Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, it's characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.
The Mirror of Maybe
Chapter Six - Draco
By Midnight Blue
While Ron and Hermione were pursuing their investigation, Harry himself was busy trying to find time to go out and acquire the various creatures he would need for his classes. Some lessons, of course, were straight defence against hexes and curses, but the ones that required a bit of preparation seemed to be chewing up all his spare time -- which was time he would much rather spend trying to 'acquire' Severus Snape.
It was nearly the end of his first week as a Hogwarts teacher, and Harry felt as though he was settling into the routine fairly well. He still continued to sit next to Sev' whenever he had the opportunity, and although it was obvious that the potions master had finally caught onto this ploy, the other man still hadn't said anything. Harry rather suspected that Sev' was waiting for the other shoe to drop, at which point he would suddenly discover the nefarious scheme 'Ash' was working on that would humiliate, embarrass, or otherwise annoy him.
//Or,// Harry silently laughed, //he already *has* some idea of my nefarious scheme -- even if he *hasn't* admitted it to himself -- and he doesn't want to give me the opportunity to mention it!//
Harry also suspected that occasionally one of the students had caught him watching Severus out of the corner of his eye, but again, nobody said anything, so he ignored it and continued to watch and wait.
Harry was quietly doing some of that 'waiting' by himself in the library, later that same afternoon. He was pretending to research something, but was really trying to decide how to talk Severus into agreeing to have dinner with him. It was then that he overheard a *very* interesting conversation...
"Tomorrow night?" a boy's voice said quietly from behind one of the freestanding bookshelves. "Are you *sure*?"
"Of course I'm sure," came another low voice -- possibly a girl's. "He told me this morning.
"Lucky bugger," the first voice replied. "Only sixteen and the Dark Lord's already picked him for a Death Eater." Harry could practically feel his ears growing larger at the mention of Voldemort and his followers. "Come Monday, *we'll* still be sitting here, going to boring classes and saying 'yes, sir' and 'no ma'am' to all the stupid old farts running this place -- and *he'll* be out *there* -- as one of *them*!"
"Yeah," the second voice sighed, "but hey -- they aren't *all* boring old farts. That War Mage seems to be pretty powerful -- just look at all the stuff he can do -- *and* without a wand! I *love* how he killed that monster that first night -- that was so *awesome*."
"Are you nuts?!" the first voice whispered harshly, "You'd have to be *mad* to want anything to do with *him* -- he's dangerous, and he's *not* one of *us*!"
"How do *you* know? Maybe the Dark Lord just hasn't had the opportunity to ask him! He was swamped with reporters and rubberneckers when he first turned up -- and *now* we've got those damned Aurors and whoever else infesting the school -- all panicking 'cause their precious 'Boy Who Lived' did a runner on them."
"Do you really think he ran off?" the first voice asked curiously.
"Nah -- well, maybe." the second replied. "But I know the Dark Lord hasn't got him."
"*How* do you know that?"
"My dad," the second voice assured him, "*He* says he would have heard by now if our Lord had got hold of Potter."
The boy's voice grated out, "My dad doesn't tell me *anything* -- he says I'm not old enough -- that I haven't earned the right to know things yet." There was a pause. "Dammit! I wish it was *me* going tomorrow night."
"You and me both," the second voice came back, "*He'll* have *respect* -- people will be afraid of him! He won't be just some kid in school anymore..."
"I wish it was me," the first voice repeated, "*then* my old man would sit up and take notice!"
"Yeah," the second voice agreed "Draco sure is a lucky bastard."
Rushing up to the owlery, Ron and Hermione arrived to find Hagrid standing in the middle of the room with Hedwig on his arm.
"Hagrid!" Ron cried, "That's *Harry's* owl!"
"Oh, 'ello Ron -- Hermione," Hagrid gently reached up to stroke the top of Hedwig's feathered head. "And yeah, I know it's his owl -- he sent her t' Dumbledore jus' after he disappeared. Sometimes I come up to see her -- y'know, jus' t' pet her f'r a bit"
"*After* he disappeared?" Hermione repeated, "Then she might know where he *is*!"
"'Fraid not," Hagrid said, shaking his head sadly, "Dumbledore already thought 'o that -- and the only place she knows to go, is a street half way between the railway station and the Dursley's place. He reckons that's where Harry sent her off -- and he says Harry's definitely not *there* anymore -- says he was most likely gone only a couple 'o minutes after she flew off."
Ron and Hermione both looked so defeated and depressed by this news that Hagrid's heart went out to them and he gently added, "Here now, don't worry so much -- Harry's fine! Didn't Dumbledore say so? *He* wouldn't lie to yer!"
"But how would he *know*?!" came Ron's anguished demand.
"'Cause I told 'im so this mornin'," Hagrid unthinkingly replied. Then as the two students gaped at him, he added, "Oh dear -- I wasn't s'posed to tell you that!"
After which, of course, neither Ron nor Hermione was going to let him out of the owlery until they had the full story.
"But you won't tell anyone else, will yeh?" Hagrid asked with a worried look. "Dumbledore said I wasn't s'posed to tell anyone -- 'though I guess it's all right if it's just you two -- bein' Harry's best friends 'n all."
After solemnly swearing on their wizarding honour, that they'd never tell another soul -- living *or* dead -- Hagrid reluctantly told them about Harry's last visit, and the Heart Magic, and how they could each sense what the other one was feeling when they thought about each other. Hagrid also told them how Dumbledore had instructed him to keep a regular check -- morning and night -- just to make sure Harry was all right, but not enough to interfere in whatever he was doing throughout the day.
Eventually, after more faithful promises from Ron and Hermione that they would never reveal a word of their conversation, Hagrid returned Hedwig to her perch and left the owlery.
For their part, the two Gryffindors continued to stand there -- still somewhat stunned by all they had learned. Turning to Hermione, Ron carefully asked, "Hermione? He... Harry... he did it on purpose, didn't he?"
Looking back at him, Hermione just as carefully replied, "Yes -- I think we've established that beyond the shadow of a doubt."
"Son-of-a-bitch!" Ron suddenly yelled, scaring all the owls into wakeful hooting and feather rustling. "Why didn't he *tell* us?!" Ron demanded, "He *knew*! He *knew* he was leaving -- that *whole* last day -- *and* on the train! He *knew*, Hermione!"
"I *heard* you the *first* time, Ron!" she yelled back at him. "But maybe he *couldn't* tell us! Maybe it was something he *had* to keep secret! Maybe he had a *reason*!"
"Like what?" Ron sulked, folding his arms over his chest. "What could possibly be *so* secret that he couldn't tell *us*? We're his *best* friends -- or at least I *thought* we were!"
"I don't know," Hermione replied, hearing the hurt in Ron voice, and feeling an echo of it in her own chest. "But when we find him -- you can bet we're going to ask him!"
Ron looked at her in surprise. "Find him?" he asked, "You know how?"
"Not yet," Hermione said with a determined look, "but I'm *going* to!" and then she grinned at Ron with her 'I'm-very-clever-and-I'm-about-to-prove-it' look.
"So," she said in a casual tone, "how much do you know about Heart Magic?"
Ron groaned and clapped his hands over his eyes. "The library?" he whimpered.
"The library!" she agreed.
The first Friday of the school year arrived, and that night Harry found himself waiting outside the Slytherin dormitory for Draco to put in an appearance.
Harry was well hidden under his father's invisibility cloak, and determined to... well... to do *something* about preventing Draco's life from turning out the way it had in the mirror. The problem was, he wasn't certain what he *should* do.
It was *way* too soon for Draco to be inducted into the ranks of Voldemort's followers. This hadn't happened in the mirror until at least a year to eighteen months *after* Draco had graduated, and while Harry had never known the exact date, it *still* should have been at least another two or three *years* away.
Somehow, Harry's presence -- or absence, perhaps -- had changed more things than he'd intended.
But that was a worry for another time, because right now Harry's immediate question was whether he should simply stop Draco from leaving. On the surface, it was a simple answer, but in reality, stopping him would only mean that he would try again some other night -- and Harry couldn't watch him every second.
//Perhaps,// Harry thought, //I should kill the Death Eater who turns up to collect him.// That *might* scare the youngster into realising that becoming a Death Eater would not automatically make him a big bad wizard who could do whatever he wanted. But Harry knew that fear was a poor motivator for someone like Draco Malfoy -- and although killing was sometimes necessary, Harry personally tried to avoid it whenever he could.
And so, he stood in the hallway -- debating with himself over what to do -- and hampered by the uncertainty of not knowing what the best course of action might be.
Then, the portrait guarding the Slytherin dormitory swung open, and a dark figure stepped out into the corridor. Silently, Draco Malfoy headed off -- intent on becoming the first of a new generation of Death Eaters.
Once outside, Harry realised that Draco was heading for the lake, and also for the boundary of the school's defences, which was on the other side. There were currently no boats on the water as there had been when the first-years arrived, but anyone could walk around the lake's edge -- it would simply take longer to get to the other side.
Thus, since all students were required to stow their personal brooms under lock and key with Madam Hooch, Draco was obviously going to walk.
And Harry was going to follow.
Eventually, as the two of them neared the edge of Hogwart's protection, Harry could dimly make out three figures waiting under the trees a short distance away.
"You're late," the middle one said as Draco drew near.
All three of them wore the traditional Death Eater mask, but Harry recognised the middle one's voice, and swore silently to himself.
"My apologies, sir," Draco answered, "It's a long walk." He offered no other explanation, and the two Death Eaters on either side of the one who had spoken, stepped forward and scanned the surrounding area.
"Nothing, sir," one of them reported. Then the other one reported the same finding.
"Dammit!" the middle one swore, then he grabbed Draco by the collar and pulled him close, "Were you followed, boy?"
"N--no, sir!" Draco answered, "Nobody followed me -- I was careful!"
"You idiot!" the man raged, "You were *supposed* to be followed!"
"What?" Draco said in surprise. "By who?"
"By the War Mage, fool! We deliberately instructed two of the other children to make sure he knew of this meeting!"
Harry had half suspected that this might be the case. Two students sneaking around behind bookcases -- and holding *that* kind of conversation in the *library* -- where sound carried in the quiet rooms? It hadn't made sense -- unless they had *wanted* him to hear them.
Perhaps -- if Harry didn't show himself -- the three men would simply send Draco back to the school. That would solve all his dilemmas. Otherwise... Harry was grimly aware that if he became involved in a fight with these men, he would have to kill at least one of them before he let the other two get away.
If it turned nasty, the Death Eaters would undoubtedly report back to Voldemort on his apparent level of skill, and while Harry could easily fake being less adept than he really was -- it would not be convincing if *none* of them died. A single death would be the *least* he could get away with -- and at that, Voldemort would probably still be suspicious.
Draco was still staring at the man who was hanging onto his collar. "You... you mean," he stammered, "the Dark Lord doesn't... doesn't *want* me in his service?"
"Don't be an idiot, boy," the leader sneered, "You were *born* to serve him -- it's simply a matter of timing. *Children* are of no use to Voldemort."
Draco swallowed -- his pride obviously wounded to the core.
Then the man on the right asked, "Should we take him anyway? Our Lord said to pick him up."
The central figure backhanded the other man across the face. "Of course we do, you moron -- we *always* do what the Dark Lord commands."
//Bugger,// Harry thought. //This just got a whole lot more complicated.// and then he let his invisibility cloak fall from his shoulders, and swept it up into an inside pocket in the lining of his battle robes. The light material compacted down to a small bulge that would not unduly slow him down.
"You wanted to see me?" he calmly asked.
There was a startled oath from the man on the left, and Draco jumped about a foot in the air.
"Ah," came the satisfied sound of the man in charge -- who still had a grip on Draco's collar. "War Mage." he said. "I'm so pleased we could finally meet, away from all the prying eyes."
"The pleasure's all yours," Harry noted, while executing a mocking little half-bow. He very carefully didn't take his eyes off any of them.
"Come, come," the man said as he stepped in front of Draco, "There's no need to be rude -- after all, we're all on the same side."
"And what side would that be?" Harry enquired politely.
"Why the side of war!" the man said. "Surely, you would relish the opportunity to test your abilities in the setting for which you were trained! Lord Voldemort would be more than willing to provide you with a nice little war somewhere -- and perhaps a larger one later -- that would let you practice your skills to their fullest extent!"
Harry briefly toyed with the idea of playing the role of spy -- even as Severus did -- but he could *not* let Voldemort attempt to Mark him, and he was not yet ready to confront the evil wizard on his home ground. And besides... Harry knew he just wasn't *that* good at acting.
So instead, he let his lip curl in disgust, as he deliberately replied, "Only idiots who have never *been* in a war would ever want to start one. You people have *no* idea of what a War Mage is."
"Then," and the man's entire demeanour changed, "Perhaps we could come to some *other* arrangement. You appear to enjoy teaching -- perhaps some after-hours tuition?"
Harry snorted, "You can go crawling back to your 'master', and tell that diseased piece of garbage that the day I teach him *anything*, it will be one easy lesson on dying!"
The man straightened. "A pity," he said. "Our Lord would have enjoyed learning wandless magic." Then he turned to the two men beside him, and said, "Kill him."
The attack was short and to the point. Harry automatically dropped into quick-time, and easily took care of the two lackeys. One of them he killed -- deliberately, and with pain in his heart for the stupid loss of life -- but he had no choice, if this confrontation was to work out the way he needed it to.
Then he had a bad moment when the man in charge threw Draco into the mix -- *literally* throwing the confused teenager in front of a curse. Quick-time did nothing to speed up Harry's physical reactions -- so he could only watch as the curse struck a glancing blow, and Draco fell to one side, twitching and screaming as if he'd been skewered with a thousand needles.
But right now, Harry couldn't spare the attention to help him.
While the second lackey -- crippled and bleeding -- staggered off towards the trees, the third and most dangerous one -- the leader -- entered the fray. They traded curses back and forth -- it was almost a ritualised duel -- until finally Harry allowed a slightly less potent curse to slip by him and land a heavy blow on his side. He grunted, feeling the pain zipping up his torso and down his wand arm. Then, he deliberately dropped his wand, as if the pain wouldn't allow him to hang onto it anymore.
//Damn,// he thought as he waited for the last man to move in for the kill, //If this is what it feels like when you *fake* incompetence -- I hope I never know what the *real* thing feels like!// It was a thought laced with black humour, but Harry currently had little else to do in the stretched quick-time, while he impatiently waited for the Death Eater to move closer.
Keeping careful watch as the last man finally stepped towards him, Harry waited until the other man's wand arm slowly came up, then quickly drew his revolver and fired. Little more than twelve feet apart, it was still debateable whether he would actually *hit* what he was aiming for -- especially since he was *not* aiming for the chest or the head. Harry could not *afford* to kill this man -- at least not yet. If he did, he might well lose Draco to Voldemort forever.
But luck was on his side, and the first shot caused the man to scream in pain. Harry had managed to hit him in the leg -- and while a .45 at *that* range would probably have blown the leg clean off if he'd hit it square-on -- Harry realised that he had somehow managed to do enough damage to deter his assailant, but not so much that it would be fatal or permanently crippling.
The other man grunted through his clenched teeth, and Harry gave the guy marks for being a tough son-of-a-bitch. "You're going to bleed to death," he ground out around his own pain, "unless you have that looked at *very* soon." Then Harry fell to his knees, and grabbed up his wand, aiming both it *and* the gun at the other man. "I can still defend myself," he growled, "and all I've gotta do is *wait* -- then you'll pass out, and I win."
Confronted by the ugly truth, the other man turned, and staggered off into the darkness, following after his one surviving lackey. The other Death Eater -- now a formless dead lump on the ground -- was no longer a threat to anyone.
Still in pain, Harry staggered over to Draco, and used his wand to cast a pain-relieving spell on the young man. It wouldn't cancel out *all* the pain, but it would help until the curse could be cured or reversed. Then, with some relief, he did the same for himself.
Then Harry mentally reviewed his situation.
There was no way he was going to make it back to the school if he walked -- especially not carrying a semi-conscious Draco -- so while Harry sat watch over the twitching teenager, he also called out "Accio Skyfire!" into the cloud-covered heavens. A few minutes later, his new broom came swooping in out of the darkness.
//It's a damn shame,// Harry thought wearily, //that my first ride on it turned out like this.//
Albus was waiting for them at the entrance to the school.
That didn't surprise Harry, since several of the spells guarding Hogwarts had been cast by the old man personally, and the Headmaster would've been awoken when the curses and hexes from the fight started to register on the school's defence network.
Standing there in the light of the school torches, Albus was a sight for sore eyes in his nightgown and cap, with his wand in hand, looking worriedly out over the lake. But Harry *really* blessed his old friend when he saw Madam Pomfrey standing behind him, looking equally concerned as she tried to make out who was coming in, while staring out over Albus' shoulder.
Harry descended for a rough landing, but managed not to fall over or drop Draco on the ground.
"Good Heavens!" Madam Pomfrey cried as she rushed down the steps, "What's happened?!"
"He's been hit with a curse," and Harry rattled off it's name, "but it was only a glancing blow," he added, "and I've already cast 'Minime Poena' on him for the pain.
"On both of you, I would hope!" Albus said, as he grabbed Harry's elbow. The Headmaster could plainly see the way Harry's face paled as he staggered away from the broom.
"You're hurt as well?! Lie down immediately!" Poppy commanded as she created a second stretcher. With relief, Harry did just that. Experience had taught him to just go along with whatever Poppy wanted when he was first wounded -- it avoided more pain, and he invariably got better more quickly.
It was only *after* he had begun to heal that he usually descended to the level Poppy described as 'making-it-worse-while-pretending-it's-better'.
Secure in Poppy's care, Harry let himself drift. He vaguely noted the presence of several other voices as he was levitated through the corridors on a haze of hurt. There were questions and exclamations in the background, and Harry suspected that more than one teacher had been pulled from their bed by the sound of Albus pounding on Poppy's door and running down the corridors. Severus, of course -- off in his isolated rooms -- would have to find out all about it tomorrow.
Suddenly, someone was shaking him and asking something. Something about a curse... Belatedly, Harry realised that he hadn't told Poppy which curse had been used on *him*. He got his mouth working, and tried to pronounce its name. Poppy repeated it back, and whatever she said sounded about right to him. He made a noise that he hoped was agreement.
Then he let himself drift away.
When Harry awoke, it was morning.
He was relieved to discover that he was pain-free and still wearing his battle robes. He hadn't yet given Poppy the spells for safely removing his weapons, and he silently offered up thanks that *someone* had prevented her from trying it.
Harry was also awake in plenty of time for Hagrid's morning check-in, *and* -- a truly *amazing* bit of luck -- the makeup on his scar still seemed to be in place. Realistically, he couldn't ask for more than that -- especially considering the night before.
Sitting up, he swung his legs off the bed and noted that Draco was asleep in the next bed across from him.
//Good,// he thought grimly, //He's not leaving my sight until we have a little 'chat' about last night.//
Once Poppy had assured herself that Ash was fine, and not suffering any after-effects, she was content to let him spend his Saturday morning waiting for Draco to wake up.
Albus came by shortly thereafter, asking for a full account of what happened.
Harry told him that he'd been unable to sleep last night, and happened be wandering by when he'd seen Draco sneaking out of the school. He'd then followed the student -- intent to sending him straight back to bed. However, Harry had then been confronted by three Death Eaters, who'd apparently cast a spell on the boy to lure him out of the school and then kidnap him. After that, there'd been a fight where he'd killed one Death Eater, wounded two others, and Draco had been injured. Then, Harry had then summoned his broom and got them both safely back to the castle.
"Mmmm," Albus said as he stroked his beard and listened to the end of the tale. "Strange," he commented, "how Death Eaters were able to cast a spell on a student through all the defensive spells at the school -- *and* from the other side of the lake."
"Perhaps a review of castle security is in order," Harry blandly suggested.
"Mmmm," Albus repeated. "Also amazing how you didn't manage to catch up with the boy until you were all the way around the lake."
"It was dark," Harry offered with a grin. "-- quite difficult to see where he was, you know."
"Mmmm," Albus agreed for a third time. By now he had a slight smile on his face. "Well," he added, "since the poor boy was obviously under the control of Dark wizards, I suppose he won't even get detention for being out of bed."
"It wouldn't be fair, really," Harry agreed -- smiling broadly, "Although -- for his own safety -- I think it would be best if he stayed with me for a while."
Albus nodded. "Yes, yes," he agreed, "an excellent idea." And with that, he went off to be interrogated by all the other teachers, who would descend upon him as soon as he left the protection of Poppy's medical sanctuary.
Harry and Albus understood each other perfectly.
Harry had pretty much admitted that Draco had been involved in something stupid last night, but he'd also let Dumbledore know that he thought it would be better to deal with the boy himself. In return, Albus had let him know that *he* understood Ash wasn't being entirely truthful, and that he also acknowledged that Ash wasn't trying very hard to hide that fact that he was bending the truth. By leaving Draco in his care, Albus then let Harry know that he was willing to let Ash deal with the problem -- at least until he had a reason not to.
It was quite a leap of faith that Albus was offering to a new teacher with no background.
Harry wondered whether Albus had seen through his disguise.
Then a tired voice floated across to him from the next bed: "Why did you do that?" Draco asked.
"Do what?" he automatically replied.
"Lie so that I wouldn't get into trouble."
"Because I think you're already in enough trouble Draco Malfoy -- and I think we need to talk before the issue gets confused by any more busybodies."
Draco sneered weakly, "Oh, please," he said in an empty voice, "Spare me the moral sermon -- I've heard it all before."
Harry barked a short, derisive laugh, "Any moralising from *me* would be hypocritical in the extreme!"
Draco eyed him suspiciously.
"Tell me," Harry said in a low voice, as he leaned forwards, "what do you think a War Mage *is*, Draco? -- and do you *really* think there's a curse anywhere in the world that I *haven't* used?"
Draco -- watching the War Mage's intense expression -- swallowed convulsively, and whispered, "I... I don't know." Then more strongly, he asked, "Is there?"
"Probably," Harry said straightening up, "but not in any language *you'll* ever speak." and then he went to find Poppy so that he could get his young charge out of the hospital wing and off to his own quarters, where they could talk in private.
Half an hour later -- after Harry had managed to get them both into his apartment without being accosted by more than one or two busybodies -- Harry settled back into one of his beaten up old armchairs and watched as Draco finished the last of his breakfast.
Dobby -- who was firmly convinced that Draco had suffered terribly from his near-kidnapping -- had laid on a top-notch hot meal, and both Harry and Draco had taken full advantage of it. Draco apparently felt very comfortable in Harry's living room, surrounded by the school's odds and ends -- and even went so far as to ask about the funny little lights on the floor. Thus, he was the first person at Hogwarts to discover that Ash had lived among the Elves for a time -- and that those kind of lights were a standard fixture in virtually every Elven home.
But eventually, Draco finished eating and sighed as he leaned back into his own beaten-up old chair. "All right," said, "get it over with."
Harry eyed him with amusement. "You're so sure I'm going to lecture you on the evils of Dark Magic, aren't you?"
Draco considered Ash's words, and then gave a short, sharp nod.
"Well," Harry said, "you're wrong." Then he leaned forward in his seat, and added, "What I actually want to talk to you about is growing up."
Draco looked confused, then annoyed. "You're not going to drone on about waiting for everything until I'm *old* enough are you?"
Harry snorted. "Being 'old enough' is bullshit," he said bluntly.
Draco looked surprised.
"There are only two things that determine whether you're old enough to do something -- whether you *understand* what the hell you're getting yourself into -- and whether you're willing to accept *responsibility* for it if it blows up in your face."
Then Harry added, "How many years you've been alive is ultimately meaningless -- except in as much as it gives human parents a general sort of idea as to whether their child is *likely* to understand what they're getting themselves into. Small children, for instance, can't really comprehend shades of grey -- where a decision or choice can have different answers depending on the circumstances. For them, everything is black and white."
"Yes!" Draco said excitedly, "That's it *exactly*!" Then he continued as if a dam had burst free inside him. "Take the Gryffindors!" he exclaimed, "They all think everything is either good or bad -- there's no in-between with them! -- and they think *everything* in Slytherin is *bad* or evil! But it's not!"
"No," Harry agreed, "Slytherin is not evil -- it's *necessary*."
"Yes!" Draco agreed, "It's like death -- like surgery, or like... like..."
"Like war," Harry added quietly.
Sobered by Ash's tone, Draco said, "Yes -- like war. Without it, some advances might *never* have been made. We wouldn't have new medical spells -- the great leaps of understanding magical theory -- all kinds of advances came about because of war -- but all anyone ever goes on about is how *awful* it is -- never anything about the *good* that comes out of it!"
"And what about the thousands who died?" Harry asked -- probing carefully into the extent of Draco's understanding. "What about all the pain and suffering?"
"What -- and that wouldn't have happened without war?" Draco scoffed, "What about over-population, famine, disease? People would still have died -- and maybe even *more* of them would be dead. How can we *know* that war isn't a better way?"
Harry nodded. "It's all balanced," he said calmly, "You can't have happiness without sorrow -- pleasure without pain -- Gryffindor without Slytherin."
Draco looked startled at Harry last comparison. "I... I never thought about Gryffindor like that..." he said slowly.
Harry smiled, "Then think of this -- what House you're sorted into generally defines you strengths, right? -- whether you're courageous, persistent, loyal, ...whatever." Cautiously, Draco nodded. "Well then, turn that statement around, and what do you get?" The young Slytherin looked confused. After a few moments to let him think about it, Harry declared, "You get an indication of their *weaknesses*." And then he sat back waited for Draco to catch on.
It didn't take the young Slytherin long. "Hufflepuff," the pale-haired boy breathed, "and their much vaunted patience -- sometimes they can wait too long! -- miss their opportunities!"
"Mmm," Harry agreed, pleased with his student's progress, "and Ravenclaw?"
"Too smart," Draco answered promptly, "Sometimes it makes them arrogant -- give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves on their own cleverness! Simple things are sometimes best!"
"Gryffindor," Harry prompted, "and be wary of your prejudices."
Draco took the warning to heart, and carefully considered his words. "Brave," he muttered, "but... but sometimes foolhardy -- they... they sometimes do things no *sane* person should attempt."
"And sometimes insanity is your only hope," Harry offered mildly. "Now -- Slytherin."
Draco didn't need the warning about prejudice for that one. He bit his lip while he thought it over. "Umm... cunning... sneaky," he murmured. He was obviously trying, but Draco was so very much a part of his own House that Harry decided to help him a little.
"Think of the Gryffindors," he suggested, "They are like the light to your darkness. What do they have -- what *are* they that Slytherins are not?"
"Courageous?" Draco hesitantly asked, then angrily dismissed it. "No," he growled, "I'm no coward!"
"Aren't you?" Harry asked.
"What?!" Draco exclaimed, then angrily demanded, "Say what you mean! Are you calling me a coward?!"
"I'm not calling you anything," Harry calmly replied. "What you are is for *you* to determine, *if* you have the guts to stand up and make the choice."
"What choice?" Draco asked.
"The choice about whether to be an adult or to remain as you are now -- a child."
"I'm *not* a child!" Draco shouted, "I thought you *understood*!"
"Far more than *you* apparently do!" Harry shouted back at him.
Shocked by the sudden burst of volume, Draco's mouth snapped shut as he stared at the teacher whom he suddenly felt didn't understand him at all -- and yet who somehow understood far more than anyone else ever had.
He almost felt like crying.
"Draco," Harry said after few moments, "I actually meant for you to realise that Slytherin cunning -- when pushed too far -- prevents people from trusting you. Most people instinctively trust Gryffindors, and you almost never find a Gryffindor without friends -- and *loyal* friends at that. But people *don't* tend to trust Slytherins -- no matter whether they're truly *worthy* of that trust, or not. It was *you* who came up with the issue of cowardice."
"But since you did," Harry continued, "I'm going to tell you about another young man I used to know -- someone who was a few years older than you when he died, but who was otherwise very similar."
Harry sighed, "He was from a good background -- well-to-do family -- friends -- a happy childhood. But like you, he was destined for the Darker side of magic," and Harry glanced over at Draco as he said this, and saw the surprise in the young man's eyes. "Yes," Harry smiled, "I know what you are -- what we *both* are, actually," and again Draco was surprised, "But, Draco -- a Dark wizard is not necessarily an evil wizard!" Harry finished. Then he added, "And in *my* case, it's not even *all* I am, since I'm a Light wizard too."
"How can you be *both*?!" Draco blurted.
"It's complicated," Harry answered shortly, "and not relevant to the story at hand." Then Harry looked back at the empty fireplace, "So -- this young man who was so like you -- well... he and I didn't get along," and Harry laughed suddenly. "Actually," he admitted, "we absolutely *despised* each other!"
Harry paused for a bit, reminiscing over the stupidity of his old hatred for the Slytherin sitting across from him. "Anyway," he continued, "we both grew up, and went our separate ways -- both knowing that one day we'd meet again -- and that when we did, one of us would die."
Cautiously, Draco commented, "You're, uh... still here..."
"Yes," Harry agreed, "and he died -- but *I* wasn't the cause of his death -- even though it was my hand that killed him."
Once more, Draco felt like he'd lost track of the conversation somewhere.
"You see," Harry said, "he was a *lot* like you -- even to having a father who expected him to enter into the service of an evil Mage -- and yes, the monster his father served *was* a Mage, although how *that* happened is still a mystery."
With quiet dignity, Draco accused him: "I thought you said you knew the difference between a Dark wizard and an *evil* wizard."
"I *do*," Harry answered, "and Voldemort is the most evil monster I've ever come across."
"How do you know that?" Draco demanded. "Have you ever spoken to him? *Asked* him his reasons for doing things? Actually understood what he's trying to accomplish?"
"Yes," Harry answered shortly, "I know that *thing* that walks like a man far better than you could ever imagine." And then Harry looked intently at Draco, "Can you say the same?"
"I... my father --"
"No!" Harry cut him off, "Not your *father*, or your *friends*, or what any *other* relative has told you since you could walk and talk. Can *you* say the same? Have *you* talked to him -- to his victims -- to any of his other followers -- to *anyone* who could tell you -- as an *independent* source -- about the wizard you were so eager to join last night?"
"I..." Draco bit his lip as he searched his memory. "No.." he finally admitted. "But my father wouldn't *lie* to me!"
//Give me strength,// Harry prayed. "Draco," he said, "last night your *father* threw you into the middle of a fight that nearly got you killed."
Draco paled, "You... how did you know that was my dad? Are you going to tell the Aurors?"
"I don't need to tell them," Harry replied, "Anyone with half a brain knows your father is a Death Eater. The only reason he's not in Azkaban is that they can't *prove* it -- and he *still* threw you into the middle of a deadly fight with no thought for your personal safety! That's not a very 'fatherly' thing to do in *my* opinion!"
"That... that wasn't what he meant to do!" Draco said. "He just thought I should be *helping* them..." then Draco's eyes widened as he realised what he'd been about to say.
"...to kill me?" Harry enquired politely. Draco wouldn't meet his eyes. "Well," Harry continued, "it nearly killed *you*, and it *did* kill one of them." Draco paled. "No, not your father," Harry reassured him. "I wounded him, but he'll be fine with proper medical attention -- although how he's going to explain a gunshot wound is anybody's guess."
Draco exhaled in relief. "Thank you," he said.
"You're welcome, I'm sure," came the sarcastic reply. "But getting back to my childhood nemesis -- *his* father expected him to serve an *evil* Mage just as *your* father expects you to serve an *evil* wizard." Draco looked like he wanted to object again, but Harry stared him into silence.
"So," Harry continued, "off he goes on his merry way, doing exactly what his father tells him to -- never *once* thinking that there was anything else he *could* be doing -- and, in due course, he becomes a fully-fledged Dark wizard."
"Was it what he wanted?" Draco asked curiously.
"I imagine so," Harry replied dryly, "-- for a while, anyway. Then -- somewhere along the line -- I think it started to go wrong."
"You see," Harry explained, "this person we're talking about -- he was really still a *child* -- even though he was older than you are now. He'd never made an important decision about his own life, ever! He simply did whatever his father -- and later the evil Mage -- told him to do." Then Harry looked intently at the pale-haired young man across from him. "That's how *children* behave, Draco." he said. "Only *children* simply accept the fact that their parents have the *right* to make choices for them. Even *disobedient* children never question the fact that their parents have that right. They may choose to flout the rules, but they don't question their parents' right to *make* those rules."
Draco flushed. It was easy to see the parallel with his own father. Draco had never once questioned the fact that he was going to be what his father wanted. But now... //Is it what *I* want?// he wondered. But then he thought, //What else *is* there?//
Then his new Dark Arts teacher interrupted his musings. "So," Harry continued, "one day this evil Mage decides that he's going to practice a bit of Soul Magic." Draco gasped. "Oh, yes," Harry grimly agreed, "that's how we found out he *was* a Mage -- because that was the *only* other magic he ever managed to master. But it was *more* than enough," and Harry actually shuddered at the memory of it. "Who wants to oppose a man who can destroy your very *soul*?" he asked. "Fortunately, he couldn't do it very often -- it drained his magic too far every time he used it."
"Personally," Harry added after a moment, "I don't believe that's *all* it drained out of him -- but then, there wasn't much of his soul *left* by that stage, anyway." And then suddenly grim and serious, Harry turned to the young Slytherin and said, "There are *some* things, Draco, that mortals just aren't *meant* to do -- and Soul Magic is one of them!"
Draco could only nod in wholehearted agreement.
"So," Harry continued, "one day this evil Mage summons the young man and binds his soul up in a curse -- and the curse means that he has to kill me, or else his soul will be destroyed."
"But..." Draco gasped, "you killed *him* -- does that mean...?"
"No -- I'm getting to that." Harry closed his eyes against the pain as he remembered, "You see, the evil Mage was gambling on the fact that because I knew this man's *soul* would be destroyed -- then I would unconsciously be at a disadvantage. He knew that there would always be some part of me that wouldn't want to let that happen -- even to someone I hated." And then Harry mused, "Actually, it was more a case of *especially* to someone I hated. By the time we left school, I actually knew him fairly well -- as I imagine he also knew me."
"Your beloved enemy," Draco whispered -- spellbound by the unfolding tragedy.
Surprised, Harry agreed. "Yes, something like that, I suppose."
"What happened?" Draco asked with morbid fascination.
"The evil Mage kidnapped a group of children, and left them to die in a trap that was keyed to my magical signature. I was their only hope of rescue. Of course, I knew it was a trap, but I had already discovered how to destroy the curse, and I thought -- hoped -- that I could save them."
"And the man with the curse too?" Draco watched as Ash's face took on a peculiarly pained expression.
"No," he said, "In order to break the curse, I had to kill him. It was the only way to save his soul."
"How?" Draco asked fearfully.
"Are you certain you want to know?"
Draco thought about it carefully, and then nodded.
"I couldn't use magic against him," Harry said in a soft voice, "-- that would trigger the curse -- and I couldn't talk him out of it, because the curse controlled him utterly. There was only one weakness in the spell that we could find -- and that was because the evil Mage had to bind the curse to some part of his physical body. If that monster had bound it to a hand, or an arm -- I might have been able to save his life too, but as it was -- I had to... to physically separate the bound organ... from the rest of his body."
"God," Draco croaked, "It was his heart, wasn't it? The bastard bound the curse to his *heart*..."
Harry swallowed heavily. "Yes," he answered, "it was his heart -- and I had to get close enough to him to do it -- close enough in battle against a powerful Dark wizard -- and I couldn't use magic against him directly. He nearly *killed* me."
Draco felt ill. This was just... beyond horrific. How could anyone *do* that -- and he wasn't sure whether he meant the War Mage, or the monster who'd cast the spell.
"He died," Ash finished, as a tear slid down one cheek, "in my arms -- with his heart in my hand -- and his blood all over *everything*." Then Draco's powerful Dark Arts teacher scrubbed pathetically at his damp cheek, and roughly added, "But at the end, he was free -- the curse was broken -- and he knew who he was again, and that his soul would survive. He... his last breath... was a 'thank-you'."
And then the War Mage excused himself and went into the bathroom to splash water on his face and regain some of his self-control.
When he returned, he was carrying a damp washcloth, and he wordlessly offered it to Draco. Only then did the Slytherin realise that he had tears on his own cheeks too.
They sat together for a while, unwilling to break the silence, until finally Draco asked: "So he... he never got the chance to grow up? -- to be an adult... make his own decisions... and accept the consequences..."
Harry smiled tiredly, "Actually he did," came the surprising answer. "The trap was rigged so that even if I survived -- the children would still be killed. Their deaths -- on top of his... well, the other Mage... he was probably hoping I'd lose it, and do something stupid."
"So he saved them?" Draco asked hopefully.
"Yes he did," Harry smiled, as the tears threatened again. "Every last one of them -- and I can only guess that he wasn't so completely controlled by the curse before I arrived. But however it happened, he made his first and only decision to do what *he* thought was right -- and not just what someone else told him to do."
"I'm glad," Draco said fiercely. "I'm *glad* he did."
"Yes," Harry agreed, "and I'm sure he would want *you* to do the same thing."
Then Harry leaned over and grasped the younger wizard's forearm, looking directly into Draco's eyes as though searching for something. "Don't be like my beloved enemy," Harry begged him, "Don't wait until it's too late to make more than one *last* decision. Don't *die* on the edge of adulthood -- like he did."
Blinking hard at the intensity of it all, Draco hoarsely replied, "But what if I *choose* it? What if... if I find out everything I can about Voldemort... and he's still what I *want*? Will you... will you... try to stop me?"
Harry stared very seriously at the Slytherin who seemed so very *young* to him. "If you truly understand what you're getting yourself into," Harry slowly began, "-- which I don't think you did last night -- and if you're *certain* you can live with the consequences of your choice -- then I don't have the *right* to stop you."
It was a raw and powerful acknowledgement that Harry gave his one-time nemesis -- that Draco was an adult in his eyes, and had the right to *choose* -- even if Harry didn't agree with the choice.
"Thank you," Draco whispered, understanding full well what Ash had just given him.
"But remember," the War Mage warned as he drew slowly away from Draco's arm, "that if that *is* your choice -- then one day, it may be *me* you're facing across the battlefield."
"But it's still *my* choice," Draco said, and Harry nodded in agreement.
After that, they spoke of other things -- topics less charged with emotion -- as they both tried to regain some equilibrium.
At one point Harry offered Draco an alternative to joining Voldemort's Death Eaters. "I know people, Draco," Harry told him, "-- masters in the Dark Arts. I can check around if you like -- find out who might be willing to teach you -- *if* that's what you want -- and *after* you graduate from Hogwarts."
"I... I'm not sure," the young man answered. Then he grinned. "I don't think I know enough to make an *informed* choice," he said.
Harry laughed, and left the offer open.
Eventually, the discussion turned back towards the school, and suddenly -- out of the blue -- Draco asked, "Why do you hate Professor Snape?"
Confused, Harry immediately answered, "I don't!"
"Really?" Draco sounded doubtful.
"Yes, really!" Harry reassured him. "What on earth makes you think I *hate* him?"
"Well, everybody knows you're always watching him," Draco replied, "It *looks* like you don't trust him -- like you think he'll slip away and do something awful while your back's turned. I just figured you knew he was a Death Eater -- and that you hated him. Everybody else thinks it's because he's always favouring our House -- or because he's after your job."
Harry could *feel* the stunned look creeping across his face.
Watching that bewildered surprise, Draco suddenly had an awful thought.
He'd been pretty casual about Death Eaters, and talking about the Dark Lord during their discussions. After all, the War Mage already knew about *his* father -- and Crabbe and Goyle's parents too, as it turned out! But just because he knew all *that* didn't mean...
"You *did* know, didn't you?" Draco blurted out. "You *knew* Professor Snape is a Death Eater, right?"
"What?" Ash said, as if from a great distance. Then abruptly he blinked and returned to himself. "Oh," he said, "yes -- yes, of course I knew. Don't worry -- you haven't given away any secrets."
Draco sighed with relief. Then he looked carefully at his Dark Arts teacher -- Professor Ash still seemed a bit... distracted. "So," Draco began, "if you don't hate him, then why do you *watch* him all the time?"
Harry struggled with how to answer that question -- or, indeed, whether to answer it at *all* -- while his potential-Death Eater student from Slytherin House sat calmly across from him, awaiting a response.
Finally, Harry figured 'what the hell' -- if Draco told his father, and Voldemort got to hear of it... well, Severus would probably be *ordered* to 'get close' to the War Mage in order to keep an eye on him, and maybe try to find out how he performed wandless magic. //As if it's a big secret,// Harry scoffed to himself -- but Voldemort would never accept that it was simply a different way of thinking, and a lot of practice. The Dark Lord had always been *sure* there was a trick to it.
But still... having the Dark Lord *order* Severus to keep tabs on him -- and perhaps try to win him over -- was a strangely appealing, and *really* underhanded thing to contemplate.
And so -- having decided to answer Draco's question honestly, Harry smiled his most charming Gryffindor grin, and simply replied, "I watch him because I like looking at him."
It took Draco a moment to process that. When he finally worked it through, he unthinkingly yelled, "You've *got* to be *kidding* me! He's... he's the Potions Master! -- Ick!"
Harry burst into laughter and damned near fell of his chair. "Oh, gods!" he cried, "-- the look on your *face*!" and then he couldn't help himself -- another quick look at the complete bewilderment in Draco's eyes, and Harry was off all over again -- helpless against the tide of hilarity.
"You were kidding, right?" Draco asked in confusion. "That was a joke, right?" It hadn't *seemed* like a joke -- but Professor Ash was still laughing, so...
"No, no," Harry replied as he got himself under control, "it's just that -- the first time I saw -- well, never mind... let's just say that as a Mage, I've had that exact same expression on my face more times than I care to count -- and it was almost *always* when I was being introduced to a new species. But I got over it, and I'm sure you will too."
"So what," Draco asked, "-- you're saying that even flobberworms look good to you?"
"Hey!" Harry objected, "A little more respect for your *teacher* over here!"
"Young man," Harry said at his mock-sternest, "you are sailing *dangerously* close to eternal detention!"
"Can I spend it all in here talking to you?" Draco asked semi-seriously.
Harry blinked. "You're welcome any time," he said. "Any time you want to talk -- or even if you just want to sit here and stare at the walls."
"Thanks," Draco said. "I... well... just thanks, I guess -- for..."
"... for whatever," Harry smiled.
"Yeah," Draco answered -- also smiling. "-- and hey," he added as he got up to leave, "don't worry -- I won't tell anyone why you keep staring at him. Nobody would believe me *anyway*!"
"Well," Harry said thoughtfully as he escorted Draco to the door, "actually, you could do me this *huge* favour -- and just tell *one* person -- only *one* mind you!"
Draco blinked. "Really? Who?"
"Your father," Harry replied with an evil grin.
Draco was confused again, "But... he'll just go and tell..." Then Draco looked at the evil grin again. "I *don't* want to know!" he declared loudly. "I'll do it -- but do not *ever* tell me about it! Ever!"
And then Draco walked off down the corridor, and Harry heard a final resounding "Ick!" echo off the walls just before he closed the door.
Still chuckling over Draco's theatrics, Harry was quietly grateful that the morning had gone so well. //Who'd ever have thought,// he mused, //that Draco and I would get along so well.// Perhaps *some* of their problems had stemmed from being in the same year together -- and actually being far too much alike for comfort.
Harry was quietly hopeful that he'd managed to put Draco's feet on the path *away* from Voldemort. He fervently prayed it was so. He *never* wanted to sit covered in Draco's blood, with the young man's heart in his hands, and his last breath on the air, and then feel it as he died all over again.
//Not *this* time,// Harry promised himself.
And then -- to distract himself from such morbid thoughts -- Harry deliberately tried to imagine the look on Sev's face if old Voldie actually *did* order his wayward Death Eater to keep tabs on the War Mage -- and perhaps even become 'close' to him.
Harry laughed aloud. //It would make *my* end of the relationship *so* much easier!// he chortled. //I could simply relax, and let *Severus* do all the work!//
Oh, he could have *fun* with that!
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