After changing the paralysing spells for charms that were slightly less binding, Snape dragged the two men into the room and crouched down next to Gordon, the man who had made the supreme mistake of threatening Helen.
At the look on Snape's face Harry felt a twinge of sympathy, then remembered what the Auror had said about Helen: "It's not a woman, it's the Transformed beast that's whoring itself to the Death Eater that got away..."
And then had come the Cruciatis curse.
Harry felt any compassion dry up.
Out of one of those mysterious pockets that populated Snape's robes emerged the small, clear bottle that Harry remembered Snape threatening him with in his fourth year: Veritaserum. Truth in a bottle.
Snape forced the Auror's mouth open by the simple method of jabbing a finger in the hinge of his jaw. At first Gordon looked surprised and indignant. Then his eyes widened as Snape uncapped the little bottle and tilted it over his mouth.
Three drops fell.
The effect was instantaneous. Gordon's face -- not too bright to start off with -- slackened and his eyes went dull.
"What is your name?" said Snape in his silky voice after he lifted the binding spell.
"Very good," purred Snape. "And why are you at Malfoy Manor?"
"'m Gordon Peckett."
"Yes, you are. Very good. Why is Gordon Peckett at Malfoy Manor?"
"I see. And by whom were you sent?"
Snape looked up at Harry. "He's been trained to withstand questioning by Veritaserum," he whispered. "Notice how he answers as vaguely as he can. All Aurors are trained to do this, but some are better at dissembling than others."
"But is that going to stop you getting answers?" Harry asked.
Snape's face took on a sly hauteur. "Not in the least," he grinned.
Harry squatted down to watch a master at work.
And Snape was a master at getting the truth. It only took a few minutes until Gordon was convinced he was sitting chatting to an old friend by a fireside, glass of Ogden's Old Firewhisky in his hand. After that Snape flattered him, telling Gordon how important he was to have been sent on such a risky mission.
And Gordon opened up like the proverbial Muggle book.
The trick seemed to be to make Gordon believe that the mission to Malfoy Manor was all in the past and, what was more, it had been a success. Snape carefully congratulated him on his work, and slipped something in about how Gordon had received the Order of Merlin, Second Class, for his efforts.
Gordon was quite informative after that.
It seemed that Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic, had authorised several teams of Aurors to visit areas where Snape might take the Ice Dragon, and Malfoy Manor had been a lucky guess on the part of young Percy Weasley, who was rapidly rising up the bureaucratic ladder.
Harry made a mental note to tell Fred and George about that. They might be able to come up with some appropriate punishment for their prig of a brother.
Hogwarts had, of course, been searched, but only in a cursory fashion, for Headmaster Dumbledore had been quite unhelpful and had even gone so far as to protest the way the Ministry was slandering Snape. Gordon had quite a bit to say on the subject of Dumbledore's sanity, none of it flattering, especially pertaining to the headmaster's defence of a certain filthy Death Eater who'd escaped Azkaban by masquerading as a spy...
Harry clenched his fists but said nothing when Snape lifted his index finger in a silent warning to keep quiet.
At last Harry found out why the Ice Dragon was so valuable -- because it was barely more than a baby, its various body parts could be used in a variety of spells and Potions that had been unfeasible for several hundred years. The products of adult Ice Dragons were more limited in their uses, and liable to backfire on the user. The Ministry buildings could be warded to an unimaginable degree using juvenile Ice Dragon blood and protected from the next round of assault by whichever Dark Wizard cared to make a bid for Voldemort's crown.
When Gordon finally closed his eyes and Snape stood up, Harry asked, "They just want Draco to protect the Ministry of Magic? Can't they just ask him for a little blood and be done with it? They could probably scrape some up from Antarctica," he added bitterly. "He was bleeding a lot there."
Snape looked down at him, his dark eyes distant and as cold as Harry had ever seen them. "Life is never so simple, Potter. If it were a simple matter of draining a little blood they could have done that in Antarctica. But what the Ministry wants is complete control. Just like Lucius did." He rubbed the bridge of his nose as if he were getting a headache. "Lucius tried to control the magic by disguising it as a human boy. They want to control it by killing Draco and harvesting the parts." Snape's face was reddened and a vein was throbbing in his temple. Harry wisely decided to stay quiet and wait for any more information. Or an explosion -- it seemed even odds as to what Snape would give.
For once Snape was in a communicative mood. Perhaps it was simply that he needed someone to bounce ideas off the way Hermione did sometimes, or perhaps he needed Harry to understand what they were fighting because they were fighting this together and Snape would need all the help he could get.
Maybe at last Snape would admit it, even if it was only to himself.
But Snape didn't seem to be in the mood for anything helpful, given the way he sat down cross-legged and scowled off into space. "It would appear that someone in the Ministry -- and by 'someone' I mean 'Cornelius Fudge' -- wishes to set themselves up in the traditional unassailable fortress. I find it quite revolting how often wizards conform to stereotype."
Harry wasn't quite sure what he meant by that, but had heard that in the bad old pre-Hogwarts days the more powerful wizards barricaded themselves in towers to protect themselves from their enemies. He mentioned this to Snape. "Do you think that's what Fudge is planning?"
"I wouldn't put it past him. His mentality is decidedly feudal sometimes -- he's quite keen on the old bloodlines being in power. But now that so many of them have been done away with due to their association with Voldemort he probably aspires to promoting his own lineage." Snape sniffed. "Not that the Fudge family is a particularly worthy one, but everything must start from somewhere. Fudge is quite adept at politics and with his rather relaxed attitude towards nepotism he's generated enough followers from many of the minor pureblood families to support any attempt to solidify his power base." His gaze turned upon Harry, who tried not to flinch from the cold hardness he saw there. "Now that Voldemort is removed from the political landscape there is, as the Muggles say, a power vacuum. Any student of politics worth his or her salt can see that the wizarding world is in desperate need of stability for a period of, oh, not less than two decades just to build up the economic base again, if nothing else. Even the goblins at Gringott's have been upset enough to submit a few articles recently on the fluctuating Galleon rate. For this purpose, if not other, Fudge is seen as a good politician."
When Harry frowned and opened his mouth to protest, Snape shook his head. His greasy hair falling in strings over his face, he went on.
"I'm not saying he's good or bad. I'm merely commenting that he is perceived by most voters as the best hope for a stable government and thus a stable society. We live in a frightened world, Potter. Frightened people will follow an established leader. Professor Dumbledore might have made a successful challenge to Fudge, as Fudge is well aware and not-so-secretly frightened of, but Albus has more sense than to stick his nose into politics. It's a dirty business, and he is, of course, too much the consummate Gryffindor to be the kind of political animal necessary in this post-Voldemort world."
"Professor Dumbledore would make a great Minister!"
"Yes, you would think that," Snape said in his driest voice. Harry flushed but wisely kept quiet. "Despite your... slightly biased opinion, Albus isn't capable of the kind of double-dealing necessary. His sense of... honour..." Snape sneered the word "... leaves him open to attack from better politicians. Like or not, we are ruled by politicians, not philosophers or teachers."
"So you think we need someone sneaky in charge."
Snape steepled his long fingers. "What is needed is someone who can see past their own grand views to what the community needs. Fudge does provide stability, that can be admitted, but it is unlikely he will sacrifice his personal ambitions for what is best for the whole."
"Shame he's not a Slytherin."
Harry meant it snarkily, but Snape inclined his head slightly as if at a compliment.
"Indeed," said Snape. "If he was a Slytherin, he might have had the guile to twine his ambitions into the strengthening of the wizarding community. Unfortunately Fudge is a failed Hufflepuff -- failed, in the sense that his loyalty to the greater good has been sacrificed for loyalty to his immediate family and friends."
"Oh. I always thought that Hufflepuffs had better sense."
"They usually do. Self-sacrifice is something innate in them -- or so the stereotype goes. Poppy Pomfrey, who is hard working and blessed with an inordinate amount of common sense, and you will not on pain of pain ever tell her that I said that, is an excellent example of a Hufflepuff. Fudge, however, is what happens when loyalty is not tempered with intelligence. Poppy can see the forest despite the trees."
"While Fudge wants to cut them down to get a better view," Harry finished.
Snape quirked a corner of his mouth up in a small smile. "Exactly."
<sunonice> padded up sniff the downed Aurors. He twitched his ears and growled softly and showed a few teeth, but relaxed when Harry batted his snout away.
"Leave them," Snape commanded. "You shouldn't be hungry already."
The Ice Dragon grumbled at not being allowed to eat one of the wizards and licked his chops with a long, grey tongue. He gave Snape a lopsided glare.
Harry had an inkling the ortho was planning something, but not what. So it came as a complete surprise when Draco swiped that long, grey tongue over Snape's head.
There was a soft popping sound.
Snape, his eyes bugging, clutched at his hair.
"What the hell...!?" Snape exclaimed.
Harry wasn't quite sure what had just happened until Snape took his hands away from his head. Silky black skeins of hair rippled in shimmering waves as Snape shook his head. All the grease was gone and had left Snape's hair almost iridescent with health.
"Um... did Draco just eat that curse?" Harry asked.
The story according to Rona was that Snape's father had put the curse on Snape that made his hair so greasy. It had been an attempt to make the young boy feel ugly and stay away from people. As curses went, it had been pretty effective -- Harry knew Snape had been given a hard time at school for it, and childish though it was, Sirius still used it as a weapon in their continuing vendetta.
"I thought it was impossible to remove."
"So did I," Snape said bemusedly, running his fingers through his hair as if he'd never felt it this clean and going cross-eyed examining strands he held in front of his face.
Actually, realised Harry, he probably hadn't known it this clean. Rona had said that Snape was very young when his father cursed him.
"How did you do that?" Snape asked the Ice Dragon, who was looking smug and ignored the question in favour of flopping down to rest with his head next to Harry.
Harry scratched behind one of the delicately furled ears until the ortho-elemental yawned and closed its silver-blue eyes. Waves of contentment flowed through the connection to Harry -- for Harry it was the same as the feeling of a stomach full of butterbeer and chocolate that had been stolen in a midnight raid on the kitchens.
Harry grinned and tugged the ear until he felt the Ice Dragon chuckle in his mind. "I think that curse was his dessert."
Snape sniffed, but not angrily. "Astonishing."
"I wonder what else he can do."
"I doubt you are the only one currently pondering on that." Snape gave Jasper a kick.
The Auror glared at him. Snape smiled back sweetly until Jasper paled and looked away. Fair enough: the sweet smile on Snape's face had just made Harry's hair stand on end.
"Do you know?"
"Not really." Snape sighed. "So little was known about them and those books that survived the Goblin Rebellions lost most of their information when the spells were destroyed."
Destroyed by you. Harry continued to look down at the happily dozing creature. "So Fudge wants some of Draco's blood. Merlin knows I would have been happy to deliver a pint or five a couple of years ago, but... why should he want to kill him? That's a bit like the man who killed the golden goose, isn't it?"
"Fudge wants some blood. More than that, I expect he wants to be the only one protected by juvenile Ice Dragon blood. It gives him a unique protection that can't be broken by anything other than one of the spells I destroyed or an adult Ice Dragon."
"Are there any adults?" asked Harry, wondering, if Draco was a baby Ice Dragon and the size of a minivan, just how big the adults got.
Snape shook his head. "The last of the Ice Dragons were removed from the world after the last Goblin Rebellion. It was pure luck I managed to get an egg. Luck and bloody-mindedness," he added morosely.
"What about the spells? Can't you recreate them?"
"Then how can Fudge use Draco if he doesn't know what spells to use?"
"You don't need spells for what Fudge wants to do. Ortho-elementals have a peculiar kind of magic that runs parallel to our own. Draco's blood is an intrinsic protection when applied to immobile objects such as houses or the Ministry of Magic. His hide would make lightweight armour resistant to spells and blades. It is rumoured that the tears of an Ice Dragon are the purest Healing magic in the world -- not even Fawkes's tears can match them. There is nothing more valuable than a single tear from an Ice Dragon. Three thousand and sixty years ago a war was fought between five Persian tribes for one."
Harry frowned down at Draco, not that he was angry with the Ice Dragon. More angry on his behalf. "Why did you do that? Destroy the spells, I mean, unless you didn't want to help Draco later?"
Harry looked up. Snape's expression was ugly and he was tapping his wand against his shin. "If only you showed this much attention in class," Snape said, his voice barely louder than a whisper. "Finding every last, little detail and milking it for every last piece of information..."
Tired, wrung out by fear and anger, Harry glared back. "Hey, I'm not the one who kidnapped a baby and then destroyed any chance of protection from its bodily products!" He regretted his outburst immediately.
"Don't presume to judge me," spat Snape, eyes flashing.
Harry looked down. "Sorry," he said, not really feeling very sorry. "But I don't understand why you destroyed all those spells in the first place."
There was a long silence before Snape replied.
"I was young," he said softly. "And... annoyed... at what I had done -- and what I felt Lucius had manipulated me into. Youth and anger in combination inevitably produce stupidity. A fact I keep trying to teach you -- without much success."
Harry swallowed his own anger. He was tired; Snape was tired. Not that it made any difference, probably; the man was normally more acerbic than this. But maybe if Harry tried not to lash out in retaliation he could smooth things over...? "Perhaps you shouldn't try to teach me something you don't understand."
Oops. Maybe he hadn't kept that anger down like he'd intended.
Snape's face was set in fury. "Perhaps," he whispered, with his lips thinned to the point of non-existence, "you should stop trying to be the moral majority. The day you stop trying to turn yourself into your father, who was the most stuck-up prig I've ever met -- and I was unfortunate enough to go to school with His Arrogance Sirius Black -- that day will be one of general rejoicing by all those who understand the difference between morals and ethics." He hissed the last.
Harry's head snapped back as if Snape had physically slapped him. He could feel two points of heat flushing his cheeks. "Don't you dare bring my father into this!"
"Why not?" Snape countered, his smile evil. "Isn't it about time you learned to see beyond the halo of Saint James?"
"Don't call him that! I know you two didn't get on..." That was an understatement. Harry had talked quite a bit with Sirius and Remus. Although the two didn't actually say as much, Harry had been quite horrified at what they'd implied about his father's treatment of Snape. It had taken a quiet conversation with Rona to confirm his suspicions that yes, his father and the Marauders had been little more than the kind of bullies he'd despised Dudley Dursley, Draco Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle for being. It had taken a further half-dozen sessions with Dan the counsellor before Harry could reconcile himself to the fact that his father may have behaved badly at school but would have grown out of it. From stories Remus in particular had emphasised, James Potter had matured a great deal thanks to his relationship with one Lily Evans. Harry had held onto that.
What he found hard to even contemplate was how his father and his friends' treatment of Snape had probably led the young Severus to seek validation from Voldemort.
That had hurt more than anything else.
"Do you still see my father every time you look at me?" Harry demanded, indignant as well as astonished that Snape still couldn't accept him as Harry -- just Harry. Not: Harry Potter the Boy Who Lived. Not: "Our new -- celebrity." Not the son of his old enemy. After this past year when they'd fought side by side instead of face to face, he'd earned it, surely. "Is that all I am? All you're capable of seeing?"
He wanted to be Harry.
Snape didn't answer with anything other than his most scathing glare. Then he unfolded his legs and stood up, ignoring the way Harry looked down at his clenched fists. It was doubtful Snape noticed Harry was blinking a little more than necessary.
"This bickering is pointless," Snape declared opening the door wider and checking the corridor, eyeing the stairs at the end with distaste. "More Aurors will be here within fifteen minutes, according to our loquacious friend." He nudged Gordon with the toe of his boot. Gordon groaned -- he was beginning to come out of the Veritaserum and into the full, hideous knowledge of all he'd told Snape. "And I don't know how well Grandmother's ward will hold against a squadron of them. We need to be prepared for their arrival. Are you ready to leave, Mr Potter?"
So formal. "Yes," Harry said dully. He couldn't suppress a small shiver. Malfoy Manor seemed extra cold now that Helen was gone. He didn't want to be here now -- all it held were the echoes of angry words that should have been kept unsaid. Somehow that seemed fitting. This house did not strike Harry as having ever had anything approaching the easy-going comfort of the Weasley's house; even ex-Draco-now-<sunonice> felt uneasy here, Harry sensed. The ortho had woken during the argument and wisely decided to stay out of it, although that third eyelid slid over his eyes more frequently.
Harry stood, a little sulkily. "What are you doing?" he asked, without much hope of getting a civil answer from Snape, who was muttering an incantation over the blanket Harry still had around his shoulders.
"Spelling this for warmth," Snape replied civilly, if a little coldly. Apparently the spell for warmth didn't reach as far as Snape's heart, Harry decided. But he didn't complain, especially since the blanket moulded itself around him into a very useful parka complete with hood. He plucked at the material thoughtfully -- it was very thick and the woollen fabric had somehow formed a skin that should competently take the place of a windbreaker.
"Will it be cold where we're going?"
"Extremely. Make sure Draco knows it's vital he doesn't destroy this spell."
"So where are we going?" Harry asked with -- he considered -- great patience.
"Do you remember that wind that blows from the South Pole?"
How could Harry forget? "Yes," he replied grimly.
"We're going to the back of it."
<< Back | Story Index | Next Chapter >>
Back to Top | Stories by Author | Stories by Title | Main Page