Harry blinked and found himself staring down Snape's wand. On the other end of it was a very angry Snape. "You," Snape hissed, sounding a lot like an Ice Dragon giving a warning, "are not making life easy for yourself."
Well yes, Harry knew that. He'd known it from the exact moment they had arrived in Antarctica. This philosophical break-through stemmed entirely from the fact that he'd forgotten his parka and he could feel the wind slicing degrees out of his flesh. He stared back mulishly at his teacher.
Maybe said teacher was inured to the cold after so many years spent in the dungeons. Because Snape, standing with his robes fluttering around him in the icy wind, seemed oblivious to the fact that it was cold enough to snap bones.
It seemed unfair to Harry. "So what's new?" he snapped back. "But I'm here now and I'm going to help!"
Snape's eyes narrowed. A gust of wind as malevolent as the expression in those eyes blew lank strands of hair into them and Snape had to toss his head. That seemed to break the spell of his anger and he lowered his wand, breathing out in a thin hiss of resignation. "Very well, very well... Here," he snarled, unfolding himself from his cloak. "Put this on before you freeze your silly self solid."
Harry glared back. "I can put my Invisibility Cloak on," he protested.
"No, for the simple reason that I will be wearing it. As you've chosen to tag along --"
Harry took a quick breath at the unfairness of the statement and choked as the sheer cold of the air dried his throat. That was probably what saved him from a month's worth of scrubbing out cauldrons with a toothbrush.
"-- you can make yourself useful," Snape continued with the silkiness in his voice that told Harry that he was still very angry, "by making yourself visible. While your friends are busy keeping an eye on you they won't be looking for me."
The warders aren't my friends... But Harry nodded, reluctantly seeing sense in Snape's plan. Great -- so now he was back to being bait.
It was a bit awkward having to walk at a certain speed on the slippery mix of snow and ice. Harry concentrated hard on walking and tried not to think of where Snape was.
"Harry? Hey! Harry!" It was Charlie, waving and walking towards Harry from the base tent. "What're you doing back here? Where's your parka?"
"The Portkey didn't work properly. It dropped me maybe half a mile from here and a meter above the ground. And I think my parka used to be someone's cloak. It got Transfigured somewhere between here and there..."
Charlie looked properly appalled. "You're joking."
Harry hoped he looked appropriately annoyed. "Wish I was. It been a hell of a walk back. I nearly fell down a crevasse." He wished he hadn't embellished quite so much, because what could be seen of Charlie between muffler and hat had gone pale.
"Oh, hell, Harry. I don't know what could have gone wrong with it... And that cloak's miles too big and can't be keeping out the cold... Looks like it was designed to shroud a giraffe..."
Harry would have agreed but his teeth chose that moment to chatter.
"I've never known a Portkey fail before," said Charlie. You could have dropped into the ocean, or if you'd been placed a meter below instead of a meter up..."
"Never mind," Harry said quickly. "How's everything going here? Is the dragon still alive?"
"Yeah," Charlie said, but he sounded uncertain.
"Don't worry about things, Harry. I'm just glad you got back here okay. Come on -- let's get you warmed up with some hot chocolate." He started walking back to the big tent in the measured strides that he'd developed from walking over the dodgy terrain. Harry fell into step beside him.
"Is everyone okay?"
"Yeah. There were a few tricky moments when we splinted the wing and the dragon managed to claw Dodds, but Burkett healed him up okay."
"She managed to heal the dragon?"
Charlie's expression couldn't be deciphered under all the winterwear. "No, Dodds. He's on a camp bed in the tent keeping warm."
"But you managed to splint the wing? How? I thought you weren't going to risk loosening any of the ropes?"
"They punched three holes in the flight membrane and strapped up the bone through those." Charlie's expression wasn't giving anything away, but his voice sounded strained. And Harry had noticed how he'd said "they" instead of "we."
He stored that away for future use.
"What about the bleeding? It was still bleeding when I left."
A puff of steam as Charlie exhaled. "There are pressure bandages on the ones that needed attention. The rest have been left for nature to take care of."
Harry wanted to know about the dragon's stress levels and if it had come out of its state of shock yet. But Charlie was sounding pretty stressed himself, so he thought it wisest to leave the questions. For now, anyway.
As they reached the tents Harry was aware of every sound. He half-hoped for, half dreaded hearing the sound of the Ice Dragon in pain. If it was still making that awful keening then at least it was still alive, but the noise was so... Harry shuddered as he strained his ears but all he could hear were the low voices of the wizards and witches discussing shifting the beast. Charlie tried to pull Harry into the tent but Harry hesitated by the flap.
For a moment he thought it was dead. The eyes were almost closed now and the ribcage didn't move to show that it was breathing. Then one of the eyelids twitched fractionally.
Harry thought at it as hard as he could: <hereherewithhelp> He squinted as he pictured himself standing ready to help free the dragon. He pictured Snape, too, hoping to get another of those responses from the creature that showed familiarity with the Hogwarts Potions master.
There was no reply. He had no idea if it had heard him. He bit his lip and went into the tent, his shoulders sagging under Snape's cloak so that the black material wilted and dragged along the ground.
Ida Burkett was inside checking on Dodds. She looked up in astonishment to see Harry. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," he replied, feeling like a spy in a group of people who should have been his friends. Had Snape ever felt like this in his days spying on Voldemort? Harry didn't want to think about that. Instead, he wondered: where is Snape, anyway? Harry was sure he hadn't followed him into the tent. Harry had been careful with his footsteps all the way back from where he had reverse-Portkeyed because Snape had been stepping in each and every one of his footprints. Snow would have showed two sets of footprints and it was bad enough having Harry return without raising suspicions further by bringing evidence of an invisible companion.
"He had a little trouble with the Portkey," Charlie explained.
"Hm. That's disturbing. I'd heard that the magical fluxes could get a bit tangled down in this part of the world. I hope we're going to be able to shift our new friend without complications."
Harry rather thought that the only further complication that could affect their "new friend" would be death, but he didn't say that aloud. Instead, he said, "How will you ship the Ice Dragon?"
Charlie pressed a steaming mug of hot chocolate into Harry's gloved hands. The heat was delicious; it percolated through the heavy leather as the steam rose to suffuse Harry's senses. It was almost overpowering to have something that was so much a part of Hogwarts, home, and civilisation here in this last of continents. Dangerously distracting.
"We're going to tie charmed keys to the ropes holding the dragon," Charlie said as removed a pile of Wyvern Weeklys from a chair and sat down. "We've got a cage all set up near the Welsh border. Its iron is magicked to draw the charmed keys like a magnet. It's sort of like a Portkey sphere that creates a transferral field strong enough to move a large object from one side of the world to the other. Neat, huh? New from the Ministry."
"The Ministry's been pretty helpful, by the sounds of it. Did they really ask for me specially?"
Burkett smiled, her weather-beaten face creasing at what must have seemed to her like boyish enthusiasm tempered with shy self-deprecation. Harry hoped so, anyway. Now was the time to use every part of his personal legend to help him. "Yes they did," she said. "You've got quite a high level of personal magic and the Arithmancers projected the best success if you were a part of the team."
Team. Harry liked that idea. It sounded a lot better than "bait." "I guess that's why Minister Fudge came to Hogwarts last week. There was an argument between him and Severus Snape -- he's our Potions master."
Burkett's smile was less friendly now. "Yes. He's quite... well known."
Meaning she thought once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater. Harry had seen this all too often ever since the papers had published Snape's role in Voldemort's downfall. [They were still trying to get the definitive interview, too. The typical Severus Snape Interview ran along the lines of: "Professor Snape, can I interview y-?" "Piss off." "But our readers want to know i-" (loud popping sound followed by: "Ribbit. Ribbit.")] "Well," said Harry after taking a deep swallow of the hot chocolate, "he didn't seem to like the idea of me coming down to Antarctica. Luckily Charlie came and asked me, or I never would have known exactly what was going on." Yes, and he meant that on more than the one level.
Burkett smiled at Charlie fondly. "It's good to have someone who understands the enormity of what we are attempting here. At first the Ministry wanted Snape to be involved, thinking that he might have some hold over the dragon since it's an ortho-elemental." She shrugged at Harry's puzzled look and lowered her voice. "Rumour is that Snape's not entirely human, and might even have some blood link to the Ice Dragon. Me, I think he's just scared. Facing Voldemort is one thing, but dragons... it takes a lot of guts to deal with dragons. Or maybe he thinks that keeping people safe isn't all that important. I wouldn't be surprised, given his past... I'm afraid your Professor Snape told the Minister that we should leave the creature to its own devices. Probably he would have stuck with that philosophy until it flew into Hogwarts and ate him." She smirked at the picture. "Tricky, dangerous beasties, these Ice Dragons. They can't be left to run around in the wild."
And seeing as how you've just crippled it, running around in a cage is probably all it'll ever be able to do from now on. If it lives, of course. "I suppose not. I don't know much about them. Can I go out and have another look at it?"
"Sure. Charlie, would you like to do the honours?"
"Sure. Harry lost his parka in the Portkey accident, so I'll just dig out my spare for him."
When they exited the tent to find that the wind had picked up a few knots, Harry barely noticed the extra wind-chill factor. He felt like he was steaming with fury. He just hoped Charlie didn't notice. He also hoped Snape had had time to...
"Hey!" shouted Dibbles' voice. "Some bastard's loosened the ropes!"
Indeed, some bastard had loosened the ropes. Something, which when glimpsed out of the corner of the eye rippled with a hint of silver, moved over one of them and with a faint twang! it parted as if cut by a knife. Other ropes were already lying limp on the ice or were draped over the creature. Another rope -- one of the ones tethering the head -- broke.
"Shit! The keys have been removed!" one of the warders snarled.
There was the soft skrik-skrik-skrik of feet running lightly over hard-packed snow and Harry felt someone grab his shoulder.
"Get ready," Snape hissed in his ear.
Harry was pulled towards the motionless hulk of the Ice Dragon.
Shouts from all around.
The Invisibility Cloak was whipped off Snape, who swore and tripped on the hem. Harry grabbed his arm and pulled Snape back onto his feet.
"Dammit -- we've got a spy! Burkett -- permission to go to Code Seven?"
"Yes," roared Burkett as she charged out of the tent.
"What?" rose Charlie's voice. "But you can't use Unforgivables on Harry and Snape..."
"We can when they're sabotaging the safety of the wizarding world," Burkett replied. Harry caught a glimpse of her expression -- it was set in grim fury, her mouth a thin line. She raised her wand.
Just in time, Snape whipped his wand around to deflect a stun and two Immobilus spells. Harry had his own wand out now and sent back a few stunning spells of his own.
Imperio hissed over his shoulder.
Then they were crouching in the lee of the Ice Dragon's shoulder. Harry could hear it breathing faintly. He could almost feel its mind. Next to him Snape's breath was coming short with anger. The Slytherin didn't need any Arctic-wear, he was almost incandescent with fury. Harry could feel the anger radiating out from him.
"Put your palms on the creature's skin," Snape ordered softly. "And don't take them away under any circumstances. Think hard of the clearing with Grandmother Taniwha's Pool."
Harry nodded. There was a moment's paranoia when he had to tuck his wand into his robes; the only thing stopping him from a solid hexing now was proximity to the Ice Dragon and once the wizards remembered that their spells couldn't hurt it they'd start throwing curses at Harry and Snape like fireworks on the fifth of November.* Harry tucked the bundle of Snape's cloak under his arm, pressed his hands against the silvery hide and tried not to flinch from the sickly taint of dying magic. Then he closed his eyes and pictured Grandmother Taniwha's pool as hard as he could.
The first stunning spell bounced off the dragon -- Harry felt a fragment of the spell nick his ear, which turned numb.
Another thump, this time on the dragon's snout. The spell hit a tooth and exploded into fragments that wailing as they scattered across the ice. A warder cried out as one hit her. Harry closed his eyes and prayed none would hit him. There was a thunk and Snape's soft gasp. Then Snape was muttering something in a harsh tongue and the world turned to treacle.
Harry's hair was standing on end. Not that messy hair was anything new for him, but this time it seemed to be standing on end because it was weightless. The rest of him felt weightless, too and, at the same time, so weighted that he couldn't move. He could have been slowly swept off in the treacle tides and not done a thing about it. His only anchors were the sound of Snape's voice and the skin of the Ice Dragon under his hands.
Grandmother Taniwha. Grandmother Taniwha. Grandmother Taniwha, Harry thought as hard as he could.
He thought he heard another voice echoing his words, but this one held a different resonance and the connection to the Taniwha's Pool was deeper and in the bone. Also running deep was a river of bile and anger and guilt.
Harry realised he was hearing echoes of Snape in his mind. No-one else could be that angry and live.
What was even more profoundly disturbing was that a third mind had joined in. This one was in a state of dull panic. It wanted to be somewhere safe. It wanted snow and ice and the embrace of glaciers. It didn't want to go to some place with hot water. It wanted --
Harry felt it the moment the journey began to fracture. He knew the moment Snape lost control of the thread they were travelling along. Even three-quarters dead, the Ice Dragon was powerful.
Harry felt fear and realised it wasn't only his. It was the Ice Dragon's fear, too: fear of being tortured and tied down by the filthy swarming monsters that had kidnapped him from the ice and the skies.
And it was Snape's fear. A fear that he'd destroyed himself for good this time and taken others down with him. A fear that he wouldn't see Helen again, or live to see their child.
In his mind Harry heard Snape calling: Grandmother. Grandmother, please help me... Help us!
Harry gave all the power he could to Snape and saw the cry go out like a white heron.
It was answered.
Grandmother, help us. Bring us home.
Harry's very fibre trembled under the titanic weight that was the taniwha's mind. He felt it move over the trio like a tidal wave. It picked them up and turned them over and examined them then, finding something wanting, fastened a bond between the three minds and set them back on a different path.
Grandmother... what...? That was Snape. Harry heard his bewilderment and fright louder than he heard the words. It was almost as if he was in Snape's mind, thinking Snape's thoughts, and the Ice Dragon was there with them... What have you done? Snape and Harry wailed.
I have made the three of you stronger.
The little cousin fears me. He wishes to stay in his home. He wishes to be in the ice and the snow. He will not be safe with me, if for no other reason than he will exhaust himself and die trying to escape my domain. You cannot join me here.
You will die in the ice and the snow, Severus, my beloved child. So will Harry, whose name is known to me and my mother; and Mother Death says that he is not ready for her realm yet. But there is a place where you can rest for a time. And heal. Healing must be completed for at least two of you before the second journey is begun.
I send you to a neutral ground.
Raw, elemental power was fed through Snape. For one eternal moment that stretched and broke and took no time at all there was not three separate people, but one being, strong and sure of purpose.
And when that eternal moment was broken Harry found himself kneeling in a mausoleum with his hands pressed against a dying Ice Dragon and a motionless Snape slumped against him.
*Author's note for any readers who may be one of the mythological creatures known as Americans and other gentlefolk outside of the old Muggle political group known as the British Empire:
The fifth of November is remembered for the occasion of an event in the Muggle world when a Muggle named Guy Fawkes (no connection is known with the Dumbledore line and as the age of Fawkes the Phoenix is likewise unknown the name may be sheer coincidence) utilised gum powder in an attempt to explode a building in which Muggle rulers were congregating. This attack on politicians is celebrated today in several Muggle countries in what is believed to be an attempt by Muggle peasants to warn their rulers about the dangers of not behaving themselves. Effigies are sacrificed to the spirit of Guy Fawkes and children are encouraged to collect money for this heathen effort. Potatoes may or may not be involved but fireworks seem to be a prerequisite of the celebrations. Of course this behaviour is unnecessary in the enlightened wizarding community, where politicians enjoy the popularity that is their due thanks to their unstinting self-sacrifice and whole-hearted joy in providing a safe and joyful structure for all magical folk -- human or not. Yet another reason why we are superior to Muggles.
Source: "Muggles -- a History," by Thaddeus Lockheart (a work kindly sponsored by the Fudge and Malfoy families)
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