Dead. Albus Dumbledore was dead.
Harry turned the words over in his mind several times, waiting for them to sink in, but to no avail. It was just—how did that happen? Surely Kingsley must have been mistaken—Harry had just spoken to Dumbledore only twelve hours ago! There was no way he could have died in that time, not even up against a dragon—
Unless he hadn’t been in fighting form. Harry recalled, darkly now, that Dumbledore had been adamant Harry release him to Snape’s care. Snape, who served a different master, no matter how Dumbledore deluded himself. Snape, who’d been itching for greater glory than he’d been afforded all these years. Dumbledore had been terribly weakened by their failed Horcrux hunt; in such a state, it would have been only too easy to overpower him, or to slip him a poison disguised as some tincture or another meant to help Dumbledore. Did they do autopsies properly in the wizarding world?
But then—Kingsley had said he’d perished in the fight to bring down Malfoy. It thus seemed more likely that he’d died of dragonfire burns or else some combination of exhaustion and exertion—but this was Albus Dumbledore! Harry had been convinced that nothing short of the Killing Curse could ever take him down, and even that had been debatable. That Dumbledore could be dead and the world continue on apace was absurd.
He was distantly aware of Bragge still chattering away, trying his best to convince Harry to help bring Malfoy back to himself, and in his state of shock, Harry found himself mutely nodding, agreeing to do what he could. What did it matter, at this point?
“Excellent to hear, my boy! Your generosity and altruism are truly beyond reproach; I’m sure Mr. Malfoy won’t soon forget the good turn you’ve done him, if all is successful!” Harry was unconvinced that Malfoy would feel the same beaming sense of gratitude after all was said and done, but he wasn’t in this for the accolades—he just wanted to be quit of this mess.
After reminding Harry that they would be back the next day at noon to pick him up once he was discharged, Kingsley gave Harry’s shoulder a comforting squeeze and then took his leave with Bragge.
Entering in the same swing of the door as Kingsley and Bragge left, Hermione and Ron returned carrying a small wicker basket laden with fruit and muffins and a stoppered carafe of pumpkin juice. Their expressions were sombre, and Harry wondered why he hadn’t noticed before. He’d just assumed they’d had a long night, or perhaps been worried about Harry’s own state.
Ron hoisted the basket to eye-level. “We smuggled this out of the canteen for you—seems they’re usually pretty strict with patients’ diets. Oh—” He reached into a deep pocket and pulled out a rather smushed something wrapped in butcher paper. “And Mum brought sandwiches; Dad had to run back to the Ministry after he popped in to check on you earlier, so he said you’re welcome to his.”
“Thanks…” Harry took the sandwich, carefully unwrapping it to be polite and gumming it, not really tasting it. Between the news about Dumbledore and the whole Malfoy business, he was still reeling, his appetite gone. He gave up after nearly choking on the one bite he’d taken. “So I…I guess it’s true then…? Dumbledore…”
Hermione gave a soft little gasp, reaching to rest a hand on his arm. “Oh, Harry…”
Ron held back, shifting from one foot to the other and unable to meet Harry’s eye. “Didn’t want to hit you with it when you’d just woken up…” His voice was thick, and Harry could now tell that what he’d taken for exhaustion in Hermione’s face earlier was more akin to sorrow and despair, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
Hermione took a bracing breath, sniffing. “Everyone’s still…pretty shaken up about it…”
That sealed it then, he supposed. Not that he’d thought Kingsley had been lying, just…hearing it from sources he trusted implicitly to tell him the unvarnished truth somehow struck keen and bright, and he was glad he hadn’t managed to down more of the sandwich, as it’d probably just come back up right now. He drew his knees up, ignoring the sharp pain in his abdomen, and rested his arms on his knees, letting his forehead settle against them. “How?”
“…Harry, we don’t have to talk about it right—”
“How?” he pressed, lifting his head and hardening his expression. He wanted to know how it had happened, in excruciating detail. He had half a mind to demand access to a Pensieve memory if their recollections didn’t satisfy, even.
Hermione slumped into Bragge’s chair, and Ron rubbed uncomfortably at his elbow. “Word got out pretty quick that Gryffindor Tower was being attacked. Me and Seamus helped drag you out after you got hit on the head by a falling chunk of ceiling, and the others saw to the evacuation of the rest of the tower. The first-years were pretty spooked—some just refused to even leave their rooms, sat in their four-posters bawling until we slapped a Body-bind on them and Levitated them downstairs. We figured maybe the whole castle was under attack, so we started directing students to the passageways out of the school—y’know, like the one behind the one-eyed witch and all? Anyway, a few of the Ravenclaws said they’d seen the staff out on the grounds from their tower, fighting off a dragon—so a bunch of us from the DA rallied to help ‘em out. By the time we got out there, it was nothing but Stupefys and Reductos and Impedimentas. I reckon a few of the staff had sent Patronuses to the Ministry for back-up, but most of them were putting up a hell of a fight. Dumbledore, though…” Ron shook his head. “Honestly, he looked pretty beat by the time we joined the staff.”
Harry winced inwardly. “He was. We—” He bit back a curse. “The Horcrux hunt was a complete and utter bust, and Dumbledore, he…he didn’t come off it so well.” Harry felt a wave of guilt sweep over him, confident now that it was their failed mission that had been Dumbledore’s undoing. If he’d been at his full strength, he surely would have held his own. Ron looked very much like he wanted more details, an angry look of confusion passing over his features, but Harry could only deal with one disappointment at a time. He didn’t want to think about the fake locket right now—or dwell on wherever the real one might be. “…I’ll tell you about it later.”
Ron’s shoulders slumped, then he shrugged. “…Well, that’s really all there is to tell. No one seemed to want to kill the bloody thing outright, and most of our spells just bounced right off it. It was snapping and lashing out, belching fire at anyone stupid enough to get within striking distance and it just…” He made a vague gesture with one hand. “Caught him. Guess he didn’t manage a shield spell in time and down he went.” It came out trite, like Ron might break down if he dared let any emotion seep through. Harry quite understood the feeling.
Another of those inappropriate urges to laugh pounced upon him—because, well, it was really funny. Hilarious, in fact. The greatest wizard alive, the greatest ever in living memory—felled not by Voldemort or bested by a rival but having simply caught the bad end of a whiff of dragonfire from a student experimenting with Animagecraft. It was a rather anticlimactic end, and Harry wished he were alone just now, that he might let rip the guffaw straining just behind his tongue. It was a riot.
Hermione and Ron clearly had no such issues with avoiding seeming unhinged in the face of such a tragic blow, the both of them hunch-backed and quiver-lipped. He wished he could share his manic energy with them—or be rid of it some other way. It was exhausting, having to keep it in check. He knew he wouldn’t be able to claw it back if he gave in, though, and all that would be left behind would be emptiness and frustration and a cold acceptance. He had too much left to do before he could allow himself that luxury.
“There’s going to be a funeral come the weekend,” Hermione said, her voice a bit stronger now, and she managed a weak smile. “They’re laying him to rest at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall said.”
“Will you be able to leave by then?” Ron asked. “They can’t need to keep you for too long, yeah?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, no—” Harry shook his head. “I’m getting discharged tomorrow, they said…” Bragge’s face flashed in his mind, etched with obsequious hope. He blinked it away. “Did they…tell you anything? About the dragon?”
Ron sighed. “Nope. Hogwarts was crawling with all sorts of Ministry folks by the time they managed to get the situation in hand—but of course no one was gonna let the students know anything.” He seemed to sense that the question had been leading, though, and turned it back on Harry. “What’d Kingsley and that Ministry bloke want? Was it to do with the dragon? Was it…” He looked at Hermione, taking her temperature with a glance. “Was it really sent by You-Know-Who? Or Malfoy? Or Snape?” When Harry wasn’t quick enough to respond, he redoubled his efforts. “No way it just broke loose from a handler or something, right?”
Harry processed the question, weighing his options to respond. Neither Kingsley nor Bragge had given Harry specific instructions about keeping quiet concerning the nature of the Hogwarts attack, and while he wasn’t sure this was something he was entirely comfortable sharing with his friends in gory detail, he hated keeping secrets from them at a time like this. So with no one around to tell him not to—and with Dumbledore himself having expressed his approval of Harry looping Hermione and Ron in on matters otherwise best kept from the public eye—he took a breath.
“It wasn’t… I mean, the dragon: it wasn’t a real dragon. It was an Animagus.”
“A what?” Ron asked, just as Hermione gasped, “Who?”
Ron slumped, slack-jawed, into the chair next to Hermione, who managed to look both shocked and a tiny bit jealous. He supposed that was understandable—while she’d managed the feat just after third-year with permission and hands-on training from McGonagall herself, Malfoy had evidently done all of his studying alone and in secret. Harry supposed he might have sought guidance from Snape, but there was likely very little a Potions Master could offer by way of advice on becoming an Animagus.
Hermione scrunched up her features, huffing, “But—are they certain it wasn’t simply a Draconifors spell? There are some rather impressive gargoyles guarding the gates of a derelict mansion in Cornwall near Falmouth that once belonged to—”
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess they know an Animagus when they see one,” Ron mumbled, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “But—I still don’t get it. If that dragon—Merlin, if that thing was actually Malfoy, what the hell was it doing tearing up Gryffindor Tower? What’s the bloody point?” He blinked the stars from his eyes. “Was it You-Know-Who’s orders? Was he after you?”
“Please don’t phrase it like that…” Harry groaned, leaning back against his pillow and closing his eyes. There was really no getting around it. He sighed. “Bragge said—”
“Bragge?” Ron asked.
“The Ministry bloke that came in with Kingsley; apparently he’s from the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau. He said that when Malfoy completed the Animagus spell last night, for the first time, he got overwhelmed by the dragon’s mind and it took over. Supposedly he didn’t know what he was doing, just going on pure instinct. And…part of that instinct…was…” He winced, knowing this was going to leave a nasty taste in his mouth. “…Finding a mate.”
“Finding a mate?” Ron chuckled, bemused. “…I don’t get it. What’s that got…to do with…” He trailed off as realisation dawned, expression going slack. “…Oh bloody hell.”
“My sentiments exactly,” Harry said. Even saying it out loud still didn’t make it sound any more real, and Harry wondered if this, like Dumbledore’s death, would only hit him days or weeks later, the shock of understanding that somehow, on some level, Malfoy…how had Bragge put it? Thought Harry ‘complemented’ him? It might have been flattering, had it been anyone but Malfoy and had the revelation not involved death and destruction and terror.
Ron just shook his head, still dazed. “That’s…seriously? A mate? Like an animal?”
“Dragons are animals,” Hermione reminded. “And humans too, for that matter.”
“Yeah but—it sounds…I dunno. Dirty, kind of.”
“It’s not dirty; it’s all part of the natural order of things.”
“Yeah, and sounds like the natural order of things is unnatural when it comes to that prick.”
“Ronald,” Hermione scolded, and Ron ducked his head, looking abashed. “…It makes a funny sort of sense to me, though.” She bit her lip. “I mean—all creatures have their respective priorities when it comes to choosing partners. Even specific individuals within a species can have their own standards. Dragons are very picky but tend to select mates that…well, balance them. That their offspring might inherit the best of both parents and so be better prepared to face the world.”
Ron snorted derisively. “Can’t wait to see Harry’s and Malfoy’s scaly little bundles of joy. I gotta know, though: will any eggs be laid, and will Malfoy have to incubate them, or can he take turns with Harr—ow!” Hermione pinched his arm, and he flinched away, rubbing ruefully.
“I’m glad you find this so hilarious,” Harry grumbled.
Ron scooted his chair away from Hermione, casting her a dark look. “Sorry—but you’ve gotta admit, it’s…well, weird.”
“Don’t have to tell me that,” Harry said, running a hand through his hair.
“What’s going to happen to him now?” Hermione asked. “Malfoy… I mean, you said he wasn’t in his right mind, right? But still—he killed someone and demolished a good portion of Gryffindor Tower using magic he wasn’t licensed to practise. McGonagall made it clear when she agreed to tutor me that unregistered Animagi are dealt with pretty severely. You know what Rita was willing to give up just to keep me from outing her.”
Harry nodded. “He’s in containment right now, it seems. They…” He wondered how Ron and Hermione would take Harry’s latest assignment. “Bragge says they haven’t been able to get him to transform back.”
“Transform back? Hermione asked. “Wait—he’s still a dragon?”
Harry nodded. “Bragge reckons Malfoy’s stuck. That he’s like…I dunno, trapped inside his own head without even realising. He says the dragon’s instincts have taken over completely and Malfoy doesn’t remember he’s not really a dragon at all.”
“Malfoy thinks he’s actually a dragon now?” Ron snorted. “Blimey, but his mum named him aptly, didn’t she? That takes it.”
“It’s not funny, Ron.” Hermione frowned at the thought. “If he doesn’t recognise himself anymore…he might never turn back. He wouldn’t understand there’s anything to turn back to.”
Ron just shrugged. “Two dragons, one stone, the way I see it. No more dangerous creature roaming the countryside, and no more Malfoy causing trouble for everyone. We’re well rid of him.”
“Actually…” Harry started weakly. “That’s kind of why Kingsley and Bragge came to talk to me. They want me to help them try to get Malfoy situated back in his right mind.”
“Help get him back?” Ron’s face fell. “Oh, Harry, no no—tell me you said no.” Harry only gave a guilty, mirthless smile, and Ron groaned. “Why would you say ‘yes’ to something like that? They’ve got Malfoy locked up, safe and sound where he can’t do anything to anyone anymore, and you’re gonna go help him?”
Turned out, it was rather difficult defending a decision to a third party when you’d yet to manage to defend it to yourself. “I mean—he’s a git, that much is true, and now I’m more convinced than ever he’s been behind all the nasty shit that’s happened in the past year.” Hermione said nothing, but she did purse her lips into a thin line. “And he’s gone out of his way to make all our lives miserable.”
“And he killed Dumbledore,” Ron muttered darkly. “Maybe make sure they jot that one down.”
Harry let it stand, though it still had the hollow ring of untruth that he didn’t expect to fade until he saw Dumbledore laid out before him with his own two eyes. “…Right. But I still don’t think even he deserves what this sounds like: a death sentence, without even the dignity of understanding you were ever alive. I don’t…know how I’m supposed to help him, or if it’ll even work. And if it does, then the Ministry’s welcome to dispense with him however they please. But…” He shook his head. “It wouldn’t sit right with me, knowing I maybe could’ve done something but didn’t. I want to see him rot for something he did do, knowing full well and tortured by his deeds; not to waste away, trapped in a prison he can’t comprehend. It’s cruel for one, and it gives no satisfaction for another.”
Ron’s expression twisted into one Harry had seen before, usually just as he was on the verge of losing a game of Exploding Snap. “All right, fine—I get it. I guess. Though I still think it’s more than that little cretin deserves.” He sighed, then held his hands out, pleading dramatically, “But why’s it gotta be you?”
“Because: he’s the one Malfoy chose for a mate—right?” Hermione prodded. “It’s the human part of his mind that’s fixated on Harry, after all—the dragon’s instincts would’ve just amplified it and funnelled it into a drive. They’re probably going to try something like Legilimency, I’d wager.”
“But Harry’s pants at Legilimency!” Ron protested.
“Thanks, mate,” Harry said, dry humour in his voice.
“Something like Legilimency; the mind’s a terribly complex subject of study—there’s still so much about it we don’t understand. Don’t you remember when we snuck into the Department of Mysteries and found the Brain Room?”
Ron rubbed his arm, frowning. “Vividly.”
Hermione coloured, clearly having forgotten herself, and she softly cleared her throat. “…Anyway, I can see why they’re insistent that Harry be the one to help.” She sniffed. “And I think it’s awfully big of him.”
Ron rolled his eyes. “Yeah yeah.” He looked at Harry. “You’re such a soft touch, you know? Malfoy’ll love that.”
“Last one, I promise!” Harry very much doubted that would be the case, but he was relieved his friends seemed to have taken the rather awkward situation in which Harry had found himself in stride.
They decided to drop the matter for the time being and passed the rest of the afternoon and early evening discussing in detail Harry and Dumbledore’s fruitless search for the Horcrux and what might have become of the original locket. Ron seemed more interested in who’d replaced it, wondering if Susan Bones would be offended if they asked her about any potential Death Eater relatives roosting in her family tree. “Or what about—whazzerface, Brocklehurst? She’s Slytherin, isn’t she?”
“Ravenclaw,” Hermione corrected. “And it doesn’t matter who replaced it—we just need to figure out where it’s gone.”
“Which we might could do, if we knew who’d replaced it.”
After a filling dinner, by which point Harry’s appetite had finally returned, thanks to the distraction of Ron and Hermione’s presence, visiting hours were over, and his friends had to take their leave. Hogwarts classes had been dismissed for the remainder of the school year, as Gryffindor Tower and several corridors of the castle itself were in a shambles, so Ron and Ginny were back at the Burrow now. Hermione would be taking the Knight Bus to her parents’ home just outside of London.
Ron was reluctant to abandon Harry to Kingsley and Bragge’s care. “Want us to come back in the morning and go to the Ministry with you? I wouldn’t say no to seeing another Malfoy behind bars, personally.”
Under normal circumstances, Harry would have agreed, but he shook his head. “I’d rather you didn’t, to be honest. Hopefully it’ll just be a quick thing, over and done with. Then we can move on to…you know. The other stuff we’ve got to do.” He’d do the bare minimum to assuage his conscience, and then it was back to what really mattered: Horcruxes and their destruction. With Dumbledore gone…the three of them were the only ones left with any hope of actually defeating Voldemort once and for all. “I’ll see you at the funeral.”
After a few days at the Dursleys’, attending a funeral for the greatest wizard in living memory and one of Harry’s dearest role models would be an absolute treat.
A knock on the door to his room the next day, just as he was signing the last of what had felt like a mountain of paperwork for his discharge, announced Kingsley and Bragge’s arrival, right on time to escort him to the Ministry. St. Mungo’s Floo spat them directly out into the Atrium of the Ministry, which was bustling with Ministry employees as well as civilians with business therein. It was imposing as ever, with its arching walls and dark, hardwood floors and the great glittering fountain throwing up a spray that nearly reached the peacock-blue ceiling, and Harry wondered if Kingsley or Bragge ever felt the same unsettling shiver ripple down their spines as tended to happen to Harry whenever he found himself here. Bureaucracy, it seemed, was always a necessary evil, whether you were Muggle or Wizard.
The lift to the upper floors deposited the three of them on Level 4, which the lift attendant announced was for the, “Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, incorporating Beast, Being and Spirit Divisions, Goblin Liaison Office, and Pest Advisory Bureau.” Harry frowned when he heard their destination, having to walk double-time to keep up with Kingsley’s long stride and Bragge’s surprisingly swift waddle. “Why are we here? I thought the Department of Magical Law Enforcement handled rogue Animagi.”
“They do, yes. But our department was the only one with holding cells large enough to accommodate Mr. Malfoy,” Bragge explained, and two doors and one flight of stairs later, Harry understood what he meant.
As dragons went, it wasn’t too terribly large—certainly the Horntail Harry had faced in the Triwizard Tournament had been much bigger. But at nearly the size of a tramcar, Malfoy’s dragon would still have been a tight fit in a cell designed for a human occupant.
“Feel free to approach; he’s under a heavy sedation spell for the moment,” Bragge encouraged, but Harry wasn’t entirely sure how wise it was to get within striking distance of the very creature that had slain the greatest wizard alive and nearly toppled Gryffindor Tower.
He decided to make a slow circuit of the room to get his bearings. It was mad, really: all he saw, chained to the floor with its barrel chest heaving in a regular rhythm, was an animal. A beautiful one, admittedly—but with an unsettling air of danger that couldn’t quite be shaken, like the unicorns in the Forbidden Forest.
Firmly secured to the dragon’s sides with thick leather straps was a pair of leathery bat-like wings, folded in repose, and its long whip of a tail was similarly bound and hoisted in a sling to keep it from kinking or bring trod upon. The lamps in the sconces lining the cell threw glittering patterns of light over the dragon’s armoured hide, covered from tip to tail in smooth gleaming scales of opal. Their pearlescent sheen dazzled the eye, and Harry imagined that the beast would be a sight under a fat full moon, like an avenging ghost.
But it wasn’t a ‘beast’. It wasn’t a fascinating magical creature or some wounded animal in desperate need of charitable attentions. It was a dangerous wizard—a cruel, obsequious little prick who got his jollies tormenting those he deemed less worthy than himself. Harry held Malfoy’s smarmy smirk firmly in his mind, training himself to see not a dragon, broken and beaten, but the pasty, pinch-faced wizard responsible for the death of Albus Dumbledore.
He swallowed, beating back his curiosity and awe. “…Why is he still a dragon? I mean—” He waved at the dragon. “I know why, just—isn’t there a spell that turns Animagi back into humans?”
Blessedly, Bragge didn’t ask how Harry knew of such a spell. “It would only restore the form—not the spirit. And forcing what is now a dragon’s wild, untamed mind into a, well, rather fragile and unfamiliar form might do more harm than good. Once Mr. Malfoy’s true consciousness is reinstated, he should resume his human form without issue. Until then—” Bragge gave the dragon a firm pat on the rump, “we must tangle with this big fellow here.”
“I’ll thank you to keep your hands to yourself, Bragge,” came an oily voice, and Harry’s head whipped back toward the entrance to the cell. He hadn’t imagined the situation could quite get any worse, being stuck with the unwelcome task of trying to coax Malfoy back into his right mind, but then Severus Snape strode into the room, and the whole matter grew exponentially more headache-inducing.
Bragge wiggled his fingers and took a step back. “My apologies, Severus—it’s rather easy to forget we’re not dealing with an actual dragon at times!”
“What’s he doing here?” Harry asked; he wasn’t at school—might not even be going back at all, if the Horcrux hunt couldn’t be completed within the summer—and so he felt absolutely no compulsion to continue to feign any respect for Snape.
“Oh right! Well you two will be knowing each other, won’t you? A pupil, I’m certain?” Bragge glanced back and forth between Harry and Snape, and his eager grin faltered when neither deigned to engage in conversation. “Er, right then. Harry: Professor Snape has kindly offered to prepare a potion that will…well, ease your journey into Mr. Malfoy’s mind, as it were.”
“Oh, has he?” Harry muttered darkly, not intending to let a drop of anything the greasy arsehole cooked up pass his lips. There was still every chance Snape had been involved, at least in part, in Dumbledore’s death.
“Indeed, I have.” Snape placed a small trunk on the table lining the far wall and tapped his wand against its lock. It popped open, revealing multiple levels and compartments within, and after a moment’s consideration, Snape selected a phial containing a viscous orange slurry that looked like one of the carrot and rhubarb shakes Aunt Petunia blended up for Dudley’s diet. “Legilimency with a confused, bestial Animagus is a rather risky venture for both parties. Being aware of your frankly pathetic skills with the technique, I took the liberty of preparing a wit-sharpening potion. Mr. Malfoy has already lost his mind; it would be a tragedy of the highest order if you were to lose yours as well.” His lips curled into a devious smile, and he held the phial out for Harry to take.
But Harry held firm. “Shocking as it may seem, I’m actually rather passable at Legilimency when I’ve got proper tutelage. Though I think I successfully demonstrated my skills to you once or twice, Professor.” It was a bald-faced lie, of course, but he didn’t trust Snape as far as he could throw him. He remained certain that Snape had known what Malfoy had been up to for the past nine months; that he hadn’t put a stop to it or at least alerted Dumbledore to Malfoy’s scheme was reason enough for Harry to discount Dumbledore’s continued insistence that Snape was truly on the Order’s side and not Voldemort’s.
Granted, it was unlikely that Snape would be so bold as to poison Harry in full view of two Ministry officials—one of whom was an extremely capable Order member—but still.
Snape’s bony fingers went tight about the phial, knuckles white, and Harry wondered if he wasn’t about to crush it in his hand. “I see that bump on the head has done nothing to knock the insolence out of you.” And then the coiling smile was back. “One would think you’d muster a bit more respect for your new Headmaster.”
Harry felt his stomach drop; he hadn’t even considered who’d be running the castle once repairs were completed on the Tower and classes started back up in September. “…No. McGo—Professor McGonagall’s the Deputy Headmistress. She’s next in line.” That was how it worked, wasn’t it? Or did the Board of Governors get to pick? Malfoy’s father had been on the Board, years ago, but Harry took heart in the knowledge that they’d probably rescinded his spot once Lucius had got himself chucked into Azkaban.
“Hm,” was all Snape said, setting the phial down on the table and rummaging through his potions kit once more. “I suppose we shall see.” Out came another phial, this time filled with a heliotrope liquid. “A deep-sleeping draught, to allow the mind to wander freely.” After that came one filled with a silvery, metallic sludge. “Disillusionment Potion, to disguise your foreign presence in Mr. Malfoy’s mind, so he doesn’t reject you outright.” And finally, a phial filled with a clear liquid that Harry had seen before.
He hardened his jaw. “…That’s Veritaserum.” He locked eyes with Snape, fierce. “I’m not drinking that.”
“Secrets, have we, Mr. Potter?” Snape’s lip drew up into a sneer—and then he set the Veritaserum just to the side of the other phials. “It’s not for you—it’s for Mr. Malfoy. Three drops onto the tongue, to open his mind and make it more receptive to you.”
“Thought he was supposed to be open to me already.” Harry looked to Bragge. “You told me that’s why I had to be the one who did this.”
Snape scoffed. “I’ve no intention of allowing Mr. Malfoy’s mind to be violated by your inept fumblings, and boast though you may of your Legilimency prowess, you’ll forgive me my scepticism. This requires a rather delicate touch.” He pulled a tiny copper cauldron from the trunk and levitated it before himself, conjuring a blue flame beneath it as he poured the phials minus the Veritaserum in and set it to a low simmer. “This potion—which you will drink, Potter; this isn’t up for discussion—will ensure that even someone intent on being the bull to another’s china shop of the mind can still avoid causing them irreparable harm.”
“It’s up for discussion if I say it’s up for discussion—and I’m not drinking something I haven’t brewed myself.”
“Given your abysmal Potions marks, I’d avoid drinking anything you’ve brewed yourself as well.”
“Harry, my boy, come now,” Bragge pleaded, brows lifting. “I assure you the potion’s perfectly safe—you’ve just heard Professor Snape list off the ingredients yourself.”
“Assuming that’s even what’s in those phials.”
Snape crossed his arms. “Did you not recognise the contents, Mr. Potter? They were standard brews in my classroom—unless perhaps you haven’t been paying attention during lessons…?”
Harry felt his cheeks heat, certain he’d never hated Snape more than in this moment. It was a hard fight for most-reviled by Harry between Snape, Malfoy, and Voldemort. He ground his teeth. “…How’s this supposed to work, then?”
Bragge’s shoulders sank in relief, and he toddled back towards the sleeping dragon. Harry wondered what would happen if you did tickle one. “Well, first we’ll have you drink Professor Snape’s potion, which will put you under and allow you into Mr. Malfoy’s mind. It should be instinctual, if the potion has done its job, so I advise you to just—” He made a little fist in a cheering motion. “Go with your gut!”
It wasn’t exactly encouragingly specific. “That’s…not a lot to go on. Am I supposed to be looking for anything? Should I—I dunno, call for him? And if I do manage to find him, how am I supposed to get him back into his right mind? How will I know if I’ve managed it?”
Bragge shifted uncomfortably, glancing to Snape and Kingsley. “Er, unfortunately, the texts describing previous such ventures have been less than helpful beyond a certain point—and the last three recorded cases failed to restore the witch or wizard’s consciousness, so…”
Harry slumped, releasing a rough little bark of mirthless laughter. “You don’t know what you’re doing here at all.”
Bragge had the good graces to look sheepish, but he quickly rallied, drawing himself up. “This is uncharted territory for us all, my boy—but into the fray we must charge, nonetheless! This is Mr. Malfoy’s best hope of recovering himself, and while you maintain you didn’t have the rosiest of schoolyard encounters with him, I do hope you can understand that without your very best effort, he will lose his life. Surely he deserves at least a chance?”
Harry exhaled raggedly and extended a hand to Snape—who placed in his palm a flask, still warm from the brewing process, containing a bubblegum-pink potion. Snape held on to the flask for a moment, refusing to relinquish it. “Try not to probe about in corners of the mind that are none of your concern this time.” Feeling it best not to make promises he couldn’t keep, Harry wordlessly knocked the potion back in one shot, grimacing when he expected it to be bitter but relieved to taste a thick, minty slurry instead.
Bragge conjured a small camp bed and directed Harry to lie down and make himself comfortable. “Now, do try to keep your mind open, Harry! Keep thinking open thoughts!”
“Quite unnecessary, Bragge,” Snape sneered. “Mr. Potter’s mind is unfailingly open. Why, one can read it like a book.”
Harry tamped down the rising tide of anger bubbling within his chest like Snape’s potion. He’d come here to do a job, and he was going to get it over with as quickly as possible. Bragge was right; Malfoy may have had nefarious reasons for attempting to become an Animagus, but he couldn’t have predicted his form or the way it might take over his body. He was a victim himself, in a twisted way, and he deserved to at least face the consequences of his actions as a human, able to understand right from wrong.
“Now,” Bragge said, as Harry arranged himself on the bed, “I’ll ask you to close your eyes and count backwards from ten; this will place you into a deep slumber, at which point you’ll find your thoughts starting to wander. Just remember to—”
“Keep an open mind, yeah. I got it.”
Harry closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly; he wasn’t really tired just now, knew there were any number of things he ought to be doing, but he couldn’t move on to the next order of business until this matter was taken care of, so he tried to focus his thoughts. He did as Bragge suggested, clearing his mind and counting backwards.
By Seven… his thoughts had begun to fracture, growing hazy, and at Six… he felt a ripple of distant worry that he really had been poisoned. But then came—
Malfoy. Malfoy, he was supposed to be thinking about Malfoy. About being open and receptive to finding him.
A gust of wind ruffled his hair. He could sense light beyond his lids, as if the lamps in the cell had flared to life all at once, and he blinked blearily, daring to peek.
This was not the Ministry cell.
He sat upright, bracing his hands to balance himself as he scrambled to his feet, and surveyed his surroundings on unsteady legs, still woozy from the potion.
No, this was not the Ministry cell at all.
It was…well, a rather dreary moor. Barren but for scrub grass and the odd bush or mossy boulder, stretching onward as far as the eye could see in all directions, underneath a cloudy, overcast sky.
“Mr. Bragge…?” Harry called weakly, not really expecting an answer, and sure enough, all he received in response was the lonely cry of the wind over the moor and the whistle of the short-cropped grass waving in the gusts. It was a picture-perfect ‘middle of nowhere’ setting.
He seemed quite alone—no Bragge, no Snape, no Kingsley. Definitely no dragon, and no Ministry cell either. He ran his hands down his sides, patting nervously, and sighed in relief when he realised he at least still had his wand on him, its familiar length poking out of his back pocket.
Palming it, he considered casting a Point Me to try and find civilisation; he wasn’t yet confident enough in his Apparition skills to chance a jump, especially as he had no idea where he was, and he’d heard that trying to Apparate too far tended to wreak havoc on the digestive and mental faculties. He’d nearly been brained once already in the past few days; he wasn’t keen to do any further damage if he could avoid it.
There was also the matter of how he’d gotten here in the first place; had the potion knocked him out, allowing persons unknown—Snape? The Ministry?—to transport Harry…wherever he was? To what end, if so?
As he dithered on about how best to find his way back to London, there came a rustling sound from behind, and Harry turned his head to peer curiously over one shoulder.
Harry whirled around, nearly tripping over his own feet as he took several steps backward to escape the flurry of feathers and talons that was upon him. “What the f—” He batted wildly. “Get off!”
The peacock—he was pretty sure that was what the thing was, though he’d never seen a white one like this one before—ignored Harry’s protests, continuing to squawk indignantly at him and peck at the hem of his jeans. He took several more steps back, trying to place a bit of buffer between himself and the bird, but it gave chase, its pristine feathers fluffed in anger and its beady red eyes fixed firmly on his shoelaces.
It snapped its neck out, grabbing one lace in its beak, and gave a sharp tug. “Hey—cut that out!” Harry hissed, swatting it away, and he dropped to one knee to retie his shoe. The peacock gave a little shiver, settling its feathers back into place, and then turned back around, marching away with an indignant strut. Harry watched it go for a beat, utterly thrown by the absurdity of the situation—popping up in the middle of a moor when he was supposed to be deep in the bowels of the Ministry, harassed by a bloody bird that seemed to have a fondness for shoelaces—and wondered if he hadn’t hit his head again. Or maybe he’d had a bad reaction to one of the potion ingredients—surely they weren’t meant to just be thrown together into a single concoction like that, right?
The peacock stopped a few paces away, turning back to look at Harry with those beady eyes, and then gave an admonishing hiss.
Harry furrowed his brows, bemused. “You, erm…you want me to follow you?” He felt ridiculous, talking to the peacock—but a little less so when it continued onward, chirruping softly in encouragement as it made its way along a sandy path that wound up a low hill.
With nothing else to do but follow the peacock, Harry did so—though he made sure to keep himself and his shoelaces a safe distance back. For the most part, the bird seemed content to ignore him, plodding along at a sedate pace and stopping now and then to peck idly at clumps of grass in search of bugs or shoelaces or whatever it was peacocks ate. They crested one hill, then down again, and another with seemingly no destination in sight.
From the top of the third hill, though, Harry realised what he’d been led to: a large, moss-covered limestone boulder with dead shrubs ringing its base and Draco Malfoy, sitting cross-legged atop it and staring off into the middle distance.
Well, that solved the mystery of where Harry was, and why.
The peacock gave a final whining squawk, then bustled off the path into the brush to go hunting. Harry watched it go with a twinge of longing; it’d been nice having something of a guide here, and now he really didn’t know quite what to do.
He glanced up at Malfoy, who didn’t seem to have noticed his arrival—didn’t seem to be aware of much at all, really, just sat there in dead silence, not even blinking. It was more than a bit eerie, and Harry wondered if Malfoy, like his dragon, was also in stasis.
He snapped a finger. “…Malfoy?”
No response, though he hadn’t honestly been expecting one. Harry drew closer, taking his steps carefully to avoid spooking Malfoy if at any point he actually came to, and waved a hand in front of Malfoy’s face. The dopey, blank expression on his fine patrician features was unmoved, and Harry took a mental picture. He’d need something to laugh about once this was all over.
He sighed. Well, he’d found Malfoy—or Malfoy’s human consciousness, he supposed this represented—but how exactly was he supposed to get the prick to ‘reassert’ himself if he was a vegetable?
Reaching up, he placed a hand on one of Malfoy’s knobby knees, giving it a shake—
And Malfoy instantly shivered to life with an undignified yelp, scrambling backwards comically quickly and toppling off of the boulder and into the springy underbrush. “What the fuck!” he sputtered, limbs flailing as he struggled to right himself, and Harry took another mental picture.
“So you are alive…”
Malfoy’s head snapped around, trying to place the voice, and his wide-eyed white expression darkened considerably. “Potter?” he spat, raking Harry with a confused sneer. “What are you doing he—” He caught himself, though, and flicked a fearful gaze around the moor. A gust of wind ruffled his messy, leaf-strewn hair, and his pressed white dress shirt had grass stains on it now. He looked positively a mess—so Harry took another mental picture. “…Where the hell am I?” Malfoy asked in a tight, hunted voice, and he pressed his back against the boulder, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists at his sides.
Harry humoured him, glancing around, but all he saw was the same barren waste as when he’d ‘arrived’. He shrugged. “Was about to ask you the same thing.” Malfoy relaxed a hair, curiosity evidently winning out over sheer terror, and he blinked a few times, as if the whole place might prove itself to be an illusion. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Malfoy opened his mouth, a scathing retort likely on his lips, but then quickly shut it again. His expression went slack as he wracked his memory and clearly didn’t like what he’d found. He fixed Harry with a look of unspoken rage. “What have you done to me? Where are we? Take me back right this instant or I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” Harry asked, genuinely curious. He raked his gaze over Malfoy, from his lank, white-blond hair down to his scuffed, muddy loafers. “I don’t think you’ve got a wand on you, and you don’t look like you’ve got the build to take me in a fistfight, though I’m game to find out if you are.” He crossed his arms over his chest, and Malfoy shifted his weight to his backmost foot, his rage tempered by a sliver of worry—perhaps he was recalling how things had turned out the last time he and Harry had squared off. “And I haven’t done anything to you. In fact—you’re the one who did something to me.” He cocked his head, studying Malfoy’s steadily flagging bravado with interest. “…And I think you remember.”
“You don’t remember turning into a great bloody dragon and attacking Gryffindor Tower? ‘Cause that seems like it’d be hard to forget.”
Malfoy was already pale as a ghost, but he somehow seemed to go whiter still, and the peacock left off its hunt in the scrub grass nearby to sit up straight and ruffle its feathers, releasing a burbling, threatened growl. Malfoy swallowed thickly. “I…I did it?”
“Attacked the school? Yeah. You did.”
“No—” Malfoy shook his head in irritation. “I mean—I did it? I finally…” He trailed off, and the awe in his voice faded as his brows knit in confusion. “Wait—dragon?” He held his hands out before himself, as if he expected to see scales and talons instead of knobby knuckles and bitten-down fingernails. “I thought it was a dream…”
“Well it wasn’t,” Harry bit out, irritation starting to settle in when it seemed that Malfoy truly didn’t have the first clue as to what he’d done, the damage he’d caused and the life he’d taken. “And it’s caused rather a lot of trouble. You’ve hurt people.”
Malfoy straightened, jaw tightening and throat bobbing. “My parents. Where are my parents?”
Harry shrugged. “How should I know?”
Malfoy looked around again, perhaps thinking his parents were only hiding nearby and would reveal themselves momentarily. “I have to get back to them. I have to find—where the fuck are we?” He started pacing, nearly trampling the poor peacock underfoot, as it scurried to get well out of his way.
Harry’s irritation crested at last, and he grew tired of humouring Malfoy. He’d have to be blunt about this if they were ever going to get anywhere with this ‘reasserting’ business. “Pretty sure we’re inside your head.” A strong gust of wind whipped around them, bringing with it a long, lonely moan that echoed across the moor. “Looks rather a lot like I expected: depressing and empty.”
This drew Malfoy up short, and he made a face that suggested he thought Harry was off his rocker. “What are you talking about?”
If Harry didn’t start directing the conversation, they were going to be discussing the same issues over and over until they throttled one another, so Harry grabbed the reins and launched into an explanation before Malfoy could have another piss fit. “Well, as I hear it: you evidently have been studying Animagecraft in secret for the better part of the past year, and on finally completing a successful transformation last night, you popped out a big angry dragon and went crazy. Bragge said it was something to do with the dragon’s instincts overwhelming the human parts of you, I dunno. The professors had to subdue you, and as we speak, you’re chained to the floor of a holding cell under a stasis spell at the Ministry.”
“I haven’t been—and—what on earth are you—” Malfoy began tripping over his own words, spluttering rather inelegantly, and Harry was going to run out of mental film for his camera very quickly at this rate. Eventually, though, Malfoy apparently chose to just discount Harry’s words altogether: “You’re lying.”
Harry had to laugh at that, though he chalked it up to breaking under the stress of the past twenty-four hours. “Right. Because any of what I just said is clearly part of some elaborate trap to…I’m really stumped. Help me out here: why am I lying, again?”
Malfoy’s practised sneer fell, genuine fear washing it away to seafoam as the weight and reality of what Harry had just said sank in. Harry was willing to bet Malfoy didn’t remember much of the past day or two, let alone the finer details of how he’d come to be here. It was ridiculously unfair that the prick could just not remember. That he could remain blissfully ignorant of what he’d done, who he’d killed. The blow he’d struck the wizarding world—and how thrilled he’d probably be once he realised.
“We’re inside my mind,” Malfoy said, not quite a statement, but not really a question either. Like he was just trying to settle things in his head, everything locking into place where before there’d been chaos.
“Like I said.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“Wasting my time, evidently.” Harry scrubbed at his face, knowing he was actually going to have to come out and say it. And in doing so, he was going to sound both stupid and embarrassing, two things he absolutely didn’t want to be in front of Malfoy. But then, Malfoy was the one who’d done a mating dance on top of Gryffindor Tower, apparently, so there was always that little silver lining—though it would be easier to appreciate if Harry wasn’t going to inevitably be subjected to ridicule as well. “I’ve been recruited to help you right yourself. You kind of went bonkers when you transformed and lost track of whatever passes for your humanity. Supposedly this—” He gestured between them, “—is meant to help you find your way back to…well, you.”
Malfoy grimaced, like he’d just swallowed a toad. “You?” He frowned, a thought crossing his mind. “…I’ve just made you up.”
“Think about me that often, then?” Harry raised a brow, and now Malfoy looked like the toad was trying to claw its way back out again. “Unfortunately, you haven’t made me up. I’m really here. And I’d really rather not be.”
“Then fuck off. Haven’t you got kittens to rescue from trees? Hufflepuffs’ bumps and bruises to kiss?” He rounded on Harry, and the peacock bustled along after him, eyeing Harry’s shoelaces greedily. “Where are my parents?” he asked again.
Harry stood his ground, drawing himself up to a height that he despaired to realise was a good couple of inches below Malfoy. “I told you: I don’t know.” He bit out his words slowly, as it seemed Malfoy was having trouble parsing the simplest of phrases. “And if anyone else could be here, trust that I’d more than merrily pass off the mantle, but I was told it had to be me so—”
“Snape!” Harry snapped, nearing his wits’ end. It wasn’t quite the truth, but it wasn’t entirely a lie either; he was certain Snape wouldn’t have let Harry be a part of this mess if there’d been any other choice. Hearing that Snape had had a say in the matter, though, would hopefully make Malfoy more receptive to…whatever it was Harry was meant to be doing.
Malfoy’s brows lifted, and he glanced around hopefully. “He’s here?” But of course, all he was met with was the rustling hiss of the scrub grass swaying in the wind and the idle chirrups of the peacock now hunting near the base of the boulder. The hope faded from his expression, a practised frown settling into place, and he studied Harry for a long moment. “…What’s going on here? You’re lying—about…something. I can feel it.”
A sharp gust whipped at Harry’s messy hair, and the peacock ruffled its feathers, fixing its beady eyes on Harry in dark suspicion as Malfoy crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not.”
“Another lie.” Malfoy’s voice was getting tight—which was rich, really, because Harry was pretty sure he was the one entitled to frustration here. How long had he been out here? Minutes? Hours? It was difficult to tell the passage of time in this limbo-like reality.
He tamped down the acid-like irritation eating at him; if they started rowing, they probably wouldn’t stop until they’d beaten each other silly. “It’s not. I’m not lying to you. You’re in a holding cell at the Ministry—”
“What for?!” Malfoy sputtered. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“McGonagall says you’re supposed to register your intent to become an Animagus with the Ministry in advance—did you do that?”
Malfoy shifted uneasily. “That’s—hardly grounds to haul me in.”
“Maybe. But you didn’t really give them much choice when you, like I said, went bonkers and destroyed Gryffindor Tower.” He hardened his voice to impress upon Malfoy the gravity of his situation. “You’re lucky they didn’t put you down outright.”
Malfoy’s shoulders went slack, his tone raspy. “They—they can’t execute someone just for… Even Azkaban’s far-fetched, certainly not without a proper trial, and I’m still underage besides—”
“You’re right—but you’re not ‘someone’ right now. You’re just another dangerous creature, stuck in that dragon body, evidently without this bit of you—” He gestured to Malfoy. “—even realising it. And you’re gonna stay stuck unless you can situate yourself back in your right mind and transform.”
Malfoy shook his head. “No—no, I’d remember that. I’d remember…” He ran a hand through his hair, the strands fluttering in the breeze without the usual generous application of grease. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Harry threw his hands into the air. “I swear to—do I need to cast a Sonorus Charm? Can you not hear me, is that it?” He fixed Malfoy with a hard stare, holding his eye so he had to actually listen to what Harry was saying and process it this time. “You’ve been studying to become an Animagus, right?”
Malfoy’s jaw tensed, and he ran a tongue over his teeth. “I don’t see how that’s remotely any of your concern—”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t. Well congrats—because it worked! You came out a bloody dragon, and even if you can’t remember it, trust that the whole of Hogwarts, probably most of Hogsmeade, and several Ministry officials can remember. They remember, because as I’ve recently learned, dragons have some pretty strong, forceful instincts. Instincts that shoved the human parts of you firmly aside and took over.”
Malfoy blinked a few times in quick succession, and his nostrils flared. “…What do you mean ‘took over’?”
“I mean took over. I mean punted your human consciousness into the aether of wherever-the-hell we are and started operating on raw animal instinct. And did a lot of damage in the process.”
“The aether of—what?”
“Of whatever this place is! Your mind is stuck here—while your body is in the Ministry, chained up in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures until you decide to show up and reclaim it, I suppose.”
“Well—take me back!” Malfoy demanded, tone sharp as he tried to affect the air of one accustomed to getting his way. He was going to be sorely disappointed, and Harry was pleased to deal him the lesson.
“Sure. Just one thing: um, how?”
“I don’t know, obviously. You’re the one barging in on my thoughts!”
“I didn’t barge in—you’re stuck here, or haven’t you gotten it through your thick skull yet that without my help, you’re going to be living out the rest of your days all scales and talons?”
“Without your help?” Malfoy’s lip curled in disgust. “Why the fuck do you think I need your help?”
“Did you not just order me to ‘take you back’, despite my having no hand in your being here in the first place?” Harry massaged his temples, a pounding ache building just behind his eyes. Why had he let himself be talked into this? Malfoy had made his bed; Harry should have left him to lie in it. “It’s your own damn fault I’m here at all, so if you’ve got a problem with—”
“My fault?” Malfoy scoffed. “How is your being here anything to do with m—”
“You made it to do with me when you tried to tear through the castle just to find me!” Harry could feel a dark flush rising to his cheeks, frustration and embarrassment setting him off. “Gryffindor Tower’s in ruins now, thanks to you. The whole House might have to change common rooms before the next term starts.”
“What? Why would I…” The derisive sneer on Malfoy’s face slowly dissolved, revealing a slack-jawed expression of dawning realisation. He swallowed, neck bobbing. “…Why would I do that?”
Harry paced around to the boulder, turning to lean back against it. It was warm, even through his jumper, despite the chill of the moor. He closed his eyes to try and soothe the pounding in his head. “Wouldn’t happen to have been because you were ordered by Voldemort to kill me, would it?” There was always a chance, right? Bragge wasn’t an Order member; he wouldn’t be privy to any secrets the Order had obtained regarding the schemes and plots of the Death Eaters. Maybe this was all a misunderstanding, jumping to conclusions when actually—
“That’s ridic—” Malfoy drew himself up and squared his jaw, and Harry imagined he could hear him grinding his teeth. “I know it’s rather a challenge for you, Potter, but do try not to be so full of yourself. I’ve far greater purposes to which my skills have been directed than schoolyard brawling.” He toyed with the cuff of his left sleeve, chin jutting out proudly.
Harry winced internally, reaching to push his glasses up as he wiped his eyes. There went the last brief flicker of hope. He supposed there was no getting around the crux of the matter now. “Yeah. Yeah, I was afraid of that. Listen—” He crossed his arms over his chest, scuffing the toe of one trainer against the ground to kick up a bit of gravel. The peacock bustled to chase down a pebble that went flying into the scrub. “I had it put bluntly for me, so if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to give it to you straight as I can manage as well.” He flicked a glance up to Malfoy’s face—he half-wished the git would interrupt again with haughty demands for him to get on with it and spit it out, I don’t have all day, Potter. Alas, though: Malfoy seemed to understand Harry had something that needed getting out and had kindly buttoned up for once.
Harry cleared his throat. “Apparently—” His voice broke, most unhelpfully, and he tried again. “Apparently your Animagus form isn’t just a dragon: it’s a, uh, juvenile. Y’know—a teenage one, I guess?” Malfoy shrugged as if to say And? “Yeah. Anyway—like any healthy teenage boy, on getting out into the wide world, it…decided it wanted a shag. So it went looking for a…” He made a face; Harry hoped it never got easier to say this word—he didn’t want to get used to it. “A mate.” He spread his arms out. “And guess who the lucky wizard was.”
Malfoy actually took a step back, raking a befuddled gaze from the bird’s nest that was Harry’s hair down to his unlaced trainers that the peacock was eyeing with renewed interest. “That’s—what? No.” He laughed—a manic little scoff that sounded less derisive and more just this side of horrified. “You’re—making that up. That’s absolutely—it just makes no—”
“Make it up? Why the hell would I make that up?” Harry could hear his voice had gone a bit shrill, nearly as defensive as Malfoy.
“Don’t ask me to try and comprehend what goes on inside that peabrain of yours! Everyone knows Granger’s the brains of your entire operation! Having a laugh at my expense, are we?” He crossed his arms and sniffed. “Merlin, how pathetic. Clearly you’re hard up for entertainment these days.”
“I am not—” Harry started, but then bit his tongue; they could go for hours, sniping back and forth like this, and Harry just wanted to get out of here now. He didn’t really care if it was with or without Malfoy at this point. “You know what? Fine. Think what you want. Enjoy your delusions if they make you feel better—I’d certainly rather it not be true myself, so if you’d like to forget any of this ever happened and never speak of it to another living soul once you’re back to your delightfully charming self again, then I wholly support you.” He clasped his hands together and gave a polite little bowing nod—then straightened with a frown. “…Just out of curiosity, though: if you didn’t become an Animagus to try and kill me, why did you?” Malfoy’s expression shuttered, gone cold and blank. “Not for fun, surely. That ‘greater purpose’ you mentioned?”
“It’s none of your concern.” Malfoy’s tone was clipped, like he’d only barely held back the truth of the matter.
“I’ve just explained in relatively gory detail how it is my concern, or did it go in one ear and out the other?” It wasn’t impossible; Harry seemed to have repeated himself several times throughout this confrontation with Malfoy.
“I see no reason whatsoever to credit any accusation or declamation that comes dribbling out of your mouth.”
“Then what are we even talking for?”
“Your guess is quite as good as mine.”
Harry clenched his hands into fists, digging his bitten-down nails into the flesh of his palm, and he counted backwards from ten in a practice he’d seen Mrs Weasley adopt several times over the years in her dealings with the twins. He had to be the bigger man, here; he wouldn’t be able to live it down if he let Malfoy rile him up and run him off. If Harry left this plane, it’d be because he’d concluded there was nothing more for him to do here. “…If you don’t tell me why you did it, then I won’t help you change back,” he threatened; he didn’t like to resort to such tactics, but needs must and all that.
Malfoy snorted, one bleached brow arched contemptuously. “You’ve just told me you’ve got no clue how to get out of here. And I’m quite sure I’ve said this before, but let’s give it another go for fun: I don’t need your help. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m evidently the one who’s managed the Animagecraft between us, so I like to think I know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah? Then go on.” Harry nodded. “Change back. Your mindscape’s dull as shit, and I’d really like to get back to reality now.”
The peacock squawked its annoyance, and Harry gave a start, fixing it with a warning glare. If the stupid bird came after his laces again, he was going to punt it down the way, he really was. Malfoy, for his part, simply screwed up his features in a sneer. “You’re welcome to fuck off whenever you like.”
“I’d have liked to not be here in the first place, but for some reason that’s well beyond me at the moment I actually felt sorry for you. You’d taken some stupid risks and suffered a punishment that didn’t strike me as equal to the crime.”
“Saint Potter,” Malfoy huffed, derision dripping. “A saviour complex in baggy trousers and glass-bottle specs. Too noble to keep his nose out of others’ private affairs.”
“No, I was too noble to leave you stuck like this thinking you had no choice. But I’m happy to let you rot in here, where you can’t hurt anyone else, if I think you’re up to no good.”
“Then go!” Malfoy snapped, colour rising to his cheeks as he showed the first true bit of life since Harry had come across him.
Harry dug in his heels. “Not until you tell me why. What were you doing these past few months, skulking around and sneaking off behind the professors’ backs? You weren’t being nearly as subtle as you thought you were, you know.” He considered their predicament. “Was it studying Animagecraft, then? Why the need for secrecy? Being an unregistered Animagus is illegal—and I’d think your sort would want to at least keep up the semblance of towing the line for a while longer yet. Or is that out the window now?”
He took a step forward, and Malfoy responded with a step back, backing up to the boulder until he was pressing himself against it. “Why take that chance? Is it Voldemort? Did he order you to do this?” Harry narrowed his eyes as a thought struck him. “Why were you crying in the bathroom? What were you talking about with Myrtle? And that was you in the Room of Requirement, wasn’t it? Is that where you practised? Or plotted whatever it is you’ve been up to, if not Animagecraft? Why did—”
“SHUT UP!” The peacock flew at Harry in a flurry of feathers and claws and angry squawks and screeches, flaring wildly as Harry attempted to shield his face from the attack. He took several steps back and nearly tripped over his own feet in the effort. “This isn’t a fucking interrogation—my business is my own!”
Harry dropped into a squat, eyes squeezed shut. “Jesus just—call off your bloody bird, geez! Fine!”
“It’s not my bird,” Malfoy ground out, voice muffled by the flutter of wings and angry hissing. “But perhaps that will teach you to go sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
Harry was reminded, uncomfortably, of Snape’s warning to avoid doing just that, though he maintained that this was perfectly within his purview. He was entitled to want to know what had driven Malfoy to dabble in so heavily regulated an area of magic, taking risks that could have gotten him killed but had instead destroyed the one person who stood a reasonable chance of actually saving the wizarding world when it came down to it.
It was just not fair. That Malfoy could sit here stewing in his ignorance, claiming what he’d been up to was no one’s business but his own, when it was Harry’s business. It was the whole damn world’s business now.
The peacock gave a final admonishing chirrup before shivering to resettle its feathers in place, adopting a threatening posture evidently in case Harry got any ideas. Once sufficiently assured Harry was not about to start anything again, it went strutting off in search of insects once more, its long tail feathers swishing in the scrub grass behind it.
Harry tentatively lowered his arms, eyeing the peacock warily and rubbing at the faint scratch marks on his arms where the stupid bird had managed to get in a few good kicks. “It sure as hell does belong when you do a mating dance on top of Gryffindor Tower.”
Malfoy flushed from nose to ears, and Harry half expected steam to start pouring from his ears. “That—I wasn’t—just—leave me be! Haven’t you ruined my life enough just yet?” Harry opened his mouth to ask just how he had ruined Malfoy’s life, genuinely baffled—before recalling that healthy as he looked now, Malfoy had very recently caught the bad end of a very nasty curse courtesy of Harry’s temper, and Lucius Malfoy was currently rotting in Azkaban, something Malfoy might understandably (if not reasonably) blame Harry for. “If you’re so concerned I’m a danger to others, then let them keep me here! What do I care? I’d rather wither away in here than have a heart to heart with the Chosen One, thanks.”
Harry scoffed and shook his head, lips thinning into a grim smile. “I certainly hope you mean that, because that’s precisely what’s going to happen.” He swept an arm out, gesturing around them. “And while you’re stuck living out your days a helpless prisoner inside your own mind—and probably going mad in the process, have fun with that—there’ll be a war going on right outside your cell door. A real one, out in the open, not waged in the shadows and sneaky like it’s been so far. You know it’s coming—and you know I’m going to be there. Your parents too, I expect, one way or another.”
Malfoy just stared at Harry, jaw tight and nostrils flaring, without saying a word. He looked terrified—which good, he ought to be.
“Got nothing to say about that? Your mum and dad, caught up in a battle, getting blown up by a Reducto or ripped to shreds by Greyback and his ilk?”
“They wouldn’t—” Malfoy started, but Harry had found a pressure point and leaned on it harder.
“You seemed so concerned about their well-being earlier; you’re not even going to at least fight by their sides? Even if it’s the wrong one? Gonna let them die for you, too?”
Malfoy’s gaze narrowed, confusion furrowing his brow. “‘Too’? Wait—” He shook his head. “You—you said earlier I’d hurt people. That the dragon…” He swallowed. “…What did I do?”
Harry, despite himself, hesitated. He knew he could cut Malfoy to the quick right now, slough off that superior sneer with a few choice words. It wouldn’t take much to bring him down a peg or three, to really rub in his face the destruction he’d wrought with his ill-conceived attempts at mastering illegal magic without the proper oversight. He deserved it, too, for so stubbornly refusing to explain why he’d done something this stupid.
But Harry wasn’t Malfoy; he wasn’t unnecessarily cruel or vindictive. He could be the bigger man, so though Malfoy didn’t deserve the courtesy, he explained with uncharacteristically gentle caution, “…You killed Dumbledore.” Malfoy’s grey eyes widened a tic. “He died, trying to keep you from destroying Gryffindor Tower, from hurting any of the students inside.” Malfoy turned away, plodding on leaded feet in an aimless path, fists clenched at his sides. Harry felt a flicker of frustration at the lack of any evident response. “You don’t even remember that? You don’t remember the professors trying to contain you, Dumbledore in the thick of it just—”
“Another lie,” Malfoy hissed, glancing over his shoulder. “You’ll not guilt me so easily, Potter.”
That Malfoy seemed to admit that Dumbledore’s death would weigh on him struck Harry as the more incredulous of the points being debated, but he just shook his head. “You think I’m lying?” He held his hands out. “You say you can detect lies—so go on. Detect.”
Malfoy stared at him for a long beat, looking decidedly wrong-footed by the challenge, as Harry had suspected he would.
But then he threw Harry entirely as his lips curled into a wry smile and he released a harsh, derisive snort of laughter and slumped to the ground, drawing his knees up to his chest and resting his head against them. He idly picked at a clump of weeds, not entirely unlike the peacock still stalking about nearby. “Well that’s fucking fantastic.”
He hadn’t tried to make it sound anything but bitterly sarcastic, and Harry frowned. “That’s all you’ve got to say for yourself?”
Malfoy ripped out a weed, studying the roots before tossing it aside. “What, I’m to deliver the eulogy then, am I?”
“An explanation wouldn’t be remiss: like why you would do something so stupid—something you had to have known would at the very least get you in trouble and at worst…” At worst would have gotten someone killed. The two, it seemed, were not mutually exclusive, because Malfoy was in some deep shit, and he had to realise this. “Gonna fess up now? Or shall I fuck off, as you so kindly suggested?”
“That presupposes you’d actually do it this time.”
“Fifth time’s the charm.” Harry hardened his gaze, well past tired of this back-and-forth but wanting to give Malfoy every chance he didn’t deserve to save himself. Harry wasn’t going to leave here with any regrets. “Tell me why you did it.”
He spoke slowly and deliberately, but he tried to keep his voice as neutral as possible. They both of them had tempers, and it was exhausting sniping as they were.
Malfoy didn’t glance away this time, and his shoulders rose and fell in a visible rhythm as he took deep breaths. “…I could lie to you. Give you any reason I thought might suit and you’d swallow it.”
“You could try. But I think I’d know—just like you’d know if I lied. I think you can’t lie to me in here. Not without a tell.” The peacock straightened, fixing its beady eyes on Harry, then returned to its urgent task of stalking a big black beetle. “So I say either embarrass yourself—you’re pretty good at that, and I do enjoy the sight—or show some stones for once.” Harry made a face of irritation. “You can’t seriously think yours is a cause worth defending anyway.”
That was, evidently, a very wrong thing to say, for Malfoy was on his feet in an instant, cheeks colouring in anger. “My cause? My cau—” The peacock abandoned its hunt and ruffled its feathers, hissing in warning as Malfoy rounded on Harry. “Think I get all maudlin in toilets for fun, do you? I’m bored, so just unleash the waterworks? Is that why you barged in and sliced me to ribbons? ‘Cause I was just doing it for dramatic effect?”
It was Harry’s turn to feel wrong-footed, but he felt compelled to defend himself. “It wouldn’t be the first time you’d done that sort of thing…”
“You—fucking prick. Can’t you entertain the idea that maybe not everyone’s priorities align precisely with your own?”
Harry rallied, Malfoy’s anger fuelling his own. “When your priorities involve the extermination of innocent people, then yeah, I tend to go a bit myopic!” The high would only last a moment, and then they’d both feel more exhausted by the argument than before, but that was for future Harry to deal with.
“Then Scourgify those specs on your face and look around for once!” Malfoy practically screeched, ears and neck flushed red and breathing hard. The peacock bustled over, pacing with worrying warbles at his feet. Malfoy took a bracing breath and released it slowly, gritting his teeth. “…He has my parents. It might not seem like a big deal to you, seeing as yours bit it ages ago, but I’m rather fond of mine.”
Harry blinked a few times in quick succession, trying to parse Malfoy’s words and failing. “But—I mean, your dad’s a Death Eater. And your mum as well, I assumed. What d’you mean he’s ‘got them’?” There was no mistaking who he was, so Harry didn’t bother.
“She’s not, as if it’s any of your business,” Malfoy sniffed, lip curling, then took another of those bracing breaths. He looked like he could use a stiff drink on top of it. “And you think the Dark Lord never kills his own servants? Especially when they’ve disappointed him as many times as my father?”
“And…” Harry tried to connect the pieces, knowing Hermione would have done so easily. Ron too, probably; he was good at working out puzzles of strategy. “He’s using them to…what, get to you? Force you to do something?” He was baffled as to why on earth Voldemort would bother with Draco Malfoy of all people.
“No, you utter bellend, he’s using me to get to them. As punishment.” He spoke slowly, as if to a small child. “He doesn’t give two fucks about me, beyond knowing he can use me to hurt them.” He shoved his hands into his pockets, tipping his head back. “He gave me an impossible mission. One he knew I’d fail—which was the point.”
Harry couldn’t help himself, practically licking his lips. “…What was the mission?”
This time, Malfoy didn’t sneer or snarl that it was none of Harry’s business. Maybe he was just as tired of this as Harry was. He did laugh, though—a tired, dry little thing—and dropped into a squat to stroke the peacock’s crown, scratching it under its chin as it closed its eyes in bliss.
“To kill Albus Dumbledore.”
Harry felt his stomach bottom out, an empty, gaping hole replacing it in his abdomen. He tried to swallow, but he couldn’t. No saliva. You’re lying was ready on his lips, because it made no sense. No sense at all.
Malfoy saluted the cloudy sky. “Joke’s on him, I suppose, seeing as I evidently succeeded without even properly trying.”
His wording hit Harry like a punch to the gut: he’d been right again. It had been Malfoy behind those attacks on students. Katie Bell, strung up and lashed around like a rag doll; Ron, fingers curled white-knuckled as he grabbed at his own throat, the life leaving his eyes while he struggled for breath.
Harry’s stomach resituated itself in his gut, bringing with it a wave of nausea, and he bit out, “Your ‘not even properly trying’ nearly killed two people—one of them my best friend.”
“Potter, I am so far from being willing or able to muster remorse for Weasley you can’t possibly understand.”
Harry had to practically bite through his own tongue to keep from firing back at that—Ron had almost died. Would have died without the Prince’s notes. But to Malfoy, it was just a failed, half-arsed shot that had blown wild.
But Malfoy wouldn’t apologise, and Harry didn’t feel like going another round with him. He was, however, bound and determined to leave this plane with something to show for it beyond a headache. “So Voldemort wanted you, a sixteen-year-old kid, to try and kill the greatest wizard alive?”
Malfoy flinched at the name, but still managed a haughty, “I’m almost seventeen, I’ll have you know.”
“And that being an impossible task, as you admit yourself, you thought you’d just…what, ignore him? Hope he just wouldn’t notice you hadn’t succeeded?” Harry wasn’t following the logic of Malfoy’s decisions at all—he’d known he was no match for Voldemort, it seemed, so what had Malfoy expected to be able to do against him? He could have memorised the entire Defence Against the Dark Arts catalogue and still wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in a duel—Animagecraft was impressive to have pulled off, even Harry could admit, but it seemed useless.
Malfoy straightened back up with an aggravated huff, gesticulating wildly. “He has my parents, Potter! How many times do I have to tell you that? Mother’s his literal prisoner, and Father may as well be! There’s no penetrating his defences, no sneaking them out or mounting rescue missions—not for a sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old, at least.” His arms dropped limp to his sides. “So I tried to give myself an edge.” It came out a bit defensive, bordering on petulant.
“…By becoming a dragon?”
Malfoy looked like he very much wanted to rip out every strand of his white-blond hair. “How you’ve managed to become McGonagall’s favourite without learning anything from her lectures is beyond me.” He pounded his chest. “I didn’t choose this form—it chose me! I just wanted something…dangerous. Something strong, something that could protect me—could protect them. It was my sole drive, my only thought and intent. Magic responds to pure, unadulterated emotions like that.”
Harry wondered—silently, because he didn’t have a death wish—if this ‘mate’ business and Malfoy’s dragon seeking him out was also part of the ‘pure, unadulterated emotions’ Malfoy spoke of, before deciding he’d rather not know.
So that was that. This—Malfoy’s attempt to give himself some weapon, any weapon with which to rescue his parents from a madman—was what had caused such chaos and terror at Hogwarts this past year. Some distant, dark part of Harry thrummed with a superior glee that he’d been right: Malfoy had been up to something—something that involved a mission on his part from Voldemort with terrible consequences that none had been able to defend against.
Had Dumbledore known? Realised he was the target? He had to have, surely—as he had to have known just what Malfoy had been studying alongside his half-hearted attempts on Dumbledore’s life.
But then why take the risk of confronting Malfoy in such a terribly dangerous form, knowing he might have taken it with the sole purpose to kill Dumbledore? Had he believed he could take down a dragon single-handedly—quite literally? Harry recalled Dumbledore’s ruined hand, curled and paralytic with stiff, blackened skin. He’d gone out to face down Malfoy alongside the other staff, as Hermione and Ron had explained it, still dangerously weak from their failed mission. He’d gone, knowing he wasn’t at full strength, knowing that Malfoy had been tasked with his destruction. He’d gone, and his final act had been to try and calm his murderer—because he’d foolishly only seen a student.
Something tightened in Harry’s chest, and he felt heat form behind his eyes, a thick lump lodging in his throat. Grief beat against the inside of his chest, straining, but he shoved it back and down again. Not yet. Soon, but not yet. And definitely not with Malfoy watching.
“You really want to stay here?” Harry asked. Malfoy had his hands stuffed back into his pockets now, shoulders hunched and head turned away. That suited Harry fine; he didn’t want to look at Malfoy just at the moment. “I’ll leave you here, if that’s what you really want—but only if it’s what you really want. I doubt I’ll be able to come here again, even if I had leave to, so if you’re content with whatever half-life this is, or if you think you can manage to find your way back to sanity on your own, then good luck. But I’ve wasted enough time here.” He glanced up at the overcast sky, frowning. “I think, at least. Honestly, I’m not even sure how long I’ve been in here. But I’ve got…things to take care of.”
He trailed off, a bit awkward. It felt like a ‘goodbye’, and Draco Malfoy was hardly topping the list of people Harry ought to be saying that sort of thing to.
The peacock began to pace again, delivering a few errant pecks to the brush before turning its sights once more upon Harry’s trailing laces. Malfoy watched it work, distracted. “Important Saviour business, is it?”
Harry took a few steps to the side, releasing an irritated huff when the peacock pursued. “Something like that.” He made a shooing motion, trying to wave the peacock off, but this only encouraged it to rush him, nearly causing Harry to trip over his own feet. He cursed under his breath and gave a weak kick, which finally made the bird give him some room. He brushed down his shirt, turning his words over inside his mind before speaking. “…He would have helped you, if you’d asked. If you’d just explained what was going on—that you were working for Voldemort under duress—instead of trying to handle it yourself, he would’ve made sure you and your parents were safe.”
“He couldn’t even save himself. I’m supposed to believe he could have saved a whole family?” Malfoy gave a practised sniff. “Malfoys take care of our own. Rely on others and you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.”
“Spurn others and you’re only setting yourself up for failure.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “What rapier wit; you missed being sorted Ravenclaw.”
“I’d say you disappointed pretty damn well all on your own; I can’t imagine having help could have made the situation much worse.”
Malfoy’s jaw tensed. “I don’t need your help. I can handle this—I’ve gotten myself into this mess, as you say, and I’ll see myself out.”
Harry felt the last of his patience evaporate like the remaining dregs of water from a piping kettle, and he shook his head. “Right then. I’m fucking off, as requested.”
He turned on his heel, grinding his teeth down to dust, and started marching. He didn’t know how he was meant to get out of here, but he’d figure it out once well away from Malfoy.
There came a rustling from behind, though, and when Malfoy spoke again, his voice carried a raspy tremor. “I don’t need your help, Potter. But it—” Harry imagined he heard him swallow, steeling himself. “It…would probably be faster if you did—whatever it was you came here to do.” Harry shifted, glancing over one shoulder, and Malfoy crossed his arms over his chest. “Wholly unnecessary, I’m sure you understand. But expedient nonetheless.”
Harry swallowed several choice words and exhaled sharply. “Of course. Never crossed my mind.”
Malfoy nodded shortly. “All right. So?”
“So—get me out!”
Oh, right. Well this was going to be an interesting conversation. “Er, I don’t—I mean, that is, I wasn’t given any instructions exactly as to…” Before he could mumble his way through an excuse that this wouldn’t be as cut and dry an exercise as he might have intimated, Malfoy paled with rage.
“You—I fucking knew it—” He bit back what was likely a colourful diatribe, though, and turned in place to march back towards the boulder Harry had found him perched atop.
“Wai—Malfoy, I said I’d help. I never said I knew exactly how to get out! And you need me! Of that I’m pretty sure!”
“Oh you’re pretty sure? Well that’s comforting.”
Harry broke into a jog, carefully sidestepping the peacock when it lunged for his trainers. “Why else would they send me in here? Snape wasn’t happy about it—”
“That makes two of us.”
“—but Bragge said since I’m your ma—”
Malfoy rounded on him so quickly Harry stumbled backward, landing on his arse with a groan. “Don’t say that word.”
“I didn’t say it. Bragge did.” He didn’t like saying it any more than Malfoy evidently liked hearing it, but it was a sacrifice Harry was willing to make just to see that expression on the prick’s face.
“Then don’t repeat it, either.” Harry now chalked Malfoy’s pallor up to dyspepsia rather than rage. “And who the fuck is Bragge?”
Harry shrugged, holding out his hands for help up. “Some Ministry bloke on the Dragon Destroying Committee or whatever.”
“On the what?!” Malfoy practically shrieked, flinching.
“He finds you fascinating, he said. Help me up.”
Malfoy grimaced, taking a step back out of spite. “I’m not your nursemaid—help yourself up.”
“I thought Purebloods were supposed to be all about good manners and whatnot. Why’re you such a knob?”
“Tell me why you are and then maybe we’ll find out.”
God, what a childish little shit. “Is that why you went after me, then? Birds of a feather and all? You know, as a mate—”
Malfoy lunged for him, the peacock flaring in concert with outraged squawks, and Harry instinctively brought his arms up to protect his face—
And came awake with a start, breathing heavily.
Above him, an iron chandelier burning brightly with candles rotated slowly on its chain, and the chemical stench of potions brewing hung heavy in the air. He shifted upright and winced as pain lanced through his head. Blessedly, it was not the red-hot poker that heralded a fit of pique by Voldemort but only a bog-standard rush of blood from moving too quickly after having been laid out for a spell.
“Welcome back, my boy!” Bragge said, bustling over with a mug of what Harry feared was another potion of indeterminate effect but turned out to be only a very strong tea. “Fine work, I must say. Very fine, indeed!”
“Disorientated are we? That’s to be expected after the ordeal you’ve just been through. But Severus assures us that will wear off very soon, after which you’ll be right as rain once more!” He drew a clipboard from his robe and snapped his fingers to Summon a quill.
Harry made a face at the name. “Snape’s still—?”
Bragge scribbled something on the clipboard and nodded to another corner of what Harry realised was the containment cell. However long he’d been out, they hadn’t bothered to move him anywhere more hospitable. “Impressive handiwork. We’ll want to debrief you shortly, to get an accounting of how on earth you managed it.”
‘It’ was evidently Draco Malfoy, back once more in his gangly, pasty-faced human body. He lay passed out on the flagstones, curled into a foetal position with a blanket thrown over him to hide his modesty, as he seemed to be very naked. Snape lurked at Malfoy’s side, snapping instructions to a pair of burly orderlies while he fussed with his potions kit.
“Is he—erm, well is he gonna be all right?” Harry asked when the orderlies arranged themselves around Malfoy to haul him up, limbs hanging limp and blanket brushing the ground. His left arm flopped free as he was dragged from the room through a side door, Snape trailing behind in a flourish of black robes, and Harry caught the flash of a dark bruise on Malfoy’s forearm just before he was whisked away. Though it had probably not been a bruise at all, he mentally corrected.
“Hm?” Bragge looked up from the clipboard, following Harry’s eye. “Oh yes, yes. Severus has him heavily sedated at the moment, but he’ll be roused for questioning once the DMLE is prepared for their interrogation.”
“Interrogation?” Bragge only nodded, declining to elaborate. “But—what’ll happen to him?”
“I expect he’ll be interrogated,” Bragge said, teasing, though Harry didn’t miss the warning tone woven through it. He’d heard similar from Dumbledore and other Order members in the past, and he wondered what sort of business Bragge got up to in his off hours.
“I know, but after that—” Harry licked his lips, urgency overtaking him. “Is Kingsley still about? I need to talk to him, to discuss—some things.” Malfoy’s confessions screamed like klaxons in Harry’s ears, though he didn’t have the faintest idea what to do with them. Malfoy would need to be guarded for his own good, something Harry didn’t doubt he’d fight—and his parents too. Lucius Malfoy was still in Azkaban and therefore more or less safe, but what of Malfoy’s mother? Was she under active threat? And the Order needed to know that Voldemort’s reach had now found its way inside of Hogwarts. Just because Malfoy had been sent on a suicide mission didn’t mean other students hadn’t been charged with executing similar plots more likely to succeed. Was anyone checking McGonagall’s owls or tasting her food?
‘Fuck off; it’s none of your concern,’ a voice in his head chided, sounding disturbingly like Malfoy. The voice was right, though: this was Kingsley’s job, and Harry ought to leave him to it. He had his own mission that required his full attention now, after all, and it definitely didn’t involve Malfoy.
“I’m afraid he had to step out for a moment, but he’ll be back shortly, as he seemed to think you’d feel more comfortable being debriefed by a friendly face?” Bragge raised his brows, and Harry nodded mutely. “Excellent. Shall I top you off?” Bragge gestured to Harry’s cup. “I’ll fetch you a fresh cup while I see where Kingsley’s gotten off to.”
Tea cup in hand, Bragge toddled through the same door through which had just vanished Snape and the orderlies, bearing Malfoy away to an uncertain fate.
It was quiet in the cell now—and empty, without the dragon’s bulk filling it. Harry felt rather small and almost missed the desolate moor of Malfoy’s mind. At least it’d been fresh air, or seemed it.
‘Fuck off; it’s none of your concern,’ the voice said again, louder this time and in that slow, irritating drawl of Malfoy’s—an auditory sneer.
Malfoy was Kingsley’s and the DMLE’s problem now; Harry had far graver issues to deal with than the consequences facing a would-have-been Death Eater. The appropriate Ministry parties would see to Malfoy’s dispensation and handle whatever mischief he’d been up to—and Harry?
Harry had a funeral to prepare for.