The Cage


They didn't believe you at first, none of them. They said you were paranoid. They said they understood but they were lying and look where it got you. Look where you are.

The walls are stone, lined with gold, flickering dazzling in the feeble candle light. Your hands clutch the bars, knuckles white. You try to keep from screaming.

When you woke up to iron bars and thick darkness you thought you were having a nightmare. Cold metal pressed to your skin at every angle. Stripped down to trousers and shirt. Wand nowhere to be found, and when you tried a simple Lumos spell you found that you couldn't do it. Couldn't do any magic, for that matter, but you could feel someone watching you. You closed your eyes, pushed away the terror and tried to fall back asleep, then there was movement and a whispered word and you don't remember what happened after that. But you know this: you are in a cage, too small to stand in. Panic swells in you like a drug, heady and fever-inducing. You need to breathe. You need to breathe. It's cold, you're trapped.

You're not dreaming.

You're in a small, dark room. It couldn't be more than twenty feet across either way. There's a wooden door set into the wall directly in front of you. It's opening, heavy creaks breaking the music of your staccato breaths. He strides in, haughty and familiar, and you know with terrible certainty that this is where it ends. Torches flare up behind him, illuminating the room.

"Malfoy," you say, not really surprised. He kneels before you like a gothic nightmare, covering your hands with his, clutching them as they grip the bars.

"Harry," he says simply, and that's somehow a bigger shock than waking up in a cage.

His hands are warm. That surprises you, too. "What is this?" you ask, but of course you already know.

"You're in the dungeon of Malfoy Manor," he says, a trace of smugness entering his tone, as if he expects you to challenge him on that fact. "We've kidnapped you from Hogwarts and soon the Dark Lord is going to kill you."

You're in the dungeon. Of course. The absurdity of it almost sets you to laughter, except you're really here, aren't you? You're here and this is happening. This is really happening.

"Why am I in a cage?"

Draco releases your hands and leans back. Shrugs. "Father always had a nice sense of the dramatic."

"How did I get here?"

"The Death Eaters brought you. Zabini, Parkinson, Bulstrode, and Boot. They grabbed you as you were walking down the corridor andó" He pauses, stares at you.

"And what?"

"Surely you don't really care, Potter. You're going to die. Did you miss that part?"

"Did you help them take me?"

He rolls his eyes. "Of course."

"Are you a Death Eater?"

"Yes."

You stare at him.

He stares back.

"Honestly, Potter, you can't be surprised."

"I expected better of you," you say, clinging to your vitriol though you know there's nothing stopping him from hexing you at this very moment.

"Why?" he says, looking amused. "Why would you have any expectations of me at all?"

You don't answer, and eventually he leaves.

Days go by. Draco is a nearly constant presence. At first he just carries in food (good food, too; the Malfoys must really know how to treat prisoners), but eventually he begins sticking around, watching you eat. It makes you nervous. You have a feeling he knows that, and likes it. Bastard.

You sit alone for hours, sorting through memories. You start with your first year at Hogwarts, and recall meetings and hallways, classes and games. The thrill of discovery, that you could do these things, that you had powers. Powers that can't save you now, but you don't linger too long with that train of thought.

The door creaks open, and you know who it is. Who it always is. "What do you want now?" you say without looking up.

"The pleasure of your company," Draco says, without missing a beat.

"You're the only one I ever see. I'm starting to think that you have me trapped here for your own amusement." You examine your fingernails, bitten to the quick. You don't meet his eyes.

Still, you can practically hear him thinking it over. "No," he says. "But now I rather wish I'd thought of it myself."

The skin on your knuckles is dry. The dungeon isn't the most ideal climate. Your left index finger has a spot of dried blood marring the tip, the result of biting a bit too far down. Draco has settled into his usual spot, near the cage, but not so near that you could reach through the bars and strangle him. You've thought about it. You'd never do it, but it's nice to think that you could if you wanted to. He won't even let you have that.

You wonder what time it is.

"What's wrong, Potter? Not in a talkative mood?" He folds his hands in his lap, as if waiting for you to tell him a story.

"Don't you have something better to do?"

He shrugs. "No. This is what I'm supposed to do. Father and the Dark Lord sit about making plans, the rest of the Death Eaters lounge in the library and pretend they're researching, and I get to stay down here on Potter Watch. Lucky me."

"Why you?"

"Dramatic irony? I don't know," Draco says, frowning. "Maybe they figured it would be just another method of torture. Spending your last days alive with only me for company."

"I despise you," you say tonelessly.

He raises an eyebrow. "Guess that proves that theory."

Desperation grows in you like a cancer. You obsessively catalogue each moment you can remember in which you talked to people. A thousand conversations with Ron and Hermione, joking with Fred and George, talking to Cedric, Dumbledore's counseling, blushing around Cho, tea with Hagrid in his hut, even lectures from the Dursleys. Loneliness crawls inside you, clinging to your ribs, squeezing your heart, filling your lungs. You're choking on it.

Eventually, you begin to look forward to Draco's visits.

You speak to him, on occasion. At first, you keep it to small talk, absurd as that is. Of course, you are honestly interested in what the weather's like (cold and grey), what day it is, if there's any pressing news ("Aside from The Boy Who Lived gone missing? No."). You wonder when Voldemort is planning on killing you, exactly. You consider asking, but it's not like he would tell you anyway. You're not even sure he knows.

It can't be healthy, living like this, in a cage, with only Draco Malfoy for company.

What really scares you, of course, is that you're kind of starting to like him.

One day, you spend probably three hours talking to him, until your throat is sore. You offer up the first eleven years of your life story in exchange for his, and come away with the general feeling that he was mistreated, and with a better understanding of his obnoxious facade. A dim spark of pity grows in you, until you realize that you're insane. Yes, it's quite sad that his father taught him to kick puppies recreationally, but the fact that Draco's essentially your jailer hasn't escaped you. Really.

A few days into your imprisonment, you noticed the vague outline of a key beneath his shirt. This became your focus until one day when he left, after talking to you for awhile, and you realized that you hadn't even bothered to look for it.

You wonder why you're not dead yet.

You wake up one morning, and he's there, sitting by the cage and watching you sleep. Shadows flicker over his skin. You miss the sunlight.

"Show me the Dark Mark," you say, and he jumps a little.

"You're awake." He frowns. "What?"

"Your Mark. I just want to see it, that's all."

"Fine," he says, after giving you a considering look. He approaches the cage and kneels down in front of you, lifting his sleeve.

"Can I." You swallow. "Come closer."

He does, keeping one hand protectively near his wand. Hesitantly, you reach through the bars. Your fingers slide up his arm, lingering a little. Human warmth. You've missed it. You run your thumb over the Mark. The skin is glossy and smooth, raised a little, like a burn scar. Your fingertips read it like Braille. It heats beneath your touch, and your scar stings.

"Did it hurt?" you ask.

"Yes." His fingers wrap around one of the bars, muscles tensing and shifting beneath your fingertips. "Very much."

Weakness looks strange on him, vulnerability shadowing his grey eyes, out of place and unexpected. You trace the Mark with your index finger, sliding it along the edges of the skull, around the curve of the snake. "Good," you say quietly, but don't let go.

He closes his eyes. "Harry."

"I don't want to die," you say, tightening your grip.

He says nothing, and doesn't have to, because he doesn't want you to die, either. Somehow, you know that.

Time passes. The food gets better. Draco's shoulders are frequently tensed, and when the two of you talk, he doesn't say as much. The torches on the wall seem dimmer. Your scar is a constant, dull ache.

"Tell me what's happening," you say to him.

He shakes his head. "I can't."

"I know there's something going on. My head hurts all the time. Sometimes it burns so badly I think I'm going to die from it."

He's silent for a few moments, staring at the ground. "Does it hurt now?"

"Yes."

Hesitation shows in his eyes, but then he leans forward, placing his fingertips on your forehead. Gently, he massages your temples. You reach up to grip his wrists, needing the heat of his skin. His pulse flutters nervously beneath your fingertips.

The ache subsides, a little.

Softly, his fingers slide over your scar, carefully tracing it. You try not to wince, leaning forward as far as you can, resting your head against the bars. The gentle press of lips to your forehead makes you want to cry. You can see the key outlined beneath the thin material of his shirt. You close your eyes and make no move to grab it.

"Draco," you whisper. When you open your eyes, he's there, right there in front of you. "Please."

His lips part, his hands falling to his sides. "I can't." He blinks and backs away. "I can't," he repeats.

You watch as he gets up and heads for the door. You imagine you can hear his heart beating as fast as your own.

He pauses at the door, but doesn't turn back.

Later, the pain in your forehead becomes so bad that you black out. When you awaken, you're fairly sure that the torches have diminished even further. The scar is still a constant, burning pain that increases gradually. You can't figure out if you're too hot or too cold; your head and neck feel like they're on fire while the rest of your body is like ice. You bring your knees to your chest, curling up in hopes that either feeling will fade. The door creaks and opens.

Draco strides in. "Something's happening. This is it," he says flatly. You believe him; the normally quiet castle is filled with angry shouts, and you hear more commotion from above.

And suddenly you're sure of it. You're going to die, by Draco's own hand.

"Don't," you say. "Please."

He stares at you. "I'm not going to kill you, Harry," he says. He pulls a chain from beneath his shirt. A long, old-fashioned key hangs from it. You watch, stunned, as he bends to unlock the cage.

"Draco!" a voice sounds from somewhere within the castle; it echoes off the walls, throwing the name at you mockingly.

He drops the chain. "I have to-" he says, and leans in, his hand going through the bars and pulling you forward. His lips touch yours and for a moment, an eternity, there's heat. There's a promise. "I'll return," he says, clearly desperate for you to believe him, and then he's gone, the door slamming shut behind him.

You listen for awhile. There's a battle raging above you, you can tell by the shouts. They've come for you, come to rescue you from the cage and the castle and the taste of ashes clinging to your lips. Any minute now they'll come bursting in, pulling you to safety as the castle crumbles around you.

Any minute now.

Something's burning, you can smell it. The scent of charred stone drifts through the crack beneath the door. The smoke, hanging vague and sinister in the air, makes your throat hurt. Screams echo and bounce off the walls.

Somewhere around the second hour of fighting, your scar begins to sting, and then burn. Soon the pain is such that it feels as if your head is being split open, and you gasp and choke, clutching your forehead uselessly. Eventually, it subsides into a dull ache.

You wrap your hands around the bars and scream.

First you call for your friends, for Dumbledore, for anybody. Then you just scream until your throat feels worn and raw. You can hear them up there, calling your name. After awhile, you start to wonder if you're hallucinating.

Time passes. It's a struggle to keep your eyes open, but they're still calling your name. You're certain they are. You call back, and the shouts drift and fade. It must be a particularly good silencing charm, that they can't hear you but you can hear them. Ingenious, really. You keep screaming.

Your eyes fall shut. Maybe you'll sleep, just for a minute, and when you awake they'll be there. You're certain of it.

"Draco," you whisper, voice low and hoarse. Tears slip down your cheeks, warming your skin. The torches on the wall flicker and burn out.

Eventually, the voices stop.

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