It was sickening the way <sunonice> was all but purring as he lapped up the blood slushie, but Harry clamped down on that thought. No, he couldn't let <sunonice> get into the habit of viewing wizards as food, but he could almost understand the Ice Dragon's need to eat wizard flesh (or blood, in this case) as some sort of trophy.
From a human standpoint it was sick, but by now Harry couldn't deny he wasn't dealing with a human, and with that came the need to find the fine balance between the ortho's values and what was acceptable for dealing with humans. He had to --
Harry stopped mid thought.
He didn't have to do anything.
He'd spent all his life with everyone else's expectations riding on him. He'd been raised by Dursleys. Raised by wolves would have been an improvement. Since starting Hogwarts, he'd gone up against the nastiest wizard in the world on a daily basis and Voldemort annually. Voldemort, at least, had been straightforwardly evil and Harry'd get him over and done with and get on with the next thing, while until this year Snape had been a sort of ongoing misery.
He'd done more than anyone Harry could think of to fight Voldemort and all he'd got for it was a series of kicks in the teeth from the wizarding community. No wonder he'd been such a bastard. And then they'd just thrown him away like -- like -- Harry was having difficulty snapping his fingers and realised it was because he was wearing gloves -- they'd thrown him away like Harry could snap his naked fingers.
They'd do that to Harry, too. Because he didn't fit. Because he was the one who was written about in the gossip columns. Because he had a scar from Voldemort and the ability to talk to snakes.
And now Harry was worrying about stopping <sunonice> damaging Fudge's little wanna-be empire?
Harry rolled over onto his back and stared up into the blue, blue sky. They wanted him to do what they ordered him to do, be it defeat Voldemort or act as bait to capture a dangerous monster. He wasn't a person, he was their sacrifice.
He remembered Snape arguing with Fudge when the Minister had wanted Harry to go on a -- what had Snape called it? Oh yes -- a fool's errand.
And when Snape had somehow managed to stop Harry from even finding out about it, they'd sent in a friend. Someone who could be trusted.
(There was another wave of nausea... Harry swallowed and concentratd on the sky until it passed.)
And then Harry had been stupid enough to go on the fool's errand and stupid enough to trust the warders not to do harm to himself or what they were hunting, because he'd thought that warders were all like Hagrid, and valued life.
And when he'd been proven wrong -- because Hagrid would have never condoned torture even if he had known that the Ice Dragon used to be that snot Draco Malfoy -- when that had happened he'd gone running to Snape for help.
And Snape had gone to clean up Harry's mess as he always complained he'd had to do anyway, and Harry had...
Had found out enough to know that the most hated teacher in school was human and humane, and could show kindness and now, because of Harry, his body was floating somewhere under the ice and Harry would have to tell Helen who was pregnant and if the shock didn't kill her it'd kill the baby for certain --
Harry covered his face with his hands and tried not to scream.
Dumbledore couldn't protect him any more. Oh, the old wizard had tried and tried hard in his compassionate, if occasionally misdirected way (Harry wondered if he'd ever be able to forgive him for leaving him at the mercy of the Dursleys), but he was on the outs with the Ministry of Magic, too. And it was the Ministry who really ran things. It had sent out the warders to catch the Ice Dragon (using Harry as bait, which said volumes about Harry's position in the current world order); it had given tacit approval for Aurors to treat Snape like a third-class citizen simply by denying Helen Snape any human rights, and this attitude had culminated in Snape's death and Harry's loss of magic.
The loss ached like cold air over a hollow tooth. Harry kept reaching out to that space within him where the magic had been only to find... nothing. Whatever else the curse Dibbles had hit him with might have been (Dark, forbidden, or Ministry-approved), it was effective.
Was this what it was like to be a Muggle? A Squib? But could Muggles or Squibs ever have this terrible void? How could they live if they did?
He balled his hands into fists and shook them at the sky in silent rage.
How DARE they do this?
Harry rolled over and pounded his fists into the ice. It hurt, but he couldn't seem to stop.
With a sigh, Harry stopped hitting the ground and blearily looked up into <sunonice>'s concerned eyes.
"That man took my magic away," Harry whispered, his throat constricting around the words. "He -- he stole it from me... the only thing that's ever mattered about me..."
From the gentle probing thought it was clear that <sunonice> didn't understand what Harry was saying, but he understood pain. Harry smiled sadly at the protective way the Ice Dragon lay down and curled his body around Harry's.
"There's nothing you can do," Harry said softly, patting the lean cheek with a gloved hand. It felt slick under his hand, and close up it was easier to see how magic intertwined with matter in the ortho's body, making the creature both tangible and a dream. At least he could still see and feel the magic, even if it was an alien one, Harry thought.
It wasn't much but it was a small comfort.
A thin breeze was sliding over the seal colony and out towards the Southern Ocean and its bite brought Harry back to his surroundings with a convulsive shudder.
His cold, hostile surroundings, where the only warmth Harry could find was in the steady feed of friendship from the ex-Draco Malfoy.
I came to Antarctica to have my world turned upside-down... Is this irony or what? Harry pushed his fingers into the ice, futilely trying to summon back his lost magic. It seemed stuck in the ice, if it was anywhere. He felt the anger build in his chest again. Who the hell did they think they were, throwing around Instant Squib curses? Surely that was Dark Magic?
Snape would kno-
Snape would've known what the spell was, and he'd have known how to make Harry better, expecially if it gave him an excuse to tell Harry how careless he was to have lost his magic.
<sunonice> raised himself into a crouch and sniffed at where Harry was digging, wondering if <handsonclay> was trying to dig a way through to <silkthatcuts>, who even the Ice Dragon knew was lost somewhere else now, and trying to warn Harry to be careful of the <bloodyscarygreatMONSTERswimming> underneath the ice. The Ice Dragon may have approved of the way it'd crunched up that <sealburpman>, but the monster absolutely reeked of <taniwhapower>.
Just as Harry thought to ask if the Ice Dragon thought it could be possible for Grandmother Taniwha to have sent the whale as revenge, <sunonice> exploded with a great snort of surprise. As excited as a niffler scenting gold, he bit into the ice.
There was a sound like a hundred vacuum cleaners battling it out for supremacy, and the Ice Dragon flopped down onto his tail with a dazed expression on his face. A few sparks glittered around his muzzle and he darted out his tongue to catch the last of them.
"Great," Harry said, trying and failing to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "You managed to eat my magic. Well, at least someone gets it, I suppose."
<sunonice> gave him a wounded expression, but one that was heavily laced with a Malfoy-esque air of condescension Harry hadn't seen before. Well, not in <sunonice>, anyway.
Then the Ice Dragon whipped his head around and sank his teeth into Harry.
For a split second the betrayal froze Harry.
He felt the sharp needles of the Ice Dragon's teeth puncture his jacket and pierce the skin of his back and chest as <sunonice> bit down into his lungs and heart and realised:
I'm going to die now.
That split second was all the Ice Dragon needed, because before Harry could struggle the magic began flowing and all Harry could do was hang limp in the creature's jaws as his life ran back into him in rivers, filling every fibre of his being and settling into place like an old, well-worn leather jacket.
It was good.
It was great.
It was magic.
It was the antithesis of death.
When <sunonice> finally -- and with the utmost care -- deposited Harry back on the ice Harry wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. There were no marks on his parka and, he suspected, no marks on his skin. There was no pain, either. Somehow <sunonice> had used that peculiarly there-yet-not-there quality of Ice Dragon physiology to bite deep into Harry's metaphysical body.
The sun shone again on the edege of the blue sky. Light glittered off peaks of waves separated by mysterious troughs of bottle green, and the penguins across the bay weren't just black and white anymore -- there was yellow around their faces and pink to the grey of their feet. The black clouds mounting up beyond the hills had their bellies tinted a subtle apricot.
And the silver of the Ice Dragon's scales held every colour imaginable as well as some Harry thought he'd never seen before.
Harry was whole.
"Thank you," he said, and threw his arms around <sunonice>'s head, choosing to laugh. Laughing hurt, and it felt unfamiliar, but good at the same time. It knocked some scab off what had been Harry's hurt. "Thank you, thank you, thank you..."
<sunonice> was surprised but pleased, and growled happily, glad that he'd finally managed to do something right today.
Harry slapped him affectionately on the shoulder and assured him that he had, and took a deep breath. With the return of his magic had come the uneasy recollection that a horde of Aurors was about to descend on this ice shelf. A seal breeding colony seemed an unlikely spot for the magical version of Gunfight at the OK Corral, but it certainly wasn't a place Harry wanted to battle the Aurors -- because he had every intention of kicking their sorry arses should they show their faces. Firstly, there was little natural cover, something he knew would be vital, and then Harry also felt a twinge of guilt about dragging the poor seals into the middle of a magical battle. Large slow-moving animals would be used as shields by the Aurors. Luckily the ice shelf wasn't completely flat. Pressure from tides and the summer thaw that was going on now had rumpled it. Not far away were a few small bluish "hills" that must have been icebergs trapped when the ice shelf formed. Maybe they could use those if <sunonice> refused to leave. Standing up and looking around, Harry could see that there were a couple of dark spots that weren't moving; pups which had been crushed in the colony's stampede. So it had been a natural predator who had frightened them -- even without the taniwha's interference that whale had been scouting for seals, otherwise what was it doing near the hole in the ice where tender baby seals would have had their first swimming lessons? It was doubtful wizards made up the larger part of a whale's diet. But Harry still felt guilty. It was the presence of the wizards and the Ice Dragon that had initially spooked the animals, and maybe...
Maybes were no use right now.
"We have to get out of here," Harry said, because he was finding it easier to mind-speak <sunonice> if he spoke aloud at the same time.
He received back something non-committal. The Ice Dragon had something new on his mind. <sunonice> flicked some ice off his wings, loped away and jumped over one of the ridges with his blue shadow stretching out towards one of the darker immobile lumps left behind by the seal stampede.
At first Harry thought he was going to investigate one of the dead seal pups, and considered calling the Ice Dragon back.
Then he squinted against the glare and realised what <sunonice> was looking at.
Merlin, I'd forgotten about the second warder! Harry picked himself up, gave himself a slap on the forehead, and hurried after his friend, grabbing Snape's wand as he went and trying not to look at it as he stuffed it inside his jacket.
"Don't eat him!" he called out.
<!?> replied <sunonice>, miffed.
"Because I need to ask him some questions." Harry hoped he'd adequately translated that into images.
He must have, because <sunonice> sniffed and merely prodded the downed warder with a talon. It looked painful for the wizard but at least it wouldn't be as painful as being ripped apart.
"Merlin..." Harry couldn't help exclaiming softly as he drew close enough to see who the warder was. "Charlie...?"
The freckled face of Charlie Weasley wasn't frozen by cold but it was frozen, although the eyes managed to blink twice.
"Three blinks for no, two for yes," said Harry, and Charlie blinked two times again.
"Did -- did the Ice Dragon hit you with the Bludger?"
Blink, blink, blink.
"Are you injured?"
Blink, blink, blink.
"Can you move?"
Blink, blink, blink; frown.
"One of mine?"
Frown. Blink, blink, blink.
Harry raised one eyebrow, unconsciously mimicking Snape. "Don't tell me Dibbles hit you with a curse?"
Angry glare, but not at Harry. BLINK! BLINK!
Harry spared a second to admire Charlie's ability to shout while mute. "Why -- oh, hell. I'm going to try to release you from it. I need some answers quickly. Aurors should be arriving any minute now, so they can get you off this iceberg or whatever the hell it is, but Ron will kill me if I leave you to be flattened by a seal. Not that you don't deserve it," he added thoughtfully, and noted how Charlie's eyes widened. "But if you do anything stupid, like try to use magic or a knife or something, the Ice Dragon will eat you. And he's hungry and annoyed he didn't get to eat your buddy Dibbles. Got it?"
Charlie's eyes rolled towards <sunonice>, who was drooling at the prospect of more wizard blood.
Even the charm on Charlie couldn't stop him shiver.
"I'd better get your wand first." Harry bent down started looking in Charlie's pockets until <sunonice> made that soft noise that meant a question.
"I'm looking for... oh." Harry sat back on his heels as the Ice Dragon picked up the wand from where it was sticking out of the ice several meters away. "Thanks."
"Yes. But I probably would've found it myself, you know. Thanks for finding the wand, but you can leave the personal commentary behind. It's not you."
That was a remarkably detailed image. Harry hung his head and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. It's not you I'm angry at."
"Just the rest of the world," Harry said wryly.
The Ice Dragon had a special way of half-lidding his eyes that meant a smile.
Harry patted him on the nose. "Forgiven?"
Harry blinked -- that had been almost like talking to another human. It was... eerie.
He tucked Charlie's wand into his pocket and got out his own wand. "Okay, Charlie. I'm going to lift the curse now. Just remember that the first sudden movement you make will be your last."
Blink-blink, Charlie managed with difficulty, because he was trying to keep his eyes on the Ice Dragon.
It took more power than he'd normally use, but as Charlie straightened up (very, very carefully), Harry decided that it would be wisest not to let Charlie know that. Best to appear as the powerful boy-wizard who'd battled Voldemort and lived to tell the tale.
It also helped to have an Ice Dragon hovering over his shoulder, teeth half bared in hope that there would be wizard cutlets for dinner followed by a nice sanguine sorbet.
It wouldn't help Harry's image if he were turning green at what he was hearing from the afore-mentioned Ice Dragon. He took a deep breath, noting that the wind was strengthening. It was strong enough to blow small chips of ice over his feet and the waves in the bay were developing white caps.
"Okay -- why are you here?"
Charlie sat up slowly, not taking his eyes off <sunonice>. "To catch the Ice Dragon."
"So why did you get hexed? Dibbles want the reward money all for himself?"
Something in Charlie aged before Harry's eyes. "Probably, but he wasn't stupid enough to try for it alone. I..." His gaze dropped to his feet. "I didn't come here to be a murderer," he said softly. "Dibbles got the drop on me when I tried to help Snape."
"Is that supposed to prove what a great guy you are really?" Harry sneered. "Because you didn't help Snape. He's dead now, you know, but thanks for your concern. As far as I can see it that makes you an accomplice to murder."
Charlie blanched, but kept his mouth shut. A wise decision. If he'd opened it Harry would have filled it with... well, nothing as clean as snow, anyway.
"If you'd caught the Ice Dragon it would've made you a murderer for certain," Harry continued, wanting to shout sense into Charlie. "Fudge wants him for a bit of blood and then he's going to have him killed so no-one else could use him."
"Fudge wouldn't do that -- this creature should be studied, not --"
"Not torn apart and used for his personal empire-building?" Harry finished bitterly. "You can't be that stupid, Charlie. You must know that juvenile Ice Dragon blood is the ultimate protection for buildings? I wouldn't be surprised if the wards of Hogwarts are based on it. And since when has Fudge had any academic motivation? He's entirely political!" Now Harry was yelling. "And you -- where the hell do you get off thinking crippling people for the sake of science is justified? Is that what you've built your studies on? Is this why you went into meta-zoology? No! -- don't..." he added in a deliberately calm voice to <sunonice>, who wasn't happy with the way this <sealburp> was aggravating his friend. "He's not trying to hurt me -- not directly, anyway. He's just... stupid. And I've had enough of stupid people."
Merlin, was this how Snape had felt ALL THE TIME? Harry began to understand just why the man had been so foul-tempered; when faced by the unending procession of inanity which comprised Homo sapiens, wizard or Muggle subspecies regardless, blind rage seemed an inevitability. It was either that or fall into an endless pit of depression.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose behind his glasses and willed himself to calm down for the umpteenth time this day. (And how many times have I seen Snape do this exact same thing...? Well, maybe without the glasses...)
There was a brief moment of panic when he feared he was possessed by the restless spirit of Severus Snape.
Then common sense took over and told him that if Snape was going to possess anyone it sure as hell wouldn't be Harry Potter.
Black, maybe. That could be good for a laugh...
"Um... Harry... are you okay?"
"Never better, why do you ask?" Harry said coldly.
"Um... just for a minute there... you smirked. I thought you were about to take points..." His voice trailed off.
Harry glared and caught himself right before he could pinch the bridge of his nose again.
<sunonice>, sensing the anger warring with fear in Harry, growled and made to take a bite out of Charlie.
"No. Not yet." Harry scratched the disappointed <sunonice> behind his ear.
Snort! The lashing tail smacked a broad furrow into the ice.
"You... you tell him what to do?"
"No." This time Harry couldn't help the sneer that settled on his features. It felt so... natural. "I ask. He does what I ask him to do because he's my friend and he trusts me. I don't order him to do anything. Get Ron to explain the difference to you some time."
Ron's brother took a deep breath. "Harry... ask him to stay for the Aurors. We have to make sure he can't hurt us. Ask him... explain to him that we need to study him... "
That got a big fat <sealburp> from <sunonice> along with a few other choice images, and Harry laughed.
"He says no. He also said you've a bloody nerve worrying about him hurting you considering the greeting he got. He has a good memory, you know, and I don't think he likes you very much."
"Well, it's been difficult to... We have to make sure he's not a threat..." Charlie trailed off.
Harry was staring at him as if he'd never seen Charlie before. "By killing him? Because that's what they want to do. And... you know what, Charlie? I don't think I like you very much either."
Charlie flinched. "It's not a case of like or dislike, Harry," he said desperately. "It's a case of what's best for people... an Ice Dragon is a dangerous creature -- he ate Lucius Malfoy -- yes, I know about that -- and I saw the way he licked up Dibbles' blood... Merlin's eyebrows, Harry, look at how he's looking at me! I know you're angry over Dibbles , but don't let that cloud your judgement. Think about what's best for people."
"I am thinking about what's best for people," Harry snapped in a voice as cold and biting as the wind blowing down from the hills and across the seal colony. Far over on the other side of the bay a black dorsal fin was slicing through the waves and frightening the feathers off the penguins standing on the edge of a floating sheet of ice. A faint puff could be seen over the top of the whale as its warm breath froze into a glittering mini snowfall before being whipped away by the wind, and the fin disappeared as the whale submerged to hunt. Maybe Grandmother Taniwha had sent it, but now it seemed she'd released it to be off on its own business, doing what it wanted to do. It was back in nature as it was meant to be; the natural world involved a lot of animals killing animals and a whale was a part of that. The whale would kill and eat, and then one day it would be killed and eaten. It wasn't moral or ethical, it simply was. Morals and ethics were not for animals, as Helen Snape had pointed out once upon a time when Snape had been alive and Harry had been someone else; morals and ethics were for people. But the people in Harry's world went around killing other people and justifying it with the sorts of excuses Harry wouldn't have credited hearing outside of a kindergarten. Merely belonging to the same species as Dibbles and the two Aurors at Malfoy Manor was at best embarrassing and at worst criminal by association.
Harry suddenly realised that he wanted out. Out of being the Boy Who Lived to Serve. Out of being the weird kid with the scar who was a target for every hack reporter wanting a scoop. Out of being of being stared at. Pointed at. Laughed at and picked over by vultures whenever he stumbled. Out of being expected to mop up after every idiot wizard on a power trip. Out of the wizarding world.
Harry Potter wanted out of the entire damned species.
It was like he suddenly saw everything clearly. It was all so cold. It was all so perfect. Little wheels of ice turning and turning inside each other, driving a process that had no morals or ethics. People living or dying did not matter in the end because there were no morals and there were no ethics.
There were only choices to be made.
Now Harry understood everything.
Now if only his hands would stop shaking.
He took a deep breath. "I'm thinking that this Ice Dragon is a person and he's been treated shockingly.
"I'm also thinking that the person who did more to protect us against Voldemort than anyone else except maybe Dumbledore is DEAD, Charlie -- he's DEAD because people like you and your stupid Ministry never gave a SHIT about how he dedicated his adult life to protecting a bunch of thickos who despised him! And what all this thinking leads me to is the conclusion that I'm wasting my time worrying about a bunch of dunderheads who don't deserve my efforts. Who have never deserved my efforts."
"Harry..." Charlie said weakly.
"Don't bother," Harry interrupted, slicing the air with the edge of his hand; back from fire to ice in the blink of an eye. "Because you know what? As far as those people you work for are concerned Voldemort is dead and all I'm useful now is to be bait. Fudge sees me as a threat because I'm famous, and he wants me taken out along with Dumbledore. He doesn't want a known iconoclast like me disrupting his precious little world."
"Harry, not everyone is like that..."
Harry was still trying to work out how he knew a word like iconoclast, but he managed to hiss at Charlie, "No? Well, we live in a democracy and the people who aren't like Fudge still voted for him." He drew himself up to his full height, forcing Charlie to squint as Harry's shadow fell over him like a shroud. "Do you know what really scares me?" he whispered. "What really scares me is that I wonder if maybe Voldemort was good for you lot. He showed you that you're really just a pack of stupid little cowards who know nothing about the use of power."
And, Harry thought, the idea squatting in his mind like an iceberg, now that I can see something good about Voldemort, what does it make me? Should I be upset by this? Because I'm not.
There was a silence broken only by a loud swallow from Charlie.
"Tell me, Charlie, why do wizards hate ortho-elementals so much?"
Charlie was staring into Harry's eyes like Harry had just turned into a cobra. "We don't hate them, Harry. They stole our magic. They attacked people who had magic. History shows that they hated us..."
"Why would they hate you?"
"Because we have so much magic..." Charlie whispered, his gaze locked into Harry's. "Because they want to take our magic away from us."
"Why would they want to do that?"
"Because they see something more powerful than themselves. They're jealous of us and want what we have..."
"Jealous? Hatred for how they've been treated, I can understand that. But..." and Harry leaned closer, not caring about how Charlie flinched, "but they aren't jealous." Harry spat the word out. "And it belittles them to think that jealousy is all that these, as you put it, 'dangerous creatures,' are capable of. If a sudden army of Ice Dragons descends on the Ministry of Magic rest assured that it won't be out of jealousy, Mr Weasley."
Harry straightened and slowly folded his arms over his chest as he glared down his nose at the idiot before him.
God, Charlie was stupid. If Harry killed him now before he had a chance to breed it could only be good for the gene pool. But Harry wouldn't kill him. He didn't want to waste his energy. Besides, what did the gene pool matter? Humans were so stupid they'd destroy themselves without any help from Harry. He whispered, "The day they decide to root out your species like the canker it is it'll be because they are royally pissed off at the treatment they've received from the wizarding world and want to make their grievances known. Consider this: if you were part of a marginalised group which had been exploited for centuries and treated as nothing better than mobile apothecary shops would you stop at such pettiness as jealousy? Wizards don't fear their jealousy, Mr Weasley. They rightly fear their vengeance.
"Try thinking outside of the happy little box you've been taught to live in, Mr Weasley, and try thinking for yourself. You may find it painful at first, but I promise you the rewards can be great."
Charlie's eyes were huge. "P-p-p-p-pr'fessor Snape, sir?"
Harry jerked back. "What? No! No. It's me. Harry. Just Harry. I... I've simply been shown how to think outside the box."
He stared down at Charlie, seeing for the first time that Charlie was terrified. Of him. Harry.
Fair enough. I was seriously weighing up whether I should kill him or not.
It made him feel sad. And old.
"I'm going outside now. I may be some time." He didn't know where that came from either -- it seemed the ice was whispering words into his ear.
"Harry... you can't." Charlie waved a hand at the iron grey clouds banking up inland, then pulled the hand in against his chest quickly as the Ice Dragon snapped at it. "I... uh... There's a storm coming and you'll die..."
"That should made a few people at the Ministry happy, shouldn't it?" Harry said bitterly. "Besides, I've got nothing better to do and..." he turned to look at <sunonice>, who was thrumming with anger at how this <sealburp> of a wizard had annoyed <handsonclay>, and his gaze softened. "...And I made a promise to Snape that I would see the Ice Dragon safely home."
Charlie was silent for a moment before cautiously digging a hand into a pocket. He paused as <sunonice> rattled the spines down the crest of his serpentine neck and snarled. A thin thread of drool dripped onto Charlie's boot. Charlie swallowed a few times before he could get his voice to work, and his face had gone so ashen the freckles looked like burning coals. "It's okay, Harry... I'm just getting something out of my pocket and it's not going to hurt you or... your friend..."
He produced a small black pouch.
"It's a sort of lunch box... Mum gave it to me when she thought I wasn't eating properly." Charlie smiled wryly. "It's a sort of hold-all -- there's bread, cheese, pumpkin juice and maybe a bottle of butterbeer still in there... loads of stuff. You'll need food."
Harry pulled the drawstring and sniffed the insides cautiously. "Poisoned?"
The hurt on Charlie's face managed to please Harry and stab into his heart at the same time.
"Okay. Then thanks. But Charlie..."
"If there is anything in here that harms me, Sun on Ice will hunt you down. I don't promise you that, he does."
There was a soft growl of affirmation from the Ice Dragon.
Charlie's expression was unreadable. "He has a name?" he asked softly.
"Yes. And no -- I didn't give it to him. He already had a name before I met him. He's named me Hands on Clay, and Snape is... Snape was..." Harry's thoughts caught up with his words and stopped them colder than the water under the ice. He clenched his fists until his wand creaked.
"I'm really sorry about --"
"Sorry doesn't mean anything other than 'I was too stupid to think about my actions'," Harry snapped, and forced himself not to rub the bridge of his nose with his trembling fingers. No, my nose has never been broken and it doesn't ache when I get a headache coming on...
Harry tied the bag to his belt. <sunonice> held out a forefoot for Harry to use as a step, and the boy wizard swung his leg over the Ice Dragon's neck and settled himself just in front of the wings where the spines gave way to coarse hair. The scaly hide was slick with magic, but <sunonice> concentrated as soon as he felt <handsonclay> begin to slide, and Harry found himself stuck to skin that now had the texture of suede.
He looked down on the subdued brother of his best friend.
"Goodbye, Charlie. Give my best to Ron and Hermione, and... and tell the Aurors that they can take their morals and shove them up their collective arses. Another thing -- they can find themselves a new idio- I mean, hero, to do their dirty work for them. Tell them, too, that the next wizard I see so much as giving Sun on Ice a funny look is a dead wizard. I'll kill him myself if I have to."
<Let's→go!> he said to <sunonice>, trying to make it sound as urgent as possible. He just hoped <sunonice> wasn't wanting to stay and look for Snape.
But the Ice Dragon knew that wherever <silkthatcuts> was, he wasn't here. Plus that lingering trace of <taniwhasmell> was rattling his nerves. He sighed, but sent back a stubborn thought to let Harry know that he hadn't finished looking.
The mighty hindquarters bunched and sprang and Harry and <sunonice> were flying into the wind.
Just after they crested the first of the low-lying hills of the Antarctic continent and disappeared into the haze of the approaching storm, the first Aurors Apparated around the hole in the ice. They spread out quickly with their wands ready to hex the first person or creature that said "Boo."
All they found was Charlie Weasley and a glove. It was Snape's; the one Harry had been holding onto when the Potions master slid away.
"Where are they?" the squad leader asked Charlie Weasley, waving the glove.
"They're gone," the redhead replied, still staring at the hills. He was sitting with his arms tucked around his knees. "Into the storm. You won't find them now."
The Auror looked at the clouds, which were boiling over the ridgeline. Glitter fell from them. Snow. Strangely enough, a rarity in Antarctica. But not one he cared to stay and enjoy.
He spat and threw down the glove in disgust. "Where's Dibbles?"
"Yeah. So is he." Charlie frowned as he remembered something that had been niggling at him. "But why did he say 'your species'?"
The Auror gave Charlie the sort of stare reserved for those who talked to little green men from Mars, but didn't ask him anything more.
Charlie sat there in the same position until they'd finished poking around for clues.
"Come on, lad," the first Auror said kindly, and helped him to his feet. "You okay, mate? You look pretty hammered."
"I've just... got a lot to think about."
The Aurors Disapparated with a series of pops, taking Charlie with them.
All except for a single Auror, who tightened the drawstring of her hood before she began walking towards the shore.
She left behind a disgruntled seal colony and one lone glove.
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