He Nearly Killed the Cat
The Final Elements
"Of course!" Sirius snapped his fingers. "Now it all makes sense! Who else would there be than our little Fox—or his alternate, sorry about that," he added quickly to an offended noise from the boy standing behind him, "that Kreacher would recognize as his master, but 'not in the direct line'?"
"And he didn't know your voice because in the time period where Pearl and I had been placed, you were still only an infant," Aletha took over from her husband. "Supposedly." Her voice, if it had been turned loose on the Hogwarts lake, would have seriously inconvenienced the giant squid. "So what grudge exactly do you think you have against us, to come barging into our lives and disrupt them this way?"
"What grudge?" Draco Malfoy, somewhat older than Harry was used to seeing him and beginning (to Harry's secret delight) to lose his hair, drew himself up indignantly. "As if you didn't know. It's your fault, all of you, for turning me into this—you have only yourselves to blame—he knows what I'm talking about even if you don't—" A pale finger, shaking in outrage, jabbed at the boy who was still standing coolly beside Hermione. "Ask him what you did to me, and then tell me why you think I might try to destroy you before you can do the same thing to thousands of others like me!"
"Hold on, I think I've got this," said Ron, raising his hand. "You're the one from the world Lynx and I got stuffed into, aren't you? The one who faked up his face to look like Tonks, made nice to Hermione to get her to help you fix that stupid Cabinet, acted like you were friends, and then got all offended when she was angry that you'd lied to her?"
Malfoy spat to one side. "Friends," he hissed, glaring at Hermione, who returned the look with equal hauteur. "As if any such thing were possible. It never would have been, except for you." His eyes raked the crowd in the clearing, as though trying to destroy them with the force of his will alone. "But I escaped you in the end. I got away. And I started planning my revenge that very same day."
"You climbed into the Vanishing Cabinet," Ginny said, her eyes half-shut as though she recalled a dream. "If the world had still been running on its normal lines, that would only have taken you to Diagon Alley, but the rules were different since it had already been invaded by the RC's."
"By your RC's, I might add," Hermione put in, folding her arms across her chest. "So it's no use blaming us for what happened. As Fox said just a moment ago, you did it to yourself."
"But who was responsible for changing me in the first place? For muddling my mind, befouling my thoughts enough that I thought I might want to speak with you as an equal? Even to require you, as a helper or as… anything else?" Malfoy began to stalk around the edge of the clearing, directing unfriendly looks at various members of the crowd. "That distinction belongs to you, all of you and your truth-twisting ways."
"And do you like so much better the way you ought to have ended up?" said Danger, speaking for the first time since the revelation of their enemy's identity. Her voice was soft, but penetrating, and everyone turned to face her, even Malfoy. "Would you really prefer to be that lost, that frightened and unsure of yourself, that much cut off from any true happiness or betterment in your future, at the ripe old age of almost eighteen?"
"I don't see why that's any of your business." Malfoy looked down his nose at her. "Since I'm not that mewling brat any longer, and I don't intend to be ever again. But the rest of you." A vicious, not quite sane grin split his face. "Why don't I give you an idea of what I'm going to do to you, now that I've got you all at my mercy, cut off from Outer Time, all twelve of you in the same place at last…" He trailed off, glancing uneasily across the group.
"Isn't that special?" Luna remarked into the silence. "He's learned how to count."
"Where's the werewolf?" Malfoy craned his neck, peering around people and behind them, as though he thought Remus Lupin might be hiding beneath someone's robes. "What have you done with him?"
Danger laughed once, softly. "My husband remained in Outer Time, to hold the way open for us to return," she said. "I'm sure he'll be terribly sorry to have missed you."
"Remained in—" Malfoy cut himself off forcibly, sucked air through his teeth, and was nodding almost before he had breathed out again. "Yes, I see it now. Leaving one behind for backup, just like you always do. Clever. But not clever enough, or why isn't he already here, breaking you free of my evil ways?" His grin returned, wider and madder than before. "Because he can't, can he? My shields work both ways, stopping you from getting out of this world and stopping him from getting in! He can sit out there and watch what I do to you, watch how I break you down bit by bit, and when I get to you…"
The word was softly, almost lovingly, breathed towards Danger, who bowed her head as though wilting under it. "Yes, when he sees what I have in store for you, his dear little mate, perhaps he'll feel obliged to try to come and rescue you after all. Or perhaps he'll show a lick of common sense and let you go… or he would, if he could break free of your so-special soul-bond before it drags him down to destruction behind you!"
"So enlighten us," drawled Hermione's twin—Fox, Harry reminded himself, they call him Fox—drawing all eyes back to himself. "What is it that you have planned for us, now that we've fallen into your perfectly executed trap?"
"I'm so glad you asked." Malfoy leaned against a nearby tree, smirking broadly. "Let's start at the bottom and work up, shall we? The long bottom, that is." He snickered at his own joke. Neville rolled his eyes and turned his shoulder to Malfoy as though uninterested, incidentally hiding the slit in his robes through which his right hand slipped. Malfoy, oblivious, babbled on. "I've found a lovely little world for you…"
"Harry," a man's voice said quietly from the air to Harry's left. "Rub your nose if you can hear me."
Resisting the urge to whip around and stare, Harry scratched the end of his nose, keeping his head turned towards Ginny to keep Malfoy from spotting where his true attention was focused. Her face, he noticed in passing, had hardened into a mask of fury, which would have fooled anyone who wasn't close enough to spot the shimmer gathering in the corners of her eyes.
This must really be scaring her. She doesn't cry easily.
"Good," the voice said with some satisfaction. "Don't turn your head, he might see that, but cut your eyes this way."
What am I, four? But even as he thought it, Harry realized the careful instructions made sense. Malfoy was employing psychological warfare even as Voldemort had tried to do two nights before, using people's fears against them, making them believe they couldn't possibly win and collecting the advantage that gave him in terms of morale. This new player, whoever he might be—and I think I already know—was countering that with his own calm, collected spirit, but he couldn't be sure how well or badly Harry was taking things.
And while I'm sitting here thinking, I'm not doing what he told me.
Casually, he flicked a glance to the left. Danger still sat with her head bowed, her fingers twined around each other, but her earlier air of defeat, of being cowed by horrible threats to herself and her mate, was gone. The pose, although it had not materially altered, gave Harry's newly sensitized eyes the impression of watchfulness, of the stillness of concentration.
Behind her and to one side stood the image of a brown-haired man, likewise still and watchful. His lips curved in a brief smile as he met Harry's gaze, and Harry found himself smiling in return, recalling his walk through the Forest two nights ago with a similar likeness walking beside him.
Everything's coming around in a circle, isn't it? First I played against death, and now I'm playing for life…
"Listen carefully, I don't have long," said Remus Lupin, shooting a look of his own at Malfoy, who was now expounding upon the fate he had planned for Luna. "While I'm not terribly surprised by his ability to blame others for his own mistakes, he's right about one thing. He has me cut off from providing any real help to you. His power is rooted here where I am, in Outer Time, and he has this world locked off. Which also means the rest of us can't call on Outer Time. But by that same token, he's made a grave mistake." A moment's fierce smile reminded Harry of the rank this man held within the family he now knew was called the Pack. "He's ignoring those of you who are still sealed to Inner Time. And you, no less than your friends, have the power to defeat him."
"How?" Harry asked without moving his lips, keeping his head turned in Malfoy's general direction. The older version of his Hogwarts nemesis was now expounding upon the proper treatment of Weasleys, and the shimmer was collecting more prominently in Ginny's eyes as she clenched her fists.
"There are six elements for sealing a person to a particular world, and giving them the ability to play by its rules." Lupin ticked them off on his fingers. "Bread and salt, water and wine, blood and tears. No doubt our friend there has his own pocket domain somewhere in Outer Time, where he's eaten and drunk and shed his blood, and managed somehow to squeeze out a tear. Probably through reflecting on his own tiny misfortunes. But what matters is, if you can get him to do the same thing here—to eat, drink, or shed at least three of the six—he'll be halfway sealed to this world instead, and we have a shot at breaking his bonds with Outer Time. At which point, he loses all power except the common-and-garden magic he was born with."
"A shot?" Harry hoped he had managed to convey his displeasure not with the chance, but with the fact that it sounded like only a chance, in the words. From the grim look on Lupin's face, he'd succeeded.
"I don't want to lie to you, it's not going to be easy," the older wizard said, his hand going out as though to stroke Danger's hair but pulling back short of its mark. "But it's the best possibility I see. Of course, if you can catch him on more than three of the elements, things get progressively easier with each one. And if you could manage all six…" The smile returned, and with it a moment's twinkle in the blue eyes which reminded Harry sharply of Dumbledore. "Well, that would get us the Snitch. He'd be instantly sealed to this world, and since his personality really hasn't changed in any significant way from his original, he'd start to assimilate into that same original straight off."
"Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke," Harry muttered, his mind already starting to work. Bread, salt, water, wine… "Can she," he twitched his head towards Danger, "do that thing?" A few wiggles of his fingers elucidated his point, or so he hoped. I remember there is a hand-signal code, but not how to do it myself, not yet… "Talk to them without him knowing about it?"
"What do you need to say?" Lupin inquired, as the smallest of smiles touched the side of Danger's mouth closest to Harry. "Though I warn you, as soon as she moves, I have to blank out and you'll need to be inoffensive over here. She's the one keeping attention off us for the moment."
"Got it." Harry reshuffled his plan of attack to take this into account. "Can she… can you," he amended, turning his attention to Danger, "ask them to fight? Have a big, obvious, angry falling-out, the sort that would make him think he's already winning? Shouting, calling names, pushing and shoving, anything they think will keep his attention on them and make him laugh. Make him laugh hard, like rolling on the ground."
"Make him…" Lupin's eyes lit with pleasure, and Danger's smile flickered again. "Of course. Well thought. Anything else?"
"Just…" Swallowing once, Harry tried a small smile of his own. "Ask them to trust me?"
Lupin smiled warmly. "They already do. I'll see you soon, Harry. Best of luck."
"Thanks," Harry muttered as the image of the older wizard disappeared. "I'm going to need it."
As Malfoy continued his tirade, now addressing Luna in a voice of lofty disdain which didn't quite mask the frustrated lust underneath, Harry leaned down to Ginny and touched her cheek, turning her face towards him. "Do you trust me?" he asked softly. "Enough to do something you won't like?"
"Of course." Ginny straightened her back and lifted her head, narrowing her eyes against her tears. "What is it?"
"Stop doing that." Harry let his own shoulders sag, glancing at Malfoy, who still seemed oblivious to their little group, though Danger's quiet movements towards the invisible boundary between them and the Legendbreakers would become apparent soon. "Stop fighting it. Let him think he's won, he's broken you down. Don't make it big or flashy, but cry. And while you're crying…" He pointed his wand at one of the fragments of flatbread Ginny had scattered earlier, Summoning it into his hand. "Blot the tears on this."
Ginny frowned. "Harry, what are you doing?"
"What I was told." Harry pressed the thumb-sized bit of bread into her hand. "Can you handle it?"
"Yes, but—" Ginny cut herself off, shaking her head. "No, there's no time now, is there? You'd explain if there was. But as soon as there is…"
"You'll be the first to know," Harry promised. "Oh, and one other thing. Don't panic if they—" He nodded towards the Legendbreakers, some of whom were still putting up their show of indifference to Malfoy's rambling screed, others whose eyes were closely following the intricate motions of Danger's fingers. "—seem to lose it. It's all part of the plan."
"You scare me almost as much as Fred and George when you say that." Ginny smiled, even as one fat tear slid from her left eye and began to make its way down her cheek. She dabbed at it with the bread, the absorbent crumb soaking up the liquid almost instantly. "But I do trust you. And love you." A second tear followed the first. "So that question you didn't get a chance to finish asking?" She shot a fulminating glare in Malfoy's direction. "The answer's yes. Just in case you were wondering."
"Maybe a little." Harry wished he dared steal a kiss, but that would definitely have pulled Malfoy's attention, and their best chance for the moment was to stay as quiet and inoffensive as possible.
Until we get everything we need, that is.
So let me think. He turned his back on Malfoy, ignoring the sniping words in much the same way he had always been able to stop listening to Professor Binns when the day's lesson on History of Magic became impossibly boring. Bread we have, plus water and salt—because that's what tears are, when you come right down to it—and tears from him I'm working on, or they are. He glanced to one side, seeing a few of the Legendbreakers beginning to draw apart, murmuring darkly to each other. So that leaves wine, and blood. Wine I think I can handle, as long as I can get the charms right. Blood…
A soft cough drew his attention to Danger, who had returned to her earlier position seated on the fallen leaves, head bowed, hands folded. "Leave blood to me," her voice said, quiet but clear, sounding as though she were standing beside him rather than sitting down several feet away. "I have an idea, but it will need the rest of the elements in place to make it work."
"You're sure?" Harry asked, frowning a little. "I mean, not that I doubt you, but…"
"But everything rides on this." Danger tilted her head just enough that her eyes could meet his. No hint of softness or mercy could be discerned within the chill, unflinching brown. "Believe me, I know. And I have been waiting for this moment for what feels like a very, very long time. He will not escape me, Harry. I promise you that."
"If you say so." Swallowing his doubts, Harry stepped back a pace just as the first shouts erupted from the group beside him.
"All my fault?" The words were shrieked at Hermione's very best volume. "How dare you!"
Sirius and Aletha, greatly daring in Harry's opinion, dashed into the middle of the fray, trying to pry Hermione's hands off Meghan, not helped by Meghan's lunges and swipes towards Hermione as the smaller girl returned as good as she got. "I dare because it's true!" she shouted as her mother finally got her disentangled and hoisted her bodily several feet back. "If you hadn't been so stupid as not to know who you were making friends with—"
"Oh, so now I'm responsible for things my counterpart did? Things she didn't even know she was doing? Why not blame him for his counterpart being an idiot, then?" Hermione's finger stabbed towards Ron. "Since he was the one who made sure the world fell apart too soon for us to rescue them both?"
"Hey, I did the best I could to stop him!" Ron protested. "If we're going to play the blame game, why not start with the obvious candidate?" He turned on Fox. "Like the one standing right here who's got mostly the same blood as that?" A vicious glare indicated Malfoy, who had stopped his harangue to sit down on the rock Ginny and Danger had used earlier, looking intensely interested in the burgeoning argument. "Why didn't he do something to stop all of this, huh?"
"Because I couldn't," Fox said wearily. "As you'd know if you had even a shred of intelligence in that ginger head of yours! What she sees in you, I've no idea, never did—"
"Little late to be raising objections now, isn't it?" Ron shot back. "Unless you're going to start taking your ideas from him too, instead of just your bloodline, and try and rehabilitate me into my original so you can find someone you like better for your precious twin—"
Grinning to himself, Harry turned away, blocking out the argument as he had Malfoy's rampage earlier. His friends had their enemy's attention well and truly captured, and even if they hadn't, he was sure Danger was performing the tiny, quiet, "look somewhere else" spell he now recalled was one of Neville's abilities—
And he's not part of the fight, either. The sturdy, brown-haired boy was standing to one side, an expression of concentration on his face. He must be working together with Danger, to make sure Malfoy only looks where we want him to, not where we don't…
But even the combined efforts of two Legendbreakers wouldn't last forever, Harry reminded himself. He'd better get moving.
Wine. I had elf-made wine with Hagrid and Professor Slughorn that one night last year, the night I took the Felix Felicis and got that memory for Professor Dumbledore. Bet you anything Hagrid kept one or two of those bottles for himself… now if I can just remember how to do this…
"Alohomora," he breathed, envisioning the back door of Hagrid's hut, the one which faced the Forest, springing open. A moment to let that spell take effect, then…
"Accio wine bottle!"
The sound of excited voices in the background, combined with a Summoning spell which had to work, invoked for a split second the memory of Harry's fourth year, at the first task of the Triwizard Tournament. This time, though, his foe was far worse than a nesting dragon.
And isn't that something I never thought I'd be able to say?
The argument, he noticed out of the corner of his eye, was quickly devolving into a shoving match, which would become more physical even than that in a moment or two. They can't keep it up much longer without having to fight, and it would tip Malfoy off in a second that they're acting if they pulled their punches or didn't let them connect—we have to finish this quickly—
Movement from the way he had been facing brought his head snapping back around. Neck-first, an open wine bottle soared through the air like a broomstick for a house-elf, landing neatly in the hand Harry stretched out to catch it.
Now let there just be some left—
He shook the bottle slightly and breathed a sigh of relief. "Ginny," he hissed, turning to hurry back to her side. "Give me the bread."
"Here it is." Ginny laid a moist lump in his palm. "Harry, are you sure about this?"
"As much as I was about anything else in this past year." Harry poured the remainder of the wine over the bread, watching with satisfaction as the bits not already sodden with Ginny's tears turned a warm ruby red.
"Oh, so not at all. Good to know."
"Har-har," said Harry dryly, and levitated his small burden, looking across at Malfoy. Like his earlier spell, there would only be one chance for this.
Come on, he willed the other wizard, come on, laugh. Laugh. You've got to think this is funny—these people you've spent all this time hating, the ones you could never destroy by pulling them apart, and here they're doing it for you by being together—
Ron launched himself at Fox, and the two of them went down in a heap, yelling and rolling on the ground. The girls shrieked as one, Aletha dropped her face into her hands, Sirius groaned and ran his fingers through his hair, and outside the circle, Malfoy began to snicker.
That's right, laugh. Laugh at the way they're falling apart, the way everything they wanted is exploding in their faces. Harry edged a few paces nearer to Malfoy, willing it with all his might, feeling Ginny's strength joining his like a warm wind scented faintly with flowers. Laugh at how they're proving that everything they stand for is wrong, and you were right all the time. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh…
And Malfoy did.
At first the sound was low and hesitant, as though he were no longer sure how it was done, but slowly his chuckles gathered momentum, growing as they went. About forty-five seconds into the fight, when Ron drove his own knuckles into the ground in an attempt to smash in Fox's teeth, he guffawed outright for the first time, and from then on his battle was lost.
Good. Good. Now keep it up. Harry drew back his wand arm slowly, the dripping piece of bread floating at its tip. Just keep it up, keep it growing, until…
"Oh, stop it!" Hermione wailed, bursting into tears of her own as Fox got his hands around Ron's throat and Ron clawed at Fox's eyes. "Stop it, stop it, both of you, please!"
Malfoy doubled over with laughter at this, his arms folded across his stomach as though he feared his sides might literally split. His eyes gleamed bright when he lifted his head again, and Harry's spirits surged as a single shining drop slipped from the inside corner of the left one. Yes, yes, yes, come on—
The tear fell from Malfoy's pointed chin and was lost in the litter of the Forest floor.
That's one. Now for the rest.
Sirius and Aletha were finally getting the combatants under control, and Malfoy, pouting a bit at the curtailment of his fun, was dabbing fussily at his eyes with a kerchief. Harry waited, chewing on his lip as he studied his opponent. Not yet… not yet…
His hand was in motion before his mind could catch up with it. The tiny bit of bread, carrying its freight of water, wine, and salt, flew straight and true across the clearing and disappeared into Malfoy's mouth.
Direct hit! Harry kept his cheer firmly internal. Now as long as he doesn't choke on it—
Malfoy coughed once, blinking hard, but then cleared his throat and swallowed, shaking his head and straightening his robes. "Really, such bad manners you all have," he said chidingly, waggling his finger at the Pack. "It's rude to fight when someone's invited you to share a special occasion, didn't you know that?"
"So true," said Lupin, his image materializing beside Harry again. "Love? Ready to make it even more special than before?"
"Absolutely." Danger got to her feet in one swift, flowing movement and half-turned to brush her hand past Lupin's chest. Her fingers came away clutched around a tiny, glittering object, and she slid it onto her left hand, twisted it once, and strode towards Malfoy with purpose. He spotted her a split-second before her right hand shot out and clasped his robes, yanking him off-balance and cutting short any spell he might have been about to try to stop her approach.
"You selfish, spoiled, pathetic little waste," she said with biting precision, and brought her left hand around in a ringing slap, releasing his robes as she made contact.
"Ow!" Malfoy stumbled back several paces, his hand pressed to his cheek. "What are you doing—" His eyes widened as he lowered his hand, looking with horror at his fingers and the smears of red now spreading across them. "Stop—no!"
Danger dropped to her knees and slapped her hands flat on the ground, the diamond on the ring she had taken from Lupin and turned inward on her finger catching the light for one instant before it, and the blood it had drawn from Malfoy's face, were pressed into the earth.
And this is just about it for this story. One more chapter, or possibly two, to get everybody into forward-looking mode, and maybe introduce one or two more minor characters, just to make sure we've met everybody at least once… because remember, Legendbreakers is a 'verse of my own, and while not so much happens in that 'verse itself, it spawns a ton of stories… including every originalization of the DV that I've ever thought about.
Which leads me to a question. Which of these would you rather I write, oh readers? A more-or-less traditional, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, inspired by fairly late elements in the DV (late enough that some of them haven't even been introduced in mainverse yet!), or a contemporary, urban-style fantasy which has some strong similarities to Living with Danger? Or would you read both, if they were different enough that they didn't feel repetitive?
I'll ask the question again at the end of the story, but I thought I should get you thinking about it some. Let me know, and maybe toss a moment's appreciation or criticism for the chapter in there! Thanks so much for sticking with me, I do apologize for the VERY LONG WAITS on chapters for this, and Surpassing Danger is in the works, as is The Lion, the Snake, and the Safe Room!
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