Whether encouraged by Harry’s reminders that no one would dare tease him about actually wanting to use the Sanctuary or in a fit of spite to show he would not be intimidated by their judging eyes, Malfoy retired to the Sanctuary every evening after dinner for the rest of the week, with Harry reluctantly joining him at Hermione’s insistence. It wasn’t necessarily that he minded spending the time with Malfoy—once he was in his Animagus form, he couldn’t really speak, and they got along swimmingly—he just hated feeling like he was wasting time they very much did not have.
They were completely cut off from the wizarding world right now, with no clue as to how their friends and family were faring. Had the Death Eaters gone public with their takeover of the Ministry? Was Hogwarts now a training ground for junior Death Eaters, with those averse to joining the cause instead being used for target practice? Voldemort might have declared himself the King of Magical Great Britain, and they would be none the wiser.
The only one who’d made any progress of note between them seemed to be Malfoy. His evenings practising had paid off handsomely, and more quickly than Harry would have given him credit for, Malfoy was actually flying—not just gliding. His stamina still needed some work, and he rarely ventured very far off the ground, evidently worried he’d lose control and crash (or perhaps he was scared of heights without a broom under him; wouldn’t that be hilarious?), but he was looking more and more like a proper dragon daily. Harry thought he would probably miss seeing Malfoy crash and throw tantrums, hissing and flapping his wings and lashing his tail when a manoeuvre didn’t work out like he’d planned.
Harry didn’t know that his presence was particularly necessary any more—he’d offered to cast a Cushioning Charm in case of nasty falls and had to quickly throw up a Protego to deflect the fireball spat his way in response—but Malfoy tolerated him blithely now. Harry stood by his initial feeling that Malfoy really wasn’t so bad when he couldn’t talk and was focused on a task, and perhaps because he was releasing whatever had been pent up inside of him in a healthy manner now, he was marginally more tolerable when he could talk, too. He would grumble a pithy thanks when whoever was on kitchen duty prepared him a plate, minded his tone around Hermione (well, usually), didn’t go out of his way to rile up Ron (well, less than usually), and hadn’t called Harry Scarhead or Four-eyes or some other infuriating nickname in at least two weeks.
He was still insufferable when he was in a mood, but this was usually because he was overdue a shift and was trying to goad Harry into dragging him into the Sanctuary. They had developed…a rhythm, Harry supposed. A way for the four of them to exist in the same space without constantly battling the urge to throttle each other. They were none of them entirely pleased with the situation, but they were making it work.
There were, of course, still hiccoughs: for instance, every evening in the Sanctuary began and ended with the tiresome ritual of Harry turning his back to give Malfoy privacy while he shifted. It was a niggling reminder that while Malfoy had managed the complicated magic to actually become an Animagus, he hadn’t been formally trained, like Hermione had been, nor did he have the extensive real-world experience with his form, like the Marauders had had. He needed a tutor, honestly, but Harry was reluctant to ask Hermione to take on the role. After all, while Malfoy was reasonable civil—in relative terms—with Harry, there was no telling how he’d behave in private with Hermione.
Still, he felt compelled to at least take her temperature on the matter.
They were out shopping under a Glamour at a small supermarket. Ron had been making overtures of missing his mother’s cooking of late, and though Hermione had gotten a bit cross with him (“We’re out here risking our lives, and all he’s concerned about is missing Molly’s Sunday dinners! Did he think we’d be searching for You-Know-Whats during the day and back home in time for supper?!”), Harry had guiltily been nursing a similar craving for a hearty Lancashire hotpot Molly had made a few Christmases back. With the autumn chill giving way to an early snap, they would all appreciate something warm and filling to brace them for the coming weather.
They wandered down the aisles, ticking off their list as they went and trying to remain as unremarkable as possible. It always felt odd, walking about in broad daylight with the times being what they were. But they always stuck to small towns for such excursions, and while the Cloak would have been much safer, Glamours gave them access to a wider array of foodstuffs.
“Well it’s good to hear Malfoy’s making such strides with his Animagus form. I’ll admit I was worried his pride might outweigh his survival instinct, but it sounds like he’s managing.”
Harry shrugged. “He’s a Slytherin; that self-preservation of theirs is nothing to joke about.”
“Maybe now he’ll stop being such a grumpy arsehole; do you think we could convince him to pitch in with the cooking? It’s only fair.”
“Let’s not be too hasty with this ‘maybe he’ll stop being a grumpy arsehole’ business,” Harry drawled.
“Well, we are keeping him prisoner, technically,” Hermione said, casually glancing down the aisle to be sure they hadn’t been overheard. A force of habit, Harry supposed, since they never conversed outside of their campsite without a Muffliato in place. “He’s entitled to feel a bit put-out.”
“But—it’s not like we can just set him free!” Harry argued, and Hermione held up a hand.
“I know! Of course I know that. Desperate times and all that. But…” She shook her head. “Still, I can’t help but sympathise. If my parents were stuck under You-Know-Who’s thumb, I’d probably be just as disinclined to act rationally as him.”
They turned down the dairy aisle, and Hermione started to scan the cheeses, having confessed a craving of her own for a nice, simple toastie.
“Er, well…since you say that…” Harry cleared his throat softly. “He doesn’t seem to have learned how to shift with his clothes on yet.” Hermione fixed him with a wide-eyed look, and he hastened to add, “I mean, I turn away whenever he does it—but I’m sure he’d be a lot more comfortable if he didn’t feel so, er, exposed every time he transformed…”
“I suppose he would…”
“I know it’s rotten to ask you to deal with a piece of shit like him, after all the horrible things he’s said to you, but if we can just stabilise him to the point where he doesn’t need me as much, then we could get back to doing what it is we’re meant to be doing.” He tried to paint as pretty a picture as he could, wary it sounded like he was just searching for an excuse to be rid of Malfoy. “He seems to have settled a bit into the reality of his situation now, and I really do think he’s got more or less some degree of control over himself. If we can get him properly polished, then I’m sure he’ll feel comfortable enough in his handling of his magic, and we can leave him to his own devices.”
Hermione picked up a wheel of Gruyère and stared at its label, though Harry doubted she was actually reading it. “…You’re right.”
“…I’m serious, though, when I say I don’t want to ask you to do this—” he started, but she was already shaking her head.
“No—no, I want to. I should have offered earlier, really. I do feel sorry for him, despite everything. Even as horrid as he’s been to all of us in the past, he doesn’t deserve to be tortured. He has a lot to answer for…but it wouldn’t be humane to ignore him, if there’s something we can do to help.” She gave Harry a thin-lipped smile. “Though I don’t suppose I need to tell you that.”
Harry ducked his head. He’d never properly apologised to Hermione or Ron for the danger he’d put them all in at the Ministry, and he doubted Ron would really understand even if Harry tried to explain himself. It felt good, knowing that Hermione at least saw the knots he’d worked himself into, until he hadn’t had any real choice but to do what he could to rescue Malfoy.
She sighed, tucking the cheese into her basket. “Of course, this all presupposes he’ll even agree to my tutoring him.”
Harry concurred; it was a rather substantial assumption indeed. He’d just have to make sure Malfoy understood he didn’t really have a choice.
As expected, Draco Malfoy was decidedly not enamoured with the idea of tutoring under Hermione, a fact he seemed intent on relating solely through body language, as he slouched in his chair across from her with his face set in a stony expression and arms crossed over his chest.
She hadn’t been lying to Harry; she did feel sorry for Malfoy. Yes, he’d brought all of his problems squarely upon himself, but he’d been a stupid child misled by the people around him and rarely challenged to consider the thoughts and feelings of those with a different upbringing. He deserved correctional measures at the most, not torture.
So Hermione would do what she could, for as long as Malfoy would tolerate her, and then that would be her conscience wiped clean.
“Well, I suppose we should start with the basics, just to see where you’re at for being self-taught.” She gestured to a stack of books she’d gathered from her library. “I studied with Professor McGonagall after Third Year to earn my Animagus licence, so I’ve a fair bit more experience all around than you, but I imagine there’s a lot we can learn from each other.” Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Do you have any questions before we get started?”
He raked a judging gaze over her, from her bushy hair drawn away from her face with a band down to her dirty trainers. “What are you, then?”
Well, at least he was speaking—and the first words out of his mouth hadn’t been Mudblood or some variation thereon. They were off to as good a start as could be hoped. Hermione stood in place. “How about I show you?”
She took a breath, closed her eyes, and let the magic sweep out from her core. She never tired of the sensation—feeling her magic connecting with something deeper, something more innate, to give form to what she was certain must be some aspect of her soul. She’d never really considered it, but what if that was what it was? What form, then, might someone who’d split their soul to create a Horcrux take?
These were questions to ponder later, though, and she felt everything draw in close as her world expanded, until she was peering at her surroundings through what sometimes felt like a dull, dirty looking glass. She could hear Harry and Ron discussing their game of Wizard’s Chess in Ron’s room; Harry had made an illegal move, and Ron was trying to show him where he should have moved instead, as now apparently he was in check on several counts. Ron had decidedly not been happy to learn Hermione was going to be giving Malfoy pointers on being an Animagus, demanding both he and Harry be included as chaperons, until Hermione had pointedly reminded him that Harry didn’t need a chaperon, so why should she? He’d gone red, blustering a bit, and then Harry had dragged him off to distract him with board games until Hermione came to fetch them once they were finished with the day’s lesson.
Something pinched her neck, and she found herself being hauled into the air by her scruff. Malfoy frowned, peering into her brown eyes with a thoroughly unimpressed expression. “So you’re a rabbit, hm? Figures, with those oversized buck teeth of yours.” He cocked his head, considering. “Or did the form just come to you because you subconsciously wanted something to appeal to Weasley?” He reached out to gently stroke her head, running a finger from the tip of her twitching nose to her ears. “Overbreeding vermin seems right up his alley—ow!” He dropped her immediately, sucking on the finger she’d just bitten—hard enough to draw blood, she’d tasted—and glaring down at her. “You fucking bi—”
She shifted back so quickly it left her a bit lightheaded and rounded on Malfoy. “Did it hurt?”
He took a step back when he found they were nose to nose, expression a comical mixture of bewilderment and fury. “Yes, it fucking hurt!”
She managed to keep her voice from quavering with anger, but only just. Her smile glittered with knives. “Oh I wasn’t referring to the little nibble I just gave you.”
“Little nib—did what hurt, then?”
“You know, when you lost control and your Animagus form slipped its leash. Did it hurt when that lava plume forced its way through you, burning you alive from the inside out? Did it hurt, when your own magic tried to kill you? Eager to experience it again? I’m sure it can be arranged.” She quirked a brow. “As it seems my services aren’t required.”
Malfoy went grey in the face, and his throat bobbed—she hoped he wasn’t going to be sick. Perkins’s tent already smelled like cats, and she didn’t think her Scouring charms were good enough she could get the smell of vomit out of the old rug.
Clearly he wasn’t as confident in his ability to keep his urges to transform in check as Harry might have thought, and she crossed her arms, squaring her shoulders. She’d tried being understanding, tried treating this as just another study session with a classmate who needed a leg up; now, she’d just treat him like himself.
“If you’d like my help—the help of a ‘Mudblood’—you’ll keep any vile comments off that forked tongue of yours and listen politely and treat me with respect. It’s only at our pleasure you’re even here in the first place. I think it’s a pity you’re stuck like this, but don’t think for a second that I’m Harry. I’d just as soon Obliviate you and send you back to the Ministry so we can get on with our business without you dragging us down.”
Malfoy’s eye twitched, brows furrowing. “…Potter wouldn’t let you. He’s the leader of your merry little band of rebels, and he’s far too much a milksop to do something like that.”
“If you honestly believe Harry thinks of himself as anyone’s leader, then that must be the hormones clouding your thoughts.” And here, Malfoy went fuchsia. “We’re a team, and while I don’t feel it was smart of Harry to put us all in danger, bringing you on board, the deed’s been done. You may not think very highly of him, but he’s done far more for you than you deserve.” Malfoy still looked rather queasy. “So either bite your tongue and listen to my instructions, or prepare for inescapable pain beyond imagination every time you can’t keep your emotions in check to stop a turn. Harry won’t always be around to salvage your control, after all.”
That he didn’t bother protesting Like I need his help! did not bode well, though Hermione wouldn’t say she was disappointed he kept any further nasty remarks to himself, giving only bored, monosyllabic answers to any subsequent questions she posed. She didn’t rightly know what it meant—Harry seemed to think Malfoy was learning to control his Animagus form fantastically, but Malfoy looked even less sure of himself than before. Either Harry was less observant than he seemed (entirely possible), or Malfoy’s ability to control his shifts and his need for Harry’s stabilising influence weren’t as connected as Hermione had imagined. More research on this point was clearly merited.
She moved their lesson out into the Sanctuary, deciding she needed to see what they were dealing with herself. Just as Harry had warned, Malfoy was indeed unable to complete a transformation while clothed, resulting in a very uncomfortable few minutes of waiting while he disrobed behind her back when she demanded he demonstrate a shift.
Harry had told her—gushing, almost—that Malfoy’s dragon was a sight to see when it wasn’t haggard and broken, and she had to admit he hadn’t been exaggerating. She kept her distance, certain that Malfoy would be eager to get her back for nipping his finger earlier, but he kept his teeth and claws to himself. Perhaps she’d suitably cowed him with her threats.
They spent the rest of the afternoon in the Sanctuary, training. Malfoy learned to shift with clothing reasonably quickly, likely because that was the lesson he was most keen on learning. He gave her next to no backtalk, and she was impressed to see that he was able to halt his transformation at any stage and shift forward or back as directed. So he did indeed have some measure of control!
However, he seemed utterly ignorant of even the most basic details concerning his Animagus form, which was both disheartening and dangerous. If he didn’t know what to expect with his dragon, then he’d be wholly unprepared when it reacted in an unexpected way to some new stimulus.
“Did you never pay attention in Care of Magical Creatures?” she asked, fetching Men Who Love Dragons Too Much from the tent.
He frowned at the title. “Of course not; that oaf Hagrid is nothing more than a glorified custodian. He’s certainly not fit to be on the teaching staff, so why waste my time?”
It took everything she had to ignore the slight against her friend, and she silently commended Harry for controlling his temper despite spending so much time around Malfoy of late. “Well then, you’ve rather a lot to catch up on. I suggest you study that, cover to cover. You might learn something.”
To her surprise, he began flipping through the pages, scanning the headings in the Table of Contents. “So which one am I?”
“Which breed?” He nodded. “Well, from what I saw—and from what Harry recalls that Bragge fellow from the Ministry saying—you’re an Antipodean Opaleye. They’re native to New Zealand, but Animagecraft doesn’t take into account things like geographical distribution. You simply are what you are.” She cleared her throat softly. “And, er, while we’re at it, I think we ought to address some of the…complications you might be experiencing.”
“What sorts of complications?” he asked distractedly, still leafing through the book—he was comparing the illustrations of the Opaleye with several of the European breeds and did not seem pleased at how his dragon compared in size with its cousins.
“The complications associated with having claimed a mate,” she said primly, trying not to blush. This would be uncomfortable enough; perhaps if she approached the topic with a bit of clinical indifference, it would make him feel like this was nothing to get agitated about.
No such luck, for he promptly snapped the book shut and firmed his jaw, delivering a flat, “No.”
She rolled her eyes, marching after him when he turned on his heel and headed for the door leading back into the tent. “Whether you want to discuss them or not, these issues will make themselves apparent, so you can either deal with them when they come upon you unawares or at least be ready for them.”
He gave her a flippant wave. “The former, if it’s all the same to you.”
Hermione lunged forward, grabbing Malfoy by the elbow to make him face her. He slapped her hand away in rebuff, but she shook a finger in his face. “Well too bad. I’ve neither the time nor the patience for that.” She snatched Men Who Love Dragons Too Much from him, flipping through to the chapter on breeding pairs. Malfoy opened his mouth to protest, then evidently decided it wasn’t worth the effort and turned to leave.
She held the book out before her, clearing her throat, and recited, “‘Characteristics of the Drake in Rut – Those new to dragon husbandry should be alert for several symptoms in males keen to impress a mate that, if not properly managed, could cause damage to person and property. These include jealousy, possessiveness, tactile urges’—that sounds fun and not at all humiliating—‘marking, hoarding’—how does that work, I wonder?—‘presenting’—which the footnote here says involves ‘mating displays’—”
Malfoy rounded on her. “All right, ALL RIGHT—just—” He waved his arms before him. “Stop speaking. This instant.” He’d gone that ashen grey tone again and swayed unsteadily on his feet, looking as if he might pass out. He stared at the book with a sort of forlorn shock, as if it had betrayed him. “…Right, next lesson then: How do I stop all that?”
Hermione sighed softly, shoulders slumping. This poor bastard. “Well, honestly, I don’t think there’s any way to stop it—not entirely. But you’re human, and you’ve got self-control and therefore the power to fight those urges, provided you can recognise them.”
Malfoy was breathing heavily, gaze gone distant and unfocused, and he licked his lips. “Fine. How do I recognise them, then?”
“Hm, well jealousy and possessiveness should be the most obvious as well as the most easily combated; Harry’s in close enough proximity now that you shouldn’t feel compelled to demand his attention, not when it’s mostly being freely offered.” Malfoy closed his eyes and mouthed what Hermione was pretty sure was an Oh fuck. “And he’s not exactly beating back suitors with a stick, so there should be no issues on that end.” She referenced the passage again, tapping her chin. “Tactile urges…that might be trickier. A shake of the hand or touch on the shoulder might be sufficient to satisfy, though, if you’re struck by the sudden need for physical contact.”
Malfoy seemed to consider this one, brows rising. “…Slug to the jaw?”
“…I don’t think I can say ‘no’, but I’m obliged to advise against it.”
“Your objection is noted and dismissed,” he sniffed.
She glanced back down at the book. “Marking, hm…”
Malfoy made a face. “Is that like—establishing territory?”
“Or staking a claim.” She bit back a wicked smile. “I would tamp down any urges to piss on him?”
He rolled his eyes, pacing in a circle. “I’ll do my level best,” he said, tone dry as a desert.
“Please do. I’m sure Harry will appreciate your earnest efforts. Now, hoarding—in your case, I’d say that will manifest similar to the jealousy and possessiveness. It’s all about wanting to be the centre of your mate’s—”
“We don’t say that word,” Malfoy ground out, eyes flashing, and Hermione quickly struck the term from her vocabulary; there were other ways to talk around the subject, and Malfoy was being reasonably cooperative for the time being. She might get out of these lessons without having pulled all of the hair from her head.
“As I said, it’s about wanting to be the centre of Harry’s attention. Dragons are greedy things when it comes to…well, this. They’re colonial creatures, but very private in personal matters, and they don’t appreciate outsiders coming between them and their…Harrys.”
Malfoy buried his face in his palms, groaning aloud. “Just let it take me. Let it burn me to a crisp, just get it over with.”
God, but this one could be dramatic! “Oh honestly, pull yourself together,” she huffed, setting the book to the side. “These are hardly insurmountable hurdles. Try to manage your emotions and be alert for stray thoughts that don’t feel quite like your own, or that you think seem out of character. On encountering one, just—think like a human.”
“Oh! Is that all I’ve got to do? Think like a human?” Malfoy clapped. “Fantastic, Granger! You’ve cured me! Hurrah!”
“Be as bitter and sarcastic about the situation as you like, but this is quite serious. Regardless of how the dragon feels on the matter, you can’t monopolise Harry’s time like this forever. We’ve…we’ve got a task to complete, and while I’ve encouraged Harry to help you ground yourself while you work out the kinks of this new body of yours, he knows as well as I do that every moment we waste with you is one we’re not spending focused on our mission.”
“Heavens forfend I keep the Chosen One from carrying out his solemn duties,” Malfoy said with a waspish bite in his tone.
“Do I sound like I’m joking? Between the Ministry mission and dealing with your fits and tantrums, we’re weeks behind on our research. We’re not asking you to go against your conscience, so the least you could do is not hinder us any more than you already have.”
“Fine!” Malfoy cried. “Then by all means, let me go!”
Hermione stared at him, mouth slightly agape—and then she laughed, a bit breathless. “Wait—are you still labouring under the impression that’s actually possible? Malfoy, even if we did let you go—how far do you think you’re going to get? Still going to try and rescue Mummy and Daddy from You-Know-Who? You’re inexperienced with your form, you can barely flutter—”
“I can certainly do a lot more than flutter!” Malfoy protested hotly. “I don’t know what stories Potter’s been spinning, but you tell him that I’m—”
“And what weapons can you possibly bring to bear against the greatest Dark wizard of our lifetime? You’ve got no wand, after all. Going to shoot a puff of smoke at him?”
Malfoy’s expression darkened. “It was enough to take down Dumbledore, wasn’t it?”
Hermione’s wand was in her hand and levelled between Malfoy’s eyes before she even realised what she’d done. She swallowed, beating back the urge to Transfigure this figurative pile of shit into a literal one. “Say his name again in that tone. Go on.” And of course he buttoned right up, because he was a cowardly little prick. “He was already mortally injured when he tried to save you—because recall that’s what he was doing: trying to save you. You-Know-Who certainly won’t be pulling his punches in that respect—you’d be brought down before you knew it, and then if he was feeling merciful, he might destroy you outright. But more than likely he’d just turn you for his use. How about it?” She lowered her wand. “Want to be Imperiused and used to terrorise Muggle townsfolk, or raze Diagon Alley to the ground? Want to be turned on your own parents, simply because he’d derive some sick joy out of it?”
Several emotions flashed across Malfoy’s features—shame, despair, fear, some Hermione couldn’t even name. He was absolutely exhausting to deal with. “Plus, I’m honestly not even sure you can leave, with or without our blessing.”
Malfoy’s brows furrowed as suspicion won out over the other emotions vying for recognition. “…What’s that supposed to mean?”
She pointed to Men Who Love Dragons Too Much. “All those urges we just went over? They’re going to make you want to be as close to Harry as possible. To the point where being apart from him for too long might be unbearable.”
Malfoy gaped. “But—you just said they were surmountable! That I could fight them if I just focus!”
“And maybe you could, if they came on you one at a time. But at the centre of all of this is him. Harry. Whether you like it or not—all of those instincts and drives circle around back to him, exist because of him. Take him away, and…” She shook her head. “These things do ease with time, the book says—but that’s not days or weeks. That’s years. Dragons are long-lived and necessarily take things slow.”
She could see it dawning on him at last that he was well and truly trapped here—not by their spells, but by his own. Seeing his expression wash over with blank defeat, she worried that his bitter frustration at being held against his will had been the only thing keeping him from going spare in the face of the absurd situation in which he now found himself mired.
Damn; they would have to tread even more carefully now. “Just stop being an arsehole, accept that things are what they are, and buckle down and train. It’s really your only option now. Commit to this: deal with the embarrassment and irritations and hurdles and embrace what will make you powerful. If you really did this to save your parents, then hold on to that. Decide right now what they’re worth to you.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re a Slytherin, aren’t you? I thought taking shitty situations and turning them to your advantage was supposed to be your forte.”
Malfoy was silent for a long beat, and Hermione imagined she could hear the cogs in his head turning—weighing every option, of which he had distressingly few. He was backed into a corner, and it struck her that a dragon might be most dangerous when given no recourse but to fight back.
But then he straightened, meeting her eye with a hard look—before snatching up Men Who Love Dragons Too Much and tucking it under his arm. “…I’m taking this. Good evening, Granger.”