A/N: I'm back! I hope I've moved the plot along a bit with this update. We have Harry's first visit to Shell Cottage, another letter from Hilda, and more Draco. Plus the Aurors have finally caught...someone. Enjoy!
And thank all of you who have reviewed. I always appreciate reading your kind words. As for Les Mis - I have not gone yet but am dying to see the movie. It just hasn't happened yet but I, too, will think of Harry and Severus when I see it.
Chapter 14: Malfoy's Advice
Harry didn't know whether he should be pleased or worried that Severus was not alone in Shell Cottage when he stepped out of the Floo on Tuesday afternoon.
Since Minerva hadn't mentioned that Kingsley and Reuben would be there, he had to assume she hasn't known. She had been working at her desk when he'd come up, a few minutes early and eager to see Severus. She's nodded at him. She'd looked harried and tired every time he'd seen her the past few days. "Go on through, then. I've a pile of paperwork to get through tonight and will be here when you get back."
Severus was sitting on the sofa, dressed comfortably, for him anyway, in trousers and dress shirt. The chess set was set up on the table in front of him. Reuben and Kingsley were each occupying one of the upholstered chairs across the table. They all turned and looked at him as he stumbled out of the Floo. Damn. He really wished he could learn to step out of the Floo gracefully one of these days. Why anyone preferred it to Apparating he'd never know.
Severus sounded almost relieved to see him.
Harry brushed off his robes and looked from Severus to the others.
"Hey Reuben. Kingsley. What's going on?" he asked at once. He walked over and stood beside Severus at the end of the table, nodding to the others. Severus reached out and took his hand and pulled him forward.
"Sit," he said.
"What?" He let himself be pulled down onto the sofa beside Severus, then looked at the other men, feeling vaguely alarmed.
"Kingsley and Reuben have just delivered some news," Severus said, looking at them instead of at Harry.
"News?" Harry repeated. He was already less worried. Whatever it was must not be too exciting, or awful. Both men looked fairly calm.
"We've got Prudence Carson," said Reuben.
"You've got her?" Harry exclaimed. "Well, tell me! What did you find out?"
Severus' hand came down on Harry's leg. "Let him talk, Harry. He'll tell you what he can tell you."
"We brought her in early this morning," Reuben continued. Harry noticed that Kingsley was looking at him, not at Reuben. "She's being held as an accessory to murder and attempted murder. She's admitted to delivering the letter to the Ravenclaw girl for her friend Estelle, and to giving the Prophet the information about Severus. But her handwriting doesn't match either of the letters and interestingly, whoever is writing the letters to Harry didn't write the letter to the Prophet."
"Are you sure?"" asked Harry. "Couldn't they have used some sort of spell to disguise the handwriting?"
"We are the Ministry of Magic, Harry," said Kingsley, speaking for the first time. "We have a number of resources at our disposal to investigate these things." He sounded tired. Harry wondered if he could use a sabbatical just like Severus.
"The letter delivered to the Prophet was handwritten then altered with a spell to appear similar to your letter writer's, Harry," explained Reuben. "But it was most likely written by a man. The writing style would indicate an adult man from a traditional wizarding family."
"You can tell that from handwriting?" asked Harry. "Pure-blood wizards write differently than others?"
"Often, yes," answered Reuben. "Their writing patterns tend to resemble Old English more, with the 's' appearing more as an 'f,' for instance."
"Handwriting experts can often pinpoint age, gender, social standing," explained Severus. He turned his head toward the entryway as Kreacher appeared in the doorway with a tea tray. Kingsley swept the chess set to a side table with a wave of his wand. "And the Ministry has some of the best available."
"Prudence Carson revealed a bit more than she intended, and that was even before we had enough evidence to use Veritaserum." Reuben accepted a mug of tea from Severus and added a sugar cube. "This group is obviously protected by Fidelius – there was quite a bit she couldn't say and talked around, even with the Veritaserum – but it's obvious to us that there are at least two others involved, possibly more." He glanced at Kingsley and frowned. He stirred his tea and tapped the spoon against the edge of the mug. "She's been Imperiused. Frequently. Don't misunderstand me, though. There is no evidence that she was forced to deliver the letters to you or to the Prophet. She spoke willingly enough about those activities, and even seemed proud of her role."
"A Death Eater would not hesitate to use an Unforgivable, even on a fellow follower of the Dark Lord," said Severus. He had poured for Harry and Kingsley and was now preparing a cup for himself. "It is an effective way of getting what one wants."
Kingsley stared at him curiously. "Death Eaters routinely Imperiused each other?" He said it in such a way that Harry knew he was not entirely serious.
"Not necessarily each other," answered Severus. He sounded as he always did when talking about his past as a Death Eater. Tired. Wanting to be done with it but forever having to dredge back into it for one reason or another. "But on people like Prudence Carson? Certainly. Those of lower status, who aspired to be in the higher circles. They were…eager to please." He had hesitated before speaking, and he looked slightly disturbed by his statement.
Reuben was staring at Severus now. "Well," he said, breaking his eyes away from Snape and looking back at Harry. "Let's just say that there is evidence of repeated use of Imperius on her. Enough that it's damaged her brain somewhat. She's…easily compliant."
"That happens," said Severus with a sigh. He looked uncomfortable, as if admitting his knowledge regarding the use of Unforgivables made him culpable by default. "The more often a person is subjected to the Imperius Curse, the less it is actually needed." He took a breath and released it, looking at Harry. "I wish I did not have to bring this up, but the curse was often used to gain sexual favors."
Harry's hand jerked and he spilled hot tea on his leg. He hardly noticed the burn.
"Sexual favors? People use the Imperius to get sex? You can do that?"
"Yes, one can." Severus' voice was tight. "We are speaking of Death Eaters, Harry. We are speaking of those who would use the Imperius curse to further their own ends. We are not speaking of law-abiding witches and wizards."
"Oh." Harry looked down into his tea, his face pale. The fact that he, himself, was guilty of using that very curse to further his ends remained a hidden secret. He hadn't discussed it with anyone, except Ron and Hermione – and Ron was as guilty as he was. He'd never discussed it with Severus.
"Let's get back to our case," suggested Kingsley. "Prudence Carson. What else did you learn?"
"The most important evidence for our case is that she refers to Estelle Smith by name. But at the same time, there is some indication that Estelle is not necessarily a willing participant."
"What do you mean?" blurted Harry. "Is she saying that both she and Estelle are pawns? Both of them are being forced into this?" He scoffed. "I can't believe that both of them are being duped here."
Reuben Peace held up his hand. "She talked around it, Harry. She obviously can't give us the straight story because of the Fidelius. The Fidelius charm can be altered in a number of ways. It might be protecting more than just their location. But it was clear to the team that interviewed her that Prudence believes Estelle is not operating under her own free will. It's possible she's being blackmailed, or heavily coerced some other way."
"If she is being blackmailed, they must have something against her," said Kingsley.
"Or something that she wants, that they are holding just out of reach," said Severus.
"We have no idea what that might be," said Reuben. "But we're holding Prudence Carson and taking her out of the picture. They'll need another messenger now."
Kingsley and Reuben left after finishing their tea, and Harry moved over to Kingsley's chair, collapsing back into it. He looked tiredly over at Severus.
"Well, let's start with Saturday's paper. You don't look much like a snake to me – not yet, anyway." He grinned. "Has there been any fall-out?"
Severus gave Harry a half-smile, rubbing his neck. "Surprisingly, very little. Minerva has dealt with the Board of Governors, who, for now anyway, are standing solidly behind me. They have asked her to carry on and let this matter blow over. There have been the expected letters and howlers from parents, and she has certainly had her hands full with addressing their justified concerns."
"She's been pretty snippy the last few days." Harry understood, now, why she was so brusque latterly. "What's she telling them? Are you going to make some sort of statement?"
"For now, no," Severus answered. "If it becomes necessary, yes, I will. But for now, Minerva is stating that it is well known by all that I joined the Death Eaters after I left Hogwarts, that I repented and began spying for Albus Dumbledore a short time after that. She ends by stating that the war is over, Voldemort is dead, the Death Eaters are disbanded and it is time to move on and focus on the future."
"That's good," said Harry. He loved Minerva even more right now.
"Isn't it?" Severus helped himself to a biscuit. He leaned back and looked at Harry thoughtfully. "I enjoyed your letter. I will expect one every Friday."
Harry smiled. "I enjoyed writing it. It's been a while – hope you could read my handwriting."
"It left something to be desired, but yes, I could read it." Severus shook his head fondly. "I will need notice before you move here with your wife and brood of children and establish a commune with your best friends. I intend to be far away and protected by the Fidelius before that day comes."
Harry grinned. "After watching Teddy this weekend, I doubt Ginny will want that brood after all. Even I'm having second thoughts about wanting more than one or two."
"Ah, yes, young Mr. Lupin." Severus smirked. "Minerva mentioned you had a babysitting engagement. I understand that she and Andromeda went out for dinner."
"I don't know how someone that small can be so much work," said Harry, rolling his eyes. "Oh, he's cute. But he's not used to being away from Andromeda and he cried for her half the night. And he gets into everything, and threw beets in my hair. And for some reason, Ginny was determined that diaper changing should be my job since I'm the godfather."
Severus thought Ginny Weasley was quite the clever witch.
"But you know," Harry continued. "That last thirty minutes, when he was finally asleep, I had him on my shoulder and was walking around your quarters. He seemed to like that." He paused. "Minerva did mention she let me watch him in your quarters, didn't she?"
"She did. I can assume that nothing was damaged permanently?"
"No. It's all good. Minerva said she can get the beet juice stain out of the sofa." Harry toed off his shoes and drew his feet up onto the chair. "Anyway, while I was walking with him, I saw our reflection in the mirror and stopped to look at him. He looks so much like Remus…." He stopped, voice beginning to break. "I didn't notice so much when he was smaller and just looked like…well, a baby, I guess. But he's got his dad's face, you know. And Tonks' eyes." He studied his hands, not looking at Severus. "I know he's their son. Of course he's supposed to look like them. It's just…well, it's hard." He fiddled with a biscuit, twisting the top off of a cream filled one.
"Harry, I know."
He looked up. Severus had a look on his face that Harry didn't see too often. A look of empathy.
"We see living reminders of those we loved every day, Harrry," he said. "As Teddy grows older, the reminders will be even stronger."
Harry stared back at Severus, stared back at him with Lily's eyes in James' face.
"But fortunately, your relationship with Teddy will grow too, and his own personality will develop so that you will see him more, and his parents less."
Except when he's sleeping, or has just that look on his face, or pushes his hair back behind his ear.
"Until he trips over an umbrella stand," Harry said. But his smile was sad, and slightly wistful.
Severus didn't give him the letter until after dinner.
"I want to discuss this with you after you read it," he said as Harry took the letter with the familiar handwriting. "It is not long. But her tone has changed considerably, and we are beginning to understand what may be at play here."
Harry nodded as he began to read.
Ah. So Severus Snape has taken the easy road, as expected. He is hiding from the world instead of facing his sins. Well, the end result is the same, or nearly so. He is no longer in direct contact with innocent children at Hogwarts, and he is no longer having a daily influence on your life. I hope that his absence will make you more aware of the casualties of war, and of the other options you have for friendship and family.
Family, Harry, is a precious thing. Some people give birth to their children, and others acquire them along the way. There are many undeserving people who have children, and some very deserving ones who do not, or who have lost what they once had. And there are some, like Severus Snape, who should take a look into their own pasts and realize that they are not parenting material. People like Severus Snape should not be allowed to influence children in any way. I do not know what you know, Harry, of Severus Snape's own childhood, but it was a miserable one, filled with abuse and neglect. The man you hold up as a father figure was damaged irreparably as a child. With no appropriate parental role models, he was unduly influenced by peers, and led by unfounded promises of a way out of his miserable existence. The Severus Snape of my experience is a hateful, spiteful man who could not win the heart of the woman he desired and cannot, absolutely cannot, love the child of his enemy. Do not pity him because of his miserable past. Others have suffered horrific childhoods and gone on to greatness. Others, Harry, such as you yourself. But Severus Snape simply cannot have suddenly turned a lifetime of darkness into a beacon of light. He is like a shadow, Harry. A darkness that follows you wherever you go. And as you well know, you can never, ever, escape your shadow.
I realize you will likely not agree with me. Not yet. I ask you only to keep your eyes and ears open, Harry Potter. Severus Snape does not deserve to call you his son. He deserves to suffer as he has made others suffer. He deserves to lose what he has taken away from so many others.
In these next months while you finish your education at Hogwarts, I hope you grow into an independent young man, and that you find your strength in your own roots, as the son of a man and a woman who died to give you life.
I remain, your humble friend,
Harry kept staring at the letter long after he finished reading it. He did not want to look up at Severus, even though he knew Severus was watching him, and waiting.
He folded the letter and handed it back to Severus. "What are we having for dinner? Do you think Kreacher needs help?"
"A pitiful try, Harry. We are having fish and chips and no, Kreacher does not need help, as you well know, and would not accept help if you offered it."
"She's mental," said Harry, looking up and catching Severus' penetrating gaze. "She acts as if she knew you, Severus. Like she grew up next door to you or something." His voice got louder as he released some of his frustration. "And she doesn't know me either! Does she think I had better role models than you did? Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia? And what business is it of hers anyway?"
"It is none of her business." Severus spoke calmly and evenly. Unlike Harry, he had had some time to process this particular letter. "But nonetheless, I wish to discuss this letter with you. Undoubtedly, you have questions…."
"Is she telling the truth about your childhood?" Harry blurted out the question before he lost his nerve.
"You weren't abused or neglected?" He looked hard at Severus.
"I did not have a happy childhood," Severus answered carefully. "You know this. I was not neglected. My parents did not have much money, and I did not get all that I wanted, or sometimes all that I needed." He lowered his voice and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "I will admit that my father's treatment of me at times was abusive." He held a hand up as Harry began to interrupt him. "But my mother loved me, and cared for me as best she could. It is not true that I had no appropriate parental role models." He paused, then stood up and walked to the window, looking out into the twilight and the sleeping gardens as he continued to speak. "But she is right in a way. My childhood experiences, especially with my father, and my reluctance to return home, in many ways influenced my decisions at Hogwarts." He turned to Harry again. Harry thought his face looked pained.
"Don't worry about it. It's just a load of shite, if you ask me. She's got a bone to pick with you for some reason and is trying to poison me against you. But she can't, Severus, because she doesn't know me. She doesn't understand what you mean to me."
"Oh, she does, Harry. And I think that is the crux of the matter. She understands the attachment of a child to a parent. This is all rooted in her own past, somehow. Do not forget that she is an adopted child. My guess is that she knew she was adopted, but knew nothing of her birth family, and that her adoptive parents took care to discredit the Snapes when she got to Hogwarts and came into contact with me, especially when her sister was sorted into Slytherin. If the relationship were somehow discovered, she would keep well away from us. And if they spoke of me to her in the summers, she would have watched me, and judged me." He poured himself another mug of tea and stirred it almost idly as he spoke. "I was not a kind person, Harry. I was insolent, and unhappy. I had a reputation – of cruelty, in how I spoke, in cutting people down with my words."
"You had a crappy home life, Severus…."
"You did as well. Did that make you insolent and unhappy?"
"My home life wasn't so crappy…."
"No?" Severus cocked his head slightly and stared hard at Harry.
"Alright. It wasn't great. But Uncle Vernon didn't beat me. And he didn't drink."
"The point is, Harry, that we came from similar circumstances, as Albus Dumbledore pointed out on too many occasions for me to count, yet we followed very different paths."
Harry stared at Severus but did not say anything. It was true, and he knew it, but there was so much else involved, so many other things that influenced them both.
"My father was a Muggle who hated magic," began Severus.
"So was my Uncle," challenged Harry.
"Indeed," said Severus. "But the difference was that you did not know that. He knew of the existence of magic and you did not. You did not resent him for being a Muggle who hated magic, who was somehow resentful of your heritage, or jealous of it, or who thought it unnatural. You resented him only for treating you unfairly, and harshly, when he so easily lavished love and attention on your cousin. You did not grow up to hate Muggles, Harry, despite the fact that a magic-hating Muggle made your childhood miserable."
"Look, I know what you're getting at," said Harry. "But who's to say that if I had grown up just the same way twenty years earlier, I wouldn't have joined Voldemort too? It wasn't exactly an option when I came to Hogwarts, you know."
"You wouldn't join Voldemort. It is not in you to harbor that kind of hatred, Harry. I know this."
"It isn't in you either, Severus."
Severus sighed. He gave Harry a tired smile.
"Perhaps not anymore."
The next evening after dinner, both Harry and Ginny joined Ron in Hermione's room in the infirmary. Ginny had done a fair job transfiguring one of Hermione's many pillows into a fair copy of her bed, and Harry sat beside her on the new bed, backs against the wall, facing Hermione and Ron. Ron was working on Hermione's feet again, while Harry retold the story of the previous evening at Shell Cottage.
"And after dinner, we took the letter out again and talked about it – but this time, not about whether it was a bunch of shite. We tried to use it to figure out what she wants."
"Well?" Hermione had finished reading the letter and looked up at Harry, eyes bright.
Harry smiled back at her.
"Well, you were right, first of all. I was able to get Severus talking just by being my old impetuous self."
Hermione grinned. "Told you so. So, go on. What does he think?"
"It's also helpful that he's alone all the time and felt like talking last night…"
"Harry!" Ginny elbowed him in the side and he tightened his arm around her as Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Alright. He thinks she must have grown up knowing she was adopted. And that maybe things weren't all sunshine and roses with her family, either."
"That might explain her oblique references to family, and her resentment that Severus seems to have walked into a ready-made family with you. She clearly thinks of him as undeserving, and of herself as deserving. So obviously, she's either lost a child, or been denied one somehow."
They all stared at her.
"How did you…?" began Ron, shaking his head and looking from Hermione to Harry and Ginny.
"She's good, isn't she?" said Ginny. She leaned her head against Harry's shoulder, puzzling out more. "But what about what Reuben told Harry – that they think Hilda's not necessarily in this all willingly. If she's being blackmailed to send the letters and to help ruin Severus, what could they have on her?"
"I think that depends on who 'they' actually are," said Hermione. "Maybe she's done something illegal and they're threatening to expose her. I could see her reacting to that, especially for a cause she believes in."
"Severus says we can limit the search to Slytherins and their families," said Harry. "He says I'd never be able to solve this because I don't think like a Slytherin."
"You know, he may be right," Hermione said. She struggled to sit up again and puffed out a frustrated breath. Ron easily adjusted her position and tucked a pillow on either side of her. "We're not Slytherins. And if disgruntled Slytherins with an axe to grind because Severus seems to have gotten out of the war clean and sweet are behind this…."
"There may be quite a few who fit that description," Harry said, voice subdued how. "Look how many Death Eaters died. And most of them left behind families. Nearly everyone lost something they loved. And on top of all of that, it isn't exactly the same world they're living in now, is it?"
"Now you're making me feel sorry for the Death Eaters," said Ron, frowning.
"Not the Death Eaters – not necessarily," Hermione said. "People associated with them, perhaps. Or traditional pure-blood wizards. Or people who sympathized with their cause."
"The losers," said Harry, suddenly understanding. "The people whose lives would have been just fine if Voldemort had won."
"Now you're thinking more like a Slytherin," said Ginny, breaking the solemn moment. He grinned and tickled her, and she launched herself at him, rolling him over onto his back and straddling his stomach. The transfigured bed gave a strange jiggle then collapsed into itself with a rush of air, leaving Harry and Ginny piled together on the floor.
Ron laughed heartily as Harry and Ginny rolled away from each other. The door to Hermione's room burst open, proving that no wards they erected here could override those of the matron of the infirmary. Poppy stood in the doorway, glaring at Harry and Ginny.
"Out! All of you! Miss Granger needs to rest, not to be a spectator at a wrestling match." She gave them her most official glare, and Harry scrambled to his feet and pressed a kiss to Hermione's cheek.
"You're brilliant. And I have an idea."
"It had best be a good one," she sighed.
"Oh, it is," he assured her. It is.
Harry Potter was not a Slytherin. He did not think like a Slytherin.
But Draco Malfoy was, and did.
He stood now in front of a closed door. Malfoy's door. He took a deep breath then knocked softly.
He thought Malfoy might be asleep, because he didn't hear any response for a long while. He raised his hand to knock again but didn't get a chance. The door opened . Malfoy stood there, dressed in his uniform trousers and shirt, but without his school robes. It was odd seeing him in such a casual setting. He stared at Harry with his cool grey eyes.
"May I come in?" asked Harry, careful to be as polite as possible.
"Why?" Malfoy didn't bother with pleasantries.
"I'd like to talk to you…about this thing with Severus."
Malfoy's gaze, if anything, grew cooler.
"This thing with Severus, Potter? Could you be more specific?"
Harry bristled, but managed to tamp down his annoyance. He needed something from Malfoy, so he had to play along.
"Alright. Who's trying to bring Severus down and why?"
Malfoy stared at him, still not budging. "I believe we already had this conversation, Potter." He began to close the door and Harry quickly reached out and grabbed it before it shut completely.
"They found Prudence Carson yesterday, Malfoy."
The door opened again. "And?" Malfoy's voice was still cool and indifferent, but Harry knew he was interested now.
"Look, can I come in or something? I shouldn't be talking about this at all, and especially not out here in the corridor."
Malfoy stepped away from the door and pulled it open a few more inches so that Harry had just enough room to slip in. He glanced around. Neat as a pin, as he'd expected, but not opulently decorated. It was a plain room, ordinary, much like his own, but with a touch here and there that left no doubt that Malfoy was….well, Malfoy.
He had at least a dozen well-pressed robes hanging in the closet space, and a half dozen pair of boots and shoes arranged on the floor beside them. The ink jar on the desk sparkled. It was probably cut glass, and extremely old and valuable. His school trunk, tucked against the rear wall, looked like a turn-of-the-century steamer trunk and was fitted with ornate fittings and scroll-work and a series of locks that reminded him—unpleasantly—of Moody's trunk. His eyes skimmed across the shelves. They were packed with books . The lower shelf held textbooks and the one above it was lined with books that appeared to be at least a hundred years old.
Malfoy remained on his feet. Harry wasn't sure how or where to start.
"You were right. Prudence Carson didn't write that letter."
Malfoy shrugged. "I told you that."
"I know. I'm just saying that they've confirmed it." He stopped, suddenly worried. "Look, can I trust you not to tell anyone else? The Aurors are still investigating all of this and technically I'm not supposed…."
Malfoy cut him off with a laugh. "You don't get Slytherins, Potter, do you?"
Harry stared at him and bit back a grin. "No. And that's why I'm here, actually. Severus says I don't think like a Slytherin."
Draco sat on his bed and pointed to the desk chair. "He's right, of course. Sit, Potter. And spill it."
It wasn't easy. Not at all. Harry Potter had grown up hating Draco Malfoy. Hating him and not trusting him. It felt odd – even dangerous – to tell him about the letters he'd been receiving. He didn't like repeating the things that Hilda had said about Severus. It felt more natural to tell Malfoy about Estelle Smith's background, though he omitted the part about her being Snape's sister. That her sister had died at Hogwarts, and that she herself had been married to a Death Eater who had died in Azkaban.
Finally, he told Malfoy that the Aurors didn't think that Estelle was acting alone, and that the information Prudence had revealed seemed to point to some sort of coercion, perhaps even blackmail.
"You do know that Severus must have this all figured out, don't you?" asked Draco when Harry paused for a breath.
Harry stared at him. There was no way that Severus knew who was behind this. If he did, he'd have told the Aurors, and they'd have this case closed.
"No, he doesn't," he said, trying not to sound aggravated. "He had ideas, and he's working with the Aurors."
"I don't mean that he knows who it is," Malfoy said. He was leaning against the headboard of his bed. While Harry had talked, he'd taken off his boots and lined them up beside each other on the floor at the side of the bed. He was wearing very dark green socks with a black pattern running up the outside. "But he knows what it's about. And he probably knows more than he's telling you, or the Aurors."
Harry swallowed a retort. This was a power play. He was up against the king of the Slytherins, and someone who had known Severus a long time, who had interacted with him as a Slytherin for years. "Why do you think that?" he said at last.
Malfoy shrugged. "Snape has managed to piss off a lot of people over the years, Potter. Whoever is behind it wants to take him down. No – let me rephrase that." He stared at Harry, looking quite comfortable propped against the pillows of his bed while Harry squirmed uncomfortably on the wooden chair like a witness being interrogated. "Whoever is behind this wants to ruin him. They want to take everything from him that makes him happy. His job. His family. His reputation. You do know what's next, don't you?"
Harry shook his head slowly. He didn't think like a Slytherin.
"He's a Potions Master, Potter. They'll go after his work. Try to discredit some of his important research, like on the effects of the Cruciatus."
Harry looked down. He didn't know that. He didn't know anything about Severus' research, in fact. He felt like an idiot. He forced himself to look back up at Malfoy.
"Who's doing this, Malfoy?" he asked. "Do you have any idea?"
"Someone who's lost what Severus has. Their reputation. Their job. Their child. Their reason for living." His gaze bore into Harry's and Harry somehow felt Malfoy's own losses. "Unfortunately, Potter, that could be nearly anyone associated with the Death Eaters. But from what you said is in those letters, I'd look for someone who lost a child."
Harry nodded. He's thought that too.
"And Potter – don't limit yourself to the last couple of years. There were just as many who went down the first time around – back when we were too young to care."
Harry nodded. His gaze drifted from Draco to where Draco was staring—the bookshelves next to the desk. There were photographs there that he hadn't noticed at first. Just a few, all in plain silver frames. Draco with his parents on Platform 9 ¾. Draco with Pansy Parkinson. Draco with Crabbe and Goyle. One more – of all of the Slytherins in his year, with Severus, grouped together in the Slytherin common room.
He pulled his gaze away from the photos and stood up.
"There is one more thing you might try, Potter."
"What?" Harry walked toward the door, feeling oddly like a voyeur on Draco's private pain. He hadn't thought of Crabbe and Goyle in months.
"Flitwick. Sprout. Slughorn. McGonagall. They've all been here forever. They might remember this Estelle Smith and her sister. They could tell you what she was like, who she hung out with. Maybe point you to someone you're missing."
"Thanks, Malfoy. That's a good idea."
"I'm not doing this for you, you know." Malfoy's voice was quiet and low as Harry opened the door.
"I know," said Harry. "But thanks anyway."
He stepped out into the corridor, back into comfortable reality, and closed the door behind him.