Warnings: A little bit of violence towards the end. Nothing serious, but yes ^^
Notes: Written for hd_cliche 2013 on LJ. The prompt was 'de-aging' and I went nuts with it. Not conventional, I admit but still fun and it does include a few, standard de-aging tropes. Beta-ed by saar_fantasy on LJ. Thank you so much, lovely ^^
"I can't do it," Draco snarled as he paced the narrow classroom. "Four months and I'm not even close! This is a complete waste of time, Lovegood!"
Luna watched him as he had his little breakdown, unwavering as always. Draco couldn't even muster the energy to scowl at her. He grudgingly admitted that she was his best shot at this useless activity, even if he didn't understand what the hell she was talking about half the time.
The fact that he had somehow managed to strike up a friendship with the bizarre bint still eluded his reasoning at the best of times, but there you had it. Luna had been nothing but open and friendly ever since he had returned to Hogwarts for his Eighth Year and reluctant though he may be, Draco found himself trusting her. At the very least, she had yet to laugh at his pathetic attempts.
"You're over-thinking it, Draco," she explained blithely. "I did it. And, Harry mastered his on the…"
"Yes, yes. Perfect sodding Potter," Draco grumbled sullenly. "Merlin forbid he fails at anything. Oh no, that would be a catastrophe!"
The fact that Potter had somehow managed to obtain his Animagus form after two sessions with Luna was not something Draco wanted to talk about- especially since he'd been working his arse off for four months and had yet to see any results.
"Now, don't be petty," Luna admonished. "Harry managed it because he wasn't overanalysing the subject. He just did it." She frowned slightly, trying to recollect the memory. "Of course, he was in the gardens when he got it right and obviously, the crumpled horn snorkacks would have assisted the transformation…"
Draco chose silence. Nothing good ever came out of arguing with Lovegood about things that existed only in her head. By the time it was over, he would either be pulling his hair out or she would somehow manage to convince him that she was on to something- in which case Draco would end up checking broom closets for nargles. Neither prospect was very appealing at the moment.
Nevertheless, when she announced that they would continue practicing outside, he followed willingly. The fresh air would do him good and it was unlikely that anyone would be around at this time of the night to snicker at his pathetic attempts.
Sure enough, by the time he was in the Hogwarts gardens, he was feeling better. The moon was out, casting a pale glow over the vast lawns. The frost crunched under his feet. It was eerily quiet, but to him it just seemed tranquil. A stray breeze tousled his hair, eliciting a pleasant shiver. It was…nice out here.
Luna turned to him, her light eyes and blonde hair gleaming in the dim light. "Now try again. And this time, don't think about the theory. Just let it happen."
It was easier said than done, but Draco obliged her. He closed his eyes and quelled his mind, trying to push away any stray thoughts from his focus. This was about concentration. He relaxed his shoulders and tried to reach out to his instincts. The image of the moon flitted through his mind and that seemed important somehow. Yes, he felt drawn to it, almost as if it were calling out to him- to something deep inside him. Draco felt a sudden urge to respond to that wild call and…
It happened almost abruptly. One second, he was a seventeen year boy shivering in the cold September wind and the next second, everything was different. His body moulded with a smooth twist, his perspective changed. He was aware of new sounds, new scents…how had they escaped his notice before? The silent gardens were alive with chirps and croaks and twitters and screeches- Draco could hear them all, sense stealthy movements of creatures hidden in the brush. He opened his eyes and the world looked different- almost vivid. The wind blew and he felt it caress his soft fur, but there was no bite to it. And above it all, the moon…
"You did it!" Luna squealed. "Oh Draco, I'm so proud of you!"
Draco sprang up- instinctively wary- until he recognized her scent and her voice. He looked up at her, twitching an enquiring ear as she smiled down at him and…
Wait. Smiled down at him?
"You're absolutely precious!" Luna crooned, kneeling down and brushing soft fingers across his fur. She looked huge from down here. "Oh, just look at you! I knew the snorkacks would…"
Just how small was he?! Draco bolted immediately, making for the lake. He padded forward on soft, silent paws. Well, he definitely had padded paws so at least he wasn't a rat or a ferret. If he had turned into a rabbit, someone was going to die.
Warily, Draco extended himself to take a good look at his reflection. A white, furry face gazed back at him, complete with pointed ears, a sharp snout and large, silver eyes. Draco cocked his head inquisitively, taking a good look at his form. He swished his tail and bared his teeth in experimentation. His reflection snarled back at him, showing pointy little canines. He emitted a surprised yelp. What on earth…
Concentration broken, Draco reverted to his human form in a second. He gasped as his body changed abruptly and he had to splay his hands to keep from falling into the lake.
"Sorry," Luna apologised breathily, approaching him. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"I wasn't scared. I was surprised," Draco informed her with a sniff. He gazed down at his fully clothed, very human form. The world was dull again and the light hearted giddiness he had felt during his transformation was receding.
"I knew you'd be a wolf," Luna said proudly. "And a white one! It makes sense, actually. I was just thinking…"
"A wolf?" Draco echoed incredulously. He had taken himself for some sort of small, white fox. Not very impressive, but still acceptable. He certainly hadn't looked like a wolf. "I was tiny," he argued. "You were practically towering over me!"
"Well of course, silly. Didn't you read the theory?" Luna smiled. "You grow into your animagus form eventually. First attempt transformations are always in a child state. So obviously, you turned into a wolf pup."
"A wolf pup?" Draco blinked. Well, that was disappointing. He had expected to transform into an adult animagus instantly. "How long will it take before I can assume an adult form?" he demanded.
"It will happen when it happens," Luna responded cheerily. "Your magic determines your growth. It could take weeks, sometimes even months."
Months? Draco groaned. "I thought we were done!"
"This is a lifelong exercise," Luna admonished sternly. "You'll have to practice and be patient."
Draco ignored the sage advice, too busy having a sulk. "I don't want to be a pup," he grumbled. "I want to be a grown up!"
"You can be a grown up when you're done being a child," the blonde replied. "That's how it always works."
"You can't walk before you crawl, Draco. I told you, you need to be patient. The sooner you embrace your form and learn, the sooner your magic will kick in."
Draco scowled and grumbled before eventually relenting. Not much he could so about it anyway. Luna smiled and ruffled his hair (an awful habit that he would put a stop to someday) before dragging him back to the castle. Belatedly, a thought struck Draco.
"What's Potter's animagus?"
"Would you like me to tell him yours?" Luna asked.
Draco balked. "Of course not!" Potter certainly didn't need to know something that personal about him.
"Well then," Luna shrugged. Draco scowled. She wasn't going to disclose Potter's form to him. Still, he couldn't help pressing the issue.
"But mine's better, right? Right?"
Luna gave him a fond look. "It's absolutely perfect," she replied.
The hunter stalked his prey, prowling forward on stealthy, silent paws. It was past midnight and the moon was out, casting its eerie glow across the grounds. The white shadow was almost invisible against the light brush of snow. He was a shadow, a spirit, a ghost. He was master of these grounds and they were his domain. His prey would soon regret its unwise decision to wander around in his territory. The hunter crouched low on his hind legs, eyes dead on his target. And then he pounced.
The cricket hopped away at the last second with a triumphant chirp, leaving the pup to land in a fluffy heap of failure. Draco growled and sprang up at once, baring his teeth and scrunching his little, white paws. There was another series of mocking chirps from a distance and the small wolf flattened his ears in displeasure. Silence reigned again and he lay down with a petulant huff, resting his head on his paws and looking for all the world like a very sulky little canine.
It wasn't fair!
Draco growled again.
He had been practicing his transformations for two weeks and he could achieve his animagus form almost effortlessly now. It was surprisingly enjoyable as well. As a man- practically of age- Draco was compelled to maintain his composure and control in all situations. As a pup, he enjoyed a lot more freedom. He could pounce and run and growl and make a nuisance of himself. It was liberating and…fun, actually.
Aside from the physical transformations, Draco's mental state underwent a change of its own. Luna had been correct about his instincts. He was inquisitive, more inclined to make mischief, to explore and mess around. It was hard to explain. Draco thought of it as a temporary 'de-aging'. He became a child all over again in this form and it was difficult not to enjoy it.
There were complications though. For one thing, he couldn't hunt to save his life. He managed to swat the odd insect once in a while, but it was a rare feat. The fact that he would come no closer to achieving an adult Animagus without learning these basics only frustrated him more. Luna kept advising him to take it easy but he simply wasn't patient enough.
Other than that, he was bored and lonely. His lupine instincts craved his own kind and even though his human side could reason and rationalise, Draco found himself yearning for the company of other wolves. He was still a pup and in his natural role, this was the ideal time for playing and learning to hunt within his pack, picking up skills that he would need out in the wild. Those instincts were getting harder and harder to control. Unfortunately, his options were severely limited in the Hogwarts gardens and Draco was getting very annoyed with his situation.
The moon shone down on him and he gave in to instinct, tipping his head back to emit a shrill howl. There was nothing but silence in response and Draco whined unhappily. He just wanted to play! Was that too much to ask? Someone to play with?
The silence was starting to get to him. Draco whimpered fretfully. He couldn't stand it anymore. He needed to get out of here. He needed to find someone. Anyone. He wasn't supposed to be alone like this- it just wasn't right!
It was with these thoughts that the little wolf padded determinedly to Hogwarts' west wall and slipped through a gap in the stones. He made it to the other side easily, stumbling a bit before righting himself. The Forbidden Forest- normally so foreboding and threatening- looked a lot more intriguing right now. The pup's ears twitched in excitement as he picked up new and interesting noises. He sniffed the air and his tail twitched in anticipation. This place was alive, just ripe for exploring.
With an excited yip Draco took off, leaving nothing but a track of small paw prints in the snow.
It was even better than he had expected. Draco had had the time of his life, running amok in the woods. He had sniffed, scurried, rolled about. He had even managed to upset a nest of unsuspecting partridges at one point and given chase. The birds were too quick but Draco didn't care. He was having a blast.
There was a lot more to hunt for here than stupid, smug crickets. Every rock, tree and bush held some sort of surprise- the perfect playground for a little wolf out on his own. And Draco was determined to do everything, sneak and sniff around in every crevice, every hole, every…
Suddenly there was a flurry of activity around him. A bush rustled and a hare careened past him, a flock of resting birds suddenly took off and tree branches shook violently. The pup screeched to a halt, stiffening and perking his ears.
Sure enough, a howl sounded in the distance. It was a low sound- long and deep and it made his fur bristle. Draco perked up in anticipation. Another wolf! His tail wagged happily and his tongue lolled out. He wasn't alone!
He didn't even give his human side a second to rationalize the possibility of a threat. He was lonely and he wanted to play; danger be damned.
Draco yipped happily and bounded off.
The lone wolf stalked through the forest, winding his way through the brushes and trees. His dark grey fur was sprinkled with snow and his paws crunched on the freezing ground, but it didn't bother him. His coat was thick and he was accustomed to harsher climates.
Right now, the only thing that mattered was the hunt.
Harry eyed the hare and his hackles rose in anticipation. Unbidden, a soft growl rose from his throat. The hare's ear twitched for a second, but he didn't spring. Harry was relieved. He didn't want to track it all over again. He hunted so rarely anyway. It was always tough to reconcile with the idea of killing something when he turned human again. It was just easier to avoid the hassle of hunting altogether. But tonight, he was agitated and his instincts were running high.
He loved his animagus form. Ever since he had achieved his first transformation with Luna's help, it had become something of a need for him. Wolves were free and uninhibited, powerful and beautiful. They weren't bogged down by the thousand little hassles he encountered in his daily life. These transformations were necessary for him and Luna assured him that it was perfectly natural. Harry trusted her judgement. But he had to admit there were some…complications.
A wolf wasn't made to thrive in isolation. Sooner or later, the craving for a pack- the need to roam in the company of one's kind- became too much. Harry had spent many a lonely night tramping through the forest as a young pup and six months later, it wasn't much fun as an adult wolf either. It was times like this that he missed Remus and Sirius the most.
Of course, there was little choice. Wolves were territorial and unwelcoming to strangers. Harry had held his own against invaders stubbornly and carved out a small niche for himself. But he was still alone and it irked him. His lonely howl had gone unanswered as always and it left him feeling bereft and rejected.
Therefore, Harry only had one option to appease himself with. He needed to hunt.
The hare was still oblivious and Harry licked his lips. He crouched low, pressing down on his hind legs. In seconds, he would pounce and make a kill. All he needed was…
The shrill interruption was so sudden and so unexpected that Harry emitted a startled yelp of his own. The hare bolted off in seconds and Harry growled in frustration, preparing to salvage the situation with a chase. Just then, the bushes rustled behind him. Harry turned around with a growl, only to witness a small ball of fluff roll out of the bush and come to a halt inches from him.
Harry eyed it warily. It looked like nothing he had seen before. He remained stock still, before making the decision to approach and sniff it cautiously. Just what sort of creature was this?
Suddenly, the ball uncurled itself. Harry staggered back in alarm. A furry face- not unlike his own - poked out and inquisitive, grey eyes regarded him with bright interest. Harry's ears twitched involuntarily.
This was new.
Harry stared at the…creature, absolutely flummoxed.
A wolf pup was staring back at him, ears pointed and alert. His stark white fur was almost camouflaged by the snow but those eyes stood out- stark and silver.
The larger wolf stared down at him, fur bristling warningly. What was he doing here? Didn't he know this was Harry's territory? Was his pack nearby? Were they planning to attack him? The thought made his hackles rise and he growled in warning, intent on making himself clear.
The pup, however, was missing the point entirely. He responded with a happy yelp, tail wagging with abandon. His tongue lolled out and he padded over, sniffing boldly at the larger wolf. He yipped his approval and continued with the enthusiastic intrusion into Harry's personal space.
Harry gaped; literally stunned out of action. The only time other wolves had approached him, it had been in aggression or attack. He was used to being a loner and rejecting all advances. It was the done thing! Except now he was being forced to deal with this…this blatant disregard of all the rules and he wasn't sure he liked it.
He liked it even less when the whelp padded around him to make an inquisitive swipe at his tail. Sharp claws snagged and Harry bristled at the assault. He whirled around and snapped his jaws in retaliation, making his disapproval clear.
It didn't help one bit.
The pup rolled over on his back, tongue lolling out and tail still wagging nineteen to the dozen. Large, silver eyes gazed imploringly at Harry in obvious invitation.
Play with me.
Harry sniffed indignantly. He didn't have time for this! Was he expected to give up his hunt to indulge the whims of this whelp? He was a wolf!
He let loose a howl, just to prove it. The sound emanated from deep inside him and seemed to resonate through the forest glade. The very moon seemed to shimmer in response to his call. A primal surge enveloped him and Harry let himself get lost in the moment. He let loose another howl…
…only to trail off in surprise as a shrill, raspy yowl joined in the orchestra.
Harry halted to give his miniscule companion an unimpressed look. The little one ignored his censure and kept up his enthusiastic yowling- a shrill, sharp sound that made Harry's ears flatten with displeasure. It sounded awful. He was doing it all wrong! Harry snorted in disgust and the pup ceased his caterwauling almost instantly. Large, expectant grey eyes turned on Harry, patiently expecting him to initiate some new form of play.
Harry had had enough. He responded with another disparaging sniff in the little intruder's general direction, before turning tail and stalking off. He was barely a few meters out of the glade when he heard the unmistakable sounds of padding footfalls behind him.
Harry growled and whirled around again. The pup scampered over, keeping pace easily. Harry's tail bristled and he snapped his jaws in clear warning.
Leave me alone.
The whelp ignored him, following stubbornly despite of Harry's quickening pace. The larger wolf growled and took off at a sprint, determined to leave the furry little annoyance behind. He wound his way through trees and brushes, leaving the pup an impossible track to follow. There. Let's see him tail Harry now!
Sure enough, the pup met his match at a fallen log. Harry sprinted over easily but it was too high for the tiny one. His little legs simply couldn't handle that sprint. The pup dithered and scampered about, trying to find a way across. There was nothing for it and finally, he whimpered and slumped back, sitting on his rear and watching Harry with large, mournful eyes and lowered ears. The grey wolf halted on the other side, watching to make sure the annoying little brat didn't make it across.
The pup remained where he was but he planted his paws on the log and whined shrilly, demanding a return.
The grey wolf responded with a victorious huff. Finally! Now perhaps he could get on with more important things. Harry flicked his tail in triumph, before taking off and disappearing into the darkness.
Draco whimpered as he finally managed to prop himself up over the log, just to see the larger wolf bound away. He didn't understand why he didn't want to be friends with him. Draco had been nothing but nice. He watched the shadowy form disappear with downcast eyes and tucked his tail between his legs. He was all alone again.
Well, that simply wouldn't do. He didn't like being by himself and now that he had found one of his kind, he was loath to leave him be. Perhaps the big wolf would like him better if he proved himself. Yes. That would work.
The little pup brightened immediately and his ears pricked up. The next time, he would be better. He would prove that he was worth sticking around with. The grey wolf would see.
But not right now. It was getting late and dawn was near. It was time to return. Draco slipped off the log and bounded off, making his way back to the wall.
He was determined to see the wolf again though. He was so big and powerful. His grey coat gleamed in the moonlight as he prowled sure footed and silent as a shadow in the forest. The perfect hunter. The things he could teach Draco! And perhaps next time, he might even convince the other to play with him.
It was with a happy heart and a hopeful sprint that the pup pattered back into the Hogwarts grounds, unseen in the early dawn.
It wasn't too long after that Harry crept back to the Gryffindor Tower. Disgruntled and bemused, he flopped down on his bed almost at once.
He was always tired after roaming the forest and tonight had been exceptionally difficult. It had taken him the better part of his night to shake the pup off his track and there had been no time to hunt afterwards.
Persistent little bugger. Where had he even come from? He didn't look like any wolf Harry had ever seen. Those eyes…he couldn't recall coming across that particular shade of silver anywhere. And yet they seemed almost…
Harry yawned and burrowed into his pillow. Well, either way the little brat had ruined his prowl. The hunt would have to wait for another night.
Oh well, it was just a small glitch. A one-time accident. He could be patient. What were the chances he would ever see the pup again?
Harry soon fell asleep, lulled by dreams of full moons and silver eyes.
Two weeks later…
Harry waited until Mrs Norris had slipped into another corridor before slipping out into the grounds again. The full moon greeted him and even in his very human form, he felt a twinge of excitement. Tonight, he would prowl again.
He tightened the clasp of his Invisibility Cloak as he crept across the snowy grounds. He only hoped Ron wouldn't notice he was missing. He knew, of course-as did Hermione- but they weren't entirely comfortable with this compulsion of his to run wild in the forest. In Ron's words, hadn't they done enough of that already?
Harry shook his head. They meant well, but they just didn't understand. An animagus had to be nurtured and suppressing instinct was unhealthy. Luna understood at least, and kept his secret. Luna had always been exceptionally understanding about things others would balk at. It was one of the reasons he was so fond of her. She wouldn't grudge him this.
With a shiver, Harry approached the west wall and cast a quick Revealing Charm. No one was around. He considered casting a Levicorpus before thinking better of it and scaling the wall. He was sure footed and confident- having done this before- but the wall was slippery and it was difficult. Harry half wished he was a pup again. Back then, he had managed to scrape out a stone from under the wall and make a nice little gap to slip in and out of. He was too big for it now though, and there was nothing for it. So he hauled himself up, taking care not to let the cloak snag and alighted on the other side.
The rest of it was easy. Harry fell into the familiar routine of stowing the cloak away in a tree hollow. The Forest lay before him, dark and forbidding. He let go, willing the wolf to take over. His body moulded to its lupine form and he shook himself, noting with pleasure how the woods seem to change as he did. He was no longer vulnerable. He was powerful again.
The grey wolf took one last look at the expanse of his borders and then without another thought, he bounded off deep into the forest.
He loped through the dark woods, alert for any sign of prey or predator alike. A fresh set of paw prints lay before him and Harry halted at once, pausing to sniff the air. Wolves. Others in his woods. His fur bristled in agitation. The packs were getting bolder. Time and again, Harry had encountered them hunting in his favourite spots. He had driven them off but they just kept coming back, more challenging and insolent every single time.
Harry snarled and took off, making a quick round of his woods. Nothing seemed out of order. The outsiders weren't here anymore. Appeased, he swished his tail and set off again- this time in search of prey. A hare had been about, its tracks leading to one of the many lakes in the forest depths. Harry bent his head and sniffed. The scent was fresh. He growled and continued his stalk.
Tonight he would finally hunt. There would be no interruptions, no annoyances like the last time. No, this time he was…
The shrill yelp cut right through the silence of the forest, scaring at least ten years off of Harry's life. He stiffened as if he'd been Petrified, and then whirled around, ready to pounce- only to encounter a familiar fluffy something charging straight for him.
The pup screeched to a halt before him, yipping like an excited…well, pup and effectively scaring away any potential prey in a ten mile radius. Sure enough, Harry heard the faint rustle of undergrowth as assorted woodland creatures made a break for safety.
He growled in annoyance. Again? Why was the whelp still in his grounds? Hadn't he made himself clear the last time? Apparently not because a small paw batted out, catching him right on the snout. Harry growled angrily, achieving nothing but another series of happy squeaks from the impertinent youngster. The larger wolf huffed in disgust, utterly unsurprised as his little stalker refused to take the hint. Sure enough, the pup scrunched down in a mockery of a pounce, keeping still and waiting for him to make a move.
Harry flicked an ear, watching with mild interest. So, he was being challenged. Very well, then. He lowered his body to the ground, crouching on his hind legs and inviting an attack. The pup made a leap. Harry avoided the clumsy attempt easily, springing to his right. He snorted in amusement as the little one tumbled in a ball of fluff and snow, having missed his target by a foot at least. There was a shrill yelp of dismay as he unearthed himself, shaking the snow off before turning to the larger wolf and flattening his ears angrily. Apparently, someone didn't enjoy being thwarted.
Point made, Harry swished his tail in satisfaction and turned to walk off. There was still time for a hunt. Almost immediately, there was the unmistakable patter of small paws behind him. The grey wolf growled and quickened his pace, attempting to tire the youngster out like last time. Unfortunately, his luck was out. There were no logs like last time - nothing but a smooth, straight trail- and his little white stalker was able to keep up a steady, noisy pace behind him.
Harry bristled as a small body brushed against his flank. Seconds later, a paw batted at his tail experimentally. The grey wolf swished his tail, batting the unrelenting brat away. The little nuisance was undeterred and scampered happily by his side.
It went on for ages. Harry found himself constantly hindered by the pup. He certainly couldn't hunt with him ambling about- the whelp was making enough noise to scare away a centaur. He was also constantly getting underfoot, blatantly disregarding the very sound policy of side by side stalking.
He nearly stumbled as the pup scurried under him again and Harry had just about had enough. He halted and rounded back, firmly plucking the white menace up by the scruff of his neck. The pup yelped in protest and squirmed but Harry ignored the ruckus. He jostled him a bit, marching a short distance off his track and depositing him firmly into a bush.
There. Let's see him get out of that without…
A sharp attack cry cut through the wind and the bush rustled as something tore out of it. The next second, Harry found himself wearing a fluffy, white hat. He was stunned out of action for a second. The little brat actually had the nerve to pounce on him!
Sharp teeth nipped at his ear and Harry snarled and shook his head angrily, dislodging the pup. Grey eyes glared at him in open challenge and little paws planted themselves firmly in the ground. The little wolf stared him down, hackles up and teeth bared. Stubborn, insolent little brat. He pushed at the larger wolf again and yipped angrily, refusing to be dismissed.
For heaven's sake! Was he never to find any peace? Harry elicited a half hearted growl. Clearly, he wasn't going anywhere tonight. Honestly at this point, he was too exhausted to even be properly irritated anymore.
He bunted the little one with his head once more, sending him tumbling into the snow again. The nuisance was up and running in a second. Where was he getting all this energy from? The grey wolf huffed and flopped down in the snow, giving the pup free rein to yowl and clamber and nip at him without protest.
Perhaps he would tire himself out in time. Sharp teeth tugged frantically at his ear and a paw batted at his head. Harry huffed again.
Then again, maybe not…
"He won't stop following me! I never asked to play babysitter! Why won't he just go away?"
One month. That's how long Harry had been putting up with his tiny stalker and it was starting to grate on his nerves. It had been amusing the first few times, but honestly this was getting out of hand.
Granted the pest was nothing compared to what he had dealt with in the past, but he was becoming a real nuisance. Every single time Harry set out for an evening of solitude in the woods, he found himself accosted. Nothing worked. He had growled, snapped and even run away on occasion. He had even tossed the little rat in a bush once. But the pup was relentless in his quest for a playmate. Honestly, if Harry hadn't been so peeved he would have been impressed by the dogged persistence.
Nevertheless, the furry little monster was severely cutting into his routine and Harry just knew he was doing it on purpose. He couldn't exactly bitch about it to Ron or Hermione. They would just advise him to stop sneaking out altogether. That left him with Luna and Harry was more than grateful for her calm if somewhat distracted attention.
Luna bore his ranting patiently, smiling all the while. Harry scowled and went back to slicing his potion ingredients. Somehow, she always made him feel like his problems were ridiculous. He supposed he grudgingly agreed in this case, but that didn't lessen his annoyance.
"What do I do with him?" he muttered.
"He sounds sweet," she offered, handing him some crushed lacewing flies.
"I'm not saying he isn't," Harry grumbled, stirring his potion mutinously. In fact, as a human he was almost able to recall his little nuisance affectionately. He was an adorable little thing- all snowy white fur, little paws and silver eyes. And so tiny. Fearless though- he seemed to think nothing of charging at a wolf four times his size and running amok in the forest. It was just…odd. The whole thing was odd.
"Aren't wolf cubs supposed to live with their packs?" he demanded.
"You don't run with a pack," Luna contested.
Harry prayed for patience. "That's because I'm not a real wolf," he pointed out. Luna responded with a dreamy sort of smile that told him nothing.
"That's true," she shrugged. "So maybe he's a loner too. That or he wandered off and got lost."
Harry stopped mutilating his flobberworms. He hadn't considered that. Merlin, what if the little one was lost? He couldn't possibly live in the woods by himself. What if he got hungry? Or hurt? Who would look out for him if he…
"Is that why he's following me around?" Harry found himself asking. "Do you think he's scared or…"
Luna's soft laugh cut him off. "Children are very brave," she replied, tossing some monkshood in the potion for good measure. "They just want to have fun, explore and get into trouble whenever possible. Its adults who understand fear, Harry."
Harry considered that, grudgingly impressed by her sage advice. It was so easy to disregard Luna as flaky and strange but then she said something like that and he wondered if she knew more than all of them combined. Her words didn't appease him though. Now he was worried for his little forest friend.
"It doesn't matter if he's a brave little git. The forest is dangerous. What if Shadow gets hurt?"
Harry flushed. "It's what I call him," he explained. "He follows me around like one so…"
Luna laughed. "I wouldn't worry about Shadow so much, Harry. I think he can take care of himself. Most creatures that live in that forest can. He's just lonely. All he wants is a friend."
"But he's spoiling everything," Harry lamented. "He gets in my way and he doesn't know how to hunt!"
"So teach him. He's stalking you anyway."
"But I can't…"
"Harry, there's nothing I can do to help you. You'll find a way to handle your little Shadow, I'm sure of it. In the meantime, can we finish the potion?"
There was a rare note of finality in her tone and Harry subsided with a grumble, returning to his work. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Malfoy strolling over to Slughorn's desk and depositing a vial. Harry observed him, more out of habit than anything else. His rival had been quiet and withdrawn ever since his return to Hogwarts. He hadn't even attempted to start anything with Harry this year, choosing instead to limit his society to Luna. Harry still watched him though- old habits and all.
The blond had been working on his animagus form lately, or so Luna told him. Harry had to admit, he was curious. But he let him be. He certainly didn't miss the git. And what with Shadow, he had enough on his plate at the moment. Still, he wondered…
"How's Malfoy doing? With the animagus thing, I mean?"
Luna smiled, her eyes taking on that familiar, mysterious look she carried so well. "Better than I expected," she replied.
And despite Harry's efforts, she would say no more.
Draco strode over to Slughorn's desk, stoically refusing to dignify Potter's blatant staring with a response. He could feel the git's eyes on him though, and it irked him. Potter had been watching him all year- hoping to catch Draco committing some dastardly act, no doubt. His irritation resurfaced and he quickened his pace, depositing his potion and leaving the classroom at once.
He couldn't afford an altercation with Potter this year. Not with the way things were. He simply couldn't let the Gryffindor provoke him. And considering that Potter provoked him merely by breathing, it was advisable to just keep his distance.
It was wearisome though- having to keep up this air of self control and restraint. He felt so tired and restless- almost trapped.
And he was sick of it.
It seemed another night out in the forest was in order. Lately, he had been relying rather heavily on late night wanderings to keep him sane. He walked through the hallway, ignoring the dark looks and mutterings cast in his general direction.
At least in the forest, he could just be. Draco smiled to himself as he recalled his elusive familiar. The grey wolf had been reluctant and wary at first, but he seemed to have mellowed down since their previous encounters. He had yet to welcome a yippy little pup in his midst, but he tolerated Draco's absurd antics with a saint like patience- not even protesting when he clambered all over him or tugged at his ears. For a wild, vicious animal he seemed almost human sometimes.
It had been a while since anyone had been so accommodating and accepting of his presence. The irony that it was a solitary predator in the Forbidden Forest who had come to accept him was not lost on Draco, but he was grateful. And not a little intrigued.
His wolf- and Draco did think of him as his now- was a mystery he couldn't unravel. Strong, elusive and beautiful- but a loner who stalked the forest alone, with neither pack nor companion. He sought no friend and was vicious about others in his territory- Draco had seen the way he bristled when he spotted strange tracks in the woods. And yet he found it in himself to tolerate an aggravating little pup without so much as a growl, choosing instead to handle Draco with the long suffering endurance of a…well, parent.
Strange he was- this lonely alpha wolf.
Draco toyed with the name, considering it. It suited him.
Another faint smile tugged at his lips. He would go into the forest tonight. He would run again with his mysterious minder.
With Alpha, he felt safe.
The wolf pup crept across the dense foliage of the forest floor, trying to keep as silent as possible. Alpha was always silent as a ghost when he was stalking and lately, Draco had been trying to imitate his skilled techniques.
The mouse scampered to a halt, just a few feet ahead. Draco bristled in excitement. He wasn't hungry per se, but the temptation to hunt was overpowering. Besides, the mouse should know better than to wander around when there were wolves in the forest. He was asking for it, Draco decided firmly.
He took a hesitant step forward. A twig caught under his paw and broke with a sharp crack. The mouse took off with a frightened squeak and Draco yelped in dismay, giving chase at once. He was much faster now- trying to keep up with his elusive mentor was good practice for speed. However, he still lacked in the pouncing department. The mouse made an abrupt break for safety to his right and Draco sprang after him. It was a second too late and he crashed in a heap, rolling on the ground and landing face first in a ditch.
He righted himself shakily, only to find himself surrounded by mud walls on all sides. Draco yelped in dismay as he came to grips with being stuck in a hole in the ground. He scrabbled and tried to make a sprint, but it was too high. Draco whimpered fretfully. He was stuck. Stuck! The knowledge that he could just revert to his human form and climb out escaped him in his newfound panic. All he knew was that he was alone and the ditch was too deep and he was going to be stuck here forever and no one would ever find him…
Frightened out of his wits, the little pup started howling.
Harry was making his way to the forest boundaries when his ears picked up the shrill, frantic cries for help.
The grey wolf froze for a moment, before snarling and taking off at a sprint. He slashed his way through the forest as the cries carried on and on.
The still human side of his mind flooded with panic for his little wolf. He hadn't even been planning to go out tonight but worrying about Shadow had made him restless and uneasy. Apparently, he had good reason because the pup was most certainly in some kind of horrible danger. A snarl tore from his throat as the wolf took over. If anything had dared to hurt his little one, he would…
He screeched to a halt in a small clearing and sniffed the air. Shadow was nearby; the cries were almost deafening out here. And they seemed to be coming from…
Harry twitched an ear and approached a shallow ditch warily. He leaned forward and peered inside. A pair of scared, silver eyes stared back at him. Shadow caught sight of him and planted his paws against the ditch, shrilling piteously and frantically attempting to reach for him.
Oh for the love of…
Harry's ears twitched with a mingled sense of relief, amusement and exasperation. How did something so small cause so much trouble? Shadow yipped at him, demanding a rescue mission right now. Harry snorted and busied himself with extracting the little menace.
Alpha gripped him gently by the scruff of his neck and hauled him out effortlessly. The larger wolf handled him carefully, his hold gentle and reassuring. Draco was back on solid ground in less than a minute and he wasted no time in bounding over and nuzzling into his protector, whimpering in complaint.
Alpha responded with what could only be described as an amused rumble, allowing Draco to curl into him. The pup whined and snuffled into his flank. The larger of the two responded with a reassuring nudge and a gentle admonishing nip to Draco's nape- a reprimand to be more careful next time.
It was almost paternal and the pup revelled in the rare display of attention, responding with sloppy, wet licks of his own. Soon, he was calm enough to play and pester again. He nipped at the larger wolf's muzzle and yipped and scampered around him. Alpha tolerated his exuberant antics with an amused twitch of his ear- patient as always- before finally deciding that he had had enough. He yawned and stretched and Draco stilled, regarding him expectantly. The wolf responded with another fond lick before leading him out of the clearing.
Draco followed obediently, content to follow where the other would lead. The older wolf didn't sprint off like the last few times. He measured his pace, halting every now and then and waiting for the little one to catch up. It was a small action- but it spoke of acceptance to Draco, a sign that he was worth waiting for and that Alpha would wait for him and protect him and care for him.
It left him feeling warm and contented- feelings that were so elusive in his daily life. With Alpha he was wanted and looked after and cared for. A part of him wished he could just stay here forever.
It couldn't be like that though. The grey wolf was a wild animal and he wasn't. Sooner or later, he would have to leave and return to his dull, colourless existence again. The thought depressed him and he pushed it away resolutely.
For now at least, he had this. He wasn't going to let thoughts of the future ruin it. Draco tamped down the twinge of disappointment in his heart and bounded off after Alpha.
He was playing.
Harry could hardly believe it. He yelped in surprise as Shadow charged from his right and pounced on him with a triumphant growl, sending them both tumbling to the ground. He was getting good at that, Harry noted with a surge of pride. Apparently, his pup was a fast learner. There was a marked improvement in his hunting style and Harry was seeing some major changes. The days of chaos and charging headfirst into trouble were diminishing. He moved with an efficient grace now and even took off on his own nowadays. Yes, Shadow was growing up to be a fine hunter.
He was getting bigger too, Harry noted wistfully. When he had first met him, Shadow could have fit in the palm of his hand. He was still small, but Harry would need both his hands to pick him up now. Had he really grown so much? The thought was sad, somehow. He had grown used to Shadow's company and it would hurt to lose him. He would want to explore the woods soon; maybe even run with another pack…Harry wouldn't be able to join him. He would have to say goodbye.
The pup in question seemed to sense his melancholy thoughts because he sat up with a whimper, treating the older wolf to a consoling lick. Harry responded in kind, nibbling gently at his nape. Shadow practically keened at the attention and splayed on the ground in a demand for more pampering. Harry complied with an amused snort, keeping up his ministrations with Shadow firmly nestled in between his front paws.
Shadow tolerated the grooming for as long as an active little pup can be expected to before jumping up and bunting him in the head, urging him to tussle again. Harry rolled over easily and responded with some rough housing, all the while taking care not to get too caught up. He wasn't going to risk hurting the little one- not even in play.
They mock wrestled for a bit; Shadow was definitely getting better at this game and Harry actually enjoyed letting him win every now and then. Usually, he would feel compelled to remind the impertinent little brat that he was the boss, but sometimes it was nice to just watch him have fun. There was a strange sort of joy in watching Shadow grow and knowing that he had a part in it. Was this what parents felt like? Maybe…
The pup clambered and pounced and nipped at him until he tired himself out. Harry's ears twitched in amusement as Shadow tumbled against him and yawned. Grey eyes blinked sleepily and Harry nuzzled him affectionately, settling down as well. Shadow curled against him and closed his eyes, falling asleep almost immediately. Completely secure in the knowledge that Harry would watch over him. A strange sort of warmth spread through his heart at the thought, coupled with a fierce sense of protectiveness. Harry yawned and settled down as well, even as the vague knowledge that dawn wasn't too far away drifted through his mind.
Yes, he would have to leave soon. Very soon. But surely, just a little longer with Shadow couldn't hurt. He had so little time left with him. Just a little longer…
When he woke up a few hours later, the sun was up and Shadow was gone. There was nothing to tell he had ever been there at all save for a small set of paw prints pattering off into the woods. Harry stared at the fading tracks in silence. Shadow was gone. And one day, he would go off again and…and not come back. The sheer depression that set in from the thought was overwhelming. Somehow, he didn't want to be a wolf just then. It didn't make sense without a small white body pattering alongside him and huge, silver eyes gazing at him adoringly.
Harry reverted back to his human form, shivering as the cold set in. He wrapped his cloak tightly around himself and rubbed his hands, making his weary way back to the castle wall.
If he had looked a little harder, he would have noticed that the little paw prints followed his path all the way to the wall. If he had looked harder, he would have seen that there was a gap in the wall- bigger than before- which a little animal could squeeze in and out of. And if he had looked just a little bit harder, he would have seen the paw prints end and a pair of footprints begin at the same gap.
But Harry didn't notice. The only thing running through his mind was that he missed his little wolf and he didn't quite know what to do without him anymore.
Draco sighed as he sat by the frozen lake, staring out at nothing in particular. It was cold, but he had cast a warming charm before leaving the castle. Lately, things had been difficult for him and he just wanted to be alone. Usually that worked out rather well. Most people were more than happy to leave him to his own devices nowadays. Still things had been hard since the war and he was no stranger to sudden shoves or tripping jinxes. So he remained tense and alert for any sign of attack.
A twig cracked behind him. Draco turned around whipped out his wand instinctively.
Potter raised his hands and backed away. "Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't know this spot was taken."
Draco pursed his lips and pocketed his wand. "Well, now you know," he replied shortly.
Things had been awkward with Potter for a while now, and he wasn't sure how to respond to him. In the past, he would have thought nothing about hexing him just because, but it didn't seem worth the effort anymore. Things had changed somehow. More than anything, he missed his wolf. He felt alone and lost without Alpha and squabbling with Potter just seemed stupid and petty in comparison.
He still wished he would leave though. Instead, Potter stepped forward and sat beside him, eyeing him with a mix of curiosity and wariness. "What are you doing out here anyway?"
Draco bristled in defensive instinct. "I'm not doing anything," he snapped, turning on the prat. "I'm not plotting your painful demise, I'm not scheming to resurrect a Dark Lord…I'm not doing anything, Potter! I'm sitting here trying to work things out and that's pretty much it. So if you could just… I don't know, stop watching me like a cauldron that's about to explode, that would be brilliant."
Potter blinked in surprise, before his brows arched in a glare. "I have not," he snapped.
Draco sprang up, half angry, half incredulous. "Are you serious? You've been watching me like a hawk for months! You're just…just waiting for me to pull something and I'm sick of it! I'm not, okay? I'm not going to…"
"I have not been watching you because I think you're up to something, you insufferable git!" Potter cut in angrily.
Draco froze, too surprised to even sneer. He had expected denial. Denial, he could counter. Trust stupid, unpredictable Potter to turn the tables. "Why are you watching me at all?" he demanded.
Potter shuffled awkwardly and ran a hand through his hair. "Old habits," he muttered reluctantly. "And you've…you've been different this year."
Draco cocked his head curiously. "Different," he echoed blandly.
"You don't do anything anymore," Potter replied seriously. As if Draco's change of temperament was a matter of extreme concern. "You're reserved and quiet. You haven't even tried starting anything with me this year. It's…it's just weird, okay?"
Draco tried very hard not to let his jaw drop. If he was hearing this correctly, Potter was saying that he missed him. How was he even supposed to respond to that?
"You're weird," he muttered.
Potter seemed surprised, but then his lips quirked up in a teasing grin. "That's your comeback?"
"Take it or leave it, Scarhead," Draco grumbled, flouncing back and sitting down again.
There was silence for a while. Perhaps Potter had left…
"I'll take it. It's some of your finest work."
Potter sat down next to him and Draco shivered as their arms brushed. The warmth was…strangely familiar somehow. As was Potter's attempt to rile him up. Draco almost smiled. "I resent that," he replied. "I've done better. Weasley is Our King? The Potter Stinks badges? What about…"
"Yes, yes. You're a very creative prat," Potter cut in dryly. He was smiling though, and it wasn't…entirely awful.
"It's nice to know my genius is appreciated," Draco smirked.
Potter snorted and leaned back, resting against an oak. Draco couldn't help noticing the subtle shifts and lines of his body. He looked away quickly, staring back at the lake. The moon glinted over the icy surface and Draco's thoughts flitted to the forest, where a grey wolf was stalking his territory.
"Full moon," Potter murmured, seemingly echoing his thoughts. He sounded wistful and Draco wondered why. "Why are you here?" he asked. For some reason, he wanted to know. Curiosity? Or was it just the underlying sense that Potter's problems were no different from his own? Except they had to be because Draco's problems were bizarre beyond belief. Still…
Potter shrugged. "It's hard to explain," he offered finally.
Draco couldn't help the smirk. "Oddly enough, I get that."
Potter shifted closer, joining him as he stared out into nothing. "I'm losing him," he murmured softly. "He'll leave and I don't know what I'll do without him."
Draco frowned, absently wondering who Potter was talking about. A lover, perhaps? A friend? Part of him desperately wanted to know who had elicited such strong emotions from Potter, but perhaps it was none of his business. He did understand, though. Of course, Potter was obviously talking about a person. But Draco knew what it was like to care about someone and know they would leave soon. His time with Alpha was growing short and it left him feeling hurt and bitter.
"It's not fair," he whispered.
"No," Potter muttered. "It isn't."
He blinked and sat up abruptly, as if just realizing who he was talking to. Draco stiffened as well, waiting for Potter to sneer and stomp off. Instead, the Gryffindor merely sighed and shook his head. "I should go," he said finally. "I don't even know what I'm doing out here in the first place…"
He looked dejected and tired again and Draco felt compelled to say something, if only to dispel the sudden awkwardness. "It'll work itself out, Potter. It always does."
Potter managed a reluctant smile. "Thanks for not being a prat, Malfoy," he said. "This was…"
Potter laughed. "Well, yeah. But thanks anyway."
Draco nodded as he turned away, making for the castle. He could sense Potter's eyes on his back as he left, watching him. It wasn't irksome though. The git didn't mean anything by it. No, Potter just…liked watching him. Draco smiled slightly. He supposed he could live with it.
For the first time in weeks, he found he didn't miss Alpha quite so much.
Draco awaited his next hunt with almost unbearable impatience. It had been too long since he had had the forest to himself and lately, the castle seemed more suffocating than usual. The moon shone down at him- a cold yet not unwelcoming sight- and Draco shivered in anticipation. The moment he was on the other side of the wall, he transformed into his now familiar lupine state.
The world seemed to transform with him, becoming larger and wider and a lot more intriguing all of a sudden. Freedom at last. Draco tipped his head back and howled just because he could. He was pleased to note that his raspy, shrill yowl had given way to a low, haunting timbre. He sounded just like Alpha. The thought of his wolf brought back the anticipation. Draco sprang up and sprinted off into the woods, searching for the other. The snow scrunched under his paws and the forest seemed to open up in front of him. He had been away too long.
Something was amiss though. Draco faltered and halted in his tracks, scenting the air warily. Something wasn't right. There was an unfamiliar scent on the wind and the woods were unusually quiet. Even more disconcertingly, Alpha was nowhere in sight. His snowy fur bristled as he padded forth cautiously. He couldn't quite understand it, but something was wrong.
He half considered running off, before thinking better of it. He was a wolf and he could take care of himself. Alpha wouldn't run. Draco shook his head and sprinted off towards the hunting grounds. This was his forest- his and Alpha's- and he wasn't about to turn tail and retreat just because something felt a bit off.
It wasn't long before he slipped into the small clearing. Alpha usually waited here for him before they took off for their nightly run. He wasn't tonight, though. The clearing was empty and the familiar grey shadow was nowhere in sight. That wasn't the only problem either. The wind rustled ominously through the trees and the stark silence was starting to get to him. Draco growled in agitation. What was happening here?
His hackles rose as a twig cracked behind him, followed by a threatening growl. Even as he stiffened and whirled around, Draco was absolutely certain of one thing.
It wasn't Alpha.
He stamped down his alarm as the other wolf stalked out of the shadows. His muzzle was matted with blood and his dark eyes eyed the white wolf with barely concealed menace. He was a large animal- at least four times Draco's size- and his black coat bristled with agitation at the pup's presence. The larger wolf bared his teeth and growled again, his bulky build quivering with barely suppressed agitation.
Draco hunkered down, guided by instinctive fear. He was young and inexperienced but even he could tell this wasn't a playful encounter. There was an aggressiveness here that the younger wolf was unaccustomed to. The darker wolf stalked forward with a low growl, tail bristling and teeth bared.
He was spoiling for a fight.
Draco faltered and backed away slowly, making his intentions clear. He didn't want to fight. There was no way he could take this monster on and hope to win. Retreat was wise and his instincts dictated that he do so now. A whine escaped his throat in tacit surrender. The other growled and prowled closer and something akin to blinding terror surged inside Draco. Another whimper escaped him and he backed away frantically now, searching for an escape. There was none. The wolf snapped its lethal jaws threateningly and Draco trembled in fright. Alpha…he needed Alpha. Where was he? Why wasn't he here? Why had he left him alone with this...
It all happened in seconds. The darker wolf howled and sprang for him, jaws wide open. Draco's panic took over and he turned to flee with a yelp. He barely registered the angry snarl before a body crashed into him with blinding force. He howled as he tumbled to the frozen ground, struggling to get free. And then a pair of steel like jaws snapped dangerously close to him, just grazing his hind leg. The sharp, painful sting was all it took for his panic to surge.
Harry's blood was up. He practically sprinted for the clearing, teeth bared and fur bristling. He had sensed something off all evening and the strange paw prints in the snow had only added to his disconcertion. The wolves had been lying low lately but he hadn't been appeased. He was no stranger to intruders in his territory. He drove the wolves off viciously, but it was only a matter of time before they came back.
He scented the air and growled. It was the black one this time.
Harry had fought him off before, but it hadn't been easy. He was a nasty piece of work. A lone wolf without a pack was a dangerous creature. The black wolf was practically feral – an aggressive brute who wouldn't hesitate to attack for no reason. Harry's hackles rose. Well, he was going to think twice about hunting in these grounds again...
His scent was on the wind and Harry followed the trail effortlessly. Not too far now…
Suddenly a shrill, terrified howl rang out in the silence, bringing Harry to a screeching halt. His heart skipped a proverbial beat as he recognized…
Harry took off again, practically blazing a trail across the forest. His heart hammered and panic surged, giving way blinding rage almost immediately.
Shadow was in danger.
The wolf had his pup!
Harry's eyes flashed and a snarl tore from his throat. The world faded to black around him, the whole forest just one big obstacle standing between him and Shadow. Something primal and savage and angry took over his psyche. All he knew was that if there was so much as a scratch on Shadow, Harry would rip his attacker limb from limb. Shadow's howls were faint but frantic, and they spurred him on.
He crashed into the clearing with a savage growl, his vision immediately narrowing on the dark, menacing shadow hovering over a smaller white one. Shadow's eyes were wide with terror as he tried to scramble for safety. He made a break for his right but the larger wolf snarled and lunged for him.
Harry didn't wait around to watch anymore. He snarled and leapt into the fray, crashing into the wolf and knocking him off his feet. Caught off guard, the animal went sprawling to the ground. Shadow whimpered shrilly and sprinted for Harry, who ushered him back at once. First he was going to deal with the immediate threat. He positioned himself in front of the trembling pup and snarled, issuing a challenge.
The black wolf sprang up and snarled back, tail stiff and fur bristling. He prowled over again and Harry growled and gnashed his teeth, covering Shadow's small form with his own. His eyes flashed as he shielded his little one from the attacker. His teeth were bared in a menacing snarl and he growled again, issuing a clear warning.
Undaunted, the black wolf responded with a challenge of his own. And then he pounced.
Harry couldn't say how long it lasted. He was aware of very little save Shadow's cries of fear and the massive brute trying to rip a chunk out of his flank. The wolf was larger and heavier, but Harry had the advantage of speed and lightning quick reflexes. He gave as good as he got and when the attacker lunged at his leg, he leapt out of the way and sprang, clamping vice like teeth around his neck. His adversary went down with a pained howl, struggling violently and snapping into thin air. Harry held on, growling in triumph as he tasted blood. His mind rebelled and his instincts clamoured, demanding retribution.
Kill. Kill. Kill!
It was merely good fortune that the wolf managed to throw him off. Else Harry would most certainly have finished him off. Even now as his opponent retreated, he bristled and prepared to give chase. The black wolf took off at once, turning tail and fleeing with a defeated growl. Harry watched him run off, baring his teeth in an imitation of a sneer. He swished his tail triumphantly and howled into the night. He had won. The forest was his again.
It took a while for the timid whimpers to pervade his conscious mind. But when Shadow limped over and nuzzled into his flank, he snapped out of it at once. His pup was shaking violently and Harry's heart ached. He bent his head to lick at him reassuringly, nuzzling back as Shadow insisted on burrowing into him. His little one…he could have lost him.
A whimper escaped him at the thought. Shadow…Shadow was his whole world. When had this little white wolf become so important? When had he wound his way into Harry's heart? What would he do if anything ever happened to him? Harry didn't think he could live with himself if…
Shadow whined again and bunted against him, demanding immediate attention. Harry nuzzled and licked, checking him over as he did. He was unhurt, save for a shallow graze on his hind leg. The wolf must have landed a scratch. His ears flattened instinctively but he fought to remain calm. The little one was hurt. It wasn't bad, but he would need healing.
He forced himself to think. He had stashed his wand with the Invisibility Cloak. Under the old oak at the west wall. It wasn't too far and if he ran fast…Harry made a decision. He hauled Shadow off the ground, gripping his nape gently. He was heavier now but thankfully still small enough to carry around. Shadow whined and squirmed a bit before settling down reluctantly. He didn't entirely understand, but at least he was willing to trust the larger wolf. Harry took off at once.
By the time he approached the castle, Shadow had become extremely restless. He squirmed and whined until Harry was forced to release him. The little wolf tumbled in the snow, sitting up and looking around warily. He whimpered and backed away, clearly distressed.
It wasn't going to get any easier either. A sudden wave of sadness took over Harry as he realized what he would have to do next. Shadow would be scared, but he had to heal the pup.
Harry took a deep breath and transformed. He winced as the change shifted and moulded his body and he rose shakily, trying to will his legs to support him. His vision cleared slowly and he glanced at Shadow, who appeared to be frozen in shock. Large, grey eyes stared at a very human Harry, reflecting a mix of confusion and fear. Harry's heart nearly broke at the sight and he approached the little wolf cautiously.
"Shadow," he murmured softly. "It's okay. It's alright, little one."
The wolf yelped and scrabbled back. He looked so damn scared…
Harry reached out tentatively, only to withdraw his hand quickly when Shadow growled and snapped at him. The white wolf snarled and Harry despaired. How could he make this better? Shadow was terrified of him…
"It's okay, little one," he tried again. "I'd never hurt you. Not you, Shadow. Never you."
It only seemed to heighten the pup's panic. He retreated again; eyes tracking every move Harry made. One mistake and he would bolt. Harry knelt in the snow, shivering slightly from the cold. He extended a hand to prove he meant no harm, hoping and praying that Shadow would trust him after all of this.
"Please Shadow. It's me. You know me. Let me take care of you. Please, sweetling. Just let me…"
Draco would like to believe that he had a high threshold for shock. After everything he had been through in his short but extremely eventful life, he supposed it was only natural.
That being said, he had been severely tested tonight.
After having nearly been mauled, rescued and carted about the forest he had pretty much reached his limit for tolerance. And then despite all odds, his night had somehow become even worse. Because his wolf, his Alpha- the enigmatic, intriguing grey guardian he had come to love and trust and rely on- had inexplicably turned into Harry sodding Potter!
Well. He certainly hadn't seen that coming.
It was a miracle that he hadn't gone entirely mental yet, but the way things were turning out it wouldn't be too long now. Then Potter was hovering over him, looking like he wanted nothing more than to protect him forever and murmuring soothing words and phrases he could discern, but certainly not understand. Because this was Potter and…oh Merlin, how had this happened?! How could he not have seen…
Potter reached out suddenly and Draco reacted the only way he knew how. He growled and snapped at the man, with every intention of taking two fingers off. Potter retreated at once, his expression reflecting deep hurt. Inexplicably, Draco felt a twinge of guilt and he stopped his snarling. He eyed the Gryffindor warily, flattening his ears as Potter tried to approach him again.
"It's okay, little one," he crooned softly. "I'd never hurt you. Not you, Shadow. Never you."
Draco started panicking. The situation was catching up with him. Potter thought he was…he didn't know. Oh Merlin, he had no idea. If he found out that his forest familiar was Draco, he would…well, he didn't know what he would do but it wouldn't be good. Potter might even hurt him. He would certainly hate him. Alpha would hate him and…and that couldn't happen. It just couldn't. Draco retreated warily, intending to flee at once.
He needed to run. Now.
Except…except Potter was looking at him with such kind eyes- as if he was the most precious thing in the world, the most wonderful thing that had ever existed. As if he wanted nothing more than to care for him and keep him from harm. Draco whimpered. He knew that look. It was how Alpha looked at him…
"Please Shadow," Potter whispered softly, extending a cautious hand again. "It's me. You know me. Let me take care of you. Please, sweetling. Just let me…"
Draco didn't realize how long he had dithered until Potters fingers brushed his head. The touch was soothing and familiar to his frayed nerves and he whined, leaning into the calloused, warm hand. "That's it," Potter encouraged softly. "It's alright, pretty one. It will be okay soon, I promise."
Draco remained still as Potter scrabbled with his wand. The healing spell washed over him and the pain receded at once. Draco yipped his approval and Potter heaved a sigh of relief, stroking him with trembling fingers. "This can't happen again," he whispered. "If anything had happened to you, I would have…"
He trailed off with a broken shudder, apparently to pained to even consider it. It was distressing to watch Potter so wrecked because of him and despite himself, Draco wanted to offer comfort. He bunted against Potter's hand, giving him a timid lick. Potter smiled fondly at him, resuming his petting. "My little shadow," he murmured. "I won't let anyone hurt you. I'll think of something, I promise."
Suddenly it was too much. The way Potter was looking at him, the way his fingers brushed his fur so gently, his fervent, gentle promises…Draco started trembling. This was wrong. He was lying to a man who apparently held more than a passing fondness for him. It wrecked him with guilt. Potter cared and…and he couldn't deceive him like this. As much as he was loath to, he knew what needed to be done. Potter needed to know. Even if he hated him later, he deserved to know.
He would miss Alpha though. He really would.
Draco wriggled out of Potter's grasp, ignoring his protests. If he gave himself time to reconsider, he wouldn't be able to do this. He took one last look at Potter, who was frowning and reaching out for him again. Draco steeled himself and transformed.
Draco planted his hands in the snow to keep himself from falling on his face. His shallow breathing eased out gradually and he was able to sit up. He dusted the snow off his clothes with shaky fingers, avoiding looking at Potter for as long as humanely possible.
That happy state couldn't last forever though. Eventually, he brushed his hair out of his eyes, glancing cautiously at Potter. Potter looked about one step from hysterics. He was pale, his eyes were wide and unblinking, his fists were clenched around his cloak and his breathing was shallow. Draco cringed.
"Potter." he mumbled.
"Malfoy," Potter replied. His tone was impressively calm, if a little shaky. He still looked like he was going to go up in flames though. Draco winced in empathy.
"Take your time," he sighed. "Just let it sink in."
Potter shook his head, apparently testing to see if he was some sort of hallucination. He blinked at Draco disbelievingly. "This is happening," he whispered. "Oh Merlin, this is real."
Draco raised an eyebrow as Potter groaned and rubbed his temples, before turning to him. "You're Shadow," he announced in a hollow voice.
"Ten points to Gryffindor," Draco put in, unable to help himself.
Potter scowled at him. "Can you not make jokes right now? I'm not…equipped to handle it."
Draco subsided obligingly, watching with mild interest as Potter processed his situation. He absently wondered when the screaming and name calling would start. It was freezing out here…
Potter seemed in no real hurry. He stood up shakily and starting pacing. Every now and then he would stop and stare at Draco as if expecting him to start doing cartwheels. Then he would mumble and start pacing again. Draco sat through Potter's meltdown patiently. It would have been funny if he hadn't experienced the exact same thing ten minutes ago.
"If it helps, you're doing a much better job at dealing with this than me."
Potter turned to him, still looking shell-shocked. Really, it was starting to get annoying. "Why?" he demanded. "Just…why?"
Draco scowled. "I didn't know it was you!" he snapped. "Surprising it may be Potter, but not everything is my fault!"
Potter seemed incapable of speech by this time. "You… you were…you!" he blurted. "It was you! And…and you were scampering and yelping and…how in Merlin's name did you get yourself stuck in a ditch?"
Draco flushed scarlet and scowled at the prat. "I'm a child in my wolf form!" he snapped. "I assure you Potter, if I had known that Alpha was you I would have stayed in there!"
"I had to give you some sort of name," Draco muttered, crossing his arms defensively.
Potter blinked as he processed that. Apparently, a little ego boost was all it took to get over mind numbing shock because the smug prat practically preened. "Alpha?" he repeated, a little too happily for Draco's liking. "You're too kind, Malfoy."
The blond rolled his eyes. "I liked you better as a wolf," he announced.
"Well, we have that in common at least," Potter replied. He didn't sound angry or even upset, just…bemused. Draco raised an eyebrow as Potter shook his head in disbelief and emitted a short, bark like laugh. He slumped down in the snow, turning to the blond again. "Sit down."
Draco stiffened. "It's freezing," he argued weakly.
"I'll cast a warming charm. Just sit. I need to…talk this out."
Draco relented, sitting across from Potter. He sighed in relief as the man did in fact, cast a warming charm. At least they won't get frostbite sitting out in the freezing cold…His inner monologue came to an abrupt halt as Potter reached out and grasped his chin, tipping his head back. Draco stiffened and tried to pull away but Potter tightened his grip ever so slightly, holding him in place as he stared at him. Intense, green eyes bore into him and Draco fought the urge to squirm.
"I should have seen it," Potter murmured, half to himself. "Your eyes are a dead giveaway."
Draco wasn't entirely sure if that was complimentary but then again, Potter was still touching him. He swallowed audibly and Potter released him. "You're not still hurt, are you?" he demanded suddenly. "From…"
"No," Draco cut in. "It's fine now. You…you took care of it."
Potter smiled hesitantly. "Of course I did," he replied. "You're just a little one."
Draco groaned and buried his face in his hands. "This is so wrong," he muttered. He heard Potter's responding chuckle and raised his head to glare at him. "It's not amusing, Potter."
"Isn't it?" Potter snickered. "Think about it, Malfoy. Just think about the odds. Considering our history, what are the chances we'd bond as wolves? Tell me that's not hilarious."
Draco shifted uncomfortably. "You're not entirely unbearable as a wolf."
"Neither are you," Potter grinned teasingly. "As a matter of fact, you're quite adorable."
Draco bristled indignantly. "Potter…"
"With your teeny tiny paws and…"
"Potter, I'm warning you…"
"…and so fluffy..."
"Potter, knock it off!" Draco snapped, giving the prat a half hearted shove. The Gryffindor laughed and his eyes glinted with humour as Draco's agitation increased. "This is bad enough without your stupid commentary!"
Potter subsided, but Draco could still feel his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. "You're thinking of the time you tossed me in the bush, aren't you?"
Potter collapsed into muffled giggles again and Draco gave up. He started in surprise as a toned arm slipped around his shoulders. "Oh, lighten up," Potter murmured in his ear, pulling him just a bit closer. "It's not so bad."
"Yes it is," Draco argued belligerently, suppressing a shiver as chapped but soft lips brushed his ear accidentally. He felt those lips stretch in an amused grin.
"It really isn't," Potter replied softly. "Think about it. We actually found a way to get along. If nothing else, this proves that miracles do happen."
"Didn't know it was you," Draco muttered. "And you didn't know it was me. Not so much a miracle as a cosmic joke if you ask me." That said, he made no move to extricate himself from Potter's hold.
"But it happened," the Gryffindor insisted. "We didn't plan to but we found each other anyway. And that means something, Mal-Draco. It does to me at least."
Draco looked up, looking anxiously into green eyes. "It does?"
Potter smiled and brushed his hair back, almost petting him. It felt…nice. "I've grown quite fond of you," he confessed almost shyly. "And unless I'm completely off base here, you're not… entirely averse to my existence anymore."
Draco's lips quirked in a reluctant grin. "Not entirely," he admitted. Potter grinned and pulled him closer. Draco went without protest. "What happens now?" he found himself asking.
Potter turned to him, a teasing grin playing on his lips. "We'll take it as it goes. Of course, you still need to brush up on your hunting technique. You're a disaster out there."
"I had a lousy teacher."
Potter laughed and shoved at him, before slinging an arm around his shoulders again. "Prat," he murmured. But there was a fondness in his voice that warmed Draco's heart.
"This could work," he murmured, half to himself.
Potter's lips brushed against his cheek. "Yeah," he whispered back. Draco smiled and laid his head on the Gryffindor's shoulder, enjoying the simple pleasure of Potter's fingers carding through his hair again.
Two months later…
"Luna, I really don't think we should be out here," Neville muttered as he followed her reluctantly. Honestly, the things he did for love…
"We won't go too far," Luna declared blithely, practically skipping to the Forbidden Forest. "Nargles don't like the cold much anyway."
Neville sighed wearily. He trudged alongside her reluctantly, if only because he knew that if he went back to the castle Luna would think nothing of traipsing in the forest alone. It was dangerous out here. Merlin only knew what kind of animals…
"Oh look!" Luna exclaimed suddenly.
Neville looked up and stopped in his tracks, frozen with horror. Two wolves loped out of the forest, side by side. The larger, grey one growled and playfully tackled his adolescent white companion. The younger wolf whined in protest and retaliated, tussling enthusiastically with his alpha. Neville scrabbled back and fumbled for his wand. A twig cracked underfoot and the wolves tensed, turning to them.
"I knew they'd work it out," Luna declared, looking inexplicably pleased with the situation. Neville didn't bother to ask what she was on about. He pulled out his wand shakily. The white wolf caught the movement and growled at him. Neville's heart hammered in his chest. "Luna," he whispered shakily. "Get behind me. Now."
"Why?" Luna asked, looking puzzled. She smiled at the wolf. "You've grown. I knew you could do it," she said. The wolf cocked his head and twitched his ear, emitting a shrill yip as he bounded back to his companion. The grey wolf nuzzled him affectionately, giving Luna a long, searching look. Whatever it was, Luna seemed to understand.
"Come back before dawn," she called out. "And don't scare away the nargles!"
The wolves gave her one last look and then with a yip each they were gone, running off in the forest. Neville watched them depart, utterly gobsmacked. "What just happened?" he demanded breathlessly. "Why…why didn't they…"
"They owe me a favour," Luna replied cheerfully. "Now stay focused. The nargles could be anywhere…"
Neville sighed and resigned himself to searching the bushes for nargles, half expecting one to spring out at him. At this point, nothing would surprise him. Somewhere in the night, he heard twin howls echoing across the forest. It didn't worry him too much though. He was fairly certain the wolves wouldn't bother them.
Apparently, they owed Luna a favour.