In hindsight, perhaps stamping on Potter’s face hadn’t been the smartest move given how he was meant to remain inconspicuous this year.
“So much for inconspicuousness…” Draco muttered on his march back to the castle. He’d missed the carriages. No thanks to Potter. He curled his fingers around the smooth Jade pendant around his neck, breathing quickly. With any luck, his body-bind on Potter would hold until he was half-way back to London. But he also knew the conductor performed sweeping charms at the end of every journey, so he was bound to be discovered. Nonetheless, the brief release of irritation Draco had been holding onto since the day’s tedious interactions with his peers had been somewhat satisfying, if stupid.
He closed his eyes, wordlessly counting back from ten. Calm down , he thought hard. He knew himself well enough to determine he was not at risk of suddenly having to bolt to the nearest hiding place and transform, but every outburst nudged him just a bit closer to the line. He couldn’t risk it. Especially not this year. He’d spent the summer practicing a cool, calm mask of indifference. He was well-versed in suppressing his feelings; had been since he was thirteen and the Curse had made its first unwelcome appearance into his life, but there was no such thing as over-preparation in his family.
Hopefully now he could just go to his room and relax. Apparently the day from hell had other ideas. He was intercepted at the gate by Flitwitck and Snape. He’d always found the Charms Professor’s nature overzealous and wearisome but he could really do without it today. He just wanted to go to bed.
“An inspection?” He barked, injecting as much disdain as possible into his voice. “This is ridiculous.”
“It is a necessary precaution!” Flitwick squeaked, performing all manner of un necessary spells on Draco’s luggage. Snape gave him a look as if to say ‘keep yourself in check.’ Great. He’d have this hook-nosed bat breathing down his neck all year as well. Flitwick’s wand swayed towards Draco himself, and he frowned.
“That”- he said, pointing at Draco’s neck, “What is that?”
“What does it look like?” Draco spat. “I’ve been wearing it to school for years so you can’t possibly have an issue with it now. It’s only suffused with protection charms. Surely you can tell that much.” It wasn’t a lie.
The professor tutted at Draco’s tone, twirling his father’s old walking stick this way and that in his hands.
Draco snatched it back. “It’s just a walking stick, you idiot!”
The hairs on the back of his neck prickled, and he turned sharply to be met with the sour, green-eyed gaze he thought he’d left body-bound on the train. Potter’s unlikely hero stood next to him, a pair of obtuse goggles perched on top of her blonde head. Loony Lovegood. Of course. Draco couldn’t believe he was distantly related to such an oddball. That kind of behaviour would never be tolerated in his house.
He found with dismay he couldn’t even conjure the slightest amount of satisfaction at the sight of Potter’s broken nose, blood spattered onto his awful muggle grey clothing. It was simply a reminder of how he’d let his temper get the better of him.
“Nice face, Potter.” He managed without a jot of emotion. After a final murderous glance at the two of them, Draco gave a single flick of his wand and levitated the rest of his luggage out of the professor’s keen grasp, following it with hasty steps up the dark path towards the illuminated castle ahead.
Unluckily for him, Snape caught up.
“Your decorum was foolish, Draco.” He said at length, “If you continue to behave in such a manner they will notice”-
-”They won’t notice shit.” Draco countered, “They’ll be too busy fawning over their Chosen One to notice me.”
“Dumbledore will have other ideas.” Said Snape, raising his voice ever so slightly. “He will want to talk to you.”
“He can talk to me as much as he wants.” Draco laughed without humour, “It won’t make a difference.”
“Draco, your mother”-
Draco stopped in the middle of the path. His ex-potions professor’s beetle-like eyes glittered in the darkness.
“My mother expects you to follow me around like a dog. I know. And I don’t care. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late and I heard they’re serving lamb chops for the main course.”
Despite his words, he skipped dinner, opting instead for a hot shower. His peace was interrupted less than an hour later by the arrival of his roommates.
“What the fuck did you do to Potty’s face?” Theodore Nott launched straight in.
“Pleasant summer then, Nott?” Draco drawled, already exhausted. He’d mercifully managed to avoid his company on the train. It seemed he was going to make up for it.
Theo snorted. “Oh come off it, Draco. So, what? You’ve already started?”
“Started what?” Draco ground out, making a show of folding his clothes and putting them into their correct places in the open drawers and wardrobes. Usually he’d never bother to do any of this manually, but anything to avoid Theo’s childish energy. It never failed him at the start of the year. Usually Draco marvelled at it. This year he was just tired.
Blaise flopped down onto his own bed. “I’m full of beef and rice pudding, Theo. Please shut up for two seconds.”
Draco shared his sentiments wholeheartedly.
“I’m just saying!” Theo continued, “If we’re gonna go all in, we should go all in, you know? Bit miffed I wasn’t invited to the Potty face-smashing party to be honest. Who’s next? Please say it’s the Weasel.”
“It wasn’t prearranged, Theo.” Said Draco, hauling on his pyjamas. His limbs felt like lead. He placed a stock of vials filled with Sleeping Draught into his bedside drawer but he doubted he’d need one tonight. Even Theo’s constant jabbering was already starting to become background noise. As Theo came up with worryingly advanced plans to prank the Golden Trio, Draco noticed the two empty beds at the end of the room.
“Where are Crabbe and Goyle?”
“Dunno. Anyway, so yeah like I was saying”-
-”They were called to Dumbledore’s office.” Said Blaise, his voice edged with knowing. Draco met his eyes, remembering Snape’s warning.
Blaise raised a brow. “Do you? Because you know you’re next.”
Draco groaned and tucked himself into bed, turning away from his overly-perceptive roommate.
“The old fuck doesn’t have anything to say to me I don’t already know.” He said. It was easier to pretend nonchalance when no one could see his face. He faked a yawn. “Besides, it’s not me he should be worried about. It’s this joke of a school. The security is absolute bollocks. They didn’t even find the Baneberry Potion I have stashed in my father’s cane.” These were his friends. It was okay to tell them, especially under the guise of boasting. Besides, a pinch of truth helped a lie go a long way.
Theo stopped. “Why in the name of Merlin’s frilly knickers have you got Baneberry Potion?”
Draco gave a long sigh. “You know what my parents are like. Constantly worried someone is after me. They forget the only people who give a shit what I do are morally constipated teachers and Potter and his band of idiots. I’ll be fine.”
Even without looking, he could sense Blaise and Theo sharing a look.
“You know,” Blaise began slowly in a voice that implied he was about to give Draco a lecture. It wouldn’t be the first time. “We didn’t hear from you all summer. Even Pansy was worried.”
“Really?” Said Draco, “She didn’t say anything on the train.”
“She wouldn’t,” Theo laughed, “She fancies the pants off you.”
“Tell her she’s barking up the wrong tree.”
“Maybe you should tell her”-
-”That’s not the point.” Blaise cut in. “Everything alright, mate?”
Draco paused. These were his friends, yes, but even they didn’t know his deepest secret. His darkest secret. They might think they know. They might even have guessed the Dark Lord had given him a task to complete. But they could never know the real truth. No one could. His fingers found the Jade pendant under the sheets.
“Shut up, Blaise.” He said.
“Would you just”-
Draco turned in his bed to fix them both with a hard look. “You’re actually pissing me off now. You’re starting to sound like a bloody Hufflepuff.”
Blaise, as always, was unaffected by Draco’s insults. He gave him a look of equal measure, but he said nothing else.
“So if we’re done? I’d really appreciate some sleep.” With that, he spelled the bed curtains shut, enclosing himself in the cold comfort of darkness. He closed his eyes.
Day one was over.
Only one hundred and eighty-nine to go. One hundred and eighty-nine tedious days to complete his task.
The Curse inside him roiled, and he pushed it down. We’ve made it this far , he told it silently, don’t you dare fuck things up for me now . But when had the beast ever been compliant?
It was October. Harry scanned the Marauder’s map for the fifth time that night. By now, even Ron had noticed. Harry heard Ron mutter a spell and felt the silencing charms go up around them a second later.
“Harry, who are you looking for?” Ron asked tiredly from his bed.
Harry resolved not to answer that question. It had become increasing habit over the last couple of months to track the whereabouts of none other than Draco Malfoy throughout the castle. Harry had started to notice (he couldn’t be sure when he’d noticed exactly) that Malfoy’s little footsteps frequently disappeared off the map entirely. This was not new. Harry had seen it happen before - ever since he’d got the map from the twins in fact - but back then it had been sporadic. Harry was thrown back into those days, often nights, where he’d lie awake wondering where on earth had Draco Malfoy got to? Upon asking Hermione in fourth year, she’d proclaimed his father probably had special rights to see his son whenever he wished. Governors privilege, and all that. At the time, Harry had decided she was almost certainly right. Malfoy spent so much time bragging about his father that no doubt he had special permission to wander off from school and saunter off home whenever he pleased, but now the disappearances were so frequent that Harry was becoming doubtful that the reason for his absence was to make the odd moonlight flit to his Manor. Especially when most of the disappearances happened at night. Harry had concluded with complete conviction that Malfoy was a Death Eater. Ron and Hermione had been skeptical enough the first few times he’d said it. He didn’t have the energy to face it again now.
“No one.” Lied Harry, reluctantly shoving the map under his pillow.
Ron huffed. “Could you turn out the light, then? I can’t sleep.”
“Close your curtains!”
“You know I hate sleeping with the curtains shut.”
Harry couldn’t dispute that. He did too. The closeness of it reminded him too much of his cupboard. He shivered involuntarily at the thought.
On the nights where the moon shone bright enough to project beams across his bed, Harry made do with its meagre light, but the sky was dark tonight. And Draco Malfoy was missing. Again. He sighed.
“Oi, mate?” Said Ron a moment later.
“Can I ask you something?”
Harry laughed. “You just did.”
Ron’s pillow hit him in the face with force. “Hey! What was that for?” He threw it back and it landed on the floor pathetically.
“Don’t be sarky, I’m serious!”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, go on then.”
Something about the way Ron paused made Harry’s stomach turn with nerves.
“Do you… you know… like someone?”
Harry snorted. Okay. He hadn’t expected that one.
“It’s just, Hermione and me have noticed, you seem to be… a bit out of it. It’s not Cho Chang again is it, Harry? Because she’s a right one, her.”
Harry shook his head, laughing. “You’re balmy.”
Ron sat up in bed to face Harry, casting a Lumos . “No but really though.” He continued at full force, “At first we thought it was that bloody potions book and all the Half-Blood Prince business”-
-”Please stop telling me to get rid of it.”-
-”but I think it’s more than that. Well… Hermione does. I thought you might just have indigestion.” He grinned in the dark, the Lumos illuminating his teeth.
“She’s overthinking.” Said Harry. “You both are.”
Ron fell back down onto the cushions, tracing shapes of light in the air with his wand.
“Yeah, thought you might say that.”
Harry frowned, humour gone. “But you believe me though, right?”
Ron hesitated a second too long. “Yeah, mate.” He turned out his light.
A long silence passed between them in which both of them knew neither was sleeping. Harry’s thoughts had just begun to stray to Malfoy again when Ron suddenly said,
“It’s just, I thought it might be Ginny.”
Harry blinked up at the dark ceiling, totally in shock. “ Ginny ?” Thank Godric for silencing charms.
“Is it really that mad?” Said Ron, “Only you got all weird when you saw Dean with her last week.”
Harry slapped a hand against his forehead. “Not because I fancy her!”
“Why then?” Ron challenged.
Despite the silencing charms Harry whispered, “Because Dean is gay!”
Now it was Ron’s turn to be shocked. “You… what? Dean is gay ? Where did you get that from?”
It wasn’t obvious? Harry sat up straight. “One: he used to joke about it all the time. You know, all the kissing jokes in fourth year? Two: he has no trouble hugging girls but he’s really awkward around us. Three: he was all over Seamus when we got drunk at the beginning of the year”-
-”Alright, alright! Christ… I didn’t notice at all.”
Harry found that strange. He thought everyone knew. Which is why he’d been more than shocked to see he and Ginny together.
“So you really don’t like Ginny then?”
Harry sighed. “Of course I like her, Ron. Just... not like that. Besides, she’s your sister.”
Ron chuckled. “Yeah. But at least I know you’d be good to her. I kept thinking it would be great if you two got married because then we’d actually be brothers.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “I don’t need to marry your sister to treat you like a brother, Ron.”
“Don’t get soppy or I’ll have to whack you with my pillow again.”
“Blimey, what am I gonna tell, Gin? Sorry, sis, your boyfriend is gay. I mean…”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed with a long huff. “Must be hard on him too, though. If I’m right, obviously. I dunno. Maybe I’m seeing things.”
“Nah, now that you’ve said it I think you might be right.” Said Ron. “You are alright though, aren’t you Harry? I mean…” He hesitated again, and Harry heard him inhale shakily, “this summer can’t have been easy after Sirius…” Ron didn’t finish the sentence. Harry didn’t want him to.
A fresh stab of pain lanced through him and he fisted his hands in the sheets, curling into a ball. The hollow cave in his chest cried out and the flash of camera bulbs lit up behind his eyelids, as vivid as they were the night reporters had captured his grief and plastered it all over the papers.
“I’m fine.” He said quietly, knowing he sounded anything but fine. “Night, Ron.”
“... Night, Harry.” The regret in Ron’s voice echoed long after they’d said goodnight to each other.
The issue of 12 Grimmauld Place loomed over Harry’s psyche like a thunder cloud. Sirius had left Harry absolutely everything. Even the Order hadn’t got a say in what they did with the place. Of course Harry said they could have it and use it at their leisure. But by next year, it would be time to leave Hogwarts, and Harry would need a place to live. That’s if he made it that far.
The threat of the war was more real now than it had ever been before. Many didn’t return to Hogwarts this year, their parents choosing to keep their kids home. Hogwarts was a fortress, for Merlin’s sake. But maybe if his parents were still alive they’d want him to stay with them too… Maybe even Sirius would have-
Sirius was gone. And Harry had a mystery to solve.
He grit his teeth and closed his curtains, focusing instead on the map as he waited for Draco Malfoy’s label to appear by the light of his wand. He doubted he would sleep tonight.
It had been a busy night for Draco. The Vanishing Cabinet had proven to be a nasty piece of work, and he’d spent the past four hours just trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Draco was still in the diagnostic stage; casting varying degrees of analysis spells to determine just how many layers of fuckery he had to go through before he had any hope of solving whatever was broken. He’d seen its twin in Diagon Alley, and secretly cast a few wandering diagnostic charms on that one to determine what this one should look like after he was finished with it. He’d mistakenly thought this was the easy part.
Draco’s grades had dropped drastically since September which had confused Blaise to no end because he spent almost all of his time reading. These books in particular were summoned directly from the library in the Manor, most of them illegal. He hadn’t dared to set foot in Hogwarts’ restricted section after the talk he’d been given by Dumbledore at the start of the year.
“Is there something you’d like to tell me, Draco?”
Draco had scoffed without meaning to. Perhaps it was the use of his first name coupled with the irony that he was facing the man he’d been tasked to kill by the end of term.
“Really, sir. I don’t know why you bothered to summon me up here.”
Dumbledore surveyed him from over his half-moon glasses, bright blue eyes twinkling in the fire light of his warm office.
“I will not insult you by feigning ignorance.” Said Dumbledore, “I am aware that your father was involved in the attack on the ministry last year and that he’s now carrying out his sentence in”-
-”You don’t know anything about my father!” Draco had fired back, becoming heated. He’d closed his eyes briefly, willing himself to calm down as the Curse prickled the back of his throat, threatening to turn his shouts into growls. He resisted the urge to touch his pendant, as he so often did when he felt like this.
“We can help each other, Draco.” The Headmaster told him. The softness of his voice and the bony hand he laid on Draco’s shoulder, its fingers mysteriously blackened, only served to irritate Draco further. He shoved him off.
“You can’t help me.” He said quickly. Too quickly. “There’s nothing to help me with.”
Dumbledore’s bird, the Phoenix, swooped from his perch and came to rest on Dumbledore’s desk. It fixed Draco with a beady glare. Draco felt scrutinized by the fantastic creature. It was magical after all, and he was scared the bird could see something inside Draco no one else could. He knew animals sensed it. They often instinctively fled from Draco on sight - or attacked. He thought bitterly of his run in with the Hippogriff in third year. He’d thought he was in for it, but thankfully the attack was blamed on Draco’s arrogance rather than the Curse. His parents had known better and reprimanded him to no end. Now, Draco looked into the wizened old features of his target. His enemy . Little do you know, he thought, I could transform right now and -
“Sometimes, Draco, we are given a choice and we are made to think there is no escape from it. Or perhaps made to believe there is only one way out.”
Draco grit his teeth.
“There is never one ultimatum. Do you understand?”
Once he left the office, Draco had allowed himself to cry for the first time since coming back to Hogwarts.
He realized then had to keep his wits about him. He wasn’t stupid enough to think Dumbledore didn’t already suspect him, and if he began rooting around the restricted section he was bound to be found out.
But tonight his concerns were not with the Vanishing Cabinet. No, tonight he had a date with Madam Rosmerta. Not that she knew it.
Usually Draco had no problem slipping past the wards without detection. He’d done it hundreds of times before. But he noticed this time they were a little... tighter . It had taken him weeks to plan this endeavour. He’d been hoping to win the Felix Felicis in Slughorn’s moronic first class but somehow Potter had managed to filch the opportunity from him. He’d been livid.
But no matter, his skills alone could get him through this. So far so good. The wards were tricky, but he’d practiced with far worse in his own home.
It was a freezing November night, and Draco wrapped his thick woolen coat around himself. Time to cast a Glamour.
He made himself look older - not by much, just enough to get away with being in a pub an hour before midnight - and gave himself black hair. He tried not to over analyse his decision as he was momentarily reminded of Potter, so he shook himself free of the thought and made his way to The Three Broomsticks.
Despite his avid preparation, adrenaline spurned through Draco’s veins as he entered the pub, a light hubbub ringing in his ears and the scent of cinnamon invading his senses. It smelled delicious and he hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but he forced his attention to the woman behind the bar. It was with a chill that he recognised Minerva McGonagall sitting at the bar in animated conversation with the barmaid herself. Draco cursed under his breath and shrunk to a dark corner of the pub where he sat, nursing a flask of Pumpkin Juice, until McGonagall left almost half an hour later. His heart threatened to beat out of his ribcage as they made eye contact for a split second. She gave him a slight nod in greeting. He returned it, unable to believe his luck.
Taking his time, Draco sauntered up to the bar.
“What can I do for ya?” Madam Rosmerta asked easily.
“Firewhisky.” Draco grunted, keeping his eyes locked on the bar-top. As Rosmerta summoned the bottle it occurred to him that he’d only ever drank Firewhiskey once. He tried to make it look convincing as he knocked back the neat liquor, and tried not to wince as it burned tracks down his throat.
On the bright side, his voice sounded considerably gruffer now and the lightheadedness that came with intoxication granted him the confidence to poke his wand from his sleeve and cast an Imperio on Rosmerta. Her eyes went blank instantly and she swayed on the spot. From his other sleeve, Draco slid free a vial of Baneberry potion.
“You will take a bottle of mead and this vial, and you will pour its contents inside.” He murmured low so only she could hear. “The next time you see Professor Horace Slughorn you will give him the mead and tell him it will make a fine gift for Professor Dumbledore. Do you understand me? Nod if you understand.”
Like the puppet she’d become, Rosmerta nodded obediently and took the vial from Draco. Blank-eyed, she hobbled to the back of the bar, picked out a fresh bottle of oak matured mead, uncorked the vial and tipped its contents inside. Then she wrapped it in brown paper and set it aside, marking it with a label that read: For H. Slughorn.
Before lifting the Unforgivable Curse, Draco ducked his head and strode out of the pub, wordlessly breaking the spell as numbingly cold air surrounded him, blown by a harsh wind.
He’d done it…
Now wasn’t the time to get cocky. There was a huge chance this might not work. But he had an insurance plan, the contents of which were waiting at the Manor, to be sent by owl and wrapped up extensively. He only hoped this method would work first. It was almost painless as poisons went.
Draco braced himself against the vile winds, vaguely wondering why he cared. The method was irrelevant. As long as Dumbledore was dead by the end of the year… as long as…
His sobs were lost in the howls of wind and the first spits of rain. It was just as well, because he couldn’t stop them. He looked towards the forest, its dark branches beckoning him in. It would be so easy to let go, to release the imprisoned energy he’d been holding onto since the beginning of term, but he couldn’t. He’d had a sleepless three nights in preparation for this one. He had to make it to bed tonight, or he’d end up missing lessons tomorrow. And if he did that, someone would suspect him. And if they suspected him, it would be harder to do this. Even harder than it already was.
Blaise, Theo, Gregory and Vincent were playing a game of exploding snap in the dorm room when Draco finally made it indoors. He’d had the sense to cast a warming charm over himself and remove the Glamour, so he hoped there wouldn’t be too many questions. Even so he couldn’t help himself from asking as he hung his coat up, frowning:
“What are you doing? It’s almost one in the morning and we have Potions first thing tomorrow.”
A silence followed his question. They’d been doing that a lot lately. Not so much Gregory and Vincent - they were usually quiet due to the lack of words their addled brains provided - but Blaise and Theo were giving him very odd looks indeed.
“It’s Vinnie’s birthday.” Said Theo, not bothering to hide his disdain. “We were celebrating. We waited for you earlier but we decided not to bother in the end.”
Draco gave Vincent a nod. “Oh, right. Happy birthday.”
Hardly in the mood for their childish snubbing, Draco locked himself in the bathroom and stripped down. He felt dirty, covered in a layer of invisible grime. He washed himself for what felt like hours, using copious amounts of soap and cleansing potions until his skin was prickly and raw. Steam filled the bathroom, fogging up the mirror. Good, Draco thought. He didn’t want to see his own face. His reflection was haunting him of late, the dark circles becoming more prominent each day, his pallor waning to match his shock of white-blond hair. Draco rubbed his left arm. Even though the skin there was blank, he knew it would not be for long. Soon he would be branded with the same tattoo his father carried. It would make no difference. He was already bound by the same rules; stricter rules in fact than any other Death Eater. It wasn’t fair. If he failed, his family would die. He would die. He hadn’t seen any other Death Eaters attempt to assassinate Albus Dumbledore, so why was this his task? He wasn’t even seventeen yet.
He could think of no other reason the Dark Lord would have for doing this other than his own amusement. The dark wizard’s amused lipless smirk was often the subject of Draco’s nightmares.
“You will do me well, Draco. You will do better than your father.”
Draco knew the strain he was on his family; how they feared his secret would come out. If the Dark Lord knew what Draco was and what he could do…
The Curse seemed to relish the idea, roiling deep in Draco’s gut with vigour. Would the Dark Lord let it free? Draco sucked in a breath, trying to banish the thoughts. They were the result of sleep deprived paranoia, he knew, brought on by the stress of what he’d done today. But this was just the start.
He wiped a section of the mirror clean, just enough so he could stare at the Jade pendant hanging around his neck. It was unassuming; a pretty stone cut into the shape of a small rod. But it was his barrier. His protector. The only thing keeping the Curse from overtaking him completely. He brought it to his lips and sighed.
“No one will know. No one will ever find out. I promise, mother.”
And he had promised. From the day he turned thirteen to the day he’d left his mother on the platform at King’s Cross amidst the snide remarks and camera flashes of The Prophet’s shameless journalists, he promised his secret would be upheld. Especially from the Dark Lord.
Not long now and he could go home to their secret room and let the Curse free for one night, as he had done every two months for the past three and a half years. It was the only place his secret was truly safe.
Quidditch practice was no fun when all your Keeper could talk about was his new girlfriend.
“I’m not saying everyone should have this experience, Harry,” Ron was saying as they walked off the pitch, red-faced and spattered with mud, “but I’ve learnt some really valuable stuff from Lavender.”
“Like what? The compatibility of a Leo and a Gemini?”
Ron blinked. “Alright, look. I know her obsession with astrology is a bit”-
Ron huffed. “Well… okay. But that’s not all we talk about!”
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen you do much talking.” Said Harry.
Ginny snorted. “I’m surprised you still have the ability to talk, Ron. I thought that girl would’ve stolen your voice, she’s had her tongue down there so much.”
She and Harry laughed and Ron pouted.
“Says you.” Ron fired back. “You and Dean aren’t exactly strangers to snogging, Gin.”
Ginny’s face darkened. “Yeah, well… I don’t want to talk about Dean right now.”
She pushed past them into the girl’s changing room. Harry and Ron shared a look.
“Alright, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” Said Ron before Harry could.
“You think?” Harry pulled out the map, instinctively searching for a name. He found it heading towards the Owlery.
“Mate…” Said Ron in a low voice.
It was almost six o’clock. Nearly time for dinner. The Owlery was empty at this hour. There must be a reason Malfoy had chosen to go up there now. The name vanished from his sight as the map was yanked from his hands.
“You haven’t even showered yet!” Said Ron.
Harry reached for the map but Ron held it high above his head. It wasn’t fair that his best friend was so much taller than him.
“Give that back!”
“I’m confiscating this until after dinner.” He told him, sounding uncannily like Mrs. Weasley. “Hermione will shout at you if she sees you staring at this thing again. It’s not normal, Harry.”
Harry grit his teeth. “Fine.” He knew where he had to go. “I’ll meet you for pudding.”
He stormed out of the changing rooms without showering. He had no time to lose. The march up to the Owlery was grim. Winter was closing in fast and the rain turned to sleet. Harry wiped a stripe of mud across his face as he attempted to dry it. He shucked off his Quidditch gloves, shoving them in his pocket.
By the time he reached the top of the stairs, he was panting and clutching a stitch in his side.
Malfoy didn’t see him right away. He was stood in front of the window, dimly lit by torches lining the walls. Harry’s first thought was how thin Malfoy looked. His clothes hung off him loosely and his long-fingered hands were gaunt around the parcel they were holding. He appeared to be shaking. Whether from cold or emotion, Harry could not tell. Harry made to hide himself, but his shifting feet against the stone floor caused Malfoy to turn sharply. Unguarded shock clouded Malfoy’s eyes, and Harry was struck by vulnerable he looked before his features arranged into an expression of pure venom.
Harry scowled back by default. “What are you up to, Malfoy?”
Malfoy sneered “Up to? My, the death of your good for nothing godfather really has got you paranoid, hasn’t it? Oh, yes. I know all about him. Well, he isn’t here to save you now. I thought I taught you a lesson on the train, but I can see it’ll take more than that.”
Harry’s blood turned hot. He saw red. He reached for his wand before he knew what he was doing.
“Talk about Sirius like that again and I’ll burn your tongue out.” He snarled, advancing.
Malfoy gripped the parcel tighter, the letter in his other hand fluttering by the draft.
“Sod off, Potter. I’m sure someone is in dire need of saving. Perhaps you should go to them instead of following me around like a fucking shadow.”
Harry gripped his wand tighter, refusing to believe Malfoy had actually found him out. He’d been careful. Or so he thought. Was Malfoy more perceptive than he realized? Moody’s (Or rather Barty Crouch Jr’s) mantra rang in his ears: “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”
Well, he hadn’t been the only one in that classroom. Malfoy must have learnt a thing or two from his fellow Death Eater after all. He chanced a risk at Malfoy’s arm which was, of course, covered by a sleeve.
“Oh, please!” Malfoy exclaimed, noticing the action, “You don’t actually believe I’m a - Merlin’s beard, you do! ”
Malfoy laughed, his voice echoing around the tower. It was an awful sound; full of malice and scorn.
“Have you told your minions your theory, Potter? Where are they now? The Mudblood and the Weasel?”
Harry remained silent, refusing to rise to the bait.
Realization dawned on Malfoy’s face, his deductions impressively quick.
“Ah… they don’t believe you, do they?”
It must have shown in Harry’s reaction, because Malfoy barked another horrible laugh, his pale pointed face twisting into something hollow and empty.
“The only thing that’s sad is how pathetic your lies are, Malfoy. What’s in there?” He pointed at the package with his wand.
Draco leant against the wall casually, “Just a trinket. A gift from my mother.” He smirked, “You couldn’t possibly afford it.”
Malfoy’s derision scorched through Harry like a spell in itself, rattling him with seething rage. His wand hand shook with it.
“You don’t get it, do you? I don’t hate you because you’re rich, you stupid stuck up bastard. I don’t even hate you because you’re a Slytherin. I hate you because of what you’re doing. What you’re letting happen !”
Malfoy’s jaw clenched tight.
“Even if you’re not a Death Eater - which I don’t believe for a second by the way - your father is. Your family is hurting people, Malfoy, and every day you stand by and watch it happen, you’re letting innocent people die!” Harry couldn’t stop it. The words poured from him; from the hollow space in his chest where Sirius had made his home three years ago only to be cruelly snatched away, and by this boy’s aunt nonetheless. Harry despised him for it.
A second passed. Two. An Eagle owl screeched its protest at Harry’s yelling. Malfoy raised a single, platinum brow.
“How eloquent of you, Potter.” He drawled. Something behind his eyes was different. Harry saw it, a flame flickering behind the glacial grey pools that now bored into him with spite. “I’ll make sure to pass that on to my father. In Azkaban .”
He made to leave, leaving a cold breeze in his wake.
“Tell your mother too.” Harry muttered, “No doubt she’s one as well.”
Before Harry could process what was happening, he was being slammed against the hard stone doorframe. His head made contact with a sharp crack and he saw stars.
“Don’t you say a damn thing about my mother, Potter.” Malfoy hissed in his face, jamming his hand against Harry’s throat.
Still recovering from the blow to his head, all Harry could do was glare up at his assailant. He’d been waiting for a moment to get this close. And do… what? Apprehend him? Drag him to Dumbledore’s office tied up and bound and declare him guilty? He hadn’t thought that far ahead, and now he might never get to. Malfoy could actually kill him.
“Or what?” He challenged. He was asking for trouble and he knew it. But something kept pushing him further.
Malfoy looked even worse up close. The sharp angles of his face were kept rigid in a constant frown. His eyes were manic, surrounded by hollow sockets that suggested a severe lack of sleep. If he was someone else, Harry might have felt sorry for him. Maybe a tiny part of him did.
“You don’t understand.” Malfoy continued. “She’s not”-
He stopped, his face turning to a picture of confusion, seemingly by his own words.
“She’s not what?” Harry choked out. “One of you?”
Malfoy released him harshly. Harry doubled over, breathing hard and rubbing the back of his head. No blood. Small mercies were aplenty.
“You know fuck all about me, Potter. Stay away from me. I mean it.”
Malfoy was gone before Harry had the chance to hex him. He should have done it earlier. With a frustrated grunt he marched into the Owlery, plucked some parchment from his bag and a slightly bent quill, and began writing.
I think you’re the only person I can trust with this. I think you’ll understand. Please promise to hear me out.
Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater.
He all but confessed it to me just now. I think he means to hurt someone, or maybe all of us. I don’t know what to do. Ron and Hermione don’t believe me. He keeps disappearing at odd hours and his father is in Azkaban! It makes sense! Anyway, I could really do with some help. Please.
It was quick. Crude. Blotched with mud. But it would do. Harry grabbed the nearest owl with some force, earning him a sharp nip on the finger, and tied the rolled up parchment to its leg.
“Make sure he gets it.” He told the tawny owl, who gave him a steely stare that suggested something like: Of course I will. Why do you think I’m here you rude arsehole? And then Harry had to blink because he’d just had an imaginary conversation with an owl. Maybe he’d hit his head harder than he thought.
Harry sprinted back to the Gryffindor common room, took a speedy shower and ran back to the Great Hall. He was in time for pudding as it turned out.
Ron turned to him, face full of Eton Mess, looking sheepish. Hermione scowled.
“Where were you?” She demanded the second he sat down.
“Owlery.” Said Harry easily, helping himself to a large helping of dessert. “I found Draco Malfoy there.”
Hermione stared at him, incredulous. “You’re not even denying it. You’re stalking him. Oh, Harry”-
-”He’s a Death Eater, Hermione.” Said Harry, shrugging. He’d said it so many times it was almost second nature.
“I tried ‘o ‘ell ‘im.” Ron said through a full mouth. Hermione grimaced.
“Swallow your food, Ron. Seriously, Harry. You have to drop this. You have to think about your NEWTs! Not to mention keeping yourself safe from”-
-”Death Eaters. Yes.” Harry finished for her. “That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
As if on cue, he met Malfoy’s gaze across the Hall. Harry stared back, unflinching. The back of his head still throbbed and he channeled his unspent rage into his glare, into the things he would have said if Malfoy hadn’t run off like a coward. Usually it was something of a contest: who could stare the longest ? But tonight, Malfoy was the first to relent. He cast his eyes downward back at the table while his friends laughed amongst themselves. Malfoy sat apart from them. He had been doing so for some weeks, Harry had noticed, but he was only now beginning to see it. To understand what it meant.
Malfoy’s mission was his, and his alone.
“Harry, are you listening?” Hermione said in a pleading tone.
Harry met her eyes. He softened. “You don’t need to worry about me, Hermione. If you would just listen.”
“We are listening. And it…” She glanced at Ron for support.
“It sounds like a cry for help, mate.”
Mortally offended, Harry gaped at them. “A cry for help ?” He echoed, unable to believe his ears.
Hermione’s eyes glistened.
“Bloody hell, don’t cry .” Harry said. He gave a disbelieving laugh. “You’re off your rockers, the pair of you.”
Hermione took his hand, and he hated the pity in her voice. “Harry, we know it’s been hard. We know.”
“Sirius loved you, and he wouldn’t want”-
-”Stop!” Harry shouted, catching the attention of the whole of Gryffindor table. Probably the whole room. He didn’t care to look up and find out.
“We’re trying to help you!” Said Ron.
“Then help me!” Harry cried as he stood, chest heaving with emotion. “Help me.” He said again, smaller. He sounded like a child.
Tears tracked down Hermione’s face, her eyes filled with concern. Harry couldn’t bear it. He turned away and marched right back out the way he’d come, throat constricted with the need to shout - scream - anything. No one would fucking listen .
He only had to search for a minute before he found the map in Ron’s drawers. He took it and found himself in the library ten minutes later. No one was going to look for him here. He rarely went to the library unless it was with Hermione so he was confident he wouldn’t be found. Trying to quell the emotions raging inside of him at the mention of Sirius, Harry tried to concentrate on Malfoy’s name, penned in sentient calligraphy against the aged parchment.
Why was everyone using Sirius against him today? He knew Hermione hadn’t meant to do it the way Malfoy had, but it stung. He knew Sirius would be on his side about this, which is why he’d written to Remus first. Remus would understand, just like Sirius would. Right?
Harry’s thoughts eventually calmed as he watched the map, and he perked up again once he saw Malfoy making a move. First, he went to the Slytherin common room. Boring. After an hour or so of the marker sitting still, Harry was about to give up and slope back to the Gryffindor common room where he’d no doubt apologise for his outburst and join Ron for a game of chess - as was their usual routine - but then Malfoy began to walk again. The tiny black footsteps travelled from the dungeons, up and up until he reached the passageway behind the statue of Gregory the Smarmy on the fifth floor, one Harry himself was all too familiar with. It led to the Forbidden Forest. Why Malfoy wanted to go there, Harry had no idea. It was sure to be something Death Eater related.
Harry didn’t even hesitate as he gathered his things and made for the library exit. That was until he heard the hushed, but passionate tail-end of an argument from behind a bookcase.
“...don’t understand why you don’t want to spend time with me anymore! You keep using NEWTs as an excuse but I hardly see you studying.”
“That’s the point, Ginny. I study on my own so you’ll hardly see it, will you?”
“You spend more time with your friends than you ever have with me.”
“So, what? This is my fault?”
“I don’t know! Fuck knows, alright? I have no fucking idea what’s going on with you.”
Harry grimaced. If Dean wasn’t careful he’d be on the other side of one of Ginny’s famous Bat-Bogey Hexes.
The argument ended with Dean storming out. Harry lingered where he was for a second. If he passed Ginny too soon, she’d think he’d been eavesdropping. Which he had been, but that wasn’t the point.
Ginny’s quiet sniffles sounded moments later. Fuck. Was she crying ? Despite his misgivings, Harry didn’t like to hear her hurt.
He stepped out from where he was standing (hiding). Ginny looked up, red-eyed, but she didn’t seem surprised.
“Christ, Harry. Did you hear all that?” She croaked.
“Err… not all of it?” He tried.
Ginny laughed a little before burying her head in her hands and letting out a sob that had Harry worrying Madam Pince may appear at any second to banish them.
Harry wrapped his arms around her, and awkwardly remembered what Ron had said about him liking her. The thought made him uneasy. She was like his sister.
“I swear I’m gonna launch Dean into the lake if he pulls any of his shit again.” She muttered furiously against Harry’s shoulder. “He’d do well with the Giant Squid. Godric knows he kisses like one.”
Harry laughed. “And you’ve kissed the Giant Squid, have you?”
“No, but sometimes I think it would understand me better than he does.” She sighed and pulled away from him, wiping her nose. “Sorry for snotting on your shirt. That was disgusting.”
Harry shrugged. “S’alright. It’s already green from the grass stains I can’t Scourgify clean so it won’t make much of a difference.”
“Ugh.” Said Ginny, but she laughed, so it was alright. “Walk with me to the common room, will you?”
Harry squirmed. Draco Malfoy was going to the Forbidden Forest. But Ginny was upset. But Malfoy was up to something. Her face fell.
“Unless… you’re busy.”
“No, no!” Said Harry quickly, already wishing he’d said yes. Nonetheless, he accompanied Ginny out of the library and tried to shove all thoughts of Draco-Sodding-Malfoy out of his head. There was time yet to catch him. It wasn’t even Christmas. It was okay.
It was okay.
Inside the parcel is the gift you asked for. Do not under any circumstances open it. It is ready to be sent as it is.
I’ve also enclosed some chocolates. I’m sure your last supply must have run out by now.
I am afraid I have some very bad news. This is the last I will be able to say on the matter because soon they will be intercepting my letters, but I’m afraid you cannot come home this month to use the Sky Room. They’re coming here. The Manor is becoming a temporary base and by the time this letter reaches you it will not be safe for you to come here and be yourself. I am so so sorry my darling. You must find a place at Hogwarts, somewhere not too far from the castle where the wards can still protect you. I know you think you are strong, but you must not let anyone see you. I will try and get rid of them as soon as I can. Hopefully they will decide our house is not suitable ground for a base when they discover the Bogarts I have placed in every bedroom, but I cannot vouch for its safety for now.
Remember what we talked about before you left. Please reply soon and tell me how you are. Stay safe sweetheart and trust Severus when you are in the castle. He will protect you.
My love always,
Draco threw the letter into the fire, quashing the well of anger and fear that rose inside him again. He was fucked. Well and truly fucked. The only place he’d ever been able to safely transform was the Sky Room at the Manor. If he transformed here, all manner of things could go wrong. But he had to, otherwise the Curse would take matters into its own hands and transform him against his will. It needed an outlet; a brief period of time to… be free. The Sky Room had been the only place he could do it without fear of being caught, but now it was being taken over by the Dark Lord’s brainless grunts.
Draco kicked his chair and swore. A couple of first years huddled over their Astronomy homework at the other end of the Common Room watched him anxiously. He glared at them until they scarpered off to their dorms.
He was half-tempted to write back and insist his mother accommodate him; just for one night, however he knew it was too dangerous. She was right. The slightest hint of Draco’s Curse would send the Dark Lord on his back right away. He’d become nothing more than a slave to the cause. A weapon. It was his worst fear.
And then there had been his moment of weakness with Potter earlier. Truly pathetic. His father would be disappointed if he’d seen how easily he’d crumpled. Draco pushed his head into his hands, carding his hands through his hair.
He had to think of something. A place he could go. There was always the Room of Requirement. He’d been going there for some time and it never failed to show him what he needed. Surely it could create a space big enough for his… purposes. But could Dumbledore detect all magic that occured within the castle? Draco didn’t know, and he didn’t want to risk it. The Vanishing Cabinet was small-scale detailed work, easily lost in the plethora of spells constantly being cast at Hogwarts. But the outburst released at his moment of transformation could cause an alarm system to go off, and that was the last fucking thing he needed.
The Shrieking Shack was too small. He was bound to cause a commotion, or worse he’d stumble in on some superstitious second years trying to perform a seance. It had been known to happen.
There was only one place for it.
The Forbidden Forest.
Draco hated the prospect of going in there, maybe even more than he hated the prospect of another inevitable confrontation with Potter. Hopefully next time Potter wouldn’t be mud caked and sopping with rain (though the water did make a significant improvement to the rat’s nest on his head, Draco hadn’t failed to notice).
Resigning to what was sure to be a long and dread filled night, Draco packed a small bag filled with the basics: some crackers he’d nicked from dinner, the parcel (he didn’t plan on going anywhere without it until it was time to use it), a fresh shirt, a pair of trousers and his wand, which he kept in his pocket.
He slipped out of the common room and made his way up to the fifth floor which was, mercifully, deserted. Draco entered the tunnel behind the statue of Gregory the Smarmy, casting a Lumos for the way.
The forest was freezing. Small crystals of ice formed on the tips of leaves and the ground crunched underfoot. He was only wearing a shirt, so the chill dug deep down to his bones. He consoled himself with the fact he wouldn’t feel it soon.
A fine mist blanketed the forest floor, concealing the creatures that made all manner of sounds amidst the leaves. Thick tree trunks surrounded him like towers. Draco would never forget his first time in this forest. The night he and Potter had run into that… thing . The sight of the dead Unicorn on the ground, silver blood pooled around its magnificent mane, had traumatised Draco. He hadn’t slept properly for months afterwards. Draco had no doubts that it had been just a typical night to Potter. It was probably a small fry to him now, if he hadn’t forgotten about it entirely.
Draco allowed the anger to consume him, unbuttoning his shirt as he trod through the undergrowth, deeper and deeper into the gloomy depths of his cursed surroundings. But he, Draco, was the most cursed creature of all who occupied the forest tonight.
He found a clearing. It was like a dish, scooped out in the middle of the forest and bathed in starlight. It was a clear night, thank Merlin, and with a jolt Draco realized this would be his first time flying outside. Draco touched the pendant on his neck.
“Keep me safe.” He breathed before he gazed up at the stars and allowed his breath to grow hot in his throat. His skin prickled like pins and needles, changing texture as Draco allowed the Curse to spread from where he usually kept it locked up tight in his core. It shot through his veins and turned his bones to ice, enclosing him in a new kind of flesh. Draco closed his eyes, knowing soon he’d be able to look with new ones.
It wasn’t painful. It never was. But it was strange, expanding in a way that seemed to go on and on and on until his fingers curled into claws and his jaw broke open into something far larger. His shoulder blades grew from his back, spreading wide into leathery wings and his tail snaked free of his vertebrae, revelling in the space it had to stretch. There were no walls out here, no ceiling to restrict his body, and he found himself growing larger than ever. When he breathed, it was to suck in gallons of oxygen, sparking his body with energy. Draco opened his eyes. His Dragon’s eyes. And he saw the stars.