Title: Veiled, as a Monster
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Horror, creature!fic (werewolves), angst, violence, gore, OC character deaths and bloody animal death, surreal imagery.
Summary: Harry, an experienced werewolf hunter, responds to growing reports of the creatures in the Forbidden Forest. Here, there are twisting stone paths, and a castle at the heart of the Forest whose walls and moats run with blood. And a wolf by the name of Draco Malfoy to lead Harry astray.
Author's Notes: As is obvious from the story's content, this fic is based on the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, but very dark. Heed the warnings.
Veiled, as a Monster
Harry stood before the Forest, and looked at it.
The trees had grown since he had last seen it, or perhaps that was the contrast between his childhood memories, when all trees seemed giants, and his adult one, when he could see their true size. Twisted branches wrapped around each other like dying snakes, barring the entrances to what had been paths. Harry made out patches of fur and skin caught on briars, splashes of blood in the shape of footprints, drops of salty water in which reflections danced that had nothing to do with the world around them.
Harry smiled. Someone had done a good job of changing the Forest to be more threatening still, and it wasn't a glamour. But neither was it precisely real. He knew the taint of that magic, Dark as midnight's abyss, shifting and relentless as time. Some werewolves learned to command and change the land as they changed their bodies, and sent the formless spells flowing forth from their dens to warp the world around them. It wasn't common, but Harry had killed two such royal werewolves, as they called themselves, and he could kill another one.
He touched the red cloak that hung from his shoulders, and then drew it tight around him. He had told his friends that he hunted with it because it was made of a rich scarlet cloth that wouldn't show the blood, but in truth, he used it because it was the proper color for his mood.
He stepped into the Forest, along the one path left open, and the trees writhed shut behind him.
Harry took his wand out of the basket hung over his wrist and cast a reaching stream of light in front of him with Lumos. The magic flowing over him fought the light and then snapped back to a healthy distance. Golden and amber eyes opened up to either side of the path and watched Harry as he walked on.
Harry smiled back at them. Half the eyes closed, and he heard speeding, padding paws, lurching ahead to the castle that the "king" had probably established for himself. In the Forest's influence, they could change shape at all times, whatever the phase of the moon.
The other eyes closed in behind him, and Harry heard the softer and steadier sound of stealthy paws following.
He tilted back his head and touched the scar that ran up the inside of his left arm, then the one that ran up the inside of his right. The shadows flowed back still further, but Harry wasn't sure if that was the expression on his face—faint, confident, a little amused—or if they sensed what lay inside him.
No, not the latter, he decided, as he kept walking and the path still sprawled ahead of him like a slug trail of stone, and the shadows still tracked him. Otherwise, the royal werewolf would have begun to run. And the power would have frayed and tattered around him, rent by his terror.
Harry continued to walk.
"Why did you come here?"
Harry turned his head. His hair stirred around him now as if faint currents caressed it, and his steps had slowed to the point that he fought the air as if it were water. That had all happened before, and he didn't much mind it. He had fought two royal werewolves, and been through his Dark Night; he had felt this three times before.
If anything, the most startling thing about the whole experience was to see that Malfoy was the one who waited with arms folded to the side of the path, naked, his skin shining as though burnished from within by moonlight. The silver scars on his chest gleamed like the ones on Harry's arms. Harry found himself smiling.
Malfoy's face wavered. It could have been uncertainty, it could have been imagination, it could have been the ripples in the air. He took a step nearer, eyes locked on Harry. Harry waited. The stone of the path was cool and firm beneath his feet. He heard the paws following him slow, and the sound of something sinking to its haunches.
"Why did you come here?" Malfoy repeated.
Harry let his cloak fall back and show his weapons in silent answer. All up and down his sides and waist and across his back were belts of leather, linked together, that contained the sheaves of silver knives. He heard the wolves in the shadows recoil.
Malfoy didn't. He stepped near, and let his finger reach out. Harry stood there, permitting him to touch the sheaths that held the knives, and draw one out. The moment his skin touched the silver, it began to blister and smoke. Harry nodded. That answered the question about whether Malfoy was monster or victim here.
Malfoy looked him in the eye. Harry smiled at him again. What big eyes Malfoy has, he found himself thinking, and it was true. Big enough, shining enough, to reflect the forest around them and the golden dots some distance behind Harry and the grey trees that covered the mounds and hills of what might have been a centaurs' dancing ground, once.
They didn't reflect Harry himself. He had found very few mirrors that did, since the Dark Night.
"You won't kill him," Malfoy whispered, a tone shared between lovers of places like this Forest. "No one can. Three hunters have come already, and numerous wolves in the pack have challenged him."
"He's powerful?" Harry asked. Malfoy leaned nearer when he heard the placid, indifferent tone in his voice, and his nostrils flared. Harry wondered if he was sniffing for the scent of fear, or for that of potions that some hunters Harry knew used to give themselves false courage. Harry had never used them. They didn't agree with him.
"Yes," Malfoy whispered. "Why did you think that you could kill him where others had failed?"
"I didn't know they had failed," Harry said honestly. "The Headmistress told me that the Forest near the school was getting dangerous for the children to even play Quidditch beside, and I came here to do what I can to stop it."
Malfoy flinched, as though the names of ordinary places in the real world, outside the shadows, hurt him. Then he dropped the knife back into the sheath and drew away. "Now that you know," he panted, the sides of his head flowing in on each other, "will you leave?"
"No," Harry said. He watched as Malfoy's shape bent and changed further, twisting in on itself like the crooked branches of the trees. He watched as grey embraced Malfoy's body, held it and cradled it, and became the shining silver-white pelt of a wolf. Harry found the color enchanting, like a mirror laid flat on the ground in the light of a full moon. It was the brightest thing here, the palest.
Malfoy kept his human mouth and throat for last, and so he could say, "Then I will lead you." And he turned and padded into the Forest, and Harry came close behind, forsaking the stone path, the open invitation to the royal werewolf's palace and power, for the depths of the dales and shadows.
Behind him, the stealthy paws were still.
They reached the bottom of a small slope, and Harry saw a stream of blood running and foaming before him. He studied it calmly. He had seen such things before, although he had to admit this one was the broadest. And it smoked and shone, and there were black and white caps to the ripples that were impressive.
The shining wolf turned to face him, and its paws rested on the ground for a moment before turning into human hands. In fact, Malfoy's fur fell back in delicate puffs to reveal him as a naked, human-headed wolf from the shoulders down to the waist, where his fur began again. His arms and hands and face were human, and his chest, and Harry looked at the scars on the chest again.
"You must cross the stream without touching it," Malfoy said, his words turning as though dancing around fangs that, as far as Harry could see, weren't there any longer. "And you may not use magic. There is no bridge." He fell silent as abruptly as some of the oracles in old stories, and sat watching Harry.
Harry nodded, and turned to study the Forest behind him. Oily trees, slippery dirt, a trickle of blood running down to join the great river—
And there, a boulder. He reached towards it, hearing Malfoy laugh behind him. He seemed to think that there was no way Harry could lift it without magic. It was as tall as Harry himself, sunk deeply into the earth.
Harry heaved. His shoulders bulged for a moment, and then the roots of the rock broke free, sending dirt raining around them. He turned and threw the boulder into the middle of the stream, hearing his muscles snap and join, enjoying the way the weight in his arms turned suddenly to lightness.
The boulder landed with a splash and roar that made the stream leap into the air. Harry darted back from the drops that would have hit his boots. The blood lapped around the rock, dammed for a moment, and then began to spill past it on either side, forced by the pressure of the blood behind it. The sides of the boulder had begun to steam, Harry noted; the stream was eating away at it.
That didn't matter. Harry held his breath to avoid taking in the acidic, stone-tinged fumes and sprang, landing easily on the boulder and clinging with fingers and toes for a moment, muscles rejoicing at being on all fours. Then he leaped again, and landed on the far bank, safely distant from the blood, shaking himself from head to cloak to make sure that none clung.
He turned in time to see Malfoy leap the river exactly as he was, naked skin and hands and all, and land beside him. His grace was undeniable, and the fangs were back in place as he turned his head and stared at Harry for a long moment.
What big ears you have, Harry thought, watching as the change began there, the sharpness and the fur coming back, so that Malfoy had lupine ears before he had a lupine muzzle. Smooth pelt masked his face, gloved his hands in paws, fell draping to the forest floor. And when Malfoy was a great wolf, bigger this time than he had been, he still stood looking at Harry, waiting for an answer, before he turned and loped on.
Harry followed him, and the trickling of the river faded behind them.
Malfoy paused with his head up, his ears quivering. Harry turned his head, too, and smiled as he heard the subtle thumps coming towards them. Not wolves; they were too heavy for that, too fast. These were creatures who felt less need for subtlety and camouflage than werewolves inherently did.
Malfoy tilted his head up and opened his mouth. No sound came from it for a long moment, however. Then Harry heard the howl, quivering on the edge of what his straining ears could reach—at least, like this—a thin and agonized sound.
A battle cry, he thought, a battle cry that only he could hear because Malfoy expected only Harry's aid.
Malfoy flashed ahead, towards the noise, his tail lifted and his legs pumping like a tiger's. Harry followed him and admired everything from the shaggy area under the tail to the smooth bouncing of his flanks.
The thumping noises increased, and they came around a corner of trees that huddled close together into a slightly broader clearing, thick with grass and gleaming water. Harry saw the water, he smelled horse, and he sensed the centaurs who had reared against the moon for a moment, their hooves lashing out as Malfoy came in low and fast, angling towards the flank of a stallion, then shearing off and striking hard at a mare. She went down with a grunt and groan, and the other centaurs pulled out their bows.
Harry didn't know whether they might be allies or not, but they hadn't done anything to stop the spread of werewolves in the Forest so far, and some of the arrows were aimed at him. He reached into a pouch at his waist, his eyes on the biggest stallion, nearest him.
That stallion stamped and moved closer. The moonlight revealed that his chest was wider than Harry's arms could span, his horse hind half black. He showed flat teeth in a savage grin and lofted his bow.
"You should have left," he said.
Well, that seemed clear enough. Harry drew out the small pipe from the pouch, put it to his mouth, and breathed. There was already a dart in it, and it flew straight and true this time, slamming into the centaur's shoulder. He wavered, but reached up to pluck out the dart and look at it.
"You think this can harm me?" He touched the tiny feathers on the dart and laughed. "You should see how a real arrow is fletched." His bow creaked as he brought it around, and Harry made out the gleam of a well-tended bowstring.
Then the centaur staggered and dropped to his knees as if bowing to Harry. He blinked and kicked, then dropped his hands to the ground, but none of his limbs would support him. He stared up at Harry. Harry smiled, took a step closer, and kicked him in the side of the head to lay him out on the ground. He knew that he didn't have to, but Malfoy was streaking towards them now, and Harry didn't want Malfoy to think that he needed the help.
"What," the centaur whispered, and then died of the poison on the dart.
Harry took a step back and waited. The rest of the herd was fleeing, other than the first mare Malfoy had attacked and a stallion that it looked like he'd hamstrung. Malfoy came to a stop next to him and sniffed at the wound in the shoulder of the stallion that Harry had killed, then looked up at Harry with expressive eyes.
Harry smiled. "I know where to find the best scorpions."
Malfoy didn't pause, but began loping back into the Forest again. There was another stone path ahead of them, Harry saw, and he reckoned the centaurs had tried to block it.
Which made him wonder whose side Malfoy was on, if the centaurs were servants of the king or queen werewolf Harry had come to kill, and so was Malfoy.
But Malfoy had paused and looked over his shoulder, and the transcendence of moonlight on his shoulder made questions like that seem irrelevant. Harry followed him, and the scene of the battle faded behind them.
The ground fell abruptly away under their feet when they had walked perhaps a kilometer past the clearing of the centaurs. Harry caught himself with his hand on the trunk of a slimy tree and looked up, expecting to see the castle or other place of power towering in front of him.
Not up, where there were only more trees standing against the stars, but down, he knew he needed to look after a moment. So he turned his head, and he saw the great valley that he knew had not been there before, scattered with bloody bones.
Harry stared. Malfoy came back to him and nosed at his hand like a dog. Harry looked down into the silver eyes, and anything dog-like vanished from his mind.
Royal werewolves could change the ground about their strongholds. Harry knew this was another sign of it. Stronger than he had ever known, but not unreal.
Malfoy turned and began to pad down into the valley. His flanks flowed like water; so did his strides. He then walked over a small overhang in the side of the slope, beneath Harry's feet, and was lost to sight.
Harry paused. Then he laughed. The sound rang out and died, entombed by the crawling moss on the trunks of the trees.
Did it matter what he found here? He knew his duty. He was going to hunt down and destroy the royal werewolf, and he had already confronted a river of blood. This was not so different. He walked forwards, and caught sight of Malfoy the moment he crossed the overhang. Malfoy had not waited for him, but he did not walk so fast that he would leave Harry behind. It reminded Harry of the way that normal wolves would walk more slowly the first times that they took their pups out on the hunt.
If Malfoy only knew.
Harry increased his pace until they were walking side-by-side. Malfoy never turned to look at him. They continued to move forwards, and the ground under their feet became more and more shapeless, less like earth and more like frozen, purple, mounded lumps. Harry saw his breath in front of him, and little shards of ice formed in the air and fell to the ground, the stars of the forest under trees.
At last the ground smoothed out beneath their feet, leveled. They were in the valley itself, and every footstep they took was on bones.
Harry learned quickly how to walk on them. When they rolled, they would leave brief clear patches, and he would spread his arms and lean forwards. He couldn't walk across skulls, because the small hills they made were too treacherous; he had to go around. He could lean on the enormous shoulder blades, like the skeletons of mammoths, that hunched the ground into piles here and there, and there was support in the most unexpected places from a half-shattered ribcage or a splintered femur stuck into the ground.
They were perhaps halfway across when Malfoy took a detour. He loped towards what looked to Harry like the skull of a rhinoceros, paused with his head on the side, and then struck out in a blurring motion of jaws and paws alike. When he came back, he held a struggling creature, like a rat with wings, but with the long beak of a crow.
Malfoy stood in front of Harry, cradling the little animal in his jaws and watching Harry closely.
Harry watched him back, and then reached out, took the upper and lower halves of Malfoy's muzzle firmly in his fingers, and shut them down on the squealing meal.
Malfoy shook his head, back and forth, hard enough to break necks and snap spines and destroy hope. But when he finished the shaking, despite the tight clamp he and Harry had maintained all the while, the creature was still alive, only with broken wings and a half-severed tail.
Malfoy dropped it to the ground, used his teeth to tear a shallow wound in its side, and began eating it out there. Harry watched the twisted ropes of meat sliding down the white fur, the blood on it like shadow on snow, and thought, What big teeth you have.
It happened between one moment and another. Malfoy had a human head and one human hand, suddenly, and he offered Harry something tiny and dark that was probably the liver, supporting it with fingers on one side and long, curved nails on the other.
Harry didn't take it with his hands, but bent down and opened his jaws.
After the minutest of pauses, Malfoy stuffed it into his mouth. Harry closed his lips and shut his eyes, rejoicing in the fleshy taste for a moment, before sucking hard and swallowing the iron taste.
Malfoy's fur brushed briefly against his legs, like a cat's. Harry opened his eyes and saw him beyond the rhino's skull. He followed him.
And then Harry saw the castle, standing at the top of a rise that hadn't been there the last time Harry was in the Forbidden Forest, either, on the other side of the valley. Harry came to a stop, a ruined tree near his back for protection, but not too near, in case the royal werewolf could control and warp them to hurt intruders. Harry watched the castle, studied it, and picked through his observations for clues as to what this particular king werewolf was like.
Fussy. And traditional.
The castle was built of gleaming, grey stone blocks, although they looked as if they had been piled together and not mortared. Harry made out porticullises on the front gates, and towers with fanged battlements, and walkways with narrow windows for firing arrows along them. He snorted. When royal werewolves dreamed, they altered the world into what they wanted without any notion of whether it made sense for creatures who could fight with teeth and claws.
Carved wolves stood howling on the edges of the battlements, paraded along the lintels above the gates, ran and streamed in rat-like profusion over the walls. Harry shook his head a little and reached out to test for the presence of defenses about the castle. None. At least, no wards. He wondered if it would be as simple as approaching the gates and declaring that he had a challenge for the old bastard.
"It will not be simple."
Harry glanced down. Malfoy had acquired his human head and sat at Harry's feet again, this time with only that part of his body transformed. Being a man-headed wolf didn't seem to bother him at all. He met Harry's eyes and ran his tongue around his jaws in an extended parody of smacking them.
"He is stronger than you can imagine," Malfoy whispered into the bloody and moonlit forest. "Because he will use your imagination against you. Whatever weapons you bring with you, he can turn them. Your spells will hurt you instead of him. Fangs and claws that cut him, the damage that you imagine inflicting on him, it's never enough. The wounds appear on your own flanks, in your own throat."
Harry knew Malfoy was probably speaking from the experience of watching other challengers, but he thought some of what Malfoy was saying was contradictory. Still, he said, "I have weapons other than the dart I used on the centaurs." He faced the gates and said, "What about fighting him hand-to-hand?"
Malfoy yelped, a sound more scornful than laughter. "Your fists are not enough to hurt him."
Harry only nodded and began walking down the hill. Malfoy followed, his movements softly restless, like flowing fire. "You intend to fight him anyway," he said.
Harry looked down at him. "Don't pretend you're disappointed," he said. "What else did you bring me here for?"
"To win," Malfoy said, and broke into a gallop, ahead, aiming straight at the gates. They swung open as Harry watched, and remained open as he approached them. Perhaps the royal werewolf was curious about him, or arrogant enough to think that no werewolf hunter could possibly remove him from his position as head of the pack.
Harry touched his back between his shoulder blades, and smiled.
He walked through the gates, and found himself standing in an open meadow—well, open except for the crumbling walls of stone that enclosed it—beneath the stars. The black grass rustled softly at his feet, and sometimes uttered small cries. Harry bent down to listen to them. Yes, they sounded like the mice and rabbits he had sometimes heard taken by owls, or the creature Malfoy had killed in the field of bloody bones.
He looked up and around. There was a full moon overhead, like a silver medal pinned against the sky, unmoving. When he shaded his eyes with his hand, he could see the gleaming stars. They didn't move, either, and he could make them out as only holes in a black material through to a realm of shining light.
It was a full-throated sound this time, not the thin one meant to hearten Harry into battle, so he faced the front of the meadow. Wolves filled it, ranks and ranks of them, black and brindled and white and grey, but none with the shining color that marked Malfoy out. Harry reached out to absently touch the silver-white head, and felt Malfoy's teeth snap near his fingers. But they missed, so Harry still had a whole hand for fighting.
The wolves weren't centered on anything in particular, only facing him, so Harry wasn't sure which one was the royal werewolf yet. He waded closer and closer, the black grass twining around his ankles; he shook it off with the same strength that had allowed him to toss the boulder into the river of blood, and went on. He heard a low, building growl, but then, he had hardly expected to be welcomed, either.
When he was within perhaps three strides of them, a wolf leaped out of the rest. They bent and flowed aside for it, and it landed on the ground in front of Harry, close enough that he could smell the carrion-reeking breath, and tapped the ground with a single, impressive paw.
It was black, as big as a small horse, with eyes that shone red. Harry wondered if that was meant to intimidate. He had looked into Voldemort's red eyes, and worse since then, and he met these calmly while he shrugged out of his red cloak and let it fall to the ground. The ranks of wolves stirred again, and growled, but Malfoy had put a paw on the cloak already and dragged it out of reach.
The black wolf stalked a step closer, then paused as Harry began to remove his garments. The rest of the audience watched in silence, too, although their cocked ears and uplifted muzzles said they were still focused on him. In that silence, Harry stripped down to his skin and stepped out of the pants that he left on the ground. He wondered what they made of the scars on his arms, whether they were wise enough to make anything of it.
The black wolf panted, probably because he had caught sight of Harry's penis and deemed it less than impressive compared to his own. Harry met the creature's gaze, and shrugged. He had needed to shed the clothes, and so he had shed them. It mattered less what the royal werewolf thought of him than whether Harry was free to move.
One more step, and the black wolf leaped easily through the air at his throat, without even crouching to do it.
He still missed. Harry had changed as he knelt there, limbs warping and fur flowing over them, his shoulder blades rippling up, the familiar and sharp pain as his tail burst through his arse making him squirm. That was still the worst, even more than the magic that formed his face into a muzzle or lifted his ears to the top of his head, or changed his throat for howling.
The royal werewolf spun around behind him and reversed, and then stood still. Harry turned to face him, body carefully balanced. He carried more parts than a normal werewolf and needed to make sure that he wouldn't fall.
But those parts more than made up for his lack of grace.
Bats' wings unfolded from his shoulders, wings that Harry hadn't earned and which had probably only resulted from the collision of major magical poisons inside his body. They were strong enough to shroud him completely, and to lift him into the sky. They flapped lazily back and forth now, because Harry didn't need them, and the crimson veins of blood in them reflected enough light that Harry could see faint dark gleams on the ground beside his paws.
But his tail was his best weapon, a scorpion's curving one, large enough to be well-proportioned to the rest of him. On the end was the sting, small as a knife, but wet with venom. The royal werewolf was watching it as Harry stalked him in a circle, and Harry knew that if he had heard of Harry's reputation before now, he might be working out how Harry had slaughtered his last victims.
There were advantages to being bitten by a werewolf and stung by a manticore within hours of each other. Harry could still feel the scars of his Dark Night, pulling taut under the fur that covered his forearms in this state.
They stalked and circled, and then the royal werewolf knew what Harry had figured out from his first hunt: he couldn't afford to back down in the face of his pack. He struck a pose with his chest out and his head down to protect his throat, roared, and charged.
Harry leaped lightly into the air with one motion of his wings, and hung high enough off the ground to forbid a leap. His tail swayed back and down. He didn't manage to sting the royal werewolf, but that was because his prey rolled at the last instant and managed to stop short of the tail.
Harry landed in front of his prey, and waited.
This was the secret of his strength. Other royal werewolves he'd faced had the same protection against their victims' weapons that Malfoy had talked about, but the royal werewolf had no sting, and he couldn't imagine ahead of time what the venom would do to him. Harry only had to wait until he had tired himself out, and then sting.
Either the royal werewolf didn't know that or he thought it better to go down fighting. Another pose, and then he leaped straight up in the air and tried to come down on Harry's back, probably with dreams of crushing his wings.
Harry, his eyesight blurrier in this form but his scent a good deal sharper, smelled the violent intentions rolling towards him on the air and simply switched his body to the side, away from the crushing paws. The royal werewolf landed sharply on the stone, and yelped as he hurt a paw. When he turned around this time, he was limping.
A faint, hungry sound arose from the watching pack.
Harry ignored them, but did turn his head to catch a glimpse of Malfoy. He sat halfway between Harry and his audience, and his coat shone against the darkness as he panted. Even his tongue was a faint red, like the veins in Harry's wings.
Mistaking his fascination with Malfoy for distraction from the battle, the royal werewolf rushed him again. Harry reared on his hind legs and struck a stunning blow on the snapping jaws, rebounding them so that no teeth fastened in his flesh. He felt the same strike on his head, but that didn't matter. His wings beat and carried him out of danger until the ringing faded and he could smell the fury and frustration from beneath him.
And the fear.
The royal werewolf sat still this time, conserving his strength, waiting for Harry to come back down. Harry hung there, considering his options. He could end a struggle in many ways, with greater or lesser amounts of drama and allowing his opponent time to possibly get away before the sting came down.
But this particular pack had been troublesome to Hogwarts. That decided Harry. This royal werewolf didn't deserve the courtesy of a dramatic end, with the time to show off his fighting skill.
He locked his legs together and dropped like a great foot stomping down.
The royal werewolf hardly had time to yelp before Harry's teeth closed in the thick ruff of fur around his neck and his tail curved forwards and stung, and stung, and stung. The same poison that had felled the centaur stallion in Harry and Malfoy's battle with them flowed into his body. If his magic could have retaliated, the attack was still too fast. His muscles locked and he died while Harry still felt his power scrambling around, looking for a way past Harry's defenses.
The meadow stood still in the pale moonlight. Harry heard the indrawn breaths of wolves.
And then the false moon was gone, and the stars like pinpricks of light in somewhere else, and the stone wall around the meadow. Harry stood in a faint clearing where a tree must have fallen some time ago, and he was human again, with his jaws and head and back and arse aching. The werewolves, other humans now, bereft of the power of their leader's reach to let them change without the moon, backed away when they saw him looking, and then turned and fled.
Harry stretched. He was naked still, but that was only to be expected. Anyway, he could go back soon, through the Forest that was ordinary now without the royal werewolf to change it, and have some hot tea and more at Hogwarts.
He paused in bending for his clothes, because Malfoy was still in front of him, and still wore the form of a silvery wolf. Harry stood up and watched him. Only one kind of werewolf would have the power to hold his form through the death of such a leader.
Another royal werewolf.
"You could have challenged him," Harry said, and his voice echoed strangely in the meadow that had resounded with snarls such a short time ago. "Why lead me into the Forest? Why bother with something like this?"
Malfoy's fur flowed back to leave his head human again, and then retreated down his body as Harry watched, so that he was a man on all fours. As Malfoy stood up, Harry watched the silvery scars shine on his body and wondered at the lean muscles revealed there, and the narrow span of his back, and the narrow cock that hung below it all.
"I wanted to know what made you so formidable," Malfoy said, his voice as calm as it had been when he told Harry how to cross the river of blood. "And now I do. If you hunt me, I think my power will protect me."
"Don't set up as the leader of a pack near humans and torment them, and I won't have to," Harry retorted, keeping his eyes fixed on Malfoy. He didn't have the power to change his body whenever he wanted to, only under the imagined full moon of those he hunted, or the real moon. He had poisoned darts in his pocket, but he thought Malfoy would probably change and spring on him before he could reach them. "Those are the only werewolves I take down, the ones who won't live like animals and want to hunt humans."
"You are a very powerful monster," Malfoy said softly, solemnly, without taking any notice of Harry's warning. He slid closer, foot soft on the trampled grass, in the blood leaking from the scarred and bruised older man who had been his lord. "Why do something like this, instead of leading a pack yourself?"
Harry snorted and shook his head. "Because I don't have any desire to dwell in darkness that would never change, among the forms of my own imagination, until someone wolf decided to fight me and won, or someone human hunted me." He took a long breath that came out as a yawn, and reached down to rub his arse. "I have a lucrative career and I can stay close to my friends. That's what I want." He turned to make his way out of the silent forest. He was sure that the bloody bones would have melted back into the ground, or into the more ordinary detritus of the pack's kills, and the river of blood would have become one of water again.
A hand on his shoulder kept him there. Harry turned, and Malfoy's mouth met his, sweet and hot and toothy.
Harry thought for a moment of the rat's liver they had shared among the bones, and then kissed him back.
Malfoy's hands were large, strong, impatient. He rolled Harry to the side and gripped his cock, and Harry arched against his firm, scratching nails. He reached further down for Malfoy's cock and found it, and Malfoy unexpectedly bucked against him, scratching new parallel wounds down Harry's sides. Harry rubbed his cheek against Malfoy's and licked him, tongue to tongue, feeling his skin surge and struggle with the urge to extrude his wings in pure delight.
Malfoy bore him to the ground, watching his face all the while. Harry let it happen, and let Malfoy feel through his coiled muscles that it was with permission. Malfoy bent and rested his teeth in the crook of Harry's neck in response.
Harry kicked his legs open, and Malfoy fell to the ground beneath them. He grunted a little, as if the cold of the grass on his knees was a surprise, and bit Harry. Harry grinned as the blood flowed and cupped his arms around Malfoy, learning the shoulder blades that would never sprout wings, the wire-taut length of him, the lupine air about him even when he was fully human.
Malfoy smelled of musk and moons.
They rolled and wrestled together on the grass, a far more pleasant challenge than Harry had endured with the royal werewolf he'd killed, and Malfoy came on Harry's stomach, his shoulder, his hip. The hours stretched, long and regal. Harry came against Malfoy's hand, against his leg, with his stroking and across it. They were young wolves in the dim moonlight and the musk, and when they finally stopped rolling and stretched out beside each other, Harry had lost track of what time it was, of every thought except What big hands you have.
A faint gleam through the eastern trees came as a surprise. Harry turned his head in that direction and yawned in the full, rolling-tongued, open-mouthed wolf manner. He was aware that Malfoy was watching him, but saw no reason to immediately turn around.
"You are more monster than you know," Malfoy whispered.
Harry laughed and turned around. "No," he said. "I know the limitations of my own body in battle, and I've accepted the changes. What I am is more monster than anyone else knows."
"Except me." Malfoy turned his head to the side, the silent assumption that Harry had usually killed anyone else who found out drifting between them.
Harry nodded. "Except you."
Malfoy curled up with his spine curved towards the sunrise, his nose resting on his heels. Harry watched him for a moment, then decided that there was little fear in showing lupine flexibility when the only one around to observe was another werewolf. He lay back-to-back with Malfoy, and shut his eyes against the light.
"I haven't taken any permanent companion," Malfoy said drowsily. "Haven't set up as a royal werewolf on my own, even though I could have."
"Why not?" Harry's eyes grew heavier. It was a good tiredness, an animal tiredness, a deep tenderness like satisfied passion that infected his spine. He laid his head on his hands, flat to the ground like paws.
"I could find no wolves worthy of following me. Better to remain near someone who was satisfied with lesser followers, until a challenger came who overthrew him and—could stand with me."
Harry shifted his spine a little, to show that he heard and he now understood why Malfoy had led him through the forest.
"Stay." It was neither command nor entreaty.
Harry hummed. It was neither promise nor surrender.
They went to sleep as, for the first time in months, honest sunlight stole through the Forbidden Forest, and fell on the trampled grass, and the still body, and the ragged red cloak.