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Chapter 6: The Ripple Effect
On the first Hogsmeade weekend of the term, Harry stepped into Willow and Wombly's and bought an inexpensive camera. It was difficult to look at it without thinking of poor Colin, a war correspondent at seventeen, still snapping action shots for the Prophet right up until the moment a curse brought him down.
Harry shook off the uncomfortable memories and caught up to Hermione and Penelope in the Three Broomsticks. "Smile," he said.
He photographed Oliver and Charlie flying a one-on-one match on the Quidditch pitch, Remus and Michelle playing Hounds and Jackals at the staff table, McGonagall gazing sadly at the closed-off windows in the staff common room. His sixth-level students proudly holding up quills they'd transfigured into daisies. Ron looking up from a half-rebuilt wall with a prybar in his hand and his wand tucked behind his ear. Malfoy stealing grapes off Hermione's plate.
Hullo, Kat, he wrote. Here's Hogwarts, only a little smaller than I remember, and with a bit more rubble. Things here are --
He rubbed out "fine" and chewed his quill for a moment before continuing.
-- rather more complicated than I had expected, to tell the truth.
Even as he explained the situation -- the mines, the hapless half-educated students, the bloody handprint outside the prefects' bath that no amount of scrubbing would remove -- he knew that none of his words would sound quite real when Kat read them out loud by the swimming pool in the bright morning sun. Either that life was a dream or this one was. He sighed.
Anyhow, I'm sending pictures -- you do the same. Say hi to everyone and give the cats a pat. Tell Sunday --
But he and Sunday had pretty much said everything that there was to say when he'd left Florida, so perhaps the best strategy was dignified silence, or at least refraining from putting his foot in his mouth again. He rubbed it out and wrote, I miss all of you, but I suppose it was time to come home.
After dinner, Harry spent long minutes in the Ravenclaw common room waiting for Malfoy, too tired to go looking for him -- too tired even to generate much annoyance that he wasn't where he was supposed to be.
Eventually he gave up and stumbled blearily out of the Ravenclaw wing, thinking vaguely of taking a nap and letting Malfoy find him when he was ready to work.
The door of the staff common room was shut. The Snape statue's head was slightly inclined, and Malfoy sat on the base, eyes half-closed.
"And for two of them we couldn't identify the direct object, so we figured we'd better leave them alone," he was murmuring. "And then there were the ones where the whole knot would come undone and change its shape, as though it could tell you were looking at it, can you believe that? Or they'd look one way when we first saw them, and then when we came to unspell them they'd look like something different." He leaned his head against a stone knee and let his eyes fall all the way shut. "Some of them are in Arabic."
Harry felt oddly reluctant to interrupt him, but after a moment Malfoy seemed to sense that he was there. "Ah, Potter," he said. "Back to the salt mines, is it?" He stood up, staggering a bit, and caught himself on Snape's outstretched hand. He looked as tired as Harry felt. "Well, let's toddle on, then." He brushed past Harry toward Ravenclaw wing.
Harry looked at the Snape statue. It raised its eyebrow at him, but made no comment.
After a moment he raised an eyebrow back, then went after Malfoy.
"Oh, my. Look at this."
"What?" Harry put his glasses back on and looked over at Malfoy, who was looking at a bookcase in one of the Ravenclaw boys' rooms.
"Pain on the person who triggers it."
"You're joking. You mean it's one that we can do something about?"
Malfoy nodded. They spelled it out swiftly, then went on to the next one.
Harry leaned against the wall while Malfoy went through the parchment. He kept his eyes open -- he was so tired that he would begin dreaming the moment he shut them -- but he lost track of time. After a while he noticed that Malfoy was awfully quiet. "What is it?"
Malfoy pointed without speaking. Harry looked at the spell. "Heart stops, right? We've seen that before."
"Follow the first curve upward -- that's the direct object."
Harry found the curve and followed it, but couldn't make heads or tails of it. He raised his eyebrows at Malfoy.
"The first thing you learn, when you take Introduction to Calligromancy, is how to write your own name." Malfoy traced his wand through the air, a tight, complex knot of loops and spikes. "Malfoy ... Draco." It was identical to the knot that topped the direct-object curve.
Harry stared, appalled. "If we'd let Malik and Banks-Martin and the rest loose in this room, they'd have killed you the first time they did homework."
Malfoy nodded. "Pity it wasn't Gryffindor," he said. "I wouldn't have been in any danger then." He rolled up the parchment crisply. "Would you like a few more minutes to admire it, or shall we move on?"
Kat's reply arrived one morning after breakfast while Harry, Hermione, Malfoy, and Ron were lingering in the staff common room.
Har! The way you used to ignore all the owls from home, I figured we wouldn't hear from you until you were ready for us to find you a room at the Charmed Acres Wizarding Retirement Center.
You settling in OK? Sounds like y'all have your work cut out for you with the mines and all. Wish we could help, but nobody here has ever heard of calligromancy. Dr. Bokor says you're using some of his gris-gris, though, so at least we know a thing or two that you Brits don't.
I'll ask Mama and Daddy if they know any more of the old magic that might help, but don't hold your breath. Near as I can tell, the only spells that survived from the Huguenot side are ones designed to make your kids' lives a living hell, and the only ones that survived from the Seminole side are ones that make stuff you can sell at a souvenir shop. But you've heard that tune from me before.
Harry smiled. Kat was an historian, among other things, and had gone into ecstasies of jealousy over the unbroken centuries of European magical teaching.
Had a cold snap last week -- it got down into the sixties, and a couple of the houseplants lost some leaves. And somebody claims to have seen a Plat-Eye in the woods, but Dr. Bokor says it was probably a stray dog. Anyway we're all carrying packets of gunpowder and sulfur, just in case.
Tyndall says Marisol can hardly get up out of her chair even though the baby's not due till January, and they're still trying to explain to Atzi why they don't want to name it Jasmine Ariel Belle. Tituba finally had her kittens -- two of them look like Mischief and two of them look like Jefferson and the fifth one is unique unto himself. My cat gets around more than I do.
Thanks for the pix. Next time put some notes on the back to tell me who everybody is. I recognize Hermione from the picture on your wall when you were here -- tell her hey, she sounds like a kindred spirit -- but who is the pocket Apollo on the arm of her chair? and is he available for export?
Harry folded the letter quickly before Malfoy could look over his shoulder and get his ego puffed up even more than it already was. He picked up the pictures instead, and Hermione and Ron leaned around to look over his shoulder.
There was Tyndall playing guitar while his little daughter Atzi danced in her frilly dress. Dr. Bokor stretched out in his usual chaise at poolside, wearing only a pair of cargo shorts and a red flannel bag on a thong around his neck. Kat and Purity brewing a potion at the continental breakfast station in the hotel lobby. The junior/senior class, all sixteen of them, ankle-deep in the Atlantic.
"Oh, my." They all turned to look at Malfoy, who had picked up the next picture on the stack. "Oh, my, my. I've been unjust to America if it can produce the likes of him." He passed the photo to Hermione.
"He is stunning," she said. "That hair."
Until that moment, Harry had been hoping that it was another shot of Tyndall, or Purity's boyfriend down from Boston, or some random undergraduate who'd caught Kat's eye, but when Hermione said "hair," his heart sank.
"So," Ron said, looking over her shoulder. "Who's he?"
Nothing for it. "Sunday Coneskey," he said.
"Harry!" Hermione glared. "You lied to us!"
"Not exactly," Harry said, and it was true. Being very careful with pronouns wasn't the same as lying.
Ron was giving him a look that said he saw right through that argument and found it rather amusing. And Malfoy --
"Evidently your candor leaves something to be desired, Potter," he said, "but I certainly admire your taste." He laid the photo on the table and Harry got to see it for the first time. "Though he's not a very friendly fellow, your Sunday." Where the other photos had waved and grinned, Sunday just stood there with his rather impressive arms crossed over his rather impressive chest, glossy black hair falling almost to his waist, and gave a nod and a half-smile.
"See, that's the other thing," Harry said to Hermione. "It wasn't -- it was only a --" He started over. "His grandfather is Let-Us-Stop Coneskey, the top wizard for the whole Eastern Band Cherokee, so it's not as though he was going to settle down with some random English wizard. He wanted a more advantageous match." He felt a little deja vu; he'd had exactly this conversation with Sunday himself before he'd left Florida.
"Ah, dynastic marriage," Malfoy said. "I suppose I should be grateful to the war for sparing me that."
Harry blinked at him. "But you're ... they would have expected you to get married?"
Malfoy smirked. "You are middle-class through and through, aren't you, Potter? Invert though I may be, I had a duty to carry on the Malfoy line."
Harry fiddled with the packet of photos, and something else fell out of the bundle: a little pine-needle basket, about the size of his thumb. Sunday used to weave them carelessly, without even looking. Harry pushed it back under the photographs. "So ... who?" he said to Malfoy. "Pansy Parkinson?"
"Nasty common family like that? Her great-grandfather was a clerk." He faked his father's voice pretty well. "No, if the wizard world hadn't been split in two the way it was, my father probably would have encouraged an alliance with Susan Bones. Or Macy Prewitt might have been an option, I suppose."
"Your student?" Hermione sounded scandalized.
"Stop thinking like a Muggle, 'Mione. When she's a hundred, I'll only be a hundred and six." Malfoy's smirk was even more pronounced. "But as it was, my choices would have been limited to the Death Eater side -- Marguerite Rosier, perhaps, or my cousin Amaryllis, horse-faced child that she is. Or one of the Snape girls." At Harry's look of surprise, he smiled. "His second cousins, three of them. Unfortunately, the younger ones got their brains from the DeLapin side. I was actually rather fond of Fausta, though. And of course her bloodline is excellent. Powerful all the way back, the Snapes."
"What a shame for her," Harry said, "that your father isn't around to see to it that you give her her fair share of Malfoy DNA."
Ron snickered, but Malfoy just smiled. "Yes, I'm sure she's very disappointed, especially as I'm now head of the family and hence a doubly good catch." He pushed back his hair with the thumb and forefinger of one long-fingered hand, looking every inch the young wizard scion -- funny how the gestures and the lazy confidence stayed the same, whatever the culture.
Harry looked away. Trying not to want the smug bastard was more trouble than it was worth.
"As we've both got the afternoon free, we'd better examine the pitch for mines," Malfoy said one day at lunch.
"Good idea, Draco," Hermione said. "I know Oliver has been anxious to start playing real matches now that things have settled down."
"I don't see the purpose," Harry complained. His wrists and ankles hurt, and everything anybody did got on his nerves. "There was nothing at all out there when we looked the first time. It will just be a whole afternoon of flying back and forth."
"Yes," Malfoy said pointedly. "Exactly. A whole afternoon of flying back and forth."
Oh. "Well, if it will make you happy," Harry said.
"Delirious," Malfoy said.
There were, of course, no mines. They had to fly slowly so as not to put the candles out. Harry's broomsmanship was embarrassingly rusty, but Malfoy kept to the far end of the pitch, too far away to make any snide comments. Malfoy still flew just as Harry remembered -- with perfect comfort, as though the air were a cushion and the broom were another limb. Harry turned his eyes away quickly before Malfoy caught him watching.
That night at dinner, there was another empty space at the staff table. "Ursa Polaris was hit with another seizure mine this afternoon," Penelope said.
"We've got to work faster, then," Harry said. Malfoy's mouth tightened, but he nodded.
"Pain, pain, fire, nightmares," Malfoy said, pointing to each glowing knot. "Tooth loss, more pain. Ooh, new one here -- paranoia and hallucinations, direct-object clause on the Chief of Aurors -- hang on, I'll need to draw that one for 'Mione's records before we put it out."
Harry still found it disgusting the way Malfoy seemed to admire the more creative mines, but he spelled out the candle so as not to waste it while Malfoy recorded the new mine.
Sarah McDuff and Medea Martin, older students who had a free-study period most mornings, watched them curiously from a safe position in the hallway as Harry lit the candle again and the two of them unspelled the room and went on to the next. Hufflepuff dormitory was nearly deserted as they worked their way through the bedrooms, but Harry couldn't shake an uneasy sensation, as though he were being watched. He rubbed the back of his neck.
"Stiff, Potter? Perhaps you should join Phoenix's yoga classes."
"I'll just rush right out and sign up." It was cold in here, too, and damp. Harry turned up the collar of his robe. He would be glad when they were finished with the dormitory and he could go change into something warmer.
Malfoy was looking at him with his usual expression of supercilious amusement. "Looking a little pale, there, too. Perhaps a Dementor walked over your grave?"
"Shut up, Malfoy." Harry rubbed his forearms. "Let's just get on with it."
"That's a nice start, Mr. Chun." Harry levitated Chun's turtle high enough for the class to see his progress in turning it into a change purse. "You notice how the legs are beginning to withdraw into the body, and the head is turning silvery? The first step in a successful transformation --"
He felt a damp chill on the back of his neck and shuddered. After a moment, he realized the class was waiting for him to continue.
"Right. As I was saying, the first step is to look carefully for similarities between what you have and what you want. Can anyone tell me why? Mr. Jones?" Harry let the turtle float back down to Chun's desk.
"The Law of Conservation of Magic," Jones said.
"Very good. Everyone return to zero and start again." He rubbed the back of his neck.
"Professor? Professor, you've got to --" The whole class turned at the voice from the fireplace -- Aoife Murphy, one of the Gryffindors, freckles standing out on her pale, frightened face. "Come back with me quick, Professor, we can't --"
Harry glanced around the room quickly. Nathaniel Hobbs was the eldest in the class, and a Hufflepuff; he'd do. "Mr. Hobbs? You're in charge of the class until I return. Tonight's assignment is in my book." He just had time to see Hobbs giving him a nod of almost comical earnestness before he followed Murphy through the floo.
"We didn't do anything, I swear, it just blew up, we were just sitting there --" The two of them tumbled out of the fireplace in the first-year girls' bedroom in Gryffindor Tower. There was a strong smell of smoke and a slippery sensation in the air.
In the corner, green flames were emerging from an open cabinet. Rose Duncan lay on the floor, her skinny arms and legs shaken with convulsions. Tears had left pink tracks through the ash on her cheeks. Harry petrified her quickly before she could choke on her tongue, then turned to the flames.
Harry tried to raise his wand, and found that it would point anywhere but at the cabinet, which deflected it like a magnet. "Never mind," he said. "Get behind me, Miss Murphy."
Holding one of the bedposts, he grounded his attention in it and spoke a quelling charm. The fire went out.
Aoife started talking so fast Harry could hardly understand one word in three, and other students began to come to the door, drawn by the noise. "Hush," Harry told them. "Miss Murphy, I need you to get Miss Duncan to the infirmary, all right? Sofia can help her. And if you see Professor Granger or the Headmistress, ask them to meet me here, if you would."
It was only a moment before Hermione arrived, bringing not only McGonagall but also Ron and Malfoy. At least he'd only have to tell the story once. Ron went immediately to the cabinet and began murmuring repair spells. The other three crowded around Harry as he explained.
"The Murphy girl was babbling something about wands?" Malfoy said.
"There was some sort of deflecting effect." Harry waved his wand at the trunk; he had no difficulty with it now. "Seems to have been temporary."
"How were you able to put out the fire without it?" McGonagall asked.
"I, er, used the bedpost." Harry wasn't sure whether that was frowned upon or not.
McGonagall shook her head ruefully. "Severus always said we relied too heavily upon wands, but Albus felt they were a useful tool for beginners. I suppose this proves Severus right after all." She looked at the smoke emerging from the trunk. "I thought you and Draco had already unspelled Gryffindor Tower."
"Of course we did," Malfoy said. "Though I suppose it's possible Potter might have missed one."
"Shut up, Malfoy," Harry said. "Hang on -- I think I've got a candle in one of my pockets."
When they lit the candle, the room went bright yellow.
"I don't understand this at all!" wailed Hermione. "How are we supposed to make any headway against them when they just come back?"
Malfoy was shaking his head. "I don't think they're coming back," he said. "Potter, was this desk mined when we unspelled this room?"
"I don't recall any of the desks being mined," he said.
"Neither do I," Malfoy said. "And look over here -- this is one of those direct-object clauses. I know there weren't any of those in Gryffindor, because I'd never seen one until 'Mione drew one that day."
Hermione sat down suddenly on one of the beds. "Wait," she said. "Wait, wait," and she pulled a sheaf of parchment out of her bag and began paging through it. "I know it was here -- just a moment -- ah." She spread one sheet out on the bed, and the other three gathered around to look at it.
It was another complicated knot. "This is one that Oliver and Penelope found," she said. "Draco, how would you interpret that?"
"Pain," he said, dropping down beside her. "Vomiting. Fire, direct-object Headmistress's Office -- oh, that's a wicked one. And ..." He looked up at Hermione, frowning. "There's a direct object here, too, for the gamekeeper's cottage, but I can't read the knot itself."
"Textum disiungo," Hermione said, tapping the parchment with her wand. The knots seemed to unravel a little, becoming larger and spreading apart. "You two might want to remember that charm -- it works on the mines themselves as well."
Malfoy's head bent over the parchment again, and he pushed his hair behind one ear while the other hand traced one of the knots on the parchment. "That's an explosion spell." It was one of a dozen knots, each of which appeared to be hanging from the main knotwork by three long threads woven together in a complex way.
Malfoy traced the three threads upward to the first place they crossed. "That's -- oh, it's been years since I studied calligromancy -- that's -- Oh." He sat up suddenly. "Oh. Oh, that is diabolical," he said in an admiring tone.
"What?" McGonagall said. She sounded as impatient as Harry felt.
"That means 'hide,' " Malfoy told her. At her blank look, he began tracing out each knot with quick, impatient movements. "Explosion spell -- direct object, gamekeeper's cottage -- modifier, front door -- verb, hide. Vomiting spell -- direct object, gamekeeper's cottage -- modifier, bed -- verb, hide. Fire spell --"
Harry blinked as it suddenly came clear. "This spell sets up new mines in other locations?" he said.
"Exactly!" Hermione beamed.
"Well, Potter," Malfoy said. "It appears that ours will be a long-lasting partnership."
"Great," Harry said, scrubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.
"Of course, this makes it even more urgent to remove as many mines as possible, especially ones that might trigger other mines," McGonagall said.
Malfoy nodded. "We'd better get the Level 7 Charms students helping."
Harry stared. "Are you mad? We can't involve children in this. Bad enough they have to see it in the first place. Don't they deserve not to have to worry all the time?"
But Ron surprised him by looking up from the broken cabinet and shaking his head. "I reckon what they need is to know what the trouble is and how to fix it," he said. "Sorry, Harry, but you should know you can't keep things from kids."
"The truth is always less worrying than whatever they imagine," Hermione agreed, beaming at Ron.
Rose Duncan was lying in a Consopium right next to Charlotte Rolfe when Harry arrived in the infirmary. Aoife Murphy was sitting up on the other side of the room as Sofia dabbed something green on her face. Most of her burns were minor, but a bit of some superheated liquid had hit her just above her left eyebrow, leaving a painful, blistered wound.
"All I have iss the commercial treatment," Sofia said, turning a tub of salve so that Harry could read the label: Salamandros's Finest Kitchen Quencher, For Household Burns. "Madeleine hass tried to make an Extingument potion, but it requiress seawrack leafss, and she hass been unable to find a supplier."
"Professor Snape had a whole big wooden crate of dried seawrack leaves," Hermione said.
Ron grimaced. "Don't remind me." Seawrack had been a prime ingredient in an ill-fated lesson in invisibility potions that had left Ron unable to see his right leg for a week in sixth year.
"That box is probably still in the second storage closet right where it was when we used it," Harry said.
"Along with dozens of other rare ingredients, and all of Severus' books and notes," McGonagall sighed. "And they might as well be in Iceland for all the good they can do us."
"Maybe," Harry said, "if Malfoy and I --"
"Don't you dare," Hermione said. "Do you know how dangerous it is down there? Nobody's been able to get near the place since the school was retaken."
"Well, I remember you saying that Professor Aerie had a vomiting curse," Harry said. "I don't know about Malfoy, but I'm willing to --"
"Harry." McGonagall was looking very grim. "That vomiting curse left Maddie in treatment for dehydration for almost the entire spring. And the next person to venture down into the dungeons was Argus Filch. I know you want to help, but until we know more, we simply cannot risk it."
No matter how he rearranged the covers, he couldn't seem to get warm enough to sleep. There must be a draft. Harry sat up and pulled his bedcurtains closer together in the middle, but this made a gap at the corners. When he pulled the corners together, the gap in the middle came back. Sighing, he got up and put on his Weeki Wachee sweatshirt over his pajamas. After lying down shivering for a few more minutes, he sat up again, feeling exceedingly foolish, and pulled the hood over his head.
That was better. That would do just fine. Now all he had to do was lie still and not move no matter what, and eventually his feet would get warm and his muscles would stop twitching and he'd be able to sleep.
He had examined every inch of the room. There was absolutely nothing watching him.
He breathed carefully, slowly, in and out. In. Out. Easy, Har, take it easy.
And it would be easy, he knew exactly how to do it, but for some reason his wand wasn't working. It was locked in place, and he couldn't move it, and force was traveling through it, making it vibrate slightly, until the muscles in his hand and forearm ached with the strain. But it would be so easy. He could kill Voldemort with four syllables, Hermione said so, she was saying it into his ear right now, if only he could move his wand he'd do it and it would all be over and they could all rest.
And his right hand still wouldn't move, but there was a bedpost in his left hand. Fine, that was fine, he could use that, he could focus his force through that -- and then he was doing it, and he heard his own voice saying "Exadigo," and he felt the force of the curse go out from him and hit its target cleanly. A body tumbled to the ground at his feet, and suddenly his wand went still and he could lower his right hand.
He knelt and turned the body over.
Albus Dumbledore's glassy-eyed face smiled up at him.
Harry looked glumly at the breakfast spread before him, but everything made him slightly queasy. He pinched the base of his skull, as though he could pinch off the headache at its source. Nothing to look forward to today but redoing the work they'd already done on Gryffindor Tower, and probably when they were finished there they'd discover that the other dormitories had been re-mined as well.
Hours of exhausting, dispiriting work, taken on after a short night of very restless sleep, with a strange ache in his knees and wrists and a headache that promised to settle in for the day -- it would have been bad enough in good company. But to make his day complete, he had to do all this with Malfoy.
Grimacing, he gulped a few more swallows of coffee, shoved two oranges into the pocket of his robe, and set off down the hall, limping slightly.
Malfoy was crouched at the base of the Snape statue. "Get up," Harry said. The statue glared at him, but he ignored it. "We've got work to do."
Malfoy stood and stretched backwards, hands on his lower back, somehow looking graceful even though Harry could hear his vertebrae cracking. Dark circles showed up vividly in his pale face. "All right," he said, coming back upright. "No rest for the wicked."
This time Harry's old room made him feel less nostalgia and more paranoia. It was like some kind of nightmare where he was going to have to come back here and do the same tasks over and over into eternity.
He overdid the spell on the first candle and melted it into a puddle of wax. "Shit."
Malfoy sneered at him and lit the second candle with showy delicacy.
The first four spells they found were unfamiliar enough that they had to ward them and leave them. In the light of the candle, the wards looked like pinkish-yellow bubbles. Harry closed his eyes and saw an image of the entire castle under a bubble, spelled into stasis until somebody came along who knew something. Maybe King Arthur would come back and take care of it.
Harry opened his eyes. " 'm not asleep," he mumbled. "What've you got?"
"Thought you might like to see what your name looks like in calligromancy." Malfoy pointed out a knot that dangled above a familiar-looking spell. "If Osborne and Jones had got this far, your heart would have stopped."
It looked rather like a complicated five-pointed star. "Pretty," Harry said. "Can we undo this one, or is your courage failing you again? Or maybe you'd like to leave it." His voice didn't have the power it should have. Getting really angry seemed like too much effort.
"If I wanted to get rid of you, I'd've done it by now and not had to keep putting up with your whingeing," Malfoy grumbled.
"Oh, and you're being such a beacon of maturity here," Harry said. "Especially considering that whoever set these spells probably went back to headquarters for a nice drink with you afterwards."
"Hah. By the time the school was occupied, I was already moldering away in Appletreeham, going home every day stinking of tooth-cleaning paste. But I'm not surprised you weren't too eager to keep up with the news after you fled the country and left the rest of us to clean up the mess."
Harry felt his lips pull back from his teeth. "Shut up, Malfoy," he gritted out, "and get to work." He pointed his wand at the glowing star that was his name, waiting a bare second for Malfoy to catch up to him before muttering the unraveling spell.
There was a sudden bright flash of light as new knots sprang into existence all over the room. Harry was ringed by new spells, clustering so tightly around him that he could hardly move. He heard a sizzle and looked down; a knot had formed behind him, and his involuntary step backwards had triggered it. There was a bang from the direction of the kitchens.
"Hells!" Malfoy was all but standing on tiptoe. Yellow neon swirled on every side of him. "Bloody writhing hydras, Potter, what the fuck did you do?" His elbow touched one of the knots, and he crumpled to the floor, triggering three or four others. A sheet of flame sprang up across the doorway, blocking their exit, but Malfoy didn't even look up, just knelt, breathing in shallow whining pants.
Harry threw a quick protection spell over the candle. Then he took a step toward Malfoy, but was hit by pain so sharp and sudden it took his breath away. It felt dirty, like something inside him was being eaten away by noxious acid. "Oh, shit," he whispered.
"Not ... Crucio," Malfoy said in a thready voice.
"I know," Harry grated. "Hurts like ... holy hell ... jus' th' same." The floor around his feet was completely covered with spells. He bent his knees slightly and focused what little strength he had on staying upright.
"Pot'r," Malfoy panted, "got to ..."
It obviously hurt him to talk. " ... yeah ..." Harry whispered, to spare him the effort of continuing. "Dunno ... where t' start ..." The flames in the doorway had started out magical, but by now the curtains had caught and the room was hot with perfectly ordinary fire, which would kill them in a perfectly ordinary way if they didn't get moving soon. He breathed in and out very slowly and tried to think. Making a little noise on the outbreath seemed to help a bit, so he did it.
"What're ... singing?" Even with his voice mostly gone, Malfoy could muster a good expression of outraged dignity.
"Not ... singing ..." But he was -- he was humming Sunday's manito chant under his breath. And as Harry noticed this, he noticed that the pain was easing slightly.
Malfoy raised himself up to his knees. "Spells're dimming," he said, and they were -- the light was fainter.
"What should we --" As Harry stopped chanting to speak, the pain came back.
"Keep singing!" Malfoy said. "Don't stop. Moment t' think." Harry picked up the chant again, singing more strongly, concentrating -- and for the first time, it felt as though the chant really had magic in it. He could feel a tiny thread of power trickling into him, and the pain was growing more distant. And all around him the lights were dimming.
Malfoy had shut his eyes, an expression of fierce concentration on his tear-streaked face. "If the chant works, maybe -- Accingo," he said, and the spells dimmed further. "Potter -- with me this time."
A few of the knots went out altogether, and the others were dimmer, though Malfoy was still hemmed in. The air was heavy with smoke.
"Disentangle us now ..." Malfoy's words trailed off in a coughing fit. "Dis -- you first," he wheezed, and pointed his wand at the few knots remaining around Harry. They could hardly make the spells heard over the crackle of fire, but the last sigil winked out and Harry stepped free with a sigh of relief.
"Now get down ... put ... fire out," Malfoy gritted.
"Get you loose first," Harry said. "May need to run for it." He had a vague feeling that he wasn't thinking clearly, but he was still quite certain that unspelling the knots around Malfoy ought to be the first priority.
"Down, damn you. Cooler. More oxygen." Malfoy didn't sound as if he was thinking too clearly either. The air tasted like salt and ash.
"Damn it! Would it kill you to trust me?"
"I wouldn't be the first it killed," Malfoy said quite distinctly.
Harry had tackled Malfoy before he was aware he was moving, knocking him from his knees to his back, fist connecting with whatever flesh he could find. "You -- fuck -- how dare -- " he grunted incoherently, flailing at Malfoy's jaw, knocking his head back. The blow pushed Malfoy into a mine, and whatever it was made his face crumple with pain, but he pushed up with surprising strength, rolling them both over.
There was a faint sizzle as Harry set off a mine, and his face was immediately engulfed by a blinding headache, but he was so busy trying to get a knee up into Malfoy's groin that he hardly noticed the additional pain. Malfoy evaded Harry's knee, which came up harmlessly against his hip, and pinned his hands.
Harry pulled his left hand free and swung, but they were too close together for the punch to have any power behind it. He grabbed a fistful of Malfoy's hair instead and pulled his head back. Malfoy made a squeaking noise and several strands of hair came loose in Harry's hand.
Harry got his other hand free, got hold of both Malfoy's shoulders, and rolled them again, knocking Malfoy's head against the floor. "Kill you," he gritted, hauling Malfoy up by the shoulders and banging his head against the floor again, and again, knocking him into more mines, but it didn't matter, Harry didn't care if the whole place blew up as long as it took Malfoy with it --
And then there was a roar and everything went black.
On to Chapter 7
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