"If my robes get soiled, you will be sorry, Draco," Pansy Parkinson warned, lifting the hem of her embroidered brown robe as they walked through the woods at Malfoy Manor. The Nanny house elf trailed behind the two thirteen-year-olds at a distance. "Why can't we meet with him in the house?"
"Because of my father, you know that," Draco said. Sunlight spilled through the leaves, painting golden splotches on his crisp violet robes. The woods were alive with creatures big and small enjoying the warm summer morning, rustling in the bushes, scampering through the tufts of flowers, crabgrass and weeds, shaking the branches in the trees, chirping and chattering. "Our visitor is rather afraid of him."
"Most people are," Pansy said.
Draco shrugged. "Power and wealth can be daunting to those who don't have it."
They neared the edge of the woods to the east, which met up with the neighbour's open grounds. A low stone wall separated the two properties, weathered and broken in places from age. Neville Longbottom stood nervously on the opposite side of the wall, his round face reddened and sweaty. His eyes darted at every noise and he gulped when he fixed on Draco and Pansy, and on the Nanny a little way behind them. He looked over his shoulder at a tall clump of humbleberry bushes and then back at Draco and Pansy. "H-hi."
Draco and Pansy walked right up to the wall, putting themselves as far from the Nanny house elf as they were allowed. "What do you want?"
Neville looked fearful for a moment, then his jaw tightened and he squared his shoulders. "I thought we might work together."
"Work together?" Draco sputtered in laughter and exchanged a look with Pansy. He’d received a post from Neville earlier in the week, and curiosity and irritation about what the message meant had driven Draco into meeting with him. "I’d have to have a death wish to work with you on Potions. You need simply to look at a cauldron and it melts in fear of you.”
“I’m not talking about Potions,” Neville said, “I’m talking about Harry.”
“What about Potter?” Draco said.
"I know you've been protecting him."
Draco bristled. "I have done no such thing. Where did you get such a barmy idea? I despise Potter, with his bloody scar and his ‘Oh, I killed the basilisk, aren’t I wonderful’—"
"How do you mean?" Pansy interrupted, staring piercingly at Neville.
"A few of us have seen him preventing fights and 'accidents' from happening to Harry," Neville said. He addressed Draco. "You've been doing it since First Year."
"I wasn't protecting Potter," Draco said, aghast at the thought.
"Then what were you doing?" It was Pansy who asked, surprising Draco. "I know you've made a habit of stalking Potter, but I thought it was because you fancied him, as disgusting as that is. He’s not a pureblood."
Draco gagged, horrified. "Parkinson! I want to kill the four-eyed pillock, not snog him!"
Neville's brow wrinkled. "Why were you stopping those pranks, then?"
"None of your bloody business," Draco said. "Now leave, before I hex you."
Neville half-stepped back, glanced over his shoulder, and then a look of determination crossed his features. "No. Not until y-you tell me why you've been helping Harry."
Draco drew his wand. Neville paled and quickly drew his with a trembling hand, but he didn't leave. Pansy put her hand on Draco's shoulder and whispered in his ear. "No sanctuary here."
Draco cursed silently. His father would be furious if he were caught using magic outside of school by the Ministry. The anti-detection wards were only effective inside Malfoy Manor.
Angrily, he jabbed his wand in Neville's direction. "If anyone is going to hurt your precious Scarhead, it'll be me, not some namby twat with delusions of grandeur."
"So… you're hurting Harry by protecting him?" Neville scared expression bled into confusion.
"I'm not protecting Potter!"
"Calm down, Draco," Pansy said.
"Parkinson, shut your yap," Draco snapped.
She glared icily at him. "Come again?"
"Oh, I get it," Neville said suddenly, sounding confident. "You're preventing others from harming Harry so you can claim to be his only enemy. You're being a selfish glory hound! That makes perfect sense."
"It does?" Draco frowned.
"I still think we should work together," Neville said. "The Weasley Twins are setting up a group, and with all of us, er, 'not' protecting Harry, it should make things easier."
"Make things easier how?" Pansy said curiously.
"Malfoy's not the only one who's been keeping an eye on Harry."
"You want me to team up with you and the Twins," Draco scoffed.
"Yes?" It was more of a question than a response. “There are others, too.”
"Why?" Pansy asked.
Neville seemed more fearful than he had before, and he gulped. "Be-because S-S-Sirius Black has escaped Azkaban and he's c-coming after Harry." He looked around rapidly, as if by saying Black’s name would cause him to appear.
Pansy looked briefly afraid, before her features smoothed. Black’s escape had been splashed across the newspapers and everyone, except for Draco, of course, was in a general panic about the madman being on the loose. His father had told him Black was going after Harry and, while Draco wanted to be the one to kill Harry, he wasn’t dumb enough to get in Black’s path. Still, he could use Neville’s little group to his advantage. "What's in it for me?" he said.
Neville was startled. "Um, I guess you can keep tormenting Harry and we won't interfere."
"Done," Draco said with a sharp nod. "I will meet with you and the Twins at the start of term to discuss schedules."
"Good." Draco pivoted without another word and started back towards the Manor. He could see the Nanny out of the corner of his eye keeping pace with him a discrete distance away. Behind him, he heard Pansy bid goodbye to Neville.
Pansy came up along side Draco, glancing back over her shoulder. He frowned at her. "What are you looking at?"
"Longbottom." Pansy wore a contemplative expression. "He really is a Gryffindor."
Draco snorted. "I'll say. Brave to the point of foolishness to come out here and ask me to join his little party." He had a bad thought and made a face. "I certainly hope he doesn't think we're friends now."
"Doubtful." Pansy smirked. "Though you shouldn't be choosy, considering the vast number of friends you have."
Draco looked down his nose at her. "I am considering getting rid of this one annoying bitch who hasn't left me alone for nine years."
"Serves you right if I did up and leave you forever," Pansy said. "Then, who would tell you that your hair is sticking up like a dandelion?"
Draco’s hand flew to his head, as Pansy glanced over her shoulder again and then laughed. “I guess he’s not the perfect Gryffindor. The Weasley Twins are with him.”
Draco looked back, while smoothing down his hair. Sure enough, Fred and George Weasley stood with Neville, brushing humbleberries off their raggedy clothing. He frowned. “I wonder why they hid.”
“To keep from scaring you off, I’d wager,” Pansy said, skirting a tree stump.
Draco scowled. “They’re Weasleys, for bloody’s sake. The only thing I fear from them is catching freckles or their Muggle-loving germs.”
“And now you’re going to work with them.”
“That is rather disgusting.” Draco shuddered. “Why did I agree?”
“I’d like to know the answer, too,” Pansy said.
Draco smirked. “If I work with them, I’ll know where Potter is all the time and they won’t stop me from executing any of my plans.”
“What if Black comes after you to get to Potter?”
“I’m not stupid, Pansy. I’ll escort Black directly to Potter.”
“Because we both know you’re no idiotically brave Gryffindor,” Pansy said. “However, keep me out of it. I don’t want anything to do with Potter.”
“I promise I won’t drag you into it.”
Harry was not still when he slept. He tossed and turned, muttered and cursed, and caused Dog to quit his pillow duties and move elsewhere. Ron, and subsequently Hermione and Neville, slept through the ruckus, indicating Harry’s chaotic sleeping pattern was the norm.
Draco watched Harry across the embers of the fire, as Ron kept guard and fought sleep. Third shift neared and he'd have to wake Pansy, even though he wouldn't be going to sleep himself. Pansy would hex him if she weren't treated equally. Ron would be waking Harry, too, if Ron kept awake to do so.
Draco had spent the majority of his watch prowling the campsite. After Hermione had woken Ron for his turn, Ron had stared suspiciously at Draco for a while, as Draco circled the campsite, pausing at intervals to listen and look into the woods. They’d had words, nothing unusual there, and then Draco ignored him.
The night had been relatively quiet. No odd animals or beasts came into the clearing, most likely because of the fire and Dog. The flickering flames and crackle of the burning logs would be soothing if Draco was in the familiar woods behind the Manor. House elves and a posh wizard’s tent would be helpful, as well.
Through his lashes, Draco's eyes traced Harry's sleeping features, following the strong lines of his nose and jaw, the curve of his lips, and the peek-a-boo scar hiding partially behind his ratty black hair. Harry didn't hold a candle to Draco's handsomeness, but he definitely wasn't half-bad looking. His physical appearance made Draco's body tighten and itch to touch, and Draco had spent an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about him in the shower late at night. If Draco wasn't careful, he could fall into a fantasy right now, where he woke Harry from his troubled sleep and gave him something else to dream about.
Harry's eyes flew open suddenly and he sat up with a gasp, staring directly at Draco. Draco froze outwardly, while inside his heart sped up madly. He'd been caught staring, something that just didn't happen. Draco Malfoy never got caught doing anything unless it was planned.
Harry didn't blink. His pale white face stood out vividly against the darkness of his school robes. Sweat dotted his brow and his upper lip.
Harry shuddered hard, sucking in a shallow, wheezy breath of air. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms, dropped his hands in his lap, and cursed adroitly.
"I hope that's not addressed to me," Draco said, holding on to his composure despite being caught.
Harry's chin whipped up and he squinted in Draco's direction. Draco realized, as Harry groped for his glasses, that Harry couldn't see him. He hadn't been caught; it was merely coincidence that Harry had been looking in his direction.
Harry hooked his round glasses over his ears and blinked several times before focusing on Draco. "Darn. It wasn't a nightmare."
"Sorry to disappoint," Draco said sarcastically.
"What are you doing awake?" Harry pushed up his robe sleeve to look at his watch, shook his wrist, looked again at his watch, scowled, and lowered his arm.
"Protecting myself from becoming a midnight snack, same as Weasley, only I'm doing it with my eyes open."
Harry glanced over at the now-sleeping Ron and an affectionate smile briefly graced his lips. "I'm up now," he said, addressing Draco. "If you want to sleep, go ahead. I promise to wake you in time to get eaten."
"For some odd reason - and I can't imagine why - I don't trust you to hold your promise, Potter." Draco rose gracefully and headed for Pansy's tent. "Pansy will keep watch for me."
"Malfoy, don't wake her. It's not necessary."
Draco paused and faced Harry. "What you mean is, you'd rather not have the possible Death Eaters awake to hex you if this is a trap."
Harry looked at him steadily. "Are there Death Eaters here?”
“Push up everyone’s sleeves and find out.” Draco turned his back to Harry and ducked into Pansy's tent. She was laid out like a princess on the soft-looking bed. Draco barely touched her and she woke, wand in hand. Not a single dark strand of hair on her head was out of place, nor did she have any pillow creases on her cheek. Her clear eyes focused on Draco instantly. She lowered her wand.
"Your watch," Draco told her. "Potter is awake and acting annoying."
"Like normal, you mean." Pansy stretched, yawned daintily, and stood. Her hunter green robes swished around her legs, falling into place without a wrinkle.
“He asked if we were Death Eaters.”
Pansy’s brows lifted. “What did you tell him?”
“I said: ‘No, we’re Potter Worshipers. See the lightning bolt marks on our arms?’” Draco waved his hand at the tent and bedding. "Transfigure this stuff back to normal before I'm tempted to use it."
"You should." Pansy frowned at him. "Having circles under your eyes is in no way attractive."
"Who am I trying to attract?" Draco said wryly. He shook his head. "I'm not going to be able to sleep anyway, Pans, so get rid of it."
Needing to relieve himself, Draco left the tent and strode into the woods a bit. When he returned, the tent was gone and Pansy watched the woods, standing opposite Ron, who was soundly sleeping on the uncomfortable-looking chair. Harry sat with his back to the dying fire, scratching Dog behind the ears, as he also watched the woods. No one else had stirred, Hermione still slept angled beside Harry on Ron’s mattress and Neville was curled on the ground between Ron and Draco’s cushion.
Draco stretched his long limbs in front of him as he sat on the transfigured leaf-shaped cushion and leaned against the tree. Harry's hair stuck up in the back like a dog's tail and Draco longed to smooth it down. Instead, Draco closed his eyes and released a slow breath. He wondered how long it would take to reach the end of the book, if they could find it. He also wondered what they might encounter along the way. Maybe they'd get lucky and the Tome of Entrapment had a shoddy authorship.
One thing he did know was that they'd have to forage for food, since conjured food did nothing for nourishment. Unfortunately, he knew he was most equipped for finding their meal, since it would be stupid for Harry to go off into the woods. He planned to go hunting at dawn. He had no clue how to cook what he caught, but he was sure Weasley didn't have house elves and could fix a meal. Even if he didn't, they had to eat and someone who wasn't Draco would prepare the food.
Draco folded his hands in his lap and worked to clear his mind. It was difficult to relax, however. The sounds he heard were not the familiar sounds of the woods at Malfoy Manor or in the halls of Hogwarts, and he was on edge, waiting for the possibility of a Death Eater strike.
Time passed with excruciating slowness, making Draco worry that they were in a world of perpetual night. But eventually the sky began to lighten, colouring the woods in shades of misty grey. In the predawn coolness, Draco rose fluidly and slipped off into the forest under Pansy's questioning eye. Harry's back had been to Draco still, and he did not notice the Slytherin's quiet departure.
Rita Skeeter had given Draco the idea to become an unregistered Animagus, when he had fed her a continual stream of false information about Harry in Fourth Form. (That had been a brill plan and had driven Harry round the twist. Draco was rather proud of himself.) Rita had been able to get onto Hogwarts grounds undetected in her Animagus form, and even if someone saw her, they'd dismissed her presence. Who cared about a bug? Subsequently, who would care about a stray dog? Or a bird?
Learning to become an Animagus was difficult and dangerous and not to be tried alone, but once accomplished it had been brilliant. It had taken most of Fifth Year, with Draco meeting Neville a couple times a week, a few false starts, feathers and fur stuck in uncomfortable places, peeps and barks from human mouths, and a lot of behind the ear scratching, to accomplish the Animagus transformation and feel comfortable in their Animagus forms. Neville's form was the common sparrow. Draco had gotten his wish for something with a little bite, but ended up having to research his form: a coyote. Coyotes weren’t native to Britain and Draco had almost despaired, but luckily, the coyote looked like a dog and he could blend in as such.
As a coyote, Draco was of average build and resembled a compact Husky. His ears stood straight up from his head in soft triangles, the skin of the inner ear pink in colour. His thick, grey-brown fur lay close to his body, ending in a fox-brush tail that had no curve. His almond-shaped dog eyes were the same silver-grey as his human ones.
Draco enjoyed being a coyote. He could see in colour, his vision as adequate as his human sight. His hearing and sense of smell were phenomenal. He had a smooth and effortless gait, and he was quite swift. His bark was deep, though he usually remained silent. Practice over the summer between Fifth and Sixth Years in the woods at Malfoy Manor had turned him into a great hunter and venturing into Swindon had taught him how to blend in and act like other strays.
With little effort and a small pop, Draco's clothed body shrunk and morphed into a coyote. His muscles felt like they were being compressed and stretched at the same time. His eyes crossed as his nose and mouth expanded into a muzzle. He fell forward, his arms and hands changing into legs and paws before he hit the ground. The change was briefly disorienting as his perspective shifted, but within moments he was loping deeper into the forest surrounding the campsite. The scents of early morning filled his senses, including the freshness of the air and the emergence of animals from their dens.
Draco slowed, his steps becoming silent on the leaf-strewn, muddy ground. He picked up the scent of a rabbit and followed his nose. He spotted the brown and white animal a minute later, sitting in the open near a clump of weeds. The rabbit's ears flickered in his direction.
Draco crept carefully forward, his paws making no noise as he stalked his prey. The rabbit's nose twitched. Draco paused, crouching low to the ground.
He struck suddenly and with deadly accuracy. His powerful jaws clamped around the rabbit's neck before it could move. The rabbit squealed, but fell silent after a hard shake, as its neck snapped. Draco tasted blood in his mouth where his sharp teeth punctured the rabbit's skin. He felt a thrill at his successful hunt.
Pansy, however, was less than thrilled when Draco dropped the rabbit at her feet. Her face screwed in disgust. "What are you doing?"
Draco licked his chops, washing away the coppery tang of blood. Beyond her sat Harry and Dog. Harry's back was to Draco, but Dog lifted his head and looked at the Animagus. Draco wondered what Pansy had told Harry about him being gone, as Harry didn’t seem concerned that he wasn’t there.
"I know you don't expect me to do something with that," Pansy stated.
Draco glanced up at her, and then turned and headed into the woods again. He'd eaten rabbit before and knew one wouldn't be enough for the six of them.
Draco smelled Dog before hearing him approaching from behind. Draco stopped and waited, not wanting a fight with Dog. It wasn't a matter of Draco worrying that he'd lose, but rather that Dog would in less-than-perfect condition when he won and he’d have to listen to the complaining.
So, Draco let Dog make the first cold nose contact, the sniffing intrusion the only aspect he hated about being in the canine family. Personal boundaries meant nothing to dogs and having his arse smelled was just something he had to put up with. The sacrifices he made for Potter.
"Dog! Here, boy!" Draco heard Harry call.
Dog woofed in response. He apparently decided Draco wasn't a threat. Again. Tail wagging, he nudged Draco in the side and then bounded back to the campsite. Draco shook himself and continued on in the opposite direction.
He was lucky to find a second rabbit. He'd thought they'd have to have a two-species meal. Hunting wasn't a predictable activity.
He changed back to his normal, striking human self before returning to camp, carrying the second rabbit carcass by the ears. Everyone was awake. Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville were fully dressed in jumpers and robes, sitting on the mattress, talking, with Dog lying between them and the hunter’s backpack on the ground. The chair was gone. Pansy was keeping watch on the outskirts of the campsite. She saw him first and indicated by smoothing the top of her hair that she'd covered for him, a rustle of her robes meant he'd been using the toilet, or the bushes in this case. Ron and Hermione’s suspicion was palpable, their wands in hand, as he stepped through the trees, picked up the first rabbit still lying where Pansy had left it, and brought both dead bodies over to the fire ring.
"What're those for?" Harry said, nose wrinkling.
"Breakfast, what else?" Draco answered, dropping the rabbits on the ground where the chair had been. "I spotted them on my way back."
"Rabbits?" Hermione said with repulsion as she stood.
Draco's lip curled in disdain at the rat's nest on her head. "We have to eat. I'm sure Weasley's cooked animals like this before, considering his family's too poor to go to the food shop."
Ron scowled. "Sod off. I'm not cooking anything."
"What do you expect to happen? House elves to put food on the table?" Draco gestured expansively. "I don't see any house elves or a bloody table."
"Then cook it yourself." Ron stood, hand clenching around his wand. "I'm not waiting on you, Malfoy."
"Starve, then, for all I care," Draco sneered. “You’re probably used to going the entire summer hols without food.”
"I highly doubt he'll starve. The hunter had to come from somewhere," Hermione said. "And until we find where, we can eat berries, nuts, and flowers. We've all taken Herbology and know what's safely edible."
"Except I haven't seen any nuts or berries. Open your eyes, Granger. There are only trees, leaves, moss, more leaves, and mud."
Hermione glared at his tone, getting defensive. "We would figure out something."
"It's not like we'd touch anything offered by a Junior Death Eater, anyway," Ron sneered. Neville stood, de-transfigured the mattress back into a leaf, and moved out of the line of fire.
Draco's eyes narrowed into slits. "I guess you'd better watch yourself, then. You'd never know what I might curse."
Harry rose then, putting himself in front of Hermione and Ron. His expression was stony, and even dirty and sleep-dishevelled he radiated self-confidence with the power to back it up. "Just try it, Malfoy."
Draco sneered, as Pansy came up beside him. "Perhaps I-"
Suddenly, a rumbling sound, like that of a train speeding along the tracks, filled the air. The ground shook roughly, nearly toppling the six students. The trees surrounding the clearing shook violently and green, brown, and yellow leaves from the branches rained down. Draco threw out his hand, grabbing Pansy's shoulder, trying to steady both her and him. Hermione fell backwards against Ron, who caught her around the waist. Harry splayed his arms for balance.
The earth sucked down Neville.
The suddenly soft, muddy ground bubbled where Neville had been, releasing a sound not unlike a belch, and the shaking shuddered to a halt. The abrupt silence was an eerie punctuation to the quake.
Pansy's voice was like a boom of thunder in the quiet. A nearly invisible breathing bubble appeared, surrounding her head, dappled sunlight glinting off the magical rim. She was moving before the word left her mouth, waving her wand at a rabbit carcass, transfiguring it into a furry coil of rope. She grabbed one end of the rope and looped it around her waist. Without hesitation, she dove into the mud.
"Wait!" Hermione yelled, but it was too late. Pansy had disappeared beneath the surface.
Dog began barking, running up to the edge of the mud hole and skidding to a stop.
"Bloody hell! Secure the rope!" Draco darted forward and grabbed the rope as it rapidly snaked into the mud. He didn’t know an anchoring spell.
Ron was just in time, as the excess slack ripped from Draco’s hands. The rope weave burned the flesh of his palms, cutting them open, but it didn't compare to the pain of the thought that Pansy and Neville could be lost to him.
Ron checked the rope where it had attached to the solid ground behind Draco, near the fire ring. Across from Draco, Harry knelt at the edge of the mud hole, poking the mud with his wand, a dark expression on his face. Dog stopped barking, sniffing the ground around the edge near Harry. Draco stared at the burbling ground, the tips of his boots sinking in the mud. Fallen leaves balanced on the edge of the mud hole, gravity precarious, and fate deciding whether the leaf would sink or stay on solid ground. Draco had no idea if Pansy had reached Neville, or if Pansy was even alive. He glared angrily at the mud, mentally ordering it to release Pansy and Neville. Waiting had never been Draco's strong suit; he was a Malfoy, after all, and got what he wanted when he wanted it. Except for Harry, but that was a whole other box of flobberworms.
"We should've made a plan before Pansy acted." Hermione stood behind Harry with a grip on the collar of his robe. Her face creased as her mind worked out possible ones they could have used. "I wish accio worked on people. Why the rope?"
"It's for safety," Ron said. "If a wizard or witch is doing dangerous work and something goes wrong, the rescuers can find their bodies by pulling or following the rope."
"Bodies?" Hermione paled.
"I'm going after them," Harry rose from his kneeling position beside the mud hole and stripped off his school robe.
"No," Draco bit out. His face was grey with fear. "You're not going anywhere, Potter."
"I'm not going to let them drown," Harry stated, anger at the nay-saying flaring in his eyes.
"But if you drown in the mud, too, what then?" Draco said. "That makes three dead instead of two. I know Gryffindor bravery is synonymous with stupidity, but that’s completely daft!"
Harry opened his mouth to retort, but Hermione's exclamation interrupted him. "Look!”
A large, black bubble rose from the surface of the mud hole with a slick sucking sound. A second, smaller bubble appeared right behind it. Draco held his breath, bloody hands clenching in tight fists. The beams of morning sunlight slid over the bubbles, as if trying to gain purchase but the surfaces were too slick. The larger bubble popped, and Pansy's clean head appeared, floating above the surface. "Grab Longbottom!"
Dog started barking again. Harry and Hermione were there immediately, grasping Neville's inert form before Pansy ended the buoyancy spell. The smaller bubble wasn't a bubble at all, but Neville's head coated entirely with mud. They pulled him free and dragged him away from the mud hole.
Draco latched onto Pansy's arm and strained against the resistance of the mud not wanting to release her. Ron darted to the edge of the mud hole, latched onto Pansy's other arm, and heaved. She came free from the mud with a slurp, tumbling them to the ground in a tangle of mud, leaves, and limbs. Draco smacked the back of his head on a rock from the fire circle.
Harry pulled his wand from his belt and aimed at Neville. "Ennervate!" Neville's body spasmed. Hermione wiped his muddy face clean with her school robe.
Draco shoved Ron away, knelt up, and helped Pansy to sit up. He brushed her mussed, but clean hair away from her mud-free face, smearing copper-coloured blood across her temple and cheek from his hand. "All right?"
"I'm fine. How's Neville?" she asked, trying to catch her breath.
Rough coughing and retching answered her question. Neville was on his hands and knees, being supported by Harry and Hermione. A thick layer of mud coated him from head to foot. Pansy was no cleaner from the shoulders down.
Ron hung on to Dog, who apparently wanted to lick Neville clean. Harry gnawed on his lower lip, looking worriedly between Neville and Pansy.
Draco stood abruptly and walked over to the backpack, sitting on the ground around the other side of the fire ring. He knelt and sorted through its contents. Neville continued hacking behind him.
His chest and throat tightened, making it difficult to breathe. Nothing happened, he told himself firmly. Pansy and Neville were all right.
"Neville, you okay, mate?"
"He looks kind of blue."
"That's from the lack of oxygen. Come on, Neville, you need to relax. All this coughing isn't helping you."
Draco lowered his face into his hands, eyes squeezed shut, and took a long, slow breath.
"Pansy, what do you think you're-"
Neville coughing tapered off. Draco lowered his hands and began searching through the backpack again. Behind him, he heard Pansy arguing with Ron about the spell she used. Hermione was fussing over Neville.
A twig snapping brought Draco's head up rapidly. Harry stood right in front of him and started in surprise. "You're hurt."
Draco blinked in shock at the concern directed toward him. He looked down at his bloody, ripped palms. They immediately began hurting fiercely.
A somewhat small, blunt hand disrupted his line of sight, and he lifted his gaze when Harry waved it. Harry was crouched beside him, wand out, magnified green eyes roving over Draco's face.
"Where are you hurt, Malfoy?" Harry’s brow furrowed. Mud marred the frames of his glasses and a bit of his cheek. "Your face is covered in blood, but I don't see any cuts."
"Why do you care?"
Harry's expression darkened. "Pansy helped my friend; I’ll help hers, even if it is you."
"I don't want your help," Draco said.
"Fine," Harry said with a shrug, and started to rise.
"That doesn't mean I won't take it."
"Malfoy, you're a right pain in the arse." Harry sighed, crouched again, and waved his wand broadly. "Where are you hurt?"
Wordlessly, Draco extended his hands, palms up. Harry pulled a face at the state of Draco's hands. He pointed his wand at the injured palms and said, "Scourgify."
The blood, fuzzy rope weave fibres, and mud were cleaned off Draco's hands, revealing ragged gashes that striped both palms, the sides of his thumbs, and across the undersides of his fingers. Blood began beading across the wounds again.
Gently, Harry took one of Draco's hands and examined the injury. "Does it hurt badly?"
Draco, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything, shook his head negatively.
"It'd be nice if we had some wound-cleaning potion." Harry's calloused fingertips stroked along Draco's wrist, hands, and fingers, making Draco's skin tingle and his breathing difficult. Draco wanted equally to jerk away or plead for more. "I'd hate to heal this and then you promptly get an infection. You'd complain about my incompetence then until I hexed your mouth shut."
The continued, gentle caress had to be unintentional. Harry hated him, unless this was a new, devious way to torment him. The light touch of Harry's fingertips brushing over his palms was arousing, in spite of the rope gashes. The pulse at his wrists fluttered rapidly, visible beneath the taut pale skin. The warmth and texture of Harry's hands felt nothing like his own when he touched himself, and his fingernails would never be so ragged or dirty. He imagined what it might feel like for Harry's hands to caress somewhere else.
"Sano." Harry pressed the tip of his wand to Draco's injury and cast the healing charm. He repeated the charm on the other hand and let go.
"Right then," Draco said abruptly, needing to get away from Harry before he did something regrettable, like beg for Harry to touch him in other now-aching places. He grabbed the vial of soothe-all he'd found in the backpack and shoved it at Harry. "Give this to Longbottom, so he doesn't start that annoying coughing again."
Draco shoved to his feet and turned around. Neville slumped in a transfigured, squashy armchair by the dead campfire, his face ashen under his dark beard and scraggly hair. He was clean, though, the mud having been charmed away. Draco desperately wanted to speak with him, but instead walked over to Pansy. Pansy's robes were pristine again and her hair neat. She turned up her pug nose when she saw him. "Draco, your face is filthy. Scourgify." With a flick of her wand, any remaining mud and blood vanished from his person.
Pansy frowned when she saw his tense features. "What happened?"
"Nothing." Pansy's perfectly arched brow rose in disbelief. Draco's expression hardened further. "Nothing," he repeated.
"If you say so."
Draco scowled, turned his back to her, and saw Harry give Neville the vial. The memory of Harry's touch ghosted over his skin. Draco averted his eyes.
Ron hovered protectively by Hermione as she crawled on the leaf-strewn ground, examining the mud hole. Dog kept nudging her, as if she were playing.
"Do you think the earthquake caused the mud hole?" Neville asked in a scratchy voice, as Hermione finished her study. He drank the potion in his hand.
"It’s the most logical explanation." Hermione rose to her feet and cleaned herself. "Scourgify. You were lucky you both didn’t drown. We should have made a safe strategy before Pansy jumped in after Neville."
"Next time, I'll be sure to create a proper plan complete with diagrams, references, and historical anecdotes," Pansy said.
"Well, no matter, I'm grateful to you, Pansy," Neville said with a shy, sincere smile. "Thanks."
"If you were any heavier, I would've let you drown," Pansy said brusquely, though her cheeks flushed with colour.
Draco's blonde brows lifted nearly to his hairline. He looked back and forth between Pansy and Neville. Both were avoiding eye contact and now Neville's face had a pink tinge, as well.
“It was really quick thinking, Parkin- Pansy,” Harry said, appreciation evident. “How did you come up with the bubble-head charm? I wouldn’t have thought to use that.”
“It’s from the Tri-Wizard Tournament,” Pansy said. “When you did the lake challenge, I thought about what I’d do and it would’ve been the bubble-head charm. I learned it in case I had a chance to participate some day.”
“I’m sure you would’ve won,” Harry said with a smile. Draco tried not to gag on the sincerity.
“Where did you learn about an anchor rope? Your family is rich,” Ron said, as if being rich was an insult.
“My family goes on dragon hunting expeditions every summer,” Pansy replied.
“You killed dragons?” Hermione looked appalled. So did the other Gryffindors.
“Of course not,” Pansy said. “I couldn’t use my wand outside of school until I turned seventeen, like everyone else, and we didn’t go this past summer.”
Her words appeased the others. Draco looked at the ground and stifled his laugh. What Pansy hadn’t said was that, just because she couldn’t use her wand, didn’t mean that her other family members had that restriction.
“My brother Charlie raises dragons in Romania,” Ron said. “Have you ever been there?”
“Once or twice, I think,” Pansy said. “If I recall, they had an Ironbelly hatchling with the hiccoughs when I was there and she kept lighting everything on fire.”
“I remember her!” Ron enthused. “She’s a beauty. I wonder if she’s still at the reserve.”
"Right. Time to go," Draco said abruptly, before Pansy bonded even more with Weasley and Draco was forced to gouge his own eyes out. "One of you can carry Longshanks if he's not up to walking."
"I'm okay," Neville said, sounding much better. He stood.
"Which direction are we going?" Ron said.
"I think we should try to find where the hunter lived,” Hermione said. She gave Draco a snotty look. “He had food in his backpack, so he's bound to have some there, and then we don’t have to worry about killing animals for food."
“I enjoy killing them for sport better, anyway,” Draco said.
"How will we find where he lived?" Neville said, before Hermione could retort.
"Maybe Dog can lead us." Harry crouched to Dog's level and scratched under both ears. "What do you say, boy? Can you take us to your home?"
Dog bounced and woofed enthusiastically, knocking Harry on his bum. Harry laughed as Dog bounded into the woods, returned, woofed, and bounded off again.
"I'll presume that means 'yes' in Dogese," Harry joked.
"Do you really think we should rely on the dog to lead us anywhere?" Pansy said.
"Most dogs do know commands, like ‘sit’ and ‘heel’ and ‘home’," Harry said. He then shrugged. "Even if not, it gives us a direction to go in, instead of wandering around like First Years at the beginning of term."
"We need to transfigure this stuff back to normal." Hermione gestured around the campsite at the chair, rope, and Draco's cushion. "'Leave the woods as you found it.' That's something campers have learned in the Muggle world."
"By all means, let's do what the Muggles do," Draco drawled sarcastically.
Hermione glared, but Harry said, "Ignore him."
Draco bristled, however, he commented no further. Hermione, Harry and Ron cleaned the campsite. Neville checked to make certain the fire was out. Pansy collected the backpack and gave it to Ron. Dog came back, circled Harry excitedly, and ran off again.
Harry gathered his school robe and asked, "Is everyone set? Neville, will you be all right?"
"I'm good," Neville replied.
“Tractus,” Hermione re-cast the glowing footprint spell on her feet.
Harry nodded, as Ron shouldered the backpack. "Then, we're off."
"About bloody time," Draco muttered as the displaced group headed away from the campsite, leaving only a trail of glowing footprints behind.