A sound like the crack of a whip startled Draco and he dropped the Wizard Style magazine he'd been leafing through and sat up straight on his desk chair. The underwear models quickly drew on robes from the open pages on the floor. The twelve-year-old shot to his feet when he saw who'd returned. "Dobby!"
"Young Master Malfoy, sir." Dobby the house elf stood on the polished wood floor beside Draco's bed, pulling at his large bat-like ears. Dressed in an old pillowcase with a rope belt, the house elf stared nervously at Draco with his bulging green eyes.
Draco hurriedly crossed to his bedroom door, checked to make sure it was locked, and then demanded, "Well?"
"I told Harry Potter, sir, not to go back to Hogwarts," Dobby replied. "Harry Potter is not liking it, sir."
"But he's going to stay home, right?" Draco said.
Dobby wrapped his long fingers around the bevelled bedpost and banged his head against the dark wood. "I am not certain, sir!" he moaned and banged some more.
"Dobby!" Draco walked over and knocked Dobby away from the bedpost. "Why not?!"
Dobby wrung his hands. "Harry Potter loves Hogwarts, sir! It is his home, he says. I told him that bad things would happen if he returns, but he would not listen to Dobby! He wanted to know why Dobby was warning him."
"Did you tell him?"
"No, sir." Dobby shook his head.
Draco sank onto the edge of the bed and glared at his reflection in the mirror across the room. "Potter can't come back to Hogwarts. He ruined First Year for me, getting all the attention from everyone and favouritism from the professors. Even when the other students hated him, he was still the 'Boy Who Lived.' He even got to play Quidditch and is the youngest seeker at Hogwarts since forever!" Draco slammed his fists on the duvet on either side of him. "I don't want him back at school."
"Harry Potter is in very big trouble with his relatives because of Dobby." Dobby turned suddenly and shoved his head through the slats of the desk chair. "Bad Dobby!"
"Big enough so they'll keep him home?"
Dobby's answer was to smack his face on the chair seat.
Draco frowned unhappily, rose, and picked up his magazine. He shoved Dobby away from the chair and looked down at him. "You'll have to keep trying. Getting Potter sent home will work just as well as preventing him from returning to school in the first place."
"Yes, sir! Dobby will keep trying, sir!"
Draco crouched behind the hospital bed, peering over the top at the boy sleeping three beds away. The bottle of Skele-Gro on the bedside table glowed eerily in the moonlight coming through the window of the infirmary. He'd tried to fake the grievousness of his own Quidditch injuries in order to stay in the hospital wing, but Madam Pomfrey had sent him away with barely a wand-over and a half piece of chocolate. Now, he had to be careful not to get caught sneaking around after curfew.
Draco bit off a yelp of startling, spinning on his slipper-clad feet and nearly falling on his bum. "Dobby," he hissed when he saw the house elf. "Where have you been? Potter got hurt!"
"Dobby knows, sir." Dobby showed Draco his bandaged hands. "Dobby feels terrible for hurting Harry Potter, so Dobby ironed his hands."
"You hurt Potter?" Draco grabbed Dobby around the neck and shook him. "What were you thinking?!"
"Sir said to keep trying," Dobby croaked. "If Harry Potter were injured enough, he would go home."
"Idiot," Draco cursed, tossing Dobby on the ground.
"Dobby bad!" Dobby began beating his head on the stone floor of the infirmary.
"Shh!" Draco grabbed Dobby again, holding him close, and peered over the top of the bed. Harry shifted with a moue of displeasure, facing away from Draco.
Draco held his breath, worried his lower lip, and silently counted to twenty in Latin. When there was no more movement, he released his breath and Dobby at once. "Listen, you good for nothing rodent," Draco growled at Dobby. "No more helping me. Tell Potter that you caused the bludger to go after him so he won't try to blame me and then go back to the Manor. You can keep an eye on Father for me."
"Very well, sir," Dobby said, nodding extensively. "I will do as sir says."
He scrambled over to Harry's bed and Draco hid himself once more. Draco wanted Harry sent home, but not in pieces – unless he, of course, caused the damage. He'd stopped numerous attacks on Harry by other students for that very reason, like when Pucey shoved Harry on the moving steps, or when Finch-Fletchley nearly hit Harry with a snake-repellent potion, which was also poisonous to humans. It had been especially trying since the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. People actually thought that Harry had petrified Mrs. Norris and wrote the warning on the wall. As if Potter was the Heir of Slytherin, Draco snorted softly and covered his mouth and ducked when Harry turned in his direction.
Resting on his heels, Draco listened as Harry berated Dobby and wondered where he’d gotten the idea to trust someone else, even a bound and loyal house elf, to do a job he should’ve done himself.
Mars was rather bright in the sixth house in the night sky, Draco noted. It meant violence and death would be a part of their daily routine. But considering he was inside of a book, the planet's position and brightness might not hold the same meaning as it did at home. Or so he hoped. He turned towards the south sky to search for his namesake constellation, which should be visible this time of year, but the trees blocked his view.
He stood a short distance away from the four Gryffindors, who surrounded the deceased hunter's grave, a shallow mound of dirt marked by the hunter's broken wand. They had just finished burying him. Dog sat beside Harry. Pansy was still scouting around.
"Now what?" Ron asked, though his tone was solemn.
"I'm not sure." Hermione sounded uncomfortable that she didn't have a definite answer.
Ron, Hermione, and even Neville looked lost. Harry still stared pensively at the grave.
Draco stepped forward. "It's late. Instead of wandering around in the dark, we'll stay at the hunter's campsite until morning. I don't think he'll mind."
"Malfoy-," Ron began, the usual, automatic anger lacing his tone. Harry cut him off.
"Ron, don't." Harry glanced sombrely at his friend. "Not now."
Ron compressed his lips into a thin line and followed Neville, who'd already started back to the campsite. Hermione fell quickly into step beside him.
Harry gave Draco an incomprehensible look before heading after the others with Dog at his heels. Draco sighed silently, glanced up at the sky, then at the grave, and followed Harry.
Pansy had been busy while they were gone. She’d swept the spot where the bedroll had lain. The food wrappers were disposed of and the backpack closed and sitting off to the side. Undoubtedly, she’d gone through the hunter's backpack, cataloguing items and searching for identification. A fire crackled in the fire ring, smelling of damp wood. Grey smoke curled up towards the sky.
"We're staying here tonight," Draco told Pansy.
"I thought we might." She caught Neville's attention and held up three fingers out of sight of the Gryffindor Trio. Neville held up one finger in return. "It looks like you have second watch, Draco."
Draco nodded absently, distracted by the hissed argument going on between Ron and Hermione. The two stood left of the fire ring. Harry cleared a spot on the ground on the far side of the fire.
"Why are we listening to that git?" Ron fumed.
"Because what he said made sense," Hermione said. "Wandering around the woods anymore tonight is begging for trouble."
"So instead we're going to stay where somebody died? How is that safer?"
"The wizard died of natural causes, Ron. This spot is as safe as anywhere."
"I don't like it. It was Malfoy who got us sucked into this book and it's Malfoy who wants us to stay here. Can't you see it's a Death Eater trap?"
"Yes, Ron, I do see the possibility, which is why we'll take turns keeping watch."
Ron folded his arms. His dislike of the plan was evident on his face, but he said, "Fine. We'll stay. And if it is a trap, Malfoy will be the first to go down."
"Agreed." There was a vicious gleam in Hermione's eye when she turned and looked directly at Draco, indicating she knew he'd been listening.
Draco raised his chin imperiously and then pointedly turned his back to her.
While Draco had been eavesdropping, Pansy had transfigured a double bed, fancy comforter, puffy pillows, and a canopy tent from sticks. The deep green tent stood between two towering trees towards the right, outside of the small clearing, the firelight barely reaching it. She did not bid anyone goodnight; she simply entered the tent and closed the flaps, leaving Draco alone with the Gryffindors. The wench.
Draco walked over to the base of a large tree, transfigured a leaf into a soft, but odd-shaped cushion, and settled elegantly cross-legged onto it. There was no way he'd be able to sleep, and wouldn't even if he could, in the situation.
Across the fire burning bright in the stone fire circle, Harry sprawled on the leaf-strewn, muddy ground, careless about getting dirty, using Dog as a pillow and staring blankly up at the sky, his glasses discarded and tucked in his shirt pocket. The backpack rested near his head. Ron transfigured sticks into a too-short, lumpy mattress, a flat pillow, and coarse-looking blanket, angled close to Harry near the fire ring. Hermione sat in a tall, straight-backed black chair transfigured from a rock. She faced the fire, her feet by Ron’s head and a meter away from Draco. She was obviously settling in to keep watch, but he and Neville were on guard and her assistance wasn't actually needed.
Speaking of Neville, Draco looked around for his furry friend. He had something he wanted to discuss with his fellow PRATS that he'd been thinking on. His brow creased when he didn't see Neville and his anger ignited when he realized no one else noticed Neville was missing.
Neville could take care of himself, Draco knew from years of working with him, and once the Weasley Twins left school, under his leadership in PRATS. Draco also trusted him completely, which was rather scary. Pansy was the only other person who could tell him what to do without much argument.
Draco opened his mouth to question Neville's absence in a subtly scathing manner, but closed it abruptly when a small bird landed on his knee. It was a common sparrow, dark brown in colour, about the size of his hand. The sparrow stared intently at him. Draco tugged on the tip of his nose. The bird chirped twice and flew off, leaving crap on Draco's knee.
"Longbottom," Draco growled quietly. "I'm going to spit and eat you." He pulled his wand from his belt and pointed it at his soiled knee. "Scourgify."
"Malfoy, what are you doing?" Hermione asked suspiciously, her hand on her wand.
"It's none of your concern," Draco said. "If I were you, I'd be more worried about Bonglottom. Do you even know where he is?"
"He's gone to relieve himself." Hermione narrowed her eyes. "You'd better not have done anything to him."
Draco scoffed, examining his knee thoroughly, making certain his school robe was clean. Internally, he was satisfied that tabs were being kept on Neville, even if Neville had sneaked off for an air reconnaissance.
Satisfied that his robe was clean, Draco stood, sneered at Hermione, and strode away from her, to Pansy's tent. He ducked inside without making any attempts to knock on the canvas, earning a glare from the tent's occupant. "Do you mind?"
"Obtecui." A hazy blue shimmer from the silencing spell spread over the area inside the tent. Draco put away his wand and sat on the corner of Pansy's transfigured bed. She sat propped up against the headboard, examining her coloured nails.
A sparrow hopped under the edge of the tent, chirped, and grew into Neville. He coloured lightly when he saw Pansy on the bed. "What's the PRATS message, Malfoy?"
"We might have a problem," Draco said. "Weasley brought this up, and while he's mistaken about me, he could also be right. How do we know this isn't a Death Eater trap?"
"The book?" Neville said with a furrow of his brow. "I thought we decided it was a trap from Bleckly’s aunt."
"Not the book, the dead hunter and us staying here," Draco said.
Pansy understood. "You think that a few Death Eaters were trapped in the book, too, with the purpose of disposing of Potter."
"The set up is good," Pansy said. "We're out in the middle of the woods, at night, and they could come at us from any direction."
"It was your suggestion to stay here, Malfoy," Neville pointed out.
"I know. I wasn't thinking." Draco said, mentally cursing. "It's too late now to move, not without explaining to them why."
"Even then, they won't necessarily believe us," Pansy said. "We'll have to make do."
"Well, we already have two people on watch each shift, with Hermione, Ron, and Harry,” Neville said. “I didn’t see any other fires or people in a quarter-kilometre radius, but I’ll check again. Otherwise, we should be all right.”
"I’ll cast the modified locating charm the Twins taught us on Potter," Draco said.
"That's the one that’s undetectable unless you cross your eyes?" Neville said.
“Yes. It’ll last twenty-four hours.”
"Is it possible that Dog is an Animagus?" Pansy said suddenly.
Neville shook his head. "I already checked. He's just a dog."
"Do we need to discuss anything else?" Draco said, anxious to get back outside.
Pansy and Neville both answered negatively. Draco clapped his hands on his thighs and stood. "Take care, you two."
"Same with you," Pansy said.
Draco acknowledged her with a nod, pulled his wand and tucked it up his sleeve, and left the tent. He circled around the fire and Harry under Hermione's watchful eye, crouched beside the backpack and pretended to riffle through its contents with one hand. He put his other hand behind his back, let his wand slip from the sleeve, glanced over his shoulder at Harry and Dog, and muttered the Twins' charm under his breath. "Ignivisus."
The brightness from the fire hid the spell-light and it absorbed into Harry without incident. Satisfied, Draco tucked his wand back up his sleeve, closed the backpack with a false look of disgust, wandered back to his cushion, and settled cross-legged onto it. Hermione studied him for a moment before returning to scanning the woods around them.
Draco rested his head against the tree trunk behind him, wiggled on his cushion, and looked up at the stars through the branches of the trees. He was more worried than he'd let on to Pansy and Neville with the thought of Death Eaters being in the book. It was times like this that he wished Dobby was still the Malfoy house elf. Dobby would've spied on his father for Draco and told him what the plan was, even with his father in "hiding" after his escape from Azkaban two years back. They might not even have been captured within the Tome of Entrapment if Dobby had been where he was supposed to be and not working for pay at Hogwarts.
Draco rubbed his forehead. Dwelling on Dobby's lack of assistance was futile and besides which, the last time he ordered Dobby to do something, the house elf had broken Harry’s arm. Trusting Neville and Pansy would only do so much to ease his apprehension. With his emotions involved, Draco would have to stay alert and protect Harry with blind luck.
So it was situation normal, all Filched up.