Disclaimer: HP isn't mine.
So this will be updated sporadically, probably with long intervals between chapters. Don't say I didn't warn you. I'm notoriously bad at finishing chapter fics, so I'm going to try and keep this one relatively short and simple.
There really are no excuses for this, so I won't make any. Instead, let me just say this was sinfully fun to write, and hopefully will be to read.
Beta'd extensively by the luffly Nimbirosa, who is awesomely cool even if she likes Luke Skywalker. (Han Solo all the way, baby!)
The first thing any would-be hero should know is that there are two kinds of heroics: practical and impractical. The bold, the brave, the stupidly straightforward – they take the impractical road, generally, armed with the horribly overused rationale of 'Who needs intelligence when you can stick sharp pointy objects into the bad guys'. A word of advice: practical heroics are somewhat less fatal and much less messy. The mind is the best weapon there is, even if you can't whack people with it.
But whether rash or cautious, the Rules of Heroics generally hold true for all heroes. And the first rule of being a hero is to Never Get Caught. Getting captured by an enemy is, and I cannot stress this enough, a Very Bad Thing – unless, of course, you have some sort of genius plan up your sleeve that'll turn the tables on your unassuming captor. Chances are, though, that if you did get caught, you're of the Impractical School of Heroic Thought, and I wouldn't bet on you against a vicious flobberworm.
-Hermione Granger's Guide to Practical Heroics
Chapter One: In Which Our Hero Needs Saving Yet Torments His Savior, The Stupid Sod
Harry often thought that in some ways, he was spectacularly ill-suited to being a hero: he didn't like attention, he didn't particularly enjoy his yearly death-defying adventures, and he certainly wasn't philosophical enough to view his role as the wizarding world's savior with any sort of healthy perspective.
Heroes, he felt, ought to have more confidence, ought to make fewer mistakes, and probably weren't supposed to resent the whining multitudes they were expected to save.
But resentment aside, he seemed to be the only person for the job, so he figured he should do his best – and if he got some much-needed revenge in the process, well, that was all the better. (And weren't heroes supposed to be above such petty things as vengeance? Harry rather suspected they were, but he'd never actually thought himself particularly heroic in the first place – which was fortunate, as being petty was one of his few remaining joys in life.)
Mostly, though, it was desperation rather than his sense of duty that drove him to hunt down and destroy Tom Riddle's horcruxes. Deep in his soul, Harry thought desperation a piss-poor excuse for heroics; determination would have been more suiting a Gryffindor in his position, or even grim acceptance of his grand and glorious destiny.
Not that he wasn't determined – or grim, for that matter – but desperation was a much more familiar emotion, and the driving force behind most of his actions. He supposed it explained away a few of his less intelligent decisions over the years – determination and acceptance could easily be tempered by careful thought and planning, but desperation went straight to instinct and that bloody fight or flight response he could never quite control.
Desperation helped him survive the Dursleys; desperation led him to confront Voldemort time and again during his time at Hogwarts; now desperation fueled his attempts to destroy the bastard once and for all.
He didn't just want to kill Riddle. Stupid as it sounded, he honestly needed to kill Voldemort if he wanted to survive, if he wanted his friends to live to adulthood. And he'd be pretty damned annoyed if Ron and Hermione kicked the proverbial bucket before they gave in and jumped each other. Harry hadn't put up with their bickering and stubbornness all these years for nothing, after all, and an end to their migraine-inducing unresolved sexual tension was definitely worth fighting for.
Unfortunately desperation, as always, also led to monumental cock-ups. Which explained why Harry was currently cooling his heels in Riddle Manor, unarmed and chained up in the Dark Lord's cellar.
His arms strained, bearing the majority of his weight – his 'Welcome to Hell' torture session had ensured that his legs couldn't do much aside from quiver and quake. Rusty metal cuffs bit harshly into his wrists, and thin rivulets of blood streaked down his arms in disconcertingly cheery Christmas-red streams. Not quite Gryffindor red – too light – but that was all right. He didn't really need any more reminders of what he'd given up in his quest to destroy Voldemort.
Harry sighed, the gusty exhalation making his ribs ache fiercely. At least Ron and Hermione had managed to escape with the last horcrux before Voldemort arrived on the scene, flanked by Death Eaters. Harry'd given them that much.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed since he'd been caught. A day or so, he supposed. It felt more like an eternity, as the torture session had seemed to pass in slow motion, what with the occasional lapse into unconsciousness. And the pain. Pain was bad, too.
The so-called Chosen One was considering attempting to get some sleep when scraping sounds at his door penetrated the thick haze that seemed to have plugged his ears after the third time a Death Eater smashed his head into the floor. A key, he supposed, and wondered vaguely if Round Two of Kick the Potter was about to begin. Fun for the whole Death Eating family!
Instead, the door swung open to reveal a nervous, wide-eyed Draco Malfoy. Harry's eyebrows rose fractionally as he took in the other boy's haggard appearance. The ferret had lost weight and his robes were torn and stained. His eyes were shadowed enough that the skin beneath them almost looked bruised and – most telling of all, with regards to the Slytherin's current mental state – his hair was a mess. He was wringing his hands, his lower lip caught firmly between his teeth as he surveyed his former rival. There was a hint of pity in his gaze that immediately put Harry's nerves on edge.
"Malfoy," Harry croaked. "You look like shit. Good to know some things never change."
Malfoy immediately drew himself up regally, sneered, and retorted, "You hardly look any better, Potter."
"Might want to fix that," Harry suggested, his words slurred but still comprehensible. "Stomp on my face or something. But wait…you've done that already."
The Slytherin mouthed wordlessly for a long moment, then scowled and said, "I suppose I deserved that. But don't expect me to apologize for it." He stepped inside the room more fully, closing the door quietly behind him and silencing the room so no one outside would hear.
"Malfoy," Harry said patiently, though he was inwardly burning with curiosity as to the Slytherin's motives and purpose, "you deserve a hell of a lot worse." He tried to straighten up and glare, but the motion made him feel dizzy and he slumped back down, biting back a groan.
The other boy's nostrils flared and his eyes flashed, and he stomped one foot in aggravation – all in all, he looked like a pale, perturbed horse. Harry half expected him to whinny, or smack him with a frying pan – Petunia, after all, was rather horse-like as well, and she could wield kitchen utensils like some modern-day Amazonian housewife.
In general nastiness and bigotry, at least, Malfoy'd fit right in with the Dursleys. Maybe they'd overcome their hate of each other – Malfoy of muggles and the Dursleys of wizardry – and instead turn all their spite against Harry. United in hatred. It'd be beautiful. Really. Might even inspire a few tears.
"Potter," Malfoy ground out, any sympathy he might once have felt now utterly eradicated, "you might want to be a bit less rude to your rescuer."
Harry stared. When Malfoy didn't burst into laughter or shout "April Fools" (no matter that it was December), Harry…well, continued to stare.
Finally, just as Malfoy was beginning to shift uncomfortably under Harry's astounded gaze, the Gryffindor snorted. "Rescuer?" he repeated skeptically.
"What, you don't think I can?" Malfoy demanded, a pale pink flush stealing over his cheeks. "I'll have you know – "
"No, no, Malfoy," Harry said hurriedly, trying not to look too amused, "I'm sure you'd make a great snake in shining armor. Really. It's just – you might not have noticed, but we're in the middle of Voldemort's stronghold. Somehow, I don't think escape's going to be a hop and a skip through the daisies."
Draco flinched at the sound of the Dark Lord's name, but didn't seem affected beyond that. Harry was reluctantly impressed.
"Look, Potter," the boy snapped, "this isn't a game. He'll kill you, and then you won't be able to kill him, and you have to or we're all fucked."
Succinct, logical, and well thought-out. Harry would have given him an A, if he didn't think approving of Draco Malfoy was physically impossible for any right-thinking Gryffindor.
Not that Harry was exactly a right-thinking Gryffindor. Ron said he had some funny notions about survival and cunning. Hermione said he was too moody and quiet. Harry just figured Life was a bitch and had long ago made him her personal punching-bag, addling his brains enough that it was a miracle he could think at all.
"I kinda figured this wasn't a game, oh, right around the third time Lestrange Crucio'd me," Harry said sarcastically, stumbling over a few syllables – his tongue felt strangely heavy in his mouth, and the edges of his vision were beginning to go grayish. "Besides, I don't need rescuing."
Malfoy's eyes practically bugged out of his head. "Don't need – Potter, have you gone utterly around the bend? You're trussed up in the Dark Lord's cellar like a sacrifice waiting to happen!"
"But you see, Malfoy," Harry said in his best lecturing tones, which were only a pale imitation of Hermione's, "I've spelled myself to explode in…oh, fifteen, twenty seconds. I'm about to go off like a bomb, and I'm taking Riddle and everyone in here with me."
Malfoy gaped at him in utter disbelief, then dove for the floor, covering his head with his arms – as if it would do any good against a Harry-bomb.
The seconds ticked by, Harry counting down in his head. After two minutes had passed, Malfoy slowly looked up, the terror on his face slowly melting into confusion. "What…"
"Yeah, that bomb thing?" Harry said, struggling not to snicker, "I sort of made that up."
"Uh-huh," Harry agreed, content to take amusement where he could. Another habit, he supposed, that wasn't particularly heroic. Eh. He could blame it on the concussion, if he ever got out of this alive. "So are you going to rescue me or just mess around?"
Harry wondered, as Draco went an unappealing Weasley-hair shade of red, if he could make people implode of anger. Maybe he could try it out on Voldemort. Save the world by being unbearably annoying – the idea had merit.
"I hate you, Potter," Malfoy hissed. "Now shut up and let me save your worthless hide." He stood, brushing himself off in jerky motions that betrayed his anger.
"If my hide was worthless," Harry felt compelled to point out after a moment's solemn reflection, "you wouldn't be trying to save it."
Malfoy let out a wordless cry of rage, and Harry felt that wonderful glow of satisfaction that comes of a bad job well done.
If he couldn't be a hero, then at least he could be a nuisance. What had the fake Moody said so long ago? Constant vigilance. Wait, no – something else. About sticking to your strengths. Harry annoyed half the wizarding world just by existing. Voldemort, he thought wildly, right before the world went fuzzy and then black, wouldn't stand a chance.
A good idea for a more intellectual hero, particularly one in captivity, is to practice developing people skills. See if you can't appease your captors somewhat – even if they don't let you go, they might not torture you quite so terribly. And if a rescue is on the horizon, by all means: keep your mouth shut and grab at freedom with both hands. If you must talk, be charming, or at least inoffensive.
Of course, some people are beyond help…
-Hermione Granger's Guide to Practical Heroics
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