He thought that it was the height of irony that one of the few places he felt safe anymore had been the site of one the most terrifying events of his childhood. That was before he knew what real monsters were.
Of course, he'd been there that night too, feeding off the one beautiful thing you can find in the forest.
Draco shivered against the night air. It was only mid-October and already too cold to be out without his winter robes, but that would require a trip home and at least a night in the Manor with his parents. He just wasn't ready to deal with them or their pleas for him not to return to school, any more than he was ready to deal with the reason he was out here almost every night.
The Castle held too many bad memories for him and was creating new ones every day. He was the one who had insisted on going back and finishing despite how reviled he was, how much of an outcast. But his stubbornness was losing out to his loneliness day by day. If he went home without shoring up his defenses he wouldn't finish out the year.
He flinched, suddenly aware of the sound of movement in the distance. It wasn't unusual to hear the forest's tiny creatures scurrying through the underbrush or in the canopy of the trees, but this was something decidedly large and fast-moving.
He tuned in his hearing, feeling certain that he would hear hooves hitting the ground. Instead he heard the sound of only two legs running through the brush. If they hadn't taken the path into the forest that probably meant danger and danger meant hiding. He looked for movement in the dark and when he saw a lanky figure heading his way, he dimmed his wand and scooted behind a nearby tree.
He had taken to sitting near the edge of the clearing where Potter had 'died' after he had finally found it a few weeks ago. He didn't know why it was so important to him to find the spot, nor why he felt comforted by it. And, he didn't like to think too much about what might have happened if his mother hadn't saved Potter that night.
The sound of running slowed as the figure came into the moonlight. Draco risked taking a peek, danger or not, he had to know who he had seen running toward him.
He felt his eyes go wide when he caught sight of the figure. It was Neville Longbottom. He was standing in the center of the clearing looking up at the moon as it continued to rise in the night sky. Draco moved quietly from his hiding place, careful to keep himself in the shadows. He was a good 10 yards away, but the light of the moon was almost directly above them. He could clearly see Longbottom from his vantage point, the look on the man's face as he stared into the sky was nothing less than ecstatic.
Draco opened his mouth to speak, nothing but a puff of air making it out as his voice froze in his throat. His mouth was still gaping open as Longbottom's shirt hit the ground. The man had ripped it off, buttons flying and flung it as far away from his body as possible.
Draco questioned if this was really happening or if it was just a dream. Not that he'd had dreams about Longbottom, but half-naked men, well.. those dreams were pretty frequent.
Draco closed his mouth as Longbottom's trousers began to get the same treatment as his shirt. He felt heat rise in his face as he became instantly aroused. It was then that he noticed it. The man's feet were bare and bleeding. He stepped forward, obviously whatever was going on he needed help.
A sound escaped Longbottom that could have been a whimper, but it was so..so inhuman.
Draco had tried his best to keep his head down and his nose clean since returning to school. He'd seen Longbottom in passing and had heard in the press about the scars on his face. Supposedly they had been the result of torture, but he could see know that the scars didn't stop at his face. In fact, they traveled down the side of his face and neck all the way down to his shoulder and upper torso.
When the howl came, Draco's blood ran cold. The sound was horrific, only surpassed by the scream that followed as Longbottom fell to his knees. Muscle and sinew popping and cracking as it reformed.
He was going to die.
Another scream tore through the night as Longbottom's skin stretched painfully around his growing limbs. This was his chance, if he could make it to the school before Longbottom had completed the transformation he might survive the night.
He took off, only to hesitate when he heard a growl and saw Longbottom's head turn toward him. His eyes were bright amber glinting in the moonlight. They would have been beautiful had they not been the portent of Longbottom's change into something no longer human.
He began moving again, picking up his pace when Longbottom's screams morphed into a howl.
He legs and arms were pumping as he followed the path back to the castle. He briefly considered veering off the path, but the rough terrain would slow him down a great deal more than it had Longbottom and he didn't want to get lost.
He knew the path, he would stick to the path.
Of course, that didn't mean the thing that Longbottom had become would follow the same rule. He heard the crashing sound of something going through the underbrush again. It had to be Longbottom, but it could be a centaur too, perhaps coming to his rescue. If he stopped to look and it was Longbottom, he'd never make it and if it was a centaur, at least someone would be there if Longbottom attacked.
He was breathing hard as his body worked. His lungs burned as the cold air flowed in and out quickly and his eyes were growing bleary from the cold and the terror coursing through him. He needed to press on though if he were going to make it.
The creature was close. It couldn't be more than a few yards behind him by the sound of its feet slapping the ground. It howled again. The tenor one of victory, not pain.
This was it, he was done for.
He knew it.
It attacked from the side, knocking him a good two yards before he landed hard, the creature rolling with him through the weeds and brambles. He felt a brier skate across the skin of his face and closed his eyes tight to protect them. They finally came to a stop, both breathing hard. Longbottom's breath reeked as it fogged the air around them and his body was sending out an incredible amount of heat.
At some point he'd grabbed the creature as they tumbled and his fingers were still tangled in the fur on his back. He felt it pull back against the death grip he had, so he released the creature, hoping against hope that now the chase was over it would be on its way.
Once some of the pressure lifted off his body Draco tried to scoot back using his legs and elbows against the moist ground beneath him, but froze when he heard a very low growl. He looked up as Longbottom huffed a frustrated breath at him and snuffled.
God, his breath reeked! His breath? He'd heard Professor Snape once say that Wolfsbane was easily detectable by its distinctly foul odor. If he'd had Wolfsbane, maybe he would listen to reason.
"Longbottom," he wheezed, then swallowed to wet his dry throat and tried again, "Longbottom, it's me, Malfoy." Another low growl issued from the creatures throat. That was not the reaction he had hoped for. He risked catching the creature's eyes as it continued to hover above him. He'd kept his eyes low as to not challenge the beast, but he needed to see if there was any recognition there.
He seemed to be looking at Draco's hair, bringing his eyes to meet Draco's as he stilled. The amber eyes were glowing in the dark. He could make a distinctly canine snout filled with teeth, a fur covered torso that looked much leaner and stronger than Longbottom appeared his daily life and pointy ears.
"Longbottom?" He whispered softly, imploring the creature to understand him.
The amber eyes softened and Draco took a breath. There was some understanding there at least. "It's alright. I just want to get up, okay?" He spoke the words slowly maintaining eye contact and keeping his voice as soft as possible.
The creature pulled its weight off of him coming into a crouch. Draco moved very slowly up to his elbows, using his legs to pull himself into a sitting position. He didn't think standing right away would be a good move, so he stayed like that wetting his lips quickly as he continued to maintain eye contact.
"Can I..um." He didn't quite know what to ask. If he asked to leave would the creature chase him down or follow him to the castle? Just because it seemed to recognize him didn't mean the creature could be trusted and if got in the castle because of him. An image of Bill Weasley's face popped into head and he felt sick to his stomach. Longbottom's scars had been the same. How could he not have noticed it?
He must have lost eye contact with the creature because it moved causing him to startle slightly. He instinctively brought a hand up for protection. The creature halted sniffing at the hand before licking the palm. He would like to say it was disgusting, but something about the moment struck him and huffed out a laugh, his eyes meeting the creatures again as it lifted its head from his palm.
Maybe if it wanted to make friends? He reached forward slowly, "It's alright. I won't hurt you." He said in the same low, calm voice he used before. The creature let out a warning sound that wasn't so much a growl as a rumble, so he moved very slowly till his hand touched the scruff of the creature's neck. When he received no protest he patted it softly.
The fur felt softer as he patted it than it had when he had a death grip on it moments before, "Good, yeah, that's good." The dog responded with a small sigh, which he found encouraging, so he started to reach forward with his other hand to pet along the other side of his neck. Perhaps when the creature calmed it would fall asleep. He'd always heard that transformations were exhausting and that it took several days to fully recover.
He and the creature both startled at the sound of voices. There were at least 3 different people talking in low voices along the path. He could see the light of their wands now and debated calling out. They might get to him in time, but if they didn't and the creature became angry. He pulled his hand away as the creature came up from its crouch, though still somewhat bent and looked toward the moving light.
"He sees us," a voice said as the procession came to a halt. Draco looked to the light and back to Longbottom, who was once again breathing harshly. Draco could see his muscles tense preparing to attack or flee, he wasn't sure which. He could make out the distinct outline of Granger against the light. If she was out here, so were Weasley and Potter.
Draco felt relief wash over him. At the very least they would try to save him.
"Neville?" Granger's voice asked softly. A low growl issued from the creature that surprised the trio as much as it did Draco. He could hear Potter and Weasley whispering to each other. He wondered if they could even see him through the underbrush. The bit they had tumbled through was beaten down, but several sprigs had popped back up already.
He had his answer when Potter asked, "Malfoy, are you hurt?"
He didn't know if he should answer, but decided that it was best to at least give them a reply in case they decided they should be in some rush to save him and end up getting them all killed.
"No," he said tentatively, looking to the creature as he said the words in case it provoked a reaction.
"Okay, just stay where you are. We're going to try and reason with him." Potter said maintaining a low and even tenor to his voice.
They risked taking a few more steps forward halting when another growl issued from the creature.
"Neville, it's alright, it's me Hermione. We just need to get you someplace safe. We won't hurt you."
Granger had been walking the entire time she spoke keeping her hands in plain sight as Potter and Weasley stayed a step to two behind. Longbottom tilted his head as though he were attempting to understand what she was saying, but turned his head back and issued another growl when she was near the edge of the path.
She stopped her movement. "Neville, we need to get you back to the dungeon. You'll be safe there and your food is there, remember?" She spoke slowly as Potter and Weasley fanned out behind her. Draco could tell they were making a net in case Longbottom tried to make a run for it.
Longbottom did not like the movement at all swishing his head side to side to keep an eye on them, becoming more and more agitated.
He opened his mouth to tell them to stop, but froze when the creature's face turned to meet his. He closed his mouth tight breathing hard and hoping against hope that it would kill him outright instead of turning him into a monster.
The creature lifted his leg and Draco readied for attack only to feel wet heat soaking through his clothes. The creature was peeing on him. "Ugh!" He shouted, moving back on his hands and heels to get away from the spray.
He swore that he heard Weasley laugh as two voices cast, Petrificus Totalus!"
The stream of urine stopped as the creatures arms and legs came together, rather painfully, if the look on its face was any indication and fell to the ground. The amber eyes met Draco's for a just a moment before the creature passed out.
He jumped up, using a tree he'd hit in his scurry to retreat to regain his balance as Granger, Potter and Weasley walked warily toward him. "He's out. I think." Draco offered, as he looked over the creature's face to see if there was any indication of awareness.
"Malfoy, are you sure you're not hurt?" Potter said, as he came alongside the creature using the tip of his wand to look it over.
"I think I'm a little bruised up, but I'm more concerned that he pissed on me. Only a bite can spread the infection, right Granger? Not just any body fluid?"
Granger was standing at the creature's head biting her lip as she looked down at it. "Only a bite, Malfoy. You should be fine, though you will want to wash as soon as we get to the castle."
"Yes, I'd rather not return to the Slytherin Common Room covered in urine." He replied frostily, as he noticed a smile creep across Weasley's face. He desperately wanted to say something to the man, but between his parent's upcoming trial and his already abysmal reputation at the school, he decided instead to keep his mouth shut.
"We should get him back to the dungeon. I'd like to draw some blood and see what went wrong." Granger said, as she used her wand to levitate Longbottom's body.
"What?" Okay, so holding his tongue was not going to happen after all, "You're experimenting on him. Are you mad?" He asked, angry for some reason.
Granger and Potter both had looks of shock on their faces, while Weasley stepped forward warningly. "We're not the ones that hurt him. That was your lot. We," Weasley pointed to his own chest, "are trying to help him."
"Malfoy," Granger said, raising her voice over Weasley's, "this change was forced on Neville and we're working on creating a Wolfsbane potion for him."
"Professor Snape made it for Lupin, surely you've looked to see what his notes said."
Granger looked at him considering, "Yes, and they have been helpful, but the potion is difficult and we've not got it quite right yet."
"Oh," He stated, feeling nervous. He decided that he just wanted to get as far away from this situation as possible. The less trouble he was in or around the better it would be for him and his family.
"Well, good luck." He said quietly as he started to walk back to the path.
"You won't tell anyone will you?" Potter asked. Of course Potter asked, he was one of the main witnesses for his parents and they all owed him a life debt. "I'm not exactly dying to rush back and tell everyone I got pissed on by a dog am I. No, I won't tell anyone." He said through gritted teeth.
He heard a quiet, "Thanks," come from Potter as he stepped on the path and turned toward the castle.
The only Prefect's bathroom that would open for him was in the dungeon. He tried every other one he could easily make it to, without running afoul of teachers or other Prefect's, before giving up and coming down here. He had no problem with the dungeon's accommodations, but he didn't want to be accused of spying should he run into the "Trio". (God! Even he was calling them that now.)
He hadn't been a Prefect since sixth year. It wasn't that he didn't have the title seventh year, it was that the castle refused to recognize the spell marking him as such. Snape had tried to explain it has some sort of psychic interference from the student's at the school. But he had known in his heart the school blamed him the death of its Headmaster and was not going to reward him for taking him away.
After the brush with death he'd experienced he was feeling, well, a little high from the adrenaline rush of the chase. He'd never been one for danger. Oh, he'd been in many dangerous situations, but he always had someone to save him. Tonight, he'd been on the way to saving himself. It made him proud that for once he'd made his own decisions and they had been the right ones.
He turned on the bath as he sat a towel next to the deep tub. He put his wand on the side table. He would try to do a cleaning spell on his clothes after he got out. If it didn't work, he could explain stopping for a bath and coming into the Slytherin dorm in a robe easier than covered in grass stains and animal urine.
He slipped into the steaming water slowly. His feet and hands were still icy cold and the hot water caused them to ache as the blood rushed back. He grimaced when he saw that his ribs were starting to bruise. He looked over all his sore spots. One knee would definitely bruise as well as his elbow. It was then that he remembered the brier hitting his cheek. He splashed the water on his face and saw pink trickle into the bath.
Well, anyone could walk into a brier. If anyone even bothered to notice the mark. Maybe he would visit Pomfrey in the morning and see if she would give him something to help him heal faster. He slid lower in the water to wet his hair. He didn't think any urine had made it into his hair, but there were some sprigs of grass from their tumble through the brush.
That's when he heard it. The howl again. It made him sit up in the tub quickly, splashing water over the rim. It was in the dungeon, of that he was certain but the sound seemed so distant. Probably some combination or a silencing and dislocation spell that Granger had come up with.
Draco supposed the creature was probably calling for his pack. There would be no werewolf to answer his call, they were all dead or in Azkaban while the Ministry decided what to do with them.
Several, including Granger had made a stink about it, but in the name of public safety the Ministry prevailed and the public had followed. Greyback's plan had failed miserably. He and his pack were all locked in Azkaban and in all likelihood would never see the freedom they desired. He wondered if they were given wolfsbane on the full moon or just left to go mad in their cells.
The creature howled again, calling. He could sympathize. He was alone too. He lifted his head and opened his mouth, imitating the howl. He wondered if the sound would even make it out of the bathroom. He listened closely and had almost given up on an answer when he heard it.
This howl had a different tenor, not quite so desperate perhaps? Draco shook his head at his own madness. Howling at a werewolf. What was he thinking? The creature howled again. This time the sound was more like the first howl. Well, if he was mad, he supposed howling was called for. He howled again, louder and longer this time. He smiled to himself. That one was much closer to the sound the werewolf made.
The response came much quicker this time. It was the same joyous howl that the wolf had made while chasing him down. He responded trying to imitate the wolf's tenor as he finished cleaning his body. The returning howl ended mid-way. Perhaps he was being too loud and they had cast a muffilato?
He was just balancing his weight on his arms to lift himself out of the tub, when the bathroom door flew open. He slipped back in the water, half out of shock and half out of propriety as Potter came rushing in. "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing Malfoy?" He screamed stomping toward Draco.
Draco brought his knees up to his chest to hide himself, "Taking a bath you idiot. Get out!"
"You got him all stirred up! Mione had to inject him with a sleeping draught to keep him from hurting himself, you ass!"
Draco felt his face fall. He hadn't meant to upset the creature, only to..to..he shook his head at his own foolishness. "I'm sorry. I wasn't..I thought he sounded lonely." His voice had started off frantic and high pitched, but had lowered to just above a whisper by the time the last words were out.
Potter was only a few feet away as Draco finished his sentence, stopping he turned his back on Draco and ran his hands through his hair. "Yeah, he probably is, but the last thing he needs is you upsetting him." Potter's hands went to his hips as he kept his back to Draco.
"Fine." Draco replied coldly, hoping the conversation was over.
"Another thing Malfoy," Potter started, but Draco beat him to it. "I'm not going to tell anyone I already told you!"
Potter turned back around looking less angry and maybe a bit contrite, "I know Malfoy, you said you wouldn't and I believe you, but don't use it against him either. He's doing his best to deal with this and if you're going to mess with him about it.."
"I'm not going to do anything, I'll leave him be," he seethed. "Now, if you would kindly do the same so I could finish my bath."
Potter huffed at him. God, Draco owed the man his life, but sometimes he wished...he could..just once. But, Vince was gone and Greg hadn't come back to school and he really didn't have the stomach for violence, so he just sat back in the tub turning his eyes forward and ignoring Potter as he stomped away.