Frowning, Harry watched Malfoy disappear off the Marauder’s map – again. “Bugger,” he muttered, throwing the map aside in disgust. For weeks now, Harry had tried to figure out what Malfoy was up to, but to no avail. Neither the map, nor his father’s cloak had done him any good in his pursuit of proof of his convictions.
Hermione looked up from her homework and scoffed. “Give it up, Harry.”
Harry scowled at her. “No! I know he’s up to something. I’m telling you, ‘Mione, he’s-”
Hermione sat up, carefully putting her quill down beside her parchment. “Really, Harry, not that again. Malfoy couldn’t possibly be a Death Eater, I keep telling you!”
Clenching his jaw, Harry bit back the angry retort. It would do no good trying to convince Hermione, she’d made up her mind already. Glancing over to the corner of the common room, he huffed. Yeah, no good trying to talk Ron into doing some snooping, he was too wrapped up in Lavender. Quite literally, too, it seemed.
Hermione rolled her eyes and settled back to her homework, muttering about wasting time. Harry picked up the map once more, stuffed it into his robe pocket, and headed up to the dormitory. He wasn’t in the mood to be around people.
Harry sat in his favorite windowsill with his legs pulled up, his arms wrapped around his knees as he stared outside. In his mind, he kept going over everything he knew, though it wasn’t nearly enough. Malfoy was up to something. He was certain the boy had been inducted as a Death Eater over the summer, and he was equally sure that he had been set a task by Voldemort. The latter mostly because he’d managed to overhear part of Malfoy’s conversation with Crabbe and Goyle on the train at start of term. Harry winced and touched his nose as he remembered the price for that bit of information.
He’d seen Malfoy in the Three Broomsticks the day Katie had been hexed, and Malfoy always seemed to be in the Room of Requirement whenever possible. Sans his cronies, which was even weirder in Harry’s opinion. Until this year, Malfoy was never seen without Crabbe or Goyle nearby, but things had changed recently, it seemed. Harry had tried to follow Malfoy into the Room, but there were always people around. First years, mostly, which was a bit odd, too, now Harry thought of it.
“What is he up to?” Harry muttered to himself.
All of a sudden, Harry noticed movement outside. Peering a little closer, he realized it was Malfoy walking swiftly toward the quidditch pitch. Harry made up his mind in an instant – he was going to follow Malfoy. He considered using his invisibility cloak for all of two seconds before discarding the idea. He had a feeling that even if he were able to follow him while hidden, he would not learn anything useful. Luckily, he had another trick up his sleeve – one no one knew about, save Kreacher.
Harry made a point of not appearing to be in a rush as he made his way downstairs and out of the common room. He was relieved when no one tried to stop him, or even so much as asked where he was going. Once in the corridors, however, he hastened his step and made his way down to the front door in record time, thanks to a couple of shortcuts. As soon as he was outside, he slowed down again in case he ran into Malfoy.
He headed toward the quidditch pitch, walking as quietly as he could. Harry snuck under the stands, making sure he was hidden from view. Taking a couple of deep, steadying breaths, he closed his eyes, trying to find his center. He was certain of the theory behind the animagus spell, but he’d only managed to actually transform once before, though that was mostly due to lack of opportunity rather than difficulty.
Harry smiled as he felt the spell take effect and his body shifted from a boy to that of a Staffordshire bull terrier. Shaking himself from head to tail, Harry chuffed, silently thanking his Godfather for helping him study to be an animagus. It had been something he’d wanted to do because both his father and Sirius were Animagi, but it certainly came in useful now. Whining softly, Harry wished Sirius could see him; the man hadn’t lived long enough to witness Harry’s form. The only one who knew it was Kreacher, as Harry had summoned the house elf in order to get help should his first attempt at casting the spell go awry. It hadn’t, thankfully, and Kreacher was sworn to secrecy, which meant this was just for Harry.
Slipping out from under the bleachers, Harry sniffed the ground, trying to find Malfoy’s trail. It took him a few seconds, but find it he did. Following the scent, Harry wound his way around to the back of the pitch, which was out of sight of the castle. He blinked in surprise when he realized Draco was sitting against the side of the bleacher, huddled up with his arms around his legs and his face hidden between his knees, his shoulders shaking slightly.
Tilting his head, Harry blinked again, listening intently. He could hear Malfoy muttering to himself, but he couldn’t make out the words. Slinking closer, Harry got the sense that something was very wrong and it unsettled him. It was obvious Draco was upset, though he still couldn’t hear what the boy was saying. The whine that escaped Harry startled him as much as it did Draco, who sat up and eyed Harry warily.
A small smile flitted across Draco’s lips as he quickly wiped his face before holding out a hand toward Harry. “Hello there. Are you lost, boy?”
Bristling slightly at the term ‘boy’, Harry shook himself from snout to tail, reminding himself that Draco didn’t know it was him, and he didn’t mean anything by it. Not like Uncle Vernon always did, at any rate.
“It’s okay. I won’t hurt you,” Draco said quietly. He rubbed his fingers together in an attempt to coax Harry closer. Harry inched forward, his head turning this way and that as if trying to figure out whether Draco was safe to approach. Which wasn’t too far from the truth, if Harry were honest. Still, he figured he might as well see what happened, maybe he would finally luck out and learn something about what the other boy was up to.
Harry stopped when he was just out of reach of Draco and sat on his haunches, staring at the boy. Draco’s smile widened a little as he shifted closer, holding his hand out for Harry to sniff, which he did. Harry chuffed, which startled a laugh from Draco.
“Where did you come from, eh, boy?” Draco asked as he tentatively scratched behind Harry’s ear.
Harry was surprised by how good it felt and a low, pleased rumble started in his chest in response. He nudged his head into Draco’s hand instinctively, making the other boy hum in apparent delight.
Draco settled back against the bleacher, stretching his long legs out in front of him. “Come here, boy. It’s okay,” Draco said soothingly, indicating for Harry to lie down next to him and put his head in Draco’s lap.
Harry stared at him for a few seconds. Was he serious? He was beginning to feel a little weirded out by the entire interaction, but a part of him was amused, too – and something else, as well, though he wasn’t sure what name to put to it. When Draco’s face fell a little, Harry made up his mind and took the two steps needed to get close enough. He turned in place a couple of times before finally dropping down on his belly and laying his head on the other boy’s thigh while resolutely trying not to think on how weird the situation was.
They sat in silence for a while as Draco petted Harry, who watched him closely. Draco’s finger suddenly traced along Harry’s forehead. “That almost looks like a lightning bolt. You wouldn’t happen to be Potter, would you?” Harry’s heart stopped for a beat, certain he’d been found out, but Draco huffed and went on, “Nah, couldn’t be that scarhead. I’d know if he were an animagus.” Draco scratched just above Harry’s eyes as he said, “Just my luck, though, that you’d have that in common with him. You’re nothing but a stray, aren’t you? Wonder where you’re from.”
Harry huff-sneezed, earning him a chuckle from Draco. “Sorry, boy, I won’t compare you to Scarhead again, promise. Can’t blame you for not thinking kindly of it. Chosen One, my ass. Git doesn’t know what it’s like.”
Harry’s ears perked up at that, ignoring the fact he’d just been called a git. Hello, pot, meet kettle, he thought. He wondered if the boy was about to let something slip.
With a sigh, Draco slumped slightly, head back against the wood as he continued to pet the dog absently. “I’ve always wanted a dog,” Draco murmured, his voice holding a quality Harry had never heard in the boy; he was almost wistful. “Father wouldn’t hear of it, though. Said it was far too common for a Malfoy.”
Harry growled at that. He’d hated the older Malfoy on sight, much like he’d disliked Draco from the moment they had met. It didn’t surprise him that he would have denied his son like that. What did surprise Harry was how much it rankled, and how much he wanted to argue on Draco’s behalf.
Draco chuckled, glancing down at Harry. “Yeah, I didn’t like that answer either, boy.” He frowned, watching Harry closely. “I can’t keep calling you ‘boy’. What’s your name then, hm? You don’t have a collar or a tag,” he added after closer inspection.
Sitting up, Harry watched Draco carefully while the boy pondered, muttering to himself. “Definitely not calling you Harry or anything remotely related to that scarhead.” Biting his lip, Draco frowned, then after a minute gave a sad little smile. “I know. I’ll name you Liber – it means ‘free’.”
Something told Harry that this held a deeper meaning for Draco, but he was at a loss as to what it might be. Still, he liked the name, it seemed to fit somehow, so he barked his approval. Draco beamed at him as he roughed the sides of Harry’s head with both hands. “Liber it is, then,” he laughed. With a sigh, he settled back in his former position and Harry followed, putting his paw under his chin this time, which seemed to please the other boy. “Too bad you can’t tell me where you’re from, Liber, your family must miss you.”
Harry chuffed, shaking his head. One thing he was absolutely certain of: his family never missed him.
Draco cocked an eyebrow. “No? Did you escape from somewhere?”
Harry shook his head again, making Draco smile. “You’re a clever one, aren’t you? Always knew dogs were smarter than people gave them credit for. Father, especially.” Harry huffed, amused.
They sat for a while, Draco petting him as he talked, mostly of inconsequential things. The longer they sat, the more relaxed Draco seemed to become, though that wasn’t saying too much as that air of despair never truly left him.
Harry listened, occasionally nudging the other boy, or whining in sympathy the few times Draco touched on what was apparently a sore subject for him: his mother. Draco never said anything specific, but Harry thought he detected sincere warmth as well as great concern for Narcissa Malfoy. He couldn’t quite help feeling a little envious of Draco for their connection, but at the same time he also started to worry – and wonder just exactly what was going on.