DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter and all other characters and locations belong to J. K. Rowling.
Chapter Five - Wanted: Bellatrix Lestrange (Preferably Dead)
Harry sat before the fire in the Gryffindor Common Room, his eyes locked on the flames crackling in the hearth. The soft whisper of boots on stone turned his head, his fingers unconsciously curling around the handle of his wand. He exhaled slowly at the sight of Neville, forcing his fingers to relax and a smile to curve his lips as the other wizard called out a greeting. Flicking his eyes over Neville's shoulder, he searched the shadowed stairwell for signs of life, nearly sighing in relief when he found the other Gryffindor alone on the stairs.
"Good morning," he replied softly, rising at Neville's approach. Without giving the taller wizard a chance to respond, Harry waved him toward the scarlet sofa, clasping his hands behind his back and beginning to pace before the fire. Lips pursed, he stared at the floor, seemingly lost in thought. He knew what he had to do, there was really no point in putting it off any longer. Inhaling deeply, he halted and turned to face Neville, staring into the questioning eyes of one of his closest friends.
"What's wrong?" Neville asked, "This is about that Howler, isn't it?"
Harry nodded slowly, his expression growing stoic as resignation swept over him. "Yes, it is." He drew a deep breath as he stared at the other wizard, his fingers whitening where they were locked together behind his back. "Neville . . . that Howler was sent by Bellatrix Lestrange."
For a single second, complete silence hung over the Common Room, a silence that was fractured by Neville's outraged shout. "No! She's dead, Harry! They killed her! You were there! They killed them all-." His angered words trailed off when the dark-haired male began to shake his head. "She has to be dead," he said in a breathless whisper, "I need her to be dead." Dazed eyes stared up at Harry, desperately pleading for the truth.
Harry wasn't given a chance to reply. The heavy thud of boots exploded on the stairs above, the sound rumbling like distant thunder. Heaving a soft sigh, Harry tipped his chin toward the ceiling and closed his eyes. Alarmed shouts and worried calls filled the room as the Pride spilled down the stairwell and into the chamber, the pajama-clad group quickly spreading out and searching for the cause of the disturbance. Wands were slowly lowered when a harried sweep of the room revealed nothing amiss, puzzled faces turning to Harry in silent question.
"I was having a private conversation with Neville," Harry explained patiently, "And gave him some news which he wasn't expecting." The broad statement caused brows to furrow in thought, everyone attempting to figure out what could possibly have discomfited Neville to the point of yelling.
Exchanging a glance with Hermione, Ron tipped his head, lips pursing. "Is this about that Howler?" He asked finally, watching Harry's face closely.
The dark-haired wizard didn't so much as flinch at the question, his eyes never leaving Neville's bowed head. "Yes," he murmured finally, lifting his chin and eyeing the group tiredly. Raising a hand, he scrubbed indelicately at his face, the gesture revealing his uneasiness with the current conversation. "However, the matter I was discussing with Neville was of a personal nature. I'll tell you all everything you need to know at the meeting later this morning. For now, I ask that you excuse Neville and I, we have some business to settle."
Blinking at the frank dismissal, the group stared at Harry, not quite comprehending that he was actually ordering them from the room - albeit in a very polite manner. It took an arched brow and a waved hand to turn the Pride toward the staircase, and even then their strides were short and hesitant. Slowly they began to filter back up the stairs, mumbling quietly amongst each other.
Halting with one hand on the wall of the stairwell, Dean glanced back at the silent pair, his expression grim. "Harry," he said quietly, the sound of his voice turning the other male's gaze in his direction. "Are you okay?"
Harry met Dean's worried eyes and forced a small smile to his lips. "I've been better," he answered truthfully, giving a slight nod of his head to reinforce the words. "But this is something I have to do."
Dean frowned slightly but dipped his chin in acknowledgment. "I'll see you later, then." Brow still furrowed, he turned and followed the retreating Pride up the stairs to their dorm rooms.
Nearly sighing in relief at having emptied the Common Room with minimal argument, Harry returned his attention to Neville. Carding his fingers through his hair, he turned and flopped down on the couch next to the other wizard, staring at the fire snapping merrily in the hearth. "I'm so sorry, Neville. I wanted her to be dead, too. In fact, I was positive she was. But that Howler . . ."
"Are you certain, Harry? I mean, absolutely positive that that Howler was from Bellatrix and not some other witch?" Neville asked in a quiet but hopeful voice. The little remaining hope he felt was crushed when Harry shook his head slowly.
"I'll never forget her voice. It's ingrained in my memories." Rapt gaze seemingly intent on the flames dancing in the fireplace, Harry slowly unwrapped his fingers from the hilt of his wand, having no memory of how they'd gotten to be there in the first place. "I hear it every night in my nightmares," he said in a hushed whisper.
Eyes widening, Neville swivelled to face the dark-haired male. "Harry," he murmured, reaching out and placing a comforting hand on the other wizard's shoulder.
Shrugging out from under the hand, Harry locked blazing emerald orbs on his fellow Gryffindor. "I need you to promise me that you won't do anything rash, Neville. That you'll wait for the Pride to decide how she should be dealt with before rushing off and doing something stupid."
Staring into the slightly crazed eyes of Harry Potter, Neville gave a bob of his head in agreement before rising and walking stiffly toward the staircase that led up to the dorms. He halted with his boot on the first stair, glancing back at the dark-haired male with narrowed eyes. "Harry," he called softly, waiting for Pride leader to look at him before continuing. "I want you to promise me you won't do anything stupid, either." Relief swept through him at the slow curve of the other male's lips, the small smile easing his worries and telling him that the Harry he'd long ago befriended was still in there.
"I already promised Draco," Harry said simply, knowing that no further explanation was needed.
He watched as Neville nodded and resumed his climb up the stairs, disappearing into the shadows above. As soon as he was alone, the smile fell from his face, leaving his features cold and hard. Bellatrix Lestrange was as good as dead; it was really only a matter of time. And if there was one thing Harry knew about the dark witch, it was that she was impetuous and without patience. She'd show up sooner than later - and he'd be waiting. A new smile twisted his lips and curved his fingers lovingly around his wand, he couldn't wait.
Harry stared at the expectant faces of the Lions Pride, suddenly feeling extremely nervous even though he'd done this type of thing numerous times before. His gaze swept slowly around the chamber, landing finally on Draco who stood against the east wall of the Room of Requirement. The blond could have sat if he wanted to; the Room had provided dozens of comfortable looking chairs and even several large overstuffed sofas done in various shades of gray for the Pride to rest upon.
"Everyone's here, Harry," Ron called, ushering a small trio of stragglers into the room. The redhead moved to take his seat upon one of the couches, squeezing in between Terry and Justin. After a bit of shuffling and squirming, the room fell perfectly silent, all eyes on the raven-haired wizard at the front of the chamber.
Drawing a deep breath, Harry straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. "Any of you who may have been absent at breakfast yesterday should already be aware of the fact that I received a Howler. I'd read it you if I still had it, but it destroyed itself quite efficiently after delivering its message." Several anxious snickers filled the room, the quiet sounds earning the individuals who made them sideways glances from the people seated around them. "That Howler was sent to me by Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange."
The announcement caused a rush of whispers, voices rising as everyone began to exclaim over the news. Witches and wizards turned in their chairs, speaking excitedly with those seated around them. A sharp whistle brought silence to the room, the assembled Pride glancing at Terry in surprise before turning their attention back to the front of the room.
"I, like many of you, thought Lestrange was dead. In fact, up until this point, there actually hadn't been any evidence to suggest otherwise. I'm taking the aforementioned Howler as proof that Bellatrix is still alive and still within the country." Harry said in a quiet voice, eyes roving over the group.
"How can you be sure it's really her?" Mandy Brocklehurst asked, a small frown marring her features. She exchanged a small look with Susan and Hannah, her fingers knotting in her lap.
"Her voice," Harry said. The Pride stared at him in silence, some of them wearing expressions of disbelief. Inhaling, he began to pace back and forth before the group, trying to determine exactly how much he should tell them. With a weary sigh, he lifted a hand and rubbed at the scar around his neck. "When I was in Azkaban, Bellatrix would visit me quite often. She liked to talk," he confided to the room.
Theodore lifted a hand politely, waiting for Harry to acknowledge him. He frowned when the Lion stared unseeing at him, his green eyes growing distant and unfocused. A murmur slid through the chamber, the Pride growing uneasy at the lengthening silence, some individuals glancing at Draco in search of answers. Having grown impatient with the wait, Theo spoke. "Why wasn't she at the Ball? As one of Voldemort's top Death Eaters, she should have been in attendance."
"There was an incident that occurred several days before the Ball which may have earned Bellatrix Voldemort's displeasure." Draco's voice rang through the room, cool and precise as always. He prowled from his spot against the wall, gliding toward Harry's still form. "As such, it was unlikely she would have been allowed to attend." Halting beside the raven-haired wizard, Draco settled a gentle hand against the nape of his neck, making a soft shushing noise when Harry jumped slightly at the touch.
"What type of incident?" Justin asked, oblivious to the tension rising in the room.
"If that incident was of any relevance to this conversation, Finch-Fletchley, you'd already know about it," Draco purred in warning. Glaring at the other wizard, Draco lowered his mouth to Harry's ear. "Are you all right?" He breathed, sliding his hand down the raven-haired male's back.
Harry drew a series of deep breaths before he nodded, slowly coming back to the present. It had been so long since he'd allowed himself to think about Azkaban, since he'd purposely immersed himself in the memories. "Fine," he said, pulling gently away from Draco and running a shaking hand through his hair. Clearing his throat, he gazed at the worried faces peering up at him. "Beatings and crucio's were a common occurrence in Azkaban," Harry said in a quiet voice, "Things got out of hand during one of Lestrange's visits. I'm quite certain Voldemort was informed of the incident."
"How can you be certain?" Michael wondered curiously. The question earned the wizard several angered glares, and a hard elbow to his side by Seamus who was seated next to him.
"Because everything that involved me was reported back to him. Now, back to the matter at hand. As the Howler clearly stated, Lestrange is looking for me. I'm sure she'll turn up here eventually, however, I'm not willing to wait that long. I want Bellatrix Lestrange behind bars. If that means skirting around some of the rules set to us by the Wizengamot, so be it. I don't want any of you doing anything without my direct orders, though."
"We're actively going to be hunting Lestrange?" Dean asked, excitement clear in his voice. The prospect of resuming their former duties caused a rush of eager whispers to race around the room.
Giving a small smile, Harry nodded. "Very discreetly, of course," he added. For a moment he stared at the assembled Pride, going through an internal list of things to do before giving a slight bob of his head. "That's everything, I believe. When a plan of action has been decided upon, you'll all be informed. You can all head down to breakfast now." It took a minute for the Lions Pride to leave the Room of Requirement. They broke into smaller groups as they prowled from the large chamber, whispering furiously as they headed off in various directions, leaving Harry standing silently at the front of the room.
It was a quiet group of Pride members that wandered slowly into the Great Hall at the tail end of breakfast. They settled themselves in a tight group at the bottom of the Hufflepuff Table, assuming that the handful of remaining Badgers taking breakfast would be to polite to bother them. Once seated, they simply stared at the teeming platters of steaming food, no one having any interest in eating after the meeting they'd just sat through. It was a plaintive grumble from Ron's stomach that spurred the group into action, all of them reaching for plates and cups.
"There'll be no trial for Bellatrix Lestrange," Terry muttered finally, breaking the silence. His expression was dark, and shared by nearly everyone in the little group.
Nodding in agreement with Terry's statement, Ron heaped scrambled eggs onto his plate and then proceeded to bury them in a deluge of ketchup. "I'll kill her if I find her first," the redhead mumbled, nudging Goyle and gesturing at the plate of sausage sitting just beyond his reach.
"But then you'll be no better than her." A soft voice dreamily inserted into the conversation. Gazing into the pitcher of orange juice before her with wide blue eyes, Luna ignored the wave of grumbles her words caused. "And you know that's not what Harry would want," she added in a whisper.
"Perhaps not," Crabbe grunted, snagging a piece of toast off Dean's plate, "But accidents can happen. If she happens to choke on a piece of apple or fall down some stairs, no one would be the wiser."
"Whatever happened to a good old ' Avada Kedavra'?" Blaise wondered out loud, pouring himself a cup of tea. "I mean, it's quick and clean. Two simple words and you're done."
"I can't believe you're discussing murdering Bellatrix Lestrange in the middle of the Great Hall," Ginny hissed at them, disapproval clear in the tone of her voice. She glowered at the seven wizards, giving a small shake of her head when her brother tried to defend the group around a mouthful of egg and bacon. "She should stand before the Wizengamot and be sentenced to Azkaban where she can spend the rest of her life locked in a very small cell with only a Dementor for company."
"That's to good for her," Seamus mumbled, earning himself a glare from Ginny. Shrugging his shoulders, the wizard folded his arms over his chest, standing firmly beside his opinion.
"Besides, if anyone should get to kill her, it should be Neville," Ginny spat. With a sharp bob of her head, she swung around and marched toward the Gryffindor Table, taking a seat between Hermione and Lavender.
Cramming a sausage into his mouth, Goyle nodded his head and stared ruminatively at his empty plate. "Witch has a point," he said finally, earning himself stares from the closest Pride members.
Shaking his head, Terry rose gracefully, brushing his robes neatly into place. "Class starts soon," he said, the words both a warning and an explanation for his early departure. The news dragged muffled curses from several of the wizards, all of them standing and mumbling unhappily to each other as they broke into smaller groups and headed back to their Houses to collect their books.
That small forced parting was like a thorn in the Pride's paw, the inability to stay together even at the most innocuous of times. But they did it, because it had been in the rules given to them by the Wizengamot. Fortunately, their time at Hogwarts would eventually end, and they'd be able to travel as the Lion's Pride once again.
"Tell me the truth, Harry, are you all right?" Draco asked quietly, prowling around from behind the dark-haired wizard and halting before him. He extended a slender hand and cupped one tan cheek, staring deeply into tired jade spheres. A smile curved his lips, his expression softening when the other wizard lifted a hand and settled it atop his own.
Holding Draco's hand against his cheek, Harry met his worried silver orbs, a smile flirting with the corners of his lips. "Yes," he murmured, amusement lightening the simple reply. Sliding his hand down the blond's arm, he tugged the other wizard closer, curving his arms around his waist and sighing softly.
Around them, the room began to shift. The ceiling lowered and the lighting dimmed, the atmosphere becoming more intimate. With the groan of brick and a shower of dust, a fireplace emerged from the wall behind them, flames leaping into existence with a sharp crackle. All of the chairs vanished, leaving only a single sofa sitting directly before the fire.
Curling an arm around Harry's waist, Draco guided him toward the loveseat, gently pushing him down upon the dark fabric. He settled himself on the cushion next to the other wizard, draping an arm over his shoulders and tugging him closer. "You're absolutely positive you're okay?" He asked again, brushing several locks of dark hair off Harry's forehead.
"Yes, Draco," Harry said with a soft laugh. He rested his head against the blond's chest, fingers capturing the blond's free hand and bringing it to his lips. "It's just been a long time since I've thought about that place. And even longer since I've spoken about it."
Draco nodded slowly, running a soothing hand up and down Harry's arm. "I know." He watched the flames dancing in the hearth, the soft snaps and pops caused by the burning wood echoing in the quiet room. With a drawn out sigh, he rested his chin on the top of Harry's head, feeling the dark-haired wizard's soft breaths slip over his knuckles where they rested against his mouth. "I spoke with Severus last night while you were in detention. He said there was no way he was allowing you off the premises unless you promised not to come back."
Harry chuckled lightly. "Did you tell him why we needed to leave the grounds?"
"Yes, and he said he didn't care and didn't want to hear about it." Draco responded, fingers twining with Harry's. "He did, however, say that we could use his fireplace later to speak with Father."
"My, how kind of him," Harry replied sarcastically. With a soft groan, he pushed away from the blond and rose, lifting his arms above his head in a lazy stretch that produced several muted pops. Turning, he offered the blond a hand, pulling him to his feet and offering him a tight smile. "Enough lazing about for us, yeah? I've got some things I need to look into and you should go down and have breakfast with the Pride."
Arching a brow, Draco looked at the dark-haired wizard. "You need to eat, Harry," he said, his tone brooking no argument.
"I will, just not at this precise moment," Harry said, mentally beginning to formulate a list of things he needed to do. He grinned at the warning look the blond gave him, leaning forward and pressing a light kiss against his lips. "I'll catch up with you later. We'll have lunch." Giving Draco another kiss, this one gentle and lingering, Harry turned and left the chamber, leaving the blond staring after him with pursed lips and narrowed eyes.
The library was strangely quiet, but given the current hour, perhaps that wasn't such a strange thing, Hermione thought. She glanced around at the unoccupied tables, the pale green feather of her quill idly sweeping back and forth over the blank piece of parchment before her. Brow delicately furrowing, she dropped her gaze to the untouched parchment, quill slowing its graceful dance. She didn't feel like doing her Ancient Runes assignment right now. In fact, given everything she'd learned this morning, she didn't feel like doing anything of an educational nature. Rather, for once, she wanted to live. Wanted to celebrate her life by doing something . . . stimulating. She let out a startled gasp when the chair beside her was drawn out suddenly, her eyes leaping up to meet the laughing orbs of Pansy.
"You okay, Hermione?" The witch asked, one perfectly plucked brow lifting. She settled herself gracefully upon the hard wooden chair, casting a careful look around the room before refocusing on the other Lioness.
Hermione nodded, casting her own gaze about the room before meeting Pansy's amused stare. "Just thinking," she said, giving a single shoulder shrug to dismiss her earlier surprise. "About life."
Pansy nodded slowly, her expression one of complete understanding. "I never really thought about what the conditions were like in . . . there. I mean, I heard stories and knew what Voldemort was capable of, but I just didn't care - because I could pretend like it wasn't real. First as a Death Eater, and then as a member of the Lions Pride" Her fingers traced a random pattern on the table, her eyes following the slender digits. "And the worst part, Hermione, the worst part was that I felt such relief knowing that I was safe at Ice once Blaise and I were rescued. That I wouldn't actively have to put myself in a situation where I might be captured or killed."
Hermione stared at Pansy in shock; the blonde usually wasn't so open with her thoughts and feelings. She dropped her quill and reached out for Pansy's hand, stilling the tracing digits with a light touch. "Given everything that happened to you in the Dark Lord's service, a little relief isn't cause for guilt. You survived, Pansy, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. I suppose none of us really thought about what may have happened at Azkaban. We were all just happy to have Harry back."
"I know that, but still-." Pansy fell silent, her eyes on Hermione's untouched assignment. "Do you think that's all of it? That Harry told us everything?"
Slowly, Hermione shook her head, eyes dropping to the tabletop. "I think Harry told us what he was capable of telling us, and nothing more. I imagine there are things he'll never speak about with anybody, maybe not even Draco." The pair sat quietly for a moment, thinking their own private thoughts. It was Hermione who broke the silence, rising to her feet and beginning to collect her books and papers. "Let's go for a walk, Pansy. It's such a nice day out, it would be a terrible waste if we were to spend it sitting here in the library."
Pansy smiled, stoppering the small pot of unused ink and dropping it into Hermione's bag. "Perhaps we should see if anyone else would like to join us?" She suggested, standing and pushing her chair back in. She shared a small approving grin with the other witch, linking their arms together and tugging her toward the door.
Laughing softly, Hermione nodded her head in agreement. "A wonderful idea, Pans'," she said on a chuckle, allowing the blonde to drag her from the now empty library.
Draco politely asked the occupant of the portrait guarding the entrance to Professor's Snape's quarters to fetch the Potions Master, ignoring the disgusted look the witch shot Harry before disappearing behind her frame. Shifting his feet impatiently, the blond glanced at his companion, noting the slightly devilish glint in his emerald orbs. "Please behave yourself," he murmured, straightening the cuff of his white shirt. He turned back to face the painting when it swung open with a squeak, smiling into the sneering face of Severus Snape.
"Good evening, Professor Snape," he said, trying to pretend the older wizard wasn't glaring over his shoulder at Harry.
Stepping back into his chambers, Snape waved the pair into his shadowy living room, closing the portrait loudly behind the dark-haired wizard. "Draco, good to see you again," Severus finally said, shifting his gaze to the young blond. He ushered the pair around a well-worn couch toward the fireplace, slapping Harry's hand away from a stack of dust-covered books. "I informed the Headmaster you and Potter would be making a call to the Manor. He said I was to be present during the call, however, since Lucius and I are currently avoiding each other, I'll leave you two alone."
"You and Father are fighting?" Draco asked, curling his fingers in the back of Harry's robes and dragging him to a halt. He cast his eyes around the room, arching a brow at the dust covering the shelves and garbage bin overflowing with crumpled balls of parchment.
Grabbing the tome he'd left open on the table, Severus stalked toward the portal, halting with his hand on the back of the portrait. "No, we're simply not speaking to each other at the moment. Now, I'm going to my office and I'll be back in twenty minutes. When I get back here, the pair of you had better be gone." Pushing the portrait open, Snape took a short step into the corridor, freezing on the other side of the portal. "You," he spat at Harry, "Don't touch anything." With that, he released the portrait, allowing it to slam closed behind him.
Harry rolled his eyes and dropped to his haunches before the fire. "I'm opening all of his drawers before I leave, just so he thinks I fondled his underwear." He watched Draco gracefully settle beside him, smiling innocently when the blond shot him a look of warning. His smile faded as the other wizard made the call, watching as the orange flames took on a green hue right before his eyes. The next thing he knew, he was peering into a spacious study occupied by a large desk and a very surprised house elf.
Blinking, the elf scurried toward the fireplace, eyes widening at the sight of Draco and Harry in the rolling green flames. "Master Malfoy," the elf squeaked, its voice rising shrilly with its excitement.
"Hi," Draco said, grimacing as the elf clapped its hands eagerly. "I need to speak with my Father if he's in . . ."
"Of course, Master Malfoy," the elf said, disappearing suddenly.
Draco heaved a sigh of relief at having dispatched the house elf, playfully swatting at Harry who was laughing silently over the blond's awkward dealings with the elf. The amused grin he wore faded when his father appeared before the fireplace, the elegant blond gracefully seating himself upon a small stool provided by a shabbily dressed elf. "Good evening, Draco." He said before shifting his gaze to Harry, a slender brow lifting in silent question.
"Father," Draco murmured in greeting.
"Mister Malfoy," Harry replied politely. "We were actually wondering if you could help us with something. You see, I received a Howler yesterday from Bellatrix and was wondering if you'd seen her, or heard from her . . ."
Lucius Malfoy frowned at the question before giving a slow shake of his head. "I've neither seen nor heard from Bella. I'd assumed she was dead." The blond folded his hands neatly in his lap, eyes sliding back and forth between the pair. "Receiving a Howler from Bellatrix isn't a good thing. The pair of you need to be very careful."
"Thank-you, Mister Malfoy," Harry murmured, nodding his head before rising and backing away from the fireplace. He stared blankly at a bookshelf crammed full of ancient texts, giving Draco a moment alone with his father while contemplating on what the next step in the search for Bellatrix Lestrange would be. Draco appeared in his peripheral vision, the blond gazing at him with cautious eyes.
"Are you done?" Draco asked, flipping a hand in the direction of the portrait. He frowned at Harry's curt nod, trailing the dark-haired wizard from Severus's chambers. They only walked a short distance down the corridor before stopping in front of the section of wall that concealed Slytherin House.
Turning, Harry stepped into Draco's arms, pressing his nose against the side of the blond's neck. His arms tightened around the blond's waist, dragging him as close as he possibly could, as if attempting to absorb the other wizard into his very being. "Good night," he whispered, tipping his chin up and pressing his lips against Draco's.
Relaxing into the embrace, Draco flicked his tongue against Harry's, sighing softly when the dark-haired wizard opened his mouth. They withdrew seconds later, their lips clinging as they stared into each other's eyes. "I hate this," Draco whispered quietly, resting his forehead against Harry's.
Sliding his arms free, Harry stepped away from the blond. "It's only for a little while," he murmured, "We'll be going home soon, and then we won't have to say goodbye." With a small flutter of his hand, he turned and walked down the hallway, determined to make it back to the Gryffindor Common Room before curfew went into effect.
a/n: Sorry, and thank-you to everyone who waited patiently ( and those who waited not so impatiently) for this story to continue.