A/N: This is the sequel to Secret of Slytherin. You probably need to read that to understand this. :)
Some warnings for harsh language, torture, and some potentially triggery bits of harsh manipulation and imprisonment. This is a bit darker than my usual fare, though if you know me, you know I like generally happy endings. Rated T for teen, kiddies.
The day that they were going to bring Sirius Black from the dead, Harry Potter disappeared somewhere into the bowels of the mostly-empty Hogwarts Castle.
Ron was too busy cutting, chopping, and pulverizing whatever was handed him to pay very much attention, though Draco complained bitterly that Harry wasn't around to do his fair share of the work. "It's not as though he could talk about anything else since we told him," the blond muttered, giving an ashwagandha root a particularly vicious chop.
Ron unfurled the Marauders' Map and sighed when he saw that Harry was still moping about in the empty Transfigurations room. Draco leaned over his shoulder and made a noise much like a cornered cat.
Hermione shrugged diplomatically, looking up from the loops and curlicues of the rune-circle she was chalking on the Potions room floor. "I think Harry is feeling ambivalent." Hermione looked up at Ron and paused a beat after using the larger word. "I do believe," she went on after a moment, "that he intended to retrieve Sirius on his own, once we'd helped him figure out the spell."
Draco's eyes flashed, then narrowed. "That sounds precisely like him. I'll have to remind him that I didn't save his life just so that he could toss it in the rubbish bin the moment it suits him. I saved him and that means part of him is mine."
Ron and Hermione grinned at him. "Have we told you lately how glad we are to have you around?" Hermione laughed. "That's the perfect thing to tell him; you just wait, he'll go all funny and stomp off, but he'll secretly agree that he owes you."
Draco pinked at the unexpected praise. "Yes, well."
Ron watched Draco's blush grow with fascination – blushing always made Malfoy look more innocent than technically possible, given who Draco was. Still, he could only watch the other boy fidget for so long. "We're done with the ashwagandha, so remind me what we're doing here." He jerked a nod towards Hermione's scribblings.
"A circle of protection and a circle of isolation," Hermione recited. "We don't want to bring the whole Potions-room to the Land of the Dead, or Hogwarts Castle, or, Merlin forbid, all of England! And we certainly don't want to bring the Land of the Dead here. Rune circles create magical boundaries, to keep things in – or out."
"Or both," Draco replied, his answering smile causing some dried plant matter to drop from his right cheek to his borrowed work trousers. Ron thought Draco's snakeskin belt (complete with silver snake's head buckle) looked pretty ridiculous holding up the old brown corduroys he'd grown out of in fifth-year. Harry's things might have fit him better, but as Harry was clearly still wallowing in ambivalence they'd had to make do.
Hermione was still trying to instruct, so Ron put on his best listening face.
"…which keep out demons of all kinds."
"Well, that's good."
The young witch's expression turned reproachful. "Now, Ron, demons have all been painted with the same brush, but some of them can be dead useful –"
"But they're all dangerous," Malfoy commented. "And obviously all this working with me has gone to her head – or perhaps her moral centre –"
" – but in any case," Hermione went on, swatting Draco absently, "the most important one is here, the Barrier rune atop the World rune, it holds all the others together –"
And Ron could see how all of the other runes spiraled away from it or towards it or both, seeming to lead the eye to the World-Barrier. He had to unfocus his eyes to stop them from tracing and retracing the loops, swirls, and curlicues. "Brilliant," he said, meaning it. The technical skill required to create the rune-circle impressed him, never mind the intellectual ability required to truly understand all of it. Hermione and Draco had been working at it for over a month, Hermione on the Arithmancy, Draco on the Runework.
Then there was a knock at the Potions-room door and Professor Lupin slipped inside. He looked more harrowed than ever, but his eyes burned with a feverish light. "I don't want to alarm anyone," he murmured, "but I believe we're ready."
Professor Snape tsked. "Standing in the doorway again, Lupin? Move your worthless hide." But then he placed one hand on each of Lupin's shoulders and steered him out of the way; and Lupin looked back at him and smiled, uncoiling just a hair.
Ron wondered yet if Lupin and Snape had yet cast Dare animus, the spell that was meant to pass Lupin's power to Snape. Retrieving Black from beyond the Veil was too difficult for one wizard's power alone, but the exchange left Lupin vulnerable, as powerless as a Squib. He tried to exchange a significant look with Hermione, but she was still absorbed in checking and re-checking her runes. He looked to Draco, but the other boy was piling up ashwagandha in his hands and dropping the last of it into the steaming cauldron. Ron couldn't escape the feeling that he was in Potions class again, and got that funny tied-up feeling in his guts as he waited for Snape's approach.
Professor Snape peered over the top of the cauldron and sniffed. "Another quarter-hour or so," was the verdict. Lupin took him by the elbow and they retreated to some dark corner to argue in hushed voices. Hermione and Draco triple-checked their work, then sat by Ron with the same worry line across their foreheads.
"I know," Ron said to them, showing them Harry's fixed position on the Map. "But he has to come, we're doing this for him."
"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed. "This is Sirius Black, a living human being, not some trinket you mean to gift-wrap for Harry's birthday!"
Ron could feel Draco squirm beside him as they both tried to avoid letting on by look or deed that the words 'birthday' and 'present' had both been used in conjunction with the planning of this particular spell.
"Would we even be doing this if not for precious Potter's neuroses?" Draco inquired, regaining his equilibrium. "Black threw himself to the fire once. Who's to say he won't again?"
Ron swallowed. It wasn't as though he wasn't aware that Sirius was rash and impulsive, but he hadn't let himself think about it too closely. He turned to Hermione, only to find her fiddling with the hem of her skirt with downcast eyes.
"Though it's a little late for second thoughts," Draco went on, characteristically reversing his argument the moment any of the others appeared to agree with him.
"I've been hoping this might turn Harry around," Hermione blurted, still twisting her hands in her lap. "He's been awfully moody since the end of the school year. I should have thought he'd be happy we were all staying over the summer, that he didn't have to go back to the Dursleys again."
"Perhaps since he no longer has the Obscura to fall back on, he needs to find more mundane ways of reigning in his temper, like the rest of us," Draco quipped.
"And perhaps he's just being Harry," Ron said. "Perhaps it's his bloody time of the month. Not everything he does is of weighty import."
"Ron," Hermione protested in her favorite you-fool voice, "the last time Harry was acting oddly, he was staying here at Hogwarts over the summer, reviving a deadly, ages-old mental magic and having his mind wiped while pretending to be gardening at home."
Ron paused to consider.
"…and then there was the time he was hearing voices in the walls –"
Luckily, Snape chose that moment to break away from Professor Lupin and approach the trio. "We are going to have to begin, or the potion will congeal."
"Whatever you do – " Lupin began.
"Don't break the circle," the trio chanted.
The Potions Master whirled on them. "You are not to make light of the danger. Even to think of the innumerable ways in which it could go wrong –" He paused to shake his head.
"It will be fine, Severus – it must be," Lupin replied, placing a careful hand between the professor's shoulderblades.
"Irrefutable logic," Snape grumbled, but the line of tension through his shoulders eased somewhat.
"But we can't start without Harry…" Hermione added.
Snape looked angry, Ron thought, and maybe even a little disappointed. "We must." He dipped a silver chalice into the potion and quaffed a large draught.
After a moment of silence, Lupin shook him by the arm. "Severus?"
"It's fine," was the reply. "It's – oh." The dark man blinked. "I think you'd best help me into the circle quickly."
Together the two men hobbled there, careful not to smudge Hermione's painstaking work; a word from Lupin and the lights extinguished. Draco, Hermione, Ron and Lupin moved to the circle's perimeter, raising their wands and casting the runic symbols for Protection, Barrier, Trust, and Reclamation. Ron's heart pounded in rhythm to Draco and Hermione's chanting, even as he cast the rune for Trust over and over again into the black.
Professor Snape's form began to glow, bright as burning. Then the glow faded, and then the Professor himself seemed to begin to fade as well, fitful as a flickering candle flame. At first, Ron thought it was his imagination, but soon there was no mistaking that he could see the rough-hewn stone that made up the bulk of the castle walls through his professor's torso.
The sound of the door slamming open behind Ron distracted him for a key moment – wasn't that warded shut? - and the circle began to unravel.
"Harry!" Hermione gasped as a figure dashed into the room, and Draco's chanting faltered; because Harry was glowing, too, sunset-bright, just like Professor Snape…
Harry was flying into the circle, careless feet smudging... the World Barrier Rune, Ron realized: they would have to start over… but now Harry was trying to take Snape's place... he was shoving the now-weaker man away from the center of the circle -
With a cry, Ron broke ranks, trying to wrest Harry away; but the smaller boy fought with such desperation that Ron could barely keep hold of him. "Right then," he heard, and Draco appeared at his side. Between the two of them, they managed to throw Harry clear of the quaking circle. The existing runes flared white-hot, but they were writhing, Ron noted with some alarm, unraveling –
The darkness was suddenly full of noise; muffled, true, but it sounded like shouting.
And stars, Ron realized as his eyes adjusted, stopped burning with flashing afterimages. He was outside the castle. Somehow he'd passed out, laid flat on his back. He could feel the cool, vague lumpiness of grasses and reeds pressing into his shoulderblades and arse. The night sky held a vaguely green tinge that he knew should alarm him somehow, but he was having trouble focusing, the way he did after a long-distance Apparition.
A groan sounded beside him. "Malfoy. Malfoy!" Ron urged in a low, careful voice. He knelt beside the origins of the sound and clasped a cotton-covered shoulder. "Wake up, mate, we don't want to be sleeping now…"
Draco blinked his grey eyes open and rolled to his knees. "What -?"
"We're out on the grounds."
Draco peered around. "It – is it colder?" He shivered, turning completely to face Ron, who could make out the curve of his throat and the flash of his eyes in the near-black.
Ron nodded, eyes scanning the surrounding area. "Dementors?"
"Can't feel any."
A low howl split the night.
"Fuck, d-did you hear that?" Draco stammered, standing bolt-upright.
Ron yanked him back down by a convenient corduroy belt-loop. "Are you mad? Stay low!"
"T-that was a werewolf!"
"All the more reason to stay low!" Ron looked up, scanned the horizon. "Not a full moon, though..."
"Fine, then, just a mundane ravening animal…"
Ron blinked at Malfoy, who was shivering. He had just opened his mouth to say something he hoped would be comforting when a loud and sudden thump made the pair of young wizards start, then freeze.
Ron caught Draco's eye and brought a silent finger to his lips. Draco shook his head wildly, but Ron pressed a comforting hand to his shoulder again, and crept soundlessly forward, around the back of the castle, his wand drawn.
"Oh," Ron said faintly, and turned back around with a lot less care in his stride than before.
Draco pulled him down amongst the tall reeds so violently that Ron practically fell on him. "What?" he hissed. "What is it?"
"It's Dumbledore," Ron replied numbly. "He's fallen off the Astronomy Tower."
Draco's eyes narrowed. "What?" he demanded, then disappeared off in the same direction.
Ron heard the sounds of someone being noisily sick a moment later.
Draco stumbled back, wiping his mouth. "Shit," he said, succinctly. "Shit – fuck, we – can he have fallen?"
"I don't know."
"Because it seems like – I mean, Harry fell off his broom once, and Dumbledore – Dumbledore made him lighter so he wouldn't die, why didn't he just do that for himself?"
"I don't know."
"Unless he was killed and then throw –" Draco cut off mid-word, eyes flashing white around the edges. "…tell me you didn't hear that?"
Ron looked up at the castle, where lights were flashing on all over. Either someone was aware of the current disaster, or there were other, concurrent disasters. The answer became clear as bright green, red, and royal purple flashes began to shine like fireworks through the windows of Hogwarts.
Draco's features hardened in a way that made him look strikingly like Harry, and he tugged on Ron's sleeve. "C'mon, we've got to go, we've got to go now –"
Ron's limbs felt thick and heavy, but he stood at Draco's urging, stumbling after him towards the castle's large, oaken front doors; but then the doors were banging open, striking the castle walls with too much force to have been opened by anything other than magical means. A pale-haired boy wizard fairly flew out of them, cloak flapping in the wind. Every now and again, he stumbled. Draco took a few, stuttering steps towards him. "We should help him –"
Ron forcibly shook free of the last of the shock. "No, we'll do more good inside. Come on!" Ron took Draco's arm and jogged quickly but carefully in the dark, towards Hogwarts' front doors.
Before they could reach them, a small cadre of wizards broke free of the castle walls… Ron caught a disconcerting eyeful of dark robes and white masks just before he pulled Draco back behind him to shelter behind the open doors; but it was too late, they'd been spotted.
It didn't seem to matter to anyone but a small, stocky witch, who turned, then laughed nastily. "One or two more for the road?" she wondered.
"You stay away from us!" Ron shouted, bringing his wand to bear, the other arm pressing Draco behind him.
Another figure, taller and somehow more impressive than the strange Death Eater, swept her away with a look and a wave. "We don't have time for this!" a half-familiar voice shouted from beneath the hood, "for children! We must go! Potter is behind us!"
"Harry?" Draco whispered, quiet but alert, as though the power of Harry's name had grounded and focused him. The Death Eaters were moving, limping, half-running off towards the Forest… and then Harry himself burst through the doors at a dead run, shouting for Snape.
Draco's outstretched fingers missed him by inches – Harry flew past without seeing a thing, his focus all on the Death Eaters ahead.
"That was the Professor," Draco said. "Before! With the Death Eaters – but they're all dead – scattered –"
"We thought they were," Ron replied lowly. "Some of them must have survived, and they thought they'd get revenge – Merlin, Dumbledore –"
"We've got to go, we've got to help Harry," Draco insisted, and then he was off, chasing after the Death Eaters like a madman.
"Draco, no!" Ron shouted, then took off in pursuit. He saved his breath from then on for the mad dash.
Snape, Ron soon discovered, was a quick runner – he had long, gangling legs that made wide, athletic strides. But Harry in a froth was a match for him…
Ron ran straight into Draco from behind. "Thank Merlin you've stopped, you idiot, this place is thick with Death Eaters –"
"No," Draco whispered. "Look."
Harry was shouting something that was hard to hear at a distance, but his body, vibrating with energy, and his wand, raised and trembling and pointed at Snape spoke for him.
"You don't suppose he thinks Snape could have let them into the castle…?" Draco muttered. "Doesn't Harry remember, they tortured him, he wouldn't – couldn't, not ever – Harry!"
Because the word on Harry's lips was loud enough for even Ron and Draco to hear: the Cruciatus Curse.
"Obscura," Draco said, choked. "It has to be. Harry wouldn't do this if he were in his right mind. He wouldn't let go of the one with Sirius dying, said he couldn't! That's why he disrupted the spell – he's gone mad!"
The Professor's body language could be read as easily as Harry's: he was trying to appear as frightening and forbidding as possible without actually doing the boy any real damage. But there were other Death Eaters around, and one of them was sneaking up on Harry.
"We have to do something!" Draco shouted, shaking Ron.
"We don't know what Snape's game is, yet," Ron told him, surprised when his voice barely trembled. "Let him protect Harry – anything else could get them both killed… we can't move until we know…" Behind Ron's calm words, his chest felt tight and his eyes stung, and part of him was still caught in disbelief. Dumbledore was dead, and Snape was running with the Death Eaters, and Harry –
Harry was under the Cruciatus Curse, and quite possibly mad, and they just had to wait it out.
Draco's hand clutched unselfconsciously at his own, and together they crouched in the reeds while the dim light of curses cast out the dark. Ron couldn't feel his fingers, but his own grip was tight, too, tight with fear and anger and helplessness.
Then Hagrid came out of his hut to help Harry, and it was like watching a boulder rolling downhill – once the half-giant's bulk got moving, it seemed to become near-impossible to stop him. Snape broke from the press of the battle and dashed off for the woods.
Draco shook Ron off and broke into a dead run.
"NO!" Ron shouted.
"You take care of Harry!" Draco told him, calling without slowing or turning, and Ron realized he was running after Snape.
Ron swallowed, torn – behind him, Harry was still fighting, and before him, Draco was re-entering the world of Death Eaters, the world from which he had torn himself only months ago; but Draco's words flew through his mind like scattering birds: take care of Harry – take care of Harry…
Ron was off and running.
A/N: Uhm. So, this is the beginning to the sequel to Secret of Slytherin. Yeah.