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The Scholomance Series

Passing Through
by shalott

But the really reckless were fetched
By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:
`I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;
That is how I shall set you free. There is no love;
There are only the various envies, all of them sad.'

W. H. Auden, "In Praise of Limestone"

He tried to wipe his hands on the ground again. The grass was too dry, crisp with the approaching summer and no rain, but it was something to do. It was still hours before dawn.

Draco still hadn't moved. He sat huddled where Snape had left him, face rigidly empty. Harry swallowed and looked away. His hands were still sticky. The blood wouldn't come off. He pulled up a fistful of grass and scrubbed, then tried ripping some leaves off a shrub.

"Will you stop that?" Malfoy spat suddenly, lifting his head. "You're acting like a lunatic."

Harry jerked. "If it bothers you—" he said, then clamped his mouth shut on the rest and dropped the leaves.

Malfoy's eyes glittered. "Don't you dare feel sorry for me," he hissed, color rising in his cheeks. "Don't you dare, you bastard."

He looked half-mad himself, eyes fever-bright and dangerous. "I'm not," Harry said abruptly. "I'm not sorry for you at all."

Malfoy laughed as if he didn't have much breath to spare. "No, you wouldn't be. You're probably thrilled to have had ringside seats. Pity for you Snape saved us before Voldemort got to finish the job."

"I would've been next, in case you've forgotten," Harry said, feeling sick.

"Still, a shame he didn't wait a little while longer, isn't it?" Malfoy pulled his torn robe open at the neck and brushed flakes of dried blood from the half-healed pattern carved into his chest. Harry looked away. "Oh, don't look so upset, Potter. Snape and your precious godfather together are no match for Voldemort. He'll make short work of them." He climbed to his feet and wrapped the robe shut again, then walked away into the trees.

"Where are you going?" Harry scrambled up and after him. The woods were unfriendly, long branches snagging his robe and clawing his skin. Malfoy didn't seem to pay any attention to them.

"Weren't you listening?" Malfoy sneered. "I don't plan to sit around waiting for Voldemort to come by and finish the rite."

Harry glared at his back. "So you're just going to wander around randomly? We don't have a clue where we are, except somewhere in Cornwall."

"You don't have a clue, maybe," Malfoy said over his shoulder. "I, on the other hand, not being deaf, can hear the ocean in this direction."

Flushing, Harry didn't mention that he'd never heard the ocean before and hadn't recognized the low roaring sound. "If Voldemort beats them, you really think being near the ocean is going to make it harder for him to find us?"

"Don't you know anything about blood rituals?" Malfoy said. "It was interrupted, but I'm still marked. There isn't a place on earth where he couldn't find me."

"So what are you planning to do, swim for it?"

Malfoy laughed, that same short laugh again, and let go of a branch that sprang back to smack Harry in the face. "Why don't you run along, Potter," he said. "Voldemort will come after me first, you know. You might have a shot at getting away if you scurry off now."

Harry gritted his teeth and straightened his glasses where the branch had knocked them askew. "If Voldemort finishes that rite, he'll have so much power no one will be able to beat him, and then I'll be dead anyway," he said. "I'm not going to leave you alone for him to grab."

"Oh, I feel so much better knowing you're here to protect me," Malfoy said, but he didn't say anything else to make Harry go.

They struggled on in silence until the woods thinned out into scrub. The ocean was louder here. Malfoy seemed to be sure of his way, always heading upwards, and Harry's legs soon ached with climbing. Soon they were picking their way among limestone mottled with lichen that grew into odd hollows and curving walls up to either side of the narrow path between them.

"This is stupid!" Harry stopped to catch his breath. "If he comes after us, we'll be trapped in here."

"Not much further." Malfoy stopped too, though, and leaned against the stone. His head drooped a little.

It was lonelier, standing still, without even the echo of their footsteps for company. Harry didn't think it was only his imagination that the rocks shook a little with each crash of noise. He sighed. "Fine."

Malfoy didn't move for a moment, then pushed away from the wall and went on. Harry followed, the silver blond head always faintly visible ahead through the dark, shining with the same reflected light as the pale rocks.

On one side the rocks ended abruptly in cliff. Malfoy went to the edge and looked over. Harry went to his side. The ocean far below was mostly white froth, with jagged dark masses where rocks rose above the waterline. The spray was cool on his hot face. Next to him, Malfoy trembled a little.

He had Malfoy's arm gripped in both his hands. "No," he said, too loudly.

"Let go of me!"

They struggled silently, feet scuffing on the smooth rock. Harry held on grimly and dug his fingers in while Malfoy tried to pry them away, nails scraping his skin. Malfoy quit after a minute and stood panting. "What do you care?" he said. "You hate me!"

"That doesn't mean I'm going to stand here and watch you—" Harry yelled.

It was the wrong answer, he could see it in the hectic glitter in Malfoy's eyes. "Of course, how foolish of me. It would ruin your reputation completely, wouldn't it, you self-righteous little hypocrite. Get off me!"

He fought harder this time, nearly dragging them both over the edge. In desperation, Harry threw himself backwards and pulled them both to the ground. Malfoy's head banged against the rock and he lay dazed for a moment.

"Stop it! Just stop!" Harry straddled Malfoy's legs and pinned his shoulders to the ground. "Why are you doing this?"

"What else is there to do?" Malfoy said, bitterly. "I can't fight him any other way."

"He hasn't won yet, or he'd be here already," Harry said. "For all you know, Sirius Black and Snape have beaten him."

Malfoy laughed shrilly. "Oh yes, that's very likely. If I wait until he comes, it will be too late, you idiot. Do you really think he'd stand by and watch me jump?"

Harry swallowed. "If he comes, I could hold him off long enough for you to—to—"

"Oh, really. You couldn't hold him off long enough for me to fall six inches."

"I've done it before," Harry retorted, annoyed.

Malfoy laughed again, sounding a little more like himself. "Do you mean the time in your crib, or the time he toyed with you in front of the Death Eaters for a little light entertainment?"

"How did you know about—" Harry stopped too late and had to watch Malfoy flinch. "Sorry," he muttered lamely.

"You apologizing to me for my father—that's rich." Malfoy pushed back against his hands, and Harry let him sit up. "Why are you trying to stop me, anyway? You said it yourself—if Voldemort completes the Rite of Astarte, he'll be unstoppable. If you were in my place I'd be pushing you off."

Harry swallowed. "We don't know what's going on," he said. "If Voldemort had won he'd be here by now. If you jump—and it's for nothing—"

"Your life will be that much easier," Malfoy said. "And clearly my dear father doesn't find the prospect of my demise intolerable, which leaves exactly no one who would miss me for any length of time."

Harry couldn't say much to that. Struggling, he tried, "I don't want you to die. I want to punch you in the face half the time, but it's not the same thing."

"Only because you're a gutless weakling," Malfoy said. "If you hate someone, you hate them. I'd dance on your grave and throw a party after."

"Oh, really. I didn't notice you looking all that happy when you saw that Voldemort had me."

Malfoy flinched again. "Maybe that's why," he said, more to himself than to Harry, and Harry shook him.

"Stop that," he said fiercely. "The only reason why is because they're bastards."

"So am I, if we go by what you generally call me," Malfoy said, knocking aside his hands. "Get up. I've made up my mind."

Harry didn't move and didn't say anything. He wasn't going to let this happen.

Malfoy lay still under him for a moment, then spoke quietly, "Don't make this harder than it has to be. Just get up and go back down the hill. I'll wait until you've gone." His voice was so calm. Harry looked down at him, at the clarity of his eyes in the thin light of approaching morning, and knew that he meant it—that he would do that, would stand here alone and wait, the last instants of his life measured out by another's footsteps fading away until there was nothing left but the roaring ocean, and then he would take the last few steps and be gone forever.

All he had to do was walk away, and he wouldn't even hear the sound of flesh meeting stone and water. He tried to imagine living with that silence in his past and whispered, "I'd rather be dead too," and meant it.

"So you're going to hold me down until Voldemort comes to finish torturing me to death slowly?" Malfoy said. "It's the only way."

"No. There has to be something else."

"Longbottom Saw it," Malfoy said abruptly.

Harry tensed. "His first vision? The one you wouldn't talk about?"

Malfoy nodded.

"And he said you were going to jump off a cliff?"

He closed his eyes and recited softly, never hesitating on a single word, "'When one you love opens the door to death for you, your only other choice will be the door that despair opens.'" He opened his eyes. "Not the most encouraging prophecy," he said, his voice twisted with irony.

"It might not mean—suicide," Harry said, feeling sick at the thought that Malfoy had been carrying that vision with him all these months.

"'The door that despair opens'? Please. It couldn't be clearer if he'd spelled it out for me."

"No—no, I'm serious, Malfoy, listen to me. He said 'your only other choice'—your only other choice but death. He wouldn't have said that if he meant suicide."

"Don't be absurd. There's a difference between being killed and committing suicide. A large one, in this case."

"Look," Harry said, "I haven't learned a lot in that stupid Divination class, but I have gotten this much—real visions aren't sort of right. They're right down to the last word, and if Neville had meant a choice between being killed and committing suicide, he wouldn't have said that you had a choice other than death."

Malfoy sighed heavily. "And you're willing to gamble the fate of the entire wizarding world on your interpretation?"

Harry opened and closed his mouth without saying anything, knowing that the fact was he didn't care one way or another. "I'm not letting you do it," he said finally. "If Voldemort shows up, we'll fight him together, but—"

The sound of rattling stones further down the path brought his head up abruptly, and Malfoy went rigid under him for a moment, then shoved him back hard. Harry fell backwards, arms flailing as he tried to catch himself, and then his heart jumped. "It's Sirius!" he yelled, and looked frantically around to see Malfoy standing at the very edge, but not over it, and he gasped in relief and let his head fall back against the ground for a minute.

"Harry, are you hurt?" Sirius was bending over him, concerned. Harry shook his head, too worn out to explain, and sat up slowly. "Malfoy, get back from there, you'll go over," Sirius added.

"What happened?" Malfoy's voice was hard, and he hadn't moved away from the edge yet. "You defeated Voldemort?"

"No, unfortunately. Dumbledore managed to find us somehow, and he and McGonagall Apparated over. Voldemort wasn't ready for all of us—he retreated." Sirius shook his head. "I nearly panicked when we went to the clearing where Snape and I had left you and you were missing. Why did you come here?"

Harry looked at Draco, who shot him a warning glance. "It's a long story," Harry said slowly, not sure what to do. "So are we safe now?"

Sirius hesitated and glanced at Malfoy, so quickly Harry wasn't sure if he'd really done it. "For the moment, but we need to get you two back to Hogwarts," was all he said. "Voldemort wouldn't mind getting his hands on either of you. Come on—Dumbledore and the others are waiting for us back in the woods." He started back down the path.

Harry looked at Malfoy, who seemed to be wavering, and wished for his wand. "Draco," he said softly, almost whispering. Malfoy just looked at him for a moment, then abruptly walked over and held out his hand. Harry blinked, then grasped it and let Malfoy pull him to his feet. Silently, the two of them fell into step behind Sirius and headed away from the ocean.

Harry slowly roused and lifted his head to find himself in a strange room, small and round and crammed with bookcases. There was an overstuffed chair in one corner of the room, and he was lying on the only other piece of furniture, a bed. Sunlight was streaming in through the single narrow window. Turning over, he saw that Malfoy was on the other side of the bed, his face pale and tense even in sleep, one of his fists clenched on the pillow.

He got out of bed carefully to keep from waking him and pulled on his sneakers and robe. His legs ached as he slipped out of the room and went down the small flight of stairs outside the door and found himself in Dumbledore's office.

Dumbledore looked up from a chair in front of the fireplace as he came into the room. "Good morning, Harry," he said, setting aside his book. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," Harry said, sitting down when Dumbledore motioned him to a seat. "Is Snape all right?" he asked after a moment.

Dumbledore nodded. "Madame Pomfrey says he will wake in the next few days."

"That's good," Harry said quietly.

"Can you tell me what happened?"

Harry stared down at his hands, clasped in his lap. "I don't—it's complicated," he said lamely. It felt like a betrayal to tell someone about it.

"Here, drink something." Dumbledore handed him a mug of hot chocolate, and Harry gratefully accepted the excuse not to talk, not looking up until he had finished every drop. "Harry," Dumbledore said, "I know something of what happened. I am asking you to tell me so that Draco does not have to."

Harry swallowed. He hadn't thought of it that way. "You—you know about the rite?"

Dumbledore nodded. "I saw the pattern last night before Madame Pomfrey healed it." His voice was somber. "We are all fortunate that Sirius was able to interrupt Voldemort long enough for Severus to get the two of you away."

Harry shuddered. He remembered those moments better than he wanted to—the fires around the altar, Voldemort's shriek of rage, the thick redness welling between his fingers as he frantically tried to get Malfoy out of the ropes binding him, the hesitant flutter of the heart beneath his hands. "Yes," he whispered. "He gave Malfoy a healing potion, then he took us into the forest."

"What happened to Lucius Malfoy?"

Harry jerked his head up and stared at him, then felt sick. Dumbledore didn't know—of course, how could he? That had been long—too long—before Snape and Sirius had come. He clenched his hands to keep them from shaking. He didn't want to think about it, didn't want to remember it. But if he didn't—and Dumbledore asked Malfoy— He drew a deep, sobbing breath and forced it out. "He—he gave—" He stopped and found that he was crying. "He gave Draco. To Voldemort."

His throat closed on anything more, and he stopped talking. It didn't help—he could still see the glittering malice in Voldemort's eyes, the terrible blankness on Draco's face as his father pushed him toward the altar.

Dumbledore had gone grey and somehow shrunken, his eyes wet. Silently, he reached out and gripped Harry's shoulder, a little comfort in the warm pressure. Harry wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "He was going to jump." He said it as fast as he could, almost whispering, staring at the floor. "So Voldemort couldn't finish the ritual. That's why he went to the cliff."

Dumbledore's grip tightened sharply, then released him. Harry could almost feel the anger radiating from him. "Lucius will be called to account for this," Dumbledore said, his voice trembling. "That anyone could—" He stopped and shook his head.

"Please—don't tell him I told you," Harry said. "I didn't have a—it was his to tell."

Dumbledore sighed. "I will try not to, Harry, but his safety comes first," he said quietly. "We will have to watch him carefully. A man does not choose death, even in desperate circumstances, unless he is bitterly unhappy. Not as long as there is any other hope at all."

Harry stiffened, remembering. "Headmaster, he told me—he said Neville's vision, it was about this."

Dumbledore's eyes widened, and he leaned forward, frowning.

"He said," Harry paused trying to remember, "It was something like—someone he loved was going to open a door to death for him, and when that happened, his only other choice would be the door that despair opens."

Whatever reaction he'd been expecting, it wasn't the one he got. Dumbledore actually sprang out of his chair and started pacing the room, clearly agitated. "No," he said, sounding ill. "No, dear God, not that."

Harry stared at him. "He—he thought it meant suicide," he said uncertainly.

Dumbledore shook his head. "No." He turned to Harry. "Tell no one of this," he said, his voice taking on an unusual note of command. Still startled, Harry just nodded. "I'm sorry, Harry. But this is...unexpected. I must consider..." he trailed off and went back to pacing.

"But—" Harry said slowly, "it's over—isn't it? I mean, he's safe now."

Dumbledore hesitated and said nothing, and then Malfoy's voice came from the door. "It's not over until the rite is completed—or I die."

Harry turned to stare. Malfoy was composed but terribly pale, his lips and cheeks a bloodless white. He walked into the room and stood next to Harry's chair, leaning on it. "Isn't that right, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore looked sad and drawn. "You are safe here at Hogwarts."

Malfoy laughed mirthlessly. "Of course. That's why you have me sleeping in your own bedroom with you here below to guard me."

Harry looked from one to the other, confused. "I don't understand. Why would Voldemort keep coming after you now? Even if he wanted to perform the rite, couldn't he find a pureblood wizard somewhere else?"

Malfoy answered him coolly, "I told you. It's a blood ritual, and he marked me as the sacrifice. He can't complete the rite except with me—unless I'm dead, of course."

"We will find a way to protect you, Draco," Dumbledore said. "I promise you."

"Pardon me for my lack of absolute faith," Malfoy said. "Will I be attending classes?"

Harry was stunned to see Dumbledore's shoulders slump. "It would—not be wise," he said. "Not yet."

Malfoy's smile was scornful. "Of course not. I suppose it would be 'wise' for me to remain within these rooms?"

Dumbledore sighed. "Draco, you understand the situation better than I might wish, but perhaps it is for the best. I will be plain with you, then. Voldemort will not be able to get you out of the school—of that, have no fear. But he will be willing to sacrifice much for the chance to complete the Rite of Astarte, and he has ways of bringing people under his influence. We fear that he may try to send a servant to kill you."

"He'll try and he'll succeed, given enough time," Malfoy said flatly. "Unless you propose to have me live out my days in two rooms under perpetual guard."

"Things may change. We may be able to get the Knife of Astarte away from him—"

Malfoy laughed again. "Of course. And pigs may learn how to fly. No—" he raised a hand and stopped Dumbledore from speaking. "I won't complain anymore. I suppose the longer you keep me alive, the longer you keep him from completing the rite."

"That is not why we want to do it," Dumbledore said quietly.

"Spare me. Is there a bath I can use?"

"Through there," Dumbledore said, pointing at a small door, and Malfoy crossed the room and went through without another word. Dumbledore silently watched him go, his face bleak.

Harry said nothing for a few minutes, trying to let the sound of running water in the other room fill his mind. "Will—will you be able to protect him?" he asked finally.

"We will try," was all Dumbledore said. He looked at Harry. "Will you stay here with him for a short while?" he asked. "I must go speak with the other teachers. I do not want him to be alone."

Harry nodded miserably and watched Dumbledore leave. A few moments later, the water stopped, and Malfoy came out soon after. "Are we alone?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes." Harry eyed him, nervous.

"Good. You have to help me," Malfoy said, his eyes almost glittering with intensity.

Harry gulped. "Help you with what?"

"Finding out what it is, of course," Malfoy said. "The door that despair opens."

"I thought you thought—" He stopped, realizing that Malfoy must have been standing outside the door listening before he'd come in.

"Yes, before I saw Dumbledore's reaction," Malfoy said. "It meant something to him, obviously."

"Right—something bad," Harry retorted. "Look, I'm sure he'll tell you if—"

"—if he decides it's appropriate? No, thank you." He came close and gripped the front of Harry's robe with both hands, almost lifting him from the chair. "Listen to me—I'm not going to live like this, do you understand me? You seemed to object to my taking the other way out. If you still do, you'd better help me." He let go and stepped back. "They can't watch me all the time," he said, his eyes never leaving Harry's. "I'm not the world's best Transfigurator, but I'm sure I can manage to sharpen a butter knife even if they don't give me back my wand."

Harry flinched. "How do you expect me to find out?" he said. "I don't have any idea what it is!"

Malfoy smiled thinly. "You have Granger," he said. "I understand the teachers have given her access to the Restricted Section of the library. If the information is in there, she can find it." His eyes narrowed. "And you will tell me about it."

Under Malfoy's demanding gaze, Harry struggled to think of some way out. But he couldn't see one. It wouldn't make a difference if he told Dumbledore—Malfoy was right, they wouldn't be able to watch him all the time. "It'll take time," he said, hoping to delay things.

"I'll give you three weeks," Malfoy said.

"Unless they find another way to protect you," Harry said.

"They won't. You said it yourself, Potter. A Seer doesn't make mistakes. This is the only way out—other than dying. Whatever it is." Some of the hardness left Malfoy's face, only to be replaced by a bleak exhaustion that hurt Harry to see. "I don't have any illusions it's going to be pleasant," he said. "But it's my choice to make. Not Dumbledore's. Not yours."

And there wasn't really anything Harry could say to that.

"You want to help Malfoy?" Ron sounded incredulous.

"Stop it, Ron. Not even Malfoy deserves to be shut up for the rest of his life like that." Hermione was still pale from the limited explanation Harry had given them, and she didn't even know the worst. "I don't blame him for wanting to know what the other way out is."

"And what if it's something like murdering a dozen other people?" Ron retorted. "You think he'd mind doing that if it let him off the hook?"

"He's not going to be able to if it is," Hermione said practically. "Dumbledore and the others are hardly going to let him hurt anyone else in the school, and if he leaves Voldemort will grab him before he can do anything."

Ron rolled his eyes. "I still think it just serves him right," he muttered.

"Shut up! It does not!" Harry snapped, his fists clenching. Ron stared at him, clearly startled, and Harry forced down the anger. It wasn't Ron's fault. "Sorry," he said a few moments later. "You—you don't know—" he stopped. He couldn't—wouldn't—tell them the rest. "He doesn't deserve this," he said finally. "And he's right. It's his decision. Dumbledore's wrong about keeping this from him."

"You two can start looking in the main section," Hermione said, getting to her feet. "I'll try doing a search under 'despair' in the Restricted Section."

And though Ron sighed exaggeratedly, he still came along with them.

The library seemed much larger now, with every hour coming out of Malfoy's three weeks. Harry ignored his classes and the work he should have been doing for the O.W.L.s, skipped meals and Quidditch practice, and spent nights reading books by the light of his wand. The teachers all seemed preoccupied and nervous, and not even Snape seemed to notice his distraction. When Ron or Hermione did drag him away, he spent the time making lists of the books he was going to try next. Whenever the search tried to ease to the back of his mind, whenever his eyes or his back or his mind rebelled, he slipped away to Dumbledore's rooms and spent an hour watching Malfoy tear himself apart, seeing the raveling threads where pacing was wearing the carpet thin, the untouched trays going back to the kitchens. And then he went back downstairs and back to the books.

"Harry." Hermione was shaking him. Blearily, he lifted his head from the table where it had fallen and stared at her. She was pale and nervous.

He sat up abruptly. "You found it."

She nodded. "I—I don't know if this is a good idea after all," she blurted. "We should trust Dumbledore."

He grabbed her arms fiercely. "Dammit, Hermione, tell me!"

"Hey!" Ron reached out and pulled him back into his seat. "Calm down! I still don't understand why you're getting so dedicated about this."

His control snapped. Wheeling on Ron, he said in deadly tones, "If we don't find the way for him by the end of this week, he's going to kill himself."

Ron and Hermione stared at him, their eyes shocked and huge. Hermione sat down as if her legs wouldn't hold her up anymore, her hands trembling. "He wouldn't," she said. "He wouldn't."

"He would," Harry said bitterly. "He nearly jumped off a cliff in front of me that night. I had to sit on him to keep him from doing it."

Hermione stared at the table, blinking hard. "It's an old saying," she whispered. "The door that despair opens is the entrance...the entrance to the Scholomance."

Ron jerked as if he'd been slapped, looking even more shocked. "The Scholomance?" he said, horrified. "You should've let him jump off that cliff. His odds would be better."

"What's the Scholomance?" Harry demanded.

"The Black School," Ron said, shuddering. "It's run by demons."


Hermione nodded. "Anyone can get in," she said. "But to get out, you have to defeat all of the doorkeepers. Ten of them are demons, and the eleventh one is invincible." She hesitated, then added, "No one has come out of the Scholomance in more than eight hundred years. Not since Roger Bacon."

"Wait—if the eleventh one is invincible, how does anyone ever get out?" Harry asked.

"I don't know, that's just what the books say about it," Hermione said, shrugging.

"Harry, I'm serious—he would be better off dead," Ron said. "If you lose to one of the doorkeepers, they don't just kill you. They take your soul."

Malfoy smiled faintly. "The door that despair opens. Of course," he murmured. "What else would it be?"

Harry watched him, his hands clenched tight. He didn't know what to do, what to say. "Draco—"

Malfoy waved him to silence and walked to the window. It was sunny, and Harry stared at the back of Malfoy's head, silver-gold against the blue outside. After a moment, he said softly, "It's the other choice. It wouldn't be, if it meant death."

"It might mean worse," Harry said grimly. "Draco, you can't—you can't do this."


Harry crossed the room and turned him around sharply. "No," he said. "We're going to beat him—I know it. Voldemort's always been afraid of Dumbledore, and that's not going to change—"

Draco just looked him steadily in the face. "There have already been three attempts," he said, interrupting. "It's only a matter of time if I stay here, and then he can find another sacrifice. He won't indulge in any more games this time, either. He'll grab someone and butcher them quickly, and it'll be behind the strongest wards he can manage. And then he won't need to be afraid of Dumbledore.

"Really," he went on, "it's the perfect solution. He can't get to me in the Scholomance. Even if he found someone willing to go in, students don't see each other in there. And nothing will harm me as long as I don't try to leave."

"If you're going to shut yourself up forever, why would that be better than here?"

Draco shrugged. "I won't be living in fear," he said. "And there are reasons that people go to the Scholomance, you know."

"What, besides suicidal tendencies?" Harry asked, angrily. To have tried so hard—worked so long—and now Draco was just going to throw it away, throw himself away—

"Power," Draco said. "Any spell, any secret—they are open to those in the Scholomance. All questions are answered there, all knowledge granted—" His eyes gleamed, and Harry went still.

"And that's worth the risk to you?" he asked bitterly. "It's worth spending years in a cell, with no light, no one to talk to, practically no chance of ever getting out? It's worth leaving—leaving everything behind?"

Draco looked at him, and Harry suddenly felt strange and hot. Neither of them moved, neither said a word.

After too long, Draco finally broke the silence. "It wouldn't be," he said finally, "if things were different." And then his mouth twitched into the ghost of a smile. "Of course, if things were different, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation."

Harry flushed and turned away, then froze in his tracks as Draco touched his arm. "I don't want—" he started.

"I can't live like this," Draco said. "You know I can't. At least there I can do something. And who knows? I might even get out."

Draco's hand was light and cold on Harry's arm, the pale blue veins too clear beneath the skin, no strength in the grip—almost a ghost of itself. He'd gotten so thin. Harry took a deep breath. "We don't even know how you could get there," he said.

"I do." Harry whirled and saw Draco open a drawer in Dumbledore's desk, taking out a long letter opener. Light glinted on its sharpened edge, and he tensed. Draco glanced at him and smiled sardonically. "Relax. I'm not going to do myself any permanent damage with it."

Warned by that, Harry took a step towards him, but it was too late—Draco had slashed his palm with the blade. His jaw visibly clenched, Draco went to the door of the bathroom and smeared the doorposts and the lintel with his blood. Harry stared. "How is that going to do anything?"

"The door that despair opens, Potter. The despair is in my blood. Stay back." He raised a hand and knocked on the door hard, three times.

At first, Harry thought nothing had happened. And then he noticed that the space between the bottom of the door and the threshold had gone completely dark. Draco stood in front of the door for a few moments without moving, then he reached out and yanked it open.

Beyond there was nothing but darkness. But even as they stood there staring into the featureless pitch, two pale gleams of light ignited, like strange pupilless eyes, and floated towards them.

"Enter, if you dare," hissed a low, disembodied voice.

Suddenly the door behind them was flung open and Dumbledore charged into the room, McGonagall and Snape right behind him. "Stop!" he shouted, raising his wand. "Fermatus!" The door began to swing shut.

Draco threw Harry one swift glance, raised a hand, and went through the door. The blackness swallowed him as if he'd ceased to exist, and then the door slammed behind him, just before Harry's fingers would have caught the edge. Fumbling for the doorknob, shaking off Dumbledore's hand on his shoulder, he pulled it open and found himself staring into the small bathroom. In the warm breeze from the open window, the shower curtain blew slowly back and forth.

The room was empty. Draco was gone.

-= End =-

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The Scholomance Series

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