“Bloody hell,” Draco muttered, searching through his book satchel. The Third Year stopped abruptly in the middle of the school corridor, other students funnelling around him as they headed for lunch. Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle halted a few steps later, when they realized Draco wasn’t with them.
“What is it?” Vince asked, looking back at Draco.
“I left my library book in Binns’ classroom.” Draco’s features creased in annoyance. “Stay here.”
Draco pivoted on his heel and returned the way he’d come after History of Magic. It was quicker to fetch the book himself than to send his friends; they’d probably get lost on the way. The hallway was rapidly clearing of students released from morning classes. He passed Professor Lupin coming out of the staff room where they’d had yesterday’s Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson, wearing a worried frown and appearing dishevelled and threadbare, as usual. Draco sneered in his direction before rounding the corner and entering Binns’ classroom.
The sloped classroom was empty of students and the ghostly Professor. Lines of desks rose in tiers from the front to the back of the class and Draco’s shoes clicked on the stone floor as he walked partway up the side aisle. His library book was on the floor beside his seat. He had been reading it during Binns’ lesson on the Goblin Rebellion Du Jour. Salazar Slytherin’s biography was much more interesting than Binns’ lesson. Hell, Lint, from Navel to Toes would be more interesting than Binns.
Draco picked up the book, checked for any damage, and slipped it into his satchel. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something on the floor in the back of the room. If his seat hadn’t been at the end of the row, he wouldn’t have seen it at all.
It looked like a shoe. Curious, Draco set his satchel on the desk and walked up the aisle toward the back of the classroom. As he got closer, he saw there were actually two scuffed and ratty shoes. And they were on a pair of feet.
Draco’s heart began pounding. There was someone lying on the floor behind the last row. He drew his wand, inched closer, and peered nervously over the desk.
The feet belonged to Harry Potter.
Harry lay unmoving on the floor in his school uniform, eyes open behind his glasses. He stared sightlessly at the ceiling. Draco saw no marks, other than the blasted scar marring Harry’s forehead.
“Potter?” Draco said in disbelief and a trace of fear. He kicked Harry’s foot, but Harry didn’t stir.
“Finite incantatem,” Draco cast, the white bandage on his arm peeking from his sleeve as he flicked his wand. He nibbled his lower lip, growing panicked, when the spell didn’t work. He tried another. “Ennervate!”
Harry didn’t move.
“Sano!” Draco tried. This couldn’t be happening. Harry had a group of people safeguarding him, including Draco (for the express purpose of being the one to kill him when the perfect opportunity presented itself, of course). Harry hadn’t been alone since school started because of Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban.
Draco rounded the row and dropped to his knees. His hand trembled as he put it on Harry’s shoulder and shook him roughly. “Potter! This isn’t funny!”
Harry’s head rolled at the hard shaking and green eyes stared blankly at Draco. A shiver of dread ran up Draco’s spine. Swallowing thickly, he put his ear against Harry’s chest, held his breath, and listened.
He heard nothing.
Draco’s throat seized and he closed his eyes tightly at the stinging sensation he felt. This couldn’t be happening.
“Malfoy?” Greg’s entreaty carried in the classroom. “You here?”
“He has to be. There’s his satchel,” Vince said. Heavy footsteps echoed on the stone floor, which stopped abruptly when Draco spoke.
“I shouldn’t feel like this.” His voice sounded raw and rough, like stone grinding against stone. “I should be happy.” Instead, he felt hollow, as if something vital had been removed from his chest.
He heard footsteps again, and then a surprised gasp from Vince at the end of the row. “Is that Potter?”
“Did you curse him?” Greg said, sounding gleeful.
Draco raised his head and glared blurrily in Greg’s direction. “He’s dead, you pillock.”
Greg paused, and then asked, “Did you do it?”
“No,” Draco’s tone scraped his ears. He shoved to his feet and stumbled down the aisle, away from Harry.Vince met him in the middle of the classroom, grabbing his arms and holding him up as his legs went numb. “Malfoy?”
“I was going to kill him,” Draco said, looking wildly at his friend. “That was the plan. You knew the plan. Why does it hurt?”
“Uh …” Vince’s thick brows furrowed. “What hurts?”
“Everything,” Draco whispered desolately. He dropped his chin and blinked rapidly against his tearing eyes.
“Should I get Pansy?”
“Aah!” Greg’s shout and subsequent scramble backwards startled Draco and Vince. “Potter’s turned into a bat!”
Draco’s head snapped up. “What?!”
“Get it off! Get it off!” Greg cowered, arms covering his head, as a large brown bat swooped at him.
Draco rushed up the aisle with Vince at his heels. Potter was gone from the floor, and the shock of it caused Draco to trip over his own feet. He stumbled, lost his balance, and began falling. Vince snatched him around the waist with his hammy arms, righted him, and continued past to rescue Greg. He grabbed the bat.
The bat suddenly turned into a handful of thick black leeches.
“Shite!” Vince exclaimed, pivoted, and threw the leeches. The finger-long, slimy slugs flew through the air, directly towards Draco.
Draco squeaked manfully and covered his face. The leeches never hit, however. A pop sounded, followed by a heavy thud, and Draco peered from between his fingers.
A dead Harry Potter lay at his feet.
Draco stared in shock. “It’s a boggart.”
“A what?” Greg said.
Vince snickered. “We learned about them yesterday in Defence Against the Dark Arts, remember? Loopy Lupin found each class their own boggart to practice ritiki-tiki-culous on.” He ambled around the boggart and whapped Draco on the back, nearly knocked him over. “And you thought Potter had croaked.”
“What do bogies do again?” Greg said, scratching his short, bristly head.
“Boggarts,” Draco corrected faintly, eyes never straying from the ‘corpse.’ “They become your worst fear.”
“You’re afraid of Potter?”
Draco shook his head slowly. He realized what the boggart represented. “I don’t want him to die.”
Vince kicked “Harry’s” foot. “You’d have no one to whinge about non-stop if he were dead, anyway.”Draco’s gaze tore away from the boggart and he glared at Vince. However, the hollow feeling still remained in his chest. He doubted it would ever fully dissipate. “I don’t whinge.”
Vince and Greg exchanged long looks. Draco bristled. “I don’t!”
With a pop of emphasis, the boggart changed shapes again. The three looked down.
“Leeches,” Draco said, rubbing his chest.Vince shuddered. “I hate leeches.”
Greg scratched his backside and grinned. “We should put them in Pansy’s bed.”
“I think Dog is lost.”
“Perhaps. It’s not like we know where we’re going anyway.”
The sun filtered through the heavy foliage of the trees. Its passage overhead was from east to west, consistent with the real world. The dampness of the ground remained, however, the heavy shade from the leaves preventing the sun from drying the earth. Their feet squished as they walked through the woods, leaves and mud sticking to their shoes.
It was relatively warm; a blessing, since all they had was the clothes on their backs. They’d removed their jumpers and ties, shrinking and pocketing them with their robes. Birds sang to each other in the branches of the trees. Grey and red squirrels, rabbits, and other small mammals scurried from sight at the group’s approach, rustling the leaves and tall grasses. Insects buzzed and crawled on the trees, barely visible as they passed.
Draco’s head throbbed with every step. He distracted himself by watching Harry’s arse. Harry, as well as his two friends, had shrunk and pocketed his school robes rather than wearing them. His school trousers wore nicely, shifting and clinging as he walked. Chalk one point up in Dumbledore’s favour for insisting on mixed Muggle-Wizard uniforms.
“If we ever get out of here, I’m going to spend the rest of my life riding a broom,” Ron said.
“Longbottom, that better have been your stomach growling.”
“It was,” Neville confirmed. He smiled shyly at Pansy over his shoulder. “I was debating whether I was hungry enough to eat the tree bark. My stomach votes yes.”
“Tree bark.” Pansy’s lips curled disdainfully.
Neville fell back, joining Pansy and Draco in the centre of the group. Harry walked in front, following Dog’s lead. Ron and Hermione brought up the rear, with Hermione chattering on about something. Draco had tuned her out an hour ago.
“All the plants I’ve seen have medicinal properties, but not nutritional ones,” Neville said to Pansy. “I suppose we could eat bugs…”
“I would rather starve,” Pansy said.
“Worms are also edible,” Neville went on.
“I’m going to transfigure you into a worm if you don’t shut it.”
“To keep you from
going hungry, I wouldn’t mind.”
Save him from playful Gryffindors. Draco glanced at Pansy, who apparently liked the pathetic attempt at flirtatiousness, and quickened his step. He caught up with Harry, who eyed him suspiciously. “Do you want something?” Harry asked bluntly.
“Pumpkin juice, a comb, and a chair. Not necessarily in that order.”
“Your hair is looking a little ratty.”
Draco’s hands nearly flew up to touch his head, but aborted action. He scowled and quickly checked his hair when Harry looked away.
Harry’s own hair was still sticking up in back from sleeping. The sun seemed to be absorbed by the thick, black locks, tinting his hair a deep blue colour when he tilted his head. He’d rolled up his shirtsleeves, and his copper-coloured skin was darkening more with a tan. The muscles in his forearms flexed as he pushed up his glasses, the dark arm hairs laying in a messy crosshatch against his skin. Draco wondered where else the dark hair spread on Harry’s body.
Pondering naked lads was not conducive to walking comfortably, Draco admonished himself. He pulled his thoughts from Harry’s pants, with difficulty, and looked and listened instead to the woods around him. Harry walked silently beside him, their stride equal even though their legs were different lengths. Harry wore a peaceful expression, as if getting trapped in a book and ambling through an unknown forest beside someone he despised was a boon.
Draco tried to guess how long the peace would last. Or how long he could keep his mouth shut.
The sounds of the forest changed subtly with the group’s passing, settling as the dusk began. Dog loped ahead of them, disappearing from sight and then returning to nudge Harry before running ahead again out of sight. The shadows lengthened as the day began its transition into night. Draco watched the patterns of sunlight shift, contemplating life. It wasn’t very interesting.
“Do you hear that?” Harry said suddenly.
Draco tensed, looking around quickly. He listened intently for out-of-place sounds. From seemingly far away, he heard thunder. Harry had good ears.
A glance up at the sky through the leafy canopy showed no storm clouds overhead. The roll of thunder grew steadily in volume. Draco pulled out his wand. He brought his other hand up in a wide arc, capturing Pansy and Neville’s attention behind him, and tugged at his ear, indicating that he heard something.
Draco and Harry came to a stop. “What is it?” Ron asked, grabbing his wand as everyone else had.
The thunder was Ron’s answer, as it picked up in tempo and pitch, becoming audible to all. The sky remained clear through the branches of the trees. Beneath his feet, Draco felt a vibration build in intensity through the soles of his boots. Not rain, Draco thought, narrowed grey eyes searching the woods.
Dog returned, barking madly, running past them. Draco jumped and barely held back the curse on the tip of his tongue. Harry hadn’t moved at all, dismissing Dog with a flick of an eye, not startled by his appearance. Therefore, he was the one who saw the massive animal before it exploded from the trees, bearing right for them. “Oh, shite.”
Covered in light tan fur, the hoofed animal was twice the size of a regular horse with a rack of sharp black horns curving like spread hands from his skull. The animal was black-eyed and brown-nosed, with a short black-haired tail. He left deep hoof-prints in the ground, his massive stride eating the distance between himself and the group within seconds.
The animal shifted agilely for a creature of his size, changing course mid-gallop to go around the six. The thunder of his hoof-beats identified the sound they’d heard, but the noise did not dissipate after he passed.
“Move! Get to a tree!” Harry exclaimed. Draco sprinted after Harry as they ran towards a massive oak.
Like a sudden storm, a herd of the same animals burst from the woods, galloping after the lead male. There were too many of them, too wide spread, to do anything but get out of the way. Wands clenched in their hands and trying not to get trampled, Draco and Harry hugged the trunk of the tree, Draco’s foot getting tangled in a thorn bush at the base, as the animals thundered past. The ground shook beneath them, nearly upsetting their balance, as hundreds of hooves hit the muddy earth simultaneously.
Draco clenched his eyelids shut and sucked in his gut as the animals brushed by him. He didn’t know if it was the hammering of the hoof-beats or his heart pounding in his eardrums. The animals seemed to keep coming forever, but then they were suddenly gone, the hoof-beats fading and the subsequent quiet shocking to the ears.
Draco peeked cautiously before fully opening his eyes and prying his fingernails from the tree bark. He made certain Harry was all right before looking for his other friends. Ron and Neville were crowded against a tree, Ron holding Dog. Pansy and Hermione were also safe a short distance away.
“Everyone all right?” Harry asked, stepping away from the tree and tucking his wand into his belt.
“We’re fine, Harry,” Hermione answered, dusting off her skirt.
Draco yanked at his entangled foot, trying to free it from the thorn bush. Ron released Dog and Dog shot immediately for Harry. Dog jumped up, paws thumping against Harry’s chest, sending him stumbling backwards. He bumped into Draco, who was precariously balanced, knocking Draco over into the bush.
Harry shoved Dog away. “Dog, get down.”
Draco struggled to stand without further sticking himself with thorns. The thorns were a two-centimetres long, pointed, and imbedded in his hands. His school robe thankfully protected him from getting stuck in the arse.
“Here. Hold still.” Harry drew his wand and pointed it at the bush, as Dog scampered off. “Laxare.”
The thorn bush set Draco free. Draco rose and took a large step away from the tree. He made an unhappy face at his scratched and thorn-stickered palms.
Harry stepped closer and captured a hand. Draco froze and he was at the campsite all over again. He stared at the crown of black hair, which desperately needing washing, on Harry’s down-turned head, as Harry plucked a few thorns from his left palm.
“There,” Harry murmured, rubbing his thumb lightly across the marred skin of Draco’s palm. Tingling shot directly from Draco’s hand to his groin. “Your other hand?”
“It’s fine,” Draco squeaked, hiding his hand behind his back. He couldn’t take any more torture.
Harry shrugged and didn’t wait for thanks – not that Draco was going to say it, anyway. He wandered over to Hermione, Ron, and Neville, standing a couple meters away, Dog trotting beside him.
Pansy grinned as she walked up to Draco. He scowled at her. “Be quiet.”
She laughed lightly. “Remove your robe. I’ll brush off the rest of the thorns.”
Draco smiled dryly. “I don’t think that would be a good idea right at this moment.”
“Well, that was relatively exciting.” Harry scratched the side of his head with his wand. “I can’t say that I’ve ever been nearly trampled before.”
“I wonder what species of animal they were,” Hermione said. “They were like nothing we’ve studied before. Elk come close, but the horns are differently coloured and shaped. I’ll have to go to the library when we get back to Hogwarts.”
“The library?” Ron nudged Harry. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her there before. You?” Harry snickered.
Draco calmed down enough to shed the school robe, shrunk it and stuck it in a pocket, Pansy brushed off the thorns on the back of his trousers by his ankles.
“Hurry up,” Draco said, picking thorns from his right hand. Pansy brushed a little harder than necessary, causing him to be pricked.
“As I was saying,” Hermione gave Harry and Ron a dark look. “Unless the animals are specific to the Tome of Entrapment, a species of fantasy with no basis in the real world. They could be the author’s creation.”
Neville looked the way the animals had gone. “Do you think they’ll come back?”
“I don’t know.” Hermione wore an expression of consternation. “They seemed rather in a hurry, but that could be normal.”
“Or something could be chasing them,” Ron suggested.
Six sets of eyes turned in the direction the animals had come from.
“Um, instead of standing here waiting to be eaten, why don’t we move?” Neville suggested.
“That’s probably a very good idea.” Harry snapped his fingers. “Home, boy.”
Dog barked and trotted off. Draco collected his wand from where he dropped it, getting pricked again from the thorn bush. The group followed quickly behind Dog, Draco straining to see if something had indeed been chasing the herd, so he knew when to run.
Harry stopped walking suddenly, causing Draco to walk smack into him. Draco’s hands latched around Harry’s waist reflexively, pulling Harry against him, back to chest, arse to groin. Harry grabbed Draco’s forearm, steadying them both, his wand pressed against Draco’s hand. His face was turned, looking back to see past Draco behind them. “Did you hear that?”Draco was having difficulty hearing anything above the pounding of his heart. Having Harry’s warm, firm body pressed intimately against his messed with his normally clever tongue. “Huh?”
“What is it, Harry?” Hermione said, as the others stopped. She drew her wand. Pansy, Neville, and Ron also drew theirs.
Harry pulled out of Draco’s impromptu embrace, turned to face the direction they’d come, and looked tensely into the woods. “I heard something. Listen.”
Draco pushed aside his arousal, turned around, and drew his wand. He blocked out the normal sounds of the woods, straining to hear something out of place. From the corner of his eye, he saw Dog’s ears rise.
Harry must’ve had ears like a bloodhound, because while Draco heard nothing unusual, Harry tensed more beside him. Dog sniffed the air, lowered his head, and growled.
“There,” Harry whispered from behind Draco.
Draco heard a single snap of a twig. It was the only warning they received. A beast resembling a wolf exploded from the woods right for Draco and Harry. Its lips were curled in a snarl, exposing pointed, yellowed teeth. Lean muscle rippled under its grey-brown fur as it leapt at the two students, sharp claws extended to strike.
“Stupefy!” Harry reacted instantly. The red burst of magic shot from his wand, past Draco’s shoulder, and hit the beast smack between the eyes.
The beast wasn’t phased nor stopped by the spell. The defensive charm absorbed into its body, the animal’s round black eyes glowing for an instant.
Draco spun around, latched onto Harry’s arm, and went to flee, but the beast slammed into his back, sending him and Harry sprawling to the ground, Draco landing on top of Harry. Sharp claws pierced his shoulders, the full weight of the beast pinning him over Harry. Drool was staining his collar.
“A worg!” Hermione exclaimed.
The hot, rancid breath against the nape of Draco’s neck vanished abruptly, as Dog attacked with a furious bark. The worg was knocked off Draco and the two animals rolled on the ground in a flurry of fur, teeth, and claws.
Draco looked down at Harry, flat beneath him. “Oh, god.”
“Yes. I know. Hurry, get up,” Harry said, pushing at Draco’s chest.
Draco rose quickly. He grasped Harry’s wrist, pulled him to his feet, and panicking, he assessed the situation. Everything seemed to occur in ultraslow speed, but at the highest rate of terror.
The area they’d stopped in was not wide, the thick trees hemming them in. Brush and rocks littered the muddy, leaf-strewn ground. They were spread in a jagged line, Dog and the worg he’d attacked rolling in a snarling tangle a few meters away. More than a half-dozen worgs, cousins to wolves with larger, more muscular bodies, emerged from between the surrounding trees at a run, aiming right for them.
“They’re immune to magic!” Hermione yelled. “Use your environment. Cast sinkholes in the ground or cause the trees to ensnare them!”
“Syrtis!” Pansy cast instantly. The earth turned to soupy mud where the spell hit, sucking one of the worgs down like quicksand. Ron kicked up a whirlwind of leaves and dirt into three of worgs’ faces, to slow them down, as he ran in the opposite direction.
Exposed roots of a nearby towering tree pulled free of the earth with a groan, dirt flinging everywhere, and wrapped around a worg at Hermione’s command. She yipped and ducked when a root swung at her. Her glowing footprints lit up the area.
“Syrtis!” Neville cast, but the worg had leapt, flying over the created sinkhole and tackling Neville to the ground. Neville punched the worg, his meaty fist connecting with the worg’s eye. Both yelped in pain.
“Neville!” Harry, the foolish idiot, stuck his wand up his sleeve and launched himself at the worg pinning Neville, just like Dog had done. Neville was free for only a second before another worg leapt on him.
Draco cursed mightily, darted around Neville and the worg, and transfigured a leaf into a rock. “Wingardium leviosa!” The rock flew at the worg atop of Harry under Draco’s guidance and bounced harmlessly off its head.
“Bloody hell!” Ron had stumbled and fallen to the ground. He blocked a leaping worg with a wall of mud from one of Pansy’s sinkholes and sending mud also raining down on himself. He scrambled to his feet again.
Draco tried again, managing to make the transfigured rock bigger, and sent it flying. It smashed into the worg’s skull. The worg was knocked off balance, enabling Harry to scramble free.
Harry flicked his wand at the ground, transfiguring a leaf into a gleaming sword. He shoved away his wand, picked up the blade, and swung it at the worg. The worg let out a brief cry of pain as the sharp edge sliced into the top of its head before it collapsed to the ground, dead. Harry yanked the sword free, blood staining its blade.
Ron shoved Pansy out of the way, through the mud-wall, as a worg took him down. Harry darted forward, towards them.
Draco used the same rock on the worg hurting Neville. Dog interceded, taking the worg down, but not before it clawed Neville across the face.
Draco quickly surveyed the scene, panting wildly, heart banging against his chest. Four worgs were dead, possibly two had sunk into the mud, Dog was scrapping with another, and Harry was attacking an eighth. A heavily bleeding Neville tried to heal himself. Pansy helped Ron to his feet. Hermione strangled another worg with tree roots. Dog was victorious and left the dead worg where it lay.
“We need to get out of here.” Harry pulled the sword blade from the side of the deceased worg’s body. “Put some distance between us and this spot in case there are more.”
Howls rose in the air, sounding nearby.
Ron gulped. “Like them.”
“Sano.” Pansy placed the tip of her wand against each claw mark across Neville’s face, healing them. She helped him to his feet. He wobbled and clutched his ribs.
Pansy looked at Harry. “I can’t heal Neville without more time.”
“We don’t have any.” Harry looked at Hermione. “Horses. Neville can ride and we have to follow Dog, so someone needs to stay human.”
“Right. Two on two, so you can use your wands against any worgs following.” Hermione swished her wand at Ron, and with a bang, transfigured him into a russet steed. Ron snorted and gave her a horse-eyed look that read, ‘A warning would’ve been nice.’
“Neville, Pansy, you ride Ron,” Harry began issuing orders, as he aimed his wand at Hermione. She transfigured into a second, smaller horse. “Malfoy—”
“I’d rather be eaten,” Draco interrupted with disgust. The truth was that he wanted to be under his own power. He walked quickly over to Pansy, tapping the handle side of his wand against his chest until she nodded subtly, and then tucked his wand in his belt. “Pansy?”
Pansy shifted so her back was to the others, flicked her wand at Draco, and whispered, “Canograndi.”
The quietly spoken spell caused a bang, similar to the noise of a transfiguration, and Draco concentrated hard on Animagus shifting as quickly as possible. She could use the excuse of being somewhat shoddy at transfiguration to explain the slight delay between forms.
Blood and death flooded his nostrils as he fully changed into a coyote and he couldn’t help the salivation. Draco’s sharper hearing picked up stalking paw-steps in the not too far distance.
Harry dropped his sword, gave Pansy a leg up onto Ron’s back and then helped Neville. He then grasped Hermione’s mane and swung himself onto her back. “Malfoy, stay close. Let’s move! Dog, home!”
Dog barked and sped off. Without hesitation, Hermione set off at a gallop, following dog. Her hooves left glowing yellow prints, which Ron followed at a run, Pansy clinging to him and Neville clinging to her.
Three more worgs shot from between the trees behind them.
Draco spun around and snarled, ears flat to his skull and sharp teeth bared. His coyote form vibrated with a spike of adrenaline and fear. It was too late to run. The worgs didn’t stop charging and Draco sprang to meet them in a clash of claws and fangs.
Draco snapped at one of the three, and his canine teeth clacked against the worg’s sharp fangs. A second worg came at him from the side and pain lanced his ear as it was bitten. Turning quickly, he chomped on the biter’s neck in return. A coppery taste filled Draco’s mouth as he ripped a chunk of flesh from the worg’s throat. The spray of blood stained his muzzle and brown furred chest. Draco had no time to feel victorious, however, as he was immediately leapt at by the other worg.
They tumbled tail over muzzle on the dirt and leaf-strewn ground, barking and snarling, rolling into a dead worg body. Draco growled and bit. The skin of his muzzle tore under the worg’s pointed teeth. His claws scrabbled at the worg’s belly, and he used his powerful hind legs to throw the beast off.
A sharp screech echoed in sky. Draco saw a blur of white streak down from above, aiming straight for the worg closest to him. Talons raked at the worg’s eyes, ripping them from their socket, completely blinding it. The beast howled in pain.
Draco used the distraction to attack the last worg. Draco’s paws skidded on the leafy ground as he spun around fast and barrelled top speed into the other animal. The worg was knocked sideways a full meter by Draco’s thick, canine skull, landing in one of the sinkholes Pansy had created.
Draco heard the crack of sticks breaking and another worg sped into the area from between the trees. It launched itself at Draco and they skidded across the ground. A slice burned across Draco’s belly. Powerful teeth closed on the back of his neck.
The scream of the snowy owl – Harry’s Animagus form, Draco realized with a mental curse – preceded its attack. Its strong, sharp talons were extended, majestic wings spread wide, as the owl shot from the sky towards the worg. The beast released Draco and snapped at the owl. High-pitched snarling from the worg and shrieks from the owl reverberated in the air.
Draco shoved to his four feet. Beneath him was the sword Harry had used to kill the other worgs, its blade stained dark with blood. Quickly, he morphed into his normal human self, picked up the sword, and rose to his feet. He turned just as the worg leapt at him and stumbled backwards, falling hard onto the ground with the weight of the worg on top of him. The worg snapped once, white feathers clinging to its mouth, and fell still. It had impaled itself on the sword.
Draco laughed without humour and pushed the animal off him. Pain lanced his body as he sat up. His body shook uncontrollably, with sweat slicking his dirty palms. He could feel blood sliding down his cheek. He looked around, hoping not to see any more worgs. He didn’t. Instead, he saw the owl that had come to his rescue lying unmoving in the dirt.
“Potter!” Draco rolled up and scrambled across the ground on his hands and knees. He reached the owl – Harry – and sucked in a harsh breath. Harry’s white feathers were mottled and stained brown and red from dirt and blood on his side. Glassy eyes stared unblinking at nothing. Leaves stuck to his body when Draco carefully picked him up and cradled him in the crook of an arm. He was so light, so still…
Draco’s eyes burned as he fumbled for his wand. His throat was tight, the spell word barely audible. “Ennervate.” Blood dripped from his face, falling on the snowy crown of the unmoving owl. “Ennervate. Damn you, Potter. Ennervate.”
The owl twitched and wheezed, and Draco nearly dropped his wand in relief. The body started shifting in his arms. Glassy green owl’s eyes closed and when they opened again, Harry’s green human eyes were dulled with pain behind his glasses. He stared at Draco a moment before rasping, “You’re hurt.”
“So are you.” Draco’s misty gaze raked over Harry’s face, moving downwards as he searched for injury to heal. Harry’s white school shirt was stained with blood under his arm.Draco set his wand aside and unbuttoned Harry’s shirt awkwardly with one hand. His other arm cradled Harry still. Harry hissed as he pulled the shirt free of his trousers and Draco admonished roughly, “Don’t help. You’ll only make it worse.”
He pushed the edges of the shirt aside and frowned at the bad bite mark. The worg had bitten a chunk of flesh from Harry’s side, near his ribcage. He picked up his wand and used a charm Pansy had taught him. He ran the wand slowly over Harry’s torso, watching as the wand changed colour from blue (uninjured) to red (bleeding injury) in the rib area.
The bite didn’t seem to have damaged any necessary organs, but Pansy was better at finding and fixing internal injuries. He healed the bite as best he could. Sano worked on superficial injuries primarily. He watched as the skin knit itself together before casting another spell. “Ferula.” Bandages wrapped snugly around Harry’s torso, until Pansy could take a peek at him.
Draco searched further for more injury and then looked just to reassure himself that Harry was still in one piece. He swallowed back the emotion that had lodged in his throat. “There, you’re done.”
“Thanks,” Harry said. “Now let me do you.”
He moved, and Draco grunted in pain as a pointy elbow jabbed his injured stomach. He looked down and grimaced as Harry shifted onto his knees beside him. Blood was such a fashion faux pas.
“Unbutton your shirt while I get your face,” Harry instructed, pulling his wand and pointing it at Draco. “Scourgify.”
Draco could see his reflection in Harry’s glasses. It wasn’t pretty. And his hair was a wreck.
As if in agreement, Harry pulled a face. “Your ear is a mess.”
“Then fix it already.” Draco hoped Harry didn’t notice his shaking hands as he unbuttoned his shirt.
Touching the tip of his wand to Draco’s face, Harry cast the healing charm on each of the claw scratches. He cleaned and cast the charm on Draco’s ear, then frowned at it. “I think you need a healing potion.”
Draco pulled the flaps of his shirt open and glanced down. Blood streaked his stomach, sliding down under the waistband of his trousers, but there were no organs spilling out, so Draco wasn’t too concerned. “Scourgify,” he cast on himself to clean away the blood until all that remained was a smooth slice in his skin where the sword had cut him.
“Here, let me,” Harry said, touching his wand to Draco’s stomach. “Sano.” The cut healed almost instantly and Harry sat back on his heels. “There. That’s the best I can do.”
Draco hummed in the back of his throat, not looking at Harry, who almost had been dead. He pulled the edges of his shirt together and began buttoning it. His hands were steadier this time.
“Wait a minute,” Harry said suspiciously. “How did you know I was the owl? And how did you turn human again without someone ending the transfiguration?”
“Magic,” Draco answered with a sardonic twist of his lips. He heard hoof beats coming closer at a rapid clip and he rose shakily to his feet. The two horses clopped into view, Neville and Pansy still riding together on Ron’s back. Dog trotted over to Harry and lapped at the kneeling boy’s face before he got to his feet.
“Everything all right?” Pansy asked. She frowned at Draco’s ear.
“Lovely. You’ll have plenty of healing to do later.” Draco could feel Harry’s eyes boring into the back of his head. It was a relieving feeling.
Abruptly, Harry latched onto Draco’s arm, propelled him to Hermione, and ordered, “Get on.”
“Now, Malfoy,” Harry grated. “Before I put you on her back myself.”
Coming from someone whose head barely cleared Draco’s chin, the threat didn’t seem too daunting, but Draco knew better. Draco sneered at him before grabbing hold of Hermione’s mane and swinging onto her back.
“Wingardium leviosa,” Harry cast and directed himself easily onto the horse, in front of Draco. Draco scooted back, but Hermione was a small mare and he couldn’t move too far. Harry was practically nestled between his thighs, his back to Draco’s front, and Draco could smell the lemony shampoo underlying the dirt, blood, and sweat matting Harry’s hair. Harry, who had almost been dead, and Draco closed his eyes as they began moving.
“Dog, home!” Harry said, and they picked up speed, leaving the area quickly. Draco would have used the excuse of not wanting to fall off as he put an arm around Harry, but Harry did not ask.
With his eyes closed and Harry snug against him, Draco soaked in the physical contact of the person he wanted very much. This was the closest he’d ever been – not including rolling around the ground in a scuffle Fifth Year, but he didn’t like Harry then, anyway – and he would take full advantage of the opportunity to simply feel.
He needed to get trapped inside books more often.
The sun had set by the time they arrived at where Dog called home. It was little more than a shack made of dark grey stone with a sloped roof and, oddly, a small front porch. A chimney rose from the rear of the roof. A single window was set into the side of the home, curtained from the inside. Around the back was an outdoor shower and an outhouse stood a short distance away.
Worn, wooden crates of various sizes were piled, empty, beside the rough home. A rain barrel half-full of fresh rainwater sat at the back corner of the shack near the shower. On the porch, a high-backed rough wooden chair leaned against the wall on two post legs. An empty washtub and washboard sat off to the side. The only door had a rusted cast iron handle and hinges.Reluctantly, Draco released Harry and dismounted. Pansy and Neville also dismounted, and Harry transfigured Ron and Hermione back to themselves.
Dog’s nails clicked as he paced back and forth on the porch. Harry climbed the two splitting porch steps, crossed to the door, and knocked. “Hello?” he called, knocking again. “Anyone here?”
“It’s dark inside,” Ron said from the side of the shack, peering in through the window, trying to see past the small crack in the curtains.
“It doesn’t look like anyone is here,” Harry said. Hermione ended her glowing footprint spell and joined him on the porch.
“Of course not,” Draco said. “The hunter is toes-up in the dirt.”
“That doesn’t mean he lived alone.” Harry knocked again, then wrapped his hand around the rusted door handle and pulled.
“What are you doing?!” Draco exclaimed, darting onto the porch, pushing past Hermione, and knocking Harry’s hand away. Thankfully, the door hadn’t opened.
“Um, opening the door?”
“It’s a wonder you’re still alive, Potter. This is a wizard’s home. You don’t just go barging in without checking for wards and protection spells.”
“The shack is in the middle of the woods,” Harry said, waving his arm at said woods. “There’s no need for protection spells.”
“There need to be protection spells because the shack is in the middle of the woods!” Draco wanted to throttle him. “Don’t you have any common sense? Oh wait, you’re a Gryffindor. Never mind, then.”
“Malfoy’s right, Harry, I really hate to say it,” Ron said with a disgusted expression, like he’d swallowed something foul. “Most wizards ward their doors. Even if we haven’t run into that problem all these years, it doesn’t hurt to check.”
“Detectum tutela!” Hermione took matters into her own hands with a swish of her wand at the door, checking for wards. “Nothing.”
“Alohomora!” Harry cast, nudging Draco aside. The door unlocked and he pulled it open. He poked his head inside. “Hello?”
Dog pushed past him and ran into the shack. Lanterns hanging from hooks in the walls flamed to life automatically, illuminating the shack’s interior.
The one room home was relatively bare. A narrow bed with a pillow and eiderdown was pushed against one wall under the window. A cast iron wood stove sat in the far corner, its black pipe rising to the ceiling. A squat icebox nestled beside a single sink with a water pump. A rickety wood table and equally rickety wood chair occupied most of the floor space. Clothing pegs with robes hung near the door, with an open trunk with folded garments beneath. Bundles of ropes and humane traps were piled on the floor near the table.
Dog went directly to a bowl filled partially with water and started lapping. Harry and Hermione entered the shack, with Ron following. On the porch, Draco spoke quietly to Neville as he passed. “You look like crap. Get some sleep. Pansy and I will cover tonight.”
Neville agreed without arguing, testifying to how badly off he really was from his muddy drowning and the worg attack. He went inside, leaving Pansy and Draco alone.
Draco looked wanly at Pansy as she stepped onto the porch. “Potter is going to be the death of me.”
“Your taste in men does leave something to be desired,” Pansy said.
Pansy patted his cheek mockingly. “Yes, but I like you anyway.” She lowered her hand and studied him a moment. “Something happened, didn’t it?”
“Nothing of consequence,” Draco said, dismissing her concern. “But check over Potter, just in case.”
“I’ll be checking you over, as well.” Pansy stepped closer and examined his ear. “Potter was worried when he saw you weren’t with us.”
Draco snorted. “Right.”
“Then why did Potter show up before we did?” she said. “And don’t give me any gaff about us not protecting him. He turned into an owl and flew off with barely a word of warning.”
“Potter’s an idiot, we’ve already established that,” Draco said waspishly. “Now, can we go inside? I, for one, am bloody hungry.”
Pansy gave him an arched look, indicating he wasn’t fooling anyone, but let it drop and went inside.
Draco took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It sucked being in love.