The door clicked shut behind her, but Hermione was afraid to step any farther into the house. Everything was still and silent and cold, the darkness heavy, as if it had filled the rooms to the brim and there was no room for her. Something had happened, something dreadful.
She forced herself to move forward. "Draco?" she called again from the base of the staircase. Still there was no answer. What would she find upstairs? There was nothing for it; she was going to have to go up. Setting her jaw and gripping the banister firmly, she forced herself to mount the staircase. Each step made the wood creak loudly beneath her feet.
As she reached the top, she saw dim light from under one doorway. She walked slowly toward it, watching it flicker slightly. Once directly outside the door, she thought she smelled the faint tang of iron.
"D-Draco?" she said. "Are you there?"
"I—your Patronus found me about an hour ago; I came as soon as I could. Can I come in?"
Then she heard something: a faint bump.
The door was slightly ajar. Hermione put her hand up against it and pushed.
The sight before her made her gasp.
There was no furniture in the room. Draco was there, lying on the floor, in nothing but a dirty shirt, a few other clothes lying discarded a few feet away. He was propped up on one elbow, looking at her, and she could see how grey and haggard his face was even by the light of the single candle, burned nearly to its base, that sat a few feet away from him. He looked half dead, his skin waxy and his hair damp with sweat.
Between his parted legs lay a small mass of fur and blood, a twisted cord connecting it to Draco and disappearing under the hem of the shirt at his upper thighs.
"Granger," he croaked. "Tell him—I—"
But before he could finish he slumped back, his head hitting the floorboards with a loud thud. Draco had fainted dead away.
"We have to get word to Harry that we found him," Ron whispered urgently, unable to tear his eyes from the tiny creature laid out on conjured towels before them.
"No," Hermione said. "Not yet. I need to think." She daubed at it as gently as she could with a cloth dampened in warm water. There was mucus all over its nose and its eyes were sealed shut. The fur was still caked with drying blood and the water in the basin was already dark red.
"Dean saw Harry just the other day in Morpeth, they stayed at the same safe house. Maybe he's still in the area—"
"And what will you tell him, Ronald? Draco can't go anywhere in this state, and we can't jeopardise Harry's mission. I don't know what to—what we should say. It's nothing that can't wait a few days."
"He deserves to know," Ron said darkly. "Malfoy must have fucked something inhuman, like a—a demon. They're the only ones who can father these beasts in people—"
"Honestly, Ron. This isn't a beast." She could just make out the smattering of white spots on the creature's back. As it began to warm, she could feel it tremble a bit under her hands.
"It's not natural."
"There's got to be some explanation," Hermione whispered. "Let's just help Draco recover. Harry will find out soon enough. I have to read up on how this is even possible."
The little fawn gave a tiny mewl as she wiped at its nose and eyes.
Ron was the only one who knew how to transfigure a bottle. The tips of his ears were bright red before he admitted being able to do it. Unfortunately, however, the fawn would not drink the milk they filled it with. He made little whining noises and turned his head away.
Parvati showed up at the house half an hour later. "I'll call Zacharias; I think he had an uncle or cousin who gave birth. But...not to an animal." She looked disapproving.
Zacharias came through the Floo. "This is positively grotesque," he said, lip curling in disgust as he peered at the little bundle in Hermione's arms. "What sort of perversions were they getting up to, anyway? Wait, don't answer that. It's quite obvious what they've been getting up to—"
"Don't be a git," Ron said, but it was half-hearted.
"It's none of our business," Neville said, but even he looked dubious.
"That's where you're wrong," Zacharias said wrathfully. "We're all depending on him. How do they have time to be—experimenting with animals or whatever they're doing? Doesn't Harry know he should be focused on the Push? Shouldn't he be doing a better job of keeping himself hidden? How does he have time to play out revolting, deviant fantasies in the bedroom—"
"You shut up about Harry!" Ron countered. "Malfoy obviously went behind Harry's back. I knew we shouldn't have trusted him; I don't know what Harry was thinking when he took up with that smarmy, disgusting, two-faced, cheating bastard—"
"We should ask Draco what happened," Luna said. "Maybe he will tell us."
"I doubt that," Hermione said. "He's unconscious, anyway, and even if he wakes up—well, you know Draco is not—not of a confiding nature."
"The most important thing," Neville said, "is that, whatever this poor thing's parents have done, whoever or whatever they are, he has done nothing wrong, and he needs to be fed."
Zacharias looked even more disgusted. "My cousin Endymion nursed his baby," he said, looking as if imparting this bit of empirical knowledge left a bad taste in his mouth.
"We're going to have to try to wake Draco up," Luna said.
"I want nothing to do with it," Zacharias said.
Everyone turned to Parvati. She turned to Zacharias. "But you're the one who knows what to do," she said crossly. "The Uprising began before we covered male pregnancy. I can diagnose over two thousand curses but I don't have the faintest idea what to do for a lactating man."
Ron cringed. "Please don't ever use the word 'lactating' again."
Zacharias was unmoved. "I'm not going near Malfoy. I don't think I could look him in the face."
"No one's asking you to look at his face," Hermione said practically.
There was a roar in the Floo, and Anthony, Terry and Hannah stepped out. "What's the emergency?" Anthony demanded. "Harry hasn't been captured, has he?"
"No. But something's come up and we need to decide what to do. Ron thinks we should contact Harry. Dean saw him a few days ago but that must mean he's not the Secret Keeper this week, and Bill is on a mission and we can't ask him to recreate the chart, so we're having a meeting to discuss what's to be done and to see if anyone knows how to help Draco."
The Floo roared again. Susan dusted herself off. "Sorry I'm late. We nearly got caught dismantling the wards at Belthorpe. Seamus will be along in a minute; he had to clean up. What's to do?"
"There's been a birth," Luna said cheerfully. "It's a fawn. We're trying to figure out how to feed it."
When Draco woke, he was in a bed, between cool white sheets, still exhausted and still very sore.
"What—" he managed, before the effort of speaking seemed too great. There had been no bed in the safe house when he had arrived, and the last thing he remembered clearly was the sharp, unrelenting pain, and his final, desperate effort at conjuring a Patronus strong enough to reach Hermione Granger. He'd had to go deep inside himself, pulling together memories he'd long suppressed to be able to cast the spell. Even when he'd done it, almost sobbing with the effort and the maelstrom of almost hysterical emotions the memory had conjured, everything blurred and amplified by the pain, his Patronus had been mangled, a faint, twisted mist that would barely convey his location, let alone what he needed—
He blinked and tried to focus.
Eighteen faces looked down at him.
"No," he rasped, and shut his eyes again.
"We came to see," Luna said.
Draco tensed, forcing his eyes open again. "See what? Don't I have—" oh, it was so hard to speak!— "any right to privacy?"
Suddenly Draco had a vivid flashback of his desperation and total fear of being alone in the moments after he realised what was actually happening. Nothing in the months prior had prepared him for the panic he had experienced. He felt himself flush with embarrassment. He hadn't wanted privacy; he'd wanted someone, anyone, to come, to be with him, to witness what he was certain, in the midst of the agonising pain, would be his death.
"We've all seen a lot of death in the last few years," Luna said, unmoved by Draco's caustic tone. "We wanted to witness a new life."
"You're the one who called for help," Ron muttered, and Draco saw that he was regarding Luna's sentimentality sourly.
"That doesn't mean I wanted everyone here to witness!" Draco said. A change of subject was in order, and he tried to relax, tried to breathe. "How long have I been out?"
"About two days," Parvati said. "I kept you unconscious to repair some, er, tissues that you tore rather severely during the, er, birth."
Draco wanted to die. His humiliation was complete. She'd seen... Oh, wonderful. The entire New Order was probably now privy to all the bizarre medical details behind the revolting transformation he'd undergone Down There to be able to give birth. I didn't do it on purpose, he wanted to shout. I didn't know--We didn't know—This wasn't something I wanted!
"But it's not Harry's, is it? Obviously," Ron said. "Did you do it with a—with a—I can't even say it."
Seamus looked uncomfortable. "What were you thinking, Malfoy?"
"Don't you know we're in the middle of a War?" Zacharias demanded.
"Don't blame him, can't you see he's ill?" Susan.
"How are you, Draco?" Blaise.
"Someone needs to tell Harry—" Astoria.
"What in God's name possessed—"
"There's no time—"
"If it were up to me—"
Draco felt panic grip him, his heart thumping in his chest and his breathing becoming laboured. There were so many voices, cacophonous and grating, and everything was starting to go fuzzy, something pounding in his head—
"Shh," Hermione said quietly, underneath all the shouting. She was there, next to him, kneeling by the bed. "Do you want to see?"
She was holding a white bundle.
Draco remembered, then—remembered looking down and seeing four tiny hooves and two large ears, the smell of his own blood, the way his body felt as if it had been ripped apart, torn messily in two, everything coming together to make him feel sick. He was afraid to look. Something had gone wrong; he knew he had not carried an animal in him for nine long months, and even after several strange incidents he couldn't have birthed something inhuman, could he?
She put the bundle down next to him on the bed and peeled the blanket back.
He had birthed something inhuman, and here it was. The fawn's eyes were closed, and he was so small and still. Draco felt a bit like something was choking him.
"He needs to eat, Draco. He won't drink the milk we bought, and has only swallowed a tiny bit of goat's milk we were able to get, but it doesn't seem to agree with him. He might die. Zacharias says—"
Draco suddenly realised the room had become silent. Everyone was staring at him.
"Zacharias says you can nurse him. Can you, Draco?"
He knew he could, but he hadn't thought—would it have teeth? Oh god. He had birthed a monster.
Hermione had turned to the others. "Why don't you all go outside? We can have this discussion later."
They turned away, all except Hannah, who smiled shyly. "Congratulations, Draco," she said, beaming.
Draco felt himself flush again with humiliation. He could not look at her, and heard the door shut behind her a few moments later.
"D'you—Do you know what to do?" Hermione asked.
"Will it hurt?" Draco said childishly, and immediately despised himself even more.
"I don't know." She picked the fawn up out of the blanket and held him cupped in her two hands. Can you unlace your shirt?"
Draco turned onto his side, reaching up to the loose knot at the hollow of his throat. He drew it out slowly, then pulled one side of the shirt away.
His nipples had been tender and slightly swollen for months, now, and had begun to hurt just in the last few days, though his chest remained flat. He was embarrassed to be seen by Granger; it was strange to feel modesty like this, and suddenly Draco felt more emasculated than he ever had, even when he had realised what was going to happen to him seven months ago.
But she did not look, merely placed the fawn carefully against Draco's body.
He was so tiny, Draco thought again. That little body. He reached over and touched one finger to its head, stroking softly. It should have been strange; it should have been horrifying. But suddenly it wasn't. He felt a surge of something, and before he could think better of it, before he could remember resolving to drown it during that horrible moment after he'd birthed it, he nudged the little head toward his nipple.
The fawn's nose brushed against it, a little damp, a little cold. Draco watched in amazement as the head then moved of its own accord and the mouth opened. He caught a glimpse of a tiny pink tongue before it moved again and then—its mouth was around his nipple, suckling with amazing strength, pulling and nudging at the sensitive flesh, making Draco feel very strange. It was drinking—what was it drinking? Draco didn't know, but it was coming from him. He could only watch, and feel, and curl his body protectively around this tiny creature that was depending solely on him for its life.
Draco looked up, careful not to move anything but his eyes.
"Does Harry know?"
Draco's eyes dropped back to—his son. His son! "I haven't seen Harry in more than six months," he said.
"You're so selfish," Granger cried suddenly, pushing herself up and away from the bed and pacing the room. "He's been out of his mind. He looked for you for ages, jeopardised over a dozen missions because his mind just wasn't on what he was doing. He almost got Charlie killed before he snapped out of it." She stopped and looked at Draco, infuriated. "You should have seen his face when he realised he couldn't find you. He looked like an old man, and he kept asking over and over again, 'What if they got him?'"
"I left precisely because I didn't want to jeopardise his missions," Draco said, trying to keep as still as he could. "What was I supposed to say? I knew what he would have done; I couldn't make him do that. We'd already spent months running, and every time I told him to leave me, that I could take care of myself, he would say, 'They're not going to get us, Draco.' But I saw the toll it was taking. As much as everyone would like to think I want to steal him away for myself, I know how important his work is. I want him to win; I don't want to run forever. I want him to save the world like he always does. I thought—I thought if I went through with this and let Harry go, it would be all right, and we might all have a chance. But it was too hard—I was all alone. I never meant to come back." He bit the inside of his cheek. "I never meant to have to ask for help again."
His agitation caused his chest to jerk and his nipple was torn from the fawn's mouth. The fawn gave a little mewling cry again, and Draco gathered it closer and showed it how to suckle again.
"You should be glad I left. You should all be glad. I didn't have to send him back to you," Draco said, and he couldn't keep the malice out of his voice. "We could have run away, turned our back on everything," he whispered. "Don't think I didn't want to."
"You said 'went through with this,'" Hermione said, looking at him strangely. "Went through with what?"
"What do you think?" Draco said scathingly.
"But—Draco—what is it? And why is it...like that? I've heard of interspecies...breeding in the Magical world, but there's got to be something human..." She drifted off, unable to complete her sentence.
Draco was silent for a few moments as he watched the baby feed. "I don't know. Something changed. I was almost discovered before I could reach a safe house a few months into it. It scared me badly and—I was injured. There was some damage, I almost thought I lost...him." He'd been terrified, knowing he was hunted and unable to work out how they had found out his location. "It was only after that incident that I started to feel these sharp pains occasionally, as if something was turning and shifting and stretching inside—it was terrible, but they only ever lasted a few seconds, and usually if something stressful was happening. I felt them again before the—before the birth, which is why I didn't recognise what was really happening until too late. But those pains—I think they were transformations. I know he's not just a—a fawn. He can't be. I would have known if that was what was—inside me. I don't know how I know, but I do. I just don't know why—"
Hermione was looking excited. "Perhaps he was born with Animagus capabilities! It isn't unheard of. And Harry's Patronus is a stag, you know."
Draco did know, and he felt himself flush again. He wanted her to leave. He didn't want her to think—
"It is Harry's, isn't it?"
Suddenly Draco was very angry. "Did you honestly think I could—Weasley may have to resort to sheep and cows and whatever other horrid beasts when you don't oblige him," he said nastily, "but I have no such urges."
Granger did not look offended. "Don't lash out at me just because you're mad at yourself." She smiled. "Harry will be so happy," she said quietly.
Draco didn't answer, and the room was silent. Harry wouldn't be happy, Draco knew: he would be furious. Everything would be more difficult if Harry knew. But Draco didn't know how to tell Granger that. He stroked over the white spots in the brown fur.
"You're lucky he didn't have Bill key all the wards against you."
"Yes, I know." He gave her a slanted look out of the corner of his eyes, knowing that he owed her—probably owed them all, for not thinking the worst of him when he left. "Thank you for coming when I called," he said, with difficulty. "I didn't know—I almost couldn't conjure a Patronus at all. I don't know what I would have done. He—he might have died."
"That's all right," she said. There was another pause, and finally the fawn had eaten his fill; he lowered his head to rest on his forelegs, a little bit of milk dribbling down the side of his mouth. He gave a yawn, small mouth opening wide for an instant.
"What will you call him?"
Draco thought for a moment. "Rupert," he said softly. "My strange little prince."
Rupert was warm and alive next to him. Draco's eyelids were heavy; he was so tired.
He was vaguely aware of Hermione lifting Rupert up.
"Don't—don't tell Harry," Draco murmured. "Please."
"You seemed to want me to before," Granger said, "if Harry is the 'him' you were talking about when I found you." She held him up and swaddled him in the blanket. "How do you burp a fawn?"
"I thought I was going to die," Draco replied, ignoring her question.
"Never leave the important things unsaid until you think you're going to die, because no one ever knows for sure," Granger said. "If there's one thing I've learned from these Wars, it's that."
"Please," Draco said, uncharacteristically supplicating. They must have given him pain potions; he was saying things he didn't mean to. He only knew it was imperative that Harry not come and not know.
"Just go to sleep. You need the rest."
Unable to disobey, Draco did.
He woke to a small cry. The room was dark but warm; he could see light from the hallway seeping under the door and the faint murmur of voices below. He looked down.
Rupert was human, now.
There were faint traces of brown fuzz on his head, but he was red and wrinkled and still very scrawny. Draco felt a catch in his throat.
He struggled to sit up, and Rupert gave another weak cry and kicked a little. Draco gathered him up in the blanket and held him, leaning back against the headboard of the Transfigured bed.
Rupert must have been hungry again; he hadn't been able to drink much the first time. Draco pushed his own shirt away from his chest again.
"An Animagus already, are you?" he murmured. "Of course. Natural talent is inevitable with such illustrious parentage." Draco smiled at Rupert in the dark, suddenly filled with pride.
Rupert continued to suckle, pressing his hands softly against Draco's pectoral. Draco was so absorbed in watching that he didn't hear the heavy footfalls in the hall until the door handle began to turn.
Suddenly the room was flooded with light, and Draco blinked and shied away, the brightness overwhelming.
Someone was standing in the doorway, silhouetted. But Draco knew almost immediately who it must be.
Rupert broke away, opening his eyes, and Draco tried to shield him from—
"Draco," Harry said, his voice hard and unforgiving.
He stepped farther into the room and Draco's eyes began to adjust. There were black streaks across Harry's face and he smelled like smoke.
"Where the fuck have you been?" Harry thundered, and slammed the door shut behind him.
Rupert gave a short, stuttering cry and then Draco felt him shift impossibly in his arms. When he looked down again, he was holding a baby deer, the hooves sprawling awkwardly out of the blanket and over his arms, flinching away from Harry.
"Now look what you've done," Draco said scathingly. "Get out."
The little fawn was trembling and mewling, trying to burrow his head underneath Draco's arm.
"Lumos," Harry hissed, and the entire room was suddenly awash in bright white light.
It was too bright; Draco had to shield his eyes.
"What is that?" Harry demanded, striding toward the bed.
"You've scared him! I said get out—"
"Not until you tell me what the fuck is going on! Do you have any idea—"
"Shut UP! He's crying, can't you see—what, did Weasley run to you after all? I told them not to—You just come barging in, throwing your accusations around—"
"You're the most selfish, infuriating—I can't believe you didn't tell me—"
"Tell you what? What would you have done—"
"You let me believe, all this time—I can't believe you, you selfish git! I looked everywhere—"
"Harry, just shut up!"
Draco turned away from Harry and cradled Rupert, rocking and shushing him and holding him close. "It's all right," he said quietly. "Don't be scared. It's just Harry. It's just—your father."
He stroked the top of Rupert's head and down his back a few times until the trembling lessened a little. Only then did he turn to look at Harry.
Harry was watching them, looking anguished.
Draco clutched Rupert closer, avoiding Harry's eyes. He felt guilty, suddenly, and that was new.
Harry closed his eyes for a moment, visibly trying to calm himself. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. "Can I see, Draco?"
Draco had to look up, then. There was something—some kind of naked hunger in Harry's face, something desperate and pleading, and Draco felt himself relenting, pulled inexorably closer to Harry, snapping back into place after months of forcing himself to forge his own way.
He turned his body a little and lowered the bundle so that Harry could see.
Harry came forward slowly, almost timidly, and craned his neck to see over the blanket.
"That—that tiny thing?" he said, his inflection making it a question.
Harry reached a hand out, his large, rough palm hovering just over Rupert's head.
"He's a—a deer," Harry whispered. "Why would he be a deer?"
Draco suddenly felt defensive. "A natural Animagus," he said shortly.
Rupert had stopped trembling, his eyes now open wide and bright, and he looked up at Harry, one ear twitching in two tiny flicks.
But Harry let his hand drop before he could touch Rupert.
"I—I can't. Not yet. Not—"
Draco looked up into Harry's eyes. They were burning, green and intense and boring into Draco relentlessly.
Harry was speaking, his voice rough, splitting and cracking. "I won't be able to—I won't be able to go back out there if I let myself—" He broke off, sinking down to his knees next to the bed, burying his face in his hands. "You don't know how hard it was when you disappeared. Why did you do it? Why did you leave me? Do you—" He took a shuddering breath and dropped his hands. "Hermione says it's mine."
"Of course it is," Draco said sharply.
"You have no right to sound so offended!" Harry said. "You're the one who left without a word. How was I supposed to know? How was I supposed to be sure?"
"I never promised you anything, Potter—"
"Exactly," Harry said, the one word dropping like a stone between them.
The silence became taut and dangerous.
"What did you want from me?" Draco burst out finally. "Do you think this is the time to be promising anything? Can you keep promises?"
Harry looked like he'd been slapped. "What—"
"You're out risking your life every day, Potter," Draco said coldly. "I can't afford promises, not when everything in the world is wrong. I can't afford to make them, I can't afford to keep them, and I certainly can't afford to believe in them. Everyone in your precious Order already hates me because you forced them to accept me."
"That's not true—"
"Yes, it is! I know what they think of me. And don't think I don't feel the same way about them."
Draco looked down again at Rupert, who was still blinking at them both silently. He swallowed, the choking feeling returning, and extended his index finger to trace the edges of Rupert's overlarge ears. "He can't afford to believe in your promises either."
After watching this for a few moments, Harry spoke, his voice dull. "Have you named him?"
"His name is Rupert," Draco said firmly.
"Rupert? Are you serious?"
"Yes. Do you have a problem with that?" Draco said, bristling a little.
"I don't have any say anyway, do I?" Harry said. He turned away, but Draco had heard the hurt in Harry's voice, cleaving deep and sorrowfully into every word.
Draco cleared his throat. "If you don't like it—"
"Do what you want."
There was a long pause. Draco didn't dare look at Harry. When Harry spoke again, however, his voice was quiet.
"You're right. I can't promise anything. It will just be harder if I—if I'm here." He turned to leave the room, but before his hand reached the knob he turned back partway.
"Promise me, Draco, that you won't disappear again. I have to know, even if I can't see you, or him. Promise me that you won't try to do it on your own, and that you'll ask for help if you need it. The whole Order is downstairs and they can all help you."
"Yeah, all eighteen of them. That's twenty of us against the world, Harry."
Harry turned back and looked Draco in the eye. "Just promise me." There was something implacable in his voice.
Draco knew that it wasn't just him and his own pride, now. Rupert might need help. "I—I promise."
Harry made to open the door again.
"Wait!" Draco cried suddenly, almost involuntarily.
Harry turned. "Yes?"
"Before you go, I—If you want to see, if you want to wait a few moments, he might—he might turn back. If we're quiet and don't—don't start in on each other again."
Harry looked uncertain, and yet his gaze was longing.
"Conjure a chair," Draco said, "if you don't want to get close. He's just eaten. It shouldn't take long for him to relax again."
Harry did so. The chair he conjured was hard and small, as if he didn't want to get too comfortable. They waited in silence, and Draco smoothed his hand over Rupert's short fur, trying to soothe him.
Soon Rupert's nose twitched a bit, and then the air around him shimmered, and there was the baby, writhing a bit in the blankets.
Draco picked him up and rested him over his shoulder.
"Conjure me a tea towel?" he said to Harry. "I don't have my wand."
Harry did it wordlessly and held the towel out to Draco, who tried not to flush when their fingers brushed.
He arranged it on his shoulder under Rupert's mouth and then continued stroking and patting his back.
It wasn't long before there was a wet patch on the towel, along with the smell of sour milk. Draco wiped at Rupert's mouth and then lay him down on his back on the bed, between himself and Harry.
"So he's an Animagus?" Harry asked after witnessing this little ritual.
"He must be. I think he transforms involuntarily when he's frightened or stressed. That's why—that's why he was born that way."
Harry looked up at Draco, blinking. "So that—that came out of you?"
Draco did flush, then. "Do you want all the disgusting details?"
Harry looked down at his hands, clenched in fists, as if to keep himself from grasping hold of something else. "I just wish—I wish I had been there. With you. I wish we could have done it together. I could have helped you."
"Potter. We didn't do anything together but fight and fuck. It would have been unbearable."
"How do you know, since you wouldn't even give us a chance?" Harry said angrily.
Draco didn't answer; there was no use fighting about it.
Harry watched for a few moments longer.
This is it, Draco thought. The only time they would ever be able to be together, as a family, the three of them, unless the world changed. Because Harry was going to get killed; there was no Prophecy, this time, but the only way he knew how to fight was to take insane risks and throw himself to the front of any line of fire, literal or proverbial.
It would be hard. Always on the run, moving from safe house to safe house, always trying to find ways to flee the country but never quite being able to turn his back on everything he would be leaving behind. Being wary of attacks, hiding evidence, scared of shadows, and always, always dreading the day when he would hear of Harry's death and the death of all their hope.
Now he had Rupert. One thing he really had that would tie him to Harry forever, no matter what the future brought. Their son. Draco felt glad of it, perhaps for the first time. Glad he would have something of Harry's. Glad he had not had the strength to dispose of Rupert in those weakest moments when he had been so sure that nothing good could come of his entrance into the world.
They sat quietly, the three of them together, Draco watching Rupert, Harry watching them both.
It was almost dawn when a knock came at the door.
"Come in," Harry said raspily.
Justin's head appeared around the door. "It's time. We have to meet Lee in forty minutes and the Apparation coordinates haven't been cleared, so it'll take longer to clear the area."
"Two minutes," Harry said.
"Right." Justin disappeared.
"Remember what you promised," Harry said, his voice low.
"And just—let someone know where you are. Just one person. So I can find you. If I need to."
"What if I need to find you?"
Draco watched Harry struggle with that one, knowing he wouldn't find an answer.
"Never mind," Draco said finally. "I know how it is."
"I wish things were different," Harry blurted.
"I do too."
Harry stood up abruptly. "I have to go now," he said unnecessarily.
Draco didn't want to think about how alone he would be the moment Harry left. He felt panicky, suddenly, something flapping in his chest and roaring in his ears. He wasn't ready! There wasn't enough time—he couldn't do it on his own—
Draco looked up at Harry, a thousand pleas and supplications on the tip of his tongue, but before he could utter a single one Harry suddenly strode forward, took hold of Draco's jaw in one hand, bent down swiftly and pressed their lips together roughly. Draco couldn't help the sound he made or the way he reached up to clutch at Harry's collar. It was painfully familiar and wonderfully dear, it was what he had been wanting more than anything, that warm, slick closeness, the way Harry invaded and subdued him and demanded more than Draco thought he could possibly give.
Then Harry wrenched away, breathing hard. "I love you," he said, almost defiantly.
"I—" Draco licked his lips, his heart beating madly. "Please end it and come back," he whispered. It was a plea, not a demand. It was as much as he felt capable of saying, and he hoped very hard that Harry understood.
Harry's eyes burned with some intensity of purpose, and he stroked his hand down Draco's cheek once before letting it drop. Then he looked down at Rupert. "I'll come back."
He whirled away then, his cloak billowing behind him, and said "Nox." The lights went out, and the room was dark for a moment. The door shut behind Harry, and Draco felt very alone.
A tiny snuffling noise beside him reminded him that he wasn't.
They had moved again, but Rupert was used to it. He knew to wait for his father to make sure everything was safe in the house and not transform back until then, so he sat down in the dirt, folding his four spindly little legs under him, and inspected a line of ants running past him. They were moving so fast, some of them carrying very big crumbs. Rupert wanted very badly to follow them out of the bush where he was hiding to see where they were going.
He looked around. The sun was shining brightly; it was almost summer, and they had a new house. Maybe they would be able to stay at this one for a long time.
It wasn't long before his father appeared at the doorway. "It's all right, Rupert," he called.
Rupert burst out of the bush, transformed in an instant, and ran up the steps. "Can I play outside at this house, then?" he asked breathlessly.
His father smiled and ruffled his hair. "All right. But don't go too far. I have to be able to see you from the windows."
Rupert had already begun to run, making his way through the tall grass and toward the pond he'd seen behind the house. He stopped short when he spied a rabbit hopping toward the hedge, and crouched down to watch and follow it as quietly as he could. He followed it a ways down the hedge toward a ditch, when suddenly he spied another rabbit. And another! A whole family of them. He had to show his father. Rupert stood up, a bit wobbly from having crawled so far on his hands and knees, and began to run back toward the house from the other side.
He turned the corner, cutting close, and was so focused on reaching the door to tell his father about the rabbits that he didn't watch where he was going and ran straight into something, falling on his backside.
He rubbed his forehead and sat up, dazed. When he looked up, he saw a tall man turning around to look down at him. The man had black hair sticking up from his head, and very green eyes. He didn't smile. In fact, he looked very serious, frowning a little.
Rupert was scared. His father had always told him not to talk to strangers and to call for help if he was ever in danger. He wanted to run away, but the man was staring at him, and Rupert knew for certain that he wouldn't get far if he tried to run and this man wanted to catch him. The impulse to transform was very strong, but his father had helped him master that a long time ago; he wasn't a baby anymore.
"Rupert?" the man said, and his voice was gruff.
Rupert didn't know what to do; he wasn't supposed to talk to strangers! He could only stare up at the man, his heart beating fast.
The man's gaze snapped away from him and toward the house; his father was calling him from the doorstep, and his voice sounded—not frightened, but strange and tight. Suddenly unfrozen with the man's attention taken away from him, Rupert sprang up, running toward his father. When he reached the doorstep he hid behind his father's legs.
"Harry," he heard his father say.
"Draco," the man said.
Rupert peered out from behind his father's leg. The man was standing still, but he looked like he wanted to come closer.
"Go inside, Rupert," his father said quietly, and even though Rupert didn't want to, he knew it was best to do what his father said when he sounded like that. He went inside.
His father must have begun unpacking, since several trunks had been restored to size. Rupert opened his own, pulling out his favourite picture book.
He would look at this, and then maybe his father would finish up with the serious man outside and make him something to eat.
A long while later, Rupert woke up, having fallen asleep over his book.
He sat up and looked around.
The serious man was sitting in a chair watching him!
"It's all right," he said, leaning forward. "I won't hurt you."
He was staring at Rupert as if he couldn't look away.
"Where's Father?" Rupert said.
"He's just in the loo," the man said. "He'll be back in a moment."
"Who are you?" Rupert blurted.
The man looked startled, and then like he didn't know what to say. "I'm a friend of your dad's," he said finally.
"Father doesn't have any friends," Rupert said. It was just the two of them and had been a long time. Because of the Wars, Father said, and promised that someday Rupert would be able to go to school, and that there would be lots of other kids to play with.
The man looked sad again. "Yes, he does. There are lots of people who love your dad." He cleared his throat and looked down at his hands. "I love your dad." Then he looked up again, straight at Rupert. "And I love you, though you don't know me yet."
It was strange to hear it. His father only said he loved Rupert on special occasions, and usually when he was scared. But this man didn't look scared.
"I've...I've wanted to get to know you. I've tried to keep you safe even though I couldn't talk to you or let you see me. Do you think—" He cleared his throat again. "Do you think we could get acquainted now?"
Rupert studied the man. He was very serious, but Rupert felt like maybe he could trust him.
"If Father says it's all right," he said. Maybe he could show the man Owl. He went to his trunk to dig out the stuffed toy and brought it over.
"This is Owl," he said.
"Nice to meet you," the man said solemnly. "I'm Harry."
Rupert hoped his father would say it was all right to get acquainted with Harry. Maybe this was the start of something; maybe things were finally going to change for the better, the way Father had always said they would.
"My son," Harry whispered, and there was something about his eyes. He smiled, finally.
Rupert smiled back.