Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: When Blaise is summoned to the Creevey inquiry into those damnable photos, Draco comes along. Harry Potter is there, too; the situation quickly grows volatile, and it's not because of the Muggle chemicals Colin brought. Features Colin Creevey in his element, a discussion of photograph sizes, a smirking Zacharias Smith, a bit of wizarding history, and a very, very angry Harry Potter.
Beta: cornmouse, evilsource, goneril, oddnari
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 13 - Inter-house Cooperation
Potter hadn't come to fetch Blaise, Weasley had. Draco doubted that he would have been able to follow directions, so he wondered how Weasley had managed to find the hidden door to the Slytherin common room. He didn't bother asking -- Weasley looked cross as Draco and Blaise filed out of the doorway and into the dungeon. Draco sneered at him, passing the bag filled with photos for Blaise to carry.
"What are you going there for, Malfoy?" Weasley asked as he led them further into the dungeon rather than towards the entrance hall.
"None of your business, Weasley," said Draco as they turned a corner into a corridor he rarely visited. He glanced sideways at Blaise. "This is where you...?"
Blaise grinned and gave him a quick nod with a glance at Weasley, whose neck was looking redder than usual. Draco sniggered, wondering if Weasley knew that his best friend, much like Blaise, was rather inclined to kiss boys in dungeon hallways. That set his mind on a track that he definitely did not want it to go down and he tried to think about other things, like Vincent's socks, for example. It was fruitless. It didn't help that Potter was waiting at the end of the next hallway.
Potter was talking to Smith, standing several feet away from Granger and Creevey, who were crouched on the floor beside a stack of shiny trays and a medium-sized cauldron. Granger turned around and watched them approach with a guarded look. When she spotted Draco, her eyes narrowed and darted quickly towards Potter, then back to her trays. Draco stopped and glared at Potter, who was obviously avoiding looking at him.
"There you are," Smith said, looking at Blaise. The Italian boy unslung the bag with the photos and gave it to Granger, who began to empty it out.
"What's the occasion for the town meeting?" Draco said, looking from Smith to Granger.
Blaise gave an exasperated sigh and tugged on his robe sleeve. Draco smirked. Creevey rose and approached the sixth-years with some trepidation.
"All right, Harry?" he squeaked. "We can start, right?"
"You should be talking to Blaise here, Creevey, not Potter," Draco said in a crotchety tone.
Potter rolled his eyes. "Yes, Colin, we can start."
Creevey glanced up at Blaise and Smith with an embarrassed look. "Er, where were you -- um --"
"Right over there," Blaise said, pointing to a corner behind Granger. There was a hint of amusement in his voice. Smith was studying the hem of his robe sleeve. It was too dark to tell whether he was blushing.
Creevey snatched up a photograph from where Granger had piled them on the floor and studied it. "Lumos," he muttered. He shone his wand at the photo then into the corner that Blaise had indicated.
"This was no professional, I'll tell you that much," Creevey said. "No attention to ambient light...."
"Oh, that's helfpul," Draco cut in, "considering Hogwarts is crawling with professional photographers."
Creevey opened his mouth to protest, an earnest expression on his face.
Potter waved an impatient hand. "Never mind, Colin, it's Malfoy."
Creevey looked dejected, as though he would have welcomed a debate, but closed his mouth and went back to studying the photo.
Draco scowled at Potter. "What do you mean by that, Potter?" he bit out.
The other boy began to retort, but Blaise stepped in between them. "Can we just get this over with?"
Potter nodded and turned away. There were several protracted moments of silence while Creevey muttered to himself, occasionally glancing at Potter and Weasley. He pulled a long wooden plank from his pocket and held it against the top of the photo. Draco craned his neck slightly to see what the plank was. There were dashes of varying lengths marked across the top, with numbers written beneath some of them. It was one of those crude Muggle contraptions for measuring length. Creevey slid the plank to the other edge of the photo and frowned.
"This was taken by a Muggle camera," he said after a moment. "I've studied wizarding cameras and none of them produce prints this size."
Blaise looked blank. "Prints?"
"The film is transferred onto special paper, it's sort of like printing," said Granger, who had in the meantime got up and walked over to study the photo with Creevey. "But aren't wizarding photos developed in a potion, Colin?"
"Yes, but the negative has to be blown up to the right size before you put it in the potion. Wizarding cameras don't take photos this size; it's smaller than the nearest standard size."
"What if someone shrank it?" said Smith. "You know, to throw people off?"
Creevey shook his head with a serious expression on his face. "That would've shrunk the people in the picture, and that never looks smooth. It's easy to shrink a still photo, but not a wizarding one. Trust me, I've tried." The last was said with a kind of sheepish look that made the Gryffindor look like a puppy that had done something wrong. Draco was revolted.
"So then it would have to be a Muggle-born, wouldn't it?" Blaise said slowly. "Who has a Muggle camera?"
Vincent, Gregory, and Millicent had had considerable fun rounding up camera owners last month. Draco closed his eyes for a moment, remembering. "Creevey here, Brantley from Ravenclaw, and the Dawson twins from Hufflepuff."
"No Slytherins?" Weasley's voice was accusing.
"There are none of her kind in our house, Weasley," Draco said, glancing at Granger. She gave him a withering look.
"Listen here, Malfoy," Weasley said, taking a step closer to him. Potter's hand strayed to his pocket and Draco reached for his own wand.
Blaise coughed. "Can we just get on with this?"
"He can't go insulting Hermione every time he--" Weasley's face was flushed with indignation.
"He didn't insult her," Blaise interrupted, looking straight at the Gryffindor.
"So he didn't call her names, we all know what he meant--" Weasley was looking apoplectic.
Draco wondered if it was too much to hope for him to just drop dead. "That's as good as you'll ever get it, Weasley," he said, carefully keeping his tone neutral.
"Ron, stop. It's not worth it, honestly," Granger spoke up suddenly. "I agree with Blaise. Let's just get this done."
Weasley took a step back, his shoulders sagging slightly. Draco glanced at Potter, who was staring at him. Potter was staring at him. Draco sneered, and Potter shook his head slightly, his eyes unfocused as though he was coming out of a trance.
"Where were we?" Draco said, turning to Blaise.
"So it was a Muggle camera," Blaise said, looking uncertain.
"The Dawson twins are in first year, so they're pretty much out," Smith added.
"They're Hufflepuffs, they're out by default, I'd say," Draco muttered, earning a sharp glare from Smith. Draco started to leer at him but caught himself and smirked instead.
"Well, we're back to square one, aren't we?" Granger said. "The people with Muggle cameras are all unlikely suspects--"
"Maybe," Draco interrupted with narrowed eyes, "it was actually Creevey. He took the pictures and then volunteered to help--"
Creevey's eyes widened to an impossible size, his mouth a round "O" of surprise.
Blaise coughed again. "Draco, he's a Gryffindor."
Draco pursed his lips. "True. Scratch that then."
"What's that supposed to mean, Blaise?" Weasley asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Well, you lot are not exactly known for your cunning, is all," Blaise said with a straight face, but Draco saw that he was fighting back a smile.
"You'd be surprised, Blaise," Potter said in a clipped tone.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Fascinating as the Gryffindor version of cunning might be, can we get back to what we're here for?"
"Well, if dressing up in a Dementor outfit or hitting people with Bludgers are examples of the Slytherin version of cunning, then you might want to take a page out of our book, Malfoy," Potter said in an infuriatingly calm tone.
Draco's gaze snapped to Potter. The expression on Draco's face must have betrayed what he was feeling because Potter's hand was reaching for his wand again. Draco pressed his lips together for a moment as he tried to come up with a witty retort, but none were forthcoming. He'd waited too long and Potter was smirking now, in that self-satisfied way that he had. Draco wanted to curse the smirk off his face. Instead, he settled for "I don't expect you to appreciate subtlety, Potter."
"You and your mates are about as subtle as Hagrid's dog, Malfoy," Potter said with a cruel inflection to his voice.
Here was something Draco could use. "Speaking of dogs, how's yours doing, Potter? The great shaggy mutt you brought to the train with you last year?"
Before Draco had even finished speaking, Potter went very still, his face suddenly draining of colour. He opened his mouth slightly, then closed it again. His jaw set tightly with a faint tremble near his temples and his eyes were suddenly dull and empty. The silence was almost deafening. Draco and Potter stared at each other, sneer against scowl. Inwardly, Draco was triumphant -- this made up in spades for his earlier lapse. He'd got to Potter.
"Can we -- uh -- what's going on?" Creevey's voice demanded.
The sound startled them both, and Potter looked away. Granger was looking at him with so much pity in her cow eyes, it made Draco want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. The last thing Potter needed was pity. Weasley's expression would probably have caused flowers to wilt; he was glowering with such intensity that Draco almost took a step back. Had Sirius Black been important to those two, as well? Or were they actually this devoted to Potter and his emotional attachments?
"I don't know why the hell I came here," Potter muttered to Weasley and walked away.
Draco raised an eyebrow and turned to Blaise. "Unstable, isn't he?" Blaise looked bewildered.
"You're a pathetic excuse for a human being, Malfoy," Granger said.
Draco whirled on her. "Don't you dare speak to me like that, Mudblood."
Weasley lunged, but Blaise stepped in front of Draco and grabbed the Gryffindor's wrists.
"Would somebody please tell me what is going on?" Smith demanded suddenly. "Obviously my poor Hufflepuff brain has missed something in this Slytherin versus Gryffindor exchange of witty commentary."
Weasley struggled as Blaise held on to his wrists. "Let me go, Blaise."
"No. We didn't come here to fight with you lot. And Harry started it. Well, I did, technically. Not too bright of me to bring up Gryffindor in his presence, really, but I never claimed to be fit for Ravenclaw," Blaise said, panting a little.
Weasley stopped struggling and took a step back, still glowering at Draco.
Draco folded his arms in front of his chest and rolled his eyes at Smith. "I wouldn't worry too much. They're an excitable lot, you see," he said in an undertone. Smith looked astounded, probably because Draco hadn't said so much as two words to him that year.
Granger cleared her throat and stood up. Creevey looked from her to Weasley and blinked rapidly several times.
"So what else is there, besides the Muggle camera being used to take the photos?" Granger's tone was businesslike.
"We know that whoever did this is in sixth year or above," Draco said without looking at her.
"No. We know that whoever wrote on the pictures is in sixth year or above," Blaise said.
Granger looked up at him sharply. "Hold on, how do you know how old the writer is?"
"The Scriptor charm reveals someone wearing a balaclava, that's how," Draco said, irritated.
Granger gave him a blank look. "But that just means the writer knows about the spell."
"Yeah, and it's taught in sixth year." Draco stared at her with some incredulity. This was the brightest witch in their year?
"You don't have to be in sixth year to know about the spells that are taught in it," Granger said with a smug expression on her face.
"Yeah, Hermione knew how to do a Protean Charm last year," Weasley said in a tone that suggested he considered this to be somehow to his credit.
"But that's not until seventh year," Draco said with a frown.
"Exactly," Granger said, sounding exasperated. "There are ways of learning other than in lessons."
Draco opened his mouth, but Blaise interrupted him. "Fine, so we can't figure it out ourselves. Weren't we supposed to do something here?" He gestured to the pile of photos on the floor.
"Well if you lot let the little guy get on with it, we can be out of here before dinner," Smith said with a smirk.
Draco raised an amused eyebrow and glanced at Blaise, who was grinning. Now it was Granger and Weasley's turn to look bewildered.
"So can we get on with it then?" Creevey asked, looking at Weasley.
He nodded and turned away, muttering something under his breath. Draco rolled his eyes.
"Right then," Creevey said, reaching into his pocket and taking out a clear package filled with red crystals.
"Are those rubies?" Blaise asked with a curious look.
"Er, no. They're potassium ferricyanide crystals."
"Pot tassie very what?" Smith asked. Draco frowned. Muggles had the weirdest names for things.
"Potassium ferricyanide -- it's a photo bleaching agent," Creevey said with an important air.
"You're going to bleach the photos? Why?" Draco asked.
"Only partially. I suspected that these were taken with a Muggle camera -- it's where I got the idea in the first place. When a photo taken with a Muggle camera is developed the wizarding way, it preserves imprints of the people in the photo as well as the person who had taken the photo."
"What? How's that possible?" Blaise asked with a frown. "If it's a Muggle camera..."
Granger interrupted him. "It's supposedly an anomaly, not very well-documented. I've only found mention of it in four books. There's some evidence that the first mechanical Muggle cameras actually were magical devices. It seems to have been covered up by the Ministry of Magic, and there's precious little information on the subject."
"Why don't you ask Weasley's father? Isn't he the one who works with Muggle devices?" Draco said with a smirk.
Weasley narrowed his eyes. "What are you playing at, Malfoy?"
Draco held up his hands in a mock protective gesture. "I'm just asking."
"The point is," Granger said loudly, "that it's possible to detect the traces of magic in wizarding photos taken by Muggle cameras. Because we have so many photos, the traces are going to be stronger."
Draco drew his eyebrows together. "What do we need the Muggle stuff for, then? Can't we just cast revealing spells and have done?"
Granger shook her head with a superior look on her face. "We need to get rid of most of the images before the spell can work properly. That's where the bleach comes in." She nodded to Creevey, who hurried towards the cauldron.
He pointed his wand at the base. "Incendio," he squeaked, and flames sprang up under the cauldron, which was filled with water. He muttered another spell Draco couldn't make out, and the flames turned white. The air suddenly became dry and hot.
"You lot had better get back, this stuff isn't very good for your lungs," he threw over his shoulder. Draco took several steps back, marvelling at the change in Creevey's tone; no longer sycophantic, he sounded positively tolerable. The others followed Draco, and the four of them stood staring at the small Gryffindor boy.
Creevey pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and tied it around his head so that only his eyes were visible, then donned a pair of thick glasses that made him look like a frog with square eyes. Draco wondered how deep Creevey's pockets must have been, to hold all those things. Creevey extinguished the fire and ripped open the package of red crystals, then emptied it into the cauldron. He stirred the mixture, holding his wand just above the surface as a jet of air blew from its tip. Muttering something that was unintelligible under the kerchief, Creevey pulled another packet of crystals from his pocket and emptied it into the cauldron as well. He bent over as he stirred and studied the contents carefully.
"Oh, bollocks," he said suddenly, pulling down the handkerchief. "We'll need to filter this."
"Why?" Granger asked.
"The solid bits that won't dissolve anymore, they have to go. I forgot to bring--"
"Oh, that's okay," she said, walking over. Creevey waved his wand in the air quickly as she approached, no doubt to dispel whatever fumes were left over from brewing the potion. Granger cast a Vanishing spell at the cauldron. The air around it rippled slightly.
Creevey took in a sharp breath, then expelled it immediately as he looked at the liquid, which was still there. "Wow, how did you do that?"
"It just takes a bit of extra focus to Vanish parts of a potion; it's really useful if you goof up," Granger said in that vexingly condescending tone of hers.
Draco shifted his weight from one foot to the other and glanced at Blaise, who was whispering something to Smith. Weasley stood leaning against the dungeon wall, looking uncomfortable. Draco turned his attention back to Creevey, who was pulling a long clay dropper out of a bag. He added drops of the liquid in the cauldron to the trays on the floor while Granger added water from the tip of her wand. Draco took a few steps closer and saw that the bottoms of all the trays were covered with a light pink liquid. Creevey pulled a dark glass bottle from his pocket, unscrewing the top. There was a dropper attached to it.
"What's that, Colin?" Granger asked, looking curious.
"Wetting agent. Reduces the surface tension of water, makes for more even bleaching," the small boy replied. "You'd better step away, this stuff smells awful," he added, pulling the handkerchief back over his nose.
Granger hurried off to the side, casting glances over her shoulder -- no doubt she found even this Muggle potion-making fascinating. Creevey used the miniature dropper to add the yellow liquid to each tray. Draco wrinkled his nose -- the stuff did smell foul, like everything Muggles made. The stench was thick and acrid, and he stepped back to stand beside Blaise. When Creevey put away the bottle, he waved his wand in the air again and the smell disappeared quite suddenly. The Gryffindor pulled out a pair of dragonhide gloves from his enormous pockets and put them on. Draco wondered why he needed gloves, allowing himself a brief moment of dark humour as he imagined the Muggle potion melting Creevey's hands clean off.
As they all watched, Creevey pulled photos from the stack on the floor and placed them into the trays one by one. Granger went over to him again. After a muttered instruction from Creevey, she began to levitate the photos into a tray that had been left empty. Draco took a few steps closer and watched in fascination as Blaise and Smith's figures disappeared from the photographs in the trays, as though melting away. The photos that Granger placed in the empty tray looked like simple sheets of paper with the faint outlines of figures, unmoving. Twenty minutes later, they had worked through the entire stack of photos and refilled the trays with the potion twice.
"Why can't you just make the potion once, Creevey?" Draco asked as the small boy was removing his protective gear. Granger had Vanished the remains of the red potion and Creevey dropped the gloves into the empty cauldron.
He gave Draco an odd look. "Potion?"
"Whatever you were using to, ah, bleach." The word tasted strange to Draco, like trying to talk after having licked a section of lemon.
Creevey shrugged. "That's just how it's done."
"Muggles," Draco muttered. "No wonder they'd like to have magic. I would too if I couldn't have a store of potions."
Granger sniffed in a disapproving manner. "For your information, Muggles get along quite well without magic."
Draco gave her a disbelieving look. "That's what you think. My father says that every time Muggles see evidence of magic, they make a huge spectacle of it. I hardly think they'd write books about magic if they weren't interested in having it," he said in a tone that brooked no argument.
Granger regarded him with a strange glint in her eyes, or perhaps it was just the light. "My parents aren't the least bit interested in the magic I can do."
Draco scoffed. "That's because you aren't even allowed to use magic at home yet. Just wait till they see you use magic. I've read that Mudbloods used to be put on display by their families in the past."
"Er, I'm sure this is fascinating, but we sort of need to get on with it before the paper begins to degrade," Creevey cut in, rocking back and forth on his feet.
Granger looked away from Draco and hurried over to the misshapen stack of wet photos in the spare tray. "Blaise, Zacharias, I need you both to go and stand where you were when the photo was taken," she said.
Blaise crossed the distance to the corner he'd indicated earlier. He turned around with a pensive look, glancing at Smith who'd followed him there. "You don't want us to--"
Granger had the grace to blush. "Er, no. Just, um, stand there."
Draco pretended to sneeze, concealing a snigger. This was far too amusing. Granger glared at him, her lips pursed. She muttered a complicated-sounding spell and waved her wand at the stack of photos, pointed it at Blaise and Smith, then back at the photos.
Two strands of silvery smoke rose rapidly from the pile -- one was a light silver, the other a darker grey. They streaked through the air towards the two boys in the corner. The strands exploded into clouds of mist, then coalesced into a perfect replica of Blaise and Smith kissing as they had been in the photo. Draco stared, mesmerised and triumphant -- the spellwork was impressive, they would finally know who had taken the photos. The mist faded and the ghostly figures of Blaise and Smith disappeared, revealing the startled faces of the real boys behind them.
Draco watched as Granger waved her wand around in a series of concentric circles, drawing out a red-tinged string of mist from the photos. The mist floated past Draco and started gathering just behind Blaise and Smith, near an archway that led into an off-limits part of the dungeon.
"That's where the photographer must have stood," Draco remarked, but no one was listening.
They watched, transfixed, as the mist gathered to form a shape. Draco's gaze travelled from the outline of feet to standard-issue school robes, to the illusory camera clutched in the figure's hands, to the balaclava--
"Oh, great," he snapped. Granger gave the air a sharp poke with her wand and the misty figure, which had been raising its camera, froze.
"We have five minutes, maybe a bit more," she said in a frantic voice, running up to the figure. Draco strode after her.
It was definitely a boy -- the shoes were a boy's, as were the shoulders and the posture. The shoulders were narrow and square, and the figure stood with its legs slightly apart, as though bracing itself. There was something vaguely familiar about it, but Draco couldn't place why he recognised it. A strange, musty odour permeated the air around the apparition.
"What's that smell?" Draco asked.
"It's not really a smell," Granger replied, peering at the hands holding the mist-camera. "Residual effect of emotion. Whoever this is was filled with a strong emotion of some kind at the time they did it. Colin, can you tell what brand of camera this is?"
Creevey came closer and stood next to her, squinting at the slightly shimmering mist that made up the camera. "No," he said, shaking his head, "I can't read the lettering on the side, other than that it looks just like mine."
"But that's definitely not you holding the camera," Blaise spoke up. His eyes were narrowed. "I recognise him. I don't know who he is, but I know he's in our year."
"How do you figure?"
"I just know," Blaise said, his jaw jutting forward.
"Looks like Su Li," Weasley spoke up suddenly. "Thin and waifish, about your height," he added, looking at Draco.
"The feet are wrong," Granger said. "Su stands sort of duck-footed, this one doesn't. Besides, he has really long hair, it would have stuck out from under the balaclava."
"Couldn't it still be a girl?" Smith asked, stepping closer. "A boyish-looking girl with short hair?"
"Can't really tell without a difference in clothes," Granger said to no one in particular. "This is when Muggle clothes would have been useful."
Draco would have scoffed, but he was too busy studying the figure and trying to commit it to memory -- their time was almost up. He tried desperately to pick out a detail -- anything -- that would place the odd feeling of familiarity, but the frozen mist shimmered one last time, then the figure exploded and dissipated into the air around them, taking the nasty smell with it.
"Well, that narrowed the circle," Smith said with enthusiasm.
Draco gave him an incredulous glance. "Yeah, now we have to corner all the skinny boys who are about my height. Oh, wait, that's half the bloody school," he said with a scowl.
"Oh, stop it," Blaise said, walking over to stand beside him. Draco fought the urge to lean into him. He was tired, his feet were aching, and his eyelids felt like lead all of a sudden. Blaise continued speaking, but his voice seemed to come from a long distance. "I'm telling you it's someone in our year; I wouldn't have recognised them otherwise. I only pay attention to people in classes."
Draco rolled his eyes despite the sudden bout of exhaustion he was feeling. "Can we go?" he asked suddenly, suppressing a yawn.
Blaise looked concerned for a moment. "Yeah, yeah. Thanks, you lot, I really appreciate it," he said, turning to the Gryffindors. "D'you need help cleaning up or anything?"
"You'd better get Malfoy away from here," Creevey said. "He looks like he's about to pass out, probably never been around Muggle chemicals before."
Draco wanted to protest, but he realised he had to concentrate all his energy on staying upright. Stupid Muggles and their stupid potion ingredients. Maybe he had been exposed too long.
Blase said his goodbyes and led Draco back out through the dungeons, supporting him with one arm around his waist.
"What was that whole scene with Potter about? Why were you going on about dogs?" Blaise asked as they walked well out of earshot of the Gryffindors.
Draco's brain felt numb and sluggish, as though he'd just woken up. "Huh? Oh, Sirius Black was a dog Animagus, didn't you know?"
Blaise's steps faltered for a moment. "You're one cruel bastard, Draco."
Draco Malfoy's diary, January 14th
Well, paint me blue and call me Stella. We're no closer to figuring out who took those photos than we were a month ago. This is what I get for going along with Potter's harebrained scheme. We've wasted so much time, though I suppose it's not bad that the circle's narrowed considerably. We'll do this the Slytherin way, seems much more reliable than those Muggle exertions.
Potter can just get bent. Just because he's attempted to snog me twice doesn't give him the right to insult my house and get away with it. I hope he stays far away from me lest he need another reminder or two of his dead godfather. Wanker.
1. Many thanks to corvid, shadwing, and thefirebottle at little_details for information on professional photography.
2. I researched making potassium ferricyanide stock here.