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A Season For Setting Fires

Chapter Text

“There are five ways of attacking with fire. 

The first is to burn soldiers in their camp; 

the second is to burn stores; 

the third is to burn baggage trains; 

the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;

 the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

Draco

 

She’s pleading and Draco can barely stand it. He feels sick, stomach in his throat, a bile brine pickling his insides. Worse, gold glints in his vision. A metallic, translucent cord, tattered and frayed, stretches in a meandering line from his chest to hers.

Her scream strikes like a bludger to the skull. He hisses, grappling for his temple as his father’s fingertips dig into the soft flesh beneath his shoulder joint. The cord tugs, a tiny insistence, at Draco’s chest. But he is not to move; the warning is clear. He drops his hands, vision spinning as his mother slides her fingers around his wrist. 

Flanked by his parents, Draco watches Hermione Granger scream.

Watches her beg. 

Watches her cry.

Watches her writhe.

Watches her vomit, choke, and recoil from the slap across her face as Aunt Bella snaps, vicious demands for answers about a sword found in Granger’s possession. 

She’s bleeding out on extravagant, antique carpets. Bella spits horrible threats, dragging a knife through Granger’s arm, transforming it into a jagged, gashed mess.

Draco locks his knees in place. He wants to run, and he’s not sure where. He doesn’t trust himself not to do something stupid, something irretrievably traitorous and entirely against his better judgement.

He hates her. Hermione Granger has been the worst Mudblood thorn in his side since the day he first heard her snotty voice, inquiring about a lost toad and acting as if she owned the Hogwarts Express. She’s insulted him and his, bested him in most subjects, and made her allegiances clear by allying herself with Harry fucking Potter. And now she’s bleeding on his family’s drawing room floor, pleading for her life, and twisting a terrible, gut-wrenching sympathy from him that he has no interest in experiencing.

Ron Weasley’s screams echo hers from the cellar below.

Draco Malfoy hates Hermione Granger.

But he does not want her dead. 

He does not want most people dead, save perhaps for the Dark Lord. But it doesn’t look like Potter has much of a shot at that anymore. 

And now there’s this cord, these filaments, all this gold glittering in his vision. Blink and it’s there, connecting him to the pile of pain on the floor. Blink again and it’s gone, only a glowing echo left in its wake. He both sees it and he doesn’t. It moves and it doesn’t. It connects them and it doesn’t. He’d known his whole life that a cord would someday appear, one of his many Malfoy privileges. But he’d forgotten, under stress of fear for his life, for his family’s lives, that this would happen to him. And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Life and death scenarios are not the place for magic like this.  

He watches gold threads snap as Granger unloads another wail: a raw, broken sound as her voice gives out. And for a moment, he is doused in the silence left by her aborted scream, watching her mouth stretched open, sound held hostage by torment. 

Her free arm, the one Aunt Bella isn’t making a sick art project out of, travels in a flat arc against the floor. Her fingers trail along the carpets, quite unfortunately soaked in her blood.

Draco inhales a sharp breath through his nose when her hand stops at the gilded cord between them. Her hand flips, palm up, fingers curling to graze the fibers that aren’t really there, not to anyone but them. His gaze slips to her face and immediately snaps away again; she’s watching her hand, watching this thing between them, all with a blank, dead stare. 

He pulls in more air. 

Torture smells like spring.

Like daffodils and tulips and snowdrops. Like the bouquets brought inside from the manor gardens to lend their life to cold stone walls that house criminals. Easter mixed with madness makes sense in this twisted landscape; Draco’s only chance at survival is to endure it. He knows this. But that doesn’t quell the twitching in his calves, the flexing in his fingers. 

Granger lifts her hand off the floor and Draco nearly loses his lunch, stomach churning as he watches her extend her arm, reaching through the translucent cord, reaching towards him. He tries to blink it away, blink blink blink, but both she and the cord are stubborn, persistent things. 

Even with eyes screwed shut—avoidance rather than confrontation—Draco cannot ignore the copper light staining the inside of his eyelids, a visual echo. Granger has doomed them both, reaching for him like that. 

There’s no way she knows what’s happening. He searches for solace in knowing he’ll probably never have to explain it. He’s not sure if that prospect makes him hate her more or less. 

He wants to beg her not to acknowledge it, to pretend it isn’t there. This is a distraction neither of them needs. His aunt wants answers about a sword, that’s all this is meant to be. And perhaps in another life, that’s all this is. A terrible torture for information wherein Granger breaks and admits how she came upon an object meant to be in Bella’s vaults. Or maybe in that life Granger doesn’t break at all; maybe she withstands this torture and Bella gets none of the answers she seeks.

In either imaginary version of this moment, and in the version Draco is currently living, he is doomed. At least no one else in the room can see the cord between them. That is perhaps the only benevolence bestowed upon him. 

Bella’s shriek snaps his eyes open again.

“What is she doing? What is this?” Bella cackles her question, swinging a foot in her crouched position to pin Granger’s wrist to the floor. “You think someone is going to help you?” Bella lowers her head, angles it to align herself with Granger’s outstretched arm, and reads the lay of the land. Bella’s eyes pierce Draco as easily as her blade sliced Granger’s flesh. 

Her smile widens, and it’s anything but joyful. It revels. It mocks. It shoots fear straight down his spine as he tries a sloppy hand at Occlumency, a tool she’d taught him. 

Bella’s voice scratches, barely below a screech. “You think Draco will help you? Why would Draco help you? You’re nothing but a filthy Mudblood. A werewolf’s plaything, soon enough.” In punctuation, Bella must have dragged her knife through Granger’s skin again, because another scream lights up the room. Torture in technicolor.

Draco watches Granger’s fingers as they graze the golden filaments, still reaching towards him. His shoulder throbs, and Draco realizes his father is holding him upright with his grip. Draco has gone gelatinous, body disintegrating in fear and nausea. 

Bella whips her head around again, focus snagged by Granger’s hand. Her wicked humor morphs, supplanted by wild suspicion and wide eyes.

“Do you think he will help you, stupid girl? What does she want from you, Draco?” He barely meets his aunt’s eyes before she repeats, bellows, “What does she want?”

Draco realizes he’s going to die. She’ll kill him for this. His parents might even let her; he’s unsure. But this thing he didn’t ask for, this tattered, fraying cord, represents nothing less than a death sentence. And if Bella doesn’t kill him, the Dark Lord will.

He fails to form a response, tongue stuck to the roof of a mouth run dry. 

They may not see it, but he knows he cannot hide that it exists. Not for long. Not indefinitely. But for now, the best he can do is pretend nothing is different, that his life is unchanged and his soul is untethered. 

Granger laughs, a sound that acts as a vacuum, drawing them all in. Her head lolls, limp against the carpets, but her eyes have life. She’s laughing and she’s crying and she’s staring right at Draco. 

On a sputtering laugh-turned-sob, she utters a single syllable that seals his fate. Hers, too. “Why?” 

Bella abandons her hunched position over Granger, launching to her feet. Bile burns the back of Draco’s throat as he swallows it down, knees failing him as the magic connecting him and Granger pulls taut in a flash of agony that buckles him. 

His mother tries to pull him to his feet, hands hooked beneath his arms at the same time Bella’s hand finds his hair, nails scratching his scalp as she jerks his head back, face level with his. 

“What does she mean? Why is the girl asking questions of you, Draco? You’ve always been a spineless boy—what does she want with you? Are you helping them? Helping that filth?” Despite her rancid breath and horrid proximity—and the fact that his father has drawn his wand somewhere in the periphery—Draco cannot look his aunt in the eye. He looks beyond her, at the limp witch on the floor.

He does not give his words permission, but they flow from him in a flood. “No. Not her, no, no, no.” Draco thinks he might be crying, too. If he is, they are angry tears, grieving tears, tears that give form to the fear that has choked him since the moment the Dark Lord branded him as his own. His fear has a new shape now, and it’s Hermione Granger’s fault. His scalp burns where Bella yanks on his hair.

“Release my son,” Lucius spits, and of all things, Draco wonders if this is the first time his father has ever stood up for him, claimed responsibility for his protection. He’d certainly done no such thing in the Dark Lord’s presence.

The intensity behind Bella’s eyes flickers, near-black irises darting between Draco and Lucius. Then Bella glances to where Narcissa still hovers near his face, slender hands gripping his upper forearm with a force that will leave purpling bruises on his fair skin. 

He knows how much pressure it takes to prime a bruise in his flesh, be it from his own hands, his father’s, his aunt’s, or the Dark Lord’s.

In another blink, Bella has evidently determined that Lucius’s threat is empty, because her grip tightens on Draco’s hair again, hauling his head back and forcing him within an inch of her face.

“What does the girl want with you, Draco?” 

“I don’t—” he starts, voice breaking when Bella tugs harder. He feels hair ripping from its roots, a sharp sting that has him hissing against the pain. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. She’s nothing. No one. Kill her, for all I care. I don’t know anything.” His lies spill from a broken dam at the base of his throat, pushed to bursting by a sense of self-preservation overriding every other instinct he has.

Bella laughs and spittle strikes his cheek. She tears away from him, stalking in a circle between him and Granger. 

The gold cord dissolves and reforms around Bella’s steps. 

Draco can’t tear his eyes from it.

It tugs his chest, a subtle request, begging he close the distance.

And then, his mother’s voice in his ear.

“Draco,” she says, softly so that Bella does not hear. When he turns to her, he realizes her face hovers just as close as his aunt’s had. But Narcissa’s is a face of illumination, of concern. Not madness. 

In that moment, Draco knows his mother has figured him out. And of course she would, considering the bond she has with his father.

“The bond?” she asks. The question is a death sentence.

He attempts a denial, tongue stuck to his teeth. “I don’t know—”

But Bella inserts herself again, wild black curls wafting into Draco’s face.

Draco’s mouth snaps shut. Narcissa’s does as well. 

Distantly, through a roaring in his ears that must be Draco’s pulse—what else could it be?—he hears his father issue another threat, this time with his wand pressed against the side of Bella’s neck. She grins, eyes darting up to glance at him while the rest of her face remains impassive. 

As if the threat means nothing, her eyes flick back to Draco and Narcissa.

“What’s this? Are we having a family chat? Let’s chat, then.”

She lunges with the speed of a coiled snake, striking. Her clawed hands grab him by the throat and before he can even think to fight back, Draco’s shoulder connects with carpets, followed by his head. A moment later, a red stunner sizzles on the floor next to him and the grip on his neck releases. 

Draco rolls; his mother’s wand is out, pointed at Bella. Lucius steps forward, pulling Draco to his feet.

“Don’t you dare touch my son.” Narcissa looks moments from murdering her own sister. Maybe his parents won’t condemn him for this after all. 

“You tried to stun me,” Bella says with a cackle, dropping her own defensive wand position, shoulders and neck rolling like she’s stretching out. She lifts a hand, extends a single digit. She points it between them. Once at Narcissa, once at Lucius, and then once at Draco. She pauses there, drawing the moment out, before she pivots just enough to point once at where Granger lays. Bella looks like she’s enjoying herself, piecing it all together. 

“What’s going on here? Keeping secrets, are we? Not from family, surely?”

“Bella, please—”

“Please what, Cissy?”

Draco has never thought of his mother and his Aunt Bella as particularly similar. Bella has always been unsettling and incarcerated. His mad aunt locked away in the middle of an ocean. Then later, his mad aunt roaming his childhood home. And his mother has always been controlled, a regal kind of constant in his life. But now, this stare down happening between sisters, they wear identical, unyielding expressions.

Lucius’ grip on his shoulder tightens again. Quietly, in Draco’s ear. “A Mudblood?” The percussive force of blood burrows into Draco's eardrum. He sneers, flooded with rage. He jerks his head, just enough to catch his father’s gaze in a sideways glance. 

“It’s not as if I can help it,” Draco snaps. Too loud, it grabs Bella’s attention. His stomach turns. Already, he’s defending his position, trapped to arcane magic that burst into existence while his classmate screamed on his drawing room floor. 

A connection with her.

It looks like Bella might ask another question, but she stills when she opens her mouth. Draco is struck by how translucent her skin is, a ghostly white webbed by blue veins and dark shadows.

Her head tilts; she looks between them. Draco can nearly see the idea come alight behind the black holes her eyes have become.

Narcissa jumps in. “It can’t be helped, Bella. You know that, like with me and Lucius. It just—happens.” She looks like she wants to say more, explain more, but it becomes clear that the family magic, magic tied to her own bond, muzzles her. 

Bella doesn’t blink, only smiles. Body still, gaze predatory. 

“Draco, is it a soul bond? Finally happened for you, has it?” she asks, voice soft. He knows it’s a deception. “You look a little unwell, and you keep looking at—something.” She sweeps a finger between where he stands and where Granger lays. “Right there. What do you see?”

A pop in the cellars cuts her off. Lucius’s hand on Draco’s shoulder tightens. 

“Wormtail,” Lucius barks, and from the room’s far corner, the rat of a man appears. “Go and check on the cellars.”

“I don’t want none of this, just here for my reward—” Greyback starts from where he’s been stuck in observation. Draco had forgotten that Greyback and Wormtail were even in the room at all, trapped in his own panic.

Bella shoots several stunners at Greyback: a forceful demand that he not interfere. He falls to his knees, not fully stunned, but solidly out of commission. With a clatter, his wand rolls on the stone floor and comes to a rest where the carpets start.

“This is a family matter, mutt,” Bella spits. “And if you’re a very good dog, you can have the Mudblood when it’s time to dispose of her—”

She doesn’t finish, can’t. Because Ron Weasley bursts into the drawing room bellowing, with Harry Potter following quickly behind. The shock of their arrival stalls Bella long enough that Weasley strikes her with a disarming spell, sending her wand soaring into Potter’s hand. 

Draco drops to the floor on instinct, just in time to avoid the stunner that hits his father, toppling him over on the hearth. Another stunner sizzles into the carpet next to him. Poor aim from Potter, but enough motivation to push Draco back to his feet, defending himself out of necessity. But his shoes drag heavy, his gait ungainly, as he is irrationally occupied with not stepping on the golden cord on the floor. 

He only fires off a couple of spells, shoulder to shoulder with his mother, before Bella’s voice screeches them all to a halt.

“Stop or she dies!”

Like a blow to the solar plexus, the cord between him and Granger pulls taut. Bella holds her knife to Granger’s throat. “Drop your wands. Drop them or we’ll see exactly how filthy her blood is!”

A vicious, desperate part of Draco wishes Bella would do it, slice Granger open, let her bleed out, and release Draco from his circumstances. But even as that transient thought flits through his brain, the image nearly bowls him over, on the brink of retching from imagined, disproportionate grief.

Potter and Weasley eventually drop their wands, and Bella snaps at Draco to retrieve them. Instinct tells him to move, to follow her orders, but Draco’s legs have forgotten how. 

His mother’s hand finds his again, leaning into his shoulder. Her voice is low, but urgent.

“Go,” she says, a harsh whisper in his ear. “Bella will tell the Dark Lord and he will not be merciful. Draco, you must go. With them.” 

When he meets his mother’s eyes, he wonders which of them looks more terrified. He cannot see his own face, but he feels it. He feels the terror racing through his bloodstream, hot adrenaline searing his veins. He swallows and finally moves when Bella once again commands him to retrieve the wands. 

He doesn’t know what to do. Allying himself with Potter means nothing if Bella still has a knife to Granger’s throat. His stomach twists at the thought. Too soon, he finds himself in front of Weasley and Potter. He leans down, grabs what must be Wormtail’s wand, Bella’s wand, and Greyback’s lost one as well. 

With his own wand gripped in his left hand and the other three in his right, Draco turns back to Bella, uncertain what he should do.

He is spared of his decision-making by a grinding noise from the chandelier. It trembles, sways, and then crashes with a shatter on top of Granger, having been shoved by Bella directly into its path. Glass shards fragment, exploding.

For a confusing blink, Draco’s face stings, and he realizes flying glass has bitten into his cheeks. It takes him a moment, a single breath, to sort that pain from the agony traveling through the cord between him and Granger.

Weasley doesn’t hesitate, ripping a wand from Draco’s fist and launching himself towards the chandelier. Draco stops thinking. He follows orders. This time, his mother’s.

He turns and shoves the other two wands in his right hand at Potter, who barely spares him a blink of confusion as he takes the wands and reaches for Dobby— Dobby? —who evidently brought the chandelier down. 

Bella screams about the elf, about Draco and the wands, about Narcissa who hovers over Lucius’s stunned body. 

“Ron—Go!” Potter shouts. 

In a crack, he disapparates with Granger, and it’s as if all the oxygen has left the room. Terrible agony, but oddly peaceful, like Draco can finally think. 

It’s just enough clarity that he knows the only way he can follow is if he hijacks Potter’s apparition. He reaches out, grabs the little elf’s other hand, catching only a blink of shock in Potter’s face before the compression of disapparition sucks them away in a muffled crack, already distant to his own ears. 

Watching Potter’s surprise, Draco doesn’t see the knife.