Thicker than Blood
- Story Summary:
- It is Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts, and Voldemort has returned to full power. The Death Eaters lay siege to the castle, trapping everyone inside. Draco is injured, Harry gets roped into saving his life, Crabbe shows unexpected resourcefulness, Dumbledore gets his way (as usual), and life is complicated for Harry. But then, life is always complicated for Harry, and adolescence only makes it worse.
Chapter 6: Parley
Albus Dumbledore stood at the top of the wide, stone steps, framed by the open doors of Hogwarts castle. He had his wand thrust through his belt, and while he carried no other weapon or symbol of authority, power sat upon his shoulders like a glittering cloak. His face, usually so cheerful and prone to smiles, was set in uncompromising lines and the blue eyes gazing through his half-moon spectacles were grave.
He watched as five tall, sinister figures, all cloaked and hooded in black, came up the graveled drive from the gates. Four of them were Dementors, and it was a testament to Dumbledore's unassailable strength that he neither quailed before them nor reached for his wand to protect himself. He had no need of Patronus Charms to withstand their malice. The Dementors halted a few paces back from the steps and ranged themselves in a loose crescent.
The fifth figure continued forward until his black cloak brushed the lowest step, then he halted. He lifted his head to gaze up at the Headmaster from the deep shadows of his hood and spoke in a harsh, cold voice. "I come, in the name of Lord Voldemort, to treat with you, Albus Dumbledore."
"To what purpose?"
"To protect innocent lives."
"That is not Voldemort's way, nor would I trust any bargain made in his name," Dumbledore answered. "Speak in your own name, Lucius, and perhaps we will have something to discuss."
The Death Eater stared up at him for a moment, then lifted gloved hands to push back his hood. He had long, immaculate, silver-gilt hair tied at the nape of his neck with a black ribbon, arctic grey eyes and clean, fine features that would have been handsome had they not been stamped with a permanent sneer. The look he gave Dumbledore would have blasted a lesser wizard to smoking ruin.
"You are surrounded, Dumbledore. Your castle is besieged. Your pitiful collection of weaklings who call themselves Masters cannot withstand the might of the Dark Lord, and you have no option but to surrender. Put yourself in my hands, and I will spare the lives of all those inside the castle."
"All of them?"
"It is you I want."
Dumbledore eyed him thoughtfully for a moment, then shook his head sadly. "How many times did you try to lie to me when you were a student here, Lucius? And how many times did I see through your lies? No, I will not surrender to you, nor give the lives entrusted to me to your tender care."
"You are as much a fool as ever, Dumbledore." Malfoy sneered.
"Perhaps I am." The blue eyes twinkled with sudden humor, laughing at something Dumbledore did not share with the Death Eater. "Time will tell. And now, I shall return to my besieged castle and doomed innocents, unless you have something else to say. Something more to the purpose."
Malfoy ground his teeth in fury, his eyes trying to bore a hole through Dumbledore's forehead. "I do!"
Dumbledore halted his move to turn away and gazed politely down at the other wizard.
"What of our children?" Malfoy demanded.
"I thought we had established that I would not give my students into your keeping."
"I am not speaking of your students, but of our children. They have sent us owls, asking to come home, and we have sent letters requesting their release. You have no right to hold them here against their will and ours."
"Indeed, I do not. And I will not, but neither will I push them out the doors of Hogwarts into the arms of such creatures as those." He nodded toward the Dementors. "If you would have your children returned to you, withdraw the Dementors from the school grounds and give me assurances of safety for all those who choose to leave."
"You are not in a position to dictate terms!"
Dumbledore's brows rose in a fair imitation of Malfoy's own haughty expression. "I control the wards. That puts me in the position to say who passes through them." The brows came down and Dumbledore's face relaxed. "But enough of this sparring, Lucius. I am not dictating terms to you; I am stating simple fact. It is my duty to protect these children - all of them - and I cannot let them leave the castle unless I know they will reach their families unharmed. You do not want your own son running afoul of a Dementor on the way to the front gate, do you?"
Malfoy's fists clenched and unclenched in helpless anger. "Send Draco out here, right now, and I'll grant you safe passage for the others."
Dumbledore shook his head, his face implacable. "I cannot do that."
"Do you hold my son hostage, then?" Malfoy growled.
"You know me better than that, Lucius. I don't make war on children."
Malfoy sprang onto the first step, reaching for the wand in his sleeve, his eyes burning with rage. "Send him to me, or I swear by the hand of the Dark Lord, I'll..."
Dumbledore's wand appeared in his hand, and Malfoy froze, one foot lifted to find the next stair. Under Dumbledore's stern gaze, he slowly lowered his foot and stepped backward onto the drive. Dumbledore lowered his wand but did not put it back in his belt. "That was wise."
"It changes nothing." Malfoy spat, his voice a hiss of pent up fury. "I come to parley, and so I cannot punish you here and now. But if I leave these grounds without my son, you will pay for it, Dumbledore. You will pay!"
"Be quiet, Lucius. I am not impressed by your threats, and I am not going to hand Draco over to you, no matter how loudly you demand it. So I suggest that you stop wasting time and listen to what I have to say."
Again, Malfoy's hands clenched and unclenched against his thighs, as he struggled to bottle up his fury. "Speak your piece."
"I have already promised the students that any of them who choose to leave may do so, once I have permission from their parents. I am prepared to open the wards and let them leave as early as tonight, if you and I can agree on how best to protect them."
"They don't need protection! They need their freedom!"
"Not all of them belong to you and your Death Eaters."
Malfoy glared up at him and mocked, savagely, "We do not make war on children."
"But that is precisely what you are doing."
"Send them out. We will not harm them."
"Not even the Muggle-borns? The children of your foes?" He paused for effect, then added softly, "Harry Potter?" At the tightening of Malfoy's face, he shook his head and went on, "No, Lucius, I will not trust to the mercy of Voldemort so easily. I will have your sworn oath, sealed by magic, before I send one child out of this castle."
"What must I swear?"
"That you will withdraw the Dementors from both Hogwarts and Hogsmeade until the children and their families are safely away. That every child who steps out of these doors will be given safe passage to Hogsmeade, put on the Hogwarts Express, and allowed to reach London unmolested. And that those parents who choose to come to Hogsmeade to meet their children will be guaranteed the same safe passage."
"Is that all?"
"There is one other thing. While this is taking place, there will be no attacks on Hogwarts or on anyone remaining within its walls. We have a ceasefire in effect until the train has left Hogsmeade with everyone safely aboard. If I see so much as one Dementor or hear a whisper of a rumor about action taken against the passengers on that train, I will consider the ceasefire broken and will demand satisfaction from you. Do you understand me?"
"Then make your choice. Swear or be gone, and take those foul creatures with you."
Malfoy stood very still, his eyes fixed on Dumbledore but unseeing, his face a mask of frustration and cold fury. Dumbledore remained equally still, though his eyes were alight and piercing as they studied Malfoy's face. At last, the Death Eater stirred. He turned to glance over his shoulder at the Dementors, then scanned the high windows of the castle, as if looking for a face at one of them. When he looked at Dumbledore again, he had resumed his emotionless, superior mask.
"I will swear, but so will you."
"What oath would you have from me?"
"That you will hold no child in Hogwarts against his will."
Dumbledore nodded. "Of course."
"Come then. Let us have done."
Dumbledore came lightly down the stairs and halted one step above Malfoy, so that he looked down into the man's pale, composed face. "Your dagger, if you please."
Malfoy reached into his robe and withdrew a slim, razor-edged knife, its haft worked in different colors of gold and carved into intricate shapes, set with flashing gems. He offered it to Dumbledore across his forearm. The old wizard took the dagger, and Malfoy pulled the black, leather glove from his right hand. Then he extended his bare palm.
The dagger's point bit swiftly into the ball of Malfoy's thumb. The Death Eater waited a moment for the blood to well up thickly in the cut, then he reached up and smeared a diagonal line of blood across Dumbledore's left palm. Dumbledore pierced his own thumb and painted a line across Malfoy's palm. With a flick of his wand, he set the dagger hovering in the air between them, point down, darkened with their mingled blood.
Once again, Malfoy extended his hand and waited, face impassive, as Dumbledore traced a pattern across his bloodied palm with his wand, murmuring the words of an ancient spell as he worked. Lines of purple fire appeared in the center of Malfoy's hand, forming a complex figure. Dumbledore repeated the process, drawing the figure on his own bloodied palm and speaking the words that formed the oath.
Finally, Dumbledore held up his left hand, palm out, and gazed intently into Malfoy's upturned face. Malfoy hesitated for only a moment before lifting his right hand and placing it an inch or two from Dumbledore's. Between their palms, the runes glowed fiercely. Then, as one, they brought their hands together and pressed them palm to palm. Purple sparks shot from between their fingers, and a shimmering net of light spread to enclose their joined hands.
Dumbledore smiled. When he spoke, his voice was mild, but it rang with power and sent a shiver over Malfoy's body. "It is done. I am bound by my oath to you, Lucius Malfoy, in life and death, by blood and fire."
"In life and death, by blood and fire," Malfoy answered.
"If I should break it, my life is yours."
"And mine is yours."
Dumbledore tapped their hands with his wand, and the light vanished. Malfoy snatched his hand away as if it had been burned. Another wave of the wand, and Malfoy's dagger dropped neatly into his hand. Its point was now clean.
"Get back to your master, Lucius. I will send you an owl when we are ready."
Malfoy slipped his dagger into his robes and pulled on his glove in short, savage jerks. "If I do not see my son come through that gate with the others, I will know you are forsworn, Dumbledore, and I will come for more than your life. I will claim your soul with it!"
"Ah." Dumbledore smiled at his private joke again and shook his head. "Draco will make his own choice, and we will both abide by it. I have sworn it, have I not? Goodbye, Lucius."
Malfoy threw him one more burning glare then spun on his heel and stalked away. The Dementors followed him down the curving drive toward the distant gates. Dumbledore watched them go. He did not turn away until they had passed through the gates and the outer wards, and the wards had closed behind them. Then he climbed the stairs toward the wide archway and open doors.
As he stepped into the entry hall, Minerva McGonagall and Alastor Moody appeared from their places to either side of the front doors. Both held their wands, and McGonagall looked haggard with strain. Moody's face was too heavily scarred to reflect any emotion. Dumbledore gave them a slightly weary smile and headed for the Great Hall.
"He accepted your terms?" McGonagall asked, as she hurried to keep up with his long strides.
"He had no choice. And I do believe him when he says that Voldemort has no interest in these children. Those few who might be in danger will be staying in Hogwarts anyway."
"And Granger, the Weasleys, Longbottom. Those whose parents pose a real threat to Voldemort's forces know better than to venture out of the castle and away from our protection."
"What of Malfoy?"
Dumbledore shot her a questioning glance. "Which one?"
"The one in the dungeons, of course," she snapped.
Moody, who stumped along at Dumbledore's other side, his wooden claw-foot thudding loudly on the marble floor, interjected, "I say we keep young Malfoy here, along with the rest of his cronies. Those kids are all the leverage we have against an all-out assault, and you know it, Albus."
Dumbledore paused to close the doors to the Hall and turned to face the group of teachers confronting him. The entire staff of Hogwarts was there, waiting to hear the outcome of his parley with the Death Eaters. None of them spoke, but their faces were full of questions and alarm.
"Lucius has agreed to give the students safe passage and has taken the oath." A ripple of noise went through the group, but it was not a relieved or happy sound. "I will arrange for them to go tonight. The Hogwarts Express will leave Hogsmeade for London at midnight, so we should have the students packed and ready by eleven. That will give us time to owl their parents."
"I still say we keep them," Moody growled. "If they want their precious children so badly, make them come and get them."
Dumbledore answered him patiently. "I will not keep hostages, Alastor."
"Then you're a fool. The minute Malfoy gets his hands on that weasel son of his, he'll hit us with everything he's got."
"He's already done that and failed. And he's already proven that his son's presence in the castle is no deterrent to an attack. Need I remind you that he launched two of them while Draco was here? No, the children will leave tonight."
Moody glared at him but offered no further argument.
"Now, the next order of business is the wards. Alastor has mastered the power balance and is ready to bring all of us into the pattern. Once that is done, we can extend the inner wards to the entire castle and let the students out of the dungeons. I suggest that we postpone this effort until after midnight. We concentrate on getting those children who wish to leave on their way, then we meet in my dungeon office to build the passive ward pattern. How long will that take, Alastor?"
Moody grunted and rolled his magic eye at the gathered faculty. "A few hours, working with two or three at a time."
"Excellent. If all goes well, we will have the wards in place by morning. The students may have a good night's sleep in the dungeons, then move back to their dormitories tomorrow. And Poppy can have her hospital wing back."
McGonagall started to say something but thought better of it and shut her mouth with a snap. Dumbledore smiled at her.
"Back to the dungeons, then, and hop to it. I want the Heads of Houses to talk to your students and bring me a list of all those who plan to leave. We need to get those owls out as soon as possible. Thank you all."
The staff, dismissed by his genial words, began drifting toward the dungeon stairs. Dumbledore waved McGonagall and Snape over to him, and they waited until the room had emptied before they moved toward the door.
"Are Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy still sleeping?" Dumbledore asked, as they crossed the entry hall.
Snape nodded. "No signs of life from either of them. I'd guess we have some hours yet before they wake up. Are you thinking of sending Draco with the other Slytherins?"
"If he wants to go, yes. But he needs to know all the consequences of his choice, on both sides, and we've only bought ourselves a small window of time where the summoning charm is concerned."
Snape grimaced slightly and said, "Then it's time for him to pick sides."
All three of them walked down the dungeon passage in silence for a moment, then McGonagall said, harshly, "I remember a time when children were allowed to be children, and they didn't have to pick sides for anything more weighty than a Quidditch match."
"Something else Voldemort has taken from us," Dumbledore murmured, as he pushed open the door of his makeshift office. "Childhood." Pausing in the doorway, he turned somber eyes on his colleagues. "I'll speak to Draco as soon as possible. Whatever he decides, I'll need your help."
McGonagall nodded, her lips pressed tightly together and her fierce eyes strangely bright. "I'll be in the main dungeon with the Gryffindors."
"And I'll be with my House," Snape said.
As they walked away together, Dumbledore reflected that things had come to a strange pass when Snape and McGonagall were united in their concern over the fate of Lucius Malfoy's son. A very strange pass, indeed. Little would Voldemort guess what his violence had wrought! Certainly not what he had intended. Now, if they could only manage to save the boy...
To be continued...