Chapter Thirteen: The Dream In Flight
Draco stood there for a moment with his mouth open in shock.
But when he finally pushed his rubbery legs into movement and stumbled forward to rescue Severus he was blocked by Solomon. The pooka shook his mane and snorted. Draco tried to dodge the white pony, but Solomon wasn't having any of that and Draco found himself shepherded out of the clearing by a patient but determined pooka.
When Draco finally did manage to dodge Solomon, it was to find that the clearing with the pond had disappeared. "Shit."
The pooka laid back his ears and Draco found himself apologising for his language. Then wondering if he was insane, apologising to an animal.
Maybe Solomon accepted the apology. He presented Draco with his shoulder.
Wishing he didn't have to, as the pooka felt so hot he feared the pony was about to spontaneously combust, Draco clambered onto its back.
And they were off.
No wild ride this time — Solomon glided through the falling snowflakes like a ghost. Draco certainly felt as washed-out as a ghost. With every mile he felt more and more as if he, Draco, were becoming less of a person and more a passing phenomenon shooting back and forth through time like some shuttle in the loom of the Fates. How was time travel even possible? He'd never heard of anyone being able to physically travel in time more than the few hours granted by a time-turner. Oh, sure, there were pensieves that could take you back centuries, but you were like a ghost in those. Not only was Draco able to interact with the people in the different times but he seemed to be integral to the smooth running of history.
Accepting the fact that he was tired and his brain was shutting down, Draco concentrated on staying on the pooka's back until the inevitable twist of the pony beneath him and the...
... free-fall through the air and...
He'd hit a snowdrift this time. "Good shot, Solomon," said Draco. He rolled over onto his back and spat out a mouthful of snow. He was exhausted. Even making snow angels seemed like too much of an effort.
Solomon, from whatever time this was, lipped at Draco's hair and snorted at the ice in it.
With a resigned sigh, Draco sat up and looked around to get his bearings. The snow had a lovely rich golden tint to it and the shadows were royal blue. By the way the sun was low on the horizon opposite the mountains, he decided that it was very early in the morning. He wasn't sure, but the landscape seemed almost like what he'd left behind the first time Solomon had sent him through time.
"Well?" he addressed the pooka. "When am I?"
Solomon-of-Now flicked his ears and nuzzled Draco's face. Draco flinched. The pony's breath was hot enough to warp paint.
From over the shoulder of the hill was the fizz-whoosh-bang! of a fireball.
Lucius Malfoy's spell of choice when he felt like inflicting maximum damage.
Funny, Draco thought muzzily, how some people just like blowing things up. At a glance, Lucius didn't seem the type as fireballs weren't noted for subtlety, but at heart Lucius was just a big kid who liked making things go boom. A big, overgrown, bullying brat of a kid who needed a good spanking. Or, seeing as how spanking had probably been trialed unsuccessfully in the past, decapitation. Draco frowned as he pondered the nature of fathers. It was a shame Draco hadn't had a chance to visit with Snape's father. Now there was a man who had needed tips on parenting. But never mind: Lucius was nearby and perhaps it was time for him to hear a few home-truths from Draco.
Another fireball exploded somewhere out of sight.
Draco rolled onto his belly and looked up at Solomon, who was swivelling his ears to triangulate the positions of the combatants.
"Let's go and find Daddy Dearest." And Draco grinned like a shark.
It wasn't hard. Just follow your ears and avoid the misfires. Draco crawled on his belly over the top of the ridge and peered down into a gully so filthy with warped magic that gorse bushes were running for shelter.
Disgusting, was Draco's first thought. It was revoltingly un-Slytherin the way Lucius and Snape were slugging it out. Draco knew Lucius' temper could let him down and the man would resort to pure machismo, so the way Lucius was hurling the biggest fireballs he could manifest wasn't extraordinary. Snape was the surprise. Draco suspected that his Potions master had a lot of pent-up aggression he was letting out, the way he was lobbing spells at Lucius.
It was a straight-out grudge match with the two men standing facing each other, throwing curses at each other and blocking the other's hexes and countering with whatever they felt like, so long as it made a good explosion.
Lucius' mouth was open and he was panting between incantations, his platinum hair flying around his face and his legs splayed for balance. Pure malice was keeping him from falling to his knees. His face was puce and his eyes in the pre-dawn light were crazed.
Snape looked beyond angry.
By the way he kept deflecting his opponent's spells, Draco wondered if the Professor was playing. If so, it was a deadly game. Neither man looked capable of being rational.
Draco ducked as a stray fireball bounced off Snape's quick fend and went wailing off over the hill.
It startled a rabbit. It jumped sideways towards Draco.
The rabbit startled the pooka.
Draco jumped out of the way as the pooka shied towards him. Unluckily — "Damn!" — he tripped and went sprawling down the hill.
There was a pause in battle in which could be heard the strained gasps of the two exhausted wizards as they looked at Draco.
Draco sat up and brushed the snow off his shoulders. "Hello. Glad to see you two are getting along famously without me."
"Draco." Lucius was trying to sound kind. The red lights at the back of his eyes belied the tone and hinted at the violence Draco knew Lucius wanted to visit on his son. "You can still come home with me."
"No," Draco stated. "I can't."
Snape was staring at Draco, a Draco without a shirt and with ice flaking from him.
Draco saw the moment when recognition sparked in Severus' eyes, and he nodded. "Yes," Draco said. "I'm the Ice Man."
"I thought I dreamed you." Snape sounded dazed.
"Dreams are tricky things," Draco replied.
Then Lucius bared his teeth in a rictus of a smile.
"You want him?" he rasped at Snape in a voice roughened from screaming hexes. "All these years you've been trying to take him from me, haven't you?! Here! He's yours!"
"NO!" roared Snape, throwing a sheet of light from his wand to deflect the fireball.
Lucius' first spell bounced off.
The second tore through the shield.
In the gully the snow was thick and it dragged at feet. And after all the strains of carrying babies and children and being thrown through time Draco's reflexes weren't very fast. He started to roll sideways but his muscles, screaming from exhaustion, were too slow to dodge Lucius' final curse.
As if watching it in a dream, he saw the fireball come towards him.
He saw the anguished rage in Snape's face.
The vicious triumph on Lucius'.
And then the fireball exploded in his chest and so did the dream.
Like an unfolding flower of ice and flame the dream woke.
Draco threw back his head and howled as the fire roared through his veins and turned his whole body to flame. Blinding light burst skyward from his mouth and ate his last scream as it burned away his voice. For a moment he blazed to rival the rising sun.
The fire ate Draco Malfoy whole.
Then came the ice.
The unstoppable force of glaciers ripped the husk of his body apart fibre from fibre. Then it remoulded it. To the broken music of the crackle of tearing ligament and breaking bone the spine whipped forward, doubling the carcass over. There was a loud tearing sound as the skin along the back split. The arms stretched and twisted, as did neck and face. Then the spine was wrenched and lengthened and sprouted a tail. Silver talons ripped their way out from beneath nails and clawed the last of the burning skin away to expose gleaming silver-green hide.
Wings, glistening and fresh, unfurled to catch the first rays of the sun. They swept forward experimentally.
The first breath of icy mountain air was taken and exhaled with a roar of triumph and Draco Malfoy was no more.
The creature that had hatched from him blinked with three pairs of eyelids and looked around, yawning and licking its teeth with a long steel-grey tongue.
There was snow. That was as it should be. Two — no, three creatures, two of them with two legs and one with four, were nearby. The quadruped was... the creature sniffed carefully... it was Not Enemy.
The bipeds, however...
The creature growled, smelling magic that had been squandered and misused in the fight between these two. It was rank and hovered bitter in the creature's nostrils until it cleared its nose with a sneeze. The magic was inedible now.
And the creature was so very, very hungry.
The two bipeds were wizards and still had enough magic in their bodies to give the creature the food it needed from its hatching, however, and it crouched, hissing, as it prepared to pounce. It swished its tail, trying to decide which wizard to eat first.
The biped with hair like weathered snow shouted something and threw a spell.
The creature snapped the fireball up in its teeth and swallowed it.
There was screaming from the wizard.
Bite, rip, tear.
This was good. This was wonderful. This was right. The creature put one forefoot on the struggling legs of the human and closed its jaws around the torso and pulled. Blood poured hot and thick with magic into its mouth.
There was a brief squishy tearing sound and the screams stopped.
The creature fed, swallowing the wizard in chunks, joyfully salivating in great, bloody streams onto the ground. It wasn't the blood it wanted so much as the magic it carried. Then it turned to the one with black hair.
This one was quiet and watched the creature with careful, hooded eyes.
The creature tried to remember... something... something important.
It growled and lunged at the second wizard but pulled up short as wards smacked it across the snout. This wizard was protected by an elemental. Dimly, the creature remembered that there was an elemental near here. An immensely powerful one. This wizard was hers, then. Not for eating.
And... there was something else. Something about the wizard personally. A thin waft of scent that scratched the surface of thought.
The wizard was speaking to the creature. He advanced a few steps across the blood-splattered ground and held out a hand. The wizard spoke softly. A name. Words in a silken voice. A voice that could shred but right now was gentle.
Something stirred at the back of the creature's memory. A tickle of a forgotten personality. Someone the creature had been.
Impossible! The creature was what it had always been! It was a trick!
Kindness was always a trick.
Snarling and hissing, the creature shied back from the wizard and raised its sharp, silver claws in warning. The wizard stopped but didn't back off. He continued to hold out his hand.
Was the wizard not frightened?
Shouldn't the wizard be frightened?
The wizard should be frightened, yes! That he wasn't meant that he was stronger than the creature. Thus he was a threat. And the hatchling didn't know how to fight this threat. The creature swayed from forefoot to forefoot uneasily, grumbling low in its throat. The wizard spoke more urgently and held out both hands now, as if asking for something.
The creature hissed again. When the wizard tried to come closer, sharp teeth snapped at him and he stopped.
More words, faster and silkier. The mask of kindness.
The morning breeze blew up from the valley. Unlike this black-clad wizard it spoke in a language the hatchling could understand. There was nothing kind about the wind. Nothing of false gentleness. It simply was; it was to be taken or left and it wouldn't change for anyone's benefit. It couldn't lie. It could maim and kill, but it couldn't lie to the creature. But for now its words whispered sweetly of high, cold winds that could carry an adventurer for miles. It tickled the creature's nose with fragrant ice crystals. Stretching out its great, semi-translucent sail-like wings, the creature caught the wind, and with a powerful kick from its hind-legs it was airborne.
The first clumsy flaps of its wings were to feel the currents of the airstream. The rest was taken care of by instinct. This was even better than killing and eating. This was the dream come awake.
The creature soared up and up and circled, hearing the calls from the wizard grow fainter as the wind carried the creature further away from him.
The wind came from the south. The smells it brought were salt-laden promises that the creature snuffed at eagerly.
It turned its nose southward and swept its wings down in the long strokes for the height it needed to begin the long flight. It didn't even notice how the wizard's figure dwindled to a small, black speck on the mountain slope and disappeared into the distance.
The creature didn't care about what it was leaving behind.
It was going Home.
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