The invitation says something about a rare find but doesn't provide any informative details. Bloody hell! Like that's supposed to sound interesting. It doesn't even pique Harry's curiosity, probably just some dumb old, insignificant artifact. Why? Why pray tell, should he be spending Friday evening listening to a dull museum presentation anyway? But Hermione is persistent and she pleads then demands then threatens to twist his arm if he doesn't concede.
It's the carrying-her-things-while-she-does-her-job part that Harry dreads the most. Her boyfriend, Ron, is supposed to be her chaperone, but he ditches her at the last minute because of some emergency meeting at work. Personally, Harry thinks Ron has just been looking for an escape and has effectively found one, leaving Harry to take his place.
"I've done you favours before," Hermione says with a tight frown, arms crossed and chin held high – a stance Harry knows well, knows she's about to drag Harry through an endless guilt trip.
Damn her. Harry breathes out through his nose. "That's sneaky, Hermione. Sleek and sneaky."
She tosses a lock of wavy brown hair back then leers at Harry. "It's not like you have anything better to do."
That's true, but Harry still refuses to give in so out of desperation, he says, "I have to work on an ad campaign."
"Sure you do. Like you have until next month to finish that. And as if I don't know you've been struggling on the graphic design alone for the past weeks." The hint of sarcasm in her tone slices through Harry's pride. "Come on, Harry. You need to go out more, find your divine guidance or muse or whatever. Maybe you'll even find some inspiration if you come with me."
Harry's resolve crumbles eventually. "Very well. But we're leaving as soon as you get your story."
As soon as they arrived at the museum, a woman wearing a black feather dress ushers Harry and Hermione to what probably is the largest function room in the building.
The crowd is thicker than Harry had expected. Not only are there reporters like Hermione, but there are also political figures and some members of the crème de la crème – rich snobs that Harry presumes are potential benefactors for whatever shit the museum curators have up their sleeves.
Drinks are being served – bubbly champagne of the highest quality, no doubt. More women dressed in feathery outfits with what looks oddly like bird cages over their heads parade around with plates of hors d'oeuvre.
Harry's glad he doesn't have to carry any of Hermione's things. "Only a few people are allowed to bring cameras," she says as if she can read Harry's thoughts. "So I'm just here for the story." She pulls out a notepad and a pen from her small purse then pushes her way through the throngs of people.
There's no need for Harry to follow her right away so he stays put, thinking that it won't be hard to spot her later. Her brown hair is tied to a tight bun that sits high on her head, so high that Harry can use it like some sort of beacon.
Harry has probably downed three flutes of champagne and has consumed about a plateful of caviar and blue cheese on crackers by the time a sharp-dressed man glides on the stage. He decides to join Hermione so he worms his way to where she's standing, murmuring, "Excuse me," and "I'm sorry," when he steps on an older gentleman's foot.
The speaker says, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud to present to you, a creature that was believed to be extinct, but one had been discovered by our expedition team in the Northern region," then he gestures at the centre of the stage with his hand where a dark curtain rises to reveal a large bird cage. Harry's jaw metaphorically hits the floor when his eyes fall on the lone occupant of the barred enclosure. He's too stunned that his mind barely processes what the hosts is saying, something about this creature – this Aves Keburis – being found in the thick forest of Mount Kebura.
Clinging to his reservations, Harry watches the creature inside the cage skeptically. Except it looks less of a creature than the host has implied, but more like a man garbed in torn black shorts.
Harry takes several steps closer, noticing that there are scales – or something that resembles scales – on the man's chest, some on his shoulders and his thighs. He wants to think those ridged layers of skin are fake but they look eerily real.
Dark shadows lined the man's eyes, making his gaze look sharp and predatory. His hair is a white blond, actually close to a shade of silver. He's absolutely beautiful and enchanting.
The man or creature or whatever leaps off the large branch of the obviously fake tree. With raptorial-like grace, he starts to creep toward the edge of the cage that's facing the audience.
Applause ripples around Harry, but he doesn't join the ruckus, just keeps his hands tucked under his crossed arms. The photographer in front of Harry lifts his camera and a flash of blinding light bounds off from the gadget.
The caged man snaps his head away, dark gray and brown wings sprouting from his back and curling over his shoulders to shroud his face from the offending glow. Sharp gasps emanate from the audience, those nearest to the cage taking a surprised step back.
Harry belatedly realises his jaw has slackened once more. He might have cursed, might have said, "Fuck," he's not sure. It's as if his brain ceases to function for several seconds.
Lights flash across the room, prompting the creature to take a step back, eyes darting around and judging from the way he crouches, there's no doubt that he's agitated. Harry doesn't know what possesses him to yell, "Stop it! You're all scaring him."
Only Hermione's reprimanding "Harry!" makes him realise that he just made a scene. All eyes are on him, including the creature's. Harry doesn't give a shit about the others. The creature's unwavering gaze holds him on the spot, makes his skin crawl and sends a surge of hot panic through his veins.
"Everyone, let us refrain from taking any pictures at the moment," the speaker says, effectively breaking the cloud of tension hovering over the crowd. He continues to give a lecture but Harry's no longer listening. The speaker's words were merely incoherent hum against his ears.
His eyes are locked on the creature's own and, for reasons Harry can't even begin to explain, he can't look away.
As soon as the speaker says, "Any questions?" several hands shoot up in the air – Hermione's included. Questions pour in like monsoon rain.
"Where exactly did you catch it?" one asks.
"What does it eat? Is it carnivore?"
"Is it tamed?"
A woman with a pretty fancy feathered headdress and a tight-fitting, leg-length black dress raises her gloved hand. "Can it speak our language?"
The speaker is patient, does his best to give proper, professional and articulate response to every question but what Harry wants to know is if it—no, he—has a name.
Harry is amazed at how human-like the creature is. With his wings retracted the Aves Ke—whatever can pass off as a human being.
The creature meets Harry's gaze once more, gray eyes cold and piercing as if he's peering straight into Harry's soul. Harry feels the hair along his scruff rise and an icy shiver runs down his back.
Everything around Harry fades and nothing exists but him and the creature. Then the sudden burst of noise – a resounding applause from the spectators – lifts the blanket of silence around them, making the winged man flinch and break their eye contact in the process.
The creature – man – looks perturbed. He creeps back into the dimmest part of the cage but the curtain of murky shade the fake tree casts isn't enough to hide his face.
What Harry sees on him isn't fear, more like keen wariness and clear distrust aimed to the people around him. Harry can't blame him though. The creature must have gone through hell when he was caught. By force, no doubt.
"Let's get some refreshments," Hermione says, fingers curling around Harry's biceps.
Harry gets to look back over his shoulders once and sees the curtain falling over the cage, concealing the beautiful creature inside once more. And he thinks, No, no, no but then Hermione starts dragging him across the floor.
The crowd thins but ironically, he can't find Hermione anywhere. Harry doubts she has left, has this gut feeling she's around somewhere where she's not supposed to be. It's in her nature to be nosy.
Following his instincts, Harry slips into a niche, hoping no one notices him. Then he creeps behind the large cage but there's no sign of Hermione there either.
Curiosity gets the best of him though. He reaches out, parts the cover that conceals the cage and sees the bird-man huddled against the trunk of the fake tree. A soft yellow glow from the spotlight angled over the cloaked prison spills inside.
The creature must have sensed his presence because he lifted his head, sharp gaze holding Harry in place. Harry's breath is caught in his throat. He knows he should leave, knows he shouldn't linger, but somehow, he can't get his feet to move.
Slowly, the creature approaches in graceful liquid strides, the muscles on his thighs and legs and even his shoulders are visibly rolling with every movement. His arm stretches out warily, fingers curling around the steel bar. The beam of the spotlights piercing through the drapes caresses the creature's pale, milky – almost gray in the scarce amount of light – complexion.
Harry lost track of how long he's been standing there, too stunned to even get his brain to work. He jerks out of his daze when the creature's other hand shoots out between the bars, grabs hold of the lapels of Harry's jacket and tugs Harry close.
Before Harry's brain could send a message for him to take a step back, he feels lips – cold as ice but with tongue warm as the early morning summer sun – press on his wine-coated ones.
The floor seems to wriggle from under his feet and Harry almost keels over when the creature releases him.
"Hey! You're not supposed to be here," someone says and Harry spins around to find one of the security personnel holding up a flashlight on one hand and a baton on the other charging at him.
"Um," Harry starts, unable to get his brain to function and come up with an excuse. "I was looking for a friend, thought maybe she was here."
The security guy glares at him, says, "Well, this area is off-limits to guests," then gestures for Harry to leave.
Harry throws a desperate glance at the creature who simply stares at him with an impassive expression then he feels the tight grip on his arm. Harry has no choice but to allow the security guy to escort him away from the cage.
The whole museum incident sticks with Harry for days and he can't get the creature out of his mind. He has returned there thrice already but the museum employees have made an irrevocable point that the creature can only be viewed by authorised personnel.
Unable to erase the perfectly defined images out of his head, Harry decides to make use of them productively so he grabs an empty canvas, sits the wooden frame on an easel right by the window overlooking the backdrop of gray and silver and coal-coloured buildings then starts to splash gooey oil paint on the textured surface.
It takes three days for him to finish the painted portrait of the bird-man-creature-thing, which is quite a feat since it normally takes him longer to complete a painting. Hermione comes to visit, sees the picture and says, "It's dark and earthy and mysterious," the skin between her eyebrows pinched.
Ron tilts his head to one side and the other while he studies the portrait as if there's hidden treasure beneath the layers of colours. "Is he for real?" he says then sighs. "Too bad I didn't see it."
Hermione huffs indignantly and plants her hands on her hips. "And whose fault is it?"
"My boss actually," Ron says in defense. "He requested for the meeting, not me."
"Speaking of the creature." Hermione's gaze slides to Harry. "I heard he escaped from the museum last night."
Harry's too focused on dragging the tip of his brush along the sides of the canvas for some finishing touches that it takes several heartbeats for Hermione's words to register. When it does, his head snaps up to face Hermione. "Escaped? What do you mean escape?"
"Escape. As in he got out of the cage," Hermione says matter-of-factly, which sends a sharp blow right somewhere in Harry's thorax, prompting his heart to hammer in staccato against his ribcage. He barely understands Hermione's babbling, only that she's saying, "Heard he went on a rampage and tore through the facility, made quite a mess," and the rest of her words bleeds into what more like yada, yada, yada in Harry's inattentive ears.
The creature escaped. The creature. The—
"Harry?" Hermione's waving a hand in front of Harry's face. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Kind of. Just tired." Harry carefully places the paint palette on the table and starts rubbing on the spot where his neck meets his shoulder to ease the sore muscles. Then he stretches his neck to get rid of the nasty crick, hearing a faint crack as he throws his head sideways. "When did you hear that news?"
"Just this morning." The unfaltering look Hermione gives him clearly suggests that she's studying him with a fair dose of skepticism.
Harry buries his head under a pile of pillows – a futile attempt to drown the high-pitched whistling of the wind. It's no use though. The frightening sound pierces through the fibre filling and Harry surrenders to the idea that he's not going to get any proper sleep tonight.
He takes his glasses from the bedside table and slips it on, watches the windows rattle violently while thick drops of rain splatter against it.
The balcony that juts out of his bedroom collects the downpour like cupped hands filled with water, rain falling like silver curtains beyond the decorative panes of the sliding door.
The torrent seems to go on and on that Harry fears the city will drown if this doesn't stop soon. He just wishes the storm will soon be over.
A fierce lightning cuts across the sky and the blinding white radiance flashes over the odd shapes outside his apartment. The low, rumbling of thunder soon follows, swallowing the noise made by the wind and the endlessly pouring rain.
Harry starts to count in his head.
One – one thousand, two – one thousand, three- one thousand, four – one thousand, five—
Another spark of light flickers through the paned glass that separates his room from the veranda but a misplaced shadow spilling over the moss green carpet startles Harry enough that he snaps his eyes back to the sliding door. The balcony sits still in the cradle of darkness while thunder roars like an angered beast.
One – one thousand, two – one thousand, three- one thousand, four – one thousand, five—
White flare slashes through the shadows once more and there, right in the middle of open space, stands a figure. With wings. Wings stretched ominously behind him.
Fear seizes Harry's heart for a moment and he jerks out of his stupor when the next sharp, piercing glow pours over the stranger's face.
Shit, shit, shit. There's no doubt that the silhouette filling up the expanse outside his room is the creature that has been haunting his delusive thoughts for the past week.
Swallowing the apprehension that weighs heavy in his chest, Harry leaves his bed and ambles cautiously toward the balcony. His pulse quickens with every step.
The closer Harry gets, the more he sees the creature's face, expression hard-edged, eyes cold gray, hair a silvery blond and ash that glistens against the flash of light above him, shoulders a perfect sculpture that curves over a ripped chest. His wings span from the balustrade on one side of the balcony to the opposite side.
Despite the darkness, Harry can distinguish the details of the feathered limbs sprinkled with an attractive mix of charcoal and earthy brown colours, shape depicts power and strength and conquest.
It takes a lifetime, it seems, before Harry obtains the much needed courage to slide the door open. The creature doesn't seem to exude any signs of threat so Harry does the stupidest and most careless thing that he's certain he'll hear Hermione's endless reproach should she hear of this: he makes a lame gesture with his arm, beckoning for the creature to come inside.
The creature, not surprisingly, regards him with guardedness before relenting to Harry's silent invitation and creeps inside Harry's room. His wings peculiarly remain unaffected by the torrent, droplets of water gliding down the silky surface like clear pearls and dripping straight to the carpet.
Harry watches in awe when the wings seem to shrink and retract into the slits that resemble keloids on the creature's back, a good portion of the tip melding into the creature's skin until it looks like an embossed tattoo across his back and along his shoulders.
"Um." Harry's not sure if this creature-birdman-man-thing speaks or if he even understands the only language Harry knows but Harry can't possibly use sign language all night so he clears his throat and says, "My name is Harry. Harry Potter. And this is—"
The next words die in Harry's throat when the creature-birdman-man of gorgeous, god-like variety meets his gaze, not in a challenging or threatening way, but more like soft and genial and the creature's mouth parts, words Harry clearly understands flowing out coherently. "I need your help."
He says his name is Draco, even has a surname to go along with it when he's living among humans. "Draco Malfoy," the birdman had said without the customary handshake but instead he had his arms stretched out and made some sort of curtsy except it's not.
If there's ever a name for the gesture, Harry doesn't know but he deems it's polite so he mirrors it in an ungraceful version and listens as Draco tells him his story.
"You heard the man in the museum say I belong to a species called Aves Keburis, but the simpler name would be Falkryd," Draco says as he paces around Harry's bedroom – all half naked of him, skin now growing a pale gray and Harry wonders if he's freezing despite not showing any signs of it. "I'm not supposed to be here," he adds and Harry can't help but think, No shit, I figured that out, thanks.
"Would you like me to turn up the heater?" Harry asks, which he belatedly thinks must have been the wrong thing to say because Draco gawks at him as if he has just recited a series of complicated mathematical equations that even he doesn't understand.
Draco eventually shakes his head. "No need. We're endothermic. We're able to control our body temperature."
"No offence, but I'm surprised you speak our language."
Light, but nonetheless caustic, laughter floats out of Draco, undoubtedly mocking Harry's remark. "You humans are pathetic, so blinded with your own sad life that you don't really notice what's going on around you."
Harry's eyes narrow, body stiffening close to a defiant stance. "Enlighten me."
"Some of my people – myself included – live among you, gaining knowledge through proper education and learning your ways"
Harry doesn't doubt that. With his most of his wings hidden within his body, Draco doesn't implore any impression that he is someone… um, for lack of a better word… extraordinary. Now that Draco has mentioned it, Harry wonders how many times he has been in close contact with—What were they called? Oh yeah—Falkryd posing as humans.
"Why were you in the museum then? How did you end up getting caught?"
A grim expression descends on Draco. "I believed someone tipped off what I refer to as museum poachers. I was sold out."
Who could do such a thing? Of course, if money has anything to do with it… Harry keeps his tongue trapped between his teeth so he won't be pressed to ask any more questions that borders to unethical meddling. Prying further may very well be considered crossing the line. This is Hermione's territory, not his.
But. It's as if Draco can read his mind, cold, gray eyes pinning him in place when Draco says, "My aunt," as if he means it as a response to the question that's burning in Harry's head. "She doesn't want me to go back to our homeland to claim my right to the throne."
Some of my people… Harry recalls, everything he has heard congregating at the forefront of his brain. "Right to the throne?"
There is clear honesty on Draco's face when he says, "I'm supposed to be crowned as prince of our colony in Mount Kebura. But I've chosen to live in a human-populated region in the rarefied belief that both our races can co-exist."
Little does Harry know, that's just the beginning of Draco's tale. It turns out to be one profoundly complicated story after another – with Draco's aunt expressing clear intent to rule their colony herself and possibly sees Draco as a threat. "She blames humans in the death of half of our colony and wants to get revenge," Draco adds only to emphasise why he has to go back to Mount Kebura and why Harry should help him.
"Why me?" is all Harry can come up with, not that he's not willing to help Draco but he's not sure he even has the sheer capacity to do so. He's just a graphic designer slash painter for crying out loud.
"I just… it has to be you." The reaffirmation, the resoluteness in Draco's tone is enough to keep Harry's mouth shut.
Draco hasn't really said anything about going back to Mount Kebura, hasn't even specified what help Harry can give, so Harry doesn't bring it up.
Days roll by and Draco becomes a permanent occupant of Harry's couch at night and an occasional audience in his art room during the day.
"So you're an artist," Draco says while he hovers behind Harry, watching Harry blend blue and white and gray to paint the sky over a grassy landscape.
"Sometimes." Harry dips his brush into a dollop of white gooey paint then brings the tip to trace the asymmetrical shape that will soon resemble a cumulus. "I'm actually a graphics designer for an advertising firm. This is more like a hobby," he says, gesturing around the room with his brush.
"Well, you've got talent." Draco's breath ghosts over the shell of Harry's ears, warning Harry how close Draco is now.
Harry feels a rush of excitement surging up to the back of his neck and he fights to keep his hand from trembling. "Thanks," is all Harry's mouth manages to spit out and he swallows any other sound that might escape.
"You're welcome." The loss of presence at Harry's side when Draco takes a step back somehow brings a feeling of imbalance. But the safe distance between them provides Harry relief, placating his stuttering heart. "Do you mind if I look through some of your completed works?"
Harry does mind despite finding it a bit thwarting to show his creations to any living being. But to Draco, he can certainly make an exception. "Sure."
It takes days of careful planning. Apparently, Mount Kebura looms the far northern region of Teshrom and commercial flights can only reach up to the city of Rupor and they'll have to take a ferry all the way to the edge of the mountainous region.
Harry realises he's just not cut out for this adventure so he calls for reinforcements and asks Hermione and Ron to come over.
The fierce scrutiny that Draco throws at Harry the moment Draco sees Hermione and Ron is so painful that Harry instantly feels the guilt burning his gut – guilt for not giving Draco fair warning that Harry's asking for his friends' help.
Draco doesn't warm up to them soon, only when Hermione rushes into Harry's apartment one night, plane tickets and a fake passport for Draco that she was able to acquire through connections – her being in the public media and all – did Draco meet her gaze with a smile curved on his lips.
"The museum people and bounty hunters are still out looking for you," she says though before letting Draco's passport slip from between her fingers to Draco's eager grip. "We have to come up with some sort of disguise.
This is where Ron comes in – well, not him exactly, but his twin brothers work for a film industry. George works on special effects while Fred on the make-up department.
The day they're scheduled to leave, the twins add to the small crowd that gathers in Harry's apartment, and Harry can only hope that the sudden increase on his number of guests doesn't attract any attention to the neighbors.
Harry's jaw drops when Draco steps out of Harry's small study with the twins hovering behind him. The dark brown hair cut in neat layers and blue contacts and the added cheeks all create an exemplary cover-up that Harry doesn't even recognise him. Hermione works on taking Draco's picture and sticking it on the fake passport and all Harry can do is watch them work. He says a silent prayer that none of them gets caught.
If there are bounty hunters or anyone sent to search for Draco in the airport, Harry can't tell. They get to the plane without any incident and after nine long hours, they reach Rupor – the city where buildings seem to have been carved out of granite except they aren't.
Ron hails a cab for them and the yellow and black sedan takes them through the cobblestone streets until they reach the station where they will embark a ship heading to Teshrom.
It's when they're halfway through the ocean that Draco's mood shifts and he turns pensive, gaze focused on a distant, yet unseen land.
Harry knows he should leave him to his thoughts but he's drawn to Draco, like he has since the first time he laid eyes on the human-bird creature. Succumbing to this strong yearning to feel Draco close, he sidles by Draco's side on the deck. He isn't particularly fond of the smell the sea air brings but he breathes in a lungful anyway, swirling cold and warm in his chest. Mist forms on the surface of his glasses and he wipes off the thin white film with his finger.
Somewhere, perhaps a thousand (or maybe more) miles stretch, faint outlines of mountains crowned with deep bluish-gray clouds are distinctly perceptible to Harry's eyes. "You're almost home," he says, with every intention to cheer Draco up but the moment the words leave his mouth, he feels the sharp stab somewhere right where his heart is resting.
Draco doesn't say anything, just rests his hand on Harry's and gives him a slight squeeze. But that simple gesture says a lot. I'm here, I'm here. I'm here with you still, Harry thinks is what Draco means.
It's enough to keep Harry in place, to keep Harry drawn to this man, this creature that when Draco leans in and catches Harry's lips with his own in a light kiss, Harry doesn't flinch away. He welcomes Draco, parts his lips in silent invitation for Draco to deepen the kiss and he lets himself get lost in the feeling of Draco's tongue exploring his mouth.
"You're falling for him," Hermione says when she joins Harry at the lounge where he's hunched over his sketch pad, sketching and drawing and shading whatever comes to mind. Draco has gone elsewhere to muse.
Harry's head snaps up, brows furrowing. "What? 'Course not."
Hermione gives him a knowing look, her perfectly still features conveys how dubious she is over Harry's denial. "I see the way you look at him. Revering. Which is kind of creepy in a Harry sort of way."
And Harry thinks, Bloody hell, and remembers how his chest seems to constrict, how his heart races, and how cold stream courses through his skin whenever he's around Draco, and – No, no, no – it's all he needs to make him realise that Hermione may be right – is right.
"We can't, can't be together," is the next thing that comes out of his mouth. It's true though. They belong to different worlds.
"You both have a choice," Hermione offers, the warmth of her palm seeping through the thick fabric of Harry's jacket. "Either you stay with him or he goes back with you."
"I can't do that." As much as Harry wants to believe Hermione's words, the idea in itself is all too fairytale-esque and it's not even feasible. "I have a life in Seciron and he has a duty to fulfill in Mount Kebura. We can't." They can't. Can't.
Hermione pets his shoulder. "Like I said. You both have a choice," she says then leaves Harry to ponder on those words. Thinking and thinking and thinking. But he still ends up with the same conclusion. He can't. They can't.
There's a small town in Teshrom where the ship docks but they don't stay there for the night. Draco says he can't risk giving off signs that he's near home. So they drive all the way to the next town and travel on foot through a dense forest and stops only when they reach a rather large cabin that nestles near a lake.
"Severus!" Draco throws one arm around a man with shoulder-length dark hair and an angular face. When Draco takes a step back, he shifts to face Harry, Hermione and Ron. "This is Severus. He's a good friend of my father."
The man – Severus – studies them with every ounce of skepticism before inviting them inside the spacious lodging. Severus, according to Draco, is half human, half Falkryd.
"Half breeds were shunned from the colony by Aunt Bellatrix," Draco explains, which brings a sour look on Severus.
"Are there more of you?" Harry asks, now realising they don't actually have any plans and it feels like they're walking right into the lion's den, or in this case, the giant bird's nest.
"Several." Severus' voice is tight. Calculated. As if he's still gauging whether he can trust them. "Some remain hidden in the woods. Some have gone to your region to pursue a pretentious life among humans." His eyes skip over to Draco when he says 'pretentious,' the mere word punctuated with blatant contempt.
Draco doesn't seem fazed though, doesn't flinch at the apparent harshness in Severus' tone. "We're heading to Mount Kebura. I'm taking back what's rightfully mine," he says then reaches out to grab Harry's hand. "We can trust them."
They leave their things in the cabin before Severus drives them in his jeep all the way to the foot of the mountain the next day. The scenery is different here – far removed from the technology that poisons Seciron. Harry likes the atmosphere, the smell of soil and leaves and dried rain, and he thinks, Maybe. Just maybe.
A tall, pudgy man greets them with a cheerful aura, dark hair crowning his gentle, round face.
"This is Neville," Draco says. "He works for the council."
"And decides to leave than serve Bellatrix," says Neville with a small bow, hand resting below his left shoulder. "A pleasure to meet you all."
"There's a valley within the range and that's where our colony lives," another man, whom Draco introduces as Seamus, explains.
Harry's eyes travel up to the peak of the mountain, already thinking how long he'll last trekking through the unfamiliar territory.
Draco must have sensed Harry's thoughts because he says, "We'll have to fly to get there," as if to clear things up.
"Fly?" Harry almost jumps back when wings sprout from the Falkryd's back. "Oh." Oh no.
"Yes, fly." The conviction in Draco's tone is a bit frightening, that Harry takes a step back and considers staying behind. "Severus, try to find as much half breeds. We may need your help." At that, Severus offers a bow then trudges back to his jeep and Draco's eyes slide to Harry's. With a quirk of his lips, he says, "Okay then. Time for lift off."
Before Harry can protest, Draco wounds his arms around Harry's middle and Harry feels the gust against the side of his face when Draco flaps his wings. Then they're climbing and rising and soaring through the air.
Harry hears Hermione shriek and he braves to keep his eyes open, steals a glimpse down and sees her airborne with Seamus. Neville is the one cradling Ron, whose eyes are shut tight – from what Harry can tell.
There were nothing but clusters of trees and a few small clearings below them. A wide gap opens between two mountains where they fly through, stretching all the way to a hidden valley that looks like it's painted out of a fairy tale book.
Plants and trees that grow along the mountainside and down the clearing below are lighter in colour than those that Harry has seen in the forest, water sprouting out of openings along the rock walls and rushing down the pool below. A curtain of mists obscures their vision but the Falkryd with them doesn't seem to be bothered by it.
They land gracefully in a wide space surrounded by dwellings that are carved out of rocks. The Falkryd loitering around the area all make a surprised sound.
"Draco!" one says and Draco's name ripples through the crowd.
A girl with long dark hair sprints to Draco, arms curling around Draco's waist, one side of her face pressed against Draco's chest while murmuring, "You're back. You came back," and the scenario makes Harry's heart twitch.
"Yes, Pansy. I'm back." There's an edge in Draco's voice that Harry hasn't heard before. "Do you know where my aunt is?"
"She's at the manor."
The manor turns out to be what Harry can only describe as an enormous house perched on a high rock ridge or inselberg. Across it is a flat ledge that protrudes from a deep alcove that seems to have been scooped out of the steep rock wall looming over the valley.
"Stay here. I'll go see to my aunt," Draco says but Harry has this unsettling intuition that urges him to stick with Draco.
"No. I'm going with you."
Hermione and Ron decide to stay at the manor with Neville and Seamus. Harry curls his arms around Draco's neck when Draco pulls him close and his feet soon leave the marble floor.
Draco hardly flaps his wings, just spreads it wide behind him while they glide down the ledge. Once they've crossed the threshold, Harry blinks, willing his eyes to adjust to the dim shadow that engulfs them.
Torches lines the walls along the alcove's entryway but Harry can see that sunlight still creeps through considerably large gaps along the ceilings so it isn't entirely dark inside as Harry fears.
A woman with wild black hair occupies a large wooden chair that may as well be considered a throne. Full-length black dress hugs her figure and black lace gloves cling to her hands and forearms. Her eyes are highlighted with dark, heavy lines much like Draco's and there are dusts of gray shadows just above her cheeks.
"Well, well, well," the woman says, voice tainted with malice. "I thought humans are holding you captive, Draco."
"They were, thanks to you Aunt Bellatrix," is Draco's quick reaction.
"Whatever do you mean?" Bellatrix lifts her hand and studies her fingernails like they're the most fascinating thing in the world.
Draco raises his arm, points a finger at Bellatrix and says, "You sold me out!"
A bored look creeps on Bellatrix face. "Now why would I do that to my dear nephew?"
"How should I know what your evil schemes are?" Draco's hands clench into fists, digging on his sides, and from where Harry is standing, he can see Draco's eyes narrow into slits. "I don't doubt that it's for the same reason why you led Mother and Father to their deaths."
"Aww." Bellatrix gives a dismissive wave then clambers up to her feet, staggering over to Draco in ungraceful strides. "We've been through that a million times already and I've told you I had no idea there were poachers in the nearby woods when your parents and I went hunting."
"Yet you got away unscathed." The bitter accusation weighs heavy in Draco's words.
"I got lucky." Bellatrix stops right in front of Draco, her eyes traveling to Harry and for the first time, she acknowledges Harry's presence. "So who's the cutie?"
"None of your business," Draco snaps.
Bellatrix barks a laugh – loud and sinister that it makes the hairs at the back of Harry's neck bristle. "So you found yourself a playmate. Is that why you like spending more time in the human territory than your own?"
"It was a mistake I'm here to rectify." Draco visibly grits his teeth. "I'm taking over the throne, Aunt Bellatrix."
The mirth dancing on Bellatrix's eyes a moment ago disappears. A burning rage soon surfaces in its place. It seems to take a lifetime before she speaks, expression changing to something neutral. Unreadable. "Of course. It's your right. I was just um… helping out while you were gone."
She turns to leave, dragging her lithe frame across the room. But after a few steps, she stops dead on her tracks. Her shoulders begin to shake, laughter vibrating off of her once more. In a low growl, she says, "Over. My. Dead. Body," then spins around.
It takes a mere second – just a blink of his eyes – for Harry to notice the dagger in Bellatrix hand before she hurls it toward Draco. And Harry watches the bloody thing spin and spin and spin in the air before he can get his muscles to move, thinking of pushing Draco out of the way.
Everything happens in a blur. Harry leaps in front of Draco, the dagger merely inches away. Then. Darkness.
Harry can hear his heart beating like the sound of hooves of a thousand buffalos in a never-ending stampede. His face is pressed against something hard and warm and… home.
Then Harry hears the commotion – muffled yells filtering through this cocoon that encases him. Only when he lifts his head from the comfortable cradle did he realise that he's been resting on someone's chest, a pair of wings are draped around him like a security blanket.
The wings unfold to reveal Draco's pained expression and he guides Harry into a niche before reaching out to tug the dagger out of his left feathered limb. "Stay here," he tells Harry then dashes out of Harry's sight.
"Wait, Draco!" Harry, as usual, doesn't listen. He sprints after Draco, seeing the silvery, white blond head disappear around the corner.
Following Draco's trail, Harry finds himself trudging along the same familiar path that opens up to the alcove's entrance.
Something's different though. Something.
Harry's eyes widen when he sees flames rising from the trees around them, slithering from one branch to another in an astonishing speed.
"Draco!" he bellows, the name ripping out of his throat. "Draco!" He sees the Falkryd up in the air, wings stretched out in defiance while Bellatrix is swooping in from an incredible height, her own wings dark and shiny against the blue and white backdrop of the sky.
The next thing that happens is a blur of wings and limbs and weapons being thrown that Harry finds it hard to keep up to what's happening.
Harry's head begins to spin and he's not so sure what to do anymore. He knows he should get out of there. But how? There isn't any bridge connecting the ledge to the main house, no means for him to climb down either. Draco is preoccupied in a hand-to-hand combat with his aunt at the moment.
Desperation claws inside him. Harry's thinking that his last resort will be to jump but when he braves to peek over the ledge, he realises that there's a sheer drop to a dark abyss below. The gap between the rock wall and the nearest platform of the manor falls into the 'impossible' category.
"Harry!" someone hollers, voice tearing through the roar of chaos around him. Harry lifts his gaze but the thick mass of smoke swells around him, clinging to his eyeglasses. And he's coughing and wheezing and it's damn hard to breathe.
"Harry!" His name floats above the noise, sounding dream-like to his ears. Then a silhouette slices through the nearly dense fog and Harry can vaguely distinguish Neville's bulky form.
Neville's saying, "Come with me," hand wrapping around Harry's bicep, arm circling around Harry's waist, and he's tugging and lifting Harry up in the air.
"Wait, Neville. Draco might need your help." Harry's eyes dart around the area when they're high enough, past the blanket of smoke and flames. He spots Draco with Bellatrix pinning him against the rock wall. Draco struggles and struggles and—
"He can handle it. Trust me," is what Neville says against Harry's ear.
Draco manages to pry Bellatrix's hands off of his throat then he shoves her away with such force that she plunges straight into the flames. One of her wings catches fire, the blaze of yellow and orange consuming the dark brown feathers but Draco's quick enough to dive down after her.
Gray smoke cloaks the entire area, making it difficult for Harry to see what's going on. "We have to go back, Neville, please," he pleads but Neville refuses to listen, just flaps his wings hard until they're out of the raging fire and out of the valley. They land safely on the small village that sits at the foot of the mountain.
"Harry!" Hermione dashes toward him then throws her arms around Harry's neck. Ron isn't too far behind her, an expression of horror framing his face. "Oh gosh, we were so worried!" Her voice cracks a little and Harry finds the need to rub her back, to shush and whisper words of assurance, even though he's bordering on pessimism at the moment.
The thoughts of Draco, Draco, Draco. swirls in Harry's head. He wonders if Draco has made it out of the fire alive – hopes Draco did make it out of the fire unharmed.
All Harry can do now… all he can do. Is wait.
It seems like days, months – years even – have gone by instead of mere hours before the other Falkryd start to arrive. With a quick check on his pocket watch, Harry realises that an hour has passed since they reached the village. The villagers, as Seamus has painstakingly explained, are mostly half-breeds, cast away from their homeland by Bellatrix. Some are friends to the Falkryd.
Harry's heart hammers against his ribcage while he scans the faces of the winged creatures gliding down from the sky. A sense of bliss and relief swells in his chest when he spies Draco among them.
"You're alive," Harry says as soon as Draco lands, feet touching the ground.
Draco lifts a hand, cups Harry's cheek, thumb stroking the soot-covered skin. "I'm glad Neville got you out of there safely."
"So, it was you who sent Neville after me?"
Draco's head bops up and down in a firm nod. "Hermione? Ron?"
"They're okay. They're in the shaman's shack, tending to the injured."
"Good." Draco tugs him close, holds him tight and buries his face in Harry's hair.
They stay like that for a while, basking in each other's warm presence and only jump apart when someone makes a sound, like throat clearing.
Hermione's watching them with a hint of amusement in her eyes, smile gracing her lips. "There's food in Old McGonagall's shack, if you two are hungry."
Harry and Draco say, "Right," in unison and they fall right behind Hermione, ambling over to the small cabin with their hands entwined.
Half of the valley is left untouched by the fire. One of Draco's friends, Gregory, invites them to stay at his place while Neville insists that Hermione and Ron be his guests.
It's quite a task trying to clean up everything that was affected by the catastrophe but the Falkryd work side by side to get it done.
One night, after a long day of salvaging what's left in the Falkryd's village, Draco creeps into Harry's room. His wings are folded behind him.
"I just wanted to thank you. For all your help," Draco says, sounding too proper that Harry quirks an eyebrow.
"That's not really why you came here for, is it?" Harry doesn't mean to sound cocky, but he supposes he does anyway.
Draco just offers a vague shrug and sits at the edge of Harry's bed, cups Harry's kneecap with his hand, thumb stroking the exposed skin. Harry feels a thrill rise up his spine, his body tingling from Draco's touch.
Wedging his lower lip between his teeth, Harry suppresses a moan and instead, he says, "Draco," through bated breath but Draco shushes him.
"I just," Draco rests his forehead on Harry's, palm warm against the nape of Harry's neck, "I can't stop myself from wanting you."
A switch seems to have been clicked inside Harry and just like that, he's falling and falling and surrendering himself to Draco, saying, "Take me," and he thinks he also mumbles, "I'm yours." Something inside him unravels, a rush of excitement surging through his bones. Draco takes his glasses from his face and sets it on the table by the bed.
"Harry," Draco breathes against his skin, lips trailing down his neck, tongue tracing the curves on his collarbone.
This… this is enough to loosen Harry, reducing him to a blabbering mess. "Please," he says, hears the plea brush against his ears without really knowing what he's begging for, just wants Draco to take him, mark him, claim him.
"Tell me what you want." Draco growls before taking Harry's nipple into his mouth, sucking, tonguing and it's… the sensation is too much. Too much that it's making Harry's head spin.
"Please." Harry bucks his hips up, seeking friction. He wants to… wants to feel Draco, wants to press his growing erection against Draco's body.
"Hush, love. I've got you," is what Draco says, shushing Harry, whispering words that pacifies Harry but leaves him trembling all over at the same time.
Draco's hands – skillful and gentle – work on stripping off Harry's clothes then getting rid of his own, the sound of Velcro being undone rips through the air, scraping against Harry's ears tenfold.
"I've got you," Draco says again. Then he's pressing a finger, slick and cold, inside Harry. Mind clouded, Harry doesn't notice when and even how Draco manages to get a lube but he has no time to analyse anything right now. All his mind can process is the slight discomfort, the sting in his backside but when Draco whispers, "Relax," Harry wills his muscles to do just that.
Two fingers. Then three. Draco has three fingers inside him now, stretching and circling and causing sounds – sultry and lurid – to rise from the back of his throat.
Draco's wings sprout from his back, spreading behind him like an eagle in flight, then he's sliding into Harry, pushing inch by inch and Harry feels like he's about to be ripped apart.
Harry breathes through gritted teeth, fingers curling tightly on the sheets beneath him. Relax, he tells himself. Relax, stupid. Then the tension slowly drifts off of him, the twinge in his lower body reducing to a dull ache and he wants to feel more of Draco. "Move," he hears himself say and feels Draco pulling out and pushing in, creating friction that makes his whole body hum in pleasure.
Everything around him – around them – dissolves into a bubble and all Harry can feel is this electrifying sensation that surges down his groin, growing and growing and—
Too much. It's too much that it makes Harry's toes curl, fingernails digging into Draco's skin that Harry's certain he's leaving marks on Draco's skin, on Draco's arms, on Draco's shoulder. But he can't worry about that, not now, not when he's close to brink. Too close.
His own erection is begging to be touched but before Harry can bring his fingers around the shaft, Draco takes Harry in his hand. Draco strokes him languidly at first. Then with a bit of pressure, fingers hitting the right spots and it's just… it's just—
It takes one gentle brush against the sensitive spot inside him, and Harry's exploding, blood – hot and thick – rushing through his veins, and he's soaring, riding in an indescribable ecstasy. He hears his own name tumbling out of Draco's lips just as he senses Draco tremble above him, wings stiff and unmoving.
A gentle breeze curls around them, bringing them down at a leisure pace. Harry gradually sinks back close to his normal tranquil state. He watches in awe as Draco's wings fold in, disappearing behind him.
Cold lips touches the skin right above Harry's eyebrow, calloused finger tracing the lightning-shaped scar – the peculiar birthmark – on Harry's forehead. "That was…," Draco starts to say as he settles next to Harry. The rest of his words are nothing but incoherent babbles in Harry's ears.
Harry's eyes drift outside the window, gazing at the moon – full and bright and he knows it's improbable, but it seems the pale yellow sphere is smiling down at him. It's a silly observation, perhaps even stupid. But then again, Harry supposes this is what probably being wrapped in bliss feels like.
Draco decides to stay and help restore the valley for his people. Harry, on the other hand, chooses to go back with Ron and Hermione, to return to the life he knows in Seciron.
The parting isn't a painful scene as Harry had feared but when they're on board the ship that will take them back to Rupor, Harry feels the hollow emptiness inside him grow by the second.
His apartment in Seciron feels much emptier and Harry dawdles around like some living-dead creature for days. His sorrow shows in his paintings and apparently, Hermione notices it at one glance.
"You'll see him again. I'm sure of it," she says with such conviction that Harry believes it himself. For a while, at least.
A month passes. Then two. Then five. On the seventh month, the small flame of hope left burning inside him starts to dwindle. He begins to doubt that he'll ever see Draco again.
The soft knock on his door startles Harry out of his pathetic musing but finds no one in the hallway when he yanks the door open.
Ignoring the peculiarity of the situation, Harry makes his way back to his art room when the sound of his balcony door sliding shut prompts him to make a detour to his bedroom. He creeps in, silently, hoping not to alarm the intruder but his heart leaps out of his chest the moment he peeks through the door.
Draco's sitting on his bed, back against the headboard, wings not visible at all. He's wearing a dark blue jumper and dark pants, making him look like a student in the nearby university, lips curved into a condescending smile.
"So I think if I should move in here, I should take this side of the bed," he says and that's all it takes for Harry to throw himself at the Falkryd and press his face in the crook of Draco's neck.
"You're back. You're here," Harry utters softly because he's afraid that if he speaks any louder, he'll break the fragile cage of happiness surrounding him. And there's no other place in the world he'd rather be than here, in the arms of the creature—no, not creature, but the man who stakes a claim to his heart.