By morning, tempers had cooled some, though Harry and Hermione were still walking on eggshells around each other, their greetings monotone.
The general consensus between the three of them being that they’d be best served keeping on the move, they decided to Apparate to a new location first thing, though Ron made his preferences for “somewhere with a decent meal” quite obvious.
“I’m sorry my efforts weren’t up to snuff,” Hermione had said coolly, and Ron had spent the next half hour trying to apologise and making quite a hash of it.
Once they’d packed up the tent, Hermione began dismantling the protective enchantments she’d placed around the campsite while Harry and Ron worked to clear the area of any sign humans had been camping here recently, kicking leaves and twigs around to hide their footprints. Malfoy, most helpfully, leaned against a tree and silently judged them.
After Hermione decided that they’d covered their tracks as well as possible, they Disapparated together to the woods just at the outskirts of a town Ron claimed his Aunt Muriel had lived near several decades back. “This bit of the town’s Muggle, as far as I know; Muriel moved on when it started encroaching on the wizarding quarters.”
They pitched the tent again—Harry was starting to get the hang of it—in the shelter of a small copse of trees, and Hermione laid down fresh defensive charms. The town being largely Muggle in population, Harry felt he could chance venturing out for sustenance under his Invisibility Cloak, with promises he’d come back straight away or send a Patronus if he ran into any trouble. Hermione had wanted to go along with him, but Harry didn’t like the idea of leaving Ron alone with Malfoy; it would be much more difficult for Malfoy to try and overpower both Hermione and Ron than either alone.
In town, Harry managed to raid a fruit stall and swiped enough Cornish pasties for each of them with a quiet Accio, taking care to leave behind enough Muggle money to cover the pilfered pastries, as otherwise Hermione would surely lecture, even in desperate times such as these. He was greeted as a conquering hero on his return, and the food lifted spirits all around. Even Malfoy seemed far less prickly and contrary when he had a full belly.
Hermione spent the afternoon organising her library, placing books in towering stacks by subject and alphabetically by title. “The sooner we get started on our research, the better,” she explained, pointing to the stack of books concerning the Founders of Hogwarts. One of the only leads they had now was Dumbledore’s presumption that Voldemort would use items that had once belonged to the Founders to create his Horcruxes. Given that they already knew the locket of Slytherin’s was a Horcrux and that Hufflepuff’s cup was likely one as well, that left something of Ravenclaw’s or Gryffindor’s out there somewhere. Would he have even bothered with an heirloom of Gryffindor? They couldn’t discount it, at least.
But how many people over the years, obsessed with the Founders for one reason or another, had tried to track down one of their heirlooms and claim it for their own? Voldemort certainly wouldn’t have left a Horcrux sitting about growing dusty in a museum. What if the next Horcrux was hiding in another cave, like the one in which Voldemort had hidden the locket? How on earth were they to find it then?
Harry didn’t dare voice these concerns, though; they’d either be dismissed outright or only confirm fears that Harry was entirely unprepared for this quest. Not that Harry supposed that was any great secret.
Hermione drew the straw to fetch dinner under the Cloak while Harry half-stood watch, half-let Ron trounce him in a game of Wizard’s Chess. She returned just before dusk with a half-dozen eggs in a wicker basket and loaf of bread tucked under her arm. “…Well, I left some money on the windowsill where the bread had been cooling, so it’s not as if we haven’t paid for it!”
Harry and Ron reassured her, through bites of scrambled eggs on toast, that it was surely fine, and the farmer had probably gotten more for his eggs and bread through them than he would have at market in town. Hermione didn’t seem entirely convinced, but they couldn’t exactly walk into a Tesco and load down a trolley.
Scrambled eggs evidently being too pedestrian, Malfoy had turned his eggs and bread into a fancy egg-in-a-hole with chopped bacon bits on top. Harry, of course, did not think Malfoy’s toast looked better than the lovely scramble he’d enjoyed from Ron, and if he looked at the dish longingly as Malfoy daintily cut into it, it was only because that had been the last of the bacon, which meant a lean morning.
Ron retired to the sofa to digest his meal in comfort, and Malfoy quietly removed himself to one of Perkins’s old armchairs, flipping idly through an old issue of Knuts for Kneazles that Perkins had apparently subscribed to at one point.
Harry volunteered to do the Scouring up, as Hermione had foraged their food and Ron had cooked it, and he was just clearing down the table when Hermione cleared her throat softly for their attention.
“We didn’t really get around to it last night, but I think we need to discuss sleeping arrangements,” she said, hands clasped before her.
“Sleeping arrangements?” Ron asked, easing to his feet and stretching his arms high with a yawn. “About time.”
Harry recalled the bunk beds they’d used during the Quidditch World Cup; they hadn’t been terribly comfortable, and Harry wondered if a Cushioning Charm would last through the night on mattresses as lumpy as those had been.
Hermione nodded, gesturing to the rear of the tent. “There’s three rooms; I’d initially planned for us to all take one, but…” Her eyes moved to Malfoy, who was studiously ignoring them. “We’ve picked up some extra baggage, and…honestly, I don’t think we should leave him alone.”
“Ten points to Gryffindor,” Malfoy called, licking his thumb to turn the page.
She pressed her lips into a thin line, then looked at Harry with an apologetic expression. “Harry, I feel terrible asking this, but…”
He nodded, seeing where she was going with this. “No, you’re right. I’ll bunk with him.” He could hardly ask either of them to put up with Malfoy, especially seeing as it was his fault Malfoy was with them in the first place.
They all three gave a jolt as a sharp whap sounded, with Malfoy springing up from the armchair, having flung the copy of Knuts for Kneazles onto the coffee table. “You’re mad if you think I’m sleeping in the same room as Potter.”
“I think Harry’s got more reason to fear sleeping in a room with you,” Ron snorted, and Hermione threw him a warning look.
“It’s not up for debate, Malfoy,” Harry said, cutting in before any further sniping got started; they’d been having a lovely, relatively insult-free day so far. “Trust me, if I could think of a way to make sure you didn’t get yourself into any trouble overnight, I’d gladly bunk with Ron and leave you to it, but I’m stumped.”
Malfoy’s jaw was tight, and he drew himself up stiff and straight, licking his lips. “I’ll—I’ll make an Unbreakable Vow,” he offered, and Ron snorted, bending in half at the waist as he slapped his knees in laughter. “I’m quite serious!” he snapped, dots of angry pink tingeing his cheeks.
Ron struggled to collect himself, wiping at his eyes and sniffing around bubbling chuckles. “Harry, I think that Bragge bloke got it twisted; this one clearly is no fan of yours.”
Harry rolled his eyes—at both of them. “Don’t be dramatic,” he said to Malfoy. “You’re not making an Unbreakable Vow. It’s a few hours a day, and you’ll be unconscious for the better part of it; I’m pretty sure you can manage.”
“It’s a perfectly nice room,” Hermione reassured, which Harry felt was quite generous of her. There was no need for her to go out of her way to try and make Malfoy feel more comfortable, when he certainly hadn’t shown them the slightest semblance of gratitude thus far, never mind all the nasty comments he’d made toward her. “It’s not like we’re asking you to sleep outside.”
“Would that that were an option,” Malfoy grumbled, flopping back into the chair and throwing his feet up onto the coffee table.
While Malfoy sulked, Hermione showed them how to make up their beds with the linens in the closet. They smelled like they hadn’t been laundered since the last time the tent had been used, but none of them had brushed up on housekeeping spells, so they were stuck with musty sheets and drool-stained pillowcases until Hermione could dig out her copy of The Housewitch’s Helper in the morning.
Malfoy dug in his heels and refused to be moved or coaxed from the armchair until Hermione went around dousing the lanterns, rousting him from his seat with a Stinging Jinx. He was still rubbing his arse when he darkened Harry’s doorway, half-limping over to the unoccupied bed while Harry finished his evening ablutions.
Malfoy was under the covers quickly, not even bothering to remove the oversized robes they’d given him, and by the time Harry was ready to turn down the lamps, he was already rolled onto his side, back to Harry and breathing evenly. This suited Harry just fine, and after whispering a soft Nox, he climbed into his own bed, the Mokeskin pouch still hanging around his neck and his wand clutched to his chest like a security blanket.
Alas, it seemed Malfoy had only been waiting for cover of darkness, for just as Harry had gotten relatively comfortable, Malfoy muttered, “…This whole place reeks of cat piss.”
Harry sighed. “Apologies it’s not the conditions I’m sure you’re accustomed to. Would you rather have stayed in that dank cell?”
There was a long beat of silence, and Harry hoped Malfoy had reconsidered starting anything, but then: “…Why did you do it?”
“Why did I do what?”
“You know what, don’t play stupid.” There came a rustling of sheets, and Harry wondered if Malfoy had rolled over, if he was looking at Harry now. It made him feel uncomfortable, especially as he couldn’t make out his own hand in front of his face in this low light without his glasses. “You’ve seen my Mark. You know I’m not just innocently caught up in this; I chose it freely with eyes wide open—initially, at least. And it’s not as if I’ve had a sudden change of heart either, if that’s what you’re hoping.”
And he wasn’t hoping that, Harry realised. It had never even crossed his mind; Malfoy was just Malfoy, the same as he’d always been. Twisted ideals, blind faith, and over-gelled hair. Well, maybe his hair at least had changed a bit over the past few months. “I dunno. I just couldn’t not, once I found out what they’d done to you. The burden of knowledge, I guess: you’re compelled to act.”
Except that wasn’t entirely true, was it? Malfoy had been lurking there at the back of his mind ever since they’d crossed paths on that lonely moor. Harry had wondered, had felt guilty, even, when it shouldn’t have been his concern any longer. He’d caught himself thinking he ought to have done more, been preoccupied with how things had turned out. It was sixth year, all over again.
Malfoy snorted. “What a Gryffindor sentiment.”
“Asking why someone rescued you instead of thanking them because you assume everyone’s got an angle—what a Slytherin sentiment.”
“I’ll thank you once I’m free to go my own way,” Malfoy sniffed. “Until then, you’re nothing more than my newest gaoler.”
So they were back to this again, were they? Fine, if Malfoy wanted to play that way… “Well that—and your mate, as I recall.”
Another beat, then Malfoy grit out, “Don’t say that word.”
Harry was the picture of innocence. “What word?”
“You—the M word.”
Harry had to cover his mouth to keep his grin from breaking out into full-fledged laughter. The tit couldn’t even bring himself to say it, and somehow that made Harry want to rub it in his face all the more, even though by all rights it ought to be mortifying for Harry too. And maybe it would be, in the morning, but just now, it was enough to send him drifting off to sleep with a smile on his lips for the first time in a long while.
They were on the move again the next morning, uprooting as they had the day before and Apparating to a new location. They were mostly moving for movement’s sake, not because they had any particular idea of where to go next. If they stayed in any one place for too long, the Muggle locals might start noticing their goods disappearing only to be replaced by appropriate cash payment, and then who knew where such rumours might spread? When they weren’t eating or on watch, Hermione was poring over books looking for clues on where to find the final two Horcruxes. Harry and Ron were supposed to be researching how to destroy the locket, but it was a bit like being back at school and having to study for exams: just not happening.
Ron was ready to distract with a card game or wizard chess when he was around, but once he was back on the mend, he was usually the one to offer to go searching for food, as he had the biggest appetite of the four of them. Harry was therefore left with little choice but to either comb through books with Hermione…or deal with Malfoy.
A week into their self-imposed exile, and he was honestly starting to feel a bit bad for the git (only a little, mind you). Malfoy was clearly bored out of his skull, and boredom with him tended to breed mischief and spiteful comments that no threats of Silencio seemed to stifle.
“Feel free to expand your horizons,” Hermione offered after fielding Malfoy’s third complaint of I’m so fucking bored that morning. She waved to the stack of books on spellwork. “There should be a few volumes in there on Animagi—try brushing up, learn a bit more about yourself.”
“Know plenty about myself already, thanks.”
“Answer me this, then: Exactly how much of an arsehole are you?” Harry asked.
Malfoy grabbed one of the books, feigned studying its cover, and then chucked it at Harry’s head, narrowly missing clocking him. “You were right, Granger. That was educational. I feel positively suffuse with the need for further edification.” He reached for another book, and Harry was immediately on his feet, wand tight in his fist.
“That’s enough of that. We’re trying to study.” Well, Hermione was trying, but the tight frown she was wearing said they were making it difficult.
“But I haven’t gotten to know the real Draco, yet. There’s so much more to learn!”
Harry felt Malfoy stamp down hard on his very last nerve. “I’m serious! Cut it out.” Malfoy was behaving oddly today—not overtly cruel or biting, just…irritating. Annoying. Trying to get a rise out of Harry.
“Now why would you stand in the way of my bettering myself, Potter? Isn’t that you lot’s loftiest goal? A reformed Death Eater? Why—” Hermione hit him with a Stinging Jinx, and he gave an inelegant yelp, grabbing his arse with a look of pure rage. “Would you—stop that!”
“I’ll stop Jinxing you when you finish whatever this—” She waved her hand in a vague gesture up and down his body, “is and let us get back to work.” She turned to Harry, fixing him with a warning look. “And stop encouraging him.”
“You heard me. There’s no need to respond to him when he’s obviously trying to bait you.”
She was right, he knew, but…Harry hated not getting the last word, especially with the likes of Malfoy.
He shook his head, biting back any further comments, and settled for digging out that mental camera he’d fashioned months back and taking a snapshot of Malfoy limping back to his armchair, hissing in pain as he settled his Jinxed rear onto the cushions. His mental scrapbook of Malfoy’s Most Humiliating Moments would have to be balm enough for now.
This, though, turned out to only be the first of several similar displays over the next few days, each more perplexing and frustrating than the last. Malfoy had always been a right prick, going out of his way to bully and tease and generally make a nuisance of himself, but if Harry had to describe it, he’d say that it was almost as if Malfoy’s heart wasn’t in it. He grew increasingly restless, pacing and tapping his foot and even breathing in a manner surely meant to annoy. Where before he’d been content to eat meals with Harry, Hermione, and Ron in the sitting room, now he would fill a plate—without expressing an ounce of gratitude, of course—and slip off to their room to eat in private. Sure, there’d never been any conversations or anything before, but this shift only underscored how withdrawn Malfoy was becoming.
And when he wasn’t holing himself up in the bedroom, he seemed to be actively seeking out conflict, letting the tiniest of issues build into an all-out row—usually with Harry. Hermione had had to step in on more than one occasion to stop their sniping from escalating, though Ron usually let them go until he felt compelled to defend Harry, leaving Harry instead to try and defuse the situation before Ron cast something he would be sure to regret.
Malfoy’s colour hadn’t improved much two weeks out from his escape from the Ministry, either; he was still paler than Harry remembered, with even darker bags under his eyes. These, Harry knew, came from Malfoy’s fitful attempts at sleep, which more often than not kept Harry awake as well, shortening both their tempers and leading to even louder rows than before in a violent, exhausting cycle.
It was difficult to tell if this was anything out of the ordinary or if this simply was how close quarters with the likes of Malfoy would always be—but either way, Harry didn’t think he could handle it for much longer. Malfoy either, for that matter.
Luckily, they wound up not having to.
Harry was studying at the tiny kitchen table with Hermione when it happened. The table was a disaster, covered with books and parchment and quills with frayed vanes, half-empty mugs of tea gone cold, biscuit crumbs and a bacon-and-cheese toastie with two bites taken out of it from when Hermione had started to eat lunch and gotten distracted. Ron had been gone for a while now, but he’d told them he wasn’t coming back until he’d tracked down a bakery he could pilfer a couple of steak bakes from, so this wasn’t terribly worrying.
What was worrying was the fact that Harry was pretty sure he’d read the same paragraph on spiritual transmutation three times now, and he still didn’t understand a word of it. Why were all of Hermione’s research books so damn dry? He’d had enough trouble studying when the subject had been something he had at least a weak grasp on; soul magic was right out.
“I need to go outside.”
Harry nearly fell out of his seat, heart leaping into his throat—fuck, that’d given him a shock. He’d been so engrossed in trying to slog through Desmond Kitting’s Treatise on the Body Ephemeral, he hadn’t even noticed that Malfoy had finally dragged himself out of the bedroom (after having been cloistered in there since breakfast) and was now standing right at Harry’s elbow.
“What?” he said stupidly. His heart was still pounding a loud tattoo in his ears, and he hadn’t quite registered what Malfoy had said.
“I need. To go. Outside,” Malfoy repeated, slowly and with grit teeth. He was leaning in rather close, one hand on the back of Harry’s chair and the other splayed flat on top of the book Harry had been trying (unsuccessfully) to read.
“Uh…no? Shove off, Malfoy. Can’t you see I’m busy?” It was a lie, and Malfoy could probably see that, but Hermione was watching them for one, likely fearing—for good reason—they might get into another fight, and he just didn’t feel like going along with Malfoy’s suspiciously calm request for another.
“Why do you need to go outside?” Hermione asked.
“Was I talking to you, Granger?” he spat. “Let’s go, Potter.”
“I said no,” Harry said, shoving Malfoy’s hand from Treatise on the Body Ephemeral. Hermione had slapped Malfoy with several spells meant to keep him from trying to escape, the most relevant one at the moment being that he couldn’t leave the tent at all without Harry’s say-so. And Harry didn’t say so. “If you need to piss, you know where the loo is.”
He expected Malfoy to storm off in a snit, or perhaps to pitch a fit and try to goad Harry into the row he seemed to always be angling for these days.
What he didn’t expect was for Malfoy to slam his first on the table and jerk Harry’s chair around, bending forward until they were nose-to-nose. This close, he could see that Malfoy’s eyes were going all funny—the pupils narrowing almost to slits and the irises ballooning until there was no white left, just this stormy blue-grey-green that swirled like bubbling molten lead.
“Harr—” Hermione started, leaping to her feet, but then her eyes flicked to Malfoy’s fist; when he unclenched it, slowly, his nails had lengthened, curving into wicked talons that scored little pinmarks into the soft wood of the table.
He opened his mouth, and the voice that came out was a gravelly burr that retained none of Malfoy’s posh drawl. “I’m going to ask once more—and then you’re going to have a very big problem on your hands. Get. Me. Outside. Now.”
Faster than Harry thought he’d ever moved before, Harry rolled out of his seat and scrambled to his feet, clamping both hands onto Malfoy’s shoulders and steering him quickly toward the tent-flap. Hermione was hot on his heels, frantically hissing Go go go! as if Harry needed any further encouragement beyond the impending presence of a wild dragon the size of a mini-bus inside the tent.
He shoved Malfoy through the flap and out of the tent, where he hit the ground hard and rolled several times with a grunt. He didn’t seem terribly fazed by the blow, though, lurching to his hands and knees and heaving violently in that gravelly rasp. He sounded like he might sick up, and Harry and Hermione both gave him a wide berth, recalling that the last time someone had been in the wrong place when Malfoy’s dragon had belched fire, it’d killed them. Harry wracked his mind for any spells he thought might be able to subdue a dragon—Malfoy hadn’t been that big, had he?—but the list was distressingly short.
Why was this happening now? There’d been nothing to trigger it, not like the emotional outburst after they’d just escaped the Ministry. Had Malfoy been planning this? But no, that didn’t make a lot of sense either; Ron had been gone several hours now—if he’d simply been waiting until he had fewer obstacles preventing him from escaping, he would have done it as soon as Ron had Disapparated.
“Do you think he’s trying to get away?” Hermione whispered in a panicked hiss, voicing Harry’s own concerns, but he shook his head.
“No…no, I think he can’t control it. Or—he’s been trying to control it, and it’s finally slipped.” It was hard to decide which was more dangerous—an in-control Malfoy-as-a-dragon, or an out-of-control one. Harry didn’t want to contend with either, which meant putting a stop to this before it escalated. There was no telling what a Stunning Spell would do right now—it might just piss him off even more—and a Body Bind would only freeze him; as soon as they lifted the spell, he’d be angrier and more unpredictable than before.
Which meant Harry had to try and talk him down from it, like he had the last time. He licked his lips, pacing out a careful circle, in case Malfoy decided to lash out with those nasty claws he was growing.
“Malfoy,” he said, fighting to keep his voice from trembling. It was rather difficult to feign calm when you were practically pissing yourself, Harry was learning. “Malfoy—we’ve been over this. You can’t do this here, if you lose yourself again—”
“Does it look—like I’ve got—any choice, Potter?” Malfoy bit out in that raspy growl that sounded like it came from deep within his chest. It seemed to take everything he had just to get the words out, eyes clenched shut and down on all fours like an animal. He lurched, claws digging into the patchy grass and leaf litter scattered around the clearing in which they’d set up camp, and a keening whine worked its way free from his throat. “Just—fuck, talk to me. T—talk to me, say something, anything, I can’t—f-focus—”
Focus. Focus, all right. Malfoy needed a focus, yeah that made sense. Something to hold on to, to remind him he was human. Human thoughts to drive away dragon-y ones so that he wouldn’t turn. Harry tried to order his own mind, groping for something to say, something to talk about, but all he managed to come up with was, “I realise I’ve got loads more important things to deal with right now, and it’s perfectly inconsequential, but I can’t help wondering, seeing as the season’s about to start up, how Gryffindor’s Quidditch Team will handle itself this year. It’s the stupidest, most insignificant thing given people are out here fighting for and losing their lives, but—”
“Fuck—your small talk!” Malfoy snapped, lips drawn back tight over fiercely bared teeth. His eyes flashed, now a haunting, shifting shade of robin’s egg blue and hunter green, and how did they do that? “I meant talk to me. Not—ngh, at me.”
Harry could see the knobs of Malfoy’s spine poking up through Ron’s robes—they ought to have hung off Malfoy’s frame in billowy waves, but his shoulders were starting to bulk up, and something—something was pushing through them, straining at the fabric of the robes. He was tense and taut as a nocked arrow, breathing as ragged and raw as his voice, and his hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. He looked like a stiff breeze might send him over the edge, and Harry was supposed to talk to him.
He looked to Hermione, who gave him an encouraging nod, gesturing for him to continue.
“Er, well…” Right. Talking to him—to Malfoy. The object of the conversation was, Harry assumed, not to send him into a flying rage, so that meant no talk of Dark Lords, or parents or family, and probably no school or friends either.
Malfoy’s left elbow buckled, sending him face-planting into the dirt, and against his better judgement, even if it was sure to get his arm ripped off, Harry gingerly stretched out a hand, settling it on one of Malfoy’s grotesquely deformed shoulders. He was not rebuffed this time—but Malfoy did shudder at the touch, leaning into it with a frustrated wail that started deep in the barrel of his chest and seemed to buzz through Harry’s own bones.
Harry’s mouth was dry, and it was only Hermione’s hissed Say something! that reminded him he was meant to be talking Malfoy down. He licked his lips. “…What’s your Patronus?”
“What?” Malfoy snarled, head whipping around to pin Harry with a dagger-like glare. His eyes were blood–red now, and it was really distracting, the way they kept changing colours. Was it based off his emotions? Red didn’t seem encouraging at all, not one bit.
Harry tamped down viciously on the overwhelming urge to recoil, swallowing. “Your Patronus—what form does it take?”
The red in his eyes shifted to a muddled purple verging on black, and oh that was even creepier than the red, and any time Malfoy wanted to make his eyes stop doing that, he was perfectly welcome to. He released a laboured breath, grinding out, “…Dunno. Never cast one.”
Oh. Harry supposed he should have figured that. He struggled for a follow-up. “I could teach you, if you want. It’s not as complicated as it’s made out to be.” Unless you had a hundred Dementors bearing down on you; then you usually had to rely on your future self swooping in to save your pathetic arse. He left that part out, though.
Malfoy just shook his head, shoulders working as he raked furrows into the ground with his claws. “I don’t dare try—probably end up like Raczidian.” Harry didn’t recall who that was, making a mental note to look it up later provided he survived this encounter. “And with what wand?” Malfoy added bitterly.
Harry shrugged. “You don’t need a wand to learn the basics; and you could use mine to practise.” Malfoy’s brow furrowed, eyes narrowing in sharp suspicion; they’d gone a soft forest green now, and even in this beastly state, Malfoy still somehow managed to look striking. “I doubt it’ll turn on me.”
Malfoy seemed to process the offer for a moment, then dismissed him with a curl of his lip. “No thanks; I’m dealing with more than enough complicated magic at the moment.”
“Suit yourself.” And because Harry couldn’t resist: “I think it’d be a peacock, though.”
To his surprise, Malfoy didn’t snap or snarl or lash out in any way—he almost laughed, a rumbling chuffing sort of noise that might have been a scoff, actually, when Harry stopped to think about it. “Vile creatures,” he sneered, shuddering. “We have a troop roaming the gardens at the Manor…they’re mean as shit, caking every flat surface with their droppings…”
His voice didn’t sound nearly as raspy now, and he was breathing deeper and more evenly now, no longer hyperventilating. Harry leaned down to put himself at eye level—and saw that Malfoy’s irises had contracted nearly back to their normal size, pupils properly dilated again. “…All right there?”
Malfoy just nodded, giving a roll of his shrinking shoulders to knock Harry’s hand away. Taking the hint, Harry took several steps back but didn’t let his eyes leave Malfoy, only watched quietly as the bits and pieces of dragon that had tried to break free slowly but steadily sloughed away, leaving behind a shuddering, broken human shell.
Hermione had disappeared back into the tent—maybe to rustle up some medicinal potions, or maybe just to give them some privacy, knowing Malfoy’s pride. He’d absolutely hate to know she’d been watching him at his weakest, and they needed him as calm as possible; who knew how little it might take to send him careering back over the edge right now? Emotional instability was apparently a catalyst for his losing control, though Malfoy hadn’t seemed particularly unstable this morning, so they couldn’t be entirely sure that was all there was to it.
He wished he’d pressed Charlie for more details when he’d had the chance, or taken Bragge up on his offer to chat, since he’d seemed fascinated with dragon Animagi and their complications.
Once Malfoy managed to struggle back to his feet, only swaying a bit unsteadily before he caught himself, Harry walked him back into the tent, hand hovering at the ready but not touching. He was somehow more wary of Malfoy ripping his arm off now for taking such liberties than when he’d been in the throes of an involuntary shift.
Hermione had, it turned out, gone inside to prepare tea for all of them. She’d cleared off the table, setting their books and parchment aside and pulling out Malfoy’s chair for him, being sure not to stare or even make eye contact. Evidently she’d drawn the same conclusion as Harry: don’t push him right now, unless they wanted to see him lose hold of those few threads of humanity he seemed to just barely have a grip on.
They drank their tea in silence, quietly recouping from their ordeal for the rest of the afternoon until Ron returned just before dusk, chattering boisterously about the exciting day he’d had that sounded like it involved an umbrella, a family of ducks, and a spaniel that wouldn’t stop humping Ron’s invisible leg. By mutual tacit agreement, neither Harry nor Hermione made a peep about their own ‘exciting’ incident.
Ron had managed to complete his steak bake mission in the end, and even risked grabbing a large portion of chips from the chippy to go with them, but dinner was a relatively reserved affair. As usual, Malfoy took his meal away from the table, curled up in one of the armchairs in the living room. Hermione kept throwing hangdog glances Harry’s way, but Harry ignored her. It wasn’t his fault Malfoy had snapped—and he’d done his very best to bring Malfoy back from the brink. He’d done a fine job, he thought, and what did she expect him to do? Walk over there and clap Malfoy on the shoulder, tell him it was all going to be just fine? He didn’t know that, and Malfoy was unlikely to appreciate being patronised with pithy niceties.
In the end, though, it was his own curiosity that made him bring it up that evening in their bedroom, safe under cover of darkness, when it felt like there was finally enough distance from the incident they might discuss it without chancing a relapse.
“…Do we need to worry about that happening again?” Malfoy had his back to Harry, but as he hadn’t yet doused the lamps, Harry could easily see the way his spine stiffened and his shoulders clenched. “Just—if it’s going to be a regular thing, for whatever reason, then we need to be ready for it—”
“It won’t be a ‘regular thing’, Potter. I’ve got it handled.”
“Didn’t look that way,” Harry muttered, mostly to himself. “I’ve never known Animagi that needed to transform. I always thought it was a voluntary thing. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? If you can’t control it—”
“I can control it.”
“—then it’s almost like being a werewolf or something, isn’t it?”
Malfoy shot upright, face flushed in anger. “I’m not some—some wolf freak like your Professor Lupin!”
“Oi,” Harry warned, easing up onto his elbows. “Don’t call Remus a freak.”
Malfoy scoffed, drawing his knees up to rest his head against them. It was hardly an apology, but at least he hadn’t pressed on. There was a long beat, and Harry wondered if Malfoy had actually fallen asleep in such an awkward position, until he said in a bleak monotone that was muffled against his knees, “It just…builds up.”
Malfoy lifted his head, tilting it to the side to stare into the middle distance. “The need. Like—itching under my skin. This sense that this body isn’t mine, like I’m trapped and need out. Like…like there’s someone else inside me. And sometimes they win.”
A chill ran down Harry’s spine; he knew well what it felt like, having someone else’s thoughts and emotions running around inside of you—and he also knew how dangerous that could be. “…That doesn’t sound like Animagecraft.”
Malfoy’s gaze shifted to focus on Harry, sharp and judging. “What do you know about Animagecraft?” he sneered. “It’s fine.”
“Wha—this is so not fine it’s not even funny!”
“It’s fine,” Malfoy insisted, jaw tight. “I just have to stay grounded and focused, that’s all. This morning was…a moment of weakness only. We’re not all as perfect as the Chosen One, I’m afraid.” It rang hollow, stinking of bravado. “It shouldn’t happen again.”
Harry shook his head, not buying Malfoy’s profession for a minute. “If this is all about control, and you’re clearly not in control—don’t give me that look—why not, I dunno…” He shrugged. “Practise? Bragge said dragon Animagi have difficulty not getting overwhelmed by the form, which I’m beginning to see is an understatement—”
“I’m trying, you prick!”
“Are you, though? ‘Cause it seems to me you’re just running away from it. Why don’t you just…let it happen? You’re the one who wanted something big and nasty to save your folks; now that you’ve got it, you’re not even going to try to master it?” Harry raised a brow. “It doesn’t look like it feels very good, when you…get carried away.”
“Oh pish, it feels divine!” Malfoy rolled his eyes. “I wanted a form that could defend itself, that could defend my parents. I never asked for all this—this…” He grimaced. “Baggage.”
“Baggage?” Harry didn’t follow, but Malfoy just released a frustrated growl and flopped back down onto his bed, rolling over to place his back to Harry and effectively ending their conversation.
It was long after Harry whispered Nox to douse the lights that sleep eventually found him.
They moved camp again the next morning, as they had with each sunrise, and once they’d set the tent up and placed their defences around their new site, Hermione ushered them inside and announced that she’d made an adjustment to the tent’s Charms.
“As you can see,” she said, gesturing to the doors separating the bedrooms from the living area, “I’ve added a fourth room in addition to our three bedrooms.” Malfoy brightened, clearly thinking he would finally be granted his own room and some semblance of privacy, and while Harry didn’t think that was such a good idea, he felt a hopeful leap run through himself as well. Hermione, though, quickly dashed those hopes. “No, Malfoy; it’s not your own room. Or, well, I suppose it kind of is…” She nodded to the door. “Open it.”
Malfoy gave her a suspicious look that said Are you mad? and took a step backwards, just to be contrary. She rolled her eyes, muttering several choice words under her breath, and reached for the knob to wrench the new door open.
At first, Harry thought she’d just added a back entrance to the tent, as stepping through the door felt like he’d just walked outside again. “An exit?” Ron asked, voicing Harry’s thoughts.
“Nope,” Hermione said, grinding a dead leaf under her trainer with a smile. “I call it the Sanctuary. I’ve managed to layer another Undetectable Extension Charm within the one that came with the tent. I actually borrowed the idea from Newt Scamander—he travelled the world with a briefcase that had been fitted with a similar charm to house a rather large enclosure in which many of the creatures he collected on his journeys could live. His Sanctuary was large enough it even accommodated a Thunderbird for a time.” She looked to Malfoy, brows lifting. “So I suppose it could fit a dragon as well.”
“I’m not living in here!” Malfoy sputtered.
“Oh calm down, I wasn’t suggesting you do.” She extended a hand, gesturing around the Sanctuary. “This is a place where you can come when you’re feeling…out of sorts, as it were…and let yourself go without worrying about needing Harry’s permission to leave or damaging the tent. Since the Sanctuary is technically still inside the tent, you’re free to come and go as you please. Stay in here as long as you like, if you don’t feel like consorting with us.” She crossed her arms. “By all means.”
“Wait, so this is all fake?” Ron asked, picking up a leaf and studying it intently.
“Well, it’s Conjured, if that’s what you mean—this isn’t a real place. There are ways to manipulate how the Extension looks on the inside, apparently, but the text I used to make this place didn’t go into further detail, so I’ve just fit it with a Charm like the one used in the Great Hall.” She swept an arm around them. “This way, it’ll reflect wherever we’re camped.” She scratched her nose, a bit sheepish. “Er, though I haven’t sorted out the Atmospheric Charms just yet to regulate the temperature, so I’m afraid you’ll have to bundle up once winter hits…”
Winter. God, Harry hoped this mission wasn’t going to drag another three months. If for no other reason than he really didn’t think he could stomach close quarters with Malfoy for that long.
“How big is this place?” he asked. It was hard to gauge the dimensions because of the trees, but the sky seemed to stretch on forever.
“However big it needs to be. The charm bends space to fit the needs of whatever its contents are—just like my bag, and that Mokeskin pouch Hagrid gave you. This way, Malfoy can transform whenever he likes and move about—he should even be able to fly, if he’s that sort of dragon…?” She directed the question half to Malfoy, half to Harry, and Harry nodded, recalling the great bat-like wings that had been firmly strapped to the dragon’s side when he’d encountered it in the holding cell at the Ministry. Had he ever even used them? That Hermione didn’t seem to remember if Malfoy’s dragon had wings suggested he hadn’t used them when he’d attacked the school.
He was struck by a sudden wave of affection for her; Malfoy had been nothing but terrible to Hermione in school, slinging around slurs and insults every chance he got. Even in the few weeks since he’d joined them on the run, he’d yet to show an ounce of gratitude or anything resembling an apology for how he’d treated her in the past, when it was in large part thanks to her he’d been rescued in the first place. Sure, it had been Harry’s idea, but he owed Hermione his life several times over, and so by extension did Malfoy now. And yet despite what a prodigious wanker he was, she had still gone out of her way to create this space so that he didn’t have to freak out whenever one of those urges to transform took over. What a class act.
He was about to say as such, when Malfoy raked the Sanctuary with a bored look and muttered, “Impressive, Granger,” before turning on his heel and marching back into the tent, flopping down in one of the old armchairs and piecing through a copy of The Guardian that Ron had snatched on a food run a few days earlier (“It’s not the Prophet, but I figured it couldn’t hurt? Might be useful, in case You-Know-Who starts moving on the Muggles.”).
“That’s all he’s got to say?” Ron huffed, making a fist. He moved to follow Malfoy back into the tent. “What an ungrateful little piece of sh—”
“It’s fine, Ron,” Hermione said quickly. “I don’t care about gratitude. I care if he uses it.” She looked at Harry. “He’s got to understand, right? We can’t afford close calls with him. If he doesn’t have absolute control over his magic, he could hurt us or himself—or others, if he escapes.”
Harry bit his lip. “He told me…he said it builds up. That it feels like there’s something inside of him, trying to escape. Like his body isn’t his own, and sometimes whatever it is that’s trying to take over wins.” Hermione was frowning, chewing on a bit of her hair in nervous habit. “Does that sound like anything you’ve heard of? Did you ever have trouble with things like that, maintaining control or instincts trying to take over and push your human thoughts aside?”
“Oh no.” She shook her head. “But rabbits aren’t very bright creatures. A bit skittish, but it’s perfectly easy to manage once you’ve experienced it. I’ve certainly never felt like I didn’t belong…” She tapped her chin. “I’ll do a bit of digging and see if I can’t figure out what he’s dealing with. No wonder he’s spooked, if that’s how it feels…”
“Not like he had the strongest of spines to begin with,” Ron reminded, throwing a dirty look toward the door.
“It could be the dragon’s instincts still rumbling about inside him?” Hermione suggested. “He might mistake those for another consciousness, if he wasn’t expecting to have to deal with them.”
Harry nodded. “Charlie said that dragons are closer to Beings than Beasts, at least according to the Romanian Ministry of Magic, so their instincts are more assertive than those of other non-human creatures.”
Ron was still glowering at the door. “And what happens when he ‘asserts’ right as a group of Death Eaters is sniffing around our doorstep?”
Harry wondered the same; if Malfoy didn’t get a handle on himself and soon, he could blow their cover with an ill-timed episode, whether he meant to or not. It was looking more and more like they all would have been better off having left Malfoy in stasis at the Ministry, and damn the moral quandary.
He kept a close eye on Malfoy over the next few days, wondering if he’d ever actually work up the courage to use the Sanctuary. There’d been a couple of near misses—but it’d turned out Malfoy had only been heading to the loo for a piss. Harry occasionally caught him stealing wary glances at the door out of the corner of his eye, but nothing ever came of it. It felt like there was a clock, ticking away a countdown somewhere, and when it finally reached zero, Malfoy would snap again, and who knew how things would end this time?
“Of course I’m worried,” Hermione said, when Harry brought up his concerns about Malfoy’s reluctance to use the Sanctuary for its intended purposes. “But unless we want to lock him in there, I don’t see there’s much we can do aside from keep watch for any signs he’s about to snap.”
“And what’s wrong with locking him in there?” Ron asked around a bite of roast beef sandwich, a thick book propped up in his lap. “I’ve been working on my Incarcerus.”
Harry chuckled at the thought, though Ron kind of had a point. If Malfoy refused to release these urges that seemed to build up within him in a timely manner, it could endanger them all. Would they not then be justified in making him use the Sanctuary?
“You’re nothing more than my newest gaoler,” Malfoy had said, and Harry felt a tendril of discomfort wriggle through his midsection. No, let Malfoy work himself into a froth if he felt like it; they could handle him, if forced to. Probably. Hopefully.
He tried to push all thoughts of Malfoy and his stubborn pride and unfounded fears from his mind, pouring himself into Horcrux research, which Hermione seemed rather pleased with. Between their studies and watches and warding and scavenging, they had enough to deal with already; Malfoy would have to be trusted to his own recognisance for the time being.
But the days stretched on with no new breaks, countless hours wasted trying to determine where they might find the other Horcruxes or how to destroy the one they already had. Their conversations grew repetitive, circling and frustrating, as they consumed and regurgitated in an endless cycle all the information they’d gathered since they’d first learned of Horcruxes.
Their trips outside the protective enchantments of their campsite were brief and furtive. Only once had they dared Apparating to London, hidden—they hoped—under the safety of the Invisibility Cloak, on the off-chance Voldemort had hidden one of his Horcruxes at the old orphanage where he’d been raised as a child. But all the found at the site Dumbledore had told him about was a crowded business park, which they learned from a bored security guard had been erected over a decade ago after the old building had been demolished for its construction.
Ron had suggested they dig into the foundations, as it still might be there somewhere, but Harry had shaken his head. Voldemort had been desperate to escape that place, convinced he was too good for it; he would never have hidden a piece of his soul there. The sorts of places these Horcruxes were hidden were places of great personal triumph or confidence—a lake hidden in a seaside cavern surrounded by ravenous Inferi, or the library of a trusted lieutenant, or under the rotting floorboards of the closest thing he’d had to an ancestral home. There was a pattern—a sort of predictability that, while it might not lead them to the site of a Horcrux, could help them cross unlikely locations off the list.
No, he thought to himself as an afternoon rainstorm rolled in, fogging up his glasses: whether it was an orphanage or a business park, this dismal corner of Muggle London was as far removed from the wizarding world as Harry imagined it was possible to be. He would have been surprised if Voldemort had ever come back here at all after completing his education.
As their spirits took a nose dive with their dwindling prospects for tracking down the remaining Horcruxes, so too did Malfoy’s mood sour further. For a time there, he’d been taking his meals in the sitting room again, still refusing to share a table with them, but now he was back to cooping himself up in the bedroom, sleeping for most of the day and only dragging himself out for a bite or to take a piss. It was a worrisome pattern to be sure, but they really didn’t have time to babysit him; if he wanted to dig in his heels and refuse to use the Sanctuary, it would be on him. Harry wasn’t going to bring it up and risk triggering another episode with Malfoy literally trying to bite his head off, that was for sure.
They never stayed in any one place too long, Apparating all over the country, north to south and east to west, hitting a different locale each morning all in an effort to stay as untrackable as possible. If there hadn’t been the ever-present threat of war and death and destruction looming over them, it might have been an adventure, as Harry had seen more of the British Isles than he’d thought could possibly exist—as it was, each new site brought with it the question of Is it safe here? Is this where they’ll finally find us? which rather sucked away all enjoyment.
Harry’s scar was still prickling, keeping him up at night as often as Malfoy’s fitful dreams did. He’d stopped trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, though every time Hermione witnessed it, she would purse her lips into a tight line and breathe loudly through her nose. Ron wouldn’t stop pestering him about it whenever he noticed Harry wince, asking him what he’d seen this time. But it was always the same: just the merry-faced thief who’d Disarmed Gregorovitch and run off into the night.
That face haunted his dreams, and he imagined he could paint it from memory by this point. Each vision left Harry with the overwhelming surety he had seen this boy before, knew him, but still his identity eluded them. Whenever he woke from his dreams now, he would bury his head back into his pillow right away, praying that this time, this dream, might be the one where he finally nailed it. Their problems would be solved, he was certain, if he could just put a finger on who this man was, and that urgency followed him when he at last stumbled into sleep.
“Potter. P—Potter, wake up. Wake up.”
Someone slapped Harry’s cheek—lightly, but strong enough to sting, and Harry blinked blearily in the darkness, not entirely sure if this was another dream or vision or what. Malfoy’s ghost-white face swam into view, far too close for comfort, and a jolt of adrenaline shot through Harry, sending him scrambling backwards. His fingers were curled tight around his wand; he’d taken to sleeping with it since bunking with Malfoy. A good thing, too, as Malfoy’s eyes were glowing, like dying embers in the black of night.
Harry swallowed, forcing his heart down his throat and back into his chest where it was meant to be. “What—what the hell are you doing?”
“I have to go,” Malfoy responded cryptically, his voice drawn tight, and Harry imagined it might twang if he reached out and plucked.
“Have to—what?” Harry’s mind was still swimming, and his mouth was dry. Draco Malfoy had crawled into his bed, in the middle of the night, dishevelled and wild-eyed; there was nothing about this that made sense. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“I have to go,” Malfoy repeated, with a definite edge of urgency now. “I’m—” He winced, closing his eyes as he groaned feverishly—but Harry could still see something softly glowing behind Malfoy’s lids, like candlelight shining through a fingertip. “I can feel it coming again. I can’t sleep, it’s like there’s a giant sitting on my chest.”
Oh fuck—was that what was going on? Another fit? Well they’d solved that problem days ago, hadn’t they? “Jesus, you scared the shit out of me. So go to the Sanctuary and transform. ‘S not like you can do any damage in there.” Now Malfoy would have to drum up the stones to sort himself out, no more sitting around spooked for no good reason.
“I don’t want to transform you infuriating little—” He took a deep, bracing breath, his head hanging low, and Harry could almost see him lassoing the dragon and reining it in, even as the rope slipped his grip. Right; Harry probably shouldn’t make any sudden moves, he recalled. Malfoy was unpredictable when he got like this. Harry warily pulled his knees to his chest, readying to shove Malfoy off with a kick if needed. “Just—come with me. Come into the—the—”
“Sanctuary,” Harry supplied helpfully.
“Merlin, what a terrible name.” Malfoy forced his eyes to meet Harry’s; it was almost painful to look at, like staring overlong at a candle’s flame. “Come. And help me.”
Harry swore; this hadn’t been part of the plan. “No way, it’s—” He cast a quick Tempus charm. “Ugh, three in the morning. You don’t need me to transform anymore—”
Malfoy’s hand snapped out, grabbing the front of Harry’s pyjamas and giving a rough shake. “What part of I don’t want to transform didn’t you understand?!”
Harry shoved him off, grateful for the room’s dim light and the soft blur everything took on when he wasn’t wearing his glasses. He didn’t want to see the finer details of Malfoy’s features, undoubtedly screwed up into an angry scowl. “I’m going back to bed, Malfoy, and that’s the end of it.” He jerked his sheets back over himself, using his legs to lever Malfoy off the bed. “Stop being scared of your scaly little problem and just do it. I promise you’ll feel better.” Truthfully, he didn’t know that for sure, but it couldn’t possibly make him feel worse, could it? He’d felt better for a bit after the last incident, after all.
“I won’t,” Malfoy whined. “I can’t, please just come. Or—” He licked his lips, scrabbling under the sheets until he found Harry’s hand and took it in his own, tugging insistently. “Just—just talk to me again. Like before? Fuck, Potter, please, that’s all I’m asking.”
The desperation and pain thick in his voice were starting to wear on Harry, and he felt his own stubborn, contrary instincts build in equal ferocity. He was tired, confused, and a little bit terrified of what Malfoy might do in this state if he waited for too long to take refuge in the Sanctuary. “No,” he said, firm and sharp. “Now get into the Sanctuary before you wreck the tent!” Harry jerked his hand back and wiped it on the sheets—Malfoy’s grip was hot and sweaty. “Listen, I’ll set an alarm, and if you aren’t back after a half an hour, I’ll go in after you in case you need help grounding, all right?”
“I don’t want to transform, Potter—please please don’t make me, please just—” But his words cut off as Malfoy heaved, then clamped a hand over his mouth, eyes clenched shut. A threatening, animalistic growl began to build in his throat, and Harry felt the final dregs of sleep slough away, alarms blaring in his head.
“Malfoy, get in the Sanctuary now.”
But Malfoy just shook his head like a petulant child, mouthing silently No no no—and Harry was certain that if he wanted Malfoy in the Sanctuary, he was going to have to physically put him there himself. With a reluctant sigh, he threw off the covers and jumped to his feet, wand brandished just in case. “Fine, you want—”
Malfoy retched again and then seized, stiffening sharply before toppling onto the floor with a painful thud. Harry took a reflexive step back, dumbstruck—what was he meant to do? Dammit, Malfoy was going to have his fit right here, and Harry was going to wind up trapped in a tiny bedroom with an angry dragon who didn’t know that Harry was very stringy and lean and probably not terribly tasty. He reached for Malfoy’s wrist ready to drag him down the hall to the Sanctuary—
And immediately released his hold, jerking his hand back and shaking it; Malfoy’s skin was burning, red-hot to the touch, and Harry could smell—something. Sharp and acrid, it stung his nostrils. Cheap fabric burning, he realised. Malfoy struggled to his hands and knees, weak and shaking, and Harry sank down beside him, unsure of what to do. “Should I—should I talk to you again? Malfoy, can you hear me?” His hand hovered over Malfoy’s shoulder, unsure if he’d get burned again if he tried to offer a comforting gesture. “Malfoy? Shit, say something!”
Malfoy’s mouth worked mechanically, opening and closing, but no sounds came out, and Harry frowned when he noticed a strange glow emanating from Malfoy’s chest. Or no, his throat. Or no, his face—
Malfoy gave a violent shove, searing Harry’s skin through his clothes and sending him crashing into the bureau. He then retched again, and where before he’d done nothing but dry heave, now a glowing stream of molten lava spewed from his mouth, incinerating the thin rug and bleeding through to the hardwood planks beneath while Harry watched in silent horror. The lava pooled on the floor, spreading slowly and inexorably as it dribbled down Malfoy’s chin, his flesh melting away before Harry’s very eyes.
The stench of burning flesh permeated everything, and it was only when Malfoy finally managed a tortured scream that Harry snapped into action. He Vanished the lava—but more just came spilling out of Malfoy’s mouth, which was now little more than raw bone and blackened tissue sizzling sickeningly. Fuck, fuck this was bad. He cast Aguamenti, but the spell fizzled away, impotent, as soon as it had left his wand, and all the while Malfoy continued to shriek in tortured agony, seizing on the floor. He clawed at his face in desperation before Harry could stop him, coating his hands and fingers in molten fire.
Malfoy’s screams had Hermione and Ron bursting through the door only moments later, wands brandished as they took in the room with wide, white eyes.
“He said he felt another shift coming on!” Harry explained breathlessly. “He wouldn’t go to the Sanctuary! I tried to make him—but he refused—and now…!”
Hermione just swallowed, nodding. “We’ve got to get him in there, now!”
Ron made to grab Malfoy’s arm, but Harry stopped him with a sharp Don’t! “He’s hot to the touch, he’ll burn you! Here—Mobilicorpus!”
“Hurry!” Hermione urged, rushing ahead of them to open the door to the Sanctuary. Harry and Ron guided Malfoy through—still vomiting lava and writhing in tortuous, snake-like movements. It was all they could do to keep from getting pelted themselves, and by the time they wrestled him inside, his shoulders were starting to bulk as the dragon began to force its way out of Malfoy’s pathetic human form.
Seeing it bound and sedated at the Ministry, Harry had thought the dragon looked sad and pale but imagined it would be quite a magnificent sight in its proper form.
This, though? Was terrifying. It was as if Malfoy’s body was just a fleshy casing through which the dragon was tearing in a panicked effort to free itself, burning him alive from the inside out.
Hermione was babbling something, her voice soft and frantic and thick with unshed tears, but Malfoy was drowning her out as his screams shifted into an enraged roar that left a ringing behind in Harry’s ears.
Then there was a hand on Harry’s arm, and Hermione was pulling him away, directing him to release Malfoy. “Let him go, let it happen! It’s the only thing that can save him now!”
Her eyes shimmered, and there were faint tear tracks drying on her cheeks. Harry blinked several times in rapid succession. “What…what do you mean ‘save him’? He’s—?”
“Dying, Harry! Look at him!” And Harry did, really looked at the broken creature that had only moments ago been Draco Malfoy. He was doubled over, back arching and shoulders straining at the tattered remains of his nightshirt. His legs were stretched out at some awkward, unnatural angle that made them look like someone had taken a sledgehammer to them, and his stomach was grossly distended, lit from within by an eerie glow. His eyes were rolled back in his head, their colour shifting in a flashy whirl from pea-soup green to vibrant yellow to blood red to black, just black. His nose was completely gone, nostrils melted closed as his skull shifted and stretched unnaturally long. Harry could see the bones lengthening and growing, with bubbling and blackened muscle and tendon turning over to be replaced by fresh tissue.
“Injuries that Animagi suffer carry over into their animal form! Remember Scabbers, after Pettigrew cut his finger off to frame Sirius?” She waved her hand at Malfoy. “He must have lost control, and the shift started without his meaning it to—his human body couldn’t support the flame sac, and it burst…” She sniffed and rubbed furiously at her eyes. “It’s like a lava plume went off in his throat.”
“That…fuck, that’s not good, is it?”
“Does that look good to you, mate?!” Ron shrieked, running his hands through his hair and pacing nervously. “Fuck it all, if this little shit dies out here—what are we gonna do?!”
“He won’t die—maybe!” Hermione forced herself to take a few bracing breaths. “Dragons have really strong regenerative abilities; if he can just survive long enough to complete the transformation…then it should heal itself, and he’ll be fine when he turns back.”
“If he turns back…” Harry muttered in blank shock.
“Don’t say that!” Hermione wailed, bringing her hands to her mouth.
He had to say it, though. Because he had to make himself hear it. This was his fault, all his fault. If he’d taken Malfoy seriously, if he’d come in here when Malfoy had asked—when he’d begged—none of this would have happened. He’d just been so preoccupied with putting Malfoy in his place, chalking everything up to Malfoy’s stubbornness and pride. What the hell had he been thinking? Malfoy had been right: Harry didn’t know anything about Animagi—certainly nothing about dragon ones, at least.
Malfoy had tried to tell him, so many times, how frightened he was of whatever this Animagus form was doing to him…and Harry had ignored him. Had made fun of him, even.
It was another dragging, nail-biting ten minutes before the transformation finally finished, after several near-misses where Malfoy almost passed out from the stress and blood loss. At some point, the dragon must have taken over, shifting aside Malfoy’s rattled psyche as its survival instincts kicked in and healed the grievous trauma Malfoy had suffered.
The dragon was just as beautiful as Harry recalled—more so now that it wasn’t magically drugged and locked in a holding cell—but it was clearly drained by the effort. Its wings hung limp at its sides, dragging along the ground, and it panted and growled plaintively as it paced with a sinuous, languid gait. Its talons gouged tracks in the ground, biting into the hardpack, and it swung its massive head from side to side as it scanned its surroundings with wary eyes of deep maroon.
Did it recognise them? Or were they dangerously close to a quintuple-X Beast? Was it Malfoy staring back at them from behind those curiously intelligent eyes, or had he retreated once more to that bleak moor with nothing but that snooty peacock for company? Fuck, how were they going to get him back to himself if that had happened? Would Hermione be able to recreate the potion Snape had concocted? What had been its ingredients again?
Ron nudged Harry with his elbow. “Should you maybe try and talk to it?” he suggested, faint hope in his voice. “Just, I don’t really like the look it’s giving us.”
Harry swallowed, taking a careful step forward; he stuffed his wand in his pocket and held his hands out to show he wasn’t armed, hoping Malfoy or the dragon or both understood the gesture. “Er…Malfoy? Can you…can you hear me?” The dragon ignored him, continuing to pace. Its long tail lashed nervously, nearly sweeping Harry’s legs out from under him when it turned unexpectedly. “…Can you even understand me?”
He felt ridiculous, trying to talk to a dragon when it clearly wasn’t processing a word he was saying. Malfoy either wasn’t in a speaking mood, or he wasn’t in there at all. Harry turned to Hermione and Ron for guidance, but Hermione just shooed him on, nodding. He took a breath. “Listen, you’re…you’re gonna be all right, yeah? Hermione says the transformation will have healed you up, so just—don’t worry about that. You’ll be right as rain, whenever you feel like shifting back. And—” He turned his back to Hermione and Ron, dropping his voice in shame. “…I’m sorry I was such an arsehole, really. I’m sorry I tried to make you do this alone and didn’t listen to you when you asked me for help. I remember you don’t like doing that sort of thing—so I imagine it took some balls to ask someone like me to help you out of a jam. And I screwed that up.” If Malfoy was in there, he was probably pissed as anything he couldn’t lay into Harry right now, so Harry had to simply imagine the retorts of You can say that again, Scarhead and Just my luck you finally listened and fucked right off.
He sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Just please don’t be stuck inside your mind again? Snape reckons I’d scramble your brains if I tried Legilimency to sort you out, and I don’t know what potion he gave me last time to help bring you back to your senses.”
The dragon was unmoved by his pleas, its forelegs buckling at last with exhaustion and the rest of its bulk following shortly after. Its barrel chest heaved with deep inhalations, and it panted open-mouthed, exposing several rows of hooked-back teeth. Its tail flopped against the ground weakly, and its eyelids fluttered, as if it were on the verge of passing out. Harry couldn’t blame it.
“You two can head back to bed,” he told Ron and Hermione. “I’ll…I’ll stick around a little longer, just in case.” He didn’t elaborate on just in case, as he didn’t quite know how to finish that thought himself, but after exchanging worried glances, they nodded.
“Be careful, yeah?” Ron said. “You-Know-Who would go ballistic if he didn’t get to be the one to kill you, after all.”
Harry gave him a weak smile. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
Once they’d returned into the tent, Harry made another circuit around the dragon, giving it a once over just to make sure it was all in one piece. The transformation appeared to have healed it completely—at least on the outside—just as Hermione had said it would, which was a relief. It was bad enough, knowing he’d been responsible for that inhuman torture Malfoy had had to suffer through; if he’d gone and gotten him killed on top of it, Harry didn’t know how he could have ever handled that.
The dragon looked to be asleep now, lids drawn low over its eyes, and its breathing was much more regular than before, though still just this side of panting. Harry stepped closer, keeping a close eye out for any signs of the beast rousing, and laid his palm gently—tentatively—against its shoulder. Warm only, now; not the searing heat of earlier—but then the dragon shuddered, and Harry quickly jerked his hand back, scrambling to put several paces between himself and those jagged teeth that might still mistake him for a tasty morsel.
At a safe distance, Harry cleared the leaf litter to expose a patch of grass and settled down, legs crossed at the ankle and knees drawn up to his chest. The moon had long since set, and even if it had still been up, the treetops stretched so tall he wouldn’t have been able to make out more than a few fading beams snaking through the waving branches. Maybe it was a trick of the eye, or maybe Harry was too sleep-drunk to think straight, but the dragon seemed to glow with its own light, as if its scales had soaked in the very moonlight itself. Each inhalation sent ripples of opalescent colour shimmering over its hide, spangling the backs of Harry’s eyes so that even when he closed them, it still dazzled.
It didn’t seem very fair, Harry thought, that someone with so ugly a personality as Malfoy could turn into something so beautiful. He should have been a toad. Or one of those snooty dog breeds with the smushed-nose faces. Something that looked as nasty on the outside as Malfoy was on the inside.
Well, maybe a dragon fit, in that case.
At some point, as his mind wandered, Harry must have nodded off between one thought and the next, for the next thing he knew, something had laid into his shoulder and given him a hard shove—and down he’d gone in a graceless pile of limbs. Before he could push himself back upright, Malfoy placed one foot on his chest to hold him in place, staring down at Harry with cold contempt in his eyes. He had a flimsy scrap of what remained of the robes he’d been wearing wrapped around his waist to give himself some decency, but there wasn’t much left that hadn’t been burned to ash or torn to shreds.
“Get me some clothes, you consummate bastard.”
Malfoy’s voice was a throaty rasp, but it sounded more like the product of overuse and less because his throat had been burned raw. Small relief.
Harry eased up onto his elbows, and Malfoy removed his foot, taking several measured steps back. This close, it was obvious Malfoy wasn’t quite as steady on his feet as he usually was, and Harry somehow felt ashamed for noticing. “I—yeah, yeah sure.” He scrambled to his feet, dusting off the knees of his pyjama bottoms to buy himself some time so he could gather his thoughts. “Um. Are…you all right?”
Malfoy’s expression could have cut glass. “No thanks to you.”
Harry winced, though of course he’d well deserved that. He pursed his lips; he wanted to apologise—properly to Malfoy this time, as he wasn’t sure the dragon had even understood him—but he sensed any attempts at making nice would only fall on deaf ears at the moment. Malfoy was half-naked, exhausted, and rightly pissed at Harry. Apologies would only make Harry feel better. “…I’ll go find you some more clothes, wait here.”
“What the fuck else am I going to do?”
Harry opened his mouth, reflexively, to give him several suggestions as to what he could do with himself—then promptly snapped it shut again. Malfoy was entitled to smart off. He could make as many nasty remarks as he liked for, say, the next twelve hours. That sounded fair. Harry beat back the urge to leap into another fantastic row with Malfoy and instead turned on his heel and marched back into the tent in search of a change of clothes—though not without a final backwards glance, where he found Malfoy turned away, shoulders hunched and head hanging low.
His heart gave a guilty lurch. Malfoy was right; he really was a consummate bastard.
Morning found the four of them in even darker moods than usual, all running on relatively little sleep with tensions in the stratosphere. Harry had feared Malfoy would spend the day in their room out of shame for having been seen in such a state as he had the night before, but it seemed his appetite won out over his pride, and Malfoy was not only present, he was sitting at the table with them, having stolen the chair Ron usually sat in.
“Oi—that’s my seat!” Ron protested when he joined them to find all three chairs already occupied.
“I didn’t see your name written on it,” was all Malfoy said, concentrating very hard on keeping his hands from shaking as he tried to manoeuvre his forkful of eggs to his mouth. Harry had been watching him out of the corner of his eye for ten minutes now, wondering if the tremors were a byproduct of the trauma Malfoy had gone through the night before—or if they prefaced another episode sure to strike again soon.
“Don’t make a fuss, Ron; you were late to breakfast, so you’ve lost your spot.” Hermione waved absently toward the sitting room, her nose buried in a book. “Transfigure one of the armchairs if you like; there’s room for a fourth.”
“Oh, well so long as there’s room,” Ron muttered, drawing his wand and stalking over to tame the armchair into something more dining table-friendly.
It was odd, the three—four now—of them sitting around the breakfast table as if this were perfectly commonplace: the clink of cutlery against dishes, the soft rustle of pages turning, and four heads bowed in quiet communion. Harry decided it was simply that they were all of them thrown, still walking around wrong-footed after the previous evening’s events, and as soon as they got their bearings back, they’d return to their rightful positions and things would go back to normal.
Hermione snapped her book shut, setting it to the side as she cleared her throat. “I think we need to set down some rules.”
“Rooes?” Ron asked around a mouthful of toast. “Abou’ wha’?”
“About your atrocious table manners, I have to assume,” Malfoy said, one hand raised to shield himself from the flecks of half-digested toast Ron was spitting across the table.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Boys. Obviously about what happened last night.”
Malfoy stabbed his plate with his fork, dragging the tines across with a simpering smile. “You mean when Potter nearly murdered me?”
“I didn’t murder—” Harry started.
“I did say ‘nearly’, didn’t I?”
“You can’t pin this all on me—I told you to get into the Sanctuary and transform!”
Hermione slammed a fist down on the table, and all three of them jumped in response, buttoning up promptly. She took a long, bracing breath. “Clearly, the way we’ve been trying to handle Malfoy’s…issues…isn’t going to cut it, going forward. As such, I feel we should try being a bit more proactive about this. If, as Harry says, this is a matter of emotions and new instincts building up inside—”
“You told her?” Malfoy hissed at Harry, cheeks pink and eyes flashing in rage.
“Of course he did,” Hermione said with practised patience. “And a good thing, too, or else I wouldn’t know why this happened and it might happen again. Instead, we’re going to get out ahead of this issue.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “No more bottling anything up—no more avoiding the Sanctuary. I know you don’t like it, but you should schedule a controlled shift at least once a week, I think, to ensure you give yourself a proper outlet for these emotions you feel bring on the need to transform.”
“Schedule a shift?”
“What, don’t think you can pencil it in between high tea with the Bridge Club and croquet on the South Lawn?” Hermione pressed her lips into a thin line. “Whatever’s gone wrong with your Animagus spell, it’s clearly not getting any better on its own–”
“Nothing went wrong with it! I performed it perfectly!”
Ron snorted into his coffee, thumping his fist against his chest to clear his breathing. “Go on, pull the other.”
Hermione gave Ron a look that somehow managed to be both fond and warning at the same time. “Well, be that as it may, there’s obviously something going on here that none of us have any idea how to handle.”
“Well there’s a first,” Malfoy muttered sourly, drawing runes in the condensation on his glass of juice. “A problem Granger can’t solve.”
“I’m working on it,” Hermione said, not a little defensive. “But while I’m sure it may come as a shock to you, you’re hardly the biggest problem we’re dealing with at the moment, so it might take some time.”
“Don’t go out of your way on account of me, please.”
“Don’t worry; we aren’t.” Hermione raised a brow. “As I said, we’re putting it on you to take care of yourself. This is only my very good advice, so take it or leave it. You don’t have to transform if you don’t feel like it; by all means, fight it tooth and nail if it makes you feel better. But seeing as the alternative to using the Sanctuary to let loose on a regular basis is an excruciating and messy death, I would think you’d be marching in there just as soon as you’ve cleaned your plate.”
Malfoy just glared at her, running his tongue over his teeth, then shoved his chair back and stood up, hands fisted at his sides. Harry thought he might actually throw a punch, or at least kick the table over, but he simply fixed them all in turn with a furious look and then flounced away. He paused in front of the Sanctuary for only a moment, then ducked his head and stalked into their room, slamming the door shut with such force, an embroidered sign reading “Home Is Where You Hang Your Robes” fell from its hook on the wall and clattered to the floor.
“…I guess that could have gone worse,” Harry said, and he honestly had expected a bit more fight from Malfoy. He’d made his usual sneering remarks and thrown a modest strop, but it lacked the bite Harry had come to associate with Malfoy over the years.
“I’m not surprised,” Hermione sighed. “The diagnostic charms I cast on him show that he’s perfectly healthy physically, with no lingering effects from the injuries he suffered before he managed to transform. But mentally, I can’t imagine he’s not spooked.”
“Spooked?” Ron huffed. “You just said he’s fine. I’d be dancing on the roof if I came out of what he went through in one piece.”
“Even if you knew it was your own body that had turned against you and put you through that hell in the first place?” She buttered a piece of toast, shaking her head. “If he’s agreeing to my suggestions at all, with as little backtalk as we heard, it’s only because he’s terrified this will happen again.”
Harry felt guilt coil in his stomach, the other side of Hermione’s words ringing in his ears: he’s terrified Harry will refuse to cooperate again.
“And you’ll be a gentleman and help him through his shifts, Harry? I know you’re not his biggest fan—heaven knows I’m right there behind you—but at least until he’s got a stronger grip on the transformation and feels comfortable in his Animagus form, I think it’s best you’re near at hand.”
Harry straightened. “Wait—what? Why do I have to be there?!”
“I’ve just told you why.”
“But—” He looked to Ron for support, but Ron seemed suddenly very interested in pouring himself some juice. Coward. “We—we don’t have time, right? We’ve got a job to do, You-Know-Whats to track down. We’ve wasted enough time babysitting Malfoy—and besides! I’m only good for talking him down from a transformation. He told me so himself!”
“Harry—” Hermione started.
“Look, I get that what he went through was hell, but he managed to shift back all right, didn’t he? He can turn into a dragon and back into a human just fine now, there’s no point in my being there!”
“Harry James Potter,” she tried again, more forceful now, and if she was using his full name, then this was one argument he wasn’t going to win. “You’ll listen to me and actually hear me this time: Talking to him, be it down from a transformation or through one, does Malfoy good. I expect it made all the difference last night, to be honest.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Well, and I know you probably don’t want to be reminded of this, and he probably doesn’t want you being reminded of it either, but you’re his mate. Or—he chose you as such, at least. That’s probably the one thing that beast inside of him recognises, and it’s the one thing it’ll respond to in a reasonably predictable manner. Last night, when he let the transformation take over, let the dragon’s instincts and urges inside of him loose, it could have easily overwhelmed him like before. But you spoke to him, when he was still in that limbo point of his shift where his human consciousness was still at the forefront of his mind. You’re a tether for him, something familiar that he can latch on to. He’s used it in the past to try and ground himself to stay human, but it seems you can function as a lifeline connecting him to his humanity even when he lets the dragon out.”
Harry was miserable, and he let his head fall into his hands, groaning. “Why me though? This is ridiculous! We don’t even like each other—but suddenly he’s in love with me?”
Hermione gave him a rather unhelpful pat on the shoulder. “It’s not romantic love—dragons have no concept of that. It’s about finding balance. Or a partner, an equal. Biologically, another like yourself with whom it would be wise to procreate.” Harry made a face; he’d already gotten this speech from Bragge, and Hermione’s riff wasn’t sounding any more convincing. Thoughts of ‘procreating’ with Draco Malfoy nearly brought his breakfast back up. “It’s probably not even something he consciously has any control over. It just is. You came into his life, you were the force that you were, the presence that you were, and your interactions coloured your relationship. And that relationship for him is, subconsciously, one in which you’re a worthy equal, whether he recognises it or not.”
It still didn’t make a whit of sense to Harry; how had he been any sort of ‘force’ or ‘presence’ in Malfoy’s life, beyond a target to tease mercilessly? The git had never forgiven Harry for calling him out at age 11 because he’d been being an arsehole to Ron! The very idea that Malfoy felt anything for Harry beyond disdain and jealousy simply boggled. Romantic or not, these feelings Hermione claimed Malfoy subconsciously held for Harry were downright absurd.
Harry looked up, sighing. “…Yeah, he definitely wouldn’t want you reminding me of any of that.”
Hermione smiled wryly. “So you’ll help him? And not exacerbate the situation? We’re not making much headway on the Horcruxes at the moment, so I don’t see the occasional hour or so in the Sanctuary cutting too much into our saving-the-world side-business.” She reached for the last of the boiled eggs, setting it in one of the egg cups she had pilfered from a car boot sale two campsites ago. “You made the choice to help him once, so I think you owe it to him to go all-in with it.”
And of course she was right.
Malfoy was a grade-A wanker, that much they’d confirmed over the past few weeks, but he didn’t deserve to deal with this kind of torture—not even when he’d brought it upon himself. Harry couldn’t just stand idly by knowing there was something he could do to ease Malfoy’s suffering; indeed, it was what had gotten them into this mess in the first place.
But as before, another several uneventful days passed with Malfoy refusing to go into the Sanctuary.
Had he somehow forgotten what had happened to him the last time? Or was his stubborn refusal to do anything Hermione suggested on account of her being Muggleborn really going to outweigh the not-so-slim chance he might die if he didn’t wrestle these urges to transform under control? Hermione had only told him to support Malfoy—she’d made it very clear that the decision to heed her advice or not was entirely up to Malfoy.
As such, Harry decided to try and put the issue out of his mind, instead pouring himself into Horcrux research and food runs. Nearly a month in, now, and they’d grown confident enough in their Glamour charms to chance shopping in far-flung farmers’ markets and the odd corner shop, such that now they had reasonably well-stocked cupboards. Ron had nearly cried when Harry had come back from a shopping trip with ingredients to make a beef and ale stew, and Malfoy had actually had seconds.
So Harry read Hermione’s dry, dull books, only managing to focus on every other word, and drafted shopping lists whenever the others mentioned cravings. What Malfoy did with his day, Harry neither knew nor cared. His responsibility started and ended at the door to the Sanctuary, so until Malfoy stepped through, there was no need for them to interact at all.
It was a Friday when it finally happened.
Dinner had been a poor man’s chicken Provençal that Aunt Petunia had thrown together when a reporter for a local gardening magazine had come to the house to write up a piece on Petunia’s kitchen garden. It hadn’t had half the ingredients it was meant to, Harry had learned when he’d stolen a look at the recipe, but it had been tasty enough, and the name sounded fancy. He’d known there’d be a risk Malfoy might turn his nose up at the dish on the grounds it wasn’t real chicken Provençal, but it would keep for days under a Warming Charm, and if Malfoy didn’t want to eat it, no one was going to force it down his throat.
Still, eaten it Malfoy had, cleaning his plate before quietly depositing his dirty dishes in the sink—he never offered to do the Scouring up, naturally—and then making a beeline for their bedroom, as he’d done every night since the incident. He would always throw a dirty look toward the Sanctuary before hurrying past, as if fearing it might suck him in if he strayed too close.
But that night, he stopped—standing a body length from the door to the Sanctuary and just staring at it. Harry, curled up in one of Perkins’s armchairs with a book on ancient wizarding artefacts on display at Hogwarts, was the first to notice the curious scene, because he couldn’t help but be aware of what Malfoy was doing wherever he was in the tent, even when he was actively trying to ignore him. Hermione followed his eye a heartbeat later, and then Ron. Harry was certain Malfoy could tell they were watching him, could probably feel their gazes weighing heavily on his shoulders and would, given half a chance, do whatever he could to dash their hopes. There was a collectively held breath as they waited, wondering if he’d finally do it.
And then, as if it were nothing at all, Malfoy huffed, reached for the doorknob, and gave a sharp yank, striding through with head held high. Just before the door slammed shut behind him, Harry caught a glimpse of leaf-bare trees and a patchy hedgerow much like those shielding their campsite. Beyond them, he knew, lay fallow fields and heather-covered hillsides as far as the eye could see.
Well. Good for him, having finally conquered his fear. Harry would miss the sight of Malfoy shying away from the Sanctuary like a spooked horse, but at least there’d be no more close calls with Malfoy nearly burning the tent down in self-immolation.
Harry sighed and turned back to his book—but not before he caught Hermione fixing him with a heavy, knowing look. “…What?”
“Harry, we discussed this.”
Ah fuck. “But I’m right in the middle of—” He hefted the book up for her to see.
“I’m certain Ron and I are perfectly capable of—” She looked to Ron, who was trying to pick a bit of sweetcorn from his teeth—when was the last time they’d had sweetcorn at a meal? Harry couldn’t recall. “…I am perfectly capable of handling the evening’s research all on my own. I’ve got stacks Q through S to get through, and I’m pinning rather a lot of hope on Soul Magic and You.”
He looked to Ron for support, but Ron just shrugged. “He’s your pet project, mate. It’s up to you to clean up after him if you want to keep him.”
Harry didn’t particularly want to keep Malfoy, but he was pretty sure the time for such decisions had long past. With a defeated groan, Harry stood, dropping Hidden Treasures of Hogwarts in the armchair and shuffling toward the Sanctuary as slowly as he could possibly manage. Maybe if he put it off long enough, Malfoy would abandon his efforts—or finish quickly!—and spare Harry the trouble.
Too soon, though, he reached the doorway and placed one hand on the knob, swallowing.
“Now don’t you boys have too much fun in there,” Ron called brightly, and Harry showed him two fingers and pushed his way inside.
The very first thing he noticed, once he’d stepped over the threshold, was that Malfoy was naked.
“Holy—put some damn clothes on!” Harry shouted, quickly averting his eyes.
“Potter?!” Malfoy shrieked in much the same tone. “What are you doing in here?!”
“I could ask you the same thing!” They’d all just assumed Malfoy had come in here to transform, like Hermione had suggested. This was certainly not the sight Harry had expected to walk in on. “Why are you naked?!” This was the third time he’d seen Malfoy in his birthday suit, and that was three times too many as far as Harry was concerned.
“I’m not,” Malfoy growled, and there was some rustling of cloth. When Harry dared a quick glance, to check, he was relieved to see that the robes that had been pooling at Malfoy’s ankles were hiked up again, with Malfoy clutching the fabric about his midsection for modesty. “Not yet.”
“Not yet?” Harry repeated. “Meaning you were on your way there.”
“Before you rudely interrupted. Now get out.”
“So you can finish stripping and go run through the fields bare-arsed?” Harry ran his hands through his hair, then scrubbed his face. “Just—what the hell, Malfoy?”
“Granger wanted me to use this place, so I’m using it!”
“To moonbathe? Thank god I came in when I did—another thirty seconds and I don’t think I’d ever have been rid of the image!”
Malfoy closed his eyes, inhaling slowly and holding his breath. “It may have escaped your attention, but my wardrobe at present is rather limited.” He gave the robes clutched in his arm a shake—they were duplicates of Ron’s, whose frame most closely matched Malfoy’s. “I’d rather not rip them up with a transformation. Weasley’s gangly, but even his rags won’t fit a dragon.”
Harry frowned—why would Ron’s robes need to fit a dragon? “So? Don’t they transform with you when you shift? All the Animagi I’ve ever met have shifted with their clothes on; it’s part of the magic.” Or so he’d assumed—as now that he thought about it, Malfoy had ruined whatever clothes he’d been wearing whenever he attempted a shift. In his mind’s eye, he could see the dragon’s wings trying to rip their way through the back of Ron’s robes, and his nose still stung with the stench of burnt fabric.
“Well bully for them—I can’t.”
“Have you actually tried?”
“Get out, Potter.” Malfoy made a shooing motion with one hand, the other holding up the robes to maintain some semblance of modesty. “If it’s an eyeful you’re after, go hit up Weasley. He seems just desperate enough to slum it with you.”
Ron was a bit desperate, even Harry could see, but it certainly wasn’t for Harry’s company. Harry glanced around the clearing; there were too many trees and bushes around for Malfoy to shift without banging his tail or wings on something, but it was only a few dozen paces to the tree brake. “I just…thought maybe you were going to try transforming on your own.”
Malfoy gestured to himself. “Ten points to Gryffindor; I’d have done it, too, if I hadn’t been interrupted by your ogling me.”
Harry was definitely not ogling, because there wasn’t much to see beyond Malfoy’s pale, skinny shoulders and whip-thin arms and pointy chin. “Well I thought maybe you needed to be talked through it again.”
“I never needed to be talked through it, Potter. I needed to be talked down from it, which you seemed to think a waste of your precious beauty sleep, as I recall.” The point stung, hitting home likely just as Malfoy had intended it. “So I’ve clearly no need for you—run along back to your lackeys.”
Harry crossed his arms, throwing a longing look back to the doorway. Could he sneak back in without their noticing? He wished he had his Invisibility Cloak on him. “Hermione told me to come in here.”
“Why?” Malfoy wrinkled his nose. “To make sure I’m managing no mischief?”
“No, to help…” Harry waved his hand vaguely in Malfoy’s direction. “I dunno, keep you grounded or something?” He shrugged. “She thinks you’re better off when I’m around than when I’m not, that’s all.”
“So you’re my nanny, then.”
“You’d have to ask her that. If you want to ignore me, then feel free.” Harry cast about for something to sit on, then grabbed one of Perkins’s rickety old folding chairs leaning against the doorway leading back into the tent. Once Hermione had crafted the space, they’d tossed most of the junk cluttering up the tent in here to make room for more bookcases. He unfolded the chair, sliding into it gingerly to be sure it would hold his weight. “Go on about your business. An after-dinner nap suits me better than hearing a lecture about ‘abandoning you in your hour of need’ or whatever.”
In retrospect, Harry supposed he should’ve brought Hidden Treasures of Hogwarts in here with him, though a nap was plenty more appealing at the moment than more research, especially when he didn’t even know what he was looking for. “You’ll know it when you see it,” Hermione had assured him, but he really didn’t think Voldemort had made a Horcrux out of the cauldron Vindictus Viridian (“First Slytherin Head Boy”) had used as a student.
Malfoy continued to glare at him, robes cinched at his waist, before sighing dramatically and gritting out, “Fine. But you’d better not watch. Turn around.”
“Why would I want to watch?” Harry sputtered, quickly swivelling the chair around so his back was to Malfoy—but not before he glimpsed Malfoy’s naked chest. Something about the sight caught him, so smooth and unblemished—not even a dusting of chest hair. Harry frowned to himself. “…Your chest…”
“Wha—turn around, I said!”
Harry ignored him, standing. “There’s no scars.” Malfoy glanced down at himself, one hand holding the robes to cover himself from the stomach down while the other came up to touch his pectoral. They’d never spoken about that moment—there hadn’t been time for one, or desire for another. Harry had carried the guilt around in his pocket for months now, though. Maybe that was why he’d leapt through hoops to see Malfoy safely from the Ministry’s dungeons. He’d almost killed Malfoy once; having saved him, perhaps they might be even. It sounded like as good a reason as any. “Just—I’m glad. That it didn’t scar. I never meant…”
Malfoy’s hand dropped back to his side, clenching into a fist, and he drew the robes up higher, clutching them like a security blanket. “…It did scar. Pomfrey and Snape did what they could, practically bathing me in dittany, but they were Dark curse scars. There’s no Vanishing those.”
Harry recalled George’s ear and how fruitless all of Molly’s efforts had been. Malfoy wasn’t making any sense. “But—they’re gone now… I don’t see anything.”
Malfoy shrugged, slender shoulders rising and falling. “They disappeared, after the first time, when I…” Oh. The first time he’d transformed into the dragon, Harry realised. “I suppose it healed them. Nice to know this form’s good for something. I’d hoped…” But Malfoy didn’t finish his thought, drawing his left arm tight to his chest and biting his fist.
Harry knew, if he looked at Malfoy’s forearm, he’d see a scar that the transformation hadn’t managed to heal.
Malfoy huffed, running his fingers through his hair and waving Harry off. “So? If you’re done gawking now?”
Harry rolled his eyes, shuffling around to look away, but he made sure to keep Malfoy in his peripheral vision just in case something went wrong. A split-second of forewarning might be all that saved him from getting shishkebabed or barbecued.
A breeze picked up, stirring up leaves and sending them swirling into the night sky. It wasn’t cold, not really, but Harry reflexively shivered as the wind ruffled his hair, and he wished he’d thought to put on a jumper. October was bearing down upon them, and soon enough autumn would wax into winter. It was looking more and more like Hermione’s prediction they’d still be here when snow set in would be coming true. He wondered what they’d be doing around Christmas—would they have made any headway at all? Or would they still be dicking around in the woods, noses buried in books while—
A flash of white caught his eye, and Harry whirled around, one hand on the wand in his back pocket and his heart in his throat. His eye sought out Malfoy—but instead, it found something far more magnificent.
That was really the only word Harry could come up with, banging about inside his head: Magnificent.
‘Finally,’ he thought, for he realised a part of him had been looking forward to this moment for far longer than Harry was entirely comfortable with. This moment when he’d at last see the dragon as it was meant to be seen. Not trussed and sedated in a dank cell, not exhausted and wrung out, collapsed in a heap—but this. The beast that had struck down Albus Dumbledore.
The dragon was pacing again, though not in wild confusion this time. More like it was trying to get its bearings, long neck stretched toward the sky as it scented the air. Its body was long and serpentine, with a line of hooked spines curving along its back toward the tip of its whipcrack tail, and its hide glittered with a million tiny scales that seemed to gather moonlight, reflecting back an opalescent sheen. From its bulky shoulders stretched a pair of bat-like wings, half-open and tentatively waving, like a child with outstretched arms trying to navigate a narrow beam. The dragon drew its neck back, settling into a swan-like S-shape in repose, and blinked lazily at Harry with eyes that didn’t seem able to decide what colour they wanted to be.
Harry swallowed, keeping his fingers on his wand, and approached carefully—he wanted a closer look, but he also wanted all his limbs still attached to his body. No amount of dittany was going to reattach an arm, he was pretty sure. “Malfoy…?” he tried, praying his voice didn’t crack.
The dragon swung its massive head around, fixing those distracting eyes squarely on Harry, and gave a sharp, derisive snort that Harry swore sounded like Obviously.
Reassured, Harry took a slow circuit of the dragon, being sure to keep clear of the tail lashing impatiently and claws like talons digging into the soft soil.
He’d thought it before, but it really was rather tiny, for a dragon, being only slightly larger than Uncle Vernon’s car. It was certainly less imposing than the house-sized creatures the champions had challenged in the Triwizard Tournament. Bragge had said Malfoy was a juvenile, with his Animagus form tied to his human development, so did that mean he would get bigger? Or was this breed one of the smaller ones? He wished he’d paid a bit more attention in Care of Magical Creatures class, though he hadn’t anticipated he’d actually need to apply any of the lessons.
Malfoy tried to trip him up with his tail, though Harry nimbly leapt over it—but he still managed to get buffeted by Malfoy’s awkwardly spread wings. Harry took several steps back to give him a wider berth, warning, “Watch it.” The dragon just huffed, affecting what looked like a very poor attempt at an innocent expression.
A thought occurred to him, though: “…So can you fly?”
Malfoy opened his wings fully, showing off his admittedly impressive wingspan—even with that tail, he was still wider than he was long. He tossed his head as if to say What the fuck do you think these are for?
“Well, yes, and they’re lovely, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to learn—but as I hear it, you apparently climbed Gryffindor Tower. So I ask again: Can you fly?” It was the strangest sensation, having this one-sided conversation with Malfoy—mostly because it was a conversation. It had been one thing, delivering his apology and pithy reassurances to the dragon when it had barely been conscious. It was another matter entirely to be full-on chatting with an overgrown lizard and half-expecting it to fire back one of Malfoy’s acrid comments in return.
Malfoy could only grunt in response, but it didn’t sound very confident. Harry inclined his head toward the tree brake, beyond which was a bit more space to move about. “Give it a shot, then? Surely it’s innate.” He didn’t wait for a response, only charged ahead, weaving his way through the trees. He kind of hoped Malfoy wasn’t going to be a stubborn arse about this; he just wanted to see the dragon fly, that was all.
Malfoy released a plaintive groan, but Harry just beckoned him on, and then with a grumbling growl, Malfoy was finally following him. He shoved his bulk through the trees, snapping saplings and crushing them underfoot with about as much finesse as an Erumpent in heat. When he finally broke through, he gave a great shiver, like a dog just come in from the rain, and sent a shower of leaves and twigs cascading off his hide.
Harry placed his hands on his hips, nodding. “Well? Go on.”
Malfoy looked around to get his bearings, wings awkwardly held out from his body, and then planted his feet to brace himself. He sank into a crouch, as if he were preparing to pounce—then snapped into movement with far more grace and speed than Harry would have credited. He took a few galloping strides, wings spread wide to catch the wind, and leapt—
And then promptly face-planted, throwing up grass and flowers and sod in a chaotic spray.
Harry couldn’t help it, he broke out into several loud, belly-deep guffaws, feeling like his sides might literally split. Malfoy was quick to recover, though, scrambling to his feet, and he gnashed his teeth in rage. Harry had to pull his glasses off and wipe his eyes, and Malfoy, evidently furious at being made a spectacle of, spit a ball of vivid-red flame that only missed Harry’s head because he quickly ducked to roll out of the way.
“Oi! You could’ve taken my head off!” Harry snapped, drawing out his wand. The fireball had continued on past Harry and engulfed a bush in flame, and he doused it with an Aguamenti.
Malfoy ignored him, shuffling around with his wings open to try again. He gave a few tentative beats, whipping up a breeze that sent dust and leaves flying, and leapt straight into the air—only to come tumbling back down, his legs crumpling beneath him. Harry bit his tongue and looked away, not wanting to earn another fireball-infused rebuke. Twice more Malfoy tried to catch the air and failed before Harry decided it was too pitiful to watch in silence any longer.
“I think you need to build up more speed—or maybe you just aren’t catching the air right?” The air whistled when Malfoy flapped, suggesting most of it was being lost as he slashed through instead of collecting a downdraft that could support his bulk.
Malfoy only grunted at him, trying the exact same technique that had failed three times already and looking all the more frustrated for it.
“No—no, I just told you. You’ve got to angle them different, you’re losing all your lift. Look—” Harry reached out, grabbing the leading edge of one wing, and Malfoy whirled around with an angry snarl, baring his teeth and whipcracking his tail right by Harry’s head.
With a startled yelp, Harry jumped back, tripping over a root and falling squarely onto his arse.
Malfoy just settled onto his haunches, releasing a happy puff of smoke that curled around his head. Harry hadn’t known dragons could sneer, but he could have sworn this one had managed it.
“Fine,” Harry said, easing to his feet and slapping the dirt from the seat of his trousers. “If you think you can do any better, then by all means.”
Malfoy seemed content to do just that, trotting several paces away and continuing his efforts to generate enough lift to haul himself into the air. He wasn’t much more successful than he’d been before Harry started offering advice, but Harry didn’t miss that he’d changed the angle at which he held his wings, catching quite a bit more air now with no more whistling. Prideful arsehole.
He found a tree to lean against while he watched Malfoy’s efforts, smiling in amusement every time Malfoy crashed in a heap of wings and talons and tail but making sure to keep his mouth firmly shut. After a fair bit of trial and effort—and with more perseverance than Harry honestly would have expected—Malfoy seemed to be getting the hang of it a bit, holding his wings at the perfect angle on every attempt now and narrowing down the timing at which the first hard downbeat needed to come in order to give him the most lift. Somewhere along the way, he seemed to realise he could use the slopes of the gentle hills around their campsite to give himself more natural height at take-off, and Harry couldn’t suppress a little yes! of excitement when, at last, Malfoy managed to break free of his earthly bindings—for a few wingbeats, at least.
Really, it was only hovering, but Malfoy was perfectly pleased with himself when he slammed back into the ground, his four legs quivering with the impact. He gave a throaty, crowing bark, and Harry indulged him with some polite applause. “Congratulations—it only took you, what, fifty tries?”
Malfoy didn’t seem to mind, still practically prancing as he made his way up the hill once more. Harry stood in place to mark each new landing point, encouraging Malfoy to try and glide farther on each pass, and in what seemed like no time at all he was able to make it nearly five body lengths before gravity got the best of him once more. He still couldn’t manage to get much height, no matter how he flapped, but Harry had to admit this was impressive for Malfoy’s first attempt at flying in his Animagus form. He wasn’t nearly as quick a study with his wings as he had been with his broom, from what Harry recalled, but he would manage it in time. Malfoy being Malfoy, Harry doubted his pride would let him not be doing loop-de-loops inside of a week.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed since they’d entered the Sanctuary—but the moon overhead had passed its apogee, so it had to be quite late. Harry was pleasantly surprised to see that he hadn’t minded babysitting Malfoy half as much as he’d expected, in large part because, well, Malfoy couldn’t speak. It was a lot easier to handle him when he couldn’t let slip whatever nasty thoughts happened to wander through his mind, and Harry imagined they might have been best mates by now if someone had just slapped the git with a Silencio back in first year.
He smiled at the thought, and then Malfoy cuffed his ear with a wingtip, as if he could tell Harry was thinking something particularly uncharitable about him. Harry rubbed his ear with a frown. “I didn’t say anything!”
Malfoy tossed his head in a gesture that said I still heard it, then set off at a gentle lope for another hill a stone’s throw away. This one was a bit taller than the others around it, with a steeper grade, and if Malfoy wasn’t careful, he might really hurt himself trying to use it as a launch pad.
He climbed to the peak, while Harry stood with his hands in his pockets at the foot to bear witness. If Malfoy broke his neck pushing himself too far before he was ready, well at least that would be one less problem they had to deal with.
Once in position, Malfoy crouched down as low as he could go, wiggling his body like a cat ready to pounce and buffeting the air with test strokes of his wings as he geared up for launch. Harry bit his tongue before he was tempted to remind Malfoy that he’d never seen a dragon do that, wary of disturbing his focus.
The moon was fat and bright, and Malfoy fair glowed under its watch. With another few test beats, he seemed to have decided himself and tensed like a coiled spring—before launching with a sharp kick of his hindquarters, wings open to catch as much air as he could and then soundly shoving downward. He quickly tucked his legs under his body and drew his wings up again before releasing into another downbeat. His momentum carried him forward, and though Harry would still not have called this flying, Malfoy was managing enough lift to keep himself aloft, and he only began losing it when exhaustion had him lapsing into a glide that he maintained for another few hundred metres, easily besting his previous record.
When he at last alighted—or rather, dropped to the ground, as he hadn’t yet mastered the art of the graceful landing—he came bounding back towards Harry, shooting little jets of flame from his nostrils. He very clearly wanted some praise for his efforts, nervous energy bubbling over, and Harry took it upon himself to keep Malfoy well-grounded. “Yes, yes, well done—but gliding doesn’t count as flying, you know.” Malfoy squawked indignantly, but Harry pressed on. “No, I know you got a bit of altitude, I was watching, but look at the size of that hill! I don’t think it was an entirely fair attempt. You’ll have earned your wings when you can launch yourself from a dead start, I say.”
Malfoy growled under his breath, but his wings drooped a bit. He was stubborn and would never admit it, but these were clear signals he knew Harry was in the right.
Harry craned his neck skyward; the moon was heading towards the horizon now, so it was late indeed. He was a little offended neither Ron nor Hermione had poked their heads into the Sanctuary to be sure he hadn’t been murdered. Malfoy could have been using his femur for a toothpick by now, and they’d be none the wiser.
Malfoy was looking up at the hill like he was seriously considering another go, but Harry put a stop to that. He didn’t know from where Malfoy got the energy, flapping and running around and climbing up and down hills. Harry was exhausted just watching him. “It’s getting late, Malfoy—can’t we call it a night?” All he received was an irritated snort, and Malfoy stamped his foot in frustration in such a Malfoy way that Harry had to cover his mouth so he wouldn’t laugh. He coughed to disguise it. “All right, fine—you can keep at it if you like. I’m knackered.” He’d spent a good couple of hours in here with Malfoy, so Hermione couldn’t fault him for tagging out now.
He turned to head back toward the tree brake, but Malfoy called him back with a plaintive chirrup. Harry just waved and continued on—and sure enough, a moment later, Malfoy was shoving his way through the trees right on Harry’s heels. How much of this, Harry wondered, was Malfoy and how much of it was the dragon? Because it felt very much like Malfoy wanted attention, which was nothing new, but the almost playful way in which he sought it was.
“I told you you could stay if you wanted to practise some more,” Harry reminded him, but the dragon just gave a grunting snuffle that sounded like an audible version of a shrug. “No fun if you can’t show off for me, is it?” And then Malfoy hooked a claw into the hem of Harry’s trouser leg, and down Harry went, face-first into a mushroom patch. As he struggled to his feet, Malfoy stepped over him, sweeping his tail out to knock Harry over again. “Bastard,” he muttered, adjusting his glasses, but Malfoy didn’t seem to hear him.
Once they reached the entrance, Harry grabbed Perkins’s rickety chair and placed it back by the entrance. Malfoy, though, was dawdling, watching Harry tidy up and showing no signs of shifting back. Harry jerked a thumb in invitation, raising his brows. “Well? Are you coming, or not? I was serious when I said you didn’t have to come back inside yet—Hermione created this space for you, after all.”
Malfoy just bucked his head, pawing the ground in irritation. Harry was beginning to rethink his relief that Malfoy couldn’t speak—before noticing the dark pile of fabric at Malfoy’s feet. Oh. Malfoy wanted him to turn around again so that he could shift back. “Right—right, sorry, turning around…” He rolled his eyes and turned his back, doing a ten count under his breath.
By the count of seven, there came a gentle rustling, and Malfoy called out, “…All right, you can turn back around.”
Harry did so—slowly, lest Malfoy think he was trying to ‘ogle him’ again. The robes had been pulled back over Malfoy’s head, and he was casting about, presumably for the left boot to match the right one on his foot. “You’re really bad at flying, you know,” Harry said.
“No, I’m really good at gliding,” Malfoy protested, giving a soft ah! when he found the wayward boot had been knocked behind the very bush he’d nearly incinerated earlier. “And when I want to fly, I will do so—and I’ll be really good at that too.”
“Hm. So you weren’t even trying to fly tonight, is what you’re saying.” Malfoy just shrugged, and with both boots back on the proper feet, they made for the entrance. “Pity you aren’t bigger, though; maybe we could’ve ridden you around instead of Apparating everywhere.”
Malfoy cut him a sharp look. “You’re not riding me. I’m not your pack mule.”
“Well obviously not—you’re far too small.”
“I’m not small!” Malfoy sputtered.
“Of course you are.” Harry tapped his temple. “Remember, I’ve faced a full-grown dragon with nothing but my wits and my wand. She would have eaten you for breakfast. One chomp.” He pasted on a fond smile. “You’re such a tiny little thing.”
“I’m a perfectly normal-sized thing. You said yourself this form is only a juvenile and—” He clamped his lips shut before he got going, though, settling for calling Harry several choice names under his breath. Well, at least one of them was working on controlling his emotions around the other. Hermione and Ron would be relieved.
There was a beat of silence, and Harry changed the subject. “So…was it that bad?”
“What?” Malfoy frowned in confusion—then his features softened, going slack. “…It was fine.”
“So you won’t be a prick and put off doing it again?”
Malfoy shuddered. “Believe me, I’ve no desire to go through that again…”
“Good.” Harry nodded. “So, uh, same time next week?”
Malfoy drew to a stop. “Next week?”
“…Er, do you need to do it more often?” Hermione had only said ‘regular intervals’—did this need to happen multiple times a week? Every day? Surely Hermione couldn’t expect Harry to be in here nightly watching Malfoy faceplant as he tried to figure out how to fly. It was a laugh riot, to be sure, but there was still a part of Harry that felt, honestly, like he’d wasted the evening. He’d almost enjoyed himself, he was forced to admit, but he doubted Hermione had made any breakthroughs in the meantime. Harry probably wouldn’t have uncovered anything of note either, but there was something to be said for feeling useful.
“Well—I don’t know, I just…” Malfoy hedged, and Harry raised a brow. This was starting to sound less like a need with Malfoy and more like a want.
“It was only ‘fine’, but you can’t wait a whole week to do it again?”
He couldn’t help the teasing edge to his tone, and sure enough, it backfired. Malfoy shouldered past him roughly, stalking towards the entrance. “You’ve completed your Granger-assigned duties; bravo. I’m confident I can handle this on my own from here on out.”
“Wh—dammit, Malfoy! It was a—” Malfoy shoved his way through the door back into the tent, slamming it shut behind him. “…Joke.” So damn prickly, he was. Always ready to tease and bully but couldn’t take a bit of gentle ribbing back. Granted, Harry wasn’t one of his Slytherin mates or even a casual acquaintance, but surely Malfoy could stand to not be such a tight-arse when they were stuck with one another.
Harry returned to the tent, where he washed up and readied for bed. Back in their room, Malfoy was already under the covers, his back to Harry and the sheets drawn up to his ears, so that all Harry could see of him was his shock of white-blond hair. The lamps had been set low, and Harry shuffled over to his own bed, settling on the mattress.
“…There’s nothing wrong with wanting to use the Sanctuary more often,” Harry tried in a game effort at reassurance. Malfoy was proud, and if Harry didn’t want to get into a shouting match with him at every interaction, he needed to be wary of bruising that pride.
“I’ll use it as often as I need to and no more. Good night, Potter.”
Right, clearly being understanding wasn’t the way to approach this. Malfoy responded only to two things: threat and challenge. Threat had pushed him into the Sanctuary tonight, the abject terror that the dragon would force its way out again whether he wanted it to or not. Fear was a powerful tool, but it wasn’t one Harry was comfortable wielding. Which left challenge, something he was certain would come much more naturally when dealing with Malfoy.
“…You can’t fly yet, though.”
“I fail to see how that’s any of your business.”
“Maybe, but I thought you started this whole Animagus business to save your folks? How are you going to do that if you can’t at least fly? Gonna scurry around while Dark wizards fire spells at you, setting their robes on fire and sweeping their legs out from under them?”
Malfoy’s voice was tense with anger, and Harry could almost hear his teeth grinding. “Again: I fail to see how that’s any of your business.”
“It’s not. I’m just putting it out there. If you needed to practise more often, I’d understand. Hermione and Ron would understand too.”
“Oh, well aren’t I just so blessed to have your understanding? That’s a weight off my shoulders.”
Harry rolled his eyes, giving up. As he saw it, he’d gone above and beyond trying to help Malfoy out. He’d broken Malfoy out of prison, talked him through multiple shifts, and was even now offering Malfoy an out, a way to save face without sacrificing his drive and ideals. What more could he do? Nothing, that was what—and that was precisely what he intended to do going forward. He flopped down onto the mattress, rustling fitfully until he’d managed to draw the covers up over his shoulders.
He lay in the darkness, eyes shut, for several long minutes, waiting for sleep to take him. Instead, he got Malfoy grumbling, “You don’t have to keep coming in with me. I don’t need your help.”
Harry rolled onto his back, staring up at the canvas ceiling of the tent. “‘Rely on others and you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.’ Wasn’t that what you said? Well you can’t do everything by yourself, you know.” Harry spoke from experience; he’d tried putting off Ron and Hermione several times, but he didn’t know where he’d be right now if they hadn’t been beside him every step of the way in this little excursion of theirs.
“Well, I’ve relied on you and I’m disappointed; seems to have worked out just as I predicted.” Harry wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a joke or not, so he didn’t say anything. “…I can handle myself now.”
“Hermione told me to help you. I mean to do so whether you want me to or not.”
“Salazar’s balls, but she’s got you wound right about her little finger, doesn’t she? You do everything Granger tells you to?”
“She’s usually in the right, so I tend to err on her side.” He didn’t remind Malfoy that she was the entire reason that Malfoy wasn’t a pile of ash and blackened bone at the moment. Without the Sanctuary, there was little telling how they would have managed Malfoy’s issues. Harry didn’t want to consider the alternatives, honestly.
“And you think she’s right, assigning you babysitting duties with me, when as I hear it you’ve got far more important matters on which to focus?”
Harry frowned in the darkness. “…As you hear it?” His heart gave an uncomfortable double-beat; had Malfoy overheard them? Had they let something slip? Or—had he heard mention of their quest during his time with the other Death Eaters?
Malfoy just sniffed. “Don’t think I don’t notice all those private little conversations the three of you get into under some spell of Granger’s any time I’m around. You’re hardly subtle about it.” He wasn’t wrong; they tended to go about their research as usual, only throwing up a Muffliato if Malfoy was within hearing distance when there were detailed points they needed to discuss. “You may not be fond of me, and trust that the feeling is quite mutual, but I’m not stupid; whatever you’re scheming, I’m sure it would benefit from your full attention, rather than wasted in half-measures on me.”
Harry didn’t really understand where Malfoy was going with this conversation, as it was starting to sound like Malfoy was being considerate, which was preposterous. Instead, Harry shrugged to himself. “Maybe I like seeing you crash trying to haul that huge white arse of yours into the air.”
Malfoy released a little huff that Harry thought might have been a barely stifled chuckle. “I thought you said I was a—what was it? ‘Tiny little thing’?”
And because it was dark, and Malfoy couldn’t see him, Harry smiled at the quip. It really was a pity Malfoy was such a stuck-up, cowardly arsehole. His comebacks weren’t terrible.
Malfoy sighed loudly. “…Fine, as you will.”
It was, Harry supposed, the closest they would come to a truce, so he left it at that, closed his eyes, and found sleep quite quickly this time.