You Can Breathe Now
Disclaimer: Everything you recognize is not mine. No profit is being made.
AN: Finally, things start picking up a bit. This is the rewrite of Malfoy Manor, which is the twenty-third chapter in the US edition of the book. Suggestions and constructive criticism are much appreciated.
Chapter Seven: Blink of an Eye
He had never wanted this.
In his mind, Hermione Granger patiently guided a bumbling Neville Longbottom through Potions class, or answered the teacher's question with a smooth assurance that set his teeth on edge, or responded to his taunts with cold scorn (he had rarely been able to get to her, that was what had irked him). In his mind, Granger's eyes blazed in the split second before her palm hit his cheek in a resounding slap; in his mind she floated down the staircase in ephemeral periwinkle blue robes, looking more beautiful than someone so filthy had the right to look.
"What else did you take?" his aunt Bellatrix screeched. "What else? Answer me! Crucio!"
Hermione Granger screamed again. The sound pierced the air, mingling with the crackling of the fire in the hearth, and slashed at Draco's heart like a knife. She writhed on the floor, arching her back as the pain ripped through her body, crying out in anguish…
("You weren't evil, she said. You just couldn't breathe.")
He had to find out what she had meant, he had to ask her…
Standing beside him, his mother murmured, "Lucius, this isn't getting us anywhere."
"Bellatrix will get the truth out of her eventually," said Lucius. "And it's no less than what dirty creatures like her deserve."
Dirty. Filthy. Yes, that had been the basis of Draco's dislike for her--- the inferiority of her blood. And then time had proceeded to make clear that she was better than him at just about everything, and the dislike had boiled over into real loathing, and he had wanted her gone, wanted her dead…
("Enemies of the Heir beware! Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers first!")
("Keep that big, bushy head down, Granger.")
He felt a prickle of indignation. He'd told her, hadn't he? He'd practically warned her this day would come. And then she went and got herself caught, like the stupid Mudblood that she was.
He had never wanted this.
Instead of glorifying in the downfall of one of his most bitter rivals, all he could think about was the years they had spent together at Hogwarts, before this damn war, before everything had gotten too bloody real. He didn't want to see her being tortured by his aunt or ravaged by Fenrir Greyback; he wanted to insult her, argue about the meaning of a particular symbol in Study of Ancient Runes class…
He wanted those days back. He wanted to regain the time and the innocence he had lost, before he had felt the Mark being seared onto his arm… but it was too late, he was much too late.
"It's a copy, just a copy." She was sobbing now, her spirit almost broken. She turned her head slightly, and their eyes met.
Maybe it was the pain and weariness etched on features that should have been too young to know either. Maybe it was the way his heart stopped beating. Maybe it was the way her eyes narrowed, the way he realized she thought he was enjoying this. Maybe it was the million thoughts and memories that erupted in his mind all at once, clamoring for dominance.
The burning sensation, the unbelievable agony of the Marking… Albus Dumbledore falling from the lightning-struck tower… His father, once so proud and unbendable, surrendering his wand to the Dark Lord with only the slightest hesitation… The screams of Rowle, of Dolohov, of Patrick Everett… "You weren't evil, she said. You just couldn't breathe"… His mother, standing rigidly in the darkened drawing room, looking at him with sorrowing eyes, "Draco. Be careful"… Neville Longbottom, bruised and bleeding, barely able to stand, "I'll kill you. You, Carrow and the rest of the Slytherins. I swear it on Dumbledore's grave"… A giant serpent savagely devouring a dead woman's flesh…
"Twitchy little ferret, aren't you, Malfoy?"
"Draco! Where are you going?" Lucius called after him, surprised and annoyed. "Forget it--- Wormtail--- go fetch the goblin."
Draco raced up the stairs, pulse hammering loudly, palms sweating. He threw himself into his bedroom and opened the drawers on his bedside table, shaking fingers rifling through the contents of each in turn. Long minutes passed before his hand closed around the last of his supply of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, which he shoved into his pocket, then he retrieved his most prized possession from its honored place on the mantelpiece and ran back downstairs.
He bumped into two figures who were silently creeping along the shadowy passageway leading to the drawing room.
Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley stood stock-still, wands pointed directly at each other's chest.
"Where'd you get the wand, Weasley?" Draco asked in a semblance of his old drawl, panting.
It was Harry who answered. "From Wormtail. He's dead."
Draco nodded. "I see."
"Drop your wand, or you'll end up just like him," Ron growled.
"Look," said Draco slowly, careful not to make any sudden movements, "I'm going to help you get out of here."
There was a brief, stunned silence.
"Deaf, are we, Potter?"
"B--- but why?" Ron gaped at him.
"I have my reasons." And once I figure out what those reasons are, I'll get back to you.
"You're not fooling us," snapped Harry. "Don't even---"
"Listen," Draco hissed, "any moment now they're going to summon the Dark Lord. Do you really want to be here when he arrives? And do you really want to wait until Greyback gets his claws on the Mudblood?"
Ron's eyes narrowed. "Don't call her that, you bas---"
"Greyback, take her if you want her," said Bellatrix's voice from inside the drawing room.
Ron froze momentarily, and then, without a single glance at Draco or Harry, charged into the room, bellowing "No!" at the top of his lungs.
"Ron!" Harry cried, following him.
Draco swore under his breath. The idiots! Not that he himself was any better… He burst into the drawing room, just in time to see Bellatrix holding a silver dagger to an unconscious Hermione's throat, and almost before he knew what he was doing, he had plunged his hand into his pocket and then thrown the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder in the air.
There was a ruckus of screams and confused exclamations. Draco murmured an incantation, and the candle nestled in the Hand of Glory flickered to life, producing a fierce, blazing light that only Draco could see.
Bellatrix was scrabbling madly on the floor, the limp form of Hermione a few feet away from her. Draco rushed over and scooped the girl up in his arms, then ran to where Harry and Ron had inadvertently collided with each other.
"Potter," Draco hissed in Harry's ear, over Greyback's roars and his parents' cries and Bellatrix's demented screams of rage, "grab hold of my robes and hold on to Weasley. I have Granger. I'm carrying the Hand of Glory. I'm leading us out of here."
Conflicting emotions flickered across Harry's face, until, finally, he nodded. "The goblin--- Griphook--- we need him, too---"
A few seconds later, Draco burst out of the drawing room with Hermione in his arms, followed by Harry and Ron, who was carrying Griphook.
"Faster!" Draco urged. "It won't be long before they find the door."
He led them up the stairs. Moseley the house elf was scrubbing the banister, and his eyes widened when he saw them.
"I forbid you to tell anyone you saw us, Moseley!" Draco yelled as they ran past him.
"Malfoy, what the hell is going on?" Ron demanded as they entered Draco's room. "Why did you bring us---"
Draco kicked the wall and leapt back. The secret door swung open, revealing a dark passageway.
"---here," Ron finished lamely.
Without a moment's pause, Draco plunged into the tunnel.
"Hey, wait a second!" Ron yelled, poking his head in. He then turned to Harry, panicking. "Harry, he's gone! And he took Hermione!"
"No help for it," said Harry tersely, "we'll have to follow him---"
"Harry Potter! Dobby has returned!"
"Dobby, take Griphook to Shell Cottage. Now."
"But what about Harry Potter---"
"We'll catch up," said Harry. "Quickly, Dobby!"
After the house elf had disappeared with the goblin, Harry turned to Ron. "C'mon, let's go see what Malfoy's playing at."
Ron was scowling. "If that git lays a hand on Hermione…" They entered the tunnel, and the rest of the threat was swallowed up by the darkness.