Several days later, when the excitement of Christmas of nearly died down, an owl arrived at Draco's window as he was about to go downstairs for an early breakfast. Creeping down the hall softly so as not to wake his parents, he knocked on Harry's door.
"Hey Harry," he whispered. "Harry!"
"What?" He mumbled, rolling over without opening his eyes.
"Harry, I got a letter from Cedric."
"'s great… can I go back to sleep now?"
"He wants me to meet my cousin this afternoon, but," he said with a glance over his shoulder, "I don't want my parents to know. Do you think you can make up an excuse for me?"
"Yeah, yeah," he sighed and pulled the sheets over his head.
Draco looked down at his feet to see Sirius in dog form.
"Well at least you're with me. And know how to get up early. Sometimes anyway." He brushed his head. "Come on, let's go. We can explore London before meeting Cedric. Unless you'd rather hang out with Rem at your place?" Sirius barked. "Well alright then!"
They flooed to the Wizarding part of London first, tumbled out in to the Cauldron and did a brisk bit of shopping in Diagon Alley. It was still cold and icy enough that the streets were relatively deserted, the wave of shoppers returning gifts that 'weren't quite right' long gone by now. Most of the stores were pushing discounted Christmas wares and didn't have all that much to draw his attention, but he still lingered as so many of his age did in front of the brooms.
"I really should think about trying out for Quidditch next year. What do you think?" A couple of barks. "I know, I meant to this year. Everything got so busy, though, and I'm not really sure any slots on the team even opened up. Suppose I could ask Cedric about it though. He might have some advice on what I would be good at."
Eventually he found himself, as he normally did, inside of the Magical Menagerie. His parents normally bustled him out of there rather quickly – probably, he guessed, because they suspected that if he lingered too long, he would bring home something else. He smiled to himself; they were probably right about that. Since they were not there, though, he was free to browse at his leisure, even if he had to restrain himself from looking at prices and thinking about where he might stash a couple of fire crabs or a flock of half a dozen diricrawls.
Sirius whuffed alongside him, sniffing at each of the cages – or at least the ones that didn't appear to contain dangerous specimens. The only cage that neither of them lingered too long in front of was the one with the rats. For a moment, Draco trembled; it did not do to forget that Peter was out there, plotting his next move – whatever that might be. It was a dark spot of foreboding at an otherwise happier time, a reminder that even if they were slowly figuring out how Voldemort had survived all these years, he was surely up to something to with a servant at his beck and call.
His enthusiasm for animals suddenly waned and he walked out of the shop with a curt nod at the shopkeeper. It was nearly noon anyway, almost time to rendezvous with Cedric and his cousin. But as they moved towards the path out of Diagon Alley and into London proper, he looked down at Sirius.
"I'll find him again, I swear it. And when I do, he's a dead man."
Sirius halted, then paused and licked Draco's hand.
He could see the hurt in his eyes and understood it fully; he wanted Peter to die as well. But it horrified him to think that it would be at Draco's hand, afraid that even if it seemed the right course of action, the doing of it would still mark Draco.
Emerging into London proper drove away such ideas, however. The city was always bustling, at any time of the year or day, and Draco had to take a moment to get his bearings. His sense of direction was almost as good as the thestrals he loved to ride so much, but something about being in a city seemed to dull and throw him off.
Ultimately, he was slightly late in reaching his destination, and puffed as he hurried up to Cedric and a young woman sitting at the table.
"Sorry I'm late, got a bit turned around."
"Quite alright." He turned and gestured to the girl. "Draco Malfoy, meet your cousin Tonks. Tonks – meet Draco Malfoy."
"So you're Cissy's little anklebiter," she grinned. "Haven't seen a picture of you since you were a baby." She shook his hand with a slightly manic enthusiasm.
"You saw a picture of me as a baby?"
"Yeah, only letter think mum ever got from her sister. Said that her desire to brag about you overcame her distate for the person the letter was going to."
"Oh." He felt embarrassed and didn't quite know where to go next.
"So Draco's a Hufflepuff!" Cedric interjected, pulling up a seat for him.
"I heard!" She laughed. "How'd that go over?"
"Better than I thought," he admitted, taking the menu Cedric offered and looking it over. "I thought they would be furious, but mostly they seemed worried. Especially mum. I think she believes that getting into Hufflepuff has ruined all my chances."
"Well that's silly." She sipped the tea the waiter had already brought her. "I'll have you know that I got through school just fine and I'm doing Auror training."
"You're an Auror? Really?" Draco's mouth hung slightly open.
"Impressive, right?" Cedric agreed. "So cheers to you Tonks," he said, lifting his own cup.
"Thanks," she laughed as they clinked, "but maybe you should save your congratulations for when it's actually official. Not sure I'm going to survive the training, especially since I have Mad-Eye as my trainer. That, and I'm super clumsy. Surprised I haven't managed to break this cup yet."
"She's exaggerating," Cedric grinned. "Besides, she's got other talents that would make up for being even the biggest bull in a china shop."
"Can't show you here," she whispered, "but I'm a metamorphmagus. Means I can take on anybody's appearance, any time I like."
"Really?" Draco's eyebrows shot up. "So you can look like anybody you choose?"
She nodded. "Dead useful for wanting to be an Auror. I just have to make sure I can scrape by with everything else."
"So being a Hufflepuff didn't really hold you back at all."
She shook her head. "I'm proud of my house, just like Cedric is. And you should be too, no matter what your parents or anybody else might think."
"I know. I am. It's just that… sometimes I think my housemates don't even like me."
"He was getting some pretty rough treatment from some of the others in his year."
"Just one really. Zacharias Smith," he admitted. "He's convinced that I'm dark just because… I mean, I suppose his suspicions might not be entirely unfounded but still! It's just not… it isn't…"
"Fair?" Tonks finished for him. "Well forget him, Draco, and you'll be better off for it. His father's an arrogant arse too. Besides, according to Cedric you've got some pretty good friends to back you up. I hear your thick as thieves with the harry Potter, is that right?"
"Oh yeah, Harry and I, we're pals." He nodded.
"So what's he like?" Tonks whispered. "Everything The Prophet says he is?"
Draco grimaced. "Not that I read it, but probably not. He's fun. Likes to get into trouble like I do. Brave like a Gryffindor ought to be, but really loyal too. Mostly though, he's just a regular person," he said with a shrug. "I don't think all the fame or any of that surround him has really affected him. Though it makes things hard for him too sometimes. Makes him a target of gossip and sometimes worse."
"I'm sure you heard about the whole Chamber business?" Cedric asked. "At one point they were pointing the finger at Harry. Draco too."
"Yeah, I heard some whispers. Dumbledore got temporarily sacked for that, didn't he?"
"By my father, no less," Draco whispered.
"So who was it?"
"It was… complicated." Draco looked away. "A friend of mine… there was a book…"
"Dark magic," Cedric added. "A mutual friend of Harry's and Draco's got possessed. "
"Does this mutual friend have a name?" She looked back and forth between them. "Or would it be rude to ask?"
The waiter came up before Draco could answer and they paused the conversation to give their orders. When they all turned back, Draco broke in before Tonks could continue.
"So what's my family like?" He flushed. "I'm sorry I've never met your mum and dad. I'd really like to though."
She shrugged. "Like you said, they're pretty average people. Well, apart from the fact that their nauseatingly in love." She rolled her eyes. "Can't leave them alone for two seconds and come back without catching them getting up to something. I swear, every surface of the house…"
"I guess our mothers aren't so different then," Draco mused with a slight smile. "I can't tell you how many times I've come down for dinner to find her and my dad necking in the corner."
"Lucius?" She sputtered. "Necking?"
Draco flushed a little. "Well I don't see why it's that funny."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she waved. "It's just… wow. Lucius Malfoy. There's an image I never thought I'd have in my mind."
"He's not that bad!" Draco sighed. "He cares about me, he does! And my mum."
She nodded. "Look, I know our mother's had a falling out. But if he loves you, if you're sure he does… well, I guess they can't be all bad then, no matter what kind of a past they had. The other sister, though," she shuddered, "that's a different story all together."
"Aunt Bellatrix?" He whispered. "I know of her, at least. But mum really doesn't like to talk about her much either."
"She's a certified crazy bitch," Tonks spat.
"Tonks!" Cedric hissed.
"Oh, I'm sure he's heard worse," she rolled her eyes. "And anyway, it's true. Completely nutters, that woman. It's probably the only reason she's still alive. Azkaban and the Dementors couldn't unhinge her or drive her to death because she was already messed up in the head before they got their hands on her."
"That bad?" Draco whispered.
"The worst. I don't know how much history you guys get to in school – knowing Binns, you're probably still mucking your way through the medieval Goblin Wars – but out of all the Death Eaters who got caught and went to prison, she was one of the absolute worst." She looked down as she took another bite. "Moody says that she was one of the most vicious people he'd ever seen, that she relished using the Cruciatus Curse." She paused for a moment and her upbeat nature grew morose. "It was what she used to torture the Longbottoms into madness."
"Madness?" He dropped his fork. "But I thought… I didn't know they were still alive."
"If you can call it that," she whispered, shaking her head. "Moody visited once in the ward at St. Mungo's. Said he didn't want to forget the sacrifice." She put down her sandwich. "Mother told me she was vicious even as a child, that she tormented her and even Narcissa, and that it only grew worse as they got older. Whatever difference might exist between our families, at least your mum is nowhere near as bad as Bella."
Draco shuddered. "She never had any kids, though, right?"
"Not to my knowledge." She picked up her sandwich again. "She was married, but I don't believe she ever cared for her husband. At least that's what Moody says. Besotted with You-Know-Who, he claims."
Draco made a face. "With him? That's revolting."
"I would agree, but like I said – she's completely mental." She shook her head. "But I don't want to spoil a nice day like today talking about Bella. Have you mom and dad been well at least?"
"Yeah, they're okay." He smiled weakly. "At least until the next time I get myself petrified or poisoned or in some other kind of trouble. Dad had to go halfway across the globe to find the mandrakes after that run in with the basilisk, and in the end I think they were more affected by it than I was."
"What was it like being Petrified?"
"Like a nap. A long nap with really weird dreams."
"You dreamt? I didn't at all," Cedric finally interjected. "I was outside of the greenhouses with you before I saw the eyes and everything went dark. And the next thing I knew I was awake in the infirmary with everybody else."
"Probably different for everybody," Tonks speculated. "I don't think there's a whole lot known about it, since a basilisk is much more likely to kill than petrify."
"We all got very lucky," Draco nodded.
"So how's Professor Sprout doing these days?"
"Doing well." Draco grinned. "Although I think I drive her a little bit crazy."
"You and me both kid!" She laughed. "We really must be family." She wiped her mouth with a napkin and smiled. "Don't know how you got so responsible Cedric. Feel like I've failed in my duty."
"I say the same thing about Theo," Draco grinned. "But now that we're done," he dropped his voice, "do you think I could see you shift?"
"Of course!" She took the receipt. "My treat," she insisted, "and then we can head over."
Stopping at Florean's for dessert, she changed her nose into a snout, then a bill, then changed her whole face to look like Moody's.
"That's fantastic!" Draco laughed as her features settled back into their original form. "Does it run in families? Do you think I could become a metamorphmagus one day?"
"I think you're out of luck kid," she grimaced while taking a lick of a peppermint cone. "It usually shows up when you're young."
"Oh." He seemed slightly crestfallen.
"But you could always become an Animagus the traditional way."
Draco fought a grin as Sirius nudged his leg. "I suppose I could. Although it's a little disappointing to be limited to one animal instead of being able to change into whatever I like."
"Well, don't be too disappointed. I really can't change into an animal, just switch a feature or two around. Overall I still look mostly human."
"That was more than enough to cause trouble, though," Cedric reminisced. "Remember that time Snape caught you impersonating him?"
She laughed. "I ended up scrubbing cauldrons for the better part of a month for that one! But the look on his face made it all worth it."
Draco snickered and even Sirius chimed in with a few barks.
But what about you, Ced? We've been talking each other's' ears off about our families, but I'd love to hear how you're doing too."
"Other than getting petrified? Not a whole lot. Quidditch, although the whole basilisk incident has probably thrown a wrench in that for the year."
"Don't say that, Ced! You're a fantastic Seeker and we're not that far behind."
"I'd have thought you'd be cheering for Harry," Cedric smirked.
"I do kind of wish you could both win. But, if it's got to be one or the other… I'd like to see our House get it," he blushed.
"Same here," Tonks nodded. "Build up the 'Puff reputation a little, show 'em how it's done. Have you ever thought about going pro?" She asked, picking bits of peppermint candy out of the ice cream.
"I don't know," he shrugged, working away at his egg nog ice cream. "It still seems like a really long way off."
"Or you could become an Auror like Tonks!" Draco enthusiastically suggested. "I mean, not that you couldn't do really well at Quidditch. But being an Auror…"
"I do want to be one, but don't believe the hype," she warned Draco. "Most of the time it's routine stuff, and the rest of the time… well, you don't really want there to be a rest of the time. It seems exciting, but sometimes I worry that I'm going to end up like Mad-Eye, with a face full of scars and a head full of nightmares."
"So why did you become an Auror?"
"With my talents, it seemed like an appropriate choice. And I…" She hesitated. "I mean, I don't want to make it seem like I'm picking on you. But knowing my family tree, I felt like I should, you know…"
"Make up for it?" He finished her sentence as she had done his.
"Yeah, that." She sighed. "Plus, something tells me we're going to need Aurors, you know? Everybody thinks Moody's going round the bend, but let me tell you, I've worked with him a while now and he's no slouch. And he thinks it's not over. That there's been a lull, but the battle is still going on."
Draco looked down at Sirius. "I don't think that's silly at all."
"Don't expect you would." She finished the last of her cone and gave him a long steady look. "I heard about what you two did at the end of last year, almost getting yourselves killed. Heard you saw him."
Draco and Cedric both paled a shade.
"Yeah," Cedric admitted. "We did."
"He's not gone," Draco whispered. "Everybody acts like he is, but he's not. And as long as there's something of him left, he's going to keep trying to get back to what he was."
Tonks made a face. "It's all well and good to joke about Binns, but sometimes I think we forget too quickly. Nobody wants to talk about the war most of the time; everybody just acts like they're glad it's over. They don't even want to consider the possibility that it might not be, not even a lot of the Aurors." She shook her head. "Sorry, rant over. I really don't mean to keep doing that."
"It's okay," Cedric reassured her. "You're worried. And I think you have a right to be. But we'll do our best to keep safe."
"You better!" She playfully punched him as they got up from the table. "You're not Gryffs, you know," she teased, "and I don't want to keep losing sleep over you."
Draco laughed with them, but with a quick look at Cedric, motioned them into one of the alleys.
"What's the matter Draco?" Cedric asked.
"Tonks, you said that Moody thinks something is up?"
She nodded. "Yeah. He's been real uneasy, especially with all of the commotion coming out of Hogwarts lately. Not to mention the fact that Peter Pettigrew is still at large."
Draco nodded. "Well, there's something that you should know about the basilisk incident. But you have to keep this a bit of a secret alright?"
"Sure," she nodded. "If you like. What's the matter?"
"My friends and I…" He looked around to be sure there was nobody else in the area. "Look, it's a long story," he whispered, "but we think that Voldemort has managed to survive by making Horcruxes."
Her eyes widened. "Plural? As in he made multiples?"
"The thing my friend got possessed by… that was one. And I can't say much about it now, but we found and destroyed a second."
"Draco!" Cedric gasped.
"We think he may have made as many as seven and we're trying to figure it all out but it's hard because we're kids and we can't… I mean, there's a lot of places we just can't go, questions we can't ask. So I was thinking that if you're in the Auror department, maybe you could check some things out."
She studied him for a moment and chewed on her lip.
"I think you and your friends need to meet Mad-Eye."
A/N: So have an update, in honor of Draco's birthday (slightly belatedly). And Tom Felton winning for best villain no less! I thought that was pretty fantastic, I have to say. :)