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Harry didn't know how exactly, but Malfoy managed to convince the Longbottoms to wait in the visitors’ tearoom instead of watching the experiment, claiming he would perform better with the minimum amount of distraction. Once Enid and Algie were gone, Malfoy informed Harry that he wouldn't use the additional spell for Harry to share Sarah's memories, since digging through the various layers of Sarah's memory was complicated enough. He also demanded that Harry should stay in the room with him, but watch from a distance of at least eight yards. And then he made Harry draw protective runes around himself, while Malfoy drew a similar pattern around Sarah's bed.

"Under no circumstances are you allowed to touch me, Potter. You got that? No matter how scary it gets, you can't touch me. It might ruin my focus and that wouldn't be good."

Honestly, how scary could it get? Harry was sure that Malfoy’s taste for dramatic appearances was coming into play.

"When Snape performed Legilimency on me, he never took any kind of precaution."

"Snape Legilied you? Why that?"

"It was to teach me Occlumency." Harry completed a set of protective runes on the floor. "Never mind. It didn't work."

Malfoy snorted. "Imagine that. Who thought that an open book like you would be able to shield your thoughts?"

"That would have been Dumbledore."

"Figures." Malfoy gave Harry a hard look. "Occlumency? To shield you from him, I suppose. Fifth year, yes? Remedial potions?"

Harry felt his face heat up. "Oh come on, mate, stop digging around in my sordid past and answer the question already. Why do you need so many precautions?"

"Did you listen to anything at all of what I told the Longbottoms? This is about my protection a lot more than it's about Sarah's. No distraction, no contact from the outside world. I will have to use her heartbeat to navigate. And–"

"But wouldn't an outside contact make it easier for you to find your way back?"

Malfoy had the nerve to leer. "I'll already be touching Sarah to strengthen the connection between us. An outside touch to pull me back would counter that. Sudden touches might confuse my focus. A year ago, Springfield et al. published a hypothetical paper in which they claimed that any kind of grounding focus would work only if the Legilimens and the person touching them were bonded partners. And that's very much not an option between the two of us, is it?" He flicked his tongue over his lips. "Relax, Potter. I'm not hitting on you. Your virtue is safe with me. Are you done with the runes? Good. Let me see ..." He clucked his tongue. "That'll do. So let's get this show on the road."

Harry took his place on a chair by the door. The Healers had been instructed to clear the entire floor of visitors to keep anyone from wandering in by accident.

Malfoy set the alarm clock for five minutes. Then he sat on the side of Sarah's bed and took her right hand gently into his left. With his other hand, he aimed his wand at her temple.



"Legilimens."

The command sounded nothing like the attacks Snape had flung against Harry. It was more like a whispered suggestion to give up your darkest secrets, so gentle and seductive that Harry almost gasped from hearing Malfoy's voice alone.

The expression on Malfoy's face was one of deep focus and concentration, like someone intend on recalling an important event in their own life. But the complete lack of emotions made it a disturbing sight. Was Sarah's existence lacking all emotions? Or was Malfoy simply too focused on sifting through her memories in search of the scariest?

Harry found that he was digging his fingers so deeply into his palms that it hurt. Huh. So well, he obviously was excited for what they might find. He stared at the half-moons in his flesh for a brief moment and then firmly placed each hand on one knee.

A shrill from the alarm clock and a consecutive gasp from Malfoy drew his attention back to the bed. "And? What did you see?"

Malfoy raised a hand to stop Harry from questioning him. "Give a man a moment to recover." He drew a deep breath. "There's nothing clear in there. Just a complete jumble of images. I've seen more garden flowers in the last five minutes than I ever saw in my life. Images of her parents, and other children. Nothing scary whatsoever. It seems like her mind has helped itself insofar that she only has the most soothing images on the forefront. I’m not sure, but it could be that she’s subconsciously using her magic to do it. To find out what she saw, I'll have to dig deeper."

Harry nodded. It sounded a little unnerving, but Malfoy certainly knew what he was doing. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"You can watch the clock for me, and be ready for when I'm back. I'm going to double the time."

The first five minutes, nothing happened. But then, as Malfoy reached the seventh minute, his whole demeanour started to change. His breathing grew more laboured, and instead of looking right into Sarah's face his gaze started dancing here and there like he was dreaming with his eyes open. Around the ninth minute, he began to talk, stumbling over the words like a victim running away from a predator.

"Yes, no, yes. Yes, yes, no. No, not that one. Don't take that one. It's mine." He sobbed. "No, no, no! You can't have it!" He was clearly under stress. His voice didn't even sound like Malfoy any longer, but almost reminded Harry of a young boy. There were beads of sweat running down his face, and he was clutching Sarah's hand much tighter than in the session before.

When the alarm clock rang, Malfoy bent forward, gasping for air. He carefully released Sarah's hand and placed his wand on the bedspread. Then he stood and staggered towards the water basin in one corner of the room, where he started retching. Once he was done, he poured a glass of water for himself and drank it in long, greedy gulps.

He turned to face Harry. "You look like you're going to combust."

"Please. You're handling that part fine without any help from me. I gather that you saw something."

Malfoy nodded, then shook his head. "Yes. No. I'm not sure. I saw something, yes, but I don't believe it's related to the attack." He closed his eyes and then continued. "I saw a black dog, a Grim, and it was ripping away at everything she holds dear. The flowers, her peers, her parents. Everything. Uprooted, bleeding, dead." He shuddered, and opened his eyes. "I'm just glad that ... the upper layers ... they're still intact. The Grim - it was like a ripple in the surface caused by something even deeper. I'm almost certain it wasn't a Grim that attacked her."

Harry rubbed his hands over his arms against the sudden chill caused by Malfoy's words. "What are you going to do?"

Malfoy took another deep breath and released it. "What do you think? I'm going in once more."

"Even if you could cause more than ripples? Remember, we promised her parents that she would come to no harm?"

Malfoy wiped his mouth. "And what makes you think I'd risk that? I won't. I'm going to double the time again. Twenty minutes, so that I can go just a little bit deeper but still have enough time for a slow retreat. I won't let that monster, whatever it is, follow me to the surface. She won't feel a thing, I promise."

"And what about you?"

Malfoy's grin was nothing but cocky. "I'll manage."

Like the last two times, the first few minutes went by uneventfully before Malfoy reached the second stage, where his spell work was taking a physical toll on him. For several minutes, he sat, while his flickering gaze told Harry that he was hunting through Sarah's memories. Only the sweat gathering at his temples and the occasional moan told Harry that the process was anything but comfortable. Then, around the eleventh minute, Malfoy's whole body tensed up that he almost left his sitting position on the bed. He bent forward and curled in on himself.

"No. No. Please. It's... so cold." His voice dropped down to a whisper, as if he didn't dare to speak louder. "So cold. So dark." His shoulders shook, and Harry could see tears streaming down his face, while his gaze was fixed on something that had to be the memory they'd been hoping to retrieve.

"Hands. I don't want them. Don't want them on me." Malfoy let out a long, painful moan. "No, no, no, please. Go away, go away, go, go, go away." His eyes were wide open, totally drawn in by whatever it was he was witnessing.

Though what exactly, Harry still had no idea. Someone had been holding Sarah down during the attack. But did Malfoy also manage to see their face? Harry could only hope that he would stay coherent enough to report afterwards.

The alarm clock shrilled. If Malfoy hadn't seen enough to identify the attacker, he most certainly couldn't go back a fourth time. Any moment now he would let go of Sarah's hand and declare defeat.

Malfoy moaned again. He was still holding Sarah's hand, even though his wand had fallen from his trembling fingers.

"Black, swirling." He shivered violently. "A vortex of hunger ... I can't ... I can't." Malfoy's head tipped upwards. He turned it sideways and pressed his lips together if he was fighting an intruding kiss. He moaned weakly. "No!" Malfoy tried to pull away from Sarah, all the while clutching harder at her hand, so that he almost dragged her across the bed. It was like he couldn't let go of her, no matter how much he wanted to get away from her memory.

The alarm had not stopped the spell this time.

It was excruciating to watch Malfoy's agony. Yes, he had insisted that Harry shouldn't interfere. But Harry couldn't just sit and do nothing, could he? He had to help somehow. Harry stood and carefully stepped over his circle of runes. He approached the bed and stepped into the other circle, while making sure not to touch Malfoy. Instead, very gently, he began stroking Sarah, soothingly, like a mother would a feverish child. He started with her hair and continued, caressing her face, and, finally, her arms.

Sarah sighed and gave a reflexive stir that pushed her hand into Malfoy's tight grip. And that bit of a nudge, thankfully, pulled Malfoy back.

His gaze cleared up. He first looked at Sarah, then his eyes found Harry's. His face was shiny with sweat and tears. Blood was running down his chin from where he'd bitten his lip. The expression on his face was of someone who'd just seen his own death. His lips parted, but all he managed was a cough. He swallowed, a dry click in his throat, and then tried again.

"Nev- never ... seen one ... so close."

Malfoy slumped forward, and all Harry could do was to catch him before he hit the ground.

***


"You fainted."

"I didn't faint. I passed out. In a very manly way." Malfoy sipped the hot chocolate Harry had brought him and made a face. He looked as haughty as his father on his best days, and Harry had to fight a grin.

"More like a damsel in distress, I'd say."

"Suit yourself. I found us a clue, didn't I? That should justify a little passing out."

"Yep, that you did." And damn, it had been a bloody brilliant clue. When Malfoy had come to and Harry had handed him a glass of water which he downed, he had been able to confirm Harry's suspicion about the scene Harry had witnessed.

"And you are absolutely sure, Malfoy?"

"I saw a Dementor." He shuddered. "I still remember them from when they guarded Hogwarts. Though I'd never thought I'd feel one so close."

"It certainly looked a lot like one from the outside, too. And I'm pretty sure who sent it."

Malfoy gave him an expectant look.

"Umbridge. It must have been her. She sent a Dementor after me in 1995, two years before the attack on Sarah. She didn’t have a Ministry warrant. She simply thought I'd better be eliminated."

Malfoy grinned. "Remind me to send her flowers."

"You can deliver them yourself. We're paying her a visit in Azkaban."

Malfoy paled considerably. “I guess we’ll have to. But first, we need to talk to Sarah’s parents.”

Harry nodded. “I’ll handle them.”

“That, Potter, would be ever so great.”

The Longbottoms were the only people in the tearoom on the fifth floor. They stood when they saw Harry and Malfoy come through the door.

Algie was the first to speak. “How is Sarah? What did you find?”

“She’s fine. A healer checked her vitals and confirmed that she is resting peacefully.”

“So, did you find anything?” Enid asked.

Harry nodded. “Why don’t we sit down? This might take a while.” Once they were seated again, he said, “We found evidence that Sarah has been Kissed by a Dementor.”

Enid’s face contorted into a grimace of pain. Algie drew an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against him.

“Kissed?” Algie asked. “But why? Why would someone send a Dementor after a little girl?”

“We strongly suspect that it had been someone who wanted to get rid of people they thought had no magic.”

Enid sat upright, facing Harry. “So it’s true? She has no magic?”

“About that ...” Harry began, and was interrupted by Malfoy.

“She has.” Malfoy’s voice still sounded weak and unstable.

Enid turned towards Malfoy in a hurry. “What do you mean, she has? She was attacked because she had no magic, wasn’t she?” Her voice was sharp as broken glass.

“We assume the attacker thought she had not magic.” Malfoy coughed, and his whole body shook from it. “But I found signs that Sarah is using magic to protect herself from the memory of the Kiss.”

“She’s protecting herself with magic? But how ... how do you know?”

“I’ve seen images in her mind. On the upper layers, all there is are her parents, her childhood friends, and lots of flowers. Nothing scary whatsoever. It seems that her magic manifested itself insofar that she only has the most soothing images on the forefront of her mind. It took me twenty minutes to access her memory of the Kiss.”

Both Enid and Algie sat without a word. Enid’s hands were trembling in her lap, and Algie took them softly into his.

“I haven’t seen anything like it before, haven’t read about it, either. And I can’t remember a single case where Legilimency was performed on a person who had received the Kiss. So I can’t be entirely sure, but it seems that her magic is keeping her from remembering.”

Enid held up her hand. “Theories,” she said, “they offered us nothing but theories for years.”

Malfoy pressed his lips together. His eyes looked swollen, and there was a white line of exhaustion around his mouth. “I’m sorry I can’t give you more.”

“Don’t. I’m ... I’m not finished.” Enid drew a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “They offered us nothing but theories. You ... you are the first who told us that she’s not suffering.”

“And she has magic, too,” Harry added carefully. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Enid.”

She faced him. Tears were running down her pale cheeks, but she was smiling weakly. “I’ve been living with this guilt so long ... it doesn’t really matter. But Sarah ... she’s not suffering.”

Algie was still stroking Enid’s other hand. “Our little girl. She’s using magic.”

“And she was violently attacked, illegally, too, and under a false assumption,” Harry added. He leaned forward in his seat. “Enid, Algie? Will you give your consent for us to use the information we gained to narrow down the suspect?”

“Yes, Harry. Use it in whatever way you see fit,” Enid said, and Algie nodded his agreement.

They all stood to say their goodbyes.

When the Longbottoms were almost at the door, Enid stopped and turned around once more to look Malfoy in the eye. “Mr Malfoy?”

“Yes, Mrs Longbottom?”

“Thank you.”

She didn’t apologise. But from the look of gratitude on Malfoy’s face, her thanks had been enough.

***


Even without Dementors, Azkaban was as cold and unwelcoming as Draco had imagined it would be. In his youth, Azkaban had been a place so dark that parents didn't even use it to threaten their children. In all the time of his father's incarceration, Mother had never even mentioned the name, as if speaking the truth would make it worse. Father, once he was back, had been a mere shell of his former self, and they had never talked about the nightmares he'd endured behind the high prison walls.

As he and Potter walked from where they’d landed their brooms past the graveyard and towards the Azkaban entrance, Draco couldn't suppress a shudder.

"It's a nasty place, isn't it?" Potter remarked.

"Have you ever been here before?"

"No. But ... even without the Dementors ... I hate it here."

Draco nodded. "You're right. Let's get this over with."

Dolores Umbridge was shackled hand and foot to a high iron chair in the visiting room. She looked weirdly small in her black and white striped prison uniform, like the loss of positions and privileges had shrunk her. She'd lost weight, but still held herself straight and assumed a haughty look once she realised who her visitors were. Two guards brought a small table and chairs for Potter and Draco to sit on and then left them alone.

"Mr Potter. What a surprise to see you here." She looked around the barren room and sneered. "I'd offer you tea, but you see that this place is lacking in such amenities."

"There is no need for tea or hospitality." Potter's voice was as cold as a Dementor's breath. "As far as I remember, you lack essential qualities of a good host."

"Is that so?" She smiled. "If not to my winning personality, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

"We'd like to ask you about your time as Head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission. Especially about your involvement in the case of Sarah Longbottom." Potter placed the purple folder on the table in front of Umbridge, opened it and pulled out Sarah's picture.

Umbridge gave it a fleeting look. "I've never met the child. What about her?"

"She was attacked in 1997 by a Dementor and barely escaped with her life."

"Is that so?" She cleared her throat with a little cough. "What a tragedy."

Draco felt a chill run down his spine. Potter griped the edge of his chair so hard with his left hand that the knuckles stood white against his flesh.

"A tragedy indeed. She has been in St Mungo's ever since, for nine years. She never recovered. We think it was you who sent the Dementor for her."

Umbridge smiled. "And why, Mr Potter, would you think that? Why would I send a Dementor after an innocent child?"

"Because you thought she might be a Squib. And because you wanted to eliminate those with no or erratic magic to create the pure-blood society you believed in." Potter slammed a pink pamphlet onto the table. Mudbloods and the Dangers They Pose to a Peaceful Pure-Blood Society. Beneath the title was the picture of a red rose with a simpering face in the middle of its petals, being strangled by a green weed with fangs and a scowl.

"You wrote and published this trash as propaganda for the Ministry while it was controlled by Voldemort. You actively pursued Muggle-borns and took their wands away, and you gave them to the Dementors, not caring whether they would deliver the prisoners to Azkaban with their souls intact or do a little soul-sucking on the side."

Umbridge snuggled into her chair. "Is that all? All of this has been presented at my trial in great detail. I still fail to see the connection with this Sarah Longbottom. She was never tried. Why would you think I sent a Dementor after her?"

"You certainly sent one after me without any right to do so. And I know from your trial that you sent Dementors after innocent people in three more cases, under the pretence to stop them from fleeing the country."

Umbridge's laughter was sickly sweet, artificial like sugar pearls on a string. "Oh, Mr Potter, you give far too much credit to me. I was just one overworked Ministry employee and certainly had to pick my battles. Though I toast to whoever had the ingenious idea to hunt Squibs and magical retards on the side. It's an abomination to let them run free ... or even worse, procreate."

"It was you who decided that, while leading the Muggle-born Registration Commission, you could use Dementors to get rid of as many children with no magic as possible on the side? Chasing Muggle-borns from within the system wasn't enough for you, wasn't it?"

Potter's white-hot anger was enough to burn a dragon, but Umbridge only tittered. "If you know it all so well, why are you even here? You won't get a confession from me other than the ones you already have."

Potter placed his right hand on the table. Faded scars covered the back of his hand almost like a scribble. Potter traced them slowly with the fingers of his left hand.

“We don’t need your confession. It’s just a matter of protocol to ask permission from the Wizengamot for another interrogation under Veritaserum. With the amount of evidence already against you, we’ll get that permission in no time.”

Potter kept tracing the scars on the back of his hand. Umbridge watched him, transfixed like he was showing her a dirty secret.

"We won’t let you get away with this. Sarah's case is going to be solved, and we're going to prove you as the perpetrator.” Potter leaned back in his chair. “There’s no need to talk now.”

“You do what you have to do.” Umbridge was still smiling. And she didn't do anything to hide the truly sadistic tone of her voice. "Who is this 'we' you're talking about?" She gave another one of her high-pitched little laughs. "Not you and Mr Malfoy here."

For the first time during the interview, she acknowledged Draco's presence with a calculating look. "You were such a promising young man. But look at you now: nothing but a lapdog to the establishment of modern age. What a shame. Does your father know how much of a lickspittle you've become? But then, he was probably the one who taught you to betray your principles at the slightest change of weather." She straightened her back and drew herself up as high as the chains around her ankles and wrists would let her.

At her height, it should have made her look ridiculous, but Draco felt like he was going to be sick any moment. Mother had insisted that survival came first, that they had to adapt at any cost. But Father ... there were days when Lucius Malfoy still intended to go to the Ministry and strike another deal with Cornelius Fudge. It was on those days when he spread the propaganda that had cost them all so dearly.

"There will be come a time when the old and tried traditions will be honoured once more. And that time isn't far away."

Draco felt a soft pull at his sleeve. Potter. Potter with his compassionate eyes behind his ridiculous glasses. "Come, Malfoy. We've got what we came for. There's nothing more for us to get from her."

And he let Potter guide him out of the room, outside into the cold breeze, and then side-along away from that place and memories of the past he would never be allowed to forget completely.

***


"We did it." Malfoy seemed to have recovered from their visit at Azkaban and was back to being his usually cocky self. He dumped a coffee mug on Harry's desk. "I brought you one of your frou-frou coffees to celebrate."

Harry retrieved a similar mug from out of his desk drawer. "I thought I'd repay the favour with a tea. Darjeeling. No sugar, no milk."

"Potter. I never thought you cared." Malfoy accepted the mug with a bow and a grin. He took a careful sip. "Delicious. You should try it one day. It would certainly refine your taste." He gestured towards the purple folder on Harry's desk with Sarah's name on it. "I have seen more Dementors than I would like these past few weeks. Do you think Umbridge went after Helena's parents, too?"

"Why should she? They were magical."

"I wouldn’t put it past her. If not, we still have to find whoever sent Dementors to Chrysos Hall. But hey, let's first celebrate that we solved Sarah's case." Malfoy clicked his mug against Harry's and then pointed towards Sarah's folder. "You should do the honours."

"I was just waiting for you." Harry took his wand, aimed it at the folder and muttered the appropriate incantation.

The red Ministry brand changed from "cold case" to "trial pending".

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK...

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