Some instinct honed by Voldemort saved Harry. The part of him that wasn't numbed with shock cleared the way for an animalistic part of his mind that demanded his survival, and he rolled.
Just in time.
With a thump! that split the ice and frightened seagulls on the distant beach into flight, the Ice Dragon hit the ground.
Harry turned over onto his belly and crawled away as fast as he could, all the while praying the ice wouldn't open up and swallow him.
The thump echoed off the nearest cliff and drifted back like muffled thunder, mingling into the frustrated growls from <sunonice> as well as the loud grinding noises as the fractured ice reformed and sealed off the cracks made by the melting charm.
Shards of ice flew as <sunonice> clawed at the spot where Snape had disappeared. One chip stung briefly as it caught Harry on the cheek. He brushed it away.
"Stop." His voice came out as a whisper. "Stop," he said again, this time a little louder. The Ice Dragon ignored him.
Harry crawled to where the ice was solid and stood cautiously, ready to drop if that lashing tail swept his way. <sunonice> was so far into his own distress Harry doubted he'd notice if he cut Harry in half with the end of his tail.
There was a loud series of splashes as the Ice Dragon hit water and plunged his head into it in search of his drowned wizard.
Harry closed his eyes. <gone>, he thought.
With a deep shuddering breath, Harry tried again. But before he put together the right word-image he felt his entire body go limp as cooked spaghetti.
He crumpled, thinking, Merlin, some bastard's hexed me on top of -- on top of everything else today! It was almost funny.
Thump. He hit the ice. Any soft snow that had landed here had been crushed into ice by the seals, and now it was hard and cold and the pain as it bruised his elbow wasn't funny at all. Draco's lashing tail swept something into him.
Oh. Ultimate irony. Here was his wand. Harry would have laughed with despair if he hadn't been stunned.
Damn! How could he have been so stupid as to forget about the warders? <sunonice! Lookout!> he called, hoping the ortho was still capable of hearing him.
With a wallowing sound <sunonice> pulled his head out of the hole. The yellowish nictitating eyelids pulled back to reveal the full chill in his eyes as he turned to face the attack.
From his prone position it wasn't possible for Harry to see what was happening, but he heard the nasty mutter of a Bludger as it flew towards them.
God, no. Don't let it hit him again, please...
By the way he tucked his wings snug against his body, <sunonice> remembered it too. Harry saw the bared teeth rather than heard the snarl, then <sunonice> was rearing up with his talons outstretched.
He caught the Bludger. One lick of the dark grey tongue took all magic out of it, and then <sunonice> hurled it back.
Harry heard a scream.
<sunonice> dropped to all fours again, his weight making the unstable ice groan, and swiped Harry's forehead with his tongue. After the faint sucking feeling from behind his scar Harry realised he could move again. He sat up, gripping his wand and snarling as his grief funnelled into pure rage.
He'd been hurting long enough.
He wanted to make someone else hurt, for once.
There was one warder standing -- a quick glance showed the second lying flat on his back and not moving. Had <sunonice> been that accurate throwing the Bludger? Harry wasn't sure, but he couldn't see any blood, and the force <sunonice> had put into the shot should have splattered the target's head across the icescape.
More Bludgers rose as if out of thin air. They'd probably been reduced for transportation, Harry knew, but right now all he cared about was the way they spun in a mad dance towards him and <sunonice>.
Snape was dead, but Harry would be damned twice over before he let anyone hurt the ortho-elemental. Protecting him was the last thing Snape had asked him to do.
The warder sent sparks flying from his wand, probably in an attempt to startle the Ice Dragon into spreading his wings.
But this time <sunonice> was too canny to try flying. He crouched, lowering himself protectively next to Harry, and Harry realised that <sunonice> had been thinking pretty much along the same lines as Harry -- he wasn't about to let anyone hurt Harry, especially after failing <silkthatcuts>.
Harry could have wept at the stupidity of the situation -- two kids in a last stand against the Ministry of Magic -- but he was all out of tears. Even phoenix tears couldn't bring back Severus Snape.
Five Bludgers zoomed towards them. Hastily, Harry threw up a shielding spell to protect himself and <sunonice> from any extra spells the warder might throw, then aimed his wand at the Bludgers.
The last two were caught by <sunonice>, who licked them clean of magic before dropping the inert balls onto the ice.
The Ice Dragon stepped over Harry, who had sagged back to his knees with exhaustion, and stalked towards the warder with the tip of his tail twitching like a big angry cat's.
Was it just Harry's imagination, or were the seals fretting even more? There seemed to be an increase in their movement as if they knew something nasty was going on.
"I'm warning you," the man shouted, his voice just audible over the turbulence of the seals. "Keep that beast under control, Potter." He pointed his wand towards Harry.
<sunonice> stilled, hissing.
Although he appreciated the sentiment he wished the Ice Dragon had been less obvious about his intelligence and, in particular, his allegiance to Harry. If they'd played their Stupid Card they might have been able to call the warder's bluff.
But on the other hand maybe the warder wasn't bluffing.
Harry swallowed bile and stayed down on his belly, hoping to be less of a target. He could feel hatred warring with <sunonice>'s desire to protect Harry, and wondered what the ortho would choose.
He couldn't see the warder's expression, hidden as it was under a fur-lined hood, but the man's shoulders squared a little, the man certain now of his hold over the Ice Dragon. Harry gritted his teeth. "You can't hurt him," he called. "You've already seen how he eats magic, and he knows the trick with the Bludgers now!"
Was that a laugh?
"I don't need to hurt him," the warder called back. "All I have to do is point my wand at you -- see?" He laughed when <sunonice> snarled louder. "Well, well. Looks like our specimen has some... attachment to you. Down, boy, or I'll hex your pet human!"
<sunonice> stopped, swaying as if he wanted to pounce, but didn't do anything more threatening than keep growling.
The warder smiled as he continued his careful approach. "There's a good monster."
That voice was familiar. "Warder Dibbles?"
"Hey there, Harry."
Dammit. "Warder Dibbles -- you don't know what you're doing!"
"Mr Potter, I'm quite aware of what I'm doing. As I'm sure your elders and betters have told you, I'm containing a highly dangerous beast."
Bullshit, thought Harry. "You're after Fudge's reward money, you bloody great hypocrite!" he yelled angrily.
"My, my; when did you get so informed? And so bad tempered?"
"Right about the time you murdered Professor Snape!"
A one-shouldered shrug. "After all he'd done as a Death Eater, who would blame me? I guess it's safe to let people know now that plans were being made to have him put in Azkaban for life. He'd made a lot of enemies and I can't see me getting anything more than a mild fine for -- shall we say, disposing of an inconvenience? A small fine and a pat on the back," he laughed.
Merlin, and I'd thought he was normal. Behind every productive member of society lies a raving nutter. "It's still murder!"
"There are degrees of murder." And Dibbles' voice took on an edge. "For example -- my aunt and uncle were killed by Death Eaters around the time your precious Professor Snape was an active follower of You-Know-Who. He says he didn't have a part in it, but how can you trust the word of --"
"Stop trying to justify yourself! Snape's confession to the Ministry Aurors was under Veritaserum -- Dumbledore told me that! He didn't kill your aunt and uncle --you're just in it for the money, and Snape was in the way!"
"Harry, you poor kid. Dumbledore, well, he's a good man, but he's getting old... and to have let Snape work at Hogwarts just shows how much he's slipping."
"Bull!" Harry wiped his mouth. He was beginning to froth -- for Merlin's sake, was he going off the deep end now? He added, a little more calmly, "Look, Dibbles. It's you and me and your buddy there... why keep lying? I know you aren't a gung-ho warder any more. I know you just want the money."
"Okay, Harry my old son; you win. I've been in and out of hospital after attacks by some insane monster or other and I've been thinking of retiring for a few years now. The pay for being a warder is appalling -- they expect you to do it out of love." He spat. "So when Fudge approached me about this job I said, 'Sure. I'm in.' Can you blame me? I mean, seriously?" the warder laughed. "This thing's worth half the Galleons in Gringott's! I --" Dibbles cursed as a seal swung around to bellow at him: it was one of the cows, and he'd come too close to her pup.
Although even Harry knew that seals cows weren't known for attacking humans (otherwise how could men have been walking around clubbing fur seal pups to death for so many centuries?), after working around magical beasts for so many years the warder must have been cautious enough to not want to go up against a nursing seal who weighed three times as much as he did, so he edged away towards a large hole in the ice.
For some reason all the seals were avoiding it.
Sitting up a little to see better, Harry could understand why. Beyond the slick bluish edges of the ice, the water with an oily gleam on its surface looked pretty sinister. It was the size of Grandmother Taniwha's pool and just as dark. If he were a seal he wouldn't want to have anything to do with it, either. Anything could be floating down there in those depths... He swallowed, trying not to think of what he knew was down there. The awful image came to mind of a pale face with its dark eyes now permanently blank, and the shoulder-length black hair swirling loose like seaweed in slow currents.
He blinked it away. The cold was stinging his eyes again.
Almost as if avoiding the thought brought the ghost of Snape to his mind, Harry knew, as clearly as if Snape had written up on the blackboard in Potions class, that the warder was stalling for time.
"It's okay for a rich kid like you," Dibbles continued good-naturedly from the edge of the breathing hole. At least, his voice sounded good-natured. Harry didn't like the words at all. "I hear your accountant's books run into a second edition. But for someone like me who's spent their entire life slogging away without hardly any --"
"So... how many have you called?"
Dibbles straightened in surprise. "What?"
"How many Aurors and warders are we expecting?" Harry called out. "I mean, should I get tea and bikkies ready for a party of six or sixty?"
Was that what the seals were so upset about? Did they sense with some strange animal sixth sense that a horde of wizards were about to appear right in the middle of their breeding colony? God -- they'll take Draco to bits. I've got to get him out of here!
There was the shadow of a laugh from the warder. "Very good, Potter." He had to shout even louder to be heard over the seals, which were barking like a pack of hellhounds. "Just stay where you are and you won't get hurt."
Oh, Merlin... was Snape's ghost haunting him? Harry could have sworn he'd heard a cynical snort from the Potions master.
He rolled onto his side, thinking hard. Impedimenta... he's probably expecting that. But if I throw something really juvenile, like a sneezing curse or boils, maybe that'll take him by surprise...
He sprang into a crouch to give him the necessary eye-contact to cast Oldive's Instant Allergy and opened his mouth and --
was struck mute.
It was as though all the power was sucked down into his feet and out through his boots. When he looked down he gasped: he could see his magic disappear -- blue and gold sparkles shot through with green threads were being absorbed by the ice. He didn't hear the spell Dibbles had used, but the effect was like trying to get out of bed for the first time after a bad case of the flu.
Harry collapsed to his knees.
As soon as his hands touched the ice the magic began draining out though them, too. Harry toppled, and as soon as he lay flat the magic poured out of him.
<sunonice>'s mind was broadcasting his alarm so loudly Harry wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Dibbles had heard it too.
With far too much effort Harry managed to get to his hands and knees, just in time to see the enraged <sunonice> hurl one of the inert Bludgers at the warder.
Dibbles didn't waste words in cursing this time; he must have used some to erect a protection ward.
The Bludger bounced off and hit a bull seal.
The gigantic beast reared up, a ton of blubber-bound muscle and attitude roaring as it looked around with little piggy eyes for its attacker. Seeing the glittering Ice Dragon in front of it, it charged.
<sunonice> roared back at it and the seal must have remembered it didn't have a death wish, because it swerved towards Warder Dibbles.
All five of the warder's stunning spells bounced off the thick blubber, and Dibbles had to be quick to avoid getting flattened by a ton of seriously annoyed seal.
For a moment he teetered on the brink of the hole in the ice. The ice there was smooth from the seals' passage in and out of the water.
His feet skidded. He flapped his arms for balance.
If Harry could just take this opportunity to break free of the spell and hex the warder, he and <sunonice> could fly free... The drain of magic was slowing to a trickle, now. Was that good or bad? He'd never felt like this in his life even after waking up in the infirmary after Quirrell had attacked him at the end of his first year. It was... it was like losing consciousness while, at the same time, staying awake.
Maybe he was dying.
A sudden gust of cold wind reminded him that he wasn't dead yet.
Harry pushed at the hex as hard as he could.
But the spell leeching all the magic out of his body was too strong, and when the magic had gone dry so too had his physical and mental strength. All he achieved was black spots dancing in and out of his vision.
Harry held his breath angrily, willing whatever justice there was in the universe to make Dibbles fall in.
Dibbles caught his balance. "Sorry to disappoint," he called over to Harry, and took a little bow. "But this just isn't your lucky day." He grinned.
This day still has another four months so don't be so sure, Harry thought angrily, and the cold voice in his head sounded like Snape's. Through the ice he could feel the vibrations of the seals as they milled around. They seemed to be getting even more upset -- were the Aurors about to arrive?
Harry tried to tell <sunonice> to fly away, but the Ice Dragon would have none of it. Apart from wanting to protect <handonclay>, <sunonice> remembered the last time Harry had urged him to fly.
<sunonice> growled softly, sending back the image: <sealburp!>. He would wait for Harry to stand up again and use the stick in his hand to get rid of <sealburp-man-hurt>.
When Harry tried to argue, <sunonice> simply thought <sealburp> at him until he had to block his mind or vomit.
<sunonice> would not leave until he had found <silkthatcuts> again. He threw that thought at Harry defiantly, and dug his talons into the ice.
The Ice Dragon didn't understand death or, rather, he understood eating people who tried to hurt him, but he didn't understand that Snape could disappear and not come back, and Harry didn't have the imagery to explain it.
Had they come all this way for nothing? Had Snape died for nothing? Harry wanted to throw back his head and howl.
The seals were going crazy now.
Warder Dibbles looked around with his wand at the ready. He looked puzzled and a little nervous. With a wave of his wand he sent up some sparks.
That seemed to achieve something. All the seals lumbered away until there was a clear area between Dibbles and them and then they turned around to stare at the warder. Their heads were held as high as possible and their eyes were wide and dark with fear, but their whiskers bristled like those of a pack of angry cats. They were barking like dogs -- or dogs that were a little confused about pronunciation. It would have been comical if it hadn't been set in so much bloody tragedy, Harry thought bitterly.
Then the seals went silent.
Fear rose off them like steam.
No, Harry realised. It wasn't Dibbles they were looking at.
And it wasn't Dibbles they were frightened of.
It was --
Harry never completed the thought.
The breathing hole erupted.
"N-AAAAARGH!" screamed the warder.
Sleek, black and white, streaming water from its sides, a monstrous head surged up through the ice hole and lunged at the screaming warder.
For a split second the mouth opened to show an incongruously pink tongue and two rows of conical white teeth.
It snapped shut.
There was a muffled WHUMP! as the leviathan hit the ice, and Harry's jaw dropped.
There was another -- briefer -- scream from Dibbles that cut off as his chest was crushed. Blood spewed in a scarlet fountain from his mouth. His legs kicked briefly, spasmodically, and then stopped.
The seals went berserk en masse, and it was probably only <sunonice> standing over Harry that prevented the young wizard from getting crushed in the stampede.
There was something fascinating about the blood. For starters, there was so much of it... He lifted his head as high as he could and stared out from his safe place between the Ice Dragon's front legs at the monster. Its head and the forward half of the thick bulk of its body lay on the ice, but its tail dangled down in the water.
It was huge. Just the fin on its back was as tall as Harry.
It was a whale.
He'd never thought they could do this, though. Whales were... big gentle fish that hung around in the oceans singing to hippies. This whale had just jumped up through the seals' front door and bitten a wizard in half. Harry had just seen what seemed like more teeth than <sunonice> owned, and if whales were gentle then what the hell did this one need all of those teeth for? Smiling on a Disney film? Its skin was black and shiny and would have been smooth except for the scars that showed that this was a whale who'd swum with sharks in its time, and there were white patches behind its eyes and white skin on its belly. The black dorsal fin wobbled as the beast waggled its tail and slid back into the water, tail first, dragging the corpse of Warder Dibbles with it.
Icy brine erupted in a brief wave as the gleaming black snout vanished. The wave sloshed over the grey ice, painting it a bright arterial red.
<sunonice> licked the magic-draining spell off Harry just in time for the boy to turn away from the red ice and throw up.
When <sunonice> -- making nervous huffs and snorts -- edged over to the hole to investigate, all that was left was black, rippling water and bloodied ice.
Harry heard the Ice Dragon's delight.
<yummy! yumyumyum!> <sunonice> licked the blood up like ice cream. <sealburpman+GONE!=happyme&happyhandsonclay!>
Harry tried to throw up again, but his stomach was empty. All that came up was bile, and it burned the back of his throat.
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