Characters: Trio, Draco
Pairing: Peripheral Harry/Draco.
Warning(s): Violence, graphic imagery
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 9000 words
Summary: Some lies have to be told. So do some truths.
Notes: Originally written for a contest at hogwarts_elite (the prompt was to pick one or more made-up location from a list and write a fic about said location). I picked Keep of Falsehood and Spire of the Snake. First place winner.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
The Shadow Castle stands at the crossing of all the roads of the largest Isle. It was wrought of dark stone by enchantments older than light. Evil has ever dwelt there; some legends say that the Great Lord of the Dark himself built it. A giant carving of a snake coils around a spire atop the castle's keep. This snake was once the Greater Basilisk, who had given birth to the race of snakes. The spire is called the Spire of the Snake, Mother of Lies, and the tower it guards has ever been known as the Keep of Falsehood.
-- Magical Monuments and Their Origins
Dragonspawn, his faithless father will call him. His eyes will be like a pale thundercloud and snakes will writhe on his wrists. Four-score steps he will take through falsehood's fortress, and find the key to the Mother of Lies.
-- Curious Prophecies of the 19th Century
"I don't understand," said Ron, staring blankly at Hermione. "This tells us bog all. Dragonspawn? Maybe Charlie would know--"
"This isn't about a real dragon, Ron," said Hermione with an infinitely patient air. "It's about a person."
Ron narrowed his eyes. "How'd you work that out?"
"Dragons are named by their keepers, not their fathers. And they haven't got wrists," said Harry gloomily from his corner. His nose was itchy from all the dust in the old library beneath Flourish and Blotts, but the librarian had warned them not to sneeze. It would wake the resident ghoul and the library would have to close until the creature fell asleep again.
Ron turned to Hermione. "And this person will know how to call Nagini out of hiding no matter what You-Know-Who does?"
"Not exactly," said Hermione with a frown. "Whoever can unlock the secret of the Mother of Lies can call all the snakes in the entire country to the Keep."
Harry pictured a glistening sea of snakes roiling around the base of a tower, as far as the eye could see. He shuddered. "Why is it called the Mother of Lies?"
"I'm not sure," said Hermione. "I think it has something to do with serpents symbolising all that is false, but I would have to do more research." She cast a doleful glance at the tottering pile of books by her elbow. "Research we don't have time for."
"You're mad if you're suggesting we go to the Shadow Castle," said Ron. "That's like walking into a death trap."
Hermione crossed her arms and gave Ron a distinctly McGonagall-ish look. "Have you got a better idea on how to get Nagini away from Voldemort? Let's hear it then."
Ron pushed a stack of parchment aside and glared at her. "We haven't got this dragon bloke with us. We'd need him. We don't even know if he's been born yet!"
"Or maybe he's been dead for ages," said Harry, nodding.
Hermione gave an exasperated sigh. "We could at least try! Honestly, you two! We can't give up now that we're this close. Accio!"
A thick, leather-bound tome hurtled into Hermione's outstretched arms. The shelf it had come from wobbled dangerously; Harry held his breath. If that thing toppled over, the noise would surely wake the ghoul. They'd be kicked out of the library and lose their only source of research. The shelf stood firm, though. Harry exhaled and turned to Hermione, who was flipping pages furiously, sending more tiny clouds of dust into the air.
"Dragon names, dragon names..." she muttered. "Here. Abraxas... Ancalagon... Brinsop... Draco... Glaurung... Tiamat..."
"Abraxas," said Harry, who hadn't really been listening since she'd read it out. "That sounds familiar for some reason." He had a vague memory just tugging at the edges of his mind, something to do with cauldrons...
Ron looked at Harry as though he'd grown a second head. "Abraxas? Is that all that rings a bell? How about Draco, then? Know anyone named Draco, Harry?"
"Oh," said Harry. "D'you think it could be Malfoy?"
Ron was already shaking his head. "Too easy," he said. "Besides, he hasn't got any snakes on his wrists, has he?"
Harry shrugged. It wasn't as though he'd ever bothered to look at the great prat's wrists.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at the book of names. "You know, now that I think of it, 'mal foi' means 'bad faith' or 'ill faith' in French..."
Harry glanced at Curious Prophecies of the 19th Century, which still lay open in front of him. His faithless father... eyes a pale thundercloud... Though "thundercloud" was a bit generous, the signs did seem to point in Malfoy's direction, if not at Malfoy himself. "As for it being too easy," he said out loud, "I suppose you know where to find Malfoy, Ron?"
"I thought I told you it was dangerous for us to meet," said Snape. The expression on his face suggested he'd just eaten a whole lemon.
"This is important," said Harry. "I think we found a way to lure Nagini out, but we need Draco Malfoy to help us."
Snape snorted loudly. "And what makes you think that Draco will help you, impertinent boy?"
Harry gritted his teeth. "I don't care if he wants to, sir. I'm going to make him. If he's the one we're looking for, that is."
"If?" Snape's left eyebrow quirked. "You'd better tell me what this is about, Potter."
Harry quickly told him about the text of the prophecy and the legend of the Keep of Falsehood. Snape listened intently, and for once without interrupting, for which Harry supposed he should have felt grateful. When Harry finished talking, Snape turned away towards the grimy window. The street of Spinner's End looked just as unsavoury as it had a year ago, when Harry had come here to kill Snape.
"I killed Albus because he ordered me to do it. He was already dying a painful and agonising death, Potter. I can't fathom why it's any of your business, but one day, when all this is over, I shall tell you the story of why he trusted me when no one else would. It was his dying wish."
He shook off thoughts of the past. Even though Snape was loyal to the Order, Harry didn't hate the greasy old bat any less. But they had to work together, and Snape was his only way to Malfoy, as far as Harry could see.
Snape turned around to face him, leaning back against the windowsill. "Wormtail will be back in an hour and if you don't leave soon, the little rat will sniff you out. I'll tell you where to find Draco, but you must give me your word that no harm will come to him."
"You have my word," said Harry without thinking. As much as he disliked Malfoy, he wasn't going to throw him off any cliffs when Malfoy was his key to destroying the last Horcrux.
"Careful." Ron's voice was slightly distorted in the Stringless Extendable Ears Harry wore.
Harry tapped the Extendable Mouth on his jacket lapel, to indicate that he'd heard. He was crouched behind an arboretum hedge in the courtyard of Malfoy Manor -- a huge, sprawling mansion you could get lost in without a map. Dawn was just beginning to break and everything around had a grey cast to it.
"He's in the far end of the west wing," said Ron. "Hermione's cast a Heat-Seeking Charm. The only others in the house are three house-elves, but they're all the way down in the kitchen."
"Points of entry?" whispered Harry into the mouthpiece.
"Still looking," replied Ron. "You might need to fly up to the roof."
"He'll hear me walking," said Harry, shifting around. His legs were getting tired.
"Hermione says he's asleep."
Harry frowned. "Well, he'll wake up if someone lands on the roof."
"It's a chance you'll have to take. Here, I found it. You should be able to climb the northern wall -- the brickwork is uneven. There's a ledge... one level down. It'll lead you straight to a window. That's where he is. Let me know when it's safe to summon back your broom."
"Are you sure there are no other wards besides the ones we dissolved already?"
"Yeah," said Ron. "Lucius Malfoy's still in Azkaban and I doubt he's in any condition to maintain any enchantments he might've placed. Narcissa Malfoy isn't in the country. Lupin said she ran off to France, but Voldemort wouldn't let her take her son with her."
"Right. Accio Firebolt."
His broom zoomed out of the woods that Harry had left half an hour ago, and came to a hovering stop next to the hedge seconds later. Harry mounted the broom and flew quickly over the manor and landed on the flat roof covering the far end of the west wing.
"Broom's good to go," he said into the mouthpiece.
"Accio Harry's Firebolt," said Ron's voice, and the broomstick flew back into the woods.
Harry stowed his wand in his belt and tiptoed towards the northern wall. He peered over the edge and saw that the ledge Ron had spoken of wasn't too far down, but he'd have a fairly difficult time getting down to it -- though the bricks were uneven, they didn't stick out far enough to make a good grip. Harry began a slow descent off the corner, his heart pounding in his ears. It wasn't a terribly tall building, but a fall could break a leg or worse. He'd taken a Night Vision potion, but those were unreliable; it could run out in as much as three hours or as little as twenty minutes. He had to hurry.
Harry's fingers were soon slippery with sweat, which did nothing for his ability to stay calm. He emptied his mind of all but the thought of his feet touching the ledge. Once he did that, he'd be home free. Just a little further... There, that brick looked like it would make for a good grip... He couldn't help but expel a long, relieved sigh as soon as he felt the ledge with his right foot. Hugging the wall, he lowered himself to his feet.
"On the ledge," he whispered to Ron.
There was a tapping noise in his ears, indicating that Ron had heard him. Pressing himself flat against the wall, Harry tried to use the back of his left forearm to wipe sweat away from his forehead, but his glasses slid dangerously down his nose. Hastily, Harry took out his wand and siphoned the sweat off, pushing his glasses back up with another non-verbal spell. He crept along the ledge towards the window without further incident, and peered inside.
A lone candle burned on a low table near the far wall. Malfoy was asleep, fully dressed, on the large four-poster bed that occupied most of the room. Excellent.
"Alohomora," murmured Harry, and the window flew open. He climbed inside quickly, trying to make as little noise as possible. Hopefully, Malfoy was a heavy sleeper.
"Incarcerous," he said, pointing his wand at Malfoy, who didn't even wake up as the invisible bonds fell around his hands and feet. Harry thought for a moment and then conjured a blindfold as well.
"Got him," he whispered to Ron. "Can you summon him? The window's open."
"Accio Draco Malfoy," said Ron on the other end.
Malfoy's sleeping form rose off the bed and floated somewhat laboriously towards the window: the heavier an object was, the slower it moved when summoned. Harry waited until Malfoy was clear through before summoning his Firebolt again. He took one last look around the room and spotted Malfoy's wand on the bedside table, its polished surface flickering in the candlelight.
No need to chance Malfoy getting a hold of it somehow. Even though the Shadow Castle was too far from here for a Summoning Charm to work properly, it paid to be careful. Harry concealed Malfoy's wand in the lining of his jacket using a Sticking Charm, mounted his broom, and flew out.
Malfoy was still bound -- this time against a tree -- but awake and snarling.
"Release me this instant, and give me my wand. Can't you fight like a man, Weasley?"
Ron ignored him, his face lighting up at the sight of Harry. "Hiya, Harry. Nice work."
"Did you drop him on his head once or twice?" asked Harry.
"We might've," replied Ron, grinning.
"Potter," Malfoy spluttered, "What is the meaning of this? The Dark Lord--"
Harry cut him off. "Relax, Malfoy, we're not going to hurt you. We just need to see your wrists for a second."
Malfoy's face turned ghostly pale, even more so than usual. "W-w-what?" he stammered, and began to struggle uselessly against his bonds. "You have no right..."
Harry and Hermione exchanged looks. The corners of Hermione's mouth sneaked upwards in a small grin. "Protests too much, doesn't he?"
Harry dropped his Firebolt to the ground and walked over to kneel beside Malfoy.
"Don't touch me!" Malfoy yelled, trying to get away. He toppled to his side, the fingers of his bound hands trying to clench into fists.
Harry held Malfoy down as he bent closer to look at his hands. There, just beneath the crisscrossing lines that separated wrist from palm -- a row of tiny tattooed snakes. They coiled in place, chased their own tails, chased each other... The other wrist, too... Harry realised he was holding his breath.
"We were right," he said, helping Malfoy up and earning a glare for his troubles. "He's got a magical tattoo around both wrists."
"It's not a tattoo," said Malfoy, his voice shaky. "I was born with them. They used to be bigger when I was small."
Harry looked at Hermione, who shrugged. "It's probably some sort of reaction to all the in-breeding," she said distractedly.
"Oh, look at the high and mighty Mudblood, pretending to be so pure when she's just as bigoted as the rest of us," Malfoy hissed.
"I would punch you for that if you weren't tied up," said Harry. "Don't push me."
"Are you saying it's okay for her to make remarks about my lineage--"
"She says it in an academic sense. You say it because you hate her kind," said Ron. "Big difference. And if Harry doesn't punch you, I will."
Hermione interrupted them. "It's ready. Get your things, you lot, before the illegal Portkey is detected."
"Are you just going to leave me here?" whined Malfoy. "At least let me get my wand!"
"Actually, you're coming with us," said Harry. "And your wand's right here." He tapped his jacket's side.
"I'm coming with--"
Harry shouldered his Firebolt and grabbed his rucksack off the pine needle-strewn ground. "Do it, Hermione," he said.
Hermione pressed the Portkey -- a rusty teakettle -- into Malfoy's still-bound hands. Ron and Harry grabbed it as well, and moments later the four of them were lying in a vast, dawn-lit clearing. In front of them loomed the Shadow Castle's imposing, forbidding form -- all dark stone walls and shadowed battlements. Heavy iron gates stood open like a gaping mouth. Beyond the gates, there was nothing but darkness. An eerie, heavy silence hung over the valley; no birds sang from the gloomy forest that surrounded it.
"No," said Malfoy immediately. "You can't make me."
Harry grinned nastily. "Scared, Malfoy?"
Malfoy scoffed. "Of the Shadow Castle? You'd have to be mad not to be!"
"He's got a point there," muttered Ron.
"You know why we've brought you here, don't you?" asked Hermione, looking at Malfoy. "You know about the prophecy."
Malfoy said nothing.
Harry handed his rucksack to Ron, who hoisted it over his shoulder. "Look," Harry said, turning to Malfoy. "You're going to go inside that Keep whether you like it or not. I'll drag you across the threshold myself if I have to."
Malfoy smiled suddenly, in a way that Harry didn't like at all. "You try it, Potter. Try it and see what happens."
"What will happen?" asked Ron.
"He's bluffing," said Harry, trying to sound as certain as possible. In truth, he had no idea what would happen. This was a cursed, dark place -- he could feel the shadows reaching out for him, stretching out to slither beneath his skin. "Take the brooms up to the top of the Keep. Me and Malfoy are going to have a little talk," he said to his friends.
Ron and Hermione complied; soon Harry and Malfoy were alone in the clearing. Harry's Firebolt flew upwards a moment later; Ron or Hermione must've summoned it from the roof. Malfoy sat on the damp grass, his head bowed, leaning backwards on his bound hands.
"Malfoy," said Harry. "I was up in the Astronomy Tower when Dumbledore died. I know you're not really like the rest of them. I don't like you, but I don't want to hurt you. I can help you."
"Help me? By making me walk through the Keep of Falsehood? Thanks, but you can keep that sort of help to yourself."
"I'll go with you," said Harry. "I'll help you. And anyway, you have to do it. It's in the prophecy."
"Not every prophecy needs to be fulfilled," said Malfoy.
"This one does."
"You can't possibly think you'll win the war, Potter," said Malfoy. "The Dark Lord--"
"Fuck the Dark Lord. You have no idea how close I am to destroying him, Malfoy. You've got five minutes. If you don't do it yourself, I'll throw you into the Keep, bound as you are."
Harry turned away and watched the sun, which was beginning to edge its way upwards across the horizon. It painted the sky in gold and scarlet, filling Harry's heart with hope. He was so close. So close. If only...
"All right, I'll do it," said Malfoy. "Take the Binding Charm off me."
Harry did. Malfoy rubbed at his right ankle and stood up, somewhat unsteadily. The two of them headed through the iron gates. As soon as they passed into the castle's bounds, it was as though night had fallen all over again. Harry turned around, but he couldn't see the sun anymore.
The two boys walked towards the Keep of Falsehood, the tallest central tower. The cobblestones beneath their feet were stained with streaks of scarlet and swamp green, and their footsteps echoed in the walls, coming back at them as distant shrieks and moans.
The wooden door to the Keep was shut. Harry, who was walking in front, pulled on the enormous ring in the centre, but the door didn't budge.
Malfoy pushed Harry out of the way and pulled on the ring. The door came open immediately without so much as a rusty creak. Right, the Prophecy. As Malfoy stepped across the threshold, there was a groaning sound somewhere deep beneath the earth -- he has come.
Harry followed Malfoy through the door, and then the strangest thing happened. There was a bright, blinding flash of emerald light and suddenly Harry wasn't in the Keep of Falsehood anymore; he was in a low-ceilinged room with two large, oval windows. A hammock was stung up near the back wall and Harry jumped as he brushed against it.
"Malfoy?" he called. "What's happening?"
"Potter, you idiot," came Malfoy's voice from all around him. "Don't tell me you didn't know this would happen."
"What would happen?"
"No one but the Chosen can enter the Keep of Falsehood. Anyone not Chosen by prophecy will be forced to travel in the mind of the Chosen. You're inside my bloody head. How perfectly fitting that you didn't know this. Help me any way you can, indeed."
Harry walked up to the oval windows and realised he was seeing the world through the eyes of Draco Malfoy. Surprisingly, nothing looked any different, except Malfoy's vision was much clearer than Harry's. The bowels of the Keep of Falsehood were dark and dreary, a maze of gloomy corridors with green-flame torches lining the walls at regular intervals. Slime oozed perpetually down every vertical surface and the floor was littered with bones of various sizes.
"Am I, uh, stuck here forever?" asked Harry with a twinge of panic.
"Once I hold the Key to the Spire, you'll come free. Your body," --the world spun as Malfoy turned around, and Harry saw himself standing, blank-eyed and motionless, near the entrance to the Keep-- "will follow me like an Inferius would, until I get the Key or die."
"And if you die?"
"Then you die."
"Sounds reasonable to me," muttered Harry. He wanted to kick himself. Why had he rushed into this? Why couldn't he just have sent Malfoy in alone? Sighing, he climbed up into the hammock and put his feet up.
"Hey, that's mine," complained Malfoy. "Besides, I need you to see what I see."
Sighing, Harry climbed down and walked back to Malfoy's right eye. He sat down on the floor. "Well, the prophecy says you've got to take eighty steps through the Keep. Sounds easy enough. Four score, that means eighty," he said.
"No, it means four groups of twenty," Malfoy's voice echoed.
"Like there's a difference."
"In this place, it'll likely mean the difference between life and death. Now shut up. I can't hear myself think."
Something fiery appeared in the lower periphery of Malfoy's vision and he looked down. There was a flaming arrow on the floor in front of his feet, pointing north.
"Hear a song, see the sky, tell a truth, tell a lie."
The words were spoken in a high, cold voice that reminded Harry of Voldemort.
"Did you say that?" he demanded.
"Say what? I heard hissing noises."
Oh. "This is where you'll need me then," said Harry. "Bloody castle's speaking Parseltongue to you. It just told you to hear a song, see the sky, tell a truth, and tell a lie. Biggest load of rubbish I've ever heard, if you ask me."
Malfoy said nothing, but began to walk in the direction of the flaming arrow. He took five steps and suddenly the scenery changed.
"This is the place of things that might have been," the cold hiss informed them. Harry translated for Malfoy, who made no reply. He kept his gaze fixed on an expanse of white that began to materialise around them, like a tent or a shroud. The vision became more and more complex until they were looking at a nursery. A tall, blonde woman was bent over a cradle in the middle of the room.
"Mother," breathed Malfoy.
The woman was singing.
Sweet dreams form a shade
O'er my lovely infant's head.
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams,
By happy silent moony beams
Sweet sleep with soft down,
Weave thy brows an infant crown.
Sweet sleep Angel mild,
Hover o'er my happy child.
Malfoy took a few steps closer and bent over to look into the cradle. Inside lay a fat little infant with pink cheeks and soft whorls of blond hair on his forehead. The image froze, like someone pausing a video.
"Five steps, Malfoy. You just took five steps," Harry said.
Why hadn't he told him to stop? The vision flickered a bit, resumed. The woman was no longer singing; she was bending close to the cradle and smiling at the baby Malfoy. Who was sort of cute, in a really annoying way. Narcissa lifted the baby's chubby hand and smiled at the snakes dancing on the wrist. She kissed the spot just where the palm began.
There was a growl somewhere -- in the Keep or in the vision, Harry couldn't tell -- and then the snakes on infant Malfoy's wrist began jumping off and slithering up Narcissa's cheeks, quick as lightning, until her entire face was covered with them. They reared and struck as one; Narcissa began to scream as blood sprayed everywhere, splattering her white-blond hair and the infant Malfoy's swaddling cloths. The baby was gurgling happily and raising his tiny arms to his mother as she lifted her hands to her face, screaming in a horrible, inhuman way. More and more snakes leapt off the baby's hands, covering Narcissa in a second skin that lived and writhed, sending rivulets of blood running down her robes.
Narcissa's hand fell away from her face and Harry flinched at the pale blue eyes staring at him from a skinless face oozing blood and pus. The image froze and his vision blurred -- no, not his vision. Malfoy's. He could feel Malfoy shaking as his eyes filled with tears.
"It's not real," Harry said quickly. "It's not real, Malfoy, it's just a test, a lie. You know this didn't happen. Keep walking. Go on."
Malfoy took a hesitant step forward, past the frozen statue of his disfigured mother. He was still shaking. After four more steps, the apparition faded and was immediately replaced by a different one. Harry recognised Malfoy Manor -- it was burning, the fire sending great showers of sparks into the dark sky, where the Dark Mark grinned down at the carnage. Lucius Malfoy ran out of the house just as one of the beams gave way and the entrance collapsed behind him. Lucius's long hair was a hopeless tangle; his face was pale and streaked with soot, eyes wild. He was looking around with raw panic on his face, a squalling bundle clutched tightly in his arms.
Somewhere behind the woods, Narcissa's voice was singing a different song:
Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby:
Rock them, a lulla, lullaby.
Care is heavy, therefore sleep you;
You are care, and care must keep you.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby:
Rock them, a lulla, lullaby.
With a whisper of the wind in the treetops, Narcissa emerged from the woods to Lucius's left. Only it wasn't Narcissa Malfoy, not really. Her hair was blond, all right, but her eyes were white-grey blanks with no pupils at all. Her face wasn't a mess of raw flesh anymore, but the skin was peeling off in chunks, revealing white-and-green, rotting flesh with swarms of maggots underneath.
"Inferius," breathed Malfoy. Harry didn't think he was aware of what he was saying. Not that Harry could blame him, really: he was about to throw up, but he wasn't sure what would happen if he did that up here.
The Inferius Narcissa began to approach Lucius and the baby. Lucius fumbled in his pocket and managed to take out his wand, but his hand was shaking so badly that he dropped the wand into the melting snow.
"Please, not Draco," Lucius begged, in a voice that Harry had never heard the real Lucius Malfoy use. "You wouldn't hurt him, he was your son!"
Hoarse laughter floated across the clearing, and then the image froze and began to fade slowly. Harry was plunged into darkness as Malfoy shut his eyes.
"It's okay, Malfoy," said Harry soothingly. "They're like bad dreams."
"Easy for you to say," muttered Malfoy. "They're not your parents."
"I've seen my parents die in my dreams more often than you can imagine, Malfoy. The crucial difference is that my parents are actually dead. Yours aren't."
There was a pause. Then a quiet, whispered, "Sorry."
"Just keep walking," said Harry, but he felt a part of himself thaw.
They took five more steps when the cold voice hissed, "This is the place of things that were."
Harry translated. They stood still for a while, but nothing seemed to be happening.
"I think I'll keep walking, then," said Malfoy.
He had taken ten paces when the scenery began to change again -- an endless, blue sky.
Harry remembered the words when they'd first arrived. Hear a song, see the sky...
A tiny figure zoomed into view -- a blond boy on a toy broomstick, laughing in a way only children understand. "Look, Daddy, I'm a dragon, I'm flying!" he cried to someone Harry couldn't see.
"That was the happiest day of my life," said Malfoy. "My first time on a broomstick."
"That was up there with the happiest for me, too," said Harry distractedly. He could still hear the child Malfoy's laughter in his ears as the vision faded.
"Is there any sort of pattern to this place?" grumbled Malfoy as he began to walk again. Their path took them five paces through a sloping corridor, and then five more paces into a huge throne room with snakes carved into the walls.
"This is the place of things that are."
Voldemort's gaunt, pale figure materialised in front of them. "Tell me, Draco," he said in a crooning voice. "Are you loyal to your Dark Lord?"
"The truth," said Harry, suddenly understanding. "You've heard a song and seen the sky. You've got to tell the truth now."
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that," said Voldemort, his tone slightly mocking. "What did you say?"
"No," said Malfoy clearly. "I don't believe in you anymore, and I hate what you stand for. I only fight for you because I have no other choice."
In his prison, Harry gaped. "What did you say?"
Voldemort was taking out his wand. Malfoy took five more paces, but the scene didn't change. "I told the truth!" whispered Malfoy. "It's true, I didn't lie, why won't he go away?"
Voldemort raised his wand and pointed it at Malfoy. "Avada--"
"Say it to me!" Harry shouted. "Tell me the truth!"
Malfoy closed his eyes, throwing Harry into darkness again. "I've changed my mind about being a Death Eater! I don't want to fight for the Dark Lord anymore!" He opened his eyes, and sighed. "I just don't know what else to do."
The green spark at the tip of Voldemort's wand faded away with the rest of the vision.
Malfoy exhaled deeply. "How did you know that would work?"
"He wasn't real, he wasn't here," said Harry. "It's not the truth unless someone can hear it. Is it?"
There was a short silence. "I suppose," Malfoy said.
Harry heard the crying of seagulls and the splashing of water from further up ahead. For twenty paces they walked before they reached a long wooden pier that stretched out over a seemingly endless blue expanse of water.
"This is the place of things that will be."
"Fifteen paces left," said Harry. "We're almost there."
Malfoy walked -- five, ten, fifteen. Two men materialised on the edge of the pier. They were sitting with their backs to Harry and Malfoy, but Harry could see who they were as they looked at each other whilst talking.
It was the two of them -- Harry and Malfoy -- slightly older, broader in the shoulders, but unmistakable. They looked... comfortable, as though there had never been any hatred or resentment between them. Vision-Malfoy pointed to a speck out at sea and said something. Vision-Harry laughed, stealing a sidelong look at Vision-Malfoy. The sun shone bright above them; children shouted somewhere out of sight and the soft splashing of the water was soothing.
"So what are you going to do now?" asked Vision-Harry.
"Dunno," said Vision-Malfoy. "Travel, maybe. Go someplace warm, you know?"
"This not warm enough for you, then?"
"Summer will be over in a month, and then what will I do? No, I need to get away from here."
Vision-Harry turned his head sideways and gave Vision-Malfoy a long look. "You plan on coming back?"
Vision-Malfoy looked over at him and smirked ruefully. "To what?"
"To this," said Vision-Harry, took Vision-Malfoy's head in his hands, leant forward and kissed him deeply.
Harry's eyes widened, more at the tiny jolt of pleasure at the base of his spine than at the vision.
Malfoy was shaking his head frantically. "No, no, stop it, I don't want to see this, I--"
They were thrown from the sunlit pier into a small cavern, where a green jewel shaped like a serpent glowed atop a plinth. A spiral staircase rose out of the ground behind the plinth, and Harry could see light shining down into the cavern.
Malfoy landed face first, throwing his arms out to brace his fall. He clambered up to his feet and ran to the plinth, seizing the jewel.
Harry suddenly found that he was standing behind Malfoy, rather than behind Malfoy's eyes. He was himself again. His own body was no worse for the wear, even if his trainers were stained with something disgustingly slimy.
Malfoy was shaking his head and muttering, "No," over and over. He turned around and Harry saw tear-streaks on his face.
...tell a lie.
They were through the Keep; Malfoy held the Key in his hand. What was the lie he had told? That he didn't want to see himself being kissed by Harry? But if that was a lie, then the truth was that he did want to see it, didn't he? Harry shut his eyes. All he saw was the sun shining down on Malfoy's pale hair and his own fingers tangled in it. If that had really been the future, and not another one of the Keep's lies, what did that mean for Harry and Ginny...?
"I think we'd better go," Malfoy said in a strangled voice.
Harry nodded, looking away, feeling a faint flush creep up his face.
They climbed the staircase up to the roof, where Ron and Hermione were huddled together next to the Spire of the Snake. Ron was pointing at the Foe-Glass they'd got from Moody and saying something in an undertone. The broomsticks lay next to them, along with the rest of the trio's gear.
"Harry!" cried Hermione. "Thank goodness you're all right."
Harry turned around to help Malfoy up, but Malfoy flinched away from him. Shrugging, Harry stood aside and let him pass.
The sun was higher above them now -- they must have spent at least three hours down in the Keep. The scales on the carving of the Mother of Lies glistened in the bright light, but the walls beneath the Keep were dark as ever, dire shadows lurking in every corner. It was as though sunlight was forbidden from entering this place, as though the Spire of the Snake absorbed the light's force into itself to power whatever unnatural magic made the visions in the Keep of Falsehood seem so real.
"We've got it," said Harry. "We've got the Key. Show them, Malfoy."
Malfoy took the green stone out of his pocket and held it out. It was even more beautiful in the light: it sparkled with every sunbeam hitting its surface. The inside of the stone glowed with a dark inner light that held an almost primal allure: Harry never wanted to look away from it.
"We found where it goes," said Hermione, pointing at an indentation in the great snake's tail. "Same shape, I reckon."
Harry wrenched his gaze from the Key and looked at Malfoy.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow, looking at Harry. "It's your party," he said.
"Do it," said Harry.
Malfoy took a hesitant step forwards and slowly lowered the Key into the indentation. A low-pitched humming noise emanated from the walls of the castle. The roof beneath Harry's feet shook as though in an earthquake. Abruptly, both the sound and the shaking stopped, giving way to the sort of silence that only happens before a lightning strike.
Harry held his breath.
Malfoy let out a horrible scream and his entire body went visibly rigid. His eyes rolled back but didn't close, and Harry shivered: Malfoy's eyes were completely white, as though he'd become an Inferius like Narcissa in the vision...
The massive jaws of the Mother of Lies opened with a great groan. When it spoke, the sound was so loud that Harry had to cover his ears with his hands. Still, he heard it -- the call of the great stone snake: a harsh, low-pitched shriek that rattled Harry's teeth and reverberated in his bones.
Come to me. Now.
The great stone mouth snapped shut, but the terrible noise still echoed in the hollows of the castle walls around them. Malfoy slumped forward over the Key and let out a weak groan.
"Did it work?" shouted Ron, his hands also covering his ears.
Harry nodded. "It said 'come to me, now', so I reckon it worked."
"Now what?" asked Malfoy, who seemed to have regained his composure in the meantime. "Are you going to throw me off the tower?"
"We'll wait for the snakes to get here first," said Ron without even looking at Malfoy.
Harry felt a surge of protective anger somewhere deep, and blurted, "Leave it, Ron."
Malfoy's expression betrayed surprise so pure and heartbreaking -- like he'd never had anyone defend him before, not like this -- that Harry almost didn't regret being rude to his best friend. Almost. "Look, let's not argue," he said, somewhat lamely.
Ron pursed his lips. "Who was arguing?"
"I just-- he helped us, okay? You weren't there."
"So we're supposed to start being nice to him because we made him do something for us?"
"It would be fine if we didn't go out of our way to be nasty," countered Harry, frowning.
"D'you always do everything as a unit?" asked Malfoy, the customary snide tones creeping back into his voice. "If Weasley wants to take the piss, let him. It's not like I'll sit here and take it."
Ron cocked his head to one side. "And just what are you going to do? Throw me off the tower?"
"I'll throw all three of you off the tower if you don't shut up," said Hermione, her tone uncharacteristically mild. "What I wish I'd researched is how fast snakes move. We could be here for weeks."
"We don't need to wait for all of them," said Harry, grateful for the change of topic. "Nagini's the one we want, and she moves quickly enough."
The snakes began arriving almost immediately, and the deluge became greater as night approached. Nagini was nowhere in sight. Harry wondered if Voldemort would try to keep her from leaving. Would he know what happened? Shit. Maybe Voldemort would have heard the Spire's call, too. He did speak Parseltongue... but the book said that the Mother of Lies called snakes... Voldemort, while capable of speaking the language, wasn't an actual snake...
Hermione managed to get her WWN device to broadcast some Muggle radio station, which was abuzz with strange news: the reptiles at every zoo in the country seemed to have gone mad; they were constantly throwing themselves at the walls of their cages. Many wildlife parks were putting out alerts that rare and dangerous snakes were missing and presumed to have gone into the wild. The call was working, but in whose favour? Harry could only hope that Voldemort wouldn't stoop so low as to follow Muggle news...
In the cobblestone-paved courtyard beneath the Keep, the swarm of snakes grew larger with each day. Most snakes native to England were harmless, with the possible exception of adders, but those were going extinct anyway. Soon, the courtyard's stones were invisible beneath a swirling mass of brown, black, green and grey. Harry listened to them exchange curious remarks -- what'sss thisss, why have we been called to thisss cassstle? Hasss the Great Mother awoken at lassst? -- and lamenting the lack of food. The snakes appeared unaware of the four humans camped out above them. Harry hoped this would remain so; he had no interest in becoming an escaped boa constrictor's dinner.
Nagini appeared on the third day. The diamond pattern on her tail was unmistakable in Harry's Omnioculars.
"She's here," he said to the others.
Malfoy and Hermione, who had been arguing quietly about some interpretation of a rune, turned to him. Ron hastily swallowed his last sandwich bite.
"We haven't got much time," said Harry, drawing his wand.
"Why not?" asked Malfoy.
Ron, Hermione and Harry exchanged looks. Harry shrugged. It wouldn't hurt them anymore if someone knew. They had all but won. "Voldemort made several Horcruxes for himself. We've destroyed them all, except for Nagini."
Malfoy frowned. "Horcruxes? What are those?"
"Pieces of his soul encased in objects -- really old Dark magic. Surprised you haven't heard of them," said Hermione.
Malfoy gave her a peevish look. "I might have," he said. "I probably just forgot about them."
"With each destroyed Horcrux, the link between Voldemort and the remaining Horcruxes became stronger. He could feel us destroying every one. Nagini's the last one, so the link is extraordinarily strong," said Hermione, and paused to catch her breath.
"Once he works out where she is, he can Apparate straight to her side," Harry finished for her. "If we don't destroy her as soon as possible..." He trailed off, trying to judge the distance between himself and the great snake, which seemed to sense the danger it was in. Instead of coming into the castle courtyard, she stopped on a low hill near the gates. "We're too far," said Harry. "I won't be able to kill her from up here."
"Take one of the brooms," Ron suggested.
Harry shook his head. "What if Voldemort shows up? I'm sure he'd love to make sure I fell into that snake pit..."
"I'll do it," said Ron. "You don't have to destroy every Horcrux personally -- I got the cup, didn't I?" He started to walk towards the brooms.
"I think I could make the Spire do it," said Malfoy in a voice so soft it was almost a whisper. "But you'd have to Speak through me, as my Parseltongue's rusty."
Harry turned to him. "Speak through you? What do you mean?"
"The Speaker Spell. It's an early variant of the Imperius curse... lets you control the other person as though you were speaking with their mouth."
"What makes you think the Spire will listen?" asked Ron with a suspicious glance at Malfoy.
"Did you seriously think that all the Key does is issue an order for all the snakes to show up? This is a weapon, you idiot. It just needs a Parselmouth to really work."
"Some weapon," muttered Ron. "Smooth snakes and grass snakes and adders, oh my."
"There's strength in numbers," Hermione pointed out. "Besides, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few magical snakes down there. Some people keep them illegally..."
Harry tuned them out as he studied Malfoy. "You knew it was a weapon, didn't you?"
Malfoy nodded, looking down. "I didn't want to tell you. At first."
"Back there," --Harry nodded at the roof beneath their feet-- "you weren't lying when you said--"
"Not here, Potter," said Malfoy with an edge of panic in his voice.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I mean the thing about Voldemort."
There was a pause, and then Malfoy gave a slight nod. "Yeah. It had to be the truth, didn't it?"
"How do you do the Speaker Spell?"
"Just point your wand at me and say, Intonare."
Harry did. For a moment, he felt like he was in two places at once -- crouching next to the roof's edge and standing with his hand on the emerald Key at the foot of the Mother of Lies. The feeling abated, and he was just Harry again.
"I don't think it worked," said Harry, but he didn't hear his own voice. Instead, he heard his words echoed at him from Malfoy.
"It did," said Hermione. "Fascinating."
"Yeah, absolutely enthralling, but we're about to have company," said Ron, pointing to the Foe-Glass. Shadowy figures loomed closer and closer in the dusky murk within.
"Shit," said Harry through Malfoy. "Malfoy, can you hear me?"
"I need you to focus on Nagini for me. Can you see her?"
Another nod, and Malfoy turned his head to stare down at the hill where Nagini was still coiled around herself, head raised towards the Spire of the Snake.
Here goes nothing, thought Harry. With so many snakes at the foot of the tower, he had no trouble speaking Parseltongue. "Kill the one on the hill," he -- Malfoy -- said out loud.
The stone carving on the spire creaked its jaws open again and repeated the command. Below, Nagini's head jerked from side to side in apparent confusion.
A great hiss rose from beneath the tower: "we obey, Great Mother." The green-brown-black mass started to move, silent and deadly. Before any of the other snakes could reach Nagini, however, she gave a long, anguished "I obey, Great Mother", and clamped her own jaws around her midsection.
"Wow," breathed Ron beside Harry. He was clutching his Omnioculars so tightly that his knuckles were white. "Can she do that? I mean -- would her own venom hurt her?"
"Dunno," said Harry, watching in repulsed fascination as Nagini ripped a bloody, ragged chunk out of herself and threw it aside.
"Doubt it," said Hermione, her voice strained. "She'll likely die of blood loss, though. This is horrible."
The other snakes reached the hill and swarmed all over Nagini until all Harry could see was a seething chaos of earth-tone colours.
"It is done," came a collective hiss that seemed to echo all around the valley. It was interrupted by a series of cracks, like ripping fabric.
Voldemort had arrived.
"He's human now," said Harry, feeling dazed, barely noticing that he was hearing himself speak in Malfoy's voice. "He can be killed..."
"HARRY, WATCH OUT!"
Ron tackled him to the ground as a jet of red light whizzed past harmlessly.
"There's about a dozen Death Eaters with him!" called Hermione, who had ducked behind the Spire of the Snake. "They're surrounding the Keep!"
Panting harshly, Harry looked at Malfoy. "Kill the humans below the keep," he said in Parseltongue. Malfoy's eyes widened as he spoke Harry's words. The Mother's hiss roared through the air and Malfoy slumped to the ground, releasing the Key. He looked miserable.
There was shouting coming from below, and the sounds of Stunning Spells and various curses being shouted. Forgetting about Malfoy, Harry crept closer to the edge of the roof and chanced a peek. The Death Eaters were fighting the snakes off, but they were outnumbered -- even now, more and more snakes issued out of the surrounding woods, invisible in the tall grass until they leapt out at the humans.
Harry searched for Voldemort's tall, gaunt figure and saw him struggling with... a boa constrictor? He scrambled for the Omnioculars around his neck. A memory came to him, unbidden: "Thanksssss, amigo". That snake he'd freed from the zoo eight years ago had never made it to Brazil, after all.
Harry kept the Omnioculars trained on Voldemort and the snake. Voldemort's wand lay discarded on the courtyard's cobblestones. His long, pale fingers kept trying to keep the boa constrictor from closing around his neck, but without magic, Voldemort was useless and weak. The realisation hit Harry so strongly that he had to check himself for a second.
This was the man he had feared so much for years? This frail, pathetic creature who could've escaped this gruesome fate if only he'd bothered to nurture his humanity instead of wanting to destroy everything that was kind and good in the world -- all because he'd refused to see that magic was the only difference between Muggles and wizards. And magic itself wasn't enough to claim any sort of superiority -- not when wizards became defenceless without magic.
Voldemort gave a last, gasping cry and his fingers gave out, or snapped, under the crushing pressure of the boa constrictor's weight. His pale face became even whiter, and then a faint tinge of blue-purple spread all across his skin, starting at the bulging veins in his temples.
Somehow it seemed fitting that Voldemort should be destroyed by one of the very creatures he considered above humans, if his kinship with Nagini was any indication. Not even his loyal followers could help him: they were overwhelmed. The serpents kept striking out, heedless of injuries and the flying curses. The courtyard was ringing with the Death Eaters' shouts and the attacking snakes' hisses. Harry couldn't make out any words, but he felt the energy behind them: the snakes were winning.
In the centre of the courtyard, the self-styled Lord Voldemort, formerly Tom Marvolo Riddle and the last descendant of Salazar Slytherin, quietly expired. There were no more Horcruxes to hold pieces of his broken soul, no more tricks up his sleeve, nothing. The boa constrictor slithered away from the corpse, towards a cloaked Death Eater fighting off half a dozen adders.
"My Lord!" someone shrieked.
Harry swung the Omnioculars around and saw Bellatrix Lestrange rushing towards her fallen master. A dead smooth snake dangled from her neck, its harmless fangs still lodged in the skin. Bellatrix fell to her knees beside Voldemort's dead body and let out an inhuman wail.
The sound of it startled Harry out of the dazed stupor he'd been in ever since he began to watch Voldemort die. They shouldn't get off so easily, the thought with a sudden vindictiveness. Besides, if the snakes were allowed to kill all of these Death Eaters, the others would be able to run, and Harry wasn't about to let that happen.
"Malfoy, take the Key!" he yelled, turning around. Malfoy rose and clutched the green stone with both hands.
"Stop," Harry said to the snakes. "Restrain the humans, don't kill them." He rose to his feet, letting the Omnioculars fall back down. The string that held them strained but held.
"If we're going to go down there," said Ron," maybe you should tell the snakes not to touch us."
Harry realised he was right. If they were to go down to the courtyard, the snakes would treat them just the same as any other humans. "Ignore the three young humans who will come from the sky," he said.
Ron shuddered. "I hate it when you do that, mate. It's even creepier when it's you opening your mouth and Malfoy doing the hissing." He pushed past Harry and headed towards the brooms that lay in a heap next to the Spire.
Hermione joined him, but before picking up her broom, she turned to Malfoy. "Don't you feel lucky that your dad's still in Azkaban?" she asked in an undertone.
Malfoy glared at her, but said nothing. Harry supposed he had to be grateful -- otherwise he may have been responsible for his own father's death, in a way. Did that mean he'd be grateful to Harry for putting Lucius in prison in the first place? Harry smirked. Not bloody likely. Malfoy probably didn't know the meaning of gratitude.
"You stay here," he said to Malfoy, watching his lips move in sync with his own. "And hold the Key, just in case."
Malfoy nodded, looking away. Harry had the uncharitable thought that Malfoy was so much more agreeable when someone else was doing all the talking for him.
Ron, Hermione and Harry mounted their brooms and descended to the courtyard, which was still teeming with snakes.
"They won't hurt you," said Harry unnecessarily. It was obvious that the snakes were wholly concerned with keeping the remaining Death Eaters from moving -- Bellatrix looked like a grotesque bas relief beneath glistening coils of green, brown and grey around her arms and legs. Her face contorted in pure loathing, she followed the trio with her bright, mad eyes.
"You will pay," she spat. "You'll pay for this, Potter."
Harry ignored her. They gagged the remaining Death Eaters -- only four of them -- and bound them back to back beside Voldemort's corpse. Then Harry, who was still Speaking through Malfoy's connection to the Mother of Lies, commanded the snakes to go back where they came from. Harry asked Malfoy to come near the edge of the roof and ended the Speaker Spell, glad to be able to use his own voice again.
"Now what?" asked Hermione, eyeing Amycus warily. He bared his teeth at her.
"We wait," said Harry. "I've sent my Patronus with a message to Lupin. He'll know what to do."
The boa constrictor that had suffocated Voldemort was moving past them at that moment.
"Hi," said Harry. The boa constrictor stopped and turned its beady eyes on him.
"You sssmell familiar. I know you from sssomewhere," said the snake, swishing its tail back and forth.
"Yeah. I was the one who made the glass at the zoo disappear."
"The zoo? Oh, I remember. Ssstinky place. They fed me ratsss. I hate ratsss, they tassste like rubbisssh. Thanksss again."
"Well, we're even now. You killed my enemy," said Harry.
"Ssss. He tried to beg for hisss life," said the boa constrictor. "How many of you humansss ssspeak our language, anyway?"
"Not many," said Harry. "It's a rare gift."
"The human who found me ssspeaksss it too. He hasss one of thossse sssticksss you ussse. Ssspeaking of which, I ssshould be getting back. My human will be worried. Farewell."
With a wave of its tail, the boa constrictor slithered quickly across the courtyard, through a crack in the castle wall and into the grass beyond. Harry stared after it, smiling a little. For the first time in his life, he knew what it felt like to meet an old friend after many years.
Malfoy was sentenced to a year in Azkaban for conspiracy to commit murder and overthrow the government. It would have been five years, but Snape's testimony about threats against Malfoy's family and Harry's account of the events in the Shadow Castle were taken into consideration by the Wizengamot.
Harry often thought about the vision of Malfoy's future he had seen in the Keep of Falsehood, but with time, the memory faded. Eventually, it was just a hazy thought about sunshine in blond hair and the gentle sound of waves. When the kiss on the pier actually happened six years later, Harry was half-surprised by it.
But that's a story for another day.
The first lullaby is an excerpt from Cradle Song (Songs of Innocence) by William Blake. The second lullaby is Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes by Thomas Dekker.