Title: A Change of Heart (Part 4 of 5)
They said that every calendar devised by men were based on solar or lunar cycles; if that were true, then time should come to a halt when the sun failed to rise and the moon ceased to sail the nightly skies.
The students had returned to Hogwarts from the holidays; classes resumed, so did the revolts, the detentions. Winter, in its ironclad steps, marched on, even though the sun had long been strangled to non-existence at every corner of the castle – there were no signs of joy, youth, or life. And …
Draco glanced towards the Ravenclaw table.
Luna Lovegood was nowhere to be found.
His efforts to dissuade himself from returning to the Chamber of Secrets had been in vain, futile as the lie he had told himself about the crystal casket – that the Malfoy heirloom had been left accidentally on Slytherin’s statue and must be retrieved at his earliest convenience.
Draco no longer required Lumos to navigate the tunnel; he knew every hollow in the stone walls, every patch of moss that had sprouted from the cracks – he had learned them just as he had memorised the stone reliefs in the Slytherin maze. Over time, the crunching noises accompanying his steps had diminished to echoes, the skulls on the floor collected for the Bluebells and the long bones pulverized to silver dust beneath his feet. The folds of the shed snakeskin had become a milestone; once passed, the door to the Chamber was not far away.
This time, a beacon of sapphire flame guided his way into the Chamber. He approached the mirror, half hoping a dazzling pool of radiance would welcome him; but the white light remained weak and unsteady, its rays struggling to spread their wings. Whatever magic had strengthened them remained compromised.
“Hello there.” Draco attempted, for a moment, to play the role of a concerned visitor, a Ministry official offering condolences to the war victims at St Mungo’s. His back was straight, his hands folded neatly on the lap of his tailored robe; all that was missing were the bouquets of flowers and camera flashes.
There was a twitch in the feathers. Underneath them, as Draco discerned soon enough, a hand was raised feebly to hold the one belonging to his twin, who was rolling his eyes at Draco.
Right. Who was he trying to fool?
“Prat,” Draco mumbled. He retrieved his shrunken school trunk from his pocket, expanded it and undid the leather buckles; crumpled robes, miscellaneous toiletries and school supplies spilled all over the stone floor.
He refused to look at the mirror as his hands busily sorted his possessions. “I’ll be your neighbour,” he paused before adding hastily, his voice muffled by the loud clatter of combs and ink pots, “only for a little while, I hope.”
Silence. Not that Draco had expected anything else, but he was still thankful to escape judgment. He had had enough of that, enough of humiliation, too, to fill him with nausea even if he had only been a witness to it – this would have been a ludicrous sentiment to him still even a year ago, but then, so would have the notion of an ever expanding DADA classroom, the walls extending day after day to make room for Amycus Carrow’s ever growing collection. The once biweekly subject had become a daily, mandatory gathering of the entire school, in which the Death Eater flaunted his newfound taste in wizarding photography.
Instead of featuring century-old wizards and ancient tortures, the recent artwork featured the latest victims of the war and the freshest of their wounds.
Save for Carrow’s animated narration, at first nothing could be heard in these assemblies but the students' fast breathing and pounding heartbeats. This silence, however, never lasted. Soon, the first-year Slytherins blotted the still air with barely audible stutters that the victims might deserve their punishment; the second-years chimed in next, expressing a louder, more definite disgust against crimes supposedly committed by the torture victims, crimes that were rarely named or elaborated upon. Then, the older ones strengthened the chorus – and it took little time for the school to transform into a circus of name-calling, of false bravado.
Some, of course, were angry, indignant. Like Weasley, who would have hexed Carrow to pieces if not for Longbottom’s arm tightly around her shoulders; the latter was the usual picture of calm, his awareness of the frenzy only hinted by the occasional glances he threw towards Draco, who did not participate in the mudslinging for reasons of his own.
He was too intent on searching the faces, of the torturer and the tortured. Carrow had a penchant for outdoor executions, of lively, green backgrounds behind scarlet gushing from pallid skin. On one occasion, something in the corner of a photograph had caught Draco’s eye – laying prone on the yew hedge had been a wounded peacock, its long, unkempt train prominently visible on the snow-laden lawn, its vanes caked in dirt and blood.
His father had never let harm come to his prized fowls; but then, Draco had since noticed, many servants of the Dark Lord, who had never known mercy, had come to beg for it, tears and snot thrown in for effect before a wand had flicked their death sentence.
Draco found this humiliation difficult to swallow, almost more tasking than the pain he had to endure from his fickle heart; nothing, however, fazed him more than the fear of seeing his parents with every new photo that was unveiled.
The terror was prolonged this evening by Carrow’s decision to extend his showcase to the Slytherin dormitory, thanks to the overwhelming response to this morning's displays. The low ceiling and high-backed chairs converted the common room to a wardless prison, one without escape from the gigantic exhibits that Carrow had declared to “look too good to chop down”.
Draco sat by the elaborately carved mantelpiece, hoping that the crackling fire would tame his nausea. For a while, it almost worked; hypnotised by the flames of red and gold, his mind wandered to the Chamber of Secrets, then, to that conversation that had occurred in this same room so long ago, when his younger self had wished before Crabbe and Goyle for the Chamber to unleash its power and cleanse the world of the friends of Saint Potter, the Mudbloods –
The room promptly turned a dark shade of brown. Looking up, Draco saw a close up of flesh splitting open, the muddy shade a result of the blood’s red blending with the light from the emerald lamps suspended from the roof of the dungeon. The finale of this photo was a full body shot, capturing the agony of a Death Eater-turned-traitor inflicting the wound upon his own chest, apparently under the influence of an Imperious Curse.
The irony was impossible to ignore – his kind had resorted to self-mutilation without help from the Muggles at all. Draco lowered his eyes to look at the skulls adorning the cabinets.
Their owners must be turning in their graves, he thought.
A heart-wrenching wail then sounded, stunning all in the room and startling Draco’s heart to a wild flutter.
It was the call of a peahen. Carrow had just levitated yet another photograph, and an emaciated fowl could be seen in its corner, its feathers ruffled, its neck stretched for a raucous song of lament –
“Wouldn’t shut up, that bird, since its mate went down, and the camera catches peafowl cries ... I’ll slice its pretty throat one day.” Malevolence filled Carrow’s eyes as they swept towards Draco, “I can take care of its chicks.” Pansy began to chortle, but her laughs sounded forced and her eyes were dull with hurt. His preference for male companionship had been revealed to her then, either by Carrow or Crabbe; the latter took her cue and proceeded to howl.
Immediately, Draco’s line of vision was blocked by a wide figure, who must have moved in front of him by instinct. His voice, improportionately small to his body's size, started to whimper: “I … dun understand.”
Strangely enough, these three words turned into Draco’s saving grace; he had come to accept his expired welcome in Slytherin. “Don’t you worry, Goyle,” he gave a pat on his friend’s back, “I must go to finish my Head Boy duties now.”
All eyes set upon Draco as he stood up and left, even the many sockets on the skulls, those he would have used to bear his Bluebell flames.
At that moment, Draco decided to join himself the great show of irony.
If wizards could massacre wizards, then the Chamber of Secrets could certainly be a refuge, a safe haven.
He had run to pack, which had meant throwing the bare necessities into his school trunk and leaving the trophies and mementos he had brought from home on his dresser; he could not afford his departure to be conspicuous. He had even put on his best student robe and polished his prefect’s badge to a perfect shine; Draco Malfoy had never failed as an accomplished actor, had always kept his pride …
… along with a healthy dose of self-importance. No one had paid attention when he had slipped out of the common room except Goyle, whose wide eyes had never left him as he had walked briskly and quietly in the shadows behind the chairs.
Hopefully, Draco thought, shoving his now empty school trunk aside, there would come an opportunity to repay his friend.
“Maybe I’ll save him – heroically, Saint Potter’s way,” he said to the mirror; there was no denying that elation was seeping into his every cell, like water into a wilted seedling at the end of a drought. His twin smirked, and the mysterious man behind him shuffled weakly, sending a soft ripple across the plane of feathers.
Draco almost jumped to his feet. “You can hear me?” he inquired immediately, but got no response this time.
The rest of the night he spent transforming the Chamber into a temporary home; soon, he confessed to himself that all he actually yearned for was illumination. He had exhausted the animal skull supply for the Bluebell flames on Christmas Eve, and for a brief moment he panicked about the lack of jars.
Pacing frantically around the mirror, he tripped over the basilisk.
Inspiration came to him at that fall. It was an idea suited for lunatics, really, but then, Draco was no stranger to taking on projects that were meant to fail.
And this one definitely promised brighter consequences.
Aiming his wand at the basilisk, he focused his mind on its weight and spelled Wingadium Leviosa. His magic was clearly inadequate; while the tail lifted, the skull, which concealed a significant fraction of the mirror, refused to raise so much as an infinitesimal tilt. Snape must have been determined to protect the mirror from theft – a venomous beast, devoid of life, was at once a visually horrifying, faithful and hefty guardian. A sense of rebellion fuelled the workings of Draco’s mind, and it spun and churned to his satisfaction by delivering a speedy proposal.
He should skin the basalisk’s corpse first, and then turn the skeleton around.
It soon became apparent that executing this plan would be anything but speedy. A spell of Diffindo failed miserably – its invisible blade was too blunt for anything beyond cloths and parchments, and the scales on the hide were tough as armour shields. Repeated attempts at different places yielded no better results, and after an hour Draco collapsed on the golden frame of the mirror, catching a breath as he gave the corpse a furtive kick.
“Seems like we’ll have to make do with a gloomy home,” he told his twin, whose equal resignation, signalled by slumped shoulders and a bowed head, instantly garnered a tighter embrace from his companion. “All right. I get it.” Draco rolled his eyes and looked away, annoyed for once at the stomach-turning saccharin, the hearts and flowers –
Hearts. How could he have forgotten that? He rose with a start, heedless of the vertigo that sent his vision into a spin, and pointed his wand at the stretch of hide before him.
It worked; a spectacle of gashes, spanning like a spider web, invaded every inch of the basilisk’s body. Fine incisions near the soft belly tore into jagged openings as the destruction relentlessly forced its way through the tough skin along the spine. Draco remained focused – for the harsh noises, while deafening, did not possess the fluid quality that he associated as the backdrop and aftermath of the spell. The blood of the beast had long dried and its heart turned to dust, and while the process seemed painful – ominous, even – there was something beautiful in watching the smooth, ivory backbone break through its tattered, toxic green shell.
In a shower of popping sounds, the hide disintegrated and scattered on the stone floor; with a wave of his wand, Draco easily banished the fragments to a corner of the chamber. He then spelled the Levitation charm onto the skeleton.
A swing, then a flip of his wrist, and the basilisk lay exactly the way he had envisioned it – just beyond the mirror and prone on its spine, the chain of bones perfectly structured to form a grate for his fireplace.
“Succendo!” he drawled triumphantly, accompanied by a series of dramatic taps of his wand; one by one, the blue fires appeared on the vertebra, each held by an open arch formed by a pair of adjoining ribs. It was elegance juxtaposed with power, symbolised by the sharp fangs projecting menacingly from the basilisk's skull. A stunning piece, worthy a Malfoy's residence.
Most importantly, however, it was a vessel of light, of warmth; sweating profusely, Draco removed his clothes, and without much thought collapsed upon the bed waiting for him, soft and faintly lit in the now unobstructed mirror. As the feathers enfolded him lightly, he closed his eyes and waited for fire-breathing dragons to chase him in his sleep.
They didn’t come. It was a night without dreams.
If the passage of time was inevitable in the reign of Darkness, so, then, must the seasons be as well. Yet the nights remained long and the ground hard with frost; white winds shrilled their woes amongst the towers of the castle, the snows in their wake turbulent and befuddling as the rumours they swept into the ears of students – of battles won and lost. Of Potter found and lost.
The first sign of spring had come to Draco from the most unexpected source. The residual warmth was still tangible on his palm, where the charmed Galleon had rested peacefully. A fresh inscription had replaced the incantation for the Kindling Charm.
9 30 AstroT DrsSeeker.
It had taken Draco a good five minutes to decipher the message: 9:30pm, Astronomy Tower, Dress as a Seeker. The sender must have been Weasley, but with the Quidditch prohibition in effect, she had to be aware that all the gear associated with the sport had been locked away, with each item monitored by a tracking spell.
Still, he had answered to the invitation, his Seeker robe stuffed in his bag as he followed the spiral staircase leading up the familiar tower. Waiting for him under the new moon was, indeed, the fiery Gryffindor, arms folded across her chest, her scrutiny intense as life in its full ferocity; her eyes made no effort to disguise any emotions, much like the eyes of another Gryffindor– in the years past; except that while Potter had always been clear in his message, be it loathing or disgust, her look was chaotic and unreadable, wild with every passion known to men.
Draco decided to take the initiative.
“I’m here. What do you want?” he asked. The urge to return her glare was undeniable, thus he obliged, gave in to the instinct to cross his arms, as well –
“Copycat,” Weasley hissed before an uncertain look flashed upon her face, one that only Seekers were fast enough to catch. “One-on-one Quidditch, you and I. We’ll play catch.” A gleam peeked from her pocket as she spoke, and soon a Golden Snitch was hovering between the two of them.
“Traced?” Draco plucked the small sphere from her fingers, was surprised that she let him do so. The long wingspans, each composed of a silver feather, continued to flap leisurely, as if warming up for a sure-to-win competition; it was immaterial that one of the blades had apparently been damaged, its fine barbs bent along a small stretch of rachis near the tapered end.
Weasley shook her head. “It’s mine,” at these words, her fluttering hair seemed to suddenly become a nuisance; she played with it before continuing, “well, his.”
Draco didn't need to inquire who he was.
Not that he would have the time to do so; with a twist at the wrist, much stronger than necessary, the red hair was piled into an untidy bun and Weasley reverted to her hounding glower. “Where’s your Seeker uniform?”
“Well …” Draco merely arched an eyebrow at her outfit – simple sweater and jeans; his silence made a better argument than any retort.
“I don’t have one.”
“You played Seeker before.”
“I assume you played in proper uniform, didn’t you?” Hooch had disqualified many Quidditch champions on the grounds of inappropriate attire.
“I borrowed one and shrunk it.” Her voice was still strong and defiant, but the look in the eyes flitting from Draco to the Snitch was anything but. “You weren’t there?”
That game must have been spectacular, a victory that she had assumed everyone, her enemies included, had witnessed and could attest to its brilliance, and even more so, its reality. So that they could assure her that the events leading towards it, or perhaps, the sunlit days that had followed it, had been more than a dream.
Considering the circumstance, Draco felt quite honoured to be the one to wreck her wishful thinking. He simply waved the Snitch.
“Oh. Right.” Weasley fell silent. She was, for one moment, pensive, her fingertips skidding down the midline of Draco’s sweater as if to trace the old wound, the one that had led to her playing substitute Seeker for Gryffindor. She lowered her head and turned towards the horizon when she said, “He said he was –“
“Don’t.” The word shot out, expelled by the sudden surge of acid in Draco’s stomach. Slytherins never held much regard for repentance, and as dark clouds mired the glow of the moon with their claws, Draco wished to never hear an apology again, not even from their supposed Saviour.
Especially not from their supposed Saviour – if he felt remorse for self-defence, he could regret anything. Everything …
Draco yearned for the winds to rise, and they did. The sliver of the moon re-emerged, triumphant.
The soft radiance seemed to re-ignite Weasley’s spirit as well. “Why did you come?” She stared at Draco with renewed intent.
“Why did you ask me?” Draco drawled, with all the hauteur he could manage.
“You’re such a piece of work. I ask you a question and you just throw me back another.” The smirk on the freckled face was effortlessly sensual. “Well, I’m clearly looking for someone to play Quidditch with. Someone who’s good, who doesn’t mind playing dirty and is not about to let me win. As much as I love Neville, he fails to fit the bill at every single count.”
“I’ll take this as a compliment.” After feigning to ponder, Draco responded.
Weasley actually chuckled; pushing herself up with her arms she settled herself in one of the crenels. “Be my guest. Plus, it’s much harder to get caught if the Head Boy was my partner in crime, and –” eying Draco’s bulging book bag, her face lit, as if an idea had suddenly struck her, “– if I’m wearing his Seeker robe.” Her legs kicked idly at the old stone parapet.
Almost too idly for someone who had just made such an impulsive, if blatant request. Still, Draco applauded her thespian skills and admitted to himself that her sheer nerve would have won him over, had it not been betrayed by a pleading glint in her eyes.
He took his revenge by taking his time,pacing back and forth on the battlement, enduring the sting of chilly air in his lungs before retrieving his Seeker robe.
Lips worried between teeth, Weasley’s face was pulled to a deep frown; evidently, the fact that her family owned nothing had not deterred her from getting everything she ever wanted.
Finally, Draco spoke. “You’ve planned this all along, haven’t you?”
Her denial was fast as instinct, expressed in an unblushing shake of the head; but her vision never strayed from the uniform, her eyes lustrous as the ultra-light Demiguise hair woven into the fabric. Draco sighed, charmed the robe red and gold and threw it into her lap.
“Burn it afterwards,” he said.
She flashed him a cheeky grin and vanished into the Tower; soon, she stood before him as a Gryffindor Seeker, two beaten-up broomsticks in her hand.
“Authentic antique brooms, Filch model one, each twig honed with dust, absolute zero acceleration in the past decade.” She bellowed a la Ludo Bagman in the wireless endorsements of the Cleansweeps, and shoved one broom into Draco’s hand.
Draco had readied himself for this moment. He spelled a Cushioning charm and mounted the broom in lightning speed, released the Snitch and immediately set off into the air with a hard kick. Weasley was left scrambling to catch up on the battlement.
“Cheater!” she shouted, but remained unfazed; it did not take her long to hover in the sky next to Draco, both of them needing time to adjust to their flying tool. The Snitch had long vanished out of sight, its speed evidently untouched by the fault in its wing. Meanwhile, the brooms were a challenge to manoeuvre, at once slow, tremulant and prone to veer steeply from their intended paths.
Draco was heading towards the Quidditch Pitch when Weasley swerved and sped off in the opposite direction. He hesitated briefly, then turned to pursue her instead; it had always been his tactic to trace the flight path of his rival Seeker.
He had forgotten that Weasley was a Chaser in a Seeker robe.
The Black Lake spread beneath them, lambent under the moon. The quiet water from late summer had long been awakened by orderly fronts of ripples, driven by the weakened but still heavy winds of early March. Silver glitters sprinkled along the ridge of the marching waves, most of them meek as fairy lights; occasionally, however, one would shine with mesmerizing brilliance, as if a shooting star had fallen into the lake and was waiting for someone to find it a home.
And without fail, Weasley would dive.
At first, her antics shocked Draco, who watched the scarlet silhouette perform suicide missions for what could not possibly be a Snitch – for, like the Snidgets they had been modelled after, Snitches were never known to seek refuge in the water. He watched her plunge, headlong, on a rickety broomstick, until the fingertips of her outstretched hand wetted and vanished into what could only be a memory of moonlight. She only levelled her broom at the very last minute, her face bridled with disappointment as she commenced the ascent back to surveillance height.
Numerous plunges later, Draco realised that she was born to seize upon the most eye-catching, to capture the most brilliant; once they had wandered into her visual field, she was driven to claim them as her own – what they were, or where they came from, made little difference. This night, the strategy struck gold – for it was indeed her, and her Chaser instinct, that first located the Golden Snitch. With a brutal pull on the handle, she launched herself upward and into a cloud, where Draco caught sight of the tiny dot and its broad, slender wings.
He hurtled in pursue, only to lose track of the Snitch in the blink of an eye. Weasley, however, seemed to experience no such setback; her speed accelerated, her flight a reckless climb bearing to the sharp right, and soon she crossed the shoreline of the lake into the skies above the Forbidden Forest. The Snitch re-materialised in the distance.
Draco continued to trail the Seeker in red, as he had always done in the past; but as the landscape below him darkened to a snare of barren branches, stealing the moonlight and giving back little in return, the Snitch’s disappearing act became strikingly apparent, its frequency accelerating to a steady blink in the distance. His disquiet was not helped by the slow broom that made catching up difficult, the Snitch still travelling in full speed along an alarmingly simple trajectory into the heart of the forest.
Then came the most perplexing moment, when the spot of gold froze in mid-air and flickered, seemingly uncertain of where to go; it was brief, but sufficient for Weasley and Draco to catch up.
It then became clear why the Snitch’s spasmodic presence bothered Draco alone.
A thestral floated in the air, its dark skin easily camouflaged by the night. Quicksilver eyes, empty and unforgiving, surveyed the terrain, and beneath one of the bat-like wings was the Golden Snitch. It fluttered wildly, trapped in the space between the wither and the wing, at times visible and then hidden again under the wing’s steady beating.
Closing in towards the creature in full speed, clearly unaware of its presence, was Weasley, her hair flying loose in the winds, her body trembling as the broom’s endurance was tested to its limits. Her robe flapped wildly as the gust from the thestral’s wings countered her approach, yet she chose to ignore it, or perhaps, her innate need to chase had muted her common sense.
The wing would soon crash upon her if she insisted on the hunt.
When Draco did the unthinkable, all he could see was the sheen of Gryffindor red imprinted on his retina. “Thestral!” he shouted at the top of his voice, and unsure of the thestral’s sense of hearing, he retrieved his wand, spelled Lumos, and let the broom, which carried his weight, succumb to gravity.
It was a free fall. Cold wind shrieked in his ears and burned every inch of his exposed skin. Time seemed to move through molasses as he held the broom in a death grip and struggled to look upward, to see whether the gamble had paid off.
Please, look at me.
Years must have gone by before the thestral answered his prayer. White eyes glowed towards him as the beast charged downward, its body clearing Weasley’s path –
Except, Draco had grossly underestimated the locomotive force of flight; as the thestral’s appendages repositioned and the wings stretched and unfurled to their maximum span, it was as if a full-fledged bludger blow had hit Weasley.
She fell from her broom. Still working to regain equilibrium, Draco let out a yelp and willed his broom to abide by his command once more, he then pulled himself upward to reach her as rapidly as he could; meanwhile, the thestral adjusted its course of descent and galloped towards the same destination, its wings losing their steady rhythm for the first time –
They all met at one point in the air.
Weasley was pale as parchment, but conscious and eerily calm. Draco dragged her onto his broom, only to hear the crisp crackle of wood fibres breaking as the handle yielded to their combined weight. She blanched even more, but said nothing.
“Thestrals … do you remember them from class?” he shouted into the winds; the thestral hovered next to them, an impassive living sculpture in the air. She merely nodded, still befuddled with shock. There was no way she could mount on an invisible, airborne creature with Draco’s verbal instructions alone, and this broom would not support them both for much longer.
He would have to go with her, if the thestral would permit him.
And once he did, there would be no more denying of the past; for he would ride on the ultimate testimony of his guilt, that night on the Astronomy Tower when he had handed Death its scythe. His hands shook, black thorns were sprouting and creeping from the hollow re-opened in his chest into his every blood vessel, like the many barren limbs of the Forbidden Forest below –
Weasley tugged at his robe; the thestral was in motion again, circling their broom with its neck stretched out, the chain of its vertebrae tasselled by an impossibly fine mane tautened and swayed, as if moving to a song that no ears of men could hear.
Then, Draco saw them below – specks of silver and gold that seemed to have heeded the call from the heavens, congregating from all directions towards what had to be a clearing in the forest. They navigated through the dense woodlands as though sailing upon invisible streams, waters that left indelible imprints of time and its unpredictability within the oppressive stillness of the forest. The specks merged into a pool of light, a full moon in the heart of abomination and fear.
Draco noticed that the silver species, slightly larger and more numerous, hovered protectively around the golden ones.
He wanted to find the glowing eyes once more, to look into them and see what the thestral could see. But he was too late; the winged horse had moved below them while he was distracted, and in one heart-stopping jolt Draco felt himself lifted onto its back, along with Weasley and the broom, and was soaring high into the clouds. He clung onto the creature as tightly as he could, his face buried in the mane, and swore to himself that the beads of water running off the soft hairs were from the chill that stung his eyes.
When the winds calmed to naught, when hard earth met the soles of his boots and cascades of empty seats in the Quidditch Pitch greeted his vision, Draco’s tears had dried. Weasley dismounted and carefully treaded around the thestral, her knees still wobbly from the staggering flight. Draco joined her and both collapsed on the frosted grass, face to face with the beast that remained absolutely still, its wings erect like sails on a mast.
“Is it still here?” Weasley asked.
Draco nodded; the thestral affirmed its presence by getting on its feet and nuzzling against her unkempt red hair. A smile emerged on the still pale lips as she held up her hand, felt around and petted on its cheek. “I rode one of your breed before. Was that you?” she whispered.
When the face of the thestral eventually turned to Draco, it kept its distance and stayed close to Weasley; its bright eyes bore into the very depth of Draco's own, before it lowered its muzzle into his lap and a small sphere settled inside his cupped hands. The tingling flutter of a captured Snitch felt unreal to Draco’s fingers, as the thestral spread its wings and took to the nightly skies again.
“You won,” Weasley’s voice sounded lightly beside him.
Draco opened his palm and examined the Snitch; the feathers were ruffled and soaked, but it appeared to have suffered no further damages than the ones it had formerly sustained. He Scourgified it and offered it to Weasley. “I’ll remember the victory,” he said.
Weasley looked at the Snitch for a moment. “I want you to keep it.”
She smoothed the bent barbs with her fingertips. “I have this feeling that it’s meant to be yours.” She paused and sighed. “I found it in the stuff he left in the Burrow. He didn’t give it to me.”
Draco frowned as his thumb rubbed against a minute inscription on the golden exterior. “This was a school snitch, and somehow he got to keep it ” he arched a curious eyebrow, “fringe benefit from being the Chosen One and all?”
Rather than responding, Weasley focused on pulling the blades of frozen glass. “Hooch didn’t want it back,” she mumbled. “It’s … broken.”
“It flew pretty well today. What did he do, hex it in practice?” Draco could not help but smirk; it would be amusing to learn that Gryffindors had not been above charming Quidditch equipment to their advantage.
“Oh.” Bottom lip worried between teeth, Weasley was already amused; she announced while shooting him a sideward glance: “He crushed a wing with his fist when he beat you to a pulp with my brothers. That was after a game two years ago, I think?”
Draco fell silent.
“You asked.” She sounded apologetic.
“And now you want me to have this? So he can break my nose again?”
Her shoulders slumped as she whispered. “If he comes back.”
Draco found his grip on the Snitch tightened; the metal felt as warm as his own skin. “What if he doesn’t?”
She pulled up her knees and rested her chin upon them; her eyes were trained to the goal posts on the opposite end of the pitch. “All my life, I’ve wanted to be one of three things.” She raised a finger and pointed an imaginary wand to each of the three hoops. “A sports reporter, a professional Quidditch player, a writer.”
“Not Mrs –”
Weasley cut him off. “I’m a chaser,” she took a deep breath, “and I know this much about what it means. I need something like these goal posts … or the Quaffles – something real, something I can set my eyes on all the time. If Ha …” she forwent the name, “… whatever I want isn’t there, eventually I’ll tell myself to stop caring and move on.”
“You’ll lose him –”
“I’ll find someone.” It was a promise, and she shrugged as if to ward off the pain that had to come with it. “Don’t get me wrong.” She turned to Draco and explained, quietly and sincerely, “I love him, I still do and wish that he’ll be forever a part of my life, but … I’m feeling rather antsy right now.” The sadness in her eyes was only momentarily; the next second, the thrill of inspiration took over. “Maybe I can be his biographer.”
Draco snickered. “The Weasels will finally make a decent living.”
“I’ll be ten times wealthier than you,” she cast him a haughty look, “and I’ll tell the world what a nasty little ferret you are.”
“I’ll be insulted if you don’t make me a proper villain.”
“The quill’s in my hand.” Her freckled face lit up with mischief; the horrors of the near fatal accident seemed forgotten, long dispersed in the early morning breeze. “I’ll make myself a fairy tale princess. Maybe,” she eyed Draco with a lopsided grin, “I’ll make you bald.”
“Half of the warlock population will be offended. You said you’re penning a biography, not fantasy or slander.”
“Skeeter said the same thing,” Weasley argued with a chuckle, before falling on her back to look into the skies, her fiery curls spilling life onto the lawn. “What about you? What do you want?”
She then realised, perhaps, that these questions were far from appropriate to ask a Death Eater, even one who had shown mercy and risked his life for her own. She shot up, embarrassment clear as the new moon. Draco held the Snitch between his fingers, watched the silver reflection brighten the feathers.
“I don’t know,” he said. A confession.
She knew better than to press on. “You’re a Seeker. You’ll find it.” She stood and stretched, letting the light from the heavens shower upon her like the cold rain of early spring. “There’s nothing wrong with playing Chaser once in a while, too.”
Draco kept quiet about his gratitude as he continued to observe the Snitch. He decided he wanted it. “You’re certain you have no problems parting with this?”
Weasley turned to him and nodded. A moment later, she began to talk – swiftly and quietly, her words riddled with guilt, “I should have told you that its anti-capturing charm isn’t working properly. It still flies at top speed, but doesn’t know how to wriggle its way out of traps and narrow corners anymore, and gets caught in things it ordinarily stays clear of …“
“Like water?” Draco inquired, thinking of the Seeker-cum-Chaser, whose chamaeleon robe had glowed in the night as she had fallen for the radiant allure of the Black Lake.
Once upon the time, the Ides of March had marked the start of a new year, the first day in a season of hope and promise after months of desolation.
It had also been dedicated to the God of War.
Perhaps it explained why Draco, still holding his Snitch in one hand, had collapsed in his now permanent home in the Chamber of Secrets. His head was resting on a small wireless, which had exhausted him for the past hour in his futile attempt to locate Potterwatch in the airwaves. Myrtle, who he had asked about the programme, had just informed him of the password; she had learned of it from her selky lover, a journalist for the merfolk who used to communicate daily with Dumbledore. Lately, the water dwellers had received a significant influx of news on the war; the thawing of lakes and rivers had eased the access to hearsays from the land, while mobilising many refugees and fugitives who had opted to travel along bodies of water.
Combing gently the small stretch of crooked barbs on the Snitch, Draco wondered what he had hoped to hear. If Potter had been caught, and the captors had been none other than his parents … was that what he wanted?
There was an answer, and it spoke to him like the soft bubbling from the waters above – sounds that he had, over the past winter, taught himself to appreciate. They had been unsettling at first, their source unknown and their message mystifying, but then, Draco had provided them an imaginary home – glistening waves upon which sunlight broke through the lake’s surface, their ebb and flow conveying, beyond the indecipherable tidings, an invisible light and warmth into the Chamber.
In turn, the Chamber opened itself to the world; the present unearthed and reshaped knowledge attained from the past. On the floor was a parchment filled with spells and charms, those with the magic to bestow internal compasses and mobility to evade capture. Compiled for his endeavour to repair the Vanishing Cabinet, Draco had, since the Quidditch match with Weasley, let the memory of them, once vehemently interred, trickle back into him. Shifting to support his weight on the elbow, he scanned the list for the last spell he had tested before the search for Potterwatch; lethargy had defeated his usual poise and good manners, thus he remained sprawled on the floor when he held up his Snitch and tapped his wand against it.
A loud pop ensued, synchronous with a violet spark, and both the wand and the snitch flew out of his hands and high into the air.
It was not at all unexpected; many times he had barely escaped a charging cabinet in the Room of Hidden Things; he rubbed his face and waited for a peal of clatters to clamour in the Chamber.
It did not come. Silence prevailed, the whispers from the lake usurped by Draco’s anticipation.
Then, a blast of white light detonated – dazzling as lightning, it penetrated every crack in the ceiling and walls, illuminating what Draco had never seen before – scales and skins slithering past one another, elongated bodies weaving mazes upon mazes of living serpents beneath the stones.
He jumped to his feet and sprinted to the mirror; the light was so powerful that little of what lay over or within could be discerned. The Snitch fluttered just above the reflective surface, bustling as the tip of its once injured wing folded to nurse the now perfectly smooth vane. Draco's twin traced its flight with his eyes, his expression as astonished as Draco’s at the sudden transformation of his dwelling place.
But it was the hawthorn wand that ultimately captured Draco’s attention. Even in the depths of the mirror, its dark wood was conspicuous against the feathers, cushioned and caressed by their touch –
Their touch, which appeared to be the replica of a human’s grip on the handle; Draco could almost see the undulated relief of fingers beneath the barbs, of knuckles protruding from the back of a hand.
One thought clashed against Draco, and it brought his mind to a standstill. He shed his robe on the gold frame and dove in.
Sceneries raced by, at once a feast and an assault to his senses. The white light thickened to a void; it swallowed him whole before feathers emerged and brushed against his skin, easing his body into the metaphysical flip that then fused him with his mirror image; the union failed to break his momentum, however, and he resumed his descent, face down, towards the veil of feathers and the man beneath it, the man who had regained his light with Draco’s wand …
Inevitably, the horror that had once seeped into the corner Draco’s vision re-materialised; only this time, he had no means of turning back. His fall was relentless even as the rays around him diffused into shimmers, as though their sprint was impeded, and along with it, the passage of time. Rapidly closing in Draco was the skeleton with two hearts, which lay on the feathers, terrifying with its frail bones that seemed perforated by light, its ribcage distorted by the fissure running through the sternum.
Just when Draco was about to collide with the skull, the hands shrouded by the feathers were abruptly lifted, the hawthorn wand still in one of them. With one clean motion, they yanked the ribcage apart.
He screamed when the grey femurs shattered into dust, screamed when cracks ran from the eye sockets and the skull caved into a heap of bone plates, he screamed when the ribs snapped, one by one, and the shards sprayed and stabbed into the pale, barely beating heart –
He wanted to scream until his lungs collapsed, until someone saved him from the horrors of this world, but he no longer had the ability. He had become insubstantial, weightless as air, and the flutter of all the feathers beneath him had changed into gales that threatened his very existence.
He could feel himself drifting, dispersing. He closed his eyes.
Then, he felt a hand met his own – gloved in feathers, its fingers intertwined with Draco’s, tethering him like a kite in the open field; embedded between their palms was the hawthorn wand.
The touch of his own magic consoled him, still, Draco dared not open his eyes, not until another hand wrapped around his waist and held onto him, easing his final descent. In between their two bodies was the one remaining heart – shining, red, restless in its yearning for a new home; its contractions resonated with power and anticipation.
And somehow, Draco was already aware of what would come to pass. Indeed, even before his skin could sense its rhythm, the heart gave a leap and dissolved into his chest; there it settled into residence, its every beat re-affirming Draco’s existence.
A warm embrace welcomed him into this new life, wrapping him with sufficient plumage to take flight.
And fly, Draco did.
Rather than releasing the intertwined fingers, he locked them resolutely, the wand pressed so firmly into his palm that the wood relief would forever be imprinted upon his lifeline.
“Thank you for being a friend,” he whispered.
Perhaps, it was the thrill of his rebirth, perhaps, it was the joy of seeing that the radiance came from the man and from him alone. Draco scanned the profile of the hidden face and pressed his lips with where the other set had to be.
He half expected to retreat with a mouthful of down. Instead, he almost felt a hint of flesh – moist, supple and keen on returning the favour; thus he pressed on, trusting his mouth to explore the contours of its counterpart – the volume and curvature, the delicate peak where the upper lip met the philtrum, the dipping arc at the corners.
It felt real, more than anything he had felt in the past year. His vision adjusted to the light, just as it had long ago at the seaside, when his sand Manor had looked splendid against the summer ocean; meanwhile, the heat was reminiscent of the mugs of hot cocoa on Christmas eves, which he had insisted on cupping with his small hands that had been armed with the best mittens. As these thoughts, these parallels from his past, rose like tidal waves, the feathers all around him soared as well, light and free even in the air heavy with moisture, from shallow breaths and cascading beads of sweat. The blanket of peacock feathers was thinning, fraying, and the skin and flesh, the muscles and sinews of the lean body below were becoming appreciable. Racing heartbeats that matched Draco’s own were palpable as he ran one hand across the man's chest.
A swollen nub ghosted his thumb; he stroked it, and the body beneath arched in response, breaking contact of their lips for the moment. With a gasp, Draco re-captured the mouth, and his hand fumbled once more for the sensitive spot and resumed its assault. Driving, no, hurtling him forward was a fear, an urgency, as time slipped away through their still intertwined fingers.
The man was writhing with such force that what had remained of the veil crumbled with each twist of his torso; feathers flew all over, raging like a storm as they scattered in frenzy, their regal white insipid and deathly in disarray. The sheer multitude of vanes and their shafts were sufficient to blindfold Draco, to screen his vision from the cornerstone of this world – the man in his arms, whose damp, taut skin was finally tangible, whose erection brushed against Draco’s own.
It was real. He was real. The feathers twirled even faster, and they did to the man what they had earlier attempted to do to Draco – he could feel a weight dragging against man's body, a dense fluid threatening to pull it away from below …
Draco had neither been a keeper nor a saviour, nor had he succumbed to the indignity of fighting for what he wished to possess; in this moment, however, he heeded the call to be the guardian, the redeemer – for the light that eclipsed his pride, for its bearer who outshone his every past desire. Thus he squeezed the hand intertwined with his own, wrapped his other arm so tightly against the other body that he swore it would hurt. His intentions must have been clear, for a strong jaw rested against the crook of his neck and heels dug into the small of his back; thighs spread open for him, strong muscles that held on to him, relied on him to be the anchor in this storm.
What came next was as calm and smooth as the horizon, as natural as the meeting of the earth and the skies.
Kissing the man deeply, Draco fused with the light and made it his own.
Desperation rushed against the air once more when their bodies began to rock against one another. At first, the motion was gentle, soft as the whispers of I could want this rustling in Draco’s mind, but then the fluttering feathers seemed to fuel it, strengthen it to become a contest of power. Draco’s thrusts hastened to the challenge, the whispers crescendoing into chants that spoke louder and faster to him by the minute.
I want this.
The feather storm surged, a giant tide like the fluid roll of his hips as he slammed deeper and harder into his light. It was suffocating; the winds from the unknown were heavy, so dense that they seemed prone to sinking and condensing …
And rising below him was the same colourless, odourless liquid that had wanted to tear his man away before.
Draco could no longer keep up his steady rhythm. He was close. They were close. The radiance from his arms had become impossibly bright, so glaring that his eyes could no longer look into it; he buried his face into the shoulder heaving against his own brutal invasion, his hand clawing senselessly up from the man's jaw, his temple and into a wild head of hair –
Want … .
Perhaps Draco shouted the word; he would never know for certain, for at that moment, a sharp chill at the man's forehead slashed the tip of his fingers, the heavy water froze beneath him and expanded, lifting him up and away from the light, the warmth –
The stone floor of the Chamber and a small, dusty wireless invaded his sight. He was lying on the solid surface of the mirror, the hawthorn wand clutched in the death grip of his right hand. The feathers had re-settled in the dim reflection, but every vane looked abused, every shaft bent or broken; his twin was staring at him, shocked and miserable, his free hand soothing an erection that was wilting rapidly.
Exhaustion overcame Draco; his attempt to crawl off on the mirror ended prematurely when he collapsed against the frame. His fingers brushing against the gold, he read for the first time the inscription that used to be hidden beneath the basilisk; the message came to him as easily as if it was written in proper orientation.
I show not your face but your heart’s desire.
He used his last morsel of energy for a smile – a sad one, no doubt. A powerful ache still lingered within him.
Powerful, like the beating of his new heart.
The Snitch approached him from a corner, trying to lure the Seeker to give a proper challenge to its healed wings.
Its flutters were hypnotic, and Draco fell asleep.