Paper Dragons

by KC

Disclaimer: I don't own any of this.

Disclaimer the Second: My knowledge of British culture is limited to what I've seen on Mary Poppins, the BBC, TLC, and Discovery, and read in my Brit Lit courses. Any similarity to the Japanese thousand paper cranes is painfully obvious.

Summary: Pre-slash. Draco-centric.

Fold, corner, crease, fold again. Papercut. He made no sound, didn't stop. A drop of blood colored the white paper as he finished the last tiny fold that made up his dragon. So small that it fit in his hand, its sides expanded and fell again as it breathed. Its small legs ended in claws that curled reflexively. With a light push upward, he sent it into the air to find its place among the books. After a moment, it settled in a cranny under a canted book, rustling as it came to rest and stared at him. He pulled another bit of paper and started his next dragon.

He would not be interrupted. Few people knew about the silent room of the library. Floating behind a different wall every hour or so, its only constants were its shelves crammed with books and a window that always faced the moon. Draco had discovered it one night while studying alone, stumbling inside with a panicked gasp when the solid wall decided not to be solid for that instant, leaving him in a tiny nook filled with books that had never been checked out. When he stepped out again, he told no one about it and kept its secret, and in return he always found it again whenever he looked. Whereas other students could pull every book out of the library and never see the room behind the shelves, he simply walked into any corner where no one could see him and passed through a shelf that let him in.

The room seemed like the library's afterthought, barely large enough for one reader. He could put his arms out and brush the books with his fingertips. If the silent room had a real name, he didn't know, but inside its walls, sounds muted and died in the air. If he dropped a book, the noise didn't reach his own ears. If he died in this tiny room, probably no one would ever find him.

Since he'd discovered it around the start of sixth year, he found within it his only true solitude. In the dormitory, in his classes, on the field and in his home, he kept up his defenses, maintained a solid shield against Griffyndor catcalls and Slytherin expectations. Here, he read the books no one else read, a mix of simple charms and ornamental minutiae. A miscellaneous of miscellaneous, the library's junk drawer, holding what the library must have considered useless but too beautiful to discard.

And now he used it for making dragons. Step by step, he followed the same pattern and folded them out of his old schoolwork. The words made strange swirls and scribbles on his small creations, charms and formulae in his own hand covering each dragon. Far more complex than any other origami creature, each dragon required twisting his fingers uncomfortably to make each crease at the right time, folding out of dry, brittle paper something alive, if only temporary. He even added his own embellishments, pushing a fingernail gently against the dragon's mouth to create teeth, trailing a finger down its back to give it ridges.

He'd found an entire subsection in these books devoted solely to the shapes he could coax out of paper. Roses that blossomed from a parchment bud, withered and died, all in a moment. A phoenix shaped like a fan that burst into flames as soon as it spread its wings. A unicorn that dissolved in the poisoned water that it purified. Faceless girls who twirled and spun in their miniature ballet, dancing faster and faster until they tore themselves apart and left strips of themselves on the floor. A thousand dragons to grant a wish.

Thin red slices covered his palms because he could barely make out the paper's edges. The sunlight couldn't shine through the thick dust floating in the air, leaving him and the books and dragons in a golden gloom. The room's window turned the sun pale yellow like the moon on a hazy night. He turned the dragon over and finished the head and horns, then fashioned each leg, its paper the color of bleached bones or old ivory.

As he sent his dragon up to find its own place beside the previous one, he did not count it off in his mind. He had no idea how many he'd done. He did not think about how long it took to make each one or the classes he was missing or the fuss anyone might make about him disappearing. The book, Parchment Poppets and Manuscript Manikins, gave clear instructions that the person creating a thousand dragons must think of nothing but the wish, and focus only on the wish. Even the folding of dragons must be a mindless task. He would know when he finished the thousandth one. They would tell him. Until then, he thought solely of his wish.

A golden ball clutched firmly in his hand.

With all the problems of the wizarding world, he often berated himself for wanting such a small thing, but when he stopped thinking of how small a thing it was, the dream expanded until it filled up his whole world with consequences spiraling out in all directions if only he could finally catch it. At night his golden light turned from dreams to nightmares of chasing it as it glittered always just out of reach. He always woke up drenched in sweat and sore, as if he'd played a whole game and flown like a madman the entire night. Nearly every night, the same vision, the gold sparkling in the sun like light at his fingertips, and then the edge of red robes flowing in front of his eyes to steal it away.

Another dragon. Crease, fold. Fold. Bend forward. Bend back. Another dragon. The light sparkling and stolen from him in an instant, and he heard cheers instead of hisses, applause instead of catcalls. Griffyndor victorious and Slytherin defeated, mocked, spit at. The crowd's laughter and nods approving that this was as it should be. As it should be. Another dragon.

Papercuts lined his hands, covered his palms. All of his dragons now flew with bright red streaks that faded into brown. His hair fell over his eyes, and his eyes stung when sweat touched their corners. The room turned unbearably hot during the day but froze during the night. He noticed none of it, seeing only the red robe flying in front of his face and golden light stolen from him. And why? With his lighter build, he should have flown circles around Potter, the boy who lived now heavier, broader, taller. The snitch should have been his by now. In his mind he imagined the red robes pulling ahead and he fought it, watched the field blur into one long streak of green, and then saw red robes disappearing in his peripheral vision as he overtook them, and felt his hand close satisfyingly around the golden light. His team roared, the crowd groaned, the world fell away and the light belonged to him. Much more satisfying than any usual win against Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, a heady sense of elation flooded over him. The light would be his, the Cup would be his, and Potter--

The dragon in his hand screeched, breaking him out of his thoughts. He looked up from where he sat, crosslegged on the floor. Paper dragons everywhere, on books, on shelves, on his shoulders, one perched on his head. They lined the floor and clung patiently to the ceiling, all watching him, rustling their wings like restless butterflies but cocking their heads at him like praying mantises. He could hardly make out where one dragon ended and another began and it suddenly occurred to him that in his mindless state, he'd given all of his dragons horns and teeth.

But why did his dragons look so much like serpents? The legs creased so close to their bellies and their wings folded tight to their backs. For a moment none of them moved, and then one by one they stretched their wings as far as they could, stepped off their shelf or book, and flew around the low ceiling in circles. So many of them filled the dead air that they formed a cloud of sharp edges, like a thousand little knives whirling around, and Draco pressed himself against the bookshelf behind him to keep out of their way.

The false wall shimmered and became translucent as the room allowed them out. Rustling as loud as students opening their books at the start of class, paper dragons poured out of the room and into the library. Standing up to follow them, Draco nearly toppled forward, only just catching the nearest shelf and saving himself a nasty fall. His knees felt weak and his legs felt numb but his elation didn't fade. Madame Pince yelled at the dragons somewhere nearby, but she sounded far away.


He didn't look up as someone put their hands on his shoulders and steadied him, but he recognized her voice. "Pansy?"

"Where have you been?" she asked, trying to look into his eyes. "We've been looking everywhere for you. The team's just about frantic. And what are all these dragons?"

"I've been busy," he mumbled, then shook his head rapidly to clear it and batted away her hand. "I'm fine. Why's everyone so upset, then? The game's not 'till Friday."

Her look of her horror made him pause. "Today's Friday, Draco," she breathed. "Oh Merlin, where have you been? The game starts in a few minutes and Gryffindor's crowing about how we've no Seeker."

"Today?" Three days had gone by? A chill ran through his heart and he stared at her to be sure she wasn't teasing him, but there was no mistaking her desperation. "Then why are you standing her talking?" Pushing her aside, he bolted from the library, ignoring Madame Pince's furious screams of impending detention as he ran through the halls. On the way, he heard gasps of surprise and realized that everyone in the halls were Slytherins looking for him. "Where the hell have you been," he heard them call, and all of them snarled at him to get to the field. As he took a sharp corner, nearly sliding into a suit of armor, he realized he would not make it if he had to take the usual route. As it was, he hardly had time to change. If he didn't do something and fast, Gryffindor would win by default, the Weasel would crow about it for years, the whole school would laugh at him and worse, the Slytherins would be furious. Desperate times, desperate measures. He drew his wand and yelled at the nearest window to open. With a leap that made the watching first years scream, he summoned his broom as he jumped out the window.

His broom nearly didn't come in time. By the second floor, he realized he'd look even more foolish dead on the ground than late to the game, but he couldn't bring himself to feel afraid or worried. The vision of his success was by no means a prophecy, but it felt so right and true that he felt as if he could fly even without his broom. When he reached the first floor, he felt the familiar cushion of air as the broom slid under him and into his hands, knowing its place after long hours of practice and play. Flying as fast as he did after a snitch, he passed the grounds in a blur and landed by the changing rooms, rushing inside amidst cries of anger and relief from his team. He made it out, fully dressed with his broom in hand, just in time. Surrounded by the much larger members of his team, he walked with them onto the field, listening to the cheers for Gryffindor drowning out the Slytherin section, and stood facing Potter.

Imposing in his red robes, Potter stood several annoying inches above him, lazily holding his broom as if this victory was all but guaranteed. His whole team stood with an air of relaxed triumph, and Draco was acutely aware of the desperate anger of his own team. He grasped his broom a little tighter and took a deep breath.

"Finally came out of hiding?" Potter asked. "You look like you've been dead for a week."

"Quite the opposite," Draco drawled, wishing he wasn't breathing so hard. "I've never felt more alive."

Potter opened his mouth to respond, but there was no time. The whistle sounded across the field and they all ascended into the air.

He flew higher than usual, escaping the noise and the teams. The sun burned on his robe and he pulled the hood over his head to shade his eyes. This high up, the stronger winds blew as harshly across his face as when he flew at top speed. Potter circled a few meters below, likewise drawing up his hood.

Normally he'd keep an eye on Potter to make sure he hadn't spotted the snitch, but today he ignored him and scoured the ground instead. A low cheer went up amidst a string of boos, so he knew his team had scored. He stifled a yawn and shook his head again, blinking rapidly. Now that his adrenalin burst was fading, he felt the lack of sleep creeping up on him. Had it really been three days? Three days of mindless folding and obsessing over the little spark that filled his every thought?

Sweeping over the field for a different angle, he adjusted his hold on his broom and winced. His gloves protected his hands, but papercuts covered every inch of his fingers and palms and they were still bleeding. Under the hot sun, his hands were starting to sweat, and that only made the cuts sting worse.

Another score and a faint cry of cheating from below. He flew around the field again and spotted Potter just beneath him, doing the same.

And then they both saw the tiny glint of light near the ground.

Like eagles, they dove so fast and so close that they seemed to touch, their robes mingling in the air as they plummeted towards the earth. The snitch turned and veered to the left, and both of them veered with it, turning so hard that Draco nearly slipped from his broom, but he didn't lose an inch. Potter fell behind just a bit, his heavier weight dragging him down, but soon he drew even again. The snitch went higher at an angle, nearly striking a Slytherin beater, and the two Seekers followed after as if there were no obstacles. The beater had no time to foul Potter, realizing he was in the way only as they zipped by on either side of his head.

Draco turned hard after the snitch. They were so close now. He gripped his broom and put out his hand just as Potter did, both of them straining forward. Potter began to inch ahead, and a deep sense of despair washed over Draco, history repeating itself over and over as if it was destined he would always lose, when all it would take was just a tiny bit more speed, that extra push--

His hand clasped the snitch.

In his surprise, he nearly flew out of the field. Stopping just at the boundary, he sat and stared in wonder at the golden ball in his hands still flapping its wings. He looked up at Potter, who hovered beside him, their wide eyes meeting in mutual surprise. Potter had been closer, but for the first time Draco had been faster.

Only when he stepped off his broom and felt his team close around him, nearly battering him in their joy, did he realize that their applause was muted, with only the Slytherin house cheering and the rest of the crowd only politely clapping. And then a rough hand fell on his shoulder and steered him away from the field and his team, almost dragging him off to the side. He looked up at Madame Hooch's stern face, then down at something clasped in her fist.

A writhing paper dragon.

Draco heard the announcer saying something about cheating, "which wouldn't be surprising from the Slytherin team," and a cold fist gripped his heart just like Hooch's hand around the dragon.

"There's a whole flight of these things in the library," she said in clipped tones. "Madam Pince says they suddenly flew in the moment you appeared. Care to explain what you've been doing while you were missing classes?"

Not now, he thought, now that I finally have this win in my hand. He tipped his head up and took a deep breath. "I'm not sure what you want me to explain," he said, his voice steadier than he'd expected. "I caught the snitch, not a paper dragon."

"A dragon?" she asked, holding her captive paper toy up to her face. "So that's what it is. I rather thought it looked like a deformed bird." She looked back down at him, undaunted as his team came and stood behind him. "How did you know it was a dragon? What were you doing in the library?"

"Is there a problem?"

Draco could have breathed a sigh of relief as the head of his house appeared at his side. While he dreaded the explanation he'd have to give about missing classes, Professor Snape's irate eyes were for the moment settled on the furiously flapping dragon.

Madame Hooch held it up for his inspection and explained how Madam Pince was in an uproar trying to clear hundreds of dragons from her library and how she had caught Pansy Parkinson before she could escape, wresting the information out of her that Draco Malfoy had suddenly appeared with a flight of these origami dragons flying around his head. They all glanced up at the school and spotted a flurry of motion as dragons soared out an open window, spreading across the sky in all directions, some to Hogsmeade, some to the lake, and some flying towards the field.

Poor Pansy, Draco thought, but he couldn't be too sympathetic when she'd jeopardized their win.

"Suddenly appeared?" Snape took the dragon from her hand and took a closer look. "Blood..." he whispered so lowly that only Draco could hear him.

"Do you recognize it?" Hooch asked.

"I think I do," Snape said. "You said there were hundreds of these in the library?"

Madam Hooch nodded. "That's what I was told. Madam Pince sent down a trustworthy student who happened to be in the library at the time."

Only now Draco noticed Granger standing a little off to the side, arms crossed, looking at him like he'd been transfigured into a ferret again. He felt his team's rage welling up but as much as they all wanted to, none of them was stupid enough to take a beater to her face. "Damn mudblood," he mouthed, pleased when she narrowed her eyes, unable to hit him in front of professors.

"Then I can reassure you that he did not cheat," Snape said, his smile cold and triumphant as he glanced at Granger before looking back at Hooch. "Mr. Malfoy merely performed the wish of a thousand dragons."

"A wish?" Hooch asked. "Then it's a charm of some sort?"

"Not at all. It's simply a meditation technique involving the creation of a thousand paper dragons." Snape looked down at Draco, who couldn't help swallowing once reflexively. "I must admit, I'm impressed you found the book detailing this technique. I thought I was the only one who knew about the library's little room."

"I just found it this year," Draco said, wondering how his professor had discovered that room. He hardly knew anything about Snape's past at Hogwarts. If he only found the room now, when he desperately needed a place to hide...

"Well," Hooch said, turning away, "as it's not a cheat, then I congratulate your team on a magnificent win."

Only then did Draco notice the score of 170-0. Those cheers he'd heard before must have been Slytherin goals. He looked back at Granger, whose dawning realization that she had not saved her house from a humiliating loss was revenge enough. Then he remembered he might have an angry professor beside him.

"I...did not realize I'd missed three days," Draco said to Snape. "I'm very sorry for missing classes, sir."

"Shoving that win down McGonagall's throat is apology enough," Snape said. "But for unleashing all of those dragons in the library, a week of detentions with me sorting ingredients."

"Yes, sir." Draco couldn't help his smile. He did that anyway, learning all the qualities of the secret ingredients Snape kept hidden in his office.

Feeling not so much like a cat whose eaten the canary as a snake who's bitten someone in plain sight and gotten away unscathed, he went back with his team to the changing rooms, listening to his team describe how they'd smacked the Weasel with a bludger and scared him off his game, how Gregory had knocked a bludger into the younger Weasel so that she fell off her broom, and how Adrian had scored despite a bludger glancing off his side.

Draco didn't know what made him pause, only that he stopped just at the changing room door and glanced aside at the Gryffindor team trudging past. He didn't care about the rest of them but he stared at Potter as he walked, gaze locked on the ground. Feeling he was being watched, Potter looked up and stopped, staring back.

His eyes were greener than the Slytherin colors, Draco thought. And he had such a look of defiance, even though he'd been defeated, that Draco smiled. The mutual look of pained loss on the faces of the redheads was satisfying, but this look of anger, rage even, that refused to concede or admit that he was beaten...that was wonderful. A last dragon, winding about serpent-like in the air, floated down between them and then up again, heading for the clouds.

"Couldn't win without cheating?" Potter said, gripping his broom so hard that his fingers turned white.

"Hardly cheating," Draco said. Something wriggled in his hand and he remembered that he hadn't let go of the snitch yet. He brought it up so he could study it; although he'd stolen it out of the hands of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, he'd never savored a win like this before. Its wings fluttered fast, straining to escape, and it shone like a star between his fingers. Even though it had been caught, it refused to admit defeat, trembling in his hand with furious excitement.

"Yes," he said softly, "catching you was worth three days." And with one more smile at Potter, he let the snitch go. Both of them watched it wing into the air, looping around the dragon a few times before disappearing into the sun.