The next time Harry woke he found an Ice Dragon had curled itself around him. Its wings were draped over his head like a curtain to keep the worst of the cold out, and in the faint glow coming from its scales he could see the slow rise and fall of its ribs as it breathed the easy breaths of a deep sleep. If Harry listened very carefully he could hear it snoring.
He yawned and then realised something else.
He could hear <sunonice> breathing but he couldn't hear the storm.
He dug his way out through the tunnel.
The snow collapsed on Harry.
It was heavy and cold and for a moment he panicked, thinking he'd never get out. Then claws wrapped around his kicking feet and dragged him backwards.
"Thanks," Harry gasped.
<sunonice> ignored him and yawned sleepily, showing off his rows of shark teeth. <moresleep?>
"No," said Harry with a grin. "I think three days are enough."
<sunonice> informed him that didn't have the faintest idea what <handsonclay> was on about with his <babababababa>
"Sorry," said Harry, and repeated what he'd just said, this time as mind-images, filing away the information that <sunonice> was grumpy in the morning. Come to think of it, hadn't Draco been even worse than usual whenever Harry'd encountered him before breakfast?
"Nothing," Harry replied hastily. <→outside?>
<sunonice> sneezed happily and pushed past Harry.
Harry took that as a yes, and covered his head with his hands as the Ice Dragon shouldered through the wall.
The sun came streaming through.
When Harry stepped outside it was like walking onto a wedding cake. White icing draped the landscape, and only the rock behind Harry and some cliffs on the low-lying hills over the white plain showed that there was solid ground somewhere under the ice and snow.
From where he was standing he was looking down over a giant river that snaked long between the hilltops, virtually filling the broad flat valley. At least, it looked flat. An aside from <sunonice> informed Harry that the "river" was a glacier a mile deep. In the middle it looked flat and smooth, but towards the edges it rippled and broke into chunks. It was a river that had been slowed down a million times and covered a floodplain as big as -- Harry squinted. He couldn't tell how big it was. Size here was arbitrary and didn't conform to human senses. The hills opposite could have been five miles away or fifty. Maybe more.
<sunonice> was asking him questions, the images flying at Harry thick and fast. He shook his head, trying to make sense of them. "Hang on," he said. "You're going too fast..."
There was one last <sealburp> and an irritated whistle from <sunonice> and then Harry felt a weird dislocation in his mind.
And <sunonice> marched down from the snowdrift he'd climbed onto, with Hogwarts robes rippling around his ankles and his bare feet leaving human footprints going in the opposite direction to the Ice Dragon prints.
"I said, are we going home?" Sunonice snapped impatiently, his pale, pinched Malfoy face glaring down at Harry. "Come on Hands -- we can't stand around here all day."
Harry nearly replied, "Sod off, Malfoy," before the present caught up with him. "Where are we going?" he asked, and added an, "Oh, and why have you changed shape?"
"Well, firstly," said Draco, ticking the items off on his fingers as Harry had seen Snape do, "we're going home. My home. I can feel it very close now. And secondly, this is an easier way to talk to you. I prefer to talk mind-to-mind, but Silk thinks that because it's not natural for humans it is better to..." he scowled as he tried to remember the word "... to vo-ca-lise our, um, comnuni... comunnini..."
"Communications?" Harry supplied.
Draco snapped his fingers. "That's the one. When I'm in my proper shape I wouldn't bother talking in this manner so I don't have the... ah... the speech function part of the brain thing... I think that's right...? Anyway. Silk said it might be easier if we talked like this so I can explain where we're going." He looked very pleased with himself as he waded back up the slope.
Harry followed with much more effort. His boots just didn't seem to want to stay on the surface like Draco's feet. It was like walking on sugar. When he reached the top he stood there gasping from the effort and the view. It was magnificent. The sky overhead was pure blue shading to evening colours over the southern ridge -- the wind was pushing high, thin wisps of cloud from over there. They about halfway up the side of a hill. It was the sort of hill that managed to be exactly between flat and a cliff -- a great snow-covered slope angled halfway from the perpendicular. Harry leaned against the rock wall they'd sheltered against during the storm and brushed at the snow. It seemed to be a light layer of heavy, icy mass over a lighter layer that crunched between his fingers the same way the sugary-snow crunched beneath his boots. The layers weren't deep. <storm = littlesnow> <sunonice> informed him with a grin; "It's usually too cold for snow here. We were lucky to have as much as we did. Most piled up under this bluff and gave us some extra insulation."
When Harry scraped it away he found rock below it that was dark and, to his astonishment, he could make out little bits of plant on it.
Lichen, came the thought, and it sounded like Snape might have thought it. Harry smiled, glad that Snape was still in contact with them even if it was from far away, and even more glad that he wasn't possessed. Oh, he had no problems with the Hogwarts ghosts, but they never made their hauntings personal.
He jumped as a face peered back at him from the rockface.
After the nasty moment when he thought he was still being haunted followed by the one when he was sure he was about to fall backwards down the hill, he realised he was looking at ice which had formed on a flat piece of rock. It made a natural mirror, although not a very accurate one. Certainly his own face had never given him a fright like that! And when Harry took a second look at his reflection his features were smudged so badly he couldn't even make out his scar, although the dark rock behind the ice increased the green intensity of his eyes.
Harry looked up to see Sunonice grinning at him. <vain!> said Sunonice, and laughed.
You can talk, Harry thought to himself. At Hogwarts Draco had carried a small mirror (for magical defence, he'd claimed) and a comb (for which there was no explanation) with him at all times, even during Quidditch matches. "Okay. So explain. Where are we going?"
Sunonice's face fell. He grabbed Harry's hand and dragged him back down the slope and out of the wind. They reached the small flat area in front of their little snow cave amidst a flurry of crystals. "That's the trouble. I can't really explain. I just know that there's a place over there --" he pointed up and over the ridge "-- where we have to be. It's where I came from. But I don't know why I come from there." His expression turned puzzled. "The first thing I remember is fire," he muttered. "Silk was there. And the taniwha, somehow. She stopped me from killing Silk, so I suppose she's not that bad, and she didn't mind me killing the other wizard. Lucius." He turned the name around in his mouth, tasting it. Harry didn't want to know what for. "Silk says Lucius was the reason I was on fire, but I can't remember anything before that. So I came and found the ice down here and slept for a while. That was quite nice. Then you came along and... well, that wasn't nice at all."
<sunonice> shook his head. "Don't be sorry. Silk explained that you were tricked. It was lucky I didn't kill you."
"I'm glad you didn't." Harry was also incredibly relieved Snape had explained things without putting Harry in a worse light.
<sunonice>'s smile was sun on ice. "So am I. Life is much more interesting now, and I'm finally going in the right direction. It's good to have someone to travel with -- I can't wait to show you my home. I'm sure it's wonderful." He stared hungrily into the distance. "When we get there we can use the shell Silk gave you. It's a key. It will open the door."
The shell? Oh, crikey!
Harry checked his pockets. After an anxious, heart-in-mouth moment, he found the shell. It sat in his palm, not glowing, not doing anything except looking as utterly shell-like as was possible.
"You're not looking at it right," laughed <sunonice>. "I'll show you how --"
But they were interrupted by a sharp pop!
They spun to face the noise. There, on the hillside just down from them where five seconds ago had been nothing, was an Auror. She pointed her wand at Harry as she pushed back her hood, revealing a scarred face and greying brown hair tidied back in thin lines plaited along her scalp.
Harry couldn't believe it. How did they keep finding him like this? "Oh, for... Don't you people have anything better to do?" he snarled.
"Point that stick somewhere else!" snapped Sunonice indignantly.
The Auror did a brilliant double take at the sight of Draco Malfoy, but recovered too quickly for Harry to take advantage. "All right, lads; where's dragon?"
The face that had obviously been through several battles combined with the Yorkshire accent clicked in Harry's memory. Batty Nora, although Harry had never actually met her, was infamous in Auror circles. Nicknamed "the Yorkshire Terrier," she was a contemporary of Mad-Eye Moody. Rumour had it that she was even more of a fanatic.
Harry had always seen her as one of the good guys -- well, a good guy with a bit of a shaky grip on sanity, but still one of "Us."
"Us" were being whittled down so fast in the last few days a decent plague would throw up its hands in surrender.
"I'm the only dragon around here," Draco drawled haughtily. Take him back to Hogwarts and no-one would know him from the original. "And what do you want?"
"You'd be Lucius Malfoy's brat Draco, wouldn't you? Heard your dad got eaten by the Ice Dragon," she said dryly. "Needs more than name 'Draco' to make thee a dragon, lad."
<sunonice> narrowed his eyes. "And if I am Draco Malfoy?"
Harry prayed the woman would shut up. This was not the time... "Stop it," he said quietly.
Batty Nora ignored him. "Well, then if tha's trying to follow in Daddy's footsteps and take over world you've another thing coming to thee." She eyed <sunonice> with scorn and a drop of venom. It was returned with interest. "That dragon's got nowt to do with you, lad, not anymore if you take my meaning. Go on home."
Sunonice raised his chin. "Are you saying I should abandon Potter here to his fate?"
"Are you trying to tell me he's now your best friend?" She snorted. "Pull other one, lad; it's got bells on't." The she noticed his feet and her eyes widened. "Here -- get yourself home sharpish. You'll be losing toes, tha great daftie."
Sunonice looked down at his feet. He looked over at Harry's, which were snug in their fleece-lined boots, and appeared to consider this. He scrunched his toes in the snow. "They feel pretty good to me," he said slowly. He looked up. "And why do you think I hate Hands -- I mean, Potter so much?"
She snorted and Harry groaned internally. "Ha! The stories I hear of two o' thee hexing each other silly, why it's amazing neither of you killed off other..." she trailed off at the look Sunonice was giving Harry. "Are you not Draco Malfoy after all?" she said, looking thoughtfully at his pink toes, and her wand moved to point at the blond boy.
To Harry, Sunonice promised, "We will talk about this later."
Then he dissolved.
For a moment he gave out the glare of an icefield under the midsummer sun and when Harry stopped blinking <sunonice> the Ice Dragon was spreading his wings. The Ice Dragon reached out and clawed at the air. What the ortho-elemental was doing was a mystery to Harry but for a moment something translucent stretched thin between the Ice Dragon and the Auror. It shimmered then snapped, and the Auror jerked back as if she'd been slapped.
She looked rattled, but the Yorkshire Terrier was a fighter from way back, and she firmed her jaw and raised her wand.
The Ice Dragon roared and Harry slapped his hands over his ears. It sounded like a cannon going off.
Dimly, because his eardrums were still twitching, Harry heard Auror Nora say, "What? Was that meant to scare me out o' here?"
<sunonice> probably didn't understand her, but he shoved Harry back against the cliff.
"Hostages won't work with me, lad," she said stoutly. "What's going on is too important to consider life o' one boy."
<sunonice> blinked impassively. He was looking past her.
Over on the far hills the snow was sliding in sheets. Harry heard the roar ripple back along the valley, and he heard something else, too. It sounded like the Hogwarts Express coming along the tracks.
Batty Nora's face changed. She muttered something, then her eyes widened as the spell failed.
She stepped forward, her lips moving, but the roar of the train was right overhead now and <sunonice> slammed Harry back against the rock as a wall of snow and noise rocketed down over the bluff.
In the split second before the shockwave of the avalanche crushed the breath out of Harry he saw the horror on the Auror's face, and he realised...
<sunonice> had stolen her ability to Apparate.
Then she was snatched away.
Harry had no words for the avalanche. There were none. It was the ultimate version of trying to talk to an Ice Dragon.
He held images in his mind like snapshots from Colin Creevey's camera.
Click. Nora's face frozen in the knowledge of her death.
Click. Nora with her arms thrown up in front of her face and her mouth open in a silent scream.
Click. Air thick as a seawave crushing him.
Click. <sunonice> squashing him against the rock and sheltering him with his body.
Click. <sunonice> the single immovable object in the universe with his claws wrapped around Harry as the unstoppable force raged around them.
Click. The noise to end all noises. Harry might have screamed but he might as well have not bothered because even he couldn't hear himself scream. The noise went on and on and on until…
Click. The stillness.
Harry was shaking with shock. When he reached out with his hands he touched freezing concrete. When he reached out with his mind he touched the equally impenetrable wall of <sunonice>'s mind. The Ice Dragon was deep in his thoughts.
And Harry suspected when he came out of them there would be the mother of all arguments. He hoped so. An argument would at least be something. What he feared was to be presented with nothing.
Damn that woman!
In a handful of seconds she'd given <sunonice> all the information he'd never needed. He now knew that he was the son of the wizard he'd killed. He was also not liked by other wizards -- well, he'd probably figured that one out on his own -- and, worst of all, she'd told him he and Harry were enemies.
All their work wasted in a few ignorant sentences.
<sunonice> sighed and began digging at the snow. Harry tried to help but it really was like concrete. The Ice Dragon bared his teeth a little and told him to stay out of the way, so Harry subsided miserably to wait as the compacted snow was shifted by the sharp claws and wiry sinews of the ortho-elemental. <sunonice> didn't bother with magic -- brute strength was enough. It didn't take long until he'd dug them out.
Harry followed and found himself in a new world.
Great slabs of ice lay broken on the hillside below.
There was no sign of the Auror.
<?> asked <sunonice> in disbelief as he picked up on Harry's concern.
Harry shrugged. He couldn't explain. But he remembered how awful it had been when the snow had fallen on him earlier, and how relieved he'd been when <sunonice> had pulled him out.
Anyway, Auror Nora had probably been crushed to death.
He looked up to see <sunonice> eyeing him with a disconcertingly blank gaze. Harry had seen it countless times on Snape.
And Snape... If Harry concentrated he could feel the sharp, obsidian edges of the Potions master's mind. Snape hated Aurors. It was mutual. And Harry remembered the last time he'd been merciful -- Pettigrew had escaped and indirectly led to Cedric's death.
But Harry kept thinking of how he'd felt with the snow crushing him.
<find?> he asked, not expecting any answer.
Again, that blank look. It left Harry colder than his surroundings.
But then the Ice Dragon loped off down the hill, slipping and sliding as he went with his wings out for balance, sending chunks of ice flying as well as scattering snow that flew out like glittering grains of sand. He reached the base of the slope and started digging.
Harry scrambled down after him, tripped, and finished the journey covered in snow. There was a small stinging in his forehead where he'd hit a sharp piece of ice. He brushed at it, ignoring the blood, and crawled over to where <sunonice> had dug out a sizeable pit.
<alive?> Harry asked.
<heartbeat> was the terse reply, surprising Harry. He hadn't expected any answer at all. If anything, the Ice Dragon seemed disgusted with him.
Auror Nora was unconscious by the time they dragged her out. <cold + badair> <sunonice> explained, telling Harry that Nora would have suffocated under the snow before dying from the cold. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated and Harry sensed heat flowing back into the body of the Auror. Somehow the Ice Dragon managed to feed it into her internal organs first rather than from the outside. The why of it was beyond Harry, but he respected the skill.
"If she were warmed abruptly she would go into shock and die," said Snape. His shadow lay blue and the light refracted by all the ice and snow left it jagged, but when Harry turned to look there was no-one there. Now the shadow was gone, too, and although Harry was fairly confident he wasn't possessed he was still a little unsure about this whole nervous breakdown scenario.
He heard Snape snort.
Then the Auror coughed and opened her eyes.
When she saw the Ice Dragon looking at her she went very, very still.
Harry could understand. He was about to step forward and try to explain everything to her when her hand that was still gripping her wand twitched.
The Ice Dragon growled.
Her eyes widened fractionally, but that was the only movement she managed.
<handsonclay→wand> <sunonice> ordered.
Harry didn't question the cold tone. At least <sunonice> was still prepared to talk to him.
When Harry had retreated to what <sunonice> deemed a safe distance the Auror was dropped with a soft plop into the snow.
She was the same age as Professor McGonagall and Harry would have gone to help her up but he was stopped by a slightly louder growl. The spines on the back of <sunonice>'s neck were bristling.
Harry didn't need telepathy to know he was exceptionally angry.
"If you try to do move quickly or do anything suspicious you'll die," he said to the Auror. "You really shouldn't have followed us."
"Do you realise what you're doing?" she asked softly.
"Yes," Harry replied.
"So you know you're a traitor?"
When Harry flinched <sunonice> hissed and rattled his spines.
"If I'm a traitor to a Ministry that prefers to torture and kill rather than understand and work with then I'm not a traitor in the greater sense," Harry replied calmly after a deep breath. He nodded towards the Ice Dragon. "I could have let him leave you to die. You are here on his territory as an aggressor -- he has every right to want you dead."
Out of the corner of his eye he could see the shadow of a tall man standing next to <sunonice>. He could hear the faint susurration of the man whispering to the Ice Dragon.
Harry turned his attention back to Nora. Mad-Eye had spoken well of her. He tried reaching to what Mad-Eye had valued. "I know that you want stability," he said. "You don't want our world --" and as he said that he knew yes, it was his world, too. He was irrevocably a part of it. It was his right and it was his duty and he would never seriously want it to be otherwise "-- you don't want our world to be ripped apart by another threat like Voldemort. Fudge has told you that Ice Dragon blood is needed to ward the Ministry and that the Ministry must be the only place so guarded. He has told you to collect some Ice Dragon blood and then kill the source.
"What he didn't tell you is that if you do this it will be murder."
Nora's eyes were harsh with what she'd seen in her lifetime, but Harry didn't look away. The shadow had moved behind him and was whispering in his ear. The words were indistinct but the force behind them was not.
"Behind me," Harry went on, and as he did he could feel the knowledge Snape was willing into him, "is the last child of the species. You know what happens to a society which tries to better itself on infanticide. It is not worth the crutches it makes from the bones of the babies. This story is older than civilisation and there are many names and many endings you have never heard of. But you know some. Think of Herod. Think of Arthur. Remember the Lore. And ask yourself if the path Fudge has chosen is one you should walk." Harry blinked and hoped his face wasn't giving away his bewilderment. He knew what Herod had done, of course; Harry'd been a shepherd in a school Christmas Nativity play and Herod had been the nasty king who wanted all the babies dead so that he could be sure Jesus would die, too. Arthur? Who was he? Not King Arthur -- he'd been a great hero and would never have... the silken voice whispering in the wind told him that, Yes, Arthur had ordered a slaughter of the innocents and Camelot had fallen.
"I helped defeat Voldemort. It wasn't me who gave him the killing blow, but I was there and I fought him just as I fought him on other occasions. Just as you fought him. Like you, I did it because there were people I cared about who he wanted to hurt. There are so many people I care about still, and so many I haven't met yet who I will care about in the future. For them and everyone else I won't let you or Fudge or anyone else destroy our world."
Nora's eyes narrowed and she sniffed, twitching her long nose. "You nearly had me there, laddo. But that's no baby and it's nowt human."
<sunonice> stepped forward and pressed one claw into her chest. As she looked up into the silvery eyes Nora gasped.
The air grew thick with the images passing between them.
<sunonice> moved back, his tail flicking side-to-side. Nora looked as if she'd just had her world tumble down around her ears.
Perhaps she had.
"You can give me back my wand, Mr Potter," she said hoarsely, still not taking her eyes off <sunonice>'s. "I won't be hurting your friend."
As Harry handed her back her wand, he noticed the first tear trickle down her leathery cheek.
She drew the tip of her wand along the inside of her wrist. "I offer it freely," she said gruffly as the blood began to well up. "This, my blood, the blood of a loyal Auror, I give with all respect to thee."
The whispering shadow had moved back to <sunonice> and the Ice Dragon tilted his head to listen for a moment before dipping a talon into Nora's blood. With a different claw he jabbed at his hide.
A few drops of pale blue blood dripped to the snow, making a little dish with their weight. <sunonice> dabbled the Auror's blood into it.
Nora tapped the rim of the hollow with her wand and spoke the spell. Her voice cracked over the final syllable, but the spell rang true.
It sounded like a silver bell.
Harry gasped as it rippled past him and out of the corner of his eye saw it expand like a shockwave radiating out and over the icescape.
Nora curtsied to the Ice Dragon, who bowed his head and handed her a skein of magic. The Auror took it and, with a complicated wave of her wand, wove it back into her body.
She looked at Harry and opened her mouth to speak, then shook her head and gave him a small nod instead.
To <sunonice> she said, "I'll take tha's message back, lad." With a small pop, she was gone again.
<?> asked Harry.
<sunonice> considered a reply, then shook his head. He raised his forefoot and Harry recognised the signal. It was time to go.
A whisper on the wind sounded like Snape's voice. "How you consistently manage to fall on your feet, Potter, is one of the great injustices of the universe."
Harry must have imagined it because it sounded like Snape giving him a compliment.
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