Actions

Work Header

He Was He and I Was Bunny

Chapter Text

 

He Was He and I Was Bunny

 

“If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no
more than because he was he, and I was I.”

- Michel de Montaigne

 

1.

It was at Fred’s funeral that the idea had first come to him. He had been standing there amongst the Weasleys, Ron on his right, Percy on his left, staring at the casket. It was oddly beautiful, made of deep, shiny mahogany. The wood glowed warmly in the late afternoon sunlight, as though imbued with the life that had left the body inside the box. There were flowers everywhere. The air was full of their heady fragrance. Harry couldn’t help thinking they were already dead, their cut stems already shriveling, their petals already wilting, even if you couldn’t see it yet. Someone Harry didn’t know was speaking about how Fred was a hero, how he was loved, how he would be missed.

Suddenly Harry couldn’t take it. He couldn’t think about Fred, couldn’t watch them lower that impossibly somber box into the ground.

But of course he couldn’t leave. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t do that to the Weasleys and he owed it to Fred to stay here and witness these final moments. So he remained rooted to the spot. He did not move his eyes from the casket, even as they lowered it into the ground, even as Mrs Weasley tossed her handful of dirt into the grave. But he did allow his mind to wander, giving him a buffer between himself and the gnawing pain of this reality. It was during this wandering that the idea came to him. What might it feel like to be an Animagus? To fly with the wings of a bird? To run with the swift feet of a deer? To swim with the ease of a fish? He lost himself in his musings – the imagined feel of the wind bearing him up without the need of a broom, the smell of the forest as the trees rushed by in a blur, the silkiness of water against slippery flesh.

The idea stayed with him throughout the funeral, throughout the gathering that followed, throughout the night. He lay on his bed in Ron’s room, listening to his friend’s snores and the muffled sound of Mrs Weasley’s sobs in the distance and thought about being an Animagus. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. If his fame had bothered him before Voldemort’s fall, in the days since it had become almost unbearable. Everywhere he went he was hounded. Even when he was visiting friends in St. Mungo’s, people pressed themselves upon him, wanting to talk to him, to thank him. Even as he walked from the graveyard, the press had been there, taking pictures and shouting questions. He thought of taking on a form no one would even think to look for, one that would take him out of the world of people and into the simpler natural world. It appealed to him greatly. It was privacy. It was escape.

A few days later, he was standing beside Kingsley Shacklebolt in front of a large crowd. Kingsley had asked him, as a personal favour, to attend the medal ceremony and so he had, letting Kingsley shake his hand and pin a shiny Order of Merlin, First Class to his chest. As he accepted the medal, staring out over the sea of happy faces that had been nowhere to be seen when a group of teenagers was risking their lives for what they believed in, Harry felt a simmering rage threatening to overtake him. Taking a deep breath, he let his eyes lose focus, let the sound of Kingsley’s voice fade into the background, let his mind drift. He thought again about being an Animagus. He again imagined the feeling of freedom and peace it would bring. He was going to do it. He needed to do it.

He didn’t tell anyone of his plan, not even Ron or Hermione. He couldn’t say exactly why but he wanted to keep this just for him, to have just one thing no one else got to have a say in. After being used by Voldemort, used by Dumbledore, used by the government – hell, used by the wizarding world as a whole – he wanted this to be his and his alone.

At the first opportunity, he was off to Diagon Alley. Truth be told, finding the information was harder than he had anticipated. Not so much because the books themselves were hard to come by but because it was difficult for him to get them without notice. People were only too happy to help him get anything he needed, no matter how rare or questionable. But the last thing he needed was for the press to get wind of the fact Harry Potter was going about asking for information on becoming an Animagus. No, the purpose of the thing was that no one would know. So even though it was slower, Harry cast a heavy Glamour and went about doing things the hard way. It took a few weeks but eventually he found what he needed.

He was somewhat surprised to discover the magic involved was not as difficult as he had assumed. Oh, it was hard, there was no doubting it. It was some of the most complex magic he had ever seen. It required a lot of power, even more concentration, and a fair wallop of control. But Harry had more training in these things than most wizards his age. And he couldn’t help but feel he had inherited a natural tendency towards it from his father. It would take some practice, a lot of practice, but he was pretty sure he was up to the task. No, the magic wasn’t the problem. It was finding his animal form that was the problem.

According to the books, many otherwise capable wizards were never able to successfully complete the transformation because they couldn’t determine their animal form. The experts were all very clear on this – a wizard could not take on an animal form unless he or she knew beforehand what that form would be. And it was not a form they chose but rather an innate form, sprung from individual psychology, which they had to somehow discover. The books then went on to describe various meditations, spells, and rituals that could be used to assist in the process. They noted that it could take years or decades even to ascertain one’s animal form.

But if Harry Potter was anything, it was an exception to the rule. He was the Boy Who Lived. Twice. He was the youngest Seeker in a century. He could throw off the Imperius Curse at fourteen. He had ridden a dragon, defeated a troll, and survived five years of Potions with Snape. He was sure he could find his animal form in less than ten years. And it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do.

***

The summer went by in a blur of funerals, ceremonies, parties, and people. So many people, always coming and going, all wanting to talk to him. Harry stayed with the Weasleys for the most part. He couldn’t yet face Grimmauld Place and its ghosts. He thought about getting his own place, maybe in Godric’s Hollow, maybe in London, but he didn’t feel ready yet to make a decision. And he wanted the Weasleys around. Along with Hermione, they were his family, all he had really. They were the only ones not pushing him, not asking him for anything. Even still, there were several nights when he took a room in the Leaky Cauldron just to be alone for a bit.

There were moments during the summer, though, that stood out from the blur. Like when Ginny broke up with him, if it could even be called breaking up when they hadn’t been together in over a year. Her eyes had been soft when she told him. She had held his hand and her skin had been warm and smooth. It hadn’t hurt as much as he would’ve thought. It felt familiar and expected, like the ending of a book he’d already read. He accepted her hug, her gentle kiss good-bye. Watching her walk back towards the house, he mostly felt relieved. When she showed one day up several weeks later with Dean Thomas in tow, his hand spread possessively on her shoulder, Harry was glad for them.

Testifying on behalf Draco Malfoy was another stand-out moment. Malfoy hadn’t asked him to; Harry had seen his upcoming trial announced in the paper. It was strange, but somehow his feelings towards the Slytherin had changed over the last year. Maybe it was seeing him lower his wand, unable to kill Dumbledore. Maybe it was his refusal to identify Harry, Ron and Hermione that day in the Manor. Maybe it was knowing, in many ways, Malfoy’s life had been shaped by Voldemort as clearly and indelibly as Harry’s own had been. But whatever the reason, when Harry thought about Malfoy, he didn’t feel that old hatred. Instead he thought about Malfoy’s pale, terror-stricken face as he was forced to cast the Cruciatus Curse. He thought about Malfoy’s arms tight around his waist as they shot out of the Room of Requirement, Fiendfyre on their heels. He thought about Malfoy and his parents on the night of the final battle, a family, however demented and prejudiced they may be.

Harry had quickly dashed off a note to the family lawyers named in the article. Two hours later, he was Flooed to said solicitors’ offices. Three days later, he sat in front of the Wizengamot, recounting what he had seen the night of Dumbledore’s death and Malfoy’s role in Harry’s own survival. He stated his belief that Malfoy had acted under duress during his time with the Death Eaters, gave the evidence of his own visions through Voldemort’s eyes. He did not stay to hear the verdict. He had done all he could. He would not let himself feel responsible for Draco Malfoy’s fate. Whatever happened to Malfoy, it had nothing to do with him.

When he received an owl several hours later detailing the not guilty verdict, he smiled all the same.

But the moment that stood out the most, that burned the brightest against the dark background of duty and mourning, was kissing Charlie Weasley. It had been the night of Harry’s eighteenth birthday. Not wanting to deal with the throngs of grateful strangers he was sure to encounter at the local pub, he had opted to have a quiet celebration in the Weasleys’ garden. Friends had drifted in and out over the course of the evening. There had been a lot of food, music, and laughter. No one had talked about the war or the dead. No one mentioned Voldemort or the Ministry. They all simply lived in the moment. Of course, part of living in the moment was consuming large amounts of Firewhisky. As the night wore on, the drink began to claim its victims with people limping home, passing out, or seeking out dark corners and warm bodies.

Harry hadn’t planned on drinking too much and sitting alone with Charlie under a bright summer moon. It had just happened. To this day, he couldn’t really say who initiated that first kiss. He remembered Charlie asking him why he and Ginny hadn’t gotten back together. He remembered saying something about how cool he thought Charlie’s job was, that the burn scars on his forearms were sexy. And he remembered Charlie’s lips on his, the kiss tentative at first but growing bolder. He remembered climbing drunkenly into Charlie’s lap, almost falling over as he did so, being steadied by Charlie’s strong arms. He remembered Charlie whispering his name over and over as Harry ran kisses along his jaw, his lips dragging on stubble.

There were other kisses after that, many other kisses. Kisses stolen while crossing paths in the upstairs hallway, cleaning up the brooms after a bit of Quidditch in the garden, late at night when both came to the kitchen seeking out a midnight snack. Harry had wanted it to be more than just kisses and he sensed, had things been different, Charlie would have liked that too. He could tell by the force of Charlie’s grip when he held him, the urgency of his hands on Harry’s body. He could tell by the look he caught on Charlie’s face every now and again, a strange mix of wistfulness, hunger, and defeat. But things weren’t different. Harry was Ron’s best mate, Ginny’s ex-boyfriend, and Charlie was going back to Romania at the end of August. But they were burned into his memory, each one of their kisses and no one could take that from him.

In between the conversations and the ceremonies, the trials and the kisses, Harry thought about his Animagus form. He practiced the magic. He was certain he could do it. When he whispered the incantation, he felt his magic surge through his body in response, wanting to do his bidding. He was sure he could make the transformation but into what? In his dreams, he saw a shadowy shape, four-footed and fleet. He was so close. He could feel it.

 

2.

It seemed surreal, to be once again sitting in the Great Hall, watching the first years being sorted into their houses as if it were the most normal thing in the world. All around him was the usual chatter and excitement of the start-of-term banquet, everyone acting as if nothing had changed. As if the school hadn’t been at the centre of the war, turned into a site of terror and torture the year previous. As if there weren’t still burn marks on the castle walls, damage in the hallways and on the grounds. As if there weren’t empty seats, left vacant by students who didn’t come back and students who couldn’t come back.

It was the strangest Sorting Harry had ever seen. Despite the Sorting Hat’s urging towards forgiveness and house unity, it was clear the first years viewed sorting into Slytherin as equivalent to a death sentence. Every single student perched under the hat as it called out “Slytherin!” went pale and trembled. Then, each and every time, wide, panicked eyes flicked toward Harry, as though they feared he would respond to their sorting with rage, smiting them down in that instant as he had Voldemort. Their ignorance and assumptions made him angry but his glaring just fueled their fears. Watching them, he felt irritated and vaguely nauseated.

It wasn’t just the first years who were subdued and anxious. No one clapped for new housemates at the Slytherin table. The older students did not want to draw attention to themselves, to their existence. They barely responded to their new housemates other than to offer a commiserating look or a comforting pat on the arm. It was positively eerie to see Slytherin acting like that. They were a ghost house, barely more than shadows. Adding to this impression was the fact that the students from the other houses refused to look at the Slytherins. Their eyes slid over them or stared past them, determinedly ignoring their presence in the room.

It made Harry angry to see it. It was true that some of the Slytherins had been on Voldemort’s side but most hadn’t. They were just students, just kids most of them. It was wrong to treat them like that. It was prejudice and when it came right down to it, that was what he had fought against when he had fought Voldemort. It was what his friends had died for, what he had been willing to die for.

Surveying the Slytherin table, his eyes fell on Malfoy. He hadn’t actually seen him since his trial. He looked somewhat better, not so gaunt and pale. Unlike the other Slytherins, who all had their heads bowed and their eyes carefully trained on their plates in front of them, Draco’s head was held high and he met every gaze that came his way. His expression was dangerous and his eyes seemed to burn with a barely contained rage. When he saw Harry looking at him, his glare grew more intense still, accusatory and damning. Harry looked away, confused and annoyed. Fucking Malfoy and his hissy fits. Seemed as though keeping him out of Azkaban wasn’t enough to get Harry off his death glare list.

He turned his attention to the food now appearing before them. He pointedly ignored the open stares of the newly sorted Gryffindors. Beside him, Hermione was scolding Ron for talking with his mouth full. Across from him, Seamus was detailing his plans for a party once they got back to Gryffindor Tower, complete with smuggled Firewhisky and Muggle cigarettes. Harry lost himself in the good food and the comfortable chatter of his friends. It felt wonderfully familiar. He was home.

***

As the week wore on, it became clear things were not back to normal at Hogwarts. The shadow of the Death Eaters hung heavily in the classrooms. Students who had been able to attend the year previous had information and skills the students who had been barred from attending did not. The teachers often found themselves correcting misinformation and biases that had been taught as fact during the Carrows’ tenure. Indeed, McGonagall and Flitwick in particular seemed to have set very thorough and demanding curricula for the year, as though attempting to eradicate even the memory of substandard education ever having occurred at Hogwarts. And then of course there were the empty seats they all tried not to look at.

Harry found classes strange for personal reasons as well. There was a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, a witch by the name of Melinda Honeyweather. Harry had been feeling optimistic about her. Dennis Creevey had her first and reported she was decent, competent and personable. Apparently, though, her competency did not extend to teaching the Boy Who Lived. When Harry walked into the room for his first class with her, her eyes widened at the sight of him. He watched as she took in his scar, gave his body a once-over and then blushed deeply. He quickly noticed that while she was able to guide other students well enough, whenever he asked a question she became flustered and giggled a lot. More than once he had felt eyes on him and had looked up only to find her gazing dreamily at him from behind her desk. It was very disquieting.

Potions was dreadful. Without the Half-Blood Prince to guide him through, Harry was back to his usual abysmal performance. Slughorn, clearly confused by this turn of events, had started to avoid calling on Harry, something which Harry found both relieving and embarrassing. Potions also had Malfoy in it. Malfoy who continued to give Harry his patented glare whenever their eyes happened to meet. Harry was completely baffled by this. They hadn’t actually talked after Malfoy’s trial, though Malfoy had sent a thank you note the next day, but Harry had assumed, at the very least, they had managed to reach a sort of truce. But there was no sign of a truce in Malfoy’s face when he looked at Harry. Harry was surprised to find he felt hurt by this.

He couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with Malfoy. While the rest of Slytherin seemed to be trying their best to disappear into the walls, Malfoy stormed around the castle in a temper. He was often with Zabini or Nott and occasionally with the pretty blond Slytherin whose name Harry didn’t know but he was just as often alone. Harry frequently saw him working by himself in the library. None of the other Slytherins ever worked in the library, instead checking out books and returning to the safety of their common room as quickly as possible. But Malfoy spent hours there, his work spread out all over the table. Harry also saw him walking about the halls in the evenings, stalking through the corridors with an angry look on his face. He had followed him a couple of times, old habits died hard, but this only led to more confusion as Malfoy had simply roamed the halls for an hour before heading outside and sitting by the lake until well past curfew.

If Harry had to guess, he would say Malfoy was purposely shoving himself in the collective face of the student body, refusing to let them forget that Slytherins lived there too.

***

People liked to think Harry had escaped Voldemort so many times because of his innate skill and power. They liked to believe Voldemort had been defeated because Harry righteously wielded the forces of good. They did not like to think Harry’s success had come through a combination of hard work, help from others and a lot of sheer dumb luck. But it had. It was the truth and Harry knew it better than anyone. So while others might have been tempted to think Harry discovered his animal form after trying for less than four months because he was inherently gifted, Harry knew it was just because he was lucky.

It was several weeks into term and Harry was going a little bit crazy. Coming back to school, he knew people would be after him, wanting to talk to him, get some time and attention from the Saviour of the Wizarding World. He had resigned himself to it somewhat. What he hadn’t counted on was that most of his friends would be getting similar treatment. Ron, Hermione and Neville had all been given Orders of Merlin for their role in the war as well. The members of the DA had also been recognised. After so much darkness and terror, the press had a field day with the uplifting story of a gang of school children who banded together to rebel against the corrupt government, fight the Death Eaters, and ultimately help Harry win the final battle. As a result, most of the Gryffindor upper years were near-celebrities. Gryffindor’s table was regularly swarming with students from other houses wanting to talk not just to Harry, but to Ron, Hermione, Neville, and the others. Sometimes Harry could take the crowds, noise and attention all in stride but other days it was just too much.

Today had been one of those ‘other days’. He stepped into the Great Hall, took one look at the throng of people hanging about the Gryffindor table and went straight back out again. At the time he hadn’t cared about missing dinner. Several hours later, however, his stomach was protesting the situation. He decided to head down to the kitchens to nick a sandwich and some biscuits. He was halfway there when a silvery blur came tearing around the corner. He threw himself aside as it streaked by and then turned to squint after it. There was something very familiar about that silvery blur…

A moment later, Luna drifted around the corner, a dreamy smile on her face. She was trailing her hand along the wall, fingertips bumping over the surface of the stones, humming softly to herself. Her wand was held out in front of her but her grip was loose and it dangled and bobbed. He felt almost instantly cheered by the sight of her. The more things changed, the more Luna stayed the same.

Her smile broadened when she saw him. “Hello, Harry.”

“Hey, Luna,” he replied, returning the smile. “What are you up to?”

“Oh, I was just taking my Patronus out for a run. I find if I don’t let her out once in a while, she starts to pester me.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. She resents being locked up all the time so I try to give her a chance to stretch her legs every once in a while. It seems to make her happy.” She looked at him curiously. “Don’t you have to do that with yours?”

“Erm, not so much,” Harry said, trying to keep a straight face.

Luna looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, I suppose you probably use yours more than I use mine. You often seem to be in dangerous situations. Perhaps he is glad to have a rest. Oh, but look, mine’s on the way back now! See? Doesn’t she look content?”

The silvery wisp whisked towards them at top speed before coming to an abrupt stop at Luna’s feet. “Good girl,” she said affectionately.

Harry watched quietly as Luna’s Patronus leapt about the room, only half-listening as Luna detailed an upcoming story in The Quibbler on the mating rituals of the Blibbering Humdinger. There was something, something about her Patronus, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It called up half-formed memories, as though from a dream…

And then it hit him. He stared, dumbstruck. Here it was. The answer he’d been looking for for months.

“I’m sorry, Luna,” he said, interrupting her musings on the role of ear folds in attracting a mate. “I have to go.”

***

It was bizarre. There was no other word for it. The world looked enormous and strangely flat. It was hard to adjust to having eyes on either side of your head instead of straight in front. And everything was so loud. The wind through the grass, the rustling of leaves, his own heartbeat, thunderous and fast. He would never have guessed it would be like this and he struggled to cope with the deafening onslaught. It took a long time, an hour, maybe more, before it stopped seeming quite so overwhelming.

Once he had a grip on his senses, he decided to try moving around a bit. He tried to move forward, unsure how to work the muscles of this new, furry body. Unused to such powerful legs, he pushed off too hard, launching himself abruptly forward and falling straight onto his face. He tried again with the same results. And again. And again. And again. Fuck. How did his father ever do this? He tried sitting up on his hind legs. He wobbled around a bit while he found his balance but after a moment or two was able to sit steady. He tried to look down at his body but found it difficult with his sideways eyes. He wasn’t sure how to turn his head properly.

After another hour of experimenting with movement, Harry had managed to move forward four feet. He was now at the edge of the lake. The wind had died down and a bright moon had risen, making the lake’s surface almost a perfect mirror. He stared down at the glossy surface, carefully regarding the face that looked back at him. A rabbit’s face. His face. Taking in the long ears, the glossy black fur, the little twitching nose, Harry couldn’t help but laugh. Or rather, he felt as though he was laughing. In reality, it was a bit more of a harsh exhale. The muscles around his nose seemed to jump a little. Still, it had to be a laugh. What else could it be when he felt like this? He had done it. He was an Animagus.

 

3.

There was no way around it. Slytherin House was depressing as fuck. Draco had known it would be bad – how could it not be after the way things had fallen out? – but he had never imagined this. He thought there would be fighting, name-calling, dueling in the halls. That he could have handled. He could have fought back, rallied his house around him, their spirits raised as they worked to defend their honour. But the silent treatment, the way three-quarters of the school completely ignored the existence of any student in a green and silver tie – he had no idea how to fight against that. Sneers and death glares only worked when people looked at you.

When he first received his letter inviting him to return to repeat his seventh year, he hadn’t been sure if he had wanted to go back to Hogwarts. He knew it wouldn’t be pleasant for him now that the full truth about his role as a Death Eater had come out. But his mother had been pressuring him to return.

“You must return, darling,” she had said, her voice low and urgent. “It is crucial that you complete your education. It will take time for us to rebuild the family name. Until we do, eyes will be on you, Draco. People will be watching, waiting for you to make a mistake. You will have to be better than everyone else just to be seen as the same. If you don’t finish your schooling, I fear many will use it as an excuse to block you from employment, from the government, and from many of your other ambitions.”

While he wasn’t sure he had any ‘ambitions’ left, he had known his mother was right. A good education was imperative if they were to have any hope of rebuilding the family name. He had also known he really didn’t want to go back.

Strangely enough, it was Potter who convinced him to return. Draco had been astounded when his lawyers informed him Potter had offered to testify on his behalf. As he sat in the courtroom watching his former nemesis giving his testimony, Draco had felt strangely hopeful. If Harry Potter of all people could forgive Draco his past actions, then perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as he had feared. Perhaps people were ready to let go of old rivalries and misconceptions, to move towards something better. But then, sitting in the Great Hall during the Sorting, watching Potter’s eyes blaze with anger every time a first year was sorted into Slytherin, Draco knew he had been mistaken.

It had always angered him, the way people equated Slytherin with evil. Sure some of them were evil, he was a prime example. But most of them weren’t. Most of them weren’t future dark lords or the children of Death Eaters or anything remotely sinister. They were just kids who wanted to make something of themselves and had some crafty ideas as to how to go about doing that. He knew what they liked to say – “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” – but that was crap. He knew a number of Death Eaters who had been in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor and even one from Hufflepuff. Strange how everyone forgot about them when considering the characters of the houses.

To make matters worse, Slytherin was sadly depleted. Many students had not returned, especially the older ones. In his year, only himself, Blaise, Theodore, Daphne, and Millicent had returned. And Theodore and Millicent were both very subdued. They stuck close to the dorms, avoiding conversation as much as possible, their noses always in their books. It was clear they just wanted to get through the year and get out. Even with Blaise and Daphne, it wasn’t the same. They were both angry at him for the same thing – Daphne’s parents had approached his about the possibility of marriage between their children and Draco had turned them down flat – but for very different reasons. While there were too few of them to let sore feelings keep them from talking, it was still awkward as arse. Everything seemed difficult and dull. The fire was missing from Slytherin House and it made Draco feel sad and resentful.

He missed Pansy so much he ached with it. He hadn’t been surprised when she told him she wasn’t going to come back. How could she really, after standing up in front of everyone and suggesting they turn Potter over to the Dark Lord? His poor, rash Pansy. Her tendency towards self-preservation always was much stronger than her understanding of the political ramifications of her actions. He couldn’t help but admire her a little though. Even though it had clearly been an idiotic move, it took guts to stand up in the middle of a swarm of Potter-lovers hepped up on adrenaline and fear and say, “Take Harry Potter! I want to live!” He shook his head, smiling fondly.

He never would have guessed he would miss Crabbe and Goyle so much. He knew everyone thought they had been little more than thuggish lackeys but they hadn’t been. They had been friends. It was true they had followed him blindly until last year. And it was true that he had abused his power over them horribly. Of course, they had returned the favour when they transferred the responsibility of command from Draco to the Death Eaters and then proceeded to treat him like shit. But he couldn’t really hold that against them. He was the one who had taught them to mindlessly follow the strongest power.

No, whatever else had happened, Draco had cared about them and their loyalty had meant something to him. Whenever he had needed them, when Blaise had been in one of his moods, Pansy occupied with her latest boy-toy, and everyone else boring him to near tears, they had been there, ready to follow him into whatever prank or scheme he had cooked up to amuse himself. But now Crabbe was dead and Goyle was at Durmstrang and Draco wished he had been nicer to them over the years.

Unable to sit in the gloomy common room a moment longer, Draco decided to go stretch his legs. He had been spending more and more time away from Slytherin House, partly in an attempt to force the rest of the school to deal with his existence, partly just to get away from the oppressively dismal atmosphere. Most nights, he studied in the library or wandered through the halls before finishing up by walking the grounds, often settling by the lake’s edge and watching the moon rise over the water. Though he would never admit to liking such things, he found the sparkle of moonlight on the water’s surface beautiful and calming.

And he was in need of some calming tonight. Blaise was in a mood, looking for a fight and a fight with Draco in particular. Blaise had been angry with him ever since he found out Draco had turned down the Greengrasses’ proposal for marriage. He couldn’t really blame him. He and Blaise had been in an on-again, off-again relationship since fifth year though they had kept it secret from everyone, even their dorm mates. Pansy was the only one who knew the truth. She was the only one, aside from Blaise, who knew Draco was gay. Blaise had wanted to be open with their relationship but Draco had steadfastly refused.

“You know what’s expected of me,” he would say time and time again. “I’m a Malfoy. I have to marry, produce an heir, carry on my family name.”

“So what?” Blaise would counter. “That’s years away. I’m talking about right now. Right now let’s be together and then you can marry whoever the hell you want when you leave here.”

But they both knew that if Draco came out, it would have consequences in the future. They both knew his marriage was likely to be politically motivated. If it became common knowledge that he was gay, it would make him significantly less attractive to many of the high-status pureblood families his parents hoped to make a match with.

Draco had accepted this reality. Hell, he had even agreed with the reasoning behind it. But that was before. Before he became a Death Eater and saw first-hand what Voldemort was really about. Before the war and the Malfoys’ fall from grace. Draco no longer saw the point of marrying for the sake of the heir. He doubted the Malfoy name would ever hold the prestige it once did. No matter how much money they had, he wasn’t sure he would be doing a child of his any favours by saddling it with all that history. More importantly, he wasn’t sure he even believed in it anymore. Watching events unfold over the last two years, Draco had been forced into the realisation that everything his father had told him about the world was either wrong or an outright lie. Why condemn himself to a lifetime of unhappiness in a fake marriage for the sake of principles he no longer held to?

Shortly after Draco’s trial, the Greengrasses had approached his parents about the possibility of marriage between Draco and Daphne. His parents had liked the idea.

“It’s the perfect choice,” his father had said. “The Greengrasses are an old wizarding family with a proud lineage. You and Daphne have much you can offer each other.”

Draco had known what his father was really saying. The Greengrasses supported pureblood supremacy but had chosen not to support Voldemort. This meant that they were sympathetic to the Malfoys’ situation but their own name had not been tarnished by association with the Dark Lord, a rare combination. Draco also knew the Greengrasses had very little money in comparison to the vast Malfoy fortune. Thus it was a marriage that would benefit both sides – Draco’s reputation would be improved through his marriage to a Greengrass and Daphne and her future children would have all financial stability and power they could want.

Daphne had apparently been on board with the idea. Draco had not. He hadn’t told his parents why. They didn’t know he was gay nor were they aware he had experienced a shift in ideology. They were angry, the Greengrasses were angry, and Daphne was angry and deeply embarrassed. Then Blaise had gotten wind of the whole thing and had been furious. Draco had been putting him off for years using marriage as his excuse and then had turned down a highly sensible and profitable proposal. He took it as proof that Draco had been stringing him along the whole time.

He wasn’t entirely wrong about that, either. Draco had enjoyed his time with Blaise. He was intelligent, amusing and definitely very attractive. The sex was fantastic. But Draco had always known Blaise was much more emotionally invested in the relationship than he was himself. He had never daydreamed about a future together. He had always assumed when their time at Hogwarts drew to a close, so would their relationship. But marriage had been a more palatable excuse for both of them and so they had never had to deal with the truth of it. Now though, now it had all come to a head and Draco felt a confusing mix of guilt, indignation, and loss. He wished things could just go back to the way they had been before, when he and Blaise could laugh and fuck and not worry about the rest.

Draco sat at the edge of the lake, mulling these things over. Staring out over the water, he realised he was lonely. Though he would never say such a thing out loud, Draco thought it might be nice to have someone to talk to. Sometimes being a cold-hearted bastard wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

 

4.

Harry would remember that autumn as one of constant discovery. He spent every spare minute in his animal form, learning his new body. After classes he dashed off to any quiet place he could find and practiced his transformation, experimented with moving around as a rabbit, and just generally adjusting to life as this new being. He was almost always late to dinner, where he’d bolt down his food as quickly as possible before dashing back to Gryffindor Tower and ripping through his homework. Once he had done the bare minimum he felt he could get away with, he was off again, sneaking out to the grounds with his Invisibility Cloak.

This was always the best part of his day, out on the pitch, the inky darkness of night hiding him from prying eyes. He could transform and tear around to his heart’s content. Hours flew by as he ran and leapt in the moonlight. It was much more exciting than Harry had anticipated. When he had first heard the stories about his father and Sirius, he had assumed the only reason they transformed was to keep Remus company. He hadn’t imagined the wild joy that came from spending time as an animal.

When he had first realised his animal form was a rabbit, he had known a moment of disappointment. Part of him had hoped he would be a stag, like his father. Or, if not a stag, at least something large and impressive. He had to admit it was a bit of a blow to the ego that he, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Saviour of the Wizarding World, was a fluffy little bunny rabbit. Surely he was meant to be an eagle, a wolf, a dragon? But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense.

Harry had hated the war. He had seen enough violence to last him a lifetime. He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want to overpower others, force them to do his will. Unlike his father’s stag or Sirius’s dog, a rabbit really couldn’t be considered a fighting creature; it was not threatening or powerful. Harry also hated being used. He had been manipulated by so many people over the course of the war. He was tired of being seen as an opportunity or a tool. He wanted to be seen as himself, just Harry, a person like any other. A rabbit couldn’t really be used. If he had been an insect or a bird he could have perched outside windows like Skeeter, the perfect spy. If he had been a snake he could have slunk along dark corridors, slithered under doorways unnoticed, struck with poisonous fangs, the perfect spy and assassin both. But a rabbit, a rabbit was too big to go unnoticed, too small to be intimidating and its bite was unlikely to even break the skin. In fact, all rabbits were really good for was cuddling. And really, wasn’t that what Harry wanted most of all? To be loved?

A rabbit made good sense for another reason. Rabbits were fast and if there was one thing Harry loved, it was speed. Running as a rabbit was nothing like running in his human body. As a rabbit, his hind legs were powerful and loved to be worked. They propelled him forward with a surge unlike anything he had ever known. It was a lot like flying – everything fell aside until there was nothing but the rushing air and the pure feeling of exhilaration. But unlike flying, there was no need for a broom, no need for anything extra at all. It was Harry and only Harry creating this mad, driving rush. It felt primal and thrilling, just him and his body tearing through the night.

There was a downside to being a rabbit, though, a very crucial one, as Harry learned on his fourth night of running the pitch like a crazed thing. Rabbits were prey. As he dashed under the edge of Hagrid’s hut – transforming back into his human form as he did so lest he not make it in time – he cursed himself for forgetting he lived at a school that not only sat next to a forest full of wild creatures but also housed an owlery.

He knew of course that his friends were curious about his long absences from the common room, that it was only a matter of time before they confronted him about it. Sure enough, after a week or so, Ron and Hermione cornered him, wanting to know what was up. He told them he was finding it hard being back at school after everything and that he liked having some time to himself. They accepted the lie readily enough, Hermione’s face softening before she pulled him into a tight hug. Harry felt guilty for lying to his friends but not guilty enough to tell them the truth. He wasn’t ready to share that yet, not with anyone.

***

Draco was in a dark mood. Granted, most of his moods were dark these days but this one was worse than most.

He had been doing his usual “Slytherins are people, too” tour of the castle when he heard a muffled whimper coming from one of the suits of armour. Investigating, he discovered a first year Slytherin crammed inside, arms bound with a spell, mouth gagged with his own tie. Draco knew the boy. His name was Euan. He was shy and intelligent but quiet. He had a hard time imagining the boy doing anything that would warrant such abuse. Draco had gently helped the frightened child out, biting down his own outrage. Euan steadfastly refused to name who had done this to him. After arguing about this for a few minutes, Draco led him back to the dungeons and then went outside to cool off.

He felt angry, furiously so. It was disgusting that the other houses were getting away with such behaviour, the way teachers and prefects looked the other way. It made Draco sick that children like Euan were being punished for things they had nothing to do with, discriminated against solely because of their house designation. Thinking how Euan had looked inside the suit of armour, so small and miserable, Draco wanted nothing more than to find whoever had done this and hex them into oblivion.

But along with his rage and indignation, Draco felt guilt. Because really, weren’t Euan and the others just paying for his mistakes? He had done more than anyone to foster ill-will towards Slytherin amongst the other houses. After all, he had been the most outspoken about pureblood supremacy. He had been the one advocating for the removal of Muggle-borns from the school. Despite what others may have planned for after graduation, he was the only one who bore the Dark Mark while still in school. And of course, he was the only one who nearly murdered the Headmaster. Others may have been more favoured by the Carrows during their terrifying tenure, but everyone knew who the Prince of Slytherin was. Draco Malfoy and no one else.

Given the path of his thoughts, perhaps it was not surprising that he ended up standing in front of Dumbledore’s tomb. He had never visited it before. He had been in hiding following the Headmaster’s death, and last year, with Death Eaters firmly ensconced in Hogwarts’ halls, it would not have been prudent to be seen lingering in such a place. But now there was no reason for him not to be here except, perhaps, his own shame. He had a feeling Dumbledore wouldn’t have minded, though. In fact, he expected the crazy old codger would have been glad to see him there.

He reached out tentatively, let his fingers brush the cold marble. It was smooth and felt soothing to the touch. He ran his hands along the edge, outlining the shape of the tomb, his mind spinning. How much might have been different if he had accepted Dumbledore’s offer that night on the Astronomy Tower? Would they have been able to make it to safety before the other Death Eaters arrived? Before Snape arrived? Draco knew now that the old man had been dying of a curse, but how much longer might he have lived if Snape had not been forced to kill him? Would he have lived long enough to help Draco? To help his family? Would he have helped Potter to bring Voldemort down faster, before so many atrocities were committed? How much could have been different had Draco been stronger? How many lives could have been spared?

Suddenly, he felt as though a boulder had dropped on his chest and he struggled to breathe. How had he ever been so stupid? It was too much, far too much.

He laid a hand flat on the tomb. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. “I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t say how long he stayed by Dumbledore’s tomb, lost in thoughts of what might have been. At some point he sat down, his back against the frigid marble, his knees pulled up under his chin. At some point after that, his eyes stung. When he rubbed them, he was surprised to find they were wet. He hadn’t realised he was crying.

He was more surprised still when, after roughly wiping the tears away, he opened his eyes to see a small black bunny sitting in front of him. It was only a few feet away from him, sitting, and, well, staring, its little head slightly cocked to one side, its small nose twitching.

Draco had his wand trained on it in a flash. He had spent too long around Peter Pettigrew not to know that just because an animal seemed small and helpless didn’t mean it wasn’t actually a Death Eater looking to kill you dead. He fiercely whispered the incantation that would force the bunny back into its human shape.

Nothing happened.

Draco frowned. Maybe the bunny wasn’t an Animagus after all. Or maybe he just couldn’t get his stupid wand to work. He tried the spell again. And again. And then one more time, just to be sure.

Still nothing.

With a small shrug, he pocketed his wand. “So, you’re just a bunny after all, huh?”

The bunny hadn’t moved at all. He regarded the small creature curiously. It seemed awfully tame for a wild animal. Maybe it was someone’s pet, escaped from the castle. There was probably some frilly little girl searching around in a blind panic at that very moment. Or perhaps it had been lost during the final battle and had been living on the grounds since then, waiting for its owner to come and find it. That thought was more than a little depressing and Draco found himself reaching out a hand to the thing.

“Well, come here then.”

For a minute, the bunny didn’t move. Then it hopped forward tentatively, as though trying to decide between approaching and bolting with each step. Eventually though, it was close enough for Draco to pet it. And after a few minutes of that, it allowed him to pick it up, hold it in his lap and stroke its soft fur. God, if Pansy could see him now, sitting at Dumbledore’s grave, crying and cuddling a bunny, she would never let him hear the end of it.

He shook his head, smiling ruefully. “Draco Malfoy, you’re a total Hufflepuff.”

***

It was the strangest night of Harry’s life. And given what his life was like, that was saying something. He had been tearing around the grounds in cautious fits and starts, ever mindful of dark shapes winging through the night sky, when he caught sight of a figure moving towards Dumbledore’s tomb. Coming to a halt, he took in the blond hair and recognised Malfoy in the instant.

He would like to say it was compassion or concern or even well-intended suspicion that made him hop into nearby shadows to watch the Slytherin but that would be a lie. It was morbid curiosity and nothing more. He was blatantly eavesdropping on what was surely a very private moment.

Except that there wasn’t much to hear, even with his extra-sensitive rabbit hearing. Malfoy stood quietly for a long time, his hands trailing over the surface of the tomb. Then he whispered a broken apology and sunk to the ground. He sat there for an hour, maybe two. Every now and then he would turn his head a little and the moonlight would catch the tear tracks on his face, silver trails against pale skin. It startled Harry to see them. Just like that day in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, it seemed so strange to see Malfoy cry. After a while, Malfoy rubbed his eyes then looked at his hands, confusion clear on his face. As if he hadn’t realised he was crying until he felt the tears.

Looking back at it later, Harry would identify that as the thing that made him reveal himself. The thought of Malfoy sitting there, so lost in misery that he wasn’t even aware he was crying. It pulled at Harry in some way that was hard to explain, calling up memories of his own lost, lonely nights when there had been so much pain that nothing made sense any more. And so he had hopped forward. He didn’t know what he meant to achieve by it, only that he had to respond somehow to the display of raw hurt in front of him. After all, it wasn’t like he hated Malfoy anymore. The time for hatred was long past.

When Malfoy pulled his wand on him, Harry froze. An idiotic reaction, he should have run or transformed or something. He recognised the incantation Draco whispered, knew what it did. He winced and waited to be forced back into his human form. But amazingly, it didn’t happen. Malfoy cast the spell several times more but still nothing happened. And then, then, Malfoy actually reached out for him, beckoned him over, cuddled him on his lap. Never in a million years would Harry have pegged Malfoy as a bunny cuddler but there was no denying it. They sat like that for almost half an hour, Malfoy’s hands smoothing down Harry’s back, gently caressing his long ears, scratching just above his tail.

Strangest night ever.

*