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Harry was certain Sirius was going to break down again. Life had been eventful for his godfather since his escape from Azkaban, what with Voldemort and Harry dying, Wormtail captured and Sirius finally pardoned after all these years. Except now Harry was back and likely not going to survive. After learning his cousin was beast tainted, Sirius felt responsible for Draco. Harry almost regretted asking for his help, except he knew his godfather would eventually pull through, and if not, Remus would. The werewolf was about as strong as it got when it came to helping others.
Harry was happy to see Sirius and Remus looked much stronger and healthier than the last time he he’d seen them before Voldemort attacked. Sirius was no longer gaunt and had color to his skin. Remus’s scruffy appearance was more smooth, as if just being around Sirius tamed all of his rough edges.
“Sorry, Harry,” Sirius muttered as he wiped at his eyes again. “It, ah, well, it reminds me of my own parents, that’s all. Not something anyone should have to deal with. Especially a young guy like him.”
He’ll be fine, Siri. Draco’s a strong sort, he just doesn’t know there are options out there. Harry’s scrawl was more a scraggy tremor at this point but the two men seemed able to read it.
“Yes, well we can definitely help in that,” Remus said evenly. He placed his hand on Sirius’s shoulder. “I know all about packs trying to pick up strays. There are plenty of defenses against it.”
Sirius gave such a teary, beaming smile, Harry wondered if his godfather was once such a stray. Sirius never revealed what sort of beast awakening he went through and it seemed too late to ask now. There was still the will Harry wrote out last night to get into legal condition, and it was nearly time for the spell.
You know I would never put you two out. I was just hoping you might consider.
“It’s fine. I can’t guarantee he’ll be interested in living with us, but we’re more than willing to give him a home. Now stop worrying about it and deal with your own preparations.”
Harry sighed and stared at Remus’s strange, golden eyes. “I love you guys and I’m damn lucky to have you.”
“Harry, you do your best,” Sirius said gruffly. He pushed up from his seat and stood beside Remus. “We’ve got enough room for you, too. I’ve fixed up some property, and…” He was tearing again and unable to continue speaking. “Damn it, Remi.”
Remus wrapped his arm around Sirius’s shoulder and continued. “We have a room for you, Harry. He cleaned it up this week. When you’re back you’re going to want enough room.”
“Aw, hell,” Harry sighed and wiped at his own eyes. That was the danger of being around Sirius when he was in this mood; everyone started crying.
That would be the best damn thing ever. Thank you, guys. I love you and I need you to get out of here because there is no crying during the spell!
“Can’t even hug the kid goodbye.” Sirius shook his head and growled lowly as he let Remus lead him from the room. Jaz, who was tapping his foot impatiently from the doorway for the last five minutes, held a roll of parchment in his grasp. As they left he walked around and placed the roll on the desk. Blotts Esquire seal was crisp in gold wax.
“It’s as official as it can get. You’re a very generous young man, Mr. Potter, and if you don’t survive this spell, your many friends will certainly have something to remember you by.”
Harry nodded. He didn’t want to go into his so called generous nature. It was his parents’ money; he never earned any of it. Still, it seemed wasteful to let it sit in a vault for all eternity. It could definitely help people, people he cared about. Especially one particular Malfoy who was facing disinheritance.
Harry wasn’t going to tell Draco about it. He would figure it out the hard way if he didn’t survive. If he learned of it early, Draco would probably fight him tooth and nail about it, like it was even fucking important.
“You look as if you need to scream,” Jaz said as he took in the way Harry was hunched with soft magic glowing over his skin.
Just a bit of pain.
Harry was in a lot more than a bit of pain but he wasn’t looking for sympathy. As long as he sat still he could sort of numb out a lot of it.
“We’re starting soon. Dumbledore is bringing down the phoenix now. It will be you and me through most of it, Harry. Severus will be outside the door with the scent nullifying potion if needed. All your loved ones who could make it will be waiting in the potions classroom across the way. Madame Pomfrey has a small team with her, which will get you up to the hospital ward if you aren’t conscious and attacking people. After that, it’s up to the healers. Did you have any questions or concerns you want to go over?”
Harry didn’t want to admit how worrisome it felt to have Jaz drop his playful attitude for one of compassion. How did the barrier spells go on Malfoy’s room?
“Better than I thought they would. I went over them again this morning. I don’t believe even you would be able to get through. Although, those in this dimension can, so if the vesper are visible, they will likely be able to cross.”
But they won’t do that, will they? Being visible among a castle full of wizards and witches would just ask for a beating.
“Likely.” Jaz turned away as Dumbledore pushed into the prepared room with Fawkes on his arm. Harry took in the height of his headmaster along with his squared shoulders and tight jaw. Today Dumbledore was ready for battle.
Harry straightening to his own full height even as his body protested painfully. This spell required all of him. Not the reality of what he was, waiting on the other side of this echo of a world, but his will to be the ideal of what he wanted. He wished to be alive, sane, not maddened by the sight and scent of humans. There was no way to ensure these things, but Harry was a wizard, and he understood will was power.
Harry would will as hard as he could. Reality would just have to bend to him.
Jaz began spelling away all the unnecessary furniture and ran through the room a final time to wipe it of scents. Dumbledore pulled a small vial from his robes full of a soft blue liquid and gently fed it to the phoenix. The bird cooed softly and glowed a bright, golden orange as its body opened and became susceptible to the bonding spell to come.
“We will see you shortly, Harry.” It was all Dumbledore said. He gave Harry a piercing, twinkle-free look before he placed Fawkes on the perch in the middle of the room and strode out the door.
“Drop the glow, Potter. We don’t want anything to interfere,” Jaz ordered from the corner as he went around the room with wand in hand and activated the wards on the walls. Beneath Harry’s feet a large glyph started to glow. It spread out and lit up more ancient writing until the room was ablaze in colorless light.
Harry pulled the magic from his skin until he was invisible again, and focused on the phoenix who went quiet. He stepped up to the bird and gently ruffled Fawkes’s feathery breast. He didn’t want the creature to die. It was a sweet bird and Harry’s only company for many months when he was intangible to everyone else until he stumbled across Draco. It would be cruel to have the bird die with him if he didn’t survive.
Harry closed his eyes and imagined the world he wanted to wake up to. He didn’t see himself in it but he never did. He took his appearance for granted the same way he took his life for granted. He never expected there to ever be anything different. But now, when Harry imagined the future, he saw Draco. When he saw the crystal-eyed, smiling boy, Harry could see himself with hand outstretched and clasped in his.
“No matter how much it hurts, I need you to stay conscious long enough to reach your power to the bird. Remember. Your power must connect at the right time or this has been a waste.”
Harry nodded. He opened his eyes and stepped to the spot opposite Fawkes’s perch. The phoenix roused as well, and sat up straighter as if he knew his part was to begin. With his eyes locked on the bird, Harry listened as Jaz began the incantation.
Draco was running late. He spent a good half hour standing before the shower trying to figure out if he wanted to wash the pen off his skin. It was really too offensive to leave. If anyone saw the words it would be absolutely mortifying. At the same time, Draco didn’t want them to be gone. It felt like there would be nothing left of Harry otherwise. He eventually compromised and washed his face, neck, hands and lower arms. He left the rest while feeling superstitious. He refused to wash Harry from the earth with soap and water.
He slept in and skipped all his classes and no one said a word about it. Draco had a feeling Snape might have a lot to do with it. His head of house was probably protecting him after his very public breakdown yesterday. Draco was lucky no one was there to see besides Snape, Dumbledore, and his terrible mother. Well, and Harry, but he wasn’t going to be spreading rumors anytime soon.
Harry would be coming home today. Hopefully alive. Certainly if he started out alive, Draco wanted to be there to ensure Harry remained as such. Maybe he was crazy and paranoid to think his headmaster would destroy Harry if he found him to be dangerous. Draco would rather be paranoid and wrong, then naive with a dead boyfriend.
Draco bit his lip and fought the laugher that kept popping up at the most inopportune times. Harry was his boyfriend. He said no to his mother and he had a boyfriend. Even if invisible, it totally counted. Seriously, why couldn’t he just have anything bloody normal in his life? Invisible boyfriends; it was so damn pathetic. But also exciting, like the best kept secret ever. Certainly better than stupid beast awakenings.
Draco was buttoning up his shirt when there was a knock on the door. He glanced in the mirror just to make sure no pen marks were peeking out from beneath his collar. He reached for the door and paused with eyelashes lowered. A hot shiver slid down his spine.
“Come on, Draco. You’d be late for your own funeral. Err, forget I said that.”
Draco rolled his eyes and threw the door open. “Blaise, could you kindly get your foot out of your mouth for five…” He snapped his mouth shut as his nostrils flared.
Blaise looked sheepish as he patted his dark hair down. “Sorry. I’m nervous and you know how I get. If something happens to Potter, well, you know.” He gave Draco a confused look when he went unearthly still. “Um, you all ready to go?”
Draco didn’t say anything. He tilted his head and his eyes slipped across the empty corridor while he sniffed the air.
Draco put his finger to his lips and glared at his friend. The barrier Jaz insisted on installing was flaring strong. Too strong. Below its magical hum Draco was certain he could hear the sound of breathing. From more than one mouth.
There was a growl, low and menacing. Draco’s eyes widened. He grabbed Blaise by the shirt, pulled him into the room and slammed and locked the door behind them.
“What? Shit, what did I do?” Blaise yelped. He pulled from Draco’s grasp and backpedaled away.
Draco huffed at his friend’s stupidity, went to his dresser and pulled the magical glasses from the soft case he made for them. He fingered the lenses gently, then turned his gaze to his confused friend. “Blaise, I need you to put these on and tell me what’s out there.”
Blaise looked at him like he lost his mind. “Out where? Out…?” He noticed what Draco was holding and his voice trailing off as he went as pale as his dark skin would allow. “Oh shit! Tell me you’re joking.”
Draco took a steadying breath. He loved Blaise dearly, but he was going to have to beat him into something calm and not freaking out if he didn’t get a hold of himself. “I’m just asking you to look, that’s all. You won’t even have to open the door. I’d do it myself but it fucks me up in the head to see them. Stop,” Draco growled when he realized admitting the last part only made Blaise more upset.
Draco considered his options. He could send a note out through the school’s floo network. The prefects fireplaces didn’t allow for travel, but did allow for notes to teachers. Likely every teacher in the building was at Harry’s bonding to watch and wait to see if the boy-who-lived managed to survive again.
Draco could wait in the room until the ceremony was over and then see if someone could exterminate the pack of vesper waiting outside his door. At least the barrier worked; the vesper weren’t blowing down the door just yet. Draco glanced at Blaise’s terrified face and had to wonder how many students were in danger. Too many would walk past his room to get to the Slytherin common room. The creatures hadn’t attacked Blaise but maybe it was only because they hoped he would draw Draco out of his warded room.
“Blaise, I understand you’re afraid but I need your help. It’s almost time for dinner. After that every Slytherin we know will be walking down this hallway to get to bed. I need to know what’s out there.”
Blaise’s eyes hardened at the implication. He got his breathing under control and held his hand out silently. Draco gave him the glasses and studied his friend’s face as he slipped them on.
“Shit, Draco. If I wasn’t as straight as they come…”
Draco blushed at the realization he was absolutely nude and feathery under those glasses. He turned away, only to have Blaise laugh. “You have a tail. And wings! You’re fucking adorable!”
“Blaise, there are monsters at the door!” Draco snapped back. He glared over his shoulder at his smirking friend.
“Right, right. Well if they look anything like you.” Blaise hummed, his fear suddenly all but forgotten. “Gah, they don’t. Well, not all of them.”
Draco turned. His eyes jumped from Blaise’s face to the wall he was staring intently at. “How many?”
“Oh, I count five of the dragons. Fucking vicious looking things, by the way. There’s also one who looks somewhat like you. Humanoid, but I wouldn’t be calling it human. He’s looking back at me like he can see me. Bizarre.”
“It must be a shifter,” Draco mused. He paced around the small room.
“They’re watching you. While you’re walking, they’re staring,” Blaise muttered as his voice got lower. “Draco, these things are fucked when they look at you. Like they’re entranced or some shit. They’re just standing there staring.”
Draco shivered as heat rose on his skin he tried to shake off. “Tell me about the shifter. Does it seem intelligent?”
Blaise nodded only to realize Draco wasn’t looking at him. He spoke up. “It’s smart; definitely someone home in his pretty head. Looks a lot like you, but without the wings and long feathers. Older, maybe thirty with long white hair and skin covered in small bright scales. He has a tail, too. The dragons seem to be waiting for him; they keep looking at him.”
“Have they rushed the door at all? Do they look as if they’re about to attack anyone?”
“Nope, they seem pretty chill. Fangs and all.” Blaise blinked and his eyes unfocused and moved to the left of them. “There’s something else further back. Another group. Much bigger.”
“The rest outside?” The dread in Draco’s stomach said otherwise.
Blaise was grim with eyes squinting as he counted. “What did you say Potter looked like? Black and bloodied? There are at least a dozen in a circle around him.”
Rage bubbled up in Draco, white hot as it tickled his stomach with power. He stalked to the door, threw it wide open and stood in the doorway. He glared out at the empty hallway where the buzz of the magical barrier was apparent once outside his room. “What the hell do you want?”
“Shouldn’t they be here by now?” Ron muttered. He stared at the classroom door where Pansy just walked through without Draco and Blaise. Hermione shrugged, her nose buried in a book on magical creatures. “Pansy, did you see them?” he asked when Hermione showed no interest in joining the conversation.
Pansy shook her head and moved over to the duo. “Blaise said he’d be right back with Draco, but that was over ten minutes ago.”
“He’s probably just having one of his ‘moments’ and doesn’t want to be seen crying,” Hermione said as she peeked up from her book. “After yesterday with his mother dropping in like that, and his near jump out the front door into the pack, I’m sure he’s a damn mess.”
Ron quietly agreed. Harry caught them up a little on what happened yesterday. He jotted down what he knew while Draco was talking to Madame Pomfrey about Snape’s condition. Everything was cleaned up before the students were let out of class. Ron and Hermione left the library during their free period and caught Draco as he was walking toward the infirmary. Draco only disclosed a little bit of what his mother told him to Harry and hadn’t wanted to talk about anything afterwards. Ron really couldn’t blame him. Waking up to find you had an unhealthy pull toward invisible, and very much not human, animals would freak anyone out. Learning your entire male ancestral line all gave in to the pull, well, was likely even more horrifying.
Harry was determined to make sure Draco’s friends knew what was going on with him, even if it was embarrassing. If Harry died, Draco might not ask for help and Harry needed to make sure Draco got help. It seemed to be all that was keeping Harry going; his body was bent with pain and his writing so sloppy Ron could barely make it out.
Ron didn’t want to think about Harry dying. Not again and not in such a slow and agonizing way. “I’m going to go check on the prat. Crying or not, he’ll hate himself for missing this.”
Hermione sighed. She pulled her nose from her book and placed a bookmark within the pages. “You’re right. I just really can’t handle anymore crying today.” She glanced toward the corner where Remus was blocking Sirius from view. Harry’s godfather was a mess of nerves and stray tears. She liked Sirius, she truly did, but it was hard to keep herself in check when he was so emotional in his manly way. Girls crying had much less of an effect on Hermione compared to grown men crying.
Pansy smiled in relief and grabbed the two of their hands for strength as they headed for the door. She was having a difficult time and was barely able to talk to Draco since Harry returned. Pansy was definitely one of those overly emotional girls who hid behind so many layers of masks and walls even she couldn’t break free when she needed to. To talk to Draco while worried over him would tumble everything down, so she instead spent superficial time with her friend while her worry built beneath the surface. Hermione was glad she’d never been afraid to talk to Harry about anything. Especially considering how short life seemed to be for wizards.
“Knowing Draco, he’s looking for the right hex to cast on Dumbledore,” Ron whispered as they passed their headmaster who was standing outside the closed door where Harry’s spell was taking place. Dumbledore was rigid, his hands clasped tight as he stared intently at the door. Snape stood beside him, slumped halfway with his face twisted in a grimace of pain. He refused to take any potions for the pain for fear it would slow his response if he needed to rush in.
They edged around the team of seven emergency witches and wizards Madame Pomfrey called in just for Harry’s return and admitted a growing amount of dread as they caught sight of the grim faces. The narrow hallway was full of people. Hermione pulled the three of them through and led the way until the press of bodies thinned.
“Hell, well at least they’re prepared,” Pansy muttered. She was able to relax now they weren’t surround by so many people. “Look at all those healers and just one Dumbledore. Wonder who’s going to win the deciding call.” She was bitter and Draco’s fears were now her own. It wasn’t that Ron and Hermione wanted Harry to die. They just didn’t want him to live the rest of his life as a monster either. Harry would be tormented to know he might hurt others, never mind kill students he spent many years trying to protect.
Ron sighed and shuffled his feet as he met Hermione’s ever attentive eye. “Come on. Before Blaise drives the prat to murder.”
Draco was hyperaware of the unseen barrier dividing him from the vesper. He made sure he didn’t sway too close to it and unexpectedly cross through. He could feel a magical aura as one of the creatures approached closer but they made no move to reach out in a way Draco could tell. He didn’t know if they tested the barrier just yet. Draco hoped the fact it existed was enough to keep them fearful.
“It’s the shifter,” Blaise whispered from behind him as he took on the job of being Draco’s eyes. “He’s staring at you. The others backed away when he stepped forward. Pretty sure they take orders from him.”
Draco nodded to show he heard. His nostrils flared as a new scent filled his senses. It was different but very familiar, like he knew it once a long time ago. “Are you going to speak? Thought speak? I know your kind can.”
A strange, guttural noise bounced off his ears. Draco gasped from the sound as it purred around him.
“What is it?” Blaise placed his hand on Draco’s shoulder to keep him from stepping forward.
“Just nonsense. Nothing I can understand,” Draco muttered. His cheeks flushed as he tried to ignore how his body responded even if his mind was confused.
“But you can hear me?”
Draco glared when the shifter finally started communicating through thought speak. “I can hear you. Through my ears and in my head.”
“Good. That makes things easier. It is so difficult when your kind can’t see.”
“Funny, I think that would be the opposite. Seeing tends to have a very bad effect,” Draco snapped. “What the hell do you want? Why are you in my school and why are you surrounding my boyfriend?”
“Careful, Draco. He seems to like it when you’re angry,” Blaise whispered lowly. “He keeps pulsing some sort of glow. It gets brighter when you’re emotional.”
“Your friend is very correct; I am responding to you, Draco. I am called Matten. That is such an appropriate name you have, young one. It is as if your mother must have known you were to belong to us.”
Draco stiffened. He tried and failing to stop his anger. “Can’t you see the ring I wear? They all fucking knew what I am and hid it from me. Now answer my questions!”
The growl came again, louder and caressing as it pulled fire over Draco’s skin and made his knees weak. “Oh, you’re ardent. So playful. What do you wish to know?”
“Why are you here?” Draco gritted out. He shook his head to clear the red fog trying to steal his mind.
“To take you home, of course. Why else would we invade human territory? You have been calling so loudly, Draco. We could not ignore it any longer. We try, the halflings are so difficult. But no, you were just impossible to resist.”
Draco shivered at the words. He took a step back and nearly bumped into Blaise. “And Potter? Why are you surrounding him? If you hurt him I will fucking kill all of you!”
“Stop yelling,” Blaise hissed and grabbed Draco’s shoulders firmly. “He’s got his claws out and his eyes are fucking glowing. He apparently does have feathers hidden under his hair and they’re rising like some messed up bird looking to fight or mate. You need to calm the fuck down.”
Draco could barely hear his friend. The purr thrummed up again and wrapped all around him. It make him feel tired and hot all at once.
“If you mean the kalistar, we’re just taking the necessary precautions.”
Draco struggled to keep his eyes open. The strange sound tried to pull him from the doorway and far away from Harry. “You’re threatening him.”
“We’ll kill him. He’s injured and laid claim to you. With him dead you’ll come with us.”
Draco shook his head and bared his teeth angrily. “If you harm him, I’ll never go with you. I’d rather destroy myself than see him harmed.”
“Oh, little one, that will not do.”
Matten clucked in his head. He seemed so arrogant Draco found his strength again. “Stop fucking purring at me!” Draco snarled and pushed back another step.
It took a moment, but the noise lowered in intensity. Eventually it was just an echo in Draco’s ears.
“You’re very strong willed. I can’t remember if that is common with your kind. It’s been a long time since we’ve pursued one like you.”
Draco ignored the voice and gasped for air now the roar stopped. He didn’t realize how strong it was until it was gone.
“Draco, we should shut the door and get help. I don’t like this,” Blaise whispered as he helped Draco stand upright while he swayed. “The way they’re all looking at you… The dragons look like they want to kill you.”
“You smell like human. We don’t like humans.”
Draco pushed Blaise away and put his fully human friend further behind him in the room. “I’m human. You called me a halfling; you must know half of me is at least human. Go away. I can never be what you want so just go away and stop bothering me.”
“You’re everything we want. Once your beast form is awakened, the human scent will go and you’ll be completely one of us. We’ll keep you in the center of our village, Draco. You’ll be revered, loved, pampered and adored. Your strength will give our village strength. Your power will give us power. Your sex… You’re beautiful, young one. We will be the happiest, most productive tribe there could ever be with you as our hearth.”
It wasn’t just words this time that flowed into Draco’s head but pictures and emotions. The creatures truly meant well in their own fucked up way, Draco realized. To be a hearth was a place of honor among the vesper. When a halfling didn’t smell so human it was a very enjoyable existence.
Draco shook his head again, and growled lowly. “I don’t want to go with you.”
“You do. I can smell it; we all can. Even now you’re calling for us to take you home. You’re one of us.”
Draco swallowed hard, unable to deny it. His body was fighting him every day since he caught Harry’s scent again. It demanded things from him he didn’t fully understand. Now he scented these creatures so close, even though they still seemed to have malice toward him, Draco could feel his want to be with them. They were familiar, like a recurring dream he couldn’t recall but remembered with fondness every time he woke. He didn’t want to feel this way but it didn’t make it any less true.
“Draco, I think you need to shut the door now.” Blaise half held Draco up as his knees gave out.
“No! They’re going to kill Harry! Fuck.” Draco grabbed his head and stepped forward. He leaned against the doorway with his eyes closed as he tried to keep from falling. “Please, don’t kill him. He’s already sick. Why do you want to hurt him? Just leave him the fuck alone.”
The purr was low and yet close. Draco raised his eyelids, certain the shifter Matten was just inches from him. “The kalistar don’t react to humans as we do. They used to protect the foolish things when we still allowed humans near our borders.”
“They became sick,” Draco whispered. He felt the barrier hum louder as someone pressed close.
“Yes. We decided we didn’t need to speak with humans anymore. All the mortals wanted was our power and our land. Even now, they encroach on us, steal our territory, kill our young.”
More thoughts and emotions flickered through Draco’s head. They weren’t from his own mind but the one hidden before him.
“You could help us, young one. You could speak to them when we can’t stand to even smell them.”
“An ambassador?” Draco let the idea sink in, then scoffed it away. “Matten, you wouldn’t let me out of your village center. You showed me. You’re too afraid I’d want to escape.”
“Come now, we can negotiate such things. Most shifters stay at home, unable to handle the forest wilds. But ones like me still venture out and lead our young packs to keep them from harming stray humans.”
“I’ll become like you. I’ll hate the smell of humans and want to kill them. That’s hardly a compromise.”
“You’re a halfling. That instinct isn’t with your kind. The kalistar sired the manlings all those centuries ago. It’s why they’re so protective and so damn impossible to share with. The arrogant things would strut around the village border letting friends and family safely converse with the halflings instead of going out to hunt and provide like they should have.”
Draco shook his head; Matten’s jealousy was stronger than his anger. “You only feel that way because you don’t like humans. It must get lonely for your halflings. They’re taken away from everyone they know and love. Having friends die because they came to visit would be horrible.”
“Perhaps. Our pack doesn’t have a halfling, not while I’ve lived. The magic here warns us away.”
“Draco, he’s getting too close,” Blaise warned. His eyes were fixed somewhere in front of Draco’s face. Draco didn’t need Blaise to tell him; he felt the hot breath on his cheek and was still unable to pull away.
“You’re very attractive, Draco. My shifters would like you. I like you. We can more than replace your one young kalistar lover. You wouldn’t even miss him.”
Draco released a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. “Matten, what can you read from me when it comes to him? You’re not blind. Certainly, you’re not dumb. You lure me with a sense of duty, community and even sex. Surely you must know I’ll never forgive you if you harm him. Take your pack away from him.”
Matten didn’t answer for a long time. Draco stared out into the empty hall and waited. Blaise was unsteady behind him as he moved from foot to foot in anxiety.
“And what, my beautiful halfling, will I get in return for such generosity?”
Draco knew what the damn things wanted now, but it didn’t mean he was interested in walking in to the dragons’ den if he didn’t have to. “You seem to be a reasonable leader, Matten. What do you think would be fair in exchange?”
“Ah, perhaps you would grace us with your presence for a tour? You could see my village, meet your new family and learn about the people you’re half of.”
His eyes closed, Draco took a moment to answer. It was unlikely he’d ever return from such a tour. “Will I be safe?”
“We shifters have much better control around the scent of human than the dragons alone. We’re adept at keeping the beasts from injuring others.”
“You must give me your word. The kalistar, Potter, will never be harmed by your kind.”
“Never? Draco, that’s hardly equivalent to just a tour.”
“I’m not a fool, Matten. I feel the pull, as have all my ancestors.”
“Yes, but you’re very strong willed. I’m not even sure this ruse will give me what I want from you.”
Draco laughed at his bluntness and straightened. “Those are my terms.”
“Oh, that is a nice sound. You’re full of such nice noises, young one. Very well this tribe will never harm your kalistar. Not that it seems much concern; he’s quite injured.”
Draco licked his lips and nodded slowly.
He couldn’t be certain it wasn’t the soft hum even now purring so lightly from Matten’s lips as the creature breathed so close, or if he truly decided for himself. Did he make the choice to protect the school and protect his love? Or was it the pull, even now addling him until Draco only felt like he made the right decision? Either way, the vesper were getting what they wanted and Draco was… Draco felt the pull.
“Remove the vesper and I’ll go with you,” Draco said. He wished he knew the answer.
The spell wasn’t going well. Jaz strained over the words the same moment a strange weight descended on the room. Harry was so focused on Fawkes and the bird’s presence it took him too long to deduce the problem. They weren’t alone.
He only caught the flicker of light, his vision focused on the three dimensions he shared with the phoenix. As more power built to try to disrupt Jaz and stop the spell, Harry turned his focus outside the room. He opened all his senses and swore loudly when he caught sight of the silent vesper.
Nearly half the pack surrounded his dungeon room and filled the sides where empty classrooms flanked the warded space. As long as the spell was being cast, the dragons couldn’t get inside. Harry was certain the moment Jaz finished his part and it was his turn to reach for Fawkes, the damn beasts would attack.
Harry considered his options only to realize how few he had. If he moved it would ruin the spell, and interrupting things now would set them back for days. Harry didn’t have days to wait while Jaz resupplied the needed elements. If he did nothing, it would leave him an injured, sitting target, along with every person who stepped into the room once the spell was done. Nothing looked hopeful.
Harry focused on the closest dragon and pushed his mind at it. He hoped to get a dialog going that could result in the creatures backing off. He flinched from the scalding, hateful thoughts swirling in the beast’s mind. It was surrounded by humans and although could not smell them in its invisible state, it was full of hate for people and very much agitated as it wished for open space. The dragon was ordered to be where it was and as Harry pushed at its thoughts again, he gave a relieved sigh to see those orders also included not to harm any humans.
At least those outside the room would be safe; Harry didn’t know if the vesper considered Jaz to be human. Hopefully they would leave the specialist be and just focus their attack on him.
Harry had little thought for anything else soon after. The spell changed and silence echoed in the air. Magic rose up, coiled, and funneled toward the center where Harry stood across from Fawkes.
It was time. Harry’s attention remained steady as he focused on connecting with Fawkes and making it home alive.
Every step felt surreal as Draco moved through the castle surrounded by vesper. He was leaving, possibly forever, and no one but Blaise even knew. There was no one in the hallways, no one to ask where he was going, or why, or to even care. A permanent shiver tingled up his spine and flared brighter when Matten’s hand brushed his arm, or feathers tickled his knees and waist as the creatures pushed close. Draco felt almost safe among them, almost comfortable and protected as the dragons clicked nails, breathed, and their body heat radiated warmth he could feel.
Away from Blaise, the vesper no longer growled. They still felt angry in Draco’s head, full of agitation with their surroundings and ill at ease. Matten softly rumbled to sooth the creatures and quench the bubbling laugh that had threatened Draco for days.
Draco reached the castle door when Blaise ran up after him with Pansy, Ron and Hermione panting at his side. The odd spell was broken and the atmosphere less dreamlike with people in the normal realm to remind Draco he appeared alone. Draco blinked a few moments in confusion of the change, then fixed on Blaise as he remembered why he left him behind.
“I told you to tell Dumbledore,” Draco hissed. He glare at the worried faces pointed at him. “So he doesn’t kill Potter once the spell is done. Harry won’t react to the scent and Dumbledore needs to know!” It was hard enough to get out the bedroom door with Blaise shouting the vesper were tricking him and Harry would never agree to Draco sacrificing himself to save the reckless Gryffindor. Two thirds of the stubborn Golden Trio would only make things extra difficult when all Draco wanted was to save Harry.
“I will, right now. But they need to say their peace, Draco,” Blaise insisted as he stared worriedly at the vesper surrounding Draco’s legs. Draco could hear the pack as they scratched impatiently and growled at the sight of humans. Matten was by his shoulder and ever so lightly touched his arm. He had touched Draco once when he stepped outside the barrier around his bedroom and couldn’t seem to resist since. His fingers brushed his flesh lightly every other moment or so.
Hermione plucked the glasses from Blaise’s face, slipped them on and looked around. “Hmm. This is quite the extended family you have there, Malfoy. Too bad they all look like they want to murder you. Blaise, we’ll deal with this. Maybe you should take Pansy?” Pansy looked close to tears in worry and Hermione really had enough of crying for the day.
“They would never hurt you.” Matten assured as he pressed his palm flat to Draco’s arm. It sent a hot shiver through Draco he couldn’t hide. “As long as I am here to control them, no hunter will harm a human.”
“The shifter is controlling them,” Draco said to Hermione while he watched his friends run off to save Harry. Not waiting for a reply, he opened the castle door.
“Malfoy, wait.” Ron strode forward quickly, held the door open and towered over Draco. “Harry wouldn’t want this. He’s been doing everything he can to protect you just in case he doesn’t make it and you’re on your own. You going with them is going to negate all of that.”
Draco sighed and glared up at him. “Weasel, Harry isn’t the fucking boss of my life. No one is. I appreciate your concern but I hardly owe you anything for it. It might seem dumb to you, but walking out this door is the only thing I can do to protect him. I need to do this.”
“Who’s to say they’ll keep their word?” Hermione stepped up and mindfully avoided the dragons Ron was obliviously standing in the middle of. “They’re still in there surrounding his room. There are people in that hallway. Lots of people. Nearly half the staff of teachers is in the other room, plus Madame Pomfrey’s people.”
“Matten?” Draco didn’t bother to turn and see what couldn’t be seen.
“I will withdraw them now, if you insist. You have given your word. I will keep mine.”
“He’s calling them off. Anything else?” Draco asked agitatedly as he raised his hand to his forehead. The two Gryffindors exchanged looks. Ron finally pointed at Hermione and then the door. Hermione gave a shrug, but her eyes were sharp behind the magical glasses.
“I’m going with you.” Hermione abruptly pulled her wand out and summoned her notebook and pen from her room, along with a cloak.
“Like hell you are,” Draco snapped. “You’re human. Without a kalistar the vesper will kill you the moment you approach their village border.”
“That is a possibility,” Hermione mused as she flipped through the book she called. She stopped at a spell written in her precise handwriting. “But I’m also a witch. A brilliant one, at that. I also just learned this spiffy new spell to remove my scent.”
Draco growled and felt a headache coming on. Matten gave a soft purr and he snarled and whirled toward the annoying creature who kept trying to control him. “Stop it. I don’t need to be serenaded every time I have a bloody emotion. Tell me; will they kill her? Can you promise me she’ll be protected?”
“I can’t. You’re at least our kin and dwell with us in the other realm. She is not.”
“Granger, I can’t guarantee you’ll live,” Draco cried, exasperation clear on his face. “Do you understand the pressure you’re putting on me right now?”
Hermione sighed uninterestedly and idly twirled her wand. “Malfoy, I’d prefer to have you bitching at me, than Harry throwing a fit because I let you go wandering off in the Forbidden Forest alone with a pack of vicious vesper. That boy has a temper and it usually involves ripping up my beautiful books. I never find all the pages. I’m going with you and it’s not negotiable. If I die, I take full responsibility.”
That was hardly a comfort for Draco and he let the pushy witch know. “Granger, I’m leaving to prevent deaths. Not cause them.”
“I’m not in a rush to die. They’re still vulnerable to magic; Harry made sure we tested it on him.” She fixed the shifter with a piercing gaze from behind the enchanted frames. “Can your friend talk to me, Malfoy? Or do they only communicate with halflings?”
Draco sighed as he realized he lost a battle he was never going to win. It was very much like dealing with a female Potter, but less fire, more logic, and still absolutely infuriating. “Matten, do you want to talk to her?”
“I do not believe she will take no for an answer.”
Draco realized Hermione was allowed into the conversation when she snorted. “No, she is determinedly stubborn,” he said with a frown.
“Matten, was it? I have no intention of hurting anyone or getting underfoot,” Hermione assured. “Just think of me as a chaperon, here to make sure my friend doesn’t end up mauled or deflowered.”
Draco placed his hand over his eyes and silently wished he could disappear. He hated Gryffindors, especially the chuckling Weasel whose face was turning red from holding in his laughter. “I’m leaving now.”
“I cannot vouch for your safety, human. The entire pack resides at the village and the younger ones are not used to the scent of human. They have been known to lose control. I do not believe Draco would want to see you killed.”
“I should hope not, but it’s hard to say with that one.” Hermione waved her wand around and intoned slowly until she was surrounded in a bright, hot-pink light. Moments later it pulsed and faded. She sniffed her hand where nothing came to scent she could tell. She stared up at the being standing to the right of Draco’s glowing magical form, and carefully raised her hand with a question in her eyes. “Will you harm me even if I don’t smell human?”
“Would you give me reason to harm you?” Matten asked just as warily, his head tilted to the side.
“It’s not just the scent. You don’t trust humans,” Hermione observed. She hesitantly placed her hand next to the shifter’s face. Matten gave her a precursory sniff as he shifted through the dimensions. His white eyebrows rose in surprise when he found Hermione didn’t register at all by his nose.
“That is surprising and very useful. Just another reason why we don’t trust your kind. We were not always so violent to human scent. Humans gave us reason to be over the years. Why breed out such a useful trait when humans still threaten us?”
Hermione didn’t seem interested in arguing as she glanced down at the dragons who came up to her waist. “I have my own issues with some particular humans, mostly the ones who hate my heritage. Wanting to kill them will hardly solve those problems. They want to kill me and well, I won’t let them, now will I?”
“She is surprisingly resilient for a muggleborn,” Draco agreed quietly while they stepped out into the nearing twilight. The sun was just disappearing over the horizon and they would be walking through the forest in the dark.
“When will you be back?” Ron asked from behind.
“That is up to the halfling. She is free to leave whenever she chooses.”
“I have a test next week, so let’s shoot for then.” Hermione and Ron exchanged what Draco was beginning to suspect was a code between the two. He wouldn’t put it past friends of Potter to learn some sort of telepathy just to get around his notorious moods.
“I’ll expect you in a week, at the latest.” Ron held the door for Hermione and stood still when she smiled crookedly and gave a small wave. That they weren’t dating after all these years was odd to Draco, but then again, the two were odd in general and it was none of his business. Ron was clearly head over heals and Hermione was, as usual, blind to anything not a book.
Draco didn’t snap this time when Matten gave a soft purr. The sound floated around his left ear as the shifter brushed his arm. It was a strange sensation reminiscent of Harry, but Draco never heard his boyfriend purr. The vesper pack took up residency around his legs and slowly herded him toward the trees. Hermione silently walked beside them and not on top of the creatures. Draco felt when the rest of the vesper who were waiting around the castle joined them. The pack’s aura grew in strength and two more humanoid shifters brushed Draco’s shoulders with low purrs.
He’d see what the village held. Hopefully it would replace the mental image of Harry lying on the classroom floor dead from the wounds Voldemort had inflicted months ago. The breeze was cool and the night dark. Draco gave himself to the sensation of walking beneath the rising moon surrounded by his pack and tried to block everything else from his thoughts. His heart ached. In the silence, he prayed Harry was alive.
Blaise and Pansy reached the hallway only moments before the headmaster was supposed to step into Harry’s room. Dumbledore’s hand was on the door, fingers clenched and face grim. In his other hand was his wand held at the ready. Snape stood beside him and stared at the door like he could see through it. His expression was just as grim. The hallway was still, and the hushed sounds of breathing made everything seem ominous.
“Sir, please, before you go in there!” Pansy called before she collapsed and gasped for air.
Blaise reached her and then passed. He leaned on the door to block Dumbledore from entering. “He’s not susceptible to scent!”
“Not now, Mr. Zabini,” Severus said sharply. He pulled Blaise away from the door by the arm and winced in pain. “McVicar has collapsed. The status spells will not say why but it suggests outside interference.”
Blaise nodded furiously, his hand held up as he caught his breath. “The vesper. They were here. Could still be here.”
“Where?” Dumbledore eyes grew sharp as he looked around them.
“Here around Harry, and in Draco’s room.” Blaise took a deep breath, and caught Pansy’s warning expression. Blaise didn’t feel any need to hide Draco’s situation even as a friend. No good would come of Draco running off into the woods with the vesper. “They’ve taken Draco. The vesper threatened to kill Harry if he didn’t go.”
Severus said a word that made Pansy giggle in shock when heard from her reserved head of house. “Potter must be taken care of first. It’s the last stage of the spell and it can’t be interrupted.” Both men turned back to the door and their eyes again bored through as if everything within was revealed.
“But he won’t react to scent. Just tell me you understand. The vesper told Draco personally.”
Dumbledore glanced over his shoulder and nodded. “I understand, Mr. Zabini. Now please, we need silence to hear.”
Blaise and Pansy quietly moved to the other side of the hall and watched anxiously as the minutes ticked by. The oppressive silence fell again and Pansy reached for Blaise’s hand after a moment so she wouldn’t have to deal with the terrible feeling alone. Draco was disappearing into the night and Harry was soon to reappear. It wasn’t a fair trade.
The stillness of the hallway was broken the instant Dumbledore tightened his grip on the door handle and pushed it open. Everyone jumped to action. Snape and Dumbledore slipped silently into the room and all the medical personnel followed after in hushed mutters, blocking Blaise and Pansy’s view. They all disappeared inside, leaving the doorway was clear and wide open. Pansy exchanged a meaningful look with Blaise and the two slowly edged across the hall to peer inside.
Behind them the potions classroom door clicked open and Remus and Sirius stepped free while other worried faces leaned out to see. Blaise turned back to the scene inside, his dread a fist in his stomach.
The dimensional specialist was on the ground by the door. Blood pooled from Jaz’s head wound and his dark glasses were cracked on the stone floor. A medi-wizard hovered over him to take his pulse and read his status with a spell. Dumbledore, Snape, and everyone else huddle, crouched over what Blaise could only assume was Harry. The press of bodies hid most from view, but through a set of ankles Pansy could see a bloodied hand blacker than even Blaise’s skin and long wicked talons with broken, jagged tips.
Severus stood shakily and moved to see if Jaz was dead or just injured. As he moved he revealed the fallen phoenix. Fawkes looked nothing more than a pile of dull, grimy feathers on the dusty floor.
“The bird is dead,” Sirius whispered hoarsely. He clutched the door frame at the implications and leaned over Pansy to see clearer. The medical personnel still blocked Harry from view of the door. Spells began to ring out as hushed voices raised and called for healing actions beyond simple student comprehension. It went on for long minutes with one particular witch snapping orders louder than the rest. She told them to stop and silence fell.
“Hold,” Dumbledore demanded as he straightened. He glanced once at those waiting in the doorway, his eyes hard. Dumbledore walked to Fawkes where the bird huddled motionless. He crouched and shifted his long beard aside, and reached his hand out to touch the broken phoenix. Flames began to lick from his fingers as he murmured softly to his old friend in a soothing coo.
Fawkes didn’t respond, his feathers still and lifeless. Dumbledore shimmered more flame and hot red fire danced on his fingers and palm. He heated the bird until it glowed fireside red. “Come now, little one. We need your help.” He passed his hand over repeatedly, stroking from head to tail feathers.
Fawkes burst into flames with a roar. He twisted into a golden glow, crackled and trilled as fire rose up and nearly singed Dumbledore’s eyebrows off. Dumbledore fell back and sat hard with a look of surprise on his face. Pansy glanced at Blaise with furrowed eyebrows, but he was staring intently at the phoenix. Dumbledore looked different. Twinkly.
Behind Dumbledore there was a cough followed by a moan of quiet agony. The sound slowly raised in volume until it bounced off the walls and deafened everyone in the room. Spells started flying again and voices shouted over Harry’s screams of pain as they tried to stabilize him.
Pansy stumbled back from the noise. Remus gently held her shoulders and helped her away from the door and the terrible sounds within. Blaise didn’t follow. He watched, thumb stuck between his teeth, as Dumbledore joined the fray of medical casters. The noise was better; it meant Harry was alive. Surely the dead didn’t scream.
There was a sudden change in fervor to the medics as wands dropped and hands grabbed at Harry when he tried to sit up. Blaise gaped and quickly turning away. Vomit seared his throat. Harry was a giant scab, bloodied and torn, his arms barely attached, knees twisted horribly. Voldemort’s revenge hadn’t been gentle. It was a wonder Harry managed to live long enough to kill the dark wizard. If the two weren’t blown into the other realm, Harry never would have won.
After a few dizzying breaths, Blaise turned back. He was relieved to find Harry stunned and streams of bandages being wrapped around him as he was tied to a stretcher. The medics still yelled, slightly lower in volume but not intensity. Harry needed to get to the waiting infirmary if they were going to save any of his destroyed beast body.
Everyone cleared from the hallway and watched as the group of medics hoisted Harry up and rushed him out the door and down the hall. It was bizarre to see so much black and red on him; the white of the sterile bandages made Harry look more startling dark.
“Right,” Sirius muttered as he tore his gaze from the sight of Harry disappearing around the corner. He fixed wild eyes on Blaise and grabbed him roughly by the collar. “Now where the hell is my cousin?”
“You’re overreacting,” Remus warned. His voice held warmth even as he grabbed his lover by the waist and tackled him to the ground.
Sirius snarled in reply and considered transforming back into Padfoot to make things difficult on Remus. He relented on the idea and merely flipped Remus instead. “I’m going after him, sooner the better. Now either support me or get lost!” Remus was definitely a better wrestler than Sirius, even with his shorter reach. Sirius’s face went red from the effort of fighting the werewolf’s strong grip.
Ron quietly stepped out of the way when Remus grunted and fell back from Sirius’s shove and nearly toppled into the door he was trying to keep Sirius from escaping through.
Sirius was not only a manly crier, but also possessed a terrible temper. He was particularly protective of Draco since Harry asked for his help in caring for him. At his furious insistence, Blaise and Pansy took him to Draco’s room. Sirius promptly transformed into a large, black dog to scent for Draco’s presence which led to the castle exit. Remus had appeared then and tackled Sirius before he could run out the castle into the forest to chase after Draco and Hermione.
“If you would listen to a bloody word… Siri, the numbers are too great!” Remus got Sirius into a brutal headlock, and held him as still as he could. Sirius insisted on thrashing his legs in an attempt to kick him but couldn’t break free. “Twenty. There are possibly more in the woods unseen. They’re enraged by human scent. We need a plan, not a damn sacrifice!”
“The only sacrifice will be those bloody dragons!”
Ron waited patiently as he peered out through the dark windows in the direction Draco and Hermione had left over half an hour ago. If he thought it odd two grown men were fighting like first years, he gave no sign. His own brothers were the same—all of them—and likely weren’t going to change no matter how many years passed.
“You’ll put them both in danger. You need to calm down and take the time to plan.” Remus was always extra persuasive when inflicting pain.
Sirius gritted his teeth, not ready to give up yet. Harry was injured but alive. The only other living soul Sirius swore to protect was now off with a bunch of bloodthirsty dragons who, from what Harry suggested, would enjoy Draco in many carnal ways. Sirius’s guilt for allowing himself to be distracted by Harry’s condition only fueled his determination. Draco need him now.
“I know you’re worried, Siri,” Remus murmured in his ear. He relaxed his hold but didn’t releasing his steel grip. “We’re going to find him. We’ll clean a room out just for Draco.”
“Harry can sleep right across. We can all go camping like you wanted by the lake. You just have to give us some time to plan.”
Sirius huffed in annoyance. He glanced sideways in the headlock and met Remus’s questioning gaze. “How much time?”
“How much ya got?” Remus smiled his ‘I know I’ve won’ smile. Sirius sighed and relented.
Ron watched cautiously as the two men stood and dusted off. He was careful to make sure he didn’t catch them doing anything too gooey; something he never worried about with his brothers, thankfully. “So, as I was saying, the spell Hermione crafted seemed to work. The creatures don’t like humans in general, but without the scent to trigger them, hopefully they won’t break out into killing rages.”
“Aye. Right, that.” Sirius combed his hair back into order while his eyes blazed. “Clearly they’re on a higher level of intelligence. Enough to manipulate Draco out the door through blackmail and possibly other ways. He was still wearing the ring, right?”
“Yeah. Harry mentioned Mr. McVicar was working on a spell to keep it attached, but I don’t know if he ever succeeded. His barrier sure seemed to work.” Except Draco willing walked outside it when he heard Harry was in danger.
Remus sighed and turned toward the Great Hall. “There is no guarantee by the time we find him Draco will still have the ring in his possession. We must plan for the possibility.”
Ron nodded as he followed to keep up with the men’s long strides. “Hermione understands the importance of the ring. As long as she’s there, I’m sure it will remain on Draco.” They fell silent, no one willing to voice how much danger she was in.
Blaise and Pansy were already in the Great Hall along with McGonagall, Severus and a number of the medical team who helped heal Harry. They were catching a late dinner after the difficult evening events.
Harry was stabilized and medics still worked on him in the hospital wing under Madame Pomfrey’s critical eye. Right now it looked like he would keep his arms, legs and possibly tail. The wings and antlers were still a toss up. Since they were less important for his immediate survival, no one was too concerned about it.
Ron felt strangely lonely as he sat across from Blaise and Pansy. Hermione wasn’t there and Harry, well, Harry hadn’t been there for a very long time. Hermione was Ron’s rock, his inspiration to stay strong if only to help her through the same difficulty he was going through. Without her everything felt empty.
“Has anyone heard about McVicar?” Sirius asked when he sat down and grabbed a plate of food. He was worried but not to the point he couldn’t eat. He saw it as a good sign he believed Harry would live. “He’s spoken to one of those creatures face to face, so I heard.”
“He will recover. Poppy is keeping him under observation.” Severus sipped his tea. His hand still revealed a small tremor. He was sore, but nothing worth going to bed over.
“Did the vesper attack him?” Ron only heard snatches of what happened during Harry’s spell.
“Not that he can remember. McVicar felt an interference in the spell, as if a power were trying to prevent him from continuing. The moment he completed his part, the pressure relented. He passed out from the sudden change.” Severus studied the swirling dark liquid in his cup as his thoughts strayed. “He was lucky; they both were. Zabini saw the creatures surround the room. The dragons had plenty of opportunity to attack. By the time it would take to fight through the protective wards in place for the spell, the beasts could have killed Potter and McVicar with ease. They honored Malfoy’s agreement. It’s something we need to consider when dealing with these vesper.”
They refused to make a deal when it came to Hermione. Ron suppressed a shiver of fear.
Blaise, who was pushing his food around on his plate, spoke up. “It was only because Draco asked. The shifter Matten controlled all the others. He… I think he had a control over Draco, too. It was strange. Matten nearly did everything Draco asked. He would get this look on his face, almost like he was enthralled by him. But every time Draco got upset or started yelling, Matten would move his lips a certain way and Draco would turn weak and complacent.”
“It sounds like how Harry was with him,” Ron pointed out. “We were so worried Harry was going to, um, get a bit too rough with Malfoy,” he said with an awkward cough. “All Draco had to do was ask the ‘right way,’ as they both put it, and Harry was putty in his hands. Hell, and Harry is the only one who could make Malfoy do anything half the time. He couldn’t even talk to him but Malfoy listened.”
“It does sound like the species has some sort of basis in manipulation,” Remus mused. “I’ve heard of techniques being used on prey, especially allure, but never interspecies like this.”
“Knowing Hermione, she’ll have a book written on the subject by the time she gets back,” Pansy joked weakly as she ignored her food.
They all turned when Dumbledore walked in through the Great Hall doors. He looked as exhausted as the rest of them felt.
“He’s well, but things are still unclear as to what will be left of him,” Dumbledore raised his hand before anyone could think to ask questions. “I would like the students to come to my office so we can go over the events which transpired while we were engaged saving Mr. Potter. Remus and Sirius, you are of course welcome to stay the evening. I’m grateful to see you have not ended up in the forest just yet and hope you will help in our efforts. Minerva, if you would join me for a moment?”
Ron’s head of house got up stiffly to speak with Dumbledore about notifying Hermione’s parents of her absence. Blaise and Pansy finished their pumpkin juice before getting up as well and joining Ron on the other side of the table to wait.
“Do we tell him what Potter said? About Draco being his mate?” Pansy’s eyes darted to where Dumbledore was talking.
“Depends if Draco’s mother comes knocking again,” Blaise said. “If she finds out, she’ll kill Potter before he gets a chance to heal. I doubt a school full of teachers will stop that level of hate. She’d rather give Draco to the vesper than to Potter.”
“Is it important?” Ron asked quietly. “Honestly? Pretty sure McVicar knows they’re having sex. What the hell does being a mate have to add to anything?” Harry had mentioned it once in the infirmary the other day while they were pulling information about Draco’s breakdown. Harry seemed almost reluctant to reveal the mating information and Ron didn’t know if it was something he was comfortable sharing.
Pansy bit her lip, and stepped closer to speak under her breath. “Didn’t it ever strike you as odd? I mean, it’s almost obsessive; that’s why we were all worried, after all. What do you think Potter is going to do once he finds out Draco is gone? Not just gone, but gone with the vesper? It was all he talked about before the return spell.”
Ron took a deep breath and tried to think of his friend objectively. Harry had been mad last year in a lovestruck, testosterone riddled, but still sweet intentioned way. Anything concerning Malfoy pulled reactions from Harry so bizarre from his normal behavior. Even compared to normal human behavior. Hermione was the one to suspect Harry might have a beast, if only to explain his weird demeanor, but Ron shrugged it off. Voldemort was increasing his attacks, and Ron assumed Harry was just worrying for the guy he’d fallen for.
Given what the four friends had pulled out of Harry and Draco about the last couple weeks, maybe Pansy did have reason to worry. What exactly would Harry do once he woke up and realized Draco was off with the vesper? Harry had transformed to defeat Voldemort all those many months ago, and he won. The power it took to defeat a monster like Voldemort was again in Harry’s grasp.
Harry’s human personality and body were preserved, held back by the odd time lapse of being thrown into the other realm. He was nearly human while invisible, while now he was fully transformed. Once awake, crazy powerful, and no longer human, Harry would wonder where his mate was. If Draco wasn’t there when Harry finally woke, there was no way to know what might happen.
“That could be dodgy,” Blaise muttered as he came to the same conclusion as Ron and Pansy.
Hermione mentioned the way her books were destroyed when Harry threw around raw magic in a fit. Ron now wondered about the stone bricks used to keep the castle together. It would all be the same to someone as powerful as Harry, especially if he was afraid for his mate.
The vesper made no complaints when Draco and Hermione lit their path with twin lumos. They didn’t follow any walking trails in the beginning. They moved through heavy underbrush until they reached to an old stream bed. Dried up and filled with small stones and soft silt, they followed the winding pathway for what felt like an hour. After such, they crawled up the bank and twisted and whirled through a network of trails and paths deep in the forest. Once they were surrounded by trees, Draco refused to let Hermione stray even though she was far from terrified. After the vesper killed the first of the silent creatures foolish enough to not get out of the invisible pack’s way, Hermione was more willing to take Draco’s arm and walk with him in the sheltered location.
The shifters brought Draco water, which he shared with Hermione. The temperature dropped during the night, and she huddled in her cloak until Hermione found the good sense to use a warming spell. Draco didn’t need one. The three shifters and ten dragons who surrounded him at all times gave off huge amounts of heat. He actually felt too warm; the constant exercise and press of bodies left him to flushed and fiery.
“Are you feeling okay?” Hermione whispered when Draco stumbled again and nearly dropped his wand. Far off to the right were sudden screams as an animal fell victim to the vesper. The noise was just as suddenly muffled and silenced, and the air grew heavy in the stillness. “Malfoy, you’re shaking.” Hermione pulled her eyes from the darkness to glance up at him beside her. Draco was sweating, his eyes dark in the dim light as a strange smile twisted his lips.
“I’m fine,” Draco murmured. His eyes lost focus only to sharpen again when he nearly tripped. The ground was clearer here but roots and decay still littered the ground in places to steal his footing.
“You’re not.” Hermione slipped the glasses resting on her forehead down to her nose. She took them off because of how disconcerting it was to watch herself walk through the vesper. They didn’t move out of the way for her and Draco insisted she stay close and away from the sounds of the dying. She watched and bit her tongue when Draco nearly took a header. The shifter Matten quickly caught him before he fell off the path.
At first she thought the shifters were taking advantage of the situation; their hands moved over Draco’s glowing beast form in lingered caresses every time he stumbled. Perhaps it would’ve been easier to believe. Hermione could see clearly how the shifters withdrew, their fingers brushing ever so lightly on Draco’s shoulders and back in farewell. Without their touch, soon enough Draco’s glow pulsed again. Moments after he became dizzy and the shifters flowed close to catch him.
“Malfoy, are they doing something to you?”
His head tilted and eyes downcast, it took Draco a moment to respond. “Doing?”
“To make you fall. You keep getting dizzy.” He stumbled again before Hermione finished her sentence. This time Matten grabbed Draco boldly around the waist. His strong arms kept him upright as the shifter moved right through Hermione.
“Oh, they’re just humming a little,” Draco admitted. He stopped trying to walk. Matten’s purr thrummed in his ear as he held him still.
“You’re tired, lovely halfling. Has the walk been too much?”
Draco’s body didn’t feel tired, but his head did. His eyes kept insisting they close. He knew he should be wide awake, alert to the dangerous forest around him. He should be protecting Hermione, and make sure she was safe among the sea of invisible vesper. He should be seeking out landmarks in case they took his wand and he needed to walk back instead of apparate. Draco noticed Hermione discretely mark their path as they wandered through the dark. He wanted to do the same, but exhaustion descended on him and he couldn’t seem to fight it.
“Draco, you’re not answering. Don’t tell me you’ve fallen asleep?”
Draco fluttered his eyes open, grasping at the hand moving too familiarly over his waist and touching him. “I’m just a little tired.”
We can rest if you like. I will hold you and you can close your eyes. The pack will protect you even in the deep of the forest.
Draco smirked sleepily. “You’re not my bed.” He didn’t pull away as his eyes fell shut and breathing slowed. Matten held him steady, his body warm and hard behind Draco, strong chin resting on the top of his bowed head. In the dark, the pack was tangible to Draco. They were a strong presence that only ghosted away whenever moonlight broke through the trees. It was probably wrong to feel so safe with the night a blanket around him as he stood in the middle of the most dangerous forest he knew. They walked for hours and Draco didn’t have a clue where they were, or how to get back. A part of him knew the pack was powerful when together, a force that couldn’t be injured. This was their domain and Draco was safe.
“Matten, is he sick?” Hermione worriedly watched Draco fall asleep while Matten held him upright. The other two beautiful shifters brushed Draco’s hair with their fingers before they moved out toward the edges of the pack. They were called back and forth; sometimes to give direction when needed to the dragons, others to return in a somehow just as important ritual to touch Draco’s flesh.
“I do not believe so. He was upset earlier and it can raise much power. It will tire young ones.”
Hermione nodded, unsure whether to believe him. Malfoy was supposedly the first halfling the pack had found in years. Would they even know if something was wrong with him? Draco glowed with a golden light and looked nearly ethereal. Sometimes, Hermione feared, he looked angelic and dead.
“So, we’re just going to stand here until he wakes up?” She asked as she did little to keep the disbelief from her voice.
“He would not like it if I carried him,” Matten replied after a moment. His face lowered so he could press his cheek to the sleeping Draco’s.
“He wouldn’t like that either,” Hermione pointed out.
Matten smirked dismissively and kissed Draco’s cheek. “He is one of us. He likes it.”
Hermione shook her head with a huff. “He doesn’t even know you. You know him even less. If all your kind does is kill the humans you come across, how can you understand any of our customs?”
“Why do you think your customs have anything to do with how we react to one another?” Matten asked in counter. “He is vesper, like us. It is who he is when he is with us. halfling yes, but vesper still. All adore him, and he will adore all.”
“That’s a huge assumption to make. He’s been terrified of your kind since the moment he knew you existed. Let’s face it; you haven’t really done much to prove you’re trustworthy.”
Matten pressed his palm to Draco’s chest with his fingers spread wide. “He knows it in his heart. He cannot ignore his own, just as we cannot ignore him. No one will hurt him, human. It would be an injury to ourselves. His type strengthens us, unites us. We cherish such ability in our kind.”
Hermione wasn’t convinced. She didn’t truly think the vesper wanted to hurt Draco, but she had a strong suspicion what Draco felt were acceptable didn’t even reach the realm of what the vesper wanted from him. The other shifters kept returning to run fingertips and palms over Draco while he slept. The dragons curled possessively at his feet, a blanketing field of scales and feathers.
“You make it sound like he’s some sort of prince,” she mused aloud. Hermione eyes fixed out into the dark forest where the rest of the vesper glowed among the trees. They all faced out into the darkness as they watched for signs of danger.
“That is too human a concept,” Matten replied. His fingers glided down to Draco’s hand and the ring that glittered there. “Think of a mother with many cubs. A gentle treasure who provides warmth and affection. One you wish to see and caress whenever you return home. Fierce when needed to keep the rebellious in line, but usually a powerful soul who pushes the dark and chill away whenever he’s near. He would be our village fire. Our hearth.”
Hermione bit her lip. Half of her wanted to laugh out loud at the idea of Malfoy being anyone’s ‘mother,’ as Matten put it. Draco’s mother was as cold hearted and distant as they came and it was unlikely he knew how to be any different. But Draco was different. He was different in a way that made Hermione worry the vesper might have more power over him than she first thought. It wouldn’t be one shifter, or even the three present calling to Draco. It would be an entire village. It would be the family he never had but probably always dreamed of. Even as strange and bizarre as the vesper were, that sort of promise could be attractive to anyone. Especially someone so alone and unloved for as long as Draco was.
Another shifter, the tallest of the three, approached again. Hermione noticed for the first time how his attention lingered too long on Draco’s hand. It was the one with the ring that kept him human. They could touch it and Draco was fast asleep, unable to prevent anyone from removing it. She flinched as she reached her hand right through the shifter’s arm and threaded her fingers with Draco’s, locking the ring in place.
Matten noticed from where his cheek rested on top of Draco’s head. Each breath he took ruffled his silky strands as he held him upright. Matten traced his hand down Draco’s arm. There was a ripple of movement as something shifted and changed in the shifter. When he reached where Hermione was holding Draco, Matten pressed his fingertips firmly to her knuckles.
She stiffened from the contact, tightened her grip and met Matten’s gaze challengingly. Was it a warning? A reminder the vesper could harm her whenever they chose? She would fight him if she had to. Her magic would hurt them. She’d wake Draco, curse as many as she could, and apparate them as far away as possible if the vesper thought to force this issue.
“You are a fiery thing, like him.” Matten’s eyes searched Hermione’s face. “It will do you and him no good. You will see. He will come to us. He wants to.” Matten released her hand without incident, and wrapped his arm around Draco’s chest.
Hermione’s flesh continued to tingle where Matten touched. They stood in the dark surrounded by the glowing, patient dragons and waited for Draco to awake.
It was another three hours of walking before they finally arrived at the vesper Village. Dawn was just on the horizon when they reached the huge clearing surrounded by a large stone wall. Hermione and Draco exchanged glances. There were huts and clay buildings everywhere. The area was large enough to house hundreds, but the buildings were all human dwellings. Draco wasn’t sure what he was expecting but this wasn’t it.
“Be prepared, little halfling. And you, human. When we cross this border we will be within your realm again. You will see us. Hear us. Smell us. Feel us. We will be the same to you.”
Draco grabbed Hermione’s hand and squeezed tight. At first she wondered if he was afraid for her. This would be the first test to see if her spell was potent enough to keep the vesper from scenting her humanity. She then remembered what Harry warned. Malfoy had reacted intensely the one time he saw the vesper. With just one look, he was completely overwhelmed and Harry barely got him under control.
“It’s going to be okay,” Hermione whispered. The two of them stood feet away from the open archway. “We’re just going to look around. We’ll see what they’re like when not out hunting for halflings.”
Draco wanted to laugh it off. He wanted to hold his head high with confidence and assurance once he walked into the village he would just as surely walk out. Instead he was full of fear and misgiving. “I’m in love with him.”
Hermione raised her eyebrows, and turned her head to face Draco. “Um, I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear.”
“I’m in love with him and he left before I could tell him.” Draco met her gaze. “When I walk through this door, I’m afraid I’m going to forget how much I love him.”
Hermione didn’t really have an answer for that. Draco responded to the creatures and they responded to him. “Do you think you love the vesper?” She asked, honestly curious.
Draco jerked as if hit, He took a step away from Hermione although he still held her hand. “Do you even understand people?” He snapped while glaring at her. “You want to tell me what I feel for Harry is just the same messed up allure I have with the vesper? Are you seriously going to stand there and tear apart my affection just because we have the same magical species DNA!” Draco could hear Matten trying to purr him calm and he whirled toward the noise with a snarl.
“You are upset. I am helping the only way I know how.”
“Well stop it. I’m allowed to be upset!”
Matten carefully placed his hand to Draco’s shoulder. Only the softest of hums fell from his lips. “You will see how that cannot be, beautiful one. When you finally gaze upon us and you are angry, you will understand why it is important to be calm.”
Draco continued to glare but turned it to the witch who suggested something so vile in his mind he wasn’t sure if he could stand to be around her in that moment. His feelings for Harry were real. They were all he had left to keep him from falling into the alien world waiting on the other side of the dividing wall.
Hermione bit her lip in thought and took a long time to answer. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Malfoy. I’m sorry if I upset you. I don’t think the question is invalid. Honestly, I don’t think you’d get this mad if a part of you wasn’t wondering it as well.”
“Shut up, Granger.” Draco grit his teeth harshly. “You’re the last person anyone would go to for relationship advice. You might as be a golem, for the amount of heart you show most of the time. Whatever I may feel for these creatures, it does not effect what I feel for Harry. Ever. That you could compare… Fuck, but you are dim sometimes!”
Hermione shrugged; she didn’t look upset in the least. “Well, I guess you answered your own question then. Are we going in?”
Draco growled. He tried to figure out if he was more upset with what Hermione suggested or the fact she chose to suggest it at such a nerve racking time. “Matten, hum for me. Please.”
Matten, who was ever hovering at Draco’s shoulder, thrummed a gentle pulse around him. Draco shuddered and sighed softly. His eyelids grew heavy and muscles unclenched as waves of sound moved over him, and shivered all the way down to his bones. Matten gently ran his palm over Draco’s back and soothed him in both ways until Draco swayed and nearly fell over.
Hermione quickly yanked him back her way before he could fall, and steadied his shoulders. “Better?” She asked, wary of what might happen if Draco went in there like a drunk man.
“Mmm, yes.” Draco anger was completely forgotten for the moment.
“Come now, little one. The others are waking. They can feel your presence and they wish to meet you.”
Draco nodded. He studied his shoes as he took a step forward, and Hermione moved with him. He took another step and the borders of the walls came into his side view.
Just one more. One more and he would be through.
Draco took a deep breath and stepped inside the village.
From the corner of his eye, Draco could see Matten’s hand. His fingers were curled lightly over his shoulder and the fabric of his shirt, his claws visible but didn’t tear. Hermione stiffened beside him, her hand tense in his, but Draco couldn’t bear to look up just yet. He was afraid of how he was going to respond. He was afraid he wouldn’t be himself.
“Come now, little one. We will not bite.” Draco never heard Matten speak but he knew it was him. His voice was low and a little rough sounding, as if he was unused to speaking, or might have a mouthful of fangs. “What is it? Why are you trembling so?”
Long legs clad in loose, soft fiber pants came into Draco’s view. Wrappings tied tight around Matten’s ankles and calves to keep his pants from rustling. He wore no shoes, his feet bare and dusty with clawed talons at the ends. It shocked Draco Matten wore clothes at all, even though he knew from what Harry told him the glasses showed everyone nude. Draco assumed the vesper in normal form would be, well, the form seen through the glasses.
Matten’s hand looked ordinary enough; it was large, pale, and his palm a warm pink as it pressed gently to Draco’s cheek and guided his gaze upward. He wore no shirt, and his bare flesh was littered with a shimmery cross work of scars. A fresh slash was still pink across his chest. More strips of fabric covered Matten’s forearms. Draco hesitated, and stared at his throat and the white nick there. A part of him was certain any eye contact would be his undoing.
“Where has your courage gone, fiery dragon?” Matten’s voice was warm as he teased. He spoke more with compassion than anything else as he leaned closer and tried to catch Draco’s eye. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of one such as me? You, with all your magic and your nasty temper.”
Draco glowered and snapped his eyes up to glare at the annoying shifter. He froze, his breath caught in his throat.
“Ah, I forgot,” Matten muttered. He turned his face away and his silvery-white hair cut shoulder length fanned out. “Let me find another. Seles does not venture with the pack and still has a pleasant…”
“No,” Draco croaked. He grabbed the arm holding his cheek before Matten could pull away. “Don’t go. I was… I was just surprised. I didn’t realize you were injured.”
Matten turned back slowly, a faint wariness deep in his pale blue eyes. His face was scarred; a terrible slash cut over the bridge of his nose, and part of his right eyebrow was missing. The scar continued on the other side of his face after an inch of unmarred skin, the line thinner as it ran down his jaw toward his neck. “Our other forms don’t become injured as these do. Until you’re awakened, or I gather you wear the headpiece your friend has brought, you will not be able to see our true forms. We see each other mostly on the other plane and forget the wounds these bodies hold.”
“You don’t transform?” Hermione asked.
Matten glanced her way and shook his head curtly. His attention fixed on Draco, a furrow between his uneven eyebrows. “Did I frighten you? I did not intend to. Many of us are as I am, just in different ways.”
Draco felt terrible for his reaction and immediately wanted to assure him it wasn’t the scar he was frightened by. “It wasn’t you. I was afraid I’d react like I had when I saw the other forms. That’s all. You’re… Matten, you’re beautiful. I promise.” Draco meant it. The scar did little to hide Matten’s handsome features. If anything, it made him more unique by adding a wild, appealing fierceness to his face.
Matten smile revealed sharp fangs and straight white teeth. “Coming from one such as you, that is surely the greatest of compliments. Are you ready now?”
“Ready?” Draco echoed in confusion as he raised an eyebrow.
“To look behind me,” Matten reminded kindly. “To see our people. To meet your family.”
Draco blanched and felt Hermione’s hand tighten in support. “Of course. We’re here for a tour, after all.” His smooth tone in the face of fear earned Draco another glimpse of fangs from Matten, who stepped back and to the side so Draco could see the village before him.
A hiss escaped Draco and he wrenched his hand from Hermione’s to cover his mouth. There were at least a hundred people staring back at him, pressed against the edge of the square where the archway opened up. Others moved behind them as they peered out of cloth covered doorways. It was a sea of silvery hair and pale flesh, with small variations in features and coloration to separate one from the other. Draco couldn’t help but notice they all looked male, but he couldn’t be certain with them standing so far away. Many were slender and long haired. They were holding back as if afraid to frighten him, many a tentative smile on lovely, scarred faces.
The dragons were among them, scaled white but not glowing. There was one dragon for every five shifters. Some were missing ears, scales and covered in scars. Draco could not understand it, and he sought out Matten again.
“Why is everyone…? You’re all so injured. Don’t you know how to heal? Why? What is causing all these wounds?”
Matten scratched the back of his head awkwardly. He leaned on one leg as he glanced among the villagers. “It is difficult. I believe your kind is usually awake before stepping into a village.”
“What, so all of your villages are like this?” Anxiety and disbelief made Draco’s voice sound shrill. “You look as if you’ve been through a war!”
“Calm down,” Hermione said lowly. She stepped in and spoke under her breath so the others wouldn’t hear. “They’re reacting to you.”
Draco didn’t have time to notice the way the crowd was stirring. Matten thrummed, stepped up, and placed his hand to Draco’s shoulder. Heat rushed through him from the touch, and the sound vibrated and made him shiver.
“I’m sorry, little one. You are the first halfling in a very long time to come here. I fear we are making many mistakes.”
“Just tell me why everyone is so hurt, Matten,” Draco insisted as he fought the drowsy, heated calm rising through him. Individuals stepped forward, sleek warriors to hardy farmers. Draco was relieved to see no children there; surely they would be just as scarred and broken as the fully grown beautiful creatures. His people. These were Draco’s people and not a single one seemed free of wounds that spoke pain and suffering.
“I thought that was clear, Draco.” Matten gazed down into his eyes. “It is why we stayed away as long as we could.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed as she took in more of the vesper arriving, and she made a loud exhalation. “Humans? They did this to you?”
Matten nodded and reached his hand out to one of the dragons behind Draco. Draco turned when he realized he missed the party of vesper who brought him there. As if permission was given, the other two shifters stepped forward and brushed fingers against Draco’s skin. The tall one had a burn on his shoulder that reached down his arm. The other, his face particularly beautiful, had only one ear and would tilt the intact ear forward in case Draco spoke again.
“They attack us when we’re still young. Our dragon forms frighten them.” Matten shrugged it away; he seemed more concerned about Draco’s distress than anything else. “By the age we grow to shift we all have wounds on these forms.”
Draco, who was certain he would never ever dare even walk toward one of the vicious looking dragons, suddenly crouched to his knees and reached his hands out to touch the closest one. Matten purred again, this time more for the dragon than Draco. The creature was unsure around the human scent still on him. Draco couldn’t seem to help himself. His fingers gently traced a large scar on the dragon’s neck where scales flaked off from the wound it endured.
“Are these your young, then?” Draco asked as he stared into the fierce looking face. The dragon’s teeth were long and vicious, housed in a sharp, long snout which led up to a delicate forehead where feathers sprouted richly. The eyes were pale violet jewels, just the lightest touch of color in their sparkling depths. Up close its iridescent scales were stunning, each one a miniature rainbow of color shimmering over the dragon’s flesh. When Draco touched the warm scales, the dragon gave a small shake, pressed into his touch and purred similar to the noise Matten made.
“We all start out in that form. Except the kalistar; when they hatch they are gold, horned, and winged,” Matten explained. “We are dragons for many years until we breed. Then we reach our next stage and shift to live as we look now.”
Draco fingers lightly brushed down the dragon’s snout and he marveled at just how soft it felt. “Is it difficult? To be a dragon for so long and then turn into something that… Well, you become the form of a creature who harmed you.”
Matten folded his arms over his chest and paced for a moment. “We have wondered about it. Why we can’t just have one form. Why we shift into something we innately despise. We have no love of human flesh; the taste is detestable. The kalistar used to say… No. It does not matter what that one said anymore. That was a long time ago and it sleeps now.” He reached his hand out, and Draco took it and stood. “Meet us. I promise, we are good people for all our many marks.”
Draco already knew as much. He could feel it in the air. There was a safety to the village. It was a little run down, maybe, a little too quiet as everyone stared at Draco with strange, desiring looks. Some eyes held loss, some lust, but most were filled with curiosity. It was a place he might have been before but had no memory of. The smell was alien and yet familiar. Even Hermione, cautious and alarmed by all the scars around her, didn’t seem frightened even when surround by so many vesper. Her spell was working, and the dragons were soothed by the purr the many shifters made.
They led Draco to the center of the village, to a beautiful dwelling nestled within a large circled clearing. Wide cloth squares spread above to protect from weather and sun. It was a stunning chaos of color and pattern that swirled overhead and bounced off the pale flesh of those shaded beneath the encroaching dawn. There was a large fire pit surrounded by a stone wall in front of the elaborately decorated building. Unlike the other simple structures, this one had a domed roof. Metal the color of copper flashed in the sun where light hit. Beneath the colorful canopy, blankets and pillows were spread out on the packed dirt.
“This is where we gather as a community. Here we eat, rest, and tell stories.” Matten pointed to the stairs that led into the building in front of the fire pit. Satin pillows were sprawled across the limestone porch, the area divided every five feet by a tall pillar. “You would live here by the fire where everyone could find you and gaze upon you. You would never have to seek for food or drink. Companions would always be near for play and learning. And of course, to touch whenever you desire.”
Draco blushed, and Hermione snickered under her breath. He would be on display like some treasured doll on a mantel. Draco let Matten lead him around the fire pit, which was currently filled with ash and remnants of charred wood and bone. The stairs rose above, close enough for heat but designed in a way to keep smoke from flooding the area. Up close, he could see pelts of fur of all kinds, skinned and extremely soft to the touch, littering the stairs and wide porch along with the pillows. It was primitive but luxurious. He would be like a prince sprawled out and expected to be served food by beautiful servants who would then wish to touch him. Draco ducked his head as his cheeks flamed hotter.
“They definitely know how to set up an outdoor bed, huh?” Hermione murmured as she ran her hands across a soft fox pelt.
Draco snapped his head up, his mouth gaping open. “It’s not a…”
“It’s so a bed,” Hermione insisted with a wry smirk. “A bed that extends out around this entire area. Look at the pillows under the canopy. The entire center of the village is a communal bed. Good luck to you, Malfoy. You’re totally going to need it.”
Draco scowled, certain he was red from his head down to his toes at this point. Matten only confirmed it as he chuckled and purred softly under his breath. “You are shy, that was unexpected too.” He brushed Draco’s cheek, whose eyes widened from the touch. “Do not worry, lovely halfling. None of us will gobble you up.”
Matten stepped closer and his thrum grew louder. Draco felt weak in the knees. It was either fall or grab Matten’s wide shoulders, that latter of which he did unsteadily. “Don’t,” Draco whispered when Matten’s head tilted too close. His breath moved over his face and fingers rested on Draco’s chin as he raised his head up.
“We do not take what is not freely given,” Matten promised softly while his fingers dragged over Draco’s jaw in a caress. “Even though you call so loudly, halfling. Even though you don’t understand just how much you belong with us. We will not harm you in any way; I give you my word. Just having you here among us, breathing our air, sharing our laughter, is more than enough.”
Draco really wanted to believe him, but his body told a very different story. “Stop humming. please.”
“You are so beautiful,” Matten mused. His hum softened but didn’t completely cease as he gently brushed Draco’s hair back. Draco tried to feel only friendship in the touch. It wasn’t easy, and a part of him hated the strangeness inside of him that had no boundaries. “It must be a feature of your kind to keep you protected. If we can’t look away from you, young one, we will surely know you are safe.”
Matten reached his hand up, and Draco shivered when he felt his feathers touched, the tips of his ears, and the longer smooth plumes that framed his face. “It is very difficult to look away from you with your pretty feathers and shimmering scales. You glow so much brighter than the rest of us. We could throw you in the pit and I think you would be brighter than the fire.” Matten said it teasingly, but there was something in his eyes akin to pain as he stared down at Draco.
“Maybe you should let go now,” Hermione said when it seemed Matten was going to stand and stare at Draco all day. She carefully pulled Draco back and away from him, and kept her hands on his shoulders so he wouldn’t sway too much. “The building there, is that where he would stay? Inside?”
“Yes.” Matten shook himself and turned to where Hermione pointed. “It has been kept as a place of importance; our council gathers to discuss what must be discussed. It was always meant for a halfling. We didn’t want one, you see. They bring trouble with the humans.” He glanced again at Draco and looked torn. Draco wondered if Matten and the other vesper struggled the way he did with these strange instincts that pulled for things that didn’t fit into the norm of their lives.
The building was cool with shaded clay walls that kept the summer heat away. The vesper seemed to like color, and each room was painted in an inviting bold shade ranging from pomegranate, plum, emerald, gold and periwinkle. Complementary shaded curtains lined each large window with no glass installed to stop the air from flowing in. Incense scented the halls around them, sweet and heady. Draco honestly enjoyed the place. He tried not to think of it as a permanent home to stay, but there was a voice in the back of his mind who didn’t balk at the idea.
“As you can see, it’s designed for your kind. There are bathrooms; the upstairs one holds a large tub and the plumbing works. It’s magical, of course. The same in the kitchen. The downstairs area was our state room. It’s up to you if you wish to continue its existence as that. There was a halfling recently, just some years before you at the castle. We upgraded the building but as a group decided not to pursue him. There was so much unrest then, with your Dark Lords and humans killing each other. It just didn’t seem wise.” Matten trailed off as his eyes meet Draco’s.
“So you pick halflings as a group?” Hermione asked. “What made you decide Draco was the way to go? You braved a castle full of humans, magical at that. You must have had a good reason.”
“He is very strong,” Matten said carefully. “We could feel him even this far away.”
“Feel me?” Draco asked as his skin prickled.
“Yes. The young ones with less control ran to you without our permission. Thankfully, they held back and didn’t approach the castle and put themselves in harm’s way. Still, they lost control and your call was so loud. We had to make a decision. The kalistar halfling was an unexpected complication. The males are so aggressive. Even now, I still wonder if this was the right choice.”
Draco bit his lip and wrapped his arms around his torso. “It’s just a tour, Matten, an introduction. I have no interest in conflict and I can only hope the same of you.” He already felt too much for the vesper with their numerous injuries scarred on very human faces. It might have been easier if they were ethereal and otherworldly like Hermione described seeing through the glasses. He’d be less likely to become attached to a fantasy compared to people who felt so real.
There was a bedroom on the top floor that connected to the bath Matten mentioned. The room took up the entire top floor and opened up onto an expansive balcony with the fire pit right below. Some of the villagers looked up at him but most were going about there day. It was a relief to know he wasn’t the damn center of everyone’s world. The air flowed in even nicer here and Draco stared out at the village with the morning light slanting across. It looked beautiful from up high; the peeling paint on the buildings and cruder styled huts were mysterious and full of character. Maybe he was just romanticizing, or maybe he was finally relaxing.
“Now this is an indoor bed,” Hermione remarked as she sat on the large mattress. “They definitely have their priorities clear.”
It was a poster bed, twice the width of a king size and large enough to take up half the wall. Airy, white curtains spanned between the posts, decorated with ornamental twists of branches and dotted round red berries. “You would not believe how soft this is.” Hermione laid back with a sigh and her eyes closed. Draco couldn’t blame her. The walk was long with rest little, and their nerves were shot from the questions of if they’d ever leave the vesper village. Never mind if they’d live. That one, at least, Draco felt was answered.
“Did you wish to rest?” Matten brushed Draco’s shoulder lightly with his hand. “I can have some food brought to you. Some of that tea you people seem to obsess over.”
Draco couldn’t help his smile. He glanced over at Hermione who looked to be fast asleep already. “She’s safe here, right? If I close my eyes, I won’t have to worry about anyone hurting her?”
“Your presence has been calming us, halfling. You smell far more human than your companion does, yet the young have lost their restlessness,” Matten said with a hint of surprise. “I’m sure she will be fine. I will lock the lower doors, just in case. Shifters will be here if you need anything.”
“Where will you…?” Draco stopped himself and winced at the question. He shouldn’t care where Matten would be. He should just be glad he wasn’t with him.
Matten inhaled sharply, his gaze intense as it raked over Draco. “Ask me to stay and I will.” The hand he rested on Draco’s shoulder wrapped around his waist. He held him close but still loose.
Fire raced through Draco, more concerning now since there was no purr to blame it on. “Ask me to lay with you, beautiful halfling, and I will,” Matten whispered in his ear. His lips brushed ever so lightly, and sparked dangerous tingles across his skin. “Demand me to my knees and I will gladly give you everything of me.”
“Oh, hell,” Draco groaned. His eyes fell shut as the world spun heatedly around him. “I can’t, Matten. I love someone.”
Matten growled softly. His lips brushed ever so softly to Draco’s arched neck and shot sparks with each light touch. “I love someone too, Draco. You have seen him but yet to truly meet him.”
Draco swallowed hard and tried to get control of himself. “The burned one who helped guide us here.”
“Yes, Zyan. He is strong and fierce. He does not glow as you do.”
“I’m sorry,” Draco whispered. He placed his hands to Matten’s broad shoulders and pushed back. “I’m so sorry I’m like this.”
Matten caught one of Draco’s wrists. He brought his hand to his lips and tracing the knuckles slowly. His eyes pierced into Draco, confusion and desire warring in the crystal depths. “It is the way of us vesper. This is our nature, just in taller forms, little one. Your resistance is what is strange to us. Your shyness, your…”
“Humanity.” Draco smiled weakly and took another step away. Matten’s arm fell from his waist as he released him without opposition. “I’m tired.”
“Then you should rest.” Matten held his hand a moment longer. His warm fingers squeezed gently before he let go. “We will have a feast tonight to welcome you and your guest. You will see us in our element and at ease.”
Draco nodded dumbly. He clutched the window until Matten smiled wryly and bowed. Matten left and closed the door behind him. Draco slumped against the wall, his eyes focused out at the building roofs without seeing them.
“I don’t know how the hell you did that,” Hermione said from the bed, her eyes still closed.
Draco shook himself and turned to look at her. “What?”
“You had that man to his knees and then out the door. He’s a leader, you know, one of their strongest willed. That’s why they sent him to collect you. They needed someone who could fight your allure. Instead he’s more a puddle now, definitely in the slush range of things.”
Draco frowned at the observation. He kicked his shoes off and approached the mammoth sized bed. He closed his eyes when he sat lightly and softness enveloped him. It smelled of incense, dark spices and soothing sleep. “I’ve done nothing to break his will.”
Hermione shrugged. She opened an eye to peek at him from her halo of dark curls. “You pulse at him, at all of them. They can’t help but answer.”
“If I do, it’s not intentional. I’m disconnected from that other part of me. Harry told me I was changing, that I grew wings and was changing. I can’t control that side, not with the ring.” Draco looked down at the silver dragon ring. He clenched his hand into a fist and watched his knuckles turn white.
“It doesn’t make it any less true,” Hermione said bluntly. “Don’t get me wrong, these guys are totally pursuing you. I think Matten would have thrown you up against the wall right then and there if he didn’t think you’d leave over it. A part of you, even if you can’t control it or feel it, is calling for attention. Loud enough to reach this village from the castle.”
Draco didn’t know what to say. The vesper heard him from an impossible distance when he didn’t even know he made a noise. Draco was always a quiet person, since the day he realized the consequences of noise when it came to the dangers his parents brought home.
“You were lonely a lot.”
Draco nodded and sank back on the bed. He was very lonely. Even when Harry returned, Draco carried so much fear he would die and leave him alone again. “I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t want to live the life my mother set out for me.”
“This place isn’t so bad,” Hermione offered after the silence stretched. “And that’s from the viewpoint of someone not anticipating a pile of silver haired beauties at my beck and call twenty-four, seven. They seem determined to make sure you have everything you could ever want.”
Draco pursed his lips, folded his hands under his head and stared at the silk and branches above him. “They’re all so wounded. I don’t think a single one of them lacks a terrible scar. These people have capable warriors. They can’t just be letting themselves be hurt. They could be instigating as much as they suffer.”
“I was thinking that,” Hermione agreed. “He kept glossing over the kalistar, as well. Matten said it was sleeping, not dead. I bet it might be here, somewhere in the village or surrounding area. If they bothered to let it live, I bet they protect it as well. They seem very community driven.”
Draco thought back to what Matten said about the kalistar. It was something about why the vesper transformed into creatures they despised. There must be a reason. Maybe it wasn’t always this way.
“Do you think Harry’s alive?” Draco asked. The question sounded loud in the large room. Hermione was already asleep and Draco was left to wonder alone.
Draco struggled to focus. It started around nightfall when he joined the village of shifters around the fire. The feast was amazing. Draco assumed a pack of dragons meant raw meat and not much on vegetables, but the vesper ate like people. People who had taste buds who understood Draco’s taste buds in a way he hadn’t until that meal. The food was flavorful, varied, and he’d be telling his house elves if he ever went back to the manor.
Not that he was thinking of not going back. Fine, not that he would admit to thinking about not going back. He was confused about it all and thinking just didn’t help a thing.
“Do you not like the singing?” Haille asked from around Draco’s shoulder. With only one ear and long straight hair, he took to pressing his hand to Draco’s back and sitting behind him and Hermione so he could chat with her better.
“It’s, uh, it’s good,” Draco whispered. He tried to focus on the young silver-haired man singing divinely and not the heat rising up in him. The vesper moved in two dimensions at every moment and Draco’s clothes were only in one. Every touch was sparking torture.
“I’m sorry, little halfling,” Matten said tightly, his jaw locked and eyes fierce as he kept his gaze straight ahead and not on Draco. “I should have anticipated this. As I said, lots of mistakes.”
Draco nodded, the motion causing him to sway. Matten was honoring his wishes but it was clear the kind of struggle it was for the shifter. Especially when Zyan kept leaning across to run fingers over Draco’s arm. Draco couldn’t be certain, but it seemed Matten’s lover pushed ever so subtly into the tense leader and smirk wickedly each time.
“I wasn’t expecting you to have so many leaders,” Hermione said conversationally to Haille behind her, oblivious to Draco’s torment. “I count about fifteen up here with us.”
Haille’s palm brushed fire over Draco’s shoulder. “Yes, you think it would get confusing but it works for us. It’s important everyone’s needs are represented.”
Draco really wished Haille would stop lingering on his neck when he breathed. It was far too reminiscent of Harry. Another thing he didn’t want to think about at the moment. Thinking about Harry while surrounded by a circle of horny vesper didn’t help anything.
“It’s getting worse,” Draco muttered as he felt the energy grow in the air around them. In some ways it was good the leaders were up on the porch with him to protect Draco from the others as they shifted into their nocturnal phase. In other ways, it added to his frustration. The sex scents of Matten, Haille and Zyan were dizzying enough. Thankfully, most of the leaders remained feet away where they sprawled on pillows and sleek pelts on the porch. The rest of the village was spread out under the canopy where warm firelight and cool moonlight battled for dominance. It was difficult to see what the ones under the dark of the canopy were doing but Draco could guess as the scent of need became stronger and moans shivered in the dark.
“It will only get worse,” Matten said tersely as he glared at Zyan. Zyan smirked back and pressed his lips to the bridge of his scarred nose.
“It’s good to test one’s will once in a while. The halfling has made things challenging.” Zyan ran his hand under Matten’s jaw, then reached over to brush Draco’s shoulder. The touch was a small jolt to Draco’s senses and he bit back a moan.
“You’re tormenting me, my love,” Matten growled warningly.
Zyan wrapped his arms around Matten’s neck and rested his forehead on his. “I have never seen you so close to losing your self control. It is addictive, and I wish to see you crack.”
A hysterical laugh bubbled up in Draco he couldn’t contain. Worse, once it was loose, the shifters on the dais hummed to calm him. A hot wave of heat settled on Draco and pushing him down to the porch with what felt like a tangible weight. “Oh, hell. stop. Please,” he moaned as he fought the ache growing within. It would be so easy to give in when they could make him feel calm with one simple sound.
Hermione glanced down at where Draco was gasping, her eyebrows raised. “Maybe you should, I don’t know, go inside?” She suggested as she watched Draco’s face flush. “Maybe you won’t hear them.”
“Smell,” Draco muttered as he glaring up at Haille, who was moments away from touching his face. Draco was practically in his lap and the beautiful shifter smirking down wasn’t at all disappointed with the situation. “They give off a scent. Like an aphrodisiac.”
“Pheromones?” Hermione looked up and stared at the many silver haired men in a different light. “You’re all designed for sex, aren’t you? How does that even work if your breeding stage is finished once you become shifters?”
“There are some who think we’re meant to couple with the humans,” Matten said carefully while a few of the shifters nearby looked upset by the notion. “Humans aren’t safe; they’re barbaric and hostile. Some think we are enchanters in this form with wicked intentions. There is also the fear any child born in such a union will be destroyed or poorly treated by their human relatives. halflings have powerful magic and stronger appetites, and the humans have been known to hurt them. We have forbade the act of mating with humans because of this.”
“Your kalistar, was that the one who thought you should mate with humans?” Hermione asked over the sound of Draco’s increased gasps for air. Haille was humming softly as his fingers gently drifted over his features.
“We don’t like to speak of the kalistar. They were the ones who created the first race of halflings and insisted we collect them each generation back. As you can see with your friend, it has brought more difficulty than good.” Matten’s hand hovered inches from Draco’s shoulder but he held himself from reaching the last expanse to touch. “We try to avoid human contact. Running through your buildings and stealing your young doesn’t help in that regard.”
Hermione had to agree. “Why, then? Why create a being you must recover. One who calls so loud you can’t help but seek him out?”
“To get along,” Haille interrupted with a secretive smile. “They are all so angry, you see. Our people would lock themselves from the modern world if they could, and snarl and slash whenever change comes along. The world keeps infringing and the forest pushed back every day. The halflings are our link to that world. Not everyone agrees. Some would rather a halfling stay on a soft cushion in the center of the village, a pretty bauble to gaze upon and brighten the day.”
“He is a very pretty bauble, most assured,” Zyan teased. He stretched out on the ground behind Matten, his face next to Draco’s so he could pet his white-blond locks. “We thought perhaps, if we were to go through the bother of collecting him, maybe we should address the human situation which comes along with such an act. He is very human.” Zyan’s head tilted as he ran his fingers through Draco’s hair, and combed slowly.
Draco couldn’t help but stare into Zyan’s dark, gray eyes, the shifter’s face inches from his own. He smelled good and looked more so. The burn scar on the shifter’s arm and the many thin slashes along his chest did little to dull the heat pulsing through Draco. “Oh, don’t do that,” Draco whispered as more purrs rose up and curled around him like a touch. It was the others on the dais behind him, their soft murmurs reaching his ears.
“They can’t help it, halfling. you’re glowing very brightly.” Haille’s fingers also tangled in Draco’s hair and brushed over Zyan’s with each stroke. “We give thanks to the moon at this time and celebrate our many appetites. The desire is very difficult to deny, especially with such bright light from you.”
“But we will,” Matten said gruffly with a pointed look at the two shifters cradling Draco’s head. “We are the strongest of our people, and we will respect his wishes.”
Hermione knew she probably should be very embarrassed by all the blatant sexual activity that was descending upon the porch and was already happening in the large square. She was more curious than anything; it was like being invited into a real life nature documentary than anything offensive. That was until she caught sight of Kore, a heavily battle-scarred and devastatingly handsome leader as he, for lack of a better word, mount the pretty Seles only a few feet away. It seemed to announce the right time to go inside.
Hermione stood, grabbed Draco’s arm and pulled him to his feet. Draco stumbled, his eyelids heavy and face flushed. She went to steady him but didn’t have to; Matten rose sleek and easily to his feet and kept Draco from falling.
“I’m having difficulty,” Draco admitted softly. His eyes strayed to the door past the writhing bodies bordering the path. His limbs were heavy, as if his entire body was demanding he simply fall back to the ground where the two shifters were waiting for him to return.
“Yes, well, I’m not really surprised,” Hermione said cheerfully, laughter bright in her brown eyes. Poor Matten, Zyan and Haille all seemed rather grouchy to have to leave while at the same time looked glad to be in reach of Draco. “Maybe they have board games? Books? There must be some way to pass the time besides, well, what they’re doing now.”
“We will find him something,” Matten muttered as he carefully guided Draco up the stairs. His hands hovered close but didn’t touch. Draco groaned at each step, his silver eyes heavy with fire and need. He landed hard on the door the moment he reached it, his breath coming out in loud pants. It took everything not to rub up against the surface the way his body was begging.
“It is okay, little one.” Haille gently pulled Draco off the door, his eyes kind as he heard him whimpered. “It is a strong urge. Powerful. You are powerful and you are feeding the fire hotter. Take comfort you are helping the village bond, even if you feel uncomfortable.”
Draco didn’t reply, not certain if it was much consolation at the moment. His body burned, ached for touch. The vesper’s scent was all around him and thrums and moans rose up like a cloud in the dark. He wanted to give in and relieve the pressure building inside, except he couldn’t. For every part of him who thought spreading his body out among the sleek piles of flesh on the ground was a good idea, there was another part who reminded him he was human, proper, and completely bound by certain rules and expectations. Giving in was not an option no matter how much he ached.
It was a little better inside the building. The sounds of the vesper were muffled and the scent as well. There was no glass on the windows to keep anything outside fully out, and Draco was hyper aware of what was going on just on the other side of the door. “I need to, um, be alone for a bit. Upstairs,” Draco added with a blush when Hermione gave him a knowing look.
“You go rest. I’m sure Matten can find something to entertain us all once you get back.” Hermione did her best to not snicker. She knew it was difficult on Malfoy but he was just so funny about it all. Probably because he was so embarrassed. There was an entire village outside who thought group sex was completely normal and in that context, Hermione had to agree with them. For the vesper it was normal, and with Draco being half vesper, it should be normal to him too. Draco clearly didn’t agree. He was flushed pink and jolted at every touch that came his way.
“Uh, the thing is I need help on the stairs.” Draco blushed brighter and Hermione sighed internally. He really just made things more difficult on himself by getting so worked up.
“Come, lovely halfling.” Haille reached his arm out and offered it to Draco. “I can lift you if need be.”
“I will take him,” Matten interrupted with a suspicious glare at Haille.
Haille only smirked and stepped between Draco and Matten. “You can not touch him anymore, Matten. You are far too overwhelmed to be a safe option right now, as you are well aware. I will not harm him.”
Matten relented after a long silent moment and stared at the doorway after the two left.
“Why was he angry?” Draco asked Haille. His eyes were fixed on his feet as he worked his way slowly up the stairs.
“We don’t always get along,” Haille admitted. “We both try to keep an open mind with the humans, but we don’t always agree on how to deal with things.”
Draco stumbled and braced himself on the wall. Haille threaded an arm around his chest and tugged lightly. “Let me carry you. The stairs are steep and you’re weak with lust.”
Draco blushed to hear it put so bluntly. It really was like his body was trying to force him to give in. He didn’t resist when Haille turned him. Haille easily lifted him up, his strong arms braced beneath his thighs while Draco held onto his neck. He was particularly beautiful, and Draco quickly ducked his gaze when Haille’s violet eyes met his.
“So how do you differ with Matten, then?” Draco asked as he tried to distract from the feel of Haille’s powerful form moving against him as he climbed the flights of stairs with ease.
“Matten thinks it’s important to let you make your own decisions with as little interference as possible. He wishes you to observe us from afar, and keep you guarded and buffered from our many ways. He wishes for you to be like your friend; a human guest visiting.”
“And you disagree?” Draco shivered as Haille lowered him to the ground when they reached the door to his bedroom.
“You are not a human; you are a halfling.” Haille opened the door and stepped aside so Draco could walk in. He went to close it and leave but Draco stopped him with a look.
“That’s not really an answer, is it? Are you saying you think I shouldn’t be guarded?”
Haille pulled his fingers through his long hair, and a frown tugged the corner of his mouth. “There is nothing to guard you from. No one will harm you here. We do not have locks on our doors because we do not fear from each other. We have a wall on our village to keep the predators and humans away. You have nothing to fear from the vesper, ever, and separating you is just confusing the fact.”
“Oh.” Draco stepped back into the room, his eyes downcast as he thought.
“What do you fear the most?” Haille followed him as he read Draco’s expression. “Our dragon forms? They are our fiercest warriors, as well as our most precious young. They make mistakes just like the rest of us. Sometimes on a grander scale as the young are apt to do. They learn, grow, and become better for it.”
Draco shook his head. He bit the side of his thumb and glanced up at him. “I’ve gotten used to them. They’re actually quite nice, even with their angry expressions.”
“But you’re still afraid,” Haille insisted with a hint of exasperated. “What can we do to put you at ease? Matten is ready to dig a moat around this building just to keep you calm.”
It was a funny visual but Draco didn’t feel like laughing. He shrugged uncomfortably, not really having an answer. “Did you go into the castle at all when you came to find me?”
“Briefly, yes. I pulled some of the weaker-willed hunters from the place.”
“It was different there, right? Different smells, different sounds, lots of people who don’t look the same as you’re used to. Maybe even frightening?”
Haille bowed his head in agreement. “The humans in the castle have dangerous magic. We avoid them because of it, and thankfully they have never sought to battle us.”
“Well, consider being back in the castle surrounded by all those different things.” Draco looked away and stared awkwardly at the floor as he tried to explain. “And you’re absolutely, unbearably aching for those strange, dangerous beings to touch you. More than touch you.”
Haille edged closer and slipped his hand into his. “I would be afraid.”
Draco bit his lip and tried to ignore the spark of energy he felt from the simple touch. “It doesn’t really matter if they seem nice because you just don’t know. They could be different than what they seem.”
“Dangerous, yes.” Haille tilted his head and studied Draco’s face intently. “Maybe exciting.”
Draco swallowed and his cheeks flushed. “A little.”
“There is a very easy solution, halfling.” Haille’s fingers traced over Draco’s knuckles and lighted on his wrist.
Draco’s breath caught in his throat. “I don’t think…”
“It is night and you are full of need. You are surrounded by your pack who needs as well. You could bond with us.” Haille’s fingers spread wide, and his palm touched down on Draco’s arm. “Each touch is a meeting, a reminder we are similar, even for all our many differences. Matten will touch me soon and I him to repair our disagreements. It is how we learn to know each other. This is how we accept and celebrate.”
Draco exhaled noisily. His body absolutely sang with want. “The touch is the frightening part.”
“Now I know I am confounded.” Haille pressed his hand to Draco’s shoulder, his fingers curled and braced lightly. “It feels good.”
“Yes.” Draco struggled to remember his train of thought. “That is the difficulty.”
“I fear you are a bit backwards, little one,” Matten teased. His free hand came up to rest on Draco’s waist.
“Oh, hell,” Draco whispered. Haille was so close he could feel his body heat radiating centimeters from his own. Draco didn’t know what would happen if his taller torso were to touch his but he suspected it would spiral into something else very quickly. “I… I don’t wish to lose myself.”
“Where exactly would you go? We all wake up together.”
“You’re mocking me,” Draco muttered, hyper-focused on the heat coming off of Haille’s body.
Haille nodded with a gentle smile. He ran his thumb ever so lightly over the hollow of Draco’s throat, who whimpered and swayed in response. “I rather you be afraid of the obvious, halfling. We have sharp teeth and terrible claws. We are covered in many wounds you must find disturbing. Instead you fear something inside you. It hurts you and I do not know how to alleviate it.”
“I’m not afraid of myself,” Draco said tightly. “Just the crazy, strong pull I keep feeling around all of you.”
Haille sighed quietly. He dipped his head and forced Draco to meet his eyes. “You are the one pulling us. Loudly. Brightly. You are very much a being in distress begging for connection. You call us and you are still afraid to connect.”
Draco went to look away but Haille’s fingers grasped his chin and pulled him back. “Even now your skin is flushed with sweat and chemical communication. You came up here to be alone. Your body needs us, little one, and you keep denying it. Starving it.” Fingertips brushed Draco’s lips. “What will you think of up here all alone? You will touch yourself and try to soothe the madness as if you have found a secret trick to stop needing others. You still need and you keep calling us.”
Draco closed his eyes as his mind whirled with so many thoughts. Was that all it was? Just communication? Connecting? Was that what his body was calling for and not the shameful, degenerate sex he saw it as?
“Leave him be,” Matten growled from the doorway. His eyes blazed as he glared at Haille. “You are making him worse, confusing him.”
Haille glanced his way and shrugged unconcernedly. “He is already confused. He ran away up here like he was slashed and clawed. He ignores his own call for comfort and want. How long will he be able to continue like this?”
“It is not your decision to make.” Matten held his hand outstretched and urged Haille away from Draco. “If that is how he wishes to be, that is his choice. We are foreign to him.”
Haille didn’t move even when Matten growled in warning. Draco watched the beautiful shifter silently, his eyes fixed on his scarred hand as Haille gently pressed to his jaw and cheek to caress. “Then let me rephrase my earlier question, Matten. How long will we be able to continue like this?”
“As long as it takes,” Matten snapped.
“His call is only getting worse, and now it is right in front of us. You are nearly overcome in the matter of a day. The other shifters have much fewer defenses against him. Some leaders have already begun to succumb.”
“We decided this as a group, Haille. Now he is here they will not change their mind, even if it is difficult.” Matten took a cautious step closer. Draco wondered for the first time if he was afraid of Haille or of him.
“They are no longer objective,” Haille said with a faint snort. “He has completely addled them. Even Zyan is swaying and he was completely against the idea of collecting a halfling. It might be better to send him back to his castle. That, or take his silly little ring and be done with this.”
“We will not!” Matten was definitely afraid of Draco. He snarled and grabbed Haille by the back of the neck and wrenched the violet eyed shifter away until they were on the opposite side of the room. “He is afraid, alone, confused. What will removing the ring do, except give him something truly to distrust, if not hate us for?”
“He has nothing to fear,” Haille growled back even though he didn’t fight Matten’s grip. “We, on the other hand, have far more to worry if something isn’t done soon.”
Matten stilled and hissed lowly. “You will not speak of it. halfling, I’m sorry for his behavior. We will leave you to your rest.”
Draco wanted to stop them from leaving and find out just what the hell was so dangerous about him being in their village. Something in Matten’s eyes gave him pause. He looked frenzied with a madness sparking deep within his pale blue depths. Draco remained where he was and watched Matten pull Haille away and shut the door soundly as they left.
Draco was unbearably hard and felt more than a little crazy as he made his way to the connecting bathroom. It was much larger than his one at school and included a clawed tub that could likely fit three silvery haired beauties if squished just right. Four, if he chose a lap to sit on. Draco shook his head with a groan as fire heated through him. He was losing himself.
He felt strangely meek while in the village, lost, and on the verge of losing control. He didn’t know if it was the constant horniness or the humming… Or maybe he was giving up on his old life and giving in to this place.
There was a mirror that reached from the floor to ceiling in length. Draco stripped his shirt off and sought out the blue pen lines scrawled over his skin. Seeing them brought comfort in a way he didn’t expected. It was grounding when he barely knew what was up and down.
Shit, Harry wrote some nasty stuff on him. He had to be alive. He had to be.
Draco slowly traced the words written on his flesh and frowned when he saw some were already fading. His sweat had smeared away the ink in some places until it was barely legible. He needed Harry desperately. It felt just as bad as that first night Harry touched him in the bathroom. He kissed and rubbed and ground against him until he was impossibly hard, built his passions until he was nothing more than an aching, trembling puddle of need, and then left him to suffer alone.
Draco groaned at the memory and quickly kicked his pants and underwear off. He needed Harry. The ‘MINE’ was still clear on Draco’s erection but he had a feeling that was going to quickly change. Draco closed his eyes, wrapped his hand around his aching cock and tried to pretend Harry was standing in the room watching him.
If he concentrated just right, Draco could almost feel heat on his neck moving over him in slow, teasing, hungry breaths. Draco raised his hand and brushed lightly over his throat and his body vibrated with desire. It was a crazed need, one he knew wouldn’t be satisfied with just a quick wank. He bit his lip at the realization. Draco braced himself on the porcelain sink, spread his legs and thought of Harry’s touch.
Other thoughts were trying to break in to Draco’s fantasy. Dangerous thoughts that involved Matten, Haille and Zyan. Even some of the others. Fine, a lot of the others. They all looked similar, sleek, powerful men eager to please him. Draco tried to push the thoughts away but it was a struggle. He loved Harry; he wanted Harry. He didn’t need anyone else.
Draco gasped under his breath as he breached his hole with a finger slick with summoned lube. He wasn’t good at being quiet but he felt like he needed to be. Hell, he felt like he was hiding from the entire village just to masturbate. It was crazy. Extra crazy after what Haille said. Hell, that parting look in Matten’s eyes. If he called him back, what would he have done? Matten wanted him; they all did. They could all be his if he just asked. Went downstairs and let them do whatever they wanted to him.
“Stop,” Draco hissed fiercely. He wasn’t some animal who just fucked whoever he pleased. He was just a ridiculously horny teenager fucking himself in the bathroom while a village of gorgeous men waited for him to come back down. Draco groaned at his stupidity and tried to think of something else.
It was difficult to remember what Harry looked like. He was missing for half a year and when Draco finally saw him again, he was wounded and odd with his skin black, form taller, and eyes wild. His hands were big, rough and strong on his flesh. His breath and skin impossibly hot. His mouth… Hell, his tongue. That obscene, rude tongue of his Harry used to lick all over his body, outside and in. He wanted Harry and his tongue right now. Potter was such a damn pervert, not like him at all.
“Fuck. Oh, god.” Draco pushed another finger inside his aching hole. He wishing it was even remotely the same girth and reach of Harry’s perfect hands. He needed it so bad. Needed Harry so bad. He better still be alive, the damn ass, because Draco had no idea how he was going to live without him. Harry practically trained Draco’s body to respond to his every touch.
There was a soft knock on the door and Draco froze, his lower lip caught between his teeth as he stared down at the faucet blankly.
“Right. Sorry to interrupt, Malfoy, but I think you have to stop. Um, or be really quick with what your doing.” Hermione sounded more concerned than embarrassed. Draco wished he felt the same way and growled internally. He was so fucking hard!
“What, Granger? What the fuck could be that important…?”
“They’re fighting,” Hermione said quickly. “The humming isn’t working. Matten says your call is too strong when you’re like this and the young, the dragons, are fighting.”
Draco did growl this time, the noise full of frustration as it echoed off the walls. Fucking vesper dragging him through the goddamn Forbidden Forest, getting him hard as fuck, and then refusing to let him have five fucking minutes to deal with it in peace. Fuck. Mother fucking whore!
“So, um, they also had a solution,” Hermione continued quieter, her embarrassment starting to win over her anxiety. “I told them you probably wouldn’t go for it but they insisted I ask.”
Draco very carefully extracted his cramped fingers from his clenching body and muttered a cleaning spell. He put his pants on, ignored his underwear for the time being, and threw the door open to glare at the annoying Gryffindor. “What?” he snarled.
Surprised by his abrupt entrance, Hermione took a step back and blinked at Draco. She covered her hand over her mouth but it didn’t stop her laughter from breaking free. Draco narrowed his eyes in warning; he was so close to slugging her, girl or not.
“Property of Harry James Potter,” Hermione read breathlessly. Her eyes widened as she continued reading down Draco’s bare torso silently.
“Fuck,” Draco snapped. He went to turn and then remembered there was much worse on his back. Harry was a total perv. Draco had no interest in sharing just what was written on his back with Hermione and was forced to glare her down. His expression promised pain if she didn’t get her shit together. “Why are you here?” he demanded angrily.
“Sorry,” Hermione apologized weakly, her eyes full of bright laughter. It took her a moment to pull herself together. “Just, um, Haille had an idea. Matten is very much against it… Shit, it just keeps going under your pants, doesn’t it? He wrote all over you.”
“For the love of… Focus, Granger!” There was a very tired part of Draco who wanted to sit down and cry about his very exhausting week.
Hermione bit her lip to keep from laughing and made herself look away. She came up there for a very important reason and was blindsided to find out Harry was just so, well, possessive seemed to fit, in this case. It was a bit much to mix with her memories of her friend. Except for right before the end of school last year; Harry had shown a lot of aggressiveness then that would fit the possessive words marking Draco’s flesh.
“Haille wants to ground you,” Hermione was finally able to get out. “Your power is all over the place. I guess it’s kind of like a spell without a target. You’re constantly looping and raising power up, and the poor vesper can’t handle it.”
Draco frowned and clasped the back of his neck. “I assume ‘grounding’ isn’t as innocent as it sounds.”
Hermione grinned wryly. “Oh, I’m sure it’s not. They mentioned something about touch, but it’s all sex with these guys. Matten is dead set against it so it makes me worry even more. He’s been doing everything to protect you.”
It was true; Draco felt extra nervous if Matten didn’t agree. At some point he grew to trust the shifter, as foolish as that probably was. “Did they say what would happen if I didn’t?”
“Ah, yes. Something along the lines of shagging to death. Although, they may be exaggerating. They say you have a very strong mating call and just don’t know how to control… What? What’s wrong?” Hermione asked when Draco slumped forward with his hand covering his face.
“Mating call. It’s a fucking mating call! How did I not put that together?” Draco was doing to the vesper what Harry did to him. It was the same as that insane night when Harry convinced him with one simple touch to give him a blow job in the middle of the damn hallway. Draco thought he was going to die that night, he so overwhelmed with his need for sex. Especially when Harry ran off and left him to fend for himself. It was agony. Hours of agony and madness.
“Where are they? I need to fix this.” Draco couldn’t leave the vesper like that. He remembered all too well how terrible it felt and that was just directed at him. There was an entire village of people suffering because he didn’t know how to control himself. It was inexcusable.
“They’re outside the door, but you’re not going to do it, Malfoy. For all you know, they’re going to tell you to take your ring off and trick you into staying. You’d have to be out of your mind to…”
“Get them and get the hell out of here, Granger,” Draco snapped, his chin raised defiantly. “Go lock yourself in one of the other rooms or something. Don’t come fucking knocking at the door, that’s for damn sure.”
“Malfoy, no way! I promised Harry I’d protect you.”
Draco snarled and stepped forward until Hermione stepped back. “Potter isn’t fucking here. I can make my own goddamn decisions. I will not let these people suffer just because I’m some fucking ignorant half human who doesn’t know shit about the vesper.”
“Listen to yourself; you don’t owe them! They were going to kill Harry just to steal you away. They can call you family all they damn like, but family doesn’t do that.”
“You clearly haven’t met my father,” Draco said without a trace of humor. “I know what they’re struggling with now. If Matten told me earlier, I would’ve tried to fix it then. I didn’t come here to drive these people mad.”
Hermione didn’t look particularly impressed. “That’s their problem for dragging you out here in the first place. They went up against a castle full of wizards. They had to know there would be consequences.”
“Yes,” Draco agreed and shoved her gently by the shoulders toward the door. “They felt the fucking mating call all the way from their village and it was too powerful for them to resist. Do you get it, Granger? Not all magic can be fought. Even an intelligent, decidedly nomadic village of warriors can be lured into their enemy’s lair by one ignorant halfling. This was my fault from the very beginning and they’ve been too polite to tell me.”
Hermione clicked her mouth shut. She didn’t have a logical argument, but it didn’t mean she agreed with him. “You don’t owe them just because you were ignorant.”
“I owe them because I’m no longer ignorant,” Draco replied just as evenly. “Send them in and go away. I don’t need your help.”
Hermione hesitated for a long moment and eventually bowed her head. “Don’t forget why you’re here, Malfoy. You saved Harry; don’t forget him among your harem of injured pets.”
Hermione was out the bedroom door before Draco could respond to her dig. Two said injured pets peered at him from the doorway, each with their own version of wary on their faces. Draco huffed and tried not to feel awkward.
“Where’s Matten?” Draco asked when he saw the familiar shifter not there with Zyan and Haille.
“He is beyond controllable at the moment.” Zyan’s anxious eyes strayed to the doorway as if Matten were right outside. “I didn’t expect him to actually crack but he has. Your call is very strong.”
“I warned him,” Haille muttered, not sounding pleased. “He insisted on bearing the responsibility alone and now he is suffering for it.”
Draco felt uneasy as he shifted from foot to foot. “Is he alright? Will he be?”
“If you can shut down your call, he will be perfectly fine.” Zyan took a step toward Draco. He was looking at him like he was a wild animal instead of a very confused halfling. “Hermione told you as much, correct? That is why you have let us in?”
Draco nodded and forced himself to stand still. “I hadn’t realized. I didn’t understand what I was doing fully. I don’t know how to stop it but I want to.”
“Well, at least there is that,” Haille said while still frowning. “You are the first halfling of our generation. We were warned the call could be dangerous, but Matten thought addressing it would be too awkward for you. You are very skittish.”
Jumpy. Draco was jumpy and he damn well knew it. “What do I have to do?” The two shifters exchanged glances and Draco felt a flutter of unease.
“We will try to ground you,” Haille said, speaking carefully.
“Try? You don’t know if you can?”
“It is usually the kalistar who deals with the halflings. That has been the way.”
As Draco stared at Haille and Zyan, his expression turned pained when things started to click together once again. “That’s why you’ve avoided the halflings so long. Your kalistar is sleeping.”
“Yes.” Zyan’s dark eyes were stormy. “You were too strong; you gave us little choice in the matter. It was either collect you or lose all our children to your castle. There would have been bloodshed, war, and absolute devastation. Matten thought to tell you would be to influence you unjustly.”
It would have. Maybe not while he was still at Hogwarts, a lifetime away from the vesper, but here in their village seeing these people interact, talk and laugh, share and try to welcome him in. He would have been influenced. Draco didn’t want to hurt these people. His one life was hardly comparable to the generations growing up around him in this sheltered den.
“Matten has succumb from being too close to you. He took on the call to help shield the village,” Haille said sharply. “His need for morality has made him vulnerable along with the rest of us.”
“What’s happened to him?” Draco asked, his mouth dry.
Again the shifters exchanged looks and Draco wondered for the first time if they were communicating telepathically. Haille ran fingers through his long locks and eventually nodded as if answering a voice within. “Come with us, halfling. Perhaps if you see what you do to us, you will understand why you can’t leave here.”
Draco bit his lower lip as he hesitantly stepped forward and followed them out the room and into the hallway. They didn’t have far to go. Matten was in a room on the floor beneath his. Draco stood in the doorway while Zyan knelt feet away from his lover. The shackles on Matten’s scarred arms and legs were thick and heavy, and the dull metal clinked against the floor when the shifter snarled and jerked weakly.
“No, halfling,” Haille said when Draco went to step in the room. “Do not approach him. He can’t control himself. His mind is nothing more than a beast right now.”
Draco hesitated on the threshold and watched as Matten’s pale blue eyes locked on him. The orbs glared intensely with a spark of madness. It was familiar. Not the look. Draco never actually had a chance to see what this looked like. When he closed his eyes and felt the energy roiling around him, Draco recognized the feeling. It was the madness of Harry, aggressive, desperate, and needy. A terrible, terrible power that caressed over his skin, sparked energy and desire. It was the need to be needed.
Draco kept his eyes firmly shut and slipped into the room. His bare feet sought a path on the warm stone floor. There was a scuffle when Haille attempted to pull Draco away but Zyan caught the shifter. “You cannot touch him; the glow is blinding. You will just become as Matten is.”
“He can’t touch Matten! The halfling is still tied to that dying kalistar. If Matten’s beast wins and harms him, the kalistar will kill us all.”
“He won’t harm me,” Draco assured softly. His focus was elsewhere and he carefully pressed against the wall of coiled power Matten was surrounded by.
“You think that but you do not understand us. Matten is lost, halfling. He is nothing more than instinct, violent instinct. He has lost himself and you are not safe.”
“I appreciate your concern.” Draco took another step closer with only darkness to greet his vision. “But I’m trying to concentrate, and I need silence.” That seemed to do the trick, and the two shifters fell quiet. It left only the sound of Matten’s heavy breathing broken by guttural snarls. Draco didn’t focus on the noise. He was keyed in to the flow of hot energy even now rising up and lapping at his skin.
Draco carefully crouched when he became aware he reached Matten’s legs. He edged closer and felt his body heat. Matten’s behavior changed and his snarls stopped. Draco reached his face and a low growl brushed air across his cheek.
“Hi, Matten.” Draco smirked when all he got was a louder growl in reply. “I can feel you’re trying to stay in control and I appreciate that. But I think you can relax.” Draco inched closer and his knees scraped on the floor uncomfortably.
“halfling,” Matten growled. It was a quiet, tormented plea and Draco’s heart broke. It wasn’t right Matten was so hurt because of him.
“It’s okay, I promise. I understand what I did. I’m not sure how, but I know what it is now. You’re full of need, right Matten? Terrible, unbearable need, and it makes you feel like your soul is being torn from you.”
“Yes,” Matten hissed and jerked his head back as if afraid to be so close to Draco.
“But it’s not your need, and I’m very sorry for that,” Draco continued as tears stung the corners of his closed eyes. “When I get angry, you vesper get extra angry. When I get aroused, you all get ridiculously horny. And I didn’t realize—not really—what it might mean for this other feeling I so inconsiderately filled you with. I’ve been ignoring this emotion for a long time, Matten and I know it doesn’t mean what I did to you was right. But I just wanted you to know it’s why this happened. I was blind to it.”
“Touch,” Matten whispered even as he tried to push away.
“Yes. I’ve been very lonely and I wanted to be touched.” Draco nodded in agreement. “Potter understood. He and I are very alike in that regard. I never had to say a word to him about it, or maybe he just felt it the way you do. It’s been very loud, that small, little voice inside me.” Everything else in Draco was quiet for such a long time but somewhere deep within, where he thought he was numb and already dead, something still called. The final muffled death cries of his childhood begging for human connection. For the love his parents withheld. For touch Draco feared would collapse what little was left of him.
“I’m going to touch you, Matten,” Draco whispered. “When I do that, it’s going to be okay.”
“No,” Matten choked out. He struggled against his bonds to get away.
“I know you’re scared. I know. I’m always scared too.” Draco reached his hand up and felt over the heat of his skin until he was at Matten’s chest. Slowly, tentatively, he pressed his hand forward. His fingers flinched when he made contact. Matten stiffened under his touch, breath caught in his throat. Draco could feel the frantic, wild beating of the heart beneath his hand. It made him want to cry to know this sad, broken part within him lived a life in this man’s body for short moments and this was what its heartbeat felt like.
Draco leaned his head down and rested it to Matten’s neck and shoulder. Slowly he curled his arms around the unnaturally still man and held the strong, battle-scarred body as if Matten were a child. Even more slowly, more carefully, Matten slipped his arms around Draco and returned the hug.
Draco wasn’t sure when it changed. He found himself crying while Matten hummed ever so softly in his ear. He was pulled closer and wrapped tight as the shifter held him. Haille at some point thought Draco was safe enough to touch again, and his fingers gently stroked in his hair while he and Zyan hummed and released Matten from his chains. Draco only felt mildly embarrassed to be hugged by three complete strangers who didn’t feel remotely strange to him. The vesper felt his pain fully while Draco worked hard to block it out. They understood why he was pouring out the last lonely years of his life along with his fear his future was destined to be as bleak as his past.
It was a groundless fear. Draco had an entire village of vesper. His cold mother, vapid fiance, imprisoned father; they were gray, faded memories. Harry, who still burned bright and hot in Draco’s body, was like him. Harry would come find him when he was well enough. They would have a family, a very large family. One with scales, feathers, and glowing pale skin. Harry would just have to understand.