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The Girl in the Forest

Chapter Text


Extract from 'A Wizard's Guide to the Enchanted Forests of Europe' by V. Inture

The Forbidden Forest's size has never been accurately mapped, due to its dangerous and ever-changing nature, but it is well known that it stretches from Hogwarts all the way to the little wizarding village known as Godric's Hollow.

A great many species of magical beasts and beings dwell within, many still unknown. The residents respected above all others, however, must be the centaurs that live there. Extremely prideful and reclusive, they claim the forest as their grounds, roaming over the whole. They are very protective of their own kind; female and young centaurs are never seen by outsiders, although they are known to exist.

Any attempt to enter the forest for an extended period of time must mean an encounter with them. Such encounters rarely go well for the witch or wizard involved, as centaurs do not take kindly to uninvited visitors. The occasional witch or wizard has managed to befriend the centaur, but their trust is rarely bestowed and easily revoked, therefore, many wizard-centaur friendships have ended very poorly.

This author has found that it is wisest to simply make small excursions into the forest in daylight hours, and not risk incurring the wrath of the centaur herd.



Extract from 'Modern Wizarding History' by N. Ackyrate

On the night of October 31st, 1981, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named entered the residence of James and Lily Potter, in Godric's Hollow, and murdered them. He then attempted to also kill their fifteen-month-old child, but failed, and was in the process destroyed.

Sirius Black, the first person on the scene, was the last to see the young Miss Potter. Now in Azkaban for the murder of Peter Pettigrew, it is believed he finished his master's work, and killed his former friend's daughter as well, although the body was never found, and Black denied all allegations.

What is known, is that somehow, the young Miss Potter withstood the Killing Curse from You-Know-Who, ending the tyranny of the Dark Lord, and the wizarding world will forever remember the sacrifice of the Potters and the Girl Who Died.


Draco scrambled back, tripping over a tree root in the process, and earning himself a sore bum. It went ignored, however, in the face of the greater danger in front of him.

Longbottom, having no such difficulties with tree roots, ran past him, howling for Hagrid. Draco didn't blame him, really, but it did feel incredibly unfair that he was stuck alone facing this… whatever it was.

The cloaked thing (a ghoul, maybe?) had lifted its head from the neck of the unicorn when the boys gasped at seeing it, and now it advanced slowly across the forest floor toward Draco, leaves skittering away under the edge of the cloak.

Draco tried to fumble for his wand as he awkwardly crab walked backwards, not wanting to get up and risk taking his eyes off the thing. It wasn't like he knew any useful spells though. Wingardium Leviosa certainly wasn't going to help in this situation.

(He spared a second to scoff at the luck of one Ronald Weasley, who'd gotten a lucky shot at a mountain troll.)

He was backed into a corner between roots, shakily lifting his wand up to the approaching ghoul (if that's what it was), when a voice said, "Hey," above him.

Draco's head whipped up so fast, he was pretty sure it would hurt tomorrow, too.

There was a girl standing on the topmost root, arms folded, glaring at the ghoul. She didn't spare a glance for Draco, but he didn't really mind, since the ghoul's attention was now wholly fixed on the girl, instead of him.

"Get out," said the girl, her eyes catching the moonlight and flashing a dangerous green. Draco watched in complete and utter awe as the ghoul turned and swiftly retreated, as if terrified.

The girl watched it go, with a scowl on her face. Draco took the opportunity to inspect his savior. He'd never seen her at school, but Draco couldn't imagine the girl was younger than himself. She wasn't any bigger than Draco, but she gave off an aura of power.

She was also only wearing trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, and no shoes, either, despite it being a very chilly night.

(Draco himself was wearing a fur-lined cloak and was very comfortable.)

A temperamental breeze blew the girl's long black hair around her face when she finally turned to Draco.

"Thanks," Draco blurted quickly, hoping his belated gratitude was not too late. The girl just shrugged.

"That was, um, some ghoul, huh?" Draco asked, feeling incredibly useless. The girl's eyes flashed green at him again.

"It wasn't a ghoul."

Draco was about to inquire what exactly she thought it really was, because it had sure looked like a ghoul to him, when hoofbeats sounded, not far off. The girl's attention was immediately fixed in that direction, and very shortly afterwards, a centaur burst into view.

Draco had never seen a centaur before; he'd only ever read of them. They were supposed to be proud, and territorial, but very reliable astronomers and diviners. This one was light in colouring, his hair long and blonde, and his eyes were a brilliant blue. The centaur stopped in front of the girl and looked down on her with reproach.

The girl looked back up at him fearlessly, and said, defensively, "Mars is bright tonight."

The centaur, to Draco's astonishment, threw his head back and laughed. "You are not wrong," he said, sobering again. "But this is no excuse. We will speak of it later. Now, who is this?"

Draco was suddenly pinned by their gazes. He dredged up every last bit of etiquette he could remember his mother teaching him and bowed gracefully to the centaur.

"Draco Malfoy, sir. It is a great honor to meet you."

The centaur was still smiling when Draco looked back up again, so he couldn't have messed it up too bad, even though the girl was looking at him oddly.

"I am Firenze, Mr. Malfoy," the centaur replied. "I am pleased to meet such a polite wizard as yourself."

Draco was flattered by this compliment, but he tried very hard not to show it.

One of Firenze's legs came forward, nudging the girl, who stumbled a little, and huffed irritably.

"Cygna," she said, shoving one thin hand at him. Draco shook it, unsure what to say, and ended up just nodding stiffly.

"You had better get back to Hagrid," Firenze said. "Mars is bright. It is still not safe in the forest tonight."

"Is it ever?" Draco asked, genuinely curious.

"No," Cygna answered, with a sharp, toothy grin. Draco was inclined to believe her.

"Come," said the centaur, "I shall take you back."

Cygna leapt easily onto Firenze's back, and Draco stared in awe.

"You're going to let me ride on your back?"

"Do not make me regret it, Mr. Malfoy," Firenze said solemnly, and Draco gulped.

"N-no, of course not."

Cygna held out her hand to boost him up, and Draco took it, thankful for the help.

"Hang on," said Firenze, and that was all the warning he got before the centaur charged forward, speeding through the forest. Draco squeaked (very quietly) and grabbed a handful of Cygna's shirt.

Draco had ridden horses before, but this was different. Firenze had much more care for his passengers, and although they were riding bareback, it wasn't hard to keep his seat. He couldn't say it was as smooth as a broomstick, but it was exhilarating, all the same, and Firenze was slowing to a gentle halt long before Draco was ready for his ride to be over.

"This is where we must part, Mr. Malfoy," the centaur said, and Draco took his cue to dismount. He could hear Hagrid's bellowing voice, calling his name not far off, but he hesitated.

"Do you know what it was? That thing back there? That killed the unicorn?"

Cygna had grown very still on the centaur's back. Firenze looked at Draco solemnly.

"Only one very desperate, with nothing to lose, and everything to gain, might slay something so pure and defenceless. One who is clinging to life, waiting to return to power," Firenze said, and his voice had an eerie tone, as if he spoke from somewhere far away. Draco shivered. "The planets have been read wrongly before now, even by centaurs. I hope this is one of those times."

Then he turned, with Cygna still on his back, and cantered back into the depths of the forest.

Draco spent a long time trying to figure everything out that had happened, that night in the forest.

After Firenze and Cygna left, he'd walked slowly in the direction of Hagrid's calls, finding them easily. He didn't mention the centaur or the girl. He told Hagrid that he'd cast a Lumos (which really had been on the tip of his tongue), and that the ghoul had fled from the sudden bright light.

It was plausible enough, and Hagrid seemed to believe him, although the other three didn't. Weasley probably just on principle, but Granger and Longbottom had probably actually read up about ghouls and knew that they weren't typically driven away by light.

Draco honestly didn't care what they thought. He was too busy thinking about Cygna. Normally, he'd be feeling slighted. The girl had been incredibly rude, after all, but Draco figured it was not wise to hold a grudge over politeness against someone who'd saved your life. Also, she appeared to have been raised by the centaurs, so perhaps she just didn't know how to act around other wizards. (Draco felt very satisfied by this conclusion.)

He didn't really want to contemplate what had almost killed him in the forest, because he realized there was only one option, given what Firenze had said, and he didn't want to believe it. Or think about it.

So, he didn't. Until the end of the year, when Longbottom, Weasley, and Granger landed themselves a week of detention. The professors wouldn't say for what, but this was Hogwarts, so pretty much everyone knew what had happened anyway. (The ghosts and the portraits were terrible gossips.)

Professor Quirrell had tried to steal the Philosopher's Stone, and Granger, Weasley, and Longbottom had tried to stop him. They hadn't made it past all the protections, however, and Professor Snape had to rescue them from a bunch of flying keys and arrest Quirrell, who, in his efforts to get the Stone, had nearly killed himself.

The Slytherins all thought it was hilarious, until the end-of-year feast, where Dumbledore had lauded the Gryffindor trio's 'bravery' and awarded them enough points to take the House Cup from them.

Draco sulked along with them, but when the train left for home the next morning, hurtling through a stretch of the Forest, he wondered if the centaurs had really seen what could have happened, and if Quirrell had succeeded, if He really would have-

He felt a shiver of cold, despite the sunny day, and then the train was through to open fields and pastures, and Draco turned back to his companions.


Chapter Text

Shortly before they left for Diagon Alley to get school supplies for his second year, Draco overheard his parents talking.

His mother was asking his father if he regretted it, following him. His mother never used the names the rest of the wizarding world used; she just stressed the pronoun delicately, like she did with her pureblood lady friends when they gossiped about someone who'd done something scandalous.

"I do not regret my beliefs, Cissa," his father said. "But I do regret the lengths I went to. It was foolhardy, to risk so much."

"He told us, though," his mother said, soft and low, so quiet that Draco had to lean closer to the door to catch it. "He told us he couldn't really die, that he could… return."

His mother had sounded scared. Draco didn't like it. It made him feel scared, too, and Malfoys were never supposed to be afraid.

"He did say as much," his father had admitted easily. Draco's heart was pounding so hard he was surprised neither of his parents heard it. "But you know he entrusted me with the key to his resurrection, and I do not intend on using it. In fact, I mean to… dispose of it."

That was the end of the useful information; shortly afterward, he had heard the sounds of kissing, which was disgusting.

Then Draco had watched, later that morning, with sense of horror and dread, as his father slid a worn journal into the Weasley girl's cauldron. He just knew, without any other indication, that this was what he'd heard his father talking about. He couldn't get rid of the persistent cloud of worry that hung over his head on the way to school, but when weeks passed and nothing happened, he relaxed.

Until there were words written in blood on the walls, and a petrified Mrs. Norris, and Draco knew exactly what 'Heir of Slytherin' must mean, even if he'd never heard of the Chamber of Secrets.

This sounded like a problem for an adult to take care of, except there wasn't anyone he could tell. It was pretty unbelievable, in the first place, and it was difficult to explain without bringing up his father's involvement, and then his father would be in serious trouble. Crabbe and Goyle, even though they probably would believe him, were certainly too lunkheaded to be trusted with this kind of information, and he didn't trust anyone else at school.

And then, he realized there were two others he knew of who would believe him.

He went back to the forest during the daylight hours this time. He was hesitant to call out for the centaur; even though Firenze had seemed nice enough, it was never wise to assume that a centaur would be at his beck and call.

He only called Cygna's name twice before there was a faint rustling, and the girl herself dropped out of a tree above him.

"You're very loud," Cygna observed, leaning coolly against a tree trunk.

"Well, excuse me," said Draco, affronted. "I grew up in a proper house, not a forest."

The girl snorted. "Did you need something? Or are you just here to waste my time?"

Draco remembered what he'd ventured into the forest to ask and swallowed dryly.

"You-Know-Who," he said.

"Do I?" Cygna laughed.

"This isn't a joke," Draco seethed. "The Dark Lord is returning."

"What do I care?" Cygna said loftily. "I grew up in a forest, not a proper house."

"This is serious," Draco said. "There's - my father had a book, from - from him, and he gave it away, but now there's been an attack, threats against mudbloods. The Heir of Slytherin - that can only be one thing, see?"

Cygna looked at him, expressionless, for a moment.

"He will be back," the girl said slowly. "But not yet."

Draco cried. "What do you mean, not yet? Have the centaurs seen something?"

"The stars are not right," Cygna said calmly. "There is still time."

"But what are we going to do?"

"We? Nothing," Cygna scoffed. "You can do whatever you like."

"You don't even care," Draco said miserably.

"No, I do," Cygna said, her green eyes catching Draco's earnestly. "But it is too soon for me to be involved. Things will not go well if I enter Hogwarts now."


"It's a very long story," Cygna sighed. "And I don't feel like telling you."

Draco gaped at her, completely bewildered.

"I'd get that book out of the school before someone is killed," Cygna said, with a flash of green eyes. She pushed off the tree, and with a quiet clap, disappeared.

Draco's cry of, "What – and how?", was heard only by silent trees.

Draco had been hoping he'd get more constructive advice than 'you get rid of it', from Cygna. He spent a solid week sulking about it. Why was it up to him to figure out how to save the school? He was the Seeker for the Slytherin Quidditch team this year and he didn't have time for this!

He did, however, have a most interesting conversation with Crabbe and Goyle a few days later.

If the fact that he was actually having an intelligent discussion with them hadn't tipped him off, their very nervous behavior would have. He wasn't sure who was impersonating them, but they were trying to figure out if he was the heir to Slytherin. Draco could have laughed in their faces, and almost did.

But whoever was questioning him couldn't be expected to know that, he had to remind himself. Most of the wizarding world lived in blissful ignorance of the Dark Lord's ability to resurrect himself. He wouldn't have known, either, if he hadn't overheard his father.

He needed to get that book, and stop the attacks, but unfortunately, he couldn't go sauntering into the Gryffindor girls' dorm and take it from Weaselette's trunk.

Draco was at a total loss at how to continue. Perhaps he needed better friends than Crabbe and Goyle, he thought, that he might actually be able to bounce ideas off of. They wouldn't know an idea if it came spelled out in cupcakes.

He sighed dramatically, and despondently, as fake Crabbe and Goyle made their excuses and left, whatever spell or potion they'd used clearly wearing off.

It turned out the fakes were Weasley and Longbottom; he heard from a portrait on the second floor the next morning that Granger had mistakenly ingested Polyjuice that was contaminated with a cat's hair.

It wasn't a solution to his book problem, but it did cheer him up a bit.

It turned out he didn't need to break or sneak into anywhere.

He finally found it in, of all places, the girls' third floor bathroom.

Hardly anyone went in there, although Myrtle was actually a very good listener, if you had something to whine about. (Draco frequently did.) He didn't mind listening to her, either. Nobody else bothered to listen to her, not even most of the ghosts, but if you wanted gossip material, Myrtle was the one to go to.

Myrtle had been complaining about the firstie that came to her bathroom to cry, but never bothered to talk to her, for weeks. It wasn't until after he'd gone to the forest that she mentioned something else, too.

"Yes, because her little diary is so much more interesting, isn't it? I'm right here, and she just sits there crying and scribbling, and ignoring-"

"Her diary?"

"Yes, it's pathetic. I sulked very loudly in the u-bend of my toilet about it, while she was here, and she still couldn't even say hello!"

"Very rude," Draco agreed. "Did she have red hair?"

"Oh, how did you know? You don't have a crush, do you?" she said coquettishly, or, at least what she thought was coquettish. It was really quite off-putting, especially as she tried to lean closer to him.

"No," Draco said, sidling away while trying to not make it look like that was what he was doing.

"Well, you'd better check and make sure she doesn't have a crush on you," she giggled. "You really shouldn't go around breaking poor girls' hearts." Then she cackled, swooping through the air, and shot back into her toilet with a little splash.

It was quite clear that Myrtle would be perfectly fine with him breaking a few hearts, Draco thought, peering into the cubicle after her. Then he spotted it.

Perched innocently on the back of the toilet was the black diary his father had foisted off on the Weasley girl.

He snatched it, and then nearly dropped it, because it was sodden through. Myrtle appeared again, rising up from the toilet bowl, and rested her arms on the seat.

"Ooh," she giggled. "Read it aloud."

Draco peeled apart the pages, looking for where the Weasley girl had been writing. There was nothing. Not a single ink blot, stain, or any trace at all that anyone had ever written in it. He told Myrtle as much.

"Well, I'm sure I saw her writing in it. She must have used spelled ink," Myrtle sniffed. "How disappointing."

Draco ignored her, frowning down at the book in confusion. His father had said this book was the key. There were petrified people in the hospital wing as proof that something very dark was happening, and yet there was nothing here.

He was missing something, he knew it.

He just didn't know what.

Chapter Text

Even after he'd dried it out, there was absolutely nothing else to be found in the diary. Draco took to carrying it around with him, too paranoid to leave it anywhere out of his sight.

He was working on his Potions essay in the library when an idea struck him.

The Weasley girl had been writing in the diary, hadn't she? Myrtle had said as much. He pulled it out of his bag and flipped it open to the first page. His quill poised, he thought for a moment, and then carefully wrote.

Today that idiot half-blood Finnegan exploded his cauldron in Potions and broke Weasley's wand.

It almost seemed like nothing would happen, but then the ink slowly sunk into the page, and disappeared. Then new fine black lines began to appear. Draco couldn't tell if he was excited or nervous.

That is most unfortunate.

Draco stared at it with wide eyes.

Who is this?

I could ask you the same, the writing formed. My name is Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Draco hesitated before writing, my name is Draco Malfoy.

Ah, a Malfoy. I am delighted to meet you.

Draco shivered a little as he read the words. He knew he had to be very careful with what he wrote next. Whoever this was writing him, knew how to bring back the Dark Lord, and open the Chamber of Secrets.

His quill scratched loudly in the quiet library.

Would you happen to know anything about the Chamber of Secrets?

It was a suspenseful few seconds before the writing replied.

How about I show you?

Draco had barely had time to read the words before a little window seemed to open up on the page, and then he was suddenly falling, falling, falling…

With a jolt, he landed in a corridor. He turned around, confused. He'd fallen into a book, and then into a corridor? It didn't make any sense.

Although, he thought, it looked quite a bit like the corridor that led to the Slytherin common room. It was worth a look, he decided, and headed toward where the entrance should be.

"You're going out, Tom?" A girl's voice whispered, and Draco halted.

"I just need a book for an essay," a voice answered her. Tom, Draco supposed, and wondered if it was the same Tom that had written him back from the diary. It was too good to be a coincidence.

He walked a little farther down the hall. Sure enough, it was the Slytherin common room entrance. The girl whose voice he'd heard was standing in the doorway, Tom in front of her.

"Hello," Draco said. "I'm looking for Tom Marvolo Riddle?"

Neither of looked at him, or even seemed to acknowledge his presence. Draco felt a cold sliver of fear sliding down his back.

"Hello?" He tried again, stepping closer, and speaking a little louder. Nothing. He wasn't even paying attention to what the two were saying anymore – something about it being dangerous to wander about alone after hours.

Draco waved a hand in front of their faces, and there was still nothing. He tried tapping Tom on the shoulder, as the boy pushed away from door and started down the corridor, and watched in horror as his hand simply passed right through.

He was on the verge of crying when he remembered what Tom had written.

How about I show you?

He must be in a memory, Draco realized. Like in a Pensieve. He'd never actually looked in one, but his father had one, in his study, and Draco had seen him use it before.

Tom was almost out of sight now, and Draco scrambled to catch up to him. He didn't know what would happen if he went too far from the person whose memory it was. (And he didn't want to find out.)

Tom still didn't seem to notice him dogging his steps, which only confirmed Draco's theory that this was all a memory.

A few staircases later, and Draco realized that they were going to the third-floor bathroom. At least, he couldn't think of anything else in this direction. They definitely weren't going to the library, which was what he'd told that girl. What was he really up to, Draco wondered.

He glanced up and down the corridor suspiciously before ducking quickly into the girl's bathroom. Draco followed, feeling uneasy.

Tom was standing in front of one of the sinks, and he leaned forward and stroked the side of the faucet. That was… really weird, Draco thought. He heard a slight noise behind him, like a sniffle, coming from the stalls, but he ignored it in favor of watching Tom, whose eyes were still fixed on the faucet.

Tom spoke, and said… something. It sounded like he was coughing and hissing at the same time, and also trying to talk. Draco looked at him nervously.

The sink suddenly slid forward towards them, and the whole circle of them broke apart, revealing a giant pipe going straight down beneath them. Draco's mouth dropped open in shock. Was this the Chamber of Secrets? Hidden in the girl's third floor bathroom?

Tom had leaned over the pit, and was speaking in that weird way again, and Draco suddenly had a very, very bad feeling about this.

Tom backed away from the hole, and there was a sort of slithering sound rising up through the pipe, getting closer and closer, and then a giant, scaly head emerged, with huge, glowing eyes.

It was a basilisk, Draco realized, and quickly looked away. Although, this was a basilisk from a memory. He could probably look at it, and not die. He'd already kind of seen its eyes.

Well, it was better not to risk it, he decided. Tom was talking to it again, in what must be Parseltongue. Draco chanced a glance over and saw that he had his eyes averted as well.

He heard a soft snick noise behind him, and turned to see the girl that had been crying in the stall stepping out, and wiping her tears away.

"Hey," she started to say, but then she looked up, and Draco recognized her.

It was Myrtle.

"No," Draco said, futilely.

Draco had never seen someone die before.

He didn't have to look himself to know that the basilisk had seen her. Myrtle had a split second to arrange her face in an expression of surprise and confusion, and then her body went stiff, and she toppled over. Draco couldn't help himself. He ran over to her side, and stopped, hovering over her.

She looked like the people in the hospital wing, petrified, except her skin was grey and her eyes were lifeless. Draco shivered a little. Seeing her like this felt all wrong.

"Filthy mudblood deserved it," Tom's voice said, right behind him, and Draco jumped. Tom was looking straight at him, and Draco had to remind himself that this was just a memory, and he couldn't actually –

"Don't you agree, Draco Malfoy?"


Chapter Text

"Y – You can see me?"

"Unfortunately, she was the only victim," Tom said, as if he hadn't heard Draco. "Her death caused the Board of Directors to threaten to close the school. I had to find a plausible scapegoat, and then close the Chamber."

"A scapegoat?" Draco asked.

"Hagrid had a pet acromantula," Tom shrugged. "It was quite simple to expose him."

Draco stared at him, and then looked back down at Myrtle's frozen dead body.


"You haven't guessed?" Tom smiled, dangerously. He lifted his wand, and traced flaming letters into the air. Tom Marvolo Riddle, they spelled. Draco felt his heart pounding in his ears. Tom swished his wand at the letters, and they slowly rearranged themselves.

I am Lord Voldemort, they now read.

"I am disappointed in you, Draco Malfoy," Tom said, twirling his wand slowly. "You don't seem as… eager… as I expected the son of Lucius to be."

Draco's mouth had gone dry.

"Do you not wish to join me? Or has Lucius betrayed me?"

"No!" Draco said, panicking a little. "I just… Myrtle – she, um, haunts this bathroom. I didn't know how she – how she died."

Tom seemed to relax a little. "Sympathy, Draco? Don't worry, we'll soon fix that."

"Uh, we will?"

"Of course," Tom drawled. "You'll be much more effective than that Weasley brat. She kept fighting me. Foolish girl."

Draco frowned, thinking quickly. "So… you were controlling her?"

Tom snorted. "She's the daughter of blood traitors. Perhaps she could be won over, with the right persuasion, but…" he shrugged, "this way was easier."

"Are – are you going to do that to me?" Draco felt his voice shaking, and hated it for betraying him. Tom's eyes roved over him.

"That depends entirely on how cooperative you are, Draco," he said, smoothly. "Have you ever studied Occlumency?"

"Yes," Draco said, honestly. He was a Malfoy, of course he had. It was important to keep the family secrets.

"Then just relax, Draco," Tom said, and then, with no warning at all, he was battering at Draco's mind. The illusion of the girl's third floor bathroom bled away, and he was left fighting off the Dark Lord's mind in a dim, gray fog.

He was trying everything he could remember from his Occlumency lessons, because he knew if Tom got in, he'd see that his father had definitely not been strictly loyal, and that would be very bad. There was also the fact that Draco didn't really want to be the one going around letting a basilisk petrify and kill people, even if they were mudbloods.

He threw up everything he could in the way – walls and hedges, memories that didn't matter, like of him riding a broom, or listening to Snape in Potions class. Tom paused a little at that one, and Draco remembered that Snape, too, had been a Death Eater with his father. He tried to distract him with another memory of Snape, but the Dark Lord wasn't so easily dissuaded again.

Draco knew he wouldn't be able to hold out forever, and was just about resigned to becoming a puppet, when a sudden pain lanced through his head. Abruptly, Tom was also gone. Draco reeled at the sudden disappearance, grateful, but very confused, until the pain was overwhelming, and he blanked out.

He awoke in the hospital wing, with a headache. He muddled awake, and then quickly wished he hadn't.

On the other side of the curtain next to his bed, he could hear people talking. They weren't very quiet, and their voices were really setting off his head. He was about to ask them to shut up, but then he recognized who it was.

Weasley and Longbottom.

Draco immediately decided it was worth the headache to find out why they were in the hospital wing.

"Feels a bit odd, talking to a Petrified person," Weasley said.

"Yeah," Longbottom agreed. "Wish you were awake. We might've figured this thing out by now."

"Also, our grades are dropping," said Weasley. "Any way you could wake up in time to help us write our foot of parchment for Binns, Hermione?"

Granger was petrified? Draco could hardly believe his ears. When had this happened? How long had he been out? More importantly, where was the diary?

He could hear Weasley and Longbottom shuffling around, and the sound of books and crumpled parchment being put away. He contained himself until they'd left, and the door to the hospital wing creaked shut, and then slowly levered himself out of bed, wincing as the movement jostled his head.

Draco rounded the curtain, and couldn't help shivering when he saw Granger's Petrified body on the cot. It looked too similar to how Myrtle's body had looked in the memory for him to be comfortable.

He looked aside, noticing a mirror on the bedside table, and frowned. Had she been found with it? What an odd thing for her to carry around. It was no secret that Granger was one of the least vain people at Hogwarts; she had no reason to carry a mirror around.

"Salazar's beard, Granger. You did," he whispered in realization, and immediately felt silly for talking to someone who couldn't hear him. She must have, he concluded, been using the mirror to look around just in case the basilisk came after her. She was too smart to ignore the fact that she was a target.

He almost didn't resent her for the title of 'brightest witch of their age'. (Almost.)

Draco snuck back into his own bed when he heard the telltale squeak of Madam Pomfrey's door opening and pretended to be just stirring when she looked in on him.

A diagnostic spell, and a headache potion later, Draco was free of the infirmary, after insisting that he had no idea how he'd been in a comatose state for two weeks. He hadn't had to fake his own shock at that – two whole weeks, lost! He was dreading the make-up assignments already.

He was going to go back to his room to take a nap – the headache potion had made him a bit sleepy – when he stumbled across a clearly not meant to be overheard conversation. Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Sprout, Flitwick, and, for some reason, that idiot Lockhart, were discussing something in the Potions classroom.

He was already beaten to the eavesdropping business, he saw, observing Weasley and Longbottom crouched next to the door, completely oblivious to anything else. (Merlin, why did he keep running into them?) Since the best place was already taken, Draco was forced to find a spot behind the suit of armor across the hall.

He couldn't make out half of what was being said inside the classroom, just the occasional word that didn't help at all – but then Lockhart's boasting made everything loud and clear.

Ginevra Weasley was being held in the Chamber of Secrets, and Lockhart was going to rescue her.

If Lockhart managed anything of the sort, Draco thought, he'd curse himself to vomit slugs. There was no way Lockhart had the slightest idea where the Chamber even was.

Lockhart exited the Potions classroom shortly after, although the rest of the teachers stayed inside, continuing their discussion. Weasley and Longbottom looked at each other, and then scrambled to follow him.

Draco sat another minute behind the armor, trying to decide what to do. He could probably mimic what Tom had said and get in the Chamber easily enough. The only trouble would be the basilisk.

It wasn't like they taught students how to fight off basilisks in Defense. He didn't know any spells that could possibly harm a magical beast like that. They hadn't learned anything useful all year in there, and basilisks were almost mythical, anyway. Even in their regular textbooks (not Lockhart's narcissistic novels) they were –

Oh, Merlin, he was an idiot.

Chapter Text

Draco skidded into the girl's third floor bathroom to find Weasley, Longbottom, and Lockhart there.

"What are you doing here?" he blurted.

"I think we could ask you the same," Weasley said, and Draco noticed something odd. Weasley and Longbottom both had their wands out, pointed at Lockhart's back. He was about to ask what that was about, when Myrtle wailed.

"Draco!" she cried. "Did you want to hear about my death, too?"

Draco shivered a little, because he most certainly did not. But that answer would mean a very upset Myrtle, so he nodded, and tried to tune her out, walking over to the sinks instead, and looking for the right one.

" – and then there were these great, yellow eyes, over there."

"Right where Malfoy's standing?" Longbottom asked.

"Move, Malfoy," Weasley said, rudely. Draco stepped aside obligingly. Longbottom stood where he'd been, inspecting first the floor, then the pipes, then the sink itself.

"There's a little snake on this faucet!" Longbottom cried triumphantly.

"Right," said Weasley. "How do we open it, Myrtle?"

"I don't know," Myrtle whined. "All I heard was a bunch of funny noises."

"Did it, perhaps, sound like this?" Draco did his best imitation of Parseltongue.

"Yes!" Myrtle cried, at the same time as the sinks slid open, revealing the entrance to the Chamber.

"You're the Heir!" Weasley accused, and Longbottom and Lockhart both looked at him fearfully.

"I'm not the Heir, you dolts," Draco rolled his eyes.

"But you just opened the Chamber," Longbottom pointed out. "If it's not you, then who is?"

"That title belongs to Tom Riddle," Draco told them.

"Who?" Weasley asked, just as Draco had thought he would.

"Look, are we going down there or what?" Draco asked, impatiently. He didn't have time for all this nonsense.

"Yes," Weasley said, and he poked Lockhart in the back with his taped-up wand. "You first."

"I – me?" Lockhart smiled round at them. "No, no, boys, I think I should definitely be last, just in case, you know –"

Weasley pushed him forward, and Lockhart stumbled, caught himself for a moment on the edge of the sink, and then fell down the hole. He screamed all the way down.

"That was satisfying," Weasley said, staring down into the pipe. Longbottom nodded.

"For once, I agree with you," Draco said dryly, and then he jumped down the pipe.

It was positively filthy down at the bottom. Draco was trying to breathe as little as possible through his nose as they trekked through the cave-like passage. At least they knew they were going the right way, he thought, as they passed an enormous, decaying snake skin. He coughed as the smell from it hit his nostrils.

Behind him, Weasley, Longbottom, and Lockhart weren't faring much better. Weasley sounded like he was hacking up a lung.

Suddenly, Draco heard the unmistakable sounds of a scuffle, and turned to see Lockhart standing triumphantly over Weasley, the latter's wand in his grasp. Longbottom had backed away from them, closer to Draco, and his wand trembled in his hand.

"Ha!" Lockhart cried. "The adventure ends here, boys! I shall take a bit of this skin back up to the school, tell them I was too late to save the girl, and that you three tragically lost your minds at the sight of her mangled body — say good-bye to your memories!"

"Obliviate!" he shouted, and Weasley's taped-up wand exploded. Draco dropped to the ground, covering his head, and saw Longbottom copying him. Rocks tumbled down from somewhere above them, bouncing off their arms painfully.

When the shaking finally seemed to have stopped, Draco lifted his head carefully. The dust was still settling, but there was no way they could get back now. The rocks entirely blocked the passage. Weasley and Lockhart were no longer visible.

"Ron!" Longbottom shouted. There was a groan from the other side.

"I'm here! I'm okay," came the response. Longbottom gave a huge sigh of relief. "Lockhart's not though – got hit with the spell he meant for me."

There was a giggle, and then an "ow," which must have been Weasley kicking Lockhart. Well, at least they hadn't killed a professor, Draco thought, even if he was a shit one.

"What now?" Weasley asked uncertainly.

"Try and shift some of this, Weasley," Draco shouted, finally speaking up. "We'll go ahead, but we'll need a way to get back out."

There was a bit of a pause, where Draco was sure that Weasley was trying to decide if it was worth it to take orders from him.

"Alright," he said. "I'll just – yeah." There was the sound of rocks falling, as Weasley began his work, and Draco glanced at Longbottom, who, although he was white as a sheet, nodded back decisively.

Around the bend, they encountered a wall, with two stone snakes carved into it, coiling around each other. Their eyes were green gemstones that seemed to glow.

"Can you do that thing again?" Longbottom asked, not taking his eyes off the snakes.

"Yeah," Draco said, and he repeated the same thing he'd said in the girl's bathroom. The serpents uncoiled from each other, and the wall split down the middle, and slid open.

Cautiously, Draco and Longbottom walked down the long hall. Pillars carved with serpents rose from pools of water on either side, and their footsteps, occasionally splashing through puddles, were the only sound. At the end of the hall, two figures became visible, and Draco recognized them both as they got closer.

Tom turned and smiled at them, the youngest Weasley pale and unmoving at his feet, clutching the little black diary to her chest.

"Draco!" Tom cried. "How delightful. I don't believe we finished our conversation, before." His gaze grew dark, and Draco shuddered.

"Wh-what've you done t-to Ginny?" Longbottom stuttered, and Tom turned uncaring eyes on him.

"Well, that's an interesting question," said Tom pleasantly. "And quite a long story. I suppose the real reason Ginny Weasley's like this is because she opened her heart and spilled all her secrets to an invisible stranger."

"What do you mean?" Draco demanded.

"Poor little Ginny Weasley," Tom said softly, eyes flicking back to Draco. "Pouring out her soul to me – literally. It's very bothersome to listen to a whiny little girl, but I suppose the reward was worth it."

"You're draining her," Draco said.

"It won't be long now," Tom smiled. "She put too much into me. Enough to allow me to leave the pages."

Longbottom scrambled forward and knelt by the Weasley girl, shaking her shoulder, his wand clattering to the floor.

"Ginny, Ginny," he said, desperately. Nothing happened. Tom turned to Draco, who suddenly noticed that he'd somehow got hold of Longbottom's wand. He squeezed his hand around his own wand tightly, although he knew it probably wouldn't do much good.

"Now, what shall we do with you and your friend, here?" He asked, rhetorically. "It seems the Malfoys are not so loyal, after all. Perhaps they should be reminded of where their allegiance is due."

"We're not afraid of you," Longbottom said, immediately ruining the effect by standing and wiping his nose. "Heir of Slytherin, or whatever you are, anyway."

Tom laughed, clear and cold. "Oh, little boy," he said, still smiling widely. "I am Lord Voldemort."

Longbottom wavered, but didn't back down. "D-Dumbledore said that h-help will always b-be given at H-Hogwarts t-to those who ask for it," he said, although he didn't sound totally certain.

Draco wondered what kind of nonsense he was spouting now, and then a musical trill sounded, echoing in the Chamber. A crimson bird, as big as a swan, and with a great golden tail, swooped down through the hall. It was clutching something in its golden talons, which it dropped into Longbottom's arms before sweeping away again.

Longbottom unfolded the object.

It was the Sorting Hat.

Draco stared at it in disbelief, with a sort of sinking feeling in his stomach. Tom only laughed.

"This is what Dumbledore sends his defenders?" he said. "Well, let's see if it helps you against the powers of Lord Voldemort, Heir of Slytherin."

He turned to the giant statue of Slytherin that towered up at the back of the room, and spoke something in Parseltongue to it.

"What's he saying?" Longbottom asked him urgently.

"I don't know, I don't actually speak Parseltongue!" Draco whispered. "But he's probably summoning the basilisk."

"Oh," said Longbottom. "What do we do?"

Draco paused. The great stone mouth of Slytherin had slid open, and the harsh sound of scales on rock grew louder. Tom turned and smirked at them.

"Run," Draco said, dashing toward the side of the Chamber, where he could see the opening of a big pipe.

"Do you have a plan?" Longbottom whispered, as they crouched by a grating.

"A bit of one," Draco admitted. "Are you still carrying that old rag?"

"It's the sorting hat! I wasn't going to- "

They both stared at the opening of the hat. Something was slowly glimmering into existence in the opening of the hat. It was a handle – no, a hilt – Draco realized, as Longbottom tugged a sword out of the hat.

"Right," he said, eyeing the sword speculatively. "New plan. Stab it."


"And keep your eyes shut, while you're at it," Draco added.

"How am I supposed to stab it if my eyes are shut?" Longbottom asked in a panicked whisper, clamping his eyelids firmly together.

Draco didn't answer. The slithering noise was coming closer. The basilisk was almost on them. Draco watched, keeping his eyes just barely open, and as soon as he saw the nose of the giant snake, he pushed Longbottom forward.


Longbottom lurched forward wildly, swinging the sword like he'd never taken fencing lessons before in his life, which – oh.

At any rate, his random swinging managed to hit something, and the basilisk reared back, hitting its head on the top of the pipe. Longbottom was standing, frozen, and Draco ran forward, grabbing his sleeve and pulling him further down the pipe. They reemerged in the Chamber again, on the other side, Longbottom stumbling down.

"What just happened?"

"I think you defanged it," Draco told him. He'd seen several long, whitish-looking fangs scattered on the floor as they rushed past the snake, so at least they wouldn't have to worry about being bitten.

"A basilisk does not need fangs to kill you," Tom scoffed from behind them, and Draco jumped in surprise. He'd forgotten he was there, standing quietly at the foot of the Slytherin statue. Tom called out something in Parseltongue and smiled at them. "Take your time dying, boys. I'm in no hurry."

"We're going to die," Longbottom whimpered, as they heard the snake coming down the pipe again.

"Close your eyes," Draco said.

"Merlin," Longbottom swore, "We're going to die. My gran will be so upset." He closed his eyes, though, and held the sword outstretched. Draco made himself breathe out, long and slow. He had to time this perfectly.

As soon as he saw the snout of basilisk at the mouth of the pipe, he closed his own eyes, and reached into his pocket. The serpent hissed, and snapped its jaws, and Draco felt something fly past them.

He pulled the mirror free of his robes and held it up.

"NO!" he heard Tom scream. "No, what have you done!"

Draco instinctively cracked one eyelid. Not more than a meter away from his face, the basilisk was poised, ready to strike – and turned frozen, dead. Draco realized too late that he'd made the mistake of looking directly into its open eyes, but after a moment of panic, found that he was still very much alive. The basilisk's death stare must not work when it was dead.

"You," Tom snarled, his face contorting nastily. Draco started to back up, pushing Longbottom along behind him.

"Not much longer now, little Malfoy," Tom practically hissed. "You and your friend will pay for this."

Longbottom stopped, and Draco turned to see that he'd run into the Weasley girl's legs. She didn't look good; in fact, she looked almost as dead as Myrtle in the memory.

Draco's heart raced faster. What could he do? He had his wand, but he was no duelist, and this was You-Know-Who. He had a mirror, and Longbottom had a sword, and-

His gaze landed on the diary, and then on something resting on the floor at their feet.

It all came back to that, didn't it?

Draco dropped, grabbing the diary off of Weasley's chest, scooped up the lone basilisk fang from the floor, and stabbed it straight through the black leather.

Tom screamed bloody murder.

Well, more like inky murder, Draco thought. The diary was oozing black ink from between the pages, and Tom was fracturing into pieces, Longbottom's wand falling from his hands. Draco dug the fang deeper into the pages and felt it hit the stone floor of the Chamber.

Tom screamed one last time, loud and long, and then he was just… gone. Like he'd never been there at all.

The Weasley girl gasped and sat straight up.

"Neville!" She cried, and then, with confusion, "Malfoy?"

"It's alright Ginny," Longbottom said comfortingly. "You're safe now."

Weasley looked confused, her eyes only growing wider when she saw the frozen, dead form of the basilisk.

"He's gone," Draco told her, holding up the pierced-through diary.

"Oh, thank you," Weasley breathed, and she moved like she was going to hug him. Draco leaned away quickly.

"Right," he said. "I'm sure you're very grateful, but I'd rather it not be common knowledge that I was down here with you lot. So."

He passed the book over to Longbottom, who nodded slowly.

"Shall we get out of here, then?"

Chapter Text

"You did it," said a voice, and Draco startled. Cygna stood a few paces away, watching him with vague amusement. Draco sighed, and rested his head back on his arms again, looking up at the sky.

It had been one day since he and the troublesome Gryffindors had emerged from the Chamber, sweaty, dirty, and very much ready for a shower. As he'd requested, the Weasleys and Longbottom had made no mention of him when they told their tale to the Headmaster, although Draco had noticed Dumbledore looking at him contemplatively that morning at breakfast and wondered if he knew, anyway.

He couldn't regret making sure his name had stayed out of the official story, however. Draco hadn't seen him arrive, but he'd spotted his father as he left, kicking their poor house elf down the hall in front of him. If that was how furious his father had been that Dumbledore was reinstated, he didn't want to think about how he'd react if he learned that Draco had been involved.

But his father's temper wasn't the reason he was down by the Black Lake, staring up at the clouds for answers.

Before they'd left the third floor girl's bathroom, the youngest Weasley had run back and given him a quick hug.

"Thanks, Draco," she'd said, smiling at him, and then skipping back to her brother.

They'd planned to leave the bathroom separately, anyway, but Draco stood by himself a minute longer, feeling… well, he hadn't been sure.

"What's wrong?" Cygna asked, sitting cross-legged beside him.

"Nothing," Draco said quickly, but he made the mistake of meeting her eyes. Her green orbs seemed to draw up all his secrets and make him want to tell her all of them. He wondered if she knew Legilimency and could read his mind. She knew a lot of magic, clearly. The last time he'd seen her, she'd apparated away in front of him.

"How old are you, anyway?" Draco asked her, glancing away.

"Twelve," she said, serenely. "Same as you."

"Why aren't you in school? And how are you so good at magic?"

Cygna shrugged. "The centaurs thought it was better if I didn't. And I think they're much better at teaching magic than your professors, anyway."

"I'll say," Draco snorted. "Our Defense professor, at least, was rubbish this year. But I bet Snape is better than any Potions centaur you learned from."

Cygna hummed, in agreement or not, he couldn't tell. It was quiet for a minute, and the mild breeze sending small waves to lap the stones at the edge of the lake was the only noise to be heard.

"What's really bothering you?" She asked, some time later.

"Have you ever… done the right thing for the wrong reason?" Draco asked, keeping his eyes fixed on a cloud that looked like a bird.

"Yes," she said, quietly, and paused for a moment before adding, "Why?"

"The Weasley girl," Draco said. "She thanked me, and – and hugged me, and it was nice, to be thanked, but I didn't do it for her, she's a blood traitor. I had to get rid of the book because if – if You-Know-Who had come back he'd know my father hadn't been loyal."

Cygna was frowning down at the ground.

"And that's why," Draco finished, lamely.

"Are you sure?" she asked him.

"I – yes?" He furrowed his brows, confused. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," Cygna sighed, "that you seem to be trying very hard to convince yourself that you didn't care about this Weasley girl."

"I didn't!" Draco protested, a bit weakly, even to his own ears.

"And you didn't care about any of the people that were attacked, either?" She looked down at him, her gaze blazing as intensely as fire.

"No," Draco forced himself to say. "I hate mudbloods. And blood traitors."

"Is that really what you think?" she asked him, more softly this time.

Draco couldn't bring himself to say anything at all. The invisible line between her eyes and his seemed to rage and crash until it was almost tangible. He shook his head silently, and Cygna huffed her breath (rather like a horse, Draco thought), and the moment dissipated.

She looked back out over the lake, and Draco returned his attention to the clouds, thoughts more lost and disorganized than when he'd first come out here.

He didn't know what he thought. He knew what his father thought: that mudbloods were abominations and shouldn't be allowed to mingle with proper, pure-blooded wizards; and blood-traitors, who freely mingled with that lot, were barely better.

Muggles could hardly even be thought of as human.

Perhaps Draco would have gone on blindly believing that - and he had, before he'd come to Hogwarts. He'd been changing his views ever since he'd arrived here, he realized, uncertain whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. (But definitely not a thing that his father would be hearing about.)

The greatest evidence was Granger. Despite her bushy hair, bossiness, and muggle parents, she was easily as smart as he was. He hated her, of course - but more because she made being top in class extremely difficult than because she was a mudblood.

And just yesterday, he thought, hadn't he fought off Tom Riddle with a bunch of blood traitors? They'd been… well, they'd been annoying, but without Longbottom, he probably would have died in the Chamber by himself.

Maybe… maybe they weren't so bad.

He shook his head a little, feeling overwhelmed, and pushed himself up on his elbows.

"Want to skip rocks with me?" he asked Cygna, who turned and looked at him blankly.

"Skip rocks?"

"You – you don't know how to skip rocks?" he exclaimed, shocked. "Whatever have the centaurs been teaching you?"

"Um, archery?" Cygna said, uncertainly.

"Well, come on then," Draco said, standing and holding out his hand to her. "I will do my best to amend this serious oversight in your education."

She laughed, and grabbed his hand, and they ran down to the water's edge together.

From the treeline, some twenty meters away, two centaurs, one light, and one dark, stood watching the two children as they tossed rocks into the water.

"I am still not convinced that this friendship should be encouraged," rumbled the darker one.

"Trust me, Bane," the lighter one said calmly. "He is instrumental, and she can sway him."

"You were always one for crazy ideas, Firenze," Bane insisted. "This one is too much."

"If you do not believe me, you need only look at the stars to know the truth."

Bane grumbled. "I suppose, at the very least, no harm will come of it," he said begrudgingly, and then he stamped his feet and turned to go back into the forest.

Firenze watched on as his charge successfully skipped a rock, and hugged her very surprised companion in delight, and he smiled.

"Yes, it will be very good."


Chapter Text

It was a very, very long summer.

Draco usually passed his summers alone, with the occasional visit from Pansy. heir parents were friends and she came over with her mother weekly to have tea, but she didn't really like to run around outside or do anything fun. Crabbe and Goyle had come over before, but he always had to do all the thinking, which could be surprisingly tiring.

Draco's father was very disappointed that he hadn't been top of his class that year (again), and even though Draco had insisted that he was doing his best, Granger somehow outperformed him in nearly every class. As a consequence, his father made him spend much of his time indoors, studying his books for the next school year. Draco probably would have done it anyways, as he enjoyed reading his textbooks ahead of time, but it wasn't any fun when he was forced to do it.

By the time September rolled around, he was tired of studying and more than eager to get to Hogwarts and sneak off to see Cygna.

He hadn't seen her since last school year. After they'd skipped rocks together, he'd snuck off to the forest several more times before the end of the term, and she'd shownhim parts of the forest that he never would have ventured into alone.

The first time, she'd taken him tree-climbing, and they'd stood precariously on the topmost branch of a tree, looking out over the Forbidden Forest.

"It's beautiful," he'd said, as the afternoon sunlight played with the leaves.

"It always is," Cygna had sighed, head thrown back and arms stretched wide.

"Not down there it isn't," Draco had protested, glancing down at the dark forest floor, and Cygna's green eyes had glinted in challenge.

Every time he'd gone out after that, Cygna took him to a new, more interesting part of the forest. They visited a unicorn herd, watched a meadow of knotgrass glow as it bloomed in the evening, befriended a tree full of bowtruckles, and flirted with a flight of fairies (they were extremely vain and shallow). Draco was forced to admit that the forest wasn't really so bad, although he didn't think he'd be running around in there alone anytime soon.

All he could think about on the train was Cygna, and the forest. He'd had a horribly boring summer, but he was sure that she hadn't, and he wanted to hear everything.

When they were almost to Hogwarts, however, the train unexpectedly slowed to a halt.

The train had never stopped before, and when Draco stuck his head out of his compartment, he saw that many other students were wandering around, trying to figure out what had happened.

Then the lights went out. People screamed, and the corridor was awash with frantic students. Draco watched them all run around with some amusement.

"Everyone back to your compartments!" A voice commanded, and most of the people began to calm down. "I'll head up to the front; there's no need to panic, I'm sure."

As people headed back into their compartments, Draco could see that it had been one of the Hufflepuff prefects, Cedric Diggory, who was now striding out of their car to get to the front of the train.

Draco decided that there was no longer any point to standing in the doorway, and he shut their door and sat back down.

"What happened?" Goyle asked. Crabbe looked up from stuffing his face with Cauldron Cake to hear the answer.

"Not sure," Draco told him. "Diggory's gone up front to find out, though."

He shivered as he finished speaking, and realized that it had gotten very, very cold. Hadn't it been sunny out?

Draco glanced over at the window, only to widen his eyes as he saw that it was covered in frost. Even as he looked, undistinguishable black shapes went fluttering past. He, Crabbe, and Goyle looked at each other in terror, their breath clouding the air.

From where he sat, something caught Draco's eye as it moved down the corridor. It was tall and cloaked in black.

A dementor, Draco thought with horror, as he drowned in sadness and despair. It was the worst he'd ever felt in his life. It made him feel like nothing would ever be bright and happy again. He sat listlessly, eyes glazed over, as the dementor paused outside the compartment door, and then he lost all hope.

The dementor's skeletal hand reached out toward the handle.

Just when he thought he'd lose his soul to the Kiss, the dementor reared back and began to retreat.

A graceful, shimmering wolf came loping down the corridor, pushing the dementors out of the train as it went and leaving in its wake a feeling like a warm breeze in summer.

Draco heaved out a huge breath, feeling his head clear and the cold dissipate. The chill was gone from the air and the dementor gone, but he felt a sort of lingering sadness that he couldn't shake. Crabbe and Goyle's solution, as usual, was to dive right back into the pile of sweets they'd got off the trolley.

A few moments later, a slightly disheveled man came round, knocking on their door and offering them squares of chocolate.

"Was that your Patronus?" Draco asked, gratefully accepting a square. The man looked surprised at his question.

"Yes, it was," he said.

"You must be the new Defense professor, then," Draco said.

"Indeed, I am. Professor Lupin," he said. "I expect I'll see you in class…"

"Malfoy," Draco told him. "Draco Malfoy. Will we be learning how to do the Patronus charm this year?"

Professor Lupin looked at him curiously.

"No, it's a rather advanced spell," he said slowly. "But if you're really interested – " Draco sat up eagerly, " – stay after class and we'll talk about it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to give the other students a little pick-me-up."

"Of course," said Draco, and Professor Lupin smiled at him and left the compartment. Draco watched him go down the hall with a sense of blooming excitement.

He'd always admired his mother's crane Patronus, which she would make for him sometimes, when they were out in the garden. He didn't think his father could make one, but Draco guessed that if he did, it would be one of the white peacocks that strutted around the grounds. (He really hated those peacocks.)

"You going to eat that?" Goyle grated, gesturing at Draco's untouched chocolate.

Draco glared at him and popped it in his mouth.

At the feast that evening, Dumbledore announced that the dementors would be stationed around the perimeter of the school and the edges of the Forbidden Forest until the threat of Sirius Black had been resolved.

Most of the students immediately dissolved into discussing how Hogsmeade trips wouldn't be any fun anymore, but Draco was worried about an entirely different sort of excursion. How was he supposed to visit with Cygna now?

Cygna was his best friend, and he'd never be able to get past the wall of dementors to see her until this Sirius Black nonsense was over. They'd probably never catch him anyway. He was a mass murderer and the only person who'd ever escaped Azkaban alive.

Or, Draco thought optimistically, until he learned a decent Patronus. He'd already told Professor Lupin that he wanted to learn; now he had extra incentive.

It couldn't be that hard, right?

Chapter Text

Learning how to make a Patronus had to wait, sadly, because their first Defense class wasn't until the end of the week.

Draco trudged to Divination as slowly as he could get away with.

He was not looking forward to it, and clearly Granger wasn't either, if the sigh she gave as she entered the trapdoor to the classroom ahead of him was any indication. He'd gone through the book over summer, of course, and hadn't been particularly impressed with the subject.

He was even less impressed with Professor Trelawney, but he had to admit it was hilarious when she told Granger that her mind was closed. Draco nearly laughed aloud and had to bite his tongue to stop himself.

He thought it was all a bunch of hokey, until Trelawney drifted over to his table, and asked for his cup.

"Oh!" she gasped, nearly throwing the cup back down on the low table.

"What?" Draco snapped. The whole class was looking at them now.

"You, my dear boy," she took his hand and patted it nervously. "You have the Grimm."

Draco gaped at her. She couldn't be serious.

"I thought it looked a bit more like a deer, actually," he told her, as he glanced back at the grounds in the cup and froze.

She wasn't wrong. The grounds had shifted, changed.

There was a black dog, sharp teeth bared, on the bottom of the cup. And, just above the dog, there was a second little blob of tea leaves that looked a bit like a bird. Surely, a bird wasn't that bad, Draco thought.

"Well, what about that?" he asked Trelawney, pointing out the other shape. She looked at it and tsked, shaking her head.

"Oh, my dear boy," she said again. "That is a black swan. You will suffer, and then… you will die."

Draco shivered a little at her pronouncement. The rest of the class had broken out into whispering, mostly of amusement, and Draco wished he could laugh, too. He was sure it was all nonsense, but he felt a little numb, for some reason.

Crabbe leaned over.

"Can I have your stash of chocolate frogs when you kick the bucket?"

The incident in Divination had him feeling weirdly on edge the next few days, and it didn't help that it was all anybody could talk about. By the time Care of Magical Creatures rolled around, Draco had started to feel frustrated by all the talk.

Hagrid picked Weasley, of course, to do a demonstration with a hippogriff in front of the class. Weasley fumbled his way through a simple bow, and the rest of the class backed up as the hippogriff reared away. It did eventually acknowledge Weasley, but when Hagrid called for another volunteer, nobody stepped up.

"C'mon, now," Hagrid said, looking around at them. "'E's real gentle."

The hippogriff punctuated his sentence by ripping apart the dead stoat Hagrid had tossed him.

"If I need ta, I'll just pick one a – "

A sudden push between his shoulder blades caused Draco to stumble forward.

"Malfoy!" Hagrid cried, delighted. "C'mon up!" Draco glared back to see it had been Blaise and Theo that had pushed him. They both looked totally unrepentant.

"Reckon 'e's scared 'cuz of the Grimm?" Draco heard one of the Gryffindors say. Finnegan or Thomas, he wasn't sure, but he fixed a scowl on his face as he walked toward the hippogriff.

"Right then, all's you gotta do is bow, real slow like," Hagrid instructed.

"Can't be too hard," Draco scoffed loudly, bowing slowly. "If even Weasley managed it."

Pansy laughed at his dig, high-pitched and loud, and made the mistake of glancing over to smirk at the class. He realized what a horrible, terrible decision he'd made when he heard Granger's gasp, and looked back at the hippogriff only to see its claws descending.

Draco had never dealt with pain very well.

A symptom of being a coddled only child, perhaps? Whatever it was, he didn't remember too much detail, other than a vague recollection of Granger yelling that he should be taken to the hospital wing, and then Madam Pomfrey managed to get a pain potion down him, and he fell right to sleep.

When he awoke, the next day, it was to find that he'd missed several classes, including Defense, and a visit from his father.

It was the latter that had him a bit nervous.

Madam Pomfrey cleared him shortly after he awoke, after a dose of Dittany and instructions to return the next day so she could check on the nearly healed wound.

He went to find a quill and parchment immediately. At least it wasn't his right arm that was injured, he grumbled to himself, as he penned a letter to his father, thanking him for his concern, and for visiting. Draco (on paper, anyway) expressed regret that he hadn't been awake for his father's visit, and did his very best to downplay the injury. Whatever action his father had decided upon, he would most likely be unable to dissuade him from, but he thought he should at least try.

His father's reply came via the Daily Prophet.

"Your father's in the Prophet," Pansy said at breakfast.

"Brilliant," Draco said, distracted by Weasley, Longbottom, and Granger glaring at him from the Gryffindor table. He sneered back.

"He's having that hippogriff that attacked you put down."

"What?" Draco said, finally giving Pansy his full attention.

"That nasty beast that hurt you, Drakey," she cooed. "He's going to have it executed."

"Don't call me that," Draco said automatically, and tried to grab the paper from her. She pulled back and glared at him.

"Manners, Draco, whatever would Narcissa say?" She asked, but without waiting for an answer, handed him the front page, sniffing, "I only need the Society pages, anyway."

Draco read the article quickly. His father had filed a suit to have Hagrid's hippogriff executed.

Well, he thought, that explained the abrupt increase in hatred emanating towards him from the Gryffindor table.

Perhaps he should just run away and hide in the forest with Cygna, he thought gloomily, as he noticed that even some of the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws were shooting him nasty looks.

Oh, Salazar. They had Potions with the Gryffindors next.

Potions was alright, but only because Snape was his usual self. Draco made sure he was thoroughly surrounded by Slytherins in as many classes as he could.

He wished his father hadn't started a suit against the beast, but there wasn't anything he could do at this point. His father never listened to him, anyway. So, maybe he complained about his injury loudly, and wore the bandage for several days after Madam Pomfrey had said he was alright to take it off, but if he was going to suffer for what his father did, he was at least going to play it up.

What he did not expect was the look Professor Lupin gave him when he stayed after class.

"I expect your arm is feeling better?" Lupin asked, with a pointed glance at his wrapped arm. The bandage was entirely cosmetic by this point.

"Ah, yes, thank you. It's, uh, nearly healed," Draco said awkwardly. "I wanted to ask about the Patronus? You did say, on the train…"

"The Patronus spell is extremely difficult," Professor Lupin told him, seriously. "Are you sure you want to learn it?"

Draco nodded firmly.

"Good," Lupin said. "Now, first things first. The incantation goes like this: Expecto Patronum."

Chapter Text

It was difficult to find time to meet with Lupin.

The professor seemed to be unwell rather frequently, and the Slytherin team was taking Quidditch very seriously this year. They had practice several times a week, on top of his very full school schedule. His father had insisted he take Ancient Runes this year, even though Divination was scheduled at the same time, so he had private sessions with Professor Vectra twice a week, as well.

Granger was in every single class he was in. It was very annoying, and Draco frequently wondered what she was doing in Gryffindor when she was clearly a Ravenclaw. Not to mention, he had no idea how she was attending both classes, because Vectra wasn't giving them both private lessons.

All this to say, he had a lot on his plate. And his Patronus charm wasn't going well.

Draco nearly threw down his wand in frustration. He only managed to restrain himself because his father's voice echoed firmly in his head: Malfoys don't throw tantrums, Draco.

It had been months of sporadic meetings with Professor Lupin, and he still hadn't managed much progress. He'd gotten the merest wisp of a non-corporeal Patronus to appear, but nothing that would let him walk right past a Dementor safely. For Salazar's sake, it was nearly Christmas! Would he ever be able to make a Patronus?

"What were you thinking of?" Lupin asked him.

"Catching the Snitch," Draco told him, honestly. Lupin smiled and shook his head.

"That's not nearly good enough," he said. "It needs to be something that gives you deep, deep happiness. It needs to fill you up inside with joy, until you feel like it's spilling over and you can't contain it anymore, and strong enough that not even a dementor could siphon it away."

Draco frowned, deep in thought. He'd already tried a dozen different things. He didn't know what else to think of.

"How about we call it quits?" Lupin said, and Draco looked up at him, aghast.

"I can't give up!" he cried. "Diggory almost died last quidditch match – this is important!"

Diggory nearly dying wasn't his real reason of course, but it had happened, and Draco couldn't shake that image from his mind – looking up from the stands to see the dark cloaks hovering high in the sky, and then Diggory in his yellow-and-black robes fluttering down, down, down.

He'd felt totally helpless, and he'd hated it.

"No, no," Lupin assured him quickly, "I just want you to think of a better memory, and we'll try again after the holidays."

"Alright," Draco sighed despondently, trying very hard to not feel like a failure.

"You're doing very well, Draco. This spell is very difficult," Lupin said, and then, reaching in his jacket pocket for a moment, he fished out a bar of Honeyduke's Finest chocolate.

"Chocolate?" he offered.

"Pretty sure it won't help me with my Patronus, Professor," Draco said, although he was already reaching to break off a piece. He'd thought it was just a coincidence that the professor had had chocolate on the train after the dementors had come through, but it turned out that Lupin just really liked chocolate. He always had some on him, and he always got the best quality, too.

"No, it can't," Lupin said. "I was mostly hoping it'd cheer you up a bit."

Draco rolled his eyes, but he couldn't deny he left the Defense classroom feeling a little better.

Draco tried to think of a strong memory over the break, but nothing really felt right. Eventually, although he knew it was impolite, and very personal, he'd asked his mother what she thought of for her Patronus.

He could tell she'd been surprised by the question, because she got very still for a moment, her hand resting too long on the handle of her teacup.

"Why do you ask, my darling?" she'd asked softly, but Draco could hear her voice shaking a little, and he could have kicked himself.

"I, um, I'm trying to learn how," he'd told her, "but I can't find a strong enough memory, and I thought… well, it was rude of me to ask. I'm sorry."

He'd looked down at his shoes, resisting the urge to scuff them against the floor.

"It doesn't have to be a memory," his mother had said, so quietly he nearly missed it.

"What do you mean?"

She'd smiled at him indulgently. "I imagine a future," she said, "where everyone I love is with me."

"Oh," said Draco. At that moment, he hadn't been sure it had helped much. "I'm there, right?"

His mother laughed. "Of course, you are, my silly Dragon," she said, leaning forward to kiss his forehead.

A version of himself from a year ago, or perhaps even a few months ago, would have wrinkled his nose and rubbed at his forehead the moment she'd looked away, but as his mother had smoothed down his hair (a habit of hers he'd started to complain about after his first year at Hogwarts) he'd realized what she was saying, or, more importantly, what she was indirectly saying.

"Ready to try again?" Lupin asked him when they next met, the first week back after the holidays. Draco nodded firmly.

His wand at the ready, Draco closed his eyes, and thought of all the times his mother had kissed his forehead, and smoothed back his hair, how he'd really felt – and then he opened his eyes, and said, "Expecto Patronum."

A few glowing milky-white wisps immediately sprung from his wand, but Draco could feel that there was more coming.

A snout appeared first, then a scaly neck and wings, and finally, a long, barbed tail. Draco looked up at it in awe. It wasn't true to size at all, only about twice as large as Draco himself, but that didn't make it any less amazing.

The dragon flapped its wings and made a long slow arc around the room.

"Oh, well done," Professor Lupin said, gazing up at the Patronus. He looked as mesmerized as Draco felt.

The dragon had turned around at the other end of the classroom and slowed to a halt in front of Draco. He stared at it, and then lifted his hand to its snout.

It was a bit like touching a ghost, except the sensation was warm and pleasant instead of cold, and he felt quite peaceful. The dragon nudged his hand gently, and then it misted away. Draco brought his hand down slowly, turning it back and forth.

"That was very impressive, Draco. I'm proud of you," Lupin said, smiling at him. Draco wasn't really sure what to say to that. His father's usual stamp of approval was a curt nod.

"I picked something better to think of," Draco said, feeling awkward.

"You most certainly did," Lupin agreed easily. "Now, I think this calls for some celebratory chocolate."

Draco grinned. He could definitely agree with that.

Draco awoke with great anticipation the following Friday, having decided that today he would finally sneak out to the forest. He just hoped nobody was too suspicious about how eager he was to start the day.

It wasn't to be a problem, however, because he went down to breakfast to find the Great Hall abuzz with something that had happened to the portrait outside Gryffindor Tower.

"It was Sirius Black," Theo said, leaning forward to tell him in hushed tones, as if it wasn't what the entire school was talking about.

"Slashed right through the canvas," Blaise added, in a similarly low tone. "They've had to find a replacement portrait."

"What did he want in Gryffindor Tower, anyway?" Draco asked.

Theo shrugged. "Dunno. But apparently, he used to be a Gryffindor. Maybe he hid somethin' up there."

Blaise snorted. "I just think it goes to show that it's not just Slytherins what can go bad."

All the Slytherins within hearing distance nodded in agreement, but Draco puzzled over it all the way to Defense. What had Black wanted in the school? Did the teachers know? Could they not get rid of whatever it was?

And what was Snape doing in the Defense classroom?

The Slytherins and the Gryffindors all took their seats much more quietly than they usually did.

"Turn to page three-hundred and ninety-four," Snape said, when they were all quiet.

"Excuse me, sir," ventured Weasley. "Where's Professor Lupin?"

"That's hardly any of your business, now is it, Weasley?" Snape said sharply. "Suffice it to say, your Professor finds himself incapable of teaching at the present time. Turn to page three-hundred and ninety-four."

He tapped the projector with his wand, revealing a slide on werewolves.

"Werewolves!" cried Granger, her book already open. "But sir, we're due to start Hinkypunks."

Snape turned his coldest look on her, and Draco did feel a bit (a very little bit) bad for her.

"Miss Granger," said Snape in a voice of deadly calm, "I was under the impression that I am teaching this lesson, not you. And I am telling you all to turn to page three-hundred and ninety-four." He glanced around again. "All of you! Now!"

Class was dead silent for the remainder of their time.