Six hours before school let out for summer holidays, a subdued group met in Delores Umbridge’s office in order to access the floo. Eleven students and the Twins, green flame heads bobbing in the fireplace, were seated scattershot around the office. A single lantern burned on the Professor’s desk, casting haunting shadows, reflecting the heavy pall that had settled over Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Sixteen-year-old Draco Malfoy studied the pattern of moisture, glistening in the pre-dawn light on the outside of the leaded window. He sat on the wide stone windowsill, gangly knees pulled up to his chest beneath his black robes, leaving room for Pansy to share the sill. The side of his head rested against the cool glass, grey eyes troubled as he watched a droplet slide slowly down the window.
Laura Madley rubbed her thumb over the headline of The Daily Prophet on the carpeted floor in front of her, like she could erase what it read. “Cornelius Fudge announced the return of the He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. It’s not just a possibility any longer.”
“It was inevitable.” Blaise Zabini looked down at her, from his spot cross-legged on the desktop. “Potter’s been cottoning on to it all year.”Near the locked door, Dennis Creevey looked past his older brother, Colin, at Blaise. “Yeah, but it didn’t seem real.”
“Did you think this was a game?” Charles Warrington, a Sixth Year Slytherin, gestured at the others. “Did you think any of us gave up our lives for kicks?”
“Funny, you don’t look like a ghost,” Fred Weasley said, scratching his mop of hair in the floo.
Charles glared icily at him. “I will if the Dark Lord finds out I’ve been protecting Potter.”
Fred’s expression hardened, mimicked by his twin, George. “Am I hearing dissidence in the ranks?” George said.
“Let’s not argue,” Neville Longbottom said, voice cracking with every word. He rubbed his hand tiredly over his thinly bearded, round face, and shifted in the chintz-covered armchair, his injured ankle stretched in front of him. “We don’t need to fight internally, too.”
The Ravenclaws, Orla Quirke, Mandy Brocklehurst, and Pen-Li, were grouped by his outstretched leg, holding hands in worry and comfort. “What are we going to do?” Mandy asked.
“Protect Harry,” Colin said confidently.
“Just like the PRATS we are,” Blaise added with a cheeky grin.
Orla shook her head. “That was only funny the first thousand times, Zabini.”
“Says all of us.”
Dennis snickered and Colin thumped him on the head.
“It’s going to be more difficult,” Pansy spoke up. She crossed her ankles, accidentally bumping Draco across from her on the sill. “Sides will be drawn, even if they remain unspoken. Those of us with Death Eater parents are going to be under more observation and suspicion.”
“By both sides,” Pen-Li added.
“The attacks on Potter will also increase, guaranteed,” Charles said, pacing in front of the fireplace.
Blaise nodded in agreement. “Our usual band of bullies won’t be the only ones after him as sides are chosen.”
“Then, there’s the prophecy,” Neville said solemnly. He glanced at Draco. “Lucius Malfoy basically screamed its importance concerning Harry and You-Know-Who.”
“Did you remember anything else, Neville?” George asked.
Neville shook his head. “I’ve tried, but my memory’s already blurry.”
“So we have to go with what we’ve got.” Fred looked at something on his end of the floo. “‘The one – something – to vanquish the Dark Lord – something, something – marked – something – die at the hand of – something – Dark Lord – something.’”
There was a moment of silence. “It sounds like Harry’s going to die,” Laura said quietly.
“Good,” Draco muttered, still painfully bitter about Lucius Malfoy’s imprisonment. Pansy looked at him concernedly.
“What do you mean by that, Malfoy?” George said.
“Sod off,” Draco said, turning from the window to glare at everyone. “Potter is alive and well, and we’ll keep him that way.”
George’s eyes narrowed. “Are you with us or against us?”
“It was his father that was arrested,” Mandy said.
“Don’t talk about my father,” Draco said tersely.
“Malfoy,” Charles began, fingering his wand. “Your father’s arrest does change things. Some of us can’t afford for you to tattle about the group.”
Draco set his jaw. “Unlike you, Warrington, I’ve been saving Potter’s arse since I was eleven and will continue to do so, no matter how I feel about the pillock.”
“Why?” Pen-Li said. “You despise him, we all know that, and now with your father in Azkaban, it doesn’t make sense for you to be protecting the Boy Who Lived.”
“His name,” Draco said intently, “is Harry Potter, and he’s just a teenager like me. Only less handsome.”
“That doesn’t answer the question,” Pen-Li said.
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“Yes, you do,” Neville said with an uncompromising stare. “You, especially, have to prove you’re on our side.”
Draco set his jaw. “I’m not on your side. I’m on my own side.”
“LEAVE MY FATHER OUT OF THIS!” Draco exploded, swinging his legs over the edge of the sill and clenching his fists at his side.
“I will not!” Neville shoved to his feet, shuffle-stomped over to the windowsill, and loomed over Draco. He poked Draco hard in the chest. “You’ve been nothing but a little prick since you’ve joined us and an even bigger prick to Harry. You’ve never shown that you really wanted to help us and now your father, the person you worship with every other word out of your ruddy mouth, is a confirmed Death Eater who tried to kill Harry Thursday night. And someone did die on Thursday; this is not a joke anymore. Now, for the last time, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!”
“BECAUSE I HAVE TO!” Draco’s face felt hot and he was shaking with emotion. His chest heaved with every breath and his voice sounded reedy in his ears. “Don’t you think I’d stop if I could? Don’t you think I know what my father would say if he found out? Or my friends? Or everyone in this entire bloody school? But I can’t stop. I can’t deny my stupid self and pretend everything is all right. And I hate it. And I hate Potter, and I hate you, and I hate everyone else who makes me feel like this, but it’s not going to change anything. I have to do this, now shut up and leave me alone.”
The office fell silent, the other PRATS members staring wide-eyed at him. Embarrassment over what he’d revealed mixed with anger that he’d revealed it, and his fingernails dug crescents into the palms of his hands.
Neville shifted, cleared his throat, and grunted, “Good. That clears that up.”
He hobbled back to the armchair and sat down. He looked around the room at the others. “What do you think of having something to call meetings with for next year? Hermione came up with this coin-thing for DA...”
“I think I’m glad we left him in charge,” George said.
Fred wiped his eyes. “Our little Neville, all grown up.”
Draco pulled his legs up and faced the window again. He refused to look at Pansy, or at his own reflection in the glass.
The bright, full moonlight caught the edges of Harry Potter’s scar, making it seem to glow like the lightening bolt it resembled peeking from between his fringe. His attention was on the mooncalves, awe at the beauty of their dance colouring his features once more. He removed his spectacles and cleaned them with the edge of his untucked shirt. Red indentations marred the sides of his nose, covered again when he put the glasses back on.
“How did you know it was my eighteenth birthday?” Draco said when the surprise wore off.
Harry smirked sideways at him. “Why, was it a secret?”
“No, but it’s you,” Draco said. “I wouldn’t have expected you to know my birth date.”
“If it’s that important, Pansy mentioned it,” Harry said.
“Oh.” Draco felt suddenly like he’d missed the snitch. “She’s got a big gob.”
“That’s not a very nice thing to say about…,” Harry trailed off, looking past Draco with consternation.
Draco turned, preparing for a possible confrontation. “What is it?” he said. He only saw Pansy and Neville kissing still.
“Pansy and, uh, Neville. Snogging.”
Draco looked down at Harry with a narrowed gaze. “Pansy’s a fine catch. Longbottom should count his blessings that she even glanced in his direction.”
“Yeah…” Harry’s face scrunched unattractively in thought and, with a glance at Pansy and Neville, he turned and walked back towards camp.
Draco was annoyed, but what else was new? He wrinkled his nose at the kissing couple and headed over to them. “A-hem.”
Pansy and Neville broke apart. Neville ducked his head and Pansy gave Draco an irritated glare. “Thank you for interrupting.”
“Thank you for telling Potter it was my birthday,” Draco responded syrupy-sweet. He glanced back at the campsite a dozen or so meters away and saw Ron spinning in circles, flapping his arms in front of the fire, like a spastic, ginger-haired billywig.
“Did he say something to you?” Pansy said.
“Of course, he’s a Goody-Goody Gryffindor.”
“I didn’t wish you happy birthday and I’m a Gryffindor,” Neville said. He paused. “Happy birthday.”
Draco shot Pansy a pointed look.
Pansy rolled her eyes. She dipped a hand in her pocket and pulled out a small object. “Potter knows because I was torn between two choices for your gift. In fact, he picked it out, because I couldn’t decide. That should tickle your sap-bone.”
“Just give it here.” Draco held out his hand.
“Happy birthday, Your Highness,” Pansy drawled, and pressed the object into his palm.
Draco looked at it. “A book stone?” He turned over the smooth, polished odd-shaped page weight, exposing a rune carved into the tiger-striped surface. He started, his heart thumping once, hard against his breastbone. “And Potter picked this one out?”
“Yes. I have your real gift at Hogwarts, but I couldn’t let your birthday pass without giving you something, even if it was free.”
Draco licked his lips, staring at the stone weighing heavily in his palm. “Pansy, do you know what this rune represents? It’s the Watcher.”
Pansy caught on immediately, her eyes widened in shock. “You don’t think he knows?”
Draco clasped the rock in his hand and tucked it in his pocket. “He could be saying that he’s keeping an eye on me, or some such heavy-handed metaphor.”
“I don’t know,” Neville said. “Harry’s not that subtle. He’d normally either say nothing or tell you directly.”
“You’re saying he just picked out the prettiest rock?” Draco scoffed. Neville shrugged.
“What can we do, without exposing ourselves if he doesn’t know?” Pansy said.
“Nothing,” Draco said. “We continue as normal. Potter hasn’t said anything, so if he knows, he likes it, and if he doesn’t, it’s no skin off our shrivelfigs.”
“Draco, don’t be crass,” Pansy scolded.
“Let’s go back to camp.” Draco eyed Pansy and Neville with a smirk. “That is, if you two have finished.”
Pansy gave him an arch look, turned, and planted a firm kiss on Neville’s surprised mouth. She stepped back and sniffed haughtily at Draco. “Now, we may go.”
Draco choked in mock disgust and started walking towards camp. Pansy and Neville followed more leisurely.
As one, by unknown silent word, the mooncalves finished their dance, lowering to all fours on the ground. The ugly beasts drifted away, moving with a soft shush through the field of wheat.
Draco actually slept again that night, while Pansy was on third watch. He woke to the sizzling sound of breakfast being made over the fire, his transfigured bed a few yards away. Pansy had her head together with Harry, as Harry spread strawberry jam on thick slices of bread. Ron was gone, Hermione was studying a map, and Neville slept on in another bed.
Pansy glanced over at him as he swung his feet out of bed, the soft wheat-coloured blanket shoved to the end of the bed. She had a peculiar smirk on her lips, one that never bode well for Draco. He ignored her and ambled off to take care of morning business.
“I think when we arrive at Fabula, we should go directly to the Government Hall,” Hermione said a little while later, over the meal. “They’re bound to have a directory of some sort that lists where we may find Scribner.”
“How are we going to go about asking him to see the map?” Ron said. “We don’t want to come off as nutters.”
“If need be, we’ll pretend we’re budding cartographers,” Hermione replied. “I’m sure it’ll work out fine.”
“We should be in Fabula mid-day,” Harry said. “I’d rather not stop if we don’t have to, before then.”
“Do you suppose the Death Eaters are still unconscious?” Pansy asked Draco quietly, so the others didn’t hear.
“They should be,” Draco said. “I don’t think they’d catch up with us if they were awake, though, but we should still be cautious.”
“Too bad Dog’s not here to eat this extra food,” Ron said, gesturing to the leftovers in the pan Harry had picked up.
“Ron,” Hermione said with reproach. “I’m sure Dog is much happier where he’s at.”
Harry’s mouth tightened briefly, before he offered the remaining food around the circle. “Any takers? If not, I’ll leave it for the birds, since it’ll spoil if we bring it with us.”
“No, we’re full, Harry,” Hermione said. Harry nodded and walked into the field a short way. Hermione looked irritated at Ron, but addressed everyone. “Give your dishes to me, please, and I’ll clean them and put them away.”
“I’ll transfigure the chairs and beds back to normal,” Neville said, rising.
Shortly thereafter, they took flight, leaving the small crop circle where they’d made their camp. The mooncalves had left new designs in the wheat fields, a starburst with rounded tips, visible clearly from the air. Harry and Neville led, wings flapping, seeking the updrafts, as Draco, Pansy, Ron and Hermione trailed behind on their brooms.
Fabula was situated on a rise, south of the mountains that grew in the distance. It was larger than Piègens, with four well-travelled roads leading out of town in each direction. Farm homes were scattered on the outskirts of the town, vibrantly coloured residential homes and buildings becoming more densely packed closer to the centre of Fabula. Even at a distance, the hustle and bustle of daily life could be heard, making Draco wonder if the sound was an effect of the book, or if the town always was noisy, even without anyone trapped to hear it.
It reminded Draco of Piègens. The witches and wizards of Fabula spared them no concern as they went about their business. Brooms shrunk and pocketed, and Harry and Neville human once again, the six walked along the road towards the centre of town, avoiding horses and carts that rumbled down the streets.
Dust kicked up behind the horses and carts, making Draco cough and get dirty. The noon sun was hot overhead. Standing on a corner across from the Government Hall, in the shade of a canvas overhang, he waited with Pansy, Harry, and Ron, as Hermione and Neville went to inquire about a directory.
“Recrare,” Pansy cast at each of them, cleaning away the stickiness and odour from their travels. She smoothed her robes and patted her hair.
Draco checked his appearance in the shop window behind him, adjusting his shirt so it lined with the trouser fastener. He ran his fingers through his hair, combing it quickly. He caught Harry looking at him in the reflection and his stomach flipped. Harry turned away.
“Do you think they’ll have any luck?” Ron said. He bumped his head on the overhang. Draco smirked.
“I hope so.” Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “I’d like to sleep in a real bed.”
Staring blankly at his reflection in the window, Draco’s mind diverged to other activities one could do in a bed, specifically with Harry. Perhaps in that leather outfit that landed them in detention. Draco drew the line at wearing the pink bit of fluff, though… unless Harry asked very nicely.
“That was quick,” Harry said, and Draco started at the insult before realizing he meant Hermione and Neville’s return, not Draco’s performance in his mind’s bedroom. His reflection showed that the bulge in his trousers ruined the neatened clothing line he’d made.
“Scribner lives outside of town,” Hermione said, as she and Neville rejoined them on the corner. Draco casually slouched against the wall beside the window, hands in his pockets, pushing the material of his trousers outwards. “The Reception Wizard warned us that he was a bit eccentric.”
“If he has a map out of here, he could call us all Mrs. Tinkelstar and insist we all wear tea cosies on our heads while re-enacting the Goblin Rebellion of 1492.” Ron laid a hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Hermione knits a mean tea cosy.”
Scribner lived off the beaten path outside of town, in a pristine three-storey white house with a wrap-around porch that spiralled from the ground to the pitched roof. Garden gnomes peeked from the trimmed hedges surrounding the lower level, chattering to each other. The upper window sashes had been thrown open because of the warm weather.
“Do you suppose he’s home?” Ron crowded behind Hermione and Harry by the front door.
“We’ll soon find out.” Harry knocked.
Pansy stood with Draco on the front path, glancing about warily and eyeing the windows. Draco spell-gelled his hair, neatening it after the flight. Neville wandered over towards the side of the house and peered around the corner.
“Should we all go in?” Neville asked, nearly toppling over the porch rail. He straightened quickly.
“It’s better to stick together,” Hermione said. “It’s also probably best if only one of us does the talking.”
“I nominate Hermione,” Ron said.
“Second,” Harry piped in.
“Go ahead, Granger,” Pansy said. “It was your idea to speak with Mr. Scribner.”
“All right,” Hermione said.
The tall, raised panel door opened and a large wizard filled it. Pear-shaped and dressed in paisley blue robes, he towered over them all, including, amazingly, Ron. A brown, thick, bushy moustache curled upwards, nearly joining with his brown, thick, bushy brows that curled down. His pale green eyes were full of wisdom and cunning as he looked them all over. “Hello? May I help you?”
“Mr. Scribner?” Hermione said. Scribner inclined his head. “I’m Hermione Granger.” She half-turned and went down the line gathered around her. “And this is Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Pansy Parkinson, Draco Malfoy, and Harry Potter. We were wondering if we could have a moment of your time.”
“Most certainly. Come in.” Scribner stepped back from the doorway and let them into the house.
They crowded in the wood-panelled foyer, with open doorways branching from it and a set of stairs leading up. Maps hung in gold-leaf frames on the walls. A cloak rack extended an arm towards Draco, which he batted away. Hermione let it take the backpack.
Scribner ushered them into an office immediately off the foyer. More framed maps hung on the walls between recessed shelves holding scrolls and books, and an extremely large one hung above a grand fireplace. There was a map painted on the ceiling of the oval-shaped room, and when Draco looked down, he saw yet another map woven into the carpet. Book stones weighted down an unrolled, worn-looking map on the surface of a dark wood desk that stood before the fireplace.
Scribner motioned at the sofa pushed against the wall, situated across from two high backed leather armchairs. “Sit, sit. May I offer you some tea?”
The sofa expanded magically, leaving room for everyone to sit. Draco chose to stand, instead perching his hip on the arm of the sofa on the side nearest the desk.
“No, we’re fine, thanks,” Hermione said. “Mr. Scribner, we were wondering if we could see the oldest map of Illusor.”
“Now, now, Ms. Granger, there’s no need to start this conversation with a fib,” Scribner sank into the leather chair and clasped his hands over his ample waist. “I can tell by your clothing why you’re really here.”
Draco traded looks with Pansy and Neville above Harry, Hermione, and the ginger giant’s heads. The Gryffindor Trio exchanged glances. “Then, you know we’re searching for a way out of the Tome of Entrapment,” Hermione said straightforwardly.
“I do,” Scribner said with a nod of his head.
“Can you help us?”
Scribner smiled slowly, showing his teeth. “Tell me, have you read a book?”
“Yes, of course.” Hermione sounded offended. “What does that have to do with—”
“What was it about?”
“I’ve been reading Illusor: A History,” Hermione said, incensed. “It’s where I found a picture of—”
“Have you ever read a story book?” Scribner interrupted.
Draco was becoming uncomfortable. He glanced around the office and caught movement on the desk, as Hermione answered shortly. “Yes, I have, though I much prefer to read about facts, not fiction.”
Numerous small black shapes shifted on the map weighted on the desk. Draco couldn’t make out what they were from his spot by the sofa.
“What was the last story book you read?”
Draco glanced at Scribner. Scribner had a gleam in his eye that reminded Draco of Greg when he saw it was dinnertime. He wasn’t the only one to notice. Harry had a tight look about him, his fingers gripping the arm of the sofa near where Draco leaned.
“Hyde and Seek, but again, I prefer reading about factual information,” Hermione said smartly. Ron shifted uncomfortably beside her, elbowing Neville accidentally on his other side.
“Do you recall what it was about?” Scribner said.
“Sir,” Harry spoke up. “Not to be rude, but what are you getting at?”
“Miss Granger, what happens in the book?” Scribner said, not responding to Harry.
Draco looked over at Pansy, who returned his concern. Eccentric wasn’t the word he’d call Scribner.
“It’s about a small crew of pirates who sail along the coast of England,” Hermione said, putting her hand on Harry’s arm when he moved to speak again. “They battle against an evil crew of another ship in their search for a hidden treasure.”
“Along the way, do they have many encounters? Storms and the like.”
“Did you cause the storm to happen?”
Hermione frowned. “Of course not. It was part of the story.”
“How do you know? It may have been clear sailing until you got hold of the book.”
Draco didn’t like Scribner’s smile that peeked over his hands.
“It was a Muggle book. The story never alters between the covers.”
“Then, what do the people in the book do when you’re not reading?”
“Do? They don’t do anything.”
“How do you know?”
Frustration coloured Hermione’s voice. “They’re not real.”
“No, they’re not. They’re characters in a book.”
“You’re in a book.”
Hermione frowned swiftly. “That’s different.”
Draco was getting tired of this and opened his mouth to say something scathing, only to close it with a snap when Harry touched his leg. Draco stared at Harry’s hand, then at Harry. Harry glanced up at him and shook his head warningly. He returned his focus to Scribner, but didn’t move his hand from where it rested against Draco.
Perhaps he’d wait a little longer to put Scribner in his place.
“We’re not characters in a story,” Hermione stated.
“Are you sure?” Scribner said slyly.
Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “How do you mean?”
Scribner tapped his fingers together, a darkly excited sparkle lighting his eyes. “You’re in a book, aren’t you?”
“You’re talking in riddles,” Ron spoke up. “Will you help us or not?”
“I am,” Scribner said.
“How?” Neville said.
“Don’t you see,” Hermione said with wary animation. “We have been following a plot and he’s the author.”
“Exactly.” Scribner lowered his hands, looking chuffed.
“Him?” Ron jerked his thumb at Scribner.
“Someone from Illusor would think the book was reality,” Hermione said. “And anyone trapped in the book wouldn’t know they were following a plot.”
“You figured it out,” Pansy poked a hole in her logic. If the situation weren’t so serious, Draco would’ve laughed.
“If you’re the author, how do we get out of the book?” Harry demanded to know.
“You don’t.” Scribner stood and went over to the desk. Draco’s hand moved to his wand, as his gaze followed Scribner. “I need characters for my story.”
“We’re not characters—”
Hermione must’ve put her hand on Harry’s arm, quelling him. “How do you know we’ll cooperate? Now that we know it’s a plot, we could simply sit here, doing nothing.”
Scribner appeared not to like the sound of that. “You don’t have a choice.”
“We always have a choice,” Hermione stated. “Harry’s right, we’re not characters in a book. We have the free will to do or not do anything we’d like.”
“Do you really think so?” Scribner laughed. “My dear, everyone is controlled by someone else. Life itself is a book and you’re all merely characters in fate’s plot. Only now, it is I who controls fate.”
Draco tensed, fingering his wand handle.
“You are more problemsome than my usual characters, I’ll give you that.” Scribner looked down at the map on the desk. “You veered from the plot when you left Dog in Piègens and somehow found me. I don’t know how you did that, but no matter, I’ll soon have you back in the correct storyline.”
“This bloke’s a raving nutter,” Ron said under his breath.
“The only thing you’re going to do is tell us how to get out of here,” Harry stated.
Draco’d had enough chit-chat, it was time for threats. He drew his wand. Scribner caught the movement, looked up, and tisked. “I wouldn’t bother. Your wand won’t work against me. My book, my rules of magic.”
“Let’s find out anyway,” Draco drawled.
Harry stood and beat him to it. “Petrificus!”
Misty spell-light whooshed from the tip of Harry’s wand, heading straight for Scribner. At the last moment, the spell-light deflected, as if striking an invisible shield, and ricocheted back at Harry. Draco snagged Harry’s arm and yanked him out of the way. The spell struck Hermione and she froze solid.
“Hermione!” Ron shot to his feet, drew his wand, and threw another spell at Scribner. “Stupefy!”
“Finite incantatem,” Neville cast on Hermione, who had fallen sideways on the sofa where Ron had been.
Ron’s spell bounced back. Red light seared through the air and hit him between the eyes. He fell backwards, unconscious, on top of Pansy, Neville, and Hermione, as Hermione was unfrozen. The three cried out in surprise.
Scribner laughed again. “I am in control here. This is my story and—”
A book flew off one of the shelves recessed in the wall and sailed high-speed at Scribner. Scribner barked out in surprise and pain as the book hit him.
Draco shot a surprised look at Harry’s determined face before the office exploded into chaos.
Ron thudded on the floor and Hermione, Neville, and Pansy jumped to their feet, waving their wands. Books flew from the shelves, pummelling Scribner. Draco aimed at the inkbottle on the desk and dumped it on Scribner’s head. Scribner wiped blindly at his eyes as Harry spell-threw another thick book, hitting him in the shoulder.
“Stop!” Scribner shouted. Neville and Pansy stepped over Ron and worked together to magically shove the desk, sending Scribner scurrying backwards, trapping him against the fireplace. More books smacked him, courtesy of Draco, Harry, and Hermione. “Stop! Stop! I command you to stop!”
“We don’t have to listen to you, because we have free will!” Hermione exclaimed in a rather pathetic rally cry.
Draco saw the large framed map hanging on the wall above the fireplace shake, as his book projectile hit it instead of Scribner. An idea sparked and he aimed his wand at the map. The frame rattled on its hook.
Scribner drew his wand from his voluminous sleeve and fought back. “Stupefy!”
The red spell-light knocked out Neville. He crashed to the floor, landing on top of Ron.
Pansy tried to stun Scribner in return. “Stupefy!”
The spell-light bounced off the invisible barrier and Pansy dove out of the way, as it ricocheted back at her. She bounced on the couch where she landed.
“Stupefy!” Scribner cast again, aiming at Harry.
“Expelliarmus!” Harry cast simultaneously. Scribner’s wand flew from his hand and his stunning spell went wild. Hermione used a flying book to deflect it before it hit her.
Scribner’s wand landed on the carpet by the prone Ron and Neville and rolled under the sofa. The book stones rose up from the desk and struck Scribner’s unprotected face. A fire roared to life in the fireplace, singeing his robes, and he screeched like a banshee. “YOU’RE NOT FOLLOWING THE PLO—”
He cut off abruptly, as the framed map finally came free from the wall and crashed onto his head. He crumpled, falling forward over the desk. The map smashed to the ground behind him, glass shattering on the fireplace stone. It caught fire.
Draco smirked smugly. “We’ll make our own plot, thanks.”
“I hope you didn’t kill him.” Hermione went over to Scribner and cautiously checked on him.
“It was a great idea, Hermione,” Harry said, shoving his glasses up his sweaty nose.
Pansy brought Neville and Ron to consciousness. Harry peered around the desk. “His robe is on fire.”
“We’d better move him.” Hermione and Harry extinguished Scribner and spelled the desk away from the fireplace.
Scribner slid onto the floor, landing in an ungraceful heap. Draco’s lip curled as he looked down at Scribner’s ink-smeared, slack features. He pointed his wand and rope shot from the tip, tying around Scribner. Draco tied it extra tight.
“Now what?” Ron questioned, rubbing the back of his head. He perched on the edge of the sofa next to Neville.
“Scribner must know the way out,” Pansy said, hands fluttering around Neville’s shoulders.
Neville captured a hand and smiled reassuringly at her. Draco found it rather appalling. “But how do we get him to tell us?” Neville said.
“We could torture the git.” Draco kicked Scribner in the head.
“That would be the first thing that came to your mind, Malfoy,” Ron said.
“I don’t see you coming up with any ideas.”
Hermione picked up a book and stroked the cover before setting it on a shelf. “I doubt questioning him any further will get us anywhere.”
“Come and look at this,” Harry said, standing in front of the desk. They gathered around, Pansy, Neville, and Ron standing across from Harry. Draco subtly took the spot on Harry’s right and Hermione crowded beside Harry on the other side.
Harry centred the worn-looking map Draco had noticed early on the surface of the desk. It appeared to be a map of Illusor, somewhat matching the one that had been in Hermione’s book. Black spots the size of a thumbnail grouped together in places and moved around. There were no words on the map, but rather flat pictures of miniature buildings, trees, and mountains.
“What do you suppose it is?” Ron said, his big head casting a shadow over half the map.
“I would think that was rather obvious, Weasley,” Draco drawled.
“From their positions on the map, this has to be Fabula.” Hermione pointed to a cluster of black spots and then at another cluster, with pictures of buildings surrounding each of them. “And that must be Piègens.”
“Then the hunter’s shack must be here.” Harry poked the tip of his wand at a clump of four black spots in the middle of a lot of trees, near the southwest corner of the map.
The map changed suddenly, the edges streaking towards the point where Harry touched. It looked like when Draco dove on his broom, speeding headfirst towards the ground, the world zipping past almost at a blur. The map snapped into focus and they were staring at Roderick, Hopkins, Wiltshire, and Charlton, sitting around the table in the familiar surroundings of the hunter’s shack. The view was from the side, as if they were looking at a portrait.
“Bloody hell,” Ron breathed.
“It’s only been three days,” Pansy said. “You must not have given them enough of the potion, Granger.”
“I’m not too caring that they’re awake. I want to know why we can see them.” Harry waved his hand over the map, as if saying ‘hello.’ “Do you think this is like a two-way mirror?”
The Death Eaters continued sipping their tea, talking amongst themselves.
“I wonder what they’re saying?” Neville said, peering closer.
“There’s a bunch of symbols here.” Ron pointed to a blocked off section in the upper corner of the parchment. He craned his head to see the pictures rightside-up. “It looks like there’s a stag, a wolf, a flooper, some sort of blanket-thing, a wizard, some clouds, an ear, and an X.”
“Harry, touch the ear with your wand,” Hermione said with sudden excitement.
Harry glanced at her and then brushed against Draco’s arm, as he leaned forward across the desk and did as told. Draco could see a scrap of skin peeking from beneath Harry’s untucked shirt as he stretched. He started when the Death Eaters’ voices sounded clearly in the room.
“—don’t think it’s possible. There isn’t any mandrake root.”
“What if we substituted grovelers for the mandrake?”
“Use grovelers? In this heat? I’d rather wait until they were frozen in the winter than listen to their whinging.”
“Wicked.” Ron poked his wand at the symbol of a stag. “What’s this one do?”
Neville tugged back Ron’s elbow. “Ron, maybe you shouldn’t—”
A low rumble of thunder filled the office. Draco exchanged a perceptive look with Harry, which felt rather comradely and did something funny in Draco’s stomach.
“What’s that?” Hopkins’s voice questioned. The thundering grew louder.
On the former map, Charlton rose to his feet and went to the door. “Sounds like a storm’s brewing.”
Wiltshire glanced at the window, where sunlight streamed into the shack from between the curtains. “It doesn’t look like rain.”
“Don’t tell me it’s those bloody elks again,” Charlson said, his hand on the door latch.
Roderick jumped to his feet, upending his chair. “Charlton, don’t open the door!”
It was too late, Charlton had already opened it. He cursed. Outside, visible through the doorway, a herd of huge, elk-like animals galloped straight towards the shack.
Roderick ran for the door and slammed it shut. The shack trembled as the herd thundered towards them. Roderick pulled his wand and jabbed it under Charlton’s chin. “You stupid sod! Do you want to let them in here?”
Hermione stretched over the parchment, blocking their view, and tapped the ear symbol with her wand. The office became abruptly silent. Hopkins and Wiltshire were huddled under the table and Charlton cowered on the bed beneath the window in the shack, when Hermione moved out of the way. Roderick appeared as though he was fighting something banging against the door.
Hermione leaned forward again and tapped the X. The image zoomed swiftly outwards, the four Death Eaters shrinking rapidly until they became four dots clumped between a lot of trees.
“I think we know how Scribner controlled the plot,” Neville said, amazement colouring his tone. “It’s almost like a Choose Your Own Spell story.”
“Where are we?” Ron leaned forward to examine the map, his large nose acting like a pointer.
“Somewhere over here.” Hermione touched the black spots in the Fabula area with the tip of her wand. The map dove inward, but instead of showing them directly, it stopped at a mid-point. The black spots had spread out, collected in twos or threes, or standing individually, in buildings. One particular building on the outskirts had six spots. Hermione tapped there with her wand, and suddenly they were looking upon themselves, clustered around a desk in Scribner’s messed office. Scribner lay tied up on the floor behind Hermione, Harry, and Draco.
The symbol box appeared in the upper corner of the parchment. Neville grabbed Ron’s arm when he went to touch a symbol with his wand. “Don’t. We’ve had enough excitement for today.”
“Why were there only six spots, not seven?” Pansy asked.
“Perhaps because he’s the author of the Tome of Entrapment,” Harry said, glancing over his shoulder at Scribner. “I’d wager the black spots were all the people trapped in the book.”
Hermione tapped the X twice and the image whooshed outward. “This is quite ingenious. In order to control multiple plots at the same time, he would’ve had to create a self-sustaining world. Therefore, while he was manipulating one group of people, the other storylines would continue on independently.”
“And because we’re not simply characters in a story we were able to ‘veer from the plot’ when he wasn’t looking,” Pansy said.
“Smashing to know that the nut case is also a genius, but how does that get us out of here?” Draco said.
“I’ll study the map,” Hermione said, nudging Harry out of the way. Harry trod on Draco’s foot as he moved and stumbled backwards. Draco’s arm looped behind Harry without thought, catching him from falling and ending up with his hand planted on Harry’s firm arse.
Draco stared into Harry’s startled face. A flush stole up Harry’s neck, visible under the open collar of his shirt, and coloured his cheeks. “Thanks,” he mumbled. He got his feet under him and moved quickly away.
Draco tracked Harry with his eyes and undid the top button of his shirt. Someone needed to douse the fire in the fireplace.
“Everyone else, start looking for some sort of diary or journal,” Hermione went on. “Scribner had to have written notes down.”
“I’ll check upstairs,” Harry practically fled the office before the words left his mouth.
Draco watched him go, and then caught sight of Pansy and Neville’s twin looks of bemusement. He scowled and stalked from the room. “I will see to this level and the cellar.”
Searching for a book was as tedious as being stuck in one. Draco found nothing resembling notes or instructions on how to escape on the first level. The cellar wasn’t very illuminating, either. Small, golden eyes peeped at Draco from a pile of rags and when he kicked it, a tawny kitten streaked across the cellar for the steps with a yowl.He abandoned the cellar and went upstairs to pester Potter.
“Done already?” Harry said absently, bending over to look beneath a cupboard.
“Yes. Unless the cat had notes tattooed on its belly, I found nothing.” Draco leaned against the doorjamb, staring appreciatively. “I came up here figuring you needed the most help.”
Disappointingly, Harry straightened and faced Draco. “Why would you think that?”
“Two eyes are better than a blind man,” Draco said, tapping his temple.
Harry pushed his glasses up his nose with an unheated scowl. “I’ve done the two rooms on this side of the hall.”
“We should search the remainder of the rooms together. It’ll take less time.”
Draco was knocked off-balance by Harry’s easy agreement. Suspicion sparked. “Why?”
“Why what?” Harry turned in a slow circle in a final survey of the bedroom.
“Do you think I’m going to sabotage our chances for escape?”
“What are you on about?”
Draco wasn’t sure, but arguing with Harry made things feel normal. “I don’t need a keeper.”
Harry walked up to him. “Neither do I.”
Draco made a sound of disbelief, staring down at Harry. “Even if you weren’t the ruddy Boy Who Lived, you’d need someone to look after you, Potter.”
Harry turned his head and looked at some invisible thing intently for a moment, before looking back up at Draco with a resolute expression. “I think you look at me enough already.”
With that, Harry pushed past a shocked Draco, rubbing unavoidably against him and making places tingle and tighten.
Harry went across the hall into another bedroom. Draco followed after a trouser readjustment. “What the bloody hell does that mean?”
Harry stood near the window of the bedroom, searching through a chest of drawers. It was a children’s room, cluttered with toys and a short bed. A mural of dragonflies on the wall swooped and breathed painted fire. Several stuffed animals crawled beneath the bedcovers, the others staring in curiosity at the visitors.
Draco drew up short, nearly tripping over his own feet. It felt like his chest caved in, the words like a physical blow. “I am not,” he denied hotly. “Where did you hear such a vulgar rumour? If anything, you’re the one who’s a poof, Potter. Giving it up for the Weasel—”
“Pansy told me.” Harry glanced over his shoulder at Draco and looked quickly away. “I asked her if she was your girlfriend and she told me you were gay.”
Draco’s breath whooshed out of him at the betrayal. His sweaty hands trembled as he clenched them into fists at his sides. “You haven’t told anyone, have you?”
“If you do, I will kill you,” Draco said tightly, and it wasn’t an idle threat.
Harry turned around. “I won’t.”
“I mean it, Potter.” Draco stared daggers at him. “I will kill you if you say a single word to anyone.”
“I won’t,” Harry said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I know what a big deal it is.”
“No, you don’t,” Draco spat. “You know nothing about what it’s like or what it means. You with all your bloody girlfriends, snogging whenever you bloody well want and not being afraid that someone’s going to give you a kicking because of it. Or bathing after Quidditch without worrying about accidentally looking in fear of being found out. Or having best mates who’d refuse to associate with you if they knew, thinking they’d get gay germs, like it’s some vile disease.”
Draco shook visibly with emotion. “And what about my father? His only son, sprung from his manly loins, is a limp-wristed pillowbiter. The shame I’d bring to the family name, centuries of Malfoys coming to an end because of what I am. I’d be better off telling him I’m not joining the Death Eaters because of you than letting him learn that I’m gay.”
Harry stared, mouth slightly parted at his outburst. Draco’s lips thinned, the corners of his eyes stung, and his cheeks felt hot. He spun on his heel and stalked over to the wall across the room, where another map had been painted. He breathed heavily through his nose, clenching and unclenching his fingers. Now, he’d not only confirmed he was gay, he’d made a fool of himself.
Uncomfortable silence filled the room. The dragonflies swarmed in front of Draco. He swatted at them, his hand slapping violently against the wall.
“Shut up, Potter.”
“I said shut up, Potter.”
Draco whirled around, wand drawn and pointed at Harry. “Shut up!”
Harry stared blankly at him and jerked a thumb at the door. “Hermione’s calling.”
“Oh.” Draco lowered his wand, chest heaving as his anger swiftly departed.
“We’d best get downstairs,” Harry said.
Draco nodded once and swept from the room.
Hermione pointed at the map on the desk, as the others gathered around her. “It took me a while to figure this out, but I think we need to go here.” She indicated a spot in the southwest area with her wand. “It looks as though we have to return the way we came, past the hunter’s shack, as far to the south-southwest as we can go.”
She pressed the tip of her wand on the parchment in that area. The map changed, bringing into focus a soupy grey mist and shadows of trees. She touched the map again and the view shifted, magnifying the area more. The thick mist made it nearly impossible to see the ground and the black line bisecting it.
“In every other direction that I tap my wand, there are ‘natural’ boundaries to Illusor, such as the mountains to the north and the canyon to the west,” Hermione said. “This area is the only place where such a boundary doesn’t exist. Illusor ends at a black line.”
“We did come in through a mist,” Harry said from beside her.
“That’s why I think we should try it.” Hermione returned the map to normal. “We haven’t been able to find any of Scribner’s notes and we can’t stay here forever.”
“What if you’re wrong?” Pansy said.
“Hermione is seldom wrong. It can be quite annoying—” Harry grinned at Hermione to take the sting out, “—but at times like this…”
“We follow the Mudblood,” Draco finished.
Harry shot him a dark look. “It’s a wonder why people don’t like you.”
“It’s taken us four nights to get to Fabula and now we have to go all the way back?” Ron said.
“I know. All those lessons we’re going to miss,” Hermione sighed.
Ron looked across the desk at Harry. “That’s just what I was thinking.” Harry hid his grin with his hand.
“Perhaps there’s another way to travel that will get us there faster.” Pansy left the room and returned with the backpack.
“Well, we know we can’t Apparate,” Neville said.
“We could ask our old friend Scribner,” Ron suggested, glancing at the still unconscious, tied up wizard on the floor. “Be a pity to have to wake him up, though.”
“We might not have to. Look at this.” Pansy took out the maps of Piègens and Fabula, transferred from Harry’s arms, and laid them on the desk over the Illusor map. “I saw these yesterday at breakfast, but I just remembered now.” She pointed to a spot in the centre of the Fabula map. “‘Fountain station.’” She shifted her finger to the map of Piègens, where another spot was labelled the same. “‘Fountain station.’ I wonder what it means.”
“Most likely, it’s a place to buy ice cream.” Draco gave her an icy look. “A place I’m sure you’re familiar with, as evidenced by your troll hips. I suppose Longbottom fancies chits who can’t fit through doorways.”
Pansy’s brow lifted. Draco turned his back to her.
“Why don’t we find out?” Hermione said. “We still have our brooms, if not.”
Hermione rolled one of the maps while Pansy and Neville rolled the other two. They went into the backpack, which Harry took.
Harry looked at his watch, shook his head, and glanced at the others. “I’d guess it’s around lunch. Do we want to eat first or just go?”
Ron’s stomach rumbled in answer. He grinned sheepishly.
“What do we do about Scribner?” Neville said, gesturing to the felled wizard. “I’d rather not have him start ‘plotting’ after us.”
“Somnorous!” Hermione tucked her wand in her belt. “That should keep him asleep for forty-eight hours.”
“Let’s go, then.” Harry led the way out of the house, flanked by Ron and Neville. Hermione dropped back to chat with Pansy, whom Draco steadfastly ignored.
“Do you think what Scribner said was true? That we’re just characters following a plot in fate’s book?” Harry said.
“Nah,” Ron said. “He’s probably gone spare from being in this book for too long. We should get out of here before we start spouting things like, ‘the world is nothing but a desk and we’re just the bogies stuck underneath.’”
They returned to Fabula and found a cheap pub in which to spend their last sickles. If they got stuck in Illusor any longer, they might have to do something plebeian, like work. Draco chose to sit between Ron and Neville, as they were the two who’d least pissed him off that day. Ron kept giving him sidelong, unfriendly looks throughout lunch. Hermione quizzed the waitress about the Fountain station and the possibilities of portkeys.
“Port-what?” the plump woman shook her head. “I don’t know about whatever thems is, but the Fountain will take you to Piègens or any other town you’d like to visit.”
The waitress left them to their food, but they were almost too excited to eat. “If we use the Fountain, we’ll save two days flight,” Hermione said.
“And we walked those first two days here. Imagine how far we can get flying on brooms?” Harry said.
“Shall we aim to reach the end today?” Pansy asked.
“I’m for that,” Neville said.
“Mwe, twoo,” Ron said with a mouthful of food.
“I think we all are,” Harry said. “Malfoy?”
“Don’t speak to me.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Do you agree or not?”
“It’s not like I have a choice,” Draco sneered.
“You always have a choice.”
Not since he was eleven, he hadn’t. Stupid Potter.
Lunch was consumed rapidly and, after a quick trip to the toilet, they set off. The Fountain station was actually a large, outdoor water fountain. Clear water fell in smooth sheets from a tall, brolly-like statute in the centre. The pool beneath was sunk into the ground. Platforms the width of a person bridged from the street around the fountain and disappearing beneath the waterfall. Metal signs on short posts marked each of the platforms, indicating where the path led.
“Makersville, Langue, Logos, Allegor, Trapman’s Pass… ah, here’s Piègens.” Harry stopped at the head of one of the platforms and squinted at the water. “We’re going to get wet.”
A family of four splashed out from beneath the waterfall three platforms down. The mother cast a drying spell immediately and they barely spared them a glance as they walked continued on their way.
“‘Travel is by broom, hoof, water, or foot’,” Hermione recited suddenly. “This must be the ‘water’. If only we would’ve thought to ask, we might’ve been back at Hogwarts by now.”
“We’ll be back soon enough,” Harry said, and walked right under the waterfall.
Neville glanced at Pansy and Draco and hurried after him, vanishing beneath the water.
“Ron, you should duck or you might hit your head,” Hermione said, before taking her turn.
Ron promptly smacked his head on the fountain overhang as he made to follow. His exclamation was a gurgled, “Ow!”
“All right, Draco, now that we’re alone, what’s got your knickers in a twist?” Pansy said.
Draco rounded on her. “Don’t talk to me, you pug-faced bitch.”
Pansy’s chin lifted and she stared down her nose at him. “Come again?”
“You told Potter I was gay,” he ground out. “I will never forgive you for that.”
Draco spun on his heel and stalked into the Fountain. He cursed as the cool water ran over his head, soaking him to the skin. Faster than floo powder, Draco stepped through the curtain of water and outside onto an identical platform past a brolly-like overhang of the Piègens Fountain station.
He swiped his wet hair back, out of his eyes, and found Harry staring avidly at him. Draco’s lip curled in a snarl. Harry jerked suddenly and turned away.
Draco’s feet squished as he walked off the platform. A gust of hot air buffeted him, as he cast the drying spell on himself and slicked his hair. Drying spells always made his hair stand out like the head of a dandelion and he wasn’t giving anyone any power to taunt him.
“I suppose we’ll fly from here,” Hermione said, after Pansy had joined them. She put on the backpack and tucked Scribner’s rolled map of Illusor up her sleeve, for easy access. “Harry, Neville, don’t pull too far ahead. We don’t want to veer off course.”
“Right.” Harry and Neville walked into an alleyway between buildings and an owl and a sparrow reappeared.
Draco held himself stiffly as Pansy mounted the unshrunk broom behind him. He nearly told Hermione to ride with him, instead, but didn’t want to have to come up with an excuse to do so. He just wanted to get out of the book and as far away from everyone as possible.
Draco followed behind Ron and Hermione. Neville alit on the tail of Ron’s broom a short while later, hitching a ride. Harry soared overhead, circling majestically as he kept pace with them. The brown fields of wheat and tall grasses passed swiftly below. They rose high, flying over the tops of the trees when they reached the forest. The sun beat down, no clouds providing relief as they continued on. Conversation was non-existent, except for Hermione’s directions.
Through the breaks in the trees, Draco saw the herd of elk-like creatures thundering across the ground. Worgs followed them, loping through the forest on the hunt. Several raised their heads towards the sky and howled as the broom-riders passed.
“There are my footprints!” Hermione said, pointing below. The yellow-gold glowing trail curved through the woods, shaped as hoof prints at first, and then becoming small human footprints, almost too small to make out. They stopped once for a short break before taking flight again. The shadows cast from the trees made the glow intensify and they seemed to be following the path that they made.
Draco pulled abreast of Ron and Hermione. “Are you still following the map?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “I told you earlier that we were going back the way we came.”
“All the way back?” Draco said. The wind loosened a strand of his hair and it tickled his cheek.
Hermione nibbled her lower lip. “I’m not sure exactly where we started, so I can’t answer that.”
“We started in an empty, white space, devoid of anything,” Pansy said. Draco thinned his lips at her voice. “How is that going to lead us out of here?”
“I guess we’ll see when we arrive.”
Harry circled down as the sun began setting and landed on Ron’s shoulder. “Look. Up ahead,” Ron said.
In the distance, a deep grey fog rose from the ground, above the trees. It blocked out the sky, a dense cloud cover without definition.
“Our footprints lead right into it,” Hermione said.
“Get the rope, Hermione,” Ron said. “We need to tie the brooms together. Leave enough slack so we don’t pull each other off.”
Hermione shifted the backpack on her shoulders and grabbed Ron quickly with a squeak, as he adjusted the broom. Parents tied children’s brooms to theirs while they were teaching them to fly. Hermione took out the rope, shortened and unshrank it, and passed an end to Pansy. Pansy knotted it and handed it to Draco, who looped it around the curved handle of the broom. Ron had instructed Hermione to tie their end above the bristles, behind her. Neville hopped from the bristles to her shoulder and half-hid beneath her thick mane of hair.
They were at the fog in what seemed like moments. “Stick close,” Ron said, and Draco shot him a sneer. Harry’s unblinking owl stare bored into him.
Side-by-side, they flew into the penetrating gloom. The moist air clung to Draco’s skin, making him clammy. He could barely make out the treetops they skimmed and couldn’t see further than a hand’s reach in front of him. Animal noises drifted from the ground, caws, screeches, and growls. The fog pressed in on him and he felt like he was breathing soup.
He kept close to Ron, not wanting to get lost. The glowing footprints were no longer visible. They had no way of telling which way they were going. The thought that they could fly in circles indefinitely settled like lead in Draco’s stomach.
Abruptly, they flew out of the mist into a brilliant white light. “Ah!”Draco threw up an arm, blocking his tearing eyes from the brightness. He felt Pansy’s forehead against his back and he shrugged her off.
Draco lowered his arm and squinted as his eyes adjusted. All around him was white, with no discerning shapes or horizon line. Solid, glowing footprints marked a clear path under them. It was hard telling how far they were up in the air.
“Where do we go from here?” Draco said.
“Keep heading in the direction of the footprints,” Hermione said.
Time and distance vanished as they flew on, once the footprints ended. “Here’s where we began.” They didn’t stop. Harry took flight again, soaring ahead. The white owl blended into the white background and Draco’s hands tightened around the broomstick, despite his current resentment towards Harry.
“How long are we going to go on?” Ron asked.
“Until we find the end, or we choose to stop,” Hermione said.
“Funny how Potter picked the wrong direction,” Pansy said.
“Did he?” Hermione said ponderously. “Scribner created the Tome of Entrapment to be a storybook and you have to start a story in order to finish it.”
“So, if we would’ve turned around right when we got into those woods, we could’ve been home days ago?” Ron said.
“Perhaps, but we wouldn’t have necessarily known this was the way out.”
“We don’t know that now,” Draco said. “We could be flying towards nothing forever. And where the hell did Potter go?”
“Granger, is there anything else on that map that would tell us how to escape the book?” Pansy said.
Hermione pulled the map from her sleeve and unrolled it, resting it against Ron’s back. She wobbled as she tried not to let the map blow away and draw her wand. Neville peeked out from beneath her hair. “No landmarks, or spell words, or anything,” she said after tapping the map with the wand. “I don’t understand. This shouldn’t be so difficult. We should be able to get out of here.”
“Well, what do you normally do when you finish a book?” Pansy said.
“Start another one.”
“Yeah,” Ron laughed, “She barely puts one down before beginning the next.”
“Maybe we should land,” Hermione said, sounding frustrated and distraught.
“Untie us, Malfoy,” Ron said. Draco unlooped the rope from the broom handle and sloped for the ground.
Ron passed by Draco in a quick decent. Draco snorted in scorn. Landing wasn’t a competition.
He sped up.
Harry appeared suddenly in front of Draco, causing him to pull up. “Potter!”
The owl flapped and alit on the front of the broom. Draco had to quickly compensate for the weight. He saw that Ron had beaten him to the ground. “Thanks a lot, Pot—”
Hermione’s shriek cut him off, and Draco stared at the empty spot Ron had occupied. Hermione fell forward onto the broom. Neville fluttered into the air. The broom crashed to the indiscernible ground, along with Hermione.
Harry screeched and took flight. Neville flew down to where the broom lay. The backpack, rope, and map remained, as well. Neville perched on the bristles and began shapeshifting. He grew taller and larger swiftly, and found he was too big to stand on the end of a broom. His arms flailed as he lost his balance and fell backwards.
He hit the ground and disappeared.
Harry screeched again.
“Land the broom.” Pansy squeezed Draco’s sides. “Don’t you get it? When we touch the ground, we’ll be out of the book!”
Draco circled down and hovered near the backpack, but didn’t touch down. “Climb off, Pansy.”
Pansy slipped off the broom. “See you at ho—”
Draco rose somewhat, so he wouldn’t accidentally land. He raised his head. “Potter, come here!”
Harry swooped and grasped Draco’s arm with his claws, trying to lift him. Draco balanced delicately on the broom and caught his other arm around Harry. He hugged the bird close to his chest, as it struggled. “Are you off your nut? They went home, you twit. Pull yourself together!”
Harry started to grow suddenly in his arms. Draco barely had time to shift backwards on the broom before he had a fully-grown human practically straddling his lap. Harry blinked owlishly behind his glasses, nose-to-chin with Draco.
Draco sucked in a slow breath, his heart picking up speed. His arms were wrapped around Harry, hands splayed between his shoulder blades. Harry’s fingers were wrapped in the front of Draco’s shirt. Draco was drowning in Harry’s gaze. Harry licked his lips and tilted his chin. Draco felt drawn closer. The broom drifted lower. Harry’s breath caught as their noses brushed—