"Alohomora!" Ron cried.
"Right. Because that's going to work." Hermione tapped the box on the desk in front of her with her wand. Shimmering green ribbons flew from the tip, wrapped around the box, turned red and then rushed through the keyhole and disappeared. It was a highly impressive performance, but the box remained just as closed as Ron's. "The solution won't be so simple. This is a challenge, Ron."
"You're not doing any better," Ron pointed out.
Hermione grimaced and shot another spell at the box. Harry suspected she had tried to blast it into smithereens. It did not work. The other students were all failing miserably as well. Each had a small wooden box with an elaborate Hogwarts crest before them and every single one of them was still closed. Flitwick was sitting behind his desk, grinning widely at them. He had promised there was a reward in each box, which they could keep if they actually manage to open it. Knowing Flitwick, it was probably sweets. And bragging rights, obviously.
"Don't know why he looks so smug." Ron glared at Flitwick. "Had he done his job properly, Harry wouldn't have nearly died yesterday."
"That's an unfair thing to say, Ron," Hermione said. "Quite a few people were trying to repair the castle this summer. They've missed something; it happens."
Harry snorted. "That's not how you felt yesterday."
Hermione blushed and shot another—unsuccessful—spell at the box. "I was upset. It had been a strange day."
That it had.
Ron grinned. "You were brilliant."
"I don't think Professor McGonagall agrees," Hermione said in a small voice, though she looked pleased.
Yesterday, McGonagall had shown up at the hospital wing while Pomfrey tended to Harry's injuries. Hermione had rounded on her immediately, declaring an oversight had been made and the castle was unsafe. Apparently, long ago the Hogwarts staircases had been Charmed to carry students where they wished to go. It had proven to be unsafe, however, and the stairs were hurriedly forced to stay put and were allowed to move only when no one was using them.
"One of the Charms must have been cancelled back in May. Has no one thought to make sure? Harry and Malfoy could have been seriously injured today. Or worse."
McGonagall's lips had thinned into a harsh line. "If you like, Miss Granger, you can all pack your trunks and leave. I'll be more than happy to secure the whole castle myself and make sure nothing has been missed. I expect you'll be able to come back and feel sufficiently safe—in a year or two."
That had shut Hermione up. She had looked so miserable, the Headmistress's expression had softened. "The school was opened too soon. I agree, Miss Granger. I will report this incident to the Board of Governors, and Professor Flitwick will secure the staircases. It seems to me, however..." McGonagall had glanced at Tommy Wright's still form, "that wayward charms are the least of our concern."
Harry agreed with that sentiment. Tommy Wright's condition was unchanged. He was alive but not waking up. Madam Pomfrey confessed she had not yet discovered which curse had been used and she feared that if she did not, he would not live much longer. Finding the caster of the curse would be of much help.
"You should have told McGonagall it was probably Malfoy," Ron had chastised him yesterday as they made their way to the Gryffindor Tower.
"But I don't know if that's true," Harry had countered. "And I accused Malfoy of cursing someone before, and McGonagall hadn't been very understanding."
"But you were right two years ago!"
He was, but that did not mean he was right now. If Tommy was selling fake—and expensive, apparently—potions to students, then he had more enemies than Goyle and Malfoy, perhaps some with a better motive. And Malfoy had looked shocked when they had found him. And so scared before, at the seventh floor. He must have seen something; he must know something. Harry had spent a long time staring at Malfoy's dot on the Marauder's Map yesterday. Malfoy had not ventured outside of his dormitory, doing no further mischief or attempting to run away. Ron had caught Harry staring at the Map, but he had merely shaken his head and refrained from commenting.
Irritated, Harry looked back down at his box. He had to stop thinking about Malfoy. The box was not helping. The tiny lettering on the Hogwarts crest proclaimed: Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus. The word Draco seemed to be mocking him. Harry glanced at the back of the room where Draco Malfoy was trying to open his box. He looks pale, Harry thought. But then again, Malfoy always looked pale.
Malfoy cast another series of spells in quick succession and then scowled. Harry looked away.
"I'll be a wretched Auror," he said.
Hermione reacted immediately. "Don't be ridiculous, Harry. None of us have opened the box yet." She sounded frustrated. "This just proves my point: we all still have much to learn."
"I wasn't talking about the box. I meant yesterday; I should have cast Prior Incantato on Malfoy's wand. It would have told me whether or not Malfoy cursed Tommy."
Hermione looked up at him with wide eyes. "Oh."
"Can't you still do it?" Ron asked.
Hermione shook his head. "It's too late. The Reverse-Spell Effect is limited. Malfoy has cast too many spells since then."
Malfoy cast another one right then, as though mocking them.
"But..." Ron grimaced. "Then all Malfoy had to do yesterday was cast a bunch of spells after cursing Tommy and Prior Incantato would reveal nothing."
"In theory," Harry agreed. "But perhaps he didn't think of it. Or he didn't have time. Either way, I missed my chance."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Hermione said. "You were injured. You couldn't be expected to think clearly."
Harry snorted. "I can imagine my first Auror mission now: I'll get hurt, let the Dark Wizard run away and end up stuck in a cupboard because I won't be able to open the enchanted door."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Fine. Mope, if you must. Just do it quietly." She cast another spell on the box.
A loud bang made them all jump in fright. And then the classroom dissolved into giggles at the sight of a red-faced Seamus Finnigan rubbing his wrist and Vanishing a large axe. He had apparently tried to split his box in half with brute force.
Professor Flitwick's head bobbed as he laughed. "There's no need for violence, I assure you. The right spell and the lid will pop open." He grinned again.
He did look too smug. Harry looked back at the box. It had to be a trick of some sort. Ron might have had a point: the solution was probably something simple. Something they would all be unlikely to think of, but would make sense in retrospect.
Harry narrowed his eyes. The Hogwarts crest was beginning to look suspicious. But perhaps, by now, Harry thought that everything with the word Draco on it was suspicious. On the other hand, Flitwick could have given them a bunch of boxes without the Hogwarts crest on them. It was meant either to distract them or to give them a clue. Hermione had already poked the crest with her wand but it did not help.
Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.
Harry stared. Then blinked. Oh. Oh. If you want someone to open their mouth, or lid, so to speak, there was a spell that never failed to achieve that. Harry tapped the box and muttered the incantation—very quietly so no one would hear his ridiculous idea if he was wrong. The box shuddered once, twice and the lid snapped open, flapping wildly until Harry cancelled the spell with Finite Incantatem. The box calmed down and remained open. A colourful wrapper was inside. It might have been a lollipop.
A small gasp made Harry look sideways. Hermione was staring at Harry's open box in shock. "How did you—?" She cut off and focused back on her box. "Don't tell me! I'll work it out myself." She started casting spells with renewed vigour.
"Tell me," Ron whispered.
Harry was about to, but Flitwick showed up by his side. "Excellent! Excellent, Mr Potter!" he exclaimed in his squeaky voice. "Now, if you don't mind, collect your reward and off with you."
"Yes, Professor." Harry gave Ron an apologetic look, picked up his reward—which was indeed a lollipop—and threw his bag over his shoulder.
As he turned to leave, he heard Ron hiss and Hermione sigh. "I doubt Parseltongue will work, Ron."
Harry could not help smiling. He was already at the door when he glanced back at Malfoy. Their eyes met but Malfoy quickly looked away.
Back to that, then.
The corridor was quiet and brightly lit by the afternoon sun. It illuminated the tiny specks of dust floating through the air. It reminded Harry he wanted to stop by the hospital wing and see if the cobwebs that had covered Tommy yesterday had returned. Pomfrey had failed to Vanish them and had removed them manually. Last Harry heard, which was this morning, they had not come back. Pomfrey could not explain why they were there in the first place, but they had actually made her hopeful because their presence might be able to help track down the curse cast on Tommy.
The trip to the hospital had to wait until after double Transfiguration. With barely five minutes left to the end of the lesson, Harry could do little but wait for Ron and Hermione. He leaned against the wall only to flinch a minute later when the classroom door flew open and Malfoy strode into the hallway.
Malfoy promptly scowled at him. "Don't look so surprised, Potter. Do you think you're the only one who realised the boxes are ticklish?"
"I'm more surprised you haven't opened your box sooner. I thought you were an expert on opening doors, boxes and cabinets."
Malfoy regarded him coolly, though his cheeks were tinted pink. "I never knew you appreciated my intellect. Or are you just easily impressed?"
"The curse cast on Tommy was very impressive."
For a moment, Harry was sure that Malfoy was about to punch him. Instead, Malfoy turned away. "I don't have to listen to this." Two seconds later, he changed his mind. He rounded on Harry, getting so close the tip of his shoes knocked against Harry's. The inch or two he had on Harry were more noticeable now, which was undoubtedly Malfoy's intention. Harry forced himself not to reach for his wand.
"I did not curse Tommy." Malfoy's voice was low. He sounded furious. "Why would I? Because he kicked me? Because he tricked Goyle? How thick are you? Goyle was an idiot and refused to listen to me. He had it coming. And for the record, when someone kicks me, I kick them back, and I might do it more than once just because I can, but I wouldn't curse them." Malfoy's pale grey eyes seemed darker now. "He's not a killer. Isn't that what you said at my trial? Did you change your mind? Or you didn't want to send me to Azkaban so you'd have something to do this year in Hogwarts? Is that it?"
"What I want, Malfoy," Harry said, "is for you to tell me the truth."
"I didn't curse him!"
"Why did you miss the match? What were you doing in the castle?"
"I told you I just wanted—"
"Stop lying!" Harry snapped. "You showed up on the seventh floor looking like you were running away from someone. You say you didn't curse Tommy, fine, but you know something. Tell me what it is."
Malfoy was shaking his head. "I don't know anything about the curse cast on Tommy."
"Then tell me what you do know."
"It's none of your business!" Malfoy had clearly had enough. He took a sharp step back as though he was ready to run away. Instinctively, Harry's hand shot out to grab Malfoy's upper arm and pull him closer. Malfoy froze, eyes going wide.
Harry spoke quietly. "Believe it or not, Malfoy, Tommy Wright isn't the only person I'm trying to help here."
Malfoy's cheeks were flushed. He was panting, as though he was so angry he could not breathe, but he remained obstinately quiet, doing nothing but staring at Harry.
He'll tell you. He will. Just keep eye contact.
The bell rang. Malfoy wrenched his arm free and shot backward as though burned. The Charms classroom burst open. Harry glanced at the door and when he looked back, Malfoy was already running away. He wouldn't tell me anything, anyway, Harry consoled himself. His heart was beating very fast and when Hermione showed up by his side, exclaiming, "Rubbish!" he almost jumped.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked. He hoped he did not look upset. His cheeks burned. He half-expected Hermione to notice, but she seemed to have other concerns.
"This whole lesson!" Hermione huffed. "Tickling Charm! Honestly. I thought we might actually learn something. But it was just a silly trick."
"Not that she's upset or anything," Ron said seriously.
"I'm not upset! It was just so random. What was the point of this lesson?"
"I assure you, Miss Granger, there was nothing pointless about this lesson."
Hermione whirled around to see Professor Flitwick smiling up at her. Embarrassed though she clearly was, she seemed unable to stop herself. "Sorry, Professor. Solving a problem at hand is always a useful exercise, I agree, but I don't see how this can help us in the future. If we are trying to open a door, I doubt we'll achieve it with such a simple spell or that we'll have a convenient crest to guide us."
Flitwick was grinning again. "You are quite mistaken," he said happily. "The Hogwarts crest was meant to help you, yes, but there's a reason why the Tickling Charm opened the box. Nothing random about it. I cast many Charms on those boxes, most of which you disarmed, it should be mentioned, but I daresay it would have been near impossible for anyone to disarm them all. I am rather an expert," he assured them. "The Tickling Charm's success is an error. I have aimed to achieve it, but many skilled enchanters had no such goals, and yet it happened. When one infuses an object with magic, too much magic, trying to protect it, the object in question might develop a certain degree of sentience. The caster protects it against intrusive spells and physical violence and believes his job his done. And then someone does nothing more than tickle it lightly and the enchanted object, having a mind of its own, imagines it has a mouth—and laughs. A chink in the armour that often goes unnoticed." Flitwick beamed at Hermione. "But well, we'll learn more about quirks of magic in our next lesson, which, I hope, you will find less pointless."
Hermione nodded, looking appropriately abashed; though, it was possible she was biting her lip only to stop herself from asking Flitwick to tell her more right this instant.
Flitwick gave them a little bow. "Miss Granger. Mr Weasley. Auror Potter," he added fondly and trotted away.
Harry beamed at his back. Hermione looked miserable, however. "I should have realised," she said sadly. "Did you know the bathroom door on the fourth floor open only if you tickle it on the right spot? I thought that was just someone's idea of a joke."
Ron frowned. "Er, that's the boys' bathroom, Hermione."
"Yes, well. Nonetheless. I should have opened that box."
"To be fair, you probably would have, if you'd had more time," Harry assured her. "Tricks or no tricks." He reached into his pocket and took out the lollipop. "Here, your needs are greater than mine."
She snorted and took it. "Well done, Harry. I really am proud of you."
"Oi!" Ron exclaimed. "Don't praise him too much. He only ever focused on the crest because it had the name Draco on it and he's obsessed. Again."
"Hey!" Harry cried, indignant, even though that was technically true.
Hermione laughed. "That's a good point."
The thought seemed to cheer up both of them immensely. "Sore losers," he accused them, but that only made them laugh harder. The smiles slipped off their faces only after he reminded them they had double Transfiguration next and should hurry. Their new Transfiguration teacher, Justus Plunkett, was skilful at Transfiguration but unfortunately lacked talent as a teacher. His droning was likely to put students to sleep sooner than even Professor Binns could manage. On one memorable occasion, even Hermione's eyes had closed and her notes-taking had slowed, something Ron liked to remember with fondness.
It was therefore understandable, in Harry's opinion, that he spent most of today's never-ending lesson glancing at Malfoy, hoping to catch his eye. Malfoy never lifted his gaze to his, though, and after the lesson, he disappeared faster than Harry could blink.
For a moment, back in front of the Charms classroom, it had looked like Malfoy not only had something to confess, but it seemed that he would. But that was clearly too much to hope for.
Harry scanned the Slytherin table during dinner and Malfoy was not there. He's avoiding me. That was not how an innocent person would behave.
"Not obsessed at all," Ron said.
Harry hurriedly looked back to his plate. "Well, excuse me. There's a cursed kid lying in the hospital and I think Malfoy knows more than he's telling."
"About what?" Ginny asked, slipping onto the bench on the opposite side of the table.
Harry was about to reply, but Ron talked over him. "How did the meeting with Hooch go?"
Ginny grimaced. "It's a draw."
"The match?" Harry frowned. "I thought you'd have to play again."
Ginny dropped a large portion of shepherd's pie onto her plate. "Hooch said the Bludgers weren't cursed, so we get to keep all our points. And after examining the Omnioculars' recordings, she concluded that Harper really did catch the Snitch first."
"Bloody Harper," Ron grumbled.
Ginny looked at him sharply. "Haven't you heard? Harper is still in the hospital wing. A Bludger smashed his head. He's in a coma. Pomfrey says he'll live but... there might be some damage."
"Oh dear!" Hermione gasped. "What a horrible sport!"
"No need for that," Ron hurried to say. "This sort of thing doesn't happen that often."
"Even so. This needn't have happened at all!"
"With our Beaters out of commission," Ginny said, "he must have thought he was relatively safe from Bludgers and wasn't paying attention. It was an error of judgment. He relied on Slytherin Beaters too much."
Hermione huffed. "It doesn't matter whose fault it was. It's a dangerous game with very little meaning."
Ginny and Ron looked mortally insulted, and though Harry shared their indignation, he was relieved when Parvati Patil tapped his shoulder, stopping what would undoubtedly turn into a heated discussion, which Harry had heard more times than he could count.
His relief was short-lived, however. Parvati handed him a note, her eyes red and puffy.
"It's the password to McGonagall's office. She wants to see you," she said haltingly.
"What happened?" Harry asked, staring at Parvati's pale face. McGonagall had promised she would let him know what happened with the stairs yesterday, the moment she found out, but now Harry was dreading something terrible had happened.
Parvati's eyes widened. "Nothing! I don't know. Something about the staircases, I think. I just... I'm not crying. I just have a cold." She sniffed. "A nasty cold." She turned and strode off, sniffing loudly. She even remembered to cough once.
Ron stared after her. "What was that about?"
Harry shook his head but Hermione sighed. "Oh, it's about Anthony, I'm positive."
Ron and Harry gave her blank looks. Ginny snorted into her pumpkin juice and Hermione shook her head at them. "Anthony Goldstein, her boyfriend. They've been fighting for weeks. Apparently, he's really jealous."
"He's a git," Ginny assured them. "She should dump him."
Hermione nodded. "And on top of that she's been at odds with Lavender, too," she added.
Ron said, "Oh," and stuffed a huge piece of shepherd's pie into his mouth, putting slightly too much effort into trying to appear uninterested in anything having to do with his ex-girlfriend. Hermione looked faintly amused by his display.
Harry's eyes found Lavender as he got up to leave. She was staring morosely at her plate, picking at her food. Her long blond hair covered the left side of her face and neck, concealing nasty scars left by Fenrir Greyback. Now that Harry thought about it, he realised she was alone more often than not, avoiding both Hermione and Parvati.
Harry pushed down a surge of pity, having no idea what to do with it.
Hermione's voice broke through his thoughts. "We'll wait for you at the tower."
Harry nodded and headed toward the exit. He somehow doubted that McGonagall called him to her office just to discuss the staircases. A part of him hoped that she had some good news about Tommy's condition, but that was wishful thinking, he knew. They had stopped by the hospital wing before dinner and Tommy was still asleep—and cobwebless, Harry had noted. It was doubtful something miraculous had happened in less than half an hour.
The stone gargoyle that guarded the Headmistress's office looked as grumpy as ever. Harry opened McGonagall's note and frowned. It contained only one word: Magic. Which was more than a little odd considering Parvati told him McGonagall had sent him the password. It would be a strange password, indeed. Nonetheless, that was what the note said and Harry opened his mouth to say it, when the gargoyle spoke.
"That which cannot be Vanished or Conjured; that cannot die and lives forever."
Harry scowled at the gargoyle and then at the note. McGonagall was using riddles and apparently thought Harry required the answer.
"Magic," Harry grumbled, indignant. He would have worked it out. One did not fail to know these things if one's friend was Hermione Granger. She had mentioned the laws of magic more times than necessary.
Harry climbed the winding steps, determined to point that out to McGonagall. However, when Harry entered her office, McGonagall's expression stopped him. Her face was lined and worried. Even the faces of her predecessors looked sombre. Though, they always did. Dumbledore's portrait, however, smiled at him, his blue eyes kind.
Harry looked back at McGonagall. "Professor? What's wrong?"
"Sit down, Harry," she said kindly, though she did not smile.
Harry sat on one of the sturdy chairs next to her desk, missing the squishy armchairs Dumbledore favoured.
McGonagall set her quill down and stared at him with a look that suggested she was about to give him some grave news. Harry braced himself.
"As you may know," McGonagall began, "Rowena Ravenclaw Charmed the Hogwarts staircases long ago and they are likely to move." She frowned, clearly disapproving such nonsense. "However, every staircase is equipped with a Sensory Charm. They can move as they like, but the moment someone steps on them, they are to stay put."
"And the Charms don't work anymore?" Harry asked. "Does that mean the Hogwarts staircases are no longer—"
McGonagall raised her arm and Harry fell silent.
"On the contrary, Harry, the Sensory Charms are still in place. All of them, including the one cast on the staircases that you and Mr Malfoy used. Professor Flitwick examined them yesterday and again today; he recognises his own spellwork. There is no doubt."
"Meaning, those stairs did not move on their own; someone moved them. And I assure you, that is no easy task."
Harry thought he understood why McGonagall looked at him with so much worry. "Are you saying someone tried to kill me?" Or kill Malfoy?
"I fear so." She wrung her hands together. "Have you heard of Oswald Ardenton?"
Harry shook his head, surprised by the turn in conversation. "Oh wait." Something clicked in his brain. "I saw him at the trials. And read about him in the papers. He's a member of the Wizengamot." Harry only remembered him because Ardenton had very vocally demanded the highest sentence for every Death Eater. He had been most displeased when the Malfoys were freed. And he was the one who had suggested forming a special squad of Hit Wizards to hunt down the Death Eaters still on the loose. Hit Wizards were famous for interpreting "bring them to justice dead or alive" as "preferably dead." They had already killed Rabastan Lestrange.
"Then you know he's no friend to anyone who had been Voldemort's supporter. To put it mildly. He is also Tommy Wright's grandfather."
"Oh. So... you think someone tried to kill Tommy because of Ardenton?"
"I do not know what to think. Either one of you could have been the target and the other one was dealt with simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fact remains: at least one Dark Wizard has breached the castle and attacked Hogwarts students. The curse cast on Tommy was no child's trick. I have never seen Poppy fail to give a diagnosis."
It wasn't Malfoy, then; although... "Will there be an investigation? Do the Aurors have a suspect?" Harry did. A number of Death Eaters had disappeared after the Battle. It had been a chaotic day and the Aurors had made a mistake. When Fenrir Greyback's broken body had been found, his death had seemed imminent. The amount of damage was terrible. But the werewolf was more durable than anyone could have imagined. He had escaped and taken several Death Eaters with him. Two Aurors had lost their lives.
One Death Eater in particular worried Harry. They said Rodolphus Lestrange had gone mad after his wife had died. He had already murdered a witch who had had the misfortune of recognising him in Knockturn Alley, and he was the prime suspect in two Muggle murders. And he had been spotted again in London a mere month ago, right after he had suffered another blow—the loss of his brother.
The Lestranges had grown bold. And one of them was now dead, and Tommy Wright's grandfather was indirectly behind it. If Rodolphus had really cursed Tommy and Malfoy had seen him in the castle, what would Malfoy do? Rodolphus was not his blood, but he was family. And he probably knew more about the Malfoys than anyone. Exposing him would not have been easy. Lestrange could have blackmailed Malfoy into helping him.
"There's no investigation, I'm afraid." The frustration in McGonagall's tone was palpable. "The Board of Governors insists that students are likely to fall down the stairs and Tommy Wright should be examined by experts at St Mungo's. As though Poppy is not a better Healer than the lot of them put together," she sad furiously. "At least Oswald Ardenton has some sense. He was here this morning and agreed Tommy should stay in Poppy's care."
"Can't he do something? Or Kingsley?"
"They can do little while the Board of Governors insists this is merely my wild speculation. And they don't want to induce panic. Kingsley can arrange a safe place for you—" Harry opened his mouth to argue, but McGonagall continued, "and of course we agreed you'd never consent to it." She gave him a disdainful look. "What we need are Aurors on the school grounds, protecting students, but we'll never get them here without firm evidence that the school has been breached. Not even Kingsley can help; he cannot justify it when the Aurors are stretched thin as it is. We lost too many good people in the war."
Harry considered this. He could understand the lack of evidence would make it difficult for anyone to act. Hogwarts students were no strangers to injuries, hexes and even curses. One did not call Aurors for such things. They needed evidence. Or a witness.
"What if someone saw a Death Eater in the castle? They would have to send Aurors then, surely."
McGonagall stared at him. "I do hope you aren't suggesting we should lie?"
"No, of course not!" Harry said quickly. "I just... I think it's possible Malfoy has seen something."
"Has he said something?"
"No." Harry shifted in his chair. "But before we found Tommy, I saw Malfoy on the seventh floor. He looked like he was running away from something. Or someone. He was terrified."
McGonagall studied him. "If I may ask, what were you doing in the castle during the match? I saw you leave right at the beginning."
Harry wished he didn't have to explain that to McGonagall, of all people. He feared she would declare him obsessed just as Ron and Hermione had. He had little choice now, though, after she had asked. "I noticed Malfoy wasn't at the match, and I thought that was odd, so I went to find him."
McGonagall's frown deepened. "You suspected Malfoy of something before anything happened?"
"Yes, see, right before the match, Goyle was fighting with Tommy Wright in the Entrance Hall. Malfoy intervened and Tommy kicked him and ran. When I couldn’t find either Malfoy or Tommy in the stands, I thought maybe Malfoy wanted to pay him back for humiliating him in front of everyone."
McGonagall did not call him obsessed. She looked more surprised than anything. "But then... you think Draco Malfoy cursed him?"
"Well, not anymore. Malfoy was on the stairs when they bucked. If he enchanted them to move, he would surely avoid them."
"No. You misunderstand, Harry. The stairs were not enchanted in such a way. If they had been, we would know. The only way they could have been moved is if they had been literally pushed by magic. By a Banishing Charm, for example. A strong one. Meaning, someone was there with you, out of sight."
"In that case... Malfoy was the one standing on the edge. He must have been the target. He either saw something, or had helped someone get into the castle, and they wanted to eliminate the witness."
"You think he's likely to help a Death Eater enter the school? I realise he did it in the past, but you spoke well of him at his trial."
Harry felt a stab of guilt. That had been Malfoy's argument as well. It was a good point, too.
"Because if you think that Draco Malfoy is a liability," McGonagall added, "then I am more than prepared to have him expelled."
"No!" Harry said quickly. "I don't... Professor, honestly, I don't know what he is and isn't likely to do. At this point, he could go either way. I spoke well of him, as you say, at his trial because I thought he deserved a chance, one he didn't get before. And it seems to me, that even if he had helped a Death Eater into the castle, he hadn't done it willingly. He'd been surrounded by these people all his life. He knows what they're capable of. He might have just been scared. Bullied, blackmailed into helping. I don't think he should be expelled; I think he should be helped."
McGonagall rubbed her temples. "Are these your words or Dumbledore's?"
Harry blinked. "Mine!" He glanced at Dumbledore's portrait, but Dumbledore was carefully examining his cuticles. "But, well, I suppose Professor Dumbledore would agree with me."
"Indeed." McGonagall sighed, but the look she gave him was full of affection. Harry had to look away. He wasn't sure whether the affection was meant for him or if he just reminded her of Dumbledore. Both possibilities gripped his heart. "Very well, then," McGonagall said and Harry dared to look up. "I'll speak with Mr Malfoy."
Harry nodded. He thought it would be rude to point out that Malfoy would be unlikely to speak. It must have shown on his face, however, because McGonagall added, "It's worth a try. I also owled these experts from St Mungo's to consult with Poppy. I hope, after they fail to diagnose Mr Wright as well, the Board will be more inclined to listen. In the meantime..." McGonagall fixed him with a glare and Harry knew what she would say next. "I expect you to be careful. We cannot know if, whoever was here, they have achieved what they wanted or they might yet come back. Perhaps you were not the target this time, but there are Dark Wizards out there who would like to see you dead. I would rather not say this to a student, but I am certain you are aware of it yourself. I wish... I wish you could have had at least one year of peace." She looked truly sad.
Harry shrugged. "I'd probably just get bored."
Her glare was pointed but her mouth twitched. "Off with you now," she said. "You should study. The wizarding world is short on Aurors. Do remember you are not one yet, however."
"I'll be careful," Harry said, smiling as he stood up. He hesitated a moment, but could not help himself. "You know, Professor, you didn't have to send me the answer to your riddle. Really."
McGonagall harrumphed. "My apologies, Mr Potter," she said solemnly.
Harry caught sight of Dumbledore's twinkling blue eyes and, with a smile, he added, "Though, I would argue Love also fits."
McGonagall's lips pursed; she looked like she was trying not to smile. "In which case I would argue love is a form of magic."
Harry laughed. "Fair enough."
As he headed for the door, Harry heard Dumbledore say, "Why, Minerva, I never knew you were such a romantic."
Harry walked out, smiling. A student had been cursed, and that was horrible, but a tiny part of Harry felt hopeful. And useful again. As he descended the stairs, he could not help thinking it was a good thing he had come back to Hogwarts.