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Hippomancy for Beginners

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Far out to sea and west of Spain
There is a country named Cockayne.
No place on earth compares to this
For sheer delightfulness and bliss.
Though Paradise is fair and bright,
Cockayne is a finer sight.

“Congratulations on your new position, Malfoy.” Spinks, Draco’s co-worker in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, sneered as they passed in the corridor on the Ministry‘s fourth level.

Draco knew nothing of any new position, but he wasn’t going to let on to a petty bully like Spinks.

“Liaison to the centaurs, now there’s a real honor.” Spinks snickered.

Draco gave the slightest of nods and moved on, keeping his face a mask while inwardly he swore. Everyone at the department knew that the centaurs had always refused to have anything to do with the Ministry. “Being sent to the Centaur Liaison Office” was an in-joke. It meant the person was about to be fired, and whether or not Draco liked his job, he needed it.

It was part of the agreement that kept him out of Azkaban: work for two years (at minimal wages) “to serve the Wizarding community.” But that community was very reluctant to give him a job. It was only thanks to Granger’s strange sense of fairness that he had been hired at all - she was working for the Department on something to do with House-Elves. He’d once made an effort, stiffly, to thank her, but she’d just said, “Do something useful for once in your life, Malfoy,” before turning away.

He had tried. He’d started out in the Spirit Division, cleaning ghouls out of attics of houses that had been sold to Muggles and trying to solve problems with troublesome ghosts. Then he was moved to the Beast Division, where he registered puppies in the Crup Licensing Office − hardly exciting, but usually the worst he had to endure was outraged protests from owners who objected to docking their pets’ forked tails.

But then Murgatroyd became head of the Beast Division. Murgatroyd didn’t like the Malfoy family, didn’t like the Black family, and didn’t care why Draco had done what he had done in the war years or whether he had changed any since. Now, apparently, Draco was to be sacked.

Deciding to take the Minotaur by the horns, Draco lifted his chin, walked to Murgatroyd’s office, prepared himself with a quick charm, and knocked.

“Malfoy,” Murgatroyd grunted. “I wanted to see you. We’re re-organizing and you’re no longer needed in your position.”

“I believe I could do well as a Goblin Liaison,” Draco said quickly. “I have an interest in finance, and…”

“The greatest and most gifted head of the Goblin Liaison Office in centuries was Dirk Cresswell,” said Murgatroyd. “Do you know what happened to him? He was forced to flee for his life, captured by Snatchers and murdered during the war. Maybe the same Snatchers who picked up Griphook the Goblin. Let’s see, where was Griphook imprisoned? Oh yes, Malfoy Manor. No, you’re not going to be a Goblin Liaison, Malfoy.” He leaned back in his chair. “Do you have an interest in working with werewolves?”

Draco flinched. He couldn’t help it; his mind flashed to Fenrir Greyback with his curving yellow teeth and stench of blood.

“I thought not,” said Murgatroyd.

He knew, Draco realized. He was just taunting me.

Draco made a small gesture. “So, I’m being sent to the Centaur Liaison Office?”

“That’s right.”

“Very well, I accept. I’ll make arrangements to visit the herd in the Forbidden Forest as soon as possible.”

“Don’t be absurd, Malfoy. you know what I meant. No one’s held that post for ages. You’re being made red-“

“Redresser of long neglect,” Draco got in, before Murgatroyd could finish the dreaded word redundant. “Thank you for the opportunity. And oh, look how useful, the paperwork’s all ready.” He gestured again and the parchment and quill that had been floating behind his back, triggered by the recording charm he’d activated, sailed onto his supervisor’s desk.

Murgatroyd snorted. “Very clever. But I won’t have you antagonizing a herd of centaurs at a school. The students could be endangered.”

“How fortunate that summer holidays have just begun,” Draco said. He didn’t bother to contest the notion that Hogwarts had ever been a safe place for students.

Murgatroyd narrowed his eyes at him. The quill waggled helpfully next to the signature line on the parchment authorizing the job transfer. Murgatroyd scowled at it, then shrugged and signed. “You’ll need permission from the Headmistress to enter. If you get it, you have until the end of the summer to learn something useful. After that, you’re out.”

o8o

Headmistress McGonagall looked just as stern on a Floo call as she always had in person. “I was not aware that the position of Centaur Liaison still existed, Mr. Malfoy.”

“It’s a new appointment for me. Of course, meeting with the centaurs themselves is a priority.” He passed the paperwork through to show her.

She frowned at it. “The Forest is a dangerous place, as you are aware. Professor Firenze would be the natural choice to assist you, but he is traveling. Most of the Hogwarts faculty and staff have left for their summer holidays; I am about to leave myself. That means there will be little support for you should something go wrong.”

“I understand. I will be careful.”

“Do you feel you have the right temperament for this sort of diplomatic role, Mr. Malfoy?”

“I hope so,” Draco replied, his heart sinking. She’s going to turn me down. She doesn’t trust me. But some part of him refused to give up. She’s tough but fair. Remember….

“I don’t believe I ever thanked you properly, Headmistress.”

“To what do you refer?”

“In my fourth year, you stopped another professor who’d used transfiguration against me.” He couldn’t bring himself to mention the humiliating details. Turning me into a ferret, bouncing and slamming me against the floor….

“That fraud was no professor.” McGonagall’s eyes snapped. “It was outrageous behavior to a student, though not the last such seen at this school.

“Very well, Mr. Malfoy. You have reminded me that trust can be misplaced, and so can mistrust I suppose. I could wish that your head of house had not been forced into the role of double agent, and had given you a less ambiguous model of moral behavior here at Hogwarts. But I haven’t heard of you misbehaving since the end of the war.

“I give you permission to enter the school grounds as needed for your work; please don’t disappoint me. And be sure to check in with the groundskeeper.” She handed his papers back through the flames.

Draco thanked her, relieved.

o8o

The next morning he took the Floo network from his flat to Hogsmeade and walked through the Hogwarts gates until he came up to Hagrid’s hut.

There were scorch marks on the huge wooden door. He had a flashback of this hut blazing, that terrible night he had fled with Snape, trying to escape what he had done by letting Death-Eaters into his school.

One didn’t survive the Dark Lord without learning how to keep memories locked away. Draco banished that one, took a deep breath and knocked.

As the door opened, Draco tipped his head back, determined to look Hagrid in the eye even if that eye was two feet above Draco’s head. When he found no one up there, he brought his gaze down − to see tousled black hair half-hiding a lightning scar, and green eyes hardening behind round glasses. Harry Potter slammed the door in Draco’s face.

Draco pounded on the door.

“Go away,” Potter said, loud enough to be heard through the thick wooden planks.

“Why should I?”

“I don’t want to see you.”

“I don’t want to see you either!” Draco snapped.

At which the contrary hero-he-was-tired-of-being-grateful-to opened the door again. “Then what are you doing here?” Potter demanded.

“I’m looking for Hagrid. Is that enough reason for being at Hagrid’s hut? Are you his social secretary or something, Potter?”

“No, I’m the groundskeeper while Hagrid is away. Not that it’s any of your business, Malfoy.”

“It is, actually. McGonagall said I was to check in with the groundskeeper before I entered the forest. Well, that’s done, so I’ll leave you in peace. Ta-ta, Potter.”

“Wait a minute. Why are you going into the Forbidden Forest?”

“Are you going to forbid me? I’m not a student anymore.”

“Give me one good reason why I should trust you, Malfoy.”

“I’m here on business of the Centaur Liaison Office of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.”

“Right. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”

“It’s not some cock-and-bull story, it’s true.” Draco fished out the letter to that effect that he had brought to show the centaurs, complete with its Ministry seal.

Potter read it over dubiously. “And what are your qualifications for this position?”

Qualifications? The Centaur Liaison Office was essentially a joke, but Draco could hardly say that. He thought fast. “Centaurs read the stars, and I am well versed in astrology.”

“Well, good luck with that. The centaurs aren’t exactly a welcoming bunch.”

“Unlike yourself? Now if you’ll excuse me.” Draco took back his letter, turned and headed down the path for the forest.

Potter called after him. “Hey Malfoy, if you meet Fluffy, don’t forget to sing.”

Draco snorted. Did Potter think he was going to serenade escaped puffskeins or something?

He entered the forest, striding along quickly, still fuming at Potter’s rudeness. The June sunlight was soon dimmed in the shadows of the great trees whose branches met and murmured overhead. The path forked. Draco turned at random, since he had no idea what part of the forest the centaurs were in.

Something skittered in the underbrush and he took his wand out, just as a precaution. Between the urgency of keeping his job and the annoyance of dealing with Potter, he hadn’t really thought about the dangers of the forest itself. Now he seemed to see eyes gleaming - red, green, yellow – from murky shadows. He slowed down and looked more carefully about him.

Thunder growled, long and low and threatening. Except that this thunder came from near the ground, just ahead. Draco cast Lumos to see through the dark forest and then stumbled backwards, scrambling to cast a Stunning spell. Ahead of him loomed a huge dog with three heads, all baring very sharp yellow teeth.

Draco’s spell had no effect except to make the monster bark with all three heads, a deafening sound. Its six eyes rolled madly. He tried again with a binding spell, which was equally useless. None of the spells he cast worked against it, so in desperation he cast a protective shield around himself. The giant dog lunged just outside, still barking its fool heads off.

Draco renewed his shield charm, trying to think. It was impossible to Disapparate on school grounds. How could he get out of this?

In a flash of silver, a stag Patronus leapt through the trees, startling him and the dog both. Draco heard Potter’s voice emerge just before the apparition vanished. “Sing, Malfoy!”

Ludicrous as this advice was, Draco had no better options. But it was hard to get any sound out when faced with a slavering three-headed beast.

“Huh – huh –” Draco panted. The monster growled, too like a werewolf, and Draco shuddered. Then he had an image of his mother, steely and self-contained. He pulled himself together and sang the first thing that came into his head.

“Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please…”

The beast tilted one head in a puzzled way.

“Whether we be old and bald
Or young with scabby knees.”

Another head yawned.

Draco warbled on:

“Our heads could do with filling
With some interesting stuff…”

Several of the dog’s ears twitched.

“For now they’re bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff.

One head was definitely drooping.

Teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what we’ve forgot…”

There was the sound of footsteps pounding, coming up from behind. Potter arrived, gasping and disheveled. He joined in, gasping a bit to catch his breath.

“Just do… your best… we’ll do… the rest…”

Two heads had fallen asleep. The creature lay down.

“And learn until our brains all rot.”

The beast’s third head hit the ground with a thunk. It snored.

“Let’s get out of here before Fluffy wakes up,” Potter said.

Fluffy? Who would name a monster like that Fluffy?”

“Who do you think?”

They strode back in silence for a while.

“You were completely off-key,” Draco said.

“That song doesn’t even have a tune.”

“What makes you so cocksure about everything?” Draco grumbled. Potter gave him a sharp side-long glance.

Finally they came out of the forest into the sunshine.

“So you have to be prepared to sing to that beast every time you go in there?” Draco asked.

“Flutes or harps work too. You don’t actually have to know how to play, I think he’s tone-deaf.” Potter stopped and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, Malfoy. I should have warned you better. I really didn’t expect you to run into him.”

An apology from Potter? Would wonders never cease. On the other hand, Draco was delinquent on quite a few apologies himself. Perhaps it behooved him to be polite. “Yes, well. Thanks for helping,” he said.

“Actually, it’s because of you that I first met Fluffy back in first year,” Potter said. “We ran into him when we were trying not to get caught out after curfew, after you set us up with that fake dueling challenge first year. It was terrifying to find him, but useful information.”

“That beast was inside the school first year?”

“Yeah, he took a chunk out of Snape’s leg. Come to think of it, that year was also my first time in the Forest, and the first time I met a centaur. Again because of you and your snitching, Malfoy. Considering how you behaved on that occasion, I’m surprised you ever wanted to return.”

“I can’t believe anyone thought that a night-time trip to the Forbidden Forest was an appropriate detention for first years,” Draco retorted. Memories of a creepy cloaked figure bent over a dead unicorn had given him nightmares for months afterwards.

“You ran away screaming.”

“That was the only sensible response, Potter. That thing we saw was drinking unicorn blood!”

“Too bad your instincts weren’t as good a few years later.”

Draco must have looked blank.

“That ‘thing’ was Voldemort, you know,” Potter added.

Draco flinched, then sighed.

“Do we have to refight the war, Potter? Let’s save time. I surrender. You were right, I was wrong, I did stupid or vicious or cowardly things and I regret them. I can’t undo them. Life goes on.”

“For some of us.”

Did Potter think only his own side had losses? Draco could still hear the crackle of flames drowning out Vince’s last wild laughter. Following the Dark Lord had been playing with Fiendfyre.

He exhaled hard. “Right. I shall return tomorrow to resume my duties as Centaur Liaison.”

Potter shrugged. Draco started walking away. He felt Potter’s eyes on him, all the way to the school gate.

o8o

He should have had more of a plan before going into the forest. Too bad he hadn’t had a chance to interview that centaur who’d been a Hogwarts professor. Although hadn’t there been rumors that the other centaurs distrusted Firenze for associating with humans? Still, a herd of them had come to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts… which was another reason they probably wouldn’t trust Draco. He had better try to learn a little about centaur etiquette, he supposed.

Potter, who always managed to have twice the adventures anyone else did, had apparently met centaurs back in first year. Perhaps Draco would have to ask him for more information.

The next morning as Draco approached Hagrid’s hut, he saw Potter out working in the garden. Not even using a wand, just hacking at the ground.

“What are you doing, Potter?”

“Hoeing a pumpkin patch. What does it look like I’m doing?”

“I don’t understand you. You’re their Boy Wonder, war hero, you could be cock of the walk, and here you are –”

“What did you say?”

“War hero, so what are you doing getting your hands dirty in a vegetable garden?”

“Fighting a war gets your hands dirty.” Potter wiped sweat off his forehead. “This feels like cleaner dirt. It’s peaceful, useful work. And boring enough to most people that they leave me alone to get on with it.”

If that was a hint, Draco was going to ignore it. Potter could probably have any job he wanted, and he chose this? “Great use of your skills, I’m sure.”

Potter only grinned. “It’s a noble calling. Just think of all the Hogwarts students next fall who will be refreshed by juice from these pumpkins. When I got here, I thought it was the best drink ever.”

“You’d never had pumpkin juice before?”

“Nah. It’s not a Muggle thing. I don’t know why not. Maybe you could make a business of marketing it to them, Malfoy.”

Draco snorted.

“Oh, but I forgot, that would be beneath your dignity as Ambassador to the Centaurs or whatever it is.”

“Liaison,” Draco said. “And no jokes about ‘dangerous liaisons’ or being hung like a horse, please, I’ve already heard them.”

“Have you now.” Potter’s eyes gleamed.

“So, er, perhaps if I knew where in the forest the centaurs stayed, I could avoid stirring up the other denizens. Do you have any suggestions for finding them?”

Potter shook his head. “They keep to themselves, usually. Of course, if you insult them loudly enough they may turn up to retaliate. Take umbrage, as it were.”

“I’m here to be diplomatic. I’m not going to cock a snook at them.”

Potter was frowning as Draco took the path into the forest once more.

He went the other way at the first fork in the path, and walked for quite a distance (humming, in case Fluffy was about) without seeing anything more than some Bowtruckles. A few times he called out, “Greetings to the centaurs of the Forbidden Forest!” feeling rather foolish since he never received any reply.

Paths kept splitting off, and after a while Draco began to sense that he was walking in circles. A feeling that was confirmed when he unexpectedly found himself walking out of the woods back towards Hagrid’s hut. It was as if the forest had evicted him.

Rain was beginning to fall. Draco decided to take the Floo from Hogsmeade into London and do a little research at the National Wizarding Library. He could try again in the forest another day.

o8o

Unfortunately, his research at the National Wizarding Library didn’t tell Draco much about the centaurs that he didn’t already know, though he read a little more about their origins in Greece. Perhaps he would actually have better luck at the library at Hogwarts.

As he was leaving, Draco nearly collided with one of the Patil twins. The Ravenclaw, he thought, as he stooped to pick up a book that had slid off the stack in her arms. It had fallen open to a painting of a winged cow with a woman’s head and what seemed to be a peacock’s tail. He couldn’t read a thing on the page, though – he didn’t even recognize the script.

“Excuse me,” he said, handing it back to her. “Is it Padma Patil?”

“That’s right. Thank you.” She was polite but cool. Draco was curious, though, and Ravenclaws could usually be tempted into conversation about whatever they were reading.

“That looks like an interesting book,” he remarked. “Who is that a picture of?”

“That’s the goddess Kamadhenu.”

“A Hindu goddess, would that be?”

“Yes.” He could see she was warming to the topic. “I’m doing a study comparing Eastern and Western magical traditions. They really never covered that at Hogwarts.” He nodded and she went on. “But I need to narrow my focus – it’s all fascinating but a bit overwhelming.”

“I don’t suppose you have found anything about centaurs? I’m the new centaur liaison.”

“I have, actually. The centaurs of India are the Ashwini Kumaras. I took an interest because they’re divine twins!” She laughed.

“Interesting,” said Draco. “What are they like?”

‘They look the opposite of European centaurs – they have horse’s heads and men’s bodies. They’re healers, quite friendly and helpful to people in distress.”

“They sound like Professor Firenze, or the Greek centaur Chiron. He was a teacher and healer too. But the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest don’t seem to be friendly at all, and from what I’ve been reading of the other Greek centaurs, they were mostly interested in fighting and abducting women. Very contradictory behavior.”

“There are good and bad in every group I suppose.”

Draco was about to agree when he abruptly realized that he would likely be lumped in with the bad. “Sometimes people change course,” he said. But her expression had turned distant. Padma looked quite different from what he remembered of her twin, Parvati, who was always giggling with that other Gryffindor girl, the silly one, who…

Who was bitten by Fenrir Greyback.

With difficulty, Draco asked, “How is your sister? She was friends with Lavender Brown, wasn’t she? I’m very sorry about … all that.”

“You should be.” Padma’s eyes snapped.

Whatever Draco might have tried to say would not come out. Suddenly tired, he decided to go home. He nodded slightly, turned, and left.

o8o

The next morning Draco went to Hogwarts, but entered the castle instead of the forest. A few hours later, his head crammed with new information, he left the library and went in search of Potter.

“Do you think your ex-girlfriend would talk to me, Potter?”

“Do you need a Bat-Bogey hex cast on you?”

“No, your EX girlfriend.”

“Ginny Weasley. Only ex-girlfriend I’ve got. She might.”

Oh. Draco hadn’t known they weren’t together any longer, although that could explain why he hadn’t seen her here visiting Potter. But she wasn’t who Draco meant.

“No, the one who was a seeker for Ravenclaw. The one you moped over at the Yule Ball. Long black hair…”

“Cho Chang? Wow, you have a long memory. I’d hardly say she was my girlfriend, we only had a couple of dates.”

“Do you know how to get in touch with her? I’m looking for more information on Chinese astronomy, and I thought she might know someone I could ask. I have a theory about the different personalities of the centaurs related to the two different centaur constellations, Sagittarius and Centaurus.

“It seems that in Chinese Astronomy, Centaurus is in the quadrants of the Azure Dragon of the East and the Vermilion Bird of the South, whereas Sagittarius stretches from the Azure Dragon of the East to the Black Tortoise of the North. But I don’t really understand what that signifies.”

Potter shook his head. “Now you sound like Hermione. Do you really think all that book research is necessary?”

“I don’t know,” Draco said. “But the centaurs aren’t showing up to talk to me. And they study the stars….”

“Except for Firenze, they’re a pretty antagonistic bunch.” Potter thought for a minute. “What if you start by getting to know the other magical horses or horse hybrids, maybe get a feel for the animal side? After all, the centaurs chose to be categorized as magical beasts, not beings.”

It might have been a good suggestion, if Draco weren’t uneasy about thestrals and afraid of hippogriffs. But he could hardly admit that to Potter, who seemed to make a habit of riding on beasts that would terrify any sensible person.

“All right. Maybe I’ll go look for them after lunch.” Draco frowned. He hadn’t thought to bring food and wasn’t in the mood to Apparate all the way home again. “Do you think the Hogwarts House-Elves would fix me something?”

“They would if you asked, but they don’t lay in supplies to feed people during the summer. And you really don’t want to eat what House-Elves fix for themselves – they have very odd tastes. I’m heading in to Hogsmeade myself to pick up some bread and things.”

Draco ended up walking into Hogsmeade with Potter. Luckily Draco had already been through the ordeal of apologizing to Rosmerta for putting her under Imperius back during the dreadful sixth year of school that preceded the infinitely worse seventh year. So when Potter decided to join him for lunch at the Three Broomsticks, it wasn’t terribly awkward. There was always Quidditch to talk about.

Draco was feeling more optimistic when he re-entered the forest that afternoon. And there in a glade he came across a hippogriff, a sleek steely-blue colored female.

Her bright orange eyes stared at him. This was not Buckbeak, the one he’d had such a disastrous encounter with years ago. The one he had insulted because in those years, any ally of Potter’s had to be an enemy of Draco’s. No, this was a different beast, and a fresh start.

Draco acknowledged her with a bow. The hippogriff regarded him, unblinking. There was a certain fierce beauty to her. After the memory of the Dark Lord’s vicious megalomania, this animal’s haughty wildness felt clean. She gave a shrill cry and shook out her wings, and it was as if the dust of the ordinary was blown away, and a spaciousness opened in his heart.

He bowed again, more deeply. She gave a slight nod in return, and Draco felt, unexpectedly, honored.

Draco emerged from the forest in a mood of unfamiliar lightness and excitement. He wanted to share it with someone, and Potter, working in the pea-patch, was the only one around. “I did it, Potter!” Draco called as he approached. “I met a hippogriff and it was fine!”

“Yeah? Where did you run into it?”

“It was in a little cock-shoot….” Draco began.

“A what?”

“A glade.”

Potter frowned. “That is not what you said.”

“A broad glade, through which a wood-cock might dart,” Draco explained. “And be caught in a net.”

“Yeah, and how often do you net wood-cocks, Malfoy?”

“It’s a word, Potter. You could look it up in a dictionary.”

“Is that what you did, got a big dictionary and memorized all the words that start with cock, so you could use them on me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Cock-shoot, cocksure, cock-of-the-walk, cock a snook, cock-a-leekie soup for lunch today –“

“It’s a Scottish soup, Potter, we’re in Scotland –“

“– all you do is talk about cocks. If this is about that piece in the Daily Prophet, let me tell you, Malfoy, I really don’t care what they say about me. My private life is none of anyone else’s business.” Potter looked flushed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Draco snapped.

“Well if you’re trying to get a rise out of me, it won’t work!” Potter’s eyes sparked dangerously, belying his words.

Draco threw his hands up, turned on his heel and left.

o8o

Next morning, though, Draco had to return. Potter might be mad as a March hare, but Draco wanted to keep a job, and the Hogwarts centaurs were the only ones he knew of to liaise with.

He walked through the Hogwarts gates, but before he reached the path into the forest, he saw someone coming out of the greenhouses and moving in the direction of Hagrid’s hut. Draco found himself walking toward Neville Longbottom.

Well, that was awkward. Yet another person he’d spent his school years harassing, who had turned out to be a war hero. Draco was so tired of apologizing. He nodded and said good morning.

Longbottom looked at him, nodded slightly, but said nothing. Still quiet, but composed, no longer that boy so clumsy with nervousness. He’d been so defiant their last year at Hogwarts, when Draco had been so cowed. And killed the snake in the final battle, for which Draco was devoutly grateful.

It occurred to him to say so.

“Thank you,” Draco said. “For getting rid of Nagini.”

Longbottom looked surprised but finally spoke. “Wasn’t she on your side?”

Draco shuddered. “She terrified me,” he found himself admitting, staring at his feet.

A flicker of movement down there caught his eye. A large toad on the ground had just caught a fly. The toad looked familiar. “Is that Trevor?”

“Yeah.” Longbottom brightened.

“I had no idea toads lived that long.”

“He’s still going strong. He could live to be 40,” Longbottom said, smiling at his pet. When he looked up, his face was more curious than hostile. “What are you doing at Hogwarts, Malfoy?”

Draco explained his position as Centaur Liaison. “I’d better go look for them again,” he said.

Longbottom wished him luck, and turned toward the door to the groundskeeper’s hut.

Draco strode into the forest, trying not to wonder what Longbottom and Potter might be doing together.

He saw some pretty flowers, some ugly gnomes, some valuable potions ingredients, and no centaurs.

When he came out a few hours later, Potter waved to him from the garden. “Hey Malfoy, Neville left something for you.”

It turned out to be a small plant with pale green leaves and a cluster of star-shaped reddish blossoms with a faint scent. Puzzled, Draco looked at Potter, who shrugged. “He just said it’s called centaury.”

That was intriguing, at least. “Thank you,” Draco said, turning to go.

“Leaving so soon? You haven’t said anything about cocks yet.”

“I do not talk about cocks, Potter.”

“Right.”

“Really, you have the most cockamamie ideas.”

Potter grinned at him. “Here, take some lettuce with you. I think I planted too much.”

o8o

Back at his flat, Draco ate salad and consulted his books on potions ingredients.

“Centuary,” he read. “A medicinal herb, used by the centaur Chiron to cure his poisoned wound, also said to have power against ‘wykked sperytis’. An excellent tonic, ‘very wholesome but not very toothsome.’ Antiseptic.”

Draco could use a tonic; this fruitless pursuit of centaurs was wearing. An infusion would be quick to brew. He set it to steep and read about centaury flower essence as a flower remedy. It was recommended for people who were exhausted from being so meek and unselfish. Draco snorted. No one had ever called him selfless or humble.

The infusion was ready. He took a sip and spat it out. It was shockingly bitter. He found himself thinking of Professor Snape.

“An ambiguous model of moral behavior,” McGonagall had said. If I had known earlier which side Snape was really on…. Would it have changed Draco’s decisions? But he would still have been a Malfoy. Draco tried to imagine who he would be, if he hadn’t been his father’s son.

He looked back at the description of the flower essence remedy. Find your real self, so that you may become an active, positive worker instead of a passive agent. Develop courage and self-determination. Thoughtfully he reached for the cup of bitter tonic, took another sip, grimaced, and swallowed.

o8o

Hogwarts was apparently a den of ex-Gryffindors even in summer. This time it was Dean Thomas chatting with Potter as Draco stopped by with a bottle of home-made salad dressing in return for the lettuce. Dean gave Draco a curious look as Potter explained. “Dean’s here doing sketches. Malfoy’s seeking centaurs.”

“Oh,” said Thomas. “I’ve always wondered what the axes and branches were for. A sacred tree or grove, maybe? If you find out, let me know, would you?”

“You’ve met centaurs with axes?”

“No, I saw their pictures carved on some of the Pictish stones,” Thomas said. “I was trying to get a sense of Scottish magical art history, and those stones go back at least to medieval times. Beautiful animals on them, too, worth flying out to see. They’re at Meigle, Aberlemno, Glamis…”

“Would you mind giving me directions?” Draco said.

o8o

Draco returned from his trip full of information, ideas and excitement, and he was a bit disappointed not to see Potter on his way into the forest the next morning. He had high hopes for meeting some centaurs that day. But alas, despite walking many trails, he found none, so he finally headed back. This time Potter was out in the garden and wandered over to greet him.

“You smell edible,” Potter said. “Literally. That’s not cologne, what is that?”

“Oregano and rosemary. A trick from the Pictish horse-whisperers. The scents are supposed to draw horses to me, so I thought it was worth a try for centaurs. Didn’t work, though.”

“Well, it worked to make me hungry. What’s a horse-whisperer?”

“I read about them in a booklet I picked up when I flew out to look at the Pictish stones that Dean Thomas told me about. The carvings were really interesting, you should see the Pictish Beast. It has a long curving snout – or maybe it’s a duck-bill? –and some sort of back-curving horn or hair or antenna. And curly feet.”

“Curly feet?” Potter murmured absently. He was standing rather close.

“Yes, and a coy little smile. I can’t tell if it’s a beast of land or sea. Who knows, perhaps its curly feet go cloud-galloping.”

“Want to tell me about it over lunch? I know a little Italian place in London.”

“I suppose that would make a nice change,” Draco said, walking with him toward the school gate.

“I love the smell of oregano,” Potter said. “Here, let me side-along you.”

o8o

They had to pause at one of the mid-way apparition points because Potter remembered that it was a Muggle place and Draco needed to transfigure his clothes a bit. Also they needed some quick cleaning charms to get rid of twigs and dirt smudges. But lunch was quite nice.

After Potter took him to a Muggle Chinese restaurant the next day, saying he was tired of eating salad for every meal, Draco decided he’d need to visit Gringotts and exchange some Galleons for Muggle money so that Potter wasn’t always the one paying. Not that Potter seemed to mind.

Following an interestingly spicy lunch at an Indian restaurant later in the week, they sat on a park bench for a bit. On the next bench, a grandmotherly woman bounced a toddler on her knee and chanted,

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse.
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

Under cover of the child’s squeals of laughter, Draco nudged Potter and said, “Hear that? A cock-horse. Perfectly innocent word that happens to have cock in it.”

“Are you suggesting I ride one?”

“You’ve ridden everything else, to hear you talk. Dragons, flying motorcycles, hippogriffs. Why not?”

“So are you offering yours?”

Draco gave him a sharp look.

“Cock-tease is a word too, Malfoy. You’re a terrible flirt.”

Did he mean that Draco was incorrigibly seductive, or that he was inept at flirting?

“I’m not trying to flirt,” was what Draco meant to say, but what came out instead was, “How would you do it?”

“Less talk,” Potter said, “more action.” He leaned closer, paused, and then pressed a quick kiss to Draco’s lips.

“Oh,” Draco breathed, as a tingling warmth bloomed inside him.

“Oh,” Potter echoed softly, his eyes widening. Then his eyelids drooped as his eyes darkened, and his face hovered close again. And then they were kissing again and Draco rather lost track of anything else for quite some time.

When they finally came out of the kiss they were both a bit flushed and rumpled. And sitting on a Muggle park bench in public, Draco remembered, reddening further. “Come on, let’s go back,” Harry said, taking his hand with a shy smile.

Still a bit dazed, Draco followed him to a place private enough for Apparition. “Side-along me? I’m kind of distracted,” he said. Harry tucked him tenderly against his side and soon they were walking through the Hogwarts gates.

They were almost to the hut when someone called Harry’s name. Of all people Draco did not need to see at that moment, it was Weasley, jogging towards them.

“There you are, Harry! I looked for you over by the Quidditch Pitch. Wait, what’s Malfoy doing here?”

“I’m the Centaur Liaison,” Draco said, waving toward the Forbidden Forest in explanation.

“Seriously? Better you than me,” Weasley said. “There are spiders big as houses in there.” He turned back toward Harry. “But Harry, I came by to see if you want to go to the match this afternoon, the Chudley Cannons versus the Wimbourne Wasps. I think we’ve got a good chance this time.”

“Thanks, Ron. I can’t make it just now, though. Another time would be great.”

“That’s what you always say. You can’t be a hermit forever, mate. You’ve got Hermione worried. At least leave the grounds once in a while.”

“I will, soon, just not today. I don’t want you to miss your match. Thanks for thinking of me, though, Ron.”

“All right. Bye then.”

“Good luck to the Cannons,” Draco put in. Weasley gave him a surprised smile before leaving.

“They’ll need it,” Draco finished quietly. “Hermit, eh?” He raised an eyebrow at Harry, who gave him a half-smile and a shrug.

“I will tell him about us. I mean, if you want me to. I just wanted to be sure there is an us, first. There is, right?”

The more uncertain Harry sounded, the more confident Draco felt. Less talk, more action. “So, hermit,” he said, sidling closer. He pulled Harry in and murmured in his ear. “Fancy a ride to Banbury Cross?”

Harry laughed, and snogged him, and they stumbled their way up to the hut and inside. As soon as the heavy door shut Draco leaned his back against it for support, feeling weak at the knees, and then Harry was pressed against him, moving, and all was unbearable sweet friction that made Draco incoherent until Harry pulled back and tugged him toward the bedroom.

They clambered up onto an enormous bed, peeling off clothes and tossing them away, and dove at other. It didn’t take much the first time – a few strokes and tugs of Draco’s hand on Harry’s silky hard shaft, the astonishing warmth of Harry’s mouth sucking Draco down. They flopped back on the bed, sticky and elated, gasping.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” Draco confessed.

“We can make it up as go along,” Harry said. “Just try not to fall off the bed, it’s a long way down.”

Draco laughed, and rolled over and kissed him, and sunlight poured through the window, warming his skin, and Harry smiled up at him, warming his heart.

o8o

Draco ended up spending the night with Harry, but went home in the morning for fresh clothes before returning. He was in an optimistic mood as he entered the forest, humming absently and taking pleasure in the plants and trees he was coming to recognize. He’d decided to try another of the horse-whisperer scents, so he had dusted himself with a bit of powdered cinnamon and ginger, in case it would attract centaurs. If not, it might attract Harry, who had a terrible sweet tooth.

After walking a good ways on winding paths, Draco paused in a little clearing to enjoy the dappled sunshine that found its way in. He sat on a broad flat stone and tried to whistle the bird-calls he’d learned long ago, before life became such a competition.

There was a little rustling in the bushes on the other side of the clearing and a child’s face appeared, a young brown-skinned girl with straight black hair, looking at him silently. “Hello,” Draco said. “What are you doing here? Are you lost? Do you need help?”

The child shook her head. The bushes rustled again, and the child moved forward – on four horse’s legs. Draco caught his breath, looking at a very young centaur.

From farther back in the woods came a whinnying sound. The child turned her head and called back, “It can talk! And it smells good! But it only has two legs, and they’re funny, and no tail.”

A voice called fiercely, and the little centaur turned and ran toward it. Draco stayed still – it would do him no good to seem to harass children. A female centaur, grey haired, appeared at the edge of the clearing, glared at him, wheeled and galloped off.

“I mean no harm!” Draco called after her. “I’m the Centaur Liaison! Can I do anything for you? Do you have any messages for us?”

No answer came, and eventually he headed back out of the forest, his thoughts buzzing.

“I saw centaurs!” he called to Harry, who was de-gnoming the garden.

“Really? That’s great!” Harry said, dropping a gnome and running toward him. “What did they do? What did they say?”

“The mother – or aunt, or grandmother, I don’t know – just glared and galloped away.”

“I never thought of there being female centaurs in the forest,” Harry said. “Though it stands to reason I guess.”

“And there are children. The little one said I had funny legs and smelled good. She ran away too.”

“She’s right,” Harry said.

“My legs…” Draco began indignantly.

“Are sexy as hell,” Harry said. “But you do smell delicious. Like treacle tart. Mmmm.” He nuzzled Draco’s neck.

“Hungry again?” Draco said.

“Only for you.”

o8o

The next morning Draco was again in a good mood as he set out into the forest. He couldn’t help feeling that things were looking up all around, and he might run into another centaur. But what he did find astonished him all over again.

He heard the leaves rustle, and saw an ivory horn. A unicorn? He held his breath. And then, pure white and gleaming like moonlight, stepped out… a centauress-unicorn? She had a young woman’s upper body with a lovely face and pale flowing hair, a horse’s lower body and legs with golden hooves, and a horn spiraling up from the center of her forehead. She was at once so strange and so beautiful that Draco was speechless.

She smiled coyly at him. “Maayong aga,” she said in a sweet voice. “Kamusta ka?”

“I’m sorry,” Draco said. “I don’t understand your language. But hello.”

“Ako si Angga. Ano imo ngalan?”

“I wish I could talk with you. My name is Draco Malfoy, I am a Centaur Liaison, and I would love to know if there is any way I could assist you.”

“Asta sa liwat.” She turned to go. A gem in the tip of her horn caught the light.

“Good-bye. It was an honor to meet you.” Draco bowed.

With a silvery laugh, she was gone.

Full of wonder, he returned to tell Harry.

Harry was less impressed. “How do you know she’s not going to try to lure you to your doom?”

“It’s not like that,” Draco said. “She’s perfectly aware she’s beautiful, but I don’t get the sense that she’s evil. Besides, it’s my job – she’s the only centaur who’s talked to me, even if I have no idea what she said. I wonder where she’s from, and what she’s doing here?”

Harry still looked skeptical. He couldn’t be jealous?

“You know she couldn’t possibly seduce me, Harry.”

“Because you have such powers of resistance?”

Draco held out a hand and tugged Harry closer. “Because I have you.”

o8o

Draco did not see the unicorn woman again on his next few forays into the forest, so one morning he decided to take Harry’s earlier advice and pay a visit to the thestrals. At least he had an idea of where they were located, though their paddock was in the deepest and dimmest region of the forest. When he made his way there, he was surprised to find Luna Lovegood among the herd, stroking an elderly mare.

“Hello, Draco,” she said. “It’s nice of you to come see the thestrals. I think they get lonely.”

“Hello,” Draco said. “Actually, this is my first time with them. I thought it would be helpful for me to learn more about magical horse-hybrids.”

“Oh, are you studying hippomancy? How interesting. I’ve always suspected we could learn a lot about the future from horses.”

“Er, well, I’ve been appointed Centaur Liaison. So the more I know the better, I suppose.” He held very still as a bony little half-grown thestral sniffed his robes and shuffled its leathery wings.

“Do you want to feed Hester here? Her teeth aren’t so good anymore, so I bring her mince.”

Draco made his way slowly through the skeletal beasts, who stared at him with unnervingly blank eyes. Luna unwrapped a packet of bloody chopped beef. He took some and held it on a flat outstretched palm. The elderly horse accepted it delicately, and then her warm tongue gently licked the blood from his hand. It was unexpectedly comforting.

Later Draco told Luna about the unicorn woman, as they walked out of the forest together.

“Oh, I would love to meet her!” Luna said. “I wonder why I haven’t heard of her before?”

“I couldn’t understand her language, unfortunately, and I haven’t seen her again since then.”

“You said there was a gem on her horn? Perhaps she could be attracted with jewelry. Would you like me to make some for you?”

“Er… no, thank you,” Draco said, remembering Luna’s radish earrings and necklace of Butterbeer corks. “But you’ve given me an idea.”

He thought of a picture he had seen of his mother in her youth, before one sister left home, the other went mad, and she married his father. In the photo she had smiled coyly, tossed her fair hair and laughed. A pretty girl who liked pretty things. She was more than that, of course, but that was part of who she was.

Perhaps he should visit his mother.

o8o

Draco’s mother was not only happy to see him, she was happy to donate a few pieces of jewelry to help him in his career. A ring with sparkling pink and green tourmalines, another with a star sapphire, and from somewhere (who in his family could ever have worn them?) a pair of anklets with tinkling golden bells. He brought them along in a soft leather pouch the next few times he went into the forest.

There were a couple of days when he saw nothing in the forest beyond a Blast-ended Skrewt or two, and then a terrifying day that sent him stumbling out of the forest barely able to talk. Harry looked up in alarm from where he was sitting outside the hut chatting with Weasley.

“Draco, what’s wrong? Are you all right?” He hurried over to help Draco to a seat.

“Spiders,” Draco gasped. It was the understatement of the year.

“You weren’t bitten?” Harry said anxiously. Draco shook his head.

“Aw, no! The acromantulas?” Weasley looked genuinely horrified and sympathetic. “How did you get away?”

“Car. Blue.” It had come charging up and when a door sprang open he scrambled inside, devoutly grateful. It rumbled through the forest and spat him out nearly at the edge.

“The Anglia’s still in there?” Weasley said. “That’s brilliant! We flew that car here, second year, Harry and I. Best thing we could have done, turns out. Worth the Howler from Mum.”

“Thank you for that,” Draco told him. His powers of speech were returning.

Harry was looking stricken. “No one has seen an Acromantula here in ages. I thought they were gone.”

“You can’t blame yourself for every deadly creature in the Forbidden Forest, Harry. There’s only so much a groundskeeper can do.”

“Yeah, it’s not like you were importing them,” Weasley said. “I think Malfoy here needs a drink. Let’s take him out for a pint.”

Weasley was happy that Harry agreed to go out, Draco was happy to be alive, and Harry was happy that his old friend and new lover were on speaking terms, so a good, if occasionally awkward, time was had by all.

o8o

A few days later, in a flowery meadow deep in the forest, Draco finally met the unicorn woman again. “Hello!” he said. “I’ve brought you something.”

“Kamusta,” she said. “Madamo gid nga salamat!” She looked delighted with the rings, which brought sparkling color to her pale hands, and the anklets, which he transfigured to fit. They jingled softly as she moved.

“I wish I could understand what you’re saying.”

She turned and whinnied behind her. Soon after, a female centaur appeared. She looked to be middle-aged and was the warm reddish-brown color of a chestnut horse, with dark eyes that looked steadily at Draco.

He bowed. “Greetings. I am Draco Malfoy, the Ministry’s Centaur Liaison.”

The new centaur looked amused. “Yes, we heard you the first dozen times.”

Draco flushed. “I apologize if I have been making a nuisance of myself. I had hoped I could be of assistance or improve communication between our peoples.”

“We value our privacy. But the Anggitay would like to speak with you.”

“Is that her name? Could you tell me what she was saying just now?”

“I do not speak her human language, but I can ask her in Houyhnhynm, the common language among creatures of the horse.”

The centaur and the Anggitay exchanged a series of neighs and whinnies, and then the centaur addressed Draco again.

“She says to thank you for the jewels, they are beautiful. She has come from islands far away, called in your language the Philippines, a long journey as she travels by rainbow.”

“By rainbow?” Draco was impressed by her stamina, and wondered if she had a way to conjure up rainbows when she needed them.

“She is seeking assistance and allies. Magical habitat is being lost in her homeland, due to deforestation. Without woods, magical beings are weakened and homeless. And as magical beings become weaker, people are less hesitant to cut down trees.”

“That must be a serious problem indeed. What does she think the magical community here can do to assist?”

“There are similar problems everywhere; around the world, the spaces for nature magic are shrinking.”

Draco frowned. Why had he not thought of this issue before, or heard it discussed at the Ministry?

Meanwhile, the centaur and the Anggitay were having an exchange in Houyhnhynm.

“She says many of the reasons why people cut the forests are to do with money, and the coming and going of money crosses many borders.”

“That’s certainly true. And you say this is a problem in other countries? In Britain too?”

“Much of Britain’s forest land was lost long ago. There are few places for a centaur herd. We do not trust that what remains is safe.”

“Clearly this is a critical issue that has not received the attention it deserves. I will certainly speak to the Ministry. But…” Draco frowned again. “Why have you not spoken to me of it before? This is exactly what a Centaur Liaison should be learning about.”

The centaur was silent. Draco met her dark eyes and flushed.

“You do not trust me.”

“We have little trust in wizards, generally. To shield themselves from the notice of their fellow humans who fear magic, wizards seek to control magical creatures. They see themselves as our managers. It is not an attitude of respect.”

As Draco tried to take this in, the Anggitay stamped her hoof.

“Buliga ako!” she said to Draco, then whinnied in Houyhnhynm.

The centaur frowned at her and turned to Draco. “The Anggitay asks for your help.”

Draco nodded. “I will speak to the Ministry at once. I don’t have a great deal of influence myself, but there are others who may join on your behalf. I appreciate your help in translating,” he added to the chestnut-colored centaur. “Is there anything I could do for you?”

“I don’t wear jewelry,” the centaur said dryly. “Perhaps you could leave us in peace for a few days?”

Draco flushed again and apologized to her.

“Oh, you weren’t so bad,” she said.

“May I know your name?”

“Kastania,” she said. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye and thank you, Kastania. Goodbye, Anggitay, I will do my best for you.”

The Anggitay smiled at him and waved. The jewels on her hands sparkled, and the bells on her anklets jingled as she turned to go.

Rings on her fingers and bells on her hooves,
And she shall have music wherever she moves.

Draco smiled as she disappeared into the forest.

o8o

Draco’s head was buzzing with what he had learned. He told Harry about it and then set off directly to the Ministry to report to his boss. Murgatroyd looked startled, and not pleased, to see him.

“What is it, Malfoy? I have work to do.”

Draco explained what he had learned.

“Anggitay? Never heard of it.” He turned dismissively back to his papers.

“But sir, this problem is apparently severe…”

“Not our country, not our problem.”

“But the centaur from the Forbidden Forest says the issue is widespread.”

“Those centaurs have never talked to anyone from the Ministry, why should they start now?”

“Because it’s urgent, and their international allies have asked for support…” Draco trailed off as he recognized the look on Murgatroyd’s face. “You don’t believe me.”

“Look, Malfoy, I know you need to keep a job a little longer to stay out of prison. That’s why I gave you until the end of summer. You annoy me, but that’s not enough reason to send you to Azkaban, and your current pay is so miniscule it makes no difference to the budget. You don’t need to make up stories. Just stay out of my hair, all right?”

Draco’s jaw dropped. He stared at his boss. “I am not lying,” he managed to say, and then turned on his heel and left.

He was shaking when he arrived at his flat. He’d forgot that his position was supposed to be a joke. He’d forgot that he wasn’t expected to make a difference. He’d forgot that Draco Malfoy had nothing to offer.

Harry thinks you have something to offer, said his more hopeful side. Harry has the hots for me, said his cynical side.

Maybe he should just get drunk, since he was worthless anyway. He didn’t especially like to drink, but he could learn. Draco looked dully around his flat, wondering if he had any alcohol.

His eye fell on the sturdy little centaury plant, with its cheerful red flowers. Become an active, positive worker instead of a passive agent. Develop courage and self-determination.

He brewed an infusion of centaury and drank the bitter tonic. Then he returned to the Ministry and went in search of Hermione Granger.

Granger listened to him carefully. “That makes perfect sense,” she said. “We should have been thinking about how environmental crises affect magic. Have you filed a report?”

“Murgatroyd doesn’t believe me. He told me not to waste his time.”

“We can’t let him stop us,” Granger said. “We may have to contact people in other departments. Write up what you know and I’ll think about strategy. With some international networking and research we should be able to verify deforestation rates and the existence of the Anggitay. When we have more information, we will have to think of proposals too. What can the magical world do to reduce stress on the environment?”

Her energy was contagious. Draco considered. “Perhaps we could encourage more transfiguration and less use of vanishing spells?”

“Recycling? Good idea. Oh no, I’m late for a meeting. Stay in touch.”

o8o

Writing up his report didn’t take long. Draco left a copy for Hermione. The next day was Saturday, so he went to Hogwarts to visit Harry. They lay on the grass in front of the Great Lake, basking in afternoon sunshine.

“Murgatroyd’s a fool,” Harry said. “I may have hated you for years, but I ‘d never underestimate you. You’ve always been persistent. And creative.”

“It’s only luck the centaur ever talked to me. If she hadn’t been there to translate for the Anggitay….”

“You went back into the Forbidden Forest day after day. That’s not luck, that’s doggedness. Most people avoid that place.”

Draco noticed an odd motion in the water. “Look,” he said. “Something is cockling the water.”

Harry snorted. “Meaning?”

“Making the waves choppy. It can also mean to pucker or rumple.”

“Probably the Giant Squid.”

“I don’t think so….”

“Look,” Harry said. “I’m cockling my lips. The better to kiss you with.” He gave a thorough demonstration. “Oh look, now your robes are cockled. We’d better take them off.”

Draco was laughing helplessly when he caught sight of the lake rippling again. A silver horn emerged from the waves. “Harry….” He pointed.

A black horse’s head and front legs broke the surface of the lake and pawed the air. Then the creature dove and its scaly black fishtail slapped the water with a splash.

“What was that? Hippocampi don’t have horns. Is that your Pictish Beast, Draco?”

“No, there’s a name for that sort of sea-unicorn. A campchurch? But what is it doing here? They’re not supposed to live in fresh water.”

“Neither are merpeople or squid, for that matter.”

“But how did it get here? Surely it wasn’t here all along?”

“Who knows where the bottom of this lake is?” Harry said. “Remember how the boat from Durmstrang just came up from beneath the water?”

“Something is afoot,” Draco said. “A-foot or a-fin. The Anggitay and now this. Maybe an ichthyocentaur will turn up for me to liaise with.” But the water was still now.

“While you wait for your mer-centaur, how about a lazy liaison with me?” said Harry. He trailed a finger down Draco’s chest.

It was delightfully persuasive.

o8o

Luna returned to visit and was excited to hear more about the Anggitay. “She’s from the Philippines? That’s a fascinating place for magical beings and creatures, I’ve heard.” She beamed at Draco and Harry in turn.

“She says that as the forests are cut down, there are fewer places for magic to live.”

Luna turned wide eyes on Draco. “How lucky that we have you as Centaur Liaison.”

“My boss wasn’t interested, but Hermione Granger is working with me to try to get the Ministry to take it seriously.”

“We cannot depend on the Ministry, of course, weakened as it is by the Rotfang conspiracy,” Luna said. “But we must do all we can to protect magical spaces. When you described the Anggitay I thought of the sacred white horse, so I visited a couple of statues of the goddess before I came here. That always helps me feel strong and calm.”

“Statues of a goddess? In Greece, or somewhere?”

“Oh no, I’ve just come from the one in Coventry.”

“A goddess in Coventry?” Draco was puzzled.

“Yes, riding naked on her horse.”

“I think that’s Lady Godiva, not a goddess, Luna,” Harry put in.

“Lady, God, Diva. How much plainer can it be?”

“Which goddess, then?” Draco asked.

“I believe she is Rhiannon, riding from the Otherworld on her pale magic horse. Her first name was Rigantona, the great goddess. They called her Epona, the horse goddess, on the continent. But the statue left out her birds.”

“Birds?”

“You know:

See a fine Lady upon a White Horse,
with birds at her shoulders and bells on her toes,
she will have music wherever she goes.”

“But that’s at Banbury Cross,” Harry said.

“Oh yes, it’s quite nearby, and there’s another statue of her there, but they made a mistake and put clothes on that one. So unnecessary for a fertility ritual. I would love to go to the crossroads there at Beltane, to see her come riding. If only I could find a hippalectryon to carry me.”

“A what?” said Draco, a bit dazed.

“A hippalectryon. Well, I must go. Father thinks there may be a Crumple-Horned Snorcack down in Withycombe Scruffets, so we’re going to go and have a look around.”

“What’s a hippalectryon?” Harry asked, but Luna was gone and Draco had no idea. “What kind of hippomancer are you?” Harry teased, so Draco suggested they go look it up.

In the Hogwarts library Draco raised his head from an old bestiary and snorted. “It’s a cock-horse. Look – front end of a horse, back end of a rooster. A bit like a hippogriff in reverse.”

Harry came up behind him and pressed against his back, looking over his shoulder. “A cock-horse, eh? Should we let Luna know you’ve got one?”

“These all have male riders,” Draco said, pointing to the illustrations from old Greek vases. “I believe my hippalectryon will accept only you.”

“Because I’m such a brave warrior?” Harry nuzzled Draco’s neck, running his hands up Draco’s sides and down his front.

“Or such a sexy stable-boy,” Draco said, turning to pull him into an embrace.

Harry kissed him. “Finally it’s fun to be the chosen one.”

“Oh, now you’re going to get all conceited and cockaloft,” Draco murmured, cupping his arse.

“Mmm, my cock’s getting aloftier all the time.” Harry pushed up against him to demonstrate.

“Too many clothes,” Draco gasped.

“Lady Godiva had the right idea,” Harry said, tugging at Draco’s trousers and then his own. Draco peeled his shirt over his head.

“Are we really going to do it in the library?”

“Carnal knowledge.”

The afternoon sun streamed through the dusty windows, warm on their skins. Draco gazed at Harry, dark-eyed and tousled and erect. “Let me,” he said, sinking to his knees and taking Harry in his mouth. Harry gave a small gasp, his face flushed, and his hands cradled Draco’s head. And then Draco gave himself up to the pleasure of sucking and stroking until he could bear it no longer and rose up, his voice husky. “Ride me, lover. Ride.”

The long, smooth, polished table cool against his back, and Harry warm and tight around him, above him, rocking slow and then faster and faster, galloping, flying.

o8o

Later, as they lay quietly, Draco remembered something Luna had said. “There are white horses all over Wiltshire.”

“There are probably white horses everywhere, aren’t there?”

“No, remember Luna talked about a sacred white horse? These are carved into the hillsides, or outlined in white stone. I used to fly around on my broom to look at them.” Back when he was still interested in such innocent pursuits.

“Some of them are quite recent, but the great White Horse at Uffington is more than 2000 years old, they think, and it’s huge. I always wanted to see it, but….” His father had said it was too far, and then the war was looming, and Draco forgot. But now…

“We should go,” said Harry. “How about tomorrow?”

The next day dawned fine for flying, so they brought brooms, took a Floo partway and then flew.

They could see it from a long way away, a figure stretching more than 350 feet along the hillside, cut in trenches filled with chalk. The long lean lines of the White Horse flowed over the green slopes, its legs outstretched, its neck arched, ancient and sleek and lively.

Draco hovered next to Harry in the air as the wind blew at them. “Think of people making that, thousands of years ago. And keeping it up, keeping the weeds from overgrowing it… Muggles do that.”

“It’s beautiful,” Harry said.

“More than that, it makes me think… nowadays we take magic for granted, take animals for granted, we’ve forgot how to feel awe.”

“Not me,” said Harry. “When I found magic, I was in awe all the time.”

Ah, but you are special, Draco thought. He reached out and took Harry’s hand and they rode the buffeting wind in silence, bobbing up and down but holding their place, hand in hand, gazing at one of the oldest symbols of their land.

o8o

Draco walked back in to the Forbidden Forest. “Kastania! Anggitay!” he called at intervals. Finally Kastania came alone, silent and poised, dappled sunlight making her chestnut skin and coat gleam.

Draco bowed slightly. “Greetings. I have brought you something.” He held out a small flowering centaury plant. “I brought it from a hillside in Uffington. My friend – my loved one – and I flew out to see the great White Horse there.”

She nodded and took the plant.

“Another friend told me of the goddess who rides the white horse. I think… I am beginning to understand the respect which has been lacking in our dealings with other creatures.”

“You begin well, Draco Malfoy.”

“I have spoken to some people at the Ministry about the issues that you and the Anggitay brought to our attention. Not everyone is listening yet, but we will work to persuade them.”

She nodded again.

“I wondered… the Anggitay coming here, and I think I saw a campchurch in the Great Lake… is there something special happening?”

She regarded him silently before speaking. “Some of my people may be angry that I speak with you, but perhaps it is time that we consider working together. There is to be a world council of the Houyhnhynm speakers, the magical horse beasts and beings, sons of Sleipnir and daughters of Al-Buraq. Those with concerns are bringing them to their representatives. It is long since we had such a meeting.”

“I assume the issues are serious, then,” Draco said. “If there is anything I can do…”

“Look for me again in a month’s time. I may have something to tell you then.”

“I am honored. May I ask after the Anggitay?”

“She has already left. Rainbow travel is scenic, but…” Kastania smiled. “Chancy and slow. She left greetings for you. She did love the jewelry.”

“I’m glad. Until next month, then. And may your meeting go well.”

“Let’s hope.” She smiled again. “Goodbye.”

o8o

Draco returned to the Ministry office to talk to Granger. Murgatroyd hailed him.

“Malfoy! How’s it coming with the centaurs?”

“I believe there has been good progress, sir. My centaur contact will have more information for me in a month.”

“So you have some free time before then? Good! There’s work to do.”

“I thought you just wanted me to wait out the summer, sir?”

“We’re short-staffed, Granger speaks well of you, I need you on a project.”

“Sir?”

“Spinks was caught embezzling. He’s gone. Come back and see me in the morning, I’ll fill you in.”

“Yes, sir.”

o8o

Draco lay with Harry on the great bed.

“That’s brilliant, Draco,” Harry said. “The centaurs accept you…”

“One of them, at least.”

“The prat who insulted you is gone, your boss is starting to appreciate you, you must feel…”

“Cock-a-whoop?” But it was a quieter joy that Draco felt.

“You have the best words. Me, I just plant pumpkins.”

Harry hated being called a hero, so Draco just said, “You feed people. That’s elemental.”

Harry was looking shy, he still turned uncertain sometimes for no reason that Draco could understand. Draco felt a tender protectiveness.

He leaned over Harry, cupped his cheek, and kissed him slowly and deeply. He stroked his hand down Harry’s chest, teasing his nipples into little nubs, trailing kisses and licks and little puffs of warm breath.

Desire flooded him. Awe.

He plunged his hand into the dark thicket of tight curls at Harry’s groin. That once-forbidden forest, that lush undergrowth from which the sacred tree was even now rising. A surge of wanting brought Draco, too, erect. Springeth the wude nu, now the wood revives, and didn’t man used to kindle fire by rubbing two woods together? Hot, hot in hand.

A gasp. “Draco!”

Harry.

Rising, rising, tumbling together, frantic, tender, sap flowing, cocks crowing, a fierce explosive sweetness.

o8o

Later, quiet in each other’s arms, they talked.

“This council,” Harry said, “The shrinking of magical space. Are you worried?”

“It’s serious,” Draco said. “But at least they are talking, we are talking, trying to figure something out. If we can listen, and respect each other, and work together….”

He thought of the past couple of months, of the connections he’d made and the help he’d received. McGonagall, Padma, Dean, Neville, Luna, Ron, the Anggitay, Hermione, Kastania…. And here he was in Harry’s arms.

Draco stroked his lover’s hair. “Call me a cock-eyed optimist,” he said. “I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can’t get it out of my heart.”

Harry laid his cheek down on Draco’s chest. “This heart?” he murmured. He pressed a kiss against Draco’s skin. “How is this heart?”

Warm, Draco thought, to the very cockles.

“Yours,” he said.

o8o