Eleven-year-old Draco Malfoy crept silently upstairs, sticking to the shadows of the barely lit Gryffindor tower. The portraits lining the moving stairwell were asleep, soft snores, snorts, and wheezing coming from the people within the gilded frames. The second corridor from the Gryffindor House entrance was his goal, as he had confirmed the rumor that Harry Potter sat there on nights he could not sleep.
Draco had been patiently waiting to execute a perfect plan. It would make up for his having to go into the Forbidden Forest on detention and also make everyone in Gryffindor hate Harry more. He would catch and hex Harry and then leave a note for Filch on where to find the Boy Who Was Petrified. Harry would lose House points again and the Gryffindors would be in the negative numbers; plus, Harry would get more detention. Draco could then brag to his Slytherin Housemates how he was the one to get Harry into trouble.
Draco arrived at the second corridor and slipped down the hall on silent feet. He heard Harry speaking before he spotted the light from a lantern. Cautiously, he crept forward and found a hiding spot in an empty alcove across from the bend in the hall. He could see Harry clearly from his vantage point without being seen in return and this might be the opportunity he'd been awaiting.
"You mostly sit around all day and gossip," one of the portraits said, the witches nearest to her nodding enthusiastically. "Who are fighting, who are scheming, are any new romances brewing?"
Harry sat on the stone hall floor, both knees pulled tight to his chest, as if he were trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. His hair stuck up every which way - another thing about him that annoyed Draco to no end - and he wore overly large, hideously striped Muggle pyjamas.
Most of the people from the portraits had gathered in the courtyard of one painting, hanging on the wall across from Harry. Wizards and witches of various ages sat in the grass or on white benches in the faux sunshine. A tan stone wall rose up behind them, with creeping ivy climbing towards the invisible sky.
"Sometimes we catch wind of something potentially dangerous and we inform the Headmaster," a very young wizard said. "You'd be surprised what gets said in front of us, because people forget we're here."
Draco drew his wand, running through a list of spells he'd memorized from a book his father had given him called Devious and Deadly Disasters. He didn't get to use any, however. Down the corridor from Harry, barely visible in the lantern light, Draco saw another student aim a wand in Harry's direction. Almost immediately, the large, empty picture on the wall above Harry's head began to shudder.
"Any chance Snape talked about what’s on the next Potions exam?" Harry said.
Draco flicked and swished, and hissed, "Wingardium leviosa."
“Harry, dear, you’d best move. I think that picture has come loose above your head,” one of the wizards said.Harry looked up instead of moving, like an idiot. Draco’s charm caught the empty picture just as it began to fall. He wasn't very good at this particular spell and it took nearly all his concentration to re-hook the picture on the wall. By then, Harry had stood and was examining the picture frame. Out of the corner of Draco’s eye, he saw the student who'd upset the picture slink back into the shadows.
"Oh no, you don't." Draco released his spell, waited a beat to make certain the picture hook held and that Harry didn’t pull it down on top of his head anyway, and then shot off running from the alcove. He heard Harry shout “Oi!” from behind, but didn’t stop. He'd memorized the students' map of the school upon arriving at Hogwarts and knew where to find a hidden set of stairs that emerged by the Great Hall.
Draco took the tower steps three at a time, uncaring if he woke any of the portraits as he rushed downstairs. His night robes flapped as he dashed around the corner, out of the stairwell, and down the main hall. Hanging lanterns lit the corridor every few meters, sitting high on the stone walls, illuminating his path. He ran past the double doorway to the Great Hall and skidded to a stop beside the arched entry to the stairs.
Draco breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth to stop his panting. He could hear footsteps descending in the stairwell. He straightened his robes quickly, checked that his hair was perfect as usual, and leaned casually with one shoulder against the wall, arms folded and wand hidden in his hand.
The scary realization that it might be Filch coming down the stairs skittered through Draco's mind, but it didn't matter now. He waited and was relieved when it was the student. More specifically, it was Jonathan Keiser, a Hufflepuff Fifth Year that Draco knew through his attending social parties with his parents.
A sneer curved Draco's lips and he cleared his throat. "Nice night for a stroll, eh, Keiser?"
Keiser started minutely before a scowl crossed his rat-like, spotty face. "What are you doing here, Malfoy? Isn't it past ickle kiddies’ bedtime?"
"Then what are you doing up?" Draco said with an arch of a brow.
Keiser's eyes narrowed at the insult. "Mind your own business, prat, before I mind it for you."
Draco swallowed. Keiser stood twice his size and had hands the size of plates. Still, he managed not to squeak when he said, "Is that supposed to scare me?"
Keiser loomed closer, using his size to try and intimidate Draco. It was rather effective. "I ought to curse your mouth shut."
"And you know what will happen if you do, once I tell my father," Draco said in a nervous rush. "Same goes for if you hurt Potter."
Keiser looked startled. "Potter?"
"Yes, Potter." Draco gained a little confidence. "Starts with 'P,' ends with a water mammal. Has split ends and a poor wardrobe. Sound familiar?"
"Why do you care if I hurt Potter?" Keiser smiled maliciously. "Does Malfoy have a crush on wittle Hawwy?"
Draco's wand pointed directly between Keiser's eyes in a flash. "Take that back, Keiser.”
Keiser's nasty smile didn't abate as he knocked Draco's wand aside, raised his own, and cast, "Tarantallegra!"
Draco began to dance uncontrollably. It was juvenile, but effective in making Draco burn with humiliation for not even receiving a proper curse. Keiser laughed and walked away, calling over his shoulder, "Good luck, Malfoy. I'm not the only one who's aiming for Potter."
It took Draco an entire minuet to recall the words to end the jinx. "Finite incantatem," he cast on himself. His dancing legs stopped and he glared in the direction Keiser had gone. If Keiser thought that he or others were going to get Harry, they were in for a surprise.
No one but him could hurt Potter and he’d see to it no one else did.
"Potter?" The name was out of Draco's mouth before his vision cleared from the bright flash. He had an instant of horrifying dread when he saw everyone but Harry, until he heard Harry cursing quietly behind him. He turned quickly and saw Harry standing there, apparently unharmed.
"All right, Harry?" Neville voiced the question Draco wasn't allowed to ask.
"I'm fine, Neville," Harry said. "Ron, Hermione?"
"We're fine, Harry," Hermione said. Ron nodded in agreement.
"I'm fine, too, thank you for asking," Pansy sniped.
Hermione looked around slowly. "Where are we?"
The library was gone. Around them, there was only white. No discernable horizon line separated the ground from the sky; just pure, nearly blinding whiteness in all directions, marred only by the six Seventh Years. They cast no shadows, though the ground felt solid beneath Draco's feet.
Draco noted that the Gryffindor Trio had moved closer together, with Neville within arm's distance. They were not subtle in the distrustful looks they gave Draco and Pansy. Everyone held his or her wands.
"Tabula designare." Pansy pointed her wand at the ground, casting the plotting spell. Magic seemed to work wherever they were. However, instead of a map drawing with their location, black squiggly lines of nonsense appeared on the white ground. "We're somewhere unplottable."
"Hogwarts is unplottable. Perhaps we're still there," Hermione said. "We couldn't have Apparated, since no one can Apparate on Hogwarts grounds.”
“Maybe it was a portkey," Harry suggested.
Hermione shook her head. "I didn't feel a pulling behind my navel and none of us were touching the same object, unless you count the library floor. It wasn't until I opened that book that anything happened."
Pansy exchanged a look with Draco. "The Tome of Entrapment."
"The what?" Harry said.
“The Tome of Entrapment, are you certain?” Hermione said, a frown creasing her brow. Pansy nodded.
“What exactly is it?” Ron said.
“It’s a book,” Hermione replied. Draco could see pages turning in her head. “According to Frieda Valise's Cursed Containers, Bewitched Boxes, and Hexed Handbags, the Tome of Entrapment is a Dark Arts artefacts that traps the person who opens the book, and those standing within a certain distance, inside its pages."
Neville gave Draco a subtle look, reading: 'guess we know how the book works now, eh?'
Harry glanced around. "This doesn't look like any book that I've been in."
"I knew it!" Ron exclaimed, glaring at Draco. "It's Malfoy's fault. He tricked us into saving that book for Neville."
Harry crossed his arms and somehow looked down his nose at Draco, despite being a whole head shorter than the Slytherin. "Malfoy, is this true?"
"No," Draco said shortly.
Harry studied him a long moment, nodded slightly, and turned away.
"Tabula finis." Pansy was irritated when the territory mapping spell didn't work and stomped her foot. It made no noise on the ground.
"I don’t understand why it was at the library,” Hermione said, more to herself than the others. “It’s supposed to be in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry.”
“Maybe it got shipped over by mistake,” Ron said.
Hermione shook her head. “That’s impossible. The items in the Department of Mysteries are catalogued and cross-checked now on a regular basis, ever since we were there in Fifth Year.”
Draco stiffened, volatility churning inside him. He glared darkly at Harry. Pansy murmured, “Don’t.”
“Let’s forget how the book got to the library for now,” Neville said, stepping between Harry and Draco, blocking their view of each other. “Hermione, do you know how to get out of here?”
"There was nothing specific listed in the account I read,” Hermione said. "The few people that had escaped didn’t know how it happened.”
Ron eyed Draco. "Well, we won't remain stuck in here, despite what some people had hoped."
Draco looked flatly at him. "Darn. My nefarious plan has been foiled."
Ron's wand shot up, but Harry prevented him from hexing Draco. "Don't, Ron. Malfoy's just as trapped as we are.”
“If he is behind this, that's revenge enough,” Hermione said.
"You idiots honestly believe that we're stupid enough to be caught in our own trap?" Pansy said.
"Then why were you trying to get the book from Neville?" Hermione asked pointedly.
"Because, Granger," Draco lied through his teeth, "I recognized the book for what it was and wanted it for future use."
“Your Daddy sent it to you, didn’t he?” Ron said acidly. “We know he’s been there before. Too bad this time he didn’t get sent back to Azkaban, where he belongs.”
“Too bad your father didn’t die the last time he was there,” Draco sneered. “Snake venom must not work on traitor blood.”Ron’s face reddened with anger and his wand shot up. Harry didn’t stop him from casting the Bat-Bogey Hex. Draco slammed his eyes shut and bit back his whimper as bogies ripped from his nose. He felt the grotty wings beat against his face as the bogies attacked, scratching his skin.
Pansy rescued him quickly. “Finite.”
Draco opened his eyes and glared hatefully at Ron. “Always nicking from those better than you. And you can’t even perform the spell properly. It took nearly an hour to stop your sister’s hex.”
Ron lifted his wand. “I can always try again.”
“No, Ron.” Hermione tugged his arm. “Fighting won’t get us out of here any faster.”
“That goes for you, too, even though Weasley deserves it,” Pansy said to Draco, swiftly using her wand to heal his face. She lowered her voice. “This book was meant for Potter, remember? I haven’t spent the past four years tending to him for him to snuff it now.”
The danger hit Draco in the stomach like a physical blow. He looked around quickly, head jerking one way to the other, squinting at the bright white nothing. “We have to get out of here.”
Neville, lurking behind Pansy, overheard him and nodded. He turned to Hermione. “What do you know about the book?”
“Not much, I’m unhappy to say,” Hermione replied. “In the book I read, those that had escaped reported that they wandered in heavy woods for a while, seeing beasts and animals they recognized and some they didn’t, and then somehow managed to get free.”
"So, now what?" Ron asked.
“We can’t Apparate,” Harry said. “I just tried.”
Draco already knew the answer, but he asked anyway. "Longbottom, does anyone else know about the book?"
"Um, no," Neville said. "I mean, maybe. If it's not a library book, Madam Pince might figure it out, but…"
"Right." Pince would know the book wasn't a library book when she saw it and give it to Dumbledore, and as soon as he'd noticed his precious Potter was missing along with his right and left arms, Granger and Weasley, he'd search for a way to get them free.
"Dumbledore will notice us missing," Ron said, echoing Draco's thoughts. "I'm sure he can get us out."
"And if he can't?" Pansy said.
“Then, we’ll have to rescue ourselves.” Neville’s lips twitched, as he glanced at Draco and Pansy. “It’s not like we’re incompetent prats.”
Pansy tittered quietly. Draco made a subtle rude gesture at him.
“I guess our choices would be to start walking or wait here,” Hermione said.
Harry shrugged. "I'm up for a walk. Maybe Dumbledore will free us along the way, but if he can't, waiting around won't get us back to Hogwarts."
"I agree," Hermione said. "The Headmaster will have his research cut out for him, from what little I’ve read."
"Which way do we go, then?" Ron gestured at the vast emptiness. "It all looks the same."
"Well, we are in a book," Hermione said. "There is only one direction it can be read, from beginning to end. Therefore, any direction we go will eventually lead to the end. We just have to keep going until we reach it."
“Some books start in the middle,” Neville said. “And you can jump around in research books.”
“No matter where you start, that’s still the beginning for a reader,” Hermione said.
"Let's go this way," Harry suggested, pointing to his right. He tucked away his wand and immediately started in the direction he'd indicated, assuming everyone would follow him.
"Harry!" Hermione sounded like an exasperated mother. "We can't just go off willy-nilly. We need to make a plan. We don't want to go in circles, do we? We also need to be careful. This is an enchanted place. Remember what I just said? Who knows what we might encounter."
"I thought you knew everything, Granger," Pansy said.
Hermione's nose went up. "From what I have read, I wish us to be cautious until we know our environment and the possible dangers."
“Thankfully, it seems magic works here,” Harry said.
Hermione pointed her wand at her feet. "Tractus." She took a step backwards. Two glowing footprints marked the white ground where she'd been standing.
"What's that spell for?" Neville asked.
"To mark our path," Hermione answered. "This way, we know where we've been in case we want to back-track and make sure we aren't going in circles, or if someone gets lost from the group they can find us again."
"Plus, breadcrumbs usually get eaten," Harry said with a quirk of a smile. Hermione echoed it, and they both looked at Ron.
"I was hungry," Ron blustered, ears reddening. “You had some, too, Harry.”
Pansy stepped closer to Draco and lowered her voice. "What do you think, Draco?" she asked.
"I think we're royally buggered," Draco said, glancing at Harry. "At least we're in here, too. I'd be a bloody wreck if I was on the outside, trying to find a way to get him out."
"You really are a sad sort, Draco.”
"So you keep reminding me." Draco's eyes swept over Harry from messy hair to ragged-edged hemline of his school robe. Draco looked down at his own well-tailored school robe, the tips of his shined boots peeking out from under the crisp hem. His hair was still perfectly slicked; Pansy would have told him if it wasn't.
Draco looked at Harry again. He was bent over tying the laces on the Muggle trainers he wore, giving Draco the perfect view of his-
"All right, everyone keep your eyes out for anything," Hermione said.
Draco jerked his gaze up, ignoring Pansy's snicker.
"We'll head in this direction." Hermione indicated the way Harry had originally been going. She turned to the two Slytherins. "Malfoy and Pansy can lead."
"You don't trust us at your back?" Draco pressed his hand to his chest. "I'm offended."
"Just move, Malfoy," Harry said. "I'd like to get out of here today, if you don't mind."
Draco snap saluted Harry with his wand, and he and Pansy started walking. He heard the Gryffindor Trio follow behind them, though their footsteps were silent. Draco was actually happier being in the lead with Pansy. He knew Neville would guard the rear.
"I still think this is all Malfoy's fault."
Draco rolled his eyes. “That’s because you’re dim, Weasley. Your mother had so many children, the brain allotment was used up by the time you came along.”
“Shut up, Malfoy.”
“She might’ve been able to buy you a used brain, but the bargain bin was still too expensive for her purse.”
“Then what happened with you? Your parents are rich and you don’t have a brain at all, or a personality,” Harry chimed in.
“But he does have plenty of hair care products,” Ron said.
Pansy snickered. Draco glared at her. She smiled innocuously. It was a horrible look on her.
"At least this is more interesting than looking up Gnomatic Equations in the library," Harry said.
"Definitely," Ron said. "Though we probably shouldn't say so in front of Hermione."
"I'm walking right beside you," Hermione said.
"And I was really looking forward to cracking the books, too," Ron corrected.
Hermione made a sound of fond exasperation and got onto more serious business. "Neville, where did you find the book to begin with?" Around them, the silent whiteness continued.
"I don't know," Neville said. "I guess it was one that I pulled from the shelf."
"A Tome of Entrapment sitting on the library bookshelf, where anyone could find it?" Hermione hummed. "That's very odd."
"Yes. Imagine if you were alone, Neville, and opened the book."
"Or worse, if you were just with Pansy and Malfoy," Ron added helpfully.
"Tell me again why I can't kill Weasley?" Draco said sotto voce to Pansy.
"He's Potter's best friend," Pansy said.
"Potter has a spare."
"Is it me, or is it getting foggy?" Pansy said.
Pansy's non sequitur threw Draco for a moment, before he glanced around. The air was becoming thicker and foggy as Pansy said, most noticeable as it swirled around their robes. He heard their footsteps now, too, squishing softly, though the ground was still solid beneath their feet.
The Gryffindors noticed the changes as well and slowed their pace. Overhead, the sky became darker.
Draco and Pansy glanced at each other and split apart for better coverage and to make less of a target.
"Hermione?" Harry's voice seemed very loud all of a sudden.
"It must be the book," Hermione said. "Be careful."
Draco ventured a look over his shoulder. The Gryffindor Trio had moved closer together. Neville had dropped back slightly, behind Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
The six continued onward. The fog seemed to coalesce around their legs, and from the smoky mist appeared thick, moss-covered trees, with deep green leafy branches that partially blocked the dark, stormy sky. Vines stretched between the trees, and waist-high stalks of thin-bladed grass grew sporadically from the wet, muddy, leaf-strewn ground. Sounds of night animals reached their ears; rustling, chitters, screeches, and hoots.
Another glance behind him showed Draco that the previous white blankness of wherever they were had disappeared. He could only see trees, fog, and Hermione's glowing footprints. It wasn't so dark that they needed wand-light, but it was definitely night.
"Any clue where we are now?" Ron questioned.
"It reminds me of the Forbidden Forest," Harry said.
A loud animal cry ripped through the air.
Ron gulped. "You don't think anything like Aragog is here, do you?"
"The shadows are shifting," Neville said.
Neville's words were PRATS code, meaning that he had seen something, but couldn't identify what it was.
"What is it, Neville?" Hermione said.
"Eyes, I think."
"Lumos." Ron's wand-light cast a glow around the woody area.
"Weasley!" Pansy exclaimed, glancing over her shoulder. "Put that out!"
"Because, you tit, light will not only attract predators, it now makes it harder for us to see them."
"She's right, Ron," Hermione said.
"Okay. I'll put it out." Ron extinguished the wand-light, and suddenly, it was much, much darker outside. He gulped audibly. "This is not good."
They went silent, listening keenly for an attack. The sounds of the forest seemed to grow louder with the lack of light. A particularly high-pitched screech caused Draco to jump before he identified the cry as a bird of some sort, perhaps an owl or nighthawk. If the book even included those birds.
Draco shifted uneasily. That was an unpleasant thought. The book they were trapped in could have no normal animals in it. There was the possibility of fantastical beasts created solely by the book's "author," with six eyes, tentacles, and big, sharp teeth.
"Granger, remind me to kill you when we get out of here," Draco said.
"What did I do?" Hermione said.
"What did you do?" Draco's words were frosty. "You opened the book, you stupid bint, and trapped us in it!"
"I thought it was a library book!”
“Any real witch would’ve known it was a dark artefact on sight. But that’s right, you’re nothing but a lowly Mudblood, so you’ll never be one of those.”
“Hermione is a better witch than you’d ever be,” Harry stated.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a witch,” Draco said.
Ron smirked from beside Harry. “That’s not what I hear.”
"Will you all please shut your gobs?" Pansy hissed. "Any animals out there looking for a free meal don't need to see to find us with you two yammering on."
"Pansy's right," Neville's tone was sharp. "Very, very right. So right that everyone had better scatter."
Draco spun in Neville's direction and could just make out blacker shapes against the darkness - Neville and a four-legged animal running at him.
"Parkinson!" Draco sprinted towards Neville, knowing that Pansy would intuitively understand and push Harry, Hermione, and Ron apart so they were no longer a single target. She would also stick to Harry.
"Hey! Watch it!"
"Stupefy!" Neville cast at the animal. The animal had leapt, however, and the spell missed its target. Neville cursed, threw himself bodily to the side, and hit the ground shoulder first.
"Neville!" Hermione ran towards him.
Draco aimed at the spot the animal would hopefully land. "Petrificus!"
The spell hit, and the animal landed in a sprawl, stiff front legs skidding in the mud. Not knowing how long the animal would be stunned, Draco cast another spell. "Wingardium leviosa!" The animal floated up from the ground. "Light!"
"Lumos." Neville rose to his feet, holding his wand aloft, with the tip glowing brightly. Squinting, he glanced at the animal before turning to scan their surroundings for further attack, Hermione beside him. Pansy stood with Harry far to one side. Ron was near where he had previously been. Both he and Hermione cast lumos. "It's a dog!"
Brown and grey, with floppy ears and droopy eyes, it looked like a bloodhound. The dog's curved tail wagged like crazy despite the animal being suspended in the air. A collar circled his neck, though no tags dangled from it.
"Put him down, Malfoy," Harry said, moving closer.
Draco shot a look at Pansy, who aimed her wand at the dog, and then lowered the dog to the ground.
The dog had a moment of trouble getting his feet under him at the spell's sudden end, but when he did, he bounced like he was on springs, barked excitedly, and nearly bowled over Harry. The wagging tail and Harry's raspy laughter saved the dog from being zapped by Pansy.
"Help! I'm being slobbered on!" The dog planted his paws on Harry's chest, nearly standing as tall as the teen on his hind legs, and licked, sniffed, and snorted Harry's face. Harry laughed and scrubbed the dog under his floppy ears.
Draco was not jealous.
Pansy lowered her wand. Hermione and Ron went to pet the dog, which enthusiastically greeted them both. Neville looked off into the dark woods, reminding Draco that they weren't necessarily safe.
"I wonder where he came from," Ron said, petting the dog.
"A bloodhound is a type of hunting dog," Hermione said. "It stands to reason that a hunter is nearby."
"What's your name, boy, huh?" Harry asked the dog. He was licked in response and sputtered. "Grotty! I've been French kissed by a dog!"
"Check his collar," Hermione instructed.
Harry turned the collar on the dog's neck. Letters were burned into the dark leather. "The dog's name is… Dog."
Dog barked, slipped past the Gryffindor Trio, and bounded towards Pansy. Pansy gave Dog the evil eye. "If you jump on me with those dirty paws, I will transfigure you into a meat byproduct and feed you to Longbottom."
Dog skidded to a stop, either able to understand English or with a superior sense of self-preservation. He reversed course, took one look at Draco, and wisely chose Neville as his next petter.
"Hi, Dog." Neville's hand was as big as Dog's skull, as he patted the top of Dog's head. Dog licked Neville's palm and he boomed in laughter, wiping his hand on his ground-slogged brown robe. "That tickled."
"Should we go and find his owner?" Ron asked.
"That would make the most sense," Hermione said. "We can return Dog and, if we’re lucky, find out more about the book we're in."
"C'mere, Dog," Harry called. Dog bounded over to Harry's side, tail wagging like mad. "Dog, can you take us to your master? Take us to your master, boy."
Dog barked twice and darted past Draco into the darkness. He barked again, perpendicular to the glowing path of Hermione's footprints.
"Are you sure he's going to lead us somewhere?" Ron said.
"I say we follow." Harry stared in the direction Dog had gone. Draco noticed he seemed very attached to the animal already and wondered if it had anything to do with Sirius Black.
"Let's still be careful," Neville said. "The dog was friendly, but there might be other animals out there."
"Not to mention, the hunter might not welcome us with open arms," Harry said.
"Lumos." Harry raised his wand and took the lead. Neville scrambled to his side. Hermione looked at Draco until he made a disgusted sound, gestured to Pansy, and the two Slytherins followed Harry and Neville, leaving Hermione and Ron to bring up the rear.
The forest seemed denser and the soggy ground harder to traverse now that they were using wand-light to see. The cries of night birds punctuated the darkness. Dog ran ahead and came back to the group, making sure they were still following. He led them on a relatively straight path for approximately ten minutes until they came to a dark campsite.
In a small clearing a metal pot sat in the centre of a stone fire ring, with a lumpy bedroll lain out beside it. A worn backpack rested at the foot of the bedroll, its contents strewn on the ground near it: a metal plate and utensils, food wrappers, a leather-bound journal, a quill, and a capped inkbottle.
"Hello?" Harry called quietly. "Is someone here?"
"We brought your dog back," Hermione said a bit louder.
Pansy nudged Draco and nodded to the bedroll. Draco took a closer look, as Pansy moved to the foot of the bedroll, her wand at the ready. Someone was inside the bedroll.
Dog flopped onto the ground near the head of the bedroll, rested his chin on his forelegs, and whined softly. "What is it, boy?" Harry said, starting for him.
Draco stepped purposely in front of Harry, blocking him from the bedroll. Harry shot him a dirty look and went to the dog.
"Someone's in the bedroll," Draco said loudly, to discourage any sort of surprise attack, as well as warning the others. He nudged the bedroll with his foot. "Hello, are you awake?"
"He is now, with your kicking him," Ron said sarcastically.
"Then why isn't he getting up?" Draco crouched, grabbed the flap of the bedroll, and flipped it open. He reared back, falling onto his bottom and scooting quickly away. His heart pounded in fright. "Oh, yuck."
They'd found Dog's master. White, scraggy hair covered the man's head. Grey-coloured skin stretched tightly over the bones of his cheeks. Open, sunken eyes, wrinkled like dried grapes, stared sightlessly at the night sky. A beetle crawled from his left nostril into his open mouth, past cracked lips.
"I guess we won't be asking him any questions," Pansy said, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
Draco's lips twitched in amusement, even as Hermione scolded, "Pansy! That isn't funny." A glance at Harry showed he was scowling at Pansy, his jaw tight. Neville, hovering over Harry, looked sad and turned away. Ron had blanched and backed from the bedroll.
“It’s only a corpse, you ninnies. It’s not going to attack you.” Pansy hiked her robes to crouch beside the body. Draco had to hand it to her, she was tougher than he was.
Pansy pulled open more of the bedroll. The hunter wore ragged grey robes. A wand was in his hand, resting on his stomach. "He was a wizard. It doesn't look like there was a fight or that he was killed by an animal."
"Maybe something snuck up on him and killed him," Ron croaked.
"Without leaving a mark?" Pansy shook her head. Hermione peered over her shoulder, a stubborn expression tightening her face as she did. "I don't think so, unless they used the Killing Curse."
"Another wizard, then?" Harry pet Dog, running his hand over the fur from forehead to neck repeatedly, as if consoling the animal. The sorrow on his face made Draco think that the petting was for Harry's own consolation.
Draco forcibly ignored the tightening in his chest, got to his feet, and brushed the damp leaves from his school robe. "He still has his wand. Another wizard would have taken it, or at least have broken it. He probably died of natural causes and would have rotted away if we didn't happen along."
Pansy flicked her wand at the corpse. "Morseffectricus."
The remains of the hunter glowed orange for a moment before fading again. Pansy looked back at Draco. "He died of natural causes." She closed the flap of the bedroll over the wizard's face, straightened, and cast a cleansing charm on her hands.
"Where'd you learn that spell?" Ron asked.
"From Madam Pomfrey," Pansy said. "She used it on Dorothy Vinski last year, when she died of snodfish poisoning."
Harry stared solemnly at the bedroll. ""We should bury him. It's only proper."
"I'll go and make a grave," Ron said, after a moment.
"I'll help," Hermione said, and the two headed away from the camp. Neville hurried after them.
Pansy coughed politely, and when Draco looked at her, indicated with a tilt of her head that she would scout a short distance on the opposite side of the camp.
Draco watched her go, leaving him alone with Harry, a dog, and a dead body. It was actually one of the dream scenarios he had stored in his head, though normally there wasn't a dog and the dead body was You-Know-Who, not some stranger. What happened next usually included Harry smiling and saying, "You're all right, Malfoy," followed by nakedness, with their robes transfigured into a bed because Draco would never be so common as to frolic in the dirt and grass.
Harry didn't look up or stop petting the dog. "I suppose I should comment on your quick thinking earlier and good wand usage." He said nothing more.
As left-handed compliments went, that one stunk, in Draco's humble opinion. He'd much rather Harry had ravished him in thanks, at the very least. Instead, Harry continued to stare morosely at the bedroll and stroke the dog's head.
"He's dead. He's not going to move."
"Leave me alone, Malfoy."
"It'll never happen." Draco kicked at the foot of the bedroll. "This makes how many dead people you've seen now, Potter? Makes me worry if just being around you causes death."
"Shut up," Harry's voice was raw as he ground out the words. He took off suddenly, striding rapidly away from the camp with Dog right behind him.
"Really, Draco, it's a wonder he doesn't throw himself at you," Pansy said dryly, coming up beside him.
Draco glowered at her and headed quickly after Harry, for protection-duty of course. It wasn't his fault that Potter was so sensitive. He wasn't about to curb his tongue merely to spare Harry's emotions. If Harry didn't like Draco just the way he was, he'd rather have not have Harry and stick with unreturned feelings.
Draco caught sight of Harry, but left some distance between them. Harry stared at the stars between the leaves, head tilted back against the trunk of a tree. Dog leaned against his thigh, being petted. The sounds of the forest surrounded them, reminding them they were not at Hogwarts.
"I know you're there, Malfoy," Harry said suddenly.
Draco was surprised, but he didn't let it show, as he closed the distance between them. "Too bad. I was all set to hex you into oblivion."
"Then why isn't your wand out?"
"Changed my mind," Draco said. "Why isn't your wand drawn? You're out here, in the middle of who-knows-where, with who-knows-what that could eat you."
"I always know when I'm being watched." Harry looked steadily at Draco for an uncomfortably long moment, before he went on. "Besides, Dog would've warned me if I were in danger." He smirked. "Apparently, you're not a threat."
Draco's hackles raised, fingers itching to pull his wand. "Care to find out just how much I am?"
"Not at the moment, no." Harry pushed off the tree and started back towards the camp.
"I could hurt you horribly, if I chose," Draco said irritably after him. But that was the clincher, wasn't it? He hadn't been able to hurt Harry even back in First, Second, and Third Years, when he'd truly wanted to cause harm.
Draco kicked the ground and trailed after Harry, like he always did.