chapter six: flying lessons
On Saturday morning, Ginny raced down the stairs with her broomstick thrown over her shoulder. She wasn’t sure if Malfoy would still be waiting for her in the entrance hall for their flying experiment or if he would stand her up, but in the event that their plans had not fallen through, she hurried to meet him.
She skidded to a halt at the bottom of the staircase in the entrance hall, her breath rushing out of her at the sight of Malfoy leaning against the wall next to the hourglasses that tallied the house points. He was fixated on the emeralds at the bottom of Slytherin’s hourglass and unaware of both the stares he received from students leaving breakfast and Ginny’s approach.
When he finally saw her, he breathed deeply. “You’re here.”
“Of course I am,” she replied. “I said I’d help, didn’t I?”
“I didn’t know a Weasley’s word was gold.”
“Now you do,” she said with good humor.
They exited through the great oak doors and descended the stairs to the grounds when Malfoy continued with, “Too bad you can’t sell your word for actual gold.”
Ginny laughed, surprised by how terrible the insult was. “Did it take you that long to come up with that?”
“Of course not,” he said, affronted.
“It wasn’t your best effort. I expect better.”
Malfoy stopped her by grabbing her arm and met her confused expression with a furrowed brow and dark eyes.
“Why are you doing this?”
Ginny shook her head. “I told you—”
“Yes, but why? After what Granger said the other day, why are you here? What do you hope to accomplish?”
Silence stretched between them as Ginny considered his question. After Hermione’s lecture in the library, she had been overwhelmed and needed space in which to think and time to process everything. That had been days ago, and the only conclusion Ginny had reached was that she wanted to know more about what was happening to Malfoy. Call it idle curiosity or blame her interest in magical creatures; the result was the same.
“I don’t know,” she finally replied. “But I meant what I said. You asked me for help. You went out of your way to ask for my help. How could I refuse?”
“I find it very easy to tell people no.”
“You don’t understand. No one ever asks me for help. Growing up, Ron always asked our brothers for help, because they were older and cooler than his stupid little sister, Ginny. At school everyone asks Hermione for help because she’s the best at everything she puts her mind to. In Quidditch, Harry was always the star. No one knew what I could do until Harry was forced to sit out matches. And during the war—no one wanted my help, not even Harry. Neville, Luna, and I did everything we did because there was no one left to help. But at the battle, everyone ordered me to stand aside. I’m not even a second thought or a last resort; I’m not thought of at all. But you, Malfoy, you came to me. How could I refuse?”
He considered her, and Ginny met his gaze, daring him to ask her again.
“Technically, I asked for both yours and Granger’s assistance.”
Ginny shoved him, not too hard, but just enough to express her annoyance. Her fingers tingled at the contact, even with the material of his sleeves separating her skin from his.
“You’re a git.”
“And you’re still here.”
Their eyes met for another brief moment before Ginny mounted her broom and took off towards the lake, Malfoy racing to catch up.
They dismounted on a secluded patch of land on the southwestern shore of the lake, hopefully far enough away to prevent being seen by anyone in the castle or on the Quidditch pitch. A cropping of rocks created a barrier on one side of them while the tall trees of the forest camouflaged their activities.
“This is perfect,” Ginny said as she inspected their location from the ground.
“Easy for you to say,” Malfoy grumbled. “You’re not the one throwing yourself into the air and hoping you don’t fall.”
“Oh, I can guarantee you’re going to fall.”
Malfoy sighed. “I know, but you don’t have to tell me that.”
“Sorry Parkinson isn’t here to reinforce your wishful thinking.”
“She would never do anything so supportive as that. Pansy is my voice of reason—and rejection.”
Malfoy turned his back on Ginny and began unbuttoning his robes. Her first instinct was to object to his undressing and insist he remain clothed, but of course that didn’t make any sense. He needed to undress to release the wings, and if he fell in the water during their trials, then at least his clothes would stay dry. Still, Ginny averted her gaze to give him more privacy.
“I don’t know Parkinson well, and I certainly don’t like her, but she seems extremely supportive to me. You two seem close.”
Malfoy folded his robe and set it down on a rock nearby along with his socks and shoes. Ginny looked up as he approached and bit back a grin at the sight of him in trousers again. A Malfoy in Muggle clothes—well, half-dressed in Muggle clothes—was an unusual sight. She almost wished she could tell Harry about it. Even if she could bring herself to speak to him, there was no way to tell Harry about Malfoy’s clothing choices without revealing his secret.
“Pansy and I have been through a lot together. We’re both major disappointments,” he said. “But we’re not here to talk about Pansy.”
“Right,” Ginny said, her follow up question dying on her lips. “How do you bring the wings out?”
“I don’t usually summon them willingly. The night on the Astronomy Tower was the first time. I tend to transform when I lose my temper or during moments of high stress—and when I’m around you. I have to constantly hold myself together around you.”
Ginny swallowed thickly. “I guess you can let go now.”
She hadn’t let herself think about Veela and mates and Ginny potentially being Malfoy’s all morning, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it now. Was this cruel of her to spend time with him, knowing that he felt a compulsion to be near her and that her proximity triggered his transformation? She couldn’t provide him any relief. She was never going to choose him the way Hermione implied a mate could choose to be with a Veela.
Why not? a voice inside her asked.
Why not? Because Malfoy suddenly turning into a Veela did not negate any of the horrible things he’d done in the past. The war only ended four months ago. Malfoy, whatever his motivations, had fought for the side that wanted to see people like Hermione dead or imprisoned. He was nasty and bigoted and unkind. Ginny was not and could never be attracted to him.
Malfoy reached out a hand, and Ginny hesitated for a moment before taking it. He grasped her lightly, his touch barely noticeable, but he shuddered as if she’d pressed herself fully against him. He closed his eyes and his jaws clenched together tightly as he inhaled in sharp gulps, as if he couldn’t catch his breath.
Ginny took a step forward, wondering what she could do to help, but Malfoy let go of her hand and stepped back, hunching over with a grunt.
Bumps formed on his shoulder blades, growing larger and darker and extending outward by the second. His skin stretched with the viscosity of taffy, until Ginny realized she was seeing his wings form. The humps and his skin began to thin, becoming long, bony structures that protruded behind him with translucent membranes connecting each bat-like finger.
The wings flared open, casting a shadow on Ginny. Malfoy straightened from his agonized crouch to reveal his transformed face, the deadly beak, the ghoulish eyes. At his sides, his arms hung still, each finger tipped with a razor-sharp talon.
Like this, it was easy to forget that it was Malfoy standing before her. There was a resemblance, of course. His hair, for instance, had not changed color or length. His sharp cheekbones were still visible around his beak, and the transformation did not erase the purple bags under his black eyes that Ginny had noticed in the Great Hall before the Sorting ceremony.
His physique was the same, as far as Ginny could tell with her limited experience of seeing him half-dressed in his human form. He was still too thin and he still towered over Ginny, but the height difference hadn’t seemed to change.
Like this he was glorious.
“Does it feel different?” Ginny asked, unable to look away.
The wings folded against his back, and whether they did so of their own accord or Malfoy controlled them, Ginny didn’t know.
“The wings are heavy,” he replied, his voice now a squawk infused with the clicks of his mandibles trying to shape human words. Maybe the mixture of his old voice and his new one should have sounded absurd—comical, even—but there was a viciousness in it that suited his new form. “Inside, I burn.”
“What does that mean?” she asked, moving closer to him once more. Maybe it was cruel of her to be anywhere near him like this, but she couldn’t stay away. She needed to see more.
She was close enough now for him to grab her hand again, but instead of holding it, he placed it in the center of his chest, flattening her fingers against his skin.
Ginny’s whole body froze, her fingers tensing. She wanted to touch him in exploration, but she didn’t want to treat him like one of her Care of Magical Creatures subjects. She shook her head, uncertain what he expected of her.
He clicked his beak in agitation. “Burning up. Like a fever, but standing in flames.”
He spoke in short, carefully constructed sentences. Ginny concluded that speech was more difficult than he made it look.
Now she understood though, and touched his skin with the back of her hand, his forehead, his cheek.
“No fever,” she said. “On the outside your temperature is normal. That’s interesting.”
Ginny picked up her broom. “I think the best thing to do is for you to throw yourself off those rocks. I’ll keep an eye from the air.”
“Sounds like you have the easy job,” Malfoy said, but he began climbing the rocks to their peak.
Kicking off from the ground, Ginny hovered over the water at level with Malfoy and waited as he opened and closed the wings, trying to get a feel for them and the currents of air that pushed against him.
Then he stepped back, and with a running start, he launched himself into the air. The wings flared—caught the wind—for a moment he soared and an exultant smile spread across his face. Ginny threw her hands up and cheered.
Malfoy’s attention diverted to her, but when he turned his head, his shoulders turned, too. The wind pummeled his wings at a different angle, which made them wobble and falter. With a loud gasp, Malfoy plummeted into the water feet first.
“Oh, shite!” Ginny said as she jerked her broom around to help him.
He flailed, panicking under the wait of the wings, which were taking on water and pulling him under. Ginny reached a hand toward him and he grasped it, holding on tightly as she rose up higher to keep him above water while she towed him toward the shore.
When they reached shallow water, Ginny let go and he crawled the rest of the way to land on hands and knees, soggy wings dragging through the dirt.
“Are you all right?” Ginny jumped off the broom and fell to her knees next to him, unsure where to check for damage first.
“I’m fine,” Malfoy ground out, his hair plastered against his face and dripping into his eyes.
Ginny stifled a grin and helped him to his feet. It looked like they weren’t going to be able to make a second attempt at flying because both the beak and the wings were shrinking back into Malfoy’s body, his human features returning.
“That was short-lived,” said Ginny, unable to hide her disappointment.
Malfoy rolled his neck and shoulders with a grimace formed by his own mouth. “Maybe the beast isn’t such a fan of swimming.”
“Maybe your sense of self-preservation is too strong,” Ginny said as she returned Malfoy’s wand and robe.
He grunted as he dried himself off and then dressed, but as they mounted their brooms to return to the castle, he said, “We can always try again.”
“We?” Ginny repeated, surprised by his inclusion of her. Honestly, she was shocked he was willing to try again at all. Malfoy was a demonstrated sore loser, and she had expected in the event of failure that this venture would be his only attempt.
Malfoy shrugged. The wind dried and tousled his hair, and Ginny predicted it would be a tangled mess by the time they got back to the castle.
“I need Granger to keep researching Veela, and Pansy would use any embarrassing mishaps against me later. You’re the only person available that I could possibly trust to do this with me.”
She battled the wind to rush ahead and keep him from seeing her smile at his compliment, even if he delivered it in a sardonic tone.
They landed directly on the castle steps leading up to the great oak doors. A crowd had gathered in the entrance hall, preventing them from reaching either the dungeons or the grand staircase.
Seamus and Dean were at the back of the group, craning their heads above everyone to get a glimpse of what had caused the commotion.
“What’s going on?” she asked them.
They turned to answer, but Seamus closed his mouth instantly, a scowl suddenly descending upon his face.
“Dunno,” Dean said instead. He didn’t seem to notice Seamus’s reaction to Ginny’s approach.
As Malfoy came up beside her, brushing against her arm in the press of the crowd, Seamus’s expression grew darker, and then he slunk away without a word.
“What’s gotten into him?” Dean asked. Now worried, he gave up trying to see over the throng of onlookers and took off after Seamus.
His departure drew attention to Ginny and Malfoy. Students looked back at them, their excited murmurs dimming as they parted to create a pathway for them. Though she was eager to see what the hubbub was about, Ginny tread lightly down the aisle, the hush that had fallen over the entrance hall a sinister warning of what lay ahead.
Malfoy followed her so closely, his broomstick handle poked her in the back every now and then.
At the front of the crowd, the last few students moved aside to finally reveal what had captured everyone’s attention. On the flagstone, the words I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE stared back at Ginny and Malfoy in menacing red paint. Fresh, too, by the way it glittered in the flickering light of the chandelier and sconces.
Ginny glanced carefully at Malfoy, but he wasn’t staring at the ground like she was. No, he was focused straight ahead, at the house point hourglasses against the wall. The Slytherin hourglass had been shattered, and Ginny realized belatedly that the paint on the floor wasn’t wet. It was covered in shards of glass and the contents of the hourglass, the large emeralds that represented Slytherin’s house points.
“Let me through, please! Excuse me! I said let me through, Mr. Draper, not continue dawdling uselessly in front of me.”
Professor McGonagall worked her way to the center of everyone’s attention, her gaze quickly scanning the scene before landing on Malfoy and Ginny.
“Mr. Malfoy, would you be so kind as to meet me in my office immediately? I should like to speak to you.” It was clear from the tone of her voice and the look in her eye that her request was in actuality an order.
Malfoy ducked through the remaining students who had not departed at the headmistress’s arrival. Ginny’s eyes followed his back for a moment as he climbed the stairs but returned to Professor McGonagall as she said, “Still here, Mr. Draper? Why don’t you do something useful and fetch Mr. Filch, please? The rest of you may return to your weekend activities.”
A Ravenclaw boy took off towards Filch’s office as the dwindling crowd dispersed, but as Ginny turned toward the grand staircase, the headmistress called her back.
“Miss Weasley, do you know anything about this business with Mr. Malfoy?” she asked in a firm but cajoling tone.
“No, Professor!” Ginny said. She was reasonably certain that Professor McGonagall was talking about the painted messages, but Malfoy’s flying practice was fresh on her mind. If McGonagall was fishing for information about Malfoy’s Veela form, Ginny would not be the one to confirm her suspicions.
Though, now that Ginny thought about it, someone besides Hermione, Parkinson, Malfoy, and herself might have cottoned on to Malfoy’s new identity. The first message had made reference to his association with the Death Eaters during the war, and this new message may have been making the same reference, but Ginny’s instincts told her this message meant something else.
I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE
Everyone knew about Malfoy’s leanings during the war. The I in the most recent message indicated that this person alone knew something about Malfoy, and Ginny could not imagine that he had any other terrible identities to his name. So perhaps the author assumed they were the only one privy to Malfoy’s secret, unknowing that he had already shared it with a small group of people.
Professor McGonagall sighed, bringing Ginny out of her thoughts. “Is there anything I should know about Mr. Malfoy? Anything you would like to share with me?”
Ginny clutched her broom tightly, but she did not fear giving herself away. Growing up with six older brothers had taught her how to lie sufficiently enough to save her own hide whenever Ron or Fred and George led her in an act of mischief. They used to use her as a scapegoat for their shenanigans until Ginny surprised them by developing the skill of subterfuge.
“Why would I know anything about Malfoy?” she asked with just the right amount of confusion.
“Why would you indeed?” the headmistress repeated. “Fine, Miss Weasley. You may go.”
With a quiet exhalation of relief, Ginny ascended the stairs, but she looked back one more time as Professor McGonagall repaired the hourglass with a wave of her wand and reset Slytherin’s meager points back to zero.
Leave a Review