Author's Notes: Written for the HP Fairytales challenge for the prompt "Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf", and thus contains elements of the plot of that fairytale. Written pre-DH, so not canon-compliant. However, (as you'll see), it goes AU in some ways long before that anyway. Also, Harry is 17 years old when the sexual content takes place.
Harry Potter raised the cup to the Headmaster's mouth, flinching along with Dumbledore as the older man swallowed, the poison almost automatically beginning on its path through his veins.
To be honest, Harry wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up in a position where he had to unwillingly poison the man that he was trying to help. When Dumbledore had told him the dangers of what they were doing, Harry had never expected anything like this. Imminent peril to his own life, Harry could deal with. Having to betray the only real mentor he'd ever known more and more with each lift of the cup and each placating word was something else all together.
When the Headmaster finally (thankfully) had finished, he barely even had enough of his wits left about him to grab the locket and clutch it to him as he begged for water.
How ironic did it seem, that with what seemed like miles of water surrounding them, Harry couldn't even manage to procure a single gobletful to quench a wounded – and perhaps dying – man's thirst.
Dumbledore had warned him zealously against disturbing that vast expanse of water, but there was nothing else for it.
He didn't even have time to turn about and give Dumbledore that mouthful of water before he was assailed by bodies. Inferi, his mind supplied, though perhaps that knowledge would have been a little more useful had Harry been able to recall anything about defending against them apart from the decidedly unhelpful litany of 'light and warmth' that was running through his brain. As it was, Harry was stuck vainly waving his Lumos-lit wand at them, shouting curses that seemed to have no effect on them at all.
He was so screwed. They both were.
Harry hadn't, since Dumbledore had first told him about the prophecy, really considered the possibility that he might actually be taken out of the equation long before he ever got to face down Voldemort. Didn't he feel like an idiot now?
It was a stroke of luck – whether bad or good luck, Harry wasn't yet certain – that someone else was in the cave. The unidentified person called out a string of words, which Harry unfortunately couldn't quite make out, that stopped the Inferi. They didn't quite fall away from their holds on him. They just… stopped. There was no more pulling of his body towards the water, where they presumably had intended to drown him, if Inferi could 'intend' anything at all. They seemed to, in an instant, truly become corpses once again. Harry wasn't certain whether they looked more unnerving when they were moving about as if alive, or when they just drifted like that, eyes glazed and unseeing.
Harry had seen dead bodies before. He just hadn't ever seen quite so many at once. He shuddered and tried to shake grasping but limp hands away from him. His skin crawled at the touch of their slightly slimy fingers.
"I see that you have managed to get yourself in too deep once again, Mr Potter."
Damn. Harry knew that voice.
This might well be worse than if the Inferi had been allowed to have their way with him after all.
Harry pushed the immobile bodies away from him with a shiver and whipped his wand around to point in the direction of the Death Eater's voice, somewhere across the other side of the water, though he couldn't see him in the darkness. However, even as he repeatedly shot off hexes, disarming spells, anything, they each ineffectually hit what looked like a particularly strong shielding charm that didn't look as if it would let up any time soon.
Here was yet another foe that Harry didn't quite know how to fight. He was unfortunately getting fairly used to that.
There was nothing for it. Harry lowered his wand, and the Death Eater thankfully didn't take the opportunity to curse him. Instead, he only used his own wand to create light enough for Harry to see him properly, even across the distance.
Harry glared at Lucius Malfoy, though the other man just smirked right back at him. Neither said anything, as if unwilling to end their silent stand-off in favour of actually just getting on with it. A small gasping sound from his over his left shoulder reminded Harry that Dumbledore's pressing need for half a dozen well trained Healers, and soon, meant that there was no time for posing and mind games.
"Last I heard, you were in Azkaban," Harry called out across the lake.
Lucius shrugged gracefully, as if unaffected by the mention of what Harry knew must have been the worst experience in his life, bar none. "I was," Lucius conceded. "The Dark Lord released me so that I could be here. Had the wizarding world not traded one incompetent and frightened Minister of Magic for another, it might have actually made the papers. We'll all be so much better off when my Lord appoints someone more worthy to the position, don't you think?"
Harry pointedly chose not to respond to his baiting. "So why are you here?"
Malfoy's smirk only seemed to deepen. "Isn't it obvious? I'm here because I've been waiting for you to arrive."
"Huh?" Harry said.
It wasn't an awe-inspiring come-back, if he was honest.
"You took rather a bit longer than I expected, too," Malfoy continued regardless. "I admit to being a little disappointed. The Dark Lord dropped the location of this place to Dumbledore through his spy days ago. We expected he would come as soon as he knew. But, I suppose, he had to prepare his will and wait for a time he could bring you along, since he knew this little excursion of yours would finish him off. Not a moment too soon, I must say."
"No," Harry objected, though he found that his voice was not as strong in its denial as he would have liked. Lucius's words merely echoed his own thoughts, after all. Even Harry could tell that Dumbledore was dying, as much as he tried to hope and believe otherwise.
"No?" Lucius responded with a disbelieving chuckle. "Are you really so idiotic as to not have figured out why your beloved Headmaster was suddenly telling you about a mission that he had kept completely quiet up to this point? He knew he was going to die, and that you would have to carry on without him. And now it's you who have helped him on his way. Bravo, Potter. My Lord will be pleased to congratulate you for your efforts personally, I'm sure."
"No!" Harry said again, and was happy to note that he sounded much more vehement this time.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," Lucius contradicted, though for all that his tone was adequately mournful to suit his words, his face was far too obviously gleeful. Harry growled at him, though he wasn't sure that Malfoy could hear the low sound across the body of water that separated them, echoing though the cave may have been.
"It was for nothing, of course. The locket that fool Dumbledore is cleaving to so tightly is useless to you, as it's not the original. It is a cheap imitation of Slytherin's former possession, and it was left there many years ago to be found by the Dark Lord, as a taunt of sorts, by a former servant named Black. It's not one of his Horcruxes at all. And yes," Lucius added, seeing the flicker of surprise on Harry's face, "the Dark Lord is well aware that you know about all of that. You forget that the Dark Lord can enter your weak mind whenever he pleases. That's why he knew that you would escort Dumbledore here, and why he prepared for exactly that eventuality."
Harry was silent, not willing to admit that he didn't really understand the full impact of what Malfoy was telling him.
"The Dark Lord is not the fool you seem to think he is," Lucius continued. "When he returned, he knew that there was a possibility that some of his Horcruxes may have been found during his absence. This Horcrux – the true Horcrux, at least – was found to be missing. After some searching, the Dark Lord has concluded that it is in a place protected from his and all of his follower's entrance. However, he believes that you may have the means to go inside, find his item and return it to him."
"And, what? He thinks that I actually will?" Harry asked with false bravado, though with entirely real incredulity. "Having his more particularly insane time of the month at the moment, is he?"
"Watch it, boy," Lucius snapped, his eyes narrowing. "The Dark Lord would prefer that you remain alive for the moment, but he didn't specify you had to remain whole, so hold that tongue of yours before I use a well-earned slicing charm on it. If you refuse to comply, I'll either immediately kill you – and believe me, I'd be only too thrilled to comply – or we continue with this… enlightening chat until either you have to watch your Headmaster die from lack of medical aid right in front of you, or I just kill you both to end the sheer boredom of it all."
"And what happens if I do go along with it?" Harry scoffed. "You're going to play nursemaid for him while I'm off on your little quest, are you? Somehow I can't see you as the fluffing the pillows behind his head type."
Lucius shrugged. "It's more than you could expect, or deserve, to have my word that he won't be killed by myself or any other Death Eater, but you'll have it nonetheless. If he does die while we're waiting for your return, it will be from that poison that you shoved down his throat."
"Your word?" Harry repeated incredulously. "You expect me to trust the word of a Slytherin? A Death Eater? A Malfoy?"
Malfoy raised an eyebrow, looking every inch the epitome of high-class pureblood dignity. "I certainly do when my word comes in the form of an Unbreakable Vow," Malfoy said condescendingly. "I, as the Dark Lord's devoted servant, must be willing to lay my own life on the line for his cause. Would you do the same for your precious Headmaster?"
Harry's first instinct was to immediately reply indignantly that of course he was, but for once he held his tongue. He knew just enough about Unbreakable Vows to be wary, especially as Lucius Malfoy was involved.
"Well?" Lucius prompted.
"What if I agreed?" Harry asked carefully.
Lucius smirked, obviously knowing that Harry was going to cave. "Bellatrix, won't you come over here?" he called out.
Harry could only gape as Bellatrix Lestrange entered the cave, her mad eyes gleaming in the light of the Lumos charm beaming out of her stolen wand. The hand not holding her wand was dripping blood, which she didn't even seem to notice as she approached Lucius's side. It took Harry a moment to realise that, like Dumbledore, she'd obviously had to shed blood to enter the cave. He would have thought, though, that even an insane person wouldn't leave the wound to bleed, thus further weakening herself. Perhaps it was a show of self-confidence. More likely, it was just thoughtless. She didn't exactly seem like the brightest beam of light, after all.
"Not her," Harry breathed.
Other than obviously Voldemort himself, Harry couldn't claim to hate anyone in the wizarding world quite as much as he despised Bellatrix Lestrange. Ever since she'd escaped from Azkaban prison after Cornelius Fudge had panicked over the Death Eaters appearing at the Quidditch World Cup, resulting in the order for her and several other key Death Eaters to receive the Dementor's Kiss, she'd played a key part ruining his life little by little. Had it not been for Bellatrix, Barty Crouch Jr would never have escaped his father's control, and would never have been able to infiltrate Hogwarts. Harry wouldn't have been transported to the graveyard that had housed the Dark Lord's return. The Dark Lord wouldn't have returned, period, because he wouldn't have had anyone to assist him.
And then, of course, Tonks wouldn't have died were it not for Bellatrix. Harry had liked Tonks quite a bit; she was almost like an older sister, in a way, and had become probably the closest thing Harry had to family outside the Weasleys themselves when he'd stayed at their house in the summer before his fifth year, with Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt as their guard. Tonks had gone above and beyond the call of duty. It had been Tonks who had shocked him out of his 'teen angst phase', as she'd teasingly called it, though Harry knew that she hadn't really begrudged him his anger and sullenness under the circumstances.
That had all ended when, that February, barely half a year after he had first met her, Tonks and a few other Aurors had been sent out to a location where Bellatrix had been sighted to capture her. Only one of the Aurors had emerged from the fight alive, though not unscathed. It hadn't been Harry's newfound confidant.
If there hadn't been a substantial distance and a large lake between them, Harry fancied that he might have bodily lunged at Bellatrix. The wave of rage that swept over him just at the sight of her was almost overpowering. As it was, Harry summoned forth a glower that, had he been able to see himself, he might have deemed a rival to even those that Snape generally reserved just for him.
"What trouble has the baby gotten into, now?" she cooed at him.
"The kind of trouble where I make you wish it'd been the Dementors that finished you off instead," Harry threatened.
Lucius smirked. "Now really, Potter, you ought to show better manners. Bellatrix, after all, is only here to help. I'd volunteer Dumbledore to be our Bonder instead to appease your sensibilities, such as they are, but he appears to be nearly unconscious. Bellatrix is our only option."
Harry had to clench his jaw shut tight enough that it ached, but somehow he managed to stop himself from protesting further.
"Now," Lucius continued, "I think that you should take that boat you travelled across in and return over to this side of the lake. No!" he snapped immediately when Harry moved to collect the Headmaster, who was still gasping in short, laboured breaths, so that he could help him to the boat. "You'll leave him exactly where he is."
Harry intensified his glare, if that was possible, but did as Lucius said. After all, it was the two Death Eaters who held all the cards. Harry would have to endeavour not to forget that. Getting himself killed right here and now would obviously do neither himself nor Dumbledore an ounce of good. At least if he played by their rules for now there might be some kind of chance of getting out of this.
The crossing of the water seemed to take, at once, forever and a mere second. When Harry stepped out onto the narrow bank, he kept a reasonable distance between himself and where Lucius and Bellatrix stood side-by-side.
"If I agree," Harry began grudgingly, "then will I at least be told where I'm meant to be going?"
Lucius laughed a full-bodied sort of laugh that indicated real amusement. "Of course not! The Dark Lord, while he wants the locket back in his possession, is in no rush for you to return. You'll have to rely on your own intelligence. That should be interesting, I believe, as Severus has left us with the impression that your 'intelligence' is in particularly short supply."
Harry wanted to react to the familiar way Lucius spoke of Snape, and the fact that Snape had obviously been spending his time sharing stories about Harry instead of retrieving much-needed information for the Order. However, cursing Snape to a painful death in his imagination would have to wait for a more appropriate time, presuming that Harry actually lived to see one of those.
He scoffed, "Right," and approached Lucius and Bellatrix, careful not to lose his balance on the small outcrop so that he would fall into the water. Who knew whether the Inferi would remain static if disturbed again.
"So, Potter, this is how it works. You and I will join hands, and Bellatrix shall place her wand atop them to bind us to our words. I will ask, under the Vow, whether you agree to your part of the terms and you will reply, "I will." You will then state your terms, and I will agree. And then you will leave, and go about your task. If you refuse to do so, you will die. It's really very simple.
"Now, Bellatrix, if you please?"
Lucius gestured towards the floor, addressing Harry. "You will need to kneel, Potter."
Harry's breath caught. "You want me to kneel down in front of you? Are you mad?" he choked out.
Malfoy rolled his cold eyes. "Don't be overly dramatic, Potter. I will be kneeling as well." As if to demonstrate this point, Lucius went to his knees.
It felt oddly satisfying, actually, to have the high and mighty Lucius Malfoy at his feet like that for a moment before Harry followed Lucius's lead. Harry had to concentrate very hard on not either flinching away or lashing out when Bellatrix came to stand over them. She seemed to find it difficult to stand alongside them on the thin band of rocks, and Harry found himself hoping that she would fall into the water. This, unluckily, was not the case, and so Harry was not treated to the incredibly satisfying sight of Bellatrix Lestrange being torn apart or drowned by Inferi. He felt supremely disappointed, and then wondered what that said about his sense of mercy. Nothing good, obviously. When it came to her, though, he wasn't sure that he cared.
Lucius extended his hand and looked imperiously at Harry, fully expecting him to accept it without qualm.
"I'm not stupid," Harry said, ignoring the hand for the moment. "I won't be Bonded to go Horcrux-hunting before you're already Bonded into not hurting Dumbledore. You go first, or we're not doing this."
"Fine," Lucius said, exasperated. "Now, could we proceed before the Headmaster expires and the deal becomes worthless?"
Harry eyed him warily, but took Lucius's hand nevertheless.
"It needs to spoken formally," Lucius informed him as Bellatrix's wand settled over their joined hands. "'Will you, Lucius Malfoy, do this' and the like. And don't try to throw in any extra bits and pieces, since I'm under no obligation to agree."
Harry nodded curtly. He needed to phrase this properly, so that there was no way that Lucius could find a way around his words without actually breaking the Vow.
"Will you, Lucius Malfoy, swear on behalf of yourself and all others in affiliation with Voldemort or his followers that Albus Dumbledore will not be handled in any way that causes further harm to him?"
"Put a time limit on it, Potter, or I won't agree."
Harry scowled. Bastard, he thought.
"Fine," Harry growled. "Will you, Lucius Malfoy, swear that neither you nor anyone in league with Voldemort or his followers will in any way cause harm to Albus Dumbledore until after he's been returned safely to the care of a Healer at either Hogwarts castle or St Mungo's hospital?"
Lucius seemed to consider the request for a moment, as if verifying that Harry was not attempting to fool him again. "I will."
Harry would have nodded in satisfaction, were it not for the sight of flames spilling forth from Bellatrix's wand and wrapping around their joined hands. He attempted to pull his hand back away from the fire encasing his hand in panic, but Lucius held fast.
"Will you, Harry Potter, retrieve the Dark Lord's true Horcrux, Slytherin's locket, from its current location and return to this cave to hand it over to myself or one of the other Death Eaters occupying the cave?"
A second flame shot out to form a spiral that looked curiously like the strands of DNA on the charts that Harry's Muggle science teacher had once shown his class before Harry had ever heard of Hogwarts.
"And will you not mention outside this cave the events that occurred here or the mission I have set for you until you have completed your task?"
"Hey!" Harry protested. That hadn't been mentioned before. Sneaky son of a –
"That's the deal, Potter," Lucius said, still gripping Harry's hand tightly.
Harry hesitated. He didn't want to die just because he somehow managed to let the details of this encounter slip without meaning to. But then, there really was no choice. The options were to take a chance, or to resign himself to Dumbledore, and probably himself as well, dying slowly and without any hope of being saved. It was a no-brainer, really.
A third flame appeared.
After a few moments, Lucius allowed Harry's hand to fall away from his. In seconds, all evidence that there had ever been strange, red-hot fire anywhere within the cave had disappeared. All that was left was the vaguely greenish glow of the cave, and the far-away glow of Dumbledore's Lumos charm, which had yet to fail. At least he was strong enough and conscious enough for that, Harry thought thankfully, though that was barely any comfort at all when Harry could still hear the echo of the Headmaster's wheezing, even across the lake.
As Harry cast a lighting charm, he looked beseechingly at Lucius. He didn't want to have to beg, but…
"Couldn't you at least give him a glass of water? As a gesture of good will."
It was Bellatrix that laughed uproariously, while Lucius just looked mildly amused, but mostly just calculating.
"Run along, little baby boy," the woman crowed. "You've obviously forgotten who you're dealing with. Best leave before I remind you what the Dark Lord's faithful servants can do to little half-blood babies like you."
Harry glared. "Psychotic bitch," he cursed, and forced himself to walk away before he could do something for which he would be made to feel very sorry indeed.
"Don't dally, Potter," Lucius called after him. "My Lord informs me that the poison isn't generally fast-acting, but with someone already as old and weakened as Dumbledore…"
Harry tried very hard to ignore this as he rubbed one of his many grazes, trophies of sorts from his scuffle with the Inferi, against the stone so that the archway once more allowed him through. He didn't look back, for he knew that if he had to see Dumbledore's prone body in amongst the Inferi once more, he'd forget all about the danger, the Vow, and plain common sense in favour of rushing back in there.
Fire, Harry remembered as soon as he stepped outside. Dumbledore had told him that fire would have driven the Inferi back. Perhaps, if he'd remembered that quickly enough, Harry could have got himself and Dumbledore out of there before Lucius could make his move.
It was a bit late now, though. The Inferi were hardly the most dangerous thing he'd have to deal with in that cave now.
When he reached the Apparition line, he hesitated. Use his intelligence, Lucius had said. That meant that it had to be somewhere that Harry actually knew of, surely. Somewhere he had access to and Voldemort didn't.