Disclaimer: Characters are the property of JK Rowling, Scholastic, Nickelodeon et al. This fic was written for fun, not for profit.
Authors Notes: This story will switch points of view equally between Zuko and Draco.
Zuko let out a wordless scream of rage-- rage that he expertly channeled from his very heart, down through the lines of power of his body; from chest to arm to hand where it reached air, exploding outward as a brilliant orange eruption of fire. Had he not been a bender, and had this fire not been his own, Zuko would have surely been burned as the fire he created crashed point blank into the cold stone wall a mere inch from his fist.
Zuko uncurled a hand, shoulders sagging in disappointment. That had been his best fire blast, and it hadn't even scorched the wall of strange prison.
But he was never one to give up. Zuko backed a few steps and took a deep breath, focusing again for another blast.
He heard a slight sound behind him; the scrape of boot-heel over stone.
Instantly, Zuko whipped around, crouched, right arm pulled back and ready to strike. "Who's there?!"
In the semi-darkness of the room, Zuko heard the low huff of a detersive laugh. One of the vague shadows moved, and a figure stepped into the dim light.
The boy was about Zuko's age and height. Unscarred, of course, and built lithely. His robes were green, like that of the Earth tribes, but his hair was an odd shade of white-blond, slicked back. His mouth twisted into a sneer.
"Well, isn't that a pretty pose?" Draco snorted, although the other teen could be described as anything but pretty. Most vividly was the red crinkled burn-scar covering one eye – and Draco thought that Potter had the scar-thing bad – that couldn't even begin to be covered by the dark hair. He was dressed in what only could be some sort of odd muggle fashion; red and gold tunic covering dark pants. He was crouched oddly, like a snake ready to strike.
Draco took a few steps forward, curiously looking over the other boy's pose. What was he going to do? Punch him? How barbaric. "What are you trying to do? Hmm? Dance with me?"
The scarred boy's face pinched in an ugly sort of way, and he didn't move from his position. "How did you get here!? Where is the door to this place?"
Draco didn't like being interrogated, especially from a Muggle. Ignoring him for the moment, Draco glanced around. His eyes were adjusting to the semi-darkness now. The room he found himself in was about half the size of his dormitory, and appeared to be completely windowless and doorless. He was surrounded by smooth gray stone on all sides. A sinking sensation weighed down Draco's stomach, but he was careful not to let any of it show on his face. "I Apparated here?" he finally answered, "But I guess you wouldn't know what that is, would you?"
One thing that could be said about the Muggle. He had persistence, and the apparent ability to hold a pose for a long period of time. "Why am I being held here? How do I get out?"
Draco shrugged. "I don't know."
The Muggle let out a sound of outraged frustration and seemed to punch the air. A stream of fire bloomed out from his closed fist, and Draco only had a split second to duck before the fire whooshed over is head, close enough that he could smell a burned hair or two.
The Muggle's fist swept forward again, causing Draco to roll to the side to avoid being flambéed. He reached in his the pocket of his robes, grasping desperately for a wand he knew had to be in there somewhere. He had put it in his pocket right before going in to fix the cabinet…
His hands grasped at nothing, and he ducked again to avoid another fire blast. "Stop! Stop!" Draco couldn't run – there was nowhere to go in this little room – and the Muggle was cornering him in, throwing fire right and left whenever Draco tried to dodge out of the way. Then the Muggle was only a half metre away, pausing as he held his fist cocked. Draco pressed himself into the corner, grey eyes wide with fear. "Stop! I… I don't know how I got in here! I just… I just sat in the cabinet as I always do to fix it, and the next thing I knew I was here! Please… please don't hurt me…"
Something of what he said seemed to penetrate the Muggle's thick skull. His unburned amber eye widened slightly, and the fist wavered. "You sat in a cabinet?" he repeated, and Draco could detect a faint lisp in his speech. "That's what I—"
But he didn't get the chance to finish. Draco's searching fingers had finally closed in on his wand. A second later it was out of his pocket and he cast the first thing that came to his mind. "Expelliarmus!"
A flash of green light erupted between them and the Muggle was hit square in the chest. He let out a yell of surprise as he was thrown backwards, at least six metres, before landing painfully on his back.
Draco pointed his wand to the opposite wall. "Reducto!". The spell the stone hit dead on, but left not even a mark on the stone.
He caught a bit of movement out of the corner of his eye. The Muggle was rising to his feet, and Draco only had a moment to throw up a basic Protego shield charm to deflect the fireball coming right for him. The shield cracked and splintered away under the force of the fire, but gave Draco enough time to fire back a Stupefy hex.
The Muggle didn't bother to duck. He simply waved his arms, casting a wave of fire that acted like a shield and disbursed Draco's charm right before it could hit him.
Draco's mind was whirling. He had never – never seen magic like this before. The other boy didn't even have a wand! It seemed he could only cast fire, but that was enough to have Draco rattled.
Warily, the two circled each other; Draco with his wand out and ready, the Muggle posed with two fingers out, ready to call his fire again.
The Muggle was the first to break the silence. "I don't understand. What are you bending?"
Having no response to this, Draco simply shook his head and moved to the left, searching for any weakness he could take advantage of.
Undeterred, the Muggle continued, "Is that a stick you're holding? Are you some kind of-- " he paused, forehead crinkling in confusion, and the next few words were almost spat out as if he found them unpalatable, "some kind of woodbender?"
"I don't know what you are talking about," said Draco, honestly, before he struck again.
Now that Zuko was watching for it, he could clearly see when the other boy was about to bend – or whatever he was doing. Although he was able to do amazing things with that little bit of woodbending, his technique was sloppy. The woodbender's cheek twitched, and he waved his stick in the air before calling out, "Incarcerious!"
Ropes, looking like twisting pricklesnakes, burst out from the piece of wood. Zuko simply rolled to the side, avoiding them. He didn't strike back.
The other bender had pricked his curiosity. He seemed to be completely untrained in the martial arts, yet extraordinarily powerful. And why did he keep screaming out his attacks like that? It seemed to be tied in with his bending in some way, like Zuko's kata's were for him.
Zuko fainted to the right, wanting to test this theory. He was right. The woodbender sneered and said some kind of nonsense he couldn't catch, and pointed the stick at his feet. Zuko jumped out of the way, but it felt like something grabbed him about the ankle, tripping him. He fell face first, and only saved himself by throwing burst of fire in the wood bender's direction, causing him to duck for cover.
Zuko got to his feet, shaking out his left wrist. It wasn't broken, but it had taken the brunt of his fall and tingled up to his elbow.
He and the woodbender eyed each other warily from across the room, and suddenly Zuko realized that he was just wasting his time. Perhaps the fall had just knocked the fight out of him, but he was fairly sure that his strange boy was just as confused as he was at finding himself in this room. The woodbender was just more of a jerk about it.
"This is stupid." Zuko called out. "We are both trapped in here. We should be working on a way out instead of attacking each other."
"You're the one who attacked first!" The woodbender's accent was strange, his vowels clipped. Zuko had never heard anything like it in all of his travels. Was there an entire village full of these strange benders hidden somewhere in the Earth Kingdom?
"Yes, and I am the one who is going to end it." Slowly, watching the strange woodbender for any hint that he was going to strike again, Zuko relaxed his stance and cupped one fist to his open palm in the traditional greeting.
The woodbender watched him for a wary moment or two, but then slowly lowered his weapon. He didn't offer any bow back, simply a curt nod, but Zuko decided to ignore his rudeness for sake of their new truce.
"I'm Malfoy. Draco Malfoy," said the woodbender.
Two names? How strange…
"I am Zuko, crowned Prince of the Fire Nation." Although he was careful not to show it, Zuko tensed up, ready for an explosion of violence from the woodbender. After all, his Nation was currently engaged in a hundred-year long war with the rest of the world.
To his surprise, Draco simply blinked. "Fire Nation? I've never heard of it."
Zuko barked out a laugh, cut short when he realized the other boy wasn't joking. "The Fire Nation." He repeated, stunned. "You know, the continent in the West?" Still no sign of recognition in Draco's eyes, "The one that conquered the Air Nomads and the Southern Water Tribes?... You know, where the all of the firebenders are?" He helpfully produced a small crackle of flame between his hands for emphasis, but aside from an alarmed step backwards, Draco didn't seem to understand. Zuko stared at him for a moment, then reached up to scratch the back of his head, "You aren't from Ba Sing Se or something, are you?"
"Sorry," although Draco looked anything but. "I don't speak Muggle."
Draco had a moment of pure amusement as Prince Zuko (or what ever his name was) huffed indignantly. Well, what did he possibly expect? Draco didn't bother himself with the politics of Muggles, yet…
… Yet he had never heard of any Nation called "Fire", much less an entire continent.
"I'm from Great Britain."
The Muggle shook his head and crossed his arms against his chest. "Never heard of it."
"Never heard of it?" Draco could feel the sneer on his face. The Dark Lord had been overestimating these simple barbaric Muggles by half. He'd never even heard of Britain? "What, are you from some other planet?"
"Are you?" Zuko snapped, rather snottily.
The two engaged in a rather pointed glaring contest — which Draco took perverse pleasure in winning. The Muggle didn't look like he was in the mood for another rematch, so Draco took a good look about the room for the first time.
There wasn't much to see. It was drab with no fixtures at all. Not a slab for a bed, not a window to see from. The only source of light came from a primitive kerosene lamp hanging overhead. There wasn't anything for Draco to transfigure. "There's not even a place to take a shit around here."
Zuko shot him a half bemused look, "I guess you're going to have to hold it, then."
"I don't have time for this," Draco grumbled, turning away from the other boy, and feeling an all too familiar tingle of panic at the base of his spine. That feeling was all too common recently. Panic, along with the burden of responsibility and frustration had mingled to become a heavy weight against his chest. Time was slipping by too fast… he was on the verge of failing and losing everything…
Stop it, he told himself, firmly. Malfoy's did not panic. He was working as fast as he could with the Vanishing Cabinet, and this… this was a minor sort of victory, wasn't it? He had been transported somewhere, hadn't he? Now he only needed to be able to control where and link the two cabinets together…
"I need to get back," Draco announced, suddenly, as if making an important decision.
"Well be my guest."
Ignoring Zuko's mocking tone, Draco swung around to face him. "What were you saying you were doing just prior to coming here?"
The other boy startled, his one healthy eye widening in surprise, although the ugly burned skin around the other eye kept it in a permanent glare. "Why does it matter?"
Seeing his hesitation, Draco pressed forward. "This is important."
"Because—" Draco gave a pause. He had told no one about his plans — Not his parents. Not Crabbe or Goyle. No one. While Draco doubted that this uneducated Muggle could somehow leak his plans back to anyone of importance, complete honesty was not the best policy. "Because that's what I was doing. I was fixing the cabinet – er – from the inside, you see, and the next thing I knew… I was here.." it sounded bad, even to himself, but either Zuko didn't have an ear for when someone was lying to him, or Draco wasn't doing as bad as he thought, because the other boy didn't call him out on it.
Zuko turned away as he glared at the side wall. His thoughts, however simple as they must have been, didn't seem happy. Finally, he spoke. "I was sitting inside a cabinet in one of my old childhood playrooms."
Inside of the cabinet… Draco's mind reeled with the possibilities. In reality, he had been inside of his cabinet as well, trying to fix it from the inside. He just hadn't expected the door to close shut…
Annoyingly enough, Zuko seemed to take Draco's silence as some sort of cue to go on. "I used to hide from my sister there when I was a child. It was the only place she couldn't find me… and, well, I just needed to think."
Draco couldn't have cared less. His gray eyes darted back and forth as his mind made the connections. Yes… yes! "You know what this means, don't you?!" In his excitement, he spoke his thoughts out loud, not caring if the Muggle understood or not. "There are more than two Vanishing Cabinets! I knew for fact the other one is in Borgin and Burkes. We're probably still inside of one! Merlin, there could be an entire network of cabinets… if I can find a way to connect them all together… " Abruptly, Draco snapped his teeth shut over his next words, realizing that he had already said too much.
There was a long silence.
"And you're ignorant." Draco snapped.
Abruptly, Zuko was on his feet, smoke curling out between his closed fists. "Are you trying to tell me we are still—" he waved his hand around, trailing smoke in his annoyance, "— still inside the cabinet? Either your crazy, or this is some kind of a trick."
Draco knew he shouldn't respond, but he couldn't help himself. How could the other boy be so ignorant of well-known magic when he apparently had powers of his own? "You know how tents are always bigger on the inside then they are on the outside? It's much the same in this case, only you can think of the two cabinets as doorways instead. "
Now Draco's momentary euphoria at his discovery was being replaced by frustration. "I don't know how to explain it any clearer! Don't you know anything?"
"Ugh!" Zuko turned and shoved Draco to the side. "Get out of my way. I'm going to blast us out of here."
"Are you happy now?"
Had Zuko not been bent over, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath after the last round of fire attacks on the wall, he would have kicked some flames in the snide boy's direction. As it was, he was hot, sweaty and tired, and he had only enough energy to pull himself up and examine the spot he had chosen to target. The mortared brick was blackened and slightly porous from heat exposure, but the soot came off easily when Zuko wiped his thumb across it. Despite throwing everything he had at the wall, he had barely done any damage at all.
He could hear the snide woodbender making a cluck of disapproval in the back of his throat, and Zuko whirled around to face him. "Shut up! I don't see you doing anything productive!"
Draco sat against the far wall, well out of range of Zuko's fire blasts, idly twirling his little piece of wood between his fingers. "I would rather not waste my time, thanks."
His creeping exhaustion was burned away in a moment, fueled by anger. With a growl, Zuko stalked over and snatched the stupid stick out from Draco's fingers.
Draco was up in an instant. "Give me my wand back!"
Zuko smirked and easily danced out of his reach, holding the wand high over his head. He was sick and tired of the other boy's attitude. Zuko was royalty, and this little brat's way of talking nonsense and then being snide about it had gotten on his last nerve. "Why should I? You're not doing anything useful with it. How about I use it as kindling to keep warm tonight?" He produced flame in his empty hand, for emphasis.
Draco froze, the little color in his pale face fading until he was nearly as white as his bizarre hair. "Don't!"
"What's the magic word?"
"I can't do any spells without my wand!"
Agni's flame, this guy was weird. Zuko shook his head and let the flame go out, but didn't hand back the wand. He liked being in control of the situation, even if it was only under Draco's duress. "If you want your stupid—" he paused, remembering the word Draco had used, "—wand back, don't just sit around here and do nothing! Look, do you want to end up starving to death in here?"
He had Draco's full attention before, but now the other boy sneered at him like he had just said something stupid again. "We won't starve to death. Montague disappeared inside a Vanishing Cabinet for nearly two weeks, and he didn't starve."
Zuko stared at him, aghast. "Two weeks?"
"Yes, he was fairly disoriented and couldn't remember anything useful about what happened to him while he was in there." Draco narrowed his gray eyes, "I'd say he was lucky not to remember if he was trapped in here with someone like you."
"But… I can't be in here for two weeks! The eclipse will be over by then!" He was so horrified by this that he unconsciously tensed up, and took his concentration off of Draco.
The other boy lunged at him, swinging wildly and grappling for his wand. Zuko yelped in surprise and kicked out, but the other boy was too close to firebend safely at. What Draco lacked in any apparent martial arts training, he made up for with graceless flailing, and wild swinging that took them both down to the ground.
One well aimed knee to the groin was all it took to end Draco's attack. The blonde rolled away, gasping and wheezing, both hands between his legs.
Zuko scooted back, shocked by his own actions. He still had the wand in his hand, but it was a hollow victory. The other boy was curled around himself in pain, the sight making Zuko feel an uneasy mixture of regret and shame. He remembered a time way back when he was a child, sparing with Azula, and she'd hit him right in the same spot. It was unfair, and if Uncle Iroh were here, he'd be disappointed in him. Draco was obviously untrained and not able to defend himself at all.
Feeling ashamed, he scooted back a few feet to the nearest wall and pretended to be extremely interested in picking bits of lint off his pantlegs while Draco got himself together. When the gasping stopped, and Draco sat himself up, Zuko tossed him his wand with a low, "Sorry."
Draco glared at him, cheeks still red-spotted with pain, but he didn't say anything characteristically snide. He did, however, make a show of wiping his wand off with his robe, as if Zuko's touch soiled it.
Zuko seethed, but said nothing.
Finally, after a long awkward silence, Draco spoke, picking up the conversation where it had left off. "I can't afford to be here for two weeks, either. And trust me, my reasons are much more important than a little eclipse."
"Earth Kingdom rebels are set to attempt an invasion in eight days!" Zuko snapped. "If I'm not there to defend my people, my father will think I've abandoned him. I'll lose everything I've worked for." Seeing Draco open his mouth to interrupt, Zuko added, "Oh, but I guess you have to get back to fix cabinets."
"Shut up! You have no idea what you're talking about!"
"It's your fault we're even in this place! If you weren't messing around—"
"It's the only way I can kill him!"
Draco's voice seemed to echo over and over inside the small room, amplifying it. The blond's chest was heaving and he was staring at Zuko with wide, frantic eyes. In that moment, Zuko saw what had been carefully hidden behind Draco's mask of snide contempt: Stress. The prolonged, damaging type of stress that only came from sleepless nights… of worrying… The type of stress that Zuko knew all too well. "I… I don't know what else to do." Draco continued, "If he doesn't die than the Dark Lord will kill me and my parents. I have the plan all set… I just need the time to fix this damned cabinet. If I can let some Death Eaters into the school for a distraction, I know I can do it."
Something cold wrapped itself tightly around Zuko's chest. He only understood about half of the details, but the rest of it was eerily familiar. "Who are you trying to kill?" he asked, lowly.
Draco made a noise, like a sniffling hiccup, before turning away. "Only the most powerful wizard in the world." His voice was bitter, and the slightly paranoid sidelong glance he gave Zuko told him that he had probably not meant to say as much as he did. It had just come out.
Stress and obsession did that to a person. Zuko knew that firsthand.
Of course, he didn't know the other boy all that well, he easily recognized the strain in Draco's voice. Zuko knew the pressure of having to do the impossible or else lose everything. Scooting forward, Zuko reached out, silently laying a hand on Draco's shoulder.
Draco's hands curled into fists, although he didn't shrug off the touch. "I just need one chance, one shot and I know I can do it," he said, nearly snarling between the words, "I will restore the Malfoy name. I just… I just need to finish the cabinet. I need to get out of here."
The words were hauntingly familiar. "One thing I've learned is that killing isn't all that easy."
Draco whipped around, brushing the hand away. "What would you know about it?"
Zuko sighed softly and shook his head, and looked away for a moment. Images danced before his eyes, memories he had tried not to think about, or at least try to spin in another direction. He had been doing his duty as Prince… it was his Uncle who was the traitor. The Avatar deserved to die…
As much as he always tried to tell himself these things, and as much as he meditated, he still felt same guilt, the same shame. He was Royalty, but felt lower than a little grasshopper-mouse. A swelling of bitterness rose up within him, tasting like bile in his mouth. "What happens when you kill off this powerful wizard, anyway? Will things to back to normal for you and your family?" he didn't let Draco respond, instead choosing to answer his own question, "No, you'll just be safe long enough to somehow screw up again and your Dark Lord finds another punishment wrapped up in duty for you to do."
The words felt like a slap in the face, and had he not been still too sore to really move, Draco would have hexed him right there. "You don't know what you're talking about." He said, through gritted teeth. This fool didn't even know the basics of magic. He could only throw his little fire balls around! What did he know of the chance to prove his honor that the Dark Lord had graciously given to him? "You're just a stupid – I don't know what you are, but you don't know me and you don't know anything about what I have been through!"
"Three years ago, my father banished me from the Fire Nation, and told me I could return only when I've captured the Avatar." Zuko must have seen the look of exasperated incomprehension on Draco's face, so he supplied, "The Avatar is the master of all four elements – Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Anyway, he had been gone from my world for one hundred years. My Uncle and I searched for him for two years before I found him, reincarnated as a twelve year old boy."
Zuko shook his head and turned away, scarred side of his face facing Draco in a permanent glare. "I knew what I had to do. I hunted him all across the world – It took me the better part of a year to get the chance." He paused, closing his eyes, "And in the process I betrayed my Uncle."
"But you did it. You killed the boy." Draco chose his words on purpose, and watched in satisfaction as Zuko winced. Scoring even a minor hit against Zuko made Draco feel instantly better. So, the idiot was upset because he had murdered a child? Well, Dumbledore was an old man. He had long ago outgrown his usefulness.
But Zuko's next words surprised him. "No. It wasn't me that struck the final blow. Not that it matters. My sister told my father I did it, and he welcomed me back and restored my honor." He paused, for a moment and Draco was silent, letting him go on, letting him dig his own hole deeper. "I'm back at the palace. I have a girlfriend, and I should be happy, but all along my Uncle is in prison and… I should be happy." Zuko turned away completely, and his next words were so thick that Draco knew he was struggling not to cry, "I wish I never did it."
Draco's throat suddenly felt tight again, and he had to force himself brush off Zuko's words. Their situation were completely different. Zuko had to kill a child to restore his honor. Draco had to kill Dumbledore to save his family, himself, and reestablish the proper way for wizarding kind to live.
Draco felt his resolve strengthen and he unconsciously straightened up. Yes, their situations were completely different.
"Perhaps you're just one of those people who are never happy with what they have in life." Even to his own ears, Draco's voice sounded tempered, yet cruel, like Lucious at his worst. He saw Zuko tense and instinctively pressed his advantage. Now, felt back in his own territory — persuading people and striking against chinked armor always made Draco feel more balanced, more in control. "What you had to do was horrible… I… I don't think I could live with myself if I had to kill a child. Back in my —" What? Country? Universe? It felt as if the two of them were from completely different worlds altogether. "Back where I'm from you need a wand to do magic. If we find a way out of here… come with me." Draco knew he had struck a chord when Zuko turned to face him. "The man the Dark Lord has sent me to kill threatens everything that holds our world together. He's insane, and if you helped me… The Dark Lord would welcome your talents. You could rebuild your life there."
Zuko was silent, and Draco let him think. Oh, he could have said more, could have promised a number of things… honor, fame… whatever Zuko wanted as long as he helped him with Dumbledore. But the other boy was clearly mulling over his proposition, and Draco had enough practice with manipulating people to know that he could ruin it by over talking.
"I can't run away from my problems." Zuko said, at last.
Draco opened his mouth to argue, but Zuko was on his feet suddenly, brushing the dust off of his strange red pants. He didn't look like he wanted to say any more about it, and Draco let it go… for now.
"We're just wasting time, sitting around like this," Zuko continued, warily turning around and facing the same wall he had been throwing his useless fire balls at. He looked like he was going to give it another go, and Draco hastened to get out of the way.
Not that any of Zuko's efforts would do any good. The brick was obviously magically strengthened, and Zuko's fire wasn't hot or powerful enough to blast through it. Not even Draco's Reducto curse had done anything – and he didn't know any fire spells except a rather useless prank spell to make a harmless campfire turn into a bonfire…
An idea struck Draco. "Wait!" He stood up and grabbed Zuko's arm. It was insane… but what else did they have to do? It just might work. "I have an idea."
"Right," Draco stood back and studied Zuko for a long moment, then nodded as if satisfied. "Now do your little fire punching magic—"
Zuko bristled, "It is not little fire punching magic! It is a kata, an ancient firebending form!"
Draco rolled his eyes, "Did we establish that I care? No? Well then," he clasped his hands behind his back, giving Zuko an 'I'm waiting' look.
Zuko had to grit his teeth to keep from snapping back some other insult, but he had learned that Draco wasn't the type not have the last word, and soon they would be squabbling again. Clearly, Zuko would have to be the better, more mature man in this room. He was royalty, after all, and shouldn't have to lower himself to bickering with commoners.
Closing his eyes, he brought his hands together and prepared himself with a couple of cleansing breaths.
"I thought that we had both decided earlier that time is of the essence." Draco's snide voice cut through the small bit of calm Zuko had built up like a hot knife.
"I'm cleansing my Chi. Shut up!" snapped Zuko, opening his good eye to glare at the other boy.
"This is a simple spell. Even you should be able to do it."
In reply, Zuko shut his eyes again, focusing on the inner fire within. Despite Draco's assurances, he was no Master, and Zuko wasn't about to try any advanced… ugh… magic without making sure that he was prepared.
Only when he had the fire in his mind burning bright, clean, and hot did he open his eyes again and give a single nod to Draco, "I'm ready."
"Go on, then."
Zuko stepped forward, falling into a basic fire-form that had been one of his first to learn as a child. His arms followed the lines of his body, right fist punching out with a clean snap, the left curled in to his side, ready to defend. "ATUSTRIO!".
Fire bloomed outward from his right fist, splashing against the wall. It was a good, solid hit, but was not any more or less impressive than the bending Zuko had done before.
"It's Aeustrio, not Atustrio!" drawled Draco, as he looked at his own fingernails, "That was abominable. Do it again."
Zuko clenched his jaw. He was getting very tired of this whole Sifu Draco shtick, but made himself face the wall and try again. This time he managed the correct pronunciation of the stupid word, but there wasn't any change to the flame. His heart sank. Was Draco just playing with him this entire time? "I did it. Why didn't it work?"
Draco was still studying his nails, looking bored. "You aren't thinking about the spell as you're saying it."
"Obviously not, or else it would be working, wouldn't it? You can't just spit out words and make things happen. This is a spell. You need to direct your magic as you are saying it, and not just run around punching at walls."
Zuko had half a mind to turn around and show the brat exactly what power lay behind his punches, but somehow he found the strength to hold himself back. Perhaps Uncle had got to him after all. "How do you even know this is going to work?" he growled out, from behind grit teeth.
"You can't be about to give up already?" Gone was the bored expression, to Zuko's delight, Draco now looked exasperated. Good. The frustration was getting to him as well. "It takes seven years of school to learn proper magic. It is a highly sophisticated art. I suppose you learned your fire punching overnight?"
"Nothing ever comes easy to me." But Draco had made his point, and Zuko turned towards the wall once more. He bowed his head, thinking cleansing thoughts. This time, though, he focused purely on the lines of chi that he knew flowed like a strong river up and down the veins of his arms. Was that the "magic" that Draco had been babbling about?
Zuko kept his mind on those lines of chi as he fired off another heated punch, "Aeustrio!"
He knew that something was different the moment the word left his lips. It was almost as if the word— no, spell—became a solid force inside his chest. His inner fire bloomed, and the jet of flame that shot forward from his fist was wide, stronger than before. Its core was light blue, showing power he had only seen from Azula's bending.
The jet of fire hit the wall with a crack, and Zuko threw out his left hand palm up, trying to control the river of flame as he stepped closer to the wall, centering its destructive force to a single point.
He could hear Draco shout something surprisingly encouraging, but most of Zuko's attention was focused on the jet of power from his fist… making sure it focused only on the wall and didn't try to eat them alive.
The heat was incredible. Zuko could feel it radiating off of the wall and hitting his face and body in stinging tingles. He set his jaw and kept pouring fire to the point in the wall, determined to see it crack before he was done.
Before long even the buttons to his robe had heated up to an uncomfortable level and sat like hot coals against his skin. He could stand it no longer. He cut off the flame with a gasp and took a few steps backwards, feeling unexpected vertigo wash over him.
Draco, predictably, was sitting on the other side of the room where it was coolest, and Zuko staggered over to join him, mopping his sleeve against his soaked forehead. "It's too hot." His voice was cracked, parched, and he stripped off his vest and tunic, sitting down in the corner.
Draco spared him a contemptuous glance, and got up to examine the other teen's handiwork.
The wall had cooled with unnatural speed, reinforcing Draco's private theory of magical protection. Walking over, Draco was able to put his hand right next to the deep black scorch mark. The stone was pitted and was actually starting to bow in where Zuko's fire had hit. A few more blasts and the wall would crumble. The spell to enhance the flame had done more damage in fifteen minutes than Zuko had done in an hour with throwing his temper tantrum.
"Draco, come here!" Zuko was up on his feet again, hand against the wall on the opposite side. "Look." He pointed Draco to another pit in the wall, the exact twin of the one Draco had just been examining. "I don't understand. Why is this side look like it's been hit as well?"
Draco frowned, "I don't know." Despite the damage, this side hadn't been exposed to heat, so Draco was able to put his hand right on it and brush away some soot and crumbs of rock. Underneath was the texture of grained wood, light coloured and unburnt.
"I recognize this." Zuko's frown of suspicion turned into a grim smile. "I recognize this! The is the wood of the sky-pine tree… It's the wood to the cabinet I crawled into."
Something clicked in Draco's brain, and he crossed the room yet again. A quick Scourgify to the wall confirmed his suspicion. "And this is the same wood as in my cabinet."
"What does it mean?"
Draco shook his head. "Two cabinets, two walls… two exits… The magic in a Vanishing Cabinets allowed a person to be transported between two direct points. There must be a symmetrical connection…" he trailed off, absently twisting his wand in his hand as he thought. He was getting into theoretical magic here, and felt over his head. Why did he insist on taking Divination over theory of magic in his third year? "Because the magic in these cabinets are symmetrical, they need to maintain balance. What happens on one side must happen on the other, so…" he paused, frowning, feeling as if he was trying to sift through thick mud to find the answer, "I think if we are able to blast open one exit, the other one should open as well."
"Glad to know we'll both get out of here." The two traded a glance, and Draco had the bad feeling at that moment that the other teen would never not consider the possibility of getting back to his home. At all costs. It gave him an odd shiver, and he looked away.
"Well, what are you waiting for? I don't have all day."
"Yeah, we've wasted enough time in here." Zuko agreed with a nod as he stepped to the wall again. To Draco's eye, thought, he seemed oddly pale. Well, paler. And when Zuko stepped into his position, Draco could see his fists trembling with exertion.
The jet of enhanced fire was just as strong as before, but Zuko only lasted about ten minutes before he stopped and staggered, looking disoriented. Draco could tell what was coming, and rushed forward, catching the other boy right before he hit the ground.
Zuko was pale, and disgustingly sweaty. Cringing, Draco lowered him into a sitting position. "Head between your knees, idiot." he said, not unkindly.
It was a testament about how low Zuko must have felt, for he only nodded weakly and leaned forward as instructed. "It was… hot… too hot."
"Be quiet and focus on getting your strength back… and warn me if you're going to throw up." Draco twitched the hem of his robe out of reach, just in case.
"No, I'm fine." Zuko made a move to sit up, but Draco pressed firmly on his shoulder..
"You're dehydrated." Draco looked around, but there was nothing to transfigure into a cup. The room was bare. "Cup your hands together." Draco commanded, and pointed the tip of his wand when Zuko complied. "Aguamenti." Water quickly filled a small pool in Zuko's hands. Zuko brought them to his mouth, sipping greedily. Draco had to repeat the spell half a dozen times until he was stated.
"I'm ready to go again."
"Really?" Draco took more than a little pleasure in once again putting a hand on his shoulder and forcing him to sit. "From where I'm at, it looks like you're about to faint."
Zuko glared at him. "I'm fine! You don't need to hover over me like a mother pig-hen."
"Whatever that means," Draco drawled, "Do yourself a favor and lay down for a few moments. Don't make me make you." He tapped Zuko's shoulder with the tip of his wand for emphasis.
Zuko shot him a heated glare, but settled on his back anyway, being sure to sigh loudly in protest.
He watched him casually for a moment or two, but when the other boy made no move to get up, Draco stood and walked to the burned wall to examine it for any new damage. Sure enough, the wall was more pitted than before, but not by much. It seemed that Zuko hadn't managed to do as much damage this time before he exhausted himself.
The other teen's breathing had leveled out into slow, regular breaths and he made no reaction as Draco stepped over to him. The idiot had passed out.
Draco rolled his eyes. Zuko would make an admirable Hufflepuff with his sense of misplaced loyalty. Draco knew better than to let himself fall asleep in the presence of someone he didn't know.
Or perhaps Zuko didn't consider Draco much of a threat. Despite the low amount of damage to the wall this time around, it had been more than Draco had been able to do with his Reducto hex. Zuko's form of magic was simple and crude, but extraordinarily powerful, especially considering it was done completely wandless.
It would be a neat trick, to be able to walk up to Dumbledore, or even precious Potter and throw fire at them. Not even Dumbledore would expect that. If Draco had that kind of power, he wouldn't even have to finish this nonsense with fixing the Vanishing Cabinets.
Draco was only vaguely aware that he was pacing back and forth across the room as he thought, his mind coming alight with new ideas. He hadn't been lying before. Zuko would be a powerful allay to the Dark Lord — he was no wizard, but his blood status would be marked better than average seeing as he was apparently a Prince of some sort. If Draco managed to kill Dumbledore and bring a powerful new recruit into the ranks…
… Especially one that was loyal only to him…
He paused midstep, biting his lower lip and glancing over at the prone teen, almost as if checking to make sure he was still asleep. As if Zuko could hear his thoughts anyway…
But should he feel guilty? This was his life and the life of his parents on the line if he failed. He had cast the Imperious before, and still had a couple extra fake galleons to communicate to Madam Rosemerta. It would be in his best interest to make sure that when he did go back to Hogwarts, he went back with a powerful bodyguard…
A slight shuffling to the side caught his attention. Draco glanced over and saw Zuko shifting around in his sleep, wincing and fingers ticking in the classic way of someone who was dreaming.
He should do it now. Cast the curse, make Zuko get up and finish the job so they could get out of here. To the Imperioused, exhaustion didn't matter. Zuko would have no choice but to obey his command, even at the cost of his own health.
Swallowing hard, Draco strode over and stood over the prone boy. He had to do it. Zuko had said he wouldn't join by himself… Death Eaters often used the Imperio Curse to flesh out the ranks. This was no different…
Zuko's remaining eyebrow drew downward into a worried scowl, almost as if he sensed the imminent danger he was in. He mumbled something incoherent.
"What?" Draco asked in pure reflex, and then gripped his wand tightly. He was stalling, he needed to cast the curse now…
The other teen's eyes darted around franticly under his eyelids in dreaming frenzy, his fingers forming a claw. "Azula always lies…" It was so low, so mumbled, Draco had to strain to hear, "Azula always lies…" Suddenly, Zuko's eyes opened, and he sat up to his elbows with a gasp.
Zuko knew he must have dosed off, for the next thing he knew. He jerked awake, startled by a shot of fear right up his spine, his heart beating madly in his chest. Draco was standing over him, a strange, almost calculating look on his face – his wand in his hand. Zuko swallowed hard, trying to exercise some control over himself, and glared first at the wand and then up at Draco, silently demanding an answer.
"You were having a nightmare, talking in your sleep." Draco said, and for some reason his voice seemed strained. He made a movement to step forward, but then hesitated for a long second before shoving the wand back in his pocket.
Zuko wasn't sure what happened, but the odd prickling feeling on the back of his neck wouldn't go away. "I don't dream." He lied, sitting up, sure not to take his gaze off of Draco. The way he had been standing over him like that had been… unsettling.
But Draco's mouth twisted into a now familiar smirk, and the tension in his body eased. The danger, whatever it was, seemed to have passed. "Really? Whose Azula, then? Your girlfriend?"
"My sister." Zuko corrected, with a small shudder as he used the nearby wall to brace himself and stand up. He still felt light headed, and as weak as a newborn saber-toothed moose lion kitten, but he wasn't about to mention that to Draco. The other boy already held too much power over him already.
"Oh?" sneered Draco, "aren't you a bit old for sibling rivalry?"
Zuko could already feel a headache coming on. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Our relationship… isn't normal." His mouth was sticky, and he was desperately thirsty again, but didn't like drinking out of his own cupped hands like an animal. "Can't you…" he waved his hand vaguely in the air, "make some food with your magic?"
"You can't, or you won't?" Despite his exhaustion, Zuko felt a tongue of flame crackle between his fingers. Draco must have seen it as well, and to Zuko's amusement, took a step back.
"I can't. It's one of the basic laws of Transfiguration. You can't create something from nothing. I can change food into something else, or multiply food I already have, but…" he let it hang in the air.
Well, that was a stupid, inconvenient rule. Zuko shook his head, both in annoyance at Draco's obviously limited magic skills, and to clear his own mind. He started a couple of basic stretches, noting with a strange sense of detachment how sore and tight his muscles were. Draco's spell—or whatever he wanted to call it— increased his fire power, but was not without serious side effects. He felt drained, and his lines of chi were raw and nearly ached.
It was all the more reason to get this over with as quickly as possible. As soon as he felt ready, Zuko walked over to the wall. "Aeustrio!" he yelled, steeling himself against the wave of blistering heat.
He had to halt just five minutes later. Drenched in sweat, hair plastered to his skull, Zuko had no choice but to again request water from Draco.
"It's a shame I can't conjure a shower for you as well," said Draco, wrinkling his noise in distaste. "You stink."
That was it. The last insult that snapped Zuko's already limited patience. He flung the water droplets back at Draco, heated enough to make sure they stung the other boy. "I am tired of doing all the work!"
Draco yelped and rubbed his stung cheek against the shoulder of his robe. Within a few seconds, however, he recovered enough to smile greasily back at Zuko, "If you haven't figured it out, I'm the brains of this operation. You're the muscle." One hand was in the robe of his pocket, and Zuko had the bad feeling his fingers were closing over his wand.
"Well you can get new muscle, or better yet you can work on it yourself – wait! You can create water! Just bend it to the wall and freeze it. It should work into the cracks… or something."
The blank, vaguely disgusted look Draco had on his face told Zuko he had clearly never seen a waterbender at work, or knew how deceptably damaging that element could be. Well, fine then. But Zuko refused to weaken himself further just so Draco…
… Wait a minute…
Zuko slapped his hand to his forehead. "Why didn't I think of it before? You could siphon off the heat!"
If anything, the look Draco gave him was even more insulting, but the hand was out of his pocket. "Have you melted your brain? We need the heat to get through that wall."
But Zuko was too excited to let the other teen annoy him. "That's right!" He got up and slapped a hand to the wall. "We need heat here, not reflecting at me."
He had the pleasure of seeing Draco hesitate. "Fine, and how do you expect me to do that? I can't create a one-way shield."
"You can create a detour for the heat." Zuko grinned, or would have if the very move he was thinking of didn't also come along with its baggage of painful memories. "If your – what do you call it – spell works for me, you should be able to do some basic bending. At least, it will improve your stance."
"Oi! What's wrong with my stance?"
"This is ridiculous!" Draco said, an hour later. "I can't believe you're having me do this. It's stupid!"
Zuko had made it look so easy – and Draco could admit – so graceful. But Draco had no experience with any type of martial art, and standing half crouched in one place with his arms out on each side, pointing with two fingers in each direction – he felt foolish. Plus, his claves and shoulders were starting to burn with fatigue.
Zuko ignored his student's discomfort. "My Uncle learned this from the waterbenders, and if those peasants can do this, you can too. Now, I want you to visualize your own lines of Chi—"
"The lines of power that flows through you."
That was it. Draco had enough. He straightened up, resisting the urge to groan in relief in time with strained muscles, and crossed his arms over his chest. "I told you, I don't understand Muggle-babble. This is ridiculous."
Zuko narrowed his eyes at him. "You're just afraid to try."
"No, I'd rather figure out how to do it using proper magic, thanks." If he thought that he was going to lower himself to this, he was out of his mind. He could just imagine what the Dark Lord would think if he ever read his mind… he would be laughed out of the Death Eaters… or Cruitoed into insanity.
"It will work!" Zuko insisted.
Draco scoffed, "I don't see how."
"I'll show you how it works, then." And to Draco's complete amazement, Zuko shifted into his position, two fingers pointed towards Draco as he was using them as a bellwether. "Can you conduct lightening? No, never mind. Just throw something at me. One of your… spells."
Draco nearly laughed out loud. Surely, the arrogant bastard wouldn't make it this easy? Draco had been hesitating before out of some misplaced guilt, but now he was being given the chance nearly on a silver platter. Still, he felt the need to warn the other teen… in sorts. It was just sporting that way. "No, I can't conjure lightening, but there is this one spell I have in mind. It's call the Imperious curse."
Zuko hesitated, and for a moment Draco worried that he had let something, some hint of his impending deception, slip. But then the other teen nodded. "Do it. I'm ready."
Only the firm control Draco had exercised over his visible emotions nearly all of is life kept him from grinning outright. Once he had Zuko under the Imperious Curse, he would make sure there would be no more delay — heat exhaustion or no.
A green jet erupted from Draco's wand and hit Zuko full on. Draco had the pleasure of seeing the other teen's golden eyes dim as the spell took hold, but then Zuko pivoted on his feet and smoothly threw out his other arm. The curse flew out from his fingertips and landed with a final crack against the far wall.
Then, the infuriating boy turned to Draco and gave a strange, mocking little bow; one closed fist against the palm of his hand. "That's how you redirect energy."
Draco could just stare. Act natural… Act natural… Zuko didn't know what kind of curse he just threw off. Draco couldn't risk letting him know… Merlin, if I could learn how to do that…
"Show me how to do that." Draco ordered.
Although there weren't any magical time pieces in the room, Draco felt like he had been forced to practice the same stupid move again and again for hours until Zuko was finally satisfied. Maybe it was Draco's imagination, or the hours of repetitive movements were finally getting to him, but he was starting to feel… something in his arms and body. Something that he hadn't felt before. Zuko called it his lines of Chi, but Draco could almost imagine it was his own living magical force.
In any case, they were running out of time. Draco's stomach was starting to cramp from hunger, and while he didn't complain outright, Zuko's temper was even shorter than usual. They had to get out of here.
"Ready?" Zuko asked.
Draco crouched in his position, a bare half meter away from the pitted mark where Zuko would target his flame. There would be no room for error. He wouldn't be hit by the enhanced fire, but he was close enough to still be burned if he wasn't able to redirect the heat correctly. "Of course."
"Aeustrio!" The burst of orange and blue flame hit the wall, and Draco immediately focused the reflected heat through his outstretched fingertips, up his arm, to his stomach, up to his far reaching arm, and out of his other hand which pointed safely away towards the other side of the room.
Draco could feel the heat — translated as energy — flow through him. He was providing the pathway. They were doing it!
Both boy's exchanged an excited glance, but said nothing. They needed to focus on the task ahead.
Now that that the intense heat was not being reflected on Zuko, the firebender stepped forward, focusing the energy into a thin line like a cutting torch.
The stone on the wall and its twin on the other side started to melt. Pressure cracks snaked up and down the walls until finally, with a snap and a muted crashing sound, the stone barrier fell away completely.
Draco and Zuko stopped their efforts and exchanged mutual looks of surprise. Where there were once stone walls, now a wooden one stood on either side, a door-handle in the middle.
"We did it." Draco whispered. Without waiting for a confirmation, he strode over to the closer wall, a part of him afraid that if he didn't move quickly it would somehow reseal itself and they would have to start all over again… but the handle slid easily under his fingers. Draco poked his head through the cracked doorway
He was met by the familiar sights of the room of Requirement. Everything was as he had left it. The room smelled of sawdust, and his book bag and extra text books were leaning in the corner. "It worked!"
Zuko was at his side in a moment, wrinkling his nose in distaste over Draco's humble workshop. It didn't matter. It was Draco's world. Zuko's own doorway was on the other side of their room.
"I guess… that's it then."
Draco pulled back and looked at him. Now was the time. His hand inched towards the wand in his pocket. Zuko wasn't on his guard. He could Imperio him and return home with a powerful present for the Dark Lord...
Zuko was watching him. He had pulled on his red tunic again, his shoulders slumped in exhaustion. But his golden eyes were bright, and there was a lazy half-smile on his face. He was looking at Draco not in the way Draco ever expected to be looked at — not in the way that Crabbe or Goyle ever looked at him. Zuko was regarding him with… friendship?
Draco's grip loosened slightly on his wand, and then abruptly he stuck out his hand and took the firebender's in a quick but firm shake that surprised the both of them. "Well, then. See you… or not." Draco gave a curt nod and turned quickly to the door, not daring to look back… hating himself for his weakness.
"See you." Zuko watched the wizard leave, and then turned towards his own side of the cabinet. Time to go home.
Seven days later
Zuko paused before the steel door that gave away to the Royal emergency bunker, and quickly felt behind him for the twin Dao swords strapped to his back. The eclipse was nearly upon him; within a few short moments his firebending would be useless, and he needed a backup plan in case his father — well, he needed a backup plan.
A strange feeling of weakness tugged at Zuko's insides. He wasn't sure if it was all due to the pending eclipse. Nerves, most likely.
He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. Unbidden, the image of the boy, Draco, popped into his mind. Predominantly was the sickly pale look on Draco's face when he had told Zuko of his own mission. Draco's Dark Lord had given him his impossible mission, and Zuko's father had given him his. Zuko knew that he had failed his – the Avatar was alive. He felt it in his heart. The most logical thing to do was to finish what he started… his father expected him to be out with the troops and defending the palace.
But he knew now… maybe he always knew. His Uncle had planted the seed in his mind, and his strange encounter with Draco allowed it to finally take root and grow.
I can't somehow win my honor by murder. I must stop this endless cycle.
His fists clenched and he opened his eyes, glaring at the door that separated him from his father. "I'm ready to face you."
Zuko stepped forward.
"Come over to the right side, Draco. You are not a killer."
Draco clenched his wand hard in his shaking hand, almost using it as an anchor. Somehow, someway he had lost all control over this situation. Dumbledore stood in front of him, weak and defenseless… hadn't he waited all year for this? Hadn't he slaved over the stupid Vanishing Cabinet for months just for this type of opportunity?
The spell wouldn't form in his mind. He wanted – no, he needed Dumbledore to understand… why wasn't he cowering? Why wasn't he begging for his life? "But… I got this far, didn't I? They thought I'd die in the attempt, but I'm here, and you're the one in my power. I'm the one with the wand. You're at my mercy!"
"No, Draco. It is my mercy and not yours that matters now."
Draco's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment or two. Unbidden, a memory arose in his mind… a proud boy, nearly bent double from the weight of his guilt on succeeding a quest so startlingly like his own… Zuko struggling not to cry as he whispered, "I wish I never did it."
Draco's wand lowered ever so slightly.
The sound of heavy footsteps up the tower steps broke the moment, and Draco found himself being shoved as four Death Eaters clattered onto the scene. In that moment Draco knew that the moment he had been waiting for had come – and gone. Whatever happened next, he had failed in his mission. He would not be the one to kill Dumbledore tonight.
Draco stepped back.
Woot! Well that was a fun one to write. Would you be interested in reading a sequel, or is there anything you think I missed that should have been in there? Let me know!