The first sign something was wrong was the scream. It was the type of scream indicative of immediate danger and not something less serious, like an insult to the person or an especially large spider. A scream that echoes off the walls, reverberates through the room, cutting you to the bone. The Great Hall became eerily silent as hundreds of students and professors stopped eating and conversing to try and find the source of the scream. The person screamed again and broke down into sobs. Harry rose part of the way from his seat, propping himself up with his arms as he looked towards the Slytherin table. He looked towards the head table and noticed Professor Snape rushing down the end of the bench, McGonagall and Dumbledore not far behind him. They stopped about halfway down the table and Snape leaned over a crying girl who was sitting alone. His voice carried through the quiet hall.
"Ms. Parkinson? What happened?"
Her words were broken by sobs, preventing the rest of the hall from making anything out. The nodding and meaningful glances between professors indicated to Harry that they were at least able to understand her. Harry did manage to make out the sound of 'Malfoy' between her sobbing and wondered what could have possibly happened to Malfoy during dinner that would cause her to erupt in screams like that. In fact, Harry thought, scanning the Slytherin table, it didn't even look like Malfoy was at dinner. That was until Snape let out a curse that was heard by everyone and brought those whose attention wandered back to dinner to the spectacle transpiring before them.
"How did this happen, Ms. Parkinson?"
Her crying had died down into only the occasional whimper and she was able to speak coherently, at least at the start. The students in the Great Hall all seemed to collectively lean towards her, trying to catch every word.
"We were sitting here, eating dinner and talking about our classes when suddenly he…"
But she was unable to finish as she descended into another bout of tears. Her head slumped into her arms and her body shook with crying. Millicent Bulstrode patted her awkwardly while she cried. Snape turned his attention to the rest of the table.
"Can anybody else tell me what happened?"
"He's dead, sir," said a Slytherin male Harry didn't recognize.
"I can see that, Adams," Snape said. "I may not be a medical professional but I am still aware a living person should be breathing. What happened?"
Adams's voice acquired a wavering tone that had not been there previously.
"We were eating dinner and talking when all of a sudden he clutched his throat, his face turned red, and he slumped over."
Any further conversation between the group of Slytherins seated next to Draco Malfoy and the assembled professors was drowned out by the cacophony erupting in the Great Hall. Now that he was standing Harry could see Draco's blonde head on the table, his arms jutting out onto the table in front of him. Harry had seen enough people die to recognize the symptoms. Who would have killed Draco Malfoy? To do it at dinner seemed an act of desperation as well. Dumbledore's voice rang through the hall and cut off this train of thought.
"Prefects for Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff, please escort your students back to their respective dormitories. Slytherin, you are to remain seated," he finished speaking, but nobody moved. "Please do so immediately."
The only sound now was the scraping of benches and the shuffling of feet as the three houses went off in their respective directions. Harry snuck a glance at the Slytherins, who looked as if they were in a state of collective shock. Most of them were staring at their plates, hardly moving or making any noise. Crabbe and Goyle had their heads in their hands, the shaking of their shoulders betraying their emotional state. Pansy's tears flowed freely. Millicent Bulstrode was absentmindedly chewing on a large piece of bread. A group of first years held their wands in their hands looking as if they were prepared to fend off Malfoy's attacker if he or she came back for the rest of the house. Sprout and Flitwick had joined the other three professors next to Malfoy's body; Sprout was seated next to Pansy and appeared to be offering the semblance of comfort she would not be receiving from her own head of house. Snape's hands were on his hips, head tilted towards the ceiling as he started at the replica of the night sky above him, silent as Dumbledore and McGonagall conversed next to him. It was the first time Harry recalled Snape being upset in such a visible manner. Spite, anger, bitterness. That about summed up Snape's observed emotional range. This showing of helplessness was new to him.
"Come on, Harry," said Hermione, gently tugging on his arm. "We need to get back to the tower."
"Yeah, I'm coming."
A silence hung over them and the rest of the assembled Gryffindors as they slowly made their way to the common room. Nobody really knew what to say. Bodily injury was an accepted risk of being a Hogwarts student, they all knew that. But almost never was anyone seriously injured, much less lost their life. Harry had trouble processing the fact whoever perpetrated this act went after a student as prominent as Malfoy. It was unlikely they were going to get away with it. He was a prominent student of a prominent wizarding family. They risked the wrath of a family fortune and the society in which it existed coming together in bringing the perpetrator to justice. Not to mention the school and its charges being under the watchful eye of Albus Dumbledore. Old as he was, still one of the most brilliant and powerful wizards in Britain. Despite all this, Harry was reminded of somebody, nearly sixty years ago, who had been willing to attempt murder right under Dumbledore's nose and was were able to get away with it.
"Who do you think did it?" asked Ron, as they settled into a group of armchairs on the edge of the room.
"Voldemort," said Harry, instantly. "He was responsible for the last student to die at Hogwarts and I bet he killed this one too. Or killed on his orders. I hope this doesn't mean we have to kill another basilisk."
"Don't be ridiculous. I don't think even You-Know-Who would be able to just procure a new basilisk on a whim like that, much less setting it loose in the school," said Hermione.
Ron chimed in. "I don't think we have to look much further than the Slytherins themselves. So many of their parents are tied up in Death Eater stuff and with Malfoy's dad being at Azkaban, there's probably some sort of power struggle or a 'look at how great I am offing this unsuspecting student competition' going on with them all. Or maybe Malfoy bollocksed something up. You thought he was a Death Eater, didn't you Harry?"
"Yeah, maybe. But you all thought I was crazy."
Harry hid his frustration at the turn the conversation took. Of course they were now all agreeing with him that Malfoy was a Death Eater after he was murdered in the Great Hall under suspicious circumstances. It was a simple answer to a complex problem. Then again, Malfoy being a Death Eater was a simple answer for the complex reasons they so strongly disliked each other. Maybe Malfoy saw being a Death Eater as a straightforward solution for a complicated problem he was struggling with.
"It seems a little more likely now that he's dead," answered Ron. "Wouldn't you agree, Hermione?"
"I suppose so," she responded. "It'd seem kind of foolish to have him killed during dinner at Hogwarts otherwise."
"Bloody stupid if you ask me."
"It does seem reckless of him, doesn't it?" said Harry, as much to himself as to the others. "He's been operating so much in the shadows so far, why order such an overt action? It's only going to draw more attention to himself and his followers."
"Enough of them have school aged children too," said Ron, picking up the thread of Harry's though. "I don't know about you guys, but I don't know if I'd want to work for a nutter who kills my child at my first mistake."
"I wouldn't want to work for a madman in the first place," said Hermione. "Either way, I don't think we're going to find out who did it tonight so I'm going to do some homework. I've got a lot of reading to get done by the end of the week."
Her nose was buried in a large tome with a series of numbers on the front and she was lost to the world before she even finished her sentence. The normally boisterous common room was quiet around them, the voice of the gathered students barely rising above a murmur and the usual games of Exploding Snap and chess were nowhere to be found. There was a tension in the room normally present only after Harry went missing again or something significant happened in the world beyond the castle walls. If one of their number could be murdered in the Great Hall during dinner, of all times and places, who was to say they were still safe in the castle, especially as few of their families could rival the wealth and prestige of the Malfoys. Draco Malfoy was not a beloved friend of Gryffindor but he was still a Hogwarts' student, just like the rest of them.
Harry and Ron, neither particularly interested in doing schoolwork despite Hermione's occasional disapproving sniffs, discussed Malfoy deep into the night, speculating on possible suspects and methods as students shuffled up to bed. They quickly dismissed an outside suspect. Voldemort was a powerful wizard, equal only to Dumbledore, but they doubted he was ready to attempt a direct assault on Hogwarts at this point in time. Whatever protections Dumbledore had on the place wouldn't be worth the time and effort it would take him to get inside, they reasoned, meaning the list of potential suspects was narrowed to the teachers, students, and house elves residing within. They quickly dismissed the house elves. It wasn't Death Eater modus operandi to put their faith in another species like that, not to mention their powerful magic and fierce loyalty to Dumbledore and the school. That left the people inside.
"It has to be Snape," said Ron for what felt like the hundredth time.
"I'm telling you, Ron," Harry said, his voice rising in impatience, "Dumbledore trusts him and as much I disagree with him about some things, this point in particular, losing faith in him now doesn't do as any good. I don't believe Snape could murder one of his own students. He's a slimy, unlikable git. But he doesn't strike me as that sort of murderer. No, I'm betting it's one of the Slytherins. There's plenty of Death Eater connections on the outside there. I'm sure it wouldn't have been hard for their parents to persuade one of them to poison Malfoy to win favor with Voldemort."
"But how would they slip poison through to Hogwarts?"
"They could have brought it with them on the train and waited for their opportunity. We don't know what they do with the luggage after we got off the train. The elves might just magic it into student's dormitories without a second thought. Or even if they do a search it can't be hard to conceal a tiny of bottle of poison in one trunk and slip it through. I'm sure Voldemort could figure that out."
"Maybe mate. I just don't see the Slytherins having it in them. I think a teacher is more likely. If not Snape, maybe Slughorn. He's kind of a coward and maybe You-Know-Who promised to leave him alone if he offed Malfoy for him. We don't really know much about some of those other professors either. Sinistra, Vector, Babbage," he ticked them off on his fingers. "Could be any of them."
Harry laughed. "I don't think the Muggle Studies professor killed Malfoy, Ron."
Far from dissuading him, Ron latched onto the possibility of it being Professor Babbage. She was the perfect spy for Voldemort, whether willingly or not, he posited. Just the unassuming Muggle Studies professor. How could she possibly be in league with one who hoped to kill or enslave her subject matter? Harry had to admit, Ron became more and more convincing the more he talked. But looking at his watch and seeing how late it was, Ron could probably make a case for Mrs. Norris to be the murderer and Harry would have found it convincing. When Ron started making a case for Babbage being Umbrage in disguise Harry thought it best to cut Ron off in favor of them heading off to bed, picking up the discussion in the morning when their minds were fresh and the facts could be reexamined in the light of day. Before he could though they were interrupted by a third year Harry recognized but did not know by name.
"Harry?" said the boy. "Do you have a minute?"
Harry looked askance at Ron, who shrugged, apparently not knowing the student's name either.
"Sure. Sorry, but what's your name again?"
"John. I'm a second year," he said. "I was just wondering if you think it's safe."
"For you? Yeah. I reckon we don't have much to worry about."
The boy paused for a second, appearing to struggle with whether he should say something or not.
"You didn't kill Malfoy, did you?"
Harry's mouth was agape. Did people actually think he hated Malfoy enough to poison him over roasted chicken and potatoes? Harry hadn't considered the possibility yet, but if this third year, and a third year of his own house even, was asking this question, he hated to think of what was floating around the rest of the school, thinking back to the days following his name emerging from the Goblet of Fire. His enmity towards Malfoy was great, but he could not actually fathom murdering him. Maybe force him to live out his life as a ferret. Nothing approaching cold-blooded murder.
"No, John. I did not kill him. Draco and I never got along, but I would never kill somebody deliberately, not even my worst enemy."
John seemed satisfied with that answer and went off to bed. The two of them, now alone in the common room, sat in silence for a minute not quite sure what to say. Both made an attempt to speak before shaking their head and lapsing back into silence. After a few moments, Ron finally broke the silence.
"You didn't kill him, did you Harry?"
Harry bit back his anger at having to answer this question not once, but twice, and this time to his best friend.
"No, Ron. I didn't. I can barely get to class on time much less concoct a plan to murder the son of a one of the most prominent wizarding families in Britain at dinner, right under the headmaster's nose. A headmaster who is one of the most powerful wizards alive. A headmaster who I happen to meet with regularly."
Harry took a few deep breaths to calm his temper but Ron had a smile on his face. "Of course I don't think you did it mate. That's ridiculous. When's your next lesson with Dumbledore?"
"Friday. And I don't think he'll tell me much but I can maybe get something out of him."
"Alright," said Ron, who stood up and stretched. "I'm off to bed. You coming?"
"Why don't you go ahead? I'll be up in just a minute."
Ron said his goodnight and went off up the stairs. Harry looked into the fire, looking for answers that were not there. Harry knew Draco Malfoy was not a good person by any stretch of the imagination. He was a bigot, arrogant, and woefully ignorant about the world. He didn't deserve to die choking to death in his mashed potatoes, though. Nobody deserved that fate. Except maybe Voldemort. He was sending a message. He knew it. Harry hoped he could figure out what he was trying to say before it was too late.
"Potter? Do you have a minute?"
Harry whipped his head around, looking for the source of the voice. He had just left Defense Against the Dark Arts with the rest of the Gryffindors and avoided being carried away by the crowd only through great effort. He slipped out and waved Ron and Hermione on ahead as he turned to look the other way. He peered down the corridor and saw no one. Maybe it was somebody at the head of the crush of students that spoke, though he would have been surprised to hear them still refer to him as 'Potter'. Peeves could be floating around somewhere, prepared to dump a bucket of cold water on his head if he wandered too close. Taking one last look and not seeing anything he started to turn around and head for lunch before he heard the unfamiliar voice again.
"I'm back here, Potter."
A girl stepped around the corner. He vaguely recognized her as one of the non-Malfoy Slytherins, in their year, even without the green on her robes to clue him in. She was tall and blonde, as so many of the Slytherins seemed to be, and was surveying him through a pair of green eyes not dissimilar to his own. He couldn't quite remember her name though. She was one of the cadre of Slytherins who kept to themselves. He attempted to keep his immediate suspicions of her, as a member of Slytherin, to a minimum. It was only fair to give her a chance in these divided times. The way she was surveying him, somehow able to look at him imperiously down her nose despite being a few inches shorter than him, did not do her any favors.
"What do you want?" he asked. "Sorry, I don't quite recall your name. Tracey, is it?"
"No," she said, rolling her eyes. "It's Daphne. I know we've never really spoken before but I would still think you'd know who I am after all these years. I know who you are."
"Everyone knows who I am."
She didn't say anymore after that, seeming to challenge him to speak next. Harry didn't have anything he really wanted to say to her, but could admit he was curious as to why she would approach him like this, especially the day after the murder of one of her housemates.
"So...why exactly did you want to speak with me?"
She took out her wand and ignored the move Harry made towards his own. She cast Muffilatio, which took him by surprise. He didn't think that spell had entered into general use.
"I need your help."
"What? Why do you need my help?" The incredulity on his face must have shown through because she continued a bit more brusquely.
"Malfoy is dead. Many of my housemates think I killed him. You and your friends are usually good at finding these kinds of things out and I know you're close to Dumbledore. Either you can help me or I'll have to take great pains to protect myself."
"Pain for whom?"
"I can promise you it won't be me."
Harry wasn't quite sure what else to say. It didn't make sense to him why the Slytherins would suspect one of their own. It had always seemed to him that they were united, especially in their support for Malfoy. Slytherin must be an even stranger place than he suspected if they were accusing one of their for murdering Malfoy in the first place, much less in the way it was conducted.
"You'll excuse me if I'm not quite sure why you need my help."
"The Greengrass family," so that was her surname. "Has never gotten along particularly well with the Malfoy clan. The Dark Lord complicates things. Without divulging too much detail to someone I don't trust to not go running to Dumbledore, let's just say the friction stemming from events beyond my control has led to this suspicion falling on me. I'm not in any immediate danger so I don't need you and you friends charging in wands blazing, but I need enough information to deflect suspicion."
"You didn't actually do it, did you?"
"No Potter, you can fucking bet I know better than to attempt to kill Malfoy under both the Dark Lord and Dumbledore's noses, even if he did deserve it."
Harry weighed his options. He still wasn't entirely sure she didn't do it as his baseline impulse was to trust Slytherins only about as far as he could throw them. Lucky for her, he could throw her a bit further than Malfoy's corpse so, relatively speaking, they were at least starting off on the right foot and it coincided nicely with his recent pledge to unite the school as best he could. If it turns out she murdered him in the end, at least he should have enough lead time that she won't get him too. He wondered what Dumbledore was going to say about this development.
"Sure, I'll help you. Do you know anything that would help get us started?"
"No, not really. Snape and Malfoy have been spending a bit more time together than they have in the past, but that's the only unusual thing recently."
"Isn't Snape spending any time with this students strange?"
Daphne looked slightly puzzled, "No. Doesn't McGonagall spend any time with you?"
"When she's giving us detention I suppose. But that's about it." The idea of spending time with a professor outside of class was foreign to him. "Are you saying Snape spends time with you guys outside of class and detention?"
Harry, accustomed to McGonagall's aloofness and Snape's sneering demeanor, was surprised by this. Even Hermione, bright as she was, rarely spent any time around the professors outside of class, even though Harry was willing to bet she'd love the opportunity to do so. Why did Snape, who greeted nearly all students, with the exception of some of his Slytherins and even they didn't fare much better, with varying degrees of dislike, spend time with any of his students outside of class much less Draco Malfoy? Of all the students who needed extra attention Malfoy did not strike him as one. But then again, he had ended up dead in a pile of roast chicken, so maybe there was more to him than meets the eye.
Daphne snapped her fingers in front of his face.
"When's your next meeting with Dumbledore?" she noticed Harry about to voice some form for protest to her ownership of this knowledge. "Yes Potter, most of the student body knows you spend some time with the Headmaster."
Harry sighed. "Friday."
"Good. Let's meet this weekend. Why don't you send me an owl Saturday morning with a time and place? I know I can't send anything to you without you divulging its contents to your friends, but I will have no such problem."
"That works for me."
"Good. I'll see you this weekend, Potter. I hope you have something good for me."
She turned on her heel and despite the length of the corridor, all it took was Harry glancing at his watch to check the time for her to disappear. Deliberately ignoring that piece of magic, he started down towards the Great Hall, realizing that Daphne was right, his friends always did want to know what was going on with him. Ron and Hermione would bombard him with questions even though he would be arriving only a few minutes after they did. For some reason, he found it very disconcerting that Daphne had pieced together that information that about him. He couldn't recall speaking with her even once through five plus years of school, so how she was able to provide such insight into his relationship with his friends was beyond him and very unsettling. It seemed he was dealing with somebody a bit more capable than the typical Hogwarts student.
"That's very interesting to hear, Harry. You say she approached you with no warning?"
"Yes, sir," said Harry. "I don't know if I'd spoken to her before yesterday."
Dumbledore stared intently at his interlaced fingers for a minute, perfectly still except for the movement of his lips half forming words. Harry had never seen the usually confident headmaster mull over anything the way he was right now. He worried that if Dumbledore was unsure of how to broach an issue, such as the matter with the prophecy at the end of last year, it would not be something to Harry's liking. Self-confident men, so accustomed to passing through life sure in their decision making and its consequences, did not bear the burden of doubt well. Before long, it seemed Dumbledore arrived at a decision, though Harry could see the disquiet in his features and the hesitation in his voice as he began speaking.
"Harry, what I'm about to tell you and subsequently ask of you must stay between the two of us. I must insist not even Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger can know about this for the time being. Is that understood?"
"Draco Malfoy was working for Voldemort. He was working on a way to kill me in order to assuage Lord Voldemort's disappointment at his father's mistakes. I have my doubts about how sincere his efforts were or whether he would have been capable of accomplishing his goal in the end, but I do believe this is why he was assassinated," Dumbledore continued, answering Harry's unasked question. "No, I do not know who or how he was killed. Perhaps this is where your new friend can help us."
"But she wants us to find out who killed him."
"Exactly. We can use that to our advantage. Even if she doesn't know who did kill Mr. Malfoy, she has insight into the inner workings of Slytherin house that the two of us, even with our considerable talents, lack."
Harry wasn't quite sure how to respond to the headmaster. He didn't fancy himself much of a spy and wasn't sure how to make his information gathering seem discrete as opposed to heavy handed and clumsy. Dumbledore seemed to believe in him, but sometimes he doubted Dumbledore had more than a passing grasp of the climate of the school and the entrenched enmity between houses. Maybe it was all well and good back in his day if he needed a favor from a Slytherin, but Harry didn't see this going over well for him. In fact, he was worried he would be the being taken advantage of and sticking his neck out for a Slytherin he didn't know. If it turned out it was somebody in the school who committed this crime, they might come after him next if he makes too much noise with Greengrass.
"I can certainly try, sir. It makes me a bit uneasy though."
"Of course it does, Harry. Anything worth doing should make us a bit uneasy. If everything was comfortable, why, we'd hardly see any reason to do anything at all."
Harry wasn't sure if he completely agreed with that as he thought about throwing himself into one of the plush armchairs in front of the fire in the common room instead of skulking around the school with a Slytherin trying to find information on the murder of one of their classmates, probably done on the command of a powerful dark wizard, and doing their best to avoid arousing any suspicious while doing so. It's not as though he could say, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' to the headmaster, so he agreed.
"Excellent. Now unfortunately, I do not have much for you to start with. I can confirm Mr. Malfoy was poisoned though. Professor Snape has told me he could find nothing missing from the school cupboard or his private stores, so we must operate under the assumption it was obtained from outside of the school. It is notoriously difficult to gain any useful information from the body of a poisoned person, but we are trying to determine all additional information about the potion that we can."
Harry didn't like how much Snape was involved in this. If he were involved in the murder of Malfoy or at least in the covering up, no information from him could be reliable. Even if the headmaster did trust him and Snape wasn't working directly for Voldemort, he could be working to protect one of his own students or somebody close to him outside of the school. He was the head of house for a murdered student; he was surely under some pressure to mitigate the aftershock of the event. Dumbledore may be going along with his conclusions for expediency's sake as well. With all of the dangers and faced by the Hogwarts student body every year and the enemies he made in very high places, it was sometimes a wonder to Harry the headmaster was still around all of these years. Even the most intelligent men could be deliberately ignorant if it served their needs.
"Are we agreed then, Harry? I will continue my probe with Severus and pass what information I can along to you. You will see what you can gather from Miss Greengrass and your work with the Slytherins."
"Sounds good to me, Professor."
"Excellent," he said, looking at the clock and clapping his hands together. "The hour is not yet late, we can still fit in some of our normal lesson."
A/N: Hello all! This is my first fic in many years. The idea for a story about Malfoy's death has been rolling around in my head for the better part of the last decade (as evidenced by the few chapters of a story I posted awhile ago) and I finally worked up the gumption to write it. I have a draft for the story written to completion already, so I should be getting a chapter up every week or two as time allows me to edit and revise. I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to more. Thanks for reading!