Draco felt his face lose what little colour it usually had, and he scrambled to his feet.
"Did he say why?" he asked, looking at Ron, who shook his head. "Was he alone? He didn't have Mother, with him, did he?" He swallowed. "Potter, I'll be upstairs, and if he comes looking for me, I'll have to borrow that cloak of-"
"Cloak?" Black asked from the doorway. Severus lingered behind him, dark eyes looking nowhere but at Draco.
"A word, Draco," he said, and Draco's heart sank. How had Severus found him? What had he told Draco's family?
"All right," he said, trying to sound casual about it. Weasley grimaced – a look that was not missed by Severus, who scowled – and Potter was giving Black a shrewd look, probably still trying to work out his McKinnon problem. Draco trailed out of the room after his godfather, leaving the other three behind. Severus didn't speak until they reached the drawing room.
"Foolish boy," he said tersely, folding his arms across his chest. "Did it never occur to you, to perhaps tell someone your plans for the holidays?"
"It occurred to me," Draco said. "I just didn't like the idea overly much, so-"
"We have an obligation to keep you safe, Draco," Severus said, still looking annoyed. "And we can't do that if we don't know where you are-"
"Well obviously you do know where I am, because you're here, aren't you?" Severus gave him a look that Draco hadn't seen him give to anyone else but Longbottom, and Draco shrank back a bit. "How'd you find me?" he mumbled, feeling rather sulky.
"You weren't at school and you weren't at home," Severus said. "Anyone with an ounce of common sense could have worked out you would be with your friends." That did nothing to abolish Draco's sulky mood.
"So what are you doing here?" he asked.
"Visiting you," Severus said, rolling his eyes. "I'd have thought that would be obvious."
"Did Father send you?"
Severus arched an eyebrow and said, "He did not, no. And, neither did your mother." Draco closed his mouth. "I came of my own volition."
"Merry Christmas," he said, pulling a large, rather flat parcel out of his dark robes. Draco reached out and took it, too surprised to thank him. "I thought you might enjoy it." Draco pulled the paper off, and raised an eyebrow.
"Where's Wally?" he asked, frowning at the red and white striped man on the cover. "What's-"
"I know you pride yourself on your observational skills," Severus murmured. "Perhaps this can help you hone them. I've made a few alterations; if you tap him with your wand once you've found him, he shall move… that way, you can avoid doing the same puzzle again and again." That didn't make much sense to Draco, but he stored the information away and nodded in thanks.
"Did you get my-"
"I did," Severus said. If Draco hadn't known better, he'd have said Severus was rather pleased. "Thank you." Draco had bought him a leather-bound journal to record new spells and potions in - since both of those were interests of his godfather - and sent it with Potter's owl the night before. "I should be on my way." Draco gave him a curious look. "I have the staff Christmas party, and I made the mistake of telling the Headmaster I would attend."
"Sir, my parents-"
"-received a letter from me this morning," Severus said. Draco flinched, and Severus' expression didn't change. "You and I shared an early breakfast this morning, and I sat with you while you unwrapped the presents your family sent to the school. You've been keeping busy with homework, and I was forced to take five points from Gryffindor from you for hexing a Hufflepuff at dinner last night. You've been very lonely, and are rather sorry you didn't choose to go home these holidays, and will be helping me in my potions lab for the next few days." Draco stared at him, open-mouthed.
"You- you didn't-?"
"I have made the wrong choices when choosing sides in the past," Severus said curtly. "I have no intention of doing so this time."
"So-" Draco stared at him. "So, you-"
"I will send a school owl with the presents from your family. Happy Christmas," Severus said, and swept out.
The rest of the holidays were some of the best days of Draco's life. Knowing that Severus was willing to support Draco – or at least not turn him in – was an enormous relief, and Draco wondered why he hadn't just trusted him in the first place. Lupin went with Severus to the staff party, and Tonks and McKinnon went off to do Auror things, so it was only Draco, Potter, Weasley, Black and Kreacher around the house for most of the day.
They spent a bit of time with their new presents, but after lunch, they all – except Kreacher - put on warm clothes and had a snowball fight in the park across the road, which Lupin, Tonks and McKinnon all joined later. All of them were pink-cheeked and damp by the time they went inside for dinner – Weasley and Tonks were eagerly recounting the battles' best moments – Draco and Lupin were wondering about dinner, and Black had given McKinnon his jumper to keep her warm, and Potter was watching the pair of them very closely.
Potter was distracted by that for another two days; whenever McKinnon was around, he'd be lurking near Black, looking and listening for evidence, and he even recruited Draco and Weasley to listen from the corner of the kitchen while Black and McKinnon talked late one night over tea; they were under the cloak the entire time, and the only thing they learned was that Auror Moody was going to retire when Tonks made it through, and that Black was busy looking at old Death Eater names to find any potential accomplices of a man called Quirrell.
Granger visited them all toward the end of the holidays and the four of them exchanged slightly late Christmas presents – Draco and Potter had both given her books, and Weasley had given her some new quills, and some patterned paper – and Granger, unsurprisingly, gave them all books. Weasley received a puzzle book about chess, Potter got one about the history of the broomstick, and Draco's was an updated edition of Hogwarts: A History. They spent Granger's visit playing card and board games – magical ones, that Potter had around the house, and muggle ones that Granger had brought from her house.
Then, for the last three days of holidays, Weasley One and Two came to stay.
Despite the fact that he'd had a lot of fun with Harry and Malfoy, Ron was excited when Fred and George arrived at Grimmauld Place. He was used to being away from his older brothers – they'd all been off to Hogwarts – but it had been Ron's first Christmas without Ginny and Mum and Dad, and he'd been trying not to miss them too much.
Ron wondered if Fred and George had missed him too, or if they were just on their best behaviour because Mum would kill them otherwise. They'd been very excited when he, Harry, Malfoy and Mr Black went to collect them from the train station, but also very polite. They'd hugged Ron, patted Harry and Malfoy on the backs and had shaken Mr Black's hand so enthusiastically that Ron had worried they'd hurt him.
They'd whispered to each other the whole way back to Harry's house, and, when Harry led them through the wards, had looked like they might cry.
"You two all right?" Mr Black had asked, and Fred had reddened and then nodded.
"This is where Padfoot grew up," Harry said, nudging George. His mouth had fallen open, and he and Fred had started to examine the house with the same reverence Ron had seen on Percy when their family had visited a museum of magical history.
The two nights Fred and George stayed at Grimmauld were spent in the library, with Mr Black and Professor Lupin telling stories about their Hogwarts days, and about their old friends, and Ron – who had quite a few funny family members – didn't think he'd ever laughed so much in his life. Even Malfoy, who usually just smirked, was properly crying when Mr Black told them about the time they'd turned the school's doorknobs into Portkeys.
"Not that you lot should be getting any ideas," Professor Lupin said, chuckling at Mr Black. "You've got quite a record on your own-" Fred and George glowed with pride. "-and you three – and Hermione – seem to get into enough trouble without even trying."
"It's genetic," Fred told Harry, patting him on the back. Harry grinned.
Ron was rather sad to leave on Tuesday morning, to head back to school. He threw what he could see of his belongings into his battered trunk, and stumbled downstairs to join the others for breakfast. He passed Professor Lupin, the twins and Malfoy in the library, and found Harry and Mr Black talking animatedly in the kitchen.
"-think I've got it," Harry was saying, grinning from ear to ear.
"Have you said it?" Black asked. "That's the only way to know for sure-"
"Not yet," Harry said, shaking his head. "But I- morning!" he called, spying Ron at the top of the stairs.
"Morning," Ron said.
"All packed?" Mr Black asked, getting up to get breakfast for Ron.
"Sort of," Ron said, and then added in a lower voice, to Harry, "I've left that alarm clock from Malfoy under your bed." Funny as the present was, and pleased that he was that Malfoy had thought Ron worthy of a Christmas present, the alarm clock made the loudest, most horrible noise when it went off, and, Ron had tried and tried to change the time of the alarm, and failed miserably. It was all right at Grimmauld, when everyone rose early anyway, but Ron doubted Seamus, Dean or Neville would be happy when the clock went off at ten to six on a Saturday morning. "It's not coming to school." Harry sniggered into his tea.
Ron soon learned that leaving for Kings Cross from Harry's was just as frantic as leaving from the Burrow; everyone's things had managed to spread through the house – Harry's, worst of all – and took the better part of an hour to find, and Mr Black and Kreacher were just as fussy as Mum, just quieter about it, Ron thought.
"I thought I'd say goodbye to everyone-"
Harry paused as he recognised McKinnon's voice, and slowly lowered his trunk to the carpet. Then, he reached for his father's cloak, which was tucked into the pocket of his jeans, and pulled it over his head. Then, skipping the step that squeaked, Harry made his slow way down the last few flights, and peered around the corner.
"Do you want anything to eat, or drink?" Padfoot asked, putting a hand on her arm. Harry watched, thoughtfully.
"No, thanks," she said, stepping inside. Padfoot closed the door behind her, and kissed her cheek as she passed. Harry's eyes widened, and then McKinnon leaned toward Padfoot and Harry suddenly felt very guilty for watching them. He looked away, and backed up the stairs.
Then, however, his foot caught the hem of his cloak and couldn't find any purchase on the slippery material; Harry slid down into the hallway, and to his horror, the cloak fell off. Padfoot, who'd been grinning, jumped and turned around.
"Harry?" Padfoot asked, looking bewildered, as Harry got to his feet, rubbing his bruised hip. "Are you- what are you doing?" McKinnon looked embarrassed, mumbled something about the kitchen, and hurried past Harry. He scooped up the cloak, and Padfoot's mouth fell open. "What is that?" he asked, stepping forward. "It can't- it's not-"
"Yep," Harry said. He'd been too keen to use the cloak to sneak around and work out what was happening with Padfoot and McKinnon that he hadn't told his godfather about it yet. Since Padfoot had seen it now, though… Harry held it out, and Padfoot accepted it with shaking hands.
"The trouble we got up to with this…" Padfoot murmured, his voice sounding rather thick. "Where did you find it? I thought it was gone-"
"Dad gave it to someone before- they thought it was time it came back to me," Harry said.
"Dumbledore," Padfoot said, after a moment. "Of course… He confiscated it, after James sneaked out to help us- Of course." He smiled and offered it to Harry, who tucked it back into his pocket. ""'ve heard footsteps, but not been able to see you, and smelled you, but not been able to place it… you've been under the cloak… What were you doing with it?" he asked curiously. Harry felt his face heat up.
"Nothing," he said. Padfoot gave him an odd look. "I was just… checking something," Harry said.
"We've had this conversation before, I think," Padfoot said idly. "About you looking like James, and being just as bad at lying…"
"Are you dating?" Harry blurted, and then covered his mouth. Padfoot blinked.
"Nothing," Harry said. Padfoot, though, looked like something had just started to make sense to him.
"So that's what's been bothering you," he said.
"It doesn't bother me, I just- wasn't sure if- I mean, if- you never said, and then you were holding hands, and then- just before-" Harry felt his face heat up again.
"Oh," Padfoot said, and actually looked embarrassed as well. "I thought you realised we were-" Harry just shook his head. Padfoot laughed and pulled him into a hug. "Sorry, kiddo, I should have been- I dunno, clearer, when I told you-"
"You just said back to what you were," Harry mumbled. "Which I thought was friends, but-"
"Right," Padfoot said. He looked faintly pink too, which made Harry laugh, but then, rather abruptly, Padfoot turned serious. "Are you all right with it?" he asked, holding Harry at an arm's length. "You're not- it doesn't bother you?"
"Not now that I know," Harry said. "When I wasn't sure- it was confusing-"
"Harry!" Moony called. "Is this your trunk blocking the stairs?" Padfoot chuckled and Harry grinned at him and hurried back upstairs to move it.
"I'm an idiot," he heard Padfoot mutter as he went in the opposite direction.
Happy birthday, Mum, Harry thought, pausing on the way back to the common room to look out at the clear, starry night. He'd hoped to find that mirror again, and see Lily so he could, for once, say his birthday greetings to a face that wasn't carved from stone, but the mirror had gone.
Harry pulled his animagus incantation out of his pocket, more out of habit than because he needed to see the words to know them; he'd seen them so many times it was a wonder he wasn't reciting it in his sleep. He'd finished it – or thought he had – over the Christmas break, but it hadn't worked when he'd tried it in Moony's office on the second day back at school. He'd been going over it in the month since, double and triple checking his grammar and spelling, and was fairly sure he had it right, now, but hadn't had a chance to test it.
He read it to himself – only in his head, because that way, there was no chance of him transforming – and rounded the next corner. Something hit his chest, and he staggered backward, gasping.
"Capill meum nigrae," Harry's lips said, without him wanting them to, "sicut procella-"
"Potter?" a familiar voice said, as Harry rambled his way through his incantation. "Oi, One, it's just Potter-"
"-cerva natus ex," Harry finished, and then winced as pain jolted through him. Draco, Fred and George peered out from behind a pillar, looking sheepish. Pain jolted through Harry again, and with horror, he realised he was changing. "What did you-" was all he had time to ask, before the world warped.
His bones ached as they twisted and changed, and his skin itched so much it was burning, as dark fur sprouted everywhere. Harry yelped as his legs gave way, and he fell to what should have been his hands and knees, but all he had were big paws, which stung as long nails grew out of them. He would have been crying, if it was possible, but all he managed was a keening sound, which hurt his newly sensitive ears as much as the panicked cries of the other three.
The worst, though, was the tail.
While the whole thing must only have taken a few seconds, it felt like minutes, and Harry was a quivering mess on the cold stone floor by the time it was over.
"What did you do?" Draco was asking Fred in a shrill voice. "Potter?" he asked. Harry tried to talk, but it came out as a whine. Then he coughed, because his altered tongue was a lot longer than he was used to, and his mouth felt narrow, and strange and full of very sharp teeth. "Did you try to make him into Black?" Both twins were just gaping at him. "Fix it!" Draco demanded.
"It wasn't supposed to- it was just supposed to make him say what he was thinking, like the others we got before," George said. Harry could smell his panic, all hot and prickly, and oddly contagious. Harry wrinkled his nose, and whined again.
"Harry." That was Fred, crouched down near him. Harry wriggled away, not out of fear, but because Fred smelled so human. In fact… Harry looked around, and found his wolf-side growing very uncomfortable. Where were the trees and the grass? Where were the dens to hide in? Everything was stone and dead, except for the humans, and everything smelled tingly and magical. Where was the sky?
I belong here, Harry told himself, but felt restless, trapped. He wondered If Padfoot had ever had this problem, but Padfoot had been a dog, not a wolf. Padfoot hadn't been wild. I can fix this, all I have to do is change back… It didn't take long for Harry to reach the horrifying conclusion that he didn't know how; he'd always assumed that Padfoot or Moony would be there with him, to supervise, and help him. Padfoot just changes… Harry thought. Change. He waited for a few seconds. Change? he tried again, trying to remember what it felt like to have arms and legs and a human body, and no tail and no fur… This is bad, Harry thought, when nothing happened.
"Potter?" Harry focused on Draco with an effort. "We're going to get you help. The hospital wing's just-"
Not the hospital wing! Harry thought, scrambling back. His legs worked instinctively, but he had to splay them to stay upright. He must have looked silly, but didn't mind; more important things were at stake. No, no, no, no, no- His thoughts came out as an odd, growling yelp, and Draco backed off, looking a bit frightened.
"Do you think he's still Potter?" Draco asked. He too smelled panicky.
"I think- I don't know," George said. "Harry, mate, can you er… woof if you understand us?" It took Harry a moment to work out how to do that, but he managed a weak barking sound. "Good." George looked relieved. "Now, we're going to take you to see Madam Pomfrey, and-"
Moony, Harry thought. I need Moony. He whined again and backed away.
"Maybe we should Stun him…?" he heard Fred mutter. Harry snapped his jaws together, unimpressed, and the twins and Draco gave him a wary look.
Harry tried to remember what floor he was on. He was jealous that Padfoot could remain so focused when he transformed. Harry was struggling to process all the sounds and smells and wolf-things, and was forgetting human ones in the process. Third floor. I was on the third floor. He nodded to himself. Moony's office was just downstairs.
He looked at the twins and Draco, who were still bickering about what to do with him, and, deciding they were occupied, turned awkwardly and started to slink away down the corridor. His legs felt odd, and didn't move the way he was used to, but the less he thought about it, the better it was. He grew bold enough to try to run, and that, unfortunately, was when he tripped a little, knocked a cabinet of awards, and alerted the others to the fact that he was trying to escape.
"Potter," Draco said exasperatedly, moving after him. George though, had drawn his wand with a grimace, and was pointing it in Harry's direction. Danger, Harry's human and wolf sides thought, and instinct kicked in. He sprung to his feet, hackles rising, and bolted around the corner. He heard someone swear, and heard footsteps. He had to check once that they weren't right behind him, because the sound was so clear. It was very disconcerting. He skidded down the stairs, bowling over a pair of second year Ravenclaws, who shrieked, but given Fred and George were behind Harry, they'd – hopefully – assume it was a prank.
Harry untangled his legs and trotted awkwardly toward Moony's office. Moony was just locking the door – probably on his way to dinner – and hadn't spotted Harry yet. Harry, though, was so filled with relief that a familiar face was there – even if it was human – and was so comforted by the fact that that face also smelled wolfish that he jumped on Moony as soon as he was close enough. Moony, having not turned until the last moment, fell over. Some embarrassingly happy whines escaped Harry's throat, and he even licked Moony once or twice.
"Padfoot," Moony said, grabbing the thick fur around Harry's neck, "what the-" Harry couldn't move, but that didn't stop him wriggling around, or stop his tail from wagging nervously. Moony's nostrils flared, and his eyes widened, but before he could say anything, there was a commotion at the end of the corridor.
"Oh, no," Fred said. He tucked his wand away, and Harry snorted.
"They saw?" Moony murmured, and Harry whimpered. Moony's scent grew exasperated – an interesting smell, all thick and it came in large, overwhelming clouds. "Dare I ask what happened?"
"We- it was only a prank," George blurted. He looked white and worried. "It wasn't even supposed to happen, and then he just- he said something and changed and then-"
"I see," Moony said, cutting him off. "Perhaps, then, you need to work on your spell pronunciation… I'm sure Professor Flitwick would have covered the story of wizard Baruffio with you in first year?" Fred nodded. "No matter, though," Moony continued. "A quick Finite should do the trick." He gave Harry a very pointed look as he drew his wand and waved it.
Finite? Harry thought. All I have to do is think- But it had already worked; Harry grimaced as his hipbones moved, and his legs grew, and paws elongated, and as his tail shrank into nothing. Some part of him was relieved to notice he was still wearing his robes, but the rest of him was just sore.
Moony lifted Harry to his feet, and put a steadying arm around him. Harry winced, and wobbled.
"Should we take him to the hospital wing?" Draco asked.
"No," Moony said, "I've got some Pepper-up potion in my office, and that should fix him." Fred and George still looked terrified. "I'm not going to take points, or have you expelled," Moony assured them. "Accidents happen." He gave them a pointed look, however, and said, "but, if I hear you've tried this spell again, I'll be very disappointed… human transfiguration is not something to fool around with." They nodded quickly, and Moony smiled at them. "Harry should be back in the common room after dinner."
Fred and George, realising they'd been dismissed, grabbed Draco, and hurried off. Moony unlocked his office, guided Harry to the couch, and then went straight to the fire and said, "Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place." Kreacher's head appeared a moment later, but he didn't speak; he took one look at Harry, who was trembling on the couch, and disappeared again.
Moony had just pressed a cup of tea into Harry's hand – and Harry could smell it was laced with some sort of potion – when Padfoot tumbled through. Harry winced as the Floo roared, and then sneezed several times as Padfoot shook ash off his robes and out of his hair, and came over, still stinking of fire.
"Kiddo?" he asked, glancing at Moony, who was still smelling exasperated. He looked proud, though, and also rather amused, so Harry didn't think it was too bad. "Kiddo, what-" Harry put his tea down and flung his arms around his godfather, who patted him on the back, smelling bewildered – that was a jumble of things. Scents, Harry was noticing, didn't smell like foods or things, but rather they smelled the way they felt.
To Harry's extreme embarrassment, he whined, rather than spoke. Padfoot pulled away to look at his face, while Harry tried to find his voice.
"I did it," Harry said hoarsely. "I changed."
"You-" Padfoot beamed. "It worked?"
"Oh, it worked," Moony said, shooing Padfoot back a bit so that he could press the teacup back into Harry's hand.
"It hurt," Harry said, sipping at his tea. He felt his face grow hot, and his ears felt warm and wet; Harry'd always hated Pepper-up potion. Padfoot gave him a sympathetic look. "Like- everything was moving and stretching-"
"And tails," Padfoot said, shaking his head. Moony too, grimaced. "It gets better, kiddo. Give it once or twice more, and you won't even feel it."
Harry hoped so, and for the first time, thought he'd had a glimpse into what full moons must be like for Moony. It must have shown on his face, because Moony shrugged in a helpless sort of way.
"Drink the rest of that," Moony said. Harry obeyed.
"How do you feel?" Padfoot asked, when Harry's cup was empty.
"Better," Harry said hesitantly. And he did.
"Good," Padfoot said, grinning from ear-to-ear. "Because I want to see."
"Padfoot!" Moony squawked. "He's exhausted! You can't-"
"He's not actually tired, he's just scared it's going to hurt again-" Padfoot was right, Harry had to concede. "-and the longer he puts it off, the harder it'll be. None of the books tell you that… remember Peter?" Moony made a face.
"How did you ever decide to change again, after the first time?" Harry asked.
"More bravery than brains?" Padfoot offered. "And a pretty important reason." He glanced at Moony, who smiled sheepishly. "Come on, kiddo."
Harry took a deep breath, and started to murmur his incantation.