Judging by the way the sun moved from behind them around to their right, Harry hazarded they had been flying for six hours when they stopped for a break.
<sunonice> was tired and curled up with his nose tucked under a wing while Harry walked around. It was nice to stretch his legs, although <sunonice> had given him specific directions in which not to walk. The ice looked safe from Harry's perspective, a small area of calm ice in the middle of a choppy glacier, but <sunonice> assured him all through the area were crevasses that went hundreds of meters deep. That was partly why he'd chosen to set down on this plain; Harry had been given a rough explanation of the spell Nora and <sunonice> had performed, and it should have provided an anti-Apparition shield specific to Aurors covering most of the Antarctic continent.
Harry was impressed.
<sunonice> wasn't. He didn't trust the Auror not to have snuck in a loop-hole somewhere. Thus the crevasses.
<sunonice> thought the idea of a <sealburpAuror> falling down a crevasse was pretty funny. The idea of <handsonclay> falling down a crevasse was not funny; Harry was under orders not to do anything stupid while <sunonice> rested.
Harry sighed and decided not to say anything that could end up as an argument. <sunonice> had been quiet but with a depth to his silence that implied a hell of a lot of thought going on. As they'd glided down from the highst peak of the mountain range (and Harry had thought they'd rested on a hill top! Snape's echo had told him the ice was so deep even the mountain were almost buried) he'd asked Harry a few questions centring around Helen. Harry, after he stopped concentrating on keeping his breakfast down after the spectacularly swift decent, suspected the Ice Dragon had understood a great deal more of what had gone on at Malfoy Manor than anyone had suspected. He was, for instance, very interested in Helen's recent transformation into a human. Although <sunonice> had kept his own thoughts private, Harry picked up a few glimpses of Hogwarts corridors milling with students, the Forbidden Forest as seen at midnight from the top of the Astronomy Tower, Snape in his office snarling as he marked test papers, Lucius in his office (complete with some brand of tension seeping out of that memory Harry didn't want to know about), and a colourful one of Helen at dinner arguing with Trelawney before decking the professor with dessert -- things that <sunonice> the Ice Dragon couldn't have known. Draco Malfoy, however, would have known them.
Were the barriers between Malfoy and Ice Dragon crumbling? Harry felt something cold down his spine that had nothing to do with Antarctica.
They still hadn't had That Talk.
"Huh?" said Harry, his best reply to the unspecific question. He rubbed his eyes. They were becoming sensitive to the glare of the icefield and the beginnings of a headache was creeping through the back of his skull. Maybe it was the vast space giving him the illusion of being compressed into something utterly insignificant, but he felt suffocated. His eyes watered a little when he took his glasses off and scrubbed at them with the heel of his hand, but it seemed that phoenix tears had their limits. It was probably the sheer exhaustion. After seeing Hermione stress out so many times during exams (oh, and in the three-month build-up to them) Harry knew the signs of a person who was simply worn-out and he knew that he was close to being prostrate with tiredness. Oh well. It was probably just all the stress he'd been through. Dan the counsellor had talked to him about stress headaches. The sooner <sunonice> was home, the sooner Harry could have a rest.
There was a guilty pleasure in thinking forward to a future where he could relax for a change, he reflected as he pulled the last bottle of butterbeer out of Charlie's hold-all. What would it be like not having people out for his blood? Hopefully he wouldn't be back to some equivalent of that dull torturous existence he'd had at the Dursley's... He grimaced as he finished the bottle, wishing it had been plain water. Butterbeer just didn't hit the spot and his tongue felt fuzzy with thirst. He ignored it in favour of more immediate concerns. "Ready to go?" he asked, carefully stringing together a simple mind-picture to match the words.
<sunonice> nodded, silent in voice and mind, and lifted a front foot for Harry to step up on.
It was lucky <sunonice> wasn't in a talkative mood, decided Harry. It was pleasant to lean forward and close his eyes against the harsh light. The illusion of rest was also good. But the excitement building in <sunonice> couldn't stay hidden, and Harry felt his own heart start beating stronger, too, as they neared an unbroken field of white. Harry put his hand over his glasses and squinted through slitted fingers. It helped a little. "Are we there yet?"
<sunonice> didn't answer, but he did change the angle of his wings and they slipped sideways and down into a spiral.
Harry looked again -- the white wedding cake wasn't as perfectly iced as it had first appeared. It looked like someone had dropped a cup on the top and punched a perfect circle into the marzipan.
Ick. Harry hated marzipan and wished he hadn't thought of it -- he was starting to feel ill, now, and couldn't get enough breath.
What if he'd got food poisoning? Those sandwiches of Charlie's might have been too old.
That thought was lost when <sunonice> folded his wings and they plummeted fifty meters down into the hollow. The Ice Dragon spread his wings at the last second. And, with a hollow boom as the translucent wings caught the thin air, the Ice Dragon landed soft as a sparrow on a twig.
Harry slid off and managed to get a few stumbling steps away from the Ice Dragon before he dropped to his knees and threw up.
"'m okay," he muttered, picking up a handful of snow and wiping his mouth. He popped a second handful in and moved it around with his tongue until his teeth ached, then spat it out and coughed. "Bad sandwich."
<sunonice> nosed the back of his neck, but Harry was still trying to get his breath back. When he didn't get up the impatient Ice Dragon trotted off to investigate their new surroundings.
Sheer cliffs of ice rose from the flat-bottomed bowl. They were high enough to completely shadow the floor, but because of all the light bouncing down from the glassy surfaces it was almost as bright as the plateau above. There was no wind and thus no wind chill, but it was freezing. The air, still as a tomb and heavy with cold, skulked at the bottom of the shallow well. It made Harry think of the times he'd had to defrost Aunt Petunia's deep freeze; even after he'd taken all the ice out the cold didn't want to leave the bottom of the freezer.
Strange, though; the air felt heavy to his few square inches of exposed skin but when he inhaled it, it was thin and lacked sustenance.
Harry sat back and breathed as deeply as he could of the frigid air, shaded his eyes, and watched the Ice Dragon. He couldn't help smiling.
<sunonice> gambolled around the arena like an otter. Harry grinned as the Ice Dragon gallumphed past at full gallop, wings clumsily half-spread for balance, kicking up snow.
"Hey," Harry laughed. "At least someone's having a good time today." The laughter caught and he coughed until his lungs gurgled. Merlin, was this place giving him pneumonia now? Did food poisoning ever affect the lungs? Okay, he thought. Let's finish what we started. Then I can get out of here and see Madam Pomfrey.
He was digging in his pocket for the shell when agony nearly split his head open.
Harry dropped, clutching his skull and screaming.
First it was so bad he thought he was dying.
Then it was so bad he wished he was dying.
A dark vortex dragged him down.
Then he had the taste of nectar on his tongue and he was looking past a blurred shadow and up into a blue bowl of sky and wondering if his spirit was flying up into it because it all felt so good and so free.
Was he dead? If so, death was greatly underrated.
A cold draft moving over his face made him realise that his eyeballs were dry and he blinked hard, squeezing tears to wet them again. The world was jiggling around him. That was odd. Avalanche? Harry hoped not. One avalanche a day was his limit. What was even odder was how the wind was whispering so urgently.
And then a pair of talons were trying to put his glasses back over his eyes again. Rather clumsily, unfortunately. Harry reached up instinctively to take his glasses and put them on himself before he had an eye poked out. When the world regained focus he saw that the blurry shadow was the snout of <sunonice>, and the expression in the eyes above it was concerned. The breeze was <sunonice> sniffing at his face and the reason the world was moving was because <sunonice> was holding Harry and lightly shaking him. So, not an avalanche. But he could still taste the nectar.
Harry tried to take a deep breath and grimaced as pain zigzagged up through his chest. "Ouch." His voice was weak and talking started him coughing. "I guess I'm not dead, then."
<?> asked <sunonice>, but to Harry's relief the shaking stopped.
A breeze where there had been none muttered angrily, swirling a small eddy of powder snow around the bowl. <sunonice> twitched an ear to listen to it. The Ice Dragon picked up a pawful of snow and held it over Harry's face.
"Hey!" Harry protested, then realised that the drops falling from the claws were warm and he was really, really thirsty. He drank. When the warm water ran out <sunonice> picked up more snow and melted it for Harry.
"Thanks," said Harry when he'd had enough. Then, "Oh no, what's wrong?" he breathed.
Because the Ice Dragon was crying. A tear rose and then dropped like a diamond, glittering cold fire as it trickled down the Ice Dragon's face. One of the talons that had dribbled water into Harry's mouth now plucked up the tear and dabbed it on Harry's lower lip.
"Are y..." And then he tasted the nectar again and Harry felt it run through his body. It was --
The warmth of a spring sun melting snow from crocuses. The first bluebells. A mountain meadow alive with colour rising through the last of the snow. Water for the thirsty. Food for the starving. Air for one who had been too long underwater. Love for the unwanted.
Healing for any and all.
Harry took his first deep breath, held it, and sighed it out in relief. He had been one of those drowning and he hadn't realised it. Oxygen flooded his system and along with it went the magic of the tear, draining Harry's lungs and bringing life back to suffocated cells.
"What the hell just happened?" Harry asked, too dizzy to properly picture the question for <sunonice>.
<highmountain→sickness> replied <sunonice>.
"Oh... not a hex, then?"
Another tear dripped onto Harry's forehead. It tickled. "I'm sorry," said Harry. "I... I didn't mean to hurt you..."
Harry closed his eyes and tried to picture what he meant in a way <sunonice> could understand.
<!> said the Ice Dragon, and blinked his version of a smile. His thoughts glowed with warmth, pictures and emotions mingling in a kaleidoscope Harry was understanding better and better: <I = happy. handsonclay + sunonice = HERE. HOME. NOWhandsonclayNOTsick → handsonclay = HEALTHY. tearsNOTsad... tears = HAPPY>
Oh, thought Harry, humbled. He was being given tears of joy. And <sunonice> didn't hate him after all. The Ice Dragon had been <!frightened!> when Harry collapsed, and sometimes fear was enlightening. After the fright over losing Snape, <sunonice> didn't want to lose a friend for real. It was much better to share <happiness> with <handsonclay>.
"Thank you," Harry whispered, smiling although the cold air hurt his teeth.
<!> harumphed the ortho-elemental. <handsonclay = idiot>
Harry took exception to that. Wincing a little at the memory, he pictured Batty Nora telling <sunonice> in his human form about how he and Harry had been enemies, and tried to show how worried he'd been that <sunonice> might think they were enemies now.
Another snort from <sunonice>. There was a flood of images that hit Harry in waves:
Meeting Harry and reaching out with his mind to find that Harry was pleased to meet him. Harry urging <sunonice> to fly away from the <sealburpwizards> who tried to cripple him. (And Harry nearly broke into a sweat of relief to find out that <sunonice> had guessed then that Harry wasn't one of those who wanted to hurt him.)
Harry bringing <silkthatcuts> to save him.
(Harry bringing <silkthatcuts>! For that alone <sunonice> would be eternally in Harry's debt!)
<handsonclay + silkthatcuts> healing <sunonice>'s broken wing.
... and then <handsonclay> had forgiven <sunonice> for trying to attack him when the Ice Dragon woke up after the healing. The Ice Dragon regretted that action and although he had already received forgiveness from <silkthatcuts>, he hoped Harry understood how bewildered and frightened he had been.
<handsonclay> making sense of some murky image from a before-time memory that confused <sunonice>; with one handshake turning the whispered, miasmic memory of being a discontented boy on a train into the satisfying one of a friendship forged.
Harry accompanying <sunonice> to the Ice. Harry fighting on <sunonice>'s side against the warders.
Harry choosing to abandon his people for the Ice Dragon. That came through like a shout.
And then Harry relearning to value his species and choosing not to turn his back on them, even after all they had done to him and not done for him. Harry showing compassion to the Auror who tried to drive them apart and would have died.... <sunonice> would have gladly left her to die because he was so angry from the poison she left in his mind, but Harry had asked and <sunonice> decided to give <handsonclay> one last benefit of the doubt.
Harry had expected nothing from the Auror, not even gratitude. She had given <sunonice> many things to think about and now he was pleased he'd rescued her, but the images rushed past that before Harry could find out why <sunonice> was pleased, and the only thing he took from the torrent was that <sunonice> was impressed with Harry's wisdom.
(Me, wise? thought Harry)
On the long flight he had thought about the paradox of fear and loyalty he'd had for the wizard he killed and ate in the dawn of memory. He thought about all <handsonclay> had done. He thought about the difference between friend and enemy, and wondered if <handsonclay> had it in him to deceive.
<maybe=yes/maybe=no...maybe I = gamble...maybe handsonclay = betray... BUT handsonclay = findsilkthatcuts> The message was a little jumbled, but Harry grasped the heart of it: <sunonice> was ready to make the leap of faith and keep his trust in Harry.
<no> replied Harry, shaking his head. <NEVER = betray sunonice> He tried to show <sunonice> his memory of when he'd thought Snape had died in the cold water under the ice, and the promise Snape had asked of him as well as Harry's determination to carry it out -- not just because Snape had asked him, but because Harry cared what happened to <sunonice>. Harry could only hope that the young Ice Dragon had the emotional complexity to understand how Harry had felt at the time, and he opened up his mind to lay bare all the determination to look after <sunonice> he'd felt.
He was rewarded with the lightest touch in his mind.
<I = know>, said <sunonice>. <but handsonclay = human. I = NOT human. Handsonclay → humans at finish>. He sounded sad but resigned to this. Maybe Harry was his friend now, but that could not last. Harry was too different. Oh, well. he would make the most of this odd friendship while it lasted.
Harry resented this. He breathed deep of the still air and shut his eyes, trying to focus everything into the one, clear thought: <I = human. human = person ...sunonice = icedragon. icedragon = person.>
<WE = PEOPLE>
He threw this to <sunonice> as hard as he could and waited for a response.
After a score of seconds deep thought, the Ice Dragon simply dipped his head and nudged Harry's shoulder.
Harry exhaled in relief. Things were alright again. Well, for now, anyway; life was, so he'd heard, a roller-coaster, and this was one of the peaks.
<sunonice> nipped his shoulder lightly. <now = ?>
Ah, the pragmatic side of an Ice Dragon, Harry thought wryly. Time to get on with the job. He picked himself up and dusted the snow off his backside. "Okay, okay," he grumbled as <sunonice> nudged him again, this time forcefully enough to send him staggering sideways. "Here it is... let's hope it still works after everything it's been through."
The Ice Dragon's ears pricked forward and the wedge-shaped head turned from side to side until <sunonice> gave up trying to focus on something so small.
"It's the key," Harry explained. He gripped it lightly. "Now if I can just find the lock..."
<sunonice> trotted over to a section of the ice wall that looked... exactly the same as every other bit. But the ortho seemed to think it was special, and if Harry closed his eyes and stretched his ears he imagined he could hear Snape whispering from somewhere over ... there. When he opened his eyes the only two people were himself and <sunonice>, and the Ice Dragon was watching Harry impatiently.
"Alright, alright." Harry trudged over and put his hands on the wall.
Nothing. Smooth ice that showed him his own face wearing a scowl and -- Harry pushed back the hood of his parka to check -- a complete absence of scarring.
Harry peered closer. He'd thought the earlier ice mirror was a fluke, but while this one didn't have the resolution to show him individual eyelashes, it should have shown that lightning-bolt on his forehead. His as-of-now nonexistent scar.
Wow. What had --?
"Sorry," said Harry. He whipped off his gloves and tucked them in his pocket before putting his hands on the wall, noticing in passing that after a few days of not being picked at his fingers had healed up around the nails. His hands seemed steady, too. Now there was a small victory. He pressed into the wall and tried to sense what was behind it. Nothing. It felt like leaning against a condensation-covered window. He scraped the shell against the ice but it didn't even leave a scratch. He tapped his wand against it. If there was a substance on Earth that was utterly devoid of magic, this seemed to be it. So how had Snape got into it?
"Now what?" he wondered aloud.
<sunonice>'s wings were drooping and his look of dismay was nearly human.
"Look, we'll figure something out, don't give up yet."
Harry closed his eyes and tried to reach out through the bridge of the Ice Dragon's mind to Snape.
When he found him, he found that Snape was just as baffled as Harry. But significantly more angry. He suspected Lucius of coming back and tampering with the ice to make it impermeable to further adventurers.
<sunonice> bared his teeth as he caught Snape's reference to Lucius. <hotwizardblood!> More images followed, but none Harry could understand. There was a rattle of spines as the frustrated ortho shook his head, a brief flare of cold light, and the Ice Dragon became human. Or human-shaped, anyway. The expression on his face was that of a boy who'd just seen his birthday cake fall on the floor.
"Hey," said Harry, and reached out to pat Sunonice's shoulder. "Maybe this just needs a bit of time for us to figure out the way in. Snape couldn't have just walked in, could he?"
Sunonice glared at him. "But he did. And I'm an Ice Dragon -- I came from there. Even if Silk doesn't want to talk about it I know this is where he found me. I should be able to get back." He kicked the wall. "Ow."
"Well, you're not wearing shoes," Harry told him practically. "How come your feet aren't cold?"
"How come you want to keep your feet so warm?" Sunonice sniffed. "Just because I look human doesn't mean I am one. Or want to be one, for that matter. I'm <icedragon>." He threw the image at Harry with a casual ease the best wizard mind-talker couldn't have managed, complete with sneer. But before Harry could get significantly annoyed at this Malfoy-esque behaviour his expression dissolved from haughty to something much younger. "I want to go home."
Harry couldn't think of anything to say to that. Luckily the little breeze (it had slunk off to investigate the arena when Sunonice said he knew what Snape had done) whirled back at that point and whispered something Harry couldn't quite catch.
Sunonice heaved a sigh then began to translate: "Silk remembers it having a darkness so dark you couldn't look at it. He used the magic he has from being part <taniwha>" -- Sunonice wrinkled his nose at that -- "to make a doorway. Then he channelled more energy into the shell to turn it into the key. And then he walked in and found... me. But now it's different for some reason. You should be able to use the shell to get in even though you're not part <taniwha>. Silk wants to... NO!" cried Sunonice. "Don't you dare!"
Sunonice's pale cheeks now had twin spots of pink. "It's Silk -- he wants to come here. I don't think that's a good idea."
"Would that anti-Apparating ward you and the Auror put up stop him?"
"No, that's not it." Sunonice rubbed at his nose as he thought. It was a gesture he seemed to favour in either form. "He was weak with cold, you said. Then he changed into a different shape. I think he had help with that, because I could smell <taniwha> in the air afterwards. I think he'll have trouble changing back. Even if he does turn back into a human, he'll still be cold and I don't know if I can warm him properly. That Auror nearly died, you know. If I let Silk die..." He trailed off, spreading out one hand in distress. "I don't want that," he added simply. He listened for a minute, head cocked to one side, silvery eyes narrowed. "No," he said at last, and folded his arms. "I won't let you."
The wind prowled off to grumble over on the far side of the arena.
But the talk of cold gave Harry an idea. He readied his wand to cast a small heating spell on a patch of the wall. "Thermos."
The spell hit the wall and shattered.
One piece hit him in the eye. "ARRRGH!"
Spell shrapnel ricocheted off the wall, screamed past his ear, bounced off the walls around them and zinged away up into the remains of the ozone layer.
The wall was unmarked.
"Don't do that, Hands," growled Sunonice from where he was lying flat on his stomach.
"Damn," said Harry, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eye.
A splinter of the spell had burned it, and now his eye was watering ferociously as it self-healed. "Nothing." Harry wiped away the tears and leaned up against the wall for a better look, sighing. "I don't think it's ice. Or... not completely ice, anyway."
"Yes. I know." Sunonice was back on his bare feet and brushing at his pseudo-Hogwarts robes.
"You know?!? Why didn't you say?"
Sunonice glared back. "I didn't know your eyes were so feeble."
Harry gritted his teeth. I won't talk about being a better Seeker than him, I won't talk about being a better Seeker than him, I won't talk about... "Well, let's say they are feeble. Could you tell me what you see?"
"Why are you angry?"
"Because I'm doing my best and you keep pointing out that I'm useless!" Harry shouted.
"You're not useless, Hands," Sunonice said kindly. "You... ah... you can... There's lots of things you're good at, I'm sure. I'll get back to you on that one, okay?"
Sunonice gave him an odd look, then chuckled. "This friendship lark's a bit tricky, isn't it?"
Harry laughed, surprised back into good humour. "I guess so. But maybe if it was easy it wouldn't be as valuable."
The Ice Dragon grinned. "Right. What do you want to know?"
Harry had Sunonice describe how he saw the ice wall -- and how it wasn't really ice. There was enough frozen water to hide an entire lost tribe of mammoths, but something about it wasn't ice, which perplexed Harry. Unfortunately Sunonice's words and images reached their limit here. After some frustration the Ice Dragon summed it up as something to do with the frozen water being completely drained of magic. Ice should have given some sustenance to an Ice Dragon but this stuff was slightly less nourishing than the plastic frames of Harry's glasses. Sunonice found it all a bit frightening, and the feeling Harry glimpsed was akin to the itch down the spine at the idea of walking through a graveyard at midnight and finding some of the residents had decided to go for a stroll, too.
Woven through the frozen water were cables of inert anti-spells (here, Sunonice pulled out an old memory of Remus Lupin talking to Harry about anti-spells... "Hey!" exclaimed Harry, who hadn't thought Sunonice could go so deep into his memories without permission), which acted like mirrors and kept any environmental magic from coming in and left the whole place dead, magically speaking. Sunonice was sure he could feel something behind the barrier but he wasn't sure what. When he attempted to show Harry, Harry sensed it as a coiled spring. An angry coiled spring. He squinted at the wall, trying to see what had been described.
That was strange -- there seemed to be a small mark now. Thinking back, Harry remembered it was where his hand had been. Harry rubbed at it until the cold made his fingers ache and then he realised:
It was the tears from his hurting eye that had melted the ice. "Yes!"
<?> "Sorry, I mean, 'huh?'"
"It's my..." Harry stopped, realising as he looked up at the gigantic sheet of ice that no-one could be that upset. Even if he punched himself in the nose really hard his eyes wouldn't water enough to shift those tonnes.
But maybe he didn't have to.
"Let me try something..."
He closed his eyes and tried to visualise Fawkes. The image that came to mind wasn't of the pearly tears the phoenix had cried to save Harry's life after the basilisk had poisoned him; it was of the first time he'd seen the phoenix. Fawkes had been sitting like a mouldy old duster on a perch in Dumbledore's office and then, right in front of Harry's horrified eyes, he'd burst into flame.
And so a phoenix was reborn.
Harry ignored the whispers in his ears that sounded like Snape telling him not to do something stupid, grabbed the memory of Fawkes' Burning Day and put it firmly in his mind, letting it blaze and burn and renew.
Without knowing why he was doing it, Harry placed his hands flat on the ice. It didn't hurt any more, because now he understood that it wasn't ice. It was a prison. Its bars were the substance of cold without the essence. And the essence of all the elements, as Harry had had drummed into him in every class at Hogwarts, was magic. This ice was aching for something to bring it back into line with the rest of the world -- and although Water Magic was denied by the ancient anti-spells, the ice-that-wasn't-ice didn't care what Element was used. Even a taniwha's magic had worked, once.
Harry leaned into it and thought of Fire.
There was the sound of phoenix song, and Harry blazed.
The wall turned to flame. The ancient anti-spells to bind ortho-elementals spun within their disguise of ice and screamed as the phoenix fire seared through their cords. One by one they began to snap. They writhed as Fire ripped through them and lashed out at Harry, tangling around his neck. They wrapped tight and would have choked him, but there was a flash of white light as <sunonice> moved back into his native form and then the Ice Dragon bit through the cables. Whatever substance made them up, it wasn't strong enough to withstand the sharp teeth.
Dimly, Harry could hear the Ice Dragon's rumbling growl, but now that he could breathe again he kept his attention focussed on pouring Fire into the frozen water.
This time it turned Harry's strength against him. It fought back with steam.
A jet of it knocked Harry's glasses off and he screamed as the skin just next to his eye was scorched.
Then Ice from <sunonice> cooled the burn before it could blister and Harry's own tears of pain smoothed the hurt away. <sunonice> threw all the cold from the freezing polar air into the steam and sunk his talons deep into the melting wall. For the first time Harry found himself completely attuned to the alien mind, and through it he saw the mesh of anti-spells. He paused in his battle, awed. It was huge. Vast. Masters of the craft had set this prison up and it was designed to last for Eternity... Nothing short of the ice caps melting would break the walls down. Wizard and Ice Dragon faltered as they saw the massive complexity they were fighting. The moving complexity baffled them and left them wondering how they could ever destroy this monstrosity.
Then a third mind joined them.
Yes, thought Harry, peering closer so he, too, saw what Snape was showing them. The spells weren't a simple tangled mass as he and <sunonice> had thought; there was a pattern which deflected their magics and protected the integrity of the anti-spells. But what Snape/ could see was the tiny flaw in that pattern. It was an almost microscopic chip where a cluster of anti-spells joined in a Gordian knot: one anti-spell was of an opposite polarity. Harry would never have seen it; Sunonice would never have understood it, but Snape knew what he was looking for and found it in the faintest uncertain flicker where there should have been slick lines of anti-spell cables.
<YES!> exulted <sunonice>. <we = see!>
The pair, boy wizard and Ice Dragon, shifted their focus. They couldn't help picking up on Snape's suppositions as the breeze whirled around them. Lucius -- his style was easy to see here if you knew what to look for -- had tried to close the door to Snape but the elder Malfoy hadn't done a perfect job. No-one could have. The wall had been created perfect and any alteration other than by an elemental creature like a taniwha could only result in an imperfection.
And that imperfection would be their way in. Thank you, Lucius, Harry thought with what little humour he could spare. Harry held the shell ready and, in the moment when the combined Fire and Ice blasted a small hole through to the weakness, he slipped the shell into place.
The anti-spells screamed and tried to shrink back from it but were blocked by their fellows.
When the first anti-spell touched the shell Fire and Ice rippled out in concentric waves.
<sunonice> growled again, this time in delight as he showed <handsonclay & silkthatcuts> how the cables shuddered around the shell like eels in a fire. He flicked a question at <silkthatcuts>
Yes, came the whispered answer.
The young Ice Dragon clawed out the tangle of anti-spells and, with a wince and a muttered <sealburp> at the taste, bit through them.
Harry's eye's widened. Even without his glasses (and without enhanced Ice Dragon sight) he could see the cables as they shot in blue and green streaks around the glassy walls like snapped elastic. The walls unravelled before his eyes. He nearly gave himself whiplash trying to follow the collapsing anti-spells, but they all came back to the point right in front of him.
The shell sucked them up and crumbled into dust.
And magic that had been waiting for hundreds of years for this moment slid out of the surrounding ice of Antarctica and into the vacuum of unnaturally frozen water, turning it back into ice.
Harry let out his breath in a long sigh. "Now is -?"
He didn't have time to finish the sentence. Cracks raced up the walls on long spidery legs. The ice groaned and popped. <sunonice>, who had been gagging and using snow to wipe the taste of the anti-spells off his tongue, grabbed Harry and pulled him back into the lee of his body.
With a roar, the wall trembled and shattered. Harry threw up his arms to protect his head. <sunonice>'s head was tucked in next to him and the Ice Dragon held his wings bunched over them. Harry felt him wince every time a chunk of ice dropped on them, but he couldn't hear what was happening over the noise.
The noise stopped. But it left behind the certainty that something had come back into the world. Carefully, inch by inch, <sunonice> lowered his wings and took a look at the reshaped world.
By the young ortho's excitement, something was very different. Harry would have liked to have seen it, too, but his knees were shaking so badly he collapsed in the debris at <sunonice>'s feet. After a few seconds while he tried to stop his head from swimming, Harry looked up to see what <sunonice> was so fascinated by. At first he thought it was a sea of rainbows. Then <sunonice> shoved his glasses at him and Harry put them on and took a second look.
All around him Ice Dragons were stretching and spreading their wings.
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