When Harry next roused, he was no longer in Gryffindor Tower. He didn’t rightly know where he was, actually, but it definitely wasn’t his dorm and quite probably not Hogwarts at all.
The bed upon which he lay was not his sturdy four-poster but a simple high-sat mattress with railings on either side to keep him from rolling off, not entirely unlike the beds in the Hospital Wing. Madame Pomfrey was nowhere to be seen, though, and the faint perfume of antiseptic and bland beige walls decorated with unremarkable landscape paintings suggested he was in a room at St. Mungo’s, although which ward was unclear.
He hadn’t the foggiest how much time had passed since he’d blacked out—but it had to have been a few hours at least, judging by the dazzling sunlight filtering through the gauzy blue-and-white checked curtains shading the window facing the bed. He tried to roll over, shifting onto his other side to take in the rest of the room, and winced as a sharp spear of pain lanced through his abdomen—one hand went to his stomach, and he could feel a wrapping of bandages underneath the thin shift he’d been given.
“Ron—Ron, he’s awake!”
Hermione launched herself from her chair, rushing to Harry’s bedside in a flash. A relieved smile bloomed on her face, whisking away the rather heavy bags that had been hanging under her eyes as she frantically motioned Ron over from where he’d evidently been napping in the corner, school robes crumpled under his head as a pillow. Harry tried to sit up, but Hermione quickly placed a hand on his shoulder, easing him back down. “How are you feeling?”
Another shot of pain drew a grimace as he tried to find a comfortable position. “Just grand.” Her smile went fond and understanding. “Bit out of it, honestly—what time is it?”
“Nearly noon,” Ron said, drawing a chair up alongside Hermione.
“Sunday,” Hermione added helpfully. “You’ve only been out a few hours, if you’re feeling disorientated.”
That was a small relief. He brought a hand up to rub at his temple and was dismayed to feel another length of bandages wrapped around his crown. “That’d explain the headache, I suppose…” He took another look around the room, then noticed shadows moving beyond the frosted glass panelling the closed door. “What happened?”
Ron tapped his temple, nodding at Harry. “You got conked on the head, mate.”
“I think he can tell that much, Ronald.” Hermione gave him an affectionate roll of her eyes.
One of the shadows beyond the frosted glass loomed larger, and the door eased open. “Hello, what’s this? You two need to keep it down now, don’t go disturbing Harry while—oh, goodness!” Mrs. Weasley filled the doorway, a hand coming to her breast. “He’s awake!” She frowned at Ron. “I told you to come fetch me when he woke!”
Ron was immediately defensive. “I was! But he just woke up, give the man time to gather his wits, will you?”
Hermione was quick to jump between them before the sniping escalated, and Harry’s aching head thanked her. “We’re sorry, Mrs. Weasley—but he did only wake up just now. We wanted to make sure he knew where he was before we up and left him.”
“Well,” Mrs. Weasley huffed, mollified, and turned a warm smile on Harry. “Wonderful to see you’re back with us, dear. Are you…” Her expression went a bit torn, and she pursed her lips. “Are you up for more visitors? If you’d rather not, I can try and put them off a bit longer…?”
Curious who’d come to visit him in St. Mungo’s for a bump on the head (or why a bump merited hospitalisation at all) beyond present company, Harry glanced to Hermione and Ron before shrugging, ambivalent. “I suppose? Mostly just got a bit of a headache, really.”
She nodded, understanding, and pasted on another too-bright smile that didn’t quite seem to reach her eyes. “I’ll pass the word along, then, and see about getting someone in here to give you a once over.” She slipped back out the door before he could explain she needn’t bother, and Hermione and Ron watched her go with mixed expressions.
“It’s just a headache…” Harry muttered.
“Mum can be a bit overprotective, you know her.” Ron shrugged.
Harry decided to let it go and picked up the thread of their conversation once more. “But seriously—what happened? Last thing I remember is waking up in Gryffindor Tower with the walls practically tumbling down around us.”
Ron leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “A dragon, mate.”
Harry made a face, bemused. “A—what?” He looked to Hermione, hoping she could clarify, but she only nodded. “Like—an actual dragon? No way.”
Ron abandoned his whispering, shaking his head as his brows lifted into his fringe. “Yes way! Wasn’t quite as big as the ones from the Triwizard Tournament, mind you, but it was bloody vicious! Tore into Gryffindor Tower like a Niffler in Gringotts! It’s a disaster now!”
“It’s true,” Hermione said, decidedly less awed. “We saw it when they evacuated the castle—it took all of the staff to wrangle it under control.”
“You…you reckon it was…” Ron’s conspiratorial whisper was back. “Y’know, something to do with You-Know-Who? Or Malfoy? Or both, I guess?”
“Ron,” Hermione huffed, and Harry sensed this wasn’t the first time they’d had this discussion, but he could feel his heart starting to pound, blood pulsing in his veins and leaving him light-headed, because his mind was already racing with possibilities at Ron’s suggestion.
Harry hadn’t been wrong after all—he hadn’t. If a dragon had attacked Hogwarts, attacked his bedroom, on the same night he and Dumbledore had gone Horcrux hunting, then… “It has to have been, right? I mean—a dragon, in the middle of the Scottish countryside? Attacking Gryffindor Tower of all places? A bit too much of a coincidence for my comfort.”
“Honestly, Ron! Now you’ve got Harry in a tizzy!” Hermione placed a hand on Harry’s arm, giving a squeeze to get him to focus on her. “Don’t get all worked up, all right? You’re still hurt, and there’s nothing to suggest this had anything to do with—with anything.”
“You can’t be serious, can you?” Harry laughed. He glanced at Ron, who just crossed his arms as if to say You see what I’ve had to deal with? “What do you think it was, then?”
“Well—I mean—I don’t know.” She made a little noise of frustration, and her tone went pleading. “But just think about it for a moment—why on earth would he send a dragon after you? It’s not like him, is it?”
“We don’t know what he’s like, Hermione,” Ron reminded. “He’s a madman—that’s kind of the point.”
“I mean to say—he wouldn’t want to let someone or something else do what he probably thinks is his birthright by now: kill Harry.”
“Who’s saying it was trying to kill Harry? Maybe it was just supposed to snatch him and carry him back to…well, wherever You-Know-Who’s holing up these days.”
Hermione was not convinced. “Surely there are better ways to go about it than to send a dragon, though; it’s not exactly subtle.”
“This is the wizard that advertises in great big green lights when he’s offed someone! Subtle’s not this guy’s style!”
Despite his friends’ bickering, the certainty that his suspicions had been vindicated was a heady drug in Harry’s system, and he felt a bit light-headed, almost giddy. “No, it’s not—and a dragon really does make sense, if you think about it. It’s hardly discreet, but with all the protections and wards around Hogwarts, maybe he decided just to go in guns blazing? Those dragons at the Triwizard Tournament were not going down easily, so it strikes me as pretty genius, honestly.” He laughed, and it came out a bit manic. “I’m almost impressed.”
“Harry…” Hermione sighed, but any further attempts to dissuade him from his convictions were interrupted by a soft knock on the door, followed by Mrs. Weasley poking her head inside.
“Mind if I show in your visitors, dear?”
“Sure, I suppose.” He didn’t miss the frowns Hermione and Ron exchanged, though, and when he saw who these well-wishers actually were, he shared their unease.
He was usually quite happy to see members of the Order, but Kingsley Shacklebolt, Harry knew, had far better ways to be spending his time than dropping in to visit a St. Mungo’s patient who’d suffered a bit of head trauma. Harry very much doubted this was a social call, especially as he didn’t recognise Kingsley’s companion, a Ministry-robed man who could not have been more Kingsley’s opposite if he’d tried: short, stout, and with a head of shaggy hair that seemed to stand on end, as if he’d just stuck a fork in a socket.
Mrs. Weasley tried for a reassuring smile. “We’ll give you gentlemen a bit of privacy, shall we?” She beckoned Hermione and Ron. “Come on, you two, let’s go fetch a cup of tea for everyone and something for Harry to nibble on from the canteen.”
With no room to object—and no real excuse to either—Harry found himself all but abandoned, left to contend with Kingsley and anti-Kingsley on his own. Anti-Kingsley took the seat Ron had just been rousted from, his midsection spilling over the side in a manner that reminded Harry pointedly of Uncle Vernon. He seemed, though, of a rather amiable demeanour, reaching for Harry’s hand and giving it a firm yank. “Absolute pleasure to meet you, young man, indeed, indeed. To think I’d ever find myself rubbing elbows with The Boy Who Lived! What a curious thing she is, Lady Fate!”
“Councilman…” Kingsley warned, and he understandably sounded a bit beleaguered. He gave Harry a tired smile. “Sorry to have to bother you like this, Potter.”
“Yes, yes, of course—forgive me, where on earth are my manners?” Anti-Kingsley drew himself up, smile wide and cheeks apple-red. “Cassius Bragge, of the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau and Chair of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures.”
Harry felt his stomach churn at the title—this was one of the lot that had sentenced Buckbeak to death—but managed to keep a grimace off his features. He summoned all the tact he could muster and returned the handshake weakly. “Nice to meet you, Sir.”
“Sir!” Bragge sounded positively tickled. “Unassuming and polite! Oh, Elsa will enjoy hearing about—” Kingsley fixed him with another warning look, and he seemed to recall himself, clearing his throat. “Well then, I understand you’ve been through quite an ordeal, Mr. Potter, so we shan’t take up too much of your time. I do apologise for disturbing you in your convalescence, but time is something of a factor here…” He drew a scrap of paper from a lining pocket and tapped it with his wand, promptly expanding it into a thick folder that he began to leaf through. “If you’re able to rally, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Harry looked to Kingsley for guidance but was disappointed to find he was avoiding eye contact. “I, er…suppose…?”
“Good, good. Now—” Bragge rifled through another pocket until he found a pince-nez, perching it atop his nose and frowning at his file. “What can you… Hm.” He seemed to think better of the glasses, pocketing them again. “How much of the past twenty-four hours do you remember? Can you describe what you’ve been up to in the last day or so? Just for our records.”
“Your…records?” Harry frowned. “You mean the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau wants a comment from me?” Had they taken statements from all of the Hogwarts students, then? Or—and here his heart found its beat-skipping rhythm again—were they to get to the meat of the matter at last? Was Kingsley here on Order business to discuss who’d sent the dragon after Harry and why?
But Kingsley seemed quite uncomfortable with the conversation, as if he didn’t want to be here at all, leaving Harry unsure of the circumstances. Deciding to play it safe, in case perhaps Kingsley was only waiting for Bragge to finish his routine statement-taking to discuss the matter with Harry in private, he skirted the truth: “Well, um…I spent most of yesterday evening with the Headmaster, serving a detention with him. It lasted quite a long while, and I finished late, so I went straight to bed after. I’m honestly not sure how long after that it was, but I woke up some time during the night with the rest of my dormmates when we heard something crash into the tower.”
“That would be Gryffindor Tower, then?” Harry nodded, and Bragge gave a little hm of interest.
“Sir, is it…is it true it was a dragon? That attacked Hogwarts.” When Bragge raised a brow, Harry considered he was perhaps not supposed to know this, if the Ministry was trying to keep things quiet, and he hastily added, “It’s only, my friends mentioned it. Ron Weasley was in the tower with me when it happened, though he managed to escape before the roof collapsed.”
Bragge cast a quick glance to Kingsley, who glided back towards the door to check they had privacy. “Well, to be brief—yes. Mr. Weasley has the right of it, more or less. It was indeed a dragon that scaled Gryffindor Tower nearabout three this morning. An Antipodean Opaleye, to be precise.” He flipped through his notes. “Juvenile, by its measurements, just come into its adult colouring—it’s quite fascinating, really. The hatchlings actually start off a rust-colour to better blend in with their high-desert environment, but by consuming a steady diet of—”
Kingsley cleared his throat loudly. “Perhaps we should save such lectures for Potter’s Care of Magical Creatures class, Councilman?”
Harry shifted upright with some effort, feeling his excitement mounting. “Do you think it was loosed on the castle purposefully? I don’t know much about dragons, but I’m pretty sure that’s not one of the species native to Britain, at least.” Bragge seemed thrown by the question, clearly not having expected it, and Harry pressed his advantage. “It’s only—I’ve noticed some funny things going on at the castle over the past few months, and I have strong reason to believe they’re to do with You-Know-Who and his followers. There’s a student who’s got known Death Eater ties—Draco Malfoy—and he’s been behaving very strangely recently, so is it…I mean, it is possible, isn’t it? That maybe he was somehow involved with…I dunno, using his connections to obtain a dragon and…and…”
Harry trailed off, frowning at himself. He wished he’d organised these threads in his head before opening his mouth, because he was starting to babble, and yes, Kingsley was definitely avoiding looking at him. God, Hermione was going to give him an earful later if she found out he’d brought up the matter of Malfoy plotting something in front of Kingsley and Bragge. He still didn’t think she was right to doubt him, but he was certainly not helping his case, and if he had to listen to one more person dismiss his suspicions with a smile while reassuring him that the very best people had looked into the matter and found nothing, he really was going to scream.
Bragge drew an eagle-feather quill from his coat pocket and flipped to a new page in his folio. “Yes, on that note: What can you tell us about your relationship with Mr. Malfoy?”
That stopped Harry cold, and he blinked a few times in quick succession, releasing a little huff of laughter. “My—relationship?” Kingsley was no help, eyes closed and head tilted back to rest against the wall; Harry would have to answer, ridiculous though the question seemed. “Uh, what’s there to tell, really? We hate each other, I suppose? Or at least I’m pretty sure Malfoy hates me. We’ve never gotten along—he’s been a right wanker since first-year.” It suddenly dawned on him, though, that their more distant interactions were not what was most relevant at the moment, and Harry swallowed. “And, uh, we—kind of got into a bit of a scuffle recently. I roughed him up pretty badly—though I heard he recovered all right. It was self-defence on my part, honestly, but a fight’s a fight… That’s what the detention I was serving with Dum—with the Headmaster was for.”
He really wished Kingsley would look at him right about now, because he was starting to worry that perhaps Malfoy’s parents had brought some kind of complaint against Harry. Maybe they wanted to take legal action against him—was Kingsley here not as an Order member but as a Ministry official, ready to escort Harry before the Wizengamot to answer for his use of a Dark curse against a fellow student?
But Bragge did not seem very interested in the details of their encounter, for he added none of Harry’s confession to his notes, only frowning. “So—not friends, then? Not even perhaps casual acquaintances?” Harry shook his head, and Bragge gave another of his curious little hms. “I suppose, then, that means ‘more than friends’ is right out?”
“What?” Harry felt his eyes bug. “Where on earth would anyone get that idea from? I told you—we hate each other! He’s got a pretty colourful history of going out of his way to make my life a living hell, ask anyone in our year!” He was starting to panic now; where were these questions coming from? What did baseless assumptions about a fictitious relationship between Harry and Malfoy have to do with a dragon tearing apart Gryffindor Tower? Why was he having this discussion at all, when he had the feeling none of his classmates had had to endure the same? His headache began to reassert itself, throbbing in time with his racing heart, and he was quite through fielding such ridiculous questions. “Why are we even talking about Malfoy at all if you’re from the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau?” He directed his attention to Kingsley, raising his voice so he had no choice but to respond to Harry. “Have you found something, then? You have, haven’t you?”
“Harry, my boy…” Bragge tried weakly, but Harry ignored him.
“He did have something to do with the dragon, didn’t he? His family’s loaded, with all kinds of connections; I’m sure it’d be no trouble for him to import a dragon from—from wherever that breed comes from. Anter—Anton—”
“Antipodean Opaleye,” Bragge offered, looking rather uneasy as he closed his folder and set it to the side.
“Yeah, that. I knew he was up to something this past year, and I tried to tell you—I mean, the Ministry—like half a dozen times! I was right, wasn’t I? Malfoy was up to no good—he cooked up some plan that evidently involved setting loose a bloody dragon on Hogwarts grounds—”
“Harry,” Bragge sighed, lacing his fingers together over his chest and settling back in the chair, and Harry got the feeling his good humour was wearing thin. “Mr. Malfoy did not set a dragon loose anywhere. He was the dragon.”
The wind in Harry’s sails died abruptly, and the vindicated grin he’d been boasting went with it. “He…what?”
It was now Bragge’s turn to look a bit superior. “It seems that Mr. Malfoy is an unregistered dragon Animagus—and a very new one, at that. In fact, last night may have been his very first successful transformation, for upon completing the shift, he promptly succumbed to what would have been unfamiliar beastly instincts and went on the terrible rampage in which you found yourself unfortunately involved.”
Harry felt the blood leave his face. “He’s a…” He blinked in confusion. “Wait, people can just—turn into dragons?”
“‘Just turn into them’? Oh no, no, not that I’m aware of. But through Animagecraft, it’s not impossible. Magical creatures are, after all, as much animals as their more mundane cousins. Cases such as Mr. Malfoy’s are rare, to be certain, but not unprecedented. One of my cousins several times removed is a jarvey Animagus. She’s actually gotten rather foul-mouthed in the years since completing her training…” He trailed off in thought, tapping his chin, but quickly recalled himself. “With sufficient study and dedication, most anyone can learn Animagecraft, and from there, it’s simply a matter of how the form manifests, as I understand it—though I’m hardly an expert. I barely managed an A in my Transfiguration O.W.L.s! At any rate, in Mr. Malfoy’s case, once the dragon was subdued—at great cost, unfortunately—diagnostic spells and corroborating testimony allowed us to determine that the creature was not actually a true dragon but merely a student in transformation.”
Harry tried to process the news. Malfoy had…been studying Animagecraft? Surely that wasn’t what he’d been skulking about doing all year, right? It sounded so…anticlimactic. Harry couldn’t fathom that with all that’d been going on—Voldemort’s return, Lucius Malfoy’s imprisonment, the dark clouds rolling across the whole of Wizarding society—Malfoy had simply been sitting around, twiddling his thumbs, studying to become an Animagus in secret, as if he had nothing better to do with his time.
Unless that had been the entire point of the exercise. Maybe his status as a Hogwarts student was valuable but not fully exploitable. Maybe he’d been charged with the task of becoming an Animagus in the hopes that, whatever form chose him, he’d be able to use it to further Voldemort’s agenda. With something sufficiently small, he could spy on Harry or even Dumbledore—and with something dangerous, he could just as easily do serious harm. Had done serious harm, even. He didn’t want to see the state of Gryffindor Tower, as it sounded like Harry’s bump on the head had been the least of the damage done.
He sighed. “Suppose that explains why he came and attacked the tower, then…”
Kingsley spoke up for the first time since turning the interview over to Bragge. “Then—you realise…?” His expression was dark and uncertain, and Harry sympathised.
“Well—yeah. I mean, it makes sense, right? Seems kind of a lot of work to go through, but Animagi can be dead useful, I imagine. I heard him whining before—I don’t think he realised I was around—about some impossible task he’d been set. I’m guessing that was it? Become an Animagus and then…well, off me?” Harry sounded rather full of himself, even to his own ears, but there was no discounting how badly Voldemort wanted to destroy Harry. Draco Malfoy would’ve had a lot to prove, and Voldemort would’ve absolutely capitalised on the Malfoys’ fall from grace.
Bragge shared an uncomfortable look with Kingsley, then gently cleared his throat. “…Harry, we agree that Mr. Malfoy was indeed trying to reach you when he attacked Gryffindor Tower. However, he did not do so to kill you, as you suspect.” He squared his shoulders and took a breath, leaning forward. “I see no way of putting this delicately, so I’m afraid I’ll have to be blunt and inelegant about it: Mr. Malfoy gave in to the beastly instincts of an unfamiliar Animagus form and sought you out, quite fervently, as a mate.”
There was a ringing in Harry’s ears, not unlike he’d heard on waking back in Gryffindor Tower with the ceiling caving in around him. “…As a what now?”
“It’s quite fascinating, actually.” Bragge shifted in his chair, getting comfortable, and his expression brightened with excitement. “Dragons tend to be solitary creatures, even in colonies, keeping to themselves as juveniles and outside of breeding season as adults, but breeding pairs are fiercely territorial and monogamous to a fault! Their pair bonds are strong—dangerously so, in fact; no few young pairs have been lost when one partner was tragically felled by disease or injury, dragging the other down with it. For this reason, dragons will go to great lengths to procure a suitable mate, taking care to commit themselves only to the very best partner they can hope to find.” He chuckled to himself. “Mr. Malfoy, being nearly of age as a wizard, would have been experiencing that drive to find a mate particularly strongly on transforming and would have been doubly unprepared to face it, as it was evidently his first time.”
But Bragge’s exposition went in one ear and out the other, with only the word mate reverberating through Harry’s mind in crescendoing echoes. He swallowed, but his mouth was dry, and when he finally found his voice again, his words came out squeaky. “But—he’s a—I’m a…” He gestured awkwardly to himself, with his bandaged midsection and blanket covering his thin shift. It wasn’t that he had any particular issues with…that sort of thing…but he didn’t see how this had happened, nor did he want Bragge getting the wrong idea, thinking—god—that Harry had in any way encouraged this debacle.
Bragge politely cleared his throat, nodding. “Well, dragons may be classified as Beasts by our Ministry, but they’re devilishly clever creatures—near-sapient—with their own set of drives and bone-deep instincts. While we humans have long since learned to master our innate instincts, I fear we are rather ill-prepared to deal with new ones asserting themselves in our minds. Dragon Animagi in particular tend to be overwhelmed by their new form’s steel trap of a mind, allowing the beast to take over.” He offered Harry an understanding smile. “I suspect that, this being an unorthodox case with Mr. Malfoy not being an actual dragon, the—ah, accoutrements of the target had little bearing on his choice of partner.” Harry didn’t know if ‘partner’ was better or worse than ‘mate’, but he wished Bragge would stop saying both. “For a dragon, a suitable mate would simply be one who complemented them, challenged them—though one they felt they could take in a fight, for dragons are notoriously proud as well.”
Harry would have laughed at the notion of Malfoy being able to take him in a fight, had he not been worried he might sick up in doing so. His headache had only worsened with Bragge’s rambling, and he wondered if he could summon a nurse and beg for a Sleeping Draught. Maybe this was just a bad dream, and he’d wake up on the right side of things once he closed his eyes. He’d be in the Hospital Wing instead of St. Mungo’s with Madam Pomfrey fussing over him instead of Bragge and his rather disturbing fascination with this whole predicament.
“Which brings us to the crux of the matter.” Bragge leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and some of the brightness went out of his eyes as he sobered. “We have…something of a problem. Mr. Malfoy is currently in our custody at the Ministry—however, he’s yet to transform back to his human self.”
The urge to laugh refused to let up; Harry figured he must have hit the point where he’d gone beyond shock and settled on manic giddiness. “You’ve…just got a dragon sitting somewhere in a conference room…?”
Bragge waved him off, “Oh no, no my boy—he’s in a holding cell under a stasis spell, for his own protection. He nearly did himself grave injury trying to escape his confines before we gathered enough staff to subdue him once more. He seems quite intent on tracking you down, that one.” At this point, it was hard to tell if the headache was bringing on the nausea or vice versa. “The difficult thing is, at this point, we fear it’s not that he won’t transform back so much as he cannot. He’s given himself wholly over to the instincts of this form and likely no longer recalls that he was ever human at all. It’s a tragic pattern, common among dragon Animagi. Most saddled with such a form suffer a similar fate of being overwhelmed by the unexpectedly demanding drives and foreign instincts of their new body, losing their sense of self entirely. It is, I’m afraid, tantamount to a death sentence for the human mind trapped underneath all of the scales and fangs and talons: they don’t realise they aren’t actually a dragon and so make no effort to shift back.”
“That’s…that’s terrible…” Harry said, a bit surprised that he sincerely meant it.
“Quite!” Bragge shook his head, tutting under his breath. “More so, these poor unfortunates are far too dangerous to ever be released, being too intelligent by half with what little remains of their humanity, and so must either be put down or held indefinitely in captivity.”
“Put do—you mean killed?”
“In some cases, yes. If they’ve…hurt someone…” Bragge licked his lips, and Kingsley’s hands curled into fists at his sides. “Then unfortunately, it’s regulation, as with any dangerous creature.”
Harry had seen quite clearly the sort of underhanded dealings that went on when it came to the dispensation of supposedly dangerous creatures, and he frowned. “Wait—so you’re…you’re just going to keep him imprisoned at the Ministry? Stuck like that, for the rest of his life?” He certainly had no love for Malfoy and would shed no tears if the git found himself locked up for crimes against the Wizarding and Muggle worlds alike. But to be thrown into a cell, locked away without trial for something it sounded like he’d had no say in—even if Harry was pretty sure he’d intended to use that Animagus form for ill—not even able to understand what he’d done wrong? It didn’t sit right, somehow.
“Well, that’s actually what I’m here for—to see if perhaps you’ll agree to lend us a hand.”
Harry didn’t like the hopeful tone Bragge had just taken; it sounded oily in his ears. “…Lend a hand with what?”
Bragge cleared his throat and picked up his notebook again, flipping back a few pages. “As I mentioned, Mr. Malfoy is being kept under a stasis spell at present and will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future, given his tendency to run wild the moment he’s given his head. He’s firmly in the grips of this secondary psyche, quite unaware of who he is, and we’ve no way to draw what remains of his humanity back to the forefront, that he might be himself once more. His mind is now a wild landscape, treacherous for even the most skilled of Legilimens to attempt to enter in search of Mr. Malfoy’s human consciousness.
“However…” He tapped his notebook in a thoughtful gesture. “His mind might be more receptive to yours, as it’s already trying to seek you out. It may allow you inside where others would be rebuffed or lost even if they managed entrance. You, Harry: you may be able to enter Mr. Malfoy’s mind—the dragon’s mind—and draw him back from the brink, help him find his humanity once more, and restore him to his former self.”
Oh. Harry could almost hear the thud of the other shoe dropping. Now he saw why Kingsley had been avoiding looking at him.
“You—want me to try and…what, root around inside Malfoy’s head and make him see sense?” How was that even going to work? In his mind’s eye flashed visions of his disastrous Occlumency lessons with Snape. “I…really think you’ve got the wrong person for this, I’m sorry.”
“No, no it must be you, my boy! You’re the perfect candidate—his subconscious already yearns for you!” Ah, another word Harry wished Bragge might strike from his vocabulary, at least for the duration of the conversation: yearn. “You’ll likely not even need to seek him out, for surely he’ll find you with little to no prompting!”
“I mean, I get that but—seriously, I’m one of the most ill-suited people you could ask to attempt something like that! I’ve got a terrible record with Occlumency and all that sort of stuff. I’m liable to do more harm than good.” He groped for any excuse to get out of what sounded like a task he’d surely fail—he didn’t need Draco-bloody-Malfoy’s well-being weighing on his conscious. “You said it’d be difficult for a skilled Legilimens to manage—but it wouldn’t be impossible, right? Can’t you find an expert in the field to help? Like—like Dumbledore!” He looked to Kingsley, brows raised in hope. “Dumbledore’s supposed to be one of the best Legilimens around. And Malfoy’s a Hogwarts student. Shouldn’t he be handling this?”
An uncomfortable silence passed between them, and Kingsley drew his arms behind his back, softly clearing his throat. “I’m afraid…that won’t be possible. Albus Dumbledore is dead. He lost his life helping the staff subdue Mr. Malfoy.”