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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. 

“I see.” 

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.

“Alright.” 

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.

“Yeah?”

“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. 

“What?”
“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.” 

They laughed.

“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-

No.

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?”

“Yes, sir.”

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.

Almost.

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”-

-”Annoying? Cliche?” 

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. 

“Hm?” 

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.

“How sad.” 

“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.

 

Remus,

 

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. 

 

Harry

 

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.”

“Stop…”
“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.

 

**********

 

Dearest Draco,

 

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,

 

Mother

 

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.

 

Chapter Text

Harry watched Hermione stab her toast with her fork and stuff it into her mouth, her dark eyes full of rage.

“What did it do to you?” Asked Harry.

Hermione met his eyes across the table. “What are you talking about, Harry?”

“The toast really taste that bad? I don’t think that’s its fault.” 

Hermione sighed, her mouth pulling up into a ghost of a smile at Harry’s sad attempt at humour. 

“Sorry.” She said, “I’m just tired.” 

It was all too clear where the real source of her irritation was coming from, and currently he had his arm wrapped around Lavender Brown’s waist. 

“Do they have to do that at breakfast?” Hermione seethed.

“Don’t look.” Harry warned, “Seriously, it isn’t worth getting upset over.” He realized how awful it sounded the moment the words left his mouth. “I mean, I know why you’re upset”-

Hermione just shook her head. “Don’t worry, Harry. I know what you meant.” She frowned, distracted by the huddle of students gathered around the furthest end of the Hufflepuff table. “What’s got them so energetic at this time of the morning?” 

Even Ron and Lavender had been momentarily distracted from their loved-up exchange. Harry and Hermione caught up with them on the way to the Hufflepuff table no sooner than they heard Zacharias Smith’s loud voice over the commotion.

“It’s true!” He was saying to any and all who would listen. “I saw it, I did!” 

Seamus was shaking his head. “You’re full of shit, Smith.” 

Zacharias’ pinched face turned sour. “You wish you’d seen it, Finnigan. Don’t be jealous.” 

“Seen what?” Asked Harry, all heads turning to face him. 

Zacharias’ eyes lit up at the attention from the Chosen One himself. He was still trying to win back Harry’s favour after pissing him off at the DA last year. Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. 

“A Dragon! There’s a Dragon at Hogwarts.” More gasps followed his statement as half of Ravenclaw house joined in. 

Hermione exhaled. “Oh, for goodness sake. Come on, Harry.” She began to tug his arm but Harry resisted. 

“A Dragon?” He prompted. “Where? When?”

Zacharias licked his lips. “I was out on the pitch last night getting some solid practice in, yeah? And”-

-”Right, because you can’t hang on to a Quaffle to save your life.” Said Dean. Everyone tittered. Zacharias ignored him with noticeable effort.

“I was just flying, you know, and then I saw a flash over the forest.”

“The Forbidden Forest?” Harry asked. 

Zacharias nodded vehemently. “It was… gliding. Over the trees. And it was white… no, blue maybe? I don’t know, it was hard to tell in the dark but I definitely saw it.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t just a fat seagull?” Ron remarked. Lavender shrieked a laugh as though this was the funniest thing she’d ever heard and Hermione made a great show of putting her fingers in her ears. 

Zacharias scowled. “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you lot. You can’t take anything seriously, can you?” 

Opinions flew between students, and soon they gathered the attention of the teachers.

“Mr Smith,” Said Professor McGonagall, appearing out of nowhere, her lips a stern thin line. “Would you mind enlightening me to the reason for this gathering you’ve acquired?” 

“Smith saw a Dragon, Professor!” Seamus supplied, grinning. Dean clapped him on the shoulder and the pair guffawed. 

“I did.” Said Zacharias, puffing out his chest.

McGonagall inhaled deeply. “I’m sure if there was a Dragon on the premises, Mr Smith, we would be well aware. Now I advise you to get back to your breakfast and back to”- she peered over his shoulder - “your Transfiguration homework which was, I believe, due yesterday morning.”

Zacharias blushed hotly and stared at his shoes. “Yes, Professor.” He mumbled. 

Everyone disbanded the Hufflepuff table with disgruntled murmurs. Harry retreated with Hermione, lost in thought.

“Honestly,” She was saying. “Some students will say anything for attention, though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised it’s Smith. He was a horror last year - are you alright, Harry?” 

“Yeah, no I’m fine.” Said Harry, “It’s just weird isn’t it? I mean, why make up a Dragon? You’d think he could come up with something a bit more… realistic.” 

Hermione regarded him. “You don’t believe him do you, Harry? This is Zacharias Smith we’re talking about.” 

Harry shrugged. “I dunno. I know what it’s like to know something and not have anyone believe me.” 

His accusation hung between them like an invisible wall. Hermione stiffened. 

“You know we’re trying to keep an open mind. It just seems too unlikely. I wish you would stop holding it against us.” 

Harry said nothing and finished his scrambled eggs. He sensed a pair of eyes on him, knowing exactly who they belonged to a second before he glanced upward to meet them. How very unlike Malfoy it was to avoid his gaze, Harry thought as the Slytherin boy reverted his gaze back to the table. His plate of food was untouched and he was paler than ever. Eat something you stupid bastard! Harry thought furiously. He had a terrific urge to march over and force feed Draco Malfoy his own scrambled eggs. It was annoying him, all this moping around. As far as he was concerned, Malfoy had no right to mope. 

His father is in prison , a small voice at the back of his mind reminded him. But rightfully so. Lucius Malfoy could rot there as far as Harry was concerned. Him and the rest. A little tawny owl swooped over Harry’s breakfast, dropping a rolled up letter into his lap. Hermione watched him unravel it curiously. Harry breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Remus’ handwriting.

 

Harry,

 

I don’t think an explanation will suffice in a letter. We’ll talk tonight at one in your common room. I’ll be waiting,

 

Remus

 

Harry’s heart thudded. He grinned up at Hermione.

“Fancy a chat with Moony later?” 

She didn’t quite smile but her eyes sparkled. It was enough of an answer for Harry. 

 

**********

 

The rumours spread around the school like wildfire. 

“Smith saw a Dragon on the pitch!” 

“I heard it attacked him and ate his Quaffle…”

“Is he okay?” 

“It’s all a lie. They’re just trying to scare us.”

“It’s a new weapon You-Know-Who made! My cousin is a Dragonkeeper and she’d never heard of the one Smith described. Unless it was an anaemic Peruvian Viper-Tooth, she said.”

Draco had to hold back a laugh for that one. No Dragonkeeper would be familiar with Draco’s Dragon. There were none others like it. There couldn’t be. The Curse was tailored to match Draco exactly; to imitate him in every respect, projecting his soul and body into that of another creature’s. Their soul was one and the same, even if their bodies weren’t. 

Even so, flying above the trees had been tremendously stupid. His mother would have had a fit if she found out. But he hadn’t been able to resist the temptation of the limitless sky above. He’d never been able to stretch his wings like that. As much as he hated to admit it, it was truly exhilarating. The Curse was nowhere near satiated. It never was. But it hummed obediently today when Draco ordered it down rather than trying to fight free as it usually did. He feared he’d given it too much last night; a taste of freedom he’d never be able to keep up with. It was too bad. For once in his life he’d almost managed to stop being afraid of the Curse that had dominated his life for three years. 

“If the Dark Lord really has sent a Dragon after Dumbledore,” Said Theo in Potions that afternoon, “He’d better start fireproofing the whole fucking place.”

The funny thing was, Theo was right. The Dark Lord had sent a Dragon after Dumbledore. He just didn’t know it.

Blaise shook his head. “Shut up, Theo. Smith is just yanking our legs.” 

Pansy laughed. “Wouldn’t it be great to see his face if a Dragon came after him though? Ooooooh, I’d love to see Granger getting her knickers in a twist running away from that .” 

At the mention of her name, Granger whipped up her head from the adjacent table to glare at Pansy. 

Draco sighed. “It’s all ridiculous flights of fancy. Everyone’s getting bored. They need something new to talk about.” Granger was watching him. “Isn’t that right, Granger?” He added for good measure, just because he could. 

She narrowed her eyes and Potter shuffled closer to her side, throwing Draco green-eyed daggers. 

Draco looked away, quite unable to bear it. It was the same look he’d hurled at him yesterday in the Owlery, and it set him completely on edge. It wasn’t like the old looks Potter used to give; hormone-fuelled glares of rivalry edged with the exhilaration of another fight. No, these were different. Laced with raw anger and hatred. It unnerved Draco how well he often recognized that look reflected in the mirror and he didn't like to think about what it meant.

“Oh, well done, Harry! Finished with flying colours, as usual.” Slughorn beamed, leaning over to inspect Potter’s cauldron. The steam emitting from his Wolfsbane Potion was a perfect shade of light blue, as specified in the instructions. Draco’s resembled navy sludge, though he hadn’t exactly been paying attention. And that was another thing. When the fuck had Potter decided to get good at Potions? As far as he remembered, he’d needed remedial classes last year. Remedial classes! Well, it was unheard of. Draco had never heard of such a lost cause and he’d laughed himself silly at the prospect of Potter in Remedial Potions with Snape. Now he was sure the whole thing had been a ruse to make him look all the better this year. He’d probably been planning it with Dumbledore since first year. Draco crushed his dried Bitterroot stems to dust in his hands, vanishing his Potion with a swish of his wand. 

Slughorn ambled over. “My, Mr Malfoy where is your concoction?”

“It got away from me, sir.” Said Malfoy blankly, ignoring the dozens of eyes pointed at his head. 

Slughorn merely shook his head and moved on to Gregory’s, which had begun to curdle. 

Blaise bottled his potion, corking it neatly. “Draco, I need some help with this essay. Come to the library in five minutes?” 

“I don’t have time to”-

-”I really think you should.”

Draco glanced at his friend. Blaise’s eyes pierced him like lasers. Fuck. Despite knowing his friend for years, Blaise’s talents as a part Veela still had their effects on Draco. Blaise could be extremely persuasive when he wanted to be, and Draco was sure he was turning his inherited gifts on him right now. 

“Alright. I’ll help.” Draco agreed reluctantly. There was no way this was about homework. His suspicions were confirmed when they reached a dark corner of the library and Blaise pulled The Daily Prophet out of his bag.

“Did you see this?” He demanded, shoving the paper at Draco. 

“No.” Said Draco, “I don’t read the papers anymore.” 

“Well, you should,” Said Blaise. “Someone leaked information about a planned Azkaban mass breakout. Did you know about this?”

“Don’t be absurd.” Draco scoffed, pulling out a book. 

“You didn’t say no.”

“I shouldn’t have to!”

“Shhhh!” 

Draco and Blaise threw a glare at the student behind whichever bookcase who had hushed them. 

Draco sighed. “Blaise, you’re being paranoid. Who the fuck would leak that? No one would be that stupid. They’re asking for trouble. It’s a rumour.”

Blaise clicked his tongue. “Yes, there have been a lot of those lately.” 

That there’s a Dragon loose on the grounds? Draco thought, but he suspected that wasn’t what Blaise immediately had in mind. 

“You have to stop avoiding us.” 

“I don’t have to do anything. Alright? I want to be on my own.”

“But you look like shit.”

Draco snorted. “Thanks. Your encouragement knows no bounds.” 

“I’m serious.” Said Blaise, genuine sickening concern tracing his handsome features. The Veela effect was in full swing, Draco noticed. Blaise had long since stopped bragging about it. It probably had something to do with the very messy and very public divorce his mother had gone through in fourth year on account of being Veela. Or perhaps it was more to do with her seduction of as many men and women in politics she could get her hands on. Seduction and persuasion. The Prophet had labelled her a succubus. Draco knew better. Blaise’s mother was a very clever woman, and she’d come very close to influencing politicians in her favour. He had to respect that, even if her methods were... interesting. 

“You keep disappearing at night.”

Draco shook his head. “I can’t sleep. I’ve always had trouble sleeping. You know that.” 

“Guessing the Room of Requirement gives you a nice comfy bed to sleep on, then?”

Draco’s mouth went dry. “What?” 

Blaise leaned forward, lowering his voice. “I’m not a moron. I’ve seen you go in there. More than once.” 

“You fucking followed me?”

Blaise gave a half-shrug. “It was Theo’s idea. We weren’t getting any answers from you. So, what are you doing? It’s obviously not secret Potions work. You’re doing terribly.” 

Draco ground his teeth. “None of your fucking business.” He slammed his book on the desk as he stood.

“You know the best way to get revenge on your father probably isn’t by failing. You’d be better off marrying a blood-traitor. Or a muggle born.” Blaise said, inspecting his fingernails.

“Get lost up a hippogriphs arse, Zabini.” 

Right at that moment, a ginger head poked around the corner of the bookcase. 

“If you don’t mind,” Ginerva Weasley seethed, “I’m studying. Go and plot somewhere else. All I can hear is your muttering.” 

Blaise actually raised his eyebrows. Draco pushed past her. 

“You looking for a study partner?” He heard Blaise say, and Weasley’s scandalised reply was lost to the distance as Draco upped his pace. 

This was a disaster. Everything was going completely wrong. If Blaise and Theo had noticed his trips to the seventh floor, they weren’t likely to be the only ones. His first thought was Potter. He sensed a confrontation dawning. He’d just have to do his best to avoid it. 

And “revenge on his father”? Where had that come from? What gave Blaise the idea he wanted revenge? It was such a ridiculous notion it made Draco forget where he was going and he ended up outside the flooded girl’s lavatory on the second floor. Perfect. His exhausted reflection rippled up at him from the lake-come-floor, and he couldn’t tell whether it was the water making his eyes shimmer like that or if he was actually close to tears. The answer became clear, for a moment later hot liquid scalded the corners of his eyes.

“Fuck.” He cursed, wiping his eyes and running into the bathroom before he could be seen. 

Crying was second nature these days. Where Draco’s mind felt like a fortress, his body was the moat, releasing his stresses and anxieties in a way he couldn’t bring himself to like normal people. Then again, normal people weren’t under the same pressure Draco was.

He bent over a sink, dropping his bag on the floor, his entire body racking with such violent sobs he was sure he might be sick. 

Letting himself get taken over by the Curse last night had seemingly made him fragile. He stared at his reflection in the grimy mirror, barely recognising the torn apart expression of anguish on the boy who stared right back. He was a boy. Just a boy. He wasn’t a man. How could he be when he cried at the barest mention of his father? He hadn’t been able to visit him yet. His mother had gone numerous times without him, each time nodding in understanding when Draco said he was too tired or too busy to visit. He couldn’t face him. Not until he’d freed them all from their shame. That was what this was all about, wasn’t it? Shame. Redemption. The Dark Lord’s favour. 

It didn’t feel like redemption. And it certainly didn’t feel like a favour. It was a punishment. 

Draco gripped the sides of the sink, thinking of the package still stowed away in his bag. He had yet to formulate an airtight plan. The Curse scratched at the back of his skull.

“I went out yesterday . Leave me alone.” He croaked at his reflection, “I can’t transform again… not yet…” 

“You know, people will think you’re mad if you start talking to yourself. I should know.” 

Draco almost slipped on the wet floor as he spun around to face who had spoken. She hovered in the air above an old cubicle, offering Draco a wide, toothy smile. Moaning Myrtle. Of fucking course. How had he forgotten about her?

“Hello, Myrtle.” He said tightly.

“Hello, Draco.” She giggled back. 

He narrowed his eyes. “You know me?” 

Myrtle swooped down to the sink beside him, waving a shimmering hand in front of the cracked mirror. 

“Well, of course! I was listening to you talk to Professor Snape on the fourth floor the other day. It’s right next to my other bathroom, you know.” 

Draco tensed. “Is that so?” Could he not take a step without attracting eavesdroppers and stalkers?

“You sounded upset then, too.” Myrtle mewled. “I had no idea it was this bad.”

Draco let out a heavy sigh, allowing his muscles to sag as he leant against the sink. 

“You don’t have a clue, Myrtle… I envy you.”

Myrtle stared at him. “You envy me?” She echoed in fascination. “How fascinating! No one’s ever told me they envy me before. Usually they just come here to laugh and stare.” She hiccuped. “So I hide in my U bend.” 

“Wish I could hide in a U bend.” Draco mumbled, flexing his fingers. Even they felt numb. He dug his fingernails into his palms, drawing blood. The bright crimson was a refreshing contrast against the grey and white that had been his colour palette recently. 

“You could join me if you like,” Myrtle said, twirling her hair. “It might be a bit of a squeeze.” 

“No thank you, Myrtle,” Draco replied hollowly, surprised by how little the prospect of sharing a U bend with a flirty ghost bothered him in comparison to the rest of his life, “But I’ll be sure to let you know if I change my mind.” 

 

**********

 

All it had taken was a carefully coordinated dungbomb to clear the common room in time for Remus’ visit. Harry loved it when Hermione agreed to mischief. She could be truly wicked when she put her mind to it. “I’m only doing it for the Order.” She’d insisted as Ron and Harry had snickered at the outcry of the other students as the bomb’s noxious gases were released. 

Now Remus’ face was sticking out of the fire, looking wearier than ever. 

“Now I know when I see you three lined up like that I should expect trouble.” He said, smirking. 

Ron held up his hands. “Not me. I’m innocent.”

“Too busy with a certain Miss Brown to get into trouble, I gather?”

Harry sniggered. Ron turned beet red and Hermione rolled her eyes.

“How’d you know?!”

Remus winked. “Word gets around.” 

“Fred and George…” Ron grumbled, turning the colour of his maroon jumper.

“So, Harry. About your letter…” Remus began.

“Yes!” Harry jumped in, “You need to help me convince these two, Remus. I know there’s something going on.”

Remus paused, and Harry held his breath. “There may be something going on Harry, but I don’t believe it’s what you think it is.”

It was like a slap in the face. “No way, not you too...” He found himself saying. 

“Harry, what makes you believe Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater?”

“How is he not ?!” He flared, throwing his hands in the air and glaring at each one of them in turn. “His father is in Azkaban for it, he sneaks around at weird hours, he threatened me”-

-”Nothing new, mate…” Said Ron under his breath.

-”He’s up to something!” Harry continued furiously, “You both saw him in Borgin and Burkes.”

A resounding silence followed his rant. 

“Remus, please .” He begged. “You have to see it. You know it makes sense.” 

Remus inhaled. “You know, a lot of people said the same about Sirius when he came to Hogwarts.” 

Harry bit the inside of his mouth to prevent himself from firing back a retort. 

“His family were even more notorious than the Malfoys. If anyone was a likely candidate for a Death Eater, it was him. Of course, James and I knew better but you have no idea the taunts he suffered.”

“But… Sirius was a Gryffindor.” Said Harry slowly.

Remus raised a brow. “Do I really need to remind you who else was, Harry?”

Peter Pettigrew. The unspoken name left a sour atmosphere amongst them, and they sat with the silence for an uncomfortable beat. 

“They were terrifying times. Much like now. Everyone was desperate to blame someone, so they chose the easiest targets. I understand why you’re doing it but perhaps Draco is acting strange because of the accusations, Harry.” Said Remus softly, “Not to mention the strain on him now that his father is in prison. I know you have never seen eye to eye”-

-”Understatement of the century”-

-”But you must try,” Remus raised his voice, “to see reason above prejudice.”

Harry could almost feel his blood boiling. He was the prejudiced one? The hypocrisy was mind-numbing. 

“I don’t believe this.” Said Harry, “Can you hear yourselves? This is exactly what Malfoy wants. He laughed at me when he realized no one believed me. He laughed!”

Their expressions didn’t change. 

“Of course he did.” Said Ron. “He’s a twat.” 

“It’s more than that!” Harry shouted. He didn’t even care if he woke everyone up. They all deserved to know the truth. “Malfoy is smart! Smarter than he wants you to think.”

Hermione raised a brow, “You’re complimenting him.”

Harry’s face was heating up. “No I’m not! I’m just saying you’re all being completely blind! He’s got us right under his thumb! This is what Voldemort wants. I would know. I’ve been in his fucking head.” 

Harry struggled to control his breaths. He was kneeling in front of the fire, fists clenched and jaw set. 

Remus gave him a hard look. “Harry, I can tell you’re distressed.” He sighed. “I will try to see if I can convince someone to arrange another inspection at the Manor”-

-”It won’t be enough. They’ll be prepared.” Harry insisted. 

-”But I can’t promise anything.” Remus finished. He contemplated each of them. “I have to go. Please remember to focus on your studies and try and not to get too distracted. I will see what I can do, Harry, but I honestly don’t think you have to worry about Mr Malfoy.” 

Harry nodded. “We’ll see.” 

Somehow their expressions of pity were a thousand times worse than the skepticism he’d faced at the start of the year. It was as he thought. He’d have to do this alone. 

 

**********

 

He shouldn’t have opened it. He knew he shouldn’t have opened it. But, as always, his curiosity had got the better of him. The Vanishing Cabinet looming above him, Draco aimed a careful Diffindo at the well-sealed package his mother had sent him a few weeks ago. The brown paper split cleanly, and the first deadly wink of the necklace’s many beads revealed itself, innocently nestled amongst the packaging. It had come with a single note attached: Aeterna Somnum. 

Draco drew in a shaky breath. “Wingardium Leviosa.” 

The necklace floated in perfect form above the floor, its storm-grey iridescent opals catching the wan light. 

Whereas Draco himself had thought of poisoned mead, his mother had come up with this cruel plan to use the necklace as a means to end Dumbledore’s reign as the greatest living wizard of all time once and for all. He had no idea what would happen to the victim who touched the necklace. Simply being in its presence sickened him, causing a bout of nausea to rock him sideways on his heels as he knelt on the floor opposite the cursed object.

December winds howled outside, rattling the windows and splattering the castle with flurries of snow. It was only two weeks until the holidays. He had to do this now or never. Gritting his teeth with a whorl of terror knotted in his abdomen, Draco carefully levitated the necklace back into its packaging and resealed the paper. He had a plan, rough though it was. It was nowhere near as coordinated as his scheme with the mead had been, and even now he had no confirmation whether Madam Rosmerta had passed it on to Slughorn or not. He was shooting in the dark. This would take luck. Luck and good timing on his part. 

Draco had evaded every trip to Hogsmeade so far, so when he approached Blaise and asked if he could tag along, his friend was more than a little surprised. The excited chatter of his friends and peers around him on the way blurred into fathomless noise, as if someone had cast a Muffliato on his ears. Blaise and Theo were angling for Honeydukes, but Draco split off.

“I’m gonna use the loo in the Three Broomsticks.” He told them quickly. “Be right there.”

A pinch of truth made a lie go a long way. Even Blaise didn’t question it. Draco felt like he was in a daze as he tugged up his hood, cast a Disillusionment charm on himself, pushed past the crowds in the pub, and slipped into the girl’s bathroom. The charm was effective, but in such a small space it was possible one of the girls could notice him. He quickly locked himself in a free cubicle. Trying to control his breathing, Draco freed the package from his snow-soaked bag with shaking hands. 

Now all he had to do was wait. The bathroom emptied minutes later, and it wasn’t long before Draco spotted one pair of feet from under his cubicle door. He exited, immediately casting an Imperio on the unsuspecting girl. 

Her dark eyes went completely blank. He had to act quickly. 

“Take this package and…” He trailed off, realizing he recognized her. It was Gryffindor’s Katie Bell. She was a pure-blood. Draco shook his head. Why did it matter ? “Take this package,” He said firmly, “and take it to Professor Dumbledore right away. Nod if you understand.” Katie nodded, outstretching her hands. Draco shoved the package into her arms, continuing, “You won’t remember me.” 

He fled the bathroom, his magic weakening as his resolve died, the Disillusionment charm becoming useless. 

He barely made it out of the back door of the pub before a dizzying wave of nausea hit and he was violently sick. By the time he was finished, he felt completely empty - hollowed out by his terrible deed and left shivering and sodden in the snow. Muted laughter coming from inside the pub mocked him, and his very own Curse began to take advantage of his frail body, curling under the top layer of his skin and tempting him with the prospect of freedom and warmth his human body simply couldn’t give. 

“No…” Draco choked out, leaning heavily against the wall. “No, no, no. I won’t transform. I won’t.” 

The Curse was too close. Closer than it had ever been outside the comfort of the Manor. Draco hauled himself away from the pub and back towards Hogwarts, stumbling on the uneven, snowy ground. 

“Mother… what’s happening to me?” 

His parent’s faces, usually so stoic and strong, crumpled into sorrow above his bed. His body felt like it was on fire. His skin was strange… he didn’t feel right… like he would melt or explode at any second. 

“It’s the Curse, isn’t it?” His mother whispered to his father, who nodded solemnly. 

Draco began to cry. “What Curse? Who cursed me? I don’t want to die…” 

His mother knelt by his bedside, cradling his scorching hands in hers. 

“You won’t die, my darling.” She told him, tears spilling down her pale face. “You won’t. But you have to be strong for us now.”

His father’s expression became hard. “Take him downstairs. It isn’t safe up here. There isn’t enough room.”

Draco began to panic as his mother sobbed. He was on fire. His muscles spasmed and his lungs felt too large for his chest. 

“Enough room for what? Father, please. Help me.” 

Draco burst into his dorm room. Gregory was sat at his desk, pouring over homework. Draco hadn’t even noticed his absence in Hogsmeade. Gregory frowned.

“Draco? What’s wrong?”

He couldn’t answer. He was burning up. He slammed into the bathroom, dialling on the shower.

His father all but dragged him downstairs, discarding him onto the cold marble floor of the Manor’s ballroom. His mother followed, pleading with Lucius to wait, but he wouldn’t listen. 

“From now on, Draco, you must listen to exactly what we tell you, do you understand?”

Draco looked up at his father tearfully. “Yes, father.” He whimpered as his vision blurred. 

“Oh, it’s happening.” His mother gasped.

“Come, Narcissa.” Said his father, coercing his mother to the tall, black double doors. “Leave him.” 

“We can’t!” His mother cried. 

“We have no choice!” His father hissed back. “Come, quickly, before”-

And that was were Draco’s memory hit a blank. 

The icy water turned to steam against Draco’s skin. He sat naked under the cold torrent, allowing it to douse the Curse back into submission. When he dared to look at the skin on his arms, he saw it had already begun to change texture, silver scales poking through the fine blond hair on his forearms. 

“Why now?” He addressed it, “Fucking go back down… are you trying to get my family killed?” 

Draco forced himself to take in long breaths until the water on his back no longer burned but chilled him. He rubbed the pendant, willing the scales to disappear. When he looked back down, they were gone. 

He sighed, turning off the shower. “Thank you.” 

The Curse still felt too close for comfort, but he had it under control for now. He couldn’t let himself get so worked up again. He’d done what he’d been told to do. He was doing everything right - even the Vanishing Cabinet was starting to make sense to him. So why was he feeling worse? His secret was safe. He’d carried out both the mead and the necklace plan all by himself, and it looked like Dumbledore was well on his way to being dead. Maybe even by the end of the day if Katie Bell did what she was told. 

So why did he feel worse? 

He blamed it on his adventures in the forest. Ever since, he’d been able to think of nothing else. The exhilaration of flying so freely, of being able to let his Dragon form grow so large, had been nagging at him ever since. He’d been right. The Curse had grown more persistent since then. If it weren’t for the Manor currently being occupied by the very forces he had to keep the Curse away from, he’d be able to go home and use the Sky Room. It was built by his parents in the heart of the Manor after his first transformation. The room was placed under an undetectable extension charm, and spanned the underbelly of the house - a domed prison for when the Curse became unbearable and Draco had no choice but to release it. He’d tried not to think of the room as a cell, but after his flight in the forest, he now understood the limitations it had been holding on him. There simply wasn’t enough room . The helplessness of it all descended on Draco, causing his skin to spike with heat again. He tempered it, drying himself furiously before quietly returning to the dorm. It was only the afternoon, but Draco barely had the strength to climb into bed. 

“Are you ill?” Asked Gregory from his desk. “You look ill.” 

Draco closed his eyes, the softness of his sheets already a welcome reprieve. 

“I don’t know.” He replied. “I’ve been better.” 

As Draco fell asleep, he imagined himself flying amidst the white clouds, blending in with the snow around him and becoming wind itself, gliding freely above the castle with no restraints… no responsibilities… it would be so easy, and yet it was impossible. 

When he awoke, it was amidst charred stone and smoke. The ballroom was a wreckage, whereas he himself was unharmed. He coughed, and smoke puffed from his lips from where it had been hiding in his lungs. 

“Mother? Father?” He called out. His throat burned.

The ceiling was falling apart, and shafts of sunlight pooled in the ash, illuminating the swirling smoke and dust. Two figures crouched in the open doorway, a last minute shield charm thrown up to prevent the fire from burning the rest of the house. 

“Draco?” His mother rasped. His father was unresponsive. Draco couldn’t see his face. How long had it been? Seconds? Minutes? It could even have been years. 

His mother’s gasp sobered Draco. “Lucius! Lucius, look at me.” 

Draco rose from the smoking debris around him, his naked skin unaffected by the heat. All the pain was coming from inside of him. He padded through piles of ash and stone until he was standing by his parents. He stared, horror-stricken when he saw his father’s face.

“Father… I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to...” 



**********

 

The Gryffindor common room was quiet that night. News of Katie Bell’s curse spread quickly, and a sombre air muted the atmosphere. Ever since Harry’s outburst in front of Snape and McGonagall earlier, Hermione and Ron had been bracing themselves for more. He could see it in the way they held their breaths around him, but he couldn’t bring himself to argue about Malfoy again. He was past hoping they would see sense. Leanne, the girl who’d been with Katie, was inconsolable. She was so distressed Ginny had to take her to the hospital wing. Harry blamed himself for not keeping an eye on the map. If he’d been looking at the right moment, he could have caught Malfoy in the act. There was no way the culprit wasn’t Malfoy. The trip to Hogsmeade was the perfect opportunity to slip Katie the package and avoid suspicion. He confined himself to his dorms and kept the map close by his side all night, only alternating from staring at Malfoy’s name to flick through the Half-Blood Prince’s scrawlings. The notes had a calming effect on Harry. It was like reading a diary, though vastly different from the organized whimsy of Tom Riddle’s diary. These ink blotched scrawlings were a glimpse into someone real. Someone with haphazard thoughts and uncertain questions and a defining tendency to challenge the instructions he was given. Harry related to that. 

Sectumsempra - For enemies, one note read. Harry thought instantaneously of Malfoy. The next time he saw the Slytherin make a move, he vowed to follow him, regardless of what his friends said.
But it wasn’t that easy, as Harry soon discovered. 

The workload was becoming astronomical. Every teacher seemed hellbent on giving them so much work that they were either confined to the library or their rooms. Not to mention, Slughorn wasn’t in the best mood with Harry, and with only a few days left until the end of term, he was getting increasingly antsy. It was his own fault. He should have known not to ask him outright about the Horcruxes. But as he’d said to Dumbledore on their last meeting: subtlety had never been his strong point. The headmaster had chuckled at that. Even so, the pressure to complete his task was amounting to a feeling of general helplessness during every Potions lesson when Slughorn deliberately avoided Harry’s eye and had started referring to him as “Mr. Potter.” Ouch. 

On top of everything, he still hadn’t heard back from Remus regarding a potential inspection on Malfoy Manor, and the boy himself was proving next to impossible to catch. Harry had abandoned his work numerous times over the last week to flee to the seventh floor, but always - always - Malfoy disappeared into the Room of Requirement before Harry could intercept him. 

It was their last Potions lesson, and Slughorn had let them off by assigning them the simple task of creating a Confusing Concoction in pairs. Ron and Lavender paired up, and Hermione turned to work with Pavarti. She’d been tenuously avoiding Harry since his shameless attempts at catching Malfoy, but he couldn’t even bring himself to be angry. He could work on his own. 

“Ah, Mr. Potter. Go and pair up with Mr. Malfoy, would you? Merlin knows he could do with the help.” Said Slughorn, much to Harry’s dismay. Malfoy was indeed alone. His cronies had all partnered up with each other instead of him. 

“But, sir”- Harry began. Then he remembered challenging Slughorn when he was supposed to be persuading a memory out of him really wasn’t wise. He sighed, gathering his books and sloping off to the adjacent table. “Yes.”

Malfoy didn’t even glance up from his cauldron to sneer at Harry as he walked over. 

“Just for the record,” Harry began forcefully, removing his ingredients one by one, “I can do this by myself.” 

“Sure.” Malfoy replied blandly without so much as a glance at Harry. It wasn’t even sarcastic. 

Harry silently fumed as he unpacked the rest of what they needed, opening his book with an irritated flourish. As he worked, he gleaned some satisfaction from the fact that whatever Malfoy was doing, it clearly wasn’t going well. He looked like a ghost. His overgrown pale hair fell in front of his translucent eyes and his shoulders slumped forward into a hunch - a far cry from the arrogant stance of the boy Harry had been rivals with. It was difficult to consider Malfoy a rival now that he saw him as a Death Eater. Perhaps ‘enemy’ was closer suited considering he was working with the man who had killed his parents. 

Harry tipped three quarters of his Lacewing Flies into his cauldron. “I know it was you.”

Malfoy neglected to answer, copying Harry’s step robotically.

“Katie Bell is in a coma in St. Mungos. You did that. I know you did. You’re so easy to figure out.” Harry whispered.

Mafoy’s hand stilled over his cauldron. He looked up, his gaze poison through his fringe. 

“Would you like a medal?” 

Harry gaped. Was that an admission . “So you did do it.” 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Said Malfoy, muttering an incantation under his breath and setting the contents of his cauldron alight. They burned a perfect magenta. 

Harry threw his Tentacula seeds into a beaker. 

“You’re full of shit, Malfoy.” 

Malfoy sighed. “A Gryffindor is in possession of an illegal cursed object and she hurts herself. What a surprise. Let’s blame the Slytherins. A Slytherin is in possession of an illegal cursed object and suddenly he’s a Death Eater.” He drawled. “Also your Concoction isn’t supposed to be that colour. I thought you were meant to be Slughorn’s little Potions prince. Although I did notice he’s not exactly paying you attention lately. Is that what’s got you flailing about like a Confounded Flobberworm?”

Harry seethed, correcting his mistake. A second later his flames were the same colour as Malfoy’s.

“You’re awfully chatty for someone who’s mere marks away from failing.” Harry spat back. “As for the ‘cursed illegal object’, Katie was under the Imperius curse when she got it. As someone who had his house searched for plenty of those, you should know how it ended up in her hands.” 

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “You’ve fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Every guilty person claims they were under the Imperius curse when they get found out.”

Harry stirred his potion slowly. “Just like your father.” 

Harry expected to have a hex fired furiously his way, or even to be primitively shoved to the ground. He braced himself for it. Instead he was met with silence.

“Nothing to say for yourself?” He goaded. “Or is it because you know you’re going to be in the exact same position when I catch you?” 

“I thought I warned you, Potter,” Malfoy murmured darkly, “Not to stick your nose into things you know nothing about.” 

Harry shrugged, chopping his Knotgrass. “It doesn’t matter. Your lies are meaningless. I’ll catch you.” 

Malfoy was staring at the movement of his hands. Harry stopped.

“Are you listening ?” 

Malfoy tugged the chopping board away from Harry. “You’re meant to cut them into fine strips. Not large ones.” He muttered, taking his own knife and chopping the Knotgrass for him. “This is such a simple Potion, Potter. How you’re getting this wrong and not the Draught of Living Death, I honestly don’t know.” 

Harry opened and closed his mouth. If it weren’t for Malfoy’s dead expression and his flat tone, he’d be certain he was joking. 

“Malfoy”-

-”Yes, Potter.” Malfoy heaved a sigh. “You’re going to catch me. I was listening. In the meantime, I'd appreciate it if you didn’t flunk something as easy as a Confusing Concoction. Slughorn will undoubtedly blame me, not you.” 

This was so different to what he expected. He’d been pushing for a fight, he was well aware, but Malfoy simply wasn’t rising to it. He was either being incredibly smart about this or he genuinely didn’t care what Harry had to say. Somehow, the latter idea infuriated Harry more. Malfoy pushed the chopping board back towards Harry, his Knotgrass lying in neat, fine strips. Harry grabbed them and scattered them chaotically into the cauldron. The silence in the wake of Malfoy’s bizarre conduct yawned between them, and despite himself, Harry snorted a laugh. 

“Inhale some Abraxan hair, did you?” Malfoy remarked. 

“You’re a Death Eater.” Harry muttered, laughing. “And yet here you are telling me how to chop bloody Knotgrass. I can’t believe this.” 

Malfoy stared at him like he was the one who was going mad. Harry could hardly dispute it. He was laughing in the face of evil. He must have ingested some of the fumes from his Confusing Concoction after all. 

 

**********

 

Harry Potter was unequivocally one of the strangest people Draco had ever met. They completed the rest of the task in silence. Every now and again Draco looked up and caught Potter shaking his head, seemingly in disbelief, or murmuring something unintelligible under his breath. The steam had caused a flush to rise on Potter’s face, and his glasses had steamed up. Didn’t the boy even know how to cast a simple Impervius ? Draco almost did it for him before he realized how ridiculous that would make him look. He hadn’t cut the Knotgrass to help Potter, as he’d mistakenly appeared to believe, but because he hated things being done incorrectly. True, his recent work in most of his classes would suggest otherwise, but usually Draco made sure his work was immaculate. There was a reason he was almost top of the year. Potter was an idiot if he thought he’d be able wind him up again. The comment about his father had been somewhat infuriating, yes, but it was also predictable. Draco had been prepared. He wouldn’t show weakness in front of Potter again. So far, it was working. He wasn’t about to fool himself into thinking he’d shaken Potter off his tail; the Gryffindor was too stubborn to give up his chase now. However he had thrown him. Just a little. It was quite satisfying actually, watching Potter’s face morph to one of dumbstruck perplexity as Draco had chopped his Knotgrass. He was debating pulling another stunt to throw Potter off guard but the lesson was almost over and Slughorn was making his rounds. For the first time in a while, Draco had made a perfect Potion. Even Slughorn couldn’t deny it as he gave Draco and Potter an approving nod. With an exhale of relief that the day was finally over, Draco bottled his Potion and brought it to the front, unwilling to acknowledge Potter’s presence on his way out, despite feeling the heat of his stare on the back of his neck until there were at least three walls and two floors between them. 

When he returned to the dorm, Blaise was admiring himself in the mirror, fully kitted out in dress robes.

“Where are you going?” Asked Draco, because he couldn’t help himself. 

“Slughorn’s Christmas party.” Blaise replied. “Don’t get tetchy because I didn’t ask you to be my date.” He winked. 

Draco didn’t laugh. “Right. Well. Knock yourself out.” He was too busy to dwell on something so low-grade as one of Slughorn’s sanctimonious gatherings. He had a Vanishing Cabinet to fix, and very little time to do it before the holidays. A thought occurred to him. Would he be able to return to the Manor this Christmas in the light of the Dark Lord’s decision to make it a temporary base? He had no intention of missing Christmas with his mother, but there was the issue of his transformation,which he could no longer do at home. That was something he’d have to think about later. As soon as Blaise left half an hour later to meet his mystery date, Draco made his way to the seventh floor. 

He didn’t think much of the decorations he saw on his way up, but he should have. The unmistakable din of a party reached Draco’s ears as he vaulted the last stair. Fuck. Slughorn’s party… was being held here ? As Draco’s bad luck would have it, it was. It was spread over two floors, in fact. Granted, the seventh floor was mainly accommodated by waiters, but there was no way he could sneak in and not be noticed. He’d just have to crash the party and make his way to the back of the corridor where the beckoning blank stretch of wall mocked him. Fuck

It took only five minutes of unsuccessfully sneaking around before Draco was caught. By Filch no less.

“Let go of me!” Draco protested as the hobbling caretaker dragged him down to the sixth floor where the party was in full swing. “I just lost my invitation, that’s all!” 

“Oh ho ho, you’re comin’ wiv me, boy.” Filch growled, spitting all over Draco’s neck. To his horror, he was heaved right in front of Slughorn and - fucking Potter .

“Get your hands off me you filthy squib!” Draco pushed the caretaker off him in a rather unsuccessful attempt to regain some of his dignity. 

“I found him loitering upstairs.” Said Filch, “Claims he was invited.”
Draco ground his teeth. “Fine!” He spat in Slughorn’s direction, “I gatecrashed, alright?” 

He tried not to look at Potter, but Potter was staring at him, Draco’s oddball distant cousin by his side. Interesting. He’d always suspected Potter and the Weasley girl were an item, not Loony Lovegood. It momentarily caught Draco off guard how… put together Potter looked. Unlike his positively mediocre dress robes at the Yule Ball, Potter almost looked presentable now, well dressed in rather nicely fitted black robes. Not that he had any excuse not to be. Potter could hire people to dress him if he wanted. They probably bowed at his feet for the opportunity to clothe the Chosen One. The very idea made Draco narrow his scowl directly at Potter. 

Snape stepped into Draco’s line of sight, snapping his connection with Potter. Draco resented that.

“I’ll see to Mr. Malfoy.” Snape said with the air of someone with an awful taste in their mouth. He placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder. Draco resisted shrugging him off with all his might as the Professor led him out of the party and into a deserted corridor around the corner. He shoved him hard, and Draco nearly fell. 

“What… are you playing at?” He enunciated with furious precision. 

Draco straightened himself. “I was trying to get to the Cabinet! Who’s stupid bloody idea was it to have this here? Didn’t you even try to stop it?” 

“My task is to protect you, Draco, not aid you.” Snape retorted. “I made an Unbreakable Vow to make sure you are not killed, and so far you are not making it easy for me to keep it.” 

“If I’m killed it’ll be because you stopped me from doing what I’ve got to!” Draco shouted. “I was chosen! Me! Not you. Leave me alone.” Even as he said it, the Curse battled inside Draco’s chest - the adrenaline of being caught matched next to his confrontation with Potter and Snape began riling him to the point where it was getting dangerous again. His skin prickled and he rubbed his arm. 

Snape narrowed his eyes. “Are you in pain?” He queried.

“That brainless squib hauled me around like a piece of meat. He should be sacked for abusing students.” With that, Draco swept past Snape and made for the stairs. He couldn’t go back to his dorm like this. He felt like he was about to explode. There was only one thing for it. Sir Gregory the Smarmy’s statue had an expression that was as oily as ever, and proved a strange comfort to Draco as he slipped into the tunnel towards the Forbidden Forest. 

The Curse was practically zinging through his body at the prospect of being set free. After all, it had only been a couple of weeks since the last time. Usually he waited months until he couldn’t bear it anymore. 

Draco had neglected to bring clean clothes. He hadn’t had the time. So he discarded his own by a distinct tree with an S shaped trunk, shivering in the snow and feeling more exposed and vulnerable than ever as he stepped into the clearing. Fat snowflakes fell against his skin, and he felt each one melt against him, the coldness gradually dissipating as the Curse heated him from his core. 

He hardly had time to prepare himself before the Curse took him over completely. This time, he would make sure not to breach the canopy of the trees. As thrilling as it was, he couldn’t risk anymore blatherings from tell-tale Hufflepuffs. Draco transformed, growing even larger than last time, and the sky was his once again. 

 

**********

 

Harry raced back to his dorm to retrieve the map, his heart singing with success. Now he had proof that Malfoy was up to something and that Snape was helping him. He had of course suspected his new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher of dabbling in an alliance with Voldemort, but he hadn’t dared to think for a second that he might be right. Harry had no idea what an Unbreakable Vow was, but if it was anything like the name suggested then the head of Slytherin house and his pupil were in a serious tangle. Harry felt bad for abandoning Luna but she’d seemed quite happy engaged in an animated conversation with a pair of vampires about Erumpent breeding habits. 

The only person awake when he returned was Neville.

“Alright, Harry? How was the par”-

-”Neville, will you come with me?” Harry asked breathlessly, unsure exactly what he was planning yet. 

“Erm, sure. Everything okay?” 

“Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater.” Harry whispered. Ron was snoring. 

Neville blinked. “Righto.” He snatched his cloak off the end of his bed, kicked on his shoes and accompanied Harry out of the Gryffindor common room. Harry grinned. He’d forgotten how great Neville could be in situations like this. He didn’t over analyze or ask too many questions like Ron and Hermione. He was just there exactly when you needed. Harry felt a squirm of guilt for not including his two best friends, but he already knew how they’d react. It wasn’t worth it. 

On the run down the stairs, Harry took the map out and searched for Malfoy’s name, frowning when he failed to spot him in the castle. They stopped on the second floor.

“Neville, can you see him on the map?” 

Neville gaped at the map, and Harry wanted to kick himself. He’d forgotten Neville had never seen it before.

“Harry, everyone is on here, what the”-?

-”I promise I’ll explain later. Just tell me if you can see Malfoy.” 

Letting out a low whistle at the Marauder’s legacy, Neville gingerly took the map from Harry, scanning it.

He pointed. “There. The… Christ , that’s the Forbidden Forest.”

Harry snatched the map back. Neville was right. Malfoy’s label was in the heart of the forest and… wait… he was zooming , travelling at a pace far faster than running. He must be on a broom. But why ? Harry had to find out. 

“We have to catch him at it.” Harry panted, bolting down corridor after corridor until they reached the grounds.

“Catch him”- wheeze - “at” - wheeze - “what?” Asked Neville, red-faced from having to keep up.

“Dunno yet.” 

A thick, glittering blanket of snow spread amongst them, folding over hills and stones right to the dark line of the forest. Neville and Harry almost slid down the hill in their haste, guided onward by the stars above and the warm orange light projected from the small window in Hagrid’s hut. 

Neville doubled over, catching his breath. Harry peered at the treeline, wondering whether it was worth it. The Forbidden Forest was even darker than usual thanks to the thickets of snow covering every branch and blocking out even the meagre light from the stars. He’d never exactly been a fan of the place, but Malfoy was in there… doing evil things… 

“What now?” Asked Neville, clutching a stitch on his side. 

“I’m not sure.” Said Harry. 

“No offense, Harry but I really don’t want to go in.” 

Harry couldn’t condemn him for that. “Yeah. Nah. We won’t go in. We’ll wait.”

Neville grimaced. “Alright.” 

Harry conjured a bench for the pair to sit on and cast a warming charm. Neville sighed with relief, sitting down. 

“Scared me there, Harry.” He said with a laugh. “I thought someone had been hurt. It felt like last year, you know… before…”

“Before the Ministry.” Harry finished for him, casting his mind back to the sense of urgency they’d carried with them as they’d sprinted to the Forest and called upon the Thestrals for aid. And then Sirius...

“So about that map…” Said Neville.

Harry let out a breath, grateful for the interruption to his thoughts.

“It’s a long story, but basically my dad and his mates made it when they were here, and then Fred and George got hold of it and then they gave it to me so I could sneak into Hogsmeade in third year. It’s been pretty useful.” 

Neville was nodding. “Yeah, I can see why. You’d get into so much trouble if McGonagall found out though. Be careful.” 

Harry beamed. “Always am, Nev.” Except when I’m not

They waited for a long, long time. And all the while, Harry kept his eyes on the map, baffled by how Malfoy could be travelling at the speeds he was. Unless the map had malfunctioned, he was up to something very strange indeed. Harry thought of Buckbeak and flying around this same forest on his back years ago, but the chances of Malfoy riding on a hippogriff were just about as likely as Harry sitting down for tea with Bellatrix Lestrange. So what was he doing?
More than an hour later, Neville gave a tremendous yawn beside him.

“Neville, you should go back.” Said Harry after they’d been silent for some time. 

“You should come too.” 

Harry shook his head. “I need to find out what he was doing, and I was the one who dragged you down here.” Neville made a move to argue, but Harry continued, “If I’m not back in three hours, send someone down to look for me.” 

He nodded. “Alright. If you’re sure. G’night, Harry.”

“Night, Nev.” 

When the last of Neville’s footsteps crunching into the snow had receded into silence, Harry spoke to Malfoy’s name on the map, which was now making odd loops in figures of eight over a wide expanse of the Forest. 

“Show yourself.” He told it. “I know you’re there.” 

It took another two whole hours before Harry was ready to give up. He hadn’t noticed the warming charm gradually wear off, and his legs were blocks of ice when he stood from the bench. He vanished it, frustrated, and cast another charm on himself, shuddering as the heat ensconced him. He was still in his dress robes. He should have brought a cloak. 

He hesitated, glancing between the castle and the trees. There was every chance he could be walking straight into a trap. Perhaps this was the plan. Or perhaps this was the only chance he could get. But before Harry had the chance to decide what to do, a pale figure emerged from the treeline, his torso and feet bare.

Harry stared, having no time to hide himself, and the figure stopped on the bank of the trees. 

They stood like that for what felt like an age. He felt outside of time, outside of logic and reality.

“Malfoy.” Said Harry, finally summoning the willpower to move. He took one step towards his enemy, and his enemy took one step back. 

“Potter.” He replied, his voice low and harsh. The quality of the sound unnerved Harry. There was an inhuman timbre about it. And it wasn’t just his voice. Malfoy’s appearance was startling. The only thing he wore on his top half was an unusual green pendant around a silver chain, the small plain charm nestled in the hollow of his throat. His bare seeker’s build lurched forward as if to pounce, his usually neat hair parted and spread across his forehead carelessly. 

It evoked a strange sensation deep in Harry’s abdomen, and he withdrew his wand from his back pocket as the feeling rose inside him. 

He pointed it at Malfoy, the Sectumsempra ready and waiting on his lips as their breaths puffed out swirls of mist into the expanse of space between them. It was the only sound before they were interrupted by another visitor. A ghostly swoop caught Harry’s eye to Malfoy’s left, and the boy’s very own Eagle owl dropped a package straight into his hands before flying off again. Even Malfoy seemed surprised by the arrival, turning the package over, wide eyed.

“Open it.” Harry ordered, jabbing his wand in Malfoy’s direction. 

Malfoy stilled. “Why should I?” He rasped, his voice marred with the same animalistic tonality as before.

“Because I told you to.” Harry continued, amazed by his own assertiveness. 

He could see Malfoy weighing his options as he flicked his gaze between the package, Harry’s wand, and Harry himself. He must have decided Harry was serious about his threat, for a moment later there was a faint rip as Malfoy carefully unwrapped the package. 

Harry narrowed his eyes at its contents.

It was a mirror. That was all. There was no note. Only a handheld, round silver mirror that Malfoy now held delicately between his long, pallid fingers. The very sight of Malfoy holding it was an image on its own, and the strangeness of it almost dislodged Harry’s caution as he stared. 

“What is it?” He demanded.

Malfoy raised a brow, turning his attention back to him. 

“Are you sure those hideous glasses of yours are adequate, Potter?” He remarked, his voice sounding a lot more normal now it was drenched in disdain. 

“Don’t be smart.” Harry snapped. “Tell me what it’s for.” 

Malfoy shook his head. “I don’t know.” He replied, eyeing Harry’s wand again. 

“Do you think I’m stupid?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

“Tell me the truth, Malfoy!”

“I am!” 

Their voices ricocheted around the snow padded landscape, carrying into the forest. Harry couldn’t tell whether Malfoy was lying or not, but the pucker in his brow and the way his chest was rising and falling made him believe he might be telling the truth, as much as he hated to admit it. In the distance, Hagrid’s front door slammed. They both looked towards the sound like startled rabbits. 

“Do you want them to find you like this?” Said Harry, raising his wand higher.

To his surprise, Malfoy only laughed.

“I should ask you the same. Who’s the one fully dressed with his wand pointed at me? Looking like this ?” 

Fuck . Malfoy had a point. Out of the two of them, Harry certainly looked the most incriminating. But he did have his invisibility cloak, and Malfoy didn’t know that. Voices sounded from the castle. He didn’t have much time. 

“Well?” Asked Malfoy, “What will it be?” 

Harry clenched his jaw, heart hammering. “Tell me what you were doing.”

“No. Way.” 

“Tell me and I’ll hide you. I’ll hide both of us.”

Malfoy’s eyes flashed in the dark. “What are you talking about?” 

“My invisibility cloak. You know? The one you threw on top of me after breaking my nose on the train?” Harry said through gritted teeth as wand lights clustered at the top of the hill. “I can hide us under it.” 

He was off his rocker. This was his enemy . Malfoy might have been thinking the same, but they were quickly running out of options. 

“Alright.” Malfoy agreed. His lips curled into a smirk. “Come here, Potter.” 

Harry felt like he was walking into the jaws of a crocodile as he approached Malfoy, tugging his cloak free. He kept his wand out, pointed firmly at him.

“Try anything and I’ll hex you.”

“Noted.” Said Malfoy, eyes twinkling with unmistakable amusement. Up close, he gave off a radiating heat that threw Harry off completely. He should be freezing

Unable to believe what he was doing, Harry threw his cloak around both of them, closer to Malfoy than he’d been since the day he’d pushed him against the doorframe in the Owlery. Being the taller one out of the two of them, Malfoy took it upon himself to hold the cloak above them as they half-crouched, half-stood in the treeline. As a result, one of his arms was thrown around Harry’s shoulders. He was surprisingly lean, Harry thought as the teachers reached the spot he’d been stood in moments earlier, his footprints still visible in the snow. He’d expected Malfoy to be nothing but skin and bones after the way he’d looked over the past couple of months, but that simply wasn’t the case. He was thinner, yes, but still distinctly muscular, and he gave off an earthy, citrusy aroma. It wasn’t all too unpleasant, Harry thought, catching himself actively inhaling Malfoy’s scent too late. The whole experience was bizarre. This wasn’t how Harry pictured this going down at all, and he was even more shocked to discover all of his anger had evaporated in light of the situation he was in. All he could think was: what the fuck? 

Snape was the closest to the forest. He shone his wand in the direction of the trees, eyes narrowed. Hagrid loped behind.

“Are you sure you saw them, Hagrid?” He asked, skeptical.

“Yer damn well right, I did.” Hagrid insisted, “Two of ‘em… one of ‘em looked like…”

“Like who?” Asked McGonagall sharply.

Hagrid scratched his beard. “Well… nevermin’... it was far away, after all.” 

Harry silently thanked Hagrid. Obviously he’d seen him, but chosen not to tell. Harry risked a glance up at Malfoy. His face was set in stone, so blanched his features could have been carved from marble. He met Harry’s eye. 

They were stuck here until the teachers decided to leave. Thanks to the snow, they couldn’t run under the cloak. Their footprints would be seen. This was Harry’s stupid idea after all. Harry shook his head as though to convey this. 

Malfoy rolled his eyes. 

The whole of Malfoy’s left arm was visible to Harry now, and he was amazed (and disappointed) to see that it was devoid of markings. No defining skull and snake inked onto his forearm. Just smooth, white skin peppered with light golden hairs and prominent blue veins, his bicep tensed with the effort of holding the cloak above their heads for so long. Harry felt pathetic and stupid, crouched under his so-called nemesis without either the courage nor evidence to step out from under the cloak and proclaim Malfoy guilty, and with Snape right here there was no chance. He sucked in a deep breath of frustration and Malfoy shot him a look of pure panic. 

“Shut the fuck up!” He mouthed. 

“Or what?” Harry mouthed back. “You’ll curse me too?” 

Malfoy rolled his eyes again. “So dramatic.” He silently snickered, full of humour. Harry searched his face for malice but found none. He looked like a different person. The mirror in Malfoy’s other hand winked Harry’s own disbelieving green eyes back at him. 

This was getting weirder by the second. 

Whole minutes passed this way, and it was a while before the teachers gave up and headed back to the castle, grumbling amongst themselves. 

Snape lingered, shining his wand at the trees one last time.

“Piss… off…” Malfoy whispered at Snape, quiet enough so only Harry could hear, and they both let out a sigh of relief once the teachers were well out of sight. 

Malfoy looked down at him. “Your wand is stabbing me in the ribs.”

Harry jabbed it in harder, waiting for Malfoy to wince. He didn’t. Bastard. 

“What were you doing in the forest?” 

Malfoy feigned disappointment. “Really? You’re interrogating me already? You don’t want to celebrate our successful little insurgency against the same staff who do nothing but sing your praises?” 

“Not Snape.” Said Harry. “He hates me.”

“He wouldn’t be the only one.” Said Malfoy. “Ow.” 

Harry allowed himself a smirk, and removed some of the pressure. He really shouldn’t be enjoying this. 

“So? Tell me what you were doing, Malfoy, or I’ll make sure they come right back.” 

All trace of amusement was wiped off Malfoy’s face. It was incredible how much just a change of expression transformed him back into the boy Harry was familiar with. He almost mourned the loss of Malfoy’s amused smile until he remembered who he was talking to. 

Malfoy withdrew from Harry’s side, pulling the cloak off them both and handing it back. Harry took it, taking care to keep his wand pointed at him. 

“I needed to get out.” Said Malfoy flatly. 

Harry scowled. “You gatecrashed the party.” 

“Shouldn’t be surprising.” 

“You’re right. But why?” 

Malfoy’s eye twitched ever so slightly. “There were reporters there. I’ve been trying to clear my family’s name for months, Potter.”

It made sense. Of course it did. But Harry knew that can’t have been the only reason.

“And the Room of Requirement? You go there all the time. I’ve seen you.”

“I let you have one question.” Said Malfoy, his voice low.

“And you haven’t answered it!” 

Malfoy sneered. “Yes I did, you simply didn’t like the answer. I needed to get out. I needed to...” He gave a single, humourless laugh, “spread my wings.” 

“You were on a broom or something.” Said Harry, “Flying.” 

Malfoy took a step back. “How did you know that?” 

“Honesty goes both ways, Malfoy.” Harry said, relishing the look of pure distaste that spread across the Slytherin’s face. It sobered Harry, how much like his father Malfoy appeared when he used that expression.  

“Then we’ve reached a dead end.” Said Malfoy. “There’s no need for more questions, Potter. We helped each other”-

-” I helped you ”-

-”And we needn’t say anything else to one another.” Malfoy reached into his front pocket, withdrew a shrunken piece of fabric, and restored it to its original size, revealing a simple black shirt. He did all of this non-verbally and held Harry’s gaze as he buttoned it around his pale frame. The plain green pendant Harry had noticed earlier was concealed as Malfoy fastened the shirt up to this throat. He wondered whether it bore some significance. Harry had never really pictured Malfoy wearing jewelry. Then again, he had said his mother had sent him a ‘trinket.’ The Malfoy’s could be dripping in jewels for all he knew. They could certainly afford it.

Harry was at a loss. He couldn’t tell whether he’d won or lost. He couldn’t tell whether either of them had, or even whether there had even been anything to win or lose in the first place. 

“One word of advice, Potter.” Malfoy began, “It isn’t wise to tell your enemy you think you’ve guessed their plans, because they’ll only come up with better ways to avoid you.” 

Harry slowly lowered his wand, his breath hitching in his throat as Malfoy turned to leave, tossing his mirror in the air and catching it deftly. 

“One more question,” Harry burst out. Back to him, Malfoy half turned his head. “What kind of perception charm did you use on Zacharias Smith?”

Malfoy’s shoulders bunched in a scoff. “Smith is full of it, Potter.”

Harry shrugged. “He never had much of an imagination.” 

“I can’t say the same for you.” Said Malfloy, already walking away from Harry towards the castle. “You’ve been imagining all sorts. Perception charm, indeed.” His bare feet were blue amongst the snow. Wasn’t he cold? 

“And don’t go blabbing about this to your little army if you know what’s good for you!” Malfoy’s last call echoed in the night as his blond head faded away into darkness, matching the snow surrounding them. 

 

**********

 

Draco greatly resented the fact he’d just had more fun hiding from teachers with the bloody Chosen One than he’d had with a single one of his supposed actual friends in eons. It truly was a testament to how fucked his life was. Everything about Potter’s reaction to finding him had been priceless. True, Draco had nearly shit himself when he’d strolled from the forest half naked to find the golden boy himself standing there and only bloody waiting for him, but he hadn’t seen anything important, so where was the harm? If anything, Potter was more likely to think of Malfoy as merely another headcase rather than a Death Eater at this point, which worked very well in Draco’s favour. Not that Potter would stop stalking him, of course. That much was clear from the incessant fervor in Potter’s ridiculous green eyes as he’d left him in the snow, a thousand questions hanging in the air. Truth be told, Draco felt incredible after tonight. Even just gliding through the trees had proven satisfactory to the Curse, and as a result he felt stronger for it. His limbs no longer ached. The constant headache had gone. His exhaustion had given way to a metallic buzz that mixed pleasantly with the adrenaline from a night of flying and evading teachers with his arch nemesis. 

Draco had been truthful when he’d told Potter he hadn’t known what the mirror meant, but now that he could properly inspect it he recognized the tiny initials etched into the silver rim: N. B

Draco went straight to the Room of Requirement. Slughorn’s party was over All traces of confetti, Butterbeer and glitter long vanished as though the entire affair had never happened. He slipped inside unnoticed, pulling out the mirror and speaking to his own reflection.

“Narcissa Black…” He said clearly and then, “Mother.” 

His mother’s face appeared instantly. Draco had to refrain from wincing. She looked tired - even tireder than he had as of late.

“Oh, my boy. I knew you would understand what the mirror meant.” Said his mother. 

“Of course I understood.” Draco beamed, willing himself not to cry. Merlin, he’d missed her. No one else on this earth spoke to him like she did. Full of love. 

“How are you?” He asked, whispering despite being totally alone in the enormous maze of a room. 

She averted her gaze, red lips struggling to form words. “I… am alright.

“Mother. Be honest with me. You look exhausted.”

She gave a low laugh. “I am happy to see that you are well. Weller than I expected.” 

Draco neglected to mention his ‘wellness’ was due to transforming for far longer than he was ever allowed to at home, and that he’d just spent the past half an hour with the very boy they were trying to bring down, albeit because he’d almost been caught. 

“They’re not hurting you, are they?” He asked, noticing his mother’s haunted expression.

She shook her head. “No. But it’s hard to get a moment. Especially in the daytime. I cannot stay long.”

Draco nodded. “Mother, about Christmas”-

-”Come home.” She said quickly. She swallowed thickly. “The Dark Lord has requested your presence, Draco.” 

Draco’s heart sank like lead, and dread unfurled in his gut. 

“Did the Dark Lord say why he wants to see me?” He asked tightly.

She shook her head. “I heard it from Bella. She seemed… excited.” 

Draco grimaced. He couldn’t help himself. But he had no fear of being reprimanded by his mother. He knew she shared the same distaste for his aunt as he did. 

“Are you allowing Severus to watch over you, Draco?”

Draco tutted. “You really shouldn’t have made such a pointless agreement with him. The meddling bat won’t leave me alone for five minutes.” 

In spite of Draco’s scorn, his mother’s eyes brightened for it. “Keep him close when the time comes. He will help you. He’ll help all of us.” 

“But what about when I have to be on my own, mother? Surely you don’t want him to discover me.” 

“And has he?” Asked Narcissa, raising a brow. Draco shook his head. “Then there is no need to fear as long as you are careful.” She smiled at him, searching his face. “I have to go.”

“Mother, wait a minute.” He drew in a deep breath. “The curse on the necklace… Aeterna Somnum … what does it do?” 

Her face darkened. “It is the curse of eternal sleep.” At the look on his face, she continued, “Yes, I heard what happened to Miss Bell. She will survive, Draco. She didn’t touch it fully. Your conscience is clear. It was an accident.” 

Draco wanted to argue that his conscience was anything but clear, but his mother was leaving. 

“I won’t fail next time.” He whispered, staring at his lap. The skin on his bare feet was cracked from the cold. He hadn’t even noticed. He was turning into a monster. He closed his eyes as his mother said,

“You could never fail me, Draco. I love you.” 

And then she was gone.



Chapter Text

It was Christmas day, and Draco felt on the verge of collapse as Narcissa straightened his collar for him one final time. They stood in the drawing room, waiting for their visitors. Upon his return from school, Draco had felt no life within these rooms or the halls he’d run down as a child. The coming and going of the Dark Lord’s servants had steadily taken its toll on Malfoy Manor, turning it into a place infused with Dark magic - and not the kind it was used to. Old magic had roamed these corridors for centuries, but the blood spilled here was fresh. The scent of death lingered in the air, desaturating the landscape and casting an eerie fog over the grounds. His entire world was grey and black and white, from the suit he wore to his reflection in the mirror. 

“There,” Narcissa breathed with a tight smile, stepping back to admire her son. “Much better.” 

Draco was used to shirts buttoned up to his neck. He needed them to hide the pendant. But today he felt constrained by it. Like a prisoner in his own clothes. He brought his fingers to his throat, pulling fruitlessly at the stiff fabric. 

“After this, I’ll be a…” He couldn’t finish the sentence. After today he would be different. Everything would be different.

“Yes.” His mother nodded. “Your father would be”-

-”Proud?” Draco interrupted, his voice coming out harder than he’d intended. 

Narcissa looked at the floor, lowering her voice to a whisper. “You know why he needs you to do this. You know it’s safer this way.” 

Draco swallowed back the lump in his throat. “And what would you have me do, mother? Run away and hide my shame?” 

His mother’s black eyes pooled with tears. “No, my darling. Never. The Malfoys are proud. Do you understand? You are no different.”

“As long as I remain in the shadows, you mean? As long as no one ever knows.” He stepped towards her, “Mother, the Curse is getting stronger. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to stay here.” 

She frowned. “What do you mean, Draco?”

What did he mean? Draco wished he could answer that himself. All he knew was that suppressing the desire to transform was costing him everything. With every breath, the Curse licked the back of his throat. With every blink, it offered him a glimpse of the form he could be, flying high over trees and cliffs. It was alive and reeling inside him. He had mere days before it would transform him against his will. He could feel it. He closed his eyes against the calling of his core, and when he opened them again his mother had gone pale. 

“Oh, my darling.” She breathed. He had no idea what she had seen in him in that moment, but he was quite sure it had been enough to convince her he was on the edge of breaking.

“You see, mother? I can’t”- 

The wards chimed as their visitors arrived. It was Yaxley who opened the drawing room doors, nodding for Narcissa and Draco to assert their presence in the hall. As he passed, Draco wondered when his mother had lost authority in her own home. She walked with her head bowed, shoulders slumped. So much for Malfoy pride, he thought bitterly. 

Yaxley clapped Draco on the shoulder.

“I trust all is in order?” He all but growled in Draco’s ear. 

“Yeah.” Draco replied, struggling to sound convincing. “I mean… I still have to fix it but it won’t be long.” 

Yaxley gave him a wide-toothed leer. “You’re a good’un. I always said our kids were the future, din’t I, Narcissa? You kids are what’ll make this whole thing work. You’re our fuckin’ future!”

He laughed, exuding a sharp tang of Firewhiskey. Draco tried not to cringe. 

Yaxley’s laughter died down when they entered the grand hallway. Draco instinctively held his breath at the sight of their visitors.

There he was - the Dark Lord himself, flanked by Bellatrix and Peter Pettigrew. Behind them entered Fenrir Greyback and Dolohov. Draco had always found Dolohov intensely irritating. He walked like his balls were bigger than his head. He was doing it now, strutting into the hallway and chomping on something noisily. The Dark Lord stood in the centre, his white face tipped up and his eyes shut. It was with a chilling sigh that he opened the red slits Draco found difficult to call eyes and laid them upon Draco and his mother. 

“Narcissa…” He announced, hissing on the ‘s’s. She came to stand by him, eyes aimed at the floor. He cradled her face with his long white hands, not quite touching her but probing the air around her. 

“And,” He said, sweeping past her to loom over Draco, “The star of the show.”

Draco bowed his head. “My Lord.” He said, as clearly as he could manage. The Curse bristled under the Dark Lord’s penetrative gaze, and he willed it down with all the energy he could muster.
A hiss that did not come from Voldemort sounded from the doorway, and Draco risked a glance. Nagini slithered into view, her vivid scales flashing in the gloom. His stomach did a nauseating somersault. The snake invoked within him a very different kind of fear altogether. She rose impressively, tasting the air before finally turning her great head towards Draco. They locked eyes, and for a moment he was certain she knew. She saw the Curse. 

“Let us get more comfortable, shall we?” Said Voldemort to the whole room. Bellatrix giggled and skipped over to Draco, ruffling his hair. 

“Hello, Aunt Bella.” He said weakly, quite unable to look at her face as they filed into the living room. Her eyes were laced with tiny red veins and her hair was a wild nest tangling over her shoulders. He briefly wondered if she was on something. 

“Dracooooo!” She cooed, pushing him forward and out of the hallway. “Come, Draco, come. It’s an exciting day!”

“That it is, Bella.” The Dark Lord agreed from where he now stood in front of the fireplace, its flames turning purple as he absently swirled his wand amidst them. 

The sight of the fire kindled the Curse once more, and Draco swallowed hard.

“It is a shame your dear father couldn’t be here for this moment, Draco.” Said the Dark Lord, “But that will soon be rectified, will it not, Yaxley?” 

“Aye, My Lord.” Yaxley chimed, licking his lips. Draco stared between them. So it was true. They were planning a breakout. Someone had leaked it. 

As if reading his mind, the Dark Lord said, “There is a traitor in our midst.” The whole room went silent. “I know not who, but be certain I shall weed them out and pluck them from our ranks.” 

Draco did not dare look at his mother. If the truth of the Curse was revealed, they’d be branded traitors for sure, even if they weren’t responsible for this particular crime. 

The silence stretched on for an uncomfortable time, and Bella began singing in a whisper:

“I killed Sirius Black, I killed Sirius Black…” She stopped and burst into manic howls of laughter that rang throughout the room. Draco hadn’t thought it was possible for his aunt to get any crazier. Clearly he’d been wrong. 

“Come here, Draco.” Said the Dark Lord. 

Draco hesitated. Now? They were doing it now ? He’d known the ceremony was happening today, he’d just expected… build up. A pre warning. Maybe a dinner, or something.

No. The Dark Lord didn’t do ceremonial dinners. If you were committed to the cause, you were as good as your word. And Draco had to be as good as his word, or… He shared a look with his mother. She gave him an encouraging smile and squeezed his hand, the sincerity of which was betrayed by her glistening eyes. 

As Draco walked across the solid oak floorboards to stand in front of his master, he contemplated the actions that had brought him to this point. 

Being born.

That was it.

The Dark Lord didn’t know about the poisoned mead. He didn’t care about the necklace. He didn’t care for the methods Draco was using to complete his task. None of that had brought him here. Draco was a Malfoy, and that was enough to qualify him for this.

“Kneel.” 

Draco desperately hoped no one could see him quivering as he knelt. 

“Give me your arm.”

Draco slowly uncuffed the shirt sleeves on his left arm and rolled them up to his elbow, revealing his clean, blank forearm. He stared at it as he offered the canvas of smooth, untarnished skin to the Dark Lord. 

Voldemort snatched his wrist, long fingernails digging into Draco’s flesh. He gasped, unable to help himself, and heard low murmured laughs scatter throughout the room. He bit his tongue, daring to look into the face of the man who was about to brand him.

The Dark Lord was smiling. It was the smile from Draco’s nightmares.

He raised his wand, pressing the tip hard against his bare arm. Draco was haltingly reminded of the moment Potter had jabbed his wand into his ribs. He refocused, sure the Dark Lord would be able to sense any traitorous thoughts. 

“Tenebris Marcum.” The Dark Lord uttered, and for an incredible moment Draco thought it was over. Painless. Quick. The tip of his wand glowed crimson, then he hissed, “Praeculo Perpetuum.”  And a searing, blinding pain scalded Draco’s arm.

He grunted through it, squeezing his eyes shut as the large mark perforated him all at once. It felt like liquid fire seeping into the dermal layers of his skin. Burning, burning... fire.  

No… not now

The Curse screamed inside him, rattling inside its cage like a wild thing. The pain lasted for far longer than he’d anticipated. It was meant to, he realized. And the Dark Lord’s insane cackling died into the distance as Draco buried himself in the pain.

I don’t want this , he thought, knowing it to be true. He didn’t want this, and here he was; branding himself as one of them forever.

And now he could never go back. 

As soon as the thought came, the pain went, and Draco was left hauling in breaths in an undignified heap in front of his own hearth. 

“At least he didn’t cry,” Came Dolohov’s snort, “Lucius snivelled like a little baby.” 

“And as far as I remember, Dolohov, you applied a cooling charm moments after.” 

Raucous jeers filled the room, dragging Draco back to the present. There was a hand on his forehead. His mother’s.

“Come on, Draco.” She was saying, begging , “Stand up.”

He did so with her help, stumbling upright and leaning against the fireplace for support. 

The pair of them stood like that, huddled together as the rest of the Death Eaters laughed.  Yaxley caught Draco’s eye and gave him an approving nod. It said solidarity . It said you’re one of us now

Draco forced himself to look at his arm, at the mark that didn’t belong there. It was vivid black against his light skin, the snake in the skull’s mouth writhing with pleasure. He felt empty as he watched it, sensing his mother’s and the Dark Lord’s eyes on him. 

“Not even a smile.” The Dark Lord remarked, “I must ask why, Draco, do you not appreciate my gift?”

Fear quelled inside Draco as he humbled himself in front of the Dark Lord once more, kneeling by his side.

“Apologies, My Lord. I don’t know what to say.”

“This is the day of giving, is it not?” The Dark Lord addressed the entire room. “So, Draco, you shall treat this as what it is. A gift from your master, to you. Suffice to say you have not yet earned it. I hear your efforts have failed, so far. So consider this a motivation to succeed.” 

“Yes, My Lord.” Draco said obediently, hoping his heart would slow down. Blood and adrenaline rushed through every vein, clamouring in his ears. “I won’t let you down, My Lord.” 

The Dark Lord gave another of his lipless smiles, tipping Draco’s head up with a long finger placed under his chin. 

“You are a clever boy, Draco. Severus has told me much of your talent with Potions. Dumbledore” - he spat the name - “will be dead by the end of June, by your hand. Do I make myself clear?”

Draco nodded, choking out another “Yes, My Lord.” 

The Curse was filling his chest, strangling him from the inside and heating his lungs. A savage hiss sounded from Voldemort’s ankles, and Nagini slithered around him, her tongue flicking in the air.

She could taste his fear. Draco tried to drown it out with thoughts of what had just happened, fixating on the tattoo on his arm instead of the Curse’s incessant grip on his heart. 

He had to get out of here. Soon. He met his mother’s eye as the Dark Lord turned his back and made to leave. She gave him a tiny nod, and he understood what she was going to do a second before she did.

“My Lord,” Narcissa said, bowing with a more convincing grace than Draco could ever hope to achieve, “I beg you allow Draco to return to school tomorrow. He has much to complete and I fear his efforts here will be wasted.” 

Draco thought that if the Dark Lord had eyebrows, he would have raised one. He ignored Narcissa, choosing to regard Draco instead. 

“My, the boy is keen. You wish to return?”

Draco nodded sharply. His knee was hurting from staying in this position for so long.

“I must fix the Cabinet, My Lord. I think of little else.” 

The Dark Lord barked a single laugh. “Then we shall not keep you! Go, my boy. Go, and…” The Dark Lord trailed off, a horrifying expression of what Draco could only interpret as excitement dawning on his face, “But first. Bella!” He snapped his fingers. Bellatrix scarpered to his side.

“My Lord,” She bowed, practically scraping the floorboards with her nose. 

“You have a venture planned for this evening, do you not?” 

Bellatrix’s eyes gleamed with fervour. “Yes, My Lord! Yes, yes!” She began humming the tune to “I killed Sirius Black” again.

“Take young Draco with you.” Said the Dark Lord with relish, “It can be his… debut.” 

If Draco had known the ‘venture’ Bellatrix had planned was an ambush on the Weasley family, he would have done everything he could to refuse. As it was, he was side-alonged with Fenrir Greyback to the cold marshes outside of the Weasley family home. 

“It’s time to teach these Blood Traitors a lesson.” The Werewolf snarled, reeking of old blood and sweat.

Draco stood alone, unable to move as the other Death Eaters marched towards the rickety house without fear.
Was Potter here? And Granger? Who else? Perhaps the entire Order was here. What if they found him? 

“Stay back, Draco!” Bellatrix ordered, “And learn what happens to those who would smear our names with filthy blood.” 

For a while, there was silence. There was nothing but the swish of wind rocking the reeds and the freezing water of the marsh soaking Draco to his ankles. He clutched his arm, the sleeve still rolled up. The Mark burned where he touched it, and he tentatively withdrew his hand, hating himself for what had just occurred. Hating himself for displaying such cowardice in the face of his superiors. More than anything, he wanted to be with his mother. But he’d been yanked away before he’d even been able to process it. 

A burst of flame - more, flame! - filled his vision, alighting the world before diffusing into a circle of fire around the Weasley’s house. There were shouts now. Cries filled with anguish and anger following the flames. Draco tripped backwards in his haste to get away, almost falling into the water. Spells flashed. They were close. 

“I killed Sirius Black!” Bellatrix’s ecstatic singing sounded over the roar of fire. And then - 

“Come back!” 

Potter .

It was unmistakably Potter’s voice. 

Draco threw himself through the reeds in the opposite direction. He couldn’t be seen. He couldn’t blow his cover - 

He collided with another body, sending both of them tumbling to the ground. He withdrew his wand, righting himself before she did. 

The woman was upright in no time, her bubblegum pink hair framing her slim face and bright eyes. 

Nymphadora Tonks. His cousin

She stared, blinking, before her features contorted into true dislike. 

“Malfoy.” She spat. Draco moved to pull down his sleeve, but Tonks’ eyes found the mark before he could. Her mouth dropped open.

“Harry was right…”

“Obliviate!” Draco yelled before Tonks could go any further. The spell struck her violently, her eyes going blank before rolling back into her head. She fell backwards into the water, unconscious. 

Draco had never performed a memory charm. He hadn’t even had a purpose in mind when he cast this one. 

“Fuck…” He muttered, rooted to the spot. Now what? Tonks wasn’t moving. Her bright hair dulled to a mousy brown, growing into the murky water. 

Should he do something? She was a member of the Order. She was his enemy. But what if he’d wiped her memory clean by mistake? He hadn’t meant to. He only wanted her to forget this moment. 

Shouts echoed closer. And they didn’t belong to his aunt or the Werewolf. 

Draco bolted, leaving his cousin unconscious in the marsh.

For the first time since coming home, the Curse was quiet. And that brought no comfort to Draco at all. 

He couldn’t sleep that night. His large bed remained cold, his body refusing to heat in the wake of what he had done tonight. The image of Tonks’ eyes rolling back into her head and his own spell echoing into the silence replayed on a loop inside his head. He should be happy. He hadn’t been caught. He’d acted fast, silencing his blood-traitor cousin before she could blab his name to the enemy and ruin his plans for good. 

He tossed and turned, resolving to lie and stare at the canopy of his king-sized four poster until the dead of night had well passed. 

“Draco…” 

Draco shot up in bed, his insides going cold at the sound. He’d heard his name, he was sure of it. Or perhaps this was it. He’d truly lost the plot on account of all the stress. He blinked in the dark, grasping his wand from under his pillow.

“Lumos.” 

His bedroom was empty. He’d packed any and all childhood items away at the start of term, his ethos being that he had to leave his past behind him. An inkling of regret stirred inside him at the decision. All sense of familiarity had been stripped from the place he used to call home. All was silent and empty and still, aside from a single white curtain that floated in the breeze from his open window. 

He stopped.

His window had been closed when he’d gone to bed.

“Draco…” The hiss sounded again. Unless the Dark Lord himself was hiding in his bedroom, Draco had no idea where it had come from. Was this a nightmare?

Mustering all of his courage, he jumped out of bed, turning on the spot.

“Who’s there?” He whispered. 

A cold, silken brush against his ankles filled him with unfathomable dread. He looked down to find Nagini wrapping herself around his legs. He froze, mouth agape in terror. The snake’s massive body was still slithering out of his open window, the rest of it finally dropping with a sickening thud into his room. Her head came to rest against his knee. 

He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe

“...Good Evening.” The snake said. 

Draco didn’t understand. He wasn’t a Parselmouth like the Dark Lord or Potter, so how could he hear her? 

“N-Nagini.” He said probingly. “How can you speak to me?” 

The snake gave a juddering hiss that sounded exactly like a snigger. 

“It is not to you I ssspeak, but to your core. It is what connects usss.” 

Low and behold, his Curse sat comfortably inside his chest, and he realized it was translating Nagini’s words for him. He was done for. 

“You can sense it. The… the Curse.” He said as Nagini tightened her body around his legs, propelling herself further up until her face was level with his. 

Draco had always found a certain affinity with snakes; summoning one in his first duel with Potter and craving one as a pet since he’d been a small child. His fucking house crest had a snake on it for crying out loud. But faced with Voldemort’s creature like this was rapidly changing his mind. 

Her yellow eyes bored into his own. 

“Our natures can ssspeak to each other, Draco. You sssensed it when you saw me firssst, didn’t you? Deep down, you knew… we are the sssame.” 

“W-we are?” Draco stammered. Nagini was cursed like him? Then…? “You’re human?” He blurted. 

Nagini slunk delightedly around him, twisting her body until she was more comfortably resting against his shoulder. She was heavy. Drago sagged under her weight, but he was too terrified to sit down. 

“Our kind have exisssted since long before the mortals you and I share mealsss with, Draco.” Her tongue flicked the pulse on his neck. He shuddered. “We are neither human nor beassst… well… you aren’t. I denounced my human form yearsssssss ago…” 

“Why?” Asked Draco, lowering his wand hand. He didn’t dare put out the light. Being in total darkness with Nagini would be even more terrifying than this blood curdling closeness. 

“Becausssssse… it was the safessssst thing to do.” 

Draco slowly pivoted on his heel until he was facing his bed. Nagini slumped from his shoulder and slithered onto his white silken sheets, releasing him from her weight. She coiled in the blankets and gave an unmistakable sigh. 

“Sssssso long since I’ve been able to talk to sssomeone who wasn’t massster…” 

Draco’s breaths were coming in panicked bursts. “Nagini,” He whispered, “Will you tell him what I am? I’ll get in trouble. Please… don’t…” 

Nagini laughed again, nestling further into his sheets. She took up his whole bed she was so large. 

“I will not… only becaussse… I wish to sssee what you will do… I get sssooo bored…”

Draco debated the snake’s reasons for not relaying his secret, but he was relieved nonetheless. 

“Thank you.” He breathed. “I mean, I’m sure you understand.” 

Nagini raised her head, regarding him. “I cannot wait for the day you are consssumed…” 

Foreboding sent a jolt through him. “Consumed?” He asked, unsure whether he actually wanted the answer. 

“I cannot be human again,” Said Nagini, “Even if I wished it… the sssame will happen to you if you treat your gift with sssuch… contempt.” 

“I don’t understand.” 

Nagini began to scale his bedpost, licking the gargoyle carving at its corner. 

“You will…” She said with promise, “Sssuch a niccce… houssse….” With alarming speed, she slithered away from his bed and returned to the window. 

“Time for a midnight sssnack… Goodnight, Dragon…” 

“G-Goodnight.” He replied, marvelling at the fact he was talking to a snake. The Dark Lord’s snake, no less. She’d called him Dragon… 

Draco returned to bed, trying hard not to think about what had just been coiled up in his sheets. Nagini was like him ? How had it happened to her? Did the Curse run through her family as Draco’s did his? And what did she mean, ‘cons( ss )umed’? The questions burned in his brain until the light of dawn. He did not sleep a wink that night, and arose before his mother had awoken, packing the little of the things he’d brought home with him to leave for school. 

He left her a note in the drawing room where Yaxley was slumped in his father’s favourite armchair, snoring loudly.

 

The next time you see me, I will have won. No more running. - D 

 

**********

 

It had been two weeks since the attack, and Tonks was still in St. Mungos. The trio were quiet on their train ride back to Hogwarts. Ron was particularly pale on the journey. He’d wanted to stay and help rebuild the house. They were well on their way to restoring it by the time they’d left, but there was still much to be done. Effects of the war were steadily building, reminding them all how little time was left. Harry wondered what the point of him being the Chosen One was if he couldn’t do so much as prevent his best friend’s home from burning. He loathed that Bellatrix had goaded him into a fight. Her song still haunted him, exactly as it had since the night she’d murdered his godfather. He vowed that if no one else died, she would. 

As for Tonks, Harry had no idea who had done that to her - but they would pay. 

Thankfully, she remembered them. But almost a year’s worth of her memories had been lost. Remus had to tell her about Sirius’ death all over again. They’d been stood around her bedside, forced to watch her face crumple with grief once more as he relayed the news. Harry’s heart had rebroken watching it happen, her sobs reminders of his own. They’d left her like that, crying into Remus’ arms for a second time for the same reason. It was so unfair. So cruel. Harry hated Voldemort with a fresh, burning rage, and he had no idea what to do about it. He’d thought he’d been doing something about it before the holidays, but now he wasn’t so sure. 

Memories of the night he’d spent hiding at the edge of the forest with Malfoy had distracted him all holiday. Their interaction had been confusing at the very least. And that was putting it lightly. Malfoy’s possible Death Eater status was still a huge question mark in Harry’s head. That night had made him reconsider everything despite the fact he knew he was up to something. His conversation with Snape, the little Harry had heard of it, was significant in itself. He just had to find out exactly how . On top of that, he still hadn’t told Ron and Hermione what he’d been doing that night. He didn’t know how. He’d either get told off for still thinking Malfoy was a Death Eater or faced with having to explain why he’d chosen to hide their least favourite Slytherin under his invisibility cloak, and he wouldn’t know where to begin with that one. He hadn’t known why he’d done it himself. Sheer panic, was maybe the best answer, but surely letting them both get caught would have been easier, at least on his psyche. 

Dumbledore’s calling came the moment Harry set foot back in Hogwarts and he was reminded yet again how badly they needed to get hold of Slughorn’s real memory. Harry dreamt of the tampered one, of young Tom Riddle’s dead eyes and his question before it became muffled by whatever Slughorn had done to it. Then the dream more often than not morphed into something involving Malfoy at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, staring Harry down with a strange look in his eye as he said, “Come here, Potter” beckoning with open arms and his exposed torso. When Harry awoke from those dreams, the conflicting priorities within him clashed, and he always, always ended up checking the map. He hadn’t laid eyes on Malfoy once yet. Not even at breakfast. The Slytherin didn’t make his first appearance until their first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson. Draco’s face was even more hollowed out than it had been before the start of the Christmas holidays. He must have caught Harry staring, because more than once he glanced upward, meeting Harry’s eye, before turning away without so much as a dirty look. No acknowledgement of their tryst on the night of Slughorn’s party. Harry was disappointed. He’d thought of all kinds of arguments they could’ve had about it (ones he always won) over the holidays. 

The bad news arrived on Sunday. It was the 7th of January, and there had been a mass breakout from Azkaban. 

Every single Death Eater who’d been caught, from Goyle to Avery to Lucius Malfoy, was free. 

Harry did not fail to notice Malfoy’s absence from Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts the next day. Neither did Ron and Hermione. They gave Harry a worried look, and he recognized the doubt in their expressions. 

“You see?” He whispered over his half-finished Ageing Potion, “I was right.”

“This doesn’t prove anything, Harry.” Said Hermione, “But it is…” 

“Suspicious.” Ron filled in. 

Harry wished they’d stop finishing each other’s sentences. So did Lavender apparently, because she was giving Hermione very filthy looks indeed, and they only intensified when Ron brushed her off to talk to Hermione. 

But Harry didn’t have time to linger on his best friend’s love triangle - Blaise Zabini was watching their exchange with a curious gaze. Harry deliberately made eye contact with him, and a strange expression passed across Zabini’s features. It wasn’t hostile, as Harry had expected it to be. He’d never had much interaction with the Slytherin. He’d known Zabini was part Veela for some time. Everyone did. But he’d usually just dismissed him as another of Malfoy’s cronies. 

At the end of the lesson, Zabini cornered Harry. 

“What?” Harry asked, remaining aloof. Even so, the other boy’s dark eyes enchanted him, and he realized Zabini was using his Veela powers. 

“Stop that.” Said Harry, looking away. 

To his surprise, Zabini gave him a smile. “Sorry,” He said smoothly, “Bad habit.” He coughed, “I… heard what happened at Christmas.” 

Harry scowled. “What do you mean?”

“At the Weasley’s house? I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Harry could hardly believe his ears. “Maybe you should tell Ron that. Unless you’re confessing.”

“No,” Zabini said slowly, “Not confessing. Besides, I would talk to Weasley but we’re all well aware of how free he can be with his fists.” 

Harry couldn’t argue with that logic, Ron had been known to go for punches before his wand, but he wasn’t about to agree with Zabini. 

“Was that all?” 

Zabini glanced over his shoulder. Pansy Parkinson was waiting for him, tapping her foot irritably. 

“No…” Said Zabini. He lowered his voice, “Look, the inspectors won’t find anything at Malfoy Manor.” 

Now Harry was even more confused. “Inspectors?” 

Zabini laughed. “You have to know. Your lot sent inspectors to Malfoy Manor today. I heard from my mother. I just wanted to tell you, they won’t find anything there.” 

Harry blinked at him. “I already knew they wouldn’t. I warned them.” He narrowed his eyes, “Look, are you trying to help me? What is this?” 

Zabini shook his head. He gave a long exhale. 

“Potter, we’ve never been friends. I’m not under any illusions about that, but… we’re not all the same, alright? I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. I shouldn’t even be talking to you…” 

“Then don’t.” Harry said sharply. “I’ll be late for my next class.” 

He left Zabini in the corridor, his head spinning, the exchange leaving him dumbfounded. Either this was an elaborate and messy ploy by the Slytherins to disarm him or Zabini had been sincere, and he had no idea which scenario was more disturbing. 

As fate would have it, Harry received an owl from Remus that very same night. 

 

Harry,

 

Following the Azkaban breakout, we sent a team to search Malfoy Manor and confiscate any incriminating items. The house was almost empty, I’m afraid. I have no doubt Draco’s family are hiding something, but whether the boy himself is a Death Eater is unclear. I wouldn’t bank on it if I were you, Harry, but stay alert. An attack on Hogwarts is imminent. 

 

All the best,

 

Remus

 

P.S Tonk is getting better. Healers say her memory might be fully restored soon. She sends her love. 

 

So, Zabini had known about the inspection before Harry did. He hadn’t been lying. Even so, it didn’t mean anything. Harry had told Remus the Malfoy’s would have hidden any incriminating evidence a long time ago. 

He filled Ron and Hermione in about Zabini’s odd words to him as they poured over Remus’ letter by the fire in the Common Room. 

“He’s trying to get in your head.” Said Ron, “He’s lying. Of course he wants to see people get hurt. His mum is a known criminal.” 

Hermione. “Don’t demonize her, Ron. She was promiscuous, that’s all.” 

Ron snorted. “If that’s what you want to call it.” 

Hermione pursed her lips in a very McGonagall-like fashion. 

“So?” Said Harry, “Zabini is a liar?”

Hermione hummed. “I’m not so sure… did he seem guilty?” 

“He seemed unsure… about something.” Harry told them. 

Ginny wandered over, yawning. “What’s this about Zabini?” 

“He talked to Harry today.” Said Hermione. 

Harry nodded, “He said something about… them not all being the same or something. I dunno. It was weird.” 

Ginny went red. “Oh.” She said softly. 

“What?” Asked Hermione.

Ginny sat on the floor by Harry’s armchair, absently plaiting her hair. “Well, I spoke to him…”

“What?!” Ron blurted so loud he attracted attention from the other side of the common room, “You spoke to that toad?! What did he say to you?” 

“Bloody hell, calm down.” Ginny scolded, going even redder as half of Gryffindor house tuned into their conversation. “It wasn’t much. I heard him and Malfoy muttering in the library so I told them to shut up, then after Malfoy left he asked me if I wanted help studying. He was being a smarmy git so I told him to shove it, and then we just sort of started talking. Not about anything deep. I was mostly telling him how despicable him and his lot were, to be honest.”

Harry snorted. “I imagine that went down well.” 

Ginny shrugged. “I dunno, actually. I thought I got through to him. I saw him at Slughorn’s party and he actually apologized.”

Hermione frowned. “For what?” 

“Everything, I think.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Ron muttered. 

Ginny shrugged again, averting her eyes to the fire. “I don’t know. He didn’t seem all that bad after a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the Veela thing is still really annoying and he needs to stop giving everyone the eye but I genuinely don’t think he means any real harm." She shook her head. "But what do I know?” 

Hermione had gone into analysis mode, her eyes far away. The tip of her quill was in her mouth, and she was getting ink all over her chin. 

“Hermione, you’re doing it again.” Ron said, rolling his eyes. He leant over and thumbed some of the ink off her face, only smudging it more. 

“Good thing Lavender is in the library.” Ginny breathed so only Harry could hear. 

“Okay, but don’t you think it’s strange?” Harry said, not wanting the conversation to stop here. Not when they were onto something. “I mean, Malfoy hasn’t been sitting with them for months, there’s a mass breakout at Azkaban, and suddenly Blaise Zabini apologizes to Ginny and tries to talk to me?” 

“He apologized to me before Christmas.” Ginny corrected.

“Either way. It’s strange, right?”

Hermione gave a long sigh. “As much as I hate to admit it, it is. It’s very strange indeed.” 

 

**********

 

Draco vowed that for as long as he lived, he would never look at another Vanishing Cabinet again once this was over. If he failed, he wouldn’t be living for very long so perhaps the vow was redundant in this case. 

It was time to get to the bottom of this. 

Draco had been debating doing what he was about to do for months, ever since he’d got his hands on the broken Cabinet, in fact. It was risky, but he had no choice. His diagnostic spells simply weren’t enough. 

Draco took a few steps back from the Cabinet and waited before pulling out his wand, as if it might suddenly decide to tell him what was wrong with it. When it didn’t, he swished his wand in the shape of a vertical cross, just as he’d seen illustrated in his book from their private library, and said,

“Separatrum Centrum!” 

Amazingly, it worked. Draco had had no practice with this particular spell, but the Cabinet began to disassemble itself - first its door unhinging and floating in the air, then its walls and floor and every screw and bolt and hinge that held it together. All these pieces drifted out from its centre, revealing its magical core. 

Every magical object had a core. Like a person, it was where all its energy was kept and stored, and if there was something wrong with the core (as Draco suspected there was) then there was something wrong with the object. 

The Vanishing Cabinet’s core was light green in colour, far too light than what it should have been. It shimmered in irregular bursts of light, stuttering between pale green and occasional flashes of dark. Draco stepped towards it tentatively. It was crucial he didn’t touch it. If the magical core of the object tangled with his own there could be detrimental consequences. He carefully wrapped the core in a shield charm, isolating it from the other pieces of the Cabinet which swirled around his head in perfect formation. 

Now came the difficult part. It would drain a lot of his magical energy to probe the core and discover what was wrong. It required a firm grasp on his own magical core to do so, and he’d never had to do anything like it before. He’d read about it plenty of times, but there was a huge difference in reading about something and actually doing it. 

Draco set aside his anxiety and concentrated on getting the diagnostic spells ready in his head.

He cast the first, his wand pointed shakily at the core. There was an instant repel, so he pushed harder, gritting his teeth against the resistance on his wand arm. The physical push of it was astounding, and he could see now why this was considered such advanced magic. They didn’t even teach this at NEWT level. Draco had studied independently for months for this, and it was proving extremely difficult. 

Every diagnostic charm Draco used against the core, it repelled. Even the strongest ones. After half an hour of trying the same thing over and over again, he withdrew, utterly spent. His own core simply wasn’t strong enough at the moment. He’d spent so much of his energy on repressing the Curse that he was finding it very difficult to draw on the well of power underneath it all. 

Draco had gone back to the Forbidden Forest once since his return after the holidays, and it had been much needed. But it still wasn’t enough. The Curse grew stronger and stronger every day, pushing and scraping at his core with increasing enthusiasm to get out. 

Draco rubbed his pendant in an effort to quash the demands of the curse and went back to consulting the book, unwinding the separation charm and allowing the Cabinet’s pieces to float carefully back into place. He checked it once for any misplaced parts, but found the charm had done its job perfectly. Good. Hopefully next time would be easier. 

Draco found, in fact, that the next time was not easier. Nor the next, or the next. For a week onwards he continued to push at the Cabinet’s cracked core, and for a week it resisted him. It felt like the harder he tried, the harder it repelled. He was doing the spells correctly. He checked. And Britain’s wisest Transfiguration teacher of all time on the subject surely had to have been right (but he had been a Ravenclaw, and Draco knew how reluctant Racenclaws could be to admit they were ever wrong). Even so, he tried and tried and simply could not get the Vanishing Cabinet’s core to cooperate with him. 

On the seventh night, he fell asleep in the Room of Requirement, awakening the next morning with his face scrunched into the pages. 

He was a mess. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be late for breakfast, and all the draining on his magical core the night before had made him ravenous. 

Draco marched down to the hall, aware of how much of a mess he looked. His robes were crumpled and his hair was unkempt, but he really couldn’t find it in himself to care. He hadn’t done much of that since returning. He had no one to impress now except the Dark Lord, and judging by the Dark Lord’s appearance he certainly had no right to judge Draco for his. 

The Great Hall was busy as ever. One glance at the Slytherin table and Draco noticed his ‘friends’ bunched around together laughing. So they weren’t missing him. Good to know. He ignored it, and carried on walking, stopping when he saw who Potter was talking to.

Katie Bell was back, and she was staring at him over Potter’s shoulder, her eyes wide with recognition. Any second now and -

Potter turned, his expression hardening as he saw Draco halted in between the tables. He debated carrying on and pretending he hadn’t seen anything at all, surely that would be the least suspicious, but he’d been stood still for too long. He was past that point. Heart thudding madly, Draco turned on his heel and strode out of the Great Hall, praying Potter wouldn’t follow him. He didn’t bother to check behind him as he legged it up the stairs, missing two at a time, and made it to the second floor where he turned a now-familiar corner and ran until his shoes splashed and the floor became slippery. The girl’s bathroom was deserted as usual. He yanked his robes off over his head and discarded them on the wet floor, burning up as the Curse asserted itself inside him. There wasn’t even a sign of Moaning Myrtle as he ran to the sink, turning on the tap and splashing cold water over his face. 

It didn’t work. Draco cried anyway, every inch of him overheating. Katie Bell recognized him. He’d seen it on her face. Fuck it. He’d have to kill Dumbledore tonight. Fuck the plan. If Dumbledore was dead, maybe the wards would die with him and the Death Eaters could just flood the place, maybe - 

“Malfoy.” 

Draco spun around, clutching the sink for dear life. Potter stood there, panting (he’d actually run after him ?) wand out and ready. He didn’t waste any time, did he? 

Draco wiped his nose with a sniff, hoping the water from the sink disguised the tears he’d just been shedding very loudly. 

Potter’s expression did not suggest room for a diplomatic agreement. There would be no teasing. No hiding under the cloak. No dress robes to make Potter look like a different person and allow Draco to pretend he wasn’t betraying his own family by not disarming him on the spot. No. None of that today. 

Draco had all but admitted to handing Katie Bell the cursed necklace by running away. Why did he always do that? Even as he’d promised his mother he wouldn’t, he still…

It was just Potter! When he looked at him like he was looking at him now; it filled Draco with the inscrutable notion that Potter knew exactly what he was thinking. 

Even though he didn’t. He couldn’t possibly. 

Neither of them needed to say it. 

Before Potter could say anything else, Draco whipped out his wand and yelled, 

“Stupefy!” 

Right as Potter shouted,

“Expelliarmus!” 

The two spells ricocheted around the room, missing their targets and shattering sinks and cubicle doors as the two of them launched themselves out of the way. Draco hid behind Myrtle’s cubicle. Potter scuttled around another corner. At the first sign of movement, Draco threw another spell behind him. Potter’s followed, narrowly missing his ear. With a harsh grunt, tears still stinging his eyes, he started forward and opened his mouth to cast a Protego just as Potter emerged from a cubicle and cried,

“Sectumsempra!” 

Draco hardly had time to register the fact that Potter had just uttered a spell he’d never heard before when it hit him squarely in the chest. 

The pain didn’t hit him straight away. No, his body was still in shock. Instead, he witnessed the first stripe of blood blossom across his clean white shirt. Then another slash appeared and another and another and Draco didn’t feel himself fall backwards. He saw the ceiling wave above him in a blur and heard Potter’s panting and scrambling as he said Draco’s name over and over, but none of it made sense. His whole body screamed with agony and the water around him had turned red… was that his blood?

The Curse grew stronger and larger. It wanted to protect him. It wanted to reveal itself and cover his body with the impenetrable armour only his other form could provide. Even now, inches away from death, Draco forced it back down. He had to think of his family; how they'd suffer if Draco's Curse was revealed... He couldn't do that to them... Had to protect...

Unconsciousness blurred his vision, the darkness threatening to wash over him completely, but Draco reached deep down into his magical core and drew from it. A last resort. The act itself was desperate, and he felt everything from him drain slowly as he struggled to stay alive.

“Draco…” Harry was saying, his bright green eyes wide and fearful above Draco, “I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry, Draco. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Was Potter crying ? Draco would have laughed if he could’ve. Instead, the Curse reached out a last time, and he could feel the first effects of it bubbling on his skin.

“No…” He heard himself say, his voice oh so weak, “Don’t turn.” 

The Curse obliged, but not before leaving with a steady low growl in his chest. The last thing Draco saw before what he guessed was probably his death, was Harry Potter’s startling eyes gazing, anguished, into his own. 

There were worse ways to die. 


When Draco awoke, it was night and the hospital wing was empty. Even Madam Pomfrey was nowhere in sight. Draco’s chest felt tight. It was bound by a layer of thick white bandages, but there was no pain. Slowly, memories of what had transpired between he and Potter unfolded in his memory, and as they did, the Curse rose to protect him. It was insistent and unyielding. This, Draco realized, had been the last straw for the Curse. It would not allow him to escape, and it pushed past his weakened boundaries with ease.

“Please…” Draco rasped, hauling himself out of bed, “Not here… take me somewhere else…” 

The Curse had already begun transforming Draco before he’d reached the doors. In his delirious state, he thought he passed one of the ghosts on the way out, but he couldn’t be sure. His exposed skin shone in the moonlight as it broke apart into scales. His back arched with the weight of the wings bursting from his shoulders and breaking through the hospital shirt. He stumbled down the front lane of the castle in full view of anyone who might be walking past, but he could not see. His sight was changing, even as he staggered blindly on. He barely made it to the forest in time before fully transforming, the cracking of his bones and stretch of his skin growing and unfolding loud in the emptiness. He was not at full size. Not yet. His Dragon form now was hardly bigger than his human form, his wings accounting for most of his mass. Immediately he felt a thousand times stronger, the bandages lying in rags by his claws. They were covered in blood, but this body would not scar. It would protect him against most spells, and it assured him of that with its strength as he spread his wings and took flight high above the trees, his mind too spent to question what his body wanted. And it was now, as he flew with complete liberation, that Draco understood what Nagini had meant.

He had been consumed by the Curse. It would not allow him to change back, even if he tried. 

And as the Forest became a patch of dark green beneath him, the mountains rolling into view over the cobalt horizon peppered with bright stars and a beckoning moon, Draco found he hardly cared. He was free.



Chapter Text

There was blood on his hands. Blood on his clothes. It contaminated him. Sank into his pores and obscured his vision. Draco Malfoy’s blood was everywhere. Even the next morning, when Harry awoke covered in a cold sweat, he could feel Malfoy’s blood crawling all over his skin.
And it was his fault. 

Ginny had helped Harry hide the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book, holding Harry’s hand as he shook with the aftereffects of what had happened. He hadn’t been sad to let it go. The spell was evil. Pure evil. And nothing could ever erase the fact that Harry had used it with the intent to harm.

He’d felt the effects of Malfoy’s weak shield charm and ripped right through it. No hesitation. If this is what it meant to be the Chosen One, Harry didn’t want it. 

He didn’t bother with breakfast. He had to do something first. Something Hermione and Ron and anyone else with half a brain cell would completely disapprove of. But he had to. The guilt would eat him alive if he didn’t. 

Harry prepared himself for the hatred in Malfoy’s eyes, for the insults and taunts and whatever else might come his way. Deep down, he hoped for it. Because if Malfoy didn’t shout at him for what he’d done he had no idea what he would do. Harry needed the anger. He needed it so he could apologize. But as he reached the entrance to the hospital wing, he was met with a flurry of teachers. Snape was among them, and he gave Harry a long, cold glare on his arrival. 

Harry had the decency to look away. He was about to sneak past them and enter the hospital wing, when - 

“Harry, is that you?”

Harry looked at the cluster of teachers again and blinked, spotting a tall redheaded man with a kind face and burn-scarred hands among them.

“Charlie!” Harry exclaimed, taking the young-man’s hand and shaking it. “What are you doing here?”

Charlie exchanged an apprehensive look with McGonagall who gave him a tight-lipped shake of her head. 

His expression darkened. “Oh, err - just - business, really. Haven’t injured yourself again, have you?” 

Harry rather wished he had. “No. I’m here to see someone.” He said.

“Mr. Malfoy has gone home.” Said Snape sharply from behind Harry. “I assume it is he you wished to see?” 

Harry pulled himself to full height in the shadow of Snape’s loom. 

“I wanted to apologize.” He replied icily.

Snape’s lip curled. “How… gallant . Though I’m afraid his injuries were so great that he has been recommended complete bed rest. Without disruption.”  

McGonagall stepped forward, “Severus”- she began with a whisper.

“I am afraid you will have to write your well wishings to Mr. Malfoy.” He sneered at Harry’s dumbfounded silence, ignoring the Gryffindor head of house. “Or perhaps not.” 

Harry stared. He couldn’t believe this. He’d spent the whole morning preparing himself, too nervous to even eat, and Malfoy wasn’t here? Because of him ? He swallowed tightly, trying not to allow his thoughts to show.

“Right.” He said. “I’ll just err… go.” 

Minerva stepped in front of Harry, flustered. 

“Mr. Potter. I urge you not to stress. Please focus on your studies and put all concerns for Mr. Malfoy and yesterday’s unfortunate, uh, incident out of your mind. Can you do that?”

No , Harry thought. He’d think about this until the day he saw the Slytherin’s arrogant blond head reappear in class. 

He nodded. “Yeah. Thanks, Professor. See you later, Charlie.”

“Later, Harry.” Charlie replied with a sympathetic wave. 

None of it made any sense. First of all, Harry had only been issued a detention the day before. He thought his actions against Malfoy warranted an immediate expulsion, if not a hearing on account of grievous bodily harm. But - he figured - Dumbledore needed him. This wouldn’t be the first time Dumbledore had evaded the law on account of Harry. Then there was the issue of why Malfoy had been sent home. Harry had seen Snape healing his wounds, however briefly. Had the cuts gone deeper? Were they enchanted to keep cutting? If not, surely Madam Pomfrey could have healed him up no problem. Harry had seen far worse stitched back up by the talented Healer. And if they were, then Malfoy should have been sent to St. Mungos, not at home in bed. 

Not a single part of this fit together. The puzzle wasn’t only incomplete, it had been jumbled up being recognition, and now other teachers were in on it too. And… Charlie Weasley. 

“Smith saw a Dragon.” 

Harry stopped in the middle of the corridor on his way to the Great Hall. Charlie Weasley was a Dragonkeeper. And he was visiting Hogwarts. It could be a coincidence, of course, but when did these things ever happen by chance?

He had to make sure. 

Hermione stopped Harry in the entrance of the Great Hall, her expression stern, a mountain of books piled impossibly in the crook of her arm.

“You didn’t go to see Malfoy, did you?” She started, hand on Harry’s shoulder to stop him from running away.

“He wasn’t there. He’s gone home. At least, that’s what Snape said.” 

She drew in a deep breath. “Leave him alone, Harry. Please. This will only get messier. I don’t think he’d appreciate it if you”-

-”Thanks, but where’s Ron?”

Hermione blinked. “Oh… he’s still eating.” She rolled her eyes. “You might have some competition for his attention though.”

“Lavender?”

“What do you think?”

Hermione brushed past him, huffing. Ron and Lavender’s breakfast time canoodling had clearly put her in a very sour mood. Not that Harry could blame her. When he reached the table, Ron almost had to pry Lavender off him like a limpet. 

“Just a minute, Lav,” He told her with just enough irritation in his tone that only Harry could pick up on it. He stifled a laugh as Ron straightened himself, earning him a firm kick under the table.

“You didn’t tell me Charlie was visiting.” Said Harry, piling bacon onto his plate with no intention of eating it. It would disappear once he left anyway.

Ron began packing his books into his back. He was doing last minute Potions homework. No wonder he’d hidden it from Hermione under the guise of food. It wouldn’t be the first time. 

“Charlie? What?” He had Ron’s full attention now. Lavender hooked her arm into this with coos of “Won, Won!” 

“I saw him by the Hospital Wing.” Said Harry, heart thudding as he realized his suspicions were being confirmed. 

“Are you sure, Harry? He was in Romania last I heard. He didn’t say he was coming.”

Harry shrugged. “Said it was about business.” 

“A minute , Lavender! Blimey… that’s weird. I’ll owl mum tonight, see if she’s heard from him. Is he still there? Last time he brought Percy back a Dragonhide briefcase. Said it would be my turn next.” Ron grinned. “Hopefully it’s something cooler though… like boots…”

Harry clapped his best friend on the shoulder as he stood to leave. “Thanks, Ron! Bye, Lavender!”

He doubted she heard him as he sprinted out of the Great Hall. The fact that Ron didn’t even know his brother was here meant something had happened. Something urgent. And it had to do with that Dragon and Draco Malfoy. 

Harry hadn’t checked the map in over 24 hours. He hadn’t had the time nor the chance. Yesterday’s events had been… distracting. The map was locked in Harry’s bedside drawer, and he had barely five minutes to get it before Potions began. 

“Come on, come on, come on…” He muttered to himself as he pressed against the tides of students herding the corridors. He was sweating when he finally made it up to Gryffindor tower. His hands were shaking as he unlocked his drawer and pulled the map free, his eyes frantically scanning its pages until every name blurred and warped. No, Draco Malfoy was not in the castle. He flipped over to the forest. Firenze was there, alone. His name had appeared the minute he’d been appointed as Divination Professor last year. But he was the only one. Harry exhaled, all the excitement of the past ten minutes draining. Maybe Snape hadn’t been lying. Maybe Malfoy had been sent home and Charlie really was just on some official business. Maybe Harry wanted so desperately to distract himself from what he’d done that he’d resorted to fantasizing about Dragons and conspiracies. He dropped the map, sitting heavily on his bed. He was worse than Zacharias Smith. 

Harry didn’t go to Potions. He didn’t go to Transfiguration, either. Or Defence Against the Dark Arts. Instead, he sat in his room all morning and afternoon, his chest hollowed out with guilt and shame the more he convinced himself he was wrong.

Ron and Hermione were right. He was losing himself in nonsense to avoid the real shit in his life. No, the conversation between Malfoy and Snape still made no sense. But it could have meant anything. 

That was how Ron found him, lying back on his bed and staring up at the ceiling, dead-eyed. 

“Err…” Said Ron, hovering over him. “You okay, mate?” 

Harry nodded with the barest lift of his chin. Ron grimaced and threw his bag onto his own bed. 

“Did I miss much?” Harry asked distantly. 

Ron gave a snort. “Nah. Nothing you can’t catch up on. But Snape had a riot going on about the ‘facade of Gryffindor Pride’ and how ‘The Chosen One doesn’t get to choose his timetable.’ So, you know, ten points gone.” 

Harry sighed. “Right.” 

“But don’t stress over it, Harry. You’ve had a lot going on.” 

“You mean when I nearly killed Malfoy?” 

Silence.

“Harry. You didn’t.”

Harry sat up quickly, skewing his glasses. “I did, Ron! Did you know he’s been sent home because of me?” 

Ron stared at him, bewildered. Harry noticed he had half a scone in his hand. 

“Isn’t that… good though?” Said Ron hesitantly. “I mean, you were so worried he was up to something. He can’t exactly cause trouble now, can he? Probably did us all a favour if you were right.” 

“But I wasn’t!” Harry yelled, springing off the bed with more energy than he’d had all day. “I was wrong, wasn’t I? You were right! You and Hermione were fucking right, I was just - I was trying to shift everything onto him! It was easier!” 

Ron took two steps back, holding up a hand as though Harry was a wild animal that had escaped from its cage. 

“Listen, Harry. You can’t blame yourself. He’s always been a dodgy bloke, and it’s not your fault”-

-”He was crying.” Said Harry, his eyes finding the floor. “He was crying when I finally caught up with him… I didn’t even ask, or try I just… attacked.”

Harry was not going to cry. He was determined on that. But the guilt consuming him from the inside made him want to scream out. He fisted his hands in his sheets as he crawled back onto his bed, feeling Ron watching him the whole time, and slammed his face into the pillow. 

After a few seconds, Ron came over and patted him lightly on the back.

“Wanna go down early for dinner?” Came the tentative request. 

“Yeah.” Harry gave a muffled reply. Eating was the last thing he wanted to do, but there was nothing else for it. He couldn’t hide up here forever. 

Harry decided over the next week that January was his least favourite month of all. The days passed unbearably slowly and the snow soon turned to sludge. Supposedly, a fresh batch was supposed to fall in February, but all they got in the first week of the new month was sleet and cold wind. He took his notes languidly, finding it almost impossible to keep focus when the shame of what he’d done ebbed at the knot in his chest. Every day Harry looked out for a flash of the blond head he’d grown so used to scowling at in lessons, and every day he was painfully reminded of why his so-called nemesis wasn’t there in the first place. Hermione seemed to be relieved at first; after all, Harry had stopped checking the map. He hadn’t taken it from his bedside drawer for almost two weeks now. But day by day he noticed a different kind of concern overlapping her relief. Harry knew he wasn’t himself. He caught himself sighing and staring off into the distance far too often than he’d have liked, and the looks Hermione and Ron were exchanging with each other became increasingly knowing. It was starting to irritate Harry. But he didn’t have the strength to call them out on it. He didn’t have the strength to do much at all, and Ginny had reprimanded him more than once for his lack of focus in Quidditch. He couldn’t even bring himself to feel guilty about it. He’d used up all of his guilt on Draco Malfoy. 


They were in Transfiguration when it happened. Harry, as usual, had long since tuned out to what McGonagall had been saying and was staring out of the window. If it hadn’t been for the gasp beside him, he would have thought he was seeing things. A streak of white dashed across the horizon so quickly that he might have blinked and hallucinated, but another student’s exclaim a moment later confirmed that Harry had indeed just seen something fly across the sky. Something massive and white and quick. 

Professor McGonagall cleared her throat at the interruption. “Settle down, now”-

“Professor!” Said Eloise Midgen, “There’s a… a bird?”

“It wasn’t a bird.” Said someone else. Harry realized he hadn’t been the only one daydreaming out of the window. “It was too big to be a bird.” 

The class scrambled to the window much to McGonagall’s dismay, but when she saw what everyone else did she immediately fell silent. 

A Dragon was flying over Hogwarts. In looping dives and swirls, it flew low over the treetops of the Forbidden Forest, ducking in and out of the canopy, its long silver tail swishing the branches and scaring birds into flight. They watched its movements, transfixed and terrified, as it began a path towards the castle, weaving around towers and almost brushing the greenhouses. 

Uproar broke out among the students. Harry caught Hermione’s panicked eyes and knew they were both thinking the same thing: A Death Eater attack? 

But why send a Dragon? And how did it get passed the wards? 

“EVERYONE QUIET!” McGonagall yelled, casting a Sonorus on her voice to cut through the din. 

Everyone fell silent, momentarily looking her way. McGonagall’s sharp eyes were a storm. 

“You will all calmly make your way to your dormitories. Do not break ranks. Do not leave the castle. Do you understand?”

Murmurs of “Yes, Professor” followed her command. She directed her steely gaze at Harry, a silent warning. Don’t try anything, Potter. 

He wasn’t sure he could keep such a promise. But as he left the classroom amidst the push of excited and scared students, McGonagall pulled him aside. Hermione stayed with him. 

“Go to your common room, Miss Granger.” Said McGonagall.

Hermione’s lips hardened into a line. “But, Professor”-

-”It’s okay, Hermione.” Said Harry, “I’ll catch you in a minute.” 

Hermione left reluctantly. 

“Mr Potter,” McGonagall lowered her voice, “You are to go to straight to the headmaster’s office.”

Harry’s pulse quickened. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, but he wished for your presence should a situation like this arise.” 

Confused, Harry did as he was bidden, taking the stairs two at a time to get to Dumbledore’s office. So, what? After his success in the Triwizard tournament they wanted him to defeat another Dragon? It didn’t seem likely, but it was the only conclusion Harry could come to as he ascended the lift. The doors parted into Dumbledore’s crowded office. Flitwick, Slughorn and Dumbledore gathered around his desk in deep and urgent conversation. 

“...have sent Charlie Weasley to investigate but he requires more information”-

Dumbledore cut off at Harry’s entrance. The other professor’s looked at him. He gulped. 

“Hullo, professor.” Said Harry feeling scrutinized. 

Slughorn glanced from Harry to his employer, eyes narrowing in suspicion. He had been nothing but suspicious of Harry ever since he’d stupidly brought up Tom Riddle’s schoolboy days. Even the Christmas holidays hadn’t chipped his cold treatment toward Harry. 

He breezed past Harry without a word and Flitwick followed apologetically in his wake. Once the doors had shut, Harry burst out - 

“Professor, there’s a Dragon on the grounds.” 

Dumbledore did not react to this news. Harry didn’t think he would. The old wizard appeared to know everything that would happen moments before it did.

“I know, Harry.” He said softly, “And I must ask you to do something for me.” 

Harry nodded vigorously, his heart punching holes in his chest. 

Dumbledore moved behind his desk, opening a drawer and withdrawing a straight dark-handled wand. Harry blinked, the tug in his abdomen assuring him he knew whose wand it was before Dumbledore uttered a word. 

“Ten inches, Hawthorn, reasonably springy with a unicorn hair core. This wand was discovered in the Forbidden Forest a week ago and it belongs to”-

-”Malfoy.” Harry finished in a breath. 

Dumbledore raised a brow. “Yes. Harry, do you know where he is?”

“Sna - Professor Snape said he’d been sent home… because of me.” 

Dumbledore’s expression darkened. “I see.” He sat down heavily in his chair, his blackened hand gripping the desk. “Mr Malfoy went missing the night of your duel. He was not seen leaving the hospital wing. I suspect you found no trace of him on your map, either, did you Harry?” 

There was no point lying about the map. “No, sir.” 

Dumbledore nodded with a sigh. “Then it is I suspected.” He replaced the wand in the drawer. Harry wished he’d got the chance to hold it. He dismissed the odd thought. 

“And what did you suspect, sir?” 

“That there is more to Draco’s position than I originally thought.” 

“P-position?” 

“Yes.” Dumbledore met Harry’s eye. “He is almost certainly a Death Eater.”

Harry caught his breath, blood turning to ice. He swayed manically between relief - the relief that he hadn’t been crazy after all - and despair, because what had Malfoy been doing in the Forest the night he’d helped him? Was it all in preparation for his escape, if that’s what this was? Had he sent the Dragon to Hogwarts? 

“Then the Dragon, sir, you think he has something to do with it?” 

Dumbledore contemplated this, and as he did, Fawkes swooped down to sit on his master’s shoulder. It was a marvellous sight, Harry thought. But he also couldn’t shake the unnerving thought that Dumbledore looked so old. So worn. It was haunting.   

“That is what I wish for you to find out. We have been aware of the Dragon’s presence for some time now, Harry, but it did not encroach on the castle boundaries until today. I wish to know how it got past our wards. I charmed each and every student, staff member and governor myself to ensure they were granted passage through the wards and nothing else should be able to penetrate it. Not even an extremely advanced concealment charm could hide an intruder, let alone a Dragon. Harry, perhaps this is asking too much, but I would like for you to enter the Forest under your invisibility cloak and get a closer look at this creature, whatever it may be.”
“You think it might… not be a Dragon, sir?” Asked Harry.

“Charlie Weasley did not recognize its type. Even his international colleagues could not identify it. Perhaps it is a new kind, or perhaps it is something else entirely. It is urgent we discover the truth, Harry. Lord Voldemort will use any means necessary to gain access to Hogwarts, and if this Dragon - if that’s what it is - has found a way inside, he may be able to as well.” 

Harry nodded fervently. “I’ll go, sir. And I’ll be careful.” 

Dumbledore’s expression became sombre. “I’m sorry to use you like this, Harry. But I trust you. And I trust the cloak. It served your father very well after all.” 

Harry gave a half-smile. “Yes, well… maybe I’ll be able to put it to better use than my father, sir.”

Dumbledore’s mystical blue eyes twinkled and he set aside a smile for Fawkes who perched in regal form beside his master. 

“That’s what I like to hear.” 


Rather than gunning straight for the invisibility cloak, Harry’s first instinct was to check the map. He almost felt like he was regressing the moment he unfolded the crinkled parchment and scanned for the familiar name. His heart jolted when he spotted it in the Forbidden Forest. ‘Draco Malfoy .’ It was still. Unmoving. Waiting , Harry’s mind provided. His mouth went dry as he quietly gathered his things so as not to disturb Seamus who was sleeping, and Dean who was doing homework at his desk. He tried to be discreet as he slipped down the staircase to the packed common room where talkings of the Dragon were in full swing. Hermione, Ron and Lavender were in their usual chairs near the fireplace, and Hermione spotted Harry right away. 

“Where were you?” She asked him as he made for the portrait. 

He swallowed. “Dumbledore’s office. I need to go back, actually.”

She frowned, but she didn’t stop him. “Is everything alright? What’s going on?” 

Usually, Harry would have confided in his best friends right away. He would have taken them with him. But he had no idea what he was dealing with, and Dumbledore had tasked this to him . If he took Ron and Hermione things could get complicated. There was no way they’d fit under the cloak for starters. They might get hurt. And he might lose Dumbledore’s trust. So he lied.

“It’s about Slughorn. Dumbledore thinks this might be the perfect opportunity to get the memory, what with everyone distracted and all.” 

She relaxed her shoulders. “I see… are you sure now is the best time? We might be under attack.” 

Harry shrugged, feeling each second tick by. “Dumbledore doesn’t seem to think so. See you!” He didn’t wait for Hermione to stop him. He pushed through the rest of his fellow Gryffindors and out of the common room, heading straight for the secret exit behind Gregory the Smarmy on the fifth floor. 

The wind in the forbidden tunnel seemed to breathe with him, great drafts edging him on like a pair of lungs. 

When Harry emerged into the forest, it could have been night. The trees concealed most of the dying sunlight, and the chilly February air gathered in swathes of fog at his feet. He withdrew the cloak from his bag, throwing it over himself and trying not to let his footfalls crunch too loudly as he slowly made his way in deeper. 

He was almost too tall for the cloak now, but thankfully the mist concealed his feet. Fumbling from beneath it, he retrieved the map and searched again for Malfoy’s name in the dark. It was still there. And it was close. Sitting, as if lying in wait for Harry to find him. He could do nothing but wonder if he was walking straight into a trap, yet still he walked. He was under the invisibility cloak. It was fine. 

That’s what he kept telling himself as he crept through the forest, closer and closer to Malfoy’s nametag on the map. He kept his eyes on the parchment rather than ahead of him, which turned out to be a grave mistake. 

Harry stopped dead at the sound of something… tearing . His insides went cold as he became aware of the massive presence dead ahead of him. Hardly daring to look up, he didn’t risk folding the map away for fear of making a sound and alerting… the Dragon. Even the forest gloom could not disguise the glare of its silver scales and the scale of its boat-sized wings, folded neatly behind its back as it hunched over something - an animal. Dead. Ripped open.

The Dragon was feasting. 

Harry realized he’d wandered directly into the clearing, in full view of the Dragon should it turn around. Its back was turned to him as it tore into the poor dead deer at the foot of its long, deadly claws. Its tail swished dangerously close - long and shimmering and tipped with an arrow-shaped barb. Hands shaking, Harry glanced down at the map, refocusing. Malfoy was here. Right here! Somewhere… right in front of him… but he was nowhere in sight. 

He looked at the map. 

Then back at the Dragon. 

Then at the map.

Then at the dead creature being snacked on like a Sunday lunch.

“Fuckinghell.” Harry said aloud, “It’s eaten Draco Malfoy.” 

The Dragon paused, its head snapping sharply to the side in Harry’s direction. Harry froze, the Dragon’s crystal clear grey eyes staring right through him. Bloody hell. It was enormous . In the sky, the Dragon had looked elegant with its tumbling dips and loops but here, up close… it was fucking terrifying. It had only been two years since the Triwizard Tournament but he’d managed to forget how gargantuan these beasts truly were. He was almost certain this one was bigger than the Hungarian Horntail. 

Harry’s pulse thundered in his ears and he cursed himself for speaking out loud. But it was true. When the Dragon moved, so did Malfoy’s name tag. Which also meant - dread curled cold fingers around Harry’s heart - he was still alive in there. The Dragon had swallowed him whole. 

Trembling, Harry quietly withdrew his wand from his back pocket. At the same time, the Dragon’s glacial eyes narrowed and it spun its body round to face Harry, crouched low along the ground. 

What spell could take out a Dragon? Better yet, what spell could split open its belly to free the prisoner inside? 

“S-Sectum”- Harry couldn’t say it. Not again. The spell’s cruel madness bubbled at his lips, flickering sparks at the tip of his wand, but even now - even when he knew it might help - he couldn’t do it.

“Stupefy!” He whispered as loudly as he dared. 

The jet of red light shot out from beneath the cloak and hit the Dragon square in its long, flexing neck. It bounced right off. Not a shimmering scale was harmed.

And Harry had just given away his position. 

The Dragon revealed its fangs and snarled in a rumbling growl that made the ground shake beneath Harry’s feet. 

He stumbled backwards, preparing to run, but the cloak was tangling around his knees. 

“Sod it.” He said, throwing it off. It wouldn’t help him now. 

He pivoted sharply on his heel - too sharply - and began running. He tripped a second later. Not on a root, but on the Dragon’s own tail, which swung up and lashed out, its barbed end whipping Harry directly on the back of his head. 

There was blinding pain - the hot sensation of blood trickling into his hair - and then the world went black. 


If Harry dreamt at all in his unconsciousness, it was that he was weightless. Floating above the clouds in a state between pure bliss and pure terror. And then, he began to awaken. The first thing he heard was dripping. A wet, musty smell invaded his nostrils, dragging him into wakefulness and making him suddenly conscious of his soggy clothes and the jagged surface he was lying on. It wasn’t difficult for his eyes to adjust to the light, because there wasn’t much of it. At first he thought he was looking at stars. The little blue points of light above him glistened, but then he realized it was a ceiling. And the glowing stuff he was looking at was Candentis Moss. Dredges of Potions notes blurred in his vision… Candentis Moss is rare and regional to the caves of Scotland, namely the caves near Hogwarts where its growth was encouraged for academic purposes… 

He was in the caves. 

The very same caves Buckbeak and Sirius had hidden away in. A pang of loss momentarily distracted Harry from his predicament until he became horribly aware that he wasn’t alone. 

The cave entrance was blocked by the same extraordinary creature that had apparently put him here. The bioluminescence of the moss did nothing to lessen the Dragon’s threatening presence. Briefly, Harry wondered how it had gotten inside the cave. It was far bigger than its entrances would allow. Perhaps there was another way in. Perhaps there were tunnels large enough to accommodate a Dragon. Perhaps Harry was still dreaming. 

The back of his head throbbed painfully as he pushed himself into a sitting position with a grunt of discomfort. His hands scraped against the rocks and the wet and the cold chilled him to his bones. 

He gave the Dragon a wary glance. It wasn’t moving. Its eyes were fixed on Harry, unyielding and bright, even in the near-darkness. The blue moss tinted the Dragon a similar colour, causing it to glow poisonously. 

“Ugh…” Harry groaned, rubbing the back of his head. “This is not how I expected to die.” 

A low, short growl emitted from the cave entrance. The Dragon was snarling again. 

“What?” Harry shot back in his frustration, only processing a second later that perhaps initiating a one-sided argument with a dark magical predator wasn’t the best idea. “You’re not going to kill me right away? Is that why you brought me to your nest? Playing with your food, and all that?” 

To Harry’s amazement, the Dragon simply huffed, turning its back on him and facing the pitch black outside. 

Harry didn’t know Dragons could sound haughty. Not until now. It perplexed him. The Dragon stretched its wings and flexed them, fanning a draft into the cave. Harry shivered. The sound of its claws scraping along the stone sent him backing up against the far wall. The Dragon turned its head, watching him. 

“Did you bring me up here?” Aked Harry in a moment of madness. Unsurprisingly, the Dragon did not answer him. It turned back to the cave entrance, gazing into the night. Harry crept closer to where his map and cloak lay discarded and soaked. Thankfully he’d had the sense to cast an Impervius on the parchment, so the ink remained clear and crisp. The cloak hadn’t been so lucky. To confirm what he’d seen earlier, Harry looked at the map, but Malfoy’s name wasn’t there. Of course it wasn’t. They were outside the wards. 

He sighed, flinging it down in frustration. 

“For fuck’s sake, Malfoy, where are you?” 

The Dragon startled, frightening Harry. It turned to him in a smooth spin, advancing with narrowed eyes and bared teeth. 

Harry stumbled back until his shoulders touched the wall again. Godric, his head hurt. 

The Dragon did not stop until its huge head was level with Harry’s, almost nose (muzzle?) to nose. Its hot breath washed over him and the rumble of a slow growl could be heard brewing in its chest. 

“Please.” Said Harry, squeezing his eyes shut. “Don’t. Eat me. I know you ate Malfoy, and I know he’s still alive. Fuck. Godric. No. Oh my god.” 

Silence answered him. Shuddering from head to toe, Harry apprehensively opened his eyes. The Dragon wasn’t growling anymore. It was staring at him. Its eyes were the sizes of serving dishes, round and clear with slit pupils. But it didn’t look as… mean as it had a few seconds ago. Harry took that as a good sign. 

“I won’t hurt you.” He said in a soft tone, secretly trying to think of ways to blast the Dragon out of the way. “I-I only cast a spell before because I panicked. I’m sorry… I just want to know what you’re doing here.”

Harry felt like an idiot talking to a creature that couldn’t understand him, but it seemed to be working. The Dragon’s hand-sized nostrils flared out once more and then closed, and it lowered its eyes from Harry’s. Perhaps he’d learnt a useful thing or two from Hagrid after all. Hagrid would love this. 

“I’m an idiot.” Said Harry earnestly, releasing a long breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding. “Obviously not as much of an idiot as Malfoy though.”

The Dragon’s eyes flicked back up to meet his, narrowed. Was there a possibility it knew what he was saying? 

“He’s only gone and got himself eaten.” Harry muttered. “I’ll bet he cast a load of spells on you. Didn’t work though, did they? God, Hermione’s gonna kill me… If you decide not to kill me first, obviously.” 

The Dragon blinked with a set of clear eyelids. Once. Twice. It backed away slowly, giving Harry space to move away from the wall. Not that he did yet. He was still too scared to make any sudden movements. For a long moment, they held eye contact. If Dragons were anything like Hippogryphs, Harry was well and truly fucked. As it was, the Dragon gave another huff sound and faced away from Harry, instead choosing to pace the length of the cave, its body low to the ground as it stretched its wings a little. The interior of the cave was rather large. Which was just as well, because so was the Dragon. He still couldn’t see any tunnels or alternate entrances or exits though. 

Harry stared at the Dragon’s belly. Malfoy was in there. In total darkness. In its stomach . When had that happened? Surely he hadn’t survived in there for two whole weeks. Or maybe he had, and he was on the brink of death. The thought disturbed Harry. As the Dragon paced, Harry made a move to follow it. 

“Malfoy!” He shout-whispered. 

The Dragon stopped. Fixed him with a glare.

“Oi, Malfoy! Are you in there? Just give me a sign, alright?” 

The Dragon did not move. 

Harry didn’t either. He stared back. “I know you don’t know what I’m saying, but if you could please release Malfoy from your stomach that would be great.” 

The Dragon stared at him for an entire second before letting out a strange rattling breath and resuming its pace around the circumference of the cave. 

Okay. So that tactic was a no go. And Dragon skin was so thick and so magical that none of his spells would penetrate it either. He fingered his wand in his pocket, considering something - anything - that might free Malfoy from the belly of the beast when a thought struck him:

Maybe this was part of Malfoy’s plan.

“Shit!” Harry exclaimed, stopping and shoving his hands in his hair as the epiphany came to him. “Oh shit, you’re part of it!” He pointed at the Dragon. “And he - Malfoy is hiding in you! Like a Trojan Horse! To get the Death Eaters past the wards!” 

The Dragon stopped to watch Harry as he began to pace in a circle.

“Oh my god, that actually makes sense. You’re, like, some kind of distraction. A vessel to transport them -  but why just Malfoy? Is he testing it?”

Fired with new resolve, Harry marched up to the Dragon. To his shock, it recoiled, backing away a slight step. 

“You get that, Malfoy? I’m onto you! I know what you’re doing… but…” Harry trailed off, realizing a major flaw in his theory. “The wards. Ah. They’d let you in but not the Dragon or the Death Eaters… fuck… okay, maybe not…” 

Harry began to pace again, thinking hard. The Dragon watched him all the while as Harry came up with theory after theory, each one a little less plausible than the last. 

“When you ate Malfoy you absorbed his - his, uhhh - his soul essence and that’s how you got past the wards.” 

“You’re a massive deformed bogart from Malfoy’s bad dream and that’s why his name is on the map.”

“You’re not actually a Dragon, you’re just a transfigured seagull. Surely Dumbledore wouldn’t have blocked seagulls from getting into Hogwarts, they’re hardly a threat… well, I suppose it depends who you ask… Aunt Petunia’s biggest fear is seagulls...”

Harry gave up in the end, sliding against the back wall with an exhausted sigh.

“Final theory,” He told the Dragon, defeated, “I’ve gone completely mad and this is a vivid hallucination that I’ve constructed as a coping mechanism because I can’t deal with my own stupid guilt.” 

He sat on the wet ground with his head in his hands, resenting his pounding headache. Resenting the cold. Resenting Dumbledore for sending him on this wild goose chase. But most of all, resenting himself. 

On the bright side, if he did get eaten, at least he had his wand. Then he’d be able to rescue Malfoy from inside the Dragon. It sounded like a great plan on paper. But would it work in practice? There was only one way to find out. 

Sucking in a deep breath, Harry jumped up to face the Dragon. It hadn’t moved from where it sat on its haunches opposite him, watching with curious eyes. There was something beautiful about it, Harry thought as he strode forwards, there was no denying it. Its scales were dazzlingly silver with threads of hairline blue veins reflecting the Candentis Moss. It was elegant in all of its awesome, terrifying form. And Harry was about to let it eat him. He gulped, coming to a halt at its feet. 

He spread his arms wide. “Go on then. Eat me up.” 

The Dragon was still. 

“Eat me! Gobble me up! Do it!” Harry felt like an idiot. He dropped his arms in frustration. 

“Come oooooooon, useless Dragon!” Harry yelled. A hiss spurned from the Dragon’s mouth and it parted its jaws.

Uh oh. This was it. 

It bent its neck to bring its head level with Harry’s again, the slits of its eyes narrowed to vertical black lines. 

Harry gripped his wand in his pocket, thinking of all the protection charms that would shield him from the Dragon’s forearm-length curved fangs. 

The inside of the Dragon’s mouth was like a cave in itself, its purple-tinged gums packed with rows of deadly teeth in uniform formation. A glow began to shine from the back of its throat, growing brighter and brighter and then - hot .

Harry gasped, throwing his arms up in a useless attempt to shield himself from being inevitably roasted.
At the last second, however, the Dragon turned its great head and shot a plume of bright orange flame out of the cave entrance and into the night with a thundering roar. For a full second, the whole space was illuminated by the incredible fire. Rock sizzled at the cave entrance, fragments of it falling apart and crumbling away into ash. 

The Dragon directed its gaze at Harry once more as if to say: Still think I’m useless?

Maybe it really was saying that.

Harry’s mouth was dry. “Can you understand me?” 

Heat radiated from the Dragon. It was still close to Harry. It blinked once. Was that a yes ? Just when Harry thought he was beginning to imagine things, the Dragon gave the merest of nods. 

“Christ…” Harry breathed, “You really can. Do you - uh - do you want to hurt me?” 

The Dragon made a sound like a scoff, puffing air through its nostrils and looked up towards the ceiling before giving an unmistakable shake of its head.

Harry frowned. “D-did you just roll your eyes at me? Actually, don’t answer that.” He carded a hand through his hair, exhaling hard. “Well, I’m fucked. How am I supposed to get out of here? I could accio my broom… but I still don’t have a clue what you’re doing here. And I don’t suppose you can tell me, can you?” 

The Dragon inclined its head, blinking innocently at Harry. “I suppose a Dragon that can understand English and talk would be a bit of a tall order.”

They regarded each other. And now Harry understood the Dragon really was regarding him and not just eyeing him up for a meal. Somehow this new understanding was far more disturbing than the simplicity of being eaten for dinner. It meant Dumbledore was right. It meant something truly unknowable was going on. And, as these things always go, Harry would have to be the one to get to the bottom of it. He sighed. 

“Okay, Dragon, I’m going to ask you questions, and you’ll answer by either nodding or shaking your head, alright?” 

The Dragon narrowed its eyes and gave the tiniest of nods. Perhaps it didn’t like being bossed around. Harry didn’t care. He wanted to get this sorted as quickly as possible - i.e he wanted to find out what the hell Malfoy was doing in a Dragon’s stomach. 

Harry paced, tapping his wand against his chin. The Dragon followed his movements with its huge grey eyes. 

“So, how did you get past the wards?” Silence. Harry stopped. “Oh, right. You can’t answer. Fuck, I’m tired. Uhh… you can get past the wards can’t you?”
A firm nod.
“Are you an animagus?” 

The Dragon shook its head with another eye roll. Harry was beginning to think this Dragon had an attitude problem. 

“Are you a spy?”
A slight hesitation. Another head-shake.

Harry scowled. “I don’t believe you.”

The Dragon offered a short growl of indignation and shook its head harder. It was such an odd sight, Harry would have laughed if he was certain he would survive this. But any Dragon was dangerous. Even a sentient one… especially a sentient one.

“Alright, alright!” He held up a hand. “I guess I’ll have to take your word for it… blimey, what a nightmare. Did you break the wards?” 

Another shake.
Harry asked every question about the wards he could possibly think of. The Dragon began to get bored. Harry could tell because it yawned after about ten minutes. The yawn itself was absolutely terrifying because suddenly he was one again faced with knife-like teeth and an open throat which might at any moment decide spew fire at him. But it didn’t. Instead it lay back on its haunches and rested its enormous head atop its claws, watching Harry boredly as he pondered question after question. 

In the end, Harry relented and sat on the cold damp floor, legs crossed and shivering. 

“Dumbledore sent me to look for you.” Harry confessed, “I’m not sure what to tell him now.”

The Dragon began to growl, low and warning. It leant forward threateningly. Harry couldn’t think what he’d said wrong.

He stood, “Woah, hold your horses. What?”
The Dragon halted, eyes narrowed, a snarl poised. 

“Y-you know about Dumbledore?”
Another growl.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Not a fan, clearly.”

The Dragon gave an indignant puff, inclining its head away from Harry, and that’s when it clicked.

“You… don’t want me to tell him I found you?”
Its eyes met his. 

Harry swallowed, unease spreading in his stomach. “This isn’t going to be an easy secret to keep, especially if you go flying through the wards every five minutes.”
The Dragon lowered its head. To Harry, it almost seemed sad. He exhaled.

“Right. I... won’t tell him.” 

The scowl disappeared from its eyes, and Harry wasn’t sure whether to be pleased about that. This was the second time this year he’d agreed to a secret he shouldn’t have. And the first had been with Malfoy of all people…

He shook his head. “I still can’t believe you ate him…” He muttered.

The Dragon gave no reply. Instead, it padded to the cave entrance, claws scraping along the rock. The ragged entrance belched steam from the cooling rock where the fire had scorched it earlier. In one slow, languid motion, the Dragon lowered its entire body and motioned to Harry with its head. 

Its stance, the way it bowed and offered its back, reminded him of Buckbeak. 

“You want me to climb on ?” Harry squawked, resolve dwindling at the prospect of flying on a Dragon’s back. Hippogryphs were different. They had feathers. This was just… scales. Scales and ridges. Hardly seemed comfortable, let alone safe. Then again, how else would he get back? If the Dragon had taken him up here, surely it could get him back down… if that was its plan. 

The Dragon waited, exuding another grumbling growl that sounded like an impatient sigh when Harry didn’t move. Eventually, he walked to the Dragon’s side, shadowed under its marquee-sized wing.

“How do I do this?” Asked Harry, tentatively laying a hand on the Dragon’s side. He’d expected the scales to be hard and cold. But they weren’t. They were like silk under his fingers, warm and pliable. Not at all what he expected. And they shivered under his touch, great bunches of muscle flexing beneath his hand as the Dragon positioned its body towards him to accommodate Harry as he messily clambered onto its back. And he swore (although he had bumped his head very hard so he couldn’t be sure) that as he did, the Dragon shrunk. Because suddenly it was poking its head out of the cave entrance. Then its neck, and shoulders and even its wings. The freezing air hit Harry like a wall and he clung for dear life to the sharp ridges on the Dragon’s back. The sheer force of power beneath him roiled and he felt completely out of control.

“Please don’t kill me.” Harry uttered as they hung off the precipice of the mountain, so high up that he thought he might be sick. 

The Dragon gave a final growl sending vibrations roiling throughout its entire body before falling off the edge into a dive, wings spread, taking Harry with it.



Chapter Text

Nine times out of ten, darkness and light presented themselves pretty clearly to Harry - Dementors: Dark. Dumbledore: Light. Death Eaters: Dark. Hogwarts: Light. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes...Kind of both. Some were more obvious than others. But the Dragon was an enigma. It was, quite literally, very bright - with its iridescent scales and plumes of fire illuminating the night sky; it could be seen for miles. Like a beacon. But its intention? Its reason for being at Hogwarts? Why it hadn’t only not eaten Harry but flown him to safety? Well, that remained a mystery. It was completely foreign territory to Harry. Dragons were supposed to be dark magical creatures. Not morally questionable sentient beings. And even amongst all of this uncertainty, Harry couldn’t help but feel utterly exhilarated. 

He felt like he’d been through a war in one night when he woke up the next morning, limbs aching and head pounding. The first thing he’d done was hobble to the hospital wing and spin a tale of a quaffle to the head. Madam Pomfrey simply tutted and waxed her long-held grudge over quidditch being a ‘highly inappropriate sport for children’ as she waved her wand, healing Harry’s head in an instant. He cheerily waved her off and darted to breakfast his mind already running at a million miles per minute. Pros: he knew where Malfoy was. Cons: He was in the belly of a Dragon. Pros: The Dragon wasn’t necessarily evil and may be open to a discussion on letting Malfoy go… at which point… Harry could… get him incarcerated for being a Death Eater? Cons: Harry had no idea what he was doing.

Hermione’s voice in his head told him the whole thing was far too unrealistic; that he should stop getting so distracted by Malfoy and focus on his grades. That Dumbledore would handle the rest. But what she didn’t know what that Dumbledore had set him on a task to confront a Dragon - the very same Dragon that had eaten Malfoy whole . What’s more, he’d promised not to tell. He’d promised Dumbledore and the Dragon. He was torn between two sides, and he wasn’t even sure what exactly he’d promised to. 

Before his first lesson, he went straight to Dumbledore’s office to report on the events of the evening. His insides knotted with guilt as he contemplated his lie, but he’d made a promise to the Dragon and - well, he didn’t like to imagine what might happen if he broke it. 

Ten minutes later, Dumbledore was pacing his office, plaiting and unplaiting his beard as he took in what Harry had told him. 

“And you saw nothing else?” He repeated for the third time.

Harry shook his head. “No, professor.” He lied. 

“And Draco’s name was nowhere on the map?”

“No. Sorry, professor.”

Dumbledore finally stopped pacing and faced Harry, a half-smile on his lips. 

“It isn’t your fault Harry, my boy. Only I thought utilizing your knack for finding the inscrutable might provide us some answers but…” He exhaled, the lines on his face deepening as he sat down heavily. Harry shifted from foot to foot, looking anywhere but the Headmaster’s eyes. 

“What did it look like?” Asked Dumbledore.

Terrifying . Beautiful. “Bright silver, sir. With a kind of blue… sheen .”  

“I believe Mister Weasley was correct in saying this is something we’ve never seen before.” Said Dumbledore solemnly. At first Harry thought he was talking about Ron until he remembered Charlie. “I won’t make you venture out again, Harry”-

-”Sir, I don’t mind.”

Dumbledore raised a brow, his blue gaze penetrative. 

Harry fumbled. “I… I want to do everything I can, sir. I mean… I can use the cloak and the map and”-

-”I don’t want to put you in any more unnecessary danger, Harry.” Dumbledore sighed, “The staff and myself will keep a close eye on the grounds and I have no doubt yourself, Miss Granger and Mr Weasley will be more than ready to interfere should the situation require it.” He peered over his half-moon spectacles. “Unless… there is something you aren’t telling me?”

Harry lowered his gaze. “No, sir.” 

He spent the afternoon in a daze, unable to think of anything but the Dragon. Last night’s flight on the Dragon’s back had been nothing like he’d ever experienced. Whereas Buckbeak soared on the wind with a steady grace, Harry felt utterly out of control on the Dragon. He felt he could have slipped off its scaly back at any moment as it hurtled through the freezing air at breakneck speed, landing in the Forbidden Forest with a crunch as it crushed the smaller trees around it. 

Without so much as waiting, it had stood up on its haunches, causing Harry to slide off its back and unceremoniously tumble to the ground. Harry had watched as the Dragon righted itself, shivering pine needles off its wings and beating them out for good measure, sending ripples of wind through the forest and almost knocking Harry off his feet again. 

In Potions, Harry glanced over at the empty seat where Malfoy should have been sitting. Instead, he was trapped inside a Dragon. The thought made Harry lurch with guilt and dread. How was he supposed to get him out? On the one hand, he’d promised the Dragon not to tell Dumbledore it was there - but only because he’d been terrified for his life. Perhaps talking to the professors about Malfoy’s predicament would be the best thing to do. After all, he was all but confirmed to be a Death Eater. Both of Harry’s wishes would be fulfilled. Draco Malfoy would be rescued and captured. He couldn’t help but think of how shit that was going to be for Malfoy. One minute you’re in a Dragon’s stomach, the next you’re sitting in a cell in Azkaban. He told himself Malfoy deserved it. That he’d gotten himself in trouble in the first place and it wasn’t Harry’s responsibility to protect him from his own mistakes. Harry owed him nothing. Nothing except... an apology for slashing open his chest and almost killing him.

Fuck, this was complicated. 

At lunchtime, he checked the map again. He breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t see Malfoy’s name there. So the Dragon had taken his advice and stayed out of the wards. The right thing to do would be to go straight to Dumbledore’s office and admit all he knew, but as soon as the thought occurred to him, the Dragon’s glacial glare suffused his mind’s eye with a reminder of the promise he’d made. 

So much for doing the right thing.

 

************

 

It was funny how in his human form, the thought of meat and blood and flesh in his mouth made Draco shiver with revulsion. But the thought was not the same as the feeling. His Dragon form was ravenous. Constantly, it seemed. And all it craved was meat. Meat meat meat. 

After the first few days of flying freely without a care for his responsibilities and assasination mission, hunger had stricken Draco from the sky with a vengeance. He’d never had to think about eating in his Dragon form before; he’d never transformed for long enough. But now he was living as his Dragon. He was his Dragon, and he had to accommodate its need for sleep and sustenance. The first unfortunate creature he’d chosen for his meal was a horse. It was the first animal he saw that was large enough to satisfy him and before he knew it he was tearing into the thing, thinking of his father’s disgusted expression had he been there to see it. Was this what Nagini had been talking about, Draco wondered? Had he truly been consumed by his Curse once and for all? 

Admittedly, he wasn’t sure. And he wasn’t entirely ready to try and transform back into his human form to find out. Every time he thought about what was waiting for him back at Hogwarts, he faltered. Sometimes he wanted to go back. He wanted to get dressed and sit in the great hall and lie in his thick, warm blankets and go home and hug his mother. But then he remembered all of the things he didn’t want to do.

Like killing Dumbledore. 

The pros and cons didn’t exactly balance each other out. 

And then there was Potter. Stupid, meddling, arrogant, trifling, idiotic, confusing Potter. 

As soon as the moronic Gryffindor had found Draco snacking on his dinner, he panicked. He hadn’t meant to knock him out, Potter had just got in his way. It wasn’t as if Draco was used to having a tail - let alone using it. The next thing he knew he’d been stuck with a choice: leave Potter here to potentially bleed out and/or spill everything he’d seen to the professors or take him up to the cave and try and figure out… something

The plan had been shoddy at best, Draco would be the first to admit, but it was all he had. Perhaps he could work out a compromise with Potter. True, their methods of communication were limited, but it had worked before, hadn’t it? They’d managed to help each other out without blasting each other to pieces before, but as it turned out, Potter was even more idiotic than Draco had given him credit for. 

He actually thought Draco had got himself eaten by a Dragon. Well, it was the perfect alibi. And far more feasible than being a transfigured seagull. That one had been particularly offensive. He’d been convinced he’d been busted the first time Potter laid eyes on him, but apparently not. 

With great bravery comes blind stupidity. If Draco ever got to be the headmaster of Hogwarts, that’s what he’d make as the Gryffindor tagline. 

Draco would be lucky if he ever managed to change back into a human, let alone graduate. But it wasn’t time yet. 

So far, hiding out as a Dragon wasn’t proving to be as shabby as his parents would have him believe. 

He had his own cave now. It had taken four days for him to find it - the others didn’t quite cut it. Even as a Dragon, Draco prided himself in having above average standards, and the bioluminescent Candentis Moss blooming on the ceilings and walls had appealed to his more materialistic side. It was comforting, having little lights that looked like stars peppering the interior of his new home in the dark nights. He never ate in the cave. That was his one rule. He didn’t like the idea of leaving bloody corpses around. Of course, that then presented a problem in terms of discretion. He’d allowed himself to get caught by Potter, and that had yielded some rather unforeseen consequences. 

Nevertheless, he couldn’t deny that talking to someone had been… nice. If he could call it that. It wasn’t as if he could wholly reply to Potter. He’d never tried speaking in his Dragon voice and he wasn’t about to humiliate himself in front of the fucking Chosen One by attempting it. It didn’t feel natural to try. 

He’d been startled when Potter had understood his protests against telling Dumbledore about him, and even more taken aback when Potter had promised not to say anything. He hadn’t expected that at all . He’d always had his nemesis pinned as Dumbledore’s obedient lap-dog, but… perhaps it wasn’t entirely as he’d thought. 

He didn’t like the idea of Potter being anything other than Dumbledore’s glorified lackey. It lacked convenience. He’d already suspected a streak of something different about Potter the night he’d shielded him under his cloak, but he hadn’t imagined the Boy Who Lived going this far - let alone for a monster like him. 

Hmm. Maybe he was having a rebellious moment.

It was bound to pass.

Draco had no idea what he would do if he was caught. He’d lost track of the days and his bed back in his dorms felt like a memory from someone else’s life. Someone who deserved to be comfortable and warm and safe. The someone who wasn’t cursed to transform into a dark creature every few months. But the real Draco had never been that someone. He’d been living a lie, shielded but condemned by his father to hide his truth in the shadows until he was either killed or he did the deed himself. How else could this possibly end? 

If he wasn’t forced to transform back, he’d be apprehended by either Dumbledore’s side or the Dark Lord’s and destroyed. 

He wasn’t on a side anymore. 

He was no one.


It would have been much easier to remain a no one if Potter didn’t keep bothering him. Draco was truly baffled after the third time Potter managed to find him in the forest again. He had no inkling as to how the stubborn Gryffindor kept creeping up on him like this, but he did. 

The second time, Draco had simply panicked and flown off back to his cave, leaving a half-eaten fox behind. He’d inwardly cursed himself after. What if Potter had some useful information? What if - ? Well, that was it really. He was convinced he’d lost his only opportunity to speak to him again until…

“Please don’t fly away.” 

It was the dead of night in the forbidden forest, and there he was. In the flesh. Green eyes pleading. Draco only stayed because he had nothing better to do. 

He watched as Potter revealed himself from under the cloak and gave a timid wave.

“Hullo.”

Draco snorted. It sounded like a sneeze in his Dragon form, but Potter appeared to get the message. He even smiled. Merlin. 

“I didn’t tell Dumbledore.” 

You’re only as good as your word, Potter, Draco thought back, wishing he could actually say it. But he seemed to be sincere. Hmm. A sincere smiling Potter wasn’t something he thought he’d ever seen directed at him. 

He sat back on his haunches, regarding Potter with all the suspicion he could muster. Potter shrank under his gaze. It was quite satisfying. 

“I really should have,” Potter stressed, beginning to pace up and down at Draco’s feet, chewing his nails as he went. It really was a disgusting habit. His hands were a wreck, the nails torn down to little stubs. Whenever Draco had chewed his nails as a child his nanny had rapped his knuckles with her wand. At the time he’d hated her, now he was grateful. His hands were pristine.

He glanced down at his razor sharp claws.

His human hands. 

“You have no idea how much trouble I’ll be in if they find out.”

The trouble he’d be in? The audacity. Draco didn’t care how much trouble Potter got in. He yawned to make the point.

Potter made a noise of indignation. “Well, nice to see you give a shit.”

I don’t, Draco thought with an inside smirk. 

Potter sat on the ground with a huff, his legs crossed and bottom lip stuck out in a pout. He looked hilarious, Draco thought. And oddly - endearing. 

What?! His Dragon brain was doing him no favours at all. Being so large gave him an odd perspective on Potter. He was watching him from a great height. Anyone was bound to look more vulnerable from up here. He shrank himself down slightly. Potter noticed. 

Woops.

“There!” He said, pointing. “How did you do that? You did it in the cave too, didn’t you?” 

Because I’m not a real Dragon, idiot. Draco thought with an eye roll, but Potter missed it because a moment later he was hauling an enormous tome from his bag. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Potter read a book voluntarily, let alone something this hefty. 

He began flicking through it, licking his finger and turning the pages one by one. Draco really hated it when he did that - did he really have to lick his finger for every page ? It was just infuriating. The more he thought about it the more he couldn’t stop watching. 

“There’s nothing on here about growing and shrinking, but I did find a breed which can put its victims into comas and preserve them for long lengths of time before eating them. Something about a - an “enzyme in their spit." Ugh. Is that what you’ve done to Malfoy?”

Draco blinked. He couldn’t be serious? He was doing research on Dragons? And trying to figure out how he’d been keeping Draco (himself) alive in his stomach? 

He wasn’t sure whether to be affronted that Potter was accusing him of eating himself or flattered that he was trying to discover what had happened to him and how to free him from a predicament he wasn’t even in. This was the strangest position Draco had ever found himself faced with. 

Even so, he shook his head. Potter’s face fell marvelously. 

“Damn. I thought I was close.” He slammed the book shut with a huff. “I’ve been looking some stuff up. About Dragons and that.” He told Draco earnestly. “Wish I’d found this book during the tournament… it has everything you need to know about Hungarian Horntails. Did you know their weakness is tickling? Tickling!

Same, thought Draco. It was true. He was very ticklish. Not that such information would be any good to Potter.

“If only it occurred to me to tickle it I would have got the egg a lot faster. Anyway...” Potter huffed, carding a hand through his messy hair, making it even messier. For crying out loud, buy a comb.

“I know we’ve only just met but I - I really need to figure out a way to get Malfoy out of you.” 

What.

“So…” Potter stood. “I’ve tried to think of everything. At one point I even thought you might be Malfoy’s animagus or something, that’s what happened with Pettigrew after all…” 

Not far off, Draco thought. But what

“But then I read that an animagus can’t be a magical creature, so that was off the cards. But, yeah. Basically, I need to get Malfoy back.” 

Draco was stunned. Potter was looking up at him with pleading eyes again, and it was just - so strange. Where were the glares and the spitting rage? He scowled. 

No. He thought, You can’t have him back because he doesn’t want to come back. This thought manifested itself in a low growl in Draco’s chest, and it almost caused the trees to vibrate.

Potter backed away, holding up his hands. 

“I-I don’t know what you want with him, but - well, it would be great if you could… let him go.” 

Unbelievable. 

Draco stomped in a circle, frustrated, and gave his wings a short flap as if to say, that’s not possible you thick-headed halfwit. 

He faced Potter a moment later, expecting some kind of revelation to have befallen his unwitting companion, but no such luck. Potter was staring at him, wide eyed. 

“Um… is that a no?”

Draco huffed.

“So it’s a no.” 

The disappointment in Potter’s tone was very disconcerting. Why, exactly, was he so determined to “get him back” as he so eloquently put it? Was he sporting for another duel? Not quite satisfied with how the last one turned out? If Draco thought about it (and he didn’t have to think very hard) he could still feel each gash widening in his chest like his flesh was being freshly torn. Even in this form where he knew no such spell could touch him, he felt his muscles contract in response to the memory. 

“Can he hear me in there?” Potter asked.

Draco had no idea how to respond. So he did nothing. Yes, he can hear you, Potter, but not for the reason you think

“I’m still trying to work out what you want. Why you’re here. How you can understand me.” 

Stop trying, Draco thought. 

“I mean, you haven’t tried to hurt me. Yet.” 

Draco chose this moment to turn his head away from Potter and re-examine their surroundings. His sight was far keener in this form, and he would absolutely be able to tell if there was anyone else nearby watching them (unless there were more invisibility cloaks lying around, of course) but they were alone. Save for an owl family watching them from the tree canopy. Draco was almost level with them, even sitting down as he was. 

But he still couldn’t entirely work out why Potter had sought him out alone. Where were Granger and the Weasel? 

Potter was snapping twigs in half, his brow furrowed in deep thought. Draco slid forward until he was lying on his front, his legs stretched out in front of him. 

Potter blinked, giving him a wide-eyed glance, before he burst out laughing.

What was so funny?

Potter guffawed like an intellectually compromised troll. “You did that exactly like a dog.” 

Draco gaped, mortally offended.

“Just - just the way you slid down like - ! Bloody hell…” He caught his breath and clutched his side, meeting Draco’s eyes with amusement. “Sorry, it’s just - it wasn’t very intimidating. Didn’t fit your image.” 

Draco growled, but this only achieved the effect of making Potter laugh more. Thoroughly put out, Draco focused on a spot above Potter’s head, refusing to humour him.

“Oh, come on. Don’t sulk! It was funny.” Potter giggled. He actually giggled. “Fuck knows I haven’t had anything to laugh about in a while.” 

Okay. Draco could relate to that. But he wasn’t about to give in. He haughtily fixed his eyes on the same point, denying Potter his acknowledgment. It wasn’t fair, of all possible humans to be stuck with when he was all alone and it had to be Potter instead of - 

It unsettled Draco that he couldn’t consider a better alternative. Gregory, maybe. But it was a close call. 

“Even Ron doesn’t make me laugh anymore.” 

Draco gave the tiniest of snorts. Had Weasel’s caveman sense of humour finally become tiresome? It had only been six years. 

“He spends all his time with Lavender. And Hermione can’t stand the sight of them together so I’m sort of just… stuck in the middle. I’ve tried to hang out with Seamus and Dean more but whenever it’s just the three of us I feel like a bit of an add-on.” 

Because they’ve obviously been in each other’s pants since fourth year, Potter. Anyone can see that. Well, Draco could.

“On top of that I did something horrible.” Potter threw down the two halves of the latest twig-victim. “Part of me wants to think he deserved it, but…”

He couldn’t be talking about - ? Could he?

“I can’t stop thinking about what Sirius would have said. I don’t know if he would be disappointed in me or ashamed or - or whether he’d understand.” Potter exhaled heavily, shoulders shaking. He gave a small laugh. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

Me neither, thought Draco. He didn’t transform and hide himself away from society to become Potter’s agony aunt. The idea alone was ludicrous. Despite himself, he wanted to hear the rest of what Potter had to say, so he inclined his head inquisitively. 

Potter held his gaze for a moment longer. “If Malfoy can hear me in there, I want him to know that I” - He dropped his eyes to the ground, “I really am sorry. I didn’t know what the spell did. I’m never using it again. I’m so sorry.” 

For once, Draco was glad he couldn’t respond. He had no idea what he would possibly say. 

 

************

 

“Harry? Are you alright?” 

Harry was staring at a pile of treacle fudge, thinking absently that he should bring some for the Dragon and feed it to it so that Malfoy would have something to eat in its stomach when Hermione thwacked him on the arm.

“Ow!”

She gave him an incredulous look. “That’s the fifth time you’ve - you’ve gone away like that all day. What’s wrong?” 

He rubbed his arm, but muttered a sheepish, “Sorry, ‘Mione” all the same. This was supposed to be their day. When Lavender had dragged Ron into the library for ‘study’ instead of going to Hogsmeade with them, Harry had vowed he’d try and distract her from the incident by taking her instead. He’d evaded Ginny’s demands for an early practice (the upcoming match was the last thing on his mind) and dragged Hermione out with him instead of allowing her to sit by the fire furiously scribbling her Astrology essay. 

So here they were. And he wasn’t exactly doing what he’d promised. 

But instead of being angry, Hermione’s expression softened and she hooked her arm through his. 

“It’s alright, Harry. Come on, let’s go for a walk.” 

“I might get some, err, fudge first.”

She frowned. “I thought you didn’t like fudge?” 

To his horror, he felt his face turning red. “Um. It’s for someone else.” 

A sly smile crept onto her face. “Oh?” 

Oh, Godric. “It’s not what you think.” 

“It isn’t?” She raised a brow. “Harry, I haven’t forgotten it’s Valentine’s day next week.”

He had. “H-Hermione, no”-

She shook her head, putting a finger over his mouth. “Oh, Harry. Don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything, but” she winked, “I think I might know who this is for. Go on, buy it.” 

Absolutely mortified, Harry strode to the counter with his head down, forking out six sickles for a large bag of treacle fudge. He figured Hermione be much less encouraging if she knew who it was really for. 

Determined not to look her in the eye until she’d decided to move on from the topic of Valentine’s Day and Harry’s potential bow, they ventured out into Hogsmeade, arm in arm. 

“I can’t wait for Spring.” Hermione sighed. 

Harry dragged his feet. “Yeah.” He hummed. “I don’t know. The more time passes, the more I feel…”

“What?” 

“Like everything is about to change.” 

Hermione looked at him. “I know. And it will. But we’ll be ready.” 

He thought of Dumbledore pacing his office with his diseased hand, the palpable tension amongst the staff, the mystery of the Dragon and the secrets he’d promised to keep and couldn’t help but think he was anything but ready. 

Ginny was not happy with Harry when he turned up to practice the next morning.

“Harry, the match is in a week! You’re supposed to be our Captain!” 

He kept his voice low. “Ginny, everyone is watching…”

“I don’t care!” She shouted even louder, causing a few sniggers to run through the team at Harry’s expense. Ron shook his head. “Get your act together, Potter, we’ve got a winning streak going and we can’t afford to start slacking now.” 

Feeling thoroughly rinsed out, Harry made a conscious effort to concentrate on practice. Once the match was over, he’d go and see the Dragon again and figure out a way to free Malfoy. It was fine. It would all be fine. 

Harry told himself that everything was fine until Monday, when Ron was poisoned. 

 

************

 

Draco was getting used to expecting Potter to turn up in the forest - he still had no idea how he was finding him, but he was getting used to it. He did not expect Potter to fly up to his cave on a broomstick and ambush him while he was sleeping. If he could call a relatively short wizard with messy hair shouting at a Dragon the size of a cabin lodge ambushing. 

Potter’s eyes were wilder than his hair, searing into Draco’s with a force that was not to be reckoned with. He flung his broom down and strode over without a pause. 

“This is it!” He yelled, “I’m fucking done, I need Malfoy back now!” 

For an awful moment, he was sure Potter was going to start crying. But it was just the rage. His eyes were glistening with it. 

Draco didn’t know what to do. He sat up and stood his ground, giving Potter as much of a ‘ what the fuck is going on?’  look as he could muster. 

Potter’s chest heaved. Whether due to exhaustion from flying or emotion, Draco couldn’t tell. 

Potter kicked the cave wall. 

Emotion, then. 

“This has to end… it has to…” He said to no one in particular.

Draco made a noise. Something close to a querying growl, he hoped. 

“Malfoy nearly killed my best friend. I have to… to get him.” 

Draco’s heart dropped to his stomach. A thousand possibilities ran through his mind, but the first terrible explanation that presented itself was the mead. The mead he’d given to Madam Rosmerta months ago and now -

“Slughorn gave us some - some mead he’d got as a present or something, and it was poison. He was going to give it to Dumbledore.” Potter slumped down to the ground, his head in his hands. “If I hadn’t been there, I - Ron would have died.” 

Draco was frozen with shock. On the one hand he was almost relieved his backup plan to kill Dumbledore had failed. So he wasn’t a killer. But he’d caused this. Potter’s pain disturbed him. He couldn’t explain why. Perhaps because the rage had dissipated. Draco had never seen Potter like this. Even when Diggory died, that had been amongst chaos and confusion. He’d heard Potter’s cries but this quiet anguish was somehow worse. Especially knowing it was caused by him. 

Potter’s hands clenched into fists and his expression hardened. 

“I tried to tell them it was Malfoy who did it, but no one would believe me. Not even Dumbledore... he set this up. I know he did.” 

But he wishes he hadn’t. He didn’t have a choice, Draco wished he could say.

“I hate him.” Potter said so quietly Draco wouldn’t have heard him if his Dragon senses weren’t attuned to pick up every sound. “I’ve never hated someone so much.” 



Draco did not sleep well that night. The Candentis Moss did nothing to calm him and he felt like millions of termites were crawling beneath his skin. It was exactly like the feeling he got in his human form when the Curse was becoming insistent, so he couldn’t understand why it was happening now. He didn’t get it. He couldn’t give a flying fuck about Weasley, but knowing he’d caused all of this to happen... It didn’t sit well. Not at all. The look of pure derision in Potter’s eyes when he’d talked about him haunted the back of his eyelids every time he tried to lie down and sleep. 

Only the other day, Potter had been going on about wanting to apologise for nearly ripping him open, but now he looked as though he would do it all over again.

Draco wouldn’t blame him. He probably deserved it. 

Okay, he definitely deserved it. 

He stalked his cave in circles, trying to rid the pins and needles sensation off his back and his wings. It was incessant. He felt sick. He paced until thin beams of wan sunlight revealed a grey, gloomy sky outside. 

Maybe he should fly away. Somewhere far. Another country. Iceland, maybe. Or Greenland. Somewhere where no one could ever bother him again. 

A noise outside the cave made Draco stop pacing. Sometimes small creatures or birds found refuge here. A tiny part of him hoped Potter was coming back. 

Someone coughed. It sounded like a man.

Fuck. 

Draco shrunk himself down until he was almost person-sized and hid in the shadows. Fat lot of good hiding here would do. He was almost as luminous as the moss in this form, and the moss only glowed at night so he stuck out rather obviously. Why couldn’t the Curse have made his scales darker? He’d always wondered if it was because he was blond. 

A grunt sounded from the cave entrance. Perhaps an idiotic muggle was doing some morning hiking up the mountain side. Draco considered how hungry he was, and how it was unlikely anyone would miss this stupid stranger. Then he considered the fact that eating a man, muggle or not, would make him a cannibal and immediately lost his appetite. 

As it happened, seconds later a ginger head appeared.

Had Weasley come to get his revenge? Draco braced himself before he remembered he was in his Dragon form and Potter’s dull best friend couldn’t possibly have guessed his darkest secret. So, what…?

It wasn’t Ron Weasley, but another red-head.
Draco didn’t recognize him at first. His stocky frame was silhouetted in the cave entrance against the backdrop of the white sky, but as he ventured inward, Draco caught a good glimpse from his rubbish hiding spot. He was older than his siblings and covered in scratches and burns. This must be Charlie. Draco remembered him from the tournament when he’d been brought in to handle the Dragons. 

He huffed and brushed off his knees as he entered the cave, peering around. He hadn’t seen Draco yet, that was evident by his casual stance as he took in his surroundings.

Perhaps if he stayed very still -

“Merlin, there you are.” 

Nevermind. 

Draco locked eyes with Weasley and fixed him with a warning glare. To his disbelief, the other man gave an awe-filled laugh. 

“Well, shit. I was about ready to give up. I’ve climbed every stinking cave in Scotland looking for you.” Said Charlie. 

Draco didn’t move. 

Charlie was being very smart, because he didn’t come any closer. He squinted in the gloom. 

“You’re much smaller than the other one, aren’t you?” 

Draco didn’t like being talked to like a five year old, so he advanced, making a point of growing in size as he did. Charlie’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Draco would be lying if he said his reaction wasn’t a bit satisfying. 

He saw the man visibly gulp and clutch his wand to his chest. 

“Or… maybe you’re the same one.” He said, voice trembling as he gazed up at Draco.
Damn well right, I am

Charlie’s expression morphed back into one of amazement. 

“You are beautiful.” 

Draco couldn’t help but laugh. It came out as an unfortunate stuttery growl. He was certain Charlie wouldn’t be saying that if he knew who he really was. 

Draco realized too late he wasn’t being scary enough. Real Dragons didn’t act like this. He tried to make his expression more fierce, but the snarl only seemed to spurr Charlie on. He began to pace around Draco, taking in his whole appearance. 

“You are just… incredible.” He was saying, “I wonder where you’re from. The bureau is going to love you.” What was wrong with this man?

Draco gave another warning snarl and Charlie barely backed away two paces, placing his hands on his hips and surveying him as though he were a new house. 

“Never in my life did I think I would be one to discover a new species. I’ve dreamt of this since I was a kid. And that growing and shrinking thing you do… extraordinary.” 

Draco was so distracted by Charlie’s gentle admiration that he’d almost failed to notice the man discreetly pulling a vial of clear potion from his robes. He tensed, and heat began to spread from his chest towards his throat.

No. He couldn’t hurt Charlie Weasley. He wouldn’t. But he couldn’t be caught either. 

Charlie’s kind eyes darkened. 

“Come on now. Be a good Dragon… this will be much easier if you cooperate.” 

Draco was sure Charlie had gone through countless hours of training on how to talk to a Dragon, but the poor man had no idea his expert soothing tone would never work on him.

Draco let some of the smoke hiss out from between his teeth as if to say, Go now! Go! Any sane person would have apparated the fuck out of there. But as Draco was swiftly learning, Charlie wasn’t sane. 

He held up both his scarred hands, the tiny vial tucked between his thumb and forefinger. “Now, now. It’s alright. You’re just going to have a little sleep and then we’ll be well on our way”-

Fuck that.

Draco wasted no time shrinking down as small as he could and launching himself past Charlie at lightning speed toward the cave entrance. But he wasn’t quite fast enough.

“Incarcerous Maximus!” 

Draco’s hind legs and tail became tangled in thick cords as he hurtled into the crisp morning air. He was plummeting fast, spinning in a whirr towards the hard, jagged ground. He grew, but the cords didn’t snap. They squeezed him tighter.

Without the use of his tail, Draco had no balance. He flapped his wings as hard as he could, propelling himself up into the air, but it was chaos. He felt his back scrape painfully along the side of the mountain before he bounced off, heading in what he hoped was the direction of the forest. 

The pain in his legs and his tail was almost blinding. He shrunk and he grew but whatever binding spell Charlie had thrown at him had been a strong one. The cords felt like they were inlaid with metal. 

Draco felt himself break through the wards. But he wasn’t over the forest. He was over the grounds, heading straight for the Quidditch Pitch. 

Draco barely had time to glimpse the full stands and souring red and blue figures on broomsticks before he crashed into the dirt.

The screams of the students around him muted into white noise. His legs and tail were a tangled mess. His blood soaked into the tight, knotted cords. The harder he fought against them, the more they dug deeper into his flesh, ripping his scales. 

There was only one thing for it.



Chapter Text

Everything happened so fast. One minute Harry had his eye on the snitch (it was hovering next to Cho Chang’s ankle) and was heading straight for it, the next, the stands erupted into screams. At first, Harry had thought someone had scored a point. Then he had the awful mental image of Voldemort descending on the pitch on a dark cloud. Then he’d had the sense to stop in mid air and actually look at what was happening seconds before the Dragon - his Dragon - crashed headfirst into the ground below him. 

It was struggling, snarling wildly and beating its wings hard against the ground, sending bunches of grass and sand and soil high into the air. 

The teachers were shouting, lifting their wands and pointing at it, and Harry had no idea what he was doing.

“STOP!” He yelled, flying down towards the Dragon without a single thought. 

That was a mistake. 

A great plume of white hot flame set the world alight, and Harry almost flew directly into it. He faltered, shielding his face from the incredible light and heat. He didn’t understand. Why was it attacking? Was this a set up after all? Harry was convinced he must have made the greatest mistake of his life in making a deal with the Dragon until he saw what it was really doing.

It was burning itself

“DRAGON! STOP!” Harry cried above the roar of flame. His voice was lost to it, and he caught Dumbledore’s panicked blue eyes from across the stands before the fire began to die. 

The pitch had been turned into a crater. The Dragon’s screams and roars of agony cut through the fearful shouts of the students, and Harry saw with horror the charred mess around its legs and tail. Thick stripes cut through its iridescent scales, mottled with scarlet blood and ash. It had burned its restraints off itself. 

Harry landed on the still-sizzling ground, casting an Aguamenti before he burned himself too. The Dragon had become larger than Harry had ever seen it, its bent tail thrashing against the furthest stand. Its moonstone grey eyes were shut tight, flicking open with a start as Harry directed the gush of water onto its smoking legs. 

The Dragon’s wide eyes found him. 

“Dragon,” Said Harry, unsure if it could hear him. “You need to get out of here.”

What was he doing? This could be his one chance to get Malfoy for good - the bastard was still inside the Dragon after all - but at the moment all he knew was that he didn’t want to hear the Dragon screaming again. 

The other professors were running onto the pitch, wands held high.

“Harry!” McGonagall yelled. “Get away from that Dragon!” 

Snape brandished his wand, throwing a red bolt of light at the Dragon. It bounced off without a scratch. 

“We must catch it!” He thundered, his black eyes intense with pure wrath. 

Harry shared one last look with the Dragon. “Go!” He told it. 

“Incarc”- 

The Dragon threw back its head and shot another tower of white hot flame into the sky, causing them all to momentarily cover their faces. 

Harry felt the ground shake as it kicked off with its shredded legs and flew up into the fire, wafting huge waves of smoke onto the pitch as it soared away towards the Forbidden Forest. 

Harry heard Snape’s shouts before the smoke cleared. He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped, but it was just Ginny, the rest of the team landing a safe distance away. Cho Chang was staring at Harry like she was wondering how she’d ever been so insane to go out with him. 

“Harry, what the fuck?” Ginny shout-whispered, black motes of smoke clinging to her red hair and pale skin. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?” 

It was only now dawning on Harry how strange this must have looked to everyone. 

“It’s okay, Ginny. I’ll explain”-

“POTTER!” 

Uh oh. Snape rounded on him, emerging from the smoke and looking more like a bat out of hell than ever. 

The head of Slytherin grabbed Harry by his collar, shaking him.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” He hissed, “Your idiotic meddling could mean the death of a student, you”-! 

“Severus, let go of the boy.” Dumbledore said calmly, clearing the rest of the ashy fog with an elegant wave of his wand. 

Snape released Harry with a shove. He stumbled backwards, coughing. He was more afraid of Dumbledore than anyone. He’d been actively lying to him ever since he’d first met the Dragon. As if reading his thoughts, Dumbledore raised a brow.

“But I would like to know why you prevented us from restraining the Dragon, Harry?” 

Harry bowed his head. There was no point in lying. “It’s a long story, sir.”

“Somehow I don’t doubt it is. Come. My office.” 


When Harry had finished telling Dumbledore everything - the cave, his deal with the Dragon, his theory that Malfoy was stuck in its stomach - the old headmaster leaned back in his chair, deep in thought. He hadn’t said a word throughout, simply listened and occasionally fed Fawkes from a small pile of crushed Sherbert Lemons in the palm of his healthy hand. 

“I suppose…” Dumbledore began slowly, “this in some way explains the disappearance of Mr. Malfoy.” 

“In some way, sir?” 

Dumbledore tapped the mahogany desk with a single black finger. 

“Harry, I don’t believe he was eaten by the Dragon.” 

Harry’s head was a mess. What could Dumbledore possibly mean? If he wasn’t eaten, then how was he showing up on the map? There was no other explanation. 

“Sir”-

A frantic knock on the door interrupted Harry. Charlie Weasley burst in, his face alight with horror.

“Professor Dumbledore,” He panted, sweating, “I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.” 

Dumbledore rose from his seat and approached the shivering man, placing a hand on his shoulder. 

“Charlie, my boy, have a seat.” 

Charlie sat down on the wooden step where he stood, his eyes far away as he struggled to form words.

“Did anyone - ? Was anyone hurt?” 

Dumbledore gave him a small smile. “Miraculously, no. I think the Dragon was the most hurt out of all of us.” 

“Oh, Godric…” Charlie put his head in his hands, shaking it. “I’ll lose my career over this.”

Dumbledore exchanged a brief look with Harry. “Charlie, where are the rest of your team?”

“They were at the match! The Dragon had flown off again and scorched half the pitch before they could get in and do a bloody thing.” Charlie coughed, turning red. “Sorry, professor. ‘Scuse my language. I was supposed to wait for them, but I got um… carried away. Thought I could just check out a few more caves on my own. I honestly didn’t think I’d find him.” He sighed, “But that’s not why I’ll be in trouble. I mean it’s bad, but not the worst. We’re never meant to use force on the Dragons like that, not unless it’s an emergency. But he was getting away and I - I panicked. I just panicked.” 

“You used an Incarcerous .” Said Dumbledore. 

Charlie nodded, hauling in deep breaths. Harry wanted to feel bad for Charlie, but he couldn’t help the niggling resentment that crept up all the same. An Incarcerous ? Really? Harry would be the first to admit that the Dragon was terrifying, but it was also understanding. To an extent. He hadn’t needed to restrain it to figure that much out. Nevertheless, he bit his tongue. He wasn’t sure it would help Charlie’s spirits to discover Harry had had more success conversing with an undiscovered breed of Dragon than Charlie would have in his entire career. 

“I found him in a cave in the mountains not far from here.” Charlie said at length, “He was scarily intelligent, Professor. I think he knew what I was going to do.” 

“How do you know it’s a ‘he’?” Harry blurted. 

Charlie looked at him, blinking. Harry realized he’d only just noticed him sitting there. 

“Oh, um… the shape of his scales were peaked, not rounded. Males also have longer tails than their female counterparts. Those are the tell-tale signs, but… this is a whole other breed, so I’m just assuming.” 

Harry’s mouth went dry. So it was a male Dragon. Made sense. He wasn’t sure why, but it did. 

“Did it speak to you?” 

Charlie spluttered. “Excuse me?” 

The poor man was still in shock, but Harry couldn’t help it. “It - I mean he - can understand human language and communicate back. With nods and stuff. And eye rolls. He does a lot of eye rolls.” 

Charlie looked at Dumbledore, then back at Harry as if trying to work out whether all of this was a joke or whether Harry had hit his head very hard. 

“I’ve just realized I’m too sober for this.” Charlie sighed, at which Dumbledore gave a sharp laugh and clapped him on the back. 

“Firewhiskey can certainly be arranged.” He said, conjuring an unassuming glass on a small tray filled with what Harry guessed must be Firewhiskey, for a moment later Charlie was downing it. He grimaced at the taste, but his eyes were brighter.

“That hit the spot.” He stood and briskly shook Dumbledore’s hand. “Right. I’ve got a lot of paperwork to do. If I don’t make an absolute meal out of this maybe I’ll get to keep my job. All the best, Professor. Harry, stay out of trouble.”

“I’ll try.” Harry lied.

Charlie all but ran to the door, stopping to let someone else inside. “Oh. Hello. Pardon me.”

A woman entered after him, her high cheekbones stark and pale, red lips perfectly painted and eyes pools of grey - identical to her son’s. 

Narcissa Malfoy.

Harry wished he had a shot of Firewhiskey of his own. 

 

************

 

Through painful flying and stumbling, Draco made it to the deepest edge of the Forbidden Forest. He wasn’t even sure if the Centaurs came this far. Even at noon, the world was utterly dark down here. Eternal night. He couldn’t go back to his cave. Not with his injuries and dangerous Weasleys sniffing about. 

Excellent. 

He’d exposed himself to the entire school and got himself hurt. Thankfully he was fireproof. Mostly. So burning off the cords hadn’t been amongst his worst ideas, but it hadn’t done anything to soothe his injuries. Where the scales had been rubbed off, swollen bleeding welts were left in their place, aggravated by the burns he’d given himself. 

Today was marking itself as a particularly trying one. A stream nearby running with grey water was all Draco had to treat his injuries. He had no idea what kind of creatures or enchantments could be swimming down the ominous trickle of water, but he really didn’t care. The chilly water was instantly calming on his legs. 

His tail, however, wasn’t faring so well. Every time he tried to bend it, a jolt of searing pain lanced through it. It was broken. Right in the middle. 

His flying would be off for a while until it healed.

He wondered what would happen if he transformed back into his human form. Would he have a broken leg or arm? Would the injuries manifest themselves on his legs and back too, or would he heal and be able to transform again, fresh and free of wounds? The last time he’d been human he’d been split open from the chest so maybe now wasn’t the best time to test that theory. 

Draco knew for certain now he could turn back into his human form. He felt how much his body longed for it, the rush of pins and needles under his scales begging to transform but - 

He couldn’t. 

He just couldn’t. 

If he did, everything would change again. The illusion would be broken. And Potter would hate him again. 

Draco had been trying not to think about how much the idea of Potter spitting with rage at the sight of him had been playing on his mind differently recently. After all, he hated Potter too. Didn’t he? 

Potter had just tried to protect him from none other than his beloved teachers, he’d told Draco to flee. Well, he’d called him ‘Dragon’ but… it still shocked him. 

Shocked was an understatement. 

Draco wasn’t sure what was worse, the pain from the cords and burns he’d inflicted on himself or thinking about what would happen if Potter ever found out he was the Dragon. 

Fuck this, he thought, smashing his head into the stream and drinking deeply, ignoring the concerning taste of metal and algae. As soon as he was healed he’d sneak back into his house, kidnap his own mother and fly them both to sodding Greenland. 

As for his father? Well. He could stay in Azkaban for now. Draco wasn’t equipped for that sort of break-out just yet. 

 

************

 

The office had descended into chaos. They’d only had moments to share a stony, awkward silence with Narcissa Malfoy. Harry had glared at her, only restraining from shouting curses on behalf of his dead godfather because of the warning glance Dumbledore had given him. But Narcissa had barely even looked in his direction. Her leather-gloved hands were curled into fists at her side as she held her chin aloft and levelled with Dumbledore.

“I”- was all she’d had time to say before Snape, McGonagall and half a dozen other teachers burst into the room, followed by Charlie’s team of Dragon-Keepers, Madam Pomfrey (who hovered over Harry, checking him for cuts and bruises and burns before flitting straight back out again without a word) and finally, Hermione. 

Snape and McGonagall appeared to be in heated debate.

“Severus, I’m not saying we should let it go, I am simply asking for some propriety”-

-”Propriety, indeed! You speak of propriety when you let that - that boy roam free with no regard for the other students”-

Harry was getting a headache. Hermione rushed to his side, engulfing him in a tight hug before holding him at arm’s length. 

“Harry.” She said in a breath, her face creased with worry, “You’re going to tell me what’s been going on. Now” 

Harry pried her off. “I will - I will, Hermione, I’m sorry it’s just maybe now isn’t the right time.” 

They looked in the direction of the cluster of frantic adults. “Yes, maybe not.” Hermione agreed. 

Harry was worried about the Dragon. He had to get to his map as soon as possible.

“Let’s go.” He whispered to Hermione, “It’s not like they’ll notice us leaving at this point anyway.” 

They slipped past the huddle of Professors, keeping their heads bowed low. Once they were out of the office, they broke into a sprint, heading straight for the hospital wing. The area surrounding Ron’s sick-bed had become a hybrid between Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and Honeydukes gifts. Chocolate Frog packages littered the floor around his bedside table and even as Hermione and Harry rounded the corner, he was opening a new one. With each day that passed, more colour flushed Ron’s cheeks. Harry was certain he’d already fully recovered - he was just taking the opportunity to skive a few more days off. 

“Hi guys.” He waved, offering them each a Chocolate Frog. “Wha’s going on?” 

Harry gave Hermione a look. “You didn’t tell him?”

“Tell me what?” Asked Ron, sitting up higher. 

Hermione gave a long sigh. “Sorry, Harry, I was just making sure you weren’t dead.” She sniped.

“Why would Harry be dead?”

“Oh, come on Hermione I didn’t do anything that”-

“Heelloooo!” Ron cooed over them, rolling his eyes. “I’m still right here - no clue what’s going on - very confused. Explain.” He looked Harry up and down. “Oh, how was the game by the way, mate?”

“Sort of got interrupted.” Said Harry.

Hermione crossed her arms. “By a Dragon. The Dragon.” 

Ron’s eyes went wide and he lunged forward, sending more sweet packages flying with a crunch. 

“The big white fucker? Shit… can’t believe I missed that! I’m missing everything!” He huffed, before doing a double-take, “Why do I have a horrible feeling you did something stupid, Harry?” 

His friends knew him too well. “Um. Well, I - I talked to it.”

Ron blinked, gaze sliding over to Hermione for an explanation, but she was as blank as he was. 

“You did what ?” She whispered, “I thought you were just trying to - to”-

-”Fight it?” Harry finished for her. “Yeah, I figured you might come to that conclusion.” 

He took a seat by Ron’s bedside, avoiding their bewildered tracking gaze. 

“I was going to tell you. I really was. But I promised him - the Dragon - I wouldn’t.” He tried, wringing his hands in his lap. 

“Y-you promised the Dragon?” Ron asked, hushed. 

Harry nodded. “Also I’m pretty sure it ate Malfoy. I’ve been trying to persuade it to let him go but no luck so far.” 

Hermione slowly sank down onto Ron’s bed, gripping his wrist tightly. Ron was staring at it, momentarily distracted. 

As the pair took in what Harry was saying, he launched into a full and frank explanation, the same way he had with Dumbledore. He wasn’t sure what he expected - maybe for them to be furious at him for not including them from the start, but it certainly wasn’t what Hermione said next.

“I’m so sorry, Harry.” She chewed her lip, avoiding his gaze as she always did when she felt guilty.

Now it was Harry’s turn to be bewildered. “W-why? You didn’t do anything”-

“Exactly,” Ron interrupted solemnly, “We knew something was up and we didn’t do anything. We should have.” His brow creased in the same fashion as Hermione’s, sincerity in his eyes. “Yeah I nearly popped my clogs and all, but even before then - well, I knew you were sneaking off, mate. Just had no idea it was to...” 

“Talk to a Dragon.” Hermione said, only a small amount of disbelief left in her tone. 

“Yeah.” Ron exhaled. “Heavy, that. You really reckon Malfoy’s still alive in there?”

Harry’s legs were restless and he jumped up, back in deduction mode. 

“His name is still on the map, so he must be.” The map never lies, said Sirius’ voice in his head and he knew Ron and Hermione were hearing him too from the far away look in their eyes. “I just have no idea how. Or why the Dragon won’t let him go. I mean, it clearly knows what I want.” 

Harry paced up and down, biting his nails. Hermione’s expression turned shrewd. 

“Yes and what exactly do you plan to do with Malfoy once you’ve freed him?” 

Harry let out a breath, debating the question. Truthfully, he hadn’t quite thought that far ahead. Once Ron had been poisoned, he’d had vivid fantasies about punching Malfoy hard across his aristocratic cheekbones. He could only imagine the kind of satisfaction that would bring. He didn’t want to seriously hurt him again - he knew what it felt like to almost kill Malfoy and he didn’t want to go down that road again, he just wanted to… to… 

“I’m gonna talk to him.” Harry said. 

Ron snorted. “Always worked out well for you in the past, hasn’t it?” 

“It didn’t go so badly when…” He trailed off. Fuck. He hadn’t told Hermione and Ron about the time he’d shielded Malfoy with his invisibility cloak. The memory felt too surreal - too private . “...well, we never got a chance to talk.” He fumbled on his words, determinedly avoiding eye contact with Hermione. “But I just want to know what it is he wants.”

Hermione and Ron shared a significant look. It irked Harry when they did that, like they were using occlumency to talk without him. He knew they weren’t, but he couldn’t completely smother the irrational annoyance all the same. 

“Harry, maybe he didn’t want to do… whatever it is he’s doing.” 

“You can say Death Eater stuff, Hermione.” Ron laughed, “It’s pretty obvious at this point.” 

Of course Harry had endlessly considered Malfoy’s potential reluctance to be a Death Eater. He’d seen him crying in the bathroom before he hexed him for Godric’s sake. He’d easily have pegged Malfoy for a coward any day of the week, but the sobs racking from his rival’s body that day had been the disturbing, harrowing cries of someone who truly wanted out. The notes of those cries had struck a panicked cord in Harry, and he hadn’t even had time to think before throwing that curse at him. He remembered Malfoy’s deceptively bare white arm when they were hiding under the cloak. The amused smirk playing on his features that for once wasn’t derived from cruel taunting. Malfoy wasn’t evil. But he wasn’t good either. The lines weren’t clear cut enough, and Harry wasn’t wrapping his head around that so well. 

He carded a hand through his hair. “I don’t know, Hermione. But one way or another, this Dragon is the key to something and I know if I can get Malfoy out of there”-

“There you go again.” Hermione smiled. “You mean if we can get him out of there. You’re not doing this alone anymore.” 

The weight lifted off his shoulders like a cloud. He was smiling back before he knew it. 

“I’ve missed you both.” He said, meaning it. 


Dumbledore wasn’t finished with Harry. He was summoned back to his office merely hours later, and by now the vicinity had been transformed into a cool collected circle consisting of Dumbledore, sat regally behind his desk, Snape to his left and McGonagall flanking his right. Their expressions were very serious. 

Harry gulped as he sat down, drawing comfort from Fawkes’ serene head tilt in his direction. 

“Where’s Nar- Mrs Malfoy?” Asked Harry, peering into the shadows in search of her stone-cold glare.

Snape’s brow furrowed, Dumbledore shuffled a few leafs of parchment.

“She has been redirected to Professor Slughorn’s office for now.” He said.

“Does she know about the Dragon?”

“She knows it exists. She does not know it is the reason that her son has gone missing.” 

Despite everything he knew about Narcissa Malfoy, Harry’s insides squirmed uncomfortably. He thought of how Molly would react if she discovered Ron or Ginny had been missing for weeks. She would be heartbroken. Surely Narcissa’s heart couldn’t be so different. If she had one. 

“Don’t you think we should tell her, sir?” Harry said in a quiet voice.

“Hold your tongue.” Snape snapped, lurching forward a foot to loom over Harry. “You’ve caused enough damage this afternoon.”

Dumbledore held up a hand and Snape fell silent. 

“Potter, we need your assistance.” Said McGonagall gravely. 

Harry glanced between them all, searching for answers on each of their faces. 

“The Dragon trusts you. Would you say so, Harry?” Asked Dumbledore.

“Err…” Harry faltered. Did the Dragon trust him? He listened to him. He let him ride on his back. He had flown him to the safety of his glowy cave - although he had knocked him out first. But he hadn’t tried to hurt Harry since. 

“I think he might.” He replied, because it was as close to the truth as he knew himself. 

Dumbledore exhaled. “Then I’m afraid I must use you once again.” 

Snape shook his head, his expression unreasonable. “Albus”-

“No, Severus. It must be done.” Dumbledore said, his tone harsher than Harry was used to. 

Snape averted his eyes to the floor, tight lipped. Harry masterfully disguised the smirk he so wanted to show. How he’d love to be able to put Snape in his place. 

“How, sir?” He asked brightly, if only for the way it made Snape's eye twitch.

Dumbedlore leaned forward, clasping his hands together, the contrast between his black damaged hand and the white skin on his other stark. The pensieve glowed in its cabinet behind him, casting an eerie halo. 

“Visit the Dragon, Harry. Talk to him and don’t tell him we know about his… intelligence.” Dumbledore said slowly. “We know where he is hiding. We will watch and move in when the time is right. We must - must apprehend him if we are to free Draco Malfoy. Do you understand?” 

Harry swallowed, wanting to break eye contact but finding himself unable to. He didn’t want to lie to the Dragon. He realized, with great discomfort, that he didn’t want to see him hurt and that he didn’t trust Dumbledore not to hurt him. He wouldn’t feel right being a part of that. But, above all else, Malfoy was trapped in there. His mother was looking for him, and yes maybe he was a Death Eater - but he was about to be a caught one. Wasn’t catching Malfoy the whole reason he’d started this in the first place? 

“Yes, sir. I understand.” He agreed, swallowing thickly. “I’ll do it.” 

McGonagall made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a whimper of distress. Snape’s face was outlined by its shadows. Harry felt like he’d agreed to something that was about far more than just capturing an undiscovered species of Dragon. He’d felt like this when he’d promised the Dragon not to tell Dumbledore about him… so much for that. There were secrets permeating every pore of this situation, and he wasn’t even sure which side they came from. Voldemort’s or his own? 

Nevertheless, the conversation felt like it had been tied and he couldn’t change his mind now. He waited for Dumbledore to dismiss him, but he didn’t. He gave a nod to Snape and McGonagall, and the pair reluctantly left first. 

Harry’s palms were sweating. He felt dehydrated and his heart hadn’t stopped pounding since the match. He’d barely had time to shower. 

“Harry, I would like to ask you what you talked about with Mr Malfoy the night you hid him with your cloak.”

It took all of Harry’s willpower not to jump out of his seat. “You knew about”- he cut himself off mid-sentence. Of course Dumbledore knew. Harry’s cheeks flooded with heat at being found out. 

“It wasn’t so much that I wanted to hide him, sir.”

Dumbledore raised a brow, eyes twinkling. “No?” 

“No, well…” Said Harry, “I’d been trying to figure out what he was up to for months. I waited out in the snow” - Harry wasn’t going to admit for how long - “and when he came out of the forest, he was…” Stop blushing, stop blushing, “...shirtless. It just looked like something weird had been going on.” 

Harry’s mind reanalysed how that sentence sounded and he found himself blushing even harder. 

“I mean, something suspicious.” He floundered. 

“And what do you think he was doing?” Asked Dumbledore.

Harry shrugged as nonchalantly as he could, trying to banish the image of shirtless Malfoy from his mind. 

“I’m not sure, sir. He got a package from his owl at the same time. It was a mirror. It was all very strange.” 

“Very strange indeed.” Dumbledore agreed. “And why did you hide him?” 

Harry forced himself to breathe. “We heard people coming. I had my wand pointed at him and he said it would look incriminating if people saw me threatening a half-naked student by the edge of the forest.”

Dumbledore laughed, much to Harry’s dismay. “And were you threatening him?”

“No!” Said Harry, scandalised. “I just wanted to catch him in the act. We called a truce in the end.” 

Dumbledore nodded, as though he completely understood. Fawkes flew down from his perch and eyed Harry closer, letting out a gentle squark. 

“I quite understand your wish to keep such a thing a secret, Harry.” Said Dumbledore with far more amusement than Harry deemed appropriate for the situation. “And did you notice anything else about him that seemed... strange?” 

Apart from the fact he was shirtless in the middle of winter? Harry cast his mind back to that much-thought-about night. Malfoy had seemed… oddly manic, radiating a heat that seemed unnatural - not only for the weather, but for him . Harry would have found it more believable that Malfoy’s skin be made of marble. He thought of the supple, flexing muscles easing the cloak over their heads and the way he’d been able to feel each of Malfoy’s breaths tickling the back of his neck, his chest rising and falling below his collar bone -

“A pendant!” Harry remembered suddenly. “He was wearing a pendant. A green one. It wasn’t flashy or anything, but I remember it.” 

Dumbledore’s expression darkened, but only momentarily, and it changed back before Harry could register its significance. 

“I see.” He stood, bringing Fawkes up onto his forearm with him. “Well, Harry. That will be all for tonight. And don’t forget to bring me that memory.” He winked.

Slughorn’s memory. He’d almost forgotten. 

How Dumbledore expected him to achieve acceptable NEWTs, capture a Dragon and save the Wizarding World from a war, he had no idea. 


The Gryffindor common room was a tremor of hushed whispers and fleeting glances that night. Word had quickly spread on Harry’s stunt during the match, and Seamus whistled as Harry walked in, clapping loudly where everyone else simply frowned at him. 

“Our boy Harry’s gettin’ to be a Dragon slayer!” He whooped. 

Dean shook his head apologetically at Harry. “He’s had a few drinks.” 

Seamus slapped Dean on the arm. “Yeah? We all should be drinking tonight. Not only did we win the match by default, we’re also winnin’ the fuckin’ war, baby!” 

Even though he was joking about the war, Harry felt a twang in his chest. He had to get out of there. He sprinted to his dorm room, only stopping to grab the map and, as he noticed it sitting on the corner of his desk, the bag of fudge he’d meant to feed the Dragon days ago. After Ron had been poisoned he’d forgotten about the whole thing and decided he’d rather Malfoy starved - let alone get any fudge, even if it had had to pass through the mouth of a Dragon to get to him. 

But Ron was okay, and Malfoy was about to be arrested. And maybe the Dragon liked fudge? 

Before Harry could escape, however, Neville grabbed his arm on the way out of the portrait. 

“Harry”- He said, panting, “I need to talk to y”-

“Sorry, Neville,” Said Harry, shrugging him off, “I really don’t want to talk about it right now. Bye.” 

He’d had to explain himself enough times today. Neville’s turn would have to wait. 

The castle was stonily silent. All students had been issued a curfew, per the instruction that no one was allowed out of their dormitories past seven o’clock. But technically, Harry wasn’t breaking any rules this time. Dumbledore had told him to talk to the Dragon, and according to the map, the Dragon was exactly where he expected him to be: the Forbidden Forest. He took his usual route, casting a warming charm to protect himself from the chilly breeze.

As he passed by beams of warm light cast by Hagrid’s cabin, he wondered whether it was Hagrid himself who had snitched on him and Malfoy to Dumbledore the night they’d hidden under the cloak. He’d had to have seen them. Or maybe Ron was right and Dumbledore really did just see and know everything that went on in the castle. The thought didn’t sit well with Harry. 

He was by the treeline when it happened. His sight left him. He was blind, as though it had been switched out like a light. For a moment he thought the world had simply gone dark until he realized he was the problem.

“Fuck,” He said, fumbling for his wand and pressing the palm of his other hand against his eyes. They were still there. He could feel his glasses slipping over his face. So why couldn’t he see?

“Don’t move.” Said the icy, hissing voice of Narcissa Malfoy. 

Fear didn’t quite cut how Harry felt in response to that voice. All of his fear had been burnt out the moment he’d been convinced he was going to be eaten by a Dragon. Instead he was just... done. 

“Really?” He said into the blackness, because that was all he could see. “You’re capturing me here? At Hogwarts? Your boss is running out of ideas, Mrs. Malfoy.” 

She must have cast a non-verbal sight-stealing charm of some description on him. Harry didn't know an incantation for such a curse, but apparently Narcissa Malfoy was so well-versed on the subject she could do it without making a sound. Sneaky. She was definitely her son’s mother.

A second later, his sight returned. He blinked against the suddenness of it, wiping his glasses on his shirt as the austere figure of Narcissa Malfoy swam into view. But rather than her usual expression (one which suggested a particularly unpleasant smell had just passed under her nose) her eyes were fierce, welling with tears.

“What do you want?” He snapped. He was getting sick of surprises. 

“I want you to take me to my son.” She whispered, clutching her wand. Now he could see her clearly. Her shoulders hunched over, streaked hair falling into her eyes. She was leagues away from the woman who had glided into Dumbledore’s office hours earlier. 

“Dumbledore sent me away,” She continued, “blaming my son’s disappearance on the Dark Lord.” 

“Is that really so unbelievable?” Harry found himself arguing. “I mean, you work for him. You know kidnapping a kid isn’t beneath him, even if he is the precious prince of Slytherin.” 

Narcissa struggled, opening her mouth and closing it again several times before speaking. “I know the truth, Mr. Potter. I know where he is. Take me to him.” 

There was no point in lying. “I can’t do that, Mrs. Malfoy.” 

Her red lips twitched dangerously. “You will take me to him.”

“No!” 

“Why?!” 

“Because your sister killed my godfather!” Harry yelled, the heat of the words exploding from his chest and burning the air around them. 

Narcissa took a step back, her features falling. “Yes. I know.” 

Harry was breathing hard, his wand shooting out tiny sparks. He shoved it in his back pocket. 

There was no apology, but at least she didn’t do Harry the discredit of looking away. “He’s my son.” 

She was so quiet, her voice breaking on the last syllable, and Harry knew then he’d been right. Above all else, she was Malfoy’s mother, and her heart was breaking for him. 

He couldn’t believe he was about to do this. 

“I’ll take you to him,” He said, his voice shaking slightly. “But if you try anything, I’ll hex you.”

Narcissa gave him a look that suggested he’d be lucky to get so far as taking out his wand before hexing her, but she said nothing. She only nodded. 


The Dragon had hidden himself far deeper in the forest than usual. They passed the spot where Harry would usually have found him in less than half an hour, but getting to the Dragon’s new location felt like a feat in itself. At first Harry had been convinced Narcissa wouldn’t have been able to cope in the hostile environment. After all, he’d only ever seen her daintily tread in halls or shop floors. But she tackled every root and ditch that came their way with complete ease. Harry stayed five steps ahead at all times, pretending to glance down at the map every now and again, but the Dragon wasn’t moving. It was utterly still. That was a worrying sign. Usually he was zipping all over the place. Harry hoped he wasn’t too injured. Did magical creatures heal faster? A dense mist seeped through the grey canopy, pouring into a grey stream to their right. Harry stuck by it, the constant sound of the water more comforting than the dead silence. 

The mist didn’t clear, but a bluish glow began to shine through it as they got closer to Malfoy’s name on the map. As always, Harry’s heart leapt at his discovery. Finding the Dragon felt like an accomplishment every time, even with Narcissa behind him. 

He stopped.

“Let me go first, alright?” Harry whispered. 

Narcissa looked like she wanted to argue.

“He trusts me.”

She clamped her lips shut, a divet appearing between her brow. “He trusts you?” She repeated quietly.

Harry nodded, turning his back on her before she dolled out another serving of skepticism. He was becoming tired of all the disbelief. He slowly paced through the mist, comforted by the lack of footfalls behind him. He wanted to talk to the Dragon first, to show him he wasn’t alone. 

But the Dragon was sleeping. 

And the sight of him made Harry gasp. 

Where before his legs had been weeping with gored cuts from his bonds, there now wound thick black stripes that looked like they’d been coated in coal. The difference in colouring from his iridescent silver scales was astonishing.

The Dragon’s arrow-tipped tail hung into the stream, bent at a sharp angle in the middle. 

An uncomfortable thread of guilt snaked through Harry’s veins, reminding him he was about to betray the Dragon’s promise. All to save a Death Eater. It wasn’t fair. The Dragon was innocent, and he was about to be captured and put through who-knew-what for Malfoy’s sake. Harry had to remind himself over and over that this was a good thing. But it didn’t feel good. 

“Dragon?” He said, swallowing back his guilt. 

The Dragon opened one of his clear grey eyes, his pupil widening as he saw Harry. He didn’t rise with his usual grace. He limped to a sitting position, and though he still towered above him, he seemed vulnerable, his great head hanging from his neck like there was no support there. Exhaustion, Harry realized. 

“I know what happened.” Said Harry softly, “I know Charlie did this to you.” 

The Dragon’s mouth twisted into a snarl and his eyes narrowed. Attitude.That was more like it. 

“He’s sorry.” Said Harry meekly, “He panicked and he feels horrible about it.” 

This didn’t appear to console the Dragon at all. Harry glanced at his injuries.

“Those look awful.” 

Harry was sure the Dragon shrugged as it turned its head away from him as if to say, it isn’t that bad . Harry couldn’t help but let out a small laugh. 

“Trying to act tough. Right. But I’m still sorry it happened.” He sighed, “People are always afraid of things they can’t understand.” 

The Dragon met Harry’s eyes, his gaze piercing and wide. It was hard to read the Dragon’s expression, but he seemed… shocked. Or grateful, or… 

A twig crunched in the mist behind them. The Dragon coiled inward, releasing a low, thundering growl that quaked the ground. 

“It’s okay!” Said Harry, “It’s only”-

The Dragon stopped growling as the shadow in the mist became clear. He unwound his tail from the stream (Harry noticed him flinch with pain) and took a step back as Narcissa came to stand beside Harry. 

“I told you to wait.” Said Harry.

She ignored him, staring up at the Dragon with wide, clear eyes. A tear tracked down her high-cheekbone, and then another and another. 

This was a mistake, Harry realized. She might do anything. She might try to free her son herself, and he was sure she’d have no qualms about killing the Dragon in the process. 

“Oh, my son,” Narcissa whispered before a sob overcame her and she clamped a hand over her mouth. 

Harry was about to step between them and demand they go back or yell at the Dragon to run away when something extraordinary happened. 

Narcissa extended a trembling, gloved hand and as she did, the Dragon came closer. Harry knew he could shrink and grow, he’d seen him do it before, but never to this level. 

As he approached, the Dragon shrunk down until he was tiny - almost the size of a human. 

Harry backed away in awe, watching as the Dragon hesitantly limped toward Narcissa. At this size, he seemed so vulnerable. So small and hurt, the scale of his injuries not minimized at all by his new proportions. In an odd way, he also came across as more real , Harry thought. As a full size Dragon, he was awesome and spectacular in a way that took his breath away every time, but now he was just - here. 

The Dragon, rather than snapping Narcissa’s hand clean from her wrist, gently bent his head and allowed her to place her palm between his eyes. 

Narcissa was openly crying. She abandoned her decorum and laid her head against the Dragon’s, saying the same things over and over again. 

“Stay away, Draco… please, stay away. Don’t come back. I love you. I love you. I love you.” 

Harry didn’t understand. Question after question scorched the back of his tongue, each one more perplexing than the last. 

Just as Harry was mustering the sobriety to ask one of them, Narcissa broke away, turning her back with a flourish. “Don’t follow me.” He heard her say through a sob before she disappeared through the mist. 

The Dragon was frozen still, and so was Harry, the last of Narcissa’s plaintive cries pervading through the fog and ringing in their ears. 

 

************

 

No. No, no, no. No. Was all Draco could think after his mother left them standing there. His Curse was searing him inside and out, yanking on his insides and trying to tug his scales down until they beCAme smooth, human skin. 

Seeing his mother again had been all he’d wanted for so long, and now that he had he wished he could go back and hide before she ever managed to find him. Seeing her cry had broken him. She’d told him not to come back. 

Now he had to come back. He had to. 

He couldn’t leave her alone in the manor with those monsters. 

He risked a glance at Potter, who resembled a body-bound garden gnome, standing there gawking at him like he’d never seen him before. 

So he didn’t know about the Curse.

Small mercies. 

What had his mother been thinking, using Potter to find him? She must have been truly desperate. 

Draco had to do something before Potter put two and two together and guessed what…no, who … he was. 

He huffed and stomped off back toward his stream which didn’t quite have the effect he wanted because he was limping. He made a great show of lapping up mouthfuls of bitter stream water, gulping each one down despite its horrible taste. He felt rather like a cat. It was a bit demeaning, but he’d long since abandoned his pride. So had his mother, it seemed. 

She was the image of defeat - dark circles under her eyes like bruises, back bent as though she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. 

He hated Potter for bringing her here. He’d ruined everything. He might not know it, but he had. 

“I thought she was going to hurt you.” Potter muttered after far too long a silence. 

You were damn right , Draco thought. He didn’t even bother to acknowledge Potter as he limped back to the warm patch of soil he’d been sleeping in. He didn’t change his size back either. The worse the Curse nagged him to change back into a human, the easier it became to stay small. It didn’t quite use as much energy as staying big. He hadn’t meant to downsize like this, but seeing his mother had robbed him of his agency. He hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything else, and not even the look on Potter’s face was worth it. 

Draco curled up in the soil, trying to ignore the pain in his tail. His legs weren’t too bad. Just a bit tight and uncomfortable. He’d probably burned away all the nerves, but his tail fucking hurt.

Potter shuffled closer, holding onto his bag like a lifeline. He dug inside it and drew out a ragged piece of parchment, studying it closely. Homework ? Draco thought with an inward snort. 

“She’s back at the castle.” He said to himself.

Who was she? His mother? And how did he know she was at the castle? Just as Draco was getting curious about what was on the parchment, Potter stuffed it back into his bag, instead opting for a crumpled pouch.  

“I brought you something. Well, not you technically.” He stuttered. Get on with it, Draco willed him tiredly. “Ages ago I thought - I dunno what I thought - but I guessed Malfoy might not have, um, eaten anything in a while. Obviously if he was actually starving in there he’d be dead by now but… ugh, whatever. I dunno.” Draco was struggling to piece together that mess of a sentence when Potter pulled out a square piece of - fudge

“Just eat this, alright?” He huffed, green eyes aimed at the ground which he scuffed at relentlessly. “But try and not to chew it. Maybe… um… maybe Malfoy could have some if he’s conscious in there.” 

Draco was, for the second time in five minutes, shocked into stillness. He stared at Potter, desperately trying for the life of him to work out what the fuck was going on in his head. He’d bought him a bag of fudge? How in Merlin’s name did Potter know fudge was his favourite sweet?

Moments later, Potter was standing in front of him, holding out the piece expectantly. Either that, or preparing to toss it into his mouth like a Chaser throwing a Quaffle. Ridiculous. 

Draco pushed himself up onto his hinds and bent forward to take the piece of fudge out of the Gryffindor’s giving hand. 

The first of his fangs brushed against Potter’s skin, and Draco realized with some reluctance he was trying not to hurt him. Potter dropped the the fudge into his mouth, drawing away and rubbing at his hand where Draco had touched it with his teeth. 

Wuss. 

Despite instruction, he did chew, and it was hilariously difficult. These teeth were meant for tearing apart flesh and crunching through bone. Not mind-numbingly delicious toffee-flavoured fudge that melted right into his taste buds, flooding his insides with a warm, comforting sensation that sorely reminded him of home. 

It was difficult not to savour. He swallowed it back with considerable, glad his scales couldn’t blush. He hated it when people watched him eat, and Potter was watching him intently, his face flushed when he saw Draco had swallowed it. Draco huffed some air through his nose as if to say more, please

And, marvellously, Potter understood. He took a fistful of fudge this time, repeating the action with more confidence and placing it all in Draco’s mouth. 

The next batch was even better, and soon Potter was smiling. 

“Wow, you really like fudge. Who’d have thought?” His eyes creased when he smiled like that. Draco had tried hard not to notice. 

Soon, Potter’s expression became far too much to handle alongside the intimacy of feeding him hand-to-mouth so he turned away and slumped back onto the ground, still relishing the lasting taste of fudge. A small burst of flame in the back of his throat made it taste even better. 

Potter laughed as smoke billowed from his nostrils, making Draco even more embarrassed. 

“I knew the fudge was a good idea. Hermione was dead wrong.” 

Granger? Draco both did and didn’t want Potter to elaborate. Potter shoved the empty pouch of fudge back into his bag, his eyes bright as he chose not only to sit by Draco, but lean against him by the join of his wing to his shoulder. 

“Is this okay?” He asked tentatively.

Draco heaved a great sigh in response, but he didn’t move. 

“I was trying to think of ways to talk to Malfoy, back when I first realized you’d only gone and eaten him. I suppose now I know he’s in some sort of coma. He must be. Or he’d have found a way out by now.” 

Potter’s brain truly did conjure some marvellous ideas. Draco was content to listen. Amidst the horrific chaos of his life, this was a welcome and entertaining break. It was helping him not to think about his mother, even if it wasn’t quite suppressing the effects of the Curse. As he had the thought, it bristled under his scales, sending a shiver through him. 

“I told Hermione and Ron about you today. They wanted to know why I’d flown down there and… well, I don’t really know what I was doing, but I’m glad you understood. I didn’t want anyone to hurt you.” 

I didn’t want anyone to hurt you. Draco kept very still. Potter’s body was warm against him. It would be easier to ignore if he was in his bigger Dragon form, but they weren’t all too different in size for the moment. 

“Can I try and heal you?” Asked Potter, swivelling around to gaze directly at him. 

Draco didn’t know what to do. Potter’s eyes were large and keen and open. He’d never looked at Draco like that when he was human, except maybe when - 

“Draco… I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry, Draco. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

The memory struck Draco like a Stupefy - Potter had called him by his first name, then, hadn’t he? His face had looked largely then like it did now. Draco already knew Potter felt guilty for using that curse against him in the bathroom, was it possible he somehow felt responsible for what had happened to him now, too? 

It was laughable. Potter’s saviour complex truly knew no bounds. 

Draco shook his head, throwing in a scowl for good measure. He didn’t need Potter’s stupid pity. The Gryffindor’s expression crumpled, and Draco momentarily wished he’d accepted Potter’s offer to try and heal him. He knew full well it wouldn’t work. The strength of magic needed to work on his body now compared to a human’s was off the charts. Even the most skilled wizard would have difficulty healing him. 

But Potter didn’t know that, and appeared to have taken Draco’s refusal as a personal offence. Which, he supposed, it was. 

Potter leant back against him, scooting his knees under his chin. 

“Okay.” He said.

Why did he have to sound so bloody dejected? 

The Gryffindor mentality would forever remain the greatest enigma in the wizarding world. 

“Are you trusting to everyone you meet?” Potter asked all of a sudden. The question felt loaded, but Draco couldn’t fathom why Potter would ever think he was trusting. 

“Have you met Narcissa before? Is that why she cried? I’m trying to understand what’s going on and I - I just can’t.” 

Draco heard a thump, and he was sure Potter had punched the ground. 

“Nothing makes sense.” He groaned. “No one makes sense.” 

Agreed, thought Draco. 

“Especially you.” He felt Potter’s body heave as he yawned. “How can you even exist?” 

Draco had been trying to answer the same question himself for quite some time. The Curse had made him suffer nearly half a lifetime of that question. And he was no closer to answering it than he had been when he was thirteen. 

He couldn’t tell if it was night or day. In this part of the Forest, it was always night, but the day had certainly been long if it wasn’t. Draco was absolutely exhausted. Part of him wished Potter would leave so he could sleep in peace, but another part needed him to stay because if he didn't, he would be left with the horrifying notion that soon he would have to change back. Either his wish to join his mother or the Curse would force him to do it, but so far it looked like the Curse was winning.

But it was okay.

He was in control.

He wasn’t going to transform.

Not now. Not yet. 

“Whatever happens,” Potter said, his words slurred by his own tiredness, “I hope you won’t ever forget me.” 

If Draco knew one thing for certain, it was that forgetting Harry Potter was never going to be an option. 

 

************

 

Something was wrong. Harry knew the second he woke up that he wasn’t alone. If it was morning, he would never know. The forest looked the same as it had when he had fallen asleep; eerily dark and misty and greyish - but the Dragon had moved. Harry was lying on his side, curled up in the leaves, and an odd sound was coming from beside him. 

He shot up, hand flying straight to his wand. 

The Dragon was still smaller than he was used to, and he was writhing on the ground metres away at impossible angles, his wings twisting and flapping hard against the soil. 

“Dragon!” Harry shout-whispered. 

His eyes were shut, his mouth curled into a snarl. A nightmare? 

“Harry!” Another voice answered from the mist instead. 

Harry whirled around, wand held up. “Who’s there?” 

The mist cleared instantly, swished away by Dumbledore. And he wasn’t the only one. Harry gasped as he realized they were surrounded. Dumbledore, a circle of staff members and Charlie’s team of Dragon-Keepers flanked the Dragon and Harry in a wide circle. 

“Get back, Harry,” Came Charlie’s voice from somewhere to his left, “We’ll take it from here.”

“No…” Harry found himself saying. He wasn’t ready. He didn’t want this. He thought this would take longer, that they'd wait. He turned to the Dragon, who had awoken from the voices but was no less distressed than before. His pupils were dilating and shrinking, ribbons of smoke pooling from his mouth as he growled at their company, before finally rounding on Harry. 

“I-I’m sorry.” Harry stammered as the Dragon’s eyes screamed betrayal. “I didn’t know what else to do.” 

With a bound, the Dragon tried to take off, but his broken tail prevented him from finding a trajectory and he crashed back to the ground in a pitiful heap. 

Harry saw some of the team advance to capture him, but before they could, an explosion of flame was fired their way, wrapping around in a circle until Harry and the Dragon were cut off from the rest. 

The shield charms went up only just in time, but the trees around them were alight. 

“You don’t have to do this!” Harry cried, “They won’t hurt you!” 

The Dragon stumbled, his wings falling limp at his side. He wasn’t focused on Harry. He wasn’t focused on anything. His eyes rolled back into his head and for a terrible second Harry thought someone had shot a curse at him. But he shook his head hard, fixing Harry once more with a glare that said everything he needed to know. He’d lost the Dragon’s trust forever. 

“I know I promised and I broke it but I had to!” 

The Dragon hissed, advancing on Harry, all of last night’s closeness gone.

Someone was calling Harry’s name in the distance. Why was no one firing spells yet? What was Dumbledore waiting for? 

There was nothing for it. Harry raised his wand - 

The Dragon opened his mouth and a plume of bright white flame followed, directed at Harry. 

Harry threw up a non-verbal shield charm as the assault continued. It only stopped when the flames spluttered and died in the Dragon’s throat as he fell, his silver body buckling under his injured legs. 

Harry coughed through the smoke, ready to protect himself again. But he didn’t have to, because the Dragon was changing. 

Harry watched in disbelief and horror as his wings bent and folded in on themselves like dying December leaves. The rest of his body followed suit, shrinking and morphing into… into… 

Smoke clogged Harry’s throat, but he leapt into the thick of it, the ground scorching beneath his feet. 

His Dragon’s wings and his scales were the last to go, smoothing out into pale, white skin and retracting into the unconscious body of Draco Malfoy, a simple green pendant winking in the hollow of his throat. 

The threat was over, but the mystery was far from solved. 



Chapter Text

The truth, Harry realized, was a horrible thing. 

Dumbledore’s office was dim, lit only by soft oil lamps in each of the four corners. The silence was oppressive, marred by the muted, ragged breaths of the person sat beside him. 

Harry determinedly faced the desk, his back rigid in the chair. What was taking so long? He’d hardly been able to look at Malfoy, save only for the moment he’d first appeared - naked and pale and unconscious in the forest - and the moment he’d entered Dumbledore’s office.

Malfoy had been dressed in a loose, black robe. Nothing more. He’d stood in the doorway and upon seeing Harry he’d stopped. His expression had been unguarded, glassy grey eyes wide and fearful (how had Harry not noticed they were the same as his Dragon’s? It seemed so obvious to him now), before forming into a bland deadness. Malfoy’s overgrown hair fell into his eyes as he took uneven steps towards the desk and collapsed into the chair beside Harry. 

Rage had bubbled at Harry’s lips like poison, and if Malfoy hadn’t been limping he’d have strode over there and punched him hard in the face. But he didn’t. Instead, the awful truth he’d come to learn over the past couple of hours willed him into bitter silence.

And now, here they were, waiting for Dumbledore like a pair of first years waiting to receive detention. 

Harry regretted looking over, because the first thing he noticed was Malfoy’s arm. The sleeve of his robe had ridden up to reveal the black smudge of a tattoo on his forearm. He felt sick. 

“I was right.” Harry said, his remark cutting through the quiet. No triumph. No smug satisfaction. It rang of disdain. 

Malfoy briefly closed his eyes, exhaling a breath. He faced Harry with the same dead expression as before.

“What?” 

Malfoy’s voice was cracked, like he’d just woken up from a long sleep. 

He didn’t look like a Death Eater. He looked younger than Harry had ever seen him, and stark and thin and hurt. 

He glanced down at Malfoy’s arm in response. Malfoy covered the mark with his hand. 

“Are you after a reward, Potter?” He spat, “Was ruining my life not enough for you?” 

The mixed cocktail of humiliation and anger rose in Harry’s abdomen again and he clenched his fists. 

“You lied.” It was an obvious statement. And hardly an insult given who he was talking to. But they both knew what he meant. 

Malfoy’s face twisted into scorn. “You really think you’re so special, don’t you? As if I would expose my darkest secret to you . You had no right to know it.” 

“And you had no right to use me!” Harry shouted, his associations with his Dragon and Draco Malfoy still so separate from each other. How could they be the same? How? Malfoy was a brat. He always had been. Even beaten down and laid bare as he was now, he still maintained the audacity to act like a first-class prat. 

Malfoy’s guise faltered, his pale facade crumbling into incredulity. “Use you.” He echoed. “Get your head out of your arse, Potter.” 

The silence returned, thicker and more charged than ever. Harry’s resentment went unspent, and he was left glaring as the subject of his indignation turned his head and stared straight ahead into nothing, refusing to acknowledge him. 

 

************

 

“Enervate.” 

It was like waking from a month-long dream. Or falling into a nightmare. The first thing Draco saw was Snape - how pleasant - pointing his wand at Draco’s chest and staring at him with disturbed, beetle-like eyes. 

He’d tried to move, but his wrists and legs were bound to a chair. It was dark, the only light source three points of wand-light all aimed at him. He was in one of the dungeons. He recognized it first from the unsteady drip of green lakewater that tended to run down the walls, and then the musty, damp smell of wet stone and stale air. At least someone had put him in clothes, however thin they were. 

Draco struggled instinctively, the cords of fabric digging into his skin. He was all too familiar with this feeling after yesterday, but it felt different on human flesh. Words didn’t come easily. His vocal-chords felt thick and unused, and for a moment he could only grunt in protest. 

“I am sorry, Draco.” Came the headmaster’s tepid apology. He didn’t sound sorry at all, the old fuck. “But we must take every precaution.”

Draco struggled. If need be, he could transform again to escape. It might drain him, but he may be able to do it for just enough time to get out. He relaxed his entire body, forcing his eyes to flutter shut again as he reached deep down inside himself and sought the fire of the Curse. 

“Albus.” Came another, warning voice. McGonagall? 

“I know, Minerva. He’s trying to change back.” 

The cords tightened like serpents around Draco’s limbs. He pushed back in frustration.

“For fuck’s sake, let me go!” He tried to yell hoarsely, barely managing more than a whisper. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

“Which is why we need to do this.” The headmaster explained stoically. “Draco, Professor Snape is going to administer you a small dose of Veritaserum. When you have told us the truth, he will then administer a rejuvenation potion and you will be sent to my office for further arrangements. Do you understand?” 

The words fell on deaf ears. Draco felt wrong. Unguarded. The Curse was there but it was as though it didn’t belong to him. The reason why clicked seconds later, the weightlessness on bare neck sending tremors of panic through him. 

“Where’s my pendant?” He demanded. “I need it. I need it! Give it back!” 

“I have it.” Said McGonagall, “It will be returned to you, Draco.” 

Snape’s wand light passed over Draco’s face as he produced a tiny vial of clear potion. Draco clamped his mouth shut. He shook his head violently, knowing this would do him no good.

“Cooperate, Draco.” Snape hissed, “This will be much less painless if you do.”

“For who? For y”-? He was cut off by Snape’s hand forcing his mouth open and tipping the potion down his throat before he could protest further. 

Draco was well-acquainted with the deceptively sweet, clean taste of Veritaserum. His father had used it on him over and over again when he was a child. As a result, Draco had no secrets from his parents, and the fear of being forced to speak the truth had willed him into obedience from an early age. 

The taste sent the memories flooding back, hours and hours of his father interrogating him about school and his friends and the smallest of his secrets - the images hazed over the image of the three teachers stood in front of him now. The manic-look in his father’s eyes before his mother had come in to stop it all was what had stuck with him most, like Draco could never give him the answers he truly wanted, whatever they were. 

But there was far more on the line for this interrogation than there ever had been with his father. His secret was about to be exposed, and there was nothing he could do about it as the potion suffused into his body, encouraging him with an enlightened spirit to be honest. To admit to everything. Because it would be far easier this way, wouldn’t it, if there were no more secrets? 

Draco fought the feeling, even suppressing the urge to breathe in his effort. 

“What are you?” Came Dumbledore’s authoritative timbre.

Well, that was easy. “A Malfoy.” 

“And what else?” 

“A Wizard.” 

This truth wasn’t incriminating. It was just a statement of fact. But the words spilled from his lips like mercury. Far too easily. Far too quickly.

“And?” Dumbledore pressed. 

“A Pureblood. A- A Death Eater.” 

“Did Lord Voldemort transform you into a Dragon?” 

Dumbledore’s voice was getting closer, occupying every corner of Draco’s mind like a thought of its own. He was so weak, but he tried to resist. 

“Answer me.” 

“...No.” 

“Then how did it happen?”

Tell him. Tell him all. “I… don’t…” Resist. Speak. Resist.

Amazingly, McGonagall’s voice reached Draco from the depth of his mind. 

“Do we have to do it this way?” 

Her question went ignored. 

“Draco! Tell me how it happened!” 

“A Curse. A family Curse. I was thirteen years old. I transformed in the manor. I injured my father. My father wanted to kill me, but my mother wouldn’t let him. I have to transform every few months or - or it forces me.” Draco could hear his own voice, but it was out of his control, compelled by the headmaster’s strong command and the Veritaserum’s magic. 

“What is the Curse?” His voice sounded softer now. Kind. Encouraging. 

“I don’t know.”

“Truly? You do not know its origin?” 

“No.” 

“What is the necklace for? What does it do?” 

“L-let’s me control. Without it, I can’t remember who I am when I transform. It keeps my mind and my body connected. My mother made it.” 

“And what of yesterday? Why did you transform for so long, Draco?” 

“To… to protect.” 

“To protect who? Yourself?”
“Yes. And mother.”

“From?”

“Everyone.” 

The silence was brief, and Draco hauled in a gasp of oxygen, unaware he’d been holding back for so long. He was shivering, his body barely coping with staying awake, let alone sitting through an interrogation, but his mind was utterly separate. His consciousness floated on a silver cloud, and the more he told the truth the further it drifted from his body. The feeling was akin to a terrible bliss, and he was far too weak to resist it. 

“Does the Dark Lord know about your Curse?” 

“No.” 

“Who does?”

“My mother. My father. You.” 

The cords were loosening, relenting on his tired joints. His ankle hurt. He could feel it now. 

“Draco, why did you become a Death Eater?” 

His chest was tight. He was breathing hard and Merlin be damned if he started crying. 

“The Dark Lord made me do it. I had to or he’d find out about my Curse. He gave me a… a special mission.” 

“And what was that mission, Draco?”

His next inhale shook with fear. “To kill you.” 

He was vaguely aware of McGonagall’s gasp of despair. 

“You brought the necklace?”

“Yes.”

“And poisoned the mead that almost killed Ron Weasley?”

“Yes.” 

“Why didn’t you kill me at the Quidditch match, Draco? You could have done it easily in your Dragon’s form. You could have killed us all and won the war for your master. So why didn’t you?” 

Draco hoped he wasn’t crying. His face had gone completely cold and it was getting harder to just move his lips. His eyes remained closed as he uttered a sentence that made him hate himself. 

“I didn’t want to.” 

The cords fell away, allowing Draco to slump fully into the hard-backed chair, his head hanging with shame and exhaustion. He didn’t know he was falling forwards until Snape caught him. Another vial was pressed to his lips, and he drank it obediently, the rejuvenation potion sending a fresh burst of energy lancing through his veins. The Veritaserum hadn’t worn off yet but Draco could feel its effects waning. 

He blinked, finding it hard to look at their faces. Snape’s was the easiest to bear, McGonagall’s horrified expression only bothered him a bit, but Dumbledore’s was the worst. He wasn’t angry or even surprised. There was only pity and understanding there. And Draco hated it. 

He’d betrayed his father completely, showing more weakness in the last few minutes than ever in his life. 

“How are you feeling?” Asked Dumbledore. 

“Fucking wonderful.” Draco astounded himself by the amount of cynicism he managed to muster. 

“Good. Professor McGonagall will escort you to my office and there you will await further instruction. Clear?” 

Draco coughed, his throat tight and sore after speaking so much. “Fuck you.” 

The headmaster smiled, irking Draco even more. He’d expected a reprimand from McGonagall at least for his foul language, but she’d gone utterly pale and withdrawn. Even on the way up to Dumbledore’s office, she barely said a word. Draco could hardly walk on his ankle. Hee couldn’t spot so much as a bruise. The skin was white and untouched, but it felt broken. McGonagall didn’t comment on his gait, but the journey was slow. The corridors were deserted. The world outside was dark. Draco had thought it was morning, the night had seemed so long. But, no. It was still too early for the sun to rise. He sighed, grateful they’d finally reached the doorway to the office. Before he entered, McGonagall procured his necklace wish a swish of her wand. 

“There you are.” She told him, holding it out so it swung like a pendulum. “Wait inside, Mr. Malfoy.” Saying his name appeared to cause her physical effort. She wouldn’t look him in the eye. Whether due to guilt or disgust, Draco couldn’t be sure.

He took the smooth, jade pendant in his hand, curling it into his fist. The very presence of it soothed his Curse, reminding him he was back in control. He took a deep, trembling breath. He wouldn’t thank her, but he gave her a short nod before pushing open the door. 

And who was sat by the desk waiting for him?
Only the last fucking person he wanted to see. 

It was a curious thing, how seeing the one who had brought him comfort over the past few weeks now kindled within him a feeling of pure hatred. He gripped the pendant hard in his left hand and strode into the office with as much decorum as he could fathom. The limp didn’t help. 

He considered bolting, but where would he go? The teachers knew his secret. He’d be caught again, and if not by them, then by the Dark Lord - and the idea didn’t even bear thinking about. 

Sitting down again was a huge relief, and Draco tried not to reveal how grateful he was to sit in a chair that wasn’t restraining him. Aside from the pain in his ankle, using his human limbs again was exhausting - almost as if he’d forgotten how after so long of flying and walking on four legs.

Potter was tense beside him, radiating so much heat and furious energy that the air crackled with it. Draco tried to ignore him, the unsaid issue of everything that had happened over the past few weeks and the truth of it all stretching between them endlessly. Draco decided a better use of his time would be to start counting the books on Dumbledore’s shelves behind his desk.

“I was right,” Said Potter after an uncomfortably strained silence. He couldn’t be serious ? Was Potter genuinely implying he’d guessed Draco was a Dragon? Draco closed his eyes and said a small prayer for his sanity before turning to the thick-headed Chosen One.

“What?” 

Potter’s eyes wandered downward, and it hit Draco with a jolt of dread what he was looking at. He made a sad attempt to hide the tattoo, placing his free hand over it and stroking his pendant with his thumb in the other hand. 

Of course, this was all Potter cared about. It was all he’d ever cared about. He didn’t give a fuck about Draco’s Curse or any of it. The realization grounded him. 

“Are you after a reward, Potter? Was ruining my life not enough for you?” 

Potter didn’t even wait to start his pig-headed verbal assault. How very like him. 

“You lied.” He spat.

Draco wanted to scoff. Was he actually surprised? It was pitiful, how conceited one person could be. Potter had the privilege of being a good person. The expectation was gifted to him simply by rank of birth and circumstance. Draco didn’t have that privilege. He never had. 

“You really think you’re so special, don’t you? As if I would expose my darkest secret to you. You had no right to know it.” You had no right to make me think you weren’t what I thought you were - Dumbledore’s self-righteous lapdog, Draco nearly added. 

“And you had no right to use me!” Potter fired back, his bright green eyes watching him with anguish. It was too raw. Too real. And so, so wrong. How could Draco possibly begin to explain what their interactions had meant to him? How could he say that Potter was all he’d had these past few weeks, that just hearing his voice had brought him from the brink of oblivion and back to something that resembled a concept of civilisation? He couldn’t, so he swallowed it back instead. 

Use you ... Get your head out of your arse, Potter.” 

Draco went back to counting Dumbledore’s books. Before Potter had decided to open his mouth, he’d got so far as the third shelf down. There were a total of one-hundred-and-eighty-six books on the first three of the long, mahogany shelves Dumbledore kept for himself, and Draco vaguely wondered how many of them were too dark even for the restricted section. Any headmaster willing to strap a student into a chair and interrogate him had to be the proud owner of more than a few tomes that would shock his deputies - except maybe Snape. Did the headmaster know his precious new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was a Death Eater, too? 

Draco decided if he was going down, Snape would go down with him. One final hurrah in the face of ultimate injustice. Maybe they’d be cellmates in Azkaban. The thought didn’t bring him much solace. 

Potter was chewing his nails again. Just the sound of it was tempting Draco into breaking his prideful silence to slap Potter’s hand away from his mouth, but thankfully he was saved by another sound:

Shouting. Coming from outside the door. And it was getting closer.

“...to even inform me that you’d found”- !

The door banged open.

“Draco.” 

After his borderline torturous interrogation coupled with the fact he was still readjusting to his human body, it was a miracle Draco managed to hold himself together as his mother, eyes alight with fury, her unkempt hair tumbling over her shoulders, burst into the office. Dumbledore was close behind her, but Draco hardly saw him as he jumped up from his chair, tripping on his painful ankle and falling into her waiting arms. 

“I told you to run away.” She scolded, hugging him closer all the same, her tears wetting his hair. 

“I’m sorry, mother...” 

She was drawn and pale, but her arms around Draco were strong and solid. He vowed never to abandon her again. 

He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that for. He was more than aware of Potter and Dumbledore watching them, but he didn’t care. He’d managed to forget what being hugged by his mother felt like it, and after so long in his Dragon’s body he relished every second. 

She finally let him go, only to hold him by the shoulders and gaze into his face.

“What did they do to you?” 

Draco hung his head. “I’m sorry.” 

She directed her force at Dumbledore, gripping Draco’s shoulders tighter. 

“What did you do to him?” She demanded.

Dumbledore gave a polite cough. “Please, Mrs. Malfoy. If you would only take a seat”-

“Take your seat,” Narcissa began, “and put it”-

“Mother.” Draco interrupted her, “I need to sit down.”

He could feel his body sinking even as he was saying it. His ankle had all but given up, and the exhaustion was creeping back despite the rejuvenation potion. There hadn’t been much of it. Presumably just enough to keep Draco conscious. 

“Oh, my dear. Of course.” Said Narcissa, helping him back to his seat, throwing daggers at both Dumbledore and Potter.

Perhaps it was only for Draco’s sake, but his mother reluctantly took the chair Dumbledore conjured for her, gripping his hand tight as Dumbledore told her about the Forest and the interrogation. Her mouth was a hard line of kept-back retorts, and she didn’t speak until Dumbledore had finished.

“And what,” She punctuated every syllable, “is it that you intend to do with my son now?” 

Potter glanced between Dumbledore and Narcissa, and Draco accidentally met his eye. Why Potter looked so concerned, Draco had no clue. This was all his fault to begin with. 

“I want to help him,” Said Dumbledore slowly, fixing his eyes on Draco, “if he will let me.” 

Draco scoffed instinctively, “You couldn’t help me. We’ve tried everything to break this Curse, there’s nothing you could possibly do.” 

Dumbledore frowned. “I don’t want to break your Curse, Draco. I want to make sure you don’t have to live in fear.”

“Sending me to Azkaban with a bunch of Dementors ought to do the trick.” Draco quipped, resentment rising in his throat like bile. 

Dumbledore gently shook his head. “No, Draco. You shan’t be going to Azkaban. Unless you turn yourself in, of course.” 

What? Draco didn’t understand. He was far from used to the idea of going to prison, but he’d at least come to accept it. It was all he deserved, after all. He was a Death Eater who had attempted to assassinate one of the most powerful wizards of their time - and he’d admitted it to the man himself . Did Dumbledore have a death wish? 

“If you wanted to kill me, you would have done it.” Said Dumbledore. “You have far more to lose than I have, Draco. A man like myself can only fight so hard against such fear and such power.”

Draco was shivering all over, and he couldn’t stop it. “But I’ve failed. Don’t you see?” He made himself look at his mother. Her eyes were still brimming with tears, and Draco had to force himself not to avert his eyes. “We’re all going to die because I’ve failed.” He whispered. 

“You failed to do the wrong thing,” Dumbledore said, his voice as soft and calm as ever. 

“YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT THE WRONG THING IS!” Draco exploded, unable to bear the headmaster’s unrelenting tranquility. “FOR YEARS, I’VE HAD TO HIDE THIS SO NO ONE DIES! IT’S NEVER BEEN ABOUT ME! I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE RIGHT OR WRONG THING I JUST WANTED TO PROTECT THEM!” 

He stood, his tired legs shaking with the effort to support him. “And now…” He continued, his voice breaking, “And now there’s no point anymore… it’s over. The secret is out and I - I couldn’t kill you.”

The office blurred as the tears he’d been holding back spilled free, a lump in his throat preventing him from continuing. He wiped them away furiously, gulping back the urge to break down completely. It was tempting. The screams built in his chest, and it took all he had to quiet them. He made himself sit back down, falling hard into his chair and wiping his forearm across his face as tears threatened to resurface. The tension in the room was palpable. 

“What is stopping you now?” Dumbledore asked, as if Draco had posed a completely rational question in the middle of a polite debate.

“What are you talking about?” He sniffed. He refused to take his mother’s hand again. He’d shown far too much weakness today. 

“There is nothing stopping you from killing me now.” The old man continued.

“Professor…” Came Potter’s uncertain interjection. 

“I don’t have my wand.” Said Draco flatly.

Dumbledore opened his desk drawer and rummaged around for a moment before revealing Draco’s wand. He reached over the desk, offering it to him. 

Draco blinked. The headmaster did have a death wish. Sensing a trick, he kept his hands tight by his side, one still clutching the pendant. 

“Well?” Dumbledore raised a brow. “Don’t you want it back? You can’t have become so accustomed to your life in the wilderness that you’d give up your wand, Draco.” 

He was right. Draco would die before giving up his wand and his magic. It was a fundamental part of who he was, and as he gingerly wrapped his hand around the handle of his Hawthorn wand, he felt the channel of magic between his body and his wand reconnect with a magnetism so forceful he gasped audibly. It struck him how non-human he’d felt without it since waking up, and how much more complete he felt holding it in his hand now. A warmth settled in his chest where the Curse usually writhed impatiently. With both his pendant and his wand, he was almost himself again. 

“We need you, Draco, in order to win this war.” Said the headmaster darkly. 

He heard his mother suck in a breath between her teeth, but he spoke first. 

“I won’t become your weapon.” Draco said firmly. 

“No, not as a weapon. As yourself.” 

There was a pause. Unsurprisingly, Potter looked the most confused, but he always did so no surprises there. 

“Stay here. Pretend you are still working for Voldemort and tell us when you planned to have him ambush the castle. Yes, I know there was a plan. I have my sources.” 

Wry bastard . “Then why do you need me?” 

Dumbledore folded his hands together, and Draco gave thought to his blackened fingers. It looked like a nasty injury. A Curse, probably. Ironic , Draco thought. 

“Winning the war isn’t about killing Voldemort, Draco. It isn’t about crushing your enemy or about proving who has the most strength. It is about showing our children what is right and building a better future for them.”
There it was again. What’s Right . He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, your lot have done a fantastic job of that for us.” 

Narcissa stood. “Why should we trust you?”

“Because if you don’t, Voldemort will use your son as a weapon, Mrs. Malfoy, and he won’t give him an option.” 

Draco blinked. Dumbledore’s lips hadn’t moved. Instead, it was Potter who had risen to answer her question. It felt odd to hear his nemesis address his mother as ‘Mrs. Malfoy.’ 

Narcissa inhaled deeply. “We have protected ourselves well enough thus far”-

“By making him a Death Eater?” Potter retorted. 

“It was my choice!” Draco lied. “If I didn’t do it, he’d have tortured us!”

Potter finally met his eye. “Sounds like the choice was taken away from you if you ask me.” His expression clouded. “Then again, you’ve always got off on making people suffer. Maybe you wanted it after all.” 

Draco was about to hurl another round back at him when Dumbledore lifted a hand, silencing them all. Draco was sure he used a non-verbal spell of some kind to do it. 

“Whatever choices you made or did not make, are in the past,” He told Narcissa and Draco, “The most important choice you must make is now.” 

Draco clenched his jaw. “And if I refuse to stay here and play along with your Order and your plans? What then?”

Dumbledore’s expression did not change, but there was a halting command about him that stilled the room. 

“Then I will ask you both to leave my school. I would advise you to leave the country, but given your dedication to remain in high society I am sure such advice would go unheeded and you will remain under the ultimate control of Voldemort.” 

Narcissa took a step back, her eyes hard. She turned to Draco. 

“I don’t care where our family stands,” She said softly. He dreaded to think what his father would say upon hearing such words, and the part of Draco that sided with him shivered at hearing her say it. “But I do care what happens to you.” She clasped his hands. “There were… measures put in place, should you fail to complete your mission.”

Draco’s heart fell to his stomach, “Mother, what…?” 

“But they don’t matter,” She interrupted him, “I… just want you to be safe. I don’t care what side we’re on, as long as he doesn’t find out what you are.” 

Draco gulped. It was both of their worst fear, and deep down he knew that staying here would be the safest thing to do. But his pride, his self-shattering, life-ruining pride, so badly didn’t want to give up. But his mother had already abandoned hers. And he was nothing without her. 

Closing his eyes briefly, he thought of all that must change. He thought of his father, and of the snake-like, red eyes that haunted every nightmare. Then he opened them and saw another familiar green pair fixed on him with such intensity that his mouth answered before his mind could:

“Fine. I’ll stay. What do I have to do?” 

 

************

 

Malfoy told them what he’d been working on. He described in unyielding detail the complications of the Vanishing Cabinet, his elaborate scheme with the mead, his less-well thought out one with the necklace, and with a semi-glance at Harry, how the Curse had taken over his body after he’d used the Sectumsempra on him. Harry had taken that moment to try and get a glimpse of Malfoy’s chest in hopes it wasn’t still slashed open, but the thin black robe covered it. 

When he was finished, he gave a long sigh and fell back into the office chair, letting his head hang and his nearly-white hair fall into his face. Narcissa sat by like a stone, her hands crossed in her lap and her icy gaze fixed dead ahead. If Harry knew anything about the Malfoys, it was that her expression spelled panic. 

Dumbledore tapped his black fingers against his desk in deep thought. 

“Yes, you must fix the cabinet.” He said finally. 

Malfoy raised his head. “Excuse me?” He said, his voice rather high pitched. 

Harry was worried he’d misheard him too. 

“You must fix the cabinet,” Dumbledore repeated, “And Harry will help you catch up on the classes you’ve missed.”

They shared a glance. “No.” They both said at once. 

“Draco, if you are going to refrain from looking suspicious, then Voldemort must not be given any indication that you were missing for such a long time. The Cabinet will be your top priority, but your schoolwork has to come second if you are to carry on as normal.” 

Malfoy’s tone was faint, “The Dark Lord doesn’t read my homework.” 

Harry would have laughed, but he guessed the situation probably didn’t call for it. 

“Even so.” Said Dumbledore brightly without further explanation. “You are to go back to your usual dorms and your usual life”-

“What will I tell everyone about where I’ve been?” 

“Tell them you were recovering from your spectacular bathroom duel.” Dumbledore declared, “Professor Snape has already had a part in spreading that rumour so I’m sure it’ll do the trick.” 

Narcissa hadn’t moved. “And you expect me to sit by and - and lie to my husband about what Draco is really doing?”

Dumbledore faced her. “Tell him what you wish, Narcissa. But if that is what it takes to protect your son… assuming you still wish to, of course.”

“Of course!” 

“Then so be it. You have lied before. I’m sure the action won’t come all too unnaturally.” 

Harry waited for someone to argue, but they didn’t. They sat there in shocked silence, taking in their new situation with despair. That couldn’t be it. Harry stared between them all. “Sir…” He began.

“Yes, Harry?” Said Dumbledore, already standing. 

Harry floundered. 

“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” Malfoy breathed, and Harry wanted to punch him again.

“Won’t he need to transform again?” He asked, deliberately referring to Malfoy as if he wasn’t there. “Isn’t there a potion for that or something?”

“Ah, yes! A potion!” Malfoy exclaimed, dripping with sarcasm, “Why on Earth didn’t we think of a potion , mother?!” He looked manic, dressed in just his robe, blond hair falling about his gaunt face and hollowed eyes. Harry tried not to stare. 

Dumbledore ignored him. “He will. And may I suggest transforming more regularly to keep the Curse from hurting you, Draco?” 

There was a pause. “Yes,” said Malfoy through gritted teeth.

“You may use the Forest,” Said Dumbledore, pacing around the desk and heading for the door, “And you may take Harry with you if you wish. After all, you seemed to enjoy having him there before.” 

A pink  blush coloured Malfoy’s pale features and he scowled. “I’d rather die.” 

“Likewise.” Harry muttered.

Dumbledore only smiled. “Excellent. Draco, you may go down to the Hospital Wing before everyone else wakes up and I will summon you both later to arrange your schedules. But for now, time for bed I think.” 

 

************

 

Draco had been convinced he’d been given his daily dose of earth shattering shocks for the day, but his mother proved him wrong as they were led down to the Hospital Wing by Dumbledore. 

“Your father isn’t in Azkaban anymore.” She told him quietly.

Potter had been dismissed back to his own dorm by this point, much to Draco’s relief, because he stopped in the middle of the corridor, mouth agape.

“What? The Ministry freed him?” 

Narcissa slowed, and Dumbledore turned at the commotion. 

“Not exactly.” She said at length, lips pursed. 

“Ah, you haven’t heard.” Dumbledore mused, “Well, I suppose you wouldn’t have.” 

Draco ground his teeth, trying his best to ignore the old man. “Is father here?” 

“No.” Said Narcissa. “And he doesn’t know I am either. I’d like for us to keep it that way. His mind isn’t well equipped to deal with this turn of events.” She threw a poisonous glance Dumbledore’s way. “Not yet.” 

There were secrets, deals, double-crossing and false-promises kept around every corner. And in his own family no less. Draco was too tired to argue. 

“Alright,” He agreed, limping forward. “How is he?” 

Narcissa inhaled and Draco already knew from that look alone how his father was. 

“He’s... getting on.” 

Getting on. What a funny phrase, Draco thought as they turned into the quiet hospital wing. Technically they were all just getting on, weren’t they? Getting On should have been the motto on the Malfoy family crest. Getting on what or who was Draco’s real question, and as for his father he could only assume he was trying to get back on the Dark Lord’s good side. The existence of The Dark Lord’s supposed ‘good side’ begged a whole new set of questions entirely, and Draco certainly wasn’t ready to think about those yet. Madam Pomfrey turned white at the sight of Draco - he was used to it by now - and he felt like a zombie as she instructed him into a bed behind a curtain and threw in some pyjamas for him to change into. 

As he was undressing, he heard Dumbledore and his mother whispering. But he couldn’t make out the words. Really, he didn’t care to. The sooner this whole malarky was over and they could move to a remote island on the equator, the better, he thought. Shoving his foot into the pyjama pants was difficult. His ankle spiked with pain at the slightest bend.

Madam Pomfrey told him it was perfectly fine, to which he glowered and insisted it still hurt, but rather than help him the woman simply tutted and poured out a shot of Dreamless Sleep. Draco doubted he’d need it as he slid under the warm covers - fuck, he’d missed getting into a real bed - but he swallowed it down anyway and sank into merciful oblivion before his head hit the pillow. 


As Draco awoke the next day, confused and groggy and sore, he decided he’d done quite enough waking up in unexpected places over the past twenty-four hours. It was when he learned what had woken him up that he was stabbed with his first pang of irritation. Someone was crumpling packets of Merlin only knew what in the bed next door, and a chatter of laughing voices sprung forth seconds later. His curtains were still shut, but Draco was filled with such an urge to bring down his noisy perpetrators that he heaved himself out of bed (forgetting about his painful ankle and wincing sharply as he put his weight on it) and yanked back the curtain. 

Three pairs of anxious eyes swivelled his way, one of them by now he was all too used to seeing. 

“Oh.” He said, his voice coming out even harsher than last night. “It’s you.” 

Potter and Granger were gathered around the Weasel’s bed as the latter noisily opened a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, but they all stopped when they saw him. 

“Yes.” Said Potter, standing and puffing out his chest with unnecessary pretension. “It’s us.” If he was spoiling for a fight, he’d be disappointed. 

Weasley was opening and closing his gob like a drowning fish. “He’s here .” 

“And he can hear you.” Draco sniped, “Far too well.” 

Granger was staring at him with the face of someone who was much too aware of the situation given she hadn’t been in the room for any of last night’s conversation.           Draco directed his glare at Potter.

“You told them.” It wasn’t a question. 

“Of course I did.” He hadn’t backed down from his position. Trying to stand tall didn’t suit Potter. He looked much less ridiculous when he was a head shorter than Draco, which was saying something. 

Instead of reacting with anger or even sarcasm, Draco could only bring himself to sigh. 

“Right. Of course. Classic. Shouldn’t have expected less.” He yawned, turning to limp back to bed and try and sleep until the end of the decade when Potter piped up:

“What’s wrong with your leg?” 

Draco half-faced him. 

“It hasn’t woken up yet.” He replied sarcastically. 

Potter frowned, the joke lost on him. Draco wished he hadn’t bothered. 

“You were limping yesterday, too.” He commented. 

Draco refrained from snorting. “Nice to know those hideous glasses of yours are working, scarhead.”

It was a weak insult, Draco knew, but he was grateful for the silence that followed.  

After shutting the curtains and falling ungracefully back under the covers, Dumbledore’s Golden Trio lowered their voices to a whisper, which in many ways was worse. Draco contented himself by remembering their dumbfounded faces as he’d revealed himself. It had almost been worth it. Madam Pomfrey came to check up on him soon after. He’d been too exhausted earlier to give a thought to the state of his chest - Potter cursing him in the bathroom seemed like it had been months and months ago - but when he unbuttoned his pyjama top to inspect the damage, he was met with yet another shock. Raised white scars lined his chest in fine, criss-crossing streaks. Thanks to Snape’s and Madam Pomfrey’s healing, they appeared years old. But they would never go away. Magic could be cruel, Pomfrey said, and Draco couldn’t agree more. He gazed down at his chest in a state of odd detachment. He found he didn’t care one bit about the appearance of his body. If anything, he felt separate from it. In only two months he’d gained two marks that would stay with him for life. 

A few hours went by before the headmaster graced Draco with his presence again, summoning him to his office. Draco’s school robes were brought down for him, and he dressed in funereal silence. The Hospital Wing was empty - the Weasel had been discharged this very afternoon and Draco was next. He was grateful there was no mirror. Putting on his uniform felt like a sentence, the months ahead stretching out before him in a riddle of uncertainty. 

Unfortunately, when Draco got to the office, Potter was there too. They barely acknowledged one another’s presence before hearing what the headmaster’s plans for them were.

Aside from his timetabled lessons, Dumbledore advised Draco should take at least two hours every day or night to go to the Room of Requirement and work on fixing the cabinet. Every other day, Potter was to accompany him and catch him up on Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration and Potions - as for his other subjects, Draco would have to work to catch up himself or find someone else to help him. So much for that, he thought. He had no friends in his other classes. The only person who fell close on the spectrum of ‘friendship’ was Astoria Greengrass in Arithmancy. 

Draco cringed at the prospect of asking her for help. There was only so much of her he could take. 

As Dumbledore walked them through what was to be their new routine, Draco caught a glimpse of Potter clenching his jaw, apparently doing his best not to argue. At least they were in the same boat.

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled at the Gryffindor’s withdrawn silence. “Harry, you gave your word you would help us with the Dragon, and you’ve done a wonderful job so far. I do hope your gallancy hasn’t expired now that you know who your Dragon is.” 

Your Dragon . Ha. Draco refrained from smirking. The headmaster turned to him.

“As for you, I expect a full report of your progress every week.” 

“With my Death Eater mission, sir, or my school work?” Draco ventured, knowing full well what the headmaster meant. 

Dumbledore did not rise to the bait. “Both, if you wish. Your mother recommended to me that you transform once a fortnight to keep your Curse sated, would you agree?” 

Draco shifted uncomfortably, lowering his gaze. “Yes. I suppose.” 

“Good. Harry”-

I don’t need him with me .” Draco interjected.

Both looked at him. Potter narrowed his eyes. 

“I was going to ask Harry how this schedule will interfere with his Quidditch practice, but I’ll take note.” Dumbledore told him after a pause. 

Draco’s face exploded with heat and he furiously swallowed back his outburst, unsuccessfully shrugging it off. 

“I don’t care. I want him out of my way as much as possible.” 

“Fine with me.” Potter said. 

“Fine.” Draco confirmed. 

 

************

 

Harry arrived at the Room of Requirement the next night at eight o’clock, as agreed on the schedule for their first meeting. Despite everything, his stomach churned with nerves as he clutched his books beneath his arm and waited for the door to open at his wish. 

Malfoy , he thought, take me to Malfoy and the Vanishing Cabinet

The doors materialized. He had no idea how this would possibly go down. The idea of studying harmoniously with Malfoy sounded ridiculous in theory. He only hoped it would succeed in practice. 

Harry pushed open the door, realizing as a musty smell invaded his nostrils and towers and towers of lost objects loomed before him that he was in the same room where he and Ginny had hidden the Half-Blood Prince’s book. The memory of that night stood stark and monochrome in Harry’s memory, and the protagonist of this memory stood at the other end of the monumental chamber, his back turned and his wand raised as pieces of the Vanishing Cabinet hovered in orbit around his slender, blond form. 

Harry cleared his throat. 

The Vanishing Cabinet’s components crashed to the stone floor, and Malfoy lowered his wand with a huff. 

“You distracted me.” He barked, his hoarse voice echoing amidst the towers of junk surrounding them. 

“It wasn’t on purpose.” Harry grumbled, striding into the room with his head down. There were no real surfaces to work on, so he fashioned one by pushing a moth-eaten sofa which had already fallen on its side completely upside down and slamming his books on top of it. 

“I’m ready.” He said impatiently. 

Malfoy still wouldn’t look at him. 

“Well, I’m not.” The Slytherin replied with more ice than the Great Lake in December. 

For Godric’s sake , he had to make things difficult. Harry had been a fool to ever have thought this could go smoothly. 

“I can’t wait all night!” He argued, “ This was the agreed time and you should”-

“I shouldn’t have to do anything .” Malfoy whipped around, fury lighting a fire in his cold, grey eyes. “Not for you.” 

They glowered at one another, neither backing down until Harry finally said:

“Fine. Have it your way. But don’t come crying to me when you fail your fucking NEWTs.” 

And with that, he marched back down the aisle, coughing as he inhaled the dust he’d disturbed, thoroughly regretting ever getting involved with the Dragon or with Draco Malfoy. He didn’t look back to check if Malfoy was watching him leave, even though for reasons he desperately tried not to think about, he wanted to. So much for succeeding in practice.

Chapter Text

With two hours to go before his weekly update report for Dumbledore, Draco wasn’t feeling confident. It was week one, and so far his progress on both the Cabinet and his schoolwork had been (putting it generously) minimal. After their argument, Draco was sure he’d driven Potter off for good, leaving him to work on the Cabinet in solitude, but no. Potter was as stubborn as his word and he’d turned up every night at eight o’clock on the dot to slam down his disorderly pile of notes on the upside down sofa before striding right back out again, only to collect them three hours later without so much as a peek at Draco. 

Draco had flicked through them on the first night, scoffing at what he’d seen. Scribbles in illegible writing that suggested a subpar understanding in Potions and Transfiguration at best were haphazardly scrawled across the leaves of parchment. His Defence Against the Dark Arts ones were admittedly rather good, Draco couldn’t help but notice, but Potter had no excuse to be lacking in that department; he’d survived the Killing Curse before he’d stopped wearing a nappy, after all. 

Overall, the week had been a failure. Draco hadn’t been at all surprised when his (ex) friends paid him barely any mind. Theo had become a thunder cloud, shooting Draco dirty looks at every opportunity. Blaise was flighty and only glanced his way when he thought Draco wasn’t looking. On the second night in the dorm, he’d approached him.

“How are you?”

“Fine.” Draco had said, sat at his desk pretending to be reading when in actuality he was having another existential crisis. 

Blaise shifted from foot to foot. “Recovered, then? Snape said it was a nasty curse.”

Draco feigned a yawn. “It was. But I’m fine.” 

“You were gone for a long time.” 

“Hmm.” 

“We thought you weren’t coming back.”

“I can only imagine Theo bawling over my absence.” Draco had drawled, to which Blaise had frowned. 

“It hasn’t been easy for us, you know.” 

Draco had had a nasty feeling Blaise was trying to get him to open up while the rest of his roommates lay in their beds pretending not to eavesdrop. 

“Really?” Asked Draco in the most bored tone he could conceive. He turned a page to add to the effect, but Blaise had always been one to see through him. 

The other boy sighed. “No need to be a dick, Malfoy.” 

“No need to be a sop, Zabini. If I’d known you’d missed me that much I would have sent a postcard and a lock of my hair.” 

And that had been that. All of their parents had connections with the Dark Lord. None of his past friends were safe to talk to anymore, Draco realized. He would have to remain distant and aloof under the constant facade he was enjoying being the only one with official Death Eater status among them. They must all know by now. It was the only explanation for Theo’s poisonous looks. Jealousy didn’t look good on him. Draco wanted to tell them all to run. To abandon their heritage and move somewhere far away until the air was clear. But that would make him a hypocrite. 

For now, he considered every moment in his dorm as a moment in enemy territory. It sounded a lot more exciting in his head than it actually was. By now, none of them bothered to talk to him. They haunted the dorm like ghosts. It was never full, even at night. There was always someone missing. And no one dared ask why. 

It was mid-day and he was skipping Transfiguration to sit in front of the Vanishing Cabinet, staring at its dimly glowing core with the same level of wrought frustration as he had been since he’d started meddling with the fucking thing. He’d studied the pages of the book in his lap so thoroughly that the spine was beginning to break, along with his resolve. He had to have something to show for himself, or he’d fail on every account. It was still impossible to think of himself as working with Dumbledore and Potter’s lot. He wasn’t one of them . He’d been forced into this by circumstance alone, but he wasn’t in league with the Dark Lord anymore either. He suspected he never had been. It was all too clear where his mother stood now. His father on the other-hand… Draco was terrified of seeing him again, as if merely looking into his eyes would reveal his betrayal to the Dark Lord and his name. The dread that followed from this thought compelled Draco to stagger to his feet. He couldn’t afford to reveal himself as a traitor. He’d already exposed himself as both a Dragon and an assassin to his former enemies, and they’d been forgiving. Too forgiving. It was weakness, on their part, to show mercy. But Draco wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was alive and being given the chance to save himself from oblivion. But it would take work. Lots of it. 

He directed his wand at the pulsating sphere suspended opposite him, breathing hard. He closed his eyes and started to dig within himself, holding the image of the Cabinet’s core in his mind as he searched for his own. So far he was only met with the flaming spike of his Curse, writhing with impatience in the pit of his stomach. 

“Not you…” He whispered, gripping his wand harder, “I need to find me .” 

The book’s warnings were explicit on how dangerous tangling their cores would be. He had to be confident in the stability of his own before attempting to fix the Cabinet’s, but it was proving to be rather difficult when he couldn’t even find it. He tried to picture dismantling himself, peeling himself back layer by layer like pieces of the Cabinet, but all that came to mind was the sensation of Potter’s vile curse slicing open his skin, layer by layer. He opened his eyes with a tormented huff, swiping his wand through the air to put the Cabinet back together. The urge to break down sobbing crashed over him in a wave of cold anguish, tugging on his chest and forming a lump in his throat. He suppressed it with three long, deep breaths, taking a moment to stroke the pendant tucked beneath his collar. His mother had left the day after his interrogation. Draco kept waiting for her to be disappointed. He kept waiting for her to tell him he’d failed them all, and how he’d ruined his family’s life. Instead she held his hand and pushed his hair back, kissing him between the eyes and telling him,

“I love you. Stay safe. I’ll be back soon. I love you.” 

He didn’t deserve her love. 

 

************

 

Ginny had been angrier than usual as of late, and Harry had been far too distracted to realize it until she’d almost snapped his broom across her knee during their last practice a couple of hours before he was due to go to Dumbledore’s office for his weekly meeting. He’d been dreading the prospect so had been distracted all practice, and Ginny had lost it. 

As if being screeched at from across the pitch by his best friend’s younger sister hadn’t been demeaning enough, she’d gone on to threaten him with one of her lethal Bat-Bogey Hexes. 

As the rest of the team slouched through the rain to the changing rooms, Harry pulled her aside.

“All offence meant, Ginny, what is up with you? That was embarrassing.” He demanded. 

“Yes, it was embarrassing,” She agreed. “I’ve never seen you fly so poorly. You’re a mess, Harry.” 

“I’m also the Captain of this team so unless you want to tell me what’s going on”-

“Dean and I broke up,” She told him without so much as a blink. “So excuse me if I’m having a shitty day.”

Harry backed off. He’d managed to forget about her pending relationship issues what with his recent Dragon dilemma, and all. Nevertheless, he felt guilty for being so harsh.

“Oh… sorry.” 

Ginny sniffed, kicking up chunks of the muddy pitch with her boot as they began to meander toward shelter.

“Don’t be. Had to be done.”

Harry grimaced. He was shit at talking to girls at the best of times. Except Hermione, but they never really talked about relationship stuff. He experienced an unpleasant flashback to his confusion with Cho Chang in Hogsmeade last year and cringed even more. 

“You look like you just swallowed an acid pop.” Ginny gave him a side-smirk and punched him on the arm. “Don’t worry, I won’t cry.” 

He exhaled, “Okay, good.” Shit , “I mean - um. You can if you want. I’m always here.” 

Rather than burst into tears as Harry feared, however, she threw back her head and barked a laugh.

“Merlin’s Beard, Harry. You do come out with some monumental bollocks. I hope you never make Minister for Magic.” 

“I won’t ever run for Minister for Magic.” He replied, laughing with uncomfortable relief. “But seriously, though… sorry for today. I guess we’re both having a weird time of it.” 

Ginny cocked her head, ducking underneath the stands and stopping before they reached the changing rooms. 

“What’s up with you? Romilda Vane trying to lace your pumpkin juice with love potion again?” 

Harry shivered. “No … just… you know…” How could he begin to explain the oddness of the past week? “Voldemort stuff.” 

Ginny blinked before cracking a grin. “Men.”

“Yeah,” Harry huffed, thinking of one male in particular he wished he understood. And it wasn’t Voldemort. “Men.” 

Saturday nights were supposed to be spent with his best friends, indoors, playing exploding snap or sharing a late-night filched case of Butterbeer around the fire - not entering Dumbledore’s office only to be met with the the distrustful scowl of his former rival and now supposed ally. 

Malfoy looked terrible. If he wasn’t wearing his robes, Harry would have been more likely to take him for a long-term patient at St. Mungos. After making brief and awkward eye-contact, they desperately tried to ignore each other as Dumbledore clasped his hands and peered at them both. 

“Well? Who wants to start?” 

Not me , Harry thought. He’d been avoiding Malfoy all week, let alone helping him catch up on work. But it wasn’t as if Malfoy had tried to stop him. He’d pissed him off on purpose. If anyone had to answer for this crime, it was not him. 

He saw Malfoy puff out his chest in his peripherals, sticking out his chin. 

“I need to fix the Cabinet’s magical core.” He said firmly. Well, his voice had improved at least. It was lacking its snide edge, but it was clear. He really was human again. Harry tried hard to picture his Dragon - the smooth silver scales overlaid on top of pounds of muscle, his eyes wide and clear and trusting. Malfoy’s were closed off, his frame slight and slender. There was no way. Harry had seen him transform and he still couldn’t believe it. 

Dumbledore tapped his chin. “I see. And have you accessed it?” Malfoy nodded. “What is its state?”

“Deteriorated, as far as I can tell.” Malfoy said, faltering on the last word. He shot a piercing look at Harry. “And I’m attending as many classes as possible.” 

“You missed two Transfiguration lessons this week and one Defence Against the Dark Arts on Monday.” Dumbledore observed, holding a sheet of parchment that presumably recorded Malfoy’s spotty attendance. The Slytherin lowered his chin. 

“Yes. I did.” 

Dumbledore turned to Harry - the moment he’d been dreading on his lips. 

“And you have been able to provide Draco with sufficient materials to catch up?”

“I’ve provided them, yes, professor.” It wasn’t a lie. Malfoy gave a faint snort. So much for getting away with it. “But, we haven’t exactly been able to, um… coordinate our schedules.” 

Dumbledore’s brow lifted inquisitively. “Oh?” 

Neither one of them spoke. This was the second time Harry had been made to feel like an eleven year old in the presence of Malfoy and the headmaster. 

Dumbledore sat down heavily. “This won’t do. I know you have your differences” - 

-“ Differences ”- Malfoy interjected with heavy sarcasm,

-”but you must lay them to rest. This is not about petty squabbles of the past. You are both almost men. Act as such, and our plans will continue smoothly. We are running out of time.” The last sentence was particularly pointed at Harry and he knew Dumbledore was hinting at Slughorn’s memory. “When you leave this office, I want you to do so with clear minds and clear hearts. Help each other.”

Harry wanted to ask how Malfoy could possibly help him when he noticed the other boy wince and grip the desk. He was standing on one leg, like a flamingo. 

“You still haven’t got your leg fixed?” He found himself getting wound up. 

“I can’t fix it, scarhead! Pomfrey says it isn’t broken.” Malfoy seethed back. 

Dumbledore rounded the desk and ordered Malfoy to sit. He did so with reluctant grumbling. 

“The pain just won’t stop,” he fumed, as though it was their fault. “It’s been like this since…” He pale throat bobbed as he gulped, “since I transformed back.” 

That was the first time Harry had heard him reference his transformation outright. 

“The Dragon’s tail was broken.” Harry recalled, unwilling to acknowledge Malfoy as the Dragon. 

“So?” Malfoy contended, “It shouldn’t affect my human body.” 

“Have you ever heard of the phrase psychosomatic?” Asked Dumbledore, inspecting Malfoy’s ankle without touching it.
The Slytherin narrowed his eyes. Harry interpreted his stony silence as a firm no. 

“Pain we encounter in other places can sometimes transfer to somewhere we wouldn’t expect.” Dumbledore explained, “For example, when we lose a loved one we feel it as physical pain. The mind is a powerful thing, Draco.”

Harry knew all too well the pain he was describing. He found his hand flying to his chest before he could stop it, the remembered sensation of every tendon and bone tearing open as he realized Sirius had gone causing an ache to spread through his ribcage. Malfoy shot him an inquisitive glance. Clearly he’d never experienced such pain. Harry would never wish it on anyone, not even Malfoy.

“It isn’t that.” Malfoy protested, shaking his head. “Maybe… maybe it has something to do with my tail, but… it is real . It feels broken.” He sucked in a sharp breath as he twitched it. 

Fawkes flapped his wings from his perch, and Harry had an idea. He met Dumbledore’s eye.

“May I, professor?” 

Dumbledore gestured, “By all means, Harry.” 

Malfoy scowled. “What are you doing?” 

Harry ignored him, and paced to the perch.

“Hellow, Fawkes.” He said fondly. The firebird inclined his head and gave a gentle squark. Harry held out his arm. “Would you mind?” 

He had no idea how much of human language Phoenix’s could understand, but it must have been enough for him to get the message for the next moment Fawkes had hopped from his perch and onto Harry’s arm. 

Harry took them both to where Malfoy was sat, his arctic gaze fixed fearfully on the bird. 

“He won’t hurt you.” Harry reassured, and he realized with a jolt he was using the same voice he’d used to soothe the Dragon. Malfoy’s eyes responded with understanding, because moments like this had passed between them before. Just… differently. Harry made himself look away as he lowered Fawkes closer to the floor. 

The Phoenix leaned forward over Malfoy’s ankle, and cried. 

 

************

 

Draco wanted to pull away. He felt exposed and laid bare as Fawkes’ hot tears dripped one by one onto his ankle. But the second they did, the pain began to seep away.

Oh ,” He exhaled before he could help it. When his ankle was hot with tears and the agony had all but gone, Fawkes blinked up at him with innocent black eyes. Should he thank it? It seemed ludicrous, so he directed his gratitude to the bookcase behind Dumbledore’s desk instead.

“Thank you.” He said stiffly. 

He rotated his foot as Potter stood, taking the Phoenix with him. In his panic, Draco had forgotten all about the properties of Phoenix tears. He became aware that the headmaster was studying him. Draco wasn’t stupid. He knew what the old man was thinking.

“I’m not one of you.” He whispered as Potter was placing Fawkes back on his perch. “I won’t forget how you interrogated me. You treated me like an animal.” 

“All actions have consequences, Draco.”

Draco allowed himself a tiny, humourless smirk. “Do yours, professor?” 

Dumbledore’s forever-twinkling blue eyes darkened. He placed his hands behind his back.

“They certainly do.” 

Dumbledore turned back to his desk, and as he did Draco was met with the sight of the man’s blackened hand. He bit back the urge to ask what he’d done to deserve such a curse and stood, regaining his posture as Potter rejoined them. 

Draco spoke before the headmaster could. 

“I’m going straight back to the Room of Requirement.” He turned to Potter, making an effort to keep his expression blank, “If you wish to join me at eight o’clock to study, I will be ready by then.” 

Potter gave a startled blink. It was hard not to laugh. “O-oh. Okay.”

“If there’s nothing else…?” Draco waited only a second, “Great. I’ll get back to work, then.”

He strode (on graciously balanced feet) out of the office, ignoring the filthy looks from lingering students in the corridors until he reached the seventh floor, only allowing his shoulders to fall once he was inside the Room of Requirement. The suffocating fervour of a thousand lost things suffused his lungs and he had to close his eyes as he leant against the closed doors, sliding down them until he was sitting on the cold, hard flagstones. 

Of all the piles of crap in this room, Draco felt like the biggest one. He couldn’t discern one feeling from the next. Between the humiliation, anger and downright stress of it all, he was a knotted tangle of every kind of anxiety in the book. And Potter wasn’t helping.

He started as the door he was leaning against began to open. He scrambled to his feet, ready to dart behind a junk pile and hide, but it was only the subject of his angst. Draco brushed a swathe of hair out of his eyes, standing up straight and trying not to seem as though he’d just jumped out of his wits. 

“What are you doing here?” He snapped with more intensity than he’d meant to. 

Potter eased his way in, closing the door shut. He watched Draco uncertainly. 

“I thought I’d come early. I have nothing else to do.” 

“No dogsbody errands for Dumbledore?” Draco taunted.

“...no.” 

“No transfigured seagulls to catch?” 

For a moment Potter looked confused before his features rearranged themselves into horrible understanding. Draco hadn’t meant to reference their time in the cave, but it had been the first remark to jump into his head. He waited for Potter to start going on about lies and betrayal, but instead he rolled his eyes and glared at the floor. 

“I was sort of hoping you’d forgotten about that.” 

Draco sniggered, his derision aiding in concealing his irrational relief that Potter hadn’t shouted at him again. 

“I can’t decide what was worse. The seagull theory or the one where you decided I was a deformed boggart.” 

“It was a valid theory!” Potter argued, notes fluttering as he flapped his arms. His face blushed beet red and his mouth formed an unmistakable pout. 

Draco couldn’t keep the smirk off his face. It was nice to redirect a little of his own insecurity. 

“I doubt even Longbottom could have come up with something so brilliantly moronic.” 

Cue Potter defending his friends -

“Probably not,” He laughed, resigned, scratching the back of his head and mussing up his mop even more. Draco stared, waiting for the insults to begin. Instead, an awkward silence fell thick and heavy between them. 

Potter coughed. “Anyway. I can leave if you’re not finished.” 

Draco pondered this for less than a second. “I’m finished for the day.” He hadn’t had many more plans for the Cabinet tonight anyway besides glowering at it in exasperation and possibly crying. He’d had quite enough of both for this week. Soon he’d be competing with Moaning Myrtle for her title if this went on for much longer. 

Potter’s gaze angled toward the Cabinet. 

“That thing is hideous.” He commented.

Draco took personal offence to this. “It’s an antique magical object.” 

“It’s still ugly as fuck. What’s wrong with it anyway?” 

“If I knew I wouldn’t be here, would I?” Draco spat through gritted teeth. Merlin, Potter’s lack of knowledge on anything remotely important to Wizarding culture was tragic. 

Draco released a pent up sigh and turned his back on Potter to storm toward the upturned sofa. He sent the dusty old sheet he’d been using to conceal the Cabinet up and over it with a swish of his wand, hiding the 'hideous’ object from view. He couldn’t stand to hear any more of Potter’s ignorant ramblings on things he knew nothing about. 

Potter followed silently, placing his books and notes on the make-shift surface with a little less force than he had done the past few nights. 

“Chairs?” Draco prompted, nodding to a matching moth-eaten armchair behind Potter and a stool to his left. 

“Oh. Yeah. Accio chair!” 

Crashes echoed from across the chamber as the miscellaneous chair in question Potter had summoned flew towards them through precarious towers of rubbish. There were a few painful seconds of clattering and smashing before a spindly oak number clattered to the floor at Potter’s feet. Draco pointedly plucked the stool from Potter’s side and sat on it. 

Potter spotted the armchair and huffed. 

“Maybe if you’d said Accio armchair or Accio stool , you wouldn’t have had to wake half the school with your blunder and the furniture would have”- 

“Yes, alright. I get it.” Potter interjected, and Draco truly had to stifle a laugh. It was obvious how hard he was trying not to ignite a fight. Perhaps he was taking Dumbledore’s parting advice and was attempting to adopt a clear heart and mind. 

“Just so we’re on the same page, I still think you’re a bastard.” 

Or perhaps not. 

“The feeling is mutual, Potter. So. Potions first?” 


The next two hours were testing, to put it lightly. Potter’s patchy knowledge on Potions and Transfiguration meant Draco ended up teaching him half the time. They didn’t even get to Defence Against the Dark Arts before Draco snapped their books shut and threw his quill down. 

“I’m about to spell you blind.” 

“Your mum did that.” Potter mumbled, closing his book too. 

“What?”

“Never mind.”

Draco carded both hands through his hair. “Is there anything you covered in the time I was missing that you feel even slightly confident talking about? Your notes are incomprehensible.” 

Potter was red-faced again and his jade eyes glistened with spite. 

“Well, forgive me if I was spending the whole time trying to come up with ways to free you! I wouldn’t have bothered if I’d known what you really were.” 

Draco gave a long-winded laugh. “Oh, here we go! This again. I was wondering when you’d lose it. Only took you five fucking seconds.” 

“I don’t have to be here!” Potter yelled, standing. 

Draco stood too. He couldn’t sit there and let Potter be taller than him. 

“Then why are you?” 

“Because…!”

“Because Dumbledore told you to?” Draco filled in the blank with a scoff. “Of-bloody-course. Isn’t that the only reason either of us are here? Why don’t we both just admit we’re both sitting soundly in the old man’s pocket instead of pretending we’re doing anything brave or useful?” 

Potter’s expression had gone from hateful to bemused. 

“Pretending?” He echoed, leaning across the beat-up sofa to make his point, “Pretending? Malfoy, you were literally hiding in a cave pretending to be a Dragon”-

-“I was a Dragon!” Draco cried, “Am. I-I am… and if you’re disgusted by the fact you can fuck off, Potter. I don’t care.” 

Potter recoiled, and once again his face was unreadable. Draco hated not knowing what he was thinking. 

“You think I’m disgusted with you because you’re a Dragon?” Potter said quietly, the crackling air between them deflating. 

“Because I’m a Death Eater, then. Fine. Either way. It doesn’t matter. It's evident how you feel about me.” Draco hated how childish he sounded. 

Potter was shaking his head. “Even then…” He looked away. “Yes, I hated you for being a Death Eater at first, I’ll admit it. A huge part of me still does. But after I saw you and your mum and after it became obvious how you didn’t have a choice…” He trailed off. 

Draco’s heart was pounding, his Curse flaring through every pore.

“I’ve been trying to understand, Malfoy.” Potter said at last, his eyes finding Draco’s. “But some things... I just can’t.” 

Did he want to understand? He sounded like he’d given this a lot of thought. Draco could hardly conceive of it. Potter didn’t care about him - not as a person. He wanted him in prison, sure. It had been another of his dark wizard man-hunts, all this time, and he’d finally got what he wanted so why wasn’t he laughing in Draco’s face? 

“What things?” Draco asked at last. 

Potter was still, inspecting him with reproach. 

“We’re just too different.” He murmured cryptically after an immeasurable length of time. 

Draco wasn’t sure why the quiet remark hurt, but it did. Potter wouldn’t even give him a chance. He’d made him ask and now he was rejecting the conversation. It wasn’t just irritating, it was downright rude. 

“You only just figured that out, have you?” Draco sneered, hoping his feelings weren’t showing on his face. An uncomfortable squirm had settled firmly in his abdomen, and it wasn’t shifting. It wound tighter the more Draco held Potter’s eyes, so he made himself look away.

 

************

 

Harry wished there was a spell to make him shut up. Tonight could have been easy - well, as easy as possible when it came to Malfoy - if he hadn’t started spilling his guts about understanding and feelings and the stupid Dragon. He’d dismissed himself shortly after, unable to bear the terse silence following their argument. 

It wasn’t like their usual fights; charged with menace and an itching desire to punch one another senseless. No, there had been something real in this one, and the hurt that had flashed across Malfoy’s gaunt features only highlighted the fact. 

As usual, he waited for the common room to empty before telling Ron and Hermione about it. 

“Git.” Ron said bluntly. 

Hermione gave a one-shouldered shrug. “You were right with what you told him, Harry. You are too different.” 

“I don’t get why Dumbledore is punishing you by making you study with him.” Said Ron, giving him a sympathetic grimace. “S’not like it’s your fault.” 

“No,” Harry agreed, “But I did go against his orders. I went looking for the Dragon, remember? I lied to him.” 

“And us.” Hermione reminded him unhelpfully.

“By omission,” Harry argued, “You didn’t ask. And I’m telling you everything now!” He gazed into the flames, reflecting on the decisions that had brought him to this point. “Ugh… I just wish I hadn’t…” 

“Become obsessed with Malfoy?” Ron snorted.

“Isolated yourself and befriended a Dragon?” Hermione followed. 

Harry could pinpoint exactly the moment his regrets had begun, and it was the instant his Dragon had transformed into the unconscious body of Draco Malfoy. He had no regrets about his time with the Dragon at all, and that was what bothered him.

“Both. Neither. Pick one.” He said instead, hauling himself out of the squishy armchair. “I’m off to bed.” 

As Harry dragged himself up the stairs, he heard the pair laughing. Probably not at him, he was sure, but he felt unjustifiably separate from them all the same. 

The negative cloud of thoughts stuck with him until he reached the dorm, and it didn’t disperse fast enough for him to react to the moment he’d unwittingly walked in on. 

All he caught was a glimpse of his dormmates sitting on one bed, their faces awfully close to one another before they broke apart and he heard a whispered, “Oh, fuck.” 

Harry didn’t put two and two together until Dean was standing, his dark eyes alight with panic while Seamus buried his face in his pillow. 

“Um.” Said Harry.

Dean marched toward him, “It’s - please don’t tell anyone.” 

Harry was already shaking his head. “I won’t, but… this is why you and Ginny broke up, isn’t it?” 

Dean’s frown deepened. “Harry, no offence but this is really none of your business.” 

It was all happening so fast, his thoughts colliding with one another.

“Sure, but does she know?” 

Seamus groaned from the bed. Dean’s jaw was set. 

“Harry”-

Harry had no idea why his veins flooded with heat, or why he suddenly felt such an irrational pulse of anger. He couldn’t stand any more lies

“Does she know, Dean?” He pressed.

The other boy inhaled deeply before answering. “No. But however wrong you think that is, I’ll never forgive you if you tell her.” 

Harry’s mouth had gone dry. Calm down, he thought desperately. 

“I won’t tell her.” He promised Dean, “But you should.” 

Unable to bear the crumbling look of panic on Dean’s face, he turned away and strode to his own bed. The silence in the dorm followed him, and he felt both pairs of eyes fixed to his back. 

“We’re sorry you had to see that, Harry.” Came Seamus’ unsure voice. “We - we’re still figuring things out.” 

Harry nodded. He couldn’t understand himself, or why his heart was thudding with this unexplainable unspent rage. It wasn’t directed at Dean or Seamus. Not at all. It was just like last year before he’d realized how connected his mind was with Voldemort’s, and his angry outbursts had sent him reeling. It felt just the same. 

“Harry,” Said Dean, his tone level now the shock of being found out was over, “You’re a decent bloke, alright? I don’t want this to fuck up our friendship.” 

Harry faced them. “It won’t.” 

They looked at each other. “So… you don’t mind that we…?” Seamus began. 

Harry sighed, closing his eyes briefly. “Guys, it’s really okay. I’m not angry with you, I promise. I just wish we were all more honest with each other.” 

The relief exuding from them was palpable. “Yeah, we’re sorry for that.” Seamus said. 

“Seamus’ dad can’t stand” - he glanced between them - “people like us. It’s different in the magical world, I know, but it’s still a big deal. We thought you guys would hate sharing a room with a couple for starters” - 

“As long as you don’t start shagging when the lights go off.” Harry joked. 

Seamus went crimson. Dean gave a nervous laugh, “We - we wouldn’t.” 

Bloody hell. 

“But on top of that, it would have been too hard to explain. You’re all straight and we felt…”

“Cut off.” Seamus provided. 

Turmoil tugged in Harry’s chest at Dean’s statement. ‘You’re all straight’? How could he possibly tell? 

The offence must have shown on his face. 

“Harry?” Seamus prompted, “You hear what we’re saying, right?” 

Oh, he’d heard them all right. 

“Yeah.” He exhaled, deciding to let it go. “I hear you. And I won’t tell anyone. I meant that. But maybe try being honest with Ginny. I’m sure she’d be a lot more sympathetic than you might think.” 

It had been a long day.


“Hermione,” Harry began quietly the next day at breakfast, “do you think that, um, I seem straight?”

Hermione lowered The Quibbler she’d been reading, “Excuse me, Harry? You want to know if I think you... seem straight?” 

Ron spat his pumpkin juice back into his cup. 

“Never mind.” Harry said quickly, because Malfoy was passing their table. No one would have suspected the pair were tangled in an elaborate secret, not even from the momentary glance they shared as he passed. Malfoy’s expression was neutral, and Harry only recognized the flare in his silver-grey eyes from when he’d seen it in the Dragon’s too. No one else noticed. 

No one except Ron and Hermione, of course.

“Talk about timing,” Ron muttered. 

Harry picked at his food, mulling over his approach for tonight’s looming session with Malfoy. How should he play it? Indifferent and haughty? Friendly and forgiving? Firey and forceful? There was no answer. He felt whatever happened, they’d end up fighting and spitting insults at each other. Something about Malfoy’s sharp tongue and snide smirks made Harry feel like he needed to prove himself, and right when he was ready to be diplomatic Malfoy would make a remark to put him on edge. 

There were no winners or losers. 

Well, Harry felt like a bit of a loser. Accio-ing the chair hadn’t been his proudest moment, but he’d been nervous. He wasn’t thinking straight. He wasn’t sure what had made him head for the Room of Requirement after their appointment with Dumbledore instead of waiting until eight o’clock, and he’d felt like a right fool walking in on Malfoy like that - especially when the other boy reacted as if he’d just stuck him with a hot poker. It was obvious he wanted to avoid Harry as much as possible, perhaps even more than Harry wanted to avoid him. 

But, as Dumbledore had made clear, avoiding wasn’t an option. So after dinner was over, Harry said a dour goodbye to Ron and Hermione and made for the Room of Requirement. 

And he would have made it in time had it not been for Blaise Zabini. 

 

************

 

Trying to untangle his own magical core from the confused core of his Curse was like meditating. Except instead of calm and composed, this version of meditating was like Draco was dunking his whole body in a vat of Firewhiskey and absorbing it through every pore, setting his whole nervous system alight and scrambling his thoughts into a burning pool of incomprehensible sludge. He snapped open his eyes, only to be met with the grim sight of the Vanishing Cabinet. Potter was right. It was ugly as fuck. But he’d die before admitting it. He wanted nothing more than to smash it to pieces, core and all. But doing so would ruin the plan and put everyone in danger… especially his mother. 

He gave an aching groan, stretching out his back before getting unsteadily to his feet. The book before him had become just as loathsome as the Cabinet itself, its repeating words floating around Draco’s mind with about as much use as a dead flobberworm. He meandered around the Cabinet, trying to view it from different angles. He checked his watch. It was five minutes past eight. It was so like Potter to be late. Probably revenge for last night, even though he’d been the one to start their ridiculous argument. Had he started it? Draco couldn’t really remember. Either way, it was Potter’s fault. 

A sad, old and rusty grammophone balanced on one of the shorter piles of long-lost crap near Draco. He wandered over, fiddling with its turny knobs and twisty-things until the record on top started to spin. It wasn’t making any noise. Draco huffed, poking every one of its appendages until he managed to get the pin to stick in one of the grooves. The sultry, low tremor of a woman’s voice rang out, crackling through the dust on the record. 

“...Leave it alone, it’s all gone…. Leave it alone, it’s all gone…” 

Draco allowed himself a humourless breath of a laugh. How accurate, he thought. It would be all gone if he didn’t fix this damn Cabinet. He left the record playing, the sounds of the piano and violin reverberating around the cavernous space, the woman’s voice a ghostly drift amongst the towers of lost things. 

“Don’t stay to see me, turn from your arms, leave it alone, it’s all gone.” 

Draco sat in front of the Cabinet once more, crossing his legs and taking three deep breaths before closing his eyes.

“Give me my death... Close my mouth... Give me my breath... Close my mouth…” 

Draco would take death if he was the only one who would get it, but giving in now would be death sentence for his family too. There had to be a way to get this fucker to work. His Curse writhed, snake-like and heated in his chest. It would be time to transform soon. If he waited for more than a few days, it would get too distracting. 

“Now while I love you, can’t love without you… Must love without you, alone.” 

Alone… 

He was never alone. Not for as long as the Curse lived and breathed inside of him. 

“How can I bear the ghost of you here?... Can’t love without you… Must love without you…” 

Alone. 

He was never alone.

So why did he feel so lonely? 

“Malfoy?” 

Draco opened his eyes. The record was still playing, the singer’s melancholic lyrics circulating around the room with the same tone as before, but now they weren’t alone. 

Potter had already made it into the room, and he was standing two feet away from Draco. How had he not heard him? The music wasn’t that loud. 

“You’re here.” He stated, brushing dust off his knees as he stood, still in a daze. His limbs were as heavy as if he’d been sat there for an age, but it couldn’t have been more than a minute. 

“What is this?” Potter asked. 

“Music.” Draco replied seriously. 

Surprisingly, Potter smiled. It was brief but it was definitely there, and it caught Draco off guard. 

“Okay, Malfoy.” He snickered, placing his books on the upturned sofa as always. Draco deliberated stopping the record before Potter said:

“It’s… nice. A bit sad, but nice” 

Draco wasn’t sure where to put his hands. He folded his arms across his chest.

“Is it?” 

Potter raised a brow. “You put it on so I’m assuming you like it.” 

Draco gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I found it. It’s just a song.” Abandoning the plan to turn the record off, he committed to striding purposefully toward the sofa and sitting on his designated stool. He determinedly avoided Potter’s eyes as he plucked a notebook from the pile and began scanning the pages. He couldn’t say where his mind had gone to while he’d been sat in front of that Cabinet, but he still wasn’t rid of the odd feeling. It unnerved him. He hadn’t been forced to consider his circumstantial loneliness for a long time. He’d thought he hadn’t cared, but the sinking feeling at his core told him otherwise. 

What a nuisance. 

“Now while I love you… Can’t love without you… Must love without you, aloooone…” 

The last of the singer’s doleful tones ended and the record stopped. Its accompanying hiss added to the sense of detachment this room brought with it as a consequence of its purpose. 

Potter was watching him. His green-eyed stare was like a laser, and it was impossible to avoid. 

“What?” Draco asked as Potter sat opposite him. 

“Were you sleeping?” 

Draco sighed. “No. And how long were you stood there?” 

Potter’s cheeks stained scarlet. Subtle. “Long enough to think you’d dozed off.” He replied defensively. He rolled his eyes. “I didn’t want to wake you up if you were. But then you were so still. It was creepy. I thought something might be wrong.” 

He started flicking through his textbook absently, frowning very hard at the pages but clearly not reading them. Draco was at a loss. 

“Right.” He said slowly, “Well, I wasn’t sleeping. I was concentrating.”

Potter licked his lips as he considered what Draco had said. Did he have to do that? The nail-biting was almost preferable. 

“On what?” Potter’s book was upside down. Unable to resist, Draco reached over and turned the book the right way up before placing it back in Potter’s hands. The Gryffindor’s eyes went wide and his complexion deepened until it resembled a tomato. Draco choked on a laugh. 

“You sure you weren’t supposed to be in Hufflepuff?” 

Potter glared at him. “No, actually. I was supposed to be in Slytherin.” 

“Fuck off.” 

Potter smirked. “Wanna bet?” 

Draco felt his jaw drop. “You’re serious.” He barked an incredulous laugh. “You? In Slytherin ? Merlin have mercy, what a fine old fuck up that would have been.” 

Potter’s features remained distant and smug. Draco wanted to wipe it right off his face. 

“There are more than a few things you don’t know about me, Malfoy.”

“Come off it,” Draco scoffed, inexplicably elated by the news Potter had nearly been put in Slytherin. “There isn’t a single witch or wizard in the world who doesn’t know every detail of your soppy little life. You’re a walking talking cliché, Potter, and that’s exactly why you were sorted into Gryffindor.” 

He expected an amusing outburst or the slam of a fist or an over-zealous rant on the bravery of his house of tom-foolery. But instead, Potter continued to slowly shake his head, still plastering on that same shit-eating grin. 

“Wrong again, Malfoy.” 

Draco narrowed his eyes. This was becoming a challenge. 

“How so? Every time I want to think you’re something different, you act in a way that proves I was right all along. Just like your friends. You’re all cut from the same cloth.” 

Potter’s eyes flashed, but he didn’t rise to the bait. 

“And which cloth would that be?” He was keeping his voice surprisingly level for someone so prone to exploding at the slightest provocation. 

“Oh, you know.” Draco leant back with a yawn, “The self-sacrificing, bravado-obsessed, arrogance-disguised-as-valour type of cloth.” 

Potter clicked his tongue. Draco waited for the explosion. 

“And what about the cloth you and your friends are cut from, Malfoy?” 

Draco nearly corrected him on the term ‘friends,’ but instead he regarded his long-term nemesis from across the chasm of the upside down sofa.

“Go on?” 

Potter took a deep breath. “The self-preserving-at-any-cost, greedy, conceited cowards type of cloth.” 

Draco forced himself to be still. “Careful, Potter. Swallow any more Thesauruses and you’ll turn into Granger.” 

He could feel his own blood simmering. There was practically steam radiating off Potter. Between the pair of them, they could heat a cauldron, and in their stubbornness to remain on higher-ground, neither one of them expelled it. This had become a competition, and neither were very good at losing. 

Draco was particularly stung by the ‘coward’ comment. It was his most-despised word in the English language, and to hear it directed his way yet again had struck a nerve. But it was only Potter. It was only Potter. Such consolidation would have worked a couple of months ago. Now, after everything… Draco desperately wanted to hex him for it. His fingers twitched toward his wand. Potter caught sight of the movement.

“Something to say?” 

Draco stretched out his legs in front of him. 

“Not on your life, Potter.” 

They contemplated one another. Draco didn’t want to be the first to break eye contact and neither did Potter. Thankfully, the game was stopped for them by the record skipping of its own accord and the song starting all over again, causing them to startle as the woman’s voice drifted over.

“Now while I love you, alone…” 

“Fuck,” Potter exhaled, red-faced and laughing. “I thought there was someone here.”

Draco’s heart was hammering too, but he wasn’t sure if it was because of the gramophone or the staring contest. He sat up straight, pushing back the hair that had fallen into his eyes. 

“Why were you so late, Potter?” 

“It was only ten minutes.” He argued. 

Draco raised a brow and waited. 

“Actually, it was Zabini’s fault.” Potter grumbled. 

It was just surprise after surprise tonight, wasn’t it? Draco blinked. 

“Blaise?” 

Potter’s accusing eyes found his again. “Yes. He wanted to know where I was going." 

“Did you tell him?” Draco’s breaths were coming in fast. If Potter had slipped up -

“Of course not!” He exclaimed, “I’m not stupid.”

“Whatever you say. But why? What did he want?” 

“You tell me. You’re on their side.” He countered hotly. 

Draco lowered his voice. “We both know that’s not true anymore.” 

Potter snapped his mouth closed, seemingly undergoing some sort of meaningful inner conflict.

Draco decided to solve it for him. "Just trust that I’m not on theirs, or we wouldn’t be here.” 

“Then whose are you on, Malfoy?” 

Draco ground his teeth. “No one’s. Alright? Isn’t that good enough?” 

“No!” Potter argued, “It isn’t good enough!”

Draco threw his hands up in frustration. “Why the fuck not? I’m not an evil overlord, Potter, and nor am I working for one. In anyone else’s books that would be enough!” 

The pause that followed was only interrupted by the song.

“Give me my death... Close my mouth... Give me my breath... Close my mouth…”

“You want to know why?” Potter began quietly, his eyes doing that terrible thing again, making Draco’s insides curl in on themselves with shame and dread, “Because you’re dangerous, Malfoy. Only a few of us know what you are, but everyone saw what you did to the Quidditch Pitch”-

“I didn’t mean to!” Draco contended. 

“Then that’s even worse! It would be so easy for you to - to kill . I have to know you’re on our side before I can trust you not to hurt someone… whether by accident or not.” 

Draco couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Hopelessness throbbed inside him with every beat of his frantic heart. Here sat in front of him the one person who’d kept him sane throughout his days in isolation, and here he was telling him he was dangerous. A killer. He was nothing more than a weapon in Potter’s eyes. 

And it was exactly what he’d been afraid of all along.

“Then I suppose you can never trust me.” 

“How can I bear the ghost of you here?... Can’t love without you… Must love without you… Alone.”



Chapter Text

Draco’s mouth was filled with ash. He couldn’t see for the grit in his eyes and the ground beneath him crackled and smoked as the final flames died. He spluttered and rubbed his face, opening his eyes to the charred, grey landscape before him. 

Hogwarts was gone. In its place, stone crumbled to dust and the wind scattered the rest to the mountains. The smoke began to clear and as Draco staggered to his feet, he saw a single figure standing in the middle of the debris, green eyes ablaze with anguish. 

“What have you done?” Potter’s cry echoed in the ruins. “You’ve killed everyone.” 

“No…” Draco lamented, “I… I couldn’t have… this wasn’t me…” 

As he spoke, Potter himself began to disappear, his skin flecking away piece by piece until he was nothing but a pile of ashes amongst the rest. 

“Yeeeeeees, Draco…”

He heard her before he experienced the sensation of her wrapping her great body around his waist and rooting him to the spot. He struggled, but he was stuck. 

“Thissss… iss exactly what I wanted for you…” Nagini hissed in his ear. “Join usssss….” 

Draco fought her, but she became tighter and tighter, constricting him until his Curse propelled through his veins to protect him. To transform him. 

Draco could hear his own cries.

They woke him up. 

He sat up in bed, panting as reality dawned, slowly and surely. 

He was in his bed. In his dorm. Hogwarts was still here, still standing, and everyone was alive. 

He gulped, his mouth dry. 

“Draco.” A whisper startled him, and he spun in his sheets (which had tangled tightly around his waist during his thrashing… not a sentient snake after all) to be met with the face of his roommate. 

It was Gregory Goyle. 

“S-sorry.” Draco stammered, still not with it. He wiped his forearm across the sheen of sweat on his forehead. 

Gregory was sitting up on his own bed, fully clothed, his wand withdrawn and pointing at Draco.

“What are you doing?” Draco muttered, already thinking of a dozen spells to defend himself with. His own wand was on his bedside table, inches away… 

Gregory offered him a crooked, somewhat sympathetic smile. “Silencing charm.” He explained, “So none of the others would wake up. I’ve been doing it for the past few days, but this is the first time you’ve woken up.” 

Draco immediately felt a slow churn of humiliation. “Ah,” he exhaled, “right. Well, um… sorry for that.”

“S’alright. We all go through bad bouts, don’t we?” 

Draco stared at him. Back in the day, he’d never given Gregory much credit as magicians went. He hadn’t needed to. The boy had followed him around like a shadow. But these days he was more reserved. Draco had put it down to him losing even more braincells as a result of education-induced oversaturation, but he was beginning to realize that maybe he wasn’t as stupid as he’d initially thought him to be. 

Maybe he wasn’t actually stupid at all. Just… quiet. 

“You won’t tell anyone?” Draco implored. 

Gregory’s brow knitted together. “Of course not.” He answered, as if he was stumped by the very notion of what he was suggesting. Draco couldn’t tell whether it came from a place of blind loyalty or a genuine wish not to hurt him. Either way, a dredge of Draco’s guilt reserved itself for Gregory. 

“Thank you.” Draco replied. “Do you…?” He shouldn’t ask. But he wanted to. “Do you get nightmares as well?” 

Gregory shook his head. “Nah.” He reached into his bedside draw. The vials clinked together as he pulled them free. “I’ve got these.” 

Draco raised a brow. “Dreamless sleep? Don’t tell me... you’re addicted?” 

Gregory shrugged. “It helps.” 

“It won’t if you can’t stop.” 

His roommate frowned. “But if I stop, I’ll…” He trailed off. 

“End up like me.” Draco finished, curling a fist into his hair, which was damp with clammy sweat. “Yeah. Fair.” 

There was no way to tell what time it was beneath the lake, but the weather-sphere by Blaise’s bed was a dim, gloomy blue. It was already early morning. 

“Have you been awake all night?” Asked Draco. 

Gregory nodded. “It’s a side effect after continuous use.” He flicked one of the vials, making it ting. “Can’t sleep at all eventually. But s’alright. I’ll be back to it again tomorrow.” 

This was the first proper conversation Draco had had with any of his roommates/ex-friends in a while. He wasn’t sure if ‘nice’ was the right word for it, but it was a welcome change from the depressing silence. He realized with horror that the skin on his legs had risen into scales during his disturbing dream, but thankfully the sheets covered them. He closed his eyes, pushing the Curse back down with all his might. He’d have to transform again soon... 

“The others are scared of you.” 

Draco flicked his eyes open, fixing them on Gregory. He waited for an elaboration, but none came. 

“Why?” Draco prompted. 

“They know.” Gregory told him at length, and for a horrible moment Draco thought he was referring to the Curse, until the other boy’s gaze landed on his forearm. The dark mark stood out, stark and clear on his pale skin, the snake slinking about its eternal skull prison with ferocious grace. 

Draco forced himself not to hide it. Appearances were everything. 

“It’s like… you’re watching us.” Said Gregory. “That’s what Theo said.” 

Draco had to laugh. “He thinks I’m keeping tabs on you all? I hate to disappoint but the Dark Lord doesn’t care about what goes on in here. He only cares about taking down Dumbledore.” 

“And that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?” Gregory leaned forward, his expression probing. 

Shit. He’d said too much. “You give me too much merit, Gregory. Anyway, I’d avoid asking such questions if I were you.” 

“Dad tells me everything.” 

“He could get in trouble for that.” Draco hurried to correct himself at the look on Gregory’s face, “But he won’t. I won’t say anything.” 

He visibly relaxed. “Okay. Thanks.” 

This is what their lives had become - worrying that any one of them could sell out the other’s family through spying on one another. A hierarchy of Death Eaters spawned at the hands of their parents dwelled in this very room, and they all thought Draco belonged at the top. They couldn’t have been more wrong. 

 

************

 

A pattern was emerging. 

Harry would enter the room of requirement to find Malfoy sat cross-legged, eyes-shut, in front of the Vanishing Cabinet listening to his strange song. It was a vintage record, the old label so faded he couldn’t discern the name of the tune or the singer, but it had become a definitive part of their routine. The night usually began with promise: they’d exchange some light banter and sit down to work, usually with some sort of goal in mind, and usually they managed to get through Transfiguration and Potions without insulting each other to the point of actual offence. It was when they got to Defence Against the Dark Arts that things would take a nasty turn. So far, after six long nights, Harry had the following topics of conversation blacklisted: Muggles, Muggleborns, Death Eaters, the war, the Cabinet, Malfoy’s Dragon-ness, Dumbledore and Quidditch. Which left them with virtually nothing. 

As much as Harry used to enjoy antagonizing Malfoy, it was becoming startlingly apparent just how inflammatory these subjects were - particularly when it came to Muggles. Harry was just waiting for him to say mudblood so he could hex him, but he hadn’t yet. It struck Harry as odd that Malfoy hadn’t yet used the word to start a fight, and he tried to consider the reasons why that could be. Ron suggested he fancied a muggleborn when they were at the Three Broomsticks on a Saturday afternoon. Harry nearly spat out his Butterbeer. It was hard to imagine Malfoy fancying anyone . There’d been rumours of him and Parkinson becoming an item in fourth year but Harry hadn’t seen the pair so much as hold hands, and everyone knew the Greengrass family was after a marriage between him and Astoria. Harry tried to imagine what he would be like in love, but it was next to impossible. As he got older, Malfoy seemed increasingly untouchable. Harry’s memory unhelpfully flashed to them hiding under the cloak, a laugh on Malfoy’s pale lips as he crouched over Harry, torso exposed, and Harry had felt himself turn red. No . He hadn’t liked where his mind had gone, so he buried his face in his drink and hoped no one had noticed.

It was with this unnerving thought in mind that Harry entered the Room of Requirement the next day. As usual, Malfoy was sat cross-legged in front of the Cabinet, eyes shut and brow furrowed ever so slightly. It was in these moments that Harry allowed himself to openly watch him. He’d learnt over the week that it wasn’t serenity on Malfoy’s features, but deep, frustrated concentration. He wondered what he was concentrating on , exactly, but knew better than to ask again. The last time had earned him a sour-faced git for the rest of the night. 

“Give me my death... Close my mouth... Give me my breath... Close my mouth…”

The woman’s ever-present melancholic singing coaxed Malfoy into the present, and his eyes snapped open. He huffed as he stood up, the dark circles under his eyes noticeably darker than they had been yesterday. 

“Are you okay?” Harry asked without meaning to. 

Malfoy regarded him reproachfully. “Yes. I’m fine, Potter.” 

That meant no.

Malfoy cleared his throat, brushing off his knees. 

“I forgot to tell you.” He said icily, not looking Harry in the eye, “There was no need for you to come today.” 

Harry frowned, old suspicions for Malfoy flaring. “Why not?” 

Malfoy still didn’t glance up at him. He stared at the floor. 

“It’s been two weeks.” 

“And?” 

Malfoy’s fists tightened at his sides. “And? Don’t you remember what part of the deal was?” 

Harry cast his mind back in a panic, very reluctant to incur the wrath of Malfoy for a countless time this week. Reports, fixing the cabinet, working… transforming . Fuck. He had forgotten. 

“Ah.” He exhaled, “Yeah. It’s been two weeks.” 

Malfoy looked like he was about to explode as he stood there, wound up and almost twitching with the effort to restrain himself. From doing what , Harry could only imagine. 

“Where are you going to go?” Harry asked, knowing he could and would just check the map as soon as he left. 

“Where I always go.” Malfoy replied quickly. “As long as there are no Weasley’s sniffing around this time…” 

Harry wondered about that. He hadn’t seen Charlie or any of his team since Malfoy’s first transformation. 

“I’m sure he won’t be. You gave him a scare last time.” 

Malfoy raised a brow. “Potter, of course he won’t be. Dumbledore Obliviated him and the rest at the first chance he got.” 

Harry felt himself go cold. “What do you mean? H-he wouldn’t do that.” Even as the words slipped from his mouth, he realized Malfoy had just made an excellent point. And Malfoy knew he knew it. 

“One of Hogwarts’ most suspect students can turn himself into a Dragon and you don’t think one of them would have blabbed?” His expression turned cruel, “If Weasley hadn’t grassed on me then certainly one of the others would. Obliviation is standard Ministry practice, Potter, even on our own kind. Especially on our own kind. It certainly isn’t beyond your precious Dumbledore, especially to protect such a juicy secret. He’ll want to keep this one all to himself, won’t he?” 

Harry felt sick. “It isn’t like that. How can you be so selfish? If you’re right then he only did it to protect you.” 

Malfoy laughed. “You’re so deluded, it’s pathetic. Just pathetic, Potter.”  

With that, Malfoy breezed past him and slammed out of the Room of Requirement, leaving the record playing. 

Harry’s breathing came quick and shallow. He desperately wanted Malfoy to be wrong. He couldn’t stand not knowing. He raced to Gryffindor tower, finding Hermione and Ginny sat in front of the fire, talking through Ginny’s OWL revision. 

“Harry?” Hermione was surprised to see him, “Aren’t you supposed to be”- She gave a quick sideways glance at Ginny and coughed. “At the um. Library?” 

Harry shook his head. “Need to talk to you.” 

 

************

 

The Curse was ready, but Draco wasn’t. Every time he shut his eyes he saw heaped ashes before him, the wind scattering them to dust and Potter’s accusing green eyes amongst it all. 

“You’ve killed everyone.” 

The forest was cold and empty. As February bled into March, the beginnings of spring didn’t so much as touch its perpetual winter. Fog clustered around his knees like a blanket of frost and so far he’d only managed to discard his shirt. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been stood here. His conviction had abandoned him, and all he could think of was ruin. 

Maybe… maybe he wasn’t ready yet. It had only been two weeks. Tonight wasn’t the night. He turned to leave. And stopped. He wasn’t alone. 

“I’m sorry,” Potter said, his eyes not accusing like they were in Draco’s dreams of late, but hesitant. “I had to come.” 

Draco couldn’t speak. He was really here . How?

Potter took a step closer, and Draco could see him clearer through the fog now. He was nervous. He was biting his nails again and swinging on the balls of his feet. So obviously like him that it hurt. 

“How did you find me?” Draco found his voice. Heat pulsated in his chest. Didn’t Potter realize how dangerous it was to be around him right now? Maybe he didn’t care. Maybe Draco shouldn’t have cared either. But he did. And he didn’t want Potter seeing him like this. 

The boy in question hesitated, his hand folding into his front pocket. Draco heard the rustle of parchment. 

“You have something, don’t you?” He prompted, “A way to find me. T-to track me.” 

How had he not realized it before? Potter had a bad habit of turning up at conveniently unexpected moments, especially when Draco didn’t want to be found. That wasn’t just ‘Chosen One’ luck. There was more to it. 

Potter lowered his head. “Yes. But it doesn’t matter. You seem… something wasn’t right. I could tell. You weren’t moving.” 

“It does matter! You shouldn’t be here!” 

Potter stepped closer. “Maybe not, but if I can help”-

“Help?” Draco repeated, incredulous. “How the fuck can you - what are you staring at?

At first Draco thought his expression had become one of horror because he’d spotted the Dark Mark on his exposed arm again, but after following Potter’s wide, pin-point gaze, he realized he was staring at his chest. More specifically, the fresh map of scars that decorated him. 

Draco turned his back to Potter, heat flooding him. He couldn’t discern it from rage or humiliation, and he didn’t want to. He wanted to scream and hide all at once. 

“Quite a sight, isn’t it?” He said thickly, breathing deeply in a futile attempt to calm his Curse. A shiver of scales swept up his arms before fading into skin again.

“I did that.” Said Potter, his voice low. 

Draco couldn’t bear to look at him, couldn’t stand to see the inevitable expression of guilt on his face. He didn’t want Potter’s guilt or his pity. He wanted him to fuck off and pretend it hadn’t happened. 

“No use crying over spilt milk.” Draco scoffed, squeezing his eyes shut against the pins and needles sensation bubbling under his flesh. “I’ve…” He gulped as his voice threatened to leave him, his throat trying to lengthen and transform against his will. “I’ve done much worse.” 

“It doesn’t matter.” He heard Potter say quietly, and that was all Draco could take. 

He spun around, dreading to imagine how he looked right now, so close to the edge. 

“But it does!” He fired back, “You said it yourself. I’m dangerous! I-I can’t be trusted, can I? Because I could blow up the whole fucking school if I wanted to! I could reduce this forest to fucking cinders, and who would stop me?” 

“I would!” Potter choked, and Draco almost recoiled. Because there were tears - actual tears - in his eyes. No fire or hatred, just… pain. “I would stop you… somehow. But it doesn’t matter because you wouldn’t do it.”  

“How do you know, Potter?” Draco growled, inching forward. They were too close. It wasn’t safe. He was moments away from transforming. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. You know fuck all about me.”

Potter shook his head. “You’re wrong. I thought I did, and I didn’t but… I do now.”

“So, tell me.” 

Draco was close enough to hear Potter’s breaths. To see the puffs of it swirling into mist that caught itself in Draco’s hair. To feel the heat of his skin and the full penetrative force of his gaze. 

Potter must have seen it in him microseconds before it happened, because the next thing he knew his freezing hands were pressed against Draco’s searing chest, and he pushed him away from him at full force. 

Draco didn’t even make it to the ground. 

 

************

 

His wings sprung from his back before anything else. Scales unfurled, row by row, fanning out into radial pinions and bursting with silver light. His legs, claws and neck followed next, uncurling and stretching and forming like the Dragon was waking from a long slumber, the sound of his bones and tendons fusing cracking like gunshots through the Forest. In his haste to get away, Harry had fallen onto his back, and he watched the transformation from the ground, unable to look away. Because… it was beautiful. 

The Dragon threw back his head and gazed at the stars above them, the March skies illuminating shafts of moonlight through thin slips in the canopy. 

Harry scrambled to his feet, taking in the full extent of the Dragon before him. His tail was healed, and it curved in a long S, shaped around his torso, the last part of his body to unfurl from the scales. 

“Wow.” Harry whispered, backing into a tree. 

The Dragon - Malfoy - bent his head to peer down at him with cool, grey eyes. 

Harry gulped. 

“Good job I moved out of the way, isn’t it?” He laughed flatly.

Malfoy rolled his eyes.

“You’re… exactly the same.” He realized it as he said it. “You’re the same as last time.” 

The Dragon did not move, and Harry could picture Malfoy saying something obtuse and quippy like “well spotted, Potter.” 

Harry’s breaths came shallow in his throat. The thrill of the Dragon before him again was all at once a relief and a disappointment. A relief, because he was with his Dragon again - a disappointment because the Dragon truly did hate him. Because he was his school rival. He was a Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. And that would never change, however much Harry wished it. 

He was overcome by resentment. Not even towards Malfoy, but towards himself for rejecting his friendship in first year. Harry would be the first person to volunteer Malfoy as an absolute twat - he always had been - but he regretted the way he’d handled their rivalry. Because if he’d known… if only he’d known! 

If only he’d known that Malfoy was a Dragon. Maybe this would have been easier. 

“You were right,” He told the Dragon at last. He’d expected Malfoy to fly away or simply ignore him, but he stood bathed in the refractive glare of the moonlight off his iridescent scales just looking at Harry. 

Malfoy inclined his great head. Like a puppy. 

“You were right about Dumbledore,” Harry elaborated, “At least… Hermione reckons so. I told her about our argument.” 

It was amazing how much easier it was to tell Malfoy all of this when he couldn’t talk back. 

“I haven’t said anything to Ron,” Harry began pacing around the circumference of the tree, “I reckon he wouldn’t like it if he knew his brother had been Obliterated for your sake.” 

Malfoy let out a puff of air that Harry could only interpret as a scoff. 

“And before you say anything, this doesn’t mean you’re forgiven for being an arse. We have to work together, and you’re making it fucking difficult.” 

Malfoy yawned. 

“Right. Point taken.” Said Harry, sitting on the ground. 

The Dragon mirrored him, sliding back onto his hind legs and resting his large head on his overgrown talons. 

Harry stared at them. “Does it hurt? To transform?” 

Malfoy eyed him shrewdly, pausing before shaking his head. 

Harry searched for a resemblance of Malfoy (aside from his eyes, which were precisely identical to his human form) in the Dragon in an attempt to justify why he hadn’t guessed it was him months ago. His scales were not the same shade as his hair, but they had an austere glow, one that Harry could easily classify as Malfoy-ish. The expression, too, was distinctly him. The haughty raise of his hairless, scaly brow and bored scowl; no one - man or creature - could be more like Draco Malfoy if they tried. 

Harry realized he’d been staring too long when Malfoy frowned at him, baring the slightest snarl. 

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, picking at twigs on the ground, “it’s just weird. You were just a Dragon to me for ages, and just Malfoy for even longer and now I know you’re both the same thing… I don’t know. I’m adjusting.” 

The Dragon rolled his eyes again. Draco… ‘Draco’ meant ‘Dragon’, didn’t it? This made Harry smirk. 

“You were named appropriately at least.” Malfoy gave a rumbling, threatening growl and now that Harry could picture him snapping at him in his head, it didn’t come across as dangerous at all. He was all bark and no bite. 

“What?” He laughed, “It’s true! Don’t blame me, blame your parents.” 

The Dragon snuffled, evading Harry’s gaze and resting his head back on his feet. He was pouting. 

They sat like this for some time, and all the while Harry contemplated leaving. But the Dragon wasn’t urging him to. Malfoy was, at the very least, tolerating him. The silence hadn’t become awkward yet. It was… nice. 

“Are you, um, feeling a bit better now?” 

Now it was awkward.

The Dragon’s eyes slowly slid to land on Harry, filled to the brim with abhorrence. 

“I… didn’t mean to say it like that.” Said Harry, experiencing a sudden burst of heat from the neck upwards. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to speak to you like you’re five. That was stupid. I just… didn’t know what to say.” 

Harry’s fear of being roasted alive was quashed when he realized the shaking in the Dragon’s shoulders and wings wasn’t from Malfoy gearing up to incinerate him, but from laughter. Malfoy couldn’t smile in this form, but Harry could picture it. 

He sighed. “Yeah. I know. Stupid me, classic Harry and all that. But I dare you to try and have a one-sided conversation like this. It isn’t easy, trust me. It’s alright for you. You don’t have to say anything. You just get to be all epic and scary and… Dragon-y. I’m just me.” 

The Dragon regarded him.

“Don’t give me any of that Chosen One crap.” Harry could read him seamlessly. “It’s a pile of bollocks.” 

Malfoy scoffed again. But it sounded like it was in agreement this time. 

“I mean, it’s true.” Harry defended, “But it’s still a pile of bollocks. I don’t want it, if that’s what you think.

Malfoy gave an eye-roll as if to say “yes, I know, Potter” and Harry found himself feeling sorry for him; restricted only to eye-rolls and scoffs and head-inclines. 

“How long have you got to…” he gestured wildly with his hands, “stay like this?” 

Malfoy blinked twice.

“I-is that like, two minutes? Two hours?” 

Malfoy turned away from Harry and stood, stretching out his long neck and spine so his scales shimmered in perfect formation as he passed under the light of the moon. Harry was spellbound by every movement. And it was then he understood Malfoy was offering him a ride on his back. 

 

************

 

Draco hadn’t felt this satiated in a while. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact he was no longer carrying the world’s most dangerous secret on his shoulders all alone anymore. Perhaps it was to do with the fact he’d had Harry Potter, the Chosen One and his mortal enemy, riding on his back last night until they’d both landed, laughing and thrilled onto the forest floor. Of course, Potter wouldn’t have been able to recognize that Draco was laughing - but all the same, he had been. And it was so perplexingly strange that Draco was having a lot of trouble concentrating in the library this afternoon. He had a free period so he’d taken the liberty of spending it here rather than alone and brooding at the Cabinet to no avail. It was about time he caught up on some work, anyway. 

Fat lot of good it was doing. 

He couldn’t get Potter’s red-faced messy-headed infectious laughter out of his head, and his Curse purred all the more for it. So much so that he was caught unawares as someone emerged from a shelf beside his desk to lean against it, her skirt hitched up to her thigh, long meticulous braids brushing the base of her spine. 

He didn’t bother to lay down his pen.

“Astoria.” He acknowledged, without actually glancing up to acknowledge her. 

“You’ve been ignoring me since term started. What the fuck is up with you?” She launched straight in, not even bothering to lower her voice. 

“Pince will have your guts for garters if you don’t keep it down.” 

“Pince couldlick a toad’s arse and then spit in my face for all I care. She doesn't scare me.” Said Astoria in an airy, light tone that clashed jarringly wish her words. She had a foul-mouth for someone so well-spoken otherwise. Not that Draco could criticize her for it. He was just as bad. Only… not so openly. 

He sighed, “What do you want?” 

Astoria tossed her many braids over one shoulder, giving special attention to a long silver one she’d had woven in. It must have been a recent addition. Draco didn’t remember it. 

“Your undying love, of course.” She cooed with about as much believability as a Garden Gnome attempting to recite the alphabet. 

“Cut the act, Astoria, no one is listening. Not even Pince. I cast a muffliato.” Said Draco, finally setting down his pen and looking up at her. “And stop waving your bloody hair in my face.”

She whipped her head backwards and forwards, splaying her braids like a curtain.

“It’s fun, though.” 

“It’s fucking annoying. Sit down properly.” 

“Nah.” She said, “What are you reading? Is that our Arithmancy notes?”

It was, but Draco shut the book and shoved it into his bag. 

“You could have asked me for help.” Astoria told him pointedly. Her almost-black eyes latched onto him like a vice. “We are betrothed, after all.” 

Technically, she wasn’t wrong. 

“No, we aren’t.” Draco insisted. 

Astoria scowled and slid into the empty seat opposite him, folding her arms and resting her chin on her hands. She regarded him ruefully. 

“You haven’t spoken to me all year.” 

Draco gave a one-shouldered shrug, getting increasingly agitated. “And?” 

“And?” She echoed, raising a brow. “What, am I not good enough for you now?” 

Draco grit his teeth. “Stop teasing me. It’s in poor taste.” 

Her lips quirked in a half-smile. “Since when did our kind deal in anything but poor taste, Draco?”

He shook his head, getting ready to leave. “I shan’t marry you, Astoria. Sorry to ruin your plans.” 

She pulled a face. “Oh, fuck off. You have to.” 

“No, I don’t.” 

“If I can hack it, you can.”

Draco wanted to bash his head against a desk. If Potter was iron-willed, Astoria was titanium. She was prideful at best, ruthless at worst, and she was Draco’s oldest friend. Their families had been tied since birth. True, they hadn’t exactly been close since beginning school, but Draco had put it down to Astoria’s choice of company; Ravenclaws. They shared one class together and had remained fairly well connected for the last few years, but Draco had never awarded their relationship much credit. And this was exactly why. She was incessant. 

Her eyes turned to steel. “Draco, this is not a debate. We agreed years ago.”

“We were twelve.”

“The arrangement suits us. It’s perfect.” 

“What, pretending and lying through our teeth to our families while you go off and fuck other people? Can you imagine how my father would react?” Draco spat in a hushed whisper, despite the muffliato

“And can you imagine how snout-face would react if she found out I was into fanny?” Snout-face was Astoria’s chosen nickname for her stepmother. Draco wasn’t even sure he knew her real name. Regina or Rhea or something. But her face did rather resemble that of a pig's. 

Snout-face has nothing on what my father would do to me.” Draco countered. 

“Well, she hasn’t been to Azkaban yet I suppose so you’ve got one up on me there.” Astoria said cruelly. If nothing else, he admired her brutal honesty. 

“Astoria, I will not marry you.” He said firmly. 

She huffed, leaning back in her chair and kicking the table leg. “Spoilsport. You were all for it last year.” 

“Because last year…” He trailed off. What exactly had changed? The idea of a lacklustre marriage with his long-time lesbian playmate had never inspired much joy, but he’d been content with the idea neither one of them would be tied down to committ to one another - informally, at least. He’d be free to satisfy his baser needs with whomever he wished, and his darling perfect pureblood wife wouldn’t have a bad word to say about it because she’d have a mistress (or two) of her own. He’d never taken much time to work out the specifics of the who’ s or the where’s and how 's but it had seemed… acceptable. At the time. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment the idea had gone from merely acceptable to utterly abhorrent. 

“Are you in lo-ove?” Astoria mocked in a sing-song voice.

“No.” Draco snapped, “Don’t be ridiculous. And why are you bringing all of this up now? You could have come to me at any point in the year, and…” It clicked. “You like someone. You’re panicking.” 

Astoria’s expression darkened.

Bingo. He smiled at his triumph. 

“You’re a loathsome arsehole, Draco, you know that don’t you?”  

“I know. I won’t bother to ask who but I will say, don’t bother pursuing it.” 

Astoria played with the silver braid in her hair. It was enchanted. Shining threads twisted in uniform formation, flowing down her hair like a waterfall. It was an unusual colour for her. She usually chose gold or another gaudy shade. 

“Why not?” She said sulkily, “I can fancy whoever I like.” 

“Yes, but if she’s straight you’ll get yourself hurt.” 

Astoria barked a laugh. “You’d know all about that.” Draco clenched his jaw and she grimaced. “Sorry. That was harsh. But I am having a shit time of it.” 

Her overplayed feel-sorry-for-me-act made it difficult for him to sympathize. 

“I’m sure you’ll get over it.” 

She stood, scooting the chair back with a harsh scrape. “And I’m sure one day you’ll find a way to wrench that stick out of your arse and replace it with something a little more… to your tastes.” She smirked, but there was a lilt of sadness behind it. Nevertheless, she placed a finger beneath Draco’s chin, basking in the moment and blowing him a tiny kiss. “Can’t wait to plan our horrible hetero wedding. Ciao, baby.” 

He sighed, waiting for her footsteps to recede before going ahead and bashing his head against the desk. Astoria was a nightmare of a woman when it came to sussing him out. She was in leagues with Blaise for that trophy. But it had her name on it. Only just. Because she was the only one who knew Draco was gay.



Chapter Text

It was the end of his first term of their fourth year, just before the Christmas holidays, and Draco was banging his head against the wall. 

“Um… Draco?”

He whipped around, startled. The shadows of the empty common room gloomed a severe green. He thought he was the only one left, until Astoria revealed herself from the hallway of the girl’s dormitory, pulling her overstuffed trunk behind her. 

“What are you doing here?” He snapped, trying to wipe the panic off his face. He didn’t do a very good job. She frowned at him, her short black hair a halo of gloriously untamed curls around her head. 

“You’re acting weird.” She told him, inching closer. “Why are you acting weird?” 

He shut his eyes and pulled in a shaky breath. “I’m not.” 

She offered him a sly grin. “C’mon, Ferret. Tell me what’s up.” 

“Don’t call me that!” 

She stifled her giggles. “Sorry. It was funny, though.” 

Draco couldn’t nor did he want to find the humour in Professor Moody’s ridiculous prank on him. The nickname was still stuck. It would stick for the rest of his life, no doubt. But that wasn’t what was bothering him.

He fell down onto one of the leather sofas. “I… don’t want to go home.” He admitted. It was easier when it was just the two of them. He wouldn’t be able to say this with his other friends here.

Astoria lightly perched next to him, tilting her head. “Why not?” She asked softly. 

Dread flared in his stomach. “It’s the Pater.” He said at length, “Well, you know him. You know how he likes to conduct his little tests.” 

Astoria’s nostrils flared visibly. He always thought it was amazing how viscerally her anger manifested itself. 

“He’s not… don’t tell me he’s still force-feeding you Veritaserum?” She sounded disgusted.

Draco gave a semi-shrug. “He needs to know I’m doing everything right. Especially this year with the press around for the tournament and everything. But… but this time it’s” - he swallowed thickly. He couldn’t find his words. “I don’t want him to make me… tell.” 

Astoria peered into his pale face. “Tell him what?”

Draco shook his head, horribly aware of the lump in his throat and the way his bottom lip started to quiver dangerously. 

“I-I’ve already thought of what I’ll say. All he wants is an heir. That’s it! I can still give him one, even if I am... I’m just afraid that as soon as he asks me, all my thoughts will come spilling out - everything I’ve been trying to hide, and I - I can’t bear to think of it. He’ll hate me. Mother won’t know what to do. I already disappoint him enough as it is and this will just… it’ll ruin everything.” 

Astoria was deadly quiet. Draco dug his palms into his eyes, wishing he could abolish every intrusive thought he’d had this term. When Astoria still hadn’t said anything, he made himself look up.

“You - you know what I mean?” He began, fearful that she might suddenly tell. That she might suddenly hate him for it too. “Don’t you?” 

Her dark eyes were wide as she breathed, “Oh… well… yes. I'm not gonna lie, Draco. I sort of knew."

She smiled but all he could do was turn away as he exhaled another shaky breath. "Brilliant." He said bitterly, "Thanks."  

"Sorry. That was a shit thing to say." She replied sheepishly. Draco agreed. It was a bit shit. And it didn't help him feel any better. "But... I do have an idea, actually. It might work.”

He perked up. “You do?” 

And before he knew could stop her, she lunged forward and pressed her mouth hard against his. It took everything he had not to recoil as she parted her lips and let her tongue dart into his mouth, the weird slippery sensation of it turning Draco’s whole body numb with shock. 

She broke away and he coughed violently, hardly daring to swallow knowing her spit had mixed with his. 

“Astoria!” He spluttered, scandalised, “What the fuck?”

She wiped the back of her mouth with her hand, grimacing. “See? Now you can think of that if he asks you. I’m sure you won’t forget it easily.” She laughed, “I know I won’t.” 

It took a second for it to dawn on him what she’d done, and when it did, he couldn’t prevent the laugh that followed. 

“I won’t pretend I enjoyed that, but you’re a genius.” He offered his oldest friend a tentative smile, “Thanks… I think.”

“Just wait until our engagement. We’ll both be gagging for real then.” She stood up briskly, still smacking her lips together with an expression of mild distaste as she grabbed the handle of her trunk and wheeled it to the common room entrance. “Merry Christmas, Ferret!”

“...Merry Christmas, Astoria.” 

Astoria really had saved Draco that day. His father had indeed asked him about “the pleasures he’d indulged in with women” during fourth year and the crush of Astoria’s mouth, her wet tongue sliding over his, had popped into his head instantly. He’d ended up describing the ‘kiss’ in excruciating detail under the influence of Veritaserum. His father had thought Draco was smiling over the memory of it, but he was smiling because he’d tricked him. He’d cheated the one method of interrogation Lucius believed to be uncheatable. Needless to say, it had been enough to sate his father’s curiosity and consequent worry for the possibility of an heir. There was the unfortunate side-effect, however, that it had firmly solidified the engagement he’d had planned for Draco and Astoria since birth. There was no backing out now. For either of them. 

Or so Draco had thought until he’d become a Death Eater, double-crossed his father, his fellow Death Eater pals and the Dark Lord and started spending every night with his sworn enemy. It was funny how things had turned out, and the more he thought about it the more he realized he could never marry Astoria. Not if his father was brandishing a vat of Veritaserum in his face and threatening to force him to create an heir via magical invitro-fertilisation. 

It was quite freeing, how little Draco cared about such a silly thing now. Being a Dragon for so long had given him quite a new perspective on things. Flying free above the trees, drinking in the rays of the moonlight and swooping into every mountain crevice and valley he desired; it had made him to reevaluate the possibility of any such future where he’d be forced to pretend to be happily married to Astoria and (he physically shivered at the thought) have children with her. Draco doubted he’d ever have children at all. He doubted, even more so, that he’d ever be loved enough by anyone that he’d make it that far.

Not that it mattered. 

The war would probably finish him off anyway, if Potter’s incessant presence didn’t first. It was only a matter of time before one of them snapped. 

March was proving to be a slow month, as months went. Now that Draco was used to his situation and the fear of being immediately caught and punished by the Dark Lord had worn off somewhat, he was finding more and more that he didn’t so much hate Potter as he did resent him for his willful ignorance. 

Part of Draco had been convinced that Potter’s Dumbledore-worship had been just an act. But it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. And that disturbed him more. 

After his bemused revelation that Dumbledore wasn’t in fact a saint who blessed all who saw him with rainbows and good-will, and had genuinely Obliviated Charlie Weasley and his team, Potter had become even more tight-lipped on the subject of the headmaster around Draco. More nights than not, Draco tried his luck, pushing Potter into near-shouting matches by throwing odd jabs and snide remarks about Dumbledore at him, but it was hard to get him to bite. He hadn’t gone so far as telling Potter about the interrogation yet. He wasn’t sure what was stopping him, only he knew he couldn’t bear the idea of Potter feeling sorry for him. That was worse than the idea of him actually agreeing with him for once. 

The only nights which proved an exception to their endless bickering were the nights Draco transformed. 

He still had no idea how Potter was finding him. It was driving him a bit mad, actually, and he’d tried to search Potter’s bag on multiple occasions but to no avail. Whatever contraption or spell he was using to track Draco down, he kept it on his person. It was like an unspoken ritual now, that Potter would accompany him to his transformations in the forest. They’d flown up to the cave twice, and with the dawn of Spring, it became far more pleasant up there than it had been in the winter. 

This was when Potter was his most unguarded. And Draco couldn’t pretend he didn’t enjoy those moments when he would sit, towering above him, as he paced around the cave or forest floor talking idly about his friends and their small troubles and his own little tizzies. And Potter really could get himself in a tizzy, Draco had noticed, even just by talking to himself, his hair getting more and more frazzled by the second, nails bitten down to nothing. It was amusing. And different. And Draco couldn’t talk back in his Dragon form. He could only listen. And that was oddly freeing too. 

 

************

“Why does Slughorn have to be a sadist? These tests are seriously pointless.”

“I wouldn’t say he’s a sadist, Potter, as much as he’s an opportunist.”

“Same thing.”

“It certainly is not .” 

“For Godric’s sake, you know what I mean. Do you mind if I turn the song off? I can’t concentrate with this woman warbling in my ear.”

Malfoy stood up from where they were sat in their usual spot, the upside-down sofa littered with notes and scrawlings in their varied handwritings. He stretched and yawned as he did so, taking the time to throw off his robes and roll up his sleeves, undoing the top two buttons of his shirt like he was at home. Harry had found himself watching Malfoy do this many a time over the last couple of weeks, and he couldn’t explain why exactly he enjoyed the moment his reluctant companion decided to take off the bulk of his uniform and opt for the more casual open-shirt look, but he’d come to realize that he did. Particularly when Malfoy inevitably reached up to absently touch the pendant at his throat. The process revealed an ease about him which Harry was steadily growing accustomed to. He preferred the rolled-up sleeves version of Malfoy to the uniformed closed-off version of him. It was like he was seeing a side of him no one else was allowed to. Like this area of the Room of Requirement was their little world for a few hours a night, and even the looming shadow of the Vanishing Cabinet couldn’t tarr it. 

No, they were quite capable of ruining it themselves as it turned out. 

Harry mused to himself, watching Malfoy’s retreating back as he went to switch off the record, wondering what would set them off tonight. One of them was bound to make a slip-up and infuriate the other into either a stony silence (usually Malfoy opted for the silence) or an adrenaline fuelled storm-out until they reunited the next night (Harry much preferred storming out than he did to sitting in cold, terse quiet, feeling Malfoy’s furious grey eyes bore into him like knives. He’d tried that a few times and it didn’t bode well for either of their tempers). 

He tried not to think about it. He was distracted seconds later by Malfoy carding his hands through his hair which was getting rather long now. He’d gone beyond tucking it behind his ears to having the ends almost scraping his shoulders. 

“Potter?”

Harry blinked, “What?” 

Malfoy flicked the pin off the spinning record and headed back, shaking his head at Harry with an easy smile. The kind of easy smile that reminded Harry of the night they’d hidden under the cloak together. The kind of easy smile that sent his insides squirming inexplicably.  

Honestly , anyone would think you’d stuffed your ears with floo powder.” Malfoy snorted, “I said, what’s got you in for it with Slughorn at the moment? You were virtually licking his shoes clean last term.” 

“Um…” Harry shuffled his notes, chewing his lip. He hadn’t told Malfoy about his mission for Slughorn’s memory because he hadn’t needed to. There was also the fact that Malfoy had, up until recently, been working for Voldemort. “S’just hard work, is all.” He said weakly. 

Malfoy sat back across from him, his gaze inquisitive. “What happened to all that talent, Potter?” 

He was teasing him. Definitely.  

Harry laughed uneasily. “It left me, I suppose. I dunno.” I got rid of the book because it nearly killed you , he didn’t say. 

The silence between them became awkward. 

“Right.” Malfoy said stiffly, moments later. “I see.” 

Nothing got past him, did it? He was a sharp sod. He averted his eyes from Harry and fixed his glare on his notes instead, the dislike coming off him like a cold breeze. So apparently this was what was what had ruined their night this time. And it wasn’t like their usual disagreements. Malfoy had just clocked onto Harry’s bad lying, assumed the worst, no doubt, and now they were sat working in the exact kind of silence Harry hated. He silently fumed over his notes, barely aware of what he was writing. It wasn’t his fault. It was none of Malfoy’s business anyway. So why did he have to be such a prick about it? 

Harry was clutching his quill so hard it became brittle under his grip. 

He could tell him, he supposed. It wouldn’t do any harm, would it? Unless Malfoy was actually faking this whole ‘ally’ thing and he was still working for Voldemort after all. It wasn’t an impossibility. But somehow, Harry couldn’t believe the thought even as it occurred to him. But it was too late to say it now . Malfoy was well into his brooding, hunched over his notes, lips so tightly pressed together Harry could barely see them. He was well and truly pissed off, and if he said anything now he would sound like an idiot.

“Slughorn doesn’t trust me anymore.”

Yep. He sounded like an idiot. He should have kept his mouth shut.

Malfoy stopped writing, slowly looking up at him. “What?” 

Harry scrambled, “Well, you were asking why I’m frustrated about Potions all the time now, and”-

“Yes I know what I asked, Potter.” Malfoy sighed, the tightness in his features relaxing a notch, “Why doesn’t he trust you? You were his most prized possession.” 

Harry exhaled, “My own fault, really. There’s something I have to get from him. A memory. Dumbledore needs me to get it, and… I went about it the wrong way.” He shook his head. “I have no idea how I’ll get hold of it now. Dumbledore’s getting impatient with me.” 

Malfoy frowned. “Why can’t he get it himself?” 

“Slughorn doesn’t trust Dumbledore either.”

Malfoy broke into a grin, barking a laugh and throwing down his pen. 

“Merlin’s beard. What a colossal fuck up! Can’t say I blame Old Sluggy, to be honest.” 

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yeah, alright. It is a bit of a fuck up. But there’s not really much I can do about it now.” 

“You could trick him. Force the memory out." Malfoy quirked a sly brow and Harry rolled his eyes. "What is the memory, anyway?” 

Harry knew by all rights he should have been angry with Malfoy for acting like a twat, but he was more relieved they were talking normally again. And he didn’t get the feeling Malfoy was doing it to irk Harry anymore, it was just sort of… how he was. And it wasn’t that awful. Not for the moment. 

He told Malfoy about Tom Riddle in the orphanage, and Slughorn’s tampered memory and how he’d made a mess of it all by trying to recreate his conversation with the teenage Voldemort all those years ago. 

Malfoy listened, wide-eyed and attentive, until Harry was done.

“Fuck.” He announced with a sigh.

“Yeah.”

“I can’t imagine the Dark Lord as a teen…” 

“He was just as creepy.” Said Harry, “And do you have to call him that?”

Malfoy crossed his arms. “What? A teen?” 

Harry felt his brow dimple. “No. The... 'Dark Lord'... Only his followers call him that.”

Malfoy’s expression turned sour. “In case it escaped your notice, which it very well may have given your horrendous powers of observation, I was a follower.” He rolled down his sleeves as he spoke, covering the mark. Harry couldn’t tell whether the action was done consciously or not. 

“I still would have been if you hadn’t…” 

“Don’t say ‘if I hadn’t betrayed you’” Harry began.

“I wasn’t going to.” Malfoy snapped, a thundercloud passing over their conversation once again. 

Harry leaned back in his spindly chair, a bitter taste in his mouth. “So, what? You’d rather go back?” 

“Obviously not you dimwit.” Malfoy spat. 

“But you don’t like being on our side either.” 

“I don’t like any of this!” He shouted, standing with force and sending his stool onto its side. He swiped a hand across their make-shift desk, and the top layer of notes flew into the air, fluttering down onto the floor in the wake of his outburst. 

Harry watched him pace in a circle, fisting his hair, making huffing noises in the general direction of the Cabinet. Usually this would be the point where Harry made to leave - loudly if possible - slamming the door on his way out. But he was compelled to stay because for once, somehow, he felt like this wasn’t about him. 

“No luck?” He ventured with a glance at the Cabinet. 

Malfoy rounded on him. “Piss off.” He seethed.

Harry could only sigh. He stood up, keeping a distance. 

“Why can’t you fix it?” He tried.

Malfoy gave a humourless laugh. “If I knew why there wouldn’t be an issue!” 

“So, it’s impossible then?” 

“No, it’s not impossible, it’s just” - Malfoy marched over to the Cabinet and kicked it with a force that must have hurt - “ fucking difficult!” 

Harry resisted the urge to comment on his temper. It would get them nowhere and he didn’t particularly fancy being on the receiving end of it anymore than he already was. His energy seemingly spent for the moment, Malfoy sank to the floor, sitting with his legs crossed as he usually was when Harry entered at eight o’clock. Only now he was breathing hard, his eyes open and his hair a flurry around his sharp features. 

Harry decided it was worth a gamble and, after a few seconds of silence, sat next to him. Amazingly, Malfoy didn’t hex him. 

“Explain it to me.” Harry said as gently as he could without sounding like a patronising git. 

Malfoy spared him a glance. An agonized one, but a glance all the same. 

“You wouldn’t get it.” He muttered. 

“Try me.” Harry pushed. 

Malfoy clicked his tongue, each thought passing across his face as legible as if he were saying them. Finally, he relaxed with another huff and leaned back on his elbows.

“Fine.” He began, resigned, “What do you know about magical cores?” 

“Not much.” Harry admitted, and Malfoy made a noise as if to say ‘ obviously’ and it reminded Harry so much of the Dragon that he had to reorder his thoughts.

“But I remember McGonagall talking about them a bit at the start of the year.” 

“Right.” Said Malfoy, “And do you remember her talking about core entanglement? And soul-fusion? And horrific cases where a witch or wizard who tried to fix an object’s magical core ended up getting it tangled up with their own and dying ?” 

Harry gulped, trying not to think about how ‘soul-fusion’ sounded like a niche genre of reggae. 

“I don’t think we got that far.” 

“No,” Said Malfoy, “We didn’t. It’s seventh year shit. But I had to fucking learn all about it in order to fix this fucking thing because it’s core is fucked to oblivion.” 

“That… was a lot of ‘fucks’ in one sentence.” 

“That’s because it’s very fucked up .” A smile ghosted across Malfoy’s mouth and Harry made himself look away. Malfoy scuffed his shoes on the grey flagstones. “It’s all fucked up.” He said, quieter. “I’m fixing a Cabinet to let the guys I used to work for think I’m still working for them. But what happens when they get through? I mean… is Dumbledore really content to let a bunch of Death Eaters run rampant in his school? You’d think the old fart would have come up with a better plan by now.”

Harry genuinely didn’t know what to say to that, because in a lot of ways he was right. Again. Dumbledore must have been capable with coming up with something better. Something that avoided Voldemort and his cronies gaining a direct pathway to the school. So why hadn’t he? It didn’t seem right. There was a huge chunk of all this missing, Harry was sure, and he didn’t even know where to begin looking for it. 

“Dunno.” He said for loss of anything more illuminating. “So, what’s wrong with the core?” 

 

************

 

Telling him wouldn’t be good enough, Draco realized, so he showed Potter instead, gleaning more satisfaction than was probably appropriate from the way his face lit up as the Cabinet came to pieces at Draco’s wordless command. 

“I didn’t know you could do wandless magic.” He uttered, transfixed on the flickering fucked up core. 

Draco couldn’t do wandless magic, really, it just so happened he’d performed this spell so many times that it came as naturally to him as breathing. But he was content to let Potter be impressed with him so he just smirked in response. 

“Now I think about it,” Potter began, cocking his head and screwing up his eyes to gaze at the core, “it does look a bit… off.” 

“Sickening, isn’t it?” 

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“You haven’t been staring at it for as long as I have.” 

“Good point.” 

Draco stepped further in, right up to the point where he could feel the throbbing heat of the thing. 

“If I touched it now, our souls would fuse and that would be it. I’d never find myself again.” 

“You’d be... a Cabinet man.” 

“For lack of a better phrase, yes. I suppose I would.” Draco couldn’t help but laugh. 

Potter followed, stepping an inch closer to it than Draco was, wincing at the heat. He couldn’t help himself, could he? Classic Potter, always trying to one-up him. Rather than compete, though, Draco just shook his head.

“You’re telling me this thing has a soul?” 

“Of sorts. All magical things do.” 

Potter blew out his cheeks, marveling at it. “I couldn’t even begin to understand how…” 

Draco moved, mostly because he couldn’t stand the sharp heat, but he made a point of grabbing his worn book from his bag, flicking it open to the page he’d practically learnt off by heart. He handed it to Potter. 

“Think of it like this. Muggles make their objects by hacking into the earth and harvesting what they find, yes? Wood, stone, fabric, whatever. But we don’t do that. Not when we truly make something. If you mine the material magically you can preserve its soul without actually destroying it.” 

Potter stared at the pages. “I never knew that was possible.” 

Draco shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong. We don’t do it for everything. We can’t have magical tables and chairs lying about in every corner. They’d confuse each other and cause mayhem. But objects like this are a true testament to the skill of a great magician who knew exactly what they were doing when they carved it and assembled it.” Draco regarded the Cabinet. “I still have the urge to smash it to bits, though.” 

Potter glanced up at him, lifting a brow. He looked awfully smug. “Remember when you said it was an antique? You got offended when I told you it was hideous.” 

Fuck . “Well… shut up, Potter.” 

Potter laughed, and then the smile faded off his face. He seemed to have forgotten about the book, holding it loosely at his side. 

“You…” Colour rushed to his rosy face and he pushed up his glasses. “You should really call me Harry.” 

Draco shifted from foot to foot, displaced. “Um. Right. Why?” 

Harry gave an awkward, one-shouldered shrug, mussing up his hair with his free hand. 

“Just feels weird hearing myself called ‘Potter’ all the time. Makes me feel like I’m in trouble.” 

“When are you not in trouble Po-... Harry?” 

Merlin . That felt strange. Not at all natural. The breathy syllables held differently in his mouth. It was easy to spit ‘Potter.’ Not so easy to spit ‘Harry.’ It felt gentler. More sincere. And certainly not something Draco was used to. His unease must have shown on his face, because the Gryffindor was smiling with a barely-suppressed grin. 

Draco rolled his eyes. “Oh, calm down you girl. And while we’re at it, you can... call me Draco... if you like. I suppose.” He paused. “If you must.” 

“Generous.” 

“Aren’t I?” Draco remarked, forcing himself to stop there because - and yes he was well aware - he was flirting. He was becoming startlingly aware of how easy it was to flirt with Pott- Harry when they weren’t fighting. All they’d ever done was fight. This was new territory. And it felt like Draco was opening himself up and laying himself bare in a way he’d never done before. Not even with his closest friends. Astoria was different - she forced it out of him and it was useless pretending with her because she was just as pathetic as he was in many ways. But Harry. Harry, Harry, Harry. Harry fucking Potter with his ghastly green eyes and hideous hair-cut and terribly bitten down nails was an altogether different kind of fucked up. Because he wasn’t Draco’s friend. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But he wasn’t his enemy either. Not anymore. They were stuck in a limbo and every day he spent with him the more he felt like he was both pushing and being pushed into something far beyond their control. Whatever it was they were doing, they were doing it to each other, and Draco was trying desperately to resist. He had to resist. Because Harry was the Chosen One, and Draco was a Death Eater. No, worse still he was a failed Death Eater. There was no place for him in his Golden Trio. Not that he wanted there to be. He didn’t want to be another Granger or Weasley to Harry. He wanted… 

Well, that was just it. What did he want?

************

Dear Harry,

Thanks so much for your letter. As disappointed as I am that my team and I couldn’t locate the Dragon, I am of course pleased everyone is safe. If Dumbledore is content it shan’t be bothering you again then that’s good enough for me! I do wish we could have found out more - I’m convinced it was a rare or maybe even entirely undiscovered breed, but alas, it wasn’t to be. It was so kind of you to write and ask about it, but I was needed back in Romania and there’s no point in chasing a lost cause when there’s so much to be done here. 

I’m afraid I’ll have to keep it brief - parchment supplies are scarce around here. They usually all end up getting burnt!

Give my love to Ron and the others and let them know I’ll be back at the end of Spring.

All the best,

Charlie W

“What’s that?” Ron chirped from his bed.

Harry coughed and shuffled the pieces of parchment, pulling out the more recent letter from underneath Charlie’s

“Letter from Tonks.” He said. That part wasn't a lie. 

He hadn’t told Ron about Dumbledore Obliviating his brother yet. His insides churned with guilt at keeping such a secret, but Hermione had agreed it was for the best too. Ron wasn’t ready to hear it. He hated Draco enough as it was, and Harry’s recent lack of animosity towards their long-time rival wasn’t helping. If anything, Ron seemed to have it out for him even more . He’d been re-reading Charlie’s letter, still half-disbelieving that Draco had been right. Charlie didn’t remember anything at all. The proof was right there. And it bothered Harry a lot more than he'd have liked.

Ron didn't catch on to Harry’s suspicious shifting about in his drawer as he buried Charlie’s letter under his socks. 

“How is she?” He asked darkly.

“Better.” Harry settled for. And she was. Her handwriting was still a little wobbly, and she said there were still significantly large gaps in her memory - particularly leading up to Christmas time - but she was herself again. 

Ron clenched his fists, going slightly pale as he sat on the bed next to Harry.

“They didn’t need to do that to her.” 

“Well, you know Death Eaters.” Harry sighed, “Nothing’s past them.” 

“Yeah, mate. I do know.” He said, giving Harry a significant look. There it was. He should have stayed quiet. 

“Ron”-

“I know what you’re going to say, Harry.” Ron interrupted, “And I still can’t really believe you’re defending him after how mad you were on catching him last term, but whatever you might think - whatever he’s doing - he’s still the scum of the earth. He’s only working with you because he’ll die otherwise. He’s a self-preserving jumped up bastard, mate, and don’t you forget it. He’s a Malfoy .” 

Harry wanted to agree with his best friend. He wanted to just leave it, because he didn’t want to fall out with him over Draco of all people, but… 

“Saying that… it makes you sound like them. You can’t rag on Malfoy for being prejudiced and then do it yourself, mate.” 

Ron’s expression became murderous. Whoops. Bad tactics, Harry.

“Can you hear yourself?" Ron gaped, incredulous, " I’m prejudiced? You only have to look at what the Malfoys have done! Are doing!” 

“I know,” Said Harry in a hushed voice. They were alone in the dorm but anyone could walk in. “I-I know. But I also know he was forced into it. You should have seen the way his mum was around him, it was… really different to what you’d imagine, alright?” 

“Her sister is Bellatrix Lestrange.” Ron said slowly, as though he was genuinely concerned for Harry’s sanity. 

“And your brother is Percy Weasley.” He said at an attempt at humour. 

Ron rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Percy might be a turd but he’s not a murderer. He didn’t kill…” 

He trailed off, bitterness twisting his features into a grimace. 

“He didn’t kill Sirius.” Harry finished for him. “Yes. Thanks for the reminder.” 

Ron huffed. “I’m just worried about you, Harry. I don’t want anything like that to happen again. Especially because of fucking Malfoy.” 

Harry was shaking his head. “It won’t. I wouldn’t let it.” 

Ron was looking at him strangely. “Harry, you can’t control everyth”-

He was cut off by the door banging open as Neville toppled inside, swaying from side to side like one of those wiggly car sale inflatables. 

Ron and Harry exchanged a startled glance before leaping to their feet and getting either side of Neville, helping him to his bed. 

“A’ight lads!” He proclaimed, a lopsided grin plastered across his features. Harry recoiled. He reeked of Firewhiskey.

“You’re drunk .” Said Ron, half-laughing. 

“Nah. Just a bit - hic - tipsy. I’m not drunk.” He started giggling as they set him down on top of his blankets. “Ha. Not. I’m… Not drunk!” At the sight of their confused faces he dissolved even more. “Inside joke… y’wouldn’t get it.” 

“Where’s the party and why weren’t we invited?” Asked Ron. 

Neville was clumsily trying to rid himself of his jumper. “Not a - mnphf - not a party. Just drinks with a... friend. Oh, my head’s stuck. Oh, balls.” 

Harry helped wrestled Neville out of his jumper and shoes. There was a smudge of soil on his nose and a leaf in his hair. Harry brushed it off, wondering how long he’d been pottering around outside like this for and how he hadn’t got caught. 

“It’s a school night, Nev.” Harry chastened him, “This probably wasn’t one of your better ideas.” 

Neville was tapping his nose, wriggling his eyebrows at them both. 

“I know something you don’t know…! Tried to tell but… you ran off. Harry. Harry, you listening?” 

Harry would have found this hilarious if he didn’t feel like Neville was deliberately being coy with him. 

“Yes, still here Neville. What don’t I know? What did you try to tell me?” 

Neville shrugged with a yawn. “Too late now. Was ages ago. And I promised him I wouldn’t say.” 

“Who?” Harry demanded, shaking him as his eyes fluttered shut and he started to snore. “Promised who , Neville? And wouldn't say what? Neville!” 

Ron put a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Leave off, mate, look at him. He’s trollied. He doesn’t even know what he’s saying.”

Harry frowned down at Neville’s sprawled, drunk form, feeling once more like he was being played with. 

Ron seemed to read his thoughts on his face. “Harry… not everything is a personal attack, alright? He was just being silly. He’s drunk. Fuck knows why, but it’s nothing for you to worry about… though on second thoughts we should probably grab him a bucket... C’mon. Let’s get to bed.” 

Harry turned away reluctantly, his head full of thoughts. “Yeah. Let's.” 


The next day, Harry replied to Tonks, sending the letter back with a bar of Honeydukes chocolate tied to it. He’d hardly been awake all day having been up all night thinking . He didn’t like it. Usually that was Hermione’s territory. But he couldn’t help it either. So much was happening, and so much of it was out of his control. It was like Ron had been about to say. He couldn’t control everything. And he despised feeling so helpless. 

He got to the Room of Requirement that night in a similar state, and it was Draco’s small smile of greeting that snapped him out of it. He’d already removed his heavier robes, his collar popped open two-buttons at the top and his sleeves rolled up.

“I hope you’ve come to tell me our exams have been cancelled and our Transfiguration homework has been postponed for a decade.” He quipped as Harry entered. 

Harry shook his head, not quite able to bring himself to smile back. “No. Sorry.” 

Draco’s face fell. “Oh.” He got to his feet and swished his wand, reassembling the Cabinet before Harry’s eyes. 

They spread out their notes and unfortunate homework before them on the upside down couch in silence. 

Harry’s head hurt. His chest hurt. And one of the questions that had been bothering him all night weighed heavy on his shoulders. It tingled at his lips, begging to be asked. 

“What’s got you looking like the bad end of a Hippogryphs arse?” Draco drawled once they’d sat down. 

Harry’s mouth quirked in spite of himself. “There’s a good end?” 

Draco thought about this. “Okay. That’s on me.” He twirled his quill in between his long fingers. “But seriously, if you’re going to be like this all night we may as well just give up now.”

Harry struggled, unease writhing in his stomach. “I...” He sighed, the question still burning the inside of his mouth. “I got a letter from Tonks last night.” 

There was a pause. He studied Draco’s reaction carefully. His face was utterly blank. In the past, Harry wouldn’t have known what that meant. And he hated that he knew Draco well enough now to determine by his forced blankness that he was already well aware of Tonks’ situation. 

Harry sat up straighter, heart thudding. “You know who did it, don’t you? You know who Obliviated her.”

Draco was gazing at his lap, hair falling into his face. His shoulders rose and fell with each visible breath. 

Harry leant forward. 

“Tell me. Draco, please.” 

Perhaps it was because Harry used his first name, but Draco looked up, grey eyes transparent with fear. He licked his lips. 

“Why do you want to know who it is? What difference will it make?” 

“Every difference!” Harry argued. “So I know what to call the coward who hurt my friend and wiped her memory.” He spat. 

Draco’s eyes widened. “She… she can’t remember anything ?” 

“She can. She’s okay. Mostly . But that’s not the point.” 

Harry wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Draco look so scared. Not since he’d stood in front of Dumbledore, trembling with exhaustion and shouted at them all, convinced he would die. Convinced his family would die. 

“Harry…” He whispered, pleading.

“Tell me!” Harry pressed. “Just fucking tell me.” 

“It was me.” 

No… 

Harry saw a red-shift. 

“If you’re protecting someone”-

Draco stood sharply, distancing himself from Harry. “No. It was me, Potter. Me. I’m the coward who did it because I didn’t  - I didn’t know what else to do.” His voice shook, but he sounded accusing almost. Like Harry would be wrong to hate him for it. “I didn’t know what else to do!” 

“You could have done nothing!” Harry yelled, legs propelling him forward. He knocked his chair aside, making straight for Draco. “You- I can’t believe it was you . I thought - I thought you were going to say your mother or something. Fuck… fuck! Ron was right. I shouldn’t have let myself think you were anything less than capable of the exact same shit. You’re the fucking same.” 

Draco narrowed his eyes. “Oh, I see. The Weasel is convinced he’s got me all sussed out and he’s gone snivelling to you because you’re not giving him all the attention. Figures.”

“Shut the fuck up!” Harry yelled, marching forward. Draco backed away until his back slammed into the Cabinet. Its rattles echoed in its empty chamber, quelling the room. “You don’t have the right to say anything about them, do you understand? They burnt his house down and they -  you … you Obliviated Tonks because you were too fucking scared to face up to what you were!” 

“That was before! That was before any of this! ” Draco cried back, gesturing to the room with his arms wide. 

This could get ugly very fast if he didn't calm down. Harry forced himself to take a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment and waiting for his fists to stop trembling before he could open them and look at Draco again without wanting to utterly destroy him. 

“And what is this exactly, Malfoy? Hm? What is this to you?” 

For a moment, the other boy’s face cracked in near-anguish, but it was clouded over seconds later by a cool, smooth veneer of scorn. 

“Nothing, Potter. It’s nothing.” 

They stared at one another, faces inches apart. And Harry would have believed him - oh, he would’ve - if it hadn’t been for the soft splay of silver scales inching across Draco’s collar bone and threatening to crawl up the column of his white throat. 

“Liar.” He murmured, before pivoting on his heel and making straight for the door. But he wasn’t done. There was one question left. One he’d almost forgotten to ask. 

He faced Draco when he reached the door. 

“Yesterday, when we were arguing and I interrupted you because I thought you were going to say you still would have been a follower of Voldemort if I hadn’t ‘betrayed you’? What were you actually going to say?”

Draco leaned heavily against the Cabinet, head bowed, his fingers at the glistening scales now adorning his throat beneath the pendant. 

“I was going to say…” He began, his voice ragged, “If you hadn’t… if you hadn’t freed me.” 

If he hadn't freed him.  

Right.

Harry left the Room of Requirement and, as always, slammed the door. 



Chapter Text

Malfoy was, unequivocally, throwing a tantrum. 

Harry was sure. 

He didn’t show his face at all over the next few days, and for all of his rage, Harry was starting to get worried.

The night after their argument Harry neglected to visit the Room of Requirement. Not merely for his own benefit. He was quite certain he’d end up hexing Malfoy something spectacular if he saw him again so soon. Besides, he still wasn’t sure how to break the news to Ron and Hermione that Draco was the one who’d obliviated Tonks. So, using what little was left of his patience, he opted to stay out of everyone’s way and catch up on work in the library, trying not to think too hard about how he’d explain their falling out to Dumbledore at the end of the week. 

Then, the next day, Malfoy didn’t turn up to Potions. Or Transfiguration. Or any of their lessons in fact, so Harry had marched to the seventh floor in a temper, ready to serve Malfoy a fresh dolling of what he was owed, only to find himself waiting on the cold stone floor in the exact spot he usually would have found Draco sat cross-legged in front of the dusty Cabinet. The minutes ticked by and Harry left, slumped, almost an hour later. He decided to reserve his anger for tomorrow. But Malfoy didn’t show up the next night either. Or the next. And now it was Friday and Harry had one day to find him and demand an explanation before their weekly check in with the headmaster.

And this was how he knew a tantrum was afoot. 

Because he’d checked the map numerous times and Draco’s name tag was nowhere to be seen. Harry didn’t need the map to know exactly what he’d done.

“Dickhead. First class, ferret-faced, greedy, twat-headed, dickhead.” Harry muttered at the map as he paced the grounds, squinting across at the setting, amber orb making its descent beyond the mountains and casting a rippling glow on the lake’s mirror surface. He crunched the map into his pocket. “Stupid Dragon.” 

His stupid Dragon was out there, basking in the honey rays of the sunset by a valley or a stream. Or, more likely, sulking in the gloomy solitude of his cave picking at animal carcasses. 

Harry thought of the scales on Draco’s neck, winking in the dim musty cavern of a room where they’d spent hours and hours together, hunched over a mouldy sofa arguing over morals and family and Quidditch. His gut clenched with guilt. Which was ridiculous. Because Malfoy had done something unforgivable. And now his mental image of the Slytherin had become even more distorted. Who was he? Was he Malfoy or Draco or a Dragon? Was it possible to be all three at once? Or did he shift in and out of form, fluidly darting from one to the next for the sole purpose of fucking with Harry’s head?

He huffed, scuffing at the grass as he watched low, mottled grey clouds track against the salmon pink sky, so lost in his thoughts that he failed to notice the presence beside him. 

“Good evening, Harry.”

Harry almost swore in his shock, but restrained as he found himself face to face with Dumbledore. 

“Hello, sir.” He mumbled, casting his eyes to the ground and ignoring the speculative blue ones that bored into him from his peripherals. 

“I gather you’re not waiting for the Giant Squid.” The headmaster mused. 

“Why would I be waiting for the Squid, Professor?” 

“Ah,” Dumbledore sighed, gazing wistfully across at the gently rippling lake. “It’s mating season. She’s always rather active this time of year.” 

Harry cringed. “Ugh… lovely.” 

“Nature is the only profound constant we can rely upon in times of turbulence. I often come down here at the change of spring, Harry. It does clear one’s head.” 

Harry was ready to willfully disagree. His head had never been less clear and he highly doubted watching the Giant Squid wave her ten-foot tentacles in hopes of a shag would help. 

Dumbledore began to tread along the bank, and Harry joined him, sensing the conversation wasn’t over. 

The silence weighed on his ears, as though he was vying for a confession. And Harry, insides roiling with guilt, couldn’t stand it. 

“I can’t find Malfoy, sir.” He sighed at last, just as the sun had made its final plummet over the furthest peak on the horizon. 

Dumbledore stopped, facing him, peering over his spectacles.

“Yes. His disappearing act is getting a little wearisome.” 

Harry grimaced. “I think… it might be my fault.” 

Dumbledore raised a brow. “Your fault, Harry? Did you force him to fly off and abandon his responsibilities?” 

“Not exactly.” Harry shifted from foot to foot. “We had an argument. I mean, we always argue. But it was quite bad this time. He - he told me it was him who Obliviated Tonks.”

Dumbledore’s expression barely faltered. “I see.” 

“Did you know?”

“No.” 

Harry was loath to believe him. He’d grown so used to the idea that Dumbledore knew everything that he thought surely he must have known this. And if he hadn’t before, the information hardly seemed to bother him, and he was miraculously skilled at hiding it if it did. 

He directed his unreadable expression back across the lake, where the darkening sky cast grey shadows on the trenches of his wizened old features. With each day that passed, Harry was sure, the old wizard looked older and older. 

“There are forest fires to the West of Hogsmeade, Harry, did you know? They’ve been blazing for two days, and every time the Centaurs manage to put them out, they flare up again. It’s very difficult to convince them the causes might be natural, given the frost that remains on the ground and Scotland’s scarceness of such natural disasters.” 

Harry blinked, following Dumbledore’s eyeline. The wisps he’d thought were grey clouds turned out not to be clouds at all, but plumes of smoke. 

“Oh, no.” He said under his breath. 

“It is as I said, Harry. Nature is the only profound constant we can rely upon. It rarely changes, especially in parts such as these. I implore you to make peace with Draco Malfoy at whatever cost, or the Centaurs may deem it fit to begin another feud.” 


That night, with Ron and Hermione by his side, Harry ventured across the grounds in the direction of the fading smoke against the cobalt blue sky. It was easy to see, now, the flicker against the mountain side in the distance. From far away, it was just a small flame - like hundreds of candles had been lit in the barren forests belonging to the Centaurs, but up close Harry could envisage Draco setting the trees alight with torrents of white-hot flame. He shivered, wrapping his cloak around himself, and sped up the pace. 

“Tell me again what happened, Harry?” Hermione quirked from behind him. 

Harry huffed. 

“We had an argument.” 

He could practically hear Ron exchanging a glance with her. 

“It didn’t end well.” Harry elaborated. “I need to talk to him, that’s all.” 

“He’s going to cremate us.” He heard Ron mutter. “This is bloody mental.” 

It was the first time Harry had felt uncertain about facing Malfoy alone. It wasn’t that he needed witnesses as such, and he was well beyond fearing the Dragon it was just… easier this way. 

Especially if they didn’t know why this had happened. 

They came upon Hagrid’s herd of Thestrals soon after, their strange bony faces snuffling the ground in search for food. 

Ron retrieved the scraps of meat they’d smuggled from the kitchen earlier and between them they hustled up two Thestrals to fly past the wards and into Centaur territory. Hermione and Ron shared one, and Harry took his alone.

“This still feels weird.” Ron commented as they took off. “These things have the boniest arse I’ve ever sat on.” 

“Sat on many of those, have you?” Hermione laughed, and the sound jarred in Harry’s ears. 

He’d been a nightmare to deal with all week, he was well aware. Smiles and laughter felt like a thing of the past - the last time he’d done either had been in Draco’s presence. That thought alone sent a surge of guilt lancing through him.

No, he told himself, no guilt… Draco is the one who Obliviated Tonks… you were just angry

The forced reassurances fell flat, and Harry resolved to focus on the flicker way up ahead, drawing nearer and nearer as the Thestrals descended. 

“Oh my god,” Hermione breathed as they landed, the shadows on her horrified expression dancing in the bright light of the fire surrounding them. 

It was like landing into a wall of heat. Harry shielded his face on instinct as they dismounted the Thestrals, the roar of the fires almost deafening, broken up by cracks and creaks as trees fell to ash around them. 

They cast shield charms around themselves, but that didn’t make the scene any less terrible. 

“Mate, what the fuck did you do?” Ron said between gasps. The smoke was cloying. They couldn’t stay for long. 

Harry stared at him, at a loss. He separated from his friends, jogging into the thick of the heat and gazing around the apocalyptic scene around them desperately. 

“Dragon!” He yelled, his voice drowning in the chaos. But it wouldn’t matter. He knew Malfoy would hear him. 

Whether he would come out though… 

“His name, Harry!” Hermione shouted, casting an Aguamenti . A hiss sounded and a miniscule portion of the blaze blackened as Hermione quenched the flame. Ron did the same, dousing the area around them in water. 

Harry gripped his own wand, his thoughts a ragged mess. 

His name. 

Right.

“DRACO MALFOY, GET HERE RIGHT NOW!” 

Fire answered him, crawling up trees and snaking through bushes, destroying everything in its wake and inching closer and closer. 

He swiped his wand across it carelessly, creating wind instead of water which did nothing to prevent the spread of fire. 

“What do you want?!” He cried, “What do you want me to say ?!” When no Dragon appeared, he stomped in a circle, “Godric, you are so dramatic! Come back!” 

If Malfoy wanted him to go into the fire, so help him he would. He’d prove it to everyone and himself that Draco could throw all the tantrums he wanted but he wouldn’t scare Harry. No fucking way. 

Harry lunged forward, ready to run into the burning forest, only to be stopped by Hermione’s fist tugging him back by his cloak. 

He spun around, “ What?!

Her soot-smudged face was alight with fear. Not fear of the flames or even the Dragon. But of him

“Harry… please, don’t do this again.” 

He shoved her off. “Do what , Hermione?” 

Her face crumpled and hardened. “Run off and leave us for some self-sacrificing bullshit reason! You’re going about this all wrong, yelling and stomping and demanding ! It doesn’t work!” 

He took a step back, breathless, too terrified of her fear of him to be angry with her. “What else am I supposed to do?” 

Hermione gave a single shake of her head, her honey-glazed eyes glistening with sadness.

“Apologise, Harry. You have to apologise to him.” 

Harry stared at her first, realizing she was deadly serious, then at his surroundings, taking in the scene in a heartstopping moment. Ron battled the oncoming flame alone, his expression already battle-worn from years of fighting by Harry’s side. Then the fire itself, an amalgamation of Draco’s energy; his rage, his hurt and his fear. The atmosphere was permeated with it - Harry had mistaken it for his own, and even for Hermione’s. But the fear wasn’t his. It was Draco’s. It was all Draco’s. 

Harry threw off his cloak, unable to bear the heat of it and faced the destruction, the hot breeze blowing over him and clearing his head. 

“I’m sorry,” He whispered, closing his eyes. “I’m sorry, Draco.” 

And then, because there was absolutely no way Draco could have heard him,

“I’M SORRY!” 

It tore out of him, into the fire and into the sky, and like a spell, it brought his Dragon back to him. 

Draco emerged from the wave of fire, glowing crimson amongst it, his silver scales reflecting every flicker of flame he’d surrounded himself with in a blinding shimmer. 

He was small, though, hardly larger than his human size, his wings folded behind his back and his clear eyes focused completely on Harry. 

Harry fell to his knees at the Dragon’s feet, wrought with guilt and the tang of Draco’s own fear. 

“I’m sorry,” He said again, his voice hoarse. “I know you’ve been trying to trust me. To trust that what you’re doing is right. And it is . It is right... I know you were scared when you hurt Tonks and I know you’re still scared now. I can’t… I mean I still don’t understand , it isn’t right what you did, but... - ugh, I don’t know… I didn’t want to believe you’d changed because I was scared, too, alright? I was scared because - because sometimes you’re right and it fucks me up, Draco! Like everything I was told when I was eleven was just a version of a truth that someone else had made for me, and it was easier to believe they were right. I know you’re scared they’re going to use you as a weapon and - I get it. Because that’s what I’m afraid of as well. I don’t want to be another tool to them - I can’t stand the thought that it’s all we are. Weapons in a fight. We have to be more, but I… I don’t know what to do. So I blamed you, because it was easier. It’s like everyone wanted me to blame you. But I can’t, anymore. Because... you deserve more. You deserve our help. And I want to… to help you. I’m sorry, Draco. You don’t have to forgive me, just… don’t hurt yourself. Not over this. Not over me.” 

Harry hung his head, half-believing he was, as Ron had predicted, about to be incinerated. Either that or he’d fucked it completely and Draco would fly off and resume his tirade over the forest. 

Instead, there was silence. It was as if the flames that had seconds ago roared and raged dwindled down to the size of buds, each one going out like the stars did as daylight dawned, only instead of daylight the forest was plunged into sizzling darkness. The real stars became clearer as the smoke dissipated into the mountains.

“You really think I would hurt myself over you?” 

Harry looked up, convinced he was imagining Draco’s voice, only to find the other boy kneeling opposite him. He was coated in ash and leaves, his skin paler than snow but his eyes still blazing as bright as though the fire was still there. 

“Your arrogance is boundless, did you know that, Potter?” 

And he was smiling . Barely. But enough for Harry to know he’d forgiven him. 

He gazed at him, his tongue clawing his throat for words, but none came. 

Thankfully, he didn’t need to say anything, because exhaustion had its hold on Draco and drew his eyes shut. He fell forward until his forehead was resting on Harry’s shoulder. 

“Sorry.” He heard Draco’s mumble into his clothes. “M’still awake.” 

Harry placed his hands on Draco’s shoulders, holding him steady. His skin was red-hot. It burned Harry’s palms. But he didn’t let go. “It’s okay.”

Footsteps crunched in the ash behind them. Hermione was holding Harry’s cloak. 

Her expression was unreadable as she draped it over Draco’s shoulders. 

“He doesn’t feel very cold.” Said Harry. “I don’t think he needs it.” 

“No, but I am very naked.” Came Draco’s quiet reply, the smirk holding itself in his tone. 

“Oh.” Harry felt himself flush as he tried to look everywhere except Draco, “Right.” 

 

************

 

Draco thought he did a marvellous job of retaining his dignity, all things considered. It wasn’t the peak of fashion, but he managed to tie Harry’s cloak around his waist before being helped to his feet by the Gryffindor in question. Weasley’s eyes were on him like a hawk the whole time, and Draco made a point of smirking at Harry’s best friend - just because it was satisfying to see the other boy’s face redden with blustering infuriation. Granger, on the other hand, was watching him with the kind of cautious insight that put him on edge. Like she knew exactly what every single one of them was thinking, but was deliberately holding back from saying so. 

But Draco found it difficult to look Harry in the eye after everything he’d said. He was covered in soot and his shirt collar was open, his hair a frenzied black halo around his serious, strong-angled face, and he had one arm slung around Draco’s waist, guiding him forward without a hint of reluctance. 

Taunting Weasley was far easier to manage. Or rather would have been, were every muscle in his body not sagging with fatigue. 

“Oh - bloody - the fire scared them off!” Granger shrieked, pulling at her nest of frizzy hair. 

“Scared who off?” Draco whispered loud enough for Harry to hear.

Harry gave him a sideways glance. “We, ah, came on Thestrals.” 

“You didn’t think to use a broom?” 

“Hermione can’t stand to be on one.” 

Draco rolled his eyes. “Why aren’t I surprised?” 

While Granger scuttled off into the parts of the forest Draco hadn’t got around to burning yet, Weasley was giving him a glower that spelled murder. 

“When are you going to spit out whatever it is you’re clearly dying to say?” Draco sighed, not quite as up for taunting Weasley as he’d thought. 

The redhead visibly bristled. Harry’s arm around Draco’s waist tightened.

“Please don’t fight.” He said, always the diplomat. “I didn’t bring you here to fight.” 

With a jolt, Draco realized Harry was addressing Weasley, not him. His arm felt strong around his middle, and even though Draco was usually the taller one he found himself looking up at Harry thanks to his exhausted stoop. 

Weasley’s wand tightened in his grip, his knuckles turning white. 

“I just don’t want him ” - he jabbed his wand at Draco - “causing more trouble for us. We’re not supposed to be drawing attention to ourselves and now we’re out here, unprotected.” 

“It’s not even been an hour, Ron, we’ll be okay if we get back soon. And besides, we can’t rely on the wards forever. You know that.” Harry talked him down quietly. Draco had the feeling this wasn’t the first time they’d had this kind of conversation. 

Weasley made a scathing sound and turned his back on them, following Granger into the woods to look for the Thestrals. 

The crunch of dead trees could still be heard all around them as the smoke and ash lifted, revealing the full extent of Draco’s destruction. 

Harry lowered them both to the ground so Draco could conserve energy, and neither of them were looking at one another. 

“I hope…” Harry began, picking soot from the tips of his hair, “I hope you don’t think this was a rescue mission.” 

Draco had been about to accuse him of exactly that, but he hadn’t counted on Harry actually being aware of it. 

“I didn’t need rescuing.” Said Draco delicately. 

Harry’s mouth turned up at one corner and a burst of heat spread through Draco’s chest. With his torso bare, he felt like Harry’s eyes were burning into his chest like an x-ray, examining every thought and feeling hung across his ribcage on full display.

“No, that was very obvious.” Harry sighed again, pushing his smudged glasses up his nose. Draco regarded him; the sheepish hunch of his shoulders and the way he kept pulling his hands through his hair. There was no anger there. No fury or resentment. Whatever hatred had burned behind Harry’s eyes the other day, it was gone now. 

He changed like the weather. 

“Did you really mean everything you said?” Draco asked, wondering if it would all get spat back in his face, “Or were you just saying that to get me to change back so you could stay in Dumbledore’s good books?” 

Harry exhaled hard, meeting Draco’s eyes properly for the first time since his apology. 

“I was telling the truth.” 

He was. Draco knew what the face of a liar looked like. He’d seen it again and again in his own reflection. He was getting quite sick of it. Honesty was much easier, in the end. 

“Then I’m sorry too.” 

Harry gaped at him, his expression wonderfully open and surprised. He gathered himself and conjured a grin. 

“Draco Malfoy apologizing? Never thought I’d see the day.” 

Draco couldn’t find it in himself to disagree. 

Harry helped Draco up onto his Thestral when Granger and Weasley finally came back looking dishevelled and tired with two of the beasts in their wake, (Draco held on tightly to Harry’s cloak around his hips as they mounted. It was slipping dangerously and he was quite worried it would fly off in the sky and then he’d just be a naked boy riding a Thestral in the middle of the night with the Chosen One. As marvellous as it sounded, he didn’t greatly relish the prospect so he held onto the cloak like a lifeline) and then they were off. Back to Hogwarts. Like they had never argued and Draco hadn’t in fact been living off raw venison for the past three days. 

Between the cloak and Harry’s waist, there wasn’t much for Draco to hang onto, and he realized how much he preferred flying when he was in control of it. Broomsticks were great, but having wings was even better. 

Thankfully for him, Harry’s back was solid, the warmth of his skin tangible through his shirt. Draco tried not to hold on too tightly, but at some point he managed to get his chin in the crook of Harry’s shoulder and his neck, and he noticed him stiffen ever so slightly. 

But rather than shove him off as Draco feared, however, Harry laughed. 

“Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall.” 

A small flame ignited in the pit of Draco’s stomach, and for a moment he was worried he would transform again. Until he realized it had nothing to do with the Curse and more to do with the half-smile Harry was throwing over his shoulder at him.

“In case you’ve forgotten, I’m quite capable of flying myself.” Draco snapped back, heat creeping onto his face. 

“Then do it,” Harry challenged, “I dare you.” 

“You wish, Potter.” 

The Thestral jerked in the air, as if accepting his proposition and resolving to throw them off. Draco clung onto Harry for dear life, and Harry grasped his wrist in response. There was absolutely no doubt Harry would be able to feel Draco’s heart beating by how close his chest was pressed into his back. 

“It heard you.” Draco laughed breathlessly, pulling away only to feel Harry... lean back ... No. He had to be imagining it. It was such a miniscule movement. It could easily just be more Thestral turbulence. 

Harry didn’t let go of Draco’s wrist. Even when they were close to the ground. 

Granger conjured the basic components of a uniform for him when he got down so that on the off chance he got caught by a teacher wandering around at night, at least he’d be clothed appropriately. 

Draco changed in the forest while the others walked ahead to give him some privacy, but he could still hear them muttering urgently. They didn’t even wait until he was out of earshot. He didn’t catch specific words, just a general tone of dislike, the loudest being Weasley’s. Predictable.  

He waited to hear Harry’s voice, but it didn’t come. 

Draco was shivering. Even when he was layered up - shirt, jumper, cloak, everything - his limbs wouldn’t stop shaking. His teeth chattered, but he wasn’t cold. 

He was, quite literally, shaken. Harry’s words clamoured around his skull in no particular order making no particular sense, but as soon as he thought them the tiny fire-pit inside him flared as though he’d fed it fresh fuel. 
But it would go unspent. Because Weasley and Granger were here. Hanging over their shoulders. Watching. Judging. Waiting to dole out an appropriate punishment for Draco. However much Draco had loathed Harry in the past for his self-righteous Chosen One nonsense, he loathed Granger and Weasley all the more for it. They had a choice . Their simpering, martyred natures weren’t the result of reluctant lifelong fame as it had been for Harry, they were just… like that. 

Draco couldn’t wrap his head around it. He didn’t particularly want to. The thought of spending a moment in Granger or Weasley’s (but particularly Weasley) headspace made him grimace. 

With this thought in mind, Draco was ready to leave them to it and slip off to his dorms, unnoticed, but Harry called out to him.

“Draco?” 

Draco hadn’t even realized he’d been tailing them from a distance. He was doing a terrible job of trying not to look shady. He sped up, bolting through the trees to join Granger and Harry. Weasley was gone. Small mercies. 

The two Gryffindors exchanged a look full of meaning, and it sent his pulse flickering. 

Draco waited for the sentence. For the ‘I can’t help you anymore.’ For the ‘Maybe it’s best if you handle this alone. We just can’t get on.’ 

He tried to smother his clamouring heart, to suffuse the dread with the realization that this had been a long time coming. But that didn’t make it any easier. 

He swallowed thickly. 

Just get on with it … he thought, as they stood there shifting from foot to foot and giving each other strange telepathic glances. 

“I told Hermione about your problem with the Vanishing Cabinet.” Harry burst out, his expression suddenly becoming apprehensive. As if he expected Draco to be angry. As if Draco hadn’t already known that he was relaying every detail of their interactions to his minion do-gooders. 

“Okay?” He prompted with a shrug. “And?” 

They swapped another glance and Draco couldn’t bear it anymore. 

“For Merlin’s sake,” He sighed, “If you’re about to suggest Granger knows a way to fix the Cabinet that I haven’t already thought of - and I say this with absolutely no ill intent - please kindly move the fuck on. Not every answer can be found in the library.” At Granger’s pout, he continued, “I checked . Multiple times.” 

“Actually I wasn’t going to say that.” She interrupted as Harry opened his mouth. “I have read up a lot on Magical Cores, though, and I… think you might be approaching the problem in the wrong way.” 

Draco’s disgust must have shown on his face, because Harry was looking between them both with mounting panic. 

“We - we just wanted to suggest another way… she might be able to help. Sometimes an outside perspective..” He trailed off, his eyes pleading. 

Draco couldn’t believe this. Granger? Help him ? Well, in the end she wasn’t really helping him , was she? She was helping Dumbledore.

They all were.

He ground his teeth. “As sceptical as I am, you’re obviously ready to pop a vein you’re so desperate to try out your little theory. You can look at the Cabinet if you want. But not now. I have to sleep.” 

The glimmer that ignited in Granger’s eyes at the prospect of examining the Cabinet was actually quite scary. 

It was still hard to look at Harry. The shivering feeling hadn’t gone away, and as fatigued as he should have been, he felt like he could run miles on the strange buzz of electricity tingling through his spine. 

“Where’s Weasley?” He snapped, looking around them in an effort to avoid Harry’s gaze. 

Granger’s expression flattened. “He was too tired.” 

“And far from into the idea of assisting a Death Eater, I’ll imagine.” He quipped back, unable to help himself. 

Granger looked mildly horrified at his casual reference to his old allegiance. Harry just rolled his eyes. If Draco wasn’t mistaken, it seemed oddly fond. 

 

************

 

Hermione wasted no time. She followed Harry into the Room of Requirement, rolling up her sleeves, her face already flushed from her determined march up to the seventh floor. The lead up to this moment had had Harry on tenterhooks all day. For the life of him, he had no idea why he was so nervous

It had nothing to do with Hermione. Or Draco. He’d spent enough time with both of them to be used to them, by now. 

It was something about this space - this time of night - Hermione’s presence added a new layer to the situation. An intrusion into a space that before had only belonged to he and Draco. Harry had to consciously rid himself of the notion as he entered the room, heart slamming against his ribcage. 

Draco wasn’t in his usual spot in front of the Cabinet. The record wasn’t playing either, the vintage husk of the woman’s voice starkly missing from the ambience of the dank, junk-filled chamber. 

Draco perched on one of the stools by the upturned sofa, long legs crossed, his well-worn books lying open across his knees and his blond hair falling over his eyes as though he was entirely absorbed in his reading. 

Harry knew better. 

He’d seen Draco quote the very page he had opened by heart. This was all for show. 

He stood briskly as Hermione came closer, like he was greeting her for a business meeting. 

“Granger.” He said serenely, barely awarding Harry a momentary glance. 

“Malfoy.” She glared back, eyes narrowing ever so slightly. Harry couldn’t blame her. He was acting… weird. 

Weirder than usual.

He strode over to Cabinet, indicating to it with a lazy flick of his wand. 

“I assume you know what it does.” He began, circling it once before coming to a halt by its side, like a salesman ready to perform a pitch, his posture rigidly straight. “Would you like me to take it apart or would you like to do it yourself?” 

Hermione plonked herself down on the stool Draco had abandoned, picking up his book and flicking through the pages with feverish curiosity. Only Harry noticed Draco’s mouth twitch ever so slightly. Uh oh. 

“You do it,” She replied, pouring over the words, “Where did you get this?” 

“My parent’s library.” Said Draco, carefully watching her even as he disassembled the Cabinet non-verbally. “You won’t find a copy at Hogwarts. Even in the restricted section. It’s very old. And very… fragile.” 

Hermione was immune to his passive aggressive hints as she flicked the wafer thin pages back and forth from cover to cover. 

Harry was making every effort to get Draco to look at him, but the other boy had his stone-cold grey eyes fixed determinedly on Hermione, tapping his foot in fastidious rhythm as she ignored his silent, irritated protest. 

Harry cleared his throat. Both of them looked up at him, as though they’d quite forgotten he was there. 

“So?” He started, “What are we going to do?” 

Hermione closed the book, and the way Draco’s shoulders instantly relaxed would have been comedic had Harry not felt so irrationally irked at being treated like an unwitting third wheel. 

He made to show this to Draco through a look, but the Slytherin avoided his eyes. Again .

“I’d like to know what you think I’ve been doing wrong.” He addressed Hermione outright, posing a challenge. 

Hermione took it unflinchingly. “Why can’t you access your core, Malfoy?” 

Draco visibly flinched. “It’s not that I”- he faltered, “I mean it’s not that simple”-

Hermione crossed her legs, regarding him shrewdly from the crooked little stool. 

“Oh, but it is. It’s the easiest part of the process when it comes to Core work. Or at least, it should be. So, what’s the problem?” 

A muscle in Draco’s jaw twitched as he clamped his mouth closed, pinned to the spot in tight, straight-backed formation by Hermione’s verbal attack. He hadn’t relaxed for a single moment since they’d got here. Harry wondered whether it was Hermione making him nervous. But why ? He usually had no trouble confronting her with foul-mouthed taunts and jibes. But now he was so... wound up. Harry felt a strong, uncontrollable urge to take him apart. To untwist every fibrous muscle in his body. To disassemble him the same way he’d disassembled the cabinet, laying him bare and getting him to stop acting like they were uncomfortable strangers. 

Harry took an audible inhale, willing himself back to reality. 

Reality was getting a little too tense for his liking. 

“Hermione, can you just… get to your theory?” Harry said meekly. 

She turned on him, very much a look of ‘whose side are you on?’ on her face. He grimaced in response, offering a helpless shrug. He wasn’t sure who he was more worried about antagonizing - her or Draco. Between them, they exuded sparks that could turn into a full blown fire at any moment. Quite literally in Draco’s case. 

“Alright.” Hermione retorted tightly, springing out of her seat to breeze past Draco and inspect the Cabinet.

Its magical core shifted the light as it flickered a sickly greenish tinge from amidst its floating components. 

Harry tore his eyes away from it to glower at Draco who still wasn’t acknowledging him. He made a point of striding to stand by Hermione, so he was closer to the both of them. 

“Fascinating.” Hermione muttered. 

“And unfathomable.” Draco sighed, glaring at it with a hatred Harry remembered being directed at him once. Not so long ago, in fact. It was incredible how quickly he’d forgotten how much Draco had once despised him and perhaps, deep down, still did. 

Harry thrust his hands into his pockets, getting more and more irritated with himself by the minute. None of that was important. They were here to help. That was all. Godric only knew, he owed it to Draco after the trouble he’d caused this week. The guilt had simmered down to a stew since last night, not quite gnawing anymore but still unsettling him. 

Feeling Draco’s eyes on him, Harry looked up, but the other boy’s glance darted away and he began to pace, tapping his chin with one of his long, white fingers. 

Hermione had her eyes shut, her wand held loosely in her left hand. Her expression became one of great calm. 

“Oh,” She said, letting out a small laugh, “Yes. There it is.” 

Draco stopped pacing. 

“You found it?” He asked, wide-eyed. 

Hermione opened her eyes. “Yes,” She smiled, a hint of smugness there. “I found it.” 

“Found what?” Asked Harry, lost. 

“The core.” They both answered at once. 

Draco looked as though he might snap his wand in half in frustration. Or Hermione’s. 

“How the fuck did you do that, Granger?” He growled, eyeing her from over top of the pulsating core. 

She regarded him coolly. “I already know what my own core feels like, so I just had to dig a bit deeper and there was the Cabinet’s, all exposed. It’s quite disturbed at the moment. There’s a lot of your magic there, too.” She winced, “It felt a little… biting.” 

Draco’s chest was rising and falling with barely concealed fury. 

“Tell me how.” He demanded. 

“How, what?” 

“How you found your own sodding core!” 

Harry was relieved when Hermione opted to step back rather than invoke more of his wrath. He knew how much it pleased her to infuriate him, but this anger was different. It wasn’t so much directed at her as it was at himself. Harry recognized it - and he recognized how short Draco’s fuse became when the issue was his own. It was the worst of all his anger. The hardest to calm. Harry wished he knew how to…

He could learn. He would learn, he decided. If only to put his own mind at rest. Sometimes Draco’s bouts of self-hatred truly bothered him. He’d never seen anything like it. Not in anyone

Hermione chewed her lip in the pause, frowning at the core. 

“It’s different for you, Malfoy. It doesn’t matter how much you know about cores and the theory, it’s… I don’t think the same rules apply to you.” 

Draco narrowed his eyes, but he was listening. “Why?” 

“Because of your” - she swallowed, casting an apprehensive look at Harry - “ailment.” 

Draco snorted. “I’m cursed , Granger. Not diseased. However much it might feel like it.” 

She huffed, stomping to sit back down in the stool. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have worded it like that.” 

Draco blinked, apparently unused to having Granger agree with him, but Harry knew she was beyond petty personal qualms right now. She was deep in analysis mode. She turned her probing gaze on the Slytherin. 

“What do you feel when you look for your core?” 

Harry watched as Draco struggled with every instinct to throw back a sarcastic reply, 

“The Curse. It’s all I ever find when I look. It’s everywhere.” He turned, pacing, and shot his response at a point in the distance, refusing eye contact with either of them. 

Hermione hummed. 

“I’ve been thinking about this ever since Harry told me about what you’re trying to do but… you don’t think that the Curse - if that’s what it is - maybe… is your core?” 

Draco whipped around to face her, panic alighting his gaunt features. 

“Don’t be fucking stupid.” 

“Don’t talk to her like that.” Harry warned, stepping closer. But when Draco finally turned his eyes on him, there was no fury there. Only fear. More fear. And it hurt - it physically hurt to see it burning there with so much vulnerability that Harry was amazed he hadn’t noticed it before now. He wished he hadn’t noticed it at all. Life was easier when he’d thought Draco was just a twat. 

“Just… listen to her, okay?” Harry tried again. He didn’t want Draco to think he was angry with him. Not again. 

Draco held his gaze a moment longer, and some of the fire that burned in the icy grey pools dwindled. Harry’s attention drifted to the movement of his throat as he swallowed hard. 

Hermione rolled her eyes. “For goodness sake.” She stood again, folding her arms. “It’s not entirely unreasonable that the Curse might be a part of your soul. You can admit that, at least?” 

Draco’s lips formed a hard, neat line. He gave a stiff nod. “I suppose. It - it might be possible.” 

“So when you access it, what happens?” 

“I turn into a bloody Dragon, Granger.” 

“Is there a way for you to access it and… you know… not do that?”

Draco barked an ironic laugh. “Funnily enough, I’ve tried. And no . There isn’t. The Curse is off limits, alright? It can’t have anything to do with the work I’m doing here. The Cabinet’s magic is too delicate.” 

“But”-

“I said no , Granger.”

There was a finality to his statement that placed a very definite full stop on the debate. However concrete Hermione’s theory might be, Draco wasn’t having it. He was flexing his fingers, pacing around the Cabinet in obvious disarray. 

Harry had never actively gone looking for his magical core. He’d never needed to. But he knew he could find it if he wanted. He could feel it when he concentrated, bubbling under the surface of his skin like quicksilver. The closest feeling to it was - 

“Wait.” 

An idea struck, and if it worked… if it worked . Well. It might change everything.  

Draco threw him an exasperated glance. “What now?” 

“There might be another way to access your core. Or your soul. Whatever it is.” 

Hermione and Draco shared an expression of cynicism. Everyone’s lack of faith in Harry’s ideas was getting a little hurtful, but this wasn’t about his feelings. 

It was about Draco’s.

“Draco, have you ever been able to conjure a Patronus?” 

He allowed himself a small smile as Draco’s expression transformed. 

“No. I haven’t.” 

Hermione tilted her head. “Oh.” She exhaled. 

“Yes, oh. ” Harry grinned. “A Corporeal Patronus is literally a physicalization of your soul. Get that, and you’ll be able to access the Cabinet’s magical core in no time.” 

He liked the sparks of hope that brightened Draco’s eyes as he spoke. He liked that he’d done that. He liked it even better when he got to say,

“I can teach you.” 

Draco raised a brow, amusement unveiling the shadow that had been ghosting his features all night. 

“You? Teach me?” He pushed his hair back off his face, considering Harry’s proposal. 

“I suppose I don’t have a better idea. Bring it, Potter.”