Draco was dragged in before the Headmaster before he could even have the chance to run. Not that he would have been able to run far, but it was a large castle, and he could have hidden in some not-too-dirty hole for the week it would take for everyone to forget and think that he’d run off for China or somewhere like that. However, the two sturdy Hufflepuffs latched onto his arms would no more let him run off than they would tell a lie. Just his luck that the ‘puff Beaters had decided to stay during the holiday to work on their muscles. From the bruises Draco could feel dotting his lady-white arms, they didn’t really need the extra workout.
“But Teddy, you never mentioned how they caught Draco,” Rose asked with a frown. “Professor Longbottom had just left him there in the corridor, why didn’t he get away then?”
Teddy paused, his forehead scrunching. “I couldn’t think of how that would work, so I left it out. Unless you have any ideas...”
Rose looked at James who looked at Lily who looked at Hugo who looked at Albus Severus who looked back at Teddy and shrugged.
“It doesn’t bother me, cousin. Keep going.”
They hauled him up to the Headmaster’s Office, where a large gathering of professors stared indifferently across the large Headmaster’s desk, behind which sat a very demure Dumbledore. There was a dullness in his eyes that Draco had never noticed in the past.
“This is a very serious accusation, Draco. I hope you understand that.”
The Beaters deposited Draco in the large winged guest chair. For a moment, Draco wondered if large chains would appear out of nowhere to bind him down.
“Yes, sir.” He did not meet the Headmaster’s eyes.
There was a shocked gasp from Professor McGonagall. “Is that all you can say for yourself, Mr. Malfoy? It is very certain, from the evidence, that you have murdered Harry Potter.”
Because he was already pale, it was very difficult for Draco to pale more.
“I know, Professor,” he said more quietly than he had ever spoken before. “And I didn’t do it. I did not kill Potter.”
A moment of silence. Draco stared straight ahead, feeling a droplet of perspiration trickle down his spine. Before the professors, he had no semblance of courage left. They could condemn him if they wished.
“Some would say you had ample motive, Draco.” Dumbledore’s voice was quiet, probing.
It was not the voice of a judge. Startled, Draco looked at the Headmaster. There was no rebuke in the old wizard’s eyes, but nor was there a hint of friendliness. However much he was believed by even the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Draco was alone. Wholly and utterly alone. In what way could he escape this now?
“So did a hundred others!” Draco’s hands clenched the arms of his chair.
McGonagall had stiffened even further, if that was possible. “Tell us exactly what happened, Mr. Malfoy. All sides of the story must be heard.”
They listened to him impassively without nods or frowns, nothing to signal whether or not they believed him. It was because he was a Slytherin and a Malfoy, a deadly combination of deceit and pretentiousness. His hope was fading quickly. Not that he’d had much to begin with.
“You then claim to have discovered Potter once he had already... expired?” McGonagall asked him delicately. Her glare pierced through him.
“That’s not true!” Neville, who had stood at the back of the office, shaking with fury. “I saw him kill Harry!”
A hush filled the room. Draco’s jaw dropped. So did a few others’.
“What!? Why is he lying?” Lily sounded perplexed.
Teddy shrugged. “It seemed like the right thing for Professor Longbottom to say. You know how close him and Uncle Harry are.”
Rose was shaking her head. “But how could he have seen something we didn’t?”
“Maybe he saw something that wasn’t there,” was Albus Severus’ contribution.
James wasn’t satisfied. “Or he saw the real murderer and thought it was Malfoy.”
“Ohhh!” The others’ eyes widened.
Neville was removed from the room at the behest of Professor McGonagall, whose glare had transformed into an almost maternal worry.
The surprise on Draco’s face was perhaps enough for Dumbledore to frown deeply in thought. He was taking all the known facts into consideration, and they were not adding up to the correct sum.
“We must comb the school for witnesses,” he told Mr. Filch. “Find anyone who could have seen or heard anything of importance. There are not many here, but perhaps one of them can be of assistance to us.”
Gradually, Dumbledore assigned each of the staff to a particular task, until there was no one left in the room except for himself, Draco, and Professor Snape. Draco kept his eyes on the floor, utterly uncertain as to what his fate would be. A night in the dungeons, alone? Quarantine in some forsaken corner of the castle? Banishment into the Forbidden Forest?
Dumbledore rose from his desk and began pacing the floor in front of the fireplace.
“I must admit that I do believe your story, Draco.” He paused to look towards Draco, but when he received no acknowledgement, he continued. “There are too many coincidences. Had you truly wanted to kill Harry, I think that you would not have been so easily caught red-handed.”
If it was meant to be a joke, it was not one that Draco found amusing at that particular moment.
But Dumbledore was speaking again. “The others, however, will not be so quickly swayed by your words. Therefore, I will give you the opportunity to prove yourself innocent of this crime.”
Draco blinked, finally looking up at the Headmaster. “But sir, why would any of them let me prove myself? They looked awful happy to be laying it on me.”
Oh yes, lay on the sympathy card, his mind grumbled at him. Let them remember how much of a prick you really are, and then see how much they’re willing to believe your stories. Wait! They weren’t stories, they were truth! And that made it... worse. Malfoys and truth never went together very well. No honest wizard could ever make a decent pound.
Snape stepped out of the shadows, a regular vampire. “Excuse me for intruding, Headmaster, but perhaps if Malfoy were to have some... assistance in this particular task, the others may judge it a wiser action than allowing a possible murderer to run loose in the school.”
Draco, who was hardly sure of Snape at the best of times, was certainly unsure of him now. Was there suspicion in his expression? A distaste of the crudities of life? A relief that Potter was dead which could never be revealed? The face was devoid of all things, as it often was. Draco found nothing there which could attest to any hint that Snape believed him.
“And what do you recommend, Severus?” the Headmaster asked, halting to look directly at Snape. “Are you volunteering yourself for this position of... assistant?” There was a small spark of light in his eyes.
Draco shut his eyes. If there was one thing he needed, it was to have Snape as his jailer. His father’s dog was to be tailing him for however long it would take for him to solve his own case.
His own case.
He was to be placed in the position of a detective, only bothering to solve the murder of Potter because his own life was on the line. His prize was to be his freedom. But could he do it? Could he don this new role with panache and genius and find the criminal in time? How much time would he have?
“Yes, Headmaster. That is, unfortunately, what I was suggesting.” Snape’s voice was a low growl, rumbling through the air.
Dumbledore nodded. “That would be the ideal situation, Severus. Draco must not roam the corridors alone, not when there are so many against him.” He paused, eyes trained on some distant point in the room. “Including the murderer. Indeed these are dangerous times when Hogwarts itself becomes the scene of such a crime.”
“According to ‘Hogwarts, a History’ there were many murders in the castle during the Middle Ages.” Albus Severus’ broke into Teddy’s narrative. “You’re making the Headmaster far too dramatic, Teddy.”
James rolled his eyes. “It’s only a story, peabrain.”
Albus Severus raised one eyebrow. “You of all people shouldn’t call me that, Jamesie.”
When James’ upper lip raised in a snarl, Rose cut in. “You idiots, let him continue with the story!”
“Go on, Teddy, please?” Hugo asked with large eyes.
Silence hung heavy upon the air until Dumbledore spoke once more. “The weather prevents nearly all contact between here and London. It is far too dangerous even to attempt the Floo Network, though I believe that it is still working.”
“We are stranded, Headmaster. How appropriate.” Snape was almost smiling at the thought. “That should provide Malfoy with ample time to conduct his... investigation.”
Snape actually sounded amused at the thought. This was Snape’s way of getting back at the Malfoys for throwing their snivelling son at him while he was teaching at Hogwarts. Draco was in a tight spot and there was nothing Snape could do but watch and be entertained.
But Draco wasn’t about to become the amusement of a damned half-blood like Snape.
“Headmaster, it would be best if you locked me up. I’d prefer it, actually.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “I’m afraid I cannot allow it, Draco. You see, if anyone can find the true murderer before the Aurors arrive, it must be the one whose very life hangs in the balance.” He stared into the empty fireplace. “As soon as the Aurors arrive, they will take you away, regardless of your innocence.”
Draco sat motionless for a few two-and-a-half minutes. An icy coldness spread through his body, a realization of the full seriousness of this matter and his role within it. He was not merely the brunt of a cruel joke – he was going to be tossed into a situation which would mean his life for that of Potter. He had to bring justice for Potter’s death if he was to prevent his own.
He wanted to cry.
Snape grabbed his arm, his fingers thankfully resting in different places from those of the Hufflepuff Beaters. At this rate, he might as well dye his arms blue.
“Come, Malfoy. We have work to do.”
More meek than he had ever been in his life, Draco followed, thinking that being locked in the dungeons might not have been so bad after all.
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