The entire journey on the train back to Hogwarts, Harry had been on the look-out for Malfoy. He hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of him, though, which worried him. Ron and he shared a compartment, but all Ron wanted to talk about was Lavender, so Harry tuned him out, letting his thoughts wander. It wasn’t until they’d arrived at Hogsmeade station that Harry spotted the familiar head of platinum blond hair. His heart raced as he stood tiptoe, craning his neck to get a better look. What he saw did nothing to assuage the heavy feeling in his gut. Draco looked as tense and miserable as he had before the holidays, if not more so.
“C’mon, mate,” Ron said, nudging Harry’s arm. “Not still on about that whole Death Eater thing, are you?” he asked as he got into the last carriage.
“No,” Harry said automatically, knowing that to say otherwise meant another lecture. He ignored the tiny voice that tried to point out it was also true. “No, not on about that, Ron.”
Ron frowned at Harry and tried to engage him in conversation, but Harry paid him no mind. That’s getting easier to do, these days, Harry thought, but couldn’t be bothered to figure out exactly why that was.
Once they arrived at the school, they had dinner as always. Harry made sure to sit in such a way that Draco was within his line of sight at all times, earning him concerned looks from both Ron and Hermione. Draco seemed to be oblivious to everyone around him for once, apparently deep in thought. Harry wished he knew what was going through the boy’s head.
As soon as dinner was over, Draco escaped and Harry was forced to watch him go and allow his friends to guide him along to Gryffindor tower. They’d barely made it past the portrait, though, before Harry excused himself to go up to the dormitory so he could check his map. Sure enough, he just managed to catch a glimpse of Draco before he disappeared again. Frustrated, Harry ran his fingers through his hair. On a whim, he grabbed his potions book, tucked the map in its sleeve and went back to the common room. Taking his favorite seat by the fireside, he settled in to read, checking the map every so often to make sure Draco was still in the Room of Requirement.
About an hour or so later, Draco finally appeared again, his steps rapid as he made his way down corridors and staircases, until Harry saw him head outside. He debated briefly whether to follow, then decided he really wanted to know why the other boy had been in such a hurry. Closing his book, he disappeared up the stairs to drop it on his bedside table. Grabbing his invisibility cloak, he threw it over himself and made his way back down. Luck was on his side, as Parvati entered the tower right as he was wondering how on earth he’d manage to leave without arousing suspicion. After all, the portrait didn’t just open or close on its own, and Hermione and Ron were well aware of his cloak.
Harry was getting well used to things now. Follow Draco, hide under the bleachers to change into Liber, then find Draco. Seeing the other boy once again huddled up with shoulders shaking made something in Harry twinge. The need to find out what was going on became ever greater as time went on, but the desire to try to help the boy was a new factor that made Harry pause.
Carefully, Harry inched toward Draco who seemed unaware of him. Harry gently nosed the boy’s ear, startling him. Draco immediately shifted, settling his legs around Harry and hugging him to him while burying his face once more in Harry’s fur. Harry whimpered, at a complete loss how to help him. They just sat there for a while, with Harry leaning heavily against Draco who seemed to calm somewhat from the contact.
After a couple of minutes, Draco pulled away with a broken chuckle, running his thumbs along Harry’s cheekbones. “Merlin,” Draco muttered. “You must think I’m barking mad, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
Despite his worry, Harry chuffed in amusement, earning him a wan smile. He was glad to see Draco had cheered a bit, but wished he could ask him what had him tied in such knots. Since he couldn’t, he settled for nudging Draco’s jaw, hoping to soothe him further.
“Thanks,” mumbled Draco. Sitting back, he let his arms fall loosely around Harry. “I wish I could keep you,” he murmured. “It’s nice, just hanging out with you, Liber. You have no expectations, no demands. No impossible tasks to set me.”
Harry tilted his head, scowling. He half wondered what that would look like in this form, but quickly dismissed the thought as he only barely caught Draco’s added whisper of, “You don’t threaten me, or my mother.”
A low growl escaped him, his lips twitching as he fought the urge to bite. So that’s what’s going on. Someone’s threatening Malfoy’s mother! Bet you anything they’re using her to make him do whatever task he was on about on the train start of term! Voldemort, you cowardly git!
“Easy, boy,” Draco murmured soothingly, caressing Harry’s flank. A sad smile on his lips, Draco looked at Harry. “You really do understand everything I’m saying, don’t you?”
Harry chuffed, feeling slightly indignant, though he wasn’t sure why.
Draco briefly rested his forehead against Harry’s, drawing comfort. “There’s nothing you can do, Liber. No one can help, that’s the problem.”
Harry whined, pawing at Draco’s side. Draco shook his head sadly. “No, I have to keep trying, that’s all there is for it. If I don’t…” His voice trailed off as he once again buried his face in Harry’s neck, hugging him tight. Harry could fill in the rest himself, however.
It was late when Harry finally trudged back into the dormitory. The common room had been all but deserted except for a couple of stragglers, and the other boys were already in bed and asleep. Apart from Ron, who sat up as soon as he heard Harry. “Where’ve you been then?” he demanded.
Harry shook his head, unwilling to talk, even if he’d been able to explain it all. “Just out, clearing my head.”
Ron glowered at him. “Right,” he said, clearly disbelieving.
When Harry refused any further comment, Ron huffed, turned onto his side so his back was toward Harry and went to sleep. Harry, however, lay awake for hours going over everything he’d learned, his heart heavy for Draco.
Over the next couple of weeks, Harry kept a close eye on Draco. He didn’t like how worn the boy was starting to look, how near to breaking. He felt utterly helpless, which wasn’t something he particularly enjoyed, yet it seemed to be happening more and more often of late.
Staring up at the teacher’s table, Harry pondered what to do. After all, Draco wasn’t the only thing he had to figure out. He still had to find a way to get Professor Slughorn to give him his memory of Tom Riddle, too, and everything he’d tried so far had failed miserably. Against his will, his gaze shifted to Draco once more and his voice came unbidden to Harry’s mind: Just my luck though, that you’d have that in common with him.
All Harry needed was a bit of luck, and he’d won that bottle of Felix Felicis at the start of term! Harry leaped to his feet, anxious to get up to the dormitory to find the tiny vial. I could kiss Malfoy for this! That thought brought Harry up short, causing one of the smaller students who’d been right behind him to collide with him. “Oy, watch it,” the second year groused, but Harry didn’t pay him any mind. His face felt like it was on fire, and after a moment he came to himself enough to realize people were beginning to stare. Shaking his head, he hurried out of the Great Hall, but not before sneaking a glance over his shoulder to catch Malfoy staring at him with a speculative look on his face.
By the time Harry made it upstairs, his brilliant flash of insight had been forgotten due to the turmoil in his head. Where had that thought come from, he wondered. He’d never liked boys like that, and certainly never thought of Malfoy in that way. Walking into the dormitory, Harry came to a sudden stop when he saw a very peculiar-looking Ron staring at him. The mess that followed after Ron’s greeting of, “Hiya, Harry,” firmly pushed any and all thoughts of Malfoy out of his head. Watching your best friend nearly die would do that to a guy, really.
It wasn’t until they were all in the infirmary and Professor Dumbledore had stated the drink Slughorn had given them had been poisoned, and Slughorn admitted he’d intended it as a gift for Dumbledore that Harry’s mind took a couple of staggering leaps and landed squarely on Draco again. Though this time, thoughts of kissing him or being concerned for him were the furthest thing from his mind.
Harry left Ron to Hermione’s care and headed back to the dormitory to get the Marauder’s map. It took him a few minutes to find his quarry because his hands were shaking, so angry was he. When he finally spotted him in what Harry had come to think of as “their” spot, he thrust the map under his pillow and bolted down the stairs. He ran all the way through the castle, ignoring shouts from students and paintings alike. He had only one thing on his mind and that was to get to Draco and beat the piss out of him. Trying to kill Dumbledore, and nearly getting Katie, Ron, and even Harry himself with it in the process? He didn’t think so!
Harry stormed across the lawn toward the quidditch pitch, fuming. As he rounded the pitch, he pulled up short when he saw Draco in near-panic, pacing back and forth. The boy looked frantic, his hands lodged in his hair, which was an utter mess. Draco’s face was streaked with tears, too, and he was hiccuping and muttering, though Harry couldn’t understand a word. Draco didn’t appear to have noticed him at all, so intent was he in his misery.
Harry carefully took a couple of steps back as he tried to think things through, pushing his anger aside with tremendous effort. Voldemort put him up to this. They’re threatening his mother. He is scared for his life, and that of his family, Harry reminded himself. After a few deep, calming breaths, he snuck another peek around the corner, to check that Draco was still there. He was, and seeing him so utterly distraught made his heart twinge in sympathy.
Without consciously deciding, Harry shifted into Liber and slowly made his way over to Draco, coming to a stop a couple of paces from the boy. He gave a short, low bark then whimpered when Draco turned to him. The boy fell to his knees, his hands folded in front of him as he looked at Harry with such despair that it nearly broke him. This wasn’t a boy who’d actively tried to kill anyone, this was a boy who was frightened beyond belief.
“Merlin, Liber, I almost killed someone. I was passing Professor Snape’s office when he got called to the infirmary by Dumbledore. He-he said that the Weasel had nearly died!” Draco gazed skyward for a moment, swallowing thickly. “Merlin knows I can’t stand the red-haired prat, but I never… never wanted him dead!”
A part of Harry was a little surprised to hear this, considering how often Draco had attempted to thwart him, Ron, and Hermione, but the raw emotion in Draco’s voice convinced him of the truth of his words. He had never in all the years he’d known the boy heard him speak like this. Harry shuffled forward, putting his front paws on Draco’s thighs as he headbutted him.
“Merlin, what am I going to do?” Draco muttered, resting his head on Harry’s. “I can’t do this! I just… I can’t. I’m no murderer. Not even… not even for her sake.”
Harry’s heart stuttered at the confirmation of his suspicions. Glancing down, he noticed for the first time that Draco’s sleeve had ridden up, exposing his forearm. Harry let out a low, angry growl as he glared at the Dark Mark. He is one of them! I knew it!
Draco startled, shifting back, away from Harry who continued to growl, his focus completely on the boy’s arm. Following his gaze, Draco let out a soft cry of his own. “I hate that thing,” he hissed. “He marked me as a reminder of my task. As a punishment, for me and for my parents. With me marked, they’re forced to face their own guilt for what had happened. Guilt for what will happen if I fail and – I will fail. How can I not?”
Rolling his sleeve down angrily, Draco huffed. Harry stopped growling and settled on his haunches, watching the other boy closely. Draco laughed bitterly. “At least my mark is ornamental only, by the grace of Magic. If the Weasel had died…”
His voice trailed off, leaving Harry with cold dread. If Ron had died, the Mark would be true. It takes a death for someone to really be marked.
Part of him wondered whether anyone was aware of that or not, aside from Snape and possibly Dumbledore. He briefly entertained the thought of telling Hermione and how she would react before focusing his attention back on the boy in front of him.
Draco pulled his legs up, wrapping his arms around them as he gazed sadly at Harry. “I can’t win, Liber. If I don’t kill Dumbledore, the Dark Lord will punish Mother and kill me. If I do kill Dumbledore, my Mark becomes true and I’m a full-blown Death Eater, whether I want to or not, and my parents still are punished, even if it is only through knowing I’m forever tied to the Dark Lord.”
He sounded so empty, so utterly exhausted and broken that all Harry could think to do was drape himself around the boy’s feet and give him what comfort he could. He knew he had to at least try to help Draco figure a way out of this, to save his mother if not his father. Knew he couldn’t allow Draco to attempt to fulfil the task set before him. He just had no idea how yet.