Harry kept an even closer eye on Draco after that first afternoon, still convinced he was up to something, but also because of a nagging feeling that had started to gnaw at him for reasons Harry couldn’t name. The other boy still disappeared off the map regularly, and the closer to the Christmas holidays they came, the more drawn Draco seemed to become. This was very unlike him, Harry decided, as in years past Draco had always bragged about the upcoming holidays and what he expected to get at any given year.

Not so this time, however. Draco drew in on himself more and more, becoming increasingly sullen, silent, and twitchy. The other Slytherins appeared as puzzled as Harry, but they shrugged it off after being rebuffed by the boy. Well, all except Pansy Parkinson, that was. She kept badgering Draco, fussing over how he was looking, the fact that he was eating less and surely sleeping poorly, if the bags under his eyes were any indication.

For some reason Harry couldn’t quite explain, it rankled him to no end to watch Pansy fussing over Draco. He figured it was probably because if anyone were to do that to him in that irritating way Pansy seemed to have, he knew it would drive him bonkers. It was bad enough when Hermione or Ginny did it, and they weren’t nearly as obnoxious. Still, Harry got some small satisfaction whenever he watched Draco’s curt reactions to her, and he couldn’t help but think, good for him.

Harry hadn’t managed to track Draco anywhere where he’d safely be able to transfigure into Liber, as the weather had been very poor indeed, so the boy had remained within the confines of the castle. The day before Christmas break, however, the sun was shining and though there was a blanket of snow covering the grounds, it was pleasant enough outside. They’d finished their lessons and everyone had some free time before dinner would be served. Harry had intended on packing, but when he noticed Draco heading for the front door, he changed his mind and slipped outside after the boy.

Once out of sight of the castle as well as of Draco, Harry shifted into Liber and headed to where he’d found Draco last time. Sure enough, he was sitting in the same spot, the area cleared of snow and completely dry. Harry noticed as he got closer that it also seemed to be pleasantly warm. He chuffed. Figures he’d make himself as comfortable as possible. Still, beats freezing my paws off.

Draco looked up, a small smile graced his lips briefly before falling again. “Hi, Liber. Didn’t think I’d see you again,” he said quietly, sounding as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. He rubbed his fingers to coax Harry forward, who dutifully stepped up to him.

Rather than lie down as he had last time, Harry sat upright, his face as close to Draco’s as he dared, watching as the boy’s usual mask of cool disdain and composure seemed to fade away. Draco stroked his neck and flank continuously. Harry felt the tension in the other boy, smelled the anxiety that poured from him. Nudging Draco’s chin with his nose, Harry whined softly.

The arms enfolding Harry shocked him so much he froze, unable to even breathe, only for it to whoosh out of him when he felt Draco shudder against him as he buried his face in Harry’s fur. “I don’t want to go home,” Draco confessed brokenly.

Why? Harry wondered.

Draco gave a hollow chuckle as he pulled back. “Merlin,” he muttered under his breath as he ran shaking fingers through his hair. There were bright pink spots on his cheeks – at least, Harry assumed they were pink, as to him everything was currently different shades of grey. Harry pawed gently at Draco’s arm, trying to get the boy to explain himself. Finally, Draco huffed softly. “I don’t want to go home,” he repeated, “because everyone‘ll be there.” He looked a little sick when he emphasized the “everyone”. Sighing, Draco scratched behind Harry’s ears and whispered, “I don’t know if I can face them, but I have to. I have to, Liber, because Mother’ll be there. Father, too, but Mother… I have to know she’s okay. Make sure she’s safe.”

Harry butted his head against Draco’s chest, feeling puzzled, not to mention worried. Draco gave a small smile, then buried his face against Harry’s neck again. This time, it didn’t startle Harry near as much, though it did surprise him when he found himself leaning into Draco, one paw awkwardly going around the boy’s side in an approximation of a hug. The whole scenario struck him as both utterly bizarre and eerily right at the same time, and Harry had no idea what to make of it.

They sat together for a long time until Harry’s stomach growled in protest. Draco chuckled softly, stroking Harry’s head tenderly – and wasn’t that a wonder. Tender had never been a word he’d associated with the other boy before – and said, “Suppose you’re right. It’s time to eat, even if I’m not very hungry. Go on, then, off you go, Liber. I’ll see you after the holidays, right?” Draco sounded wistful, as if the thought of seeing Liber again would be enough to help him through Christmas break.

Harry wagged his tail, his tongue lolling slightly as he tried to smile. It seemed enough for Draco, whose smile became genuine as he said, “Have a good Christmas, then, Liber.” He got to his feet and cast finite incantatum to stop the warming spell. For a brief second, Harry worried that it might dispel his animagus form, too, but he stayed as he was; a Staffordshire bull terrier. His tail wagged a little harder in relief.

With a final pat on Harry’s head, Draco headed back toward the castle. Harry sat and watched until the boy was out of his sight before finally slipping under the bleachers to change back. As he walked back to the castle himself, he kept absentmindedly running his hand over the back of his neck where he could still feel Draco’s lingering touch.

During dinner, he kept stealing glances at the Slytherin table. After a while, Hermione nudged him in the ribs, hissing, “Harry, would you stop? Honestly, it’s nearly Christmas, just give it a rest, alright?”

Annoyed, Harry turned to her to say that it wasn’t what she thought, but thankfully stopped himself in time. After all, Hermione didn’t know about Liber. No one did. Grumbling, Harry poked at his potatoes, suddenly no longer hungry. Not even when the puddings were served and Hermione nudged Harry’s favorite treacle tart toward him did it lighten his mood.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Draco leave the Great Hall. He took in the slight slump in his shoulders and vowed that he would do his best to figure out what was going on. It didn’t occur to him that his reasoning for wanting to know had changed.

Harry spent the Christmas holidays at The Burrow with the Weasleys. He’d never really had a Christmas this chaotic before, but he found he loved it. He had tried to talk to Remus about Draco and Snape, as he’d overheard Snape mention something about taking the Unbreakable Vow, but he had been summarily dismissed. Even Mr. Weasley had little to offer, though he was much kinder in the way he’d shot Harry down. He had, however, followed through on Harry’s request to find out what was at Borgin & Burkes that Malfoy might be interested in, but all he had seen was a vanishing cabinet, and it was still in the shop.

Then the Death Eaters attacked The Burrow, and Harry saw red. Bellatrix Lestrange was among them and not only had she killed Sirius, but he somehow knew that she was part of what was troubling Draco and he wanted nothing more than to kill her. To make her pay for every ounce of misery she’d ever inflicted on the world, wizarding and muggle alike.

It was an utterly foolish thing to do, of course, and if it hadn’t been for Ginny running after him he was sure he’d have either been killed or taken by the Death Eaters. He was grateful for Ginny’s bravery, as well as her loyalty, and very glad that she had been in the DA with him. Remus and Mr. Weasley came after them and between the four of them they fended off their attackers, but not before they turned their wrath on The Burrow itself, burning it to the ground.