Draco crept from his room, wand in his pocket and hands shaking. It was six long flights of stairs down to the kitchen, and on the third floor he would have to pass directly in front of his father’s door.
The bright moon shone in through the square windows of the hall, illuminating him in parts as he stepped softly, heart in his throat at the thought of making a noise. Between the windows slept portraits, and it was those he feared waking.
If only his mother was here. Why had she gone? Why, so suddenly, and without warning?
Why had she left him?
He made it to the staircase and descended quickly to the fifth floor. He passed along the fifth floor hallway, made it to the staircase again, and descended to the fourth.
And then the third.
There was a light in his father’s study, the flickering fire. He crouched a meter away, his very body resisting the thought of passing in front of that door—his father, pacing, threw long shadows out from under the door and against the wall of the hallway.
He was muttering to himself. He had been muttering to himself all holiday.
Draco crept an inch closer, then another, then another. He listened hard.
“He will kill us all,” came his father’s voice, uncharacteristically frightened. “All of us, for losing it. He will kill us all. What do I do, what do I do—”
The manic tone of his father’s voice made Draco jittery. When the shadow had passed away from the door, he scrambled across on all fours, like a child again playing keep-away from father. But he didn’t feel so foolish anymore. He felt heavy, heavy.
He made it to the staircase. Dragon skirted, he allowed himself to hurry—down to the ground level, and then, using a back staircase, finally, to the kitchen.
The kitchen was completely dark. “Hello?” he called softly, wondering for a moment if they had abandoned him, tricked him.
And then the familiar light came, soft orange and slowly morphing. It illuminated Dobby’s face, and then, slowly, the other eleven Malfoy elves lit theirs. They looked—exactly as he felt. Terrified.
“Ready, Draco, sir?” asked Dobby calmly.
“No,” he said tremulously. “Let’s go.”
The elves parted to let him through. One of them—Iffy—reached out and touched his robe. “Yes?” he asked carefully.
“Thank you,” said Iffy.
Draco gave a jerky shrug. He hadn’t done anything at all for them yet.
It took the master of a house to free its elves. But perhaps, just this once, just maybe, it would take an elf who could use wizard magic, and the master’s son.
He had only ever seen the foundation stone once—it was behind a warded door in the far, far back of the cellars. They ventured to the cellars together, creeping in a huddle of twelve past wine barrels as valuable as heirlooms. The door was barely visible, but for a faint shimmer of magic.
Draco took his wand from his pocket.
Dobby stepped up beside him. “Remember,” he said to the other elves. “Make for Hogwarts right away.”
“Don’t wait for us,” Draco said quietly. “As soon as you can—just go.” He waited until they all nodded. And then he touched his wand to the ward.
Recognizing a blood relation, they parted instantly. There was one moment of silence, then two. Feeling relief trickle through him, Draco reached for the handle.
And then Iffy twitched. “He knows,” he said tremulously. “He is coming! Draco, sir, Dobby, go!”
“No—“ Draco said, “we can’t leave you—”
“Go” commanded Iffy, and Dobby seized Draco’s hand.
Shaking, Draco turned to the elves. “All of you! I order you to disobey Lucius Malfoy! I order you to do what you have to do!”
“GO!” shouted Iffy.
He pulled open the door. Dobby flew inside, yanking him behind, and the door shut tight behind them.
“We must locks it!” cried Dobby, raising his hands in the total darkness, the only light his elflight. He raised a blue barrier over the door. Draco drew his wand and cried, “colloportus!”
Suddenly, a roar and a shout came from outside the door. Draco jumped back in fright, crashing into Dobby, as the shouting outside turned into screaming. “Dobby!” he gasped.
“Quickly, Draco, sir, quickly,” said Dobby. “The stone!”
He turned blindly and found Dobby kneeling down beside a flat stone set into the floor. A red rune pulsed on top of it. As a great shout came from outside, Draco knelt opposite him, running his hands over the slab—hut it was not a slab, it was the top of a massive boulder, buried under the ground.
He gripped his wand, whole body shaking. “Dobby, the others—” He flinched as a gruesome scream came through the door.
“They’s doing this to gives us time!” Dobby urged.
“Right. Okay.” Shaking, Draco lay his wand across the rune, pressing his hands flat on top of it. Dobby’s came to cover his, long thin fingers inexorably strong, pressing his palms into his wand into the stone.
“Breathe, Draco, sir,” Dobby whispered. Their faces were lit with orange light like they were aflame. “Let your magic build. Breathe with me.”
Outside he heard his father scream a curse. He jolted and his hands almost slipped from his wand; Dobby clenched them tight, teeth gritting, tears in his eyes. “Ignore it,” he begged. “Please, Draco, sir, this is for us. This is for them.”
“This is for them,” Draco repeated. “This is for them.” He said the words louder, like an incantation, filling the room: “This is for them. This is for them.”
Dobby joined him. They chanted together, a mantra to hold them there, to focus their minds while their magic built, and built, and built. Draco felt his wand shaking under their hands, felt it start to get hot—the rune was heating up, it was almost uncomfortable—
“This is for them. This is for them. For them, for them, for them, for them.”
He locked eyes with Dobby. The elf’s were huge and blue and brimming with—with—with magic. There was magic spilling from them in huge drops, sizzling down onto their skin, onto the stone, and where they landed there was smoke—
“FOR THEM!” Draco screamed, and pushed his magic out, down his fingers, through his wand, into the stone—
The stone cracked, his wand cracked, fractured magic flung Draco and Dobby to opposite sides of the small room. Ripples of magic shuddered out, shaking the very foundations of the house. When they had finally ceased, Draco scrabbled in the dark for his wand, finding it in two useless pieces. “Dobby?” he asked tremulously. Had Dobby left him?
“Draco,” said Dobby, hand finding his ankle. “Is you hurt?”
“They left,” said Dobby. “I is feeling them.”
“Good—” gasped Draco, and then his father splintered the door open.
The glare of conjured light blinded him, and he hardly knew what happened, just that his father was in the doorway, incandescent and wrathful, bloody, and then his cane was cracking across Draco’s face, pain like he had never felt before splitting open his skull—
“No!” cried Dobby, and a wave of yellow light poured from his hand and pushed Lucius back through the doorway.
Behind him, Draco could see—through his one eye, he could see—oh, Merlin, the elves—their bodies—
“Traitor!” roared Lucius, drawing his wand, already spitting red sparks, “you filthy child—”
Draco scrambled back, forgetting his wand, his face was on fire—and then Dobby’s hand closed on his and there was another great crack and they were away, away.
“Draco,” whispered Dobby, “Draco, is you okay? Let me sees!”
“No, don’t,” Draco moaned, as Dobby tried to pull his hands from his face. “Stop, stop!”
“Let me sees!” Dobby insisted. “I must sees your eye!”
Draco was sure he had lost the eye, along with about half the skin on his face. He let Dobby jerk his hands down and put delicate fingers on the skin around his eye, squinted shut. “Fine,” Dobby said in relief. “He is hitting the edge, thank the stars—”
“We have to go,” Draco said, trying to stop crying, but his face hurt so badly. “Oh Merlin, my wand, we have to go, Dobby—”
“We can’t,” said Dobby lowly. “Your father is raising the wards around the manor. I feels them. We isn’t getting out.”
Terror froze Draco absolutely to the ground. He let out a low whimper, eyes flickering around. They were at the edge of the manor’s wood, near the broom shed. “What do we do?” he whispered.
“We haves to waits until he is leaving,” said Dobby grimly. “Until then, we hides.”
Dobby’s eyes flicked to the woods behind them. “In there.”
Draco took a great shuddering breath. In the distance, he could see the manor, all of the lights on, spells now arcing high over the house, searching.
“Dobby,” he whispered. “Did you see them?”
“I is seeing,” said Dobby. He was crying, just like he had over the foundation stone, sparking tears of blue magic. “I is seeing their bodies. We can’t lets it go to waste. We haves to run.”
“You’re right.” One hand covering half his face, he struggled upright, taking Dobby’s hand in his other. “Brooms. We should—we should take brooms.”
They sped to the broom shed, and Draco quickly found his Nimbus 2001. “Can you fly?” Dobby shook his head. “It’s alright—we can share.”
He mounted, and Dobby sat in front of him, clutching the handle tight. It was hard flying one-handed, but he couldn’t convince himself to remove his other hand from his face. He tasted blood, and it terrified him. His cheek felt swollen and hot.
He guided them low to the ground, going for speed, not height. Not height, when his father was searching from above. They entered the wood and he had to slow, weaving around trees by the light of the moon, but it was still faster than walking.
When his arm started to shake and he couldn’t control the hitching sobs of his chest anymore, Dobby patted his hand. “Stop here,” he said. “We is far enough in. Let’s rest.”
They dismounted, starting to shiver in the cold. Draco had a robe and shoes, at least, but Dobby wore a tattered pillowcase only. “We’ll freeze,” he told Dobby, teeth chattering.
“We isn’t,” said Dobby. “Sit down here.” He guided Draco to sit beside him, shoved up under a low and prickly bush. Its long branches drooped over them and back to the ground. Dobby took Draco’s hand and breathed out—and a wave of warmth passed between them, melting the frost on the ground for a few centimeters in a circle. Draco’s shivers stopped. The warmth stayed.
“How are you doing that?” Draco asked in shock.
Dobby hummed. “I don’t knows how, exactly. Only that magic is like breathing now.”
They sat in the bubble of warmth until sunrise, hand-in-hand, taking turns to cry, and listening hard for pursuit.
The sun rose, and with it, the knowledge that they were screwed.
“We haves to find water,” said Dobby grimly.
“And food.” Draco’s stomach was clenching with hunger. He had determinedly not been thinking about his snapped wand all night.
“Water first,” said Dobby. “Does you know this wood well?”
Draco shook his head. The manor wood was an eerie place, of which, he knew, though he was not supposed to, his father held tenuous control. The last Malfoy to truly master the property’s wood had been his great-grandmother, a fact he had only learned through eavesdropping.
So they chose a direction, and crept. They didn’t bother with the broom, fearing they would overshoot some indication of water. They both thought they had heard something about the way moss grew showing the direction of water, but they couldn’t agree on the direction. They tried to look for tracks, but the ground was hard with frost. They tried following birds, but the only birds they saw glared at them with such hatred that they turned away in fear.
But eventually, Draco heard something. “Is that water?” he whispered. The words, the first he’d spoken in hours, pulled at his lip and cheek painfully.
Dobb listened hard, his ears twitching. “I … thinks so?”
They forged their way towards it eagerly, and sure enough, found a small brook. Draco bent down eagerly to drink, but Dobby hauled him back at the last second. “Wait!”
“What?” He followed Dobby’s finger. In the shallows of brook were amassed several… well, they looked like sacs of jelly, spotted with blue rings. But when he peered closer, he could see that they were releasing almost transparently thin streams of inky liquid.
“Poison,” Dobby said. “This water isn’t safe.”
Draco sat back in frustration. “We have to have water! If only I had—” He broke off. He felt the moment of his wand snapping like remembering a bone breaking. That wand had chosen him, and now it was gone.
“You is being able to make water with magic?” Dobby asked him. “Teach me the spell. Maybe I is being able to do it.”
Using a stick, Draco showed him the wand movement and incantation for aguamenti.
“I isn’t having a wand,” said Dobby, “but maybe if I … aguamenti!” He waved his hand in the movement. From the tips of his fingers began to trickle a shockingly bright green liquid, splashing down into the frosted moss at their feet.
“Oh,” Draco said. “I don’t think we should drink that.”
“No,” Dobby agreed. He shook his fingers, and the liquid stopped flowing. “Maybe if we follows the brook ….”
It was better than nothing. Hungry and thirsty and exhausted, they followed the brook upstream, hoping that it would clear of those poisonous sacs, but it never did. If anything, they grew more numerous. The sun rose, but it didn’t get any warmer. They walked through plumes of their own breath, on and on. Draco’s face didn’t feel like it belonged to him anymore—it felt like someone else’s burning cheek, someone else’s throbbing eye.
“We have to go to the gates eventually,” he said at one point, hands tucked tight under his armpits. “To wait for my father to leave.”
“Yes,” agreed Dobby. “If we is being able to find it.”
“Maybe this stream will take us there,” suggested Draco. It was, indeed, a stream now, having grown from an iced-over brook into a cold, swift flow. It did not lead them to the front gate of the manor, but to a waterfall cave.
They stared at it from the ground. It wasn’t so high up, but it was icy and fast-flowing and steep.
“Maybe those sacs won’t be there,” said Draco doubtfully. “I can fly us up?”
Dobby nodded silently, hopping onto the broom in front of Draco. They ascended hopefully before realizing that there was no possible way to enter the cave on broomstick. The waterfall was flowing much too hard to pass through, and there was no entrance big enough to fit both of them together.
“We haves to climb,” said Dobby. Draco wanted to cry, but he bit it back furiously and landed.
And so they climbed. It was a terrible ascent. Neither of them had ever done any climbing, and they were reaching for only the faintest hope of water, and maybe shelter—Dobby slipped, and Draco caught his foot on his shoulder and gasped in fear he would fall too—but he clung tight to the freezing rock like his life depended on it, which it did, and they steadied.
And so it went. It must have taken only ten minutes, but it felt like hours before Dobby finally heaved himself through the smallest crack in the side of the waterfall, and hauled Draco in after him.
They lay there on their backs and gasped, the air here so cold that their breath practically settled back on their faces in a cloud. “C-cold,” Draco said. Dobby fumbled for his hand, and that blossom of warmth spread through his body. He was so cold that it actually hurt for the first few moments, but soon his trembling eased.
Dobby lit his elflight, and they saw they were in a small cavern, just a shelf really, the waterfall only a foot in front of them. There was a small secondary stream running from the back of the cavern, and inside it there were no poisonous sacs to be found.
They fell on the water instantly, and it was so cold that it hurt to drink, but they drank anyway, and then lay there on the ground huddled together.
“We could make a fire,” Draco suggested eventually. “It mightn’t be seen from behind the waterfall.”
“We needs sticks,” said Dobby.
They looked around. There were only rocks.
“But,” Draco said, very nearly on the verge of a breakdown. “You can do all sorts of things now! You can make us warm, and you got us to the woods! Couldn’t you make a fire that doesn’t need wood to burn?”
“Maybe.” Dobby released his hand and the warmth leeched from Draco immediately. He scooted as close to the elf as possible and curled up in a ball.
Dobby pulled some rocks over to him and stared at them in concentration. He cupped his hands, and a bright blue flame appeared in them easy enough. But when he tried to lower it to the stones, it went out instantly. He tried again, and again.
Draco watched him in a daze, feeling his eyes start to droop closed. He was exhausted, and freezing, and so hungry that the best thing to do about it seemed to be just … going to sleep.
“Ah,” Dobby said after a while. Draco’s eyes snapped open. There in front of them, on top of a pile of rocks, burned a blue fire. He smiled, head on Dobby’s shoulder, and fell asleep.
“Draco. Draco, wake up.”
“Hmm?” Merlin, he was hungry. He put a hand to his stomach; he was almost queasy with it. The thing his head was resting on jostled him, and the movement of his face reminded him that half of his head was cut off, or so it felt like.
“Is you awake?” It was Dobby, and his head was on Dobby’s shoulder. He gave a grunt of acknowledgement. “Good. We haves to go. Get up, very, very slowly.”
That woke him up. He opened his eyes, but it was pitch black. Pitch black, except … in the back of the cave, there were four little white lights.
“Dobby,” he said softly.
“I isn’t knowing what they are. But they is closer than before. We haves to fly.”
“We’ll be crushed against the rocks.”
“I has a plan. Just trust me.”
As if now, after everything, he would stop trusting Dobby. He had never trusted anyone so much in his life. Slowly, keeping his eyes on those lights, he reached for his broom. They knelt and mounted it, keeping as calm as possible.
“Ready?” Draco asked.
And then those lights lunged, resolving into creatures with fur and claws, and Draco kicked off straight into the waterfall.
They should have been dashed against the rocks below, their bodies washed downstream for his father to find and desecrate. And they did hit the rocks—but they were sliding along them, skimming downstream like fish. They rode the magic until Dobby started to shudder, and Draco pulled up and up and they crested the trees.
Just for a moment. Just to get their bearings.
There was the front gate. Far away from them, but he marked the direction.
In the instant they were above the trees, his father’s spell found them.
It collided with Draco’s chest, sending a flare of pain through him, a sharp scream like a firework blasting through the air.
“Dive!” cried Dobby, and he dove, he dove like Harry dove, fast and wild. The moment they sank beneath the trees the spell fizzled out, and they held on tight and sped as fast as possible in the direction he had marked.
But he simply could not keep the pace—he hadn’t slept for long in the cave, and Dobby not at all, and they had to touch down. The burrowed themselves in frosty fallen leaves, and Dobby made them warm, and they slept.
They woke late, to birdsong. Well, birdcall. More like bird screech. There was a pure black owl perched on a tree opposite them, staring at them with pink eyes, screeching.
Draco didn’t put much stock in divination. But that was a bad omen. “We should get away from it,” he said nervously.
“Yes,” agreed Dobby. “We heads that way.” He pointed, and Draco trusted that Dobby’s sense of direction was better than his.
They wandered listlessly. Part of Draco recognized that they needed food, but he had reached the most extreme point of his hunger last night and now it was a dull ache. They walked when they could and rested when they started to stumble.
Around afternoon Dobby called a halt. “Stop,” he said. “We needs to eat.”
“I’m not hungry anymore,” said Draco.
“Exactly. Sit down.” Draco sat. Dobby sat with him. “I isn’t being able to create food. Limmy is telling me this is impossible. But maybe I is being able to summon it?”
“Yeah,” Draco said, “good idea. From the kitchen?”
“Maybe.” Dobby held out his hands. He started to glow a bit, faintly pink from head to toe. He stared hard at his hands, as if expecting an apple to fall into them. After a moment, he released the magic, frowning. Then he brought it back up again, this time glowing blue. Then orange, then black, then blue.
Finally, he dropped his glowing green hands to the ground in exasperation. “Stars!”
“Um.” Draco looked upwards. “Dobby.” Dobby followed his gaze.
The tree above them was fruiting rapidly, growing buds then flowers then pudgy fruits in thirty seconds. Soon, the apples, for they were apples, grew so heavy they dropped down, falling around them. One of them hit Draco on the head. He couldn’t even be mad about it, he was too busy shoving as much fruit into his mouth as he could.
“That was amazing,” he said, on his fifth apple. “Wizards can’t do anything like that.”
“I thinks …” Dobby mused, “I thinks I can do many things wizards cannot. And maybe this is why we elves is bound to begins with.”
They fell silent to contemplate this. Draco sucked the juice from an apple core.
Draco, whispered his father.
Draco leapt three feet in the air. Dobby looked at him in alarm. “What is it?”
Draco, listen to me.
“My father is talking to me,” said Draco nervously. He felt around the ground for Dobby’s hand, clutching his fingers.
Draco, I overreacted before. Come home, and we can talk this over. Bring the elf. Come out of the wood, Draco.
“What is he saying?” Dobby asked, his eyes wide.
“He’s sorry. He wants me to bring you home.”
You have until midnight, Draco, before I burn you out.
A shiver wracked him from head to foot. “We have til midnight.”
Dobby stood up, pulling Draco along. “Then we is best going.”
It warmed him slightly, that Dobby didn’t contemplate for a second that he would go back.
They forged their way through the wood all afternoon, alternating riding the broom when there was enough clearance and walking. They paused to sleep as the sun went down, and woke when the moon had risen fully—but before midnight, because though it was eerie and freezing and frightful, there was no sign of his father’s rage.
“How close do you think we are?” Draco asked, looking compulsively behind them. “Should we fly up again to see?”
Dobby bit his lip. “Maybe.”
And at that moment, the screams of a dozen different animals erupted into the night. Draco and Dobby leapt and stumbled, looking wildly around. “There!” Dobby pointed, his finger shaking. In the distance there was a wild orange spark, getting closer, screaming and roaring like a dragon.
“Fiendfyre,” Draco breathed in horror. His chest tightened with a thousand emotions, chief among them betrayal and terror. “He actually—it’s fiendfyre, Dobby, he’s burning the wood, we can’t outrun it!”
“We haves to try! Fly!”
They flung themselves on the broom, and all contemplation of plans fled as they erupted straight upwards, branches whipping their faces. There was simply no choice: to outpace the fiendfyre, they had to fly clear.
But they flew right into Lucius’ hands. As they broke the trees and made in the direction of the front gate, a dazzling silver net of magic blazed into existence, settling tight against them, tangling in the broom.
“Dobby!” Draco cried as it crushed them towards the treetops—did his father plan to kill them? “Can’t you do something!”
Dobby twisted back into the shelter of Draco’s body, breathed in a deep lungful of night air, and started to sing. Just one high, clear note, held and held. And as he sang it, the net blew off of them, giving them a few feet of clearance.
Draco flew straight forwards, low enough that their feet skimmed the leaves, and the net blew up in front of them and settled down behind, but it stretched on and on, to the edge of the wood.
Draco could feel Dobby’s magic humming against his chest. Marshaling his fear, he opened his own mouth and matched Dobby’s note. He had sung as a child; it was not hard. What was harder was controlling the broom and singing strange magic out and somehow still breathing. But it worked—when their voices aligned, the magic blew out from them in a strong wave, and the net blew entirely up and away from the trees.
Draco checked behind them and nearly wrecked the broom. The fiendfyre was close enough to see individual chimeric forms—lion and antelope and dragon heads, all gnawing through the upper stories, licking towards them faster than he could fly.
Come on, then, thought some wild part of Draco to the fire. I’ll let you have us before him.
But then Dobby shouted in joyful alarm—“Go up, Draco!”
Draco obeyed him without question, pulling back on the Nimbus until they were completely vertical. Dobby fell back against him, and Draco clenched his knees and hands around the broom as tight as possible, caging him in, clinging on as they shot straight up—and were immediately soaked as they plunged into a single massive cloud, drifting over the moon.
He leveled them out so sharply they almost fell off the broom, and they drifted there in the cloud, utterly concealed, breath tearing at their throats. Draco’s lip had split again and blood was running down his chin. He wiped it thoughtlessly on the shoulder of his sodden robe.
They lay on the broom and tried to quiet themselves. All was silent and still inside the cloud. They could hear the roar of the fiendfyre below, but it wasn’t getting any closer. The poor wood, Draco thought. It was uncontrollable and horrid, but it had sheltered them, and now its own master was obliterating it.
He blinked condensation out of his eyes and said in his softest breath: “What now?”
“We haves to leave the manor somehow,” Dobby said. “We haves to wait for Lucius to leave … we haves to wait by the gate, somehow.”
“Can you … make us invisible?” Draco asked.
Dobby frowned. “I don’t knows.” With extreme care, he shifted around so that he was facing Draco on the broom. He reached out a hand and placed it over Draco’s heart, and placed the other over his own. His eyes were luminous in the night, and teary with water from the cloud. Draco felt their magic shivering together, little sparking reactions. Had anyone ever done magic like this before? He recalled singing the net away, their magic exploding together. Compared to that, what would turning a thimble into a teacup ever do for him again?
“Wait,” he said. He gripped the broom tight between his thighs, and with his hands covered Dobby’s, one on his heart, one on the elf’s. Dobby nodded in approval and closed his eyes.
Their magic built together, guided somehow by Dobby’s newly unbound power. It was going slowly, though, too slowly—their cloud was starting to be blown away. But Draco didn’t interrupt him for fear of ruining whatever work Dobby was enacting.
And slowly, slowly, it happened. They didn’t turn invisible. They turned into mirrors.
Draco saw it in Dobby first: his skin became night-dark, whispy with clouds, and Draco could see his own face in the mirror of Dobby’s cheek before the spell took hold of him as well. Then they only reflected each other, endless permutations of the same night sky.
It did not affect the broom.
They flew down out of the cloud, landing a short walk from the front gate. Draco dropped the broom, sorry to see his beloved friend go, but knowing there was no choice. The stood and waited and watched for a moment, wary.
The fiendfyre had gone out. Lucius must have been powerful enough to end it, a terrifying thought. The wood had been utterly destroyed. Draco saw the tail end of a stag or two fleeing in the distance, but slower-moving animals would have had no chance. The fiendfyre had eaten the leaves, the branches, and most of the brush. The brook had simply evaporated. It looked like one long scar, still smoldering, shiny black under the moonlight.
Pressed tight to Draco’s arm, Dobby’s shoulder tensed. Draco looked around, and saw why. Lucius Malfoy was striding through the wreckage of the wood, his hair unbound and tangled, wand in hand. His gaze shot from side to side. Where he stepped, the decimated ground crumbled.
Walking backwards, they hurried away from his father to kneel beside a copse of trees near the front gate, and watched to see what he would do.
What he would do was throw a tantrum. Snarling in rage when he reached the end of the wood without sign of them, he slashed out with his wand, curses crumbling the remaining stumps. One of them hit the trees Draco and Dobby were hidden under, and they had to clutch each other to stop from diving out from below.
Then Lucius spotted the broom. He stalked over to it, seized it, and hurled it into the air, a curse splintering it apart. Draco let out a little whimper.
Lucius looked around, from the wood to the house to the gate. And then, apparently deciding they had gotten away somehow, he raised his wand and lowered the wards, striding forwards to leave the property. But then he turned, perhaps seeing something in the corner of his vision, to the copse of trees.
Too late. Dobby squeezed his hand, and they were gone.
“We can’t just go to Hogwarts,” Draco said. They were forging through a track somewhere in the middle of nowhere. “You got in before because I was there as a mark, but now we’d have to walk in from Hogsmeade. My father will be expecting that. We have to wait until the train, and then sneak onto it. What day is it? How long were we in the wood?”
“I thinks … two days,” said Dobby. “This is the third day.”
“Then there are four more days til the train comes,” said Draco gloomily. “What are we going to do? We need food and water. I don’t have any money at all. Dobby—maybe you should go to Hogsmeade. You can do more without me.”
Dobby glared at him so hard he thought he would be set on fire. “I is not leaving you, Draco,” he said. “Don’t ever say that again.”
“Okay,” Draco said in relief, for it had felt like eating briars to get the words out. “Where should we go, then? You can get us to Hogsmeade station when the time comes, right?”
Dobby nodded. “I think we needs food before anything.”
“We should stay away from wizards, in case my father went to the aurors,” said Draco. “Can you feel if we’re near anyone?”
Dobby shook his head. “We should just walk,” he suggested.
So they just walked. They were in farmland, on a track, and so they walked down the track. Presently they saw a farmhouse. “That’s muggle, right?” Draco said nervously. “Do you feel any magic?”
“No.” Dobby eyed him critically. “You isn’t looking like a muggle. And I can’t be seen by muggles.”
Draco scowled. “I miss my jeans.” He bundled off his robes, though, giving them to Dobby to drape about himself, and headed to the farmhouse in trousers, shirt, and boots. He rubbed at his head, frowning at the feel of it growing out. All of this, plus his face … any homeowner, muggle or wizard, would be right to take one look at him and call the authorities. He would have.
But they needed food and water and a place to sleep would also be lovely. So he brushed the worst of the soot off his clothes and knocked on the door.
It took a few moments, but eventually it was opened by a girl in her late teens, with dark skin and puffy hair, wearing a knitted jumper and, yes, jeans. She simply stared at him, eyes flicking over every aspect of his appearance like she was tallying up reasons to scream.
“Hello,” said Draco desperately. “I’m terribly sorry to intrude, but I’m in a bit of a—a bind, and I wondered if, perhaps, that is, you had some water. Please. I, er, I can’t pay.”
“Water? God, are you alright?” asked the girl. “Were you in a fight? Come on in.”
Draco shuffled nervously, glancing behind him. Dobby was well-concealed in the tall grass. “Oh, er, I don’t want to intrude, or, or—”
“You’re just a kid, how old are you? Ten? Get inside, it’s freezing.” She stood back, and he could do nothing but shuffle inside, muttering that he was twelve.
She trotted ahead of him to the kitchen, and he glanced nervously around. So this was a muggle dwelling. It looked fairly … normal. Nothing like the manor, of course, but he was aware most people did not live like the his family. There were odd photographs on the walls that didn’t move, but he didn’t have time to inspect him.
“I’m Ada,” said the girl, seating him at a wooden table in the kitchen. “What happened to you?”
“I’m Draco.” He instantly regretted giving her his real name. “I, um. I got into a fight with my father.”
She stared at him. “Did he do that?” She pointed to his face.
Draco touched it gingerly. He had almost managed to forget about it, but it throbbed painfully. “Yes.”
“Jesus,” said Ada. “Do you want a painkiller?”
A painkiller? That sounded … gruesome. “Um.”
“I’ve got paracetamol” said Ada, pulling some kind of small package from a cabinet. “You’d better eat first, though. Sandwich?”
“Yes please,” said Draco.
She gave him a ham sandwich and water and two small round white things. He demolished the sandwich as politely as possible, and prodded the white things.
“They aren’t chewable,” said Ada unhelpfully. She had been staring at him from across the table while he ate.
“Ah.” How, then, was he supposed to use them?
“Swallow them whole,” said Ada, when it was apparent he had no clue.
“Of course.” He put the things in his mouth and swallowed them with a drink of water. “Thank you, truly. I should be … I should be going.”
“Hey now,” Ada said unhappily. “We have a room. Want it for the night?”
He stared at her. “You’d … let me stay?”
“Sure, for one night. My brother’s away; you can take his room. My mum’s here, though, and she’s a markswoman, so you’d better not actually be a tiny murderer or something.”
Draco had no idea what a markswoman is, but it sounded formidable. “I would love to stay,” he said. “If I can do anything in return …”
“You might take a shower,” advised Ada. “Come on, I’ll get you sorted. And then I’ll go tell mum.”
Wizards, Draco mused, had been all wrong about muggles. They were clearly superb beings. He was shown to a small room that had a bathroom down the hall, given a change of clothes belonging to Ada’s brother Jerome, and told firmly not to rob them while she ran out to the field.
He waited until she was gone, and then whispered, “Dobby?”
Dobby appeared next to him, apparently having been listening. He looked around the room in interest. There were posters of bands Draco was unfamiliar with, and a shelf of muggle books, and all sorts of knickknacks and things Draco had no idea about. “She said we can stay the night,” he told Dobby. “And shower.” He went to Jerome’s dresser and dug out another shirt for Dobby to use for the time being. “Come on, let’s go.”
While Dobby showered, Draco poked through things in the bathroom cabinets. There were small bottles that rattled, but he couldn’t for the life of him prize the lids off. There was a razor made of a very light and colorful material. The toothpaste had a cap equally impossible to remove. There was whole shelf of vibrantly branded lotions that advertised their various affects.
When Dobby was done, he took the best shower of his life, careful around his face, scrubbing soot and dust and scum from every inch of his skin. The muggle soap had pressed flowers in it, which he thought absolutely lovely. He dressed in the odd muggle clothes—the jeans he was familiar with and loved, but the shirt was strange. It was soft and black, with an image of four men’s chalk-white faces against a black background, their eyes closed.
They crept their way from the bathroom to their borrowed room, and Draco located some socks. In a desk drawer, Dobby triumphantly held up a muggle candy bar. “Are you alright to stay here?” Draco asked him.
“Yes,” said Dobby definitively. “I is going to hide in the closet and sleep for days.”
“Good idea,” said Draco. “I’m going to go downstairs.”
He crept down the stairs, paranoid—what if she hadn’t been serious? What if it wasn’t Ada, but her mum, and she screamed?
But it was Ada in the kitchen, tidying up their sandwiches. “Can I help?” he asked.
She turned and evaluated him. “That’s much better. You still look half-dead, but at least you’re clean. I can throw your clothes in the wash if you like, I’m doing a load of darks.”
Draco understood a minimal amount of that statement, but gathered that she would wash his clothes. “If it’s no trouble,” he said hesitantly. When she waved him off, he went and got them, and watched as she put them into a strange machine, poured in a sort of powder, and turned dials, which sent the machine banging about. He jumped, and she laughed. “What, scared of washing machines?”
“Ha,” Draco said, unnerved. “No.”
He had been unsure of what to do with himself, but Ava put him to work peeling potatoes. After he fumbled the first two badly, she quickly demonstrated how to use the peeler, and from then on he managed fine.
“Do you, ah, take in a lot of … wanderers?” he asked.
She looked up from a crossword she was doing. “Sometimes,” she said. “The thing is, my mum is queer, and when her parents found out they put her in a situation like yours. Beat her up and kicked her out with nothing but the clothes on her back. And she asked a woman just for a lift to the train station—and the woman offered her a room for the night, and a hot meal, and the next morning drove her to a community center for people like her. She saved mum’s life. Mum tells us that story as often as she can, so we know that when the opportunity arises, we owe that graciousness back to the world.”
“Oh,” Draco said. “That’s … that’s …”
“It is,” said Ava, smiling.
“I’m—queer,” Draco blurted. “Er. It’s not why I fought with my father, though.”
She blinked at him, then smiled. “Well, even if it’s not, I’m doubly glad I let you in. You’re an alright sort, I think.”
He blushed in surprise, and put his nose to the potatoes while she laughed at him.
He peeled a mound of potatoes and chopped a good amount of carrots and onions before Ada’s mother came in. She was a round woman with a kind face and small glasses pushed atop her hair, puffy like Ada’s.
“Hello, there,” she said. “You’re—Draco?”
Draco nodded, biting his lip.
“I’m Jana,” she said. “You don’t look as raw as Ada said you did. She mentioned dripping blood? And mucus?”
“Mucus?” Draco said, aghast.
“A bit,” said Ada.
The potatoes and onions and carrots went into a vegetable stew, and Draco helped Ada with the crossword until it was ready. He didn’t know any of the muggle celebrity names, but he did well with the vocabulary. The crossword was an excellent invention, and he resolved to put one in the newspaper once he got back to Hogwarts.
They ate and washed up and he was sent to bed, assured that he could sleep in as much as he liked the next morning, as long as he departed before noon. He thanked them until they grew sick of it, and then retired, creeping up the creaking stairs.
“Dobby?” he whispered, poking his head in. He found a bedside lamp and turned it on. Carefully, he opened the closet door. Dobby was deeply asleep, curled in a blanket he had dragged from the bed.
Quietly, Draco turned out the light and dragged a second blanket and a pillow over onto the floor by the closet. He scooted as close as possible to Dobby’s nest, closed his eyes, and didn’t even notice falling asleep.
Ada and Jana sent him away the next morning with clean clothes, a ragged jumper, and two sandwiches for the road, one of which he gave to Dobby immediately.
They walked slowly. Draco had given Dobby the jumper, and he had left the horrid pillowcase somewhere along the road. But they had left the socks, so his feet were unprotected, and Draco’s robe provided thin cover from the cold wind that picked up, hurrying along with it a flurry of snowflakes.
“Three days,” Dobby said.
“Three days,” he echoed. “I’m still so tired, Dobby … we’ve eaten, can’t we just find somewhere to sleep for a while?”
Dobby nodded, ears drooping with exhaustion. “If we finds shelter, I can keeps us warm.”
“Can’t we just,” Draco said desperately, “look, there’s a barn, couldn’t we just—”
Dobby nodded, ears trembling in the cold. The barn was a long way off, so he took Draco’s hand and apparated them outside of it. The snow was picking up and there was absolutely no-one around, so they hauled open the door and hurried inside, bolting it behind them.
They looked around in the warm dark room. There were animals sleeping—horses, Draco realized after a moment of panic. On seeing he and Dobby, they started to shift uneasily.
“Up there,” Dobby said, pointing towards a loft. They skirted the horses and made for a ladder, climbing quickly up. There was nothing much but clutter up here, clutter and hay. But it was warm and quiet and dark, and they burrowed down into the hay beside the wall, and fell asleep curled together.
They woke to the sound of a firework going off. Draco gasped and rolled away from the noise, initially confused as to where he was—then the hay poked him in the face and he remembered the barn. But what had made that noise?
“You’d better get your arse off my property before I blow your head off!”
Draco shot up, pressing back against the wall. A man was down below, red-faced and enraged, holding some kind of tube in his hands. “Sorry!” he squeaked, “I’m so sorry, we were—I was caught in the snow—”
BANG. Draco screamed, falling away from the wall—right beside his shoulder, there was a hole in the wall, the tube the man was holding had done it—
“I don’t give a single shit!” roared the man. “My next shot’s between your eyes if you don’t scram! What the—what the hell is that?!”
Dobby had poked his head up in fright, and the man was staring right at him. He started to lower that tube again, and then Dobby took Draco’s hand and whisked them away.
They landed half a mile away on the track, and Draco keeled right over, hyperventilating. Maybe, he thought wildly, maybe wizards had been right about some muggles.
“We should goes,” Dobby urged, looking behind them. “What if he is coming looking for us?”
They scrambled down the road, half-running until it felt safe enough to walk. “Two days,” Draco gasped eventually. “Two more days of this, that’s all. That’s all.”
His stomach growled.
Presently, a noisy thing started coming down the road, and Draco and Dobby stood well to the side to watch, wide-eyed as it passed. Except it didn’t pass. It slowed and stopped, a large metal construction on four wheels, with a muggle leaning out of a window to peer at them.
“You need a ride?” asked the man. He looked normal enough, wearing clothes similar to the ones Ada had leant him. “Where are you headed?”
“Um. London. Eventually.”
“London.” The man snorted. “I suppose it is in this direction. I’m only headed into town, want a lift?”
“Yes, thank you,” decided Draco. The man didn’t seem to see Dobby. Then again, as he looked around, Draco couldn’t see Dobby. Then he felt a tug on his pant leg, and saw a mirror-flash, and relaxed.
The man opened the door opposite him, and Draco clambered carefully inside. He had heard of these contraptions. Daphne had ridden in one when she’d visited Hermione. Curs, weren’t they?
He shut the door, and the man operating the cur accelerated. Draco gripped the sides of his seat nervously, watching the countryside speed by.
“I’m Colm,” offered the man.
“I’m Draco,” he said faintly.
Colm laughed. “Hungry?”
“Yes,” said Draco automatically.
Colm fumbled in a compartment with one hand, and removed a bag of shiny material, tossing it in Draco’s lap. He read the front of the bag: REGULAR CRISPS. After a moment, he managed to tear it open, only spilling a few crisps, and tired not to eat them all in one bite.
“You need help?” Colm asked after a few minutes of silence.
“Help,” Colm asked. “There’s a youth center next village over. I can give you directions. They’d have a bed for you.”
Draco was about to deny anything of the sort, but he paused. He did need a bed, for two more nights. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you.”
Colm did more than give him directions. He took him to a bus station and bought him a ticket. “Here,” he said, pressing the little bit of paper into Draco’s hand. “Get off at Avebury, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Draco said. “Thank you. I wish I could—I don’t have anything—”
Colm clapped a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “It’s nothing. Good luck.”
Draco watched him leave, thinking maybe wizards had definitely been wrong about some muggles.
The bus was a trial. He had never taken the Knight Bus, his father thought it desperately plebeian, and he had always been sort of afraid of it. He had no idea what to do with his ticket, until the driver snatched it irritably from his hand, and he had even less clue how to make the bus stop at Avebury.
“They is pulling that rope,” whispered mirror-Dobby, as Draco huddled fearfully against a window and picked at the hard edge of the seat. “To makes it stop.”
But how would he know where Avebury was? There was no sort of announcement or list. He ventured up to the driver to ask, and was told shortly it was in three stops. He slunk back to his seat, yanked the rope much too hard when the time came, and scrambled gladly off the bus, Dobby holding tight to his robe.
He looked at the address the man had written down, and then around him. It absolutely tiny, bordered by fields. With only so many streets, how hard could it be to find the one listed?
Not hard at all. It was the third street he tried, and five minutes’ walk down it took him to his destination: Hands of Mercy Youth Shelter.
Starving once more—the crisps had not filled him up—and worried about Dobby’s hunger, he pushed open the door. It was a tiny little place, narrow as an entrance hall in its entirety. A woman at a small desk blinked at him as he entered.
“Hello,” he said. “I was told—I was told I could get a bed here? If I needed help?”
“Yeah,” said the girl. “Just come sign in. You need a doctor?” She gestured to his face.
“Oh. No, just a bed. Please.” He scooted inside, feeling Dobby’s hand on his leg. “Sign in?”
“Yes.” She passed him a board with paper clipped to it with metal, and a muggle pen. Fumbling it a bit, he scrawled his name, writing Derek Malloy, his reason for entry, “bed,” number of nights requested, “two,” and left the entry for “contact” blank, passing it back.
The girl—she had a name tag reading ‘Adaire’—glanced over it and then set it aside. “Right, come on.”
She led him upstairs, rattling off rules about curfew and conduct. He heard almost none of them. She opened a door into a dorm room filled with four beds, and told him the one nearest the window was free. “Thank you,” he said. “Really, thank you.”
She gave him an odd look. “No trouble, mate. Just obey the rules.”
He nodded wearily. “Is there … do you know, is there anywhere I could get any food?”
“We serve dinner at six,” she said. “Kitchen.” She pointed down the hall.
“Great,” he said. “Thank you.”
She left. A clock on the wall said it was eleven am. The thought of waiting until six for dinner was so repulsive that he figured the best thing to do was go to sleep.
“Dobby?” he whispered.
“Here,” came Dobby’s voice. “I’s going to stays like this. But I’s with you.”
“Right.” He used the toilet, guzzled water straight from the tap in the hopes temporarily tricking his stomach full, and fell onto the bed in a deep and troubled sleep.
There were cheese sandwiches for dinner, and he ate four. He knew Dobby had some as well, because Adaire kept wondering where they had gone.
The staff were just Adaire and a boy called Rory, and there were three other occupants. He had been surprised when he’d woken to discover his dorm room was co-ed. There were one boy and two girls taking up the other beds. The girls sat close together to eat, whispering between themselves, and the boy stayed in the corner. But he came to talk to Draco when they were washing their plates, and Draco welcomed the conversation, if a bit nervously.
“What happened to your face?” asked the boy, who was older than him.
“Oh. My—my father hit me.”
“Oh yeah? That’s fucked. Why’d he hit you?”
Draco dried his plate slowly. “Because …” Because I freed twelve enslaved elves. Because I betrayed our family blood. Because I destroyed ancient ancestral magic. “Because I’m queer,” he finally said.
The boy recoiled. “You are?”
“Yes.” Draco fixed him with a scowl. “Is that a problem?”
The boy’s eyes darted around the room. “No—no, it’s not. You’re in my room, though, right?”
“Yes,” Draco snapped. “Feel free to go elsewhere.” And he stalked away.
But the boy did not go elsewhere. And when Draco could not sleep that night, and left Dobby invisible in the bed to go sit under the window in the hall, the boy followed him.
“Sorry about earlier,” he said, sitting carefully down beside Draco. “I didn’t mean to be an arsehole.”
“It’s alright,” said Draco, surprised he was getting an apology.
“I just, um …” the boy scratched the back of his short hair. “I’ve been thinking lately, maybe I am, you know, and it’s freaking me out, but if you are, maybe you can tell me … how do you know?”
It took Draco a moment to put that sentence together. “How do I know I’m queer?”
The boy nodded.
“Oh. Well. There was this professor …”
The boy snorted. Draco blushed bright red. “Not like that! Well, I mean—he was queer. He talked about it to anyone who asked. He wore—badges. And had pink hair—” he gestured over his head, trying to encompass the magnificence of it. “And I went and talked to him one day; I wanted to know what it meant. When he said he was queer.”
“What did he say?”
“He said …” Draco stared into the distance, remembering that meeting, from which he had emerged a little more himself. He said it was like … like most people look through at the world with—with blue spectacles on, right? Only he looks through orange ones. And so he sees everything just a bit differently, just enough to turn everything strange. He told me it’s not just about who you love—it’s about seeing the world like no-one else does, except for other queer people.”
"He said it better than that, though."
They sat there under the moonlight, thinking about that. Then the boy touched Draco’s hand. “Hey. Do you want—”
Draco’s heart started pounding like someone was hitting it with a hammer. “Um.”
“Only if you—”
“Yes!” he blurted. “Sorry, yes. Yes?”
The boy’s lips quirked. Draco noticed for the first time that he was lovely. “Haven’t done anything before, have you?”
Draco shook his head.
“No? How old—hey, how old are you?” the boy tilted his head, frowning suddenly, seeing something new.
Draco scrabbled at his fingers, trying to hold them in place. “I’m fourteen.”
The boy’s mouth quirked up. “There’s no way in hell. Seriously, kid.”
“Fourteen,” said Draco stubbornly.
The boy patted his hand and scooted away. Draco let out a growl of frustration and put his head on his arms. “Hey,” said the boy. “It’s gonna be alright. Believe me?”
“I suppose,” whispered Draco.
The next day, the boy—his name was Caleb—invited him to go see the stone circle which was close by. Dobby whispered that he would stay and sleep, and so Draco cautiously agreed. Without his robe, he only had a shirt, so Caleb leant him a spare, raggedy sweater, and they ventured into the town. It was tiny, but there were curs going down the streets, and a lot of muggle strangeness that made Draco jumpy. Caleb bought them both bagels and they ate them on the walk to the stone circle.
They sat against a stone and talked for a while, an entirely friendly conversation, to Draco’s dismay. He learned Caleb had a friend who was going to take him in a few towns over, and he was just waiting until the weekend, when the friend would drive over to get him. He didn’t say why he didn’t have a home, and Draco didn’t ask.
He offered to give Draco a lift when his friend came, but Draco assured him, with a great sense of relief at the words, that he would be going back to school the next day.
“You don’t think your father withdrew you?” Caleb asked, and a whole new worry settled onto Draco’s shoulders.
He and Caleb walked about the town over the afternoon, mostly Draco listening to Caleb tell funny stories about his friends and trying to pretend like he understood all of the muggle things, and then they went back for more cheese sandwiches.
Caleb told him he was going out that night to meet a friend, and that if he wasn’t there in the morning, then good luck. He kissed Draco on his unbruised cheek, and Draco lay in bed with his hand gently cupped over it, wishing he could somehow press it forever into his skin.
“School,” said Draco in relief the moment they woke up the next morning. Caleb was not back and the two girls had gone, and so he and Dobby danced briefly around the room in happiness. It didn’t matter if his father had withdrawn him, Dobby assured him. He would be safe with the elves no matter what.
Draco flew down the stairs and signed out with Adaire, who blinked in surprise at his excitement, and then they had to control themselves from simply running out of Avebury.
The moment they were out of sight, he put his robe back on, and Dobby whisked them to King’s Cross Station.
The familiarity of it nearly made him weep. There were the muggles running to catch trains, and there were the poorly-disguised wizarding families trying to blend in as they went through the barrier. Draco hung back with Dobby, watching warily for his father.
“Do you think he’s here?” he asked lowly.
“Yes,” said Dobby. “We haves to be careful.”
“Let’s go through,” Draco decided. He fumbled for Dobby’s hand and clutched it tight. Together, they walked up to the barrier, waited for a pair to go through, and then stepped into the station.
Instantly, a high whistle sounded. He heard someone shout, and others grumble in agitation—his father was down the platform, white hair visible among the sea of people, fighting his way towards him.
“Damn!” Draco cried. “No!”
“Look,” said Dobby, pulling on his arm. “Weasleys!”
There they were, the whole pack of them. He had never been more relieved to see so many gingers. He and Dobby bashed their way through the crowd and inserted themselves right in the middle of the family’s goodbyes.
“Draco!” Ron said in astonishment.
“What in Merlin’s name?” asked the twins.
“Your face!” shrieked the girl his father had given a dark artifact to.
“Are you quite alright?” asked the one Harry had a crush on. “Mum, dad, this is Draco Malfoy.”
“I have to get on the train now,” begged Draco, overwhelmed. “Please, please, hide me?” He stared at Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, whom he had never met before in his life, ready to get down on his knees.
“Of course, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley at once. “Come on, everyone, onto the train.” And she herded them all quickly through the platform, expertly navigating the crowd, with Draco ensconced in the middle of her children. The family’s goodbyes were cut short, but no-one said anything about it, simply squashed Draco between the twins as they boarded, Ron quickly alighting after.
“Thank you,” Draco managed to call, and then he was being bundled down the train and into a compartment.
He collapsed on a seat as his stomach let out an incredibly loud rumble. He had no wand, no school supplies, no clothes, no money, and was surrounded by Weasleys. Dobby shimmered into view beside him, the others shouting in surprise, and took his hand with an exhausted sigh of relief.
As the Weasleys erupted with questions and the train pulled slowly from the station, Draco met Dobby’s wide, sparkling eyes, took a deep breath, and burst into relieved tears.
It was going to be alright.