OK, so I got no business writing fic right now, given my study and work commitments, let alone fic that isn't an update to one of my WIPS. I'm very sorry about that. I honestly did not anticipate the plot bunnies overdosing on Viagra as they've done this past month, and certainly not in this fashion.
It is a commonly known fact among the people who know me that I love B-horrors and all their attendant, gore, zombies, and werewolves (how kind of Joss Whedon to obviously make Cabin In The Words JUST FOR ME! :D). I thought I'd pretty much used every single trope in Dramione in the decade that I've been writing for this wonderful 'ship, but somehow I'd never thought to combine my love of horror with D/Hr. It's been a while since I've actually yearned to write D/Hr, so I'm not even sure if this will work or if it's any good.
Drop me a line to let me know what you think, so I'll know to continue or not. Thanks for reading!
"Do you really think he's still alive?"
"Well, my sensor spell is very clearly picking up someone in the lower ground."
"Yes. Someone alive. And as expected, it looks like we can't Apparate in. Seamus' wards are holding, Harry."
"Finnegan ended up being a deft hand at the ol' swish and flick after all… I guess it's the front door, then. How come no one's realised he's been here all this while?"
"Everyone's dead. There was simply no one left to remember."
"Do you reckon he has absolutely no idea what's been happening?"
"I don't know. It's possible. Solitary confinement is rather solitary."
"You're sure you want to do this? Scrimgeour will have our heads. Well, more mine than yours. He actually needs your head."
"He'll understand. And please, Harry, no more chainsaw hex at close quarters? The mess took days to wash out of my hair last time."
"I rather like that hex…"
"I know you do, Harry."
"I invented it, you know."
"I know, Harry."
"On the count of three?"
"One, two, three. REDUCTO!"
The front doors to Azkaban prison exploded open. Dust, mortar and bits of pulverised wood bloomed up in the air to form a dense, noxious cloud. It still wasn't thick enough to prevent the smell of concentrated death and decay from hitting Harry and Hermione like a battering ram. The scent was strong enough to taste. Coughing and covering their mouths and noses with their forearms, wands held aloft, they entered the dark foyer.
Harry cast Lumos.
There were no teeming hordes. No ravenous undead to fend off. Well, that wasn't exactly accurate—there were ravenous undead, they were just in such an emaciated and weakened state that most had been reduced to half-eaten, moaning, twitching torsos on the ground. In the absence of fresh meat, they had cannibalised each other.
The ones left uneaten were now completely unanimated, vestigial brain functions long gone. Azkaban had not been spared from the outbreak, but during the worst of it, Warden Seamus Finnegan had made the call to seal the front doors and contained what was inside, on the inside. That included himself and five remaining prison guards who were still human and very much alive the last time they had communicated with the Ministry. That had been over four months ago.
Now there was no one. There was just the dark, death and the familiar gut-churning smell. The smell permeated everything.
She cast the Sensor Spell again, which manifested as condensed, red-gridded blueprints. There, in Sub Basement C, Azkaban's state of the (magical) art, completely automated, maximum security wing, was Prisoner E5673. He showed up as a luminous blue, pulsating dot.
They took the stairs. Harry first, with Hermione following behind. There was a small, unexpected welcoming party in the stairwell—two former prison-guards who still looked rather…fresh.
Hermione didn't have time to think about the horror the pair had probably endured, attempting to survive the hell of being trapped in a building with two hundred newborn zombies, at least a dozen of which had been former colleagues. They'd done well to survive, for a time.
Harry eventually took the head off the male guard, who was naked with its stomach gaping open, and who still kept coming at them. He kicked it and the flailing, headless torso toppled over the railing, landing with a wet noise in the landing of Sub-Basement A. The female guard lurched forward toward Hermione. It still wore its uniform, a badge and a blue hair barrette, though seemed to be missing most of its face and an arm. Its slack mouth opened hideously wide due to a dislocated, misaligned jaw, and it released a long, guttural cry. Its hand reached for Hermione's face, and Hermione took a hasty step backwards.
"Incendio," she said, and the thing dropped to its knees loudly enough to crack bone, screeching and tearing at its clothing as it burned.
"You OK?" Harry called. He was halfway down the stairs.
No, of course not. She would never be ok. Not ever again.
"Yes!" Hermione called back, stepping around the twitching, burning zombie.
Three floors below, they found Draco Malfoy sitting in a glass cube rimmed with steel—one of Seamus' designs. He was at a small desk and he was reading.
Hermione could have hated him for that alone.
For a goodly minute, he stared at them while they stared at him. It was a study in ironic, almost comical contrasts. The convicted murderer and terrorist looked rather civilised, almost genteel. He was well-shorn and tidy in plain black robes. Then there was the rather bedraggled, bearded and slightly manic-eyed Harry. Beside him was Hermione, liberally covered in dust, soot and why yes, that had to be viscera in her hair, didn't it?
At the far end of Malfoy's cell were bookshelves lined with…oh my, Muggle novels, seemingly. Classics, all of them. They filled the shelving, from floor to ceiling. Hermione could make out some of the titles. There were the stalwarts—Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Hemingway, and more contemporary fare.
Inexplicably, she felt the hot sting of tears behind her eyes. At the start of the year, she could have plucked Great Expectations off her own bookshelf at home, curled up in front of the fireplace in her parents' den and read 'til the sun came up.
That was then. It felt like a lifetime ago. Now, most of the world had turned upside down. What was still right side up was burning. The idea of stories and happy endings and Jane Austen was so alien and strange.
And here he was. Draco Malfoy. Reading.
Hermione's attention was abruptly returned to the situation at hand when Malfoy shut his book with a loud snap. He stood, looking markedly taller, paler and gaunter than she remembered. She observed the small frown that appeared at his brow. A normal person would have demanded to know, probably in a shout, what the hell was going on above ground that made it impossible for anyone to check on him in more than four months. But Malfoy was anything but normal. You didn't keep 'normal' in twenty-five cubic square meters of warded glass and steel.
His eyes catalogued everything with a neat, precise hunger, scanning all the details presented to him. His gaze eventually stopped at her. A cold smile transformed his face from discreetly curious to calculating.
"Visitors. My, it has been a while." The words were light, but there was tension in his, soft, sibilant voice. "And to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"You might want to stand back, Malfoy," Harry said raising his wand, but Hermione put a stalling hand on his arm.
"Remember what Seamus said when they built the prototype? We can hear him, but he can't hear anything from inside the cube. Use the communication box."
Both Malfoy and Hermione pointed to it at the same time—a small metal box recessed into a corner of the cube. There was a slot at the bottom big enough for books and for the rolled up, back-copies of the Daily Prophet and The Guardian that Hermione presently fed through.
"What's that for?" Harry asked.
"For proof. Would you believe us?"
Harry grunted. "Pro'lly not. Good thinking."
Not in any great hurry, Malfoy retrieved the newspapers and scanned them. His frown deepened and at one point, he stopped blinking altogether. When he looked up, however, his face was utterly impassive. Hermione hadn't been sure what to expect. Shock, certainly. Perhaps even an attempt at dark humour. But this ambivalence angered her.
Of course he cared. He had to care. Hermione tried to scry for evidence of this and couldn't seem to find any.
She pressed the button on the communication box and spoke. "Given that the virus originated here, we've been the worst hit, so the UK and Scotland are currently cut off from Europe and the rest of the world. Africa, South America, Central, West and North Asia are war zones. North and South America are about to follow suit. So far, only parts of South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and pockets of Oceania are reporting some success in isolating their Infected."
Malfoy processed all this. "Well that would explain why Warden Finnegan, hasn't come to see me in such a long while. Tell me, has he shuffled off this mortal coil? Pun intended, provided these creatures are of the shuffling variety?"
Seamus Finnegan. Warden of Azkaban. Married to Lavender Brown, deceased. Two children, Timothy, aged five, deceased. And oh—what was her name? The little one? Hermione dredged up a memory of a Seamus striding into the Ministry one morning carrying a little girl with blonde hair and cornflower-blue eyes.
Emily. Also deceased.
It was important Hermione remembered her people. The two guards they dispatched minutes ago had been somebody's 'people'. Were they remembered? When it was all over, Hermione made a mental note to find out. It went without saying that her mental notebook was now in its seventh volume.
She ignored Malfoy's question about Seamus. His other question was much more pertinent.
"They're slow and not terribly strong, but then their strength has always been in their numbers. And unfortunately, the Infected in the UK outnumber us."
"And how many did you incinerate on your way down here?"
"Not nearly so many that we can afford to waste time talking about this. You need to come with us."
Harry made an impatient noise and took over at the box. "The Americans are planning a nuclear strike. Frankly, we're lucky it hasn't already happened. What's left of the British Muggle government has managed to convince the American President to give the magical community time to bring the situation under control."
Malfoy laughed. "Are you trying to tell me that this—" he gestured towards Harry and Hermione—"this is some kind of rescue? Frankly, Potter, I'm touched."
"During the war, you were briefly allied with a wizard who worked in virology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, weren't you?"
Malfoy was surprised at the turn in conversation, but didn't miss a beat. "Yes. Dr Hendry Tan. Mad as a March hare, but undeniably brilliant."
"You killed him. If he was alive, we wouldn't need you." Hermione said, tightly. She hadn't been speaking into the box, but Malfoy didn't need to hear her to know what she'd said. He seemed capable of basic lip-reading.
"He killed himself, Granger. I just didn't stop him." His grey stare bored into her. "And pray tell why do you have need of me?"
Hermione sucked in a breath and counted to five before she shoved Harry aside and pressed the button once more. She'd rehearsed all this with Harry already, but the reality of actually having to converse with Draco Malfoy, war criminal, terrorist and murderer, was something you could never prepare for. No doubt the fact she'd known him since he was squeaky-voiced and shorter than her, added to her anxieties. It seemed a travesty that such an evil, loathsome person was needed to bring about such good.
"Your goal was to create an additional line of funding for Voldemort's cause by selling potion patents to pharmaceutical companies, yes?"
Malfoy had moved to sit on the edge his desk, arms folded. The long parting in his robes widened, revealing a pair of slim, black trousers. Every other prisoner in Azkaban wore bright orange. Trust Malfoy to have struck some kind of deal to avoid what he probably perceived to be an unfashionable fate. Or maybe it was just that maximum security inmates adhered to a different set of rules? After all, they didn't socialise with the rest of the inmate community. In any case, there was no sign of the pompous little bully and fledgling sociopath who never went anywhere without Crabbe and Goyle. The bully had grown into a man with blood on his hands. And not the kind that currently stained Hermione's jeans and canvas jacket.
"You Muggles, with your science and technology and your much vaunted human ingenuity. You haven't even managed to eradicate the common cold. I spotted a lucrative, untapped market," he said.
There was a muffled crash from the direction of the stairwell. Harry and Hermione glanced at the exit. Nothing came through. Malfoy, not being able to hear anything external to his cell, followed their line of sight. He also observed Harry checking his wristwatch and giving Hermione a pointed look.
"So you tried selling magical cures to Muggles," Hermione concluded, speaking faster now.
"Synthesised magical cures, Granger. That was Tan's job—to convert the magical to the mundane."
"You and Tan synthesized one of your potions into a serum. An antivirus. Do you remember what it was called?"
They had to confirm what American wizarding intelligence was alleging. Otherwise, Malfoy was of no use to them free. She wondered if he knew his life was at stake. If he couldn't help their cause, they would leave him there.
For a moment, it looked like he wasn't going to humour her by continuing the conversation, but then he replied. "Tan named it after me. Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer."
Hermione couldn't help it. Her heart leaped a little. Here, at last, was hope. After so many weeks of failure in the laboratory.
"D.R.A.C.O," Hermione said, swallowing the lump in her throat. Harry hated calling it that, but the longer version continually defeated him. "We need you to tell us how to make D.R.A.C.O so I can combine it with a standard Regeneration Potion."
She was blunt. "To save the world."
One floor up, there was the sound of furniture scraping along the floor.
"Hermione…" Harry said.
Malfoy left his perch at his desk and stood before her, separated by four-inch thick, enchanted glass. He put his hand against the glass, to the left of her face. She tilted her head upwards to meet his stare. It took effort, but she managed to resist the urge to step backwards. He was contained, but still crowded her.
"And what do I get in return, Mudblood?"
Harry marched over to the communication box. "You get to live, you bastard! We could just as easily leave you here to rot!"
Malfoy chuckled. "Potter, the spells that automate my air supply, artificial sunlight, the delivery of my food and the elimination of my waste will likely outlast us both. I'm safer in here than you are out there."
"Caged like an animal, you mean?"
"We're all animals," Malfoy replied. "Some of us simply belong to a higher stratum than others." At this, he stared at Hermione. "Where is Weasley? Don't tell me he's succumbed? Did you have the heart to put him out of his misery or has his mother got him tied to a peg in the backyard of that lean-to he calls a home?"
Harry growled and slammed the side of his fist against the glass, which shimmered. Malfoy didn't as much as flinch, neither did he take his eyes off Hermione. The answer to his query was on her face.
"I see," Malfoy said, speculatively.
Damn him. Damn, damn, damn. Hermione whirled around to the face the wall, away from Malfoy and away from the damnable concern and regret in Harry's eyes. She looked up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly in an ineffectual attempt to stifle her tears.
She was startled when Harry grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the exit. "We're leaving without him."
"Harry, no." She dug her heels in. "We need him."
"No one needs that! No one can possibly be that desperate!"
"We're that desperate!" she hissed. She extricated her hand from his grasp and ran back to the communication box.
Malfoy had watched the entire exchange, the smirk gone, grey eyes now very intent. It was time to end the game and no mistake, he'd been playing one the moment they'd showed up. He approached her at the box, eye to eye, behind the glass. He stood so close she could see the flecks of blue in his irises.
"What do you want?" she asked, plainly.
"A full pardon."
Hermione nodded, unsurprised. "You'll have it."
"I am to take your word for it?"
She thought it was a certainty that her promise would not be enough; that he would argue and bargain some more. But there must have been something in the quality of her reply, because he was no longer impassive. For the briefest moment, she saw unadulterated wanting. The raw emotion was as affecting as it was brief.
"I swear on my life that if you help us, the Ministry will rescind your life sentence."
"We need to go!" Harry yelled.
"Do we have a bargain?" Hermione demanded, simultaneously.
Malfoy nodded. "We do."
"Then stand back."
He did so, and she noticed that he quickly walked to the book shelves, plucked a volume and tucked it away inside his robes.
The spell shattered the glass wall into an ocean of crystalline granules that crunched under Malfoy's feet as he exited his prison. He didn't bound out of his cell with a triumphant expression. There was a caution and tentativeness to his movements which almost garnered him some sympathy from Hermione.
As soon as he was out, Harry grabbed hold of Malfoy's elbow and placed the tip of his wand to his throat. "I'm itching for an excuse, Malfoy. So don't try anything."
Malfoy smiled and held up his hands. "Wouldn't dream of it."
"Tether him," Harry said to Hermione.
She pulled a long, golden skein from the back pocket of her jeans and approached Malfoy. Impossibly, he seemed even taller outside of his cage.
"Pull up your sleeve and hold out your left arm," she ordered. "You're still left-handed, I assume?"
"Yes," he replied, and she began to tie one end of the skein around his left wrist.
The skin at the inside of his wrist was so pale it was nearly translucent, light blue veins clearly visible. Hermione's grubby, soot-blackened fingers were a stark contrast. Further up his arm, the tail end of the Dark Mark was revealed. It was a muted grey, the colour of a faded tattoo. As Hermione made the knot, she brushed his skin with her knuckles once or twice and saw that it left a smudge.
He said nothing during this, but she could feel his gaze over the top of her head. She then tied the other end of the skein to Harry's right wrist. When it was done, Malfoy pulled his sleeve back down.
"What is that?" he asked, examining his wrist. The skein had vanished. He thumbed the soot marks away.
"Your leash," Harry said, with some relish. He grabbed the back of Malfoy's robes and shoved him towards the exit and the stairs. "Up we go. Death Eaters first."
"Oh, this just gets better and better," Malfoy muttered under his breath. "Fortune, on his damned quarry smiling."
Hermione followed behind, thinking that a Draco Malfoy who quoted from Macbeth was just slightly discombobulating.
Additional Author's Notes
Now that that's out of the way, I just had to tell you that D.R.A.C.O is a real, honest-to-god, I kid you not, broad spectrum antivirus, and it's causing quite a tizzy. I am no medical scientist, but I hear it's very, very promising. What are the odds that I find an actual drug named after Draco? WHAT ARE THE ODDS, I ASK YOU?!