Chapter 80: Taboo Tradeoffs, Pt 2, The Horns Effect

The Most Ancient Hall of the Wizengamot is cool and dark, with concentric half-circles of stone rising up from the lowest center, and simple wooden benches set down upon those elevated half-circles. There is no source of light, but the chamber is well-lit, without any apparent cause or reason; it is simply a brute fact that the hall is well-lit. The walls like the floor are stone, dark stone, some elegant and mysterious conjugation of rock most fine to gaze upon, with a smooth texture that seems to flow and shift beneath its surface. This is the Most Ancient Hall, the oldest place of wizardry that has lasted into the modern day; every other place of power was destroyed in one war or another. This is the Hall of the Wizengamot, which is most ancient because the wars ended with the building of this place.

This is the Hall of the Wizengamot; there are older places, but they are hidden. Legend holds that the walls of dark stone were conjured, created, willed into existence by Merlin, when he gathered the most powerful wizards left in the world and awed them into accepting him as their chief. And when (the legend continues) the Seers continued to foretell that not enough had yet been done to prevent the end of the world and its magic, then (the story goes) Merlin sacrificed his life, and his wizardry, and his time, to lay in force the Interdict of Merlin. It was not an act without cost, for a place like this one could not be raised again by any power still known to wizardkind. Nor yet destroyed, for those walls of dark stone would pass unharmed, and perhaps unwarmed, through the heart of a nuclear explosion. It is a pity that nobody knows how to make them anymore.

In the highest of the rising half-circles of the Wizengamot, on the topmost level of dark stone, there is a podium. At that podium stands an old man, with care-lined face and a silver beard that stretches down below his waist; this is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. His right hand bears a wand of power, upon his shoulder perches a bird of fire. His left hand holds a short rod, thin and featureless and forged of the same dark stone as the walls, and this is the Line of Merlin Unbroken, the device of the Chief Warlock. Karen Dutton bequeathed the Line to Albus Dumbledore on the last day of her life, scant hours after he returned half-dead from his defeat of Grindelwald with a phoenix flaming brightly at his side. She in turn received the Line from the perfectionist Nicodemus Capernaum, each wizard passing it to their chosen successor, back and back in unbroken chain to the day Merlin laid down his life. That (if you were wondering) is how the country of magical Britain managed to elect Cornelius Fudge for its Minister, and yet end up with Albus Dumbledore for its Chief Warlock. Not by law (for written law can be rewritten) but by most ancient tradition, the Wizengamot does not choose who shall preside over its follies. Since the day of Merlin's sacrifice, the most important duty of any Chief Warlock has been to exercise the highest caution in their choice of people who are both good and able to discern good successors. You would expect that chain of light to miss a step, sometime down through the centuries; that it would go astray at least once, and then never return. But it has not. The Line of Merlin continues, unbroken.

(Or so say those of Dumbledore's faction. Lord Malfoy would tell you otherwise. And in Asia they tell other tales entirely, which may not make Britain's version wrong.)

Upon the bottommost platform of the Ancient Hall there is a high-backed chair, legged and armed and without cushions, of dark metal rather than dark stone, which Merlin did not place there.

The Ministry building that grew up around this place is wood-paneled and gold-washed, bright and fire-lit, filled with bustling foolishness. This place is different. It is the stone heart of magical Britain, and it is neither gold-washed nor wood-paneled, neither fire-lit nor bright.

Filing solemnly into this room are witches and wizards in plum-colored robes each embroidered with a silver W. They carry themselves with an air of seriousness showing that they are well aware that they are terribly, terribly important. They are meeting in the Most Ancient Hall, after all. They are the Lords and Ladies of the Wizengamot, and they consider themselves the greatest folk of the world's greatest magical country. Lesser folk have fallen before them on bended knee in supplication; they are powerful, they are wealthy, they are noble; are they not great?

Albus Dumbledore knows everyone in this room by name. He has taught many of them, though too few have learned. Some are his allies, some his opponents, the rest he courts within the careful dance of their neutrality. All of them, to him, are people.

The current Defense Professor of Hogwarts, if you asked him for his opinion of the Lords and Ladies, would say that while many of them are ambitious, few have any ambition. He would observe that the Wizengamot is exactly where someone like that would end up - that it is exactly the sort of opportunity you would grasp, if you had nothing better to do. Such folk are rarely interesting, but they are often useful; pieces to be manipulated, points to be scored, by the true players of the game.

Not among the rising half-circles, but off to one side among a raised arc for the spectators, next to a witch in pointed hat whose face is lined with apprehension, there sits a boy dressed in the most formal black robes that he owns. His eyes are green ice and abstraction, and he hardly glances at the Lords and Ladies as they bustle in. To him they are just a collection of murmuring plum-colored robes to decorate the wooden benches, visual background for the scene of the Most Ancient Hall. If there is an enemy here, or something to be manipulated, it is merely "the Wizengamot". The wealthy elites of magical Britain have collective force, but not individual agency; their goals are too alien and trivial for them to have personal roles in the tale. As of now, this present time, the boy neither likes nor dislikes the plum-colored robes, because his brain does not assign them enough agenthood to be the subjects of moral judgment. He is a PC, and they are wallpaper.

This view is about to change.

Harry gazed unseeing around the hall of the Wizengamot; it looked quite old and historic and there was no doubt that Hermione could have lectured him about the place for hours on end. The plum-colored robes had stopped arriving, and Harry's pocketwatch, advancing at the rate of three minutes every half-hour, said that the trial was almost due to start.

Professor McGonagall was sitting beside him, and her eyes never left him for more than twenty consecutive seconds.

Harry had read the Daily Prophet that morning. The headline had been "MAD MUGGLEBORN TRIES TO END ANCIENT LINE" and the rest of the paper had been the same. When Harry was nine years old the IRA had blown up a British barracks, and he'd watched on TV as all the politicians contested to see who could be the most loudly outraged. And the thought had occurred to Harry - even then, before he'd known much about psychology - that it looked like everyone was competing to see who could be most angry, and nobody would've been allowed to suggest that anyone was being too angry, even if they'd just proposed the saturation nuclear bombing of Ireland. He'd been struck, even then, by an essential emptiness in the indignation of politicians - though he hadn't had the words to describe it, at that age - a sense that they were trying to score cheap points by hitting at the same safe target as everyone else.

Harry had always possessed that sense of hollowness about political indignation, but it was strange how very much more obvious it seemed, when you were reading a dozen articles in the Daily Prophet beating on Hermione Granger.

The leading article, written by some name that Harry didn't recognize, had called for the minimum age for Azkaban to be lowered, just so that the twisted mudblood who had defaced the honor of Scotland with her savage, unprovoked attack upon the last heir of a Most Ancient House within the sacred refuge of Hogwarts could be sent to the Dementors that were the only punishment commensurate with the severity of her unspeakable crime. Only this would be enough to discourage any other foreign, subhuman brutes who similarly believed in their twisted insanity that they could evade the majesty of the Wizengamot's inevitable and merciless scourging of all that threatened the honorable nobility of etcetera etcetera etcetera.

The next article had said the same thing in less eloquent words.

Earlier, Albus Dumbledore had told him,

"I will not try to keep you from this trial." The old wizard's voice quiet and unyielding. "I can well foresee how that would go. But I would have you treat me with equal courtesy in return. The politics of the Wizengamot are delicate, and of them you know nothing. Dare any folly and it shall be to Hermione Granger's cost; and you will remember that folly for the rest of your days, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres."

"I understand," Harry said. "I know. Just - if you're planning to pull a rabbit out of your hat and save the day at the last minute when everything seems lost, please tell me now instead of letting me sit and worry -"

"I would not do that to you," the old wizard said, a terrible weariness seeming to suffuse him as he turned to go. "Still less to Hermione. But I have no rabbits in my hat, Harry. We can only see what Lucius Malfoy wants."

There was a small sharp rap, a single brief sound that somehow silenced the entire room and caused Harry's head to jerk around and upward. High above, Dumbledore had just tapped his podium with the dark rod he held in his left hand.

"The ninetieth session of the two-hundred-and-eighth Wizengamot is convened at the request of Lord Lucius Malfoy," the old wizard said tonelessly.

At once, far to the side of the podium but also in the highest circle, rose a tall man with a mane of long white spilling down from his head over the shoulders of his plum-colored robes. "I present a witness for questioning under Veritaserum," Lucius Malfoy said, his cool tone clear throughout the room, smoothly controlled with only a slight undertone of righteous fury. "Let Hermione, the first Granger, be brought forth."

"I ask you all to remember that she is a first-year of Hogwarts," Dumbledore said. "I will brook no abuse of this witness -"

Someone in the benches quite audibly said "Pfah!" and there was a spread of disgusted snorts, even one or two jeers.

Harry stared at the plum-colored robes, his eyes narrowing.

And with the growing anger came something else, a rising sense of disquiet, of something horribly skewed, like reality itself was being disrupted. Harry knew that, somehow, but he couldn't figure out what was awry, or why his mind thought it was getting worse...

"Order! " Dumbledore bellowed. He rapped the stone rod twice against the podium, producing two more small clicks that overrode all noise. "I will have order here!"

The door through which the witness was brought forth was set directly beneath Harry's own seat, so it wasn't until the entire group had emerged fully into the stone hall that Harry saw -

- an Auror trio -

- Hermione's back was to Harry as she was brought out, he couldn't see her face -

- followed by a shining silver sparrow and a running moonlit squirrel -

- and the source of the horrible wrongness, half-hidden beneath a tattered cloak.

Harry shot to his feet before he could even think, it was only Professor McGonagall's sudden frantic grab on his wrist that stopped his hand going for his wand; and the Transfiguration Professor whispered desperately, "Harry it's all right there's a Patronus -"

It took a few seconds for Harry to remember himself. For the part of himself that understood that Hermione hadn't been directly exposed to a Dementor, to argue his other parts into something like sanity -

But animal Patronuses aren't perfect, said another voice inside his mind. Or Dumbledore wouldn't see the form of a naked man painful to look upon. You felt it approaching, animal Patronus or no...

Slowly, Harry Potter sat back down again as Professor McGonagall pulled down with her grip on his wrist.

But by then he'd already declared war on the country of magical Britain, and the idea of other people calling him a Dark Lord no longer seemed important one way or another.

Hermione's face became visible to him, as she sat down in the chair. She wasn't upright and defiant like she'd been in front of Snape, she wasn't crying like she'd been when the Aurors arrested her. She just sat there with a look of vacant horror as dark metal chains snaked out from the chair and bound her arms and legs.

Harry couldn't take it. Without even thinking he was trying to flee inside himself, flee into his dark side, pull the cold rage over himself like a shield. It took too long, he hadn't tried to go fully into his dark side since Azkaban. And then when his blood was something like cold, he looked up again, and saw Hermione in the chair again, and discovered that his dark side knew nothing about how to deal with this type of pain, it pierced through the coldness like a knife and didn't hurt less in the slightest.

"Why, if it isn't Harry Potter!" came a high, light female voice, sickly sweet and indulgent.

Slowly, Harry turned his head away from the chair and saw a smiling woman wearing so much makeup that her skin looked almost pink, sitting next to a man that Harry recognized from photographs as Minister Cornelius Fudge.

"Did you have something to say, Mr. Potter?" inquired the woman, as cheerfully as if this wasn't a trial.

Other people were also looking at him now.

Harry couldn't speak, all the words in his mind would have been stupid to speak aloud. He couldn't find anything to say that Neville could also have said. Dumbledore had warned Harry that if anyone else wanted the Boy-Who-Lived to speak, he must pretend to be his age -

"The Headmaster said I shouldn't ought to talk," the boy said, not quite able to keep the edge out of his voice.

"Oh, but you have our permission to talk!" the woman said brightly. "I'm sure the Wizengamot is always happy to hear from the Boy-Who-Lived!" Beside her, Minister Cornelius Fudge was nodding.

The woman's face was puffy and overweight, visibly pale beneath the makeup. Almost inevitably, a certain word came to mind, and that word was toad. Which, said Harry's logical part, shouldn't correlate to morality in any way. Only in Disney movies were ugly people more likely to be evil and vice versa; and those movies were probably scripted by writers who'd never been ugly. He'd give her a chance, everyone in this room deserved one chance...

"Because I got rid of the Dark Lord?" the boy said, and pointed at the Dementor where it was hovering behind Hermione's chair. "There's something in this room that's Darker."

The woman's face narrowed, growing a little stern. "I realize a young boy like yourself may be scared by them, Mr. Potter, but the Dementors are quite obedient to the Ministry of Magic. And they would, of course, be necessary to guard -"

"A twelve-year-old girl?" the boy yelled. "Those are the Darkest creatures in the whole world, I could feel it coming here even through the Patronus - the wrongness coming nearer - it's horribly evil and it - it'd eat everyone in this room, if it could! It shouldn't be let near any child, ever! Not me, not her, not anyone! You ought to vote to send it away!"

"We'll certainly have no such vote -" the toad-woman snapped.

"That's enough, Madam Umbridge, Mr. Potter," came Dumbledore's stern voice from high above. And then after a short pause, the old wizard went on, "Although, of course, the boy is correct on every count."

Some of the members of the Wizengamot were looking abashed at the Boy-Who-Lived's admonition, and a few others were nodding violently to the old wizard's words. But they were too few. Harry could see it. They were too few.

The Veritaserum was brought in then, and Hermione looked for a brief moment like she was about to sob, she was looking at Harry - no, at Professor McGonagall - and Professor McGonagall was mouthing words that Harry couldn't make out from his angle. Then Hermione swallowed three drops of Veritaserum and her face grew slack.

"Gawain Robards," said the smooth voice of Lucius Malfoy. "Your probity is known to all of us. If you would do the honors?"

One of the three Aurors stepped forward.

After the first few questions Harry looked away and stared off to one side with his fingers in his ears, as Hermione's brain played back the contents of the False Memory Charm. He couldn't handle the drug-dulled anguish in Hermione's voice as she recounted the false memories, and his dark side couldn't handle it either, and he'd already heard the contents summarized.

Harry's mind flashed back to another day of horror, and even though Harry had been on the verge of writing off Lord Voldemort's continued existence as the senility of an old wizard, it suddenly seemed horribly and uniquely plausible that the entity who'd Memory-Charmed Hermione was the very same mind that had - made use of - Bellatrix Black. The two events had a certain signature in common. To choose that this should happen, plan for this to happen - it would take more than evil, it would take emptiness.

Harry looked up for a moment, then, and saw that the plum-colored robes were watching, just watching.

Some time later, after all the stars in the night sky had gone cold and dark and the last light in the Universe had sputtered down to embers and gone black, the questioning of Hermione ended.

"If it pleases my Lords," said the voice of Lord Malfoy, "I should like to have the testimony of my son Draco, witnessed under two drops of Veritaserum, read aloud at this time."

Until she went after me in that battle, I wasn't plotting anything against Granger. But after that day I really was feeling insulted, I'd helped her all those times -

The sound that came from Hermione's throat was like she'd just been crushed under a falling stone, so huge that she couldn't cry or breathe, just a small sad gasp.

"Pardon me," said one witch from what seemed to be the Malfoy-aligned side of the room. "But Lord Malfoy, why would your son help this mudblood girl?"

"My son," Lucius Malfoy said in a heavy voice, "seems to have been listening to certain misguided ideas. He is young - and he has learned, now, we have all seen as a country, what such folly brings in repayment."

A few steps down along the visitor's benches, a man wearing a newsman's cap and a badge identifying him as belonging to the Daily Prophet was avidly scribbling with a long quill.

The few people who'd nodded along to Dumbledore earlier had rather sick looks on their faces. One witch in plum-colored robes quite deliberately stood up from what had seemed like Dumbledore's side of the room, and made her way over toward the Malfoy side.

The Auror went on reading, his voice monotone.

I'd been so tired from casting all those locking wards, I was weak when I cast the last one. I thought I was stronger than Granger but I wasn't certain, so I tested it empirically by challenging her to a duel, that's why I d-d-did it and also because if I'd won I was planning to beat her again the next day where everyone could see. Stupid Veritaserum. But she didn't know about that when she tried to kill me! And I really was insulted by what she'd done, I really had helped her before and I hadn't been planning anything against her then, only she went after me in front of everyone!"

When all the witness testimony was done, the deliberations of the Wizengamot began.

If you could call them that.

It seemed that many members of the Wizengamot were of the strong opinion that murder was bad.

The plum-colored robes on Dumbledore's side of the room were silent, the supposed forces of good saving their political capital for more winnable battles. And Harry could hear, as though Professor Quirrell were standing next to him, a dry voice in his mind; explaining to him that it would hardly have been to the politicians' own advantage to speak, just then.

But there was one wizard in the room whose status was high enough that he had, it seemed, transcended his caution against losing face; one wizard alone whose status was high enough that he could speak a word of sanity and escape unscathed. He alone spoke to defend Hermione, the man with a phoenix flaming bright upon his shoulder.

Only Albus Dumbledore spoke.

The Chief Warlock didn't raise the possibility that Hermione Granger was entirely innocent. That, the Headmaster had explained to Harry, would not be believed, would only make it worse.

But Albus Dumbledore said, in one gentle reminder after another, that the perpetrator was a first-year girl in Hogwarts; that many had done foolish things during their youth; that a first-year in Hogwarts was simply too young to comprehend the consequences of her acts. He himself (the Chief Warlock said quietly) had attempted certain foolish things during his childhood, when he was well older than she.

Albus Dumbledore said that Hermione Granger had been beloved of all the Hogwarts faculty, and helped four Hufflepuff girls with their Charms homework, and had scored one hundred and three points for Ravenclaw over the course of the school year.

Albus Dumbledore said that nobody who knew Hermione Granger would be anything but shocked by these events. That they had, all of them, heard the horror in her voice as she recounted her testimony. And if some unusual madness had temporarily possessed her, then - his voice rising in stern command - she deserved nothing from them except sympathy and a healer's attentions.

And at the last, Albus Dumbledore reminded the Wizengamot, over cries of protest, that the charge was attempted murder and not murder. Albus Dumbledore said, over a rising storm of objections, that no lasting harm had come to anyone. And Albus Dumbledore begged them not to do worse themselves than anything that had yet been done -

"Enough! " bellowed Lucius Malfoy, and a show of hands ended the deliberations. The white-maned man stood tall and terrible, his silver cane held high in one hand like a gavel about to fall. "For what this mad woman has tried to do to my son - for the blood debt that she owes for trying to end the line of a Noble and Most Ancient House - I say that she will -"

"Azkaban!" roared a man with a scarred face, seated at Lord Malfoy's right hand. "Send the mad mudblood to Azkaban!"

"Azkaban!" cried another plum-colored robe, and then another, and another -

A click from the rod in Dumbledore's hand silenced the room. "You are out of order," the old wizard said sternly. "And your proposal is barbaric, beneath the dignity of this assembly. There are things we do not do. Lord Malfoy?"

Lucius Malfoy had listened to this with an impassive face. "Well," Lord Malfoy said after a few moments. A cold gleam lit his eyes. "I had not planned to ask it. But if that is the will of the Wizengamot - then let her pay as any in her place would pay. Let it be Azkaban."

A great cheer of rage went up -

"Are you all lost? " cried Albus Dumbledore. "She is too young! Her mind would not withstand it! Not in three centuries has such a thing been done in Britain!"

"What will the other countries think of us?" said the sharp voice of a woman that Harry recognized as Neville's grandmother.

"Will you guard Azkaban after she goes there, Lord Malfoy?" said a stern old witch that Harry didn't know. "For my Aurors may decline to guard it, I fear, if small children are kept within."

"The deliberations are ended," Lucius Malfoy said coldly. "But if you are incapable of finding Aurors who can obey the vote of the Wizengamot, Madam Bones, you may relinquish the position; we can easily find another to serve in your place. The will of this Hall is clear. For the monstrosity of her crimes, the girl is to be tried as an adult and punished accordingly; ten years in Azkaban, the justice for attempted murder."

When the old wizard spoke again, his voice was lower. "Is there no alternative to this, Lucius? We may retire to my chambers to discuss it, if need be."

The tall man of the long white hair turned, then, to regard where the old wizard stood at the podium; and the two stared at each other for a long moment.

When Lucius Malfoy spoke again his voice seemed to tremble ever so slightly, as though the stern control on it was failing. "Blood calls for repayment, the blood of my family. Not for any price will I sell the blood debt owed my son. You would not understand that, who never had love or child of your own. Still, there is more than one debt owed to House Malfoy, and I think that my son, if he stood among us, would rather be repaid for his mother's blood than for his own. Confess your own crime to the Wizengamot, as you confessed it to me, and I shall -"

"Don't even think about it, Albus," said the stern old witch who had spoken before.

The old wizard stood at the podium.

The old wizard stood at the podium, his face twisting, untwisting -

"Stop it," said the old witch. "You know the answer you must give, Albus. It will not change for agonizing over it."

The old wizard spoke.

"No," said Albus Dumbledore.

"And you, Malfoy," continued the stern old witch, "I suppose all you really wanted this whole time was to ruin -"

"Hardly," said Lucius Malfoy, his lips now twisting into a bitter smile. "No, I have no purpose here but my son's vengeance. I only wished to show the Wizengamot the truth behind this old man's pretended heroism and his praise of that girl - that he would hardly think of sacrificing himself to save her."

"Cruelty worthy of a Death Eater indeed," said Augusta Longbottom. "Not that I'm implying anything, of course."

"Cruelty?" said Lucius Malfoy, the bitter smile still on his face. "I think not. I knew what his answer would be. I have ever warned you that he only plays his pretended part. If you believe in his hesitation, the more fool you. Remember that his answer was the same." The man raised his voice. "Let us vote, my friends. I think a show of hands will suffice for it. I do not imagine there will be many who choose to align themselves with murderers." The voice went cold, on the last note, the promise in it very clear.

"Look at the girl," said Albus Dumbledore. "See her, see the horror you are committing! She is -" The old wizard's voice broke. "She is afraid -"

The Veritaserum must have been wearing off, because Hermione Granger's face was twisting beneath the slackness, her limbs trembling visibly beneath the chains, as though she were trying to run, run from that chair, but was pressed down by weights larger than the enchanted metal links that bound her. Then there was a convulsive effort and Hermione's neck moved, her head twisted, enough to bring her eyes into line -

She looked at Harry Potter and though she didn't speak, it was absolutely clear what she was saying.


help me

please -

And in the Most Ancient Hall of the Wizengamot an icy voice rang out, speech the color of liquid nitrogen, pitched too high for that it came from too young a throat, and that voice said, "Lucius Malfoy."

In the ancient and hallowed halls of the Wizengamot, people looked around and it took their eyes too long to find what they sought. It might have been high in pitch, it might have been under-loud for the words being spoken; and yet even so, you wouldn't have expected to hear that voice from a child.

It wasn't until Lord Malfoy spoke in return that people even realized where they should be looking.

"Harry Potter," said Lucius Malfoy. He did not incline his head.

Heads spun, eyes moved, and people focused on the messy-haired young boy standing near the weeping older witch. The boy stood merely chest-high with his shoes on, dressed in short robes of formal black. Though unless your eyes were keen indeed, you couldn't have seen, from all the way across the Hall, that famous and deadly scar beneath his messy hair.

"This folly does not become you, Lucius," said the boy. "Twelve-year-old girls do not go around committing murders. You are a Slytherin and an intelligent one. You know this is a plot. Hermione Granger was placed on this gameboard by force, by whatever hand lies behind that plot. You were surely intended to act just as you are acting now - except that Draco Malfoy was meant to be dead, and you were meant to be beyond all reason. But he is alive and you are sane. Why are you cooperating with your intended role, in a plot meant to take the life of your son?"

A storm seemed to be raging inside Lucius, the face beneath the flowing white hair threatening to crack open and spill something unguessable. The Lord of Malfoy seemed to almost speak once and then twice again, swallowing three unheard sentences before his lips parted for true. "A plot, you say?" Lord Malfoy said at last. His face was twitching, hardly controlled. "And whose plot would that be, then?"

"If I knew," said the boy, "I would have said so a good deal earlier. But anyone who had ever been Hermione Granger's classmate could tell you that she is a most unlikely murderess. She does, in fact, help Hufflepuffs with their homework. This was not a natural event, Lord Malfoy."

"Plot - or no plot -" Lucius's voice was trembling. "This mudblood filth has touched my son and for that I will end her. You should know that full well, Harry Potter."

"It is questionable," the boy said, "to put it mildly, whether Hermione Granger actually cast that Blood-Cooling Charm. I do not know the exact circumstances or what spells were involved, but simple trickery would not have sufficed to make her do it. She did not act of her own will, and perhaps did not act at all. Your vengeance is being misdirected, Lord Malfoy, and deliberately so. It is not a twelve-year-old girl who deserves your ire."

"And what do you care for her fate?" Lucius Malfoy's voice was rising. "What is your stake in this?"

"She is my friend," the boy said, "as Draco is my friend. It is possible that this blow was aimed at me, and not at House Malfoy at all."

Again the muscles jumped in Lucius's face. "And now you are lying to me - as you lied to my son!"

"Believe it or not," the boy said quietly, "I never willed anything but that Draco should know the truth -"

"Enough! " cried the Lord Malfoy. "Enough of your lies! Enough of your games! You do not understand - you would never understand - what it means that he is my son! I will not be denied this vengeance! No more! Never again! For the blood this girl owes House Malfoy, she shall go to Azkaban. And if I ever find another hand at work - even if it is your own - that hand shall be cut off as well!" Lucius Malfoy raised his deadly silver cane as though in command, his teeth clenched and his lips drawn back in a snarl, like a wolf facing a dragon. "And if you have nothing better to say than that - be silent, Harry Potter!"

Harry's blood was hammering even beneath the ice of his dark side, the fear for Hermione, the part of him that wanted to lash out at Lucius and destroy him where he stood for his insolence and his stupidity - but Harry didn't have the power, he didn't even have a single vote in the Wizengamot -

Draco had said that Lucius was scared of him, for some unknown reason. And Harry could see it in the rictus that Lord Malfoy's face had become, drawn and tight, that it was taking all his courage for him to tell Harry to shut up.

So Harry said, his voice cool and deadly, hoping to hell that it meant something, "You will earn my enmity if you do this thing, Lucius..."

Someone in the lower rows of what was evidently the blood-purist side of the Wizengamot, who was looking down at the young boy rather than up at Lord Malfoy, laughed in outright incredulity. Other plum-colored robes began to laugh as well.

Lord Malfoy gazed at him with hard dignity, as that laughter spread. "If you want the enmity of the House of Malfoy, you shall have it, child."

"Now really," said the woman in too much pink makeup, "I think this has gone on quite long enough, wouldn't you say, Lord Malfoy? The boy will miss his classes."

"Indeed he will," said Lucius Malfoy, and then raised his voice again. "I call the vote! By show of hands, let the Wizengamot acknowledge the blood debt owed to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Malfoy, for the attempted murder of its last scion and ending of its line, by Hermione, the first Granger!"

Hands shot up one after another, and the secretary who sat in the bottom circle began to make marks on parchment to tally them, but it was obvious which way the majority had gone.

And Harry screamed inside his mind, a frantic call for help to any part of himself that would offer a way out, a strategy, an idea. But there was nothing, there was nothing, he'd played his last cards and lost. And then with a last convulsive desperation Harry plunged himself into his dark side, pushed himself into his dark side, seizing at its deadly clarity, offering his dark side anything if it would only solve this problem for him; and at last the lethal calm came over him, the true ice finally answering his call. Beyond all panic and despair his mind began to search through every fact in its possession, recall everything it knew about Lucius Malfoy, about the Wizengamot, about the laws of magical Britain; his eyes looked at the rows of chairs, at every person and every thing within range of his vision, searching for any opportunity it could grasp -