In the dream he was sitting at a flat wheel that spun. In the centre was a lump of wet clay. Harry frowned at its spinning shapelessness, then put his hands on it to mould it into something good and with purpose.
First he curved his fingers around the slick grey mass to turn it into a smooth round. At first it resisted the change but, at a stern thought from Harry, the wheel sped up and the clay spun faster and became more malleable. Soon it was a short stubby cylinder, turning in the centre of the wheel.
Harry pressed his thumbs into the centre. Obedient to his will now, the clay shifted and became hollow. His fingers drew up the sides -- not too high -- and when the wheel slowed Harry looked with pleasure on the fine bowl he had made.
<handsonclay ... Potter> came the thought/image.
Harry was not alone. The Ice Dragon (here Harry glimpsed sun shining at an angle onto the sheer wall of a glacier) was interested in what he was doing.
The ortho-elemental wanted to know what to do with the bowl now that it was shaped.
In the dream, Harry felt the hungry bite of disappointment. He didn't know, either. How was he meant to get the bowl off the wheel? If he pulled at it the shape would be distorted.
The thinnest cord of silk was quickly drawn over the table under the bowl. It severed the bowl from its resting place and Harry, delighted, picked up the bowl.
Another pair of hands -- because in the way of dreams, the Ice Dragon had hands now -- plucked the bowl from his. Blue-grey eyes narrowed in concentration and heat was carefully seeped into the clay, driving out the water and hardening the bowl.
Harry was holding a paintbrush now and, while the Ice Dragon balanced the bowl carefully on his fingers, Harry dipped the brush into gold paint.
But when he lifted the brush again he saw that someone had beaten him to it and the bowl was now stained Slytherin green. The Ice Dragon threw back his head and laughed soundlessly, and Harry realised that he looked like Draco Malfoy now, although no Malfoy had ever laughed with such unabashed joy, Harry was sure.
<YOUpainteditgreen?> Harry demanded as gold paint dripped onto the floor with soft plopping noises to form tiny suns and comets.
Draco the Ice Dragon shook his head, still grinning to show his shark teeth, and Harry became aware of the faint susurration of silk sliding just outside of his vision.
<silkthatcuts> said Draco firmly, a speech-bubble coming out of his mouth with the picture-words inside it. If Harry looked too hard at the pictures they made no sense, but he instinctively knew that if he simply accepted what he saw intuitively then he could understand what the Ice Dragon was telling him. And the Ice Dragon had just named Snape.
Well, Harry decided. So Snape has chosen the base colour, hmm?
He trailed his paintbrush over the bowl and golden lions flowed from it to rear rampant, mouths open as they silently roared their defiance. Harry grinned.
The Ice Dragon blew on the bowl softly. In one moment the glaze was dried and dull and in the next it was fired to a beautiful gloss. The lions shimmered in rich, vibrant gold over their background of mysteriously rippling green.
There was a hint of disapproval from the silk that had cut the bowl free when it saw the golden lions. Harry smiled.
The Ice Dragon winked and grinned wider. He tilted the bowl to show the silver dragon painted inside.
Harry woke up laughing.
He stopped laughing as soon as he realised where he was. Some bedroom in the closed-up Malfoy Manor. Remembering the wardrobe with the boy's clothes and the broomstick, Harry guessed that this would have been Draco's room.
Weird. Harry had an uncomfortable feeling in his gut when he thought about it. Here he was, in the room of his dead enemy. And it felt so... asleep. Like he imagined a funeral parlour would look between funerals. He looked over at the Ice Dragon. Its eyes may have been slitted just fractionally open. It was hard to tell in the dark room, where the only light seemed to be emanating from the Ice Dragon, but when Harry cast his mind over towards the creature all he could pick up were the easy drifting images of snow falling and the creak and groan of glaciers on their slow migration to the sea. It was comforting in a way Harry couldn't describe. He smiled slightly at the careless way the dragon was curled up on Draco's bed. No wonder he'd seen it as Draco in his dream; his sub-conscious must have somehow twined the two images.
Something glittered on the edge of his vision. It was on the floor. When Harry tried to look at it, it was lost from sight. But if he carefully looked just to the side of it, he could see a faint yellow glimmer. What was it?
Harry froze mid-yawn as he remembered before the dream... He had cried for Draco of all people, someone who would never have thanked him when he was alive, and then he'd scooped up the tears and wiped them on the wound on Snape's back.
Snape had twitched and a shard of something sickly and yellow slid out from the wound and into Harry's fingers. Instinct had seen it as a maggot, and Harry had flicked it away.
"What was that?" he had asked.
Snape frowned and said, "A fragment of the Cruciatis, I believe." His eyelids had sagged in what must have been immediate relief from the pain.
Harry hadn't known that spells could fragment and leave nasty little shards embedded in flesh like that. It added a whole new and sickening aspect to the Unforgivables. "Will you be all right now?"
Snape had smiled a little. "Yes. Thank you."
Harry looked around at the darkening bedroom and the battered wardrobe and asked, "How did Draco die?"
Snape took a deep breath and answered slowly: "Draco Malfoy never properly existed. He was a construct of Lucius Malfoy's. The boy you bickered with was never anything more than a manifestation of what Lucius wanted for an heir and a source of power."
"So when Lucius died, Draco died, too?"
Abruptly: "Yes." And the coldness in Snape's voice froze any further questions.
This had made no sense to Harry. Draco had been a spoiled brat, the son of a Dark wizard, and effectively Harry's antithesis. But when Harry had last seen him Draco had been very much his own person. Possibly for the first time in his life. Harry had recognised this and respected Draco for the choice he had made. He still hadn't liked him, but he'd respected him.
So how could he end just because Lucius had died?
Lying awake now, in the dark with the only sounds in the world Snape's light snore and the occasional rustle from the Ice Dragon as it rearranged its tail in its sleep to stop it from falling over the edge of the bed, what Snape had said still made no sense. And it made him angry but he didn't know why.
He thought about Animagi instead. It still rankled that he'd never be able to take on another shape, but at least a phoenix wasn't as, well, as trite as a goldfish. So what was Snape's? Impractical, the man had said. And not a seagull as he'd wanted. But then Helen hated seagulls with a passion. Snape as a seagull Animagus could have resulted in divorce. Harry closed his eyes and smiled to himself in the darkness as he considered various possibilities.
Snakes and bats were too obvious. And they were practical. A snake could have spied on Voldemort, and so could've a bat.
Let's see... Snape's from New Zealand. I think it's famous for having sheep (there was a brief fit of giggles that fortunately didn't wake up Snape), and kangaroos -- no, that's Australia, but it'd be cool to see Snape turn into Kanga. Um, New Zealand also used to have lots of flightless birds. There was that time I went to a museum on a school trip and the museum had this giant bird skeleton next to a model of a dodo. A... a... a moa, that's right. I can just picture one of those things striding around Hogwarts taking points off Gryffindor.
Harry drifted off again, smiling.
This time he dreamed that he was in Potions and at the front of the room was a big-beaked dodo with jet-black eyes and a ferocious glare. The dodo took five points off Gryffindor because Harry was late.
In the dream the room rotated around Harry so the dodo could teach the rest of the sixth-years who had come in before Harry. Harry looked around and saw that the door leading into one of the smaller workrooms was open. While the dodo was busy explaining the difference between a maggot and a fragment of an Unforgivable, Harry took the chance to slip into the workroom.
In the other room was Hermione and Neville. They were working over a cauldron, and Harry presumed it was their secret project, because both of his friends were wearing spy outfits. Hermione looked particularly fetching in a black cat-suit, and if it hadn't been for her bushy hair Harry might have mistaken her for the actress from some old TV program Aunt Petunia used to watch. Neville was wearing a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat, and had the handle of an umbrella looped over his arm. Snape was hovering behind them but for once Neville didn't seem frightened.
Harry moved around to watch from Snape's perspective.
As he did so, Hermione and Neville changed. Both were shorter, and now they wore their school robes and larger than life Gryffindor badges. Granger's mannerisms became bossier and even Harry got annoyed at her know-it-all way of speaking. He knew she was intelligent, he just wished she was clever enough to know that intelligence was to be hidden and kept sharp and polished like a blade for when it was really needed. Well, you couldn't expect good, common cunning from a Gryffindor.
He kept a firm eye on that Longbottom boy. Trouble, he was -- given half a chance he'd blow up himself and everyone around him. Hopefully this project would give him the confidence to finally grow into the potential Harry saw in him. If nothing else, maybe he'd get enough of a backbone to stand up for himself when Harry gave him a hard time.
Huh? I never give Neville a hard time.
And then Harry realised that he really was seeing things from Snape's perspective. He looked down at the table. Far enough away from the cauldron so as not to be affected by the heat were neat bundles of wildflowers. Neville's hand kept stealing towards one of them and plucking the small, yellow flowers. A lovely smell of roses drifted towards Harry.
"Don't eat all of those," Snape told Neville. "We need the Rock Rose for the potion."
"But I still need it," Neville said, which was odd, because Neville wouldn't have dared contradict Snape in or out of class.
Snape replied calmly, "I realise that, but the Rock Rose will be more beneficial once it's combined with the other ingredients."
"I think we should use Agrimony instead of Clematis," said Hermione.
Neville nodded, and started munching on of the tall stalks of yellow flowers. "Yes," he said. "It tastes better than Clematis."
"But we still need something to break through the way they cling to the memory of the pain," said Snape. "After being tortured with the Cruciatis I always find it hard to remove the anxiety left after the pain. Agrimony is excellent for the quiet times of the night when you can't stop thinking of what happened and how it could happen again, but it needs something else as a base."
As one, the odd trio sighed and went still, frowning at the flowers.
Draco came into the room, rubbing his eyes. He'd been asleep and had missed the beginning of Potions. He opened his mouth and Harry read the speech-bubble:
<? Tallstems. Whiteflower. LookslikeStars?>
Harry saw the flower on the table -- it looked just like the picture Draco had spoken.
"Star of Bethlehem. That should break the grip of the memories." Snape took it and put it into the cauldron and then he disappeared.
Draco started prodding Harry's cheek.
Harry tried to tell him to stop, that the Snitch wasn't in his mouth, but then Draco wasn't there either.
Feeling a little annoyed, Harry woke up.
It was Snape's shoulder that was moving under his cheek. Harry blinked but didn't move his head. He didn't want Snape to know that he was awake. Apart from a faint glow coming from the still-sleeping ortho the room was dark. In the dim gloom Harry could just make out how Snape took out a notebook and a pencil from his robes, and wrote something down. Then Snape tucked them away again and seemed to go back to sleep.
Had Harry just seen one of Snape's dreams? Typical that he'd be dreaming of making a potion. But it had seemed more like a joint effort -- Harry had sensed the Ice Dragon there, and the way it kept appearing as Draco would have bothered him more if he hadn't been so tired.
Just as Harry dozed off again himself, he realised with a grin that he'd just seen a Slytherin using Muggle tools.
Maybe it was the way that he'd been thinking of Muggle things, because Harry went straight into one of the awful dreams where his uncle Vernon was yelling at him. The words couldn't be made out, but that didn't matter. It was only the tone that really mattered. Harry (he must have been very young again) was grabbed by the arm and shoved into the closet under the stairs and the door slammed behind him.
For the first time he wasn't alone.
<unhappy!> complained the Ice Dragon. <outoutout!>
"How?" asked young Harry.
Draco lifted one foot and kicked the door down.
"Oh," Harry said. And he knew it was a dream. Real life never went like this.
Vernon was standing outside. His face was purple with a mix of fear and fury.
The Ice Dragon exhaled and Vernon Dursley froze instantly with ice crackling over his skin. Then toppled. There was a deafening crash that must have got the attention of all of the neighbours as Uncle Vernon shattered into a billion pieces of ice..
There was a wave of distaste from the Ice Dragon as the cloud of ice dust settled. <fly> it sneered, and the speech-bubble held a picture of a buzzing fly that got swatted. When Harry grinned at the picture the Ice Dragon held out a hand and Harry took it. The next thing he knew, he was standing in a small cottage and he was sixteen again. There was a faint smell of alcohol and burning beeswax candles. The cottage was familiar but Harry couldn't quite put his finger on the reason why.
Draco, looking just like he had last summer, held his finger to his lips.
Sitting at a desk was a bent-backed man. If he had been standing he might have been very tall indeed, but now he was hunched over a large book with yellowed pages. He appeared to be studying but Harry couldn't make out what the book was. Next to the man was a candelabra and an empty glass. There was a tiny noise from behind them, almost like the scuttle of a mouse, but it was just a little boy coming down from the trapdoor into the attic. The boy looked very nervous but, at the same time, determined. Harry felt his heart beating faster and knew something bad was going to happen. Next to him he could feel the Ice Dragon tense. There was the thrum in Harry's mind like what he felt when he had just sighted the Snitch in a Quidditch match, but it came from the ortho-elemental. This was the poise of a predator that had found what it was hunting.
Harry, frightened that his companion was going to do something violent, put a hand on Draco's arm. Draco ignored it.
The small, black-haired boy crept up behind the man.
"Where my mum?" the boy asked, his voice trembling a little but his obsidian eyes steady.
The man stiffened and turned just enough for Harry to see the hooked nose and bitter twist to the mouth. His eyes were muddy and so was the colour of his hair, but the profile was Snape's.
The boy was ready to run. He waited, only fidgeting his fingers a little.
Unheard, unseen, Harry and Draco waited with him.
The man was silent for the space of several of Harry's heartbeats, and then he spoke slowly, softly, choosing his words with care. Much as Snape had done after Harry asked him how Draco had died. However, Snape hadn't used words like these. "She's dead," the man said, and though there was something of kindness in his voice it was belied by words that stabbed like knives. "She died when you were born. When you slithered out of her body she took one look at you and turned away in despair. She died because she couldn't bear to see the filth that had come from her. She died the moment she realised you lived. You were filth then just as you're filth now and she was too ashamed of you to go on living, you see, so that's why she died."
This man could have given Dementors lessons in destroying souls. Harry was cold and numb from the words echoing through the little room. His hands hung helpless at his sides as words sliced right to his core. This man brought back all the memories of everything the Dursleys had ever said about his parents, how useless they were, how pathetic, how hopeless; and everything they'd told Harry he was. A nasty little freak not fit for human company.
Stupid child, get out of my way.
Get into your cupboard Potter so's I don't have to see your ugly scarred face any more.
A worthless drain on our pocket.
It took a moment for him to realise that the door was banging on its hinges and snowflakes were blowing in through the doorway.
Draco had his pointed teeth bared in a snarl. Harry grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the house before the ortho-elemental could kill this man.
Outside there was snow on the ground. The boy had run off but Harry could see prints in the snow from his bare feet. Just as he started to follow them a sudden wind smoothed the surface and it was as if no-one had ever walked here.
The door slammed shut behind them.
There was another snarl from Draco, and Harry saw claws sprout from his fingertips. He could feel the Ice Dragon's hunger, now, too. Harry shivered, and it wasn't from the cold.
Then he was sitting in a tree.
This made perfect sense. What was strange was the way Draco was perched next to him on a branch and at the same time climbing the tree. No -- that made sense, too. Harry knew that it was really the Ice Dragon sitting next to him, not Draco Malfoy. The Draco who was currently cursing as he tried to shake off a blob of sticky sap was the real Draco Malfoy. Although what he was doing climbing a tree was anyone's guess... he didn't seem to be aware of Harry, anyway.
But Malfoy had found the young boy from the cottage.
Harry watched as Malfoy gradually got the kid's confidence and even put a pair of socks on the boy's feet. Then the boy climbed onto Malfoy's back and Malfoy carried him down from the tree and they disappeared.
Harry reminded himself that this was a dream. He'd have to remember this for Dan -- it was fascinating. What was the symbolism of socks, anyway? House-elf liberation? A Christmas present for Dumbledore?
The Ice Dragon was watching all of this, fascinated. Then it grabbed Harry and slung him onto its back. Harry hung on around the ortho's neck as it jumped off the branch and glided over the snowy hills. There were sparks coming from one of the gullies and <sunonice> tilted his wings to land on a rocky spur above where Snape and Malfoy -- Lucius Malfoy -- were throwing spells at each other.
Harry sat on the dragon's shoulders and watched along with it as Lucius turned and saw Draco Malfoy -- the human Draco.
"No!" shouted Harry, as Lucius threw a fireball. It hit Draco in the chest and exploded.
The Ice Dragon was hissing with excitement, its wings half-spread and trembling as it watched Draco Malfoy's body erupt into a pillar of fire. There was the crackle of burning flesh and bones snapping in the flames, and a greasy smell like a burning roast drifted over to them, making Harry gag and the Ice Dragon drool. Harry was appalled.
And then he saw what unfolded from the wreckage.
And then he saw what it did to Lucius Malfoy.
The Ice Dragon crooned softly as the wizard was ripped to bits and the pieces devoured.
And then Harry realised why the Warders had told him that Ice Dragons were dangerous. They ate wizards for their magic. And the Ice Dragon saw nothing wrong with that.
"Enough!" Harry shouted, sickened even though he knew that this was just a dream and he should wake up.
But the Ice Dragon wanted to go somewhere else. Harry had to clutch at its neck as it jumped off the spur and flew to a night-bound clearing in the forest. There was a pool in the clearing and the Ice Dragon growled nervously at it as they landed.
Even in a dream Harry could sense the power of Grandmother Taniwha.
For a moment he thought he saw the taniwha -- there was a pale-faced, black-haired woman over on the other side of the glade leaning back against a little white horse that was lying on the ground. Draco Malfoy the human boy was alive again. He was kneeling next to the woman and sharing his robes with her like a blanket. The woman was humming softly to the baby she held to her breast.
The Ice Dragon crept closer. Harry followed carefully, feeling like he was intruding on something very private, but determined to make sure that the Ice Dragon didn't hurt anyone.
It didn't. It seemed content to lie down in front of the woman and watch her watching the baby.
Harry woke up hearing the woman's voice humming that song without words.
There was a cold draft on his face. Harry re-entered the waking world with a shudder.
He opened his eyes. At first he thought it was just the way that his glasses had slid down his nose that was making the world seem so weird.
Then he realised he was looking up the nose of the Ice Dragon. It exhaled again, washing his face with an Antarctic wind.
It was not the most comfortable way to wake up.
"Stay very still," Snape whispered.
Harry, remembering from the dream the way Lucius Malfoy had been pulled apart, didn't dare nod to show that he'd heard.
The Ice Dragon sniffed very carefully at Snape's face. Harry could hear its breath and feel it on the top of his head. From where he had his head uncomfortably pillowed on Snape's unpadded shoulder he couldn't see the professor's expression, but judging by the rigid lines of tension he could feel through Snape's robes he could guess it wouldn't be a happy one.
"Whatever you do," Snape breathed, "don't use magic."
"Was that why it ate Lucius?" said Harry, so quietly he didn't think Snape could have heard.
But, "Yes," Snape replied. "It was hungry."
Harry knew that it was hungry now. He could feel its hunger through the strange bond between them. Hunger like a gnawing worm in the veins.
But there was more to the Ice Dragon than simple hunger... Harry frowned and tried to concentrate on that.
"I don't think it wants to hurt us," Harry whispered.
"An expert now, are you?" said Snape, managing to sneer even when he was frightened.
It was safer for Harry not to answer that.
The ortho tilted its head quizzically and blinked, that third eyelid sliding across again to leave a faint gleam. Harry watched and thought of another night in another place, when he had seen Draco Malfoy blink like that. Then the creature reached out and nudged Harry aside and, in one simple movement, picked up Snape and cradled him in its forelegs like a baby.
Gradually Harry became aware that he could hear the sound of a woman singing to her baby. He looked around, but there was no-one else in the room. So who was singing? The song... the song stirred Harry's own memory.
Harry lay on the couch with his mouth agape. The music bypassed his ears and came straight from the Ice Dragon's memory. It was the sound of love. He knew he had heard it before -- he knew his own parents had sung to him like this. It was just something that he knew.
But on the heels of that came an ugly thought -- he knew from what Snape had said that it was impossible that a creature as magical as the Ice Dragon could be someone's Animagus form.
But he knew, deep in his gut he knew, that this beast was Draco Malfoy. The dreams, the Ice Dragon's memories, the way it had knew Snape... and the way it blinked. They all added up to one inescapable conclusion. Draco was alive. Snape had lied to him.
And Harry knew that somehow Draco had been there at Snape's birth.
Harry shook his head. He just didn't know how he knew, and he didn't know how all this could be. But he didn't want to believe in it. If the Ice Dragon was really Draco then Snape had lied to him, and Harry certainly didn't want to believe that. Just once, he thought, I'd like there to be someone who doesn't lie to me...
It was too confusing. Harry stood up slowly and stood at the Ice Dragon's side. Now that it was squatting on its hindquarters using its tail for balance, its shoulder was higher than Harry's head. One wing flicked at Harry, warning him to back off a little. Harry obeyed. The ortho didn't seem to notice him otherwise; it was absorbed in staring down at Snape, its expression rapt if a little puzzled.
The Potions master looked, if anything, completely taken aback. He lay motionless in the creature's hold and stared up at it with his eyes slitted. His mind, Harry knew, would be racing for a way out of this.
And then Harry saw the memories.
The Ice Dragon opened up its mind and those fractured, disarrayed memories, all jumbled up beyond its understanding, poured into Harry's head as if the Ice Dragon was hoping Harry could explain these memories to it. The sheer weight of what Harry heard and saw staggered him -- he grabbed the arm of the couch.
Harry finally understood what it was like to hold a new-born baby. There was a magic beyond all magicks to it. The scent of it, the warmth, and the way it totally trusted you without knowing what trust was. Then the moment when it opened its eyes and searched out your face with its ebony gaze. The way the world completely stopped for this miracle. And the way you knew beyond knowing that you would protect it.
Then Harry knew what it was like to sit with someone brave and fierce with love for her nascent child, and then watch as she died, knowing that you were responsible for bringing destruction to her.
Harry already understood grief and rage but now he relearned it from a new perspective -- one not human.
And Harry felt the boundless respect for the woman's fortitude blossom in his chest as he thought about how much she was ready to give for her baby.
And all the time there was the music of a mother singing love to her baby. First only heard in the mind, and then with the ears as the Ice Dragon set up an eerie counterpoint by whistling the melody through its nose.
It said to Harry: <??I??know??>
And Harry had to reply that he didn't know how the Ice Dragon knew all these things.
The Ice Dragon replied with the feeling that it could wait. It would find out why that baby -- that boy in the tree -- this man -- were all important. But for now it was content that it knew where <silkthatcuts> was. And that he was safe.
It sang along to the memory of the dying mother's song and turned its mind from Harry to Snape, opening up the memories it still had of that dark-haired woman who had given birth by the strange and frightening black water and, borrowing a tendril of Harry's Animagus talent, sharing them with Snape.
The Ice Dragon stared down at the man in its arms and watched his face change.
And Harry turned away to the window to watch the sun rise, knowing (for deep in the core of his being Harry knew this already) that finding out you had been cherished when what you'd known from those who raised you was hate and revulsion, and realising that your mother had loved you more than her own life, was the most private moment any child of any age could have.
Shutting his mind to the memories and ignoring the sounds of loss and finding and comfort from behind him, he snuffled a little and wiped his nose on Snape's handkerchief, and pulled a curtain open just a crack to watch the sun spill long bars of gold across the snow and tried to empty his mind of all thought.
The shadows moved quickly at this time of year. Harry guessed the skeletal trees with their equally emaciated shadows just this side of the haha had measured out less than an hour when there was a muffled thudding coming from somewhere inside the mansion.
A deep growl from the creature woke Snape, who had dozed off. Snape still looked bewildered and, Harry noted with misgiving, vulnerable, tired, and unsure of himself.
The ortho-elemental carefully placed Snape back on the couch and hovered above him, hissing at the door, the tip of its tail flicking side-to-side like an angry cat's.
"Professor Snape?" Harry whispered.
Snape sat up, batting away the Ice Dragon's talons as it tried to stop him from moving. After whatever had just happened Snape seemed more confident around the dangerous beast. It seemed to have remembered some old interest in keeping the Potions master alive, which Harry doubted extended as far as himself. Especially if it had been Draco Malfoy.
Harry prowled around the side of the couch with his hand on his wand as the thudding sounds made their way up the stairs. Whatever it was -- and it sounded like several trolls -- was now making its noisy way closer to the door. Wooden floorboards beneath Harry's feet trembled as the noises clomped along the landing.
Just as Snape said: "Stay away from the door, Potter," the Ice Dragon twitched out a wing and curved it around Harry, drawing him closer to its shoulder.
The thumps and bangs stopped outside the bedroom door.
This close, the bones in Harry's skull and ribcage seemed to resonate to the way the Ice Dragon's growl thrummed through its chest. The low vibration made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. But whatever the Ice Dragon wanted to attack, it didn't seem to be Harry. Instead he felt strongly that it wanted to protect Harry; it had included him in the defensible arc of its wing, in easy reach of the weapon of the Ice Dragon's teeth, which would tear apart anyone who tried to hurt Harry. The creature spared a brief, icy sniff of Harry's hair as if to reassure itself that Harry was really Harry, and then turned its attention back to the door.
He could feel the Ice Dragon's mind like an arrowhead pointed towards whatever was standing outside the door. It lowered itself and tensed.
There was a knock on the door.
Since when do trolls bother with the social niceties? Harry wondered.
Harry reached out with his mind, felt Snape do the same, and together they counselled the Ice Dragon: <wait>.
It crouched, coiled like a spring to leap, but it listened. It listened, and Harry felt a small thrill at the power he'd found without looking. It was a tiny pleasure in a tense moment, but he happily shared it with Snape. Harry could sense the Potions master's mind through the link and knew that Snape was ready to... Harry didn't know what, but just knowing that Snape had a plan B (and Snape being Snape, probably Plans C through at least half the remaining alphabet) went a long way towards calming Harry's own mind.
For one crystalline moment three minds joined and prepared to fight.
The door opened.
"Hello?" said a light, cautious voice.
The astonishment, relief and love was like air to a drowning man. It had come from <silkthatcuts>. <handsonclay> found himself grinning like a maniac and even <sunonice> eased out of his pouncing-stance and shook his head so that the spines down the nape of his neck rattled. <sunonice> made a happy, yelping sound, and <handsonclay> laughed and slapped him on the shoulder.
And then <silkthatcuts>, conscious of showing too much of his inner self, withdrew from the link and Harry found himself with his hand on the Ice Dragon's shoulder watching Snape get up from the couch.
Snape held out his hands in welcome.
There was a ripple in the doorway and Helen Snape ran into the room and into her husband's arms.
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