Chapter Twenty Three – Spinner's End

Hermione exited the Gryffindor common room and was nearly bowled over by Ron rushing in.

"What's the hurry?" she asked.

"No time!" said Ron. "Go ask Harry!"

He bolted up the steps to the boy's dorm two at a time and disappeared. She almost called after him to ask if he'd seen Malfoy, but changed her mind. She didn't want to get into another row over Draco. He wouldn't have gone to see Harry and Ron, anyway. She would check the library, and then the Slytherin common room. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out the password, as it was normally something wicked or vile.

She was wrong about that, as it turned out. Thirty minutes of continuous passwords had not caused the blank wall to yield, making her realize—yet again—how little she understood Malfoy. As the only Slytherin in residence, he would have been the one to set the password, yet nothing she tried had worked.

She finally tugged the coin out of her shirt and concentrated on it.

Where are you?

There was no response, even after she tried twice more. Damn, he must really be angry. Unless he no longer carried the coin.

Hermione gave up and left the dungeons. She really was hungry now, so she stopped at the kitchen for a meat pie and some fruit before heading for the Headmistress's office to see if Harry was still there. On the way, she ran into Tonks.

"Where have you guys been?" Hermione asked. "I haven't seen a single Order member since we got here, except Hagrid."

"We've taken up temporary residence in Ravenclaw Tower. It's easy access to the Owlery and the top of the castle, in case we need to leave. Although you'd have to be barmy to fly in this weather."

"I know, I walked to and from Hagrid's and nearly blew away."

"Well, Remus wants you all in the Great Hall for dinner at six. See you, then."

Tonks tripped down the stairs and Hermione continued until she entered McGonagall's office. The Headmistress was present, talking to Harry.

"Anything new?" Hermione asked hopefully. Harry shot her an "I'll tell you later" look and shook his head.

"Mostly speculation. We seem to have a lot of that when it comes to Voldemort. I was just asking the Professor—sorry, I mean Headmistress—"

"You can call me Professor, Potter. It sounds odd to hear the other… I'm afraid I'm not used to it, yet. It's going to take some time."

Harry nodded. "In any case, I was asking where Voldemort might have gone during the twenty years of his disappearance, after he left school until he returned as the evil wizard we all know and hate."

"I can only guess that he sought out wizards from around the world in order to learn the Dark Arts."

"Another guess," Harry said with a sigh. He got to his feet. "Well, I'll save this for tomorrow. I'm pretty tired. See you later, Professor. Sorry to keep you disturbing you. I'll move the Pensieve, if you prefer."

"It's fine, Potter. I'm rarely here, anyway. Most of my things have yet to be moved up from downstairs."

Hermione followed Harry out. When they were safely in the corridor, she asked, "Where's Ron? He went flying past me like a bat out of hell in the common room. Have you seen Malfoy?"

"They went to look for something."

"Together? I'd better go help them before they kill each other. What were you thinking? Are they in the library? I checked there, but must have missed them…"

"They went to Snape's house."

Her blood froze and she turned to stare at him. Harry flushed under her angry scrutiny.

"They went to Snape's house," she repeated.

Harry quickly explained about the book and Hermione felt the color drain from her face.

"You let them just fly off? In this weather? Without telling me? Have you gone completely mental?"

Harry glared. "Well, now you know how it feels to be kept in the dark! Besides, Malfoy wasn't about to wait. How was I supposed to stop him? He offered to sacrifice himself to retrieve the book, if necessary, and frankly I didn't see a downside."

Hermione took a deep breath to remain calm. "You didn't see a downside to the possibility of Ron being sacrificed, as well?"

"Ron is a lot more capable than anyone gives him credit for. He's not stupid. Plus, he's with your great friend Malfoy, who knows precisely what I'll do to him if anything happens to Ron."

Hermione shook her head. "If anything happens to them, I will never speak to you again."

Harry's emerald eyes flashed. "If anything happens to whom? Ron? Or Malfoy?"

She matched his stare. "Either one."

With that, she flounced down the steps, unsure whether to blast a hole in the wall or burst into tears.

It was like flying in a hurricane. Draco angled across the wind. They needed to go south, but the wind blowing from the east kept pushing them steadily southwest. Rain pelted them in buckets and Draco could barely see. They flew over the lake and Draco stayed close to the water in order to have some idea where they were going. If not for the compass on his broom, he would have been lost in moments.

Lightning crackled nearby and Draco laughed with exuberance. Flying in weather like this always got the blood pumping. He looked over his shoulder at Weasley, whose face was so white he looked like he wore a sheet. His red hair was plastered flat against his head and runnels of water trailed down his face. He clenched his hands tightly around the broomstick as he struggled to keep the broom on course.

Weasley glared at Draco and mouthed something that looked like, "You're fucking mental!"

Draco grinned and urged his broom faster to see if Weasley could keep up. The coin in his pocket suddenly heated, surprising him and causing his broom to dip toward the lake for a moment. He steadied it with a curse. Now she wanted to talk to him? He sneered. She'd had her bloody chance.

She tried twice more and then gave up. At long last, Draco spotted the outer wall of Hogwarts and angled the broom up to clear it. Surprisingly, Weasley was still behind him. Draco had half-expected Ron to be in the lake by now. He chalked it up to Potter's superior broom.

He dropped down on the other side of the wall and dismounted lightly. Ron landed much less gracefully and caught himself with a hand just before going face-first into the ground.

"Taking a rest?" Weasley demanded, sounding annoyed even though he was panting from exertion.

"No. You don't expect us to fly all the way there, do you?" Draco asked while combing the wet hair out of his eyes. He nearly had to shout to be heard over the gale.

"Then, how do we get there?"

"Apparate, stupid. We just needed to get beyond the school boundary. I'll have to take you through, so don't faint or anything when I touch you. I know I'm the best looking thing that's ever been this close to you, but don't get too excited." Before Weasley could snarl a comment, Draco continued, "Get a grip on Potter's broom, now; he'll kill you if you lose it."

He reached out and clamped a hand on Weasley's shoulder, reflecting for a moment that he really missed Apparating with Granger. Who would have expected that to be an erotic experience? He triggered the spell and in moments they nearly fell over from the sudden lack of wind resistance. There was a breeze, but nothing like the howling storm they had left.

Draco released Weasley immediately and started out toward Spinner's End. He hurried up the embankment and onto the cobbled street without waiting for Ron, who scrambled after him.

The place looked no better in the growing dusk than it did in the daytime. If anything, the rundown, looming houses looked grimmer and even more dilapidated. Ron gaped around in disbelief.

"Snape lives here? In this foul place? No wonder he's always so bitter and nasty."

Draco couldn't refute that. Snape's neighbors didn't seem to be the curious sort, for he saw no curtains twitch as they passed between the silent houses and no one peered out to see why two young men with brooms and cloaks traveled through the littered streets.

Draco stopped before Snape's house and handed his broom to Weasley. "I'm going to go inside. If there are Death Eaters, I'll try to send you a signal so you can get the hell out of here."

Before Ron could comment, Draco disappeared. He appeared again inside the musty house. Even more books seemed to have been added since last Draco visited, and they spilled over tables and sofas. He crept carefully through the silent rooms until he was satisfied the place was empty. Then he strode to the front door and flung it open, startling Weasley at the abrupt motion.

"All clear, Weasel."

He turned and lit his wand brightly in order to have some illumination. The light actually made the place seem more dingy.

"This is revolting," Ron said as he leaned the brooms against the wall and shut the door. "I mean, we don't have house-elves, but at least I know how to clean my room."

Draco refrained from comment, realizing that Weasley's room was now a broken jumble of burned planks.

"All right, Weasley, start searching. There are only about five hundred thousand books here."

They split up. Weasley stayed in the parlour, such as it was, while Draco went to search upstairs. It took forever. Although they confined their search to black-covered books, black was apparently Snape's favorite color. Nearly everything in the damned house was black, including the books. Most of the books were, not surprisingly, related to potions. 1001 Uses for Boomslang Skin. Materials Matter: Which Cauldron to Use for Which Potion. Perilous Potions and How to Detect Them. Draco began to yank out various books and set them aside for future reading.

He went through three walls of books and was working on the fourth when he heard the stairs creak. Weasley must have finished the parlour, probably without success. Draco doubted Snape would keep such a book in the front room, anyway. He should have had Weasley start in the bedroom.

Draco glanced toward the door just as the newcomer yelled, "Accio wand!" and Draco's lit wand spun across the room. Just before it went out, Draco caught sight of Alecto Carrow's eager face. Draco tried to throw himself aside, but Amycus's spell slammed into him and he was suddenly frozen. He cursed himself roundly for being so inattentive.

"Look, Amycus. It's baby Malfoy. And we thought he was dead. What you doing here, baby Malfoy?" she crooned.

Amycus sauntered into the room behind his sister.

"What you doin' 'ere, Draco? Snoopin' in Snapey's pad?"

"Yer mummy misses you, baby Malfoy," Alecto said and patted Draco on the cheek. The pat turned into a painful pinch and she murmured, "Yer so cute! Can we take 'im home, Amycus? I could chain 'im to me bed awhile."

Amycus wrinkled his nose. "Only if the Dark Lord says you can 'ave 'im. Loose him a bit so we can find out what he's doin' 'ere."

She released the Body Bind Curse, but Amycus cast a rope spell before Draco could so much as shift his hand. Draco glared.

"What you doin' 'ere, Draco?" he asked again. "An' where ye been?"

Draco smiled coldly. "That's really none of your business."

"Alecto, 'it 'im." Draco was suddenly enveloped in pain when Alecto cast a Cruciatus Curse. The pain was so intense he couldn't find breath enough to scream. Every nerve ending was on fire, as if he had been dipped into lava. The pain ceased suddenly and Alecto laughed when Draco drew a shuddering breath.

"Let's try this again. Answer the question, Draco," Alecto said.

"Go to hell," Draco spat and braced himself as best he could.

"My turn," said Amycus. Agony speared through Draco again. He writhed through a red haze of torment until he wanted to beg for escape. When the pain stopped, he quivered, feeling an ache in his bones that he knew would take hours to dissipate. He opened his eyes and glared at Amycus with pure hatred.

"You're dead," he breathed and Amycus threw back his head and laughed. Draco stared as the laugh was abruptly cut off. Amycus had disappeared. Alecto gasped and a yellow fluttering caught Draco's eye. A bird? Where had that come from?

The shock only last an instant before Draco reached his bound hands toward Alecto and shouted, "Accio wands!" Both wands snapped into his hand. Immediately, he cast a hurricane force wind at Alecto, slamming her into a bookcase with enough power to send books flinging into the room. She collapsed in a limp heap and more books rained down on her from the broken shelves. He spelled the ropes holding him and they fell away. The bird was flying around crazily, twittering and trying to avoid jets of light zinging toward it from Weasley's wand.

Draco staggered to his feet just as the canary turned back into Amycus. Unfortunately for Amycus, he was near the ceiling at the time and instantly plummeted headfirst into the desk below. It erupted into a heap of dust and splintered wood. When the dust settled, Amycus was still. Draco stalked forward and waded into the splinters.

"I. Hate. Being. Crucioed!" With each word, he aimed a vicious kick at Amycus's unconscious form. He looked at Weasley, who hadn't moved from the doorway.

"Sorry," Weasley said. "I was in the kitchen when I heard them Apparate. I wasn't sure how to warn you."

"That reminds me," Draco said and kicked Amycus once more. "That's for putting me in Weasley's debt." He looked at Ron shrewdly. "What were you doing in the kitchen?"

Ron flushed. "I was hungry. It's long past dinner, you know?"

Draco shook his head, but had to smile. "Saved by Weasley's stomach. If you had been in the parlour when they popped in, it would have been over for both of us."

"We were lucky," Weasley replied. "One of our brooms fell over, so they only noticed the one. They heard you drop a book and they both went up."

"We were very lucky. Mulciber or Lars wouldn't have been so stupid." Draco cast binding spells on the unconscious Death Eaters and Petrificus Totalus to keep them out of trouble.

"Let's find that damned book and get the hell out of here before they send someone to check on these two. I'm finished in here except for that bookcase. If you check that one, I'll do the bedroom."

Weasley nodded and started pulling black books. Draco picked up Amycus's wand from the floor and tucked the Death Eater wands into his robe before he went down the hall to Snape's bedchamber. He lit the fireplace for additional light and looked around in disgust.

No wonder Snape was so unpleasant. There was no way he had ever entertained a woman in this room unless he'd paid her first. A lot. Maybe if the git cleaned up the place a bit, he'd get lucky. And what the hell was up with all the black? If they got out of this alive, he'd have to ask his father to spring for an interior designer. Introduce Snape to the concept of color. Maybe a nice mint green or buttercup yellow…

He shook off the miserable state of Snape's bedroom and love life and started searching the walls of shelves. Within five minutes, he got lucky. He snatched Happy Potions and How to Make Them from its dusty retirement and cracked the cover.

"Excellent," he breathed. Several book bags were hanging from pegs near the door. Draco grabbed a sturdy black canvas bag and tucked the book into it. He slung it over his shoulder and hurried back to the study.

"Got it, Weasley. Let's go."

"Do we just leave them here?" Ron asked.

"Hell no! If they report back to You-Know-Who, my parents are dead. They're coming with us."

Draco hefted Alecto, no easy feat, especially as she was still out cold, and tilted her toward Weasley, who caught her reluctantly.

"Do you know how to Disapparate with a passenger?" Draco asked.

"Only in theory! I've never done it!"

"Well, you're about to get a field lesson. Don't worry. If you splinch her, it won't be much of a loss. Accio brooms!"

Both brooms shot up the stairs and into Draco's hands. "I'll take the brooms and Amycus. Meet me at Hogwarts' front gates." He could tell Weasley wanted to protest, but Draco threw him a quelling look and Ron wisely clamped it.

Amycus's eyes were open and aware, but the Body Bind Curse was holding nicely. Draco knelt down with the brooms in one hand and snatched Amycus's collar in a choke hold.

"Go, Weasley."

Weasley went. As he vanished with Alecto, Draco Disapparated.

They appeared back in storm central, although the wind had thankfully died a bit. The rain was hammering down, though. Draco released Amycus and was rather surprised to see that Weasley had made it with Alecto in one piece.

Draco stumbled over to Weasley.

"Get someone out here to open the gates. I don't feel like flying back with this baggage." He nudged Alecto with a toe. Hard. That was an understatement. Draco was so tired he could barely stay on his feet. It had to be past ten p.m. and he hadn't eaten since Hermione's massive breakfast. He had been almost entirely on the move since then, also.

Weasley obediently cast a Patronus. It looked like some sort of little dog that shot through the bars and away. Loyal to the core, Weasley was.

The rain trickled down his forehead and Draco conjured an umbrella in annoyance. After a moment, he conjured another and tossed it to Weasley, who muttered something that might have been thanks. Draco cast a Muffliato on both Death Eaters. They didn't need to be privy to Draco's conversation.

"Why did you come after me, back there?" Draco asked in the growing silence. "You could have let them take me and gotten the hell out."

Weasley blinked at him.

"It never occurred to me," Ron admitted.

Gryffindors. Never occurred to him to do the smart thing, just the noble thing. Thank God for Gryffindor stupidity. In this one instance, anyway.

"You would have done the same for me, right?" Weasley continued. Draco considered the question. Would he? Bloody hell, he honestly didn't know. Weasley snorted.

"You're really something, Malfoy, you know that?"

Draco nodded. What that something was, exactly, was still to be determined.

"So, now that you're in my debt, does that mean you owe me a favor?" Weasley continued.

Draco's eyes narrowed.

"That depends. What do you have in mind?"

It was Weasley's turn to consider.

"I'll let you know."

Draco scowled. "I'm sure you will."

"You might want to get his face out of that mud puddle," Weasley commented and shifted his wand toward Amycus. Draco glanced down. Amycus's face was nearly submerged. Draco nudged his chin upward with the toe of his boot. Amycus's eyes burned with venom. Draco grinned. That would teach the bastard to Crucio him.

"They're coming," Weasley said. Three tiny figures could be seen far across the grass. "Oh no! We have to come up with a story. What the hell did we go to Snape's for? We can't tell them about the book."

"To leave a message for my father," Draco said calmly. "You came along because you didn't trust me. I wrote a message and placed it inside a certain book—you read it. The note told them I was fine and not to worry. We were about to leave when these two appeared."

"Did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Leave a message for your father?"

Draco scowled. "I wish. A plan that simple would never work. For one thing, my parents are no longer allowed out. For some reason, the Dark Lord doesn't seem to trust them."

"I thought your family was all loyal Death Eaters. What happened?"

"We're plenty loyal as long as it serves the Malfoy interests. My father was willing to follow the Dark Lord as long as his goals were rational. Taking over the Ministry was a worthwhile goal. I mean, look at the way they run things. Fudge was a disgrace, and Scrimgeour is no better. They spend all their time on political backbiting."

"You think You-Know-Who could do a better job?" Weasley asked incredulously.

"Of course not. He's completely deranged. But, Father could."

"Oh, wouldn't that be lovely? Lucius Malfoy, Minister of Magic. Death to all Muggle-borns and blood-traitors."

Draco snorted. "Hardly. My father is not stupid. He doesn't like Muggle-borns, but he would never exterminate half the wizarding world. We all know there aren't many purebloods left. I mean, when I marry, look who I have to choose from. Millicent Bulstrode, Pansy Parkinson, and your sister."

"What?" Ron burst out. "Ginny?"

"Don't worry, redheads give me hives. Besides, she hates me more than you do, after that whole Chamber of Secrets incident. I'm sure I'll end up with Pansy, who will make a fine trophy wife as long as I supply her with closets of gowns and bushels of jewels. She hasn't a bloody thought in her head, but at least it won't hurt my eyes to look at her from across the dining table for thirty years, while she tells me all the latest gossip." Draco shuddered. "On second thought, there must be some pureblood girls somewhere in the world. Maybe India."

"Well, I plan to marry the girl I love," Weasley said simply. "No trophy wife, no mansion, just a small house with a nice garden for the kids to play in."

"You're luckier than you know, Weasley. Got the girl picked out already, I suppose?" Draco had his suspicions about that.

Ron flushed. "Maybe I do."

"Have you kissed her, yet?"

"That's none of your business!" Ron flared hotly.

"Translastion: No. Better get a move on, Weasley. We could all die tomorrow, you know."

Draco didn't want to encourage Weasley in his pursuit of Hermione, but if she fell for the Weasel, then it would save Draco from the damnable conflict he had been faced with lately. It was simple self-preservation, really. The three approaching persons could be identified, now. It looked like Potter, Tonks… and Granger.

"She has incredibly sexy underwear," Draco commented. "I'm sure you'll enjoy them."

Weasley gaped at him. "Wha—? Who—?"

"Granger, of course. I assume she's the one you have in mind for your little house, picket fence, passel of brats scenario."

Weasley sputtered incoherently and Draco smirked. Back to normal, just in time.

"How do you know—?"

"Been nice chatting with you, Weasel. Time to go. Upsey daisy, Amycus." He levitated Amycus and propelled him toward the gate just as Tonks reached it. A bit too hard, as it turned out. Amycus's head clanged against the bars. "Whoops, clumsy me."

Tonks opened the gate.

"Whatcha got, cousin? A present for me?"

"They're all yours."

Hermione threw herself through the gate and flung herself at Ron. Draco felt a wrench as Weasley hugged her and shot a smirk at Draco.

"I was so worried! If you ever go off and do something that stupid again I'll hex you and Harry both, I swear I will! You could have been killed!"

She released Ron and turned on Draco. "And you! While it doesn't surprise me that you would do something so bloody reckless—!"

"Save it, Granger," Draco said tiredly. "I'm exhausted. You can harangue me tomorrow, but right now I'm going to bed."

He passed Potter's broom to him and took the lead back to the castle, walking quickly. Ron latched onto Hermione and wouldn't release her. Soon the muted sounds of them arguing drifted up to Draco, though he couldn't hear the words.

Harry fell into step beside him while Tonks Locomotored the Death Eaters in their wake.

"You got it?" Harry asked.

Draco unbuckled the book bag and handed it unobtrusively to Harry under the guise of stumbling into him.

"Thanks," Harry said.

"Don't mention it. Except for being Crucioed, it was a lark."

Harry blanched.

"Forget it, Potter. I don't blame you. Your Order should be happy to have the Carrows, although they're too stupid to know much. The Dark Lord would never give them important information. They were used only for petty, odd jobs. Pity it wasn't Mulciber or Lars. Then again, if it had been, Weasley and I wouldn't be here." He laughed shortly.

"I'll read this tonight. Hopefully it will give us something to go on."

"Knock yourself out, Potter."

When they got inside, Draco headed instantly for the dungeon. Tonks called to him, "Wait! Lupin is going to have questions!"

"Tomorrow," Draco said and trotted down the steps.

When he reached the bottom, he heard footsteps behind him.

"Malfoy, wait!"

Draco stopped. Couldn't she just leave him in peace? He turned reluctantly to see Hermione hurrying down the steps toward him. To his surprise, she threw her arms around him and molded her soft body against his. Her lips brushed against his ear.

"I'm glad you're safe," she said and pressed a kiss against his cheek. Before he could react, she released him and ran back up the steps. Ron waited for her at the top, and he gave Draco a glare of pure hatred. Draco smiled widely and waved at Weasley.

Maybe it hadn't been such a bad day, after all.