Chapters Posted: 25
Words Posted: 168,918
Disclaimer: Harry Potter, his friends, his enemies, and the lovely world they live in all belong to JK Rowling.
Despite busy times at work and at home, managed to finish the chapter! Chapter 26 is likewise almost finished...
My thanks go to badgerlady and crescent for beta-reading this chapter. You are both awesome!
Please let me know what you think. Reviews inspire me!
A question for my gentle readers: I have need of Snape later in the story, yet he has hidden himself away quite effectively, and I believe both in his motivation and in his skill in self preservation. Despite his lack of faith that anyone would stand up for him, what might motivate him to return, even if it means his capture? Or, in what way might he slip up so that he could be found?
Continued from Chapter 24
Chapter 25: Questions and Answers
June 3, 1998
Pansy Parkinson returned to the crew after two weeks. The first words out of her mouth were, “What’s he doing here?”
Considering Potter had already donned gloves and taken up a brush, Draco thought it might be fairly obvious what Potter was doing there. On the other hand, if he had been gone for two weeks and suddenly found a Gryffindor in their midst, he might have had the same response. Whether he would have been so rash as to ask, out loud, in that tone of voice, was another matter.
Draco had always enjoyed Pansy’s wit, but she sometimes lost perspective. She would say the things that others thought but kept behind their teeth. If she had the political acumen to react to the climate of the time, she would have made a decent wife. She could hold her own in conversation and had delightful barbs to inject. She was fun to be around. He didn’t want to distance himself from her, which meant he needed to have a talk with her. This would be a challenge with Potter and the guard listening in. Draco smiled at the thought. He loved a verbal challenge.
“He’s joined our team, Pans.”
“Where would Potter have learnt the necessary skills?” Her voice rose with the question. “Are you all suicidal? You know how delicate this work is!”
“Malfoy has been teaching me,” Potter drawled.
Draco stared at him. For a moment, Potter had sounded like a Slytherin. How had he learned to imbue such amused disgust into his voice?
Much as it would be fun to watch Pansy and Potter go at it, a fight, verbal or otherwise, did not suit his plans. “Pansy, Potter is, surprisingly, competent at this. He’s only blown us up once.” He knew he shouldn’t have added that last bit, but the words would not be repressed.
Potter made up for it. “I was an idiot. Thank you ever so much for reminding me.”
Again, Draco found himself staring. Why wasn’t Potter… Draco would have expected Potter to get defensive, or angry, to throw things around and have a tantrum at being criticized, even indirectly. But again, he was acting like… like one of them. He had seen Gryffindors jostle each other back and forth, getting in little digs, and then laughing it off. Potter was treating them like friends. But he wasn’t doing it purely like a Gryffindor. There was something decidedly Slytherin mixed in.
Just as he was about to turn away, he caught a glimpse of amusement from Potter. He was looking at Pansy. Suddenly, Draco got it. Potter was being friendly because it would bother Pansy! Draco remembered Pansy offering Potter up to Voldemort—not that Draco hadn’t been thinking the same thing, but to say it aloud? Unless you knew exactly how the battle would end, you did not voice your thoughts like that. Having the Dark Lord in residence clarified that lesson over the previous year more than all the corrections his parents had given him over the years.
Draco figured he’d let Potter have his fun. Pansy had earned what Potter was dishing out. Besides, Potter had just offered what amounted to a very Slytherin apology, with just the right amount of ruefulness in his wry comment, to a team full of Slytherins. That was worth the memory book.
Other, more important, topics needed discussing, however.
“Pansy, what can you tell us? You were out there for more than two weeks.”
Draco noticed that Potter turned to inspect the brushes, even though he already had one in his hand. Subtle. Still, Draco appreciated the effort, even though he was certain that Potter was listening to every word. The Auror, on the other hand, made no pretence, watching the conversation quite openly.
“I wasn’t really ‘out there.’ They had me in a Ministry holding cell, when I wasn’t with my father or watching the trial. He—” Pansy swallowed, then tossed her head up defiantly. “He was convicted. Mother’s fled the country.”
Glaring at Potter, she moved to choose gloves and a brush. He stared back but didn’t give way, so she had to stand near him to choose her tools. As soon as she had them, she turned her back on him and put some distance between them. “After the trial, they had me go to Gringotts. Even though father is… won’t be free to manage it, he is still head of the family. With Mother gone, I’ve been made custodian for the Parkinson family. My first duty was to pay my father’s fines.”
They waited. It was private information, but they all wanted to know. They knew their families would be next, and they would likely be facing the same thing. At that moment, Draco didn’t really care that Potter, or the Guard, or anyone else was listening, he wanted to know. Neither Potter, nor the guard had any right to this information. Privacy, however, was the first sacrifice.
“My father had given much to the Dark Lord. The fine was to give an equal amount to those they called his victims.” She snarled the last word. “I will have… enough,” Pansy said. There was much that was unsaid. Pansy was a pureblood. Enough was… not enough.
A dismaying thought occurred to Draco. The Parkinsons had never been as well-to-do as the Malfoys or the Blacks, or even the Notts. Draco knew his father had contributed significantly more than the Parkinsons, even if he did not know the specifics. If they imposed a similar fine on his family, it could cast awry most of their plans. Reclaiming their place in society would be a lot more difficult if they didn’t have the funds to smooth the way. They would have to adjust their plans. Draco suspected it would involve sacrifices that would hurt far more than anything they had chosen to date. Then he remembered their plans, his plans. Not much would hurt more than that, other than failure.
Another thought occurred to him. “You said Custodian?”
Pansy nodded. Draco looked at the other Slytherins. They all knew what that implied. Pansy would not have the ability to direct the investing of what remained of her estate, only to continue to manage what was left, to prevent catastrophe. Ulysses Parkinson was the only one who could make those changes, and until he died or was set free, his previous choices held. It could ruin the remainder of her estate. She could direct funding to keep her properties in good repair, but changing anything major required a wanded signature from her father… who would not have access to his wand.
They had already assigned Adrien to the Cauldron, and while Draco seriously considered changing it to minimize the Potter/Parkinson interaction, Potter wouldn’t take it well, most likely, and Draco found he didn’t want Potter to revert to old animosity. He hoped he wasn’t making a mistake.
“Potter, you and I on protection; Daphne, you and Theo on cleansing; Pansy, I know you are wizard at banishing.” That, and banishing used the most active intent, and right now, Pansy would really want to banish things. The Ministry, Potter… Draco suspected there was a list.
Pansy smirked and bowed.
The work went surprisingly well, despite the fact that Pansy kept glaring at Potter and, several times, painted her banishing rune right over his shoulder… always just succeeding in painting it past him, so he would not be affected. She knew better than to cause real issues in a room saturated with unstable magic but that didn’t stop her from creating the threat of harm. Draco knew that Pansy was one of the few who could paint banishing runes on thin air and have them hold. It would never work for protective runes, but banishing runes were about motion, so the connection with air helped, if the runes kept to form.
Fortunately, the guard that day did not understand what their work was, so didn’t see the threat inherent in Pansy’s gestures. Draco did.
After the work on the room was done, Draco went to the guard.
“I need to discuss some things with Miss Parkinson. She has missed two weeks of work and I need to catch her up.”
The Auror looked at him, clearly trying to look down on him, despite the fact they were the same height. Draco kept himself from laughing at the sight.
“If her work today isn’t satisfactory, I could let Mr Filch know to remove her from the team.”
“No, it’s fine. I just need to go over what we have cleansed.” Draco sighed. For once, he was glad the guard was clueless. “When we work, we have to hold an image of the castle in our minds, updated with all the areas we have worked on. I need to give her the details, so her images are clearer.” Draco wanted to clear such stupid tripe from his mouth, but it worked.
“Go on, then. You have ten minutes.”
* * *
The Auror watched as they stepped a few paces down the empty hall, away from the others. Their ankle cuffs kept them from going too far, and the Auror well knew it, but he still kept a Niffler’s eye on them.
“Pans…” He stopped himself. First things first. “How are you? I won’t ask if you’re alright, because I am sure you’re not. None of us are. Are you… managing?”
She looked at him with an almost expressionless face, but he knew her too well. He never wanted to see such pain in her eyes. She nodded.
“Pans, I need to say something to you.” When she nodded again, he continued. “The situation has changed. For the moment, there’s nothing we can do about that. What we can do, is survive. The only way we can make it work is to use new tools.” He kept his eyes from drifting over toward Potter. Pansy didn’t. That was acceptable, as Potter had to know Draco was talking about his presence on the team.
“He’s too uncontrollable, Draco. It won’t work.”
“I am not planning to control him. I am planning to… to teach him. I’ll help him understand.” Just like I offered at the very beginning. Only, this time, he’ll accept what I offer.
Pansy knew him too well. She probably remembered his rants in that first year, before he learnt better.
“I just need you to back off for a bit. Just until we get this work done. It won’t be forever.”
She gave a nod. Draco knew this meant he’d owe a favour. Nothing was ever free, even between friends. This, though, was worth it.
June 2, 1998
“May I speak with you, Mr Potter?”
Harry looked up to see Professor McGonagall standing behind him. “Of course.” Harry grabbed one last roll, quickly slathered it with butter and tucked a few pieces of cheese inside, wrapped it a cloth and stood up. He nodded at the volunteers sitting around him—no one he knew today, but at least none of them were gawkers that had come to see the Saviour of the Wizarding World—and followed Professor McGonagall to her office. She called a house-elf that Harry didn’t recognize and requested tea for the two of them, then gestured for him to sit. He did, and took a cup when it was offered, setting it on the desk.
“Nothing serious, Mr Potter, I only wanted to check how you were faring?” His face must have looked concerned. “I have discovered that you have been assigned to work with the team that is removing the magical taint left behind by the battle?”
“How did that come about?”
“Filch assigned me. I didn’t want to make a fuss.”
“I should have known. I had wondered why you hadn’t come to see me, when I first discovered your work assignment. You know you can always come to me if you need help?”
Harry nodded. It hadn’t always been true, but he suspected it was becoming more so as time went on.
“I will have a word with him.”
“Please don’t. I—it’s working out.”
“Did they tell you of the danger involved?”
Harry grimaced. “They did.”
McGonagall gave him an evaluating look. “If you’re content to continue working with them, I’ll not stop you. Just know that no matter what Mr Filch says, I have the final word here.”
“That was not the entire reason I asked you here, however.” She paused. “I have a suggestion for you. I understand that you are planning to return to Hogwarts next year, but I was wondering if you would like to sit your NEWTs nevertheless. If you achieve a NEWT in any subject, it would allow you the freedom to study another topic, or even study on your own.”
“Wasn’t the deadline yesterday?” Harry had not really thought about it, since he knew he wanted to complete his last year at Hogwarts, but Hermione had been worrying about the NEWTs and her upcoming trip, and had mentioned the deadline several times.
“I can add a few last-minute names, if I deem it appropriate.”
“Are you offering this to anyone else?”
“Others of your classmates have already availed themselves of the opportunity to sit some NEWTs this summer. Miss Granger, in particular, intends to sit several, even though she is quite firm about returning for a final year. I do hope her present commitment does not prove a hindrance.”
Harry didn’t even bother wondering how McGonagall knew about Hermione’s travels. It seemed intrinsic to the role of headmaster, or headmistress, to know everything.
“Still, would you allow another student to sign up late? Would the Ministry?” Harry realized that he sounded belligerent, when McGonagall was just trying to be helpful, but it still tasted of favouritism. He took a deep breath.
“I would, with any student with circumstances such as yours.”
“My circumstances are no different than Hermione’s, or Ron’s, or any of the Muggle-borns who were unable to attend this year.”
McGonagall took a sip of her tea before continuing, and then placed the teacup and saucer down on her desk with a soft clink. “I had another reason for offering. I have heard how you taught your fellow students Defence against the Dark Arts. You did an excellent job.”
The praise warmed Harry. McGonagall did not offer praise related to academic topics lightly.
“I am looking for a Defence instructor, and I do have an idea for one for the coming year, but I suspect he would only stay on for a year. Not for the reason that would have applied in the past, but for reasons of his own,” she reassured him. “If you were to achieve a NEWT in Defence, you could assist him this coming year, and then teach the class yourself in the year that followed.”
“I don’t know enough to teach!”
“Yet you did.”
“A lot of that was Hermione. She did the research. I wasn’t really teaching. I just… helped people learn.”
“Mr Potter, what do you think teaching is?”
Harry thought about what he had just said and gave a wry smile. He wasn’t sure if he could make her understand.
“I really just want one year, Professor, I mean, Headmistress. One year as a regular student.”
“I see. Mr Potter, would you do me the favour of considering it? Even on a trial basis?”
A thought occurred to him. “Who else are you offering the chance to— to sign up late, I mean?”
“That is something that is between the student in question and myself. I will tell you that you are one of four students to whom I am making this offer. I checked the list when the deadline passed, and saw some missed opportunities that I felt the need to address.”
Harry thought for a moment. “I’ll consider it.”
Before McGonagall could reply, a quiet bell chimed. She checked an instrument that seemed to be left over from Dumbledore’s tenure, and then flicked her wand. Footsteps sounded from the spiral stairwell.
She noted Harry’s look. “Some of Professor Dumbledore’s devices come in quite useful.” She gave a thin, wry smile. “I’m sorry to cut our meeting short, but I believe I need to see to this.”
Harry grinned at her and left, passing an Auror as she climbed the spiral stairs. It did touch him that, as busy as she was, McGonagall was still acting as his head of house, thinking of his future, even if he wasn’t sure he wanted to take her up on it.
Minerva recognized the Auror who entered as one of those who had done the initial scan of the castle for dark magic residue.
“We have a problem.”
Minerva was growing to hate those words.
“What is it?”
“We have been scanning the locations that have been cleansed, to ensure that the work is being done as promised, certainly, but also to check the effectiveness of the cleansing that is being done.”
“Is the team not performing the work satisfactorily?” It was such a dry phrase for risking the residents of the castle with the loss of their magic.
“No, that isn’t it. The rooms are clean immediately after the cleansing. The problem is that some of them are being re-infected.”
“We don’t know that yet.”
Minerva thought for a moment. “Could you please escort Narcissa Malfoy to my office? I think it wise to get a better understanding of matters. Tell her to bring her book.”
The Auror left and, a short time later, returned, ushering Narcissa Malfoy through the door.
“You wish to see me?” Narcissa’s cultured voice expressed polite curiosity.
“It seems some of the rooms that your son’s team have cleansed have become re-infected.”
Narcissa closed her eyes as if to repudiate Minerva’s phrasing. “That is unfortunate. Have you tracked the vector of the… re-infection?” Her voice was so arid Minerva could hear the distain leaching off the last word.
“That is why I asked you here. I need to understand better how this magical residue moves.”
“It does not move, not in the way you are envisioning. There is a… flow to the magical ambience of a place – eddies and whirlpools, as well as streams and lakes. The magic itself does not move, but… I cannot explain it to someone who has not experienced it. The words I would use would be poor metaphors. The magical ambience is like plants growing in an area, and the flow is the wind. Aroma from the plant can be carried on the wind, but the plant remains. When magic is cast in an area, the plants grow.”
“Whatever you think you understand from what I just said is almost certainly wrong. Magic is not like a plant, and the flow is not like the wind. Magical ambience is magical ambience, and flow is life.”
Minerva thought back to her experience a few nights prior. No, she was not trained to recognize what Narcissa Malfoy was talking about—she had always thought that such an approach was intrinsic to the practice of Dark magic, which had not been taught at Hogwarts for longer than she’d been alive—but her inner feline recognized that the words fit what she had seen and felt. “Flowery language aside, how do we stop a room from becoming contaminated again?”
“The runes must be stronger. The cleansing must be more thorough, and the runes must be strong enough to stand against the sheer amount of magic at Hogwarts. You have allowed this castle to become saturated. You will also have to find the source of the residue that is spreading to the already cleansed rooms.”
The Auror spoke up at that point. “There is no pattern! The re-infection has happened on several floors, on several wings of the castle. There does not seem to be any corridor or hidden passage that connects them.”
“In that case, it is likely the source of the residue is more thoroughly entrenched in the castle than mere passageways. It is also likely you do not understand… the connecting paths a place such as Hogwarts provides.”
The Auror turned to her with a cold look. “I understand plenty.”
“You spoke of corridors, as if magic were a river to flow through them. Did you not take Runes?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Narcissa gazed at the Auror impassively. “Runes create connection, as well as preventing it,” she said as if she were teaching a particularly stupid student.
“What do you recommend we do?”
Narcissa considered. Her face didn’t scrunch with the intensity of her thought, but instead remained impassive, as if she was considering nothing more urgent than whether to drink Ceylon tea or Darjeeling.
Minerva McGonagall was a very patient woman, or she would never have succeeded as a teacher, but after several minutes of staring expectantly at that composed face, she was beginning to see the benefit of fidgeting. She restrained herself.
Finally, Narcissa nodded almost imperceptibly. “I have trusted you with the contents of a small section of the Malfoy family book. But books are not all that the old families stored. As a child, I was introduced to a device that could show the flow of magic in an area. It was demonstrated to us as part of our early studies. It has to remain properly shielded while being used. A certain level of emotional control on the part of the wielder is needed for the shielding to hold.”
“Why did you not mention this device before?” Minerva asked, not restraining the bite in her tone. “Certainly you could see it would be of use?” She let the accusation hang. Could some of the infections have been prevented, if Narcissa Malfoy had only been more forthcoming?
“There are some things that are kept within a family. To share them with outsiders… weakens them. This is one of those. I am also wary of bringing a family relic out and risk its confiscation.”
“Is it Dark?”
“What is Dark?” Narcissa challenged.
Before Minerva could clarify, Narcissa continued. “The fact that you asked the question should tell you why I hesitated to tell you about it. Definitions of Dark have changed over the centuries. It is not defined as Dark by the current Ministry, but that may well be because its existence is not known. Dark magic was used in its creation, as was the magic you would call Light. It was necessary that it touch all forms of magic in its forging, so that it would have affinity for them in its use.”
Narcissa paused. “I have three questions for you. Will you…” her voice twisted in distain, “sully your honour by allowing something that has been touched by the Dark to be used? Whom will you allow to touch a device that can touch the core of magic, dark and light? And will you guarantee that it will be returned to the family from which it was taken?”
Narcissa took a gentle sip of her Darjeeling, her eyes never leaving Minerva’s.
“First, an act which protects Hogwarts will not sully my honour,” Minerva replied. “If using such a device will protect it, then I would very much like to understand it and its effects. I will not use it blindly.”
Narcissa nodded. “Sensible.”
“Can anyone use it?”
“There must be some Black blood in their veins. I can check the genealogies to determine if it is safe for your chosen witch or wizard to handle it.”
Minerva nodded. The Blacks had intermarried with many other families, including many that she trusted. That would not severely limit their choices.
“The person must have the ability to calm their emotions, and must have used several different forms of magic including what is currently called dark, or the device will…cause a shock to their magic.”
“I can find someone appropriate, I’m sure, once I’ve had a chance to examine the device.”
“What is your answer to my final question?”
Minerva gave a smile that would send less composed adults cowering. “I will return it to the Black family.”
Narcissa paused in thought. She certainly heard and understood the unspoken words, and knew that her family’s device would not be returned to her hands. Minerva also had no doubt that Narcissa had chosen her own words carefully, to allow that opening. The device would be returned to the Blacks via Harry Potter, and Minerva did not delude herself that even that would serve some plan of this most Slytherin woman. Minerva hoped she would not regret her choice.
“The last I saw this device, it was at the Black Estate; however, it would not be desirable for an untrained person to come into contact with it. It would be better if I went personally.”
“Did your sister Andromeda not have the same training as you?”
“She repudiated it! She turned her back on her family.”
“I was under the impression her family turned their backs on her.”
“Nevertheless, without first evaluating her magic, I would not know whether she would damage the device, or indeed, whether the device would damage her.”
“It seems that you are the only person you would trust to gather the artefact and bring it to Hogwarts.”
“There may be others. I can only speak with certainty of my own skill.”
I will ask Mr Potter if he will accompany you. Of course, an Auror or two will need to join you, and requirements similar to your last excursion will need to apply.”
“One other thing.” Minerva paused, wishing to make sure the words she used were exactly right. “I had the opportunity, the other night, to witness the flow of magical ambience in the castle.”
Narcissa looked up quickly. In anyone else, Minerva would have said she was startled.
“I find I must apologize to you for my earlier doubt. I had never noticed the background levels of magical energy, here in this castle, other than as a source of strength. You are correct, however, that the levels are quite high and, as we have seen, subject to influence. If I am confirmed headmistress, I will make sure the issue is researched. I will work toward the goal of reducing the risk of another cascade should Dark magic again be used within its walls. I would like to keep Hogwarts strong, and retain its unique character, however. I am coming to believe that part of its strength lies in the amount of magic flowing through its walls. Perhaps we can find some common ground, some method that meets both needs?”
Silence stretched between them. Finally, Narcissa nodded. “I would be pleased to work with you to that end.”
When Potter joined the team that Friday, Draco observed him. He went about the work as if he knew what he was doing, and he watched the others as if to learn from them. Draco wondered where this Potter had been before. This Potter could almost have been in Slytherin, the way he observed and learned from what he witnessed.
He had learned the protection charm as if he had done it all of his life. Of course, Potter was the epitome of protection, but Draco had never expected him to have the self restraint to protect without throwing his full power into it, and thus defeating the purpose of what they were doing.
He would move Potter to cleansing next. If he could get the knack of cleansing without involving his own magic, then Draco would consider moving him to banishing. Of the three runes for removing magical residue, banishing was the most difficult, because it was the most active, and yet one still had to remain unengaged with the surrounding ambience. One could not simply push against ambient magic with uncontrolled power. The runes had to be cast calmly, without magic, but with intent. Each rune had to be neutral. It had to be empty, waiting, all potential and no action. If it was cast correctly, the ambient magic would dissipate, soaking away like water into sand.
It was a contradiction. Draco had not thought that a Gryffindor like Potter, whose magic seemed to be all wild instinct, could separate intent from magic. Over the past several weeks, however, he had seen Potter do just that.
The routine of drawing the runes was a dance Draco had done many times. He danced with the magic around him, never quite touching it, but creating paths with their runes that the ambient magic followed. As in a dance, the repetition of years of practice meant he could do it without actively thinking about it; he only needed to stay present with the movements of the runes and the intent.
Unfortunately, not having to think about the runes meant that his mind kept returning to the dreams that had invaded his sleep. After suppressing all waking thoughts of Greg and Vince for weeks, he now couldn’t go long without memories invading his mind. He knew what he had to do, but it had taken him all week to work up to his objective for today.
Just as they were finishing, cleaning their brushes with one last dip in the cauldron and doffing their gloves to store neatly in the carry-box, he put his plan into action.
“Potter,” Draco called to him as he was leaving.
To an outside observer, it might have seemed impulse. To a true Slytherin, it would be seen as the culmination of planning, of the instinct to find the best path to success. Draco suspected it was desperation. He had not had a good night’s sleep in days, and he was feeling it. He could have understood it if the nightmares had come immediately after the battle. He had had nightmares then, sure, but he had also been exhausted—even numb. This was weeks later, but ever since he had dreamt of Vince and Greg, thoughts of them had haunted him. Why had it taken so long to wonder what happened to Greg? He knew what happened to Vince; he doubted there would be anything left. The fire played out over and over in his mind, crackling, roaring like the fiends it had been named for, eating all in its path.
But Greg… Why was he not in the dungeons? His team had talked as best they could with the guards ever-present, sharing who was captured, who was alive, who was not. Draco would not have chosen him for the cleansing team, but it would have been good to know what had happened to Greg. He’d known him since he could remember.
When they were young, Draco had been educated about social politics without even realizing it. When his father invited the Minister to a soirée, the guest list included the pureblood elite—at least, those whose political agenda was compatible with his father’s.
Other evenings, his father went out. On those evenings, Vince, Greg, and Theo would stay behind with Draco, with a house-elf keeping an eye out. It was only when the Dark Lord returned and the pattern became more frequent that Draco realized how those evenings were spent. He had not let himself imagine further. Now, he had no need to imagine, he had witnessed it. He had kept trying to tell himself it was for the betterment of pureblood culture, but by the time the Dark Lord came to full strength, Draco had seen too much to believe that.
He remembered their childhoods, playing politics and games with each other, pretending to be what they didn’t understand.
He remembered the time when Vince had gone missing, only to be found in the kitchens. The house-elves had been plying him with treats, and he had sicked up for hours before their parents had returned and provided a potion. No one he knew would have trusted the house-elves to dose their children without specific instructions, and the adults had been out of reach of the elves, not to be disturbed.
Then there was the time that Greg decided he wanted to pet the kneazle and had blundered through the house chasing after it. His mother had never quite forgiven Greg for the hairline crack that was left in her priceless ancient Ming vase, after being broken and repaired with a Reparo. A Muggle would never notice it, but only because they would never be able to repair a vase as well as a wizard could. To a wizard, however, the vase had just lost two thirds of its value.
Draco, Theo and Daphne had climbed the tall cypress trees behind the rose garden and been thoroughly lectured about remembering that they were witches and wizards, and not to let the fact that they had not yet received their first wands keep them from acting like it.
When Pansy had come over, she had ordered them all around, and they had all gone along with it because she could be scary clever when she wasn’t being stubborn. If she had cared one whit about schoolwork, she would have been at the top of the class for girls, Draco thought, even above the Mudblood Granger. But Pansy never wanted to use her brains. She wanted other people to do the work for her. She didn’t care for studies. She also had a curious blind spot regarding political acumen.
Daphne, on the other hand, lived and breathed politics. Blaise had joined them when his mother had married a Fawley. They were mostly Hufflepuffs, but as members of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, they were worth an invitation. Blaise knew where the bodies were buried, who had buried them, and with which digging charm. Draco had always been on alert when Blaise came to visit, lest he discover a closet or a dungeon with a skeleton or five.
How they had learned to trust each other had been a mystery. Of course, it was possible that they never had. They had learnt to trust each other’s skill, and their own knowledge of the others’ strengths, habits and weaknesses. If you knew who someone was and what their habits were, you had no need to trust. You had knowledge.
Right now, Draco did not have knowledge. That would have to be fixed. Who had survived? Who was still in the country? Who was still free? Who was being tried and when, who was missing or known dead?
“Potter,” he said again, “would you stay for a moment?”
Potter paused in his departure, although the guard looked ready to object.
“Would it be okay if I spoke with Malfoy for a few moments?” Potter asked the guard.
The guard looked mulish for a moment, but then looked at Potter’s forehead. Of course. “I’ll be right over here,” he said. The second Auror, who would chivvy the others in the crew back into their dungeon cells, nodded and led her charges away. Potter allowed Draco to guide him just out of the Auror’s earshot. “What do you want?” His tone was cool, but not cold or angry. Draco took the chance.
“You’ve seen the lists of those who fell in battle?”
“Yes.” Potter’s voice got colder. Draco could curse himself for how he started. Of course Potter would have lost people, and that would be a tender subject.
“I haven’t,” he continued, pushing on. “I have friends and relatives that I haven’t seen since the battle, and I don’t know their… status.” Draco reminded himself he was talking with a Gryffindor, and pushed the emotion. “I don’t know whether my friends are alive or dead.”
“If they are alive, they are likely waiting a trial and a lifetime in Azkaban,” Potter said harshly.
“I know that. But other than those in the cleansing team, and my parents, I don’t know anything about what happened to my friends and relatives. I would like to.”
“Why? What are you planning?” Potter said repressively.
“Do I have to have some heinous motive for everything I do?” Of course Potter would assume that.
Again, Potter was going with the dry humour. It kept making Draco feel wrong-footed. He took a breath. “This time, I am just trying to…” Stop the nightmares. Gain some peace. “…find out whether people I have known as long as I remember are alive.” Draco felt stripped bare. How did Gryffindors do it? How did they reveal their weaknesses like this?
He ignored the raw feeling. He asked what no true pureblood should be able to decline. He looked at the ground, as if not seeing that shaggy-haired, scarred face would somehow make it not-Potter he was facing.
“As a scion of Black, I ask this of you.” Potter’s silence was too much answer. He forced his eyes up, to look Potter in the eyes.
Potter shook his head and Draco was about to be affronted, when he saw something. Potter was in pain, physical pain.
* * *
Harry’s head screamed. The tumult in his mind drowned out his surroundings: not just whatever Malfoy was saying, but even the sight of the stone walls of the corridor.
Voices shouted, each one louder than the previous, clamouring for attention. He shook his head as if to deny them, but that only made the pain worse.
He only heard occasional words in the din but a few words arose above the others, again and again. Black. Family. Honour. His head pounded with the words, a drumbeat sending pain shooting out into his skin. Finally, one familiar voice gave a tremendous shout of “Enough!”
Remus. It was almost worth the pain, to hear his voice again. No, not almost.
“You’re hurting him!”
“The Half-breed is right,” another voice commented.
“How that one joined the line I cannot fathom,” the voice of an older woman grumbled.
“Married the daughter of the exile, as you well know.”
“I’m right here, and she is no longer exiled. Wotcher, Harry.”
“You can hear us! I was beginning to think we were nattering to ourselves.” Tonks’ humour bled through each word.
“I have never met someone as thick-skulled as you, young man.”
“I, I don’t… Who are you?”
“Arcturus Black, at your service. Quite literally, in fact. Although, to be truthful, I am merely an echo of Arcturus, embedded in the magic that has joined with you.”
“You accepted the family. All of us. Did you not know what that means?”
“Mrs – Andromeda Tonks said something. I’ve been hearing bits of you…”
“Of course you have. How can you be expected to guide this family without the advice of your predecessors? You must know the will of the family, before you can choose a direction.”
“That’s what Andromeda said. But what if…” Harry thought about all that Sirius had said about his family, thought about Walburga—who, he thought with horror, was probably somewhere in there, waiting to lash into him for daring to sully her pure family…
“Enough. Although it has taken a direct request from a scion of Black for us to break through your thick skull, we can reach you now. You must answer young Malfoy.”
Harry didn’t think he could another such assault on his mind. “All of you?”
“Never fear. We will only speak up at need.”
“Or when you are about to do something very stupid.”
“Hush! No matter what choices he has made, he has been accepted by Black. There must be more to him than is apparent.”
“We are Black!”
“Thus, it was we who accepted him.”
“STOP IT!” Harry’s mental shout echoed in the corridor. He opened his eyes, briefly, but even the dim light of the corridor caused stabbing pain. He lowered his eyelids, looking out of just the barest cracks. Two faces stared at him. He waved away the Auror, who had approached, wand out, at his shout, and noticed Malfoy’s face. It looked almost concerned.
“Apologies, Mr Potter of Black.”
“It is confusing to have a head of the family with a different family name.”
“Regardless, we cannot continue this. It will exhaust you. Nevertheless, a request has been put before you by one of Black. You must answer.”
“Why should I?”
Disappointment echoed around him, but part of it had a very familiar flavour.
“Put yourself in his shoes, Harry.” Remus’ voice sounded gently from his mind. “Would you not want to know what happened to your friends?”
“What if he uses the information to… I don’t know, to escape justice? Or hurt someone?”
“Do you think he will?”
Harry thought. “I don’t know. The Malfoy I knew would. This one…”
“…Is the same Malfoy that you knew. Perhaps you are seeing more of him now? A different side?”
“I don’t know. Can I take the risk?”
“Can you look yourself in the mirror if you deny a request to know whether a friend lives or dies?”
Harry felt his shoulders slump, unaware until then that he had raised both them and his arms in vain to protect his head from the pain and tumult within.
He could feel the proper response, fed to his mind and limbs. Remus was right.
He found his hands dropping to his sides as he nodded his head. Echoes of proper phrasing bounced around his head. “I will see it done.” A final nod, with his eyes never leaving Malfoy’s face, allowed him the pleasure of seeing Malfoy utterly and completely flummoxed.
* * *
Harry’s head ached for the rest of the evening. He thought about asking Madam Pomfrey for a potion, but he knew she had enough to deal with.
He ended up going to bed early. His sleep was filled with dreams, each filled with echoes of memories, voices from ages past providing narration and commentary. He lived the lives of centuries of Blacks. He woke feeling ancient and mentally exhausted, but his headache had released its grip.
June 6, 1998
The wall opposite the troll ballet was blank. Harry hesitated. What should he envision? The image of the room as he last saw it last arose in his mind: frightful creatures of flame, consuming all that they touched. Towers of treasures, secreted away, collapsing into the fire. He could still see Malfoy’s terrified face as he reached up toward Harry’s hand. No, that was not a room he wanted to enter again, even if he could.
What form did the room take when no one was in it? For that matter, where did the hidden things go? He knew they remained in the Room of Hidden Things—just as the diadem had, and Trelawney’s sherry, and the Prince’s book. He wondered if the house-elves knew. Harry sighed. He was delaying. He thought about calling up something familiar and safe, like the room where Dumbledore’s Army had met. Would that also be destroyed? Was the Room of Requirement one room, or many? He should ask Hermione--she would surely have researched it.
Just a test. To see if the room still worked. He would call…
As the image came to his mind, he paced back and forth in front of the wall.
It was familiar. As familiar as the back of his hand. He stroked the ridges still there. I must not tell lies. The door appeared. One side of the frame was slanted. He opened the door.
The room was small, dusty, cobwebbed. He had to crouch to enter. He left the door open, an option he had never had as a child. He hoped no one came by and saw the room, but he would not lock himself into that cupboard, nor would he lock himself into the Room of Requirement until he knew it was safe.
He wasn’t sure why he chose this room, of all the places he could go. Perhaps it was the risk of Dark magic residue… He did not know how the room worked. Did it connect to the source of the image? Could the contamination spread to the master pattern of the imagined location? There was so much about magic that Harry still did not know.
He could Apparate now. If he wanted to see somewhere he loved, like the Burrow, he could Apparate there. But he would not risk the Burrow, or any of the places in the Wizarding world that he had been to… well, maybe Malfoy Manor… But the Malfoys weren’t there to clean it up, and, no.
He did not think there was a risk… but this was one place he could risk. It wasn’t in the magical world.
He had sworn he would never return there… why was he bringing the Dursleys’ place here, to Hogwarts, to his home?
The ratty, faded blanket and mattress, long gone by now, were on the floor. Tiny broken soldiers rested on the shelves between the beams of the un-plastered walls. The crayoned page with his name on it was tacked on the wall next to the door, high enough that it could only be seen from inside the cupboard. It had been thrown out years ago.
A flicker caught his eye. The back wall flickered, changing briefly to plain stone, before solidifying again as beams and the back of plasterboard.
Not perfectly functional, then.
Something else felt off. Still looking at that spot in the wall, Harry pulled in his magic and opened that awareness that he’d used before. What he saw made him want to back into the corridor and slam the door. Instead of a stately dance of luminescent flows, balancing each other, he saw fractured, frenetic static bursts. The walls flickered again, and bursts like lightning cascaded along them, in frenetic bright and dark glowing swirls.
The room would have to be cleansed.