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These Strange Companions

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     Draco Malfoy did not care for animals, and animals, frankly, did not care for him. He had three puckered scars running parallel on his right arm courtesy of a hippogriff to prove it. Animals had horrid features like talons, and sharp teeth and fur that got in his nose and made him sneeze. As a child, he had amused himself by chucking rocks at the ghostly peacocks that strutted about his family’s large estate, laughing cruelly as they squawked and fanned out their wings in distaste. They were mean birds that left strategic piles of rank droppings to be stepped and chased him before he grew into the height advantage; if any creature deserved a good pelting, it was the peacocks. Now, with his father in jail and his mother despondent, the birds were the first thing he got rid of in the attempt to purge the traces of the old days. Perhaps it was spiteful, but if weren’t the newly-appointed man of the house, he would have enjoyed his final victory over them.

     Draco Malfoy reminded himself that he did not care for animals as he stared at the tiny, mewling shape nestled in a cardboard box in the alleyway before him. It was a pathetic excuse for a baby cat-- what was the word for a small cat? Draco scowled as he tried to remember. He never had a reason to know the word for a baby cat, and as he stared at it, he became irrationally angry that he was expected to now. He supposed he wouldn’t have to think of it for long, as the baby cat was nearing the existence of a dead baby cat. It was a thin, light gray slip of a creature, curled in on itself like a desperate coil. It shook as if it was a fading patronus, and as he watched it he almost swore it was getting smaller and fuzzier. It was sections of fur was matted down with some muddy paste he didn’t care to think about. Its tail, sparsely cloaked in spatterings of fur was tucked close to its body like a burnt crescent roll. Its eyes were closed, and it could have been mistaken for a discarded rag if not for the weak sounds it made.

     Draco turned away from the thing, soon to be dead thing, and gazed out of the alley he had ducked into. He rubbed a spot on his forearm absently, where the sleeve over the brand of his dark mark- a barbaric tradition, if anyone had asked Draco; the trouble was, nobody ever seemed to- where the glamour made the skin tingle. He looked hopefully towards the other shoppers in the small side street of Diagon Alley, which he had chosen for its anonymity. Surely, some noble stranger would hear the thing and take pity, or a child would chase some stray, worthless Weasley invention down the alley and find it. Surely, someone would absolve him of this unwanted responsibility and he could just go home. Or, not home- what was left of his parent’s home. His thoughts turned to the antique arm chair next to the fireplace as the chill of London fall bit into his bare hands. Someone would come relieve him any moment now.

     Except, no one did. He stood in the alley alone, his hands shoved ineffectively in his pockets, chin nestled into his old Slytherin scarf. He turned back to face the shivering thing, and affixed it with a glare.

     “Oh, absolutely not. You will not do this to me,” He said aloud into the alleyway, an accusatory note coloring his voice, “I have a many important things to do.”

     In answer, the cat opened its eyes and fixed him in a cold stare. They were large, earnest eyes, green and wide and seemingly mocking him in a way that was vaguely familiar. It shifted on its haunches slightly, but didn’t take its eyes off Draco.

     “Don’t look at me in that way, I do have important things! I'll have you know, I’m an important person! From an important family!” The cat flicked its tail.

     “Shut up,” He snapped, trying to ignore the guilt quickly settling into the pit of his stomach. We were important, once. He added mentally.

     The small cat did nothing. It continued to stare at him and shiver. Draco stomped his foot, as if in frustration he had reverted back to the small boy throwing rocks at peacocks.

     “Damn you. I can’t believe I’m talking to a baby cat and I can’t believe I’m doing this, you mangy git.” Draco grumbled, mostly to himself, as he unwound the scarf from his neck. As soon as he took it off, he felt goose pimples raise on his pale skin but ignored them, his haughtiness slipping with the drop of his chin.

     He carefully scooped the cat up in the scarf, being careful not to let the dirty fur touch him. He braced the small creature against his chest, and he felt something in his chest tighten as he saw how little of the scarf the cat took up, and how fragile his tiny frame felt in his hands. Its eyes closed again as it snuggled into the wool, weakly curling in on itself again.

     Draco thought of his mother, not pale and cold as she was in the present, but softer in the rare light of his childhood. How once, as he sat at the hearth, the dying fire crackling dimly, she had told him of her fondness for animals. She had seemed less sharp and angular then, her voice a gentle lull and she told him of the kitten- and yes, a kitten. What he now held in his arms was a kitten. His mother had rescued a kitten as a young girl and been forced to give it to one of the house staff. It was not appropriate for someone of her status to bother with such a creature. Malfoys did not have kittens. I was immediately enamored with the silly thing, of course, she had added, her eyes distant, uncharacteristically open. I always wondered what had become of her.

     Returning to the present, Draco stared at the small cat- the kitten- in his arms and made a decision. He was lonely in the large estate, and Malfoys did not have kittens. But he was not a Malfoy anymore, not truly, and something about being the savior for once sent warmth curling into his lungs. It felt like change. It felt like changing for the better.

     The kitten sneezed into his neck. Draco grimaced at that, and glared at it.

     “Just because I’m going a little soft, doesn’t mean I’m going to be pushed around by the likes of you. Don’t get used to this,” He chastised, his cool words a contradiction to this grip on the animal tightening. The kitten raised a weak paw and batted half-heartedly at his chin.

     “Cease this at once!” Draco said brusquely, with little regard for how silly he knew he must have looked. “I am not to be trifled with. I’m cold-hearted,” He continued, gently scratching the top of the kitten’s head with two fingers. “I’ve killed people, you know.”

     The pitiful creature in his arms looked at him doubtfully.

     “Or, so I didn’t. I never could kill. I wasn’t a very good villain, was I?” The kitten dropped its head back against Draco’s forearm, as if satisfied with the admission. He felt weak vibration of muted purring from the kitten’s throat against the spot of his mark. Fading, but still there. Like him.

     Tightening his grip as much as he thought the new companion- his new companion- could take, he turned on his heel and disapparated.