Part 16 - Glass Houses
I gave you the benefit of the doubt, it's true
But keep in mind, my darling
Not every saint is a fool.
Neville came storming through the portrait hole and into the common room grumbling under his breath and clearly so terrified he was beyond words. His fists were balled up at his sides, his face was red, his mouth was pressed into a tense line. His robes were falling off one shoulder, his shirt was untucked, his tie askew and ill-proportioned (as his grandmother always said, while he was perfectly adept at tying a Windsor knot, he was incapable of judging the lengths of one end versus the other, and always ended up with the presentable end far too short, and the long thin end dangling somewhere inside his shirt and haphazardly tucked into his pants), and one of his shoelaces was untied. If it weren't for the fact that his pants weren't ripped, his eyes weren't black and blue and swelling shut, and his cheeks were dry, Harry would have guessed that Neville had been beaten up again.
Hermione looked up from her book and frowned at him, seeing the expression of sheer terror on his face and growing increasingly alarmed. "Neville? What on earth's wrong?"
"Malfoy," Neville grunted, kicking off his shoes and collapsing into a chair in a shivering heap. Harry sighed. It was almost as if he could feel it coming, sometimes. His scar burned to warn him when Voldemort was near; but there was something else that told him Malfoy was plotting something, harassing someone he loved, or preparing to rain a torrent of unanswerable slurs at him. A kind of muscle inside of him that that grew tense and still, like a rabbit in the middle of a field, stalked by a fox or an owl or a hound. He felt like the prey itself, as if he mimicked how it would pause, stand completely immobile for a moment, one paw hanging in the air in front of it, waiting for the sign that would tell it to scamper off, huddle down, or play dead, its legs twitching to bolt.
In the last couple of weeks, Harry's confrontations with Malfoy had been tempered by a kind of peace. The impossible had occurred; they had admitted to a kind of mutual admiration, they had forged a kind of truce. It was not an admission of actually enjoying one another's company, per se, but a sort of acknowledgement that they served a purpose for each other. This truce did not stop Malfoy from playing extremely dirty Quidditch (getting Crabbe to drop his beater on Harry's broom in an attempt to skew his flight path), from tripping Hermione in the corridor outside Transfiguration class, or from pushing Ron into a puddle of slush and ice after Care of Magical Creatures. Already twice since their almost tender moment in the library, when Harry very nearly jumped up and hugged the git for having the decency to treat him like himself again, they had stood nose to nose hissing obscenities at each other, and they had each landed a punch, or in Harry's case, two.
"Potter," Malfoy had said, eyeing Harry's Divination paper onto the table in the library on Harry's first day back to class, "my infallible crystal ball tells me that you will fail Divination this year. Your spelling is atrocious." He raised an eyebrow, siding the parchment along the table just out of Harry's reach. "Were you raised by wolves? Oh, right, I forgot. Muggles." Harry rolled his eyes, and stifled a chuckle.
"Stuff it, Malfoy."
"That's it, Potty, keep to simple words."
It was as if the resumption of their rivalry put the rest of the student body at ease. Yes, Harry Potter was back and he was no less strong, no less sturdy than he was before. The two weeks he lay unconscious drifted into the minds of the students as the way the future might look; trapped in a white prison, teachers tut tutting and more muggle-borns dying every couple of weeks. It frightened them, but his resurrection, so complete and unambiguous, gave them hope.
"My dad says it was You Know Who cursing Harry from a distance," Terry Boot whispered in Charms. "They say the more distance there is between curser and cursee makes a spell less strong. Woulda killed him close up, I reckon." Harry turned, raised an eyebrow, and Terry blushed a little. When he turned back to his work, he heard Terry whisper again, "The Ministry'll be ready for it now. Lucky thing, really."
Harry was called into the Headmaster's office nearly a week after his return to class to be reunited with a pale-looking Sirius Black. "My god, Harry!" Sirius said, clutching him in a bear hug. Word had reached him late, and he was worried and relieved all at the same time, alternating between gripping Harry in his arms and patting his back gently, half-expecting him to break into pieces. Harry grinned, answered all of Sirius' questions ("Yes, Im fine! Really, I am!"), promised to write more, and after hearing a few fantastic stories about dodging Death Eaters, his fateful encounter with a half-conscious dragon, and how he discovered the startling fact that pixies can be kept at bay with a flask of whiskey and a completely ordinary fire, Harry was shooed back to class.
A couple of days later, Harry got his History of Magic paper on nineteenth century spiritualism back from Professor Binns, with a note at the top that indicated that his was the best in the class. Hermione looked pleased.
Of course they still whispered about it. Late in the evenings, while Ron was attempting to stifle his yawns in front of the fire, Hermione sat with her chin on her knees and considered. "I'm telling you," she said. "There's something we don't know here, Harry. Malfoy knows what it is, I'm certain, he knows who did it, if he didn't do it himself, and he had a reason to reverse it."
"Hmm. Sirius says it happens, sometimes, in topical places, stings, bites, that sort of thing. Magical insects, viruses, you know." Harry's eyes were drifting shut.
"He thinks you got a virus?" Hermione's voice became shrill.
"Well, he says it's possible. Time delay, all of that."
"My bet's still on Malfoy," Ron piped up, grumpy now and half-asleep. "It's so obvious no one will ever guess."
"Dumbledore is pretty certain it's not though," Harry said thoughtfully. Malfoy had become something as of an enigma of late. The library, the look in his eyes just before he returned to normal. Fear, almost. Regret? Concern? Hard to tell, but something. Something else. He requested normal, and Malfoy gave him normal, down to the fistfights, the mudblood commentary and the smirks across the potions dungeon. There was, at least, something honourable in that, in a backhanded kind of way. Wasn't there?
Harry had begun to forget about any honourable intentions Malfoy might have had by the time Neville stormed into the common room and slumped into the nearest available chair as though he hoped it could protect him from whatever had sent him running full-throttle through the portrait hole. Only that morning Malfoy had upended a jar full of spiders into Ron's bookbag and proceeded to spend the entire day mimicking Ron's terrified scream. "Afwaid of a widdle spider, are we, Weasel?" Crabbe and Goyle laughed dangled the insects by the legs in front of Ron's nose, then dropped them and squashed their writhing bodies with the heels of their oversized shoes. Harry and Hermione exchanged glances over their homework, and watched Neville kick the edge of the rug.
Hermione laid her pencil down against the top edge of her textbook and folded up her notepad. "What has he done now?" Hermione had become very gentle with Neville. Everyone knew that Neville was a kindly sort; he was sweet, jovial, shy, nervous, and no one had ever entirely worked out what he was doing in Gryffindor house. He had a good heart, if not good nerves or a good sense of timing, direction, or judgment. During his six and a half years at Hogwarts, Neville had managed to try Hermione's patience to its limits at regular intervals. One night that September she had turned positively pink when Neville broke a bust of Godric Gryffindor on the stone hearth in front of her feet, filling her discarded shoes with shards of plaster and bits of metal wiring. Her eyes went wide, her lips curled into a snarl, and her voice rose to volumes she generally only used when cheering Harry on during a Quidditch game. Neville had bowed his head, shrunk back into the mantle, and awaited the end of Hermione's fury. Harry had been about to step in when Ginny, Neville's least likely hero of all, rose from her pile of homework on the floor and pulled Hermione aside before she had even begun to reach her crescendo. She gave Hermione a look, mumbled, "How dare you," and stormed out of the room, robes flying dramatically behind her. The wind dropped out of Hermione's sails. She sighed, picked up her shoes, and followed Ginny upstairs to the girls dorm.
Ginny must have given her a serious talking to, because after that, Hermione never lost her temper with Neville again; in fact, she seemed to have gained a unknown patience and real tenderness for him. Harry noticed that she hadn't so much as given his a heavy glance ever since. She hadn't scolded him, nagged him to try harder in potions, she hadn't even shoved his robes off the large, central table when he threw them beside her notebooks disgust after Goyle had ripped them (again) on the edges of a dustbin. Harry guessed that Ginny had let on about Neville's tragic past, his parents driven mad, his guilt, his fear, his nightmares, but didn't ask.
"What happened, Nev?" She asked gently.
Neville shook his head. " I saw something. Something bad." He wiped his nose with his fist and continued. "I was walking along the south wing by the potions dungeon, looking for my pencil box, and I heard something in the courtyard. I went over to a window and I saw them, just under me, just under the window. There were I don't know, seven or eight of them, mostly Slytherins, you know, Lestrange, Crabbe, Goyle, Fischer, a few others, I don't remember, they were standing in the courtyard by the gutters for the potions windows. They were standing all huddled together with their wands out, trying to transfigure a rat." Hermione was about to speak, but Neville stopped her. "That wasn't even the worst part. Then Malfoy stepped up in front of them and started talking."
"What did he say?" Harry rose from the table and pulled his chair closer to Neville. He was glad, for the moment, that the common room was otherwise empty.
"He told them to drop their wands, told them how stupid they were, that kind of thing. A few of them protested, and hesitated, and he laughed, and said, 'Let me show you how Death Eaters get things done,' or something along those lines. And they moved aside, sort of sniggering, and he stepped closer to the rat in front of them."
Hermione gave Harry a hard look and then nodded to Neville. "Go on."
Neville took a breath and gulped. "Malfoy held out his hand, and said something I couldn't quite hear, and the rat stopped dead, you know, frozen where it stood, and started to waver like well, like it wasn't quite real. That's the only way I can describe it. Like a flame, it flickered. And Malfoy lifted his hand, the rat, turned into a glass, and then the glass filled up with greenish stuff, bubbling around, as though it were being poured in, from the bottom, and then it stopped just before overflowing."
Harry and Hermione both gaped. They had, of course, been trained to transfigure objects; object for object, not so much accounting for size but type. But a rat, into a potion? Without a wand? Potions were extremely complicated, and they had been told over and over by Professor Snape, potions couldn't simply be conjured by the wave of a wand. They couldn't even be made properly with conjured ingredients. Harry blinked, and leaned closer. He felt a vague kind of panic, the kind of panic he felt in dreams when he approached an exam naked and unprepared in a subject he had never taken. That deep-seated feeling that everything you felt you knew had just been discovered to be a lie, that terrible certainty that you have put your hand up with enthusiasm to answer a question which you have now forgotten, that you are sitting in the wrong classroom, that you suddenly no longer speak the language, and everyone has turned to stare at you. He felt his mouth go dry. Neville paused, looking terrified, and then went on.
"And then he drank it." Neville shivered. "He drank a little of it, and then said, 'Now watch this,' and he stepped backward. And suddenly I know this doesn't make sense, but he was in the wall. His back was coming out of the wall, and not like the way ghosts do, he was there in the flesh, not ghostly, I could, I mean, he was so close I could smell the potion on him, and I jumped back so that he didn't run right into me. His face stayed outside, I think, watching the others."
"Oh my God." Hermione pushed her palm into her forehead.
"I was so scared he was going to catch me, I ran to the potions classroom and hid, and I could hear them come back inside, all laughing. And just when I thought I would be safe, Lestrange jumped through the potions classroom wall and then jumped back into the corridor. Fortunately he didn't see me." Neville was shaking.
Hermione stared, and sat down heavily on the couch. "I've never even read about anything like that. You know what this means. My God, Harry. Perhaps it was Malfoy after all. Words, no wands. God! Maybe that was it. You were cursed without a wand at all. And Malfoy he's got to be a Death Eater. He's teaching the others now. Nasty, horrible things his father teaches him. We have to speak to Dumbledore." She pushed her chair back and stood, as if she were about to dash out the portrait hole and run all the way to the headmaster's office.
"Hold on a minute, Hermione." Harry looked seriously at Neville. "Was that it, Nev? Did you hear anything? Did they say anything?" Harry worried his fingers together tightly, elbows on his knees, leaning in as Neville's voice grew fainter and fainter.
"Well, I heard them saying that it tasted awful, and it was disgusting, drinking a rat, and about how they could well, how they couldn't be imprisoned, not even in Azkaban, knowing this, and, uh, I heard Fischer, I think, talking to Malfoy, asking him to show them more."
"And did you hear his answer?"
"Mm. Yes. He was a bit reluctant, really. He said, 'You have to know the right people', or something like that. It was Malfoy, he was very huffy and stuck up about it. And someone else pleaded with him, and promised him things, and he relented. He said he didn't want Snape finding out and then something about a faculty meeting. I'm sorry, Harry, I was so scared, that's really all I remember."
Harry smiled and clapped Neville on the shoulder. "Sounds like you heard enough to me."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Faculty meeting? That's Tuesday after dinner. Of course, that would be the time when they would be least likely to be caught by a teacher, at least. But what about Filtch, or another student? How idiotic."
"Well, really, who else hangs around that little scrap of grass? And, if you think about it, Herm, aside from that one little window in the stairwell, which hardly anyone ever uses even since the stink bomb affair, there's no other way to see into that courtyard." Harry pressed his index finger to his temple and watched Hermione sink back down into the couch. "And during a faculty meeting Filtch stays up closer to where the students usually are, and not around the place they're trying to stay away from."
"Hmmm, I believe I can guess what you're thinking, Harry." Hermione picked up a cushion next to her and hugged it. "I'm not sure it's a good idea, given " She let that sentence peter out into nothing as all three of them tensed. They all knew how that sentence ended. Given that you're lucky enough to be alive as it is. They all felt the black cloud of danger rise out of their darkest fantasies of what could happen, casting a shadow down on them.
Harry nodded, took off his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Nice work, Neville. We'll make a grade-A spy out of you yet," he said, grinning.
Neville bit his lips and trembled, his face twisting in frustration. "I'm not joking, Harry, really. It was terrible. I'm certain now that Malfoy did that horrible thing to you. Please don't get involved. It's too horrible to imagine what might happen."
"But Nev," Harry said softly, "if we don't see what he's up to, we won't be prepared for it. If we blow the whistle on them now, they'll clam up and say nothing. We need to know." Hermione nodded sagely. Neville shook his head.
When Draco dreamed, he dreamed of weaving. He dreamed that he was made entirely of thread, and that Harry was weaving him into something new. His fingers pushed and pulled, threaded and dragged long, white pieces of him through his heart, through his stomach, through his brain, his groin. He tugged, knotted, threaded another piece around Draco's ribs and pulled. He watched Harry's face and felt the texture of his fingers, his now loose and light body pressing against Harry legs in the wind. He wondered what it was he was about to become.
Harry dreamed of glass. People, objects, everything made of clear glass, except for Draco, who was flesh and blood and dressed in white. And everywhere Harry looked, he could see through everything, everyone. In every surface, in every clear, molded face, Harry could see only Draco; his reflection, the swirl of his white robes behind him as he moved, his hair slipping to cover his face as his bend over his work. He had a glass sledgehammer in one hand, and was slamming it into the faces of the glass people.
Harry stood just behind the small group of boys, all in their winter cloaks with the laces of their boots dragging in the snow. He studied the backs of their heads. Lestrange, as Neville had said; Fischer; Crabbe; Goyle; George Parker; Oliver Whitmore; Bill Cochrane. All Slytherins, from fifth- to seventh-year, except for Martin Weston, a rather mousy-looking sixth-year Ravenclaw, who stood slightly apart from the rest. He was rubbing anxiously at his arm. Malfoy stood in front of them, looking into the window Neville had been peering through, looking luminescent in his grey wool cloak with sliver clasps that reflected the moonlight.
At dinner that evening Harry had been distracted from the idle banter around him. He pushed his fork into his mashed potatoes and skidded them around his plate, his feet tucked around the rungs of his chair. Ginny was gesturing wildly with a dinner roll in one hand, a butter knife in the other, and managed to almost poke Neville in the eye with it with each emphatic swing. Hermione twisted her lips, and read a book on her lap while she ate, nodding a little when Ron would prod her, whisper something, and prod her again. Seamus was worrying out loud about his potions exam ("Do you think Snape'll put viscosity ratios on? We only talked about it that once, but he did imply that it was important.") but Harry tuned most of this out, it just drifted like dust along the edge of his consciousness. He was watching Malfoy.
Harry watched him pace regally into the Great Hall, pull out a chair and sit, his chin set high as though he knew were on display, as though he knew Harry, among others, were watching him. He looked disdainfully over everything and everyone, his glance passing over some distant point above Harry's head, his eyes focussing on nothing in particular. He served himself, bowed his head and closed his eyes over his food. Harry wondered for a moment if he was praying, saying a silent grace in his head, and this struck him as monstrously strange and out of place. What would a Death Eater grace sound like? We give Thee thanks, our Dark Lord, for the Resurrection which Thou hast manifested to us through the blood of Harry Potter, Thy mortal enemy; may we ingest the deaths of our enemies the way we slip this soup. Thine is the power and glory for ever and ever. Amen. Harry watched Malfoy's bowed head, his closed eyes, his lips, motionless. In a moment he sat up straight and opened his eyes, not looking up to see who was watching him, picked up his fork, and ate.
Malfoy's table manners were impeccable, as, Harry reasoned, they ought to be; he imagined Draco as a young boy sitting at a table being instructed by his mother on how to chose the right fork, now to sit properly, where to put his elbows. He rested his knife properly against his plate, chewed with his mouth closed, he looked elegant, refined, as though he were dining with royalty and not his bulky cronies. He looked calm and relaxed and not even slightly worried that someone might catch him teaching illegal magic to his friends. Harry shook his head. So bloody cocky.
As the rose after dinner and filed out of the Great Hall, Hermione looked back over her shoulder and watched the teachers wander away from them toward the room behind the teacher's table. They were chatting amiably; professor Vector was carrying a notebook and had a pencil stuck into the pocket of his tweed jacket. She caught Harry's eye and they exchanged a determined look. Hermione nodded curtly and strode purposefully off toward the dorms as Harry ducked into an cold, empty stair well, pulled his invisibility cloak out of his robes, pulled it quickly around him, and followed the Slytherins back down toward the potions classroom.
It was so easy to remain hidden. The larger Death Eater boys were breathing noisily, and the snow in the small courtyard was so packed down and trod on that his left no footprints. Harry walked carefully behind the boys, praying he wouldn't slip and fall, and found a spot for himself between the boys and the wall. He shivered. It was cold, and he was only wearing his school robes under the rather thin cloak.
"Now, let's see," Malfoy said dramatically, stroking his lips.
"Show us how to knock a man dead without a wand!" the Ravenclaw boy said, sneering.
"Now now, Weston. Mustn't give away all my secrets at once," Malfoy smiled a little maliciously. "Hmmm " He reached into his cloak and pulled out his wand.
"What, nothing wandless this time, Malfoy?" Martin Weston was a cockily, weedy little fellow, and the other boys said nothing in support of him. Harry saw that they were all a little afraid of Malfoy; he knew as well as anyone else that they all believed Malfoy was the caught of Harry temporary demise, and it seemed that, while it garnered him great scorn from the rest of the school, the Death Eater youth seemed to look up to him as some kind of perverted hero.
Malfoy said nothing, but crouched down and traced an S in the snow in front of him. He tucked his wand away, held out his hand palm down, and whispered something over the ground hovering his hand over it about a foot in the air.
At first Harry saw nothing. The boys whispered to each other, and Martin Weston crossed his arms over his chest. But suddenly, Harry saw the line glow red, and then purple, and then brown, until is suddenly burst into a whitish snake, hissing and slithering around Draco's feet. Crabbe stifled a scream, the rest jumped backward. Goyle shouted, "Well done!" with a bit of a quiver in his voice. The snake rose up, growing a thick hood, and danced menacingly at the boys. Harry was fascinated. The snake appeared entirely real, but as it moved and slid across the ground, Harry realized that it was in fact made of snow. The more it curled and twisted around, the larger it got, like a snowball growing thicker and thicker as it rolls along. Each snap of it's body made a vague crunching sound, like boots pressing into new snow.
"Well, that's all fine and good, Malfoy," Weston scoffed. "You made a play snow-snake. How perfectly lovely." Malfoy turned his eyes back to Weston again and narrowed them, bringing his hand to his chin and stroking it. He contemplated Weston for a moment before the snake's head snapped toward him, and it's entire now-four-foot length darted at the Ravenclaw boy. Before he could even scream, the snake had coiled itself around his body, it's thick, cold throat pressed across Weston's mouth.
"You were saying?" Malfoy tapped his lips with his finger as though he were somewhat bored, and Crabbe guffawed.
Weston collapsed on the snow, his screaming still audible in spite of the thick, wet body wrapped around his head while Malfoy explained how he created the snake from the snow, and how he was able to control it. "It's like your arm, or your leg, you just will it to do something, and it does," he explained. He noted that in other seasons the snake could be created from any substance, including dirt, mud, dead leaves, paper, or water. Martin moaned helplessly, his legs trying to kick free of the snake while it's body tightened around him.
Lestrange laughed. "I want to try that one on Potter!" Fischer laughed with him. "I could turn a broomstick into a snake he can't talk to and wrap it around his neck until The Boy Who Lived becomes the Boy I Killed!" Fischer wrapped his hands around his own throat, mimicking, Harry presumed, the death thoes would endure at the hands of the sweaty, red-faced Lestrange. Harry felt his lips curl up into a snarl, his hands turning into fists at his sides. "I bet I could get him to stay good and dead." Harry watched Malfoy bristle at that remark.
As Harry watched him, Malfoy swung around to face Lestrange. In a voice more lethal than any he'd ever heard Malfoy use, he hissed, "Potter is none of your concern. I suggest you keep to your business." Lestrange shrunk back; Fischer's hands dropped to his sides and he averted his eyes. Harry was horrified and impressed; Malfoy's hold over these large, stupid boys was complete in spite of the fact that they could snap all of his ribs with a well-directed punch. He remember the look of regret, of concern, of something inexplicable on Malfoy's face in the library, the quiet admission of innocence, the resumption of business-as-usual between them, the almost but not entirely mock aggression in their daily interactions, and wondered what upset Malfoy more; the idea that Lestrange might try to kill Harry, or the assumption that Malfoy had tried to do the same and had failed.
Malfoy completed his explanation and suggested they move inside before they were seen. He was about to go inside when he caught sight of Weston again, still writhing on the ground in the clutches of the snow-snake. He watched for a moment or two, prolonging Weston's agony, and then nodded toward the snake. Suddenly Weston's desperate struggling had an effect, and the snake crumbled into chunks of snow and he gasped, shivering. Malfoy said nothing to him at all. He turned on his heel and ambled lightly back in into the school, flanked by a very pleased-looking Crabbe and Goyle.
"Malfoy!" Weston called out, shivering and wet and rising to his shaky feet. Malfoy stopped and turned slowly, raising an eyebrow. "Can we ," Weston panted, "can we have another demonstration then?" All the rancour was gone from his voice. Malfoy had won that battle.
"Yes yes, let's!" Lestrange said eagerly. "Tomorrow night!"
Malfoy sighed. "Don't be idiots. We can't risk being caught."
"What about Friday night then?" Weston asked. They were filing back into the school, and Harry tip-toed closer to catch what they said. "Fridays Snape always has a drink with Filtch in the faculty wing." Westoned panted again, leaning over, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Malfoy hmmed a vague assent.
So, Harry thought. Friday night. Harry made note of it. He would have to fake an illness to get out of his Quidditch practice, but he would do it. He had to know what else Malfoy knew, what else he was capable of. Harry was horrified and intrigued.
When they had all disappeared again back into the school, Harry went to inspect the remains of Malfoy's snow-snake. It was broken now, hard-packed snow lying in pieces in a slow S, bits of grass and dirt and pebbles as innards. It had perfectly imprinted scales, perfect still eyes, and it's flickering tongue was lazing motionless out of it's mouth.
"Where did you come from?" Harry asked, in parseltongue.
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