Authors: [info]furiosity and [info]pixies

Rating: NC-17

Author's notes:. Many thanks to [info]pikacharma and [info]therealw for beta-reading.

Summary: After the eventful Christmas in Harry Potter's fifth year at Hogwarts, his godfather gave him a badly wrapped package. Inside was something Harry could use it to get in contact should the need arise, Sirius said. Harry resolved never to use whatever it was -- he would not put Sirius in danger. When later that year Harry was shown Sirius in terrible danger, he did not think of using Sirius's last-minute gift. Hermione, however, did. This is the story of what happened after that.

Part I - Harry

"Sirius is being tortured NOW!" shouted Harry. "We haven't got time to waste."

"But if this is a trick of Voldemort's, Harry, we've got to check. We've got to."

"How?" Harry demanded. "How're we going to check?"

Hermione, who had turned towards Ginny and Luna, froze, as though suddenly in the middle of an OWL examination, having forgotten the right answer. Harry opened his mouth to demand that she spit it out or let him go to the Department of Mysteries, but did not get the chance.

"The package," said Hermione, her voice as dreamy as Luna's had been just a moment ago. "The package Sirius gave you, Harry. You told us he gave you something you could use to contact him."

Harry stared at her in disbelief. Didn't she understand that Sirius couldn't use whatever it was? Voldemort was torturing him! "It's in my trunk," he said. "But it'll be useless. We're wasting time."

"I was going to suggest that we use Umbridge's fire to call Grimmauld Place," said Hermione, drawing herself up. "But there's no need to risk it if you can use whatever's in the package. If Sirius doesn't answer, we'll know that your... dream was real." And she fixed him with such a McGonagallish stare that Harry knew it was no use arguing with her, though anger and impatience boiled in him like something from one of Neville's cauldrons.

"Fine," he said, "Let's try it. But if it doesn't work, I'm going straight to London. I'm going to save Sirius and I don't care if you think I'm just acting the hero again."

The five of them picked their way through the crowds, up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, and Harry ignored the outraged yells when people saw Luna drifting behind Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny through the Gryffindor common room.

Harry flew to his dormitory, two stairs at a time. He wrenched open his trunk and began to rummage, throwing his belongings to the floor. A Weasley jumper... broken Sneakoscope... three snapped quills... His fingers hit stiff paper, and Harry pulled the package out of the trunk. He ripped the brown packaging away, revealing a small, square mirror, grimy and old.

Hermione let out a small noise. "It's a two-way mirror, Harry!" she whispered breathlessly. "You've got to say Sirius's name into it."

Harry turned the mirror over and saw a note stuck to the reverse side: in Sirius's fast scribble, it told him what Hermione just had, also adding that Harry's father and Sirius used to use them when they were in separate detentions.

Harry gripped the mirror in both hands. Ron, Ginny, and Hermione huddled round him whilst Luna seemed to be performing some sort of interpretive dance by the open window.

"Sirius," said Harry. "Sirius Black." He almost choked on Sirius's name, and even while hoping that Sirius's eyes would appear at any moment, he doubted it would happen. Those eyes were closed with pain right now, and if anything happened to Sirius...

How would you even get to London? asked Hermione's voice in his head. Harry wondered if Hagrid had any more Hippogriffs hidden away. Or even a dragon. Harry wasn't going to be picky. He'd summon his broom from the dungeon if he had to, Umbridge be damned.

"Look, Harry," said Hermione. "Something's moving." Her breath left a trace of fog on the mirror's dark surface.

"That might not mean anything," said Harry, not daring to hope -- it might be Lupin for all he knew. He might've found the mirror discarded on Sirius's desk, unaware that Sirius had been lured out of Grimmauld Place and was now suffering the Cruciatus Curse. All because of Harry.

"See? He's not there. He's not there. We've wasted enough time--"

"Harry?" Sirius's voice spoke from Harry's hands, and he gaped as Sirius peered up at him, his eyes revolving as though trying to see beyond the mirror's boundaries. "Is everything all right?"

"Sirius," he breathed. "Where are you?"

"Home; where else would I be? Buckbeak's been injured--"

"But I saw you in the Department of Mysteries," said Harry. Relief flooded him in icy torrents. Sirius was all right, he was alive, he wasn't being tortured. Safe at Grimmauld Place, hidden by the Fidelius Charm.

"The Department of Mysteries? Harry, what's going on?" Sirius's voice had taken on the same edge of concern that Hermione had been using around Harry all too often lately, but this time Harry didn't mind.

"I had a vision," said Harry. "Voldemort was torturing you at the Ministry."

Sirius's paled, his eyes widening. "Well, he's not. Everything is fine, except poor Buckbeak somehow managed to cut himself. I'm with him now. Moony's here, too." He turned and murmured something Harry couldn't hear. A terrible suspicion entered Harry's heart: what if Voldemort had given Sirius a moment's respite so he could play a cruel joke on Harry? At any moment, he expected Voldemort's snakelike, jeering face to appear in the mirror, and then he would be forced to watch Sirius's torture with his eyes instead of his mind.

"Where exactly was Voldemort, er, torturing me?" asked Sirius upon turning back. "Did you see anything you recognised?"

"It was a row of globes," said Harry. "Row ninety-three." He could see a frayed robe sleeve behind Sirius now: Lupin's. Relief and panicked suspicion struggled for dominance inside him. Tricks, so many tricks: maybe he wasn't even in his dormitory at all; maybe he still lay passed out on the table in the Great Hall...

Sirius gave Harry an uncharacteristically concerned look. "Harry, I need you to promise me that no matter what happens, you'll stay at Hogwarts."


"Please, Harry, just listen. Voldemort is trying to lure you to the Ministry -- he wants you to go there. You aren't going to do what he wants, are you?"

Blood still pounded in Harry's temples, and he wanted to go and find Voldemort, to fight, to finish it. Sirius was safe, but Harry could still hear his screams and see him sprawled at Voldemort's feet. No one Harry loved would ever be safe while Voldemort lived; how could they all expect him to sit by and do nothing? But Sirius's eyes were so imploring that Harry didn't want to disappoint him. He took a deep, calming breath. "No," he said finally. "I don't want to do what he wants."

"Good," said Sirius. "You stay with your friends and keep that mirror close."

Before Harry had a chance to reply, the mirror went dark. "Sirius?" he ventured, but no answer came this time. He loosened his grip somewhat and looked up at the others. "He's all right," he said, quite needlessly, and looked up at Hermione. "Don't even say it."

"I wasn't going to say--"

"You were," said Harry. "You were going to say you told me so." He wasn't sure if he was angry with himself or with Hermione. "That Voldemort is taking over my mind, and if only I'd kept on my lessons with Snape--"

"Voldemort isn't taking over your mind," snapped Ginny. Harry looked up, surprised at her vehemence, but she pressed on. "He planted a vision in your head and you believed it. He's good at that sort of thing. He'll only take over your mind if you let him in."

A fresh wave of guilt went through Harry, and he gave Hermione a sheepish glance. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's just... It feels so real." The knot of fear in his stomach began to unravel.

"Don't let him get to you, mate," said Ron, who had looked very uncomfortable until that moment. "You know he's after you, so, uh... just don't trust anything you aren't seeing with your own eyes."

"That's very good advice," put in Luna, who had drifted closer in the meantime. "But even your eyes can be fooled by a sudden Stygmie attack."

"What's a Stygmie?" asked Neville. Harry hadn't even noticed him there. He hardly remembered anything from the time he'd had the vision and the sight of Sirius's face in the mirror.

"Daddy says they make everything turn pink," said Luna. She bent down and examined Harry's broken Sneakoscope, which had rolled into the middle of the dormitory after Harry had tossed it out.

The next few hours seemed to last forever. As they trooped back out through the common room and into the school grounds, Harry kept feeling his pocket to make sure the mirror was still there. When they reached the tree by the lake, Harry leaned against it and tilted his head back, closing his eyes.

Every minute that passed without word made the fear creep back into Harry, its cold fingers gripping his heart every time he thought back to the vision. Why did Voldemort want Harry in the Ministry? Did it have something to do with the weapon he was trying to steal? Somewhere out there, the Order of the Phoenix was confronting Voldemort, and here he sat, safe with his friends, hiding when he should have been fighting. It was his fight, too: Voldemort had killed Harry's mum and dad. It wasn't right that Harry had to be on the sidelines just because he was underage. He'd got away from Voldemort before, and his wand had helped him. Maybe it was like in stories -- Ollivander had unwittingly sold Harry the only weapon that could defeat Voldemort, and now the Order members would all die at Voldemort's hand because he couldn't be killed unless Harry's wand did it. Why else would Voldemort need a special weapon against Harry? He knew he couldn't kill Harry with just his wand: that was why. He knew more about what had happened in Little Hangleton; that had to be it.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and realised his own hands were balled into fists, and the sky had grown darker. Hermione looked concerned as she stood over him, and Harry was beginning to resent seeing that expression on her face, as though looking at an errant toddler. He took a deep breath before speaking, but it didn't help. "What?"

Hermione recoiled slightly and shot Ron a helpless look. "You-- you look upset."

"Of course I'm upset! I don't know what's going on. Sirius could be dead or dying, and here we sit--"

A terrible ache laced across his forehead and Harry clapped a hand to his scar, wincing. Fury bubbled within him, fury so potent he might've hurled fireballs with his bare hands if he knew how. For a terrible second, he did know how.

Ron's voice drifted to him out of darkness. "...Harry? Are you having another vision?"

Harry forced his eyes open, forced himself to remember that he was at Hogwarts with his friends, not... wherever it was. "No," he said. "He's angry. Really angry." His scar had not hurt this much since he had witnessed Rookwood's punishment.

"Harry?" called a voice from his pocket. Harry leapt up and snatched the mirror out. The others clustered round him, jostling for space. Sirius looked back at them from the mirror, clearly exhausted.

"What happened? It's been ages--"

"Everyone's fine," said Sirius. "Dumbledore's probably going to kill me for leaving the house, but I have a plan to talk him out of it."

"Was Voldemort there?" demanded Harry.

"Not at first," Sirius told him. "A group of Death Eaters were waiting for you in the Department of Mysteries. We fought them. Voldemort arrived later -- he was expecting to see you there, Harry. He was sure you'd come."

"Is he dead?" asked Harry. "Did you get him?"

Sirius's face darkened. "No," he said. "He and Dumbledore duelled, but Voldemort managed to escape at the last moment. We did catch a fair few of the Death Eaters, though. They were expecting one teenager and got the Order of the Phoenix."

Harry's disappointment stung. So Voldemort was still out there. Still alive. This gave more weight to Harry's idea about his wand's special powers. If even Dumbledore couldn't defeat Voldemort... "Did you find out what the weapon was?"

"Weapon? No," said Sirius. "It was a prophecy he wanted."

"But prophecies are rubbish," said Harry, stealing a glance at Hermione. She gave him a tight smile.

"This was a real prophecy," said Sirius, and Harry thought he heard someone shouting in the background. Sirius cast an annoyed look over his shoulder. "But he didn't get what he came for. You didn't turn up, and the prophecy got smashed to bits before he could take it."

Harry frowned, thinking quickly. The prophecy had to relate to Harry somehow, or Voldemort wouldn't have tried to lure him to it. But why didn't he just make one of the Death Eaters take this prophecy? The more he thought about it, the more it seemed to Harry that he -- and his wand -- were somehow important. The background shouting grew louder, and Harry recognised Mrs Weasley's voice. Something told him he wouldn't get much more information out of Sirius just then.

"We're having a meeting now," said Sirius. "But Moony asked me to tell you this: Lucius Malfoy is dead. Moony says you should watch out for his son."

"Malfoy?" asked Harry, but he understood at once what Lupin was getting at. He was sure Draco Malfoy would blame Harry for his father's death. People like Malfoy and his dad never took responsibility for their own actions. "Malfoy's nothing I can't handle."

"That's what I told Moony," said Sirius, beaming, but the grin quickly slid off his face. "All right, all right!" he barked over his shoulder. "I've got to go. I'll see you soon, Harry."

"Yeah," said Harry to the now-empty mirror. "See you." He looked at the others. "Lucius Malfoy's dead." His friends' faces were pale.

"Serves him right," said Ginny, her voice heated. "The only person who deserves it more is Voldemort."

Harry nodded almost absent-mindedly. He wanted to feel pleased, but there was only emptiness. Malfoy had taunted him so many times about his parents; losing his father might give him a well-deserved taste of what that was like. But all Harry could think about were Cedric Diggory's parents, so bewildered in their grief. The war had begun, and people on both sides were going to die, now. More families would be torn apart. Lucius Malfoy might've deserved to die, along with all the other Death Eaters, but what about their families? Surely they couldn't all be evil -- or maybe they were, and Harry was just naïve. Still, the world wasn't split into good people and Death Eaters, wasn't that what Sirius always said?

On the following morning, Draco Malfoy was not at breakfast. Nobody seemed to know what had happened at the Ministry yesterday, and the Daily Prophet revealed nothing. Umbridge strutted amongst the students looking very pleased about something, and Harry had a feeling that it was not good news. Anything that made her look this happy surely spelled a new Decree or Executive Order or whatever they were calling them these days. Where was Dumbledore? Why didn't he do something? She was turning Hogwarts into a prison.

When the evening edition of the Daily Prophet arrived, Harry understood the source of Umbridge's smugness. Hermione, looking apoplectic, thrust the paper under Harry's nose just as he helped himself to some chips. Ron leaned closer to read over Harry's shoulder.


Late last night, a group of Death Eaters, led by Sirius Black and Bellatrix Lestrange, attempted to break into the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic. Fortunately, Aurors Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt were nearby at the time, and they were able to thwart the attempt, with the aid of a few bystanders whose identities remain uncertain. Several Death Eaters were caught and are now en route to Azkaban. Another bystander, Lucius Malfoy of Wiltshire, tragically lost his life. The authorities refuse to disclose the reasons how all these bystanders came to be at the Department of Mysteries so late at night.

On the subject of connecting this infiltration attempt to recent speculation regarding the return of He Who Must Not Be Named, Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic, had one thing to say: "It is a preposterous rumour. This break-in only proves that the Death Eaters have been reduced to committing simple acts of vandalism. Their master is gone and he is not coming back." Minister Fudge was referring to the destroyed statue in the Ministry's lobby, the Fountain of Magical Brethren. Talks are in progress with the goblins of Gringotts to reconstruct the statue.

Bellatrix Lestrange and Sirius Black managed to evade authorities once more and remain at large. Albus Dumbledore, sought by the Wizengamot for sedition, reportedly also participated in the fighting, though it is unclear which side he had supported. He, too, remains at large. A number of valuable artefacts were destroyed in the fighting. The Department of Mysteries is asking everyone in possession of the talent of prophecy to come forward…

"But this is rubbish," said Harry, indignant. "Led by Sirius Black? Why can't Tonks and Kingsley tell them Sirius was fighting the Death Eaters, not leading them? Lucius Malfoy, a bystander?"

"Kingsley and Tonks are in the Order, Harry," said Ron. "And the Order is tied to Dumbledore. If they start trying to protect Sirius openly, they'll lose their jobs and probably get arrested."

"Well, it's still rubbish," said Harry, throwing the Daily Prophet down on top of his plate. His appetite had vanished.

"That's not the only thing," said Hermione. Her eyes narrowed and she stared at the head table with more hatred than Harry had ever thought her capable of. "Read the article below that one." Ron and Harry leaned over the paper once more.


The Ministry of Magic has decided that in lieu of a better candidate put forth by the Board of Directors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic, shall be instated as Headmistress permanently. This assignment means that Albert Runcorn, First Junior Undersecretary, shall take up Madam Umbridge's senior post at the Ministry, whereas Percival Weasley shall take up Runcorn's post.

Says Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic: "Dolores is an exceptionally capable witch, with a strong understanding of the Ministry's ideals, and I have faith that she shall lead Hogwarts to successes never before imagined. She will be greatly missed here in London, but we understand that she feels her duty is to the children: to our future."

"That smug bitch," spat Hermione, loudly enough for Seamus and Dean to stop their conversation and look at her.

"Hermione," said Ron with a poor pretence at reproach. "Such language from a prefect!"

"Well, that decides it for me," said Harry, staring ahead of himself. He dropped his voice so only Ron and Hermione could hear him. "I'm not coming back next year."

Ron turned to him. "You're going to drop out of Hogwarts?"

"I don't have a choice, do I? You think she won't hand me over to Voldemort when he comes knocking?"

"But Hogwarts is safe--" Hermione began.

"Nowhere is safe," interrupted Harry. "With Dumbledore gone, he won't be scared to come here anymore. I'd rather take my chances somewhere that doesn't have Umbridge waiting to tie me with a pink ribbon and present me to Voldemort. He can get inside my head, remember?"

"Well, you've got to try and close your mind, Harry," said Hermione. A look of apprehension crossed her face at Harry's immediate scowl, but she continued, in a slightly louder voice. "If Snape won't help you, I will. I will learn Occlumency and we can do it together."

"I'll learn it too," offered Ron. "Could be handy with girls."

Hermione sniffed, and Harry laughed. It felt strange to laugh when he felt like climbing up on the table and screaming at them all not to believe the Daily Prophet's lies, that Sirius wasn't a Death Eater, and that Lucius Malfoy hadn't been a bystander at all. But still he laughed, and it made him feel a little lighter. He had a feeling that very soon, he wouldn't have much left to laugh about.

The rest of the week went by without any news. The Department of Mysteries affair was talked about for a few days, and then everyone moved on to discussing the upcoming National Quidditch matches. Harry felt frozen between two worlds: he ached to get away from Umbridge and dreaded going back to the Dursleys'. In the end, though, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon seemed like the lesser of two evils, and Harry had never thought he'd see them that way.


As the Hogwarts Express lumbered towards King's Cross station, Hermione stopped staring at the fog-drenched city outside and turned to Harry and Ron. "It's really started, hasn't it?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah," he said. "I reckon it has."

"What are we going to do?" asked Ron, and Harry felt a surge of affection for him for saying 'we'. But he had made up his mind already.

"I told you what I'm doing," he said.

"No," replied Ron, cocking an eyebrow. "You told us what you aren't doing, and that's going back to Hogwarts. But then what?"

Harry shrugged. "I dunno. I'll think of something."

"We'll think of something," said Hermione pointedly.

Harry glanced at her. "What do you mean?"

"You don't think we're going to go back to Hogwarts without you, do you?" muttered Ron.

Harry stared at his friends, unable to speak. "Well, why wouldn't you? You're not in danger. I am."

"That's right, you are," said Hermione. "Harry, we've been friends since first year. Did you really expect us to leave you?"


"He did. He totally did," said Ron, glaring at Harry, his ears pink. "You can't do everything yourself, you know."

"Yeah," said Hermione. "I've still got to teach you Occlumency."

"You've got to learn it first," said Ron.

Hermione rolled her eyes and looked back at Harry. "So. What are we going to do?"

Harry, feeling like he would burst with happiness and gratitude, couldn't find the words. He couldn't let them do this and he wouldn't. He'd die before he let anything happen to them. But hearing them say these things felt incredible all the same. At that moment, he could have produced the biggest Patronus in the world.

There wasn't much time to talk after that; the train had stopped. The three friends made their way through the other students and the throngs of waiting families on the platform. Once they got past the magical barrier, Harry spotted the Dursleys standing off to the side, their faces dour. A few feet away, Mrs Weasley stood chatting with Hermione's mum and dad.

"There you are, then, boy," said Uncle Vernon. Harry frowned. His uncle sounded almost pleasant. Then he noticed Mad-Eye Moody standing a few feet away, flanked on either side by a Weasley twin, the latter two resplendent in brand new dragonskin jackets. The twins grinned at Harry; George gave him the thumbs-up. Moody just glared at the back of Uncle Vernon's head, his magical eye rotating. Harry guessed that there had been a confrontation of some sort, and Uncle Vernon was not so much polite as terrified.

After a quick good-bye to his friends, Harry followed his aunt and uncle to the car park, where he stuffed his trunk into the boot and, with a last glance at the train station, began to compose mental letters to Ron and Hermione, thanking them for everything they'd done, and... and then he had nothing. How could he refuse their help without making them feel like he didn't want them?


Harry stood in a dark room, happy -- happier than he had been since regaining his body. Hooded figures surrounded him, their faces in shadow, but he knew them all; he did not need to see their faces to know their minds.

"Amelia Bones is dead," he said. "She won't give us any more trouble."

The others watched him with neither movement nor sound. He smiled.

"Severus," he said, "Have you located Dumbledore?"

"No, my Lord," said the figure to his left. "He's turned up at the meetings, but he won't tell anyone where he's--"

"Crucio," said Harry. Snape fell to the floor, twitching in pain. Harry surveyed the others as they shrank towards the walls, their fear bleeding through the air in thick waves. He felt certain that someone here was hiding something from him, something vital. "I grow weary of your incompetence," he said in his high, cold voice. "All of you. Potter and Dumbledore -- I want them found. I want them brought to me." He looked down at Snape's still form and raised his wand.

In his bedroom, Harry awoke bathed in sweat, yelling in fear as Snape was punished once again. It terrified him that somewhere deep, he had enjoyed the sight of Snape, broken upon the dirty floor, his ugly, sallow face drawn in agony.

The bedroom door flew open, and Uncle Vernon stomped inside, his moustache quivering. "What's the matter with you?" he bellowed. "You must've woken the neighbours with that racket you're making!"

"Sorry," gasped Harry. "Nightmare." His stomach roiled. As he looked up at Uncle Vernon's livid face, he felt a sudden burst of anger, like a snake rising within him, poised to strike. It was the snake. "Run," Harry growled, struggling for control. "Run quickly, before he sees you--"

"Run away from you?" sneered Uncle Vernon. "Can't do anything without that wand of yours, can you, boy? Your little friends aren't here to--"

"I SAID GET OUT!" bellowed Harry. He was sure that if Voldemort saw Uncle Vernon, he would know at once where Harry was, and then nothing could stop him from coming. "IF HE SEES YOU, WE'RE ALL DEAD!" The snake reared again. Harry fought it, tried to close his mind against it, but it wasn't working.

Aunt Petunia appeared in the doorway. "Vernon? What's going on? Why are you shouting?"

"RUN!" shouted Harry with a last effort. The snake filled his mind, its eyes becoming Harry's as all colours faded from the world. He felt himself lifting off the bed, straightening up, and taking a step towards his aunt and uncle. He didn't quite understand how to use the treelike appendages humans called legs, but he could not slither.

"Kill them, yes, I shall kill them, Master," he said, answering a question that arose somewhere deep in his primitive mind. "I shall bring you the small human named Potter. Make him walk to you."

The fat human's eyes grew round, and it said something in the human speech. Harry didn't understand the words, but he could sense the fear in them. Now the fat one was backing up, ready to flee--

The bony front part of one of his legs struck something sharp and angular. With a cry of pain, he stumbled, and the snake disappeared. Gasping, Harry looked down at the floor. His school trunk, which he'd not bothered to move since arriving at the Dursleys', had just saved all their lives. The snake had been in him; he had known its thoughts. It would have killed the Dursleys and made Harry go to Voldemort.

"I've got to leave here," he said. "You're all in danger."

Uncle Vernon stood with his arms braced against either side of the doorway, shielding Aunt Petunia. "Danger?" he repeated, his expression disturbed.

"Mum? Dad?" Dudley appeared behind his parents, rubbing his eyes. "What are you doing?"

Harry sagged down onto his bed, rubbing his scar. "It's too late," he said bitterly. "He's seen you now. He'll know where I am now."

"Who?" asked Aunt Petunia in a small voice. "Who has seen us?"

"Lord Voldemort," said Harry. "Same one who killed your sister. I'm sure you remember her."


After several snifters of brandy, Uncle Vernon regained his composure along with his usual sneering contempt for Harry's kind of people.

"This is rubbish," he said, dry-washing his hands as they sat around the kitchen table. "He can get into your mind and see through your eyes? With a snake? What do you take us for, boy? You just want us out of the way so you can invite your lot to our house and--"

"Don't you understand?" Harry bit out. "I'm not making this up. He's after me and he doesn't care who he kills."

"Dumbledore--" Aunt Petunia began, but closed her mouth and turned away.

"What about him?" asked Harry. When she didn't respond, her lips a thin line, he had to fight not to start shouting at her. If she knew something about Dumbledore, he had a right to know. "What. About. Him?"

Aunt Petunia looked at her husband, and then at her son. She took a deep breath. "Dumbledore told me you were protected by Lily's blood while you lived here. There was some mumbo-jumbo about powerful magic."

"Dumbledore was wrong," said Harry with conviction. He'd never heard anything so preposterous in his life. Dumbledore must have said that to Aunt Petunia to keep her from throwing Harry out onto the street. "Voldemort knows I'm here, now, and he's going to come for me."

"I believe him," said Dudley.

Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon turned to him. "What?" they said in unison.

"What?" Harry echoed, thunderstruck.

Dudley's massive jaw worked and his forehead creased as though he were straining with thoughts of great profundity. "The dementer thing," he said finally, and gave Harry an almost timid look. "Last summer."

"Do you think this Mould Lord sent it, Dudders?" asked Petunia, her voice anxious.

"Yeah," said Dudley, still staring at Harry. "And he saved me." He raised a massive hand and pointed at Harry, as though playing pretend pistols.

Silence fell. Dudley Dursley had just acknowledged that Harry had done something good for him, and that Dudley knew it. It was far, far more than Harry ever expected of his cousin. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon stared at their son, both looking as though the very foundations of their world had been shaken.

Aunt Petunia broke the silence with a little sob. She clutched Dudley's hand in both of her own. "Oh, Diddykins," she wailed. "Such a good boy!"

Dudley looked embarrassed; another sight Harry never thought he'd see. Beneath the fear and anxiety that still gnawed him, he felt something very like regret for things that might have been. What if Dudley hadn't been raised to regard Harry as an intruder? Would Harry and Dudley be in the back garden now, discussing together how best to protect the family? Harry shook the thought off. He had been four, maybe five years old when he had last longed to be a part of this family. But the twinge of regret lingered. Dudley's words weren't much, but they proved he had a shred of decency where Harry thought none existed.

"I don't know if Voldemort sent the Dementors last summer," he said over Aunt Petunia's whimpers. "I don't know who did. But I know that he might send some. They've gone over to him now." That had been in the Daily Prophet just a few days ago: all the Dementors had mysteriously disappeared from Azkaban. Though the Prophet insisted that it was simply mating season -- it happened once every decade, nothing to worry about -- Harry had guessed the truth. The Dementors had defected to Voldemort's side. Still, Fudge refused to acknowledge anything was amiss. Still, Dumbledore remained a fugitive and so did Sirius. And now, Harry would join them.

"But they could find us anywhere," whispered Aunt Petunia, her expression growing fearful. "They can fly. What are we going to do?" She gave Harry a scornful look. "You'll run to your little friends, I expect, just like Lily always ran to that freak Snape. What will become of us?"

"Snape?" Harry repeated, certain that he had not heard her right. "How do you know Snape?"

Aunt Petunia sniffed. "That awful, awful boy from down Spinner's End way. He was always filling Lily's head with nonsense about magic and Dementors and God knows what."

Harry stared at her. "Snape."

"Yes!" Aunt Petunia nearly shrieked. "Snape! What are you, a broken record? I thought you knew all about your mother's freak friends."

"Friends," said Harry, feeling as though he weren't in Aunt Petunia's gleaming kitchen but in a bizarre dream. Was this a vision from Voldemort, trying to trick him somehow? "Are you saying Snape and my mum were friends?"

"He took my sister away!" Aunt Petunia burst out. "Lily was a good girl until she met him. An awful boy from a horrible family. His father was a drunkard and his mother was no better."

Harry remembered Aunt Petunia saying something about "that awful boy" once, last year. He had assumed she had been talking about his father. "Snape and Mum were friends?" he repeated, and a memory surfaced in his mind. Snape -- defeated, sullen -- calling his mother a Mudblood. "You're lying," he said, shaking his head.

"Don't you dare talk to your aunt that way, boy," growled Uncle Vernon, who had heretofore sat dumbstruck by his son's odd behaviour. "She's told me all about this Snape bloke, for your information."

"He was the one," said Aunt Petunia, staring at Harry with unrestrained hatred. "She was never the same after she went to that horrible school. And look where it got her."

Harry's scar seared with pain and he yelped, clutching his head. Time ran short. "Never mind Snape," he managed. "You've got to get out of here. We've all got to leave. He's coming." He would see Snape, he realised. He would go to Grimmauld Place, and Snape was bound to turn up for an Order meeting. He would not let Snape out of his sight until he found out the truth about his mother. But right now, it was more important to persuade the Dursleys to go into hiding, so he, too, could get away. If they just kept sitting there like lumps, Voldemort would come and kill them all; he wouldn't spare any relative of Harry's, no matter how evil.

Harry looked at Dudley, thinking that he might have a better chance of reasoning with him than with his aunt and uncle. "I'm not making this up," he said."You know I'm not."

Slowly, Dudley nodded. "We should do what he says," he told his parents.

"Oh, popkin," whimpered Aunt Petunia. "So brave!"

Harry resisted the urge to make gagging noises. He rose from his chair and faced Uncle Vernon. "Don't go anywhere normal. Get out of the country if you can. I don't think he's strong enough to follow you too far, yet." He didn't know how he knew that, but it just felt like the right thing to say. His scar was a firebrand. Some of his conviction and fear must have found its way into Harry's voice: for once, Uncle Vernon did not look sceptical. Only scared.

"We'll go to my brother's, in Australia," he said in a gruff voice, turning to his wife and son. "Go and get packed."

Harry started off to do his own packing. He hoped he would have time to at least take his Invisibility Cloak. As he passed Dudley, a large hand closed round his wrist. Harry turned to look at his cousin, exasperated.

"Where will you go?" asked Dudley.

Aunt Petunia, who had just begun to rise, sat down again, sobbing something about her ickle Diddydums.

"I've got a safe place," said Harry. He was oddly touched by Dudley's concern, and that trickle of regret for things that might have been reappeared. The beatings, the bullying, the nastiness between them -- this changed none of those things, nor made them any better. But it made Harry feel better about the world, which was more than what he could have said yesterday. Dudley's eyes, he noticed, were the exact same colour as Neville Longbottom's.

"I've got to go," he said, extricating his arm from Dudley's grasp. "And you, too."

"Er. See you, Harry," mumbled Dudley.

Harry half-turned in the doorway. "Yeah. Bye, Dudley."

He was still a bit dazed as he ran upstairs to his bedroom, but once he shut the door, the Dursleys might as well have ceased to exist.

How would he get to Grimmauld Place? Could he take the Knight Bus? He wouldn't be able to get away with calling himself Neville Longbottom now, not after his face had been plastered all over the Daily Prophet over the last two years. And he didn't want to leave a trail. For all he knew, there were Death Eaters on the Knight Bus at all times, hoping for Harry to fancy a ride. He didn't have time to send Hedwig ahead of him, either. He had Hermione's telephone number somewhere, but he didn't have time to look for it. Any minute now, Voldemort would be here.

His scar prickled, but Harry forced himself to ignore it, to think. The mirror. It would count as using magic, he was sure, but did he care if the Ministry decided to expel him from Hogwarts? He wasn't going back there, anyway. After throwing his things in the trunk, Harry locked Hedwig's cage and took out the mirror. He had a terrible feeling that Voldemort drew ever closer. Outside, he heard car doors slamming. An engine revved, then roared down the street. The Dursleys were gone. Even if Voldemort found him now, it wouldn't be so bad. As much as Harry disliked the Durlseys, he did not want their deaths on his conscience.

He opened his mouth to say Sirius's name into the mirror, but immediately closed it. He had not even considered that if Voldemort could get inside his head and see what he was doing, where he was -- maybe even Grimmauld Place. No one was safe while Harry was with them; no one. How could he expose Sirius to such danger? How could he have been so selfish? His scar reminded him of his urgency with a fresh stab of pain. If only he had had one more year before this, so he could have learned to Apparate. He didn't have time to go anywhere on foot; he would have to risk contacting Sirius. Later, he could think of a new place to go, but right now he needed to get away from here.

"Sirius Black!" he said and waited, but the mirror remained dark. "Sirius!" called Harry again. "Sirius Black!"

Hedwig took her head out from under her wing and gave a reproachful hoot, but Harry ignored her, his stomach icy with fear. What if Voldemort had got to Sirius first? What if he had killed Sirius, to make sure Harry had no one to turn to, and was now coming--

A single grey eye blinked at Harry from the mirror, and he remembered that it was the middle of the night. That was why Sirius hadn't answered right away. "H-Harry? What-- What's wrong?"

"Voldemort is coming," said Harry. "I've convinced the Dursleys to leave, but I have no way to get out of here." Belatedly, he realised he could have ridden with the Dursleys, but it was no surprise that he hadn't thought of asking them for any favours. He should have, though. Then he wouldn't be endangering Sirius.

"Harry, are you sure?"

"What?" Harry stared at Sirius, who had sat back so Harry could see his face. Something moved in the shadows behind Sirius -- a curtain billowed out by wind. "Of course I'm sure. Do you think I would've risked using the mirror otherwise?"

"I'm just concerned that you had another vision," explained Sirius, his face anxious. "What if he's trying to lure you out?"

"No," said Harry quickly. "This wasn't like that. I did have a dream, but I knew he found me after I woke up. I almost tried to kill my aunt and uncle, Sirius. Voldemort's snake was in my mind." His scar began to throb urgently, and panic welled up in him, a sticky kind of fear that would not let go unless he fought it with all he had. "He's getting closer, Sirius -- I don't know what to do." He felt like a child.

"Go out into the garden," said Sirius. "Stay under cover, and try not to move. Use your Cloak." He disappeared.

Harry pocketed the mirror and began to pick up his trunk, and then realised Hedwig was still in her cage. He wouldn't have time to come back for her, and he couldn't carry both the trunk and the cage whilst trying to hide. Harry opened the latch. "I need you to go to Sirius, in Grimmauld Place. You remember where that is, don't you?"

The owl gave him a suspicious look, but when he stepped away from the cage, she flew straight out through the open window. Harry threw the Invisibility Cloak over himself, hauled the trunk out of the bedroom, and let it slide down the stairs; there was no one to complain about the noise it made, now. He bounded after it, nearly tripping on the bottom steps, and then crept through to the back garden.

Dawn approached, but night still reigned. As Harry manoeuvred his trunk through the door, he startled one of the neighbours' cats. It bounded off with an indignant yowl, and Harry winced at how far sound carried through the night. He pushed his trunk up against one of Aunt Petunia's flawless hedges and crouched next to it, gripping his wand tightly. The burning in his scar sharpened with every creeping moment. He kept imagining that the hedge opposite would part in a flash of silver flame, and Voldemort would step into the garden, laughing with delight.

A rustle to his left startled Harry so much that he almost dropped his wand. An enormous black dog's muzzle appeared through a gap in the hedge, its shining nose twitching as it sniffed the air. Harry grinned. Sirius. Then he felt cold. What if it wasn't Sirius? What if it was Voldemort, posing as Snuffles to give Harry a false sense of security? Harry's scar hurt all the time now, which meant Voldemort was close.

The dog disappeared. A moment later, Sirius clambered over the hedge. "Ready?" he whispered, peering around. Harry tugged the Cloak away from his head and started to answer, but his scar blazed with agony. Darkness took his mind, a twisting vortex of pain and fear for Sirius, who would surely be killed now.


When Harry opened his eyes, he saw the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black.

The wizard surveyed Harry with a look of distaste and, without a word, walked out of his frame. Harry wanted to tell him to wait, but could manage only a pitiful croak. His parched mouth tasted like a Dungbomb had exploded in it. How long had he been asleep?

Sirius appeared in the doorway, beaming. That was where Phineas Nigellus must have gone, Harry realised -- to let Sirius know he was awake.

"Everything all right?" asked Sirius, frowning at Harry's expression.

Harry sat up. "I-- I think so. What happened? My scar hurt--" He broke off, realising that his scar was not hurting any more. Had Sirius killed Voldemort?

"You were right," said Sirius darkly. "I barely managed to get us out of there before Voldemort showed up with a couple of Death Eaters. They knew exactly where you were, but Voldemort couldn't go inside the house for some reason. That bought us time."

"Tell me everything," said Harry. He could only hope the Dursleys had got away, that they hadn't been waylaid en route to the airport.

"You collapsed, screaming," said Sirius, taking a seat on the edge of Harry's bed. "And then I heard people Apparating into the street. Someone cast a Blasting Curse at the front door of your aunt and uncle's house, and I could only hope I had enough time to Disapparate us."

"You can Apparate someone else?"

"Yeah, Side-Along Apparition," said Sirius. "I'm pants at it," he added with a somewhat guilty look. "But there was nothing else to do."

Harry nodded and motioned for him to continue.

"I heard Voldemort," said Sirius. "He was screaming that he can't go through the door. He sounded scared, Harry."

"And then?" Harry prompted.

"Then I took us here. Well, to the street. Can't Apparate into the house because of the Fidelius Charm."

"I wonder why Voldemort couldn't go inside the Dursleys' house," said Harry, frowning at Phineas Nigellus's empty frame.

"Maybe it's Dumbledore," said Sirius. "Some kind of special protection." Maybe there had been something to Aunt Petunia's words about the special protection on Number Four, Privet Drive. Sirius sounded unconcerned, and Harry took a look at him, realising that Sirius seemed happy for the first time in months. Harry recalled their conversation from last year, with Sirius going stir-crazy from being cooped up in his family's house, which he hated. It hit Harry that he'd put Sirius in terrible danger last night, perhaps even greater danger than Harry's presence here would cause.

"I'm sorry I called you," he said. "You shouldn't go outside."

"What? Don't be stupid," said Sirius. "It felt excellent to get out of this place. And what kind of godfather would I be if I couldn't protect you?" He got up from Harry's bed and stretched.

"But Sirius," said Harry. "The snake in my mind last night -- it told Voldemort who I was with. And he found me within an hour. He could do the same with me here."

"Nonsense," said Sirius. "Voldemort can't get past the Fidelius Charm. The only reason he managed to get inside your parents' house in Gordic's Hollow was Wormtail's betrayal. Our Secret Keeper is Dumbledore, Harry. You've got nothing to fear from Voldemort here, not unless you go outside."

"Well, I won't," said Harry, feeling a little better. He hadn't had a chance to think about what he would do once he left the Dursleys' -- he hadn't expected his departure to be so sudden -- but he had had vague ideas of skulking through dark alleys and shadowing Death Eaters and confronting Voldemort... But if he had to stay here to keep Sirius safe, then he would. "Does everyone in the Order know?"

Sirius nodded. "After I talked to you last night, Moony went looking for Kingsley and Tonks, and I sent a message to Dumbledore."

"Let me guess," said Harry, not even bothering to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "He told you to try and talk me out of it."

Sirius started examining a fraying bit of thread at the edge of Harry's duvet cover. "He did, yeah. I was a bit impolite after that."

To Harry's amazement, he no longer found it hard to believe that someone could be anything but polite with Dumbledore. He had thought of some choice words to say to Dumbledore upon their next meeting, particularly concerning his aunt. And Snape. Harry remembered, with a jolt, what Aunt Petunia had told him about Snape. Surely Dumbledore would know what happened between Snape and Harry's mother.

Dumbledore? What about Sirius, you idiot?

"Sirius," began Harry, almost afraid to ask.

"Yeah, I know I should be grateful to him for everything he's done, but--"

"This isn't about Dumbledore," interrupted Harry. "Last night, my aunt told me that my mother and Snape had been friends at Hogwarts. Is that true?"

"Didn't you know?" asked Sirius. "Has no one told you?"

Harry stared at him. "No one tells me anything, it seems. Well, is it true?"

"They were neighbours," said Sirius, his eyes somewhat distant. "They started Hogwarts at the same time, but then Lily was sorted into Gryffindor and Snape into Slytherin. They were friends, I suppose, as much as a Gryffindor and a Slytherin can be. In fourth year, Snape got involved with the Dark Arts, started running around with Avery and Mulciber and the rest of that lot. Lily didn't like it. I heard them rowing about it a couple of times -- she kept telling him to stop hanging round them, but he ignored her. In fifth year, Snape must've ended their friendship, because you saw how he called her a Mudblood in front of everyone."

Snape was even more of a snivelling bastard than Harry had thought. He felt bad for ever thinking his father a bully for making Snape suffer. He could only imagine his mum, being betrayed like that by her childhood friend, all because she didn't want him to get in trouble. Snape deserved whatever abuse he got, as far as Harry was concerned. "Is that why he hates me so much? Because I remind him of what a failure he is as a person?"

"Er," said Sirius. "Well. I think Snape had a thing for your mum, actually."

"What?" Harry shuddered. The idea of Snape having a thing for anyone, let alone Harry's mother, was revolting. And improbable. Who would want to touch that?

"Yeah. And when it became clear she would choose your father, Snape just... lashed out, I suppose. I don't know the whole story, honestly. Lily refused to discuss Snape, even years afterwards."

"He might've tried bathing. Maybe she would've picked him then," muttered Harry.

Sirius roared with unexpected laughter and clapped him on the shoulder. "That's something James would've said."

"I wonder why Dumbledore never told me," mused Harry, flushed with pleasure at the comparison to his dad. "He knew, didn't he?"

"Probably," said Sirius. "But I'm sure that if he knew, he's got a good reason not to tell you."

"You know," said Harry, "I'm getting just a little bit tired of hearing that."


Hedwig arrived as Harry and Sirius were sharing a breakfast of dry toast and lukewarm tea. She flew into the kitchen, looking around frantically, and landed on Harry's shoulder, her claws digging in so deep he thought they'd break skin. "It's all right," he told her. Hedwig hooted and stole a piece of his toast.

"Hedwig and Buckbeak will get along just fine," said Sirius. "He always tries to steal my food, too."

"She doesn't usually," said Harry, stroking Hedwig's beak. "She was just worried about me. So when do you think Dumbledore will turn up?"

"Who knows," said Sirius. "We aren't going to use this house as headquarters anymore."

"Why not?" asked Harry, disappointed. His nebulous plans had definitely involved sneaking Extendable Ears into the meetings. Even if he couldn't go anywhere, he could still learn what was going on.

"You're underage, Harry. The Trace is still on you, so the Ministry probably knows you're here, even if they can't get at you."

"So what?"

"So with you here, the others can't come and go as they please, in case the house is being watched."

"And if the house is being watched, they might get caught," finished Harry. Once again, people had to go out of their way to accommodate him, and it was the last thing he wanted. He and Sirius might be safe here, but the Order was inconvenienced because of him. Plus, he hadn't yet given up on the idea of skulking through dark alleys and stalking Death Eaters from the shadows. "I should go somewhere else," he said.

"What? No," said Sirius. "Where else could you go?"

"Dunno." Harry stared down at his empty plate. "But now you can't go anywhere, either. If you try to leave the house even for a minute--"

Sirius looked so incredulous that Harry stopped talking. "Why would I want to go anywhere?" asked Sirius. "You're with me now."

A lump appeared in Harry's throat, and he didn't know what to say.

There was a loud crash.


"Oh, not again," groaned Sirius. "Kreacher's taken to knocking over the umbrella stand just to get her going."

He got up, but before he made it halfway to the door, Lupin stumbled in, his right arm bent back at an unnatural angle. "SIRIUS, GET DOWN!" he shouted.

Sirius didn't even hesitate; he dropped and rolled underneath the table. Harry sprang up, drawing his wand. Hedwig flew from his shoulder towards the ceiling, hooting angrily.

Draco Malfoy walked into the kitchen, his wand pointed at Lupin's back.

"EXPELLIARMUS!" shouted Harry even before Malfoy's eyes had time to widen in recognition. Malfoy's wand flew out of his hand and bounced hard against the door frame. Lupin, his arm now free, turned around and tackled Malfoy to the floor. "Quick," he panted over his shoulder. "Binding Spell--"

"Incarcerous," said Harry, stepping closer. Hedwig still zoomed about the ceiling, twittering in a way that would've given Pigwidgeon a run for his money.


"Thanks," said Lupin, getting off Malfoy, who struggled against the invisible bonds, writhing like a worm.

Sirius crawled out from under the kitchen table, looking furious. "Is this what I was supposed to get down for? Lucius Malfoy's sprog?"

"Don't you dare say my father's name!" shouted Malfoy in a ragged, hoarse voice. Harry had never seen him so angry, and he and Malfoy had had a lot of dust-ups over the years.

"Or what? What's your problem, anyway?" Sirius demanded. "How did this milksop get in here, Moony?"

"Three against one, is it?" shouted Malfoy from the floor. "Was that how you killed my father, too?"

Malfoy's fury was all for Sirius, Harry realised; his eyes were wild but focussed only on Sirius. He didn't appear to see Lupin or Harry anymore.

"SCUM! HALF-BLOOD INGRATES!" caterwauled Mrs Black's portrait upstairs.

"Killed your father?" asked Sirius with genuine bewilderment. "I didn't kill your father. What the hell makes you think I did?"

"I know you did, that's how," spat Malfoy. "Release me. I challenge you to a duel -- to the death!"

Sirius sniggered. Malfoy looked and sounded ridiculous; it made Harry feel a little sorry for him, despite the fact that stared at Sirius with murder in his eyes.

"He must've followed me," said Lupin, slumping into a chair. "Merlin knows how, but as I was about to walk into the Unplottable section of the street, he just latched onto me like a centipede. Took me by surprise. I'm sorry."

"I am not a centipede," muttered Malfoy.

"Shut up," Harry advised him.

"No," said Sirius. "We need to know how he followed Moony. Let's get him into a chair, though. Never let it be said this Noble and Most Ancient Dungheap is lacking in hospitality."

He bent down, but Malfoy began to struggle with renewed effort, managing to slide a few inches towards the exit this time.

"Let me," said Harry, and seized Malfoy round the midsection.

"Don't touch me!" bawled Malfoy. "Potter, I'm warning you--"


"SHUT UP, YOU OLD HAG!" shouted Sirius.

For a wonder, Mrs Black did. Even Hedwig quieted down. Malfoy seemed so surprised by the sudden silence that he stopped struggling long enough for Harry to half-drag, half-carry him to a chair. Lupin dissolved the bonds Harry had placed around Malfoy's hands and feet and bound him to the chair, instead.

"Talk," said Sirius. "How did you find this place?"

"I'm not telling you anything," spat Malfoy.

"I think," said Lupin with an air of quiet authority, "That you might want to reconsider that attitude, Mr Malfoy."

"Yeah," said Harry. "You could tell us what you know, or we could force it out of you. I've done some Legilimency training, myself. Might be interesting to poke around in your head, see what the Death Eaters have been up to." At that moment, he wished he knew Legilimency, because surely Malfoy knew more than he did. With satisfaction, he saw Malfoy's angry-pink face turn pale. "Or," Harry continued relentlessly, "We could feed you some Veritaserum that we have upstairs. Take your pick."

"Fine," said Malfoy, glaring at Harry and Sirius, alternately. "Your house-elf told me where the place was. I just had to wait for one of your lot to turn up. Pity I didn't know Potter was here, or I would have brought some friends."

Harry punched him in the mouth. It felt surprisingly good, though his knuckles smarted from it. He drew his fist back again, but Sirius seized his arm. "Don't," he said in a soft voice that was too dangerous to ignore. "He can't fight back."

Even though this was Malfoy, who surely wouldn't hesitate to beat Harry senseless if he ever managed to immobilise him, Harry still felt ashamed. Clenching his teeth, he gave Malfoy a baleful glare and turned away.

"So," said Sirius. "Kreacher told you where to find me, did he?"

Malfoy lifted his chin. "I said so, didn't I?"


The house-elf crawled out of his cupboard, his ears drooping. "Nasty blood traitor Master has summoned Kreacher. Kreacher will be punished for his loyalty to the true heirs of the Black family. Kreacher will accept the punishment with pride."

Sirius looked down at the house-elf with disgust. "Well, at least he's not denying it. Have you told anyone else about where I am?"

Kreacher looked up at Sirius with his large, bulbous eyes. His mouth worked for a moment, as though he were struggling to keep his answer inside, but finally he spoke. "Yes."


Kreacher's shoulders slumped. "Miss Cissy. And then Miss Bella."

"Bellatrix," said Sirius, with a savage smile that made him look quite mad.

"That's right," said Malfoy loudly. "Aunt Bella told me that you killed my father. She told me to ask for Kreacher's help. Kreacher understands proper order."

"Draco Malfoy has said Kreacher's name," rasped Kreacher. "Draco Malfoy has praised Kreacher." Tears began to drip from the elf's eyes. It was the most revolting thing Harry had ever seen.

"How did you leave the house?" demanded Sirius, shaking the elf. "What kind of a house-elf leaves his family home?"

"Master Sirius told Kreacher to get out," said Kreacher. "So Kreacher did. Last week, Master Sirius found Kreacher in the airing cupboard and told Kreacher to get out again. So Kreacher did." The elf giggled.

"I ought to give you clothes," said Sirius, shaking his head in disgust. "But you'd just run off to Malfoy Manor. No, I'm not going to send you away. I forbid you to ever leave this house for any reason, even if I tell you to get out. This is the order you'll follow from now on."

"Kreacher will do as Master says," said Kreacher, looking thoroughly unhappy.

"Of course you will. Now get out of my sight."

As Kreacher slinked off towards his cupboard, Sirius turned to Harry. "Malfoy will have to stay here," he said.

"Why?" asked Harry. "He isn't in on the Fidelius Charm--"

"He is now," said Lupin, frowning bitterly. "He knows the location, and he can lead other people to it."

"How?" asked Harry. "He isn't the Secret Keeper."

"That just means he can't tell anyone where it is. But he can show them."

"Can't we just Obliviate him?" asked Harry, dejected.

"Memory Charms aren't foolproof," said Sirius. "A skilled wizard can restore memories, and I hope I needn't remind you that we're dealing with a very skilled wizard, evil git or no. Occlumency would work, but somehow I don't think Malfoy will hide anything from his precious Dark Lord, do you?"

The idea of living in the same house as Malfoy appealed to Harry as much as having to dissect Flobberworms for the rest of his life. "Let's put him in the attic, then. Out of sight. Kreacher can bring him food so he doesn't starve to death."

"No," said Sirius. "Kreacher is not going anywhere near him, not if I can help it. You heard him, didn't you? Kreacher might be an elf, but he's clearly learned a great deal from my dear old mother -- he'd find a way to help Malfoy escape. Can't let that happen."

"At least no one else will be able to get in here the same way," said Lupin.

Sirius looked up at him sharply, but said nothing. He and Lupin exchanged unreadable looks.

"How do you suppose we can keep Kreacher away from Malfoy unless you send him out of the house?" asked Harry. "You can forbid Kreacher to go near him, I suppose, but that wouldn't stop Malfoy from going near Kreacher."

"We'll have to make sure one of us is watching him at all times," said Sirius. "He'll sleep in your room. I've got some Muggle handcuffs lying around somewhere, so you won't need to use magic."

Lupin gave a disapproving cough. Harry couldn't blame him. He threw Malfoy a look full of fury. Sleep in the same room as him? "Why can't he sleep in your room?" Harry demanded. "You can use magic."

Sirius hesitated, looking torn for some reason. "Uh--"

"Yeah," said Malfoy. "Good idea, Potter. I'll find a way to kill him in his sleep."

"While bound? I'm almost tempted to let you try," said Sirius with a short, barking laugh.

Harry had never had much respect for Malfoy's magical abilities, but if Malfoy was convinced that Sirius had killed his father, and if he was half as fey as he looked, Harry was not prepared to risk anything. "Fine," he muttered. "He can sleep in my room." He glared at Malfoy, who sneered.

"You'll have to take the portrait down," said Remus, who had been sitting quietly, staring at his hands. "If Phineas Nigellus tells Umbridge--"

"Oh, shit, you're right, Moony," said Sirius. "Only I think the old fogey's got a Permanent Sticking Charm on him, too."

"Even if he does, we could just stick some curtains over him, like your mum's portrait," said Harry.

"He'll still be able to hear everything," said Sirius. "Well, there are lots of rooms in the house. We'll move you into my brother's room. He has no portraits on the walls. And Malfoy here will feel right at home."

Harry didn't know what Sirius meant by that until Sirius took him to the topmost landing. "This way you'll be closer to me, too," said Sirius, stopping before a closed door that bore a self-important little sign reading Do Not Enter Without the Express Permission of Regulus Arcturus Black.

They walked inside together, and Harry understood right away why Sirius had said that Malfoy would feel at home. A large Black family crest hung above the bed in a room swathed in Slytherin colours. Dozens of newspaper and magazine clippings, all about Voldemort and the Death Eaters, adorned one wall.

"I've got to sleep here?" asked Harry, dismayed.

"We'll take the articles down," said Sirius. "If we can."

It turned out they could; apparently Regulus Black, unlike his mother, had not been concerned that someone might redecorate in his absence. The clippings made a rather large pile; they disgusted Harry so much that he wanted to take them to the kitchen and burn them. He crouched down to do just that, but Sirius laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Dumbledore asked me not to take anything out of this room," he said. "Let's just stick them under the bed, all right?"

"Why would Dumbledore care about your brother's room?" asked Harry, bewildered.

Sirius shrugged. "Why would Dumbledore do anything?"

"Point," said Harry with a sigh, and began shoving the yellowed articles underneath the four-poster. Sirius helped him, and within a few minutes, the room looked like a Slytherin dormitory, rather than like the den of a future Death Eater. Which was still pretty bad, but Harry supposed it was a fair trade-off for being across the corridor from Sirius. He looked round, and another thought struck him. "Uh, Sirius? There's only one bed."

"No problem," said Sirius. "We'll move Ron's bed up here."

"Where's Ron going to sleep when he gets here?" asked Harry, and his heart clenched. Would Ron get here? Would Hermione?

"I didn't know Ron was coming here," said Sirius, watching him intently.

"I don't even know if he is," said Harry with no small amount of bitterness. "Bloody Malfoy."

"We'll think of something," said Sirius. "Provided you don't run off on me," he added. A half-smile played on his lips, but his eyes narrowed a fraction.

Harry sighed. "We aren't going to run off. We don't even have any plans yet." Well, other than Hermione's plan to teach him Occlumency, but he didn't think Sirius would care about that.

"That's good," said Sirius. "Plans only get you in trouble. Come on," he continued without waiting for Harry's reply, "Let's get the other bed and your things up here, and then I'll go and find a hiding place for Malfoy's wand."


Harry, Sirius, and Lupin sat in the drawing room, with Malfoy tied to the armchair by the window.

"So I'll let Kingsley know we've taken Mr Malfoy prisoner," said Lupin. "You two should stay put until we work out what to do."

"My mother will come," said Malfoy from his corner. "My mother will destroy you--"

"I doubt Narcissa even knows you're here," snapped Sirius. "She, unlike dear Bellatrix, is not a nutter. She wouldn't have let you do this."

"She'll find out where I am," said Malfoy with a petulant expression. "Then you'll be sorry."

"Maybe we ought to let Narcissa know--," began Lupin, but Sirius cut him off.

"No way," he said. "She's a Black. If she has the tiniest thread to go on, she'll never stop until she finds him. And if she finds him, she finds us."

Harry glanced at Malfoy, who seemed bemused and pleased at the same time. His face had swollen where Harry had struck him earlier; he would have looked comical if this were happening at Hogwarts. But Hogwarts was over now, the stakes higher. Harry couldn't afford sympathy for his enemies. He scowled at Malfoy and returned his attention to the conversation.

As he turned his head, he caught a glimpse of something outside the drawing room window. "Sirius, look," he said, pointing.

An owl fluttered outside. It held a roll of parchment in its claws and hooted angrily as it flew about in circles, clearly confused. "That's a Ministry owl," said Harry, who knew the sort, owing to his less-than-illustrious past with the Underage Magic people.

"And there's another one," said Lupin, pointing. "One for each underage wizard present."

"You'd think the Ministry had better things to do with its time," said Harry, glaring at the owls. They were certain to attract the Muggle neighbours' attention sooner or later. Surely the Ministry would call them back before the strange post owls appeared on the evening news?

"A fine pickle we're in," said Sirius. "One escaped Azkaban convict and two underage boys with the Trace still on them. If I didn't have complete faith in my family's paranoia and Dumbledore's skill, I'd worry we were about to have company."

"What's this Trace thing, anyway?" asked Harry. Malfoy snorted.

"It's a spell that lets the Ministry know where underage magic's been done," explained Lupin. "When you fought those Dementors last summer, that was how they knew."

"But what about second year?" asked Harry. "I didn't do any magic; Dobby did. I still got in trouble."

"House-elf magic is different from regular magic," said Sirius. "I'd wager the Trace was confused, and they sent you a warning just to be on the safe side."

"But this isn't Privet Drive," said Harry. "How would they know it was me?"

"The Trace works in more ways than one," said Lupin, his expression gloomy. Harry suspected there was a story there, but Malfoy's presence prevented Lupin from telling it. Stupid Malfoy.

Harry ended up sending Hedwig to scare the Ministry owls away. She screeched so fiercely and flapped her wings at them with such vigour that eventually the other owls flew off, hooting at one another, as though trying to lay blame for their failed mission.

Lupin stayed for dinner -- sandwiches made with day-old bread and tinned tuna flakes. Harry didn't care what he ate as long as his stomach didn't grumble, but Malfoy refused everything with such a look on his face, one would think they were trying to poison him.

"Your loss," said Sirius after Malfoy refused to take the last sandwich. "You're not going to get much better, I'll tell you that right now. Harry and I can't exactly go up to Diagon Alley for those vials of human blood you love so much."

Harry nearly choked on his sandwich, laughing. Malfoy looked furious. Lupin frowned. He had been doing a lot of that since his arrival, and Harry understood why: he must have been blaming himself for everything. No one could go in or out of the house without risking discovery, which meant that they'd have to live off tinned food and tea for a while. Because the Order members were so scattered and no one knew where Dumbledore was, without a Headquarters, meetings were going to be scarce. It could be days, weeks, or months before anything changed. And it was all Malfoy's fault. Maybe he'll refuse to eat and starve to death, thought Harry viciously.

"Well," said Sirius, patting his belly as he leaned back in the chair. "I think it's time for us to show Mr Malfoy to his quarters. We need to talk Order business."

No sooner had Lupin dissolved Malfoy's bonds that Malfoy launched himself out of the chair, straight at Sirius. Harry's wand was only halfway out when Malfoy tumbled to the floor, screaming with rage, that possessed look distorting his features once more.

Sirius pocketed his wand and stood staring down at him, frowning deeply. "What makes you so sure it was me?" he asked. Malfoy just stared at him with hatred in his drawn, pale face.

"Looks like we'll really need those handcuffs," remarked Harry, who, quite frankly, was beginning to feel a little apprehensive about sharing a room with Malfoy. The prat had clearly gone round the twist after his father's death -- he'd put on a good show earlier, being all quiet in the corner and not speaking unless spoken to, but he would need watching. Harry wasn't going to let him harm Sirius.

They manhandled Malfoy up the stairs to Regulus's room, where Harry and Lupin stood watch over the bed whilst Sirius rummaged in his room for the handcuffs. Once he found them, Lupin cuffed Malfoy to Ron's bed, wearing a most disapproving look. Harry didn't know if he was cross with Malfoy for attacking Sirius or with himself for restraining Malfoy in this way.

Something on the floor caught Harry's eye, and he noticed a piece of coloured parchment peeking out from behind the chest of drawers. As he tugged on it, a picture frame slid out with it. A wizarding photograph. It must have fallen whilst Harry and Sirius had been tearing down all the Voldemort clippings. Harry took the photograph out of the broken frame and examined it. On it were several stern-faced boys in Slytherin robes, leaning on broomsticks. In the middle stood a smaller boy, astonishingly like Sirius in appearance -- the same eyes, the same sardonic grin. He wasn't as handsome as Sirius, but the resemblance was unquestionable. "Is this--?" he asked.

"Yeah, that's Regulus. He became the Slytherin Seeker in second year. Lorded it all over me for the first couple of years, while we were still talking." Sirius took the photograph from Harry, folded it in half, and pocketed it. "Git."

Harry realised then that he could relate to Sirius more than he'd thought: being in school with his braggart Slytherin brother must've been exactly like being in school with Malfoy, except Malfoy hadn't joined the Death Eaters yet. Harry was sure he would, if he ever got the chance. He could only be glad that Malfoy wasn't his brother. Even Dudley had shown signs of reform towards the end, but Harry had no doubt Malfoy was just as bad as his father.

He left the room with Sirius and Lupin. As he shut the door, he saw Sirius looking at him with a frown.

"It's better if you try to get some sleep," he said. "You look like a ghost."

"But you said there was Order business," protested Harry.

"You're not in the Order," muttered Sirius, looking annoyed, but not at Harry. "Dumbledore would skin me if he found out I was telling you stuff."

"Why?" asked Harry, confused. "How am I supposed to help fight Voldemort if I don't know what's going on?"

"That's the thing, Harry," said Lupin. "I don't think Professor Dumbledore intends for you to do any fighting."

"Him or me," said Sirius morosely.

Harry's anger at Dumbledore was swiftly returning. He'd forgotten about Dumbledore ignoring him all year, sticking him with Snape's useless Occlumency lessons, letting Umbridge get away with banning Harry from Quidditch... the list would only get longer if Harry thought about it more, and he wanted to hit something to quell his useless rage. His scar began to prickle. "Fine," he said. "Bye, then," he added, to Lupin, realising he wouldn't see him for a while.

"Good-bye, Harry," said Lupin, kindly, and Harry felt a little guilty for having been so abrupt, but there was nothing for it, now: he already headed towards the bathroom down the corridor. He would take his time brushing his teeth and hope that Malfoy would be asleep by the time he got back. Because if Malfoy said anything stupid, Sirius wouldn't be there to stop Harry from pummelling him.

Harry did feel calmer after getting washed. He walked along the corridor to Regulus's bedroom, wondering what this place must've been like when Sirius was growing up. He heard voices, and assumed that they were in the drawing room downstairs -- he was just two floors above it -- but realised they were coming from Sirius's bedroom. Harry slowed and paused by the door, listening.

"...Malfoy was able to catch me, someone else might, too. After today, I won't be surprised if Fudge sends people here," Lupin was saying. "They might be out there already."

"So stay," said Sirius. "Moony--"

Harry dashed across the hall, not wanting to listen further. They weren't discussing Order business. Because of Malfoy, Sirius and Lupin wouldn't be able to see each other. They had lost thirteen years of friendship because of Peter Pettigrew's treachery, and now they were being forced apart again. It was Harry's fault as much as Malfoy's. But it was purely Malfoy's fault that Harry, too, would be separated from his best friends until the Order worked out a way to get Harry and Sirius out. If they ever did.

Harry stomped into Regulus's bedroom, seething with renewed anger, but Malfoy was fast asleep in Ron's bed. Or maybe pretending to be asleep. Harry walked closer to him, stepping carefully. Malfoy's handcuffed wrist was a dark, angry pink; he must have struggled to get out of it for a long time before giving up. It was right, in a way, that Malfoy should be foiled by something as mundane as a pair of handcuffs. Maybe it would teach him not to consider all things Muggle beneath him, like his father and his master did. Not that Harry was holding his breath.


In the morning, Lupin was gone, and Sirius wore a sullen look as he came into Regulus's room to bind Malfoy's hands. "We've got to work out another way to keep him from lunging at me every time he sees me."

Harry rubbed his eyes, swinging his legs off the bed. He'd slept surprisingly well, and though the room's decorations were far from an optimal sight to wake up to, he did feel rested. From where he sat, Malfoy resembled an angry Chihuahua, the way he glowered at Sirius. Harry yawned. "Maybe we could use something like a Bubblehead Charm," he suggested. "Only put all of Malfoy in it, not just his head."

They walked downstairs to the kitchen, Harry all but pushing Malfoy to walk forward. Breakfast was dry toast with tea, again. This, Malfoy didn't refuse, though Harry imagined it was very uncomfortable to eat with his hands bound like that. Served him right.

"I wonder," said Sirius, staring at Kreacher's cupboard. "Remember how Kreacher used to steal back the things we threw out last year?"

"Yeah," replied Harry. "What about them?"

"I think we ought to have a look through them. Make sure he didn't steal anything that lets him talk to the outside world." With that, Sirius got up and approached the cupboard that Kreacher called home. Kreacher wasn't inside, and after a few exclamations of disgust, Sirius pulled out a nest of tattered blankets, piled high with rubbish.

Harry got up from the table and crouched next to Sirius, who was looking at a picture of Narcissa Malfoy. She was young in the photograph, hardly older than Harry, her cool blue eyes and silver-blond hair unmistakable. Her expression was unfamiliar, though -- she was smiling. All Harry remembered of Narcissa was a sour twist to her mouth and tightly drawn brows. The girl in the picture looked... normal, and really pretty.

"She was a sweet girl until she got sorted into Slytherin and turned into a horrendous snob," said Sirius. "Here," he added, and slid the photograph across the floor so that it bumped against Malfoy's chair leg. "That's your mother before she married your father. I'm sure you'll notice the difference right away."

"I'm going to kill you," said Malfoy in a dull voice. He was staring down at his mother's picture with a look of such anguish that Harry felt the barest hint of unease.

"Tell us something we haven't heard already," snapped Sirius, lifting a heavy golden locket from the pile. "Look at this, Harry."

"That's the one we couldn't get to open," said Harry, remembering. They'd been sitting on the floor of the drawing room, surrounded by trinkets and vials and boxes of Wartcap powder. Ron and Hermione had been there, too -- that had been just before those purple robes tried to strangle Ron...

A howl of fury sounded from the entrance, and Harry jumped. Kreacher stood in the doorway, his eyes bulging as he took in Sirius kneeling next to the blanket nest.

"Blood traitor Master Sirius not worthy to be holding precious Master Regulus's treasure," Kreacher muttered in his usual undertone. "And so close to the half-blood, too."

"This was Regulus's?" Sirius asked, looking avidly at Kreacher. "Where did he get it?"

"Kreacher swore not to tell. Kreacher shan't betray Master Regulus's secrets. Kreacher promised."

"Kreacher," said Sirius. "I order you to tell me where Regulus got this locket."

Kreacher's mouth opened and closed, his tongue lolling out briefly. Harry almost pitied him.

"Master Regulus got the locket in a cave," said Kreacher finally.

"A cave? What sort of cave?" asked Sirius. The locket dangling from his fingers made him look like a hypnotist.

"A dark cave," said Kreacher, his eyes glinting with what Harry could swear was mischief.

Sirius wasn't having any of it, though. "I order you to tell me the whole story of how Regulus came to have this locket. Now. Leave nothing out."

Kreacher's ears twitched, his eyes bulged, and he let out the most frightening sound Harry had ever heard: an anguished, heart-rending wail that echoed in the cavernous kitchen. "KREACHER DID WRONG! KREACHER FAILED! KREACHER FAILED HIS MASTER!" The elf ran to the nearest wall and began smacking his head against it, rattling the pots and pans hanging on pegs above.

Harry lurched forward and tugged the wriggling elf away from the wall. He had trouble maintaining a grip, because Kreacher seemed so intent on reaching the wall that it had made him twice as strong as Harry was. "Sirius," gasped Harry. "You've got to tell him to stop punishing himself!"

"Kreacher, STOP!" shouted Sirius.

The elf went limp against Harry's chest, tiny and feeble once more. Tears leaked from his eyes. "Kreacher f-f-failed," he whimpered. "Master Regulus."

Harry hadn't seen an elf so distraught since Mr Crouch had freed Winky. He kept his hold on Kreacher, who didn't seem to notice that "the half-blood" was touching him. He stared at Sirius and took great gulps of air. Harry saw that even Sirius seemed shaken by Kreacher's outburst, a far cry from his usual low-level mutinous grumbling.

"Tell me everything, Kreacher," said Sirius in a softer voice. "What did my brother order you to do?"

"Master Sirius broke my Mistress's heart," rasped Kreacher. "But Kreacher must obey him, for Master Regulus is no more." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "Master Regulus joined the great Dark Lord when he was sixteen years old."

Harry glanced at Malfoy, who sat motionlessly at the table, his pale face drawn as he stared at the elf in Harry's arms. Malfoy's eyes were identical to Sirius's, Harry noticed, with some consternation: he didn't like remembering his godfather was related to that.

"The Dark Lord entrusted Master Regulus with many important tasks. A year after he joined, Master Regulus visited Kreacher and said that the Dark Lord required an elf to serve him. It was a great honour. Master Regulus told Kreacher to come back straightaway, and Kreacher went gladly to the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord took Kreacher to a cave by the sea, a dark dank cave with a great black lake. There was a boat. The Dark Lord took Kreacher to a small island in the boat. On the island was a basin, and in the basin was a potion."

Kreacher let out a whimpering cry, and his head thumped against Harry's chest. "The Dark Lord made Kreacher drink the potion, the bitter, bitter potion. He did not tell Kreacher why. Kreacher did as he was told, because Master Regulus said it was an honour to serve. The potion made Kreacher see terrible things happening to Master Regulus, to Mistress Black, to Miss Bella and Miss Cissy. Kreacher cried for Master Regulus, but the Dark Lord laughed at Kreacher and told him to drink the potion, drink it all up until it was gone."

Harry clutched the elf tighter, trying to imagine what it must've been like, being so small and frail, being forced to take poison -- for he was sure it had been poison in the basin...

"When the potion was all gone, the Dark Lord dropped a locket into the basin and filled it with more potion. Kreacher was afraid the Dark Lord would make him drink the potion again, but the Dark Lord left Kreacher on the island and sailed away. The potion made Kreacher thirsty, so thirsty. Kreacher drank from the black lake, but dead things came out of the water and dragged Kreacher under..."

Another sob wracked the house-elf, and Harry held him tighter still, pity mingling with distaste.

"Kreacher would have died to serve his master, but Master Regulus had told Kreacher to come back," continued Kreacher. "So Kreacher went back."

"How?" asked Harry. Surely Voldemort would have protected a place such as that with anti-Disapparition jinxes...

"Apparated," Sirius replied instead of Kreacher. "House-elves can Apparate where wizards can't. Think Hogwarts."

"Kreacher went home," muttered Kreacher, who hadn't seemed to notice their exchange. "Kreacher told Master Regulus everything. Kreacher punished himself because his tale made Master Regulus very upset. Master Regulus forbade Kreacher to punish himself, and he forbade Kreacher to leave the house, just like nasty Master Sirius did yesterday."

"And then what happened?" asked Sirius. He was leaning forward, his face pale. "What did Regulus do?"

"Master Regulus visited Kreacher again, and he was not himself. Very upset. He asked Kreacher to take him to the cave. Kreacher remembered how to get into the cave, and he helped Master Regulus, for Master Regulus could not Apparate inside. Kreacher and Master Regulus sailed to the island and-- and--"

Kreacher let out a harsh cry of despair, and began to shake his head from side to side. "Master Regulus gave Kreacher a locket like the one the Dark Lord had," he half-whispered. "He told Kreacher to switch the lockets when the basin was empty."

"How were you supposed to do that if you drank the potion?" demanded Sirius. "My brother--"

"Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to leave... without him... once the locket was inside. And he told Kreacher never to tell anyone, not even my Mistress, of what he had done. And he told Kreacher to destroy the first locket, the one the Dark Lord had put there."

Kreacher sagged back against Harry's chest and wept. "Kreacher watched... Master Regulus... drink the potion... and Kreacher swapped the lockets... and then the dead things..."

Another wail escaped the elf, and he began to gibber, shaking, whimpering, thrashing his tiny limbs. Harry clutched him as he cast Sirius a helpless glance. But Sirius stared down at the golden locket in his palm, his eyes wide, looking like he had aged decades since Kreacher's tale had begun.

"My brother," he said, and Kreacher went stiff and very still.

Harry glanced down at the elf, afraid that he'd died of shock, but saw that he, too, was looking at Sirius, his eyes still full of tears.

"Regulus," said Sirius. "I didn't know."

Kreacher stretched out a thin hand towards Sirius. "Kreacher tried to destroy the locket like Master Regulus told him to," he rasped. "Kreacher failed."

Harry glanced from Sirius to Kreacher, not sure what was passing between them at that moment, but surely it was something important, something to do with Voldemort. "Sirius," he said, tentatively. "Didn't you tell me your brother got cold feet after joining the Death Eaters, and Voldemort killed him?"

"That was what everyone whispered," said Sirius. He looked up at Harry. "I had no reason to doubt it. Voldemort wasn't exactly known for merely bragging about murdering people, whether they were his followers or not."

Harry's mind whirled. "But your brother didn't just get cold feet. He defied Voldemort. He stole that locket." He remembered Sirius telling him, last night, that Dumbledore hadn't wanted Regulus's stuff removed from his room. Did Dumbledore know what had happened to Regulus?

Sirius clutched the locket in his fist. "Damn you, Regulus. Damn you, why did you have to do everything yourself? We could've--"

Kreacher began to sob again. "Too late! Too late for Master Regulus! Too late for Master Sirius! Too late for my poor heart-broken Mistress Black!"

"Calm down," said Sirius, and Kreacher fell silent. Harry thought he had gone about it a bit quicker than usual, though he couldn't be sure. Sirius looked up at Harry. "If this locket belonged to Voldemort and he prized it enough to guard it with a lakeful of Inferi--"

"Of what?" asked Harry.

"Inferi, Potter," spoke Malfoy, and Harry jumped: he'd forgotten all about Malfoy. "Reanimated dead bodies."

"But-- how?" asked Harry, horrified. "You can't bring back the dead."

"They're not alive," said Sirius. "Just moving. Like puppets. But that isn't the point. Voldemort needed to hide this locket, to protect it. Whatever the reason, it scared Regulus so much that he died to take it away."

"Dead and gone," intoned Kreacher. "First Master Black, then Master Regulus, then Mistress Black..."

"We'll have to finish it," said Harry. "Destroy the locket. Pity we don't know what it is or why it's important."

Sirius held the locket on his open palm. "Yeah," he said. "We'll destroy it." Then he gave a loud yell, and the locket tumbled to the floor. "Merlin's arse!"

"What happened?" asked Harry, setting Kreacher down onto the floor, hoping he wouldn't run at any more walls. Kreacher began to rock back and forth, scarcely seeming to notice anything around him.

"It got hot," said Sirius, displaying an ugly red welt on his palm. "Burned me."

"Kreacher has tried everything," said Kreacher. "The way to destroy the locket is to open it, but it has never opened for Kreacher."

Harry picked up the locket by the chain and lifted it up so it dangled in front of his eyes. An ornate S decorated it, shaped like a miniature snake. His scar began to throb. "Voldemort," he said without taking his eyes off the locket. "Voldemort is nearby."

Sirius snatched the locket out of Harry's hand. Abruptly, the pain in Harry's scar stopped. He touched it with his fingertips and looked at Sirius. "My scar hurt," he said. "And now it doesn't. What does that mean?"

"It means this thing definitely belongs to Voldemort," said Sirius. He held the locket by its chain. "For all I know, he's watching us through it."

"Don't say that," said Harry. "If he could watch us through it, it would mean the Fidelius Charm no longer works."

"It's Voldemort," said Sirius, throwing the locket back to the floor. "Let's get rid of it. Confringo!"

The Blasting Curse erupted from the tip of Sirius's wand, a whizzing bar of white. It hit the locket with a shower of bright sparks. Harry exhaled. When the sparks disappeared, the locket still lay on the floor, unharmed.

"No use; it's no use," said Kreacher. "Kreacher has tried that. Kreacher has tried everything. The way to destroy the locket is to open it."

"We'd all taken turns to open it," said Harry, remembering. "Nothing worked. Hermione even tried using Arithmancy to work out if the pattern of the stones was a password. Then she tried French."

"Did you try Parseltongue, too?" asked Sirius, grinning for the first time since Kreacher had appeared in the kitchen.

Harry grinned back. "Don't think I did."

Malfoy made a noise, and Harry saw that he was trying to move further away from Harry, manoeuvring the chair backwards, his bound hands flailing awkwardly. Harry remembered the last time he'd used Parseltongue in front of Malfoy, commanding the snake Malfoy had conjured to leave Justin Finch-Fletchley alone. He found that he very much wanted to scare and unsettle Malfoy, and so he stared at the locket, imagining that the jewelled S was a snake.

"Open up," he said, and though he heard English, the sick dread curling in the pit of his stomach told him he had succeeded.

The locket snapping open was his second clue.

Kreacher let out a horrible scream and fell backwards, his great eyes staring at the locket in disbelief. Smoke poured from the locket's open halves, greenish-grey smoke that rose in a column towards the ceiling as though moulded by invisible hands. Malfoy tumbled out of his chair and crawled underneath the table, whimpering. An odd combination of decay and ozone filled the air. The smoke began to coalesce, taking the shape of two people standing side by side. Its greenish veil lifted suddenly, like a screen being pulled away from a window, and Harry was looking at James and Lily Potter, lifelike but insubstantial. The last time he'd seen them had been more than a year ago, but he didn't remember their eyes being so empty. Something familiar darkled in that dead emptiness, but he could barely think: his scar pulsed with pain, and he struggled to keep his eyes open.

James stared down at Sirius, who had shrunk back against Kreacher's cupboard, his hand clutching his chest. "It's all your fault," he told Sirius. "We trusted you, Padfoot, and you chose that worm Pettigrew to protect us. You did it. It's your fault."

His arm rested possessively around Lily's waist, and Harry wanted to force it off her. Wherever the apparition had come from, it wasn't his father; Harry was certain. "Don't listen to him," said Harry, but Sirius didn't hear him.

"I know," he said, gazing up at James's accusing face with raw anguish. "You think I don't? I'm sorry, Prongs. You'll never know how sorry I am. It should have been me."

"Sirius, don't listen to him!" yelled Harry. "This isn't Dad -- Sirius, look at me. Look at me!" He began to panick. Sirius had to look away, because this was all wrong. If Sirius listened to the fake James Potter, he would become lost forever.

"But of course I am your father, Harry," said the figure, turning its hateful gaze on him. "You look just like me."

"You aren't my dad," said Harry, defiant. "My dad would never blame Sirius."

"Who else would we blame?" asked his mother's voice, and Harry felt a wave of guilt, harsh and acrid in the pit of his belly. Lily Potter's voice was soft and lilting, just like Harry had always known it would be. He gazed at her, taking in her beautiful face, her flame-red hair, her eyes the same ones he saw in the mirror every morning. "Mum," he whispered. His hands trembled. A whispering light filled him from the inside. It told him that everything would be all right now -- his parents were here to protect him, he didn't need Sirius any more... so why not kill him? Get rid of the traitor who led to his parents' deaths...

A hand on his shoulder ripped Harry from the confused haze, and he realised he hadn't been breathing at all. Sirius took him by the shoulders and shook him, hard. "Harry. It's a trick, a mind-trap. Look at me."

Harry, remembering that he had just been blithely thinking about murdering Sirius, stared into his godfather's face. Still it took all his willpower not to look at his mother again. "We've got to close it again," he panted.

"Kreacher," said Mrs Black's voice, soothing, not at all like her usual harsh caw. "Kreacher is such a good little elf."

"M-M-Mistress?" Kreacher knelt before the locket, his eyes full of awe.

"Yes, Kreacher, I'm here now, I'm back. You've been a good elf--"

Harry put his hands over Kreacher's eyes. No longer afraid, he looked up at the smoke figure, which shaped itself once more into his mother. He was not afraid because he understood: the thing was pleading for its life. It would never have turned to Kreacher -- the sort of being whose magical ability Voldemort considered beneath his notice -- unless it were desperate. It couldn't do anything but try and manipulate their minds, and Harry remembered Ginny's words to him: he can't take over unless you let him. "You can't bring the dead back to life," he said. "Not even Voldemort can do that."

"You dare to question what the Dark Lord--"

"My mother would never call him that," said Harry, letting go of Kreacher and rising to his feet. "She hated Voldemort. She hated you."

"She was a Mudblood who might've lived if it hadn't been for you," said James's figure, appearing behind Lily once more. "The Dark Lord is merciful. He would have spared her. Snape begged him to, did you know?"

"Did you know I was fucking Snape, in secret?" asked Lily in a harsh voice. "Pity you look so much like your father. I should've liked my first-born to be Severus's. He deserved to have an heir, half-blood or not." Next to her, James laughed.

Harry was shaking, but he knew that these were twisted lies, thoughts plucked from his own mind and deformed to make him weak. "Close," he said, picturing the locket's ornate S in his mind. The locket snapped shut.

Sirius fell back against the cupboard, panting as though he'd just run a marathon. "What in the name of thunder was that?" he asked, directing the question to the air around him.

"Voldemort," said Harry with conviction. "I didn't understand it at first, but it was like Tom Riddle's diary in the Chamber of Secrets. Only... weaker. Tom Riddle's ghost fed off Ginny, so it got stronger as she grew weaker."

"You think James and Lily -- you think they were Voldemort?"

"Not exactly," said Harry. "A memory of Voldemort, somehow. His spirit."

"But how did he become -- them?" asked Sirius, frowning.

"How does Voldemort do anything?" It struck Harry that he'd recently said something similar about Dumbledore.

"Kreacher saw his Mistress," croaked Kreacher. "But it was not Kreacher's mistress at all. Kreacher knew, but Kreacher couldn't help himself. Kreacher did wrong again. Kreacher saw the open locket and Kreacher did nothing."

"It isn't your fault, Kreacher," Harry told him. Kreacher looked up at him, distrustful, but without his usual contempt.

"Harry Potter knows how to destroy the locket," he said.

"I think so," said Harry. "After Lucius Malfoy put the diary in Ginny's cauldron, after it took over her mind, she tried to destroy it many times, but nothing worked." He looked at Malfoy, who was trying to climb back onto his chair, looking for all the world like he tried to mount chairs with his hands bound every day. "I thought you might like to remember that," said Harry viciously. "How your precious father made Ron's kid sister go through hell, just because she was there."

"You shut up about my father," muttered Malfoy. He knelt next to the chair, his hands resting on top of the seat.

Harry opened his mouth to retort, but Sirius got to his feet. "Never mind Malfoy, Harry. How did you destroy the diary?"

Harry sighed. "I stabbed it with a Basilisk fang."

"A Basilisk fang," repeated Sirius.

"The Basilisk who guarded the Chamber of Secrets," explained Harry. "I pulled its fang out of my arm and stuck it in the diary."

"Oh, please," said Malfoy. "What a ridiculous lie."

"I'm not lying," said Harry. "Just because you can't believe it doesn't mean it didn't happen."

Malfoy rolled his eyes, and Harry turned back to Sirius, scowling. "The fang made the diary bleed," he said. "Like it was alive."

Sirius's eyes widened. "And then Voldemort was gone?"

"He was," said Harry. "He just vanished."

"I don't suppose you've got another Basilisk fang in your trunk upstairs, have you?" asked Sirius.

"Left it in my other trunk, sorry," replied Harry. They grinned at each other.

"We need Dumbledore," said Sirius. "He'll know what to do. He always does."

"But how can he come here? What if he gets captured?" Harry glared at Malfoy. The other boy had, in the meantime, given up on reclaiming his seat, and sat slumped against a table leg, staring at the floor.

"He's Dumbledore," said Sirius. "He'll think of something. Expecto Patronum! " A great silvery-white dog bounded out from the air, skidding to a halt in front of Sirius. "Dumbledore. We've found an object that's just like Riddle's diary. Need to see you."

Sirius's Patronus leapt into the fireplace and disappeared. Sirius and Harry looked at the locket lying on the floor. It seemed so harmless -- a valuable trinket, nothing more. Just as Riddle's diary had seemed like a simple notebook to poor Ginny. "What should we do with it in the meantime?" asked Harry. He was afraid to touch it.

Sirius frowned. "Kreacher's done a good job of keeping it safe. He didn't even let us throw it out when we tried. We should let Kreacher keep it until it can be destroyed."

Kreacher, who had just got up off the floor and had been muttering something, stopped. Slowly, his eyes lifted to meet Sirius's. "Master Sirius would give Kreacher Master Regulus's locket?" he said, his voice trembling.

"As long as you give it back when we have to destroy it, sure," said Sirius. "It's what my brother would have wanted."

Kreacher drew himself up. "Kreacher is honoured by his Master's confidence."

"Take it, then," said Sirius. "Keep it safe."

Kreacher plucked the locket off the floor and began to slip it round his neck, but stopped. "Kreacher has tried that before," he mumbled. "Kreacher sensed it was a bad idea to wear Master Regulus's locket. Why is Kreacher trying again?" His remarks were obviously not for anyone around him, but Harry wondered once more about the differences between house-elf magic and wizard magic. The house-elves could Apparate where wizards could not, and apparently they could also sense evil where wizards felt none. Harry had sensed Voldemort's evil in it, too, but only because of his curse scar. He wished Hermione were there.

Kreacher climbed into his cupboard, clutching the locket, and did not re-emerge.

Sirius wore a haunted look as he stared after the house-elf. "I'll just go up to my bedroom for a bit," he said, and stumbled out of the kitchen without waiting for a reply. Somewhere in the house, a clock chimed: it was already noon.

"How do you stand it?" asked Malfoy. He made for a sorry sight, sitting on the floor with his bound hands in his lap, staring up at Harry with a look of apprehension.

"What?" asked Harry. He didn't want to talk to Malfoy. He wanted to talk to Dumbledore. Dumbledore had known more about Riddle's diary...

"Pitting yourself against the Dark Lord," replied Malfoy. "How can you keep doing it?"

Harry let out an exasperated sigh. "What am I supposed to do? I fight him, or I die. You don't get it, do you, Malfoy? You have no idea what it's like."

Malfoy continued to look at him, undaunted. "Why does he want you so much? You're nothing special."

"You should tell him that," said Harry, amused despite himself. Even a bound prisoner, Malfoy managed to remain as rude as ever. "Maybe he'll listen to you and leave me alone."

He wanted to follow Sirius upstairs, to be alone, to think, but somebody had to keep an eye on Malfoy. Harry thought about how he was going to move Malfoy without magic, but saw no alternative to doing it physically, which was not high on the list of things he wanted to do that day. He'd just stay in the kitchen and wait for Sirius.


"Now what?" snapped Harry, glancing at him.

Malfoy's jaw tightened. "Will you give me my mother's picture? I can't reach it."

Harry looked at the picture lying just a few feet away from where Malfoy sat now. He picked it up, marvelling once more at how different Narcissa had looked in her youth. Malfoy looked nothing like her, though, aside from the hair. He was tempted to throw the picture even further out of Malfoy's reach, but that was something Malfoy would've done if their roles were switched. He bent down and placed the photograph into Malfoy's hands. Malfoy's fingers clutched the frame tightly, and he said no more.


Sirius's decision to let Kreacher keep the locket -- and, Harry suspected, his reaction to the story of his brother's death -- effected a considerable change in Kreacher's attitude. When Sirius and Harry took Malfoy down to breakfast the next morning, they walked into a kitchen Aunt Petunia could have been proud of. The pots and pans along the wall gleamed. The fireplace had been cleaned out and lit. On the stove cooled a pot of aromatic coffee, and the table held an enormous platter piled high with miniature pieces of bread layered with chunks of tuna.

Kreacher stood in the doorway, bowing low, his dirty loincloth replaced with a pristine white one. "Breakfast is served, Master."

As the day went on, Harry began to notice that the rest of the house was turning liveable. By evening, all cobwebs had gone, the curtains had been laundered, and the drawing room sofa -- the most oft-used piece of furniture in the house these days -- appeared to have been reupholstered, its cushions no longer lumpy.

It was there that Harry and Sirius sat, with Malfoy tucked into the furthest corner, when a bright silver bird -- a phoenix! -- appeared in front of them. "I will be there as soon as I can," said the bird in Dumbledore's voice. "Keep it safe." The Patronus vanished, and Harry stared at the place it had been, imagining he could still see its wispy outline.

Harry felt his anger stirring again. Dumbledore cared more about the stupid locket than he did about Harry, it seemed -- three full days had passed since Harry's escape from the Dursleys', but Dumbledore had sent no word. And even now, he didn't seem to care about where Harry was, what he was doing. It made Harry feel like when Ron had refused to believe him about putting his name into the Goblet of Fire. Like he'd lost a friend.

Sirius's voice broke into Harry's gloomy thoughts. "I think our esteemed guest needs a bath," he said, wrinkling his nose with a glance at Malfoy.

Harry couldn't smell anything, but he did notice that Malfoy's hair was beginning to resemble Snape's in texture. "All right," he said, eager to do something other than fume at Dumbledore.

For once, Malfoy made no protest as they shoved him into the upstairs bathroom. Harry remained outside to make sure Malfoy didn't slip out and go for Sirius's throat, whilst Sirius went back to his bedroom, looking preoccupied. Harry's thoughts drifted to Ron and Hermione, and what they must be doing, and whether or not they knew that Harry had left the Dursleys. They weren't in the Order, either, so who knew if Mr and Mrs Weasley had seen it fit to inform their son about his best friend's fate.

After a while, Harry realised that the shower had fallen silent, and from the way the silence weighed on him, he judged it hadn't been running for a while. He got up from the floor and tried the door. It wouldn't open. Harry pounded on it. "What are you doing in there?" he demanded. "Open up, now!" A crash and a muffled oath came from the bathroom, but the door didn't budge.

Sirius ran out of his bedroom, looking around wildly. "What's going on?"

"Malfoy won't open the door," said Harry, rattling the doorknob.

"Alohomora!" said Sirius, and the door banged open.

Malfoy stood in front of the bathtub, wrapped in a towel and holding his clothes protectively over his chest. His legs were almost comically thin underneath the bulky towel; he looked like a child. His damp hair stuck to his face. "I was just finishing up," he said, with a look so guilty that Harry knew he had not been finishing up. He glanced around the bathroom, but there were no windows; nothing Malfoy might try to use in escaping.

"You're up to something," Harry told him. "Don't think you can fool us."

"Incarcerous", said Sirius, waving his wand. Thick ropes fastened round Malfoy's shoulders, pinning his hands, clothes and all, to his chest. "I don't even know why we keep doing it. It's not like he can hurt me without his wand."

"Better safe than sorry," said Harry. "He might strangle you in your sleep."

They pushed Malfoy down the corridor to Regulus's bedroom, and for once he went along without protest. Probably hoping to lull Sirius, let him think he wasn't in danger. Malfoy changed into a pair of Regulus's old pyjamas behind a privacy screen, and climbed into bed without a word.

"I don't mean at night," said Sirius as he fastened Malfoy's wrist to the bed. "But during the day -- we're watching him, anyway. It's seriously annoying to keep dragging him round everywhere."

"We could just leave him here," said Harry, gesturing around the bedroom. "Now that Kreacher seems to like you again, maybe he won't help Malfoy even if Malfoy begs him to."

"I dunno," said Sirius, pocketing his wand. "Maybe Dumbledore will take him off our hands. He's heard way too much already. There's no way we're ever letting Malfoy go back to Voldemort."

Harry hadn't even thought about Dumbledore being able to take Malfoy away and give Harry and Sirius some peace and quiet. He suddenly looked forward to Dumbledore's visit, all his apprehensions melted at the prospect of finally seeing the back of Malfoy. He grabbed a towel and headed for the bathroom, which he first inspected to make sure Malfoy hadn't set any traps for him. He even sniffed the shampoo, but all appeared in order.

After his shower, Harry went back into Regulus's room, hoping that Malfoy would be asleep again. With luck, Dumbledore would get here tomorrow, and Harry wouldn't need to listen to Malfoy's stupid breathing as he fell asleep, nor hear his stupid mutterings about his mother and his father when Malfoy was dreaming. Whatever ill befell the Malfoys, they'd brought it all on themselves, and Harry wouldn't care about them no matter how much Malfoy called for his mother in his sleep.

He was so lost in thought that it didn't register at first -- Malfoy was not sleeping. He was lying on top of the covers, his right arm raised by the handcuffs. He'd managed to push down Regulus's pyjama bottoms and was wanking with his left hand, his eyes half-closed.

"What the hell are you doing?" demanded Harry, disgusted. Malfoy's cock was a long, pink thing, revolting. The way it glistened with pre-come made Harry think of a slug.

Malfoy's eyes flew open, and his hand covered his cock protectively. He sneered. "You didn't let me finish when I had privacy, so what was I supposed to do?" His face was flushed. "I thought you'd have realised what I was doing."

"I didn't," said Harry, mortified. He had been so certain that Malfoy spent every waking moment trying to plot an escape that it didn't even occur to him that Malfoy might've simply been wanking. But he hadn't thought about Malfoy wanking before. Also, he didn't want to think about it ever again. "You could've just said something," he muttered. "What are you, some kind of pervert?" A weird, feverish chill crisscrossed Harry's spine as he recalled the image of Malfoy thrusting up into his hand. Ugh.

Malfoy gave a one-armed shrug, closing his eyes again. "Never knew Gryffindors were such a prudish lot." He squeezed the tip of his cock and continued to work over it, steady and quick.

Harry demonstratively turned his back to him. If wanting privacy made him prudish, then maybe he was. If Malfoy was so willing to show off his cock, nothing should've stopped him from telling Harry to let him finish his wank whilst he was still in the bathroom. Though maybe Malfoy hadn't wanted Sirius to know. Still, it was disgusting. As if he had something to show off, anyway. It was no larger than a twig.

As Harry prepared for bed, though, he caught himself thinking about turning back and watching Malfoy some more. His initial surprise aside, it had been fascinating to see someone else wanking -- Harry guessed he would've preferred it if it were a girl fingering herself, but this was okay, too. Of course, he wasn't going to watch Malfoy -- Malfoy might think something stupid, like Harry was gay or something. He wanted to, though, and there was nothing wrong with that: watching didn't mean anything.

Keeping his back to Malfoy, Harry killed the lights and climbed into bed. In the silence that followed, he could hear Malfoy's breathing quickening, the rhythmic slap-slap-slap of his hand growing more frantic, the handcuffs clinking against the bed frame. Harry's own hand slipped past the waistband of his pyjamas and curled round his cock, hard and waiting. Malfoy's bedsprings creaked in protest, the handcuffs knocking harder, and Harry squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out those sounds and tell himself he was not having a wank with Malfoy doing the same only a few feet away from him.

Except he totally was, but he wasn't doing it because of Malfoy. Malfoy had simply reminded him that Harry hadn't wanked in ages -- he'd had things on his mind. Harry tried to think of girls, but he didn't even need to -- pleasure danced through his lower belly, making its slow and lazy way towards his cock and balls, filling Harry with warmth. He moved very slowly -- the last thing he wanted was for Malfoy to notice. It was uncomfortable, and soon Harry realised that he would never come like this. He wanted to lie back with his legs spread, like Malfoy, or at least brace himself like he usually did in the shower, so he could thrust into his hand. But though he knew he wouldn't come like this, he was so turned on that he was reluctant to stop.

Behind him, Malfoy gave a strangled little yelp and thrashed about for a few moments, then all was quiet. Harry stopped moving his hand, just squeezing the head of his cock between thumb and forefinger, not wanting Malfoy to hear him rustling around. It wasn't enough, though, and Harry was sure his balls would explode soon if he didn't come. And that would be Malfoy's fault, too.

"Potter," said Malfoy. Harry froze once more. Had he noticed...?

"What do you want?" he mumbled.

"A towel."

Harry turned around with a look of disbelief, and wiped his clammy hand on his pyjamas. He couldn't see Malfoy in the dark, but he could picture the pinched, expectant expression on his face. "You want a towel."

"Yes. In case you're unfamiliar with masturbation, stuff comes out of you at the end of it. I want to wipe it off."

"Use your sheets," said Harry, annoyed at Malfoy's mocking tone. "Use your cover, your pillow, I don't care. I'm not getting up to fetch you towels, Malfoy."

"It's your fault I couldn't finish in the bathroom," insisted Malfoy. "So you should bring me a towel."

"I am not," growled Harry, "bringing you a towel." He put his pillow over his head and drew the blanket high over himself. He was still hard, and that made him even more frustrated. He wanted to go back to the bathroom and finish it, but if he got out of bed, Malfoy might think he had won, and Harry wasn't going to let him win. He would just wait for his hard-on to subside and try to sleep, and then tomorrow, he would leave Malfoy with Sirius and spend the whole morning with his hand down his pants. In private.

But Malfoy did not let up. Just as Harry would begin to drift off, he would complain loudly that he would never be able to sleep like this, or that he was going to get a horrible skin rash and die and it would be on Harry's conscience, or that he was going to scream for help and see if Sirius would be more willing to help than Harry. When Malfoy started in on how Harry didn't know anything about the proper treatment owed to prisoners of war, Harry had had enough.

"FINE!" he yelled, swinging off the bed. "But tomorrow, we're going to find more handcuffs and keep both your hands away from yourself." He lit the overhead gas lamp and threw Malfoy the towel he'd discarded earlier. Malfoy cleaned himself off, and as Harry watched the towel slide over Malfoy's chest and belly, he felt with mounting horror that he was getting hard again. After Malfoy threw the towel on the floor and wriggled back into his pyjamas, and then under the covers, Harry killed the lamp and climbed back into bed, bewildered and a little bit ashamed. His mind kept wandering to the sight of Malfoy, handcuffed and helpless, his cock resting against his belly, surrounded by thick blond curls.

When Harry finally slept, his dreams were filled with great columns of smoke that turned into his mother, screaming at him to bring her a towel. His mother turned into Sirius, an evil light gleaming in his eyes as a heavy golden locket swung from his outstretched fingers. Sirius became Dumbledore, standing in the middle of a black lake filled with dead faces, all of them Cedric's. Malfoy chased him through Grimmauld Place, wielding a flyswatter and demanding that Harry tell him where he had hidden Kreacher's old loincloth. Harry stumbled over the troll's leg umbrella and fell into a bed, where Malfoy lay naked beneath green-and-silver gauze. He turned his face to Harry, but it was Cho's face, blood trickling from the corners of her eyes.

Harry awoke with a scream, panting, clutching his pillow like a lifeline. The sheets beneath him were soggy, and as he reached down to adjust his cock, his fingers met a sticky mess: something that always embarrassed him but rarely happened anymore. Breathing heavily, he struggled to his hands and knees and sat back, staring at the Black family crest above his bed.

"There are potions for nightmares," said Malfoy, his voice grouchy. "Really, Potter, don't you know how to take care of yourself? I was having such a nice dream, too. You died in it."

"Shut up," said Harry, unwilling to look at him. The things he'd dreamt about had involved Malfoy in various states of undress, he remembered that, and he felt ashamed for having dreamt them. He'd never had such dreams about Ron, even though he'd seen Ron naked hundreds of times. Somehow, it was Malfoy's doing. He'd done something to Harry to make him dream those things. When Harry figured out what it was, he would make Malfoy pay.

The door burst open, and Harry turned around to see Sirius in the doorway, his hair wild. "I heard screaming," he said. "Is everything all right?"

"Had a nightmare," said Harry, climbing off the bed.

"Voldemort?" asked Sirius.

Harry shook his head, fingering his scar. It hadn't hurt much over the past few days, and that worried him. If Voldemort wasn't bending all his will on finding Harry, what was he doing? Trying to set another trap for Harry, a real one this time? His heart dropped as he thought of Ron and Hermione. He hoped they would be safe. "Just a regular old nightmare. I saw Cho," he added. "She was dead."

"Your girlfriend?" asked Sirius.

"Not really," admitted Harry. "We broke up. I hope she isn't really dead, though."

"That's our Potter, a true gentleman," remarked Malfoy. Harry and Sirius looked at him, and he seemed to shrink back a little.

"Right," said Sirius, frowning down at Malfoy. "I think you'll have to make a choice, little Malfoy. Either you remain handcuffed to that bed until Dumbledore relieves us of your company, or you will stop trying to attack me every time your hands are free. Choose now."

Malfoy glared at Sirius, and Harry was startled by the renewed deep hatred in his eyes. "I'll be nice," said Malfoy. "For now. But you will pay for killing my father."

"I didn't kill your father," said Sirius as he uncuffed Malfoy. "But whatever helps you sleep at night."

Malfoy circled his right wrist with his left hand and rubbed it, and Harry's memory flashed with the image of that same hand on Malfoy's cock. He was never going to forget that, was he? Stupid Malfoy. "We'll still cuff him at night, though, right?" he asked Sirius, who nodded.

In the kitchen, Kreacher was already waiting with breakfast. "Kreacher apologises," he croaked as they walked inside. "But Kreacher has been forced to prepare the same meal this morning as he did yesterday. There are not enough ingredients for the variety of dishes Kreacher knows how to cook. However, Master Sirius has forbidden Kreacher to leave the house, so Kreacher cannot obtain new ingredients." All this was delivered in a single breath, and Harry marvelled at how Kreacher was still standing.

Sirius glanced at the house-elf. His behaviour towards Kreacher had also changed since hearing about Regulus's fate, and Harry thought Hermione would be pleased to see it. "If you promise not to go to Bellatrix and Narcissa, I will let you go shopping."

"Kreacher would not go to Miss Bella and Miss Cissy," said Kreacher, looking up at Sirius earnestly. "Master Sirius is doing Master Regulus's work now."

Harry watched Malfoy, who didn't appear to be listening to Kreacher. He was massaging his right shoulder and wincing.

"You may shop," Sirius said to Kreacher. "But come straight back, and no detours. And no talking to anyone but shopkeepers."

Kreacher bowed. "Kreacher is grateful for Master Sirius's confidence. Kreacher will do as Master Sirius says."

Over the next few days, the quality of food in Grimmauld Place had improved so much that Harry began to look forward to mealtimes in a way he never had before. Not even Mrs Weasley's cooking compared to the things Kreacher could do with food. More than ever, it made Harry miss Ron, with his legendary appetite and his well-timed jokes. Between mealtimes, Harry and Sirius sat in the drawing room talking, with Malfoy hovering nearby. They weren't letting him roam freely about the house, but at least they didn't have to drag him around as before.

"Is there any parchment?" asked Malfoy one morning after breakfast. He directed his question to Harry, who looked at Sirius.

"Going to write a love letter to Voldemort?" asked Sirius, grinning slightly. Malfoy clenched his teeth, but kept staring at Harry.

Sirius let out an exasperated sigh. "Harry, give the boy some parchment and a quill. It's not like he's going to convince Hedwig to go anywhere for him."

The Order had left behind quite a lot of writing implements, and Harry handed Malfoy a sheaf of parchment, a bottle of ink and some quills. Malfoy dipped a quill in the bottle and bent over the parchment, shielding it with his arm. He didn't appear to be writing; the quill moved all over the place.

"What are you doing?" asked Harry after a few moments. Malfoy ignored him, but when he went to dip the quill in ink again, Harry saw that the parchment now held a sketch -- a little girl hugging her knees. "I didn't know you could draw."

"Leave me alone," said Malfoy, his face a bit pink. "I'm not doing anything wrong."

"I didn't say you were," said Harry. "I just-- forget it."

He left Malfoy to his drawing and went back to the sofa, where Sirius sat quietly. He hadn't seemed to notice Malfoy and Harry's exchange. As Harry approached him, he saw that Sirius was staring at the photograph of Regulus and his Quidditch team. The picture was creased along the middle, so that Regulus's face had a line through it, and Sirius kept smoothing it out restlessly. Regulus pulled an annoyed grimace every time Sirius's fingers brushed the crease, and the other Slytherins shrank back, trying to avoid the touch.

Once again, it struck Harry how alike Sirius and his brother had looked. Before he'd seen the photograph, he had pictured Regulus as a chubby blond boy, with an expression on his face like Narcissa Malfoy's, but he realised now that he'd simply been drawing a parallel to his cousin Dudley. Harry remembered the last time he'd seen Dudley, when the two of them had almost smiled at each other for the first time in their lives. He could only imagine what was going through Sirius's mind now that he knew his brother had been on the right side in the end -- had died for the right side. For all Sirius said he hated his family, Harry was sure that he'd once had a good relationship with them -- before he went out into the world and learned how twisted their beliefs were. "You couldn't have done anything," he said as Sirius tried to get rid of the crease in Regulus's face again.

Sirius sighed. "Things could have been different."

Harry nodded, resolving that if he survived the war, he would look up Dudley and try to make peace between them. Dudley may not have sacrificed himself for anything, but he'd proven that he wasn't completely like his parents. In a way, Dudley's willingness to believe in Harry had saved Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's lives. Maybe everyone had a little good in them, even people like the Malfoys.

Kreacher's voice startled them both, with Sirius jumping so high that he dropped Regulus's photograph.

"Kreacher has finished cleaning the house, Master."

"Right," said Sirius. "Thanks, Kreacher." He bent down to retrieve the picture, but not before Kreacher spotted it.

Tears started to fall from the house-elf's eyes. "Master Regulus," he whispered.

"Tell me about him, Kreacher," said Sirius, lifting the elf and setting him down on the sofa. "Tell me about my brother."

Harry glanced at Malfoy, but the armchair was empty. Malfoy had run off somewhere. Harry didn't want to interrupt Sirius and Kreacher's conversation, so he rose from the sofa and tiptoed out. Malfoy didn't have a wand, so Harry could manage him on his own. Malfoy was certainly looking for his wand, but he would never find it -- Sirius had concealed it so that it couldn't be found without magic. The doors to the house wouldn't open without magic, either, so Malfoy was stuck unless he had a wand.

Harry turned in the doorway to look at Sirius, and his heart clenched at the sight: Sirius, careworn and haggard, and the little old elf, sitting side by side looking at the picture of the dead boy who had helped them make peace. Harry could barely hear Kreacher's croaking voice from where he stood, and as much as he wanted to learn about Sirius's brother, he felt like an intruder here. And he had to find Malfoy.

Harry crept through the house, marvelling a bit at how different it looked from what he remembered from last year. Kreacher had done well; no portrait hung crooked, not a speck of dust could be seen anywhere. Most importantly, the floors no longer creaked underfoot. The house looked grand, maybe as grand as it had been when the Blacks had lived here. The decor -- emphasising dark colours and serpentine symbols -- did not sit right with Harry, but he was sure that eventually Kreacher would come round to Sirius's way of thinking.

Then it struck Harry: Sirius! Sirius's bedroom -- Malfoy would be sure to look there first. He sprinted up the stairs and sure enough, Sirius's door, normally tightly shut, stood halfway open. Harry's approach was slow and quiet. He saw Malfoy as soon as he entered, shaking one of Sirius's pillows. Harry ran at him and tackled him to the floor. Malfoy's head struck the side of the bed -- he cried out, but Harry clapped a hand over his mouth, muffling the sound.

"Looks like you'll be spending your days chained to the bed," he hissed. He was furious with Malfoy, though he didn't understand why -- had he really expected any better? Malfoy struggled, but Harry held him fast. "You will never find your wand," he said with a vicious smile. "Sirius hid it with magic."

Malfoy let out a grunt and managed to push Harry off himself with uncanny strength. "Fuck you, Potter," he spluttered, scrambling away. "I'll find it, and I'll kill him and then I'll kill you!"

Harry lunged at him, but Malfoy got to his feet and tried to run; Harry just managed to catch the edge of his robes and Malfoy went down again, to his knees this time. Harry got up, lifted Malfoy to his feet, and punched him in the stomach.

"Oof," said Malfoy, doubling over. He lifted his head to look at Harry, his face blotchy pink, and Harry punched him again, in the mouth this time. It didn't help Harry's anger; if anything, he was getting more and more pissed off the more he hit Malfoy.

"You have no idea, do you?" asked Harry, swinging at him again. "No idea about killing and dying." His fist connected with Malfoy's jaw, and Malfoy stumbled backwards, arms flailing. Still he made no move to hit Harry back, and Harry's rage turned blinding-white. "Fight back," he spat. "Fight back, you miserable--"

"I DON'T KNOW HOW!" yelled Malfoy at the top of his lungs. His eyes were bulging; he looked crazy. "I'm not a Muggle. Give me my wand and then I'll fight you!"

Harry's arm, raised for another punch, fell to his side. "What do you mean, you don't know how?" he asked, complete confusion replacing his fury. "It's not Arithmancy. You make a fist and you swing it."

"I'm not a Muggle," said Malfoy, lifting a hand to his bleeding lip. "I refuse to fight like them. That's what Crabbe and Goyle are for."

"Crabbe and Goyle aren't with you now, are they? Are you just going to let me hit you whenever I like?"

Malfoy looked fearful. "You wouldn't," he said.

"Why not?" demanded Harry, his voice harsh. "I'd love a personal punching bag, especially one that bleeds. Lets me know I'm doing something right."

"You wouldn't," repeated Malfoy. "I'm not your personal anything."

Harry's anger began to seethe again at Malfoy's casual dismissal, like he thought Harry was just full of hot air. "Oh yeah?" he asked, advancing. "Let's see about that." He would make Malfoy fight him the Muggle way, he decided. "Don't you want to know what it feels like to hurt someone? You say you're willing to kill Sirius, to kill me -- how? How can you do that when you can't even bring yourself to hurt me?"

"The Killing Curse--" began Malfoy, backing away, but Harry punched him again.

"The Killing Curse hurts worse, you lackwit," he spat. "The Killing Curse hurts forever."

Malfoy staggered backwards, and Harry was sure he would run, but then Malfoy let out a cry of rage and leapt at him, swinging a fist. It connected with Harry's nose, and the smell of his own blood infuriated Harry even more. He tackled Malfoy again, trying to punch him wherever he could reach him. Malfoy grunted and struggled and fought back, and Harry's rage exploded into unexpected joy: he felt like he was flying, like nothing mattered but weathering Malfoy's blows and landing his own. There was no Voldemort, no war, just this, just them. They rolled around, cursing at each other, blood splattering onto the floor.

"Petrificus Totalus!" shouted Sirius's voice, and Harry and Malfoy were frozen together, Harry's fist still drawn back above Malfoy's face. Malfoy's nose was bloody, too, and the two boys stared at each other, unable to move or look away. Harry's mind supplied an unexpected and inappropriate image: Malfoy, last night, head thrown back, pyjama bottoms halfway off, his cock hard.

"I'm going to lift the spell," said Sirius, walking inside, shadowed by Kreacher. "Harry, you will get off Malfoy and stand by the bed. Malfoy, you will get up and stand where you are now. Got it? Good. Finite Incantatem."

Harry felt his limbs unfreeze and he backed off Malfoy, walking to stand by the bed as instructed, wiping the blood from his face with his sleeve. It was the first chance he had to check out Sirius's room -- it was, as he had expected, decorated in Gryffindor colours, with pictures of motorbikes and half-naked girls on the walls.

Sirius stepped between Malfoy and Harry and looked at each of them in turn. "First, I want to know what you were doing in my bedroom. Then I want to know why you decided to add more red to the decorations."

"Malfoy was in here looking for his wand," said Harry at once. His voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of an empty barrel.

"Potter attacked me," said Malfoy, just as nasally.

"Damned right I did," Harry bit back. "You have no business being in here."

"Technically, neither do you," said Sirius, but his voice held amusement. He turned to Malfoy. "You won't find your wand. It's concealed by magic, and it's definitely not in this room."

"We should just handcuff him to my bed," said Harry. "I mean Ron's bed," he amended at Sirius's raised eyebrow. What was he saying? "Leave him like that."

"No," said Sirius. "Then he'd need to be fed and walked to the bathroom, and Kreacher has better things to do with his time."

Harry looked at Kreacher, who was giving Sirius a look full of such slavish adoration that no one would have guessed that he'd spent the previous year cursing Sirius under his breath, not to mention colluding with Sirius's enemies.

"If little Malfoy wants to look for his wand, he can feel free to look for it. But I'm sure he's not as stupid as he seems." Sirius gave Malfoy a look full of contempt. "Not if he inherited anything at all from his mother."

Malfoy made a movement, but Sirius raised his wand higher. "That's right, your mother. She was a smart girl, and it's too bad she wasted her youth on Lucius bloody Malfoy."

Harry almost sympathised with Malfoy at that moment. He seemed utterly confused -- Sirius wasn't saying anything bad about his mother, but at the same time he was insulting Malfoy's father. Harry supposed it came down to deciding which was worse. Malfoy's loyalty to Narcissa seemed to win out, because he cast his eyes down. "Fine," he said. "I can't find my wand. I won't try again. Happy?"

"Perfectly," said Sirius. "And you will not attack my godson again, either."

"He provoked me!" yelled Malfoy, eyes flashing. He seemed to have forgotten all about wanting to kill Sirius; the injustice of Sirius's accusation seemed to be more important at the moment. Harry would've laughed if he hadn't been so annoyed.

"Uh," said Harry, "I sort of did."

Sirius's eyebrows rose. "You... did?"

"He wouldn't fight back," said Harry. "He was just letting me hit him."

Sirius nodded. "Harry, you've got to understand that he was raised differently. That he hit you at all is surprising. His lot prefer the bloodless sort of fighting, hitting from the back whenever possible."

"That's not true," said Malfoy quietly.

"Right," said Harry with a snort. "Barty Crouch turned you into a ferret for trying to fight fair."

"Barty Crouch?" repeated Malfoy, looking gobsmacked. "It was Mad-Eye Moody..."

"Shows what you know," snapped Harry. "It was Barty Crouch junior, Polyjuiced into Moody. Looks like your Death Eater buddies didn't let you in on their plans as much as you liked to brag. Ferret-face."

Malfoy threw Harry a look full of loathing and went back to staring at his feet.

"Right, well," said Sirius. "Did either of you break anything?"

"No," said Harry, feeling his nose. It was no longer bleeding and it definitely wasn't broken. As if Malfoy's pitiful attempts at punches could break anything. Nothing of Malfoy's was broken, either, but Harry had been holding back, obviously. He hadn't wanted to kill the prat, just to teach him a lesson.

"I'll let you go and get cleaned up, then," said Sirius, and nodded at the door. He grinned at Harry, though. "We'll wait for you downstairs. Lunch is ready."

Harry and Malfoy raced to the bathroom and got into a brief scuffle in front of it -- the doorway wasn't wide enough to admit both of them. For a few moments it seemed like they'd be stuck there waiting for Sirius to come and rescue them, but then they both fell through the door, which flew shut in their wake. Harry turned towards the sink, and his hand brushed against Malfoy's front. Warmth rushed into Harry's cheeks as Malfoy sprang back with a gasp -- he was hard. Again he saw Malfoy fucking his fist last night, heard the clinking of handcuffs against bed frame, and felt his own frantic heartbeat as he pulled on his cock.

Harry slammed Malfoy against the door, breathing heavily. He was getting hard now, too, and having Malfoy all pressed up against him like this was making it much, much worse. "So," he breathed. "Is that why you pull my pigtails all the time, Malfoy? Because I make your dick hard? Was that why you put on that little show last night, hoping I would suck it for you?"

"Get away from me," said Malfoy, but his voice shook. "Let go, Potter."

Harry leaned close to whisper in his ear. "Why don't you let go first? What do you want, Malfoy?" He worked his thigh between Malfoy's legs, thrilling as he felt Malfoy's cock against his leg. "You want me to make that all better for you, don't you?"

Malfoy's hips jerked forward, pressing his cock tighter against Harry's leg. "Potter," he gasped. "Fuck off."

"Sure?" Harry whispered back, and began to move his leg up and down, rubbing it against Malfoy's cock. "No, I think you like this."

A moan spilled from Malfoy's lips, and Harry's own cock throbbed harder. He tried his best to ignore it -- he was not going to get off with Malfoy, but making Malfoy come would take the great prat down a peg or two. Still, it felt so nice -- his cock nestled against Malfoy's thigh, Malfoy jerking against him with abandon, and soon Harry craved more pressure, thinking that maybe getting off like this wouldn't be so bad. He came rather suddenly, barely able to choke down a moan, his fingers clutching Malfoy's robes as he continued to rub Malfoy's cock with his thigh, his face turned away from Malfoy, cheek resting on Malfoy's shoulder. God, Malfoy was still going, and this was so embarrassing.

Harry couldn't let Malfoy know that he'd made him come, he just couldn't, not when Harry had come first. Harry let go of Malfoy and stepped back; Malfoy's eyes flew open, and he looked surprised and a little hurt. "Got a better idea," said Harry, fumbling with Malfoy's robes to lift them up. "There," he whispered, slipping his hand into Malfoy's pants. Malfoy's cock was silk-soft just like Harry's, sticky and damp, and Harry had barely wrapped his hand around it when Malfoy let out a low whine and began thrusting, spilling warm and slippery over Harry's knuckles. Harry watched him, surprised at how good this felt, having Malfoy's cock pulsing in his hand, watching Malfoy's blood drying above his lip, his mouth slightly open. If he hadn't just come, he could have come again and again just standing here letting Malfoy fuck his hand.

After he was done, Malfoy went very still, and Harry extricated his hand from his pants. He washed it off in the sink, and when he turned back to look at Malfoy, Malfoy had vanished.


The incident with Malfoy made Harry feel pretty good about himself. And Malfoy was avoiding him, which was even better. Well, avoiding was perhaps too strong a word -- Malfoy spent all his time in the drawing room, labouring over his sketches, which were beginning to pile up on the floor, much to Kreacher's consternation. He ignored Harry utterly, even when Sirius decided Harry could have the keys to Malfoy's handcuffs. After a few days, Harry had to admit it bothered him a little, the level to which Malfoy took his Harry-ignoring: hadn't Harry made him come? Hadn't it felt good? Maybe it hadn't. Or maybe Malfoy was a prat.

Dumbledore still hadn't shown up, and Harry began to understand just how awful it had been for Sirius, stuck inside this house for over a year with only Kreacher for company. These days, though, Sirius and Kreacher were thick as thieves, with Kreacher wanting Sirius's opinion on every little thing, and Sirius behaving like Kreacher was his long-lost brother. Harry sort of understood that learning Regulus's story had given Sirius a new purpose, a new reason to fight, to live. He remembered the feeling after Dudley had acknowledged his debt to Harry -- like the world had become a little bit brighter. Not because Harry wanted Dudley to feel indebted, but because it was heartening to know that someone like Dudley could be decent, too.

He just wished it all didn't leave him feeling so alone. He missed his friends, too, and that never got any better. He'd have given anything for one afternoon with Ron and Hermione, even if they didn't say a word to each other. They had no news of the outside world at all, and while Harry's scar pained him sometimes, he never saw anything anymore, never had any insight into what Voldemort was doing. He thought that perhaps Voldemort was afraid of him now, maybe because he somehow knew that Harry had his precious locket -- for all Harry could tell, Voldemort might've seen them struggling with the locket. His scar had hurt that day. It was frustrating not to have anyone to talk to about all this, someone who could give him some answers. But thinking like that only made him angrier at Dumbledore, which Harry knew would accomplish nothing.

So on more than one occasion, Harry found his mind drifting upstairs to that bathroom where he and Malfoy had done that... thing. Whatever it had been. He hadn't processed it at the time, but touching Malfoy had felt nice, in the same way that kissing Cho had felt nice. And Malfoy hadn't cried all over him after they were done. Well, Malfoy was a boy, and boys weren't supposed to cry at every little thing, but still. Sometimes as Harry settled down to sleep, he tried to listen for the sound of Malfoy wanking, but if Malfoy did any of that these days, he was keeping it confined to the bathroom.

One night, as Harry went to handcuff Malfoy to the bed as usual, he noticed Malfoy looking at him.


"Nothing," said Malfoy. It was the first thing he'd said in the days since their encounter in the bathroom, but it felt like a small victory for some reason. Harry needed to get the hell out of here if he was starting to take Malfoy seriously.

"Well, don't look at me, then," he snapped, and reached for Malfoy's right hand.

Malfoy seized Harry's wrist, though, and looked into his eyes. Warmth began to pool in Harry's groin -- Malfoy was not just staring him down, he was looking at Harry like he wanted something. Harry knew exactly what he wanted -- and really, what would it hurt? It had felt nice. Why would Harry refuse to do it? He wasn't ashamed, not in front of Malfoy, and it would feel nice to make Malfoy lose it again. He climbed on top of Malfoy, straddling him. "Tell me you want it," he said.

"I--" Malfoy's breath hitched. "I want you to--"

Harry shoved Malfoy's legs apart and settled between them, pressing himself up against Malfoy, feeling Malfoy's cock push against his through their clothes. Malfoy arched upwards with a sharp exhalation, and Harry was okay with that. He wasn't going to come, this time. He wasn't turned on by Malfoy, just by Malfoy's hard cock and the lewd look in his eyes. It was like fighting, only without fists; Harry and Malfoy rutted against each other, their faces turned in the opposite directions. It wasn't personal. It wasn't important. They were just--

Harry came, gasping, but once again, Malfoy didn't seem to notice it; he went on bucking against Harry, his breathing laboured. Harry reached between them, rubbing Malfoy's cock through his pyjamas and then slipping them down, settling back to look at Malfoy as he stroked him. Malfoy didn't take long this time, either, and again it made Harry feel so good to watch him unravel, maybe a little too good, because he thought he could get used to this. No kisses, no ridiculous kittens and Valentine hearts, just Malfoy's cock in his hand and Harry's heart in his throat.

Harry wiped Malfoy off this time, using a still-damp towel, and after wiping his hand, he got off the bed and picked up the handcuffs again. "Wait," said Malfoy, looking uncertain. "Don't you want me to--"

"No," said Harry. "I'm all right, really."

But Malfoy reached forward and cupped Harry's cock, which, of course, was still soft, though Harry thought if Malfoy hadn't sprang back as though stung, he might've got it hard again just by touching it. For all that, he was uncomfortable; his come hadn't seeped through his pants yet, but he needed to go and change them. Malfoy glared at him, his jaw thrust forward. "Why are you even doing this if you're not--"

Harry smiled down at him, triumphant that Malfoy hadn't noticed anything. "Keeps you busy, doesn't it?" he said.

Malfoy's petulant expression turned to one of such disappointment that Harry wished he could take back what he said. But Harry didn't want to admit that he'd been coming in his pants at the merest contact with Malfoy. It would make Malfoy far too smug, not to mention raise questions about Harry that Harry didn't want to answer. He handcuffed Malfoy to the bed and walked off to change his underpants, feeling only a little like the world's biggest git.

The feeling got worse the next day, and the day after that. Malfoy was ignoring him as usual, but Harry kept turning their second encounter over in his mind, wondering how he would feel if a girl had done that to him. Except, of course, there was no way to tell if a girl was turned on or not without getting into her pants. At least Harry guessed so, never having been with a girl before. He spent half an afternoon in a sort of confused stupor because it occurred to him that Malfoy had been his first. His first something-other-than-kissing. In short, he was going round the twist. Sirius didn't seem to notice anything amiss, though the looks Harry and Malfoy sometimes exchanged in the drawing room could have been used to write several books on the dangers of letting teenagers have sex, Harry was sure.

After four days, he concluded that he felt awful about what he'd done to Malfoy. Which was completely unfair -- Malfoy would never admit that anything he'd ever done to Harry had been wrong; surely Malfoy felt Harry had deserved all of that and more. And yet Harry felt bad for having hurt Malfoy's feelings. Telling himself Malfoy didn't have any feelings wasn't working anymore.

Harry lay in darkness, listening to Malfoy's breathing, and knew he would start to gibber and rave if he didn't say something soon. "Malfoy?"

Malfoy made no reply, but Harry thought the rhythm of his breaths had changed.

"Um," said Harry. "I came before you did." He waited, but Malfoy said nothing. "Both times."

Still nothing. That was that, then. Harry stared at the darkness above him for a long time before dropping off.

He awoke to a dull ache in his scar, an ache he suspected would get worse. Somewhere, Voldemort was doing something to get to Harry. He avoided looking at Malfoy as he approached him to unlock the handcuffs. As he leaned over, Malfoy clutched his pyjama bottoms with his free hand. Their eyes met, and Harry watched with fascination as Malfoy pulled his pyjamas down, exposing him, still stiff from the night. Malfoy's fingers slid down Harry's cock, tentatively, and Harry bit his lip, still staring at Malfoy in disbelief. "Malfoy--"

"Going to watch you," said Malfoy hoarsely, and wrapped his hand round Harry's cock. He stroked gently at first, as tentative as his first touch had been, but Harry whimpered, and Malfoy's grip got firmer, his movements surer, faster. He kept looking at Harry, who didn't dare look away, even though he wanted to close his eyes and moan and thrust and come all over Malfoy's face, if only to reassure him that he could make Harry do all that and more. Malfoy's eyes dropped to Harry's cock, and Harry did moan then; he couldn't help himself. His hand still clutched the bed frame and he groped for Malfoy's cuffed wrist, found his hand and twined their fingers together. Malfoy sat up a little higher and opened his mouth, his eyes on Harry's once more. Harry waited for him to say something, but instead Malfoy guided the head of Harry's cock between his parted lips. After that, Harry went a bit mad. His knees buckled, and he gripped Malfoy's hand so fiercely he might've broken it. If he had thought Malfoy's cool fingers had felt brilliant, the heat of Malfoy's mouth was, well, it was even more brilliant, and all the while Malfoy kept looking at him, his eyes grey as thunderheads. Malfoy's tongue slid against Harry's cock somewhere in that wet heat, and Harry had never felt this close to anyone, and this was only Malfoy's mouth. Everything he had seemed to have fled into his cock, and Harry let out a pitiful little whimper, finally closing his eyes as he came, shuddering and gasping, into Malfoy's willing mouth, which took him in deeper as he held on to Malfoy's hand for dear life.

Harry felt his cock fall free and opened his eyes, gazing down at Malfoy in wonder. How was it possible that someone so... so... Malfoy could make him feel so good? Malfoy reached for the water glass on his bedside cabinet, spat into it, and looked away, his cheeks pink. Harry pulled up his pyjamas and hastily undid Malfoy's handcuffs, trying not to look at what was floating in the water glass. He felt embarrassed and grateful and confused, and he was trying to say something, but couldn't find the words.

"Awake, are you?"

Harry leapt about a foot into the air, dropping the keys, and Malfoy quickly swung off the bed, turning his back to Sirius. "Er," said Harry, without turning around, "Yeah. I was just unfucking Malfoy. Uncuffing!"

Malfoy let out a snigger, as did Sirius. "Well, as long as you were unfucking him, I suppose it's all right. Breakfast is ready when you are."

Harry fled to the bathroom, mortified, feeling like a part of him had been left behind in Malfoy's mouth, forever.

After breakfast, they took up their usual positions in the drawing room, with Malfoy in the armchair by the window with his sketches and Sirius bent over his brother's old letters from Hogwarts. When Sirius and Harry had hauled the letter-chest down from the attic, he told Harry he was hoping to find some clues about the locket and the diary in them, but Harry understood that that wasn't all Sirius was after. He was trying to learn all he could about his brother's life, and Kreacher had not gone to Hogwarts with Regulus.

Harry was thus left to his own thoughts. He was still too embarrassed to talk to Malfoy, though he watched the clock more avidly today, counting the hours until bedtime, until he and Malfoy could maybe... His scar, which had stopped hurting when Harry had been with Malfoy, was smarting again. The pain was... thicker than before. Harry touched the scar surreptitiously, wondering what it meant. The room seemed to darken before his eyes, and a wave of nausea passed through him. Maybe something in his breakfast had been off, but no, that made no sense. Kreacher wouldn't have let them eat anything he didn't taste first, and anything that could make Harry feel this ill would have surely killed a house-elf.

Maybe Kreacher had been lying, thought Harry dreamily. Maybe he had gone to Bellatrix after all, and now Voldemort was on his way, to break through the Fidelius Charm -- or perhaps after having tortured the address out of Dumbledore. Maybe that was why Dumbledore hadn't come yet. He was dead, killed by Voldemort, and here was Harry, furious with him, furious because Dumbledore wasn't giving him enough attention. Pathetic. Harry clutched his head, his mind buzzing with conversations that weren't happening, distant flashes of light, colours spinning into rainbows.

He looked at Kreacher, who sat at Sirius's feet, humming a tune to himself as he darned one of Harry's socks, and felt awful for suspecting him. Poor Kreacher was happy for the first time in years. But in his mind's eye, Harry saw himself picking Kreacher up by the throat and shaking him, demanding to know why Kreacher had betrayed his master again. He shook his head. These thoughts, they weren't his. It was Voldemort, trying to get inside his head, trying to twist him, to make him come out of hiding.

A terrible suspicion stole over Harry. This hadn't happened since he'd left his aunt and uncle's house, and the only different thing about today was... was...

Malfoy. He was awfully placid for someone who had come here with murderous intent. Awfully calm, sitting in his corner, drawing his little heart out. How long had it been? Two weeks? Just about, and Malfoy had done nothing to try and escape, except that one time he'd gone looking for his wand. But had that even been real? Had Malfoy just done that to lure Harry out, to try and seduce him? Yes. It made sense. Everything Malfoy had done since arriving at Grimmauld Place had been focussed on Harry, not Sirius. Sirius was just what Malfoy used to distract everyone from his true purpose.

Malfoy had been sent here by Voldemort. In that light, every single thing Malfoy had done made sense instead of being as confusing as it had been until now. Malfoy was sixteen, just like Regulus Black had been when he'd joined up. Hadn't Kreacher said that Voldemort had entrusted Regulus with important tasks? Capturing Harry Potter was surely a task he considered important. And Harry's scar had not hurt the whole time Malfoy was here. Voldemort had left Harry alone and stopped trying to break into his dreams because he had his secret agent. Even Malfoy's story was preposterous -- accusing Sirius of killing his father and steadfastly refusing to believe it when Sirius denied it.

Malfoy was here for Harry, and he had almost got him. He probably reported his success back to Voldemort just now, and now Voldemort was so happy that he couldn't help himself, couldn't contain his anticipation -- soon, he would get his hands on Harry. And Harry's scar was communicating that happiness to him through this new, thick, sticky pain. Well, Voldemort and Malfoy were in for a surprise. Hoping to catch Harry with his pants down, literally. Too bad for them Harry wasn't gay, and so wasn't about to fall in love with a boy. Harry had never even felt tempted to kiss Malfoy.

"Malfoy," said Harry, approaching him.

Malfoy looked up, and there was a tentative sort-of grin on his face, just barely touching his eyes. Harry felt even angrier at that stupid little smile. What did Malfoy take him for?

"I know what you're up to," said Harry. His scar throbbed harder. "Don't think I don't."

"What do you mean?" asked Malfoy, the smile vanishing.

"You know what I mean. Thought I was stupid, didn't you? Trying to lull me into a false sense of security. Well, it won't work. I'm not gay." Harry considered adding that Malfoy could tell Voldemort that, but didn't. He'd got his message through; he could tell: Malfoy's eyes had gone dull. Harry walked away from him, feeling proud for having caught the scheme before it could catch him. He was sure Malfoy would disappear soon, with or without his wand, but Harry didn't care.

He left Malfoy and Sirius behind, going all the way up to the room where Sirius kept Buckbeak. The Cooling Crate with dead ferrets looked rather sorry -- Harry made a mental note to remind Sirius that Buckbeak's food supply was running low. He bowed to Buckbeak, who acknowledged him with a weary nod and lowered his head to the floor again.

"I'm sorry you're cooped up in here," said Harry, stroking the creature's massive beak as he sat down next to him. "I know how you feel, and Sirius does, too. We'll get out of here soon, I promise."

Buckbeak let out what might've been a sigh, and Harry threw an arm round his thick neck and rested his head against Buckbeak's side. His stomach roiled with guilt and suspicion and anger, and he couldn't work out which was more important. His scar still throbbed, though it was weaker now, and it grew weaker still as Buckbeak's feathers tickled his face and he felt warmed by the unquestioning comfort he found here. He didn't have to worry that Buckbeak was only warm because he was an agent of Voldemort's will. He didn't have to suspect Buckbeak of treachery. But Buckbeak didn't have grey eyes and soft skin and...

Harry shook his head, thinking back over the past weeks. Malfoy had heard Regulus's story, had expressed, in his own peculiar way, a sort of admiration for Harry's opposition to Voldemort, had kept his word to Sirius and had drawn enough pictures to cover the walls of this whole room. How could it all have seemed so genuine when it was all a lie, a trick to get Harry to trust him, and to go with him when Voldemort summoned Malfoy?

Maybe it wasn't a trick. Maybe you've got it wrong.

But Harry knew he hadn't got it wrong. This was Malfoy. He would never do anything for Harry unless there was something in it for him. Especially not make him feel so good.

"Harry? Harry?"

"I'm in here," bellowed Harry. Buckbeak flapped his wings at the noise, stirring the dead air a bit. "Sorry, Beaky," he said, and patted the Hippogriff's head. "I've got to go."

"I was just saying hello to Buckbeak," he said to Sirius, who opened the door, panting.

"Dumbledore's here," said Sirius, and they raced each other back to the drawing room, where Dumbledore sat in Malfoy's armchair, studying one of his drawings intently. Malfoy was attempting to squeeze himself into the furthest-from-Dumbledore corner of the sofa. Terrified, Harry thought, of the only one Voldemort had ever feared. Finally, Dumbledore had arrived, and they would be rid of Malfoy for good.

"Has your scar hurt lately?" was Dumbledore's greeting to Harry.

"It did a bit earlier, but not much," said Harry. "Why?"

"I thought it wouldn't, but you have to be very careful now, Harry. Very careful." He was not looking at Harry, however, and whatever comforting warmth Harry had felt thanks to Buckbeak fled him, replaced by leaden dread. He knew he had to be careful without Dumbledore's sage advice, thank you very much. Hadn't he just foiled Malfoy's plot all by himself?

"So you have been busy, I see," said Dumbledore, looking at Sirius. "Taking prisoners, discovering Dark artefacts."

"Not through any effort," said Sirius. He looked, Harry thought, rather like a schoolboy being chastised. "Malfoy here followed Moony inside and I think you'll agree we couldn't just let him go."

"I should think not," said Dumbledore, nodding. "And the locket?"

"We were looking through Kreacher's things to make sure he didn't have anything he could use against us," said Sirius. "Kreacher let slip that it was my brother's."

Sirius told Dumbledore everything that had happened during and after Kreacher's tale. Dumbledore listened with great interest, never interrupting, occasionally glancing at Kreacher, who stooped nearby, clearly terrified out of his wits. When Sirius was done, Dumbledore sighed. "It is as I feared," he said. He didn't elaborate.

"What is it, Professor? What is the locket? How come we couldn't destroy it? Is it like the diary? Do we need a Basilisk fang?" Harry stopped, because the questions only mounted, and he worried he'd never shut up if he didn't stop now.

"All very good questions, and one very good guess," said Dumbledore. He set Malfoy's drawing aside. Harry glanced at it: it was a picture of Hedwig, sleeping atop a kitchen cupboard, very life-like. What he saw next made him forget about the drawing: Dumbledore's right hand, previously hidden by the parchment, resembled a blackened claw.

"Professor, what happened to your hand?" asked Harry, aghast.

"My dear boy," said Dumbledore, addressing the tops of his shoes. "That's a story for another day, indeed. I will tell it to you very soon, though I wish I never had to tell it at all."

Harry, for his part, wished that Dumbledore would stop talking in riddles. "Why can't you tell me now?"

"There is still time," said Dumbledore. "I will take the locket with me when I go. I have the means to destroy it." He looked at Kreacher. "You have done the wizarding world a great service, Kreacher. I daresay your Master Regulus would have been very, very proud of you."

"Kreacher did his best to follow orders," stammered Kreacher, looking pleased nonetheless.

"When you go?" asked Harry, still on Dumbledore's previous words. "You're leaving again?"

"I must, Harry, I must. But not for long. I have finished making the arrangements for a new Headquarters, and I shall take you both there shortly."

"What about Malfoy?" asked Sirius. "Are we going to let him go?"

Dumbledore looked at Malfoy, as though seeing him for the first time. "Draco," he said. "Please look at me."

Malfoy did, and his eyes were defiant but fearful. He was alone on the sofa, for Sirius and Harry still stood in the doorway, and he looked very small. "Headmaster," he said hoarsely.

"Thank you, Draco, that's very flattering, but I'm afraid I am not your Headmaster any longer. Professor Umbridge has taken over that position. But I digress. Can you tell me what brought you here to Grimmauld Place?"

"Kreacher is sorry," croaked Kreacher. "It is all Kreacher's fault. Kreacher would punish himself, but Master Sirius has forbidden it."

"It's not Kreacher's fault," said Malfoy. "I came here to kill him." He shot Sirius a hateful look.

"Did you, now?" Dumbledore stroked his silvery beard. "I for one am glad you haven't succeeded, thus far. I am very fond of Sirius. Why do you wish to murder him, Draco?"

"He killed my father."

"Did he, now? How interesting. How do you know this?"

"My aunt told me."

"Your aunt Bellatrix or your aunt Andromeda?"

"Bellatrix," said Malfoy, looking a bit bemused. Harry wondered if he even knew he had an Aunt Andromeda, seeing as his family was so big on erasing the existence of so-called blood traitors in their midst.

"Bellatrix," repeated Dumbledore, shaking his head. "Sirius, have you encountered a Pensieve amongst your family's things, I wonder?"

Sirius began to say no, but Kreacher leapt up. "There is a Pensieve, Master Sirius. Master Black bid Kreacher to polish it every day, and Kreacher does. Shall Kreacher fetch it?"

"Please, Kreacher," said Sirius. Kreacher vanished. "What do you need a Pensieve for?" Sirius asked, turning to Dumbledore.

"I happen to have been present at the time Draco's father lost his life," said Dumbledore. "And whilst my recollection may grow dim in the telling, I daresay it shall be sharp as ever in the showing."

Harry couldn't help himself; he looked at Malfoy. He had gone so pale his face looked bleached. "You saw my father...?"

"Yes," said Dumbledore. "If you do not wish to witness the event, I have no desire to press it upon you. I can simply tell you what happened, and you may choose to believe my words or not."

"I want to see it," said Malfoy, but his voice trembled.

For some stupid reason, Harry wanted to tell him something comforting, but Malfoy didn't deserve it. His cover was about to be blown, and Malfoy would never talk his way out of this. Dumbledore had said that Lucius had lost his life -- not been murdered. Harry was sure that Malfoy knew that very well. He probably wasn't watching where he was going in that stupid Death Eater mask, tripped and landed on something sharp. Good riddance.

Kreacher reappeared holding a large stone basin, which he placed on the coffee table.

"Thank you, Kreacher," said Dumbledore. "Now, Draco. I am sure you know how this is done. Sirius, Harry, I think you ought to join us."

"Not Potter," said Malfoy.

Harry met him stare for hateful stare. "You don't get a say in this," he snapped. "I'm going."

"Draco, my intent in having Harry and Sirius witness the event is only to make sure there are more witnesses. I might perish any day, and there are many events I recall which will require proof when all is said and done. This is one of them."

"Fine," muttered Malfoy. "It's not like it matters."

"Yeah, and you know it doesn't," said Harry, fixing him with a glare. How had he managed to let himself think, even for a moment, that Malfoy could be anything but evil?

Dumbledore separated a thin, wispy strand of silver from his temple and placed it in the Pensieve. The four of them bent low over it, and Harry fell through darkness, his hand in Sirius's.

They were in a large, cavernous room alive with flying spells of all colours. A large stone arch dominated the centre of the room, with tattered curtains hanging from it. It looked ominous, the way the curtains shifted, unaffected by the spells exploding all around them. Harry didn't like the look of it one bit.

"Avada Kedavra!" shouted a voice, and Dumbledore -- the memory-Dumbledore, the one with two healthy arms -- dodged, throwing a Shield Charm in front of him.

Harry saw Lucius Malfoy, though he was not wearing a mask as Harry thought he would be. He was duelling Kingsley, so intent on his opponent that he didn't even notice how close he was to the archway.

"Almost clear!" shouted Tonks, sprinting across the room to Kingsley's aid.

All around, Death Eaters were fleeing or falling or already fallen. It was a sickening sight, but Harry reminded himself that this was war. He had better get used to seeing things like this. A large black shape landed in front of Dumbledore and ripped off its mask. It was Bellatrix Lestrange, as unhinged in person as she looked in the wanted posters.

"Step aside, old man!" she shrieked. "My quarrel is not with you tonight."

Dumbledore raised his wand nonetheless, but Bellatrix screamed, "Avada Kedavra!". Her wand was pointed at Lucius, who didn't even turn around. The green jet of light hit him, and Lucius tumbled sideways, his eyes open in horror and surprise, through the tattered curtain. It seemed like his fall would never end, but when it did, Lucius was gone, as though sucked through to the other side.

"What did you do?" shouted another Death Eater. "You crazy bint; he was one of ours!"

"Dark Lord's orders," yelled Bellatrix to him. "We're to tell my sister Sirius Black killed him." Cackling, she vanished.

Memory-Dumbledore blocked hex after hex as he ran to the other side of the curtain. Harry and the others followed him, having no choice in the matter. There was nothing on the other side. Lucius Malfoy hadn't even left behind a body. "Clever, Bellatrix, very clever," murmured memory-Dumbledore and leapt into the fray even as Harry and his companions were sucked back out into the drawing room at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.

Harry ended up on the floor, and his first thought was of Malfoy, who sat on the sofa with his face hidden in his hands. So Bellatrix had killed Lucius. Surely Malfoy had known it very well. He probably even knew about the "Dark Lord's orders" that Bellatrix had mentioned. Maybe he even gave Voldemort the idea to kill his own father. Malfoy was just hiding his face in shame. If it had been Harry, he would have been crying, or, more likely, unloading his rage at the nearest wall.

Dumbledore put a hand -- the healthy one -- on Malfoy's back and patted it. "I am sorry for what you had to witness, Draco. Treachery is never easy to weather."

"Malfoy knows all about treachery," muttered Harry. Sirius gave him a look of such incredulity that Harry recoiled. They would see. Malfoy would look up--

Malfoy looked up. His eyes were dry, his face ashen. "I'm sorry," he said to Sirius. And then, to Dumbledore: "Thank you."

Guilt overwhelmed Harry. He had been wrong. Malfoy had thought that Sirius had killed his father. Harry had... he had been the one to succumb to Voldemort, not Malfoy, he realised with mounting dread. That pain in his scar that morning, his suspicions of Kreacher, and then turning to Malfoy -- he had been influenced by Voldemort that entire time, his thoughts directed into pathways that felt natural, making him... making him accuse Malfoy, God, and telling him... Harry felt like the world's greatest, most unimaginable prat.

What was he supposed to say to Malfoy now? I'm sorry; Voldemort made me do it? Malfoy didn't know anything about Harry's peculiar connection to Voldemort; he'd think Harry was a nutter. He was afraid to look at Malfoy now.

"Please let me go," said Malfoy. Harry, still afraid to look at him, looked at Sirius instead.

Sirius shook his head. "So you can run off trying to kill Voldemort? Not a chance. Your mother would never forgive me." He offered a grin. Harry did look at Malfoy then, and saw something like the tiny, tentative smile Malfoy had given him that morning. If anything, it made Harry even more miserable.

"We will be moving you within the week," said Dumbledore. "Once we're all happily settled at the new Order Headquarters, we shall try to make arrangements for your mother to join you, Draco. That is, of course, supposing she'll want to leave the Dark Lord's employ."

"Are you joking?" said Malfoy, his eyes flashing. "If she saw this..." he waved his hand at the Pensieve and trailed off.

"Of course, you know your mother better than I," said Dumbledore. "I must leave soon," he continued, looking at Sirius. "You must take great care not to be seen."

"We haven't left the house for anything in weeks," said Sirius. "Kreacher buys our food."

"It might not even be safe for Kreacher," said Dumbledore. "Bellatrix knows what he looks like, and she might chance upon him in Diagon Alley."

"What would Bellatrix be doing in Diagon Alley?" asked Sirius. "She's a wanted criminal."

"Ah," said Dumbledore, adjusting his half-moon spectacles. "I have forgotten that you are without news here in Grimmauld Place. Lord Voldemort has taken over the Ministry of Magic."

"WHAT?" exclaimed Sirius and Harry together.

"Yes, I'm afraid it's true. He has not revealed himself, and I don't think he plans to. Given his rather unappealing countenance, perhaps that is not an unwise choice. However, Cornelius Fudge has been placed under the Imperius Curse, and so have most of the members of the Wizengamot. Harry Potter is the wanted criminal, now, and Bellatrix Lestrange is a free woman."

"But Harry-- the Trace--" said Sirius, his eyes wide with fear.

"Yes," said Dumbledore. "Voldemort knows you're here, but he has not caught the Secret Keeper, which means this place is impenetrable until someone with knowledge of the place tries to enter."

"Like Moony," said Sirius with a wistful look on his face. He probably missed Lupin as much as Harry missed Ron and Hermione, especially now.

"What about Ron and Hermione?" he asked. "Do you know if they're all right?"

"Miss Granger arrived at the Burrow earlier this week, and we've sent her parents into hiding."

"What? Why?"

"The Ministry has been rounding up Muggle-born witches and wizards," said Dumbledore in a grave voice. "They're calling it the Muggle-born Registration Commission, and Dolores Umbridge is helping run it until her impending return to Hogwarts in September. All Muggle-borns are being forced to surrender their wands for 'inspection', and their rights to owning all wizarding property are indefinitely suspended pending investigation. You see, the Ministry's new idea is that Muggle-borns have stolen their abilities from proper wizards. They're calling this... Registration Commission a 'research' project, trying to prove that Squibs are that way because their magic has been stolen by Muggles."

"That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" exclaimed Harry, furious, imagining all those people losing their wands, being turned out into the streets, homeless. "We've got to stop it!"

"We shall, my boy," said Dumbledore. "We shall."

"But how did you get in here?" asked Sirius. "It sounds like the war's in full swing."

"They did not see me approach the house," replied Dumbledore. "Could not, in fact."

"They?" asked Harry.

"The house is surrounded, my boy. At all hours, there are at least a dozen Death Eaters and a few Aurors watching. They have been for about a week."

"But... what are we going to do?" asked Harry, so shocked by the news that the guilt eating at him limped into the background of his mind.

"Why, go underground, of course!" exclaimed Dumbledore, eyes twinkling merrily. "Fear not, Harry. As long as hope survives, so does the Order of the Phoenix." He lifted up the locket, which Kreacher had handed over to him earlier. "And there is hope."

Harry rather felt like tackling Dumbledore to the ground and sitting on him until he got some answers, but he knew it probably wouldn't work even if he tried it.

"Have you still got your Invisibility Cloak, Harry?" asked Dumbledore before turning to leave.

"Yes," said Harry, wondering why on earth Dumbledore would ask such a thing.

"Good. Take care of it, Harry. If I am not mistaken, you shall have great need of it soon." With that, Dumbledore vanished.

Malfoy bolted from the room as soon as he was gone, and Sirius went after him, but Harry remained where he was. Dumbledore had not looked at Harry once during his visit, just like all year, but Harry no longer cared. Dumbledore had said that answers were coming, and that was frankly more than Harry could've hoped for, after a year of being kept in the dark and not being told anything at all. He just wanted to make things okay again.

He spent an hour looking through Malfoy's drawings -- there was sleeping Hedwig, and here was Sirius, with little horns drawn on top of his head and a vampire's maw on his face. There was Kreacher, bowing comically to a Hippogriff. And here was Harry, sitting on a windowsill with his legs drawn up to his chin, staring straight ahead. There was something off about the picture, and after a few moments, Harry realised that Malfoy hadn't drawn his glasses. He set the picture down and ran upstairs, wanting to try and explain, but when he rushed into Regulus's bedroom, Ron's bed was no longer there and neither was Malfoy.

Harry walked across the hall and knocked on Sirius's door. Sirius grinned as he opened it. "Going to get out of this place soon," he said.

"Where's Malfoy?" asked Harry.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you. He wanted to move to a different room if he couldn't leave the house, and I thought it was reasonable. I don't think we need to worry about him killing me, now, do you?"

"Of course," said Harry. "I forgot."

"No more unfucking," said Sirius with a chuckle.

"Yeah," echoed Harry with a fake smile. "No more unfucking."

He went back to Regulus's bedroom and waited until the sliver of light underneath Sirius's door winked out. Then he crept down to the third floor and started working his way through the rooms, looking for Malfoy. He found him in the room where Mr and Mrs Weasley had stayed last Christmas, fast asleep in a ray of moonlight. The bed was enormous, and Malfoy looked tiny, curled into a little ball at the very edge of it, his lips trembling slightly as he murmured something in his sleep. It sounded something like "boys don't cry; it's not worth it" but Harry couldn't be sure.

He stepped closer, blocking the moonlight, and Malfoy's eyes flew open.

"It's just me," said Harry.

Malfoy turned over, presenting his back to Harry, like Crookshanks always would when Hermione did something to offend him.

"Can we talk?" asked Harry.

Malfoy didn't move.

"I'm sorry," said Harry. "I didn't mean--"

"That's the trouble with you people," said Malfoy in a voice thick with sleep. "You think saying sorry fixes everything. Gryffindors."

"I don't think it fixes anything," said Harry. "I just--"

"Fuck off, Potter. You can't fix what isn't broken, and you can't break what was never there."

Harry sat down at the foot of Malfoy's bed and rested his head against the mattress. Dumbledore and Malfoy had at least one thing in common: they both spoke in riddles. What was Harry supposed to make of what Malfoy had just said? That none of this mattered to him? Harry knew differently. Or thought he did. In a day, his mind had spun from confusion to suspicion to guilt and back again.

He sat there, listening to Malfoy's breathing as he had so many times before. Eventually, he could tell Malfoy was asleep again, and he rose as quietly as he could. Malfoy was on his back, his hair fanned out against the pillow, and Harry leaned down and pressed his mouth against Malfoy's. Then he felt like a prat and ran out, up the stairs and into Regulus's bedroom.

He dreamt of kissing Malfoy, wishing that Malfoy would wake up and kiss him back or fight him, but Malfoy never did.


The next morning, the house turned into a sort of tomb. Sirius insisted on drawing all the curtains and closing all the blinds, just in case. Lamps had to be lit all over the house. Kreacher was told that shopping was out of the question, and he kicked up quite a fuss over being unable to provide his master with proper food. Malfoy spent all day in the drawing room with his pictures. Twice Harry tried to talk to him, but gave it up as a bad job after Malfoy ignored him utterly and then didn't show up at the dinner table.

When Malfoy wasn't at breakfast, either, Harry started to worry. He visited Malfoy's new bedroom -- empty. The drawing room -- nothing. Malfoy's chair looked lonely without him crouched over his sketches. Fearing the worst, Harry ran up to Sirius's room. "I think Malfoy's missing," he said.

They searched the house, but to no avail. Sirius cast a spell -- Homenum Revelio -- to see if he could find him that way, but the spell only confirmed what Harry already knew. "He's gone."

"But how?" asked Sirius. "I checked his wand's hiding place, and it hasn't been disturbed."

"KREACHER DID WRONG!" came a wail from Kreacher's cupboard. Sirius and Harry wrenched it open, finding a distraught-looking Kreacher holding a long roll of parchment in his lap.

"Draco Malfoy has tricked Kreacher," sobbed the elf. "Kreacher believed he would come back."

Sirius frowned. "What happened, Kreacher?"

"Draco Malfoy has been writing notes to Kreacher since the day Kreacher received Master Regulus's treasure for safekeeping," said Kreacher, holding out the roll of parchment for Sirius.

Sirius unrolled it, and Harry leaned over his shoulder so they could read together.

Kreacher, can you help me get out of here? I know he's probably told you not to talk to me or to come near me, but if he hasn't said you couldn't write to me, please write back.


You aren't forbidden from giving me my wand. I heard his orders to you. Can you give me my wand, Kreacher?


Please, Kreacher. Help me. Help me get back to Miss Cissy. She is my mother, and very unhappy that I'm not with her.


I've changed my mind. I don't want to leave yet.


I've changed my mind again. I have discovered something about the special locket of Master Regulus's. I must leave the house in order to find out if I'm right. Will you help me?


I want it to be a surprise to Master Sirius, Kreacher. Don't you want to surprise your Master? He will be very happy.


Then help me leave. I promise I will come back with a wonderful surprise for Master Sirius.


"See? He promised!" cried Kreacher, plucking at Harry's robe sleeve. "Draco Malfoy promised!"

"Oh, Kreacher," said Sirius with a miserable expression. "Human promises are not as true as elf promises. If only they were."

"Kreacher must punish himself! Kreacher must iron his hands! Kreacher must--"

"Hush," said Sirius, putting his hand on Kreacher's quaking shoulder. "I don't want you to punish yourself."

"Master Sirius is so good to Kreacher!" wailed the elf. "But Kreacher is a bad elf! Kreacher must be punished!"

I've decided I've changed my mind. I don't want to leave yet.

Harry's heart ached. Malfoy must've written that after he... after they... God, he'd been so stupid.

After Sirius left the kitchen, still trying to soothe an inconsolable Kreacher, Harry sat with his head in his hands, and thought of his cousin Dudley. It had been too late for Harry and Dudley to do anything about the past, but with Malfoy, it had been different. They could've started something -- maybe not today, maybe not even this year, but he'd seen Malfoy, for the first time, as a person, as an equal, not a matter of circumstantial annoyance. The sex stuff had been nice, but it hadn't been the point. Harry didn't even know if he was gay; he'd certainly never had this sort of reaction to anyone but Malfoy. Either way, it didn't matter.

What mattered was this: he'd seen Dudley at his worst, and yet had been willing to believe, even after years and years of hurt, that there was more to him than that. He'd seen Malfoy in the same light and dismissed him, offended him, and then, when proven wrong, he didn't fight to win Malfoy's trust, didn't try hard enough, sure he'd get another chance.

Now Malfoy was gone, gone where Harry couldn't follow, and Harry's chances were all spent.

Part II - Draco

Draco had been five, maybe six. He had fallen into a thicket of nettles, which made boils erupt all over his skin by the time he made it back to the Manor. His father had taken a look at him -- his mother had been away that day -- and his forehead had creased. "Why aren't you crying? You must be in a world of pain."

"Boys don't cry," Draco had said proudly, though his eyes had watered with the pain and itching and discomfort. His father had told him that when Draco had cried after taking a spill off his toy broomstick.

His father had sighed. "Draco, Draco." He had put his hand atop Draco's head and stroked his hair gently. "Sometimes you must let yourself hurt, so that you may feel what it's like. So that you may have something to remember when someone tries to hurt you again. Sometimes you must cry, my son."

Lucius Malfoy had gathered his son up in his arms and held him tightly. And Draco had cried and cried and cried, and he had never gone near nettles again.

His father had healed Draco's hurts on that summer day ten years ago, but Draco couldn't run to his father now. He sat in the dust next to that selfsame thicket of nettles, and tried to tell himself that he wasn't hurt enough to cry.

As Draco hastened to wipe off the come, he noticed the front of Potter's pyjama bottoms bulging; at first he thought it was a trick of the light, but when he leaned over to throw the towel aside, he saw it: Potter's cock, hard, outlined clearly in soft cotton.

He had lain awake for a long time after seeing that, his mind wandering to that image, and he'd pictured himself getting off the bed and stepping closer to Potter, touching him just to see his face. He had thought about turning what he'd seen to his advantage, making Potter want him, making Potter his, making Potter help him, but he wasn't stupid. Potter wouldn't hurt his precious godfather for anything in the world. Perhaps he might've been convinced to help Draco escape, at least. But then...

"Is that why you pull my pigtails all the time, Malfoy? Because I make your dick hard? Was that why you put on that little show last night, hoping I would suck it for you?"

Yes, Draco had wanted to say. It was, after all, true, in a way: a part of the reason Draco's hatred of Potter had intensified after fourth year had been Draco's awakening desires. He'd begun hating Potter more because he knew he could never ever have him, not like this. His fantasies were different, though -- he was always the one with the upper hand. Draco was the one who made Potter writhe beneath him, whispering Draco's name like a curse and a prayer at once. But then...

"Tell me you want it."

And Draco had, because there had been nothing he wanted more. And when it was Potter on top of him, Potter's face pressing against his shoulder, Potter sitting back and touching Draco again, Draco had decided he'd take Potter any way he could have him, now that he could have him after all. But then...

Draco reached up, wanting to feel that outline he'd seen, wanting to make Potter come, but felt nothing but soft, pliant flesh, and he snatched his hand away as from a too-hot stove. "Why are you even doing this if you're not--"

"Keeps you busy, doesn't it?"

Potter's smile had been vicious, and Draco might even have appreciated the finesse of Potter's trick if it hadn't bloody hurt so much, and that had been a surprise. The realisation that he'd been hoping Potter wanted him too had come only then, only after Potter disabused him of his ridiculous notions. Potter had won again. But then...

"I came before you did. Both times."

Draco had felt tempted to ask him to repeat himself, but he'd heard Potter. Heard him admit that he hadn't been playing with Draco, that he'd wanted him, wanted him so badly that he'd come in his pants twice just from rubbing up against Draco like that. Draco had fallen asleep with a smile on his face for the first time since coming to that miserable house. And then...

Draco hadn't thought he was gay until this moment -- Potter's cock so close to his face, and Draco's mouth watering at the sight of it, Potter's earlier moan still caressing him from inside. When Draco took Potter into his mouth, his tongue slipping over bitter silk, he knew everything would change, because he wanted more than just this. But for now, this was enough.

He was hard just thinking about it, and Draco pressed the heel of his palm to his cock, trying to force it down again, but it was difficult: it had been the most erotic experience Draco had ever had in his life, and he hadn't even got off from it, not until he'd made it to the bathroom after Sirius's interruption.

Draco didn't want to think about what happened later that day; he couldn't. He had brought it upon himself, all of it -- he'd let himself become vulnerable and Potter had struck when Draco had least expected it; wasn't that what Potter always did? Hadn't Draco learned anything? Potter had played him, pure and simple, messed him around like a girl. He had brought this on himself, and self-inflicted pain was not worthy of tears.

"Fuck off, Potter. You can't fix what isn't broken, and you can't break what was never there."

Draco had known by then what Potter was about. Hot and cold, push and pull, fuck with Draco's head, drive him mad, make him angry enough to use his fists like a common Muggle. It was all a game to Potter, because he didn't think Draco was worth anything. But Draco could play that game, too; he'd played it well enough for years, though just as with Quidditch, it seemed he just couldn't measure up to Potter. Because even after all that, he had stared at the top of Potter's head leaning against his mattress, and had fallen asleep thinking that if Potter was still there in the morning, perhaps there was a chance for something, maybe, some time. But Draco had been alone upon waking.

Even after that, he had done Potter one last favour: he'd Disapparated instead of walking out the door, even though he still wasn't very good at Apparition despite practising for months. But he didn't want Potter captured or killed. He also didn't want anyone to know he was free, not yet. Not until he saw his mother.

Draco rose to his feet, his eyes still stinging, but it was easier now. He wouldn't cry. Potter couldn't have that. Wouldn't. He strode away from the nettles, wishing he could walk away from his memories. Malfoy Manor loomed ahead, and Draco was going home. He wanted to cast a Disillusionment Charm over himself, but then the watchers of Grimmauld Place would know he was here instead of there. And the plan he'd been formulating since learning of the manner in which his father had died hinged upon no one but Narcissa Malfoy knowing he was free until a week from now.

The mansion grounds stood quiet behind the unlocked front gate. The doors of Malfoy Manor would always open to a Malfoy. Draco passed through, restraining himself from running. There was no one around; he knew. Bellatrix had spoken of Malfoy Manor as a likely place to honour her Dark Lord, but clearly nothing had come of it, and Draco felt great relief as he walked inside. The high mullioned windows shrouded the entrance hall in muted sunlight. After two weeks of hearing Potter's, Sirius's, and Kreacher's incessant prattling, Draco had forgotten how beautiful the sound of silence could be. Gryffindors and their house-elves simply had no appreciation for it.

He searched for his mother all through her usual haunts. She was not bent over her embroidery in the drawing room, not reading in the conservatory, not playing the piano in the ballroom, not sleeping in her bedroom, not walking in her garden. Draco's heartbeat grew more frantic as he searched for her -- he had been so sure she'd be waiting for him, for home was not truly home without his mother. When she would go away -- like on that day when Lucius Malfoy had taught his son a lesson about crying -- the Manor always felt emptier, quieter. The silence never comforted, then: it suffocated.

And now, a soft voice broke the silence, and Draco's heart soared. His mother was here after all. He found her sitting in a rocking chair inside his nursery, next to his crib. She clutched a stuffed unicorn to her chest, and tears fell from her eyes as she sang a lullaby that Draco hadn't heard since he'd been three or four.

"Mummy," he whispered from the doorway.

She sat up, still holding the stuffed toy, her eyes wide, terrified, as though he were a ghost. "Draco?" She looked much older than Draco remembered, and her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, her usually smooth skin blotchy. "Draco!" she cried, throwing the unicorn aside and rushing into his arms, clutching at his robes as he embraced her. "My poor lost little boy."

Guilt overtook Draco, for having been so thoughtless, so careless, for having sat by those nettles and convinced himself not to cry over Potter when he should have been crying -- for his poor mother, sitting in this huge empty house with its clocks, weeping for her dead husband and her lost son. The tears came easily, and Draco didn't fight them, couldn't, not when his mother was sobbing into his robes, her grief so raw it burned him.

They stood in that doorway, clinging to each other, for a very long time. Finally, Narcissa drew back a little, and ran her fingers down Draco's cheeks. "Where have you been all this time?"

Draco led her back to the rocking chair and made her sit down, then took her hands in his. "I wanted to kill Sirius Black," he said. "Aunt Walburga's house-elf told me where to find him -- her house." Narcissa's eyes widened, but Draco pressed on. "I followed the werewolf, Remus Lupin, there."

As he told the story, omitting the details of his encounters with Potter, his mother's eyes dried and her features smoothed out. When Draco got to Dumbledore's arrival, Narcissa let go of Draco's hands and leapt to her feet. "But Draco, this is wonderful news!" she exclaimed. "You know where Sirius Black is, you know where Harry Potter is, you've seen Dumbledore! We must tell the Dark Lord--"

"Don't call him that," snapped Draco. "He's no lord."

His mother raised her hands to her mouth to stifle a gasp. "Draco, what are you saying? What have they done to you?"

Draco sighed. He knew she wouldn't believe him if he told her, just like he wouldn't have believed Dumbledore. So he took her by the hand and led her to his father's study two floors above, and asked her to use her wand to remove his memory of Dumbledore's memory. It was easy: they had done it before, when Draco wanted to show his mother things he had experienced at school -- he simply had to keep the memory at the forefront of his mind.

After Narcissa had seen the memory, she sat on the low sofa, motionless, white, her hands folded in her lap. Her face betrayed nothing, and when Draco tried to talk to her, she would shake her head stiffly, her eyes pleading with him to let her alone. Draco went down to the kitchen for some tea and found the house-elves gone; he had forgotten that they'd lent their elves to Voldemort until he came out of hiding and could buy his own.

He had never made tea before, and it turned out too weak because he didn't know how long to steep the leaves. As he walked into his father's study, tea tray balanced awkwardly in his arms, Draco became frightened: his mother's pallor in the dying light made her look like a statue made of wax. She drank her tea without complaint even as Draco nearly choked on his, feeling rather useless. The soft clink of china seemed to bring his mother back from her disengaged stupor: after finishing her tea, she turned to Draco. "What do you want to do?" she asked. Her voice did not shake any more.

"I want them to pay," said Draco at once. Narcissa nodded, as he knew she would.

Draco also wanted Potter to pay, but that could wait.


Draco stood in the middle of a large hall, facing Voldemort, who had taken up residence at the Ministry of Magic, unbeknownst to all but his Death Eaters and their families.


"Yes, my Lord?"

"Legilimens!" Narcissa Malfoy's wand trembled in her hand.

Draco was running for his life from the Forbidden Forest, the unicorn-murdering creature hot on his heels.

"You took Avery and Mulciber to an empty house. Where are Sirius Black and Harry Potter? Where is Dumbledore?"


Draco stood balancing on Crabbe and Goyle's shoulders, waiting for Potter to fall out of the air, when a brilliant white stag exploded out of the air towards him, and Draco thought that he had died.

"They must have fled after I made my escape, my Lord. They knew of my loyalties. They knew I would come straight to you with all I learned."


Pansy was crying. "If we're to be married, you're going to have to do better than that!"

"I'm sorry," mumbled Draco, willing his cock to be even a little bit interested in her bared breasts. Maybe if he closed his eyes...

"You returned to the streets of London yesterday."

"Yes, my Lord." It was true. He had returned to the streets of London yesterday. He did not need to mention that he had spent the week prior in Wiltshire.


Potter bore down upon him, so warm and solid, and Draco was lost, lost...



"You and the Potter boy...?"

"It was nothing, Mother. We were fighting."

"Think, Draco. Did Dumbledore say anything about the location of his new Headquarters?"

"Nothing, my Lord."


Potter's cock was heavy in Draco's mouth, and Draco wanted more of it, wanted all of it-- NO!

"Very good, Draco. I saw nothing."

"I'm glad, Mother." Was he ever.

"I told you. We Blacks are naturals at Occlumency. Let's keep on. Practice makes perfect."

"You said a house-elf helped you escape. What was its name?"

"Peregrin, my Lord. He was quite loyal to the blood traitor Sirius Black."

Crack. His mother reappeared in the drawing room, having only been gone twenty minutes.

"Were they there?" asked Draco, anxious.

"No," said Narcissa. "No. The house is empty. I cast Homenum Revelio to be sure they weren't hiding. They have gone."

"I'm ready, then."

"How did you manage to get around the elf?" Suspicion tinged Voldemort's voice, and Draco knew he walked a treacherous path. The name Peregrin had been a lie. Careful, now. Very careful.

"I convinced him I would come straight back with a nice surprise for his master," said Draco.

"It's only been a week, darling. Perhaps we should practice Occlumency more--"

"I'm ready, Mother."

"Clever boy. Much cleverer than your father by far. Too bad you're only sixteen."

"My Lord?"

"Children don't make good soldiers. Too prone to flights of fancy. No, when you are seventeen, you may ask for the Dark Mark, but not until then."

"I await the day with great eagerness, my Lord." A trick of the mind: that was all it took. What Draco said was not a lie, for he looked very much forward to turning seventeen. He looked forward to surviving this interview even more. He hoped his mother hadn't been holding back during their training. If Voldemort used Legilimency and Draco wasn't ready...

"You mustn't think that your loyalty shall go unrewarded. I prize loyalty above all else in my followers." Voldemort snapped his fingers, and a Weasley walked through the side door, one of the older ones -- Peter or Percy or similar. He didn't appear to see Voldemort there, but headed straight for Draco, with vacant eyes and an absentminded smile.

"I am pleased to inform you that the Ministry of Magic has decided to award you with an early Apparition licence and maturation certificate. For services to the wizarding community, your Trace has been severed." Weasley extended a double roll of parchment to Draco, waited for him to take it, and walked out of the room, stiff-backed, still smiling. Imperiused.

"Thank you, my Lord," said Draco, clutching the licence in his fist. He wanted to hurl it into that horrible ugly face, to scream at his father's murderer, but he bundled those emotions and hid them deep, so deep that he began to doubt they were even there. His gratitude was genuine -- he was free to use magic without detection. It would help him, and for that, he could be grateful.

"You may go," said Voldemort, leaning sideways against the high-backed chair. The great black snake, his constant companion, undulated at his feet. "I shall call for you should I have need of you."

"Honour to serve, my Lord," said Draco with a formal bow. The Lestrange brothers escorted him out, and his insides burned with the desire to make his first spell after freedom a painful one. But Bellatrix would only laugh if he hurt her husband or her brother-in-law. She had no concept of family any more.

He Apparated to Malfoy Manor, quaking all over; it was a wonder he didn't splinch himself. His mother went to him, seizing his hands and then pulling him close. "How did it--"

"All is well," said Draco. "He believed me. He didn't even use Legilimency. As a reward, he had my Trace broken, Mother. I can Apparate and do other magic now."

"But Draco, that's wonderful!" cried Narcissa. "This makes tonight's plan so much easier to carry out."

Shortly after nightfall, they Apparated to Diagon Alley, holding hands. A faint, soft light glowed in the window of Ollivander's shop, where Draco and his mother were headed. The door was unlocked, and Draco cursed the old fool mentally -- did he not sense the danger? Could he not feel the Death Eaters' webs closing all about him? How could a man so learned be so blind?

They crept through the cramped shop to the back, where the candle flame danced, chasing shadows on the walls. As they walked into the back room, Ollivander, stooping over an open box, peered up at him. "Draco Malfoy. Hawthorn and unicorn hair, ten inches. Reasonably springy."

Narcissa seized the old man's wrist. "Master Ollivander--"

"Ah, little Narcissa Black. You had some trouble with that one, didn't you? Maple and dragon heartstring, very bendy. I imagine you have come to take me to your master, yes?"

"No, Master Ollivander," said Narcissa. "We've come to take you to safety."

"Oh, please, please, little Narcissa. I am an old man, but I am not so feeble-minded as you think. I shall come with you of my own will if you'll let my niece go safely. She is only a small child, after all."

Draco looked round. A little girl of about seven sat on one of the topmost shelves, hugging her knees. She had a mop of thick curls that gleamed around a blue-eyed baby face in the candlelight. He had drawn a picture just like this when he'd been at--

No. He had promised himself never to think about that place again, and never to draw so much as two lines close together. "Master Ollivander," he said. "We're not with You-Know-Who. He killed my father."

"Eh?" Ollivander squinted at Draco. "Little Lucius has died? Pity. Pity, indeed."

He was mad, Draco realised. Mad with fear, perhaps, seeing as he believed in Voldemort's return when so many did not even guess how fully he'd returned.

"Please, Master Ollivander," said Narcissa, placing a gentle hand upon his forearm. "We cannot waste time. We will take you and your niece to safety, but you must come at once."

As the four of them Disapparated, Draco thought he heard the shop door banging open.


Osmund Ollivander, formerly of Diagon Alley, sought for questioning in a matter of national security, fled from his shop late last night. There was no sign of a struggle, and much of the stock was taken out weeks ago, it appears -- investigators on the scene said there was much dust in the back of the shop. This puts beyond a doubt that whatever answers Ollivander held indeed proved that he is a threat to the Ministry of Magic, possibly even a Death Eater, and Aurors are working around the clock to find him and bring him to justice. Also missing is Mildred Ollivander, six years old, the former wandmaker's niece. She is an orphan living with her uncle, who has probably involved her, an innocent child, in his sinister scheming...

After seeing the morning paper, Ollivander realised what sort of fate he had escaped, and he nearly collapsed with tears of relief, clutching his niece as he thanked Draco and his mother for saving him. No one would look for them here, and no one would find them if they did look. Entry to the guest wing was sealed to all but Malfoys, and there were only two of them left. Draco and Narcissa had spent the previous week not only practising Occlumency and Apparition, but also fortifying the mansion with protective enchantments. Draco understood very little of it, for much of the spellwork was advanced magic beyond his education, but he could recite the incantations without needing to know what they did.


A week after rescuing the Ollivanders, Draco and Narcissa were taking their tea in the garden, talking about their plans.

"We can't do anything by ourselves, Draco."

"I'm not going to crawl to Potter begging for a scrap of the action, Mother."

"We don't know anything, though. All I knew was that V-V-You-Know-Who wanted Ollivander, and we've taken that from him. We know nothing else."

"We'll have to wait until we find something out, then," insisted Draco.

They had spent the week in scouring Lucius's personal correspondence and journals for any clues. Narcissa struggled with it more than Draco, he knew: every once in a while, she would raise a hand to her face and turn away from whatever she was reading, and Draco had to fight not to try and comfort her. Narcissa Malfoy would take no comfort, not even from her son. Not until her husband's death was avenged or she herself joined him in the world beyond. As Draco read the letters and notebooks, he imagined hearing his father's voice sometimes, and he took what solace he could from that.

Lucius had not had much chance to speak with Voldemort after the return, so his notes of late contained precious little. But he had been one of Voldemort's topmost lieutenants in the first war, and it had been only by cunning that he remained free after the events of October 31, 1981. His notebooks from those days burst with descriptions of what he had seen and heard -- Lucius had always tried to impress upon Draco the importance of keeping records, because one never knew when a throw-away bit of information became an important fact. Draco had never listened to his father in this matter: he had always been sure that he would know important information when he came across it, and he would be able to retain it in memory without the need of record-keeping like a doddering old fellow.

Draco and Narcissa knew that there was something important about the diary given to Ginny Weasley and the locket now in Dumbledore's possession, so they had spent many hours in Lucius's study, poring over notes until the precise lettering blurred before their eyes and forced them to break up until morning. Two days prior, Draco had found a passage describing a meeting between Voldemort and Regulus Black -- the traitor, his father had written in red ink later -- but it was not the name of Regulus that had drawn his attention. Voldemort met with an agent of Regulus's shortly after that meeting, and Lucius had seen him placing in his pocket a locket -- gold, Lucius wrote, almost certainly heavy.

There was a description of the diary also, written on the day Lucius had received it. It was on that day that Lucius began to suspect the immense power of these objects, and he had endeavoured to learn all he could about them, but Voldemort seemed not to trust any of his Death Eaters with more than one of these objects at a time. Lucius mentioned overheard conversations regarding a drinking vessel of some sort, given to the Lestranges, a Nordic statue with jewels at its base, a rough-hewn stone collar made for some ancient beast, and a crown of silver that granted wisdom to the wearer.

Draco was certain that these objects, however many they were, held significance beyond mere value. How Dumbledore's eyes had gleamed as he had gazed upon Regulus's golden locket! He had said there was hope. Narcissa remained sceptical -- what use would a powerful wizard like Voldemort have for trinkets? -- but she agreed that if Dumbledore thought the locket was important, they should not ignore other items like it.

"There you are," said the voice of Bellatrix Lestrange, and Draco's hands began to shake. He hid them under the table. Bellatrix took one of the wicker chairs opposite Narcissa. "It's good to see you returned to us, Draco." That nicety out of the way, she focussed on her sister. "You've turned the place into a fortress."

"A Mudblood," said Narcissa in a calm voice, "came to our doors a few days ago, seeking shelter from the Ministry."

Bellatrix let out a disbelieving laugh. "A Mudblood, here? What did you do?"

"Alerted the Snatchers, Auntie," replied Draco, picking up his mother's lie. "And decided to make sure no one could slip in unnoticed." He shuddered with revulsion at her eager expression, remembering her horrible laugh after she'd killed his father.

"Soon, they'll all be rounded up," said Bellatrix, taking a plate from the stack and helping herself to a scone. "Now that Ollivander's run off, there is a shortage of wands. The Mudbloods don't need theirs, surely."

"Surely not," agreed Narcissa, watching her sister butter the scone. Draco guessed that she did not want Bellatrix to dwell upon the subject of Ollivander, less than eighty feet away. "So what brings you by, Bella?"

Bellatrix glanced at her sharply. "Must I have an excuse to visit my sister and nephew?"

"Of course not," replied Narcissa with a throaty little laugh. Draco marvelled at how well she played her role, making Bellatrix's words sound preposterous. "I just haven't seen you in quite a while, not since the week Draco disappeared."

"My work for the Dark Lord keeps me quite busy," said Bellatrix, a gleam kindling in her eyes. "I have found Fenrir Greyback and brought him out of hiding."

"That mangy old dog? I didn't know he was still alive," said Narcissa with a distasteful curl of her lip. "The Dark Lord knows best, of course, but werewolves are little better than Mudbloods, if you ask me."

"The Dark Lord's plans for the werewolves are no different from his plans for any other lesser creature," said Bellatrix. "They are tools, disposable once they've outlived their usefulness."

"I see," said Narcissa, and Draco knew that she was keeping in the same question that gnawed on his mind: What about Lucius Malfoy? Had the Dark Lord considered him a lesser creature, too?

"Not the likes of us," said Bellatrix, as though reading their minds. "Our service and friendship is precious to the Dark Lord -- the pure-blood families of old."

So precious that he cuts us down like pigs, thought Draco, hiding his eyes in his teacup.

Bellatrix turned to Narcissa again, and Draco guessed that she was about to reveal the true purpose of her visit. She was quite easy to read, Bellatrix: all her fears and hopes shone plain upon her face. A Lestrange, no longer a Black, and certainly not a Malfoy.

"Do you remember the notebook entrusted to your husband, shortly before the Dark Lord was forced to flee?"

"I could scarcely forget," replied Narcissa, her lips losing what little colour they had left in them. The diary's loss had cost Lucius Malfoy his life, though Bellatrix was unaware Draco and Narcissa knew that. Bellatrix's audacity filled Draco with something close to awe. Had she no conscience at all?

"I wish to see where he kept it before he threw it away."

Narcissa held a torch aloft as the three of them made their way through the Manor's catacombs. The cellar underneath the drawing room served merely as an obvious distraction; Lucius Malfoy's hidden collection of Dark artefacts lay much deeper. Draco gazed at Bellatrix's sleek black hair as he walked a few steps behind her. It would be so very easy to draw his wand and finish her now. But he wanted her to know who killed her, and why. And before she died, she would see her precious Dark Lord brought to his knees and begging for his life. That had been Draco and Narcissa's decision, but the fury awakening inside Draco in this weightless darkness made it hard to remember agreements struck before the face of the sun.

Narcissa whispered a password, and the wall they were headed for split in two and swung outwards, revealing a spacious cavern filled with an eerie blue light with no visible source. The Malfoy family's most precious treasures had been stored here since time immemorial, since before they were called Malfoys, and Draco bristled at the thought that his father had kept Voldemort's unworthy Muggle keepsake here. Worse, that Bellatrix should be allowed in this sanctum sanctorum -- she who had murdered its rightful warden. But they could not very well refuse her request without arousing suspicion.

Draco had only been here twice before: once as a very young child, and once when he was twelve and his father took him here to retrieve Voldemort's diary. Nothing lay in plain sight: chests and cabinets lined the walls, sometimes in double rows, all with protective enchantments stronger than those which now guarded the Manor itself. One day, he would know all the secrets hidden here.

"Where was it?" asked Bellatrix, her dark eyes narrowed as she took in her surroundings.

"There," pointed Draco at a narrow cabinet mounted above an ornate chest. At his mother's command, the cabinet door opened, and the blue light fell upon three shelves. On the topmost one sat a miniature silver lion, whose purpose was unknown to Draco. The middle shelf held only a burgundy velvet cushion. It had been there that Voldemort's diary had hidden before Lucius Malfoy got rid of it. On the bottom shelf rested a strange black cube that sucked all surrounding light into itself.

"Impressive," said Bellatrix, turning away with clear disinterest. "But not enough." She reached into her pocket with an absent-minded look and began turning over in her fingers a fine golden cup. "Tell me, dear sister, do you always take people down here when they ask for it?"

"Of course not," said Narcissa, squaring her shoulders. She looked furious. "You are my family and we've got no secrets from you, but--"

"What if I'm actually Dumbledore, Polyjuiced?" snarled Bellatrix, rounding on her. Draco stepped next to his mother and squeezed her arm tightly. "You would have taken him down here and shown him all this -- all this!" She gestured at the silver lion. Narcissa looked shocked.

Bellatrix lowered her voice. "No, Cissy," she almost whispered. "I had hoped to add to what your son's already done to restore the Dark Lord's faith in the Malfoy family, but not when you have proven that you'll not take the simplest precautions to protect that is which most precious."

She held the cup out to Narcissa in her outstretched palm. "This belongs to the Dark Lord. I had hoped to secrete it away here, to make up for Lucius's shameful failure, but I see now that it will not be safe. I shall take it to my vault at Gringotts and place additional enchantments on the treasure within. No one shall know its full secret, not even my husband."

Draco's heart beat faster. Was this the drinking vessel of which his father's notes had spoken? Could they be so lucky?

Narcissa bowed her head. "I am sorry, Bella," she murmured. "I have disappointed you again."

Bellatrix wore such a satisfied smile that Draco wanted to rip it off her face with his fingers. They curled and twitched, as though anticipating that very act, but he shoved his hands in his pockets.

"You will allow Draco and myself to accompany you to Gringotts, I hope?" said Narcissa meekly. "We have need of gold, and we should like to spend some time with you whilst you are free."

"Of course," said Bellatrix, shaking her dark hair out of her face. "We'll set off at once."

Draco did not recognise Diagon Alley. Gone were the jolly window-shoppers, replaced by stern-faced guards pacing in front of shops, demanding to see proof of blood status before allowing anyone to enter. Many of the shops were closed, with official-looking notices stuck to their doors:

Closed by order of the Minister of Magic for employing so-called Muggle-borns...

Closed by order of the Minister of Magic for stocking goods produced by stolen magic...

Closed by order of the Minister of Magic for continuing to supply so-called Muggle-borns...

Closed by order of the Minister of Magic...


Beggars in soiled clothes stretched their hands out from shadowed nooks and blind alleys, crying out for food, for money, for anything to lighten their unexpected burdens. As Draco kept pace with his mother and aunt, a most curious feeling awoke deep in his heart. These were the Mudbloods he'd so detested since early childhood, the usurpers of magical power. And yet as he looked upon their suffering, he wished to ease their torment, if only so he would not need to look upon it. It was during that long walk to Gringotts that Draco first began to think that perhaps magic was not a limited well as his father had believed. Many Mudbloods had lost their wands and could no longer use magic, but Draco hadn't noticed any improvement in his spellwork. Surely no pure-blood would suffer if these people were returned to their homes and given wands to take care of their simple needs. Noblesse oblige...

Beside him, Bellatrix loosed a terrible shriek, and Draco whirled, drawing his wand, afraid that she had somehow seen their minds despite Occlumency, but she gaped in horror at her turned-out, empty pocket where the golden cup had been. "Thieves!" screeched Bellatrix. "I have been robbed! One of these wretches has taken it! The treasure! Seize them! SEIZE THEM!"

She fired a Killing Curse at a beggar kneeling nearby, and the man collapsed onto his side, a look of horror etched forever upon his tear-streaked face. Narcissa tried to stay her sister's hand, but without avail: Bellatrix's wand spewed death at everything around her, and it was only by their proximity to her that Draco and Narcissa were saved from her spluttering wrath. When Narcissa finally managed to wrestle Bellatrix's wand away, corpses littered the stretch of street, and a leaden silence had fallen. Draco's stomach lurched as he spied a small boy stretched out upon the cobblestones, his clear eyes accusing in death. He clutched a bright blue Fanged Frisbee, which quivered and snapped at his robes, flung open in his fall.

Bellatrix screamed again, and with that inhuman howl of rage, she fell to her knees. "The Dark Lord's m-m-most precious--" she sobbed, her yellowed fingers scrabbling at the cobblestones in front of her. "Accio!" she shouted, rearing up once more, her eyes ablaze with madness. "Accio golden cup!"

But no cup sailed through the air towards her trembling fingers, and Bellatrix collapsed to the ground, her shoulders quaking, the ends of her sleek black hair trailing in the dust. Draco realised with horror that he stood smiling down at this most welcome sight of his father's murderess beaten and broken. He quickly assumed a dour expression. Shouts approached from the far end of the street, shouts and the sounds of running feet.

Bellatrix must have heard them, for she clutched at Narcissa's robes, gazing up with utter dejection. "Cissy, please don't tell the Dark Lord about this. Please."

Narcissa, very pale but composed, helped Bellatrix to her feet. "You needn't even ask, Bella," she said. "I would not betray my own blood."

A shadow crossed Bellatrix's brow, and Draco feared he saw a hint of suspicion, but then Bellatrix's face morphed into a horrible grimace, and she began to cry in earnest, hiding her face in Narcissa's robes. "I'll find it, I promise," she wailed. "I shall get it back!"

They explained Bellatrix's outburst away as punishment for one of the Mudbloods stepping on her robes. Bellatrix, her face contemptuous again, stood tall and commanding over the Hit Wizards who arrived to investigate. "As for the guard who stepped into the line of fire," she said, "Give me his family's name. I shall go to Gringotts at once to ensure they're adequately compensated for their loss."

No sooner had Draco and Narcissa reached the Manor, his mother fell into the nearest chair and burst into tears. "My sister," she cried. "My poor, wretched sister!"

Draco stared at her. How could she say that? How, after seeing what Bellatrix had done--?

"She was not always like this, Draco," said Narcissa, answering his thoughts before he could voice them. "She was not always this snarling, ghoulish creature. She was always wilful and a bit cruel, but she was not a... a... monster." Another sob escaped her, and she clasped her hands together, wringing them uselessly. "He did this to her. He turned her into a slavering beast, and he would do the same to all of us! He fears us, Draco. I do not know why, but he fears the pure-blood families as much as he tries to pretend he respects us."

Draco knelt in front of her and put his hands over hers. "We'll make him pay."

"Yes," she said, her eyes turning grim. "We certainly shall."

"We've got to get to that cup before Bellatrix does," said Draco. "I'll start--"

Narcissa shook her head and extricated her hands from his grasp. Reaching into her pocket, she drew out the golden cup with trembling fingers. "I was the thief," she said, her voice breaking. "I did not mean for anyone to die. I did not know how mad she has become."

Draco's eyes were about to pop out of their sockets. "But how...?"

Narcissa sniffed. "I've been picking my sisters' pockets since we were small. They never knew it was me when their sweets and toys went missing; they always blamed each other. I thought it was a great little game."


The Daily Prophet's exclusive Ministry source has informed us that the brutal murder of sixteen men, nine women, and three children in Diagon Alley this afternoon was the work of none other than Death Eater Sirius Black, disguised as Madam Bellatrix Lestrange. Madam Lestrange spent thirteen years in prison due to her cousin's vile manipulation of evidence that made it look like she -- an upstanding, first-class citizen -- had committed crimes which were in fact his work. She was only recently exonerated at Minister Fudge's special orders, after evidence came to light that...

Draco's hands shook as he scanned the evening paper's headline article. "They're blaming Sirius Black for this afternoon."

"Sirius," said Narcissa, her eyes brightening. "I wonder if..."


Lost: Snuffles, a Black Spaniel Puppy, 3mos Old. Last Seen in Attic. Reward Offered. Owl Box Nr. 23894

"Snuffles?" asked Draco, stirring milk into his tea. "Attic?"

"He'll know it's me," said Narcissa. "Snuffles was this puppy he picked up on the street as a boy; Auntie Walburga bade him get rid of it, but he hid it in the attic for months until Kreacher discovered it and Auntie made Sirius watch her kill it."

"Why?" asked Draco, aghast.

"Auntie Walburga did not tolerate disobedience. It was meant to be a valuable life lesson."

Draco thought back to the photograph of his mother he'd pilfered from Sirius's house, and the remarks Sirius had made about his mother as a child. "Were you and Sirius Black close as kids?" he asked.

Narcissa shrugged. "We are cousins. We liked each other well enough, but once we were both at Hogwarts, our ways parted."

"He told me you turned into a complete snob after you were sorted into Slytherin," Draco blurted.

His mother raised her eyebrows. "Did he, now? From what I recall, it was he who turned into a lawless hooligan."

Draco recalled Sirius's face, still handsome in a scruffy sort of way, and Potter's face loomed unbidden in his mind, his green eyes dark behind his ugly glasses. He banished them both, angry at himself for having thought about his stay at Grimmauld Place. He wouldn't think about it. If not for what he had learned at its end, he wished his imprisonment had never happened.

After three days and no word, Draco began to lose patience. "Maybe they don't get the Prophet wherever they're hiding now," he told his mother.

"More likely, they think it's a trap," she replied, looking up from her embroidery hoop.

"Why would they? They should realise that if we were still on Voldemort's side, I'd have given Grimmauld place up immediately, not waited a week to do it. Besides, Sirius knows I saw Father's death."

Narcissa made a vexed noise and began picking out one of her stitches. "They're just being careful, I'm sure. Take heart, Draco. Word will come."

The next day, it turned out she was right. The note from the owl box read:

Bring the puppy to the clearing at the southwest end of the Forest of Dean at midnight tomorrow.

Draco and Narcissa argued over which of them should go and meet with the Order, but in the end they resolved to go together. A nearby bog's stench suffused the night mists as they picked their way along a path through the dreary forest. Draco and his mother held hands, less for reassurance and more to avoid separating in this creeping darkness. As they stepped into the clearing, a white light blazed into being before them, and Narcissa clapped her hand over her mouth, stifling a shriek. The light coalesced into the ethereal figure of a young doe, with kind eyes and a graceful neck. A Patronus. It stood looking at them for a time, then turned and began to walk, slowly, deeper into the forest.

"We ought to follow," said Narcissa, pulling Draco by the hand. "Come on."

Draco tried to keep track of the turns they took, but the doe walked such a convoluted path that he gave up after ten minutes. The doe led them deeper and deeper into the woods, never looking back to see if they were following, as though it knew they were. Draco stumbled over branches and twice stepped into piles of sodden leaves that collapsed under his weight, getting his boots damp. The forest grew darker as they moved further in, and soon the only light came from the doe Patronus and from their wands. Draco felt eyes upon his back; more than once he turned around, frightened that he would see pursuit, but nothing broke the eerie quiet but the whisper of leaves overhead and the occasional hooting of owls out on the hunt.

As they reached another clearing, the doe vanished, leaving behind a ghostly afterimage that faded as Draco's eyes adjusted to the diminished light.

"Narcissa," said a silky voice. "I must admit I am surprised."

A man stepped into the clearing, and Draco almost dropped his wand. It was Severus Snape, Voldemort's right hand. Before he could find his wits, his mother acted. With a cry of anguish, she threw herself in front of Draco. "Severus! Draco does not know why I came here; he followed me, fearing for my safety. He does not know anything!"

"Mother, no," Draco began to protest, thinking hard. Snape had skill and cunning, but there were two of them -- surely they could overpower him? The idea of trying to duel Severus Snape appealed to Draco not in the slightest, but his fear for his mother outweighed all other fears. How had Snape known? How? They had been so careful.

"Please, Severus," pleaded Narcissa, deaf to all else. "Don't harm my son."

"I daresay Severus means no harm to either of you," said a kindly voice, and a ball of light floated to the centre of the clearing, illuminating the scene fully. Snape stood motionlessly, and only now did Draco realise that Snape's hands rested in his pockets, his wand nowhere in sight.

Dumbledore stepped out into the light, and Narcissa stood looking from one man to the other, utterly lost. "You! But-- Severus here, I thought--"

"Severus is a member of the Order of the Phoenix, Madam Malfoy," said Dumbledore in a grave voice. "You may speak as freely to him as you do to me. I brought him with me tonight to show you that though it may seem to you that your efforts are fruitless, there's always hope."

Draco studied Snape's impassive face with trepidation. Could it be true that Voldemort's most trusted servant was a spy? Or was he pretending to be a spy?

"But let us not talk in this dark and dreary place," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling merrily. "Now that we are sure that you were not followed, we can take you to Headquarters without further delay. Madam Malfoy, allow me." He held out his withered arm, and Narcissa leaned upon it after a moment's hesitation.

"Come, Draco," said Snape, holding out his arm as well. Draco grasped it, and they Apparated.

Once Draco found his feet again, he stood in a valley surrounded by low grassy hills and he didn't have the foggiest idea where Snape had taken him. Further ahead, Dumbledore led his mother towards one of the hills. Snape and Draco followed them, with Draco still amazed that Snape -- Snape! -- was taking him to the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. He knew now that Dumbledore had told them the truth, for he had once heard Snape tell Voldemort he didn't know where Dumbledore was, but clearly he did.

As the four of them neared the hill, a large opening appeared in its side, leading into utter darkness. As the hillside closed behind them, lights sprang up all around the cavern they had entered, and Dumbledore led them down a series of steps, and then more stairs, until Draco felt dizzy and disorientated. He was no longer afraid for his life, and that was a definite plus for the Phoenix people's side. In Voldemort's presence, he had always feared for his life, even before his father's murder.

After an endless march through tunnels and passageways, they emerged at last into a dank dungeon-like corridor, and Draco heard voices -- cheerful voices raised in laughter and song. Somewhere in one of the caves -- for it was a series of caves that lined the corridor -- the Weird Sisters' And Your Augurey Can Sing roared at top volume.

"Ah, the revelry is still ongoing, I see," said Dumbledore. "All the better, I think, for our purposes."

"Revelry?" asked Draco, looking up at Snape.

"It's Harry Potter's sixteenth birthday," murmured Snape with a sour twist to his mouth. "Some feel this is a cause for celebration."

Draco scowled. He had forgotten about Potter in all the excitement. Hopefully he would stay at his stupid party and out of Draco's sight. "I don't," he said to Snape, who gave him an indulgent smile that made Draco feel like he was twelve again, having done something clever, flushed with pride at the approval of his Head of House.

Dumbledore led them into a large cavern dominated by a flat rock that rose from the floor and served as a table for countless maps, official-looking documents and permits, scattered quills and uncorked ink bottles. At a wave of Dumbledore's wand, squashy armchairs appeared round the table, and the four of them took their seats. Dumbledore surveyed them from over his half-moon spectacles, smiling.

"Now, then," he said, waving his wand once more to move some of the clutter on the table aside. Another moment later, a dusty, fat bottle and four wineglasses appeared. Dumbledore poured generously of the golden liquid and sent the glasses levitating towards the others. Draco took the glass and waited, not sure if the Order of the Phoenix had special customs for drinking wine together.

Dumbledore raised his glass. "To hope," he said, and drank.

The wine had a sweet aftertaste. "What sort of wine is it?" Draco asked Snape.

"Nettle," came the reply, and Draco blinked at his glass.

"I understand," said Dumbledore to Narcissa after they finished their drinks, "That you seek the aid of the Order of the Phoenix."

"We do not," said Narcissa, perfectly composed. "We have come to offer aid."

"Ah," said Dumbledore. "Of course. Forgive me."

Draco glanced at Snape, who studied his mother with a strange expression on his face.

"Draco, the cup," said Narcissa.

Draco rose, withdrew the little golden cup from his inner pocket, and placed it on the table. He was watching Dumbledore like his mother had bidden him to, and he saw the old man start slightly as his eyes fell upon Bellatrix's lost treasure.

"Where did you get this, my boy?"

Draco told him everything, starting from his guess that the locket and the diary were significant, through their search for clues in his father's notes, to the tragic scene in Diagon Alley after Narcissa had filched the cup from Bellatrix's pocket. They had agreed beforehand that Draco should tell the story, for his mother feared she would let her grief for her sister overcome her in the telling.

Snape sat still throughout Draco's tale, though his black eyes were piercing. When Draco finished, Dumbledore closed his eyes, and once he opened them again, he seemed to be looking at both Draco and Narcissa in a different light.

"What you did was incredibly brave," he said. Draco glanced at his mother, who looked as flummoxed as he felt. Brave? Was that supposed to be a compliment?

"Severus," continued Dumbledore, not seeming to notice his guests' confusion. "I did not want to interrupt the celebration, but Harry needs to be here. Please, would you bring him to us? Miss Granger and Mr Weasley, too, if you don't mind."

"Certainly," said Snape, and Draco had this strange idea that he was rather looking forward to breaking up Potter's birthday party. For his part, Draco wished to get away before Potter got here. But his desire to know more about the cup and its connection to the diary and the locket kept him in his chair. He did want another glass of wine, made with nettles or not.

Snape returned ten minutes later, followed by a sullen-looking Potter, Granger, and Weasley. Potter's eyes widened at the sight of Draco, but Draco turned away.

"What are they doing here?" demanded Weasley. "They're Death Eaters!"

"They're not Death Eaters, Ron," said Potter quietly. Draco didn't look at him. The timbre of Potter's voice was making him remember things, unpleasant things which had nothing to do with destroying Voldemort. He had half a mind to leave -- to hell with these mysterious objects. He couldn't stand being in the same room with Potter, he simply couldn't.

"Harry, my boy," said Dumbledore, gesturing at the golden cup. "Do you recognise what this is?"

"Yes, sir," said Potter.

"Miss Granger, Mr Weasley? Do you know what this object is?"

"Yes, sir," said Granger.

"We do, sir," echoed Weasley.

"Madam Malfoy and her son Draco have risked much in obtaining it."

There was a pause, but Draco didn't look, much as he wanted to see Weasley's no doubt dismayed, gormless expression. But Weasley stood next to Potter, and Draco would not look at Potter.

"I'm sorry, Malfoy. Mrs Malfoy." Weasley sounded subdued. Here was the way into a Gryffindor's confidence. Bravery. Taking risks. No wonder Father considered them a dangerous lot. But why? What was this thrice-damned golden cup?

"Thank you for that, Ron," said Dumbledore. He turned to Narcissa. "We were a bit early in coming here, and the other Order members shall be arriving momentarily, so that we may discuss our circumstances at length. As your son is underage--"

"I'm not," said Draco, and Dumbledore looked up at him with surprise. "I mean, I'm sixteen, but Voldemort made the Ministry give me my maturation certificate and Apparition licence early. As a reward for telling him about Grimmauld Place."

"Thanks for that, kid," said Sirius's voice from the doorway. "I don't know how you held him off for a week, but whatever it was, it worked. Oh look, if it isn't little miss Cissy."

"Snuffles," muttered Narcissa, looking cross, but Draco could tell she was hiding a smile.

"Am I to understand," said Dumbledore to Draco, not seeming to notice the lighter atmosphere, "That you wish to join the Order of the Phoenix, Draco?"

"I want to join anyone who's going to bring him down," replied Draco. It was a lie -- did anyone ever really want to risk his own neck? No, he didn't want to do anything. But Voldemort had murdered Draco's father, and revenge wasn't a matter of wish-I-may-wish-I-might. It was a matter of pride.

"Madam Malfoy, what are your thoughts?" asked Dumbledore. "He may no longer have the Trace on him, but he is still in your charge until he turns seventeen."

"I don't want you in danger, Draco," said Narcissa.

Draco had thought she would say that. "Mother--"

"No," she said, her voice even firmer this time, but her eyes were pleading. "I cannot stop you, but if you don't wish to bring me disappointment, you will not join, not until you're truly of age."

Draco had to fight not to glare at her; he wouldn't disrespect her like that in front of all these people, especially not Potter. "It will be as you say, Mother." He waited for Weasley's snigger, but it never came.

"Please understand, Draco," said Dumbledore. "Members of the Order of the Phoenix are all adults who have finished their magical education, and we risk our lives daily in what we do. I understand that you seek to avenge your father's death, but you needn't reach beyond your abilities to do that."

"What can I do, if not fight?" asked Draco, suddenly angry. He jerked his head in Potter's direction. "How come they're allowed in but I'm not?"

"If Harry has told you he's a member of the Order of the Phoenix, then he has not been truthful," said Dumbledore, sending Potter a keen look over his spectacles.

"I never said that," protested Potter. "I didn't!"

Draco turned to look at him, annoyed. "So what about the Legilimency training you told me about?"

Potter went scarlet and looked at Snape for some reason. "I was bluffing," he mumbled, looking down at his feet.

Seeing Potter's shame was so gratifying that Draco forgot he wasn't supposed to be looking at Potter, and now that he was, he didn't think he would ever look away. Flustered or angry, that was how Draco remembered him best, and his traitorous brain led him to recall scenes best not relived in the company of others. He rose from his seat. "I'll wait outside, Mother."

He walked out of the room, taking care to stay as far away from Potter as possible, and went back out into the half-lit dungeon. He supposed he would have at least an hour to look around and see what sort of Headquarters these were, so he set off in the direction they had come from earlier.

"Harry, you mustn't fight with Malfoy," hissed Granger's voice behind him, but Draco's steps didn't falter. Potter wanted to fight him, did he? Well, Draco had his wand now; they would see who was the better man.

"I'm not going to fight him, all right?" replied Potter, also whispering. "Just wait for me in my room. I'll explain later. Malfoy, wait!" That last was loud, ringing and echoing, but Draco turned a corner and hoped Potter wouldn't chase after him.

His hope turned out to be in vain; Potter caught up to him a moment later, panting. "Malfoy," he said, and his hand fell upon Draco's shoulder.

Draco sprang sideways, rounding on Potter with fury in his heart. "You stay away from me," he hissed, glaring. Potter seemed taken aback, and Draco resumed walking.

"Malfoy, just-- can we talk? I was wrong, all right, I was wrong and I'm sorry--"

He seized Draco by the arm, but Draco shoved him away. "Just stay away!" he snarled over his shoulder, breaking into a run. He had fallen into these nettles already and he was not going to do it again, no matter how badly he wanted to.

He managed to get lost in the endless maze of caves within ten minutes, but he was sure that if he retraced his steps properly, he'd find his way back to the room with the maps. Even if he couldn't, surely his mother would not leave without him; she would find him if he couldn't find her. Draco walked on, peeking into this cave and that occasionally -- some had dark shapes of furniture inside them, others stood empty. This place would never be as silent as Malfoy Manor; there was a constant drip-drip-drip of water somewhere inside the walls.

As he walked past a cave with its entrance emitting the thick scent of owl droppings, a woman's figure emerged into the corridor, roll of parchment in hand. Ginny Weasley didn't appear surprised to see Draco at all.

"Hi," she said. "So you've made it."

"Yeah," said Draco, walking on. "So I have."

"Wait up," she called, catching up to him. "Are you all right?"

"What do you care?" he asked, keeping his eyes on the ground.

"Don't be such a tit, Malfoy. Don't think I don't realise what it must've been like for you all this time, knowing what you know."

"What do you care?" repeated Draco, stopping and turning to her. "You must be happy my father is dead."

Ginny's lips parted, but she said nothing. Draco considered not telling her what he'd learned from his father's notes, but he had made up his mind about that, hadn't he? "For your information, my father didn't know what the diary did. He had no idea what its powers were, just that they were considerable. He only wanted you to get caught with a Dark artefact, to make trouble for your father at the Ministry."

She pursed her lips. "How do you know?"

"He left notes," said Draco. "I've read them."

Ginny's eyes clouded over briefly. "Well, it doesn't make what happened okay. But if he didn't know, then he wasn't as evil as I thought."

"My father was not evil," Draco told her.

They regarded each other, rather like two strange cats who had just determined that neither was trying to trespass into the other's territory.

"Well," said Ginny after a while. "There's one thing we have in common."


"My dad's not evil, either." She grinned, and to his never-ending surprise, Draco grinned back.

Ginny gave him a guided tour of the new Headquarters, and Draco realised that it was not as mazelike as he had thought -- there was a clear pattern to the twists and turns, and after they walked around the place twice, he had a pretty good idea of where to find everything. These caves had not been used for centuries before the Order moved in, Ginny explained, and they were still working on making the place liveable, but it wasn't bad. They could hold out here for years.

As they neared the map room, which Ginny had called the war office, Draco, who had in the meantime decided that if he couldn't join the Order of the Phoenix, he would work out the connection between diary, locket, and cup, asked Ginny about the diary. She hesitated.

"I thought it was just a diary," she said. "I wrote in it about my days, about my thoughts, and I thought it was amazing when it started writing back. I didn't think anything of it at first -- the boy in the diary, Tom Riddle, was not like normal boys at all. He was, um." She gave Draco an embarrassed look, but he gestured for her to continue. "But then I started having blackouts, like Harry does sometimes."

"Potter has blackouts?" That was interesting.

"His scar is a connection to Voldemort, somehow," said Ginny. "Sometimes Voldemort tries to control him, using his snake. Not as much since Harry's been learning Occlumency again, but when he succeeds, Harry sometimes has visions of what Voldemort is doing."

"Sounds like fun," remarked Draco, shuddering. Potter must have been partially insane, if Voldemort was living inside his head like that. No wonder he was so... Professor Berryll and Mr Tyde.

"I'm surprised no one told you. They were supposed to."


"Because the connection goes both ways."

Draco felt a chill. "Voldemort can see through Potter's eyes?"

"Not as much since Occlumency. But yeah, it's possible. Though we can tell it's happening because Harry's scar starts hurting."

Draco felt a little better, but still he didn't want to contemplate the possibility of Voldemort having seen his mother here. He forced himself to think of the diary. "So when you had those blackouts, the diary was possessing you?"

"Yeah," she said, a shadow crossing her pretty face. "I worked that out later. I tried and tried to destroy it, but nothing worked. It's like it was itself possessed."

"Well, does anyone have any idea what it was?"

"I think Harry does," said Ginny in a conspiratorial tone. "And so do Ron and Hermione. But I think Dumbledore's ordered them not to tell anyone."

A large woman with red hair stepped out in front of them suddenly -- Molly Weasley. She planted her hands on her hips and glared at Ginny. "Where have you been?"

"I was just showing Draco the place," said Ginny. "In case you didn't notice the tall boy standing next to me, mum, this is Draco Malfoy."

Mrs Weasley's jaw dropped. "You've come!" she said. "You're so thin," she added after a glance at him. "He's not making you starve, is he?"

Draco tried to think of something to say that wasn't awfully rude -- he was, after all, a guest -- but Ginny came to his rescue. "By that logic, you're starving me," she said. "You always tell me I'm too thin."

Mrs Weasley looked flustered. "Well, I'm glad to see you, Draco," she said, somewhat stiffly, and Draco felt just a tiny bit guilty about all those things he used to say about her to Ron Weasley. Before he'd lost his father and the petty squabbles of his boyhood became distant memories.

"Um," he said, "Nice to meet you, Mrs Weasley."

She smiled at him. "I'll have to take your tour guide away, I'm afraid; she needs to be doing her homework, not wandering the caves."

"Mu-um," complained Ginny, rolling her eyes, but Mrs Weasley hustled her away after a quick good-bye to Draco.

He stared after them, wondering what on earth Mrs Weasley meant about homework. The school year hadn't even started yet. Then he realised that Ginny and any other Hogwarts students hiding here would not be going back in September, so they were probably being forced to study here instead. Draco was glad he was going back to Malfoy Manor afterwards. But... wouldn't he be expected to go to school in September? How was he supposed to do that? Go to Hogwarts and leave his mother alone? No.

He had wandered into what Ginny had called the common room and stopped abruptly, realising that Potter sat in one of the armchairs, holding up to the light a large piece of parchment. Draco recognised one of his drawings from Grimmauld Place -- the one of Potter's owl sleeping in the kitchen. What was Potter doing with it? Incensed, Draco crossed the room and snatched the picture out of Potter's hands. "That's mine," he said, glaring down at Potter.

He expected Potter to get angry, but Potter just looked at him with a sort of resigned expression, like he was used to having things taken from him. Draco's heart gave a little twinge. Had it been him, he would have already demanded to have it back, but Potter just gazed up at him, a questioning, slightly hopeful look in his eyes. Eyes. Scar.

But Draco didn't care about Voldemort right now. He had given Potter a look like that once, in the drawing room of Grimmauld Place, and Potter had stepped on his hope like it was a worm. I'm not gay, he had said. Still looking down at Potter, Draco ripped the drawing in two, and again, and then stuffed the pieces in his pockets, feeling a dark satisfaction at seeing Potter's face fall. Then he turned and ran.

"Malfoy!" called Potter, but Draco didn't stop.

As he neared the war office, he slowed just as his mother walked out, deep in conversation with Snape. She smiled when she saw him. Draco peered inside the room. At least twenty people still sat around the flat rock table, now dotted with more glasses of that excellent wine. He didn't try and make out their faces; the less he saw, the less he would need to hide from Voldemort. He was already regretting Ginny's guided tour. His encounter with Potter had unsettled him so much that it had simply felt nice to talk to somebody.

After he and his mother got home that night, Draco was preparing for bed when he felt the rustle of parchment in his pockets. He pulled out the torn pieces of his drawing, remembering with an empty feeling the look on Potter's face as he'd ripped it apart. He placed the pieces on the floor, reassembling the picture. It had been done in quill and ink, which had faded somewhat, but what struck him most was how worn the parchment looked. Like it had been folded and re-folded many times into pocket size.


As Draco was not a member of the Order of the Phoenix, he had no reason to go to the meetings or visit Headquarters at all. He was glad of it. The few glimpses he'd caught of Potter during his first visit had sent him into a mood so dark that he even avoided his mother for a few days to keep her from seeing how upset he was. And he was. He hadn't realised how deeply he'd been affected by his days in Grimmauld Place, how raw he still was over Potter's treatment of him. It made him furious; it made him want to break things. He spent many an afternoon wandering the paths in the Manor's gardens, fighting to regain his composure, to focus on what he knew and what he was planning to do. If only all his questions hadn't needed answers from Dumbledore -- or Potter and his sidekicks.

Narcissa must have noticed that Draco was behaving strangely, for several times she tried to engage him in conversation about her refusal to let him join the Order, assuming that was the cause for his morose exterior.

"This is nothing to do with the Order, Mother," Draco told her finally as they walked together through the garden one evening. "I promise you that."

"All right, all right," she said, smiling at him. "Is it a girl?"

"It's certainly not a girl."

Shame coiled in his mind as he remembered his mother witnessing his failure with Pansy, during their Occlumency lessons.

"Well, whatever it is, I hope school will keep you busy enough to take your mind off it."

Draco stopped. "School?"

Narcissa tilted her head to one side. "Yes, Draco. The school year starts in just three weeks."

"But I can't go to school!" exclaimed Draco. "What about you?"

"What about me? I'll be all right. You can't not go, Draco. Voldemort would expect you to go; it would be suspicious if you didn't."

She was right, of course, but Draco's heart filled with dread at the thought of being away at school whilst his mother was in constant danger. He felt trapped, suffocated, bound -- just like he had in Grimmauld Place. And despite his vow never to put quill to parchment again, Draco felt compelled to lose himself in the quiet simplicity of light and shadow, straight line and soft curve.

Draco only dared draw in the guest wing, where his mother never went; he didn't want her knowing about his hobby, for fear she would think him unworthy if she knew he devoted his time to the mindless pursuit of form. It was here that Mildred Ollivander found Draco one afternoon. Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, Draco thought of his mother and tried to conceal what he was doing. But as he looked up and saw the little girl standing on the threshold of the conservatory, he relaxed.

"Hello," he said. "I was just drawing some pictures."

"May I see them?" she asked, glancing up at him shyly from underneath thick copper curls.

"Sure," he said after a moment's hesitation, and patted the settee next to him.

"These are so pretty," she said, staring wide-eyed at the stork, and the wishing well, and the distant gazebo. "Why were you trying to hide them? Don't you think they're pretty?"

"I--" began Draco, but he didn't want to explain to this child that he feared his mother's disapproval. "I dunno," he said. "I suppose I don't." It was true, he realised. He had never considered his drawings anything out of the ordinary; they were just depictions of life. But they couldn't feel anything, so they were a pale imitation of life at best.

"Well, you should," she said, patting his arm with the proud authority only a child could project. "They're amazing."

"Thank you, Mildred," said Draco, surprised once more as heat crept into his face. "You're very kind."

"I'm not disturbing you, am I?" she asked, her blue eyes fearful. "Uncle Ossie says I shouldn't disturb you."

"You're not disturbing me," replied Draco.

"Good. I'm glad. Because I'm really lonely, Mr Malfoy. I have nobody to talk to except Uncle Ossie, and he's very old."

"Well, I'm not old," he said. "So please don't call me Mr Malfoy. My name is Draco."

"I'm Mildred. But you knew that already. I talk too much, don't I? Uncle Ossie says so."

"Not too much," said Draco, smiling at her. It was odd, talking to her -- she was too young to have fears and doubts that lingered beyond a moment, and it was refreshing to hear her simply say she felt lonely. Would that Draco could speak so freely.

"Are you upset, Draco?" asked Mildred, and Draco realised he was frowning. He opened his mouth to reassure her that he was not upset, but then he stopped. Why would he lie to this child? She'd never done him any ill.

"I'm a little bit upset," he said. "But it's..." He was going to say it was nothing important -- another lie. "It'll pass."

Mildred nodded solemnly. "Uncle Ossie says that bad feelings always go away. You know what helps me when I feel bad?" She waited for him to shake his head and continued. "Drawing pictures!"

"Oh? So you draw, too?"

"Yes. Some days when I'm feeling sad, I draw a picture of me feeling sad, and it always looks so funny that I laugh, and then I'm not sad anymore."

"Can you show me some of your pictures?" asked Draco. "I've shown you mine, it's only fair."

"I would like to," replied Mildred. "Very much! But I had to leave all my pictures behind in the shop when you and Mrs Malfoy saved us from the Bad Man."

"Well, haven't you drawn anything since you came here?"

She shook her head. "I haven't got anything to draw with."

"Oh, that's all right," said Draco. "You can always ask for some parchment and quills, or pencils if you prefer those."

"Uncle Ossie says we've put you through enough trouble," said Mildred with a serious look on her face. "He says you're in danger because of us. So I think it would be very rude to ask you for more."

"Mildred! Thought I'd lost you," said Ollivander in his wheezing voice, appearing at the door. "Now, girl, what did I tell you about bothering young Mr Malfoy? Come here this instant."

"She's not--" began Draco, but Mildred gave him a quick, reassuring smile and bounded over to her uncle. She winked, as if to say, I know I'm not bothering you, but let the poor old man have the last word.

"I'm terribly sorry for the intrusion, Mr Malfoy," said Ollivander, with an anxious look on his face.

"It's no trouble at all," replied Draco. "She's a lovely child."

"A lovely handful, that's what she is," wheezed the wandmaker. "Well, I'll leave you to your work. A thousand pardons."

The next day, after a prolonged visit to Scrivener's, Draco sat in the guest conservatory, waiting for Mildred. He knew she would come, for she had seen him enter the guest wing and waved frantically, grinning. Fifteen minutes after he became immersed in his sketch of the war office at Headquarters, she edged into the room, her smile as shy as the day before.

"There you are," said Draco upon noticing her. "I've got something for you."

"What is it?" asked Mildred, edging closer to peer at the picture. "Is this it? Where is that? Is it a cave? I can tell it's a cave because--"

"No," interrupted Draco, sliding the Scrivener's bag out from under the settee. "This is it. It's for you."

Mildred, her eyes impossibly huge, peeked into the bag. She looked up at Draco with frank disbelief, then down into the bag again. It held several stacks of good-quality parchment, coloured pencils, several bottles of coloured ink, and several Self-Sharpening quills. "For me?" she stammered. "These are all for me?"

"A present. For your birthday."

"But my birthday is in six weeks," she protested.

"I'll be away at school then," said Draco. "It's an early present."

Mildred burst into tears, and Draco had no idea what to do, so he just patted her awkwardly on the head. She hugged his neck tightly as he knelt beside her, her thick curls squashing against his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered, and Draco's heart soared. Noblesse oblige...

But no, this had nothing to do with helping the less fortunate. What had driven Draco to Scrivener's after yesterday's encounter with Mildred had not been the wish to ease her suffering because he had the means. It had been an impulse to do something nice for this sweet little girl, and Draco had never done anything like that before.


Though Draco hadn't joined the Order of the Phoenix, he had free access to Headquarters. As much as he dreaded encountering Potter, he had to conclude that if he was to learn anything about the diary-locket-cup link, he would have better luck with Potter than with Dumbledore. And so it was that Draco sat behind one of the armchairs in the common room, a Disillusionment Charm hiding him from anyone who might happen to glance over there. The set-up was perfect: he could hear the conversation between Potter and his friends and he wouldn't be driven to distraction by Potter's presence. Now if only they would get here. Ginny had told him that they spent a lot of time in the common room, but as the minutes crept by, Draco began to wonder if there was another common room somewhere around here.

"Empty," said Granger's voice, and Draco's heart beat faster.

"All right, so I might have found something of Ravenclaw's," said Potter. Draco's armchair sagged a bit as Potter settled. Inches. They were inches apart. Draco closed his eyes and forced his mind to focus.

"Is it the silver dagger?" asked Granger.

"How did you know?" Potter sounded confused.

"She's Hermione, mate," piped up Weasley. "She knows everything."

"I don't think it's the dagger," said Granger after a pause. "Dumbledore told us that they had to be special objects, right? Unique."


"Well, the dagger wasn't unique. It was one of a number sold to Hogwarts the year Rowena got hers. Dobby looked it up for me."

"But if it isn't the dagger, then what? What did Rowena Ravenclaw have that's like the sword?"

Draco didn't understand a word of what they were saying. Well, he understood vaguely what they were talking about, but he didn't have the faintest clue why these three would be interested in Rowena Ravenclaw's things.

"Maybe it is the sword," suggested Weasley. He didn't sound confident.

"Dumbledore said it's very unlikely," said Granger. "Besides, the sword-- oh, Harry! I just realised -- the Chamber of Secrets!"

Draco froze.

"What about it?" asked Potter, shifting. Draco's heart pounded so hard he became afraid Potter would feel it, and he moved away so that his back no longer touched the chair.

"The Basilisk!" exclaimed Weasley. "The fangs!"

"Yes!" said Granger.

Draco felt like he had wandered into a madhouse. Why were they discussing legendary creatures and Hogwarts founders? Weren't they supposed to be fighting Voldemort?

"Blimey," said Potter. The armchair creaked. "You reckon we could use them?"

"If we can get inside Hogwarts," said Granger.

"The Honeydukes passage," murmured Weasley. "We could use that."

"We should ask Dumbledore first," said Granger.

"Dumbledore," spat Potter. "He'll tell us we're very clever but that the Order will take care of everything. He doesn't want me outside, remember?"

"Yeah, but he didn't say anything about Hermione and me," said Weasley. "We could go."

"Umbridge is busy with her Registration Commission," said Granger, her tone nasty. "We could do it. But I think we ought to ask Dumbledore."

"Two against one, Hermione," said Weasley reasonably. "If you're scared, though--"

"I'm not scared!" said Granger, indignant. Draco shook his head. Gryffindors. "But if anything happens and Dumbledore doesn't know, he won't be able to help."

"I say we go tomorrow," said Weasley. "After lessons are over."

"Maybe Hermione's right, Ron," said Potter in a weary voice. "Maybe you should tell Dumbledore."

"Come on, Harry," said Weasley. "It's so boring down here--"

"You think I don't know?" snapped Potter. "I'm can't even go outside to play Quidditch with you lot. But it could be dangerous -- what if Umbridge has traps? Hermione's wanted for questioning..." he trailed off. Draco wanted to see his face so badly he screwed his eyes shut and clenched his fists to keep from popping up from behind the chair.

"It just makes me so angry," said Granger after a few moments, her voice tight.

"Don't worry," said Potter, much calmer this time. The chair creaked again.

"The diary, the locket, the cup, the ring. That leaves the snake, and something of Ravenclaw's," said Granger.

"And something of Gryffindor's," Weasley put in. "Seven."


"Unless the seventh one is something we haven't thought of yet. For all we know it could be a rat in Albania." Potter sounded weary.

"Maybe it's Scabbers," said Weasley. "I mean, Wormtail."

"I doubt it," said Potter. "I think I would've noticed if he made Wormtail into a Horcrux in Little Hangleton."

Horcrux. Draco's mind spun out of control, and darkness exploded behind his eyes. He knew nothing else for some time. When he came to, he was half-slumped against the armchair. Potter, Granger, and Weasley were gone.

Horcrux. The Intrepid Three were talking about Horcruxes -- magic so terrible it made Draco shake just to contemplate it. He had had nightmares after learning about Horcruxes, nightmares of a man in red robes pursuing him down a narrow lane with nettles on both sides and poison ivy climbing down the walls of the houses bracketing it. The man wanted a Horcrux, and he had to kill Draco to make it. He hadn't had that dream in years. And now he knew that Voldemort had made not one but seven Horcruxes. Not only that, but it had been a Horcrux that morning in the Grimmauld Place kitchen, when Draco had seen his dead father form out of greenish smoke but never speak, just gaze at Draco in mild reproach. A Horcrux.

Draco staggered up, using the armchair for support. He understood now why Regulus Black had got cold feet. No self-respecting pure-blood would even think of making Horcruxes -- a broken soul polluted the bloodline worse than any unclean marriage. The pure-bloods vain enough, mad enough to use Horcruxes found their family trees withered and rotted a mere two, three generations later. The Barkers, the Gaunts, the Trevelyans -- all decimated. It was not a part of legitimate history, for Horcruxes had always been illegal, but all the pure-blood families who kept the old ways knew the truth.

Draco had learned it after a house-elf reported his first wet dream to his parents. Girls learned it when they got their first period. It was a one-time lesson, delivered in secrecy, never discussed, jealously guarded from outsiders -- half-blood, Mudblood, and blood traitor alike. The creation of Horcruxes marked Voldemort as an outsider. Whatever he was, he was no pure-blood. And that explained why he hated the pure-blood families. Narcissa said he feared them, but Draco didn't think so. Voldemort envied them something he could never have.


Bellatrix Lestrange was sobbing, and Draco listened to the sound of it with satisfaction. She had failed in all her efforts to find her precious treasure, and she was terrified that Voldemort would ask for it soon. He listened to his mother murmur words of hollow comfort, revelling in the irony of it, the cruel irony that Bellatrix should cry on the shoulder of the sister she had betrayed. And she didn't even know that she'd betrayed her own blood for something far less worthy. But she would know it in the end. Oh, she would. Smiling grimly, Draco returned to his book. A handwritten note lay across the page, and he did his best not to show surprise.

You'll have to go to HQ; I can't leave, as you can see, and this is URGENT. Tell AD that tomorrow they are going to place a jinx on LV's name so that anyone who utters it can be traced immediately. We must use You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, else all is lost. Burn this.

Draco slid the note into his pocket, crumpling it there, and rose. "I am sorry to leave you like this, Auntie," he said, "But there is somewhere I must be."

Bellatrix just kept crying, hiding her face in her hands.

After Draco had navigated the maze of stairs and passageways, he was out of breath, and he did not want to rush into the war office looking like an errand boy. He slowed his pace, smoothing out his hair and taking deep, long breaths. He heard a raised voice and saw two figures ahead of him -- Snape and Potter. Potter was shouting, clearly agitated, whilst Snape stood statue-like, unperturbed. Snape opened his mouth and said something, too low for Draco to hear, but it made Potter back up a few steps, mouth open. Then he stormed away, towards Draco, who had leaned against the wall in the meantime. Snape watched Potter stomp off, smirked, and walked away in the opposite direction. Potter barrelled past Draco, who stood as still as he could, hoping Potter wouldn't notice him.

Potter stopped and rounded on him. "You," he said, advancing a step.

Draco cringed, realising that whatever Potter was angry about, he wouldn't hesitate to take it out on the first available target. He knew he ought to run, but he couldn't quite move. Potter advanced on him, grabbed him by the front of his robes, and shoved him into a nearby cave entrance.

"Potter, what--"

Potter slammed Draco against the wall and leaned in. Draco barely had time to turn his head; Potter's lips and tongue slid over his cheek, and even that was enough to make him gasp as his cock went from limp to halfway there in less than two seconds. Potter's hands were on him, fumbling but impatient, shoving his robes up and out of the way, pulling his pants down. Potter's fingers curled around his cock and Draco tried to wrench himself away, but Potter gripped him so tightly he might've ripped Draco's cock clean off if Draco tried to move.

"Mine," growled Potter, and a shiver went through Draco -- was this Potter or was it Voldemort? When Potter fell to his knees and sucked Draco down, it ceased to matter. Potter's tongue curled and uncurled against the length of Draco's cock, and all the while Potter kept taking him in deeper, as if trying to swallow him, his hand gripping the base, thumb stroking at Draco's balls, his glasses fogged up just like Draco's mind right then. Draco closed his eyes and clenched his teeth and gave himself over -- to the sloppy sounds Potter was making, to the clenching wet heat around his cock, to the biggest regret of his life. Potter moaned, and Draco came, gasping, shuddering, into Potter's mouth, recalling for an instant the bitter taste of Potter's come in his. Potter swallowed it all and didn't let go of Draco until he had stopped trembling.

Still on his knees, he sat back and looked up at Draco, his mouth swollen and red, his eyes vague behind still-foggy glasses. Draco wanted to fall to his knees beside him and hide his face in his neck, wanted to take Potter's hands in his, to--

No. Draco clenched his teeth. He pulled up his underpants, smoothed out his robes, and stepped away from the wall. "This makes us even, Potter," he gritted, struggling to sound bitter when all he felt was peaceful calm. "Do not touch me ever again."

He walked away without looking back, and this time Potter didn't call his name. And for all his efforts, Draco did walk into the war office looking like an errand boy, but he wanted to get away from here so much that he didn't care what Dumbledore thought. After delivering his message, he sped through the passageways as quickly as he could, not noticing Potter stepping out in front of him until they nearly collided.

"Now can we talk?" asked Potter with a look of apprehension.

"Aren't you a right little glutton for punishment?" demanded Draco. And yet, he was oddly touched that Potter should want to speak to him after what Draco had just done. He stopped and faced Potter. "Fine. Talk."

"I was stupid." Potter's mouth was still slightly swollen, and that wasn't going to help Draco's concentration at all.

"Correction, Potter: you are stupid if you think attacking me and dragging me into caves to have your way with me is going to get you anywhere." Except that wasn't stupid at all, and Draco knew it. In fact, if he could spend the rest of his life doing nothing but being dragged into caves and getting sucked off by Potter, he wouldn't mind at all.

"I didn't mean for it to happen that way," muttered Potter, flushing. "I just--" He scrubbed at his face with both hands, sending his glasses askew. "I've wanted you for weeks. I think about you all the time and I can't bloody stop. Can we have a do over?"

Draco opened his mouth with a witty retort, but realised that he had none at all. All the words he knew were doing a sort of waltz in the part of his mind that he couldn't quite reach at the moment. He snapped his mouth shut and glared at Potter, who looked serious and earnest and fuck, why did he have to make this so difficult for Draco?

"I just want to kiss you again," said Potter, stepping a tiny bit closer.

The door trapping Draco's words flew open. "Again?" he asked, affronted. "You've never kissed me before."

"I did once," said Potter. "You were sleeping."

Draco's innards turned themselves inside out several times, leaving his gut feeling not-quite-freshly laundered. Had it been the night Potter had offered his first apology? The night Draco had told himself he'd give it another go if Potter was still at his bedside in the morning? He wished he could remember it. It would be so easy to take that one step that would make it impossible to walk away. One step forward into the nettles.

"You're too late," he said, knowing the one thing that would keep Potter, Gryffindor to the core, away. "I'm with someone else."

Potter's eyes blazed, and Draco felt weak in the knees -- that he should inspire such heat in anyone, Potter least of all...

"Who?" asked Potter in a low voice that boded well for no one.

"That's none of your business," said Draco, who couldn't very well say that he'd been joking, not after seeing the effect his "news" had had on Potter. Potter might just kill him where he stood. "Excuse me."

He did look over his shoulder this time, just before turning the corner. Potter sat with his back to the wall, his head bowed, fingers buried in his hair. Ginny appeared from the other end of the hall; she ran up to Potter, who gave her such a smile that Draco felt infinitesimal and stupid and betrayed all at once. He hurried away, doing his best to congratulate himself for his good judgement. Get Potter, trying to play both sides of the fence -- he'd certainly never smiled at Draco like that.

"Oof!" said an obstacle in Draco's path.

"Sorry!" said Draco, jumping back a step and realising his obstacle was named Ron Weasley.

Weasley regarded him with some suspicion. "Malfoy. Have you seen Harry?"

"Potter's with his girlfriend," said Draco, waving carelessly in their direction. "I don't think they'll want you interrupting them."


"Isn't your sister his girlfriend?"

"Ginny?" Weasley looked slightly panicked. "Er. Not that I know of."

"Well," said Draco, "You might want to go and check, just to make sure. They looked awfully cosy to me."

"Right," said Weasley with a bewildered look on his face and started off in that direction. "See you, Malfoy."

Probably not for a while, thought Draco, sprinting away. He was never coming back here again.


Draco spent the following week afraid to go to sleep.

His dreams had often featured Potter in various ways, but never with this frequency and intensity. His waking hours weren't much better, for his mind kept wandering to what he had dreamt, and his cock would get hard and his heart would feel constricted in his ribcage. He had taken to drawing in his bedroom, propped up against pillows, because the pictures he wanted to draw were not fit for Mildred's innocent eyes. He drew unicorns and Cornish pixies for her in the afternoons, and Potter, for himself, in the evenings. His dreams gave him all the reference material he could ever need.

Potter, both wrists handcuffed to a bed, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.

Potter on his back, his nose bloody, his clenched fist useless on the floor because there is a hand on his cock and Potter can't help himself.

Potter on his knees, gazing up at someone unseen, a bloodstain at his temple, lips parted, inviting, waiting.

Potter on his hands and knees, come caught mid-slide down his legs.

A close-up of Potter's face, sans ugly spectacles, eyes closed, sucking on two fingers that are not his own.

Draco decided he no longer dreaded his impending return to Hogwarts. He would not be able to draw anything there, and he had faith that the dreams would stop, given time. They had to stop, else he would go off his head and back to Headquarters. To Potter, everybody's favourite boy hero, dodging Killing Curses and blasting Horcruxes out of his path to Voldemort. How much of it was revenge, Draco wondered -- revenge for Potter's parents? Maybe they weren't so different after all. Or maybe he was mad.

A week after Draco's last encounter with Potter, he had just finished dressing for bed when his mother appeared in the doorway to his bedroom, looking distraught. "Draco, you are summoned."

She didn't say where, but she didn't need to. They couldn't say Voldemort's name anymore, and they tried their best to avoid the cutesy You-Know-Who and the too-pompous He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and Voldemort was certainly no longer their Dark Lord. Draco, personally, was rather fond of Mildred's Bad Man, though he wasn't sure they were dealing with a man. "Do we know why?" he asked, deciding to put his robes on over his pyjamas.

"No," said Narcissa. She gave him a tight smile. "I'm sure it's nothing."

A part of Draco hoped it wasn't nothing. At this point, anything would be better than the constant cycle of dreams and drawings, fantasies and sketches.

Potter, his arms around a disembodied back, his fingers scoring pale, pale skin...

Draco was alone with Voldemort this time, and that worried him.

"Tell me, Draco, what do you think ought to be done with the new crop of Mudbloods at Platform Nine and Three Quarters this year?"

"I don't understand the question, my Lord." Why do you detest Mudbloods so? You might be one yourself, for all anyone knows.

"Well, for instance, your aunt Bellatrix believes we ought to cut them down like the little diseased piglets they are. Kill them to prevent them from breeding in the future to produce more Mudbloods."

"It seems excessive, my Lord." I'd rather the Mudbloods bred than you did.

"Just so!" exclaimed Voldemort. "Excessive; that is what I told Bellatrix. Murder is a tool like any other; only useful if it's got a purpose. It serves no purpose to murder twenty or so children, most of them wandless. It would only alert the Muggles before we are ready to move against them."

"A wise choice, my Lord." What was your purpose in cutting down my father?

"My, Draco, have you been taking lessons from Severus? You're starting to sound just like him."

"Professor Snape is head of Slytherin house, my Lord." Didn't you claim to descend from Salazar himself?

"I rather think he ought to be appointed Headmaster," murmured Voldemort. "But the Umbridge woman will do, for now. You are, of course, returning to Hogwarts in the fall."

"Of course, my Lord." At least I won't need to see you at your every whim.

"Good. Very good. I shall have need of you on the platform, to make sure no Mudblood boards the train."

"It is an honour to serve, my Lord." But not to serve you.

Voldemort said nothing for such a long time that Draco thought perhaps he ought to just leave. Clearly the audience was at an end. But just to be on the safe side, he ventured: "My Lord?"

"Yes, Draco?"

"Do you wish me to leave you to your thoughts?"

"Oh, no," said Voldemort. "I am just trying to think how best to approach the reason I have summoned you. It is a rather delicate matter."

"I am prepared to do anything to bring my father's murderer to his knees," said Draco. "My Lord."

"What about bringing Harry Potter to his knees?"

"My Lord?"

"I have seen your dreams, Draco."

Panic ripped through Draco like the claws of some enormous beast, and he was a hair's breadth from death as he struggled to maintain the shield over his thoughts. "I must apologise to my Lord for the deviant content--"

"Deviant? Don't be ridiculous. There is nothing deviant about receiving pleasure. Though I must say I was dismayed you have not told me of the things which passed between you and Harry Potter during your imprisonment in Grimmauld Place."

"I did not believe such petty matters interested my Lord."

"Not for idle curiosity. But now that I have regained my ability to walk through the wizarding dreamscape, it becomes a matter far from petty."

"How so, my Lord?"

"I have seen the Potter boy's dreams. He dreams of you, too."

Once again, Draco's shields faltered for a second. Twice now, and both times because of Potter. It was unacceptable.

"During my imprisonment in Grimmauld Place, my original plan was to seduce Potter and have him help me escape, my Lord. However, I believe he guessed at my true intent, for he wanted nothing to do with me."

"He might've spurned you in the flesh, but his dreams tell the truth, I am sure of it."

"What would my Lord have me do?"

"You have proven to be a very resourceful young man," said Voldemort. "I want you to lure Potter out. He will resist at first, but I believe that for you, he will come out of hiding, if only for a chance to live his dreams but once."

"It will be as my Lord commands," said Draco, knowing that with this lie, his life was forfeit.

"Bring me Potter, and you may have your Dark Mark."

After Draco got back to his bedroom, he sat staring at his sketches -- the dirty ones -- for a very long time, but his mind was so full of what he'd learned that his cock, for once, stayed put. His cover was as good as blown -- soon Voldemort would know what he and his mother were about. He certainly wasn't going to give Potter to Voldemort, not even to protect himself. That was the crux -- he was not willing to sacrifice Potter. As far as he knew, Potter wasn't necessary to destroy Voldemort, but Draco wanted -- needed -- Potter to stay alive.

He had never wanted to feel this way, yet he did, and now he had to either dive headfirst into nettles again or lie about his reasons for moving to Headquarters. Neither option was appealing. The third option -- running away and leaving all this behind -- was unacceptable because his father's death would remain unavenged. The fourth option -- maintaining his cover and giving up Potter -- just did not exist.

What would he tell his mother?

Mother, I'm a raging homosexual who's got a perpetual hard-on for Harry Potter, and Voldemort's just worked it out by spying on my dreams, the pervert. It turns out Potter's had similar dreams, so now Voldemort wants me to bring him Potter, preferably naked and helpless. Except, you see, I don't want to give Potter to Voldemort because I'd like to keep him for myself. Especially if he's naked and helpless. So what do you say, Mother? Shall we flee to Headquarters?

Besides, his mother still had work to do for the Order; she couldn't leave, not yet, not without notice. They would also need to move the Ollivanders.

As Draco's mind struggled to find reasons to delay his choice, he realised that he was not the one who had to make it.


Ginny had shown him where Potter slept; it was one cave amongst many, but Draco remembered where it was, just like he remembered every other little thing about Potter: the way he sat on a broom, the way he slouched in his Potions seat, the way he always got off the left side of the bed and never the right, the way his eyes went dull whenever someone mentioned his parents. Draco stood in front of the privacy curtain that hid Potter's quarters from the corridor and wavered between bolting into the nearest corner to vomit and striding inside despite his boiling guts.

It wasn't dark behind the curtain, he realised with a start. A candle or a torch billowed inside -- someone was moving, as there could be no draughts to disturb the air in these caves. Draco pushed the curtain aside and walked in, his heart thumping loud enough to wake an army.

Potter, who had been pacing the floor in the middle of the room, barefooted and dressed only in pyjama bottoms, froze when he saw Draco. Draco decided it was a great time to examine the decorations. The ceiling hung low over a simple four-poster leaning up against the wall opposite the door. There were cabinets on either side of it, one holding a water jug and glasses, the other a Quaffle-shaped clock. Cheap and cheerful. Potter's trunk, its contents in disarray, stood at the foot of the bed after the Hogwarts custom. The right wall was plastered with photographs: Potter and his friends, Potter's friends without him, Hogwarts, Quidditch stars, Sirius, others Draco didn't recognise, a man who looked like Potter and a woman who looked like Ginny Weasley -- clearly Potter's parents.

The left wall held pictures, none of them framed. A little girl hugging her knees, a look of fear in her eyes. The house-elf, Kreacher, bowing to a fierce-looking Hippogriff. Sirius Black in caricature, with vampire fangs and horns. The Black family tapestry, reproduced in faithful detail down to the last scorch mark. A heart-shaped locket with wisps of smoke rising from it. A fearsome black dog. Potter, knees to chin, atop a windowsill next to a begonia. An unfinished sketch of two boys on broomsticks. Had Potter had them up there all this time? How did he explain them to his friends?

"I fell asleep, didn't I?" mumbled Potter, raising a hand to his scar. "That's definitely not Malfoy in the doorway."

"Right, because you know so many tall blond Slytherins who know where this place is," said Draco, crossing his arms. "I must be one of those other Slytherins, come to pay you a late-night visit."

Potter grinned uncertainly. "Now I know you can't be Malfoy. He wouldn't be talking to me like anything I said actually mattered."

Ouch. "Well, now that we've established my non-identity, have you got anything to drink?"

Potter gestured at his bedside cabinet. "There's water. I could ask Kreacher for something else, though."

"Water is fine." Water would settle his stomach. He hoped.

Potter poured water into a glass, and Draco remembered spitting his come out into a similar glass, and then both of them avoiding looking at it. His heart thumped harder and his cock stirred.

He dreams of you, too.

Potter looked up. "Will you come here and take it or should I bring it to you?"

Draco wanted to remark upon the irony of that question, considering that it was, in essence, what this visit was all about, but that would spoil the surprise. "Bring it here," he said. "I rather like it in this half of the room."

He dreams of you, too.

Potter approached him, and Draco saw a familiar outline at the front of his pyjamas as he moved. He didn't doubt the front of his pyjamas would look no different right about now, but he felt rather disinclined to remove his robes just yet.

"Why do you like it there?" asked Potter.

"It's closer to the exit."

"In case I do something stupid, like try to touch you?"

He dreams of you, too.

"In case you don't."

Potter's hand trembled on the glass. Draco took it from him before he could drop it. He was thirsty, even though his stomach no longer needed settling. Curious.

"What did you say?"

Draco set the empty glass down onto the stack of books by the door. "I thought you were blind, not deaf," he said quietly.

Potter pursed his lips. "See, I'm having a bit of a dilemma here. Whenever I try to touch you, you either scream at me or run away."

"I don't see what's so, um, dilemma-y about it," said Draco. Dilemma-y? Really, now. He would have to do better than that.

"Well, it's like this," began Potter, but Draco hooked an arm round his neck and pulled him in.

"This solve your dilemma?" he murmured, his lips almost touching Potter's.

Potter didn't answer; he took Draco's lower lip between his teeth and tongued it, his arms circling Draco's waist. It was too gentle; Draco didn't like it. He wanted Potter snarling, fumbling, unhinged, just like he was in his dreams. But the thread that connected the two of them was so frail that a misstep could rip it irrevocably, and Draco did not want to be responsible for that. He let go of Potter's neck, pulled away and shoved Potter backwards, advancing on him. "I'm not your girlfriend," he bit out. Potter backed up another step, but Draco kept pushing him onward until Potter's legs hit his open trunk. "I saw you rowing with Snape that night. Whose cock was in your mouth, Potter? Mine? Or Snape's?"

Potter's mouth twisted with revulsion, and his eyes sparked to life. He lunged at Draco, grabbing him by the front of his robes, and threw him down on the bed, working his knee between Draco's legs. "I'll show you Snape," he growled. "You fucking--"

Draco pulled his head down with both hands and kissed him, and Potter's words turned into a groan as Draco found his tongue, finally, finally. Potter rolled on top of him, tugging clumsily at Draco's robes but not breaking the kiss until he had to pull the robes up over Draco's head as Draco threw off his boots, sending them flying across the room. Potter kissed him again, shoving his hand into Draco's pants, but Draco twisted away, his own hands tugging Potter's pyjama bottoms off, finding nothing underneath them. Potter struggled out of them and redoubled his efforts at removing Draco's clothes, with such fierce determination that several of the buttons on Draco's pyjama top popped off and joined the rest of their clothing on the floor.

And Draco's brain disengaged when he realised he was naked, in bed, with Potter on top of him, Potter's cock rolling across his belly, bumping into Draco's own cock, and oh, this heady, strong scent of boy had never been a part of his dreams because Draco hadn't known what it was like. Now that he did, he never wanted to dream again. Potter's kisses grew more insistent, and Draco rolled on top of him, shoving Potter's legs apart, and bucked forward, every nerve ending screaming, until his balls were flush against Potter's. Draco got a good grip on Potter's left leg and pressed even closer, enough to skim the edge of pain. Potter seemed to strain towards Draco with this whole body, and there was such sweet yearning in his kiss that at first Draco didn't feel Potter's hand wrapped round both their cocks, barely noticed it until the dull ache in his groin twisted and uncurled into slick heat. He rocked forward, gripping Potter's leg with one hand and the sheets with the other, and they moaned together, Potter's fingers clenching and unclenching in his hair as he pulled Draco's head down again and again, as if he never wanted to stop kissing him.

Draco's wouldn't last very much longer, but he wanted Potter to come before he did, so he broke the kiss and moved down, trailing open-mouthed kisses down Potter's chest and belly and cock. Potter rocked upwards, making frustrated little noises as Draco teased him with slow licks, and Draco could do this forever, he could, and it would be time well spent because it was making Potter moan like that.

"No, don't," gasped Potter, sliding back so Draco nearly licked the sheets. "Come here." He pulled Draco back up and brought their mouths close, his hand squeezing their cocks together once more. "I want to be kissing you when. You know."

And something inside Draco gave way finally, something that was so important it had no name. He took in Potter's flushed face and intense expression that spoke of barely contained passion, and he knew he didn't want Potter's smiles. He liked him just like this, serious and on the edge of violence, brooding and dark with eyes only for Draco. And this -- this was worth any amount of nettle stings.

He covered Potter's mouth with his and bucked forward into his hand; Potter let out a muffled cry, his tongue against Draco's slowing, stopping, and Draco felt Potter's cock pulse against his own, and Potter's hand around their cocks was a vice Draco could not escape, and he came soon after Potter finished. It felt like the first time -- unexpected, all-encompassing -- and he fell down onto his side as Potter pulled him close. As his head cleared, he began to feel embarrassed for the things he'd done, and his only consolation was that Potter had done and said some embarrassing things as well. Maybe those things were a normal part of sex and nothing to be ashamed of, but Draco reckoned it would be some time before sex lost its novelty. He didn't care if it was different for adults; he sort of enjoyed the mild embarrassment because he knew Potter shared it, and it was something just for them.

Draco hadn't meant to fall asleep, but when he woke, there were voices in the corridor outside, the voices of people going about their lives. Laughter. Memories of what they'd done filtered down into Draco's mind like July raindrops, warm sweetness with just a hint of a chill. He wanted to fall asleep again and never wake up, so that those would be the last memories he had. But he was waking, now, and he froze, terrified that someone would walk in at any moment and find the two of them, naked, Draco's leg hooked over Potter's, sweaty, their bellies stuck together with come.

"So much for the terrible rash you would have got the night you badgered me for a towel," murmured Potter, and put his hand on Draco's hip, firm and sure.

Draco looked at him, and Potter leaned close to kiss him. His breath was sour from sleep, but Draco's lips parted and his tongue found Potter's, and he closed his eyes with a hiss as his cock dug into some soft part of Potter that would do just fine, thank you. Potter began to push the covers off them with his free hand as they kissed, and Draco felt dizzy; memories of the night before mingled with his hopes for what was to come.

"Harry! Guess what? Oh my God." Granger stood in the doorway, her hand halfway to her mouth, eyes round.

Draco dove beneath the covers, his face burning. Potter's cock was sticking up at an odd angle, and despite his utter embarrassment, he had to resist the impulse to slide further down and...

"I'm so sorry," Granger was saying.

"Um, Hermione? A little privacy, if you don't mind."

"Sorry!" she squeaked, and then she must have gone, for Potter joined Draco underneath the covers, his cheeks flushed.

"Um, well. That was, um," said Potter.

Draco forced his eyes away from Potter's cock, remembering that he had not come for this. Potter had made him forget what was coming, and he was almost grateful for Granger's appearance, because it brought him back to reality.

"He sent me here," said Draco, feeling the heat drain from his face. "He knows. About this. About everything. He told me to bring you to him."

He had not thought that the moment of truth would come like this, with them naked and hard and hiding from the world, but there was nothing for it, now. Potter's face paled and his eyes dulled. He gazed at Draco long enough for cold, creeping dread to settle in his belly, for his cock to lose all interest as he waited for Potter to make his choice.

If Potter said the wrong thing now, it would be finished. Draco wouldn't hand him over to Voldemort in either case, but he would not have anything to do with him, not like this, not ever again.

"Your mum," said Potter. "How long do we have?" His pensive expression had not changed, but the light in his eyes did.

I trust you, it said.

Draco rested his hand against Potter's cheek, which was in serious need of a shave. "Two weeks," he said, and they were kissing again, and this time there was nothing that could stop it, no wrong choice to make Draco turn back.


Awkward. That was the word. Things were terribly awkward.

Narcissa had just gone back to Malfoy Manor to fetch the Ollivanders, and Draco stood in his bedroom, which he refused to call a cave even though it was one. As small and cramped as Potter's, it was a change from what Draco was used to, but in the following months, or maybe years, it would be home. He didn't like change; he didn't like being away from the Manor, but at least he had a reason to stay. In two weeks, when his mother joined him, he would have no reason to leave.

"If you need clean bedding or anything, you can ask Mrs Weasley or Kreacher," said Granger, who had been charged with showing Draco his room. She was also the reason things were awkward. She knew almost everything -- Potter had told her most of it and, well, she'd seen some of it for herself. "He's, um. He's upset with you. Kreacher. I'm not sure why. So maybe you should just ask Mrs Weasley."

Draco winced inwardly. He had broken a promise, and with a wilful elf like Kreacher, there was no telling what that would mean. A ruined set of robes was the best he could hope for. It didn't help that he'd seen his old elf, Dobby, tromping around the place: Dobby had no reasons to love Draco, whom he no doubt remembered as a spoilt and cruel little brat. Mother had been very angry with Father for losing Dobby, and she had lectured Draco on kindness to house-elves until his ears had nearly bled from it. Too little, too late.

"Yeah," he said. "I'll ask Mrs Weasley."

They avoided looking at each other some more.

"D'you like it?"

Granger gave a little scream and clapped both hands over her mouth. Draco turned and saw Potter in the doorway, fully dressed but he might as well have been naked for all the difference it made to Draco's cock.

"Oops, I forgot," said Granger in a high-pitched voice. "Arithmancy. Ron." She bolted.

Potter gazed after her with total bewilderment. "I've never heard those two words used in the same sentence," he remarked, addressing no one in particular.

"Cataclysmic," agreed Draco, approaching him cautiously. "She won't tell anyone, will she?"

Potter looked at him. "Hermione? No way. She's brilliant." He chewed on his bottom lip. "Malfoy -- er. Do I still have to call you Malfoy?"

Draco raised an eyebrow. "One thing at a time, Potter. It'll cost you six blow jobs before you're allowed to use my first name."

Potter grinned. "Fine. Same goes for you. Fair's fair."

Draco had no objections to that, so he smiled back, wondering if there would ever come a day that he would wake up and think of Harry instead of Potter like he did now.

"But. Malfoy."


"Who was it?"


"Your, um. Your somebody else."

Draco felt a thrill deep in his gut and had a picture of Potter either stomping off in an angry huff so soon after they'd made their tentative peace, or trying to maul him on that as-yet-untouched bed. He realised his right hand had clenched into a fist at the thought.

"I'd like you to meet a very special friend of mine."

Draco uncurled his fist and extended his hand to Potter, palm up.