estate.

"We have to focus on the outer rooms first," she said. "Force him into the center where we can contain him."

Draco tossed off the cloak and leapt into action before they could organize any further. He cast a blasting hex first, one that shot through the center of the gathering. The Death Eaters went flying; the table splintered. Draco stunned the Death Eater closest to him, called up a shield against a slicing hex, and then lashed out with a fire wall, hitting three of the four he'd been aiming for. He ducked underneath a crucio, got clipped by a slicing hex, and popped the eardrums of the Death Eater who'd gone after him with the Cruciatus. He threw up a reflection charm to bounce a stunner back at the Death Eater who sent it, stunned his friend as well, and then pulled the invisibility cloak back over him and ran out of the room, leaving two unharmed Death Eaters to scream about Harry Potter himself being in the castle.

Draco started back for Bill, taking the opportunity to de-cloak in front of three Death Eaters who were searching the remains of the library. He stunned one; blasted one across the room; and left the other firing wildly at the doorway, also screaming about Harry Potter.

That seemed like a decent distraction. He made his way back to the room he'd left Bill in and felt a thrill of panic when he realized the professor wasn't there. He dropped the illusion and pulled back the hood of the cloak.

"Bill!" he hissed.

"Out here!"

Bill's voice came from the back doorway. Draco whipped around to see that Bill was lying on the floor. He'd wrapped himself in a Death Eater's cloak, easily mistakable for one of the stunned Death Eaters. He was studying the wards on the door.

Draco rushed over and took up a guard's position, staring down the hall for any Death Eaters. He pulled the hood back up. "Well?"

"It'll take an hour," Bill said.

"We don't have an hour."

"I know. That's why you need to leave. Get out of here."

Draco grimaced. He knew Bill was thinking pragmatically. They were alone for now with the chaos he'd sown, but the Death Eaters wouldn't wait for forever to send for reinforcements. At some point, before the hour was up, they would call the Dark Lord and confess their failure. Draco wasn't foolish enough to think he could hide Bill from Voldemort himself.

"The walls have crumbled in places," he said. "Has that damaged the ward at all? Or could we destroy the house enough to take it out?"

Bill shook his head. "The ward was built into the foundation. We'd need a demolition team. And we'd attract a lot of attention trying to blow up the house."

"What about loopholes?" Draco pressed. "Or any way to trick the ward?"

"We could always try to exsanguinate me," Bill offered. "If there's no blood in my body, it wouldn't go off. But I don't think I'd survive that."

Bill was right. While exsanguination was used in extreme medical procedures, it was always done with a host of Healers at the ready. And Draco sure the patients had never been tortured beforehand. Bill had already lost enough blood to –

An idea struck, a stupidly silly idea. He turned to Bill. "How much blood needs to trigger a blood ward?"

"This one –," Bill nodded at the ward, "even just a couple of drops. Why?"

Draco's lips curled up into a smile. "I need to borrow some blood." He dug into his bag and pulled out another blood replenishing potion.

Bill immediately understood. He drank the potion then unwrapped one of the bandages on his arm. The laceration only needed a slight poke to open back up. He let the blood trickle into the empty potion bottle.

"Dried blood won't set off a ward," he cautioned.

Draco nodded, took the bottle, and cast a warming charm on it to keep the blood liquid.

"Stay here," he said. "I'll be back in a few."

He headed out again, and used the same levitation trick to fly over the heads of three Death Eaters who were using revealing charms in the back hall – looking for any camouflage charms or privacy spheres. He floated silently behind them, uncorked the vial, and splashed a bit of Bill's blood on the back of their cloaks.

He didn't have much time now. The blood would dry in a matter of minutes. He flew into the adjoining hall and spotted a team of two methodically blasting their way through a drawing room. It required a tricky bit of navigation to spill blood on them while avoiding their hexes, but he managed to get one of them. Lastly, he went back to the kitchen. The Death Eaters had set up a hasty infirmary. Two Death Eaters were currently being treated. Four others were already bandaged and muttering to themselves, wondering if it was time to call in reinforcements. Draco used up the rest of Bill's blood, carefully splashing the hems of their cloaks, and then it was time to entice them outside.

He ran for the front door but stopped short of the two guards posted at the entrance. He pointed his wand towards the open grounds and cast an illusionary image. Two figures appeared, one tall and red-headed, one shorter and dark-haired. They limped away from the manor.

The guards immediately shouted in alarm. "It's Potter and the spy! They're getting away!"

The guards rushed after the image and Draco levitated himself up, right as a troop of Death Eaters bolted down the hall, running after the guards and the illusion.

Two of the Death Eaters had Bill's blood on their cloak. The gargoyle over the door woke up. It roared, just as loud and startling as before. Draco didn't stay to watch the chaos unfold. He had more Death Eaters to lure outside.

He flew to the east wing of the castle, where the Death Eaters had been blasting the drawing room. They'd run to the window to look out but couldn't quite glimpse the commotion. Draco cast another illusion just for them. They bolted for the side door, shouting that they'd spotted Potter as well. Another gargoyle roared to life.

The shouting the manor grew frantic. Draco kept to levitating, even though the charm was begin to exhaust him, because the Death Eaters were rushing about so quickly it would be impossible to avoid them. They were panicking, just as he wanted.

He flew to the western hall and cast one more illusion. Four Death Eaters ran out after it. Another gargoyle burst to life, and now the roaring was near deafening. Now was the time to escape.

Draco flew to the back door where Bill was still waiting. Draco hauled him up. "Let's go."

Bill pulled the Death Eater hood over his face and they stepped outside. The gargoyle above the door yelled, but its voice was lost in the tumult of the manor.

It wasn't as dark as Draco would have liked outside. The Death Eaters had lit fires and torches across the grounds, and others had cast search-light charms. They were shouting at each other, all of them convinced that they'd seen where Harry Potter and the spy had gone.

Draco directed Bill straight for the surrounding wall. There was more lawn at this edge of the castle than he wanted to cover, and a good stretch of it empty as well, no outer buildings or overgrown gardens to duck into if they were spotted; but there was enough confusion that no one took note of Bill. After all, he was just a solitary figure in a Death Eater's cloak.

But Bill wasn't walking very fast. And even though he tried to keep himself upright, he was leaning on Draco more and more with every step. Draco could hear his breathing quicken, panting from pain and exertion. The distance to the wall seemed to grow longer with every belabored step.

"Enough!" a Death Eater shouted from the front of the manor, his voice magically heightened. "Everyone, hoods off. They're obviously hiding in plain sight!"

Draco grit his teeth. He was hoping it would take them longer to figure out their escape plan.

"Hoods off! Hoods off!" The command was taken up like a battle cry. Death Eaters streamed around the castle, shouting the order at their fellow compatriots.

Draco pulled Bill faster, not missing the way the professor bit back a cry of pain. The wall was a hundred paces ahead of them. Maybe less.

"Search everyone!" the Death Eaters shouted. "Hoods off! Make yourselves known!"

Fifty paces now…

"You there! Hood off!"

The command came from a Death Eater striding towards them, his eyes locked onto Bill. Draco cast a silent 'stupefy'. The Death Eater dropped, revealing three others marching behind him. Their eyes snapped to Bill.

"Stop right –,"

Draco didn't let them finish their shout. He flicked his wand and shouted, "Reicio antepilani!"

It was a powerful spell. The three Death Eaters were shunted into the air, flying thirty feet back. They hit the ground with sickening thuds. The noise and shout called everyone's attention to them, but instead of running at Bill, the Death Eaters took cover. Rule fourteen: Sometimes it's necessary to reveal strengths to be perceived as strong.

Draco urged Bill into a run. The wall was close now. Twenty paces away. The Death Eaters shot curses at them, still temporarily cowed from the repelling charm. Draco pulled up a shield bubble. It flickered with the force of the spells being hurled at them, but he could hold it. The wall was ten paces away. They were going to make it.

There was a last-minute barrage of curses. Draco held the shield fast, even as he felt a twinge in his temples from the impact. The Death Eaters finally realized they needed to cut them off. They began to break cover, running at them with shouts. Draco pulled Bill faster, Bill who was gasping with each step now. The wall was in front of them. Draco leapt over –

A Death Eater jumped up from behind the wall. He flung himself towards them, his arms opened wide, no doubt trying to get Bill and Bill's invisible supporter in the same lunge. His ploy worked. Draco was knocked back, and his hex went wide. Bill cast a stunner; it was deflected. The Death Eater lashed out at Bill with a right hook. Bill dropped back with a cry of pain. Draco scrambled to his feet and cast another shield charm, right as more spells rained down on them from the surrounding Death Eaters. He grabbed the Death Eater off of Bill and landed a quick one-two punch to his face. Rule ten: be prepared to fight in all forms of combat. The Death Eater fell back, but his hand latched onto the invisibility cloak. Draco tumbled over, the cloak getting yanked up, nearly off of him. He grabbed the cloak to protect his face. A knife flashed. Draco twisted away and felt something hot scour over his back. A flash of magic flew by him; the Death Eater dropped.

Draco stumbled to his feet to see Bill sitting up, his wand pointed at the Death Eater. Rule nineteen: sometimes friendships are a good thing.

The other Death Eaters were closing in. At least a dozen of them. Draco cast a fireball at the nearest ones, and they fell back with a cry. He grabbed Bill's arm and hauled him up and over the wall. They staggered into the forest.

"Hold on," Draco said, tightening his grip on Bill's arm.

He raised his wand, Apparated, and –


A hard impact; like Draco had just slammed into a brick wall. Draco bounced back down to the ground, Bill hitting beside him and letting out a shout of pain. For a second, Draco lay in the dirt, blinking up at the trees, not quite understanding what had happened, but then the stinging pain resolved into a staticky ache, and he realized the truth. They'd hit an anti-Apparation ward.

But there hadn't been a ward over the forest when he'd come in.

He sat up and grabbed Bill. The professor tried to get to his feet, but couldn't. Draco cast a lightening charm on him, then grabbed his arm and pulled it over his shoulder.

"We have to move, Bill. They've extended the wards. We have to get past them. We have to –,"

But even as he pulled Bill deeper into the forest, he knew the truth. The wards would have been extended farther than they could run. And Bill was fading fast.

A flash of spell light arced overhead, and then another one beside them.

Draco pulled Bill behind the nearest tree and peeked around it. The Death Eaters had gathered at the wall. Some of them were firing into the woods. Others had circled around another Death Eater who was giving them directions.

Draco cast an eavesdropping charm.

"… fifteen to chase them," the Death Eater was saying. "Then two groups of six, head to the east and the west. Run fast, to outpace them, then circle back to close in. Who's got the torches?"

Draco canceled the charm and swore under his breath. The Death Eater's plan was sound. Bill was injured. There was no way they could outrun them. He swore again, because he realized he'd failed. Bill was going to be captured again, and Draco along with him. He'd be discovered. After all the work he'd done to hide his thoughts and misgivings, all the ways he'd kept himself neutral, as rule twenty-three demanded.

Failure didn't seem fair though. And didn't rule sixteen take into account for failure? How could Draco blame this failure on something else? What else was at his disposal?

His eyes skipped over the ruins of the castle and landed on the gatehouse, the mostly intact gatehouse.

There was a chance, a very small chance, an infinitesimal chance, that it could save them.

They just needed to get there.

Draco turned to Bill. In the near dark of the forest, it was hard to see his face, but Draco could hear him breathing, slowly and deliberately and carefully. He was breathing through pain, and a lot of it.

Draco waved his wand and carefully knit together several different camouflage charms. Not just camouflage charms, but also 'hide-me' and 'notice-me-not' charms, spells that would encourage eyes to skip right over what was hidden. As he layered the charms, Bill's form flickered and then faded from Draco's view. In the dark of the forest, it was nearly as good as the invisibility cloak.

"They'll be looking for those charms," Bill whispered to him. "They'll detect it."

"They won't bother looking where we're going," Draco said. "Come on."

He helped Bill to the edge of the woods. He paused for a moment, searching for the best section of wall, and discovered it further up towards the main path – a section where the wall had toppled over towards the woods and created an overhanging ledge.

Draco tugged Bill's arm, not daring to speak. It must have seemed crazy, walking straight towards the Death Eaters who were planning to hunt them, but Bill followed without hesitation. The invisibility cloak, and the secrecy charms Draco had woven together, kept them unnoticed as they crept from the forest to the wall. Draco prodded Bill under the ledge, and then crawled in after him as the Death Eaters finalized their plan. They broke away from the Black estate, hopped over the wall that Draco and Bill were hiding under, and ran into the woods. They didn't bother to stay quiet. They shouted out threats and blasted away at the trees and lit up the sky with search-light charms. None of them looked back at the wall.

Draco waited until the noise of the hunting party faded away, then he cautiously peeked over the wall. There were still several Death Eaters on the castle grounds, some who were too injured or too old to give chase. That was fine. They were mostly gathered towards in the middle of the grounds, circling around the fire pits and talking nervously to each other. They weren't paying attention to their surroundings.

"Let's go," Draco whispered to Bill. "Stay low and stay in the shadows."

Bill nodded. Draco led the way around the outer perimeter of the wall. He made sure to stay ducked behind it, just to be safe. Sometimes he had to crawl, and Bill had trouble keeping up with him, but Draco simply slowed down and waited for him. Their plan relied on secrecy over speed.

It took longer than he wanted though. And by the time they reached the gate, the camouflage charms on Bill were starting to flicker in-and-out and Draco was sweating with the effort of keeping them in place. They weren't supposed to be used together like that.

"Stay here," Draco whispered to Bill, and then he slipped into the gatehouse. It was a small, two-story building, built of stone and wood. In times of war, the downstairs room would have housed a guard station, and the upper room would have provided a sleeping chamber for the guards. In modern times, it would have been used as a servant's quarters or a garden shed. Draco quietly check the back of the door and found what he was looking for: a lockdown ward.

This was the reason the gatehouse was still standing when the other buildings, and even the manor itself, showed such signs of disrepair. During the first wizarding war, someone had been in this gatehouse. They'd enacted the ward and stayed there while battle had raged around them. The lockdown ward wasn't impervious to attacks. It would have falled under a strong enough onslaught, but Draco figured the Aurors had focused their attacks on the castle. Once the main house had fallen, whoever was inside the gatehouse had de-activated the ward and surrendered.

Draco could use that ward now to last the night. He just needed to check for one more thing, the blood-ward that had gone off when Bill left the castle. Rule eighteen: Learn the first time. He was pleased to find that the gatehouse didn't not share the same wards with the castle. Bill would be free to enter.

He slipped back out the door and helped Bill inside. Then he shut the door, cast a privacy charm, and grateful dropped the camouflage charms he'd been holding. Bill appeared before him, slumped weakly against the wall. Sweat had dripped down his face, smearing through the bloodstains on his skin. He looked terrible, but his eyes were quick to glance over the house.

"What's the plan?" he asked.

"It's a bit of a gamble," Draco admitted. He pulled the hood of the cloak down. "There's a lockdown ward here."

"Those are pretty strong," Bill said. But then he understood the risky nature of the plan. "If you activate it, it will signal we're here. And if a hundred Death Eaters start firing at it… it won't hold forever."

"Long enough for the Aurors, do you think?" Draco asked.

"The Aurors are coming?"

"They will if I cast a Dark Mark in the sky."

Bill paused. "Won't that also summon more Death Eaters?"

"The Dark Lord would probably notice," Draco agreed. "He'd get here first, but the Aurors will get here too. I trashed your classroom before coming here. The Prefects would have noticed that when they did their evening sweeps."

"Smart," said Bill. "How long do you think it will take them to get here?"

"They might take longer to prepare if they're worried about facing down an army of Death Eaters."

Bill got up. Draco helped him over to the ward. Bill cast a couple of spells, then nodded. "It should hold. Do it."

Draco nodded. He cracked the door open, pointed his wand, and yelled out, "Morsmordre!"

He'd never cast the spell before. It pulsed as it rushed through his wand, something dark and slick and malevolent about the magic. The Dark Mark shot into the air, big and glowing and rippling with sickly green light. As soon as he cast it, he heard shouts from the Death Eaters. He slammed the door shut and slapped his hand over the lockdown ward. The small brass tack, set in the middle of the sigil, pricked his skin, drawing out a drop of blood. The charm lit up, and then the magic spread, over the door, the walls, the window, the floors and the ceiling, igniting the ward that had been built into the gatehouse. The light faded, but ward remained. Draco felt it, a soft, deep hum that seemed to resonate out of the floorboards.

Draco let out a breath. Whatever happened now, it was out of his control. He looked over at Bill who carefully slid down the wall to sit. Draco knelt beside him and re-cast the diagnostic charms. Bill had re-aggravated several injuries in their escape. Nothing looked fatal, but the injuries should be addressed.

Draco looked about the room for anything that might be useful, right as the first spells hit the gatehouse. Nothing shook or moved, but light flickered around them.

There was one window in the gatehouse. The shutters had been nailed shut over it, but one of the slats was loose. Draco cast a reflection charm on the window, one that would allow him to look out without anyone seeing in. Then he pulled off the loose slat and peered outside. Several Death Eaters had gathered around. Some of them were staring up at the Dark Mark in confusion; others had noticed the activated ward on the gatehouse and put the logical conclusion together. They were firing spells at the gatehouse – blasting hexes, shock waves, fire balls, and the like. None of their spells had any effect. The ward was holding.

Draco turned back to his search of the gatehouse. He found a lantern upstairs which he lit, and an old woolen blanket that had been half-eaten by moths. He cast a quick cleaning spell on the blanket then returned downstairs.

Bill was still sitting where Draco had left him, but he was shivering now. Shock was beginning to set in, but that was something Draco knew how to handle. At least, he theoretically knew how to handle it. It'd been one of the questions on the Healer's board he'd passed.

"Here." Draco wrapped the blanket around Bill then handed him the last blood-replenishing potion. Crawling around the wall hadn't done any favors for the small internal bleed Bill had. Bill took the potion, then Draco handed him another pain reliever.

"What about you?" Bill asked.

"I'm fine," Draco said automatically.

"You're bleeding," Bill said, and pointed at his arm.

Draco looked down and blinked in surprise. He was bleeding. Not heavily, but there was a cut on his arm where he'd been caught by a slicing hex. And now that he registered it, he also registered pain. His arm hurt. His shoulder did too where he'd been hit with the blasting hex. And his back hurt where he'd been scraped with a knife. And his head… his head was aching with pressure that said he'd really overdone it tonight. The duels he'd been in, self-levitating about the castle, the shield bubble, and then the host of camouflage charms. All of it piled up to a large amount of magic. But it was all minor compared to Bill.

"I'm mostly fine," he told Bill, who snorted at his specificity.

And then the flickering of the ward stopped.

Draco and Bill exchanged a grim look. Draco got up to look out the window, and even though he was expecting it, his heart skipped a beat.

Voldemort had arrived.

Draco let out a shaky breath. He'd imagined this day. Not this day, particularly, but the day that he would meet the Dark Lord face-to-face. He'd always thought it would be at his induction ceremony, where he would be one of several new recruits. He'd thought of what he might say or do to give himself an edge on the others. He'd never thought the first time he'd be face-to-face Voldemort in would be during an act of rebellion.

He watched the Death Eaters kneel before their lord. No, not kneel. They prostrated themselves on the ground and Draco frowned. Lucius had told him that Death Eaters followed Voldemort because they respected him, because they were inspired by him, because they loved him. If this was love, it proved his fifteenth rule: love is weakness, because none of them looked strong right now. They looked pitiful. They looked scared.

Draco saw Voldemort raise his wand and slash it down at his followers. He couldn't hear the impact, because the ward stifled all outside noise, but he could see the Death Eaters writhing in pain. And he saw more Death Eaters flinch back, cowering away from their lord.

And then Voldemort turned to the gatehouse.

Draco immediately ducked. He'd cast the one-way charm on the window, and the slit he was peering through was only an inch wide, not enough to recognize him, but even the idea of Voldemort looking at him – at seeing him – was terrifying.

And how odd that it was terrifying. Wasn't Draco supposed to be pledging his allegiance to the Dark Lord at the end of the school? Wasn't this supposed to be the way he served his community? Wasn't this supposed to be the thing to bring him power and success?

The gatehouse shook, a slow rumble at first that grew into a tremor. It felt like the gatehouse had been built on train tracks, and Draco thought, for one horrible second, that Voldemort would bring the entire building down on top of them, but then he looked over at Bill.

Bill had his wand out. He was casting something, some sort of diagnostic on the wards of the house. He turned to Draco with a comforting smile.

"Whatever he's doing, it's not working. These types of wards are strongest against direct attacks."

It was a relief to hear it. Draco slumped back against the wall and tried to slow his breathing. They were safe. They would be okay. Voldemort would rage and fire spells at the gatehouse, and then he would have to leave. The Aurors would come, rescue Bill, and Draco would go back to Hogwarts and…

And what?

The school year was almost over. Draco would leave Hogwarts and be taken right back to Voldemort to take the Dark Mark. Lucius would make him take it even though Draco had spent the year working against the Dark Lord. He'd helped protect the school from the Death Eater assaults, rescued Bill, and even inadvertently aided in the destruction of one of Voldemort's horcruxes.

Oh, Merlin.

Draco had thought he'd been keeping a low profile, but if anyone found out what he'd done – if Bill was captured again or given Veritaserum – then Draco would be exposed.

Draco felt his heartbeat quicken. The gatehouse around them shook and rattled at the force of Voldemort's anger.

"It's holding," Bill told him, no doubt catching the fear on his face. "He can't get in."

Draco jerked his head in a nod. "Yeah, I know."

"You okay?" Bill asked.

And wasn't that kind of Bill, to have been tortured and beaten and nearly killed, and here he was, worried about Draco and his existential crisis? But that just made Draco more scared because what if… what if Bill tried to help him? What if Bill found out he was going to have to get the Dark Mark and tried to get the Order to help Draco and told them about Draco's rescue of him? He could see that happening. Could see that information being shared, only in the best intentions of course, but then that information would leak and would make its way to Lucius and to Voldemort.

But it wasn't just this rescue that could endanger Draco. No, this entire year had been made up of stupid decision after stupid decision. He'd become friends with Bill of all people. A Weasley. And then he'd become friends with Hagrid. And then he'd fought for Neutrality and emboldened that party.

The gatehouse shook again, and the wood creaked, and distantly Draco could hear a voice raised in pure, vicious rage.

Voldemort was screaming at him.

Draco swallowed hard.

He'd been stupid. He'd felt stifled and smothered under Lucius's code, so he'd tried to make his own path. He'd arrogantly assumed that, as a genius, it would be a simple thing to make his own decisions. But now the decisions he'd made, under his own cognizance and free will, had endangered him. Now he faced the consequences of those decisions. He would be discovered; he would be punished. Tortured. Maybe even killed. His only hope of survival would be to erase his mistakes before anyone had the chance to discover them.

He knew what he had to do. It was what he intended to do to Hagrid at Christmas. Only this would be easier because Bill was already weakened by the torture. A simple obliviate, and Bill would forget all about him. Draco wouldn't have to worry about anyone finding out about his friendship with Bill or his genius or his actions against Voldemort. He could carry on, like nothing had ever happened.

Rule seventeen: Trust no one.

Outside, the screaming stopped. The shaking stopped. Draco looked over at Bill, who gave him a reassuring smile.

"See?" Bill said. "Nothing to worry about."

Merlin, Draco would miss Bill though.

But there wasn't time to think about it.

Draco got up and peeked outside. He watched Voldemort say something to the Death Eaters, and then he vanished from sight. And one by one, the Death Eaters began vanishing as well. They'd given up. Draco and Bill were safe.

At least, Bill was safe.

Draco wasn't safe. Not yet.

"They leaving?" Bill asked.

"Yeah," said Draco. He swallowed hard. "Bill?"


"I'm sorry," Draco said, and then he whirled on Bill, wand raised. "Oblivia–,"

Bill, somehow, had already raised his wand. "Expelliarmus!"


Bill, childishly, wanted to go home.

His bones ached; his skin felt raw. His brain was slow and tired and reeling from the torture and fear and panic. He wanted safety. He wanted comfort. He wanted to curl up on his armchair with the fire in the grate blazing away. He wanted a cup of tea and his mom's crocheted blanket and he wanted to sleep.

But he had none of those things.

He did have safety, which was crucial in the moment. The gatehouse was old and rickety and smelled of dust and mold and dirt, but the lockdown ward was holding strong. And Bill knew by the feel of it that it could hold all through the night if needed.

But the floor and walls were wooden and cold, and his body hurt, and his hands were shaking – from shock and adrenaline – and so he wanted to go home. But he would be home. In just a few hours. Well, first he was probably headed for St. Mungo's. And then he'd be back in Hogwarts, and Pomfrey might keep him in the infirmary for a bit, but he could get a cup a tea, and he could sleep, and that wasn't terrible. It was, in fact, rather miraculous because he'd thought he'd be captured and tortured for much longer. He'd believed that Draco would send help, but he'd thought that 'help' meant an anonymous letter to Dumbledore, and then a search party that would take hours, if not days, to locate him. But Draco had appeared, on his own, and rescued him. And even when the escape plan had gone to shit, Draco hadn't left him. He'd found them a new escape plan, and now here they were, in a deserted gatehouse with a raging Dark Lord outside and Aurors on the way, and he was safe.

He looked over at Draco. The boy was sitting against the wall, knees drawn up, face blank but eyes tight with unspoken fear. His fingers were tapping, as rapidly as Bill had ever seen them. He was scared.

Bill had already reassured him that the ward was holding, but even the most logic-minded person would be scared at the palpable rage from outside. Voldemort's voice, an unholy bellow of rage and frustration and hatred, seeped in through the walls, and it sent a shiver down Bill's spine. Across from him, Draco's mouth pinched. His breathing quickened.

Draco was scared. No, he was terrified, and for some reason, that made Bill uneasy. His mind, for some reason, flashed back to Lord Draco, Draco's Boggart.

'I killed you,' Lord Draco had said gleefully. And then, 'You shouldn't trust me, Bill.'

But no, Lord Draco hadn't said that, had he? Why could he hear that memory so clearly when it had never happened?

Then again, when he was being tortured, when the Cruciatus had been held on him, his mind had thought many things. Things that Bill didn't care to contemplate now. And the potion he'd been given, the one that had twisted reality around him… that had made him see things too.

The screaming finally stopped. Draco looked over at him and Bill gave him a reassuring smile.

"See? Nothing to worry about."

Draco didn't say anything, just gave a pained smile back and got up to peek out the window.

Bill didn't like that smile. It seemed like Draco was placating him and Draco had never been the type to placate before. It was clear his head was someplace dark, but maybe Bill should cut him some slack. After all, Draco had told him he'd never been to a Death Eater meeting before. If this was his first exposure to the violence Bill had grown accustomed to… well, it made sense he was shaken.

But for some reason, that thought returned. Lord Draco, insistent and severe. 'You can't trust me, Bill.'

Bill gripped his wand tighter, but kept it tucked under his leg, out of Draco's sight line. He was probably just paranoid.

"They leaving?" he asked Draco, keeping his voice light and friendly.

"Yeah," said Draco. His voice was flat. Dull.

Bill felt another chill steal down his spine.

"Bill?" Draco asked, in that same flat voice.

"Yeah?" Bill returned, readying a spell he hoped he didn't have to use.

"I'm sorry," Draco said.

And it was those two words that had Bill raising the wand because he knew Draco. He knew that Draco didn't apologize. And so when Draco whirled around, wand raised, Bill was ready.

"Oblivia –," Draco started.


Draco's wand went flying.


Author's note: Welp, this one took a while to update. Sorry about that. I was distracted by an original project that I thought was going to go somewhere. At one point, I had the manuscript out with four agents at the same time! But then the rejections followed, and I.. well, got really disappointed. And then despaired at writing anything. But, I have now picked myself back up and I am investigating the world of self-publishing. I've even created a blog/website/thing where I will be posting more info to come. You can check it out, if you like: /

But, onto the story:

I completely re-wrote the escape. When I first wrote this chapter, it was very much "they run here, fight this person, then run here, and fight this person" and I wanted to shape it a bit more. I also wanted to play on both of their strengths. Bill saw the ward and identified it; Draco figured out the way around it. That way it felt like Bill was less of a 'damsel in distress'.

I also took the opportunity to explore Draco's experience with Death Eaters. This is the first time he's been exposed to the truth of their gatherings. He'd created a very unrealistic idea of what they were and how they acted and how they looked. And now that's pulled out from under him. Additionally, he can't escape the reality that Death Eaters can and will torture and kill for Voldemort. He's always been presented a sanitized version of the Death Eaters, and even though he logically knows the truth of their actions, now he's facing it head on. I felt that it also gave him more to react to - more to freak out about. His breakdown in the gatehouse is him facing the truth of the Death Eaters, realizing how much danger he's in, and very understandably panicking. Which leads to him trying to obliviate Bill. As for Bill, I alluded to more of the 'Lord Draco' story in his part of the chapter. I shied away from it too much the first time around, because I didn't know if I was going with the Lord Draco plot-line/character arc, but now I was able to fill that in a bit more. Although there's still a lot of nebulousness about it, which I like.

Hope you enjoyed the changes!