Harry Potter and the Eagle of Truthiness
by Christine Morgan
email@example.com / www.sabledrake.com
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|"Bloody hell," Ron said, looking up and down the gleaming
length of the Gryffindor table at the rows of empty golden plates and goblets.
"What's taking so long? I'm starving."
"Honestly, Ron," Hermione said, barely raising her head from The Big Book of Insanely Complicated Spells. "You ate nineteen Chocolate Frogs and seven Cauldron Cakes on the train. How can you still be hungry?"
Just then, the Great Hall's babble of chatter quieted to an excited ripple as Albus Dumbledore rose from his chair, his kindly eyes twinkling behind half-moon spectacles.
Harry knew he was supposed to be paying attention as Dumbledore went into his usual speech. But what was the use? By now, he knew all of – and had broken most of – the school rules. The only thing that interested him was the perennial question of who would be their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this time.
He glanced along the seated row of professors. Snape was there, sallow as ever, his lip curled in a sneer. Hagrid seemed more gigantic than ever next to the diminutive Professor Flitwick. Seeing no new faces, Harry let his gaze stray around the Great Hall. He spotted the pale, blond figure of Draco Malfoy right away, smirking to his Slytherin cronies just like always. Dislike curled through Harry like a snake.
Hermione elbowed him as Dumbledore said, "And now, before we bring in our new crop of first-years, I have one very special introduction to make."
A piercing, screeching cry made everyone look up. The sky of the Great Hall was enchanted to mimic the sky outside, which tonight was a star-spangled brilliance. Above them, from one of the openings that usually admitted the school owls on their daily deliveries of mail, swept a majestic eagle.
Students cried out, alarmed and impressed, as it circled low over them with talons flashing in the light of the many candles. The wind from its mighty wings ruffled their school robes and blew their hats off their heads. Several people ducked. Neville Longbottom fell backwards off his bench and landed flat on the floor.
As the massive, fierce bird passed over the Slytherins, Malfoy's smirk vanished. He squeaked like a girl and dove under the table, cowering there, while Crabbe and Goyle stared up openmouthed and stupid as trolls.
With a final triumphant cry, the eagle veered toward Dumbledore. As it backwinged and came in for a landing, there was a ripple of magic and a flowing change. What touched down beside the Headmaster was no longer an eagle at all.
"An Animagus!" Hermione gasped, dropping her book and not even noticing.
No longer an eagle, but a man … though still every bit as majestic and impressive. His tall, lean frame was draped in velvet robes that perfectly complemented his unblemished complexion. He smoothed his thick ink-black hair – which had not been disarranged in the slightest – and raised one shrewd eyebrow as his piercing bird-of-prey gaze scanned the room from behind thin wire-rimmed spectacles.
"Allow me to present Professor Colbert," Dumbledore said. "Your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
All around the Great Hall, girls sighed and boys turned green with envy.
"Bloody hell," Ron muttered. "It's like Lockhart all over again."
"Lockhart who?" Ginny asked dreamily, and then she, Lavender and Parvati all giggled madly.
"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore," Professor Colbert said, in a voice that rang with confidence and commanded instant respect. "I know what you're all thinking. You're thinking oh, another one, wonder how long this one will last?"
A murmur of agreement and apprehension went around the room, which Professor Colbert silenced with a single raised hand.
"Well, kids," he said, "Put your wands away and close those spellbooks, and get ready to be Sorted into the House of Truth!"
Harry didn't think anybody, himself included, really understood what that meant, but it didn't stop them all from voicing a spontaneous wild cheer.
Dumbledore cleared his throat, but Professor Colbert was not finished. "You can forget your werewolves, your publicity hounds, your one-eyed imposters. I've got something they didn't have. Something that this school has, no offense to the Headmaster here, been lacking. You know what it is? I'll tell you. Balls."
Professor McGonagall nearly fainted. Hagrid started to roar with laughter but caught himself just in time. Snape's lip curled even more, and he glared at Professor Colbert the way he might have glared at Harry's own father, who had been Snape's rival.
"And not your Divination kind of crystal ones, either," Professor Colbert went on. "These babies aren't for gazing at, if you get my drift. You can just tell that myopic mystic Trelawney to keep her predictions … and her hands … to herself."
Like the teacher, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom was never the same from year to year. Harry wasn't sure what to expect when he walked through the door for his first class with Professor Colbert, but he had the feeling it wouldn't be like anything he'd seen in there before.
He was right.
"Bloody hell," Ron said, thunderstruck.
The students who had been raised in Muggle households, like Harry, were not quite as shocked as those who'd grown up with all-wizard families, but Ron's outburst seemed to speak for them all as they filed in. The dank stone walls were lost in shadow and highlighted by dramatic ruby-red and sapphire-blue glows. Banners, flags and emblems billowed, waved and flowed through the darkness.
Their usual rows of desks and chairs had been replaced with a semicircle of rising tiers of seats facing a rounded dais, where magically illuminated letters scrolled "Professor Colbert" across the bottom. The teacher's desk stood upon the dais, glossy and modern. Tucked away behind it was a large nest, suitable for the high rocky aerie of an eagle.
"Don't just stand there," Hermione chided everyone else, as she moved to a seat in the front tier. There was a foldable writing surface tucked down into the arm of the chair, and by the time the others had begun to tentatively take their places, she'd already unfolded it and gotten out a scroll and a quill to take notes.
Harry took a seat and continued looking around. He had gotten so used to Hogwarts over the years that he now felt as unsure as he had the first time Hagrid had led him into Diagon Alley, with its fantastic array of shops.
To one side of the dais and desk was a large table, upon which rested an item he recognized as a Pensieve, like the one Dumbledore kept in his office. To the other was a section of wall featuring a blazing fireplace and sets of bookshelves holding a fascinating array of items, including several trophies and a scattering of little oddly-shaped dice. There was a portrait of Colbert over the mantle, showing him impeccably clad in a suit better than any that even the Minister of Magic owned, but unlike the ones Gilderoy Lockhart had displayed, this portrait did not preen with desperate narcissism.
Beside the desk was a peculiar structure that made Harry think of the time his Aunt Petunia had hired a puppet show for his cousin Dudley's birthday party. Not that Harry had been allowed to attend the party. He'd watched through a keyhole while Dudley opened a pile of presents, and instead of being invited to share the cake and ice cream, had only been allowed to lick the residue off the top of the ice cream container.
Anyway, this structure was like a fancy version of the wood-and-curtain stage the puppeteers had used to put on their show. Harry wondered what it could be for, as he listened to the whispers and rustles of his classmates getting settled.
Then, suddenly, Professor Colbert was there, at the desk. It was like he'd materialized in front of them, or Apparated, though as Hermione would be quick to tell anyone and everyone at any opportunity, it was supposedly impossible to Apparate or Disapparate on the Hogwarts grounds.
"The Dark Arts," he said. "If you believe what you read in the papers, the entire wizarding world has got its robes in a bunch, too scared to go to sleep at night because of the so-called Dark Arts. And it's my job to teach you how to defend yourself against them. Well, there's really only one thing you need to know."
He smiled self-deprecatingly and held up his palms. "Don't worry, I'm not going to put myself out of a job by giving you the one quick answer to all your problems. That would be stupid. Because the only way to combat the Dark Arts, my fine young pupils, is with the stark, shining light of Truthiness."
Hermione's hand shot up.
Colbert paused. "Miss … Granger, is it? I don't normally like to be interrupted, Miss Granger."
She turned pink, and her hand sank like a timid mouse retreating into its burrow.
"No, no," Colbert said. "You've already interrupted. Spit it out."
"I … was … only going to ask," she ventured meekly, sounding so unlike the Hermione they knew that the rest of them turned to gape at her. "Um, about … Truthiness, Professor?"
"Go on," he said, with a curt nod.
Emboldened, Hermione's voice strengthened a little. "Is it a spell, Professor? Like the Patronus Charm?"
Colbert's laugh was somehow warm, rich, rueful and condescending all at once. "If only it were so simple," he said. "Believe me, Miss Granger, I would love to be able to teach you one little spell … Expecto Truthium … and all your troubles disappear. But this is the real world, missy. There's more to Truthiness than a few magic words and wand wiggles."
Each student sat straighter as that raptor's gaze went from Hermione to the rest of them in turn. It finally came to rest on Harry.
"After all," Professor Colbert said, "we can't all expect just to be able to bounce Killing Curses off with the force of a mother's love, now, can we?"
Harry gulped, and resisted the urge to smooth his unruly bangs down over the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead, the only visible souvenir of the night his parents had died.
"What we need to be able to do," Colbert continued, returning his attention to Hermione, "is not so much a matter of blocking hostile spells, or countering jinxes, but of preventing them in the first place. That's what Truthiness can do."
"Is it covered in our textbook?" she asked, with a worried expression.
"Textbooks are for facts. Forget facts, Miss Granger. Facts are what got us into this mess. Facts are the antithesis of Truthiness. A fact, you know in your brain. Truthiness comes from the heart and the gut."
"And the balls?" Seamus Finnegan blurted, then covered his mouth as Lavender and Parvati made offended-old-maid noises.
"And the balls, damn straight," Professor Colbert said without batting an eye. "You've got that right, sonny-boy. These so-called Dark wizards? All brains. No balls. They're all cowards, and so they hide it with a bunch of evil."
His tone took on a high, peevish, mocking whine. "Oh, we're going to go pick on some Muggles, and we're going to tell ourselves it's all in the interest of keeping the bloodlines pure but really it's because they don't have magic and so they can't fight back! But we're still too scared to do it openly, so we're going to wear masks."
On the side of the room where the Slytherins had gathered in a sullen clump, Malfoy started to say something indignant and bit it back when Colbert's head whipped around so that the professor's obsidian-sharp eyes were fixed right on him.
"Something to add, Mr. Malfoy?" he asked.
"No," Malfoy mumbled.
"See what I mean?" Professor Colbert glanced around at the others with an amused little shrug.
Malfoy sputtered but didn't dare protest.
"And they don't even have the balls to do their evil on their own, do they?" Professor Colbert asked. "They've got to have someone calling the shots. They've got to have a leader. This 'Dark Lord' of theirs." He did finger-quotes.
The class exchanged uneasy looks.
"That brings us to today's Word."
Beside him, the curtain on the puppet-show theater thing whisked aside, revealing a smooth blue field with The Word etched on it in letters of white fire. Beneath that, more letters appeared.
As one, everybody but Harry reacted with the usual gasps of horror, moans of dread, and squeals of dismay that the name engendered.
"Voldemort," Professor Colbert said forcefully, speaking over the din. "Yes, I said it. I'll say it again. Voldemort."
Lavender Brown slumped forward in a dead faint.
"None of this 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' or 'You-Know-Who' crap for this wizard, thank you very much." Colbert jerked his thumb toward his chest as he spoke. "Any name is fair game in my classroom."
On the blue field, Voldemort winked out and Jon Stewart? winked in its place.
Colbert magnificently ignored it. "Lord Voldemort. Lord. Like he inherited that title. Like he's some sort of hereditary nobleman with an estate and thinks that makes him better than the rest of us."
Sir Benjamin Slade, though, is better than the rest of us
"Absolutely," Colbert said, as if responding now to the white-fire letters. "Sir Slade? Still waiting on that call." He held his hand, thumb and pinkie finger extended, up beside his ear. "But who's going to respect a guy named Voldemort? You know he only chose it because it sounds kind of spooky."
Mort = Death
Most of the students were by now practically hyperventilating. Some had plugged their ears, and a couple more had passed out cold on the floor. Ron had gone the color of cottage cheese, while Malfoy was the furious plum-purple of outrage.
Apparently oblivious to the effect he was having, the professor said, "I mean, yes, he did need something with a little more zing, a little more zazz, if he wanted to get anywhere with this Dark Lord thing. The man's real name is Tom. Do you know any scary Toms?"
DeLay? asked the white letters.
"And his middle name is Marvolo," Colbert said. "Who would be afraid of a guy named Marvolo?"
Is that supposed to be a Riddle?
"Sounds like a carnival illusionist. Step right up and see the Marvelous Marvolo!"
I thought he was in the Lemony Snicket books
"No, that's Count Olaf," Colbert said. "Though he's a coward, too. Not to mention a pervert. I don't know what the laws are like in whatever make-believe world he comes from, but in my world, you don't go around marrying fifteen-year-old orphans. Not even for the money. Plotting to kill them, murdering their parents, that's understandable. Reprehensible, but, in the villain scheme of things, understandable."
Tough luck, Harry
"Still, you've got to draw the line somewhere!" Colbert said, pounding a fist on his desk for emphasis. "Pardon me if I happen to draw mine at lusting after teenagers. No matter how hot they are."
Tough luck, all you dirty, dirty fangirls
"Which is about the only good thing we can say about this spooky, scary Dark Lord. He may be a snake-talking mostly undead evil weirdo, but at least he's not a lecherous snake-talking mostly undead evil weirdo."
"And thank God for that. We don't want to have to worry about there being a Mrs. Voldemort and a lot of little Voldemorts, do we?"
Though that Bellatrix chick has got it going on …
"Hey!" Professor Colbert cut in. "We are not even speculating in that direction. I know there's a lot of bizarre 'shipping happening out there, some of it too freaky even for me –"
Mirror, Blackbeak, Sockporn, Love at the Lake …
He raised his wand and shot a warning sidelong look at the blue screen. "Are you finished?"
"Moving right along. Let me hear you say it."
"Don't get smart with me, mister."
"And that's the Word," Professor Colbert said with satisfaction. "We'll be right back."
The curtains drew shut over the screen and the hated name, etched there in its searing letters of white fire.
Harry wasn't the only one to turn to the dazed students around him with his brow creased in utter bafflement. Something more seemed needed here. He wasn't sure what, but the teacher was sitting there with hands folded and eyebrows raised, waiting expectantly.
The class fidgeted nervously, still as shaken by repeated exposures to the name of Voldemort as they might have been by repeated slaps to the face. A few were in tears. Some were curled in fetal positions under their seats.
Then, after a couple of false-start half movements, Dean Thomas began to clap. A clap did not normally sound like there was a question mark at the end, but these did. When Professor Colbert inclined his head encouragingly, a few other students joined in. Then a few more. Until they were all applauding, though looking at each other with numb, shocked eyes.
"No, no, really, that's not necessary," Professor Colbert said, beaming benignly, after they had clapped for a solid two minutes. "Moving right along …"
He whirled his chair and leveled a finger at them. His expression changed in an instant, going from that benign beam to a sternness so forbidding that it would have made Snape take a step back.
Hannah Abbot, who had only just stopped crying, uttered a shrill squeak and hid her face against Ernie MacMillan's arm. Neville moaned miserably. Ron mumbled something – "Bloody hell!" would have been Harry's guess.
"If you're going to fight the evils that menace our society," Colbert barked, "you need to know what they are. And I'm here to tell you … with the Threat-Down!"
A whooping alarm klaxon resounded through the dark room. Blood-red pulsing lights flashed and flared. Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson were clinging to each other like children in a carnival haunted house. Hermione jumped and her quill skidded a jagged black scrawl across her notes. Harry instinctively grabbed for his wand.
"Number Five," Professor Colbert said as the alarms and flashes faded. He swept his own wand through the air, and a shimmering numeral 5 appeared, floating like sparkling golden smoke in the gloom.
Realizing that they were not all about to be struck dead, the students who had been on the edge of their seats, or on the verge of fleeing the classroom altogether, eased back into their places.
The golden 5 dissolved and re-formed into the shape of a creature somehow both squat and gangly, with overlarge ears and big soulful eyes.
"House-Elf Liberationists," intoned the professor solemnly. "These well-meaning do-gooders are going to destroy our economy."
Rallied by her pet cause, Hermione's hand shot up again. She didn't even wait to be called on before objecting, "But, Professor, house-elves are horribly mistreated! It's tantamount to slave labor!"
"That's the best kind," he said. "And you're interrupting again, Miss Granger. Yes, it's true that house-elves are unpaid. They get no vacations, no benefits, and not much in the way of a retirement plan. And they are the happiest, hardest-working, most uncomplaining busy-bees you'll ever find."
"Only because they don't know any better!" cried Hermione.
"It's the little people who keep our society functioning," Colbert said, overriding her. "The house-elves, the goblins, even the tommyknockers. Well, maybe not so much the tommyknockers. But the house-elves and the goblins. Now, the goblins, they love their gold … but house-elves? That's a different story. My house-elf, Jimmy, sleeps in a shoebox and wears a toga made out of old newspapers and that's just the way he likes it. Isn't that right, Jimmy?"
A small, abject figure began to creep dolefully out from behind one of the bookcases, but Professor Colbert shoved it back out of sight with one foot.
"If these Elfinistas get their way, though," he said, "thousands of house-elves will be driven into unemployment out of the shame of being expected to take payment for their work. What will become of them? Who'll do the tidying? Are we supposed to outsource all our menial chores? You really want to put good English house-elves on the street while some unpaid grama-davata from India does your laundry and takes out your trash?"
Hermione was positively aghast, and elbowed Harry as if to make him say something when she was too apoplectic to speak. Harry shrugged helplessly at her.
"Number Four," declared Colbert, evidently feeling that he had gotten his point across and could now proceed. The golden-smoke image dissolved and re-formed again, this time into a numeral 4. "Extreme Splinching. I don't know what it is with kids today, but when I was growing up, splinching was something to be avoided. Who wanted to leave half of themselves behind while trying to get your Apparating license? And to do it on purpose?"
The image that had followed the number 4 had been indecipherable at first, but as Colbert explained, it suddenly made gruesome sense. Harry felt his stomach churn, and wished he'd skipped breakfast. He barely heard the rest of the speech about Extreme Splinching in his struggle to keep from throwing up.
"Number Three … Dementors."
The temperature in the room seemed to plummet as the smoke reshaped itself into the suggestion of an ominous cloaked-and-hooded creature with one long, bony, grasping hand. Harry wasn't the only one, he saw in that moment, half-tempted to draw his wand and blast it apart with a silvery Patronus Charm.
"They were bad enough when they were the Azkaban guards," Professor Colbert said. "But now that they're on the loose? 'Nuff said."
The way this was going, Harry figured he could guess what Number One was going to be. Like he needed a Threat-Down to tell him so.
"Number Two. Voldemort."
A flurry of shrieks erupted from the students. Like Harry, they must have seen where this was headed and been trying to brace themselves, but before they could, they got blindsided.
"Number Two? Voldemort? Number Two?" Harry didn't know he was going to speak aloud until the words burst from his lips.
"That's what I said, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you of all people why, Mr. Potter. You know better than any of us."
Harry sat there with his jaw hanging open. It wasn't Voldemort being on the Threat-Down that surprised him. It was … Voldemort … placing second?
"And last but by no means least," Professor Colbert said, into a sudden silence that was filled with apprehensive dread, "Number One on the Threat-Down ..."
Neville squeezed his eyes shut. Hannah hid her face again. Dean and Parvati held their breath. Seamus' knuckles had gone white as chalk. Harry tried to think of what in the world could possibly be worse than Voldemort, the Dark wizard who had terrorized the entire magical community for so many years and been responsible for the deaths of so many people – Harry's own parents among them.
Seeing that he had their entire horrorstruck attention, Colbert nodded gravely around at the students. "Bugbears."
"Bugbears?" Harry said later, incredulous, as they crowded into the Great Hall for lunch. "He's … he's joking, right?"
"Well, he did make them sound like a serious threat," Hermione said. "I mean, I've read about them, of course, but I never thought …"
"Bloody hell," Ron said. "It's rubbish, that's what it is. Bugbears? He's got a thing about bears, that bloke. Did you hear him going on about owlbears, too?"
"What's this about owlbears?" came a gruff, familiar voice from behind them. They turned to see Hagrid, his beard a bushy tangle spilling down the front of his moleskin overcoat. "Who's been tellin' yer about owlbears?"
"Professor Colbert," Harry said. "Do you know about them, Hagrid? And bugbears?"
Hermione rolled her eyes, as if he was stupid even for asking. Harry supposed she was probably right. To Hagrid's way of thinking, dragons and giant spiders made good pets, and the most deadly and ferocious creatures in the world were only "able ter look after themselves all right," as if being able to devour a person in two chomps was as much a defense mechanism as a hedgehog's spines.
But the color drained from Hagrid's ruddy face. "Bugbears?" he whispered, then furtively scanned the room as if afraid something might be sneaking up on him. "Ye want ter watch what yer sayin' about bugbears, Harry. Monsters, that lot. I din' used ter think they was so bad, mind ye, but …"
"But what?" Harry asked.
Hagrid gruffly shook his big head, and hurried off without another word.
From talk heard around the school and in the Gryffindor common room over the next couple of days, Harry, Ron and Hermione determined that their reaction to Professor Colbert was pretty much the same as everyone else's.
"He brought Madame Hooch in as a special guest to speak to our class," Ginny reported at breakfast one morning. "But instead of asking us to welcome her, he jumped up from his desk and ran around the room with his arms in the air, like he had just won the Quidditch World Cup, waiting for us all to cheer."
Colin Creevey, who was in Ginny's year, bobbed his head enthusiastically. "They nearly got in a fight about the Welsh league's performance-enhancing spells scandal."
"What does any of that have to do with Defense Against the Dark Arts?" Hermione asked huffily.
"That's nothing," Lee Jordan said, leaning across the table. "With us, he brought out a list of famous witches and wizards through history, and made us shout out whether we thought they should be brought back, or left dead! No one knew what to say when he got to Nicholas Flamel, though."
"My gran is furious he's our new teacher," Neville said, glancing around as if he expected a Howler from that formidable lady to arrive any minute. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "She's on notice, my gran, you see."
"What'd she do?" Ginny asked, eyes wide.
"Don't know," Neville said. "Gran won't tell me, and when I got up the nerve to ask Professor Colbert after class, all he'd say was that she knows why."
Luna Lovegood had drifted over from the Ravenclaw table. "He gave my father a Tip of the Hat," she said. "The Quibbler, my father's paper, always gives proper attribution to quotes. Unlike the Daily Prophet, which got a big Wag of the Finger for not mentioning him in their article on Truthiness. It serves them right, too."
"I've prepared a little something special for today," Professor Colbert said. "It's time for a segment I like to call 'Better Know a Death-Eater.'"
"That's easy," Harry said. "They've all got the Dark Mark here on their arms –"
"Mr. Potter, please." Colbert indicated himself. "Teacher. Talking." He indicated Harry. "Student. Listening."
Harry shut his mouth with a snap.
"Today we'll be looking at the Malfoy family … the fightin' Malfoys!"
"What?!" Draco Malfoy leaped to his feet, while an alarmed Pansy Parkinson tried to pull him back down. "Why you filthy, Muggle-loving –"
A bolt of energy shot from the end of Professor Colbert's wand. In mid-air, it unfolded into a wad of sticky-tape that pasted itself across the lower half of Malfoy's face.
"We don't talk about my or anybody else's Muggle-loving in this classroom," Colbert said. "Got it?"
Knocked back into his seat, Malfoy made a series of muffled grunts and bleats as he tried unsuccessfully to peel the gag off.
Ignoring him, Colbert swept grandly toward the table that held a basin Harry recognized as a Pensieve. "As I was saying, the fightin' Malfoys! An ultra-elitist, super-snobby clan of purebloods who can trace their lineage back for several centuries, the Malfoys have produced many of history's top Dark wizards. Who can forget Maleficent Malfoy, the sorceress responsible for the Great Spinning Wheel Fires of the late 1200's?"
Hermione raised her hand, and when he nodded, she said, "There was also Osmund Malfoy, the Butcher of Birkhead. And Ferrex Malfoy, inventor of the Self-Sharpening Guillotine. And Ardea Malfoy, who murdered nine of her husbands –"
"Mmmmrrrff!" Malfoy said.
Still ignoring him, Colbert said, "Very good, Miss Granger; I think they get the idea. Ten points for your House, whichever one that is. So, given the family history, it was no surprise when one of their number rose to prominence among Voldemort's Death-Eaters."
Professor Colbert touched the tip of his wand to the silvery, rippling surface of the Pensieve. He stirred it around while he spoke, then raised the wand. A filament of the silvery stuff trailed after it, hanging in the air like a vapor. Colbert spun it into a circle, which first clouded and then cleared, like fog evaporating off a windowpane.
"I recently sat down to talk with current patriarch-ex-patriate Lucius Malfoy at his cell in Azkaban Prison," he said.
Abruptly, Malfoy quit his struggles and sat still, eyes bulging.
Within that floating window, a scene appeared. It showed a dismal dungeon chamber, illuminated by the flickering sputter of candlelight. The floor was strewn with damp straw, the stone walls clammy with condensation. Spiders scurried. Rats scuttled. From somewhere came the despairing howls of tortured prisoners.
Two straight-backed wooden chairs faced each other in the center of the cell. In one sat Professor Colbert, trim and dapper in crisp black robes with a bold crimson ascot. In the other sat a man … and it took Harry several seconds to convince himself that yes, that really was Lucius Malfoy.
He remembered a commanding, imposing figure, well-groomed and stylishly dressed. Not this haggard husk, clad in rags almost as shabby as the old tea-towel that had been the only garment of the Malfoys' former house-elf, Dobby. Dirty bone-colored blond hair fell in lank straggles around a sunken, unshaved, skull-like face.
Only the eyes were the same … Lucius Malfoy's pale eyes, burning with hate, like diamonds set on fire.
"Mister Malfoy," the Colbert in the scene said, with easy confidence. "Thanks for talking with me."
"Rot in Hell," rasped Lucius Malfoy, his voice dry and cracked.
"Tell me about the fightin' Malfoys," Colbert said, unperturbed. "What's it like seeing your family's admittedly tarnished reputation go down in flames?"
Lucius Malfoy's lips pressed together in a thin white line.
"Ever take money from Igor Karkaroff?"
Diamond-fire eyes, blazing, searing. If they'd been spells, Professor Colbert would have been scorched down to ashes.
"I'm picking up a little hostility here, Mr. Malfoy," Colbert said. "And, frankly, this interview isn't going as productively as I'd hoped."
"All right, then. One final question. Albus Dumbledore. Great Headmaster? Or … the greatest Headmaster?"